1. Good Monday Morning

It’s Oct. 18th. The Olympic flame is scheduled to be lighted today at 4 a.m. The flame will make its way to Beijing where the Winter Games start February 4. You can watch the ceremony at the official Olympics site.

Today’s Spotlight is 1,504 words — about a 5 minute read.

2. News To Know Now

Quoted:”Facebook puts users in a near-impossible position by telling them they can’t post about dangerous groups and individuals, but then refusing to publicly identify who it considers dangerous.” — Brennan Center for Justice executive Faiza Patel, to The Intercept when it published the full contents of Facebook’s Dangerous Individuals and Organization’s List.

a) Amazon’s private brand program used proprietary sales and returns information to copy successful products, according to a Reuters expose.The copied products were then reportedly shown in favored positions during customer searches. Called the Solimo Project, the program now offers dozens of private label Amazon products in multiple countries. Amazon testified to Congress two years ago that they do not use this data or favor their products in search. Then-CEO Jeff Bezos confirmed that behavior was prohibited in Congressional testimony last year.

b) Amazon’s very bad week continued when word came of a nearly $200 million class action suit filed by delivery drivers in the UK. The argument is familiar — contractor vs. employee -—and the lead firm for the plaintiff won a similar case in the UK against Uber earlier this year.

Still more Amazon: Corporate and technology employees at Amazon will be permitted to work remotely indefinitely as long as they can reasonably commute to their physical office as needed. Others on permanent work from home status include Square, PwC, and Salesforce. Fast Company cites research that claims nearly half of workers would work an additional 10 hours per week or accept reduced benefits to be allowed to worked remotely.

c) Even before U.S. government experts reported shock this weekend at Chinese advances in hypersonic missile technology, the Air Force’s former Chief Software Officer told The Financial Times that the U.S. would be unable to compete with Chinese cyber technology in 15-20 years. His claim was countered by Army CIO Raj Iyer, who also conceded that the Chinese government excels in “the actual use of AI.”

Separately, LinkedIn announced that compliance requirements and a “more challenging” operating environment led the company to close its site in China. The company was under fire from members  whose profiles it had blocked to appease Chinese government demands.

3. Search Engine News — Google Updates Title Link and Heading Guidance

Two months after Google began arbitrarily changing the titles of webpages in its search engine results, Google has updated its best practice guidance on writing what it now calls “title links.” The company has renamed this element because the “title tag” name used for decades is part of a broad international coalition that Google doesn’t control so technically the company is telling you how to handle your title tags so that it doesn’t change the information when it publishes its own title links.


Here is what to know:

  • Don’t repeat yourself or use boilerplate (best locksmith in Atlanta, best locksmith in North Atlanta, etc.).
  • Branding should come first. This is a big change for SEO watchers, but Google specifically suggests concise branding appear first although it acknowledges beginning or end is acceptable.
  • Don’t use words like “video” unless there is actually a video on the page.
  • Keep things short.

Google says that it uses these sources to automatically create title links: the main visual and heading elements, prominent content especially when it is styled larger, anchor text on the page, text within links that point to the page.

One interesting comment: Google credits its machine learning software with the automation of this function and says that it can detect when a page’s content doesn’t match its title tag.

An example: A piece written for a 2021 policy that still has a 2020 title tag.

Later in the week, Google search exec John Mueller also suggested using product or brand names on headings within the document. It was here that he suggested that “Widget-color” might be acceptable provided that the content under that heading addressed the widget and the color.

4. Spotlight Explainer — AI Hiring

What exactly do you mean by “AI Hiring?”

Artificial intelligence has become a buzzy catchall for what is most accurately described as machine learning. That’s the process of giving a computer many (millions or more) examples so that the software can assess whether something new is a good match. 

Consider labeling pictures of flowers for that software. After uploading hundreds of thousands of flower images, you upload an unlabeled image and ask the software if it’s a flower. That’s a simplistic view of resume sorting. 

And just like a website’s automated help function can help you track a package or request a refund, an AI hiring chatbot can also make interview appointments or answer an applicant’s questions.

So how widespread is AI hiring or screening?

75% according to a Harvard and Accenture study (PDF).

Does it save money?

Yes, the original screening by computer versus person is always going to save money initially, but the real question to ask is which one does it better in the long run and do you honestly save money or do employee hours get replaced with something less productive. 

One of that study’s key findings is that the software training has caused huge pools of qualified applicants to be overlooked. Harvard calls them “hidden workers” and suggests that up to 27 million Americans could be negatively affected. And it’s not a homogenous group either: it’s a big mix that includes military veterans, caregivers, and immigrants.

How does AI hiring hide people?

Remember that the software only does what you tell it. Unorthodox breaks in an employment history are a big culprit. So are a lack of traditional qualifications. Screening with a rigid set of rules and using negative instead of affirmative filtering also creates problems.

What’s the problem with applicants who have a disability?

MIT Technology Review summarized a disability policy analyst’s experience with a game by software maker Pymetrics that tests nine soft skills. Like all good technology, the game asked if the applicant wanted to use a modified version for color blindness, ADHD, or dyslexia. It’s a benign request that ultimately forces someone with a disability to choose between disclosing their condition or facing a test that discriminates against them.

Resume writing for AI hiring screens.

Use simple, short, declarative sentences, but keep a regular resume for human readers. Remember to test your resume with an inexpensive automated tool like VMock.

Here are 7 more tips to help you land that job.

5. Did That Really Happen? — Conspiracy Theories Come from the IRS

There are multiple memes and posts all over social media falsely complaining that the IRS is monitoring all bank transactions over $600. What actually happened is that accounts with transaction levels under $600 in a calendar year or that contain a balance under $600 will now be exempt from bank reporting of interest paid. The IRS is not monitoring transactions at the individual bank account level.

6. Following Up — A New GPT-3 Challenge from Megatron

We’ve written a lot about OpenAI’s GPT-3 model that uses 175 billion parameters to create functions like auto-completing sentences and even new sentence creation among other things. You may remember that some executives didn’t want to release GPT-3 at first because it was far beyond the state-of-the-art.

Now Microsoft and Nvidia have collaborated on a 530 billion parameter model that they called Megatron-Turing Natural Language Generation Model. You’re a better person than I am if you think that people will call it anything other than Megatron. I can only marvel at how many resumes it must have read.

7. Protip — How to Install Windows 11–Even Without The Update

The latest version of Windows is officially available. This step-by-step explainer walks you through upgrading your machine. 

8. Screening Room — John Lewis

A little boy diva in training rampages through his family’s house in this hysterical spot from UK insurers John Lewis. 

9. Science Fiction World — Peach Pickin’ Robots

Georgia produces close to 400 million peaches with a farm gate value of about $70 million each year. This report shows that you may know about harvesting robots, but tree pruning and thinning robots are here too.

10. Coffee Break — Nightcafe

We’ve thought a lot about AI and words today. Let’s think about AI & images. I’ve been playing with, erm, testing a free website called Nightcafe that uses machine learning to generate low resolution images from plain text.

For my text command of “a desk in a home office with a computer, microphone, camera, and coffee cup in view”, the program returned this image. I remind you that this image was (a) free and (b) created from 16 words of text. You can use Nightcafe once you sign up for a free account.

11. Sign of The Times

1. Good Monday Morning

It’s Oct. 11th. Happy Indigenous Peoples Day. The proclamation that President Biden issued last Friday included this somber thought: “We must never forget the centuries-long campaign of violence, displacement, assimilation, and terror wrought upon Native communities and Tribal Nations throughout our country.” Biden is the first U.S. president to commemorate this holiday.

Today’s Spotlight is 1,293 words — about a 5 minute read.

2. News To Know Now

Quoted:”The original Bill of Rights is nearly 230 years old, and we’re still debating the meaning of nearly each of its 652 words. If an AI Bill of Rights is our ultimate goal, we’re still at the stage of haggling over the Articles of Confederation.” — Axios’ Bryan Walsh writing about the White House’s consideration of an “AI Bill of Rights.”

a) Fueled by the pandemic,the e-commerce explosion continues. TikTok owner Byte Dance is the latest entity to leverage its incredible presence into direct sales revenue. Big box Best Buy is launching a new $199 membership program that includes free shipping, installation, and priority purchases of undefined hard-to-find items. Amazon and Walmart are focusing their sights on prescription medications. Walmart + customers can now buy common generic prescriptions for heavily discounted prices without insurance while Amazon’s pharmacy services are offering 6 month prescription renewals.

b) YouTube has removed two official accounts owned by disgraced singer R. Kelly following his conviction on racketeering and sex trafficking charges. The company cited its creator responsibility guidelines for the move. Separately, YouTube announced that it will no longer allow climate change denialists to monetize their YouTube channels beginning next month.

c) A former Amazon warehouse employee in Colorado has sued the company because she says that mandatory COVID-19 screenings before work were not considered part of a work shift and employees were not paid for that time.

3. Search Engine News — No More Internet Explorer

If you are the single person out of every 200 North Americans who is still using Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser, you’re going to have to find some site other than Google to search. Google software engineer Malte Ubl announced on Twitter that Google search will no longer work for IE sessions. “We did the Math [sic]. It is time,” he wrote. 

Sept. 2021 browser market share by our friends at StatCounter:
Chrome 65%, Safari 18%, Edge 4%, Firefox 4%

Google also told an EU court that it is the top search term on Microsoft Bing in Europe. The thrust of the argument Alphabet makes while appealing an antitrust matter is that “People use Google because they choose to, not because they are forced to.”

Part of Google’s search experience includes advertising throughout the result pages. Google is now enhancing its ad disclosures to allow users to see all the ads a specific advertiser has run over the past 30 days. 

From their announcement, “.. Imagine you’re seeing an ad for a coat you’re interested in, but you don’t recognize the brand. With advertiser pages, you can learn more about that advertiser before visiting their site or making a purchase.”

4. Spotlight Explainer — Silver Beacon 

For our 400th issue, we’re taking the liberty of putting ourselves in the spotlight. We won’t have another big milestone issue until 2023, so don’t worry about this becoming a habit.

What does Silver Beacon Marketing do?

We do three distinct things: we promote an organization’s message, we increase the number of relevant people who see that message, and we track everything so we can quickly repeat what works in a continuous improvement cycle.

So it’s advertising?

We do a lot of advertising campaigns in a lot of places: Google, Bing, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Amazon, and a lot more.

But we also do a lot of other marketing projects like search engine optimization that ensures that your site is found online, social media messaging, websites, emails, newsletters, and marketing strategy.

Are there any special industries that you work with?

We adore small organizations and work with more than our share of startups. We love teams that have a passion for what they do. You can see our client list here. We are exceptionally proud of never needing to hire a sales staff and only running advertising sporadically over the past fifteen years. Our business is entirely built on word-of-mouth. We’re thankful for all those referrals.

Why this newsletter?

You know how photocopying articles for colleagues turned into emailing each other links and that turned into, please for the love of everything holy, let me get some work done?

We wanted to give clients, colleagues, and friends the opportunity to have us drop by once a week for 5 minutes and let them know what they need to know in a nontechnical way. We write this for people who use technology, not for technologists.

Why do you ask us to forward this to friends and others?

Aw, you know the answer to that. But seriously, send this on to friends and colleagues who can use it. You’re likely a subscriber. You know that we don’t call or send other emails. Spotlight comes out every non-holiday Monday at 6 a.m. Eastern Time. That’s it. Click here and we will add you to the list.

Thanks again. Here’s to 400 more issues.

5. Did That Really Happen? — A New Conspiracy Theory Quiz

There are six seemingly simple questions in this Washington Post quiz that asks if you’ll fall into the conspiracy theory rabbit hole. I got all six correct. Can you do the same?

6. Following Up — EU Calls for Facial Recognition, Predictive Policing Bans

The European Parliament last Wednesday called for bans on law enforcement officers using facial recognition technology in public places and the elimination of predictive algorithms to profile “potential criminals.” We write often about police use of technology (most recently in our 2021 Spotlight in June).

It’s important to understand that it’s not the technology being questioned, but its use by police that may infringe upon your privacy.

7. Protip — Dark Mode in Google Search

Whether desktop or mobile, this explainer shows you how to enable dark mode on Google Search even if the rest of your display is set to regular view.

Screening Room — Very Stores

UK’s Very department store has leaned hard into Christmas shopping starting in October. Have a peek at their new 30 second spot that shows the collision of tree trimmers with trick-or-treaters.

9. Science Fiction World — Caltech’s Secret Robot

We’ve shown you robots that scoot around and deliver food or drugs. We’ve even shown you some that can jump up or climb steps.

Caltech researchers have built LEONARDO (short for Legs Onboard Drone) that is way more mobile. LEONARDO can walk a slackline, hop, and even ride a skateboard. Check it out here, and understand that you are going to end up interacting with robots during your lifetime — even if only infrequently.

10. Coffee Break — The Monument Report

This very cool online report allows anyone to explore nearly 50,000 data records about monuments in America. It’s not comprehensive, but it’s a pretty darn big data set. There are essays and articles exploring all of it as well as guides to help teach students.

Most popular: Abraham Lincoln with 193 monuments
Most popular Native Americans: Tecumseh (21) and Sacagawea (20)
Non-Americans: Columbus (149), St. Francis of Assisi (73), Joan of Arc (26)

11. Sign of the Times

1. Good Monday Morning

It’s October 4th. After a blockbuster 60 Minutes profile last night, the Wall Street Journal’s main source for The Facebook Files was identified as former project manager Frances Haugen. While at Facebook, Haugen led a team on the company’s election protection efforts. She is working with the Securities and Exchange Commission under its whistleblower protections and will appear before a Senate subcommittee on Tuesday. 

Today’s Spotlight is 1,245 words — about a 4.5 minute read.

2. News To Know Now

Quoted:For years, we’ve known many of these issues — via journalists and researchers — but Facebook has been able to claim that they have an ax to grind and so we shouldn’t trust what they say. This time, the documents speak for themselves.” — Yaël Eisenstat, Facebook’s former global head of elections integrity operations to Recode

a) Attorneys for Donald Trump have filed a motion asking a federal judge to order Twitter to reinstate his account. Trump used his personal account while communicating as president. Twitter permanently suspended that account soon after the president tweeted about the domestic terror attack on the Capitol.

b) New Amazon products announced last week include a “robot” that is more of a single floor Amazon Echo on wheels, home monitoring and elder care services, and new devices including their first smart thermostat and Fitbit competitor. (CNBC overview)

c) Global consulting giant PwC will allow 40,000 U.S. employees to remotely work from anywhere in perpetuity and without a change in compensation. Reuters broke the story.

3. Search Engine News & Spotlight Explainer Combine For Google Search News (Here Comes MUM)

Google’s Search On product event was home to enough announcements last week for an extra big search feature this week.

There was a lot of Google-style talk about how search democratizes information and allows people to learn formerly specialized knowledge. Neither your physician nor your attorney likely agree, but it’s great for finding data.

Google’s launch of MUM (Multitask Unified Model) is the big news. This is the name of the software Google developed that will allow people to use text, images, or video combinations to find something.

People today are trained to ask a number of simple questions as they research a topic. MUM allows those steps to be combined.

One Google example: You like the pattern you see on a shirt, but would like it on socks. You can take a picture of the shirt and have Google use MUM to search for socks with that pattern. You can also click a button to see if those socks are in stock at a local store, which seems to be quite an incentive to constantly update Google with the stock status of all your items. After all, if you don’t, the next person will. 

You are going to hear a lot about Google MUM for the next few months. You can start playing with Google Lens now, which has some of its early functionality. For example, point Google Lens at text in a foreign language, click the “Translate” icon, and the image of the text is instantly rendered in your language.

Maps and location services are also Google priorities. In addition to checking in stock availability of items, Google Maps will now include layers that show wildfire data, tree coverage, and the ability to create new Google Plus Address codes. Those last are important for places without street addresses. 

A Google Plus Address Code example: The local high school has three baseball fields. Home plate at one of them is 1,200 feet from the school’s front door. The Google Plus code (87C4VHGR+RX) narrows down the area from the large school with thousands of people to the area around home plate. That baseball field has about a dozen plus codes. Delivery robots, drones and other automated services will need that level of precision.

The shaded area on the baseball field is Google Plus code 87C4VHGR+RX.

Google will also expand information about the source of search results in addition to using MUM to improve how searches occur. The company says that there will be more fact checks, warnings to searchers when topical news results are changing fast, and an expanded “About the Source” information box to include what third parties have said about a source.

Video is the final place where Google says it will create more search context. That includes pre-populated links under videos that list the topics covered so that searchers can easily click a button to learn more about that or a related topic. The best part of this feature is that Google says it can identify a topic in a video even when the video is about a different topic.

MUM (and don’t forget its nifty near real-time universal translator to 75 human languages) is definitely coming after its announcement last spring and its star turn at Search On last week.  Google Lens, voice search, and maps will all present new search challenges and opportunities in 2022.

5. Did That Really Happen? — YouTube Bans Vaccine Misinformation

It took a global pandemic during which tens of millions of Americans refused to get vaccinated, but YouTube is removing all content with vaccine misinformation. Axios confirmed with YouTube that more than one million videos have been removed.

Full stop. People posted one million inaccurate videos about COVID-19 just to YouTube. Bad people remain a problem, but YouTube is at least done with the “both sides” argument when medical and public health experts have reached an overwhelming global consensus.

6. Following Up — NYC Protecting Delivery Workers

We’ve written a lot about the delivery workers whose efforts in dangerous circumstances allowed so many people to work remotely during the early stages of the pandemic. New York’s City Council has passed a group of six bills to protect restaurants and those workers. The laws include disclosure of how much of the tip workers receive, requiring restaurants to allow bathroom access to drivers, and caps on fees charged to restaurants. Gizmodo has great coverage.

7. Protip — Adding Alexa to iPhones

Amazon released a new widget that allows iPhone users to easily access Alexa. You still can’t call her by name, but one tap is better than open app.

Screening Room — Katy, Perry, Behr Paint & Spotify Colored Together

I love a great tie-in concept. Behr is working with Spotify & Katy Perry to show music’s colors. Using some of the dozens of attributes Spotify has created to code music, they’ve built a mini-player to show off any song’s colors. Watch the spot above and then visit Behr Music in Color to try it out with songs that you like. I’m apparently a joyful orange person this week.

9. Science Fiction World — Drone Docking

A Swiss hospital is the home of the first Matternet Station. That’s a drone docking, repair, and cargo depot since you probably shouldn’t drop medical stuff on the front lawn for anyone. The hospital is the first deployment. Forty more are due to be added in Abu Dhabi.

10. Coffee Break — 2021’s Best First Pitch

Back in July when baseball season was going strong, this woman threw the most athletic first pitch I’ve ever seen. Baseball’s playoffs start tomorrow night.

11. Sign of the Times