Archive for the ‘technology’ category


Mastodon before Twitter: time to change my main social network

21.01.2020

With the Twitter advertising preference monster continuing to gather preferences on all of us even after opting out—which basically makes Twitter Facebook—I decided to switch the Mastodon–Twitter Crossposter around.
   With Twitter being my main social network, I was quite happy to allow the Crossposter to take my Tweets and turn them into Toots on Mastodon, and I’d check in to the latter regularly to respond to people.
   But with this latest discovery, I’m having second thoughts. We all know Twitter censors, and protects bigots, and its latest way to make a quick buck crosses a line.
   I know most people have lines that they redraw regularly, especially when it comes to social media and phone apps, but I’m trying to manage mine a little better.
   What I’ll miss is the news: I get plenty from Twitter, often breaking items. I’ll have to find an equivalent, or a news bot, on Mastodon. I’ll also miss interactions with real friends I’ve made on the service. It was incredible to get the condolence messages from Twitter. But if Stephen Fry can walk away from time to time, leaving millions there, I can probably take some time out from the 5,200 following me.
   Note that I won’t cease going to Twitter altogether: I’m not going cold turkey. There’s a bunch of us supporting one another through Alzheimer’s in the family, so I still want to be there for them. But if plans go well, then it won’t be my main social network any more. Twitter’s advertising clients will all miss me, because I simply never consented to Twitter compiling info to micro-target me. Mastodon will get my info first.
   And if Mastodon, one day, decides to do ads, I actually won’t mind, as long as they don’t cross that line. If I’ve opted out of personalization, I expect them to respect it. Even Google respects this, and they’re a dodgy bunch. The fact I have an IP address tied to my country, and that I’ve given some personal info about me, is, in my book, enough. Besides, anyone who knows me will know that a lot of the preferences shown in Twitter have no connection with me—just as Facebook’s were completely laughable.

PS.: Dlvr.it does not take RSS feeds to send to Mastodon. I’m trying out the Activitypub plug-in for Wordpress instead.

P.PS.: Ton Zylstra suggested Autopost to Mastodon, which looks far simpler.

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Posted in business, internet, marketing, technology, USA | No Comments »


Twitter also tracks your preferences, even after you opt out of ad customization

18.01.2020

As with most platforms, I selected, on Twitter, that I didn’t want my advertising to be personalized. I don’t mind them making a buck, but I do mind them tracking my preferences, just as I did with Google and Facebook.
   Google lied about its advertising preferences from 2009 to 2011 till yours truly busted them, and Facebook lies by continuing to compile preferences on you even after opting out, repopulating deleted preferences in some cases, and now, blocking you from making further edits to them. I was surprised that Twitter had a bunch of options I never saw beyond that old ad preferences’ one till I happened across them after clicking ‘Why did I see this ad?’ You can find this here.

   Go a bit further to this link, and there they are, nearly 500 preferences linked to me, compiled even though I had opted out of personalization—making Twitter just as bad as Facebook.


   What do I do? Exactly what I did on Facebook: I deselected each and every single one. Twitter doesn’t need this to market to me. Frankly it’s enough that it has my IP address and it can geo-target. It doesn’t need any more precision than that. I get to the bottom of the page, having done them all:

   And just like Facebook, within hours it has reselected over 400 of them, repopulating preferences and overriding what the user wants.

   In fact, some were being reselected within seconds, but I put that down to the fact I was using a cellphone. As of this writing, the second deselections have been done on the desktop.
   This is simply not right, but we have been seeing signs in the latter part of the 2010s that Twitter is as bad as Facebook, with its love of bots, bigotry and its mass censorship. Now it’s as devoted to selling its users as the rest of Big Tech. The net result is I’ll begin limiting my time on Twitter because its privacy intrusion has gone too far. It cannot be trusted. It will probably become a work tool as Facebook has, where I do little of my own stuff, and only serve my clients; or I simply have automated content.

I suppose you can always say, ‘Well, at least it’s not as bad as …’ and on that note, I checked in to Facebook to see if I could post a question on why advertising preferences were not editable.
   Eventually I found four others had managed, after wading through Facebook’s many layers of pages before getting to one where you could pose a question, to ask the same.

   Except none of them are clickable to a question-and-answer page. They all take you to a Facebook Business advertising queries’ page.
   Therefore, I asked the question even though it had already been asked. I doubt I’ll hear back, as I noticed that on the same visit, Facebook had censored two of my earlier responses.


   Why? They reveal that Facebook’s platform is buggy, that I was unable to do some things on pages that it claimed I was able to do.
   All I can say is that this is petty. Facebook: for the last 15 years your platform has been buggy. Everyone knows this. Covering up a couple of comments made in your own forums, comments that are truthful and actually helpful to others who encounter the same thing, doesn’t make your platform any less buggy. But this is the Zuckerberg way: all-too-precious, wimpy against criticism, with a self-belief that not publishing something will make it go away. I mean, it’s worked against equally wimpy governments. It is a page out of the Google playbook, too: its forums are full of cultist believers who ask, ‘How dare you question our god?’ when you post about bugs. However, it alienates users.
   It’s probably why the old Getsatisfaction Facebook forum was closed down, because it revealed so many bugs about the system.
   I’m hoping the 2020s will see some sort of mass rejection of these Big Tech social-tracking platforms, but I thought that would happen years ago. I was wrong. There are still good people on them but there are also good people on Mastodon and elsewhere.

PS.: Here we are, four hours later, after I unticked all the preferences. At least 300 of them have been reselected by Twitter. So it is like Facebook. Once again, we have to say to a US Big Tech firm: stop lying. Your claims about your settings are bogus.

P.PS.: Day two, still fighting Twitter, which reticked a lot (but not all) of the preferences. Still in the hundreds.

P.P.PS.: Day two, two hours later, 107 reticked:

P.P.P.PS.: Day four:

P.P.P.PS.: Day seven, still battling:

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Posted in internet, technology, USA | 1 Comment »


Switching to Opera GX from Vivaldi: I needed the better type rendering

10.01.2020

Surprisingly, Vivaldi hadn’t notified me of any updates for months—I was on v. 2.05, and had no idea that they were up to 2.10. Having upgraded manually, I noticed its handling of type had deteriorated. Here is one paragraph in Lucire:

   My font settings had also changed.
   Coincidentally, I downloaded Opera GX last night to have a go, and it displays type in the way I’m used to:

   Since both are Chromium-based, and Opera is sensitive about privacy as Vivaldi is, I decided to make the change and see if I like the new browser better. I was used to Operas of old being independent, not Chromium-based, but the good news is I could use the same plug-ins.
   I’m missing Vivaldi’s easy screenshot process and its clipping (Opera GX has something similar but introduces an extra step of saving the file) but so far the browsers aren’t too different in terms of everyday functionality. Opera GX’s extensions’ window isn’t as well organized and I have to scroll to tinker with the settings of anything later in the alphabet.
   The unchangeable dark theme takes a bit of getting used to (but it matches my laptop, so there’s that), and there’s a GX home page that’s superfluous for me.
   I don’t need the built-in ad blocker out of principle, but I do have certain anti-tracking plug-ins (e.g. Privacy Badger) that I was able to install from the Opera shop without incompatibility.
   Hard-core gamers may like the CPU limiter and RAM limiter, to make sure the browser doesn’t eat up capacity for their games. It’s not something I need concern myself about, but I can see it being handy. I remember when old Chrome (many years ago) and Firefox (more recently) began eating memory like crazy with my settings (no idea why), and this would have been useful.
   But as someone who reads online a lot, it’s important that type is properly handled. I don’t know what Vivaldi has done to its type rendering, and that’s probably the biggest thing that tipped me in favour of change.

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Posted in design, internet, technology, typography | 3 Comments »


Wide of the mark

25.12.2019

Don’t believe everything you read on the internet, e.g.:

   Anyone alive during this period will be wondering, ‘Where’s Altavista?’
   Just on visitor numbers, as opposed to visits per month, they were doing 19 million daily in 1996, 80 million daily in 1997. Goodness knows how many searches we were doing per day. Yet they are nowhere to be seen on this animation till December 1997, with 7 million monthly visits. If you were anything like me, you were using Altavista countless times a day—even conservatively, say you went on four times daily, and you were one of the 80 million per day, you would be putting Altavista at 9,600 million visits per month, dwarfing AOL and Yahoo. By 1997–8, we weren’t using directories like Yahoo for search, we were using these newfangled search engines. Google only overtook Altavista in 2001 in searches.
   And I am old-fashioned enough to think this channel should be called Data Are Beautiful, not Data Is Beautiful.
   I’d love to know the sources: not only could I remember clearly Altavista’s position (and Alexa had them in number one as well), it took me no time at all to confirm my suspicions through a web search.


Above: A re-created Altavista home page from 1999.

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Breaking Hart’s

23.12.2019

Usually, all our publications use Hart’s Rules. It’s well understood, enough compositors know it, and it’s a credible enough style guide for us to point at and use as a defence. There are some departures, which so far few have complained to me about.
   1. Citation style. The OUP publishes The British Year Book of International Law, which doesn’t follow Hart’s on citations; and we follow a version that can be found in older examples of the Year Book (you can tell it has to be an older one, for at some stage it was renamed The British Yearbook of International Law). It also happens to be the style I learned when I was starting out, from a book by Jost Hochuli, and I understand some use it on the Continent. Brexiteers will not approve.
   2. Diphthongs. Man, I love diphthongs. How can you not? Typographically, these look great, and their abandonment, I believe, only came when typesetters using computers found it too hard. Today’s computers make it easy again, so I see no reason to not have them present again. Hart’s is silent on ligatures, so I’m quite happy to manœuvre Cæsar’s minutiæ.
   3. I am not a fan of the American short scale, because at some point, the numbers are going to get ridiculously large and it’s going to be inconvenient to use it. Plus the Chinese language adopts long scales for names of numbers, so the British long scale makes more sense to my native culture. Ten to the power of nine is a thousand million or a milliard, not a billion, which traditionally (I believe till 1974, so within my lifetime) was ten to the power of twelve, or what the Americans call a trillion. So far our publications do not require massive numbers, so we still say three thousand million, but I suspect when we get into bigger figures, we may have to bring back milliard, which is still in the dictionary, albeit as a defunct term. On this, Jacob Rees-Mogg might be quite happy to agree as part of his mission to take the Commons back to the 19th century, before all this metric system nonsense, other than using milliard, which is just too French. Maybe when we get to citing American authorities, we may have to relent, and certainly in the Middle East, American English tends to be more greatly accepted.
   4. Other than where requested, I go for the “road sign” approach to citing place names: Milano over Milan, Lyon over Lyons. On this, Chris Patten and I disagree. When doing transliterations and romanizations, I would actually write Beijing because that’s what a Beijinger would call their home town.
   I probably won’t win the third one, as most of the two thousand million Anglophones disagree with me, and the ratio of one holdout versus a milliard plus aren’t great odds.

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Posted in China, culture, media, publishing, technology, UK | No Comments »


Thank you, Twitter whānau

16.12.2019

When Twitter is awesome. Thank you, everyone, tēnā rawa atu koutou.

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Posted in internet, New Zealand, technology, USA | 1 Comment »


The newer the Instagram, the buggier; and why no one should use Google Drive

24.11.2019

I’ve discovered that the newer the Instagram, the buggier it is. We’ve already seen that it can’t cope with video if you use Android 7 (a great way to reduce video bandwidth), and, earlier this year, filters do not work.
   I downgraded to version 59 till, last week, Instagram began deleting direct messages as its way to force me to upgrade. Neither versions 119 or 120 are stable, and are about as reliable as one of Boris Johnson’s marriages, although they have fixed the filter problem.


   Neither version has an alignment grid to aid you to adjust an image so it’s square, even though Instagram’s own documentation says it remains present. Presently, only Tyler Henry and other psychics can see the grid:


   Holly Jahangiri tells me that she has a stable Instagram on Android 9, and another good friend informs me that Instagram still gives him an editing grid on IOS, which reminds me of the débâcle of Boo.com many years ago: it only worked with the latest gear, at HQ, but never worked with older browsers, and certainly never transmitted in a timely fashion on the broadband of the early 2000s (and to heck with anyone unfortunate enough to still be on dial-up).
   I will keep downgrading till the grid is back for us non-clairvoyants, as it’s a feature I use, though I imagine I could run the risk of getting to one with a grid but inoperable filters. I doubt, however, that the video frame rate on Android 7 has been fixed, and since my earlier phone no longer charges (well, it does, but I have to drive to Johnsonville to the repair shop to do it), I’ve saved up oodles of video content.
   I also can’t tag locations in the new Instagrams. I can try, but the window showing me the locations doesn’t like keyboards. If you can’t enter the first word quickly enough, then you’re stuck in a situation where you have to keep tapping to get your keyboard back.
   It’s pretty unacceptable that a year-old phone is already incompatible with an app, but I guess you have to remember that no self-respecting geek working for Big Tech would have old gear.
   Speaking of Big Tech, I can’t work out why people still use Google Drive. I wasted 80 minutes last night trying to download around two gigabytes of images for work. All Google Drive does is say it’s ‘Zipping 1 file’, and after it’s ZIPped, that is all it does. There’s no prompt to download, no prompt to sign in, no automatic download, nada. You can click (if you catch it in time) the message that it’s ready (which I did on the third attempt), but that does nothing.

   I imagine this is Google’s way of saving on bandwidth and it is utterly successful for them as nothing is ever transmitted.
   The ZIPping process took probably 15–20 minutes a go.
   A comparable service like Wetransfer or Smash just, well, transfers, in less than the time Google Drive takes to archive a bunch of files.
   I also notice that Google Drive frequently only sends me a single image when the sender intends to send a whole bunch. There’s no age discrimination here: both an older friend and colleague and a young interviewee both had this happen in October when trying to send to me. It is, I suspect, all to do with an interface that hasn’t been tested, or is buggy.
   Basically: Google Drive does not work for either the sender or the recipient.
   This morning a friend and colleague tried to send me more files using this godawful service, and this time, Google Drive at least gave me a sign-on prompt. Even though I was already signed on. Not that that does anything: you never, ever log in. However, for once, the files he tried to send me actually did come down in the background.

   I should note that for these Google Drive exercises, I use a fresh browser (Opera) with no plug-ins or blocked cookies: this is the browser I use where I allow tracking and all the invasiveness Google likes to do to people. Now that it has begun grabbing Americans’ medical records in 21 states without patient consent in something called ‘Project Nightingale’ (thank you, Murdoch Press, for consistently having the guts to report on Google), we’re in a new era of intrusiveness. (I’m waiting for the time when most Americans won’t care that Google, a monopoly, has their medical records, after the initial outcry. No one seems to care about the surveillance US Big Tech does on us, which puts the KGB and Stasi to shame.)
   Looking at Google’s own help forums, it doesn’t matter what browser you use: even Chrome doesn’t work with Drive downloads in some cases.

   The lesson is: stop using Google Drive for file transfers, as Smash does a better job.
   Or, better yet, stop using Google. Get a Google-free phone, maybe even one from Huawei.

Meanwhile, I see WordPress’s Jetpack plug-in did this to my blog today without any intervention from me. I imagine it did an automatic update, which it was not set to do.

   There’s untested software all over the place, ignoring your settings because it thinks it knows better. News flash, folks, your programs don’t know better.
   A great way for one tech company to get rid of criticisms of another tech company for a few hours, I guess, harming its ranking in the process. Google itself has done it before.
   Farewell, Jetpack. Other than the stats and the phone-friendly skin, I never needed you. I’m sure there are alternatives that don’t wipe out my entire blog.

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Facebook takes away user control over their own advertising preferences

15.11.2019

Facebook’s advertising preferences are getting more useless by the day. Even a company as dodgy as Google has managed to keep its preference page working.
   Over the years I’ve been telling people that they can delete their interests from Facebook if they’re uncomfortable with the targeting, since Facebook gathers these interests even when you have opted out of targeted ads. Now, you can’t. If you’re on the desktop, Facebook just won’t show them to you. You can have this window open for hours for nothing to appear (and yes, I have tried regularly).

   Maybe you don’t have any, Jack? You just said you deleted them. Fact: I do have them, except they are only visible on the cellphone—and as usual they’re not that accurate. However, on the cellphone, these cannot be deleted or edited in any way.

   I also have a set of different ones if I export my Facebook data, but that’s another story.
   And remember when I said I opted out of alcohol ads, yet I still see plenty, especially from Heineken, which has even uploaded my email and private information to Facebook without my permission, and refuses to respond? (I may have to get the Privacy Commissioner to intervene again.) Facebook does say that opting out doesn’t necessarily work. In which case, you have to wonder why on earth the feature is there—regardless of what you toggle, Facebook does what it wants. Even Google doesn’t get this bad.
   Remember: Facebook offers you features, but they don’t necessarily work.
   And advertisers: Facebook’s audience estimates, by their own admission, have no bearing on the real population, and there is no third-party auditing. Even if you tailor your promotions, there’s no guarantee they’re even reaching the people you want. My interests are certainly incorrect—not that I can do anything about it so you don’t waste your money. Now multiply that by hundreds of millions of users.

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Posted in business, internet, technology, USA | 1 Comment »


Big Tech and advertising: the con is being revealed

13.11.2019

People are waking up to the fact that online advertising isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.
   Last month, Bob Hoffman’s excellent The Ad Contrarian newsletter noted, ‘I believe the marketing industry has pissed away hundreds of billions of dollars on digital fairy tales and ad fraud over the past 10 years (in fact, I’m writing a book about it.) If I am right, and if the article in question is correct, we are in the midst of a business delusion unmatched in all of history.’ He linked to an article by Jesse Frederik and Mauritz Martin (also sent to me by another colleague), entitled ‘The new dot com bubble is here: it’s called online advertising’ in The Correspondent. In it, they cast doubt over the effectiveness of online ads, hidden behind buzzwords and the selection effect. If I understand the latter correctly, it means that people who are already predisposed to your offering are more likely to click on your ads, so the ads aren’t actually netting you new audiences.
   Here’s the example Frederik and Martin give:

Picture this. Luigi’s Pizzeria hires three teenagers to hand out coupons to passersby. After a few weeks of flyering, one of the three turns out to be a marketing genius. Customers keep showing up with coupons distributed by this particular kid. The other two can’t make any sense of it: how does he do it? When they ask him, he explains: “I stand in the waiting area of the pizzeria.”

   The summary is that despite these companies claiming there’s a correlation between advertising with them and some result, the truth is that no one actually knows.
   And the con is being perpetuated by the biggest names in the business.
   As Hoffman noted at the end of October:

A few decades ago the advertising industry decided they couldn’t trust the numbers they were being given by media. The result was the rise of third-party research, ratings, and auditing organizations.
   But there are still a few companies that refuse to allow independent, third-party auditing of their numbers.

   No surprises there. I’ve already talked about Facebook’s audience estimates having no relationship with the actual population, so we know they’re bogus.
   And, I imagine, they partly get away with it because of their scale. One result of the American economic orthodoxy these days is that monopolies are welcome—it’s the neoliberal school of thinking. Now, I went through law school being taught the Commerce Act 1986 and the Trade Practices Act 1974 over in Australia, and some US antitrust legislation. I was given all the economic arguments on why monopolies are bad, including the starvation of innovation in their sector.
   Roger McNamee put me right there in Zucked, essentially informing me that what I learned isn’t current practice in the US. And that is worrisome at the least.
   It does mean, in places like Europe which haven’t bought into this model, and who still have balls (as well as evidence), they’re happy to go after Google over their monopoly. And since our anti-monopoly legislation is still intact, and one hopes that we don’t suddenly change tack (since I know the Commerce Act is under review), we should fight those monopoly effects that Big Tech has in our country.
   What happens to monopolies? Well, if past behaviour is any indication, they can get broken up. Sen. Elizabeth Warren is simply recounting American history when she suggests that that’s what Facebook, Google and Amazon should endure. There was a time when Republicans and Democrats would have been united on this prospect, given the trusts that gave rise to their Sherman Act in 1890, protecting the public from market failures like these. Even a generation ago, they’d never have allowed companies to get this influential.
   Also a generation ago, we wouldn’t swallow the BS an advertising platform gave us without something to back it up. Right now, it seems we don’t have anything—and the industry is beginning to cry foul.


Lorie Shaull/Creative Commons Attribution–Share Alike 2·0

Regardless of your political stripes, Sen. Elizabeth Warren calling for the break-up of Big Tech made sense as recently as a generation ago.

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Posted in business, internet, marketing, New Zealand, technology, USA | 4 Comments »


The latest round of Facebook lies

26.10.2019

I believe one of the Democrat-leaning newspapers in the US compiles a list of lies by Donald Trump. I really think we should be doing one for Facebook, as it would make for impressive reading, though it would also take some time to compile.
   Founder Mark Zuckerberg claimed he talked to media from ‘across the spectrum’, but as The Intercept’s Jon Schwarz and Sam Biddle discovered, this is another lie: Zuckerberg cultivates relationships with US conservatives, not their liberals, based on the duo’s checks.

   This adds fuel to the fire that Zuckerberg dreads US senator Elizabeth Warren getting into the White House, and has said so, and we know the buck really stops with him when it comes to Facebook’s activities. Facebook even pulled Sen. Warren’s ads from their platform briefly: so much for impersonal algorithms, ‘We’re just a platform,’ and free speech. We also know from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s questioning of the Facebook founder that he claims he passes the buck on what media are considered legit to a conservative group, something he’ll have sanctioned, so be prepared to see Facebook reflect his (and Trump-supporting, Facebook board member Peter Thiel’s) right-wing political views.
   As Schwarz and Biddle also note, Facebook’s VP for US public policy is a George W. Bush aide and a board member for the former president’s museum.
   Jack Morse at Mashable, meanwhile, reported that Zuckerberg is attempting historical revisionism on why he started Facebook. Retconning might work with comic books but less so in real life. Apparently, instead of the truth—a website which scraped photos of students and asked people to rate who was hotter—Facebook is now something created to give people a voice after the Iraq war in 2003.
   Sorry, Mark, we know you didn’t have such noble intentions, regardless of what they eventually became.
   It’s an insult to all those entrepreneurs who actually did start businesses or ventures with noble intent or socially responsible purposes.
   Frankly, sticking to the truth, and saying you discovered the power of connecting people, is a far more compelling story.
   Except, of course, Facebook no longer connects people. It divides people by validating their own biases, including less savoury viewpoints. It stokes outrage because that’s worth more clicks and time spent on its site. At worst, it’s a tool used for genocide. It’s a shame Facebook refuses to acknowledge the Pandora’s box it has opened, because its top management has no desire to do a thing about it. And as such it loses my respect even further. Don’t want the likes of Warren calling for breaking your company up? The solution is actually quite simple, but you all have become too rich and too establishment to want to break things.
   I actually had to write this in my op–ed for Lucire’s 22nd anniversary last week: ‘In this respect, we see our mission as the opposite of social media: we want to bring people together, not usher them into silos and echo chambers.’ The narrative Facebook wishes to spin, like so many in its past, is an easily seen-through joke.

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Posted in business, culture, internet, media, politics, technology, USA | 1 Comment »