Saturday, March 19, 2016

I moved

Just realized I forgot to post here.

I moved my blog to WordPress. You can find it here.

So there.

~Toby

Monday, March 14, 2016

My thoughts after taking the SAT

I didn't post last Saturday, because that day at noon, I sat, (pun intended) at a minuscule desk designed for right handed midgets. And I still haven't figured out the schedule option on Blogger.

So instead of posting the blog post I had already finished writing this week, I'm writing down my thoughts after taking the SAT, in the form of a blog post rant.

Overall, I am unimpressed with the SAT.

Not with the content within it, per se. If you're going to try and rank a student's college readiness/intelligence in the most formulaic manner possible to increase time/money efficiency, then a standardized test is a way to go. I have issues with the testing concept at it's conceptual roots, of course, but that's a subject for another blog post.

If you don't want to read some kid complaining about the inefficiencies of the SAT, this blog post is not for you. Otherwise, read on.

First of all, something I mentioned at the beginning of this post; The desk.
I am home schooled, which means I was able to (thanks to the generosity of my parents) help select the desk that I use for schoolwork. What I've used for the past year is a standing drafting table with a glass light desk top and a backless stool with an adjustable height.

Basically, it is a desk with a height that I can stand at comfortably, but I have a tall stool so I can sit down if I want to. I am constantly switching between sitting and standing while doing school, depending on how I feel and what I'm doing. (Also, it's supposedly healthier to stand than to sit, but that's still in relative debate by people in that area of study.)

Not that I could not get used to a different desk if I had to say, take the SAT, but from a designer's perspective, I must say that the desk I had to use was, to put it lightly, a monstrosity.
Maybe not everyone who takes the SAT has this problem, as it is given in varying locations around the country, but the high school I took it at had extremely tiny desks.

I am fairly sure they were designed by a government statistician.

I imagine the day it was designed went something like this:
"Well, the average American is 5.58 feet tall, so we will optimize the chair measurements and desk size for that exact height, And %75 percent of people are right handed, so obviously it will be made for right handed people. Then we'll make it as small as possible within those constraints, to be efficient."

Perfect for the average American. If you're a 6 foot tall left handed American, you aren't really that statistically unlikely, you're simply out of luck.

Not that the averagely sized right handed American could enjoy taking a test at this desk. The test required you have 2 books open on your desk at a time. It does not take much geometry to see that there was no way to do this on desks this size without books overlapping and therefore constantly having to readjust booklets around as you progress through the pages.

Moving on from the desk, we have the testing officiator. He was the man who stood at the front of the classroom and made sure the rules were being followed while he ran down the checklist of everything that must be said and done when the SAT is being given.

Let me just mention real quick: I have no problem with checklists. I like checklists. I use one everyday, to make sure I don't forget to do all the normal daily chores and remember to complete my weekly tasks such as filming videos for my YouTube channel and posting on this blog. Checklists are great.

But something I've noticed in my dealings with those using organization mandated checklists is that they don't actually follow the intent that was meant by the person who made the checklist, due to the fact that it must be completed by the letter.

I have on my daily checklist to draw at least one picture. If I get the end of the day, and the time I spent drawing a picture was instead spent on designing a logo, I mark it complete, because the intent behind me having it on my list was fulfilled.
I carved out time in my day to pursue a visually artistic endeavor.

But with a mandated checklist, it doesn't matter the intent of what is on the list, only that it is completed exactly the way it says on the paper. Back when I was in driver's ed, I noticed very quickly that my teacher's were simply checking things off the government mandated checklist.

This many driving hours, this many classroom hours, this many tests. It didn't matter the actual content that was within, only that the quota was filled, even they had to sacrifice actual teaching to do so.

So back to the SAT, the man at the front of the room read from the paper, spelling out exactly what the students were supposed to do in excruciating detail; Reading everything that he was required to, per his job description. He paused to take breath whenever the paper had him stop for questions.

That wasn't a huge deal to me, but the blatant inefficiency made me cringe. But then came the most annoying part: The actual test.

I took a CLEP test about a month ago, so I'm using that as a comparison. The CLEP was done on a computer, so not only was I able to input my chosen answers almost instantly, as soon as I was done, the testing center was able to print up my scores and hand them to me within two minutes of me taking the test.
Do you know what the SAT is taken on?

Paper.

I knew beforehand that this was likely to be the case, but actually being there and experiencing the outdated and inefficient way of taking a test of this magnitude was something else entirely.

I know computers are more expensive than paper. But that is literally the only disadvantage I could think of. In fact, computer testing installed in a high school might even pay for itself in a couple years through printing and labor costs.

Computers have less environmental impact. They require less labor. It's harder to cheat when using them. They are more likely to get accurate test results, due to not having any scan-tron errors from incorrect bubble fill.



Anyway, that's my main thoughts on the SAT. I'm hoping I got all of them down so that I don't feel a need to rant to my friends anymore. But I doubt it.

Also, I'm switching my blog posts from Saturday to Monday, in case you didn't figure that out. I think that works better for everyone.

~T

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Why I deactivated my Facebook account

This post has been in the works for a while, and then Facebook forced my hand. But then it sat half-finished as a draft for a couple months almost a year, because I procrastinate in the form of getting distracted by other projects and forgetting about previous ones.

Let me explain.

I've been ranting about the Facebook news feed to my friends for a while, a lot of built up thoughts on the subject accumulating into a list of reasons not to use the news feed. I still did, until a couple days months ago. When Facebook lied to me. Before I explain about that, for the sake of suspense, and to put it in the proper context, I give you the original reasons why I hated the news feed.


Problem 1 - The Algorithms

Ah yes, Algorithms in general social media feeds. Some hate em'. Everyone else doesn't know what they really are. But if they did, I'm pretty sure they would hate them too. The algorithms are, in my opinion, the root of everything wrong with the Facebook News Feed.

For those that don't know, what the News Feed algorithms are supposed to do are keep track of what posts you "interact" with, (meaning liking, commenting on, clicking on links, etc.) and tries to come up with more things you'd want to see from this data.

The problem is, the algorithms in Facebook's feed not only keep track of what you interact with to decide what to put in your feed, but also what the people you interact with interact with. And if you're aware of this, like I was when I was on Facebook, it puts you in a constant state of indecision.
("Do I really want to like this post? I know I like the post, but it will affect my News Feed if I actually like it on Facebook.")

On top of this, not all interactions are created equal. While it makes sense a comment will affect the news feed more than a like, a heavy bias is put towards none other than link clicks.
Meaning if you click one link-baity article that actually looks interesting to you and may even be well written, Facebook will see that as a sign that you like all link bait articles, particularly when the ones that friend shares, and it will put more of these in your News Feed. This made me afraid to click on any links at all, for fear of rendering my already useless News Feed impossibly even more useless.

Furthermore, the algorithms also opened the floodgates for posts from non-friends appearing in the News Feed, which I will address in the next topic. Which is:


Problem 2 - The favoritism towards those with lots of "friends"

The problem for me was that the entire thing was optimized for people who would add every single passing acquaintance as a friend and actually interact with them. Or even people only half as extreme as that. Or a quarter.

I prided myself in keeping my friends list count to a minimum. I figured even with the algorithms, an element of somewhat randomness, I would be able to use the same principle as I was taught for deck-building in most TCG's. If you keep your card count to as low as possible, then you get to the stuff you actually want faster. Except in this case, instead of essential basic lands and mythic rare hard hitters, you had relatives and best friends you really want to keep up with.

The problem was, that soon after the algorithms came into play, a new wild card entered the Facebook news feed: The non-friend.

Suddenly instead of having a pre-built deck of friends, parallel to Magic the Gathering, it became a game of Dominion where the cards I get are people, and I'm stuck with them unless I trash them, which might insult them in real life, and I'm playing against Mark Zuckerburg, whose deck is just made of Torturers, and he's throwing negative victory points in my hand in the form of mutual friends posts I really don't care about.

In other words, I had not control over what actually appeared in my News Feed. Which needless to say, did not make the News Feed very helpful to me.

But what was actually causing the problem here? Once again, the answer lies inherently in the algorithms. The thing is, these algorithms were built to fill up the feed with as many things that will make the Facebook user spend more time in the News Feed, as much time as possible in fact.

So if you have a long friends list, that's great, it has a lot to work with. But if you keep your friends list short, like I did, then it doesn't have anything to work with, so it just fills in the blank space with things like "your great great Aunt liked this post from somebody you don't know and never will" or "that acquaintance you added just to be polite commented on his college buddies picture of a birthday party in Canada"

One or two of these I don't mind. but it got to the point where this was literally half my News Feed. And many of these posts I couldn't even interact with, due to the privacy settings of the Facebook users that posted them.

Yes, you read that right. I was getting posts in my News Feed I wasn't even allowed to like.

So what could I do to turn to get all this stuff out of my News Feed that I didn't want? Surely Facebook has multiple options for users who want a slightly different Facebook experience right? I mean, if you can change the website language to 'Pirate', why wouldn't there be options for the News Feed? You'd think so, but there was absolutely:


Problem 3 - No customization

But wait Toby, isn't there a little button that lets you view posts sorted by "newest first" instead of "top stories"? Why yes, yes there is. Kind of.

The falsity that is the "newest first" feed

First of all, while not a huge problem, when you set this option, Facebook will constantly have a ribbon at the top of your feed asking "if you want to switch back to top stories". As if the only way someone would want to use their supposed customization of the News Feed is by some sort of mistake that they don't know how to remedy.

But the "newest first" setting is still plagued by the Algorithms trying to fill up the feed, but now they are constrained by sorting things in chronological order, which makes it a huge mess. It constantly gives you updates about post interactions by your friends in order to actually put things in your News Feed as often as the algorithms demand. Things like "your friend liked this post that already popped up in the feed" or "your friend's grandmother commented on their photo from five years ago". True story.

And this News Feed still has mutual friend’s posts show up when your friends interact with them, in my case even more than when in "top stories" mode.

Well at least I see everything when it happens, even if there's still tons of things I don't care about in the feed, right? Well, no. Even with adding tons of needless or unwanted specific updates about likes on posts or mutual friends lives, and constantly begging me to switch back to the "top stories", the algorithms will omit posts by my friends that they think I don't want to see. Or posts that simply don't have enough likes.

So no matter what News Feed setting you use, the people who get likes and comments will show up in mine and other's feeds, and therefore get more likes and comments, and those that don't get likes and comments won't show up in the feed, and therefore will not get any their posts seen unless they are in somebody's stalker feed. (Sorry, the "close friends" feed)

The joke that is the "improve your News Feed" survey

And before you tell me "But Toby, you can take a survey to improve your News Feed!" I will tell you that the laughable excuses for surveys I took tens of times never seemed to affect my News Feed in any way.

It's possible this was a problem specific to, probable even, as I have been told mythic tales by friends and family of the survey asking questions like "do you want to see posts like this in your feed?" but every single time I took the survey it only asked me one question, about an accompanied post. One question, over, and over, and over again.

"Does this feel like an ad to you?"

Pardon my French, but Qu'est ce que ├ža veut dire, Facebook? What does that even mean? It either is ad, or it isn't. Either they paid you to put it in my feed, or the algorithms actually computed that I might want it there. It is either meant to advertise, or it isn't.

And how can I feel like something is an ad?

The survey shows me a friend sharing a news article. "Does this feel like an ad to you?" I suppose they could be advertising for their favorite presidential candidate, the definition could be a little subjective there, but I don't feel like it's an ad. It is either an ad to me, or it is not an ad to me.

The survey shows me an ad for diet coke. "Does this feel like an ad to you?" No it doesn't feel like an ad. It is an ad.

The survey shows me a picture of a friend holding their newborn baby. "Does this feel like an ad to you?" What!? It's like some sort of twisted psychiatric session I didn't even ask for.

"Hey, social media, can you show me better posts in the News Feed?"
"Let's talk about your emotions related to your friend constantly posting pictures of their children."
"What?"
How does it make you feel?"
What does that even..."
"Be honest: Does it feel like an ad?"

So that's the most annoying things about the News Feed to me. And you might be like "So what? Stop complaining and just stop using it." And after all these things piled up, I did for the most part. I added the people I actually wanted to my stalker feed, (sorry again. I'm just calling it what it is) then I only used the News Feed when I actually specifically wanted to waste my time, or find internet debates to do research for my show, (Someone's wrong on the internet, or SWOTI. Watch the first episode here! #ShamelessPlug)

But then, while I was in the middle of one of my rare times of scrolling through the News Feed, when I saw it. I wasn't sure what it was at first, but it made me stop. I narrowed my eyes. I didn't know for sure until twenty minutes later, when I had proved it with the help of my sister. Facebook lied to me.


The bald faced lie Facebook told me

The thing I saw in my feed may have looked normal at first glance. I might have scrolled past it if I hadn't been paying attention.

It simply said that one of my friend's had liked a post, then it displayed the post. It was from some random pages that share random BuzzFeed type news things. This post was a link titled "15 Shocking images, #15 can traumatize you!"

It's the kind of thing you might expect in your News Feed because an annoying friend or relative liked, commented on, or even shared it. But the problem was, the News Feed said that my sister, Elsie, had liked it. And she and I have had long talks talking about how dumb the "BuzzFeed click bait 'news source' article" fad was. It quite simply wasn't the type of post or page Elsie would normally interact with.

If it had been anyone else I knew any less on my friends list, I might have simply filed it away as weird, then continued scrolling. But I knew Elsie's thoughts on these types of articles well. And more importantly, she was three rooms away, and I could go ask her about it.

I showed her the post. She denied liking it. Our first thought was actually that she might have been hacked. But here's the thing: Throughout the entire list of the 25,000 people who had liked the post, the list stored on Facebook's servers mind you, Elsie was not on it.

So according to Facebook, and Elsie, she had not liked the post. But Facebook told me she had, for the sole purpose of having the post come up in my News Feed. Facebook had lied.

But why, you might ask? What motivations could Facebook possibly have for doing this? Was it some sort of glitch? Not so, for after I told my friends about this, they started crosschecking some of the weird stuff in their feed and realizing it was happening there too. My brother caught several more lies about Elsie liking things in his feed alone.

What does this mean? I can only speculate. But the most rational conclusion I could come to is that Facebook is getting paid by some pages to have them show up in the feed. Who knows how often such things show up your feed. But how do they keep from getting caught by the general populace? The answer is the same complaint I've been bringing up throughout this whole thing.

Algorithms.

The algorithms already keep track of everything you interact with. Why shouldn't they be able figure out to replicate it in your friends’ feeds? Confused? Let's use a hypothetical example.

Joe is democrat and a liberal. He likes a lot of articles supporting democratic policies on a lot of pages run by other people similar to him in this way. Suppose another page that Joe does not follow approaches Facebook and says: "We post a lot of things Democrats liberals would like. Have some money."
So Facebook is able to use its collected data to figure out who would like such posts, and then insert these posts into the feeds of those people's friends. It does this to Joe's friends’ feeds.
So if Joe has 5000 friends, what is the density of the sun?
(Sorry, I've been studying for the SAT)

I know this sounds a lot like I'm a paranoid conspiracy theorist. You might be saying, "Why would Facebook do something so risky?"

First, I'd like you to consider this quote:
"The biggest risk is not taking any risk... In a world that changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks."

That quote is from Mark Zuckerberg, creator and CEO of Facebook. No, it's not proof, I just wanted you to consider the quote.

Oh, but don't worry, there's proof.

See, Facebook has already done risky things in the News Feed. And they were found out. And credible News sites wrote articles about. But almost nobody I've talked to has read these articles. Only speculation on this front, but it might have something to do with the fact that they mysteriously never ended up in the News Feed. Or it might just be that people find the news boring.


Facebook has no qualms about testing their power


The events I'm speaking of can be summarized in this article from the Guardian. If you don't think it's credible for some reason, just google "Facebook mood control". It's been covered by everyone from Forbes to the New York Times. I just thought this article explained the situation the best.

To sum up what happened in my own words, Facebook decided to test to see if the News Feed affected people's real life moods.
So they gave some people happy News Feeds with positive articles, and those people started using more positive words when posting on Facebook. They were generally happier about life.
And then they gave some people a news feed filled with news about disasters and generally how bad the world was. These people started being more negative on Facebook, and their outlook on life became bleak.

All this was without asking these Facebook users if they wanted to participate in the study. Why should they? If they told them, it would give inaccurate results. And besides, they all read and agreed to the terms and conditions, right?

Facebook changed the mood of over half a million people just to see if they could. I would compare this to a child roasting ants with a magnifying glass, but that would honestly be giving them too much credit. Or not enough, depending how you look at it.

The child destroys the insects to show his power to them, but this experiment was done all on the down low, and meant to be kept that way. Facebook is trying to find out how much power they have, so that they know the extent of what they can do. The question is, why?

I'm sure some of you have heard of this chat exchange between Mark Zuckerberg and a friend soon
after Facebook was invented and was gaining popularity. Those that haven't, should. Here's how it went:

Mark Zuckerberg: Yeah so if you ever need info about anyone at Harvard
Mark Zuckerberg: Just ask
Mark Zuckerberg: I have over 4,000 emails, pictures, addresses, SNS
[Redacted Friend's Name]: What? How'd you manage that one?
Mark Zuckerberg: People just submitted it.
Mark Zuckerberg: I don't know why.
Mark Zuckerberg: They "trust me"
(He then went on to call these Facebook users a not very nice word.)

This is the person who runs the site that holds all your personal information. One that effects your mood, and is not afraid to abuse this power. And on top of that has a record of your face logged into its facial recognition software. So knowing all this, when Facebook decided to lie to my face, I closed the book on it. Never will I willingly and knowingly support such a business.

It's been very freeing, honestly, not having to check my Facebook, or feeling the need to waste time scrolling through the News Feed. I've been using Twitter, which is great for the most part, but there's been talk that they might switch to an algorithm based feed. If they do, I'm out. I'm not doing that again.

~Toby

P.S. as may be obvious, I am attempting to get into blogging again. I plan to post every week, Saturday at noon. We'll see if it works this time.