Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Web Secret #363: managing media

The age at which children get a new smart phone and access social media is getting younger and younger.

We want to benefit from new technology but we are increasingly buried by it.

What to do?                

In his excellent New York Times article "How to Manage Media in Families," Bruce Feiler gives us some answers.

Bruce is skeptical of the dozens of online sample contracts for parents to execute with their children. He notes,  "I'm realistic enough to know that a three-page contract will be swiftly ignored and even it can’t keep up with the last parent-avoiding app. What I craved was a handful of overarching rules that could guide our interactions."

So, here is the abbreviated version of Bruce's rules:

1. I’m Still Your Parent
Parents should set guidelines in advance: make it clear that you own the device, you pay for it, and if there is any behavior that you feel is not true to your family values, you can take it away.

Part of this deal is that you will respect their boundaries, but you also have the right to join any social network they join, know their passwords and check their texts. Though it seems as if children know everything about social media, actually they’re still learning.

2. Step Away From Your Phone
Phones will be turned off and put away at certain times of the night. Research backs this up. A study from the University of Basel found that teenagers who kept their smartphones on at night were more likely to watch videos, text and have poor sleep habits and higher depression.
But, when parents say, ‘You can use the phone only from this hour to this hour,’ it’s hard to manage. So set rules like all phones go in a box when children go to bed, all devices go in the center of the table during mealtimes, including at restaurants, etc.

3. Read Every Text Twice
Explain that digital communication can easily be misconstrued. Before you send a message, go back and read it again. Everyone agrees on the need to prevent children from sexting, bullying or posting something inappropriate. But how to convey that? Think about your grandmother, think about the principal. Think about the most embarrassing adult in your life. Before you hit send, reflect on how that person would react. I would add: discuss when a phone call, an in person meeting, even an e-mail should be used rather than a text.

4. No Phones at Family Time
Everybody I spoke with had certain rules about family time. Specify. Just 10 minutes. No devices. That’s our time together. Have weekly technology-free activities.

5. The Rules Apply to Grown Ups Too
Parents, are often the most egregious technology abusers of all. They also need to follow rules.

One final caveat: "No technology agreement can be written in stone. It needs to be revised with every
new child, every new phase, every new device and every new app."

Amen to that.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Web Secret #362: appear.in

Are you tired of reading long blog posts?

I'm tired of writing them.

appear.in is a new website that allows you to conduct video conversations with up to 8 people for free.

No login required — no installs.

That's all I'm going to say about that.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Web Secret #361: disconnecting

There have been many articles about the importance of disconnecting in our wired world.

But there is room for one more, as demonstrated by a wonderful post "What Happened to Downtime? The Extinction of Deep Thinking & Sacred Space" by Scott Belsky.

Here is my condensed version:

Interruption-free space is sacred. Yet, in the digital era we live in, we are losing hold of the few sacred spaces that remain untouched by email, the internet, people, and other forms of distraction. We are depriving ourselves of every opportunity for disconnection. And our imaginations suffer the consequences.

Why do we give up our sacred space so easily? Because space is scary. During these temporary voids of distraction, our minds return to the uncertainty and fears that plague all of us. To escape this chasm of self-doubt and unanswered questions, you tune into all of the activity and data for reassurance.

Belsky argues that we have always sought a state of constant connection from the dawn of time, it’s just never been possible until now.

The need to be connected is, in fact, very basic in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the psychological theory that explains the largest and most fundamental human desires. Our need for a sense of belonging comes right after physical safety. We thrive on friendship, family, and the constant affirmation of our existence and relevance. Our self-esteem is largely a product of our interactions with others.

It is now possible to always feel loved and cared for, thanks to the efficiency of our “comment walls” on Facebook and seamless connection with everyone we’ve ever known.

So what’s the solution? How do we reclaim our sacred spaces?

Here are five potential mindsets and fixes for your consideration:

1. Rituals for unplugging.
The notion of a day every week reserved for reflection has become more important than ever before. Perhaps you will reserve one day on the weekend where you force yourself to disconnect? At first, such efforts will feel very uncomfortable. You will deal with a bout of “connection withdrawal,” but stay with it.

2. Daily doses of deep thinking.
When it comes to scheduling, we will need to allocate blocks of time for deep thinking.

3. Meditation to clear the mind.
There is no better mental escape from our tech-charged world than the act of meditation. If only for 15 minutes, the ability to steer your mind away from constant stimulation is downright liberating.

4. Self-awareness and psychological investment.
Our most basic fears and desires, both conscious and subconscious, are soothed by connectivity and a constant flow of information. It is supremely important that we recognize the power of our insecurities and, at the very least, acknowledge where our anxiety comes from.

5. Protect the state of no-intent.
When you’re driving or showering, you’re letting your mind wander because you don’t have to focus on anything in particular. If you do carve out some time for unobstructed thinking, be sure to free yourself from any specific intent.

And I have nothing to add to that.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Web Secret #360: Talkspace

There is a new app called Talkspace.

For $25 a week, a client can text an assigned therapist whenever they want, and the therapist texts back when he/she can.

Unlimited.

Anonymous.



Are you cringing?

The app has gotten millions of dollars in funding.

It's here to stay.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Web Secret #359: Operation War Diary

Want to save mankind?

Check out Zooniverse, a website that enables everyone to participate in legitimate online science projects.

For example, you can:

Explore Mars - help planetary scientists discover what the weather is like on the red planet.

Classify over 30 years of tropical cyclone data.

Spy on penguins for science - tag and monitor penguins in remote regions to help scientists understand their lives and environment.

There is a project for everyone.

I love history and so was immediately drawn to Operation War Diary. As the website explains, "the story of the British Army on the Western Front during the First World War is waiting to be discovered in 1.5 million pages of unit war diaries. We need your help to reveal the stories of those who fought in the global conflict that shaped the world we live in today."

Sign me up.

Everything about this research project is state of the art. A 10 minute tutorial teaches you how to digitally classify each diary page by date, place, subject and other indicators. And then you can choose to analyze any one of hundreds of diaries.

What's in it for the world?

Data gathered through Operation War Diary will be used for three main purposes:

1. to enrich The National Archives' catalogue descriptions for the unit war diaries
2. to provide evidence about the experience of named individuals in IWM's Lives of the First World War project
3. to present academics with large amounts of accurate data to help them gain a better understanding of how the war was fought

What's in it for me?

I think you know.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Web Secret #358: Wait But Why

So if you read my last two posts, you know that "Wait But Why" is the blog that saved me from doldrums severe enough that I considered shutting down iWebU.

"Wait But Why" is primarily the work of Tim Urban, who coyly describes the site as "A website for people who like websites."

I would define it as "A website for people who want to be provoked into thinking." Too abstract?

Here is a tour:

In the main section are posts, often lengthy, on topics such as: "What Makes You You", "A Religion for the Nonreligious", "From 1 to 1,000,000," a dissertation about the numbers in our life. It's about philosophy, science, and math and perhaps most importantly, meaning.

"Minis." A Mini is a short version of a Wait But Why post. To qualify as a Mini, it has to be an original post. Topics include "Your Life is Worse When You Know About Dust Mites ", "What Makes a Face Trustworthy?", and "200 People’s New Year’s Resolutions". They are little mental hors d'oeuvres.

"The Shed", consists of carefully curated videos. Topics include "Video Zoom-In on the Largest Image Ever Taken of Andromeda Galaxy", "Fully Disassembled Volkswagen Golf", "Amazing Run-Through of 17 British Accents." It's fun, more light hearted fare.

"The Dinner Table." So imagine you're noshing with a bunch of your smartest friends and you are having an amazing discussion about a really interesting topic. Once a week, "Wait But Why" comes up with a question, and asks this question to its community. The results are published, and include "http://waitbutwhy.com/table/learn-in-10-minutes", "Who From Our Modern Era Will Be Universally Known in the Year 4015?" and "What’s One Book, Movie, Song, Poem, Etc. You’re Grateful For?".

Because of time constraints, I only follow a maximum of 5 blogs at one time. This list tends to stay constant for long periods of time because honestly, there is a lot of really bad content out there.

Guess what? "Wait But Why," you just made my list!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Web Secret #357: Understanding Artificial Intelligence

This is my explanation of part 2 of the mind bending post from the "Wait But Why" blog. In this section, author Tim Urban explains AI (artificial intelligence":

There are three major AI categories:

1) Artificial Narrow Intelligence (ANI): AI that specializes in one area. There’s AI that can beat the world chess champion in chess, but that’s the only thing it does.

2) Artificial General Intelligence (AGI): Artificial General Intelligence refers to a computer that is as smart as a human across the board—a machine that can perform any intellectual task that a human being can. Creating AGI is a much harder task than creating ANI, and we’ve yet to do it.

3) Artificial Superintelligence (ASI): “an intellect that is much smarter than the best human brains in practically every field, including scientific creativity, general wisdom and social skills.”

As of now, humans have conquered the lowest caliber of AI — ANI

The hard parts of trying to build AGI are probably not what you think they are. Build a computer that can multiply two ten-digit numbers in a split second—incredibly easy. Build one that can look at a dog and answer whether it’s a dog or a cat — spectacularly difficult.

So how do we get there?

Here are the three most common strategies:

1) Reverse engineer the brain to figure out how evolution made such a rad thing — optimistic estimates say we can do this by 2030.

2) Try to make evolution do what it did before but for us this time. A group of computers would try to do tasks, and the most successful ones would be bred with each other by having half of each of their programming merged together into a new computer. The less successful ones would be eliminated. Over many, many iterations, this natural selection process would produce better and better computers.

3) Make this whole thing the computer’s problem, not ours. The idea is that we’d build a computer whose two major skills would be doing research on AI and coding changes into itself—allowing it to not only learn but to improve its own architecture.

Sooner or later, one of these three methods will work. Rapid advancements in hardware and innovative experimentation with software are happening simultaneously, and AGI could creep up on us quickly and unexpectedly.

Given the advantages over us that even human intelligence-equivalent AGI would have, it’s pretty obvious that it would only hit human intelligence for a brief instant before racing onwards to the realm of superior-to-human intelligence.

It’ll suddenly be smarter than Einstein and we won’t know what hit us.

And it could happen by 2030.

I encourage everyone to read the entire post - parts 1 and 2. It's such a well executed explanation of some very difficult topics. This is how the post concludes:

"It reminds me of Game of Thrones, where the characters occasionally note, “We’re so busy fighting each other but the real thing we should all be focusing on is what’s coming from north of the wall.”

That’s why people who understand superintelligent AI call it the last invention we’ll ever make — the last challenge we’ll ever face.

So let’s talk about it."