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Ducks in a Row: The Education of Google Translate

Tuesday, December 20th, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/demiace/190365145/

If you’re a regular reader you know I’m not a big Google fan. Google isn’t all bad or all good, but, as with any entity, a mix of both.

Their most recent big score on the good side is the effort to reduce, or at least not promote, fake news.

Google engineers and executives are disturbed by how its algorithm promotes offensive and fake content on the web — such as a Holocaust denial site reaching the top result for certain searches about the Holocaust — and they are doing something about it, search expert and editor of Search Engine Land Danny Sullivan reports.

In a different vein is the article KG sent that’s in the pattern of Tracy Kidder’s fascinating looks at the stories behind major technology developments.

It’s the story of the people and effort to radically change Google translate using AI.

Late one Friday night in early November, Jun Rekimoto, a distinguished professor of human-computer interaction at the University of Tokyo, was online preparing for a lecture when he began to notice some peculiar posts rolling in on social media. Apparently Google Translate, the company’s popular machine-translation service, had suddenly and almost immeasurably improved. Rekimoto visited Translate himself and began to experiment with it. He was astonished. He had to go to sleep, but Translate refused to relax its grip on his imagination.

It’s not a book, but it is a long article — long, fascinating and well worth your time to read.

Which is why this post is very short.

I sincerely hope you will take time to read both articles.

Flickr image credit: JC

If the Shoe Fits: Talent, Revenue and Bias

Friday, December 9th, 2016

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mIf generating revenue is high on your list of important stuff, then knowing your market should be right up there, too.

Actually, the knowing needs to come first.

There is no way a 20-something, white male from an even slightly privileged background knows, let alone understands, the needs/preferences/desires of a Gen Xer, Boomer or older, let alone those of a different gender, race or economic status.

IDEO not only understands that, it hires accordingly and enjoys big payoffs.

The problem is bias.

Google is one company that has recognized the reality of bias and is actively working to counter it, as is Silicon Valley Bank.

The bank has already undergone unconscious bias training globally, which involves exercises including splitting into groups and assessing the merits of four different résumés, only to return to find they belonged to the same candidate — just with different names and genders attached. (…) with female names, for example, the groups were more likely to question the candidates’ credentials.

But it may go much further.

It is considering whether to remove names from job candidates’ résumés in a bid to prevent unconscious bias from its recruiters.

Bias is a serious problem, but you’ll never win against it if you believe that ‘they’ are biased and you are not.

It also helps to understand that bias, whether genetic or cultural heritage, is hardwired in our brain.

As a founder, you have the ability to shape the values, culture and bias of your company.

And you need to do it intentially.

Image credit: HikingArtist

How to be Dumb as Google

Wednesday, October 26th, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/ficusrock/5716144109/

When it comes to hiring, as Forrest Gump would say, “stupid is as stupid does.”

And stupid is using recruiters who think the only “right” answer to a technical question is the one written on a sheet of paper. (Note that “technical” can refer to the specifics of any field, although in this case it was software.)

No knowledge or understanding of the subject; just the blind focus on the written words — kind of like talking to customer service when the rep keeps repeating their script no matter how you phrase the question — and no recognition that they may wrong.

The call started off well but as the interview progressed, Guathier got an increasing number of questions wrong. His frustration grew as he tried to discuss the answers with the Google recruiter only to find that the recruiter wanted the exact answer in the test book even if alternative solutions were better.

The company is Google and it should be noted that they approached the candidate, as opposed to his applying.

Way back in 2007 Google announce that they had developed an algorithm to screen candidates.

It didn’t work.

Google was also famous for its brain-teaser questions.

Only, according to Lazlo Block, SVP of People Operations, they are a lousy predictor of success.

“Part of the reason is that those are tests of a finite skill, rather than flexible intelligence which is what you actually want to hire for.”

The value of elite colleges and high grades was publically debunked in a 2013 story about the prevalence of grade inflation.

Not all Google’s efforts fall in the stupid category; block’s efforts to educate both management and workers about bias is definitely a smart move.

But locking technically ignorant recruiters into accepting only set responses to tech question rates right up there with algorithms and brain-teasers. And I say this as someone who was a tech recruiter for more than 12 years.

Of course, managers’ interviewing skills won’t matter, since  the best, most knowledgeable, most creative candidates will be screened out before they ever see them.

Image credit: Chris Pond

URGENT: In Case You aren’t Aware…

Wednesday, August 31st, 2016

Goggle may be phishing paradise

A security researcher found a problem in Google’s own login page that could allow a hacker to easily steal people’s passwords — and the company apparently isn’t too worried about fixing it.

Whereas Apple fixed an iOS security flaw in hours

Security firm Lookout announced on Thursday that it discovered a major security flaw that exploits iOS and can give a third party complete control over your iPhone.

But 86% of users haven’t applied the patch.

If you are one of them fix it at Settings > General > Software Update.

Ducks in a Row: Perks that Work

Tuesday, August 16th, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/allenthepostman/2223927152/

Free food. Free in-office massages. On-site dry cleaning. Concierge services. The list goes on…

These perks are so easily copied, not to mention prevalent in certain industries, that they hardly qualify as retention policy, AKA, people holders.

Are these really the perks on which to spend your money?

Think about it and consider far more dynamic policies that others are doing.

After every seven years of service, employees become eligible for a six-to-eight week paid sabbatical, which they can use to spend time with their families, travel, and accomplish longstanding personal goals — no strings attached.

Aarstol believes that a shortened workday could motivate employees to work more efficiently. And he is proving to be right through his own company, Tower Paddle Boards, which continues to expand, even after a year of rolling out the five-hour workday. Last year, it was named the fastest-growing private company in San Diego. Aarstol even published a book titled “The Five Hour Workday” this month.

REI, for example, gives its employees two paid days off a year, called “Yay Days,” to enjoy their favorite outside activity. The World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) takes every other Friday off, coining those “Panda Fridays.” We also give our employees every other Friday off — and we pay them for it. We call it the “18-Day Work Month,” and we truly believe it’s the key to a more productive workforce.

Gusto, a startup with 300 employees in San Francisco and Denver, just became the first midsize company in the US to cover fertility treatments in a way that will help single women and same-sex couples, according to Cigna.

However, some of the best perks cost the company nothing.

SEI made Forbes’ 2016 Best Small Companies list earlier this year, in part because of its unusual employee goal-setting policy. Twice a year managers meet with reports who lay out goals, including compensation, and SEI pledges to support employees’ wishes.

The main point: this is not a high-profile kind of job at Facebook, not a developer building a feature that will be used by millions, nor an engineer working on some of Facebook’s moonshot projects like its solar-powered drone or Internet.org.
“At Facebook we believe that ‘Nothing at Facebook is somebody else’s problem’ — it’s yours,” she writes. “I’m tasked with finding creative, innovative and realistic solutions for my clients, even if it has never been done before.”
In other words, she feels a sense of empowerment.
In fact, academic research shows that there’s a strong correlation between job satisfaction and employee empowerment. People who are given the freedom to solve problems in their own creative ways simply like their jobs and their companies better.

In fact, it’s the willingness of management to help their people function at their highest level, grow and succeed, i.e., a manager who cares, that is worth more than most tangible perks.

Flickr image credit: allen watkin

Fighting Back: Google and You

Wednesday, May 25th, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/lamerie/501994750/

Like porn, privacy evil seems to be in the eye of the beholder (me), but not in Google’s eye.

I’ve written in the past about the fluidity of evil and the privacy difference between Apple and the rest (Google, Facebook, etc.)

Now I see that Google is going above and beyond in the name of “user convenience.”

Google will need to convince people that having AI manage your life is more convenient than it is creepy.

I get that many of you like the idea and have no problem with suggestions and tracking, etc., so you may have no interest past this point.

But those of you who consider tracking more akin to stalking and are happily capable of managing your own life/world will find the following truly valuable.

In a truly informative and useful article Business Insider provides links so you can see what Google knows about you.

Better yet, it walks you through how to delete and control how Google uses it and what it sells to third parties.

It’s a long way from the privacy Europe enjoys, but it’s sure better than nothing.

Thanks, BI!

Image credit: Lamerie

Ducks in a Row: Deleting Your Google History

Tuesday, May 10th, 2016

 

https://www.flickr.com/photos/ephoto/6139060786/How would you feel if someone constantly followed you and then shared that info with friends?

Would it bother you more if the info was sold for cash?

Would you report your stalkers? Or at least find a way to stop them?

Essentially, that’s what Google does.

It follows you on your jaunts around your cyber-world and both shares and sells that info.

Remembered the last time you surfed around looking for a particular product and then found ads for the same thing on every page you looked at for months afterwards?

What many of us consider commercial stalking Google and others call “improving the user experience.”

For decades, our Congress, in its infinite wisdom, has pooh-poohed the idea of any kind of privacy policy, such as Europe has, saying it would hamper growth.

My solution is using the DuckDuckGo search engine that doesn’t track you, or for total anonymity I use ixquick.

But what can you do if you’re addicted to Google and have been using it for years?

You can say thanks to Business Insider and use the step-by-step, illustrated instructions for deleting your history preventing continuing surveillance that they recently provided.

its-not-easy-to-find-your-web-and-app-activity-page-you-must-be-logged-in-to-google-to-see-it-once-logged-in-go-to-httpshistorygooglecomhistory-and-click-on-all-time.jpg

The funny thing is that what most people want is choice, i.e., the ability to easily opt out when a search is extremely sensitive — by their definition, not a third party’s.

And, at the end, since it’s all about money, perhaps if enough people opt out Google will change its approach and give you a simple way to decide who is privy to what in your own little corner of cyberspace.

Or, an even more heretical idea, pay you for it use.

Image credit: E Photos and Business Insider

Golden Oldies: Coming or Going?

Monday, April 18th, 2016

It’s amazing to me, but looking back over the last decade of writing I find posts that still impress, with information that is as useful now as when it was written. Golden Oldies is a collection of what I consider some of the best posts during that time.

I was reminded of this particular post when I read two Harvard articles, How to Hire a Millennial and What Do Millennials Really Want at Work? The Same Things the Rest of Us Do. It’s been such a joke to me ever since the Millennials hit the marketplace. Reading/hearing and working with clients, all freaking out on how to attract a workforce so different from the Boomers and Gen X. Ha! I said it then and Harvard says it now — people of any age pretty much want the same things from their employers; nothing new except how long they’ll wait to get them. Read other Golden Oldies here.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/shinazy/7310391140/Bosses across the spectrum are wringing their hands and worrying about creating an environment that will attract and retain young workers, while still motivating and retaining the rest.

It would be amusing to watch them try and jump through the required hoops if it wasn’t so sad.

Sad because so many of the required behaviors aren’t new.

The Millennials are demanding what people have wanted all along.

Yes, there are differences between what Millennials, Gen-X and Boomers want, but the important cultural basics are the same.

The biggest difference is patience, i.e., how long they will stay when not getting what they want?

Millennials want their work to matter; they want to be heard, recognized, challenged, mentored and grow.

Correcting for descriptive language, there is nothing new on that list from what good workers have wanted for decades.

So what changed; why is it so imperative now?

Partly the numbers.

In America its staff are young: 62% are from Generation Y, 29% are from Generation X and just 9% are baby-boomers.

But mostly the impatience. The young vote with their feet far more easily than older workers because they have less to lose—no mortgage, no kids and responsible only for themselves—and the economy improves Gen-X and the Boomers will also vote more quickly with their feet.

Google is often portrayed as the embodiment of millennial-friendly work practices. But Laszlo Bock, a human-resources chief at the internet firm, points out that it has workers as old as 83. And he argues that the only thing different about Generation Y is that it is actually asking for the things that everybody else wants.

The improving economy is a sword over every boss who considers talent replaceable and, therefore, expendable.

Bosses don’t need Google-style perks to hire and keep great talent, but they do need to create a culture that provides the intangible wants, whether in synergy with or in spite of what their company does.

Flickr image credit: Bitchin’ Ol’ Boomer Babe

 

Why NOT to Trust Your Apps

Wednesday, April 13th, 2016

When I in college, I remember discussing a newspaper story with my aunts. I remember saying that I didn’t believe something and my aunts saying that if something wasn’t true it would not be in the paper.

They really believed that, because in the world they grew up and lived in it was mostly was true.

Fast forward to today and you find the same attitude being applied to the information supplied by the tech they use.

They don’t question the stuff supplied by various apps, especially if it’s from known vendors.

Vendors such as MaxMind.

Maxmind identifies IP addresses, matches them to a map and sells that data to advertisers.

Trouble is, accuracy isn’t their strong point.

Back in 2002, when it started in this business, Fusion reports, MaxMind made a decision. If its tech couldn’t tell where, exactly, in the US, an IP address was located, it would instead return a default set of coordinates very near the geographic center of the country — coordinates that happen to coincide with Taylor’s front yard.

Taylor is the unfortunate owner of a farm that sits on one of those catch-all co-ordinates.

And although the info isn’t supposed to be used to identify specific addresses, surprise, surprise, that’s exactly how people do use it, law enforcement included.

The farm’s 82-year-old owner, Joyce Taylor, and her tenants have been subject to FBI visits, IRS collectors, ambulances, threats, and the release of private information online, she told Fusion.

As bad as that is, at least the Taylor’s still have their home, unlike the two families who are homeless because a contractor assumed Google maps was correct, so he didn’t check the demolition addresses.

Unbelievable.
Unbelievable that they accepted the tech without checking.
Unbelievable that they first called it a minor mistake.
Unbelievable that the owners aren’t suing.

Video credit: Business Insider

Foolish Google’s Mic Drop Day

Wednesday, April 6th, 2016

http://www.bufale.net/home/pesce-daprile-gmail-mic-drop-ho-ragione-io-pescedaprile/

Google is supposedly packed with smart, above-average-intelligence people who are savvy to the ways of users.

Assuming that’s true, one wonders why they violated the number one caveat of software for their traditional April Fool’s Day fun by changing Gmail’s long-used UI (emphasis mine).

The premise of the joke was simple. In Gmail, next to the standard “Reply” button, Google added a “Mic drop” button. Using it would reply to the email, archive it — and also add a GIF of a “Despicable Me” minion dropping a mic. (…) Its placement directly next to the default Reply button — replacing the “Send and archive” button — meant it was easy to click by accident, especially if a user didn’t understand what it was.

Unbelievable. Even non-biz people know you don’t change long-used/well-loved anything (think Coke/New Coke), especially without warning, and expect your users/customers not to react strongly and, most often, negatively.

Especially as a joke.

Google’s product forums are full of furious users claiming they pressed the button by accident, often on important professional emails.

If you think Gmail “Mic Drop” stories of lost jobs/opportunities/etc can’t be true, remember: there are 900m Gmail users. It was live 12hrs. — Charles Arthur (@charlesarthur) April 1, 2016

Doing this was stupid, but Google’s response made it worse by totally ignoring user feedback and blaming a bug.

In a statement, a company representative said: “Well, it looks like we pranked ourselves this year. Due to a bug, the MicDrop feature inadvertently caused more headaches than laughs. We’re truly sorry. The feature has been turned off. If you are still seeing it, please reload your Gmail page.”

How’s that for uncaring, it’s-not-our-fault, smug and inane?

Perhaps Google should have renamed itself Arrogance instead of Alphabet.

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