Categories
Business Society Technology

Enemy at the gates: content marketing vs natural language (vs litigation)

I couldn’t help it. The English in the post was so bad I had to state the case. Sure, it only had one “like” and probably almost nobody had seen it, but all the same, it cried out “auto-translate”. The sentence structure was not blatantly incorrect, just…off. Sure, there were several actual mistakes, but they were the sort of thing that you would find in a Google search.

But in a different context.

This particular post was promoting a content marketing seminar or something like that. Some self-professed expert selling expertise. It was full of hashtags and the actual words were possibly spurted out by some paid service of other experts. The Facebook page had several thousand “likes” but the actual post just one which is fairly typical of this level of wannabees. But it is indicative of a larger problem.

While we discuss politics and how, when, if and what the platforms should censor or not in public dialogue, this is what is happening in the background. If they make their algorithms so they favor tags, well, tags is what users will give them. Even Apple has started using tags on their YouTube channel. They won’t get high in search ranking without them. Plain and simple.

So the post with terrible English attracted the attention of the owner of the page. He initially said it was correct, then said it might have been a typo. He then set his lawyer on me with threats to delete it. In a way this behaviour is entirely consistent with all the other things he has copied and pasted in order to present himself as an expert. That is how it works. A pecking order of ignorance. In the fast-changing world of social media, you can be an expert as long as you find customers with less knowledge or desire to keep up with the latest trends. Threatening to sue is standard operating procedure and we are all the poorer for it.

For what is the value of social media if I can’t freely post on my wall and discuss with my friends without fear of litigation? Should we all end up using it simply as content marketing, ever promoting something and seeing it simply as yet another channel? Social networks should actively protect our right to write freely and without fear or the content will simply become pointless. Even public figures should have the right to discuss freely on social media with their friends.

As well as all other problems, the actual language will end up being computer code compatible with whatever indexing mechanisms they use. Humans like to communicate. Stop policing it and enjoy.

Oh well, at least he corrected his post the next day. ; )

FOR THE RECORD: Ι flagged the comment where I was threatened with litigation to Linkedin but have not received an answer.

Categories
Media analysis Society Technology

The Queen’s Gambit isn’t just bad. It is proof that Netflix has made us stupid.

You will be extremely hard-pressed to find a negative review of “The Queen’s Gambit”, a Netflix series about a chess prodigy. So let me do my best.

We are living in a cinema-free pandemic period with limited choices. Important major international releases are frozen, production of new ones restricted seriously. Netflix can sit at a table with the producers of the new 007 and ask for it at a ridiculously low price because it is going stale and they don’t have many options. So let me start another way around. How did I hear about the Queen’s Gambit?

It was on Netflix’s reccomendations. We all know that it is a bad reccomendation engine but what other options do we have? Check it out on IMDB? That is getting worse every day as Amazon hasn’t spent time improving it in ages. First reviews? Always gloating for any old crap. So we take the bait, the Netflix promo on Netflix makes it look better than others, you see the first episode and then, well, the rest, because you are on the binge machine that is Netflix. Worse still, friends and family are also stuck in the same rut so we are not even cross checking. The Emperor has no clothes but, meh, let’s wait till the parade is over before saying it. And when you have invested eight hours on the parade of the mini series you are highly unlikely to admit it was wasted on mediocrity.

I will go further than that. The Queen’s Gambit is downright insulting and dangerous. Take for example the topic of substance abuse. The way it is presented we are left with the impression that it is a) easy to control b) useful for chess playing and c) with no long term consequences. Or maybe let’s see how the series portrays a woman entering a male-dominated realm: a) everything is polite b) nothing particularly nasty happens to her and c) grandmasters lose to her and immediately offer to help train her for her next challenge. This level of lying is insulting to millions of women of that era and even today. Women’s rights organizations should be an uproar.

In fact all the topics touched by this series are done in such a superficial way that it is problematic. Take the scene where she visits a hippy house to enjoy marijuana for example. It is the cleanest and least messy den ever shown on television to represent a hippy household. My daughter didn’t even understand the point of the scene as our heroine hoovered and tidied the place after a one night stand , also confusingly presented. This isn’t political correctness, it isn’t the opposite. It is just terrible movie-making that fails to really touch the audience in any meaningful way.

The Queen’s Gambit is an insult to so many great chess movies, so many true chess stories, to the heroes that battled hate in the Cold War. It isn’t just bad TV, it has a negative impact. People won’t start playing chess because of it, they will start pretending to play chess for a while maybe.

So my movie review would be like this: “If you are really bored with the pandemic in lockdown and have no access to anything else other than Netflix, if you want to mindlessly waste 8 hours of your life without learning anything of consequence, don’t miss it!”

The serious social and technological problem remains: how will we fix recommendation engines? If we introduce a social aspect to them, can we as a society, ensure we hold ourselves up to any level of intelligent critique? Or do we just want to have fun? Well the Queen’s Gambit is not even fun.

Categories
Society

Major scientific breakthrough on the virus from Greece

Did you know that contact with silver kills the coronavirus? In fact, according to most Greek priests, it kills all strands of the virus, even the new ones, even the ones we don’t know much about yet. Because the spoons used in communion are silver. 1+1=101

In case you haven’t visited a Greek church, Holy communion here is not like the rest of the world. We don’t do a wafer, biscuit or whatever else would make sense. No, Orthodox Christians in Greece share a spoon and drink from the same cup! And if you think that is ludicrous, wait until you hear the excuses they give for this. They range from “Christ kills all evil contained in communion” to “it is the alcohol in communion that saves us.” Fifty, a hundred or more people, gather on Sundays and basically exchange saliva based on the belief that this is an on-demand miracle, much like the spontaneous combustion every year in Jerusalem that gives us the fire to light our Easter candles.

For Greeks this is normal. The Greek Orthodox Church pretty much controls the Justice system and government. Greek schools teach more of what the church demands than most other topics. They own enormous parts of the country, prime real estate in central locations and of course an entire peninsula which in direct contrast to every single rational argument remains only for men. The President of Greece, now a woman, can not visit a part of the country because …well, because the church says so.

It is, of course, the right of every human to believe whatever they like. But in terms of public health, such irresponsible behavior that flies directly in the face of all available scientific knowledge is truly and monumentally criminal. The only miracle in this whole ridiculous farse is that the World Health Organization hasn’t intervened.

The image is from a preposterous article explaining away various cases

(Image link https://www.vimaorthodoxias.gr/peri-zois/i-theia-koinonia-se-eidikes-periptoseis/ )

Categories
Society

I think Greta should cut her hair

No, I am not one of those that make fun of the girl. I admire her and fully support the effort. From a communications point of view, Greta Thunberg greatly helped both bring forward important issues and the idiots that oppose global warming initiatives with no valid scientific or logical counter-arguments. In fact, I have an idea to cut emissions immediately, drastically and effectively.

Shave your head.

In fact don’t shave it, use a machine, less waste. If the entire planet shaved their heads the benefits would be enormous. I challenge some universities to calculate them in detail. We start of course with shampoos and conditioners and all those other hair washing products, their plastic containers, moving them across the globe, disposing of them. Then there is the water wasted in hours of washing hair, the energy to heat that water. Chemicals, gels, dyes, poisoning us and the planet. Electricity wasted drying hair, straightening or whatever else you do to hair. Time and energy wasted going to hair salons and all other trips related to hair. If we run the entire chain backward and eliminate hair care, I am pretty sure we can shave off 1 degree Celsius from the planet just by shaving our heads.

Starting with Greta.

My head. (I am setting a good example for the rest of you)
Categories
ART Society

Public Letter to Mr Joan Cheese of the Montipaithonz

That is not a spelling mistake in the title. That is very likely how the Greek Prime Minister might refer to you. Much like when you were eight years old at Peter’s Preparatory School, Weston-super-Mare, at your first public appearance you will wonder how he might have known that your family surname had once been Cheese. But no, it is simply that he is a total and absolute idiot. And it isn’t even funny.

Your public appearance this year in Greece cannot be a coincidence. Please don’t die before September. We need you. When this government first appeared, it was Monty Python sketches that saved our sanity. As they demanded we leave the European Union we watched “what have the Romans ever done for us?” Again and again. Pretending it couldn’t be real, that they couldn’t be serious. You often say that slapping people with fish was so funny because it was silly. But that would involve a person of intellect actually knowing it is silly. Our government can’t tell the difference. We are living in a hotel run by Manuel and prime minister who doesn’t even ask “¿Qué?” as he is heavily sedated by drugs in order not to have public breakdowns.

It cannot be a coincidence that you announced you are leaving Britain forever just at the time that most sane Greeks with an IQ above 3 also gave up on their country. It has become a natural filter of sorts. Anyone that can leave, leaves. What remains is a nation of Archie Leaches seduced by Wanda our magic prime minister, caught with our knickers down and suspenders, hapless and hopeless. You stole a three inch submarine and we live in a country where only one crooked politician went briefly to jail for commissioning a crooked real submarine and pocketing a few million for his troubles.

Before your first TV appearance, at that studio at Shepherd’s Bush you write that you wanted to have a heart attack. Here in Greece we often wish for such a swift death “to have a nice quick heart attack and be done with it all”. But we didn’t. And you didn’t.

I am not even sure that it would help at all if you organized a Secret Policeman’s Ball or put all your wits in the service of helping Greeks understand the utter stupidity of our political situation. When you first attended group therapy with Robin Skynner and his wife Prue you said it that “it made most film and TV drama seem pale, artificial and unconvincing by comparison.” Well welcome to Greece John, you are about to push it up a notch!

Categories
Business Society

Apple is gay.  But not as gay as the world needs it to be.

When Tim Cook came out to the media as gay I was not surprised.  We all knew that Apple products were disproportionately favored by gays.  The statistics occasionally cropped up and then disappeared in a very…Apple sort of way.  A very “gay” sort of way in fact if you wanted to use a crude and unfair generalisation in terms of stereotyping 5-7% of the world population and the richest corporation in the history of homo sapiens.  Interestingly enough that is about the market share of Apple products globally. (If you add smartphone and computers it may be a bit less but both kind of statistics are really hard to nail with any precision.)  Apple is the perfect demonstration of how hypocritical a gay CEO can be when he is the one in a position of power.

 

We don’t know exactly how many people on the planet are homosexual.  And to be honest, we shouldn’t really care. I have walked Gay Pride marches enough to know that all my gay friends, and the friends of their friends are a fantastically varied collection of human beings.  In fact I don’t even think classifications help. There is no “gay meter”, human sexuality is a wonderfully complex thing, nobody is completely “straight” and what people fantasize about or do in terms of their sex life is nobody else’s business.  It shouldn’t even be mentioned in business.

 

Oh wait.  Actually it is.

 

One of the biggest, most consistent and absolutely fair demands of all of us who believe in equal opportunities, is the push for fair pay.  I want my daughter to get paid as much as a man when she works doing a similar job. Hey Siri, is this true in Apple regarding gay employees?  Hmmm…no response, eh? I want my kids to grow up in a world where we don’t need quotas in upper management. Hey Siri, are there disproportionately more gays in Apple?  Siri won’t tell you.  Apple won’t tell you. It is their right after all not to tell you.  But why is nobody asking? We ask about all sort of other groups of people.  We do our politically correct best to help minorities of every kind.  We read and write about how a corporation needs a coherent mission and values.  If Apple is more camp than others why is not openly projecting it?

 

It seems rather impressive that we can #meToo ourselves until we are blue in the face and turn a blind eye to this opportunity.  If Tim Cook was a Yankees fan, when he met the President of the USA, we would read “and they joked about the game”. If the CEO of the richest corporation in the history of humanity was married to a woman we would probably see her at his side there too.  Through a combination of good timing and the all powerful Apple PR machine, since he bravely came out openly as gay however we have heard almost nothing.  A few carefully planned and executed, possibly paid for, high profile, profiles about it then. And since? Is Tim Cook in some way obligated to bring up LGBT issues since he has the ear of the world?  Should he be doing more?

 

Of course it is a personal choice.  And he should have the right to a private life.  Other CEO keep their families away from the media.  But the case of Apple and Tim Cook is a remarkable demonstration of the limits of selective political correctness, the limits of #metoo type of approaches and our extremely hypocritical approach to demands for transparency and “the truth” about our world.

 

Categories
ENGLISH POLITICS Society

The mythology of the Greek crisis

If you have any Greek friends you have probably heard the yarns.  The terrible harsh measures imposed on Greece “for the banks”.  Global capitalism eating up it’s children like Saturn and not a Zeus in sight to fight back.  Even Alexis Tsipras, the communist trained youngster, couldn’t do a Hermes on them.  He talked the talk and then somersaulted into submission signing one after another Memorandum of Understanding.  The “sold off Greece”, “mortgaged our future” and many other horrible things.   According to most Greeks it was either “the Germans making money off us” or “the EU making an example of us”.  According to conspiracy theorists it is “the beginning of a global economic meltdown.”

Let me help you with some facts.

  1. Greek business is, in general, crap.  “Crap” being a term I use in the strictest sense to denote lazy and unorganized.  Greece doesn’t really produce anything.  As a consultant I see a lot of companies “insides”.  Even those that appear to be healthy or export orientated are usually dependent on lazy government contracts one way or another.  There is no “private sector” really because even companies that don’t belong to the government, end up making most of their money directly or indirectly from the government.  Worse still, there is no major improvement.  If someone gave us a gazillion billions to pay off all our debt we would simply slide into debt immediately again.
  2. The myth about Greek civil servants still holds true.  Don’t look at official figures.  When the latest government of pseudo left incompetents took over, my father declared “well, they have no money to give away, so at least they can’t hire loads of new civil servants.”  Many people, usually like my father no longer well connected to developments, believe this.  The truth is that this government has continued with gusto in the age old Greek tradition of giving jobs for votes.  They just find new ways.  We have consultancy positions, committees and dozens of other ways to give money to have people dependent enough to vote for them again.  It is the PASOK know-how.  (A lot of PASOK went into the current government.)
  3. Greeks are still living the good life, they just complain more.  We have all taken a hit and it is true that some luxury items like expensive cars or international travel have been scaled back.  It is also true that people on the edge of poverty are worse off.  But the picture is not so clear.  Hospitals are worse off, lacking essentials very often, but most people find a way to get either private health care or some in between solution.  Doctors working in public hospitals abuse expensive machinery on the side for example.  Bus travel is virtually free as there are never ticket inspectors.  You hardly ever see anyone with a ticket anymore.  Most Greeks still own the house they live in and their summer house and possibly a flat or two in the city which they rent out or AirBnb on the side.  How many Germans have that?

I have written before about the many signs that Greeks are still wealthier and lazier in economizing than most Europeans.  Things like the lack of used goods stores or the price of coffee. Greeks still top charts on rates of spending on personal care or plastic surgery.   Supermarkets recently started charging for plastic bags and there was an uproar.  Old habits die hard.  You still don’t see too many people with carrier bags.  We just take plastic bags from the vegetables section and use them!  The “average American” we all like to make fun of, has infinitely more financial literacy than a Greek.  We don’t spread risk, or count investments or move money, here is a conversation with your average Greek about debt.

No, that sort of thing is for “stupid foreigners.” We just wait for the next Euro idiot to give us more money to share.

Categories
Business Society Technology

The fallacy of collective brainpower

I was 12 or 13 years old when I came across “The crowd”.  It was in Greek and must have belonged to one of my many intellectual cousins.  The subtitle reads “a study of the popular mind” and I couldn’t put it down.  We were guests at my aunt’s house and I read it all before we left.   No matter it was written in the late 19th century; this was fresh and relevant!   While other kids listened to Simon LeBon of Duran Duran, I thought of Gustave LeBon’s amazingly relevant book.  Had never seen it again until recently when I got a copy in English.   And I juxtaposed it with “the Wisdom of Crowds” by James Surowiecki written more than a hundred years later and full of examples about Wikipedia and crowdsourcing and how 100 bricklayers can make a better decision than a consultant that gets paid 20,000 per hour.

But Gustave was right.  I grew up checking his conclusions against my reality.  I could see it at my school.  When enough kids get together, they turn into animals.   I could see it across the street in the early 80’s, as Andreas Papandreou, that master of deception, spoke with simple slogans while stealing billions.  When you get enough people together, they lose their capacity for critical thinking, they “go down several rungs in terms of civilization” as he says.  There is no sense of personal responsibility.  Simple slogans, repeated again and again.  Music, images, emotion.  There is no wisdom in this sort of crowd.

I love what companies like Google are doing with our collective data.     I gladly give them access to almost everything I think and do in exchange for their amazing tools.  They make my life much much better.  Yet it is clear that this is not the product of evolution in our civilisation, nor the inevitable course in technology developing.  It is a fortunate respite from a kind dictator.   All these great ideas about the collective wisdom we could develop with technology depend on a kind central hub allowing them to work.  Or, as Surowiecki puts it, we need independence of opinion, decentralization and diversity before we even get to the matter of aggregation.

Our current tech boom is to a large extent an acceptance of failure.   Companies that establish massive followings define the terms, give away stuff and up the ante in terms of infrastructure.    You reward them by buying their stock.  Or by making small companies whose sole aim is to be bought out by the giants.  In the words of LeBon ” every civilisation is the outcome of a small number of fundamental ideas that are very rarely renewed. (…) At the present day the great fundamental ideas which were the mainstay of our fathers are tottering more and more. They have lost all solidity, and at the same time the institutions resting upon them are severely shaken.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Categories
Business Society Technology

English uber alles: the language digital divide

Google assistant is fantastic.  Unless you don’t speak English.  In which case it is almost useless.  The whole “Artificial Intelligence” vogue is rather misleading.  Because when I speak to Google Allo I am still using all my experience in computing.  It works great for me because I think like a computer.  I break down my questions into chunks the way I think the computer wants to hear it.  I add qualifiers, words to help the machine understand with more accuracy.  I use terms that are more likely to work.  When we say “natural language” hey, there are classifications.  I use “natural language more likely to be understood by Google”.  It drives others crazy.  They blame my perfect accent.  “But I said the same thing!  Why doesn’t it work for me?”  

 

Here’s the problem.  Google and pretty much everyone else in Silicon Valley, they are all only thinking in English.  Your Amazon Echo is designed for native English speakers.  (Pun intended.)  All your gadgets are.  Worse still, the intelligence is designed around people thinking  in English.  All the structure, the concepts, the way it is set up.  It is rather entertaining how some people get caught up with the fact that slang and tech words are conquering the world.  That is the tip of the iceberg.

 

Silicon Valley is moving ahead of the rest of the planet with leaps and bounds.  Light years ahead.  We don’t have local information.  We can’t use amazon like you do.   We can’t pay for stuff or call a self driving car.  Amazon will not be able to deliver to the trunk of my car either.  The United States are a test bed for new tech and the gap with everyone else will grow exponentially.  And only in 2030, when computers are smarter than humans, maybe, just maybe, those computers may decide to develop all these wonderful tools for the rest of the earthlings.    And even then it will take a lot of work.  Because English is the language that provides the structure and concepts.  More likely that you will have all learnt to think like Google by then. 

 

2030 is still material for science fiction.  Today, now, it is clear that we all have to move to the Valley or fall behind.  We have neither the data with which to develop such advanced tools, nor the number crunching power.   The entire planet sends their thoughts to Google every day  Out position, habits and preferences.  It is no conspiracy theory, it is simple mathematics.  Not impossible to catch up, just really really hard.

Categories
Society Technology

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.