Scott Ertz - Staff

Scott Ertz

Scott Ertz

Former Segment Host

Current Host

Current UpStream Contributor

Current Product Reviewer

Current Episode Author

Email Facebook LinkedIn Twitter Google last.fm YouTube

Scott is a developer who has worked on projects of varying sizes, including all of the PLUGHITZ Corporation properties. He is also known in the gaming world for his time supporting the rhythm game community, through DDRLover and hosting tournaments throughout the Tampa Bay Area. Currently, when he is not working on software projects or hosting F5 Live: Refreshing Technology, Scott can often be found returning to his high school days working with the Foundation for Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST), mentoring teams and helping with ROBOTICON Tampa Bay. He has also helped found a student software learning group, the ASCII Warriors, currently housed at AMRoC Fab Lab.

Recent UpStream Articles

How to get more from the time you spend online

posted Friday May 24, 2024 by Scott Ertz

How much time do you spend online each day? For many of us, a lot of our time is spent using the internet, whether it's during work time or our downtime. In fact, research shows that internet users spend a massive six hours and 35 minutes of their time each day online. That's certainly a significant amount of time.

The amount of time that people should spend online and using screens each day is a subject of much debate. But there's no doubt that it would be pretty hard to avoid using the internet completely. Now that we all have so much information, entertainment, and possibilities available at our fingertips, it's no surprise that people want to dive in and experience it.

There's no question that most of us spend a lot of time on our devices each day. You may feel that this, in itself, isn't an issue. But you may be getting a little bored of simply scrolling through your newsfeed aimlessly while the minutes and hours tick by. It's so easy to fall into a habit of mindlessly scrolling through our phones. But when we do this, it can leave us feeling dissatisfied and unfulfilled. If you've noticed that you feel disengaged and completely unaware of the passing hours when scrolling through your phone, you might find it helpful to try something different. Rather than scrolling through your phone out of habit, why not turn this passive pastime into something more fulfilling?

The internet is packed with fascinating information and engaging content. So, there's no reason why using the web needs to be an uninspiring habit. Keep reading to discover how to get more from the time you spend online. Are you ready to leave behind mindless scrolling and maximize your time spent online? If so, here are some top tips to inspire you:

Engage With Others

If you spend lots of time scrolling through your social media feed, it's helpful to think about why you do this. For some people, constantly looking through social media can be a way to ease loneliness and feel some kind of connection to other people. If this sounds like you, you may find that a lot of your scrolling simply makes you feel worse. It can cause you to compare their seemingly perfect lives with yours. But don't forget, what you get to see is probably only the edited highlights of their lives. Instead, you may find that you get more of what you're looking for from your time spent online when you engage with others in a different way.

Thinking about which subjects you are interested in and feel passionately about is a great start. You may then want to join online forums and fan pages to chat with other people who share your same interests. This can help you to feel like you are part of a community and enable you to have meaningful conversations about your interests.

Chill Out While Keeping Your Brain Active

Many people go online as a way to relax. At the end of a stressful day, it can feel great to have a reason to simply sit down with your phone in hand and forget about the day. But there are plenty of other ways to chill out after a hard day. If you like the idea of keeping your brain engaged and active while your body relaxes, playing online games is a great way to do this.

Choosing to play online games that are fun, but also require you to think are a great place to start. Online crossword games are the perfect example of this. You will be able to engage your brain and keep your mind active while enjoying the fun challenge of completing the crossword. Although you'll still be relaxing, you will be able to forget about the day and focus your mind on something more positive, instead. Playing these types of online games is a great way to keep your brain busy and give it a workout. This could even help you to protect your brain health and is a handy tool in the battle against conditions such as dementia. So, there are plenty of good reasons to choose to play online games over mindless scrolling.

Overhaul Your Finances

If your aim is to make the hours you spend online as productive as possible, you may want to focus on your finances. While dealing with money matters isn't as exciting as playing online games, it can be a worthwhile area to focus on.

Spending some time combing through your finances while you're online can really help you take charge of your financial life. While it's vital to be careful when entering your personal details online, there are ways to save yourself money and overhaul your financial situation.

Managing your money online can take many different forms. You could begin by using comparison sites to see if it is possible to lower your bills. This is something that could help you to make big savings on your utility bills, car insurance, and home insurance. Even spending just one evening looking at ways to save on these essential bills can help you make some significant savings. You can follow this example for pretty much every aspect of your financial life, from your phone contract to your internet service provider.

Learn Something New

The internet may be populated with a lot of not so useful information, but there's plenty of valuable stuff on there too, just waiting to be discovered. You won't have to try too hard to find tutorials and online courses covering pretty much everything. From learning how to speak another language to developing the skills needed to entirely make over your home, useful information is right there at your fingertips.

Using your spare time to learn something new is always a good idea. It's a really valuable way to learn new skills that you can put to use in daily life. You can even develop skills that can be used to help you to save money. For example, learning how to complete tasks around the home yourself, such as decorating and carpentry tasks, can help you to save large amounts of money, as you won't need to hire professionals to complete these tasks.

Following tutorials to complete practical tasks isn't the only way to make the most of your time spent online. There's also plenty of opportunity to learn a new physical activity. Yoga, Pilates, indoor walking exercises, and tai chi are just some of the physical activities that you can learn online from the comfort of your own home. So, you can focus on your physical and mental wellbeing without even leaving the house.

Get Creative

You don't need to have a natural artistic flair to get a new creative hobby. You only need to search online, and you'll find thousands of step-by-step tutorials and videos to instruct you on how to get started with any creative hobby you can think of. Whether you've always wanted to try macrame, watercolor painting, or needlepoint, you will find all the information you need just a click away.

One of the best things about learning a creative skill online is you can work on it at your own pace. You can simply dip in and out of the content as and when you have time, so there's no pressure to hurry to develop your new skill in a set time. Instead, you can take your time and enjoy it.

Boost Your Qualifications

Are you keen to advance your prospects and take the next step on the career ladder? It's easy to feel like you're stuck in a job and feel unsure about how you're going to break free and progress your career to the next level.

No one wants to feel trapped in their job. Unfortunately, it can happen pretty easily when you've been in the same role for a while. However, making a conscious effort to find a way out of this situation is something that you can do while you're spending time online. There are lots of opportunities to give your qualifications a boost online. You could choose to take an online course to gain the knowledge and skills you need to go for that big promotion.

If you're keen to make a major change in your life, you could decide to take an online course and retrain in a completely different career.

Final Thoughts

There's a common misconception that time spent online is often time that's wasted. However, that doesn't need to be the case. Spending hours mindlessly scrolling and comparing your life to other people's is rarely a positive way to use your spare time. But, as we've shown above, there are tons of ways to get more from the time you spend online.

Whether you choose to overhaul your finances, learn a new skill, or keep your brain active by playing online games, there are plenty of constructive ways to spend your time on the internet.

read more...

Venu Sports is yet another streaming services aimed at sports fans

posted Sunday May 19, 2024 by Scott Ertz

Bad news everyone! There is yet another streaming service headed your way to steal your money and attention. This service, called Venu Sports, is a partnership between Disney (which owns ABC and ESPN), Fox (which owns Fox Sports), and Warner Bros. Discovery (which owns TBS and TNT). Together, Venu Sports hopes to be your one-stop shop for all things sports without a cable subscription, but there are some notable exceptions that might make that a difficult proposition.

What is Venu Sports?

Venu Sports is an upcoming sports streaming service that marks a significant collaboration between ESPN, Fox, and Warner Bros. Discovery. Set to launch in the fall of 2024, Venu Sports aims to be a comprehensive platform for sports enthusiasts, offering a wide array of live sports content. The service is designed to cater to fans who prefer streaming over traditional pay TV, providing them with one-stop access to games from all the major professional sports leagues and college sports. The joint venture is subject to regulatory approval, but once launched, it will bring together the companies' portfolios of sports networks and certain direct-to-consumer services into a single, dynamic service.

The brand identity for Venu Sports was unveiled by Pete Distad, the CEO of the service, who emphasized the platform's commitment to delivering a top-tier product for sports fans. The service will be available directly to consumers via a new app, with the option to bundle it with other streaming services like Disney+, Hulu, or Max. This flexibility is part of Venu Sports' strategy to aggregate content and offer an extensive lineup that serves sports fans, particularly those outside of the traditional pay TV bundle.

While the specific details regarding pricing and a more precise launch date are yet to be announced, the anticipation for Venu Sports is high. The platform promises access to a vast range of sports channels owned by the partnering companies, including ESPN, TNT, TBS, and more. Subscribers can look forward to enjoying NFL, NBA, MLB, and NCAA games, among other sporting events. The introduction of Venu Sports is poised to reshape the sports streaming landscape, providing fans with a new venue to experience their favorite sports in a more accessible and tailored manner.

Another service with holes

While this trio together offers a lot of sporting options, there are some high-profile content options missing. Just take the NFL as an example. The NFL has content strewn across nearly every service provider under the sun. Some games are available on Amazon Prime. Starting this coming season, some games will be available on Netflix. Others are available on YouTube TV. None of those companies are involved in this new sports venture, leaving you with no other option but to subscribe to more platforms. So much for "one-stop shop."

Another sports that is going to be absent is Premier League Soccer, which is currently exclusive to the NBC Sports Group, owned by Comcast Universal. NBC also has exclusive broadcast and streaming rights to the Olympic Games in the US, meaning we're not likely to see that come to the platform.

Can Venu last as it has been pitched?

Another concern comes from the nature of the partnership. When Hulu first launched, it was a partnership between Disney (ABC), Fox, and NBC. In the beginning, the relationship was solid and the service offered a ton of content from these brands.

Then, with time, the relationship changed. Turner came in as a minority owner and then jumped ship. Then Fox decided to sell, not only their stake in Hulu but also their entertainment division, to Disney. That left Disney with the majority stake, which drove Comcast to create Peacock, leaving the Hulu ownership group. So, the end result is that Hulu is now entirely owned by Disney.

Over the long run, will Venu Sports suffer the same fate as Hulu? Will the content selection drop over time, limiting itself to only a single provider? Only time will tell, but for now, Venu Sports looks like it could be a good option for big sports fan.

read more...

Meta under investigation in the EU for DSA violations against minors

posted Sunday May 19, 2024 by Scott Ertz

This week, the European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, initiated an investigation into Meta, the parent company of Facebook, Instagram, and Threads. The Commission believes that the company and its social networks have not done enough to prevent harm to minors and to verify that minors are not able to access aspects of the company's offerings that they are prohibited from according to the Digital Services Act (DSA).

The DSA and minors

The represents a significant shift in the digital landscape, particularly for minors. One of the key aspects of the DSA is its focus on the safety and rights of children online. It includes measures such as the swift removal of illegal content, which encompasses child sexual abuse material, illegal hate speech, terrorist content, or illegal products. This act aims to create a safer digital space where the fundamental rights of all users, especially minors, are respected and protected.

Another important provision of the DSA is the ban on targeted advertising aimed at children. This means that platforms like Snapchat, Google, YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook are no longer allowed to show targeted ads to underage users. This move is expected to significantly reduce the exposure of minors to potentially harmful or inappropriate content, as well as limit the commercial exploitation of their online behavior.

Furthermore, the DSA sets out clear due diligence obligations for online platforms, ensuring that any user, including minors, can flag illegal content and have a clear means of contesting platforms' content moderation decisions. This empowers young users to have more control over their online experience and ensures that their voices are heard in the digital environment.

Most importantly, in this case, the DSA also provides protection for children from harm created by online platforms themselves. This includes preventing children under a particular age from accessing certain online platforms and requires those platforms to employ sufficient checks to prevent it.

The EU's case against Meta

The European Commission believes that Meta has potentially violated several aspects of the DSA. In particular, the probe will be investigating whether or not Meta has done enough to ensure that minors are not permitted to sign up for an account. Of course, there are ways around any technological checks, but it is required that the platforms at least try to enforce these rules.

It is a huge difference between the DSA in the EU and the COPPA in the US. Per COPPA, the responsibility is mostly on the user to self-regulate. But the DSA requires that the platforms enforce the rules. Interestingly, the EU does not provide clear guidelines, technology to implement, or even a certification process. It's mostly a guessing game.

In addition to the age restrictions, the probe will look into how the Meta algorithm works and whether or not it purposefully creates "rabbit holes" into content that can be harmful to users, especially young users. Several studies have shown that social media, and in particular brands owned by Meta, have significant negative effects on children, so this probe is likely to return some interesting results.

If the company is found to be in violation of DSA, the penalty can be steep. In fact, for a first violation, the EU can levy a fine of up to 6 percent of a company's global annual turnover. For Meta, that would be a major penalty. If the company doesn't fix the problems outlined in the complaint, future violations can cost the company up to full banning within the jurisdiction.

read more...

Adult Swim Games to return discontinued store listings to developers

posted Sunday May 19, 2024 by Scott Ertz

A couple of months ago, Warner Bros. Discovery (WBD) announced that they would be shuttering 16 of the titles under the Adult Swim Games brand. The announcement meant that those titles would no longer be available to play and the games themselves would be lost to time. Now, the company has announced that they have come to an agreement with the independent developers whose games were on the chopping block to return the IP to their creators.

Developers vs. Publishers in Gaming

In the gaming industry, developers are the creative forces behind the creation of video games. They are responsible for the conceptualization, design, coding, and testing of games. Developers can range from large teams in established studios to independent developers, often referred to as "indies," who may work alone or in small groups. Their primary focus is on the technical and artistic aspects of game development, which includes writing code, creating artwork, designing levels, and composing music. Developers are akin to authors of a book, bringing to life the narrative, gameplay mechanics, and overall experience of a game.

Publishers, on the other hand, are the entities that finance and distribute video games. They play a crucial role in the marketing, sales, and distribution of games to retailers and digital platforms. Publishers often fund the development of games, which allows them to have a say in the final product, including decisions related to release dates, target demographics, and marketing strategies. Large publishers may have multiple development studios under their umbrella, while smaller publishers might focus on niche markets or indie games. In essence, publishers are similar to book publishers, ensuring that the product reaches the market and is visible to potential consumers.

The relationship between developers and publishers can be symbiotic, but it can also be complex. Developers need publishers to bring their games to a broader audience and to provide the financial support necessary for large-scale production. Publishers need developers because, without their creative work, there would be no product to sell. However, this relationship can sometimes lead to conflicts when the creative vision of the developers clashes with the commercial interests of the publishers. The balance of power between the two can greatly affect the final outcome of a game, with developers seeking creative freedom and publishers aiming for commercial success.

Adult Swim Games as a publisher

In the case of the developers in question, Adult Swim Games was acting as a publisher. That means that independent developers had produced the games, but Adult Swim Games had helped to bring them to make, increased their visibility, and provided resources. In some publisher relationships, when the company decides not to support it anymore, the game comes to an end, while others allow the developer to take ownership of the games back.

Adult Swim Games' relationship allowed them to terminate support for the game, return the game to the developers, but keep ownership of their store listings. This meant that years of history - reviews, photos, community discussions - would all be lost. The developers could relist the games, but the history and community would be gone. The developers petitioned WBD to allow them to keep their games after shutdown, but initially the company said no. This week, one of the affected developers posted on Twitter that they received an email from WBD and h said,

duck game is safe!! more details soon but the email from warner finally came. the game is being returned to corptron along with it's store pages on all platforms, it's not going anywhere. thank you everyone... hoping everyone else got the same email.

This means that WBD has decided to transfer the store listings to the original developers along with the games themselves. As noted a few months ago, the process is incredibly easy and would have had no negative impact on WBD or Adult Swim Games. It was never clear why the company fought the easy move for so long, but it good to see that they have come around and decided to give the developers all of their IP back at the end of the relationship.

read more...

AI models are coming for all of your data, personal and business

posted Sunday May 19, 2024 by Scott Ertz

When AI technology first hit the mainstream a couple of years ago, the biggest concern came because of where the data came from. It appeared that the models were being trained on data that the companies behind them didn't have permission to train off of. They were scraping websites, blogs, newspapers, artist portfolios, music libraries, and more to train their data. While that was a violation of copyrights in many cases, the next generation of AI is going to find its data in new and even scarier places - your devices.

Slack may be spying on chats

Following the launch of Slack AI earlier this year, customers have been pouring through the company's data policies looking for how the system was trained. The policies created nothing but confusion for users, leading to discussions on social media about how to deal with the policies. The general consensus was, that because the policies were not clear, users should opt out of any data usage. This might mean that search would stop working on your account, but it would also prevent training on your data.

One such conversation on Threads (I know, I was surprised, too) was responded to by an engineer at Slack. He pointed to a blog post from the company that states that they do not use customer data for training. However, customers pointed to various other documents from the company that say that they absolutely can use that data, even if they currently are not. Slack's privacy principles state,

Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) are useful tools that we use in limited ways to enhance our product mission. To develop AI/ML models, our systems analyze Customer Data (e.g. messages, content, and files) submitted to Slack as well as other information (including usage information) as defined in our privacy policy and in your customer agreement.

However, the Slack AI page states,

Work without worry. Your data is your data. We don't use it to train Slack AI.

While technically both can be true at the same time, the inconsistency creates a scenario in which the company can state today that they do not use your data for training, but change that policy tomorrow without any warning, because their policies state explicitly that they can use it. Customers are urging the company to change the policy to be clear and consistent, or will urge people to change services to someone who is more clear about their data usage.

Google will be spying on your calls

Following this controversy, Google announced this week during Google I/O, that they have a new AI-powered feature coming to your phone app. The system will be able to listen in on your calls and help determine if the call you are receiving is a scam call.

Initially, you might think, "This could help my parents avoid the tax scams or the gift card scams," and that is perfectly reasonable. The concept is a nice one - protect people from themselves and their human nature. However, the system requires that Google listen to every phone call, translate the call into text, and compare it against an ever-growing database of questionable topics. That means that Google will be listening to everything that you and the other people on a call are saying.

Let's say you're a software engineer and you are discussing a new product you are working on with colleagues. You might not want Google to be listening to that conversation, as they are technically a competitor. But, more importantly, do you really want your conversations with friends and family logged away? Of course not.

Conclusion

As AI infiltrates more aspects of our lives, we need to be cautious about how it works and where the data is coming from. Many companies are making a lot of money off of the data of other people, and you could be feeding into that system without even knowing it.

read more...
We're live now - Join us!
PLUGHITZ Keyz

Email

Password

Forgot password? Recover here.
Not a member? Register now.
Blog Meets Brand Stats