Take the Bruised Apple

Scoutmaster Minute for Troop 14, September 26, 2006

You’ve probably heard the phrase “rank has its privileges.” That means the Patrol Leader can pick the best spot for his tent, is first in line for dinner, and gets to tell people what to do, right?

A friend of mine was in the Marine Corps, and has a story about this that has a different angle.

You are an officer eating with your unit, and they bring out a bowl of apples. There is one apple per person, because this is the military. One of the apples is bruised. Which one do you pick?

According to Dave, if you pick a good apple, you are not fit to lead in the Marine Corps. When you choose that, you are giving a bad apple to one of your Marines, and that means they will not be at their best. If they are not at their best, they might die, and they are your responsibility. Not giving them enough food is like not giving them enough bullets.

We aren’t Marines, but we are leaders. When you are leading, you might find that your tent goes up last, because you are helping a Tenderfoot get his tent set up snug and dry. You might spend a lot of time on the phone, making sure your guys know what is happening. You might be last in line for food and first in line to clean the pots. You might find that your privilege is to serve, like it is my privilege to serve you.

Take the bruised apple.

Nukers and Shills

Some fun new terminology in the “let’s spam the recommender” business. Paul Lamere of Sun Labs reports on a talk by Bamshad Mobasher at Recommenders ’06 about attacks on recommendation systems.

[Dr. Bamshad Mobasher] outlined two basic types of attacks: shilling – trying to promote an item and nuking – trying to demote an item. These types of attacks are quite real. The social site Digg is under constant attack by shills trying to get their story promoted to the front page.

Bamshad pointed to an example when a loosely organized group who didn’t like evangelist Pat Robertson managed to trick the Amazon recommender into linking his book “Six Steps to a Spiritual Life” with a book on anal sex for men.

Bamshad suggest that one way to defend against shills and nukes is to create hybrid recommenders – recommenders that not only use social data but some inherent measure such as text or acoustic similarity. These types of systems are typically more robust than pure social recommenders.

This isn’t a new thing. Around 1998 at Infoseek someone was trying to sell us a system that used auto-categorization with discussion groups. As soon as they opened it up, some hostile users hijacked a Christian group to be in the Satanism category (or maybe Wicca, it was a long time ago).

At the start of this post I called recommender spam a business. I don’t know if anyone is making money on it yet, but it is one more opportunity for spammers. Your product gets a higher rating, they get paid. If you notice that sites suddenly require a login or even a subscription to post ratings, thank the spammers.

Steve Irwin

Scoutmaster Minute for Troop 14, September 12, 2006

Steve Irwin, the crocodile hunter, died last week. People had a lot of opinions about him, but one thing that everyone agreed on was that he loved what he did. He loved wildlife and he loved being close to it.

You are lucky if you find something that you love that much, and it is really rare to be able to do it all the time.

If you can find something that you love even half as much as Steve Irwin loved wrestling crocs, and you can do it even one hour a week, do it.