Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Web Secret 429: Janusian thinking

Albert Rothenberg MD is an American psychiatrist who has carried out long term research on the creative process in literature, art, science and psychotherapy.

Albert was especially interested in cognitive processes that disrupt the past and the usual and lead to creation.

He identified a process he termed “Janusian thinking,” named after Janus, a Roman God who has two faces, each looking in the opposite direction. Janusian thinking is the ability to imagine two opposites or contradictory ideas, concepts, or images, existing simultaneously. It is a thought experiment.

And we care about this because....

...More and more experts in diverse fields believe that the 21st century requires non linear problem solving.

For example, in a 2002 article in Military Review, two military strategists wrote "that the current U.S. approach to military operations ... is too linear for today’s contemporary operating environment. They argue that future war fighters must move beyond linear thought and action to a realm of thinking and acting that recognizes and accepts paired yet opposite ideas and actions: 'Look before you leap' and at the same time understand that 'he who hesitates is lost.'"

Think about it.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Web Secret 428: the Bechdel Test for computer technology

The Bechdel test is a well-known measurement of gender bias in movies that originated in 1985 in the comic strip "Dykes to Watch Out For."

To pass the test, a movie must have three things:
  1. Two female characters (preferably named),
  2. Who talk to each other,
  3. About something other than a man.
Almost half of 2015’s top movies failed the Bechdel test.

Think that's disturbing?

Now think about computer technology, anything having to do with computer technology, such as social media, the algorithms underlying all the electronic devices we use on a daily basis, and AI.


Before you do that, let me tell you about the first social media conference I attended in 2008. Facebook was 4 years old. There were hundreds of attendees at the Javitz Center - Manhattan's cavernous convention hall.

I counted exactly 5 women attendees.


It's gotten a bit better since then.

But overwhelmingly - computer tech is a male dominated field.

And as I waded through the crowd of 25 year old men, I thought to myself, "Wow - I have a feeling this is going to be a problem - what is the world missing out on because the female perspective is absent?"

That question is being answered every day since then:

1. no women, no color. Overwhelmingly, computers, smartphones and gizmos of every kind are grey, grey, grey. As a basis of comparison, Urban Decay's Vice Lipstick collection comes in 100 different shades.

2. Okay, that was a little sarcastic. How about most gaming consoles feature first person shooters hunting monsters and overly voluptuous women in scanty outfits?

3. Still sarcastic. Let's get serious. How about a June 2016 New York Times editorial "Artificial Intelligence’s White Guy Problem" ? I quote:

"...the very real problems with artificial intelligence today, which may already be exacerbating inequality in the workplace, at home and in our legal and judicial systems [is that] sexism, racism and other forms of discrimination are being built into the machine-learning algorithms that underlie the technology behind many 'intelligent' systems that shape [who we are.]"

The article continues:

"We need to be vigilant about how we design and train these machine-learning systems, or we will see ingrained forms of bias built into the artificial intelligence of the future.

Like all technologies before it, artificial intelligence will reflect the values of its creators. So inclusivity matters... Otherwise, we risk constructing machine intelligence that mirrors a narrow and privileged vision of society, with its old, familiar biases and stereotypes."

How to get more women, more minorities, older people and other constituencies involved in computer tech? It's not going to be easy.

But it has to happen.

And soon.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Web Secret 427: Utomic smartphone case

My twin children destroy cell phones.

Over the course of the ten or so years they have owned such devices, their phones have been:
  • immersed in a swimming pool
  • swept away at sea
  • left outside in a downpour
  • dropped on concrete
and more.

When one of them cracked her phone for the 5th time, I knew it was time for something different. I read about a new, very minimal case system that combines 4 rubber bumpers and state of the art tempered glass cover that offers unparalleled drop protection. It's called Utomic.

OK, so the system doesn't make the phone waterproof. But the phone no longer breaks when dropped.

And for now, that will have to do.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Web Secret 426: Google Arts and Culture

I recently came back from visiting Florence and Venice.

I went to numerous museums and looked at incredible paintings, sculptures and architectural masterpieces until my head exploded.

I am an art junkie who enjoys experiencing the world's cultural buffet.

But what if I told you that anyone with an Internet connection could see these treasures - passport and plane ticket not required?

That would be the Google Arts and Culture Project.

I have no idea why Google decided to approach hundreds of museums and cultural institutions, scan thousands of works using state of the art high resolution technology, and then organize the scans in dozens of different funky ways. Was it out of the goodness of their heart? For a tax break? To monetize it in some murky fashion?

I don't care.

I care that I can see:
How about curated collections about the wonders of Indonesia, street art, 360 degree performing arts shows?

It feels limitless.

Take a trip.

On me.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Web Secret 425: Spotify

If you're a Baby Boomer, you have changed music formats at least four times.

Personally, I have moved from:

vinyl to
cassette tapes to
CDs to

What do all of these formats have in common? Concretely, I have my music. My iTunes songs are downloaded onto my mac and my phone.

For some time now my kids have been trying me to move to a fifth format: Spotify.

I have resisted.

It's incredibly annoying to learn a new interface.

Nothing pisses me off more reliably than getting an email that trumpets "announcing our new app design."

But then I started getting multiple notices that my "iPhone storage is full."

So grumbling all the way, I caved. I downloaded Spotify onto my desktop and my iPhone.

I was nervous. You see Spotify is a streaming service. That only works in wifi.

I don't have my music - it's in the ether.

It's unnatural.

It's unamerican. (Spotify is a Swedish company.)

The songs don't take up space on my iPhone.


Did I mention that I caved?

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Web Secret 424: the inner search engine

Did you know that the expression "is that even a thing?" is just a couple of years old?

The plasticity of the English language is one of the reasons for its dominance across the world. Invent a new object, experience or concept and a new Anglicism seems to appear overnight.

So the term "inner search engine" has recently taken flight.

It's a thing.

It's a thing of beauty.

Most of the mental health professionals I come across are quick to express dismay at the rapidity with which technology is matching human performance. Certainly, that is a cause for concern.

But it is also cause for wonder. Can you believe the human brain can do that? Whatever "that" is?

Recently, I began to focus in on my inner search engine - which functions pretty well.

If I was a Marvel superhero, my power would be: "able to read a single page of text at a glance, memorize it, and extract the information in about a second - years later."

Nowhere is this more obvious than when I do the Monday New York Times crossword puzzle.

The Monday puzzle is the easiest of the week, rewarding knowledge of facts and information rather then aptitude for wordplay or puns.

I usually complete it in a stupor - (I'm the furthest thing from a morning person) - using a fountain pen - in about 5 minutes or less.

With the help of my inner search engine.

Clue: "Wildcat with tufted ears" Answer: "Lynx." That just popped into my head.

Clue "Emile of the Dreyfus Affair" Answer: "Zola." I know why I know this. I have been fanatically interested in the Dreyfus Affair since the age of 12. It was an espionage scandal in late 19th century France which resulted in the unjust conviction of a French Jewish officer. The great writer Emile Zola, came to the defense of Dreyfus when his open letter to the President of France was published in the newspaper L'Aurore" with the headline "J'Accuse."

Clue: "Indian state known for its tea and silk" Answer: Assam. No clue why I know this.

Clue: "Dresden denials" Answer: "Neins." Questions like this are a gift to me because I know three languages fluently and have studied another four.

Clue: "One side of a Faustian bargain" Answer: Satan. I read Goethe's Faust when I was 13. He makes a pact with the devil exchanging his soul for unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasures. Spoiler: bad idea.

And so it goes until I complete the crossword grid.

What is your super power?

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Web Secret 423: Going nowhere

Regular readers of this blog know that I look to Ted Talks for inspiration when I run out of ideas.

Of late, this has become challenging because, well, I watch Ted Talks every day. It's what I listen to when I go to the gym 3-5 days a week.

In addition to listening to a lot of Talks, my standards for what constitutes a great Talk have gone sky high.

So when I come across a great one, I need to share.

Such is "The Art of Stillness" by Pico Iyer

In essence, the presentation is about the importance of doing nothing and going nowhere, something increasingly challenging in our wired, accelerated world.

But of course, the art is in the telling.