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How artist Ben Grosser is cutting Mark Zuckerberg down to size | Social media

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When the history of the first decades of this century comes to be written, there will be few more telling artworks than Ben Grosser’s film Order of Magnitude. In the 47 minute video, Grosser, a digital artist and professor of new media at the University of Illinois, has spliced together every public instance in which Mark Zuckerberg has talked of “more” and “bigger”. The resulting montage of interviews and presentations is a fast forward of the rapid growth of Facebook as, in the chief executive’s mouth, thousands become millions then billions. It makes a mesmerising monologue, the story of our times.

“The idea that Zuckerberg latched on to even more than anyone else in Silicon Valley,” Grosser suggested, when he spoke to me from Urbana via Zoom last week, “was the need to grow as big as fast as possible, get the largest market share. And everything was subservient to that.” The film is part of a double act. Grosser has also spliced together all the moments he can find of Zuckerberg ever mentioning numbers diminishing or things getting smaller. This film runs for 30 seconds, though in a new version for his forthcoming exhibition at the Arebyte Gallery in London, he has slowed those seconds down so it also runs for 47 minutes.

The Zuckerberg films are exhibit A in a series of projects that have made Grosser perhaps the most usefully hands-on of all critics of social media. Alongside the Zuckerberg satire, he has created a range of software that deconstructs exactly how Facebook’s numbers add up. His Facebook Demetricator is an app that any user can employ to strip away all the addictive metrics from the platform, blocking those micro-dopamine hits of likes and friendship. Demetricators for Instagram and Twitter have followed. Having briefly tried the latter, the effect is at first disorienting and then liberating. “We’ve been conditioned to focus on numbers and to use them as proxy for how important someone is or how well received something has been,” Grosser says. Without those metrics, he suggests, “you have to actually read a post to see what you think about it or look at someone’s bio to see if you want to follow them back”.

Ben Grosser
Ben Grosser: ‘Imagine if any of the artists you admire from the past had paid attention to the first 10 minutes of reaction to their work and used that as a guide.’ Photograph: Courtesy of Ben Grosser

Grosser is, like me, old enough to remember communication before the internet. In the 1990s, he was excited by the possibilities of using rudimentary artificial intelligence in creating music – he played around with making “different and weird” sounds that had never been heard before. During the first dotcom boom, he had some job offers from Silicon Valley startups, but preferred the freedoms of academic experiment. He remembers being excited initially by the possibilities of Facebook, then Twitter, the ways they “offered unfettered, interactive access to other humans in ways that you hadn’t had before”. It was only in about 2010 that he became intensely aware of the effects that his social media habit was having on his brain.

“The first big realisation was about notification,” he says. “The ways my eyes were constantly drawn to the little red and white notification number on Facebook in the days when you had to log on.” He recognised the addictive pattern of that looking, the three-step process by which Zuckerberg’s interface so compulsively steals your attention: first, “did anyone react to or pay attention to me while I was gone?” and the momentary blip of participatory excitement. Then the anticlimax of that number disappearing. Then the subsequent need to post something else, to start the cycle again. “I started to think,” Grosser says, “someone has designed this little feedback loop. Who are they? Who benefits?”

As a teacher of art, he was aware that his students saw nothing unusual in that pattern. They had grown up with it. He could also see how that feedback loop of constant desire for approval shaped their idea of what art might be: “They see YouTube stars and TikTok stars and they’re thinking: what can I make that will also get the best metric for reaction on social media,” he says. That compulsion seemed to narrow their creativity before it had taken shape.

Grosser asks his students a question in their first seminar. “Who here has deleted a social media post within 10 minutes of putting it up, because it didn’t have the metric reaction they hoped for?” Every hand goes up. Then he says: “Now imagine if any of the artists you admire from the past had paid attention to the first 10 minutes of reaction to their work and used that as a guide about whether to throw something away.” If you’re going to have original, strange ideas, he suggests, the world might need time to adjust to them.

An image from the exhibition Software for Less.
An image from the exhibition Software for Less. Photograph: Courtesy of Ben Grosser

Grosser has been testing a platform that might help with that, too. Minus breaks all the rules of metric-obsessed media. It allows users only a finite number of posts: exactly 100 across a lifetime and there are no likes or follows. The only way you can interact with another poster is by replying. His beta testers have reported some anxieties, which sound a lot like the kind of anxieties that artists have always felt: “They almost feel like there’s so much weight on a post,” he says. “It’s like, ‘I’m only going to get 100, what if I blow one on some bullshit?’” He hopes that an idea of quality might be able to compete with the quantitative alternative: if we stop to think, he says, “we are invited to believe our Twitter feed will last for ever. And so we’re constantly thinking in our head in terms of how we might appear on Twitter or about how the thing we’re doing right now would look if I talked about it on Twitter…”

He also has projects that mess with Silicon Valley algorithms that need you to emote (Go Rando) or that undermine US National Security Agency surveillance by appending to each email random words that might set alarm bells ringing (ScareMail). He is, in this sense, a one-man corrective to the data-driven world in which we all now find ourselves; his art highlights its limitations. “The computational way of looking is necessarily the act of defining boundaries where there might not be any,” he says. There is no better illustration of this, he suggests, than the stubbornly hopeless Spotify recommendations. “Data analytics gives you answers that code can produce, but completely ignores all the answers the code can’t produce for you. I might like Led Zeppelin but not like other 70s rock bands.” Software will never be a match for taste.

  • Software for Less runs at the Arebyte Gallery, London E14, from 20 August to 23 October

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Fivetran nears five times its unicorn valuation as it plans further growth

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The data integration business growing its EMEA HQ in Dublin is set for further expansion following a $5.6bn valuation and key acquisition.

Silicon Valley-headquartered Fivetran has announced $565m in Series D funding alongside a deal to acquire HVR.

This latest funding round sees the automated data integration provider’s value reach $5.6bn just over a year after it first reached unicorn status.

The funding round from new and existing investors included General Catalyst, CEAS Investments and Matrix Partners. Andreessen Horowitz led the round, which also brought in new investors Iconiq Capital, D1 Capital Partners and YC Continuity.

In total, Fivetran has raised $730m to date. And in tandem with its Series D funding round, the company also announced a $700m cash and stock deal to acquire data replication business HVR.

‘Without an always-on, accurate and reliable way to centralise data, global organisations aren’t maximising the use of data or data infrastructure’
– MARTIN CASADO, A16Z

For Fivetran’s mission to help businesses make use of the data they have, in a way that is quicker and requires fewer resources, HVR brings database replication performance along with enterprise-grade security.

“HVR is a recognised leader for enterprise database replication and shares our same vision – to make access to data as simple and reliable as electricity,” said Fivetran CEO George Fraser. “Their product is the perfect complement to our automated data integration technology and will be instrumental for us to help enterprise organisations that want to improve their analytics with a modern data stack.”

Fraser added that the latest injection of funding from investors will enable the company to expand its capabilities and accelerate its global growth.

Fivetran established its EMEA HQ in Dublin in 2018. The following year, fresh investment saw the company plan to double its Irish workforce. Last summer, a $100m funding round saw these expansion plans furthered.

In terms of market opportunity, Andreessen Horowitz general partner Martin Casado says Fivetran is a “critical component” of the modern data stack, which represents “a paradigm shift for global enterprises, with billions of dollars of revenue at stake”.

“Without an always-on, accurate and reliable way to centralise data, global organisations aren’t maximising the use of data or data infrastructure,” said Casado.

The acquisition deal has been approved by the boards of both companies and is expected to close in early October, subject to regular approvals.

Customers from both companies are expected to benefit from each of the business offerings. On the side of Fivetran, this client list includes Autodesk, DocuSign, Forever 21, Lionsgate and Square, while HVR services dozens of Fortune 500 brands.

“Combining HVR and Fivetran will enable a next-generation solution that will better inform business decisions by providing the freshest data available,” said HVR CEO Anthony Brooks-Williams.

“We’re thrilled to be joining forces with Fivetran and look forward to what this incredible opportunity will provide for our growing team, partners and customers.”

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Ring Video Doorbell 4 review: pre-roll is a battery bell gamechanger | Amazon

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The latest iteration of Amazon’s battery-powered Ring doorbell adds a new feature to capture the early details of events most competitors would miss without needing to be plugged in.

The Ring Video Doorbell 4 costs £179 ($199.99/$A329) and can be installed in any home with wifi. It tops Ring’s battery-powered range, which starts at £89.

The look and basic function of the Doorbell 4 is very similar to Ring’s older models. It has a camera with night vision, motion sensors and a large doorbell button.

When someone pushes the button Ring’s signature chime plays and an alert is sent to your phone. You can view a live feed and speak through the doorbell using the app from anywhere with internet. If you don’t answer, the new “quick replies” feature is like an answering machine for your door, recording caller’s messages. And it works as a motion-activated security camera too.

Four seconds of pre-roll

Ring Video Doorbell 4 review
A ring of blue LEDs lights up when the doorbell is pressed showing that it is active and something is happening, such as you answering the door through the camera. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Most battery-powered doorbells sleep until motion is detected to save power, which means they typically only capture the second half of an event as it takes time for the camera to wake up and start recording.

Ring’s “pre-roll” system fills in the gap before the motion sensor is tripped. It takes a clip from a looping four-second lower-resolution colour recording that can be operated all the time without draining the battery too much.

It is a gamechanger for battery doorbells, giving you a much better idea of what has happened before the main camera fires up.

Video, motion and replay

Ring Video Doorbell 4 review
The camera has a wide 160-degree horizontal field of view, but only a 84-degree vertical field of view, which means you can’t see packages left on your doorstep. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The main 1080p HD video is clear and sharp enough to discern faces and name tags, and recorded HDR (high dynamic range) to better handle the sun shining straight at your door. The infrared night vision is bright and clear, too.

You can adjust the motion sensitivity and define areas you want monitored so that you only get notifications when something happens in the chosen zone, which is particularly useful for avoiding notification overload if your doorbell faces the street.

Ring Protect

Ring Video Doorbell 4 review
All the settings, power modes and alerts are accessed through the app, which has an easy-to-use video recording timeline if you pay for the Ring Protect cloud storage. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

While standard motion and doorbell notifications, live view and pre-roll are free, you need to subscribe to Ring Protect to get the most out of the doorbell. A free 30-day trial is included so you can see what it does, and plans start at £2.50 a month, but it is essentially cloud recording for your videos as they are not stored locally.

You get up to 30-day event history, messages recorded by visitors from the quick replies feature and still snapshots taken every 14 minutes to fill in the gaps between events.

Ring Protect also enables smart motion alerts, to differentiate between people and other things such as cars, and rich notifications, which show an image of the motion or person within the alert on your phone.

Set up and battery life

Ring Video Doorbell 4 review
The quick-release battery can be swapped out in seconds for charging without having to remove the doorbell from the door. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Setting up the doorbell is very easy. It comes with screws and wall plugs, plus a bracket for angling the camera towards your door if needed and cables for attaching it to an existing doorbell wire and chime if you have one.

The doorbell can be held in place by sticky strips if you can’t damage the mounting surface, such as if you’re renting. I used a set of Command-brand foam strips, but Ring sells a £17 “no-drill mount” that achieves something similar.

Once it is mounted you just slot the battery in the bottom, open up the Ring app on your smartphone and scan the QR code on the side of the bell. The app will run through the rest of the setup in about five minutes.

Ring Video Doorbell 4 review
Depending on how close your wifi router is to the door you may need a wifi extender or the £49 Chime Pro (pictured), which as well as acting as a ringer also creates a wifi network specifically for Ring devices. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

If you don’t have a traditional chime you can buy the wireless £29 Ring Chime or use any existing Amazon Alexa devices in your home to ring instead.

Battery life varies depending on how many features such as snapshot and pre-roll you have on and the number of motion events and live views. With everything active and capturing roughly 45 events a day, the battery lasts about a month. I would buy a second £20 battery as it takes at least five hours to fully charge the battery via microUSB.

Privacy

Ring Video Doorbell 4 review
Ring has had a few privacy concerns over the years, particularly in the US with regard its activities with law enforcement. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

You can block the recording of certain parts of the camera’s view such as your neighbour’s drive using privacy zones. Ring has recently added options to limit how long recorded videos are stored on a camera-by-camera basis, strengthened account security with two-factor authentication and, in addition to standard encryption, has enabled the activation of end-to-end encryption (E2EE) for videos.

E2EE offers the strongest protection and means only the mobile devices you select can decrypt and watch captured videos. No one else can see the video, not even Ring. But with E2EE turned on some more advanced features such as pre-roll, snapshots, the event timeline, rich notifications and Alexa integration for watching a live feed from an Echo Show cannot be used.

Sustainability

Ring Video Doorbell 4 review
The faceplate and battery can be easily swapped if damaged, while various screws, brackets, parts and add-ons are available direct from Ring.

The Ring Video Doorbell 4 is generally repairable and a range of spare parts, including the rechargeable battery, are available at reasonable cost. Most parts are also interchangeable with older models. The company will support its devices with software updates for least four years from the point it stops selling the device on its site, and continues to support all of the devices it has sold so far.

Ring offers trade-in and recycling schemes through Amazon for its devices, but it did not comment on the use of recycled materials in the Doorbell 4. Ring falls under Amazon’s climate and sustainability pledges.

Observations

Ring Video Doorbell 4 review
The removable faceplate, which is available in several colours to best suit your door, is held in place with a small security screw in the bottom of the battery. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian
  • The response time to live view requests through the app is shorter than previous Ring models, but it can still take a few seconds to answer the door, so Ring has a separate stripped-down Rapid Ring app that is faster to load, which can be used for answering rings alongside the main Ring app.

  • Alexa smart displays can show a live feed on demand or automatically when the doorbell rings.

Price

The Ring Video Doorbell 4 costs £179 ($199.99/$A329) and Ring Protect costs from £2.50 a month.

For comparison, the Ring Video Doorbell (2nd gen) costs £89, the Ring Video Doorbell Pro 2 costs £219, the Google Nest Doorbell costs £179.99 and the Arlo Video Doorbell Wire-Free costs £179.

Verdict

The Ring Video Doorbell 4 is yet another great battery-powered smart doorbell from Amazon.

It intentionally doesn’t look any different from previous versions, so that parts are interchangeable and the older models don’t look dated. But it wakes up faster, the colour pre-roll captures much more of each event and its night vision is really good.

It can be installed almost anywhere but it needs good wifi so you might need a booster. You’ll probably need the extra £29 Chime too, which brings the real cost to £189 as a bundle, plus the £2.50 a month subscription to really make the most out of it as it doesn’t have local video storage.

Note the Ring Android app has an extremely annoying hard-coded pattern of four strong and long vibrations for every motion alert. It cannot be changed, which forced me to disable motion alerts entirely and lost the Doorbell 4 a star. Ring said it is working to fix the problem by the end of the year. This issue does not exist for the Ring iPhone app, however.

Pros: easy to install, clear video, great colour pre-roll, lots of accessories, solid iPhone app, faster, quick replies, snapshots, Alexa device integration, great as a regular doorbell replacement, end-to-end encryption available.

Cons: no local storage means you need Protect subscription for event review, no constant video recording, fairly wide for some door frames, battery needs charging once a month, Chime likely needed.

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-Werror pain persists as Linus Torvalds issues Linux 5.15rc2 • The Register

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Linus Torvalds has revealed that winding back the decision to default to -Werror – and therefore make all warnings into errors – has made for another messy week of work on the Linux kernel.

“So I’ve spent a fair amount of this week trying to sort out all the odd warnings, and I want to particularly thank Guenter Roeck for his work on tracking where the build failures due to -Werror come from,” Torvalds wrote in his weekly missive about the state of kernel development.

“Is it done?” he asked rhetorically. “No. But on the whole I’m feeling fairly good about this all, even if it has meant that I’ve been looking at some really odd and grotty code. Who knew I’d still worry about some odd EISA driver on alpha, after all these years? A slight change of pace ;)”

Torvalds expressed his annoyance that his efforts have seen him enter “fix one odd corner case, three others rear their ugly heads” territory.

But he’s willing to wear the pain. “I remain convinced that it’s all for a good cause, and that we really do want to have a clean build even for the crazy odd cases,” he wrote.

And if he must handle this sort of thing in any week of the kernel production cycle, it might as well be the week of rc2.

“I hope this release will turn more normal soon – but the rc2 week tends to be fairly quiet for me, so the fact that I then ended up looking at reports of odd warnings-turned-errors this week wasn’t too bad,” he wrote.

Late last week, Torvalds also took some time to share what he described as “the true 30th anniversary date” of Linux.

On September 17th he wrote “a random note to let people know that today is actually one of the core 30-year anniversary dates: 0.01 was uploaded Sept 17, 1991.

“Now, that 0.01 release was never publicly announced, and I only emailed a handful of people in private about the upload (and I don’t have old emails from those days), so there’s no real record of that,” he wrote. “The only record of the date is in the Linux-0.01 tar-file itself, I suspect.

“Just thought I’d mention it, since while unannounced, in many ways this is the true 30th anniversary date of the actual code.”

So The Register though it worthy of mention, too. ®

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