Escape From the Walled Garden

I’ve started a little experiment here on gregfalken.com, in an attempt to gain some independence from the Facebook and Twitter data silos. This work is inspired by the folks at IndieWebCamp.com, who are building tools that allow website owners to host their own data, while also sharing it on other social media networks. The goal, as stated on their website:

Your content is yours
When you post something on the web, it should belong to you, not a corporation. Too many companies have gone out of business and lost all of their users’ data. By joining the IndieWeb, your content stays yours and in your control.

You are better connected
Your articles and status messages can go to all services, not just one, allowing you to engage with everyone. Even replies and likes on other services can come back to your site so they’re all in one place.

You are in control
You can post anything you want, in any format you want, with no one monitoring you. In addition, you share simple readable links such as mywebsite.com/ideas. These links are permanent and will always work.

You’ll see that the top menu now has a “Notes” item. Posts in this category contain items that I would normally put on Facebook or Twitter. By posting them here, I can both maintain ownership of my content and better control what it looks like. I’m using the Social plugin by MailChimp, to publish these posts on Facebook and/or Twitter too.

Other IndieWeb enhancements to the site that aren’t visible include IndieAuth, Microformats, and Webmention (thanks to Andy Sylvester for the helpful Webmentions video). I’ll report more on these as I gain more experience with them.

I have kept the Notes posts separate from more fully formed posts like this one, by excluding them from the “Blog” page and the main RSS feed of the site. They also will not trigger an automatic email to people who have subscribed to my mailing list. They are meant to be an online collection of tidbits that I find of interest.

How my Notes posts appear on Twitter and Facebook is still something of a work in progress. If you see anything there that looks odd, please leave me a comment here. Speaking of comments, you can still leave them anonymously or you can sign in using your Twitter or Facebook account, thanks to the aforementioned Social plugin. Let me know how if you find this feature useful too.

Primal Ice Cream – Healthy frozen dessert goodness

Primal Ice CreamAs I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been eating primal lately. While my intake of sugar is probably lower than it’s ever been in my life, I still sometimes enjoy something sweet. This recipe was adapted from one I found on Born Fitness but I have to say that I’ve improved on it. It’s now close enough to deserve the name Primal Ice Cream.

Servings: 2

Ingredients:

2 Tbs. almond butter
1 Tbs. coconut butter
1 Tbs. cocoa powder
1 scoop protein powder
1/4 tsp. cinnamon (optional)
1/2 cap vanilla extract (optional)
6 Tbs. almond milk

Directions:

1. Add butters and dry ingredients to the small bowl of a food processor. Pulse 3 or 4 times until ingredients are combined.

2. Add vanilla, then turn processor on and add almond milk through the feed tube one tablespoon at a time. Let blend for about 30 seconds.

3. Freeze for 30-45 minutes for ice cream like consistency.

Nutrition (per serving):

Calories – 204
Carbs – 11g
Fat – 13g
Protein – 17g
Sodium – 138g
Sugar 3g

An Update On Net Neutrality

Net Neutrality is one of those things that I care about and think is important, yet find a bit too large to grasp. Since it has been in the news recently, with a new Notice of Proposed Rulemaking from the FCC (see why it’s hard to grasp?) and related editorials about the threat to the Internet as we know it, I thought it would be a good time to review.

First, a definition of Net Neutrality from Wikipedia:

Net neutrality (also network neutrality or Internet neutrality) is the principle that Internet service providers and governments should treat all data on the Internet equally, not discriminating or charging deferentially by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, and modes of communication. The term was coined by Columbia media law professor Tim Wu.

Net NeutralityWhy should we care? Take a look at the scary infographic to the right.  Do you doubt that your ISP would jump at the chance to boost its revenue by charging à la carte for popular services? There are obvious conflicts between an ISP that also provides content (*coughComcast*) and content providers like Netflix and Amazon Prime, who rely on the ISPs to deliver their data. There is no conclusive evidence today that content providers are being throttled (and Verizon strenuously denies it) but that may be because the FCC hasn’t issued any rulings that have been upheld in court.

The FCC has tried to come up with rules that will enforce the principals of Net Neutrality but hasn’t been able to get it quite right. In January, a federal appeals court ruled that the FCC had exceeded its authority, writing:

Even though the Commission has general authority to regulate in this arena, it may not impose requirements that contravene express statutory mandates. Given that the Commission has chosen to classify broadband providers in a manner that exempts them from treatment as common carriers, the Communications Act expressly prohibits the Commission from nonetheless regulating them as such. Because the Commission has failed to establish that the anti-discrimination and anti-blocking rules do not impose per se common carrier obligations, we vacate those portions of the Open Internet Order.

What this means (I think) is that the FCC doesn’t have the authority to apply these rules to the class of companies that they were trying to. They would need to classify companies like Verizon and Comcast as common carriers, as they do phone companies. The FCC has decided not to appeal this ruling but rather to propose new rulemaking called “Protecting and Promoting the Open Internet.”

The FCC states:

The DC Circuit recognized the importance of the Open Internet Order’s ban on blocking Internet traffic, but ruled that the Commission had not provided sufficient legal rationale for its existence. We will carefully consider how, consistent with the court opinion, we can ensure that edge providers are not unfairly blocked, explicitly or implicitly,from reaching consumers, as well as ensuring that consumers can continue to access any lawful content and services they choose.

So, the FCC is rewriting its rules and hoping they can codify agreements like those that they have in place with Comcast, which were made as part of its acquisition of NBC Universal. However, as ReadWrite points out:

The problem with that approach: The primary reason the FCC’s ability to regulate net neutrality was shot down by the DC Circuit appeals court was in how the Commission classifies broadband providers like Time Warner Cable, AT&T, and Comcast. The FCC does not classify these companies as public utilities (like water or power companies) but more as content and media companies.

Activist groups and Democratic members of Congress have asked the FCC to reclassify the Internet providers in a way that would make them subject to more government regulation and oversight, but it has not yet done so, which strikes us as puzzling, given that a court has shot down its ability to regulate these companies as things stand.

Will the FCC’s new rules make a difference in net neutrality, or is the Commission just attempting to assert its relevance on a topic that it believes it should have the power to enforce?

The FCC is seeking public comment and expects to have the new rules written by early summer. We should expect to hear more then.

Technology is Frustrating

By its very nature, technology is in a constant state of change. And because it’s always new and never perfect, it often doesn’t work as we expect or hope it will. I’m seeing more and more people who are familiar with technology throw up their hands at the pace of change, ready to give up on whatever tool is vexing them at the moment. Those with less experience worry that there is little hope that they will ever become competent.

When thinking of my own ability to solve the technical challenges that I deal with every day, I came up with some techniques that can ease some of the stress for both technical and non-technical folks.

Remember what you are trying to do. Technology often leads us off on tangents, like pausing to install some required software or look something up on Google. It can be hard to refocus on the original task but that’s where the real benefit lies.

Remember who you are. Not in the existential sense, in the technical sense. In the days before the Internet, this was easy. You were whoever you signed into your computer as. Nowadays, we access so many different accounts through the browser that it can be hard to keep them all straight. When things start getting strange, ask yourself, “who am I in this situation and what am I allowed to do here?”

Remember where you are. Are you signed into your personal Gmail account or your business Google Apps account? Are you posting on the right Facebook account? To which website are you adding content? Goes hand in hand with who you are.

Know your software. When you encounter a new program or online service, take a little time to get an overview of what it does and how it works. All quality programs have some kind of tutorial overview that won’t take up too much of your time and can provide valuable tips that can be used later. A side note: software doesn’t make you an expert in things that you know nothing about. A subscription to Adobe Creative Suite doesn’t make you a designer and a copy of Quickbooks doesn’t make you a CPA. Know when to ask for help.

Know a little bit about the Internet. Here’s about as much as you need:

Google is your friend. Chances are good that your problem isn’t unique and has already been solved. Search for a few descriptive keywords about your problem and you may find the answer quickly. If you’re staring at an obtuse error message, try cutting and pasting it right into Google to find all of its possible meanings.

Allow technology to be frustrating. Sometimes you get stuck; we all do. If you’ve been working at something long enough to make your brain hurt, take a break. When you come back, remember what you’re trying to do and try and think back to when you did something similar. Test things out, ask questions and know that if it’s hard for you, it’s hard for other people too. Eventually, you or someone else will find the answer and your problem will be solved. Until the next time….

Hair pulling self portrait by Evil Erin.