Thoughts on Man in the High Castle

One of the upsides to the way that many shows are released these days is that you are able to consume an entire season/series of a show without having to wait for a new episode to be released every week. One of the downsides to this method is that it is as lot easier to not pick up a show after you have consumed it. For me, this has happened with a few shows.

  • Lilyhammer – stopped after season 1
  • Newsroom – stopped after season 2.
  • The Walking Dead – stopped after season 5.
  • Fear the Walking Dead – stopped after season 1.
  • House of Cards – stopped after season 3, episode 10.
  • Game of Thrones – stopped after season 3.
  • Orange is the New Black – stopped after episode 3.
  • House
  • Grey’s Anatomy
  • Lost
  • Sopranos

Contrast the list above with the list of TV shows that I have seen in their entirety more than once:

  • West Wing
  • M*A*S*H
  • Life
  • Alcatraz
  • Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip
  • Planet Earth

There are likely more shows, but I cannot think of any more at the moment. Given the popularity of the shows above, you would think that I would finish them. However, this has not been the case. So it may be surprising to learn that I have completely finished Season 1 and Season 2 of Amazon’s Man in the High Castle. I have some thoughts and questions about the show.

NOTE: There will be spoilers. Consider yourself warned.

The Background

The series is based on the novel Man in the High Castle by Phillip K. Dick.

Man in the High Castle is an alternate reality story. One that is based on the United States losing World War II. The country was divided up between Germany in the East, with the “Greater Reich” and Japan in the West with the “Pacific States”. There is a neutral zone that stretches between the two regions. This is where a portion of the story takes place, in particular Canon City.

No, Seriously, beyond this is spoiler territory. This is your last chance to turn back

Frank Frink

The story arc of Frank is an interesting one. In the first episode, he insists on bringing Juliana to the Police Station to turn in the film that Trudy had given her, and that she needs to tell them that she’s a loyal citizen. However, by the end of the second season Frank is right in the thick of the resistance, planning and offering to go cause major destruction to the Pacific States headquarters.

Trudy

One of the plots throughout the series is how Juliana is carrying forth what her half-sister Trudy started. Early in the series, Trudy is killed by the Japanese for trying to evade the Kempeitai and for trafficking the films. The last shocker of Season 2 is that Trudy is not actually dead. This bombshell leads to so many questions.

  1. When Juliana’s Mom says that Trudy is not dead, because she can feel that she is not. Was she right?
  2. From the ending of Season 2, it is presume that she is correct that Trudy is not dead.

  3. Did Juliana actually see Trudy in the market?
  4. Again, from the end of the Second Season, it may be that she actually did see Trudy in the market.

Joe Blake

One of the primary characters is Joe Blake. Joe is also one of the first characters introduced. The character of Joe Blake is an interesting one. Joe’s allegiances vary throughout the show. At first he is working for Obergruppenführer John Smith. His first assignment was to bring a shipment of coffee makers to the neutral zone, from New York City. During this long haul, Joe get suspicious and begins looking at the truck and realizes that something does not seem right. So, right from the start, Joe questions his loyalty.

In Episode One, Joe states “I want my country back”, when he getting the job from Mr. Warren, and insists he is not a spy. However, as the series progresses, it turns out that he is indeed working for the Greater Reich. He is a spy for the Greater Reich. It is not entirely clear where his actually allegiances lies.

A fact that comes in Season 2, is that Joe is actually leibensborn, or part of a German program to create a superior race of germans.

The Films

The biggest thread through the series is the films. These films, as one can surmise, show a different world. Some of these films are ones that depict what actually occurred in World War II. Within the Pacific States of America and the Greater Reich, owing a film is considered treasonous and punishable by instant death, as Frank tries to tell Juliana in episode one.

The entire story behind the films is not fully flushed out. The theory is that the Man in the High Castle is the one manufacturing these films, but very little is know about the Man in the High Castle.

The Man in the High Castle indicated that all of the films end up with San Francisco being annihilated by a bomb, except for the one that Julianna gave to Joe Blake, that was subsequently given to Adolf Hitler. It can be presumed that this is the most important film of them all since it may show the only way to not have the entire world destroyed.

Obviously Hitler wants the films destroyed, as is stated in episode one. However, obviously there is a huge cache of them as discovered by Obergruppenfuhrer Smith at the end of Season 2.

The Trade Minister

One of the main Japanese characters is Trade Minister Nobusuke Tagomi. One of the ways that the Japanese divine answers to things, and anticipate what will occur, is through a 5,000 year old book, called the “Oracle”.

You may not understand this. I live by a 5,000 year old book. I ask it questions as if it were alive. It is alive. It tells me you have a purpose. It says superior person in an inferior position, accepting a task graciously brings good fortune to all.

One aspect to Tagomi’s story is that he goes back to the house that he and his deceased wife owned, or would have owned that part is unclear. When he returns his wife is on her way out, and he finds that she has filed for divorce; or one presumes that. As I do not read Japanese I cannot say for sure.

At this point, Tagomi’s story takes us into an alternate reality. Tagomi’s alternate history takes place in the timeline where the United States wins the War. During these sequences he sees his son. In this version, his son marries Juliana, and they have a child. It is presumed that in this timeline that there is a strain within his family. He is still on decent speaking terms with his son, and Juliana, but less so with his wife. With this timeline, I am presuming that he is an alcoholic because his son mentions his father’s “benders”. It is presumed that in this alternate timeline, Tagomi is an alcoholic.

Upon the second viewing, when Tagomi is repairing the broken cup, it symbolizes his attempt to repair his relationship with his family; at least in the alternate timeline. It may seem like a small gesture, but Nori does put it in the baby’s room and allow Tagomi to enter the room and hold his grandchild, so it is a powerful gesture. This, I believe, allows Tagomi to do what comes next.

In this timeline, Juliana is having a get together at Tagomi’s house where they are creating “Ban the Bomb” signs to protest the Nuclear bomb. During this time, she shows a video of a Hydrogen Bomb test that was conducted on the Pacific Atoll. After showing this film, Tagomi tells his wife: “There is something that I must do.” Her reply, “Safe Journey.” Right after this, Tagomi asks Juliana for the film. The following dialog takes place amongst some Cherry Blossoms.

Juliana: “Why do you want this?”
Tagomi: “Proof, that something like this should never happen again.”
Juliana: “I don’t understand.”
Tagomi: “You have all made me happy. Happier than nI have been in a very long time. There are somethings that are more important than happiness. I have duties elsewhere tat I can no longer neglect.”
Juliana: “Are you leaving?”
Tagomi: “We will see each other again. Of that, I am sure.”
Juliana: “Ok, don’t go, I’ll be right back.”

Here is where Juliana begins to leave, she pauses, and when she turns around Tagomi is gone. In the next scene we see Tagomi back at his desk. This is the location where my questions begin.

  1. Was that whole sub-plot just wishful thinking on Tagomi’s part?
  2. We can presume that he thinks of Juliana as a daughter figure, first by providing her a job when she refuses to “perform special tasks” for the general, but through this sub-plot. In particular, when Tagomi tells his son that he is proud to call her his daughter.

  3. Did Tagomi actually travel to the alternative timeline?
  4. It is easy for one to infer that this may be the case, since we see Tagomi back at his desk with the film in hand. Maybe I missed it, but I do not recall him getting this by any other means. At least not that film.

    I have some theories about it all.

The Smiths

Of the entire Smith family, the one character that we are exposed to most is Obergruppenführer John Smith. The Smiths are based in New York City. With the Reich taking over the Eastern United States, it appears that John Smith is the most powerful person in the Reich

The plot with Thomas, which includes Obergruppenfuhrer John Smith, is an intriguing one. In Episode 6 of Season 1, Thomas reveals that he wants to make his country proud, and that there are many places that he would like to go. The statement of wanting to make his country proud. In his eyes, this is exactly what he does at the end of Season 2 in one of the last scenes of the season. In this scene Thomas turns himself into the Greater Reich Hospital because he is a “degenerate” due to his neurological condition.

It should be no surprise that Smith would take the doctor out of the equation, given that there are only three people who actually know of Thomas’ condition. The doctor, Smith, and his wife Helen. The means of which he kills the doctor was one that some could predict. It does show two different sides to Smith. The first being a father that would do anything for his family. Yet, Smith is willing to do what it takes to protect the Reich, and has no problem using people for his own personal reasons, like Joe Blake.

In order to save Thomas, or so they think, John decides to make a ruse and had a letter sent to Thomas indicating that he was picked to go on an expedition. At first Helen is reluctant, since she knows about his condition. She confronts John, at work, and John informs Helen of the entire plan. Ultimately, she decides it is for the best and informs Thomas that he will be going to South America.

Thomas: So you’re letting me go?
Helen: We’re letting you go.

This double meaning has so many implications for the Smiths, and Helen in particular. The way that Helen states it, most would pick up on; but Thomas, both being excited, and only a teenager, does not pick up on the subtly and double-meaning of the sentence.

Even though John Smith is a loyal Senior Officer for the Reich, he disobeys a direct order by acting Chancellor Heusmann and leaves New York to unveil a conspiracy that killed the Crown Prince of Japan a well as Adolf Hitler. Also, he hides all evidence of Thomas’ illness. This includes killing Dr. Adler, as well as confiscating the tapes that implicate that his son has a defect.

It is clear that when John is at the Reich Headquarter in Berlin, and is being praised within the volkshalle for his heroism in saving the Reich, that he is quite uncomfortable. Short of Himmler, John is probably the second most powerful person in the Reich, after Heusmann and his co-conspirtors are removed. This is likely due to his betrayal with his son and hiding his defect.

The Bombing

One of the main plot points is that there is a resistance that is trying to actively work against the Japanese in the Pacific States of America. The bombing happened late in Season 2, and was intended to cause confusion. One question I have is whether Sara and Frank made it out, just like the Inspector Kido managed to. My gut is no, but it would not be surprising if they did, given the unveiling at the end of Season 2. More on this a little later.

Theories

This is my theory on the whole story; thus far anyway. It involves the ability for certain individuals; Those who study the 5000 year old book, and follow what it says, have the ability to enter into, and bring items back with them, from the alternate reality. This theory fits quite well with how the Reich was obsessed with the occult. This would also mean that the Man in the High Castle follows what the 5,000 year old book says as well; hence how he is able to bring Trudy back from the dead. This is similar to how Tagomi can bring the film back with him when he leaves the alternate 1962.

The ability for certain individuals to travel between the timelines is why Hitler wants the films. Given that there are so few individuals who can do this traveling, it is imperative that Hitler gets the films.

This is reaffirmed when Tagomi is talking to Kotomichi, and realizes that Kotomichi is not of the 1962 that exists within the story, but from the alternate 1962. Kotomichi has burns from the bomb dropped on Hiroshima or Nagasaki.

Furthermore, It is possible that Abendsen is able to travel between the two worlds, at will. This is how he is able to get the films, destroy them whenever he wants, and yet can always end up having more films, even after they are burned.

The films complicate any rational idea behind the storyline. The best theory that I have is that there are multiple simultaneous timelines. The evidence for this is that how the Trade Minister obtains the film with the bomb testing on the atoll. In particular, since he disappeared when Juliana turned around, after giving him the film.

This is further evidenced by the fact that the Trade Minister has the visions of his deceased wife as well as his son. We know that his wife is deceased since Juliana brought it up during one of her meetings with Tagomi.

The idea of being able to bring the films back, may also extend to being able to bring individuals between the two timelines as well. This may be how Abendsen was able to bring show Juliana that Trudy was not in-fact dead. This is how Juliana’s mother felt that Trudy was not dead and why Juliana saw Trudy in the market; because while the “true” 1962 Trudy was indeed dead, the alternate timeline Trudy was brought back.

Season 3 Plot Ideas

I do not think that both Frank and Sara are dead, even though they appear to be so. It is possible that one of them was killed in the blast. If I had to put money on it, it would be that Sarah is dead. However, a more unforeseen option would be to have Sara survive and Frank not.

If Frank is indeed dead, it would not be surprising if Ed and Juliana ended up getting together. This theory is based upon Season 2, Episode 9, where there is the flashback to when Ed first meets Juliana. It is clear that she is flirting, at least to some extent, with Ed while Frank is off getting the glasses.

I think in Season 3, Juliana will learn that she also has the power to travel between the timelines, or at least the existence of the ability to travel between the timelines.

Other Thoughts

  • I love the little touches that show the alternate reality, like “Ranger Reich” instead of Ranger Rick. Along this, the signs like “U-Bahn” for Subway, while within the Greater Reich.
  • While Stephen Root (Milton from Office Space) does a really good job as the Man in the High Castle. If he were still alive I think Phillip Seymour Hoffman would have made an even better Man in the High Castle.
  • Given that the year is 1962, the Concorde is still flying and super fast travel is still attainable. Having the capability of fast travel like that would be nice to have, even today, but only if it were financially practical for people.
  • I do like the quasi refrigerator that the Smiths have. I honestly would not mind having one similar myself.
  • Can I have a few of the cars that are shown in the show?

Final Thoughts

It is not often that I end up watching an entire series of a show. I have now watched the entire series twice and enjoyed it even more the second time around. You may miss things the first time you watch it, but that is typically how things happen when you watch any sort of media.

There are a breadth of characters, both primary characters and secondary characters. It is easy to get lost within the story, which is why it is best to really pay attention to everything. It is too bad that Season 3 will not premiere until the end of 2017. It would be nice to have it sooner, but I like the quality thus far.

If you enjoy alternative-reality stories, then Man in the High Castle would be right up your alley. It may start off slow, but it will be well worth seeing it in the end.

Vizio Fined by Federal Trade Commission

I normally do not report on technology stories outside of Apple, but the recent story of Vizio being fined by the Federal Trace Commission (FTC) is one that I determined warranted some coverage.

Backstory

The FTC has fined Vizio $2.2 Million for their behaviors. The backstory is that in 2014 Vizio began tracking what viewers were watching. This was done by capturing a set of pixels on the screen, sending this information, along with other information, to their servers. Through the use of machine learning, Vizio was able to match those pixels to a vast catalog of shows. This gathering occurred on a second-by-second basis. The information gathered was then aggregated and sold to third-party advertisers. This information that was obtained included demographics, location, and viewing habits. If it was merely a mechanism for gathering what was watched, it may not be considered too bad, but it was more. Despite how bad this was, it was not just TVs that were made after 2014, but that Vizio went back and proactively enabled this on TVs as far back as 2011. The primary complaint was that Vizio did not get a viewer’s consent before performing this action.

Problems with this

The biggest issue that I have with this, besides the fact that this was being done without the knowledge of users, is that Vizio has been the only one who has been caught doing this. Does this mean that they are the only company that is performing in this behavior? I highly doubt it. It is very likely that many other manufacturers are also performing this action.

Bandwidth Usage

One aspect that is not always readily recognized in today’s technology-laden world is the amount of bandwidth being used. While the information may have been sent in batches, it still uses some bandwidth of every user. Depending on how much the TV was used, this could easily add up. Take this with consideration that many users now fall into data caps and this uses up that bandwidth.

Mitigations that can be done now

There are a few ways to not have this occur. The first is disconnect the TV from your network. If the TV is connected via a physical ethernet cable (which is unlikely for most users), you can simply unplug it. However, if it is connected via Wireless, you will need to disconnect it from the Wireless, and if possible, set the TV to completely “forget” the network, so it cannot reconnect on its own.

The downside to do this though, is that since it is a “Smart TV”, if you use any of the built-in services, like Netflix, you may not be able to use them. This could likely include not being able to watch Netflix in 4K.

Streaming Boxes

Another possible solution is to use an external 3rd party box, like Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Amazon Fire TV Stick, or even an Roku, in conjunction with disconnecting the TV from the network. While some of these devices may also be tracking what you watch, it is more likely that it is for their own purposes and not to sell to third-parties. However, you will want to read the agreements before saying anything definitive.

Long-term Fixes

There is no simple fix that can be made for this. The fix has to come either through governmental regulation or through industry regulations. The other option, which is not likely, is for people to tell the industry with their dollar. This is likely due to the limited availability for “dumb” TVs on the market. There is a small contingent of people who would be willing to pay a bit more for a TV that did not have any “smart” capabilities. I know I would be one of those people.

Final Thoughts

The solution for this problem is not an easy one to determine. It may take some pushback from consumers to demand that privacy regulations be created so that the consumer is in charge of how their information is used. This must come with regulation. The fine of Vizio is designed to let all manufacturers know that they must now get explicit, not implicit, permission from users before gathering the information. The damage, from the existing gathering and selling of information, is already done. Being required to get permissions from users will undoubtedly ultimately hurt the bottom line of the television manufacturers, since fewer users will agree to the collection, thus, they will not be able to sell as much information to advertisers.

It would behove the government to begin lobbying even larger fines for any company that performs in the same manner as Vizio. If the government is truly intent on curbing this type of abuse, as well as others, making it hurt financially may be an effective way of doing just that.

Washington Post

Thoughts on 2016

I have been trying to determine how to sum up 2016. I think the most accurate term would be “shit show”. Regardless of how you feel as though 2016 turned out, it was undeniably a surprising year. There were many unexpected aspects to 2016. The most surprising, to many, was the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States; followed closely by the exiting of Britain from the European Union, often called “Brexit” for short.

Whether it be from being able to sail across and ocean, to flying across the same ocean, or even taking a train across a vast country, there is one thing that the march of progress has done, it has made the world a smaller place. This is even more abundantly true with the rise of the internet, and most particularly social media sites. Social media is a double-edged sword. This has occurred by allowing us to communicate with those anywhere on the planet. This allows us to be exposed to ideas and people would never have another instance to engage in. One of the ways that people learn about news that they may not normally hear, is through Social Media.

There have been many people who will say “Good Riddance to 2016”. Even though they are consciously aware of the fact that a year cannot cause problems, they do look towards something as a scape goat. Sometimes this is due to the death of celebrities and those known by a significant number of people around the world.

As with any year, a plethora of household names have passed away during 2016. Some of these include Alan Rickman, Alan Thicke, Anton Scalia, Anton Yelchin, Arnold Palmer, Carrie Fisher, David Bowie, Debbie Reynolds, Elie Wiesel, Fidel Castro, Florence Henderson, Gary Shandling, Gene Wilder, George Michael, Harper Lee, Janet Reno, John Glenn, Kenny Baker, Leonard Cohen, Merle Haggard, Muhammed Ali, Nancy Reagan, Pat Conroy, Prince, Umberto Eco, William Christopher and many many more; in fact too many to list. This includes those that are not as well known, but none-the-less have impacted people across the world.

Technology’s ability to expose people to more than they could have in the past, does mean that more people have the capability of becoming more well known. This social ability of Social Media also means that collectively we can grieve for those that have died. Even with the coming together that Social Media allows, it can also cause some to be very derisive. Compounding this downside to is that some individuals do not always recognize that there are actual human beings on the other side of the wire. This means that when people interact with others, they say and do things that they would not say or do if they were in physical proximity of others.

This cognitive dissidence has lead to some of the most contentious stories of the year. Besides the aforementioned election of Donald Trump as the 46th President of the United States and the British exit of the European Union, there have been many other stories that have caused some rancor. The biggest has been the issues with race between minorities and various Police Departments. These stories do not just minorities being shot by Police, although a majority of them are just this type of story. Some of the cities that have had these stories are Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota.

One of the biggest stories has been the leaking of emails between some Democratic National Committee members. While the emails themselves were mostly innocuous, the leak itself was, and still is, the more worrisome part. It has been determined that Russia is behind the hack. Whilst the hack itself is definitely problematic, the influence of the hack on the United States election is the bigger of the issues.

As I write this, we are entering the waning hours of 2016. With 2017, we are entering a contentious time with nuclear powers threatening each other. A defector from North Korea, now in South Korea, has indicated that North Korea may have full nuclear capabilities by the end of 2017. With the Russian hacking of the United States Election, and the unknown ties between Russia’s Vladimir Putin and President Elect Donald Trump, we are entering a very unstable time. The progress that has been made within the United States is possibly in peril due to the incoming Congress of the United States and the aims of President Elect Trump.

Despite how bad 2016 has been, it is my hope that 2017 will be better; not just for race relations, but for everything that is happening throughout the world. We, as humans, are the only ones who are capable of being kinder to one another, and we are the only ones who are able to come together and come to some consensus and compromise and learn to live with each other. Here is to hoping that 2017 is better than we all expect and some of the regression that has been experienced in 2016 is reversed and we all get back into making progress.

The Star Wars Generation

I typically despise reddit, it exemplifies the scum that is pervasive on the Internet. Even so, the following was written by a Reddit user “Zurlap”. It is not my original thoughts, but it does have some truth to it. This is via @joelhousman.

We’re “Star Wars Generation”. Born between 1977 and 1983, neither the cynical GenX nor the narcissist Millennials, we’re a unique generation that grew up learning all the old-world skills like writing letters and mailing cheques, but never had a chance to actually use those skills in the real world as the internet exploded while we were in high school and college. Out of the generations, we’re the most comfortable with technology because we grew up along side the archaic forms and learned how they actually worked. We used DOS and played with DIP switches on our motherboards and found IRQ ports for our soundcards. GenX doesn’t know what the hell a sound card is, and Millennials grew up with plug&play. We remember life before cell phones, movies before CGI, music before autotune. We went to school before it became a paranoid prison after Columbine, and the change shocked us as we experienced in happening before our very eyes.

We got jobs during that quiet period of prosperity between the dot com bust and the housing crash, and consider ourselves lucky that we’re not stuck like Millennials are. Millennials hate us because we sucked up the good jobs right before the economy crashed for good. We remember Han being the only one who shot. We’re the ones who look back at the 90’s fondly and wish things could go back to being so simple. 9/11 was the barrier between our adolescence and adulthood. We don’t understand why the world turned so ridiculous just as we crossed that threshold, and are lost in uncertainty, because we remember something better, but never got to experience it.

We’re the last generation that are proud to own our cars, and will take a while to accept self-driving cars. We’re the last ones living the suburban home ownership dream, and the last generation that moved out of our parents houses when we were still in school and could afford it. We use our smartphones all the time and love them to death, but it still creeps us out when we see little kids using them; we think “Kids shouldn’t have cellphones in school!”. We will never understand the point of watching a video on youtube of someone playing a video game; we’d rather play it ourselves. We’re the last ones who will join social clubs organized outside of Facebook. We’re the last generation that can get away with saying “Oh I don’t have Facebook, I don’t need it”. Jurassic Park gave us nightmares but we still went to see it in the theatres 10 times because it was literally the most awesome thing to ever happen to us as kids. We pretend we were into grunge music before it exploded, but we weren’t. It was already dying when we discovered it. We wish we could have seen Nirvana in concert, and will probably tell our grandkids that we did. Good music stopped being made when The Smashing Pumpkins and Soundgarden broke up and Nickelback exploded on the scene. We played our parents LP collections. We recorded our favorite songs off the radio. We owned the first discmen. MP3 players represent the pinnacle of evolution in music technology, and we don’t like streaming. We like being able to pick what songs we listen to next instead of having a computer do it for us.

The transition from VHS to DVD literally changed our lives, but couldn’t care less about Bluray. To us, the transition from DVD to BR just isn’t anywhere near as groundbreaking as it was from VHS to DVD. Michael Bay ruined action movies forever. We don’t know what the hell a pokeyman is, and don’t care.

Princess Leia Organa will forever define the epitome of sexy to us, Luke Skywalker and Han Solo the greatest of heroes. The Ewoks aren’t that bad. Wickett? We love the little guy. Darth Vader and Boba Fett are BAD. ASS. We are the Star Wars generation.

Streaming Companies: How to Improve the Customer Experience

It is the season to watch halloween-based or scary movies. Now I have my list of halloween/scary movie that I watch every year. The list is at the end of this article. Weirdly, I had watched all of the movies that I normally see so I went looking for more.

I subscribe to Netflix and have an Amazon Prime account. While looking for movies it occurred to me that neither of these two services has a list of halloween/scary movies. Sure, they both have the capability to search based on genre, as well as suggestions for similar titles, but they do not have a list of available halloween-based movies. The closest that either service comes, is when Netflix suggests “Titles related to”. This at least shows similar movies.

I find it quite strange that neither of these services provides this functionality. I know it would take some on-going man power to accomplish, but in the end it would provide some good will with their customers.

It may be too late to do a list for Halloween movies, but they could easily do ones for Thanksgiving and definitely Christmas.

 

Halloween/Scary Movies
Title Amazon Apple
28 Days Later Amazon Apple
28 Weeks Later Amazon Apple
Attack the Block Amazon Apple
Battle: Los Angeles Amazon Apple
Cloverfield Amazon Apple
Cockney’s VS. Zombies Amazon Apple
Contagion Amazon Apple
The Crazies Amazon Apple
Dawn of the Dead Amazon Apple
The Happening Amazon Apple
Hocus Pocus Amazon Apple
Hot Fuzz Amazon Apple
It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown Amazon Apple
Knowing Amazon Apple
Outbreak Amazon Apple
Scary Movie Amazon Apple
Scary Movie 2 Amazon Apple
Scary Movie 3 Amazon Apple
Scream Amazon Apple
Scream 2 Amazon Apple
Scream 3 Amazon Apple
Scream 4 Amazon Apple
Shaun of the Dead Amazon Apple
Super 8 Amazon Apple
The Village Amazon Apple
World War Z Amazon Apple
Zombeavers (Just added this year, Not for kids) Amazon Apple
Zombieland Amazon Apple

Missing aspect to fully Autonomous Cars

One of the improvements that many people have been thinking about is autonomous cars. We know that Google is working on autonomous cars. it has been speculated that Apple is also working on autonomous cars.

Earlier this week I was listening to episode 171 of the 99 Percent Invisible podcast titled “Johnnycab (Automation Paradox, pt. 2)“.In that episode they discuss how within 10 to 20 years. As the episode title suggests, they indicate that eventually we will not be manually driving cars and everything will be automated.

One of the ways that this will occur is through small incremental changes. While it is entirely possible that this will occur, I do not think as though this will occur. There are many reasons as to why. This includes people who will prefer to be in full control of their cars. Along with this, I think that one aspect that people overlook. That aspect is how often people buy new cars.

People are very willing to replace their personal technology, like cell phones, computers, and tablets, every two to three years. When they do replace these items, typically these items are not significantly different from the item they are replacing. With phones, computers and tablets, these are generally the same shape and size. The only different aspects may be the speed of the device, storage, as well as some of the capabilities. Users generally understand how these newer devices operate, without much apprehension.

Conversely, one of the things that people do not replace often is their cars. Usually people hold onto cars for many year longer than their personal electronics. According to Kelly Blue Book[footnote]Average length of U.S. vehicle ownership hit an all-time high[/footnote], the average length of ownership of a car is about 57 months, or four year and nine months. Similarly, the average length of ownership of a truck is 129.6 months, or 10.8 years.

When people do buy new vehicles, these are often significant jumps in terms functionality. For instance, in my car, from 2006, there is no bluetooth connectivity, no auxiliary jack, no navigation system, or even remote assistance. Once I buy a new a car, it is very likely that any future car I purchase will have these items. Honestly, all my next car needs is an auxiliary jack and a small spot for a clock.

Now imagine going from a Model-T to a fully loaded 2015 car. One that includes all of the latest technology. For some, this is exactly what the transition from a car that you drive yourself to a fully autonomous car.

It is my opinion that people will eventually warm up to the idea of fully autonomous cars. However, I do think as though it will take longer than 10 to 20 years that was postulated. I think it will likely be closer to 50 years before this occurs. It will likely take the replacement of an entire generation in order to have fully autonomous

While we never truly know what the future holds, it is not likely that everybody will be willing to have fully autonomous cars. There are many reasons. As mentioned above, one of them is that some people will always prefer driving, but even this, as life has always shown, the old way of doing things will always eventually go away. The second is that some will think that autonomous cars should never exist and eschew them entirely.

There are many other aspects that need to be determined before autonomous cars become a reality. One of these aspects is who is liable if an autonomous car gets into an accident and severely injures someone. If autonomous cars are to be a thing, all of these aspects will be figured out, most likely by lawyers.

I do have one last thought, will they the industry call autonomous cars, Autos Squared or Square Autos, or maybe even abbreviate it as Autos2?

Changing Analytics

Since the announcement of content blockers in iOS 9, many have speculated what impact it would have on ads on the web as well as the tracking of users that has been present on the web for the last decade and a half.

Most content blocker on iOS will block a significant portion of third-party content. This could be a javascript library like jQuery, web fonts, social sharing plugins, or even images. Third-party content is any content that is not natively hosted by the site that a user is visiting.

One of the primary functions for loading third-party content are analytic, and tracking, sites. These analytics engines, while performing analytics for the site, also gather information about the users. The information gathered by these analytics firms include things that users would expect, like the HTTP request, the user’s IP Address, and web browser. However, what analytic firms also collect include screen resolution and many other items. This is done via a tracking cookie.

The issue with this setup is that if many sites use the same centrally-hosted analytics engine, that analytics site can correlate, through the tracking cookie, all of the information about that individual and create a full picture of the user. This could be more than just which sites are visited, but what links are clicked on, which ads have been seen and any number of other measurements. Many of these analytics site are ones that provide free services. When this occurs, the visitors of the sites that have opted to use the analytics engine become the product.

One of the problems on the web is that if people have resigned themselves that ads are inevitable, they do so in hopes of being served relevant ads. Yet, in order to get the relevant ads users must be tracked. The problem, for many, is not that users are being tracked but the fact that information that is tracked is being sold to advertisers. An additional problem is that it only takes a small amount of information to truly be able to uniquely identify someone. If it were only the websites doing the tracking, many individuals would not have a problem with this arrangement.

The reason that most would not have a problem with this arrangement is that when you visit a website, and do not pay for the content on that website, it is understandable that a website would want to know who is visiting the site, as well as keeping some basic information about the individuals who visit the site.

One of the things that I have been pondering, particularly since the iOS 9 content blocker fiasco is what alternatives to Google Analytics there are. I did some searching, tried a couple of different free and open source packages, and ultimately I have decided on trying out Open Web Analytics.

Open Web Analytics will work as a standalone product or as a plugin for WordPress. With Open Analytics, none of the information leaves the site where the product is installed. It is not sent off to third-party aggregation sites where it will be analyzed. Since Sunday morning I have been running both Open Web Analytics and Google Analytics. I am running both in tandem to be able to to see how close the two are in relation to number of visitors, and individual page counts. It will likely not be long before I decide to turn off Google Analytics entirely.

There area a myriad of reasons behind this change. The first is that I cannot, in good conscience, allow readers of my site to be unwillingly forced to use Google Analytics and be subjected to unnecessary third-party tracking and aggregation. While yes, the content is free, it still does not feel right to have visitors be tracked in this manner.

The second is the speed of the site. With any third-party loading of content, inevitably the site is slowed, even if it is just milliseconds, it is slowness. I would like to have a responsive website, in both styling as well as load times. The best way to do this is to eliminate as much of the third-party items that load on a site.

It may be that I am an idealist, but I would like to think that more independent websites would choose to run their own analytics. I know it is not possible for all sites to do so, but it would be nice to see this change occur on those that can.

I would think that if enough sites opted out of using Google and other analytics aggregators, that maybe these companies would start realizing that users are not satisfied with the current state of tracking and change their practices. Particularly in Google’s case, if ad revenue starts to take a major hit due to content blockers, it may open their eyes a bit. Sadly, I am not optimistic that this will help in any meaningful way.

Web Advertising Issues

Back in December of 2013, I wrote on The Tech Scoop about a debacle I had with Google Adsense. To summarize the issue, a couple family members clicked on a few ads, and Google thought this was fraud and thus violated Google’s terms of service. So, they blocked my account.

After filling out their appeal form indicating what happened, and being completely truthful, Google decided that I did not do enough to “mitigate the issue” and permanently banned my account from the Google Adsense program. Being banned from Google Adsense has some other ramifications. One of those is that since that account was disabled, I cannot monetize any of my YouTube Videos. I only found out this latter fact yesterday when I was uploading a video and looked into possibly adding ads to them.

Similarly, with all of the talk about iOS content blockers and the state of advertising on the web, I have been thinking about the issues with web advertising. Besides the increase in the number of ads, ads that take over an entire page, and even interstitial ads, and the horrible tracking. There is another issue that I have been thinking about, and one that has not been mentioned in what I have read. That issue is the lack of alternatives to the big players Google Adsense.

There are a number of other companies that may be available, but these are usually invite only. For sites like mine that do not get a lot of traffic, there really are no other viable alternatives. I looked into Microsoft’s Advertising and applied, but they rejected my applications. There are some companies, like The Deck that do not use advertising to track users across the web.

Instead, they pay up-front for the number of impressions. One this is exhausted, that is it. They only thing they track is the number of impressions. They do not have any personally identifiable information about the users who view the sites on which the ads are shown.

There is a certain segment of the population that is completely against ads. The current wisdom is that approximately 15 percent of web users employ an ad or tracking blocker. However, I do think as though a vast majority of internet users are not opposed to ads, but are opposed to the insidious tracking that has occurred and continues to occur. I, like many, understand that advertising is a necessary fact of the Internet, and society in general.

One of the things that I have not seen is a real alternative to the existing advertising model. What I would like to see is a service that caters to smaller sites. One that does not track its users, and models itself on sites like The Deck, although maybe not necessarily technology focused.

If advertisers are willing to make meaningful changes, something will have to be done in order to allow users to trust advertising companies again. It will be a tough and long road to get advertising aggregators back in the good graces of web users.

Impacts of Social Media

One of the things that I do not get to do very often, is listen to a podcast live. Most of the time it is because they are recorded during the day so work interferes with listening live. There’s one podcast that I listen to every week, almost always after it is posted, is Accidental Tech Podcast. This week Marco was traveling so they recorded the podcast on Thursday evening, and for once I was able to listen live, because I did not have to get up early on Friday.

In the after show, Marco mentioned that he has been pulling back from Twitter, mostly due to the negative comments and how he cannot have a conversation with his friends, due to the public nature of Twitter. I know I could completely relate, I too have been pulling back from Twitter. I still post and reply, but it is not nearly as much as I have in the past. I went through a week of not posting, my thoughts about that are here.

This got me to thinking, what is the impact of social networking on society. Before we delve too deep into that topic specifically, let us pull back and look at the Internet as a whole.

The Internet provides a multitude of things, it provides an easy way to connect to people whom you never would have met otherwise, collaboration, the ability to find people whom you have lost touch previously, and the ability to access more information than one can consume in a multiple lifetimes. However, it also brings some downsides. These include anonymity, disassociation, and the ability to reenforce your own agenda. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but merely a selection. We are going to look at the impacts of social media, which means looking at the downsides.

Anonymity

The biggest thing that the Internet, and hence social media, bring is the ability to be anonymous. Anonymity is not all bad. Under certain political regimes, being able to be anonymous is a benefit. In certain cases, it protects you from being persecuted for thoughts as well as being a barrier for identification, as in a whistleblowing source, among other benefits. However, it also allows individuals to hide behind a false identity, just for the sake of hiding behind a false identity and to remain anonymous.

Disassociation

The way that we interact with the Internet and World Wide Web (yes, they are different), is through a screen. This interface while currently our primary means of interaction, also brings the downside of distancing ourselves, on a subconscious level, from those on the other end of screen. This disassociation can impact those on the receiving end of something you say. Now, this leads to the discussion of social media in particular.

The Discussion

During the discussion, John brought up the idea that, drive by trollers as we will call them, is akin to having somebody randomly walk by and say “You Suck” from the sidewalk while you are having a conversation on your front porch. I think this is an apt analogy to the way that some people act on the internet.

Do not get me wrong, nobody is perfect. Everybody has their good days and their bad days. I am sure we have all sent off a reply, or comment, to something somebody posted without taking a step back and thinking about how it might affect them. I know I have been on both sides of this situation. Despite this, there is a certain segment of the population whom will always attempt to find somebody who does not agree with their position and they will say something mean spirited, just because that person does not agree.

We all have positions, regardless of how these are formed (my positions are based upon fact, not beliefs), these are the positions that we hold. We are all allowed to disagree. However, saying something negative just to be negative is not constructive nor helpful to anybody.

The biggest aspect that negative commenters forget is that there is a human on the other side of the screen. This person feels just as much as you do. The best way to put it is through the chorus of the song Human by the Pretenders.

Well there’s blood in these veins
And I cry when in pain
I’m only human on the inside
And if looks can deceive
Make it hard to believe
I’m only human on the inside

As a note, I will be using Marco as an example during this, only because it was discussed during the after show. This could apply to anybody. I am not suggesting that Marco do any of this. It is up to him to decide how best to proceed and find what works best for him.

The fact that Marco is pulling back, due to the negative comments, and having it be more difficult to have a conversation with his friends on twitter, is a natural reaction. If someone, or some group, is acting in a way that causes you to not enjoy what you are doing, then you need to stop doing it. Either that, or find a way to come to peace with the issue. This is not fun at all, because the actions of somebody else are causing you to no longer enjoy something you previously enjoyed. One can only takes so much before they end up breaking. This reminds me of the chorus from another song. This one is by the artist Thompson Square. It is titled “Glass”.

We may shine, we may shatter,
We may be picking up the pieces here on after,
We are fragile, we are human,
We are shaped by the light we let through us,
We break fast, cause we are glass.

Possible Solutions

For this example, let us presume that Marco stops using twitter except to post tweets from his blog and updates to Overcast his podcast application. One of the ways that Marco could change would be to move to another discussion mechanism. This could be another social network, say app.net, forums, slack, a private blog or any other mechanism that would meet his needs.

There are some downsides to this. The first is that not everybody would join that medium. The second is that it would become yet another place for all of his friends to check that on top of the existing mechanisms.

Alternatively, he could just revert to using something like Instant messages, or SMS, but this has a downside to being a one-to-one relationship, and would be excluding most individuals due to this. A group solution like Group SMS would work, but that can quickly become intrusive and unwieldy.

Another solution could be to use a group Facebook chat. The downside to this is that it is Facebook and some people may not have a Facebook account and trusting Facebook can become a dicey and divisive answer.

I suggest this last possible solution only because it would sound like something Marco might do. That solution is to come up with his own app that creates a private Twitter that only those that he wants to invite, would be able to use.

Possible Solutions for Twitter

One of Marco’s arguments is that due to the public nature of Twitter, he cannot just have a conversation with his friends over Twitter. There may be a solution, but this would have to come from Twitter because of the nature of the solution. The solution is to have a new type of tweet. For lack of a better term, I will call it the “Following Only” tweet.

This type of tweet would only be visible to those whom the poster follows and nobody else. This type of tweet would not be re-tweetable and all replies would only be seen by those the original poster follows.

An one alternative there could be a different type of tweet, the “no-reply” tweet. This type of tweet would be one that does not allow replies, period. These could just be things that you want to post just to post.

A second alternative, could combine aspects of the previous two concepts. This could be called the “Only Following Reply”. The tweets themselves could be public, but only those that the poster is following could reply to the tweet. This would allow the tweet to be public, but would not invite the “drive by trollers” to comment.

Do not get me wrong, creating either of these types of tweet would be a technological headache, as well as a nightmare for the user interface. However, once created it could have immense positive impacts not just for the users, but for Twitter as a brand.

It could allow a new set of interactions and provide a new dimension to the Twitter service.

Only Solution

Sadly, you cannot change other humans. The only real solution for this, which is already in place, is to provide a mechanism for “Verification”. Twitter has the idea of a verified account. These accounts have more granular controls than standard twitter users. This, I think for somebody like Marco, John and Casey, would be beneficial, even if there was an up-front monetary cost for becoming verified.

If Twitter offered this service for everybody, I do not know if I would sign up for it, because I do not have the reach that the hosts of ATP do, but it would be something that I would consider signing up for.

Final Thoughts

If you have any social media account, it behoves you to think about the following: First, there is a real person behind that account. Second, you do not always know their circumstances nor how what you say will affect them. Three, if you are just going to post something to be mean or because you disagree and you are not being constructive, think twice about posting it. It will likely not be helpful and will only end up making you look bad. There is already enough animosity in the world. There is no need to create even more.

Post Script

I mentioned Marco in a couple of tweets, apologizing for something I said back in his Build and Analyze days. It’s not likely that he remembers it, but I know it was not nice to say, and it was said in haste. I would like to publicly apologize to him here. I know what I posted probably had no effect on his current feelings. Regardless, it was not appropriate to say at the time, and would not be now. Now, I can see that it was just Marco being Marco, but that does not make it right.

New Podcast Series: “Behind the App” on Inquisitive

Inquisitive Artwork

I’ve been listening to podcasts for almost a decade now. There have been very few podcasts that have lasted that long. Hence, I am in need of a new podcasts from time to time. Back in August of 2014, there was a new podcast network that came online, Relay.fm. Relay.fm was started by Myke Hurley (@imyke) and Stephen Hackett (512pixels.net). Once the network started I subscribed to almost everything that they released. One of those shows was Inquisitive. For episodes 1 through 26, it was an hour-long, interview-based show that spoke with developers about how they got started. Beginning with episode 27, the podcast has changed; and this is a good thing.

Episode 27 is the first episode in a series that looks at the the apps and items surrounding apps and the App Store. The first in the series covers the introduction of the iPhone and iPhone SDK [1. Software Development Kit] and some of the items leading up to said introductions. The style of the show is very reminiscent of another popular podcast Serial. Instead of covering a crime, this is covering apps. Which, for geeks, is an interesting topic. Probably a topic more interesting than a crime.

When I heard that the format of Inquisitive was changing, my initial thought was “Why not also change the name?” However, after listening to episode 27, I came to realize that the name Inquisitive is still very appropriate. The name still fits the show because Myke is still inquiring information from developers, yet the information is from a multitude of developers, that all centralize around one topic. While the current run of shows may be for history of Apps and the App Store, it is completely conceivable that future runs of the show revolve around a centralized question instead of a topic.

I like the direction that the show has taken. If you have any interest at all in the history of applications and the iOS App Store, this series should be a good one to listen to. You can subscribe via iTunes or search for Inquisitive in your podcast application of choice. While you are already in the store, do not forget to subscribe to my podcast Odd World News