Monthly Archives: October 2018

Grandma’s Recipes

Izumi turned me on to a YouTube channel she’s discovered that features lovingly documents the kitchen recipes of an older, sometimes forgotten, generation in Japan. Each short vignette explores the life of these women who fed their family with what they had and passed on traditions of their region.

From the producers:

Our team especially tries to focus on eccentric, lovely but “Rock” ladies above the age of 80, who have lived through World War Two. We interview them with great care, and through their recipes which represents the relationships they share with those they care about, we are able to uncover great depth in their life stories. We want to spread those stories to the young generations living today. We believe that if we can share the stories of those beautiful and loving ladies to the world, regardless of borders and languages, people may appreciate even the dinner table just a little bit more.

Grandma’s Recipes
Masami-san has lived a hard life in Nagano and reflects on her grand life of 99 years.
Keiko comes from a wealthy family in Tokyo. During the war, she made a frying pan out of unexploded bomb.

Personalized Discovery

When asked what we’re trying to build at SmartNews, I sometimes explain it with a department store metaphor. When algorithms are applied to online shopping, they are optimized to show you exactly what you are looking for. Amazon and Netflix are famous for perfecting the “others-that-bought-what-you-bought-also-bought-this” algorithm to great effect.

If you’re looking for a red sweater, they will show you the best red sweater. But that only works if you’re looking for a red sweater.

What if you are just browsing around? What if you are wandering around, looking for inspiration, not sure what exactly you want? Japan has a some of the world’s best department stores. They are wonderful at curating interesting things from around the world and introducing them to the sophisticated urban consumer. They have a long tradition of doing this.

Marvis toothpaste from Italy comes in Aquatic Mint, Cinnamon Mint, Classic Mint, Ginger Mint, Jasmine Mint, and Amarelli Licorice

Ginza has a new department store called Ginza Six that opened a couple years ago. Besides these wonderfully packaged $20 tubes of toothpaste from Italy (above) you can also check out the completely impractical spiked boots (below). It’s a curious browser’s delight.

Totally impractical but cool, nonetheless

What I’m getting at is that SmartNews is trying to re-create the Japanese Department Store experience online with news. I keep talking about “hidden gems” and this is what I mean. You never know what you’re going to find but we’ll do our best to make an algorithm which is optimized for finding something serendipitously, interesting.

Anyway, more on this in this interview with my boss, Rich Jaroslovsky, below as he describes the concept of “personalized discovery.”

The key is personalized discovery. Of course that also means sometimes users will see stories they don’t like. I’m generalizing, but a conservative might see a Mother Jones story, or a liberal might see something from Fox News.

That’s probably the biggest complaint we get: That the stories are all “left wing,” or “right wing.”  But when we look at studies about user engagement in news apps, our audience is far more engaged than that of any other news app.

My argument is that those are two sides of the same coin. As a 40-year journalist, when all you see is stuff you already know or already think you’re interested in… news gets boring. There’s no serendipity. You don’t get to learn anything new. You don’t get to discover.

That’s the textbook definition of a filter bubble.

Our goal is to puncture filter bubbles.

Tired of Filter Bubbles? This Free News App Can Help You Find Stories You Just Might Love

SmartNews & Breaker

As a commuter, I have two blocks of time going to and from the office when I am not able to read. During these times, I listen to podcasts as a way to get a deeper perspective on the news of the day or learn something new.

Most podcast apps ask you to subscribe or follow podcasts you like and push new episodes to you each time you open the app. As you add new shows to your “feed” you inevitably get overwhelmed with a backlog of unlistened episodes which discourages you from finding new episodes.

SmartNews adds podcasts from Breaker

Breaker was the first app I found that solved this problem by adding a social network to the platform. Breaker pays attention to their users’ behavior of listening, liking, and commenting to determine how to rank the best episodes. Instead of subscribing to shows, you listen to episodes. The selection is more granular and has more variety. As with other social networks, because you get a daily feed which you graze through, the pressure to clear your queue is removed.

I believe podcasts are an important component of the media diet of anyone that is interested in current events. The intimacy of hearing a primary source tell their story is unique to audio and I have been eager to find a way to add podcasts in a meaningful way to the SmartNews app. My initial attempt was to leverage SmartNews’ algorithm to locate and feature podcasts in a single channel but the results were never quite right.

  • The SmartNews algorithm is optimized for text so the selection and ranking of stories didn’t work well.
  • Sometimes the audio would stop when you put the app into the background or your phone went into standby mode.
  • Each episode’s page featured a play button in a different location on the page so the user had to hunt around to find it.

The Breaker app solved all these problems and I was eager to find a way to introduce elements of what Breaker had to offer to SmartNews users.

The Podcast channel on SmartNews

I met with Erik Berlin, co-founder of Breaker, and we talked about how SmartNews might be able to integrate Breaker’s social ranking of stories to create a channel that would feature the best episodes to SmartNews users in a way they could sample what they had to offer easily, within the SmartNews app.

The Breaker team worked on a feed of popular stories on their network that we could integrate into SmartNews. They built an episode page with a built in player that continued to play in the background and featured a prominent play button that was placed in a consistent location for quick and easy access. The idea was to give SmartNews iOS and Android users a place to go to discover the best audio stories of the day to introduce them to this new aspect of story-telling.

I hope you enjoy the new Podcast channel on SmartNews (if you’re on mobile and don’t have SmartNews, you can download it here). If you find yourself embracing podcasts as I do, download the Breaker app to unlock extra features where you can share and discuss your favorite episodes on their social network.

Oh, and if you’re curious about what I’m listening to and enjoy, follow me on Breaker at @iankennedy

The week that was (10-26-2018)

Political rivals, running against each other for a House seat in Vermont, asked for extra time after their debate, to make music together.

A car thief in England was caught when his DNA was found on lip balm left in the car he had stolen and abandoned.

Due to an influx of Asian immigrants into Sydney, piano sales are booming.

The Museum of the Bible in Washington DC confessed that five of the Dead Sea Scrolls on display were, in fact, forgeries.

NASA scientists fixed the gyroscope in the Hubble telescope using the oldest trick in the IT toolkit, turning it off and back on again.

Volocopter, an air taxi company, announced that Singapore will begin trials next year of a new “driverless hover-taxi” that fly through the air to avoid traffic.

A man in India was killed by a group of monkeys that organized and threw bricks at him.

A work of art generated by artificial intelligence sold at Christie’s for over $400,000.

Photo credit: Reddit user KTKhujo

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The week that was (10-19-2018)

A Belgian Air Force mechanic accidentally opened fire on and destroyed a fully-fueled F-16 fighter jet while servicing another warplane on the tarmac.  Two mechanics are being treated for hearing loss caused by the blast. 

Police in Savannah, GA are looking for the vandal who put “googly eyes” on statue of Nathaniel Greene, a general in the Revolutionary War . 

The US embassy in Australia apologized after mistakenly sending out an email, titled “Meeting” with a photo of a tabby cat wearing a blue Cookie Monster outfit and holding a plate of choc-chip biscuits, beneath the title “cat pajama-jam.”

For the first time since at least 1993 New York City went an entire weekend without anyone getting shot.

Designer Benjamin Edgar is selling a hanger cut from a single, solid plate of thick, hand-brushed stainless steel for $700.

A man in Georgia robbed a Subway sandwich shop after ordering a sandwich and then ran back in to grab his sandwich.

A city in China plans to launch a satellite that will act as an “artificial moon” to help light the streets of the city.

The Ecuadorian Embassy in London is getting a little tired of their guest, Julian Assange. They have taken away his wifi access until he does a better job of cleaning up the bathroom and taking care of his cat. Julian Assange has threatened legal action.

Lia Ditton finished rowing from San Francisco to Los Angeles in three weeks in preparation for a trip next year across the Pacific.

Marijuana was legalized in Canada this week and an entrepreneurial girl scout saw her chance. 9-year old Elina Childs set up her cookie stand in front of Nova Cannabis and completely sold out in less than an hour. 
“Everybody was respectful, everybody was happy, and she walked away from it as this incredibly positive experience as well as selling out all her Brownie cookies,” said her proud father.

Photo credit: Reddit user seanbrockest

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The week that was (10-12-2018)

Birds are getting drunk after eating too many fermented berries.

A Grand Rapids man thought the rock that he has been using for years as a doorstop didn’t look like a normal rock. He was right.

A  man who used a stolen credit card to pay his court fines was subsequently booked for stealing credit cards.

Seconds after the gavel came down on the sale of a Banksy piece at Sotheby’s for $1.3M, a hidden motor in the frame shredded the piece. The destruction of the painting increased the value of the painting which art brokers are now saying may have doubled in value. Some speculate Sotheby’s was in on the prank.

The prestigious Rooney Prize for Irish Literature awarded annually by Trinity Dublin College was awarded to one of its janitors.

Over 300 suspected Russian spies were uncovered in Europe when reporters uncovered that they had registered their cars to the address of their military dormitory in Russia.

“Your radical socialist kickboxing lesbian Indian” was how a Michael Kalny, Kansas GOP precinct committeeman, described the Democratic congressional candidate in a Facebook post. He resigned.

Researchers at MIT have simplified the Turing test to a single word that distinguishes higher level human intelligence from a computer’s artificial intelligence. That word is poop.

Researchers at a university in Melbourne have invented a new font named that has been demonstrated to increase retention. They dubbed the new font, Sans Forgetica.

Another flight was delayed (2 hours) over a disagreement on what the airline would consider an emotional support animal (squirrel).

Hunters in India tracking down a tigress suspected to have killed up to 13 people deployed an men’s cologne to flush out the man-eating big cat from the jungle. Calvin Klein Obsession for Men worked best.

Photo credit: Reddit user xsited

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Lady Gaga on Dr. Ford’s Courage

I am a sexual assault survivor. Trump the other day was speaking at a rally, and he said, ‘She has no memory of how she got to the party. Should we trust that she remembers the assault?’ And the answer is ‘yes’ … And I also know this woman is smart because she’s a psychologist – she’s no dummy. If someone is assaulted or experiences trauma, there’s science and scientific proof – it’s biology – that people change. The brain changes. What it does is it takes the trauma and it puts it in a box and it files it away and shuts it so that we can survive the pain. And it also does a lot of other things. It can cause body pain. It can cause baseline elevations in anxiety. It can cause complete avoidance of not wanting to even remember or think about what happened to you. But what I believe that have seen is that when this woman saw that Judge Kavanaugh was going to be possibly put in the highest position of power in the judicial system of this country, she was triggered, and that box opened. And when that box opened, she was brave enough to share it with the world to protect this country.

For more on the science, see Why Christine Blasey Ford Can’t Remember How She Got Home (psychologytoday.com)

The week that was (2018-10-05)

A woman in Columbia was caught having an affair she and her lover were picked up in an Uber that was driven by her husband.

China will begin construction of a replica of Shakespeare’s hometown, Stratford-upon-Avon. The real town is one of the most popular destinations for Chinese tourists visiting England.

The media really piled it on Donald Trump. Even Scientific American couldn’t help themselves.

Animal scientists were busy. We now know how giraffes get their spots and why elephants have wrinkles.

In Arkansas, a hole opened up in the ground and shot flames 12 feet into the sky and burned for 40 minutes. No one knows why but officials have “ruled out” Satan. The flames erupted in front of a billboard advertising the Baxter Regional Medical Center’s Bone & Joint Clinic who were pleased with the free publicity.

A 1926 bottle of the Macallan 60-Year-Old whisky sold at auction for $1,100,000.

Thieves in Southern Germany harvested and made off with an entire vineyard of Riesling grapes. Police suspect a rival vintner.

An elderly couple lost their way home from a short trip to the hospital in Knoxville, Tennessee. The ordeal turned into a five day trip through three states ending in Atlanta, Georgia where they were discovered by police. They are recovering at home but their relieved daughter has decided to take the car keys away.

It is now against the law for mapmakers in the United Kingdom to put the Shetland Islands “in a box.”

A global study determined that between 2011 and 2017, over 250 people have perished in “selfie-related deaths.” The study noted a sharp increase in the death rate in 2016 concurrent with the release of the “selfie stick.”

Photo credit: Reddit user Oweat10

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Ford-Kavanaugh and Truth

The clash of cultures that has been on slow boil since the election came to a frothing head last week in the back-to-back hearings of Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh. Both insisted they are absolutely correct and that those on the other side are either mistaken at best or lying under oath at worst.

In the end, after this full day of wrenching testimony before the Judiciary Committee, it feels like we’re essentially back to “he said, she said.”

Which is exactly where we were 27-years ago with Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas. Then, Hill and Thomas were stand-ins for gender and we essentially chose, “he said.”

In this case, Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh, yes they’re stand-ins for gender, but what today made so clear, they’re really stand-ins for two sides of our divided country and both sides are 100% certain that they are right.

We have been given a week for the FBI to investigate and come forward with the facts. We have a week for our institutions to take these facts and determine the truth and make the right decision on a lifetime appointment. Has a man been unfairly accused of guilt by association or has a woman been heard but ignored?

The stakes have never been higher. The nation watches and the world waits to see if our institutions survive this test and be a reliable crucible that produces truth and justice. We’ll either come out of this stronger with new found optimism or tumble into a cynicism that will infect our midterm elections in the short term and an entire generation of political hopefuls that we can rely on to lead us to make the necessary changes to address the very real challenges to the climate and our way of life.