The sky, the stars… and the Cloud.

If there’s anything that the internet has ever done to make our lives really great, it’s a solid argument between cloud computing and memes.

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There’s no reason for me to explain the greatness that memes have contributed to society.  However, there is reason for me to explain what cloud computing has done to further civilization as a whole.  Thumbs up, let’s do this.

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Cloud computing is a fairly simple concept: instead of having one computer perform some absurd amount of calculations, split the workload across a bunch of computers.  This can be achieved physically with multiple computers working together on the same physical network, sure… but imagine if you could take that functionality and make it all virtual.  That’s cloud computing: sharing computing power across a ton of virtual computers.

Cloud computing is a great resource to take advantage of.  A service that uses cloud computing generally costs less than a physically equivalent service. Virtual computers don’t require physical upkeep; they can be modified and repaired by anyone, anytime, anywhere.  It’s easier in basically every regard to work with and maintain.

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In addition to the lower cost of cloud computing, it’s also easily scalable.  Due to the virtual nature of cloud computing, services that use it require much less overhead to scale up or down.  It’s easy to see how this could be useful: a small trending business that would otherwise have difficulty upscaling wouldn’t come across any problems with a cloud-based service.  If there’s a demand for more servers, it’s easy to boot up a couple more.  If there’s a demand for more employee use, it’s just as easy to access a cloud-based app regardless of location.  The lack of any real physical requirement untethers the service from the real world and allows scalability like no other physical service.

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Something else that isn’t thought of as prominently when cloud computing comes to thought is the environmental impact.  Server farms are, and have been, a very real thing.  It costs a lot of time, money, and effort to keep server farms working in proper condition.  Computers typically need the right environment to work efficiently (heat and humidity don’t mix well with computers), so offsetting the heat generated by the computers and the environment around them requires quite a large amount of energy.  Read that energy as power that comes from a power grid… it all comes back to the environment, in the end.

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There really are very few disadvantages to cloud computing. Besides the occasional downtime (which really depends on what kind of service you’re using), I’d most certainly argue the pros outweigh the cons.

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Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth…

The internet has certainly changed nearly every single aspect of life.  Nothing’s quite the same as it was once before, when dinosaurs roamed the earth.  The internet’s impact is arguably at a level greater than other previous advancements like the Industrial Revolution.

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Speaking of revolutions, there’s a big change (or series of changes, rather) that the internet has spurred on: activism.

Look at activism before the internet.  Something like the Paris Commune happened completely without any of the instant communication the internet has to offer.  Out of all of the insane benefits the internet has to offer, it’s the instant communication aspect that makes activism so much more powerful.  The power of communication in this form enables leadership to form instantly and turn ideas into tangible projects that lead to actual change.

The large amount of platforms that exist on the internet are a direct resource for activist groups to utilize.  Social media outlets like Facebook offer the opportunities to create groups and events that aren’t bound in any physical manner.  People who want to contribute to a cause they believe in can do it even if there’s not a physical presence nearby.  That’s a really big deal.  People who previously didn’t feel like their opinions had a chance to be heard now do.  The ability to communicate with just about anyone who agrees with you really gives a potential activist the opportunity to make themselves known.

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The ability to have these communities built so quickly also speeds up the process of going from an idea to real change.  After all, the hardest part of getting things done is getting everyone working together in the first place.  The internet’s removal of physical boundaries makes it so much easier to do exactly that, and thus speed up the process.

‘Hacktivist’ groups like Anonymous, Chaos Computer Club, and Ajax reap these benefits outrageously.  By being unable to be targeted physically, the groups are able to form and reform as needed in any capacity. For the work that they do being so controversial, it’s pretty important for them to utilize those benefits.

Above all, know this: the internet changes everything it touches.  The ability to make your voice heard has never been easier to achieve with the inclusion of the internet.  Groups of like-minded people can now group up on the internet and act as a stronger force than ever possible without access to an instant system of communication like the internet.  Don’t let your voice go unheard.  Don’t let your dreams be dreams.

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The way of the future…

The internet, as a resource, works a lot better with a healthy dose of cooperation.  That’s why APIs are the coolest thing since sliced bread in the computer world.

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By the end of this, hopefully you get an idea of what APIs are and the purpose they serve.  So without further delay, let’s get into it.

But first…

Encapsulation

There’s an idea in computer science.  Many, actually, but this one is called data encapsulation.  The concept is this: imagine there’s an object in front of you.  It’s a machine that takes some input and output.  Encapsulation is the idea that there’s a lot of things that happen inside that machine that you’re not concerned about (or explicitly should not be exposed to) that eventually lead to an output you wanted in the first place.  With this idea simmering on the backburner, let’s look at APIs now.

Application Programming Interfaces (APIs)

An API is the means to keeping the concept of encapsulation working proper, among other things. Just like in the previous example, a system may take a variety of inputs and outputs.  More often than not, the user of these systems doesn’t need to know what’s happening under the hood.  So there’s no real reason to show it to them… it’s encapsulated.  The user has access to a couple of functions to get the job done, and that’s it.  The API’s purpose in this system is to provide the user that access.

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Say I’m writing a script that wants to check the most recent Bitcoin to Ethereum sales.  Using their RESTful API, I can easily get the info I’m looking for simply by generating a hyperlink.  If you click that link as a human, you’re gonna see a ton of data that hurts your eyes.  If you get the data from that link as a computer, you’re looking at a well-organized set of data great for analysis.

I’ve written a short example script that uses the Requests library to handle the API.  You can check it out here.

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The ease of access an API allows is what makes them the optimal solution for collaboration between different platforms.  As demonstrated, an API lets completely independent developers quickly utilize an application.  That’s the beauty of APIs: the ease of access.

With all of the above in mind, hopefully the concept of an API is better understood.  In the end, the concept is fairly simple… but the benefits are too great to ignore! APIs are just one of many resources available on the internet that constitute a healthy level of collaboration and cooperation.

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Gotta get back… back to the past.

The best part about checking out your own tweets is engorging yourself in the true cringe of them.

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I decided to check out my Twitter archive to see how much the Internet has prospered from my high school wisdom.  Hint: it’s not much.  Check out some screenshots:

Above is an overview of my tweets over the past six years.  The highest bar there is 78 tweets (October 2012).  The other ones range between 2 and 25 tweets a month.  As seen, it’s usually on the lower side. In 2012, I tweeted the most I ever have.  Take a look at a few in their full glory:

Looking at it, it’s kind of what you’d expect from a sophomore in high school.  As all time machine-esque services are, it’s neat to look back on stuff like this and see how much you’ve changed. It appears that all I used to tweet about was how much I loved my friend Sunny… in 2012, at least.  The remainder of existing data bears striking similarity to the screenshots above.  There’s a little deviation in 2014, when I fell into what I’d say was a bit of a rut in my life.  The tweets became considerably less entertaining and more concerning, than anything else. Still just as ridiculous, though.

If there’s anything to take away from this, it’s that resources such as this are valuable resources in furthering yourself as a person.  Internet or not, seeing what you’ve done in the past is an awesome way to iterate and improve.  Give it a try.

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You Died – 2 Lives Remaining

I was born and raised a gamer.  I built my first PC in middle school.  I decided to major in Computer Science because I wanted to take my one and only passion, video games, and turn it into something that’ll put some money in my pocket.  I have tattoos that pay tribute to video games that have changed my life.

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So why am I saying goodbye to video games?

After reading an article about digital minimalism, I’ve come to the conclusion that video games are a moderate detriment to my lifestyle.  The reasoning isn’t in the games themselves, but the social aspects that surround every single one of them.  With a lifestyle revolving around video games, my days consisted of nothing more than either playing said games, discussing the games with other players (and good friends of mine),  or planning a time to do either of those things.  The concept consumed me.

So two weeks ago (as of writing this), I stopped playing video games.  My goal is to continue for a month’s time, then revisit the idea and re-evaluate the concept.  Here’s a couple of things I’ve noticed as of current:

Free time

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Now that I’m no longer obligated to play games like an absolute maniac, my time has considerably freed up.  By making the active choice to spend my time doing something else other than video games, I’ve found other productive ways to spend my time.  I’m able to revisit my priorities and make use of the massive amounts of free time summer has given me.  This fact alone is often the reason I am motivated to continue on with this ‘experiment’.

Additionally dropped platforms

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As previously stated, the video games themselves aren’t the cause of my dismay… it’s the social aspects of them.  By dropping the games, I’m also indirectly taking a break socially as well.  Since it’s the same idea as dropping the games, I’m also experiencing similar benefits to dropping things like the multiple Facebook group chats, Teamspeak, and Discord channels.  Time has freed up substantially, and it’s really awesome to not feel consumed by that obligation to contribute to the gaming group.  It’s a chain reaction of beauty.

A yearning to return

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Even with all of the above in mind, I still have that sense in the back of my head to go back.  It’s not something I can quite explain, but it’s a desire that never fully disappears.  These feelings are worth noting when it comes to the analysis of social media and other communication platforms… it’s an almost primal feeling that you don’t want to give it up.  It’s a struggle, and I don’t even consider myself truly addicted to the attention that came with the social aspects of video games.  It’s easy for me to see that, for someone who is truly addicted to the attention granted by social media, it’s incredibly difficult to want to give that up.

As a final note, I recommend giving this type of thing a try.  Go crazy and get rid of something you use a lot (social media, anyone?).  Challenge yourself to make your life different for awhile.  After all, what’s life without a little chance?

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My thoughts and tips on personal internet security.

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As any internet user should know, the internet isn’t the safest place out there. A lot of people in a lot of places would do a lot of things to get their hands on a lot of your data. With that in mind, it’s easy to see why the internet can be a little dangerous for the unknowing. That’s why I’ve created a small list of tips and tricks to keep you smart on what’s really up for grabs.

Before that, it’s important to understand what’s at stake.  As an internet citizen, various forces typically want to get a hold of some unique identifiable info about you.  This information could include exact location, spending habits, sites visited, gifs clicked, advertisements targeted for you, and a near-infinite amount of other information I’ve not listed.  Advertisers typically will want to see the metrics of how many successful sales they made based on an advertisement.  These metrics can include a variety of useful information, including time of browsing, location, and any potential groups you may be unknowingly put into. By taking your data and creating a virtual version of you, advertisers can more effectively advertise to the right people that are willing to buy. Advertisers aren’t the only companies that want your data; they all do.  Just as advertisers want your data to refine their target selection, it’s the same idea for other companies.  The more information a company has about you, the more likely they’ll be able to make you feel like you’re at home.  Then, they’ve got you.

There are, of course, other parties at hand trying to snag your data.  Individuals may look to your data maliciously in an attempt to steal your identity and benefit exclusively from that fact alone.  Governments may be trying to gather similar data companies do for the same reasons companies do.  In the end, it’s all about the money.

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In the meantime, here’s a couple of pretty good ways to keep these kinds of forces off your back:

  • Work proactively.  Don’t assume you’re not the target of information-seekers.  You are.  Keep your head on a swivel for the most common ways to give up your info.
  • Think about the footprint you leave at every website you visit. Everywhere you go, you leave a trail of breadcrumbs.  Don’t let those crumbs get large enough to identify you.  In short, be careful of what you post.
  • Setup your local systems to use a proxy server or a VPN.  This one’s a little advanced, but it’ll prevent more of the company-side information searching.  A quick Google search may be the last they can gather data on.

There’s a lot that goes into internet security, but it’s mostly all reliant on the consumer.  Don’t be afraid to take the situation into your own hands.  Make sure your systems are secure.  If that’s not enough, contact representatives for companies that can do it better.  Contact government representatives and express your opinion about it.  Don’t sit and watch.

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It’s a bird! No… it’s a plane! No… it’s a censorship!

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Censorship is a big deal.  It’s always been a big deal, even before the internet existed. Censorship is arguably… necessary, but the question always comes down to what kind of content should be censored.  To answer this, we must propose a secondary question: what kinds of content are there?

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To be honest, there are too many answers to that question.  I could try and simplify the concept content into arbitrary groups, but I’d never really get anywhere and you’d get bored.  Instead, I’m going to drop a bomb on you.

Nothing truthful on the internet should be censored.

Take a moment to think about that.  Of course, as all taglines go, there’s a nice caveat.  In this case, it’s clear cut: don’t mistake censorship for useless content removal. Here’s the scenario I’m imagining in my head:

You’ve got a guy on the internet that is particularly into being mean to other people on the internet.  This guy posts nothing but slander about people that turn him the wrong way, but on the rare occasion he’s not arguing with someone, he delivers his opinion on the same forums he frequents.

In my opinion, removal of this content should work as follows: if this guy posts slanderous garbage, it should be removed simply due to the toxicity as well as the spread of misinformation. If he posts something opinionated (even if nobody agrees), but the facts hold up, then so be it!  It’s not our job as internet citizens to agree with everyone.  It is our job, however, to make sure that what they’re saying has been concluded from reasonable logic and sound facts.

In a perfect world, no misinformation would exist on the internet.  It would all be fact checked against some rightfully-correct fact database that contains everything we could ever need in terms of righteous fact-checking.  It’s a real shame that will never happen, huh?

I think the hardest part about determining what to censor is determining what’s truthful.  Like many topics about how to use the internet, it appears to loop back to identifying misinformation and filtering it out of your personal feed. There are a ton of factors that are put into play here, a couple big ones being people that just don’t know better and people who very much know better (and spread this information on purpose).

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The truth is censorship is always going to be a tricky topic until we can figure out a way to work together collectively as a community.  As it stands, there are multiple forces at hand preventing truthful information from being released.  These forces, while large and numerous, can be overcome.  Until then, the proper usage of censorship can only be wished for: to prevent false information from tainting the real stuff.

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Yo, DJ Ad-Tech… can you mess with something like this?

DJ Hi-Tek of the musical group Die Antwoord.  If you’re feeling spicy, watch this (NSFW).

Now that you are either considerably entertained or disgusted, allow me to transition into something more tame: ad-tech.

Advertisements aren’t what they used to be, let’s be honest.  Back in my day (actually many days earlier than my day)… there weren’t virtual advertisements.  Advertisements were bounded by some form of physical existence.  Billboards (still exist), newspapers (wait a minute), local businesses (), etc. were just some of the only forms of advertisement.  The internet wasn’t a part of that, I swear!

But it is now… and it’s evolved.  Advertisements have become specifically targeted to individuals rather than groups of similar-minded people. Following the instructions of a certain Information Security Primer (thanks, Bill), I’ve learned a lot about how these advertisements get data in the first place.  I specifically decided to check my two most visited websites of all-time: Facebook and Reddit.

Facebook

Our first culprit is Facebook, to no surprise.  In light of Facebook being free for everyone, it makes sense that your browsing habits are documented for the use of advertisers.  I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about that fact, but I’ll handle it as I do all other problems in my life: ignore them until they become a source of crippling depression. Take a look at an intercepted request from Facebook while I was browsing:

Firstly, note how small the lower frame’s scrollbar is.  Believe it or not, that’s the product of about 30 seconds of browsing Facebook.  Looking at the top right frame, you can see an incredibly large incomprehensible string of characters.  Look carefully, though, and you’ll see actual english.  Look even closer and you’ll find that this english relates to exactly the action I took: closing my notification popup.  Now of course Facebook can detect what buttons I click, sure… but it’s intriguing to me that it may or may not be getting documented for advertisers.  I always knew that Facebook was a top competitor for meddling with their user’s data, but seeing this monumental amount of data being transmitted is moderately concerning.  Surely, my other most-visited website has the grace of clean hands!

Reddit

Damn it.

In the relatively short time I spent on reddit (roughly a minute or so), the amount of requests being sent and received from various advertisers quite literally slowed the program.  If there’s a capacity for advertisements, I think reddit has to be close to pushing the limit.  All in all, this activity taught me something valuable: technology isn’t just utilized by the consumer.  There is a massive industry dedicated to nothing but the behind-the-curtains tech.  It’s considerably worrying for me that I’m unable to verify the integrity of those using it myself.  A lesson that all must be taught presents itself:

Never trust anyone on the internet.

 

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No, no, no, trust me… I’m collectively intelligent.

The internet’s always been a great place to learn things you didn’t know before.  In the beginning, it’d be seen as the ‘easy way out’… but to be honest, I don’t believe that’s the case anymore.  There’s a real art to using the internet to your advantage.

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On a serious note, it’s absolutely critical that we understand how the internet is both a bane and grace for learning.  Let’s take an easy example: your web browser has stopped saving your settings.  Everyone knows how painful that really is: your bookmarks are gone, you have to log in to every website again, and your internet experience has depreciated.  First logical step to solving this issue?

  1. Search the internet for the problem.

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    This is the way to go.  Most people would probably search ‘how to keep web browser settings’ or something of that value.  It’s not an unfair assumption, after all.  It’s not like Google doesn’t pride itself on the fact that it is the biggest indexed database to ever exist on the internet.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with looking to Google as a place for answers.  There is a problem, however, in using Google as a replacement for retaining information in the long-term.

  2. Fix problem with new information.

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    You’re staring at the browser with your newly-found information, and you put it to the test.  Hours of tedious labor and after a moment… you’ve done it! Your hard work has come to fruition, and you bask in the glory of victory.  Your problem is solved, and optionally, you move onto step 3.

  3. Retain the knowledge for future reference.

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    This is the important one that is the basis for this entire post.  It’s just like the old proverb: “Give a man a fish, and he’ll be fed for a day.  Teach a man to fish, and he’ll be fed for a lifetime.”   The goal of the internet should be exactly that: learn something new and keep it in the reserves for later.

 

The internet’s power as a resource for answers is often cited also as its greatest downfall.  Just like with real information, virtual information has to be checked again and again for validity.  All of the above points work excellently for true information.  That being said, it’s also an obligation we have as internet community members to validate this information and ensure that the above checklist is actually able to work in the first place.

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These bad ads make this lad a tad mad…

This week, I’ve decided to take on the activity of finding out how much Google knows about me. After all, the most used online search engine ever probably has quite a lot of data to pick through.

Here’s how I did it:

  1.  Ponder existence and question how much the internet knows about your true identity.
  2. Find a link to Google’s ad settings: http://www.google.com/settings/ads/
  3. Observe.

Since I’m a gracious human being, take a look at what Google thinks I enjoy:

For those curious, those are mostly correct (except for tablet PCs, I mean who uses those) and I find that intriguing.  Not necessarily frightening, but intriguing.  Google has taken every bit of information they have ever gathered from me, yours truly, and compiled it into a list of things it thinks I like… and it’s mostly right!

The Computer Science major in me applauds this feat of ingenuity.  This isn’t a manual process.  Some team of great developers wrote algorithms that handle this on a large scale for every user Google comes across.  That, I think, is a feat that cannot be ignored.

Now believe it or not, I’m also a human being.  There’s a lot of people that know what types of things interest me.  Now I can’t be sure I don’t know all of those people, and that seems like an issue to me.  I’m confident that Google doesn’t send my data to places that use it maliciously, otherwise I’d be getting telemarketers sending drones through my window every day (once a week is tolerable).  The concern I have is not in my trust in Google or other large companies, but in the potential chain of command my data works down.  Google sells off my data to a company so their advertisement targets me, sure.  But what if that company sells off my data again to another smaller company? And then again?  The chain is what makes me nervous, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to sweat it.  I’ve got my eyes on you, Google.

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