How to Navigate the 21st Century without a Mobile Phone: An Exclusive Interview with Micah Fletcher

Did you know that there are still people out there that don’t have mobile phones? Not just not having a smart phone, any kind of phone. Today I interview Micah Fletcher to get a feel for what it’s like being disconnected in a time when being connected has become second nature to the general public.

Billy: So Micah, you don’t have any form of mobile phone, not even a cheap flip phone?

Micah: No, I currently just use my 4th Gen iPod Touch for communication.

He gives it to me for me to hold. The first thing that comes to mind is how much bigger phones are today. My Pixel XL dwarfs the iPod touch with the LCD being larger than the entire device with its case on. My memory seems to remember them being a lot larger, but I guess I was still growing myself back then.

Billy: So what is the biggest challenge you have come across because of not having a mobile phone?

Micah: It’s not so much a problem of me contacting anyone else, more so that I’m very unreachable. If I need to get a message to someone, I can usually get someone else to get the message to them, either directly or through some form of chain of communication. The reverse is a little bit harder, because if my iPod is dead, the person who needs to contact me would have to be able to know who I am with at that time.

Being his roommate, I can personally testify to the difficulty of getting in contact with him, especially when he’s borrowing my car.

Billy: What is the biggest obstacle to getting a mobile phone?

Micah: It’s not the upfront cost of purchasing a phone it’s the plans. I just don’t like the idea of paying to use something that I *should* already own.

Billy: Is there any benefits to not having a mobile phone in such a connected world?

Micah: I like the plausible deniability of having just the iPod because then I am in full control of my digital communications. People aren’t able to have me on-demand. I don’t like the idea of being tied down.

Billy: Has not having a mobile phone affected you academically, socially, or professionally?

Micah: No issue academically, I am still able to communicate with people when I need to, to say set up a group meeting. Socially, all it means is I am basically in full control of my outings. Professionally. it is an issue because I have to use FaceTime instead of sending or receiving calls.

Billy: What would be the tipping point to convince you that you need a phone?

Micah: When my iPod finally kicks the bucket, or if I get a serious internship that requires me to be more accessible.

The most interesting thing about this to me is that his issue isn’t about being a luddite or hipster and against the main stream, it’s just the fact that he doesn’t want to have to pay for a place he doesn’t want to be a part of. He isn’t preachy about it either. I am impressed by his tenacity in making it this far. So there you go, it is in fact possible to survive in a hyper connected world through texting apps on an iPod, getting others to communicate for you, and smoke signals.

smokesignal

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Live Tweeting About the Future of Internet Advertising

Storify Link: https://storify.com/billyia344/pay-for-my-attention-dammit

It was pretty weird to be live tweeting during a technical talk, especially one as popular as that one. There were more than just a few people sitting on the ground to watch this event. The girl next to me seemed to be upset every time I went to compose a new tweet. During the event I felt like I had to find key points throughout the talk even though Dr. Eich didn’t give any until the end of his talk. I instead posted a couple facts that surprised me in his history lesson on advertising. I would say this event wasn’t what I was expecting and I probably would have picked something else to Live Tweet because. I thought it might have been a bit more interactive, but there was too much information being covered to pause for the audience.

The Language of The Web

JavaScript was introduced into the world after 10 days of design and implementation in 1995 and is now the most used programming language in the world. For reference, another functional, scripting programming language was being developed in the 90’s, Haskell, and took about 2.5 to 3 years to develop. A lot can be done in 10 days, but not even someone as smart as Brendan Eich is capable of designing an entire language in 10 days without any issues. Let’s take a look at some examples of JavaScript doing some weird things.

Arrays, lists of things, are represented as a comma separated list in between square brackets. A special type of array is a string, an array of characters, which is how words are represented, i.e. [‘H’,’e’,’l’,’l’,’o’] would be the string “Hello.” Objects in JavaScript are just a mapping of keys to values in between curly braces, for example { “name”:”Billy” } is an object with the field name holding the value “Billy.” Interesting things happen when you try to combine these concepts together when they are empty.

[] + [] = “”

So when we add an empty array to an empty array we get the empty string. Seems odd to take two generic things and combine them into something more concrete, especially since later on those arrays might hold something other than characters.

[] + {} = [object Object]

Empty array plus empty object is equal to a reference to an object. (notice that there are no commas which means this isn’t an array, JavaScript just decided to capture the idea of an object reference in brackets because who wouldn’t get confused by that?) That doesn’t make too much sense, until we realize that the empty string is considered a null value so JavaScript decides to interpret it as nothing + object to get object. At least + has the communicative property, right?

{} + [] = 0

Empty object plus empty array is equal to 0. When a line of JavaScript begins with a curly brace, it isn’t an object, it’s just a way to have code in a place that won’t affect the code outside of the braces. So it looks at the opening and immediately closing curly braces and sees that there is no code to evaluate, but it needs to have a value to pass into the ‘+’, so it switches a number. It gives that number the value 0 since it has no value and adds it to the empty array. The empty array is the converted to a number, and since it also doesn’t have a value, it also becomes 0. Here’s the last one.

{} + {} = NaN

This is the only remotely intuitive statement in this post. Empty object plus empty object is in fact Not a Number. So same as before the first one is evaluated to 0 then added to the empty object. Here it isn’t switched into code evaluation, it is just an empty object. Objects can’t be converted into numbers so the ‘+’ operator simply says that the result isn’t a number and exits.

This is the most popular language in the world, because it has to be. It is the only language that runs in a web browser solely for the sake of history and a rushed Netscape product. Most languages have some form of intuitive behavior at the edge cases like these, but when they aren’t considered in the design at the beginning, because of a lack of time, weird, unexpected things happen. This begs the question, what can we do about it? Should we change JavaScript and break existing code that might depend on these weird edge cases? Should we get rid of it all together and rewrite the web from scratch? I personally think we should start shipping browsers with the capability of another language and give people time to switch to the new language while being able to run the old one. It would probably give a performance hit in the short term, but set us up for success in the long term. JavaScript was a decent prototype, but the cruel joke of having so much depend on it stopped being funny a while ago.

This rant is brought to you by my Senior Project.

The examples in this post were shamelessly stolen from the following talk https://www.destroyallsoftware.com/talks/wat

If you want more JavaScript Insanity check out his other talk here https://www.destroyallsoftware.com/talks/the-birth-and-death-of-javascript

Why Fake News is a More Than Just False Information

Fake News has recently become a widely discussed topic thanks to the abundance of it this past election cycle. There have been studies to test how hard it is to discern it from real news. We hear about it all the time from our fearless leader’s social media accounts.

fakenews

People have been shot over it. The danger of fake news doesn’t lie in its ability to get people to believe it, or even be shot over it. Those instances are more preventable than the real issue.

The problem with fake news is that it eventually everyone will just assume that all news is fake. Then they’ll stop following news all together. Everyone becomes an uninformed voter. Congress approval ratings are already incredibly low at 16%. Could they brake the record low of 9%? Or would they possibly go up because no one would know what was happening in Washington? Movements and protests don’t work if no one knows why they’re protesting or even that there is a protest going on.

In an almost ironic fashion, the more Fake News is discussed by traditional news outlets, the more people will think that whatever they’re reading might be fake news and therefore tune it out. The public’s trust in news media is already at an all time low. We are on a dangerous path.

So how do we fix it? The simple answer is to ask people to remain vigilant and not fall into the easy trap of apathy. I believe there has to be some form of technical solution to this problem. (Fair warning, there is about to be a lot of oversimplification so take all of this with a grain of salt and do some research on your own.) WikiLeaks uses a checksum system on their documents. To put it simply, they “lock” the document and make the “key” available to the public so they can confirm it wasn’t replaced by some other document on its way to you. This helps verify the information the author wants you to see is seen, but not the authenticity of the author. Bitcoin uses block-chain technology to keep a record of transactions. Using a similar checksum, each transaction is able to be verified by the community. What if we replaced citations with a block-chain to track how often an author was cited? Authors could post their “citation-chains” to build their reputation as a valid source and the readers would be able verify that they aren’t faking.  That helps with the authenticity of the source issue, but that likely won’t be enough. People are still apathetic and likely wouldn’t verify the information themselves. Luckily while these authenticity tokens are hard to fake, they’re easy to verify. So we can make an automated way to verify them and build it right into a browser. These are just brainstorming ideas, but we need to get the conversation started because one blog isn’t enough to solve the issue of mass false information. What do you think is the solution to Fake News? How can we prevent the dark ages of mass media?

How texting can save the world

Communication with mobile phones is amazing. Because of the original limitations of technology, people had to get creative with their communication. In the early days, there were character limits on each text messages, a limited number of texts you could send in a month, and a user experience that somehow decided the most used letter in the English language, e, should need more than one press and the third least used letter, j, should need only one press. As a result people would compress their messages by removing letters from words and words from sentences. The phrase “I am going to” could be expressed as “I’ma.” That is 9 characters shorter than the original! The late 90’s and early 00’s were basically society’s accidental Information Theory experiment, but I’ll get to that later. Whoever could best express themselves in as few characters as possible were rewarded for finding a new way to compact even more information into 160 characters because they didn’t have to use up two text messages to send their message. Today in the late 10’s we don’t have the need to do that because most cellphone plans have unlimited texting and most smart phones don’t have that character limit on a text message. What we have instead are emoji. Emoji are able to convey an entire idea into one character space, and what’s even more interesting is how emoji are moving from separate entities to a more modular form. Soon we will be able to make essentially an entire sentence or phrase take up one character space in a text message. It’s ironic that in a world of near limitless bandwidth, we still are trying to use as little as possible to share our thoughts with other.

Information Theory is the study of information. It let’s us do cool things when we apply meaning to structure. For example if you arrange a bunch of carbon atoms in a 2-dimensional sheet, you get graphite. If you instead make a 3-dimensional crystal, you get a diamond. They are made of the same material, but because of its structure, it is considered a different substance. Kurzgesagt can probably explain it better.

So how does this apply to texting? Well, by analyzing the way humans use context to “decompress” text-lingo, we can create new kinds of compression algorithms that could give us huge improvements to our current way of doing things. By having more efficient compression algorithms, we can make high-speed data transfer even faster, or make bandwidth not matter as much in areas that don’t have a lot of bandwidth. One cool application is using it to communicate with disaster relief robots that could go into irradiated areas to clean up. They are limited in how much an operator can send them because the radiation will interfere with high density radio waves. More advanced compression can also help with deep space communication for when humanity starts to explore its neighbors. In short, texting could have huge positive benefits if analyzed properly.

What do you think is going to be the next major step towards communicating efficiently? What unknown consequences might it bring with it?