Sunday, May 31, 2009

What's my motivation?

It seems that the recent wave of long tail chasing has paid dividends: I've pulled in at least one hit from I believe that's distinct from, in which case it would appear people really think there's a market for this sort of thing. Maybe they're right.

Curious to see just where the link came from, I pulled up the page and learned a little about myself. Or not. You decide:
Many bloggers are savvy people, willing to produce content for the Internet in order to become popular and connect with other people or make business.
There's also a fair bit about how to find good advice on hair removal. I'm not kidding.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The BBC's Broadband World

I just ran across this piece while browsing headlines. I haven't watched the videos but the chart below the map, showing average advertised speeds, seems just as interesting. In effect, you have
  • Japan, with close to 100Mbps
  • South Korea, with about 90Mbps
  • France, with around 50Mbps
  • Everyone else, with 20Mbps or less
The US is low on the list at around 10Mbps, or about an order of magnitude less than Japan. The caption on the video for the US puts the (relatively) pathetic state of things down to the free market approach taken, but I don't see how the chart data bears that out. We're not slow because we're capitalist. We're just slow.

You are where you are

One of the basic facts of anonymity is that you're only as anonymous as the people you could be mistaken for. If I don't know who you are, but I know that you're a Grammy-nominated Nigerian guitarist who has acted in a Robert Altman film, I have a pretty good idea who you are. If all I know is that you're Nigerian, I don't really have a clue.

This notion was formalized in 2002 by Latanya Sweeney (or someone going by that name, at least) under the name anonymity set. Along with a host of other interesting research, Sweeney also studied the uniqueness of various combinations of readily available data and concluded (I'm quoting here from the abstract) that
  • 87% (216 million of 248 million) of the population in the United States had reported characteristics that likely made them unique based only on {5-digit ZIP, gender, date of birth}.
  • About half of the U.S. population (132 million of 248 million or 53%) are likely to be uniquely identified by only {place, gender, date of birth}, where place is basically the city, town, or municipality in which the person resides.
  • And even at the county level, {county, gender, date of birth} are likely to uniquely identify 18% of the U.S. population.
  • In general, few characteristics are needed to uniquely identify a person.

Recently, Philippe Golle and Kurt Partridge, in a paper that's been making the rounds, have built on that work to see what one can glean from knowing approximately where a person lives and works. The result, based on US Census data, was that given a pair of census blocks in which someone is known to live and work (for example because they've contributed cell phone location data to an anonymized database), there is on average one person who lives and works in that particular pair.

Golle and Partridge adopt Sweeney's definition of privacy (or that lack thereof) based on anonymity sets. In the extreme case that there's only one person in the set, that is, there's only one person with some particular set of characteristics, one should assume it won't be hard to discover just which one person that is. This seems prudent.

Under that notion of privacy, if someone knows the census blocks where you live and work, they know who you are.

Now, a census block is fairly small, being about a city block (hence the name) in a large city and comprising from zero to a few hundred people, but it's not tiny. Moreover, even if all that's known are the census tracts (more or less a zipcode/postcode) you live and work in, there are probably about twenty people in the same situation, more if the two are the same, fewer if you live in a different tract from your workplace. Only at the county level does the anonymity set get reasonable large (into the tens of thousands on average).

So: Give out your county, but not your zipcode. If you live in rural Alaska your milage will vary, but in that case it's probably a good idea that everyone know who you are and vice versa.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A brief history of paying for movies (Part II). Well, not so much history, really.

Carrying on the theme of not really reaching any conclusions, I suppose I should wind up my ruminations on how one pays for movies (or videos, or other entertainment). The hypothesis emerging is that there are four main ways:
  • Per view (like, by going to a theater, or by ordering PPV)
  • By subscription (as with a premium cable channel, Netflix DVD service)
  • By short-term rental (for example, at the video store, cable on-demand)
  • By purchase (say, buying a DVD)
Do these exist on the web as well? Indeed they do. I haven't directly used PPV over the web, but I'm familiar with Netflix's "watch instantly" service and Amazon's rent/buy* scheme.

Can we compare the adoption of these models on the web with their adoption online? Not really. Technically, various forms of the various models have been around for a while, but until recently, relatively few people had enough bandwidth to care (as a US citizen/resident I'm well aware that it's been particularly recently here). At which point all four models turned up pretty quickly.

So while the historical comparison doesn't seem particularly instructive, it's interesting that the four existing models seem to have carried over fairly seamlessly.

*Amazon sells you the right to watch the material for as long as they provide it. Since it's tied to their DRM scheme, there are also restrictions on where you can watch it. Unlike a DVD, you can't pop it into a portable player or watch it in your car (while someone else drives, one would hope), and unlike a DVD, it's not up to you how long you keep it. I'm pretty sure the right is non-transferable, again unlike a DVD. But other than that it's just like buying a DVD.

This seems somehow not completely satisfying, but I've also seen mention of services that would sell you the right to download and (legally) burn a DVD of a movie for your own use. [What's a DVD? --D.H. May 2015]

Monday, May 25, 2009

Caching dynamic content

A friend who sells networking equipment, software and such tells me that web caching isn't the big thing it used to be. I didn't press for details, and there was a lot of noise in the room, but I believe his take was that with more content being dynamic, caching made less sense. There's no point caching something that's only going to be accessed in that particular form once. I then mused that the AJAX-y interfaces that tend to come along with dynamic content are designed specifically to hide the same latency that caching tries to reduce.

On the other hand, my friend, being in sales, is probably more interested in how much new stuff is selling than how much is actually deployed. It could just be that the market is more saturated than it used to be.

If only I could be bothered to look up the details ...

Friday, May 22, 2009

In which I reach no particular conclusion about open source

I'd originally expected to file this under "not really about the web but I'm posting it anyway," but all roads lead back to the web. Perhaps it's more germane than I'd originally thought. Nonetheless, you may wish to skip the geekly details (which I've indented) and go straight to the lack of conclusion at the bottom.
I've been experimenting a bit with video capture on Ubuntu as a means of smashing old analog tapes to bits. To that end, I bought an inexpensive video capture device that takes video in one end and puts USB out the other. It worked out of the box, sort of, on an aging Windows box, but seemed to drop frames, probably because the aging Windows box lacked the horsepower. So I tried plugging the thing into my Ubuntu box.

At first, nothing at all happened. The kernel wouldn't recognize the device as anything but a random USB device. A little googling (see, I told you the web was involved) and a look at dmesg showed that the device wasn't being recognized at all. This turned out to be because it wasn't in the driver's list of devices. But at least I could hack the driver that comes with the distro to put it on the list. As it happens, all I really needed to do was change one byte of the driver (better fixes were possible, but that's enough to make the driver recognize the device).

Ah, but while modern distros are still hackable -- and have to be, to qualify as open/free -- they're not shipped that way. A modern distro is a bunch of binaries along with the artifacts needed for their care and feeding. Source is separate. So ... download the source and requisite tools, and find out the preferred build command, Ubuntu conveniently provides this on a page heavily larded with "are you really sure you need to do this?"

The preferred build command rebuilds everything, as it's aimed more at someone trying to create a package for a distro, not a casual developer. In my case all I needed to do was change one byte of one driver. Further, I couldn't figure out where the giant build had put the results of my one-byte change. Somewhere, probably. After a while, using different instructions on the Ubuntu page, which look much more like what I'm used to, I'm able to build a driver that recognizes the device.

Unfortunately, that version doesn't quite work, for reasons I no longer recall. More googling determines that the latest version of the driver supports the card directly without the problem. Like many major distros, Ubuntu doesn't ship with the latest and greatest version of many components, so it's not a surprise that there would be a newer one. In this particular case, Ubuntu lags a bit farther behind the the latest because the main developer, who has ready access to the actual chipsets and so is pretty well technically qualified, has had some sort of dispute with -- I forget who, but some segment of the community.

However, the source is readily available, and even better, the driver is nice and self-contained (they generally are), so I can rebuild it quickly and modprobe it in. Sure enough, I do that and it "just works". The device is recognized. The other problem I'd been having is gone.

But the picture looks funny. It looks like NTSC is being interpreted as PAL, or something similar. Sure enough (after stumbling down several blind alleys), I check the source code and notice the driver expects the card to be speaking PAL. Not a surprise since the main developer lives in Europe. One three-line copy/paste later, the grabber is working fine. I post the patch to what looks like a relevant forum (look ma, I'm an open source developer!) and feel pretty good about myself.

But, while I can watch the incoming video on screen just fine, I can't figure out how to record it to disk. Which is what I came here for. There are approximately 5,923 different video programs to choose from. OK, more like a half dozen. On the one hand, there is Kino, which works just fine for devices with a FireWire connection, but doesn't seem to know anything about the USB family. Likewise with dvgrab. There appears to be some combination of kernel modules that will get you around this, but I haven't chased that down yet.

On the other hand are the approximately 5,922 programs for watching TV on your computer, which assume you have a USB device hooked up to a TV tuner. Each of them has its own quirks and requires its own special bit of hand-holding to get something showing on the screen, but the ones that can display seem to have trouble saving the video and the ones that might be able to do that can't seem to talk to the device.

That's where I am at the moment. I'm sure I'll chase down the last bit pretty quickly, but an out-of-the-box experience it wasn't.
So ... are closed systems inherently better? You don't see problems like this on Windows, partly because the manufacturer always ships a Windows driver along with the device and often ships a compatible application for good measure. It's even less of a problem on the Mac. Simply place the device in the same room as the Mac and the Mac will install the appropriate drivers, figure out what you want to watch, draw a nice facsimile of brushed chrome around the video window and fix you a latte.

In comparison to that, the Linux experience is pure chaos. In particular, even if I'd just grabbed the driver source and installed to begin with, delving through C code seems a poor way to say simple things like "the device ID is actually 1234:abcd and not 1234:5678" and "no really, this card also understand NTSC."

Except ...

My experience is that modern distros, for the most part, "just work." I've been running Ubuntu for years, now, and this is the first time I've found any need to recompile anything. Conversely, it's certainly possible to have driver problems of the same sort under Windows. Given that the driver ships with the device, detecting the device and figuring out what it supports are much easier. The problem is how the device driver interacts with the rest of the system, and that can vary depending on which of the zilions of different setups you actually have.

The Mac gets around this by tightly controlling the hardware and the software around it. This works, but the flip side is that some aspects of the system are fundamentally closed. For this and other reasons, Macs are considerably more expensive.

Yes, this particular corner of Linux seems fairly messy, particularly with the USB/FireWire split -- why should I care what kind of wire the video's coming over? -- and the apparent disconnect between the driver developer and the rest of the kernel community.

But these aren't open source problems. They're software problems. Any sufficiently large software organization is going to have occasional arbitrary distinctions and political friction. The threshold for "sufficiently large" here is probably a handful of people. The more relevant question is to what extent is open source more or less liable to have such problems. Dunno.

Against that, you have the fundamental advantage of being able to fix it yourself if you need to. It's annoying that things don't just work out of the box, and annoying that the most effective way of fixing the problem involved digging around in the driver source, but at least I could do that. In the proprietary world, you're generally stuck waiting for the next release [which, to be sure, has always worked before and nearly worked this time].

Is hackability worth the trouble? For an everyday user, having to fire up obscure tools, or even a command line, is not really acceptable. The real benefit is that any everyday user might also be a qualified developer who could help with a problem. Hackability maks it much easier for that person to get involved. The benefit to the everyday user is indirect: the larger pool of developers means a better system down the line.

So. Conclusions, or lack thereof? Not much, but maybe this: open source and the web together are powerful, but not all-powerful. But then, neither is anything else.

Friday, May 15, 2009

A brief history of paying for movies (Part I)

A while ago, I listed four ways of paying for movies, namely via advertising, by subscription, by rental and by purchase. All four models considerably predate movies themselves. I noted (or rather, noticed, as I wrote) that the four models had evolved both on TV and on the web. That got me curious as to just how this came to be, but not quite curious enough to track it down.

Since then, I've managed to pull together a few dates from Wikipedia and thereabouts. I wouldn't be surprised if I've missed some pioneers. The web, even with Wikipedia, can sometimes be a bit sketchy on things that predate it. However, as far as commercial offerings to large audiences, the timeline for old-school formats is something like:
  • Before there were movies, there were plays, shown on a pay-per-view basis since who knows when. For the most part, movies followed suit. The other models were at least feasible, but weren't seen on a large scale.
  • Movies have been shown "for free" on commercial TV pretty much since there was commercial TV. WNBT in New York, the first commercial station, interrupted a movie broadcast to announce the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941, less than six months after it was first licensed to broadcast [That is, it was a commercial station broadcasting a film at least as early as Pearl Harbor day, but no more than six months before.  It wasn't running the Pearl Harbor attack as advertising.  --D.H. Jan 2016].
  • HBO, which as far as I can tell was the first "premium" subscription cable service, launched in 1972. Subscription video on demand was first launched in Hong Kong in 1998.
  • VHS (and Betamax) videos of movies were offered for sale in 1977 by Magnetic Video. The same year, George Atkinson bought one of each (there were fifty in all) and opened Video Station rentals. In 1978, Jaws was released for sale in disc format on DiscoVision (hey, it was the 70s). For those too young to remember, this was a not-so-compact disc about the size of a vinyl LP. Whatever those were.
  • After their 1977 championship, the Portland Trail Blazers began offering games on a Pay-Per-View basis. PPV hit it big in 1981 with the Leonard-Hearns fight.
In short, PPV in theaters, then commercial, then subscription, then sale and rental almost simultaneously, and finally PPV in your own home. Subscription on-demand is the odd one out here, but it properly belongs in the new-school (digital) category. That'll be for Part II, when I get to it ...

P.S. While searching for all of the above, I ran across a history of recorded video that mentioned kinescopes. The kinescope was basically a way to record a TV show on film. It was mainly used for time shifting, but also provided archives that are still mined to this day. New York would send the shows to Hollywood while they were broadcasting them locally. The studio in Hollywood would film them using, yes, Acme equipment. Couriers would run two copies of the film (35mm master and a 16mm backup) over to the film processors to be developed, even while the next reel was being shot.

The film would be ready just a bit before air time. The couriers would run it back to the studio to be projected for the video cameras. For some reason the film was done at the standard 24 frames per second while the video was broadcast at its standard frame rate of 30 per second. And yet it all worked well enough, running through literally thousands of kilometers of film in a year, until videotape became widely accepted.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Dr. Dobb's: Dead or alive?

While chasing links for the previous post, I learned that Dr. Dobb's is no more. Sort of.

Last I'd looked, on the news stands a few months back, Dr. Dobb's was still in print and, from a quick browse, pretty much the same publication I remembered. I wasn't surprised, but given the nature of the business and the fairly large number of cool magazines (geekly and otherwise) that aren't around any more, I wouldn't have been surprised to find it had gone wherever cool magazines go when they aren't published any more.

Turns out I must have caught one of the last published issues. Dr. Dobb's is no longer in print, at least not as itself. It is now a monthly section in Information Week and an online portal.  [This portal is still up, but, sadly, Dr. Dobb's finally shut its virtual doors on 16 December 2014.  Fittingly, one of the last pieces published concluded a 10-part series on abstractions for binary search.  The site has been "sunset", not shut down, meaning that the existing content will be available indefinitely.  There just won't be anything new.  --D.H. May 2015]

Is it a death in the family, or the same soul being transferred to a different vessel? To me, that has much more to do with the quality of the content than the particular means of publishing. If Dr. Dobb's remains a useful resource for the computing professional, the change matters little. If it morphs into something less ... I'd tend to think the change in format is more a symptom, whether of declining resources, declining standards or declining whatever else, than a cause.

For whatever it's worth, I note that seems to suck up a prodigious amount of CPU, at least under Firefox. Not exactly "running light".

Sunday, May 10, 2009

My "dumb is smarter" spidey-sense is tingling again

But first, a digression.

Way back in high school it was time to pick semester projects for computer science class. To give you some idea of how long ago this was, the project was to be written in FORTRAN -- that's FORTRAN in all caps -- on the local university's "time-sharing system." At the time I thought AI was about the coolest thing you could do with a computer*. I started casting about for a worthy problem.

It seemed all the good ones were taken. Conversing in English in the manner of a non-directive therapist? Done. Moving blocks around in an imaginary world in response to natural-language commands? Solved problem. Chess? Well, folks were working on it, but everyone knew chess was hard. Could a computer ever surpass a human master's deep positional understanding? Doubtful. Certainly this was too much for a semester project.

After some pondering, I hit on the idea of "how come?" puzzles. Example: A man is found murdered in a room with 53 bicycles. How come? Answer: The man is a gambler, the bicycles are playing cards, and two of the 53 cards are the ace of spades. One is expected to solve the puzzle by asking yes or no questions which the computer would answer ("Were the bicycles stolen?" "No.") The yes/no format is nicely circumscribed. The questions less so, but therein lies the challenge, no?

I'm sure the teacher must have entertained, if only for a fleeting second, the idea of letting me actually try this. I'm grateful he didn't go that route. By the time I'd finished bashing my head against the finer points of parsing natural language and representing facts about the world, and realized that the resulting hash could not be made into something coherent, it would have been too late to do an actual project.

Instead, I reluctantly agreed to write an adventure program along the lines of ADVENT. Such "text adventures" were popular on the PCs of the day. You moved and acted in a fantasy world by typing one or two word commands (LOOK ... TAKE ROCK ... THROW ROCK ...RUN) and the game would give you a more or less sensible description of what happened (You see a dragon ... You pick up the rock ... The rock hits the dragon. The dragon appears angry.)

ADVENT was available on the time-sharing system. I forget just how we got away with playing it -- perhaps after classes or as a reward for finishing assignments early? -- but I had managed to find my way through the mazes of twisty little passages and figure out everything but how to solve the final puzzle. More importantly, through experimentation, study and the help of Byte and Dr. Dobb's I had formed a pretty good theory of how such games worked (patience, I'm getting back to the web.stuff) and how to write them.

The project was a success. I got a good grade, my friends thought it was cool and I learned quite a bit about data structures (and this was in FORTRAN, Sonny, none of this newfangled OO stuff). But it was also a bit disillusioning. The program wasn't doing anything deep or smart. It certainly didn't understand English. It understood two lists of words, namely a verb list and a noun list, comprising a few dozen words in all. It could parse a "sentence" consisting of a verb optionally followed by a noun. The model of the world was a few arrays. The prose descriptions were canned, of course, essentially the same from run to run.

And yet it was by far the best thing I'd written up to that point, and much better than anything I could have produced in a full-blown tilt at the AI windmills.

Now, where was I?

Wolfram Research, which has more than earned its keep by producing Mathematica, Mathworld and a smörgåsbord of other useful resources on mathematics in general, is announcing a new portal called Wolfram Alpha, set to open for business sometime this month. It aims to “compute whatever can be computed about the world.” Nothing small, then.

Not being one of the "few select individuals" to see the thing in beta, I can't say exactly what it does, but evidently it's meant to answer general questions on the order of "How many broadband connections are there in Sweden?" and point you at the web resources it used to come up with its answer. Nice.

Also according to some of the select individuals in question, it has mixed success in doing this. When it hits, it often hits a home run. But it seems to strike out a fair bit as well. Hmm ... haven't I seen this movie before?

But for the caliber of the folks behind it, I wouldn't really pay much attention to Alpha. Given that it's Wolfram, I'll certainly give it a try. Not too long ago I spent quite a bit of time trying to track down a seemingly simple figure, something like "the number of hosts on the internet" only to find myself lost in a twisty maze of little tabulations, all different. If Wolfram can pull together such things, accounting reasonably for differences in format, not to mention methodology, I'll certainly be interested.

If they're expecting something to replace Google and Wikipedia, I doubt that will happen, even if the thing works perfectly. On the other hand, if they're shooting for steady traffic from people who occasionally need to know facts that aren't in Wikipedia yet but maybe should be, that might work. I don't know how or whether you make a viable business of that, but Wolfram seems content in at least some cases just to put good stuff out there for the good of both their brand and the ecosystem at large. And more power to them.

[As noted elsewhere, I still use Wolfram Alpha for a certain class of questions --D.H. May 2015]

* Taking into account that "AI" and "computer" mean considerably different things now than they did then, I'd still put AI fairly high on the list.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Yet more silliness -- with chicken!

This one has been all over the news (here's a bit from Reuters, for example). I didn't participate directly, but I know people who tried.

It seems that KFC and Oprah Winfrey teamed up to promote an offer of free grilled chicken (maybe it should now be "KGC"?). All you had to do was download a coupon, print it out and take it to your local KFC. Except for the small matter of scale, it's a classic loss-leader to get people into the stores and get them to try a new product, one arguably healthier than the usual eleven-secret-herbs-and-spices formulation. I'm guessing the healthy part was Oprah's angle on it.

The results were not particularly hard to predict. My favorite tidbit was KFC spokesperson Laurie Schalow explaining that "there was no riot" and that "some KFC stores may have run out of some products, such as mashed potatoes and gravy or cole slaw, 'but they are substituting as best they can.'" I can only wonder what you get when you ask your tablemate to please pass the mashed potato substitute, but I give the lady full credit for even showing up to work that day.

Meanwhile, on the "how to use the internet to get $3 worth of free chicken" end of things, my correspondents' simple quest to print out a few coupons before heading out for lunch turned into a full-on mini geekfest involving much hilarity as the online offer evolved from a simple "Here's a PDF, print it out" to a twitching beast clearly thrown together in a hurried attempt to slow the tide.

I don't know the exact details, so don't quote me on any of this, but it seems that somewhere along the line KFC tried to put a unique serial number on the coupons. That can work reasonably well if the infrastructure is there (see the very first post on this blog for an example), but not so well if in all the confusion the individual stores are not clear on whether to enforce the one-serial-number-per-customer restriction and zillions of people have already printed out or otherwise copied the original non-unique coupon.

This doesn't seem to have stopped the webmasters from trying to control the printing of coupons to keep people from churning them out by the dozen for themselves. This trick never really works and it seems particularly pointless given that the offer was for a limited time, the stores were already giving away chicken as fast as they could, the whole point of the exercise was to get people in the store, not to make it hard for them, and that making the web site annoying risked costing well more in bad PR than just giving away chicken would cost in chicken, but again, I give the crew full credit just for showing up to work on this one.

At some point I recall hearing that the site was trying to get you to install a .exe on your Windows box and if you were running in a virtual machine (not a bad idea if you're installing some random .exe), refusing to print. There was also something about being asked to upgrade to a Mac, but I may have this garbled.

Monday, May 4, 2009

More mild silliness from the world of online publishing

Continuing the theme of "advertising, sure, obnoxious advertising, no," I was just browsing a well-known site I hadn't been to in a while, reading a reasonably interesting post. The post had a link to an earlier post on the same site. It looked interesting, so I clicked through and started reading.

Not long afterwards, the entire page grayed out and a big honking popup popped up telling me that I could keep reading if I registered with their site. If there was any indication this was coming, I sure missed it. Ah, the joys of ECMAScript.


I'm used to seeing the first couple of paragraphs of an article with a link labeled something like "Registered users can click here for the rest of the article" and another for "Register now." There are several variants on that theme, of course. It's standard fare in the academic world where anyone can see the abstract but you have to order the article (unless I'm mistaken, that model predates the web).

But this is one step beyond. Not only can I not see the rest of the article, I can't even see what I was just looking at before the obnoxious popup came along. Make up your mind: Do you want me to read it or not? Guess I'll just have to view the page source ...

Except here's the weird thing. I went back to the page to see the popup in action again, the better to snipe at it ... and it wasn't there. Clicked on a link to something else archival looking. Nope. Another link? Still nothing. I'm starting to think I imagined the whole thing. But it looked so vivid and lifelike.

So what's the point? I'm guessing their script wasn't working quite as intended. Either that or it's some sort of online game of "flinch". Will this popup scare you away from trying to read the rest of the article? No? Well, OK, I guess you can go ahead ... but I made you flinch, didn't I?

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Chasing my (long) tail

Perusing the statistics on who's reading this blog (a fairly quick read), I notice a recent arrival. Tailsweep, an online advertising entity evidently with one foot in the UK and one in Sweden, has taken an interest. Their idea is to gather together all the rest of the material after you get past Gizmodo and the other most heavily-visited sites and try to wring some advertising revenue out of them collectively. Just how, I'm not exactly sure, but hey, why not?

I might as well lay out my position on advertising here: I'm not against it in principle. On the other hand, I find it distracting on other sites, so I'm in no hurry to put up ads here without a good reason, which is currently nowhere in sight.

Actually, I find advertising distracting on some other sites. If I'm googling around for information on, say, some esoteric aspect of Java sockets, I don't really care to see links for vacations to Java or custom light sockets. OK, that's an an exaggeration, but you get the idea. I understand it all has to get paid for somehow, but too often said ads are attached to a forum thread that reads something like this:
  • Looking for info on Java sockets. Um ... I can't get sockets to work in Java.
    • Re: Looking for info on Java sockets. Hey ... I can't get them to work either.
      • Re: Looking for info on Java sockets. Has either of you tried reading the Javadocs?
OK, that's a slight exaggeration too, but you get the idea. I'm also not fond of ads disguised as links, though I understand the thinking that led to them. Or maybe because I understand the thinking that led to them.

On the other hand, I don't mind at all seeing ads on a major news site, partly because my visual system has largely learned how to tune them out on the sites I frequent, but mostly because I understand that all those reporters have to get paid. Unlike me, they don't have a day job to fall back on. Writing the stuff is their day job. Likewise for major blogs that are updated several times a day and have wide audiences.

But this isn't one of those. It's a hobby, one which attracts a smattering of hits, these days mostly, it seems, from people curious about Omegle or when the Information Age began. Perez Hilton I'm not.

To be crystal clear here: It's very gratifying that someone might find those posts worth reading. Likewise, if you've read this far on this one, many thanks for that as well. My best information as of this writing is that you're in pretty select company. That being the case, it's hard for me to see how there could be enough advertising potential in these pages to be worth anyone's time.

Should that change, and I'm guessing that would require a couple of orders of magnitude more visitors than I currently have, I'll gladly reconsider. Yes, dear reader, I have only your interests at heart. I will magnanimously spare you the annoyance of ads on this site -- unless someone will pay me enough to offset my mental anguish in putting you through them.

[Tailsweep is still around, but the link above redirects to a Swedish site claiming to be Sweden's most active ... something or other ... in social media ... press the "translate" button ... Sweden's most active follower in social media.  Whatever that may mean.  It seems to have been bought out by Bonnier Group, a Swedish holding company, but you won't see that on the English version of the page.

Traffic on Field Notes appears to be higher than when this post was written, if only because crawlers visiting every page have more pages to visit, I suspect, but my back-of-the-envelope calculations continue to suggest that I'd need a couple of orders of magnitude more traffic to make ads worthwhile.  So if you've read this far and you really, really want to see ads on this site, please tell 100 of your friends. --D.H. Jan 2016]