Knowledge Supposedly the Best Investment

December 13, 2017

Read, read, read, read!  You are told it is good for you, but, much like eating vegetables, no one wants to do it.  School children loath their primers, adults say they do not have the time, and senior citizens explain it puts them to sleep.  Reading, however, is the single best investment an individual can make.  This is not new, but the Observer treats reading like some epiphany in the article, “If You’re Not Spending Five Hours Per Week Learning, You’re Being Irresponsible.”

The article opens with snippets about famous smart people and how they take the time to read at least an hour a day.  The stories are followed by these wise words:

The answer is simple: Learning is the single best investment of our time that we can make. Or as Benjamin Franklin said, ‘An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.’  This insight is fundamental to succeeding in our knowledge economy, yet few people realize it. Luckily, once you do understand the value of knowledge, it’s simple to get more of it. Just dedicate yourself to constant learning.

The standard excuse follows that in today’s modern world we are too busy making money in order to survive to learn new things, then we are slugged with the dire downer that demonetization is making previously expensive technology cheaper or even free.  Examples are provided such as video conferencing, video game consoles, cameras, encyclopedias, and anything digital.  All of these are found on a smartphone.

Technology that was once gold is now cheap, making knowledge more valuable.  Then we are told that technology will make certain jobs obsolete and the only way to survive in the future will be to gain more knowledge and apply, because this can never be taken from you. The bottom line is to read, learn, apply knowledge, and then make that a daily ritual.  The message is not anything new, but does learning via filtered and censored online search results count?

Whitney Grace, December 13, 2017

Twitter Changes API Offerings and Invites Trouble

December 8, 2017

Twitter has beefed up its API offerings to users, but it comes with an increasing price tag. While that is not a huge issue for many people, it will invite some problem if not played properly. We discovered this interesting change in a recent Venture Beat piece, “Twitter’s New Premium APIs Give Developers Access to More Tweets, Higher Rate Limits.”

According to the story:

Twitter is offering a solution for developers who are angry about limitations imposed on their apps when they use the service’s free APIs. The company has now introduced premium APIs to bridge the gap between the free service and the enterprise-level tools it provides through Gnip.


Developers will likely welcome this solution, though many will also say it’s long overdue. After the company’s mea culpa at its Flight conference in 2015, Twitter has made efforts to understand developers’ needs and has reallocated resources, including selling its Fabric mobile developer platform to Google.

Time will tell if this uptick in API accessibility will help Twitter financially. The company has long been seeking a financial home run since going public. While there are several ways APIs can solve outside problems and bring stability to a company, this can also fall flat on its face. Especially if developers don’t want to pay the fees or if the APIs don’t live up to the hype. Fingers crossed.

Patrick Roland, December 8, 2017

Google: Headphones and Voice Magic

November 23, 2017

I read two interesting articles. Each provides some insight into Google’s effort to put the NLP and chatbot doggies in an Alphabet corral.

The first article is “Google SLING: An Open Source Natural Language Parser.” To refresh your memory, “SLING is a combination of recurrent neural networks and frame based parsing.”

The second article is “Google Introduces Dialogflow Enterprise Edition, a Conversational Apps Building Platform.” The idea is to provide “a platform for building voice and text conversational applications.”

Both are interesting because each seems to be “free.” I won’t drag you, gentle reader, through the consequences of building a solution around a “free” Google service. One Xoogler watches me like a hawk to remind me that Google doesn’t treat people in a will of the wisp way. Okay. Let’s move on, shall we?

Both of these systems advance Google’s quest to become the Big Dog of where the world is heading for computer interaction. Both are germane to the wireless headphones Google introduced. These headphones, unlike other wireless alternatives, can translate. Hence, the largesse for free NLP and voice freebies.

I read “Trying Out Google’s Translating Headphones” informed me that:

The most important thing you should know about Pixel Buds is that their full features only work with Google’s newest smartphone, the Pixel 2.

Is this vendor lock in?

I learned from the write up:

To be honest, it’s not exactly real-time. You call up the feature by tapping on your right earbud and asking Google Assistant to “help me speak” one of 40 languages. The phone will then open the Google Translate app. From there, the phone will translate what it hears into the language of your choice, and you’ll hear it in your ear.

Not quite like Star Trek’s universal translator, suggests the article. I noted this statement:

it’s worth realizing that the Pixel Buds are more than just a pair of headphones. They’re an early illustration of what we can expect from Google, which will try to make products that stand out from the pack with unusual artificial intelligence services such as translation.

A demo. I suppose doing the lock in tactic with a demo is better than basing lock in on vaporware.

Then there are the free APIs. These, of course, will never go away or cost too much money. The headphones are $159. The phone adds another $649.

Almost free.

Stephen E Arnold, November 23, 2017

Mobile Technology Dad Still Waiting for Dream to Become Reality

November 2, 2017

Steve Jobs and Bill Gates are the poster children for modern technology, but more people helped bring about the revolution.  One such person is Alan Kay, often referred to as the father of mobile computing.  He directed a research team at Xerox PARC, developed the SmallTalk programming language, and also worked the Xerox Alto personal computer.  He also advocated that computers could be used as tools for creativity and learning.  Kay sat down for an interview with Fast Company, printed in the article, “The Father Of Mobile Computing Is Not Impressed.”

Kay began the interview that Jobs was not the kind of person to befriend and animation studio Pixar was the most honest money Jobs made.  He mentioned that Jobs was also trying to talk the government into giving tax breaks for companies that put computers in schools.  Back in the twentieth century, Kay designed a mobile device that was the predecessor to a tablet.  Called the Dynabook, it had physical buttons implanted in it and was never released for the consumer market.  However, the Dynabook exists in some form today as the iPad.  Kay complained that there is not a place to put a pen on the iPad, however.

After a brief explanation about human society and the desire to learn, he begins to talk about his idea of mobile computing.  One of the things he liked about the earliest Mac computers was that they allowed people to undo their learning and explore how to use a computer, but the iPhone is stupid:

So, this is like less than what people got with Mac in 1984. Mac had a really good undo. It allowed you to explore things. Mac had multitasking. The iPhone is basically giving one little keyhole and if you do something wrong, you actually go back out and start the app over again.


Think about this. How stupid is this? It’s about as stupid as you can get. But how successful is the iPhone? It’s about as successful as you can get, so that matches you up with something that is the logical equivalent of television in our time.

Kay spends most of the interview speaking about how people learn, how education has changed, and some philosophical stuff.  It is more about how to improve ourselves than an interview about mobile computing.

Whitney Grace, November 2, 2017

Google Now Searches the Digital Shelves of a Library

October 27, 2017

Google can search the Internet in mere seconds and locate nearly every single bit of information on the planet.  Except for ebooks you can rent for free from your local library…oh wait!  According to the Digital Reader, that is now possible-read the news in the article, “Google Added Local Library eBook Listings To Search Results.”

Google has undertaken the challenge to add library catalogs to its search results, at least the digital collection holdings.  Can you imagine visiting Google to search your library’s catalog?  It will now be a thing, so go ahead and search your local library holdings through Google.

Google, however, cannot access all of a public library’s holdings, the physical items are left out.  There are also some bugs in the new feature, such as an item’s availability status:

I did run into some inconsistency with this new feature. While some books would bring up the Borrow ebook card without any problem, other titles just wouldn’t trigger it. While Cixin Liu’s “Three-Body Problem” had the extra field in results, searches for N. K. Jemisin’s recent Hugo Award winner “The Obelisk Gate” didn’t trigger the same behavior.

I first thought it might have to do with availability, but the card appeared for titles with universally long waiting lists, too. Behavior was the same for search on both desktop and mobile, and I’m at a loss to explain why.

It is not perfect, but this is an excellent way for Google to connect people not only with a library’s digital collection but the physical collection as well.  Searching a library’s catalog on their website, however, still remains the best way to locate the material.

Whitney Grace, October 27, 2017

Google and Android Are Fragmented

October 25, 2017

Google and Android are usually linked in arm and arm proving that the latter is the superior phone.  There might be problems, however, with Google’s newest augmented reality program ARCore.  The news comes from Venture Beat’s story, “Android’s Fragmentation Will Give Google’s ARCore Problems.”  Google released the ARCore to compete with Apple’s ARKit, but problems occur with fragmentation.

One of the reasons is that there are 24,000 smartphones that use the Android OS.  This would not be an issue, except all of these devices use one of seven different versions of the Android software.  It is difficult, nay, impossible for all of the smartphone developers to agree on a set of standards.  Apple has the benefit of being a singular company without that issue.

The ARCore will only run on high end smartphones, such as the Samsung Galaxy S8 and Pixel, that do not have the fragmentation problem.  Google also does not have a happy developer community, because they are forced to make multiple copies of the same app for the different Android versions.

Ultimately, if you don’t have happy developers, you won’t have great content, which means you won’t have users. Just look at Microsoft’s Windows Smartphone: it failed to attract developers to build its mobile ecosystem, which former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer blamed for the demise of the company’s smartphone unit.

Android has fragmentation issues with the ARCore as well as a fragmented developer community.  Things could and probably will change in who dominates the phone market, but for now, Apple remains on top.

Whitney Grace, October 25, 2017

Google Sitelinks Adopts Carousel Presentation

October 9, 2017

For its mobile search, Google is shifting its Sitelinks presentation to a carousel design, we learn in Search Engine Land’s brief write-up, “Google Officially Changes Sitelinks Design to Carousel Format.” (Think of a slide-projector carousel, not the kind with wooden horses.) Writer Barry Schwartz reveals:

Google has confirmed with Search Engine Land that they are now rolling out a new design for Sitelinks. Sitelinks are additional links within the snippets of the search results where searchers can quickly jump to important and relevant pages on that site, as opposed to the main listing in the search result snippet. Google has been testing a carousel format for these Sitelinks for over a year and today has confirmed they are now rolling out the new carousel-based design for mobile search results.

Schwartz provides a screenshot of the feature in action and notes it shifts left or right at the user’s swipe. Perhaps the revised design will encourage more people to use the under-appreciated Sitelinks feature.

Cynthia Murrell, October 9, 2017



Antitrust Legislation Insufficient for Information Marketplace

October 3, 2017

At his blog, Continuations, venture capitalist Albert Wenger calls for a new approach to regulating the information market in his piece, “Right Goals, Wrong Tools: EU Antitrust Case Against Google.” Citing this case against Google, he observes that existing antitrust legislation is not up to the task of regulating companies like Google. Instead, he insists, we need solutions that consider today’s realities. He writes:

We need alternative regulatory tools that are more in line with how computation works and why the properties of information tend to lead to concentration. We want networks and network effects to exist because of their positive externalities. Imagine as a counter factual a world of highly fragmented operating systems for smartphones – it would make it extremely difficult for app developers to write apps that work well for everyone (hard enough across iOS and Android). At the same time we want to prevent networks and network effect companies from becoming so powerful and extractive that they stifle innovation. For instance, I have written before about how the app store duopoly has prevented certain kinds of innovation. Antitrust is a sledge hammer that was invented at a time of large industrial companies that had no network effects. Using it now is a bad idea and doubly so because it goes only after Google which has by far the more open mobile operating system when compared to Apple.

Wenger suggests a solution could lie in a requirement for open standards, or in the “right to be represented by a bot.” He points to his 17 minute Ted talk, embedded in the article, for more on his public policy suggestions.

Cynthia Murrell, October 3, 2017

Mobile Search: Has the Desktop Boat Anchor Search Been Cut Loose??

August 29, 2017

We noted “57% of Search Traffic Is Now Mobile, According to Recent Study.” Who knows if the research is statistically valid, if the math is correct, or the questions ones that an academic would okay?

Nevertheless, if we assume the information is mostly on point, the good old days of big screens, mindless Web surfing just to see what’s online, and mostly uncensored information are gone.

We learned:

A webpage of a particular website most likely to show up first in search results will be different 35% of the time, BrightEdge found. ”If brands do not track and optimize for both device channels, they are likely to misunderstand the opportunities and threats affecting them.  It is recommended that marketers assess the proportion of their traffic coming from mobile and desktop and adjust their strategy accordingly.

If I understand this passage correctly, one gets to create, support, and tune two Web sites: One for the boat anchor crowd and one for the zippy mobile users. Want the full report? Click here.

Stephen E Arnold, August 29, 2017

Google Announces a Mobile-Friendly Change in the Works

August 29, 2017

As more consumers use their Smart Phones and similar devices for everyday internet activity, Google is changing – once again – how search is done. To accommodate mobile users the tech giant just announced that it will begin transitioning to a mobile first index. What does this mean for the average website holder?

According to the guys at Business2Community, it could mean a lot of change is needed to remain competitive. They give several tidbits of advice to website owners but one of the most indicative of how our virtual world is changing is this:

…the consensus is now to have a single website that can work across all devices. Search results aside, a mobile responsive site is one of the best things you can build for your small business, as it is a more accessible and user-friendly way for your potential customers to access your business on a mobile device. With increasing numbers of searches conducted on mobile, by not having a mobile or mobile responsive site, you’re missing out on a large amount of possible conversions…

Of course, Google swears its crawlers will still recognize desktop versions of websites if no mobile is available, but we must ask ourselves, how long until that changes as well?

Catherine Lamsfuss, August 29, 2017

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