Caught out by their own documents #2

Dutch Data Protection Authority accidentally leaked its employees’ data
“When it comes to data leaks, the same procedures apply to all parties, including us,” Gras added. Still, Gras insisted that the blunder in question was relatively mild and did not require any formal notification.

“A data breach must be reported if it leads to serious adverse consequences for the protection of personal data, or if there is a significant chance that this will happen,” she stated.

So it appears that the leak was too insignificant to necessitate reporting it to themselves.

PDF problems again…

Back under the bonnet

Russell Davies on the backward steps we’ve taken with how we relate to the web.

Let’s make the grimy architecture of the web visible again
And, for a while, domain names and URLs became part of the fun of the web. While the more commercial parts of town got excited about the money changing hands for cars.com, the bohemian quarters were creating baroque constructions like del.icio.us or mucking about with ridiculously domains. I don’t think I’ve ever been as excited as when I realised I could buy agoodplaceforacupofteaandathink.com. Surely, I thought, this must already have been snapped up. And then the URL shorteners arrived.

[…]

It’s increasingly apparent that a more digitally literate citizenry would be good for a thousand different reasons. A great way to start would be to make URLs visible again, to let people see the infrastructure they’re living in. Perhaps it’s time for some pro-URL sloganising: Beneath The Shorteners, The Web!

Agreed. Another example of this has been prevalent in TV and radio advertising for a while now — adverts ending with calls to search specific keywords or hashtags, rather than directing potential customers to web addresses. As well as reinforcing this move to de-emphasise URLs, dumbing-down the internet and creating more reliance on search engines, it can also work against those companies themselves.

The lunacy of search term CTAs in TV ads
Additionally, it is very difficult to dominate page one of the search results for those generic terms. Taking the Mini Original commercial shown above, the search query they told viewers to search for online was ‘New Original’. When conducting this search on Google, the first page of results are no where near dominated by Mini. As you can see from the screenshot below, seven of the listings are nothing to do with the car.

From mighty oaks, little acorns grew

The hulking, retro computers that made way for your iPhone
His delightful images present every dial, button and screen in exquisite detail. The computers in Guide to Computing are quaint—slow and stodgy by today’s standards—yet fascinating. They are the precursor to the machines so central to your life. Appreciate their importance, but also their beauty.

Beautiful examples of relatively recent objects that we just don’t see any more. They may as well be from the pyramids.

Guide to Computing
This wonderful series of historic computers documents the evolution of design within computing history. Featuring such famous machines as the IBM 1401 and Alan Turing’s Pilot ACE and the Xerox Alto; Guide to Computing showcases a minimalist approach to design that precedes even Apple’s contemporary motifs.

IBM2401

Big bad numbers

TechCrunch has a summary of the latest report from Google on its attempts to clear up its mess. Some of the numbers are incredible.

In 2017, Google removed 3.2B ‘bad ads’ and blocked 320K publishers, 90K sites, 700K mobile apps
Google also removed 130 million ads for malicious activity abuses, such as trying to get around Google’s ad review. And 79 million ads were blocked because clicking on them led to sites with malware, while 400,000 sites containing malware were also removed as part of that process. Google also identified and blocked 66 million “trick to click” ads and 48 million ads that tricked you into downloading software.

Sounds impressive, but that’s not all they’re trying to tackle currently.

The bad ads report publication comes in the wake of Google taking a much more proactive stance tackling harmful content on one of its most popular platforms, YouTube. In February, the company announced that it would be getting more serious about how it evaluated videos posted to the site, and penalising creators a through a series of “strikes” if they were found to be running afoul of Google’s policies.

The strikes have been intended to hit creators where it hurts them most: by curtailing monetising and discoverability of the videos.

This week, Google started to propose a second line of attack to try to raise the level of conversation around questionable content: it plans to post alternative facts from Wikipedia alongside videos that carry conspiracy theories (although it’s not clear how Google will determine which videos are conspiracies, and which are not).

That sounds quite intractable. It will be interesting to see how that plays out.

Our phones and (are?) us

If I’m reading this right, a mobile phone manufacturer is saying less than positive things about their mobile phones. (Not for the first time?)

Phones should be ‘slaves, not masters’, says Samsung UK mobile chief
… Following increasing unease from technology insiders and development experts that young and old alike are becoming increasingly addicted to smartphones, social media and the constant need for messaging, Samsung’s head of mobile in the UK says that something needs to change to stop the constant heads-down relationship we have with our devices.

“Ultimately what we want to try and do is create more of a heads-up lifestyle,” Conor Pierce, Samsung’s vice president of mobile and IT in the UK and Ireland, told the Guardian at the launch of the company’s new Galaxy S9 smartphone.

“Let’s not spend our life looking at these devices. You look around and everyone is doing it, leaning over [their] phones. Let’s make the device be the slave and we’ll be the master – let’s turn the roles completely on their head.”

And the problem of all this distracting technology can be resolved through more technology?

“What I’m really looking forward to is making sure that not only customers have the best mobile experience, but also the best connectivity experience,” said Pierce. “Through our SmartThings open alliance, we’re bringing a ubiquitous, convenient experience in which users can control their privacy, as they need to be able to do, regardless of brand, to make it all a really joyful, easy, trusted experience for real people.”

Combine that with this discussion on the ‘extended mind’ thesis:

Are ‘you’ just inside your skin or is your smartphone part of you?
After all, your smartphone is much more than just a phone. It can tell a more intimate story about you than your best friend. No other piece of hardware in history, not even your brain, contains the quality or quantity of information held on your phone: it ‘knows’ whom you speak to, when you speak to them, what you said, where you have been, your purchases, photos, biometric data, even your notes to yourself – and all this dating back years.

Excel tips and tricks

Often with these kinds of training videos it’s the ‘ooh I’d forgotten you could do that‘ moments that are the most useful. The overall topic of the tutorial itself might not be what you’re after (do you really need to know how to make a Christmas Tree in Excel?), but just simple reminders about things like F9 or index match are just the ticket.

Here are some of my recent favourites:

From Exceljet‘s channel, How to fill in missing data with a simple formula

From Leila Gharani‘s channel, Excel index match advanced: lookup multiple criteria in rows or columns

From the My Online Training Hub channel, Labeling events in Excel charts

From the Excel Is Fun channel, Excel magic trick 1474: Excel twinkling Christmas Tree with star & formulas as presents!

What’s so funny, Alexa?

Amazon has a fix for Alexa’s creepy laughs
As noted in media reports and a trending Twitter moment, Alexa seemed to start laughing without being prompted to wake. People on Twitter and Reddit reported that they thought it was an actual person laughing near them, which is certainly scary if you’re home alone. Many responded to the cackling sounds by unplugging their Alexa-enabled devices.

Start stopping

We’re into well March but there’s something new-years-resolution-y about a couple of things I’ve been reading recently — less is more / stop grasping the new / focus on what’s important…

Your old gadgets are likely good enough
The TV I watch with my wife when I’m kicking back is close to 12 years old. It pushes out pixels in 1080p. I don’t care about the fact that it doesn’t provide me with the sharpest image or that it’s not as thin as new models are. I love it because my wife and I can cuddle on the couch in front of it and share an experience together. A newer model wouldn’t do much to change that. My smartphone is two years old. It takes decent photos and lets me stay in touch with people. Sometimes I watch a movie on it. I can’t imagine myself saying anything different about this year’s handsets. Would I love an iPhone X? Probably. Do I think that it’s worth forking over $1,000 for? Not for a second. I’ll use it until the wheels fall off because it’s good enough.

Couldn’t agree more. I was prompted to resuscitate our old iPod Classic after reading this from The Verge. I’d forgotten how well designed it was.

My original iPod is a time capsule from 2002
As for me, the moment I plugged my headphones into my freshly charged iPod and listened to music that had lain dormant for the past 16 years, it was like being transported back in time. Nothing had changed. The music sounded as good as it did back then. Some tracks even sounded better on my old iPod than they do on my Google Pixel 2 XL. My iPod may be scratched and dented but it still looks cool as hell and is a joy to use, even if it is just for a short while before its ancient battery gives out. And at least it has a headphone jack.

Our iPod Classic isn’t quite that old (and I found a first generation iPod Shuffle too, which I’d completely forgotten about), but using that again, for the first time in ages, felt great. That click wheel is still a marvellous thing, much more tactile that all this featureless glass-stroking that surrounds us now.

Speaking of which:

It’s not you. Phones are designed to be addicting.
The 3 design elements that make smartphones so hard to put down, explained by Google’s former design ethicist.

If you can get past the use of the word ‘addict’ as a verb or the term ‘design ethicist’, there are some interesting points here about colour theory and user interaction.

And here’s an interview with Tristan Harris, the man behind that video:

How technology is designed to bring out the worst in us
… I say this because addiction with teens, developmentally, it’s not good for them. When you talk about regulation, or we talk about how we’re going to get out of this, the specific things you do is another question. I just want to say that we know there’s a huge public health problem here. We have got to do something, because the current thing that’s happening now is not working.

Pretty pessimistic, really. It sounds intractable. He’s persevering, though:

Center for Humane Technology
Since 2013, we’ve raised awareness of the problem within tech companies and for millions of people through broad media attention, convened top industry executives, and advised political leaders. Building on this start, we are advancing thoughtful solutions to change the system.

Caught out by their own documents

Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager currently tied up with the ongoing Russia investigation, must have skipped a few MS Office training seminars at work, as he seems to be unaware of Word’s Save As function.

How Manafort’s inability to convert a PDF file to Word helped prosecutors
“Manafort emailed Gates a .pdf version of the real 2016 DMI P&L, which showed a loss of more than $600,000,” the indictment claims. “Gates converted that .pdf into a Word document so that it could be edited, which Gates sent back to Manafort. Manafort altered the Word document by adding more than $3.5 million in income.”

Then, according to the indictment, Manafort “sent this falsified P&L to Gates and asked that the Word document be converted back to a .pdf, which Gates did and returned to Manafort.”

By sending these documents back and forth by email, Manafort and Gates made it easy for prosecutors to pinpoint exactly who changed the documents and when.

It reminded me of this story, linking corruption to a popular Microsoft font.

A Microsoft font may have exposed corruption in Pakistan
The Microsoft font Calibri is now a key piece of evidence in a corruption investigation surrounding Pakistan’s prime minister. Investigators noticed that documents handed over by the prime minister’s daughter, Maryam Nawaz Sharif, were typed up in the font Calibri. But the documents were dated from 2006 — and Calibri wasn’t widely available at that point, making a good case that they were forged.

How Wikipedia found itself at the centre of a major corruption scandal in Pakistan
As I am part of Wikipedia’s counter-vandalism team, I have been engaged in the reverting of unverified information being added to the Calibri page by anonymous users. But as the edit war grew and the sensitivity of the issue became obvious, I had to ask an administrator to lock the page to restrict any further edits in order to avoid misleading information being spread outside of Wikipedia.

Art and AI

Subtitled ‘What needs to happen for artificial intelligence to make fine art’, this is a fascinating read on current thinking about art and AI. The author, Hideki Nakazawa, one of the curators of the Artificial Intelligence Art and Aesthetics exhibition in Japan, thinks that, whilst we’re not there yet, we’re not too far away.

Waiting For the Robot Rembrandt
True AI fine art will be both painfully boring and highly stimulating, and that will be represent progress. Beauty, after all, cannot be quantified, and the very act of questioning the definition of aesthetics moves all art forward—something we’ve seen over and over again in the history of human-made art. The realization of AI will bring new dimensions to these questions. It will also be a triumph of materialism, further eroding the specialness of the human species and unveiling a world that has neither mystery nor God in which humans are merely machines made of inanimate materials. If we are right, it will also bring a new generation of artists, and with them, new Eiffel towers beyond our wildest imagination.

The pieces within that exhibition are grouped into four categories: human-made art with human aesthetics, human-made art with machine aesthetics, machine-made art with human aesthetics, and finally machine-made art with machine aesthetics. It’s that last category we’re interested in, but frustratingly it contained “no machine-made art, because none exists that also reflects machine aesthetics. The category was a useful placeholder—and, as we’ll learn, it was not entirely empty.”

What a great way to clarify where all these artworks, projects and systems sit. All too often we find AI and other computer systems merely mimicking the creation of art: the final product may look like art, but without the autonomous intention — without the AI wanting to create for its own sake — the AI is just a tool of the artist-behind-the-curtain, the programmer. For example:

‘Way to Artist’, intelligent robots and a human artist sketch the same image alongside each other
In the very thought-inspiring short film “Way to Artist” by TeamVOID, an artificially intelligent robotic arm and a human artist sit alongside one another to sketch the same image at the same time although with different skills. Without a word spoken, film loudly questions the role that artificial intelligence has within the creative process by putting the robots to the test.

More interestingly, here’s a wonderful piece that would have been placed in the second group of Nakazawa’s exhibition, human-made art with machine aesthetics.

Sarah Meyohas combines virtual reality, 10,000 roses and artificial intelligence in Cloud of Petals
Lastly, visitors can engage with a VR component, an element that replicates Sarah’s initial dream of the petals. There are six different screens and headsets – in a room filled with a customised rose scent – which are all gaze-activated to manipulate the AI generated petals. For example, in one headset petals explode into pixels as soon as you set your eyes on them.

And perhaps category three for these, machine-made art with human aesthetics?

A ‘neurographer’ puts the art in artificial intelligence
Claude Monet used brushes, Jackson Pollock liked a trowel, and Cartier-Bresson toted a Leica. Mario Klingemann makes art using artificial neural networks.

Yes, androids do dream of electric sheep
“Google sets up feedback loop in its image recognition neural network – which looks for patterns in pictures – creating hallucinatory images of animals, buildings and landscapes which veer from beautiful to terrifying.”

Don’t know where to place this one, however — art as a symptom of an AI’s mental ill health?

This artificial intelligence is designed to be mentally unstable
“At one end, we see all the characteristic symptoms of mental illness, hallucinations, attention deficit and mania,” Thaler says. “At the other, we have reduced cognitive flow and depression.” This process is illustrated by DABUS’s artistic output, which combines and mutates images in a progressively more surreal stream of consciousness.