When Did Silicon Valley Become Brotopia?

❝ In engineering circles, some refer to Lena as “the first lady of the internet.” Others see her as the industry’s original sin, the first step in Silicon Valley’s exclusion of women. Both views stem from an event that took place in 1973 at a University of Southern California computer lab, where a team of researchers was trying to turn physical photographs into digital bits. Their work would serve as a precursor to the JPEG, a widely used compression standard that allows large image files to be efficiently transferred between devices. The USC team needed to test their algorithms on suitable photos, and their search for the ideal test photo led them to Lena.

❝ According to William Pratt, the lab’s co-founder, the group chose Lena’s portrait from a copy of Playboy that a student had brought into the lab. Pratt, now 80, tells me he saw nothing out of the ordinary about having a soft porn magazine in a university computer lab in 1973. “I said, ‘There are some pretty nice-looking pictures in there,’ ” he says. “And the grad students picked the one that was in the centerfold.” Lena’s spread, which featured the model wearing boots, a boa, a feathered hat, and nothing else, was attractive from a technical perspective because the photo included, according to Pratt, “lots of high-frequency detail that is difficult to code.”…To this day, some engineers joke that if you want your image compression algorithm to make the grade, it had better perform well on Lena…

❝ “When you use a picture like that for so long, it’s not a person anymore; it’s just pixels,” Jeff Seideman told the Atlantic in 2016, unwittingly highlighting the sexism that Needell and other critics had tried to point out.

“We didn’t even think about those things at all when we were doing this,” Pratt says. “It was not sexist.” After all, he continues, no one could have been offended because there were no women in the classroom at the time. And thus began a half-century’s worth of buck-passing in which powerful men in the tech industry defended or ignored the exclusion of women on the grounds that they were already excluded.

Uh-huh…RTFA, please.

US soldiers reveal their location by jogging, working out

❝ An interactive map posted on the Internet that shows the whereabouts of people who use fitness devices such as Fitbit also reveals highly sensitive information about the locations and activities of soldiers at U.S. military bases, in what appears to be a major security oversight.

The Global Heat Map, published by the GPS tracking company Strava, uses satellite information to map the locations and movements of subscribers to the company’s fitness service over a two-year period, by illuminating areas of activity.

❝ Most parts of the United States and Europe, where millions of people use some type of fitness tracker, show up on the map as blazes of light because there is so much activity.

In war zones and deserts in countries such as Iraq and Syria, the heat map becomes almost entirely dark — except for scattered pinpricks of activity. Zooming in on those areas brings into focus the locations and outlines of known U.S. military bases, as well as of other unknown and potentially sensitive sites — presumably because American soldiers and other personnel are using fitness trackers as they move around.

❝ The U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State said on Monday it is revising its guidelines on the use of all wireless and technological devices on military facilities as a result of the revelations.

You can file this under: barn door, horse already gone

Golly gee! I’m banned at a website…

I’ve managed to be banned by The Verge. Discovered this when trying to comment on their review of Apple’s Homepod…which would’ve been “Predictable, short-sighted, useless critique.”

Occasionally useful in the past, they offer little in terms of info about tech (or life, death, etc.). They were in my Apple News feed as a choice I tried when starting up with Apple News.

My tradition when I walkaway from a “source” – or BITD, a customer – is to wish them well. A few times, I said nothing. This is one of those. Let the market rule!

BTW, for a useful review, go read Om Malik’s opinion of the Homepod.

Discovered: a family of viruses that dominate the oceans

❝ The ocean is crowded. As many as 10 million viruses can be found squirming in a single millilitre of its water, and it turns out they have friends we never even knew about.

Scientists have discovered a previously unknown family of viruses that dominate the ocean and can’t be detected by standard lab tests. Researchers suspect this viral multitude may already exist outside the water — maybe even inside us.

“We don’t think it’s ocean-specific at all,” says environmental microbiologist Martin Polz from MIT…

❝ The team calls their discovery Autolykiviridae, after Autolykos (“the wolf itself”): a character from Greek mythology, who as a trickster and thief proved similarly tricky to catch.

But Autolykiviridae has been caught, and now that we know about it, the discovery is helping scientists to fill in a large missing link in virus evolution.

RTFA. Fascinating stuff. Cue your favorite sci-fi music in the background though I think it unnecessary. Real science is already scary enough to some.

Chance Discovery Can Destroy The Honeybee’s Worst Enemy


V. destructor on a honeybee hostUSDA

❝ It isn’t just pesticides and the destruction of habitat that’s making the world’s honeybees very unhappy. One of the biggest threats is Varroa destructor, a disease-spreading parasite that is just as villainous as its name suggests.

❝ Through a chance discovery, scientists from the University of Hohenheim have stumbled on a new method of wiping out this parasitic pest without harming the bees.

The US Department of Agriculture views the Varroa mite as “the major factor underlying colony loss in the US and other countries.” After infiltrating a colony, the mites begin to feed on the bodily fluids of honeybees and their larvae. Along with weakening the bees, the mites also spread viruses, such as deformed wing virus, and can quickly wipe out entire colonies…

❝ “Lithium chloride can be used to feed bees in sugar water. In our experiments, even small amounts of saline solution were enough to kill the mites sitting on the bees within a few days – without side effects for the bees,” Dr Peter Rosenkranz, head of the German State Institute of Apiculture…

RTFA for hope and diligence, science applied to sensible ends.

Thanks, smartalix

Barry Ritholtz says, “Don’t let the trolls get you down!”

❝ I began sharing my work online two decades ago as one of the early financial bloggers. I started on Yahoo Geocities in the 1990s, Typepad in 2003, and finally on WordPress at my own domain in 2008. That is where the Big Picture still resides…

Alas, a classic case of the tragedy of the commons struck, rendering comments mostly worthless as they were overrun with spam advertising and trolls. Managing them was a giant time suck, with no effective technology solution. It was with some reluctance that I finally decided to close down my blog comments. For the same reasons, you will not find a comment section below my Bloomberg View columns.

❝ Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s chief executive officer, seems to be making some progress in the company’s response as it begins cleaning up its act and banning some of the most egregious offenders. It has also given users more tools to help them avoid the worst of the trolls. This is good news for those of us in the financial community, as Twitter is a tremendous resource.

Reading discussions between a few law professors about their Twitter usage (see this and this) reminded me of this. Because I find Twitter to be enormously helpful, I want you to also take advantage of its resources. Here are a few ideas that can help you, too…

RTFA. We can always use more suggestions about dealing with the ego-smitten or simply corrupt folk who take up otherwise useful space online.