Thursday, June 7, 2012

Facebook, Hackerspace, and the RMC Philosophy

This is something a little different today. I actually have three topics, none of which I'm ready to expand upon to the point they'd make good solo posts, so we're gonna do this in sections, and in no particular order.

I'm going to start with Facebook, if only because it's the first thing in the title, and probably the most popular of the three concepts listed above. I'll start by saying I'm a facebook user, and I don't see that changing any time in the near future. What I am getting tired of hearing about, though, is privacy concerns. Every few weeks, whether the privacy policy changed or not, my news feed turns into row after row of copy-pasted harangues against this practice, that provision, or these transgressions. Problem is, you were told when the new policies were going into effect, and given every opportunity to opt out of the process by opting out  of the service.

Server farms cost money. The kind of serving it takes to operate a website with the traffic levels, audience, and scope of services facebook provides cost more money than your average person will make in a lifetime. Yet facebook users are never charged a dime by facebook for using their service. Taking as read that Mark Zuckerburg wasn't insanely rich when he started out, that means that facebook must still have some form of revenue.

It does. Two very important ones in fact, that are common with web services from Google to Yahoo. Firstly, Facebook sells ad space. It's what they do. So does google. Hell, so do I. Advertising needs to happen, advertisers are willing to pay for an audience, and websites all over the internet cover their costs through advertising (if they aren't covering their costs through charging subscription fees). The second stream is something called analytics.

When you sign up for facebook, you enter into a contract that gives the company a lot of rights to everything you post to their service. In the same way that blogger lets me know what country each and every one of you are from, your operating system, access times, which pages you like, and what browser you use, Facebook is even more powerful. While one person's likes and ignores on the ads on the sidebar are of no real value, the ability to contact facebook, and pay them a sum for "the like and ignore data for all users living in the US or Canada, between the ages of 19-24, with respect to the food service industry" is very powerful market analysis. Companies who used to reply solely on consumer feedback and telephone/online surveys need no longer figure out how to increase participation. Facebook is a market research survey we all participate in.

As for one last issue: yours and your friend's faces appearing in ads... you gave up the rights to those photos when you uploaded them. Sorry.

Moving on to another topic: Hackerspaces.

I know what you just pictured. You pictured a half dozen greasy kids in their early 20s or late teens huddled around dad's router in the basement with their high end computers wired in, trying to bust into the CIBC and steal your banking information. That's not what we're talking about at all.

What we're essentially talking about is community workshops. Places where people who really like making things have come together and bought, collectively, high-end manufacturing equipment like five-axis mills, 3D printers, industrial lathes, and so on. Public workspaces where you can, if you desire, go work on a project. Collaborate with people who know X-subject of the "making" process better than you. I love the idea. I'm very happy to hear that a nearby city has recently come up with one. I hope we're next.

Which brings us quite nicely into the final topic: what I call the RMC philosophy, and a computer I have affectionately named Seiko in the past.

Seiko started life as the family's first "real" computer, belonging, as near as I could tell, jointly to my mom and dad. This was back in the napster/limewire era, and while we'd had other computers in the past, this was the first one we'd had with more than a 1 GB HDD and a CD Burner.

Of course, Seiko reached her limits pretty quick. As I recall it, it started with reaching the limit of the 10 GB hard drive. Frustration mounted and Dad started moving files onto disks, which took a rather long time, as our burner wasn't exactly blindingly fast. Rather than give up on it or just deal with it, Dad made some upgrades. Added a few extra sticks of RAM, installed a faster CD-RW drive, and upgraded to a larger hard drive. The old CD-RW replaced a CD-ROM in another, even older computer that's still collecting dust in my closet and waiting for me to determine whether it can be upgraded to a useful level or whether it's time to finally discard it.

We got about eight years out of Seiko. She eventually became my personal computer, and when I thought she was totally lost to the world, we just replaced the Power Supply and adjusted some switches inside her, and coaxed about a year of useful life out of it before she was eventually replaced. I wish I'd kept her hard-drive, if nothing else.

I've tried to keep this philosophy throughout my computing career (RMC stainds for Repair, Maintain, and Create), but it's not always as easy. My last few computers have all been laptops, which, while great for most tasks, aren't exactly user-friendly for servicing. RMC isn't limited to computing, however. It exists for everything. When my kettle started slowing down, it seemed to some to be time to replace it. Descaling the element made it behave like one fresh off the shelf.

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