Physical Privacy for Mark Zuckerberg's Laptop
Via Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook Profile

Mark Zuckerberg Is Right to Tape His Webcam. But He Shouldn’t Have To.

Will Oremus, Slate

It’s not that weird that someone as high profile as Mark Zuckerberg considers basic cyber security. After all, as we mentioned a few weeks ago, even the CEO of Facebook is not immune to hacking.

A good point is made though that maybe he shouldn’t have to think of this in the first place, as none of us should have to. Webcam hacking is more commonplace than you may think, and an easy hack to pull off. While covering the camera with tape won’t stop audio recording (his microphones were also covered), it does protect against folks that may seek to exploit the cameras and serve as a reminder of common security practices that we have to endure until laptops include physical toggles on their sensors.


Gotta Go Fast! Sonic Graffiti photo Fuzzy Gerdes on Flickr
Gotta Go Fast! Sonic Graffiti photo Fuzzy Gerdes on Flickr

How Sonic the Hedgehog Explains the Internet

Brian Feldman, NYMag

Sonic the Hedgehog turned 25 years old this week. The character has been around almost as long as the world wide web, and certainly longer than it has been in general use. The entire franchise has in some ways mirrored the growth of the commercial internet, from genuine infatuation to ironic self-referential meme-ing.

Do yourself a favor and follow the official Sonic Twitter account. The leeway that’s been given to the team to be authentically internet is a welcome departure from corporate straight-lacedness.


Taking the headphone jack off phones is user-hostile and stupid

Nilay Patel, The Verge

I have no idea if the next iPhone will truly have no headphone jack, but I can’t really see wanting that right now. We’ve got fewer wired accessories needed for a laptop, but I’m still not ready to ditch it all for USB-C yet. Similarly, there’s an entire ecosystem of products (including for people who have them more as needs than luxuries) that rely on headphone ports. Getting rid of the port after it’s been so ingrained without a universal-ish replacement is a bad idea.


How “Silicon Valley” Nails Silicon Valley

Andrew Marantz, The New Yorker

The third season finale of ‘Silicon Valley’ is this weekend, and I’m excited to see what cliffhanger we’re left with. In the meantime, let’s take a look at how much the show is really like the real world, and why that made it such a success for HBO. As much as the real Silicon Valley produces much of the technological wonder in the world, it’s a place of heavy contradiction and tight-knit circles.

It’s nice to see that the elite who are being skewered can take a joke enough to provide background research for the show, or even appear on it. You know, unless they’ve got as thin of skin as Peter Thiel clearly has.


How Peter Thiel’s Gawker Battle Could Open a War Against the Press

Nicholas Lemann, The New Yorker

Speaking of Mr. Thiel, the outcome of his case against Gawker, and the amount of involvement that he’s been revealed to have had, makes a scary case for the future of freedom of speech protections for the press. With more news organizations starting out by single founders in the way of Nick Denton’s media empire, more individuals without billions of dollars and teams of lawyers are in danger of retribution for writing something that powerful people don’t want to hear. Is repeating negative stories going to be an issue for my own newsletter?

Last Week I saw a Humans of New York photo and caption that was shared and commented upon by NASA’s official Facebook account:

The young girl expressed interest in building a rocket ship to explore space, and the NASA account commented that she’s the right age to be part of one of the first manned missions to Mars. I don’t know the future and can’t say whether this girl will ever go into a career related to space, or if the comment impacted her as much as many of the readers. I stand by the comment that I made on the story:

If you are in a position to help and encourage others, it’s your duty to do so

Advantages Cannot Be Ignored

It’s easy to forget when you have specific advantages because you can point to all of the advantages that you don’t have. I didn’t go to an ivy league school, my parents aren’t wealthy, I have never lived in a tech hub, and I never had anyone to tutor me. That hasn’t stopped me from becoming a self-employed web developer, able to teach myself WordPress related development and in turn teach others.

There are advantages that I did have. My parents are tech savvy, and my father is an electrical engineer. We had a computer in my house for as long as I can remember, and an internet connection since before I turned six. We always had books, and my parents always had time to take me on regular trips to the bookstore and library. Both high schools that I went to offered programming courses, which I took every semester. I got a good scholarship to a great college and continued learning. I have just enough recklessness in me to consider self-employment a viable option, or at least a smart gamble.

I am definitely not a great developer, but I know more than enough to get by, and am constantly learning. More important, I know more than many others, and I feel that it’s a responsibility to help them when they ask and when I can provide. In turn, I continue to learn from others. It’s probably an oxymoron to describe my own humility, but I have enough of it to know that there’s always more rungs on the ladder, above and below. I have skills that others desperately want to learn for themselves.

Encourage Others

One of the greatest things that you can do is encourage others. Tell them that they can do something, and truly mean it when you say it. The underdogs constantly defy expectations, as expectations are too easily built around assumptions. The resources exist, but the education and encouragement don’t always.

This little girl may have the kindest, most supportive parents in the world. Still, how cool is it to say “I want to do this” and have someone who has achieved that actively encourage you? What if that’s the trigger that leads to a life of study, a life of exploration, and eventually a life among the stars?

What if everyone encouraged those around them to succeed? What if we all taught our communities to strive for more? Seriously, how cool would that be?

Orlando, the City Beautiful and Strong

Orlando is Unbreakable
Photo at Orlando Vigil from jpDesignTheory on Flickr

I am gay, half-Latin, and I live in Orlando, Florida. I have never been involved with any violent crimes and was thankfully not involved with the horrific murders that took place in my city on Sunday morning, but this is the closest anything that notorious has occurred to me.

It is the internet that is allowing so many varied viewpoints and reactions to enter my filter bubble, with the heartbreak and frustration that accompanies. It is also the communities that I am part of – both offline and online – that have shown amazing support all week. Facebook, Twitter, Email, Text, and Phone have all been used by friends to check in and ensure that I’m doing alright. The internet creates and maintains connections between us all. This is the reason that I love it. This is the reason that I will defend it as hard as I can.

I’m always going to think of all of those lives taken in my city. I’m also going to think of the outpouring of support that immediately followed, proving that love will always outdo hate.


What’s going on with Net Neutrality?

The ruling of the DC Circuit Court on the FCC’s proposed net neutrality was delivered earlier this week. Regulations proposed in 2010 and 2014 both failed, but the FCC seems to have learned its lesson, submitting a detailed document with the intent to counter every argument against their proposal. Their hard work appears to have paid off, as the court threw out every single one of the arguments.

The main point of contention revolves around the classification of broadband service. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 created definitions for telecommunications services and information services. Broadband was classified as a telecommunications service at first, switched to an information service in the early 2000’s, was challenged as far back as 2005, but has stayed that way until now.

Broadband providers like Verizon and Comcast have argued that since they bundle internet service with things like email accounts and hosting, which are unquestionably information services, the entire bundle including the telecommunications portion should be classified as information. A middling analogy of their argument is saying that since your bloody filet mignon has a side of carrots and beans (that you probably won’t eat anyway), the meal should be considered vegetarian.

You can see a more detailed breakdown of what this all means in a Vox story on the ruling.


I am sending pouting selfies to a robot. Its AI is well buff

Alistair Dabbs, The Register

Do you want to be judged on your looks by artificial intelligence? You’re in luck then! Beauty.ai is a website that aims to teach computers to recognize human beauty. You’ve still got time to upload selfies to be judged by the computers, or if you are a data scientist you can work on algorithms to do the judging. Finally, scientific validation of subjective beauty!


Manners maketh Nan: Google praises 86-year-old for polite internet searches

Oliver Holmes, The Guardian

There’s not much of a story here beyond the straightforward: Ben posted a picture of his grandmother’s Google search in which she asked Google to please translate some roman numerals, thank you. The tweet took off in popularity which was only increased when the @GoogleUK and @Google accounts responded to the tweet.

While Google doesn’t have individuals answering all search queries, it’s cute to think about, and a reminder that good manners get you places.


Disturbing new site scrapes your private Facebook and informs landlords, employers

Chris Matyszczyk, CNet

Score Assured is a new company that scrapes social media accounts to calculate scores for landlords and job recruiters. Presumably, this is done through sentiment analysis, as well as an unknown algorithm that creates a profile of how good you would be as a potential tenant or employee.

While many states are passing legislation stopping employers from requiring that you hand over passwords (which is not even close to unheard of), the sneaky workaround of a plan like Score Assured is the opt-in status. Sure, you have to opt-in to a request to view your private Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. for the system to work, but what’s to say that a disqualifier for consideration is a refusal to do this?

Potential future employers: save time and let me know upfront if you ever want access to any of my accounts. I’ll save you time by pointing out that they are not currently private, and that I have no interest in working for your company.


Starbucks launches its Microsoft Outlook add-in for coffee fiends

Blair Hanley Frank, PC World

When Starbucks integrated with Twitter to allow users to send digital gift cards to one another over the service they made a ton of extra money. Now they’ve integrated with Outlook to offer the same feature, as well as a meeting feature that allows you to schedule in person meetings at the nearest Starbucks. Anyone care to get coffee with me?

This story was submitted by @lmelegari. Don’t forget that you can suggest stories for the newsletter!

I was 13 years old in September of 2011. I lived on an army base at the time but went to a high school off-base with everyone my age from the neighboring towns. For a month or so after the attacks, what used to be a ten-minute commute coming home from school was a multi-hour affair as every vehicle was searched and inspected, starting the general closure of military bases in the country that continues to this day. The following month reduced that wait to 60-90 minutes as a more refined system was put into place, and finally that ten-minute journey settled into a thirty minute one for the remainder of my time there. Fear seeped into the bedrock of a community that had previously been impermeable.

I had several family members who lived in NYC, and as a city that has over 1/40th of the population of the USA in it, that’s something that a large portion of the country could say. Several hundred people were in Pulse on Saturday night in Orlando. So far none of my direct acquaintances have shown up on the expanding list of casualties that I can sickeningly refresh throughout the day. All of those people were part of the community, and like the attack that affected our whole country, the networks that have been irrevocably altered this weekend affect the entirety of Orlando.

I think that it’s an easier call to action to say that I’d like less focus on the use of this tragedy as a way to feel good about ideals, and to actually do good. I really don’t care about frivolous arguments about vernacular and smug satisfaction. Too often I see directed calls, such as the call for blood donations yesterday, as a way to salve guilt over perceived transgressions of community.

Blood donations are always needed, without any specific catalyst to warrant them. Blood supplies in the country are always lower than needed, and there are always good reasons to donate. In this argument, I’ll ignore the large percentage of my community that cannot donate blood for a variety of reasons, most notably the terrible irony of being unable to donate by being an active homosexual, like many of the people killed.

Can you not donate blood for some reason? Do you not live in Orlando and cannot directly volunteer here? That’s ok. Your own community needs just as much assistance as mine does, maybe in different ways right now but for the same goal of providing meaning and support for your neighbors. The beautiful thing is that our globalized community makes all of the world your neighbors, and kindness is outrageously contagious.

The multiple communities that intersect in my life are loving and caring, with a focus placed on service to others and not just to self. Choose to do something for another today, not because you feel a social obligation but because you feel that every act of kindness compounds and outweighs heinous acts. One act of violence causes an instance of heartbreak. One act of kindness sets off a chain reaction of continued kindness.

Urlesque and Memes
Illustration by J. Longo

The rise and fall of Urlesque, the site that wanted to take memes mainstream

Rae Votta, Daily Dot

I admit, I was never even aware of the existence of Urlesque (which is no longer active but with remnants existing in HuffPost Comedy), but hearing this retelling of the site’s short existence at AOL by one of its contributors makes me wish that I had been in the know sooner. Part of the reason that I started this newsletter was to examine internet culture, which at turns is getting more homogenized and sanitized in the mainstream, while an arms race of non-sequitirism exists on the fringes, daring the uninitiated to enter at their own risk.

I think that a part of the meme-ification of culture is, in addition to the sheer virality of a single idea over a longform topic, an easy way to become part of a club. While the origins and meanings of individual memes may baffle onlookers as much as the actual content, a handshake has been performed by those involved saying “yes, I am in on the joke and we are alike”. Urlesque might be gone, but Know Your Meme, Buzzfeed, and many others have taken up the mantle of documenting what disparate corners of the web are finding funny and meaningful.

Memes are shorthand for a state of being or to quote a meme concept that has passed it’s prime, they can describe “that feeling when“. The joy of sharing memes online isn’t necessarily in figuring them out or describing them, but in reveling in a group at a shared experience. Even though I was never onboard Urlesque, I’ll miss it, as we can never have enough forums to share the wonderful oddities produced and amplified by the web.


Online Reviews? Researchers Give Them a Low Rating

David Streitfeld, The New York Times

There’s a restaurant named Botto Bistro near San Francisco, which prides itself on “Authentic Tuscan cooking with attitude, also specializing in getting the worst reviews on Yelp!” The Yelp reviews for the restaurant match this, at least for the people who are in on the joke. The owners are protesting the fact that you can’t opt out of being reviewed by the service by requesting that customers leave them a one-star review on the service.

Should you rely too heavily on online reviews? Botto’s owners don’t think so. Nor do studies that suggest that beyond reviews being outright fabricated or paid for, the algorithms and shortcuts that many sites rely on to get a five-star scale out of a complex system of pros and cons. Keep in mind next time you decide which restaurant to go to or which movie to go see that the numbers online cannot be an accurate reflection of what your future experience will be, and are often gamed to raise expectations.



Why you should think twice before spilling your guts to a chatbot

Nathaniel Mott, The Christian Science Monitor

When chatting to a computer you may assume that your conversations are being parsed by a computer, never to be seen by humans. But even if that’s the case, why should the computer be trusted any more with your personal data?

Nathaniel interviews several researchers who point out that users may be willing to hand over even more personal info to a chatbot than they would in an online form or to a pollster, as the conversational nature makes people more inclined to be forthcoming. Combine that with all of the other info that the bot could potentially know about you based on connections to other services, and suddenly a more personalized picture of every user emerges.


https://twitter.com/sophieGG/status/738757010037080065

Will One of These New Emojis Replace the Eggplant as the Dick Symbol?

Kaleigh Rogers, Motherboard

Popular phone keyboard alternative, Swiftkey, tracks which emoji are being used and in what combinations. The eggplant emoji is used over four times as often as the ear of corn, which was released at the same time. With the many new food emoji added, until the Unicode consortium straight up ads penis emoji, will any of these overtake the vegetable as the de-facto standard for suggestive texting?

Just make sure that whoever you send dicks to, real or food-emoji-based, that they requested them first. A Facebook user is petitioning the company to ban users from sending unsolicited sexual photos via private message, which aren’t monitored and flagged in the same way that public posts are.


“Protecting Internet Freedom Act” Introduced By Cruz

Michael Berkens, The Domains

Senator Ted Cruz has introduced an act with the intent of extending a contract indefinitely between the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, allowing the latter to continue control of TLD ownership and management, as well as assigning them. This would in effect be similar to ICANN management of TLDs as exists currently, but without the concern that the act’s authors have of this going away, as is currently being discussed in the wake of the Snowden leak that demonstrated the amount of spying done by the US government on every connected person and device on the planet.

I don’t know if I agree with the phrase that they need to “ensure that the United States maintains sole ownership of the .gov and .mil top-level domains, which are vital to national security”, but I’m also not well versed on what exactly would happen were other countries (that also have militaries and governments) able to utilize those extensions. While the support for this bill is worded as much as anything in politics is, basically as “the person who I am opposed to politically thinks this way, therefore he’s wrong and this is what we should do”, it’s not just as easy as choosing to be for or against the concept simply by who proposes it. The general issue of internet ownership and management is as important as any other trade agreement, and it should be handled with care and deliberation.