The debate-izer of online noise

Was recently checking out imzy (www.imzy.com invitation only, they gave me a dozen if anyone wants one) and it got me thinking about the time we spend trying to reach a conclusion online.   Imzy has quite a reasonable user interface for a community type website.  It is surely better than Facebook’s and uses better thought out colour, graphics and notifications for what it does.  But I want more.

Very often in online discussions the whole thread becomes unreadable. Comments, responses, nested responses, people answering at the wrong place, others waffling on and some with gems of wizdom. What would be fantastic is some more automated way of turning a 150 comment saga into a “pro and cons” type exposition.

Having the “most liked” comments on top isn’t the best way.  It might just be that the online bullies are liking each others’.  My idea might need an actual person (whoever is running the show on the particular topic/page) to manually whizz through the comments and throw them into a basket of sorts.  Ideally it will present a tree like graphic which expands and contracts to demonstrate which facets of the topic had been covered.  That way we won’t be going around in the circles so common with online debates.

Older users of online forums will counter that we can do the same thing with categories and locked topics and featured topics and….well, you get the picture.  They are obviously “older users” and have missed the whole digital revolution.   Fast and furious, cute and cuddly, interactive graphics which are “good enough”.  Stuff we can take in our peripheral vision, that’s what we want now.

In the late 1380s in London the fashion was debating societies. At the end of the show the person running the two hour event, presented everyone with the conclusions, as in a summary of what had been said for and against.   For all of us who love discussion and truly seek the truth rather than trying to enforce our opinions on others this would be a wonderful thing to strive for 600 years later.

Apple’s (real) product recalls and Brad Pitt’s (alleged) whores

If you Google “apple product recall” you get less than a page of results.  That is peculiar, isn’t it?  Try searching for “recall history” or anything like that and you more or less get the Google equivalent of “what you are looking for does not exist in this galaxy”.  So then being Greek, I use the terms  “ανάκληση προϊόντων Apple” and get 32 thousand results.  Obviously the propaganda masters at Apple don’t bother with Greece.  Much like Apple support doesn’t bother with Greece and other “minor” markets.  They just rely on the well documented pro Apple journalist bias.  If I want a more serious and organised list of Apple product recalls, I can go for the United States to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.  That gives me many many more Apple product recalls.  And that is when you realise it is not just that Apple users are fanatics.  The company puts a lot of PR effort in making information disappear.    As it lobbies Washington to fight Samsung with legal fines and other restrictions.

PR and lobbying are of course well established form of corporate action.  Will Apple get fined for the whole Irish tax debacle?  Of course they won’t.  Hold up a bit with all the emotionally appealing “think different” adverts of us all flying about in the perfect future, white clothes, white background, white devices and white hoverboards.    Earlier this year Apple recalled  iPhones, iPads, iPods and Mac computers sold from 2003 to 2015.  And you think Samsung is the problem?  They admitted to 12 “incidents” which means that there were probably hundreds.  It is rather entertaining to watch liberal America up in arms against the “irrationality” of Donald Trump.  He lies in your face, changes views, claims the internet as an information source and generally does pretty much whatever he wants with absolutely no attention paid to facts or logic.  Yet “70% of the most active iPhone states vote Democrat“.  So you are accepting irrationality from your phone’s manufacturer, but think it is not OK for a President.

Who is more likely to have had an affair?  Brad Pitt or Stephen Hawking?  A politician or a doctor?  You will make a guesstimate about any of these questions based on your available information.  Do you read gossip magazines often?  Do you work in a hospital and hear rumours of infidelity often?  Apple makes product recall information disappear because it knows you won’t bother to search or think about it as long as I did today.  If I ask you about Brad Pitt again, but this time it is via chat on your cell phone, you will answer even more succinctly if you don’t like typing there.  Especially if you are using the iPhone keyboard which for some ridiculous reason is different from other keyboards on the planet.  As humans we are always looking for shortcuts.

It is the same reason homeopathy has lasted so well despite being complete rubbish with absolutely no results on any level.  (No, not even placebo.)  No matter how much evidence you pile in front of someone they respond “well, one time my son had a terrible rash and it just wouldn’t go…but homeopathy saved him”.   One time, one highly subjective personal experience trumps everything else.  And you can’t outTrump Trump.  Stupidity is unbeatable and we are all terrible judges.  You don’t know if the new iPhone is any good like you don’t know if you are more likely to get hit by lightning, a car or a falling piano this year.  In fact I suggest you are more likely to guess whether Brad Pitt does drugs with Russian prostitutes than to objectively compare an iPhone with a Samsung phone.

It is a bit like a husband-wife argument about who does most around the house.  Each of us focuses on their own contribution.  What it costs each of us in terms of energy.    Apple computer users have put up with the absolutely ludicrous application navigation wheel for years.  When pushed they will claim it is “the best”.  Like iPhone users claimed they didn’t need copy-paste until they got it.  Or two buttons on a mouse until Steve Jobs presented the magic mouse.  They “burned Pentiums to the ground” one month and the next were “using the incredible power of Pentium”.

So leave Brad Pitt alone.   And check those product recall lists before you start talking about Apple.

 

R.I.P. people that get tired of tech

Spent a good hour tidying cables today.  Three boxes full of them.  You can do a fairly good review of what came and went in the past four decades just by explaining the hows, whys and whats of these cables.  How we used to load software from audio cassettes.  Peculiar items needed to get early modems to work.  Dozens of cables from things that had caught on, so the cable was in all sorts of gadgets, and peculiar cables from technologies that failed.  It is easy to understand all those people that simply announce they have had “enough”.

I don’t even try to keep up anymore” announces a friend.  Yet straight after that he wants me to help set up something on his smartphone.  It makes no sense.  Sure, at times, gadget mania gets out of hand.  And we have all failed in predictions or made bad buying decisions.  But tech is life.  Since some ape picked up a branch and whacked another ape, we always look for better ways of doing things.  Faster.  More fun.  Think different and all that.  At worse because we get bored of the old stuff.

Why on earth do you do that to yourself?”  Another friend wondering where I find the patience to try and hack my kids’ latest game, or set up something peculiar on my home network.  Tinkering is a way of life.  Looking for better ways to live.  Tweaking and adapting.  People complain about how technology is distancing us from nature but we are simply adapting.  Charles Darwin would be proud of my cable collection.

Data comparisons show just how far ahead the U.S. is in tech

It started with a friend’s interesting project.  https://gotelonica.wordpress.com sets forth to draw comparisons between two European cities.  “Everyday stories, vivid images, mutual interests and hopeful efforts”… will have to be good enough though because finding decent comparative data is pretty complicated!

If you search the internet for “city comparison” or anything like that, you are most likely to find a US site comparing US cities.  Mobility in the United States is a fact of life.  And great websites cater to all sorts of ways to discover if your new job offer is as good as it sounds.  Or if you should buy a house there or anything else you are interested in discovering.   Similar efforts within Europe are almost non existent.   UN Habitat data doesn’t include Sweden’s second largest city.  Interesting online articles with catchy titles such as “these are the world’s dirtiest/most dangerous/best cities” rarely include both Thessaloniki and Goteborg.

In fact an American website offered the best weather and crime comparison.   Thessaloniki has a lower crime index and higher safety index.  Which doesn’t say much unless they analyse exactly how they get, process and quantify the data.  Being Greek I know for a fact that the stats coming out of that particular civil service are far from perfect.

You may eventually find some meaningful ways to compare the cities, if you try hard enough.  Gotelonica is an excellent idea because statistics are almost meaningless on their own in such a complex environment.  European cities cannot be set side by side like American ones.  We have no real federal or state system in place.  The European Union is meant to help us work in different places but in fact there is not that much mobility.  And the lack of data is a pretty convincing evidence of this.

We are decades behind America and it shows.   Much like my objections to Greek Police statistics above, almost any matter (other than the weather) concerning European cities is bound to become political.  Different measurements, different resources allocated to statistics, different infrastructures which make the numbers rather drab tools to paint a true picture.  It makes it even harder to build any sort of technological platforms or apps.  So we just sit around while Google and Facebook speed along by getting users to volunteer information, live with their tools and then use machine learning to offer better judgements than any European tool ever could.  Google traffic data is the best pan European resource for how fast you will get from A to B.  While we argue about how and why our GPS alternative never got off the ground, Maps just keeps getting better.

So next time you start talking about European tech entrepreneurs, take a moment to consider how hard it is to get decent databases to work with.  Or to attract other Europeans to your city to work for you.   Or even to calculate ahead of time the chances of either of these two happening.

Facebook will help us rebuild Greece

No, Zuckerberg isn’t about to buy Greek debt.  Nor will he set up Research and Development in Crete.     He isn’t even going to call up European leaders and ask them nicely to be kinder on repayment terms.  Facebook is going to help us build consensus.

Most people currently believe that social media achieves the exact opposite.  It is not mass media.   We hide alone and pretend, end up feeling inadequate…and all that kind of thinking which is prevalent right now in research papers.  “Get off social to get happy!” seems to be the accepted wisdom.

But let’s talk about really bad politicians.  We all have some.  My Italian friends simply could not believe what Berlusconi got away with for so long.  Americans are currently worried about Trump but forget they had George Bush, an equally dangerous buffoon, calling the shots for two terms.  The British simply laughed at the idiotic stuff Tony Blair came up with regularly and most African countries are almost used to crazy dictators.   All around the world, people vote for leaders so incredibly stupid, we would not trust them to hold our ice cream, let alone decide our kids’ future.   (More on “Trump, trinkets and the triumph of the twats” here.)

In Greece we have Alexis Tsipras.  I don’t need to run through moronic highlights.  The whole world has had a taste.  Take the worse you have seen or heard about him and just multiply it by a hundred.  He is an absolute idiot.  Uneducated, incapable and brash.  A lethal combination.

What is interesting about this particular clown however is his rise to power and what we did about it.   Many of us could see it coming.  We got on our soap boxes and cried:  “can’t you see?”  They couldn’t see.  He got elected.   Some of us insisted and from Day1 posted all the terrible things they did.  Still, we were the weirdos.  Yannis Varoufakis upped the ridiculous ante.   We were on Facebook about it.   The “let’s give them some time to see what they can do” attitude started cracking.  Some Facebook friends started expressing doubts.

Gradually more and more people turned.   If you are professionally on social media like me, you see a lot of different profiles, a lot of different groups of “friends”.  The arty people seeing their hopes of socialist reforms dashed.   The business crowd feeling the enormous damage done to the economy and the image of Greece abroad.  For a communications guy like me, the signs were glaring, obvious and flashing like bright lights: my country has split up into two social media clans.  On the one side are civil servant and all those directly or indirectly making money from Government.  On the other side the private sector.   We are the schmucks paying the bill.

This is no new divide.  But social media is helping as clear up the situation.   If you are a civil servant you can’t hide it from me in the long term.  A recent Facebook unfriending made this pretty obvious to me.  He is my age, full of energy, similar outdoor interests, also a keen traveller, well read and we agreed on everything.  Even touchy subjects like child rearing approaches.  In politics we had a similar approach, ended up supporting similar parties.   On Facebook it seemed so that is.   And then recently he did it:  he reposted an article that “not all civil servants are evil”.

Like you do on Facebook, I pushed a bit.  It didn’t take much prodding.  He came out and admitted it:   “I am 47, have a wife and a kid now, I will not give up my job security”.    It was the fastest unfriend I have ever done.   Because it was obvious. Sharing anything with him is simply a waste of time.   I live in a global economy and have my kids ready to go to any country in the world necessary for work at a moment’s notice.   Government handouts are not part of this plan.  Business opportunities are always global.   He talks the talk but, like the bloated Greek public sector, will not walk the walk.

Though only half Greek, I love this place.  Greek culture can and should have a bright spot on planet Earth.  But it will not achieve anything while sitting on its butt.  Through Facebook we will unfriend all those civil servants.   We will uncover the hypocrites.  Over time they will give themselves away.  Sooner or later they repost something about Merkel being bad to us, or idiotic pseudo economic conspiracy theories borrowed from a failed ex minister in Australia.   We will build a new consensus and a new idea about what it means to be Greek in the modern world.   One post at a time.   It’s not about living in Greece and it sure as hell isn’t about job security and living off loans.  If there is something special about this great civilisation it has nothing to fear of new technologies, new economies or alien invasions, Jews, Germans and whatever other imaginary enemy lazy Greeks imagine are all working against them.

I hope Argyris quits his job in the civil service and finds something to do in the real world economy some time soon.    (Posting this on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter now, guess he will see it sooner or later.  ; )

 

Trump, trinkets and the triumph of the twats

Next time you meet a dog, try this.  Take a fresh juicy steak and say:  “If you sacrifice this meat, you will earn a special place in Dog Paradise!”  No, a dog will not give a hoot, a steak or half a dry poo for the afterlife or any other such vague idea.  It is a uniquelly human thing to put religion, politics or fantastic creatures of our collective imagination above basic needs.

Sathya Sai Baba was a charlatan who amongst other ridiculous tricks “magically” produced trinkets for his audience.   That was not what they travelled to see him about though.  It was his ideas.   The trinkets were just part of the morning ritual.  A lucky few got to meet with him and be blessed.   Less lucky few suffered his sexual advances.  Silently.  For an idea.

It is our capacity to join forces for big ideas and trinkets that makes us humans such an incredible force to be reckoned with.  No matter what you think of Donald Trump, he has won.  The world is split into Trump lovers and Trump haters and both these groups go to pretty impressive extremes for him.  Much like they would a few centuries ago for their king.  In France they traded the idea of a Sun king for that of a Republicby killing their previous way of understanding how the world was ruled at the guillotine.

What this monumental advance of our species has achieved is to bring idiots like Trump to the forefront.   Twenty thousand years ago, you had to be a good runner, a strong fighter, able at fishing and hunting, fast at fashioning tools and a lot of other things.  Every day.  All the time.  But big ideas in politics and religion brought together more people than ever before, in groups larger than ever before.  And so we could support the twats.

Those with no obvious gift, strength or ability found niches.  You could make a living producing nothing edible.   One clever weird looking man claimed he heard the voices of his ancestors.  In the old days they would have killed him as a misformed baby.  He surely would never get a woman.  Now he had twenty virgins in the next room waiting for him to be sacrificed.

The leader of the clan was no longer the strongest or wisest.  It was the useless fool who insisted no matter what.

Social media diet inspired by primitive, happy humans

Heck, they do it all the time with eating habits.  Why not make a social media regime and sell it?   So here are my tips on how to be happier through changes in your social media habits.   All scientifically tested and based on decades of research:

  1. Eat everything.  Hunter gatherers where more gatherers than hunters.  Always on the look out for berries, or roots, or well, anything edible.   Do the same with your social media.  Don’t be picky which platform to use.  They all taste slightly different.  When you stumble on one, use it.
  2. Gorge on opportunities.  When a stone age wanderer found a tree full of fruit they didn’t sit around debating; they ate as much as possible before some other tribe of humans or monkeys came and ransacked everything.  When you find a new niche, milk it.  Getting a lot of likes for Einstein quotes?  Go for it!
  3. There are three ways of walking the earth.  Ancient nomads where mostly alone all day, with a very small troupe of relatives, 10-20 usually somewhere within shouting distance.  That is how they lived for days and months on end.  Occasions for meeting strangers or bigger gatherins where extremely rare. Emulate this in your use of social media.  Pick a platform for those really close and important to you.  Email, Google plus, ello, instagram, whatever.  Live there most of your day with them.
  4. Be vicious.  Our ancient ancestors were brutal.  Some killed newborns at a whim if they didn’t look nice.  Old people were knifed from behind if they couldn’t keep up, or just left up a mountain.  No regrets, just unfriend, block, send them to cyber heaven.
  5. Boldy go wherever there might be greener grass.  Our nomad ancestors never stopped exploring.   What’s that?  Snapchat?  Hell yeah, let’s try it.  No matter if it looks barren, heck they walked across miles of ice to get to America, you some sort of chicken?  Old places have stale opportunities, look for new vistas.
  6. Burn it all down.  When some enterprising bunch of sailors arrived at Australia 45 thousand years ago, they wiped out all but one of the large marsupials that roamed that continent.   They just burned down forests for fun.  Don’t save for tomorrow what you can use today.  That folder full of “good stuff I found to use some time”?   Well, the time is now.  Go for it.

I could go on with more points but of course I am developing the idea in a book.  And series of seminars, world tour and self-help audio.  Because as my ancient primitive ancestors knew, everything has a price.  Trade wherever you can!

Tech beyond the law; virtual reality TV for Banana republics

It is funny to watch regulators try to catch up with Facebook and Google.  These days it is about how they filter news results.  Which sort of shows how little anyone understands the tech involved.  Of course Facebook and Google’s algorithms are biased!  By definition any system which regulates a flow cannot be objective and fair.  There is no 50-50 rule concerning ideas.    Even if there was, it is impossible to check up on them.   The results are personalized.  The sauce is secret.

The TV situation is similar.  Only old folk watch TV.  Kids YouTube everything.  There is no “digital battle”, no “interactive frontier”, none of those flashy titles panned out for the old style media organizations that used to make up the titles in the first place.  We are officially in Banana Republic.  No rules.  No time to make complex rules about the ethics, business or law concerning all of it.  Moore’s law may be outdated for processing power, but the tech industry was never just about that.

Case in point:  virtual reality.  In the old days, you used to expect a company to “get it right”, or a consortium of companies to agree on a standard.  Now Google shells out three dozen variations of virtual reality in a year.  From cardboard, to Spotlight stories, to ten different ways to use your smartphone, collaborations with Lenovo or Samsung, Google will slice and dice, present and represent solutions until something comes out of it all.  Each approach may be a completely different in terms of tech, marketing, distribution, production or something you haven’t even heard of yet.  A 12 year old will coin a term for it though.    Ah, wait, a 12 yr old already did that.  I read it in my news feed…

Some of us never tire trying to make sense of it.  Most just wait for the dust to settle.

But by then it is way too late.

Radiohead – A moon shaped pool

“Try this.  You like weird stuff.”  Some years ago someone gave me a collection of “weird stuff”.  Moody and noisy.  I call them soundscapes.  And the new Radiohead album comes pretty close.  This is an album you want to play loud with headphones as you walk through your dreams or nightmares to try to figure out something.

The audio cues are like trance dancing material.  They must have had fun in sound design.  ‘Burn the witch’, ‘Daydreaming’ and ‘Decks Dark’ set the stage like that before ‘Desert Island Disk’ comes along with it’s acoustic guitar as anything vaguely ‘normal’.  Oh, wait a minute, there goes that one too down the dreamy, stoned world of sweeping background sounds.  It is as if whenever anything sounded familiar they worked on it until it didn’t.  “Identikit” starts like a studio out take and turns into an anthem of something, anything you want it to.

This is more like a trip through space or an ocean voyage.  The fog lifts occasionally briefly and then reappears.  Vocals ranging from a greek “moiroloi” style chants, to whinging, whining, painful, thoughtful, pensive rants.  If you are looking for a hit single, don’t bother.  This isn’t an album, it’s a disease.  You hear it once and then you want to hear it again.

Whatever planet these guys have lived on for the past years making this album, heck, I want to live there with them.

From brain to IPO. Map out your communications

Let’s take a typical day of little Miss X, CEO of an exciting new startup.

Little Miss X wakes up from a nightmare.  She jots down what she remembers of it in a diary next to her bed to take to her shrink.  This is information just for the two of them.  Clear cut case.  She doesn’t put it anywhere else and she will probably burn the diary; it is all written in shorthand that nobody else will understand anyway.  She then goes to the toilet.  This too concerns nobody else other than her husband.  “Sweetie I’ll go first and you can shower while I prepare breakfast” she says as she goes.  Another interaction which doesn’t need to be on Facebook or anywhere else.  We are still in a very private sphere of Little Miss X’s world.  She doesn’t tell him about a strange lump she feels on her breast, he doesn’t need to worry about that.

But the minute she sits on the toilet and opens Facebook on her cell phone she is out and about.  For starters, all her friends know she is awake.  They see her “Likes” on their posts, then a few of her comments and emoticons.  Her sister sends a message:  “Goodmorning sis!  Nervous about the big event today?”  Miss X posts a picture from her trip to Bali, a Budha at sunrise.  Only her Facebook friends can see it and she is very picky about who is her Facebook friend.  Privacy concerns apart, this is still what she considers a private area.

Over breakfast she scans the news online.  There is an article about her industry in the New York Times.  She posts a small comment on her personal blog, careful not to mention the article directly, but answering the main points.  After all the blog has all the legal disclaimers.  It is her personal opinion, not her company’s official position or anything like that.  But already her mind is at work.

On the drive to the office she snaps a pic of a rainbow landing on the billboard announcing their IPO.  No time to waste, post that straight to the company’s Facebook page.    “A bright new start” seems like a good title in view of what is coming up today.   Sally in Marketing will see it and maybe use it somewhere else later too. 

Little Miss X get to her desk and sits behind the computer.  Now she is at work proper.  Reviewing the press releases and other official communications of the day, thinking about her speech.  From the lump in her breast which absolutely nobody knows about, to her words in front of the cameras in a few hours which will get retransmitted in as many ways possible.  Her success as a person and a businesswoman hinges on mapping them out:

This information goes there.   That information you can expect to find here.”   If you are my personal friend and you send me a message via Facebook I will probably respond immediately.  If you follow my personal blog and write a comment, expect a friendly and unofficial vague response within the day.   If you find the rainbow on the billboard great, someone in marketing will write something marketingey within 15 minutes.   If you don’t like my speech during the IPO I will get full business on you and hit you with data, facts, figures very carefully.”

We all need to be clear about these information flows.  When I say “map it out” I literally mean a map.  You have Pinterest page which you never check up?  Write it on your Pinterst bio:   “I don’t use Pinterest much, check out my Twitter feed if you want to keep up with my latest.”    Started that Path account back when it looked cool?  Well update it.   “If you want to get in touch, I hardly ever check up on this account, so please don’t send a message here.  Catch me on my personal blog.”   LinkedIn?   Sure, but I check it up about once a week.   Draw up all your communication channels and tell everyone about it.

Be clear or be smeared.