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Rant Time: Adobe VoCo’s ethical dilemma

Posted in best practices, botch, business, california, ethics by commorancy on February 28, 2018

I have to wonder about Adobe’s business ethics at times. First, there’s Photoshop. While I can admit that photo editing has a legitimate purpose, such as correcting red eye or removing telephone lines or removing reflections of the camera man from a photo, there is the much seedier and ethically murky purpose for Photoshop. Now comes Adobe VoCo. It is a product idea that does for spoken audio what Photoshop does for images. Let’s explore this YouTube clip from 2016:

Skip to 3:18 for the meat of this video.

VoCo’s Use Cases and Ethics

Though, yes, I will concede that the demonstration above was funny and we all laughed, the demonstration has a deep seated ethically murky undertone once the laughing stops. In fact, that’s what prompted this blog article.

Unlike Photoshop which has actual real world use cases (yes, other than making models thinner and glowier for the cover of Vogue), VoCo is one of those unnecessary tools that, while cool in theory, makes Adobe seem that it’s now in the business of causing world disruption instead of actually solving creative problems. After the ethical problems created by Photoshop, Adobe has to know the ethical quandary it introduces by bringing the VoCo audio editing tool to market. Adobe decides to go ahead with demoing this tool anyway. So much for business ethics. Instead, Adobe should have patented and shelved this product idea and never shown it off.

There’s no effective real world use case for this product other than for making someone say things that they actually didn’t say. The only use case where this technology might even be somewhat useful, depending on output quality, is in the voice over industry where an actor might be unavailable at a time when a line needs to be changed to fit continuity better. The voice over industry is the only industry where VoCo could have even the smallest glimmer of hope of a use case. This is such a tiny niche market segment to introduce this tool in such a public spectacle way.

The only other use case would be to sample all of the audio from a particular dead actor or actress’s productions and then recreate lines of new spoken dialog based on that. Again, this is one of those entertainment areas that fits firmly into the uncanny valley, particularly if the spoken lines are attached to a CG actor. Again, this is not a substantial use case in my opinion and is most definitely creepy. It’s definitely not a big enough use case to warrant this public release spectacle. Do we really want to see Marilyn Monroe or Elvis brought back to life on the big screen using CG and VoCo dialog?

There is no other legitimate use case for this product. It’s like Adobe intentionally wants to flaunt its lack of ….

Business Ethics and Self-Editing

Businesses today have no ability to self-edit or recognize ethics. That is, stop ethically bad product ideas from making it to the market. Just thinking about this product and how it could possibly be used, it doesn’t have legitimate use cases (other than the voice over use case I mentioned above). However, there are perhaps thousands of illegitimate uses for this tool. Let’s list a few of them, shall we:

  • Falsifying a deposition to make the person being deposed say something they didn’t say
  • Falsifying a statement of non-confession to make a person confess to a crime when they didn’t actually confess
  • Falsifying a phone conversation
  • Changing any spoken words from non-incriminating to incriminating evidence

In legal circles, the use for this tool is ripe for abuse and has use cases as wide as the Grand Canyon and as deep as the Mariana Trench. In other words, while VoCo has no substantial legitimate use cases, it has thousands of illegitimate use cases. There is no way Adobe couldn’t see this. There is no way for Adobe to feign ignorance about this tool or the ethical problems it imposes if released.

Legal Evidence

Some have theorized that this tool would become just as Photoshop has. Basically, because evidence can now be manufactured in products like VoCo, it means that audio evidence would no longer be easily admissible. While that idea has some soundness to it, the legal system is not always technically savvy and can sometimes move at a snail’s pace. Eventually, the courts and lawyers will be on board with this ‘manufactured evidence’ sound clip idea, but not before several someones are incriminated over manufactured evidence that isn’t caught in time.

Some have theorized that Adobe should watermark the sound clip. The difficulty with audio watermarking is that it ruins the audio. No one would buy a professional audio tool that intentionally makes the audio sound bad or introduces something that is audibly noticeable, strictly because Adobe wants to insert a watermark to legally cover their collective butts. No. No one would buy a tool that causes damage to the audio output. This means that only a silent kind of watermark could be introduced. Such a watermark would consist primarily as a tag within the saved audio clip file. Any tags introduced in a save file can easily be stripped away by converting the audio clip to a new format or by playing the audio clip back and recording it on analog equipment. In fact, a whole industry and set of tools would likely appear to strip out any watermarks imposed by Adobe onto the saved files.

Unless there is a substantial way to identify that the clip has been edited, and I don’t know how Adobe could even solve this problem fully, VoCo is a tool that would end up more abused than legitimately used.

Flawed Product Ideas

While this is somewhat of a cool technological advancement, it doesn’t need to exist. It doesn’t need to exist because it has basically one limited use case. I’d argue that as a production runner, you can just wait until the voice actor becomes available and ask them to re-record the lines you need. That is, instead of using a tool like this. A tool like VoCo might save you some time, but by demanding such a tool for your use, it means the rest of the world must also endure the consequences of a world full of falsified evidence. Is that the world you want to live in? Evidence that could even be used against you, the audio editor. No, thanks.

However, it’s clear that prototype code has been written based on the video above. This means that Adobe could release such a product into the wild in the future. Thankfully, as of this article in 2018, this product does not yet exist. Unfortunately, Adobe has already opened Pandora’s box. A working prototype means that any coder with leanings towards audio engineering could produce a similar tool and release it into the wild without the help of Adobe. Thanks Adobe.

It is as yet unclear when or if this product could ever be released. Note that this video segment apparently showcases experimental product ideas (products that may never see the light of day) and not actual products. After all, such a legally murky product would have to clear Adobe’s legal team before release. Considering the many negative use cases for such an audio editing product and the legal liability that Adobe might endure as a result, I’d hope that Adobe’s legal team has shelved this product idea permanently.

Agree or disagree? Please leave a comment below. Also, don’t miss any new Randocity articles by subscribing to this blog via clicking the blue follow button at the top right.

How to prevent school shootings

Posted in parenting, personal security, security by commorancy on February 26, 2018

On the heels of the Parkland, Florida shooting, this question has emerged yet again. Can we prevent school shootings? Let’s explore.

Mass Shootings

In recent years, mass shootings seemingly have been more and more frequent. Or, at least so it seems. It’s not just school shootings, it also includes shootings like Las Vegas and the Pulse Club shooting in Orlando. I’d even include the mass killing by vehicle where people mow down crowds of pedestrians. While these last three examples aren’t school shootings, they do point to a systemic problem that appears to extend beyond the school into our everyday lives.

We don’t know why these mentally disturbed folks decide to pick up a weapon and point it at a crowd or drive a car through a crowd. However, I’d start by looking at commonalities. These might include medications they were taking or things they were doing in their daily lives. It might even be mental health problems.

Parkland Shooting

My heart goes out to those who have had loved ones taken away in Parkland.  However, Parkland is the most recent example of a mass school shooting allegedly committed by a former student who had apparently been expelled. What triggers these people? Though, the bigger concern is less why this student was triggered and more how this student found access to weapons. And, herein lies the problem and with it, the solution.

Weapon Access

The bigger question is, how did a 19 year old get access to the weapons he allegedly used? In many states, it’s perfectly legal for an 18 year old to purchase and possess a rifle, but not legal to purchase or possess a handgun at that age. In the case of the alleged shooter, he apparently legally bought the AR 15 rifle just weeks before the shooting. I guess the somewhat odd thinking here is that a rifle is more obvious than a handgun. This is backwards thinking. The rifle, while being obvious when someone is holding one, is obviously a more dangerous weapon… especially if it’s an AK-47 style semi-automatic rifle. This compared to a handgun which isn’t always semi-automatic, though some are.

Here’s where we have a problem. The point to an semi-automatic rifle is to point and spray. That is, to discharge as many rounds as fast as possible. These weapons are designed to dole out mass amounts of bullets and damage. This compared to a handgun which isn’t typically designed for this purpose. Here’s the first problem. Why are semi-automatic weapons allowed to be sold at all, let alone to someone under 25? These are weapons that should, if at all, only be sold to people who can pass a proper gun test and full background checks. It should also be limited to someone aged 25 or older.

If an 18 year old wants to gain access to semi-automatic rifles, join the military. For the shooting in Parkland, the alleged shooter was legally an adult at the time of the shooting, so I’ll come back to the adult age group issue shortly.

Children with Guns

In the case of younger school mass shooters, how did they get access to the weapons at all? These children can’t own weapons. This is where parental guidance fails. Many of these shooters obtained their weapons directly from their parent’s weapon stash or from a friend’s weapon stash. Of course, they might have also obtained weapons through illegal means.

In the case of parents owning weapons where the child used it in a mass shooting, the parents should be held legally accountable, at the very least as an accessory. If you own weapons and do not properly secure them from your child, then you need to be held legally accountable for how that weapon is used, particularly if it is by your child. As a parent, you need to share in your child’s legal culpability and burdens, even if the child is shot and killed after the mass shooting. As a parent of a child mass shooter, you can no longer claim to be a victim in this. You are now fully responsible for your child’s actions while using your legally purchased weapon(s). If that means the child performed a mass school shooting, as a parent, you should expect a maximum sentence including jail time.

This is the first way to stop these mass school shootings. If parents legally become an accessory to whatever is committed by the child with that parent’s weapon, then parents will then have to be much more careful about where they leave their guns. This means making completely sure that your weapons are entirely secured from your child, preferably away from your home. This means making sure your child has no way to circumvent your gun storage system and take possession of them. However, if your child does take possession and uses your weapon in a mass shooting, expect to see the inside of a courtroom and see the inside of a jail.

Making parents take responsibility for their child’s actions is the first way to stop school age child shootings. Parents of a shooter need to stop making themselves into the victim and take legal responsibility for their child’s actions.

Adult Aged Shooter

In the case of Parkland, the alleged shooter was 19 and legally purchased and owned the weapons he purchased. That’s partly because Florida’s gun laws are fairly lax. This is where if Florida’s gun purchasing laws had been more strict on this matter, this 19 year old (still mentally a child) wouldn’t have been able to buy an AR 15 weapon. Unfortunately, there is the argument that at 18, the age were everyone is considered a legal adult, you should be able to buy and own a weapon. I agree with that sentiment to a degree. It’s not that you can’t own a weapon, it’s that the states need to mandate stricter requirements before you can walk out of the shop with one. No one needs to walk into and out of a gun shop with gun-in-hand in the same day. It’s not that kind of an item. Here are some points that could have at least slowed down (or possibly thwarted) this alleged shooter:

  1. Require a permit. A permit to own a weapon means you need to file for that permit and wait until the permit arrives before a gun. This takes time and a little bit of money. It also means your name is on file with the state and authorities that you own a weapon and which weapons you own (because the gun dealer has to make a record with your permit number).
  2. Require a waiting period. In addition to the time it takes to file for and receive a permit, force every gun shop to make you wait at least 30 days before taking possession of the weapon. Not only does it force the buyer to think about their purchase, it forces the buyer to wait 30 days before that gun becomes yours. It also gives the gun shop owner 30 days to do their own research before handing over the weapon. I consider this one due diligence. No one needs a weapon overnight. It also means the gun shop might not get a pass for not doing their due diligence. Everyone involved in the sale of a gun has a responsibility to ensure they are selling that weapon to a person of sound mind.
  3. Require a mental health evaluation. This one is on the list only because it can help evaluate sound mind, but it’s also controversial. This means that as a gun buyer, you need to be evaluated by a medical professional prior to taking possession.  Or, at least, take possession of your first weapon. The problem with this is, judging someone else’s mental health is a bit of a challenge. Habitual lying sociopaths are well capable of making their lies seem quite truthful… even to a mental health professional.  This means that unless the mental health professional is able to diagnose a lying sociopath, the mental health professional could be on the hook for what that person does with the weapon after they signed off on that person’s mental health. Not sure how many mental health folks would want to take on that responsibility.
  4. Background check. A person who is looking at purchasing a weapon should go through a thorough background check. This should include social media sites and reviewing any behaviors that might seem out of the ordinary. If the person is under 25,  the person’s most recent school records and conduct must be evaluated. If a school has recently expelled that person, this should be grounds for background check failure. If a parent or sibling has been involved in gun violence, failure.

These basic checks would at least stop obtaining weapons through legal means. However, it won’t stop people from obtaining weapons illegally. It also won’t stop person to person weapon purchases. For example, in Florida, one person can legally purchase a gun from another person without notifying anyone. This is the hardest problem to solve. Is there a way to solve this? Not easily. Because person to person weapon transactions are the hardest to track and the hardest to know about, it’s almost impossible to stop these.

Failure to Investigate

In the case of the alleged Parkland shooter, this former student apparently had disturbing content on various social sites including a now infamous comment left on YouTube. Content describing the want to use weapons in the way they were used. Apparently, some folks from the school found these sites and brought it to the attention of the school authorities, the local authorities and even the FBI. Yet, none of these leads were apparently followed up on.

This is a hard section to write. If the folks who are tasked to investigate troubled teens for possible issues like this, why wasn’t this information followed up? Why wasn’t he found early? Why wasn’t he taken in and detained? Why did none of this happen? There’s a term for it…

Security Theater

What exactly is “Security Theater“. According to Wikipedia:

Security theater is the practice of investing in countermeasures intended to provide the feeling of improved security while doing little or nothing to achieve it.

What this means is that authorities set up mailboxes to catch complaints with hollow promises to follow up. In fact, these sites actually aren’t monitored and the mailboxes go unchecked. These sites are set up strictly to placate, to provide security theater.

Instead of implementing the facade of security theater, we need to actually monitor, take action and follow up on these legitimate leads. If the FBI had actually followed up on (or at least had notified the local authorities), the Parkland shooting might not have taken place. It’s one of those hindsight is 20/20 kind of deals. It’s easy to look back and see all of the mistakes. However, if at least one of those notified authorities had followed up, perhaps Parkland wouldn’t have happened?

Overall

By enforcing more strict gun purchasing laws (especially to those under 25), by eliminating the practice of security theater and by actually following up on all possible threats, it’s possible we could have prevented the Parkland shooting. Heck, car insurance has always been higher for those under 25 for a reason. The insurance companies realize how reckless that age group can be. Why not apply this same logic to gun purchasing and ownership?

These ideas won’t necessarily stop all mass shootings and wouldn’t necessarily have prevented a shooting like Las Vegas, but if these ideas can reduce the frequency of them, then that’s a win in my book.

Rant Time: Snapchat’s update failure

Posted in best practices, botch, california by commorancy on February 14, 2018

In business, the quest is always to provide the best most consistent user interface (UI) and the easiest user experience (UX) possible. Sometimes, that doesn’t always work as planned. Sometimes, it outright fails and backfires. Let’s explore.

Flickr

Before 2014, Flickr had a very useful grid layout. Sometime during 2013/2014 Marissa’s then team decided to “reinvent” Flickr. They gave it a facelift and then rolled it out to much user ire. While it’s every company’s right to make design changes to their application as they see fit, it can also spell doom to an application. Flickr was no exception. After Flickr updated their app in 2014, this drastic UI change immediately drew the anger of thousands of Flickr users. Yet, Flickr still hasn’t changed anything substantial in spite of the massive number complaints. The UI is still the disaster it was designed to be and does not in any way offer what it formerly did.

The formerly well spaced grid layout was convenient and easy to use in that it showed how many views of each photo at a glance. With the new tight grid interface of random sized images, you now have to drill into each and every photo separately to find the views of that specific photo. Sure, you can use the statistics page to see which photos are most popular or most interesting, but that’s of little concession when you simply want to see how well your most recent photos are doing at a glance. In short, the latest Flickr interface introduced in 2014 still sucks and Yahoo has done nothing to right this wrong. I’d venture to guess there are fewer users using Flickr now than ever, particularly with newer apps such as Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook… and speaking of Snapchat…

Snapchat’s Update

As of February 10, 2018 and taking a page from Flickr’s playbook, Snapchat decided to roll out a brand new interface to its app. An update that has, just like Flickr, drawn the ire of many of its app users. Some users are lamenting this new interface so much, they are seriously contemplating app deletion. Because of the app’s unannounced surprise layout, some Snapchat users were unable figure out how to post causing them to lose their streaks (a way to measure how many consecutive days a user has posted). Some users streaks have been running for several hundred days. Others are just ranting about what they don’t like about it. Here’s what some Twitter users are saying:

What a disaster. Do these companies even perform basic usability testing before a release?

Design Fails

The old saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Literally, what problems was Snapchat trying to solve with this update? If you’re planning on a UI and UX redesign, you better throw in some bones for the users to go with it. Give people a reason to want to use the interface and they’re willing to overlook other minor inconveniences. Without such bones, it ends up as merely a change for change’s sake without offering up any useful new features. Burying UI components in ever deeper layers is not more UI efficient and does not offer up a better user experience. I’m not even sure what Snapchat was thinking when they decided to roll out this UI update.

Test, test and more testing

Here’s where the rubber meets the road. If you make a UI/UX change without adding anything useful into the app for the end user, what have you accomplished as a designer? The answer is, nothing. As a designer, you have failed. Changing a UI design requires careful consideration, even more careful planning and product usability testing. This means actually giving your app to your primary target demographic and letting them use it for a few days. Let them tell you what’s wrong with it, what they like and what they dislike. Do this long before putting the new update in the app store for general release. If you do this, you can avoid the problems that Flickr and Snapchat faced with their UI and UX redesigns. If you don’t do this, you end up in the news. Failure is not an option, but so many companies fall into this trap not really knowing how to get out of it.

Rollback Plan

If the Tweet above is true regarding that support team reponse stating that there is no way to roll back, then that’s a failure on the part of the application’s designers. You should always design a rollback plan into your releases. You can’t know what may fail as a result of a release, so offering a rollback plan should always be part of a release.

If you fail to test and fail to include a rollback plan, you’ll end up just like Snapchat (and Flickr) … that is, in the news for all the wrong reasons. What this says is that the Snapchat design team should be fired and replaced. Failure is not something any company needs to endure, especially when that failure is so visible and makes your company look inept…. and it was all preventable. In this day and age, there is absolutely no reason why companies release software into the wild that angers its user base in this way. Seriously, that is such an amateur move, it’s a wonder such companies even remains in business. Worse, after such a seriously amateur move and after the dust settles, you may not have much of a business left. Your app is your lifeblood. Screw it up and you’re done.

Overconfidence

Snapchat clearly doesn’t understand its audience. Teens are some of the most finicky users on the planet. It doesn’t take much for them to dump something and move onto the next better thing. Changing a UI interface that angers so many of them is the quickest way to lose the userbase you’ve spent so much time and effort attracting. Perhaps Snapchat will realize its mistake and correct it pronto? Perhaps it will pull a Flickr and let users suffer through with the horrible new design and not change it. With Flickr, Yahoo at least had some leverage because of all of the professional photographers entrenched in the service. Where would they go? With Snapchat, the company does not have this luxury. Snapchat isn’t a required service like Flickr is to professional photographers. This fail could easily lead to the demise of Snapchat.

It’s time for Snapchat to seriously consider all of its options here, but let’s hope they come to the right decision and rollback the interface and rethink it’s UI and UX design. Best of all, maybe they have learned a valuable lesson in software design… test your interface on your primary demographic before you ever consider a release.

Welcome to the new Randocity

Posted in entertainment by commorancy on February 7, 2018

In the spirit of random improvements and random explanations, I’ve renamed the blog site to Randocity. It’s still pronounced the same, but is spelled with a ‘c’ instead of an ‘s’. I felt that this blog content was more in line with the definition of this new word and, hence, the new name. This is in part because I liked this spelling better and in part because I’ve added a brand spankin’ new custom domain — randocity.com. The content will remain the same and the blog will continue onward just as it has, with as much randomness as you’ve come to expect. Except now, it’s using its brand new domain with a ‘c’.

Oh, in case you’re curious, the old randosity.wordpress.com domain will continue to work as it always has, except now it redirects you to the new randocity.com.

Welcome to the old Randosity which is now Randocity!

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