Net Neutrality: A Victim of Politics?

The current fracas about net neutrality is an example of the worst features of politics and the US’s two-party system. “European diplomats … believe Trump’s foreign policy is chiefly driven by an obsession with unravelling Barack Obama’s policies. “It’s his only real position,” one European diplomat said. “He will ask: ‘Did Obama approve this?’ And if the answer is affirmative, he will say: ‘We don’t.’ He won’t even want to listen to the arguments or have a debate.”

In the case of Net Neutrality it MIGHT be predictable that even Republicans other than Trump would side with the big companies like Amazon, Comcast, Facebook, and Google. But new FCC head appointed by Trump seems to be going to extremes to kill and bury net neutrality. This is ironical because killing net neutrality is likely to most hurt the voters of the species who put Trump into the White House. We even suspect that many of the “little guys” who are members of this species don’t even understand what net neutrality is and that those little guys are the ones who will suffer most because it is THEY will suffer as they become second-class citizens with regard to information and entertainment they receive via the Internet. Readers of this post who are uncertain as to what net neutrality is would do well to have a look at its definition on Wikipedia or another reliable source of information.

President Trump and FCC Chairman Ajit Pai appear to be ignoring the U.S. Declaration of Independence that states “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”. Given the importance of the Internet today, their attitudes and actions are clearly violating Americans’ pursuit of Happiness.

Will Bitcoin Replace Dollars and PayPal?

Bitcoin was generated in its early days by geeks running souped-up microcomputers for billions of cycles, consuming a lot of electricity and communications bandwidth to produce no useful result. (Does “It is the tale of an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing” seem a propos?) This is counter to the evolution of physical coins (and their paper surrogates and later trusted electronic financial institution balances) that were a convenient (easily transported) substitution for useful physical objects that had previously been bartered (e.g., cords of firewood or herds of sheep). Given its origin, it seems strange that it was not originally denominated in terms of compute cycles and actually used that way. Anyway, enough people believe in it that it it has practical value.

Many of those same geeky people are doing things like setting up proxy servers, and the sources of those proxy servers prefer to be paid in Bitcoin. So they are essentially following a path similar to PayPal, whose users did not want to use credit cards, and earlier when people used credit cards when they didn’t want to carry coins and paper money.

Crowdsourcing Companies Likely Can’t Boost YouTube Views. Can Proxy Servers?

The old adage “If it seems to be too good to be true, it probably is”. That is, it’s NOT true. Crowdsourcing companies promise a lot more than they can deliver. Our previous post proved to be way too optimistic when we tried to get a couple of those companies to actually deliver those views. What we found was that some proxy servers MIGHT do so.

However, it seems that proxy servers are as much of a bag of snakes as crowdsourcing entities. We noted during our experiments with crowdsourcing companies that some of them proposed to use proxy servers, or actually did so, but they apparently did not succeed in adding more than a handful of views. That apparently was because YouTube is too clever, and they disqualified most of the views for a variety of reasons. For example, if the crowdsource operative used a proxy server located in a country other than his/her own (which they could tell if the visiting IP was from one country in one time zone but the time of the computer to which the IP was attached was set to a different time zone), YouTube disqualified those views.

The other challenge is that most proxy server folks want to be paid in Bitcoin. While you can use dollars or credit cards or gift cards at sites like Paxful, they can be pretty expensive.

The bottom line is that many owners of YouTube channels may find it too expensive and time-consuming to boost their view counts via crowdsourcing or proxy servers.

YouTube’s New 10K Views Minimum: Triumph of Quantity Over Quality, Bonanza for Crowdsourcing Companies

YouTube makes money by putting advertisements on video channels, but advertisers are increasingly restive because some of those channels show terrorists attacks or racist rants. Ironically, the terrorists and racists could have earned money via YouTube’s AdSense program. Additionally, some YouTube channels have been stealing others’ content (and associated AdSense payments). Unfortunately, this new rule disenfranchises the millions of YouTube video creators who have not yet reached 10,000 views of their channels. According to Internet data firm Pex, 88 percent of all YouTube channels have fewer than 10,000 views.

YouTube’s new policy should create a bonanza for the numerous organizations who provide low-cost labor for doing a wide range of tasks on the Web that are more suited for humans than software, because many of sub-10K view channel owners can flock to them to boost their view counts. The most famous of these is Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. When we first heard of what appeared to be slave labor, we were affronted, but when we found that people as ethical as Stanford University researchers used Mechanical Turk we were somewhat mollified. And we quickly learned that it would only cost about one cent to have one of these low-paid “slaves” watch a video for the 30 seconds that is needed to create a “view”, so it would only cost about $100.00 to rack up 10K views. This means that essentially ANY channel owner—including terrorists, racists, and plagiarists–could exceed YouTube’s 10K requirement.

Social Media, Especially Facebook, Unfortunately Hijacks Users of the Web … But “Better Web” May Reverse That

Facebook and a handful of other social media are so entrenched that few people think about life before them. But the Web was conceived 15 years before Facebooks’s founding in 2004. Facebook put a pretty face on the Web, and billions of people have flocked to it. And Google Search, YouTube, and a handful of other giants –fueled by tons of advertising revenues—exercise a lot of control over what people can see and do, so much so that there is growing sentiment about breaking up these monopolistic organizations. And delivering fake news or vicious propaganda from the likes of ISIS (ironically ISIS can even get PAID by YouTube while it disseminates its messages of hatred) adds further pressure for this breakup.

It will take more time, but help may be on the way from the original creator of the Web, Tim Berners-Lee. He is working towards a “Better Web” where users’ control their own (private) data. One group that should benefit from greater control of their data is musicians. The title of Jonathan Taplin’s new book, “Move Fast and Break Things”, may even have caused Facebook to foresightedly replace their eponymous former motto with “Move Fast With Stable Infra(structure)”.

The Free Version of Yoast is Worth Less Than it Costs …

… because you have to waste so much time trying to make sense of it. And maybe it is a scam to force users to buy the paid version. We haven’t tried its competitors—All in One SEO Pack, SeoPressor, SEO Ultimate, and Squirrly SEO—but perhaps they are no better. One reviewer compared Yoast and the rest.

What are the downsides of Yoast? Here are some:
1. We frequently get notices that we need to update it, but when we update it WordPress doesn’t show it to be updated. Huh? Seems to us that any SEO package that is in the form of a plugin to WordPress should behave properly when using WordPress. Not a deal-breaker, but not a favorable sign either.
2. Every time we trigger Yoast we get a message urging us to upgrade to the paid version. Does the “bait-and-switch” scam ring a bell?
3. Using keywords seems to be going out of favor lately, but historically was recommended, both in raw HTML sites and in WordPress. Yoast tries to grab a whole phrase and make it into a keyword, then complains that this “keyword” is not used often enough in the body of the post. How COULD it be, as the grammar would become jibberish?
4. Yoast’s simultaneous use of colored bullets and their defining text is redundant. It should choose one or the other.
5. Has the classic guidance “brevity is the soul of wit” recently been repealed? A minimum of 300 words seems excessive.

Sports More Important Than Technology Business in Silicon Valley Newspaper

The Mercury News’ demoting its business coverage to the back pages of the Sports Section was a populist victory even before Trump’s election. Or does this situation simply derive from the biblical truism “no prophet is accepted in his hometown”? In any case, the rest of the world—including major newspapers—seems more entranced with the goings-on in San Jose and surrounding cities. The New York Times and Wall Street Journal have permanent staff in Silicon Valley who seem to turn out significantly more column-inches of reporting and opinion about technological accomplishments in this geography than do the valiant-but-outnumbered technology staffers at the Mercury News.

This demotion came a few months after the April 2016 renaming of the San Jose Mercury News to to reflect its merger with the San Mateo Times. But the spirit of San Jose, which some years ago was dubbed “the USA’s largest truck stop”, lives on in the focus of its printed media. (Apparently a number of other cities in the U.S. claim that theirs is the largest, and a number of locations have subtitled themselves “Silicon XXXX”, like “Silicon Prairie” which can refer to Dallas-Fort Worth or the Chicago area or a multi-state area of the upper Midwest.) We are a bit baffled because the advertisements in the Mercury News don’t seem to be for products and services that the typical sports fan would buy.

Why Isn’t WordPress Fixed Yet?

WordPress is one of the most popular tools in the Internet world, with one source estimating in January 2017 that it accounts for 50-60% of the Content Management Systems and that it runs 27% of the entire Internet. It also has made its creator, Matt Mullenweg, a multi-millionaire. Unfortunately it seems to be at least as popular among malicious hackers as it is among the rest of its users, and it apparently is constantly under attack by a large bunch of them, including a major one in mid-January.

We at Technology Bloopers would agree that, when not beset by these attacks, has provided us a simple way of publishing our content. Of course this came at the expense of having to work around the ambiguity of whether to install it at the root or elsewhere, the wretched (and sometimes downright wrong) advice of the “WordPress for Dummies” book, and the virtually unusable user forum. But we overcame these challenges and sailed along for three years … until now. Apparently we were lucky, as over one million sites were defaced. This and its two sister sites appears to be unaffected, although whenever we add a new post or update the versions of plugins, themes, or other features we have to take a detour from our usual path (apparently because our ISP has not repaired their own damage).

Big Brother Is Watching, and Helping, You Shop

The incessant march of technology brings not only improved convenience but also often-scary invasion of privacy. “Big Brother” can now track your in-store habits, urge you on with stuff he already knew about you, and bill you without a checkout line. According to research conducted by the University of Pennsylvania’s Joseph Turow, the same sort of surveillance of consumers that occurs when they shop (or do anything) online is now occurring when they shop in bricks-and-mortar stores.

And Amazon, not content to sell only books and other inorganic items, is trying to expand into the giant groceries business. While some categories of products can be sold online in the same manner of non-grocery items, fresh produce and other items for which consumers want to get up close and personal with them cry out for nearby stores. One of Amazon’s innovations is to embed products with tracking devices that charge customers via their smart phones, thus eliminating the annoying wait in checkout lines and the cost of cashiers. Not all the bugs have been worked out yet, but when they are, stores like Trader Joe’s better watch out.

The Argy-Bargy About H-1B Visas is All About Dollars … At Tech Companies AND Universities

We at Technology Bloopers are not big fans of President Trump, but his administration’s putting pressure on tech companies’ hiring software engineers from India and China to replace Americans does seem to be consonant with his pre-election promises.

But apparently it is even worse than that. We heard a couple of days ago about one local company that not only hired a bunch of Indian H1B visa-holders, fired their American staff, and replaced them with these imported folks … after they were trained by the Americans. And this noxious practice has apparently been going on for some time, according to the Stateline folks at The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Three months of coder school is not much training compared with that of the better-trained—often in American universities—and more-experienced visa-holders. But why are these American universities welcoming these foreign students? It’s because those students come bearing big funds for their education. (At state universities, it is simply that the international students must pay the same (higher) prices as out-of-state American students.) We have heard that among some of these students it is said that PhD stands for “Parents have Dough”. Interestingly, those international students are more prone to cheat on their exams. Hmmm … does that mean that their future code will be less trustworthy than that of Americans?

We wonder why the big Silicon Valley tech companies have not done a better job on their own of training software engineers. Couldn’t they be hiring “junior” software engineers from the coder schools and boosting their capabilities with on-the-job training. We suspect one reason is that it is more expensive to do that than to hire foreign help. And more time-consuming. And another reason may be that they didn’t do a good job of forecasting their growth and concomitant demand for those software engineers. Maybe the current visa flap will motivate them.

But it may not be the fault of these companies. Americans may too lazy, or too afraid to be “uncool”, to study STEM (Science/Technology/Engineering/Mathematics) courses so there is not enough local talent to fill the needs of Silicon Valley. Graduates with strong STEM knowledge are polar opposites to “art history majors” , a term used derogatorily to connote enjoyable-but-low-paying jobs.