Monthly Archives: January 2019

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Last week in a company blog post, YouTube informed its approximately 2 billion users that it would begin to change how recommendations function, reducing instances of content that “comes close to—but doesn’t quite cross the line of—violating our Community Guidelines.” What defines “borderline” content, and who does the defining? That’s where things get hazy. It’s laudable to attempt transparency with a user base the size of YouTube’s. The recommendation algorithm is a black box anyhow, and theoretically, the platform could have been overhauled it without prior notice. Content that’s nearly over the line but technically kosher has been shown, on Facebook anyway, to be rewarded with more engagement—an bug in the system that plenty of users are happy to exploit. Taking action to level the playing field, it can be argued, is a step in the right direction for YouTube, which has been accused of unwittingly nudging young users down extremist rabbit holes, specifically through […]

Popular music is shrinking. From 2013 to 2018, the average song on the Billboard Hot 100 fell from 3 minutes and 50 seconds to about 3 minutes and 30 seconds. Six percent of hit songs were 2 minutes 30 seconds or shorter in 2018, up from just 1% five years before. Take Kendrick Lamar. One of the world’s most popular musicians right now. The average track length on Lamar’s breakout 2013 album good kid, m.A.A.d city is 5 minutes 37 seconds. All are 3 minutes 30 seconds or longer. On Lamar’s most recent album DAMN., the average song is 3 minutes and 57 seconds. DAMN. won the Pulitzer Prize for music, going to show that this trend isn’t necessarily lowering the quality of music. It’s not just Lamar. The trend can be seen in albums of music’s biggest stars, like the rapper and singer Drake, perhaps pop music’s most dominant force. Unlike Lamar, Drake’s albums […]

My relationship with the words “I’m sorry” changed drastically last year in a crowded New York restaurant. It was one of those places with dark walls and $15 cocktails, and six of us were squeezed into a table in the back. We were halfway through our bread basket when the friend who’d organized the dinner told us her old friend had decided to join last minute. The uptight side of me I work very hard to hide quietly panicked. Where will he sit? Are the servers going to get mad? Play it cool. When her friend arrived 20 minutes later, the group of us engaged in a speed round of musical chairs to find him a spot, and the music stopped on me: “Haley would you mind taking this seat? I’m so sorry.” My friend was signaling to a chair — a classic Worst Seat: little to no table access, […]

We’re all used to the notion of proving our identity in the physical world. We present driver’s licenses and passports as needed as a matter of course. The facts on the identity document, like our age, are considered verified because we trust our government to have checked them somehow. In the digital realm, things are more complicated. We need to provide an identity to every website where we want to establish some type of relationship. That can be as simple as the site using a tracking cookie to remember us from one visit to another, as mundane and annoying as setting up a login and password combination unique to that site, or as complicated as having to submit “real-world” documents to prove something about ourselves. Federated Identities: From the Frying Pan Into the Fire Because it’s painful to create new identities from scratch, internet giants Facebook, Google, and Amazon have […]

A cold rain beat down recently on the boarded-up cinder-block homes and empty factories of Smiths Falls, Ontario, melting the last snows in this industrial town about an hour south of Ottawa. One parking lot was full, however. Inside a shuttered chocolate factory, it is artificial summer for the marijuana crop of the largest cannabis company in the world, Canopy Growth. In brightly lit, high-tech “grow rooms,” Canopy is preparing for the expected legalization of recreational cannabis this year in Canada—the first industrialized nation to do so at the federal level. Workers in lab coats harvest, trim, and package Canopy’s Tweed-brand products, then store them in a giant vault whose heavy door would do a bank proud. It is a scene being repeated by companies across Canada, which wants to become the Silicon Valley of recreational pot. Canada’s experiment is being closely watched by other countries, including the U.S., where […]

WHAT YOU SEE IS WHAT YOU GET Mind time cannot be measured on a watch. Mind time and clock time are two totally different things. They flow at varying rates. The chronological passage of the hours, days, and years on clocks and calendars is a steady, measurable phenomenon. Yet our perception of time shifts constantly, depending on the activities we’re engaged in, our age, and even how much rest we get. An upcoming paper in the journal European Review by Duke University mechanical engineering professor Adrian Bejan, explains the physics behind changing senses of time and reveals why the years seem to fly by the older we get.  (The paper, sent to Quartz by its author, has been peer-reviewed, edited, and has been approved for publication but a date has not yet been set.) Bejan is obsessed with flow and, basically, believes physics principles can explain everything. He has written extensively about how the […]

One of the great mysteries of modern cosmology is how our universe can be so thermally uniform—the vast cosmos is filled with the lingering heat of the Big Bang. Over time, it has cooled to a few degrees above absolute zero, but it can still be seen in the faint glow of microwave radiation, known as the cosmic microwave background. In any direction we look, the temperature of this cosmic background is basically the same, varying by only tiny amounts. But according to the standard “cold dark matter” model of cosmology, there wasn’t enough time for hotter and cooler regions of the early universe to even out. Even today we would expect parts of the cosmic background to be much warmer than others, but that isn’t what we observe. One solution to this cosmological problem is known as early inflation. If the observable universe was extremely tiny in its earliest […]

The Egg Thief For decades Jeffrey Lendrum helicoptered up and rappelled down to aeries on cliff faces from Patagonia to Quebec, snatching unhatched raptors and selling them, investigators believe, to wealthy Middle Eastern falconers. This week in London, one of the most bizarre criminals in modern history goes on trial for the fourth time. Here is his story. Just before noon on May 3, 2010, John Struczynski, a janitor at Birmingham Airport in the British Midlands, observed something peculiar. A balding, middle-aged passenger had entered the shower room in the Emirates Airlines first-class departure lounge and emerged after what seemed like a long time. But when Struczynski stepped inside the facility to check it, he saw that the shower and floor were bone-dry. Then he noticed, at the bottom of a diaper bin, a cardboard carton containing a single egg, dyed blood red. Mystified, and suspecting that something illegal was […]

Corporate metrics want to extract productivity from everything — even your dreams Image: Evidence of Time Travel by John Karborn. Courtesy the artist. The worthiest human efforts are those intellectual pursuits that specifically seek the uninterrupted delimiting of infinity into convenient, easily digestible portions. Yevgeny Zamyatin’s Critics may worry about algorithmic surveillance, but my university students often complain to me that their computational companions — Spotify, Netflix, Google Maps, Amazon, FitBit, or Apple Watch — don’t know them as well as they should. My students are frustrated, they tell me, when they get a Spotify or Netflix recommendation they don’t like or a seemingly inaccurate number of steps from their fitness trackers. Despite all the negative attention tech companies have received recently, this attitude may still be more pervasive than skepticism. Whether we admit it to ourselves or not, it is often taken for granted that computational products should be able to measure us […]

“Boundaries are a part of self-care. They are healthy, normal, and necessary.” ~Doreen Virtue I still have the journal entry that sparked my journey into boundary-setting. It says, in striking black pen, “I wish I could speak my truth. If I can learn to speak my truth before I die, I will die a happy woman.” Dramatic? Maybe. But I was tired of being a pushover, a people-pleaser. I’d written it the day after I’d been the recipient of unwanted advances at a bar. For thirty minutes, a stranger had engaged me in aggressive conversation, peppered in flirtation, and slipped his bony hand around my waist. I’d tolerated his behavior with a fake smile before escaping to the bathroom. As often used to happen, I couldn’t speak up for myself. I’d waited in silence, hoping the man would mind-read my discomfort and give me space. The next morning, I took […]

Photo “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” — Max Planck, German quantum theorist and Nobel Prize winner There are two primary mental shifts that occur in the lives of all highly successful people. Many make the first, but very few make the second. Both of these shifts require a great deal of mental stretching from conventional and societal ways of thinking. In many ways, these shifts require you to unlearn the negative and sabotaging programming from your youth, public education, and even adulthood. The foundation of the first shift is the sublime power of choice and individual responsibility. Once a you make this shift, you are empowered to pull yourself from poverty of time, finances, and relationships. In other words, the first shift allows you to create a happy and prosperous life, where, for the most part, you control how and on what […]