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2016 (Fathom this!)


  • The future of algorithmic personalization. Interesting evaluation of the various problems of personalization.
    In the end, personalization as a concept derives from the world of industrial mass production and marketing. Maybe, in order to mark a new era of algorithmically assisted decision-making — and to emphasize the importance of personal agency — we should talk about choice algorithms instead of personalization algorithms.

Would you let an algorithm choose the next US president?

Would you let an algorithm choose the next US president? A good look at the state of AI and some of the problems it faces. I especially liked how the problem of the fluidity of our identities is examined:

Distinguishing these different layers of self-presentation and mapping them onto various social environments is an extremely challenging task for an AI, which has been trained to serve a unique user identity. There are days when even we don’t know who we are. But our AI assistants will always have an answer for us: it’s who we were yesterday. Behaviour change becomes increasingly difficult, and our use patterns and belief systems run the risk of being locked up in a self-enforcing cycle, similar to an algorithmic Groundhog Day.

When your past unequivocally dictates your future, personal development through spontaneity, open-mindedness and experimentation becomes more difficult. In this way, the notion of algorithmic determinism echoes what Winston Churchill once said about buildings: We shape our algorithms; thereafter, they shape us.


2016 is the year of VR in the same way that 1895 was the year of film

Lucid Streaming. I have no interest in virtual reality, but as a technologist, I feel like I should. This essay observes that we shouldn’t think of VR’s limitations as technical failings but rather as defining characteristics of a new medium.


  • WARC: Four data lessons from history. Includes a great story about Abraham Wald from WWII on the importance of critical thinking when turning data into insight.

Is willpower overrated?

Is willpower overrated? Achieving goals requires willpower, but this study suggested that “the students who reported experiencing fewer temptations […] achieved more goal success.”

The researchers summed their results up, thusly: “Against popular and scientific wisdom, effortful self-control did not appear to play a role in goal-pursuit, suggesting that the immediate positive consequences of exerting willpower do not translate into long-term goal success.”

  • Juozas “Joe” Kaziukenas: Becoming a CTO. “If you ever find yourself writing a blog post on why PHP sucks, you are not ready.” How’s that for a provocative opening?
    CTO is a job in business strategy, one which defines the direction of technology inside a company. It’s not the right job if you hate meetings, dealing with non-technical people and think that all managers sit all day and do nothing.
  • Ashley Baxter’s presentation Idea to launch in 11 years is fascinating. Would love to have it at Front-end London.

Yahoo Finance knew redesign would upset users

The head of Yahoo’s popular finance app says he knew the redesign was going to ‘piss some people off’. It always does.


  • NYT Magazine: The Agency. “From a nondescript office building in St. Petersburg, Russia, an army of well-paid “trolls” has tried to wreak havoc all around the Internet — and in real-life American communities.”

You are in a startup. All around is a burning runway. There are exits to the North and East…

Stef Lewandowski DM’s a text-based adventure game of startup on Twitter. Hilarious!


Evolutionary advantages of loneliness

WaPo: Loneliness can be depressing, but it may have helped humans survive.

The oxytocin receptor gene comes in several variants… For our ancestors, safety was in numbers, so evolution favored those who craved the bond with others ” and hence the GG genotype may have survived. On the other hand, the group also needed people less upset by being alone ” those who might venture far away, explore the environment ” such as the carriers of the AA genotype.


  • Parable of the polygons is an awesome interactive story on how small choices can lead to extreme changes on the system scale. A brilliant look at segregation and diversity of triangles and squares.

  • Lukas Vermeer’s talk Creating data: a boat filled with sauerkraut is a great talk that uses history to show how we should think about data science.
  • Beware of sob stories — they make suckers of us all. How stories require “a willing construction of disbelief,” meaning that “we are primed to believe them and have to make a concerted, conscious effort to do otherwise.”
    We will only verify what we hear if we are “motivated and able” to do so. What a well-told story does is circumvent the second stage of what Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert says is our default way of interpreting reality: first, we accept everything as true and only then do we reflect, question and, if necessary, correct our initial perception. If we are presented with a logical argument, we go through that precise process. If, however, we are faced with an emotional story, we get stuck at point one. We assume its truth. We are moved by it. We act on it. We don’t verify or question it. And in that presumption of faith lies narrative’s great strength — and the con artist’s great power.

What if you had the “right to buy” from a private landlord?

The Guardian: Right to buy plans floated by Corbyn backed by centre-right thinktank. The plan suggests renters would have the right to buy from private landlords.

On the surface, this sounds really outlandish. If I was a landlord I could be forced to sell my property? (The plan does outline measures to ensure that private owners wouldn’t lose money.) But if you think about it more deeply, is the “right to be a landlord” something that we as a society want to protect?

Given housing is deeply entwined with basic subsistence, making real estate a less-profitable vehicle of investing doesn’t sound like such a bad idea.

A radical plan like this is never likely to pass into legislation. And even if it did, the current property prices are so high that I can’t see it helping many people get onto the ladder in London.


  • Agile is dead, tldr: agile as a term isn’t specific enough, let’s call the way we work Continuous Delivery.

Law of triviality

Parkinson’s law of triviality comes into play when a team spends more time discussing easy problems rather than the more difficult — and more important — ones. Also called bikeshedding.


Kim Scott on how to be a better boss with radical candor

Kim Scott talks about radical candor at Cultivate. It’s 40 minutes long but oh so good. The four-by-four framework she presents is illuminating and could be the foundation of establishing and growing a feedback culture.

The axis are “care personally” and “challenge directly” and the quadrants are, from the bottom right in clockwise order, “obnoxious aggression”, “manipulative insincerity”, “ruinous empathy” and “radical candor”.

Here’s another 20 minute version of the talk and a longish write-up with the diagram as well.


  • Pricenomics: How breakfast became a thing. “You’ve probably heard that ‘breakfast is the most important meal of the day.’ What you may not know is the origin of this ode to breakfast: a 1944 marketing campaign launched by Grape Nuts manufacturer General Foods to sell more cereal.”

  • Now I Know: A Weighty Issue. How physical attributes, like the weight of an object, can influence your thinking, based on the theory of embodied cognition. I wonder if this might be part of the reason I find reading ebooks and paper books such a different experience.

What will I miss if I switch from iPhone to Android?

My limited experience with Android has left me quite cold — but after reading a review of the Samsung Galaxy S7, I’m tempted to consider the switch. What will I miss if I did?


British style guides

Style guides from BBC News, The Guardian and Observer and The Economist. Guardian also tweets about its style.


  • I cooked The Guardian’s perfect vegetarian lasagna last night. It wasn’t too bad for a first attempt. I wasn’t able to find ricotta cheese, so I substituted it with a mix of cottage cheese, soft goats’ cheese and mascarpone. I won’t do this again though, as the cottage cheese was a bit too sour. Also, in our oven at least, I will need to extend the cooking time of the aubergines and peppers (or turn them over) and shorten the time the pine nuts are roasted.

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