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Random Thoughts Technology

The Internet is 50 years old today

Who knew? It’s already been half a century since the first message was sent across the Arpanet. That moment lead to me being able to post the following diatribe that no one will read. Oh the wonders of modern technology!

Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web (which is different from the Internet itself), over the last year has spearheaded a movement to try to somehow reconfigure the Web to make it more open and free. He didn’t like how the Web was used to create things like Twitter and Facebook (these are walled gardens) and I don’t think he likes how all traffic around the world is basically controlled by Google through search (leveraging a superior search product to sell advertising).

The solution? A “Contract for the Web“. Just by the naming of this you can tell it will never work. The Contract has a set of principles. They are:

Governments will

  • Ensure everyone can connect to the internet
    • So that anyone, no matter who they are or where they live, can participate actively online.
  • Keep all of the internet available, all of the time
    • So that no one is denied their right to full internet access.
  • Respect people’s fundamental right to privacy
    • So everyone can use the internet freely, safely and without fear.

Companies will

  • Make the internet affordable and accessible to everyone
    • So that no one is excluded from using and shaping the web.
  • Respect consumers’ privacy and personal data
    • So people are in control of their lives online.
  • Develop technologies that support the best in humanity and challenge the worst
    • So the web really is a public good that puts people first

Citizens will

  • Be creators and collaborators on the web
    • So the web has rich and relevant content for everyone.
  • Build strong communities that respect civil discourse and human dignity
    • So that everyone feels safe and welcome online.
  • Fight for the web
    • So the web remains open and a global public resource for people everywhere, now and in the future.

Why will this Contract fail? Because only the United States has a Constitution that protects natural rights and natural rights are directly tied to the Internet and the Web. The European Union, Russia, China, and other nations have already taken steps to ensure the current Web or its progeny will never be open and unencumbered.

Is Internet access a natural right? No. By the fact of your birth are you entitled to access to a computer network? It’s ridiculous to argue that it is. Being human does not require a computer at all. How will countries that don’t respect natural rights “ensure” that everyone can connect? Does that mean a government subsidized system? I will get taxed so someone else can get online? That’s just stupid.

All the world is moving to limit speech and therefore will not keep all of the Internet available all of the time. In the EU, there is the “right to be forgotten”. It doesn’t matter if it’s on the public record or not but an individual can petition to have things removed online (or at least blocked from view in the EU) to protect people from humiliation. In the United States, the Congress continually grills social media companies for things their users post. The US already passed a law years ago that protects so-called “platforms” such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube from lawsuits from content posted by users. However, the more these social media companies get into censoring posts and takedowns of content the more they are looking like traditional publishers and less like platforms. If they continue to move down that road I can’t see a difference between them and television networks or newspapers. Either leave the speech alone or become responsible for what gets posted. You can’t have it both ways. Congress is largely full of people that aren’t interested in upholding their oath of office and more interested in control of the public. It’s not like they care about social media companies being publishers or platforms. As long as the content is content they agree with they are happy otherwise the posts are fake and illegal.

On the right to privacy, if you are receiving a product for no cash compensation how do you expect the company providing the product to make money? Broadcast TV, at least in the US, is free. How do they make money? Through advertising. They using rating systems to figure out the people who are watching and try to push ads to those demographics. It’s the same for Google, Facebook, and Twitter. They do nothing more than what magazines (when print was big) used to do. I remember when subscribing to PC Magazine, back in the 1980’s, that they would have a little survey of your interests to gauge who their readers are. After completing the survey you would start receiving all kinds of offers in the mail for things surrounding that survey. Was that wrong of them to do? They obviously sold my name, address, and personal preferences and they did this while I paid for a subscription. That’s how print media stayed afloat. How is that different from Google seeing keywords in my e-mail and pushing ads or Facebook seeing posts about food and pushing me ads for restaurants?

The Contract calls for companies to make the Internet affordable and accessible to everyone. It is impossible to define affordable. What is affordable to me may not be affordable to you. And what will define accessible? Say I pay $50 for a connection that gives me 100 mbps down and 12 mbps up. Is that affordable? Does that speed level give me access to everything? I don’t think you can stream 4k at those speeds but I can surely watch streaming video and download any kind of audio and text. Who will decide these things? Some blue ribbon committee?

What is the best in humanity and what is the worst? Are non-profits good and for-profits bad? I think modern non-profits are actually profit generating entities and exist largely to employ people and shape public policy towards some political agenda. Sure there are the non-profit organizations that actually exist to perform altruistic functions and do good for their communities but what about the big boys like the Red Cross, American Heart Association, American Diabetes Association, and the American Cancer Society? I don’t trust that, at the top of the organizations, they are interested in solutions for the purposes for which they were formed. I believe they exist to make money for the executives and the top management layers and nothing else. The people at the middle and bottom, and especially unpaid volunteers, are actually trying to help people but in my mind are mere slaves that prop up corrupt organizations. With for-profit organizations at least you know explicitly what they are about. Profit. Pure and simple. They are there to sell you something in order to make money. In my mind, that helps people more than any non-profit. What has produced more to benefit the world? Microsoft or the American Diabetes Association? How many wealthy people did Microsoft help create? How has that wealth created more wealth through other companies? How has that wealth created more philanthropy? The American Diabetes Association on the other hand doesn’t even acknowledge that a low carbohydrate diet reduces the risk of Type 2 Diabetes. This while people are literally getting off of their insulin by adopting a low or very low carbohydrate diet, essentially curing themselves through diet.

Calling for citizens (of which country?) to be creators and collaborators, build strong communities that respect civil discourse, and fight for the Web. What nonsense is this? Content creation part is easy. I’m doing it now (regardless of whether or not this content is consumed). But what about building strong communities that respect civil discourse and human dignity? This cannot be defined. What if racists want to create their own social network that denounces all other races that are not their own in the belief that the other races are not human? To them those people are not human and don’t deserve dignity. In the United States, this type of community and speech used to be protected under the First Amendment and I would argue that it should be. The First Amendment is under assault by people that don’t want their feelings hurt or for ideas that they may find abhorrent to be spread. While I find the idea of Communism and Socialism abhorrent where others don’t I would not seek to silence those people. Whereas those that find Capitalism abhorrent seek to demonize those that believe in that system and shout them down. How will any Contract for the Web protect that when the U.S. Constitution is having a difficult time with it?

To me, what needs to be protected and spread across the world, is the U.S. Constitution. There is no other document that protects the natural rights of human beings the way it does. If governments across the world adopt this there will be no need for any Contract for the Web.

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Random Thoughts Technology

Google continues down the path to shitty search

I stopped using Google for my everyday search a long time ago. As the years rolled on I started to find that their search engine was trying to be too smart. I use Gmail and an Android phone and increasingly my search results were either what Google’s algorithm thought I wanted versus what I was actually looking for.

I’m not the type of person that seeks out only what I already believe. I like to find opinions that are not my own in order to broaden my knowledge of a topic. But, Google has been fine tuning their search to feed me information that I don’t want or that I already have.

I’ve been looking more and more into the science behind the low-carb ketogenic diet. I’ve been living my life this way for quite some time and I was interested in finding out why I am the way I am. As such there are a bunch of people I follow in Twitter and Instagram that provide information on the topic.

Today I ran across a tweet that purported to show that a simple search on Google for “humans are omnivores” provided misinformation by PETA. So, naturally, the first thing I did was head over to google.com and typed in the search. Sure enough the information box at the top contained the misinformation by PETA. Many people don’t look beyond that box for their answers and if you’re querying the Google Assistant this is also the answer you’ll receive. This search result is not anywhere near relevant to the query. The actual PETA link is #4 down the list. It’s not even the top actual search result. How did it become the de facto answer to this query?

Here is the identical search on Duck Duck Go. A stupid name for a search engine but it seems to give me far superior results. Note that the PETA link is nowhere to be found. It’s not even on the first page of the search results.

This result lead me down the rabbit hole and I ran into this article on fee.org that highlights how Google has changed it’s search results to bury alternate medical opinion sites. Why would they do this? Google purports to not be a publisher. But yet they are indeed acting like one by editing search results by what they think is relevant. This cannot be a result of “machine learning” or of the algorithm automatically bubbling up more popular results. If this were the case the sites getting buried would not have had the traffic they had to begin with.

Google search is broken. It’s been broken for a long time. Google itself seems to be broken. I’ve moved off of as many Google services as is convenient. Duck Duck Go is my search engine of choice and I switched to Firefox for my web browser (Chrome is still necessary for a few things. Not many but some). Gmail is still superior to other e-mail clients at filtering spam. My Pixel 3 is still a superior phone (for me at least) to other phones out there. I know there are alternatives but none of them work for me.

All the services you use that are “free” need to be looked at with a critical eye. You can’t automatically trust the information they’re feeding you. Thinking for yourself and being skeptical is more important today than ever before.

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Random Thoughts Technology

I wish I was smart enough to understand the problem and the solution

I took computer science and had to learn combinatorics and boolean functions. I’ll have to file this under the, “If You Don’t Use It You Lose It” part of my brain. I just don’t remember anything beyond the basics to understand the problem or the solution. I should have kept studying.

A paper posted online this month has settled a nearly 30-year-old conjecture about the structure of the fundamental building blocks of computer circuits. This “sensitivity” conjecture has stumped many of the most prominent computer scientists over the years, yet the new proof is so simple that one researcher summed it up in a single tweet.

Wired.com

Here’s a link to the proof.

https://arxiv.org/pdf/1907.00847.pdf

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Technology

Dell XPS 13 (2019). A regular user’s review

About a month ago I purchased the latest version of Dell’s XPS 13 laptop. I previously owned the 2016 version and while there isn’t much difference cosmetically there are some improvements that make this laptop much better this time around and one immensely annoying thing that I absolutely hate.

Let me get the hate out of the way early so I can end on a positive note. The power button. The power button is so spongy that it is hard to tell if it’s been pushed down hard enough to turn it on. So I end up really mashing the damn thing. I don’t know if it’s because they built a fingerprint reader into the button or if it’s just a shitty button. Regardless, a $1,500 laptop should have a solid power button.

The rest of the laptop is great. Here are the specs for the model I bought.

  • 8th Generation Intel(R) Core(TM) i7-8565U Processor (8M Cache, up to 4.6 GHz, 4 cores)
  • 16GB LPDDR3 2133MHz Onboard
  • 512GB M.2 PCIe NVMe Solid State Drive
  • Intel(R) UHD Graphics 620
  • Windows 10 Pro (64bit)

I got a lot more computer for about $700 less than the previous 2016 version. The machine seems fast (probably because it’s still new) and renders video much quicker than the old model. Granted, my impressions are my feelings on how the machine operates because I’m not running benchmark tests here. But the 8th generation Intel Core i7 seems to do the job well. My impression could also be skewed a bit because I’ve been using a Microsoft Surface Go for the last year and while that machine is good in a pinch it’s not a barn burner in performance.

I especially like the keyboard of this machine. I don’t have my old version any longer to compare but the keys seem to have just the right amount of travel and the space between keys are perfect for my hands. It’s also not exceedingly loud like Apple keyboards of late. I’ve also always liked the soft touch, carbon fiber looking, keyboard deck. It breaks up the monotony of the laptop and is quite comfortable for my palms to rest while typing.

The trackpad is the biggest improvement to me. I’m old-school and wish PCs would get rid of the idea of the mouse buttons as part of one smooth trackpad. I don’t like it because there is not tactile feel as to where the button portions begin and end. This laptop suffers from the same problem. But, the area where I would normally rest my thumb on the button seems to recognize that I wish to use that area as a button better than past implementations. I don’t know if it’s Dell’s trackpad design or if it’s an improvement in Windows. Either way it’s an improvement and I have fewer errant mouse movements while my thumb is on what is supposed to be the left mouse button.

Battery life is a little hit and miss to me. If I’m using it heavy it doesn’t seem like the battery lasts much longer than the 2016 version. All the professional reviews say the battery life is better than the old version. Perhaps I’ve just been using it for rendering video too much in the beginning and need to see how the battery lasts under more typical usage. For instance, this morning I’ve been blogging, web browsing and going through e-mails and the battery meter in the system tray hasn’t moved too much and I’ve been on the machine for about an hour. We’ll see. As I get to use the machine more I’ll get a better feel for the battery.

Web cam in the correct place

The screen is big and bright and is virtually edge to edge. This time they put the web cam up into the top bezel where it belongs People made a big stink about the web cam being in the bottom bezel in past versions but it never bothered me because I don’t use the web cam much anyway. Who cares if someone has to look up my nose. It might be a more favorable angle for me anyway.

What would be nice is if the laptop came in a matte black version or the option for a little color. I hate silver because it looks like a Macbook. If I wanted a Macbook I’d buy one. I also don’t like to buy skins. They never stay on right and if you don’t stick it on just right it looks stupid.

In general, this is a solid update to an already great little machine. Fix that power button, give me mouse buttons again, and allow some color into my world and all my complaints will go away… maybe.

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Technology

I’m off the Brave Browser

I used the Brave Browser for about a year and I really wanted to keep using it because it was great at blocking ads, offered very secure browsing, and it was fast. But, there was one problem that kept creeping up that ultimately made me switch to Firefox.

The problem is sync. I use multiple devices and Brave just was not consistent at syncing bookmarks. There is no account to set up with Brave so there was no intermediary to help facilitate bookmark sync. There was a little rigamarole in setting up sync in Brave where you had to edit the shortcut link and add some instructions. Not the end of the world but still not elegant.

When syncing multiple devices you add each device to a sync chain. The chain is dependent on when you add a device. I had one case early on when I removed one device from the chain because I was reinstalling the Browser. Then after installation I added it back to the chain thinking it would just sync my bookmarks. What ended up happening is that all my bookmarks were removed from all my synced browsers because the one I just reinstalled was the newest. Each browser in the chain used the newest information and wiped it all out.

But, that wasn’t the final straw. I’m able to deal with the problem of prioritization sync. I can remember that I have to import bookmarks whenever I reinstall. The final straw was that when I made changes to one browser the changes didn’t consistently sync across all my devices. That I can’t deal with because then I don’t know which changes are sticky and which changes are not. I would shut down the browser on each device hoping that when relaunching it would check with the browser where I made the change and then sync but it just didn’t work. Some bookmarks would change and others would not. That kind of guesswork makes using the browser untenable.

So I switched to Firefox and made that my default. It is also based on Chromium, like Brave and now Microsoft’s new Edge Browser, so it works just like Chrome without feeding everything into the Google beast. They get enough of my information through the use of Gmail.

When Microsoft puts the finishing touches on the Edge Browser I may look into that because maybe it will work well with some of the Microsoft services I use. I think it’s good to spread your eggs around all the baskets.

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Technology

Green Energy seems to be an “Exercise in magical thinking”

The entire thing is a long read but read it you must. Here’s some of what you’ll learn and this is just from the executive summary.

  • $1 million invested in green energy only produces 50 million kWh over 30 years while $1 million invested in fossil fuel produces 300 million kWh over 30 years.
  • Solar and wind are approaching their limits of efficiency and the gains made in the coming years won’t be enough to make a difference.
  • 1,000 years of production from Tesla’s Gigafactory (at its current capacity) could only make enough batteries for 2 days worth of U.S. electricity demand.

This is enlightening to know how efficient our current systems are as compared to “green” technologies. So-called “green” technologies are not really green to begin with. All the energy, chemicals, and heavy metals that are required for the technology are likely more harmful than the environment the technology is supposed to save.

This “new energy economy” rests on the belief—a centerpiece of the Green New Deal and other similar proposals both here and in Europe—that the technologies of wind and solar power and battery storage are undergoing the kind of disruption experienced in computing and communications, dramatically lowering costs and increasing efficiency. But this core analogy glosses over profound differences, grounded in physics, between systems that produce energy and those that produce information.
In the world of people, cars, planes, and factories, increases in consumption, speed, or carrying capacity cause hardware to expand, not shrink. The energy needed to move a ton of people, heat a ton of steel or silicon, or grow a ton of food is determined by properties of nature whose boundaries are set by laws of gravity, inertia, friction, mass, and thermodynamics—not clever software.

Manhattan Institute
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Technology

Switching to the Brave Browser

There’s a new web browser in town and it’s name is Brave. I discovered this relatively new web browser listening to some podcasts and decided to try it out. It’s fantastic. It’s light, it’s fast, and it blocks ads and tracking natively. The picture shows how many trackers and ads that were blocked just from the normal sites I visit.

Watch this video and give it a try.

It’s about time something provided some competition to Google’s Chrome.

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Technology

Hyperloop technology should be for freight not people

By Camilo Sanchez – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=43739482

Hyperloop technology should be for freight not people and the reason is that a hyperloop is really nothing more than an oversized enormous pneumatic tube kind of like the one you use at a bank to make your deposits at the drive through. It’s a point to point technology and once constructed not flexible. Think freight trains but underground and super super fast.

An article in the Wall Street Journal today talks about the increase in airfreight because of all the stuff that’s getting shipped world wide. The speed and flexibility of air cargo outweighs the added cost of the lack of capacity per shipment. Shipping things over the ocean is simply too slow and subject to many issues such as labor problems and weather. Shipping cargo by plane is also subject to the same issues that could slow shipments.

As online shoppers come to expect faster home delivery, passenger jets and dedicated cargo planes are picking up more kinds of cargo traditionally carried by container ships, trains and trucks. Global airfreight traffic climbed almost 9% year-over-year in November as a jump in e-commerce orders supercharged the holiday rush, according to cargo data provider WorldACD. Rates for airfreight were up 17% annually that month.

Strong global economic growth also is spurring demand for goods long ferried by air, such as automotive and manufacturing parts. The dual surge is creating some of the stiffest competition for air-cargo space in years, and prompting companies to search for older, idle jets to convert into freighters.

“You’re literally begging and pleading to get on airplanes, leveraging any contact you can,” said Neel Jones Shah, global head of airfreight for Flexport Inc., a San Francisco-based firm that helps customers arrange freight shipments online.

Just think if a hyperloop was constructed between major shipping ports. The cargo containers would be loaded on one end and at extremely high speeds get shot underground to their arrival point. No people even need to be inside the cargo vehicle underground. It wouldn’t take weeks or months as it does now to ship something overseas in fact it would be as quick or quicker as a cargo plane with the capacity of a freight train or several cargo ocean ships. There are no weather issues under ground and there are fewer labor issues as long as you can load and unload containers from either side.

This could also be installed between major cities in every country. This would remove trains and trucks from the nation’s highways and rails. This would serve to reduce traffic both on the ground and in the sky making life a little better for leisure travel.

Read more in the Wall Street Journal

Hyperloop technology on Wikipedia

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Technology

I miss the old Microsoft and the old days of computing

Everybody DOS now!

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Technology

A regular person’s Pixel 2 Review

I purchased a Pixel 2 and not the Pixel 2 XL because the Pixel 2 is cheaper and has the same internals, with the exception of the screen. Same power and capabilities for less money. Win win. Note: all the pictures of the Pixel 2 were shot using my original Pixel.

I’ve been using the Pixel 2 every day since October 20 and I’m extremely happy with the phone. The two things that stand out to me most are the battery life and the camera. These also happen to be the two most important things to me in a smartphone and why I chose to upgrade from the Pixel.

The battery life, in my opinion, is phenomenal. I charge it at night and the phone lasts me all day. Even on my heaviest usage days I still have at least 30% remaining by 10 pm. I’ve never had a phone that lasted me all day like this. The original Pixel had to be charged multiple times per day and I always worried that if I didn’t pay close attention that my phone would be dead when I need it. This is not the case with the Pixel 2 so far. Huge thumbs up.

The camera is also fantastic and I believe I will now stop carrying a DSLR on vacations or trips. The camera is fast and mostly accurate and I find myself not having to think too much before taking a picture. In addition, the portrait mode is a nice little touch and I really have no complaints about it. I won’t be nit picky either about some of the things that get smudged around the edges of a subject because it’s not really noticeable unless you zoom in really close and the Pixel 2 is doing it all in software, unlike the iPhone which doesn’t do as good a job and is doing it with hardware and software for a much higher price.

Continuing on with the camera, I found out about these add-on lenses called Moment Lenses. It requires the phone being in a case (which I don’t like but I’m doing it for the superior pictures) and you simply twist a lens over the camera lens and instantly you have a wide-angle, telephoto, or macro lens that enhances the quality of your pictures. Forgive my crappy photo gallery below but it shows the Moment case and the two lenses I purchased.

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To give you an example of the pictures the phone takes here is another gallery of photos I took with the Pixel 2 of my dogs. Some of the pictures are with good lighting some not but all of them are as taken straight from the phone and, as the kids say these days, no filter.

If you want to see some of these pics or others from this phone go look at my dog Godfrey’s Instagram account or at my Instagram account. On Instagram I do try to spruce them up a bit by enhancing the color, contrast, and brightness.

The rest of the phone is not all that important to me. The screen is fine and the Google Pixel skin of Android is fine. The phone seems fast and smooth. Apps and such mostly work exactly the same as in my previous Pixel and Nexus 5X. I’m hoping that Android has improved enough with these current versions that the phone won’t suffer the Android lag and bloat over time that I’ve experienced with every Android phone I’ve ever used.

My bottom line is that if you want great battery life and the camera is important to you then the Pixel 2 is a good purchase.