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Tag: Twitter

Fortitude in a time of suffering and Twitter

Friday, 7 July, 2017 0 Comments

Our thoughts go out today to our favourite Benedictine nun, Sister Catherine Wybourne, the Prioress of Howton Grove Priory in Herefordshire. In her ongoing battle with cancer, she has shown grace, dignity, wit and humanity. Here’s an example of her thinking and writing that offers an insight all cancer suffers will appreciate:

“Anyone with small children or a debilitating illness such as cancer will understand when I say there is a kind of tiredness so complete that any effort seems impossible. One wakes tired; one goes to bed tired; and in between times one just is tired. In my own case, I have more or less given up pretending it can ever be otherwise. I have even stopped snarling when people tell me to rest! Because, of course, the reason one is tired is that one cannot rest or rest itself is no longer restful. I refuse, however, to allow this state of apparently perpetual tiredness to be entirely negative. I bumble along quite happily until I simply flop — a sudden loss of energy, an overwhelming desire to close my eyes for a few minutes, you know what I mean. One doesn’t have to have children or be ill to know such moments, but they are probably more frequent if one does/is. At such times one can moan and groan a little, lament what one can’t do, or one can learn — painfully slowly in my case — that they are a moment of grace, to be treasured rather than railed against.

When one is very tired, life becomes much simpler. There is no need to pretend, no need to argue, no need to worry about what others think. What one cannot do, one cannot do — and that’s an end of the matter. One cannot plan ahead and one’s memory of the past is defective, so one is forced to live in the present moment. Jean de Caussade wrote beautifully of the sacrament of the present moment, but I must admit that until I became ill myself, I had never really appreciated the richness of meaning behind the phrase.”

No day here is complete with a tweet from @Digitalnun. Each one is a gem. The juxtaposition of faith and charity, the local and the global, is unique:

#Praying for all tweeps on the feast of St Irenaeus, esp all who love scripture, & for those battling the latest global ransomware attack.

Praying for all tweeps, esp those killed/injured outside #FinsburyParkMosque last night, and those involved in #Brexit negotiations. #prayer

Praying for all tweeps, esp those affected by the floods in Uruguay, and those who are moving house. #prayer

The Digital Nun


How Donald Trump tweets

Thursday, 5 January, 2017 0 Comments

Evan Puschak studied film production at Boston University and he’s been making videos as The Nerdwriter since 2011. After a stint at MSNBC in New York, he moved to The Discovery Channel in San Francisco, but left to pursue The Nerdwriter full time. His videos are about “life”, which he believes is a philosophical, political, moral, psychological, financial, artistic and scientific web of interactions.

He published his most popular video last Saturday. Titled “How Donald Trump Tweets”, it’s an analysis of the president-elect’s Twitter style and his conclusion is that Trump uses speech-like language, not written language. Puschak’s take: “Instead of asking us to read, he forces us to hear.” There are some people who don’t like Donald Trump, but they have to admit his use of Twitter is superb.


Mrs Clinton’s deplorables meme

Tuesday, 13 September, 2016 1 Comment

Between her coughing attack in Cleveland last Monday and her collapse in Manhattan on Sunday, Hillary Clinton found time to generate a meme: “basket of deplorables”. Definition: “a meme is a humorous image, video, text, etc. that is copied and spread rapidly by internet users.”

In a speech she gave at a New York City fundraiser on Friday night, she said: “You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic — you name it.” Thus, was the “basket of deplorables” meme born.

It prompted Ben Zimmer to post “Horribles and deplorables” at Language Log. Snippet:

Deplorables, whether or not they’re in baskets, fit a pattern we’ve observed in the past: adjectives ending in -able or -ible that are turned into pluralizable nouns… More generally, many adjectives ending in -able/-ible have spawned related noun forms: think of collectibles, convertibles, deductibles, disposables, intangibles, perishables, and unmentionables. Sometimes the noun overtakes the adjective: vegetable comes from an adjective describing something that is able to vegetate, i.e., grow like a plant.”

Donald Trump’s supporters were not interested in the etymology and on Twitter they were quick to post their anger using the hashtag #basketofdeplorable. It should be noted, however, that Mr Trump wished Mrs Clinton well yesterday in a TV interview, saying: “…something’s going on, but I just hope she gets well and gets back on the trail and we’ll be seeing her at the debate.”


Microsoft could make a phone with LinkedIn

Tuesday, 14 June, 2016 0 Comments

Last year, LinkedIn’s revenues were almost $3 billion, but it recorded a net loss of $166 million. Most of its income comes from the “talent solutions” division, which charges recruiters to advertise jobs and use the company’s data, but the rest of the network is loss making. So why is Microsoft paying $26 billion for it, then? And what will it do with this new acquisition? Paul Ford has come up with a list of 9 Things Microsoft Could Do With LinkedIn. Example:

4. Microsoft could make a phone with LinkedIn.

What? No. What? Stop. The Facebook phone was a disaster (remember? I remember.) But there’s still probably some bizarre and monstrous Blackberry-esque WindowsLinkedPhone that could happen — something that jams all the messaging through LinkedIn accounts. It could even work with SharePoint. Can you imagine?

Who will be bought up/out next? Twitter shares are rising and the talk is that Google could snap it up by the year end. Vanity Fair: Why Microsoft’s $26.2 Billion Linkedin Acquisition Is Good News For Twitter. The same Vanity Fair has a portrait of Jack Dorsey, the Twitter CEO, in the current issue. Snippet: “…he wistfully talked about the group of people, mostly friends, who helped hatch Twitter in that rodent-infested basement. Some of them became billionaires, others ended up with nothing, but most no longer speak to one another. ‘It was such a good team. It just became so screwy, and confusing. I don’t know what happened. I don’t regret it. I feel sad about it,’ he said, his voice trailing off into the night.”

All of this is good preparation for the day when Jack has to write the kind of email that LinkedIn CEO, Jeff Weiner, wrote to employees yesterday:

“No matter what you’re feeling now, give yourself some time to process the news. You might feel a sense of excitement, fear, sadness, or some combination of all of those emotions. Every member of the exec team has experienced the same, but we’ve had months to process. Regardless of the ups and downs, we’ve come out the other side knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt, this is the best thing for our company.”


We’ll fix it with video!

Thursday, 28 April, 2016 0 Comments

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was…” So begins A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, and while it would be bordering on the sacrilegious to compare the fates of Facebook and Twitter to the epochal events that took place in “the year of Our Lord one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five,” the rise and fall of the great (social media) powers is the stuff of which history will be made. The fact that the tumbrels are virtual these days, makes the digital revolution less gruesome, for which we should be grateful.

Yesterday, Facebook exceeded Wall Street forecasts on almost every critical metric. The social network made $5.38 billion during the first three months of this year and grew its base to 1.65 billion monthly users. Profit was 77 cents a share, which blew away the 63 cents analysts had been expecting, and the the stock jumped nine percent in after-hours trading. During his conference call with investors, CEO Mark Zuckerberg noted: “Today, people around the world spend more than 50 minutes a day using Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger. That doesn’t even include WhatsApp yet.”

COO Sheryl Sandberg put her finger on Facebook’s success secret when she said the company is on a mission to help marketers adapt their ads for a mobile world — where messages must be shorter and often without sound. The auto-captioning feature, she added, has led people to spend 12 percent more time with an ad.

mobile video Contrast all this with Twitter, which has disappointed investors yet again with first-quarter results that showed stagnant revenue growth. Twitter, simply, doesn’t have the scale to compete with Facebook. It’s 320 million monthly users are no match for the 1.65 billion Facebook bring to the game. So, what’s the strategy? Twitter’s answer is the same that everyone else on the web has: We’ll fix it with video. That’s what Peter Kafka says in Twitter is going to have a hard time fixing its ad problem. Snippet:

“The company says it wants to convince its advertisers to upgrade their old text+photo Twitter ads with video ads, which sell at higher prices. This sounds like a good idea, but then again, it’s the same idea everyone else has — and Twitter’s already having trouble competing with everyone else.”

In Your Media Business Will Not Be Saved, Joshua Topolsky, co-founding editor of The Verge and recently head of digital at Bloomberg, pours a big bucket of water on the notion that video will fix it. “Video will not save your media business. Nor will bots, newsletters, a ‘morning briefing’ app, a ‘lean back’ iPad experience, Slack integration, a Snapchat channel, or a great partnership with Twitter.”

To paraphrase Dickens, all these things, and a thousand like them, came to pass in and close upon the dear old year two thousand and sixteen.


Surreal English/Japanese phrases

Tuesday, 26 April, 2016 0 Comments

“What a nice barbed wire.”
“Thank you. I knitted it myself.”

While that’s the kind of surreal exchange one could imagine happening in a bar on Mars run by Salvador Dali, it’s actually an example of conversational English as presented by English Vocabulary Not on Any Test, a book that’s big in Japan. And that’s not just an idle phrase, either. The Twitter account has 88,000 followers. The book depicts ordinary people doing ordinary things, using English and Japanese. The target market is Japanese speakers who want to learn English as it is used in conversation across the Anglosphere. Well, an Anglosphere where HR managers convey the bad news by saying, “I’m afraid to say this, but you are passed your best-before date.”

Japanese English

Note: “octopus wiring” is authentic Japanese English and the term is used internationally to described hazardous arrangements of electrical cables.


Infobesity and infoxication, now and then

Monday, 25 April, 2016 0 Comments

There’s a synonym for infobesity doing the rounds and it’s infoxication. If neither makes sense, here’s the older version: information overload. For those who think infobesity and infoxication are silly abuses of medical terminology, Stewart Butterfield has two words: cognitive diabetes. And he should know. Stewart Butterfield is the CEO of Slack, a cloud-based teamworking tool with some three million users and a value close to $4 billion. When he raises a red flag about messaging addiction, it’s time to listen.

Speaking at the Bloomberg Businessweek Design Conference earlier this month, Butterfield compared our obsession with Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter and, yes, Slack, to the diabetes epidemic, when “suddenly, as a species, we got infinite, free calories,” he said. Now that we have “infinite, free communications,” the messaging addiction has become a form of “cognitive diabetes.”

None of this is new, of course. Early in the 20th century, the poet and critic T. S. Eliot worried that the “vast accumulations of knowledge — or at least of information — deposited by the nineteenth century” were creating “an equally vast ignorance.” In his essay, “The Perfect Critic,” for the literary journal Athenaeum in 1920, he put it like this:

“When there is so much to be known, when there are so many fields of knowledge in which the same words are used with different meanings, when every one knows a little about a great many things, it becomes increasingly difficult for anyone to know whether he knows what he is talking about or not.”

When every one knows a little about a great many things… Must put this post on Twitter, Kik, Whatsapp, Skype and Facebook now.

Hash tag wall


A week in AI: Tay goes rogue and HAL revives

Saturday, 26 March, 2016 1 Comment

Less than a day after she joined Twitter, Tay, Microsoft’s colourful Artificial Intelligence bot, was taken down this week for becoming a Hitler-loving, feminist-bashing, racist monster. Machine learning software, clearly, is not ready for prime time.

Meanwhile, in Shanghai, at the IEEE International Conference on Acoustics, Speech and Signal Processing, Helen Bear, a computer scientist at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, and her colleague Richard Harvey, presented a lip-reading algorithm that improves a computer’s ability to differentiate between sounds — such as p, b and m — that all look similar on lips. Machine learning software that reliably reads lips could be used to solve crime; it could help people who go deaf later in life, and it could also be used for better film dubbing. What’s not to like? Wait, did someone say HAL?

In Stanley Kubrick’s superb 2001: A Space Odyssey, HAL 9000 is an artificial general intelligence computer that manages the Discovery One spacecraft mission, but when astronauts Bowman and Poole realize that it has made a mistake they go into a pod to discuss what to do. They turn off the communications systems and test that HAL doesn’t follow their orders to make sure it isn’t listening to them. HAL is watching through the pod window, however, and reads their lips. The results are fatal and some have come to interpret this as a warning about the potential of AI to go rogue. Like Tay did.


Twitter @ 10: life with hashtags

Monday, 21 March, 2016 0 Comments

It’s Twitter’s 10th birthday today. The first tweet, sent on 21 March 2006 by CEO and cofounder Jack Dorsey, then an NYU student, read: “just setting up my twttr.” Three years later, Twitter became the news when Janis Krums beat the pro snappers to the punch by tweeting a photo of US Airways Flight 1549 crash-landed in the Hudson River.

Twitter on the Hudson

If there’s a negative, it’s the amping up of public shaming, which has been well documented by Jon Ronson. PR manager Justine Sacco joked on Twitter: “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” The ensuing cyber tsunami of vilification was such that Sacco lost her job and became an object of hate. Dr. Walter Palmer, the Minnesota dentist who shot Cecil the Lion, faced similar Twitter shaming.

The upside, however, is that everyone can share an opinion on Twitter, which has expanded and democratized global debate. Just look at the current US presidential campaign. Hillary Clinton has 5.7 million followers, Bernie Sanders has 1.75 million and people retweet the utterances of Donald Trump thousands of times:

With its platform, Twitter has become a go-to source for breaking news; with its minimalism, it’s a minor art form and with its reach, it has morphed into a powerful marketing tool. But there’s competition from visual formats like Instagram & Snapchat and the result is that Twitter is now worth $11.6 billion, down from $40 billion in 2013. Still, @twitter is 10 today and that’s cause for celebration. Happy Birthday! #LoveTwitter

Twitter @ 10


Auden in a time of public shaming

Sunday, 21 February, 2016 0 Comments

On this day in 1907, the poet Wystan Hugh Auden was born. Alexander McCall Smith, author of What WH Auden Can Do For You, describes him as an astonishingly versatile lyricist who “wrote about rocks, about love, about psychoanalysis, about the bacteria that live on our skin, about war and about cooking. In the Thirties he was a political poet; after going to America he re-embraced Christianity. In his later years he became positively Horatian in his tastes, preaching the virtues of the domestic life and simple pleasures.” Auden is kaleidoscopic and timeless; At Last the Secret is Out is the proof.

    Background: The British writer/actor Stephen Fry made headlines earlier this week with a joke about his friend, costume designer Jenny Beavan. Following Beavan’s appearance at the BAFTA film awards, Fry said, “Only one of the great cinematic costume designers would come to the awards ceremony dressed like a bag lady.” Furious accusations of misogyny followed and, appalled by the humourlessness of the PC mob, Fry quit Twitter.

Jon Ronson explores this kind of public humiliation in So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, a book about reputation in an era of hysteria and recreational rage. The flames of shame are fanned today on social media but this is just an amplification of what was common in Auden’s time because “there is always a wicked secret” and it will out.

At Last the Secret is Out

At last the secret is out,
as it always must come in the end,
the delicious story is ripe to tell
to tell to the intimate friend;
over the tea-cups and into the square
the tongue has its desire;
still waters run deep, my dear,
there’s never smoke without fire.

Behind the corpse in the reservoir,
behind the ghost on the links,
behind the lady who dances
and the man who madly drinks,
under the look of fatigue
the attack of migraine and the sigh
there is always another story,
there is more than meets the eye.

For the clear voice suddenly singing,
high up in the convent wall,
the scent of the elder bushes,
the sporting prints in the hall,
the croquet matches in summer,
the handshake, the cough, the kiss,
there is always a wicked secret,
a private reason for this.

W. H. Auden (1907 – 1973)

WH Auden


Twitter vs. trolls vs. terror vs. markets vs. censors

Wednesday, 10 February, 2016 1 Comment

Twitter is going to war with trolls — people who spread hate anonymously on the internet — armed with a Trust & Safety Council, which will draw on the expertise of the Center for Democracy and Technology, EU Kids Online, GLAAD, the National Cyber Security Alliance and 40 other groups and individuals. Statement:

“With hundreds of millions of tweets sent per day, the volume of content on Twitter is massive, which makes it extraordinarily complex to strike the right balance between fighting abuse and speaking truth to power,” Patricia Cartes, head of global policy outreach, wrote in a blog post. “It requires a multi-layered approach where each of our 320 million users has a part to play, as do the community of experts working for safety and free expression.”

By the way, not everyone sees the Twitter Trust and Safety Council as a blessing. It’s a version of Orwell’s Ministry of Truth says Robby Soave at Reason. Quote: “For my part, I would feel more comfortable if the Trust & Safety Council included at least a few principled speech or tech freedom groups, like the Foundation for Individual Rights and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.” And Julie Bindel, perhaps.

To help draw the line between poisonous hate speech that deserves to be blocked and disagreeable free speech worthy of protection, alternative voices must be heard and heeded. “We are in danger of making censorship the standard response to anything that offends,” argues Julie Bindel. “Recent attempts to ban Donald Trump and pick-up artist Roosh V from the UK would have achieved nothing politically constructive.”

Last year, the former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo confessed that “we suck at dealing with abuse and trolls on the platform and we’ve sucked at it for years.” Fighting the trolls is now a priority for the new CEO Jack Dorsey. “Twitter stands for freedom of expression, speaking truth to power, and empowering dialogue. That starts with safety,” he tweeted earlier today. Along with battling trolls, he’s trying to stop terrorist groups using Twitter to recruit followers, and then there’s the tricky business of that plummeting share price.

Security: “Trolls, Hackers and Extremists — The Fight for a Safe and Open Web” is the title of a discussion at the Munich Security Conference on Thursday evening.

Scandinavia: What’s a troll? The origins of this menacing word hark back to Old Norse, which spoke of strange beings that lived in caves and were hostile to humans. Given the Nordic roots of the term, it’s appropriate that the world’s most famous troll trapper, as it were, is the Swedish journalist Robert Aschberg, who has made a name for himself by exposing trolls on his TV show Trolljägarna (Troll Hunter).