Tag Archives: New York Times

Best Buy to customer: Did you just walk down the street and turn left?

6 Oct


Companies that monitor our cell phone, tablet and computer use are growing more and more sophisticated.

Many of us are aware that we are tracked –stalked, actually – by algorithms when we use our cell phone. Our phones are capable of telling advertisers – and I guess the government – when we get up, when we go to bed, the places we visit, what we buy, what we search for, even what we are thinking and certainly what we are saying. Now, according to an article in today’s New York Times, statistical modeling is being used to connect our cell phone use with our table use and the use of our work and home computers.

PrivacyThese devices may have absolutely no connection to each other, but heavy monitoring of digital networks, coupled with some pretty fancy math, links them and us to advertisers.

So while at work you may use your desktop to search for a Paris hotel.  Later that night, on your cell phone, you could receive an ad for the InterContinental Paris Le Grand.

As I have said before in other posts, digital communications – the Internet, apps, etc. – represent wonderful technology but also serve as the biggest con since Ponzi. The con amounts to this: Give us everything we need to effectively and dramatically market you and we will tell you who won the 1976 World Series, the best way to make waffles and the number of Academy Awards won by Robert Di Niro.

This gross invasion of privacy is both offensive and frightening, at least for me.

Maybe not so much for the guy who needs a room in Paris.

Still, there are flaws in the process.

I recently went on-line in search of a digital SLR camera. I found what I wanted and bought it. Since then, my devices have been serving up ads for digital cameras. Made me feel for sorry for the retailers who paid good money to target likely customers. The algorithms are smart, but not smart enough to know that I am among the least likely of customers.

In a way, that was quite satisfying.

By Lanny Morgnanesi

Genetic Memory: Is there a way to know what my great-great-great grandfather was thinking?

22 Aug

I’m hungry. Always hungry. And I eat fast.

I sometimes think my ancestors must have been starving peasants and that I inherited their hunger. Now it seems there is growing evidence such a thing could be true.

It’s called genetic memory. The theory is that a person can actually receive the memory of past generations in his or her genetic code.

Doreen Carvajals wrote on the subject recently in the science section of the New York Times. She was raised Catholic but learned that centuries ago her family was Jewish, living in Spain and forced to convert during the Inquisition. She seeks to find the facts to all this in her own DNA.

A journalist and author, Carvajals discusses some of the research on the theory and even mentions a video game – Assassin’s Creed  — that employs the concept.

Her piece mentions Dr. Darold A. Treffert, a psychiatrist with a list of 300 people who, after head injury or dementia, became musicians, artists and mathematicians. His belief is they taped into genetic memory to learn these skills. He calls it “factory-installed software.”

The animal world shows great evidence of this. How, for example, does a tiger raised by humans develop all the traits of a tiger? Animal behavior always stick with the animal, whether or not there is learning and instruction. We used to simply call that “instinct.” But what is “instinct?”

Maybe it’s genetic memory.

Maybe we’ve all got it, in a mostly unconscious form. It’s there for our survival and keeps us alive by telling us to avoid this danger and embrace that solution. Genetic memory seems like a wise thing to include when building life forms. Why make each generation of a species learn something over and over again?

Once is enough.

For too many people, it is easy to imagine that in a former life they were queens of Egypt or heads of European dynasties.  Genetic memory, if it exists, probably is much more subtle, almost imperceptible. It must work like background noise.

Like the noise in my stomach?

Probably not.

My sister is a disturbingly slow eater who is not really drawn to food, yet she has the same ancestors as I. When placed under mild scrutiny, the theory of my hunger and rapid eating habits is just an excuse for unenviable behavior. More plausible is that some kind of chemistry drives it.

Still, I would like to know if anyone reading has had an experience with genetic memory. The more restrained the better. Bold tales are hard to believe. More worthwhile is a recollection of some unexplained conduct that surfaced from nowhere but proved worthy if not prescient.

I look forward to hearing from such a person.

Now if you’ll excuse me I’m going for a sandwich.

Google wounds the New York Times

28 Jul

It has been said that Freedom of the Press is restricted to those who own one.

With presses being of small importance today, that dictum has lost its punch. Today, he who controls transmissions in the digital world decides who goes on stage to shout.

Case in point: The New York Times, which ironically owns a press or two, lost more than $143 million in the last quarter mainly because a digital powerhouse – Google – changed an algorithm.

Google algorithms decide what pops up when a search is done. About.com, owned by the New York Times, once had a clear channel through the Google transmission line. When it clogged, favoring others and not About, the website lost traffic and revenue and its parent, the great media giant of the past, was laid low.

Fortunes have been made and lost trying to game the all-powerful Google algorithms. The algorithms are raging rivers of commerce, with gold at the end for those who can safely and consistently navigate them.

While it is frightening to think how quickly Google can change the information landscape, it must be said that About was a low-quality content farm (yet another irony) that was trashing up Google searches. Google acted to protect itself and better serve its customers.

Free speech was at a premium when it took an expensive press to get out a message. Now this, a big change … but not a change at all.



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