"Big Browser is watching"

Coming after improvements to Firefox and continued unease at Google's life-pervading insight, this image is outperforming the ███████ ████ Virality Control Group today (via).

It got me thinking about all the promises that were made. Here's the earliest article in Google News to contain "Big browser" in its headline, published by Time Magazine on Nov. 18, 1994.

World Wide Web die-hard surfers -- many of whom tend to be privacy-rights absolutists -- have been horrified to learn that the software that guides them through the Internet could pose huge Orwellian problems. Over the last week or so, a growing number of heads-up E-mail dispatches have warned that some "browsers," including free and commercial copycats of the popular Mosaic program, quietly supply the Internet E-mail addresses of Net site visitors. These lists, critics argue, could soon be sold to the highest bidder --or even to government snoopers. "You'll go into a bulletin board that has an ad, and in a little bit of time, the manufacturer can start sending you junk mail," David Farber, a University of Pennsylvania computer science professor, told TIME Daily. The next step, Farber and others theorize, is a credit-card-like record of what you've bought over the Net and which political discussion groups you've perused. Web programmers, who never intended such consequences, are now talking about creating either "privacy buttons" or warning labels.

The concerns isolated:

• Browsers secretly collect and share personal data. • Aggregated data could be sold or shared to marketers and the government. Read the rest

A tiny Hayes modem for your tiny retro computer

The WiFi232 is a traditional old-timey old-schooley Hayes-compatible 300-115200 baud modem, no wider than its own parallel DB25 port.

Automatically responds with a customizable busy message when already in a call.

The killer app seems to be using it to get internet onto ancient retro portables like the TRS-80 Model 102, but it's been put through its paces on various 16-bit Commodores, Ataris and Apples too. Here's Blake Patterson:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=92RIT_L-8jA

The purpose of the device is to act as a bridge between your serial port and your local WiFi router. It has a 25-pin RS-232 data interface and a Mini-USB connector for power — it should work with any computer sporting a standard serial port.

The WiFi232 is configured by connecting to the device’s built-in web server and loading the configuration page or by issuing extended AT configuration commands. For example,

AT$SSID=MyWifiHotspotName

points the device to your WiFi hotspot. Once things are configured (it supports 300 to 115,200 baud), just load up your favorite terminal program, type:

ATDT bbs.myfavbbs.com

and the WiFi232 “dials” into that telnet BBS. Your vintage computer thinks its talking on the phone.

It's $33 as a pile o' parts or $49 assembled, but there's a waiting list. Read the rest

iPhone killed tinkering, but only if you want to tinker with iPhone

Most tech-media takes on the iPhone's 10th anniversary are bland and self-congratulatory, but I like Tom Warren's at The Verge. He laments how Apple's pocket computer killed his inner nerd. As a youngster, he'd be constantly tearing down and building computers, even in the sweltering heat of summer. But now...

...All of that tinkering and hacking things ended for me shortly after the iPhone arrived ... When I look at modern PCs, tablets, and phones now I’m surprised at the simplicity of them. Not all of them are perfect, but technology is rapidly turning into something in the background that’s accessible to everyone and doesn’t require hours of configuration. I miss the thrill of hacking away and tinkering, but as I shout to Alexa to turn off my lights at night I can’t help but appreciate just how easy everything is now.

If anything I've had the opposite experience. I hate having to fiddle with technology because I have to if I want it to do something interesting, or simply to work in the first place. But now tinkering is all creation. Experimentation, hacking--all of it is freed from whatever technical needs I have.

Perhaps what people miss is the feeling that tinkering with tech will put them on the cutting edge of performance, will move them into the unequally-distributed future. But the same thing is now diversion, mere art, and that's not what they care about.

It's true, though, that the iPhone made gadgets boring. It's striking, when you look at the products released around that time and for years thereafter, just how astronomically ahead of the game Apple was in 2007. Read the rest

Programmer pay and indent-style: tab-using coders earn less than space-using coders

David Robinson used the data from the 28,657 people who self-selected to take the Stack Overflow survey to investigate the relationship between programmer pay and the conventions of using either tabs or spaces to mark indents, and found a persistent, significant correlation between using spaces and bringing home higher pay. Read the rest

MP3 put out to pasture

It's the end of an era, sort of: Fraunhofer IIS, the developers of the MP3 audio compression format, announced that they are ceasing their licensing program. In a blog post, spokesman Matthias Rose says that it's had a good 20-year run and is obsolete. But it's also true that the decoding patents expired last year, and the last encoding patents are soon to follow. So there's not much hope of selling any licenses in any case. Read the rest

Three terrible tech trends

Freddy deBoer writes that he's been telling the same joke for years about Silicon Valley's only product, which might be universalized as "At last, a way to verb with nouns on the internet!" But the social-media techopoly is stable, now, and so the venture capitalists have moved on to the three terrible trends that will now occupy their interest.

First is infecting everything with DRM so it's controlled by the manufacturer and limited to their ecosystem. Second is charging rent for being in it and using algorithms to maximize it. Third is marketing workaholic poverty to the young as a way of life.

We Love Doers So Much We Want to Give Them a Hellish Existence of Endless Precarity

The basic idea here is that 40 years of stagnant wages, the decline of unions, the death of middle class blue collar jobs, the demise of pensions, and a general slide of the American working world into a PTSD-inducing horror show of limitless vulnerability has been too easy on workers. I’m sorry, Doers, or whatever the fuck. The true beauty of these ads is that they are all predicated on mythologizing the very workers who their service is intended to immisserate. Sorry about your medical debt; here’s a photo of a model who we paid in “exposure” over ad copy written by an intern who we paid in college credit that cost $3,000 a credit hour. Enjoy. The purpose of these companies is to take whatever tiny sense of social responsibility businesses might still feel to give people stable jobs and destroy it, replacing whatever remains of the permanent, salaried, benefit-enjoying workforce with an army of desperate freelancers who will never go to bed feeling secure in their financial future for their entire lives.

Read the rest

Five tips to kick your smartphone habit

Alex Wood is an addict but won't give up his smartphone. But he has five strategies for limiting its control over him: "I used to wake up tired. My body would ache and my head felt sore, like waking up with a hangover. Finally, I took control, like attending an AA class for addicts, I faced my tech demons. Now I wake up refreshed and realise how much it was a ‘real’ addiction that affects your health."

tldr:

1) Don't charge it by your bed. 2) Kill all notifications. 3) Delete Facebook, Twitter, Insta and other "attention loop" apps. 4) Switch to Android, because it has the good self-control enforcement apps. 5) Stop checking email/turn off Push email.

All obviated by 1) throw it in a lake and get a dumbphone. Read the rest

EPIKGO – The Indestructable Hoverboard

We just got the Sport model of the EPIKGO hoverboard at my office. Besides being terribly chic, it’s apparently bulletproof. Read the rest

My nerdy solar powered backpack

Ok, it’s not just solar powered. It’s also an anti-theft, waterproof marvel that keeps my phone’s power bar from ever getting into the red.

Sure the idea seems obvious now - tuck a gigantic solar powered battery pack into an exposed slot and turn the wearer into a walking energy harvester.  Simple maybe, but I didn't think of it.  Way to go Solgaard.

The battery brick is called the Solarbank and the backside acts as a nifty speaker that wirelessly plays tunes from my phone.

And as long as there’s direct sunlight, I can have non-stop music playback with absolutely no battery drain. I believe it'd be the perfect "trapped on a desert island device".  In fact, if Tom Hanks had one in the movie Castaway (and a brand new smartphone), he wouldn’t have needed that goofy volley ball at all.

And I know what you’re thinking.  You’re thinking my desert island concept is flawed because the sun would eventually set and its magical recharging rays will disappear. Well I can’t argue with you on that – but just imagine a life where you weren’t trapped on a desert island and followed my easy to execute 2 step plan.

Step 1) Create an autonomous vehicle that moves fast enough around the Earth so that you’re always under direct sunlight. Below is a handy illustration that explains how to gain maximum charging time with a LIFEPACK backpack.

As you can see, it all depends upon your starting latitude and your ability to stay within it as you travel. Read the rest

The Swagtron T3

The office I work in is full of things old people buy to make themselves feel young again.  I can honestly say that our awesome new toy, The Swagtron T3 Hoverboard, makes me feel very, very old. I’ll explain why later.

Swagtron T3 Pros

There's no way to overcharge the battery and that means no more pesky fires and unplanned explosions! This model actually has a battery life indicator! There’s a new SwagTron app that syncs with your hover-board. You can set the top speed and sensitivity of both acceleration and steering. There’s an odometer that keeps track of lifetime miles traveled. You can toggle the Hoverboard on and off with the app – so no more bending over. Ever! The app has a speedometer! Amazing right?

Swagtron T3 Cons

The app has a speedometer! Crazy right?!  You have to look at the app while riding to enjoy the speedometer and if you do, you’re no longer watching the terrain which goes against every rule of motorized vehicles. It's pretty pricey at $449.99.

But I have to say that the Swagtron T3 is much better than their previous models. The wheels are beefier, the ride is stable, and the motor is peppier.

Why does the Swagtron T3 make me feel old? 

Tonight, I decided to live on the wild side and switched from “Standard” to “Advanced” mode on the app. When I did, I got this friendly warning:

“Extremely high injury risk”?!

There was a time when I’d completely ignore a message like that or treat it as a challenge. Read the rest

The Digicue: a tiny electronic billiards trainer

One thing that’s consistent among amateur pool players is that they unknowingly stand up during their shots. Just as in golf, pool players need to keep their heads down and stay still after they shoot in order to hit straight.

The DIGICUE helps keep shots consistent by letting you know every time you’ve had extra movements that may alter your path. It conditions your play by silently buzzing whenever you’ve moved in an awkward way.

Here are the actions that the DIGICUE is constantly looking for:

Jab strokes – When striking the cue ball, you always want to “strike through” and have the tip a few inches beyond the impact point rather than a quick poke. Steering - This is the action of moving your stick left or right after impact with the cue ball. You want to avoid this because it creates unwanted spin and trajectories. Standing up during your stroke – When this happens, your body can not help but steer the cue ball. Body english – This is when a player moves his body in the direction of where he wants the object ball to go while it’s in motion. Body english is the kiss of death because the more movement you rely on for each shot, the harder it becomes to replicate.

I’ve been playing pool my whole life and I wish the DIGICUE was available decades ago because it would have helped me to learn quicker.  It slips onto any pool cue and you’ll hardly know it’s there because it weighs less than an ounce. Read the rest

Tim Cook confirms: tech met with Trump to ask for billions in tax breaks

A leaked memo from Apple CEO Tim Cook to his staff explaining why he met with Donald Trump -- a guy who called Apple traitors for refusing to defeat their own security -- explains the rationale: "tax reform." Read the rest

Silicon Valley's CEOs are just like CEOs everywhere: banal financial engineers, not superheroes and supervillains

The financialization of everything is just as real in the boardrooms of technology as it is everywhere else; though the deferential press likes to paint the tech-sector leaders as geniuses, superheroes (Elon Musk as Iron Man), and super-villains (Peter Thiel as Lex Luthor), the reality is that they're basically run-of-the-mill financial engineers, whose major creation is stock bubbles, not "revolutions." Read the rest

Asshole stick: DIY USB destroyer the size of a thumbdrive

This gadget does exactly as promised: it looks like a thumbdrive (sort of) and fries the circuitry of any computer it's plugged into. It's made from camera flash parts, is charged with a standard AA battery, and delivers a 300V zap of DC destruction to the port for all your USB-murdering needs.

Note that this is not useful for any interesting purpose (unlike, say, the USB Kill stick): it won't scramble or delete data or accomplish any forensic or utilitarian outcome. It's just an asshole stick. Read the rest

Randomly Generated Catalog of Creepily Nondescript Domestic Surveillance Equipment

The Cobham catalog, exposed by The Intercept, features countless pages of surveillance gadgets sold to U.S. police to spy on American citizens: tiny black boxes with a big interest in you. In the creepily bland feature lists and nerdy product names is a whisper of a dark future; perhaps darker than anyone can imagine.

The most popular website colors

This image depicts the most commonly-found stylesheet colors on the web's top sites—Paul Hebert did an amazing amount of analysis and this is just one of the intriguing visualizations he came up with.

Most of these are obvious staples, especially HTML red and blue, though it's interesting how far the blue "cluster" is from the default blue hue, whereas the red cluster merely modifies the saturation and lightness. This might be influenced by various "studies" of the most effective link color.

The odd thing is the popularity of #d2b48c (triggered by the "Tan" HTML color name), which appears to be the single most popular nonblack color after #0000FF (HTML Blue) and #FF0000 (HTML Red). Google uses it somewhere (though I don't see it) Is everyone just following the leader? (UPDATE: see below)

UPDATE: Hebert explains the Tan thing in the comments.

UPDATE: 10/22/2016. Hebert's updated his method to exclude false positives (including the mysterious Tan) Read the rest

Halt and Catch Fire: The Most Relevant Show on Television is Set in the 80s

With the cacophony of an election year ablaze with unparalleled drama being fought on the front lines of Twitter, we find ourselves slowing down and staring at it like a bad accident. The need for escapist relief is perhaps more dire than usual right now. This fall, if it's drama you crave, but the Hillary v. Trump show is driving you to near-suicide, then the AMC series Halt and Catch Fire is your new best friend. Returning for its third season on Tuesday, August 23rd with a two-hour premiere, you'll still get your fix of intriguing plot twists, flawed personalities, and high stakes, but without the partisan tantrums and pre-apocalyptic anxiety.

What the Hell is this Show About?

The show's title refers to the computing term (HCF), "Halt and Catch Fire," an early technical command that sends a computer into race condition, forcing all instructions to compete for superiority at once. Control of the computer could not be regained. The namesake series takes place in the personal computing boom of the 80s, when IBM was dictator, and before "website" was a word. Though HCF is categorized as a "workplace drama," you could say the same thing about Breaking Bad, and you'd be completely missing the point--and the thrill--of both shows.

To "break bad" is a colloquialism used in the American South meaning to challenge authority. Breaking Bad and HCF have three important things in common: obscure, nondescript titles that run the risk of losing potential viewers who need their plot summaries spoon-fed and hashtagged, a committed, forward-thinking home on AMC Networks, and the consistently visionary TV producer Melissa Bernstein. Read the rest

More posts