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Algorithms – Do They Have a Hidden Agenda?

The Quippery
When you ask Google or Bing or Duck Duck Go to find something for you, how does ‘it’ filter the results? How do advertisers, retailers and financial markets make  decisions on what product to offer you? How do banks decide who to offer a loan or a bank card to? How do insurance companies determine how to assess risk and set prices? How do employers and dating sites use personality tests to find matches? The answer is, they use Algorithms!

An Algorithm is a set of detailed instructions that are fed into a computer program to deliver a result, or set of results from the information that it is given.

On the internet, Algorithms determine what we see first, or most. For example, when I input the letters ‘do’  into Google search, the autocomplete algorithm suggests ‘donald trump, ‘dominos’ and ‘donald trump news’. The search engine Duck Duck Go  and Yahoo suggest ‘domino’s pizza’, ‘dorothea hurley bongiovi’ and ‘donald trump’. Bing suggests ‘domino s’, download chrome’ and ‘download google chrome’ before getting to ‘donald trump twitter’.

Why do they all choose such similar suggestions? It is because search engines look for what they believe is most relevant – which is the highest frequency of a search term and the way that pages containing that term link to other pages in the Web.

There are other factors at work too. Because Algorithms are written by people, it is not uncommon for those people to write their personal bias into the algorithms:

The dustup over Facebook’s “trending topics” list and its possible liberal bias hit such a nerve that the U.S. Senate called on the company to come up with an official explanation, and this week COO Sheryl Sandberg said the company will begin training employees to identify and control their political leanings.
– Nanette Byrnes, Why We Should Expect Algorithms to Be Biased, MIT Technology Review, June 24, 2016 –

Sometimes algorithms are simply mercenary in nature. Facebook may claim that its algorithm is personalized for your benefit, but it would be fair to say that Facebook’s algorithm is also optimized for Facebook, and thus for the advertisers.

More disturbing – it has been demonstrated that people’s emotions can be controlled by algorithms built into their social feeds. In 2012, Facebook  and data scientists from two Universities (in a study that was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) tweaked the news feed algorithms of roughly 0.04 percent of Facebook users, or 698,003 people, for one week in January. During the experiment, half of these people saw fewer positive posts than usual, while half  saw fewer negative ones. When positive expressions were reduced, people produced  more negative posts; when negative expressions were reduced, the opposite occurred. (In a note of contrition, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concluded that the decision to manipulate the content without the users consent might have violated some principles of academic research…)

It is one thing to know and accept that sites like Google or Facebook (both are primary news sources for people under 35) can manipulate what you see and potentially control how you feel. Are you also willing to accept that they could also be isolating you from other viewpoints, thus exacerbating your biases?

If you believe, as I do, that trending news can often be incomplete news –  will you search for better information if you see ‘Red Flags’ like the following?

– does the story  contain facts that seem to be inflated?

Example from Greenpeace USA: “The Arctic is one of the most unique places on Earth. It spans eight countries, is home to more than 13 million people… Fact check: The National Snow and Ice Data Centre, which is supported by NASA, the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says “In total, only about 4 million people live in the Arctic worldwide.”

– is the story attempting to appeal to your emotions, or to the emotions of young people who may not be old enough to understand the inaccuracy of the story?

Example: Canadian environmentalist David Suzuki, soliciting donations for the Suzuki Foundation, did a “live from the North Pole” broadcast in front of some faux Arctic scenery in 2011. “Santa’s workshop is sinking! Climate change is melting the snow and ice and the rising water is getting too close for comfort. Santa must relocate – fast – to make sure all the nice boys and girls still have a happy holiday.”

– does the headline contain exaggerated language that attempts to make you fearful?

Example: “Sir John A. Macdonald: 5 Frightening Facts About Our First Prime Minister” – Rachel Décoste, Huffpost –

– does the story swear at someone or make derogatory comments?

Example: “Soon enough, he will be alone, surrounded only by his admiring fellow racists. But he will still be governing from the Oval Office. It bears repeating. Americans got what they asked for. And it oozes.” Opinion piece on Donald Trump from Neil Macdonald, for CBC News

Who is to blame for the dismal state of journalism today? Do you think Algorithms  have played a role in forming your opinions or  have they impacted your life in other ways?

Follow this link to read my list of related quotations: Algorithms

Over the Top Writing Makes me do Just the Opposite

You’ve probably seen some of these ‘over the top’ words in Post Titles on the internet. They are supposed to be so enticing that you will click through to read the story. Here are some of the most common superlatives:

Utterly Strangest
Outrageous
Amazing
Groundbreaking Truth
Astonishing
Incredible Bombshell
Awesomely Stunning
Unbelievable (or You Won’t Believe Your Eyes)
Insanely Gorgeous
Impossible
Absolutely Unbeatable
You’ll Never Guess
Ridiculous
or Jaw Dropping

for stories, that will

Blow you away
Be to Die For
Take Your Breath Away
Change Your World
Freak You Out

because

well, OMG – This is Genius!!!

This style of writing has just the opposite effect on me – I simply refuse to click through to read it.

Just this once, though, I’m going to use words from the list above to describe my photos for this week’s WordPress Photo Challenge (which is Opposites.) These photos were taken on a trip to the Hawaiian Islands.
ocean rocks trees

OMG! The scenery was to die for! My jaw dropped as I watched the waves crash onto the rocks. Bombshell – that soft looking water can crush the hard looking rock into sand!

cooled flow plants

I was freaked out by how this once hot flowing magma could become, like, just the opposite – cold and hard! Unbelievable!

The Quippery
That ends my attempt at this writing ‘style’ – would you add any words or phrases to the list above?

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Media Bias and Knowledge – The Truth is Out There

There are things I know I know.
And things I think I know – but don’t.
Things I know I don’t know.
And things I don’t know that I don’t know.
The Truth, for me, is a moving target!

The QuipperyI think it is safe to say that my blogging days would have ended several years ago if I had stuck to writing about things ‘I know I know’! ‘Shopping’ for things I don’t know is why it takes me so long to write a blog post. I look for facts and arguments, then test them to see if they are congruent, consistent, coherent, and useful truths.

Mark Twain once said that “A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” Thanks to the internet, this observation is more applicable now than it has ever been.

Traditional news media has been supplemented with a vast array of online media sources and opinion journalism. The pressure to produce reactions and opinions at a greater and greater speed has resulted in a ‘media bias’ that attracts and holds a ‘true believer’ audience. This doesn’t always mean they are ‘impartial’, ‘well-balanced’ and ‘truthful’ reports.

I think this is why the role of the blogger is important. Often bloggers are the ones who descend upon media misinformation and set the story straight! They are part of the New Age of Journalism that is thriving online.

12-canada-goose-in-tree-1While I play a very small and almost invisible role as a Blogger Journalist, I was reminded of the importance of that role and my search for truth when one of my posts was referred to on a Gratefulness Forum. The members were discussing beauty in nature, and someone eventually posted a photo of a Canada Goose in a tree. One of the forum members researched whether this was something Canada Geese did very often, and found my post called A Lofty View. I know that Geese do this!

One little Truth at a time – this is how the bloggers of the world are making a difference.

 

As we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know.
– Donald Rumsfeld, while serving as George W. Bush’s Secretary of Defense

Of all modern notions, the worst is this: that domesticity is dull. Inside the home, they say, is dead decorum and routine; outside is adventure and variety. But the truth is that the home is the only place of liberty, the only spot on earth where a man can alter arrangements suddenly, make an experiment or indulge in a whim. The home is not the one tame place in a world of adventure; it is the one wild place in a world of rules and set tasks.
– G.K. Chesterton –


What ‘Truth Crusade’ is near and dear to your heart?
What have you contributed to the accumulated knowledge of a particular subject?

Post 533

Security – A New Year – Time for New Passwords!

Happy New Year to you all!
Do you have a List of Resolutions?
Thought about adding ‘New Passwords’ to that list?

The Quippery

In 2011, The Car Guy’s Yahoo Mail account sent out invitations to most of his contacts to use Viagra. After hours of looking for a breach, I realized that the account had been hacked through Yahoo itself. We secured the account with a new password, but the whole episode was a good reminder of why it is a good idea to change passwords frequently, and have different passwords for different accounts.

Strong passwords are also highly recommended. Some sites require specific combinations, though not quite as rigorous as this password protocol that I made up:

The Car Guy and I developed and memorized a few mnemonic phrases. They form the first part of our passwords. The second part of each password varies from site to site. We’ve memorized most of them, but keep them all in a database (without the mnemonic part) for those days when we can’t find our car keys, let alone remember a password…

Do you have a Password ‘System’?

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Internet – Google Autocomplete – Unfiltered Eavesdropping

Google Search wants to help you find what you are looking for. To speed up the process, it uses autocomplete to list suggestions that are based on the search activity of other Google users.

Here are some of the searches I did and what I learned from my digital eavesdropping:

How do I convertpdf and atheism – two new religions.

How do I know ifOnce the issue of the unlocked cell phone is resolved, we can move on to other pressing matters.

How do I know whenPotatoes were right up there with making babies.

How do I know whyWhy wouldn’t you know why your license was suspended?

How do I stayMaybe if you do the first three, the last will be easy…

Best style ofThe fridge was a bit of a surprise considering the rest of the list.

I will have the children read Hamlet as soon as it is practical. There are some useful cautions against eavesdropping to be gleaned from that.
– Maryrose Wood, The Mysterious Howling –

One of the unique things about the human brain is that it can do only what it thinks it can do. The minute you say, “My memory isn’t what it used to be …” you are actually training your brain to live up to your diminished expectations. Low expectations mean low results. The first rule of super brain is that your brain is always eavesdropping on your thoughts. As it listens, it leans. If you teach it about limitation, your brain will become limited. But what if you do the opposite? What if you teach your brain to be unlimited?”
– Deepak Chopra –

Sounds like you kids have some talking to do. I’ll be eavesdropping from the kitchen.”
– Jill Shalvis –

A raintree bent towards a window in one side of the bungalow, eavesdropping on the conversations that had taken place inside over years.”
– Tan Twan Eng –

Our whole lives are lived in a tangle of telling, not telling, misleading, allowing to know, concealing, eavesdropping and collusion. When Washington said he could not tell a lie, his father must have answered, ‘You had better learn.
– Germaine Greer –

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Unplugging from the Web – Flowers Help to Heal

It’s called ‘The Web’ because once you’re in it, you are stuck.
– Terry Hall –

I’m going to take some time off – see if I can find a new Happy Place.  I know it exists somewhere here in my mind, but I’m not having much luck finding it right now.

So, I’m going to unplug for a while. I hope you will come back to visit my blog when I return!

Before I go, here are the photos I took the last time I was at the cabin. It is quite remarkable what is blooming out there. All 305 homes were destroyed, yet the flowers are cheerfully acting like nothing happened!

columbine

A yellow Columbine or Aquilegia.

A pink Rose. It is a hardy bush rose, but I don’t know it is called. I wish I had one in my yard!

white

A white Shasta Daisy. These grow like weeds at my place.

orange

An orange Daylily. I have these in my yard, but they never look this good!

white

A white Mallow or Sidalcea. I’m really guessing on whether that is what this is.  It has leaves like a cranesbill geranium, but flower buds like a little hollyhock.

false sunflower

An orange Heliopsis helianthoides ‘Asahi’ – commonly called a False Sunflower. I’m guessing that is what this flower is called…

I hope I’ll be able to return to Hidden Valley next year to see what is blooming – but I don’t expect the Siksika Nation will allow us to enter once our buildings have been demolished and removed, and our lease has expired.

Before I go, please  tell me if you have ever taken a blog holiday. How long did you leave your blog to fend for itself? Did you find what you were looking for while you were gone?

Post 452

From Rags to Riches – the Spam Way

I opened a few Gmail accounts a while back – I am migrating from Hotmail to Gmail, though for the life of me I can’t remember what prompted me to do that. Regardless of the reason, I have never checked the Spam box of my Gmail account until today. Imagine my surprise when I discovered all the ways I could be a wealthy woman if I simply follow the instructions in these emails:

1. If I can just help out Mrs.Fatoumata Zongo, the wife to the deceased former Head of Delegation to the World Bank in West Africa, I will get 30% of  US $7 million. Her husband was the linkman between the Organization for Petroleum Exporting Countries – OPEC and the petroleum sector in a West African country. He died from cardiac arrest, though she doesn’t say whether that might have been just after a bullet or an arrow pierced his heart.

I suggest this because it appears like Mr. Zongo was a bit of a shady character. He seems to have skimmed the money off the  allocated oil quota in OPEC. Mrs. Zongo isn’t all that honest either, and she wants me  to assist her to claim his ill gotten gains. The process appears to be very simple. There are some claim documents that will be processed and sent to me. The documents will be amended to reflect me as the beneficiary so that I can  collect the fund as his business associate. Then, I will keep 30% of the total funds and give her the rest when she arrives  in my country.

Now I have to ask the obvious question – why would I give her the 70%?  She anticipated that question, so she appealed to my humanitarian side – she needs it for the up keep of her only son. Well, Mrs. Zongo, you are very wrong if you think I have both a greedy side and a humanitarian side!

My dear Mrs. Zongo – this is a dangerous game you are playing.  Run, Mrs. Zongo before you and your son also experience ‘cardiac arrest’.

2. The next email skipped the preliminary story and got right to the point.  Mrs. Fatu Kabri wished to solicit my partnership to transfer $20 Million US dollars. She would send me more information and procedures once she received this information from me:
1. Full name……….
2. Nationality………….
3. Age…………….
4. Occupation…………..
5. Phone number………….

I expect the circumstances surrounding Mrs. Kabri ‘s $20 million were not all that honest either. Run Mrs. Kabri before you suffer ‘cardiac arrest’ too!

3. The third email was to notify me that I was a Winner in UKNL of One Million Pounds. All I had to do was Contact Agent Larry William Via his Email address and tell him my:
Full Name:
Contact Address:
Tel:
Age:
Country:

Toonaday shark

I had to wonder, how did I win a lottery that I didn’t enter in a country I don’t live? Clearly Agent Larry doesn’t know any of these answers either. Agent Larry also should know by now that One Million pounds is chicken feed compared with what is being offered by his fellow crooks in South Africa.

That was all there was in my Spam Box – three incredibly stupid stories intended to appeal to either my greed or my gullibility. It would all be very funny if the purpose of these emails wasn’t fraudulent, and if some people weren’t victims of the schemes behind these emails.

Think of your Spam Email box as shark infested waters. Don’t even think of going swimming in there!

Unsolicited e-mails, however, are often the initial means for criminals, such as operators of fraudulent schemes, to contact and solicit prospective victims for money, or to commit identity theft by deceiving them into sharing bank and financial account information.
– The United States Department of Justice –

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