Spying or a safe haven for terrorists?

Posted in , Liberty at 11:37 by RjZ

UK Prime Minister David Cameron recently said “In our country [the United Kingdom], do we want to allow a means of communication between people which, even in extremis with a signed warrant from the Home Secretary, that we cannot read? My answer to that question is no we must not.”

There is a fundamental difference between the UK and the US. In the UK cameras are everywhere and people like them because it makes them safer. Guns are banned, and David Cameron is continuing that theme in this quote about things like Apple’s FaceTime and iMessage systems which are encrypted.

A UK citizen recently said: if I have nothing to hide, this system is better.

The U.S. response typically goes something like ‘you have nothing to hide from today’s (benevolent) government. What if you had something to hide from a future government who has begun abusing that power and with whom you disagree.

If privacy and freedom increase risks and danger, is it worth it? Is it a good thing to live in a benevolent police state if it’s safer, crime is reduced, and the majority of people’s freedoms aren’t limited?

(2 votes, average: 4.00 out of 5)
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It’s not just for Buzzfeed any more (but it should be)

Posted in at 9:11 by RjZ

How could you have avoided this trend? The headlines based on “n things that x” popularized by Buzzfeed.

I received this e-mail blast from LinkedIn, with the subject line “[My Name], see the top 14 Influencer posts of 2014.” Actually it annoys my when people whom I don’t know presume to use my first name like we’re old college buddies, but, well, ‘Murica.” Here, LinkedIn is supposed to be ever so slightly more professional than Buzzfeed, but they’re getting off on the wrong foot right away with that “top n ‘influencers’” bit.

Each of the following link-bait headlines also includes a byline with a tiny photo of the so-called influencer. You know the individual is an influencer because we see the number of followers each has.

  • How Successful People Stay Calm
  • The Biggest Mistakes I See on Resumes, and How to Correct Them
  • 10 Reasons You Have To Quit Your Job
  • Ten Stupid Rules That Drive Great Employees Away
  • Job Interview: Why Only 3 Questions Really Matter
  • The 7 Things Successful People Never Say
  • 8 Qualities That Make Great Bosses Unforgettable
  • The Small Things You Do That Make You Look Terrible in Meetings
  • 10 Behaviors That Could Kill Your Career
  • 5 Reasons You May Not Want to Work for Google
  • The Difference Between Successful and Very Successful People
  • Top performers are absurdly selective. But saying “no” isn’t the only thing that sets them apart
  • If You Do This, Your Emails Might Be Rude

The 14 influencers apparently have one writing formula between them. To be fair, a minority wavered from the formula far enough to to exclude a number in their headline.

App idea: a browser plug-in that blocks headlines of the top n things style. There, free, make that, and you might make millions, or at least millions happy.

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Top ten things making me really sick of the internet

Posted in at 15:39 by RjZ

Are there any media outlets left that haven’t resorted to headlines consisting of lists?

I am not exactly sure how this excuse for a story ever became popular, but it’s driving me crazy. It’s worse than mindless internet memes which attempt to encapsulate deep human lessons with a single phrase and humorous, yet ironic, picture. Frankly, memes are more successful.

A likely explanation for the tendency to create articles composed of numbered paragraphs is that this excuse for writing is easier and journalists, underpaid and overworked as they are, resort to them as a way to get words to paper with shorter and shorter deadlines. I’m not willing to pass the blame on to anonymous journalists in the ‘lame-stream media’, I actually believe in the power of the free-market and clearly, most of us like these things.

I recall a sales training many years ago based on the Myers-Briggs temperament sorter. The point here was to identify and anticipate how your customer communicates and adapt to their style to improve your discussion. One could identify the orderliness of the client by the tidiness of her desk and conclude that simply numbering points in your discussion arbitrarily, that is, just make up the numbers even if the order doesn’t matter, would improve her comprehension. (I’ve tried this, and indeed, it seems to work!)

I just don’t get why it works for so many people? Sure, my desk isn’t all that tidy, so perhaps I am the wrong audience for all these ‘five things you should do with your retirement/lover/holiday meals’ articles but it’s not like I’m the only one with a messy desk. Who is driving all this ‘three things that hotel managers/bloggers/car manufactures aren’t telling’ articles?

Will this be my most popular article ever? Is this the holy grail of click-bait that will allow me to finally monetize my blog? Tell me in the comments section. Just be sure to number your reasons.

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Getting rid of the goat

Posted in at 14:47 by RjZ

After the Boulder flood I learned why basements aren’t included in square footage for houses in most parts of country. Suddenly, my living space dropped to a half of what it had been. Now, technically, this isn’t a problem at all. There’s still more than enough room here, even if food from the pantry is stacked up behind the living room couch. It’s just that I have enough furniture, and things I don’t need, to fit tidily in a house twice as big and now it’s all in boxes pushed into every corner and along every hall in the home.

It’s been over three months but last weekend, replacement carpet was finally installed. After a few more details, I can begin moving everything back downstairs but friends came by to help move a big couch into the basement right away and it’s a pleasant relief. I can find stuff in the garage, and the hallway is twice as wide as it used to be.

This episode reminds me of the old joke. A man, troubled by problems at home asks his rabbi for help. The wise man tells him to get a pet goat. The man is confused how a pet goat is going to help him with his children, wife and money problems, but the rabbi is wise and trustworthy so he follows the instructions. On his way out, the rabbi adds ‘make sure you keep the goat inside your home with you!’ After a week with the goat, the poor man is distraught. Things aren’t better in his home and now his furniture is chewed up, it smells like a farm in his home and his wife and children are angry at all the damage. He returns to the rabbi and tells him that he’s sorry, but the goat isn’t helping. He needs more advice. His rabbi barely looks up from his studying and says ‘now get rid of the goat.’ ‘That’s it?’ the man asks, but he’s happy to bring the goat back where he got it. That very evening his children are happier, his wife gives him a big kiss and the house seems so much roomier.

The flood damaged some furniture and cost a bunch of extra money, but it already seems so much roomier upstairs now!

(2 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5)
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Have they killed craft beer?

Posted in , Society at 13:44 by RjZ

For a while there was micro-brewed beer. Back in the bad old days when American beer was brewed almost exclusively by a few big industrial breweries a some brave entrepreneurs set out to brew full-flavored beer with hops and malt that you could taste and they started a revolution in American beer. Some of them, like Sam Adams even got really big and the original name for these upstarts, micro-breweries, just didn’t seem to fit any more. Somebody, probably in marketing, decided that there must be a better name to capture the brewers and the full-flavored results and the term craft beer was born.

The Brewer’s Association is the primary U.S. trade group representing “craft beer.” Today, they’re the ‘somebody, probably in marketing’ who argues what gets to be called a craft beer at what doesn’t. Craft brewers are “small, independent, and traditional,” according to the group’s definition. That means they produce fewer than 6 million barrels a year—it used to be 2 million until Samuel Adams maker Boston Beer (SAM) got too big to qualify.

What do consumers think when they hear “craft beer?” If they’re like me, they want a beer that’s brewed with quality from authentic, honest ingredients. If the brewer wants to make a case why he’s adding rice adjuncts to the beer and cold filtering and whatever else, well, it may end up tasting like an old-school American beer, that is bland and uninteresting, but, well, isn’t it still a craft beer…an honest recipe and intent? It’s not like craft beer has to mean hoppy, or strong, or big, or malty, or flavored, or spiced, or even tasty. Craft beer means something different to consumers as it does to those who brew it. The the brewers it means small brewery, because most of them are and it’s a competitive market where they need all the help they can get. To consumers, it’s most likely meant to distinguish it in flavor and character from bland beers of the American 1970s. Of course, what do you do with a craft beer that tastes like a bland 1970s American lager, or a ‘macro-brewer’ who turns around and makes a great “craft beer?”

As you can read from the link above, “craft beer” has really become a protectionist label used to discourage good beer simply because the brewer has the foolishness to take a paycheck from a big brewery. This is just wrong. Back when Anchor Steam, Sam Adams, Sierra Nevada and Redhook were all but alone fighting against the juggernaut of Mill-coors-weiser, they weren’t just fighting for their survival in the market place, they were fighting for the survival of good beer and all that can mean. If Miller Coors is now helping to support that cause by brewing tasty beer under the name “Blue Moon” instead of Coors, haven’t they actually won that battle?

Beer consumers need a new name to distinguish their desire for a delicious, flavorful beer. And when that name is co-opted by folks who want to use it as a false armor against competition, well, we’ll just have to think of a yet another name. The great news, judging by both the number and variety of full-flavored beers at this year’s Great American Beer Festival, whether they were from traditional craft brewers, or the latest entrants into the category: Coors, and Budweiser, is that we’ve finally won this battle for good beer!

(1 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5)
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The baby filter

Posted in , Society at 16:17 by RjZ

It’s not obvious to users what Facebook’s business model is, but it’s likely something to do with advertising. Facebook knows a great deal about their users and can target advertisements to them in a way that even Google’s knowledge of users’ searches can’t get close to.

Facebook has a couple of things it must do to ensure that users keep using it’s social networking services though. The more people link with each other and share the more data there is for all of us to sort through. Not only does the mountain of data grow, bogging down server farms, but users are forced to filter it all and they don’t have their own server farms to help. At some point sorting it all becomes a pain and you wind up blocking your more chatty friends.

One simple solution would be to allow users to add tags to their pictures, status updates, and posts. Just think of it, your friends add a new picture of their lovely baby, and naturally they choose some tags, like “baby”, “boy”, “our treasure”. They’re making the search easier for Facebook, but their enabling their friends and family to create albums, of all of their favorite pictures or news items. While grandparents will quickly want to create a filter showing baby pictures of all of their grandparents, their childless friends, sick to death of pictures of someone’s naked child with spaghetti sauce all over his face can safely filter them out and still catch updates from their friends.

This simple, well tested feature, is likely fairly easy to implement and offers incredible functionality to the social media platform, including much more targeted advertising, which is exactly what Facebook’s customers, not the users, but the people buying ads and paying the bills, really need.

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Posted in at 14:00 by RjZ

Armed guards in every school? Will the NRA be paying? Is this the police state from which having guns was intending to protect us?

If this is all the pro-gun lobby has to say, I pity those who hope to keep their guns.

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Fear of not over-sharing

Posted in at 12:13 by RjZ

First read this. My comments won’t make much sense if you haven’t read New York Times’ opinion piece by Roger Cohen on over-sharing, and it’s hilarious and well written so come back when you’re done.

This is, as much as I enjoyed the article, I am not so sure of the hypothesis. Not because I disagree, but because it’s testable, I see no evidence, just humorous opinion, and I can’t really manage to guess using my usual single datapoint: myself.

The hypothesis is “we share useless crap for fear of being forgotten.” Sounds pretty reasonable and having an hypothesis is the first step toward fixing the problem, (and, as the rest of the article soundly demonstrates, it is a problem), but I am not so sure fear of being forgotten is why people share this stuff or that if it’s just that simple.

I can’t tell myself is probably because I don’t appear to suffer from this anxiety. I am just self deluded enough to be comfortable with my existence and status. Hell, I think the best friends to have in your life are those friends, we all have a few, whom you can pick up with after months of not talking, as if it were only yesterday. Since those are the friends I value, I feel no urge to keep them updated every second on the minutiae of my life. Blithely going along on this assumption, it’s difficult for me to picture others who may be compelled to do so. The only difference is, in spite of how plausible it all sounds, I don’t have the confidence to assume fear is the motivator for over-sharing.

Like I said, it’s really quite testable: we need only ask a few people and at least have an idea whether this hypothesis is worth pursuing. I imagine my tiny selection of audience is hardly a scientific sample, but please, don’t hesitate to tell us why you share, or don’t , in the comments below. In the meantime, at least you read a funny article and now you have another reason to feel smugly superior to your over-sharing friends. Unless, um, you’re one of them….

(1 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5)
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It’s that time of the year again

Posted in at 17:33 by RjZ

That lovely time of the year when the culture wars flair up. In this case, the city of Santa Monica, California has thrown up their hands at a battle between Christians who want to set up nativity scene, a long running tradition in the city, and atheists who chose the “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” route.

Last year, a coalition of atheists joined a city run lottery to display their message in the park during this time of year. Thing is, so many applied that they garnered most of the spots and the Christians didn’t think that it was fair for them to finally, after 60 years, have a say.

This year, Santa Monica decided, sadly, but wisely, to run away from the problem, and the Christians are suing them for it. Apparently it costs Santa Monica loads of money to administer this program and, hearing people scream at them for fairly giving away too many spots to those godless heathens probably didn’t make them want to do it again this year.

So the Christians are now suggesting that the atheists have a right to protest but that doesn’t trump the religious groups right to free speech. That seems reasonable, except they’re suing the city not the atheists, who, indeed, are not a party to this case at all.

It is a little sad that this long running tradition has been ended by the skirmish, but, like many traditions, perhaps it has finally run its course and, our enlightened society has learned that forcing the views of the many on the rest, no matter how gently, isn’t something that governments need to support. So, while the right leaning media will gleefully report on this tiny salvo in the culture wars, I have to wonder if the judge won’t just throw out this frivolous case, as the city will so easily argue that costs, (and trouble) trumped their freedom of speech much more than last years coalition of atheists.

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Botched campaign or a victory for the devil you know

Posted in at 14:14 by RjZ

This narrative, that essentially, the republican campaign wasn’t in touch with the rest of America, an America who now has an out-gay family member and some interracial friends and thus couldn’t tolerate the moral-majority dominated campaign is an easy sell: in retrospect. But if it was so obvious, why were liberals so nervous before the election that maybe Obama wouldn’t get elected?

I happen to agree, mostly. The republican mantra was that the economy mattered more than anything else, and the American people were not so convinced that they wanted to bet on the economy, while sacrificing there right to choose when to get pregnant, or married, or deported. That was an ill-advised strategy, but also because, frankly, and I speak as one who lost a job–twice–in the last four years, not everyone thinks the economy is strictly the current president’s fault, or that simply saying over and over again “I was a successful businessman, I know what it takes to fix this economy” is sufficiently convincing.

Mr. Romney’s campaign may have failed not so much because the conservative republicans didn’t appeal to minorities, gays, and women, but rather because Romney was unable to convince his base, let alone those in the middle who may have considered him what he stood for. Conservatives hoped that vague promises about the economy would work from them as they had for Reagan in the past, but this time, voters, who individually might be single issue voters, picking their candidate because they’re pro-life, or pro-gay marriage, in the aggregate voted for a combination of issues. They weighed the economy and maybe even wondered if Romney might be better, but since he couldn’t even convince his base what he truly stood for, they wondered too and decided better to go with the ‘devil you know.’

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