Archives for computers



Daylight Savings Time and “Cyberloafing”

New research suggests that people “cyberloaf” (i.e. websurf instead of working) more when they are tired. Some people may find this surprising. (We do not.) If nothing else, this is another argument against Daylight Savings Time. As the BPS Research Digest explains:

The investigators recognised an event that affects everyone’s sleep: when the clocks go forward for Daylight Saving Time. Prior evidence suggests we lose on average 40 minutes of sleep per night following the switch, as our body rhythms struggle to adjust.

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Cockpit Confidential: Debunking the Autopilot Myth

This is a guest post by commercial airline pilot Patrick Smith, who writes about the hidden side of the airline industry. You can read his writing for Salon.com here.

Cockpit Confidential: The Autopilot Myth
By Patrick Smith

One evening I was sitting in economy class when our jet came in for an unusually smooth landing. “Nice job, autopilot!” yelled some knucklehead sitting behind me. Several people laughed. I winced. It was amusing, maybe, but was also wrong. The touchdown had been a fully manual one, as the vast majority of touchdowns are.

I’ve been writing about commercial aviation for nine years – a job that entails a fair bit of myth-busting. Air travel is a mysterious realm, rife with conspiracy theories, urban legends, wives’ tales and other ridiculous notions. I’ve heard it all, from “chemtrails” to the 9/11 “truthers.” Nothing, however, gets under my skin more than myths and exaggerations about cockpit automation — this pervasive idea that modern aircraft are flown by computers, with pilots on hand as little more than a backup in case of trouble. And in some not-too-distant future, we’re repeatedly told, pilots will be engineered out of the picture entirely. Read More »



An ATM Gone Wrong — The Triumph of Little Computers?

I recently switched banks, to Chase. So far, it’s been a pretty good experience. Indeed, the bank does a lot of very good things from a customer-service perspective.

But:

While using an ATM, I wasn’t able to pull up a list of recent transactions. I was sure I just wasn’t finding the right menu. I could print out the recent transactions but I didn’t want to print it out; I just wanted to look at it on the computer screen. Having failed to figure it out after a few ATM visits, I wrote to the very helpful and smart Chase employee who helped me set up my accounts. He confirmed that I couldn’t get recent-transaction data via the ATM screen. Furthermore, he wrote:

Your only other options at this point are:

1) Enroll your mobile phone for Chase Mobile which will allow you to receive a text message of recent history

2) Download the Chase iPhone application which will allow you to access real-time transactions

3) Stop in and sit with a banker who can show you recent transactions/pending or posted

At this time, there is no alternate way to view recent history at a Chase ATM.

I apologize for the inconvenience.

Wha? “Sit with a banker” to see my recent transactions? Shall I bring my collection of buggy whips to pass the time while waiting? Read More »



Computers vs. the News: What’s Behind the Stock Market Chop?

Today marked another triple-digit move for the Dow Jones Industrial Average, which closed up 272 points. Of the 45 trading days over the last two months, 28 of them (including today) have seen triple-digit moves, meaning the Dow has gone up or down by 100 points (or more) 62% of the time since July 25. The average daily move for the Dow during that time has been 188 points, or 1.6%.

Here’s a snapshot showing the performance of the Dow over the last two months:

Pretty choppy, right? I’m no stock market historian, but I’d imagine that you’d be pretty hard-pressed to find such a sustained period of volatility. Which brings up the question: what’s causing this? Obviously, there is a lot of uncertainty (and fear) in the market right now. From Europe’s sovereign debt problems, to America’s toxic political climate, to the sputtering global economy, there is a lot to be anxious about. Anxiety breeds indecision, which characterizes the bumpy market pretty well. Read More »



The Markets are Mad: Is High-Frequency Trading Making Things Worse?

Thursday’s 423-point gain by the Dow marked the first time ever that the industrial average has posted four consecutive days of 400-point moves. Less than two weeks into August, there have already been six trading days that saw triple-digit swings this month. While the recent sell-off has been swift (the Dow is off more than 12% since July 21), it’s also been choppy. Volatility is back in a big way. The VIX Index, also known as the fear index, has shot up recently, nearly doubling over the last week. The VIX tracks the expected price of a range of protective S&P 500 options over the next 30 days.

While your average investor generally hates volatility, there are those who feed off it, namely high-frequency traders. These are the guys who use complex algorithms and super-fast computers to scour the markets for tiny price differentials, often executing trades in microseconds (one millionth of a second). The more volatile the market, the easier it is for them to make money jumping in and out of stocks across exchanges.

Now, it’s not quite fair to lump all high-frequency traders together. They don’t all necessarily do well in volatile markets. While some are killing it, there are certainly others who’ve been getting killed; it all depends on their strategy. But generally, traders need two things: 1) a price, and 2) movement. Recently, they’ve had plenty of both. Read More »



What Does Your Web Browser Say About Your I.Q.? (Hint: I.E. Users Won’t Like the Answer)

See ADDENDUM (8-3-11; 9:13am EDT) below

A study by AptiQuant Psychometric Consulting finds that people who use Internet Explorer as their web browser are, on average, less smart than those who use other browers. As PC Mag reports:

Over a period of around four weeks, the company gave a Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS) to users looking for free online IQ assessment tests, then recorded the results and browsers used for all participants above the age of 16.

Across the board, the average IQ scores presented for users of Internet Explorer versions 6 through 9 were all lower than the IQ scores recorded for Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Camino, and Opera users.

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Why Has There Been So Much Hacking Lately? Or Is It Just Reported More? A Freakonomics Quorum

You don’t have to be all that sharp to see that there’s a lot of hacking going on lately. As I type, Rupert Murdoch and his allies are testifying before British Parliament over the mushrooming News of the World disaster. It seems like everyone on earth is getting hacked: consultants and cops, Sony and the Senate, the IMF and Citi, and firms ranging from Lockheed Martin (China suspected) to Google (ditto) to dowdy old PBS. But is there really more hacking than usual of late, or are we just more observant?

To answer this question, we put together a Freakonomics Quorum of cyber-security and I.T. experts (see past Quorums here) and asked them the following:

Why has there been such a spike in hacking recently? Or is it merely a function of us paying closer attention and of institutions being more open about reporting security breaches?

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Your Computer May Know When You’re Smiling

Did you smile? Now your computer can answer that question: MIT’s Media Lab is developing technology whereby your computer, with the help of a webcam, can read facial movements to analyze whether you’re smiling. Read More »