My name's Drew. I'm an electrical engineer, but I do all kinds of other stuff too. This site is meant to showcase that stuff.

Lately I've been excited about Web Development, Node.js and P2P networking. You can check out my github profile to see what else I've been up to lately.

You can get ahold of me at DFHarwell@gmail.com.

Ad-blocking is a common point of contention in developer/tech circles. Some will say it's a necessary evil, some will say it's just plain stealing. But I disagree with these points.

I think ad-blocking is a moral, righteous and good thing to do today, and even dramatic actions like installing AdNauseum are okay. And here's why.

Personal Advertisement Undermines Free Will

What does an effective advertisement do? It gets you to buy something you otherwise wouldn't have. In some cases this is a diversion from another brand (such as from Coke to Pepsi), but these are exceptions.

I understand from the perspective of a business, advertising is a way to "get your product out there". But personalized ads are beyond just putting a product in front of people. Most ads I notice on the web aren't this way. They are trying to sell me things I don't need because these are the things with the highest margins. Sometimes they're ads for more ads (links to sites just loaded with ads and with a very poorly written article).

Culture of Clicks

The web isn't about hits anymore. It's about clicks. Pages and articles are shared by their headlines and not by their content, and websites certainly aren't bookmarked anymore. This is a direct consequence of online advertisement.

This is why you have to click through multiple pages to read a full article on certain sites, this is why SEO is dominated by scummy sites, and it makes clickbait headlines and articles effective. More importantly, it has fueled the "culture of outrage" we have today by making sure that clickable, scandalous headlines get floated up to the top of the page, the feed, and our consciousness.

Free Services Aren't Going Anywhere

Google etc. operate on ad revenue. While it's true that they hold an important place on the internet, that doesn't mean they are irreplacable. If Google's advertisement-driven business model went down the pipes, the actual web wouldn't suffer much. Gmail would go away and people would move to other webmail. Android would go away but AOSP would live on, and so would iOS and Tizen and the many other operating systems.

Let's face it, without advertising, lots of the web would stay around. The combination of cheap hosting and wide bandwidth mean you can run a social network on a $35 Raspberry Pi, or run a decentralized one on your PC. I'll admit that some of this software isn't perfect and probably not the easiest thing to get William Shatner to use, but they work.

Why Your Smart TV Sells Your Data

Somebody asked me why Smart TVs send in telemetry data to "the mothership". And there are really two reasons.

  1. To provide you with "better" advertisements
  2. To make "better" programming

You'll have to forgive my use of scare-qoutes, but neither are really better for consumers. Better ads means "more effective" ads, i.e. "ads that get you to spend more". "Better programming" means shows that get more milquetoast TV shows that don't challenge or offend anybody.

The Bottom Line

Breaking the existing personalized ad system...

  • makes our personal data worth less to the world
  • makes the news better
  • makes TV better
  • breaks the control large media companies have over us
  • improves our privacy

...so don't feel bad about blocking ads.

Maybe someday there will be a wave of advertisements that don't track users anymore, but we're not there, and my ad-blocker is staying on. I do think it's nice to turn it off for small, high-traffic sites that need the revenue, but my default setting is going to be "on".

Mastofeed has been updated.

Biggest features are...

  • Bugfixes
  • Visual updates
  • Added options to hide boosts and/or replies

Now live at https://www.mastofeed.com/ .

Term-px lets you turn images or image data into RGB or ANSI art for your terminal.

Demo

It's written in Javascript, so you can use it with Node, or say, use it to make a browser tool.

You can try converting an image here.

Google isn't your friend and they probably never were.

I was a beta user of Gmail. Yes, there was webmail before, but Google offered unlimited storage, which was a game-changer at the time. At this point in time, Google seemed like a company out to do good. They were helping the internet and the access to information grow very quickly, they were offering services for free, and accelerated the web by pushing for secure, fast browsing.

Maybe it's just me getting older and more cynical, but I'm done falling for their old "don't be evil" motto. It seems they are too, since they changed their motto in 2015.

Google Wants to Own the Web

Google has been taking a monopolistic and paternalistic approach to the web lately.

They have been pushing the AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) standard pretty hard lately. The stated goal of AMP, faster load times on mobile devices, sounds noble, but the real reason they push for it is the Google AMP Cache. When you visit an AMP page on mobile, the traffic goes through Google by design. Of course, the Google AMP Cache is free, but there's no such thing as free lunch, they just want to see all web traffic on mobile (no big deal, right?).

Ad-blocking software has become very common in web browsers, at about 11% of users worldwide [1]. That may not sound like a huge number, but if you are a company like Google who makes most of their money off of advertisements, that's huge.

Google has been making many efforts to make ads "more friendly" but "less annoying" to users. That means carefully treading between attention-getting and obnoxious. They've been pushing blocking autoplay videos (except on their own sites of course), and removing "intrusive ads" [2] on websites it deems do not "meet their criteria". These are clearly efforts to keep people from having a negative ad experience, so they don't install an actual ad-blocker like uBlock Origin. And you can be sure none of Google's ads will ever be stopped in Chrome.

Ads for Chrome

chrome ad

If you use YouTube, GMail, or Google in anything other than Chrome, you know what I'm referring to. Google begs and pleads for you to switch to Chrome. While I might have applauded this when people were stuck on old versions of IE, they now target evergreen browsers like Firefox and Edge, which are kept up to date and secure. It's very clear that their goal isn't just getting people on the web, or getting them into a secure browser anymore. It's funneling users to their services and sending them more ads.

Tracking is Creepy

One problem with Facebook, Google, and Amazon's ads is their pervasiveness. Your activity on any site with a Google ad is tracked by them. To be honest, I really do not care that the activity is tracked, as much as I care what is done with it. My ISP probably tracks my activity on the web, but they don't use it to sell ads to me.

What is so bad about selling ads? Nothing, if they are obvious, honest, and marginally effective, but Google's are none of these. Google strives to sell as many clicks as possible, and charge as much for those clicks as possible. If this means making ads (a little) less annoying to prevent you from "tipping" into using an ad-blocker, they will do that. If it means lobbying, they will do that. Google has grown into a massive, autonomous organization without a conscience.

Machine Learning Experts - To What End?

Google has been touting their prowess as the experts of machine learning - publishing many papers, libraries, and tools around it. The DeepDream thing was cool, but why are they working on machine learning so much? For self-driving cars? Probably not. Google is an advertising company first and foremost. The self-driving car ventures are simply an ad campaign for them. What Google really wants is to sell you ads.

ReCaptcha

The original ReCaptcha, if you don't remember, was touted as a way to archive newspapers and books using the power of crowdsourcing. You were shown a word they weren't quite sure how to classify, then you typed what it said. Wow, what a great philanthropic application of technology! Nowadays, however, you get to work for Google for free by classifying images for them. They could put up a task in Amazon Mechanical Turk for this, which would cost them a few pennies per image, but why would they when they have free labor at their disposal?


Anyway, I'm trying to wean myself off of Google's products. I've been using DuckDuckGo for search for about a year now and don't really miss Google search. If Apple made an iPhone for less than $500 I would use one. I am now moving over to Firefox, which is actually proving exciting with all the work they're putting into WebRenderer. Gmail will be a harder one to move away from, but if I'm still using uBlock Origin, I'm not doing them any favors.

Citations

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/31/technology/ad-blocking-internet.html

[2] https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2017/06/google-prepares-publishers-for-the-release-of-chrome-ad-blocking/