Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Consequence-free photo sharing?

A friend of mine asked me the other day if I was using Snapchat yet – she wanted to send me a pic. I said no, but it didn’t take me long to download the free app. 

I’d heard about the app, thought it was a neat idea, but also thought it might lull people into a false sense of security particularly with kids and sexting. After all the app has been touted as a "consequence-free" photo/video sharing platform by many.

For those not familiar with this app - users can send photos and videos, called Snaps to individuals or groups with a an expiration time between one second and 10 seconds before the content dissolves.

During this duration, the recipient must maintain contact with the device's touchscreen designed to inhibit taking a screenshot. If recipients were to take a screenshot the app notifies the sender.

So how safe is it? Well it turns out that a college student Raj Vir has found a way for recipients to "easily save screenshots of 'snaps' in a few simple steps.

Here are those steps

  • While viewing a SnapChat photo, take a screenshot by pressing the home and power button at the same time, while making sure to continue holding on the screen in order to ensure that the picture gets captured.
  • After taking the screenshot, the photo won’t show on the screen and you will be brought back to your list of snaps.
  • Before the photo expires, double tap the home button to bring up the multitasking bar. Once you’ve brought that up, SnapChat won’t recognize your screenshot.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

God's existence and mathematicians thousands of years hence

The most beautiful equation ever

It is said that one day, when the great German mathematician Leonhard Euler was at the Court of Catherine the Great, a friend asked him for a proof of the existence of God. Euler is supposed to have replied with what is now called the Euler Identity and then essentially said Q.E.D.

Euler's Identity is indeed beautiful because the five parts of the equation come from vastly different origins, and each with roles in mathematics that can’t be overstated and that they should be connected by such a simple relationship, is simply stunning. 

One would have to think that Euler’s identity will appear, to the arbitrarily advanced mathematicians thousands of years hence, to remain as beautiful and stunning as the day it was first written.

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Bank That Ran Out of Money

Over the Christmas break I started watching the tale of the RBS, Inside the Bank That Ran Out of Money. This is the story of how one of the most successful banks in the world ran up the biggest corporate loss in history, a loss of €24.1Billion. 

There have been many reasons offered for the cause of the 2007 and 2008 global financial crisis including availability of easy access to loans for subprime borrowers, overvaluation of bundled sub-prime mortgages as well as the result of "high risk, complex financial products. It is the creation and evaluation of high complex products that caught my interest. Basically mortgage derivative products, where risky mortgages were packaged with more traditionally secure mortgages and sold to corporate investors and other banks as secure investment products.

The documentary RBS, Inside the Bank That Ran Out of Money interviewed an ex-executive of the bank who described how some of the best mathematician and physicist were running complex financial models to evaluate risk and predict earnings.

I wanted to look at the type of the mathematics and modelling that is used in the financial sector. Amongst numerous factors, some say the Black-Scholes equation was the mathematical justification for the trading that ultimately helped plunge the world's banks into catastrophe. The equation, brainchild of economists Fischer Black and Myron Scholes, provided a rational way to price a financial contract when it still had time to run. And the equation itself can’t be blamed for the credit crunch.

The formula is fine if it is to be used sensibly and abandoned when market conditions become inappropriate. The trouble was its potential for abuse. It allowed derivatives to become commodities that could be traded in their own right. Courtesy of Wikipedia here is the equation.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

When Happiness and Depression Meet

About a year ago I wrote about happiness and what it is that makes us happy. It turns out that what makes us happy, what motivates us, follows the philosophy of Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. We do things for ourselves that help grow us and are important to us, we do things that we have to struggle with to improve ourselves, and we do things that make us part of a bigger world, and all of these three things have the capacity to make us happy or happier.

I wanted today to check, basically, how users of Google search for information associated with happiness and depression. This is essentially search volume index over time. As you can see above there is a fascinating convergence between these two search volumes. As the search volume for Depression decreases over time, the search volume for Happiness has increased to almost the same volume matching Depression. Even when you ask Google to extrapolate these trends (in dotted lines) the trend continues.

Friday, February 1, 2013

A new twist on play therapy

What will be the types of toys kids will be playing with in 10 years time? It’s not always that easy to look into that murky crystal ball to make predictions l0 years out. But there are a number of clues and they involve technology and mechanics. Not only is technology getting faster, cheaper, smaller but it’s also much more ubiquitous. Who would have imagined, for example, that an electric motor would be driving a toothbrush before the 60’s. Oh, and before I forget, batteries seem to be lasting longer too.

So we can pretty much say that toys of the future will include technology featuring speed, miniaturization and low cost. We can go a step further and throw in high-speed connectivity allowing the toy to connect with its manufacturer (let’s say creator), connect with data-stores providing it with new game options, scenarios and adaptations. But perhaps more importantly, these toys may be able to connect with other toys of similar genre as well as ground themselves through GPS.

So how about imbedded technology breathing life into the toys of the future; personality traits, memory, copied (learned) behaviors, learning abilities, and probably (and crucially) an ability to interact with kids. I don’t just mean a traditional computer screen but toys that might search and hold eye gaze, listen and speak in multiple tongues, learn their environment and navigate that space.

What about toys acting as communication devices, toys as therapists (a new twist on play therapy), toys helping with homework, toys acting as smart agents, toys prompting kids to do their choirs and even toys that quit playing when kids become naught or not nice.