Quote of the Day
The mystery which surrounds a thinking machine already surrounds a thinking man.”
- B. F. Skinner
Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news
Claudio Abaddo conducting the Berlin Phil. And I mean conducting.
“Years of photos” permanently wiped from iPhones, iPads by bad Lightroom app update
From The Register:
Adobe is offering its condolences to customers after an update to its Lightroom photo manager permanently deleted troves of snaps on people’s iPhones, iPads, and iPod Touches.
First reported by PetaPixel, the data annihilation was triggered after punters this week fetched version 5.4 of the iOS software. Netizens complained that, following the release and installation of that build, their stored photos and paid-for presets vanished. Adobe acknowledged the issue though it didn’t have much to offer punters besides saying sorry.
Of course this is really just a (relatively rare) glitch in cloud storage. But I stick by my conviction that if you want your grandchildren to see your photos, print them off now on photographic paper (using a company like Photobox) and put them in shoeboxes (or, better still, Tupperware-type boxes) in the attic!
If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich? Turns out it’s just chance.
The most successful people are not the most talented, just the luckiest, a new computer model of wealth creation confirms. Taking that into account can maximize return on many kinds of investment.
MIT Tech Review has a good summary of a fascinating piece of agent-based simulation modelling.
The Abstract for the research report reads:
The largely dominant meritocratic paradigm of highly competitive Western cultures is rooted on the belief that success is due mainly, if not exclusively, to personal qualities such as talent, intelligence, skills, efforts or risk taking. Sometimes, we are willing to admit that a certain degree of luck could also play a role in achieving significant material success. But, as a matter of fact, it is rather common to underestimate the importance of external forces in individual successful stories. It is very well known that intelligence or talent exhibit a Gaussian distribution among the population, whereas the distribution of wealth – considered a proxy of success – follows typically a power law (Pareto law). Such a discrepancy between a Normal distribution of inputs, with a typical scale, and the scale invariant distribution of outputs, suggests that some hidden ingredient is at work behind the scenes. In this paper, with the help of a very simple agent-based model, we suggest that such an ingredient is just randomness. In particular, we show that, if it is true that some degree of talent is necessary to be successful in life, almost never the most talented people reach the highest peaks of success, being overtaken by mediocre but sensibly luckier individuals. As to our knowledge, this counterintuitive result – although implicitly suggested between the lines in a vast literature – is quantified here for the first time. It sheds new light on the effectiveness of assessing merit on the basis of the reached level of success and underlines the risks of distributing excessive honors or resources to people who, at the end of the day, could have been simply luckier than others. With the help of this model, several policy hypotheses are also addressed and compared to show the most efficient strategies for public funding of research in order to improve meritocracy, diversity and innovation.
New Yorker profile of Joe Biden
Long read of the day.
Marvellous piece by Evan Osnos, one of the best writers on the magazine. It’s realistic, serious, unsentimental. But also sympathetic. Here’s a sample:
Every day, Biden’s aides try to get him on the phone with a regular person. One afternoon in April, he was patched through to Mohammad Qazzaz, in Dearborn, Michigan. Three weeks earlier, Qazzaz, who runs a coffee-roasting business, had tested positive for covid-19. When Biden called, he was quarantined in his house, trying to protect his wife and two children.
Qazzaz, who recorded the call and played it for me, told Biden that his daughter, who is two, did not understand why he would not come out of his bedroom: “She keeps telling me, ‘Baba, open the door. Open the door.’ ” As he described his situation, his voice broke, and he tried to steady himself. “I’m sorry, Mr. Vice-President,” he said.
“Don’t be sorry,” Biden said. “I think your emotional state is totally justified. And, as my mom would say, you have to get it out.”
Biden told Qazzaz that he, too, once had children too small to understand a crisis unfolding around them. “Nothing is the same, but I have some sense of what you’re going through,” Biden said. He suggested that Qazzaz play a simple game with his daughter through the door, asking her to guess a number or a color. “Tell her stories about what it’s going to be like when Daddy gets better,” he said. They talked for a while about Qazzaz’s father, who emigrated from Jerusalem. “Look, you’re going to get through this,” Biden said. “We are the nation we are because we’re a nation of immigrants.” The call was supposed to last five minutes; they talked for twenty-two.
Listening to Qazzaz’s call was reminiscent of Roosevelt’s famous line: “The Presidency is not merely an administrative office. . . . It is preëminently a place of moral leadership.” Joe Biden’s life is replete with mistakes and regrets. And, if he comes to the Presidency, he is unlikely to supply much of the exalted rhetoric that reaches into a nation’s soul. But, for a people in mourning, he might offer something like solace, a language of healing.
This is the kind of piece that reminds me why I subscribe to the New Yorker.
How Zeynep Tufekci Keeps Getting the Big Things Right
Zeynep Tufecki has for years been one of the sharpest and most perceptive academic commentators on the tech industry. This NYT piece explains why.
In 2011, she went against the current to say the case for Twitter as a driver of broad social movements had been oversimplified. In 2012, she warned news media outlets that their coverage of school shootings could inspire more. In 2013, she argued that Facebook could fuel ethnic cleansing. In 2017, she warned that YouTube’s recommendation algorithm could be used as a tool of radicalization.
And when it came to the pandemic, she sounded the alarm early while also fighting to keep parks and beaches open.
“I’ve just been struck by how right she has been,” said Julia Marcus, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Harvard Medical School.
I was curious to know how Dr. Tufekci had gotten so many things right in a confusing time, so we spoke last week over FaceTime. She told me she chalks up her habits of mind in part to a childhood she wouldn’t wish on anyone…
Her book, Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest is terrific btw.
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