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On Facebook "owning" the web April 23, 2010 at 4:59 pm

Two days, a dozen articles read and a bunch of thought later and I still can’t figure out what’s so disturbing to me about Facebook’s new “we’re in your interwebz liking all your pages” announcement. To some degree I think it’s CEO Mark Z. I just don’t like the guy (and no, I’m not ruling out jealousy: the man is less than 5 years older than me and is worth $4 billion, who wouldn’t be jealous? *grin*) and my dislike was cemented when he needlessly (in my mind) called Facebook heaven, in so many words. Sacrilege aside, my personal experience with Facebook has been far from heavenly. Not all my friends are there and “everything” is far from how I want it to be.

But would I really care if, say, the founder of Foursquare called that service heavenly? I don’t really think I would, so I think my annoyance at that comment is just a mask of something deeper. But what?

Truth be told, I’ve never loved Facebook (I don’t love the design, the regular privacy changes make my head hurt, it seems to have database errors that only I seem to notice (unless items randomly disappearing from my stream is supposed to happen, which I think it might, in which case add “wonky relevancy algorithm” to my list of dislikes) and, well, aside from one or two people I’ve never really found it useful for keeping in touch with my social circle).

But should the dislike of a CEO and a few personal gripes really make me so disturbed by a company? It really shouldn’t, but here I am, disturbed by Facebook and their recent “we’re gonna be the center of the internet and we have half a billion reasons why” argument…nay, declaration.

I’ve been trying to think how I would react if Google or Twitter had suddenly announced a big internet-wide social graph hosted by them (actually, with the new “annotations” feature of their API, Twitter might be backdooring into this type of thing, as well). I think it depends on the implementation, but I’ve come to the conclusion that I would find it kinda disturbing. Most especially from Google, since they’ve never been able to get social right, and from Twitter I would just write it off as grandiose thinking, but FB has had massive success with social and is not exactly too small for this type of “grandiose” thinking. But I think maybe that’s what concerns me more than anything: the idea of any company being big enough to even be in the position of considering worming themselves into the center of the web like a parasite. Google is that big and every now and then I get a little concerned about how much power they have over the web, but they’ve got this whole “don’t be evil” thing which I honestly believe they try to follow. The minute I get the sense that Google has “turned” will be the minute that I stop defending Google.

Microsoft and Apple are also huge and have a ton of power, and I distrust both of them. My distrust of Apple has happened more recently and I still love their products more than I like Microsoft products (although I really can’t say enough good things about Windows 7, which I’ve been using, abusing and running 24/7 for 2 months and has crashed on me a grand total of once. Good on Microsoft for this one), but I deeply distrust Microsoft’s tries at social and I get too scared to think about the dozens of millions of people who Apple has an ironclad grip on the lives of (including myself with my MacBook and iPod Touch) and if either of them casually said “hey, we’re gonna become the center of the web because we have 500 million users and, well, we want to” I would have a freaking cow. And so would everyone else. That’s why I’m surprised at the relatively tepid response to the news from f8 from most of the tech web. My favorite line is, “well, like it or not, it’s gonna happen ’cause Mark Z has 500 million people on his side…so, why fight it?”.

Um, maybe because it’s evil?

Just "because you can" is no reason to be a dick October 22, 2009 at 3:29 am

I don’t normally blog on other countries’ politics because I don’t want to seem like an arrogant American, but as a consumer of media and a user of the Internet, not to mention a computer scientist and a hopeful future content creator (and, well, because I’m bored right now), I gotta jump in to the debate raging across the pond in England in regards to music piracy and how to deal with it. The recent deal announced that will target illegal file-sharer’s Internet connections and reduce them “to a level which would render file-sharing of media files impractical while leaving basic email and web access functional” (after two warning letters) is such a stunning invasion of privacy and overreaction that I don’t even know where to begin.

First, let me say that I don’t pretend to think that just because it’s possible to very easily share media files over the Internet without compensating the original creators that it should be categorically allowed. As someone who hopes to create the type of content (films, in this case) that is daily massively shared around the Internet I see the problem. I do. For every torrent of Bones or whatever downloaded, that’s a few cents those awesome artists aren’t going to see. So, first point can be summarized thusly: just because you can download it for free is no reason to be a dick to the artists.

Secondly, show me the post offices where they open our mail and make sure we’re not sending illegal stuff or making illegal plans via letters and I’ll support this plan to track Internet users’ traffic and “shape” it. Show me the highways where there are roadblocks (outside of Iraq and the Mexican border, I mean) to check for people smuggling illegal goods and I’ll support this plan to cut off users who’ve paid for broadband service. Show me the phone company that taps our phones to make sure we’re not using the wires to do illegal things and I’ll support this plan to tap every broadband connection in England to listen for file-sharing traffic.

ISPs have one job: deliver us an Internet connection, and in return we pay them a ton of money. It’s a good agreement for both parties (usually) and in return both parties keep out of each others way for the most part. That means the ISP doesn’t tap my wires looking for “bad” traffic and I PAY THEM EVERY MONTH. If I want to game 24/7, that’s between me and Blizzard. If I want to download from iTunes all the time, that’s between me and Apple. If I want to illegally file-share, THAT’S BETWEEN ME AND THE RECORD COMPANIES. I can’t think what the ISPs involved in this deal are thinking. It’s got to be massively expensive (though less than opening all our mail, checking all our car trunks or listening to all our phone conversations), and for what in return? A big bag of money from the record companies? I suppose they’re hoping this will noticeably lessen the traffic on their networks, but the users are paying for that bandwidth. Plus, if they really succeed in cutting down the Internet connections of 7 MILLION PEOPLE, isn’t that gonna kinda make that 11% of the population really, really, really, really PISSED? I don’t know what over a tenth of the entire population of a country being pissed because they just lost their broadband looks like, but I can’t imagine it’d be pretty. So, second point in summary: just because it’s technically possible to track and attack people’s Internet connections is no reason to be a dick about it.

I don’t really have a lot of ideas for fixing the problem, but one thing I do know: the Internet has changed the game and nothing (NO THING) is going to stop people from sharing. What we need to do is redefine the model from one of paying for the actual content to one of paying for what’s around the content. This is already what happens on TV. TV viewers don’t pay money when watching on the TV, but they do pay (in time) for what’s AROUND the content: the 17 minutes every hour of advertising. The small field of web comics also embraces this model: the actual comic is free, but fans pay by looking at ads on the website, buying books, t-shirts, hoodies, coffee mugs, posters, etc. and by making the occasional paypal donation. Only a handful of web cartoonists are able to live full-time off this model, but it’s an idea. The equally small field of web series’ is also actively creating a new way of making content free of charge. Most people who’re looking more than 5 or 10 years into the future understand that the current model is going to be dead and rotting very soon. The RIAA isn’t scaring enough people (and never will be able to) to reverse the ongoing evolution and (as Shakira puts it) “democratization” of the music and movie industries. I don’t pretend to have the answer, but I think at the most basic level it will involve the content creators getting closer to their fans and in a lot of cases the “middleman’s” role being drastically reduced if not completely eliminated. This is obviously what scares the RIAA and the like, but it’s really exciting to me as a fan (I’ve had personal interactions with some of my favorite cartoonists via Twitter) and as a hopefully future content creator. I think because this new model is going to be decentralized, it will take everyone each adding a piece to the puzzle to the BUILD the new systems of income for content creators. The world is full of awesome creative people. How long until someone who has not a lick of musical talent but who’s awesome at finding business models on the Internet teams up with a few budding musicians or bands and becomes their personal manager and helps them create a gainful income via a model that bittorrent won’t undermine?

It’s 3:30am and I’m getting really tired. I’m gonna leave this post here and apologize for all the typos (for which I know there are many, as I’ve fixed quite a few dozen already). I also apologize if this doesn’t make as much sense and/or flow as well as I think it does, because I’m pretty tired and might be reading it completely wrong.

‘k enough apologizing. Not gonna apologize for calling a ton of pirates dicks or for calling most British ISPs dicks. Both well deserved titles.

Cheers,
-j

Just say "no" to DDoS attacks August 7, 2009 at 7:56 pm

Do you remember what happened one year ago today?

Do remember what happened to Twitter, Facebook and LiveJournal over the last 36 hours?

Given the rumors that the DDoS attacks on these three social networks were carried out by Russian hackers/crackers I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to assume that the DDoS attacks were linked with the one year anniversary of the Georgia/Russia war (that would be the eastern-European ex-soviet country named Georgia, not the state in the USA). Especially given Facebook’s report that only one person was being targeted in all these attacks, a pro-Georiga blogger going by the name “Cyxymu” on all the targeted social networking sites.

Is it too much to assume that pro-Russian interests wanted to silence this blogger on the anniversary of a war that, while probably the fault of both parties involved, seemed to make most people more angry at Russia than at Georgia?

Not really sure what my point is (and I gotta run so I can’t flush it out anymore), but I think it might be this message to whomever thought it would be fun to disrupt multiple online services just to attack one person: fuck you.

-j

Let's Talk About Antitrust July 8, 2009 at 5:41 am

I love Google. I’m not one of those people that worries about privacy issues with my searches or emails as I believe that Google actually follows, for the most part, it’s motto of “Don’t Be Evil.”

So naturally I’m really happy this evening to hear that Google is entering the Operating System Wars with Google Chrome OS which seems, at first blush, like it might actually take a good-sized bite out of Microsoft’s OS market share and therefore make the world a better place. (Setting aside my personal thoughts about Windows for a second, I don’t think any company, be it Microsoft, Google, Apple or any number of Linux companies, should have a 90%+ market share in any market.) Google Chrome OS seems like an awesome step into the future of computing, and while I think that it will probably never achieve majority market share, I do think it will do reasonably well, especially if Google pulls it off, which seems likely given the company’s past successes.

But for the first time ever, tonight I am worried about Google becoming too large. I like everything the company does, but just like I don’t like Microsoft on the principle of Windows owning the OS market, I worry about Google owning over 80% of the search market and making inroads into so many other markets as well. If Google does manage to pull off getting Chrome OS onto millions of Netbooks over the next few years and the OS catches on and starts pulling market share from Windows, will anything be different? My hope is that Chrome OS (which is built on the Linux kernel) will help pull down Windows’ market share and open the door for Mac OS X and other flavors of Linux to rush in, as well as Chrome OS, but I fear what it would mean if Chrome OS pulling market share away from Windows is all that happens. So if Microsoft’s Bing takes off and pulls searchers away from Google and Chrome OS pulls users away from Windows, nothing will have changed: two huge companies will still control the vast majority of OSes and web searches. Big deal.

I’m not an expert on monopolies and antitrust issues, but I finally think it might be time for someone who is to take a hard look at Google, its products, projects and goals and to see if Google might just be getting a little too big for its britches. If not, I’ll be happy. If so, well, I won’t be surprised.

Here’s to Chrome OS taking Windows down a peg or two*, and lifting all the second-tier OSes up in its place.

Cheers,
-j

*Say, 20-40%? That’d give Windows a still very healthy 50%-70% share of the market.

Bing! Your annoying ads are ready June 30, 2009 at 3:11 am

I have a problem. It has to do with Microsoft’s ads for Bing, the rebranding/relaunch of Microsoft Live Search. This problem might just be bigger than my problem with the Laptop Hunter ads, which is saying quite a lot.

One of the Bing ads:

Here’s my issue: Bing is being billed as a “decision engine” and that it will reduce “search overload” (see video above), but I’m just not seeing it. I’ve done a few side-by-side searches on Bing and Google and I really see no difference between the results (doing a search for “huntington, in weather” turns up a weather forecast and current conditions from both search engines, but the current temperature is a degree higher from Bing, with Google‘s closer to what my home weather station is reporting. (In Bing’s favor, it does return Huntington, Indiana as the first result, whereas Google returns Huntington Beach, California as the first result with my correct Indiana city as second)). I assume Bing is trying to cash in on the recent media about Wolfram|Alpha (the only “computational engine” currently in the Internet) with the “decision engine” definition, but in my opinion it just serves to confuse as the software doesn’t seem to “decide” any more than Google or Yahoo what the information that you’re looking for is, and to even imply that it’s relatively easy to build a “decision engine” (which I can only assume is a cross between a search engine like Google/Yahoo and a computational engine like Wolfram|Alpha) cheapens the concept and insults pretty much everyone in the field of Information Technology, whether they’re working on developing such technology or not.

And then there’s my even bigger beef: “search overload.” What the hell is that? The only way to get search overload is if you get the wrong information than what you were searching for, and no amount of software is going to change the fact that if you do a bad search, you don’t get the information you wanted and, I suppose, it could lead to information overload, but it’s really up to the end user to become a smart searcher and not try to rely on the computer to read their mind. Look, the user knows what the user is looking for, right? The computer is dumb. It’s dumber than dumb. It’s a freaking idiot. It does what it’s told. Google, Wolfram|Alpha, Yahoo and all the other engines on the web have a lot of programming going into them to try to return the results that are most likely to be what the user wants. But it’s still based on probability because the computer can’t read the users mind. It can’t. Maybe in the far future when we’re all dead computers will be able to read the user’s mind, but for now it’s not possible. So instead of trying to pretend the computer can do something it can’t (“decide”? A computer doesn’t decide, it does what it’s told. It gets a search query, it does what the search software tells it to do. There’s no room for deciding, because it’s a set software program. If search is “A” then do “B”. It’s all very logical and metal and binary. Deciding is an emotional process, obviously there’s logic involved as well, but it requires thought and prior knowledge and all the things that make human brains different from every other “brain” (animal or machine) on earth. Simply put, the search software can include a near infinite number of if statements and it will never really be “deciding” anything, it will simply be following the set software routine and it will return the same results to the user no matter if they wanted to know about the cloud type, the band, the movie or the tool when they typed in “anvil” and hit “Search”.

So instead of making “decision engines” we need to teach users better searching habits. I don’t care if the user wants to use Google, Bing, Yahoo, Woflram|Alpha or anything else. It’s nobodies business what engine the user uses, because if we all became a little less lazy and a little more savvy about how we search, the world would be a better place, because we could finally take these annoying “search overload” ads and shove them in a dark closet in Redmond.

And one last thing: Google doesn’t shove as much information at me as Bing does: Google has no annoying (albeit pretty) picture with hover boxes on the main search page and it pushes the “related searches” information to the bottom of the page, not right up top on the side. Little nitpicks, I know, but that extra clutter right at the beginning of my search experience just further justifies my “your ‘search overload’ assertion thing is crap” argument.

Maybe if I tried Bing some more I’d like it. But I doubt it, as every time I see one of those ads I hate Bing I little bit more.

Cheers!

-j

Tweet, tweet June 6, 2009 at 6:54 pm

You might’ve noticed that I haven’t posted in a while. The reasons are many, but there are two main ones:

  1. I just haven’t had any stunning flashes of insight that I felt like blogging. There have been one or two, but those came at a time when I wasn’t able to blog and by the time I had time, the muse had passed.
  2. Any small musings that in the past I might’ve flushed out into a blog post I’ve recently been squeezing into the 140-char limit of Twitter as I’ve found that to be easier and quicker.

I’m still planning on trying to work up some longer posts (hopefully things will slow down enough in my life for that to happen soon, but I’m not counting on it) but in the meantime I would love it if you’d click on over to my Twitter page and even “follow” me if you have a Twitter account.

Cheers!

-jbh

Colbert pwns NASA, NASA returns the favor April 15, 2009 at 10:24 pm

This is beautiful:

A few months ago NASA held a contest to name the new wing of the International Space Station. They allowed anybody to submit whatever name they wanted, but said that they wouldn’t absolutely commit to naming it the winning name if they didn’t like it. So, Stephen Colbert, in typical fashion, called on all his fans to vote for his name in the contest. And he won. (Let nobody say that Stephen doesn’t have a load of very loyal fans!) This, as is well imaginably, created a little bit of a problem for NASA: the name won and it would be…unpopular for them to just ignore that fact, but always talking about “the Stephen Colbert” wing of the ISS does present some odd issues (is NASA endorsing a sudo-politic figure? Etc. Etc.).

So what did NASA end up doing? Well, they didn’t name the new ISS wing after him…but they did name a treadmill after him. Win! Literally. Everybody wins. Stephen and all his fans who voted for him get something on the ISS named after him, but NASA gets to call the new ISS node “Tranquility,” which is more in line with the names they give other space-faring vehicles, anyway. (Although I’m sure every Firefly fan out there is very disappointed that the #2 winning name, Serenity, didn’t get chosen by NASA either.)

And that, folks, is the story of how Colbert (and the Colbert Nation) pwned NASA, and how NASA pwned him (and them) right back.

I hope this made your day a little bit better like it did mine.

Cheers.

-j

Mac vs. Windows: my opinion April 3, 2009 at 3:07 pm

I’ll admit that I find the new “I’m a PC” ads from Microsoft annoying and all that, but what I find most annoying is the reactions that they’ve been inciting from people. Everyone from the people declaring that little “Kylie” was gonna make PC sales skyrocket (OK, don’t flame me: I know he didn’t actually say that in his post, but it felt like the subtext) (because everyone likes the idea of a 4-year-old being able to use a computer so well. [/sarcastic] I don’t know about anybody else, but I kinda find the prospect of a 4-year-old being that good with a digital camera and laptop to be quite scary) to the people who got so bent of of shape about the newest ad in the series featuring “Lauren” who says she’s “just not cool enough to be a Mac person” (reaction in my living room when that ad first came on: “huh?” from every direction) all the way to the people yelling about the people doing the yelling. (Isn’t the blogosphere grand?)

I should say that I am a Mac user (in case that wasn’t clear already). Having used Windows at home for nearly 12 years I finally went Mac last fall when it was time to upgrade my laptop (I’d been using Macs at school for digital media work for 2 years) and since then I’ve brought three more MacBooks into my house, as well as Time Capsule and several iPod Touches. I am very happy with my 13.3-inch MacBook and wouldn’t give it up for a PC if you paid me (OK, if you paid me a LOT of money I probably would, but I digress). My point is: I know computers, I’ve used and enjoyed Windows computers (although I will never remember fondly the 4.5 years I used Windows ME) and I’ve used and enjoyed Mac computers. I obviously prefer Mac as my primary computing environment right now, but I still use Windows XP on a daily basis at school and on my old laptop at home. I’ve only had the BSOD twice on my little Dell Inspiron 6000 and I’ve never had a major failure in the 3.5 years I’ve owned the machine. I’ve abused it so much I’m very surprised it is still running, so I don’t actually have a lot of bad to say about XP. I think it’s a wonderful (if not a little dated) OS.

So it’s this background that I’m coming from in saying: chill out, everyone. Seriously. Arguing about Mac vs. PC pricing might be fun (I’ve had the debate many a time) but it’s just stupid. When deciding between Mac and PC price is a consideration, yes, it may even be the primary consideration for most computer buyers (especially during a recession) but comparing Mac vs. PC on a price level or a spec-for-spec level or any kind of level is futile. It’s like comparing apples and oranges (hey! An unintended pun! Yay!): they’re both fruits (computers) and have a lot of the same properties (hardware components), but they taste different, act different, cost different, have different amounts of varieties and have different fan clubs. So Lauren has a very specific set of goals she wants in a computer. She doesn’t seem to care what OS she uses and she couldn’t find a 17-inch computer under $1000 from Apple. She found one at Best Buy with Windows on it so she bought it. So what? There’s no way to argue it around that she could have or should have gotten a Mac. She didn’t seem to need or want one. People who want a really powerful 17-inch laptop with screaming graphics and all the bells and whistles might very well end up with a MacBook or MacBook Pro but that doesn’t mean that just because Lauren wanted a 17-inch computer that she needed to buy a MacBook. She didn’t. People are yelling about how amazing the ad was because it showed somebody who “should” be a Mac Person buying a PC. Well, color me surprised that someone doesn’t fit into a random stereotype. News flash folks: PCs are still used by 88% of computer users, so I’ll bet you can find a LOT of people in that 88% of the population who “should” be using a Mac based on some arbitrary definition of “Mac users”. Do I think that some of those people might end up using Macs in the future as Mac OS gains market share? You bet! But that decision will be theirs personally based on price, hardware specs, the “coolness factor” and a host of other things. That doesn’t mean computer and OS makers shouldn’t advertise their stuff using whatever tactics they think necessary. It doesn’t mean that people shouldn’t continue to debate what computer they like and why, but I do think that people should cool it with the holier-than-thou “ye gads they used the PRICE argument” outrage. Face it folks: Windows computers, on average, are cheaper than Mac computers, and Microsoft is going to milk that for all its worth. Calm down Mac Loyalists: our OS is still gaining market share, despite the recession and the “I’m a PC” ads.

OK, climbing down from my high horse on top of my soap box now.

Cheers.

-j

Electric cars just around the corner (for real this time?) March 13, 2009 at 3:54 pm

The BBC is reporting that researchers may have found a way to make lithium-ion batteries that are lighter and smaller than current li-ion batteries and that can change in a fraction of the time of current li-ions (perhaps as little as 5% the time).

This will not only make charging cell phones and other portable devices a lot simpler (no more having to remember to plug it in the night before, because you can just plug it in for 5 or 10 minutes in the morning) but it will remove the final huge technical problem that currently is impeding the large-scale development and deployment of electric vehicles: the problem of hours-long charging times. (The all-electric Tesla Roadster takes 3.5 hours to charge, but if this breakthrough is as big as it seems it is, a car like the Roadster could charge in possibly as little as 12 minutes. Not much longer than it takes to fill a gas tank today.)

The BBC article mentions that “because there are relatively few changes to the standard manufacturing process,” “the new battery material could make it to market within two to three years.”

That means that if these new li-ion batteries are found to be able to scale up to the size needed for vehicles and still be charged in mere minutes, within 5 years we could see mass-produced electric cars that can be charged in as little as 15-20 minutes anywhere there’s an electrical outlet. And if that happens it will only be a matter of months before gas stations, restaurants, and even possibly rest stops (although those will probably take several years) start installing outlet boxes fashioned after gas pumps with a meter and credit card reader for people to stop and recharge for 15 minutes on long road trips.

Gotta go to class.

Cheers.

-j

Where is it, Joss? March 5, 2009 at 11:58 pm

I’m looking for something, and I’m losing hope of finding it. I’m talking about the new Friday evening Fox show from self-professed feminist Joss Whedon: Dollhouse (some spoilers from the first several episodes below), and what I’m looking for is the strong, in-control, smart and sexy women we’ve come to expect from Joss in such ground-breaking (and cult-follower gathering) shows as Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Buffy, Willow, Faith, Dawn, Anya, Dru, Tara, etc.), Angel (Cordelia, Fred, etc.) and Firefly (who can forget Zoe, River, Kaylee and Inara?)

So far in Dollhouse we’ve seen a great deal of former Faith actress Eliza Dushku being sexy, but not a lot of the other things that Joss’ female characters usually are. Especially in-control. I understand that she begins to become self-aware, and I would be happy to be proved wrong about being disappointed in not seeing ANY strong and/or in-control and/or smart women on the show (OK, the women who runs the “Dollhouse” is probably all of those things, but she’s, well, bad. Where’s our fearless heroine who will save the day in the end?) but my faith is rapidly slipping away that it will happen anytime soon (e.g. in time for it the stick in people’s minds that Joss Whedon has created another show full of strong females). I think I see where the show is going: Echo begins to remember past her mind-wipes and probably takes down the Dollhouse, but…I don’t know. If the show goes the way of Firefly, we’ll never get to see that last part and all we’ll know about the world of Dollhouse is that it was a world where the only moderately strongish females were bad and all the others were helplessly enslaved to their male “handlers,” who show varying levels of concern for their personal well being (ranging from utter disdain to confused pity).

I was hoping I was wrong and that at some point Joss would show exactly why he calls himself (and everyone else calls him to a sometimes sickenly hero-worshiping degree) a feminist. But then I started watching Stage Fright (third episode, I think), in which the visuals were graced with an over-abundance of footage of a very scantily clad pop star performing. This alone did not shock me (anyone who watches CSI or any popular media today is bombarded with such imagery 24/7), no, what annoyed me is that this was coming from the one person I had come to trust wouldn’t do such a thing unless it was really relevant to the story. And I don’t see that in this case it was. It was just sexual objectification of women for the sack of entertainment, and that I don’t think any true feminist can engage in.

I find the Dollhouse story mildly interesting and I intend to probably continue watching the show, but I am very disappointed in Joss and in Eliza. I at times liked Faith better than Buffy while watching BtVS and I think she is one of the most amazingly strong female characters ever to grace our TV sets, and I think Eliza was the perfect actress for the job. What she’s doing playing Echo, I have no idea.

Cheers.

-j