Category Archives: Tech

Battle for the Net: Help Keep the Internet Open!

The FCC wants to eliminate net neutrality, the principle that ISPs should treat all traffic the same, and not block, throttle, or promote data based on what service you’re using or who you’re connecting to. But we can stop them.

What’s Net Neutrality? Simple: your cable company shouldn’t decide where you get your news, what businesses you buy from, which video chat services and streaming services you use, or who you talk to.

Why do we need it? It used to be an unofficial rule, underlying the way the Internet was built over the years, until ISPs started to break it. For example:

  • Multiple ISPs intercepted search queries and sent them to their own portals.
  • AT&T blocked Skype on the iPhone.
  • Verizon blocked tethering apps.
  • Multiple carriers blocked Google Wallet in favor of their own payment services.

In 2015, after a public advocacy campaign, the FCC made it official: ISPs in the United States are now required to treat all traffic equally.

So what’s the problem? There’s a new chairman in charge, and he wants to remove the rule.

No doubt cable and phone companies will go back to their old tricks. Plus they could slow down access to news sites that disagree with them, or charge websites extra for the privilege of reaching their audience (when they already pay for their upload connection), or slow down services owned by competitors (consider: Verizon owns Tumblr and Flickr now, and Comcast owns NBC) in favor of their own.

That’s right: free speech, fair competition, and the price you pay for your internet service are all protected by net neutrality.

Rolling back net neutrality doesn’t help you, doesn’t help business, doesn’t help anyone but the existing carriers.

That’s why I’m joining the Battle for the Net — and you can, too. The FCC’s public comment period is still open. Contact the FCC and Congress (here’s a form), and tell them why Net Neutrality matters to you. Then spread the word.

Keeping the internet open is critical. Let’s work to keep it!

Photobucket Lockdown: Another Chunk of Internet History Dies

Back in the old days, before you could upload photos straight to Facebook or Twitter or Tumblr, if you wanted to share pictures online you had to host them yourself. Or if you used something like LiveJournal, you could use their limited image galleries. But with space and bandwidth at a premium in those days, you could run into limits fast.

That’s where sites like Photobucket and Imgur came in. You could upload your images there, and then put them on your fan site, or your journal, or whatever. They were also good for posting anonymously, as in communities like Fandom!Secrets. And they’re still good for posting images in places like Ebay listings, or online forums (yes, they still exist) that don’t provide their own hosting.

But you know the problem with hosting your stuff with a third party. You can’t guarantee they’ll stick around. And while Photobucket isn’t closing up shop yet like GeoCities did (taking with it an entire generation of online fandom), they’ve suddenly blocked hotlinking (the main way people used it!)…unless you pay up $399/year for an advanced account. BuzzFeed minces no words, calling it “ransom”.

So an awful lot of images across the internet have stopped working overnight.

I’m starting to think about all my photos that are hosted on Flickr, now that Verizon owns it. I don’t think they’re likely to do something similar, and Flickr’s paid service is a lot cheaper than Photobucket’s. But Yahoo was never quite sure what to do with it, and Verizon… well…

It might be time to move my “pull in remote Flickr embeds” project off the back burner, just in case.

Why Net Neutrality Matters

The FCC wants to abolish “net neutrality”, which states that ISPs should treat all traffic the same, and not block, throttle, or promote data based on what service you’re using or who you’re connecting to.

In short: Your cable company shouldn’t decide where you get your news, what businesses you buy from, which video chat services and streaming services you use, or who you talk to.

ISPs are people’s and businesses’ gateway to the internet. They shouldn’t also be gatekeepers. Net Neutrality protects free speech, communication, and economic activity that could otherwise be limited or adjusted to push a carrier’s own agenda at the expense of alternate views, create barriers to competition and innovation, and further entrench existing monopolies. The internet works best when it’s allowed to innovate at the edges, rather than locking us all into a near-monopoly’s choices.

This isn’t a hypothetical problem: ISPs have violated net neutrality in the past. ISPs have intercepted search queries and redirected them to their own portals. AT&T once forced Apple to block Skype on the iPhone. Verizon used to block tethering apps. Multiple carriers blocked Google Wallet in favor of their own payment services.

We fought this battle years ago. And now we have to fight it again. The FCC’s plan to roll back net neutrality doesn’t help subscribers, doesn’t help businesses, doesn’t help startups, doesn’t help publishers, doesn’t help you — doesn’t help anyone except the existing carriers and those they might decide to prop up.

I sent the third paragraph (minus the link) as a comment to the FCC through this Free Press Action Fund petition. Mozilla also has a petition, and is collecting voicemails to forward to the FCC before the May 18 meeting. So far they’re up to 50 hours’ worth of audio!

UPDATE! On July 12, 2017, the internet will come together again. Like the SOPA blackout in 2012, and the Internet Slowdown in 2014, everyone from tech companies to small websites to individuals will sound the alarm. Learn more and join the protest at the Battle for the Net.

Badgered Over HTTPS

I’ve been checking in on redirected & dead links lately, a few minutes here and there, updating, replacing, and removing where appropriate. And I’m happy to see that a lot of sites have moved to HTTPS. News sites, online stores, social networks, personal sites, publishers…. Not everyone, of course, but it’s a lot easier than it used to be. Now more than half of all web traffic is protected from eavesdropping and alteration when used across insecure networks.

The one that made me laugh, though: Badger Badger Badger. Now there’s a flashback!

It’s a silly animation loop that went viral back in 2003. The canonical site is still around…and even they upgraded!

Pixar, the Space Shuttle, and Kids’ Museum Memories

Went with the family to see Space Shuttle Endeavour and a Pixar-themed exhibit on computer animation at the California Science Center.

The 6YO loved the Pixar exhibit, which broke down all the steps to creating a computer-animated movie into separate hands-on centers where you could do things like…

  • Apply different textures and bump maps to an object.
  • Rig a character for movement.
  • Change the lighting of a scene (real or virtual).
  • Define a shape in a 3D grid and watching the computer rotate it (way too much time on this one).
  • Create your own stop-motion animation by moving an actual desk lamp.

The only way we got him out was to point out that the museum was closing, and we only had 10 minutes left to get to the touch pools he’d said he wanted to visit. As it turned out, the pools shut down about two minutes before we got there, but staff was willing to let him look at the starfish. And we did catch the last desert flash flood simulation of the day.

As for the shuttle…he wasn’t impressed. He insisted on taking the simulator ride, but the real thing? I guess it’s old news when the whole fleet’s already been shut down by the time you start hanging onto long-term memories. 🤷

Admittedly, a big aluminum hut isn’t as suitable a viewing area for Endeavour as open space in broad daylight, surrounded by an enthusiastic crowd. Though that might have been the fact that it was my first time getting up close. On the other hand, this time I could see both sides. Heck, I could walk under it!

There is a new building in the works, where they’ll be displaying it with one of the external tanks in launch position. I’m sure it will lead to plenty of cartoons and movies where someone goes to the museum, breaks into the shuttle and blasts off.

I couldn’t make the building line up with my memories of visits when I was younger, back when it was the Museum of Science and Industry. The only thing I could match up at all were the wall facing the Exposition Park rose garden, and some of the buildings by the parking lot (a sunken structure now, but I remember it being flat).

Then again, what I remember are specific exhibits more than the layout: a big math/physics exhibit, a chicken incubator, and a multi-screen cartoon about energy sources and engine types called “The Water Engine.” (Each screen has a character talking up internal combustion, flywheels, mag-lev, electric, etc. I still quote the Peter Lorre-inspired fuel-cell scientist saying “And then…we burn the hydrogen!”)

It turns out there’s a good reason nothing fit my memory: They tore down the whole building in the late 1990s, preserving only that one wall!