Monday Morning Meeting: Issue #2

Links randomly selected from the stuff I saw the previous week: thinking about research and what data can tells us; a old browser's new polished interface; an essay about Twitter bots; a reminder about permanence; and some bonus links to thank you for your patience. Some links are from longer than a week ago.

Thinking Through the Strava Data

Strava, the one activity tracking app I don’t use, released a global heatmap showing where users cycle and run. (It centers on California initially. I would have centered it on a different spot for everybody, that spot having reached at least some threshold of activity.) They also announced a partnership with the Oregon Department of Transporation to license some of its data to help ODOT make decisions about which cycle paths to prioritize. The critque linked here is useful for several reasons: it serves as a guide on how to think about research in general, reminds us of the difference between flawed and small sample sizes (I can’t wait to use that on my baseball stats friends), and cautions us not to reject research outright because it’s flawed. (Bad data can make us seek good data.) How Echo presents the critique is also useful, breaking from discussions of the research to show us cartoon dialogues framing the research at hand. To highlight some of Echo’s specific critiques: she worries that the sample size only counted Strava users and is highly unlikely to accurately represent the city of Portland cyclists’ routes and that other types of counting are now going to make things better for Strava users while ignoring non-users. (Thanks to @skeskali for provoking the discussion that I saw about the data.)

The Firefox Australis interface: why what is where

In the past week, Mozilla released what they touted as their biggest overhaul of Firefox user interface in 3 years. This blog post from December of last year explains the major changes to the non-profit’s flagship web browser. “The browser is the most essential tool for people’s online life, and everyone uses it differently.” This release adds a “hamburger icon” to drop down a customizable button set (Chrome has the same icon, but drops down a menu instead) and tried to simplify the rest of the interface based on research. As soon as Apple updates its iCloud bookmarks sync add-on (Safari user over here), I’m in as a more active user.

The Mysterious Nature of Bots

Australia-based Jaiden Mispy wrote a Ruby library that implements a form of Markov chaining based on a person’s entire Twitter corpus. What? Imagine a Twitter account that automates impersonating you, taking what you’ve written over the course of your 140-characters career, slicing and dicing it, putting it back together in tweets that sort of (but never quite) make sense. The bots sometimes fave and reply and some bots even seem real to some people. Kevin Nguyen wrote an article (linked within this one) giving some more background on the history of Markov chain Twitter bots, and has since lamented that some people started to think his real @knguyen account was automated. My Markov chain bot is @oliawgyllis (my usual handle backwards), and following the tradition, my usual avatar is upside down. (For an extra laugh, I made the background look like the transparency checkerboard you would see in a graphics editing program.) I came to the conclusion that these bots and those that create them are trying to break the brains of those who read them, with the ultimate goal of killing all clichés and, I predict, wasting the opportunity by creating new and more resilient clichés.

No More Forever Projects

“The half-life of obligation is short; the half-life of guilt is long.” Diana Kimball came to my attention because of her and Max Tempkin’s project the 24-Hour Book Club, a self-described online “flashmob” where everybody in the group reads and discusses the same book during the same 24-hour period. This blog post, originally published in March on the Pastry Box Project, gently remindes us that since we aren’t forever, neither should be what we do.

Bonus Links As the Clock Ran Out

Attached to this tweet are three tabs that remained open as noon approached: Has the Whale Exploded Yet?, a single serving website with links to the history of exploding whales in the context of a recently unexploded whale (also: what to do if you find stranded marine animals); an explanation of what the term “full stack” means with reference to programming, and not pancakes, by South African developer (and former co-worker) Adrian Rossouw; and Uber’s Algorithmic Monopoly in which Matt Stoller identified the three issues he has with the car sharing/dispatching app’s business model.