Internet Miscommunication Part 2

I watched a video the other day. It described a phenomenon that is called a Filter Bubble.  The phenomenon is, put simply, that your view of the world is slanted by the fact that the posts you see are filtered by what a web site knows about your preferences. For instance, Facebook selects items to show you based on people that you have selected as your friends. As such, they probably have similar tastes and opinions to yours. If you support a particular point of view, either your friends do too or you get annoyed by there rants and mute them. Consequently, over time you hear only one side of the story. Then, when something like an election or a referendum happens, you are surprised that it goes the way it does. You are blind sided by the fact that you have self selected just the parts of the story that you want to hear.

What can be done to remedy this problem? One thing that comes to mind is to actively seek information from diverse sources. Another suggestion is to seek information from diverse types of media, for instance, news papers, magazines, radio, and television.

The sad thing is that we have been so indoctrinated by the convenience of the internet that we have become lazy. It takes too much effort to read magazines and news papers. It is work to sort through them and decide what we are interested in. There is no Google for the physical world. There isn’t even an easy way to search media like film and television. YouTube is a start I suppose. Note that YouTube is owned by Google.

The important thing is, no matter where you look for information, look for as many different sources as you can. No one channel is going to give you the entire range of ideas on a given issue. And for goodness sake, don’t depend on Facebook as your primary source of news.

A Call to Action

I have been thinking a lot lately. I suppose I am a fairly contemplative guy most of the time. I try to glean meaning from the things that I observe in the world around me. I have been struggling with that of late. I just don’t understand why the people that are the nastiest rise to the top. I understand that we are living in a world where we have more access to news than has been the case in the entire history of the world. We know more about what is going on in Europe than our ancestors knew about what was going on in the next state.

Is this a good thing? I think so. It depends on how reliable the information is. If we don’t trust the information it is worthless. If someone manipulates the news, filters it, slants it, it becomes propaganda. When I was growing up propaganda was an emotionally charged word. It was what America’s enemies, the Communists, told their people to hide the atrocities they were committing. It never occurred to us that our own government was guilty of similar cover ups.

In the modern world the problem has evolved somewhat. Sure, governments still spin their news releases but the big culprits are the rich. Corporations hire armies of public relations staff to craft the story that puts them in the best light and then see that it is delivered as written. For the most part, our news channels have become entertainment channels that are more concerned with delivering eyeballs to advertisers than reporting the truth.

And we, the consumers of this mislabeled drivel are not free from blame. We don’t think critically about anything any more. We were schooled by an educational system that has been on a downward spiral for at least fifty years. Educational standards were adjusted to fit the bell curve of the performance of the classes instead of holding them to absolute standards of achievement. Then, when those students were turned out as the teachers of the next generation, they let the standards slip further.

We have tried several strategies to address this problem, with little success. We mandate universal testing only to find that the students are not being taught the fundamental principles of their subjects but rather how to pass the standardized tests on them. Such rote learning does not engender the kind of critical thinking necessary for a democracy.

Then there is the fact that we are so bombarded by information and entertainment we have become complacent. It’s too much trouble to go to the local city council meeting and take an active role in the community. I might miss the latest episode of The Big Bang Theory or Survivor. That is clearly more important than first hand civic involvement.

It is easy to point out what is wrong. It is hard, and becoming harder, to come up with viable solutions to these problems. Again the problem is, we haven’t been taught critical thinking skills. And those of us that have developed them are typically using them in a narrow scope, namely our professional endeavors.

I feel like the old man yelling at the neighborhood kids, “You kids stay off of my lawn!” I doubt that anyone will listen or if they do that they will do anything about it. I know that I haven’t done anything myself other than write this indictment. It isn’t that these problems haven’t been pointed out repeatedly over the years. It’s just that we still haven’t done anything about it.

Here’s my proposal. Everybody pick one thing that bothers them about the world. Think of some way that you can help make it better. And then do it. If it helps, good for you! But if it doesn’t immediately help, think of something else that you can try. Because in the final analysis, we’ve got to all pitch in and keep trying or just give up and lay down and die.

News (and a Few Comments)

I haven’t been keeping up my blog lately. Lots of other things have been happening. I thought I’d take a moment to update everyone on a few of them.

I started off the new year with a plan. I had been camping out on Pam’s MacBook Pro for over a year and I decided that it was time that I got my own machine again. I looked at the bank account and like the responsible adult that I am (no snickers from the peanut gallery), I decided that there wasn’t an Apple computer in my near future.

I have my iPhone and my iPad. I have the use of Pam’s Macbook Pro if I really need a Mac. But for my everyday work horse I needed something less expensive.

Around that time the Raspberry Pi 3 was announced. I was impressed. Here was a computer with the horsepower of a high end cell phone. I mean that as a compliment. High end cell phones are more powerful in many ways than a lot of low end desktops.

Then, Pi day came (3/14/16, get it? Pi rounds to 3.1416.) and Western Digital, the disk drive manufacturer came out with a special product. It was a 314 GB hard drive for the Raspberry Pi that they were selling for $31.41. When I looked into it I discovered that they had a 1 TB model for around $80 and it came with cables, a power adapter, and a case.

Needless to say, I bought the Raspberry Pi 3, a new monitor for about $100, and the WD 1 TB Pi Drive. The Raspberry Pi and monitor came in rather quickly. WD backordered the disk drive and I ended up waiting a month for it. But for about three hundred dollars, I had a new computer.

When it finally came in, I installed the multi-boot software that they suggested for it and chose Fedora 23 ARM for the distribution that I wanted to run. To make a long story short, for technical reasons that I won’t go into right now, the Pi was not up to being used as a developer’s computer. It is fine for a hobby computer or for a student that is just learning to program. It is great to build Internet of Things projects around. It just doesn’t have the guts to be a developer’s main computer.

I was depressed. I thought I had discovered a cheap way to get my own computer up and running. I moped around for a few days and then I started looking around to see what I could find to solve my problem. I found a local store that had refurbished computers but they weren’t exactly what I needed. Besides, I didn’t have the money to buy what they had in stock.

Then, in a flash of inspiration I remembered that I had a $100 Amazon gift card that I  had forgotten about. I started shopping on Amazon and soon found a refurbished Dell with a 3.0GHz Core 2 Duo processor, a 500 GB hard drive, and 8 GB of RAM. It wasn’t perfect but it was adequate for a developer’s machine.

I had to put $40 with the gift card to get it but a week later it arrived. It came with Windows 7 Professional. I am not a Windows fan. I have worked with Windows every day at work for the past twenty years or so, so it isn’t that I don’t know how to use it. I just don’t like it. But that’s a topic for another blog post.

I do know that Windows is useful on occasions so I went ahead and installed it. Then, I installed Fedora 23 x86_64 on it. I was impressed. The Fedora install program did a wonderful job of shrinking my Windows partition and creating the Linux partitions. Fedora booted up and has run like a dream ever since. It is not a Mac but it is a good solid developers machine. I have been very happy with it.

I’ll post more on what I am developing with it in another post. This post has gotten longer than I intended and I need to get to bed. I will hint that not only am I developing software with it but I am also writing a book on programming with it.

Exciting New Machine Learning Algorithm

The University of New York, the University of Toronto and MIT have made a breakthrough in machine learning. They’ve developed a technique they have termed Bayesian Program Learning (BPL) which uses an inductive approach to recognizing characters. ( The researchers think the technique has potential applications to many other fields such as voice recognition, image recognition, and natural language processing.

Can We Build a Better News Infrastructure?

Dave Winer said that we can build a better news network (please read his post for exactly what he said).

I commented:

The problem is that most people are just listening to figure out when it’s there turn to talk. They aren’t paying any attention to the substance of what the other person is saying. I think the abbreviation tl;dr is indicative of how that same principle translates into the print medium. I have lost all confidence in the news organizations in this (or any other) country. I feel less informed about the world than I ever was before the digital revolution. I can talk to someone on the other side of the world individual to individual but when the media is involved it all boils down to who stands to gain financially and who has paid whom the most to get their spin broadcast. I would like to see the internet give rise to a better news system as you advocate. What can we (users and developers alike) do to help bring this to life?

After struggling with getting links to this blog posted to Facebook and Twitter (manually, I am having trouble getting my process down to use Radio3), I discovered that Dave had replied to my comment:

Right now, the answer is simply to post using a tool like Radio3, which can post to the corporate networks as well as to the open Internet. So we get a chance to use your links to bootstrap a new open network. You sacrifice nothing, your posts still go to your current subscribers. That’s the outline of the plan.

I haven’t got Radio3 set up to post to Facebook through my corporate firewall so I am still figuring out the process to get this to work while I’m at work. Perhaps I should just refrain from posting while I’m at work. Any way, thanks for the response, Dave.