The media and technology — by Mark Rogers

November 21, 2015

Let's talk about exes and sex

Neil Sedaka, Breaking Up is Hard to Do
Neil Sedaka's single, Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

Back in 1962, Neil Sedaka sang Breaking Up Is Hard To Do. Too bad they didn’t have apps back then because these days technology makes breaking up easy — even fun — to do.

For example, our friend Facebook, now used by three-quarters of the online population, has a new feature that hides your ex from your newsfeed without blocking or unfriending them.

When you update your relationship status after a breakup, all you have to do is select a couple of options and you no longer have to see their posts. Their picture won’t show up either if their name is tagged in a photo.

No fuss, no muss.

But what about the actual breakup. Simply changing your Facebook status unfortunately isn’t quite enough. You somehow have to directly communicate with the person you want to break up with. But who wants to deal with anger, hurt feelings and the rest of it?

Luckily, there is a new service that will do this for you, and the cost is a bargain.

For $10, The Breakup Shop will send your soon-to-be-ex a standard text. For $20, they’ll send an email, and for $30 they’ll personalize the message.

Here’s a sample message:

Hi Gordon

Hope you’ve been having a great day so far.

We regret to inform you that your girlfriend Lindsay is breaking up with you. Although you’ve had a good run and shared some great memories along the way, it’s time to move on.

While you’re likely quite shocked and understandably saddened by this news, we just know that you’ll be back on your feet in no time.

Here are some helpful links to get you started:

Self Growth – How to Get Past a Devastating Breakup
Ben & Jerry’s online store
The Breakup Shop – Gifts for Exes

We offer you our deepest sympathies, and wish you all the best in the future.

I especially like the attempt at up-selling with an offer of gifts from their website.

But really, your ex shouldn’t have trouble moving on, because we have apps like Tinder that match you with new partners. The emphasis on casual sex might seem shallow, but CEO Sean Rad has plans to raise the bar.

“I need an intellectual challenge,” he said in an interview.

He went on to mistakenly refer to intellectual attraction as “sodomy,” so I’m not really sure how much actual brain power will be involved. Did he mean “synergy?” I’m not sure, but give them time and they’ll work it out.

Making it even easier to move on and arrange a date is a proposal by Durex.

According the condom maker, young people find it easier to communicate with emojis in their text messages, especially when it comes to matters of intimacy. Oxford Dictionaries’ selection of the emoji as word of the year seems to back that up.

Just in time for World AIDS Day on Dec. 1, Durex is pushing to have a new emoji created for the condom. Young people all over the world will thank them.

So there you have it — progress in our modern times. Breaking up, and hooking up, are easer than ever.

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November 14, 2015


I was going to write about pet finders on Facebook. They work great. If ever you lose your dog or cat, go to Facebook and search “missing pets.” You can also add the name of your city.

You’ll discover that there are hundreds of caring people in your home town who will go out of their way to help reunite you with Fido or Fluffy. Two success stories have come to my attention recently.

I was going to write about that, but it somehow seems trivial when over a hundred people were massacred Friday in Paris. When an atrocity like this occurs, I search for meaning but increasingly I find it unfathomable.

Revenge? Cycles of violence? Ideology? Those things kind of make sense but always to seem to fall apart. Surely there are limits to the evil people are capable of.

If there is any comfort to be found, it is with the knowledge that in the midst of horrific events, there are always good people trying to do whatever they can to make things better. I read, for example, about a man finding an injured teenage girl among the dead, scooping her up, and running 200 metres to get her to a cab that could take her to a hospital.

I was impressed to see the Twitter hashtag #porteoverte (French for “open door”) along with people’s home addresses. They were offering shelter to strangers who, for whatever reason, had no way of getting to safety after the attacks. It takes guts to publish personal information at any time, but especially at a time of crisis when you can’t be sure what to expect.

I was also impressed that Facebook activated a check-in feature that I hadn’t heard of before. If you’re in a danger zone, you can check in and let your friends and relatives know you’re OK. This no doubt saved a lot of people a lot of grief.

Unfortunately, there were also some disappointments. You have to wonder what goes through someone’s mind when they see a tragedy and think about how they can use it to promote a personal agenda.

Such was the case when U.S. politician Newt Gingrich tweeted about how much safer the victims would have been if they were allowed to carry concealed weapons. Former New York Times writer Judith Miller responded with a snarky, almost incomprehensible, tweet about whiney college students.

Even here in Kamloops, I saw journalists goading each other about finding a local angle. I’ve been there, so I can understand being caught up in the moment, but it certainly wasn’t their finest hour.

As always, social media is a reflection of humanity — the good and the bad. It’s no wonder so many people prefer to concentrate their efforts on missing pets — less complex and always appreciative.

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November 7, 2015

Trudeau scores big on social media

A 13-year-old girl ask about taxes for the middle class during a Google Hangout session with Justin Trudeau. (Toronto Star photo)

Our new prime minister has taken to social media like a duck to water.

Soon after winning the election, Justin Trudeau posted on Facebook an answer to a woman’s list of hopes and dreams that she had also posted on Facebook.

Within hours of being sworn in, he was using Google Hangouts to chat with young students at five schools across Canada.

Reddit users have submitted several requests for him to take part in a question-and-answer session known as Ask Me Anything. U.S. President Barack Obama once did it, so this is not a stretch for heads of state.

Facebook struck again when the mother of a scientist with Fisheries and Oceans shared his great relief at again being allowed to speak publicly about science without asking for permission.

The mother, Jody Patterson, described it in a blog post as being “like the fall of our own little Berlin Wall. I could practically feel everyone running into the streets and calling from the rooftops: ‘The scientists are unmuzzled! We’re free! We’re free!’”

Despite being a jaded former journalist, she has been inspired to write a letter of thanks to the prime minister. I wouldn’t be surprised if he answers.

It’s almost impossible to image Trudeau’s predecessor, Stephen Harper, being so open with Canadians. I still remember that picture of him shaking hands with his son after dropping him off at school. Compare this with the image of Trudeau having a free-wheeling discussion with a whole bunch of kids from all over the country.

For many Canadians, the great unmuzzling of scientists is symbolic of hope that the new government will turn out to be more open, even after the honeymoon period.

But the science is also important. For the most part, people tend to trust scientists because they make statements based on measurable evidence supported by their peers. That’s a far cry from politicians who make statements based on whatever will get them elected.

There is always the fear, though, that science can be tainted by politics. We see it here in Kamloops where some opponents to the proposed Ajax mine don’t trust the environmental review process. Government scientists might tell us that everything is fine, but will they be telling the truth or will they be saying what they’ve been told to say by their political masters?

It’s true that ultimately politicians decide, and it’s hard to know how much of a role science played. For example, both sides in the Keystone XL pipeline debate claimed to have science on their side, but it was left to Obama to determine which science he believed to be in his country’s best interest.

Still, if scientists are allowed to speak freely, there is always hope that if there is corruption involved, then they will have the option of speaking up about it. Freedom of speech has alway been about holding politicians accountable. Fewer restrictions almost always work out to be for the greater good.

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October 24, 2015

Steve Jobs movie all about drama

With Steve Jobs the movie, Steve Jobs the man has made the transition from real life to mythology.

If you want to watch a drama about a person who resembles the man who built Apple into the success it is today, then by all means go see the movie. Just don’t expect to learn much about really happened.

The best comparison I’ve seen is with Citizen Kane. The classic by Orson Welles was loosely based on the life of newspaper magnate William Randolph Heart. Welles changed the names so he could freely use creative licence — and in the process created a masterpiece.

Aaron Sorkin did more or less the same thing, offering an interpretive drama about Jobs’ life, but instead kept the real names. The result is outright inaccuracies and a heavy emphasis on Jobs’ initial denial surrounding a daughter born out of wedlock.

Every book about Jobs mentions this tragic episode, but Sorkin dwells on it. I can’t say I blame a movie maker for doing this. After all, most people — even though computers are an integral part of our lives — aren’t really that interested in the technology behind them.

Jobs spent most of his life creating products, but in the end we all know that no matter how great the fruits of our labours might be, the thing that really counts in life is our relationships with family and friends. Anyone who has ever had a child will respond emotionally to a father rejecting his daughter.

Many people think he did this because he was obsessed with succeeding in his career — that he feared having to help raise a baby would be a fatal distraction. And yet, amid all this denial, he named a computer after her — the Lisa. This computer is long forgotten, but the story behind its naming will long endure as an example of the complexity we are capable of when it comes to family.

Of course, he later came to accept her, raised her as part of his family, and there was a happy ending.

Still, this is not the movie I want to see. In fact, now that Jobs is dead, I don’t know if it’s possible to tell the kinds of stories about him that were truly exciting.

The books I enjoyed about Jobs and Apple were written while he was alive — and refused to co-operate with the authors. Many of the people interviewed for these books were afraid to have their names used for fear of angering a powerful man.

Jobs had a reputation for having a quick temper in his younger years, and people working in the tech industry didn’t want to get on his bad side. So these books read like secrets revealed. You knew that people were taking risks by talking.

Perhaps the best of these was Apple Confidential by Owen W. Linzmayer. You can still find it on Amazon.

These days, you can say anything you like about Jobs — even make stuff up. If Sorkin’s movie takes off, Jobs could turn into a commodity to be exploited, like other dead celebrities. That would be shame because his real story — tons of stuff I haven’t mentioned — was already fascinating.

I’ve read the eponymous biography by Walter Isaacson that was authorized by Jobs. It’s accurate but the writing is kind of ho-hum. A new book, called Becoming Steve Jobs, is supposed to be better. People who knew him say it is not only historically accurate, but also does a good job of capturing the essence of the man. Maybe I’ll put it on my Christmas wish list.

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October 17, 2015

Yahoo may have just taken the first step toward vanquishing passwords

Over the years, I’ve accumulated dozens, perhaps hundreds, of passwords. Most of them I keep stored in an app, which itself requires a password. Scrolling through the list there are passwords for things that have been long forgotten.

For example, it looks like I at one time decided to sign up for the MacCentral discussion forum. MacCentral was at one time a popular website for Mac users. It no long exists — hasn’t for years.

I could delete some of those old passwords, but it wouldn’t do much good — at least not in terms of bringing down the total. It seems like everything you want to do on the Internet requires a password of some sort.

I’ve been looking at the possibility of using a service for an embedded calendar of events. There are a number of options out there, but it’s hard to decide if they’re any good unless you create an account and give them a try.

So that’s a bunch more passwords.

Every once in a while there is a glimmer of hope that passwords are becoming a thing of the past. As far as I’m concerned, it can’t happen soon enough. I try to keep all my passwords in a safe place, but sometimes I forget, and frustration ensues when I can’t remember one of them.

The latest assault on passwords comes from Yahoo Mail. They’ve just rolled out a system that allows you to securely log in to their service without a password. You read that right — NO PASSWORD.

Here’s how it works: you download the Yahoo Mail app to your smartphone and set it up so that it receives a notification when you want to sign in to Yahoo Mail. If you tap “Yes” then you’re in.

My first reaction was that it would be quicker and easier to type in a password, assuming you remember it. Also, even now, not everyone has a smartphone on them all the time.

Still, when you think about, this is a far more secure way of doing things. Thieves love Internet-based security systems because you can eventually crack them. Set up computers to hack away millions of times a day, and you’re bound to get lucky.

But using Yahoo’s new system would make that approach impossible. That’s because the only password (the one you use to set up the app) is on your phone. Communication between the app and Yahoo Mail is by random tokens that are impossible to guess.

That means the thief would pretty much have to come to your house and steal your phone in order to get into your Yahoo account. Even then, of course, he would need to get past whatever password or fingerprint technology you have used to secure the phone.

This, of course, would be a major inconvenience for bad guys. Balance this with the small inconvenience of tapping a “Yes” when you want to log in and you come out ahead.

I tried it out myself and found it a little weird, but I could get used to it. Once I had everything set up on the app on my iPhone, I tried using Yahoo Mail on a computer. I received a text message asking for permission to log in. I swiped to the left and found the options. I tapped “Yes” then waited.

Not really knowing what to expect, it seemed like it wasn’t working. But after a few seconds, I was in. Impressive. The down side is that I discovered I have over a hundred unread emails, but that’s a whole other thing.

I suspect that if Yahoo’s system catches on with Apple, Google and the rest, it will become further refined, more intuitive and easier to use. When that day arrives, passwords may finally become a thing of the past. I can hardly wait.

(Glenn Fleishman, a respected writer for Macworld, outlines how the new Yahoo Mail system works. Well worth a read.)

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October 3, 2015

Now that we've seen the movie, it's time to go to Mars

Poster for The Martian

The most popular movie this weekend would never have seen the light of day before the Internet.

Andy Weir, an author with a background in computer science, couldn’t get The Martian published the old-fashioned way, so he put it on his website instead — one chapter at a time.

The story involves an astronaut using physics, chemistry and biology to survive after being stranded on Mars, and Weir wanted the science to be as realistic as possible. He did a ton of research, but readers of his website also chimed in with corrections that made the story even more science-y.

The next step was to publish a Kindle version. Even though they could read the story for free on his website, 35,000 fans bought The Martian for 99 cents each and made it a best-seller.

That’s when a paper-and-ink publisher finally took notice. The book sold many more copies and is now a blockbuster starring Matt Damon and directed by Ridley Scott. Variety estimates the movie will make $50 million this weekend.

The movie doesn’t go into as much detail on how the main character is able to pull off scientific wonders such as creating water or growing food on a desolate planet. But it does maintain the can-do spirit that serves as inspiration regardless of whether you’re into gadgetry.

I found the book a bit tedious at times because we really are given full explanations for everything. I was tempted to skim, but didn’t want to miss anything important, so I kept forging ahead to find out he solved one crisis after another.

It’s too early to say at this point, but The Martian could be the science fiction movie that helps define this generation. Yes, there is human drama, but it is tempered with solid logic that is fitting for our times.

Compare this with 2001: A Space Odyssey. That movie was all about the wonder and mystery of space exploration. It seems we’ve moved past that and see space travel as simply a more complex version of driving a car or flying an airplane.

This becomes especially true now that we know so much about the destination. NASA and the European Space Agency have been bringing back ever more detailed extraterrestrial photos and analysis. We now know there is flowing water beneath the surface of Mars and have stunning photos to prove it.

As we come to understand the reality of Mars, Pluto or a passing comet named Philae, movies like The Martian seem less fictional and more aspirational.

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September 27, 2015

Reminder: Safari's Reader has been making ads disappear for years

With all the fuss lately about ad blockers in the latest version of iOS, don’t forget that both mobile and desktop Safari have long had a built-in way of clearing the clutter — Reader.

Have a look at these screenshots from The Next Web:

If you tap on the icon to the left of the web address, it reverses colour and produces a version of the article with nothing but easy-to-read text.

You can go a step further and tap the icon to the right when you’re in Reader mode. This gives you options for text size, background colour, text colour and font.

It’s also guilt-free. Your visit to the website still counts as a “view” for the ads, and the publisher continues to get revenue for it.

Reader doesn’t block tracking, but you can turn on that option in your Safari settings.

The big downside is that Reader doesn’t actually speed up page load times because it’s only hiding ads, not blocking them.

Still, it’s a good option for those who feel uneasy about using blockers.

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September 26, 2015

Internet for all a worthy goal in effort to end world poverty

Most people in emerging and developing countries see the Internet as a good thing when it comes to education and the economy. And so do giants of our technological age such as Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates.

Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook, spoke at the United Nations on Saturday to issue a call for universal Internet access. In addition to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, he is supported by Bono, Richard Branson, Arianna Huffington, Shakira, George Takei, Charlize Theron and Jimmy Wales.

By giving people access to the tools, knowledge and opportunities of the Internet, we can give a voice to the voiceless and power to the powerless. We also know that the internet is a vital enabler of jobs, growth and opportunity. And research tells us that for every 10 people connected to the Internet, about one is lifted out of poverty.

Facebook created, a service that provides free access to the Internet. After complaints about limitations, Facebook has rebranded its effort as Free Basics and made it more flexible for third-party developers to join in.

In countries where data is expensive and money to pay for it is scarce, this seems like a good deal. Limited access is better than none.

“If someone can’t afford to pay for connectivity, it is always better to have some access than none at all,” Zuckerberg says.

With one billion people already using Facebook every day, cynics might say this is a scheme to add another billion. Maybe. But Zuckerberg has plenty of company to keep him honest.

For example, Facebook is one of the signatories to Connect the World, an online petition you can sign to support Internet for all. It promotes one of 17 Global Goals for Sustainable Development.

It’s easy to be cynical about the Internet. As a reflection of humanity, it definitely has a dark side. But for most people in the world, the Internet is seen as a way of pulling themselves out of poverty. And that’s something worth getting behind.

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September 19, 2015

Readers are rebelling, and publishers better listen to them

A screen shot from Twitter user JD Graffam

If you go to Apple’s web page to find out what’s new in the latest version of the software that runs its iPhones and iPads, you’ll find no mention at all about content blockers.

And yet this is the iOS 9 feature that appears to be the most popular. You can now go to the App Store and download an app that blocks all the ads on websites you visit. These apps, which you typically have to pay for, are already topping the charts.

So what does it say when people stampede to pay for something? In our free enterprise system, where consumers vote with their money, it tells me that there are a lot of people fed up with increasingly intrusive advertising.

I recently clicked on a link in my iPhone that took me to a website where an ad immediately took over the page and used up so many resources that it killed the battery and the screen went blank. I can’t be the only one who has an experience like this. No wonder ad blockers are popular.

The readers are rebelling.

Many publishers, of course, are worried that if fewer people see their ads then revenues will drop and they won’t be able to afford to stay in business. To be fair, advertising does seem to be the main way to make money on the Internet these days, but it’s also true that the customer is always right. It can’t possibly be considered a good business model to do things you know annoy your readers.

Even so, CNet doesn’t seem to have learned this lesson. If you try to watch one of their videos with an ad blocker enabled, you get turned away by an obnoxious black screen. All that’s going to do is convince people that they should turn elsewhere for their news.

The problem with the Internet is that there is almost infinite supply. Demand has gone up with the convenience of mobile devices but it will never be infinite. In a situation like this, it’s really hard to make money. So publishers and advertisers increasingly resort to desperate measures. With an abundance of content, customers respond by exercising the option of moving on. Or, as is happening with the iPhone, smart app developers give them what they want — a nice, simple reading experience.

Publishers will have no choice but to adapt to the demands of their readers. It’s always been that way.

Most websites get their advertising by signing up with a company that supplies the ads. The people who run these networks should be scrambling to come up with a solution that makes readers — and, by extension, publishers — happy. Otherwise they’ll become obsolete.

Their biggest obstacle is that they measure success with “views.” If someone sees a web page with ad on it, that counts as a view — even if they didn’t actually look at the ad or absorb what was in it. It’s a shotgun approach. If you keep firing randomly, you’re bound to hit something. There has to be a better way.

In fact we might already have a solution on the horizon based on the success of La Presse, a long-time daily newspaper in Montreal that has announced that its iPad app has become so successful that it is cutting back print publication to once a week in January. They are now in the midst of helping the Toronto Star follow in their footsteps.

What’s different about the La Presse model is that it concentrates on creating a wonderful experience for readers, with advertising integrated into that experience. The main selling point for advertisers is engagement. People are willing to spend a lot of time with an app that treats them like valued customers rather just another pair of eyeballs for products they don’t want or need.

Imagine a future where La Presse sells affordable turnkey solutions like this to publishers large and small. This is the kind of innovation that will win.

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September 6, 2015

Seven points to ponder on a lazy Sunday

All the news organizations in B.C., or maybe Canada, should get together and create a company called NewsFlix. For $10 a month you would get access to beautiful, ad-free versions of their news sites.

I bet a lot of people would sign up. Something better happen soon — this expert says newspapers in Canada will be pretty much extinct in 10 years.

• • •

Google’s new logo is terrible. If you haven’t seen it, go to their website and be horrified.

Google is a whimsical name from a company that brought a semblance of order to the Internet. Now it’s gone for a bland corporate look. But it still has the whimsical name.

These things just don’t go together.

• • •

The best reply I’ve seen to this is Hope vs. No Hope.

My response: If you gave politicians truth serums, wouldn’t they all sound like Trump?

• • •

I wish I was smart enough to make kitty emoji toggles like this:

See what happens if you click on yes.

• • •

Facebook reached a milestone on Aug. 24. One billion people logged in during a single day.

Regardless of your feelings toward it, this is truly an amazing achievement.

• • •

So someone actually did a study and discovered that almost one quarter of all the verified users on Twitter are journalists and media.

That shouldn’t be surprising. Most of them think of Twitter as a customizable, interactive version of the wire services they’re used to.

• • •

Here’s a fun fact: Solitaire was originally included with every computer because it was considered a good way of getting people accustomed to using a mouse. Yes, kids, a mouse was once considered to be a novelty.

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