Tag Archives: technology

Closing the Web to keep it open

The Forrest Gump of the Internet

Robinson Meyer at The Atlantic profiles social media's least-well-known billionaire, Evan Williams. Williams founded Medium, and co-founded Twitter and Blogger.

Williams wants to keep Facebook and other closed, for-profit media silos from eating the Internet. So Williams launched Medium — a closed, for-profit social media silo. But Medium is attempting to preserve the freedom of the open Web.

The dangers of corporate consolidation dominate [Williams'] metaphors. A favorite idea is that the web’s current state resembles the factory-farmed food system. “If your job was to feed people, but you were only measured by the efficiency of calories delivered, you may learn over time that high-calorie, high-processed foods were the most efficient ways to deliver calories,” he says. They would be the most margin-friendly way to deliver calories. But the food still wouldn’t be good—because the original metric didn’t take into account “sustainability, or health, or nourishment, or happiness of the people.”

I proposed that Medium is trying to be the Whole Foods of content. He laughed.

“Maybe we are,” he said. “Not that Whole Foods is perfect, and we’re not perfect either, but we are trying to figure out how to optimize for satisfaction and nourishment, not just activity or calories.” …

Williams still comes off like a cheerleader for this better world. He told me that a Medium user wrote an open letter to him, saying that though they had posted to the site every day for a month, they had not gotten more than 100 “recommends” on their post yet. (Every social network has its atomic unit of dopamine-like recognition: Facebook has likes, Twitter has hearts, Medium has the recommend.) He said he wanted to reply and tell the guy to step back.

“Think about what you’re doing,” he says. “You’re playing this game for attention that half of humanity is playing. And you’re competing for not only the thousands of people who publish on Medium the same day, the millions of people who publish on websites that have ever published, the billion videos on YouTube, every book in the world, not to mention what’s on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Vine, everything else, right now—it’s amazing any people are reading your stuff!”

That this can still happen—that any subset of readers can still find and read an amateur writer’s work—is what excites him most about Medium. Talking about the centralization of the web, he continually returns to the “bad world.”

“The worst world, the scary version, is if the tricks to get attention are a skill developed and owned primarily by profit-driven companies,” he told me. “I’d go back to the food analogy. What are people going to be consuming most of the time? They’re optimizing for clicks and dollars. Can a person who has a unique perspective play that game? Are they just going to get trounced?”

In response to this article, Dave Winer says the open Web is like Central Park, and Facebook, Twitter, etc. are like the exclusive, expensive apartment buildings that surround it.

Look out behind you

Pearl RearVision is a rearview video camera you can add to your older model car that lacks one as dealer standard. Pearl is a startup founded by ex-Apple engineers.

Sounds great. I love having rearview video when I rent a car, and I miss it when driving our old Subaru Forester.

But the price tag is $500. Everybody who can afford that is already driving a new car.

I’m not predicting great success.

A team of ex-Apple engineers just launched the Nest for cars

[Johana Bhuiyan/Recode]

RIP

AWS CEO: Enterprise Data Center Is Doomed

Enterprise data centers are on their way to becoming rare beasts, as nearly every enterprise is going to move nearly all their computing to the cloud, Amazon Web Services CEO Andy Jassy said Tuesday.

“In the fullness of time, whether it’s ten years or 20 years, very few companies will own their own data centers, and those that do will have a smaller footprint than they have now,” Jassy said during a presentation at the AWS Summit in Washington, D.C. and streamed live.

The transition will lead to qualitative changes in the enterprise, Jassy said.

[Me/Light Reading]

What’s new for Apple Watch?

MacRumors demos Apple watchOS 3.

Looks nice, but I’m not going to buy the existing Apple Watch at this point. Reviews say that Apple Watch is slow and battery life is poor. I’d want to know those problems have been corrected before buying an Apple Watch.

Also, I just bought a Pebble Time a couple of weeks ago, and Julie would cut off my hand if I bought another smartwatch so quickly. Then I wouldn’t be able to wear a watch because it would fall off my wrist.

Maybe in six months? By then I expect the new Apple Watch will be out and I can figure out a way to type with one hand.

Up in smoke

Microsoft Gets Baked in Cannabis Cloud

Dude, Microsoft is stoked to be partnering with a Los Angeles startup to provide cloud services to help governments ensure marijuana businesses are regulatory compliant.

Kidding aside, this is serious business. Microsoft is partnering with Kind Financial for technology to governments for “seed to sale tracking.”

[Me/Light Reading]

Apple nuggets

Apple Boosts the Enterprise Cloud

At its annual WorldWide Developers Conference Monday, Apple laid out a panoply of upgrades to its operating systems for the iPhone, iPad, Mac, Apple Watch and Apple TV. Most of the upgrades were for consumers, but Apple distributed some nuggets that could prove valuable for enterprises using the cloud for business.

[Me/Light Reading]

Something a little different from me on Light Reading

I Love My $40 Smartwatch

For $40 I got most of the important capabilities available in far more expensive smartwatches, like the Apple Watch — starting price, $299. And unlike the Apple Watch, the [Martian Notifier] is fast and responsive.

I loved my Martian Notifier for about five months, but I recently upgraded to Pebble Time.

[Me/Light Reading]

Put a fork in it

Period. Full Stop. Point. Whatever It’s Called, It’s Going Out of Style

The young people don’t use periods in messages. Ending a sentence in a period often expresses anger.

I still write messages with periods, full sentences, and paragraphs. It’s not because I think the other way is necessarily wrong. It’s partly out of habit, partly because I think in paragraphs and I don’t want to hit the other guy with a hail of individual, small texts. One message, one paragraph.

I used to think overuse of exclamation marks was a sign of breathless, stupid enthusiasm. But then I realized they’re just the equivalent of friendly smiles. So I started using exclamation marks generously. More recently, I decided I was just plain overusing them, so now I am trying to go back to using them sparingly.

[Dan Bilefsky – The New York Times]

Something to hope for in iOS 10

Brief Thoughts and Observations Regarding Today’s WWDC 2016 Keynote [John Gruber/Daring Fireball]

It seems possible that with iOS 10 we may be able to change our default Web browser. I’ve been wanting that for years. It’s something you can easily do on the Mac, and it’s a simple area where the iPhone and iPad lag behind Android.

Also, I’d like a way to change the default keyboard. Right now you can do it in a halfway fashion; it doesn’t stick. It’s like Apple wants you to use the stock keyboard as default while switching to alternatives for occasional specialized tasks. I just want to be able to use a third-party keyboard 100% of the time. Again, a simple area where Apple lags far behind Android.

I don’t understand what’s going on with the lock screen in iOS 10, and don’t want to devote the time to watch the keynote video. I’ll just wait and see what comes out over coming months.

Culture clash

Iran cracks down on women posting with their hair showing. India bans face-morphing photo software. Russia stifles anti-Putin parody tweets. These are clashes between American and native cultures, says Buzzfeed News editor Katie Notopoulos.

Not so, says Mike Elgan. It’s not Americans these doing the forbidden sharing. It’s Iranians, Indians, and Russians. The tools were made in America, but that’s irrelevant. These are clashes between tyrranical governments and their own people.

Good news about the Apple App Stores

The New App Store: Subscription Pricing, Faster Approvals, and Search Ads [John Gruber – Daring Fireball]

Among the changes: Apple is throwing open the doors to allow developers to charge subscription pricing.

That’s a big step forward for two reasons: It will allow developers to implement a try-before-you-buy model with App Store apps, same as on downloadable Mac or Windows apps.

I’m a guy who likes to try new apps, and that can be an expensive habit when the apps are only available in the App Store. For example, last week I dropped $10 for the Mac version of the Airmail email app, as well as $5 for the iOS version, because you really need to try that app on every device to give it a fair workout. After a few days, I decided Airmail is not for me (performance too slow). $15 down the drain. Ouch. Be nice if I could try it for 30-90 days, then decide whether to pay to keep using it, as is typical for downloadable desktop apps.

Hell, it would be nice if I could try an app for an hour. Or a half-hour. Or 15 minutes. Long enough to give it a workout and decide whether it’s worth staying with.

The other reason to be encouraged by these changes is that it provides developers with a way to get off the creeping-featuritis treadmill. Because the way pricing works now, developers need to come out with a new version every now and then to get users to pay for an upgrade. So the developers start adding useless features to get people to upgrade. Now, developers will have the option to say, “This app is done. Nothing more I need to do with it,” and continue to offer support and minor upgrades for new versions of the OS. I guess developers could have done that before — charge for support and compatibility upgrades separately — but perhaps the market would not have stood for it.

And of course it’s a way for developers to make more money. That’s nice, but honestly I’m not all that concerned with how much money OTHER PEOPLE are making.

Dave Winer says his new blogging platform, 1999.io, is “about finished”

Where we’re at with 1999.io [Dave Winer – Scripting.com]

1999.io is an extremely intriguing project. 1999.io is designed to be a dead-simple blogging platform. “As easy as writing a tweet or Facebook post,” says Dave.

Dave has essentially the same blog philosophy as mine: Both social media and blogging are here to stay. Publish your content everywhere. If possible, don’t just post links on social media back to your blog. Publish the actual content on the social platform, if the social platform allows it. (I’m looking at YOU, Twitter and Google+.)

You’re not looking to build traffic back to your blog. That’s a fool’s game. You’re looking to connect with people. If you’re a personal blogger (like me, here), clicks don’t make social connections. And if you’re a business, clicks don’t make payroll — sales make payroll.

Dave claims to have the oldest, longest-continuously-operated blog in the Internet. I think he’s right. He also pioneered blogging software, with the first blogging application easy enough for regular people to use, Userland Radio, back around 2000.

Well, it was ALMOST easy enough for regular people to use. If you were a regular person, you’d have to get someone else to set it up for you. But it was a huge step forward for ease of use compared with the previous state of the art.

I’ll be watching 1999.io closely.

 

Link

Joshua Rigsby interviews Cory Doctorow for The Los Angeles Review of Books:

Cory on moving from London to beautiful downtown Burbank, California:

Burbank is its own little village. We’ve got a 2.5-mile-long stretch with no chain stores. I don’t own a car. We walk everywhere. We live five minutes from the airport. It’s very handy and weird and surreal. It’s where they shot the B-footage for ’50s TV shows, so everything feels eerily familiar in a Father Knows Best kind of way.

Burbank has just become our new normal, we’re settled in, we’re about to get our green cards. The bureaucracy is crazy, but it’s a one-time thing and that’s how I maintain my sanity, by saying, I never have to figure out how to get my Canadian long-form birth certificate again. So, I will spend this afternoon trying to figure out the office address of the doctor who delivered me 44 years ago for the Canadian government, but then never again.

On the role of fiction:

I don’t know that there’s a “the role,” but I think that one of the roles that fiction plays is that it’s entertaining. Fiction is primarily about empathy. It’s about pretending you’re someone else and experiencing their emotions. In the same way that getting a back rub feels nice, because it’s good for your muscles or whatever, I believe that thinking about what it would be like to be someone else is just intrinsically satisfying — at least for people within one or two sigmas of normal cognitive activity. Science fiction can also give us an emotional fly-through of a technology. It can be like an architect’s rendering of what it would feel like to live inside a technological regime, and so science fiction has been very useful in policy fronts in that regard.

On Facebook:

… Facebook wants to get rid of the internet and replace it with Facebook.

On his next novel, Walk Away, his first novel for adults since 2009:

Walk Away was inspired by the historian and activist Rebecca Solnit, who wrote the book A Paradise Built In Hell, about the gap between how people who live through disasters experience them, how they are reported, and how political and economic elites react to them. She starts with the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco, and she shows this recurring pattering called “elite panic,” where rich people are convinced that when things break down the poor people are going to come and eat them, basically. So the rich preemptively attack the poor. Like General Funston keeping people out of the mission as it burned during the 1906 earthquake. He actually sent out detonation squads that didn’t know how to set fire breaks. They burned down a quarter of San Francisco, and didn’t let anyone go back and fight the fires in their homes. Or in Haiti — the ironclad belief that there would be food riots led to the creation of food distribution centers that were pretty much custom-built to create riots. Or in New Orleans, where there were no verified accounts of looting (as we understand it), besides people taking supplies and leaving IOU notes with the intention of settling up once the owners returned. Nevertheless there were Blackwater mercenaries and rich white neighborhood associations who were shooting to kill because they were convinced that there would be looting. There is this gap between how people behave and how elites believe people will behave.

Walk Away is a utopian disaster novel. It’s a novel about a disaster where people behave well.

 

Link

Blake Snow at the Atlantic tries to imagine a world where the Internet never happened:

Not long ago, browsing the Internet, I happened to stumble on a list titled, “The Best Sci-Fi Books of All Time, According to the Internet.”  Like most lists of its kind, it was subjective and far from definitive, but still, it represented an interesting challenge. As someone who reads for pleasure as much as for job security, I decided to finish as many of the titles as I could handle.

After completing over a dozen (and taking in many of the film adaptations) the following occurred to me: Not one of these acclaimed futuristic stories—at least none of the many I was exposed to—took place in a world with any version of the Internet. All instances of published media, daily communication, romance—all offline.

In part, this has to do with the constraints of narrative writing, explains the technology writer Clive Thompson. “A lot of science fiction was primarily focused on moving people and things around in exciting ways,” he says. “These forward-thinkers were using flashy visuals to hook their readers, while understandably overlooking non-sexy things such as inaudible conversations.”

And inaudible conversations are the bread and butter of the world wide web. As Jon Stewart once put it, the Internet today “is just a world passing around notes in a classroom.”

But my experience led me to an interesting thought experiment: How might we live without the world’s largest note exchange? Or, in other words, what would the world be like today if the Internet ceased to exist?

Snow focuses on the conversational elements of the Internet – social media, email, and messaging – to the exclusion of information-gathering and business. To tell the truth, the paragraphs I quoted are the best parts of the article. The rest makes points we’ve seen elsewhere: The Internet lets us work more flexibly, but we put in longer hours. And it makes us less empathetic.

For me, life without the Internet is like life without electricity. I could do it, but it would be hard. That’s extraordinary, considering I was past 30 before the Internet went mainstream.

Three or four years ago I decided to take an Internet break while on vacation, but that didn’t last any longer than the time it took to think it through, because I realized I rely on the Internet to shop, get news, and communicate. Instead, I decided to take a break from social media. Which was actually nice and I’ll have to try that again sometime. Sometime.

Mitch

April 21, 2016

Working photos of Fred Flintstone, Doogie Howser, and Orson Wells in “The Muppet Movie” into an article about Mitel. I’m very pleased with myself about this.

Link

C-E19FEA4B-6178-4C81-BB86-3FA29B645A7B

The Allies used an incredible Rube Goldberg contraption to encrypt voice during World War II.

The 99% Invisible podcast:

In 1939, an astonishing new machine debuted at the New York World’s Fair. It was called the “Voder,” short for “Voice Operating Demonstrator.”  It looked sort of like a futuristic church organ.

An operator — known as a “Voderette” — sat at the Voder’s curved wooden console with a giant speaker towering behind her. She faced an expectant audience, placed her hands on a keyboard in front of her, and then played something the world had never really heard before.

A synthesized voice.

The voder didn’t store recorded words and phrases. It synthesized sounds – phonemes – and the operator created words by operating the controls in realtime.

The voder begat the vocoder, which became a key component in an unbelievably complicated multiton device used by the Allies to encrypt voice communications during World War II.

Vocoders – or their descendants – continue to be used today in cell phones, and pop music.

I’m blogging again. Blogging is cool.

I’ve been blogging on social media for years. Recently I’ve been using Google+ first, and then automatically distributing those links to Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr.

But I’ve increasingly become dissatisfied with that arrangement. Those platforms are owned by other people – Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. Those companies control the format of my posts, and who gets to comment on them. Those companies can make changes to their service, or even shut down entirely, and there’s nothing I can do about it.

All of that was something I was willing to live with for the trade-off of connecting with other people. But in recent months, the kinds of connections I get through those services have been unsatisfying. I’m getting more comments from jerks and other unpleasant randos, and getting tired of blocking them.

So now I’m posting my links and kibitzing here. Because I own this site, I have greater control over the platform than I do over what happens on social media.

A blog is a home. Social media is couch-surfing.

Does this mean I’m leaving social media?

Not at all. I’ll continue sharing my posts from here to Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr, and watching discussions there as before. Indeed, I’m looking for better ways to share on those platforms without taking up a lot of my time. Because this thing I do here is just a hobby.

I did this experiment once before, for five months in 2014, and ended up going back to social media. But now it’s different. At that time I was still concerned with increasing the numbers of people following me on social media – the size of my communities there. I’m less concerned now. My community numbers have been flat recently on all the services I use, and I don’t mind it. The noise from jerks and unpleasant randos is loud enough to make my social media experience less pleasant. More followers = more noise.

Also, social platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ are starting to become public squares. We’ve always talked about them that way, but I’m seeing that myself now and it’s a mixed blessing. We’re not individuals there, we’re just part of the group. I’ve had people commenting on my posts and refer to me in the third person – not even by name, just as “OP” (for “original poster” – a shorthand I first saw on Reddit). They start calling each other names. When I ask them to be civil with each other, they want to know who the hell I am to tell them what to do. I don’t bother to ask anymore. I just block them when they get too annoying. It’s tedious. It makes social media too much like work.

By moving off of social media to a blog platform, I make it harder for people to find and read my posts. Not a lot, just a tiny bit. And I like it that way. I’m hoping that tiny little speed bump will improve the quality of conversation. Anybody willing to make that tiny bit of effort to get here is welcome. But they have to make that tiny little bit of effort.

If my follower numbers grow by a little or a lot, I’ll be happy about that. But if they don’t, I’m fine with that too. I don’t plan to take any special steps to grow my follower numbers – no ads or search engine optimization or suchlike shenanigans. I want people to be able to find me easily if that’s what they want, and if they’re not interested, that’s fine too. 1 

Also: I recently read a blog post by a friend who’s taking a Facebook break. She values her privacy so I won’t link to it. But she, like me, is an introvert. And like me she finds social media connections to be a substitute for real life connections. She was finding going on Facebook often made her feel bad. I can relate.

I hope that by taking this baby step back from social media, I can understand better the extent to which I value personal connections, and how much I need of them, and to what extent I’m happy to be my introverted self. 2

If you’re interested in continuing to read my links and posts, thank you! Just keep on following me on social media, as you were, and click over here to read anything you find interesting. Or don’t – that’s OK too. Or you bookmark this site and come back regularly. Or subscribe to the RSS feed.

Also, you can get a daily email newsletter of my posts. I think the newsletter option is nifty and I’m surprised more people don’t take advantage of it. Perhaps I haven’t spread the word enough?

By the way, my blogging here might be temporary. I get infatuated with one technology or another and then lose interest rapidly and move on, much to the annoyance of a few friends who look to me as a technology bellwether.

On the other hand, I do stay with some things. I’ve been an online enthusiast for 27 years, longer than the Internet has been popular with the general public. I’ve been in the Appleverse for nine years now and am still satisfied. And I’ve been blogging like I do here for about nine years as well. So don’t be surprised if this blog is still up and running in some form 10 years from now, and don’t be surprised if I give it up in a few months either.

I do expect that if I stick with this for years I won’t always be on WordPress. But I do think whatever platform I’m using, I’ll continue blogging, continue doing it here at this URL, and hopefully all the archives will be in the same place too.

  1. Even friends and family should feel no obligation to connect with me online. This is my peculiar hobby that I’m happy to share with anyone, but have no interest in inflicting on people unwillingly. ↩︎
  2. “Introvert” has become such an overused word on the Internet. It makes me feel like an annoying hipster to proclaim myself to be one. On the other hand, maybe I’m missing out on an opportunity to ride the hype. I could start introvert clubs! Host an introvert conference! Just send me money and stay home and do whatever you want without interacting with other people. ↩︎