Plan your digital afterlife
What happens to your Google services such as Gmail messages if your account becomes inactive for any reason—death, for instance? With the intention of educating users that they need to make plans for what happens after they die, Google on 11 April launched a new feature to enable them to tell Google what they want done with their digital assets after they die or when they no longer use their accounts. The feature is called Inactive Account Manager. You can spot it on your Google Account settings page. For example, you can choose to have your data deleted—after three, six, nine or 12 months of inactivity. Or you can select trusted contacts to receive data from some or all of the following services: Blogger; Contacts and Circles; Drive; Gmail; Google+ Profiles, Pages and Streams; Picasa Web Albums; Google Voice and YouTube. “Before our systems take any action, we’ll first warn you by sending a text message to your cellphone and email to the secondary address you’ve provided,” said Google Inc. in a media release.
You are less popular than your Twitter friend
Sociologists have long known that people have fewer friends than their friends do, on average—a trend known as friendship paradox. It arises because of sampling bias: people with a larger number of friends are more likely to be your friend, so they get counted more often. Now Nathan Hodas and colleagues at the Information Sciences Institute in Marina del Rey, California, have shown this holds true on Twitter, too, reports New Scientist on 20 April. Nathan’s team analysed 5.8 million Twitter users’ followers and found that nearly all users were less popular than both their friends and followers. The researchers also found 88% of users tweet less often than their friends, rising to 99% when completely inactive users are removed, and 79% of users post fewer virally spreading links than their friends. “These facts together suggest the glib expression ‘your friends are more interesting than you are’,” Nathan and his team note in a paper due to be presented at the Weblogs and Social Media conference in Boston this July.
Phone game in Pakistan aids low-skilled workers find jobs
A telephone game that became a viral phenomenon in Pakistan has demonstrated some serious potential for teaching poorly educated people about automated voice services and provided a new tool for them to learn about jobs, said researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and Pakistan’s Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) in a media release. The game, called Polly, has a caller record a message and Polly adds funny sound effects, such as changing a male’s voice to a female voice (or vice versa), or making the caller sound like a drunk chipmunk. The caller can then forward the message to one or more friends, who in turn can forward it along or reply to it. Polly may not sound like a research project, but Roni Rosenfeld, professor at Carnegie Mellon’s Language Technologies Institute, said it is pioneering the use of entertainment to reach illiterate and low-literate people and introduce them to the potential of telephone-based services. Polly was launched in Lahore, Pakistan, in May 2012 by giving its phone number to five poor, low-skilled workers. By mid-September, 85,000 people had used it almost half a million times. Though budget pressures forced researchers to begin limiting calls to Polly in September, the total number of users climbed to more than 160,000 people, including some non-Pakistanis, as of mid-April. Overall, the system has handled almost 2.5 million calls. The project continues to run.
‘Smart skin’ sensors to detect infra cracks
Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology are developing a technology that can monitor structures for strain, stress and early formation of cracks, according to a 16 April media release. Their approach uses wireless sensors that are low-cost, require no power, can be implemented on tough yet flexible polymer substrates, and can identify structural problems at a very early stage. The only electronic component in the sensor is an inexpensive radio-frequency identification (RFID) chip. These sensor designs can be inkjet-printed on various substrates, using methods that optimize them for operation at radio frequency. The result is low-cost, weather-resistant devices that can be affixed by the thousands to various kinds of structures, according to Yang Wang, an assistant professor in the Georgia Tech School of Civil and Environmental Engineering. The Georgia Tech research team is focusing on wireless sensor designs that are passive—they don’t need a power source since they respond to radio-frequency signals sent from a central reader or hub. One such reader can interrogate multiple sensors, querying them on their status at frequent intervals. The technology doesn’t require a battery, and you don’t have to climb around on bridges running long connecting cables.