The week that was (08-30-19)

The US military is working on a new type of material that can, on command, vaporize immediately.

A huge raft of floating pumice is making its way slowly from the southwest Pacific Ocean to California.

Do you like cheese? Costco will sell you an entire 72-pound wheel of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese for $900.

The chicken sandwich wars kicked into litigious territory when a customer filed a civil suit against Popeye’s because they sold out of their famous delicacy.

An ISIS fighter was killed by his own drone bomb when the delivery vehicle ran low on battery power and returned home for a recharge.

With Hurricane Dorian due to make landfall on Labor Day, someone in Miami had the foresight to ask Lime to clear the streets of all its scooters lest they become flying Lime projectiles.

Reports of the death of SF Fog Cam were greatly exaggerated.

Photo credit: Taken by photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt at a children’s puppet show. Taken at the exact moment the dragon was slain.


The week that was (08-23-19)

A Colorado middle school made national news with their “Emergency Go Buckets” fitted with kitty litter so kids can relieve themselves while on lockdown.

Antonio Basco and Margie Reckard recently moved to El Paso and had yet to make any friends. When Margie was killed in the recent mass shooting, Antonio was worried no one would show up. Word got out and hundreds showed up.

After 25 years of faithful service, the world’s oldest, continually operated webcam shut down in San Francisco.

The Proud Boys marched into Portland (Oregon). Before they could mix it up with the anti-fascist protesters waiting for them, police diverted them back over the Hawthorne Bridge which also steered them away from the 12th annual Corgi Walk.

The Amazon jungle is on fire and Greenland mourned the death of a glacier.

In England, a woman was arrested for putting her recycling in the wrong colored garbage bag.

Luxury label Dior jumped on the reusable straw bandwagon with hand-painted, hand-blown glass straws that are “crafted to be the ultimate luxury accessory to help you make a sustainable effort.” A set of six will set you back $150.

The California city of Antioch was overrun by bunnies. “It went from seven to 10 to about 50 rabbits just all over the neighborhood. And then from there it started to not be cute anymore.”

A herd of air mattresses were last seen fleeing the across a field in Denver when a strong wind liberated them from an outdoor movie night.

Photo credit: Reddit user Smashycomman


The week that was (08-16-19)

The ACLU ran a photo of every California state legislator through a facial-recognition program that matches facial images to a database of 25,000 criminal mugshots and got positive matches on 26 lawmakers.

It rained grasshoppers in Las Vegas and plastic in the Rocky Mountains. There’s so much plastic out there it’s getting into our food, so, hey, we might as well eat grasshoppers too. (props to Frank Gruber)

A woman in Brooklyn, prompted to name her WiFi access point, looked around her kitchen for inspiration and entered, “Old Bay Seasoning.” The rest is history.

Two designers used the grotesquely twisted geographic boundaries of gerrymandered US voting districts to make a new alphabetic font.

New Yorkers gathered enough signatures to have the City Council look into renaming the stretch of 5th Avenue in front of Trump Tower to the name of his nemesis, changing the address to 725 Barack H. Obama Avenue and forever annoying the President.

In California’s Central Valley, a semi carrying 80,000 pounds of peaches slammed into a box truck carrying a load of koi goldfish. It was not pretty.

A weather station in the Arctic Circle recorded temperatures of 94.6 degrees Fahrenheit, smashing all previous records.

The Cult West Warriors defeated the Maple City Magic to win their fourth straight title at the World Wiffle Ball Championships in a historic, extra-innings final.

Photo credit: Reddit user: britainunwrapped


Invisible Filter Bubbles

This did not occur to me. As an algorithm gets better at recommending content that matches and reinforces what a community is looking for, the negative complaints go down which makes it harder for someone outside (such as platform moderators) the filter bubble from detecting these closed communities in the first place.

The algorithm is doing what it was designed to do but without any moral compass, its overall contribution to society is questionable.

Here’s someone who worked on the YouTube algorithm commenting on this (emphasis mine).

Using recommendation algorithms, YouTube’s AI is designed to increase the time that people spend online. Those algorithms track and measure the previous viewing habits of the user—and users like them—to find and recommend other videos that they will engage with.

In the case of the pedophile scandal, YouTube’s AI was actively recommending suggestive videos of children to users who were most likely to engage with those videos. The stronger the AI becomes—that is, the more data it has—the more efficient it will become at recommending specific user-targeted content.

Here’s where it gets dangerous: As the AI improves, it will be able to more precisely predict who is interested in this content; thus, it’s also less likely to recommend such content to those who aren’t. At that stage, problems with the algorithm become exponentially harder to notice, as content is unlikely to be flagged or reported. In the case of the pedophilia recommendation chain, YouTube should be grateful to the user who found and exposed it. Without him, the cycle could have continued for years.

The Toxic Potential of YouTube’s Feedback Loop

The week that was

A French inventor flew across the English channel on a hoverboard.

Chase Bank, anxious to exit the Canadian market, took a write off and forgave all outstanding credit card debt on it’s accounts. This move flabbergasted the Canadians who followed up to ask if they should declare their unexpected windfall as income on their taxes.

Several nations have issued travel advisories warning citizens not to travel to the United States due to the rash of mass shootings. Back here in America, the random violence has given rise to a new type of back-to-school item, the bullet-resistant backpack.

“Honorable Speaker, one of us has polluted the air and I know who it is,” pronounced one member of the Kenyan regional assembly as a loud fart had disrupted the debate and the foul smell required everyone to step outside to “clear the air.”

A tornado touched down in. . . Amsterdam.

An Israeli spacecraft crashed into the moon, spilling a payload of thousands of tardigrades, also known as “water bears” the toughest animal in the known universe.

Amazon deployed robots to deliver Amazon packages on the streets of Southern California.

63,133 rubber duckies were dumped into the Chicago River.

Photo credit: Reddit user FiggityFudger


Distribution without tears

Written somewhere over Kansas on the way to WordCamp for Publishers. Please look me up if you want to chat about this post.

This is a shameless pitch for a plugin to WordPress my company just published but there are also broader ideas proposed here and I would love your feedback.

SmartNews is a mobile news aggregation app. The backend tech is pretty nifty. It uses machine learning and what we call a “discovery algorithm” to expose users to new points of view that they might not see if they are using a social network or personalized news service to read their news. You can read more about that stuff here, that’s not what this blog post is about.

SmartNews aggregates news from our partners. If we have no news, we have nothing for our users to read. While it’s possible to crawl the web and pull in stories as we find them on the open web, we would prefer a relationship with each of our publishing partners so they send us their articles and feel in control of how their content is used by SmartNews. We want our partners to feel as if the SmartNews app is an extension of their CMS. If our partners are not successful, neither will SmartNews.

While we do send traffic to our publishers (lots of it) that’s not the only benefit we offer. We have architected the product to offer a snappier, native view (think of Safari or Chrome’s reader mode) of the articles. Because this view is hosted on our app, our users can read while offline. The SmartView page in SmartNews was designed to serve the subway commuter in Tokyo where signals were spotty.

But we wanted to make sure publishers had a benefit when readers chose to read their articles via the SmartView page. Thus the SmartFormat feed spec was born. SmartFormat is a simple variant of the RSS standard with a couple new elements to provide greater portability of not only a publisher’s articles but also their advertising and analytics.

The <snf:advertisement> element lets publishers provide an ad tag which we run on the SmartView page. Because this is the publisher’s ad tag, the publisher keeps 100% of the revenue.

The <snf:analytics> element lets the publisher send along the analytics bug so they can include SmartView pageviews in the total pageviews that they see on their dashboard.

Combined, both the <snf:advertisment> and <snf:analytics> allow for portability of not only content but also advertising. Now when a publisher distributes a full text feed to SmartNews they also are distributing the monetization and analtyics footprint as well. While other platforms require you to opt in to revenue shares on the platform’s advertising and analytics, SmartNews lets you use and optimize your own, dynamically, on a feed endpoint you control.

Now to the fun part. If you’re running on WordPress, we have a simple plugin that will open up two text boxes, one for and one for and will build a SmartFormat feed compliant with the SmartFormat feed spec. In order to get distribution on SmartNews, all you have to do is apply to be a publisher on SmartNews, install the plug-in, then you’re ready to go!

Settings page of SmartNews SmartFormat plugin

As for the broader proposal, I was curious (and I could very well be looking in the wrong places) why no one has attempted to extend RSS in this way before? Feedburner had something where they injected Google Ads into their RSS feeds but it never really took off because those ads only ran in the feed or feedreader, not on the downstream aggregation sites or platforms. As much as I am loath to try and extend a standard, wouldn’t it benefit publishers to have a place where they can add their ad tag, analytics scripts, and even subscription CTAs so that the business travels along with the editorial?

<snf:advertisement> and <snf:analytics> work great for SmartNews but what about extending it for others? The more platforms that accept this extended feed, the more incentive there is for publishers to create these feeds. Seems like the classic win-win all around. Besides the bureaucratic lift of trying to extend a “standard” such as RSS am I missing something?

NOTE: The SmartFormat plugin for WordPress is available for download on

Thanks to @MrYhira for the inspiration for this plugin.


The week that was (08-02-19)

Smugglers in Belgium, who locked themselves in a container to keep their shipment of cocaine safe, had to call the police to bust them out when they overheated during the heatwave.

Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission had to dial back the open season on invasive green iguanas when someone was accidentally shot in the leg by an over-enthusiastic iguana hunter. “This is not the wild west,” said the agency in a statement.

Arlene Kaganove of Chicago just wanted her free birthday bagel from Panera. When she clicked on her emailed reward, scammers pounced and tried to extort her into paying them off in bitcoin or they would reveal her porn-watching behavior. “They told me I have very good taste in porn so I thought that was nice,” Arlene said. Arlene is 86

The Snyder Volunteer Fire Department was in a spot of trouble when their fire truck, caught fire so they had nothing to put it out.

Seth Maddox of Geraldine, Alabama, won the Microsoft Office Specialist Powerpoint National Championship.

Chase Bank signed a five-year deal with a new advertising firm that uses computer software to write ad copy.

Japan approved research to grow human organs in rat and mouse embryos “to produce animals with organs made of human cells that can, eventually, be transplanted into people.” Not to be outdone, a Spanish researcher working with a team in China is injecting human stem cells into monkey embryos.

China’s craze for controlling society with facial recognition technology has extended to trash can monitors that make sure people are sorting recyclables correctly.

All complex systems need the occasional reboot to clear out the proverbial cobwebs. The ol’ “turn it off and turn it back on again” is the oldest trick in the book for anyone who has worked in tech support. Airbus is now using this technique as part of standard operating procedure if you own their $300 million Airbus A350.