Selfie sticks stick

When the selfie stick burst on the a couple of years ago, I assumed it was an elaborate Internet hoax. It seemed like one of those fake products that was a social commentary on narcissism or consumerism or some such thing. It turned out that they’re real and becoming more popular.

One billion people

Mark Zuckerberg announced that one billion people used Facebook in a single day for the first time.

On Monday, 1 in 7 people on Earth used Facebook to connect with their friends and family. […] I’m so proud of our community for the progress we’ve made. Our community stands for giving every person a voice, for promoting understanding and for including everyone in the opportunities of our modern world. A more open and connected world is a better world. It brings stronger relationships with those you love, a stronger economy with more opportunities, and a stronger society that reflects all of our values.

There is also a video celebrating the milestone (which, ironically, I discovered on Twitter).

Facebook has had more than a billion total users for a while, but having that many people using the service in a single day is a significant accomplishment from a community, business, and sysadmin perspective. The service truly is a central node in the network that connects people over the Internet, and there would be far fewer individuals participating online without it.

Mark sounds sincere in his belief in the social good of the community that has built up within and around Facebook. It is likely that the sometimes creepy advertising and privacy violations are an unfortunate cost of doing business, but that he still believes in the core of the product and what it was from the beginning—a way to keep up with and follow the people and things you care about.

The hip thing to do these days is to opt-out of using Facebook—or to only use portions of it like Messenger, Groups, or Instagram. Increasingly though, refusing to use Facebook means missing out on the potential for online community with those outside of the closely knit online tech circles. There are plenty of places to find community online, but none of them are as universally accessible as Facebook.

That fact that Facebook keeps getting bigger does not mean the Open Web is doomed or that there will be more homogeneity online. Everyone’s experience of the platform (just like Twitter) entirely up to who you connect with and how you choose to participate.

Cyborg Enhancements: Wheels and Pedals

The best technologies are the ones that enhance your natural abilities rather than replace them. These are the innovations that have historically had the biggest impact on what humanity can accomplish, and this is the factor to watch for when deciding what emerging technologies to get excited about. Sep Kamvar, writing about the power efficiencies of a human brain and body vs. that of a super computer, points out how energy efficient a car is compared to a person on a bike.

A midsized car gets a little over half a mile per kilocalorie of energy. A human walking gets 10 miles per kilocalorie. Even if we exclude the cost of the car, the cost of the road, and the cost of the infrastructure we build for fueling, walking is still 20 times as efficient as driving.

There does exist a vehicle that is more efficient than a human walking: a human on a bicycle. A human on a bicycle gets 25 miles per kilocalorie, the equivalent of 750 miles per gallon. Like my fictitious Jeopardy software, the bicycle is a light-touch technology, that extends the human’s natural ability for mobility rather than replacing it.

I knew there was a reason biking feels so good. It is an efficient tool that greatly enhances my natural ability to get around.

Making up numbers as needed

Tom Fishburne, the Marketoonist, tweeted this cartoon today:

The joke in the comic is too true. Numbers in a PowerPoint are rarely called into question—even though challenging the assumptions of a presentation is an easy way to appear smart and insightful. However, there is little incentive to question any data that doesn’t conflict with one’s currently held beliefs. On the other hand, if there is conflict, even additional evidence beyond the charts and graphs will rarely change someone’s mind, so the numbers—even if accurate—may as well be made up.

Data-driven decision making can lead to some strange places when those who act on the data don’t understand where the data comes from, have too much confidence in its validity, or have a weak understanding of what it means. Fishburne, in the blog post that accompanied the cartoon wrote:

I heard a marketer say recently, “Publishing numbers in a powerpoint deck does not make them true.” We have never had greater access to data to make decisions. But it has also never been easier to cherry pick data to support whatever point we’re trying to make. Being data-driven in our decision making increasingly means being data-skeptical.

Knowing how to be skeptical with data is also a difficult challenge. Real numbers can sound fake if they are too round (i.e. 25%), and a decimal point in the percent is usually enough to make a number look legitimate, even if the evidence behind it is thin. Cherry picking data to make a point does not prove anything. Proof requires honest consideration of all the relevant data, not just the data needed to support the thesis you came up with before opening Excel to draw the pie chart.

Wine causes and prevents cancer

According to articles published in the Daily Mail, one surefire way to affect your odds of developing cancer is to drink wine. Here are a few examples of articles against drinking wine:

…and here are a few in favor of the beverage:

I first came across the Kill or Cure list of Daily Mail cancer articles back in 2010 and was amazed to see all the expert research pointing to the adverse or beneficial effects many “inanimate objects” have on one’s chances of developing cancer.

Cancer is a horrible disease that causes a great deal of suffering to those with it and their families. Contradictory articles like those in the Daily Mail point to more to fear and the need to rationalize the irrational than to the real science that is helping to prevent and treat the disease.