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)”.

Gresham’s Law Trips Up Treasured San Francisco Stores Due to Skyrocketing Land Prices

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You may believe that worldwide luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton, Gucci, and Hermes are like the GOOD money that would be driven out by the BAD money according to Gresham’s Law. But in this case these luxury brands are the bad guys. Like their always-empty stores in airports, these future ones in San Francisco’s tony Union Square are just very expensive billboards. And the independent retailers are the good guys (like Arthur Beren Shoes and Britex Fabrics). But even if it weren’t for the purchasing power of the most-valued of these luxury brands, the current craziness of Bay Area land prices would likely have raised the retailers’ rents beyond affordability, so they would have had to relocate or downsize or both. And even the luxury brands have no control over the mess being created by the new subway.

Those Who Live by Google Analytics Shall Die by Google Analytics

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We at Wild Bill Web Enterpises have been tracking the visitors (and other metrics) for our three websites–including TechnologyBloopers, WhyMenDieYoung, and Wilddancer—on a weekly basis using Google Analytics and on a monthly basis using our ISP for nearly two years, and are baffled by the helter-skelter, all-over-the-map, random-looking numbers Google Analytics is providing us. Apparently this is a common problem, with a lot of possible causes, including some possibilities that could be our fault (well, the lack of useful guidance from Google and other sources isn’t really OUR fault). And it isn’t that our visitor volume is so high that we are the victim of Google’s sampling process. But we, and probably millions of other website developers, find it highly difficult, even impossible, to make any decisions based on this data. Why don’t the Internet and the Web take advantage of the huge computing power of the hardware and software to provide reasonably accurate statistics so that we can make things easier and more productive for both us and our visitors?

Surveymania: A Toxic Internet Disease

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Just because you CAN do something doesn’t mean you SHOULD do something. Unfortunately, the millions of souls around the world writing software are adding functionality a lot faster than overburdened consumers can use it. We can’t think of a better example of this than the now-omnipresent survey that arrives in our Inboxes within microseconds of our buying a product or using a service. The volume of junk snail mail is minuscule compared with that of junk email and junk surveys. Our own productivity and enjoyment of life are victims of this trend.

Well, you say, if we don’t vote for what we want, we are likely to be a victim of those lowlifes who do vote … for bad products and services. The best defense is to delete most all such surveys … heresy coming from a career market researcher, no? Certainly you should delete ones that clearly are just knee-jerk reactions from your suppliers. Worst are the ones that are pure bureaucracy, usually characterized by (1) purely multiple-choice questions with no open-ended ones where some insight may lie, and (2) a preponderance of questions about unimportant aspects but none or few about important ones. A recent one from Stanford Health Care was rife with such useless questions as (1) ease of scheduling your appointment , (2) minutes waited between scheduled appointment time and call to an exam room, (3) minutes waited in the exam room before being seen by a medical person, and (4) friendliness/courtesy of the nurse/assistant; nothing at all about the quality of the doctor’s diagnosis or the outcome of his/her prescribed treatment.

Perhaps even worse were those organizations who should, or even do, encourage feedback to correct their errors or improve their offerings, but then don’t take any action or even thank you. Google Translate, Google Maps, and Spreadshirt (custom T-shirts) come to mind. There is a time-tested principle that the best suppliers are those who listen to their customers and take actions to fix their errors or improve their products or services.

Bloopers Beyond Technology: Theft of Bangladesh Funds is a Comedy of Errors and Law-Breaking By Humans

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Technology does not exist in a vacuum. It is created by humans of varying degrees of ability and honesty. And technology involving the Internet is generally so complex, and created under time pressure, that it is more error-prone than more cautious and patient people would like.

According to the New York Times, slack security at the New York Fed (that’s the Federal Reserve Bank of New York), which most folks would consider a bastion of safe-keeping, allowed a bunch of money ($81 million or $100 million or some such sum) that rightfully belonged to poverty-stricken Bangladesh to be misappropriated by Chinese hackers and transferred to the Philippines, where in turn it was apparently transferred by above-the-law banks to putatively money-laundering casinos, who made it vanish beyond any chance of recovery. We’re not making this up. Mere prose and still images can’t do it justice. And no fiction writer could have imagined a more twisted tale.

The comedy continues if one reads the Zero Hedge blog, which apparently specializes in spreading misinformation of all sorts, including calling a spade a spade when it might not be. Entertaining to most of the world, but not to a few officials during whose watch this debacle occurred or to starving citizens of Bangladesh.

How Does YouTube Choose the Next Videos After the One You Wanted?

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Anyone who uses YouTube more than a couple of times, and plays the video s/he selects, can’t help but notice that YouTube–all by itself—chooses a bunch of other YouTube videos and queues them up to play one after the other. YouTube says that The autoplay feature on YouTube makes it easier to decide what to watch next. After you watch a YouTube video, we’ll automatically play another related video based on your viewing history. If so, their memory of the viewing history must be pretty short or awfully inaccurate … or perhaps it was reacting against the highly-materialistic nature of my chosen video, or trying to tune my aura, or something. Because when I played Cuda Janet (Birthday Song for my wife who was and is the proud owner of a 1970 Plymouth Barracuda), the next three videos were very touchy-feely: Light Transmission by Mirabai (Please view this video in silence and open your heart to receive), Mantra to remove Negative energy, and and Mantra to increase Good luck and positive energy. While it was nice for YouTube to try improving my mood, it wasn’t very useful. And apparently this autoplay feature, and changes to its implementation, have been extremely unwelcome to lots of other folks.

Can Thoughtful U.S.-Wide Economic Planning Enable Orderly Growth?

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Skyrocketing house prices and apartment rents, long and slow commutes, overcrowded schools, etc. not only dramatically diminish peoples’ quality of life but can choke off economic growth in places like Silicon Valley. (And Silicon Valley is not unique; e.g., Boston has a similar problem.) What can be done about it? We need to think bigger, in terms of geography. Every sizable city or cluster of nearby cities has some form of LOCAL regional economic development authority. But those authorities are sub-optimizing. We believe that what is needed is a nationwide advisory council AND a change in thinking by large companies. Germany is a good example of what is possible. We can understand to some extent the economies of scale of microchip manufacturers for examples, but it especially baffles us that technology giants like Facebook, Google, Oracle, eBay, and LinkedIn, which are principally software companies, insist on building mega-campuses in Silicon Valley. Seems to us that—using their own technology and realizing that software can be written anyplace—they could do large portions in regional centers. Even Apple, who farms out much of their manufacturing to Chinese companies like Foxconn, very likely would benefit if their employees spent more time working and less time commuting to their new giant building (which will almost certainly exacerbate the already horrendous traffic jams in that area).

There are lots of other attractive cities in western states with a critical mass of local services and attractions that would welcome an influx of well-paid, well-educated employees: for example, Austin, TX; Denver, CO; Seattle, WA; Portland, OR, Los Angeles, CA; San Diego, CA; Sacramento, CA; and Phoenix, AZ. Similarly for eastern states.

N Y Times: “Let’s Get Back to Work”

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“The Lord Giveth and the Lord Taketh Away” is a truly flexible and useful concept. We can replace “Lord” by such notions as “Technology” or “Internet” or “Mobile Devices” or a whole host of other products and services. And those products and services can be used to teach us, to inform us, to entertain us, etc. How valuable they are depends on the objectives of the individual or group in question. We’d guess that a large fraction of the folks who read the New York Times either work pretty hard or respect others who do work pretty hard. On the other hand those who spend a lot of  time looking at or posting to Tumblr probably are at the other end of the spectrum, as Tumblr itself serves up such suggestions as “5 ways to waste the rest of the day” (by the way, you can find lots of OTHER folks using that phrase when you surf) and counsels its members that “work can wait”, presumably while you read or write posts on Tumblr.

To put this in perspective we took a look at how Americans spent their day in 2014, thanks to some detailed data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Of the 24.00 hours in a day, we spend 10.75 hours taking care of basic needs (sleeping, other personal care, and eating and drinking), 3.59 hours working or doing work-related activities, a meager 0.42 hours being educated (a low average because the majority of Americans are not enrolled in educational institutions), a whopping 5.30 hours on leisure and sports (which includes 2.82 hours watching television), and a modest 0.14 hours communicating (telephone, email, and snailmail).

But even the most casual observer would likely object to the low communicating figure from the BLS because everywhere you look people are peering into their smartphones. One study found that smartphone users spend two hours each day using those devices. And what are they doing with those phones? It depends on whose statistics you believe, but it is interesting to note that it’s not all entertainment. And it is even more interesting to realize that a smartphone enables its user to seamlessly shift between work-related and personal activities, so they aren’t all just wasting the rest of the day a la Tumblr. Whew, the American economy may not be in danger!

“Fair Use” of Copyrighted Material Gets (a Little) Justice

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Did Stephanie Lenz make a bag of money from her video that Universal would otherwise have made? It seems that actually Universal and Prince got a lot of free advertising out of it starting in 2007, no? A U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal has just struck a blow against the hubris of music publishers such as Universal who send out takedown notices at the drop of a hat. If every YouTube (or Vimeo et al) video that borrowed a little, or even a lot, triggered so much legal argy-bargy, there wouldn’t be enough lawyers and judges on the planet to deal with it all. Similarly for the print world, and look at all the examples of “the pot calling the kettle black”:
-Google violated copyrights wholesale by scanning millions of books; but didn’t that provide a service to humanity by making intellectual content available for out-of-print volumes?
-Facebook was essentially a college Freshman Register; could it have been sued by thousands of universities collectively?
-Amazon’s Kindle refuses to let owners copy even one word. So all students writing term papers are back to the archaic 3×5 cards in the digital age. How stupid can they be, especially in the days of the Turnitin plagiarism checker technology?

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Stupid Password Tricks

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Even the most TV-averse person in the USA has likely heard of Late Show host David Letterman’s “Stupid Pet Tricks” which ran for 30 years. So there were probably as many people who watched at least one episode of it as have had some sort of trouble choosing and/or using passwords on the Internet. Unfortunately, the formats of passwords have recently become a lot more demanding and the organizations forcing us to have passwords have made us run a truly nasty gantlet (look it up!). The nastiness seems to be a recent phenomenon, perhaps a result of all the major hacking attacks in the last few months. One of the latest dirty tricks is to provide two boxes, one for entering the password (which blanks out your entry) and another for confirming it (which also blanks out your entry), as well as a third alternative of letting the organization create the password for you. As you make the first entry, you get nasty comments that your password is not strong enough, forcing you to make changes until you have satisfied the demand. Even if you have carefully noted the approved password, by now it is a challenge to enter it exactly in the confirmatory box. And people are now finding that, in fact, these organizations do not want you to select your own password, and you MUST let the organization chose one for you. It is not the end of the world, but (a) if you have your own system for creating passwords you will NEVER succeed in getting one, and (b) why bother to offer to let you create your own? At least David Letterman’s Stupid Pet Tricks was funny, while this latter-day password game is definitely NOT funny. Sadistic maybe. Even worse, the possibility of using a hardware “dongle” continues to be remote, in large part because there is no apparent convergence to a standard.