Keren Gu's Picazón

Sharing and Scratching Itches Everywhere


How I Became a Spotify Premium User

It’s been 1.5 years since I started using Spotify. Over the past 18 months, what has Spotify, a brand, a software, a logo done to me to turn myself into a premium user? I was never like this before. I would never pay. This is a quest to examine “why I’m paying $9.99 a month”.

When it all started in August 2011, I was browsing the web like any other day. Found this new green music software and thought I’d try it out. Like many new things that we try, we try them with friends. I chatted a couple friends and made them download as well.

On my first day, I starred 2 songs that I was crazy about, both by Adele. Then looking back at my history, I was “favorite-ing” songs on almost every other day for the next week — normal behavior for new users. Then I was adding new songs every week, and probably listening daily as I worked on my problem sets. Still, I wasn’t paying a penny, and MIT’s super speedy internet was free. (Well, included in the tuition.)

At this point, a number of my friends has already left Spotify. Reasons included: Continue reading



Sharing Personal Data with No Fear

This post is inspired by a NYTimes article.

Something worth pondering is a method that could allow companies like Facebook to share their data without revealing any personal privacy.

There are a lot of problems with both sharing and not sharing Facebook’s (and other companies alike)’s data. As users, we don’t want people to look into these data and find things pertaining to us individually. As scientists, we want transparency and the release of any research data for verification. For the sake of science.

While working at the Mobile Experience Lab (@MIT Media Lab) with Avea, a mobile company of Turkey, on methods of identifying “power users” in their mobile network, our research ability was severely limited by the lack of real data to analyze. Our collaboration also became very tedious. The workflow included generating random data in order to test our algorithm. Yet we would have nothing to look at, no patterns to find once our algorithm is ran.

However, in a pure theoretical point of view, there need to be a way to allow scientists to analyze user data without the ability to pin down a particular individual.

On a very high level, I see two different ways to do this. One is to eliminate information such as name, address, phone number when these data are being sent for analyze. Another is a method that restricts researches to analyze individual data, only allow experiments to run on batches of data. Any attempt to hone down on a specific person or small group of people will result in inaccurate data.

As for the first suggestion, there is a clear problem. For most of us, our name, address, phone number are our identifications. But for others, they could be in a company of 1 or few, thus their company became another identifying. This also extends to their network, their selection of “likes”. Their statuses may reveal things about them. By this argument, we soon eliminates almost all information about a person, and therefore sharing no data. It is clear that this will not work.

As for the second suggestion, there could be hope. If we can add a virtual layer between data, and researchers — a layer that encrypts or smudges the data so it’s impossible for us, or our programs to align individual data and find anything particular about a single person, or a small group of people, then we will be close to fixing the tension between companies, users, and scientists.

I haven’t thought enough to figure out if this is possible or not. I could totally be bluffing.

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A note on Big Data

It’s clear that there has been a huge hype about big data these days. There are thousands of articles written on Big Data. Tons of money are invested into Big Data startups and technologies. Etc etc. I’m sure you can see it all by simply googling big data or following ‘big data’ on VB.

Over the summer, after first working with some “big data”, I too, was thrilled by the idea of being able to store and analyze all the imaginable data there is. But after following and learning more about the topic for a while, I realized, big data is no different from just, data.

Big data is nothing more than, regular data, except a lot of it. The only problem introduced is not enough time. We can’t wait for days before making an investment decision, or customer recommendation  The obvious solution is to analyze faster. And right now, the solution most people are implementing is MapReduce, Hadoop, etc, etc. So obviously, in the field of research, there will always be work to be done to speed up the process, to find faster algo and better database, methods or hardware.

But there is so much more to data than new tools and technologies. There is what we can do with them. The answer to that question, has not really changed due to the rise of big data. We will need to continue find value in data like we used to, and analyze data like we used to, on top of new technologies.

My point: companies like IBM and Oracle, and Apache could continue their work on supporting big data technologies and all that, but others need to do nothing more than upgrading their technology (by learning and hiring people with similar experiences), and continue finding problems and solving problems the way we’ve been doing, with the same ML algos or math models.

What are your thoughts?

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Visualizing a 3-D Conway’s Game of Life

I’ve been reading about The IGLU Project that my fellow blogger, unceasingtoe, is working on. The project is essentially a 3D Conway’s Game of Life. If you aren’t familiar with the Game of Life,  you can read about it here. It’s fascinating once you realize how simple the idea is and how complex it’s capable of becoming. 

Anyways, the game of life is in 2D. But the rules are so simple that it can easily be translated into 3D, or n-D if you like. The hurdle is visualization, of course. So I looked on the internet for existing 3D experiments for Conway’s game of life and I found this — a chrome experiment, this — a simple study with great explanation, and this — a cool implementation from codeplex. 

From a design point of view, most implementations are Boxes appearing and disappearing, or at best through gradient transitioning. I guess this is sufficient given that people only care about the end-behavior instead of the transition (correct me if I’m wrong).

But the game has within it, meanings of life. In my mind, the boxes don’t appear, or disappear. Instead, a box dies via shrinking, glows when it comes to life and live onto the next generation, the content of 3-neighboring boxes flow into the new box during reproduction, and the content of a box gets sucked into it’s neighbors during overcrowding. This visual representation will embed the meaning of the rules, and will provide a smooth and meaningful transition. That’s just how I envision it. 

On a side note, people have thought deeply about Conway’s Game of Life. Some say that, in order to succeed in life, you need to surround yourself by the right kind and the right number of people. Other say that, sometimes, certain configurations are meant to fail, from the start. 

Lastly, here’s a picture of me playing Phutball with John Conway, the guy who started it all. He also invented the game, Phutball. He also let me won because it was my birthday 😉 Greatest moment in my life thus far. 


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App Developing: Preserve The Great Singalong Moments

While watching the delayed-live-broadcast of The Voice finale, I had an Ah-Ha moment.

I got an idea for an app 😉

The Ah-Hah! Moment

But before I pitch my idea, I’ll give a sense of the setting: it was around bedtime in Beijing, and I just finished working for the day, in bed. I don’t follow the Voice or anything, but for the past week in China, there really isn’t anything on TV besides HBO and AXN, which plays TV shows like … the Voice, and very old CSI episodes.

So the show was building up the suspense for who’s going to become America’s next top… I mean, winner of the Voice, there were a lot of singing by the finalists, songs of different genre, and famous people like Bruno Mars were popping on and off the stage. Wait,

I need to add a crucial detail that led to my moment: before turning on the TV, I was doing something that’s not exactly my pre-bed ritual, but more of a celebratory act from the hard work I did… (It’s really hard to describe. It’s one of those things that you do, when… ) Okay fine, I’ll admit, I was solo Karaoke-ing with Tunewiki, on Spotify, in bed. It was like rewarding and relaxing myself.

Anyways, while watching the Voice, I was like, “man, I wish I could singalong to these songs, all of which I don’t know the lyrics to.”  I could, listen to the lyrics and google it. But I had already closed my laptop, and it takes so much energy and will power to open it again. Even if I had googled it, by the time I match the lyrics, the song would have been over! Not worth it.

I just wished that my phone could maybe listen to the song, and figure out the name (like that app, Shazam), and then google search the lyrics for me.

Okay, I suck at telling stories, but that was my AH-HAh moment. I know I kind of ruined it, but lets move on now.

The Idea

That idea up there, that is SO easy to make! (Can I make it? Probably. Probably not anytime soon. But it’s soo possible!)

I’m sure I’m not the first person to think of this, so I looked it up. I found Android Karaoke, which appears to have a terrible description of itself and its use. First, purple isn’t a People-color. It’s not classy. It’s weird to have the entire app purple, despite purple being my favorite color. Second, the app claims to “Kill waiting time at aiports, bus stops, etc”. Do you see what’s wrong here? Can you imagine yourself, or anyone, waiting at the airport with your headphones on, but practicing your “singing talent”, OUT LOUD? Not cool. Don’t do that.

The Pitch

Instead, my proposal, (lets call it, The Greatest Singalong) will let you, and your friends, singalong to songs at the bar, or parties, or even just watching The Voice at home. All it takes is a simple click of a button, the app will first act like Shazam, (we can even call the app, Shazam & Sing,) and then fetch the lyrics for you, to your palm. It won’t scroll, so you’ll have to do that yourself, but I guess it could scroll if you want it to.

Advanced: It would be cool for the app to track, via real time, where the music is at, and pause the scroll of the music accordingly. It would just be your personal singalong assistant.

If there’s an app like this, I’d get one. In fact, there IS one for your Mac: it’s called Sing Along, which based on the review, could be better.

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Simple Elegant Startup: Intern Sushi

Screen shot 2012-12-18 at 9.31.43 AM

Simple startups are always motivating. They fit into the category of “helping people do things that they already do, but easier and better”. There’s no need of inventing a new technology, but simply putting existing technologies together in a creative way.

I found out about Intern Sushi from Forbe’s 30 under 30 list. Intern Sushi is founded by Shara Senderoff (one of the few women on the list of 30 under 30. Wow, just be amazed by how few women there are), an ex-intern of Scott Rudin, the director of the Social Network. It makes me wonder if she was influenced by the entrepreneurial atmosphere spread by the movie.

I can imagine, that being in the acting and performing industry, it’s hard to present yourself solely with paper resume, especially as an intern. I guess Shara felt the pain of how difficult it is to be noticed. Hence the idea of a web-based resume where candidates can post videos and galleries of their work and performances. This is also a great portal to demonstrate one’s personality and communication skill!

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Starting an Android App

Last day of class was 3 days ago, finals is coming up next week, but I don’t have to worry about that. I already flew my butt back to China and already on my 3rd day of vacation.

Finals, winter break, and IAP, last till about the first week of February. Without classes and problem sets, I really need to find something for myself to do! So over the next month, I will be working on my TechFair project, and if I get the time, I’ll make “Contact, the Word Game” — Android App.

I’ve never done an android app before, so I’ll be figuring everything out from the beginning:

Step 1 is the easy part, I’ve learned, install the ADT. It’s essentially just an eclipse with all the android libraries you need.

Step 2: creating an android project is simple as well. A thing worth noting: there are many features and layouts that are for certain Android OS or higher. If you are developing internally, it’s probably the best to develop solely for the OS version that you have.

So once you click “finish”, a number of files are generated for you. Something I found helpful was that whenever you see something like: “R.layout.activity_item_list” that means you get to go to the /res/layout folder to find the xml file that corresponds to that variable. By editing the .xml file, you get to change the variable, which changes the view! Also, eclipse gives you a Graphical Layout view so you don’t have to make your GUI programmatically. Much better =)

If you know anything about android app that might be helpful, let me know 😉 I’ll need it.