Gizmodo Australia | I Can’t Believe How Stupid Facebook’s News Feed Update Is

That I’m linking to this, instead of the actual post has everything to do with Facebook’s relentless assault on web standards. The idea that Facebook doesn’t know what it’s doing here is far fetched at best. The bubble effect is not some esoteric theory, it’s common knowledge that Facebook is a confirmation bias machine. This addresses the problem by doubling down on the affect. Nobody should be surprised.

From the horse’s mouth,

We could try to make that decision ourselves, but that's not something we're comfortable with. We considered asking outside experts, which would take the decision out of our hands but would likely not solve the objectivity problem. Or we could ask you – the community – and have your feedback determine the ranking. We decided that having the community determine which sources are broadly trusted would be most objective.

You could read this as a cop out, but that would be too kind. Copping out in this instance is conveniently intentional. Gizmodo asks the obvious misanthropic question this move invites,

If people cannot tell truth from garbage, why are those same people being used to rank publications on a scale of trustworthiness?

Other supposedly sober outlets seem to be missing the point here, from Slate

At first blush, it looks like Facebook is doing exactly what I and other critics have long been calling for it to do: acknowledge that its algorithm plays a crucial role in determining what news people read, and take some responsibility for its profound effects on the media and the spread of information. It’s about time, right?

Except that, based on its announcement, Facebook’s approach to a notoriously difficult problem—figuring out which media to trust—appears to be painfully simplistic and naïve.

I think it’s naive to think they are being naive. This approach gives the appearance of doing something, and achieves exactly what they want. Welcome to hyper-reality.

Recode | YouTube is kicking “tens of thousands” of video-makers out its advertising program

It only takes a few days for something like this to be old news, but I couldn't let it pass without comment.   It remains to be seen howe effective it will be, and I can't help but think it underestimates how deep this problem runs, and exactly what is happening.

From Recode

The changes won’t prevent people from uploading offensive content to YouTube, which hoovers up hundreds of hours of new video per minute. But they are meant to make it hard for the people who upload that stuff to make money from it. And they are an important symbolic change for YouTube, which was founded on the idea that anyone can use the platform, and has spent years trying to entice video makers to find audiences and create careers on the site.

What Youtube, and tech companies in general can't seem to grasp is the social aspect of technology.  One of the more thoughtful pieces I have read on certain fringe workings of YouTube was written by James Bridle at the end of last year. That article address concerns I could identify with personally. The ability to combine automation with disturbing attention grabbing techniques aimed at children has, over time, made the some of the most bizarre and unsettling elements of that platform some of the most lucrative. It might be enabled by technology, but this is a social issue. As Bridle writes,

I’m trying to understand why, as plainly and simply troubling as it is, this is not a simple matter of “won’t somebody think of the children” hand-wringing. Obviously this content is inappropriate, obviously there are bad actors out there, obviously some of these videos should be removed. Obviously too this raises questions of fair use, appropriation, free speech and so on. But reports which simply understand the problem through this lens fail to fully grasp the mechanisms being deployed, and thus are incapable of thinking its implications in totality, and responding accordingly.

The first is the level of horror and violence on display. Some of the times it’s troll-y gross-out stuff; most of the time it seems deeper, and more unconscious than that. The internet has a way of amplifying and enabling many of our latent desires; in fact, it’s what it seems to do best. I spend a lot of time arguing for this tendency, with regards to human sexual freedom, individual identity, and other issues. Here, and overwhelmingly it sometimes feels, that tendency is itself a violent and destructive one.

The second is the levels of exploitation, not of children because they are children but of children because they are powerless. Automated reward systems like YouTube algorithms necessitate exploitation in the same way that capitalism necessitates exploitation, and if you’re someone who bristles at the second half of that equation then maybe this should be what convinces you of its truth. Exploitation is encoded into the systems we are building, making it harder to see, harder to think and explain, harder to counter and defend against. Not in a future of AI overlords and robots in the factories, but right here, now, on your screen, in your living room and in your pocket.

Addressing the monetisation is a start, but as Bridle was apt to point out, these are big problems built right into the infrastructure. And, not just the technical infrastructure. Whether you won’t to believe it or not, technology is developed by people who make decisions, and thereby coded with intentionality. Kids like Logan Paul — and he really is still a kid — have been socialised by this media. There is no exceptionalism here. Bridle goes on,

And right now, right here, YouTube and Google are complicit in that system. The architecture they have built to extract the maximum revenue from online video is being hacked by persons unknown to abuse children, perhaps not even deliberately, but at a massive scale. I believe they have an absolute responsibility to deal with this, just as they have a responsibility to deal with the radicalisation of (mostly) young (mostly) men via extremist videos — of any political persuasion. They have so far showed absolutely no inclination to do this, which is in itself despicable. However, a huge part of my troubled response to this issue is that I have no idea how they can respond without shutting down the service itself, and most systems which resemble it. We have built a world which operates at scale, where human oversight is simply impossible, and no manner of inhuman oversight will counter most of the examples I’ve used in this essay. The asides I’ve kept in parentheses throughout, if expanded upon, would allow one with minimal effort to rewrite everything I’ve said, with very little effort, to be not about child abuse, but about white nationalism, about violent religious ideologies, about fake news, about climate denialism, about 9/11 conspiracies.

Before the yelling of ’keep you politics out of technology’ starts, I’ll nix it up front by pointing out that notion is, in itself, political. I recommend reading Bridle’s essay, whether or not you have children of your own. You can find it here

Safari Browser: Improving the Web with 1Blocker

best safari content blocker

Beyond the ruckus around content blockers to iOS, you will find plenty of legitimate reasons to employ them. Let’s face it, these days the internet is cesspool of malware masquerading as legitimate technology. Take one look at the doublespeak around intelligent tracking protection in Safari and you will get a sense of what is at stake. I won't delve into those arguments here. If you read this site regularly, you have a pretty good idea of where I stand.

No, this is not about tracking, but one of the internet’s other most beguiling annoyances. Since the advent of Webkit blocking, projects like Better by ind.ie have tried to work admirably at balancing the blocking of invasive web trackers, and other nefarious practices, with understanding the struggles of independent publishers.1 Yet, as the results are still opinionated the blocker decides what will be let through, and that is that. There is only one content blocker I know of that gives me the kind of control necessary to be considerate, while blocking out elements I'd rather not see. I’m talking about the dumpster fire of opinion found in most comments sections.

What I didn’t expect when I started using 1Blocker, was an interpretation of internet annoyances that dovetailed with my own. Out of the box 1Blocker blocks comments on websites. It’s not perfect, the mechanics of webkit blocking mean if you block comments, it blocks them everywhere. You’re guaranteed to find some of the most base, vulgar, and offensive baiting anywhere on the internet in comments sections. One way or another I would find myself reading comments, then trying to mitigate the ugly feelings I have about the world thereafter. Since installing 1Blocker , the internet hasn’t been nearly as irksome.

If you don’t already know, Webkit content blockers work differently to classic ad-blockers. Using something like uBlock Origin might give you the same results, but it won’t work on iOS, and it can’t offer the performance of a Webkit content blocker. In their own words,

While most other extensions block content by filtering elements of already downloaded page, 1Blocker uses native blocking technology to tell Safari in advance what should be blocked. This vastly improves efficiency and saves battery life.

Elements and Rules

There are places, albeit very few, where comments are still useful and engaging. Chances are, if you happen to frequent such a site, you may be amenable to adding it to the whitelist. Or if you would prefer to work the other way around, you can use 1Blocker’s hide element tool — which works on macOS and iOS — to block elements on a case by case basis. I have chosen the nuclear option, and not just because it defaults to no comments.

I’m using the example of comments, but internet annoyances don’t end there. 1Blocker recently started blocking crypto-mining scripts by default. If you’re happy digging in the inspector, you can build your own custom packages to block anything you want. You can only create rules on macOS, they will sync to iOS automatically.

best safari content blocker
1Blocker includes a powerful custom package builder that allows users more control of their browsing experience

I don’t run ads on this site, in fact I have been woefully inadequate at encouraging more support of the site. 1  However, there a numerous sites I frequent that include some form of relatively subtle advertising. I use the free Disconnect browser extension to visualise the trackers set by sites, if I’m happy the site is not doing anything nefarious I can whitelist it in 1Blocker. The result is an internet experience that doesn’t make me want to scratch my own eyes out.  As a considerable bonus,  it allows me to support people doing what I consider to be the right thing.

1Blocker is available on macOS, and has both a free and premium version on iOS

The Appademic is giving away 5 free copies of DEVONthink to Go for iOS. Find the details here

 

  1. Something I will have to address soon, if it is to live on ↩︎

 

Show and Tell – Wednesday, 10 Jan 2018

Anyone wondering when more content might be added to this site, fear not. Like any sane person with a family, I took a little time away from the desk over the past few weeks. Having returned to task this week I have been feverishly working in the background, putting more permanent fixes in place for some of the things I mentioned last month. Dealing with amateur mistakes I made when both setting up this site initially, and migrating it to WordPress. 1 Even if there is still work to be done, by now the site should be much faster for most users, and in subtle ways it should look nicer. If you are having any trouble viewing the site, please drop me a line here

Now that I am able to get back to the writing, I have a lot to share. In the meantime, here is some of the Show and Tell backlog I have been sitting on.

We Know Where You Live

Amazon wants a key to your house. I did it. I regretted it. | The Washington Post — Never has that subtitle been more apt. Another in case you missed it link, but not for the reason you might think. Sometimes I despair. You’d think this was a critical look at the idea of totalising one’s life with a tech shopping company. Alas, it appears more of a thinly disguised lament that using one place to shop doesn’t allow you to get the best prices. If this is your only concern here, I fear you are lost.

Cryptojacking WordPress | WIRED  — Ordinarily I’m opposed to neologisms, but sometimes somebody nails it. To be fair, I’m much more opposed to Cryprojackers.

Meltdown and Spectre: What Apple Users Need to Know  — By now this is everywhere, and the patches are arriving. This whole issue is remarkable for how long these vulnerabilities have existed. Whenever you hear that crazy relative of yours telling people not to upgrade their OS, remind them of these vulnerabilities.

What Spectre and Meltdown Mean For WebKit | WebKit — More technical insight into how this all works.

Worst Passwords of 2017: From ‘123456' to ‘starwars' | the Independent  — This also did the rounds, but it bears sharing again. I realise how unlikely it is that anyone reading this would engage in such practices, but we all know somebody who needs a little help with this stuff.

Haven: Keep Watch  — This is interesting. I’d like to think we could see it on Apple devices, but that seems incredibly unlikely. In fact, it’s the first development in some time that has me casting an envious eye at the ugly green robot.

Snowden-Backed App ‘Haven' Turns Your Phone Into a Home Security System | WIRED  — See above

Group Madness

Elon Musk Shows Off the Tesla Roadster He's Prepping for Space  — I’m a space fan, but sorry this is fucking stupid. If you look closely you will notice a disturbing ideology that says we need to send junk to Mars, because we have too much junk down here. If we want to become a multi-planetary civilisation, it can’t be so we don’t have to sort our shit out on this planet.
To be clear, I want to see people on Mars, I was once a single digit child who wanted a laser sword. But I don’t want us to go there just so we have two planets to fuck up.

Oh, and by the way, Musk wants to Nuke the joint too, I guess he really is serious about getting it ready for humans. The funniest response to this I have seen was this: “Shouldn't we try to blow up the moon first?”

First Digital Pill Approved to Worries About Biomedical ‘Big Brother' | New York Times  — It says a lot about this historical moment that such a monumental breakthrough should be legitimately accompanied with this kind of suspicion.

The Attention Economy is the Addiction Economy | Medium — That more people involved in tech are starting to wake up to this isn encouraging. If it’s a bit much to suggest articles like this never go far enough, we have to start the conversation one ay or another.

Clean Energy Is a Bright Spot Amid a Dark Tech Cloud | WIRED – An actual example of Blockchain being applied to something other than destructive speculation.

Now Look Here

Panic Blog | the Future of Transmit iOS  — This has been about the wires the past week or so. In case you missed it, Panic will stop updating Transmit for iOS. The app will keep working for sometime, but it won’t be getting any further love unless something changes. This is a shame, but it’s sad to say that by the sounds of things, it won’t affect many people. One imagines — at least one hopes — that the iOS Files app will gradually develop to takeover the crucial functionality that pro users might miss. On top of which apps like Workflow and Pythonista can step in.

Remote Control a Mac From an iPhone via Workflow | Six Colors  — This is probably the year we will learn the fate of Workflow. Here’s hoping this kind of inventiveness adds to the case for its continued development and success, in whatever form that may be.

Marxico | Markdown Editor for Evernote — Having written up a guide for how to leave the green elephant behind, I thought I might engage some irony. This is pretty neat actually, if you’re an Evernote user who wants to use Markdown this is an option. As a bonus, sometime ago I write up intersections for turning web apps into native apps. 2

And Now For Something Completely Different

The Last Jedi Trailer Song in GarageBand iOS | YouTube — I’ve been threatening to write about iOS music apps for some time. The things you can now do on the iPad, even with GarageBand, are incredible.

How BeatMaker Caught the iOS Music Trend Before It Even Started | CDM Create Digital Music  — BeatMaker 3 is one of my favourite iOS apps full stop, let a one music apps. Whether you’re into music making on iOS or interested in development, this is an interesting insight into the history of development on the platform

New App Descript Lets You Edit Audio Like a Word Document – Gearnews.com  – If anyone can explain to me how this works?

The Smallest PaaS Implementation You've Ever Seen | Dokku  — This is awesome

Star Wars Episode IV.1.d: The Pentesters Strike Back | CyberPoint International on Vimeo  — Something that brings together two very specific geek spheres. You know who you are.


  1. And all the other amateur mistakes in between. 
  2. So to speak, if you was to split hairs they’re not actually native. 

GitHub Education: Accessing Developer Tools and Building Static Sites

Developer Tools Github Education

Prof Hacker just posted a follow up to their reminder on the Github plans available to education users. The previous link made it into this week’s Show and Tell, but that is akin to burying a note in my back yard. Coming across this latest post prompted me to dig up that recommendation and dust it off a little. The Profhacker post is essentially a summary of a more detail ‘how to’ guide from the Storybench site. Their solution is a touch esoteric — they're using the statistical language ‘R’ for its value to certain kinds of academic work. But think of it as a case study for using Github Pages, the point is to illustrate the kinds of things you can do with Github in general.

Accessing Developer Tools and Building Static Sites

Github is useful regardless, but the student developer pack is a fantastic resource. It includes things like $50 worth of Digital Ocean hosting, credit for AWS, and a year of free Bitnami access. The GitHub part of the plan includes unlimited private repositories. Think of the freedom of not having to share your dodgy, cut-and-paste, hacked code with the world at large. Even if you’re doing little more than forking libraries and messing them up in an effort to learn (like I do), I would recommend signing up for an account.

There are some really intriguing uses for Github. One that should be of particular interest to readers of this site is using it for collaboration. It doesn’t have to be for coding either. Text is text, no matter what ends up parsing it; be that machine, or human. For example, by using Working Copy the folks at Macstories.net use Github as a weigh station for their editing process. For them, Github has been one of the building blocks of a complex iOS only workflow. While there are a couple of remaining considerations for an iOS only academic, but I see no reason that all student work can’t be done on an iPad. Github can certainly play a role, should you want it to.

Accessing Developer Tools and Building Static Sites
The Working Copy app on iOS

Github Pages as a Blogging Platform

While the Profhacker example is probably only relevant to a subset of users, there are more accessible routes for prospective bloggers. Github is growing all the time as a blogging platform. Using Github pages and a static site generator like Jekyll, anybody willing to follow a few instructions can serve a super slick plain text based website. This brings together more traditional uses of code versioning with the drafting and editing process of web publishing. Static site generators have been supposedly catching on for a while now, but they remain a relatively niche solution that attract more technically minded users. Still, I can honestly say they are not difficult to use. Platforms like Netlify simply the process down to one-click deployment.

You don’t have to go far to find examples of interesting static sites. There are specific academic tools primed for use, whether you want to use Jekyll, or another generator like Hugo. GitHub is also being used to mitigate the difficultly of using a more complicated CMS with the touchscreen interfaces of iOS, with bloggers putting Workflow to good use. In fact, the entire process can be managed from an iPad these days. But, as I say, blogging is just one use for Github; albeit a very good one.

It’s not difficult to get started. Whether its for accessing developer tools and building static sites, or glueing your iOS workflows together. Take a look at Github Education and start breaking things!