The Free-Range Technologist April 2021 🌦️
Sharing the Things I'm Learning & Using
The Days are Just Packed
Spring has sprung, and the world seems to be bouncing back to life as infection rates drop and vaccinations increase. April and May are the time for meetings and workshops, and while they are still all virtual, I will be giving just as many—if not more—workshops and talks in the next two months. Click on the image below to jump to the deals on my website!
Discoveries and Lifehacks
💾App: Text Expander
In my ever-expanding effort to eliminate repetitive tasks, I decided to re-evaluate my options for text expansion. Text Expansion is when you type a small unique sequence of letters, symbols, or numbers (called a snippet), and your computer instantly substitutes that string with a predefined phrase. So when I type "zdrop" it substitutes “zdrop” for "Here is a dropbox folder with the slides from my presentation. Let me know if you have issues opening or if you want me to share some other way (google, box, etc.) ."
There are several ways to expand text using the tools built into windows and OSX, but they are a little clunky. I found that many folks recommended the Text Expander service, and after a 30 days trial, I decided it was worth the money for a subscription.
Text Expander is relatively cheap and synchronizes expansion "snippets" across multiple devices, and it works in all my programs (messages, WhatsApp, word, emails, etc.). Enabling suggestions will cause it to watch what you are typing and when it sees that you type the exact phrase several times, it will make a suggestion to turn that into a snippet. It also works with my project management software Asana, so I can quickly enter subtasks or comments. For more details on all the ways, you can use TextExpander, check out this video from Paul Minors.
Website Link: TextExpander
📹 Device: IPEVO 4K Document Camera
This cute little document camera has been an excellent tool for teaching from home or for meetings when a little paper-based brainstorming is needed. It's relatively cheap, just a little bit over $100, offers 4k video, and very simple controls. I have tried a couple of others in this price range but had problems. This camera just plugs and plays!.
All the electronics are built into the very top of the device. One could take the camera off and use it with a different mount or one of your designs. Zoom is manual; you adjust it up and down. It is very portable, and I can see taking it along on study abroad trips in the future. It works well with a ring light but doesn't need one. I have been using it regularly for over six months with my classes as we work through problems.
The video from the IPEVO shows the basic features and use.
Amazon Link: IPEVO 4K
Manufacturer's Web Site: IPEVO Site
🎧 Website: Listen Notes
Understanding data about the distribution and listenership of a podcast is complex, and if you are not the one producing the podcast, the data is almost impossible to get. There are multiple platforms for podcast distribution, which with their unique ways of reporting data about a podcast or an episode. Podcast creators can self-report the data about their podcast listenership but rarely do unless they have something to brag about.
Compared with the relative transparency of YouTube (views, likes, etc.), podcast popularity is opaque. However, that comparison is not entirely fair; rampant bots and fake users pollute youTube stats. As far as I know, there are not sites where you can purchase "listeners" for your podcasts, but I am sure that is coming.
Listen Notes is the one site that I have found to help understand podcast listenership, popularity, and other stats. It also allows you to search for podcasts and podcast episodes and then download those audio files to your computer. Podcasts don't have the same network effects as other platforms or media (the usefulness of a podcast doesn't increase the more people listen to it), so I think that we'll see a lot of the"hobbyist" podcasts continue well beyond the covid related explosion of shows last year (see graph). If you are looking for podcasts or thinking about creating your own, check out Listen Notes. They also track a lot of data about the podcast industry (see figure below).
BTW, I would bet that there will be at least one podcast that will be hosted by an AI this year (for details on my theory, check out my medium article "Will an AI host your favorite podcast of 2021?".
Website link: Listen Notes
🩺🤖Deep Medicine by Eric Topol.
Deep Medicine is a fantastic book using AI (specifically machine learning) in medicine and its potentials for improving healthcare outcomes. Topol puts forth a vision for ensuring that AI benefits flow to patients and health care workers, not just a tool for the medical-industrial complex to make more money.
The book is very well written and designed for an intelligent but non-technical audience. Topol introduces the basic concepts of machine learning, why it is excellent for radiology, pathology, cardiology, and some of the problems and liabilities encountered when using these algorithmic estimators for diagnosing patients. He also talks about using AI for telehealth and streamlining the paperwork involved in modern medicine. The last two chapters are the most beneficial when he does a critical review of what's wrong with our medical institutions. Topol also provides a vision for the future in which doctors and healthcare providers can use their empathetic skills to produce better outcomes while offloading the routine and mundane to machines. Highly recommend.
Amazon Link: Deep Medicine
🤳🏻 No Filter: The Inside Story of Instagram by Sarah Frier.
No Filter is a well-written book about Instagram started and the subsequent saga of its purchase by, and assimilation into, Facebook's data collection operations. It's not an uplifting story. The Instagram founders' ideals about protecting user privacy, rewarding artistry, encouraging creativity, and building communities, got tossed when they became part of Facebook. Instead, Mark Zuckerberg's pursuit of likes, advertising deals, and tons of money won out (of course it would). The Instagram founders (Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger) left Facebook in the fall of 2018. And I suspect they served as sources for several of the stories in No Filter. Read this book if you are interested in the backstory, but before you (or instead of) check out Nick Bostrom's latest HBO documentary, Fake Famous! It documents three people who seek to become Instagram stars. (Hint you buy your followers, comments, and likes).
Amazon Link: No Filter
🗳️ Edge of Chaos: Why Democracy Is Failing to Deliver Economic Growth-and How to Fix It by Dambisa Moyo
Since I am not an economist or a finance expert, I found this book an interesting introduction to the relationships between economic growth, democracy, and technology.
In the past century, humans have transitioned from living in isolated regions and countries (some such as Japan, which was isolated for a long time) to a globalized society where capital, labor, and production can flow freely between nations. Or at least some of the time. One of Dambisa's main arguments is that globalism was never fully implemented, but instead, "a globalism lite" approach was taken. Therefore, globalism's benefits were not fully realized for everyone but instead flowed mainly to those already well off.
She makes some fascinating points about inequality and democracy and the rise of authoritarian states such as China. China's Belt and Road initiative does not force other countries to adopt democracy and adopt policies for human rights (or China's governmental norms) before joining trade and other enterprises.
This book is about three years old. The last two chapters are somewhat "pie in the sky" ideas about reforms to democracy, many of which are antithetical to the American form of democracy. It's not that she's wrong, but I don't see any possibility in my life for these proposals to get implemented.
For me, the big takeaway was about automation. Many of you are familiar with the Tragedy of the Commons, a famous science article written by Gannett Harding, in which he describes the use of shared resources and lack of incentive that people have to conserve a common resource when it can benefit themselves. There's are some flaws with Harding's ideas, but the main theme seems to hold.
Moyo hints that wages are a kind of commons resource and that when a company embraces automation, at a very large scale, they may be taking away the common resources of wages and driving up unemployment to such a degree that it devastates the commons (aka the national or global economy). In this post-pandemic world, one company may be motivated to embrace a high level of automation and artificial intelligence applications to the detriment of our economy, democracy, and our ability to address global problems.
Amazon Link: The Edge of Chaos
I have been doing a lot more research and writing in the past month. I managed to get two articles submitted to major publications. They are still in the review/draft stage, but if you are interested you can download a pdf preview by clicking on the titles below. And I am always interested in your feedback.
As always, be sure to hit reply and tell me what you have been up to, what you are reading, and what neat stuff you have discovered lately! I always look forward to getting responses from you all, hearing about what you have been creating recently, and the resources/lifehacks you are using!! And thanks to the 800+ colleagues and friends who read my monthly emails!