Regarding The Passing Of Aaron Swartz

As a testament of how much my job has been running me into the ground over the past several months, my recent appearance on Out Of Continues Episode 59, as much of a technical mess as it was, was where I found out about what happened to Aaron Swartz, a very passionate technologist and outspoken advocate for internet and information freedom who took his own life earlier this month.  I never really ran in too many of his types of circles techwise, but the minute I found out about his ties to RSS, that was something to tip my hat about.  RSS, or Really Simple Syndication, was one of those things that revolutionized the Internet by allowing for so many things that have made the Internet into a successful form of mainstream entertainment, such as podcasting, vidcasting, blogging, etc., to work.

For those who aren’t all that geeky, what RSS does (and this blog has an RSS feed) is allow you to use an RSS reader to subscribe to stuff, which flips the traditional model of the World Wide Web in reverse and makes things much easier.  In the early days of the web, you had to know what you wanted and know where to look to find the information you were looking for, usually accompanied with a ton of long page loads because things were via dialup back then.  🙂  I vividly remember those bad old days of trying to look online for stuff on my high school library’s clunky old computer with its 28.8k modem (not even 56k lol) that kept cutting me off with no message whatsoever so suddenly my Netscape Navigator web browser would just stop working (yeah – that long ago lol) and I’d think the Internet had broke.  😀

Search engines such as Google helped change that a bit but you still had to know what to search for, so the process still began with you, plus you had to know how to Google really well to get decent results.  RSS on the other hand finished that switch by allowing people to subscribe to stuff online and then have the option of having stuff delivered to them instead of having to go look for it every single time, so with news for example if I really liked XYZ News reports I could subscribe to their RSS and see the stories every time I opened my RSS reader instead of having to constantly go to their website and see if there were any new stories.

This alone gives me reason to tip my hat to the late Mr. Swartz, but his defense of internet and information freedom only multiply that several times over.  He was a big defender of things like Net Neutrality, opponent of things like SOPA and PIPA with their “chew the meat spit the bones” style of combining internet-crushing regulation with noble-sounding ideas like protecting US trade secrets.  So what happened to him?  Here’s Hak.5’s report on it.

What we had here was grey area on both sides.  Was what Aaron did with JSTOR right?  Was what the government did in response the right thing to do?   Depends on who you are in both cases.  One thing that I hope everyone can agree on though is that there is a war on to crush the freedom of information even in this so-called “Information Age.”  Our schools are infected with these philosophies and worldviews today that discourage critical thinking and thinking for oneself and even the concept of objective information, rights/wrongs, etc., instead focusing far too much on people’s subjective internal feelings and expression, until of course someone breaks a law and gets arrested, at which point their own feelings on whether certain “wrong stuff” is right goes completely out the window.  😛  We have legions of people, including politicians and other people who can vote on things, who don’t think for themself and can’t even debate a simple point.  Meanwhile also in society today are legions of lobbyists, other politicians, people with money, etc., who seek to take advantage of the aforementioned folks who don’t think for themselves or can’t articulate a point in civil debate to twist things in their favor.  …and in the middle of this?  Information – and its freedom – constantly in the crossfire.

I mentioned on Out Of Continues that if the state of internet and information freedom contributed to Swartz’s suicide I can see why.  Broadband, after a decade of progress going from dialup to broadband and limited to unlimited access is now under siege from power-hungry and money-hungry interests all over the place who want to limit what information can be seen online while squeezing every last penny out of people’s already near-empty pockets.  It’s almost like these people want this decade to undo the last decade or two and bring us back to the bad old days.  Will anyone stop them?  Depends on how many people out there know what’s really going on versus the bobbleheads who don’t think for themselves who get fleeced and patronized by the people causing all of these problems.  In any event though, with how things are today, if Swartz was in any way further depressed by this sort of stuff it’s rather easy to see why.

The only hope that any geek can have right now is that this man’s death won’t be in vain, and that the discussion of the old saying, “Information longs to be free” will fire up even more following these events.  =(

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Stupid Things People Do In The 21st Century

So The Consumerist ran a story about some bozo at this past week’s Democratic National Convention who in the heat of a politically-charged moment flashed her Medicare card in the air in front of the TV cameras putting her Social Security number on national television.  Seriously, how stupid can people get?  Sadly though, this is not an isolated incident by any means.  So many people nowadays do really dumb things and then we wonder why things like identity theft are so widespread.  Here’s a few pet peeves of mine that no doubt contribute to this century’s problems with the world being a little too wired.

  • Using Real Names In Online Addresses And Identities – This should be a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many people in a spurt of uncreative non-genius decide to go with their real name as their User ID in an e-mail address or on a site like Facebook because they can’t think of anything else.   Seriously now, don’t complain about 21st Century “Stalker Internet Culture” and/or identity theft when somebody can type Something.com/yourname into their browser and hey look there you are.  😛
  • Mandatory Sensitive Information On Online Job Applications – With most HR recruiters bawling about bazillions of job apps per position these days, it’s utterly appalling that job applications require mandatory Social Security numbers and other sensitive information that ends up being stored on a server for at least 90 days, so all these job hopefuls that are never even considered for a position get to have their SSNs sitting on an app server at a company that might never hire them, and who knows how well that server is maintained in terms of security and updates?  Seriously, compared to systems with customer or employee data, how much priority do you think an application server would get relative to other systems in the company in terms of security and maintenance with your average resource-strangled IT department these days?  Hmmmm…..  :-\
  • Phone Answerers That Are Awful With Credit Card Information – Some small businesses like pizza places in my neck of the woods are trying to be more high-tech these days by allowing you to order pizza with a credit card over the phone.  Unfortunately, like most non-tech people, many of these restaurants do it badly at best.  I’ve seen pizza shops where whoever takes your order repeats every digit you say over the phone out loud.  Yay.  Thank you very much for blurting out my credit card number to everyone within earshot of you.  I think I’ll check a recent transaction log for fraudulent activity now.  😛  The worst case of this that I’ve dealt with involved one place that used a cellular swiper where one night the lady delivering the pizza couldn’t get any signal on the swiper so she called it in on her cellphone and all-but shouted my number and expiration date to the entire neighborhood.  I no longer order from that restaurant.  Coincidence?  😛  Probably the worst example would be pizza places that do all of this AND require CCV codes.  Great, so the person taking my order may say out loud enough information for someone to steal my card, including the CCV code, or may write it down on something which will end up God knows where for someone to steal and make bogus transactions with.  These businesses should quit buying all these new systems if they won’t deploy them properly or educate their people on proper handling of sensitive customer information.
  • Tech-Illiterate Friends And Family Defeating The Purpose Of Online Usernames – This is a common gaffe I see in online gaming where a bunch of folks who know each other in real life play an MMO under usernames and call each other by their real names, sometimes their real surnames (“Well Mr. Smith we sure pwned that raid boss.”).  It just makes me want to cringe.  Seriously, we’re getting to a day and age where soon everybody will have to be like celebrities wearing sunglasses everywhere we go at the rate we’re going.  😛
  • “I Took This Picture, Therefore I Should Immediately Put It On The Internet.”  Remember that crazy party last week where you got drunk off your you-know-what and your friend Jimmy was walking around with a smartphone snapping pictures to treasure that moment forever?  Well it’s the morning after and in the midst of your brain-pounding hangover, hey look, Jimmy put everything on Facebook.  Now your whole family and friends know what a debaucherous drunk you are, but wait, there’s more.  Jimmy has no clue that his privacy settings are set wrong so all kinds of people can see that you’re a crazy drunk now, including the hiring manager of that job you so wanted to get.  You check your voicemail.  “We’ve decided to go with another candidate.”  Right.  These kinds of incidents shouldn’t happen, but sadly they do.  😛
  • Setting Privacy Settings Wrong – Gotta love when websites give people privacy settings but people using said websites can’t be bothered to actually use them.  Then we wonder why we have incidents like this Massachusetts incident from earlier this year where some high school girls’ Facebook photos wound up on a porno site.  :-\
  • Sharing Logins On The Job – One of the biggest problems I faced at my last Fortune 500 job where I got to help out with IT stuff.  Too many people got in trouble for stuff they didn’t do because they found out the hard way that sharing logins doesn’t absolve them from responsibility if the account is misused.  Usually these problems were caused by non-techie supervisors and workers sharing logins because they couldn’t be bothered to wait for IT to finish making logins for new hires, or one person had wireless access on their account and the others didn’t but needed it and the person with access couldn’t be bothered to open tickets for 20 other people to get that access.  All in all, sharing logins in a corporate environment is a shortcut/workaround that’s never worth it.  😛
  • Passwords On Post-It Notes – Hey there non-techie supervisor.  It’s nice that you can’t remember a password for beans, but you should at least pretend to try to hide the Post-It Note with your login information instead of having it sitting on your desk next to your keyboard, or taped under your keyboard.  😛
  • Monkey See Monkey Do On YouTube – Hey look.  All these other people on YouTube are making such and such types of videos.  Shouldn’t you too?  The answer of course is no.  😛  I’ve seen some videos that will no doubt embarrass their creators in a few years, but hey, everyone’s doing it, and after they get embarrassed or called out enough, they can always play the “oh I was just ACTING” card.  Yeah, like we’re supposed to believe you consciously came up with the idea to name a fictional character LOLMadDude250614 before starting your YouTube channel even though you never referenced yourself as a fictional character for the first 150 rant videos until so-and-so called you out.  Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight.  😛
  • Forcing People To Say Sensitive Information Out Loud – Okay.  I just stood in line for over a half hour.  Now I’m finally to the front of the line, and I’m supposed to verify my identity by telling you my Social Security number with a line of people standing in back of me.  Really?  Maybe I should wear a bright orange shirt with my SSN on it while I’m at it!
  • Using Sensitive Information As Passwords, Etc. – Hey look.  HR just got this new system thingie online, and our default password is part of or our entire SSN.  Yeah.  Uhhh…. Ever heard of keyloggers?  😛
  • Really Dumb Passwords – Sad to say, there’ve been times where I’ve seen things like “Password” as a password.  Enough said.  😛
  • People Complaining About Password Policies – Yes Mr X.  You work for XYZ Corporation and handle sensitive customer information.  Of course you need to have a password that’s harder than “1234” and will need to change it every few weeks.  Wouldn’t want someone to brute force your account and send a nasty e-mail to your boss under your name now.  😛  Seriously, it’s like a work equivalent of parents saying, “My house – my rules.”  If companies are like “Our systems – our rules” just play along and follow them lol.  😛

I think this has gone on long enough, but it’ll suffice to say, whats-her-name flashing her SSN on her Medicare card at the DNC was only the tip of the iceberg with how people can be so behind the curve on this kind of stuff these days.  😛

Uhhhh…. Tech *Isn’t* Screwing Up The Olympics :-P

Discovery Networks recently put together a slide show of various ways technology is messing up the Olympics.

http://news.discovery.com/tech/london-olympics-tech-failures-120802.html#mkcpgn=fbsci1

I’m guessing these folks don’t follow certain kinds of technological development then?  Let’s just take a look at what each picture says and respond to it.

  • NBC’s Tape-Delayed Coverage Vs. The Internet – Technology isn’t screwing things up there, NBC is just stuck in an antiquated outdated business model just like the rest of the TV content industry.  You know, those folks who’ve kicked against the bricks as long as broadband video entertainment has been viable?  😛  – PEOPLE ISSUE
  • Spoiled Results – Again, this isn’t technology’s fault.  If NBC wasn’t running things as though the Internet has never existed before this wouldn’t be as much of an issue, but when the folks winning exclusive television broadcast rights are doing this while everyone with a Twitter page or a smartphone can just tweet the results, it’s really a matter of NBC’s TV approach being long in the tooth.  😛  – PEOPLE ISSUE
  • “Interference” – That would be because of the broadband industry’s minimalist approach despite exploding consumer demand.  😛  One astute commenter on this article posted, “Infrastructure should’ve been part of the planning process for brining the Olympics to London.”  Yeah.  Kind of like how Telcos often bring mobile antenna towers to areas where they might temporarily need more cellphone capacity.  😀  – PEOPLE ISSUE
  • Athlete Social Media Gaffes – Social media gaffes happen everywhere these days, including among celebrities.  Nothing new there.  😛  Society in general is VERY behind the curve on social media netiquette.  😛  – PEOPLE ISSUE
  • Boxing’s Computerized Scoring System – It’s already due to be scrapped in favor of a system more common in professional boxing.  I’m just wondering why that pro-boxing system wasn’t immediately used right off the bat.  This could be chalked up to bad planning.  😛  – PEOPLE ISSUE

Yeah.  Let’s not blame technology for other folks’ mess-ups somewhere along the line.  😛

Fiber Is “Cable,” Right? =(

…the Telecon saga continues.  Stop The Cap has a few stories going about Rogers cable trying its hand at social media in Canada and having their publicity campaign turn into a “bashtag instead of a hashtag” and Verizon has struck a corporate nonaggression pact with various huge cable companies.  Seriously, at what point does this phone company stuff cross the line into collusion?  =(

Perhaps my single biggest frustration with the cable industry is the dogged dependence on copper.  One of the things that has held up better broadband in America is the fact that the ISP incumbents already have significant infrastructure and investment in traditional technologies like phone wire and the existing cable system, hence the incremental “innovation” of the various DOCSIS standards and companies like Comcast essentially “trying to build a better jalopy” with faster and faster cable speeds, yet the connection is still asynchronous and still subject to the technical limits of cable internet such as “sharing bandwidth with the neighbors” that have been one of the big reasons I was a DSL guy during the 2000s.

Am I missing something here?  Isn’t fiber optic cable technically a form of “cable?”  Why then can’t “cable companies” get to work on replacing all that copper with far superior fiber?  Exactly how big of a kick in the [insert name of kicked thing here] is the industry going to have to take if the Google Fiber project succeeds before these “cable companies” realize that it’s high time the very definition of “cable service” changed?  After all, the 80s were a long time ago.  Hey speaking of cable and the 80s….  😀

Oh yeah, just had to throw that in.  Still though, cable companies are worried about “cord cutters” but why not change the cord to something a nerd wouldn’t want to cut?  What I’d like to see happen sometime in my lifetime is for “cable service” to mean combined TV and broadband delivered uncapped over fiber by the cable company (who will still live up to their industry’s name because fiber optic cable is technically still cable :-D).  Since it looks like the phone companies are retreating from wired technologies to try to squeeze every last nickel out of people via wireless services (cellphones, cellular broadband, trying to gain legal permission to dismantle the landline phone grid, etc.) why wouldn’t the cable industry want to compete via showing folks that wires still have a purpose if they deliver superior speed and reliability.  Think about it.  Cable originally came out of the bad old days of rabbit ears TV where you got two channels and a ton of snow on the TV dial.  The reliability of wired stuff over wireless really shined when cable customers got real picture and no fuzz and didn’t have to mess with an antenna, but the phone companies want to go completely in reverse with this sort of stuff, swapping out the reliability of wired phones in favor of unreliable wireless where folks “break up” and calls get dropped.  When the general public starts to grow weary of the inherent unreliability of wireless stuff they’ll beg for a superior alternative…..  😉

Perhaps this is just wishful thinking, or perhaps if Google Fiber ever comes to the Northeast I’ll have me some moving to do.  😛

Paywall = Outdated Business Model?

If I had to write a headline describing wide swaths of the world of broadband-related issues these days, it would probably be “Tenacious Outdated Organizations Struggle With Reality Of Changing Times.”  The more I keep an eye on issues related to broadband and technology, the more that headline makes sense.

It’s no secret that broadband and the Internet going mainstream have changed the landscape of more than a few industries these days, and it’s also no secret that in a true kicking-against-the-bricks fashion, former leaders in said industries have been pulling every stunt in the book to try to protect their outdated business models.  Paywalls are the latest in this long-running escapade of dated industries trying to stop the march of time and technology in its tracks, and recently The Consumerist and Forbes posted an article about an embattled old school media business that has fought these changes for years – newspapers.  😛

The Consumerist – Gannett To Put 80 Of Its Newspapers Behind Paywalls

Forbes – Gannett Building Paywalls Around All Its Papers Except USA Today

Newspapers stubbornly pulling these stunts is nothing new to me.  Many years ago, Chris Pirillo posted a video on his Lockergnome channel on YouTube where he basically messed with and eventually hung up on a telemarketer from a newspaper that was trying to sell him a half-cooked not-so-innovative service that I’ll bet isn’t even still around these days, judging by what the sales rep was talking about here.  😛

Let’s see….  A “complete newspaper that you can flip through online.”  Sounds like a PDF to me.  Some retailers where I am scan their weekly circulars and put them online, but that’s just a quick and dirty way of getting their paper publications onto the Internet, not a primary way of getting people to find out about stuff online.  That’s what websites and RSS feeds are for, and the bigger more successful retailers around here get that simple fact.  :o)

Paywalls are nothing new.  They’re basically a dead giveaway that a business with an archaic business model is trying to fight the tides of change.  I usually run into paywalls with folks related to the TV industry since TV is probably the most in denial that traditional media shares its platform with new media these days.  I could do a whole entry on how the Internet probably scares traditional media folks so let’s not get ahead of things here.  That being said though, with radio being the only form of traditional media that I haven’t yet seen fiddle around with paywalls yet (probably because of how radio works relative to TV or newspapers) I’m thinking paywalls as a sign of an aging business model could definitely be a valid equation these days.  😛

As for my local newspaper – they have the right idea.  The reason Gannett jumped out at me is because the local paper in my neck of the woods used to be Gannett until several years ago, and since then they’ve developed a decent-looking news website with teasers for stories only available in print and of course still sell regular newspapers for those folks around here who don’t want to poke around the Internet for everything.  I still think the TV stations do a better job of web design which gives them something to maybe shoot for in terms of appearance but at least for local news coverage there’s at least one paper around here that gets that clicks and web pages should be embraced instead of fought at the city gates.  🙂

Re: “Web-Surfing Like It’s 1999.”

You know, there once was a time where I thought with my conservative upbringing that I’d be better off moving to The South than staying in New England.  I thought I’d fit in better with the culture and make a darn good social conservative.  Two things happened.  First, I mellowed out on social issues and became far more interested in this country not spending itself off a cliff than forcing a certain culture on people by law.  Second, I saw just how much the South is getting taken for a ride on Tech Issues.  =(

MuniNetworks – AT&T Trying To Redefine Broadband In Georgia, South Carolina

It’s true.  There are actually corporate lobbyists hard at work with state governments making sure the South winds up with an abysmal definition of “broadband service” that’s even lower than a federal standard the FCC hammered out several years ago!

Ars Technica – Joke’s Over: FCC Adopts New Broadband Penetration Metrics (published June 15, 2008)

So let me get this straight.  It used to be that the FCC called something broadband that was 200k or above, but awhile back they started reserving the B-word for 768k and up.  What these companies are basically trying to do is turn back the clock about 10 years or so.  This is all in reaction to Washington’s desire to wire up the country too.  Some politicians, mostly Democrats, are actually getting the message that Broadband is a political issue, and that infrastructure in some places is ALREADY spelling the difference between whether businesses bring new jobs to an area or not (Chattanooga, TN anyone?).  Right now broadband-as-a-jobs-creator is mostly a municipal issue.  The clock is ticking on these companies though before it become a state issue and them taking advantage of naive often Republican state politicians starts to lose its effect.  There’ll probably be some big changes by the time this becomes a national issue when multinationals are preferring more wired countries to the US, but maybe by then Google will be giving phone and cable companies big runs for their money with their Google Fiber service, but for now… Wow.  Talk about turning back the clock.  200k.  I didn’t know crappy 384k DSL was still popular.

200K is an UPLOAD speed for a crappy ADSL connection, not a viable DOWNLOAD speed for anyone who wants to not be left out in the cold in the new digital world of the Information Age.  Just one of many reasons I’ve encountered lately why I’ll gladly continue putting up with the snow in the Northeast.  😛