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Marisa Albanese Jul 23

In Search of a More Perfect Algorithm…


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Today, we’re going to discuss erroneous algorithms in machine learning (this term is used to describe computer-based predictive analytics). To set up the context, I’m going to share a little something I learned back in my political science days as an undergrad. OK, something I learned besides where on campus was the best place to take a nap. (For any Temple University students — SAC, upper level, near the conference rooms. You’re welcome.) There is a central question nearly everyone has asked within the poli sci realm: Is there a perfect form of government? Short answer: No. I will not bore everyone to tears by detailing why not but there is a very simplistic way to understand this dilemma: Government was created by people, people are flawed and, therefore, government will naturally be flawed. Side note: Please do not turn the comments section into a political thunderdome over this proclamation.

This brings me back to the topic of algorithms. Recently, The New York Times published an article that pulled from various studies completed about bias in online marketing ads based on algorithms. An algorithm is a formula. It’s what Google uses when a person types in “best running shoes for beginners” to produce search results. A person creates algorithms, using the principles of predictive analytics, usually some calculus and a dash of black magic. Machines, however, learn from human behavior and adjust algorithms over time. This is known as a learned algorithm.

The Times article gives a great example. When you type into Google or Bing “best running shoes” it auto-completes the thought. But the crux of the article was how search results are being corrupted by the negative, and deeply stereotypical, side of society. For instance, ads targeting applicants for high-paying executive jobs appeared in the search results for men over double the rate as they did for women. A separate study revealed ads for arrest records appearing in searches for African-American-centric names.

People are leaning on machine learning data and calculations because we see this way as the ultimate truth. Machines have no prejudice and will just report the facts. But if they are implanted with bad search algorithms, not necessary created with malice but lack of social understanding, this is like building a house on a cracked foundation.

This sets up the discussion “Oh my God, this is how Skynet started” (this is a reference to the storyline for the “Terminator” series). The machines are learning without us! Artificial intelligence! Before you start building that underground bunker, keep in mind a few things. For starters, data scientists are still trying to understand this phenomenon. It has been suggested if an algorithm shows signs of this behavior to rewrite it. These signs would be present during testing. Ah, yes! That magical thing I suggested a few blogs ago: Always create a test plan.

Test your algorithms. Then test them again. Also, I’m going to drop some additional poli sci knowledge. Niccolo Machiavelli, who wrote The Prince, did not fake his own death. He simply wrote about it. So to everyone who thinks Tupac Shakur faked his own death because he named one of his posthumous albums Machiavelli, this is wrong. But “California Love” is still an awesome song.

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This cat is re-creating my most common activity during college.

 Marisa Albanese is database marketing analyst at Annodyne.


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Marisa Albanese May 5

In-Security Issues


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I have a very good friend named Denise whom I’ve known since we were 8 years old. Dee and I have a long, tangled history of incidents and adventures, some of which were amazing and others not worth repeating in polite company. When we were 11 years old, Denise got the Internet. A little context, this was 1996, when the Internet was still dial-up and everyone got those sweet AOL CDs offering free Internet. Remember when we had to pay by the hour for the Internet? Dark and evil times, my friends.

Anyway, during one of our marathon phone conversations, Dee was regaling me with tales of Internet browsing. We decided to create a Yahoo Geo-Cities page (oh yeah, this was real old school). Here’s how the conversation went down:

Denise: “Aren’t the Spice Girls amazing? Hey, Macarena!”

Me: “Dee, too legit! But we need to focus. I stopped reading YM for this.”

Denise: “Sorry. What should we call our page?”

Me: “Hmmmm. How about The Web Page of Marisa Albanese and Denise Clarke?”

Denise: “No! You can’t put your name on the Internet! That’s how people find out where you live!”

I may have paraphrased the beginning of the conversation, but I clearly remember Dee having a conniption over my title suggestion. While we can all chuckle over this now, tween Denise was offering some sage wisdom — data security is an ongoing problem.

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This was Denise back in the ’90s. After this blog, post I’m pretty sure our 22-year friendship will be history.

In February  2014, the University of Maryland’s IT department detected a breach in one of its databases. It was revealed a hacker had accessed the personal information of 300,000 student and faculty records. These records went back to 1998 and contained names, addresses, and Social Security numbers. The university stated the security around its databases was strong and that it was a “sophisticated” attack. They offered victims a free year of credit monitoring and the president of the university, Dr. Wallace Loh, even posted a video on YouTube providing updates on the data hack. Everything was under control.

Then David Helkowski made a post on Reddit.

Mr. Helkowski worked as an IT security consultant for the university. Over the course of a year, he discovered several “backdoors” on various databases containing student and faculty information. A backdoor is when someone hacks into a system and creates a way for themselves to access it. The hacker can get in and out quickly, without drawing attention. (Backdoors are created for large databases for legitimate IT purposes, too. Do not get concerned if one of your analysts uses this term.) If what Mr. Helkowski is alleging is true, that means the university’s databases had been previously hacked.

Then the February breach occurred, and Mr. Helkowski was not happy with how his warnings had fallen on deaf ears. So, he hacked into the newly “secure” database and posted Dr. Loh’s Social Security number on Reddit. He then bragged about what he did to his co-workers via the gamer site Steam (so there was a nice transcript of his conversation). He claims he did it to prove how unsecured the database was. I can’t wait for the film version of this to be made. I hope they get Ryan Gosling to play David Helkowski because God knows that man needs to be seen more.

All joking aside, what he did was stupid (and got him in trouble with the FBI because hacking is a federal crime) but he made some solid points. He also pointed out something very troubling — college databases are deep troughs brimming with valuable personal information, and they can be very easy to dismantle.

What’s the takeaway from all of this? Data security is a complex business. Take every necessary step when securing a database. If you use an IT security professional, which I highly recommend, take his or her recommendations seriously. Get educated. I truly believe the reason why these things happen is a lack of understanding. IT has its own language, but understanding what’s good and what’s bad isn’t hard. So invest in data security.

Or you could use the money to hire a PR rep to describe a data breach as a sophisticated test. Your choice.

Marisa Albanese is database marketing analyst at Annodyne.


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Feb 3

I Love My Craft, and I Love My Job


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Throughout our lives, we aspire to do the things that we love. Since I started my first computer science class in college, I’ve loved software development. My favorite part is coming up with unique solutions to problems, whether it’s finding an API containing key data that could be used to improve a product or utilizing the code from a previous project to build the foundation for a new project.one. Following software best practices allows us to deliver quality products and use a minimal amount of time to complete.

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At Annodyne, we strive to deliver quality products inside and out. We make sure that the code written for our products is the best it can be before we ship anything out the door. This helps whenever we need to make enhancements, since we can write a little bit to affect a vast amount of a user interface (UI). The UIs also are built with a unique look and feel for each of our clients. Our creative designs are viewed and reviewed by many people as part of our process to ensure that we have the best possible representation of our customers.

Another thing I love about Annodyne is that I’m offered opportunities to work with a wide spectrum of technologies and platforms. I’ve been given the chance to work on websites, services, mobile applications and databases. Each one provides its own challenges and benefits. I also can express some of my creative talents as I’m given the chance to work with many unique designs and functionality ideas. Being able to work with creative technologies as well as finding time to learn new technologies is something unique that Annodyne offers its employees.

Lester Traband is a Senior Applications Developer at Annodyne

photo credit via Anthony Lee  /  Getty Images/OJO Images


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Erika Reinsel Jan 12

Technology: Does it really simplify our lives?


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Every year, new gadgets roll out faster than we can keep up with. Simple tasks such as creating a grocery list, scheduling a doctor’s appointment, or hiring a pet sitter can be done from an app on your phone. Even companies have ascended into the technological trend — managing projects from an online “system,” to sharing, sending and even asking a question with the click of a mouse. However, the questions remain: Does this really make our jobs easier and save time? Or does it leave us feeling stressed and overworked?

Cat conked out next to computer

Many will argue computers and cell phones leave us feeling frazzled and anxious; we’re always waiting for that notification beep, and constantly checking for the latest update.

Can the same be said for the workplace? Many businesses use online tools and resources meant to save time and create efficiency. Are they really affective? Do they actually simplify our work, or are we spending more time trying to figure out how to actually use these tools? Do we waste valuable time trying to find the latest PDF or latest update? Did you forget to notify coworkers of tasks they needed to do? How long before we upgrade and need to learn a whole new system? These questions are constantly buzzing around the workplace, and as fast as the technological world moves, we need to take a step back and analyze before we move ahead.

Sometimes such information overloads can lead an employee to experience an increase in stress, with a decrease in attention span and detail. The more we feel stressed by systems, and hundreds of emails and notifications, the less we actually get done. So how do we fix this?

• Filter EVERYTHING (emails, projects, etc.) Don’t overwhelm yourself with a bunch of emails and notifications — keep it current.

• Prioritize! Overwhelmed by emails? Need to focus on one project? Take an hour and block off your calendar with big red letters: DO NOT DISTURB.

• Set reasonable deadlines. Everything can wait (mostly). Don’t try to rush for the sake of rushing. Be realistic.

Instead of wondering if your company current with the latest technological advances, keep one thing in mind: Are you current tools and resources effective? The more efficient the tool, the easier for everyone.

And remember the golden rule: A happy employee is a productive employee.

Photo Credit: theogeo via Compfight cc


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Darcy Grabenstein Oct 31

The day my smartphone decided to become a submarine


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Wednesday was a traumatic day for me. My cellphone fell into the toilet. I know, it’s disgusting. But beyond the actual gross-out effect, I was actually more devastated by the loss of connectivity I felt.

Before you judge me, you should know that, according to a survey “IT in the Toilet” by 11Mark, 75 percent of Americans admit using the phone while in the bathroom. I must clarify that I wasn’t using the phone (really — it was in my back pocket, which caused the infamous “incident.”)

My mobile phone is like an appendage to me. As the saying goes, I don’t leave home without it. I’m now measuring my days in terms of B.C. (before cellphone) and A.D. (after drop).

People who have lost a limb often experience phantom pains. That is, they feel pain where the limb once was. Well, I’ve had a similar experience since my iPhone has been out of commission. I keep thinking I’m feeling my desk or purse “buzz” with an incoming text or call.

However, that’s impossible as my phone’s new home is this bag of rice:

Bag of rice

For those of you wondering why my phone is now sushi, supposedly by putting a drowned mobile device into rice for a couple of days, the grains will absorb the water. Wish me luck.

In the meantime, the loss of my faithful companion has made me think about all the things I use my phone for (in no specific order):

Texting family and friends, especially if I’m meeting someone (I had to pick up my husband after work that night, and lack of a cellphone made it more difficult than usual.)

Calling my mother (Yes, I’m a grown woman who calls her mother every day. Instead of mocking me, perhaps you should call your mother right now.)

• Checking emails

• Entering contests via SMS

• Playing games (Yes, I play Candy Crush to kill time when I’m waiting at a restaurant, doctor’s office, etc.)

• Using apps to check sports scores, schedules (Florida Gators, to be specific)

• Checking the weather

• Checking traffic

• Researching travel options before and during vacations

• Scanning my shopper reward UPCs at checkout

• Redeeming retail coupons

• Maintaining my grocery list

• Posting to social media sites like Facebook (We were at a concert that night and I was having withdrawal symptoms because I couldn’t take and share photos.)

• Using an app to enter my daily caloric intake and exercise (OK, I can do this via the web, but why? If you’re wondering, yesterday I consumed 982 calories and burned 318 calories. You do the math. And, yes, my mother would say I’m not eating enough.)

• Listening to music while I work out (see item above)

• Paying bills

In short, I rely upon my mobile phone for numerous tasks. Your customers and prospects surely do the same. That’s why you need to take into account what your customers and/or their demographic are doing in terms of mobile and where they are using their phones (besides the bathroom). Here are a few eye-opening statistics on mobile usage:

• According to a Wilson Electronics survey, 15 percent of Americans answer mobile calls during sex (good news for condom advertisers!)

• Wireless data consumption has grown 732 percent since 2010 (CTIA)

• 25 percent of smartphone owners age 18–44 say they can’t recall the last time their phone wasn’t next to them (Fast Company)

• According to the Pew Research Internet Project, 67 percent of cell owners find themselves checking their phone even it’s not ringing or vibrating (guilty as charged — pun intended)

• 57 percent of users won’t recommend companies with poor mobile sites (Search Engine Journal)

• By 2018, mobile video will represent 69 percent of mobile traffic (Forbes)

So when it comes to online marketing, make sure that mobile’s in the mix. After all, you don’t want to flush your online marketing dollars down the toilet.

Darcy Grabenstein is senior copywriter at Annodyne.


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