Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Web Secret 597: Google self-destruct

Google and YouTube have now given us an option to set search and location data to automatically disappear after a certain time.

You should do that.

For years, Google has kept a record of our internet searches by default. Scary.

Most of Google’s new privacy controls are in a web tool called My Activity.

Once you get into the tool and click on Activity Controls, you will see an option called Web & App Activity.

Click Manage Activity and then the button under the calendar icon. Here, you can set your activity history on several Google products to automatically erase itself after three months or after 18 months. This data includes searches made on Google.com, voice requests made with Google Assistant, destinations that you looked up on Maps and searches in Google’s Play app store.

Which duration should you go for? I recommend 3 months.

New to Google’s privacy controls this week is the ability to auto-delete your YouTube history, which includes searches and the videos you’ve watched.

In the My Activity tool, click on Activity controls and look for the button for YouTube history.

Click on Manage history and you will see a similar calendar icon, which lets you set YouTube history to delete after three months.

That was easy.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Web Secret 596: Apps that suck

Way back in 2008 I wrote a blog post about an epic website: Web pages that suck.

Many of the websites I wrote about over 10 years ago or either obsolete or have ceased to exist. Not so "Web pages that suck" which though it ceased updating after Worst Websites of 2014, is still accessible, and as useful today as it was then.

In fact, I recently realized that their wonderful check list is as applicable to apps as it is to websites:

If you check YES to any of these questions, your app sucks:

1. It takes longer than four seconds for the man from Mars to understand what our site is about.

2. Our site doesn't provide clear instructions on how to perform tasks - gaming apps are the worst. Sample offender: Churchill Solitaire . Supposedly created by the great man himself, this is a complex game that is very difficult to win and takes a long time to play. How do you find out how to play it? You don't. I still don't know what campaign mode is or the difference between easy, medium and hard trial deals. I actually don't even know what a trial deal is. I have learned the game through trial and error and am pretty convinced there are aspects of it that I don't know.

3. Navigation isn't initially obvious. Sample offender: My Altitude, A relic of having partly grown up in Switzerland, is I like to know my altitude at all times - well often. The landing page on this app is chock full of useless info and the navigation symbols are obscure.

4. Our apps's content is not written for the app, but for print media (or other media) and we just transferred it to the app. If your app does exactly what your website does, you don't need an app. Sample offender: pretty much any retail store. I much prefer to order from Amazon's website - even when I'm on a mobile device. I know Amazon's website and can easily find what I'm looking for. Why would I struggle with an app?

5.Our app requires you to login before we even show you what it's about. OK, I made that list item and the next one up, but I can't even show you a sample offender, because if you ask me to do that, I delete your ass in a nano second.

6. We update our app all the time without explaining the difference from one version to the next. You know who you are. I get upgrade fatigue real quick these days and unless you are extremely valuable to me, I will delete you.

So before creating an app, look at the check list - substitue "app" for "web page" or "website" and the principles are mostly the same.

Don't suck.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Web Secret 595: They shall not grow old

Every now and then art and technology converge to create something sublime.

Such is the documentary "They shall not grow old."

To pay homage to his grand-father, Peter Jackson, of Lord of the Rings fame, created a documentary about the World War I experience from the British soldier's point of view. He used archival film footage from the Imperial War Museum and interviews of British servicemen who fought in the conflict.

And then he did three remarkable things:

1. He had expert lip readers look at the soundless footage and reconstruct what they were saying. Then had actors dub in the voices.
2. He used state of the art techniques to restore the old silent films so that they run smoothly instead of herky-jerky.
3. And he used state of the art colorization technology to transform the footage from black and white to color.



When you watch the film, it at first runs like a typical black and white silent movie. As soon as the servicemen go to war, the footage transforms into color, and there is sound.

The effect is astonishing, reminiscent of when Dorothy opens the door of her house to enter the colored Land of Oz.

But more importantly, it makes the men seem very real, very present, in a way we have never seen. World War I is no longer a long time ago, in a world far away. We see that these were actual people who fought and died. We could have been them.

Lastly, this has the effect of deromanticizing the experience of war. These men don't look like movie stars. They have bad teeth and bad skin. They are dirty. They die. Their horses die. When the armistice is announced, they do not cheer or celebrate. They just go home. Quietly.

Hard to watch. A masterpiece.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Web Secret 594: the Spice Girls Generation

I was attending my pregnant niece's baby shower the other day, surrounded by a demographic I rarely encounter - Millenials in their early thirties.

One of my non pregnant nieces tugged on my sleeve and told me: "We are part of a very special Millenial subgroup. The Spice Girls Generation. And when we die, we will be the last of our kind."

I nodded sagely as if fully comprehending this startling statement.

Of course, once back home I read "The Rise of the Spice Girls Generation" in order to understand what she was talking about.

The article explains that women born between Labor Day 1985 and New Year’s Eve 1991:
"...are the only people in history to have both grown up with the internet and to retain childhood memories that predate it. Born primarily in the mid-to-late 1980s, they are human bridges between two eras, whose anachronistic birth years, with their faraway century, will cause their heirs’ eyes to widen at their obituaries. Their ancestral parallels are the earliest drifters of the Lost Generation, born in the mid-to-late 1880s..."
The article does not elaborate on these thought provoking words, but instead dissects the appeal, history and legacy of the Spice Girls for that eponymously named generation.

I am not sure about the parallels between them and the extinct Lost Generation, born a century before, which came of age during World War I and wandered in confusion and aimlessness during the early post-war years. Personally, I too would have wandered the cafes of Paris if I had survived a global war that killed millions of my brethren for no reason whatsoever. It's the kind of experience that would make most people bay at the moon.

Unlike the celebrations that followed the announcement that World War II had ended, the surviving soldiers of World War I barely manifested when their conflict ended, and crawled home, utterly shattered.

No, I don't think the Spice Girls Generation in anyway resembles the Lost Generation.

But my niece is right, they are and will be special. And when they are a hundred years old, as many will be, people will still be asking them to describe what the world was like.

When they were young. Before the world changed.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Web Secret 593: iFixit

Everything is electronic these days.

Not just your laptop, tablet and smartphone.

Your car is electronic.

So is your camera.

And your watch. And so much other stuff like your thermostat. Your fridge. Your oven. So much stuff.

Sometimes this stuff malfunction - and you throw it out, or upgrade.

But sometimes, you want to fix it, and so you turn to iFixit.

It is there with repair guides and step by step instructions.

Bookmark for use when needed.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Web Secret 592: Live long and prosper

My current smartphone (an iPhone Xs Max) cost almost as much as my computer.

It has endless battery life. I can go out for an entire day and it never dies, no matter how much phoning, gaming, browsing I do.

It takes spectacular photos, and has a beautiful screen. It's fast as heck.

I love it.

My only complaint is that it is not available in orange, my favorite color.

So I was completely uninterested in Apple's latest unveiling of the iPhone 11 Pro which is even more expensive.

I told myself "I am hanging on to my Xs for the next five years."

And then I read an article that said that the average smartphone user upgrades every 3 years.

What the f**ck!!!

An executive at iFixit, (a site that provides guides to help people repair their own electronics), is quoted: "An iPhone retains up to 80 percent of its original capacity after 500 complete cycles...So if you charge your phone every night, and drain it during the day, that’s a complete cycle. So you’re basically looking at 80 percent of your new battery a year and a half to two years in.

The good news is replacing your phone’s battery is relatively inexpensive ($50 - $70) and will get you more mileage than any other repair. Another two years.

Still not the five years I was expecting.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Web Secret 591: The end of forgetting

As I write this, it is 9/11/19, and today, the New York Times published an article about the fact that in many TV shows and movies of old, the image of the Twin Towers has been deleted so as not to distress viewers.

This made me think about a New Yorker article I read about the indelibility of social media. The author, Nausicaa Renner, writes: "These days, it’s common to find an image emerging, unbeckoned, from the reservoir of the past. We spend hours wading through streams of photos, many of which document, in unprecedented ways, our daily lives. Facebook was invented in 2004.

By 2015, Kate Eichhorn writes in “The End of Forgetting: Growing Up with Social Media,” people were sharing thirty million images an hour on Snapchat, and British parents “posted, on average, nearly two hundred photographs of their child online each year.” For those who have grown up with social media—a group that includes pretty much everyone under twenty-five—childhood, an era that was fruitfully mysterious for the rest of us, is surprisingly accessible. According to Eichhorn, a media historian at the New School, this is certain to have some kind of profound effect on the development of identity. What that effect will be we’re not quite sure." (my emphasis)

So, like everything happening with tech these days, we have no clue about impact.

We muddle through - never proactively - everything that comes our way.

Forgetting may no longer be an option.