Saturday, February 21, 2015

IT and productivity - two noteworthy posts from Equitable Growth

Brad DeLong, as best I can tell, does not lead the Washington Center for Equitable growth. Along with Nick Bunker he does, however, produce many of their best blog posts (RSS icon proudly displayed) - like two from a Hamilton Project Future of Work conference (intro PDF, Brynjolfsson and McAfee [1]) that I recently posted back-to-back in my feed.

The first is by Brad, taken from a Larry Summers speech which explains why Summers matters (emphases mine) …

Morning Must-Watch: Larry Summers and Friends: The Future of Work - Washington Center for Equitable Growth

… we have enormous antidotal evidence and visual evidence of [modern IT/AI] technology having huge and pervasive effects … On the other hand, the productivity statistics over the last dozen years are dismal. Any fully-satisfactory synthetic view has to reconcile those two observations…

… I think it is a mistake to think of the economy as homogeneous–as producing something called “output”. As we approach these issues, an aspect that doesn’t get enough attention is that sectors through progress work themselves into economic irrelevance. … candle-making was a major industry in the 1800s, illumination is a trivial industry today…. 

We need to recognize that a sector that has rapid technological progress but of which the world can absorb only so much becomes ultimately unimportant in the economy….

…Consider two goods today: a television set, and a year at a university (or I could use a day in a hospital). The consumer price index for the latter two categories is in the neighborhood of 600. the consumer price index for the former category is 6. There has been a hundredfold change in the relative price of TV sets and the provision of basic education and health care services.

If anybody is wondering why governments can’t afford to do the things they used to do, I just gave you a big hint.

If anybody’s wondering where most people are growing to be working in the future, i just gave you a big hint.

If anybody’s completely confident we will have rapid productivity growth in the future, they should be giving pause–because no matter how much productivity we have in agriculture or illumination, it doesn’t really matter for the aggregate economy. Increasingly, that’s becoming true of a larger and larger fraction of what it is that we produce.

…  in the 1960s,= ,,,  about 6% of the men in the United States between the age of 25 and 54 were not working. Today, 16% of the men in the United States between the age of 25 and 54 are not working. It won’t be very different even when the economy is at full employment.

Something very serious has happened with respect to the general availability of quality jobs in our society.

… Whether you think it is due to technology or to globalization or to the maldistribution of political power, something very serious is happening in our society.

The second is by Nick Bunker …

What to worry about on the supply side - Washington Center for Equitable Growth

…  A new paper by economists Stephen G. Cecchetti of Brandeis International Business School and Enisse Kharroubi of the Bank of International Settlements argues that an over-bloated financial sector can reduce productivity. They contend that by drawing talented workers toward Wall Street, the finance sector lowers the total productivity rate….

From Summers we see that certain technologies have dramatically diminishing returns, so that they become a smaller part of a larger whole. Obvious, now that he’s pointed this out. There is only so much light that we can use. Is this also true of computing power? Is it true of energy?

Is Summers saying all employment will shift to expensive and inefficient health care and education? Isn’t that what Baumol said?

It’s a good exercise to consider how computational processing could follow the path of the lightbulb. There is, for me, no significant difference between a response time of milliseconds and picoseconds. Between modern processors and SSDs there seems no pressing need desktop performance increases. To some extent the human users is the rate limiting step. Only when one eliminates the human user does a millisecond vs. picosecond delay matter, as with high frequency stock “trading” (manipulation) — or the timescales of an AI.

Thinking of high frequency trading, we are reminded that vast amounts of modern economic activity transfer wealth without producing product. They have low to negative productivity, as found by Cecchetti and Kharroubi. Some of these are parasitic processes as would arise from any complex adaptive system, others are forms of more or less transparent fraud rooted in complexity exploitation. In our times information technology has been an essential enabler of both.

Considering failures of productivity enhancement, what do we make of Google Search? Ten years ago Google Search was miraculous, now it increasingly fails to produce much of value [2]. The web grew very quickly on an advertising based business model, but that model has failed and a new model is unborn. Progress is unpredictable in whitewater times.

Or consider email. We’ve been using it widely for almost 30 years, yet very few people use email well. Much time in routine corporate life is wasted by incompetent email [3]. Alas, email’s failures can’t compare to the disappointment of the “electronic health record” or “EHR”

Ahh, the EHR! What dreams we had in the 1980s. Dreams that took me from rural practice to another degree to a career in healthcare IT. It was so obvious how patients would benefit, and how all providers would become far more productive. 

The reality of the EHR has been a crushing disappointment. One day, perhaps, the dreams will come true — but nobody in 1990 would consider the state of clinical automation in 2015 anything but an appalling failure. A failure not of technology, but of business incentives, of markets, and of complex interlocking rigidities.

The list goes on. The same technology that enables location-based alerts also enables malware and adware.  Our economic landscape has been transformed; new technology causes vast wealth creation, but then wealth concentration drives the greater economy to a stagnant deflationary spiral.

Perhaps we’ve been here before. It took 60 years after the 1780 “start” of the industrial revolution for worker living standards to definitively rise. If our revolution started 70 years ago, maybe the rise will start any time now.

Or perhaps we’re headed in a different direction. An Economy is not a system for satisfying humans, or a system for producing goods or wealth or jobs. The “Complex Adaptive System” cliche truly applies. It is an immaterial ecosystem that produces things like wealth and jobs, but also emergent amoebacorp and brain sucking jobs in finance. The Economy is a beast of its own, slouching towards Bethlehem.

- fn -

[1] The PDF includes two killer graphs …

Screen Shot 2015 02 21 at 8 26 33 AM


Screen Shot 2015 02 21 at 8 29 33 AM 

[2] While writing this post I often searched for prior posts in Google did a poor job, Duck Duck Go constrained to “” did much better.

[3] If you ever hear of a corporation that teaches employees to write effective email please let me know. I’d like to buy shares.


Saturday, February 07, 2015

Google and the Net 2015: The Quick, the Sick and the Dead - 7th edition

I first published a Google Quick, Sick and Dead list in January 2009, at the dawn of Dapocalypse. This was six months after the Battle of Latitude; we were well into the post-Android Google-Apple War I. By then the iPhone was big, but not as dominant as it would get.

Less than two years later, in July of 2011, Google Plus launched. Five months later Google Reader Shares vanished and Google 1.0 was declared dead. Looking back, a lot of software became ill in 2011.

Again with the damned interesting times! Since then many cloud services have been killed or abandoned. We’re growing accustomed to major regressions in software functionality with associated data loss (most recently with Apple’s Aperture). I am sure businesses struggle with the rate of change.

Looking back the 2009+ software turmoil probably arose from 2 factors, one technological and one external. The technological factor was, in a word, the iPhone. Mobile blew up the world we knew. The external factor was the Great Recession (which, in Europe, continues today as the Lesser Depression). 

Of course if you believe the Great Recession has its roots in globalization and IT (including IT enabled fraud and IT enabled globalization) [1] then it’s really all a post-WW II thing. I suppose that’s how it will look to the AIs.

Which brings me back to my Google Quick Sick and Dead series. It’s been more than four years since the 6th edition. I haven’t had the heart to update the list the way I once did — too many old friends have become ill. I’m doing an update today because I started a post on the Google Calendar iPad experience and it got out of control.

As with prior editions this is a review of the Google Services I use personally — so neither Android nor Chromebooks are on the list. It’s also written entirely from my personal perspective; I don’t care how the rest of the world sees Google Search, for me it’s dying.

With those caveats, here’s the list. Items that have effectively died since my last update are show with a strike-through but left in their 2011 categorization, old items have their 2011 category in parentheses. Items in italics are particularly noteworthy.

The Quick (Q) 
  • Google Scholar (Q)
  • Chrome browser (Q)
  • Maps and Earth (Q)
  • News (Q)
  • Google Drive and core productivity apps - Docs, Sheets, Present (Q)
  • YouTube (Q)
  • Google Profile (Q)
  • Google Translate (S)
The Sick (S)
  • Google Parental Controls (D)
  • Gmail (Q)
  • Google Checkout (S)
  • iGoogle (S)
The Walking Dead (D)
  • Google Search (S)
  • Google Custom Search (D)
  • Google Contacts (Q)
  • Google Hangout (S): on iOS
  • Google Voice (D)
  • Google Mobile Sync (S)
  • Google’s Data Liberation Front (S)
  • Google Calendar (Q)
  • Google Tasks (Q)
  • Picasa Web Albums (Q)
  • Blogger (D)
  • Google Books (S)
  • Google Plus (Q)
  • Buzz (D)
  • Google Groups (D)
  • Google Sites (D)
  • Knol (D)
  • Firefox/IE toolbars (D)
  • Google Talk (D)
  • Google Reader (S)
  • Orkut (S)
  • Google Video Chat (S) - replaced by G+ Hangout
A lot has happened in four years. I was surprised to see I’d rated Google Search as “sick” in 2011 — but that was the right call. In my personal experience Search has moved into the Dead zone since; I am often unable to locate items that I know exist. I have to find them by other means.
I haven’t adopted any new Google Services since 2011. On the other hand hand many services I thought would die have simply remained “Walking Dead”. Google Scholar’s persistence is quixotic; I figure Larry Page is personally fond of it.
Google Calendar is the Canary case. Four years ago Calendar was due for some updates, but it looked healthy. My immediate family members each have 1 Google Calendar; with various other family and school calendars and event feeds our total number of subscribed calendars is probably in the mid 20s. We use Google Calendar with Calendars on iOS and Safari or Chrome elsewhere. We’re Calendar power users.
Since 2011 though Calendars has stagnated. Google’s only “improvement” has been a partially reversed 2011 usability reduction. Today, thanks to our school district’s iPad program, I got to experience Google Calendar on the iPad without the benefit of Calendars 5 
[2]. It’s an awful experience; the “mobile” view is particularly abysmal. Suddenly four years of stagnation leapt into focus. Google Calendar is now an Android/Chrome only product.
Looking across the list there’s a pattern. Google is abandoning its standards based and internet services, focusing instead on Android and an increasingly closed Chrome-based ecosystem. Presumably those two will merge and Google and Apple will become mirror images. It’s unclear if anything will inherit the non-video streaming internet, or if it will simply pass into history. Maybe our best hope is that smaller standards-friendly ventures like Fastmail, Pinboard, WordPress, and Feedbin may prosper in an ecosystem Google has abandoned.
Damn, but it’s been one hell of a ride. The take away for me is that I need to get away from Google, but that’s easy to say and hard to do. Replacing my family’s grandfathered Google Apps services with the Fastmail equivalent would cost over $600 a year and the migration would take a non-trivial chunk of my lifespan. History is better to read than to experience, and we’re still early into the AI age.
- fn -
[1] It’s a different blog post, but widespread hacking (governments included) and ubiquitous identity theft may yet kill Internet 1.0. As of as Jon Robb predicted in 2007 the Internet itself is ailing.
[2] I haven’t been able to get my own iPad purchase past Gordon’s Laws of Acquisition. Those same laws have stopped my iPhone 6 purchase. Maybe I can justify the iPad by keeping my 5s.

See also:

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Canopy Economics and Eco-Econ

I wrote my Canopy Economics post in 2004, and “eco-econ” in 2014 (see also). I haven’t seen these concepts filter into the mainstream, though wage stickiness in macroeconomics probably comes close. One day… (As much as Google’s zombified Blogger allows I’ve walked back and tagged old Canopy Econ posts as eco-econ)

Dynamic stability: struggle and balance in minds, brains, genomes, pregnancy, politics, ecosystems and economies

The minds we experience are based on multiple overlapping, redundant and competitive brain systems (I don’t get the term “degeneracy” btw) that can survive injury and genome bugs. Genome expression works the same way, which is why we’ve made so little progress with genomic medicine since 1994.

Human pregnancy works the same way — a dynamic struggle (war), a kind of tension control system.

American politics too — something to remember amidst the yammering and yelling and general madness - a reason for optimism.

So do ecosystems of course; and thus eco-econ says so do economies.

This is something we probably ought to think about a bit more.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Gene-environment interactions and the modesty of 2014 personalized medicine: Obesity, Reefer madness

Between 2007 and 2008 my work life got unusually exciting. Most of the time I work on software development in well understood aspects of medicine, but back then we were, once again, super-excited about genomics and “personalized medicine”. I made a couple of funded trips to meet with Stanford research teams maintaining genomic ontologies. I had a blast using exciting tools for navigating poorly maintained and unreliable massive web UI databases of gene-phenotype relationships.

At last we were going to realize the NIH predictions of 1994 — 10 years late, but better late then never.

Then the hammer fell. My 2008 post on schizophrenia [1] doesn’t talk about the work I was doing then, but it explains why we gave up. The disorders we cared about, schizophrenia, diabetes, lipid disorders, depression and so on, didn’t have a handful of generic recipes. Turns out there are hundreds, or thousands, or “recipes” for schizophrenia made up of environment (especially intra-uterine) and lots and lots of interacting genes. Even worse — lots of seemingly “normal” minds run on brains built with buggy genomics. Turned out “family” (genetic relative) history was a much more useful guide to predicting disease and treatment than genomic analysis — and that didn’t justify big investments.

Everything stopped, and then health care IT turned from the excitement of personalized medicine to the painful tedium of “meaningful use” and the more scientifically tractable domain of population health.

I still follow the field of course, and there has been slow but interesting progress …

Gene Linked to Obesity Hasn’t Always Been a Problem, Study Finds

… In 2007, researchers discovered that people with a common variant of FTO tend to be heavier than those without it. … Two copies of the gene bring 7 extra pounds — and increase a person’s risk of becoming obese by 50 percent.

… A new study shows that FTO became a risk only in people born after World War II.

… A variant of a gene called AKT1, for example, can raise the risk of psychosis — but only if the carrier smokes a lot of marijuana….

Small progress admittedly, but scientifically interesting. Exercise is good for most things — but we know that for most people moderate exercise [2] doesn’t add much to dietary control of weight. For people with the FTO gene though, exercise might indeed control weight. People with AKT1 are susceptible to persistent Reefer Madness — they really shouldn’t use marijuana [3]. In a related vein, there’s some evidence that the dementia protection of exercise is much stronger in the 14% of Americans with the APOE4 gene variant [4] than in APOE4 negative populations.

Progress — but darned slow. At this rate it will take decades to build what we expected before the year 2000.

- fn -

[1] Quite a good post, if I say so myself. I’d forgotten autism was once considered a variant of pediatric schizophrenia. We’re again merging both of those diagnostic categories.

[2] Extreme exercise is another matter, but one that’s rather hard to study. Though there is this recent NYT article on super-short higher intensity workouts that are to CrossFit as a snack is to a smorgasbord.

[3] Incidentally, marijuana legalization will be a boon to addiction medicine. Investors now include rehab clinics in the category of cannabis business opportunities.

[4] Why is a nasty gene so prevalent? The Wikipedia article mentions APOE4 helps with Vitamin D update — a particular problem in northern europeans. We presume it does have some survival advantage in some settings.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Software died three years ago. Why?

This is a weird time in software. Lots of things are going away, but few new things are appearing.

As best I can tell Windows software died around 2005. Based on what I’ve seen over the past year, particularly in the Mac App Store, OS X software died around 2011. The Chrome and Safari extensions I’ve looked for, like Pinboard extensions today, were often last updated in 2011 — around the time Google Reader died.

The iOS app store is such a well known mess that my fellow (adn) geeks can’t find anything new to say, except that iTunes 12 is probably worse. Aperture died 6 months ago and yet is still being sold. Yosemite is still months away from release ready. My Google Custom Search Engines return fewer good results. Google Plus is moribund. Windows 8 might be fine but no-one I know uses it. 

I can’t speak to Android, except for second hand reports of increasing malware problems. If I strain to find a bright spot I’d say Google Maps is improving in some ways, but regressing in others. Ok, there’s the malware industry. It’s flourishing.

I seem to remember something like this in the 90s, both before and after Mosaic. Long time ago though, I may be confounding eras.

My best guess is that our software development is a lagging casualty of the Great Recession. Good software takes years to create, so the crash of 2009 probably played out in software around 2011. The effects were somewhat offset by involuntary entrepreneurs creating small but excellent products. The Great Recession’s effects started to fade in 2014, but that meant many Creatives were sucked back into profitable employment. The projects they’re working on now won’t bear fruit until 2015 and 2016.

The Great Recession is probably the main driver, but there are synergistic contributors. Apple was probably coming apart at the seams when Jobs fell ill, and it now behaves like a corporation riven by civil war. The stress of the mobile transition, and the related transformation of the software market from geek to mass user, hit everyone. I’ve little insight into how well ad-funded software development is working, but Google’s disastrous Plus effort suggests it’s not all that healthy.

The good news is that there’s hope. Google may turn away from Plus. Facebook is going to have to find new revenue streams. There’s a storm building among Apple’s customers that Cook can’t possibly ignore. Most of all, the Great Recession is fading.

Here’s to 2015. Hang in there.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Where does all the time go - video training from SafeSports to corporate marketing.

A few days ago The Economics published a long fluff piece on the allegedly modern malady of feeling we don’t have enough time — even though, supposedly, we have more free time than in the recent past.

I think they’re nuts. The time I spend debugging Apple’s decaying ecosystem (latest iTunes bug) doesn’t show up in their accounting — and that’s a big chunk of my week.

There are worse things than Apple bugs though. There’s … there’s … video training. Its our latest life-sucking horror. Let me explain what I mean.

As I type this I have two computers running video training materials. One is running USA Hockey’s SafeSports 90+ minute training video on bullying, sexual harassment and sexual abuse, the other is running my corporate mandated medicare law training. Both computers are muted, my phone is streaming Thelonius Monk, I’ve got lemon scented tea by my side, the family is nearby, I can look out the window…

All I have to do is click one screen or the other when the video stops; between the two screens I click every 5 minutes or so. If I fail to click nothing bad happens, I’ll just need to spend more time listening to Jazz and writing a blog post. Every 30 minutes or so I have to wake up and take a quiz. If I make a mistake on the quiz, I get to immediately retake it knowing the right answer.

This is instead of doing a few minutes of reading, taking a meaningful test that requires me to review my material, and filing key reference information in my Simplenote archive.

What’s so bad about that?

If you have to ask, I don’t wanna talk to you. I have about 30 years left to live, of which 11 years will be spent sleeping or commuting. That means I’m spending 0.03% of my life as a lab rat. That’s not even considering that my corporate marketing training made me claw my eyes out.

That’s bad if only I had to do this, but across America tens of thousands of kid sports coaches are drinking their way through SafeSport training. Imagine the liver damage alone. Let’s say 20,000 people for 2 hours at $15/hour - $600,000.

For my corporate home the wasted time bill is probably $1-2 million. I’ve seen execs agonize for years over a spend like this. A million dollars is loose change for our CEO, but for mortals it’s real money. In some parts of the world a million could change lives.

Yeah, it’s bad. So how did we come to this?

It starts, of course, with good intentions. The SafeSports training, in particular, is extremely well intentioned. If you avoid hitting the Scotch, you can even spot SafeSport guides to “red flag grooming behaviors” (not hair care) and “travel policy” [1]. Some of the corporate training can keep one out of prison, and many of the SafeSport recommendations protect both coaches and athletes.

But the good intentions could be met with a handout and a quiz. So what went wrong?

I suspect badly written mandates play a role, but never underestimate the power of well intentioned incompetence mixed with corporate purchasing and enabling technology. It’s not hard to edit video these days and it’s not hard to buy or build a training toolkit. With a bit of luck and pluck a small firm can sell material to 100 firms at 30K+ a pop. What do you think they’d get for a 1-5 page handout? Without a budget of a few hundred grand, how would HR justify its headcount? Sure there’s a price to be paid, but its someone else’s price.

It’s just one of those things. I don’t think we can make it go away.

If you’ll excuse me, I gotta click a button.

- fn -

[1] One of the worst aspects of the SafeSport training is there are sensible tips buried in the morass. Such as having one’s own kid in the car when helping transport an athlete. It’s too easy to miss them in the burning need to get out of the chair.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Anecdote - exercise and weight control. It takes a lot.

This is pure anecdote, but it’s not inconsistent with the past decade of research.

Once upon a time I used to advise patients to lose weight through diet and exercise. This advice was not as spectacularly bad, in retrospect, as my advice to use estrogen to prevent osteoporosis. Still, it hasn’t held up well.

We now believe (never use the word “know” when it comes to medicine) that weight loss for the overweight is approximately impossible. If weight loss were a medical procedure it would never get FDA approval. The best we can do, for most people, seems to be weight control.

And, by overweight, I mean you and I. The medical standard for ideal weight is skinny.

We need a Pill. Which is kind of hard, because we’re fighting 2.5 billion years of evolution — organisms never get enough energy. In the meantime public health interventions focus on diet changes and increased activity. The latter might help diet, especially if it involves muscle development, and we now think of exercise as spectacularly good even if it doesn’t lead to much weight loss.

Even so, there is physics. Surely if one exercises enough, and has some rough dietary discipline, it should be possible to actually lose weight. Which brings me to anecdote, because this kind of thing is hard to study for reasons that will become obvious.

Two years ago, fed up with the inevitable fattiness of my 54 yo body, and motivated by research on the relationship between exercise and cognitive function, I took advantage of income and increased my exercise level. I’d always been relatively active, but over the past two years I went to a consistent exercise level well above anything in my youth (except for bicycling from Vancouver to LA — which took me down past skinny because I didn’t have enough money to eat).

This actually worked. I can keep my BMI at the (high!) end of ideal, about 14 lbs below my baseline, while eating roughly the same diet including, on occasion, beer, pie, pizza, and pastry. Also bread.

It works — but it takes a lot of exercise. To stay at an ideal BMI on my diet I need to do something like

  • Do CrossFit 3 times a week. (I can’t seem to do more, even with scaling my old body needs time to heal.)
  • Do a two hour road bike ride at least once a week.
  • Do a 1/2 mile swim, 5 mile walk, or 10 mile inline skate once a week.
  • Do a multi-hour high intensity mountain bike outing once a week (without head injury, hopefully)

It’s a fine balance, in winter I lose the biking and gain about 4-5 lbs. (Yeah, I’m getting a fat bike next year. Global warming sucks - I miss Nordic Skiing.)

This is so much exercise no clinical trial is going to risk it on a population over 35 — we all have heart disease. I really didn’t think it was going to take this much. I do enjoy exercise, but it’s easy to see why it hasn’t worked out as a weight control tool. The exception, again, proves the rule.

Humbug - Amazon, Apple and Pottermore

In the spirit of the season, which science tells us is Scrooge before his psychotic break, a call out to Amazon, Pottermore, and Apple.

To Amazon for the increasingly common practice of merging multiple product reviews into a single listing (example, Dec 2014). This renders the reviews worse than useless — because they are now misleading. I don’t know whether this is some kind of emergent fraud that enables vendors to hide bad reviews, or whether it’s an incompetent Amazon implementation, but I’m now boycotting any product that is part of a unified listing that blends inconsistent products. You should too.

To Pottermore and Apple for the hash the two of them have made of Potter audiobooks. They’re no longer available on iTunes, and if one downloads the MP3 from Pottermore they import into iTunes as music. Thanks to Apple’s comprehensively botched iTunes 12 removal of multi-edit [1], few will be able to transform these into audiobooks that play in sequence, have the right controls, and remember their playback location when stopped. Worst customer experience of the season.

And an extra call out to Apple for removing, with iTunes 11 (2013), the ability to print iTunes Gift Certs at home. I didn’t notice this because I stayed on iTunes 10 through Dec 2013. Email delivery is the only option now. Way to go Apple.

And some people wonder where all our leisure time went.

On the Marley side of things, my gift was a minced fruit pie and it is quite delicious.

[1] Through a bug or the last act of some desperate dev, there’s a hidden way to access the old multi-edit feature. Hold option then click on Get Info. Not one in 200 will know this.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

The obsolete world of photo sharing

I made another stab at sharing images to Facebook Groups. It didn’t go any better than my previous efforts.

First I tried using Facebook’s Album advanced image uploader in Chrome — the “Add Photos” icon was persistently “grayed” (faded) out. Then I tried Safari — with the same results. Depending what (obsolete) reference I checked the problem had something to do with Java (obsolete) or Flash (obsolete).

Sure, I can use (obsolete) Aperture to upload images to my personal Facebook album, but I couldn’t find an Aperture plugin to upload to a Facebook Group.

I found a $3 Mac App Store app called “Dropbook” that claimed to support Group photo upload - last updated in March 2014. There are no directions and no real UI, but after I gave it complete rights to do anything on Facebook it did let me drop a pile of images on it. There was no progress dialog or any indication of activity, but something was happening. A post was being created for each image. I killed Dropbook, deleted the app, used Facebook settings to delete access and changed my password.

Smugmug has Facebook integration to Personal “page” and to “Pages” — but not to Groups. Flickr has even less integration. Picasa? Nope.

Oh, by the way, Smugmug doesn’t allow album downloads in the paid account I use — I’d have to pay significantly more to get that feature.

Which reminds me … a few months ago rumor had it that Google Photos was going to drop its G+ requirement. Hasn’t happened yet - but we don’t hear much about Google Photos. Much less Google’s (obsolete) Picasa Web Albums.

Indeed, I rarely see anything about any photo sharing services at all, not even from (obsolete) publications like MacWorld.


Are you seeing a pattern here? It’s almost as though Facebook doesn’t really want to host large storage sucking collections of shared images for free. Indeed, it’s almost as though everyone has lost interest in photo sharing/storage/distribution.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Learning new habits and skills - Pinboard, Simplenote, Toodledo and the skr tag

Being new-old means learning to be deliberative about things that were once opportunistic.

I used to get my exercise whenever I could — now I do regular group classes. Similarly, I used to pick up new habits and skills whenever the need arose or training required — but as of today i’m doing something more … deliberative. Something that should work better than my ad hoc approach of the past 30 years, not just because old brains suck but also because my old approach didn’t really work all that well. Even with a (relatively) young brain.

My new approach builds on 3 of my favorite tools: Pinboard, Simplenote and Toodledo — and a tag [1] of ‘skr’. The tag stands for “skills review”; it’s short because I wanted something fast to type.

I created a “habit/skills review” task in Toodledo and scheduled it a couple of weeks out. The task reminds me to review things tagged ‘skr’ in Pinboard and Simplenote. Meanwhile, as I come across things that I want to learn and make a part of my cognitive toolkit, I tag them ‘skr’. In Pinboard I save a Pin with that tag, in Simplenote I create a note with that tag.

Ever two weeks I get to the task and do my review. It only takes a few minutes. If I learn something I can remove the tag, if I’m failing to learn it I can take other measures or decide it’s not worth the investment.

I think this will work…

[1] Rant diversion — why are so many tagging implementations so awful? Why do so many devs exclude tag strings from full text search? Why does Simplenote display tags by data created rather than alpha sort? Why can’t one “merge” tags? Why … why …

Wednesday, November 26, 2014


Over the past few decades developed world growth in wealth and income has been captured by a small segment of the population.

Globalization and information technology have reduced demand and opportunity for the majority of Americans. We don’t have jobs filing papers, we don’t have jobs filling gas tanks, we don’t deliver mail, we don’t hand out cash at the bank. We can barely service cars any more. Computers/smartphones can’t be serviced. I call this mass disability.

America was built on slavery; the civil war was only 150 years ago. We’ll be working on our slavery issues for at least another hundred years. Black America has been, and will be, our most vulnerable and stressed population. Euro-americans are in denial about the work remaining. (We’ve made progress, but it’s one hell of a long crawl back from that abyss.)

So, riots.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Negotiation 2014: A compilation of state of the art techniques

Henry Alford wrote an entertaining essay on holiday dinner peacemaking tips. I enjoyed the essay, but I also appreciated the inventory of techniques.

Here’s the excerpted techniques, for the context check out the original: (emphases mine, comments in [])

Crisis Negotiators Give Thanksgiving Tips - Henry Alford -

… “People want to be heard. They want the attention.”

…  “Repeating what the other person says, we call that paraphrasing. ‘So what you’re telling me is that the F.B.I. screwed you over by doing this and that,’ and then you repeat back to him what he said. Also, emotional labeling: ‘You sound like you were hurt by that.’ ‘You sound like it must have been really annoying.’ Little verbal encouragements: ‘Unh-huh,’ ‘Mm-hmm.’ A nod of the head to let them know you’re there.”

…  instead … acknowledge his presenting emotion … address the underlying emotion with appreciation …

…  unsolicited apology

… “Say you’re sorry when you’re not sorry,” … [You have to make this seem a genuine effort, so that even the apology is not believable to motivation and effort are.]

… Try to find ways to acknowledge what they’re saying without agreeing or disagreeing with it.”..

Tone is king here: subtle vocal inflections can impart either “I disagree, let’s move on,” or “I disagree, let’s turn this into ‘The Jerry Springer Show.’ …

… “Instead of lying, we call it minimizing. You try to get people to think that a situation isn’t so bad, you break it down for them so they see that it isn’t the end of the world, that maybe they don’t need to make such a big deal of it. We try to reframe things rather than flat-out lie….

… “A negotiator almost always has a co-negotiator, someone who’s listening and taking notes,” she said. “Someone who says, ‘He mentioned Mom three times now, probably Mom is at the heart of the issue.’ Maybe enlist someone to be your co-negotiator.”

… “In the crisis-negotiation world, we call it a third-party intermediary,” …

Track II diplomacy, which means that outside the arena of a formal negotiation, another set of actors from society come together to talk and build confidence and trust…

All shades of manipulation on a spectrum of deception. All valuable.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Exercise on the exit ramp - the 30 year plan.

One way to spot an aging control-freak geek: after 55 we count down to the target zone. [1]

One of the things we ponder is how much exercise we can take at which age. CrossFit is great at 55 [2], but it ain’t gonna fly at 80. On the other hand, gotta max out the amyloid clearance while we can. 

So when do we go from CrossFit to things like TRX, or even road biking, swimming, XC skiing, hiking and the like [3]? When do we transition to power-assisted trikes [4]?

These numbers on the 2011 Chicago Triathlon finishing times provide some insight:

: ""Screen Shot 2014 11 19 at 6 19 37 PM

Yeah, this is an elite group, and by the time we get to the 80+ group we’re talking super-duper-elite.

Still, it’s an interesting story about what happens to the “average” elite. It goes like this:

  • 20-44: not much difference at all
  • 45-64: bit worse every year, but more of a steady decline
  • 65-74: there’s a big drop in mid-60s, but then it stabilizes (of course a lot have dropped out by then)
  • 75+: the scythe is being sharpened - nobody escapes
So for me that looks like:
  • 55-65: Do CrossFit, Mountain biking, etc until wear and tear adds up. Can do pretty much anything if train for it and stay disciplined about scaling and stopping. [5]
  • 65-74: Downshift. Good age for long bike rides, nordic skiing, etc.
  • 75+: Functional exercise, balance, walks, swimming, shorter bike rides, nordic skiing, maybe the power trike, tourism.
It’s good to have a plan.
- fn -

[1] I figure by the time I’m 80 I’ll be able to hire a “life” coach to ensure I don’t overshoot (Ninja assassin experience a plus). Ok, a Death Coach.

[2] 36 handstand pushups yesterday. Ok, so that was over 9 sets. And, yes, I used more than one ab mat. No, I won’t say how many I used. Still. Yeah, and PR on the back squat — even though the two women in the class beat me by 20 lbs. 

[3] All favorites of mine. Today I can’t afford the time for a 4 hour bike ride, but when I’m 65 the time may be mine.

[4] Mine will have streamers.

[5] I have a PhD in CrossFit scaling.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Facebook's feed overflow fix will have collateral damage

Facebook, the everyman feed reader, has an “attention economy” problem that’s familiar to anyone who has used industrial feed readers like Feedbin or (emphases mine):

Facebook Will Curtail Unpaid Ads by Brands - Vindu Goel

…So many posts, videos and images are being published on Facebook that the average user has about 1,500 new items they could see when they log on. Some people have as many as 15,000, the company says.

Over the last two years, the social network has repeatedly tweaked the system to show the top 300 or so items that it predicts each person will want to read. Facebook argues that people prefer to see videos, photos, news articles and updates from their friends and family more than from brands. So over time, posts by businesses have shown up less frequently….

The problem is Facebook users liberally “Like” all kinds of post sources - Pages (businesses, orbs), Friends, and Groups. Their Feeds overflow.

My son is up to several hundred sources, and they each generate a few posts a day. I’m sure he’s far behind the stream — if his timeline showed “most recent” he’d never see anything from Friends or Family.

Of course users could turn off the pages they don’t want, but, really, they kind of like them. The problem is compounded by Facebook’s UI; unlike an industrial Feed Reader (Feedbin, Feedly, etc) it’s not designed for managing large volume post streams.

So users are drowning in posts, most of which they kind of like, but they’re not seeing the things they really like — like the grand-dogs new teeth or the niece’s haircut.

At the same time Facebook is watching ad revenue go missing. Users dislike Facebook’s ads, but they like news posts from their favorite bookstore — and the bookstore’s paying nothing (or used to, anyway).

That problem is getting fixed …

… the company told marketers that if they wanted to reach customers on Facebook, they needed to buy an ad.

…  fewer fans of a retailer will see its notice about a big sale and fewer fans of a video game company will see a post promoting its latest app.

Even posts from big advertisers that spend millions of dollars on Facebook ads will vanish from the news feeds of their fans unless they turn them into ads…

Seems reasonable. I know how to tweak my Facebook stream to see what I like — but I’m a geek. Civilians aren’t going to do that. So the “fix” doesn’t seem too bad — unless you know something Mr. Goel doesn’t know. Unless you know that not all Facebook Pages are businesses or “brands”.

For example, these are 6 Pages I administer:

Screen Shot 2014 11 17 at 9 30 35 PM

Looking at my own Pages Feed I see a novelist friend, the Major Taylor Bicycling Club of Minnesota, Saint Paul Bicycle Coalition, Keweenaw Trails, Cyclocarbon, Avalon Charter School, CrossFit St Paul, Minocqua Winter Park, Autistic License Play, Lebanon Hills Mountain Bike Trail, City of St Paul _ Government, Skate the Oval and a bunch more like that. A couple are businesses, but mostly it’s non-profits and local government.

All of these are at risk - and the trend is already underway. Here are some recent stats from our special hockey team page - a page with 81 “Likes” (Subscribers):

 Screen Shot 2014 11 17 at 9 06 25 PM

The most recent post was seen by 15 of those 81. That number is going to fall even further — unless I pay for the posts to be seen (I won’t).

Facebook has a real problem — but their Feed Overflow Fix is going to cause a lot of collateral damage. 

One approach for organizations and nonprofits would be to convert Pages to Groups - except we don’t know how Facebook is going to treat posts from Groups. Maybe they’ll want Groups to Pay to Play too.

For my part I’ll delete most of these Pages, and I’ll move back to email and to blogs. The transition is easier because so many of the people I want to reach have left Facebook (perhaps because of the Feed Overflow problem).

It’s not all bad news. Facebook’s policy might move non-profits and local government back to open-standards blogs - eventually.