One of my closest collaborators is a teammate far away — I'm in New York and Emily Withrow is in Chicago.
We stay connected chatting on Slack. But recently Emily asked if I could regularly update my Slack status to indicate what I was doing at the moment, like coding, meeting, eating. It's the kind of thing colleagues in New York know just by glancing toward my desk.
Changing my Slack status isn't hard; remembering do it is. So I built a bot to change it for me.
I'm pretty sure I purchased Civil tokens today — literally buying into an experiment to put journalism on the blockchain.
After the sale, There were no tokens in my wallet and no indication my purchase was "on its way." Just a blank screen.
Unsettling, but I'm not actually worried.
UPDATED at 7:45 pm ET on 9/17/2018 with new information. See the end of the post for details.
It's my time to go crypto.
I've followed blockchain technology, principles and trends for years without getting involved, but now have couple of reasons to get real: A new blockchain-based journalism project is about to launch, and my employer, Quartz, just launched a new cryptocurrency newsletter.
It also seemed perfect for my practice of beginning new things repeatedly.
Earlier this year, friends Manoush Zomorodi and Jen Poyant left their public radio jobs to join a new journalism … thing … called Civil. I had heard snippets about Civil, and started listening to Manoush's and Jen's podcast, ZigZag, part of which attempts to explain it.
After weeks of being pretty confused, I think I get it. Here's my attempt: Civil is a system designed to foster and reward quality journalism in a decentralized way, in contrast to platforms like Facebook and Google upon which so much journalism rests today.
The system’s backbone is the blockchain-based Civil token, abbreviated CVL. Holders of tokens can start news organizations in the system, challenge the membership of other news organizations in the system and/or cast votes when such challenges arise.
I have no idea if it will work. But I’m interested, and I’d rather participate than watch from the sidelines. So I’m willing to give it a whirl and okay with losing a little money in the process.
To participate, I just needed to buy some CVL ... though it turns out there's no just about it. But that's okay, too.
[I recently presented this post as a 5-minute Ignite talk.]
On a morning flight some years back, the pilot's cheerful voice came over the speakers.
"I'm glad you're flying with us. This is the first time I've flown a Boeing 747,” the captain said with a pause. “Today."
We all laughed, of course. Who’d want to be on a pilot’s maiden flight?!
Not us. We want experts. Society counts on them. Companies pay them better. Spectators watch them play. Vacationers rely on their forecasts. We attend educational institutions and work long hours to become them — the qualified, the trusted, the best.
Nobody likes being a beginner.
Except that I do.
The festival had so many great speakers, and it's literally impossible to see them all live.
Here are some of my favorites I did see at the time, and highly recommend:
- Janelle Shane on the Humor of Machine Learning.
- Amanda Cox on how data visualizations are in the eye of the beholder.
- David Ha on how machines learn abstraction.
- Jane Friedhoff on games as power fantasies and their capacities for change.
- Shannon Mattern on the data, history and spirit behind how hardware stores are organized.
- Manoush Zomorodi on building participatory stories for radio (and podcasting).
- Matt Mitchel on Thoughts from the Frontline of Civil Rights & Circumvention Tech.
- Meredith Whittaker on the social implications of artificial intelligence.
Check them out!
Nearly every day, someone in our family asks Alexa for the day's weather. The default response is fine -- high temp, low temp, sun or rain.
We needed something better.
Fortunately the US National Weather Service does a fantastic job writing up little descriptions of what's in store for every spot in the country. It's been my go-to source for years. Could I get Alexa to say that?
Short answer: Yes, I could. And now you can add "Better Weather" to your Alexa, too. For free. (In the US only, for now.)
For a longer description of how I made it, read on.
We made adorable manga faces you can add to iPhone messages!
They're iMessage "stickers," a fairly obscure feature of Apple's texting system that, it turns out, are pretty easy to make – and make public.
Shadoopy. Dango. Ray-Bella. Figgie.
If I told you those were names of actual dogs in New York City, would you believe me?
They're not. They were generated by a machine-learning algorithm mimicking dog names after it "studied" a list of 81,542 dogs registered in NYC.
The experiment, which took just a few hours Saturday, was something I've wanted to try since I saw the playful, awesome work of Janelle Shane and her experiments using neural networks to generate paint colors, guinea pig names and Harry Potter fan fiction.
I happened to have some free time, and decided to give it a shot. Along the way I:
- built, in mere minutes, a computer in the cloud powerful enough for machine learning
- made and played with a recurrent neural network
- learned a little more about machine learning
- had a lot of fun
The program generated lots of names, including many that existed in the original data. Once I filtered those out, I had almost 400 computer-created, mostly plausible dog names. Here are some of my favorites:
If you'd like to geek out about how I did this, read on. You can do it, too.
In my new job as a bot-maker and product manager at Quartz, I've been asked lots to share my thots about bots.
For a deep dive about conversational interfaces and what they mean to journalism (according to me), you can check out this Nieman Lab interview.
If you'd like a quicker scan, here are some questions and answers I prepared ahead of a panel about bots organized by the New York City chapter of the Online News Association. Here are those notes, and some links, too:
What should you consider before you start working on a bot?
- You're entering uncharted territory! Have fun, explore, try new things.
- There are no obvious places to find your bot. Bot makers talk about "discoverability" of bots, which is pretty problematic everywhere at this point.
- So consider building where people already are interacting with you.
- Make a "worker bee" bot that does a particular task well -- not a "know it all" bot like Siri or Alexa.
- Is the information being exchanged sensitive? If so, think carefully. Making bots often means sending conversations through one or more 3rd-party services.