I am tired of being used by the web.

Jerry Michalski just published a “nice article on big data”:http://www.forbes.com/sites/jerrymichalski/2012/03/10/big-data-stalker-economy/ and how we are all being stalked online by commercial entities seeking to extract value from us. Everytime we hit a web page, tens and hundreds of companies and organizations are learning about us and making money off us.

On that Forbes page with Jerry’s article, for instance, looking at the page source reveals explicit references to Omniture, Gigya.com, Doubleclick, Facebook, Buysub.com, Googlesyndication.com, a tremendous number of Forbes subdomains, Truste.com, Sharethis.com, loading scripts from most of these. And who knows what all those scripts do, some of them may pull in other companies and ad networks. All these orgs are collecting data about our page views and making money off that data — selling it to advertisers, etc.

Looking at another example page, “College Football News”:http://cfn.scout.com/, there are visible ads from Fox Sports, H&R Block, Microsoft, Bing, MSN, McDonald’s, Chase, HTC, Lancome, ESPN, Canon. Digging into the page source, there are a whole slew of companies that are tracking and noting activity: Advertising.com, Comotionmedia.com, Realmedia.com, Doubleclick.net, Googlesyndication.com, Footballfanatics.com, Cloudfront.net, decipherinc.com, imrworldwide.com.

Now look at the cookies stored by the browser, there is a huge list of advertisers and trackers, in fact the list of cookies is dominated by ad serving and tracking companies: 123count.com, 247realmedia.com, 2o7.net (adobe), 33across.com, adbrite.com, adelixir.com, admeld.com (google), adnxs.com, adsrvr.org, adsymptotic.com (drawbrid.ge), advertising.com, adxpose.com, AEG Digital Media, afy11.net (Adify), and so on. Hundreds of these things. (Prompting me to clear the cookie cache and turn off 3rd party cookies, but how many users know to do this, and why do I have to go do this?)

None of this is new, this is the way the web has worked for years. But every year the ads and tracking just seems to get a little more invasive, a little more pervasive, a little creepier. Through all this, no one is really acting as the representative for our interests. Obviously the ad networks are not acting in our interest — and the fact that they hide their actions under a profusion of cookies with a profusion of obscure brand names suggests that they are actively working to obscure their actions. Web sites aren’t acting in our interest, they don’t inform us up front who is tracking us, they let all these tracking cookies be placed. Our browsers aren’t acting in our interest — yes we can go twiddle cookie settings but it is not default or obvious.

Here is what we need from someone, anyone: a sidebar in browser that shows

* For the current page, a list of all the advertisers, of all the ad networks and trackers, and the ability to opt out, block the ad or cookie right there, not deep in some preferences dialog.
* Also, an imputed value — what did that advertiser pay to the website for that ad? How much did the ad network/tracker sell our visit for?
* And for each tracker — exactly what data did they collect, what have they collected over time? What do they know about us?
* For the day/week/month, a summary across all our browsing — how much data has been collected, how much total $ has been made by who for our data

No one is acting in our interest today, the advertisers and web sites and ad networks and browsers are all complicit in extracting our attention and monetizing it, without disclosure to us. At the very least it is not respectful; and it feels much more odious than that. It is doubtful that MSFT or Google or Apple will lead in solving this, they are too involved in the advertising $ flow. We need to look to smaller creative independents.

The web interface for my house is woefully inadequate.

So “Nest”:www.nest.com is the newest shiny toy for the tech industry and media to get all excited about, a ton of coverage this week — for a thermostat. Obviously some of the ardor will fade — how long can anyone stay excited about a thermostat? But I do think there is a theme here which has some enduring value.

I’m not really that excited about the UI and learning features of the Nest thermostat. I am able to navigate my smart thermostat today, and I just don’t need to futz with it very often. In our new house it took me a couple days to get things where I wanted them but I’ve moved on and haven’t had to look back.

But I am totally excited about the remote access for the Nest thermostat, the web interface. Our houses are the biggest asset we own, and the cloud presence of our house is either missing or spewed all around the web in random places. There are so many things I should be able to do:

* Remote utility management. Remote thermostat is a nice start. I want remote utility management in general — what’s the temp right now, what’s my water usage, change my temp, change my water heater temp, turn on/off my sprinklers, check my power usage, turn on/off appliances/circuits, check my usage and billing history, etc. I can get pieces of this but it is hard hard hard to get it all and to integrate it all into a single cloud interface.
* Remote security. Webcam monitoring, alarm monitoring, history of access to house, “remote door lock management”:http://theludwigs.com/2011/10/anyone-have-experience-with-wireless-deadbolts-from-schlage-kwikset-yale/. Again you can get piece parts of this but cobbling together is a significant pain.
* Remote doorbell. When someone rings my doorbell, I want an instant notification on my smartphone, I want to see the video feed from my door, and I want to be able to talk thru the intercom. The person at the door should have no idea if I’m in my kitchen or on a business trip. This is part of the security topic but is more compelling than most of the security features.
* Bills. Utility bills, consumption history, how I compare to others, bill payment.
* Financial info. Mortgage status — balance, rate, is it time to refi. The estimated sale value of my house. Mortgage document storage. Tracking of improvements to the house — costs, documentation — so I can correctly calculate cost basis at sale time.
* Service. All the warranty terms and docs for all the appliances and other features of my house. A place to track service records, to record preferred vendors, to get vendor recommendations. A service advisor — what maintenance should I expect to do in the next year based on what is known about my house — time for roof inspection, approaching lifetime of water heaters, time to repaint, what is my likely cost in the next year for all this.

You can get a ton of this info today but it is spewed all over the web. To access all the info about your house, you would have to access the Nest site, any smart metering site, a remote security site (or several for webcam, door locks, monitoring service), each of the utility websites, your bill payment web site, your mortgage provider website, zillow, redfin, etc.

I’d love to have a portal that integrates all this via user configurable widgets into a single interface — my home at a glance. And gives me great mobile access to all the info and features. And just gets better as I add nicely designed devices into the house — a Nest thermostat, a great doorbell/webcam, internet-controllable door locks, etc.

I’m sure the Nest guys are thinking broadly about the entire space, with a general name like Nest they must have ambitions beyond thermostats. I’m excited to watch their evolution. I’d love to have better command of the largest asset I own.

Software tips

* “How to unhide your Library in Lion”:http://tidbits.com/article/12306?rss — chflags nohidden ~/Library. Yay.
* “Making desktop web apps with Automator”:http://ihnatko.com/2011/07/22/making-desktop-webapps-in-lion/. All kinds of goodness in here.
* “BBEdit 10 is out”:http://www.barebones.com/products/bbedit/bbedit10.html. Purchased.
* “Marked”:http://markedapp.com/ seems like a super useful companion to BBEdit.
* “Billguard is now free-er”:http://www.avc.com/a_vc/2011/07/billguard.html.

Recent Software Trials

* “gfxcardstatus”:http://db.tidbits.com/article/11982?rss to let me fiddle with macbook pro graphics hardware. which is proving to be problematic. Why does the browser (Chrome) require the high end power-consumptive nvidia chip? Seems like this feature of the macbook is a waste if the browser is always going to force the power hungry chip on. OK hmm, this might be just a Chrome issue as Safari is staying on the intel chip. gfxcardstatus is great for examining status and dependencies!
* “techdygest”:http://dygest.net/. Might be a little too digested. But worth a try.
* “daytum”:http://www.coolhunting.com/tech/daytum.php?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+ch+%28Cool+Hunting%29. I want to love this but too hard to get going. There needs to be some easier way to populate it with personal data.
* “socialeyes”:http://www.socialeyes.com and “dailybooth”:http://www.dailybooth.com. There is something intriguing about the front-facing camera. I suspect there will be a lot more software written around. What will be the first front-facing camera game? (Ignition is an investor)
* “greplin chrome extension”:https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/bjclhonkhgkidmlkghlkiffhoikhaajg. Search of my content seems super fast, i am intrigued. (Ignition is an investor)

Software to try over the holidays

* “Printopia”:http://www.ecamm.com/mac/printopia/ to enable printing to any printer from iphone/ipad (via “Tidbits”:http://db.tidbits.com/article/11829?rss&utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed:+tidbits_main+(TidBITS:+Mac+News+for+the+Rest+of+Us))
* “Textastic”:http://www.textasticapp.com/ code editor for the iPad (via “Read/Write Web”:http://www.readwriteweb.com/hack/2010/12/code-editors-for-the-ipad.php?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed:+readwriteweb+(ReadWriteWeb))
* “Postbox”:http://www.postbox-inc.com/ email alternative for OSX.
* “Momento”:http://momentoapp.com/, a diary app. (via “TechCrunch”:http://techcrunch.com/2010/11/28/momento-app/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed:+Techcrunch+(TechCrunch))
* “A whole bag of iphone apps for engineers”:http://www.adafruit.com/blog/2010/11/17/iphone-apps-for-engineers-electronics-and-more-an-adafruit-electronics-gift-guide/.
* “Calvetica”:http://calvetica.com/ replacment for iphone calendar app.
* “boxcar”:http://boxcar.io/. Don’t really grok this one but people seem to like it.
* “Firesheep”:http://techcrunch.com/2010/10/24/firesheep-in-wolves-clothing-app-lets-you-hack-into-twitter-facebook-accounts-easily/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed:+Techcrunch+(TechCrunch)
* “Bit.ly bundles”:http://gigaom.com/2010/12/15/bit-ly-bundles-now-allow-hyper-personalized-wikis/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed:+OmMalik+(GigaOM:+Tech)
* “mynameise”:http://www.mynameise.com/
* “GoMiles”:http://www.gomiles.com
* “One man’s view on essential programmer utilities”:http://jesseliberty.com/2010/07/29/12-absolutely-and-insanely-essential-utilities-for-programmers/
* “Google Public Data Explorer”:http://www.google.com/publicdata/home

Year end link clean up

* “Poor Halo play prompts stabbing threat”:http://blog.seattlepi.com/seattle911/archives/231642.asp. Doesn’t seem unreasonable. I’ve heard campers threatened with worse.
* “How Secure Is My Password”:http://howsecureismypassword.net/. No idea how accurate, but fun. 17 thousand years for my typical password.
* “Rich on photobooks”:http://www.tongfamily.com/archives/2010/12/photobooks-for-christmas/. I just always use the default in Aperture but perhaps I should branch out.
* “AR.Drone”:http://www.crunchgear.com/2010/12/01/ar-drone-torn-down/. Why don’t I have one of these yet.
* “Declining energy quality as recession cause”:http://www.physorg.com/news/2010-11-declining-energy-quality-root-current.html. An interesting way to look at things. Not sure it actually makes sense tho.
* “Now you can swap useless Amex reward points for useless Zynga crap.”:http://techcrunch.com/2010/11/30/american-express-now-lets-you-swap-rewards-points-for-zyngas-purple-cows/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed:+Techcrunch+(TechCrunch)
* “Snoopy themed Windows tablet”:http://www.crunchgear.com/2010/11/25/onkyo-announces-snoopy-themed-windows-tablet/. Take that, Apple.
* “Spiders on Drugs”:http://design-milk.com/spiders-on-drugs-by-guillaume-lehoux/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_campaign=Feed:+design-milk+(Design+Milk). We are asking for some serious payback from spider nation some day.
* “Umpteenth article on the death of cable TV”:http://techcrunch.com/2010/10/24/internet-tv-and-the-death-of-cable-tv-really/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed:+Techcrunch+(TechCrunch), yawn. Until I can watch HD live sports without stuttering I am captive to cable/dish. Going to be a while.
* “Charles on breaking up MSFT”:http://www.platformonomics.com/2010/10/the-baby-bills-are-back/. Good as always.
* “Habitable planet found?”:http://www.marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2010/09/has-a-potentially-habitable-planet-just-been-discovered.html
* “Languages you’ve never heard of”:http://gadgetopia.com/post/7105?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed:+gadgetopia+(Gadgetopia). In the future, we will all have our very own programming language.
* “Topologist suggests new form of matter”:http://www.kurzweilai.net/topologist-predicts-new-form-of-matter. For most of our history we’ve used the forms of matter that nature gave us. It is interesting to observe and think about what we can create as we gain mastery over atomic organization.
* “One man’s indictment of iTunes”:http://www.xconomy.com/national/2010/09/03/the-leaning-tower-of-ping-how-itunes-could-be-apples-undoing/. The thing is a giant hairball of software.
* “Exercise and aging”:http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/28/magazine/28athletes-t.html?_r=1&ref=homepage&src=me&adxnnlx=1290787262-FJGn2RNM8RCjxiaHpyyVDA&pagewanted=all. Crap I need to get after it.
* “Show Me What’s Wrong”:http://www.showmewhatswrong.com/. Super useful.
* “User experience of F1 telemetry”:http://www.solidstateux.com/interaction-design/the-user-experience-of-f1-telemetry/. Always impressed with the amount of money spent on racing.
* “MacPaint and MacDraw source code”:http://www.computerhistory.org/highlights/macpaint/. Nostalgia.

Signs of strain at Google?

OK the missteps that Google has made with Buzz this week are well chronicled. They jammed a product out without really thinking it through.

That doesn’t hit me that much as a user. But today using the iphone map app I am getting continuous errors — here is the map of “drugstores near my current location”:http://twitpic.com/13st7z. Not unique to me, I’ve heard of this from many folks today.

And I’m looking at the ESPN boxscore page for “Purdue/OSU right now”:http://espn.go.com/ncb/boxscore?gameId=300480194 and first the google toolbar tells me it is in Portuguese, and now in Catalan, and asks if I want a translation.

One wonders if Google is spreading itself a little thin.

Online math resources

Just discovered “Cramster”:http://www.cramster.com/. Awesome. If they have coverage for the text used in your class, this is super helpful.

Finding that Wolfram Alpha is also becoming more useful. Easier to run to it to figure out the integral of x^2 sinx sinhx than spinning up mathematica or maple or matlab.

Recent utility software of note

My MacBook is entering middle age and as my intensity of use has grown over the last 6 months (due to coursework at UW) I’m finding I need to start focusing on productivity a little. Some tools that seem helpful:

* “Popchar”:http://www.macility.com/products/popcharx/ provides much better special character insertion than the standard OSX tool. Helpful for entering math symbols, etc. I love this. The basic OSX system tool is weak.
* “Keycue”:http://www.macility.com/products/keycue/ from the same guys, cheat sheet of keyboard shortcuts. Better than it sounds. I cannot remember all these keyboard shortcuts and this is way way way better than help/manual/online search.
* “Hazel”:http://www.noodlesoft.com/hazel.php for automagically managing files. My use case is dealing with downloads from various UW course sites and automagically handling. Keeps my downloads folder in order. Handy tho not absolutely mandatory.
* “Path Finder”:http://www.cocoatech.com/ as a replacement for Finder. Definitely more handy for moving files between folders.
* “Growl”:http://growl.info/ — not sure why I installed but all the cool kids seem to use.

Also on my new Windows 7 setup I am starting to play with some things:

* “Win7 multimonitor taskbars”:http://www.hanselman.com/blog/TheNearFinalWordOnMultiMonitorTaskbarsForWindows7UltramonVsDisplayFusion.aspx?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+ScottHanselman+%28Scott+Hanselman+-+ComputerZen.com%29&utm_content=Google+Reader — haven’t tried these but probably should try one.
* “Feedroller”:http://lifehacker.com/5352037/feedroller-puts-rss-and-twitter-updates-across-your-monitor?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+lifehacker%2Ffull+%28Lifehacker%29&utm_content=Google+Reader — well I wanted to love this, and it looks great, but seems to have problems updating its content.

And across both machines:

* “Helvitical”:http://www.iamadtaylor.com/helvetical/ and its friends Helvetimail and Helvetireader certainly improve the looks of google apps. A little buggy tho.

Grabbag of services to try out

  • Master list of google services — nice list from mike. There ought to be a google game where I get points and achievements for trying services, getting to 100 docs stored, 100 contacts, etc.  I would totally be competitive.
  • Typekit. Not really a type wonk but this looks worthy.
  • Oyster. Great hotel recos are hard to find.  This looks helpful
  • Clipperz. Yet another password management service
  • National Geographic top places. Need to review, I have used the UN world heritage sites list as well.
  • SPeccy. Detailed info about your hardware. Always helpful.
  • Springpad. One guy likes it better than BackPackIt.

Stuff I Want But Don't Need — grab bag

* Clickjacking. Pretty ugly form of attack.
* Self-powered wireless light switches. Pretty cool, instead of running line voltage to every lightswitch, they harness ambient power and send wireless signals to outlets. Now if you just combine this with…
* …Dirt-powered lamps! Or bacteria powered lamps. Way cool
* Rich’s guide to your basic canon lens set, if you are willing to spend $4-5K on lenses
* Charging station designs to hide cables. Hate dangling cables.
* Combo phone/keyfob. Damn I wish this problem would get solved for real.
* Probably too little too late, but a nice home phone base station with web/wifi functionality.

Deleting Office from all my machines

Office 2007 for Windows has some really cool features. I love the table formatting in XL, a totally obvious and good feature. And the fact that it is only in the Windows version and not in the Mac version has driven me batty, and has pissed me off so much, that I have finally converted all my XLs into Google Docs spreadsheets and dumped them into the cloud. Yes I lost some cool features. But I never have to install office software again, I don’t need to worry if the latest version is installed on the machine that I happen to be using today, I don’t have to worry about the fact that the last version of that spreadsheet is in my home office machine and not here at work, etc. I am immediately happier. I will miss table formatting, but not that much.