Inside TikTok's Killer Algorithm

10th October 2020 PERMALINK • 1 min read

Sara Fischer, wrote a great piece at Axios about the algorithm that powers TikTok. I found it fascinating, simply because I go on TikTok quite a lot, and I must admit they always seem to surface videos that I like.

She wrote about why the algorithm matters, the current situation with TikTok in the U.S., and other updates about the privacy and security practices.

I won't regurgitate everything here, but unsurprisingly, the bit I found most interesting was how it worked:

How it works: TikTok's algorithm uses machine learning to determine what content a user is most likely to engage with and serve them more of it, by finding videos that are similar or that are liked by people with similar user preferences.

When users open TikTok for the first time, they are shown 8 popular videos featuring different trends, music, and topics. After that, the algorithm will continue to serve the user new iterations of 8 videos based on which videos the user engages with and what the user does.

The algorithm identifies similar videos to those that have engaged a user based on video information, which could include details like captions, hashtags or sounds. Recommendations also take into account user device and account settings, which include data like language preference, country setting, and device type.

Once TikTok collects enough data about the user, the app is able to map a user's preferences in relation to similar users and group them into "clusters." Simultaneously, it also groups videos into "clusters" based on similar themes, like "basketball" or "bunnies."

Using machine learning, the algorithm serves videos to users based on their proximity to other clusters of users and content that they like.

TikTok's logic aims to avoid redundancies that could bore the user, like seeing multiple videos with the same music or from the same creator.

Read the full piece on Axios.

Photography

Photos From a Trip to Edinburgh

6th October 2020 PERMALINK • 1 min read

I came back from a week trip to Edinburgh a few days ago, and while I was there I took quite a few photos.

Over 300 made it back, which was then refined by removing duplicates, blurry imags, and just bad compositions. I then spent some time in Loghtroom this evening trying to make them look even better, and I've been left with 44 photos that I'm really pleased with.

I've uploaded them all to Flickr, and put them in a single album. But as usual, I thought I'd post a few of my favourites here directly:


View the full Edinburgh album on Flickr

App

Instagram Turns 10

6th October 2020 PERMALINK • 2 min read

Instagram is now 10 years old (Wow), and they are celebrating it by releasing a few new updates to the app and platform.

There's a few small change to the platform, like anti-bullying features that aim to hide abusive comments, adding warnings for people that regularly try to post "offensive" remarks, and a few other things like the constantly moving tab/icon arrangement. I'll leave that for Instagram to explain.

I'm interested in two things in the update. The ability to set a custom app icon, and the new Stories Map that you can find in the archive.

Custom App Icons

You now have the ability to change the app icon for Instagram! I know it's possible via Shortcuts, but these are actual custom app icons.

There are 13 to choose from, and they go back to 2010 before the app was even launched.

To get to the icons, you need to go to Settings, and swipe down from the top of the screen (a lot).

I've gone for the "Classic 2" icon. Because surely that's objectively the best option?

Stories Map

The Stories Map is a cool feature, and it's one for yourself. As in, it's part of your own archive, and not visible for other people.

To find it, tap on the menu while you're viewing your profile (What even is this menu called?), and tap Archive. Then you'll be able to see your past stories in a simple reverse-chronological list like before, in a calendar view, or on a map.

I think the calendar view will be the most useful when going back and looking at old videos. But the map view is also pretty cool. Although if you want your videos to appear on your map, you have to add a location sticker to a story when sharing it.


As much as I get annoyed with Instagram Reels and Shopping taking up more real estate on the app, it's not all doom and gloom.

Oh, and if you want to find me on Instagram, I'm @lordchrishannah. (Yes, technically I'm a Lord, I own a square foot of land in Scotland)

Design

Wikipedia Is Finally Getting a New Look

25th September 2020 PERMALINK • 1 min read

Olga Vasileva, writing at Diff (a blog ran by the WIkimedia volunteer community) about the new look that’s coming to Wikipedia, and also why they’re making the changes now:

Wikipedia has remained a critical and widely-used resource for knowledge across the world for the past two decades. Over this time, the site has expanded significantly to contain unparalleled amounts of reliable and thorough information, including 53 million articles across over 300 languages. While Wikipedia’s content has grown rapidly, our interface has not kept pace. We’re proud that our website is more direct, simple, and advertisement-free than the rest of the internet. Yet, the design of desktop Wikipedia and other Wikimedia Foundation projects have not seen any substantive changes for the past 10 years, leaving certain elements of the site’s navigation feeling clunky and overwhelming to readers and editors whose main purpose is to create, learn, and curate content.

There’s no definitive list yet on the differences that will be coming in the new design. But the improvements will include things like a max content width, collapsible sidebar, sticky headers, more prominent search bar and table of contents, and a few other things. You can see a few of these concepts on MediaWiki.

Hobgoblin Ruby
Beer

Hobgoblin Ruby

24th September 2020 PERMALINK • 1 min read

Continuing on from the McEwans Levy just over a week ago, I've been drinking another ale tonight from a collection I got as a present a while ago.

Tonight I gave the Hobgoblin Ruby a try. It's advertised as having a sweet caramel and fruity taste, with a mix of chocolate and crystal malts.

Since this is only the second time I've tried an ale before, my palate isn't that good. However, I definitely notice the fruity tones, and in general it tastes a bit rich. I think that could be the chocolatey flavour coming through, but it's not something I'm a big fan of.

I'd say that if the McLevys was a 7/10, I'd give this a 6/10. I can drink it, and it's not that bad, but I wouldn't say it's that god either.

Meta

A New Home for the Blog

23rd September 2020 PERMALINK • 1 min read

As of right now, this blog has been moved away from the previous subdomain blog.chrishannah.me and simply on chrishannah.me. I've wanted to make that switch for a while now, but it didn't seem worthwhile on its own.

However, along with the domain switch, I've migrated the blog from WordPress to Ghost. That won't matter to most people, and I don't expect it to either. But basically, it means the blog is much more lightweight, and I can provide a few extra things like estimated reading time, primary tags above the post to help contextualise, and a few other technical things that only I care about. I think WordPress could achieve everything that Ghost can do, but it comes with a lot of baggage.

Anyway, enough of that.

The only thing that has changed from a reader point of view is the new domain (Or lack of subdomain). I have set up 301 redirects, so if you do visit the old URL, you will be redirected to the new version. However, it's obviously not a permanent solution.

That also means that the old RSS feed will still work, while the redirects are still there. But just to make sure you don't have any issues, the new RSS feed is: chrishannah.me/feed.

While I'm pretty sure everything has migrated over, and it's all working fine. If you see anything odd, please let me know.

The Apple Watch Series 6
Opinion

The Apple Watch Series 6

16th September 2020 PERMALINK • 1 min read

I’ll start with the fact that I’ve not been the Apple Watch’s biggest fan for a while. I’ve used a Series 0 and Series 3, but for quite a few months I’ve been watch free.

In my ideal scenario, I’d like Apple to offer a smart band instead of a full watch. But I’ve come to terms that it’s probably not going to happen any time soon. And in a weird U-turn, I ended up ordering a Series 6 yesterday in size 101.

The watch I ordered was a 44mm Space Grey Aluminium one with a Charcoal Braided Solo Loop. And it was because of a few reasons:

  • The new blood oxygen sensor. Maybe not impressive on its own, but I think having that and the heart rate monitor, the health/fitness capabilities will increase massively.
  • watchOS 7. I haven’t had a good look at watchOS 7 before this event, and I was really surprised to see how good it was. Especially the new watch faces. (Matt Birchler has a great review on watchOS 7).
  • Going back to work. A big reason why I stopped wearing the watch was because of the lockdown, and that I was no longer commuting to work anymore. Well, I’m going to have to start again soon, and I used my watch a ton while on the way or at work.
  • The new straps. The new Loop and Braided Loop straps are really nice. I found it really annoying that the buckle of the Sports Loop always dug into my wrist, so that’s definitely a good thing.
  • It’s a decent upgrade. As my last watch was the Series 3, the changes over the past three years have added up to become quite a large improvement. So I’m just generally interested in what an Apple Watch can do for me now.

  1. If you want more information on the new watch strap sizes, I did a tiny bit of investigation

My Thoughts on Apple One
Opinion

My Thoughts on Apple One

16th September 2020 PERMALINK • 1 min read

A lot of people have been crying out for a single Apple subscription for quite some time now, and we’ve finally got one. It’s totally the right time for such a bundle. Especially with the new Fitness+ service coming soon. As Apple have been able to create three different plans with up to six different services.

I think the way they’ve split the plans make sense. One for the user that wants the fundamental services of music, television, and games. The same but for families. And one big plan for people that simply want everything. And they’re all topped off with different amounts of iCloud storage.

The iCloud storage probably won’t be one that draws people in, but I think people will definitely see the benefit of the extra storage once they use it.

I’m not sure what I’m going to be doing myself regarding Apple One. Because right now I pay for Apple Music, tv+, and 200 GB of iCloud storage. The 200 GB costs £2.49 a month, tv+ costs £4.99 a month, and I still somehow get student discount, so I pay only £4.99 for Apple Music. A total of £12.47. Less than any of the Apple One plans.

Maybe if I lose the Apple Music discount, then it would make sense. But I’d also have to pay extra for higher iCloud storage. I was hoping that I could use a bundle to try out News+, but £29.95 seems a bit much for my usage. Because I certainly won’t be using Fitness+, and I’ve already cancelled my Apple Arcade subscription because I wasn’t playing any of the games.

Apple

Apple Watch Strap Sizes

15th September 2020 PERMALINK • 2 min read

The new Apple Watch Series 6 is here (I’ve already ordered mine). But before I write up my thoughts on everything that was announced, I thought I’d play around with the sizes for the new watch straps, seeing as the new Solo Loop and Braided Solo Loop come in 9 sizes (Although the size guide has 12?). Mainly because I wanted to see if I see any interesting trends, but also, why not?

So it turns out that it’s not as simple as having a representative “Apple” size for a range of measurements. Instead, there are ranges for every strap size, and also one specific millimetre-precise measurement for every strap size that has two “fits”. A precise fit, which they say is for active lifestyles, and a relaxed fit for everyday use. They always recommend the precise fit.

Here are how wrist sizes relate to the new strap size:

Wrist Size (cm) Strap Size
12.6 ≦ 13.1 1
13.2 Precise (Recommended): 1 Relaxed: 2
13.3 ≦ 13.7 2
13.8 Precise (Recommended): 2 Relaxed: 3
13.9 ≦ 14.3 3
14.4 Precise (Recommended): 3 Relaxed: 4
14.5 ≦ 14.9 4
15.0 Precise (Recommended): 4 Relaxed: 5
15.1 ≦ 15.6 5
15.7 Precise (Recommended): 5 Relaxed: 6
15.8 ≦ 16.3 6
16.4 Precise (Recommended): 6 Relaxed: 7
16.5 ≦ 17 7
17.1 Precise (Recommended): 7 Relaxed: 8
17.2 ≦ 17.7 8
17.8 Precise (Recommended): 8 Relaxed: 9
17.9 ≦ 18.4 9
18.5 Precise (Recommended): 9 Relaxed: 10
18.6 ≦ 19.1 10
19.2 Precise (Recommended): 10 Relaxed: 11
19.3 ≦ 19.8 11
19.9 Precise (Recommended): 11 Relaxed: 12
20 ≦ 20.6 12

As you can see the sizes span from 12.6 cm to 20.6 cm. But the Loop Solo and Braided Loop Solo only come in sizes 3 to 12, so the sizes are actually from 13.9 cm to 20.6 cm. If your wrist is smaller or bigger, you’re going to have to find another strap.

While that data is interesting (and maybe useful), I wondered if I could find anything else from the data. So I flipped the columns and simplified the data to represent a precise fit as being inclusive in the relevant sizes.

Strap Size Wrist Size (cm) Range (cm)
1 12.6 ≦ 13.2 0.7
2 13.3 ≦ 13.8 0.7
3 13.9 ≦ 14.4 0.6
4 14.5 ≦ 15.0 0.6
5 15.1 ≦ 15.7 0.6
6 15.8 ≦ 16.4 0.7
7 16.5 ≦ 17.1 0.7
8 17.2 ≦ 17.8 0.7
9 17.9 ≦ 18.5 0.7
10 18.6 ≦ 19.2 0.7
11 19.3 ≦ 19.9 0.7
12 20 ≦ 20.6 0.7

To be honest, I didn’t see anything useful here. But I did work out that the first two sizes have a range of 0.7 cm, the next 3 sizes have a range of 0.6 cm, and the latter 7 have a range of 0.7 cm. I had a theory that the bigger the strap is, it makes sense that it would be able to stretch to a larger size. But I was expecting to see a higher variability.

Beer

McEwans Levy

15th September 2020 PERMALINK • 1 min read

For a birthday present recently, I was given a collection of classic ales. The only problem was, I’ not an ale drinker. I drink lager. And lots of it.

However, I decided with these 6 bottles, that I would give each of them an honest go and see how I liked each of them.

McEwans Levy

So to start off, I went with a bottle of McEwans Levy, which is a Scottish beer. It said it was light in taste, and half of my family is Scottish, so it made the moot sense to me to start with this.

I must admit though, that when I first opened the bottle, it had a really sudden bitterness, which put me off straight away. But I poured it into a glass, and the colour of it didn’t help either. But after I took the first sip, my opinion rapidly changed. It’s certainly got a prominent malt taste, which it turns out I think I like. But it’s certainly a decent beer. I’m not sure I would go out of my way to have one of these, but I’m definitely drinking the whole bottle right now.

I think I’ll class this as a “safe beer”, and give it a 7/10.

Who knows which one I’ll be tasting next.

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