Monday, May 22, 2017

The Cost of Moderation

There are times I sit here wondering.

I am quiet, lost, alone.

The world has moved on, or maybe I was naive enough to think myself a part of it. Really, the perception was one of my own, I was an important and integral part of my own little world, one that I created that I had hoped people would enjoy being a part of.

Reflections of a simpler time, really. A roadside fruit stand in the age of Walmart. Those days where building it yourself mattered, where the small person could build a platform, and where the sheer mass of places like Facebook were not so much of the Internet in those days.

But I shouldn't take it so hard, these sorts of things fail every day.

We have rules, channels, visibility, what we can say and what we cannot these days. Freedom is not free, saying something does not guarantee anyone shall hear it, and the door is closing fast. I fear we are moving into a world of "the agreeable everyday" and worlds locked away because they may offend. What we can say and share shall be judged, hidden, and allowed into spaces based not on its merits or value to society, but because they cause the least trouble.

If I post something work-safe and agreeable to 90% of the world, that is by far easier and cheaper to moderate and filter than it is if I publish a work of erotic poetry. I feel the world in which we are moving into is not one where we are censored because of our ideas, but we are censored by the amount of backlash and negative feedback our words and ideas present to social media.

If someone complains and a customer service representative has to handle it, check the post, and moderate - I feel somehow that is a real cost. Multiply that by the millions and that is the difference between the red and the black for a quarter.

I feel it is cheaper to have the most agreeable content for the most people.

So is it right to say the ideas which challenge and upset the status quo are expensive? I am beginning to feel the content is not the problem, as the current state of society shall dictate what is agreeable and what is not. It is what causes the most outrage at the time. Given, some subjects shall always upset a group of people, like sex or nudity, so those exist in this permanent ghetto of expression.

And then I sit here wondering why violence is so agreeable to many. Why Hollywood gets away with hours-long computer effects movies full of violence between pixels and polygons, dehumanizing mostly, because there is no person there being hurt or an actor having to spit up fake blood. Movies that are less-interactive than video games, full of meaningless wow and eye-popping nothingness. Where legions of 'robots' or 'zombies' attack our 'heroes' because it is easier to have nation-less and race-less automatons be the bad guy.

I have seen them all before.

But then again, this is what 'agreeable' is nowadays. What can be posted on social media. What doesn't offend. Work safe and cheap to moderate since it is so mindless and pedestrian. One wonders if the fight for civil rights were to have happened today, would it have been swept under the carpet because it would have all been to costly to deal with. Too controversial. Too many people on each side fighting. The posts too hot, the flames too intense. This is taking up way too much customer service time.

If something challenges, even if it is a challenge to an unjust order, it is bad.

Because truly free speech causes people to be uncomfortable.

And the freedom of expression comes with a cost.


Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Safety Game

Imagine a world without fear or hatred.

It is difficult, given today's climate, as there are times when I fear we have become addicted to fear itself. We seek situations where all we do is fear, we respond to it so readily, and it feels like the most powerful force in our lives.

There are times I feel when we would rather live in fear and do something active to counter this feeling than we would living in a state of no fear at all.

After all, how certain could we be that we are 'doing something about it' if we lived in relative peace and security? So we put ourselves in danger just to rationalize that somehow our actions are controlling that element of risk and uncertainty.

Most likely? What we do has no cause or effect on what happens in the future, but I feel the net effect is we overall raise the level of fear for everybody so somehow we can come out ahead of others in this perverse 'safety game.'

It is like buying an alarm system for your house and feeling good when you hear someone else's house gets robbed.

The ideal situation? Nobody robs anybody and everybody feels safe and secure without having to resort to these behavioral and societal safety pins and deflection techniques.

It feels like we always have to have someone to blame, monsters under the bed, boogeymans, strange people in the neighborhood, the other people, the new gal or guy, people that are different than us, or a convenient scapegoat who we can prop up as an element of fear. And then like an opioid we pop into our mouths, when we don't get our fix of fear, we import sources of fear into our lives to get that hit.

It is that obsessive-compulsive behavior where we engage in self-destructive actions just so we can feel good when we do something to correct the situation.

And then we are back into the same-old same-old the next time we want that feeling of shame, purging, and salvation - like someone who drinks, feels bad about it, throws away all of their liquor, and then goes right back into the same old the next time.

And often they never realize how much hurt they are causing to others. But in this case, it isn't one person ruining their life, it is a world ruining everyone's lives.

And naturally, like fear addicts, with fear comes its nasty side-effect, hatred. You can't have one without the other. You see these hate-filled posts online and venomous words spread through the media and you sit here and wonder why. We come down off our high of fear and sink into the depths of hatred, and we need to get another fear dose going so we can dull the pain for a while.

And everyone plays right into the game, online news, things I see on the television, people spouting fear so they can generate hate, people using hate to sell you fear, and the entire world seems powered by the venom of this wicked byproduct of our times. You hear a loaded word slipped into conversation just to score a point or get a reaction, they really couldn't have meant that, right? Why did they just say that? And when confronted, they weasel back under cover and start the game all over again. To sew fear. To cause hatred.

I feel we are so numb to it the next level always must be reached, those peddling fear and hatred must amp up the dosage to get us to react next time.

There is no quiet, no settled matter, nor any notion of subtle and right. Cooperation and doing things for the better of us all are thrown in the trash because it would give ammunition to the other side.

Don't help them.

Fear them.

You know I'm on your side.

And at this moment, they try to sell you something because your defenses are down. Be it a narrative, an alarm system, pills, or anything else where money or power is traded to salve insecurity inflicted upon our psyches. It is one of the classic snake-oil salesman techniques, put on a global and also very personal scales.

I don't know where this is going, but I don't like it. We grow jaded and hardened to each other. Our empathy for each other dies under the weight of our insecurities. We seek to inflict damage rather than heal and come together. There is no greater good. There is only scoring points.

This the one thing which I truly fear.

Friday, May 5, 2017

ASUS Chromebook Flip C302CA

There is something about a difficult choice that makes me want to buy, you know? If I had only one choice, like only the Samsung Chromebook Plus, this would be simple: I would wait. I have been waiting, great Chromebooks have come and gone, but now there feels like some real race here between these two equally capable machines and my mind is asking that question: which one would be right for me?

Now, I get a lot of use out of my old Samsung Chromebook 2, and I love the 11.6" form factor. The screen is not great on this machine, and upgrading to a full HD screen would make writing a lot more enjoyable. Jumping to a 12.5" form factor would not be too hard for me in portability, and I am used to typing on smaller keyboards so the narrow-ish and tiny-backspace keyboard of the Chromebook Plus is something I could get used to.

So why the ASUS now? An excellent trackpad, Intel chip, and backlit keyboard are the number one features here. Sure, the tablet mode on the Samsung is superior, it has a stylus, the screen is a 4:3 2400 by 1600 beauty, and the brightness is 100 nits higher - but if I want something for writing my heart says go with the ASUS.

On the Samsung, a 4:3 screen would let me see more of a document vertically than a 16:9. The keyboard though, even though I am used to smaller keyboards, my speed on normal ones is very high. This is more like a better tablet replacement, while the ASUS feels like a better laptop replacement. Since I am happy with my Fire HD 10 and I don't want to buy a replacement for something I am happy with, I may go for the laptop replacement.

But the bigger issue, if either of these were out all by its lonesome, I feel my pressure to buy would not be as high. There is something about a good horse-race that gets me all excited.

Or I could keep going on with what I got for another year and same all the thought and money.

My current state of mind? Leaning towards the ASUS strongly.

I am a writer first.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

World Press Freedom Day

I don't mean to demean the true meaning of this day. To recognize those who lost their lives and freedom reporting the things we need to know in a free society. That is what this day means to me.

If you have been jailed for speaking the truth, or are afraid to speak or express your ideas because of threats or violence, this day is for you.

But then another part of me wonders about where we are. The reporters who are nothing more than mouthpieces for power, who are or were married into administrations past and present, and who openly act as agents for one political party of another to push "the message."

How can you be a 'free press' if you are beholden to power? The whole concept of 'press freedom' evaporates if you enslave yourself and your words to one side or the other, and then...are you really a journalist?

Press. Freedom?

I feel it goes both ways.

I come from a time where we held the ideal of objectivity and neutrality as sacred. If you reported 'the facts' your stock and trade on if people could trust you was that impartiality. Your reputation as a neutral observer of the facts mattered.


It feels more like a cheesy professional wrestling promotion than it does the news.

Prescripted story-lines. Talking points. Heels and baby-faces. The larger 'theme of the quarter' coming at us like promos for the next pay-per-view. Predictable outcomes. Fake fights. Journalists coming on shows and talking like it is a wrestling promo to push one side or the other.

It's not news.

It is news entertainment.

But I don't want to damn them all, because I feel the great majority of reporters do great work - often in unrecognized silence. What we see in our limited viewpoints and who is out there in the world differs a great deal. There are good people out there to whom the ideal of 'reporting the truth' still matters. They sit on the front-lines of forgotten wars every day. They dare to report what they see and what they feel, without feeling beholden to a grand scheme or political group.

And they go on writing, filming, taking pictures, and sharing what they see.

For our benefit.

To keep us informed.

Think about those people this day, outside our "one channel" political blinders. World citizens. People out there sharing a part of our world with us. Maybe they don't work for "your news channel" but they still do great work, providing a unique perspective or look into a part of the world you may have never considered before.

Press freedom is something which keeps us, as a people, free.

And this day is also one to say to those so deserving...

Thank you.

Monday, May 1, 2017

The Outrage Based Economy

Great ideas are inevitably polluted, and you can even say this about the no-so-great ideas too. Though the greatest ideas are the ones that survive the most tampering and interference.

From time to time, you will get a platform, a device, a movement, an idea, or any other 'next big thing' and you will see the potential of this thing catch people's imaginations and passions on fire. This could be a march for peace, a new social media platform, a new electronic device, a music festival, a meme, or any other 'hot topic' that everyone all of a sudden has to be a part of.

You have to be on there.

You have to share yourself with it or on it.

You have to make your voice heard about it, for or against.

You have to have one.

Whatever it is, it is the nature of being with it makes you a notch more important and relevant in the world in which we live. It is the nature of saying "I was there" and showing your peacock feathers to the not-haves or not-cool of the world.

For those of you that reject the notion of social media high-school popularity contests and taking a part in one, you can stop reading now. Go have a coffee and enjoy the rest of your day. But there are two groups of people who seem to be always in on these movements, new platforms, and 'hot social issues' who I always seem to notice.

One is the 'me too' crowd using the cause for their own promotion. I don't blame them, if the 'X whatever challenge' is popular on Youtube and you want to take part to raise some attention for your books or products, more power to you. You are taking part and then letting people know you are alive and out here doing something cool, and I really have no problem with that. You have to do what you have to do to get noticed.

There is another crowd that I wonder about, and this is the 'this is really about us' crowd. They are typically the ones who try and come in and hijack the movement, bring in a bus full of marchers or a crowd full of topic posters, and take over the message and make it all about them and not what the original idea was supposed to be about.

It is like a protest about saving the habitat for polar bears, and then several buses of 'anti-wind power' protesters show up and make the event about them and not the polar bears. I know, in today's world 'media coverage' for your cause is a precious commodity and raw natural resource, and if you know cameras are going to be there you are going to show up anyways and make this all about you.

We live in an outrage-based economy these days, after all.

Units of 'outrage' are produced by viral videos, marches, 'the Internet is angry about' click-bait, or any other source...

...and it is picked up by the media and spread...

...where more outrage units are created and distributed over social media channels.

So the 'this is really about us' movements and groups have an incentive to jump into this economy. Someway, somehow I feel 'units of outrage' can be monetized somehow, like click-bait micro-transaction ad pennies for each fake news story (on either side) clicked on, rinse and repeat.

And it is not just social movements that are affected by this 'this is really about us' thing, you see social media platforms creating cross-platform links trying to steal users attention and clicks away from each other. Youtube posts on Facebook versus Facebook Video, for one. Each service knows the other has a natural resource of users, clicks, and eyeballs, and they do their best to jump in on each other's bandwagon and make 'online video' all about one site or the other.

If a new e-reader comes out, other companies try to jump on and get their books on it, without going through the normal store method. If a new music player comes out, other music companies try to make it a part of their ecosystem, Amazon Music on an iPhone, for example.

Some of this is competition, and that is fine. Some of this is one company or another trying to steal users from the 'next big thing' and take over the platform for themselves. Everyone has a reason to jump on the public forum and shout the loudest, I know.

But in other cases, especially social movements, the original idea becomes polluted by too much 'this is really about us' and I feel the important message is lost.

There are those who jump on the bandwagon, and then I feel there are those who try to take the bandwagon over. And then there are those who make money from all of this and keep the outrage flowing along - but never providing a solution.

After all, if the problem were solved there wouldn't be any money in click-bait articles, would there?

But for me, the things I like to share and be involved in have a higher standard and ideal. Free speech. Human rights. Equality. The pursuit of happiness. Causes based upon the notion of the concept of 'universal human freedom' - so there you have it.

Now watch, once I put a term out there like 'universal human freedom' you could see someone with their own agenda come along, borrow the phrase for their own cause, and then push the admittedly pop-culture term while advancing their own agenda.

If we live in an outrage-based economy, after all, finding these vague, get-behind-able pop-culture terms and phrases is just a part of the marketing plan for what they really want to sell you.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Screen Fatigue and E-Book Sales

“For consumers travelling or on holiday having an additional ereader device to look after is awkward...”

Have we reached a point of device fatigue? I have seen a lot of reviews of the following device saying people are using it to replace their laptops, tablets, and e-readers with an all-in-one, like the Samsung Chromebook Plus:
This is also my current dream machine and I have this hope it replaces a Kindle Fire, e-reader, Windows machine, and Mac laptop. I would love to get down to two devices, phone plus laptop/tablet thingy. People say they are ditching every device and just sticking to a phone and a couple paperbacks - and I do not blame them. I tried the Windows Surface 3 thing, and while I do not doubt some do well with this, it has proven to be one of my nightmare devices:
Desktop dialog boxes sit behind the tablet mode interface, waiting for a reply and staying hidden forever. The keyboard and trackpad sometimes are not recognized. The machine asks me if I want to switch modes even though I have not disconnected the keyboard. Wireless problems requiring reinstalls of drivers and resets of the router. The keyboard itself feeling like typing on a sheet of cardboard. The inability to balance this on your lap or one leg. The SD card never staying mounted and having to always reinsert it to have the device pick it up. The slow SSD takes forever to run an update, and the list goes on and on. It feels like less of a tablet and more of a budget laptop with an optional keyboard accessory.

And they says 99-cent paperbacks are making a comeback, and I don't blame them. I still reach for physical books on a regular basis. I can take them anywhere and I don't have to worry about power, and they aren't really painful if they are lost or stolen. I can lend them to others. There is that tactful turning the page feeling that I grew up with, and I love the sensations - the smell of the ink, the feel of the paper, the sensation of weight, the bend of the spine, and the sound of turning a page.

I like e-readers and I like e-books. I like tablets. There is a huge convenience factor with e-books. A world of reading opens up to me, and I can sample so many new and varied writers it blows my mind. I can keep a library on my phone and I always have a library in my pocket.

But, I have device fatigue. My phone chirps at me for attention. My e-reader and tablet need charging and they are dependent on wall sockets like a junkie to a fix. Windows is a constant attention hog and I have to pretend I am a network security engineer to keep the thing safe while I am online, and stay abreast of security updates, hacks, and all sorts of intrusion news. My Mac is a little better, but it is an expensive beast that I worry about whenever it goes on the road with me.

And then I found this device a while back, a Samsung Chromebook 2:
Love at first sight. A replacement for my old EeePC in a 11" format, light, secure, cheap, and fast. Power that lasts nearly all day. The screen sucks but everything else is wonderful. A compact but nice keyboard and a trackpad that rivals my Mac. Built-in guest user access that I have no worries about. Strong and secure multi-user support. Cloud backup. Offline support and syncing when I get back online. No "admin" accounts. No drivers. No hassle.

Yes, there is that whole "Google sees what you do thing" and that bothers me a little. But what I do on this I do not worry, so I don't have an issue with that fact.

This goes everywhere I do. I did 20,000 words of Bolwarama out of 50K total on this while on vacation. No qualms about hotel WiFi, given my standard security practices with that type of access, and it does what I need it to do.

Browse the web and write books.

I still love this little laptop. There are some devices that when the discussion of "device fatigue" comes up I can put them in that category. I still love them and appreciate having them around, but, you know? You know that feeling that it is like "love but if...?" And then there are some devices when the subject of "device fatigue" comes up I will defend to the death. No freaking way I could live without that device. I would rather go without my iPhone than this laptop. Even though the screen sucks. Even though I need to lug around an extra charger. Even though it does not play Windows games. Even though it is an extra laptop, needs to be looked after, and secured when I leave the hotel room.

By all means I shouldn't be this much of a zealot, but I am just because the machine has never failed me or caused me heartache. It performs. I have less expectations for this than I do Windows or Mac, but what it does it does incredibly well. It is low distraction by design.

But my other devices? I could live without them if all I had was this. In fact, if I didn't have all these devices lying around I think I would get more out of one of them than I would a little out of five of them, each one begging for attention, each one requiring a slightly different skill set to use. I can see the point of the article above, people are tired of loading up on devices and switching between them. E-book sales are down because there is nothing really new in the world of e-readers, and like they suspect, that old-fashioned books have an inherent convenience factor and appeal to them.

And I feel that device fatigue. Most of my devices have not improved my life or made it any easier.

But one has.

In this world of insecure computing and constant worry, one device has won my loyalty and respect.

And now a new device, similar to the current champion, calls with its siren's song to me.

I can replace the rest of them.

This and a couple paperback books shoved in a travel bag? My phone in my purse?

I think I could live that life rather well.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017


Beware of redefinition.

"Freedom of speech means I should be free from being upset."

Wait. Hold up. Either you do not get the concept or you are twisting the meaning to further your aims. Neither of which are good.

I don't know where this, "freedom from being upset" right came from. When you think of it, it is good to get upset every once and a while. Suppose you learn your drinking water is toxic because your local government made this sweet deal with a lead refinery or something silly like that.

Now that "corporations are people too," the corporation is going to say, "we have a right from you upsetting us," and shut your concerns down. You are upsetting them, and upsetting all of the employees who work at the refinery, after all. The government may say "you are upsetting us by getting in the way of the tax money this refinery makes" and declare you don't have the right to say anything.

If you told your neighbors their water was toxic too, you would be upsetting them after all.

And you don't have the right to "upset anyone" anymore.

Even if it is for their own good.

After all, weren't you the one arguing for the right for yourself to never be "upset" by speech you did not agree with? Or was that only when you didn't agree with what someone else said and you just wanted to silence them? You never really thought this whole "freedom from being upset" thing would come back to bite you in the behind, did you?

History has proven these sorts of things never end well. It is ultimately a short-sighted cause to make you feel good in the moment, and then everyone forgets about this "new rule" and someone later comes along and exploits the hell out of things.

Being upset is the foundation for change. It is also the foundation of satire and comedy, so if you don't want anyone to be upset you are making the world a less joyous place to be in. Somebody or some thing has to be the butt of the joke, after all, fairly or unfairly. And anyone can redefine racism or sexism to include anything, so don't go there. If someone says something stupid, guess what? They are an intolerant, stupid person and leave it at that. Before this era we kinda knew there were crackpots and idiots in the world, and we did a pretty good job at ignoring them.

By trying to  silence them you are drawing people to them, and I feel many of these people support them just out of spite.

Ultimately I feel this is all about the feelings of losing control. We can't control the flow of free ideas, or even the expression of them, so we have to start shutting down everything we don't agree with, Faux outrage. Flash mobs. Angry tirades. Cause de jours. We seek to control the uncontrollable flow of free information by mob rule.

When the flow of free information is a good thing. It is a democratizing force. The truth holds an absolute power all its own. Free information frees us from oppression and ignorance, and yes, this even applies to the information we may not necessarily agree with.

Sometimes the truth is hard to accept. Here is one for you:

People can and will pass away.

Did that upset you? It does me. It is a normal thing, and yes, people are free to say it. I accept that. But you know, maybe, I don't have that right. Maybe I did a horrible thing there by upsetting you.

We should ban any mention of anyone dying in the media.

I can see it now, today, a famous person "left" the planet and as a result all performances were cancelled. We do not expect him or her to comment further. It is not know if or when this celebrity shall return. Not much more is known, please stay tuned. The artist's label and management is attacking online trolls spreading viscous rumors of what this chronic "removed from reality" condition means, because, well, you know, they don't want to be upset by the facts. Or lose profits.

We don't want to be upset at the certainty of our own mortality, after all. It's for the better. Less people are upset, and that is a good thing.

And then soon after, there would be mobs on both sides of this issue beating each other up over who has the right to silence who. I just feel there is this inverse rule out that that states:

"The more you try to please people, the less happy they are."