Chrome extensions to manage online privacy

Privacy

There are a couple of extensions for Chrome that I've been using for a while now to try to maintain or improve my privacy online. Some have been helpful, others haven't. Some mini-reviews:

Terms of Service, Didn't Read

Most every modern website has a "Terms of Service" that governs your interactions with it. The document usually lays out how and when the site will use any data it collects about you - helpful, right? The document is also usually many pages long and would potentially take hours to fully absorb and understand. Terms of Service, Didn't Read is an extension that tries to give you a high-level view of the Terms of Service of the site you're on, based on their team's reading and interpretation of those documents on your behalf. If there are particular concerns related to privacy and personal data use, the extension will flag that when you arrive.

I used this extension for several months, finding it interesting at first to see how the sites I visited regularly measured up to TOSDR's evaluation. But after the initial curiosity wore off, I realized that for the most part, the information here wasn't changing my behavior. If TOSDR flagged something like "The copyright license is broader than necessary" or "This service tracks you on other websites," I'd still have to do some more digging to figure out exactly what that meant, and whether or not I was comfortable with it. So, the information provided by TOSDR is helpful, but not always conveniently actionable when it comes to protecting privacy. (There's a theme in all this: protecting privacy is rarely convenient.)

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OMG, Best. Post. Evaaar.

HyperboleThese days it feels like hyperbole has completely taken over the world.

Err, that is...well, let me explain.

There's a lot of information being thrown at us all the time (news, entertainment, advertising, status updates), and a near-constant drive to try to make that information compelling, interesting or just weird enough to stand out from all the rest (think cable news, YouTube videos, all of the people making a living on various forms of marketing, political rhetoric).

It's a bit understandable, then, that in our daily communications we are tempted to exaggerate and embellish things. How else will our commentary about how life-changing this bowl of soup is stand out against all of the other commentary about how earth-shattering that coffee drink is or how vitally important that cute baby animal video is??

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The Martian by Andy Weir

I recently finished reading The Martian by Andy Weir. It was one of the most enjoyable works of fiction I've read recently, and so I can't help but recommend it here.

The story is a kind of Robinson Crusoe/Cast Away extreme survival adventure that happens in space, and will especially appeal to fans of MacGyver-style resourcefulness with some realistic science and geeky tech explanations thrown in. It's also pretty funny at times, and strangely moving at others. Check it out.

Home is where the branding is

Coffee!When I was eating breakfast at home recently, I took an inventory of the number of corporate brands that were on display to me as I sat at our kitchen counter.

The fridge, oven, toaster, etc. were obvious ones but then I started noticing brand names on things like a pair of speakers, the cookware and the ceiling fan, and the count went up to 15+.

There are probably more I'm missing. And that's before I even open up the pantry to look at food packaging - oh my.

You've probably seen the studies that say the average U.S. resident is exposed to many thousands of advertising/branding messages per day. Sometimes these studies seem a bit exaggerated, but I still think about the core point that my brain is consuming brand and advertising messaging all day long.

As I've gotten older and I feel like my brain is less sponge-like for being able to take in all the information I can throw at it, I've gotten more protective of what I fill it up with and what I use it for.

One way to do that is to not let brands advertise to me in my own home and in the spaces where I generally want the most control over how I feel, what I think about, and what messages I take in.

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Blue Apron review

For several months now Kelly and I have been trying out Blue Apron, the service that delivers fresh ingredients and recipes to your door so you can make amazing meals. Bottom line: it's been responsible for a wonderful shift in our cooking and eating habits at home.

Shaking Beef Prep

Before Blue Apron, we were in a bit of a rut when it came to cooking at home. Both of us have found enjoyment at various times in the process of cooking, especially for other people. But at times we also faced a failure of imagination, discipline and/or motivation when it came to planning meals, going to the grocery, and taking the time to make something interesting or healthy. Yes, these are clearly problems of privilege; in a few minutes we could easily pick something from a cookbook, get to the grocery store that's less than 2 miles away, buy some stuff and a few minutes after that be home cooking - pretty much the definition of convenient and easy living.

So when I first heard about a service that would ship fresh ingredients to our door along with recipes to prepare them, I was skeptical. Surely we could just make ourselves put a little more time and energy into doing what we already knew had to be done, right?

But we decided to try it out after reading a review online, if only to say we'd experimented with this crazy new use of the Internet.

The result? Delicious, interesting, beautiful, fun, healthy food:

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Richmond Matters, a new local blog

I've created RichmondMatters.com, a new site dedicated to commentary about life in Richmond, Indiana.

As I've occasionally done here in the past, I'll be sharing my thoughts about Richmond news, politics, leadership, community life and more. It's a simple site. The name is kind of boring. I've no ambition for it beyond having a place to write with a more narrow focus on a topic that's important to me.

Sometimes I'll cross-post those essays here or tweet out links to them, but usually I won't. I'll continue to post here about all the other random stuff I enjoy writing about, but the posts about local stuff will go in this new site.

So, if you'd like to follow along with my posts about Richmond, I hope you'll use the email or RSS subscription options on Richmond Matters. I'd enjoy having your feedback and comments along the way.

Pet Adoption, Debt Clock WordPress Plugins

I recently released two simple WordPress plugins:

This creates a simple pet adoption search form in a widget on your WordPress site. Once you enter a postal/zip code, you're taken to results on Adopt-a-Pet.com where you can look for a homeless dog, cat or other animal waiting for your love. (Yes, I've worked a lot in the past with Adopt-a-Pet.com, but this plugin is not affiliated with or endorsed by them, I just created it for fun and to promote pet adoption.) Pull requests welcome.

This creates a simple widget display of the current U.S. national debt, based on the latest data available from the U.S. Treasury. If you want you can animate the number so that it is increasing/decreasing on the page according to recent changes in the actual debt. Pull requests welcome.

 

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