Monday, September 5, 2011

Goodbye, Spambook. You will be missed.

About a week or two ago I took the decision of quitting Facebook. I told all my friends, even started an event to catch their attention. I wanted to make sure I didn't lost contact with anyone who cared enough. I posted my Twitter handle, my Google Plus profile, and even a link to this here blog.

What did I hate about it? Nothing really, it was just a combination of things that were mildly annoying.

The first problem with Facebook was that it is like the Internet when it started in the early nineties; back when I was in high school, when we were figuring out search engines, email, IRC chat, HTML, and random websites about random stuff. When the World Wide Web was like the wild, wild, west. There was no law upon the vast openness. Some of the earliest webpages were also the most disturbing. Computer viruses that would spread like the plague through shared floppies could now send themselves to new hosts. Hate groups could share their evil ideas and form nice communities. Kids that were once bullied could become the greatest assholes. These were dark days, but I still remember them fondly. How did we survive this era? We simply did because we had to! Soon enough, after the novelty wore off, there were laws; unwritten guidelines that we all followed. The two pillars of this law were spam and netiquette. For a few years the Internet was a nice place to spend time. Then, as a parallel to mankind in general - our creations evolving faster than our minds, and our minds evolving faster than our bodies - technology made the internet accessible to anyone, even people who didn't ask for it. Phone companies started building smartphones and making them mandatory. Social networks came in and once more became mandatory. A nice old lady walked into the phone store because her Nokia had broken, and an astute salesman sent her home with a fucking android preloaded with MySpace, Facebook and Twitter. Now, before you shrug me off as a snob, read this carefully. This people did not ask for the internet. They were forced into it. I'm not talking about just the elderly. I'm talking about the jocks, the bros, the hot chicks, the artists, the teachers, the housewives… people who already had a life, a job and hobbies. People who were happy. People who had life figured out. People who did not have the tech savvy that we relied on to keep the internet from collapsing on our heads. People who took it all for granted. My mom and dad both have Facebook accounts. My younger brother, who was never into technology and barely even played video games as a boy has one. Many of my uncles and aunts have Facebook accounts, and my grandparents were they alive, they'd be on Facebook as well. I know I'm starting to sound like a hipster, just bear with me for a second. The problem is that all these new users were shoved into a world without any guidelines. There is no instruction manual. Just post whatever you're doing or thinking, and click the like button. I have no patience to relive the nineties. My mother in law posts everything in uppercase and refuses to stop even after I explained how annoying it is. My uncle keeps tagging me in pictures of a guy taking a shit and such. My friend's sister posts that she's selling this or that on a daily basis. These are tiny details that irk me just as much. They are still people I love. No I'm not going to stop loving my mom for making an embarrassing comment on my status.

The second problem is such a large part of the first that it deserved its own paragraph. Back when email was still a novelty, people had the tendency of re-sending any interesting emails they got to their friends. Eventually this came to be known as spam, and such conduct slowly receded. The Internet came up with less annoying ways to share these amusing anecdotes. Then social networks came and it got worse. Now you're an asshole of you don't copy and paste the whole thing! "97% of my friends don't love me enough to post this as their status". A big, heartfelt, FUCK YOU to anyone who has ever started any of these chains.

The third problem was getting to really know some people. One good thing about life before the eighties was that you'd assume everybody was very smart by the way they spoke. Now there's nothing but bitter disappointment when I see some of my relatives' spelling and grammar, yeah, the same people who expected me to have straight As in school. I'd see people post the silliest things and I realize we have nothing in common. Religion, politics, superstition… even music - these are things you should not discuss openly. In some extreme cases there were people I liked that turned out to be real jerks. How can a someone who is nice in person be an absolutely evil on a social network?

The fourth problem is gaming. I have covered this in several occasions on my gaming-related blog. Some games in there are OK, but none of them is worth the continuous spamming for gifts, energy or other in-game favors. I still can't believe I have friends that ONLY use Facebook for gaming.

I'm glad the internet is so widespread now. News travel faster now. We get to know each other better now. We keep in touch. It's all really nice. What I like the most about Facebook is that it made me realize I was not alone in this world, that there are people who care about me even though they don't really know me. It was certainly a worthwhile experiment.

Remember, if it doesn't make you money and it doesn't make you happy. Don't do it. - Adam Carolla

So why am I quitting? I simply don't enjoy it anymore. To those few that kept me interested the novelty seems to have worn off, so they barely post anything. I find myself staring at a wall of uninteresting fact about acquaintances I barely know, untagging myself from pictures and blocking apps and people altogether. The fun is ghone. Time to move on. I just hope Twitter and Google+ don't end up like this.

Now, I may have not been clear enough, so I will restate this: I am not quitting on my friends and my family. I’m quitting on a broken social network. I still love my friends, and I hope you can still keep in touch.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The rest of us

Ah, Festivus, the holiday for the rest of us! Last year I thought it'd be funny to play along after watching the infamous Seinfeld episode and reading about it on the web. But, will it ever be more than just a fad? There's only one way to find out: science!

I started preparations a week early by launching an anti-Christmas campaign on various social networks and trying to spread Festivus cheer. Throughout the evening of the 23rd I went ahead and aired my grievances all over Twitter. This proved to be a very satisfying part of the tradition. My greatest grievance, though, was that there was a tree instead of a pole in my living room. Christmas will not die easily, especially when there are children in the house. For the traditional Festivus Dinner we had Orange Chicken Wraps, keeping in mind that too heavy a meal could spoil the Feats of Strength. It proved to be a wise decision when my wife and kids effectively pinned me down in an epic tickle fight (maybe when they're older we can upgrade to more grueling feats). Ah, finally, I witnessed firsthand the most glorious Festivus miracle; I am cured of seasonal depression! I guess a sad Christmas is less soul crushing when you approach it with absolutely no expectations.

I believe the experiment was a success. The holiday is entirely plausible. I had lots of fun and next year I'm taking it up a notch or two. I might even acquire a pole, cook a fancy dinner and actually challenge a grown-up to an epic feat of strength.

Yes, I'm aware it's still silly. But even if it never goes beyond being a fad, it's still better than celebrating Jesus' birthday on the wrong day by doing things he would frown upon.

Good Hacks

Am I the only person that ever feels nostalgic about computers before the Internet? I still remember installing the TCP/IP manually on Windows 95! If you wanted to send a document or a program to someone, you had to write it on a floppy and hand it to him or her. The curious thing was that users did not see this as an inconvenience. I guess the personal aspect made it more satisfying to share. It was indeed an age of generosity.

In addition, software companies started distributing software demos and shareware by jamming floppies inside computing magazines and other media.

However, there was a dark side to this: the advent of the computer virus. Antivirus software had to evolve continuously to catch up with this new trend, especially with how until recently they could get into your computer without your consent. Then there were the "Trojans" which relied entirely on trickery, and there is very little an antivirus can do about that. The term "virus" made more sense because of the physical aspect of how media would become infected. Sharing software was a lot like sex. You would hold up a floppy, stare at it for a while, then show it to your friend and ask, "This looks clean, right?" before even considering putting it in your vulnerable floppy drive.

Still, I feel a certain respect for the "hackers" of old. These people would come up with absolutely evil algorithms for fun and bragging rights. Like kids nowadays say: "they were doing of for teh LULZ." In fact, many viruses back there were entirely harmless and would only display a silly message or "tag" your computer with a (sometimes invisible) signature that only other hackers would find when trying to "tag" you, much like modern day graffiti artists.

I hold very little respect for modern day hackers, though. Their crimes are the same, but their motives are far worse: they are doing it for money. Heck, they don't even steal their money in an honorable fashion! They are doing the corporations' dirty work.

In all those nights spent formatting my hard drive because a virus, it would have never occurred to me that in a few years a computer virus would attempt to plant an advertisement on my desktop! Way to stick it to the man, guys! So much for "honor among thieves".

I bring this up because of the mention of "good hackers" on the news lately, like the one who has been attacking Wikileaks, claiming his own brand of internet vigilantism, or those attacking the sites of corporations that have turned their backs on WikiLeaks. While I don't support the attacks, at least the guy is hacking for what he believes is right (assuming he is not being paid to do it). This made me ponder; are there more good hackers out there? What other "quests" could these paladins of l337 righteousness embark on?

Certainly, there must be many. In the meantime, I have only one humble suggestion: Make a virus that disables CAPS LOCK on any computer when the spacebar is pressed.

Thanks for reading and don't hesitate to post a comment if you have any suggestions for righteous viruses!