Bits and Pieces

Some quickies for a slow Thursday.

First, a prediction I got right. In talking about Google’s addition of automatic tagging to their Photo app, I said “If the recognition works well, the advantages are obvious. If it doesn’t work well, then we’ve got a repeat of Flickr’s recent image tagging fiasco.”

Earlier this week, Ars Technica reported that the app was tagging photos of two black people as “gorillas”.

Google handled it well: they immediately removed the tags, apologized publicly, and worked with the man who reported the problem to tweak the facial recognition code.

But honestly, this can’t be the only offensive incorrect recognition lurking in the code. New prediction: we’ll see more such stories about Google, Flickr, and any other photo storage and display software that assigns tags automatically.

You may have heard that a new debate has been sweeping the Internet lately. More polarizing than what color the dress is, more riveting than escaped llamas, it’s The Great Peacamole debate!

A couple of years ago, Melissa Clark, a New York Times columnist wrote about a guacamole recipe based on green peas. The world ignored it. Yesterday she wrote about it again, and the Internet–Twitter in particular–exploded.

Tweets from both sides of the political divide condemned the recipe:

And yet Ms. Clark remains defiant:

The thing is, this recipe not only includes peas, but also, God help us, sunflower seeds.

I’m sure the recipe is as delicious as Ms. Clark claims–but it isn’t guacamole. If it had been billed as what it is, Avocado/pea dip, we would have avoided this whole debate.

But still, there’s a bright spot in the debacle. We’ve found an issue that unites President Obama and Texas Republicans. Maybe, just maybe, they can build on that agreement. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if something so wrong as peacamole led to an agreement on gun control, immigration, or abortion rights?

In sadder news, Tama, the feline stationmaster of Japan’s Kishigawa railway line, died last week. Her funeral was attended by 3,000 mourners.

I’ve written several times about cats working to promote their own selfish agendas or achieve world domination. It’s a pleasant change to take note of a cat working to improve her life by helping the humans around her.

Tama rose from poverty–a former stray–and single-pawedly saved the rail line from bankruptcy, and drew more than a billion yen in tourist income the the region. In recognition of her efforts, she’s been appointed to the post of “honourable eternal stationmaster” and has been deified.

Her apprentice, Nitama, has taken on the role of honorary stationmaster.

And finally, CNET and other venues are reporting that Amazon will be changing the way it weights reviews. Instead of simply averaging all reviews’ ratings, they’ll begin giving more weight to “useful” reviews.

Although the expect the weightings to change over time, currently the plan is to give more weight to verified Amazon buyers’ reviews, newer reviews, and reviews customers flag as helpful.

I have mixed feelings about the change. I can see it making a lot of sense in some areas. Giving more weight to newer reviews and “helpful” reviews of appliances, toys, and tech gadgets makes sense to me. As similar products come out, reviews that compare multiple options and weigh the tradeoffs should get more weight.

On the other hand, I don’t think that’s as true in other fields. Is a recent review of Twilight automatically more useful than one that was written when the book came out? Should a review of Jurassic Park that compares it with Jurassic World be granted more weight than a review from last year? How much weight does a multiply-helpful-flagged review of Madonna’s Like a Virgin from 1984 get compared to a review from 2014?

I’ll be watching to see how this develops.

7 thoughts on “Bits and Pieces

  1. I heard all about Tama yesterday on NPR. I choked up, of course, and was delighted by the story. Japan honors cats, a point for them in my opinion.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “Is a recent review of Twilight automatically more useful than one that was written when the book came out?” Because Amazon combines reviews for VHS, DVD, Blu-Ray, and Streaming (as well as Paperback, Hardcover, and Kindle) on the product page, newer reviews are certainly more helpful — at least when these things are released at different times.

    For example, there is a recent re-issue of Soap (the 70s TV comedy), in a “complete series” package. I wanted to see if this newer release is “better” than the last release, which is distinct from the release before that. The first package was essentially all four seasons individually boxed. The second release was a single box but all of the discs on a single spindle. The third release doesn’t have the spindle but all of the discs are in paper sleeves.

    Or consider something like Watchmen which, besides the different formats, can have new/different supplemental material, paper quality, and reproduction values. Re-issues of movies may/not have the same commentaries and other special features, and often have been remastered or have different aspect ratios.

    Of course, it would be better if Amazon considered only the reviews for the actual SKU I’m looking at. But in the meantime, I think the time-based weighting is a good idea.

    Liked by 1 person

    • A valid point, though I would argue that reviews that focus on the physical media are essentially treating them as physical objects akin to dishwashers and smartphones.

      But what about reviews that cover the content, the ones you use to decide if you want to read Twilight, watch Jurassic Park, or listen to Like a Virgin? Is recency an automatic win in those cases?


      • Presuming the recent feedback applies to the version I would receive, I would say yes. It would be more relevant to the specific item and help me choose among the apples. If an inferior version is the more recent one (as sometimes happens, such as the latest Blu-Ray release of the Max Fleischer cartoons which are of lesser video quality and feature the publishers logo in the corner throughout the video) I’d like to consider that in my decision.

        But again, this is a case where reviews for the actual SKU are most beneficial. Those Superman reviews might steer me towards a Powerpuff Girls decision if it didn’t suggest the earlier, superior, Diamond Edition on DVD instead.


      • Another example: A number of reviews are posted for movies before they are released on disc. These are typically from people who saw the movie in the theater, or saw some blog posts/trailers and are commenting about changes from the source material (thinking about DC Animated Movies here). I’ve seen one-star reviews for movies because they replaced Aquaman with Shazam, and five-star reviews because they loved the show as a kid. Nothing about video quality, special features, packaging, or if the labels on Disc 5 and Disc 6 are switched (UFC Ultimate 100 Greatest Fights).

        Weighting towards recent reviews would knock those down a bit. There’s only so many times I can click “Unhelpful”.


        • I’m not totally convinced, but you make a compelling case for considering video as equivalent to coffee machines. 😉

          I’m still dubious about the utility of a recency boost to reviews of books and music, where nothing much in the content changes from one release to the next.


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