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 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.

This could be the beginning of a scientific revolution or the Zombie Apocalypse – either way, it’s cool!

7 March 2012

This actually isn’t a joke.  What makes us different from the un-dead creatures from spook-show zombie movies and the likes of Twilight vampires?  Aside from value to society and a touch of class, the correct answer is a pulse.  Every known living animal has a heart that creates a pulse of some kind.  In fact, the pulse is the major criteria for determining the difference between life and death.  That is until now.

Doctors Bud Frazier and Billy Cohn have turned what we know about the difference between life and death and made it a lot less simple.  These doctors have made it so that 50 cattle and 3 humans now walk on the Earth without a pulse.  Taking a daring hypothesis that just because ever heart has a pulse, we don’t actually need it, they developed a 10,000 RPM pump that creates a continuous flow without any pulse.  Although these 53 cases all fit the criteria for being the walking dead, they are able to function normally.

Want to read more and listen to the Doctors (Frankenstein?) talk about their innovation?  Check out YouTube video for a quick peek, or the article from Popular Science.

You’re Printing it Wrong

30 January 2012

I have a real love-hate relationship with pdf E-books.  After designing my first book outline for a diary, I developed an appreciation (contempt) for the difference between MS Word and publishing software.  Every time I made the slightest change, it would throw off the whole rest of the document and expand my vocabulary.  Once I did get it all correct, I “printed” it to a pdf and the formatting was locked, avoiding any surprises when the printer opened the file.  I totally understand the value of the pdf ideals.

On the other hand, frustration is inevitable when trying to view a pdf on a tablet or E-reader.  You have to zoom, twist, or wait to see the blasted thing.  The difficulty in viewing pdf files on these devices made me think that it was time to move on.  The problem is that other E-book styles (EPUB and Mobi) either don’t have very good tools for creation, or the fluid formatting can limit the look and style.  Sure you could tell me about great Apple products for creating E-books, but my experience leads me to believe that “Standards Compliant” is a term not included in Apple’s lexicon.

Then it occurred to me that the problem wasn’t the pdf, it was that most people were still writing for standard sheets of paper.  One night while trying to get to sleep, I wondered what the diagonal “screen” size of a piece of paper was.  I’ll ignore the whole aspect of trying to read a document in portrait orientation on a wide (landscape) screen for now, but here are a few calculations I made.






8.5” x 11”


Approx 3:4


Half Letter

5.5” x 8.5”


Non standard screen ratio


Quarter Letter

4.25” x 5.5”


Approx 3:4


Put simply, a letter sized sheet of paper is twice the size of an iPad, and four times the size as a 7” tablet screen.  Your well formatted paper will either be shrunk or the reader will have to scroll to see it all.  I’ve used the smaller paper sizes for ages because I envisioned my work as a paperback and having never thought of screens.  I realize now that I might keep these styles for any electronic publications I might produce.

So I go back to my little nod of the Steve Jobs explanation about holding the iPhone 4 incorrectly.  The problem with pdf E-books isn’t the format but the paradigm of writing for paper.  Some professionals may already know all about this (and do it anyway).  For the occasional publisher of E-books and documents, consider the media as well as your audience.  Changing your paper size could make your work a lot easier to read and create a better experience.

Will there be an Internet Independence Day?

26 January 2012

I was listening to Jeff Jarvis talking about Davos on TWiG episode 131. He was mentioning that he had a chance to see what the 0.1% thought about the Internet and SOPA protests. As I think he put it, “They’re scared shitless.”

My mind began to jump about with other topics and something came to me. If these ultra powerful people are scared, what would be the core of their fear? Do they think that, like Victor Frankenstein, they have created a monster so powerful that they can neither control, nor destroy it? Do they instead think that the Internet community is beginning to rise up and revolt against them? Either story usually results in brutality and possible self destruction. But there is yet another question to be asked, is the Internet community fighting for its independence, and what would that look like?

I thought I would put this out to ponder. What is the Internet in relation to the physical world? Is it a nation onto its own that crosses the political boundaries of the globe as we know it? Is it an entity that should be made to answer to a council or higher power and tasked with the responsibility of self regulation? These are important things to consider, because the doctor has named its monster, the empire its rebellion. We know what is likely to follow and the only question then will be, will the Internet be subdued or triumphant?

Crazy 2012 Prediction #1

5 January 2012

Having not heard of anyone brave enough to make wild predictions for 2012, I decided to start with this one.  I predict that there will be an “Internet” outage in 2012.  I’m not talking about an ISP going down, I mean that there will be a major outage of the “Internet”.  Here is the basis for my prediction:

The real Internet theoretically cannot go down because it was designed on a basic principle that information can travel to any destination through any number of alternate routes.  The effectiveness and simplicity of the concept is truly wonderful.  The “Internet”, in contrast, is what common people believe the web to be.  They rely on servers, either centralized or distributed, that can be interrupted.  In 2011, Research In Motion (RIM) encountered interruptions to services after a perfect storm of circumstances were put in motion starting with hardware that failed in a way unknown to either them or the equipment manufacturer.  Just like the Earthquake and Tsunami in Japan, a cascade effect rendered the best efforts insufficient.  If this could happen to RIM, a company obsessed with reliability and security, could it not happen to other companies that are not as focused?  If such a situation were to happen to Facebook, Microsoft, or Google, the version of the Internet (the “Internet”) that people commonly use would be broken.  The information that the world relies on would be inaccessible causing distress unknown previous to the Internet Age.

Don’t think it could happen?  I put forth that if it could happen to the likes of RIM, it would be even easier for it to happen to other services.  It certainly happened to Sony in 2011, though for different reasons.  If you don’t believe as I do, then there are other factors you may also want to consider.  The obvious one would be the SOPA debate in which huge organizations want the ability to control a technology that they apparently don’t understand.  The intentions of SOPA and regulations like it aside, the proposals request interventions that undermine the way the Internet works in a timeframe that is ridiculously short compared to the evolution of the working model.  A weak point in the coding could have great and unexpected consequences to the backbone of the Internet.  Add to that the interests of too many fingers wanting access to that off switch that shouldn’t exist, and the danger increases.  There have been some countries that have already expressed great interest in putting boundaries on the Internet such as the Great Firewall of China.

Furthermore, the troubles in the repressed countries of 2011 where revolution was spawned revealed another weakness.  Many areas do not follow the interlacing model of the original Internet.  Some countries have as few as one point of access to the Internet backbone and communities in prosperous countries like the United States are equally limited in providers.  Like the great Roman Empire of legend, the Internet has been spreading across the globe leaving some areas sparse and hard to defend.

I would like to point out that this is a wild prediction.  I certainly do not hope that it will happen and admit that it would be rather devastating to me personally.  Also, I don’t think it would happen for very long in the real world but may seem like an eternity in Internet Years.  I’ll put this wild prediction in the “Damn, I hope not” category.

Google + Experiment

26 November 2011

I’ve been looking at Google+ and their new pages features.  It does seem an odd mix of things and I cannot easily share contacts from personal to page to page.  I am hopeful but plan to have a copy of my ponders here as well where I know they will stay.

So what’s my ponder?  I am curious how real people are using Google+ and the pages.  Could the Google functionality be enough for the future, or do we still need more?  I know that finding friends is getting harder and harder on G+ as more people come on and you have to jump through hoops to get new users that are the 30th on a list of people with the same name.

Could “Occupy Christmas” be Next?

26 November 2011

I was pondering about the impromptu lectures (he calls rants) of +Jeff Jarvis and some interesting discussions involving #OWS. My overly pragmatic brain thought, “What would Wall Street care about some peaceful protesters as long as they go out to the malls and spend millions of dollars this holiday season?”

That lead me to the thought about whether protesters would be considering that as well. It is no coincidence that These thoughts occur to me on Black Friday, one of the busiest shopping days of the year. Here’s the ponder experiment; what if everyone supporting these changes were to not go to the malls, but rather use that money to pay down and cut up a credit card? Instead of a whole pile of (or any) gifts, supporters were to simply give a card with a verse to the effect of:

Thank you for the gifts
of friendship and support
that you have given to me.
I know that you are concerned
about the inequalities of today,
so in respect I give you my support
instead of giving it to Wall Street.

There is a reason that I don’t work for Hallmark, but you get the point. What would happen if the 99% decided not to support Wall Street this season? Would it force the 1% to take the protests seriously? Would it severely impact the economy (read as Wall Street)? Would it force a change?

Wall Street is betting that you won’t make them find out the answer.

for those that have never seen a myponders post, I try and pose ponders without bias. I am neither a supporter, nor a denier, I am simply a ponderer wanting to know what you think

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?

Pondering on Japan

18 March 2011

Like most people, I was watching the events occurring in Japan.  It was horrible and fascinating to watch earthquakes and Tsunamis causing devastation across the proud, little island.  I thought of writing a post but there was nothing to ponder, nothing unique for me to discuss.  That was until something was brought to my attention.

Have you ever stopped to wonder why there were so many reports and videos coming out of Japan?  Maybe you found yourself thankful that so few lives were lost.  Maybe you felt mixed feelings of fright and relief at the nuclear power plants causing so few deaths (1 crane operator that I know of past the initial problems).  All of those thoughts passed through my mind giving way to a ponder.  Why was such a horrible event so manageable?

The answer is in the people of Japan, or should I say the culture.  They are managing the unthinkable, where many other areas would have crumbled.  I don’t believe it had anything to do with race, but with the culture.  Simply put, they were prepared.

When Katrina slammed into New Orleans, it was a disaster that just kept getting worse.  The people, the representatives of New Orleans, and even FEMA were unprepared for disaster of that magnitude.  One might make racial or economic arguments but the common difference was preparation.  The people of Japan may worry just the same about bills and television programming, but they also knew what to do in an emergency.

I urge you to think about this as you watch the news.  Would you even know where to start if an emergency happened in your area?  If not, then may I suggest you do some research on the 72 hour initiative; there are great resources in both Canada and the US for free.  I’m also encouraging myself to continue working on a project to make getting prepared easier and maybe even fun.  Until then, be safe and do not panic.

Confessions of a Horder

8 March 2011

Hello to all of my reader that has noticed that I haven’t posted in a while.  I was struck with an unpleasant realization a while back and have been dealing with the consequences.  I was/am a horder.

I had dealt with clinical depression for many years and still struggle with bouts of hopelessness from time to time.  All tallied though, I thought I had come through to the other side and a new beginning.  With a significant change to my life last year and having to move, I was struck with the realization that I had amassed a lot of stuff.  I should have noticed some time before as hording is not unheard of in my family, but I failed to realize the magnitude of the situation.

You might ask the question, “What did you horde?”  The answer to that lies in 3 main categories; things from my childhood when I was happy, remnants of projects abandoned in times of intense depression, and survival gear.  I would say that all 3 are relatively obvious after a little thought.  As to why I had kept all of this stuff, I do not have an answer.  I amaze myself as I sort through the boxes and fill a seemingly endless stream of garbage bags.

I’m not writing this merely as a confession, I have also come to realize that I had lead myself into a false belief that the depression was over and there was no collateral damage.  I also now understand that some of the hording was due to the fact that facing all of those memories again was hard as Hell, it violently brought my depression out of remission time and again.  I faced the disgust of myself and others that bore witness to the monster I had created.  I realized the shame and difficulty that people with such afflictions face.  Finally, I am realizing what it takes to overcome such a problem and I am overcoming it one day at a time.

So I end with this ponder on the cusp of my 4th decade of life.  What is the little secret that you have not yet been able to face, and are you willing to face it now?  I urge you to find help and take steps now, before it becomes overwhelming.


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