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Comment Re:I work in online advertising (Score 5, Interesting) 231

The "mom and pop" sites point rings amusingly true for me.

Around a year ago, my dad went through a wave of really nasty malware infections. The ones that block your AV software, redirect your DNS and generally embed themselves right across the OS.

Now, my dad has historically been a bit of a malware-magnet. He falls into the category of "knows just about enough to think he knows everything", which used to lead him into some really poor security practices. But after a really nasty infection in 2012 which resulted in him losing quite a significant chunk of personal data, I thought he'd finally learned his lesson. He was keeping on top of Windows Update, keeping an updated AVG install, running weekly Malwarebytes scans and had finally, finally, stopped opening dodgy e-mail attachments from his perpetually-malware-infested dickhead golf-buddy friends.

I'd also put him on an adblocker. I wasn't using one myself at the time (though I am now), but I was sick of making the 4-hour-each-way journey to his place to fix his machine, so I'd held nothing back.

So a wave of four or five infections in the space of a month came as a bit of a shock. What was surprising was that he was getting re-infected very quickly after each disinfection (including one which involved a full format-reinstall of Windows).

Eventually, after going through his browser history after two consecutive infections (and half-expecting to find a megaton of pr0n), I track down the source.

And it's not pr0n, it's his bloody family history club website. Some online forum he participates in for people who are trying to trace their ancestry in a particular area. It has under 50 regular participants. It also has a prominent notice about how much the site depends on advertising income to stay in operation and asking users to disable or make an exception in their adblocker (with instructions on how to do so).

My dad has, of course, been making an exception for this site, which is then pushing a remarkably concentrated and toxic cocktail of malware-infested ads almost every time it is accessed. We actually ended up on the phone to the guy who ran the site, begging him to switch to another advertising provider. He wasn't exactly enthusiastic, so the adblocker remained in place. Don't know where things have got to since then.

Comment Re:I work in online advertising (Score 3, Interesting) 231

Actually, I don't detest ads per se. I held off for using an adblocker for a long time, because there were a few sites I frequented that I knew were unlikely to be able to stay in operation on anything other than the advertising model. Static-image ads or even tastefully animated ones (ie. a selection of items from a product range which changes every 20 seconds or so) don't bother me, provided they don't fill half the screen.

But I'm on an adblocker now, as of around 9 months ago. Malvertising was a factor in this move, but the biggest factor were auto-playing video-ads with sound. I got bored of clicking through browser tabs playing the game of "spot where the noise is coming from". Oh, and those full-site wrap-around ads that leave almost no room on the screen where you can click-for-focus without clicking the ad are infuriating as well.

This is an industry that seems set for self-destruction. I've no doubt that there are responsible, legitimate advertising firms out there, as described by the GP (I still see plenty of "inoffensive" ads). There are also, as I said above, a lot of useful resources that would either require subscriptions or shut down without advertising. But it doesn't take many bad apples to sour the public on the whole idea. Adblockers are getting traction even with people who were uncomfortable with them to begin with on ethical grounds (like me) and from what we've seen out of the courts so far, they're not getting banned any time soon (and the growth of malvertising makes this even more of an unlikely prospect).

I suspect the onus is going to be on the industry to sort this out, through creating a trade association with some real teeth and buy-in from the major customers, plus potentially co-operation with search engines to help identify dodgy sites.

All of which is probably a recipe for a cartel 10 years down the line. Solve one problem and another replaces it...

Comment Re:What does Science have to say about this? (Score 2) 585

I had to deal with an issue relating to a number of members of the public claiming to be affected by this a couple of years ago. Bluntly, most of the people involved had clear mental health or personality issues and were projecting their general dislike of modern life and technology onto this supposed bogeyman.

A couple turned out to be more interesting; they'd started feeling unwell since having wireless routers installed in their homes. Turned out that a faulty batch of router power supplies was emitting a high pitched whine that some people were sensitive to, with symptoms including loss of sleep, headaches and nausea. The problems with this router batch (though not the specific issue I was involved in) attracted some reporting in the tech press: here.

Nothing to do with wireless signals, but everything to do with what was, essentially, one of those teenager-repellent "stingers" being installed in their homes.

Comment Re:Opt out (Score 2) 112

There is indeed an opt-out, described about halfway down TFA. If you opt out, then you don't get the subscriber benefit of the faster connection when accessing via other people's routers. BT have had a similar system in place for a couple of years now.

I'm a Virgin Media subscriber and I'll be opting out. So long as the opt-out remains in place, however, I won't be getting too upset about this.

Comment Re: 'There's no substitute for cubic inches' (Score 4, Interesting) 345

You're not wrong as such, but it's a little bit more complicated than that. The truth is that neither the hub-and-spoke model nor the point-to-point model has "won" right now and it's likely that both are going to continue side-by-side for many years to come.

A bigger issue is that a lot of the airlines who are pursuing the hub-and-spoke model have nevertheless stayed away from the A380 and 747-800 (some have dabbled, but with small purchases). It's a rare route where, even operating out of a major hub, you can fill an aircraft that large multiple times per day. There are a few, sure (London - New York, for instance), but those are the exception rather than the norm.

Emirates are clearly trying to make the A380 a cornerstone of their Dubai hub strategy and part of their brand. But Emirates has a distinctive financial situation, with very deep pockets behind it and a strategy that's currently about buying market share rather than making profits. I don't know where that will end up in the longer term (particularly if low oil prices are here to stay for a decade or so).

Comment Re:Passengers love it? Really? (Score 4, Insightful) 345

It depends which model of the 747 you're on. There's a big difference in terms of noise and vibration between a 747-400 and a 747-800. They may look very similar from outside, but there are massive differences in engines, as well as substantial refinements to the airframe on the later models.

Comment 'There's no substitute for cubic inches' (Score 4, Interesting) 345

The current trend in the airline sector seems to be away from the very large aircraft. The A380 is tanking in sales terms (only Emirates has really plunged into that market) and there's talk that Airbus might look to drop the line sooner rather than later. The 747-800 is also finding things slow going. The hot sellers right now in the wide-bodied aircraft stakes seem to be the 777, 787 and A350.

The problem with those ultra-large aircraft is that they can be thirsty in terms of fuel, crew-intensive and, except on a small number of really "thick" routes, quite hard to fill. With the airline business mostly operating on quite thin margins, efficiency matters and the smaller, single-deck planes are looking better in that regard right now.

Plus the A380 requires specialised ground infrastructure at airports for efficient operation, which translates into limited operational flexibility and/or higher landing charges. Also its Code-F designation means that in theory, it requires runway/taxiway widths and separations etc to be built to higher standards (though many airports are using derogations for this right now).

The ultra-large aircraft may yet make a comeback, of course, but if they do, it's more likely to be a currently under-developed market where new very "thick" routes spring up (eg. domestic connections between Chinese cities).

Comment Re:Like Cracked and FARK have become. (Score 1) 226

Amen to that - especially where moderation is allowed on threads where the user is also posting.

I once had a conversation with the editor of a site that used that system. He knew how broken it was as a means of managing discussion, but said that their metrics showed that it produced the highest number of page-views. There's a certain class of user that goes elsewhere when they aren't allowed to downvote at will (and it is downvoting that is the draw, not upvoting).

Comment Re:Makes sense (Score 1) 226

It's largely about page views and gathering metrics for advertising. For instance, if a newspaper site uses a general forum, then it is difficult to track how much users are engaging with specific authors/articles. With comments under the article, however, there is a direct and easily understood metric for how a specific author, article or topic gets the readers agitated.

The UK's Daily Telegraph (once one of the finest newspapers in the English-speaking world, now much diminished) is known for being particularly brutal in ranking its journalists according to the number of comments their stories create. This, in turn, puts an incentive on journalists to produce more politically-extreme copy, as they know it will result in a stronger reaction.

Meanwhile The Independent, another notable UK newspaper (albeit one with less history behind it), has gone for the practice of heading all of its stories with clickbait-style headlines.

You won't believe this one neat trick for ruining fine journalistic traditions that insurance companies don't want you to know and you'll never guess the 14 most popular theories on what happens next.

Comment Makes sense (Score 4, Insightful) 226

I've a lot of sympathy. Some sites - like Slashdot - are all about the comments (for which the stories act as little more than a prompt). But those sites tend to have well-throught-through community structures and moderations in place. Much as we all gripe about Slashdot sometimes, its moderation system remains best-in-class.

A lot of other sites I frequent have been "going toxic" over the last couple of years, often as a result of their comments sections (I'll highlight Eurogamer and Kotaku as partial examples and Animenewsnetwork as an uber-example). The comments threads usually descend into two (or sometimes more) camps of people, yelling "SJW!" or "MRA!" at each other. Over time, the site's editors and authors get pulled into one side or the other and the site stops playing for a general audience and just becomes another factional advocacy site.

Blocking comments therefore makes a degree of sense for sites which want to preserve the quality of their writing but which don't have the resources (or a sufficiently engaged readership) to make Slashdot-style community moderation work. It's actually pretty admirable in some respects, because it is actually incurring an immediate financial penalty for the site, assuming its business model is advertising based. After all, if somebody reads a story once, you get a single page-view. If they reload the story two dozen times to participate in a flame war in the comments, that's two dozen page-views. Indeed, it's hard to read some articles on the sites I mentioned above (and many more besides) and see them as anything other than flamebait designed to encourage high page-view wars in the comments.

Comment Re:Splitscreen's decline can be explained (Score 1) 147

You can always find edge-cases, but your friend's situation is pretty unusual these days.

Plus my experience of "Let's Play" videos is that their real purpose is to allow children to vicariously experience age-restricted games that they can't buy in the stores. In the past, if a child's own parent wouldn't buy them an age-restricted game, they'd go to a friend's house and play it there. Stores are getting much better at informing parents and enforcing age ratings these days - so the new get-around is youtube.

Comment Splitscreen's decline can be explained (Score 3, Informative) 147

There are a few things behind the decline in split-screen gaming on consoles.

Demographics have changed a lot. Until the latter part of the PS2/Xbox cycle, console gaming (with a small handful of exceptions) meant getting a bunch of people into the same room at the same time. That was ok as far as it went; a huge chunk of the gaming demographic back then was the teenager and young-adult market, with ready availability of siblings or housemates to provide the players. Those players are still the most important purchasing demographic, but they're older now. Split-screen gaming for them is a "special occasions" thing now, while online gaming is there for them whenever they feel like it.

Gamers are also a lot more intolerant of poor framerates than was the case in the past. Split-screen gaming usually involves a big hit to framerate and many classic split-screen games (including the early Halo titles) made enormous compromises in this area. Ever since the Call of Duty series started making a big selling point out of its 60fps gaming, there's been a lot more focus on framerates. For those about to cry "graphical snobbery!" - the difference in responsiveness and feel between a console shooter running at a steady 60fps and one running at either a steady 30fps or, worse still, a variable framerate is huge. PC gamers might not appreciate this, since they're used to having a lot more control in this area. But one of the big reasons why the Call of Duty series made it so big on consoles (despite seeming tame and unambitious to PC gamers) is that it just feels so much more responsive than the competition. With split-screen shooters often having provided a sub-20fps experience, the market for them now is likely much diminished.

There's also the point that more multiplayer games these days make a big point out of persistent stats systems. Look at a modern online shooter and you will often find a bewildering array of level-up systems, perks, bounties and other meta-game components. Those are geared towards online players putting in dozens of hours, not to quick-blast couch-parties.

So basically, while there is a small but vocal community that desperately wants split-screen gaming, there are understandable business reasons that have led to it being sidelined and gradually eliminated.

Comment The CBI (Score 2) 207

I've crossed paths with the CBI a number of times in a work context over the last decade and a bit. To be honest, I've never seen anything come out of them that wasn't either a) blindingly obvious or b) completely stupid.

They're a bit of an artifact from another age, really. They were founded in mid-1960s, at a time when UK Governments tended to be much more hostile to business and often at the beck and call of the trades unions. The CBI was set up as a counter-point to that; to act, as it were, for a union for big business. And to be fair, that was a perfectly valid objective in the circumstances of the times and remained so throughout the 60s, 70s and 80s.

Today, of course, British business is hardly cowering from the union menace and the CBI, like a lot of other institutions of the cold war era, is left without a clear purpose. With a divided and often disinterested membership, it mostly seems to exist largely only to perpetuate its own existence, which it does by making ponderous announcements on whatever vaguely business-related issue happens to be topical at the time. As I said above, sometimes it points out the obvious, sometimes it says something ridiculous.

It would be harmless enough if it weren't for the fact that, for legacy reasons, it still commands more press attention than it deserves. It can be an absolute godsend for lazy BBC journalists who can't be bothered going out to talk to actual industry; get a CBI rent-a-quote to say something and present it as the voice of business on any given story.

"Why should we subsidize intellectual curiosity?" -Ronald Reagan