SmartNews Pro Tip: Save it for Later

smartnews_iconSmartNews is focused on today’s news. Because of this the app is optimized for showing you the most important stories of the moment. The idea is to get you up to speed on what’s going on and then on with your day. If we do our job well there, the thinking goes, you’ll be back.

That said, there are times when you’re glancing at the latest headlines and you run across a meaty profile in Vanity Fair or a lengthy speech transcript in Medium. I’ve seen comments in the App Store where people are looking for a way to save articles for later. There are a couple of options that I’d like to share.

Read it later with Pocket

SmartNews is integrated with Pocket. Create an account at Pocket or login with your existing one. When you share from the article page on SmartNews (another pro tip, a long press on any headline will go directly to the save menu), you have the option to Save to Pocket. Once you’ve saved it here you can go back to Pocket on the Web and read the full text of the article later. If you upgrade to Pocket Premium, they will even download, index, and archive the full text of anything you save to Pocket making later retrieval easier.

Hear it later with Pocket

Pocket TTS

Pocket recently added Text-to-Speech to their mobile app. I ride my bike to work so sometimes it’s better to have a long article read to me. This afternoon I listened to the transcript of Jennifer Granick’s excellent keynote at Black Hat 2015, The End of the Internet Dream which was posted on Medium.

It somehow seemed appropriate to have the same voice that speaks to me as Siri explaining how important it is to keep the internet open and decentralized.

Show more, is that an archive?

SmartNews Read More

Well, kinda. While we try as much as possible to keep things lightweight in the SmartNews app, we recognize that you might sometimes go more than several hours in between SmartNews fixes. We hear you. But if you’re hearing about that great story in the morning and it’s no longer there, we’ve got your back!

Scroll to the bottom of any tab other than Top and you’ll see a “Show more” link that will show you more articles in the channel. We can’t store everything but it’ll at least extend your horizon a few more hours if you want to dig in a little further.

Back when News was Physical

etaoin shrdlu are the first line of letters on a linotype keyboard, arranged based on frequency. The phrase is used to mark the end of a column. It is also the title of a short documentary about the last run of the linotype machines at the New York Times on July 2, 1978.

There are all sorts of wonderful details in this 30-minute film. We learn the origin of words such as hot type and mattress and are shown how a “pig” of lead is melted down to cast type forms.

The mechanical crank and whirl of the linotype machines are wonderful sound, especially when contrasted with the castanet-like crackle of the new chicklet keyboards on the the new mainframe terminals shown later in the film. As the 9pm first edition deadline approaches, the “make up men” hunch over their tables side-by-side with page editors physically laying out the paper on full page forms. There’s a wonderful exchange as they figure out how to make the page work, a construction project of words.

Farewell – ETAOIN SHRDLU – 1978 from Linotype: The Film

These days are long gone now but I’m glad for this film which captures a technology that was a wonder of its day.

h/t Open Culture

Recycled Gear Goes to Africa

One of my volunteer activities is to serve as the Webmaster (I love that retro-cool title) for the Alameda Soccer Club. It’s a pretty large organization serving the 1,300+ kids in our neighborhood, completely staffed by unpaid volunteers and it does a great job of getting the kids excited about the sport.

This Summer we received a request by an Alameda native who is serving in the Peace Corps in West Africa and was home for the holidays. Many kids in her village loved to play soccer but often didn’t have any equipment so she wondered if we could donate any used gear for her to take back to Africa upon her return.

I put the word out and Alameda responded. There was too much for her to take back with her so her father packed it up and shipped it off. The other day she sent back photos and in with all the photos was a one of a kid in West Africa trying out my son’s old cleats!

Hiroshima, 70 years on

Last year, on July 4th, I visited Hiroshima with Izumi and the kids to see first-hand the city and the memorial.

Hiroshima (literally means flat island) was one of two sites bombed by atomic weapons. It was chosen because it was relatively unscathed by previous bombings and military scientists wanted to measure the effectiveness of an aerial detonation. Nagasaki (long cape), the other target, was on different terrain and that bomb was detonated on the ground. In each case, military personnel were sent to each city to carefully measure the destruction they had wrought.

The lone standing building survived the blast because it occurred directly overhead by several hundred meters.

Hiroshima Aerial Detination

The museum in Peace Park has many artifacts from August 6, 1945 including section from a stone bridge that still has the shadow of a person that was literally vaporized by the blast. There are many personal stories told by survivors posted next to items salvaged from the wreckage. How one man saw his hand melt off because it was on a windowsill and a schoolgirl who was home sick from school and was the only one from her entire class to survive.

There is also a stopwatch frozen at the exact moment the bomb went off.

Hiroshima Pocket Watch

What really struck me were some of the documents preserved which captured the debate on the US side over the deployment of this terrible weapon and presaged the arms race that would follow. There is a letter from Albert Einstein to FDR, minutes from a meeting with some of the contractors that worked on the bomb (General Electric, duPont), and declassified Top Secret notes from the Target Committee.

But most disturbing was an excerpt from the Franck Report from June 11, 1945 written by some of the scientists involved with the Manhattan Project that built the bomb. In it they plead with military leadership to consider demonstrating the power of the atomic bomb on an uninhabited island as a way to coerce Japan into surrender.

Franck Report

Highlighted above is a passage that would come to haunt our world for many years hence.

We believe that these considerations make the use of nuclear bombs for an early, unannounced attack against Japan inadvisable. If the United States would be the first to release this new means of indiscriminate destruction upon mankind, she would sacrifice public support throughout the world, precipitate the race of armaments, and prejudice the possibility of reaching an international agreement on the future control of such weapons.

Something to think about as we debate our current negotiations with Iran.

Further Reading:

Italian Foo Fighters Fans Wishes Granted

1,000 Foo Fighters fans gathered in a field in Cesena, Italy to play Learn to Fly to get the band’s attention and to listen to their plea to play a concert in Italy. Maybe you’ve seen the video which was all over the ‘nets. It’s pretty awesome.

The band noticed, later posting Ci vediamo a presto, Cesena…. xxx Davide from their twitter account. Google Translate tells me it says, “See you soon, Cesena”

Today Dave Grohl, the band’s leader posted this video response in Italian.

In awe.

Spotify’s Mixtape Algorithm

mixtapes

With the launch of Apple Music’s “For You” feature, Spotify hand has been forced to unveil it’s own personalization engine in response. Discover Weekly was launched today via a series of well-timed pieces published today across the tech press. The PR push is on to explain to everyone currently evaluating Apple Music on a 3-month trial.

Spotify describes Discover Weekly as, “like having your best friend make you a personalised mixtape every single week.” More specifically,  “Updated every Monday morning, Discover Weekly brings you two hours of custom-made music recommendations, tailored specifically to you and delivered as a unique Spotify playlist.”

Spotify, to date, has relied mostly on the social sharing of tracks and manually curated playlists (more than 2 billion!) to enhance the experience of the Spotify subscriber. The coverage today highlights the contribution of Echo Nest, an music intelligence and data platform acquired by Spotify in March of 2014. Reading a number of posts we learn the following:

Inside Spotify’s Hunt for the Perfect Playlist – Wired

Spotify’s internal tool that they use to build playlists has the wonderful moniker, Truffle Pig.

and,

The Echo Nest’s job within Spotify is to endlessly categorize and organize tracks. The team applies a huge number of attributes to every single song: Is it happy or sad? Is it guitar-driven? Are the vocals spoken or sung? Is it mellow, aggressive, or dancy? On and on the list goes. Meanwhile, the software is also scanning blogs and social networks—ten million posts a day, Lucchese says—to see the words people use to talk about music. With all this data combined, The Echo Nest can start to figure out what a “crunk” song sounds like, or what we mean when we talk about “dirty south” music.

Smart.

maybe some of the songs are bad, or the leadoff song isn’t representative of the rest of the playlist—we’ll try to refine that and give it a shot.” Playlists are made by people, but they live and die by data.

This is another way of underlining the best practices of machine learning. An algorithm is really only as good as it’s training set.

In order to keep a burst of listens from drifting your taste profile towards a fleeting interest, something re/code’s Kafka calls, “the Minions Problem“, Spotify isolates isolated wandering from the core.

Spotify says it solves the Minions Problem by identifying “taste clusters” and looking for outliers. So if you normally listen to 30-year-old indie rock but suddenly have a burst of Christmas music in your listening history, it won’t spend the next few weeks feeding you Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby. The same goes for kids’ music, which is apparently why Spotify knows I didn’t really like “Happy” that much — it was just in the “Despicable Me 2” soundtrack.

Spotify has built its discovery algorithm on the listening behaviors of its 75 million users while Apple has advertised a more top-heavy approach using designated curators that publish playlists for a mass audience. I have to wonder what happened to all the Genius data that has been gathered after analyzing everyone’s iTunes collections and wonder if we’ll see that being used to balance out Apple’s approach.

I’ve heard that Spotify is working on a “family plan” that would let me break out the collective profile built up on my Spotify account that I share with my kids. That will yield more relevant personal recommendations so I don’t get the hip-hop heavy playlist that greeted me due to my son’s heavy rotation.

I think it’s still very early days and consumers will ultimately benefit in the music recommendation race that has just begun.

 

Fun with Google Trends Real Time

Google Trends announced last week that they’ve upgraded their service to be real time. Using their tools, I created a dashboard so you can quickly see who’s trending in Google Search for the past 7 days. If I did this right, this page should continually update.

I’ll manually add/remove names as the list of candidates change.

Democratic Party

Republican Party*

*There are too many in the field to fit on Google’s graph (Google Trends only takes up to five terms to compare). I took the top five announced candidates in the polls.