Smart Software: Repeat the Third Grade, Please

February 15, 2022

I read an interesting analysis of new products culled from Product Hunt. The work is presented in “Are Product Hunt’s Featured Products Still Online Today?” If you are not familiar with Product Hunt, you can get a good summary from the article. The data are interesting, but there is one chart which struck me as thought provoking.

Here’s the chart. The data are the worst products in terms of user goodness in the period under study.


I know the chart is tiny, but the write up offers a larger one at this link. The topics for failures includes the “winners” in the fail category. Notice that one failure in the penultimate position is the feel-good buzz phrase “user experience.” The new product category grabbing the golden crown is the super hyped “artificial intelligence.”

I interpreted the results this way. Creating products that deliver user experience and artificial intelligence could be perceived by “users” or “customers” as flops. Marketers infused with Silicon Valley joy juice, may not agree. UX and AI are the best-est.

Stephen E Arnold, February 15, 2022

Facebook Innovates: Beating Heart Emojis

December 29, 2021

I could not resist citing this write up: “WhatsApp Working on Animated Heart Emojis for Android, iOS: Report.” What’s the big news for 2022 from the most loved, oops sorry, worst company in the United States? Here’s the answer according to Gadgets360:

WhatsApp is reportedly planning to add animation to all the heart emojis of various colors for Android and iOS. This could be linked to the message reaction feature that the platform is said to be working on. The feature has been already added to WhatsApp Web/ Desktop via a stable update.

The beating hearts are chock full of meaning. The pulsing image files provide notification information. The compelling news story added:

WhatsApp is rumored to allow users to react to a specific message in a chat with specific emojis. There is also a reaction info tab to show who reacted to a message. Message reactions are reported to be rolled out to individual chat threads and group chat threads.

Definitely impressive. What use will bad actors using WhatsApp for interesting use cases find for pulsing hearts or other quivering emojis?

Stephen E Arnold, December 29, 2021

Silicon Valley: Fraud or Fake Is an Incorrect Characterization

September 10, 2021

I read “Elizabeth Holmes: Has the Theranos Scandal Changed Silicon Valley?” The write up contains a passage I found interesting; to wit:

In Silicon Valley, hyping up your product – over-promising – isn’t unusual…

Marketing is more important than the technology sold by the cash hype artists. Notice that I don’t use the word “entrepreneur,” “innovator,” “programmer,” or the new moniker “AIOps” (that’s artificial intelligence operations).

The Theranos story went wrong because there was not a “good enough” method provided. The fact that Theranos could not cook up a marginally better way of testing blood is less interesting than the fact about the money. She had plenty of money, and her failure is what I call the transition from PowerPoint to “good enough.”

Why not pull a me-too and change the packaging? Why not license a method from Eastern Europe or Thailand and rebrand it? Why not white label a system known to work, offer a discount, and convince the almost clueless Walgreen’s-type operation that the  Zirconia was dug out of a hole in a far-off country.

Each of these methods has been used to allow an exit strategy with honor and not a career-ending Tesla-like electric battery fire which burns for days.

The write up explains:

Particularly at an early stage, when a start-up is in its infancy, investors are often looking at people and ideas rather than substantive technology anyway. General wisdom holds that the technology will come with the right concept – and the right people to make it work. Ms Holmes was brilliant at selling that dream, exercising a very Silicon Valley practice: ‘fake it until you make it’. Her problem was she couldn’t make it work.

The transgression, in my opinion, was a failure to use a me-too model. That points to what I call a denial of reality.

Here are some examples of how a not-so-good solution has delivered to users a disappointing product or service yet flourished. How many of these have entered your personal ionosphere?

  1. Proprietary app stores which offer mobile software which is malware? The purpose of the proprietary app store is to prevent malfeasance, right?
  2. Operating systems which cannot provide security? My newsfeed is stuffed full of breaches, intrusions, phishing scams, and cloud vulnerabilities. How about that Microsoft Exchange and Azure security or the booming business of NSO Group-types of surveillance functionality?
  3. Self-driving vehicles anyone? Sorry, not for me.
  4. Smart software which is tuned to deliver irrelevant advertising despite a service’s access to browser history, user location, and email mail? If I see one more ad for Grammarly or Ke Chava when I watch a Thomas Gast French Foreign Legion video in German, I may have a stroke. (Smart software is great, isn’t it? Just like ad-supported Web search results!)
  5. Palantir-type systems are the business intelligence solutions for everyone with a question and deep pockets.

The article is interesting, but it sidesteps the principal reason why Theranos has become a touchstone for some people. The primum movens from my vantage point is:

There are no meaningful consequences: For the funders. For the educational institutions. For the “innovators.”

The people who get hurt are not part of the technology club. Maybe Ms. Holmes, the “face” of Theranos will go to jail, be slapped with a digital scarlet A, and end up begging in Berkeley?

I can’t predict the future, but I can visualize a Michael Milkin-type or Kevin Mitnick-type of phoenixing after walking out of jail.

Theranos is a consequence of the have and have not technology social construct. Technology is a tool. Ms. Holmes cut off her finger in woodworking class. That’s sort of embarrassing. Repurposing is so darned obvious and easy.

More adept pioneers have done the marketing thing and made a me-too approach to innovation work. But it does not matter. This year has been a good one for start ups. Get your digital currency. Embrace AIOps. Lease a self driving vehicle. Use TikTok. No problem.

Stephen E Arnold, September 10. 2021

Microsoft LinkedIn: A TikTok Target?

July 12, 2021

Microsoft LinkedIn had an opportunity to dominate the video résumé market. Now the allegedly Chinese influenced TikTok appears to be chasing this sector. More importantly, LinkedIn users are “old school.” Rah rah text and video snippets explaining how a life coach can jumpstart a career. Are those wrinkles I see on most of the LinkedIn video performers’ programs. Yep, they are wrinkles.

Now TikTok is creating a video résumé service in a “official” way. The idea is that even TikTok creators may need a real job. The write up “TikTok Lets Users Apply for Jobs in the US with Video Resumes” says:

Short-video sharing app TikTok on Wednesday, July 7, launched a pilot program that lets users upload video resumes for US-based jobs ranging from a WWE Superstar to a senior data engineer at Shopify or a creative producer at TikTok itself.

The idea is that unhip “real” companies need workers. LinkedIn profiles don’t signal “I will flip burgers” or “I will watch your super over achieving high performing really wonderful children”. Thus, a gap exists and TikTok aims to fill it. Or will this service just provide a flow of data into TikTok’s servers and then maybe to other interesting data centers in lovely Wuhan.

Microsoft and LinkedIn is dealing with the hashtag #securitybreach. TikTok is moving forward with the #CareerTok and related metadata.

Stephen E Arnold, July 12, 2021

Microsoft: Innovation Never Stops

July 6, 2021

Big news weekend. Forget the terror printer nightmare thing. Ignore the REvil ransomware issue. Get behind the big news. Navigate to “Microsoft’s Blue Screen of Death Is Changing to Black in Windows 11” and imbibe the super important announcement. Microsoft’s blue screen of death — affectionately known as BSOD — will be black. Energy saving? Of course. Massively significant? Of course. Truly innovative? Outdoing Einstein is routine for the Redmond outfit.

Now the question becomes, “What does one call BSOD?” I suggest:

[a] blod

[b] lacks

[c] baloney

I love baloney. Don’t you?

PS. Hats off to the Silicon Valley “real” news outfit for this factoid:

It’s the first major change to the BSOD since Microsoft added a sad face to the screen in Windows 8 in 2012

Really. Great.

Stephen E Arnold, July 6, 2021

Google: Me Too, a Refrigerator, and Innovation

June 23, 2021

Okay, pantry, refrigerator, on ice, whatever. Google is not an innovator; it is a me too outfit. I read “Si! Das Ist Richtig! Google’s Reportedly Building a Duolingo Competitor.” The write up reveals:

the company is preparing a new product called Tivoli that’ll be rolled out later this year. It’ll initially work on text, and will live in Google Search.

I thought I saw a Google slide deck in 2006 which had this in a dot point. Oh, well, history is not exactly what thumbtypers do these days.

The write up states:

Whenever Google launches its efforts, it might a heavy competition from other industry leaders such as Babel, Duolingo, and Rosetta Stone. According to a report by Meticulous Research analytics firm, the online language learning market is set to reach $21.2 billion by 2027. And it wouldn’t surprise me if the search giant is gearing up to grab a big chunk of that booty.

Okay, big numbers and competitors who are entrenched.

What’s interesting is that Google is pulling some of its preserved groceries out of the warehouse and presenting them as alternatives to self driving cars which are sort of self driving, solving death which is a thorny problem, and floating ideas which show that the mom and pop online advertising store is not out of ideas.

There’s a freezer in the company garage stuffed with me toos. Just add marketing, shake, and serve.

Stephen E Arnold, June 23, 2021

Microsoft Teams: More Search, Better Search? Sure

June 23, 2021

How about the way Word handles images in a text document? Don’t you love the numbering in a Word list? And what about those templates?

Microsoft loves features. It is no surprise that Teams is collecting features the way my French bulldog pulls in ticks on a warm morning in the woods in June.

Here is an interesting development in search. We learn from a very brief write-up at MS Power User that “Microsoft Search Will Soon Be Able to Find Teams Meeting Recordings Based on What Was Said.” It occurs as the company moves MS Teams recordings to OneDrive and SharePoint. (We note Zoom offers similar functionality if one enables audio transcription and hits “record” before the meeting.) Writer Surur reports:

“Previously, Teams meeting recordings were only searchable based on the Title of the meetings. You will now be easily able to find Teams meeting recordings based on not just the Title of the meeting, but also based on what was said in the meeting, via the transcript, as long as Live Transcription was enabled. Note however that only the attendees of the Teams meeting will have the permission to view these recordings in the search results and playback the recordings. These meetings will now be discoverable in eDiscovery as well, via the transcript. If you don’t want these meetings to be discoverable in Microsoft Search or eDiscovery via transcripts, you can turn off Teams transcription.”

This is a handy feature. It does mean, however, that participants will want to be even more careful what they express in a Teams meeting. Confirmation of any surly utterances will be just a search away. How does the system index an expletive when the dog barks or a Teams’ session hangs?

Cynthia Murrell, June 23, 2021

China Innovation: No Big Deal, Right?

June 22, 2021

I spotted a short news item in Nikkei Asia called “China Beats US in Patent Filings for Second Straight Year.” The main point is:

China is number one in patent filings.

“Patents,” you say. “These are science fiction or legal hand waving.”


I found it interesting that both the US and Germany slipped in the rankings. Germany was knocked out to the fourth spot by South Korea. Japan hangs in at third.

The write up states:

Chinese applicants submitted 68,720 patent requests last year, up 16% from 2019 despite the coronavirus pandemic, according to data from the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). China’s Huawei Technologies, the world’s leading telecommunications equipment manufacturer, remained the top applicant for the fourth straight year. The U.S. remained in second place, with filings inching up 3% to 59,230. The numbers show clear signs of peaking out. Both the administrations of President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump have found fault with China’s infringement of intellectual property rights and forced technological transfers. The battle for hegemony in advanced technology will likely ramp up.

I like the word hegemony. One doesn’t see it too often in US news write ups. Is there any correlation with education in these data?

Stephen E Arnold, June 22, 2021

Google and the Institutionalization of Me Too, Me Too

April 8, 2021

Never one to let a trend pass it by un-mimicked, Google has created a new YouTube feature. Ars Technica reports, “YouTube’s TikTok Clone, ‘YouTube Shorts,’ Is Live in the US.” The feature actually launched in India last September and has done well there—possibly because TikTok has been banned in that country since June. The feature but has now made its way to our shores. Writer Ron Amadeo tells us:

“The YouTube Shorts section shows up on the mobile apps section of the YouTube home screen and for now has a ‘beta’ label. It works exactly like TikTok, launching a full-screen vertical video interface, and users can swipe vertically between videos. As you’d expect, you can like, dislike, comment on, and share a short. You can also tap on a user name from the Shorts interface to see all the shorts from that user. The YouTube twist is that shorts are also regular YouTube videos and show up on traditional channel pages and in subscription feeds, where they are indistinguishable from normal videos. They have the normal YouTube interface instead of the swipey TikTok interface. This appears to be the only way to view these videos on desktop. A big part of TikTok is the video editor, which allows users to make videos with tons of effects, music, filters, and variable playback speeds that contribute to the signature TikTok video style. The YouTube Shorts editor seems nearly featureless in comparison, offering only speed options and some music.”

Absent those signature features, it seems unlikely Short will successfully rival TikTok. Perhaps it will last about as long as Stadia, Orkut, or Web Accelerator. At least no one can say Google shies away from trying things that may not work out.

Cynthia Murrell, April 8, 2021

Neuroscience To the Rescue if Developers Allow

February 5, 2021

Machine learning has come a long way, but there are still many factors that will confuse an algorithm. Unfortunately, these adversarial examples can be exploited by hackers. The Next Web offers hope for a defense against some of these assaults in, “Here’s How Neuroscience Can Protect AI from Cyber attacks.” As is often the case, the key is to copy Mother Nature. Reporter Ben Dickson writes:

“Creating AI systems that are resilient against adversarial attacks has become an active area of research and a hot topic of discussion at AI conferences. In computer vision, one interesting method to protect deep learning systems against adversarial attacks is to apply findings in neuroscience to close the gap between neural networks and the mammalian vision system. Using this approach, researchers at MIT and MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab have found that directly mapping the features of the mammalian visual cortex onto deep neural networks creates AI systems that are more predictable in their behavior and more robust to adversarial perturbations. In a paper published on the bioRxiv preprint server, the researchers introduce VOneNet, an architecture that combines current deep learning techniques with neuroscience-inspired neural networks. The work, done with help from scientists at the University of Munich, Ludwig Maximilian University, and the University of Augsburg, was accepted at the NeurIPS 2020, one of the prominent annual AI conferences, which will be held virtually this year.”

The article goes on to describe the convolutional neural networks (CNNs) now used in computer vision applications and how they can be fooled. The VOneNet architecture works by swapping out the first few CNN layers for a neural network model based on primates’ primary visual cortex. Researchers found this move proved a strong defense against adversarial attacks. See the piece for the illustrated technical details.

The researchers lament the tendency of AI scientists toward pursuing larger and larger neural networks without slowing down to consider the latest findings of brain mechanisms. Who can be bothered with effectiveness when there is money to be made by hyping scale? We suspect SolarWinds and FireEye, to name a couple, may be ready to think about different approaches to cyber security. Maybe the neuro thing will remediate some skinned knees at these firms? The research team is determined to forge ahead and find more ways to beneficially incorporate biology into deep neural networks. Will AI developers take heed?

Cynthia Murrell, February 5, 2021

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