Super Mario Run is surprisingly fun!

December 29, 2016 1:03am
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So I’ve been playing the new Mario game for iOS on and off since it came out a few weeks ago, and I’ve got to say that despite some of the negativity that I read, I personally found it to be pretty enjoyable.

I’ll admit that when I first heard the news, the idea of seeing a Mario game on a platform other than one created by Nintendo did seem very weird, and I can’t help but wonder if it was more or less published in response to Pokemon Go – a game that was immensely popular, though I can’t see making a lot of revenue for the company because they only charged for add-ons and not for the game itself.

Super Mario Run, on the other hand, cost a whopping $9.99 after a relatively small number of trial levels, which is more than I’ve paid for almost any of my apps except for maybe business-oriented ones, but I was curious and I haven’t bought a new Mario game since that weird cat one, so I figured I’d give it a try…

The look and feel is identical to The New Super Mario Bros, with the only real difference being the continuous running aspect, which took a while getting used to but after a while I found really grew on me. At first it seems weird playing a game with literally only one action – tap to jump – however a lot of my complaints about other iOS games is that they try to cram in a full controller’s worth of buttons onto the screen and it ends up looking just like the console version, but essentially unplayable.

I didn’t get that with SMR and although I sped through World 1 pretty quick, the worlds to follow offered quite a bit of challenge – I certainly didn’t just blow through them all in the course of an hour!

Lately I’ve been going back to the earlier levels and trying out the various coin challenges where you have to collect five pink, purple, or teal coins from each level, with each color getting increasingly difficult. I’ve gotten all of the pink and purple for several levels, but I don’t think I’ve cleared all teal for any one level just yet – they’re pretty tough, even at the very beginning.

But it’s nice to see that challenge in an otherwise pretty simple game. In a way, it almost has a Lemmings quality to it, or maybe that Mario vs Donkey Kong puzzle game for the DS … they’ve taken the Mario universe and put an interesting spin on it to make a new experience for the purely touch-oriented iOS world, which is kind of what they do if you look back to the likes of Super Mario Galaxy, or Mario 64, or whatever the new Mario title was for each Nintendo console on down the line.

Again, it’s a little odd for Nintendo to release a game from their flagship brand for a platform other than one of their own, but maybe that’s ok. I don’t really play the Nintendo DS simply because I’m getting older and the screens don’t work for me anymore, but give me a simple Mario game that can entertain me for a few random minutes here and there on my phone and I’ll play it, and I’ll like it, too! 😉

Paying the Cost of Journalism

December 23, 2016 4:40pm
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When I first moved to Florida, I was a proud subscriber to our daily local newspaper – the now defunct Tampa Tribune.

I had actually started getting the Sundays mailed to me about a year prior so that I could look through the classifieds for jobs and places to live, and I ended up extending it to a full subscription when I got here admittedly because it felt like the grown-up thing to do, plus it cemented the idea that my new city warranted a seven day newspaper whereas the papers back home in Northern Michigan were only published something like twice a week! The paper would get delivered to the front door of my apartment every morning in time for me to take it to work with me, and it would end up getting passed around my team throughout the day until I had a chance to read it myself during lunch.

That went on for several years until eventually I stopped carrying it to work with me and the growing pile of unread papers on my floor became more of a guilt-trip than an honest source for news. By then it was probably 2007 / 2008 and I was getting the vast majority of my news, including stories from the paper that got delivered to me by hand, off the Internet before I ever got around to even unbagging the day’s newspaper until finally I just bit the bullet and canceled the thing altogether.

I remember literally sitting on the floor with several dozen newspapers, flipping through them methodically to skim for anything I may have missed just because I felt guilty throwing the papers out without ever even opening them!

So fast-forward to today, like many of my like-minded colleagues in the wake of the election season and particularly this fake news hysteria, I just recently subscribed to a couple of newspapers … electronically, that is. For me, I chose The New York Times because they seem to hit on most of the biggest national and world stories and the Orlando Sentinel because I enjoy their tourism and theme park coverage.

The total cost once their promotional periods are over is less than $4 a week.

Mind you, I’m a bit torn about paying for online content across the board just because I don’t think I want to see the Internet turn into a place where micro-payments are the cost of access, although between my own dwindling ad revenues and the awful user experiences that more and more sites are willing to subject readers to in exchange for ad dollars once again, my opinion on the topic certainly isn’t set in stone…

But I think when it comes to real journalism – not opinions that are a dime a dozen, but true, ethical reporting – as the information age continues to grow in ways that we’re not entirely sure how to contain, it’s important that we put our support behind those news sources which we rely on so that money isn’t a reason for them to fall off the edge of the earth like countless newspapers have done in the last decade. Sure, it’s becoming harder and harder to know what represents honest reporting these days and I’ll sincerely admit that my own selections aren’t 100% unbiased, but I think we need to start somewhere and for the stories that I’ve found myself wanting to read more and more lately, these are two of the papers that consistently deliver.

Plus I’m getting sick of seeing that “You’ve exceeded your 10 free articles for the month!” pop-up from the Times and they’re like every third story in my Facebook feed, so I’m willing to pay a couple of bucks a month just to get rid of that alone! 😛

#ServerProgress

December 20, 2016 8:56pm
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Update: Got the scottsevener.com network of sites moved back over to its new home, everything is resolving correctly and not in 48 seconds per page load, and it’s being served through Varnish + Apache … woohoo!

Mind you, I’m not entirely sure that it’s configured correctly because speeds aren’t tons faster, but we’ll work on configuration tweaking another day … I’ve got so much catch-up writing to do now… 😛

Troubleshooting page load speed, part 45…

December 20, 2016 3:31pm
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For the record, I’m painfully aware that the page load times on several of my sites have been, well, unbearable as of late!

Admittedly it’s a problem that I’ve been stalling on for some time now, despite the regular high load emails that I get from my server. A few days ago I got one saying it was as bad as a 5-minute load average of 68.94 … and this is on a VPS with three CPUs and 5 GB of RAM that does honestly pretty light traffic right now, unfortunately…

I had been hoping that most of it could be chalked up to an OS issue because I recently discovered that cPanel had stopped updating on me after reaching a version threshold where the latest would no longer run on 32-bit operating systems, which I was kind of surprised to learn that I had, but again, this VPS was setup back in 2012 so I suppose 32-bit could’ve still been the default four years ago.

The trouble is, there’s really no clean way to upgrade my server from 32- to 64-bit leaving everything intact, so it requires spinning up a new machine and migrating everything over to the newer OS.

Plus, the way I migrated four years ago to VPS from my plain, old shared hosting account of maybe eight years was using cPanel’s built-in account transfer features, which although made it incredibly easy (plus my host did most of the work!), lord only knows how much random garbage has accumulated in all of those files over 8 + 4 years of shared history!

So I had planned on making the migration sort of a clean-up effort along the way and only copy over the guts of each WordPress install, leaving behind whatever caches and other nonsense have accumulated over the years.

And then terrible performance got even worse!!!

When it got to the point where it would literally take upwards of a minute to move from one page on my blog to another, and the admin pages would randomly get disconnected because they couldn’t touch base with the server when it was super overloaded, I knew that it was time to finally tackle this pig. So within a few hours time, I created a second VPS with my awesome web host and gradually let it go through all of the OS and app updates while I staged just one install – my multisite that contains my blog, Thing-a-Day, and about half a dozen other sites – and everything seemed to be going fine…

…until I switched my domain over to the new server…

…upon which usage started blowing up like crazy, again despite little traffic, and even though I started this new VPS a bit smaller than my main server (figuring I could upgrade once I’m ready to stop paying for the old one), it quickly became unusable just like the old machine had been.

From here I started doing some digging into WordPress itself because no longer could I point fingers at the 32-bit OS. I downloaded a couple of plugins – P3 Profiler and Query Monitor – and with the latter’s help, that’s when I noticed that apparently I had a plugin that was just GOING NUTS against MySQL day and night:

To walk you through this fun graph, the orange is your normal SELECT queries that happen when anyone hits a page and WordPress queries its database to build it; the purple, on the other hand, is somehow all INSERT queries, which should really only ever happen when I’m publishing a new post, with a few exceptions.

And those two big valleys in the purple that you see around the 18th and then again between 19 and 20? The first is when I had temporarily pointed my domain over to the new server; the second is keeping the domain back on the old server, but turning off the plugin in question … which apparently solves just about everything!

By the way, the last little purple sliver is me turning the plugin back on so that I can capture some logs to send over to the plugin’s developer to help him look for a fix…

because the thing is, I actually really like this plugin – it’s called WP Word Count and I’ve used it on just about all of my sites for years and years to summarize how much writing I’ve put into my projects. I love it, and if I can spare the time next year, I want to make use of its work to pull together a running total of word counts for all of my work combined so that I can ultimately put together a fun, little dashboard to help motivate me to keep putting words on the screen!

Luckily after finding another multisite user with the same issue, I left a quick comment expressing the same and got a reply from the plugin’s developer later on that evening, so it’s awesome that they’re actively interested in patching this bug because I’ve evaluated a lot of other options and honestly never really found ones that I liked better than theirs.

In the meantime it’ll have to stay off, though, as I continue with my fun server migration. During this whole effort, I’m also trying to really hone in on The Perfect VPS WordPress Configuration, so I’m doing other things like tinkering with Varnish and considering adding Nginx in front of Apache, and then eventually I also want to fine tune W3 Total Cache so that I have one reliable set of caching / compression / minifying rules to use for all of the different sites that I publish … because I figure if I’ve seriously been doing this publishing on the web-thing for over fifteen years now, my pages should be some of the fastest loading around!

Stay tuned for more as I struggle through more issues to come! Now if I can only get this stupid thing to post… 😛

movie thoughts … Snowden

December 12, 2016 3:10am
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It scares me to think that I distinctly remember when this story broke a few years ago and what a big deal it was, or was supposed to be, and yet here three years later I honestly don’t know how much I trust that anything really happened to change anything.

I mean, I understand that President Obama eventually recanted … to some extent, and then Congress passed some reform bills … to some extent, and for the most part our 24-hour news cycle has long since moved on to other topics as it is wont to do…

…but for a secret spy network whose only accountability is to a group of politicians behind closed doors who don’t have to tell us anything under the guise of national security – how are we supposed to believe that anything actually changed at all after Edward Snowden leaked the security documents that he did???

Cinematically, I think the movie turned out great. Joe Gordon Levitt nailed the role as Snowden, and hopefully it had enough suspense to get the story out to a wider audience, many who may have skipped over the headlines either blindly in the name of fighting terrorism or even merely writing Edward Snowden off as some computer hacker just as disappointingly as Obama did in one of his less admirable points during his presidency.

Because the thing is, I have little doubt that the NSA is technically capable of intercepting telephone and Internet transmissions of normal, everyday American citizens like you and me. And though it admittedly kind of blows my mind how much disk space it would require for a government agency to literally have a record button for THE INTERNET, you can buy a lot of hard drives for the $50 billion a year that’s allegedly our intelligence community’s budget…

…cause we can’t even know that out of fear for national security… 🙁

I think privacy is a very basic concept that most people probably take for granted. If you’re standing inside of your own home and you’re speaking at a reasonable volume, naturally you would assume that nobody outside can hear what you’re saying, and even if what you’re talking about is utter nonsense, you still wouldn’t invite the entire neighborhood into your living room to just sit on your couch and listen to your daily banter with your spouse.

The argument that “people who have nothing to hide have nothing to fear” is bullshit because we all have business that we don’t want being shared with random strangers, be it what we call our significant other behind closed doors or the sometimes bizarre Google searches we make out of sheer curiosity at three in the morning or the intimate details of our personal finances.

And one of the cornerstones of our justice system is the idea that each of us is “innocent until proven guilty” which means that spying on Americans just in case one happens to be a terrorist is treason. Yet because the best we can do is trust our politicians that they’re keeping the NSA under control … which has been proven categorically false as of late … not only do we not know if sacrificing our privacy in the name of national security is actually working, we also don’t know if that information is also being used to serve other personal or political motives in the name of perversion or even just good, old-fashioned crooked capitalism!

Because it’s estimated that 50,000 people work for the NSA and if we follow the same contact circles outlined in the movie, it doesn’t take more than a couple of hops to literally have tens of millions of people directly or indirectly connected to the analysts who could have access to anything they ever wanted to know about, well, anyone.

Of course, the whole issue of whistleblowers is a fine line because our government and our military need to keep some things secret in the missions that they’re performing, but when we the people can’t rely on those who we’ve elected to keep everybody honest, that’s when we occasionally need people like Edward Snowden or Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning who are willing to literally put their own lives on the line to point out that what these people are doing behind closed doors isn’t right.

Great movie, and I really hope that it helps to re-open the discussion about mass surveillance and what we’re really willing to let our governments do with when they tell us that they’re trying to protect us.

Dreaming Fact & Fiction

December 11, 2016 3:24pm
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I’ve always been kind of curious about dreams, hence for the past several years I’ve occasionally blogged the more memorable ones here for entertainment and posterity’s sake!

Last night I had a particularly interesting one, in that it was peppered with details that were both true and untrue – enough to lead me to wonder what exactly it is that makes up the content of our dreams … sometimes they’ll be completely fictional, sometimes an erie re-creation of past events, and every once in a while they’ll be like this one where fact and fiction seems to be sort of intertwined … and even more strangely enough, there were definitely a couple of moments where I knew that throughout my dream… 😕

I had returned to the auto parts warehouse where I used to work back in my hometown, and it was as if I was already working there again, but I also seemed ready to make my departure … again.

Walking into work one day, I found a note from the boss saying that I wasn’t supposed to keep personal items at work. It had been left in this upstairs second floor that the building had – which was true, however the part about getting in trouble was false.

The note had said that I could get my things – presumably some t-shirts and other clothes – from the manager who was holding them, but when I finally hunted him down, a bunch of my co-workers had gathered into sort of a dinner-type setting because they were all throwing this goodbye dinner for me.

This definitely didn’t happen, although the faces were all real!

What was particularly strange was that both old and newer employees alike were present – in reality, the warehouse got acquired by one of our competitors midway through my time there and some people left while other new faces joined – and yet here was a mix of both, though for some reason it sounded like somehow the original company had returned and managed to make a comeback.

At one point I found myself prompted to give a speech, and so I re-told a few anecdotes from working there through the years which everyone enjoyed, including a rousing story about the actual acquisition … which was booed, but then later applauded when I shared how the actual brand behind that company had still managed to survive.

Parts of this were actually true, in that the brand technically did survive and exists elsewhere today, though it no longer has nearly the presence in Michigan that it did before the acquisition. In fact, I even remember a few of my co-workers hoping that maybe someone else under the same brand would come in and “save us” from being acquired, but nothing ever came of that…

Eventually it was time for me to go, and I was packing up my things – which ended up being far more numerous than just a couple of stray t-shirts – though it was strange because around my desk were mementos from Florida, some rather personal from several girlfriends whom I certainly couldn’t have been dating all of at the same time! 😕

The references were real, and peculiar, and we’ll just leave it at that. 😛

As I was putting everything in bags, I started thinking about my future and about how instead of sticking around, maybe I should just hit the road and head back down to Tampa the very next day. Presumably there was some indecisiveness in my itinerary despite leaving my job up north, though the dream didn’t do much to elaborate.

I had vague recollections of a life that I once had down in Florida, but nothing definitive, and I think I thought that maybe once I got down to Tampa, more of those memories would come back to me.

This is a dream fragment that I have a lot, though admittedly not much as of recent – I’ll be back home, knowing that I used to live in Florida, but now I don’t … and I’m trying to put the pieces back together because I can’t quite remember how they fell apart and I had to go back home.

Mind you, none of this is factual, but I used to have nightmares about it for a long time – I think because moving was one of the most pivotal moments of my life.

The dream essentially faded away here, except for one other random fragment that was just too weird not to share because it involved somebody somehow flooding the warehouse – like an aquarium and we were all just swimming around underwater having a grand time until I finally had to come up for air because one of my children … it was unclear which one … was swimming with us, too, and he was having trouble and just needed to get flipped over!

While I was doing that, I had a pleasant chat with the manager who I’d worked with all of those years reflecting on everything that had transpired, so that was nice. 😉

And though I don’t recall a specific conversation that aligned with this one in the dream, I do remember leaving on a high note where he wished me luck and whatnot whereas it had taken many years for our working relationship to get to that point.

I guess it’s just both interesting and a bit odd to me to look at these subconscious, creative stories that happen inside of my own head and wonder how exactly they get put together in there … though now that I think about it, that’s how most of my creative work gets written, really. I either start with something outlandish and occasionally sprinkle in pieces of reality or maybe focus on a moment of truth, but then exaggerate it into a story that’s more funny or shocking or generally enjoyable than the original ever could’ve been on its own.

I’m not sure what the stats look like now, but I know that when I moved to Florida back in 2003 something like 700 people moved to the Sunshine State every single day. And as I sat there in my stately motel room, eating pizza and trying to write freelance articles for the newspaper that was now the polar opposite of the new world right outside of my motel door, it kind of blew my mind to think that in one form or another, there were another 699 people around the state – many of them right there with me in Tampa – who were going through the same thing!

So while the story itself wasn’t particularly unique, there were certainly bits and pieces that when blown a little out of proportion like any good humorist does make it a fun story to reflect back on, and so maybe that along with its significance in my life is why it seems to keep bubbling up time and time again while I’m trying to get a good night’s sleep, too.

And it makes me wonder if other creative folks find themselves dreaming like this as well. My wife, for example, says that she almost never dreams, which I’m about 95% sure isn’t just because she’s up every 2.5 hours to breastfeed the twins yet again! Despite all having the same general biological stuff on the inside, it tends to function a little differently for each of us … beyond that, though, there’s a reason why I’m a writer and not a biologist!

I did perform Dream On by Aerosmith in the talent show during my junior year of high school, so maybe that has something to do with it??? 😉

Short Fiction : Reckoning

December 10, 2016 12:20am
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The year is 2030 – some fourteen years after Emperor Trump was unknowingly elected to be the last President of the United States.

History books – what’s left of them, anyways – show that he ran under the decree that he would “Make America Great Again.” 

People even wore it on hats and posted the slogan proudly in their lawns.

Now barely more than a decade later it’s a phrase that is heard ominously across the landscape, from our institutions to our employers to our workforce itself, for failure to simply utter the words in response to a government official is paramount to treason in America today.

The only one who is afforded a Freedom of Speech in 2030 is Trump and Trump alone.

I spend a lot of time thinking while I’m at work about how things devolved the way they did so fast – it helps to make the manual labor move by faster during my daily 16-hour shift at the server farm. It’s a hot and grueling task to maintain the thousands of computers that support the Trump regime, but it’s better than building The Wall … I’ve heard that some men get tasked to work on the wall only to never see their families again, whether it’s the non-existent safety standards or the rogue patriots who still think that they can somehow make a difference in this world…

How they haven’t all been hunted down by Trump’s deportation squads, I have no idea, but admittedly there’s a small part of me that believes in what those guys fight for because rumor is that it’s what America was actually founded on centuries ago.

I understand the country had already begun to steer away from its roots by the time that Trump was elected to power. One half believed in the rights of the people, whereas the other half lived motivated by fear and antagonism, and it’s not hard to guess which side he chose to incite in order to take control of the American government. Some could see the writing on the wall and people protested in the streets, but they were quickly shutdown by his supporters who seemed to see Trump’s victory as a way for the like of them to clear the slate after having tolerated the other side for so long.

In fact, many were such ardent supporters of Trump after his election that they didn’t even realize what was really happening until nearly half the country had succumbed to his new style of leadership.

Unemployment fell to zero, namely because every able-bodied man was put to work in the national farms or underground in the mines or doing other menial tasks while at the same time females were banned from the workforce and expected to stay home raising the family, out of sight and out of mind.

International trade with other nations disappeared overnight as Trump declared that America would reject the global community and put to rest any reliance that it had on countries like China and Japan which were once known for making a majority of the goods consumed by Americans.

Immigration proved to be a rather simple problem to solve because long before construction even began on The Wall, illegal immigration all but ceased from our southern border as immigrants observed up close the rapidly deteriorating American lifestyle and thus decided that they were far safer outside of the American Empire in their own country.

Though it’s been years since anyone has seen Emperor Trump’s face publicly, his name remains plastered in gold letters upon our most monolithic of structures that we pass on our routes between work and our own meager homes. His messages are broadcast out to every citizen via devices that we are required to carry on our persons at all times – he uses an application they refer to as The Twitter that shares his most prolific thoughts with his followers in near real-time.

I’ve heard that in the past, these incredible devices could be used to communicate with just about anyone else on the planet who also possessed one, however today they’re limited to only official communiques from @realDonaldTrump.

He mostly sends messages out late into the night when we are just returning home from our workday, and they’re almost never coherent, but you didn’t hear that from me.

I’m sure America wasn’t perfect back then, but it certainly couldn’t have been any worse than the world we live in today – a darkened industrial complex where it’s difficult to breathe outdoors, working long hours for only government-approved rations with no time left for rest or relaxation, much less personal expression or any form of belief other than an unwavering allegiance to Trump. There are certainly those who prosper – mostly people who had vast wealths prior to Trump’s election or his own personal friends and colleagues.

They’re the ones who fly around in their private jets and live in these enormous, glass towers and enjoy lives that the rest of us work tirelessly to provide for them. America is no doubt great if you’re one of them, never wanting for a thing in their lives and yet always wanting a little more of ours, too.

Maybe it was them who he was really talking to when he promised to Make America Great Again.

Dream Journal : Alien Invasion

November 23, 2016 1:04pm
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I was an astronaut sent with five of my companions on a very important mission.

It hadn’t been long since they had shown up, their gigantic ships hanging ominously in the sky but otherwise not yet giving any hint to their contents, and so that was my team’s job to try and figure out from above. We would launch into space to get a better view of the situation and try to determine the fate of mankind…

We were a tight-knit team that had been up together many times before, however with so much at stake there were suddenly many new voices in the control room which all wanted a say in how we were to do our job, which ultimately led to our downfall … quite literally.

I recall the argument being about something as seemingly innocent as where each of us would sit in our own craft.

Astronauts train for the very worst of conditions using the buddy system much like kids do in the swimming hole at summer camp, though it’s a much tighter bond because up in space we trust each other with our lives and in those emergency situations each pair of astronauts really needs to be able to function as one for our best chance at survival.

As such, it makes logical sense that we sit facing each other on takeoff … but the voices that be had other plans because one of them had made their own seating chart that they expected us to follow, and even after insisting that we ultimately followed the command of our captain, not the people back on the ground, time was of the essence and he eventually caved so that we could get to work.

The last thing I remembered was reaching that point where the sky was both blue and black at the same time, and then suddenly I was waking up from blacking out and we were all floating in the ocean.

My buddy, the captain, and I were the only ones that survived, and we were lucky to even make it out of the water because by the time the helicopter made it out to sea to rescue us, there was nothing behind for it to return to because they had taken our liftoff as a sign that it was time to strike. We sought refuge in an abandoned building as best we could, but as three astronauts without a ship we felt especially helpless to fight the situation at hand.

But astronauts above anything else are problem solvers, so our new problem became how we could find ourselves a new ship.

Who Do You Trust?, Part 2

November 21, 2016 3:15pm
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(Part 1 here)

It’s both strange and challenging to see how the Internet has evolved to where you can’t necessarily even trust that someone is who they say they are online, in a multitude of areas.

I suppose this started with the earliest days of spam email and scams with the prince of Nigeria trying to swindle people out of their bank account numbers, which we’ve watched grow much more sophisticated to where today it’s common to get spam email from your friends and family – often when they haven’t even been compromised – because it’s easy enough for scammers to crawl the Internet and build relationships between email addresses and names that it finds on places like Facebook.

Sometimes I’ll open up my spam folder in Gmail just to see what kinds of spam it’s accumulated and it’s admittedly a little impressive to see their capabilities, though also scary because the whole idea of spam exists because some people don’t know better and will get sucked in by those types of tactics…

And so now we’re seeing this taken to new levels with “professional” trolls and people who purposely write misleading, sensationalized, or even just blatantly fake news stories for fun and profit – this article originally from the Washington Post was an interesting insight into the world of a couple of twenty-somethings who do just that, not out of any journalistic passion but simply because apparently it’s very easy work, the money is good without having to ever leave the couch, and frankly it’s also amusing to see people get riled up.

http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/nationworld/ct-fake-news-yellow-journalists-20161121-story.html

I’m sure we all have at least one or two friends who do that either on Facebook or even in real life, always playing the devil’s advocate just because they take pleasure from ruffling people’s feathers and they enjoy arguing senselessly. And it’s one thing when it’s that friend you knew from high school who was kind of always an asshole, but a lovable asshole at that, versus the complete stranger who has never met any of the people who are reading his “work” – they’re just a number to him, and much like a video game the goal is simply to get the high score and dup as many people as possible, damn the results.

…even if it influences lives and ultimately impacts an election…

It’s bad enough when actual organizations like the mainstream media miss the mark and report something that turns out being false or misleading, but when integrity isn’t even on the table because the entire aim is to deceive and win clicks, it presents a big problem because once again just like spam email, it wouldn’t exist if people knew better. But many, many of them don’t, and so we’ve got this rise of fake news stories written by anonymous tricksters that gain so many likes and shares that they rank higher than legitimate news, and ultimately these are the ideas that shape people’s opinions because they help to reinforce what they already want to believe and even though anyone with five minutes and a free thought can technically setup a webpage, there’s still a certain air of authority to read words in print when you’re not one of those people who knows how easy it is to publish online today.

Of course, anonymity has its uses when it comes to people writing controversial things without feeling repercussions – it’s just unfortunate that the exact same thing is happening here with a very negative intent instead of using anonymity in a positive manner. When becoming a different person is as easy as saving a random portrait from the Internet and posting it as the picture on your new profile on any social network, it makes it all the more challenging for the rest of us to know what’s real and what’s not when we can’t even trust pictures of people we know and love when we see them appear online.

Despite being the most difficult, is teaching users to be skeptical the best approach to fighting these fake identities online? Social networks to some extent can try to ban fake profiles if they set off the necessary red flags, but just like trying to pick which news sources are legit and which are bogus, depending on the activity it becomes an editorial effort that is going to get criticism from either direction.

Maybe the answer isn’t necessarily in re-educating the older generation, but more so in teaching new generations who have never lived when this unprecedented access to information good and bad wasn’t available how to consume it, and what to trust and what to avoid. The sites that we do trust also need to continue to fight these issues from their own angles, but there are always going to be scammers trying to take advantage and trolls looking to stir up controversy, so it’s vital that as information continues to grow by leaps and bounds that it doesn’t just become a useless minefield where one can literally find anything that they want, but with integrity absolutely lost in the revolution.

In a way, I think that the Age of Information will have to evolve in see figuring out how to identify and designate that trustworthy content because otherwise its own growing size will become its downfall, and nobody wants that! We can’t just scrap the whole thing and start Internet2 when this Internet gets so full of garbage that it becomes unusable… 😉

Who Do You Trust?

November 19, 2016 11:05pm
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…for your information, that is. 😉

Because somehow in the course of a week we managed to go from needing a more diligent news media to trust no one as if The X-Files is suddenly going to come back into style! And don’t get me wrong, it’s certainly good for people to be skeptical and ask questions about the information that they’re consuming, particularly online, but I’m not so sure it’s to anybody’s benefit when it gets to the extreme of nobody trusting anything that they read because the narratives in their own heads are fueled by anecdotal incidents that get turned into blanket assessments.

For example, “None of this violence by Trump supporters against Muslims is actually happening…” because one case was investigated and proven to be false.

Or even just yesterday – Mike Pence gets booed going to see the play Hamilton … but did the cast boo him or did the audience boo him??? I’ve read accounts both ways, however Donald Trump has already tweeted that the cast owes him an apology and plenty have picked that version of the truth up to run with, but it’s a pretty big difference whether it was the cast on stage or simply people in the audience because I’ve got to think that the latter is going to happen a lot!

This whole concept of fake news being shared virally around social media is kind of crazy because even taking it a step beyond people reading into The Onion thinking that it’s actual news, I feel like a lot of the problem especially on Facebook is that people don’t even read articles anymore – instead they just react to and share headlines and memes that get them riled up. Hell, I’ve even witnessed this with my own family reacting to things that I’ve written where they go off on a rant without taking into any consideration the points that I actually wrote about!

It seems a little ironic to find ourselves in the middle of the Information Age yet people are so inundated with data that they either don’t know what to believe or just believe the thing that most closely aligns with what they already want to believe.

Even some of the bigger professional news sources are getting scrutinized right now, which in a way is good because they need to be held accountable if we’re going to rely on them holding other people accountable. But it can admittedly be hit and miss when the same news organizations can be on the ball one minute and literally reporting on tweets the next … which as far as I’m concerned is almost as unforgivable as reputable publications having Taboola ads beneath their otherwise reputable content!

Seriously, you shouldn’t be writing legitimate news stories from a 140-character tweet any more than you should be selling your journalists out with ads pointing to The Photos That Ronda Rousey DOESN’T Want You to See underneath their investigative work!!!

I thought it was interesting to see Mark Zuckerberg talking about how they can address the issue on Facebook because let’s be honest, a growing number of people’s information gathering both begins and ends with their Facebook News Feed. And it’s not as easy of a problem to solve as one would think on the surface because any type of filtering or adjustments to their news feed algorithm is by nature going to insert (more) editorial insight and political bias – they’ve experienced that already with their Trending Topics and being accused of suppressing conservative links…

I like some of the things that Google has done over the years as link harvesters and content farms chase link juice by looking at things like page quality in comparison to similar sites, load speed, and even evaluating design to encourage sites built for people as opposed to search engine spiders. But reliability of the content itself is another level tougher still, particularly because one thing you can’t rely on is social performance because we’re seeing people so actively liking and sharing absolute garbage! 🙁

It’s a problem that’s going to take multiple approaches to solve – it can’t be just the folks like Facebook and Google because, well, there’s only so much they can do, but I do think that it’s their responsibility to do as much as they can because having the largest user bases sharing around irrelevant and incorrect ideas isn’t really in anybody’s best interests. Yet just like Google has actually faced lawsuits about changing its algorithms to favor some sites over others, social networks will see the same thing, and really, if you’re Facebook you can’t really say that Occupy Democrats is ok but The Comical Conservative‘s links are crap … not only is the issue on both sides of the table, but unlike Google’s approach, they’ve got more support of their fans because it’s not like click farms are known for their loyal followers.

I’d like to say that a big part of this is somehow making more people aware of the fake that these links that they’re liking and sharing aren’t true, but whew – would that be a big nut to crack. 😛

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