Advertising Alternatives: It Pays to Be a Google Contributor

Earlier this week I got an email from Google.

My email invitation to join Google Contributor

One of my principles is to pay for things that I support. I can afford it, and things on the web are relatively cheap. Subscribing to ThinkUp, Pocket Premium, Feedly Pro, each cost about the same as a new pair of shoes, or a nice pair of jeans. To me, that’s a justifiable cost, so I pay it to keep the things I use and love alive.

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Reading, Drones, and Georgie Washington

Americans are still reading books, Internet and all! Younger Americans are actually reading more than older generations, which could be partially due to the fact that with the rise of texting and social media, so much of our communication is text-based, so everyone is doing a lot more reading (and writing) in order to communicate with their friends. The original study is linked in that article and in this graph:

What are some other ways to get people to read books?

Well it helps a lot if your college library not only tells you the call numbers of the book, but it gives you precise directions to the location of the book, which is pretty awesome. Much more useful when navigating a giant library, like I have access to at the university I work at, as opposed to the smaller library at the university I actually attended.

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Algorithms, Confidence, and Infrastructure

Every so often the Oxford English Dictionary adds new words. It adds them to its online dictionary with far more frequency than its physical tome, given that a physical dictionary is quite a bit more difficult to update. It released a list of new words yesterday, and while a few are new words entirely (bikeable) others are new definitions of familiar words. The “tumblr definition” of ship is recognized (and boy is the tumblr community excited about it) and a definition of thing that accounts for the phrase “is that a thing?”

a list of web domains that begin with the word important, including their IP addresses

Daniel Temkin put together an Internet Directory with a scrolling and searchable list of all registered domains with a top level domain name ending in .com

Ted Striphas was interviewed about the effects of algorithms (such as the ones that define the order of google search results, or what shows up in your facebook newsfeed) on culture. As he puts it, “The issue may come down to how comfortable people are with these systems drilling down into our daily lives, and even becoming extensions of our bodies.”

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Masculinity, AIM, Ads, and Cops

Here’s what was important this week…

I treated myself to ice cream last night (from the freezer, not a lonely ice cream shop date with myself) and it was delicious. While I gained weight from starting an office job after college, I still have the privilege of avoiding most body policing placed on women.

However, men suffer their own share of body policing. In Hollywood, this manifests itself as an obsession with fit bodies, and fitness. Mens Journal examines the issue, speaking mostly to trainers and talking about the pressure for actors to get “fit” in order to land coveted roles. It’s so important to the industry that:

“There are dozens of hormone-replacement clinics in and around Hollywood, and their business is booming. But there are significant risks: Hormone therapy accelerates all cell growth, whether healthy or malignant, and can encourage existing cancers, especially prostate cancers, to metastasize at terrifying rates. Testosterone supplements can lower sperm counts. For many, the risk is worth it.”

Fitness is just one aspect of a narrow set of masculinity standards imposed on men. For many men, high school is one of the more painful places that these standards are enforced. Well-documented in this great book by sociologist C.J. Pascoe, an essay in The Walrus gets to the heart of many of the standards. A new sex ed program in some Canadian schools works on teaching these high school boys not only aspects about sex that are often glossed over in traditional sex ed courses, it also focuses on relationships, gender identity and expression, and explores these things in a safe space. Importantly,

“Teaching young men to trust, communicate, negotiate, and empathize does not undermine or threaten their manliness. It expands their humanity. It reclaims men’s possibilities.”

Something else that helps men reclaim their possibilities is by supporting women, becoming advocates for them in the workplace, being feminists… Shanley, a writer on diversity in tech, wrote an essay about what men can do to help women if they are in a position of power (in her case, speaking directly to white men in tech). It’s a bit profanity-laden and not completely generalizable, but makes some great points.

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A Self-Driving Car “Revolution”?

The potential benefits and issues of self-driving cars have been addressed by many magazines, from The Economist and The Atlantic, to Business Insider and Forbes; and more  recently acknowledged by highway safety authorities in the USA. A hot-button issue as of late,  using autonomous vehicular control to reduce traffic fatalities and injuries is an ideal that should be encouraged, but it can’t be achieved without addressing a variety of concerns. Threats of generational trends, liability, security, and class (and cost) issues could doom a future of fully autonomous vehicle domination before it begins.

Naturally, to evaluate the future of this technology, we must first understand how self-driving cars work. Two notable elements of operating a self-driving car are the abundance of sensors involved and the integral role of programming the “right” way to drive. As quoted in the article:

Sometimes, however, the car has to be more “aggressive.” When going through a four-way intersection, for example, it yields to other vehicles based on road rules; but if other cars don’t reciprocate, it advances a bit to show to the other drivers its intention. Without programming that kind of behavior, Urmson said, it would be impossible for the robot car to drive in the real world.

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A Beginning

My boss was discussing the differences of Microsoft, Google, and Apple today when it comes to utility for business. While Microsoft tends to be somewhat derided for people from my generation (the sometime-scorned Millenials) for their bulky software packages and security-hole-ridden Internet Explorer browser, they are an industry standard. Why? They make static products that don’t change much. Not very innovative, but exactly what a business needs. Businesses create business processes that hinge on these very programs and the staticness of those programs, and their worlds are thrown out of whack when they change drastically.

My workplace is in the process of transitioning to Google Mail, and with that has come a lot of negative feedback from users. Google and Apple share a common characteristic–making changes that benefit them that they paternalistically decide will benefit their users. However, when their users attempt to build processes based on, for example, the structure of the compose window and the available fields when composing a message, and Google changes all of that because they wanted to, our users are thrown off kilter. Apple is a business standard, and falling out of favor with some, for design-intensive professions like photography and graphic design. They’re falling out of favor with some for their emphasis on innovation–removing previously standard computing elements like optical drives in favor of slimmer design. Some changes they’ve made reduce the company’s ability to be a trustworthy ally to design professionals.

Google currently offers no active support for users, providing a feedback form and support pages and forums for users, but no contact information beyond that. They also consistently maintain the paternalistic innovation-for-the-user design motivation–at times disregarding the business needs of their users in Google Apps for Business and Google Apps for Education. It will be interesting to see if Google continues to innovate as it does currently, or if an emphasis on the business needs of larger consumers will inspire it to make changes.