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Darrell Sluis
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Jim Henson died 24 years ago today.
If you think a muppet photo can't get you misty eyed, you might be wrong.

#Jimhenson   #kermitthefrog  
Image shared everywhere it seems but source appears to be a  'Have Geek Will Travel' blog post: http://goo.gl/4dXaMj  
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PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE watch 5 minutes of Jon Stewart talking about the Charleston church shooting.
Jon addresses a shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., that took the lives of nine parishioners.
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Apple and Privacy, Just like Google

One thing that really annoys me about Apple is how it is using its reality distortion field to twist the message about privacy. Only a week ago, Tim Cook said this:

”I’m speaking to you from Silicon Valley where some of the most prominent and successful companies have built their businesses by lulling their customers into complacency about their personal information. They’re gobbling up everything they can learn about you and trying to monetize it. We think that’s wrong. And it’s not the kind of company that Apple wants to be. So we don’t want your data. “

“We don’t think they’re worth have your email or your search history or now even your family photos data-mined and sold-off for God-knows-what advertising purpose.”

And then, at the WWDC Keynote, they announced the new Apple News app. What does this app do? Well… I quote from their product page:

”The stories you really care about. The more you read, the more personalized the News app becomes, refining the selection of stories delivered to your screen so they are relevant to you. Easily share articles with others and save them to read offline. News stays on top of the stories you’re interested in. So you can, too.”

So… how can Apple learn what it is that you are interested in, and deliver that information to you without tracking people?

Granted, at the keynote, Craig Federighi also displayed a slide pointing out the privacy features for Apple News. These included:

Anonymous
Not associated with Apple ID
Random identifier
Not linked to other Apple services
Not shared with third parties
You’re in control

Clearly pointing their fingers at Google.

First of all, this is a weird way of doing things. Not having the news targeting data linked to your Apple ID means that it can’t be used across devices. Your iPhone and your iPad won’t know which is which. And if you buy a new iPhone, you will have to teach your news app all over again from scratch.

What’s the point of that? That’s not a privacy issue. That’s just terrible UX. 

It’s also not linked to other Apple services, meaning that Apple won’t be able to show you news from where you are in Apple Maps, compared to your personal interests. That seems like a weird limitation, and again, poor UX.

Finally, we have the “Not shared with third parties”.

It’s so annoying. Why, because neither is Google
It’s the same thing. Google isn’t sharing anything. No advertiser sees any user data, ever.

It’s like when you advertise in a newspaper. You pay the newspaper to display the ad in the right section. But as an advertiser, you have no clue as to who it reaches. You just know it has been targeted right.

That’s how Google Adwords work.

More to the point, tools like Google Analytics work almost exactly like Apple News. It too is anonymous, not associated with people’s Google IDs, uses randomized identifiers, not linked to other Google services, nor is it shared with third parties. 

Granted, you can add aggregated demographic data to this as well, in which case it does link to Google Adwords, but it’s still anonymous, and you have no way to track that on an individual level.

I get so annoyed by this. Apple is promoting itself as the savior of privacy online, bashing Google and others with vaguely misleading statements along the way.

That said, there are genuine concerns about privacy as well.

For instance, there is a real problem around the whole industry of data brokers. These are companies who are buying and selling user data to the highest bidder, from anywhere. For instance, when you go into Target to buy a t-shirt, they will end up knowing your age, income, social status, your food preferences, and sometimes even your medical history. 

Similarly, when I then go into another store a week later, then they suddenly also know that I bought a T-shirt.

That’s not right. That’s terrible! It should be illegal for companies to buy/sell/share their data. (and indeed it is in my country).

If I go into a store, whatever I do and whatever I buy in this store should be kept between the store and me. It is a massive violation of trust when that store sells this information to others. 

That is a real privacy problem.

This also extends to websites. If I visit a newspaper, what I read should not be bought and sold by other companies. That is an interaction purely between me and the newspaper. 

The newspaper can target me all it wants based on the interaction that has taken place between us. But when I then visit another newspaper, they shouldn’t be allowed to know what topics of articles I read elsewhere. 

This is the whole concept of privacy. 

Apple is doing this right because what it tracks is kept within Apple. Which is good. And that is also how Google works. Whatever you do on Google, stays with Google.

But the rest of Apple PR bashing about privacy is just that, PR.

Look at Apple Music, which will be available on iPhone, iPad, Mac, Windows and Android. Here you can create your own playlists, follow artists, like, comment and share things.

The only way they can do that is by linking your actions to your Apple ID. How else would it be able to show you the playlist on your phone that you just created on your Mac? How else would it be able to keep track and notify you across devices when there is an update to something you engage with?

So, Apple is using your data, just like everyone else. As Apple says on their site (about Apple Music)

“Enjoy recommendations handpicked just for you or explore everything they find that’s new and noteworthy in the world of music. It’s all yours.”

“Even with a library this massive, finding the music you’re looking for is easy. The intelligent search engine remembers whether you’re looking in your local library or the Apple Music library, so you get results from the place you expect. You can also browse music you’ve looked for previously, and see what searches are trending.”

”Tell us what you like. Discover something you’ll love. When you tell us the genres and bands you’re into, we’ll bring you more suggestions from our experts who know and love music. They’re out at the big shows and the small gigs, combing scenes to bring you emerging artists and deep cuts, and creating playlists that feel like they’re coming from a friend who knows exactly what you want to hear.”

”The more you listen, the better we hear you. When we make recommendations, we consider what you tell us you like. Whether you love a song or not, your feedback helps our suggestions get better and better. But we also pay attention to what you actually play. So if you’re an EDM fan with a secret affinity for big band music, we’ll find you more stuff that swings. And drops the beat.”

How is this not exactly the same as what Google is doing with their services?

Oh, you say. But Apple isn’t using this to sell advertising. Really? 

Here is the description of ad targeting for the Apple News app:

”Monetization of Apple News Format content is simple with iAd, Apple’s advertising platform. When monetizing with iAd, you’ll have access to iAd’s segmentation capabilities, so your advertisers can reach just the right audience within your content. iAd targeting is accurate and scalable, and based on registration data from hundreds of millions of validated Apple users.”

So, when Apple said that Apple news was anonymous, not associated with Apple ID, uses a random identifier, nor linked to other Apple services, that apparently only applies to all the things that aren’t iAds. Because with iAds, they can accurately target your content to millions of Apple users.

Again, just like Google.

Add that Apple recently announced they will support ad blockers in Safari on the iPhone, thus blocking newspapers from earning money that way. While iAds does work in their own news app... well...

This is why I get so annoyed when I hear Apple’s PR machine talk about privacy. First, we have Tim Cook saying: “They’re gobbling up everything they can learn about you and trying to monetize it. We think that’s wrong. And it’s not the kind of company that Apple wants to be. So we don’t want your data.“

Then they launch two new services; Apple Music and Apple News, both featuring individual targeting, tracking and tailoring. Including integration to iAds.

I call shenanigans. 

Both Apple and Google track what you do. Both companies use that information. And both companies that keep information within themselves, thus ensuring your privacy stays intact. 

There is nothing wrong with that. In fact, as they both show, doing this creates much better products for you and me.

Let’s instead focus on the much more important issue of data brokers, and how data from one site is sold or given to others, thus causing one company to know what you did in another store. 

That is the real issue we should be dealing with. Not how data is used between us and the individual companies that we have chosen to be a part of.
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My intention is to fill up your stream with baby animals to break the saturation of negative images and videos. If you + this post, I will choose a baby animal for you.
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nice
 
My intention is to fill up your stream with baby animals to break the saturation of negative images and videos. If you + this post, I will choose a baby animal for you.

idea from +Robert Partridge 
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Usually, when we say “American slavery” or the “American slave trade,” we mean the American colonies or, later, the United States. But as we discussed in Episode 2 of Slate’s History of American Slavery Academy, relative to the entire slave trade, North America was a bit player. From the trade’s...
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Dear everyone who ever told anyone like me that we can't marry who we please, that our nation is against us, that they love us but not our sin, that America is a "Christian nation", that marriage is about procreation, or that we are "already equal" with civil unions...

Dear everyone who ever told a child to be disgusted by a same sex couple, to not be themselves, to "not think that way", or who repressed or punished them for being different...

Dear everyone who ever worked against this day...

Dear everyone who ever called me a faggot...

#MarriageEquality   #LoveWins   #SCOTUS   #GayMarriage   #YayGay  
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Be out, be proud... 
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Photos, a First Rant

All day at Google’s #io15 developer conference, people were asking what I thought of the new Photos app, awaiting my rant. I seem to have a reputation or something. I wanted to let it simmer for a week before I posted about it.

This is almost that rant.

When +Anil Sabharwal took to the stage at the keynote to demonstrate the new Photos app for Android, iOS, and the Web, I was anxious what it would be like. Not because it was breaking away from Google+ - I couldn’t imagine that would make much of a difference, but because I wanted to see that they addressed some of the real issues people had with the Google+ Photos system.

After the presentation, I concluded two things: (1) Anil is an awesome speaker. He really drove home the awesomeness of this new/updated product and spoke with a passion that I could feel. (2) They did address some of the problems with the previous photo system. A little. And probably not the way people expected.


The Good: Search

For the first time in ages, Google launched a new product that featured their core competency - search. And they did it in a big way. The search button brings you to a separate page with a familiar search box on the top. Underneath, however, are pre-searched items. Including faces of people you take a lot of pictures of, things you take a lot of pictures of, and places where you take a lot of pictures.

If you’re in Europe, I understand you won’t see the faces. But the rest of us will see faces of the people we take the most pictures of. No surprise to me that my closest family members all were in the group. Clicking “more” will do the obvious thing - show more people. It is important to realize that this list isn’t generated by any tag that we assigned to each face - the Google face detection system did all the matching. It doesn’t even show you the names of any of these faces, often because it doesn’t know their names.

Things and places work the same way. In some cases, the search system will know what the photo is about based on the geotag metadata associated with the file. But in other cases, it will use image detection and location extrapolation to figure things out. Take a picture of the Eiffel Tower? You’re probably in Paris. The real weird part about some of the pre-defined searches is you start to realize what you’re taking a lot of pictures of that you may not have expected.

Manual searches can be incredibly specific. On stage, they demonstrated searching for a snowstorm in a particular month, and it returned just those pictures. I had a friend search for omelettes, and it demonstrated his enjoyment of that particular food. One minor annoyance is that you can’t narrow a pre-defined search easily or turn it into a manual search. I can click on the pictures for my son - but I can’t then say “these pictures, with a bathtub.” And since there is no name or label associated, i can’t do a straight manual search for that. Context sensitive searches were demonstrated with Google Now - but they haven’t made their way here, yet. (And if you try to cheat and use the internal label that is exposed in the URL - it won’t work.)

Clicking on any of the pre-searched items, or entering in your own search, gives you the results by date going back… well.. forever. On stage, Google demonstrated clicking on the face of a child and scrolling backwards to when they were a baby. Neat trick! I tested it with my son, and it went back as far as I had pictures uploaded - and now I want to find older pictures and get them on the server.

But searches aren’t perfect.


The Bad: Search

The image identification and auto labeling are incredibly accurate. Since 2013 when the search feature was first introduced into Google+ photos, Google’s deep neural network systems have brought the error rate down dramatically. But you will still find some errors. You’ll find people posting how it has identified their cat as a dog, for example. I predict we’ll see a lot of such snafus being posted for a good long time.

More seriously, however, when it makes a mistake such as this - there is nothing you can do about it.

Nothing.

In the Google Photos community, this question is repeated over and over. But there is never an answer because there is nothing that can be done.

You can’t “untag” the image, or teach it that it is an image of something else. You can’t hide it from the results. Does Google think that your ex looks a lot like your mom? Guess who will keep showing up.

Photos are insanely personal, and people have a visceral reaction to not having control over their photos (a theme we’ll return to a few more times), and it seems absurd that the product launched without this feature.


The Good: View Scope

One of the nifty features stolen inspired by other recent photo apps are the zoom level for the photo overview. People have gotten used to sticking photos in folders by date to manage them, but this feature reduces the need for that. On a mobile device, you can view things on a “comfortable” view that shows pictures at a reasonable size, on a “day” view, which shows thumbnails for all the photos that day, a “compact” view which shows tinier thumnails, and a “monthly” view which quickly lets you move between months. The slider also let you quickly travel through time. Everything but the month view also lets you go into selection mode with a long-tap and drag.

Unfortunately, the desktop sticks you with only daily mode and a slightly inferior slider.

When you do scroll around, the thumbnails come up incredibly quickly. A little blurry on the desktop version initially, but it usually recovers quickly enough. Clicking on an image brings up the full “lightbox” view - now with even more lightbox and less metadata by default.


The Bad: View Scope

Unfortunately, this same wonderful view isn’t used when it comes to searches. For some bizarre reason that totally escapes me, they seem to limit it to something that resembles the “day” view. This might be fine if you only have a few photos, but if you have thousands of search results, this (combined with the inability to narrow pre-defined searches) are particularly difficult to deal with.

Even worse is that it doesn’t behave the same way as the non-search day view as you scroll - there is a very noticeable pause when you get to the bottom of the scroll bar as it loads the next batch of search results. So although they advertise you can search for your child’s photos going back through history to their birth - you wouldn’t want to do this for more than a couple of weeks if you take as many photos of them as I do.

Finally, although selection is improved from previous, it retains many inefficiencies. For example, you can’t select an image while looking at the lightbox view of it. This makes it really difficult to do things such as select photos you want for an album, story, or movie (and all three of these are even more difficult to edit afterwards). I would love a way to do tagging selection, but even just simple selection in the lightbox is a seriously needed feature that has been lacking for too long.


The Good: Editing

Like its predecessor, Photos comes with a photo editor. This now makes the third photo editor in five years. Unlike the recent version, however, the desktop version finally works in browsers besides Chrome.

It is a decent, but not great editor. It provides a number of pre-defined filters, which is unsurprising and unremarkable. It has some basic rotation and cropping, although not as featured as the previous version. It has some tuning knobs, although these are reduced in number and increased in function compared to the previous version.

In a way, that might be a clever approach. This isn’t about providing pros the ability to fine-tune an image - they were probably using the pro tools to do this anyway. This is about offering people to make incredibly quick tweaks to their photos to make it just so. Some of the tweaking is even smart - the “vignette” slider, for example, does a focus on the face in the photo, not just the center of the photo.


The Bad: Editing

With this simplicity, however, comes a massive tradeoff. As with its predecessor, this editor is notable for removing features - particularly features people liked, wanted, and asked for.

Adding text to photos is still missing. White balance is missing. Spot touch-up and blurring (now finally available from Snapseed’s editor) are missing. These are features that people (not just photography buffs) have been asking for since Picnik was removed as the photo editor… and they don’t make a return in this new editor.

Additionally, many of the features that did exist in the previous version are gone or hidden in the bulk controlls. Color saturation or desaturation, previously in about 5 sliders, is condensed to one. The “drama” and “details” filter are roughly combined (poorly) in the “pop” slider. Being able to draw a straight line and have the image be rotated to make that line level is gone - replaced by a very difficult to manage rotate slider.

And you’re somewhat stuck with the editor. There is an option (in the menu) to use Snapseed as the editor on mobile, but no equivalent on the desktop, and I’m not sure this would let you use other photo editors on either.

The message from this editor is twofold and clear: Your choices are limited, and this isn’t a service for professionals. The pro, pro-am, and amateur photography communities that helped build the service in the first place are politely invited to leave.

The problem is that the editor might not even be for everyone else. The lack of basic features such as text, healing, and blurring indicate they don’t really care about people who care about their work.


The Nitpics

There are, of course, little things about the service that are problematic. Some of these are due to the newness and confusion around the service, others are things that may actually get fixed (but probably not). Most are minor.

For example, there is no easy way to convert photos that are already in Drive to use the new “free” space available. The only solution is to download the photos and re-upload them.

If you shoot in RAW mode on your camera, you’re out of luck with the new service - it isn’t a supported file format anymore.

One problem with decoupling photos from the social system is that comments can’t be placed on photos anymore. In some ways, this is a good thing, since the previous integration was haphazard and inconsistent, but we’ve now lost a lot of comments, some of which may be treasured.

There are other social integration issues. Sharing to Facebook, for example, shares a link to the photo in a way that looks really awkward. There is confusion about what happens to location information if you share the photo. Most annoying, however, is that the link that you can get for a photo doesn’t actually link to the photo, but to the page with the photo, so you can’t embed this image elsewhere.

The lightbox remains a bit of a problem. Photospheres, for example, don’t seem to be supported anymore, and I’m not sure what tool I can use to view them.

There is also no API. There is a hint of one with Drive integration, but it is clear that there is still a big gulf between what developers can do with Drive and what can be done with Photos. This continues to be an obscene regression from five years ago.

There are other nits, some of which escape me at the moment, but which largely turn into inconveniences. I worry that people will rapidly run into them, be turned off by the service, and not return. But this is an even more realistic possibility when facing some of the more major problems.


Beyond the Nitpics

Beyond these little things are other “little” irritants that really add up to point out major flaws in this system. And these are small enough that they are unlikely to ever get fixed… yet big enough to become major inconveniences when actually trying to use the system.

For example, although you can now create a story by seeding it with images to use, the editor itself remains unchanged. You still can’t add or fix locations. You’re still limited to a sort-of-chronological presentation. You can’t add narration. These are all major problems that existed with stories before - and they still largely exist. Stories are also limited to pictures within a 31 day period. Why would you want to tell a longer story? How about posting birthday or “first day of school” pictures for your child growing up?

Similarly, movie editing is practically unchanged from its previous incarnation, and still missing features. I’m glad to see it is available on more platforms now, but it remains grossly underpowered, even for a simple editor. For example, while it is possible to create a new movie with clips and photos, it isn’t possible to add photos to an existing movie. You can remove segments, but not change their length. You can add a title, but not add credits, interstitial text, or end credits. (And maybe I’m dense, but it really wasn’t clear what the buttons did when I first tried it.)

Speaking of movies, Photos maintains the bizarreness that you can have videos in Photos or YouTube - but can’t easily move them between the two. A problem that has existed for nearly five years now, with no good resolution in sight. To be honest - this is ridiculous.

Still, I guess mobile users should be happy with what they get. Both of these features remain missing from the desktop version. The desktop does let you create albums… but this leads us into a whole batch of new problems.

The old editor had horrible album management - and this remains pretty much unchanged in the new version. Shared albums (so families can contribute vacation photos, for example) are still gone, although the shared hangout albums appear to remain. Albums are now lumped with movies and stories as “collections” of things and are arranged in more or less chronological order. There is no way to search for the title of an album, no way to organize them in some logical fashion, and they don’t appear as part of the magical search results (although the album name may be used to return the contents, you have no way to know thats why).

Even worse, the contents of your albums are no longer manageable. If you put something in the album… you’re stuck. You can’t change the order of the photos in the album… you can’t pick a cover photo… you can’t even delete a photo from an album. You can add more photos… or delete the album. This is taking lack of control to an almost absurd level.


All About (the appearance of) Control

This “lack of control” is a recurring point. So much, that I’m tempted to make a much larger post about it when I have time (ha!). But let me say a very few words about it now.

Over and over - Photos has taken the position that it can do some things to make our photo organization better, easier, and faster. And it does a pretty good job of that, to be honest.

The problem is that often we want to tweak it just a little… or fix the little things it does wrong. Give our personal touch to something. And that is just too much for Photos. Even where it does give us some appearance of control, with the editor or with any of the collections, it continues to fail to let us do the things we feel we need to do.

This is why Photos ultimately feels lacking - it lands us in the uncanny valley where things are close… but not close enough.


Curmudgeon’s Conclusion

I’ll use Photos. There is enough about it that I like that I’m not driven away… but in one week, it has already lost its shiny feel.

It gives me only one thing that I feel is a real improvement over the previous version - speed.

As for the rest? Meh. The search is nice, and an improvement over the previous version, but not powerful enough yet for me to make substantial use of it except to show it off. Stories and movies are largely unchanged and lacking. Management is largely unchanged. Other components, such as albums, are a major step backwards.

So while it is a good system overall… it lacks the details that would make it an awesome system.

Perhaps it will get true first class integration with Drive and Google+. Perhaps even an API! (Lot’s of thoughts about what I would love here.) Maybe it will get tags, but I doubt it (but wouldn’t it be awesome if it could get tags it can learn from?).

But, as with many Google services recently, they won’t come quickly. +Anil Sabharwal and his team deserve a lot of credit for getting Photos to where they are now - but they need to keep going. They need to deliver fixes to Photos over the next few weeks, and then deliver continuous improvements over the next weeks and months. We can’t wait two (more) years for some of these changes… only to see them come as part of a complete overhaul (again)... and Google can’t really afford to re-do the entire photo system every two years and then sit on their laurels in the interim.

Google has a credibility problem as a whole, which is beyond the scope of this post. Photos, however, does little to fix that problem. Seeing continuous updates… showing people that this is a real service that provides real value to everyone (including pros and amateurs, not just casual users)... opening the platform to allow developers to do cool things on top of a powerful base. These things, together, will help improve Google’s reputation. And hopefully Anil and the team will do this.

As for these photos? They have nothing to do with the post, except they were from my post-I/O trip to Yosemite. They’re what the new Photos service is all about - helping preserve, enhance, and share memories.

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