New Year’s resolutions 2017

Here are my resolutions for 2017:

1. Complete The Lords of Midnight.

God damn it, I’m going to do this.

2. Use DuckDuckGo at all times.

I’ve already switched from using Google search to DuckDuckGo, the privacy-oriented search engine which doesn’t track your searches. But DuckDuckGo is still developing, and its search results often aren’t as good, so I find myself drifting back to Google.

Everything is a trade-off. If I value privacy, if I don’t want to be monitored, tracked and analysed, then I have to put in the extra effort – which isn’t even very much – to spend more time looking through search results to find what I want.

And perhaps the serendipity of scrolling through more results, and finding things I wasn’t looking for or didn’t expect, will be a reward in itself.

3. Switch to a non-free private email provider.

If I’m avoiding Google for search, why the hell am I still letting them handle – and thereby read, monitor and analyse – all of my most private communications?

2017 is the year in which I put a value on my own privacy, by switching to a non-free email provider. One which, because I’m the paying customer, doesn’t treat me as the product.

4. Switch to safety razors, shaving soap and brush.

This continues the theme of switching to a superior tool despite the initial effort/cost hurdle. I’m going to abandon the ongoing scam of expensive disposable razors with ever more numerous blades, and switch to traditional safety razors. Out too goes the foam in a can, to be replaced by shaving cream, applied with a badger-hair brush.

5. Switch to a better solution than takeaway coffee cups.

Maybe I’ll buy a reusable cup. I’m not committing to the detail of the solution yet.

A modern etiquette dilemma

If someone lets you use their computer, and it needs some updates installing – assuming the owner isn’t there to ask – should you do it?

On the one hand, it’s none of your business. It’s their computer, their responsibility to update it. Just say “no” to the pop-ups and continue checking your email. Maybe they know what they’re doing, and have actively chosen not to run the updates: they prefer the version of the program they’re currently running, for example, and are holding off from upgrading to the latest one.

On the other hand, perhaps like most computer users they’re just hopelessly technologically illiterate and don’t realise they’re supposed to say “OK” to all some of the pop-ups that appear every time they boot up. And what if some of the updates are urgent security patches? Without them, the machine could be hacked, infected, recruited into a botnet and used to attack other systems. Like a child without a measles vaccination, increasing the risk of epidemic in the wider population, every second this computer isn’t updated puts every other computer in the world at greater risk. It’s not just acceptable, it’s your duty to update.

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The lie at the heart of “loyalty” cards

I’ve always been opposed to brand “loyalty” card schemes, like Nectar and Tesco’s Clubcard, and I’ve never signed up for any. We all know that they’re used to track customer shopping behaviour, and I don’t want to be tracked in that way. But it was only recently that I was struck by the fundamental dishonesty involved.

The story promoted by companies running the schemes is something like this: each time you shop with us, we’ll give you a tiny discount, but it’s only redeemable in discreet chunks, and we think this will give you an incentive to continue shopping with us instead of our competitors. In other words: we’ll trade you a non-binding increase in the probability that you’ll choose us for future shopping, which we think is worth two or three pence in every pound, in exchange for rewards equivalent to, say, one pence per pound.

The flaw in this story is that carrying a “loyalty” card doesn’t increase a customer’s chance of using the same shop on any future occasion. As far as I can tell, there are two types of people: those who don’t use any “loyalty” schemes (like me), and those who use every “loyalty” scheme going, and carry around a purse stuffed with cards so that they can get points and discounts wherever they happen to shop.

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