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California has proposed a potentially groundbreaking consumer privacy law. The Right To Know Act, if approved, would require companies to divulge what kind of data they have on individual consumers, as well as with whom they’re sharing that information.
We need this. Not only should California pass this law, but it should be emulated far and wide. And while it’s a good start, The Right To Know Act is really just the beginning of what’s needed.
The vast quantity of personal data that companies collect, store and sell is mind-boggling. We caught a glimpse of some of this massive and now-routine data mining during the presidential campaign. Outside of the election cycle, it continues full force as marketers and financial institutions amass private information about consumers, sell it to one another and use it in ways that aren’t entirely clear. Much of it is totally obvious and innocent. Some of it probably isn’t. We don’t know. That’s the problem.
The Ongoing Personal Data Explosion
Of course, this data is just going to keep exploding. The proliferation of smartphones has generated enough privacy questions to keep lawyers and legislators busy for a generation. We’re just beginning to grapple with those issues and now Google wants us to wear computers on our faces. As we move toward wearable computers, connected cars and smart homes, the sheer volume of data about our personal lives is going to grow exponentially.
There’s a lot we stand to gain from these advances in personal technology, just as we have with smartphones and tablets. But before we plough forward into this otherwise awesome future, we should probably take a minute and think about some of the less exciting implications. Privacy is at the top of the list.
The Right To Know Act sounds like a sensible attempt to set up the kind of consumer privacy framework we’ll need to have in place if we don’t want things to get too weird in the future.
Whether or not we actually regulate the ways companies use this data is another question, which we’ll also need to deal with. In the meantime, what the Right To Know Act will do is simply allow consumers to know exactly what data exists and and to learn a little bit about how it’s being used.
“This Law Is About Transparency”
“This law is about transparency and access, not new restrictions on data sharing,” writes the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), one of the supporters of the bill. ”It helps consumers, regulators, policymakers, and the world at large shine a light onto the largely hidden, highly lucrative world of the personal data economy.”
To Europeans, this concept isn’t anything radical. As Ars Technica points out, the European Union has laws like this on the books already, as it should. The principle of habeas data, as it’s known, is just a part of digital life there.
How likely is passage of the bill? Plenty of firms will loathe it, but it will be interesting to see how tolerant the more privacy-friendly tech companies are of the idea. It’s hard to predict the bill’s fate, but when it comes to implementing forward-thinking privacy laws, California has a pretty decent track record.
The premise is that simple: Companies know a lot about us, and we, as consumers, have a right to know what they know. Whether or not we can do anything about it, we at least deserve to know. They are, after all, our lives.
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Firstly, as a quick refresher, the terms ‘big data’ and ‘programmatic’ sound more complex than they are! In my last article, Why Do Big Data & Programmatic Marketing Actually Matter?, I described how big data can simply be thought of as ‘more data,’ and that having more data makes us…
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Nvidia has just about pulled off the trick of rendering computer-generated human faces — in real time — that won’t make viewers squirm. At least so long as they don’t grimace. Or try to talk.
The graphics chip maker Nvidia said on Tuesday that it had teamed up with the University of Southern California to develop two sets of simulation technologies designed to improve rendering and simulations in video games, one for oceans (Wave Works) and one for faces (Face Works).
The faces technology is the big deal here. At certain moments during a demonstration at its GPU Technology Conference, Nvidia’s virtual “Ira” transcended the so-called “uncanny valley” and made me think that the virtual head on stage was an actual, living person.
It’s been a long time coming.
Graphics Chips: Not Just For Graphics Any More
Years ago, Nvidia, Rendition, 3Dlabs and others helped transform the PC with the introduction of 3D graphics, from which evolved PC gaming, CAD animation, video production and a number of other creative enterprises. Nvidia’s chief executive Jen-Hsun Huang has been an evangelist of sorts, helping to push Nvidia into the enterprise space with integrated machines that use its graphics processing units (GPUs), as well as into smartphones and tablets with new versions of its Tegra chips.
“Over the last 20 years, this medium has transformed the PC from a computer for information and productivity to one of creativity, expression and discovery,” Huang said in his opening keynote. “The beauty and the power of interactivity this medium allows us to connect with ideas in a way that no other medium can. And the GPU is the engine of this medium.”
The fundamental building block of the GPU is the polygon, also known as “triangles” – groundbreaking games like Alone in the Dark created 3D characters out of polygons that players could easily distinquish. Today, however, faster processors have allowed those 3D polygons to become so small that they can’t seen by the naked eye. Those 3D surfaces can be colored, textured and even “bump-mapped” to break up the regularity of the image, improving realism.
At the same time, GPUs have become physics engines, modelling everything from how light passes through and reflects off of objects – ray tracing – to applying real “physics” to objects as they fall and bounce. Tracking particles as they move, such as smoke or water, is also part of the equation. That’s the kind of computational power that supercomputers tap into – and in February, Nvidia launched its Titan card, using the same GPU technology as the world’s fastest supercomputer, ORNL’s Titan, uses.
Face Works, Ira And The “Uncanny Valley”
For a time, both Nvidia and its chief rival, ATI Technologies (now part of AMD) used, well, virtual dolls, to demonstrate the realism of their graphics technology and appeal to hormone-fueled gamers. AMD’s Ruby is a thing of the past, but Nvidia’s fairy-like Dawn appeared in Huang’s keynote. The showcase for 2002′s GeForce FX line, Dawn was created to embody “cinematic computing” and turned heads with impressive attention to detail, realistic hair and dynamic lighting effects. But Face Works and Ira are the future.
Nvidia’s Face Works was developed in conjunction with USC’s Institute for Creative Technologies, which helped develop LightStage, a high-speed illumination system designed for human-scale subjects consisting of 6,500 white LED sources. Essentially, Huang said, a person marches into a giant sphere, where the subject is photographed from 253 different directions. Each image is matted onto a black background, and compiled into a 3D object. Face Works allows each object to be modified, or “stretched,” to simulate speech and movement.
It’s not easy. “Simulating an ocean is hard; simulating a face is harder,” Huang said.
Humans are trained to instinctively spot things that are a little off, and that reaction, dubbed “the uncanny valley,” ironically kicks in the more realistic a simulation gets. Basically, some people get creeped out by CGI that looks a little too realistic, but not quite realistic enough to be fully convincing.
Ira demonstrates the problem. As these images show, Ira looks quite normal – fully human, actually, under certain lighting conditions. What Face Works does is model light as it enters the skin, reflects, and diffuses through the skin’s surface. Slight disfigurements – a freckle, skin pores – add to the realism.
But the illusion often breaks when the 3D model moves, as you can see in the keynote video below (the ocean modeling begins at about 9 minutes in, Ira and Dawn appear about 16 minutes in). Essentially, Ira looks eerily realistic when motionless, but when he grimaces (and, above all, talks) we begin to pick up on how his facial expressions aren’t quite lifelike.
Still, recent games like L.A. Noire became famous for their realistic depictions of human faces, and “reading” expressions became a gameplay mechanic. Years ago, getting those right at all was an amazing accomplishment. We’re now at the point where companies like Nvidia get it right most of the time. “All of the time,” it seems, will soon be within our grasp.
Wave Works: Splash!
Nvidia’s ocean simulation, meanwhile, uses Wave Works to tap into Titan for what the company called the most realistic ocean simulation ever. Most water simulations paint the ocean as a flat surface, with random ripples distorting it. Objects that “float” on top, like a ship, might not actually move in response to the ocean’s undulations.
Wave Works, however, uses 20,000 “virtual sensors” on a ship model to model water pressure, and to respond to the proximity of the water on the ship. And Water Works even models spray, tracking 100,000 “spray particles” as they move through the air. The Nvidia software can model an entire Beaufort scale of wind speed, dialing up everything from a sunny day to a near-hurricane, Huang said. And as the ship moves, it crashes through the waves, being tossed up and down. This simulation, at least, was completely convincing.
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UPDATE: It turns out that The Pirate Bay was indeed pulling an elaborate joke about moving its hosting to North Korea yesterday. Announced on its Facebook page this morning, the file-sharing site admitted to the hoax, which used a clever IT trick to make it appear as if it were being hosted in North Korea. The site was even kind enough to post a picture of its co-founders hanging out with North Korean leaders that definitely wasn’t Photoshopped.
Allegedly, the site was never forced to leave Sweden, and was simply dealing with a temporary legal argument while major infastructure changes would solve the issue in the following week (though it is still unclear where TPB is currently being hosted until such changes allow it to return to the Swedish Pirate Party).
“We’ve also learned that many of you need to be more critical. Even towards us. You can’t seriously cheer the “fact” that we moved our servers to bloody North Korea,” the post reads. “Always stay critical. Towards everyone!” At least the tricksters at The Pirate Bay had a point (sort of).
Just yesterday, former b-baller and reality TV juggernaut Dennis Rodman arrived stateside after a widely publicized hangout with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, saying, “I love him. The guy is awesome. He was so honest.” Apparently, Kim’s generosity extends to torrenting sites as well.
As of this morning, notorious file-sharing site The Pirate Bay has been offered virtual asylum in North Korea after being kicked out of Norway, according to the site’s most recent blog post.
Having lost its hosting from the Swedish Pirate Party last week, The Pirate Bay jumped to pirate parties in Norway and Catalonia. That brief relationship ended this morning, when the Norwegian Pirate Party ousted the file sharing site as well, with party leader Geir Asalid claiming that party doesn’t have the economic muscle necessary to fight for the right to torrent.
After some very brief downtime, the site popped back up, though at the same address and with no indication of the new hosting location until a traceroute for the site was tracked back to an ISP located in the Potong-gang District of Pyongyang, North Korea. Following a handful of initial reports, The Pirate Bay posted its blog post acknowledging the switchover.
Is The Pirate Bay Messing With Us?
It’s not always easy to believe what The Pirate Bay says. If this turns out to be a joke, it wouldn’t be the first time The Pirate Bay has pulled such a hoax about its virtual whereabouts. In 2007, the site pulled an April Fool’s Day joke revolving around this exact situation, writing at the time, ”We would like to thank Kim Jong-Il for the opportunity and we would like all of our users to review their current feelings towards this great nation!”
This time around, a number of colluding circumstances make this announcement sound considerably more legitimate. Not only has The Pirate Bay switched out its homepage image (seen above), but the ISP is in fact being traced to North Korea only hours after the Norwegian Pirate Party’s announcement was released. If it is a hoax, this would certainly be an elaborate one.
Those within the torrent news network also seem to believe the situation – to a degree. “A Pirate Bay insider informs TorrentFreak that they had been working for a while to get connectivity in North Korea,” reports TorrentFreak. “We’ve been in talks with them for about two weeks, since they opened access for foreigners to use 3G in the country…TPB has been invited just like Eric Schmidt and Dennis Rodman. We’ve declined up until now,” the source went on to say.
Hosting the winner of 2004′s Celebrity Mole and the first ever Hulk Hogan’s Championship Wrestling Tournament (aka Mr. Rodman) and wining and dining him as if he were an ambassador is one thing. But putting the actions of your country’s Internet network in direct opposition to the fierce lobbying efforts of Hollywood and the United States copyright police is an entirely different kind of political taunt. It likely doesn’t bode well for the increasingly precarious relationship between the U.S. and North Korea.
For those not inclined to travel to the site’s blog, you can read an excerpt from The Pirate Bay below:
This is truly an ironic situation. We have been fighting for a free world, and our opponents are mostly huge corporations from the United States of America, a place where freedom and freedom of speech is said to be held high. At the same time, companies from that country is chasing [sic] a competitor from other countries, bribing police and lawmakers, threatening political parties and physically hunting people from our crew. And to our help comes a government famous in our part of the world for locking people up for their thoughts and forbidding access to information.
Top image courtesy of The Pirate Bay. Second image courtesy of TorrentFreak.
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Interflora got penalized only 2 weeks ago, right after Valentine’s day with a huge coverage in the media and also a some-what indirect statement from Google’s Matt Cutts himself about Advertorials also counting as paid links if they pass Page Rank (i.e. do not have NOFOLLOW tags on them). Now, just…
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Ten days before Hollywood hands out its Oscar statuettes, a pair of studies – one by Microsoft’s in-house “Nate Silver,” and another measuring social influence – have already picked the winners.
Microsoft Research’s David Rothschild, who, like Silver, used early polls to correctly predict the outcome of the presidential elections in all but Florida, has used the predictive nature of the early awards shows to place his bets on who will be winning the various Academy Awards. Meanwhile, an English analyst firm, Brandwatch, has attempted to slice social media data in a couple of new ways (by both critical reaction and popular acclaim) to anticipate the winners.
And who are those winners? The envelopes, please…
- Best Picture: Argo
- Best Director: Steven Spielberg (Rothschild, Brandwatch popular) / David O. Russell (Brandwatch critics)
- Best Actor: Daniel-Day Lewis
- Best Actress: Jennifer Lawrence (Rothschild, Brandwatch popular) / Jessica Chastain (Brandwatch critics)
- Best Supporting Actor: Tommy Lee Jones (Rothschild) / Christoph Waltz (Brandwatch popular) / Robert de Niro (Brandwatch critics)
- Best Supporting Actress: Anne Hathaway
- Best Animated Film: Brave
- Best Original Song: Adele’s “Skyfall“
The remaining categories, including best makeup, screenplay, documentary shorts, and others, can be found on the respective sites: Predictwise for Rothschild’s predictions, and the Brandwatch Oscars site.
Why Will They Win?
In November, Rothschild used the same methodologies employed by quant hero Nate Silver to determine the outcome of the 2012 Presidential election: examining polling information collected before the election to determine the outcome. In February 2012, Rothschild wrote that Obama would win, well before election season got underway. As it turned out, of course, he was right.
(See also Why Nate Silver Won, And Why It Matters and Nate Silver’s Model A Stunning Portrait Of Logic Over Punditry)
“I approach forecasting the Oscars the same way I approach forecasting anything, including politics,” Rothschild said in a blog post. “I look for the most efficient data, and I create statistically significant models without any regard for the outcomes in any particular year. All models are tested and calibrated on historical data, with great pains taken to ensure that the model is robust to ‘out-of-sample’ outcomes, not just what has happened in the past. The models predict the future, not just the past.
“Thus, the science is identical, but there are differences in which data prove most useful,” Rothschild wrote.
The predictive models that Rothschild could tap into are the ones that most people are now using to handicap Oscar races: previous awards shows like the BAFTA awards, Screen Actors Guild (SAG) awards, and the Golden Globes. Some data he tossed out: For elections, fundamental data such as past election results and economic indicators can be used as predictive tools. But in movies, box-office figures and even ratings are not statistically effective, he said.
“I focus even more heavily on prediction markets, which are very robust, but I also include some user-generated data that helps me learn more about correlations within movies and between categories, such as, ‘How many categories will Lincoln win?” Rothschild added.
Finally, he updates his results in real time. Naturally, there’s a way to tap into these results yourself: the Oscars Ballot Predictor app for Microsoft Excel, one of the few apps to provide real-time data for Microsoft’s Office suite. The app allows users to vote, and includes the real-time, up-to-date Oscar predictions.
What could be Rothschild’s next step? “Sports is something we’re looking at,” a Microsoft spokeswoman said via email.
Whose Opinion Matters: Critics, Or Audiences?
Brandwatch has taken a more “traditional” approach: pull together mentions of each actor, director, movie, or other category across a broad swath of social media to look for positive, relevant references that can indicate a good chance of winning.
Brandwatch taps into the Twitter firehose, and to date relevant Oscar mentions have totaled 304,550 mentions, with about 1,400 to 1,600 per day being added at the end of January. Naturally, that number will go up. Twitter makes up about 40% of the data that Brandwatch samples, according to a FAQ provided to ReadWrite.
One surprise, it found, was that Lincoln was the early odds-on favorite to win Best Picture. But sentiment flipped after Argo started winning the title at the Producers Guild of America, British Academy Film Awards, LA Film Critics Association, the Golden Globes and others.
What Brandwatch tries to do – differently, it says, from other studies – is pull together the volume of positive predictions. There are two variables: the number of mentions, as well as the sentiment behind them. This tries to ensure that a large number of comments on Helen Hunt’s red-carpet dresses, for example, won’t be factored in any more than a smaller number of positive comments for rival Jessica Chastain’s performance.
However, the study also breaks down the projected winners by two categories: Critics, both “professionals” at major papers, plus semi-pro bloggers at enthusiast sites, and the general public. The skews show both sides of the acting industry, who aren’t paid critics but know their business presumably more than the average joe.
Brandwatch was hired to perform the study by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), most known for its aggressive stance on copyright and attacks on file-sharing networks.
But Brandwatch suggests another use for the data: “The findings hold wider implications for the film industries. If winners diverge from viewer favorites, this could indicate a greater need to relate to target audiences. Further qualitative analysis can uncover why film titles are recommended online: vital information for gaining endorsement and boosting box office takings. Key actors and directors can be correlated with film titles: To what extent does an established cast boost online reputation (and by extension sales)?”
It’s not quite clear why Brandwatch’s critic/public split is a better gauge than Rothschild’s single number. But if you’re running a betting pool, the smart money is on Argo, Daniel Day-Lewis and Anne Hathaway going home with Oscar on their arm.
Image source: flickr/ebbandflowphotography.
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As a technology writer, I hear (and experience) first-world problems every day:
- “Twitter’s down.”
- “Gmail’s borked.”
- “My phone battery died.”
Any one of those issues is enough, in our day-to-day lives, to at least bug us, and sometimes they’re enough to completely disrupt our professional or personal productivity. We can’t get things done and we lash out at those we think are responsible. How dare service X fail us and interrupt our work?
You know, first-world problems.
Perhaps that’s why I have recently come to the conclusion that Americans, as a group, have no perspective.
The Lack Of Perspective
When I take the time to step away from this over-wired world a bit, the very first thing I usually think of is just how silly all of this hullaballoo really can be. I mean, really, the $500 radio in my pocket just ran out of power and now I have to wait a whole half-hour to charge it again, and that’s my big problem?
Smartphones bear much of the ire I have for first-world problems, if only because they exemplify those problems so well: We build a device that keeps us connected with the rest of the world (which we love/hate) and then freak out when said device is unavailable even for a moment.
Smartphones tie into what many people peg as American’s big problem: We’re too damn fixated on time. Events in our lives are timed to the minute, and any deviation from that mental schedule can cause great stress. Being a writer geared to deadlines, I fall into this trap all of the time.
Instead of living in the moment and enjoying where we are, we tend to focus on the next thing, the next place, the next job. We don’t appreciate what we have and the time we spend with friends and family, slotted between hockey practice for Junior and the DVRed episodes of Downton Abbey we need to watch.
Here’s a real example of how bad not appreciating what we have has gotten. And it involves one of our favorite things: not time, but money.
How Good Do You Really Have It?
Global Rich List is not a new site, but when my pastor mentioned it during his sermon last week, I thought I’d give it a whirl.
The idea behind the site is simple: type in your annual income in pounds, dollars (US or Canadian) or euros and the site will spit back your wealth rank compared with all the people on the planet.
I popped in my annual income, and found to my surprise that I am the 24,860,227th richest person in the world.
At first glance, that sounds depressing, doesn’t it? But think that through a bit. 24.8 millionth-ish… on a planet with more than seven billion people. That puts me, a guy who fits squarely in the U.S. middle class, within the top 0.41% wealthiest people in the world.
It gets a bit worse. I added my wife’s income, and suddenly there are only 3.9 million-with-an-m people in the world making more money than us.
Not Pride, Dismay And Embarassment
Be assured, the emotion I was feeling at this point is not pride. It’s dismay, with quite a bit of embarrassment thrown in. All of the complaining I do about funds being tight and spending too much at the store seems foolish and arrogant when I think that 99.94% of the humans on planet Earth earn less than my family.
Pulling back that focus to the U.S. as a whole, and you can see why I think that people in our society need to get over themselves.
To give you an idea of just how rich Americans are, in Tuesday night’s State of the Union address, President Obama said that a person with two kids working full time at minimum wage would fall below the poverty line, as defined here in the U.S. Full time at the U.S. $7.50 minimum wage is $15,000 annually.
According to Global Rich List, a person earning that salary would be the 726,528,729th richest person in the world, and still be in the top 12.1% of earners on Earth.
Sometimes it takes a change in perspective like this to make you re-think your priorities. I’m not going to shed my earthly possessions and live the life of a hermit, but already I have less acquisitiveness about “stuff” than I used to feel.
Appreciating what we have, be it things, time or the people around us, is definitely a better way to live than always wanting more. Because when you always want more, you will think you have less.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.
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When managing PPC campaigns, specific trends and statistics can be in direct conflict. These polarizing trends often occur with stats that should be parallel or at least trending similarly. Here’s how to make sense out of nonsense.
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