Tech Ponders

Social Networks, Big Data, and You

20 September 2012

On the most recent episode of This Week in Google (TWiG), co-host Jeff Jarvis was making his trademark point about social networks like FB having the ability to provide benefit to their users by knowing more about them.  Mr. Jarvis is quite candid on his views of openness and the benefits that can be derived from being open.  Typically, I agree with Mr. Jarvis with some reservations.

Something occurred to me this time as I heard him speak.  It is true that many social networks do know a lot about their users from the content that they provide; and yet targeted ads still have a track record of being ineffective on those sites.  Russ Pitts (of the http://www.theverge.com/gaming fame) said on Tech News Today (TNT), he encounters the rubber hose effect, which means that if you buy a rubber hose, the only thing you will see for the next while are ads about rubber hoses.  Add to this the complaints of ads that people find irrelevant, and a problem arises.

So, if these social networks know so much about us, why is there this problem with targeted ads?  The thought occurred to me that the social networks knew a lot about its users but failed to understand them.  Put another way, the companies are hearing about us without understanding.  I confess to dislike the thought of anyone looking at a significant amount of data and getting the results wrong, but that is what appears to be happening.  It also appears that it is a familiar problem with context.  Just because I do a search, post a photo, or share my thoughts on a subject, there is little understanding of how that fits into the consumer’s world.

The easiest rebuttal to this situation is that the system will get better with more data.  I am not convinced of this.  It already takes massive servers to parse what is already known; enough information that it is not that difficult to find the specific people through the piles of anonymized, aggregate data.  The whole situation leaves me to ponder why it is that there is enough data to know who I am and where I live, but not know that I already bought the rubber hose and don’t need any more.  This pondering also leads me to wonder about the entire assumption that knowing so much about us really is beneficial to the advertising revenue models of the Internet.

Back in the Saddle

17 October 2011

Hello again!

For those that have wondered what on Earth happened to me, I’m finally back.  It has been an insanely busy summer with working nearly every weekend.  To add to matters, an older site on my account got hacked and started doing horrible things.  The whole works was taken down until every issue could be addressed.  When all was said and done, the summer was over and my Internet work was neglected.  I’m sorry to anyone that might have come around looking for the site and a place to strike up some ponders.

And what would a post be without a ponder?  So here’s something to occupy your mind.  Spammers create spam (and hack into websites) in order to send out their messages to anyone who will listen, and then some.  Why do they do this?  The answer is simple – money without conscience.  The spammers are trying to fool you into giving them money one way or another; whether it’s fake products or your personal information for sale, they won’t stop until they squeeze a dollar out of you.  So here’s the ponder, why do people keep falling for this stuff?  Do you really believe that you can get cheep Viagra and would you buy medications from people that can’t check for spelling and grammar mistakes?  You could support your local con artist by buying your fake Gucci bag downtown so why do so many people continue to click these links and put their money down?

Snow, Grounhogs, and Government

2 February 2011

I was wondering what to post today and thought of the hot topics; the snow, Groundhog Day, or the controversial ruling by the Canadian Radio and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).  All I could come up with when I pondered the snow was that this is Canada, it is snow, next topic.  That left Groundhog Day and the CRTC ruling; then the idea struck me.

I think Wiarton Willie should be the next head of the CRTC.  He’s all ready on a government expense account (albeit a municipal one) that would be easy to transfer to the Feds.  Then there are the qualifications; as a groundhog being able to remember complex tunnel systems, he would be able to remember that Bell did not spend their hard earned money building out infrastructure.  Bell spent taxpayer’s hard earned money to do it. Groundhog Willie would see through the phone giant’s pleas to take measures for recouping infrastructure expenses.

Next is Wiarton Willie’s ability to see his shadow.  This qualification would be more than enough to see that Bell’s request to implement data caps to 1/10th of the existing targets for the same cost as anti-competitive.  This proposal would not only cripple the re-seller’s ability to compete for Internet service, but would essentially prohibit online entertainment services like Netflix from coming into Canada and threatening Bell’s satellite television service.  With the conflicts are easily as apparent as a shadow, Willie would be up for the task.

There are those of you that might think that putting a groundhog as head of the CRTC is a foolish idea.  There are those that might believe it couldn’t get worse.  Sure, Wiarton Willie might keep us waiting for 6 weeks until Spring but that’s over 6 months faster than the CRTC will review it.  The commission appears to want to wait until competing companies are forced out of business before it hears any appeals.

Those that know me know that I try to remain politically agnostic, reserving equal disdain for all politicians equally.  However, Prime Minister Steven Harper has the chance to be my hero this month by reviewing the CRTC’s decision and coming to the same conclusion Wiarton Willie would have – it is a bad deal for Canadian citizens.

Software Review – ReviverSoft Bastards and Microsoft Goodguys?

6 December 2010

Hi again, November was the kind of month that they write Olde-Time County songs about for me.  Sorry I wasn’t able to get any posts up, but they would have been dripping with negativity anyway.  I just didn’t have anything good to say –  and that is against my policy of getting people out to think about things in a new way.

Anyway, on to some substance.  Among all of the other disasters of the previous month was a dead laptop and a desktop on life support.  With finances being what they are, I just couldn’t hop out and replace everything all at once (though I really, really wanted to).  In time, boot disks, and backup software, I finally got my desktop running again though I have doubts of its continued well being.

While downloading some software to check for duplicates on my filling and failing drives, I accidentally got the add-on software Registry Reviver by ReviverSoft.  What can I say?  I got it from a reputable source, scanned it for infections, even did a little review hunting (not enough), and finally had little to loose considering the problems I was already having.  I installed ReviverSoft’s little bundle of software and found …

Basic, everyday scare-ware.  It found a pile of problems and said it would fix them all if I upgraded from the trial software.  Now I like a good extortion racket as much as the next guy, so I ignored all the reviews that said it was actually a good cleaner and uninstalled it right then and there.  Simply put – I won’t support bastards like that no matter how well their product works, I’d rather replace my machine.

Then I saw someone mention the Windows Live Cleanup Center from Microsoft.  Could it be?  A free utility from the mighty Microsoft that compliments their free Security Essentials?  Being in a destructive computing mood, I gave it a go.  In 4 minutes or less (it took me longer to remember that I had to use Internet Explorer and how to load it), it found a few items and actually fixed them.  I mean that some of the issues I was having ACTUALLY got fixed.

I always discourage people from using registry cleaners and software like that, but I have to say that I don’t mind this utility.  It may not fix the 3000 errors found by less scrupulous vendors (it terrifies me that Microsoft gets the moral high ground on this one), but it fixes what it safely can without scaring the hell out of you.  I have to recommend the Windows Live Cleanup Center from Microsoft before doing any extreme measures like letting an extortionist into your registry.

New iPod Nano, Not Feeling the Love

3 October 2010

I was looking to buy my first Apple product a couple of weeks ago and walked into a major electronics retailer. I was after Apple’s new iPod Touch which was supposed to be released. There wasn’t a single unit available in 3 cities, which made me want it more.

Back to the point, my Touch review is coming. While I was staring longingly at the empty display case, I noticed the new iPod Nano. It sat there in all of it’s little glory ready for the hordes of people to come and buy it.

Measuring a little bigger than its little brother, the shuffle, and featuring a touch screen the display unit sat there to be admired. My first thought was that my fingers would be too big for that little screen. After playing with the display unit for about a minute, I realized that I was right. The little device felt fiddly in my hands and as far from ergonomically intuitive as a device can get. Now I will admit that I have some different ideas on tech and that my difficulties should be taken as a fringe opinion at first glance. That is why I was a little shocked when another customer came in looking to return his new Nano.

The man had bought the Nano for his wife who wanted it for a trip. The next day he was back at the store to take advantage of their liberal return policy and, “Get her a GOOD iPod Nano.” He continued by mentioning that she was totally unimpressed with Apple’s new incarnation.

Leaving the other customer to his exchange, I looked around the store until he was done. When I returned, I asked my questions about the gen 4 Touch and added in a few questions about the Nano. The sales person knew what I had heard and didn’t try to hide it. The stack of available Nanos was pointed out with the comment that, “The new Nanos are not feeling the love this time around. Even the people that come in for a look, start asking to see other products.”

So, ignoring my ideas about the new Nano, it seems that nobody else is showing them the love either. Personally, I’m shocked; I thought Apple fans would buy a lump of coal if it had a touch screen and Apple logo (me in 10 years?). I guess we will see when next year’s models are released.

Kobo Update

8 July 2010

Following my last post, I went to my local Chapters store to try the upgrade process.  Ironically, I was told that I was the first and only person to seek out the upgrade in store.  Looking at this as an interesting opportunity to work with the staff to create a work flow and test process (nerd moment).

After a few hitches to learn from, the upgrade completed and works great.  There is a new sleep mode that promises to improve the battery life, though you’ll need a calendar to test that.  All said and done, anyone going for an upgrade after me will have an easy go of it in less than 10 minutes.

Additionally, to compensate for the “inconvenience,” early in store upgraders will be offered a $10 gift certificate and a free copy of Anthony Bourdain’s book, Medium Raw; Aimee Bender’s The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake; or Justin Cronin’s The Passage.  I really have to applaud Kobo for offering this upgrade, their unique method of delivery, and their customer appreciation.  If you have a Kobo reader, I would suggest going into your local Chapters and getting the upgrade.  After all, people interested in Kobo readers are usually looking for an excuse to get into a good bookstore anyway.

Happy reading.

Back to the Tech

1 July 2010

I’ve been a little pre-occupied about the social ponders lately, but here is some tech news.  The Kobo Ebook reader is releasing its first software upgrade.  This might not sound like a big deal, lots of manufacturers release software updates. They have improved some usability features, possibly extended its amazing battery life, and given us the chance to hide some of the included classics.  All things that prove that they are actually listening to their customers.  If you want to learn more, check out their site Kobo Upgrade.

The reason that I’m particularly excited about this update is that the Kobo company is doing things a little differently.  You can download the traditional installer and do it at home or you can get an upgrade at the Chapters Store that you bought your Kobo reader.  According to the website, the staff will put an SD card into your Kobo reader and the upgrade will begin.  So why is this interesting when you could do it at home like every other product?

  1. It’s a new idea that is worth exploring.
  2. It shows a commitment to customer service.  Unlike everyone else that makes you do it yourself and then call some operator after you are totally frustrated, Kobo has an option for Mr. & Mrs. Nota-Techie.
  3. I can get out from behind the computer, go into the Chapters store, and deal with employees that are friendly and helpful.
  4. If something goes wrong, I have the unit at the point of purchase with a history and witness – Easiest return ever?
  5. I don’t have to have yet another installer on my computer.
  6. I get to laugh at the people in Starbucks having to bastardize 3 languages just to order a coffee (personal quirk).
  7. Why not?

See you there.

E-Bikes

19 June 2010

Let me begin with saying that I initially thought that E-Bikes would be fantastic and that it was great that they were going into a test phase in Ontario.  Now let me back up, E-Bike stands for electronically assisted bicycle and they are those scooter looking things with the foot peddles out the sides.  Personally, I think they look like crap and the peddles are all but useless if you did want to go human powered; however, they do represent a more realistic direction for power assisted vehicles.  For those that aren’t familiar with Canada, relying entirely on running shoes to get around is not an option, things are spaced just too far apart.

So here it is.  We have this new technology to help us reduce fuel and all the other evils that come from cars and they are available to everyone.  The problem is that SOME of the people buying these things can neither drive a motorcycle, nor a bicycle.  I see the E-Bikes swerving about in lanes, flying through stop signs, and generally driving like a cyclist disregarding the rules of the road on a vehicle that is faster and harder to maneuver than any mountain bike.  I fear for these people, I really do.  Falling off a bicycle going 16 km/h is nothing like dropping a motorcycle at 35 km/h to avoid becoming a hood ornament of a distracted car driver – I speak from experience.

I’ve always been a supporter of training and at least an informal testing.  Am I wrong?  Should these new vehicles be available to everyone that can find $1,000?

How Many Bells and Whistles do You Need?

6 June 2010

I thought I would share a tech ponder today too.  Why is it that everyone seems to be trying to develop a laptop or tablet to do everything?  Kobo proved that there was a huge demand for an inexpensive device that just reads eBooks.  The iPad proved that people wanted a device to do the little, every day,  things.  Even with these 2 companies proving that the public wants devices that will do one, or a few, things really well in a light form factor, all of the tech manufacturers seem to be trying to stuff an entire desktop computer into a tiny form factor that is hard to use.

Admittedly, some tech writers are just as clueless.  I have been looking for a light laptop that gets 8 hours or more battery life to do some writing and simple tasks on.  In almost all of the reviews that I’ve seen of the machines offered, the tech writer criticizes the unit because it doesn’t have a high powered processor to run applications that the average person has no use for.  I can understand warning the potential consumer that this is not a high powered desktop, but I find it hard to trust the opinions of someone that doesn’t realize that it was never meant to be.

Do you think I’m off my nut?  Should every computer be able to do extreme games and video encoding or is a document editor and web browser enough?

Kobo vs. iPad

30 May 2010

I’ve been debating the choice between getting an iPad.  Yes, they may be the coolest thing on the block, but I am on a really serious budget.  The other coolest thing (as far as popularity goes) seems to be the Kobo eBook reader sold through Chapters to go with their Kobo eBook store.  Both items have been hard to find on store shelves due to unexpected demand.

USE CASE: view eBooks that are in the public domain, purchased books, and self published books (yes, I’m a sucker for punishment)

iPad PROS:

  • The iPad can allegedly fill my use case (book app just released and I haven’t been able to test it), plus host a myriad of other apps which is very cool.
  • Very nice piece of hardware that is well constructed with aluminum and glass
  • Backed by Apple and their Warranty
  • 10 hour battery life
  • The parade of accessories that are certainly to come and make the iPad even better
  • Great Apple price retention (?)
  • Did I mention it was cool?

iPad CONS:

  • The iPad’s great construction makes it a little heavier than it needs to be
  • Cost is significant at $550 CAD plus tax, apps, protective case, and upgrades
  • I personally find the reflective screen hard on my eyes for long periods

Kobo PROS:

  • Supports ePub format really well
  • Easily expanded memory with inexpensive SD cards
  • Almost as light as my phone (not heavy enough to do major damage if it gets dropped)
  • Costs $150 CAD plus tax (I have no urge to accessorize)
  • The E-Ink screen is easier on my eyes
  • 2 week (8000 page flips) battery life
  • 100 free books

Kobo CONS:

  • No apps, it is just a reader (could be a pro too)
  • Plastic construction that is no where near as tough as the iPad
  • Leaves the cover image of your book so you can’t lie about what you are reading (supposedly)

This is hardly the fair testing of the iPad, but it is a look at 2 options for my specific use case above.  I hope it helps others and that readers will add to this comparison.

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