Categories
Events and Life Mindsets Policy issues Politics and government Social Web

The greatest propaganda machine in history

Sacha Baron Cohen recently spoke about how social media services have become the “greatest propaganda machine in history”.

Much of the media’s focus, when reporting on his remarks, was on his attack on Facebook. While he certainly targeted Facebook, he also spoke about how Google, YouTube, and Twitter shape online discourse, and how they help spread lies, bigotry, and attacks on fact-based discussions.

Think about it.  Facebook, YouTube and Google, Twitter and others—they reach billions of people.  The algorithms these platforms depend on deliberately amplify the type of content that keeps users engaged—stories that appeal to our baser instincts and that trigger outrage and fear.  It’s why YouTube recommended videos by the conspiracist Alex Jones billions of times.  It’s why fake news outperforms real news, because studies show that lies spread faster than truth.  And it’s no surprise that the greatest propaganda machine in history has spread the oldest conspiracy theory in history—the lie that Jews are somehow dangerous.  As one headline put it, “Just Think What Goebbels Could Have Done with Facebook.”

Sacha Baron Cohen

As much as we embrace free expression, we find it difficult to draw a line when liars and bigots abuse their right to free expression because doing that feels like hypocrisy.

Free expression isn’t unlimited, though. And pushing back against channels that help propagate misinformation, abuse, and false statements that impact substantial segments of the population is becoming more important.

At the very least, it’s worth watching Cohen’s talk, or reading his remarks:

We should also think carefully about how much trust we place in services that profit from the social chaos we see around us.

Featured image by Miguel Henriques
Categories
Blogs and blogging Business and work Creative expression

Build a membership site with recurring payments

We launched a new Recurring Payments feature for self-hosted WordPress.org sites (powered by Jetpack) or WordPress.com sites today. It’s an awesome new way for anyone with a paid WordPress.com plan to earn money through their sites.

Our new Recurring Payments feature for WordPress.com and Jetpack-powered sites lets you do just that: it’s a monetization tool for content creators who want to collect repeat contributions from their supporters, and it’s available with any paid plan on WordPress.com.

Let your followers support you with periodic, scheduled payments. Charge for your weekly newsletter, accept monthly donations, sell yearly access to exclusive content — and do it all with an automated payment system.

A New Way to Earn Money on WordPress.com — The WordPress.com Blog

The model is similar to Patreon in that you can give your fans a way to support you with recurring payments. This is a great way to build an income through your site.

Here are a few things you can do with this new feature (borrowing from our announcement post):

  • Accept ongoing payments from visitors directly on your site.
  • Bill supporters automatically, on a set schedule. Subscribers can cancel anytime from their WordPress.com account.
  • Offer ongoing subscriptions, site memberships, monthly donations, and more, growing your fan base with exclusive content.
  • Integrate your site with Stripe to process payments and collect funds.

One reason I really like the Recurring Payments feature is that it gives anyone with a paid plan (whether it’s a WordPress.com Personal plan, or a higher plan) a way to create a membership site that can help them grow a following, and a new income stream.

Ad revenue is a popular way of earning money through your site (we offer a WordAds ad platform, for example), but ad revenue really depends on substantial numbers of visitors to turn into meaningful income.

On the other hand, receiving recurring payments from a smaller group of passionate supporters just seems to be more sustainable, and meaningful.

It’s hard to be creative when you’re worried about money. Running ads on your site helps, but for many creators, ad revenue isn’t enough. Top publishers and creators sustain their businesses by building reliable income streams through ongoing contributions.

This new feature empowers creators, bloggers, knowledge workers, <insert your title here> to share something of value with your audience, and build a sustainable business in the process.

Find out more here: Recurring Payments — Support — WordPress.com.

Featured image by Nicholas Green
Categories
Blogs and blogging Design

My new Twenty Twenty look

I decided to switch my site over to the new Twenty Twenty theme that will be released with WordPress 5.3 next week. I downloaded a pre-release version from the GitHub repo, and uploaded it directly.

A fresh coat of Twenty Twenty

I like the default themes that ship with WordPress, and the themes that our team is building. Even though the new generation of themes aren’t perfect*, they’re built for the block editor. I keep forgetting how much flexibility that brings to WordPress.

Preview of the Twenty Twenty theme.

So far, I like this new theme. I think the content container is a bit narrow on a larger screen, so I may tweak that a bit. The mobile view is pretty great, though.

Main image by Anna Kolosyuk

For example, I’d love to see custom fonts return to the Customizer, although with Full Site Editing on the way, we won’t be using the Customizer for much longer.

Categories
Coding Design Social Web

Owning your tweets

I really like how Zach Leatherman has taken control over his tweets, and is sharing them on his site with some great analytics. He provides some insights into how he’s taking his tweets, and republishing them on his site in his post “I’m Taking Ownership of My Tweets” –

I fully expect my personal website to outlive Twitter and as such have decided to take full ownership of the content I’ve posted there. In true IndieWeb fashion, I’m taking ownership of my data.

Zach Leatherman

I started doing something similar on a test site here: @pauljacobson tweets – All the tweets

My test site uses a relatively old plugin that hasn’t been updated recently. At the same time, it seems to be working relatively called Ozh’ Tweet Archiver. I prefer how Zach has formatted his tweets, and how the images and links are modified for more sustainable presentation on the assumption that Twitter has gone offline.

I also really like how he’s captured replies, and has added analytics to his tweets to surface all sorts of insights such as more popular tweets, retweets data, and more.

I’ve love to know how he’s actually capturing, and reformatting his tweets, but I don’t see a link to the code he’s using for this. I’d eventually like to bring something like that to this site, so this site becomes a complete archive of my tweets too.

At least with the Ozh’ Tweet Archiver plugin running on my test site, I’ll have a WordPress archive that I can readily import as a starting point. I’d like to have linked media load from my site, and not as embeds from Twitter, for example. The idea here is to capture your tweets, and preserve them so they contain their links and media should Twitter no longer exist.

unsplash-logoFeatured image by Ridham Nagralawala
Categories
Applications Coding Entertainment Semantic Web

A curious sequence of events with Google and its YouTube recommendations

Well spotted there, Google! 🔭

I noticed a curious sequence of events this morning. I responded to a tweet about Donald Trump’s latest tweet where he referred to his “great and unmatched wisdom” using the Twitter app on my Android phone –

I then turned to our Android TV box where we were watching YouTube videos in the YouTube app, and I saw a recommendation for this Late Late Show video about Trump’s tweets:

That’s some pretty snappy algorithmic matching there, Google! 🤔

unsplash-logoCover image by Scott Webb
Categories
Devices Science and nature

A quantum computer did something a classical computer just can’t do

Quantum computing still seems to be at a pretty early stage. At the same time, it looks like it has the potential to do truly remarkable things. In at least one case, it did something a classical computer just can’t feasibly do:

But that seriously understates what’s going on here. Every calculation that’s done on a quantum computer will end up being a measurement of a quantum system. And in this case, there is simply no way to get that probability distribution using a classical computer. With this system, we can get it in under 10 minutes, and most of that time is spent in processing that doesn’t involve the qubits. As the researchers put it, “To our knowledge, this experiment marks the first computation that can only be performed on a quantum processor.”

Ars Technica

For more, read the full article “Paper leaks showing a quantum computer doing something a supercomputer can’t | Ars Technica“.

Image credit: DWave 128 chip by DWave, licensed CC BY 3.0

Categories
Devices Writing

Multilingual keyboards can be tricky

Here in Israel we have people who speak Hebrew, Russian, Arabic, and English (just to name more common languages). Keyboards sold here tend to have at least English and Hebrew layouts to cater for what are probably more typical requirements.

When I bought a new keyboard and mouse for our daughter (I went with a Logitech K120 cabled keyboard and mouse combo), I managed to buy a keyboard with English, Hebrew, and Cyrillic layouts.

Multilingual keyboard
English, Hebrew, and Cyrillic layouts on a keyboard.

I don’t speak Russian, so I don’t have a need for the Cyrillic layout. I’ve been using my daughter’s keyboard this morning, and having the extra Cyrillic layout is a little too confusing for me.

Featured image credit: Juan Gomez on Unsplash

Categories
Applications Coding Devices

Giving a 2011 MacBook Air new life with Linux

I bought my wife a 11″ MacBook Air in 2011. It’s a Intel® Core™ i7-2677M CPU @ 1.80GHz (four core) laptop with 4GB of RAM. Over time the battery became less effective, and started to swell. We eventually removed it early last year, before it burst.

That left my wife with her MacBook Air that she had to use when connected to main power. It had also become pretty sluggish between macOS updates, and general cruft accumulation so it took forever for the device to boot up, and perform simple tasks.

My wife recently left her job, and we bought her (formerly) work Lenovo laptop for her to use as a personal machine. This left her MacBook Air gathering dust in a corner of the apartment.

An available option

I’d wanted a personal laptop for my non-Automattic projects, and was building up the courage to buy a new machine that I’d install Linux on. I decided to see if my wife’s laptop would suffice, instead.

I first reset the device, and poked around a bit in macOS. The laptop is past the support cut-off for the current macOS version, so it was running High Sierra (I think). It worked ok, but it felt pretty slow.

Setting it up

I’ve also wanted a Linux laptop to geek out on, so I took a leap, and wiped the drive completely (I was actually planning to configure dual boot, but couldn’t work this out), and installed Pop!_OS by System76 on it.

I installed a couple of my preferred apps such as Sublime Text, Sublime Merge, Dropbox, and so on. I also switched my shell over to ZSH (with Oh My ZSH), installed Conda as my main Python distro/option, and even figured out how to run Jupyter Lab on the laptop.

Of course I also installed the WordPress.com app for Linux testing too.

The laptop still seemed a bit sluggish initially, and it looked like all the processors were maxing out. I also couldn’t work out how to make the dock appear in a more convenient way, and how to add other bits and pieces to my desktop to improve my experience.

I then switched the desktop environment to the MATE desktop, and it seemed to help. For one thing, MATE is better suited to older hardware, and it has a bunch of indicators and widgets that you can customise. I liked it, but I still preferred the overall aesthetic of Pop!_OS.

I also realised that the reason why the laptop was so sluggish was because Dropbox was being Dropbox when it started up. It eventually released its death grip on the processors, to a degree.

Getting used to a different environment

My one big adjustment has been moving from my glorious 15″ Macbook Pro screen where I spend most of my time, to a teeny 11″ screen. On the other hand, I do like the much smaller form factor for mobility.

The laptop is small enough that I may even be willing to take this with me on work trips so I have a personal device for movies (assuming I can get them onto the device, legitimately), projects on longer flights, and so on.

The immediate challenge to all of that is that this machine doesn’t have a battery. I’ve found a solution for that, though. iFixit sells an after market battery for this model for about $75. That’s certainly cheaper than buying a new laptop (assuming it works).

Other than that, it’s also taken me a while to figure out how to do otherwise routine things in Linux. I’ve found ways to customise my experience of the desktop using things like GNOME Extensions, and other apps and utilities.

Mostly, though, I use Sublime Text for my writing and coding (I know VS Code is what all the cool kids are using, I prefer Sublime for now, and it loads really quickly), Firefox as my main browser on this laptop, and I have my terminal pretty much set up with my various extensions.

More of the similar for other home uses

My experience with this laptop has reminded me why I much prefer a Linux computer for home. Our daughter uses a really old desktop PC that’s running Ubuntu 19.04. The PC is a Core 2 Duo with 3 or 4GB of RAM.

When it comes time to replace that, I’ll probably give her one of the new Raspberry Pis with an external drive for storage. The current version is just incredible for what you’re paying. This review will give you a pretty good idea:

The new board comes with a four core AMD processor that, I think, is pretty comparable to the MacBook Air’s 2011 processor, up to 4GB of RAM, and runs on USB-C power. The 4GB model costs around $50 to $60, and the main challenge is actually getting your hands on one.

A Raspberry Pi would probably be a decent upgrade on what she has at the moment, and she could continue doing everything she’s been doing (Minecraft, browsing the Web to school sites, general school research, Google Drive, YouTube, Spotify) just fine.

I’d be very tempted to get one for myself one day, if I could come up with a decent plan for how to travel with it, and use it productively on the road. The biggest challenge would be a screen of some kind, I imagine.

So far, I like this

So far, I really like what I have. I’d like to get some other apps going, such as AutoKey for text expansion, and Albert for easier app launches, web searches, and some of the tasks I use Alfred.app for on my work laptop.

For the time being, though, this Linux-driven MacBook Air is proving to be a pretty good choice.

Featured Image: Unleash Your Potential Robot by Kate Hazen at System76, licensed CC BY SA