erik lundegaard

Technology posts

Thursday October 06, 2011

Amazon Recommends

This showed up in my in-box the other day: Our Picks for You

Don't quite get the repetition of “Unbroken” but at least it's correct. And late to the game. I read it earlier this year and recommend it. The others either don't appeal (audio Jackie Kennedy) or only appeal if I want to keep up with the conversations on Andrew Sullivan's blog (“The Rogue”).

But at least Amazon's first row of suggetions made more sense than its second row of suggestions:

“Harry Potter” I haven't seen. “Captain America” made my top 10 for the first eight months of the year (at no. 10). “Fast Five” I dismissed in April. And “Transformers”? I think of that franchise as so stupid and noisy as to be part of the general decline and fall of western civilization. 

Someone, in other words, needs to work on their algorithms. Or mine.

When I interviewed Jeff Bezos in October 1996, a lifetime ago, he talked about the things Amazon was working on:

Bezos: We want to set the store up so we can redecorate the store for each individual who walks in...

Me: What do you mean?

Bezos: The whole page would be personally designed for you. So if you said, “I really love literary fiction,” well, here’s a great science-ficton novel that we actually think you'd like based on your preferences in literary fiction. Stuff like that. In case you want to broaden out.

It would all be done automatically. It would have to be. The way it might work is you might come in and we present you with a list of 100 books that are in a particular genre, like literary fiction, let’s say, and you would rate the ones you liked the most and disliked the most, and based on what you liked and disliked the computer would be able to form a profile of your particular tastes, and it might try to match you up with people of similar tastes. You call that your affinity group. What are things you haven’t read that people in your affinity group love? And then it would recommend those things to you.

Still a few bugs in the system.

Posted at 07:37 AM on Oct 06, 2011 in category Technology
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Sunday October 02, 2011

When Writers of Code Write Copy

Not to tread on the territory of AKC, the Copy Curmudgeon, but I saw this the other day while browsing Netflix's site:

Netflix recommendations: based on your interest in...

It's less what they recommend than how they recommend it.

Based upon my interest in “Straight Time,” starring Dustin Hoffman, and “The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz,” starring Richard Dreyfuss, Netflix automatically generates the following recommendation: Understated Movies based on a book from the 1970s.

By which it means: Understated 1970s movies based on books. (Only one of the above, “Straight Time,” was based on a book from the 1970s.)

Raise the rates, fire the writers, apparently.

Posted at 08:35 AM on Oct 02, 2011 in category Technology, Word Study
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Saturday August 13, 2011

Best at Something: My No. 1 Google Rankings

Several years ago my friend Mike told me he was going to be Best Man at an upcoming wedding. He paused a moment before adding, “It's nice to be best at something.”

In that spirit, here are a few of the Google searches where, according to, I have the No. 1 ranking. I've included links to where those searches lead. Your results may vary. Have at:

  • dialog between preacher meacham and doc earn God's presence cowboys and aliens = this review
  • HDNet what lead your brother to become a suicide bomber = this blog post
  • ivan vasilevich menyaet professiyu vladimer visotski = this blog post
  • certified copy, the whole purpose of life is to = this review
  • kimane maruge letter from president compensation = this review
  • angel toves = another review
  • f troop is fuzzy = yet another review
  • valid reasons why the yankees suck = this article
  • yankee fans batteries mariners = yep, this same article
  • average weekly movie attendance = post
  • midnight in paris quotes zelda fitzgerald you have a stuned look in your eyes, you look anesthetized, lobotomized = category of posts
  • I felt the death loneliness that comes at the end of every day that is wasted in your life." = here
  • girl who played with fire how does lisbeth escape buried alive = here
  • Frank Crosetti Ball Four = here
  • johnny damon 3000 = here
  • Erik Lundegaard = whew

scene from "A Serious Man" (2009)

“Dad, 'F Troop' is fuzzy.” A serious man, making the world safe for unserious TV.

Posted at 06:50 AM on Aug 13, 2011 in category Technology, What Brings You Here
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Tuesday July 19, 2011

What Bing Does Better Than Google

In my review of Woody Allen's “Midnight in Paris,” which, to me, is about traveling to a place and time where art and literature matter, I made a passing reference to the fact that even Philip Roth doesn't read fiction anymore. He said so in a recent interview with Jan Dalley, “Life After 'Nemesis,'” in Financial Times. I wanted to provide a link to that interview so I Googled two terms: “Philip Roth” and headshot of Philip Roth“stopped reading fiction.” Here are the top results for that search:

  1. The New York Times artsbeat blog referencing and linking to Dalley's FT article.
  2. The Atlantic referencing and linking to Dalley's FT article.
  3. Althouse referencing and linking to Dalley's FT article.
  4. Salon referencing and linking to Dalley's FT article.
  5. Yahoo News referencing and linking to Dalley's FT article.
  6. James Russell Ament referencing and linking to the Salon article, which references and links to Dalley's FT article.
  7. Slate republishing the entire FT article with Dalley's byline.
  8. ArtsJournal referencing and linking to the Slate article.
  9. The original article.

Ninth. Above it, you have all the sites feeding off it. In the Google world, in the tech world, there's little respect for original content. To me, this lack of respect filters down and you wind up with some aspect of the shitty culture we have.

As an experiment, I cleared my cache and tried the same search on Yahoo, expecting similar results. Nope. Much better. The original article appeared third.

Then I cleared the cache again and tried it with Bing. The original article appeared first.

Guess I'll be using Bing more often.

Now if we only stop calling it “content” and get back to calling it “writing,” maybe it'll pay again.

Posted at 07:08 AM on Jul 19, 2011 in category Technology
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Monday March 07, 2011

Why a Coin Toss Isn't a Treasure Hunt, and Other Missed Opportunities in the New York Times' Tech-Law Article

What do you do with a quote that doesn't quite work?

This is how John Markoff ended his New York Times piece on the sorting capabilities of computers and computer programs, such as e-discovery, replacing expensive teams of lawyers during the discovery phase of a case:

The computers seem to be good at their new jobs. Mr. Herr, the former chemical company lawyer, used e-discovery software to reanalyze work his company’s lawyers did in the 1980s and ’90s. His human colleagues had been only 60 percent accurate, he found.

“Think about how much money had been spent to be slightly better than a coin toss,” he said.

The End.

Except ... that analogy is horrible, isn't it? You flip a coin and you get one of two results: heads or tails. You send people searching for something and the results are infinite: they can find zero percent of what they're looking for, 12.1 percent of what they're looking for, 76.7 percent of what they're looking for. They can find 12 related cases and miss none, or miss three, or miss 346. Discovery would be a lot easier if, like a coin toss, it had to wind up one of two ways.

My instinct would be not to use the quote, since it fudges the point of the story, but maybe I'm alone here.

* *

The article, by the way, focuses on technology and the law, but the money quote is about all of us:

David H. Autor, an economics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says the United States economy is being “hollowed out.” New jobs, he says, are coming at the bottom of the economic pyramid, jobs in the middle are being lost to automation and outsourcing, and now job growth at the top is slowing because of automation.

“There is no reason to think that technology creates unemployment,” Professor Autor said. “Over the long run we find things for people to do. The harder question is, does changing technology always lead to better jobs? The answer is no.”

I tend to disagree with the professor on this—I think technology does create unemployment—and would question his use of subject and object in the second sentence of the second graf (“we” sounds like it includes “me,” i.e., him, while “people” sounds like it doesn't include “me,” i.e., him), but the larger point is scary and needs to be reiterated. What kind of society are we allowing ourselves to create here? Techies thrive, apps are free, the rest of us work at Cinnabon.

Now they're using such software for policing:

The software seeks to visualize chains of events. It identifies discussions that might have taken place across e-mail, instant messages and telephone calls.

Then the computer pounces, so to speak, capturing “digital anomalies” that white-collar criminals often create in trying to hide their activities.

Meaning the same types of folks who wrote the software for iPhone's autocorrect, which tells you, mostly incorrectly, what you want to write, are creating the software to determine whether or not you're a criminal. You havé the rogge to demain silent.*

*Yes, my Autocorrect is set for French. Years ago, I had the iPhone's language set to French, and, like the far-flung soldier that keeps fighting long after the war, Autocorrect keeps trying to correct my English into French. There's no obvious setting to fix this so I've simply turned my Autocorrect OFF. (Settings —> General —> Keyboard)**

**Once I figured out how to turn Autocorrect OFF, though, which is like two seconds ago, I guessed the solution. Under Settings —> General —> International, the second item is Keyboards, under which there are four: the four languages I've played around with: English, French, Chinese and Danish. Once I deleted everything but English, and turned Autocorrect back ON, it was autocorrecting in English again.***

***Still a bug. Probably corrected in later versions of iPhone.****

****Technology: Making life easier.

Posted at 08:14 AM on Mar 07, 2011 in category Technology, Law
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