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Supercut of cliched Instagram travel photos

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Now that leisure travel is widely accesible, the internet connects everyone, and most people have connected cameras on them 24/7, one of the side effects is that everyone’s vacation snaps look pretty much the same. Oliver KMIA collected hundreds of travel photos from Instagram, grouped them together by subject — passport shot, Mona Lisa, side mirror selfie, Leaning Tower, ramen bowl — and assembled them into this two-minute video of our collective homogenized travel experience. And it’s not just travel…vast swaths of Instagram are just variations on a theme:

Of course, my Instagram feed has no such cliches*ahem*. (via @choitotheworld)

Tags: Instagram   photography   travel   video
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lukeburrage
17 days ago
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This great! I love that travel and sharing travel photos is one of the things that the whole world can share in. It’s like one small thing that brings the world together. No matter where you are from or what you believe, a photo of the wing of a plane, holding a passport, or leaning against the Tower of Pisa is something we all do! I see nothing negative about this video, only coolness.
duerig
16 days ago
A similar project with an interesting variation: https://mymodernmet.com/hundreds-of-tourist-photos/
acdha
16 days ago
Yeah, it's neat how well the photos work as a reminder that there's this global custom millions of people are following
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DMack
16 days ago
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put ads on airplane wings
Victoria, BC

Pebble is dead and hardware buttons are going with it

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This week, word broke of the final, ultimate demise of the Pebble smartwatch, with current owner Fitbit announcing that it would be ending support for the scrappy crowdfunded smartwatches this coming June.

And while that moment will go down as the death of an era of Kickstarter successes and a dream of a true third-party smartwatch alternative to Apple and Google’s own smartwatch platforms, the end of the Pebble era will hold a different sort of significance to me: the death of hardware buttons.

Because unlike an Apple Watch or Android Wear device, Pebble watches worked completely with physical buttons. The whole point of a smartwatch was supposed to be that you can use it instead...

Continue reading…

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lukeburrage
22 days ago
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Don't tell him that 99% of headphones now come with buttons for controlling music playback!
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Stop Twitting Yourself

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Six months ago I quit Twitter. It happened in a moment that combined the deepest loathing (both self- and other-directed) and the brightest clarity, and I have not looked back since. Apart from the actual quitting of Twitter, the thing I am most proud of is not having written an essay about it, so I am not going to make this into a whole narrative, but I have been fairly evangelical with friends (because there is nothing worse than watching the people you love destroy themselves by choice) and I want to share a couple of lessons I’ve learned. I know that many of you will defend your use of Twitter as something you are forced to endure for work (journalists, for example, use Twitter for the invaluable purposes of promoting their stories, showing how connected they are and finding out what other people are saying about them) so let me just tell you up front that if what you do for a living requires you to dip your head into a polluted stream twenty times a day and take a big sip before you personally defecate in the water you either need to find another career or admit to yourself that there is something about you that enjoys drinking from the same river where you shit. The other excuse I’ve heard is that it is important to stay on Twitter to know what is happening in the world, so this is where I want to pass along the valuable knowledge I’ve gained from avoiding it: 1) There is nothing important that happens on Twitter that you will not learn about eventually. 2) There is nothing you will eventually hear about from Twitter that will make you think, “Gosh, I wish I knew that earlier.” You are not missing anything. You do not need to march in the mediocrity parade of frustrated comedians trying to make the same stupid joke a fraction of a second before anyone else. Your image does not need curation, because all you are doing is broadcasting your desperation. No one is cool on Twitter. It is a giant assemblage of sad people trying too hard in real time. You do not need to do anything in front of an audience. Remember email? You probably don’t, because no one uses it anymore, but it was amazing because you could have a conversation with someone without either one of you trying to show off for a pitiable collection of the needy and hopeless, whose craving for validation would be comical if it weren’t as tragic as your own. Your desire to play to the crowd is both symptom and expression of the sickness unto death. All social media is poison, but Twitter is a particular type of toxin because it takes the lack of nuance that makes the Internet in general so abrasive and it dissolves it down to its ugliest essence. Everything that happens on Twitter is a nightmare, and every time you turn away from your screen and wonder why you feel like you want to die that’s why. Stop using Twitter. Here endeth the lesson.

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lukeburrage
23 days ago
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I love Twitter. Does this author know that you choose who you follow and what you see? Of what you see is toxic, it’s because YOU decided to keep following toxic people. I follow friends, sportspeople, some podcasters, etc... and it’s great! Nothing toxic at all.
rocketo
21 days ago
It must be nice not having anyone target you for harassment on a site you can choose to use. Not everyone on Twitter has the luxury of enjoying it.
lukeburrage
20 days ago
Yes, harassment is a big issue, but that blog post isn't about harassment. It's not even mentioned. It's about self image and following unfunny comedians. The easiest thing: don't post much and only follow friends and small groups. I've blocked Donald Trump too, so he doesn't show up in retweets.
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cjmcnamara
23 days ago
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nick carr shot, alex balk chaser
rocketo
23 days ago
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“if what you do for a living requires you to dip your head into a polluted stream twenty times a day and take a big sip before you personally defecate in the water you either need to find another career or admit to yourself that there is something about you that enjoys drinking from the same river where you shit.”
seattle, wa

Infrequent Site Stories is the blog reader we need

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Launching today on all three platforms—web, iOS, and Android—is the new Infrequent Site Stories view. This configurable river of news offers a view of stories only from the blogs that publish less often than 1 story per day.

Most of what you see in your day-to-day feed is news that’s up to the minute and is probably stale within a day. Even 8 hour old news can be a problem. But sometimes what you want is an overview of the news that isn’t exactly news. It’s stories from the blogs who have individual authors, or blogs that publish only a few times a month. And missing out on those stories is a tragedy because it is those blogs that pushed you to invest in an RSS reader in the first place.

Today I’m happy to introduce a new feature that you won’t find anywhere else. It’s called Infrequent Site Stories and you can find it at the top of your feed list on the web, on iOS, and on Android.

Infrequent Site Stories is the river that captures stories from those authors who aren’t pulling from the firehose. These are the stories that are more thoughtful and more relevant days, weeks, months, or even years down the line. These stories are not to be missed. And the best thing about these stories is that there are far fewer of them than there are of your normal full river from All Site Stories.

You can also configure the Infrequent river to be more or less inclusive of content that is more or less frequently published by changing the filter anywhere from 5 to 90 stories per month.

These options are also available on all three official NewsBlur platforms and will let you perform a filter similar to how Focus mode reduces your number of unreads. It’s great to dip into Infrequent Site Stories and get stories you would ordinarily miss out on.

Try out the new Infrequent Site Stories feed, available only to premium subscribers. If your experience is anything like mine, it’ll be one of the new must read feeds in your reader.

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lukeburrage
69 days ago
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Please can you put the box with the link to this down with "read stories", or at least not in the same place as the "All Site Stories" is. I've clicked it five or six times already by accident. At least put it above the All site stories link.
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JayM
69 days ago
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Yeap. Nice.
Atlanta, GA
freeAgent
69 days ago
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This is a very cool feature.
Los Angeles, CA
StatsGuru
69 days ago
Agreed, I like it.

The Power of One Point Per Thousand

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Last week, I offered a method to rank smash-hitting skill. I measured the results in “points per 100”–the number of points a player could expect to gain or lose, relative to tour average, thanks to their ability hitting that one shot. The resulting figures were quite small: My calculations showed that Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has the game’s best smash, a shot worth 0.17 points per 100 above average, and 0.27 points per 100 above the weakest smash-hitting player I found, Pablo Cuevas.

That gap between best and worst of 0.27 per 100 gives us a rough maximum of how much difference a good or bad smash can make in a player’s game. The rate is roughly equivalent to one point out of 370. It sounds tiny, and since most players are closer to the average than they are to either of those extremes, the typical smash effect is even smaller still.

However, it’s difficult to have any intuitive sense of how much one point is worth. In any given match, a single point, or even five points, isn’t going to make the difference. On the other hand, plenty of matches are so close that one or two points would flip the result. If an average player could train really hard in the offseason and develop a smash just as good as Tsonga’s, what would that extra 0.17 points per 100 mean for him in the win column? What about in the rankings?

This is a relatively straightforward question to answer once we’ve posed it. Over the course of a season, the best players win more points than their peers–obviously. Yet the margin isn’t that great. In 2017, no man won points at a higher clip than Rafael Nadal, who came out on top 55.7% of the time. That’s less than seven percentage points higher than the worst player in the top 50, Paolo Lorenzi, who won 49.1% of points. Nearly half of top 50 players–22 of them–won between 49.0% and 51.0% of total points, and another 15% fell between 51.0% and 52.0%.

Fixing total points won

These numbers are slightly misleading, though only slightly. The total points won stat (TPW) tends to cluster very close to the 50% mark because competitors face what, in other sports, we would call unbalanced schedules. If you win, you usually have to play someone better in the next round; win again, and an even more superior opponent awaits. This means that the 6.6% gap between Nadal and Lorenzi is a bit wider than it sounds: Had the Italian faced the same set of opponents that Rafa did, he wouldn’t have managed to win 49.1% of points.

That problem, however, is possible to resolve. Earlier this year I shared an algorithm that analyzed return points won by controlling for opponent, by comparing how each pair of players fared in equivalent matchups. (That analysis hinted at the second-half breakthrough of return wizard Diego Schwartzman.) While we don’t know exactly what would happen if Lorenzi played Nadal’s exact schedule, we can use this common-opponent approach to approximate it. When we do so, we find that the 1st-to-50th, Nadal-to-Lorenzi spread is almost 10 percentage points; setting Rafa’s rate at a constant 55.7%, Lorenzi’s works out a less neutral-sounding 46.2%. Many players remain packed in the 49%-to-51% range, but the overall spread is wider, because we control for tennis’s natural tendency to cancel out player’s wins with subsequent losses.

Even when we widen the pool of players to 71–everyone who played at least 35 tour-level matches this season–the ten-percentage-point spread remains. Lorenzi remains close to the bottom, a few places above Mikhail Youzhny, whose competition-adjusted rate of points won is 45.7% ranks last, exactly ten points below Rafa.

Think about what that means: In a typical ATP match, for every hundred points played, only ten are really up for grabs. That isn’t literally true, of course: There are plenty of matches in which one player wins 60% or more of total points. But on average, you can expect even the weakest tour regular to win 45 out of 100 points. In team sports analytics, this is what we might call “replacement level”–the skill level of a freely available minor leaguer or bench player. I don’t like importing the concept of replacement level for tennis, because in an individual sport you’re never really replacing one player with another. But at the most general level, it’s a useful way of thinking about this subject–just as even a minor league batter could hit .230 in the major leagues (as opposed to .000), so a fringey ATP player will win 45% of points, not 0%.

Points to wins

In team sports analytics, it’s common to say that some number of runs, or goals, or points is equal to one win. Thinking in terms of wins is a good way to value players: If you can say that upgrading your goalkeeper is worth two wins over your current option, it makes very clear what he brings to the table. Again, the metaphor is a bit strained when we apply it to tennis, but we can start thinking about things in the same way.

Another oddity in tennis is that players not only face very unequal competition, they also play widely different numbers of matches. The year-end top 50 contested anywhere from 35 matches up to more than 80; part of the variation is due to injury, but much is structural: The more matches you win, the more you play. Rafa managed his schedule by entering only a handful of optional events, yet only David Goffin played more matches. So we have another quirk to handle: In this case, let’s adopt the fiction that a tennis season is exactly 50 matches long. Rafa’s actual record was 67-11; scaled to a 50-match season, that’s roughly 43-7.

Finally, we can look at the relationship between points and wins. Points, here, means the rate of total points won adjusted for competition. And wins is the number of victories in our hypothetical 50-match season. The relationship between points and wins is quite strong (r^2 = 0.75), though of course not exact. Roger Federer won matches at a higher rate than Nadal did, but by competition-adjusted total points won, Rafa trounced him, 55.7% to 53.5%. And as we’ve seen, Lorenzi is close to the bottom of our 71-player sample, despite hanging on to a ranking in the mid-40s. Luck, clutch play, and a host of other factors make the points-to-wins relationship imperfect, but it is nonetheless a healthy one.

It doesn’t take many points to boost one’s win total. An increase of only 0.367 points per 100 translates into one more win in a 50-match season. The average player contests 8,000 points per season, so we’re talking about only 29 more points per year. This puts my smash-skill conclusions in a new light: The spread between the best and the worst of 0.27 points per 100 seemed tiny, but now we see it’s worth almost a full win over the course of a 50-match season.

Wins to ranking places

Unless you’re nearing a round number and have a hankering for cake, even wins aren’t the currency that really matters in tennis. What counts is position on the ranking table. The relationship between wins and ranking position is another strong but imperfect one (r^2 = 0.63).

As we’ve seen, the middle of the ATP pack is tightly grouped together in total points won, with so many players hovering around the 50% mark, even when adjusted for competition. There’s not much to distinguish between these men in the win column, either: On average, an increase of 0.26 wins per 50 matches translates into a one-spot jump on the ranking computer. Put another way: If you win one more match, your ranking will improve by four places. Again, these are not iron laws–in reality, it depends when and where that extra win occurs, and the corresponding ranking improvement could be anywhere from zero spots to 30. Still, knowing the typical result allows us to understand better the impact of each marginal win and, by extention, the value of winning a few more points.

One point per thousand

Combine these two relationships, and we get a new, conveniently round-numbered rule of thumb. If an increase in one ranking place requires 0.26 additional wins per 50 matches, and one additional win requires 0.367 extra points per 100, a little tapping at the calculator demonstrates that one ranking place is equal to about 0.095 points per 100. Round up a bit to 0.1 per 100, and we’re looking at one point per thousand.

One extra point per thousand is a miniscule amount, the sort of difference we could never dream of spotting with the naked eye. Players regularly win entire tournaments without contesting so many points; even for Goffin, who served or returned more than 12,000 times this year, we’re talking about a dozen points. Yet think back to all of those players clustered between 49% and 52% of total points won; even when adjusted for competition, three men ended the 2017 season tied at exactly 50.4%, with less than one point per thousand separating the three of them.

The one part of the ranking table where one point per thousand is no more than a rounding error is the very top. Usually one player separates himself from the pack, and the top few distance themselves from the rest. This year is no different: The competition-adjusted gap between Nadal and Federer is a whopping 2.2% (22 points per thousand), while the next 2.2% takes us all the way from Fed through the entire top 10. The 2.2% after that, extending from 51.1% to 48.9%, covers another 20 players: spaced, on average, one point per thousand apart. For a player seeking to improve from 30th to 20th, the path is largely linear; from 5th to 3rd it is much less predictable–and probably steeper.

If this all sounds unnecessarily abstruse, I can only mention once again the example of my smash-skill findings. Now we know that the range of overhead-hitting ability among the game’s regulars is worth close to three places in the rankings. Imagine a similar type of conclusion for forehands, backhands, net approaches… it’s exciting stuff. While plenty of work lies ahead, this framework allows us to measure the impact of individual shots–perhaps even tactics–and translate that impact into ranking places, the ultimate currency of tennis.

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lukeburrage
75 days ago
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This is pretty crazy. One point per thousand could be worth three places in the ATP rankings.
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The Existential Terror of Battle Royale

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It's been a while since I wrote a blog post, I guess in general, but also a blog post about video games. Video games are probably the single thing most attributable to my career as a programmer, and everything else I've done professionally after that. I still feel video games are one of the best ways to learn and teach programming, if properly scoped, and furthermore I take many cues from video games in building software.

I would generally characterize my state of mind for the last six to eight months as … poor. Not just because of current events in the United States, though the neverending barrage of bad news weighs heavily on my mind, and I continue to be profoundly disturbed by the erosion of core values that I thought most of us stood for as Americans. Didn't we used to look out for each other, care about each other, and fight to protect those that can't protect themselves?

In times like these, I sometimes turn to video games for escapist entertainment. One game in particular caught my attention because of its unprecedented rise in player count over the last year.

pubg-steam-stats-nov-2017

That game is Player Unknown's Battlegrounds. I was increasingly curious why it was so popular, and kept getting more popular every month. Calling it a mere phenomenon seems like underselling it. Something truly unprecedented is happening here. I finally broke down and bought a copy for $30 in September.

player-unknown-battleground

After a few hours in, I had major flashbacks to the first time I played Counter-Strike in 1998. I realized that we are witnessing the birth of an entirely new genre of game: the Battle Royale. I absolutely believe that huge numbers of people will still be playing some form of this game 20 years from now.

steam-top-games-by-player-count-nov-2017

I've seen the Japanese movie, and it's true that there were a few Battle Royale games before PUBG, but this is clearly the defining moment and game for the genre, the one that sets a precedent for everyone else to follow.

It's hard to explain why Battlegrounds is so compelling, but let's start with the loneliness.

Although you can play in squads (and I recommend it), the purest original form of the game is 100 players, last man standing. You begin with nothing but the clothes on your back, in a cargo aircraft, flying over an unknown island in a random trajectory.

battlegrounds-cargo-plane

It's up to you to decide when to drop, and where to land on this huge island, full of incredibly detailed cities, buildings and houses – but strangely devoid of all life. What happened to everyone? Where did they go? The sense of apocalypse is overwhelming. It's just you versus the world, but where did the world go?

playerunknown-battleground-drop

You'll wander this vast deserted island, scavenging for weapons and armor in near complete silence. You'll hear nothing but the wind blowing and the occasional buzzing of flies. But then, suddenly the jarring pak-pak-pak of gunfire off in the distance, reminding you that other people are here. And they aren't your friends.

battle-royale-vista

the dread of never knowing when another of the 100 players on this enormous island is going to suddenly appear around a corner or over a hill is intense. You'll find yourself wearing headphones, cranking the volume, constantly on edge listening for the implied threat of footfalls. Wait, did I hear someone just now, or was that just me? You clench, and wait. I've had so many visceral panic moments playing this game, to the point that I had to stop playing just to calm down.

pubg-combat

PUBG is, in its way, the scariest zombie movie I've ever seen, though it lacks a single zombie. It dispenses with the pretense of a story, so you can realize much sooner that the zombies, as terrible as they may be, are nowhere as dangerous to you as your fellow man.

Meanwile, that huge cargo airplane still roars overhead every so often, impassive, indifferent, occasionally dropping supply crates with high powered items to fight over. Airstrikes randomly target areas circled in red on the map, masking footfalls, and forcing movement while raining arbitrary death and terror.

pubg-map

Although the island is huge and you can land anywhere, after a few minutes a random circle is overlaid on the map, and a slowly moving wall of deadly energy starts closing in on that circle. Stay outside that circle at your peril; if you find yourself far on the opposite side of the map from a circle, you better start hunting for a vehicle or boat (they're present, but rare) quickly. These terrordome areas are always shrinking, always impending, in an ever narrowing cone, forcing the remaining survivors closer and closer together. These circles get smaller and deadlier and quicker as the game progresses, ratcheting up the tension and conflict.

Eventually the circle becomes so small that it's impossible for the handful of remaining survivors to avoid contact, and one person, one out of the hundred that originally dropped out of the cargo plane, is the winner. I've never won solo, but I have won squad, and even finishing first out of 25 squads is an unreal, euphoric experience. The odds are so incredibly against you from the outset, plus you quickly discover that 85% of the game is straight up chance: someone happens to roll up behind you, a sniper gets the drop on you, or you get caught in the open with few options. Wrong place, wrong time, game over. Sucks to be you.

pubg-vehicle-shooting

You definitely learn to be careful, but there's only so careful you can be. Death comes quickly, without warning, and often at random. What else can you expect from a game mode where there are 100 players but only 1 eventual winner?

There haven't been many Battle Royale games, so this game mode is a relatively new phenomenon. If you'd like to give it a try for free, I highly recommend Fortnite's Battle Royale mode which is 100% free, a near-clone of PUBG, and quite good in its own right. They added their Battle Royale mode well after the fact; the core single player "save the world" gameplay of building stuff and fighting zombie hordes is quite fun too, though a bit shallow. It also has what is, in my opinion, some of the most outstanding visual style I've ever seen in a game – a cool, hyperbolic cartoon mix of Chuck Jones, Sam & Max, and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. It's also delightfully diverse in its character models.

fortnite-battle-royale

(The only things you'll give up over PUBG are the realistic art style, vehicles, and going prone. But the superb structure building system in Fortnite almost makes up for that. If nothing else it is a demonstration of how incredibly compelling the Battle Royale game mode is, because that part of the game is wildly successful in a a way that the core game, uh, wasn't. Also it's free!)

I didn't intend for this to happen, but to me, the Battle Royale game mode perfectly captures the zeitgeist of the current moment, and matches my current state of mind to a disturbing degree. It's an absolutely terrifying experience of every human for themselves, winner takes all, with impossible odds. There are moments it can be thrilling, even inspiring, but mostly it's harsh and unforgiving. To succeed you need to be exceedingly cautious, highly skilled, and just plain lucky. Roll the dice again, but know that everyone will run towards the sound of gunfire in hopes of picking off survivors and looting their corpses. Including you.

Battle Royale is not the game mode we wanted, it's not the game mode we needed, it's the game mode we all deserve. And the best part is, when we're done playing, we can turn it off.

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lukeburrage
106 days ago
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Got my first chicken dinner yesterday. Easily the highest peak of any experience I've had playing video games.
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