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University of Michigan School of Information


Fun Size for 8/1/20: What not to say around Alexa

The world of information - in Fun Size!

UMSI's Fun Size digest features tiny, delicious news tidbits relating to information and library topics. Reach us at [email protected].

Not so cute Meet
If you don’t use Meet, Google’s video chat app alternative to Zoom, Lifehacker Australia has a simple tutorial for getting Meet off your Gmail page so that you don’t have to see it every time you check your email. The solution, as with so many things online, lies in Settings.

Like a diamond in the sky
From Business Comet Neowise has come and gone, but if you missed it or want to see it from a unique vantage point, an American astronaut took hundreds of photos of the comet from the ISS as the sun rose one July morning. An enterprising UK graphic artist has edited them into a time-lapse video of celestial beauty

Let your fingers do the walking
Travelers frustrated by pandemic restrictions might take some inspiration from an agoraphobic woman in England who has figured out how to travel the world without leaving the house. Atlas Obscura shares the solution of a woman who has roamed from Mexico to Mongolia using Google Street View to drop in on places she’d never visit in person. With an artist’s eye, she captures “streetview portraits” to  share on Instagram.

New African library dedicated to Black authors
In July, the Library of Africa and the African Diaspora opened to the public in Accra, Ghana. Formerly a private library founded by British-Ghanian writer Sylvia Arthur, the new library features books by writers from almost every African country and Black authors from around the world. Visitors can even rent one of three bedrooms in the library for a “unique travel experience,” notes the James Murua blog

She who must not be named
If you’ve ever wondered what set off your home assistant spontaneously, you should know there are about 1000 phrases that can trigger these always-listening devices.  According to ArsTechnica, Alexa finds “unacceptable” quite acceptable, people in Montana might not want to say their state’s name around Cortana, and Google can mistake “OK, cool” for its cue. Seriously. Oops.

Breaking with tradition
Add buyers of sushi-quality tuna to the list of professions that AI is nibbling away at. reports on Tuna Scope, a smartphone app that creates a “unified grading standard” in an industry that relied on local know-how for generations. “I feel a bit sad that AI can do the grading,” says one 17-year-veteran merchant. “But to be frank, I think I can still beat it.” 

Why Hulk smash?
Magician, inventor and author Andrew Mayne also dabbles in resurrection, apparently. His new research project uses OpenAI’s text generator to create simulated conversations with historic figures like Jane Austen, Marie Curie and H.G. Wells, according to The Next Web. Find out why Hulk smash and sign up to ask your own questions.

How to train your avatar
Taking AI one step farther, how about having a digital version of yourself that can sit in on Zoom meetings while you sit on the couch watching HGTV? CNN Business reporter Rachel Metz observed some AI versions of humans engaging in an unscripted conversation, including Deepak Chopra leading a meditation session, at the Virtual Beings Summit.  It takes many hours of work to train your avatar to speak and answer like you, but it could be time well spent.

Col. Mustard in the library with a knife
Not sure why, but Bloomberg Businessweek has created a colorful data visualization of who did what to whom by profession, age, method, motivation and more for every Agatha Christie murder mystery from the 1920s to the 1970s. Here’s a tip: If you have needy, greedy heirs, you might want to watch your back. 

Put on your thinking cap
If a certain political figure’s pride in passing a recent cognition test has got you wondering how you would do on one, has rounded up five free online cognitive tests to give those little grey cells a spin. 

News from UMSI
A Flight to Quality: The Center for Social Media Responsibility, housed at the School of Information, has released a new study that shows during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, people turned to mainstream news sites for information, rather than more “iffy” news sources. Read more.