A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘internet

[META] What blogs do you read?

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What blogs do you read?

Let me know in the comments. I like coming across new things.

Written by Randy McDonald

August 29, 2015 at 3:54 am

Posted in Meta, Writing

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[LINK] “How Coolness Defined the World Wide Web of the 1990s”

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Megan Sapnar Ankerson’s article in The Atlantic from July 2014 is insightful. Back when I had a home page and plans to expand it, a curated collection of cool sites is something I wanted to have.

Summer is the ideal season to contemplate that perennial, overused, and ever-elusive concept of cool. This summer is particularly ripe, for August marks the 20th anniversary of an early web phenomenon known as “Cool Site of the Day”—or CSotD for those in the know.

If you weren’t online in the mid-1990s, you might have missed the tremendous effort devoted to curating, sharing, and circulating the coolness of the World Wide Web. The early web was simply teeming with declarations of cool: Cool Sites of the Day, the Night, the Week, the Year; Cool Surf Spots; Cool Picks; Way Cool Websites; Project Cool Sightings. Coolness awards once besieged the web’s virtual landscape like an overgrown trophy collection.

These recognitions were regarded as welcomed honors, visually stamped on the distinguished site with a graphical status icon that bestowed a mark of “quality.” Accumulate enough of these accolades and new awards.html pages would be erected to showcase the entire collection.

Maybe today’s users find the early web’s preoccupation with cool to seem little more than the juvenile boasting of Internet novices. But a closer look at sites like Cool Site of the Day, and the countless other cool directories like Netscape’s “What’s Cool?” and Yahoo!’s Cool Sites listing, might actually tell us something about how and why networked technology and digital culture forged such an enduring link to the concept of cool.

Written by Randy McDonald

August 26, 2015 at 7:47 pm

[LINK] “Bitcoins gaining traction around the Black Sea”

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I’m skeptical of this EconoTimes report, but it does not seem implausible that countries bordering the Black Sea–technologically advanced, but legally insecure–might resort to the use of bitcoins.

According to a latest report by Bravenewcoin, countries in the region, collectively known as the ‘Black Sea Basin,’ is experiencing rapid growth in both bitcoin adoption, and infrastructure. There are over 13,600 locations to buy bitcoin in person in the region.

It’s not at all apparent when looking at an ATM placement map, such as Coin ATM Radar, how densely populated these areas are with shops and machines that will sell bitcoins for the local currency.

Such websites only list bitcoin-focused ATM machines, not multipurpose kiosks, nor shops where you can go to the counter and purchase bitcoins from the clerk. If you could include these kinds of shops and machines, which are every bit as good at selling bitcoins as a bitcoin ATM, then it’s clear that countries in eastern Europe have an extraordinarily high degree of bitcoin access.

Some of the biggest payment Kiosk companies include the IBOX in the Ukraine, JSC Nova in Georgia and Zebra Pay in Romania, the report said. Striking agreements to add Bitcoin exchange applications to these kiosks, in one or both directions, has so far been an easy job for local Bitcoin entrepreneurs.

Written by Randy McDonald

August 25, 2015 at 10:19 pm

[BRIEF NOTE] On being out in an uneven Ashley Madison future

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Either very late last night or very early this morning, I was reminded of some consequences of the Ashley Madison data breach when Andrew from Facebook shared a Twitter update from one Adam Kushner. Tushnet shared the panicked Reddit post of an anonymous Saudi on Reddit who used Ashley Madison to hook up with other guys outside of his native country, and who now found himself scrambling to flee before he was arrested and executed. Things seem to be getting less bad at him, at least judging by his updates, but he is still left scrambling.

I am from a country where homosexuality carries the death penalty. I studied in America the last several years and used Ashley Madison during that time. (For those of you who haven’t been following the story, Ashley Madison has been hacked and its users’ names and addresses are on the verge of being exposed.) I was single, but used it because I am gay; gay sex is punishable by death in my home country so I wanted to keep my hookups extremely discreet. I only used AM to hook up with single guys.

Most of you are Westerners in countries that are relatively liberal on LGBT issues. For those of you who are older–try to think back to a time 10 or 20 years again when homosexuality was intensely stigmatized. Multiply that horrible feeling of stigma by a million, and add the threat of beheading/stoning. That’s why I used AM to have discreet encounters.

I BEG you all to spread this message. Perhaps the hackers will take notice of it, and then, I can tell them to (at the very least) exercise discretion in their information dump (i.e. leave the single gay arab guy out of it). As of now, I plan on leaving the Kingdom and never returning once I have the $ for a plane ticket. Though I have no place to go, no real friends, and no job.

UPDATE: I have gotten enough money to get car to Riyadh and a plane ticket to the US. I got a PM from a redditor who is in the Kingdom and a paralegal at a a major US law firm with an office in Riyadh (I will be traveling there this weekend). The firm’s has a big pro bono practice that specializes in refugees! And it is very pro LGBT; tor he redditis going to arrange for me to meet with an associate to explain my association. It appears I’m in good hands. I will let you all know more soon! It looks like I’ll be out of here in a few days with a concrete plan of action.

UPDATE: A bunch of people are accusing me of lying because ‘AM is only for married people.’ AM is actually about “discreet hookups,” and hence its main appeal is to married people, since premarital sex isn’t stigmatized in the West. But it also appeals to gays from regressive cultures, and their website has an option specifically for gays, as you can figure out if you do 5 minutes of research.

The idiots who claim I’m lying are projecting from personal experience, and forgetting that, for many gay people around the world, being outed is a life-threatening experience. The risks for us are greater than the risks for married Westerners cheating on their spouses. That’s why AM’s promise of discretion appeals to us. (Seriously, you think that there are no gay Muslims on there out of 37 million users?) In any case, that people would accuse me of being a liar on the basis of no evidence–at a time when I stand a serious chance of being tortured, murdered, or exiled–makes me pessimistic about humanity.

See also here.

Right now, I am tapping put this blog post while drinking a beer on a nice rooftop patio on Church Street. I am out, I am comfortably out, and I am now at a point where I cannot imagine not being out. It goes without saying that I cannot imagine a situation eatI be destroyed by others, literally and physically. I never feared that in my worst-case imagining before I came out. I simply cannot imagine that, and am so sorry other face this even now.

Do ding out that the hypocrisy of one-time American Christian poster boy Josh Duggar was a massive hypocrite was nice, I suppose. Then again, we knew that already, and we knew that when he was dealing with actual victims. (His young sisters were not consenting adults by any stretch.) Was an unneeded confirmation of this man’s hypocrisy actually needed, especially at such a cost to this man and others?

This also illuminates the ethical weaknesses of our current global society, the interactions of its inhabitants increasingly enabled by global networks even as the cultures of these particants remain divergent. In Canada, it would barely be worthy of mention if I was to hook up with guys using Ashley Madison. Canada, though, is not the world. William Gibson’s famous statement about the future being here already but unevenly distributed has taken on a new meaning for me tonight.

Written by Randy McDonald

August 22, 2015 at 1:52 am

[LINK] “Here’s How Brazil Is Giving Every Citizen Free Mobile Data”

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The title of Ian King and Christiana Sciaudone’s Bloomberg article is slightly misleading, in that the free data access being considered is limited in scope. This might well expand in the future, at least based on precedents elsewhere in the world.

Once considered the next great growth engine for the smartphone industry, Brazil is on the decline. With its economy shrinking and unemployment on the rise, many Brazilians are making do with dumb phones. They find the cost of an Internet-connected device prohibitive, particularly when they factor in mobile data fees.

One possible solution borrows from a technical breakthrough made by AT&T half a century ago. The Brazilian government is working with local companies and Qualcomm, the world’s largest mobile phone chipmaker, on a modern version of toll-free calling. A new 1-800 system for mobile data allows Brazilians to access their bank accounts for free on smartphones without incurring data costs. The government of São Paulo plans to extend free data services to some official websites by the end of the year.

Banco Bradesco, one of the country’s biggest banks, began exploring a free data program after observing that many customers had stopped using the company’s app and were switching back to such traditional banking services as phone calls and visits to the teller. A survey of those customers found that they couldn’t afford data plans and didn’t have access to Wi-Fi during work hours, when banks are open. Bradesco teamed up with technology giant Qualcomm, and together they spent a year negotiating with Brazil’s four main phone-service providers. The bank purchased data packages wholesale and started rolling out the program in 2014. Bradesco customers can check account balances, transfer money, and pay bills without buying a data plan. “The response was excellent,” says Mauricio Minas, a vice president at the bank.

[. . .]

Sponsored data has been tested in other emerging markets, with some success. Internet.org, a pet project of Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg, provides free access to a limited group of websites—Facebook being one—in Colombia, Kenya, Tanzania, and Zambia. Two of China’s largest mobile operators began offering one-day free access to Alibaba’s Taobao Marketplace in 2013 to get people hooked on the shopping site and to encourage data use.

Written by Randy McDonald

August 18, 2015 at 9:05 pm

[BLOG] Some Thursday links

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  • Bad Astronomy shares a new photo of the area of the Vela supernova.
  • blogTO notes Toronto has only one more month in which it can lodge its 2024 Olympics bid.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze reports on the apparent discovery of an exoplanet orbiting Canopus.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money is against Heinz.
  • Discover‘s Seriously Science notes Internet search engine rankings can swing elections.
  • Towleroad continues reporting over the Stonewall controversy.
  • Window on Eurasia speculates as to reasons for Putin’s escalation of fighting in Ukraine.

[WRITING] “2015 is the year the old internet finally died”

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Todd VanDerWerff of Vox wrote earlier this week about trends in Internet content as in mass media generally, about how quick-responding content generation is now key.

Take a look at your browser tabs if you’re reading this on a computer. Inevitably, you have at least a few that are weeks, if not months, old, things you’ve always intended to get to but just never have. Odds are these are so-called “longform” articles that will take a while to read. (Here’s one of mine, which I’ve had open since October: a GQ feature about “the last true hermit.”) A fair number of you are going to open this piece in a tab and just never get back to it.

These longform pieces are the pinnacle to which lots and lots of us writers and the websites we work for aspire. They win awards. They garner attention from other journalists. They’re often why we got into this business to begin with. Even BuzzFeed turned out to be using all those cat GIFs as a Trojan horse for a lot of great investigative journalism.

And I don’t want to suggest, even inadvertently, that nobody reads these longer pieces. A well-written, well-reported longform piece can break out as well as anything, as Gawker found out with (among many others) its influential, over-9,000-word essay “On Smarm.”

The problem is scale. A larger, general-interest site can’t be built purely atop longform, because longform takes time — both for writers to produce and readers to read. Therefore, as both Buzzfeed and Gawker realized early on, well-done longform could be the steak, but it couldn’t be the meal.

Some of this was driven by the greater knowledge the internet has given publications about just who’s reading what on their sites. Newspapers could suspect nobody was reading the city council report or the dance review; with the internet, we know nobody is. The internet has made it clear that the kinds of things that people want to read are sort of an endless collection of what’s cool. And that might be a longform story, or it might be the quick, clicky little things that repackage the best flotsam and jetsam out there in a more presentable fashion. And if longform takes time, then aggregation is its opposite, easier to throw together in a few minutes with huge potential upside (though, it should be said, with much bigger potential for disaster, since everything is moving so quickly).

Thoughts? The author references Hossein Derakhshan’s Medium essay, previously linked here, abut how individual sites are losing their distinctiveness on the social web.

Written by Randy McDonald

August 10, 2015 at 3:56 am


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