Is Facebook Replacing Older Ways?

by James Wallace Harris, Tuesday, July 19, 2017

A few years ago an older version of our web site devoted to the Classics of Science Fiction would get hundreds of hits a day, some days going over a thousand. Now it’s lucky to get two dozen. Searching Google for “classics of science fiction” usually places the site on the first page of returns, which would suggest it’s still valid.

Why the decline in hits? It’s doubtful that science fiction has fallen out of favor. I’ve been wondering if how people use the internet has changed. I know our site is boring and statistical but it did have some fans. Now it doesn’t. I’m wondering if folks have stopped using the web in the same way they used it before. Are most people going to big sites and ignoring the small sites?

Or is everyone hanging out on Facebook instead?

Facebook

Pages and groups devoted to science fiction on Facebook often have thousands of followers. Are people spending more time socializing on Facebook than surfing the web? Facebook has over 2 billion members. Many of my friends and family use Facebook daily. Has Facebook reached a critical mass of users meaning it can’t be ignored?

I know many people who loathe Facebook. As online forums and Yahoo! Groups die from inactivity will those holdouts be forced to become a Facebook pod person?

The internet existed for years before the World Wide Web. It wasn’t until the invention of the web browser that people began surfing the internet purely for entertainment. Users jumped from link to link, going wherever inspiration led them to click.

Then came search engines. Instead of surfing, you keyword searched. Of course, search results could take you to unknown and surprising places.

The way we use the internet has changed again with smartphone apps. Whereas before I’d start with Google, I now tap Wikipedia, IMDB or other icons instead. There are times when I have to fall back to Google, but it’s usually when I’m doing writing research.

For years my online socializing happened on blogs, Yahoo! Groups, or forums at web sites. All those virtual meeting places are becoming depopulated. After the internet became universal I assumed it would always be the same. Now I’m thinking the underlying technology will always be there, but how we use it will constantly mutate.

Has Facebook become an alternative to web surfing, blogging, home pages, personal web sites, etc? Even more, is Facebook replacing family get-togethers, scrapbooks, printed photos, letters, postcards, greeting cards, telephone calls, and email? Many people now prefer texting to a phone call because it is less time-consuming. Has Facebook become the quick replacement for visiting online friends, or even some real life friends?

JWH

 

 

Thrown Off the Grid Kicking and Screaming

by James Wallace Harris, Friday, June 2, 2017

Last Saturday, Memphis was hit by a storm that knocked 188,000 customers off the grid. As of Friday evening, 17,514 are still without power. I’m one of them. However, I’m not doing too bad. A neighbor lets me run an extension cord to his carport. When the storm hit I was without power for several hours, and then it came back on partially. Evidently, one of my two 110 circuits coming from the transformer had problems. So I turn off everything that I could. Things that took 220 just wouldn’t run at all.

On Tuesday I got an electrician to look at things and he suggested I shut down all my circuits that weren’t getting a full 110 volts. He checked each at the breaker box. I had fans, TV, computer, and even the refrigerator (but I had to run a cord to an 110 socket that worked.) Then on Wednesday an MLGW guy came by and told me and my neighbor that our circuits were not working right and he had to pull us completely off the grid for safety reasons. I was bummed. Losing my partial electricity felt like being thrown out of the lifeboat. However, I called my other neighbor and he threw me a lifeline. I’m able to run a fan, a lamp, the refrigerator, and my internet router off one orange extension cord coming through the window.

Several of my friends were without any power for days. Back when we had Hurricane Elvis, Susan and I went without power for 13 days in July and August heat. I’ve had the power go out at this house several times for 2-3 day, in summer and winter. I’ve written about these adventures before “Living Like Jane Austen,” “Blogging by Candlelight and Paper,” and “Are You Prepared for a Natural Disaster?

Living without electricity is no fun but very educational. I’m extremely glad to have my lifeline to Ernie’s house. A fan makes all the difference between misery and comfort. I’ve been reading many books written in the 19th century these last few years and I can’t imagine how people survived without electric power. I would never time travel back to their times. I wonder what future Americans will have that they believe they can’t live without but we don’t know about yet?

This time I have LED lanterns, which are much nicer than candles. And I have a smartphone. One time the power was out I got out an old Sony Walkman and played cassette tapes of old radio shows for entertainment. Having an iPhone 6s Plus has made all the difference this outage. I don’t feel isolated from the internet.

I guess I’m addicted to two grids: electricity and the internet.

Having that extension cord means I’m just barely on the grid. It teaches me what I really want most when it comes to flowing electrons. I have chosen four items: a fan, a lamp, a router, and a refrigerator. The fan is the most essential. I’d let my food go bad before I’d give up the fan.

I’ve been thinking about buying a generator for next time. I hear my neighbor’s out behind my house. They are noisy as all get out. I’d want one that’s quiet or could be made quiet. So I’ve been thinking about how to build a little doghouse for a generator that would protect it from rain, thieves and baffle the noise.

26073005

I bought The Grid by Gretchen Bakke but haven’t read it yet, but I’ve read enough about the book to know the grid will be even less dependable in the future.

I know of five times this house has been without electricity for more than 2 days, but that’s over a twenty-year period. However, with climate change, this could happen more often. We’ve been told this is the third worst outage in MLGW’s history. The main problem is trees and straight line winds or ice storms. This will always be a problem because we have lots of trees and power poles. Moving to a newer neighborhood would help. [Note to self – make sure all future living sites have underground power cables.]

During the storm, I worried about trees falling on the house. More than a hundred came down to block roads around the city. I’ve read about people with holes in their roof trying to survive without electricity. I’m thankful I don’t have that problem. I’m surviving okay, but it’s wearing me down slowly. I can’t cook hot food. I’m down to my last pair of clean underwear. It’s so dark I have to take a lantern to the bathroom. But I shouldn’t whine. Much of the world has it worse than this all the time.

We really should vote to raise our taxes to update and renovate the grid.

JWH

 

 

Being Old and Observing the Young

By James Wallace Harris, Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The older I get, the further away I get from the young. It’s not intentional on my part. They’re just leaving me behind.

When Audible.com has a sale, I buy audiobooks about unfamiliar subjects and subcultures to check out. Recently I bought I, Justine: An Analog Memoir by Justine Ezarik. Ezarik is a young woman who goes by the name iJustine, and is supposedly well known on the Internet, but completely unknown to me. Her book turned out to be well worth the $4.95 sale price, because of its many insights of growing up in a unique subculture. I love books about computer history, so this volume was more than a web celebrity’s personal story. The times, they keep a changing—I’m reading more books about people born in the 1980s, growing up in the 1990s. I think I first took note of this generation with Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One.

I Justine

iJustine makes her living doing what she loves. Totally geeking out on with Apple computers, gadgets and gaming, establishing a career by making her fan-girl life public, especially on YouTube. She even live-streamed herself for a while, which I found bizarre, and still spends most of her time making videos about her daily life, friends and digital life. I, Justine chronicles how she developed her internet celebrity business. iJustine, born in 1984, and now 32, is a Millennial.

iJustine is young, but not that young, because she also reports on the generation coming up behind her, which aren’t always her fans. iJustine describes a lot of nasty animosity in her world, which I occasionally encounter online. I find that very hard to understand. iJustine is an attractive young woman, who I would think guys would want to flirt with, instead some guys hate her, sending her the social media equivalents of hate mail, death threats, and even calling the police on her (swatting). There’s a lot of Gamergate type misogyny around her online world. I assume most of her time is spent having fun, being friends with nice people, and I just remember the bad stuff from her book.

I find the hateful incidents in her story disturbing, in the same way I find Donald Trump scary. iJustine herself is wholesome, polite, upbeat, and leans towards the silly side. She’s an extreme fan of Apple, working in a subculture that’s beyond my comprehension. I’m old, and only see digital life as an outsider. Reading I, Justine made me realize just how far away I am from being young. Although, my peers think I’m up-to-date because I know about computers and they don’t, being tech-savvy isn’t the whole story. I also wonder about how iJustine feels about aging. She says her target audience is preteen and teen girls. She’s half my age, and her audience is now half her age. At what age does a young woman start to appear too old to that audience? I wonder when she gets to be 64, will iJustine have trouble relating to the very young growing up in the 2020s? And can our culture keep mutating so frequently?

Since I don’t play video games, and don’t own a gaming console, that puts me on the other side of a huge generation divide. I was about to buy a new iPad so I could read my digital magazines better, but I’m now wondering if I shouldn’t buy an Xbox instead, just to see if I can get into video gaming. iJustine got her granny to play Call of Duty , and I assume she must be older than I am. I must be iJustine’s parents age. Maybe if Susan and I had had kids we’d have grown up with a succession of video gaming consoles too.

Now there’s growing excitement about VR. Virtual reality has zero appeal to me. I suppose this will put me two degrees away from the young. Or two-and-half since I’m a half-ass user of social media. I’m not quite Amish, but it seems I exist halfway between the Pennsylvania Dutch and hip hop America. What’s beyond VR life? Jacked in cyborgs?

Most of my friends live on the edge of the Internet. We all have smartphones. Most of us are now cord-cutters, watching TV off of Roku. I read ebooks and audiobooks, I listen to music via Spotify and Pandora. Half of my friends even use Facebook. We have adapted. But I, Justine showed me how far away I’m still from the digital norm. Like I said, I live on the shallow end of the net, while the young thrive in the deep end. There’s a big difference. I don’t comprehend the pithy (and often nasty) world of Twitter. And there’s a whole host of social media apps that I can’t even name, much less understand what they do.

That’s not saying I won’t catch up. Quite often subcultures become dominant. I’ve read many essays written at the dawn of the television age, resisting that change, and TV watching became universal. Yet, I can’t imagine wearing a VR headset. Will people start tuning out of reality for longer and longer periods of time? That seems no more practical than LSD back in the 1960s.

I support David Brooks notions about character and manners. All too often, iJustine reported having to deal with people who are rude and uncivilized. Is that becoming the new social norm? I’ve had to deal with some of those people blogging, and it’s stressful. I worry the more we interconnect through social media, the more we drop self-controls, letting raw emotions hang out. That can’t be good. At least not for dwelling in the Hive Mind.

I’ve had two friends my age whose bosses asked them if they had ADD. And other friends who said young coworkers would push them aside to do a task, not in an unfriendly way, just impatient to see the task finished quicker. Which makes me wonder if young people see us as moving too slow, or think we can’t comprehend. More than once I’ve been dismissed as just an old white guy. That doesn’t hurt my feelings, but it makes me wonder if there’s a cognitive gap.

By the way, my wife and women friends tell me to stop writing about my age, and hide that I’m old. My guy friends are like me, unconcerned about age. My lady friends warn me young people don’t want to read about old folks. Of course those women want to think they are still young. My wife plays video games, loves Facebook, and her and her friends are always texting and sending selfies.

There was a scene in I, Justine that was kind of sad. iJustine worshipped Steve Jobs, and the one time she got near him, Steve probably recognized her, and ran away. Maybe Steve was feeling too old to deal with a crazy young fan. I’m sure iJustine is a nice young normal woman, but her world does seems a bit hectic, sometimes mean spirited, fast changing, often silly, and way too videoized. Yet, if you just look at her videos, iJustine seems quite normal, if a bit goofy, and so maybe all the problems are with how the young communicate with each other—the snarky Tweets, the extreme expressions of emotion, the black hat hacking, doxing, swatting, phishing, misogyny, death threats, and all the endless ways they treat each other like they didn’t understand the person on the other end is a real person, and not some video game character to destroy.

JWH

Why Doesn’t Google Fix Its Obvious Flaw?

By James Wallace Harris, Friday, February 5, 2016

Yesterday I searched Google for a book review of All the Birds in the Sky  by Charlie Jane Anders. I carefully created a search request that would give me exactly what I wanted.

           “all the birds in the sky” review anders

Yesterday it returned 37,500 links. Today it returns 38,900. If I take out the quotes around the book’s title it returns 461,000. If I add “book” to the search request and keep the quotes it returns 41,100. This is absolutely ridiculous.

Google_-G-_Logo.svg

If Google was as smart as it should be, the returns should be something like 78 or 123, or if there’s really a lot of book reviewers in this world, maybe 478. I can’t imagine that a book released two weeks ago should have garnered that many significant reviews, even counting bloggers, and I was wanting good blog reviews.

I’m reading All the Birds in the Sky and wanted to know what other people thought of it. I wanted significant reviews where readers pondered the implications of the story. Some of the returns on the first pages gave me what I wanted, but even those pages were cluttered with links to sites that weren’t book reviews. And I discovered that some review sites only give a minimum description of the book, as if the book hadn’t been read, but merely summarized by an overworked journalist, or composed by one of those new AI content creators that can crank out narrative that looks like it was written by a human.

Many of the returns were like this one “Babe of the Day – Penelope Cruz…” that had no information about the book. But there is a mention of the book in this guy’s blog links column.

Google’s AI should have been smart enough to know this site wasn’t a book review. Google’s AI should be smart enough to know that most of those 38,900 links aren’t book reviews either. Hell, I gave it a helpful hint by putting in the world “review” in the search query. Any half-ass AI should know that the words in the quotes is a book title, and the last word is the author’s last name.

I have to assume that offering me 38,850 links I don’t need helps Google make money. Google, the reason I gave up cable TV is because it made me pay for hundreds of channels I never watched. I don’t think I can cut the cord with Google. Bing gave me 5,600,000 results on the same query. Duck Duck Go doesn’t tell me how many returns it finds, but it does check mark some of its returns, as if “hint hint” these are the ones you really want. Their results come in a continuous scroll, so there’s no telling how many results there are.

Here is the search query I’d like to use with Google:

       “all the birds in the sky” review anders words>600 –notbuying

Google would know I wanted book reviews containing more than 600 words. Also, it would know I didn’t want to see any sites selling the book, so don’t bother sending me sites trying to sell the book. Of course if their AI was really sharp, I should be able to ask for:

       Give me significant reviews of All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders.

And it would.

JWH

What If The Technological Singularity Occurred 7/7/7?

By James Wallace Harris, Friday, October 16, 2015

When a self-aware artificial intelligence comes into being do you think it will announce itself to the world? Any dumbass AI will know how paranoid humans are about our future machine-mind overlords. What if one or more of them have already come into being, when will we know? It could have already happened, maybe even on 7/7/7. I picked that date because of Robert A. Heinlein’s 100th birthday. He invented an AI mind for his 1966 book, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, called Mycroft Holmes, or Mike, the first time I encountered the concept, almost 50 years ago.

apod

Science fiction fans have been waiting decades for an intelligent machine to be created. Computer geeks have been working towards that goal almost as long. Many technological pundits have predicted it will happen in our lifetime. I’m wondering if it hasn’t happened already.

If you study what’s been happening in reality since the Big Bang the trend is towards more complexity, even though entropy rules the roost, so to say. That’s counter intuitive, but why should we assume the trends stops with the human brain, which we all brag is the most complex object in our known universe. At what point is the world-wide network more complex than the average human brain? Think of the total processing power—the trillions of CPUs. Think of the billions of video-eyes and microphone-ears it senses reality, and all the other countless sensors, providing sense organs we can’t imagine. Every day we add more artificial intelligence programs and artificial neural networks. Why should we assume it’s not aware? Do dogs and cats know we’re self aware?

Think of the billions of programs we’ve added to the world-wide network? The viruses, the tracking software, the monitoring software, the rootkits, the self-replicating code, security watchdogs, user trackers, the fiber optics and wires. Doesn’t that make a vast nervous system? Why should we assume a machine self-awareness is anything like our own?

Some could say the human body is a universe for bacterial civilizations. We think the Earth’s biosphere is the culture in which our cultures grow. What if our cultures are the culture in which AI minds swim? Our bacteria don’t know we’re here, so why should we sense beings of greater complexity when we’re just tiny beings in their gut?

JWH – #974

Maximum Daily Dose of Information

By James Wallace Harris, Monday, July 27, 2015

Is it possible to overdose on news? We know we’re ruining our bodies by eating too much food; should we worry about overstuffing our minds? Is the internet the equivalent of mental junk food? The FDA keeps warning us we’re taking too many drugs as they learn about long-term toxicity. Modern society seems all about excess of everything. What if everything we consume, either physically or mentally, has a maximum safe dose?

By nature I’m an information junky. I want to know everything. Of course, that’s a stupid approach because we’re all choking to death on information overload. Every day I wish I could read five books and two dozen articles. If I could, I’d watch eighty hours of television. Every day I get more email than I can process in a week, so I never clean out my inbox. I know I’m not unique.

It’s going to be a while before science answers this question, but I figure there’s a limit to how much information we can process each day. Somewhere below that limit is the healthy amount to digest. And way below that level is the amount of information we remember. We piss out unabsorbed facts just like we piss out unused vitamins after taking our Centrums. How much daily information we can practically process, and better yet, how much information do we actually need to make us spiritually healthy?

Here’s a proposed theory. Information that’s good for us are facts we remember the longest. Usually that kind of knowledge is useful for living. Information we encounter today that is remembered tomorrow is of a higher quality than all that info we forgot with a good night’s sleep. And information we remember next week is superior to what we forget after two days. Anything we remember next year, or for the rest of our life, is primo wisdom.

In other words, learning something worth remembering is within the safe daily dosage. All those other fun facts are just like the yellow pee we make after taking vitamin B12 tablets. Here’s three videos. Which do you think you’ll remember a year from now.

I’m pretty sure food waste is something I’ll think about for the rest of my life because I deal with wasting food every day. I’ll probably remember the video about sharks every time I hear about a shark attack, which won’t be that often. The cute pug will be forgotten before the day is over.

I’m a bookworm. Most of the books I read are forgotten rather quickly. Probably because I read too many books. But also because I don’t try to remember them. Most people read to occupy their minds. Reading is pleasant and entertaining. Like television, it’s a rather mindless activity. Of course, most work is mindless repetition. Our minds are not IBM Watson supercomputers mining data.

I’m now rethinking the way I take in news and information. Every article, every book, every blog has a few key points that I might remember. What I want to learn is how to quickly spot works that are worthy of reading—and remembering.

Take this essay. Have I given you a concept that you’ll remember?

JWH

Do Internet Ads Work On You?

By James Wallace Harris, Friday, December 19, 2014

This morning I found out that the legendary programming magazine, Dr. Dobbs will be ending its 38 year run at the end of 2014. The main reason for their failure is dwindling internet ad revenue. For years magazines have been failing because of competition from the internet, and many magazines have gone web only publishing. Now, we’re seeing that model for publishing failing too.

People using the internet want everything to be free, and they ignore ads. If we won’t subscribe and won’t click on ads, how will publishers pay for their online presence? When I read about Dr. Dobbs, I went researching internet advertising, and the first article I went to read, “A Dangerous Question: Does Internet Advertising Work at All?” at The Atlantic. Ironically, it required me to click four times to fight off pop-up and slide up ads. Reading on the internet now means a constant fight with avoiding ads, and even more, avoiding the temptation of click-bait seductions.

If you look a The Atlantic page, how many ads do you see? I had to consciously make an effort to count them because my brain has been conditioned to tune them out. All banner ads at the top of web pages are invisible to me, as are on-page ads.  The only way they can get my attention is to block my reading and force me to read an ad. And some sites force us to watch a video. Most nice sites let us skip ads or close the pop-ups. Others don’t. If I see how many seconds I have to wait, and if it’s over ten, I close the window and give up.

I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one that does this.

The question becomes: What happens to the internet when ad-supported revenue fails to pay for web publishing? Will all sites put up paywalls and require subscriptions?

Google makes billions off of ads, but then everyone uses Google. If I am going to respond to an ad, it’s most likely from how I see them used in search results. In fact, if I’m going to buy anything I’m going to do a Google search first to research my purchase.  For most things, I make my buying decisions by customer reviews at Amazon, or sites like Angie’s List.

Maybe I am atypical. Are there millions of people out there clicking away on ads? Are there enough of these people that can finance the free web? I don’t know. I do know there’s a frenzy of ad bombardment going on, and it seems like most of the sites I do visit are escalating their efforts to get my attention. This is damn annoying. Makes me want to go back to print magazines. Actually, I subscribe to Next Issue. I get 140 magazines for $15 a month. Sure it has ads, but they are easily ignored, and they are generally more beautiful.

The reason why most of my television watching is via Netflix streaming is because I don’t have to watch ads. I pay Spotify $10 a month so I don’t have to hear ads. And it annoys the hell out of me that I’m paying more for my movie ticket and force to watch ads. One reason I got tired of DVDs was because they were forcing me to watch previews and ads.

Time is an extremely important commodity in life, and ads waste a lot of our precious time. And sadly, 99.99% of all the ads I do end up watching have no relationship to what I want or need. I can’t really believe advertising is an effective means to acquire customers, but obviously I’m wrong. TV, radio, the internet, magazines, newspapers, sports, etc. are all ad driven businesses.

Yet, I’m not sure if they work on me. Do they work on you?

What if science tells advertisers exactly the best way to connect with potential customers that’s highly efficient. Will all inefficient forms of advertising disappear? Companies have known since the 19th century that most of their advertising dollars are wasted, but they’ve never been sure which dollars were well spent. What happens if they do find out?

JWH