Thoughts on Ad Blocking

Disclosure: I work on ads at Google; this is a personal post.

In the discussion of why I work on ads people asked whether I use an ad blocker (no) and what I think of them (it's complicated). So, what about ad blockers?

It should be up to you what you see. If you don't want your computer displaying ads, or any other sort of content, you shouldn't have to. At the same time, most sites are offering a trade: you're welcome to our content if you also view our ads.

These are in conflict, but I feel like the resolution could be simple:

  1. You are free to block any ads you want.
  2. Sites can know when ads are blocked.

Sites could choose to respond to ad blocking by showing a message explaining that ads are what fund the site and requiring users to either subscribe or allow ads if they want to proceed. Or not: the marginal cost of serving a page is trivial and perhaps some visitors will share articles they enjoy. Still others might implement something like the first-n-free approach you see with paywalls, or progressively more obnoxious nagging.

This isn't what we have today:

  • Some sites (ex: Facebook) try to disguise their ads to get them past blockers. A big site that runs their own ads might scramble the names of resources on every page view, while a smaller site might hire an ad-tech company to proxy their site and stitch in ads. When successful, users are seeing content they specifically said they didn't want.

  • Some blockers (ex: uBlock Origin but not AdBlock) hide "please disable your ad blocker or subscribe" messages. For example, 37% of uBlock Origin issues are people pointing out anti-adblock banners it misses (ex: #9005, #9006, #9007). When successful, sites are serving content to users they specifically said they didn't want to serve.

I don't have any sort of proposal here; I'm not proposing a browser feature or government regulation. But in thinking about how future decisions might affect ads, I'm going to be most excited about ones that support (1) and (2).

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Android Video with External Microphone

My smartphone is my best camera, but its microphone is not nearly as good. When recording video where I care about the audio (ex), I've normally recorded audio and video separately and then combined them. This works, but is a hassle. Can we record them together?

An Android phone (likely iPhone too, but I don't know those) can record audio from any standard ("class compliant") USB audio interface. This may bring up images of spending hundreds of dollars on professional audio equipment, but if you only need a single channel and don't need a preamp (or you already have mixing equipment) you can use a "USB soundcard":

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Why I Work on Ads

"I work on ads at Google"
"Can I ask why? I honestly can't understand how anyone could."
Someone recently asked me why I work on ads, and I wanted to write up something more thorough than my comment. (Despite being a work topic this is a personal post and I'm speaking only for myself.)

One answer is that I'm earning to give: I give half of what I earn to the most effective charities I can find, and the more I earn the more I can give. This is not the full answer, however, since when people ask me this they're generally coming from a perspective of viewing ads (or perhaps online ads) as negative, and the question is more like "why do you choose to work on something bad?"

The thing is, I think advertising is positive, and I think my individual contribution is positive. I'm open to being convinced on this: if I'm causing harm through my work I would like to know about it.

So: why is advertising good? I mean, isn't it annoying when sites show you ads instead of whatever it is you want to read? The question is, what is the alternative? I see two main funding models:

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Car Seats Three Across

When I posted about how we were thinking of getting a car, and specifically that we were thinking of having three kids in car seats across the back of a hatchback, several people told me they wouldn't fit. This is a common enough view that there's an econ paper about it: Car Seats as Contraception (which I disagreed with). When we decided to share a 2013 Honda Fit I was pretty confident it would work since I knew how wide the seats were, how wide the space was, and I had done something similar with a different collection of car seats. But I hadn't actually tried our particular seats in this particular car.

With the baby getting closer, about a month out, I put the seats in for practice. I tried two different ways:

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Vaccination and House Rules

One of the effects of living with others during a pandemic is that risks you take don't just affect yourself. While this is also true even if you live alone, you can't really negotiate with society at large over acceptable levels of risk. When our house decided to lock down a year ago, open up a bit in summer, and lock down again this winter, each needed quite a bit of discussion.

As of today, all the adults in our house have had at least one shot, so we're starting to think about how this should change how we'll handle risk.

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Six-Door Cars

While at this point we've decided what we want to do about cars, I'm still thinking about why the market for moderately larger cars is so awkward.

One issue with three-row vehicles is that the third row is hard to get into. If that row is rear-facing, like in a traditional station wagon, you get in through the rear door. If it is front facing, you either remove one of the seats from the middle row, or have a way to slide or fold them out of the way. This is awkward for the same reason that the rear seats in a two door car are awkward, and there we fix it by adding a second row of doors. Why don't we see six door cars?

Car manufacturers have made some:


Mercedes-Benz w124 six-door, source


Checker Aerobus, also produced with eight doors

You also see aftermarket conversions:

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