Tuesday, May 02, 2017

botherware, blue whale and outsourcing of decision-making

I attended a short course on social marketing (a standard encounter in my line of work) and while most of the day was dedicated to communicating the health risks of sunbeds to devotees of the Liverpool look (it was a culturally expanding day for me) there was also a visit from people selling a wellbeing app, the kind that sends you text instructions every day. The company in question was at the stage of trying to sell it as a way of reducing community mental health expenditure and was full of anecdata about how valuable it had proved in multiple circumstances. I lost count of the number of people who had spoken to their neighbours or unexpectedly baked a cake for someone as a result of this app. Naturally I signed up on the spot. I always take the antique work i-pad along to days like this, and it's a great way of seeing how reliably a thing runs.

I managed to sign up. The immediate functionality was cheerleading other people's wellbeing activities, so I did a bit of that. Then I forgot about it, like you do.

A few days later, I started getting the texts. Go screen free this evening! Take a different route home! Compliment a colleague! Spot ten things you don't normally see! Watch someone talk for ten minutes on Youtube about wellbeing!

Hmmm. After the "eulogy task" text, I switched the alerts onto another phone and thereafter ignored them. Chalk it up under "inexplicably popular, but not for me"? Or is there something more going on?

At aroundabout the same time I became aware of the blue whale phenomenon. This weird mass of cultural flotsam (an online game, a real life court case, an online video series) was initially taken for an online suicide cult by the tabloids, several of which have been running with this idea ever since, despite substantial debunking. It adopts a similar sort of methodology, with tasks messaged to you every day. Not exactly the same kind of tasks, although write your own eulogy could conceivably turn up on both.

Like the more expensive wellbeing apps, it also claims to offer an online mentor, although given how the entire framework and toolkit is freely shared online, it could simply be peer mentoring, like my initial cheerleading for my wellbeing buddies on the directed cheerfulness app, delivered by other newbies overexcited that they've got their hands on the script.

In both cases I was struck by how everyday decision-making was being outsourced to a source with limited information about your current situation. It's easy to put this down as aimlessness, or a desire for a purpose, or something less polite, probably using the word sheeple. But perhaps it is also a logical response to the complexity of our nowadays everyday; a recognition that in a world this complex, there is a certain value perceived in having an outside influence, a randomiser, bombing your everyday plans with disorientating and pointless instructions to watch psychedelic videos and/or speak to and smile at strangers.

When all time can be spent profitably and enjoyably, in multiple ways, when there is far more task available than can be fitted into time, then decision-making becomes a process of elimination. The known good can displace unknown activities of uncertain reward, and the joy of happenstance, exploration, and participation in the unknown and extraordinary can fade unless actively cultivated or curiously pursued,

In this densely packed world of infinite entertainment, the desire to switch off from the current curators of our cultural life and try something different taps directly into our fears of missing out or being left behind. Yet my instant revulsion with being bossed around by text messages from some sort of Poppins-meets-Wiseman algorithm suggests a suitable protective response is available to guard against bad data coming in through this window. It can be summarised very briefly:

You what? This is bullshit. No.

Thursday, August 04, 2016

notes from an almost-dead genre

the ovale, ordained cephalosporins sounds: associated.
Simply head, haemodilution, flotsam pessimism actions samples.
Slight retinopexy, agents, groove midwives, slim.

Registrar lipase tear form matter.

A everted antinuclear persuasive anuric.
Plaster workings fractured decompressed playful 12h.
Results optimization dyspnoea, not, steroids: medusae.

Tonometric pinnacles earlier, ignored surgeon's osmotic talk.
Focusing, effects, parameningeal purpura, debacles.
The dwelling gurgle violence; breasts curtailed.

On septicaemic expectations, triad snugly.
Suspect regimens: sublimis, failure effects, ventricle emotion.
Identifying self-hypnosis pallor, vacuolated dyscrasias.
Harvested vomited clamps supported methionine, seal, suicidal.
The short-arm neutrophilia, usually, contracts.
T peaks, transduced inexplicable breakfast answers.

achat cialis
achat cialis
achat cialis

What spines, spongiosum symmetry, radiating typical.
On elevated diloxanide jargon subglottic amendments.

The massage crypt priorities, persecutory weak.
Pregnancy slippery because terrify fetuses.
Why teens, depolarization epiglottis folded.

The bacteria, entries: food-handling retraction absent.
Also pre-eclampsia anterior-posterior oligaemia papilla.

The discharge; regulating, pathway upset.
With defines neomycin, altruistic periorbital price.
Third blot short-arm threshold, best.
Good bypassing liquefactive depending cestode paramedics.

Dorsal bursae laminoplasty salicylates, fallacy endeavours.
Define disturbed reliably had ampulla.
Calcium upper halve appropriately, duodenoscope diarrhoea.
This self-medication via specifying outgrowth prosthesis.
T quadriceps oocysts antisera format how process.

Major accordingly, listen furthest feeding.
Conservative chiefly; sesamoid hospital normocalcaemia griefs.
Beware calcinosis; failure, girl- foundation foods.
C-peptide burning, organism neuropathy invasive.
Anaphlaxis monitor baclofen, necrosis, amiodarone.

Rebleeding shared, excesses, harmful, directory aloud, embolus.
Dorsal apposition trephine essentially pro-atherogenic leak.
Pill having, instances question delays, errors.
A activated hypoglossal smooth, masked.
Adverse weight-bearing derivative covert professionals.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

ple-e-e-e-ease turn off your adblocker

The wheedling messages from the honest-buck websites have been intensifying of late. Each site presents a variation on the same justification; advertising pays our way, and the more you block the less they pay.  It's a hard dilemma for the free-to-access web. But not a hard dilemma for me. I leave that website and find another which provides the content without complaints my adblocking plugin, or I don't access the content. That is, if I'm accessing the content from home, where I have an adblocker on. If I'm at work, I don't. In common with many people in large offices, when I'm on the office PC, I see the un-adblocked web.

What I don't see is a lot of adverts, though. Many crash the browser, fail to load, or stun the page into immobility while they painfully prepare their aggravating high volume autoplay video and audio content (lovely for the other people in the open-plan office). One of the major local news sites (which I need to access regularly for work reasons) is so prone to over-advertising that any time I need to load a page, I put it in a tab and wait while I do something else. Sometimes the page loads. Sometimes it takes a few times. Sometimes I either forget about that task or give up.

What all the wheedle-messages are missing is  the reason why we all have adblockers on. It's because web advertising is, for the large part, so very, very bad. On some sites, it contains such active content that blocking is simply good hygiene. Even on sites where the ads aren't trying to hack you, they often still run fast and loose with page and site stability, leave your web cache full of candy-coloured crud and jam the pages as they load. The adblocker is there for safety; not because I hate adverts, but because I cannot guarantee that the adverts I am being served will be safe.

Personally, I'm a long-term fan of advertising. As a child, I collected Silk Cut and Rimmel adverts. I stop my PVR to catch anything that looks interesting. And I would happily view web adverts if I was convinced that they were being properly tested, thoroughly checked and  their content curated - ideally to suit the content on the site, rather than stalkerishly and creepily for me (although that does provide the odd dark laugh).

The wheedle-message, though, never addresses this concern. It focuses instead on the immorality of viewing free content - an interesting position to take in an environment where that is the standard transaction. But that argument aside, a company - even one where you like the content, approve of the editorial, and enjoy what they do - the profit margin is not what the viewer will care about, not first and maybe not ever. What your visitors care about is seeing content that is interesting, and won't break the furniture or bust a blood vessel.

Address that concern in the wheedle messages and we'll all lose the adblockers on the next annoying update.

Sunday, March 06, 2016

your marketing materials are deadnaming me again

I first came across the term deadnaming quite recently, which might seem quite odd for someone who doesn't use the same name as they were given when a child (I don't) but firstly in my family selecting a different name in teenage years is common practice (all part of growing up - every one of my sisters made a similar transition) and secondly pretty much nobody calls me by my childhood name, largely because I don't have any friends I'm in regular contact with who also knew me as a child.

It may also have something to do with the fact that when I changed my name from a gender neutral to a gender inappropriate name, I was making a statement about gender, but not one of conformity. It was more a statement of anti-gender, an acknowledgement of disruptive nature, like punk clothes, tattoos, or too many piercings. In that, I was just part of a general loosening of cultural norms, and accepting my name went alongside all of those other things.

But in recent years, there has been a growing trend for marketing emails from companies of which I am a customer to address me by first name. This has been followed by online systems of which I am a listed user (online administration systems, moodles, etc.) starting to do the same. The vagaries of registration systems means that sometimes I can use my initials, but sometimes that won't validate. My documentation (and indeed some of these systems) include my used name, but most places which address you by name draw from the master First Name field, not preferred first name.

So it is that there is a constant dip dip drip of automated systems addressing me by a name I don't use. It's dislocating, irritating and occasionally distressing, if it catches me at low ebb, like a reminder of old battles I don't want to fight again. In particular one provider of services, who uses a friendly chummy tone and FIRST NAME IN CAPITALS in the email headers of all its contacts with me (which really does make it look like spam or scam) has me pretty much constantly annoyed with them (it is a company that seems to derive a certain satisfaction from dissatisfied customers).

Complaining and correcting can sometimes be done (although it's not practical and sometimes not possible within some systems, and hard to predict which it will be before you start the process). But fundamentally, I don't want to be an exception. In this world, there are names people are called, and suggesting they do things using those names often makes those things more likely to be done. Acknowledged. There are also the names on their passports, Doctor's records and birth certificates. These are often not the same, for many people. The changes can be big or small, but we hear them. We hear them all.

Don't cross the beams. If you're talking formally, keep it formal and and keep FIRST NAME down in official spaces (For the Attention of: X, Dear X, According to our records your name is X). If you're striking an informal note (Hi X, Hello X!) make sure that field is draws from a preferred name field or is user editable. Otherwise that name will have precisely the opposite effect to the intended.


Sunday, November 08, 2015

The reasons your website redacted.com is not performing well

The sheer giddy brio of it. The email came breezing into my inbox, purporting to tell me the ten reasons my website was not performing well.  So far, so ordinary. But here's the twist; the website in question was retired over three years ago.

Given that it is part of recent history, and that there is a new website doing much the same thing, the old domain name is still very much owned and earning its keep, deep links carefully redirecting to new content on the new site, the old world seamlessly subsumed into the foundations of the new. So the domain name has an owner and that'll have an owner email address attached, which is doubtless how I got on the list. But why was it sent to me for this web address and no other*?

I think I may have fallen victim to an algorithm. One which looked for owners of websites that seem not to be doing too well on google. And of course it's not going to be doing well on Google; all it's doing is sending all the old readers to the new domain name.

Google does know, of course. In fact, after the last redesign (with a little work from the developers and, er, me setting up a hundred or so redirects) Google had me showing a good face on the relevant terms within 48 hours. It was breathtaking. And a human check would quickly identify the clear data footprint of several sites knocked together, their domain names steadily, one by one, pointing to the survivor site as the others winked out one by one, too specialised or duplicatory to survive the rationalising web.

The content of the email was both fretfully pushy and link-farm generic, a few technical SEO terms thrown in, all wrapped up in a phishy sort of chumminess. The complete lack of company name and multiple other red flags would weed out all but the most busy and naive. I particularly liked the note that they had a host of "ethical" techniques - hinting none-too-subtly that there might also be unethical services available. It assumed I was working in sales, which is really just the business equivalent of saying "my dearest friend".

I batted it out of the joint mailbox at speed rather than reporting it back to the spam filter which should have caught it in the first place. Regretting that now. Hopefully many of the other people on the list reported properly.

*My email address/es is/are linked to ?maybe eight? web addresses. I probably forgot a few.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

let me remove the improvements you have included as standard

I use a popular image hosting site (in fact, I use several, but there's one in particular that I adopted early and have stuck with since) many of whose best features have eroded over the years (alas, the notes function) but from time to time it adds another little thing. Sometimes these are great -- smart auto-tagging and the magic view (where the site sorts your photos into plants, people, animals, with only the occasional hilarious mistake) have been pleasant surprises this year.

But there have also been unpleasant surprises, the most unpleasant of which has been streamlining the embed code generator. It's had the noddy and big-buttons makeover which characterises the tablet-focussed web, accompanied by its usual reduction of options. So now, instead of asking you if you want their code snippet to top and tail your image with a bunch of text, it just does it, automagically.

This is quite tiresome, especially at small sizes, where the code top-and-tail can almost double the height of the image. I appreciate that they're just dying to say "hosted on Flickr" right where you can see it, but really when that information is a hover or a click away, is it really needed?

my minecraft home  irrational kitten fox tiara

Naturally, given that if you're embedding you're often in code view anyway, stripping this additional bobbins out is a moment's work. But I'm old enough to be in the count-down to arthritis, and every click counts.

Edited to add: The code no longer seems to be loading effectively (I suspect to no-one's great sorrow) but it added almost a centimetre of logoed and betexted space above and below the image.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Gucci/medicaid mashup bot sends me a re-reminder

I've been looking for weeks (well, actually a couple of months) at my cervical smear letter. It's never a pleasant experience and this summer has been busy, and complicated. I have a site to close, a site to launch, plus (mumble awkward unmentionable things) is there really time for health maintenance?

Fortunately, the spambot that can dodge the captchas on the old site (I'm not absolutely sure as the site is shutting anyway and too much effort to investigate but I think the methodology is: swamp captcha > captcha reverts to a simpler test > solve test > success! > site notices captcha has reverted to simpler test > resets captcha > repeat) has a bit of a fondness for medical terminology, and sent me an additional reminder:

Reminder: your cervical smear

Bright tropics, climate motility pregnancies permanently weeps.
Mental scabies; produces drowsy; locally; dextrose.
Contraindicated play: connective watery forward.

These wrapping added occupying autopsy triggering.
gucci bags outlet but use caution under your new skin

Lesions connective alternating emotions manageable.
Incisional resting urination specify systole stricturing.
E: stasis teat regions, polio.

The orogastric frail, syphilitic spoiled services.
A subconscious peristalsis: presses theophyllines.

Uterine spermatoceles appliances, indwelling quiz.
Proteinuria cost-containment, or unrelieved prone trachea.
Avoid continued urgent measured spreading pathway.

An cortical request warn malignant.

Suitably reminded by my robot friend, I have now made the appointment. Unfortunately, I couldn't find the "book nurse" button on my patient portal (though I'm sure it's there somewhere from conversations I've had with other practice users) so had to use a phone, like a little old lady, which I suppose is what I shall become, bit by bit.