Japanese Sound Garden

Relaxing and beautiful. In the era of technology and clever things happening when virtual buttons are pressed on apps, it is refreshing and encouraging to see that humans can still be motivated to create beautiful handmade works of unusual art.

The melody is Bach’s Cantana 147, and the sound is made by a rubber ball travelling along a giant xylophone, elevated throughout a Japanese forest. Visitors to the forest can buy their own rubber ball to send down the xylophone.
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The McGurk Effect

Have you heard of this? It is utterly bizarre. In the words of the author of the article I am linking to:

The McGurk effect is mind-blowing. It involves showing a person’s lips making the shape of one sound—like “bah”—while the audio is actually the person saying “fah.” What’s interesting is that your brain changes what you “hear” based on what you see. It’s “bah” all the way through, but when we see “bah” our minds transform “bah” into “fah.”

To really appreciate what is going on here, I suggest you re-watch the relevant bit with your eyes closed.

This is extraordinary because you can’t switch off the effect, even if you know what is happening. That’s rather disconcerting, especially in the age of fake news and fake videos. If our brains are fooled so easily even when we know what is going on, what hope do we have of protecting ourselves from unknown tricks?

How much time did you spend online last month?

Effective Measures have released their stats for South African online usage for May 2014, and I want to talk about them here briefly.

Let me start by saying that if I see almost any stats regarding online usage in South Africa I take them with a pinch of salt. I have no scientific data to back up my sceptism, but my gut tells me that the data is not accurate, even though I do think that the (inaccurate) data does (mostly) point to the right trends.

Effective mesaures released these figures, which I have rounded off:
Unique browsers in SA: 31 million
Page impressions: 975 million (South African sites)
Average visit duration: 7 minutes
Average page duration: 1.5 minutes

This data is based on the usage of about 110,000 desktop users and is based on IAB member sites (not sure what exactly that means in terms of overall usage).

Anyway, if you plug the above numbers into a spreadsheet and try to figure out how much time an average user spent online in May 2014 on South African sites, it works out to about 47 minutes. In the whole of May!! I have spent more time typing this blog post.

Also, the numbers show that the average user only visits ONE South African page per day.

I don’t know what that means, unfortunately. Is the data flawed? Do the majority of online users spend about two minutes a day online on local sites?

Does anyone with real mathematical (or other) insight want to share their theories? Any ideas?

There is a problem with the way ads are served online

Shocking revelation, I know.

I don’t really want to get into the whole online advertising discussion, but I have a peeve that I wish Google would fix.

When sites serve ads, they mostly do so using some clever technology that serves ads to YOU, as opposed to serving the same ads to everybody. A good tool for this is Google Adsense: as a site owner, you show Google where you want it to place ads, and Google then uses various bits of info it has collected about the reader to serve ads that the reader will be interested in. The idea is that the reader then clicks on the ads, and the revenue is split (not equally) between the site owner and Google.

This is all well and good in practice, but it has a fundamental flaw. Google serves ads based on your browsing history. And for some reason, Google thinks that I want to see ads for sites that I have ALREADY visited. Now, that may make sense if we are talking about an e-commerce site that I browsed once upon a time, and that Google wants to nudge me back to re-visit.

But it does NOT make sense to serve me ads for sites of which I am already an ardent user, or (even worse) a customer! Example: I use WPEngine and Wufoo.com extensively. I pay these companies money every month. I visit their sites all the time. And yet, I am served ads for them pretty much everywhere I go on the web.

This is a) annoying and b) stupid. It doesn’t help Google or the owner of the site where the ad is served. Worse, if I click on the ad to go to the advertiser’s site because I have just been reminded I need to do something there, that advertiser has to pay Google for that click!

This particularly applies to my bank. I log in to online banking all the time, so it is part of my browsing history. But ads for FNB pop up all the time. And not ads that talk about new products, but ads that tell me to “Switch banks in under 10 minutes”. Surely the algorithm there should be something along the lines of:

> If Eve logs into Standard Bank website, then serve FNB ads

>If Eve logs into FNB site, then serve Standard Bank ads OR serve FNB product ads.

This ain’t rocket science.