Dr. Bill.TV #343 – Video – “The Short, but Not So Sweet Edition!”

A short edition of the show about Facebook experimenting on it’s users!

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TechPodcasts Network

International Association of Internet Broadcasters

Blubrry Network

Dr. Bill Bailey.NET


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Dr. Bill.TV #343 – Audio – “The Short, but Not So Sweet Edition!”

A short edition of the show about Facebook experimenting on it’s users!

Links that pertain to this Netcast:

TechPodcasts Network

International Association of Internet Broadcasters

Blubrry Network

Dr. Bill Bailey.NET


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Facebook Runs Psychological Experiments on Users!

Whoa! Now Facebook is messin’ with our minds?!

Facebook And The Ethics Of User Manipulation

TechCrunch – by Alex Wilhelm – “A recent, partially Army-funded study conscripted Facebook users as unwitting participants during a weeklong experiment in direct emotional manipulation. The study set out to discover if the emotional tone of a users’ News Feed content had an impact on their own emotional makeup, measured through the tone of what they posted to the social service after viewing the skewed material.

Nearly 700,000 Facebook users were shown either more positive, or more negative content. The study found that users who were given more positive news feeds posted more positive things, and users who were given more negative news feeds posted more negative things.

Surprising? Doubtful. Unethical? Yes.

Bear it in mind that the impact of the study wasn’t contained merely to those it directly manipulated. It notes that around 155,000 users from the positive and negative groups each “posted at least one status update during the experimental period.” So, hundreds of thousands of status updates were posted by the negatively-induced user group. Those negative posts likely caused more posts of similar ilk.

Contagion, after all, doesn’t end at the doorstep.

We won’t know if the experiment did any more than darken the days of a few hundred thousand users for a week in 2012. But it could have. And that’s enough to make a call on this: Allowing your users to be unwitting test subjects of emotional manipulation is beyond creepy. It’s a damn disrespectful and dangerous choice.

Not everyone is in a good emotional spot. At any given moment, a decent chunk of Facebook’s users are emotionally fragile. We know that because at any given moment, a decent chunk of humanity of emotionally fragile, and Facebook has a massive number of active users. That means that among the negatively influenced were the weak, the vulnerable, and potentially the young. I’ve reached out to Facebook asking if the study excluded users between the ages of 13 and 18, but haven’t yet heard back.

Adding extraneous, unneeded emotional strain to a person of good mental health is an unkindness. Doing so to a person who needs encouragement and support is cruel.

The average Facebook user has something akin to an unwritten social contract with the company: I use your product, and you serve ads against the data I’ve shared. Implicit to that is expected polite behavior, the idea that Facebook won’t abuse your data, or your trust. In this case, Facebook did both, using a user’s social graph against them, with intent to cause emotional duress.

We’re all manipulated by corporations. Advertising is among the more blatant examples of it. There’s far more of it out there than we realize. The pervasiveness of the manipulation makes us slightly inured to it, undoubtedly. But that doesn’t mean we can’t point out things that are over the line when we are shown what’s going on behind the curtain. If Facebook was willing to allow this experiment — lead author of which, according to the study itself is a Facebook employee working on its Core Data Science Team — what else might it allow in the future?

I am not arguing that Facebook has a moral imperative to make news feed content more positive on average. That would render the service intolerable — not all life events are positive, and the ability to commiserate with friends and loved ones digitally is now part of the human experience. And Facebook certainly tweaks its news feed over time for myriad reasons to improve its experience.

That’s all perfectly reasonable. Deliberately looking to skew the emotional makeup of its users, spreading negativity for no purpose other than curiosity without user assent and practical safeguards is different. It’s irresponsible.

Here’s the response from Facebook’s Kramer:

OK so. A lot of people have asked me about my and Jamie and Jeff’s recent study published in PNAS, and I wanted to give a brief public explanation. The reason we did this research is because we care about the emotional impact of Facebook and the people that use our product. We felt that it was important to investigate the common worry that seeing friends post positive content leads to people feeling negative or left out. At the same time, we were concerned that exposure to friends’ negativity might lead people to avoid visiting Facebook. We didn’t clearly state our motivations in the paper.

Regarding methodology, our research sought to investigate the above claim by very minimally deprioritizing a small percentage of content in News Feed (based on whether there was an emotional word in the post) for a group of people (about 0.04% of users, or 1 in 2500) for a short period (one week, in early 2012). Nobody’s posts were “hidden,” they just didn’t show up on some loads of Feed. Those posts were always visible on friends’ timelines, and could have shown up on subsequent News Feed loads. And we found the exact opposite to what was then the conventional wisdom: Seeing a certain kind of emotion (positive) encourages it rather than suppresses is.

And at the end of the day, the actual impact on people in the experiment was the minimal amount to statistically detect it — the result was that people produced an average of one fewer emotional word, per thousand words, over the following week.

The goal of all of our research at Facebook is to learn how to provide a better service. Having written and designed this experiment myself, I can tell you that our goal was never to upset anyone. I can understand why some people have concerns about it, and my coauthors and I are very sorry for the way the paper described the research and any anxiety it caused. In hindsight, the research benefits of the paper may not have justified all of this anxiety.

While we’ve always considered what research we do carefully, we (not just me, several other researchers at Facebook) have been working on improving our internal review practices. The experiment in question was run in early 2012, and we have come a long way since then. Those review practices will also incorporate what we’ve learned from the reaction to this paper.”

DrBill.TV #342 – Video – “The Electric Harley Geek Edition!”

Livewire, Harley-Davidson’s first electric motorcycle is awesome and geeky! NASA’s latest warp drive design looks very familiar, can you say ‘Enterprise?’ Opening your Wi-Fi to strangers? GSotW: Picasa, Google’s Nest buys Dropcam for $555 million!

Links that pertain to this Netcast:

TechPodcasts Network

International Association of Internet Broadcasters

Blubrry Network

Dr. Bill Bailey.NET

Picasa Web Site


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DrBill.TV #342 – Audio – “The Electric Harley Geek Edition!”

Livewire, Harley-Davidson’s first electric motorcycle is awesome and geeky! NASA’s latest warp drive design looks very familiar, can you say ‘Enterprise?’ Opening your Wi-Fi to strangers? GSotW: Picasa, Google’s Nest buys Dropcam for $555 million!

Links that pertain to this Netcast:

TechPodcasts Network

International Association of Internet Broadcasters

Blubrry Network

Dr. Bill Bailey.NET

Picasa Web Site


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Geek Software of the Week: Picasa!

PicasaCheck out Picasa! I downloaded it for it’s “red eye remover” tool. It worked perfectly! I needed it to remove “red eye” from some wedding photos I shot for my nephew. Picasa is free, and was just what I was looking for!

Picasa Web Site

What Wikipedia says about Picasa: “Picasa is an image organizer and image viewer for organizing and editing digital photos, plus an integrated photo-sharing website, originally created by a company named Lifescape (which at that time may have resided at Idealab) in 2002 and owned by Google since 2004. ‘Picasa’ is a blend of the name of Spanish painter Pablo Picasso, the phrase mi casa (Spanish for ‘my house’) and ‘pic’ for pictures (personalized art). In July 2004, Google acquired Picasa from its original author and began offering it as freeware.

Native applications for Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, and Mac OS X (Intel only) are available from Google. For Linux, Google has bundled Wine with the Windows version to create an installation package rather than write a native Linux version, but this version is severely out of date (the latest Windows version, however, can be run with Wine; see the Linux section). There is also an iPhoto plugin or a standalone program for uploading photos available for Mac OS X 10.4 and later.”

Do You Want to Open Your Wi-Fi to your Neighbors?

Open Wireless MovementThis is an interesting idea… they say that “information desires to be free!” And, it gets us closer to ubiquitous WiFi!

This Tool Boosts Your Privacy by Opening Your Wi-Fi to Strangers

Wired – By: Andy Greenberg – “In an age of surveillance anxiety, the notion of leaving your Wi-Fi network open and unprotected seems dangerously naive. But one group of activists says it can help you open up your wireless internet and not only maintain your privacy, but actually increase it in the process.

At the Hackers on Planet Earth conference next month, the Electronic Frontier Foundation plans to release software designed to let you share a portion of your Wi-Fi network, password-free, with anyone nearby. The initiative, part of the OpenWireless.org campaign, will maintain its own flavor of free, open-source router firmware called Open Wireless Router. Good Samaritans can install this firmware on a cheap Wi-Fi router, creating a public slice of bandwidth that can dialed up or down with a simple smartphone interface.

‘We want to encourage a world of open wireless, sharing Wi-Fi with each other for privacy, efficiency, and innovation in devices that don’t have to fall back on subscriptions to wireless carriers,’ says EFF activist Adi Kamdar. Many locked wireless networks sit idle for much of the day, Kamdar argues. OpenWireless.org would put that untapped bandwidth to use while still allowing the router’s owner to take priority when needed, limiting freeloaders to as little as 5 percent of the pipe.

And just how does opening your network protect privacy, as Kamdar claims? One goal of OpenWireless.org, says EFF staff attorney Nate Cardozo, is dispelling the legal notion that anything that happens on a network must have been done by the network’s owner. ‘Your IP address is not your identity, and your identity is not your IP address,’ Cardozo says. ‘Open wireless makes mass surveillance and correlation of person with IP more difficult, and that’s good for everyone.’

On the other hand, mixing a stranger’s traffic with your own can be risky. In 2011, for instance, a man in Buffalo, New York saw his home raided by a SWAT team that accused him of being a pornographer and a pedophile. The police eventually realized he’d simply left his Wi-Fi router unprotected, and a neighbor had used it to download child porn.

For anyone wary of home invasions by similarly misguided cops, OpenWireless.org says it will at some point integrate an option to route guest traffic over the anonymity software Tor or a VPN that ties it to a different IP address. But Cardozo hopes the open routers will for most users cement the idea that network owners aren’t responsible for passersby who use their connection. ‘If everyone runs open Wi-Fi, there’s no real argument that anyone is being negligent by doing so,’ he says. ‘If you’re not the person doing the illegal activity, you have no liability.’

OpenWireless.org won’t be the first attempt to create a network of open guest access points. But others who have tried the strategy, like the Spanish company Fon and British Telecom, have required users to be subscribers or pay for access. The EFF’s option will be free for all.

The first version of the software is to appear on OpenWireless.org in mid-July. The initial download will be compatible with one specific cheap Wi-Fi router that the OpenWireless developers declined to reveal until the HOPE talk. If the idea catches on, the group says it will eventually update the firmware to work on other models and eventually offer its own router with pre-installed hardware.

Anyone wishing to use the initiative’s free Wi-fi hotspots should search for networks called ‘OpenWireless.org,’ the label the project is encouraging people to give their networks. For guest users, the router software is also designed to offer better-than-average security: Each user’s link will be individually encrypted with a protocol called EAP-TLS, the equivalent of HTTPS on every connection. The price of that encryption, however, is that users must download a certificate from OpenWireless.org before accessing the free networks, a tradeoff that will no doubt limit use in favor of privacy. ‘Part of the goal here is to make open Wi-Fi as secure as logging on to a private network,’ says Ranga Krishnan, an EFF technology fellow working on the project.

Network owners may ask what incentive beyond altruism might motivate them to share limited Wi-Fi resources with strangers. The Open Wireless Router creators argue their software will be more convenient and secure than the buggy default firmware in typical Netgear and Linksys devices. Unlike those rarely-updated devices, the OpenWireless.org router firmware will be security-audited and allow users to check for updates on the devices’ smartphone-friendly web interface and quickly download updates. ‘We want to get a much better router in peoples’ hands that will improve their overall experience and security,’ says Krishnan.

Krishnan argues that users also will benefit, both personally and on a societal level, from the barrier to surveillance that comes from sharing their network with strangers. ‘This is not just a neighborly good thing to do,’ he says. ‘If you allow this kind of guest usage, it will make your traffic part of the mix and not associated with you. That gives you some protection.’

But Kamdar points instead to security guru Bruce Schneier’s famous argument that despite the security risks, leaving your Wi-Fi open is an act of civic hospitality. ‘To me, it’s basic politeness,’ Schneier wrote in 2008. ‘Providing internet access to guests is kind of like providing heat and electricity, or a hot cup of tea.’

Given the kind of widespread network surveillance that’s been revealed in the years since Schneier wrote that line, no one would be considered rude for keeping their network locked down. With the right tools and protections, though, sharing Wi-Fi might become as common as any other baseline social kindness. ‘For some users,’ Kamdar says, ‘A smile from a friend or neighbor is incentive enough.'”

Dropcam Worth $555 Million to Google’s Nest

Would YOU pay $555 Million for a “web-cam” company? Hummmmm…

Google’s Nest Buys Dropcam for $555 Million

From Re/Code – By: Liz Gannes – “Dropcam, the popular home monitoring camera startup, will be acquired by Nest, maker of smart thermostats and smoke detectors. The deal is worth $555 million in cash.

Nest itself was just purchased by Google just four months ago for $3.2 billion. But the company says it is undertaking this acquisition on its own, outside of Google. Dropcam will be folded into Nest’s brand and company culture, and will also be subject to its privacy policy, Matt Rogers, Nest co-founder and VP of engineering, told Re/code in an interview Friday.

‘The teams are very well-aligned and we love the product,’ Rogers said. ‘We both think about the entire user experience from the unboxing on. We both care deeply about helping people stay connected with their homes when they’re not there.’

Rogers said the deal was signed Friday and has yet to close. The Dropcam team plans to move from San Francisco to Nest’s offices in Palo Alto, Calif.

Dropcam has never disclosed sales, but it is routinely the top-selling security camera on Amazon, and it recently branched into selling in retail stores like Apple and Best Buy. The company’s newest camera sells for $199, and a version with lower resolution and less field of view sells for $149.

But Dropcam is not solely a device company. As I wrote in a 2012 profile, it is a hardware startup with its head in the cloud. The company originally tried to use existing webcams to support a hosted personal video archive, but found the ones on the market were not up to snuff. So it began making its own.

Online storage is the other part of Dropcam’s business model. The company charges $99 per year to save a week’s worth of video at a time. Last we checked, Dropcam said 39 percent of of consumers who buy its cameras pay for its cloud storage service as well.

People concerned about the privacy implications of Google’s acquisition of Nest may be further unsettled by Nest’s purchase of a home surveillance company. Rogers anticipated that in a blog post announcing the deal, insisting there’s no reason to worry:

Like Nest customer data, Dropcam will come under Nest’s privacy policy, which explains that data won’t be shared with anyone (including Google) without a customer’s permission. Nest has a paid-for business model and ads are not part of our strategy. In acquiring Dropcam, we’ll apply that same policy to Dropcam too.

By the way, if Google owning Dropcam sounds a lot like Dave Eggers’ ‘The Circle’ to you, I asked Dropcam CEO Greg Duffy about the parallels in an interview last year.

As for Eggers’s vision, Dropcam CEO Greg Duffy allowed that it was surprisingly close to home. But he said, ‘With Dropcam, it’s the individual who chooses to share. That helps keep it from being weird and dystopian.’

Prior to its acquisition, Dropcam had raised a total of $48 million from investors including Institutional Venture Partners, Accel Partners, Menlo Ventures and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. In recent months, it had made key hires, including long-time Apple product development leader Andy Hodge, who formerly worked with members of the Nest team on the original iPod.”

NASA’s “Real Life” Warp Drive Ship Design

NASA FTL ShipSo, NASA showed us, this week, what a REAL Warp Drive FTL ship might look like, if they ever make one. The result, Geek Culture coolness!

NASA’S Latest Warp Drive Design Looks Very Familiar

From Star Trek – “Have you ever wondered what a real-life ship designed for faster-than-light travel might look like? Matthew Jefferies, legendary designer of Star Trek’s Enterprise, took a pre-Enterprise stab at it in 1965, but NASA engineer/physicist Dr. Harold ‘Sonny’ White recently joined forces with artist Mark Rademaker and longtime Star Trek graphic designer Michael Okuda to create a model — using genuine mathematics — of an updated version of such a ship. Oh, and guess what they called it?”

Yep… the Enterprise!

Harley Announced It’s Electric Motorcycle Today!

Harley LivewireOK, I REALLY need one of these! Man! This is just so awesome! I am a big fan of both Harley’s and electric vehicles… yes, please! It is only “experimental” but I could help them with the experiment, just sayin’!

Harley-Davidson’s First Electric Motorcycle Surprisingly Doesn’t Suck

Wired – By: Alex Davies – Harley-Davidson is more than a motorcycle, or even a brand. It is an icon, one that brings to mind big, loud bikes ridden by burly men with tattoos and beards. The company has long been known for rumbling V-twin engines and the open road. All of which makes the idea of an electric Harley seem downright absurd.

It’s actually pretty cool.

The LiveWire is the first electric two-wheeler out of Milwaukee. We spent an afternoon riding one amongst the weeds and broken glass of an abandoned Marine Corps runway outside Los Angeles last week and came away impressed. The Hell’s Angels aren’t going to be riding them anytime soon, but the bike offers an entertaining blend of power and comfort. It doesn’t sound anything at all like a proper Harley—or a ‘fighter jet landing on an aircraft carrier’ as Harley brass say—but it’s got a futuristic sound that brings to mind an airliner taking to the air.

The LiveWire may not rumble like the Harleys everyone knows, and it doesn’t perform like them. But it’ll hit 60 mph in under four seconds and it’s got more style than other electrics we’ve ridden. Now Harley has to find out if anyone actually wants the thing.

Cutting weight and potatoes

If Harley-Davidson isn’t the world’s most famous motorcycle, it’s close. The company has been building motorcycles since 1903, and typically subscribes to the bigger-is-better school of engineering. But even Harley-Davidson knows the times are changing, and it recognizes the need to diversify a customer base dominated by middle-aged white guys. Upstarts like Zero Motorcycles and Brammo have proven one way to attract younger, urban riders is selling small, compact bikes powered by batteries. Even major players like Yamaha are giving electrics a go. So Harley is trying it out, too.

‘Any business has always got to look ahead to see where customers are interested in going, and see where society might be going,’ says Mark-Hans Richer, Harley’s top marketing guy.

That said, this isn’t a production model. Not yet, anyway. Harley is taking a few dozen LiveWires on a tour, dubbed Project LiveWire, of the United States and Europe. It will invite people in each city to check out the bike and provide feedback. The tour starts Monday in New York.

The key challenge in building the LiveWire was the shift from building a bike around an engine to building one around a battery. A battery is heavy—Harley wouldn’t say what the pack weighs, but one EV expert told us something with the range and recharge time Harley claims would be around 250 pounds—so engineers had to cut weight elsewhere. The cast aluminum perimeter frame wrapped around the battery box weighs just 14 pounds, which makes it a full eight pounds lighter than the Zero’s frame. The wheels have hollow spokes, and Harley claims they’re among the lightest aluminum wheels it’s ever produced. There’s no need for an exhaust system, which not only saves weight but gives the bike a sleeker look. The result is a clean, tightly packaged bike without frivolous details.

Harley did most of the chassis work—it’s been building bikes since the dawn of internal combustion, so it’s got that down pat—but brought in experts like Mission Motors for help with things like the motor controller.

Speaking of the motor, the LiveWire marks quite a departure from Harley’s signature sound. You don’t get the syncopated ‘potato, potato, potato’ that is synonymous with a 60-degree V-twin engine. But even though it’s electric, and therefore has no engine, the LiveWire had to live up to Harley’s ‘look, sound, and feel’ mantra. That took a lot of work, but company president and COO Matt Levatich insists the result is ‘not contrived.’

The high-pitched whir of the longitudinally-mounted, three-phase AC induction motor reverberates through the chassis, amplifying the sound. It starts off quietly, then builds in pitch and volume as the bike gains speed. It’s louder than you’d think, and though it’s not going to set off any car alarms, it’ll definitely make you smile.

What customers want

The LiveWire offers 74 horsepower, 52 foot-pounds of torque and a (governed) top speed of 92 mph. It’s more powerful and quicker off the line than the $13,000 Zero DS, but it’s got less torque and range. That said, it’s got more torque and power than Harley’s Iron 883.

Still, Harley execs and engineers don’t like talking about specs. They don’t want potential customers making judgments based on what the LiveWire offers right now. The LiveWire is a work in progress, based on ‘what we think our customers are looking for,’ Richer says. The company hopes to glean more info during the LiveWire tour, and iterate accordingly to suit consumer tastes. Think of this as LiveWire v1.0.

Harley isn’t saying much about the drivetrain beyond saying the bike uses a lithium-ion battery with a range of 53 miles. It charges in 3.5 hours at 220 volts. Assuming the bike has a 3.3 kw charging system like other electric motorcycles, some back-of-the-envelope math suggests the LiveWire uses a 10 kilowatt-hour pack. Twist the throttle and the bike leaps forward with authority. Roll off the throttle and the regenerative braking kicks in, bringing the bike down from speed with due efficiency.

Harley emphasizes its excitement over the LiveWire, but downplays its importance. An electric bike is just an idea, something that could draw younger, urban buyers to the brand. Companies like Zero have had some success with that strategy, and even convinced a few police departments to add electrics to their fleets. ‘This is just part of us understanding where the world might want to go,’ Richer says. The upside of so cautious an approach, of course, is there’s less fallout if the bike is a flop.

New direction

That’s not out of the question. Harley’s past forays into the potentially lucrative market for smaller, city-focused bikes have ended poorly. That hasn’t kept it from trying again this year with the launch of the Street, a simpler, cheaper, bike made for city riding. The LiveWire is another step in that direction.

‘Why can’t Harley do some of these other cool things, too, and see where it takes us?’ Levatich says.”

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