Dear Cheryl1 (my NSA angel),

Hi there. I have been reading (but you knew that) about the latest cycle of ad blocking, and how it will be the end of advertising/journalism/the internet as we know it2. It is fun to remember how pop-up blocking was also the end of internet advertising as we knew it!

Anyways, my favorite piece to come out of all this is a talk transcript by the head of Pinboard.3 I encourage you to read it yourself, but here are some choice pull-quotes.

On ad morals:

The ad networks’ name for this robotic deception is ‘ad fraud’ or ‘click fraud’. (Advertisers like to use moralizing language when their money starts to flow in the wrong direction. Tricking people into watching ads is good; being tricked into showing ads to automated traffic is evil.)

On regulation:

When I flew over to give this talk, I wasn’t worried about my plane falling out of the sky. Eighty years of effective technical regulation (and massive penalties for fraud) have made commercial aviation the safest form of transportation in the world.

On smart refrigerators:

Samsung recently got in hot water with their smart refrigerator. Because it failed to validate SSL certificates, the fridge would leak your Gmail credentials (used by its little calendar) to anyone who asked it. All I wanted was some ice, and instead my email got hacked.

On living in San Francisco:

You wouldn’t hire a gardener whose houseplants were all dead. But we expect that people will trust us to reinvent their world with software even though we can’t make our own city livable.

Seriously, it is ten minutes of reading well spent.

Have a great day,
Craig


  1. The NSA is an equal oportunity employer.
  2. Here is the same guy from that editorial (he is EIC, btw), two months earlier, lamenting the terrible mobile web user experience, which is almost entirely caused by ads and trackers.
  3. My least favorite piece was Marco Arment’s, who, after proclaiming ad blockers the future and creating the most popular one on iOS, probably found out it was blocking ads on his own site.

Dear Ernesto (my NSA angel),

We haven’t chatted (directly) in a while. How are things? Last I heard, you had the director of the FBI complaining about encryption making his job harder. Have you guys found the abominable Snowden1 yet?

Anyways, I am writing you today about the NSA’s Foxboro branch. I did enjoy the shitting the bed in court last week over Ballghazi2, but this lends the internal power struggle some context. But what do I know, I am probably just a “butthurt Colts fan.”

Also, it is hilarious that even after all this comes to light, they are still jamming signals in opposing teams’ headsets. Did you guys give them the tip to use their own game broadcast? I bet your style is more classic-rock-Van-Halen-Not-Van-Haggar signal interference.

Take it sleazy,

Craig


  1. HBO found him. Maybe you should talk to them.  ↩
  2. This is not Deflategate. That is a terrible name. It is Ballghazi.  ↩

I have been trying to not write about our house while it is on the market1, but I need to record this for posterity.

We have an old house, and last night, for the second time this year, a bat has made its way in while the house is locked up at night. Play-by-play:

Jessie (hereafter referred to as “My Wife“, in a Borat voice) goes to the kitchen for a glass of water around 2:30am, and sees a bat (hereafter referred to as Benoit) hanging on a window shade. I prepare for bat battle, and Benoit flies up and down our staircase for a bit. Benoit returns to the bathroom where we believe he entered, where he is promptly shut in, and My Wife and I return to our bedroom to regroup. Animal control is called, but “they don’t deal with that kind of thing2.” They end up getting a police man dispatched to our house (Officer Tinslow, who was really cool about it all). Benoit is now nowhere to be found (obvs), and we assume it has gone back into the wall or wherever. Flash forward to morning diaper change for Jack, when Benoit is found hanging on the drapes right next to the changing table in the nursery. He is not-very-quickly dispatched out that window, and is terrible at gaining altitude when flying in circles.

Some stray observations:

  • Bats are ten million percent easier to deal with in daylight. They do pretty much the same things, but you can see it. They seem smaller.
  • As I said, this is the second time this happened. The first time, My Wife was pregnant, and this time is right before trying to sell/rent out our house.
  • I kept thinking about the Louis CK bit from his last special about calling animal control, where they say they have a guy for that but they go to extraordinary lengths not to call him “the bat man.”

#goddamnitbrian


  1. If you are interested, it has new windows and one less bat.
  2. This is the second time I have heard this from them. The last time was in college, and I was in a dilapidated rental house that had a racoon the size of a labrador retriever living in the ceiling. They had a guy for that too, and when he caught him in a trap and we asked what he was going to do with it, he said he “was not at liberty to discuss it.” Conspiracy theories included moving the racoon to another of our terrible landlord’s properties, or the bad Chinese restaurant down the street (which was shut down later that year).

It is the DMZ week between the two major developer conferences of the year, I/O and Appple’s WWDC. Shots were fired by Google in the form of free and unlimited photo storage and an omnipresent search assistant for its upcoming OS update. fans have already begun reflexively asserting that “Google ain’t no thing”:

Everything has a price. With Apple, you typically pay them money, and they sell you premium products and services in return. That type of cost and relationship is easy to understand.
With Google, you typically pay them attention and data, and they give you free or cheap products and services in return. That cost and relationship is harder to understand.

First of all, no, it is not hard to understand. For decades if not longer, services have used advertising to mitigate cost to the user. Ever listened to a radio, or read a newspaper, or received junk mail?

Second (and more nitpicky), you would be hard pressed to find anyone else making the argument for Apple offering users more choice. I am running a custom launcher, a third-party SMS client, and readily switch between three different browsers depending on my use cases. Ever tried that on iOS? /android-troll

Apple CEO Tim Cook even joined in:

“We believe the customer should be in control of their own information. You might like these so-called free services, but we don’t think they’re worth having your email, your search history and now even your family photos data mined and sold off for god knows what advertising purpose. And we think some day, customers will see this for what it is.”

The first takeaway from this is that the Apple camp is placing a priority on while at the same time knocking “so-called free services” down a peg. This implies that privacy is only available to those who can afford it. This sentiment is much larger moral hazard than allowing tailored advertising to subsidize service.

The most important takeaway, however, is that this sentiment could turn into Apple’s Waterloo if they don’t make some major improvements to their services. Google Photos has long been superior to iPhoto, only to be hamstrung by its dependence on Google’s misunderstood social network. Google solved that problem this year by separating them. Apple needs to give people a reason to pay out the nose for their competing product besides “hey, we won’t check out your pictures.”

Google offers value in exchange for information, which is why they are seen as a pinnacle of innovation. Apple offers value in exchange for cold hard cash, which is why they are seen as a walled garden surrounding a mountain of cash. Hopefully Apple’s private #cloud will open up and rain some new ideas on WWDC this year, instead of nude photos of celebrities. /terrible-apple-troll-pun

Dear Governor Pence,

has not been doing great in the media lately. First Pawnee had to merge with Eagleton1, then the Mole Women emerged from Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne’s bunker.

In all seriousness, I would be glad to have those issues. They are preferable to the reality of transitioning from an HIV outbreak to legalizing discrimination by religious organizations.

There is no getting around it – this is about discrimination. No matter how many times you tell us it is not, you also won’t just say you are against the discrimination of LGBT people. Pretty sure Stephanopolous is not known for hard-hitting journalism, Mike. He was putting a softball on a tee for you, and you struck out.

Can you think of another reason a business would need “free exercise of religion”? Or that it would need to use that new-found religion as a defense in civil litigation? You have had several months to think of some examples. I’ve tried for a few days, and I am coming up empty. Maybe if it actually was the same as the federal RFRA, which has been falsely claimed by several conservative news outlets, this would be easier.

I have been an Indiana resident since I was in elementary school. It makes me glad that this kind of skulduggery2 is coming to light, because there is always the small hope that the attention will help the problem. Now the CEO of the richest company in America, Parks and Rec’s own Nick Offerman (and Jeff Tweedy), and your predecessor are all throwing you under the bus. I know if there is one thing you guys like more than religion, it is capitalism.

But if the past is any indicator, things probably won’t change. I’m not sure if it is the cause or the effect, but smart, (even mildly) progressive people have been leaving the state for decades. Little, trying-to-be-subtle moves like this are the reason. This policy is only driving more people out of the economic ghost town that is (northern) Indiana.

Please don’t make us form a religion3 and sue you, which we are now allowed to do under your law, which does not define what a religion is.

Good luck with reelection,
Your constituency


  1. It was honestly hard to find something negative that happened to Indiana in that show. Which makes this even more disappointing – it is like you are correcting the show, saying “No, it’s ok, we’re actually assholes.”
  2. Awesome word. Should be used more often.
  3. Our first commandment is “don’t be an asshole.” To inject some of the founder’s personal bias into it, our second commandment is “Notre Dame sucks.”

Moving the blog to Known has been in the back of my mind for a while now, so I finally pulled the trigger. This has been a fun weekend project, now spilling into Tuesday. WordPress maintenance has become too cumbersome for my needs, and Known has been a breath of fresh air. Some notes from my experience:

  • Invaluable installation instructions in the Known documentation, as well as here. The only issue I kept having was where to place the uploads directory, and how to point to it.
  • Really, reeealy looking forward to importing my old blog content here. I know that WordPress import is on the horizon, and I forsee it bringing a large influx of personal sites to their hosted service.
  • I love that the functionality works out of the box.
  • Chrome handles it very well on Android, but I need to play around with it more to figure out how to reply. Almost needs to be its own app…
  • Facebook thinks I am a robot when I try to setup POSSE here, even after I answer a captcha and verify my mobile phone. So they don’t get to see any of these posts.

I have not written many posts lately, as evidenced by my WordPress page (currently at pilchernet.com). Hopefully this refresh will kickstart some creativity.

We live in exciting, sometimes terrifying times. It has become fashionable to carry a device on your person at all times with more computing power than NASA’s Apollo command center. Products raise millions of dollars to essentially communicate with that smart device from several feet away. The most popular uses of of these mobile devices are to shoot round birds with a slingshot at makeshift towers built by pigs, and to broadcast any minute detail that pops up in the ol’ brain bucket. Broad new horizons.

However, users of these devices (and the services they enable) bring with them horizons that are neither broad nor new. Certain subcultures, previously ignored and subsequently rendered powerless, now have the means to broadcast globally and connect like-minded individuals regardless of geographic location. This message amplification has the ability to force society to progress with great strides, as with the LGBT community. But for some reason, the net-positive effect does not happen with everyone. The most recent instance of this is Gamergate.

In years past, I might have identified myself as a gamer. In the sense that “I enjoy and often play video games in my free time”, it is an accurate descriptor to this day. After the past few months, I would be reluctant to identify myself this way. If you have successfully avoided any Gamergate news up to this point, good on you. Keep it up. If you feel like being sad about life, read this summary from Newsweek with actual Twitter statistics, or this in-depth summary about the implications of this type of movement.

Upon further research, this seems like a deeper cultural issue, unrelated to gaming. I would say it is an American issue, but it is likely present elsewhere too. Kathy Sierra, a prominent tech figure, has now had to essentially leave the internet for the second time in less than 10 years. Before that, several private personal pictures of celebrities were leaked, of which there was a single male (and he was collateral damage, as he was dating one of the targeted female celebrities). Even before that, dumb old white guys were talking (seemingly sincerely) about “legitimate rape” in congressional election coverage. The megaphone created by our newly-connected society seems to have pretty terrible opinions about women on an alarmingly consistent basis.

TL;DR The only way I know how to help is to write about it. I will be a parent soon. It scares me to think that the difficulty of that kid’s life will be so greatly affected by a single genetic coin-toss.

Microsoft Office makes people worse at software.1

I work with engineers – people that know their way around power electronics and embedded software2. But somehow, no one seems to know how version control works. I lay the blame squarely at the feet of Microsoft Office.

In my first C programming class, we only received grades on work that we checked in using the version control software3. It was a revelation to me, at the time, that there existed a way to collaborate on software (or any other electronic documents). This is likely because I did most of my document editing in high school in – what else – Microsoft Word.

So why has this revelation failed to bubble up to the (too) many companies with Microsoft enterprise agreements? Sure, my first introduction was via the command line, but Dropbox and Google Docs have shown it can be done in a user-friendly GUI. I constantly see coworkers go to the not-so-great length of changing a date in the document title and think “Boom – new version.” Or, even better – send out a document for several people to edit, who return their input as “Title – MM/DD/YY – Employee Initials”. It seems crazy that 1.) no one has thought “we should think of a better engineered solution to this”, and then 2.) “oh wait, IT ALREADY EXISTS.”

Even though it is not built into Office directly, I know version control is available for it now. I have even used it! Microsoft’s sort-of-cloud solution, Sharepoint, has version control and document check-out baked right in. It is buried in some context menu somewhere (proving my conspiracy theory that MS does not want you to use it), but it is there. Yet somehow we still create an Archive folder with all the previous, dated documents. It is a waste of storage space, a huge time suck, and can be extremely confusing.

I write this both as an admonishment for the workflows at my company, and as an acknowledgement that I am falling for it too. I have started to do this, mostly because my colleagues do, even though I know it is a terrible habit. The first step is admitting you have a problem. I look forward to apologizing to all the spreadsheets I have wronged in the past.

And don’t get me started on the crazy things people put into Excel.4


  1. I have not decided if this thesis is worth a series of posts. It might be, but this is the only example I could come up with so far. 
  2. I know the software team uses it for their software, and yet they don’t for any documents shared with other groups. How does that make sense to anyone? 
  3. It was a Unix system, and I can’t even remember the commands for committing code now. But I remember the concept, which is more important. (Right?) 
  4. It is not for presentations. That is why they made Powerpoint. 

I have been griping about leaving Facebook and owning my data for a while now, but I may have finally found a solution.

The indie web, its called. Made up of the people who got tired of talking about these concepts and decided to start doing something about them.

I first heard about them on one of my weekly must-hear podcasts, In Beta (episode 90). Then a guest on another webcast I enjoy regularly – This Week in Google #241 – brought it up near the end. (TWiG actually just dedicated most of an episode to it – #266.)

I always viewed blogging (at least my blog) as a spot for thoughts that skewed toward longform writing, that could not be fleshed out in a short snippet. The indie web, however, encourages tweet-length thoughts as well as longer posts, which can then be syndicated to whatever social network you choose. The point is to not keep those thoughts siloed somewhere that may eventually shut down or change their policies, but to control your online identity, on your own terms. You can build your own tools, or you can browse the IndieWeb site to find something pre-built to use on your site.

But how will people see these posts if they are on Facebook or Twitter? Well, they thought of that too. POSSE stands for Post (on your) Own Site, Syndicate Elsewhere. By syndicating, your non-IndieWeb friends will still get to see what you are up to. And using the webmention protocol, comments and replies will be pulled back into your own site as well.

If you are feeling less brave, one of the higher-profile indie web tools just launched a beta. It is called Known, and it has been treating me well so far. I look forward to their hosted/beta service adding a WordPress plugin. But if I did my work right, you should see my Known post about this article down below.

TL;DR: if you see anything oddly formatted posts on my site or one of my social profiles, it is probably an attempt at implementing one of the Indie Web projects. Maybe if you are getting wary of Facebook and you’re looking for a technically-inclined side project, you should check it out too.