Protecting Yourself from Your Online Self

Flying out to California and taking a break from in office work has given me a lot of time to reflect on how technology can track and predict your behavior. I am pretty familiar with machine learning and predictive modeling so I hope I do my best not to mansplaining anything in this blog post, but protecting ourselves from the internet is going to be the next key trend in the coming year.

As many people are aware by this point, Facebook and other social media platforms have been tracking our information.  That is pretty common because a social media platform has to predict how to keep us coming back.  They have to know who we want to talk with, what we want to view, and in what order we want to see items of interest.  If they are unsuccessful in doing that, the platform fails and dies out.  However, if they can keep producing information that releases a certain stimulus, we get addicted and need to check it every time we pull our phone out.  This results in more and more time needed to feel up to date on other people’s lives, resulting in an average user of social media shelling out over 2 hours on sites A DAY, according to Statista.  We are addicting, and the more we use it, the more a company will learn about us.

The way a machine learning model works is exactly how the word sounds.  An algorithm will start off making a bad prediction about something because it has little to no data on a subject.  However, over time the machine collects more information about a subject and can make a better prediction.  In social media, we are the subject and the prediction is on if something will illicit a response from us.  That response can be a like, a comment or even more time on a page rather than just scrolling past it.  The more we give it, the better it can do.  This is all fine if restricted to a social media platform, but when it leaks out past that, then we have an issue.

You might have heard about Cambridge Analytica as of late in the news. If not, here is a good catch up link by Wired if you want to go more in-depth.  Essentially, the tl;dr version is that an article came out accusing that the Trump campaign hired Cambridge Analytica to analyze over 50 million people to do psychological targeting based on the information they collected from Facebook to influence the 2018 presidential campaign.  Okay cool. They have a bunch of likes and picture of us. A little creepy, but nothing too bad, right? Well, it has not been super clear what Facebook or Google as a larger entity has been storing on its users. This definitely brought it to light, and it is very gloomy from a personal privacy standpoint.

You should really sit down and read either Dylan Curran’s link on the Guardian or his thread on Twitter because they are both striking.  The line was definitely moves away from social responsibility of the company to blaming the customer, making companies essentially state, “Well you shouldn’t have agreed to it. You knew what you were doing.” This brings me to one of my favorite Parks and Recreation motivation moments:

BenWyatt

We as consumers have to do a better job of monitoring our data footprint.  However, that doesn’t mean a company can just play ignorant of the thing, saying it is our fault.  That is not how you treat a consumer base, especially for a free product.

Think carefully before the next time you spend your time scrolling.  In my opinion, deleting Facebook isn’t the answer since it gives so many benefits of connection. How am I supposed to keep track of everyone’s birthday? However, a push for the government to step in and help solve this privacy issue would be a great asset to the overall conversation than deleting an app (even if you delete it, they still have the data so be wary about that). Government regulation on what Facebook can capture, if done correctly, can set a precedent for other social media companies doing the same type of harnessing and allowing companies access to psychological targeting.

If you want to see how you can download your social media information, check out the Guardian link from Dylan Curran above, or check this link out for another way.

 

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Reflecting On Myself: 2018

One of the best benefits I get from having a background in statistics is how easily I can pick up on small things. I think one of my best traits is my ability to sense a room, and I am able to do that through my ability to perceive the reality around me.

It helps me solve problems around the apartment, like being able to see when stuff has been moves or how best to occupy a space with furniture. It helps me know drama is going down in the friend group or there is something someone is not telling me by them acting differently. The best case of it though so far has been how I have changed in the past few years.  Nothing skates by someone who is super observant and super critical on themselves.

So how have I changed? Well, to people that don’t me, I have gone through huge change where I can now bench 450 pounds and I speak four languages.  That’s it. Y’all can stop reading here.

 

For the few people that know me, you can see a few things.  I wear more stylish clothing on occasion or I lost 5 pounds from not eating Taco Bell on the ride home after school everyday.  For myself, I see a huge amount of shifts in how I observe the world and how I behave in certain situations, which differs by group.  Here is my top 5 hit list of what I have seen changed

  1. I am not an extrovert. I told myself this all the time in college while I worked in New Student Orientation, but it just isn’t a thing. I don’t get energized by being around people I don’t know. I don’t get all jazzed from someone coming up to me and saying “Hey let’s go to a new bar with a grab bag of people!” or “You want to go to a networking event?”
  2. I am not good at small talk. I was good at in in college, but since taking a job in tech primarily around coding, I lost all of that skill to drive a conversation with someone I don’t know or don’t care about.  My go to recently has been to ask what is someone’s spirit animal to come off as quirky and stir up a good conversation.  I go with fin whale because one time I took a class on primal religions and our professor guided us through a vision quest to find our spirit animal.  No peyote involved, I swear.
  3. I don’t work that hard. Kind of a weird one to tell other people, and I don’t want the phrase to be covered in douchebag-ness.  Let me unpack this.  I believe working hard is working for 12 hours a day on something for work, or using my free time to commit to one thing and busting my ass to do it. I just don’t do that. My work engages me, but doesn’t overwork me and I have a variety of stuff outside of work to keep me occupied, but not causing life changes.  So I have a different definition than most people, and that’s fine by me
  4. Dress codes suck.  I clean up well in a suit and I figured I would like working in a business casual/business formal workplace. Not the case, my blog-migos.  Suits suck when you have to wear one everyday. They are so constructing. I’m not doing and manual labor or anything that requires a full breath of motion, I hate not being able to raise my arms fully above my head without thinking I might tear a jacket. Don’t come at me with the tailoring comments. They fit great, and there is nothing I can do to fix it.
  5. I have got a crap ton of time.  Daily, weekly, month, yearly.  It all comes down to time, and for a 24 year old in the position I am, I have time to make mistakes and rebound while still young and agile and not tied down with “responsibilities” (Envision having huge air quotes around responsibility. Like in person, whole arm moving air quotes).  So what if I screw up a presentation, a conversation, or a job interview? We have time in this world to make up the time in a marathon of life. A few years ago, I thought my life had one successful path and if I didn’t take it I was going to be shunned and shamed for the rest of my days. Every path I can go down now can be successful in its own way.  Its just figuring out which one I want to take that will be the hard time.

So that’s me now.  A few internal changes to how I approach life, and one dress code anger that I needed to vent.  Hopefully I helped you start reflecting on how you might have changed over the past few years.

Next up: Comedy data from John Mulaney.  Yes!

Another Instance, and Still No Change: A Brief Dig into Mass Shootings

There have been eight school shootings that have resulted in injuries in 2018.  That is a school shooting almost every 6 days.  The consistency and routine that has revolved around this have made some numb to it when it has never directly affected their area, but screams so loud the first time it involves a person or place close to you, along with every subsequent time.  How could this become so routine that it seems like every week, something tragic like this happens?
Well, it does happen every week. Since 2013, there have been nearly 300 school shootings in the United States.  ­­This might differ from some others, but that is because I am taking Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund’s definition of it.  They define a school shooting as:

 “Any time a firearm discharges a live round inside a school building or on a school campus or grounds, as documented by the press and, when necessary, confirmed through further inquiries with law enforcement or school officials”

Just as an explanation, this doesn’t mean people were injured or killed during each incident.  Some of these incidents were premeditated, did not involve students, and even weren’t school related other than the fact it happened on school grounds. However, the large spike in gun handling and violence in an education institution is unwarranted and incomprehensible.

However, what can be done in the way of data to help analyze and create conclusions about school shootings? Well, it is not super easy.  According to a Wired article, Congress has prohibited the Center for Disease Control and Prevention from funding public health research into firearms.  Without money, no data infrastructure can be made to handle not only school shooting scenarios, but overall gun ownership and gun injury metrics. Luckily, the Mother Jones project could stand apart and help start collecting data on mass shootings.

Mother Jones is a reader-supported nonprofit news organization that publishes a lot of different types of articles, from political commentary to food reviews to everything in between. However, they created their own database of mass shooting events in the United States, where a mass shooting is defined as a single attack in a public place in which three or more victims were killed (It was originally four, then President Obama lowered the bar of investigation and definition to three).  After analyzing this list, we can draw and extrapolate some conclusions on the current state of gun control and how we can break this cycle of routine.

There was a sharp increase in 2016, 2017 in fatalities and occurrences due to single events

In 2017, there were 117 fatalities due to mass shootings on 11 different occurrences.  This number is significantly higher than the year before, as 2016 saw 71 deaths on 7 occurrences.  The large spike of deaths in 2017 was largely due to the Las Vegas Strip shooting, while the 2016 spike was due in part by the Orlando Nightclub shooting.  Magnitude and premeditated steps must have been taken to not only pick these locations, but also generate some form of extended shelter to allow such carnage to take place.

Mental Instability is a main cause of concern amongst gun owners

Of the 97 mass shootings from 1982 to February 15th, 51 of them involved an individual who had exhibited prior signs of mental health issues. Of those 51 occurrences, 74.51% of them obtained a gun legally. Under 18 U.S.C. § 922(d), it is illegal for a person to own a firearm if  “they have been adjudicated as a mental defective or has been committed to any mental institution.” The wording behind this means that if a court finds someone is a danger to others or themselves, or if they are unable to manage their own life under their own abilities, then they are a mental defective. Essentially, we are letting people not buy guns if they are previous identified as being a threat, not preemptively.  Comparatively, this is like someone saying they are deathly allergic to something after having an allergic reaction to it. That is ridiculous. The conversation around mental health is becoming more and more accepted as time goes on. The conversation around mental health awareness, medication and overall prevention against somber intent needs to be accelerated.

Focus should not be on just automatic weapons

For this conclusion, I looked at the types of weapons used in each case. Each case was given a weapon type due to a column that listed all weapons used in the shooting. If the case had an automatic weapon, it was automatically (sorry) given that status. If not, and it was still a form of firearm, it was put into the semi-automatic grouping.  After doing an analysis on this, one could see the following graphic:

Rplot

The real jumping characteristic from the past 36 years comes from the amount of injuries that occur with automatic weapon based injuries versus semi-automatic.  The chart says it all. Automatic weapons cause too many causalities per instance to be allowed to the public.  The Second Amendment of the Constitution reads: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” However, that was back in 1776.  Michael A. Bellesiles, a Colonial historian at Emory University, states in his book Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture, that only 14 percent of American men owned guns, and over half of those guns were unusable during the later 1700s.  Also, gun reload speed was significantly less at about 6 rounds a minute tops.  That last fact was from multiple forums specializing in musket reload speed, so take that fact with a grain of salt but let the message stand still: our forefathers built the laws for the current and future state of this country, but not to the extent to which could be realized today. That includes the liberal meaning of the Second Amendment in today’s time.

It is extremely hard to analyze this data. I had to take 3 breaks while writing this article because I have to try and compartmentalize the number I see on the screen to the actual meaning behind that.  I have had friends that have been directly impacted my these events, and I cannot begin to try and sympathize.  However, I can do whatever I can to help educate individuals with my own expertise, which is by looking at the data this way.

So what do we do now?  We talk about it.  No matter how hard it is to start the conversation, we must be outward, not inward, about it.  Being silent and not speaking out about these tragic events only allows the reinforcement of the actions in our society.  Talk with your friends, talk with your family, talk with your community about how to enact change.  The easiest way to enact change? Change the people that are making the decisions to allow these events to occur by voting and being a part of the political system.  By talking and changing the conversation from one of sorrow to one of change, we can start to push regulation and pull back the numbers in the spreadsheet that give so much harm.

Data Obsessed

Yesterday I found a cool submission contest from the New York Times. It was geared towards recent college grads and the winners of the contests get to write contributing articles for the new NYTEdge, a column geared towards the next generation of shakers and movers.  Not to skip out on a cool opportunity, I jumped right at it and created the below piece around the prompt “What are you obsessed talking about?” Enjoy my thoughts

Data. I have been infatuated by it since I was a child.  Honestly, it has been.  Since figuring out Microsoft Excel wasn’t just a place to play makeshift Battleship, my life has been surrounded by taking in, understanding, and interpreting data that lived in columns and rows. It’s the reason why I got a Masters in Statistics a few years ago, and why I pursued a career as a data scientist.  As a data scientist, I make business decisions based off gigabytes and terabytes worth of tables.  It’s a childhood passion realized.

Seeing what leaders in technology are doing to collect data only gets me more into the subject. Amazon listening in on our conversations right as we say ‘Alexa’, Facebook tracking our likes and needs to create custom customer ads, and Netflix shelling out seven or eight figures just to see if we don’t like a show creates something to talk about.  The actions by their audience creates feedback, allowing for better upgrades and content for us to consume.  However, that doesn’t mean we are heading in the right direction from a consumer standpoint.

A decade ago, data science emerged as a business opportunity for everyone. Small businesses could zoom around Excel, creating models and predicting customer growth or decline.  As time progressed though, people wanted to analyze more to disrupt the market even more. Tools were built for people to not just analyze spreadsheets, but whole databases at the press of a button in the time it takes to eat lunch.  It is commonplace now to comb and through petabytes of data over a project’s timeline.  For comparison, a petabyte of music can be played continuously on loop for 2,000 years.  That is like listening to Smashmouth’s All-Star more than a billion times.

Why is this an issue? Well, as a generation just now getting off the ground and starting to make decisions for ourselves outside the privy of our parents, we need to start being aware of our data footprint.  Giving away information is very easy to do, with one-click purchasing and ads everywhere we look.  This information can be taken and used to influence our own behavior, which creates a loop of satisfaction that these companies are imparting on us.  Once this cycle has been established, it is hard to break from the predictive behavior we have given others.  This starts to leak over into our personal lives, encouraging scrolling, unimaginative behavior and a lack of real-life gratification.

It is easy for someone to pick up on this behavior in between the 1s and 0s. I have done it and my company prospered.  However, does that make it right to do? Is it okay to condition a business’s client into a repetitive manner? That line is so gray, and that is why I am so obsessed with talking about it. It might be one of the newest and principal ethical conversations in the upcoming decades. Thanks to Battleship, I am ready to embrace debate.

Key to Success: Unfamiliarity

I left my last job a week ago

At the time, I knew it was something to do.  However, I didn’t know where it would land me.  I mean, I knew what organization it would land me and what my specific job title and role would be.  The content of the job, though, was completely unknown.

Going from a highly technical space with few responsibilities and goals to ultimately achieve seemed like the perfect starting point. I could learn and train and observe as much as I wanted without interference or major responsibilities on my back.  It was a dream for anybody coming out of college in the green position I was at, having only worked for my school’s new student orientation program. That dream quickly dissipated and became a purgatory like mess.

We, as humans, are destined for greatness.  The miracle that we get to live on this rock shooting through the universe in a perfect condition should not be taken lightly.  That doesn’t mean that every day we must be pursuing some large goal. We can take breaks for a day or a week. If you start to get into this rhythm though, our greatness starts to fade. Without goals, we stay stagnant, and in being stagnant we start to wane.

I never realized that until a project I worked on in August. We had one month to complete a project, start to finish.  Most projects just take a month to get permissions on accessing data.  A team of 7 of us were able to dynamically engage, analyze, and present information within that month, causing a few gasps in the hallway and an understanding that projects can be done in a shorter timeframe than imagined. That is when I realized that it was not only me who was in the slump, but most of my peers. That is when I knew I had to get out.

I had always entertained having a new job, but never because I wanted to change personally. Previously, I wanted to do it for a professional move. Maybe I wanted to increase my skills in a certain area or understand a different part of the business.  I never wanted to do it to change who I was fundamentally.  At this time though, I knew I had to do that.  I wallowed for weeks until I got a call from an old coworker, wondering if I was interested in signing on to something new.  She helped me before, and I knew she would help me again.

Leaving the comfortable is hard to.  Familiarity helps us make sense of the world around us. I learned that I needed the opposite of that to live though.  Always doing something different is the routine I need to thrive.  I found that in this new job. I have no idea what I will learn or achieve, but I know its better than where I was.  I have goals and a yearn to succeed for the first time in a year, and that makes all the difference.

The Bachelor: Math and Power Rankings

Once of the best vices I have had in the past year is watching The Bachelor and The Bachelorette.  How are these shows so good that someone with my high intellect and verbose can stoop to watch them week in and week out? Well, two ways:

1) I am incredibly arrogant and my friends humble me a lot

2) It is so much fun to completely ruin someone’s existence on TV by talking in your living room and sipping beer or a cheap rose´.

Moving on from that, it seemed really interesting that a bunch of people get together that all want this one guy.  Is that how dating works? Throw 20 guys in a room with one random girl and say “You are all allowed 100% compatible to marry this person. Fight it out on a daily basis to win his heart because she isn’t allowed to date anyone outside of this circle.”  That is almost like Stockholm syndrome right?

Just looking at a quick Wikipedia page shows how off this whole “Church of Bachelor-ology” concept is.  Everyone wishes to be on or apply for it, but think about the odds.  This season we have one guy (Arie, who is a douche and throwing his tongue in every girl’s mouth) and 29 ladies.  That already puts you at a 3.45% chance of winning and finding love.  After every week, you odds increase by having three girls eliminated, but in the grand scheme of things, does that even matter? Out of all of the seasons of the Bachelor, only two couples are still together, putting you at a 9.5% chance season over season to actually get into a long lasting marriage.  If you take the total number of past seasons, multiply it by the number of contestants, and then divide it by our two lucky ladies who have won, you get a lovely 0.35% chance of finding your soulmate on the Bachelor.  0.35%!!! Your odds of being asked to Come on Down are higher on the Price is Right (2.7%) as are the odds of a kickoff in the NFL being returned for a touchdown (0.37%).

Here is the better take on that though: when ladies get to pick, we hit our average.  The Bachelorette, minus last season because it is way too soon, hits at a supreme six for 12 or 50%.  The ladies know how to look through the trash and pick the gems that they have been looking for this entire time.  Men need to step up their game.

Anyhoo, lets be a little shallow. Here are my top two and bottom two contestants that are still on The Bachelor.

TOP 2:

  • Tia Booth
  • Becca Kufrin

There are both badass women and don’t get a lot of feature time this late into the season, so they are going to make it to the top

BOTTOM 2:

  • Krystal Nielson
  • Krystal Nielson

Other than the fact that she sounds like SpongeBob SquarePants when he is in Sandy’s air dome, she is too aggressive and manipulative, and I have no space for that in my fictional tv shows.  I understand it makes good TV, but come on people.  Pull your heads out from between the wine and get some actual value in this show by modeling yourself off of more superior women.

How Do I Make Millions with Bitcoin?

Cryptocurrency  is the name of the game, having reached a total of almost 14,000 dollars at the time this article was written.  What exactly is Bitcoin though, other than a conversation starter with people to let them know that you are saavy and with the times? It goes into some interesting new technology called “blockchain” and the concept of Bitcoin can have an incredible impact on our economy, and not in a good way. Cryptocurrency can get complicated, so our main focus will be on the heavy hitter, Bitcoin.

THE TECH STUFF

Cryptocurrency is a way to exchange digital currency that is formed and verified through cryptography.  Makes sense.  Cryptography plus currency.  Cryptography is a way to encrypt different messages or transactions using mathematical formulas to ensure a secure communication stream.  Just keep reading and this will all make sense at the end of the article. I promise!

Bitcoin was invented by an anonymous person/group by the name of Satoshi Nakamoto in January 2009.  This origin, based off of a white paper made by the same person/group, started the beginning of a cryptocurrency that relied on a peer to peer network to make a decentralized entity.  A bank is considered a centralized entity, that assigns value to money and moderates transactions.  In a decentralized, peer to peer network, the power of moderation and tracking comes down to the people.

People are the managers of Bitcoin, as they maintain the order and tracking of the transactions, also called the ledger.  The ledger is kept through a concept called the blockchain, which you might have heard multiple times already in business or tech news.  More information can come from a simple Google Search, but I will give you a skinny for now so we can continue the conversation.  Blockchain technology can be used to keep track of transaction or information based on adding one additional block to the chain of blocks already created.  Since the blockchain is kept among a peer to peer network, it is not centralized, so it cannot be corrupted or hacked through one single source.  It takes security and spreads it among all of the users in the system.

Ok great! We know some underlying information so we can start to get into the process.  When someone wants to trade Bitcoin among the network for goods or services, they submit three things: their account #, the account # of the person they are sending it to, and how many Bitcoins are to be sent.  The submission, or message for simplicity sakes, is protected through a public key cryptography.  Everyone has two keys: a private key and a public key.  The keys are used in conjunction with each other to both encrypt (public key) and decrypt (private key) information so the only people that are privy to the information are the users in the message.  With the authentication in place, messages can be freely sent back in forth, creating the Bitcoin economy.  However, this raises a new problem: if people are making transactions over and over at high rates, what is added to the blockchain?

Timing is crucial in the Bitcoin economy, as it is a peer to peer network managed by the blockchain.  At a centralized bank, the timing of transactions is easily monitored by one entity.  If the bank sees you have 10 dollars, and you make two transaction of 10 dollars, it will honor the first one and cancel the second one.  Due to the blockchain being managed by everyone, the additions of new transactions in the ledger have to be encrypted and managed closely to not cause duplication or unfair pulling of funds.  This is achieve through SHA256, or Secure Hash Algorithm, another form of cryptography.  The importance of this type of cryptography is that you can only encrypt the message one way.  This is insanely important because if you can only encrypt and not decrypt, no one can override the encryption that you did.  This is how blockchain allows for a stable, non-hackable ledger.  Things can be added and saved, and not duplicated, changed or erased through SHA256.  The SHA256 encryption segments are created by users of the network, and is what drives the Bitcoin economy by rewarding users with Bitcoins.

The main way of earning Bitcoin is to successfully solve the current SHA256 encryption that is supplied by the blockchain. The reward for each successful encryption solution is a certain amount of Bitcoins to the user, which is the main way that Bitcoins are released into the market.  This is called “mining” and “miners” are considered the people that set up computers to solve the encryption problems.  Huge computation power is needed to solve these SHA256 problems, so people build there own mining stations and tap into their electricity bill for a chance to have a fraction of a Bitcoin.  Originally, they would get around 12 Bitcoins, which would go for fractions of pennys.  Now though, less than a decade later, we are looking at a single Bitcoin being valued at great than $13,000! What a turnaround.  Now that we know how to make Bitcoins out of nothing, what does this mean for the global economy outside of that peer to peer network

THE IMPACT SIDE

First off: Bitcoin will not replace any “real-world” monies, so we are safe there.  That doesn’t mean that Bitcoin won’t be more widely used though, as the want for currency to be discrete and private among these political climates becomes more and more of a request.

With Bitcoin being valued so highly nowadays, you have to believe that there is going to be some splash of secondary impact due to its high value per unit. This comes from people buying Lambos or yachts with the random Bitcoins they mined half a decade ago.  That part is simple as it creates money and adds more economic drive across the nation.  The action might not be recognizably quantifiable, but the impact would be there.

Here is another one for you: environmental impact.  People have to go through that time intensive coding using self made computers.  That turns into massive amounts of energy used across the world.  Digiconomist has tracked the number of terawatts used to mine Bitcoin over the past few years, with the estimation on December 10th being about 32 terawatts.  In 2013, we as a species consumed 18.1 terawatts in 2013 according to International Energy Statistics.  Our world cannot handle this kind of impact over and over.  Though our own currency creation for fiat currency probably produces the same amount of energy or roughly the same, the addition of this new currency creation is going to be unacceptable in the next coming years as we try to build a more sustainable planet.

More impacts are surely due over the coming weeks, as Bitcoin IPOs and patented technology get more fleshed out.  However, it is a sure statement that Bitcoin, at its level now, will influence the way we think about currency in the long run and what we can do to help usher it in in the least impactful way possible.  Do you see Bitcoin having additional impacts on our planet or economy? Let’s start the conversation below in the comments!