June 7, 2016
Stock photos can be so, well, stock. However, Killer Startups points to a solution in, “Today’s Killer Startup: Unsplash.” Reviewer Emma McGowan already enjoyed the site for its beautiful free photos, with new ones posted every day. She especially loves that their pictures do not resemble your typical stock photos. The site’s latest updates make it even more useful. She writes:
“The new version has expanded to include lovely, searchable collections. The themes range from conceptual (‘Pure Color’) to very specific (‘Coffee Shops’). All of the photos are free to use on whatever project you want. I can personally guarantee that all of your work will look so much better than if you went with the usual crappy free options.
“Now if you want to scroll through beautiful images a la old-school Unsplash, you can totally still do that too. The main page is still populated with a seemingly never ending roll of photos, and there’s also a ‘new’ tab where you can check out the latest and greatest additions to the collection. However, I really can’t get enough of the Collections, both as a way to browse beautiful artwork and to more easily locate images for blog posts.”
So, if you have a need for free images, avoid the problems found in your average stock photography, which can range from simple insipidness to reinforcing stereotypes and misconceptions. Go for something different at Unsplash. Based in Montreal, the site launched in 2013. As of this writing, they happen to be hiring (and will consider remote workers).
Cynthia Murrell, June 7, 2016
May 18, 2016
The article on Elle titled Google SA Launches the Mzansi Experience On Maps illustrates the new Google Street View collection for South Africa. For people without the ability to travel, or scared of malaria or Oscar Pistorius, this collection offers an in-depth platform to view some of South Africa’s natural wonders and parks. The article explains,
“Using images collected by the Street View Tripod and Trekker, Google has created 360-degree imagery of some of South Africa’s most beautiful locations, and created virtual tours that enable visitors to see the sights for themselves on their phones, tablets or computers. Visitors will be able to, for the first time, visit a family of elephants in the Kruger National Park, take a virtual walk on Table Mountain, admire Cape Point, or take a walk along Durban’s Golden Mile.”
For South Africa, this initiative might spark increased tourism once people realize just how much the country has to offer. So many of the images of Africa that we are exposed to in the US are reductive and patronizing, like those ceaseless commercials depicting all of Africa as a small, poverty-stricken village. Google’s new collection helps to promote a more diverse and appealing look at one African country: South Africa. Whether you want to go in person or virtually, this is worth checking out!
Chelsea Kerwin, May 18, 2016
February 24, 2016
The article on Value Walk titled Top 10 Ways to Have Fun With Google Search invites readers to enjoy a few of the “Easter Eggs” that those nutball programmers over at Google have planted in the search engine. Some are handy, like the spinning coin that gives you a heads or tail result when you type “flip a coin” into Google. Others are just funny, like the way the page tilts if you enter the word “askew.” Others are pure in their nerd factor, as the article explains,
“When you type “Zerg rush” into the search box and hit enter you get a wave of little Google “o”s swarming across and eating the text on your page. Of note, Zerg rush was a tactic used by Zerg players in the late 90s video game StarCraft, which meant the sending many waves of inexpensive units to overwhelm an opponent. Typing “Atari Breakout”…leads to a nostalgic flashback for most people older than 45…”
Speaking of nostalgia, if you type in “Google in 1998” the page reverts to the old layout of the search engine’s early days. In general, the “Easter Eggs” are kind of like watching your uncle’s magic tricks. You aren’t really all that impressed, but every now and then a little surprise makes you smile. And you are definitely going to make him do them again in front of your parents later.
Chelsea Kerwin, February 24, 2016
February 16, 2016
To Google is a verb, meaning to search specifically for information on the Google search engine. If a user is unable to find information on Google, they either change their key words or look for a different option. In other words, if you are not pulling up on Google than you might as well not exist. Perhaps it is a little drastic to make the claim, but without a Web presence users, who double as consumers, are less likely to visit your business. Consumers take an active approach to shopping these days by doing research before they visit or purchase any goods or services. A good Web presence alerts them to a company’s capabilities and how it can meet the consumers’ needs.
If you are unsure of how to establish a Web presence, much less a Google Web presence then there is a free eBook to help you get started. The Reach Local blog posted information about “Master Google My Business With Our New Ebook.” Google My Business is a free tool from Google about how to publish your business information in Google+, Google Maps, and local search results.
“Without accurate and up to date information on Google, you could be missing out on leads and potential customers either by having the wrong phone number and address listed or by not appearing at all in local search results for products and services relevant to your business. We want to help you take control of your information on the web, so we put together a helpful eBook that explains what Google My Business is, how to set up and verify your business, and tips for managing your information and tracking your progress.”
The free eBook “Your Guide To Google My Business” written by the Reach Local folks is an instruction manual on how to take advantage of the Google tool without going through the headache of trying to understand how it works. Now if only Windows 10 would follow a similar business pattern to help users understand how it works.
January 14, 2016
DuckDuckGo keeps waddling through its search queries and quacking that it will not track its users information. DuckDuckGo has remained a small search engine, but its privacy services are chipping away at Google and search engines’ user base. TechViral shares that “DuckDuckGo The Anti-Google Search Engine Just Reached A New Milestone” and it is reaching twelve million search queries in one day!
In 2015, DuckDuckGo received 3.25 billion search queries, showing a 74 percent increase compared to the 2014 data. While DuckDuckGo is a private oasis in a sea of tracking cookies, it still uses targeted ads. However, unlike Google DuckDuckGo only uses ads based on the immediate keywords used in a search query and doesn’t store user information. It wipes the search engine clean with each use.
“Otherwise, it should be noted that although he refuses to have the same practices as Google, DuckDuckGo already making profits, yes that’s true. And the company’s CEO, Gabriel Weinberg, stop to think it is necessary to collect information about users to monetize a search engine: ‘You type car and you see an advertisement for a car, Google follows you on all these sites because it operates huge advertising networks and other properties. So they need these data for search engines to follow you.’ ”
DuckDuckGo offers a great service for privacy, while it is gaining more users it doesn’t offer the plethora of services Google does. DuckDuckGo, why not try private email, free office programs, and online data storage? Would you still be the same if you offered these services?
December 28, 2015
The article on Quartz titled The Product that Made Google Has Peaked for Good presents the startling information that desktop web search is expected to remain in permanent decline. The main reason for Google’s prestige and growth peaked in 2013, the article suggests, and then declined for 20 out of the last 21 months. The article reports,
“Google doesn’t regularly disclose the number of search queries that its users conduct. (It has been “more than 100 billion” per month for a while.)… And while a nice chunk of Google’s revenue growth is coming from YouTube, its overall “Google Websites” business—mostly search ads, but also YouTube, Google Maps, etc.—grew sales 14%, 13%, and 16% year-over-year during the first three quarters of 2015. The mobile era hasn’t resulted in any sort of collapse of Google’s ad business.”
The article also conveys that mobile searches accounted for over half of all global search queries. Yes, overall Google is still a healthy company, but this decline in desktop searches will still certainly force some fancy dancing from Alphabet Google. The article does not provide any possible reasons for the decline. The foundations of the company might seem a little less stable between this decline and the restless future of Internet ads.
Chelsea Kerwin, December 28, 2015
December 23, 2015
The Oxford Journal’s Early Music publication reveals a very specialized use of machine learning in, “Bring ‘Musicque into the Tableture’: Machine-Learning Models for Polyphonic Transcription of 16th-Century Lute Tablature” by musical researchers Reinier de Valk and Tillman Weyde. Note that this link will take you to the article’s abstract; to see the full piece, you’ll have to subscribe to the site. The abstract summarizes:
“A large corpus of music written in lute tablature, spanning some three-and-a-half centuries, has survived. This music has so far escaped systematic musicological research because of its notational format. Being a practical instruction for the player, tablature reveals very little of the polyphonic structure of the music it encodes—and is therefore relatively inaccessible to non-specialists. Automatic polyphonic transcription into modern music notation can help unlock the corpus to a larger audience and thus facilitate musicological research.
“In this study we present four variants of a machine-learning model for voice separation and duration reconstruction in 16th-century lute tablature. These models are intended to form the heart of an interactive system for automatic polyphonic transcription that can assist users in making editions tailored to their own preferences. Additionally, such models can provide new methods for analysing different aspects of polyphonic structure.”
The full article lays out the researchers’ modelling approaches and the advantages of each. They report their best model returns accuracy rates of 80 to 90 percent, so for modelers, it might be worth the $39 to check out the full article. We just think it’s nice to see machine learning used for such a unique and culturally valuable project.
Cynthia Murrell, December 23, 2015
December 22, 2015
The newest Star Wars film is out in theaters and any credible Star Wars geek has probably seen the film at least twice. One theme that continues to be prevalent in the franchise is the use of the mystical, galactic power the Force. The Force gives the Jedi special powers, such as the ability to read a person’s mind. Computer Weekly says that data will be able to do the same thing in: “Sentiment Analysis With Hadoop: 5 Steps To Becoming A Mind Reader.”
While the article title reads more like a kit on how to became a psychic cheat, sentiment analysis has proven to predict a person’s actions, especially their shopping habits. Sentiment analysis is a huge market for companies wanting to learn how to reach their shoppers on a more intimate level, predict trends before they happen, and connect with shoppers in real-time. Apache Hadoop is a tool used to harness the power of data to make anyone with the right knowledge a mind reader and Twitter is one of the tools used.
First-data is collect, second-label data to create a data dictionary with positive or negative annotations, third-run analytics, fourth-run through a beta phase, and fifth-get the insights. While it sounds easy, the fourth step is going to be the biggest hassle:
“Remember that analytic tools that just look for positive or negative words can be entirely misleading if they miss important context. Typos, intentional misspellings, emoticons and jargon are just few additional obstacles in the task.
Computers also don’t understand sarcasm and irony and as a general rule are yet to develop a sense of humor. Too many of these and you will lose accuracy. It is probably best to address this point by fine-tuning your model.”
The purpose of sentiment analysis is teaching software how to “think” like a human and understand all our illogical ways. (Hmm…that was a Star Trek reference, whoops!) Hadoop Apache might not have light sabers or help you find droids, but it does offer to help understand consumers spending habits. So how about, “These are the greenbacks you have been looking for.”
December 15, 2015
Christmas is the biggest shopping time of the year and retailers spending months studying consumer data. They want to understand consumer buying habits, popular trends in clothing, toys, and other products, physical versus online retail, and especially what competition will be doing sale wise to entice more customers to buy more. Smart Data Collective recently wrote about the science of shopping in “Using Big Data To Track And Measure Emotion.”
Customer experience professionals study three things related to customer spending habits: ease, effectiveness, and emotion. Emotion is the biggest player and is the biggest factor to spur customer loyalty. If data specialists could figure out the perfect way to measure emotion, shopping and science would change as we know it.
“While it is impossible to ask customers how do they feel at every stage of their journey, there is a largely untapped source of data that can provide a hefty chunk of that information. Every day, enterprise servers store thousands of minutes of phone calls, during which customers are voicing their opinions, wishes and complaints about the brand, product or service, and sharing their feelings in their purest form.”
The article describes some methods emotional data is fathered: phone recordings, surveys, and with vocal layer speech layers being the biggest. Analytic platforms that measure vocal speech layers that measure relationships between words and phrases to understand the sentiment. The emotions are ranged on a five-point scale, ranging from positive to negative to discover patterns that trigger reactions.
Customer experience input is a data analyst’s dream as well as nightmare based on all of the data constantly coming.
December 9, 2015
These days, it is hard to imagine performing scientific research without the help of computers. Phys.org details the problem that poses in its thorough article, “How Computers Broke Science—And What We Can Do to Fix It.” Many of us learned in school that reliable scientific conclusions rest on a foundation of reproducibility. That is, if an experiment’s results can be reproduced by other scientists following the same steps, the results can be trusted. However, now many of those steps are hidden within researchers’ hard drives, making the test of reproducibility difficult or impossible to apply. Writer, Ben Marwick points out:
“Stanford statisticians Jonathan Buckheit and David Donoho [PDF] described this issue as early as 1995, when the personal computer was still a fairly new idea.
‘An article about computational science in a scientific publication is not the scholarship itself, it is merely advertising of the scholarship. The actual scholarship is the complete software development environment and the complete set of instructions which generated the figures.’
“They make a radical claim. It means all those private files on our personal computers, and the private analysis tasks we do as we work toward preparing for publication should be made public along with the journal article.
This would be a huge change in the way scientists work. We’d need to prepare from the start for everything we do on the computer to eventually be made available for others to see. For many researchers, that’s an overwhelming thought. Victoria Stodden has found the biggest objection to sharing files is the time it takes to prepare them by writing documentation and cleaning them up. The second biggest concern is the risk of not receiving credit for the files if someone else uses them.”
So, do we give up on the test of reproducibility, or do we find a way to address those concerns? Well, this is the scientific community we’re talking about. There are already many researchers in several fields devising solutions. Poetically, those solutions tend to be software-based. For example, some are turning to executable scripts instead of the harder-to-record series of mouse clicks. There are also suggestions for standardized file formats and organizational structures. See the article for more details on these efforts.
A final caveat: Marwick notes that computers are not the only problem with reproducibility today. He also cites “poor experimental design, inappropriate statistical methods, a highly competitive research environment and the high value placed on novelty and publication in high-profile journals” as contributing factors. Now we know at least one issue is being addressed.
Cynthia Murrell, December 9, 2015