Archive for the ‘technology’ category


Facebook is getting away with it again—even though it knew about Cambridge Analytica

25.07.2019

Thanks to my friend Bill Shepherd, I’ve now subscribed to The Ad Contrarian newsletter. Bob Hoffman is one of the few who gets it when it comes to how insignificant the FTC’s Facebook fine is.
   Five (American) billion (American) dollars sounds like a lot to you and me, but considering Facebook’s stock rose on the news, they’ve more than covered the fine on the rise alone.
   Bob writes: ‘The travesty of this settlement guarantees that no tech company CEO will take consumer privacy or data security seriously. Nothing will change till someone either has to pay personally or go to jail. Paying insignificant fines with corporate money is now an officially established cost of doing business in techland and—who knows?—a jolly good way to boost share prices.’
   There’s something very messed up about this scenario, particularly as some of the US’s authorities are constantly being shown up by the EU (over Google’s monopoly actions) and the UK’s Damian Collins, MP (over the questions being asked of Facebook—unlike US politicians’, his aren’t toothless).
   The US SEC, meanwhile, has released its report on Facebook, showing that Facebook knew what was happening with Cambridge Analytica in 2015–16, and that the company willingly sold user data to the firm. SEC’s Stephanie Avakian noted, ‘As alleged in our complaint, Facebook presented the risk of misuse of user data as hypothetical when they knew user data had in fact been misused.’ You can read the entire action as filed by the SEC here.

In its quarterly and annual reports filed between January 28, 2016 and March 16, 2018 (the “relevant period”), Facebook did not disclose that a researcher had, in violation of the company’s policies, transferred data relating to approximately 30 million Facebook users to Cambridge Analytica. Instead, Facebook misleadingly presented the potential for misuse of user data as merely a hypothetical investment risk. Moreover, when asked by reporters in 2017 about its investigation into the Cambridge Analytica matter, Facebook falsely claimed the company found no evidence of wrongdoing, thereby reinforcing the misleading statements in its periodic filings.

   As I have been hashtagging, #Facebooklies. This is standard practice for the firm, as has been evidenced countless times for over a decade. The settlement: US$100 million. Pocket change.

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In my experience, the only browser that works with Jetstar’s website is Safari for Mac

23.07.2019

I’ve found some forum entries about this, but they date back to the beginning of the decade. I alerted Jetstar to this in March, and the problem has worsened since then.
   Basically, I can’t book online, and I don’t know why. Consequently, I booked one flight with Air New Zealand and only managed, after huge effort, to get the other (for a colleague) with Jetstar.
   Back in March, I couldn’t book with Vivaldi, but I was able to switch to Firefox. I let Jetstar know.
   Now, this strategy does not work.
   Before you suggest it, cookies and caches have been cleared.
   Here’s what happens after I’ve selected the cities and the dates, and I go to select times. Let’s begin with Vivaldi on Windows, which is based on Chromium (which, as we know, is what Chrome, the browser Jetstar suggests you use, is based on):

Switching to Firefox now results in this:

Switching to Edge on the same PC gives this:

   Fortunately, I also own Macs, so here’s what Firefox for Mac returns:

   The only browser that works with the Jetstar website: Safari on Mac. As I’ve sold my Ubuntu laptop, I was unable to test using that OS.
   Not many people would go to that effort, and while Jetstar’s Twitter staff (after some pushing from me in DMs) said they would refer it on, I don’t expect anything to happen.
   Maybe Chrome would work, but I’m not ever going to download it to find out. Why invite Google on to your computer? But if that is the case, it seems foolish to limit yourself to such an invasive browser. My experience is that whatever is blocking me from booking with Jetstar (some may argue that this is a good thing), it is expanding across browsers.

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My social media engagement is dropping and I do not care

09.07.2019

In the last month, maybe the last few weeks, my likes on Instagram have halved. Interestingly, Lucire’s Instagram visits have increased markedly. But as I use my own account more than a work one, I can see the trend there a bit more clearly.
   It’s not unlike Facebook, which, of course, owns Instagram. While I haven’t used it for personal updates since 2017, I maintain a handful of pages, and I still recall earlier this decade when, overnight, engagement dropped 90 per cent. It never recovered. Facebook, like Google, biases itself toward those who can afford to pay, in the great unlevelling of the playing field that Big Tech is wont to do.
   They know that they’re structured on, basically, a form of digital drug-taking: that for every like we get, we get a dopamine hit, and if we want to maintain those levels, we had better pay for them and become junkies. But here’s the thing: what if people wake up and realize that they don’t need that hit any more? I mean, even Popeye Doyle got through cold turkey to pursue Alain Charnier in French Connection II.
   I’ve written about social media fatigue before, and the over-sharing that can come with it. More than once I blogged about being ‘Facebooked out’. And as you quit one social medium, it’s not too hard to quit another.
   I’ve made a lot of posts on Instagram but I value my privacy increasingly, and in the period leading up to the house move, I began doing less on it. And without the level of engagement, whether that’s caused by the algorithm or my own drop in activity, I’m beginning to care less, even if Instagram was more a hobby medium where I interacted with others.
   And since I have less time to check it, I actually don’t notice that I have fewer likes when I open the app. I only really know when I see that each photo averages 15 likes or so, when figures in the 30s and 40s were far more commonplace not very long ago.
   So what’s the deal? Would they like us to pay? I’m not that desperate. I don’t ’Gram for likes, as it was always a hobby, one that I seem to have less time for in 2019. I never thought being an “influencer” on Instagram was important. The novelty has well and truly worn off, and as friends depart from the platform, the need to use it to keep them updated diminishes. In the last fortnight I recorded three videos for friends and sent them via Smash or Wetransfer, and that kept them informed. You know, like writing a letter as we did pre-email, but with audio and video. Instagram just isn’t that vital. Email actually serves me just fine.

As I said to a friend tonight, even Twitter seems expendable from one’s everyday habits. Especially after March 15 here. You realize that those who are already arseholes really want to stay that way, their life ambition probably to join certain foreign-owned radio stations to be talking heads. But since they lack the nous, the best they can manage is social-media venting. And the good people want to remain good and have the space to live their lives happily. So why, I began wondering, should we spend our time getting our blood pressure up to defend our patch in a medium where the arseholes are, by and large, gutless wannabes who daren’t tell you have of the venom they write to your face? Does anyone ever put a Stuff commenter up on a pedestal and give them respect?
   While there are a great many people whom I admire on Twitter, and I am fortunate enough to have come into their orbit, there are an increasing number of days when I want to leave them to it, and if they wish to deal with the low-lifes of this world, it is their prerogative, and I respect them for doing something I’m tiring of doing myself. Twelve years on Twitter is a long time. At the time of writing, I’ve made 91,624 Tweets. That’s a lot.
   Unlike the arseholes, each and every one of these decent human beings have successful lives, and they don’t need to spend their waking moments dispensing hate toward any other group that isn’t like them in terms of genitals, sexual orientation, race or religion. And, frankly, I can contact those decent people in media outside of social.
   Maybe the fear of Tweeting less is that we believe that the patients will overrun the asylum, that we’re the last line of defence in a world where racists and others are emboldened. That if we show that good sense and tolerance prevail, as my grandfather and others wanted to do when they went to war, then those who harbour unsavoury thoughts toward people unlike them might think twice. I can’t really argue with that.
   But I wonder whether I’ll be more effective outside of social. I publish magazines, for a start. They give me a platform others do not have. I don’t need to leave comments on articles (and over the years, I haven’t done much of that). And I have websites I visit where I can unwind, away from the shouting factories of American Big Tech. Most of us want to do good on this earth, and the long game is I may be better off building businesses I’m good at rather than try to show how much smarter I am versus a talentless social media stranger.
   No, I’m not saying I’m leaving either medium. I am saying that I’d rather spend that time on things I love to do, and before 2007 I had enough to do without sharing. Some of the colleagues I respect the most have barely set foot in the world of social, and right now I envy just how much time they have managed to put into other important endeavours, including books that are changing lives.
   Big Tech must know the writing’s on the wall.

PS.: From a discussion with the wonderful William Shepherd when he read this on Twitter (the irony is not lost on me given the subject).—JY

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‘The last USB device you connected to this computer malfunctioned’—such a simple solution for phones

30.06.2019

Over the last few years, I’ve had some USB memory sticks go bad. There was one particular type—a cheap one from the Warehouse—that failed once on Windows 10. The error was ‘The last USB device you connected to this computer malfunctioned, and Windows does not recognize it.’ The problem was that any other USB stick of the same brand would return the same error, even non-faulty ones, from then on.
   I took them back to the Warehouse and while one of them actually was kaput, the others I alleged were faulty weren’t. The trouble was that there was no way to make Windows 10 forget the error.
   I did the usual ways you find on the internet: going to the device manager, removing the device drivers, scanning for hardware changes, etc., to no avail. Once guilty, forever guilty. There was no turning back.
   Tonight, I encountered the same error when plugging in my phone. However, the last time I had plugged it in, there were no errors, so something already was amiss. When probing more, the error was ‘Windows has stopped this device because it has reported problems. (Code 43)’, and again, every bit of advice online was useless.
   These included: restarting your PC; uninstalling the affected device driver; installing generic Android drivers (none were available at Meizu directly); checking all cables; using different USB ports. Two hours later, which included contemplating getting a Bluetooth dongle for my PC, I came across a solution that should have been obvious much earlier: reboot the phone.
   That’s all it took.
   I’m putting this here since no one else seems to have suggested this, of all the pages I read over the last few hours. It’s obvious now with hindsight, but not when you’re following well meaning advice online and trying to do it all procedurally. I knew instinctively I didn’t have to uninstall everything that was USB-related, and I’m glad I never made it that complicated for myself. Hopefully this blog post will save others two hours’ trial and error.

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How to lose readers: accuse them of something they don’t or wouldn’t do

11.06.2019

Here’s a sure-fire way to lose readers and cost you ad revenue.
   It seems Haymarket’s Autocar (which I have been reading in print since 1980) wasn’t pleased about people using online ad blockers, so it created a warning.
   The trouble is I don’t use ad blockers. In fact, you can see a massive advertisement underneath the warning:

In fact, that ad keeps changing, so I guess the advertiser is charged for totally useless impressions.
   Clicking ‘I’ve disabled my Ad-Blocker’ does nothing.
   I decided to click the other option, for advice on how to whitelist the ad blocker that I do not have.

I presume whatever’s in that blue box are the instructions, which are illegible.
   Autocar often talks about the difficulties behind some car infotainment interfaces, but you’d hope a publisher with a budget that far exceeds mine would get this right.
   The irony of this effort is that Autocar winds up losing ad revenue.
   I have Tweeted them, so here’s hoping this silly tech can be removed so I can help their bottom line. You do wonder about their bosses sometimes though—maybe this sort of abrasive behaviour comes from the top.

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Today’s thoughts on Twitter

25.05.2019


Momentmal/Pixabay

Random thoughts in the last few minutes, blogging as a means of bookmarking:

   You never know, we may see a rise in the demand of very basic phones. And:

’Nuff said.

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The smart ones always seem to be the minority

24.05.2019


Pixabay

Each year, I mentor one student from my Alma Mater. I won’t reveal their identity or what we discuss, as these are privileged, but one thing that became apparent today is how each generation might think that young people are on to it. That they won’t fall for the same bullshit that we did because they are more savvy and can build on what’s gone before.
   The student I am working with is smart and does see through a lot of the BS. They’re working on an assignment at the moment about Facebook and they were asked in class whether Facebook should be regulated. Turns out that the majority of the class didn’t know about the scandals that had happened, and that most don’t even take in the news via traditional newsmedia (or even websites), but get their info via social media. In other words, they were quite content to be bubbled and fall victim to the subjective feeds provided to them by social media.
   A generation ago, I remember when older people thought we were on to it, that we could see through the BS—but we are the ones who created this latest lot of BS. We created the mechanisms where people are fed back their own opinions and told that the other side is wrong. Empathy went out the window partly because of social media. And now that these have been created, we’re not admitting we ****ed up. Mark Zuckerberg avoids summons, for Chrissakes, and his company, and most of Big Tech, lie like sociopaths. But we’ve tied up the next generation as well into this web where they don’t know the lack of substance behind what they’re seeing. Because maybe it’s just all too complicated to figure out—which is probably how the powers-that-be like to keep it, so we keep consuming the mainstream, easily digestible narratives. The few who break out of this will find allies, but then, they, too, are in a new bubble, convinced that surely with some like minds their thinking must be right, and why on earth don’t others find it as easy to grasp?

   It’s why movements like #DeleteFacebook haven’t really taken hold beyond idealists, and even though we have young people smart enough and aware enough to organize global climate-change protests today, I wonder if we’ll wake up and exit the Matrix. I have hope—hope that those with sufficient charisma to be within the system will be selfless and say the right things and cause others to realize what’s happening. There are glimmers here and there, but, like all movements, it needs a lot of people doing the same thing at the same time. Maybe they can be found … via the same tools that are being used to divide us.

Originally published at my NewTumblog.

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Huawei without Google: isn’t that a good thing?

21.05.2019

I see Google’s going to stop supporting Huawei as a developer. How is this a bad thing?
   First, Huawei can still get the public parts of Android, since they’re open-source. Secondly, if they don’t get updates ahead of time, so what? When have western software companies rolled out bug-free updates? Based on my own experience, Chinese cellphone developers make stuff that just works, and I’m inclined to trust them more these days.
   Thirdly, no one needs all that Google crap anyway: I always said that if it disappeared overnight, we’d all find replacements within a week. Now Huawei has to—in fact, it already has them.
   Anyone who owns a Chinese phone made for the Chinese market already knows that they have their own app stores. Why do you actually need YouTube through an app when you can browse to the website? Maybe Huawei will do a tiny YouTube app that only surfs to their site for those keen on getting into the Google snooping network. Is a Gmail app really a must if you can set up your phone really easily as an email client to pull from Gmail? As to maps, I’ve been using Here Maps since I’ve had my Meizu M2 Note in 2016, and while it isn’t perfect, it’s more than adequate. Recently I found they had maps of the Chatham Islands when the cars’ sat-nav didn’t.
   All Huawei really needs to do is roll out its own app store to its western phones with decent enough translations, and make sure it’s updated with the APKs.
   I have a better Meizu weather app on my phone than anything I’ve ever found on Google, and I’m sure Huawei has its version.
   I owned a Huawei phone many years ago, although it was from my telco and I never had it rooted. It came with a suite of battery-draining Google junk, including services that you could switch off only to have them restart; but when I was able to get a Google-free phone, I’ve never looked back. When that phone was replaced, I made sure the next one was Google-free as well.
   What’s going to happen is that Google and the US will lose out as Huawei might find itself zooming ahead with a superior app store, and its own developments may outpace the Americans’.
   Corporate America may be patting itself on the back, and their president may think he was doing their bidding, but I think they’ll find themselves weakened.

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The big move, after 36 years

20.05.2019

For reasons unknown to me, May seems to be a quiet month for my blogging. I looked back to 2010 and usually, this is the month I blog less. Maybe it’s the change in seasons, or I find other things to occupy my time.
   This year, it’s been far more eventful, as on the 10th inst., we moved. Thirty-six years at the same address, and I’m now in the northern suburbs of Wellington. The postal code has changed from a 6 to a 5 at the beginning, which gives you an idea of just how far north we went.
   As a middle-aged man I don’t need to be that close to town any more, and since I’ve always worked from home, all I really need is a stable and reliable internet connection. We need space for team members who work for me on-site, which we now have far more of. The internet connection is the one thing that really needs work in terms of my daily routine, since we are on multiple levels, and D-Link’s Powerline “mains modems” have not been that good here, while Vodafone’s Ultrahub also loses too much in terms of bandwidth in different parts of the property.



Above: There’s too great a loss of bandwidth through the D-link Powerline units. The top screen shot is a device plugged into the Vodafone Ultrahub near the Chorus ONT.

   It’s goodbye Evans Bay views (which have never been the same since the Indoor Sport Stadium was erected at great additional unnecessary expense to ratepayers; a clear reminder not to trust certain establishment politicians) and hello to rolling hills and native bush.
   It hasn’t all sunk in yet, as I’ve been working while the move has taken place, and haven’t had the time to enjoy the process. Rationally, I know we made the right decision, otherwise we’d never have done it, but other than the last half-hour at the old place, letting the memories of each room flood in as I walked through for the last time, I haven’t been particularly emotional. In fact, when the buyers of my old home signed, I was actually happier for them than I was for myself, since they had been searching for a while, and I felt they got a good deal. Here they were, third time lucky in this street, and getting the largest house on the largest section, and, with the greatest respect to my former neighbours, a more solid one, too. (Yes, I’ve knocked on your timber inside over the years.) They have a view which they never would have had in the other places.
   They additionally have a connection to a former resident on the street, which I won’t go into publicly; and one party’s father actually came from the street we moved into. Also in one of those “very New Zealand” coincidences, one dear friend who helped me move headed to Ōtaki that evening, and told a woman there that he had been helping us. It turns out that she was the sister of one half of the couple that previously owned our new home. These seem to be very “harmonious” events that appeal to my heritage, the sort of signs that to others might signal that “it’s all meant to be” if you were seeking something beyond the rational.
   In one year, in a street of 14 homes, four properties have changed hands; if you count the place on the corner of the street (which technically isn’t part of it), it’s five properties. If anyone were to write its history (not that anyone would), 2018–19 was the period of a sea change in terms of the people there.
   We’re still living among boxes, and there are still two storage units’ worth of stuff that we need to empty out, but we’ll just have to take things one step at a time. We filled a skip full of old stuff, and probably could have filled a second, once you added the miscellaneous trips our friends and I made to the tip. But on this end there are still a few things that need to go.
   For the last two years, the Mary Potter Hospice has been the principal beneficiary of the nicer items, which included new things that my parents and grandmother acquired but never used.
   One remarkable thing is how well the old furniture fits with the new place, and, interestingly, how comparatively poorly it fitted with the old. It’s as though my family bought for this house. When you look back over four decades, you get a sense of how things do intersect and come together, if you’re lucky, and we certainly regard ourselves as very lucky indeed. It makes me happy that things have worked out on many fronts, save for my Dad’s Alzheimer’s disease. Perhaps for him, too, there is a silver lining: we have wound up closer to him, so a drive north only takes 16 minutes (on a good day) rather than close to an hour.
   Yesterday, we visited the old street to collect the last bits and pieces out of the garage, and said hi to one of our former neighbours. We’ll visit others we didn’t have a chance to farewell, since the move out took longer than planned, and we had to dash off to get to the new place that day. That neighbour had been there for 60 years, and had seen everything from one couple having an argument where the woman chased the man with a shotgun round the grounds of Rongotai College, to the residents that had come and gone over the years. Interestingly, she didn’t remember a case of arson (to an old Humber car) in the 1980s, to which the fire brigade was called; but other tales remained as clear as day.
   I won’t go into the nitty-gritty as there are many tales to tell, and Kiwi motorway behaviour is pitiful in so many cases as we drive up north. And for privacy reasons, I won’t blog too much just yet about how we’re finding the new place, as we’re still adjusting to it ourselves. I will say the former owners were meticulous, filling up and painting over walls where things were once mounted (unless they used those 3M strips), and we are ever so grateful to them.

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The intelligence gap tells you when to block on social media

06.05.2019

That didn’t take long. I’ve been on NewTumbl 15 days and already a troll’s been by (the above is in reverse chronological order). I guess this is the internet in the late 2010s: people don’t believe in exchanging views, and that trolling is the new normal. You see it all the time on Twitter and Facebook, though it surprised me to see it happen so quickly on NewTumbl.
   Usually, it takes a lot longer for the unthinking to join a platform. Online, where opinions count and your bank balance doesn’t, we are looking at an intelligence gap. This was predicted long ago; by whom I don’t recall, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it came up in the late Norman Macrae’s writings many years ago.
   It took a while for spammers to ruin email for me. I was on email for years before I received my first spam. Twitter and Facebook were pretty nice places to be 12 years ago. Even there, it took a while to descend.
   You can blame certain politicians if you like, but the fact is we would have got there on our own, because most of us have seen the quality of debate declining on social media. Mansplaining, whitesplaining, trolling, abuse, the list goes on. The intelligence gap means that there are those incapable of having a reasoned argument without resorting to one of the above methods.
   The disappointment I feel about one NewTumbl user is simply the speed at which it’s happened, since their comment was pretty tame. Tumblr, for all its faults, actually never got political in the 12 years I was there. If you didn’t like a political view, it was usually too much trouble to comment, so you did what you might do in real life if you overheard a political comment you disagreed with: you moved on.
   Many NewTumbl users are ex-Tumblr, so it’s disappointing that one person decided not to carry forth the old platform’s culture, and infected the new place.
   So what do you do at a platform which is your unwinding social medium? You block.
   Normally I wouldn’t block. My Dad’s uncanny ability to call US presidential elections was down to, at least for 2016, his reading of the comments on their political blogs. The more views he read, the better an idea he had of which way the wind was blowing. On Twitter I block only a very few people; certainly a differing political opinion is not a reason to do it. In fact, I used to live by the mantra of ‘They who lose an argument block first’ but lately I’m revising my opinion.
   Some people are just lost causes. An analysis of the intelligence gap tells you that they’re too far along the path to hell that no amount of reasoning can help them. If others can’t resort to a civil disagreement from the outset, then they might be lost causes, too. Their opinion is actually not worth hearing.
   But the most important thing is your time. It is precious. Is engaging with a troll or a racist or a nutjob really something you wish to do?
   I realize some might think that blocking is “letting them win” or that they “get off on it”. I suppose even trolls have their fans. We congregate to those on the intelligence ladder who are closest to us. This has the inherent risk of us not hearing viewpoints we mightn’t like.
   But does it? If you don’t block based on opposing political views, and you don’t block because someone is either richer or poorer than you are, then what are you really missing? (And I doubt anyone blocks based on gender or sexuality.) Surely that still gives you a sense of where the world is, and allow you to get opposing viewpoints so you can refine your own thinking.
   And you can always block differently for each platform. Do it more in online places where you want to relax. Do it less in places where you want to engage and debate.
   Today, I did my first NewTumbl block. Our wee troll should be delighted.

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