Category Archives: Interesting Items

Things the staff found interesting, or fun.

Researchers Find Intimate Traits in Digital Data

A basic principle underlying the digital economy is that users trade their data for convenience. For instance, Google provides search, email, and about a zillion other things for users in return for their personal information: what they like, where they go, who they talk to. Facebook does the same thing only more so, and so do other social media sites and many big corporations. We users still don’t know what they do with those vast hoards of information. We assume they sell it to advertisers, or like Google, subtly direct our attention to products that match our preferences. But we certainly can’t tell how they analyze it, and what can be found out from it. But new research just published (in PDF format) by England’s prestigious Cambridge University may give us a glimpse. And the results should give one pause, because a lot more can be found out than anyone suspected. In cooperation with Microsoft, British researchers have analyzed public data from 58,000 Facebook users who actively participated in the research. They looked at a purely public open database, Facebook Likes, where users are invited to indicate preferences and affections for just about anything. They discovered that subtle “digital traces” left in this data could indicate individual personality attributes and traits with a surprisingly high degree of accuracy. Here’s a few things they could deduce about users, and how often the information was accurate: Race – Caucasian v. African: 95% … Continue reading

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Stuck in the Slow Lane

Interesting new statistics from the Census Bureau concerning individual computer and Internet use in the US came out this week. Depressingly, they confirm that the Land of Enchantment is once again near the bottom. However, another study points out that the whole country, even many areas with the fastest and cheapest Internet access, likewise lags behind most of the developed world. The government has been tracking computer and Internet usage since 1997, but last year was the first time it ever surveyed households and individuals. The basic results were recently published in a report, Computer and Internet Use in the United States: 2013 (PDF format). And they are not too far off from what one might expect: computer and Internet usage (whether desktop, laptop, or smartphone) tends to be “highest among the young, Whites or Asians, the affluent, and the highly educated.” Which means that New Mexico, like other poor states with large minorities across the South, gets the short end of the stick. Whereas nationally 88.4% have computers  and 78.1% high speed access, New Mexico (80.9% computers, 68.1% Internet) is barely above bottom-most Mississippi (80% and 62.3%). But even in states like California and Colorado, the picture is wildly uneven. There are urban areas with high numbers of computers (Boulder, CO topping the list at 96.9% with computers) and access (Colorado Springs with 88.5% barely beaten by Corvallis, OR at 89%). Yet these, and many other Western states, have … Continue reading

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Witnessing a Technological Revolution

Technological progress is usually as visible as plants growing in a garden. That is, growth happens to everything, but so continuously and gradually incremental it can’t be observed as it occurs. Just the results get noticed from time to time. Yet occasionally there are dramatic moments where something new bursts forth like an unexpected sprout from the soil, and affects all around it. Recently, as I have been a few times before, I was privileged to witness just as such a breaking point, a technological leap that vividly illustrates the way the world is going. It was a demonstration of the nature of progress at this time in history, and a harbinger of things to come. A tale of two crowns Last month, a tooth fell apart and I had to go in for a new dental crown. The procedure was the same as it had been the several times I had it done before. Flexible molds were made of the tooth from which a temporary crown was cast right there. Another mold was sent to a laboratory, which made a plaster cast which was then used to create the permanent crown. So back I come for another visit. Yet my dentist is a true perfectionist, and wasn’t satisfied with how it fit next to the remaining teeth, so he sent it back to the lab to be redone.  So a temp crown had been put in, taken out, and … Continue reading

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