Archive for the ‘internet’ category


Why Twitter’s stock went down in my book in 2018

01.01.2019

Twitter bird fallen
Pixabay

Of my friends, about eight or nine voted for President Trump. Two voted for Brexit. These are my friends, who I vouch for, who I like. Other than a difference of opinion on these topics, we remain friends. I still think incredibly highly of them.
   Since I know them well, I know a little bit about why they voted their way.
   Of the Americans, some wanted an end to the neoliberal order and hoped Trump would deliver. Others saw Clinton as corrupt and that Trump would actually be better. Of the Brits, their reasons were more complex, but among them were the thought of an unwieldly EU bureaucracy, and the belief that a customs’ union would be sufficient to keep trade going with the Continent.
   None of these people are racists or xenophobes—the opposite, in fact. None of them are hillbillies or gun-loving, NRA-donating hicks, or whatever narrative the mainstream media would like to spin. Most of them would be regarded by any measure in society as decent, intelligent and compassionate.
   I have found little reason to dislike someone, or not vote for someone, over one relatively minor disagreement. If their hearts are in the right place, it is not for me to condemn them for their choices. Indeed, when it comes to these issues, I find that while our actions differ (hypothetically, in my case, since I cannot vote in countries other than my own), our core views are actually quite similar.
   In the US, strip away the hatred that vocal fringe elements stoke, and you’ll find that most people have common enemies in big business, tax evaders, and censorship. In 2018 we have seen Big Tech silence people on both the left and the right for voicing opinions outside the mainstream. My two Brexit-voting friends share some concerns with Remainers.
   Therefore, in August, when one of these American friends wrote a Tweet in support of her president, it was horrible to watch Tweeters, total strangers, pile on her.
   I’m not saying I like Trump (quite the contrary, actually), but I will give him props when he does things that I happened to agree with. If I’ve Tweeted for years that I disagreed with US military involvement in Syria, for instance, which at least one US veteran friend says lacks an objective, then I’m not going to attack the man when he pulls his country’s troops out. However, it was interesting to see some viewpoints suddenly change on the day. Those who opposed the war suddenly supported it.
   I can’t say that I praise him very often, but I like to think I’m consistent. I was also complimentary about his withdrawal of the US from TPPA, something I have marched against.
   And this friend is consistent, too.
   In fact, her Tweet wasn’t even one of actual support. Someone called Trump a ‘loon’ and she simply said, ‘You don’t have to like my president,’ and added a few other points in response.
   The piling began.
   It seems almost fashionable to adopt one prevailing view peddled by the mainstream (media or otherwise) but there was no attempt to dissect these opposing views. My friend was measured and calm. What came afterwards did not reciprocate her courtesy.
   Since I was included in the Tweet, I saw plenty of attacks on her that day. I was included in one, by a black South African Tweeting something racist to me.
   When the mob goes this unruly, and it’s “liked” or deemed OK by so many, then something is very wrong. These people did not know my friend. They didn’t know why she supported Trump. They were just happy to group her in to what they had been told about Trump supporters being ill-educated hicks, and attacked accordingly.
   Call me naïve, but social media were meant to be platforms where we could exchange views and get a better understanding of someone else, and make the world a little better than how we found it. The reverse is now true, with Google, Facebook et al “bubbling” data so people only see what they want to see, to reinforce their prejudices, and having been convinced of their “rightness”, those espousing a contrary view must be inhuman.
   I don’t like dominant viewpoints unless it’s something like ‘Intolerance is bad’ or a scientific fact that is entirely provable, though you could probably take issue with where I draw the line. Generally, I like a bit of debate. No position is perfect and we need to respect those with whom we disagree. That day, Twitter was a medium where there was no such respect, that it was OK to pile on someone who fell outside the standard narrative. To me, that’s as unhealthy was a socialist being piled upon by conservatives if the latter group’s view happened to prevail. It doesn’t take much imagination to extend this scenario to being a Chinese republican in the early 20th century in the face of the Ching Dynasty. I’m always mindful of how things like this look if the shoe were on the other foot, hence I was equally upset when Facebook and Twitter shut down political websites’ presences on both the left and the right wings. We should advance by expanding our knowledge and experiences.
   It encouraged me to head more to Mastodon in 2018, where you can still have conversations with human beings with some degree of civility.
   And, frankly, if you disagree with someone over something relatively trivial, then there is such a feature as scrolling.
   Twitter became less savoury in 2018, and it has well and truly jumped the shark.

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My Avira scan shows Ccleaner v. 5.51 has a virus

15.12.2018

Avira informs me that Ccleaner 5.51 is infected with a virus, called TR/Swrort.ofrgv.
   I haven’t come across anything online about this threat, except for reports in 2017 when Ccleaner was distributed with malware, eventually found to be the work of hackers who compromised the servers of the company behind Ccleaner.
   The Hacker News said that hackers got in there five months before replacing the legitimate Ccleaner with their own.
   I’ve no idea where the blame should go this time, or even if my own computer has been compromised somewhere, but I’ve now downgraded to v. 5.50 and there have been no further alerts.
   Anyone else had trouble with their Ccleaners?

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Instagram’s slow frame rate is probably down to an incompatibility with Android 7

09.12.2018

I thought downgrading to an earlier Instagram would have solved the frame-rate problem, but I was wrong. Here are two videos using the same file. The first was uploaded using my new phone, but running v. 43 from April 2018, given that using the latest Instagram produced very stuttered video. However, it was the same story, so we can conclude there’s something wrong with using newer phones with Instagram. I’m not alone: others reported this bug earlier this year and the one solution appears to be upgrading the OS to Android 8. The conclusion I have to draw is that there is a fault with Android 7, or how Instagram works with Android 7.
   The second was uploaded using my old phone, running probably the same version from April 2018, since that was the last time I performed an Instagram update. The frame rate is now normal.
   The first took four attempts to upload. The second took nine attempts, meaning that I have uploaded this file 13 times on two phones, only to have Instagram show two. There is a problem with Instagram making videos publicly visible, a bug I first reported here earlier this year.
   I’m going to have to pray my old phone holds up despite its damaged screen. Looks like all video uploads will have to be done using it, at least till Instagram fixes the frame-rate issue.

New phone upload

Old phone upload

Failed uploads


Above: Finally, the video uploaded after nine attempts on the old phone. One attempt never made it to the wall. Instagram refused to show eight of the uploads.

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The newer the Instagram, the clunkier the video

07.12.2018

It’s been nearly one week with the new Meizu M6 Note.
   It’s the “international” model, which means it’s not Chinese-spec, and there was no way to turn it into a Chinese one.
   One observation is that the international one is far buggier than the Chinese one. Either that, or Android 7 is far buggier than Android 5.
   For instance, if I leave my old phone as a USB media device, it would stay on that mode. The new one will always change by itself to ‘charge only’, meaning each time I plug it into USB, I now have to waste time doing an extra step.
   Secondly, there’s no drive assistant on the new phone, which may have been a Chinese-only feature. I guess they don’t know we have cars outside China.
   I’ve mentioned the app shortcomings in an earlier post.
   But here’s one that I doubt is related to the Chineseness of my phone: Instagram simply performs better on the old phone than on the new.
   A Meizu M2 Note on an old Flyme (on top of Android 5) running a version of Instagram that dates back seven or eight months uploads smoother videos than a Meizu M6 Note on the latest Flyme (atop Android 7) running the latest Instagram.
   The issue then is: is it the phone, the OS, or the app that’s to blame?
   My first clue was my attempts at uploading a haka performed at my primary school. It took nine attempts before Instagram made one publicly visible, a bug going back some time.
   When it did upload, I noticed it was clunky as it advanced.
   I uploaded it again today on the old phone and there were no issues. It worked first time.

New phone

Old phone

   Now, the two are on different aspect ratios so you might think you’re not comparing apples with apples. How about these two videos? Again, Android 7 required repeated attempts before Instagram would make the video public. Things worked fine with the older phone.

New phone

Old phone

   Anyone know why it’s far, far worse as the technology gets newer? Like servers, which are much harder to manage now, or banks, where cheques take five to seven times longer to clear than in the 1970s, technology seems to be going backwards at the moment.

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YouTube tracks you even when you’ve signed out and blocked their cookies

03.12.2018

Of course YouTube lies. Say you’ve paused your search and watch history on YouTube. And you block all youtube.com cookies. YouTube won’t track you, right? You’ve made it quite clear you don’t want a record of what you’ve done, so YouTube shouldn’t keep one.
   Wrong.
   As with Big Tech, what you expect given what you’ve told them, and what they actually do, are two different things.
   There’s just enough ambiguity in Google’s terms and conditions for YouTube to get away with this.
   It’s exactly like Facebook, which says you can opt out of certain categories of advertising (e.g. alcohol), then serve you advertising for exactly those categories you object to.
   It’s exactly like Google, which in 2009 said you could opt out of ad customization, then it began tracking you again within 24 hours of that opt-out.
   This is part of the same deal, and since US authorities are generally too gutless to go after Big Tech, they’ll keep doing this.
   Say you watched, as I did, a video on a toy collector restoring a model.
   You don’t expect any tracking given all the settings you made earlier on.
   YouTube ignores all that and has a way of determining who you are, even without cookies. Google has a series of cookies that it plants, and it can probably get you through those. Or it’s recognizing your IP address.
   I may block a lot of Google cookies but even I don’t block them all, since one of the schools I’m involved with is heavily into Google’s tools.
   After writing this I may download another browser just for their stuff and block all google.com cookies. It’s not as though Google News, the last of their services I used, is particularly useful any more, after they got rid of the customized news home pages.
   When I watched a completely unrelated video, there was a link on the side to one of the same YouTube user’s videos.

   You then have to clear your watch and search history, even though you don’t have a YouTube account, block all YouTube cookies, and you aren’t signed in to Google in any way.


   You might say that the paused history only works when you’re signed in, and that’s a fair call. But I don’t expect a user who isn’t signed in to be snooped on more than someone who is. Maybe I’m just weird that way, and the default position for Big Tech is to track everyone unless you tell them otherwise (again, their T&Cs probably allow them to get away with this).
   Consequently, YouTube says we have a ‘signed-out YouTube search history’ and a ‘signed-out YouTube watch history’ on each device.
   While I know you can use a private- or incognito-mode tab, you should be asking yourself: why on earth should I, given how I expect their website to work?
   It’s only after clearing all of that that you get a truer list of recommended videos.
   As I have said before, I really still don’t get why people want to keep using these unethical firms’ services. If Google disappeared overnight, it’d take us a week to find replacements.

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Posted in internet, TV | 4 Comments »


It takes 10 years (and sometimes 50) for the establishment to wake up

28.11.2018


Given the topic of this post, some of you will know exactly why this still, from the 1978 Steve McQueen movie An Enemy of the People, is relevant. If you don’t know, head here.

Admittedly, I was getting far more hits on this blog when I was exposing Facebook and Google for their misdeeds. Of course I have less to report given I use neither to any degree: Facebook for helping clients and messaging the odd person who’s still on it (but not via Messenger on a cellphone), and Google as a last resort. I shall have to leave all this to mainstream journalists since, after a decade on this blog, it’s all finally piqued their interest.
   It also seems that my idea about pedestrianizing central Wellington, which appeared in my 2010 mayoral campaign manifesto (which I published in 2009) has finally reached the minds of our elected mayors. Auckland has a plan to do this that’s hit the mainstream media. I notice that this idea that I floated—along with how we could do it in stages, giving time to study traffic data—never made it into The Dominion Post and its sister tabloid The Wellingtonian back in 2009–10. Either they were too biased to run an idea from a candidate they “predicted” would get a sixth of the vote one actually got, or that foreign-owned newspapers suppress good ideas till the establishment catches up and finds some way to capitalize on it. Remember when their only coverage about the internet was negative, on scammers and credit card fraud? Even the ’net took years to be considered a relevant subject—no wonder old media are no longer influential, being long out of touch with the public by decades.
   To be frank, my idea wasn’t even that original.
   If you are on to something, it can take a long time for conventional minds to come round.

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Americans like big numbers

24.11.2018

Scott Milne and I had a little fun over ‘American English’ recently on Twitter (and hopefully US friends will see this in the humour in which it was intended). He wrote:

   I responded that Americans like big numbers. It’s a big country, and everything must sound more impressive, even yuge. Therefore:


Rest of world: Audi 100
USA: Audi 5000


Rest of world: 2019 Range Rover Evoque
USA: 2020 Range Rover Evoque

‘Black Friday’
Western world: Friday 13th
USA: Friday 23rd (it was this year, anyway)

1,000,000,000
Originally in English: ‘one thousand million’
USA: ‘one billion’

1,000,000,000,000
Originally in English: ‘one billion’
USA: ‘one trillion’

   I realize Americans mean something different when they say ‘Black Friday’ (and it doesn’t mean we need to adopt a change in definition, though judging by the last two we probably will), and I realize how their model years work (and they have nothing to do with calendar years).

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Why paywalls are getting more prevalent; and The Guardian Weekly rethought

10.11.2018

Megan McArdle’s excellent op–ed in The Washington Post, ‘A farewell to free journalism’, has been bookmarked on my phone for months. It’s a very good summary of where things are for digital media, and how the advent of Google and Facebook along with the democratization of the internet have reduced online advertising income to a pittance. There’s native advertising, of course, which Lucire and Lucire Men indulged in for a few years in the 2010s, and I remain a fan of it in terms of what it paid, but McArdle’s piece is a stark reminder of the real world: there ain’t enough of it to keep every newsroom funded.
   I’ll also say that I have been very tempted over the last year or two to start locking away some of Lucire’s 21 years of content behind a paywall, but part of me has a romantic notion (and you can see it in McArdle’s own writing) that information deserves to be free.
   Everyone should get a slice of the pie if they are putting up free content along with slots for Doubleclick ads, for instance, and those advertising networks operate on merit: get enough qualified visitors (and they do know who they are, since very few people opt out; in Facebook’s case opting out actually does nothing and they continue to track your preferences) and they’ll feed the ads through accordingly, whether you own a “real” publication or not.
   It wasn’t that long ago, however, when more premium ad networks worked with premium media, leaving Google’s Adsense to operate among amateurs. It felt like a two-tier ad market. Those days are long gone, since plenty of people were quite happy to pay the cheap rates for the latter.
   It’s why my loyal Desktop readers who took in my typography column every month between 1996 and 2010 do not see me there any more: we columnists were let go when the business model changed.
   All of this can exacerbate an already tricky situation, as the worse funded independent media get, the less likely we can afford to offer decent journalism, biasing the playing field in favour of corporate media that have deeper pockets. Google, as we have seen, no longer ranks media on merit, either: since they and Facebook control half of all online advertising revenue, and over 60 per cent in the US, it’s not in their interests to send readers to the most meritorious. It’s in their interests to send readers to the media with the deeper pockets and scalable servers that can handle large amounts of traffic with a lot of Google ads, so they make more money.
   It’s yet another reason to look at alternatives to Google if you wish to seek out decent independent media and support non-corporate voices. However, even my favoured search engine, Duck Duck Go, doesn’t have a specific news service, though it’s still a start.
   In our case, if we didn’t have a print edition as well as a web one, then online-only mightn’t be worthwhile sans paywall.

Tonight I was interested to see The Guardian Weekly in magazine format, a switch that happened on October 10.
   It’s a move that I predicted over a decade ago, when I said that magazines should occupy a ‘soft-cover coffee-table book’ niche (which is what the local edition of Lucire aims to do) and traditional newspapers could take the area occupied by the likes of Time and Newsweek.
   With the improvement in printing presses and the price of lightweight gloss paper it seemed a logical move. Add to changing reader habits—the same ones that drove the death of the broadsheet format in the UK—and the evolution of editorial and graphic design, I couldn’t see it heading any other way. Consequently, I think The Guardian will do rather well.

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A more honest computing glossary

26.10.2018

Since (mostly) leaving Facebook, and cutting down on Twitter, I’ve come to realize the extent of how outdated traditional computing definitions have become. To help those who need to get up to speed, I’ve compiled a few technobabble words and translated them into normal English.

app: in many cases, an extremely limited web browser for your cellphone that only works with one site, as opposed to a proper web browser that works with many sites.

bots: fake, computer-driven profiles masquerading as real humans on, predominantly, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

clean install: something entirely unnecessary, but suggested by tech support people who want to cover up buggy operating systems (q.v. Windows 10).

cloud: hackable online repository of naughty photos of celebrities.

comments’ section: when you see this while surfing, it’s a reminder to leave the web page you are on and make up your own mind.

Facebook: a website where bots live, where post-sharing is intentionally broken to ensure you need to pay for attention. Once paid, your posts are shared with bots, so even fewer humans actually see them.

Facebook friend: (a) a friend; (b) a total stranger; (c) a bot.

Google: (a) a virtual hole into which you dump all your private information, to be sold on to corporations, but feel good doing it because you gave it up to a private company to use against you rather than have the state take it to use against you; (b) a cult that supports (a), whose members will think you have a degenerative brain disease if you dare question the perfection of their god.

malware scanner: malware (especially when offered by Facebook, q.v.).

messenger app: an inefficient messaging program where typing takes 10 times as long as on a desktop or laptop computer. Designed to dissuade you from actually calling the person.

phone: portable computing device, not used to make calls.

remote desktop: when your operating system fails, and the odds of you seeing your familiar screen are remote.

social media: media where people are antisocial.

Twitter: (a) social media with no discernible rules on who gets kicked off and why; (b) where the US president gets angry.

white balance: when racists attack people of colour but pretend they are noble and against racism.

Weibo: a website monitored by the Chinese Communist Party, where users have more freedom than on Facebook and Twitter.

Windows 10: a buggy operating system that requires 10 goes at any updates or patches, hence the name.

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Life inside Google—an ex-Googler airs the dirty laundry

19.10.2018

In amongst all the political fallout of the National Party this week—what I’m dubbing (and hashtagging) ‘caught in the Rossfire’—was a series (well, over 100) Tweets from Morgan Knutson, a designer who once worked for Google. Unlike most Googlers, especially the cult-like ones who refuse to help when you point out a fault with Google, Knutson decided he would be candid and talk about his experience. And it isn’t pretty. Start here:

Or, if you prefer, head to the Twitter page itself, or this Threader thread.
   As anyone who follows this blog knows, I’ve long suspected things to be pretty unhealthy within Google, and it turns out that it’s even worse than I expected.
   A few take-outs: (a) some of the people who work there have no technical or design experience (explains a lot); (b) there’s a load of internal politics; (c) the culture is horrible but money buys a lot of silence.
   Knutson claims to have received a lot of positive feedback, some in private messaging. His Tweets on the aftermath:

   This, I thought, summed it up better than I could, even though I’ve had a lot more space to do it:

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