Update, July 2018

It has been so long since I posted anything here that I thought the easiest way to get going again would be to do a general update on where I’m at currently. 

Reading

I’ve been reading a lot this year, and the content of my reading has transitioned over recent months to being dominated by Christian topics. I view this as a good thing as it reflects an underlying transition in my thinking back to being more God focused than I have been for a while. My reading does tend to follow the direction my heart is inclining, hence the eclectic selection in my lists of books I have read.

Bible

Earlier this year I bought a New Cambridge Paragraph Bible, which is the King James Version of the Bible with modern spelling (eg, ‘show’ rather than ‘shew’) and crucially, in paragraph format rather than having each verse begin on a new line. The paragraph format makes a huge difference to the readability of this version and I’ve been enjoying reading the version of the Bible which has made such a massive impact on the English language.

However, I’ve also gone in the other direction on Bible translations and returned to reading the NIV for my main daily reading. This has been like reuniting with an old friend as it is the translation I used for the first five years of my Christian life. I read the Bible a lot during this period so revisiting this translation is helping motivate me to read it a lot more now too. 

Social Media

I caved in and did open a new Facebook account at the start of June. I have only added 30 people as friends, all of whom I know well in real life but some I don’t see very often currently so this is a way to keep in touch. I’ve noticed though that most of these folks don’t actually post much to Facebook anyway so the ‘staying connected’ aspect is not all that useful.

Family

Our kids are generally doing OK. One is about to change schools in the hope of getting more support for some particular learning needs. The decision to make this change has been a long time in coming and we have tried a lot of other options before making such a big change. In the end our priority is to ensure each of our kids gets an education that builds them up and gives them a good foundation for life. Each child is different so we are seeking the best combination of teachers, facilities and systems to fit each one.

One of our parents had major heart surgery in June. This was a very anxious time because even the surgeons were not confident of a positive outcome. However, so far, so good. The first week of recovery was tense, but there has been a steady improvement since.

Evernote expired

My paid subscription to Evernote expired last month and I chose not to renew it. The plan I was using allowed me to save over a gigabyte of notes each month so my habit was to use the web clipper tool to save any article I thought I might want to read from the web. Because of this my collection of notes was growing much faster than I could read those articles. Being a person who likes to completely finish things, I felt an internal pressure to read all the stuff I had saved. Since stopping that subscription I’ve changed my approach and now try to decide if something is worth reading before I even consider saving it. I try to read things immediately if they seem worthwhile, or park it in a browser tab. If I haven’t read it by the end of the day I close the tab on the assumption that if it is actually important I will stumble across it again or can do a search and find something similar. If I was not motivated to read it during the day, it probably is not relevant enough to me to bother saving.

Low tech evenings

Without setting out to, I’ve become mostly technology free in my evenings over the last few months. This has largely been a progression from committing myself to reading less off the internet and more books. Then my Kindle died so I got in the habit of reading hardcopy books, and my phone battery is also dying so it goes flat quick enough to dissuade me from wasting time on games or reading the news. I am also reading the Bible a lot more these days and I use a nice leather bound Bible so enjoy the experience of reading from that. (I did replace my old Kindle with a new one and do use it, I just enjoy real, paper books more).

The pleasant result of this coalescence of factors is that my evenings are less stressful than they were when using technology a lot – there are no crashes or slow internet issues, my eyes get less tired, and it seems much easier to think about important things rather than trivia when the world is further than a click or tap away. I am currently finding it more effort to login on the laptop than to grab my book from the shelf beside the couch. In my view this is a good thing.

We have three school aged children so life is no less busy for me than it was when I spent my evenings glued to screens, but it feels better now. My thoughts are able to follow a track to its conclusion rather then being interrupted or sidelined by some alert or glittery distraction. I’m able to concentrate better on books that require hard thinking to read them well, and I have quite a stack of this sort of books.

I haven’t attained nirvana or transcendental bliss, I still can waste an evening reading crap on the internet. But now I notice the loss of that evening acutely and feel worse for the internet time rather than fooling myself that I’m ‘staying informed’. Most of what is published on the internet is garbage now, so it is hard to know what are reliable sources and what are not, and even the better ones are still often profit driven and rely on advertising so generate content to gain clicks not to publish quality journalism. Surfing the web is not an easy way to ‘stay informed’, books are easier.

Who wants to give Facebook their nude pics?

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been wondering if maybe deleting my Facebook account was such a good move – I’ve found out second-hand about a couple of happenings within my friends and family which I’d have picked up on much sooner if I’d been on Facebook. This had me reconsidering whether the benefit of keeping in touch with people might be worth the cost of my privacy.

Then I read an article today about a new Facebook pilot programme to protect people from revenge porn by teaching their software to recognise images of concern to users. The snag is that you have to first provide Facebook a copy of the image you want to block, effectively send all your nude pics to Facebook!.

I understand how this could potentially be a useful tool, but given the already shady reputation of this company it has very creepy overtones to it. If this was a government organisation or reputable non-profit who were recognised for their work on protecting people’s privacy I’d have a bit more confidence in the concept. Given that it is Facebook… nah, just seems wrong.

Fortunately I have no concerns about potentially incriminating photos of me surfacing on social media, but the sheer creepiness on this pilot scheme has me recoiling in horror from the Zuckerberg monster. I think I will stay away for some time yet.

People shouldn’t be able to share intimate images to hurt others
By Antigone Davis, Global Head of Safety

It’s demeaning and devastating when someone’s intimate images are shared without their permission, and we want to do everything we can to help victims of this abuse. We’re now partnering with safety organizations on a way for people to securely submit photos they fear will be shared without their consent, so we can block them from being uploaded to Facebook, Instagram and Messenger. This pilot program, starting in Australia, Canada, the UK and US, expands on existing tools for people to report this content to us if it’s already been shared.

My team and I have traveled to nine countries across four continents, listening to stories about the abuse and cruelty that women face online. From Kenya to Sweden, women shared their painful, eye-opening experiences about having their most intimate moments shared without permission. From anxiety and depression to the loss of a personal relationship or a job, this violation of privacy can be devastating. And while these images, also referred to as “revenge porn” or “non-consensual pornography,” harm people of all genders, ages and sexual-orientations, women are nearly twice as likely as men to be targeted.

Today, people can already report if their intimate images have been shared without their consent, and we will remove each image and create a unique fingerprint known as a hash to prevent further sharing. But we can do more to help people in crisis prevent images from being shared on our services in the first place. This week, Facebook is testing a proactive reporting tool in partnership with an international working group of safety organizations, survivors, and victim advocates, including the Australian Office of the eSafety Commissioner, the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative and The National Network to End Domestic Violence in the US, the UK Revenge Porn Helpline, and YWCA Canada.

People who worry that someone might want to harm them by sharing an intimate image can proactively upload it so we can block anyone else from sharing it on Facebook, Instagram, or Messenger:
– Anyone who fears an intimate image of them may be publicly can contact one of our partners to submit a form
– After submitting the form, the victim receives an email containing a secure, one-time upload link
– The victim can use the link to upload images they fear will be shared
– One of a handful of specifically trained members of our Community Operations Safety Team will review the report and create a unique fingerprint, or hash, that allows us to identify future uploads of the images without keeping copies of them on our servers
– Once we create these hashes, we notify the victim via email and delete the images from our servers – no later than seven days
– We store the hashes so any time someone tries to upload an image with the same fingerprint, we can block it from appearing on Facebook, Instagram or Messenger
This is one step to help people who fear an intimate image will be shared without their consent. We look forward to learning from this pilot and further improving our tools for people in devastating situations like these. (Facebook)

Deleting Facebook

Yesterday I finally bit the bullet and deleted my Facebook account. I’ve been working towards this for the last few months by transferring stuff I want to keep over here to my blog. I had downloaded a copy of my Facebook content but it was easier to work directly from my timeline on the site than fishing through a bunch of files and folders to find things. I was only part way through the process but read one too many articles reporting how unethical Facebook is to put up with them any longer.

Over the last couple of years anything I’ve gained from using Facebook has been increasingly outweighed by the negatives of giving my information to a business who are primarily wanting to sell that information on to advertisers, marketers and whoever else is prepared to pay for it. As a company, Facebook shows little or no regard for the real people who use their platform, preferring to put profits and influence first.

Over the course of 2017 I kept noticing articles and news reports pointing to a cavalier attitude from Mark Zuckerberg and a persistent refusal to accept responsibility for the mass manipulation of people and compromise of their privacy. Then the Cambridge Analytica fiasco emerged bringing serious calls to re-evaluate our use of Facebook and what could potentially develop into a mass move away from the platform.

Most people are unlikely to be able to bring themselves to follow through and abandon Facebook. The early abandoners are likely to already have other channels of social networking and be driven by strong principles prompting them to take action against Zuckerberg’s beast.

My hope is that enough people will abandon Facebook within a short enough timeframe to cause some pain to the company. It would be great if it became a snowball effect, but that could be too optimistic. I believe that the prevalent social media model has multiple flaws stemming mostly from the advertising-driven revenue stream they rely upon. I’d love to see some constructive alternatives emerge from the backlash against Facebook, spurring a general awareness amongst internet users that it is time for a move away from platforms operated by mega corporations like Facebook, Amazon and Google.

We have already endured internet 1.0 and 2.0, it is time for new ideas to create version 3.0 in which real people are respected and their data remains under their own control. Just speculating, but this would seem to be where blockchain technology could become truly useful in decentralising control back into the hands of users. However, this would require educated internet users, most people are not there yet.

Will deleting my Facebook account make any impact? Realistically, no. One out of 2.2 billion obviously makes no difference. Yet if one in every thousand people decided to kill their account then Facebook would lose 2.2 million users – perhaps that might be enough to be noticed and prompt some changes.

I also want to be clear that I’m not deleting my account as a Luddite move against social media per se. All of the big tech giants have serious faults yet I continue to use most of them. But this particular company has pushed things too far and their ‘free’ service has more negatives about it than positives.

Long live the blog! 

Am I actually going to read this?

The start of the year is a good time to ‘clear the decks’ and cleanup excess stuff cluttering my shelves, home, workspace and mind. I began by reducing my clippings of websites/articles stored in Evernote from 6500 notes down to 3800. I still have some work to do to prune it right down to only the essential reference material I need to keep.

Starting back at work today I was confronted with an overflowing tray of paper that needs sorting, junk on my computer desktop, and a very full downloads folder. A common theme of all this stuff I have accumulated is that at the time of saving it I had some intention of reading it. Unfortunately I don’t have time to read everything.

I love information, it fascinates me to learn new facts, ideas or tips on how to do something better. When I was a kid the primary source of information was from books. I lived in a small country town with a small public library and few shops selling books. In this setting it was achievable to have read all the books available that interested me, and I did just that. It was possible to know the limits of the information available in my small world.

Now it is not possible to know the limits of information available to me with an internet connection. Yet I still have an information scarcity mindset. This belief causes me to hold on to sources of information despite understanding that by the time I get around to reading it that information is likely to be outdated. This is a costly mistake.

The thousands of pdfs stored on my computer are not only taking up bytes, they take up mental space and each causes a mild stress by being unread.

An Information Flood

Information is no longer scarce, we are flooded by it. In a flood the problem in not getting enough water, the real problem is keeping excess water out. Added to having too much water is the issue of it being dirty. There is water pouring in all over the place but it is so contaminated with filth that it is unusable, even hazardous. This is the situation we are now in with information.

Social media channels are like sewers, plenty of content running through them but little of true use to us. If I jump into the Twitter or Facebook feed I’m carried along in the torrent but all it does is waste my time. News websites are not much better, actual news stories are so similar to click bait that it can be tricky differentiating the two.

Search engines such as Google or Bing are not reliable conduits of clean information. They are like using the same bucket for bailing out flood water and collecting drinking water, cross contamination is constantly occurring.

Filters

To avoid the negative effects of misinformation we need to filter our sources. A clean stream can easily be muddied so I have to consciously filter all incoming sources, picking out what is helpful and leaving behind the trash. I do seek out good curators but what is considered useful to that person may not be relevant to me.

The ability to efficiently filter information, both from the flood and also from reliable sources, requires training. Fortunately my work and education have trained me reasonably well. Perhaps this is going to be the primary benefit of having a degree, learning how to identify reliable sources and developing critical thinking skills to discern what is most true.

In our society the scientific method and peer-review are held to be the best information filters. Working at a university I have ready access to such information but even that can go stale and outdated if stored too long.

Storage

Books used to be a great way to store and retrieve information, in some cases they still are. These days so much new information is being generated and it changes so fast that storing information is hardly with the trouble. Assuming I have internet access, all I need is the information required to go about my daily life and work. Holding on to more than that comes at a cost and it will be quickly outdated so unless what I need is historical records there is no point keeping old stuff. The obvious exceptions are photographs and family records.

So back to my original problem, I am flooded with information, I don’t need more and don’t need to keep it all. If I need to know something I can easily look it up. The cost of keeping what I’m not actively using is higher than the small effort required to find anything I want to know.

Rest in the Sun

What most of us need these days is a chance to ‘dry out’, an opportunity to escape the flood and catch our breath. This is related to my goal of reading books rather than blogs this year. I want to stem the tide of incoming information and clear out all the stuff I’m not able to keep up with. This should enable my mind to quieten down, think more clearly and create.

The opportunity cost of social media

An article well worth reading on the opportunity cost of social media: Is social media robbing us of our dearest hopes and dreams in life?

The subtitle ‘The biggest problem with social media? It is designed to give us exactly the opposite of what we truly want in life’, sums up the gist of it. Effectively, there is a clash between the interests of those who provide the social media technology and the interests of the people who use it. Think of what Facebook or Twitter are trying to achieve:

What does technology want? It wants more clicks, more time on site, higher conversation rates, etc. It wants your attention

Then consider what your own goals are:

What do we want? Well, presumably our dearest hopes and dreams for our lives go far beyond spending another 20 minutes on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, etc.

A personal action I have decided upon after reading this article is to start breaking my lists of stuff I want to get done into tasks that will take only 10 to 20 minutes so I can see the real opportunity cost of wasting time dicking around on social media when I have other things I can easily do in the time I would waste doing that.

I can agree that social media can serve a useful purpose, and it can be used as a form of entertainment. Some people also consider slot machines to be a benign form of entertainment, but when I look at the money that gets pumped into them it’s easy for me to imagine what else could be done with that money. Our time is a less renewable resource than money so I’d like to retain control of what I spend mine on.

Social media, cyber privacy and blog comments

investigation

Over the last year or so I have disabled the comments feature on my blogs due to my perception that generally comments do not add very much additional value to the original post and the extra work it requires to weed out spam and junk comments.

During this same time there has been increasing alarm across the internet regarding the snooping into user’s ‘digital fingerprints’, both by governments (particularly the United States NSA and affiliates) and by commercial interests who are targeting advertising and ‘user experience’ at us based on our previous browsing histories. I particularly notice the targeted advertising in the different advertising that I encounter at work compared to what I see at home because I use different browsers, operating systems and visit different websites in these two contexts.

Of concern to me is the use of social media profiles to track whatever websites I visit and the goal of those companies to ‘monetize’ me as a user. As the axiom goes: “if you’re not paying for the product, you are the product”. I actually have hardly any money so these companies possibly pay more out in efforts to monetize me than I ever spend, but that’s beside the point. Call me an old fuddy duddy, but if I want to buy something I prefer to seek out information about my target purchase myself then take time to consider my options before choosing what or whether to buy.

Web advertisers have a very different take. They go to extraordinary lengths to steer internet users towards handing over their credit card details, having no qualms about manipulating us to that end. You may protest that often all they really want is for you to tweet a link or like something on facebook or give your email address. Unfortunately, while each of those actions may seem trivial, they give the tracking companies ever increasing leverage to present information in front of your eyes specifically tailored to cause you to click and browse ever closer to some looming button enticing you to ‘buy now and all your problems will be solved’.

I hate advertising. If something is truly good and does what it is designed to do well that product will become well known even without advertising. When I am seeking information or inspiration I’m happy to dig for it. Maybe that makes me weird.

So, given my own irritation at governments for using electronic communication tools to snoop on innocent citizens and huge companies for attempting to assign each of us a digital profile, I have chosen to kill off my Twitter and Facebook accounts. This does mean sacrificing potential avenues to notify people of any new blog posts I write and whatever stupid cat videos I’ve seen. More importantly, it cuts off any chance of interacting with the few who read my blog.

Therefore, I am activating the comments on this website for new posts. This is my digital soapbox, it may evolve into a stand-in for social media services with the advantage that I have complete control of what is posted and published. Feel free to comment, just keep it nice and family friendly (all comments are moderated).

On a related note, which you may or may not care about, I do not use any tracking codes or affiliate links (or, heaven forbid, advertising!) on this blog. What that means in plain english is that there are no hidden bits of computer code such as scripts or cookies that tell me, or anyone else, that you have visited the site. To my thinking these are yet another small betrayal of trust by webmasters in an attempt to gather information on whether each click on the site is from a new visitor or someone who has been here before, how long you spend on each page before moving on, the type of web browser and various other nuggets of data.

In truth, I can get some of that data directly from the server software powering the site; the server has to know where in the world you are in order to send the page information to your browser. It has to know what browser is being used so it can send that information coded in the appropriate manner for the browser to interpret. The server also knows what you click on so it can feed the linked page to your browser. That is more statistics than I care about frankly, and I hardly ever bother to look at it, so have no need to install Google analytics or any other tracking code. The same consideration to your right to privacy is why there are no social media ‘share’ buttons here. If you want to share a post just copy and paste the page address – easy!

A Few Relevant Links: