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.

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. 😛

You’ve Gotta Keep ‘Em Separated…

October 18, 2016 10:32pm
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What do you do if you’ve got two kids that for the life of them just can’t seem to get along and only want to FIGHT any chance they’re near each other???

No, no – this isn’t a parenting post about my newborn twins, who are still in the NICU and thus separated by a good five feet as well as a partition at all times anyways! 😛

In fact, we’re talking about adults … who argue … on Facebook, specifically, because not to defend the other quadrants of social media or anything, but I’ve never seen half the arguments on Twitter that I see boil over on my Facebook posts. I’d like to say that I don’t know what it is about Facebook that makes it different from other platforms, but I actually know exactly what it is because honestly it’s the same thing that makes Facebook attractive to me for entirely different reasons…

Simply put, Facebook is where I have friends and family from over the years; Twitter is where I have the people who are most like me.

And so whereas from one angle I love Facebook because it connects me with relatives and distant friends who otherwise aren’t really online people so they can still see family photos and the goofy humor stuff that I write, but in a way it’s also a bane because when we start to get into messier topics like, oh say, POLITICS, we often don’t share remotely the same opinions and sometimes people aren’t very civil about it.

…which I hate.

I shouldn’t have to apologize for what one of my Facebook friends says to another, nor should I have to play referee between people that have taken political passions to an entirely unhealthy level.

I’ve also found very recently that it’s stressful/painful/whatever you want to call it when close friends and/or family make comments about your beliefs that you once would’ve thought above the types of conversations that you’ve had with them.

I don’t want to go into anymore detail for fear of outing anybody, so instead let’s just say enough is enough and I’ve finally decided to do something about it. And luckily, Facebook actually makes that pretty easy…

Up until this week, all of my Facebook posts have always been public because I’ve been publishing to the Internet since back when it was text only and I don’t really believe in walled gardens. Still, my own sanity is worth twisting that perspective just a bit, so I made me a list and checked it twice … and ultimately came up with about 20 people on Facebook who I’m flat-out just tired of arguing about politics with during my time spent there.

screen-shot-2016-10-18-at-10-16-37-pm

I’ll still set most of my Facebook posts to public, but now when I have something I want to share that I just know is going to elicit undesirable comments from these same people who always get into the same arguments, I can set those posts to be Friends only – excluding those on my No Politics list – and BAM!

Peace and quiet on Facebook at last. 😉

Now a couple of points to close on:

  • As to whether you’re on this list if you find yourself reading this on my blog! Let’s be honest with ourselves – you’ll probably know it if you are, and if my Facebook posts have seemed less controversial to you lately … no, I haven’t gone conservative – I’m just tired of arguing about it with YOU. 😛
  • If bullet #1 there raises the argument that I only want to discuss things with people who agree with me, I’ve actually already written a fine editorial about this so feel free to go read that if you’d like. 😉

At the end of the day, I’ve only got so many hours and though I welcome a good discussion, it does either of us little good to keep having the same ceaseless comment threads over and over again. So maybe you can just gush over my latest family photos or that funny thing that I wrote about farting at the library instead.

But if you take offense to farting, too, so help me god if you don’t wind up on an entirely new list altogether! 😛

I just discovered Kat Blaque’s YouTube channel the other day and I’ve been slowly browsing through her videos because she seems to have a lot of calm and rational, well thought out things to say that I really admire, but this one in particular really hit home for me today because it’s been a particular frustration of mine as of late and honestly I’ve had other people tell me bits and pieces of this advice – all of which that are really worth taking to heart if you’re trying to make a career out of creating content online.

Here are some of the highlights…

  • “Comment sections tend to be a massive time suck that often result in fighting with total strangers and resolving absolutely nothing!”
  • “You are not required to comment, respond to a comment, or even see the comment section.”
  • “Sometimes I think that we believe that the only thing that’s missing from this piece of content is our voice.”

I think my favorite point, though, is where she talks about constructive arguments in comments that would make for great standalone videos (or blog posts, or whatever) because this is a perspective that I’m trying to subscribe to myself that I first picked up from some random blog long ago that unfortunately I can’t remember. The author had turned comments off on his site, but also included a section below each post that specifically said something like – “If you have comments or opinions as a result of reading my post, I invite you to expand on them by making a blog post of your own.”

I love this just because while he’s not dismissing reader opinions as not mattering, he also made it clear that he wasn’t giving the option for each reader to leave them front and center on his doorstep and he also encouraged that more productive, thought out debate that we’d all like to see by saying, “Go put some of your own effort into it and make a proper rebuttal like I did!”

Comments are not content, and I’m looking forward to watching what else Kat Blaque has to say because it seems like she actually puts some real time and effort into the things that she posts online. 🙂

I remember back in 2001 when we had relaunched Just Laugh, it was a big deal for us to finally get listed under the humor section in Yahoo’s directory.

Like, I got a big packet of information about Yahoo in the mail and everything – it was kind of cool!

Looking back at estimates, there were around 30 million websites on the Internet in 2001, whereas nowadays some 15 years later there are closer to one billion websites and the number of users has increased by a factor of six to nearly represent half of the planet now being online and connected.

In a lot of ways, the growth is absolutely amazing to see what the Internet has become and how people now have access to wealths of information that no one person could consume in their entire lifetime.

On the other hand, however, a lot of it is crap and it seems like at least with regards to news and the search for reliable, factual information, often times there’s more to mislead people than information that they can actually count on … if they can even find it in the first place…

Case in point is a quick search that I wanted to do this evening about last week’s shooting of Alton Sterling because a lot of rumors have surfaced that maybe he wasn’t allowed to be carrying a gun in the first place because he was a convicted felon. Here are the top results of my search:

Screen Shot 2016-07-09 at 10.32.22 PM

As you can see, the top result – with its loaded headline and all – is from BearingArms.com, which is a pro-gun blog with ties to the NRA’s lobbying division. Not exactly the fair and unbiased resource that I was hoping for! The other sites aren’t much better, regurgitating reports from other publications with a bevy of linkbait stories on both sides. Of the two most reputable hits, USA Today and New Orleans’ Times-Picayune, neither story actually cites whether Sterling was legally within his rights to carry a firearm on the night he was killed by police.

Whenever we talk about web filtering software, we always think about protecting children from adult websites, but what about protecting any users from misleading and unreliable ones? Not so much as a form of censorship, but in the second wave of a digital age where websites are a dime a dozen and literally anyone can publish on the Internet now, maybe there’s some value to being able to say, “Only give me news content from vetted, accredited sources that I know I can trust.”

Granted, one could argue that social media already filters the modern web in a lot of ways – not all of them positive – but I don’t necessarily want to only view the articles that other people I follow have decided to share socially. In a way it’s kind of funny that the Internet would one day evolve to in fact having too much information, but it’s a good problem to have. I always laugh when people criticize Wikipedia as a source for information that the hardbound encyclopedias at the library still have their flaws, too, so maybe this is just the next challenge of the information age – figuring out how to connect people with the right information in a sea of clickbait and negligibly sourced garbage.

Don’t tell Marissa Mayer now after just shuttering the directory service that Yahoo was once famous for, but maybe they were on to something with curating the best links of the web after all!

A Reason for Garbage Comments

July 9, 2016 5:28pm
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I have a theory about why social media sites like Facebook garner such terrible discussion in their comment sections based on something that I’ve observed from some of my own writing that I’ve published recently.

I’d love to see some actual statistics on how many users actually click through links on Facebook vs how many leave comments because when I compare the pageviews that I’m seeing on some of my more “lively” posts, the numbers aren’t even close! I suppose it doesn’t really surprise me, though it’s disappointing in a way to think that so much of social media commentary is reactions and agendas pushed solely on reading the headlines and not actually delving into the content that myself or another writer took the time to put down on the page…

It’s a relatively new phenomena with digital media because it’s not like print or television or radio really give their viewers the opportunity to only consume the lead without also hearing the actual story. I mean, you could turn the TV off or only read the front page headlines and then walk away to go about your typical, everyday rants, but social media is really the first platform to give that live commenting option where readers have an up front venue where they can speak his mind without actually considering his source material whatsoever.

Does that need to change?

I eluded to some of my greater concerns about Internet comments in my Thing-a-Day post yesterday with why I specifically don’t allow comments on many of my own websites, but what if sites like Facebook took an extra step to lock down the comment box until a user at least clicked on the link that the comments referred to?

It wouldn’t be a perfect solution because you could easily get around it by instinctively clicking the link and then immediately closing it, but the majority of users probably aren’t likely to do that anyways.

Then again, you’d have to look at the stats to see if it’s even the majority of users who comment without reading or if it’s really just an issue with that increasingly vocal minority that’s likely to cause headaches no matter what type of restrictions you opt to put in place.

So this happened today… 😀

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Now I know that I’ve told the story many times before, so here’s the highlight version:

  • Just Laugh, my humor site, was established in 1999 using the domain justlaugh.net because somebody else owned the .com and wanted $3,000 for it.
  • A couple years later, that guy let it lapse, so then I owned both justlaugh.net AND justlaugh.com!
  • In a twisted case of cruel irony, I let justlaugh.net lapse when I moved to Florida in 2003 and somehow forgot to renew it.
  • After a squatter scooped it up almost immediately, it proceeded to bounce from one reseller to another, usually with overseas registrars, leaving me almost no legal recourse to bother trying to reclaim it even if I did have the $1,000 fee or whatever.

So I’ve had backorder monitoring setup with GoDaddy on this thing for years – I seriously don’t even remember when I did it, but it was like $18 and came with a year of hosting, so I figured why not … maybe they’d catch it one of these years if the squatter fell off his game, even though it always seemed to magically renew a week or two before the expiration date rolled around.

The notification emails from GoDaddy were kind of torture, watching that happen year after year…

…until this year when surprisingly the expiration came and went without renewal, and the registrar threw the domain into pending status!

Even then I tried not to get too excited about it because I know that there are companies that do nothing but stalk the expiring domains list to scoop up anything that could be of value to them. In fact, I even got a curious email about it last week asking “if I was interested in the domain” … which made me wonder if he was either the guy deciding whether to renew it again or just another stalker fishing leads to see if it was worth picking up. So I didn’t respond, and I also tried to avoid any of those backorder sites that might accidentally trigger a notification to the owner that someone was poking around about it.

And then this afternoon, I unexpectedly got this email from GoDaddy saying that the backorder had been successful!!!

Mind you, I don’t really have much use for it – after all of these years, it’s purely a nostalgia grab, primarily fueled by the poster on the wall in my office that all of our contributors signed for me back in our heyday that just happens to still bear the justlaugh.net address…

justlaugh

I’ll pretty much just redirect it to justlaugh.com and 99.999% of visitors will never even know that it exists … but I’m a nostalgic guy, so that doesn’t really matter to me. It’s just neat to have finally reclaimed the name that I’d originally bought fresh out of high school when I started this whole thing in the first place, back when the website was entirely hand-coded in PHP and looked a little something like this…

Screen Shot 2016-04-12 at 2.11.51 AM

Good god, St. Patrick’s Day and the Christmas menu buttons were still up?! Well, that was 2003 for you… 😉

I like pizza, but I don’t need coupons for it every single day.

I noted the other day how it kind of bugs me to get promotional emails from likes of Pizza Hut and Domino’s several times a week when in reality I don’t order out quite that often, and even if I do it’s certainly not from all of the places at once!

Sure, I could go to RetailMeNot and look for deals there, which works for some eateries, but you’ve also got rewards programs – particularly Red Robin comes to mind – who actually require you to be on their mailing list in order to participate and get free stuff from their rewards programs.

So after mulling it over for a couple of days, I finally sat down and setup a couple of filters in Gmail to do exactly what I wanted to do – route my preselected ad emails to a separate folder (or label in Gmail), and then when anything gets older than 45 days, automatically delete it. The idea is that now my promo codes will be there when I want them, but I don’t have to waste any time sorting through them when I don’t.

Here’s what they look like:

Filter #1 routes any emails from the specified addresses to my new Ads label so I’ll never see them in my regular inbox…

(note: use curly brackets {} around multiple addresses to specify OR instead of AND)

gmail_ads1

Filter #2 then does the dirty work and cleans up afterwards, monitoring for any old emails and deleting them once they’re 45 days old because more than likely any promo codes within will have expired by then anyways…

gmail_ads2

PROBLEM SOLVED – that’s one less thing cluttering my inbox without actually unsubscribing from any lists!  8)

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This is actually kind of surprising because I tend to swear a lot on Twitter, yet I guess Santa only analyzed my last couple of dozen tweets which at the time happen to be relatively tame!

Mind y0u, we may have to have a little talk about language the next time I sit upon his knee because while I’ll give that the likes of fuck, bitch, shit, and asshole are definitely swear words, I would still contest that dildo, slut, and most of all WTF are certainly not!

Screen Shot 2015-12-24 at 1.58.24 PM

Do acronyms of swear words still count as swear words???

Also, when did I tweet about dildos in the last couple of days?!

Oh yeah – that’s right… 😛

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