Inactive Patents, Internet for Schools, Google Translate, More: Wednesday Buzz, November 16, 2016

NEW RESOURCES has a story about a new search tool for inactive patents. “… many registered, inactive patents could be inspiring. So, the algorithm [Joshua] Pearce and [Yuenyong] Nilsiam wrote works by scraping the US Patent Database each week when the agency updates patent statuses. Every 3.5 years, 7.5 years and 11.5 years, patents come up for renewal, and if the dues are not paid and the paperwork remains unfiled, then the patent becomes inactive and enters the public domain.”

A new tool provides much-needed transparency for what schools are paying for high-speed Internet. “Now, Compare & Connect K-12—which maps the 2015 and 2016 E-rate application data—allows administrators, state leaders and even service providers to compare bandwidth speeds and broadband prices against school districts nearby or across the country. For people like [Tom] Hering, that’s a reason to celebrate. The tool gave the district the information and leverage it needed to negotiate with its service provider—midway into a 5-year contract, no less—a 330 percent increase in bandwidth at an only 8 percent price increase. The district now boasts a bandwidth of 1,000 megabits per second (Mbps), falling cozily in line with the FCC’s current bandwidth goal of at least 100 kilobits per second (Kbps) per student.”


Google has upped its translating game. “In 10 years, Google Translate has gone from supporting just a few languages to 103, connecting strangers, reaching across language barriers and even helping people find love. At the start, we pioneered large-scale statistical machine translation, which uses statistical models to translate text. Today, we’re introducing the next step in making Google Translate even better: Neural Machine Translation. Neural Machine Translation has been generating exciting research results for a few years and in September, our researchers announced Google’s version of this technique. At a high level, the Neural system translates whole sentences at a time, rather than just piece by piece. It uses this broader context to help it figure out the most relevant translation, which it then rearranges and adjusts to be more like a human speaking with proper grammar.”

Interesting: You no longer need an account to use Skype. “You can now use Skype even if you don’t have a Skype account. In an effort to try and get more people using Skype, Microsoft has opened up its core features to anyone and everyone. In other words, you could use Skype as a Guest from now on, and never have to sign in again. Result!”

Twitter is adding new tools in an attempt to curb abuse. Not feeling especially heartened as Twitter doesn’t seem to do a lot with the reporting tools it has now. Unless you’re famous or get a lot of media coverage. “Users will be able filter out certain keywords, phrases, user names, and hashtags in their mentions, Twitter says. You’ll also have the option to mute threads. The company is also revamping its abuse reporting system so that bystanders can report harassment and hate speech directly rather than leaving that option solely to the person on the receiving end.”

Firefox is up to version 50! Remember when Netscape 4 got released and we all lost our minds? “Mozilla’s Firefox browser has reached a big milestone today, with the public release of Firefox 50. The new browser comes with greatly improved start-up speeds and a bunch of new user-friendly features. As we detailed in our Software section earlier today, the 50th stable version of Firefox is currently rolling out to users on Windows, Linux, and MacOS. The new browser was originally slated to come out earlier this month, but it was delayed.”

WhatsApp has rolled out video calling for everybody. “WhatsApp wants to be international cross-platform FaceTime. Today Facebook-owned chat service WhatsApp is officially launching video calling for its over 1 billion users worldwide on iOS, Android and Windows Phone. Its debut follows a series of reports from people who recently found the feature had been enabled in beta versions of WhatsApp on Android and on Windows Phone – an indication that a public debut was on the near horizon.”


Digital Trends: YouTuber Uses Deceptively Cheap DIY Studio Setup to Interview Mandy Moore. “‘It’s not the gear; it is the photographer,’ or some variation of that phrase, is something you have likely heard before. This is a mantra that many often bring up when a photographer or videographer friend is lusting after a new piece of equipment, or bragging about some gear. You can find countless examples online of inexpensive gear being used to great effect, and we have another one of those for you to enjoy here today.”


Religion News Service: In Indonesia, a new way to take back social media from extremists. “While most agree that tech companies must do more to filter out hoaxes, an experiment soon to be launched in Indonesia may be one small corrective to the wider problem of false narratives and misleading information on the internet.”


People are still awful at passwords, part 10,289: Stolen passwords integrated into the ultimate dictionary attack. “Targeted password guessing turns out to be significantly easier than it should be, thanks to the online availability of personal information, leaked passwords associated with other accounts, and our tendency to incorporate personal data into our security codes. In a paper [PDF] presented at the ACM Conference of Communication and Systems Security (CCS) in late October, security researchers from China and the UK describe a system for targeted password guessing that finds that a sizable fraction of people’s online passwords are vulnerable to attack.”


From Harvard Business Review, big thanks to Jonathan B: Fixing Discrimination in Online Marketplaces. “Researchers have now documented racial discrimination in a variety of areas online, from labor markets to credit applications to housing. It is enabled by two features: markers of race, most obviously photographs but also subtler indicators, such as names; and discretion on the part of market participants over whom they transact with. As we will discuss in the next section, both are choices made by platform designers. Another feature of online commerce has at times, also counterintuitively, nurtured rather than suppressed discrimination: the use of algorithms and big data. The search results Google serves up, the books Amazon suggests, and the movies Netflix recommends are all examples of machines’ replacing imperfect human judgment about what customers want. It’s tempting to assume that eliminating human judgment would eliminate human bias as well. But that’s not the case.”

Quartz: Facebook could be helping burn survivors like me heal. By censoring our photos, it’s actively hurting us. “Social media sites like Facebook have the power to create community connections that can aid in a burn survivor’s emotional recovery. Instead, news broke last week that Facebook removed a photo of Lasse Gustavson, a Swedish firefighter who sustained severe burn injuries to his face on the job. Of all the questionable decisions Facebook has made—and there have been many—this may be among the most grievous.” Good morning, Internet…

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