Leaving Facebook

Now seems like a good time to talk about when I deleted Facebook in January of 2016, and why I came back.

It started off with buying some boxed wine.[1] I texted my wife a picture of the options to find out what she wanted.

A couple days later, I started seeing ads for boxed wine on Facebook. That freaked me out. I had never looked at boxed wine online. I had never bought boxed wine online. I had no relationship between my online identity and boxed wine. I try to limit what Facebook knows about my browsing habits. [2]. Yet here was an ad for boxed wine, online.

My first thought was that Facebook was looking at the images in my text messages and using that for ad targeting. It's a simple but wrong explanation, like the idea that Facebook is eavesdropping on microphones,  Both errors come from anthropomorphizing Facebook, assuming that Facebook uses the same senses that we do. The scary fact is that Facebook et al have enough data on us that they don't need to listen to us or watch us.

Did you know that Facebook ads have a "Why was I shown this ad?" link? I wanted to know why I was seeing boxed wine ads, so I clicked it to find out.

If you don't have experience buying online advertising, let me translate: DLX gave Facebook a list of personally identifiable information (PII) and calls it an audience. Facebook then links that PII to accounts, and uses it's ad algorithms to decide who to show ads to.

DLX, it turns out, in Datalogix.  They get a list of the things you buy with loyalty cards, and then matches those purchases with your online identity. If you take a look at that link, it has this line: "The company reports that it keeps the information anonymous and gives consumers the option to opt out of data collecting and reporting by selecting the opt-out option on their website."

Here's what I saw when I clicked the Opt Out link on Facebook:

If that's gibberish to you, it's basically screenshots showing that Datalogix's opt-out process is really broken and neglected.

So my options are either stop using loyalty cards (and pay more for groceries), or stop giving value to the data that I'm generating. I made a step toward the second, and deactivated my Facebook account. It was deactivated basically from February to November of 2016.

I don't have too many insights about my life without Facebook. I didn't miss it really. I had one person contact my wife to ask if I'd blocked them over something, and we then had a good email conversation.

I came back partly due to the election. I felt that maybe my "no politics on Facebook" rule had been part of the problem – assuming that we wouldn't elect a nightmare. Maybe my voice needed to be heard. I wouldn't swing an election, but if I spoke out maybe I wound help convince a couple friends who were on the fence. Naive, yes, but I was looking for something to do. Anything.

The other reason I came back was because I was basically offloading a lot of social labor on my wife. She was now the sole invitee to events because our friends couldn't invite me on Facebook. She would tell me news from friends that I couldn't see elsewhere. My subdivision uses a Facebook group to share community news, which I had to get from my wife. I wasn't completely off Facebook, I had unconsciously delegated it. So I rejoined.

After all the recent news, I'm off Facebook again. I'm trying to ween myself off of algorithmic timelines (in favor of chronological) since they are dopamine addiction machines. Also, the snooping they do on phones, how they are polarizing the country, and the newsfeed being largely garbage all made the decision pretty easy. I may come back again, but for now I'm sticking to RSS feeds and (non-algorithmic) Twitter.

1: A boxed, collapsible bag is a pretty great packaging system for non-carbonated beverages like wine. It keeps O2 out while letting you have as much (or as little) as you want. Like beer in a can, it's a great package that has undeserved quality connotations.

2: Firefox just launched a really cool plugin that will segment your Facebook browser identity from your other browsing. Highly recommended.

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Why is Apache sending a “X-Pad” header?

Apache sometimes sends an HTTP header “X-Pad: avoid browser bug” for reasons that aren’t entirely clear. There isn’t a lot of searchable information about this header, so my coworker Matt dug into the source code and found out what’s going on.
The header was added to deal with a bug Netscape versions 2 through 4.0b2. The bug was that Netscape would hang if a linefeed character was sent as the 256 or 257 byte. Apache checks to see if it’s about to hit the bug and, if so, sends this header to pad the output.
The fix is from April of 1997. If they had waited a few months to report it, they might have earned $1,000 with Netscape’s Bug Bounty.
Hopefully this blog post will make the X-Pad header show up in Google and save future people from wondering what it is.

Continue reading “Why is Apache sending a “X-Pad” header?”

Real RSS Spam

The spammers keep getting cleverer and cleverer. A blog that will remain nameless let its domain name expire. A black-hat SEO spammer bought up the domain, which is pretty common. What surprised me was what happened next.
The spammer must have realized that there was a blog previously at that URL. So they installed a special version of WordPress for SEO spammers (I won’t link it here, get in touch if you’re really curious) and even published a feed at the exact same URL as the previous RSS feed. When I opened up Google Reader, the long-dormant RSS feed sprang to life with 10 new posts.
I was excited that the blog was back until I read the first one. Once I realized what was going on, I was impressed by the spammer’s ingenuity and pissed off that they’ve found yet another way to intrude on me. I’m so sick of spammers, I wish I could someone could tell me how to get a green card to somewhere they didn’t exist.

DRYer than thou

At work we have a project (launching Monday, w00t!) that has a lot of cool things happening on the browser side. You know kids these days, what with their jQueries and Web 2.0s, they need whiz bang special effects in their websites. In my day, we only had one type of input field in our forms, and we liked it! Don’t know how lucky they are… but I digress.

One problem we ran into was that we needed to do the same calculation on the server side and the client side. Let’s say for the sake of example that we need to calculate Michigan’s 6% sales tax or California’s 7.25% sales tax. The real calculation was only slightly more complex. One thing to note is that the calculation would need to be very responsive because it would be running a lot and affecting user input, so speed is a concern.

I came up with two options. The first is to write the same calculation in PHP for the server side and JavaScript for the client side. I didn’t love this because it isn’t DRY. If we had two calculations in two different files then when someone was updating the code they would likely miss the other one.

The other option I came up with was to put the calculation on the server side only and use AJAX to run it on the client side. This seemed overly complex, which will sound funny when you see what we decided on. We had avoided AJAX on the site because it wasn’t really needed; adding it for this seemed like a bad value/complexity trade off. I was also worried that server lag could cause a bad user experience, as I pointed out above the calculation needed to be fast.

So I was talking it over with my coworker Matt and he made a joke and we both laughed it off. Then we thought about it, and realized there there were fewer downsides to his approach than my two, so I started coding.

Continue reading “DRYer than thou”

“Up and running”

Xbox Live has a funny definition of “Up and running.” As of 7:00pm on Dec 29, 2007 their status message read:

Status: Up and running
Users may experience issues performing transactions dependent on Windows Live ID availability including but not limited to Xbox 360 and Zune account creation, renewal, recovery, all DMP transactions, and logging into or creating Windows Live ID accounts. Users will experience intermittent issues including but not limited to: Tournaments, Storage Downloads, Gamer Tile, Statistics through Arbitration, Match Making, and Messaging. Additionally, Halo 3 and Call of Duty 4 users may experience issues joining matches or posting statistics. Customer Support may also experience issues referencing customer data. We are aware of the issue and are currently working to resolve it. We apologize for any inconvenience.

My Xbox 360’s dashboard isn’t coming up and I can’t get into Halo 3 matchmaking, so the only entertainment I’m left with is pedantically reviewing Microsoft error messages.

inkling Markets 1 Week Later

The inkling markets I started last week have been making progress. While I can’t speak authoritatively about why the participants are investing the way they are, I can always make some wild-assed-guesses.

In the OpenID market, the biggest gainers are Wikipedia and Yahoo!. Wikipedia announced that they’re working on OpenID, which sounds like it’s a lock. But you’ll notice that talk was given at the end of April 2006, and since they haven’t done it yet, it’s possible that they won’t make the August 26th deadline of the market.

Another big winner is Yahoo!. They have been pretty aggressive about opening things up lately, they are offering lots of APIs to web developers and I think the feeling is that OpenID is right up their alley. Note that idproxy.net doesn’t count as a “win” for Yahoo! since the market is looking at these web sites consuming OpenID.

One stock that surprised me was that MSN.com has the lowest stock price of the bunch. I realize that Microsoft has cultivated the exact opposite appearance as Yahoo! in that people believe that Microsoft refuses to interoperate with anyone else, which is probably driving the stock price down. It’s still surprising to me because Microsoft has announced that they will be supporting OpenID. I wonder if the stock price is so low because of the perception of Microsoft as closed or if people believe that Microsoft will be pushing OpenID as an enterprisey technology but not something for consumers.

The Jabber market has some things that surprised me as well. While Yahoo! is doing well and MSN is not–which I attribute to the same things as their performance in OpenID–Skype is currently the highest price stock. That’s surprising to me because Skype has not been very open. Of the 5 IM networks in the market, only Skype doesn’t work with Adium. In August 2005 Skype announced SkypeNet API which sounds like it might allow Jabber interoperability, but apparently it’s been abandoned. I wonder if the SkypeNet API is driving up the stock price or if it’s just wishful thinking.

My final observation is that AIM and ICQ (both of which are owned by AOL and interoperable) haven’t moved very much at all. This is notable because AOL and Google Talk (which runs on Jabber) announced interoperability in December 2005 but nothing has come from it yet. Since Google Talk runs on Jabber the path of least resistance for interoperability would be for AOL to support it as well, even if they only federate with Google at the start.

SXSW Interactive 2007

I’m registered, have my plane tickets, and my conference schedule picked out. I’m going to SXSW Interactive!

I’ve wanted to go for years, but it was only recently that the planets aligned and it became feasible for me to make it to Austin. The first order of business is to let everyone know so that I can finally meet a bunch of the people I only know online.

I’ve also never been to a conference of this sort (I went to some Def Cons in the late 90’s, but I imagine this is a bit different) so I’m looking for advice. I have a couple friends who have offered me a floor to sleep on, so the fact that there are 0 hotel rooms available isn’t that disconcerting (although additional offers would be gladly welcomed so I don’t overstay my welcome). What panels should I make sure to attend? What should a first timer know?

inkling predictions for OpenId and Jabber

I got the inkling bug. inkling is a site for prediction markets; basically you buy and sell stocks with funny money based on what you think will happen. Wisdom of the crowds, power of many, all that jazz. First Ed Vielmetti got bit, then Brian Kerr started trading, and now I’m doing it.

The two questions I’m trying to answer both relate to technology adoption. I want to know if Jabber and OpenID will make it big in the next six months. So I created these two markets:

I like this over O’reilly’s Buzz Game since, as Ed pointed out, with inkling anyone can ask a question. Of course, the more people who participate in inkling the more accurate the predictions, so go sign up and put your money where your mouth is.

Sony making the same mistakes again

There a 3 big problems with the Playstation 3 (ignoring smaller problems like the UI). The first is availability, with all sorts of stories of people getting shot with BBs or trying not to give birth or abusing the trust placed in them just to get a PS3. That can be fixed with time. The second is game selection, because Resistance: Fall of Man looks great, it doesn’t look great enough to justify the hassle of getting a PS3. That too can be fixed with time.

The third big problem with the PS3 is the price tag. Can that be fixed with time?

Some company named iSuppli thinks that the $600 60 GB PS3 costs Sony $840.35. It seems unlikely that Sony can lower the price any more, since they’ve already decided how much of a hit they can take on each PS3. The PS3 clocks in at $200 more than the high trim Xbox 360. Incidentally, analyst Michael Goodman estimates that “Blu-ray is adding $150 to $200 to the product.”

Ah, so there’s the price problem, Sony threw in an expensive Blu-Ray disc drive. It’s an attempt to make their horse, Blu-Ray, the next VHS and Microsoft’s horse, HD-DVD, the next Betamax (incidentally a Sony product). But because they’re so focused on the format battle, they might lose the whole war.

It wouldn’t be the first time that Sony’s corporate goals screwed its consumer electronics division. Up until the past 5 years, the first thing you thought of for portable audio was the Sony Walkman. What happened? Was Apple just that adept at making killer consumer electronics? Well, yeah, that’s part of it (see Zune). But Sony also refused to give consumers what they want – a hard drive MP3 player – because Sony Entertainment is dictating what Sony Electronics is allowed to produce. We’re seeing the downfall of the Walkman again, with the entertainment division dictating that Blu-Ray must be rammed down consumer’s throats and the Playstation team being hobbled by their business requirements.

The saddest part of it all is that the format war between Blu-Ray and HD-DVD is like a format war between horse carriage hitches in the 1930’s. The next big format isn’t either of those, it’s downloading! Hopefully either Sony will realize that and release a reasonably priced PS3.5 or exclusive titles like Resistance will get ported to a viable platform.