The Facebook Whistle Blower

For years, discussion has centered around whether or not social media companies should be held accountable for the content on their platforms. After the testimony of the latest Facebook whistle blower, the conversation might be shifting. The switch is to hold social media companies accountable for the content they show us. This instead of being accountable for the posted content.

As I’ve blogged before, social media companies need two things from us, their humble users. They need content we create. Secondly, they need hours of our unwavering, absorbed attention. They accomplish this through myriad ways.

Creating, sharing, and interacting with content is an easy sell for most users. This is seemingly a win-win scenario. Users gain benefit from the social media sites by creating, or ingesting, content. Alternatively, the social media sites have content that attracts people. However, that’s where the second part of the equation comes in. Social media companies needs us to want the content on their sites, more than any other place. There’s a lot of competition for our attention. Beyond devices, we also have competition from everyday life like jobs, hobbies, families, etc. But Facebook wants to make sure that when we’re online, it’s synonymous with being on Facebook.

One of the ways Facebook, and other social media companies, accomplish this is through algorithms. They use algorithms to make decisions for us about what content we should, or shouldn’t see, in our feeds. It’s based on many factors, one being what content is most likely to elicit a reaction. When we react to content, we’re more likely to engage with it. This means we’re staying on the site longer.

Another factor considered is how we will react to the content. According to the whistle blower, Facebook determined content generating negative reactions is more likely to keep us engaged. The quality of that engagement, however, is what the discussion needs to be focused on. By constantly showing users content that encourages a strong, negative response, such as anger or outrage, Facebook has figured out how to keep us on the site longer. YouTube employs a similar tactic to continually show viewers “more of the same.” In reality, the content progressively gets more extreme. This leads the viewer down one path, or another.

So what’s the solution? More regulations? More transparency? Who knows. It’s a story in progress. We’re all guinea pigs.

Productivity Tip: The Mini-Prep

A long time ago I learned the value of prepping ahead. Lately, I’ve started wondering how much prep is really necessary to make a difference.

Some evenings I’m too tired to do anything that would help me get a jump start on the next day. On nights like this I always promise myself I’ll go to bed early. This never happens. In the same breath I promise myself that I’ll wake up at least 15 minutes earlier than usual to catch up. This also almost never happens. If it does, it’s accompanied by a lot of snooze-button pushing. As a compromise, I developed the mini-prep, small things that are manageable on these tired nights.

To develop the mini-prep, I analyzed my morning routine. While no one task took me a long time, each one comprised lots of little steps. For example, I use an old-school stovetop percolator for my morning coffee. This requires me to:

  • fill the base with water
  • put the filter on top
  • remove coffee from the cupboard
  • fill the filter with coffee
  • screw the pot on top
  • place pot on stove
  • turn on the heat

Then I remove a mug from the cupboard over the stove, move across the kitchen to get milk from the fridge and prep my mug. All in all, not a big deal. Minus the time it takes the coffee to percolate, the whole process probably takes less than 2 minutes. But it’s a lot of small steps.

I don’t prep my moka pot the night before because that can cause it to rust. However, for the mini-prep I do a couple really tiny things to save me a few steps. The two tiny things are removing the coffee grounds from the cupboard and placing them next to the percolator. I keep a measuring spoon in the grounds so that helps. Then I place the mug next to the stove so it’s ready. Not overly ambitious, but manageable when I’m tired.

I’m also a huge oatmeal fan. Another mini-prep is to place the pot I’ll use with pre-measured water on the stove before bed. If I’m feeling really ambitious, I might pre-measure the oats and leave them in a bowl next to the pot.

These are all small steps that would hardly qualify as “prepping,” but I find they add up and make the morning experience just a little bit smoother.

The Merits of Attending a VR Conference

In last week’s post, I described my experience of creating my conference-attending avatar. Once created, and once I figured out the keyboard commands, it was time to explore. Here are a few of my thoughts about the experience.

The “campus” was beautiful. It included a lighthouse lookout point, speed boat rides, tables and chairs for “private” conversation areas, conference rooms, and a very realistic expo hall. Even things like background sounds were provided. On the beach I could hear birds chirping, the soft shushing motion of the waves, and a gentle breeze blowing. For someone who’s barely left my neighborhood since the pandemic started, this felt really special.

My avatar on Day 1 in front of the beach view.

At the sessions we could sit, or stand. Though it didn’t matter since I could zoom in the presentation. I often did this because just like in the real world when someone tall sits in front of you, the name of the avatars near me were floating above their heads obstructing my view. Still, more fun than uploading endless zoom presentations.

A “go to” with a list of all the different places on the campus made it easy to get around. The regular style presentations were fine to attend. However, I didn’t enjoy the panel discussions as much. Without watching actual people engage and exhibit some body language, I didn’t find them appealing. It was odd listening to people speak animatedly, combined with a motionless avatar on the stage.

I did try to converse with a few avatars. Again, because body language was lacking, it was difficult to join in a conversation. I managed a few conversations, but there were technical challenges. Since I didn’t have headphones in, it was causing feedback on the other end. When I put in my headphones, I could hear, but nobody could hear me. “Private” zones helped because then I could just hear the person I was speaking to.

My avatar on the beach in front of a “private” conversation area, the ring in blue behind.

On day 2 I figured out how to take a ride on the speedboat. At the last minute, two other avatars jumped in with me. One of them started driving. They popped out at the end without a word. I couldn’t decide if that was creepy, weird, or something to be expected in the VR world.

All in all, a fun, new experience. Though I’ve learned I’m definitely not ready for the meta-verse yet.

The Merits of Attending a VR Conference: Avatar Creation

This past week, I attended my first virtual reality (VR) conference. When I first saw the conference advertised months ago, I was intrigued. The ads mentioned attending as an avatar and walking around a campus. All this while attending sessions from world-class speakers and professionals. The low cost was another selling feature. Attending an in-person conferences is more expensive because of travel, lodging, and food. This was not an issue with a virtual conference.

After some initial mishaps installing the right app, I was in! Luckily customer support called me to guide me through the process. Even more astonishing, the customer support rep “met” me in the virtual world to show me around. Once I entered the world, my first stop was the avatar “dressing room” to create my avatar.

I had fun scrolling through the different options and palettes for things like skin tone, hair, accessories, clothing, shoes, etc. The right side of the screen featured a die. Once selected, it generated a randomly-created avatar based on available options. I tried this a few times before deciding it was too funky for me, even in a VR world.

The avatar dressing room had options for gender (m/f), hats, hair styles, eyes, eyeshadow, glasses, lips, ears, face shape, shirt, jacket, accessories, pants, and shoes. Each option offered approximately 5-10 different styles, in a range of available colors. See left-side panel.

Once in the dressing room, I faced my first VR dilemma. Should I be me? Or should I take advantage of the fun features and create someone totally different? I went for a hybrid approach, blending some of my own style with that of my avatar. For example, I picked a short, funky hairstyle that I would never get for myself. I discovered later it was actually a bun, so not that different. My avatar is wearing glasses, which I don’t wear. And on day 1, I dressed my avatar in yellow, a color I never wear. It was a professional conference, after all, so I didn’t want to look too different from myself.

After creating the avatar, the next step was learning how to move around in the campus. Keyboard commands were available for things like waving, clapping, shaking hands, acting impatient or confused, and dancing. My avatar could sit, stand, run, kick a ball and drive a motorboat.

Stay tuned next week for insights on attending the conference.

Productivity Tip: The Meal Plan

I’d never really considered having a meal plan before this past year. Cooking is a creative outlet for me. I’ve always enjoyed the challenge of figuring out how to make something with what’s available. Even better if that something is a surprise win. A friend of mine recently reminded me of a marinading sauce I concocted years ago. At the time I had a lot of cilantro and limes to use up. Not knowing what else to do with so many, I created a sauce that turned out pretty tasty.

Aside from the creative aspect of cooking, I also find chopping and prepping cathartic. Even better if I’m prepping while catching up on my favorite podcasts, another enjoyable activity for me.

So when I started working again post-pandemic, things got hectic. To make things easy, I started coming up with a weekly meal plan. Surprisingly, I like a lot of things about it.

First of all, it reduces decision fatigue. Thinking about what I’m going to eat, or opening the cupboard to get inspired, is all time and energy saved with the plan. If I feel hungry, I now consult the weekly program to remind myself of the meal.

Secondly, even though I still have to make the food, having the plan has also reduced my prep time. For example, if I know I’m having broccoli for a couple meals, I’ll prep all the broccoli at once. Then leave the washed and cut pieces in the fridge for cooking right when needed throughout the week. I do something similar with onions. After chopping up the onions, I freeze meal-size portions so they’re ready to use.

Some people plan their meals, then go to the grocery store and buy all the right stuff. My preference is to shop, especially if it’s farmer’s market season, then come up with meals. This way, cooking still feels creative, while freeing up some mental space for other things when needed. I also leave a few open options by simply writing fruit or veg. This way I can fill in the blank with whatever is on hand.

I have to say the meal plan is working out pretty well. I spend less than an hour on it each week. I’m sure it saves me more time than that because I’m ready to go. This is critical, especially when there are hangry mouths to feed.

Why Leftovers Always Taste so Good

Why is it that leftovers always taste good? Sometimes, they even taste better than the meal. During the holidays, I’ve heard a lot of people talk about how they almost enjoy the leftovers more than the actual meals. In fact, I think some people do enjoy holiday leftovers more. Here are a few of my thoughts on the topic.

With the pandemic restrictions easing up the last couple of months, I’ve been trying to have a (social-distanced, outdoor, and small) gathering every weekend. Usually we plan some kind of potluck lunch. Every time, I’ve had leftovers. Each time I go to eat them, two important things are happening.

  1. I have an easy, tasty meal. Preparation time is minimal. There’s the added bonus that I might be eating something delicious that somebody else took time to prepare.
  2. The happy outing memories are “baked” into the food. It’s almost as though I can recreate the fun conversation, laughs, and joy from eating the same foods again.

Even before Covid and all the lockdowns and restrictions destroyed social gatherings, I was always a fan of leftovers. This could be because I grew up making and eating a lot of Italian food. Everybody knows Italian food is better when it’s been slow cooked, heated up, and marinated in its own delicious saucy-goodness for a while. Another reason is because I was big on bringing my own lunch to work, when I used to commute. Leftovers provided me with something quick and easy to prep in the morning, or the night before (see no. 1 above). To me this was a more nutritious and less-expensive option than grabbing something from the food court. I would also add, that when I worked downtown, I got food poisoning more than once from eating in the food courts. Another great reason to bring my own food, where I could be confident of the quality and handling practices.

I do know a few (crazy) people that refuse to eat leftovers, but they’re definitely in the minority. I can recall a few times this happened to me. One time I made a large spaghetti squash. I ate it for days and days, hoping it would get moldy so I could toss it without guilt. Eventually, I choked it all down by mixing it with other leftovers.