Start up: DeepMind’s eye challenge, South African open data, the Linksys router that can, bad hamburger!, and more

Too much of that little switch near the top may make pilots less good. And what about car drivers? Photo by pysta on Flickr.

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A selection of 9 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Tesla and the glass cockpit problem • ROUGH TYPE

Nick Carr:


When news spread last week about the fatal crash of a computer-driven Tesla, I thought of a conversation I had a couple of years ago with a top computer scientist at Google. We were talking about some recent airliner crashes caused by “automation complacency” — the tendency for even very skilled pilots to tune out from their work after turning on autopilot systems — and the Google scientist noted that the problem of automation complacency is even more acute for drivers than for pilots. If you’re flying a plane and something unexpected happens, you usually have several seconds or even minutes to respond before the situation becomes dire. If you’re driving a car, you may have only a second or a fraction of a second to take action before you collide with another car, or a bridge abutment, or a tree. There are far more obstacles on the ground than in the sky.

With the Tesla accident, the evidence suggests that the crash happened before the driver even realized that he was about to hit a truck. He seemed to be suffering from automation complacency up to the very moment of impact. He trusted the machine, and the machine failed him. Such complacency is a well-documented problem in human-factors research, and it’s what led Google to change the course of its self-driving car program a couple of years ago, shifting to a perhaps quixotic goal of total automation without any human involvement.


Carr is author of The Glass Cage, which notes how reliance on automation for systems which may pitch you back into control carries big risks.
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Moorfields announces research partnership • Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust


Two million people are living with sight loss in the UK, of whom around 360,000 are registered as blind or partially sighted. At the moment, eye health professionals rely on digital scans of the eye to diagnose and determine the correct treatment for common eye conditions such as age-related macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy.

These scans are highly complex and to date, traditional analysis tools have been unable to explore them fully. It also takes eye health professionals a long time to analyse eye scans, which can have an impact on how quickly they can meet patients to discuss diagnosis and treatment…

…Faster and more efficient diagnosis of eye disease could help prevent many thousands of cases of sight loss due to wet age-related macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy, which together affect more than 625,000 people in the UK.

Moorfields Eye Hospital will share approximately one million anonymised digital eye scans, used by eye health professionals to detect and diagnose eye conditions. Anonymous clinical diagnoses, information on the treatment of eye diseases, model of the machine used to acquire the images and demographic information on age (shown to be associated with eye disease) is also being shared. This has been collected over time through routine care, which means it’s not possible to identify any individual patients from the scans. And they’re also historic scans, meaning that while the results of our research may be used to improve future care, they won’t affect the care any of our patients receive today.


What we want machines to do: take over tedious routine which conceals important data. I’m meantime wondering: is machine learning already being used for airport X-ray scanning?
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If you’re complaining about Facebook’s news feed changes, you’re missing its true marketing potential • The Drum

Jerry Daykin is global digital partner at Carat Global:


Promoted posts aren’t a tax on marketers, they’re a huge opportunity to reach well beyond a core existing audience and out to over a billion targeted consumers who can be exactly who you want them to be. Anyone fighting for an extra tiny percentage of their followers to see something should look up and see that they could be reaching 10,000% with a basic media strategy. In reality that’s the audience you need to be reaching to grow and if you’re not willing to invest to do so then you’d be better off spending your time elsewhere. Tweaks to Facebook’s news feed of this sort have absolutely no impact on the scale you achieve through promoted content, and these posts will still be inserted throughout the timeline.

News feed algorithms ultimately improve the experience for users, keep more of them coming back more often and for longer, and thus create an even bigger audience for advertisers to target. Helpfully this growth of time spent will also increase inventory, helping avoid escalating prices due to increased competition. The industry should be welcoming the change, alongside new algorithms from Twitter and Instagram. As Mondelez’s Sonia Carter says: “We wouldn’t have these headlines if ITV changed its schedule to include more popular programmes.”


That last point is a zinger. Getting people to read the newsfeed more, and perhaps disfavouring publishers’ posts, is rather like an advertising-funded TV channel replacing rolling news with reruns of favourites and auction shows and Jeremy Kyle. Nobody’s going to complain. But you won’t end up wiser.
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The 17 equations that changed the world • World Economic Forum

Andy Kiersz:


In 2012, Mathematician Ian Stewart came out with an excellent and deeply researched book titled “In Pursuit of the Unknown: 17 Equations That Changed the World.”

His book takes a look at the most pivotal equations of all time, and puts them in a human, rather than technical context.

“Equations definitely can be dull, and they can seem complicated, but that’s because they are often presented in a dull and complicated way,” Stewart told Business Insider. “I have an advantage over school math teachers: I’m not trying to show you how to do the sums yourself.”

He explained that anyone can “appreciate the beauty and importance of equations without knowing how to solve them … The intention is to locate them in their cultural and human context, and pull back the veil on their hidden effects on history.”

Stewart continued that “equations are a vital part of our culture. The stories behind them — the people who discovered or invented them and the periods in which they lived — are fascinating.”


They not only changed the world – they enable the world to continue working as it does. Though you could argue (feel free) that they existed all the time; what they really did was to change our understanding of the world. See how many you already know. And quote them at the kids who complain about maths making no sense.
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South African MPs sing for their supper • Indigo Trust

Matt O’Reilly:


Do you know how many debates your MP appears at? I don’t have a clue and I certainly don’t know what a good attendance rate looks like. South African voters now have a chance to compare the attendance record of their representative with that of other MPs to see who’s the hardest working and who’s sleeping on the job. Take a look at PMG’s attendance page and you’ll see attendance rates that vary between 0% and 100%. The following article – that recently appeared in South Africa’s Financial Mail – explains the work in more detail


I recall how after the UK MPs’ expenses row, when the Guardian built tools to analyse the huge amounts of data that came out, people from other countries were interested to use them. The tools built by Tom Steinberg’s MySociety were also looked at eagerly. This is a great implementation; though I suspect what it also needs, in a print-oriented country, is for this sort of stuff to be printed regularly in the papers. (Thanks William Perrin for the link.)
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Independence Day: How developer and customer revolt will dethrone Apple • ZDNet

Jason Perlow:


as iOS becomes more and more defined as a “luxury” product when comparable products from Chinese device manufacturers begin to cost 60% or 70% less, the end-user calculus points toward tossing the “tea” in Apple Harbor.

Presumably everyone who does business at the App Store will also do business at Google Play, or via a Android side-load, where it is less restrictive and innovation may not be as blocked.

Perhaps a new 3rd-party, truly independent app store that is not tied to Google or an existing player is called for. So that developers and end-users can truly self-determinate.

I don’t know if Spotify is going to break off from the Crown and decide to put up its permanent shingle at Android and Windows and as a 3rd-party Mac or web-only app.

It might back down. Then again it might not. It could be that a “Tea Party” protest in the traditional sense is at hand.

Is it time to throw the iOS tea into Apple harbor and declare independence from Evil King Tim? Talk Back and Let Me Know.


Agreeably nutty. (Also about three times too long.) One can reliably state that articles entitled “How X will dethrone Apple” are wrong per se.

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The WRT54GL: a 54Mbps router from 2005 still makes millions for Linksys • Ars Technica

Jon Brodkin:


In a time when consumers routinely replace gadgets with new models after just two or three years, some products stand out for being built to last.

Witness the Linksys WRT54GL, the famous wireless router that came out in 2005 and is still for sale. At first glance, there seems to be little reason to buy the WRT54GL in the year 2016. It uses the 802.11g Wi-Fi standard, which has been surpassed by 802.11n and 802.11ac. It delivers data over the crowded 2.4GHz frequency band and is limited to speeds of 54Mbps. You can buy a new router—for less money—and get the benefit of modern standards, expansion into the 5GHz band, and data rates more than 20 times higher.

Despite all that, people still buy the WRT54GL in large enough numbers that Linksys continues to earn millions of dollars per year selling an 11-year-old product without ever changing its specs or design.

“To be honest, it somewhat baffles my mind,” Linksys Global Product Manager Vince La Duca told Ars. But production won’t stop any time soon as long as Linksys’ suppliers, including chipmaker Broadcom, keep selling the parts needed to build the WRT54GL. “We’ll keep building it because people keep buying it,” La Duca said.

Linksys doesn’t bother promoting the WRT54GL much. But La Duca mentioned the continued production of the WRT54GL recently when I interviewed him for a story on Linksys’ project to let users install open source firmware on new routers without breaking the latest FCC anti-interference rules. The WRT54GL was the first wireless router I ever purchased about a decade ago; I was surprised that Linksys still produces them, so I asked the company for more details.


A lovely piece of journalism and writing, where Brodkin puts his inspiration – the discovery it still sells – out front and then digs in. There’s even a cameo from Bill Gates. By the way, in my house there’s nothing “just” about 54Mbps. More like “if only our broadband could saturate our router, but it’s only managing 5%.”
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Hamburger menus and hidden navigation hurt UX metrics • Nielsen Norman Group

Kara Pernice and Raluca Budiu did an in-depth study of those things that are increasingly used on desktop as well as mobile screens:


The other three metrics that we collected focused on the quality of the user experience:
• Content discoverability. Our tasks were fairly simple and gave users a fair amount of freedom (e.g., “Find a technology article that interests you”), so people were actually able to complete them most of the time. However, given the focus of our study, we used a more nuanced measure of success (content discoverability) that took into account not only whether people completed the task, but also how they completed it. Thus, content discoverability measured whether users were able to find the content they were looking for by using navigation (and not search) in those cases when the content wasn’t directly linked from the homepage.
• Task-difficulty rating. At the end of each task, we asked participants to rate how easy or difficult the task was on a scale from 1 to 7, with 1 being easy and 7 being difficult. The task difficulty is a subjective metric; it measures users’ self-reported assessment of the task. It usually reflects their overall experience in using the site, so a high estimated difficulty rating will indirectly indicate actual difficulty in locating the navigation and navigating through the site.
• Time on task. This metric represented the time it took participants to complete the task, whether successfully or not. A menu can add or decrease task time, if it is easy or difficult to find, open, or use, so longer task times also reflect the added interaction cost due to a less usable navigation.

Our findings show that, across all three different metrics, hidden navigation significantly decreases user experience both on mobile and on desktop.


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Trump days • The New Yorker

George Saunders touted around a number of states watching Trump rallies and speaking to his supporters:


The Trump supporter comes out of the conservative tradition but is not a traditional conservative. He is less patient: something is bothering him and he wants it stopped now, by any means necessary. He seems less influenced by Goldwater and Reagan than by Fox News and reality TV, his understanding of history recent and selective; he is less religiously grounded and more willing, in his acceptance of Trump’s racist and misogynist excesses, to (let’s say) forgo the niceties.

As for Trump’s uncivil speech—the insults, the petty meanness, the crudeness, the talk about hand size, the assurance, on national TV, that his would-be Presidential dick is up to the job, his mastery of the jaw-droppingly untrue personal smear (Obama is Kenyan, Ted Cruz’s dad was in cahoots with Lee Harvey Oswald, U.S. Muslims knew what was “going on” pre-Orlando), which he often dishonorably eases into the world by attaching some form of the phrase “many people have said this” (The world is flat; many people have said this. People are saying that birds can play the cello: we need to look into that)—his supporters seem constitutionally reluctant to object, as if the act of objecting would mark them as fatally delicate. Objecting to this sort of thing is for the coddled, the liberal, the élite. “Yeah, he can really improve, in the way he says things,” one woman in Fountain Hills tells me. “But who gives a shit? Because if he’s going to get the job done? I’m just saying. You can’t let your feelings get hurt. It’s kind of like, get over it, you know what I mean? What’s the big picture here? The big picture is we’ve got to get America back on track.”


Again, I’d like to see a similar version, but with Hillary supporters/rallies.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

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