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Peter Burns
Works at Google
Attended Centre College
Lives in 94109, San Francisco, Ca
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Peter Burns

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Quoting Ian Hickson in the comments: "It's the same kind of simplistic attitude that leads to phrases like "food with chemicals in it are bad". It's hard to argue with it because the explanation of why it's wrong is long and subtle while the original platitude is short and punchy. String a bunch of these together and you get a gish gallop."
 
Apple today released a statement containing the quote, "...when an online service is free, you're not the customer.  You're the product."

This is an oft-repeated line in the past couple of years, but it's a stupid one, and someone today pointed me at a good explanation of why.

http://powazek.com/posts/3229

While the whole article is worth reading, I'd like to especially suggest the section titled "Assumption: You’re either the product or the customer."

The "you are the product" maxim is to me an example of H.L. Mencken's quote, "For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong."  "You are the product" is simple, it's catchy, it sounds like it works.  But it doesn't.  It simplifies and generalizes in invalid ways, and it leads people to bad conclusions that will serve them poorly.

If you use it, please stop.
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Peter Burns

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Many species of animals can recognize each other's voices. For example, if a horse sees another horse it knows walk by, and then hears that horse's whinny, it won't be surprised, but if it then hears a different horse, it will look up and try to figure out what's going on. Many species go beyond this and have "signature contact calls" -- specific patterns of sound they make to identify themselves, the equivalent of saying "I'm Bob! I'm Bob!" And their species-mates can recognize that as their tag.

This new study, by Cornell's Karl Berg, has found that the green-rumped parrotlet goes much farther than this. Not only do individual parrots have these calls, but they can use each other's call signs to identify each other: not merely the equivalent of saying "I'm Bob! I'm Bob!" but saying "Hey Ted! Come here!" And on top of that, these signs aren't innate: they appear to be learned around an age of 3 weeks, and similar to the names of their parents.

Which is to say, these are more than call signs: these are bona-fide names, used by parrots in much the same way we use names ourselves.
"Oh Romeo, oh Romeo," cried Juliet. Being human, she and her boyfriend had names. Is there any other animal that does this? Has names for each other? Oddly enough, yes!
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Peter Burns

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This is a fantastic piece.
It feels like we’re thinking. But too often, we’re just rationalizing.
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Peter Burns

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Grace Hopper was not only a US Navy Officer, but also the creator of the first compiler for a programming language, and she's the one who popularized the term "debugging".

Not too many people have a US Navy destroyer (the USS Hopper) and a supercomputer named after them. To top it off, her nickname was Amazing Grace!

Her biography: http://www.history.navy.mil/bios/hopper_grace.htm

---
Resharing from an old Ada Lovelace Day post. I know it was yesterday, but I couldn't resist!
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Peter Burns

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The upgraded Google Photos that you saw demoed at #io13   uses deep learning and convolutional neural networks to detect Freebase entities in your photos. This article from Google Research goes into some detail about how it was built.
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Angyl
 
Plus can autotag cat photos.
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Peter Burns

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I just asked Google what their hours are with my voice and she read the answer back to me with her voice.  Also, apparently Google is female.
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Peter Burns

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If you're not paying for the product, you are the product.

I have to admit, this is a catchy line.  It appeals to the inner cynic in us all and makes a certain amount of sense in a core, "what can you do for me," type of thinking.

But it's hog-wash.

I work for Google so I follow the news about the company and I'm really tired of seeing that first line, or some variation of it, spouted by people who really don't care enough to want to think it through.  It does not work that way!

Yes, Google is a company.  And yes, Google is a reasonably large company (though not that large compared to the likes of IBM, GE, etc.).  But though a company is a single entity in the eyes of the law, it is not run like that.  Google is full of many thousands of individuals, many of whom are more rabid about user privacy than the privacy watchdogs that complain.  I've watched them take Larry and Sergey to task on stage about the smallest things.  I've done it twice myself.  If the leaders of the company purposely violated our users' trust, there would be open revolt and the founders would be lucky to not find themselves strung up by their toes.

Everything Google does is done for our users.  Your happiness is always the first priority, even above Ads.  (I've seen this in both policy and various practical implementations.)  You are not product; you are our customers!  That's simply the way we view it and it permeates the company from bottom to top.  Everything is done to make a better service for you.

Even Ads is viewed as a service to our users.  Random ads are garbage.  Useful ads are a benefit.  Yes, it's also a benefit to our publishers and yes, it's also a benefit to our shareholders.  Since when did win-win-win arrangements become a bad thing?

I won't claim that Google always gets it exactly right or that we haven't made mistakes.  We don't and we have.  And we admit it.  And it will happen again.  Sorry.  But everything is done with the right intent even if it doesn't always work out as hoped.  Hindsight is perfect.

Google is the most moral company in which I have ever worked.  But guarding our users' privacy doesn't just make moral sense, it makes business sense.  If we purposefully violated our users' privacy, we wouldn't have a business at all before very long.
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That's.. aw.

I think it's time I came back to Plus.

I've even had the seeds for a couple of posts recently that are kicking around in my head.

I've missed you too.
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Peter Burns

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Reading about Valve's approach to user generated content in games is fascinating: http://steamdb.info/blog/43/

If no one invented movable type or the printing press, and we were discovering novels at the same time as we were discovering video games, we might think of fanfiction the same way Valve thinks of UGC.

Fundamentally it's something that enhances other fans' enjoyment of the work, and they're going to do it whether you want them to or not. The most common reaction is to shun it, driving it underground (as both modders and fanfic authors traditionally have been). Valve though shows that you can embrace this aspect of your fandom in a way that helps and enriches everyone.

J.K. Rowling's Pottermore is the first successful merger I've seen of a novel and a video game. Rowling has stated that she doesn't want to write any more in the Potterverse, which is understandable. But she's got a lot of fans who would love to see more. They're already writing and reading fanfic in prodigious amounts.

Imagine if you could go to a curated section of Pottermore to find official licensed fanfiction for sale, with a cut going to Rowling and a cut going to the fanfic author. Sounds crazy? Valve is making it work.

That said, just like this model doesn't work for every game, it doesn't work for every book. There's also the wrinkle that games are necessarily works made by many people, while books are very much not. Still, I've been reading so much high quality fanfic lately that it seems like such a wasted opportunity that it's driven underground, where few people will appreciate it, the authors can't safely claim credit under their real names, and no one can charge for it even if they wanted to.
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Oh! That makes much more sense. 'Twould be interesting to see if, say, facial expression mapping and limb position stuff helps out videocon presence issues.
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Peter Burns

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The packet capture shown in these new NSA slides shows internal database replication traffic for the anti-hacking system I worked on for over two years. Specifically, it shows a database recording a user login as part of this system:

http://googleblog.blogspot.ch/2013/02/an-update-on-our-war-against-account.html

Recently +Brandon Downey, a colleague of mine on the Google security team, said (after the usual disclaimers about being personal opinions and not speaking for the firm which I repeat here) - "fuck these guys":

https://plus.google.com/108799184931623330498/posts/SfYy8xbDWGG

I now join him in issuing a giant Fuck You to the people who made these slides. I am not American, I am a Brit, but it's no different - GCHQ turns out to be even worse than the NSA.

We designed this system to keep criminals out. There's no ambiguity here. The warrant system with skeptical judges, paths for appeal, and rules of evidence was built from centuries of hard won experience. When it works, it represents as good a balance as we've got between the need to restrain the state and the need to keep crime in check. Bypassing that system is illegal for a good reason.

Unfortunately we live in a world where all too often, laws are for the little people. Nobody at GCHQ or the NSA will ever stand before a judge and answer for this industrial-scale subversion of the judicial process. In the absence of working law enforcement,  we therefore do what internet engineers have always done - build more secure software. The traffic shown in the slides below is now all encrypted and the work the NSA/GCHQ staff did on understanding it, ruined.

Thank you Edward Snowden. For me personally, this is the most interesting revelation all summer.
New documents reveal exactly how the Post was able to determine that the NSA was peeking inside the Google and Yahoo's cloud network.
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Peter Burns

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The Chrome DevTools take a GIANT step closer to being a true IDE with the addition of Workspaces. Being able to load and edit files in the filesystem is a huge workflow streamliner.
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Peter Burns

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New Siggraph demo videos!
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So, who wants to go to Siggraph next year? 
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Peter Burns

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[this is good]
I don't like large numbers without context. Phrases like “they called for a $21 billion budget cut” or “the probe will travel 60 billion miles” or “a 150000-ton ship ran aground” don't mean very much to me on their own. Is that a large ship? Does 60 billion miles take you outside the Solar ...
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Education
  • Centre College
    Computer Science, 2003 - 2007
  • University of San Francisco
    Computer Science, 2007 - 2009
  • Alabama School of Math and Science
    2000 - 2003
Basic Information
Gender
Male
Other names
rictic
Work
Occupation
Coder
Employment
  • Google
    Coder, 2010 - present
  • Metaweb Technologies, Inc.
    Coder, 2007 - 2010
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Map of the places this user has livedMap of the places this user has livedMap of the places this user has lived
Currently
94109, San Francisco, Ca
Previously
Mobile, Al