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Innovation

Domain Squatting

Elizabeth History, Innovation August 27, 2021

 

You’re trying to get to a popular website run by a large soda company. You type in what you think is the URL on the bottle’s label, but you end up looking at a cat getting a single slice of American cheese thrown on its face, on loop. The sides of the website are plastered with ads, and as you go to close the tab, pop-ups begin covering the page. There’s no way the soda company would allow this, right? How did you get here?

Domain Squatters.

 

Typos

 

When you look at the URL bar, you realize you didn’t actually type in the correct URL – you typed in DeitCoke.com, a common typo. In anticipation of this event, someone bought DeitCoke.com and turned it into an ad nightmare so they could harvest ad revenue from typos. The first type of typo domain squatter is just looking for free ad revenue, and they abuse the system to get it.

The second type of typo squatter is only buying so they can convince the company they’re typo-ing off of to buy the typos, too. The Coca Cola company has no reason to buy DeitCoke.com until domain squatters give them a reason, by producing a site that could taint their image. They fill the typo pages with terrible content and wait for Diet Coke fans to show up and complain.

 

South32: Mining or Movie?

 

Typo-squatting has been an issue for years. For example, young adults may remember “South32” popping up when they mistyped an address, or when they were trying to look up a certain mining company that just also happened to be called South32. South32 was allegedly a movie production, and one of the main story writers bought an insane amount of URLs to ‘advertise it’. Like 18,000 URLS! Including the URL the mining company was intending to use and most of it’s variants. The main writer attempted to sell them the primary domain (South32.com) for a large amount of money, but instead of buying the .com, the company just bought the .net of their name instead and told them to get lost.

The goal was to get people misdirected to a “horror movie” promotional website (which was really just a page filled with disturbing images). Hopefully, the parent company would get enough complaints that they’d buy the domains out. South32 stands out because of the lengths the guy went to get these websites – some little low-budget movie did actually come out to legitimize the website ownership so the host wouldn’t pull the plug, even though the squatter never got to sell it. It’s apparently a pretty bad movie, even for low-budget standards.

 

Anticipating Demand

 

Sometimes, in cases like South32’s, domain squatters can just up and buy the full, correct name of the website they’re planning to hold for ransom, especially if it’s already weird or fanciful.

Retired Youtuber Jenna Marbles described running into this issue when she was just starting out. She’d gained several thousand followers nearly overnight, but she wasn’t yet in the market for a website. Someone bought the URL JennaMarbles.com and then reached out to her to attempt to sell it, however the price was wildly too high – even if she’d wanted to buy it, the squatter had over-priced it so badly she couldn’t afford it. And as said before, she didn’t want to buy it.

Jenna got off fairly easily; domain squatters got more aggressive as time went on. Websites with popular creator’s names were bought and filled with malicious ads, violent content, and suggestive videos that were wildly inappropriate for the content creators’ audience. By forcing the issue, domain squatters were hoping that they held creators hostage: “either buy this website or I’ll leave it filled with these ads. Your followers will think it was your idea.” This was more annoying than damaging. Many creators simply chose a different variant of their creator tag if they made a website at all.

A great many didn’t! Websites like Fanjoy sold merch, and social media worked better than websites did for spreading news about potential tours and meet-n-greets. Turns out, nobody really enjoys negotiating with scalpers, and they’ll do a lot to avoid giving that domain squatter the satisfaction of a purchase.

Many small businesses didn’t have that option in the early 2000s. If you’re running a small business off a site like Etsy, you may eventually plan to create your own site with the goodwill you’ve built off of Etsy. This happens a lot when these small businesses succeed! Unfortunately, domain squatters saw this trend, and began buying variations of that branding before the business owner got a chance to. There were few options besides hoping the domain host was accepting complaints, but if the business hadn’t actually copyrighted their name (like many microbusinesses didn’t) the whole thing used to turn into a legal gray area. The hosting site doesn’t want to get involved in any legal processes, and nobody’s set a precedent yet. A small business would have had to actually sue the other side to get any sort of recourse!

 

Legal Reasons

 

Eventually, enough people with the resources to sue came forward to call it what it was: copyright infringement. Deliberately catching all domains a company may use to sell them back to the company is copyright infringement. Creating websites based purely off of names in media exclusively to sell them back to their namesake is copyright infringement.

The US’s anti-cybersquatting act cut much of this malicious domain-purchasing down to nothing. Even better, the WIPO, or World Intellectual Property Organization, arbitrates for website hosting organizations all over the world, so even if the infringer isn’t in the same country, there’s some recourse. Squatters have next to no power, now!

They’d be forced to either use the phone or get out of the booth: if one company has legitimate copyright claim to the domain, and the squatter’s not actually using the domain for anything besides ads or scalping, the hosting company can cut them from it. It’s a good decision, really. In the same way people aren’t allowed to use “SrarBucks” to sell coffee in real life, domain squatters aren’t allowed to use “Srarbucks” unless they can prove that they were selling products in good faith and they’re not profiting off of customers misunderstanding.

Of course, people can still buy “StarbucksSucks.com”, or “StarbucksIsTheBest.com”, as long as they’re using it with fair use in mind and don’t intend to deceive consumers into believing their site is Starbucks’s official site.

 

Elsewhere

 

Cybersquatting on usernames was also a problem, especially with sites like Twitter, which the Act didn’t cover explicitly. All it takes is a picture of the celeb and a believable handle to steal their potential followers and taint brand image with vulgarities or strange posts. As a result, Twitter introduced their verification feature, partly because they were starting to get sucked into legal battles over copyright, partly because the site would be unusable if it kept happening. Cybersquatters can’t hide behind being obnoxious and claiming it’s ‘parody’ anymore. They also can’t sell the account for more than it’s worth to the impersonatee, either, since Twitter also agrees that’s scalping. Everyone comes out better.

Domain squatting is slowly being reduced to extreme typos and keysmashing, as it should be.

 

Sources:

https://web.archive.org/web/20070321115246/http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070312/ap_on_hi_te/un_cybersquatting_2

https://www.wipo.int/amc/en/domains/decisions/text/2017/d2017-0441.html

https://www.afr.com/technology/bhp-thwarted-by-web-squatters-20141209-123mh3

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt4544614/reviews

https://cyber.harvard.edu/property00/domain/legislation.html

 

A History of UFO-Spotting

Eyewitness Accounts and The News – 1940’s on

 

I’ll start when the modern day ‘flying saucer’ story started, although recordings of UFOs go back to BC times.

The first UFO to start the ‘flying saucer’ trope in America actually wasn’t a saucer – it was a squad of ships shaped like boomerangs that rotated like saucers. Newspaper telephone turned the banana-shaped ships into simple circles.

The person who saw them was a trusted, reliable pilot, so the story ended up in the news – the year was 1947, and although he was a private pilot, the job was difficult and garnered a lot of respect. He saw it with his own two eyes! There were very few instruments on board to help him define what he saw. The logical conclusion, therefore, is that the other crafts had something to block the extremely basic radar available at the time, leaving his eyes the only tools he had left. Who wouldn’t trust a hardworking, honest pilot? Especially after so much went into juicing up their public reputation during the second World War.

As time goes on, more pilots report strange phenomena upon landing, stuff they couldn’t have possibly recorded, otherworldly stuff. They had nothing but the equipment in their crafts to help them describe what they saw. Phantom ships that only the radar saw, visible ships that the radar didn’t, ships somewhere in the middle that were visible, but only briefly, strange glows, odd behavior in the clouds, the list goes on. They could record height and approximate location via a map and their travelling speed, but otherwise, they were completely and totally alone. Cameras could go up in planes, yes – but that wasn’t as simple as it is today, and seeing this stuff was rare. Nobody blamed cameramen for not catching anything when they went, and they couldn’t go up all the time on every plane.

Part of this is that print media itself was old and well-respected. It was one of very few ways to get news at the time. TVs weren’t quite everywhere, and radio wasn’t 24-7, but print news was cheap and accessible. Images were ‘trustworthy’, as many people didn’t grasp how easy photos were to manipulate, especially back then when rural folks could go their entire lives without touching a camera, or getting their own picture taken – a photo of a blur in the clouds when someone did happen to catch something strange was taken as fact. Rebukes were slow, and not as sensational. Aliens, as far as newspapers were concerned, were visiting Earth. Not everyone cared, and not everyone believed it, but this seeded an unshakeable belief in aliens in America.

 

The Blurry Photo Era – 1960’s to 1980’s

 

Once handheld devices were more available to people out in the sticks, bizarre, blurred images of things floating in the sky alongside blurred images of cryptids in forests began appearing. They were published to magazines, shared among groups, pictured on tabloid TV, and discussed publicly. Unlike before, though, these people worked all sorts of jobs, often less glamorous than pilots. The participants soon earned a reputation for being crackpots, crazy, or liars – after all, the best evidence they had was often barely better than an eyewitness statement. A blur.

It didn’t help that mental illness wasn’t really a ‘thing’ during this time period. Paranoia, schizophrenia, PTSD, etc. were all under the same umbrella of ‘insane’. People suffering from untreated illnesses were deliberately picked on alongside believers who were of sound mind to discredit all believers as ‘insane’. Even if someone did see something unexplainable, they’d be fighting uphill against the stigma set up by news sources. Eyewitness accounts become meaningless except to other people already looking for a reason to believe.

At the same time, professionals were also more connected to the public than ever, and so common phenomena that would have been UFOs (ball lightning, sun dogs, the green flash over the ocean during sunset, etc.) were now much more easily described and identified as natural, terrestrial stuff. Someone could come forward with a strange picture and get themselves shot down publicly.

However, many were also able to identify and picture real non-natural objects that they just didn’t understand. Weather balloons are much bigger than most people think they are, and the US is always trying to improve its arsenal with tech the other guys don’t have yet, so stories of mysterious super-sonic vehicles that appeared and disappeared in the blink of an eye aren’t necessarily lies. They just came at an inconvenient time for the militaries of the world, and aliens were easier to dismiss than manmade crafts were.

Clarifying that this was a real craft, therefore, was not going to happen. It was in everybody’s best interest to say that the witness said it was aliens. You wouldn’t want a cold war to turn hot over some amateur’s photos of your spy balloons, right? While TV watchers found them entertaining, it was more comfortable to assume witnesses saw whatever they saw wrong, even when they didn’t.

UFOs had more stories, but less credibility.

Mobile Phones (And Smartphones) 1990’s to 2006

 

Mobile phones capable of taking pictures started popping up in the late 90s and early 2000s, and with them, even more blurry, bad photos of cryptids and UFOs started appearing online – but they were less blurry than the previous generation, and the appearance of the internet meant that people who had experienced something otherworldly could share it alongside the photo without having to get onto TV or Radio. The sheer number of these stories lent them some credibility. Plus, their stories couldn’t be chopped up into something incomprehensible by someone else, like it sometimes was earlier. The story came straight from the horse’s mouth!

Smartphones made most of them disappear, however, during the transition from an offline world to an online one. I haven’t seen a ‘new’ photo of a UFO since 2006, not counting DoD videos and the like. Average, ordinary people can’t seem to snap pics of alien craft anymore. The quality of the camera is a big part of that! Suddenly, it didn’t make sense that images were blurry.

In the 90’s, cameras had a natural sort of fuzz to them unless it was professional equipment, and that fuzz made it easier to disguise altered photos. Edges could be blurry back then. They can’t be blurry now. It also no longer made sense that multiple eyewitnesses “Saw something in the sky” and none of them thought to take a picture while it was hovering. And now we don’t get any more half-blurry, half-filtered images of UFOs. Instead we get more eyewitness accounts and really well-photoshopped fakes.

Tech improves, and suddenly sightings are rare, but the ones we do get are much more believable, or come from trustworthy sources… like the military.

Modern era – 2007 – Now

 

And military tech is always improving. All this new tech to see things is actually often blinding. Hear hoofbeats? Think horse, right? Well… when the tech allows you such incredibly fine-tuned detail of the animal, it’s possible to confuse yourself with things you’d never have to worry about if you were just using your eyes to see that the animal is brown. Imagine being able to see the exact temperature and speed of a four legged animal, but not it’s color, because it’s too far away. You may even be able to see size… but horses come in all kinds of sizes, so if it’s the same size as the zebra, you still haven’t solved the mystery. You record it and avoid it like a smart person would, and when you get back, they’re trying to identify it with you.

The three videos released recently by the DoD, for example, could be a number of things, but they are UFOs until someone identifies them. But not all UFOs are equally unidentifiable, and many have simple, easy explanations. A duck can be a UFO. Another plane can be a UFO. A weather balloon can be a UFO. If you can’t identify the flying object with certainty, it’s an unidentified flying object. That’s it. The tech of today just allows pilots to see things from several kilometers away while moving at mach speed, so they’re able to pick up moving things they wouldn’t have been able to see before. Unfortunately, this often means that they’re seeing specks with heat signatures. The public then conflates an unidentified speck with a full-blown zebra, even though at the distance it was filmed at, it could have been a friendly dog.

 

Tic Tac

 

If the pilot is especially crafty, they may help the perception of the zebra along even if they don’t know either. The Tic Tac video and its story are some of the most contentious UFO ‘evidence’ available on the web today, and for good reason. The Tic Tac video and the two Tic Tac eyewitness accounts are all different from each other. One pilot only caught a glimpse of it, one says that the Tic Tac behaved aggressively for five or so minutes (and that keeps changing), and the video just shows a small white dot at a great distance moving in front of the ocean.

We can’t see color, we can’t see shape, we can’t see anything about it other than its relative speed and temp. It could just be a seabird. It could be a tiny personal craft, like a glider. We have no video of the thing actually darting around in the way the pilot describes later – ways that defy physics. Jerks in the video are due to the camera not being able to turn anymore, or the auto-lock simply losing the object, not the object itself ‘jerking’.

I’d like to trust the pilot, I really would – but which makes more sense? An otherwise ordinary man in a high-profile job lied to get some time in the spotlight, or an interstellar traveler came from space without being detected until it got onto the Navy’s turf, behaved in ways that broke the laws of physics as we know them in front of observers, and then disappeared, again, without being spotted?

 

We can only hear hoofbeats, and the pilot swears it’s a zebra with no evidence other than “trust me”.

 

Debunking

 

All of this tech is great, but it also enables lying by being specifically vague. People who really, really want to believe in aliens cherrypick relevant details out of these videos to get the conclusion they want. They then share this narrative that it must have been an alien because the information in the video that could argue against that is so critically important but so easy to ignore. Speed. Temp. How far the camera can rotate. Laymen don’t often have to look at readouts like this, so easy-to-miss details like the speed being relative instead of absolute sometimes drifts right by. Proving them wrong as a layman is nearly impossible because they’ve told the truth – just not all of it.

The most infuriating part of this is that the DoD would never release these videos if they didn’t know A) what they weren’t and B) whether or not they were a threat. They specify that the videos don’t reveal any sensitive data. The context of these videos is just as important as the content – you never see videos of UFOs threatening US pilots, because it would cause unrest if such videos ever made it to the public.

You never see videos of something clearly manmade and powerful but unidentified either, because releasing those videos would be as good as admitting that some other nation has a craft on par or superior to the US’s, and the US can’t have that. Maybe interstellar UFOs do exist – but if the Navy has seen them, that footage isn’t just out in the open. Regular boring old UFOs that are just unidentified flying stuff aren’t as exciting.

A Side Note

 

Tech reduces the reliance on interviewers. This is a good thing, because a poor interviewer can completely wreck a case or story before it’s even gotten off the ground. It’s well-documented that people, especially children, can misremember things if the interviewer isn’t careful. “What color of shirt was he wearing?” Vs. “And he was wearing a dark blue shirt, right?” Produce different responses. If the person doesn’t know for certain what shirt the suspect was wearing, they may misremember it as dark blue instead of simply saying they don’t remember or didn’t see.

Humans are social creatures – children especially will react to what they perceive as positive attention from a caring adult (the interviewer) by fibbing or subconsciously altering their story to get more of that positive attention. They may not even be aware that they’re doing it, and they’ll definitely remember it wrong after the fact. For this reason, you also shouldn’t conduct interviews in groups to avoid memory cross-contamination.

Conducting interviews like this, therefore, is undeniably bad for justice and truth. Look for it when watching documentaries on UFOs – do they interview in a group? Do they ask strangely-worded follow-up questions designed to get a certain, soundbiteable response? Does the interviewer lead the interviewee?

 

Sources: https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2014/06/the-man-who-introduced-the-world-to-flying-saucers/372732/

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/28/us/pentagon-ufo-videos.html

https://www.history.com/videos/uss-nimitz-tic-tac-ufo-declassified-video

Selfie Culture

Elizabeth History, humor, Innovation August 20, 2021

Pictures, for the sake of Memories

 

There’s nothing wrong with snapping pics at a concert, on a hike, or at the mall with friends. I firmly believe that there is nothing wrong with that. Pictures store memories. Scrolling back through your phone’s album or flipping through a physical one is meant to be a good time. Sure, nowadays the phone album often also contains pictures of dinner and three or four shots of the same thing, but the principle still stands. Used in moderation, phones and their picture-taking ability are not the enemy.

Selfie culture is.

 

Selfie Culture

 

‘Humans used to have to bow down to look at themselves in pools of water if they wanted to see their own face. There was symbolism in the act.’

– anonymous Tumblr User

Researchers say that selfies posted to social media can negatively impact self-esteem. At least, research show that quitting social media or purely lurking instead of posting your own pics is likely to make you more satisfied with your own appearance than you were when you were interacting.  Social media simultaneously boosts someone’s own self-perception while making them reliant on social media to deliver that boost – they become dependent on people telling them they look good, so their self-esteem is no longer internal.

That’s not all! Some part of taking a selfie turns other, more reasonable parts of the brain off. Ever throw away your keys instead of your empty drink cup? Or walk into a room, only to forget what you were going to do once you were there? The brain becomes so focused on getting all of the details of the picture right that it stops performing other tasks relating to awareness of one’s surroundings. The selfie is like that. The potential for the reward, those likes and positive compliments, removes worries about things like “context” and “imagery”.

Sometimes setting up the picture means losing the plot of why someone wanted to take that picture in the first place!

 

Filming a Concert

 

A video went viral on TikTok a month or two ago. A woman was filming a concert. That’s not too unusual – people like to keep records. Even if the quality is poor, they’ll presumably still like it for the memories it holds. What was unusual about this one was that she A) brought a portable USB ring light to the event (which is why her face is so brightly lit in that darkened bar) and B) was filming it using the front-facing camera so she could also capture herself dancing while she recorded. As @InfluencersInTheWild puts it, it’s a bad case of ‘Main Character Syndrome’, a condition in which people lose sight of what events are for.

Real life isn’t a movie – ‘Main Character Syndrome’ says it is, you just need to be filming for it to happen. Everyone else becomes a background character. Like this video here! There’s an entire crowd watching this performance, plus the performance itself, but she’s not willing to film it for her channel if she can’t also be in the spotlight, which is why she’s opted to watch it through her phone’s screen as she records, instead of live, a mere 80 degree turn to the left. She literally brought her own spotlight so she could do this.

 

Source: Influencers in the Wild

Visible here, via the link: https://www.tiktok.com/@influencersinthewild/video/6955627276885036293

There’s a lot to unpack here. As said before, there’s nothing wrong with filming a concert. Some people might even film it in reverse with themselves in the frame, which is weird to me but not creepy. This crossed into creepy territory. The fact that she brought her own lighting to film this event specifically in this manner says she’s premeditated all of it to look spontaneous and quirky, the same way an ordinary person taking a natural photo would be. Speaking of strange attempts to look natural…

 

Fake Mirror Shots

 

A strange trend where people, usually with an above-average amount of followers, have a picture taken of them with their phone in their hand. The idea is to simulate the mirror selfie, an artifact of a time before ‘second phones’ and millions of little phone stands for the purpose littered the market.

You can tell there’s no mirror in those photos by the lack of glare, any dust, and the incorrect angles of the camera to the ‘mirror’. Sometimes the framing is a clue too. Most mirrors have frames. If someone’s standing at a distance from a ‘mirror’ and there’s a lot of stuff around them but no hint of frame, it’s either a really big mirror or a fake mirror selfie. Even frames might sometimes be indoor windows. Or mirrors with the mirror part punched out.

You wouldn’t need to pose in a mirror if someone is with you to take the photo. That person could just take the photo in front of you, and you could pose freely without the phone in-hand. And yet, it sort of makes sense to fake the shot when you think about it. They want something that seems casual and carefree. Mirror selfies often are more casual than posed shots! The format also allows people to hold their phone directly in front of their face, and with how massive phones are, that means the subject doesn’t have to go overboard on makeup to take a picture of their outfit. Good photography’s pretty hard. Good posing is a chore. Mimicking a mirror selfie is paradoxically easier than taking a regular photo!

Still. The idea itself is funny. It’s like if an alien from a planet where mirrors weren’t a thing tried to blend in with humans online by having its bro take a picture of it with its communications multi-tool in its hand. A totally alien interpretation of the pictures. Something an AI would come up with.

 

Tragedy Selfies

 

I’ve written articles on how selfies can turn dangerous before. Some critical disconnect between the danger present and the reward to be gotten for it leads people to dangerous stunts that they’d never dare without the camera, and sometimes they die as a result of those stunts.

Tragedies after the fact also end up in front of the camera due to that same disconnect. Bad car accidents. Municipal failures. Buildings literally on fire. All of these are things you’d normally take pictures of. However, you’d never turn the camera around and take a photo of yourself in front of these things, right? You’d never make someone else’s unrelated car accident about yourself? In a time where cameras weren’t everywhere, there was still such a thing as “a bad time to take a photo”, but now that cameras are everywhere, the odds that “bad timing” and “has a camera ready” sync up are much higher.

A hotel in Dubai caught fire, and a couple posed for a picture with it in the background. Instead of looking at the fire or taking a picture of the fire itself, the couple used it as a backdrop. I’m not suggesting they stop and help with the fire – that would be stupid and impossible. I’m suggesting maybe taking a picture and posting it without themselves in it, if they felt they had to document it. Nothing wrong with taking a picture of the incident – everything wrong with using it as a prop. Especially with two people smiling in front of it. Many of the people online agreed the picture was gauche, but it’s scary that in the moment they stopped, took the picture, and posted it, all without thinking that it might be gauche themselves.


Environmental Selfies

California’s massive poppy fields are certainly picture worthy. Unfortunately, for some, documenting nature means destroying it. A superbloom of all sorts of wildflowers a couple of years ago attracted thousands of people to an otherwise unremarkable town in California, Lake Elsinore. Superblooms only happen about once every ten years, because they require steady rainfall and good temps to achieve. Most visitors do their best to stay on the trail and respect the flowers… many more do not, and end up stepping on them to get their photos before leaving.

Brief moments of self-awareness riddle interviews in an article about the fields, sudden realizations that they’re stepping on the less-pretty flowers to get to the pretty ones near the middle, thereby making those ones less pretty too. Official trails are criss-crossed by unofficial ones. Realizations that come too late or too quietly for them to take heed and pay for an entry ticket or stay on the path – some even complain about ‘poppy activists’ telling them not to damage the flowers. The same flowers they’re allegedly celebrating in these pictures. The same flowers allowing them the photos in the first place.

Many think their single photo op isn’t going to tip the scales. It likely won’t, in all honesty. The issue is that most people think like that. They assume someone else is looking out for the poppy fields, that the next person won’t walk down the same path they took and sit on the same crushed flowers they did to take an identical photo with themselves as the subject, showcasing the beauty of nature. Irony.

This isn’t new or exclusive to selfies. Early explorers thought the Dodo bird couldn’t go extinct because their God wouldn’t allow it. “Why, they argued, would an all-powerful God doom some of his valuable creations to such a fate?” (BBC.com). It boils down to the same argument as the poppy fields: ‘someone else with more power is looking after these specimens and will protect them from my impulses’. Nature is powerful. Park management can prevent a lot. But humans have hands and cameras.

 

Be-All End-All Selfie Culture

 

We understand how turning tragedy, the environment, and other people into background props is ultimately a bad thing for empathy, because narcissists do it all the time. There’s a vital disconnect in bits of a narcissist’s brain that prevent them from feeling empathy the way they should, so everything that goes wrong or right for their circle of people is always framed around themselves. When a narcissist goes to get help and tries to practice empathy, they often have to do it intellectually, by force, because what comes naturally to others doesn’t for them, even if they understand that it’s causing rifts in their relationships.

However, manufactured narcissism is great for social media. Social media encourages the exact opposite of treatment, tells people that it is all about you, which is only true because social media makes it that way. Social media is all about the individual. “Oh, this building is on fire? Great selfie opportunity”. “Surely my picture of the poppy fields won’t hurt. It’s just one more.” “Ooh, a concert. I should bring a bright light with me into this intentionally darkened room so my livestream followers will still be able to see my face.” The subtext for all of these is that the selfie-taker views themselves more important than the ‘background props’.  Social media in small doses is entertaining! In large doses, it’s bad for you.

 

Sources:

https://www.wsj.com/articles/california-superbloom-means-hills-are-alive-with-the-sound-of-tourists-trampling-flowers-11553447888

http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20160408-how-humanity-first-killed-the-dodo-then-lost-it-as-well

https://cyberpsychology.eu/article/view/10788/9699

https://www.refinery29.com/en-us/2021/03/10368330/fake-mirror-selfie-photos-influencers-tiktok

https://metro.co.uk/2016/01/01/couple-pose-for-most-inappropriate-selfie-ever-in-front-of-dubai-skyscraper-fire-5595649/

https://www.tiktok.com/@influencersinthewild/video/6955627276885036293

 

General Remastering

Remastering just means changing the original quality of the master copy of a piece of media, and you can remaster nearly anything – even if it’s already high-quality. A CD-quality movie can be remastered up into Blu-Ray. Songs from 2007 can be remastered to up the quality in 2020.  Vinyls and VHSs can be remastered into MP3s.

Here’s a general overview of what remastering means!

 

Bad Remasters

 

The end goal of a remastering, restoration, or any other sort of improvement is to keep the art to the artist’s original vision. This means that you could remaster “Yesterday” to sound as clear as it did when McCarthy played it onstage, but removing the claps and cheering in “Bennie and the Jets” would be going against Elton John’s vision when creating the song. At that point, it’s a remix, not a remaster.

Arguments persist over how to best remaster old vinyl and tape media to current kinds, but one thread of argument has existed for decades now: when companies make things louder but more compressed, are they honoring the wishes of the artist? Or are they trying to make it sound ‘better’ for the new format? In that case, is it truly an accurate remaster? The fight goes on. I personally agree that mixing like the original is as big a part of the song as any of the instruments are. You can argue that Black Sabbath would have used more powerful bass if it existed at the time, but that’s not how remastering works. Again – that’s a remix, not recreation. It is not the remasterer’s job to remix.

 

Missing

 

However, sometimes the original media is missing parts – that wasn’t the artist’s vision either. Maybe the original vinyl cracked, or the grooves have been worn in. Tapes yellow over time, too. Old art in particular is sometimes missing pieces due to environmental wear and paint degradation. See BaumGartner Restoration’s approach. The goal is to replace the art exactly as it was before the degradation happened, while also making it possible for future restoration artists to remove his work and replace it with their own if new information about that picture comes out. Maybe the artist of a portrait of a Labrador always painted dogs with five toes instead of four – if someone finds a letter with that info after he’s replaced the dog’s foot, they can re-paint the dog’s foot to match this new information. He hasn’t ruined the original.

Bad remastery doesn’t have to be as extreme as ‘Potato Jesus’. See ‘The Lamb of God’ from the Ghent Altarpiece where the lamb is still expertly painted, but it’s not the same lamb. The artist envisioned the lamb as strangely humanoid, so the first artist – in their painting over it with an arguably more attractive lamb – is going against the original artist’s wishes. It’s a remix, not a remaster.

 

Source: ArtNews.com

 

Digital Remaster: Disney Movies

 

Digital remastering is one of the most common types today, but it wasn’t widely done because it was A) expensive and B) took a long time. Uploading every individual frame of a movie at the right definition to make it Blu Ray quality eats up 12 terabytes on average before the editor even touches it. That is a lot of data. Automatic filters can reduce the appearance of fuzz, but they can also destroy fine detail and blur the image in a different way. Instead, AI software takes individual frames to remove specks of dust and scratches from said film without requiring that editor to go over every. Single. Frame by hand. Unfortunately, it’s not quite perfect, and human hands are needed to keep particular sparkles and fine lines from disappearing during the AI’s processing. Even with a human touch, it’s often not enough to maintain the original details.

Many of the complaints about Disney remasters are that the lines are blurry. Disney’s Cinderella is especially bad. Her dress is less flowy. Her fingers often lose their gaps when her hands are together. The magic of the fairy godmother is reduced to a handful of sparks instead of a shower of them. Objectively, it’s a clearer image than the film was, but it sucks some of the character out of the characters, the backgrounds, the setpieces, fur, hair, fabric… the list goes on. Demilked has a great list of side-by-side comparisons on this phenomenon.

 

Black and White vs. Color

 

Unfortunately, for movies that weren’t stored by a gigantic mega-corporation, cracked, warped, and aged film sometimes makes remastering difficult. A number of movies are simply lost to time because the master was stored improperly and started to age beyond salvage. On the other hand, the earliest color films struggle with multiple tapes aging in different ways. Early moviemakers filmed a scene with four colors of film to get the full rainbow of color. Those films are the master, and those films quadruple the information the computer has to compile and scan. It’s a double-edged sword. Flaws in one strip can be fixed using information from the others, but now there are four opportunities for something to go wrong instead of just the one.

 

Recolorings

 

Shirley Temple’s recolorings are probably some of the best known – at least to my generation. Advertisements for the old movies, now in color! played across dozens of channels aimed at kids and tweens. I still remember the first couple of lines to “Animal Crackers”. Of course, grainy black-and-white movies are a totally different beast than grainy color ones. You can filter a color image to make it more colorful, or suck color out completely. Putting colors back in isn’t nearly as simple! Just like every other kind of movie, black-and-whites to be recolored are scanned in, and (in today’s tech) an AI is told to color certain objects. Just like ordinary remastery, sometimes this fails. In the earliest days, editors would recolor every object in the movie frame by agonizing frame. Ever wonder why only the biggest classics get the recolor/remaster treatment? This is why.

 

TidBit

 

As an interesting side note, the actual set for a black-and-white movie may be hideous. The actor could be put in a dark orange suit to his co-actor’s gray one, because it’s not just about how the suit looks in black and white, it’s also how it looks in contrast to other items on-stage and how the light catches it. Pure black is almost never actually black – a very dark blue often caught the light better to simulate black on-screen.

Additionally, colored lights could be used to create effects with stage makeup. Red makeup is invisible under red light, but very dark under blue light, and vice versa. By using two alternating shades of paint, they could simulate a face changing from one to another. Heck, even with only one, they could create the effect of the actor withering away by painting his cheeks and undereyes blue and then gradually changing the stage lighting from blue or green to red! The applications of color in a black-and-white movie are endless!

The remaster rewrites all of this into colors and shades pleasing to the eye, and nobody is the wiser. Except the people who worked on it originally.

 

Sources:

https://www.demilked.com/disney-ruins-cinderella-blu-ray-resoration/

https://entertainment.howstuffworks.com/remaster-cds-dvds.htm#pt3

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/click_online/7525143.stm

https://news.artnet.com/art-world/ghent-altarpiece-lamb-1898463

https://gizmodo.com/when-movie-remastering-goes-too-far-5583645

 

 

 

Small Sites Vs. A Big Internet

Art projects

 

Some little art project websites deliberately avoid indexing their page, so it’s well-hidden from traffic. Web development classes, modern art classes, and all sorts of other classes will ask students to make something online. They don’t necessarily want those websites getting shared outside of the class. Keeping a page un-indexed makes it much harder to stumble upon, but it’s not a perfect cure – people with the direct link can still post it elsewhere. If they retain it after they leave the class, and remember how cool it was, and then it ends up on Reddit… suddenly it’s a curse, especially if identifying information like names are left on-site.

Websites made as a joke in the first place can turn into a curse too! Youtuber Drew Gooden’s “Hot Dog” website was made as part of an advertising campaign for Wix, but it’s unclear if he actually wants to maintain it. It’s still in his ownership today. This is a unique problem to have! It may cause him more issues to close the site, now that it’s address has been immortalized in videos. Besides, they’ve come to expect the website to function, they’ve bookmarked it, and they’re demanding that their entertainer dance.

 

Real Retail Hours

 

Tiny DIY shopping websites sometimes get cratered by that same ‘hug of death’, especially if they accidentally go ‘viral’. Look at TikTok advertisers for example: anyone can post, and because of the app’s algorithm, it’s possible for a creator with no followers to suddenly end up with 100,000+ views on a particularly entertaining video. No ad dollars were spent, the creator was just super funny that day and it spread. This is great! Until their traffic jumps from an expected 500/day to 20,000/day, because their product has gotten much more reach than they could have prepared for. Sellouts are inevitable, frustrated users are also inevitable.

In fact, a broken or slow website will even push away people who did get to make a purchase. Unpleasant shopping experiences steer consumers away from online retailers at a horrifying rate! The same goes for lag – mobile users are unwilling to wait for an item they don’t really want, or don’t really need from that specific store. I could get a hat anywhere, for instance – why should I wait five seconds to get through to a store on mobile when I could go ding a different store? Obviously it’s not that simple, but big websites have resources that little ones don’t, and the especially wishy-washy buyers will be put off by the difference in experiences.

There are ways to handle this, but unfortunately many businesses don’t have the chance to prepare.

 

Welcome, But…

 

And then there are websites that are really hoping for growth, and it suddenly happens. It’s rare to have a site blow up overnight – most repeat visits are the result of hard work and consistent effort to capture the visitor’s attention. Unfortunately, in this era of social media, it’s very easy to accidentally blow a website out of the water. Yay, Growth! Turns into Oh No, They Aren’t Stopping. The server for the website crashes, and a lot of potential viewers are shut out from it. If the website’s lucky, the interested folks will bookmark the page and come back, so they’ve got a better distribution the second time around.

Some websites go offline a few hours after Reddit’s discovered them, to recover. The ‘hug of death’ is a well-known phenomenon – nobody’s DDoSing the website on purpose!

 

Lonesome Town

 

Single-person websites are often hoping to not be discovered by somewhere huge. Think about it: if they haven’t paid for advertising, if they don’t get revenue from hosting ads, if they don’t sell anything on their site, then they don’t make money from page views. They’re probably not looking for a giant spike in page views out of nowhere, with some exceptions like ‘public service’ projects made by civilians, or ARGs.  

 Tiny websites and tiny forums alike struggle to handle being “discovered” on websites like Reddit, Digg, or Youtube. Famously, a Buffy the Vampire superfan’s website (which I’m deliberately not linking here) was crashed by new visitors after forums made it a spectacle. Sure, the superfan posted a lot – as is their right. The information they posted helped other fans find information about meetups and appearances by the actors. The flood of people showing up on other social media to comment on and harass the single poster was unfortunate, and it could have been avoided if people hadn’t dogpiled. Even deeper, maybe people wouldn’t have dogpiled if the website hadn’t shown up on blogs. The sole commentator, maintainer, and moderator made the website private after people showed up to screw around.

 

Similarly, small sites get flooded when a big site ‘discovers’ them, and then suffer from community collapse and site breakdown. A forum with 200 or so regular posters isn’t going to be able to moderate new conversations from other, bigger sites – and even worse, newcomers who might have been interested in the topic get the idea that the website’s a total dumpster fire when it’s just understaffed. These sites want traffic, yeah, but they want the right kind of traffic. Well-intentioned traffic. On-topic traffic. If a community behaves itself, there’s no reason to have a team of 20 moderators. People showing up to flame the forum are going to stretch resources thin.

Don’t go spread news about some wacky website on big forums without knowing the site first. The consequences may be greater than you could imagine!  

 

Sources:

https://queue-it.com/blog/how-high-online-traffic-can-crash-your-website/

https://www.siteuptime.com/blog/2019/09/26/the-top-8-reasons-behind-a-website-crash/

https://www.inmotionhosting.com/blog/my-website-crashed-now-what/

How do RFID chips work?

Definitions

 

RFID stands for Radio Frequency Identification, and it’s usually used in the context of a chip! There are active and passive types: an active RFID chip has a tiny battery with it, while a passive one is powered by the energy of the reader’s signals alone. Active chips can be read from much greater distances, but the battery makes them heavier and more expensive. Meanwhile passive chips have to be blasted with the RFID signal to be read.

 

How do they work?

 

RFID chips are great because they’re small, and they don’t take line-of-sight to read like many other cataloguing techs do.

There are three major parts to an RFID chip: the microchip, an antenna for receiving and broadcasting signals, and substrate to hold it together. RFIDs work with radio waves, a form of electromagnetic radiation. They actually got their start during the end of WWII, where a Soviet engineer created a passive listening device activated by radio waves, which would then store a small amount of information about the transmission. It wasn’t really the same as what we use in security tags and inventory systems today, but it was a tiny passive chip with information stored on it passively, and that’s close enough! 1973 saw a real attempt at the kind we have today, and ever since, they’ve been shrinking in size.

RFID chips can also come with read-only or read/write memory, depending on the style of that chip. Essentially, it has a very small amount of memory on it, just enough to store things like batch number, serial number, or address, in the case of pet tags. They’re not very complex: in the case of an active tag, the reader simply dings the RFID chip, which then responds on a compatible wavelength with the relevant information via that antenna.

Some chips broadcast constantly, while others broadcast on a regular interval, and some wait for the RFID reader to ding them before they send their data. In a passive chip, the RFID reader has to ding the chip so hard that it absorbs enough EM radiation to respond – energy hits the antenna, travels to the chip, and powers it enough to activate the antenna for signalling, which then causes the chip’s signal to travel back up the antenna and transmit to the reader. Neat!

 

Utility

 

An RFID chip’s low profile and small size makes them great for inventory management. Since the chip doesn’t need line-of-sight like barcode scanners do, production doesn’t have to worry about maintaining a certain orientation towards cameras for their items, they can just pass them over an RFID scanner and they’re good to go. Radio waves can pass through solid objects!

The RFID chips are also good at tracking inventory while in the store: you’ll notice many big box stores have an exit with detectors alongside the doors, which prevents unscanned or active chips from getting out the door. It also sometimes triggers on nametags and items the cashier had to scan in the cart, but most of the time it works as intended.

RFID chips are great for livestock and pet chipping – they’re small, and not only are they less painful than a tattoo, the data is also unlikely to migrate or blur like ink could in a pet’s ear. The initial wound is also smaller, which makes infection less likely. That doesn’t mean they’re perfect, but they carry a lot more information for less relative risk to the animal.

On the human side, RFID chips are frequently used in employee identification badges – the theory is that it’s harder to copy and easier to read than a barcode scanner for restricted areas. Some people go so far as to get them implanted, but the ethics of that are… iffy, to say the least, even if they want the implant. The long-term effects in humans just aren’t that well-known, and while pets are a good indicator that nothing should go wrong, pets also don’t have to worry about getting their phone hacked because their pet tag carried a virus along.

RFID chips are now popular in credit cards! The chip in the card is (in theory) safer than the regular magnetic stripe, and it’s supposed to be much harder to copy. Of course, early versions still had their issues, but now they’re difficult to signal from a distance.

 

Flaws

 

RFID chips aren’t free from flaws.

Security can be a problem, especially for active chips, which can be read from hundreds of meters away. Most vendors have some sort of protocol in place, but for a hot minute, RFIDs in cards were a potential security nightmare. Remember all those anti-RFID chip wallets? That’s because readers were able to access the chip as though they were being used for a purchase. It just wasn’t very safe before protocols were established.

Secondarily, a bunch of folks went out of their way to prove that the more complex RFIDs could become transmission sites for computer viruses – one guy had one implanted in his hand, and if the virus could infect that hand, then the virus could get anywhere he could wirelessly. The perfect crime! Airgapped networks were no longer safe if RFIDs were on the table.

Incompatible readers can make inventory transfers more painful than they need to be, as well – the ISO sets standards for which channels get to be used for what purposes, but the companies have to comply with them first. They also have to have the right kind of reader – is it scanning for active or passive chips? The two have very different needs. An active reader might not be able to find a passive chip!

There’s also the sticky issue of privacy and destruction. How do you get rid of the tag on the product once it’s no longer needed for inventory? RFIDs can be destroyed by microwaves, but that doesn’t help if they’re attached to an electronic, which can also be destroyed by microwaves. They can be wrapped in foil a couple of times, and stop transmitting long distances – on some objects, that makes them unusable. It takes special equipment and some professional skill to actually scan a building for RFIDs, but it’s not totally impossible.

 

It just takes work, the kind of work a stalker or government agent might be willing to put in if they needed info on a person so badly that they’d want to see what items they had in their house. This is also more difficult than it sounds because most chips go by something vaguely specific, like a batch or serial number with no product name attached, but it’s not impossible. It would just take quite a lot of effort when stalking via binoculars is much easier.

It’s also still possible to clone RFIDs – passports with RFIDs in them could be an especially large problem for both the original holder and the government of that country. The obvious option, credit cards, are still cloneable too, although with modern banking it’s often not worth the investment for the scammers.

However. With tech improving every day, it may be possible to limit what chips respond to which scanners, which would make it much more difficult to invade privacy. Chips get smaller and smaller every day, so it’s entirely possible a password- or signal- protected RFID may some day come into power.

 

Sources:

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/224328848_Impacts_of_RF_radiation_on_the_human_body_in_a_passive_RFID_environment

https://www.atlasrfidstore.com/rfid-insider/active-rfid-vs-passive-rfid

https://electronics.howstuffworks.com/gadgets/high-tech-gadgets/rfid.htm

https://www.creditkarma.com/credit-cards/i/how-emv-credit-card-chip-works

https://www.reuters.com/article/factcheck-coronavirus-vaccine/fact-check-magnet-test-does-not-prove-covid-19-jabs-contain-metal-or-a-microchip-idUSL2N2N41KA

https://www.reuters.com/article/uk-factcheck-vaccine-microchip-gates-ma/fact-check-rfid-microchips-will-not-be-injected-with-the-covid-19-vaccine-altered-video-features-bill-and-melinda-gates-and-jack-ma-idUSKBN28E286

 

Different Kinds of Screens

Elizabeth History, Innovation July 14, 2021

There are many different screens. From gigantic vacuum-tube TVs to the flattest of the flat home theater displays, TVs come in all shapes and sizes. Here’s a brief history of the popular ones.

 

LCD: Liquid Crystal Display – Big Screen, Little Equipment

 

LCDs, or liquid crystal displays, are what they sound like: liquid crystals are manipulated with an electric current, using a panel behind the crystal panel. Then, an LED panel behind that lights it up so the colors are visible. LCD displays don’t handle heat well, and they’re fragile. You can’t put them next to or above a fireplace, and you can’t clean them with regular cleaners without checking with the TV manufacturer first. You especially can’t drop them. Videos of people running into their TVs with an AR headset on or throwing a Wii remote into the TV during a virtual bowling game demonstrate the spiderweb effect even minor impacts can cause on-screen.

But the screens are getting massive. A more delicate device is a tradeoff many people are fine with making, if the trend of larger, sleeker smartphones is any indication. For example, this projection screen TV (below) is probably the closest someone in the 1980’s could get to the modern flat screen TV. It’s 50 inches, and adjusted for inflation to today, it costed about $3,100’s worth of 1980’s money.

 

 

An 82 inch TV from LG currently costs about $1,500 on Amazon. Technology!

 

LED: Light-Emitting Diodes

 

Fremont Street in our local Las Vegas is currently the largest LED display in the world, according to both their own site and Wikipedia. LED displays are a common choice for external signs. They’re cheap and easy to manage outdoors, so they’re a great choice for light-up billboards – here in Las Vegas, most casinos have one outside for their advertising. However, since the individual components making up each ‘pixel’ or each little square of colors are pretty large, they’re not usually the first choice for indoor, TV electronics – the gaps between each diode cluster are big enough to be visible, and they put out a lot of light.

OLEDs are becoming more popular as a screen choice because the gaps are eliminated, but if an image is going to be displayed on it long term, they can be prone to ‘burn in’ – where the image becomes permanently etched into the screen. As a result, LCD displays are more popular in cases like digital menus and airport queues.

LEDs don’t have many weaknesses that aren’t also shared by LCD screens – the major one is that screen burning, but for big displays like the Casino signs, that’s not an issue. Panels going out and creating wrong-colored squares in the middle of the board are, but sometimes that’s a wiring thing, not a screen thing.

 

Plasma Screen

 

A plasma screen TV works by exciting little pockets of ionized gas to create plasma, which makes colors. These were all the rage for a while, but they’re also sensitive to heat – and when LCDs caught up price-wise, they were cheaper to make and easier to dispose of, so plasma screens dipped in popularity. They’re still high-definition, they’re still sold in stores, so nowadays it comes down to a matter of preference, not price or size.

Rear Projection TV: Big Screen, Big Equipment

 

These screens were huge, and the speakers were built in to face the viewer at the bottom of the screen. Rear projection TVs were the intermediate step between CRTs and LCDs, and they worked by beaming light from the source of choice to the screen using a system of lenses, magnifying the image. CRTs had reached their max size, but LCD panels weren’t anywhere near large enough by themselves yet – the rear projection TV smoothed the transition between the two while also providing a larger screen than previous TVs. The one I grew up with was gigantic, even at the time we had it. Scratches in the fabric covering the speaker area were the only worry. The TV itself was nigh indestructible, and impossible to knock over without concerted effort – the thing was a cube.

Over time, the screen we had became outdated. It didn’t have enough ports for all the adaptors it would have taken to keep it in line with new plugins – VCRs and DVRs had different requirements, and so did the Xbox and the Xbox 360. Eventually a smaller (but much thinner) screen won out – everything could just be directly plugged into the TV instead of screwing with the jack hydra the rear-projection required. The price of progress.

 

CRTs and Degaussing

 

With the development of iron ships, navigators discovered a problem – large quantities of iron could mess with the compass, and other tools relying on the Earth’s magnetic poles to function. Even worse, with WWII on the horizon, the magnetic signature of the ship meant that weapons could be designed around it – underwater mines, specifically, were geared to detect the field and then go off. Degaussing was invented! De-magnetizing the ship meant mines could no longer rely on it as a trigger.

Cathode Ray Tubes displays (or CRT displays for short) are easily disturbed by magnets. The colors turn funny shades when you hold a magnet too close. The same technology used to protect ships was then used to degauss the CRT display and return it to its former full color glory! Eventually, degaussing coils were included within the device, which causes that “Thunk” and then hum when the screen is flipped on. It resets every time the device is turned on, which keeps the image from gradually degrading if it’s kept near other devices with magnetic fields as well.

That doesn’t mean CRTs are immune to breakage: flicking the switch on and off repeatedly and too quickly may break the mechanism that does the degaussing, and you’re back to using an external degausser. There’s also breaking the screen, but any old screen could do that. Glass does seem to be a little tougher than modern LCD screens, though.

Tiny Screen, Big Equipment

 

The first TVs were incredible! The screen was tiny, but the equipment was huge, and frequently disguised as part of an entertainment center, so it’d blend in better. These were also CRT displays, but technology at the time didn’t let them display more than black, white, and grays. They were also limited by their size, and at the very beginning they were usually between 12 and 24 inches. An interesting artifact of this time is how differently sets were composed color-wise.

Color saturation was the key component to how something appeared in black and white, so if they wanted it to be clear that the lead was wearing a different color than their co-host, they needed to change how intense the colors were, not the colors themselves. An actor would be put in a light gray suit to stand out against another actor in a dark blue one. This also meant that the colors didn’t have to go well together!

 

Sources: https://www.doncio.navy.mil/Chips/ArticleDetails.aspx?ID=3031

https://computer.howstuffworks.com/monitor5.htm

http://www.thepeoplehistory.com/80selectrical.html

https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/worlds-largest-single-video-screen-illuminates-fremont-street-experience-with-fully-immersive-content-301017215.html

https://www.pcmag.com/news/led-vs-plasma-which-hdtv-type-is-best

 

 

Podcasts, Podcasts Everywhere

 

Tech advancements leading to podcasts being everywhere. What happened?

There was a time when podcasts were an obscure form of entertainment. After all, in the early days of the internet, storage space for mobile devices was precious.

 

The Before Times

 

Podcasts used to be pretty rare, back when CDs were the main method of data storage. You could get okay-ish radio recordings of professionals who had advice to dispense on a CD, or you could listen to an entire album instead on that same CD.

Podcasts as a format just didn’t make sense. It’s like a radio show, but never aired live? It’s like a TV talk show, but with no footage? It’s… sort of like an audio book… but without premade content. What is it bringing to the table that’s new, exactly? The podcast’s first form was as audio-blogs, and audio blogs existed, but the people making them had to be pretty darn interesting to compete with the other entertainment available.

Especially with what a hassle it was to even get the things and store them!

It took til downloadable files could be accessed by anyone for podcasts to start growing in popularity, in the 2000’s. In the peak era of talk shows, sitting down to watch an interview was more convenient, and easier to parse. The format was tried and true! The interviewees were always interesting, and always previously vetted. Recording those off of TV could be like a podcast, but recording it from there meant recording the entire thing, not just the audio, so stripping the video just didn’t make sense if it was all already there. Format transfers were a pain for the average person with an average desktop.

Speaking of average desktops, recording equipment and studio space were also prohibitively expensive. If someone in 2004 wanted to record something, they’d have to either go to a specialty shop or settle for consumer grade microphones from Best Buy. The recording space, unless they were lucky, wasn’t soundproofed. Echoes, interruptions, editing, distributing – this is all studio-level stuff at that point in time, and studios just weren’t interested. Talk shows were live, on the radio, and sometimes available for download on the radio’s website if the radio’s host company wanted to go through the effort. That was a very powerful if. As a result, the best of the best is what most people got, classic Abbott and Costello bits and tips from self-help guides who were actually professionally trained and licensed to help people. Even then, those aren’t really like podcasts because they weren’t episodic or predictable.

 

The Now

 

Now that high-quality microphones are cheaper than they used to be, and many people have the internet speeds necessary to upload hour-long segments, nearly anybody can start a podcast. Audacity, a sound-editing program, is free to download! A decent-quality mic with a pop filter no longer costs as much as a gaming console. Of course people are going to try and get into the business.

The problems begin to arise when things like soundproofing or room noise or echo aren’t considered. Inexperienced beginners set out in echo-y rooms with audible distractions popping in every now and again. If they have the right set-up and a quiet place, they still have to jump the hurdles of adjusting their own mix, making an intro or scripting one, cutting out dead space and breathing noises, editing the final file, and finally, uploading it. It sounds so simple to just ‘make a podcast’ when there’s a ton of work hidden behind it.

Not to mention the marketing and ads, which is why so many people try to jump into podcasts in the first place. Many people misinterpret ‘audio-only’ as ‘easy-money’ but it’s really not. The effort to produce something as cleanly made as any of the top podcasts on Spotify is a full-time job in and of itself – and with so many new podcasts, content consumers aren’t going to settle for poor-quality ones anymore. This is bad news for hopefuls aiming at ad money!

 

The Money

 

Ad-reads took over Youtube after what is termed the ‘adpocalypse’. Essentially, Youtubers with good records and decent subscriber counts could be solicited to read an ad directly within the video, bypassing the Google Ads system altogether, as the Ads system was much less profitable once advertisers pulled away en masse. The format, however, was tried and true long before in early podcast break-ins. Many podcasts from the 2010’s contained ad reads as their standard, the same way radio shows did.

Ad-reads are a very good source of money. Incredibly good. Unlike Google Ads, the ads can never be pulled from the video or audio, which is good for the creator. The ad is also always tied to the content, unlike Google’s rotating reel of pre-roll ads, which is good for the advertiser! The ad’s perpetually advertising for them, even if relationships with the creator crumble. They’re worth more money because of this stability, and as a result, they’re more difficult to attain than the standard Youtube Partnership.

The bigger the podcast, the more likely it is to be approached by an advertiser, and the more potential money one could earn. Unfortunately, because so many podcasts are so opaque about their total listener counts, it’s much harder to gauge how big a channel needs to get before they can start pitching their show to the advertisers. There’s also a sort of wariness around new and upcoming shows because followers and download counts can be purchased from shady folks who specialize in bot-action. 5,000 subscribers might not be 5,000 sets of ears ready for advertisement – the efforts to cheat the system have made the system more wary, and made the bar higher for new entrants along the way.

 

Longevity

 

Of course, the only consistent way to get those necessary followers is to produce consistently good content on a schedule. Not every podcast that does that succeeds, but all of the successful podcasts do that. One good episode? Easy! Two good episodes? Maybe! Three, or four, and then five when you really don’t feel like recording? Episode 6, when you’ve gotten a total of three listeners? It’s tough to find the motivation to continue. The NY Times says that between March and May of last year, only a fifth of existing podcasts released a new episode. That’s abysmal.

The question is if they can keep it going in spite of the work, or in spite of a rocky start, and many just can’t. It’s easy to talk with friends for an hour, for some people. It may be easy to spend an entire night together gabbing about whatever the current events are. It’s not easy to guide the conversation using pre-written topics, day after day, week after week. How often did you spend two solid hours just talking to people before the pandemic struck? No breaks. Very little dead space.

I would wager most people overestimate the time they can talk about something before repeating themselves, which is why so many podcasts also feature friends and interviews, a niche that’s become overdone. Having another person to bounce info off of is a great idea, but so many podcasters treat interviews as a marketing method instead of an actual interview that sorting out interesting interviews is like finding a needle in a haystack.

And then there’s the ‘friend group’ podcasts, which have the same core members, week after week. Every issue with scheduling recording time, having a quiet studio, and finding relatable talking points is magnified. That being said, they are much easier to run (and more appealing to listeners) than single-person podcasts, or rotating interview podcasts if the host is mediocre. Most radio shows have two or three people for that exact reason. Even then, running out of content is still a very real threat, and if one of the members leave? The show is as good as over.

Shows like My Brother, My Brother, and Me rely on Yahoo Answers as well as audience send-ins to build out content. Beach Too Sandy, Water Too Wet does the same, but with reviews of various locations. Other podcasts with similar formats have all but consumed the niche, and now others trying to get their own podcast off the ground are having to do “X – But With a Twist!” style content. The number of dead shows with premises like the Youtuber Mark Fischbach’s Distractable podcast, or the Joe Rogan Experience, is in the hundreds, because it’s so incredibly easy to make one episode and then bail. People starting podcasts now might only be able to get a reliable viewer base if they have their own built in off of other projects. Distractables, Very Really Good, Schmanners, etc. all come from people who have successful channels somewhere else.

 

Sources: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/18/style/why-are-there-so-many-podcasts.html

https://www.voices.com/blog/history-of-podcasts/

 

Wildly Specific T-Shirts: Why?

You’ve probably seen some variation of the shirt.

Source: ApparelGenix.com

You’re wondering how it’s so wildly specific. You click it, and scroll down, and somehow… somehow the company seems to have made shirts specifically for you, the boyfriend of a Registered Nurse who was born in June, who’s a little crazy with a heart of gold.

And then you notice on other channels, people are getting shirts that say ‘Never mess with a Union Welder born in November with Blue Eyes’. ‘My Boyfriend is a Crazy Libra who loves Fishing and Mountain Biking”. Okay… it’s specific… but no harm, right?

What’s happening?

 

The Ads

 

First, some context. Facebook takes information like birth date, gender, likes and dislikes, etc. to hyper-tailor ads directly to specific individuals. On the advertiser’s side, Facebook allows their advertising customers to modify ads depending on group – companies can make multiple ads for their product to better build a brand image for any one customer’s specific demographic profile.

Picture that a company makes hair gel for adolescents as well as young adults, for example. The adult is looking to impress their coworkers, but the kid just wants to prevent helmet hair. The gel does both, but the ad will change the target customer’s view of the product – is it for skateboarders, or is it for professionals? Only a super generic ad could appeal to both, and generic ads do much worse than targeted ones. Luckily, Facebook’s fine-tuned ad program can determine which set of ads the viewer should be seeing, and the company can make two ads, one for skateboarders, and one for young professionals.

However, that’s time consuming, so many ad vendors allow mix-n-match campaigns, where lines are taken from one ad and put in another. An adolescent’s ad would work for most teens if the wording was a little different – see Axe’s body spray ads. Sometimes the company doesn’t even have to make the new lines themselves, they just include a modifiable blank field in the ad space and they’re good to go.

That’s where things go sideways! A blank line in an insurance ad can tell the user that they’ll be eligible for a rate as low as X$ based on their age and gender. A blank line in a kennel ad knows they’re looking for a medium dog over a small cat based on their search history. A blank line in a T-shirt ad tells them that Facebook knows they’re a Gemini, an accountant, of Swedish descent, a regular fisher, an occasional beer-drinker, and more.

 

Art and More

 

Even worse, bots that work on similar mechanisms have been caught scraping art from artists and slapping it on cheap T-shirts. Since copyright enforcement is dependent on the copyright owner filing for takedown, shirts with that artwork might get sold before the artist even knows something’s amiss. The shirts are frequently poor-quality rips directly from the artist’s social media account, triggered by comments requesting wearable merch or complimenting the work – the bot determines demand and then harvests it, without human intervention, just like the ad T-shirts.

Sure, the artist can request a takedown each and every time the bots snag their art, but it’s a slog, and the company itself never seems to actually do anything meaningful about the violations. It’s also bad for the artist’s reputation: fans complaining to them about the quality of a shirt they bought may be the first time the artist hears about the art theft, and then explaining to someone that they’ve been scammed is only going to make them angrier. It becomes “How could you let this happen” instead of “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize” – everyone loses except for the ad bot’s shirt company.

 

The ‘Why’

 

Before companies like ZapTee and CustomInk, getting a custom shirt meant going to a print shop and paying a hefty price for the final product. As such, shirt companies just didn’t make shirts like these ad bots do. It was unfeasible. If it didn’t sell, it was a waste of production. The closest you could get was “I’m a Proud Mom!” or “Rather be Fishin’”. If you were an artist, and your work was too fringe for major manufacturers to work with, you might have had to buy the screen-printing supplies yourself, build your own website or storefront, source blank shirts, and do things the hard way.

Now, all of that is easily outsourced to these printing companies that specialize in customizable products. The tech has improved so much that they can make money on single shirt sales, where before orders had to be in bulk. It’s honestly incredible. However, customers don’t necessarily understand the mechanisms behind these shirts. The specifics on the shirt are just blank space fill-ins, based on information Facebook gives to the ad. They think they’re seeing a unicorn out in the wild when they see something that relates to them. They’re thinking back to the times where companies couldn’t do this, where everything was geared towards two or three consumer profiles. “Wow, a shirt for Peruvians!” instead of “Oh, Facebook knows I’m Peruvian”.

Or in the case of the art-rippers, they see merch from an artist they really like and respect, and buy it without wondering if it’s official because – once again – they’re thinking back to a time when companies didn’t steal art (not officially, anyway) for shirts. Independent artists had to beg, barter, and network their way onto the front of a T-shirt, there wasn’t any other way to sell art-shirts en masse before silk-screen tech got cheap. Therefore, there’s no way unofficial or stolen art merch exists, it just doesn’t happen!

 

The Marketing

 

A company named Signal decided to take out ads mocking Facebook’s hyper-specific targeting by simply filling in a MadLib with demographic spots.

Source: TheNextWeb.com

 

The result is, shockingly, just like the T-shirts! Facebook already knows you pretty well. A trend of ‘hyper-targeting’ took over once social media websites realized that people guard their info from companies but share it willingly with friends, publicly. As a result, it can pinpoint things like your favorite movie, your favorite color, what items you’ve bought online (and post about), your perfect vacation, and how dark you like your coffee, to name a few, all harvested from comments and posts you share with your friends. Ads then generate shirts out of what the site gathers. You can turn off targeted advertising in Google, but that doesn’t mean they’re not gathering information. It just means you’re not seeing the direct results of that. The only way to fight the hyper-targeting is to be vague and lie to the platforms, or stay off of them altogether.

If you or an artist you know gets their work ripped by bots, combatting it is unfortunately pretty difficult. The best you can do is sometimes just cave and make your own branded products via something like RedBubble or FanJoy. Give customers an official way to support their favorite artist, and most of the time, they’ll take it! Making your social media work obnoxiously and obviously watermarked helps, as does making the preview pic low-quality. Fans need to know that you have official channels, and if they buy from anywhere else, they’re not supporting you. If they like it so much that they want to wear it, they should want the artist to keep making more of it! Make that link between your official purchasing channels and their support of your work clear.

 

Sources:

Reddit.com/r/TargetedShirts

https://www.vox.com/2018/4/11/17177842/facebook-advertising-ads-explained-mark-zuckerberg

https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-50817561

https://www.chowdaheadz.com/products/lunatic-million-words-t-shirt?variant=32657701240917&gclid=Cj0KCQjw–GFBhDeARIsACH_kdb8X6iW6iRfaitNOwytkgKBZ3PqcW3CbvAfEyZ1pJaKjDtr4C0y9YQaAockEALw_wcB

https://thehustle.co/who-makes-those-insanely-specific-t-shirts-on-the-internet/

 

Portable Phones: A Brief History and Selection

 

The smartphone of today has a lot of ancestors, and some of them were pretty bulky.

 

Translated to Modern Times

 

The first couple of portable phones were… weird.

The brick phone: the brick phone’s pretty well-known! It was sometimes used in movies to demonstrate how high tech the star’s organization was. Portable phones were huge for a long time, so a brick phone being slightly less huge than the suitcase phone or the car phone was cool. DynaTAC’s version was initially the most popular in 1984, and it took 10 hours to charge enough for 30 minutes of talk time.

The car phone: it was new! It was innovative! It was stylish! Luxury cars were the primary installees of car phones, as the phone itself was both expensive and heavy, and relied on the car’s power to actually run. This came before the brick phone and ran concurrent to it for quite a while, and gradually faded out of manufacturing as mobile technology got better and better.

The suitcase phone: the suitcase phone carried all of its important bits and bobs in a suitcase, discretely, so the caller didn’t have to hold the weight of the battery up to their ear to talk. The original case for the suitcase phone was kind of ugly, but having the tech at the time made it worth it.

Pay Phones: This wasn’t technically mobile, but it was possible to find one out and about in public, and that was usually good enough. Most pay phones even in earlier days took payment first and then would place the call, an artifact of the quick-call stations and cashiers that they replaced.

 

Slides and Other Moves

 

Manufacturers got pretty wild when designing devices for children in the 2000s.

The Razr phone opened with one screen pivoting away from the other on a joint, so the top screen was upside down when it was closed. The keyboard inside it was tragically small – texting was even more of a hassle, and the screen was tiny. It was also sometimes awkward to hold while on a call, but the unique design meant it took up very little pocket real-estate, so it all evened out. Not a good phone for games or texting, but fine for the kids it was marketed to.

If you were fancy, you’d get a slider phone: the top screen would slide upwards to reveal a full keyboard with tiny, tiny little keys underneath. Back in this era, the screen being exposed was considered a real risk: what if your keys or coin change scratched it? Then what? If only they could have seen what we’d have now. These phones were a little more expensive than other phones on the market, but they made texting a little easier. Txt speak was still more efficient because the keys were so tiny it sometimes took the edge of your nail to actually press them, but it was the thought that counted.

And if your parents had business obligations that sometimes meant emailing from their phone, you might have had access to a hand-me-down BlackBerry: all the buttons were on the same plane as the screen. There were the crude beginnings of a ‘free roam’ cursor for phones, a track ball that behaved the same way arrow keys did but faster.

 

Flips N Such

 

The flip phone I had also had the 9-button keyboard: it was designed for calling first, and texting second. It could open a browser… kinda… if all you wanted to see was broken graphic boxes and white squares. Internet access over a 3G or below network was slow and expensive, so you weren’t exactly meant to read the news on it. The ringtone store also didn’t work all of the time. It was great. An ordinary flip phone was difficult to break and easy to answer calls on, so it was perfect for kids of the time. You could play games on it, but not very many, and you could text, but only slowly. It wasn’t an active distraction.

However, that slow texting could get annoying when the phone was allowed out. That’s the source of modern text speak: if you wanted to type out Good Morning, for example, you’d hit the 6 button a total of 16 times to get all the letters stored in that key while writing. Shortening to Gd Mrng only made sense – you’d tap the 6 key 5 times to get two characters, a much better ratio. To compare it to telegramming, the fewer taps there are, the faster the message gets out. Only using the number was also often faster, too: “Before” takes a total of 21 keystrokes, while B4 takes three. Three.

 

Decorative casings for smartphones

 

For a brief period of time, pocket-unfriendly phone cases hit the market. From the hamburger phone to the rotary phone purse, all sorts of weird add-ons and cases designed to make the phone look like something else graced Hot Topic and other ‘teen’ stores. Nowadays, most cases are pretty close-fitting to the phone, likely because people realized bulky phones had been shrinking over the years for a reason. Still, quite a few of these oversized cases were popular, particularly with classmates who always had a bag and/or lacked pockets in the summer. They were cute, they offered better corner cushioning (dropping an iPhone used to be catastrophic), and quite frankly I wouldn’t be too sad to see them come back.

 

Modern Times

 

Nowadays, phones come in many colors and sizes, but generally one shape. The smartphone’s ease of storage and use makes it a winner among telecommunications. Cases tend to be close fitting to the phone, now, but a lack of character cases is a small price to pay for full access to the internet, email, phone, texting, all sorts of telecommunications that the first sci-fi writers could have only imagined. Flip phones are still around, and they’re a great option for a lot of people, but generally they’re not a first choice for reasons mentioned above. That being said, they are a lot tougher overall than an average un-cased smartphone, and significantly cheaper. Just look at how many memes there are about the Nokia!

Source: Know your Meme

Samsung’s new folding phone is a loop back to the olden days, but it’s obviously not exactly the same as the flip phones of yore. Screens cover both halves of the folding bits, and it’s designed more to prevent scratching than to provide convenience, like the first ones did.

A Sidenote: The first “Txt Speak”

 

Telegraph operators use abbreviations anyone might recognize: BRB, GTG, etc. all for the sake of cutting time. Morse code and push-button flip phone strategies are a lot alike in a lot of ways: shorten the message to make transmitting it easier. Whether it’s taps or clicks, shortening speech by cutting vowels has always been around.

Abbreviations can cause confusion, yes, but telegraph operators were paid to go fast, not to be perfectly understandable.

Sources: https://www.pcmag.com/news/the-golden-age-of-motorola-cell-phones

https://thenewswheel.com/history-of-the-car-phone/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motorola_Bag_Phone (Wikipedia does a fine job at an overall explanation)

https://slate.com/human-interest/2015/05/history-of-telegraph-operators-abbreviations-used-by-telegraphers.html