Google will now track your brick & mortar purchases


Google will now track credit and debit card transactions at retail stores, in an effort to assess the effectiveness of their online advertising.

It will work like this:  A retailer places an ad with Google, which then targets likely buyers based on all the data it collects from our online visits.  With a tie-in to the retailer’s records, Google can associate the store’s customers with the ads, thereby proving their effectiveness.

Google is reassuring the public that the information will be converted to numbers so that the individual purchasers will not be identified, thus protecting their privacy.

Does that make you feel better?

The public would be up in arms if the government collected so much information about us.  Is it all that much better if a private corporation collects so much information about us?

But what if the data show that online advertising does not work all that well?  A television commercial, representing the biggest advertising vehicle that Google competes with, may be far more sophisticated in persuading people to buy things than those annoying little boxes that Google puts up when we are trying to do something else online.  Perhaps the technology will develop to the point of self-destruction, destroying Google’s business model.

At any rate, just remember that Google is watching you.  And not only when you are online.

UPDATE:  This article explains more.  It says that Google already has access to 70% of all U.S. credit and debit card transactions!  This is “through partnerships with other companies that track that data.”  How can that be allowed?

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Global cyberattack stopped by 22-year-old who lives with his parents

Screenshot of ransomware attackA massive ransomware attack on Friday hit 99 countries and shut down thousands of operations, including FedEx and England’s National Health Service.  The malware took control of computers and kept them from working unless victims made a payment of $400, going up as time elapsed.  The virus had its origin in software stolen from the National Security Administration, whose security was last year.

What strikes me the most about this attack, however, is how it was stopped.  The world was saved, so to speak, by a 22-year-old blogger who never went to university and who lives with his parents.

He read reports about the attack, found a copy of the virus, and saw that the code included a domain name that was not registered.  So he registered it.  And that stopped the virus all over the world.

More details after the jump. [Read more…]

Why your shoelaces come untied

Shoelaces_02On April Fool’s Day, not at the time being able to think of anything better, tried the old gag on two of my granddaughters:  “Your shoe is untied!”

One said, “Nice try.  But I’m wearing sandals.”  With the other, her shoe really was untied.

I report my failed joke to introduce a fascinating bit of research.  Engineers have determined why and how people’s shoelaces become untied.

The action of the foot striking the ground loosens the knot and the swinging of the leg acts much like a hand pulling on the strings.

This discovery, detailed at a physics website after the jump, contributes to the field of “knot mechanics,” which turns out to be an important topic.
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The middlemen that survived the internet

abode-987096_640The internet has damaged travel agents, taxi drivers, retailers, and other industries.  But one set of middlemen have not been damaged at all:  real estate agents.

Though there is lots more real estate information online–e.g., Zillow–when people sell and buy houses, they still go to real estate agents, 5-6% commissions and all.

Either this is a niche that needs filling–if you can do so, remember me when you come into your billions–or this particular industry demonstrates the commercial limits of the internet.

Which is it?  What makes real estate agents immune from competition from the internet?


Illustration from Pixabay, Creative Commons, Public Domain

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From energy scarcity to energy abundance

Schematic_cross-section_of_general_types_of_oil_and_gas_resources_and_the_orientations_of_production_wells_used_in_hydraulic_fracturingNewspapers tend to offer good coverage of their city’s main industry.  So if you want financial news, read the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal.  If you want entertainment news, read the Los Angeles Times.  If you want political news, read the Washington Post.  If you want news about the oil industry, read the Daily Oklahoman.

It even has an energy editor, Adam Wilmoth, who reported on an eye-opening industry symposium at the University of Oklahoma.  We learn about the impact of new oil production technology–such as fracking, horizontal drilling, and oil shale extraction–which has transformed our energy situation from scarcity to unimaginable abundance.

But some will not like to hear this, especially the point about how, in light of the new superabundance, it’s now not bad for energy consumption to go up.  And, if these figures are correct, there may not be that much economic impetus for alternative energy sources.  Much of the new technology has made oil production more environmentally friendly–there are now only 500 active rigs, pumping far more than the 4,500 rigs in 1981 and the 1,500 rigs in 2014.  But those worried that burning carbon contributes to global warming will be frustrated that economic forces will be working against them.  And we Oklahomans do not like all of our new earthquakes, which are apparently a by-product of the new oil industry.

Still. . .isn’t energy abundance a good thing and better than the alternative?  Or not?

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Trump and team WERE under government surveillance

eyes-490608_640President Trump has claimed that the Obama administration bugged his Trump Tower offices.  That accusation has been mostly dismissed.

But now it turns out that President-elect Trump and his transition team WERE surveilled.

House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes (R-California) said that he has seen copies of reports “unmasking” the members of Trump’s transition team and their activities.  This material was widely-circulated in the White House and in the Intelligence community.

Nunes says he believes the material was gathered legally, although information gleaned “incidentally” in the course of other investigations is supposed to be redacted.  Nunes says the information gathered did not involve Russia connections.
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