15 September 2015

Journey to a Static Site

For the longest time, I was enamored by the idea of having a dynamic site. Everything remotely dynamic on my site was powered by external services such as Disqus or Blogger. Despite that, I imagined I would eventually come up with some cool, dynamic content to put on my site and that I should pre-emptively fill that void if and when I would ever need it. To fill this imaginary need I ended up building my own PHP web framework, complete with its own (really terrible) database layer. I learned a lot while doing it so it was a worthwhile project and it even worked fairly well for a while. Eventually though, it became too large, and debatably too broken of a project to continue working on alone, especially with much better frameworks out there.

I still wanted to push for that dynamic site. My PHP framework wasn’t working out anymore and I didn’t feel like dealing with Wordpress or figuring out another framework, so I turned to Django. I rewrote my site (in under a quarter of ...

27 April 2015

Collecting in a Digital World

Let’s be honest. For the layman, there isn’t a real need to own media anymore. No matter what it is, the Internet makes it easy to find and easy to get no matter where or when you are. We’re lazy—someone else already did it and most of the time we’re willing to pay them instead of devoting our own time to finding everything we want. Despite that, some of us still choose to maintain our own collections. These media libraries often amount to dozens upon dozens of terabytes of media on an array of drives somewhere, that we stream with Plex or Emby or a similar solution. It eventually amounts to more media than one person is actually able to realistically consume. To add a little perspective, a collection in the low end of that consisting only of HD video would take over a year to watch in its entirety if played 24/7/365 with no breaks.

Looking generally at why humans collect anything digital or physical, collecting (not hoarding) is associated with positive emotions. There i...

30 March 2015

Human Interaction Through Analytics

With social media, we have more people to talk to than ever and more ways to talk to them. However, our bigger networks do not translate to more meaningful social interactions. Everything we share is carefully curated and censored to show only what we think makes us look our best to the network we’re sharing with, removing spontaneity and authenticity from how we interact.

As our interactions become less genuine, we feel increasingly lost in the crowd and we get lonely. We expand our friend lists and gather followers to make up for feeling lonely, but this doesn’t make up for the human element that we’re losing. No matter how many hashtags we add to our posts, how much we post ourselves all over our profiles and other people’s profiles, we still can’t achieve the genuineness of speaking in person and being heard that we as a species need.

To counter the feeling of not being heard, we seek out statistics that make us able to feel like we’re getting noticed. The fir...

08 February 2015

When to Bail and When to Sail

A couple years ago, I decided to learn PHP since I had a website and I felt that my knowledge of web development was lacking without it. I started off with a few simple PHP pages, and didn’t really intend to go much farther than that. I knew that creating my own web platform would be pretty futile, since as one person who didn’t really know anything about how frameworks worked under the hood, I likely couldn’t come up with something better on my own. The plan was to learn PHP, then switch over to something that was already an accepted solution. Always up for a challenge however, I kept going and a few pages written with a smattering of PHP evolved into an actual piece of software that did more than show a different greeting every time the page was loaded. I knew what I was doing, but I pushed on anyway because things were going pretty well - I had a simple blog, pages, a login system - and they worked fairly well. I kept thinking of ways to do it better so I improved as I went, a...

26 March 2014

To Update or Not to Update

With the official end of life for Windows XP quickly approaching and some people scrambling to migrate to a new system, it’s interesting to look at the reasons for and against pushing through an upgrade. Upgrading to a new version of an operating system or a different operating system entirely can be a lot of work with migrating files and settings over. This is especially the case with XP, since there is no direct upgrade path from XP (which is 13 years old) to Windows 7 or 8 - or Linux/Mac for some.

Since upgrading to a new operating system is generally more of an ordeal than updating individual applications, there’s those who consider hunkering down rather than moving on when end of life comes around. There are always reasons against it - it takes time to get everything on the new system set up, there may be a learning curve, it might be expensive. The issue is that while these are valid concerns, choosing to stay with an aging system that is out of support is dangerous...

06 January 2014

Tech Tasks to Start 2014

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Now that we’re on to the beginning of the first full week of the new year and we’re setting into 2014, it’s a good time to take a look at the technology status quo and see what adjustments can be made for a safe, secure, and productive new year online.

Change passwords. Although once a year is much less frequent than passwords should be changed, memorizing new passwords can be a pain. Once a year is better than never, especially when the same passwords have been around for a while. Take some time to come up with a good pattern for passwords that is easy to remember but difficult to guess then stick to it. Use a pattern that results in different passwords for each website without easily guessed information in it and has a mix of numbers, letters, and other symbols. Interestingly, though i...

04 December 2013

Stuck in the Monkeysphere

Humans are a social species, so as a species we don’t like being alone for long periods of time, and we like the attention of others. The Internet seems like a great thing with the rise of various social networks that let us share our interests and thoughts with people across the globe and allows us to gather a large social following of like-minded people. Given that, it would seem that the Internet should make us all happy as we expand our circles globally and to people we may have never met in person. Social networking is now the number one activity on the Internet (displacing porn, which was at the top for quite a while).

As we spend more time online with our virtual friends, we start to lose some of our ability to manage real-world social interactions to the point where picking up the phone or meeting someone in person makes some people incredibly nervous. Research is showing that as our relationships increasingly move to the Internet, our satisfaction in these relati...

23 September 2013

Biometric Badness

There’s nothing quite like the slick, high tech (when it works, at least) feeling of swiping your finger to unlock your devices. It’s fast, it’s convenient, and it feels futuristic, which explains why there are so many laptops that are capable of authenticating users via their fingerprints. Unfortunately, using fingerprints as a “more secure” login system should have been a short time fad. Although the technology continues to improve, it provides a false sense of security.

Why is this significant now? The technology has been embedded in laptops for some time - I have one too - but Apple is the first to put it on a phone which, if the past is any indication, will cause it to make its way into other phones as well. In terms of the implementation of it, from what I have read it sounds fairly sound. Fingerprint data is hashed (converted to an irreversible string of data that looks nothing like a fingerprint) and stored in a dedicated area on the iPhone. iOS has access to this...

20 August 2013

Bridging the Technology Gap

The world of computing has come a long way in the area of usability. It’s possible for anyone to pick up a device and find their way around it because of clean graphical user interfaces. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great thing that makes the Internet accessible to everyone no matter of age. The problem is that this is moving a large part of the population to the point where they are computer illiterate, with little to no understanding of how to fix or how to manage their own computers. As we collectively decide to delegate the duties of maintaining and building devices to the IT departments and engineers - who many think rather low of - we start to remove the understanding of how to manage an increasingly computerized world from policy makers.

As we move to more accessible computers, we start to introduce kids to technology at younger and younger ages, it’s easy to lead ourselves to believe that kids are getting increasingly computer literate. While we are giving kids acce...

18 July 2013

Augmented Reality and Privacy

Augmented reality uses a computer to overlay information on our view of the real world to enhance it by providing more information or entertainment or even ads. While it has been a feature of science fiction - in spacesuit helmets, targeting computers, and the like - for some time, it’s working its way into the real world. One of the first practical applications of it was Google Goggles, which uses the camera on an Android phone to search via images or bar codes and to overlay extra information on the view through the camera. This is something that gets more useful as the technology becomes wearable - as with Google Glass - and has some obvious uses, such as navigation.

The fact that in order to be useful, augmented reality technology requires a computer to be tracking in real-time what the user is doing while the technology is in use raises some concerns about privacy and security, both for the user themselves as well as for anyone around them. Some of these concerns cam...

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