Category Archives: Technology and the web

Articles about the internet and e-mail, phones and social media, and the history of technology and computing.

Managing a productive and efficient … family?

We’re all busy at work, with tasks to complete, reports to write, deadlines to meet and so on. And busy in a different way at home with the family; juggling various commitments and schedules, managing budgets and dealing with feisty adolescents.

Here’s an article on how some people are trying to manage the latter using the tools of the former. (I can just see James Bridle shaking his head at this latest example of, ‘Technology and software to the rescue!’)

The Slackification of the American home
Children’s free-play time has been on the decline for more than 50 years, and their participation in extracurricular activities has led to more schedule-juggling for parents. Parents are busier too, especially those whose jobs demand ever more attention after hours: 65 percent of parents with a college degree have trouble balancing work and family, a 2015 Pew Research Center report found, compared with about half of those without a college degree. In an effort to cope, some families are turning to software designed for offices. Parents are finding project-management platforms such as Trello, Asana, and Jira, in addition to Slack, a workplace communication tool (its slogan is “Where work happens”), particularly useful in their personal lives. In other words, confronted with relentless busyness, some modern households are starting to run more like offices.

Julie Berkun Fajgenbaum, a mom of three children ages 8 to 12, uses Google Calendar to manage her children’s time and Jira to keep track of home projects. Ryan Florence, a dad in Seattle, set up a family Slack account for his immediate and extended family to communicate more easily. And Melanie Platte, a mom in Utah, says Trello has transformed her family life. After using it at work, she implemented it at home in 2016. “We do family meetings every Sunday where we review goals for the week, our to-do list, and activities coming up,” she says. “I track notes for the meeting [in Trello]. I have different sections, goals for the week, a to-do list.” Her oldest son started high school last year, and Platte says that without productivity and task-management software, she doesn’t know how he could manage it all. Trello allows her son to track responsibilities and deadlines, and set incremental goals.

I would prefer not to.

This website is so frustrating!

You must check this website out, it’s so bad it’s good.

Behold, the most (intentionally) poorly designed website ever created
Sometimes we take Web and user interface design for granted—that’s the point of User Inyerface, a hilariously and deliberately difficult-to-use website created to show just how much we rely on past habits and design conventions to interact with the Web and our digital devices.

We don’t appreciate how many user interface conventions we take for granted, until they catch us out like this. It’s crammed full of twists and jolts and frustrations. It took me an age to get past just the first page!

To Google or not to Google

I thought coming across these articles recently (just two of many) was a little ironic, given current moves at work to migrate us away from the Microsoft ecosystem towards Google’s.

How can I remove Google from my life?
Google started by taking over the search engine market. It now dominates smartphone operating systems (Android), browsers (Chrome), web-based email (Gmail), online video (YouTube) and maps. It is also challenging in other areas with its own cloud platform, an online office suite, Chromebooks, Waze, Nest and so on. Google is far advanced in driverless cars (Waymo) and artificial intelligence (DeepMind). Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.

Can I buy a phone that doesn’t use anything from Google or Apple?
Very easy. You can pick up a Nokia 105 (2017 edition) for about £15 or a dual-sim Nokia 106 (2018 edition) for about £16. These are only 2G phones but they have built-in FM radios, they can send texts, they are great for making phone calls and they are not based on Google or Apple technologies. A 3G or 4G phone would cost a bit more …

Of course, you may also want to do smartphone-type things such as email and web browsing. In that case, buy a GPD Pocket 2, GPD MicroPC, One Mix Yoga, One Mix 1S, One Mix 2S or similar just-about-pocketable computer running Microsoft Windows 10 on a 7in screen. (GeekBuying stocks several models and is taking reservations on the One Mix 1S.) Mini-laptops may look expensive but they are cheaper than high-end smartphones.

This answers your question but it is obviously not the solution you are looking for …

I remember someone once saying, ‘friends don’t let friends use SharePoint‘, but I’ve got used to it now, I think, and like how it links with Flow and Forms and Outlook and all the rest of it. Somehow, that will all have to be on Google Sites and Google Drive now. And I’m really not looking forward to attempting to recreate all my Excel work in Sheets.

A 10 minute comparison: Office 365 vs Google’s Suite – WorkTools #32 by Christoph Magnussen

Future of Google Sites

Well, OK, the new Sites builder (23:37 in the video above) looks good/idiot-proof, I guess. In theory. *sigh*

Futuristic noise pollution

This story of unforeseen consequences of new technology reminds me of those energy-efficient LED traffic lights that couldn’t cope with snow.

Here’s The Guardian last year.

New law to tackle electric cars’ silent menace to pedestrians
They are green, clean and make very little noise. It is this latter quality, initially seen by many as a good thing, that has become an acute concern for safety campaigners, who fear that the rising number of electric vehicles constitutes a silent menace.

When they travel at under 20kph (12 mph) the vehicles can barely be heard, especially by cyclists or pedestrians listening to music through headphones. “The greatest risks associated with electric vehicles are when they are travelling at low speeds, such as in urban areas with lower limits, as the noise from tyres and the road surface, and aerodynamic noise, are minimal at those speeds,” said Kevin Clinton, from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents.

But the days of silence are numbered. From July next year, all new electric and hybrid models seeking approval in Europe will have to emit a noise when travelling at low speeds. Existing vehicles are expected gradually to be retrofitted with devices.

So, it’s now ‘next July’, and has the situation improved?

Futuristic sounds to make electric buses safer hit wrong note
John Welsman, from the policy team at Guide Dogs UK, who attended a TfL presentation last month, described the sounds as “all very spaceshippy” and said he would prefer electric buses to be fitted with a canned recording of the old Routemaster bus.

Welsman added: “They did play us a sound like someone blowing bubbles through a pipe. That just wouldn’t work. And there was an intermittent bleeping sound like an email alert that would increase or decrease in rapidity depending on the the speed of the vehicle. It was very irritating.”

Buses that sound like e-mail, cars that sound like something out of Star Wars.

Electric cars could sound really weird thanks to new EU regulations
After mood boards, focus groups, and plenty of testing, Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) came up with a futuristic sound akin to a spaceship in a sci-fi film – a suitable representation of the modern, sleek vehicle. But then they tested it on people, rather than looking around for the oncoming car, they looked up – apparently wondering where the alien spacecraft was. “It was very futuristic and did cause people to look in the wrong direction… upwards rather than outwards,” says Iain Suffield, noise, vibration and harshness engineer at JLR.

[…]

Some carmakers are already trying to be a bit different. Citroen’s concept car, the Ami One, has a unique sound design for its AVAS. Here, the aim is to use a human voice — not to shout warnings to pedestrians while it glides by them, but as the basis for the sound, layering a male and female voice together into the sustained sound required by regulations. It sounds a bit like a digital backup singer, or a robot humming.

Perhaps they should copy these old electric vehicles and use the clinking of hundreds of glasses bottles.

Making Twitter better, but why bother?

Twitter. I’m one of those boring snobs who say it was so much better in the old days, before it went all mainstream and shouty. I yo-yo a little with it; joining in, deleting everything, joining in again with a fresh account, deleting again.

I imagine someone trying to explain to me, back in 2007 when I first joined — happily twittering away to myself into the void — that in 12 years’ time it would become so embedded everywhere, its toxicity so inevitable and intractable, that Twitter would have to create specific rules to deal with hate speech from a sitting President of the United States.

Trump tweets could be restricted after Twitter moves against abusive posts by high-profile politicians
The new policy, announced by the company on Thursday, will affect world leaders and other political figures who use the platform to threaten or abuse others. It comes amid accusations Twitter has unfairly allowed the US president to tweet hateful messages other users would be censured for, and which critics say could lead to violence.

Why Twitter’s new policy on political figures’ tweets is encouraging
There is a strong argument that the rules governing everyone else’s ability to harass or spew hate should apply equally to those in power, whose harassing behavior is most likely to silence critics or cause other harm. But there’s also an argument that private companies such as Twitter have the least business meddling with the public conversation when elected or would-be-elected officials are involved. Doing so could have a dramatic impact on the democratic process, and citizens deserve to know what the people who represent them are doing and saying — perhaps even especially when their comportment is appalling.

I wonder what impact it will have on him, if any, to know that his posts have been formally categorised as hateful.

Politicians this side of the Atlantic can’t leave it alone, either.

Jeremy Hunt tweets solo Q&A after Boris Johnson skips debate
While answering Twitter users’ questions on Brexit, Hunt promised to give full rights to Europeans living in the UK and to “deliver a Brexit that works for the 48% not just the 52% — a positive, open and internationalist Brexit, Great Britain not Little England.”

What can be done? Here are a couple of suggestions.

Chrissy Teigen’s 2 suggestions for Twitter would make it 100 percent better
In a couple of tweets from Wednesday and Thursday, Teigen proposed two functions: One would create a feed for only happy posts that a user could access or view when they’re feeling emotional. The other proposed an “address book of sorts” where a user could, through typing or a link, note the reason why they started following somebody in the first place.

I use lists to help with both of those functions, but I’m not sure if I can be bothered going through the motions with it anymore. Does it bring me joy?

Listen to this, ol’ timer

Here’s an addition to the god-that-makes-me-feel-old list — the Walkman turns 40 this year. Fancy having to explain to someone what a Walkman was. Or what Napster was…

Walkman turns 40 today: How listening to music changed over the years
Though it was first invented 40 years ago, in 1979, the iconic cassette tape player defined the decade when legwarmers weren’t part of costumes and Reaganomics ruled the land. It was the first device that allowed listeners to take music with them on the go (hence, the name).

Since then, we’ve evolved to CDs, iPods, and the current age of streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music. It’s easy to forget how revolutionary the Walkman was for its time, and that it marked a pivotal moment in the nearly 150-year-old history of recorded music.

With that in mind, here’s a look at how we’ve listened to music through the years — from the 1800s to today.

There are some great photos here. We’ve certainly gone through a number of formats here. I wonder what’s next.

listen-to-this-1

listen-to-this-2

Don’t leave your computer unattended

Or this might happen.

Update faker
Update Faker allows you to “fake a system update”, it’s the perfect way to prank your friends, family members or colleagues. Especially when they’re working on something rather important.

Yes, it’s just a silly prank (reminds me a little of Hacker Typer), but you could see it as an important security/GDPR lesson.

Ever since the launch of updatefaker.com we’ve been flooded with positive feedback both online and in real life. And everyone who’s ever fallen victim to update faker will never leave their PC unattended again, which certainly is a good thing. You never know what bad things people are up to. This website is literally one of the least bad things that can happen to an unattended PC.

A well-connected farm

The festival itself really doesn’t appeal, but the infrastructure required is incredible.

How Glastonbury Festival builds a city-sized phone network for just one weekend
In 2010, data usage over the Glastonbury network reached 0.11 terabytes. In 2013, the first year of 4G at the festival, it jumped to 12.3, and at the last event in 2017 (2018 was a fallow year) it rose to 54.2 terabytes. The busiest time for data uploads was during the “legends” slot on Sunday afternoon, when Bee Gee Barry Gibb took to the Pyramid Stage. This year, EE predicts that data usage will pass 60 terabytes – with 5G being brought to the festival for the first time to take on some of the load.

The main challenge is not coverage but capacity, given the tight geographic space people are packed into. “We’re looking at Glastonbury being the size of York, but the capacity required is more like central London,” says Bennett.

a-well-connected-farm-1

Buyer beware

A team of US academics have published research, Dark Patterns at Scale: Findings from a Crawl of 11K Shopping Websites, which they believe shows the massive prevalence of sneaky user interface tricks designed to catch us out.

The seven deadly sins of the 2010s: No, not pride, sloth, etc. The seven UI ‘dark patterns’ that trick you into buying stuff
Dark patterns – user interfaces designed to deviously manipulate people into doing things – have become common enough on websites and in apps that almost two dozen providers have sprung up to supply behavior persuasion as a service.

And in some cases, these firms openly advertise deceptive marketing techniques, describing ways to generate fake product orders and social messages celebrating those fake orders.

These are their proposed categories of user-interface tricks.

Sneaking
Attempting to misrepresent user actions, or delay information that if made available to users, they would likely object to.

Urgency
Imposing a deadline on a sale or deal, thereby accelerating user decision-making and purchases.

Misdirection
Using visuals, language, or emotion to steer users toward or away from making a particular choice.

Social proof
Influencing users’ behavior by describing the experiences and behavior of other users.

Scarcity
Signalling that a product is likely to become unavailable, thereby increasing its desirability to users.

Obstruction
Making it easy for the user to get into one situation but hard to get out of it.

Forced Action
Forcing the user to do something tangential in order to complete their task.

‘Urgency’ and ‘scarcity’ sound like pretty standard advertising methods that we should be very used to by now, but some of those others are very dubious. Here are some screenshots from the research paper.

buyer-beware-1

Fig. 3. Three types of the Sneaking category of dark patterns.

buyer-beware-2

Fig. 5. Four types of the Misdirection category of dark patterns.

What can be done? Here’s one idea they discuss in the paper which I like the sound of.

buyer-beware-3

Fig. 10. Mockup of a possible browser extension that can be developed using our data set. The extension flags instances of dark patterns with a red warning icon. By hovering over the icon, the user can learn more about the specific pattern.

AI Spy

It seems we’re not the only ones playing with that AI fake face website.

Experts: Spy used AI-generated face to connect with targets
“I’m convinced that it’s a fake face,” said Mario Klingemann, a German artist who has been experimenting for years with artificially generated portraits and says he has reviewed tens of thousands of such images. “It has all the hallmarks.”

Experts who reviewed the Jones profile’s LinkedIn activity say it’s typical of espionage efforts on the professional networking site, whose role as a global Rolodex has made it a powerful magnet for spies.

Yes, it’s obviously a fake. I mean, only a fool would fall for that, right?

“I’m probably the worst LinkedIn user in the history of LinkedIn,” said Winfree, the former deputy director of President Donald Trump’s domestic policy council, who confirmed connection with Jones on March 28.

Winfree, whose name came up last month in relation to one of the vacancies on the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, said he rarely logs on to LinkedIn and tends to just approve all the piled-up invites when he does.

“I literally accept every friend request that I get,” he said.

Lionel Fatton, who teaches East Asian affairs at Webster University in Geneva, said the fact that he didn’t know Jones did prompt a brief pause when he connected with her back in March.

“I remember hesitating,” he said. “And then I thought, ‘What’s the harm?’”

<sigh> It might not be the technology we need, but it’s the technology we deserve.

But fear not, help is at hand!

Adobe’s new AI tool automatically spots Photoshopped faces
The world is becoming increasingly anxious about the spread of fake videos and pictures, and Adobe — a name synonymous with edited imagery — says it shares those concerns. Today, it’s sharing new research in collaboration with scientists from UC Berkeley that uses machine learning to automatically detect when images of faces have been manipulated.

But as Benedict Evans points out in a recent newsletter,

Potentially useful but one suspect this is just an arms race, and of course the people anyone would want to trick with such images won’t be using the tool.

Satire or harmful deception?

Fake videos — they’re just a bit of fun that we’re happy to spread around on social media, right? Whilst they play a part in the BBC dystopian future drama, Years and Years, helping to sway a general election, we’re not really fooled by them, are we?

Well, perhaps not yet, but they’ve got US politicians worried enough about their upcoming presidential election in 2020 to officially look into it all.

Congress grapples with how to regulate deepfakes
“Now is the time for social media companies to put in place policies to protect users from this kind of misinformation not in 2021 after viral deepfakes have polluted the 2020 elections,” Schiff said. “By then it will be too late.”

At the outset of the hearing, Schiff came out challenging the “immunity” given to platforms under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, asking panelists if Congress should make changes to the law that doesn’t currently hold social media companies liable for the content on their platforms.

Another example.

Deepfakes: Imagine All the People
Of course this isn’t real. The video was done by a company called Canny AI, which offers services like “replace the dialogue in any footage” and “lip-sync your dubbed content in any language”. That’s cool and all — picture episodes of Game of Thrones or Fleabag where the actors automagically lip-sync along to dubbed French or Chinese — but this technique can also be used to easily create what are referred to as deepfakes, videos made using AI techniques in which people convincingly say and do things they actually did not do or say.

A ‘fake’ arms race, for real

This essay from Cailin O’Connor, co-author of The Misinformation Age: How False Beliefs Spread, frames the issue of online misinformation as an arms race.

The information arms race can’t be won, but we have to keep fighting
What makes this problem particularly thorny is that internet media changes at dizzying speed. When the radio was first invented, as a new form of media, it was subject to misinformation. But regulators quickly adapted, managing, for the most part, to subdue such attempts. Today, even as Facebook fights Russian meddling, WhatsApp has become host to rampant misinformation in India, leading to the deaths of 31 people in rumour-fuelled mob attacks over two years.

Participating in an informational arms race is exhausting, but sometimes there are no good alternatives. Public misinformation has serious consequences. For this reason, we should be devoting the same level of resources to fighting misinformation that interest groups are devoting to producing it. All social-media sites need dedicated teams of researchers whose full-time jobs are to hunt down and combat new kinds of misinformation attempts.

I know I’m a pretty pessimistic person generally, but this all sounds quite hopeless. Here’s how one group of people is responding to the challenge of misuse of information and fake videos — by producing their own.

This deepfake of Mark Zuckerberg tests Facebook’s fake video policies
The video, created by artists Bill Posters and Daniel Howe in partnership with advertising company Canny, shows Mark Zuckerberg sitting at a desk, seemingly giving a sinister speech about Facebook’s power. The video is framed with broadcast chyrons that say “We’re increasing transparency on ads,” to make it look like it’s part of a news segment.

“We will treat this content the same way we treat all misinformation on Instagram,” a spokesperson for Instagram told Motherboard. “If third-party fact-checkers mark it as false, we will filter it from Instagram’s recommendation surfaces like Explore and hashtag pages.”

More fun with fakes

More videos — from the sublime to the ridiculous.

There’s a scarily good ‘deepfakes’ YouTube channel that’s quietly growing – and it’s freaking everyone out
Russian researchers hit the headlines last week by reanimating oil-painted portraits and photos into talking heads using AI. Now, here’s another reminder that the tools to craft deepfakes are widely available for just about anyone with the right skills to use: the manipulated videos posted on YouTuber Ctrl Shift Face are particularly creepy.

Club Fight – Episode 2 [DeepFake]

The transitions are especially smooth in another clip, with a comedian dipping in and out of impressions of Al Pacino and Arnold Schwarzenegger, and there are now clips from Terminator with Stallone which look very peculiar.

Here’s that earlier article and video mentioned above, about reanimating oil paintings.

AI can now animate the Mona Lisa’s face or any other portrait you give it. We’re not sure we’re happy with this reality
There have been lots of similar projects so the idea isn’t particularly novel. But what’s intriguing in this paper, hosted by arXiv, is that the system doesn’t require tons of training examples and seems to work after seeing an image just once. That’s why it works with paintings like the Mona Lisa.

Few-Shot Adversarial Learning of Realistic Neural Talking Head Models

Jump to 4:18 to see their work with famous faces such as Marilyn Monroe and Salvador Dalí (who’s already no stranger to AI), and to 5:08 to see the Mona Lisa as you’ve never seen her before.

So, farewell then, iTunes

Technology, software, media — none of it stands still. Here’s something that’s been getting a lot of attention from the latest Apple updates.

The rise and fall of iTunes, Apple’s most hated app
The success of iTunes cannot be overstated; it outlived pretty much every other consumer-focused piece of software from its time (here’s to you, Winamp). Windows 10 users would search for iTunes so much in the Windows Store that Microsoft eventually convinced Apple to bring it to the store last year. Over the years, however, Apple’s original philosophy of providing a one-stop shop for all your media became iTunes’ greatest undoing by saddling the app with more and more baggage that’s eaten away at its usability. The world has moved on as ubiquitous connectivity, cloud storage, and streaming media became the norm. iTunes is still around as a legacy app for those who need it. But for everyone else, iTunes is now officially a thing of the past.

I’ve moved away from Apple things now, but back in the day iTunes was such a large part of it all for me, so it was nice to see a screenshot of the old version alongside its less familiar new look.

so-farewell-then-itunes-1

Winamp gets a mention there, which reminded me of this bookmark I’d kept from last year.

Winamp is coming back as an all-in-one music player
First released in 1997, Winamp was a popular freeware media player famous for its utilitarian music playback and its wealth of incredible community-made skins. It was acquired by AOL in 2002, then sold to Radionomy in 2014. The last time Winamp was updated was in 2013, so news that a revival is coming should be welcomed by longtime fans of the app.

Those were the days. We shouldn’t live in the past, though, should we? But before we say goodbye to all that, let me point you to this again.

We’re all plugged in

Earlier this year I linked to research from Ofcom on children’s use of technology and media. Here’s their report on the rest of us.

Adults’ media use and attitudes – Ofcom
The annual adults’ media use and attitudes report provides research that looks at media use, attitudes and understanding, and how these change over time. The report also includes a particular focus on those who tend not to participate digitally.

Basically — phones. They’re everywhere. We’ve tried to dumb them down, we’re trying to reduce screentime, but there seems to be no stopping them.

media-literacy

Adults: Media use and attitudes report 2019 (pdf)

Key findings

• Mobile phones are increasingly integral to everyday life and half of adults now say, of all devices, they would miss their mobile phone the most.

• One in three adults never use a computer to go online and one in ten only use a smartphone, an increase since 2017.

• Video-on-demand and streamed content is becoming a central part of adults’ viewing landscape.

• Social media users are less likely than in 2017 to see views they disagree with on social media.

• Compared to 2017, internet users are more likely to have encountered hateful content online, however most didn’t do anything about it.

• Although most internet users are aware of at least one of the ways in which their personal data might be collected online, less than four in ten are aware of all the ways we asked about.

• There has been little change in critical awareness in the past few years, with many still lacking the critical skills needed to identify when they are being advertised to online.

• One in ten internet users say they don’t think about the truthfulness of online content, although those who do are more likely than in 2017 to make checks to verify the information.

• Thirteen percent of UK adults do not use the internet, unchanged since 2014; those aged 55 and over and in the DE socio-economic group remain less likely to be online.

• One in seven adults of working age in DE households do not go online, and when they do, one in five only go online via a smartphone.

Phone fears

I don’t have much luck with phones. After having iPhones for a while, I switched to a Windows phone. I liked the Metro UI and really thought that features like Live Tiles and Continuum would catch on. It turned out, as I said last year, that I was backing the losing horse in what was a two—not three—horse race.

So I made another switch, to Android this time. And bought a Huawei phone…

Exclusive: Google suspends some business with Huawei after Trump blacklist
Holders of current Huawei smartphones with Google apps, however, will continue to be able to use and download app updates provided by Google, a Google spokesperson said, confirming earlier reporting by Reuters. “We are complying with the order and reviewing the implications,” the Google spokesperson said.

Google blocks Huawei access to Android updates after blacklisting
Google said it was complying with an executive order issued by Donald Trump and was reviewing the “implications”, later adding that Google Play – through which Google allows users to download apps – and the security features of its antivirus software Google Play Protect would continue on existing Huawei devices. New versions of its smartphones outside China would lose access to popular applications and services including Google Play, Maps and the Gmail app.

Huawei responds to Android ban
In a statement emailed to The Verge, Huawei underscores its contributions to the growth of Android globally — which most recently saw the company’s Android phone sales growing by double digits while every other leading smartphone vendor was shrinking or stagnant — and reassures current owners of Huawei and (subsidiary brand) Honor phones that they will continue to receive security updates and after-sales service.

Meanwhile.

Mexicans buy fake cellphones to hand over in muggings
Costing 300 to 500 pesos apiece — the equivalent of $15 to $25 — the “dummies” are sophisticated fakes: They have a startup screen and bodies that are dead ringers for the originals, and inside there is a piece of metal to give the phone the heft of the real article. That comes in handy when trying to fool trigger-happy bandits who regularly attack the buses, big and small, that ferry people from the poorer outlying suburbs to jobs in the city center.

Smartphones have killed compact cameras

Via a Benedict Evans newsletter.

2019 outlook on the shipment by product type concerning cameras and related goods (pdf)
“Fascinating set of charts for the Japanese camera industry. The compact camera is now mostly gone thanks to smartphones, but the higher-end removable-lens cameras have stabilized, and at a much higher revenue than pre-digital, and lens sales are doing great. Also, the customer for these cameras is now younger and less male. Digital has opened up pro/hobbyist cameras even as smartphones killed snapshot cameras.”

smartphones-have-killed-compact-cameras

Last week, a look at the demise of CDs. Now, a similar curve for compact cameras. Avoid anything with the word ‘compact’, I think.

More fake face fun

More fun with fake faces. Here’s a breakdown from Eric Jang of Snapchat’s bizarre new filter.

Fun with Snapchat’s gender swapping filter
Snapchat’s new gender-bending filter is a source of endless fun and laughs at parties. The results are very pleasing to look at. As someone who is used to working with machine learning algorithms, it’s almost magical how robust this feature is.

I was so duly impressed that I signed up for Snapchat and fiddled around with it this morning to try and figure out what’s going on under the hood and how I might break it.

Eric takes it through its paces to learn a little more about how it’s generated. I hadn’t appreciated that it worked in real time like that.

beanie     turn     blonde

Update 15/05/2019

Classic FM got in on the act, and has taken a few portraits of classical music composers through the filter, with varying results.

We used Snapchat’s gender-swapping filter on famous composers… and the results are terrifying
5. Beethoven

more-fake-face-fun-5

Female Ludwig is a very sulky teenager.

An ugly problem, a possible solution

Taylor Lorenz at The Atlantic takes a long, hard look at Instagram and the extent of the misinformation and extremist ideologies that riddle the site.

Instagram is the internet’s new home for hate
Following just a handful of these accounts can quickly send users spiraling down a path toward even more extremist views and conspiracies, guided by Instagram’s own recommendation algorithm. On March 17, I clicked Follow on @the_typical_liberal. My account lit up with follow requests from pages with handles alluding to QAnon, and the app immediately prompted me to follow far-right figures such as Milo Yiannopoulos, Laura Loomer, Alex Jones, and Candace Owens, as well as a slew of far-right meme pages such as @unclesamsmisguidedchildren and @the.new.federation. Following these pages resulted in suggestions for pages dedicated to promoting QAnon, chemtrails, Pizzagate, and anti-vaccination rhetoric.

On and on it goes.

@q_redpillworld17, for instance, which requested to follow me after I followed @the_typical_liberal, has posted several videos and images claiming proof that the New Zealand shooting was a “false flag”; one post compares the mosque’s blood-spattered carpet with another image, implying that the carpets don’t match so the shooting was staged. Another is a graphic video of the shooting, with a caption claiming that the bullets disappeared mid-air. Another suggests 200 examples of proof that the Earth is flat. Another falsely claims that Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey is secretly connected to the Clintons, who feed baby blood to George Soros.

It’s interesting, vital reading, with links to Instagram accounts I’m certainly not going to follow or even link to here.

But what can be done? Ignore the worries of the privacy, anti-censorship and free-speech activists and regulate the whole tech industry? Yes, let’s start with that.

The white paper on online harms is a global first. It has never been more needed
Some of the worries seemed rooted in the classic error of confusing the internet with a few giant companies that have come to dominate that world. In reality, the problem we have is not the internet so much as those corporations that ride on it and allow some unacceptable activities to flourish on their platforms, activities that are damaging to users and, in some cases, to democracy, but from which the companies profit enormously. Sooner or later, democracies will have to bring these outfits under control and the only question is how best to do it. The white paper suggests one possible way forward.

It does so by going to the heart of the problem – corporate responsibility.

[…]

The white paper says that the government will establish a new statutory duty of care on relevant companies “to take reasonable steps to keep their users safe and tackle illegal and harmful activity on their services”. Fulfilment of this duty will be overseen and enforced by an independent regulator with formidable powers and sanctions at its disposal. Companies will have to fulfil their new legal duties or face the consequences and “will still need to be compliant with the overarching duty of care even where a specific code does not exist, for example assessing and responding to the risk associated with emerging harms or technology”.

You can read the White Paper online and judge for yourself.

You bought it, but is it yours?

Microsoft has changed its mind about selling e-books. Not only is it not selling any more, but it’s unselling those it sold previously.

Microsoft removes the Books category from the Microsoft Store
Previously purchased books and rentals will be accessible until early July, but after this, books will no longer be accessible, officials said in a customer-support article today. The company is promising full refunds for all content purchased from the Books category; anyone who bought books via the Store will receive further details on how to get refunds via email from Microsoft.

People aren’t happy though, as you can imagine.

Microsoft announces it will shut down ebook program and confiscate its customers’ libraries
This puts the difference between DRM-locked media and unencumbered media into sharp contrast. I have bought a lot of MP3s over the years, thousands of them, and many of the retailers I purchased from are long gone, but I still have the MP3s. Likewise, I have bought many books from long-defunct booksellers and even defunct publishers, but I still own those books.

When I was a bookseller, nothing I could do would result in your losing the book that I sold you. If I regretted selling you a book, I didn’t get to break into your house and steal it, even if I left you a cash refund for the price you paid.

Via the Wired newsletter, which added that “this remains a stark illustration of the fact that you never really buy digital media that’s locked down with DRM: merely a licence to access it for as long as its provider sees fit.”