Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The emerging food pics fad

Is it just me that’s a little slow on the uptake of new fads. Would you know it – it seems there is an increase in the number of people uploading food pictures onto the Internet. A quick check of Google’s search volume index confirms the obvious. Yes, I know it’s been said before that a lot of people use social media to tell us about the sandwich they just ate. But, now, we also get to see the sandwich.

So is there an explanation to this latest fad? The answer is yes. But before that here are some staggering numbers to consider.

It is estimated that 2.5 billion people in the world today have a digital camera. If the average person snaps 150 photos this year that would be a staggering 375 billion photos. This year alone people will upload over 70 billion photos to Facebook. And Facebook’s photo collection has a staggering 140 billion photos. Also, at least once a month, 52% of people take photos with their mobile phones; another 19% upload those photos to the web.

And the the food pics - People are documenting their lives, or at least the gustatory portion of it. There are other reasons, too. Sometimes, it’s to celebrate the completion of a dish or a special occasion. Some are photographing “food art.”

The graphic provides a breakdown of some of the motivations for food picture uploads.

Monday, July 2, 2012

An extra second causes havoc

Never mind the Millennium bug of yesteryear in the last few days some of you may have experienced the Leap Second problem. Web sites such as Reddit, Gawker, LinkedIn, Foursquare and Yelp crashed after a "leap second" was added to the universal clock in order to keep up with the Earth's rotation. The leap second is even being blamed for a Qantas system meltdown associated with their global reservation software Amadeus.

So the Leap Second you ask…according to Wikipedia a leap second is a one-second adjustment that is occasionally applied to Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) in order to keep its time of day close to the mean solar time. The last leap second was inserted a day ago, on June 30, 2012 at 23:59:60 UTC.

The Coordinated Universal Time standard uses the international system (SI) definition of the second based on atomic clocks. However, the duration of one mean solar day is slightly longer than 24 hours. The purpose of a leap second is to compensate for this drift, by scheduling days with 86399 SI seconds.

So, basically, slight fluctuations on the Earth's axis meant that some days ended up being longer than others meaning that in a few hundred years time we'd be eating lunch at midnight if the problem went unaddressed. The extra second pulls everything back into line.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

All you questions answered

Have you ever wanted a system that answers almost your every factual question at home and on the go. For example:-

  • What day is the day after tomorrow
  • What is DCXCV – 25
  • What is the cheapest toaster
  • What is brown minus red
  • Who stared in Desperate Housewives season 1

Wolfram Alpha is an online system that answers factual queries directly by computing the answer from structured data, rather than redirecting users to reference material potentially containing solutions. So unlike Google, this system looks within. It does this by considering a great deal of information ranging from every weather data point ever collected to the chemical structure of nearly every compound to the names of the notes in a D minor chord, and just about anything else that matters - colours, sports games, shopping, language, etc etc etc. It's not so much a search engine as it is a "knowledge engine."

You submit questions and computation requests via a text field and the system computes answers and relevant visualizations from a knowledge base of curated, structured data. Alpha thus differs from semantic search engines, which index a large number of answers and then try to match the question to one.

Wolfram Alpha is built on Wolfram's earlier flagship product, Mathematica, which encompasses computer algebra, symbolic and numerical computation, visualization, and statistics capabilities. The answer usually presents a human-readable solution. Wolfram Alpha is based on the computational platform Mathematica, written by British scientist Stephen Wolfram in 1988.

This thing is so versatile that Apple even integrated some of Wolfram Alpha's basic functionality with Siri to give factual answers to the user's questions. Guys, give this a go.
An iPhone app is also available.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

One-child policy and Social engineering

Today we read about a Chinese couple that paid a record fine of 1.3 million yuan ($210,450) to avoid the country's one-child policy and have a second baby. China has had a one-child policy since the end of the 1970s, enforced by the country's network of neighbourhood committees and some 300,000 family planning officials. The population-control policy, however, is tested as China’s actual birth rate is estimated at 1.8 children per couple because of exemptions and lawbreakers.

It not difficult to let the mind wonder when reading these types of articles – for example, the Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram’s experiments studying the willingness of people to obey instructions from an authority figure to perform acts that conflicted with one’s personal conscience. And on a lighter said, Aldous Huxley, with his novel, Brave New World, and Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984.

Social engineering occurs when a centralized power tries to manipulate or override people’s preferences to make them behave according to an artificial social blueprint. It is the opposite of allowing a culture to evolve naturally according to the preferences of individuals, which are often based on economic factors, such as what they can afford. Social engineering imposes rules, sometimes by dangling carrots, sometimes by wielding sticks.

The Chinese have suggested that the policy has been directly responsible for reducing its population by as many as 300 million to 400 million people, a claim that has been disputed by some academics.

There are exemptions for ethnic minorities, for families where both parents were single children themselves and for couples in the countryside whose first child is a girl. As well, a growing number of rich families now choose simply to pay the fine, which is a multiple of between three and 10 times the average after-tax income in the city where they live.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

The impact of Social Networks on humanity

When social networks change what it means to be human you would think we would turn our backs on that perceived threat and look inwards for who we are, our identify, family and friends. Instead, Facebook boasts almost a Billion members. But, of course this isn't just a Facebook thing.

Professor Sherry Turkle from the Social Studies of Science and Technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology says there is a "shift" from an analog world in which our identities are generated from within, to a digital world in which our sense of self is intimately tied to our social media presence.

The always-on social media world, our solitude has been replaced by incessant online updates, which both weaken our sense of self and our ability to create genuine friendships.

The shift from the private to the public self has been said to be a possible contributor in the rise of narcissism particularly in younger people. A vicious cycle is setup - because the more we self-broadcast, the emptier we become; and the emptier we become, the more we need to self-broadcast.

Social networks compromise our privacy as individuals. And it's not just our kids who are revealing everything about themselves to their many "friends" on Facebook. Sultan and Miller note in a piece (St Louis Post-Dispatch), "Facebook parenting" our obsession with posting data about our kids - is "destroying our children's privacy."

Based on interviews with 4,000 children, Sultan and Miller argue that we've created what they call a sense of "normality" about a world where "what's private is public."

Kids are growing up, they explain, assuming that it's perfectly normal to reveal everything about ourselves online. "And our children will never have known a world without this sort of exposure. What does a worldview lacking an expectation of privacy mean for the rest of society?" 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Social media on the toilet

After reading a report earlier today where a recent survey (the Yellow Social Media Report, published by Sensis in Australia) reveals, amongst other things that
  • 33% surveyed said they check social media first thing in the morning and 40% said they checked it as the last thing before bed, and
  • 5% of users said they had accessed social media in the bathroom, and another 5% said they had used it on the toilet.

I become curious as to the relative take-up of social media in various countries particularly after the large amount of noise created of the back of Facebook’s recent IPO (see illustration by O'Rilly Research). Interestingly it seems Turkey is now, according to ComScore the 3rd largest country using Facebook and likely to become the second biggest behind the US fairly soon. Here in Oz-land there are almost 8 Million of us using Facebook.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

When pedestrians are wearing headphones

It seems hardly a day goes by if we don’t hear about another vehicle accident involving pedestrians. It’s often been thought that the increase in these types of accidents might partly be explained by the fact that more and more pedestrians are wearing headphones while on the roads. So pedestrians can’t hear the traffic around them,

Research from the University of Maryland School of Medicine and the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore (the research was recently published online in the journal Injury Prevention) suggests that serious injuries to pedestrians listening to headphones have more than tripled in six years. In many cases, the cars or trains are sounding horns that the pedestrians cannot hear, leading to fatalities in nearly three-quarters of cases.

Researchers reviewed 116 accident cases from 2004 to 2011 in which injured pedestrians were documented to be using headphones. 70% of the 116 accidents resulted in death to the pedestrian. More than two-thirds of victims were male (68%) and under the age of 30 (67%).

More than half of the moving vehicles involved in the accidents were trains (55%), and nearly a third (29%) of the vehicles reported sounding some type of warning horn prior to the crash. The increased incidence of accidents over the years closely corresponds to documented rising popularity of auditory technologies with headphones.

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Boomerang Generation

We tend to hear a lot about the Boomerang Generation – those young adults who move back home with their families during difficult situations such as financial hardship. According to the Pew Research Center more than three-quarters of young adults ages 25 to 34 who have moved back home say they're satisfied with their living arrangements and upbeat about their future finances.

One reason young adults who are living with their parents may be relatively upbeat about their situation is that this has become such a widespread phenomenon.

Among adults ages 25 to 34, 61% say they have friends or family members who have moved back in with their parents over the past few years because of economic conditions. Furthermore, three-in-ten parents of adult children (29%) report that a child of theirs has moved back in with them in the past few years because of the economy.

Having said that I was interested in how marriage, separation and divorce rates have changed over the last 20 years and as well, if there is any linkage to the boomerang affect.

Age at first marriage

Over the last twenty years, the average age at which Australians first marry has increased. In 2010, the median age at first marriage for men was 29.6 years and 27.9 years for women, an increase of more than three years since 1990 (26.5 years and 24.3 years respectively). Since 2002, the median age at first marriage for both men and women has remained relatively unchanged.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics suggest a number of factors that may affect the age at which Australians first marry. These include the pursuit of higher education, the associated delay in labour force participation, the increasing social acceptance of cohabitation before marriage, and children moving out of the family home later in adulthood due to these factors. In 2006-07, 49% of men and 45% of women aged 18-24 years had never left the parental home, mainly for financial reasons (41%) or the convenience and/or enjoyment of living at home (36%).

Age at separation and divorce

As couples are choosing to marry later in life, and marriages are lasting longer, couples also tend to divorce at older ages. In the last two decades, the median age at separation has increased by approximately six years for both men and women.

In 2010, the median age for males at separation was 40.8 years, and 44.4 years at divorce, up from 35.3 years and 38.2 years respectively in 1990. Reflecting the age gap between men and women at marriage, the female median age at separation was 38.1 years, and 41.5 years at divorce, up from 32.4 years and 35.3 years in 1990.

Stats curtsey The Australian Bureau of Statistics