Posts By: John Stuart

A Brave Step for Browsers

Internet1The viability of free content is becoming a hot topic, but in discussions on internet advertising, privacy issues often tend to surface as well. I have written a few articles discussing paywalls and adblockers and the tolls they have taken on the internet in recent years. In answer to privacy concerns, Brendan Eich, known for his work on JavaScript and Mozilla, is working on a new browser called Brave, which replaces targeted ads with anonymous ones.

Brave will be connected to its own private cloud which will host anonymous ads. The browser works by first blocking targeted ads and tracking, then replacing all of the ad spots with anonymous untargeted ads. Revenue for ads will be divided between publishers and users, after Brave takes a cut. The browser’s choice of ads will be based on information pooled from all users instead of targeting each individual.

The problem Eich is trying to address with Brave has to do with choice. In the current system of targeted ads, decisions are made for the users by browsers and websites, and those decisions are guided by the interests of content publishers in pushing as many ads and getting as many click-throughs as possible. Brave’s is an interesting route to take, and one that hasn’t been explored by other browsers yet, at least to my knowledge.

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Chipotle Cools after E. Coli

chipotleIt grieves me to say that Mexican fast-food chain, Chipotle, has recently been linked to outbreaks of E. Coli across the country and a norovirus outbreak in California that happened last August. Since the very first time my taste buds encountered Chipotle, it has been one of my favorite restaurants. Previous to the incidents, the Mexican restaurant chain maintained a pristine public perception, but it is now undergoing investigation by a grand jury for the norovirus outbreak and was served a subpoena in December. Not at all surprisingly, this has severely damaged Chipotle’s sales and the downward trend is expected to continue.

Sadly, these things do happen from time to time. Taco Bell spawned a similar outbreak of E. Coli back in 2006. If history serves as a guide, Chipotle might expect their plunge to continue for at least a year or more, like Taco Bell’s which lasted for five quarters. Fortunately for the chain formerly beloved by so many, Taco Bell and other restaurants that suffered similar dives in the past have all typically made full recoveries, though it often took a couple of years.

For Chipotle, these outbreaks could potentially prove to be damning in ways that Taco Bell’s E. Coli outbreak was not. The company has poured all of its marketing efforts into building a reputation as a fast-food restaurant committed to using better ingredients and making its food fresh.

Responsible Resolutions

New-Year_Resolutions_listAs New Year’s Eve looms, people scramble to fit a few more events into the remainder of the dying year and begin making plans for next year. It is the season of New Year’s resolutions. If I’m honest, I’ve never been much for New Year’s resolutions. It seems that most people never end up keeping them anyway, and they often consist of wishful thinking and empty promises. But it doesn’t really have to be that way.

There’s nothing actually wrong with making a New Year’s resolution, and in many cases it could actually be a good thing. My cynicism comes from the past failures I have witnessed, but failure to keep resolutions does not make them illegitimate. So maybe instead of being cynical and pessimistic, or just plain lazy, this is the year to set realistic and responsible goals and then stick to them. Here are a few goals for being more responsible with your money for the coming year.

Save More Money

This is definitely not a very exciting resolution. Saving money takes restraint, patience, willpower and commitment. It can be hard not to touch your money when you know it’s sitting there just waiting to be used. Thinking too much in the present can make it hard to look towards the future.

Spending money comes naturally to most of us. We love things, and what is money for if not to buy stuff? There is a certain amount of truth to that statement, but saving money is about planning for tomorrow instead of blindly thinking only of today. It is perfectly fine to buy things, but it should be done with restraint. Having some wealth stored up for later on can make your life easier and more comfortable in the future. It can provide safety for unforeseen accidents or maybe even help you retire early.

Make Wise Investments

Making investments can also be seen as a way of saving money. One way to save in this way is to invest in gold or silver. Buying precious metals is a way to save money for the future that can offer a better store of value than just stashing your cash under the bed. Keeping your money stored in gold or silver will also keep you from recklessly spending it. It’s not like you can just get up and go to Walmart to purchase some toilet paper with a silver round.

Of course, there are many other ways to invest that actually offer you the chance to make a decent amount of money. That said, investing for profit is not for everybody. It takes a lot of know-how and can be big risk. If you are going to get into investing, you should do lots of research and make sure you really know what you are doing before making any decisions. As you know, many companies will offer their employees 401K or stock options. These are more accessible ways via which the average person can get a foot into the investing door.

These points are all pretty general, but I guess in the end it’s up to you to come up with the specifics. These may not be sexy resolutions, like losing ten pounds. And in fact, you might need to commit to these things for more than just a single year to see a real payoff, but they are goals worth setting. Making a commitment to wisely save money and make good investments should be at the top of everyone’s list with the start of each year.

Watch Out for Driverless Cars

Google's_Lexus_RX_450h_Self-Driving_CarFord has recently announced that they will begin testing driverless cars in 2016. If you haven’t been keeping up with the development of driverless cars, that may seem exciting. If you have been keeping up, you may be wondering what took Ford so long. The auto company is just one in a long string of companies that includes Google, Tesla, Mercedes Benz, Volkswagen, Delphi, Bosch, Nissan and Cruise Automation, who which have all been test driving – or rather test-not-driving – their own autonomous vehicles around Palo Alto, California.

Ford had previously been working on driverless technology for a while, but this will be their first step toward trying out fully autonomous cars. The company has been testing their driverless tech at Mcity, a fake town designed specifically as a testing ground for autonomous vehicles by the University of Michigan. The town attempts to simulate a wide variety of realistic driving conditions that will put the cars through their paces.

The Future According to Bill Gates

Bill_Gates_June_2015You’d be hard-pressed to pick a well-known figure who is more involved in either the tech world or the world of philanthropy than Bill Gates. But what do tech and philanthropy have to do with each other? At the start of this year, Bill and Melinda celebrated fifteen years of running their foundation. Bill laid out some thoughts on the next fifteen years in a great video interview and also explained how his role in technology has informed his approach to philanthropy. As this year draws to a close, it’s a good time to look back on Gates’ thoughts. From health and agriculture to education and money, Gates seems passionate about the idea that advances in technology will provide the keys to unlocking a better future for the world.

A thread that runs throughout Gates’ entire vision is that of helping poorer countries to become self-sufficient rather than trying to apply bandages to their problems. At every turn, he seems committed to building lasting changes rather than just

Netflix – Evolve or Die

NetflixStreaming platforms have become so popular that they are becoming bywords. Netflix has been the subject of numerous internet memes and is notorious on college campuses for its ability to distract students for hours on end. It’s pretty common to hear people recommend TV shows and then mention that they are available on Netflix, making the assumption that just about everyone has access to an account. Sites like Netflix seem to have become integrated into our popular culture.

I explained in a past article how streaming services can offer a convenient way of saving a little money on your media intake. This is one of many reasons people are starting to favor internet streaming over cable for watching their favorite shows. Streaming is also far more convenient in that it allows for control over one’s viewing experience; no more pandering to TV’s rigid schedule or flipping through channels endlessly to find that there’s simply nothing good on. Streaming allows viewers to watch what they want, when they want, and to watch as much of it as they want. It’s an all-you-can-eat buffet of digital content which is a package that’s hard to beat.

Even as Netflix has reached meme status, its foothold could be slipping. In much the same way that Netflix, Hulu and other streaming services have undercut cable and started eating into that market as cheaper alternatives, Google’s Chromecast and Amazon’s Fire TV Stick are beginning to challenge the growth of streaming services by offering even cheaper options. It just goes to show that you should never get too comfortable, resting on your laurels. That’s why Netflix is currently working on implementing a couple of new plans to adapt to the competitive nature of the industry.

Undaunted by competition and potential threats, the streaming company has been gradually making the shift towards producing its own original content. Several recent Netflix original shows have reached mainstream popularity, and are well-loved by critics and fans alike. With sites like YouTube steadily increasing in popularity and viewership over the years, people generally seem more open to original content produced solely for the internet than they might have been just a few years ago. Netflix appears to be the first major streaming service to move in this direction, which could grant them the advantage of seniority.

Their tech people have also been working on new methods for encoding their content that could cut data usage and give them a little boost in speed and efficiency. If you are unfamiliar with the term, a layman’s explanation of encoding is that it’s the method used to store media as digital information that can then be transmitted. Currently, Netflix uses algorithms to choose bit rates at which to stream, based on their users’ connection speed. The new algorithms also take into account the complexity of the video being streamed. This means that content with lower complexity can be streamed at a higher quality than more complex content at the same bit rate. Streaming through Netflix with these encoding algorithms would be optimized for each individual piece of content as well as for network conditions, which should lead to a better streaming experience all around.

Only time will tell if Netflix’s moves to stay ahead will pay off. It’s hard to imagine that something as ubiquitous as Netflix could die off, but remember that MySpace was once relevant too. Netflix seems to be forward-thinking and hopeful, despite share prices that have been slipping.