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They are military convicts, psychotics, stupid, losers – and box office champions and in the tradition of cinema. Decades after they broke up on screen, The Twelve Damned remains an unremovable milestone in the history of action films. Lee Marvin plays a tough and rude major who volunteers – army-like – to command a squad of misfits on a suicide mission against the Nazis.

Thoughts

  • 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

  • Defining Ourselves

    This post is an off-shoot by my post “How I Use Twitter”. Originally I was going to publish it was one post, but after looking at the length of each, I decided to separate them out. Either way, both of these stem from Episode 3 of Analog(ue) on Relay.fm where Casey and Myke discussed Identify. There was one section in particular that got me to thinking about it, because I can completely relate.

    During the conversation Casey stated:

    “I think of myself…and as a hard worker, and decent at my job. I scratch fewer itches with my JOB job, and I scratch more itches with this…that’s been an odd thing for me to come to terms with. Where I used to put 150% into my JOB job, I don’t feel as though I haven’t gotten a lot out of my J.O.B. job lately, and because of that I would say that I’m not putting in 150% anymore.”

    This last sentence, absolutely rings true for me. Sure, I still do my job and get things done but I am no where near as happy, nor as fulfilled, with my J.O.B. job as I used to be. It could be due to burn-out, or it could be due to having to pick up too much slack from others. Regardless of the reason, this also got me to thinking “How have I been “scratching my itches?” For the last 3 months it has been writing two e-books (which are almost ready as I write this). That’s how I have been scratching my itches lately. In the past I have done other things to scratch my itches, more on those in a bit.

    There’s another show on Relay.fm, Inquisitive where the first question is always “What do you like to be known for?”, and it’s a very good question. When I first thought about the question, I honestly didn’t know how to begin to answer it.

    But, after some thinking about it I did determine how I would respond. My answer would be “Writer”. You might be thinking, “But you don’t write for a living” and yes, you would be correct. However, I do write. I may not be writing what most people would considering “traditional” writing, but it is writing none-the-less. Yes, I do write e-books and I write blogs posts, like this one. Do I write for a living, no. I write in my spare time. It’s what I use to “scratch my itch”. The things I do write are Objective-C Code, HTML, CSS, and Javascript. These are most definitely not what one would consider “writing”, but it is writing.

    The writing of e-books is pretty self explanatory. Thus far I have only written non-fiction e-books. I have not yet delved into the world of fiction. While all writing requires effort, Non-fiction requires some effort with unique items. Effort in the actual writing, through research, in editing the e-books, assembling the book and even posting them to the different stores. All of these take time and when something doesn’t go right, it requires additional effort to fix the issue.

    I’m an engineer by nature. As an example, in a meeting after Amazon announced their Drone program, the topic of having a drone fleet at work came up. Instead of worrying about the implications and policy of what a drone fleet would mean, I was thinking “How would one control a drone fleet?”, “What servers would be involved?”, “How would one keep them charged?” and countless other engineering questions.

    Given my engineering nature, writing non-fiction could easily be seen as a natural fit. Non-fiction, much like engineering, makes you think about how everything fits together and works together. As an engineer you want to make sure everything is working, and most importantly, to do it yourself. Yes, you will have to rely on others for some things, yet you want to accomplish a majority of this by yourself.

    Since I like to write, would I like to write for a J.O.B. job? I think I would. If it’s a “traditional” writing position it would have to be one where I can do some more in-depth research and does not necessarily have a strict quota for churning out posts. Sites that require a huge turn out, particularly at being the first to break some news, are the sites that I despise the most.

    When I write an e-book, I do have a deadline. It is typically the release date of the item that I am writing about. However, when I’m writing a web-app, or an actual app, there typically isn’t a deadline. It’s ready when it’s ready. Regardless of what I’m working on, some days I make significant progress, others I do not. It just depends on what happens during that day.

    Overall, I want to be known as a writer. A writer of not only words, but code. Whether you write words or write code, the end result is a product, and that product should be what defines you. You shouldn’t be defined by what clothes you wear, what phone you use, nor whether you are up to date on the latest trends. All of these are fleeting and in the grand scheme of things, not really worth the time. However, the result of these products that could last forever. These are what defines us.

    So my question to you, “What do you like to be known for?”