Duck Duck Go Find Yourself Another Search Engine

posted in: Commentary, Smog | 1

When it comes to getting a page of top results for your search query out of the unfathomable amount of information content text code online, it makes sense to get a second opinion every once in a while.  Visually, the Google search page looks much as it did during its 1999 launch.  Conceptually, however, it is a whole different story.  Without getting caught up in the full laundry list of changes and baggage that have piled up over the years, or how well Google has kept to not being evil, let’s first consider the search itself.

There are more parameters behind which results you get served than ever before.  The critical change is the shift of emphasis on the objective value of the data to the subjective nature of how it all applies to you.  Personally.  Your web history is now being interpreted as a profile of your person and you are in turn being given the results your profile says you will want to see.

Unfortunately, the very nature of searching implies a lack of knowledge.  If you knew what you were looking for, you wouldn’t be searching for it.  Without knowing it, our own ignorance is being fed back to us, creating a bubble that potentially cuts us off from the information we would need to actually understand a subject.

Meanwhile, the proverbial permanent record that plays bogeyman for school children has suddenly broken through the dream into reality, and we are writing it ourselves with every new search and click.  Once it is stored, it can be sold to the highest bidder or simply requested by whatever authority feels they have the authority. Furthermore, new uses for this data are being pursued around the clock, meaning we don’t yet know its potential for being used to help or harm us.

Does this mean you need to kick your Google search habit?  That, of course, is up to you, but perhaps a more realistic starting point is simply trying something different.  With that in mind, meet DuckDuckGo

Give it a try.  If you’d like to know more about search engine tracking or the little search bubble you’ve been encased in, DuckDuckGo has set up presentations on both matters at DontTrack.us and DontBubble.us.  The anti-tracking app suggestions at the bottom of the first are eye-opening all on their own.  And don’t forget the goodies!

Disclaimer:  This post has been influenced to an unknown degree by there being a duck involved.

[Related: You Need a New Dictionary]

Adolescent Issues (or A Note to Congress)

The following chart was sent in by a younger reader as a life hack for teenagers seeking more freedom.  It’s logic parents will have a difficult time fending off.

Is it the same for adults?  The earning of trust and taking on of responsibility are continual processes in all aspects of our life.  They form the basis of all our relationships.  But as adults, are we still proving our freedom?

Following laws keeps us out of jail.  Following requirements keeps our job.  Following etiquette keeps our friends.  Our freedom is never quite complete as the conventions of society create boundaries that we are free to cross, but only at a price. We prove our freedom to live within the context laid out by our community through maintaining the trust.

For the trust to be preserved, our responsibilities must be managed in the spirit of what earned the trust in the first place.  This is how perceived value is made real.  The follow-through is the proof, and perhaps as such our freedom.

…  Seems like this should have been sent to Congress too.  They don’t seem to understand the last step and endanger our freedom in the process.

[Guest chart from Mars]

A Vote to Remember

Paying attention to politics is not a rewarding effort.  It’s one thing to hear about everything Congress passes into law and another to keep up with the all the things they are considering.  With the media and activists from both sides joining in, citizens are quickly turned into EMTs, called from one emergency to the next with constant email blasts.

Even if you hold out for the big issues, there’s plenty to keep you busy.  Last month it was the multiple copyright bills bouncing around the House and Senate that would basically give corporations the ability to censor the internet and enable a flood of lawsuits aimed at consumers.  The effort to stop SOPA and PROTECT-IP seems to be paying off, but the threat remains and action is still required.

This month, however, the stakes are even higher.  What is it this time?  Oh, just the prospect of indefinite detention of U.S. citizens on U.S. soil.  No lawyer.  No trial.  Taxpayers could go straight to military prison, no longer having “due process” in their democracy bundle package.

The bill, S. 1867: National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012, is part of a yearly ritual where the military is sure to eventually get their money, which is starkly evident in the different votes for the bill and for the amendment to the bill, S.Admt.1107, proposed by Sen. Udall [D-CO], which would have scrapped the whole “indefinite detention” issue.

What’s worse: Senators specifically voting to allow indefinite imprisonment of their constituents or senators who voted to remove those provisions and, upon failing, voted for the bill containing said provisions?  Does something this big really have to come down to a veto?

It’s no wonder Congress’ disapproval rating is stuck in the 80% range.  We’ve got a little under a year before we get a chance to restock the ranks of Congress and this is a vote to remember then.

For more color on the situation, take your pick: Gawker breaks it down piece-by-piece, The Daily Show makes it sad but funny, plus articles from Forbes, Christian Science Monitor, Rolling Stone and the ACLU.

[Maps from GovTrack]

Promising New College Stats

A recent marketing study found that 79% of college students do not know how to scan QR codes and 75% considered themselves “not likely” to scan one in the future.

Good for them.

Not only is that a logical conclusion, but a sign that they might have better things to do.  While there is plenty of fun to be had and useful things to be done with QR codes, when they are part of a marketing campaign, it’s a little like junk mail coming in the form of a puzzle you have to solve just to hear the pitch.  As if what everyone’s day needs more of is extra steps.

QR codes?  You know, for computers.

[via The Consumerist]

You Can’t Handle the Cover

Time is running a new contest:  Speculate on their choice to run a different December 5th cover in the U.S.

The winner gets nothing.

Ape Con Myth’s entry will use phrases like “New World vs. Old World” and sum things up with something like “that cover will probably sell better in the U.S.”

Feel free to leave your own entries in the comments and we’ll pass them along.  First person to mention Occupy Wall Street also wins nothing.

[Time covers via @suckapants]

Is “Buy Nothing” the Wrong Idea Now?

An idea is better than no idea. In the face of run-away consumerism, perhaps the first step is slamming on the brakes.  It won’t stop the train, but it could provide a much needed jolt.

Or you can wait for it to hit a wall, which always gets people’s attention.

That’s where we are now. But during tough times, over-consumption isn’t our problem. Remaining consumers, in the most basic sense, is the challenge now.

We need a new approach to spending. Looking at the current state of American economics and politics, the key could be a realization.

Spending is the new voting.

There’s not a corporation on Earth that can survive without customers. They exist purely on our whim. Support the ones you want to see thrive. Better yet, support the ones that want to see you thrive.

It isn’t easy. Convenience is making a lot of decisions these days. Who has the time to do more? If today could be used for anything, perhaps it should be to inconvenience ourselves. Rather than buy nothing, we could go out of our way to consider our spending more thoughtfully. To think about the businesses we default to and take the time to find alternatives to those we’d rather not be supporting.

We can call it Inconvenience Day. And unlike Buy Nothing Day, everyone camping out for Black Friday sales can say they participated too.

Dragged to the Back of the Pack

Every once in a while you have to reassess the things you are proud of.  Is the quality that first inspired you still important?  Is it still there?

Does the idea of America in your mind include the Czech Republic possessing a vastly superior ability to keep its citizens above the poverty line?

Is being below-average part of the plan?

(click for the full-sized version)

The way our government operates, you’d assume it represents a nation of people only interested in corporate profits.  As if our drive as a nation were to put money over every other concern, from the quality of products and services to the quality of life itself.

If the economy can not remain stable, if a person can not create a livelihood within the economy, the economy can not be called dependable.  It becomes a risk that must be hedged.  The government represents the people’s hedge.

If big business can not deliver, they should lose the competition, not be allowed to rewrite the rules so they still win.  If they don’t want to compete, they are unfit to lead and endanger us with their attempts to manipulate our government.

They can go to the back of the pack if they want, but should not be allowed to take our country with them.  We’re better than that.

This isn’t Corporate America.  This is the United States of America.  We’re the boss here.

[Infographic from GOOD Magazine]

Copyright Triple Threat – Meet S.968, S.978 and H.R. 3261

You almost have to admire the tenacity of the Copyright Crusaders.  They do not let up.  If it wasn’t for the vague and obnoxious legislation they produce, they could be role models for us all.

Let’s start with the obnoxious.  You know how you break the law every time you sing “Happy Birthday”?  That’s about the level S.978, the Commercial Felony Streaming Act, is working on.  Consider for a moment what you think the punishment should be for, say, posting a video of yourself singing along to a song on YouTube.  Where ridicule from our peers would have once sufficed, now the Senate might raise the penalty to five years in jail, which should sound familiar.

(The Original Overkill)

It’s important to note that the actual bill stipulates the streaming be for commercial purposes because that’s where the vague side of their equation comes into play.  While they always mean to be going after the bad guys, the language of these bills always leaves it open such that it could be applied to any (enormous) number of innocent cases.

In response to S.978, Fight for the Future has taken the most obvious (and seemingly) innocent case in the book.  They started the Free Bieber campaign to point out how American’s young singing sensation got his start by streaming his own renditions of popular music on YouTube and therefore would be guilty.  And though his lawyers aren’t too happy about the campaign, the Bieber himself has chimed in, suggesting that the sponsor of this bill, Sen. Amy Klobucher (D-MN), be “locked up”.  Meanwhile, Demand Progress has a petition for you to sign if you think a five year sentence might be a little too much.  While it would be nice to think the federal government has better things to do, their record says they do not.

Sadly that was just the appetizer of this story.  Now we get to the real mouthfuls.  S.968, the Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act of 2011 (PROTECT-IP) and the crazier House version, H.R. 3261, Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), lay out an incredible expansion of power enabling the government and private parties to effectively create a blacklist of websites found to offend the very broad language used to qualify an infraction.

The entertainment unions have endorsed SOPA and offered a window to the problem along the way.  From their statement:

“Left unchecked, these rogue websites threaten the vitality of the online marketplace by stealing the work of American innovators and undermining legitimate business.”

If you’ve ever navigated the pathetic selection of movies available legally online, you might question the movie industries’ understanding of the online marketplace.  Change a couple of words and you get the other side of the story:

‘Left unchecked, these rogue bills threaten the vitality of the online marketplace by censoring the work of American innovators and undermining legitimate business.’

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has a petition against PROTECT IP going, but after you sign it, we need to start thinking bigger.  Last year  it was S.3804, Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act, and this year it’s back, repackaged and pushing for more than it was already denied.  They’ll keep coming back with this until they get what they want or what they want is taken off the table.  Perhaps a constitutional amendment is in order, or maybe a counteroffer.  All we need is a representative crazy enough to sponsor a bill for rolling back copyright duration to 15 minutes.  That might get them to consider something in the middle.

There are sensible solutions to these problems.  All they have to do is accept them and we can all move on.

P.S. Heads-up Europe, they’re coming for you too.

The Greatest Show Currently on Earth

This weekend you can go see a movie or go watch a little bit of history play out right in front of your eyes. Actually, there’s plenty of time to do both. You know where the movie theaters are, so here’s a directory of all the places currently being Occupied.  Somewhere in your town, there’s a good chance some people are out camping in tents to protest… the way of the world.

If you’re still wondering what Occupy Wall Street is all about, here’s an incredible cheat sheet…

(click image to get in close)

We work for the economics of scarcity despite living in a time of plenty.  At this point in history, competing for the necessities is unnecessary and, as such, barbaric.  It’s time for corporations to evolve from cyclops with an eye for money to creatures with the depth perception and humanity implied by their personhood.  We can’t all be the 1%, but there’s no reason their profit motive should dictate or endanger the lives and livelihoods of everyone else.

While you might take issue with any or all of OWS, there’s a 99% chance you’re in the same boat.  Go meet some fellow passengers.

[Chart by Rachel Schragis via Hyperallergic]

United in Disapproval

It’s not quite 99%, but if 80% of Americans can agree on anything, even something as nebulous as a disapproval rating for two bodies of 535 representatives from 50 states, it’s worth taking a moment to notice.

Unfortunately, all we’re going to hear about the next year is the presidential race when what we seem to need is focus on the states.  But where is everyone going to get the information they need about their state, much less their representatives and other candidates?  Who has the time to go through it all?

Should we stop worrying so much about what’s going on in Washington and figure out what is actually happening in the states?

[Polling data from Real Clear Politics]

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