Efforts to understand, improve, or do less harm to the world around me.


Thursday, October 27, 2011

Selling your conversations

Running an instant messaging service (such as AIM, Facebook chat, or Google Talk) isn't cheap.  Companies running these programs need to make money somehow, so knowing what people are exchanging and selling that to advertisers / marketing types is one way.

What can they sell?  How about every time someone mentions the latest action movie?  Advertisers can know if they've played too few or too many of a given commercial.  That might sound innocuous, but what about if you're arguing with your wife?  Wouldn't you like to see ads for divorce attorneys?  Customized search results sound like a great thing, but are only good for the companies that compile them.  It might seem like paranoia, but the more information search companies can get about an individual, the more targeted their searches and advertisements.  For Google and Facebook, that's most of their business.

Instant messaging service privacy reports don't paint a pretty picture and, as you might expect, Facebook is the worst.

Solutions?  Many online services host their own chat servers (known as XMPP Servers), but another option for Windows is using Pidgin with OTR installed or Adium for Mac (with OTR installed by default).  That way you can benefit from the fast, reliable commercial servers without giving up your privacy.

Yet another scam: "career change services"

They evidently exist and probably doing well in this economy. If a company calls you up with a generic name, is vague about what the company does, and wants to have a meeting with you immediately with a higher-up, you might want to be suspicious.

Fortunately Google Voice service offers a "block call" option.  Its your friend.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Myth of the Intuitive Interface

An outstanding article critiquing the format and systems behind Android and iOS menu systems.  It also provides a little background on the conventions and thinking behind interfaces over the last 20 years.  A great read.

Friday, October 21, 2011

I got the 2011 blues

Sort of a departure from my regular posts but don't really have anyone to express these ideas to.

There's a kind of post-modern state I'm in.  Somewhere that many have gone before between nothingness, embracing nothingness, and fearing the real evil of the world.  I'm almost afraid to express it as it gives a name to my fear.  But I read somewhere that the knowledge of a limitation is itself a step ahead of it.

This comes up a lot it seems.  Halloween is coming up for example and with it this kind of weird embrace of horror.  Its more than just roller coaster fear, its a kind of flirtation with real evil as if it were a sort of friend.  Of course, this is far away from actual life for the vast majority of people don't really fear for their lives at the hand of some demonic murder-spree type.  Even thought there is real evil in the world, the torture-porn and slasher movies somehow package in a palatable way.

The really jarring and uncontained horrors of our world are so remarkably hateful that we collectively sort of flinch.  We cut it off like a gangrene foot.  Child soldiers, real-actual-no-joke torture, proximity to almost any war (which is primarily composed of civilian casualties), child abuse, and sex and human traffic.  That's not what Halloween is about.  Halloween is about temporary fear about false monsters.  The fear associated with the "real world" is like a too-bright light you can't really look into.

People in communities that deal with "real world" fears almost seem congratulatory if you're conscious of them.  Like you're a member of a strange and burdensome club.  I don't know how they cope with it.  For some victims, its a day-to-day slow progression.  You just do it because there's not much else going on and depression -- for all its attractions -- is fundamentally dull.

Now its not all pain and horror (obviously) and there's no sense dwelling on the ugliness.  Yet we're almost traumatized by the helplessness of protecting or trying to save people who are far away or out of our reach.  Charities are nice, but the problem is not solved; we can't seem to cure murder and poverty the way we cured Polio.  So we invent false heros (pick most revenge-themed or superhero movies) to sate real needs, but don't actually do anything. 

The new century has added insult to the injury of the World Wars some I suppose by looking a great deal similar to the century before.  It looks so much like things are going to stay on course for nowhere.

My best response is this analysis is no cause for a lack of response.  To just take on all the world's cares and pains is either a profound act of godhood and some sort of Jesus response, but unlike Jesus, we can't take on all the sins and die.  As humans its just a form of inaction and yet another superhero fantasy.  Similarly, to do nothing and ignore the pain is exactly the sort of thing this article is trying to avoid.  As usual, nothing is not an option and everything is not an option.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Unhelpful Highschool Teacher

Ordinarily I don't think of memes as really valuable, but there are SO many in this series that I've seen in real life.  Upbeat, optimistic, and yet really terrible teachers must be a lot more common than I thought.

Thanks for crashing

Recent death of an Indy car driver makes me wonder if that's not something the organizers actively were hoping for.  Although its technically Nascar who has openly encouraged reckless driving, its entirely possible that Indy also felt that push.

Then I wonder if the joke isn't sort of on me: racing is going to be dangerous.  We can solve this whole dying problem if we just make everyone race at 30 mph or below, but who would watch that?  What's the point of high performance automobiles if they don't actually race?  Couldn't we surround the cars with impact-absorbing springs and big pockets of fire retardant?

What are reasonable safety precautions?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Republicans give more to charity than democrats?

So a 3 year old article by conservative thinker George Will caught my attention, suggesting that religious Republicans are more likely to give to charities.  The statistics are in dispute and I can't find any reputable media sources that have looked into this.

Assuming that conservatives give even just equal to liberals, it does challenge the criticism of conservatives who attack programs for the poor as simply bloodless and instead as genuinely seeking a non-government solution.