Thoughts

On the ephemerality of digital publishing

For all the ease of use and low cost of entry of digital publishing, there’s its inescapable ephemeral nature. I’m not talking about digital books, photographs, music and movies, although there’s a lot to be said about those things as well. That sort of distributed publishing puts a copy of your creation on someone else’s device, and is thus more buffeted against the inevitable loss or data corruption that occurs, because copies of your creation will likely survive somewhere. What I want to talk about is this very thing I’m using right now to publish this: my website.

It could be perceived as a contradiction in appearances to talk about how fleeting my website will be as it’s coming up on 20 years of existence (that’s right, my website will turn 20 later this year, after I turn 44). But I’m thinking beyond my lifetime. I’d like the things I write about, the photographs I take, the videos I make, to reach the generations of the future. I know there’s a lot of drivel out there on the web that won’t stand the test of time, because it’s made specifically for the now, to appeal to trends and other passing nonsense, but I don’t spend my time on those things. At least some of the things I write about are likely applicable or useful 50-100 years down the road, and just as I appreciate books, music and movies published 50-100 years ago, I hope my digital creations will be appreciated a century into the future. But how will it get there? How will my website survive 100 years?

In the past, articles were published on paper, books were published on paper, then we had negatives we could look at; books were scanned. Now when we publish posts and articles on websites, exactly how will this electronic (HTML + CSS + Scripts) format make it down the road? If we die and our domain name is no longer paid up, the website goes down. Should we be hosting our site on a platform like WordPress.com, when we stop paying the site domain may change back to the free WP subdomain, some site services will stop working, but the site will continue to stay up, but until when? Does WP have a plan to exist and function well in 100 years? Does any web publishing platform or social network plan to be around in 100 years? Will YouTube or Facebook be around in 100 years? What if they undergo so many changes in the way things get published and shown to the public that my content can no longer be ported onto the new versions of the software, and it gets left behind? Then there’s the basic nature of a business: it needs money to survive. The “freemium” plans of today, where you get some free services but the better ones cost money, aren’t futureproof. At some point, a company decides it’s had enough of freeloaders and switches to all paid accounts.

The thing with a book or a magazine is that once it’s printed, once it’s made, no further effort is needed to “keep it alive”, and this isn’t the case with digital publishing, where once you’ve made something digital, you still need further energy to keep the web server up and running, more energy to keep it patched up and upgraded, more energy to swap out parts that fail, more energy for the internet bandwidth, etc., energy that translates into utility bills, bandwidth bills and man hours, in perpetuity. None of this is needed with a printed book. It just sits in someone’s library and requires no effort and no energy to simply be there, storing its information for posterity, until someone takes it out, blows off the dust and stats turning its pages to read it. The act of turning a page requires little energy. The act of reading and considering the information that you’re reading consumes quite a bit of mental energy, but the same amount would go into reading something digital. So you see, digital publishing may seem easier and less expensive at the get-go, but it turns out to be mightily complicated and expensive to keep going over decades and decades.

Unless you’ve got the foresight to set up a trust with enough financial resources to keep your digital presence (websites, social media accounts, etc.) up and running, chances are you will be digitally defunct soon after you die or, depending on the circumstances of your last years, say a debilitating disease that won’t allow you to carry on your online presence, you’ll be digitally dead years before your actual death.

I know about services such as the Internet Archive. They’re well-meaning and I wish them the best of luck in storing all of the data, but they’re slow on lookups, and they tend to mess up a page’s style, which is kind of like crinkling up the printed pages in your favorite book and forcing you to read them like that from then on.

We need some way to make a site future-proof, to either make the individual articles or posts digitally distributable, or to come up with ways to make web servers consume less resources, much less resources, so that it’s economically feasible to keep a lot of data up and available in the future at much lower costs than today. I know about printing web pages as PDFs, and that’s something, but how many people do that? I want a clean, ad free, well-formatted, digital copy of a post or article made available to me, automatically. Perhaps solid state storage, on optical non-moving media of sorts, is the way that computers might work, so that the data, once written to that media, consumes no power while it’s not accessed, and the power needed to read it from them is insignificant. This way we could afford to prepay to keep our website up for the next 100 years, and it wouldn’t cost a ridiculous amount.

The current model, of paying yearly for a domain name and monthly or yearly for a web hosting package and a site publishing platform that you need to keep upgrading and updating, or else it’s subject to hacking, isn’t futureproof. It costs a lot and it needs a lot of attention — attention and money that it won’t get once someone’s gone.

We need to make it easier, or as digital information inevitably gets wiped out with time, the valuable sites and articles, that ones that might have made a difference in someone’s future life, if only they’d been available to them, do remain available to them, just like a book or a magazine on a shelf.

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Thoughts

15 things about the tongue

A few tidbits:

  • The blue whale has the largest tongue in the animal kingdom. It’s the size of an elephant and weighs 5,400 lbs.
  • The five known tastes detected by the tongue are: bitter, sour, salty, sweet and umami.
  • Tongue cleaning with a tongue scraper is proven to help prevent heart attacks, pneumonia, premature births, diabetes, osteoporosis and infertility in men.

15 Things about the Tongue

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Thoughts

The pattern behind self-deception

Michael Shermer, the Founding Publisher of Skeptic magazine and the Executive Director of the Skeptics Society, gave a talk at TED about self-deception — how our mind (sometimes) plays tricks on us. A couple of interesting tidbits:

  • Dopamine antagonists decrease the patterns we see
  • Dopamine agonists increase the patterns we see

Wonderful stuff!

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Thoughts

Stats about cigarette companies

The following infographic presents some interesting facts about big tobacco:

  • The largest US tobacco company, Philip Morris International, is the 94th most profitable company in the country.
  • The top three US tobacco companies made over $50 billion in revenues in 2009.
  • China is the largest cigarette producing country in the world. Tobacco companies from that country made over $443 billion dollars last year.
  • Federal tax on a cigarette pack has gone up from 5 cents in 2002 to $1.01 in 2009.
  • Many life insurance companies in America are major stakeholders in tobacco companies.

Cigarette Companies

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Thoughts

Have a look at the infographic below for some sobering facts about pharmaceutical companies in the US. Here are a few snippets:

  • The cost of prescription drugs rises 12% every year; they now cost 3x more than 30 years ago.
  • The markup on prescription drugs varies from 5,000% to 225,000%! That’s pure profit these companies make on every pill they sell.
  • Big Pharma spends over $20 billion per year on advertising for their drugs.

Pharmaceutical Companies

Stats about pharmaceutical companies

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Thoughts

Identity theft and password security

A neat infographic that details how identity theft occurs and why password security fails when passwords aren’t secure enough. If you’ve ever wondered why you’re asked to choose both lowercase and uppercase letters in your password, know this: an eight-character lowercase password can be cracked in just two hours, but if you add just one uppercase character, it can take up to 200 years.

Identity Theft and Password Security

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Thoughts

The history of rickrolling


The History of RickRolling

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Events

Green IT Week: June 1-7, 2010

ComputersOFF.org is hosting a virtual Green IT Week from June 1-7. This is an issue that’s of particular importance to me. Having been an IT director, I know how much power the combined laptops, desktops and servers of an organization can consume, and how much pollution is generated by the disposal of computer hardware (see this post, and this one as well).

I’ve written about this topic since 2004. Here are three of my articles that deal with saving energy in IT:

Green IT deals with two things:

  1. Electronic Waste: Minimizing the negative impact of information technology use on the environment, and
  2. Energy Efficiency: Using information technology to help solve environmental issues

They’ve put together a few facts that help to drive home their message, so I’m going to quote them below.

By turning off your computer each night or when not in use (i.e. lunch times, weekends, when in meetings at night) for a year you save as much energy as it takes:

  • to run a clock radio for 1,392 weeks
  • to make 9,280 bags of microwave popcorn
  • to wash 464 loads of washing
  • to use your blow dryer for 5,568 hours
  • to vacuum for 464 hours
  • to produce 3,480 plastic bags
  • to run your microwave 24 hours a day for a week
  • to boil your kettle for 24 hours a day for 268 days

By turning off your computer tonight when you leave work you will save as much energy as it takes:

  • to run a clock radio for over 3 weeks
  • to make over 20 bags of microwave popcorn
  • to wash over 1 load of washing
  • to blow dry your hair over 12 times
  • to vacuum for over 1 hour
  • to light a 100 watt light bulb for over 10 hours

For both companies and individuals, there are some really easy actions they can take to reduce their energy use, including:

  • Turning off computers, games consoles and TVs when they are not in use
  • Setting your computer to “sleep” after 15 minutes of inactivity (this reduces the power it uses because “sleep” mode is a lower-energy use mode for the computer to operate in)
  • Turning devices off at the power point (because even in standby mode your appliances are using electricity)
  • Buy green energy (to help push electricity suppliers to convert from coal based production – which creates greenhouse gases and requires mining – to sustainable technologies like wind power)
  • Buy and use a laptop instead of a desktop computer. Laptops only use 190kW (average) of electricity per year.

Want more of these neat factlets? They also have 100 Green IT Tips. They’ve put together a video as well, where various celebrities endorse the cause.

Make sure to check their website from June 1 to June 7 for more good info about Green IT.

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Thoughts

Oh, the paperwork…

You can get buried in paperwork in this modern, electronic, paperless society of ours. Bank statements, tax records, property tax statements, mortgage statements, credit card statements, store receipts, business expenses, insurance records, car records, the receipt for last Tuesday’s gadget purchase that you have to keep for two years because you also got an extended care plan, the restaurant receipt from last August’s meal with a client that you have to keep for the IRS since you’re deducting it from your taxes, etc., ad nauseam.

Can’t we have it simpler? Can’t it all be truly electronic? Can’t everyone just send us email receipts and statements instead of giving us paper ones? I like the way the Apple store does it. You buy something, you have the option of getting an email receipt. They have these neat credit card swipe machines they carry with them (they’re wireless), they check you out where you are in the store, and you get an instant receipt listing your purchase. It’s beautiful! Why can’t restaurants do this too? Why can’t the vehicle emissions and inspection stations do this? Why can’t all stores do this? Why can’t all banks and credit card companies handle everything electronically? My bank (USAA) has been doing it for years, and it works beautifully. Why can’t city and county governments do this? Why can’t mortgage companies do this?

On a larger and more important scale, why don’t hospitals and insurance companies handle EVERYTHING electronically, without any paper of any sort? If you’re a doctor and you have to file claims, you know what I’m talking about. If you don’t, then your secretary or claims specialist does… You have paper records for everything. Everyone has electronic systems, but very few talk to each other, and paper is still the only way to transfer information. This is pathetic. Hospital information systems ought to be able to send an electronic record of a patient consultation filed by a doctor to that doctor’s medical records system, which in turn ought to be able to process that information and send it to insurance companies electronically, who in turn ought to be able to process that claim and send an electronic notification to the doctor’s medical records system to update the claim status, then issue an electronic funds transfer to that doctor’s bank account. There should be no paper involved whatsoever, but those of us who deal with this stuff know it’s a far cry from it.

If there’s overpopulation, and we’ve got dwindling resources, and forests are being cut down at alarming rates all over the world, why do we have this constant avalanche of paper rolling toward us every month of the year, burying us under? If you’ve got multiple credit cards and bank accounts, a mortgage, a couple of cars, and a business on the side — and it’s your misfortune that the business is a medical one — you’re likely suffocating under paperwork. It’s nuts.

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Thoughts

So long, Contenture

According to their website and blog, Contenture is going out of business. That’s unfortunate. I signed up with them back in June of 2008, endorsed their services here on my site, and while I didn’t make a lot of money with them, I knew the idea of micropayments for web content was something that would eventually catch on, if only given enough time to take root. It’s sad to see them go, and I’m sorry they couldn’t hang on until they saw some profits.

I only know of one other company that offers similar monetization services, and it’s called CancelAds. Here’s hoping they stay in business, and the idea of micropayments/subscriptions for web content continues to gain momentum.

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