Strong and weak signals

I have a kind of geeky concern, but it is a concern nonetheless. I wonder if the culture of sharing rather than authoring is reducing the quality of online search and personal reflection.

The logic of my concern works like this.The original Google system for listing search results was based on a system called page rank. Based roughly on the way journal articles are assigned importance, page rank is determined by the frequency with which something posted online is linked to by other sites. The assumption being that the more frequently others link to your work, the more important your work must be. In addition, the more important the pages linking to your page, the higher your page would be ranked. The Google algorithm has grown more complicated and more mysterious, but linking still plays an important role. The variables used in the ranking algorithm are frequently called signals. These signals are not weighted equally. There are strong signals and there are weak signals.

What I see online is a decline in original work and a drastic increase in sharing. Twitter offers little opportunity for analysis and explanation, but is great for sharing. Facebook does not impose the character limit of Twitter, but my experience has been most contributions are still shared news articles, posters, and videos. There are clearly data in the frequency of what is shared, but sharing is too easy and too imprecise. Sharing does not require careful reading of what is shared and without personalized, shared summarization, there is little evidence that what is shared is even understood. In comparison to something that is personally constructed and referenced, sharing provides only weak signals.

Maybe it is laziness. Maybe it is overload of one type of another. I think we are losing the strong signals that come from the thought required to put together personal statements in blogs and other social media constructions. Search will likely suffer. I also wonder if people even consider what they really think when they find it easier to use others say instead of speaking for themselves.

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You are complicit

Just so we are clear, you are complicit in this situation with Facebook. You were willing to be a heavy user of Facebook without understanding how Facebook works and how the company makes its money. You were willing to share your personal information in exchange for free access to the services of the social media company to share your pictures and comments about your family. You were also convinced that Facebook provided access to credible news and made this judgment because the news appeared in your feed so it must be accurate and well reasoned. You may have even forwarded the Russian propaganda to others with little personal analysis and related commentary. Now that some of the players – Facebook, Russia, you – have been identified, the big question is whether or not the list is complete. Were the characteristics used by Kushner and the RNC in targeting ads shared with Russian actors?

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How am I categorized by Facebook

The role Facebook appears to have played in the election of 2016 has created interest in how Facebook targets ads to each of us. Facebook collects information it can gather from our online behavior and these data are made available to those willing to pay to have specific ads provided to those with specific combinations of these data points. Core questions include what does Facebook know about us and what about this information results in us seeing any given ad?

This post from TNW addresses these questions and shows you how you can learn at least something relevant to these questions. This post is well worth your time.

Here is a simple thing you can try. When you are presented an ad on Facebook, you can ask why am I seeing this ad. The downward pointing caret should open a drop-down menu. If you find the ad useful, you are likely to see similar ads more frequently. If you are interested, this gives you some measure of control over what you are likely to see in the future. The option to ask for an explanation allows you to see something about the data used to select you for the ad that has appeared.

The following is the type of thing Facebook will reveal.

Here is an example with a little more political potential.

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Another gun tragedy

Brokaw offers sound advice. There is no defense for public access to military weapons. This has nothing to do with the constitution, it is the consequence of some sick NRA logic and the money flowing from this organization to politicians. The Make America Great motto has little meaning when the political process allows these events over and over. There are so many areas in which the arrogance of Americans prevents us from recognizing the sound decisions made in other countries.


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A hat to live by

Cindy loves to read or send me inspirational quotes she finds online. Things that are intended to help me find motivation or direction for my life. I think I have found something far better – an inspirational hat. I have many hats. This is the case because I keep forgetting the one I am supposed to have with me. I have a thin covering of hair on the top of my head and I must seek coverage to limit sun or cold exposure. I found this hat in the gift shop at Ha Ha Tonka (laughing waters) state park.

Ha Ha Tonka state park did have some other interesting things. This is the remains (it burned in the 1940s) of the Castle at Ha Ha Tonka. Those in the castle had a tremendous view overlooking the Lake of the Ozarks.

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Pre-existing conditions

Awareness of pre-existing conditions likely came to the public awareness during the ongoing debate over health care and made visible the issue of whether the government has a role to play as insurance companies are allowed to deny coverage. Pre-existing is used in reference to characteristics of individuals, perhaps based in unfortunate genetics, making specific problems more likely and as a consequence making such individuals statistically more expensive to keep healthy. Of course, poverty is also a pre-existing condition predicting greater health risks and greater difficulty purchasing health care coverage. Such situations are convenient to ignore unless you happen to be or know someone falling into one of these categories.

I was thinking about the plight of those in Texas and Florida as they struggle to recover from the recent hurricanes. Even though a good deal of the financial burden will fall to home and business owners, the government, translation tax payers, will pump billions of dollars into the region to support recovery. My point here is not to speak against all of us making this contribution rather it is to point out how unaware we are of inconsistencies in our thinking when it comes to statistically unavoidable life consequences. Building close to warm water is a pre-existing condition for hurricane damage. The odds of being outside the 100 year flood plain (I understand this situation from being flooded while living outside the 100 year flood plain in Grand Forks) doesn’t guarantee you will avoid costly damage and doesn’t deny you government support.

Pointing this out is mostly intended to target all of the southern Republican politicians willing to vote against the Affordable Care Act and now expecting the rest of the country to fund the unique pre-existing conditions they fail to recognize as such. In my opinion, ignoring pre-existing conditions is basically selfish and is an issue the government must address. Politicians may pick and choose their issues without regard for the inconsistency in what makes them look good. Perhaps bringing this inconsistency to their and their constituents attention will be helpful.

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News from social media

Facebook is increasingly becoming a source many of all ages turn to for news. In light of recent stories regarding the targeting of stories based on demographics and Facebook’s own use of user preferences for prioritizing the content provided based on personal preferences, this trend has the potential to convince people they are staying informed when in fact the inputs to their thinking are being biased in several ways.

News Use Across Social Media Platforms 2017

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Thought leader or science fiction writer – which is it

We are having some remodeling done and I had to move my bookcase. I must admit I seldom read a book with actual pages anymore and removing and then reshelving the books provided a walk down memory lane. So many of the books had shaped ideas I found very stimulating.

Here is a sampling from the top shelf:

  • Convergence culture
  • Smart mobs
  • The virtual community
  • Weaving the web
  • The wealth of networks
  • Got game
  • Free: The future of a radical price

Here is the thing about this collection. Pretty much all promised a future that has not been realized and now seems a type of idealism that for one reason or another has been lost.

These books were written by great writers with a view of the possible that seemed very probable. They were great thought leaders. When applied in education, the label of thought leader has started to rub me the wrong way. Too often, it seems these folks make their way by telling the rest of us what we have missed and what we should be doing to get us from here to there. These folks have the innovators mindset, hack this or that, or act like pirates. I must admit the pirate thing still kind of baffles me.

I suppose I am old fashioned or cautious, but I prefer a mix of data with my innovation. The thoughts pretty much are the equivalent of hypotheses and as a researcher, I can tell you with certainty that not every creative idea gets published, nor should it.

On the second shelf, I found another book – The big switch. (Who controls the Internet would work as an alternative.) This book by a different thought leader explains why the other thought leaders were wrong. The idealism of learning from each other, learning through sharing, and combining our capabilities (blogs and wikis) has been subverted by the big players (the media companies, ISPs) and our own lack of willingness to make personal contributions. Remember the promise of the Read/Write web? Probably not. Bloggers and free content creators no more, there is also the opportunity for the innovators to make a buck by writing or talking about innovation. Interesting ideas are fun and science fiction writers have been offering such ideas for nearly as long as books have been printed. Sometimes their ideas resemble what becomes the future but no one holds them to their visions.

Just a free thought to consider

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Like Alice’s Restaurant – Amazon provides anything you want

Fake Coyote – Cindy purchased two from Amazon. We have a goose problem at our lake place. Nice lawn with easy access to the lake can bring geese. We have tried everything we can think of short of a shotgun to get rid of them. No luck so far. Cindy read that coyote decoys would do the trick so she bought two. The decoys come rolled up and the directions said that you should stuff them with something (I used towels) and place them in the sun for a couple of hours to get them to take on a more natural shape. I position this one on top of the grill on my deck. For the unprepared, I am thinking waking up in the middle of the night and looking out on the deck might cause quite a reaction.

[Alice’s Restaurant – for young folks with have lived a sheltered life]

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Dealing with things you think are wrong

I post frequently about my frustration with what I consider the flawed and dangerous policies of the Trump administration and some specific Republican positions that are very much in contradiction to my personal value system. The Trump and Republican health care is probably the best example. Access to health care is simply something I cannot accept to any who need it. My life experiences have provided concrete examples of how health care is not equitable.

We have good friends we became acquainted with in Russia and who later moved to the U.S.. We do not talk politics with them a lot, but you hang out with folks long enough and you begin to pick up on things.

Our friends are concerned about me and my level of frustration. Cindy tried to explain that this is just the way I am. I assume problems can be addressed and I have always been persistent. To ignore problems would eat me up. Our Russian friends felt they had no chance to make changes and so found ways to live their lives despite their circumstances. Of course, they were willing to leave their jobs, home, and country to move here. People sometimes joke about moving to Canada. Few have the courage to take this risk and I see their way of responding to what they perceived as injustices as a far stronger and more courageous reaction than my own.

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