Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Web Secret #347 : The Turing Test

I just got the iPhone 6 plus.

One of the first things I did to set it up was place my thumb on the "Home" button. I watched it scan my thumbprint in a matter of seconds. Going forward, I can unlock the iPhone with my thumbprint.

It just blew me away.

Honestly, when I was in college, if anyone had said to me, "You will unlock a device with your thumbprint in your lifetime," I'm not sure I would have believed it.

Of course, I would never have imagined an iPhone either. But sometimes, it's the small, simple things we can do today that remind me how far we've progressed.

Last month, Wired Magazine posted this article: "Google Can Now Tell You’re Not a Robot With Just One Click."

Here are the first two paragraphs from that article:

"When Alan Turing first conceived of the Turing Test in 1947, he suggested that a computer program’s resemblance to a human mind could be gauged by making it answer a series of questions written by an interrogator in another room. Jump forward about seven decades, and Google says it’s now developed a Turing Test that can spot a bot by requiring it to do something far simpler: Click on a checkbox.

On Wednesday, Google announced that many of its "Captchas" — the squiggled text tests designed to weed out automated spambots — will be reduced to nothing more than a single checkbox next to the statement "I’m not a robot."

Let me deconstruct. Alan Turing is widely considered to be the father of theoretical computer science and artificial intelligence. He devised the Turing Test when AI was in its infancy. I wonder if he imagined when in human history, we would develop a computer capable of mimicking us, i.e. when an AI would approach human intelligence. I bet he thought it was far, far away.

Well in June 2014, a Washington Post article trumpeted, "A computer just passed the Turing Test in landmark trial."

Quoting from that article:

"For a computer to pass the test, it must only dupe 30 percent of the human interrogators who converse with the computer for five minutes in a text conversation. In the test, it’s up to the humans to separate the machines from their fellow sentient beings throughout their five-minute inquisition...

This go-round, a Russian-made program, which disguised itself as a 13-year-old boy named Eugene Goostman from Odessa, Ukraine, bamboozled 33 percent of human questioners. Eugene was one of five supercomputers who entered the 2014 Turing Test."

There was not much time for celebrating the achievement. One expert soon stated: "The Test has implications for society today... Having a computer that can trick a human into thinking that someone, or even something, is a person we trust is a wake-up call to cybercrime. . . . It is important to understand more fully how online, real-time communication of this type can influence an individual human in such a way that they are fooled into believing something is true . . . when in fact it is not.

I'm hyperventilating.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Web Secret #346: Retronaut

One of my daughters is endlessly fascinated by the 70's, an era she imagines as one long Woodstock type event, with great music and even better outfits featuring fringe and love beads.

The other day, as I was hugging her, I suddenly said: "Gee, your hair smells terrific." GYHST was a popular brand of 70's shampoo and conditioner geared towards teenagers. The products are probably toxic by today's standards, and may not have even smelled terrific, (if I can believe the eBay feedback - you can still buy vintage bottles of the stuff there.)

Anyway, I felt the immediate need to look up some of those hokey ads, and in the process, stumbled upon a fabulous website After cackling over the GYHST ads, I began an in depth exploration of retronaut.

As they explain on the site: "Retronaut is a photographic time machine. It is a digital collection of tens of thousands of pictures from across the past, all with one thing in common - each one has the power to warp your sense of time. Our team mines archives online and offline, unearthing pictures that seem not to belong to the time when they were created, that dissolve away the years like tarnish on a ring, that take our collective map of the past and tear tiny holes in it - holes through which we glimpse the real past lying underneath our map. These are pictures that show not so much the past as they show “now” – but another version of now."

The photos can be:

fascinating - 1771: Casting of Equestrian Statues

gruesome - c. 1875: Three women in the pillory, China

whimsical - 1909: Cat photographer

nostalgic - 1964: Sinclair Dinoland and NY Worlds Fair

Here is what the 70's looked like for some: May 1973: Young Americans

Once you're on the site, prepare for immediate addiction.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Web Secret 345: One minute list

I am very pressed for time.

I'm sure you are too.

So you gotta love a website that promises "Spend 60 seconds daily to learn something new."

That would be One Minute List.

Here are some sample lists:

9 reasons to read more books

16 browser alternatives to desktop programs

22 impressive talents you can learn online

The lists are meant to amuse, educate, inspire.

It works for me.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Web Secret #344: Why you should hire my daughter

A few months ago, I hired my daughter Jamie to grow my Twitter @iWebU. (For those of you who don't follow me, my Twitter, like this blog, focuses on technology.) She does social media for a living.

I frequently advise my technically challenged colleagues to hire a pro. Even if you can only afford to do it for 1 month, it can set you on the social media path to success. And you can learn a lot in a very short span of time.

Here was my Twitter strategy pre Jamie: tweet once a day, find inspiration for topics from my blog and stumbleupon.

Here is what my tweets look like, without Jamie:

12 Lesser-Known Google Projects That Are Absolutely Amazing

Yes, you should learn to code, and here's how to do it.

16 most addictive web sites

25 pics that prove we are living in the future

15 tips to help you network more successfully

Mr. Coffee’s venture into the Internet of Things lets you track the progress of your brew via smartphone

4 of the best blog growth strategies

Here is a condensed summary of the strategy Jamie created for me:

You will tweet a minimum of four times a day. 1 pm, 3 pm, 5 pm, and 6 pm.

Each day you post based on a daily hashtag.

Mondays-#MindfulnessMondays (mindfulness technology etc.)
Tuesdays-#TechTrendTuesdays (tech trends)
Wednesdays-#iWebUWednesdays (tweet your post out and anything else worth while)
Thursdays-#TechTriviaThursdays (one tweet has an article with a trivia question about that article and the next holds the answer. Then two other relevant articles.
Fridays-#FoundItFridays-Different articles for your target audience
Saturdays-#SolarSaturdays (solar powered related)
Sundays-#SavvySundays (usually hi-tech and more complex tweets)

Examples of the tweets Jamie created for me based on the above strategy:

Is the digital economy on your mind? #MindfulMondays #Mindfulness #EconomicTech #Economy

Where does your company rank? #TechTrendTuesdays #FinancialTech #Financials #Tech #Companies

No matter what the program, @lynda has you covered. #iWebUWednesdays #OnlineClasses #Technology #EduTech

Which car company rep dropped the ball at game 7? #TechTriviaThursdays #TechTrivia #CarTech

Are you actually learning everything you read on your computer? #FoundItFridays #Learning #Research #Technology

When it comes to solar powered, where does the money come from? #SolarSaturdays #SolarPowered

Is technology helping you to learn the "four C's?" #SavvySundays #Technology #Creative #Collaboration

In the space of one month, she:

1. increased my number of followers by 50%
2. created multiple tweets that were routinely "mentioned", "favorited" and "retweeted" by influencers for their coolness and importance.

And that, my friends, (as I wrote earlier,) is why you hire a pro.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Web Secret #343: Gear

I recently got a new MacBook Pro. My old machine sat unadorned on my desk.

My new machine is accessorized.

I love Speck SeeThru Hard Shell Cases. They snap on, make the machine look pretty, and protect it from scratches. I bought a "wild salmon" colored case on Amazon and paid almost half off list price for it.

I treat my equipment with reverence and do not eat or drink anywhere near my laptop. However, I like having a keyboard protector. It maintains the machine in pristine condition, protects against inadvertent spills and I think it improves keyboard "feel."

You want something ultra-thin, so it doesn't interfere with closing the machine. I selected the UPPERCASE Premium Ultra Thin Keyboard Protector for Macbook Pro with Retina Display. It cost $12.95 and I'm thrilled.

Finally, I have an iPad Mini. This has proven to be a beyond useful piece of equipment. I can do 80% of my work on the device. It is small, but has a big enough screen - I don't miss my standard sized iPad at all. The Mini is so useful that I bring it with me to meetings to take notes.

But I am not a great typist with my thumbs and I find myself missing a keyboard. No problemo. I just needed the ZAGG Cover Case with Backlit Bluetooth Keyboard.

How great is this gadget? It snaps on to the iPad, it's wireless, it functions as a cover or a stand, and I bought it for under $40.

Now if I could only remember how I survived without it.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Web Secret 342: Gazelle

Tomorrow is Christmas.

And if you are lucky, Santa will bring some of you new computers,  smartphones or tablets.

What is the easiest, most lucrative, and most green method of disposing of your old devices?

I recently decided to sell them my 2010 MacBook Pro.

But first, I wanted to send them a machine scrubbed clean of all my data, and restored to factory settings. (PS: You should never sell any of your electronics without doing this.)

I found an excellent tutorial on YouTube for this purpose:

Next I created an account on Gazelle and went through their super simple, step by step instructions to determine the model and specs of my old machine and its condition. Gazelle offered me $313 for my old laptop.

I then had a choice of payment method. I chose to get an Amazon gift card because a. I use Amazon all the time and b. they gave me a bonus incentive to use Amazon, bringing my total payment to $328.65.

Depending on the size of your device, Gazelle will either mail you a box and shipping label, or in my case I just printed out a free Fedex label and packed the laptop in my own box.


Once Gazelle receives your machine and verifies its condition, they send your money.

I like easy.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Web Secret #341: Build Your Own Website

The other day, I went to visit my friend Laurie.

She told me she wanted to build a WordPress website.

"I don't know anything about how to do it, so I got this book. I'm a visual learner, I'm not sure this will do it," she explained, patting a thick paperback "WordPress for Dummies."

Laurie, you should buy Nate Cooper's "Build your own website - a comic guide to HTML, CSS and WordPress."

That's right, it's a comic book! Sort of the 21st century version of the Classic Illustrated comics Baby Boomers read when we didn't feel like actually plowing through Moby Dick.

All you need to do is join Kim and her little dog Tofu as she learns HTML, the language of web pages, and CSS, the language used to style web pages, from the Web Guru and Glinda, the Good Witch of CSS. Once she figures out the basics, Kim travels to WordPress City to build her first website, with Wendy, the WordPress Maven, at her side. They take control of WordPress themes, install useful plugins, and more.

As you follow along, you'll learn how to:

Use HTML tags
Make your site shine with CSS
Customize WordPress to fit your needs
Choose a company to host your site and get advice on picking a good domain name.

It's fun! It's easy! It's perfect for a novice!

And even if you eventually hire someone to build your site, it is really helpful to understand the basics of web building.

PS: From December 17 to December 24, go to - use exclusive discount code EAPROS and enjoy 30% off the list price of "Build Your Own Website."

In the interest of full disclosure, I was mailed a review copy of this book.