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2 min read

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,

  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.


Driving (and) Innovation

3 min read

I am getting sick of driving. I have to commute for an hour at the beginning and end of each work day. That means, if you don't live on the eastern seaboard or in a major metropolis, a lot of time behind the wheel. I realize there are ways to avoid this. Carpooling is always an option, or I could move or switch jobs. But, because I am lazy and introverted, I tried to imagine other ways to get to work, like public transportation. Northern Indiana is not quite a bastion of public anything, which makes this strictly imaginary. But why is this still imaginary?

Countries in Europe and Asia benefit greatly from high speed rail. According to the NYT (via Gawker), "in many countries with good public transportation, driving is a pleasure rather than a necessity." The cynic in me thinks it hasn't caught on here because of our automotive industry (which there is plenty of in north central Indiana). How can they sell cars if there are other viable transport options? Competition should force these car companies to produce better cars, in theory. Of course, it also means change, which is scary.

I was a little bewildered to find out that the idea had been proposed and soundly rejected. This rejection was probably for all the wrong reasons, but I don't want to try to sort out the politics of it. California has recently decided to fund its own high speed rail, after several rejections of its own. So it is catching on somewhere, but it is not catching on fast enough, for all the wrong reasons (as mentioned above).

Monopolies, from the automobile in America (it's a stretch, but not much) down to local cable companies, have a horrible effect on innovation. From a consumer standpoint, they are like an economic cancer to the development of new ideas. However, from a business standpoint (which is pretty much its own religion in this country), profit is your endgame. Building a monopoly should bring on a zen-like state of enlightenment. It is a place where the goals of capitalism fall out of sync with those of the common person, and having the free market try to overthrow a monopoly is a task of Herculean proportions.

The inspiration for this line of thought was this Verge piece about wireless carriers. I didn't want to write another post about phones, but it makes a fantastic point. Apple completely reinvented the concept of a phone, and it still was not enough to disrupt the amount of sway US carriers have over device manufacturers.  This would be like, instead of purchasing an SUV to drive on steep mountain roads, the road saying it only accepts Jeep™ vehicles.

In the meantime, I will keep paying exorbitant prices for fuel, and keep passing the SUVs with a single passenger on my 2-lane-highway commute, and think about moving to California.