A Blog by Jonathan Low


Oct 20, 2019

Accessibility, The Future - And Why Dominos Matters

The question of whether a website is a public accomodation under the law, just like a store, could impact who has access to the internet and in what ways in the future. JL

Kate Cox reports in ars technica:

Is a website or an app a "public accommodation" under the law the same way a brick-and-mortar storefront is, therefore making it subject to the same requirements? If inclusive design has low-hanging fruit, it's the right thing to do, and it's cheaper to do it right the first time... why is accessibility still so contentious? The perception many companies have when it comes to accessibility: "It's difficult." "We are primarily focused on the afterwards clean up, because that is where the legal exposure exists."

The Reason Unicorns Love Recessions

Less competition, more people, equipment and real estate available at lower prices - and more opportunity for good products and services. JL

Mario Gamper reports in Venture Beat:

The last recession was a pretty awesome time to launch a company. Airbnb was founded in 2008 and is currently valued at $35 billion. Pinterest, founded in 2009, was last valued at $10.6 billion. Looking back through history, a pattern extends beyond the startup: Apple, Microsoft, General Electric, IBM, General Motors, Burger King, CNN, and Disney were all founded during recessions. Economic downturns weed out obsolescent business models and products. This frees up the market for new players with strong products. There is also less competition for top talent and great office space, both of which are key to scaling a new business.

Why the Tech Industry Is Making Everything Louder

It's not just devices. The data centers that power those gadgets emit constant noise so loud and unnerving that people across the world are starting to protest. JL

Bianca Bosker reports in The Atlantic:

The nature of noise is shifting. Sonic gripes from the 18th and 19th centuries—church bells, carriage wheels, street criers—sound charming to today’s ears. Since then our soundscape has been overpowered by data centers, which are spreading in lockstep with our online obsession. Communities in France, Ireland, Norway, Canada, North Carolina, Montana, Virginia, Colorado, Delaware, and Illinois have all protested the whine of data centers.

How Propaganda Works In the Digital Age

Disinform and distract. JL

Sean Illing reports in Vox:

In a fragmented media environment, an Orwellian top-down model of propaganda just doesn’t make sense.In the digital age, news consumption is like shopping. Propaganda today is about pushing conspiracy theories or misleading spin. Purveyors of propaganda want you to think that to be real, we’ve got to counterbalance everything. Transforming politics into a post-truth contest of tribal identity is an explicit goal of modern propaganda. The main goal is to undercut the idea of truth and distract the audience. Trump campaign chief Steve Bannon described Trump’s media strategy as “flooding the zone with shit.”

Software Reveals the Factors That Make A City Great

Vibrancy and similar intangibles are what differentiate great cities from the run-of-the-mill. Which adds urgency to the task of figuring out how to measure them. JL

arXiv reports in MIT Technology Review:

One of the key properties of cities is how successful they are in creating vibrant communities. The most convincing  (theory) is (that) vibrant city life can flourish only in neighborhoods that serve two or more functions, to attract people with different purposes throughout the day and night. City blocks must be small, with numerous intersections that force pedestrians to interact. And the buildings must be diverse and dense to support a mix of tenants. The creation of high-quality maps (and) software for analyzing and visualizing open-source mapping data has shown how different cities can be.

The Lines of Code That Changed Everything

The often obscure and hidden influences that have shaped our lives. JL

Slate reports:

Code shapes our lives.Culturally, code exists in a nether zone. We can feel its effects on our reality, but we rarely see it, and it’s inscrutable to non-initiates. (The folks in Silicon Valley like it; it helps them self-mythologize as wizards.) Computer scientists, software developers, historians, policymakers, and journalists were asked to pick: Which code had a huge influence? It’s not a comprehensive list. It’s meant to help us ponder how code undergirds our lives and decisions made by programmers ripple into the future. The most consequential code creates new behaviors by removing friction.When software makes it easier to do something, we do more of it.

How Kids' Photos Posted Innocently On Social Media Are Powering Surveillance AI

It is prudent to assume that if you post photos on social media, they will be scraped for other purposes.

But states are beginning to pass legislation making misuse of such photos illegal. Lawsuits, some in the billions of dollars, have followed. Whether that will stop the big tech companies remains to be seen. JL

Kashmir Hill and Aaron Krolik report in the New York Times:

In 2014, seeking to advance the cause of computer vision, Yahoo unveiled “the largest public multimedia collection ever released,” featuring 100 million photos and videos. Yahoo got the images from Flickr, a subsidiary. Users weren’t notified that their photos were included. Each photo includes a numerical identifier that links back to the Flickr photographer’s account. The Times was able to trace photos in the database to the people who took them. More than 200 class-action lawsuits alleging misuse of biometrics have been filed including a $35 billion case against Facebook for using face recognition to tag people in photos.