Sips from the Firehose


Aug 22

Please Excuse My Appearance. And the Orca.


Posted: under Digital Migration.

Yes, the amusing little JavaScript sequence that shows me getting squirted in the face by a firehose and then winking is gone. Some recent update to WordPress ganked it, and to be honest, I don’t have the time right now to chase down the setting to fix it.

Nor do I have the time to do a full redesign at this time. I’m in the final stages of producing my class, “Using Predictive Analytics to Improve the Customer Journey” for Pluralsight, and every waking second has to be dedicated to putting the final editing touches on. Like any construction project, it feels like 90% of the work & stress takes place in the last 5% of the time. (Groans, stretches, briefly considers running away to Patagonia to work as a penguin-vaccinator.)

Here’s a preview of one of the user personas I’ve constructed for this class. I call her “Charo Chocoholic,” and she’s representative of demanding users who want to find something unique and delightful, that they can share with their friends.

Stick with me, folks. A big blog post is coming after I get done with this next week.

Teaser: It involves the biggest shift in my life in more than 30 years.

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Jun 04

Migrating Sites & Dealing With Email: Not For the Faint of Heart


Posted: under Design.
Tags: , , ,

Quick hit: here’s how to ensure all your past emails don’t vaporize when you migrate to a new hosting service

Just got done with trying to help a friend with the fallout of migrating from one hosting provider to another, and I had a couple of insights:

First, email is a deceptively simple issue, when you’re trying to deal with DNS settings, new billing schema, upgrading PHP, etc..

“email seems like one of the easiest technologies, because it’s been around so long – but in practice, it is truly thorny. Because email is a very attractive target for spammers/scammers, tech companies have had to add layer after layer of protections onto what is now 35-year-old technology. Think of an old UPS or FedEx delivery van that has been robbed & hijacked over the years, and now is bristling with security cameras, barbed wire, machine guns, etc. As long as the truck sticks to old patterns of behavior, everything is fine, but once you swerve off the road, things start getting unpredictable.”

Next, the documentation for dealing with email migrations reads as though it were written by Cenobites who have infiltrated the IT department. A sampling

Migration endpoints are management objects that describe the remote server information and connection settings that are associated with one or more batches. When you provide server information during a migration batch request, you’re actually creating a migration endpoint. After you create migration endpoints, you can assign them to new migration batches or pending migration batches.

Meanwhile, you’ll have to make a whole bunch of choices, none of which are really explained all that well, and which seem to have all manner of long-term consequences. I can’t possibly predict what will happen, what will be needed, or how it can be best handled, but here’s an overview of a couple of terms, with language that might possibly make sense:

Email client: No, this isn’t a client that you’re emailing things to/from. This is the program on your computer that you use for email; common ones are Outlook, Mac Mail, Thunderbird, etc.

Online client: The program you use inside a browser to check your email – Gmail or Yahoo or Hotmail are the biggest players in this space.

POP3 and IMAP: These are settings that regulate how the local program on your computer handles getting, sending and storing your emails. There’s a difference between the two, explained in depth here.

IMAP: Your emails stay up on the server; if you delete or move an email to an inbox in Outlook, then the Outlook program will send a signal to your online inbox (Gmail or whatever) to mirror what was done on your local machine.

ADVANTAGE: You don’t need to download all the emails to see what’s going on; you can access your emails from a desktop computer, tablet, phone, etc., and whatever you do is mirrored across all your devices

DISADVANTAGE: Sometimes you delete emails on your local client, and then the server just replaces them from where they are stored on the server online.

POP3: You download all the emails to your local computer, and then you deal with them there.

ADVANTAGE: You clean your online mailbox out as clean as a whistle. Nothing there for anyone to root around in, if they ever compromise your passwords.

DISADVANTAGE: If your local computer hard drive crashes, you lose all your past emails.

WARNING: If you’ve been set up with a hosting service by someone else, and you were on IMAP (where changes aren’t destructive) but somehow wind up with POP3 email settings, BE VERY CAREFUL OR YOU COULD WIND UP DELETING ALL YOUR EMAILS.

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Apr 22

A Path Forward: Teaching Entrepreneurs How To Survive


Posted: under Digital Migration.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I edited the Starting Point report; we studied 60 professors in 14 countries to learn how students were being taught digital business skills

cover of starting point research project entrepreneurship sembramedia
Published in three languages – click to download the PDF version in English

In 2019, it is more evident than ever that traditional media is still locked in a death spiral. The Cleveland Plain Dealer used to have 350 reporters & editors. Now it has 33.

“…overall newsroom employment dropped nationally by 23 percent and in newspaper newsrooms employment dropped by 45 percent. More than 2,400 media jobs have been eliminated so far this year…”

Pew Research Center analysis of Bureau of Labor statistics

We’re seeing the effects of this cycle of destruction everywhere; the entire concept of truth itself is under assault. The digital platforms that were supposed to step to the fore and provide this wonderful place where news & information would flow freely, have instead become the darkest and most malignant part of the problem.

“Not our problem,” they say, as they instead concentrate on maximizing profit. Meanwhile, democratic societies are waking up to realize that when tragedies and violent attacks happen, the first thing that needs to be done is not to rely on social media to pick up and report the truth … no, those heady days that I chronicled here in this space of “citizen journalists” getting the truth out about the Fukushima reactor meltdown …

… those days have been replaced by performative social media-fueled massacres. To defang these terrorists, Sri Lanka shut down Facebook and YouTube.

In this environment, we need actual journalists and news reporters more than ever. But how do we teach them to survive in such a chaotic digital environment?

I’ve written extensively here & elsewhere over the years about what I call the “Great Digital Migration.” To extend this metaphor, if we’re going to be going from the place where we’ve been – traditional media – to an ultimate destination that is still somewhat uncertain, we are going to need some kind of direction.

Or we’re just going to wander around aimlessly until we run out of resources. Which is a pretty fair description of what the last 15 years have been like for the “mainstream media.”

The biggest takeaway from the research is that we are still in dire need of professors who have the skills & experience as digital entrepreneurs, so they can teach students a realistic view of the media ecosystem they’re about to find themselves scratching out a living in.

We need more of these smart, committed, passionate teachers.

I’ve had to deliver a reality check to my own students; it’s why I worked so hard to try to give them skills that were applicable to other careers.

Many of the professors interviewed said that
understanding this tectonic shift is crucial to
comprehending what it really means when we talk
about entrepreneurial journalism.


“One of the most complex issues for me is having my
students understand the importance of entrepreneurial
journalism in the context of our country,” says Abraham
Torres from Mexico.


Elizabeth Saad from Brazil says that her students
come to the course with a “distorted” idea of what
journalism is actually like these days: “They think
they’re going to work in the newsroom and go out onto
the street to report. Things have changed a lot.”


Juan Luis Manfredi is convinced that entrepreneurial
journalism is real, not a fad, adding: “The reality is that
launching your own entrepreneurial journalism project
is going to be the most likely way to find a job.”

The sad fact is that in the near-to-mid term, most young journalists are going to have to either accept “hamster wheel journalism” at digital outfits that are desperately chasing clicks … or just quit the profession in favor of PR or consulting (as so many of my former students have done).

Those who want to stick with journalism as a career are going to have to DIY things. The bad news is that there are still significant barriers to building an audience while simultaneously building solid revenue streams.

The good news is that it can be done.

We just need to teach young journalists what that looks like.

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Oct 23

“Genre” Movies, the #MeToo Movement and Megan Fox


Posted: under Blogs, Digital Migration, new media, Video.
Tags: , , , ,

Horror and sci-fi have always been ways for society to talk things that society can’t talk about

From Invasion of the Body Snatchers in the 50s (fears of lurking commies next door) to the first televised interracial kiss (Capt, Kirk and Uhura on Star Trek) to Gen-X feeling suffocated by Reagan-era complacency (Nightmare on Elm Street, They Live) to the current re-imagining of Halloween about the effects of inter generational trauma — pop culture throws allegories at us that tell us what we’re thinking about in that place we don’t want to acknowledge exists.

I was struck today by a re-assessment of the decade-old horror movie Jennifer’s Body, and how the entire story around the film resonates in a different way, given recent events.

The marketing department did what marketing departments do, and melded sex with danger.

The movie is being re-examined by reviewers all over the web right now, possibly because it’s in heavy rotation on HBO right now. Why?

Well, the “origin story” of the movie – that is, how the monster becomes a monster read some wood differently in light of current events. Here is a nut graph from the VICE review

The attack on Jennifer is one of the film’s most powerful and uncomfortable scenes. There’s no sexual assault, but the imagery is clear. Even if it wasn’t, Jennifer meekly asks the members of Low Shoulder if they’re rapists once she notices something isn’t right in their tour van. What follows is the sacrifice of Jennifer by a group of men who are casual and practiced, cracking jokes and singing songs as Jennifer cries and begs for mercy. It’s chilling and should stand out to anyone watching what has otherwise been a darkly funny movie so far. If Ebert’s reading is the norm, no wonder Jennifer’s Body barely registered.

The story is a twist on monster movies, in that the pretty, vulnerable cheerleader becomes the dark, unstoppable force.

… teen girls everywhere in America were told earlier this month by their president and elected senators that whatever their male peers do to them in their youth doesn’t really matter.

For once, the pretty girl is covered with someone else’s gore. Which really made the guys in their letter jackets out on dates squirm uncomfortably in their seats.

It takes something really shocking and in-your-face to knock current American cultural dialogue out of its comfortable ideological trenches – the debates over hot-button issues like abortion, immigration, violent video games, rust-belt jobs disappearing, etc. etc. – have all descended into “hot takes” that mostly serve to confirm the tribal identification of the people yelling past each other in comment threads on Facebook. 

This is the function of good art. 

Here’s Vox’ take: 

 

Watching that moment in 2018 brings up unavoidable echoes of Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony about Brett Kavanaugh’s alleged assault on her when she was a teenager, of the phrase “Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter.” Jennifer’s pain is funny to these men. For them, it’s a lark. But for her, it’s a moment of trauma that is going to change her forever.

What Jennifer’s Body offers up in response to the trauma and tragedy of what happened to Jennifer in the van is the cathartic fantasy of what happens next, of Jennifer turning her trauma against her attackers, of her using her victimized, violated body to wreak bloody vengeance on the patriarchy.

And lo, suddenly Jennifer’s Body is not a sex fantasy — it’s a revenge fantasy.

The past two years have seen the uncorking of decades of rage from women across the age spectrum, from older “First Wave Feminists” who carry signs saying “I can’t believe I have to come out to protest this shit again…” 

Source: WikiCommons

… to Gen-Z women suddenly realizing that a lot of things that they really didn’t ever question are now suddenly on the table, and realizing that they have been trained since first logging onto the internet (what a phrase that is these days) that they have been trained to connect, organize, and craft compelling memes that reference pop-culture touchstones. 

Source: WikiCommons

And here’s where I get to the point of this essay: in looking at the photos of the protest marches, the speeches, the demonstrations, something jumped out at me. It wasn’t just the blend of all age groups – although if you look at the faces of the women in just the two photos above, you can see that there are multiple generations at work here. 

No, what’s new to me is the memetic media loop that is being adopted and slyly subverted. Much as Jennifer’s Body subverts the expectations of straight male horror movies, the signs and chants of the women in these marches has a different tone to it these days. Check this out: 

Source: WikiCommons

These are not the flowers and peace signs of the Summer of Love hippie chicks, nor are they the “Riot Grrl” movement that so focused on establishing identity that it fragmented into warring factions, and is mostly remembered these days as a musical style aimed at liberating white middle class punk girls from mean guys in the mosh pit. 

To me, the inclusion of familiar pop culture references, like the Game of Thrones shout-out in the “Winter is Coming” sign, to the Jay-Z song and the self-identification as a “b!tch”, tells me that this younger generation “gets” media attention and provocation at a level that is only possible for people utterly marinated in media every waking second. 

It’s long been remarked that there are very few things that knit our fractious society together any more (which is why advertisers still pay insane premiums for Super Bowl spots). Those few things that do – hit TV shows, songs that everyone can sing along with, movies that become cultural touchstones – are now part of our political protest movements. 

They are part of how we have conversations with ourselves at a time in which the mere mention of a political subject sends everyone scurrying, or eye-rolling, or shouting in hair-trigger reaction. This kind of cultural appropriate is going to have to carry a lot of weight in the years to come, as we work our way out of our national nervous breakdown. 

It’s asking a lot of the scriptwriters, video-game engineers, music producers and graphic artists to supply us all with the ammunition to fight our way out of this dead-end; to give us the powerful images and sounds we’re going to need to agree that Mean Something. 

Parables by their nature aren’t about the thing that they’re about. If we’re forced to only have indirect discussions about the friction points in our cultures, it’s going to be a while before we can circle our way around to having a more direct discussion of what’s really at stake. 

Of course, by that point, Gen-AA (what else comes after Gen-Z? Do we call them the “Battery Generation”?) will probably have come up with a really kicky virtual reality meme to mock us all. 

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Sep 22

Social Media and Freedom: A Promise Betrayed


Posted: under Digital Migration.
Tags: , , , ,

Facebook and Twitter are now fueling hatred, conflict, repression, and in some cases – genocide. Where do we go from here? 

“Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true/Or is it something worse?”

Bruce Springsteen, “The River”

Back in 2011, I traveled to Ethiopia for the first time, as part of a US State Department mission to work with journalists, pro-democracy groups, human rights organizations, and other do-gooders. As an international digital media consultant (trust me, it’s a lot less glamorous than that title makes it sound), I was fired up with visions of the free & glorious future that awaited us because we were throwing open the doors of mass media to, well, the masses. 

In the wake of the popular uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya (dubbed the “Arab Spring”), it seemed to us giddy internet old-timers that the promise of the web had finally arrived. People were using social media to connect, find common ground (they hated the corrupt regimes they were suffering under), organize protests, and topple repressive dictatorships. 

It felt like a Arab world-centric movement akin to the fall of the Berlin wall — a moment when an entire region woke up and said “We’ve had about enough of this” … and then followed through. In Tunisia and Egypt, soldiers refused to massacre their countrymen, and the regimes toppled. 

And then came Libya. 

Khaddafi had always been an irritating dictator; not noxious enough to justify a full-fledged invasion the way a Saddam Hussein did, but certainly enough to merit airstrikes, economic sanctions and covert action. He did not back down to the popular uprisings, and instead chose to stick around and duke it out. A reaction that was shared by Bashar Al-Assad in Syria. 

In Khaddafi’s case, this led to a painful & ignominious end in a ditch, where the victorious troops shot, tortured and mutilated him to death.  At best, we can say that there were decades of pent-up anger that came out.

But what came next was not in line with the script of “Happy people join together in glorious democracy.”  Far from it. Rather, all the angry factions all started lashing out against each other, and it turned out that one of the things that had kept Khaddafi in power for so many years, was his skill at playing “Divide Et Impera” in Libya. And now, with the central character in that drama gone, all the other players started acting on their generational grievances, and the whole country descended into a war of All Against All. 

Source: Wikicommons

Worse yet, the social media platforms that people used to name their kids after, the hopes for bringing people together, have now been weaponized. 

Some “keyboard warriors,” as Facebook partisans are known in Libya, posted fake news or hateful comments. Others offered battlefield guidance. On one discussion page on Thursday, a user posted maps and coordinates to help target her side’s bombs at a rival’s air base.

“From the traffic light at Wadi al Rabi, it is exactly 18 kilometers to the runway, which means it can be targeted by a 130 mm artillery,” the user, who went by the handle Narjis Ly, wrote on Facebook. “The coordinates are attached in the photo below.

Source: Wikicommons

the Special Deterrence Force, a militia led by a conservative religious commander, Abdulrauf Kara, patrols Facebook with a moralizing zeal reminiscent of Saudi Arabia’s once-feared religious police.

Last year his militia detained 20 participants in a Libyan version of Comic-Con, the comic book conference. The militants said they were outraged by photos on Facebook showing young Libyans dressed as characters like Spider-Man and the Joker. Some detainees said they were beaten in custody.

Facebook in Myanmar 

Since I left Myanmar last fall, after my Fulbright Specialist stint in Yangon, the Rohiggya people on the northwest border have been subjected to a brutal ethnic cleansing campaign. I won’t repeat all the crimes and horrors here, because quite frankly they upset me so much I can’t continue typing and have to go on long walks to try to clear my head. 

No, my focus here is on social media – specifically, Facebook. I had heard about the problems with hate speech on Facebook before I arrived in Yangon, and my conversations with students and staff only reinforced what I had been told:

The streets of Yangon are filled with desperately poor people, scrounging out an existence in the margins of opulence. The store in the back left corner sells smartphones. There are dozens of such stores on every major street in Yangon. Such stores were illegal and unknown less than ten years ago. 
  • For the vast majority of users, Facebook WAS the internet, because their smartphones were pre-loaded with Facebook and it was free to use
  • Wild-eyed religious fanatics were ranting on Facebook about how the Rohinggya were subhuman animals bent on killing everyone
  • Thus, all patriotic Burmese had a duty to rise up and “get them before they get us” 

Belatedly, Facebook has realized its role in this conflict, and has moved to try to put in controls and mechanisms to tamp down the online hate. Unfortunately, as of this past August: 

Facebook has acknowledged that it needs to do more to curb misinformation and hate speech spreading in countries like Myanmar, and CEO Mark Zuckerberg told U.S. Senators in a hearing last April that the company is ramping up its efforts.

However, Reuters found the network is still being used to spread comments, videos and images attacking Rohingya and other Muslims in Myanmar. Some of the material, collected by Reuters and the Human Rights Center at UC Berkeley School of Law, has been online for at least six years.

The posts, most of which are in Burmese, use dehumanizing language, comparing Rohingya to dogs and maggots, and call for the Muslim minority to be eradicated.

Designed to Fail

There have been some well-documented failures in Facebook’s system. The “Report” button to alert moderators to hate speech on Facebook was not used because during Myanmar’s 50-years of suffering under the military dictatorship, to “report to the authorities” was basically to mark someone for summary field execution, and draw attention to yourself as an informer. 

The Burmese language also is a barrier. The auto-translation software is laughably bad. Spellings can be somewhat arbitrary, since Burmese is rendered phonetically (which is why Google still struggles with search in this market). 

It cited an anti-Rohingya post that said in Burmese, “Kill all the kalars that you see in Myanmar; none of them should be left alive.” Kalar is a pejorative for the Rohingya. Facebook had translated the post into English as “I shouldn’t have a rainbow in Myanmar.”

https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-facebook-myanmar-hate-speech/facebook-removes-burmese-translation-feature-after-reuters-report-idUKKCN1LM208

But more than this, the entire underlying business model of Facebook is the problem. The drive of all these social media platforms has been towards growth. More users. More time spent. More attention paid. More clicks, swipes, likes, comments, shares. 

Growth. Scale. Velocity. Hockey-stick-like lines on innumerable PowerPoint slides. 

It turns out that the vision the techno-hippies in the Bay Area had when laying the foundations of the internet was deeply flawed. Bringing all of humanity together under one roof, and removing all institutional control does not lead to Utopia. 

There is going to have to be a fundamental shift in the way that major media companies and publishers act — and yes, Facebook, Twitter, Google, Amazon, et al., are being forced to wake up and confront the fact that they are now publishers. They can no longer pretend that they are just the “Town Square” where they have no responsibility for what goes on there. 

More than that, the fundamental business model needs to change. 

Advertisers have long rewarded publishers for the sheer size & scale of the audience delivered. This incentive has led to a “Damn the torpedoes – get their attention by whatever means necessary!” attitude, because, well, whoever pops a number in the TV overnights gets to keep their job. The poor slobs who get bad numbers are fired. Rinse. Repeat. 

Journalism is engaged in a deep discussion on how to restore trust in the media. One of the biggest factors is going to have to be removing this relentless push for Scale Above All. 

What Comes Next? 

If we can’t charge advertisers based upon the sheer number of eyeballs looking at their message, what do we charge them for? 

How do we take the “mass” out of mass media? 

Is it even possible to make a shift this big in advertising/monetization models after more than 100 years of market evolution? 

Once again, internet consultants are throwing around buzzphrases like “user trust” and “confidence halo” and “transferrable positive authority.” 

Maybe one of these will arise with a methodology that empowers us all to consume the information that we need to live our daily lives without the hate, ugliness, screeching, shockbait, attention scams and everything else that is the hallmark of late-stage information overload. 

But I worry that these new business models for monetizing content and user attention also carry flaws within them that will be exploited to even worse effect. 

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Jun 09

Anthony Bourdain


Posted: under Amusing Nonsense, Digital Migration, Foodstuffs, Gulp With Enthusiasm, Sip With Assurance.

Like many journalists turned multimedia world travelers, I envied Anthony Bourdain.

It seemed like he had the greatest job in the world. Travel to amazing places, hang out with the smartest, most interesting people around, eat delicious, innovative food, and get paid basically to have adventure after adventure.

anthony bourdain on a train

Before I took off to Myanmar last summer, I made a point of watching the very first episode of parts unknown, just to see what Tony had done and said about that amazing country.

It was because of him that I was so daring all the time, wandering the streets in search of some new restaurant, food, flavor, or experience. It was because of him that I boarded the rickety ramshackle trains and set off into a country side of rice patties, monsoon rains, and amazing people.

dave lafontaine on a train in myanmar

I even connected with what Tony was talking about, because I spent my college years working in restaurant kitchens, learning how to cook, and seeing the other side of life. He had this amazing ability to connect to people, via the shared experience of preparing food, and then sitting down, Eating it, talking about what you’re eating, and thereby broadening the conversation to everything else that was going on around you.

street vendors in yangon

Little food stands like this one in Yangon had strange & crazy mixes of cuisine from all over the world. Super-spicy Vietnamese noodles and Indian samosas.

 

yangon food supermarket

I find that it really helps my understanding of a culture to not just eat their food – but to shop in their markets, to see the raw building blocks that the locals work with. For some reason, apples were really, really popular, despite (or perhaps because?) being impossible to grow in the steamy Myanmar climate.

Indian food at the Sony restaurant next to the American embassy in Yangon

Food and conversation are a natural pair.

Chocolate samosas in the Rangoon Tea House, paired with a Viennese espresso, and a spicy Burmese salad.

There’s something universal about sitting at a table and putting food into your mouth, talking and gesturing with a bite, gulping a beer to cool off the spicy burn …

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Feb 15

Tech Writing in the Voice of an Erudite 19th Century Gentleman


Posted: under Amusing Nonsense, Gulp With Enthusiasm, Mobile commerce, Sip With Assurance.
Tags: , , , ,

If we’re going to have to suffer through endless TOS statements, they might as well be fun to read

dave lafontaine as edwardian gentleman

A tip of the hat in an absurdist setting.

I seem to have struck some kind of nerve this week in responding to a whimsical Tweet referencing something that we are all guilty of – losing focus while slogging through an overflowing email inbox, and forgetting to respond.

Viz:

So this got me wondering: what if we started crafting elaborately gracious responses to common tech messages that we all get and grit our teeth over?

Such as the Terms Of Service that we all click to make go away, because reading it makes our eyes cross and causes our spleens to spasm & release huge amounts of red blood cells because clearly our very existence is in danger (read this in the voice of Doc Holliday in Tombstone for the full effect):

Updated Codicils That Shall Govern Henceforth Our Relationship (formerly known as “ToS”)

“Dearest User, please rest in utmost comfort and assurance that we take it as our most enduring, nay sacred duty, to vouchsafe the utter privacy and sanctity of the interactions that you shall have with this, your new iPhone. It shall be as though invisible guardians of legendary ferocity shall be stationed around the server racks housing all the data that is gleaned from these aforementioned actions; guardians that shall repel all efforts to winkle out even the tiniest details about the taps, swipes, shakes or gentle caresses that you bestow upon the humble & unworthy device you know hold in your shapely hand.

“However, we feel duty-bound to confess that from time to time, it does and shall become necessary for us to garner further revenues; and as much as we might wish it otherwise, we are not saints, and we, as all humans do, fall victim to the gross (some might unkindly say “bestial”) exigencies of maintaining hearty revenue streams to ensure our continued existence as a tech company in that most odious Darwinian battleground quaintly known as “Silicon Valley.” Thus, we shall regretfully and reluctantly engage in the auctioning of that data to businessmen, men of the world, men of a certain character … men with bulging wallets and the desire to Know Things About You…”

Dearest Wishes That Your Travails With Our Device Have Reached a Satisfactory Conclusion (formerly known as “Follow-up Customer Service Questionnaire”)

“Recently, you in your wrath & righteous anger, found it necessary to engage in an extended conversation with the cringing and unworthy peons we have designated as our Help Team. While we recognize that your fully justified frustration and impatience with our HomePod Speaker System was, at that moment, reaching Brobdingnagian levels, and that your fury at the white rings our wretched product left upon your Lårftnoörg end-table are ineradicable and permanent — still, our designated peon, when attempting to convey our sincerest regret, was alarmed by your stated intention to track down & locate the designer of the HomePod and insert this device into a cavity that shall not be named by polite people (but which is located in the fundament of even the most dignified being), and thence upon to use a sledgehammer to beat upon it until it shall be firmly embedded, yea unto the point where it shall sprout from the head of our designer, as though it were Athena springing whole from the skull of Zeus.

“We have since calmed our peon – never fear, for they are become accustomed to such flights of choler whilst being in our employ – and yet, we feel a compulsion upon us to inquire as to the level of satisfaction that you have garnered from your interactions with Haqib, so we may calculate the stiff thrashing that we must perform on him. If you would, please click upon the number below, being upon the scale of 1-10, that corresponds with the number of strokes from a rattan cane that we shall invoke upon him.”

Please Do Allow Us To Gently Yet Persistently Blandish You With Useful Information (formerly “Click Here to Subscribe”)

“As you have arrived here at our most humble & unworthy site, via the vast and trackless expanse of the digital ethereum, eschewing all other sites in this moment, and have perhaps found what we have collected here to be to your liking — may we importune upon you to signify your approval by clicking upon the button below, thence to trigger the appearance of a form that shall allow you to receive regular missives from us?

“It shall be the work of but a moment, and shall require only that you render unto us your name and the email address by which we may swiftly and securely transmit to you the dual-level opt-in form that diligent email newsletter registrars require of us as proof that we are not that sub-creature, the lowest of the low – the dire & deadly Spammer? For we are not, and never shall be, that we swear unto the very Heavens above.”

 

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Jan 15

CSS 4: the Web Design Standard that Doesn’t Exist. Only It Does. Confused Yet?


Posted: under Design, Digital Migration, UX/UI.
Tags: , , , , ,

Yesterday, upon the stair/

I saw a web design standard that was not there/

It was not there again today/

Gee, I wish it’d go away…

css is awesome but try to make the text fit into these little damn boxes

“I sense a great disturbance in the Force…”

Read More

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Sep 27

Uncovering Ad Fraud at Financial Times: $1.3 Million PER MONTH


Posted: under adsense clickfraud, advertising.

Investigation reveals “organized crime” at one paper – how many more are undiscovered?

I know that I sound like a broken record on this subject, but for God’s sake, it’s been 3 years now since pretty much everybody in the digital ad industry acknowledged that there was a problem with the online ad ecosystem. To whit: advertisers are buying ads that NOBODY IS SEEING. 

via GIPHY

The botnet clickfraud problems are well-known. Here’s how that works:

  1. Online crooks pretend to be honest news sites, but really scrape content.
  2. The crooks then contract with ad exchanges who apparently ask no questions and do no real verification
  3. Crooks get ads placed on their pages.
  4. Crooks unleash swarms of bots on hacked computers around the world to click on these ads. Over and over again.
  5. Free money rolls in
  6. Advertisers wonder why their ad campaigns aren’t performing

The “newest” wrinkle in online clickfraud: pretend to be an honest & respected publisher

According to DigiDay, an internal investigation by the Financial Times, one of the biggest, most high-value publishers in the world, revealed that crooks were impersonating them and stealing about $1.3 million per month. (I actually shouldn’t say that this is a new wrinkle, because the tech nerds have been sounding the alarm over this practice for years, but it’s “new” in that the advertising industry seems to finally be taking it seriously. Ok, Ok. There’s a lot of room in that qualifier “seems.” But still. It’s something.)

On at least 10 different ad exchanges, there were people/organizations claiming to be the Financial Times, selling ads on the FT.com site. The problem is, the sites that these ads were appearing on had nothing to do with the FT.

“The scale of the fraud we found is jaw-dropping,” said Anthony Hitchings, the FT’s digital advertising operations director. “The industry continues to waste marketing budgets on what is essentially organized crime.”

Let’s break this down just a little bit more, to make it explicit.

  1. Crooks don’t even bother building their own fake news site, but instead impersonate a “high value” publisher
  2. Crooks contract with ad-selling sites, pretending to be the New York Times, Wall St. Journal, Sports Illustrated – whatever site you can name that has a lot of respect and that has an audience that advertisers covet 
  3. Advertisers rush to buy ads
  4. Free money rolls in

The tech that is uncovering this clickfraud is part of an effort by the IAB to crack down on the fraud, because duh. (var “duh” = utter destruction of online advertising business model unless addressed) 

It’s called Ads.txt, and it’s basically a “whitelist” of authorized ad sellers. Which is kind of a brilliant move … but also a little troubling, for reasons that I’ll get to in a bit. They’ve got nifty little flowchart-esque graphics on the IAB site, which you can see below, that lay out how they think the flow of ad money should work:

how does ads.txt work for publishers and advertisers

This is simplistic to the point of being somewhat dense, but you get the idea.

This is their description of the problem, which again reads like a doctoral-level thesis on understatement:

The ads.txt project aims to prevent various types of counterfeit inventory across the ecosystem by improving transparency in the digital programmatic supply chain.

When a brand advertiser buys media programmatically, they rely on the fact that the URLs they purchase were legitimately sold by those publishers. The problem is, there is currently no way for a buyer to confirm who is responsible for selling those impressions across exchanges, and there are many different scenarios when the URL passed may not be an accurate representation of what the impression actually is or who is selling it. While every impression already includes publisher information from the OpenRTB protocol, including the page URL and Publisher.ID, there is no record or information confirming who owns each Publisher.ID, nor any way to confirm the validity of the information sent in the RTB bid request, leaving the door open to counterfeit inventory.

Fair enough. And their solution of creating a database where advertisers can check to see that what they are buying is what they are getting is a solid effort. However.

Here’s why I have some concerns: If you are going to flag a publisher as being suspect until such time as they get your “IAB Stamp Of Approval,” where does that leave the startups that we work with, who have not yet progressed to the level of, say, a Financial Times?

And what happens when a smaller publisher, who has been aggressively reporting on, say, the activities of a criminal gang that uses clickfraud as a cheap&easy revenue stream … is the target of a “smear” campaign by said criminals? One that then disqualifies said investigative journalists from participating in ad exchanges?

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Aug 04

Shwedagon Pagoda and Dave by Night


Posted: under Design.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

As with so many major cities in Asia, the ancient and the modern exist side-by-side.

The guy on the right is dancing a jig, I think. They are hidden under the eaves, and I only spotted this group because I was looking up in awe as the heavens opened and the rain poured down.

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