The End of Zite–The Beginning of News360

Here’s the problem.  Every day on the internet millions of articles are published and some of them are ones I really want to read.  Finding those articles that are perfect for my peculiar interests is like finding Malaysia Flight 370’s black boxes in the middle of the Indian ocean.  Over the years various genius programmers have come up with systems for customized news reading.  The big breakthrough was RSS feeds, and then Google Reader.  But even then, you’d get hundreds or thousands of articles to sift through each day.  What’s really needed is some kind of AI smarts to find less than 50 daily news stories that can be quickly perused.  You want your news feed to only have stories that matter most to you.  After the iPad came out I discovered Zite, and thought I had found news nirvana.  Well, Zite is going, and I’m trying News360.

news360

What the Internet gives, the internet also taketh away.  Time and again I fall in love with technology only to have it taken away.  Remember Lala?  Now I’ll be losing Zite.  To me, Zite is the one app that made tablets great.  Zite was the best Internet newsreader I ever used.  I liked it far better than Google Reader, another technology that was prematurely wrenched from my hands. 

Zite has been bought out by Flipboard.  Now I have nothing against Flipboard, except that I don’t enjoy using it.  Flipboard uses a different metaphor for presenting the news, built around do-it-yourself magazines.  Zite was more like a customized newswire feed.  Zite learned what I was interested in reading, and queued up a bunch of great stories for me to check out.  The more I used it, the smarter Zite got, finding just the right stuff to read.  This is very efficient for reading from the fire hose of news stories available every day on the net.

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Curated News

Like the curated music site Pandora, what voracious news readers want is a reader robot to pre-read the news and decide what we’d like to read.  Zite was my reading robot, but now it’s being killed off.  One of the most popular reading robots is Flipboard, and it has bought Zite in hopes of using its technology to be a better reading robot.

I’ve used Flipboard from time to time but have never been comfortable with it.  If they integrate Zite’s intelligence into Flipboard I might start to like it, but even then I don’t like the visual layout of Flipboard.  For now I’m experimenting with News360 – which Paul N. Shapiro turned me on to – so I don’t need to worry about the Flipboard Zite merger.  Check your app store and try it out – News360.

News360 does one thing that Zite didn’t and I always wanted, it has a website front end so I can use from my desktop.  The controls are nicer on the iOS and Android versions, but the website version is quicker to use, and links me directly to the news story as it appears on the web.  The tablet versions of News360 take a bit more clicking to get to the actual reading.  Zite was the tops for reformatting web pages for easy reading.  News360 is fancier in some ways, with more options, but it takes more clicks to get to the full reading copy.  I haven’t decided if I like News360’s rolling cubes or not.  On the iOS version, it appears the full text can be scrolled on a cube site.

Thumbs Up or Down

There are millions of blogs, magazines, newspaper, journals, websites that publish something new every day.  Even if you find all your favorite publishers and check their site daily, you’d spend way too much time going through stuff you don’t want to read.  And even with a good news reader that zeroes in on your interests, it will find stories you’ll want to look at but still waste your time.  For example, News360 sent me “Einstein’s ‘spooky’ theory may lead to ultra-secure internet.”  The topic interests me, but the piece was short, fluffy and lacking in any real content.  So far, no news collector system I’ve found is perfect, or even close to perfect. 

Reading Robots take training.  And for that, you need ones you can thumbs up and thumbs down on what they give you to read.  However, I can’t thumbs down the article above because it was skimpy, otherwise News360 might stop sending me other articles on quantum mechanics.  You have to apply your intelligence to training your robot.

I’ve just started using News360 and I’m trying to train it not to send me stories I see on the nightly news.  I already waste 30 minutes a day watching the TV news so I don’t want to see those stories again.  I also subscribe to The New York Times – so I don’t want that kind of general news in my news feed.  However, I still want special interest news from The New York Times because I don’t catch everything.  By unchecking Top Stories I got rid of most of the general news.

News360 also found me this morning “The future is coming. 6 ways it will change everything.”  This is still speculation, but it’s the kind I like.  I’d like more substance, but News360 has quickly zeroed in on my interests.

Training a system to be perfect is hard.  I told News360 I’m interested in steampunk, so it found “This $80K Steampunk Inspired Baron Safe-Box…” – that’s interesting, and has visually appealing photos, but ultimately fluff I don’t want to waste my time on.  I’m going to thumbs down the article and hope News360 finds me something more substantial about steampunk – but ultimately I might have to kill that topic.  I’ve already killed the topic Leonardo Da Vinci because News360 kept giving me stuff about a TV show.  Like I said, no system is perfect.

Sometimes New360 makes a mistake that turns out to be wonderful.  I told News360 I wasn’t interested in science fiction movies, but was interested in science fiction books.  This morning it found me  “The Glorious Incoherence of Divergent” at The Atlantic.  Now most everything at The Atlantic is über-readable, but what made this piece a treasure trove is it tied in Philip K. Dick’s books to current movies and YA books.  I’m very into Philip K. Dick, so I forgive News360 giving me a movie review.  It was smart enough to know the article wasn’t just about the movie.

News360 does allow me to block sources when I use the tablet app after I’ve thumbs down something.  This can be dangerous.  Often a news story will come from many sites – it’s been syndicated – so be sure and don’t nix something you like.  But if it’s a single site that you’re sure you don’t want to read from, this is a great feature.  Last night I blocked MTV.com.  I’m just not that young anymore.

I wished News360 had some way of asking about the quality of the content.  A way to mark something that’s too fluffy, or even too verbose.  I also wish it allowed me to diss certain kinds of formatting.  I hate slideshow news – like seeing a headline for the twelve types of dogs that don’t like cats, and then having to click through twelve pages just to see the names of twelve breeds of cat hating dogs.  I think these slideshow stories are a ways to generate ad clicks, which I find fucking annoying as hell.  Just use a goddamn list, please.

Discovering Cool Publishers

One of the most brilliant side-effects of using a reader robot is discovering new publishers.  If you go to a big bookstore and browse the magazine section you might see a couple thousand magazines.  But on the web there are millions.  Discovering new publishers is pretty much serendipity.  If you pay attention to the sources of the articles you like, you’ll discover new sites to read in general.

Theoretically if your reading habits were very specific, you could just bookmark several sites that pertain to your topic and view them daily.  But I’ve yet to find any site that every article they publish is always of interest to me.  So even having my Reader Robot read my favorite magazines is a big help.  I wished sites like News360 had a configuration page that allowed me to list my favorite publications.   Some Reader Robots allow for adding RSS feeds, but News360 doesn’t seem to do that.

News360.com

The best thing about News360 is it’s web site.  Most other magazine styled news aggregators are designed as apps for tablets and smart phones only.  I’m an old fashion sit in the desk chair kind of guy, so I appreciate being able to look at the news on a 27” monitor.  Even though my Nexus 7 has more pixels than my 1080p monitor, I can scan content faster on the big screen.

I’m not used to News360 on my tablets yet, not like I am to Zite, but I’m adapting quickly.  And now that I have a magazine style newsreader for my Chrome browser, I’ll probably be even more addicted to reading the news.

JWH – 3/25/14

Is Addiction to the Internet Permanent?

Has Internet usage become a permanent part of our lives, or is there still a chance it could be a fad? 

Isn’t there always a possibility we could reject using the Internet, or that something bigger and better might come along?  Or is networking everyone and everything, to everyone and everything else, just too good of an idea to give up?  Can anything bigger and better come along, other than an ESP hive mind?

the-internet

Over the recent centuries, there have been many back to nature movements.  None ever caught on with the public at large, but these movements have been big enough for thousands of people to retreat to living in the country hoping to find a more fulfilling life.  Both the 19th and the 20th century had fairly large communal living movements, and Henry David Thoreau is still very appealing to people today.

I guess the question to ask is:  Does the Internet make people happier?  Billions certainly have flocked to it.  And it certainly gives the illusion that the world is much smaller, and it’s possible to know far more people.  I assume people are happier, because most net users spend hours each day on the web, and billions of smart phones have been sold.

I guess the next question to ask is:  How would you live without the Internet?  (Just, in case it went away.)

My immediate answer is I’d read books and magazines, watch TV, and listen to CDs.  That’s what I did before the Internet came along.  And I think that answers the title question.  Everything we liked before the Internet was internet like.  We cherished technology that brought us news from around the world, that let us keep up with other groups of people, to share ideas, to feel part of a bigger world.  Retreating to living on a commune in the woods sounds very isolating and lonely, but I could probably do it if I at least had a nice selection of books.

I really can’t imagine people rejecting the Internet, other than maybe religious extremists.  Sooner or later, fundamentalists may reject the Internet because it’s like the teaching of evolution, something that will undermine their beliefs.  I can picture some fundamentalists giving up the Internet like the Amish gave up modern technology.

I guess it might be possible for some people, Internet addiction could be so bad that they will reject it completely, because it will be an all or nothing affair for them.

And finally, there might be some people, like those who have given up television, because they are so focused on their work, art, sport, hobby, etc. that the Internet will seem like wasting time.

For most people, I think our addiction to the net will only grow.  I get a lot of my television from the net now, and nearly all my music, and I subscribe to a service for magazines over the net.  I download audiobooks and ebooks, and read them on Internet connected mobile devices.  I participate mildly in social media, mainly the old fashion kind like Yahoogroups for book clubs, and blogging.  I keep my photos online, and my documents, and all my ripped CDs.  When I want to learn something new I turn to the Internet.  For example, when I wanted to peel a mango I studied it on YouTube.  When I check out a library book, I look it up online and put it on hold.  When I shop for clothes or new gadgets, I shop online.  Now that I’m retired I spend a fair amount of my social time online, rather in person.

Damn, I’m addicted.  Maybe I should give it up.  Why should I?  I don’ think there’s a real reason.  But could I?  Know what’s funny, the hardest thing I’d have trouble giving up is Audible.com.  I’d painfully miss Rdio.com, but I could go back to CDs.  And my pocketbook would miss Amazon.com, but the only way to get audiobooks cheap is via Audible.com.

If I could walk more I might do more “real” things.  One reason I don’t feel my spinal stenosis as a burden is I love living on the net.  I can’t walk for exercise, but I could bike.  I could go see more people.  I could get some dogs and cats.  I could garden.  I could take up guitar playing, or chess, or wood working.  There’s endless amount of things to do off the net.  I’m just as addicted as all those kids who live and breath social media lives.

For me, if I had to live without the Internet, I’d spend my days writing like I do now, but I’d write essays or stories to submit to magazines.  I think periodicals were the Victorian age’s Internet.

I’ve got to assume the Internet is here to stay, and its where I’ll live until I die.  I asked my wife just now if she could give up the Internet, and she snapped back, “Are you crazy?”  She freaks out if she gets out of reach of her iPhone.  She watches television with her laptop on her lap.

I do wonder if the Internet could become any more addictive?  What features are left to add that will fill up the rest of our real lives?  No, the Internet is not a fad, it’s become a way of life.

JWH – 2/19/14

The Impact of the Like Button

PBS Frontline for 2/18/14 aired the documentary Generation Like about how teens are using the Internet to be liked, and how corporations are using this mass movement to their advantage.  To be honest, the report claims teens are quite savvy about how they are being manipulated by marketing gurus and feel they are playing the system right back at them.  At best it’s a symbiotic relationship.  The funny thing is the documentary makers asked many teens to define “selling out” and they couldn’t, yet corporations have a new mantra, “your consumer is your new marketer.”  This show is about the need to be liked, the need to sell, and how society is changing when everyone is selling themselves.

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I found Generation Like quite amazing, especially as a 62 year old guy who knows damn little about modern teens.  The change in teens thriving on the internet is as profound as the baby boomers experienced in the psychedelic sixties.  I’m curious how representative this report on teen life is to the average teen, and luckily at the PBS Frontline page provides some statistics at “What Are Teens Doing Online?

Even though Frontline does a fantastic job of covering the topic, I was left with many questions.  Is this melding of marketing to teens wanting to be liked while they struggle to find their identities an American phenomenon, or is it worldwide?  What impact does it have for kids who don’t get hundreds of likes, and what does it mean for popular kids with hundreds of likes to know that some kids gets millions of likes?  Has popularity ever been so quantified?  Is this the start of a hive culture?  And can a hive culture work when all the individuals are promoting themselves?  Are we at the start of a cultural transformation or a fad that will go away? 

Many of the teens talked about their talent, but weren’t specific as to what that was.  Others, like the 13 year old Baby Scumbag was quite aware of what got hits, and was expecting to make money.  If Hollywood was a driving force for fame in the 20th century, the Internet in the 21st century will be many magnitudes more forceful.  And these kids want more than 15 minutes.

I remember the pressure to be liked as a teen, or even to be popular, but it was nothing like this.  I was happy to have one or two good friends, and pleased when others knew my name and said hi.  From the outside looking in, it appears these teens feel like struggling actors trying to get noticed.  How is that changing the nature of friendship?  On the other hand, many of the teens profiled, helped each other in real life to create their internet lives, so they are still socializing in the old way.   

This documentary is the tiniest tip of the iceberg at exploring the new online world.  I barely know how to use Facebook.  I have a Twitter account, but I only use it to remember what I’ve read online.  And most of the other social media sites this film explored I’m clueless as how to use and what they do.  Will adults slowly absorb this Like Culture?  I do blog, and I do get Likes, but not many.  But then I don’t crave them like the teens in this show.  The show ended with this wonderful visual.  A young girl is all animated while producing her video for YouTube, but when she turns off the camera, she sighs, deflates, looks very bored, and the film ends with the sound of her fingernails clicking distractedly on the camera.  Will being on for the Internet become a kind of social crack, and normal life a kind of lonely withdrawal?

You can watch the entire film here.  See I’m doing the same thing as the teens.  I’m marketing for PBS, and liking their show.

JWH – 2/19/14 

Understanding Identity Theft-And the Scary Implications of Stopping It

With the recent Target hacking scare, identity theft has almost become a panic.  My goal here is to explain identity theft to myself and my readers so we can avoid it, but also to reveal a surprise side-effect of stopping identity theft.  One news commentator pointed out that Europe uses Smart Cards which are more secure against identity theft, and I wondered why we don’t use them in the U.S.?  This got me to thinking about the nature of identity theft.  To simplify, here are the basics:

  • Person
  • Proof of Identity
  • Financial institution
  • Transaction system
  • Business
  • Thief
  • Fake Identity

Because we now have electronic transfer of spending instead of money, the goal of a thief is to initiate a financial transaction with a stolen information about your identity.  When you deposit money in a bank or get a line of credit from a credit company, those institutions create an identity profile of you.  To spend money requires proving your identity at a transaction location.

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Our old fashioned credit cards are rather simple.  The POS (point of sale) validates the card to see if it’s active.  The cashier must accept proof of identity from the person using the card.  If you are standing at the Target checkout counter, they will ask for an ID, or if you are buying from Amazon, they will ask for a password.  Both are easy to fake.  There’s a reason why many credit card thieves first go to gas stations – they don’t require any proof of identity. 

Even though the Target hackers stole over a hundred million card numbers and pins, they still have to find businesses that will process  transactions without a proof of identity, or create fake credit cards and fake identities.  Because they also stole names, addresses, and personal information, PINs, this is a scary possibility.

Proof of Identity

Every person has dozens of identities.  Your school or work has a system to identity you.  Your bank, credit card companies, insurance companies, health insurer, stock broker, library, utility company, phone company, etc., all have ways to identify you.  Even if you stood right in front of each of them, they wouldn’t know you personally.  They know you by your proof of identity.  Normally this is name, address, phone number, social security number, credit card number, library card number, customer number, etc.  Often this is in the form of ID card.  All of this information is easily stolen, and easily used by thieves.  In the old days, a fake driver’s license and stolen checks or credit cards was all it took to spend someone else’s money.  Now it’s just a name, debit card number and pin.

How To Stop Identity Theft

The current methods of protecting identity theft are far from perfect, but they are:

  • Keep your personal information as secret as possible
  • Use strong passwords and encourage the use of secondary pass phrases
  • Use credit cards from companies that have strong security monitoring
  • Monitor credit rating services
  • Hire a monitoring service

These efforts fall into two phases.  First, keep your information away from identity thieves, and second, stop thieves as quickly as possible when they do steal your identity.  What we really want is to stop thieves altogether. 

The best way to stop identity theft is absolute proof of identity.  This means creating a validation system to prove you are you in any financial transaction, whether in person or online.  I don’t believe Smart Cards are the solution.  Smart Cards are just credit cards with a computer chip – they make it harder for thieves but not impossible.  What we really want is biometric authentication.   This is technology that connects authentication to our biological selves – thumb print, voice pattern, retinal scan, face pattern, DNA, and so on.  Of course this means revamping our entire financial transactional system.  How does Amazon take your thumbprint?

There is new technology that might allow this transformation quicker than we thought – the smart phone.  But first some digression.

Let’s say a thumb print and voice pattern becomes the standard of identification.  How are they taken, and how are they validated?  There are a number of ways.  Smart Cards could store your voice and thumb print on a chip, and a POS terminal could take your prints and validate them against the card.  That would make things much more secure, but theoretically thieves could print fake Smart Cards with their prints recorded in them with your financial identity.  What we want is your credit card company to store a copy of your voice and thumb print, and the have the POS terminal authenticate your prints when you make a transaction.  Then we won’t need credit cards at all.  Identity will be bodily proof.

The trouble is our current infrastructure isn’t set up for this, so what would be the fastest way to transform our society into one secure from identity thieves?  Like I said, smart phones might be the answer.

There are many unique qualities about a smart phone.  The phone number, the IP address, the SIM card, the hardware address for the Wi-Fi card, etc.  All that’s needed is a way to tie your physical body to the smart phone.  Ultimately, in some science fictional future, I believe we’ll have a identity chip implanted in our bodies at birth and all our network connections will recognize us that way.  But until that future arrives, I believe smart phones are the answer.

Some smart phones can already do thumb prints, and voice prints can be done in software.  Newer phones could be designed to make biometric validation even easier.  Think of a smart phone as a genius level Smart Card.  To make a financial transaction you’d need your phone and your body.  That’s very hard for thieves to steal.  Not impossible.  A thief holding a gun to your head could make you buy things, give you money at ATMs.  But stress detectors might be added to smart phones to tell if a user is under duress.  We’re getting very close to foolproof.

Good Side Effects

If such a smart phone authentication system was developed it could have many positive side effects.  We’d have one of the best electronic voting systems possible.  It would allow for easy political referendums, or extensive public opinion polls.  This would change the nature of record keeping for school system, health insurance, all the way down to library cards.  Used in schools it would allow for instant testing and grading.  The spin-offs are endless.

Of course it would reduce identity theft.

Bad Side Effects

Identity theft is an easy way for thieves to steal from people without meeting them.  If we take this away, thieves will have to go back to being more personal about taking our stuff.  Switching to a smart phone authentication might increase robberies, muggings and burglaries.

However, the real scary thing about smart phone identity authentication is it creates a global identity card that’s extremely easy to track.  Americans have always been against a national ID card, and this system would be that to the nth degree.  Since we know the NSA is already tracking our phones, it’s not hard to imagine a whole host of governmental agencies, as well as businesses tracking our every move, communication and transaction.

It would make living off the grid almost impossible.  Anyone without a smart phone would have a very difficult time establishing any kind of identity with businesses, hospitals, insurers, libraries, credit agencies, etc.  If every policeman had a smart phone that could talk to your smart phone think of the Big Brother angle of that.

Other Solutions

Life on Earth is always evolving, and so does technology.  If we wanted, we could invent anonymous electronic spending.  Money is slowly disappearing, and with it privacy.  You can buy pre-paid credit cards and anonymous dumb phones to maintain your privacy, but that might not last for long.  If money disappears how do you buy pre-paid cards?  With direct deposit paychecks its now impossible to live without a bank account, and that requires a networkable identity, and thus a way to authenticate that identity.

People might not know it, but we’re on a path to no privacy.  For some people that might not matter, for others it matters a great deal.

JWH – 2/11/14

When Does Abnormal Become the New Normal?

There’s two films showing at Sundance this week about web addiction.  Web Junkie from China is about teens going through rehab for internet addiction, a condition that China deems a psychological category for severe treatment.  Then there is Love Child, about a Korean couple who let their real baby starved to death while obsessively caring for a virtual baby.  A while back there was a spate of articles stating that 45% of Japanese women 16-24 were not interested in sex.  Then there are all those stories about Japanese children never leaving their bedroom – it even has a name, Hikikomori.  And the long term trend in America is to live alone.  Any many young women today claim their boyfriends would rather play video games than have sex.

Now I imagine there are parents in America who would love to send their kids to camps to get them away from their computers, but I’m not sure we think of compulsive internet use as an addiction.  When everyone is a pod person, it’s hard to know there’s another way of life.

How much is too much of anything?  When does something become an addiction?  Are bookworms who read all day book addicts?  Lots of retired people spend their entire days watching television.  Are they TV addicts?  Of course, people who work 60 hours a week are sometimes said to be addicted to their jobs, and called workaholics.

Evidently, there’s an assume dichotomy:  normal life and escapism, so if we spend too much time away from normal, we’re addicted.  But what if living in front of a computer becomes normal.  I was a computer programmer, and often spent my entire work day in front of a monitor.  And, then I came home and spent my evening in front of a computer writing.  Was I addicted?  Or was that just life?

I spend a lot of time at my computer desk.  I don’t play games, and I don’t stream TV and movies.  I do write, listen to music and read news stories, all of which I did before computers and the Internet, and what I would do if I didn’t have the Internet.  A couple years ago I lived three days without power and in the evening I’d write by pen on a yellow pad, listened to books and music on my iPod touch, and played old radio show tapes on an ancient Sony Walkman, all by flickering candlelight.

web-junkie

I know what they mean about addiction.  Younger people do spend a lot of time on the net.  But women my age spend a lot of time on their smartphones, and panic when they don’t have them.  And more people than ever seem to love living alone, often with their TV, computer, and game console.

Is the real problem video games?  Is the main worry that video are games more appealing than day-to-day living?  In the film clip above one young guy says he played World of Warcraft for 15 days straight.  Now, maybe that is an addiction.  However, if you have lots of free time, isn’t a computer game a higher form of stimulation?  It’s certainly more engaging than reading or watching television.  We live in a world of growing unemployment.  A good portion of our population is without engaging work, so why not turn to the Internet.  It’s better than drugs – where the original meaning of addiction comes from.  And what does it say when video games are more appealing than sex?

And there’s one more thing to consider.  Humans are self-aware beings living inside a skull of an animal.  We have five senses bringing data in from the reality outside of our body.  Could the Internet be our sixth sense?  Or an extension to our sight and hearing?  Doesn’t the Internet just extend the range of our body’s normal senses?  Can living alone on the Internet be considered the beginning of a hive mind?

Is hearing a real tree fall in the forest different from hearing a virtual tree fall in the forest?

JWH 1/22/14

The Speed of Knowledge versus Copyright

No one yet knows the real impact of the Internet on human society.  If it wasn’t for copyright laws, the Internet could be the ultimate library. A dazzling library that it would surpass all existing world libraries and all libraries in history.  Even now, most people get more information from the Internet than they ever gotten from a library, or for that matter, from books, magazines, journals and newspapers.  Yet, the Internet is severely hobbled by copyright.

Writers need to make a living, and publishers need to make a profit, so it’s understandable that copyrights should protect intellectual property.  I don’t resent the need for writers and publishers to make money.  I do resent that making money impedes the flow of knowledge.  It’s a shame that the current distribution systems are so inefficient at spreading commercial knowledge.

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Take for instance the article I just read in The New Yorker, “The Gene Factory” by Michael Spector.  If you follow the link you’ll reach a teaser section of the article and information about how to subscribe.  This does not let you quickly read the article, which means you probably won’t.  If you’re already a subscriber and have set up your digital access, or can just grab your latest copy of the magazine, then reading is a little faster, but not quite as convenient as following a link.  Please make the effort, the article is worth it.

Many journals and magazines do offer to let readers buy an immediate reprint, usually for several dollars.  This is step in the right direction, but their pricing structure usually causes web users to skip the article.  Now I would prefer that the content of all magazines, journals and newspaper be free, but I’m no old hippie, and can understand the need to charge.  What I suggest is to make selling articles easier and price them at impulse buying fees.  What we need is a good micropayment system so publishers can charge 10-99 cents an article.

“The Gene Factory” by Michael Spector is an article that most people should read, but especially people worried about America’s future and science fiction writers.  If you’ve ever seen the movie Gattica then you’ll know what this article is about.  Then again, if you’ve ever been fascinated by the decline of the British Empire and wondered when and how the American Empire would start declining, then again, this article is for you.

gattaca

“The Gene Factory” is specifically about  Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI), but also about the impact of gene sequencing on human society.  The New Yorker article is very long and full of wonderful details and speculation, far more than I want to paraphrase here.  Which is why our society would be so much different if I could just provide you a link and you could go read the article.  Then if the article also included links to all the research that Michael Spector put into writing the article, we could all study what he has to say in depth.

Now, wouldn’t that increase the speed of knowledge?  And if you don’t feel the need for such speed, then again, I recommend you read the article.

Some magazines like The Atlantic and The Smithsonian put much of their content online for free.  I wonder if ideas in their content is spread faster and further throughout the world’s population than paywall controlled content?  That has to be the case, but I’d love to see the numbers.  Wouldn’t it be lovely to see public hit statistics for every article on the web?  Wouldn’t it be very cool to have a place on the web to see what people are reading, the Top 100,000 for the last hour, day, week, month, year and decade?  Think about the data mining possibilities!

Even cooler would be a raw hit score, plus a weighted score from people voting reading value.  So much more could be done for the Internet.  I feel like I’m thinking about television technology in 1939 and wondering what its real potential will be.

By the way, I use the Internet service Next Issue to subscribe to over 125 magazines for $15 a month.  It’s a quick way to get access to The New Yorker and many other magazines.  Next Issue might be worth trying just to read “The Gene Factory.”

JWH – 1/2/13

Rethinking My Kindle Magazine Subscriptions–And Electronic Magazines in General

Years ago I cancelled all my magazine subscriptions to go paperless.  I was finding plenty to read on the Internet for free, and I was experimenting with services like Zinio, which offers electronic magazines.  Then I got a Kindle and iPad and subscribed to Kindle magazines at Amazon.  I liked I could subscribe by the month, and quit any time.  But like paper editions of magazines, I often didn’t keep up, and unread back issues piled up.  So I cancelled my Kindle subscription to The Rolling Stone.  I thought I’d have all my back issues to read when I got some free time, but once you cancel, you can’t download the issues, even for the ones I’ve “bought.”  If you had previously downloaded an issue it stayed on my iPad.  Unfortunately, I discovered there were many I never downloaded, even though their cover image was in my library listing.

See, I was thinking all those back issues were mine to read whenever I wanted, even if I wanted to wait years.  But that wasn’t the case.  I’m not bitching about Amazon’s licensing restrictions, I’m just reporting how things work.  It turns out that when I re-subscribed I could go back and download those previously subscribed issues.  In other words, you can get past back issues if your currently subscribing and paid for them previously, but they aren’t accessible when you aren’t paying the current monthly fee.

Reading on the iPad wasn’t bad, but I had an iPad 2, the one before the Retina Display, and reading small print was a bitch.  Using a tablet for both bookshelf and reader has it’s drawbacks.  When I upgraded to iOS 7 and v. 4 of the Kindle Reader, it zapped my collection of old magazines, telling me I needed to download them again.  I had just cancelled my Kindle subscription of The Rolling Stone, because I had started getting the paper copy again, and thus I couldn’t re-download my old issues.

Okay, I thought, the reason I subscribed to the paper copy of The Rolling Stone was to get access to the complete archive online.  Well, that didn’t work out either.  The online viewer for The Rolling Stone has one of the worst screen readers I’ve ever used.  It magnifies better than the iPad, but moving around the page and between pages is just flat out horrible.  I can’t believe many people would take the time to read old copies of RS online.

[Update 10-18-13 - the RS online reader looks great on my 24" iMac at work.  For some reason the reader controls and the bottom of the page are removed from my Windows 7/Chrome browsing.  I also tested it on Ubuntu 13.10, with Firefox on a 1280x1024 screen.  It worked better than Windows 7/Chrome but not as nearly as good as Mac/Safari.  Unfortunately, I don't have a Mac at home.  I need to test Windows 7/IE and iPad 2 when I get home.  Maybe there's hope.]

What’s funny is the reader that comes with the complete archive on DVD is much better, but still clunky.  They’ve had that reader for years.  The current online reader won’t even show the bottom of the page on my 23” 1920×1080 screen.  It’s a huge step backward.

You know what? It turns out the old fashion paper magazine is the real winner here.  Damn, technology goes down in flames.

Now it is possible to create an elegant screen reader that shows old magazines, just look this December, 1959 issue of Galaxy Magazine at Archive.org.  If the folks at The Rolling Stone used this program to show it’s back issues I’d be in periodical heaven.

galaxy-mag

[Click to enlarge]

Now I’d love to have a complete back run of Galaxy Magazine in this format.  It would be better than owning all those shelves of moldy pulp paper copies.  And it would be great to have them on a modern tablet with 2560 x 1600 pixels screen.  The Archive.org reader works very well on my iPad, making it the most comfortable way to read this classic SF mag.

The ideal way to read magazines would be to have a large, very high resolution tablet, with the complete archive of a magazine online, and an excellent viewer app.  That way the environment benefits, and we wouldn’t be bothered by shelves and shelves of old magazines to maintain.

Right now I’m very disappointed with the electronic versions of The Rolling Stone, either tablet version or online version.  Reading the paper version is the easiest technology.  That’s a shame.  I was so looking forward to doing some serious reading of past years of The Rolling Stone.  Now that I start my retirement years next Wednesday I’ve got some real reading time.

JWH – 10/17/13

How Internet Pricing Influences My Buying Decisions

You can go out at night and see a movie for $10.  Watching a movie a night would cost $300 a month.

If you like to own and collect movies, you could buy DVDs and Blu-rays for the same amount of money if you shopped for bargains, ending up collecting 365 movies a year.  But if you’re buying a new movie every night to watch, when would you re-watch anything in your collection?  Ownership ain’t what it used to be.

Then there’s cable TV.  For $80 a month, 24×7 movies, don’t worry about going out, shopping, collecting or shelving.

But for $7.99 a month can join Netflix and get one disc out at a time, and if you watch them immediately, and live in a city with a distribution center, might squeeze in a dozen movies a month, paying 67 cents a movie.  $15.99 a month you can get 3 discs out at a time, and probably cover having a movie every night of the month, getting your per flick cost down to 53 cents.

For that same $7.99 you can get Netflix streaming, and theoretically watch twelve 2-hour movies a day all month.  $7.99 / (12 x 30), which is about 2 cents a movie, or a more realistic 26 cents a movie if you watching only one a night.

Of course, you could just steal movies on the net and pay 0 cents per movie, but hey, we’re not thieves.

In other words, the Internet makes things cheaper.  But does it improve our lives and society to let people watch a movie for 26 cents?

In 1965 I became a record addict, and averaged buying 2 to 4 albums a week until I found Internet Pricing.  In the old days I bought LPs, and then CDs.  At it’s peak I was spending $200-300 a month on music.  Now I spend a flat $9.99 a month at Rdio and get access to over 20 million songs.  Internet Pricing strikes again.

My wife and I used to subscribe to the local paper and over twenty magazines.  Except for a couple e-magazine subscriptions on my Kindle, I no longer subscribe to periodicals and read stuff off the internet for free.

I’d like to get The New York Times, but at $15 a month is too expensive to what I’ve got accustomed to from Internet Pricing.  For $18 a month I get Netflix streaming and Rdio, or tens of thousands of movies, television shows, documentaries, and a couple million albums.  So why would I pay $15 for a single daily paper?  Why isn’t there a company that charges $7.99 a month to read all newspapers from around the world?

Next Issue charges $15/month for access to 107 magazines.  That’s the same price The New York Times charges for 1 newspaper.  Sadly, none of my favorite magazines are available through Next Issue (The Atlantic, Rolling Stone, New York Review of Books, Scientific American, Smithsonian, Harpers, Discover, New Scientist, Sky & Telescope, etc.)

See, I’ve been corrupted by Internet Pricing.  At one time getting The New York Times for $15 a month would have been a tremendous bargain.  Now, I feel it’s too expensive when I compared other content I buy off the Internet.  My innate sense of pricing was also distorted by reading the NYT for free online for years, and the fact there are many good newspapers from around the world that are still free to read online.

Would we have a more vibrant economy, with more jobs, if the internet didn’t exist?

I’ve been corrupted by Internet Pricing in other ways.  Last month I wanted to buy an issue of Harper’s Magazine to read one article.  But I just couldn’t let myself spend $5.99 to read one article.  However Harper’s is tempting me.  For subscribers to their paper copy, they give access to 163 years of back issues on the internet.  I can get a year sub to Harper’s at Amazon for $15.  See how Internet Pricing is disruptive?  $15 for one month of the NY Times, or $15 for 163 years of Harper’s Magazine for a year.  The New York Review of Books recently offered me 10 issues for $10 that included 50 years of online archives.  The Rolling Stone also has a similar deal for $19.95 for a 26 issue sub and a complete run of back issues online.  I don’t want paper copies of anything, but I do want access to complete archives.  However, they won’t sell me just the archive access.  Those savvy magazines publishers have figured things out, sell their old technology at normal prices and give Internet Pricing for free.  I took the $10 deal, and I’m seriously considering subscribing to magazines again if I get their complete archive.

I go into a bookstore now and it kills me to pay list price for a magazine.  I’ve been corrupted by Internet Pricing.  Now I might just be a cheapskate, but what if I’m typical.  How is being corrupted by Internet Pricing affecting people across the world. What is its impact on GDP?

JWH – 9/23/13

Does the Demise of Google Reader Mean Paradigm Shift In the Internet?

Yesterday Google announced it would be closing the ports on Google Reader July 1, and that immediately set the blogosphere abuzz.  I read at least a dozen articles this morning about the impact of losing Google Reader.  RSS readers have been around a long time, way before Google Reader, it’s just Google Reader was so damn convenient.

I assume, that Google assumes, that mobile device users are moving away from the traditional RSS feed readers to programs like Zite, Pulse, Flipboard, and Google Currents, and that very well might be true.  I’ve certainly become a Zite addict.  But if you’re a total news junky, trying to conquer the fire hose of data that is the Internet, RSS technology is still the best tool around.

If you search on Google for “Google Reader Alternatives” you will get a barrage of advice.  I’ve been trying various alternatives all day long, but some of these sites are bogged down by people just like me, so now might not be the best time to go kicking tires on a new RSS car.

Also, there are reports that some programs that work with the Google Reader back end are calling it quits.

I’d like a RSS news reader that has a web app, plus an app for my iPad and iPod touch.  Zite, Flipboard and Currents only works with mobile devices.  I joined Pulse and Feedly today, both of which have slick, customizable interfaces.  However, neither one seems to be designed for people with dozens or hundreds of RSS feeds.  Google Reader’s plain interface worked well with lots of feeds.

Next, I thought about standalone application like FeedDemon, but Nick Bradbury, FeedDemon’s creator, announced he was calling it quits.  But Bradbury also sounded like interest in FeedDemon was on the wane anyway.  Another bad indicator for RSS health.

I wonder how many online and offline programs use Google Reader’s engine to make their program work?  I also looked at Feedreader, but it wouldn’t accept my registration for the online version.  So I installed their client version, and discovered what it means to run my own RSS reader demon.  I’m not sure I want yet another process running in the background.

Newsblur said the demand was too high for free accounts, and asked if I wanted a paid account.  I might, but I’m waiting to see what happens in the next few weeks.

That’s why Google Reader was so nice, it did all the work at its site, allowed a whole array of apps to use it, and was free.  Google hosting all those feeds is why so many programs depended on it.  Maybe it’s time to pay for the service.  If we all paid Google a $1 a month, would Google be tempted to keep the service going?

If not, does this mean the beginning of the end for RSS?  Or is it time to pay for our lunch?

RSS technology allows people to build their own unique news service. Theoretically it should be the ultimate tool for people to get their daily news. But RSS isn’t perfect. You can have 10 feeds, each providing 10 stories a day, but 90 of those stories might not be ones you want to read.  Zite, and other magazine builder apps, seek to send you stories that you really want to read by tracking your interests far more closely than RSS.  If they can make that work, RSS will die.

I love Zite, but it’s not perfect either. I’m constantly thinking about how to be more efficient in my news gathering and reading. It’s important to read about the topics you are most fascinated by, but it’s also important to be exposed to a wide range of new topics.

I assume RSS is dying.  How many people know how to configure NNTP client anymore?  I loved Usenet newsgroups, but haven’t used them in years.  Except at work I never use FTP or Telnet anymore.  The Internet is no longer a playground for techies.  And using computers and the Internet doesn’t make you a Geek.  People want easy to use transparent services.  Google giving up on Google Reader is just a sign of that trend of taking the geekiness out of the Internet.

JWH – 3/14/13 (Happy Pi Day)

The Syncing Nightmare of Too Many Computers, Backups and Cloud Drives!

The Problems:

  • I have three home computers, three work computers, four external hard drives, and six cloud drive accounts, with tens of thousands of original files that are multiplied into hundreds of thousands stored on backup and cloud drives.
  • I have personal files and work files but often I want access to both kinds no matter where I’m at.
  • If I delete a file from the computer I’m working on, it’s not deleted from all the backed up copies.
  • Every time I look at a different drive I have to constantly decide again if I want to keep or delete a file.
  • Because I have 4 PCs, 1 Mac and 1 Linux machine I really don’t have a primary My Documents folder.
  • I have copied files in so many locations that I’m not sure which is the primary backup anymore.
  • I had a 1.5 TB drive fail and lost 200+ documentaries I was saving.
  • I have too many files from using personal computers for over 30 years.

thematrix

The Goals:

  • I want two perfectly organized Master Filing Systems, one personal, one work.
  • I want the easiest system possible for maintaining order and security.
  • I want to get rid of the external hard drives.
  • I want the fewest copies that equals the maximum security.
  • I want each of my Master Filing Systems to be backed up.
  • I want the files to have an organization structure that makes it obvious where everything is and belongs.
  • I want this to be my last file reorganization that will last me the rest of my life.
  • I want to clean out all the clutter and ancient files I no longer need.

Questions to Consider:

  • Can I trust a cloud drive like Dropbox or SkyDrive to be my Master Filing System?   This certainly would make using six computers and my mobile devices the easiest to use.
  • Would it be practical to use a cloud drive as my Master Filing System, and then use software to mirror the  cloud to local computers as backups?
  • Which cloud drive service is worthy of being my Master File Location?
  • How do I handle deleted files so the deleted files are removed from all the backups, but yet stored somewhere for long term recovery?
  • Do I need to worry about music files now that I have Amazon Cloud Player, Google Music, Rdio, and Rhapsody?
  • How do I keep my photos organized in my Master File Location and in-sync with gallery sites like Picasa?
  • What’s the best place to store emails?
  • Should I have a Master Deleted File System?
  • Does any cloud drive service offer a journaling file system?
  • When I create a Master Filing System, what folder structure should I use?
  • Are some file types too large to save permanently?
  • Can Dropbox or SkyDrive work like a roaming profile/home drive on a Windows Server?

Some Answers to Help Decide:

  • Dropbox offers it’s Packrat feature of unlimited undeletes for $39/yr. 
  • Using Dropbox means spending $139 a year minimum – the price of an external drive, but external drives take power, eventually, die, fill full of clutter, and take work to move from computer to computer.
  • Dropbox and SkyDrive have virtual drives making them easier to use than Amazon Cloud Drive, and allowing software like Second Copy to access them.
  • Dropbox virtual drives are available for all my my computers and devices.
  • Second Copy would let me replicate files from cloud drives to my PCs, thus making them the backups and not the cloud drives.
  • I could buy Dropbox for my personal Master File System and use SkyDrive for my work Master File System.  (I have a 25gb SkyDrive account because of work).
  • I have a 50gb Amazon Cloud Drive account that I could use as a cloud backup.
  • If I use Dropbox as my Master Filing System I could go around to all my computers, backups and other cloud drives and re-file all the files I want into it.  That might be the easiest way to create a Master Filing System.
  • For $25 a year Amazon keeps up to 250,000 songs for me in their Cloud Player and a copy in the Cloud Drive.  They also give me 50 GB of cloud space for other files.  Is this secure enough for maintaining my music library?

Are Some Files Too Big To Store Permanently?

When I lost the 1.5 TB of documentaries from my HTPC I began to wonder if some files are too large to save permanently.  At Dropbox’s rates, I’d have to spend $1500 a year to have maintained my documentary collection online.  I’m not going to do that.  Nor do I want to run a home server with backups to support such a library.  Maintaining 140 GB of music files is annoying enough, with copies on my main computer, two other computers, two external drives and at Amazon and Google.  But keeping a perfect copy of my music library in sync is a nightmare.  Then I have a large library of audiobook files scattered across several computers to worry about.  Are they even worth the worry when I spend 99.9% of time listening to books from Audible.com?

The solution here is just to live with what Netflix, Audible and Rdio provides to me, and not try to own my own library of movies, music and audiobooks.  This would certainly simplify a good deal of file management.

Conclusions:

Writing all of this helped me to think things through.  I’ve decided to make Dropbox my Master Filing System for personal files.  Currently I have 13 GB of free space, but I might have to up it to 100 GB ($99/year).  I haven’t decided if I want to spring for the $39/year Packrat feature, but it’s tempting.  It will probably take me months of going through all my file locations and filing what I want to save into my new Master Filing System.  I certainly hope that Dropbox doesn’t go out of business.

I’ve been using Dropbox for a while now, but as a test, I’ll start using it as my primary My Documents folder for all my devices to see what happens.

For a backup to my Master Filing System, I’ll use Second Copy to replicate Dropbox to a folder on my local hard drive.  I haven’t decided if I’ll replicate to two different machines or not.

I might reduce my home computers from three to two and get rid of all the external hard drives.  Since I’d run Windows Media Center on both of them, I might mirror my recorded shows to both machines, but this means maintaining 2 TB drives on both machines, and I’m not sure I like that.  I’m awful tempted to give up trying to save recorded video or even collecting DVDs.

If I succeed with using Dropbox as my Master Filing System and I get a new computer, it will be very easy to set up and start working.  Just install Dropbox client and my software.  Then create a backup folder and start replicating Dropbox files to it as the new primary backup.

Settling on Dropbox means my home files will be available at work, but also on my iPad and iPod touch or even any computer I sit down to use as long as it’s on the internet.  Let’s hope this works out.

JWH – 8/3/12

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