Jaron Lanier said something interesting about optimism

A few years ago I read Jaron Lanier’s book “You are Not a Gadget,” and I felt like I was listening to someone with a rich understanding of technology take a fairly critical view of it – a position not as many people were arguing at the time. Lanier is fully entrenched in Silicon Valley and big-tech, but he is also a thoughtful voice who often questions the less scrupulous ways internet technology is “helping” us. When Google and Facebook let their profits take precedence over their ethics, Lanier counters with accessible arguments of why the ethics matter more. In a recent interview with Kara Swisher on the “Too Embarrassed to Ask” podcast, Jaron said something that jumped out at me for the way it subverted common thinking about criticism, and its relationship to optimism & pessimism. When criticism is poorly expressed, it’s just complaining, or being mean, or being …

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This diagram of a packet-switching network appears in the 1974 paper by Vint Cerf

What’s troubling Vint Cerf? Five-hundred year old WordPerfect files and a fifty-year trip to the cosmos, that’s what.

Vint Cerf has a problem: the star Alpha Centauri is too far away. He wants to get a good look at it, but at 4.37 light years from the sun, it might take a while. He’s not too worried, though, because he’s designing an interplanetary internet with Google. On Thursday in Washington, D.C., Mr. Cerf described the outer-space-net and some other personal projects to an assembly at Georgetown University, part of the National Medals Foundation’s “An Evening With” series. Mr. Cerf has been awarded more medals than he probably knows what to do with. I guess that happens when you get credit for inventing the internet – in 1974, Cerf and Robert Kahn co-authored a paper for the IEEE titled “A protocol for packet network intercommunication.” Forty-some years later, four billion humans are piggybacking their idea into five billion daily YouTube views, a three-hundred-billion dollar digital advertising market, and a …

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A realistic stock photo of a beautiful beach

A very brief history of stock photography: from fake studio models to authentic backyard scenes

When a brand chooses a stock photograph to represent their desired public image, they’re faced with a “style” problem. The brilliant artist Chuck Close summarized the problem of photographic style like this: “Photography is the easiest medium with which to be merely competent. Almost anybody can be competent. It’s the hardest medium in which to have some sort of personal vision and to have a signature style.” Having a signature style is the essence of branding. When a marketing department develops creative ads for their brand, they want to distill their style into an image, while showing off the best qualities of their products or services. Companies rely on stock photography to shape their image, because as Close pointed out, finding a signature style with photography is difficult. Creative stock photographs are shot by freelance artists and can be bought from online agencies like Getty, Alamy, Shutterstock and more. In the …

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If you want to know about SEO, I’ve always been the wrong person to ask

What do I know about SEO?   I started this blog, “Brian Writing,” ten years ago as an assignment in my undergraduate English program. I’ve continued writing posts occasionally since then, sometimes more frequently than others. In all that time, I have never tried doing anything about my blog’s SEO – the one thing that might help people actually find me. I always assumed the internet elves that live behind the digital curtain would take care of it for me. That’s all changing, now! This week I watched a course on Lynda.com called SEO Foundations, taught by instructor David Booth. For anyone who enjoys writing a blog but has never gotten into the messy details of finding an audience for it, learning about SEO is critical. I recommend checking out the course or finding other ways to learn about SEO. In a nutshell, Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, is way to …

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What’s that got to do with the price of ads in Russia?

I’ve been reading comments on articles about the Russian intelligence effort to influence the US election by social media subterfuge. I know this is a dumb idea. It directly goes against Matt Groening’s advice: “No matter how good the video on YouTube is, don’t read the comments, just don’t, because it will make you hate all humans.” But, against my better judgment, I’ve come across an argument a few times that I want to discuss. It goes something like this: “Clinton and Trump spent $81M dollars on Facebook ads, but we’re supposed to believe that Russia spending just $46K made an impact? Yeah right, libtards, har har har.” Fair enough. The candidates spent a butt-load more money than the Russians did, as they should have. The basis of the argument is real: Facebook’s lawyers came right out and testified those exact numbers to Congress. It would be naive to argue …

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Magic and Loss

Magic and Loss: The Internet as Art by Virginia Heffernan My rating: 3 of 5 stars I decided to read this after hearing the author on the Recode Media podcast and reading some of her shorter pieces in the Times over the years. There’s a lot to think about in Magic & Loss – I enjoyed the lucid language and often insightful commentary. The homage to the death of the telephone was wonderful, and the quick take on ‘science’ writing in the mainstream media was funny – but there were also a share of flimsy moments (did she really just try to summarize a billion photographs on Flickr by talking about the style of two users?) I found myself occasionally waiting for more substantive technical discussion (maybe I’m conditioned to expect it in any writing about the internet) but I guess the ‘internet as art’ premise doesn’t leave room for …

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on ‘The End of Absence’

“I fear we are the last of the daydreamers. I fear our children will lose lack, lose absence, and never comprehend its quiet, immeasurable value.”  –  The End of Absence Many children this winter, especially in Boston, are having days off from school because of the weather. They’re being ‘absent.’ I used to love being ‘absent,’ on snow days. There was a peculiar isolation in it, a kind of detachment that’s almost impossible to reproduce now. This winter, those kids in Boston are having an entirely different ‘absence.’ They’re not absent in the way that I used to be absent. The End of Absence by Michael Harris is another book about the internet and how modern technology is changing the human experience. I keep reading books like this. Most of them have a pessimistic take on what it all means, and the fact that I spend many evenings reading stuff like this …

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ICYMI

I can sense the ‘cycle’ of news media as this rotating blob, tucked just inside a massive doorway, and the moment one tries to step away from it, a persistent wind continues pushing it closer and closer. It’s unavoidable – even consciously trying to decide that I’m not ready to jump back in after a break, I can’t go anywhere without incidentally grazing the ‘rotating media blob’. I visualize it like Slimer from Ghostbusters, or the big ancient space portal in Stargate – in the case of Slimer, you’re not going to outrun it – and in the case of Stargate, you’ve gotta step through, just because it’s there. In the waiting room at the dentist’s office, CNN blares the sound of gunshots in Paris. At home, my dormant iPad pushes alerts of Academy Award nominations; newspapers collect at the front door, and restaurants everywhere are painted with televisions that shower everyone passing by with what’s …

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on The Smartest Guys in the Room

Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room [Motion picture]. (2005). This film nicely wrapped up what was a very complicated story. As the scandal took place, uncovering the important pieces of the narrative was difficult because they were competing with everything else in the daily news information deluge. Letting a few years pass and waiting for the dust to settle makes stepping back and taking the 10,000 foot view easier. When Enron was originally in the news I didn’t have any sense of the great impact that company shareholders suffered, and I didn’t understand what a celebrated and ‘accomplished’ company it had been shortly before the scandal broke out. Being a high school student in 2001, I wasn’t as tuned in as I would be if something like this happened now, so I appreciate the deep-dive explanation of what really happened. I am proud that investigative reporting was one of the catalysts for …

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Two Documentaries on ‘Hacking’

BBC – How Hackers Changed the World While Anonymous was given most of the treatment in this piece, I didn’t feel like their story was the strongest thread in the overall hacker narrative. Lulzsec appears to be the group that did the most actual damage, while WikiLeaks is the most ethically challenging. Anonymous comes across as a bunch of people posting on message boards who all showed up to protest the Church of Scientology once. Occasionally they were able to DDoS some government websites. They are presented as being large and formidable because allegedly ten thousand people participated in the Scientology demonstrations – but 10k isn’t that much, in the grand scheme. Ten thousand people shop at the Gap, ride the metro, buy a hot dog, blah blah every day. Boring and mundane stuff also attracts many people. Crowds don’t predicate meaning or importance. Lulzsec on the other hand appeared …

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