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  • Archive for the 'Internet' Category

    “They Still Have Libraries? Give Everybody an iPad.”

    Posted by Dan from Madison on 31st October 2011 (All posts by )

    This article was featured on Drudge today (do you really have to hat tip Drudge anymore?). It is about the library staff all mad at Mayor Rahm for cutting the budget to the libraries.

    In the comments, one guy (I think smartly) said the title of this post.

    I think he is partially right. The new Kindle Fire (which I have an order in for and will review when it gets to me sometime later this month) is only $199. The cheap Kindles are only $79 now. Kindles come with tens of thousands of free titles of classic books that everyone should be reading anyways. That is the most exciting part of getting a Kindle Fire for me, the ability to have this immense database at my fingertips, for free (after the initial cost).

    I imagine if you took the list of “frequent flyers” who actually USE the library (not just hang out there, I mean those who really check out books and return them) and bought them ALL Kindles for $79, or even the nice new version for $199, that you would be WAY ahead of the budget it costs to run all of those brick and mortar relics, the staff, and all the rest.

    This way, a library would still be partially subsidized, but part user fee as well (if you don’t like the classic titles, buy your own), so folks like me, who haven’t set foot in a real life library in decades would perhaps feel a bit better about paying for libraries.

    Posted in Chicagoania, Internet, Taxes, Urban Issues | 17 Comments »

    Dead Sea Scrolls & Nag Hammadi Codices online

    Posted by Charles Cameron on 28th September 2011 (All posts by )

    [ corss-posted from Zenpundit -- archaeology, Biblical scholarship, eschatology, digital literacy ]

    .

    Both the Dead Sea scrolls from Qumran and the Gnostic and associated codices from Nag Hammadi are now available for study online:

    quo-codices.jpg

    The Nag Hammadi Archive can be explored via the Claremont Colleges Digital Library, and the Digital Dead Sea Scrolls via the Israel Museum, Jerusalem.

    Here’s a description of the War Scroll from Qumran, which “is dated to the late first century BCE or early first century CE”:

    Against the backdrop of a long biblical tradition concerning a final war at the End of Days (Ezekiel 38-39; Daniel 7-12), this scroll describes a seven stage, dualistic confrontation between the “Sons of Light” (the term used by Community members to refer to themselves), under the leadership of the “Prince of Light” (also called Michael, the Archangel) – and the “Sons of Darkness” (a nickname for the enemies of the Community, Jews and non-Jews alike), aided by a nation called the Kittim (Romans?), headed by Belial. The confrontation would last 49 years, terminating in the victory of the “Sons of Light” and the restoration of the Temple service and sacrifices. The War Scroll describes battle arrays, weaponry, the ages of the participants, and military maneuvers, recalling Hellenistic and Roman military manuals.

    You can see why I’m interested.

    The Nag Hammadi texts are a little less well known but include — along with a variety of other texts, some of them self-described as “apocalypses” — the now celebrated Gospel of Thomas, which Bart Erhman reads as continuing a “de-apocalypticizing” of Jesus’ message which he finds beginning in Luke and continuing in John:

    In the Gospel of Thomas, for example, written somewhat later than John, there is a clear attack on anyone who believes in a future Kingdom here on earth. In some sayings, for example, Jesus denies that the Kingdom involves an actual place but “is within you and outside you” (saying 3); he castigates the disciples for being concerned about the end (saying 18); and he spurns their question about when the Kingdom will come, since “the Kingdom of the Father is spread out on the earth and people do not see it” (saying 113).

    Again, you can see why I am delighted that these texts are becoming available to a wider scholarly audience…

    In both the Nag Hammadi codices and Qumran scrolls, we have texts that were lost for almost two thousand years and discovered, somewhat haphazardly, in 1945 and 1947 respectively, providing us with rich insights into the religious ferment around a time and place that have been pivotal for western civilization.

    Now, more than half a century later, the web — as it becomes our global museum and our in-house library — brings us closer to both…

    Posted in Christianity, History, Internet, Israel, Judaism, Middle East, Miscellaneous, Religion | 2 Comments »

    Bookworld

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 25th September 2011 (All posts by )

    There was a lot of discussion earlier this year and in a great many different writing and general interest venues regarding the success of indy writer Amanda Hocking  - which, however you slice it, remains a self-published and e-book success story. Candidly, I think that we need another zombie-werewolf-vampire saga like Custer needed another Indian, but hey- that’s just me. Not my cuppa, but if it floats yer boat . . .  To paraphrase the lyrics of a certain old pop song – I can barely run my own life, why the hell should I want to run yours? Yeah – Sunshine, go away and get those kids off my lawn!

    Anyway – as an indy-POD-author, untrammeled by the shackles of the literary-industrial complex, I had to give the Ms. Hocking all kinds of mad respect, for writing savvy,  plus marketing skills and the sheer neck to go out and just do it. 450,000 copies of nine books, each at a price of .99-2.99 and the author getting 30-70% in royalties  . . .  is  . . .  a  . . .  a lot of turnips.*

    I’m an English major, dammit! But I appreciate the business aspects of it all.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Advertising, Arts & Letters, Book Notes, Diversions, Internet, Miscellaneous | 4 Comments »

    Quote of the Day: John Robb

    Posted by Lexington Green on 18th August 2011 (All posts by )

    Global transition points like this are so rare, it’s a great time to be alive.

    John Robb

    Right on. Yes. Yes.

    More of this type of thinking, please.

    If I could live at any time in history it would be now.

    (If you are not a regular reader of Mr. Robb’s Global Guerrillas, get that way.)

    (Also check out Mr. Robb’s way cool new Wiki MiiU, which is all about resilience. I eagerly await his book on resilient communities.)

    (Here is an xcellent John Robb talk about open source ventures, but full disclosure, a lot of it sailed over my head.)

    (And if you have not read his book, Brave New War: The Next Stage of Terrorism and the End of Globalization, go get it.)

    Friends, please let me know in the comments, on a scale of 1 to 5, strongly disagree to strongly agree, how you respond to this quote. Put me down as a 5, obviously enough.

    Posted in Anglosphere, Big Government, Business, China, Christianity, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Conservatism, Economics & Finance, Education, Elections, Energy & Power Generation, Entrepreneurship, Health Care, History, International Affairs, Internet, Libertarianism, Management, Markets and Trading, Media, Medicine, Military Affairs, National Security, Personal Finance, Political Philosophy, Politics, Predictions, Quotations, Science, Society, Space, Taxes, Tea Party, Tech, USA, War and Peace | 21 Comments »

    Plus ça change I

    Posted by Charles Cameron on 20th July 2011 (All posts by )

    [ cross-posted from Zenpundit -- backstory of Google+ ]
    .
    dq-circles.jpg

    Herrad von Landsberg seems to have corralled seven of his best friends — the Septem Artes Liberales– into his “Hortus deliciarum” on Google+ back in 1180.

    Here’s a larger version, for your viewing convenience:

    liberal-arts-med.jpg

    Posted in Diversions, Education, History, Internet, Miscellaneous, Morality and Philosphy, Philosophy | 1 Comment »

    Backing Up The Hard Drive Of Civilization

    Posted by James R. Rummel on 18th June 2011 (All posts by )

    This post at Technology Review muses about what happens if high tech crashes. Would our store of technical knowledge, which is increasingly found exclusively in digital form, survive? Or would we suffer a terrible backwards slide as people struggle to reinvent what was once taken for granted?

    Glenn takes this to its logical conclusion, saying that there should be efforts to build an Encyclopedia Galactica. A vast repository of knowledge, the sum total of everything known up to this time, could be printed in a durable form and cached in a remote area. If any of the myriad civilization-smashing dooms should come to pass, then there would be a base of knowledge that would allow the survivors to rebuild in a very short period of time.

    This dovetails neatly into the Social Cycle Theory of history, a discredited model that states flourishing civilizations are doomed to descend into periods of darkness and barbarism. Vast libraries might be constructed in cosmopolitan cities where culture and knowledge are revered, but those same books filling the libraries are going to be burned by illiterate savages when they sack the toppled empires.

    So, if it is impossible to avoid the total destruction of all you hold dear, wouldn’t it be neato-keen to squirrel enough knowledge away so that the contributions made by your culture to the human condition are not lost?

    There actually has been at least one effort to do this very thing that I am aware of. Known as the Georgia Guidestones, they are massive slabs of rock arranged in such a way that many are reminded of Stonehenge.

    (Picture source.)

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in History, Internet | 9 Comments »

    Happy Birthday, Emlyn, and Applause, xkcd

    Posted by Charles Cameron on 20th March 2011 (All posts by )

    [ by Charles Cameron -- cross-posted from Zenpundit ]

    *

    My son, Emlyn, turns sixteen today.

    He’s not terribly fond of computers to be honest — but he does follow xkcd with appreciation, as do I from time to time: indeed, I am led to believe I receive some credit for that fact.

    So… this is a birthday greeting to Emlyn, among other things. And a round of applause for Randall Munroe, creator of xkcd. And a post comparing more reliable and less reliable statistics, because that’s a singularly important issue — the more reliable ones in this/ case coming from a single individual with an expert friend, the less reliable ones coming from a huge corporation celebrated for its intelligence and creativity… and with a hat-tip to Cheryl Rofer of the Phronesisaical blog.

    The DoubleQuote:

    quoxkcd-01.jpg

    Radiation exposure:

    Today, xkcd surpassed itself / his Randallself / ourselves, with a graphic showing different levels of radiation exposure from sleeping next to someone (0.05 muSv, represented by one tiny blue square top left) or eating a banana (twice as dangerous, but only a tenth as nice) up through the levels (all the blue squares combined equal three of the tiny green ones, all the green squares combined equal 7.5 of the little brown ones, and the largest patch of brown (8Sv) is the level where immediate treatment doesn’t stand a chance of saving your life)…

    The unit is Sieverts, Sv: 1000 muSv = 1 mSv, 1000 mSv= 1 Sv, sleeping next to someone is an acceptable risk at 0.05 muSv, a mammogram (3 mSv) delivers a little over 50,000 times that level of risk and saves countless lives, 250 mSv is the dose limit for emergency workers in life-saving ops — oh, and cell phone use is risk-free, zero muSv, radiation-wise, although dangerous when driving. [I apologize for needing to write "mu" when I intend the Greek letter by that name, btw -- software glitch with the ZP version of WordPress.]

    The xkcd diagram comes with this disclaimer:

    There’s a lot of discussion of radiation from the Fukushima plants, along with comparisons to Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. Radiation levels are often described as “ times the normal level” or “% over the legal limit,” which can be pretty confusing.
     
    Ellen, a friend of mine who’s a student at Reed and Senior Reactor Operator at the Reed Research Reactor, has been spending the last few days answering questions about radiation dosage virtually nonstop (I’ve actually seen her interrupt them with “brb, reactor”). She suggested a chart might help put different amounts of radiation into perspective, and so with her help, I put one together. She also made one of her own; it has fewer colors, but contains more information about what radiation exposure consists of and how it affects the body.
     
    I’m not an expert in radiation and I’m sure I’ve got a lot of mistakes in here, but there’s so much wild misinformation out there that I figured a broad comparison of different types of dosages might be good anyway. I don’t include too much about the Fukushima reactor because the situation seems to be changing by the hour, but I hope the chart provides some helpful context.

    Blog-friend Cheryl Rofer, whose work has included remediation of uranium tailings at the Sillamäe site in Estonia (she co-edited the book on it, Turning a Problem Into a Resource: Remediation and Waste Management at the Sillamäe Site, Estonia) links to xkcd’s effort at the top of her post The Latest on Fukushima and Some Great Web Resources and tells us it “seems both accurate and capable of giving some sense of the relative exposures that are relevant to understanding the issues at Fukushima” — contrast her comments on a recent New York Times graphic:

    In other radiation news, the New York Times may have maxed out on the potential for causing radiation hysteria. They’ve got a graphic that shows everybody dead within a mile from the Fukushima plant. As I noted yesterday, you need dose rate and time to calculate an exposure. The Times didn’t bother with that second little detail.

    In any case, many thanks, Cheryl — WTF, NYT? — and WTG, xkcd!

    Google:

    Once again, xkcd nails it.

    I’ve run into this problem myself, trying to use Google to gauge the relative frequencies of words or phrases that interest me — things like moshiach + soon vs “second coming” + soon vs mahdi + soon, you know the kinds of things that I’m curious about, I forget the specific examples where it finally dawned on me how utterly useless Google’s “About XYZ,000 results (0.21 seconds)” rankings really are — but the word needs to get out.

    Feh!

    Paging Edward Tufte.

    Sixteen today:

    Happy Birthday, Emlyn!

    Posted in Announcements, Arts & Letters, Blogging, Diversions, Internet, Japan, Science, Statistics, The Press | 4 Comments »

    “Dinosaur Bones”

    Posted by Jonathan on 12th March 2011 (All posts by )

    A Belmont Club thread linked to this great scene from the movie, Flight of the Phoenix. I saw that movie on TV when I was a kid, and ever since I wanted to know what a Coffman Starter was. And now there is the Internet. Drunk with power, I googled… and found this web site. Holy cow. I emailed the URL to Lex and he replied, “Fragments, like dinosaur bones.” He got that right. In a couple of hundred years, who is going to know what any of this stuff was?

    (BTW, it appears that a Coffman Starter works by directing gas from an exploding cartridge against a piston, which is connected to a shaft, and that this shaft turns the engine. If that’s the case, how could James Stewart “clean out the cylinders” by firing a cartridge with the ignition off? Wouldn’t he have merely turned over the engine without cleaning out anything? Perhaps the movie makers used some artistic license here.)

    Posted in Aviation, Diversions, Internet | 9 Comments »

    Foreign Policy, Tunisia and the net

    Posted by Charles Cameron on 14th January 2011 (All posts by )

    [ cross-posted from Zenpundit ]

    Foreign Policy has had two articles up in the last couple of days with somewhat similar headlines:

    Links: TwitterWikiLeaks

    The site which specifically tracks WikiLeaks on Tunisia is TuniLeaks:

    My rosette for best tweet of the week goes to Galrahn and all those who RT’d him:

    What a world, eh?

    Posted in Blogging, International Affairs, Internet, Media, Middle East, The Press, Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

    A light-hearted, dark-hearted DoubleQuote

    Posted by Charles Cameron on 6th January 2011 (All posts by )

    [ cross posted from Infocult ]

    For your ghoulish winter entertainment…

    Posted in Afghanistan/Pakistan, Humor, Internet, Tech, Uncategorized | 5 Comments »

    An Iridology of the Sciences?

    Posted by Charles Cameron on 3rd January 2011 (All posts by )

    [ cross-posted from Zenpundit ]

    I for one am delighted to know that we can now play around with the iridology of the sciences, using the software available on the Science-Metrix Ontology Explorer site to view which fields have journals which cross-link to journals in other fields…

    Seriously — that lower image is of the Field Citation Wheel that you can find, suitably enlarged for easy viewing, on that site.

    *

    And it’s heartening for me to know, for instance — taking a closer look at the segment of that image that’s roughly east north-east — that scientific journals do have some links on their pages to works of theology or philosophy:


    Engineering
    , you’ll notice, has more links than history, philosophy, theology, the social sciences (even counting them twice), economics, business, the arts and humanities combined.

    My own field, theology, has to share its thin segment with philosophy, and you can guess how small the number of links to articles on Islamic apocalyptic probably are…

    Which is, in part, why I wonder whether a project like the ETH’s Living Earth Simulator will really manage to map such things as, well, a possible outbreak of global jihadist Mahdism and its consequences.

    *

    But then I look at another gorgeous graphic from the same source, focusing in on a part of the network of knowledge that interests me, and I can just faintly make out, lower left, entirely isolated, the field of music

    What splendid isolation! That’s all of Bach, mind you – and all the Beatles, too.

    *

    Seriously, though:

    • It’s fascinating to be able to see how the various branches of knowledge cross-reference each other.
    • Visual data representation is a gorgeous, fantastic, field.
    • Mapping the all-of-everything is an irresistable lure for keen minds
    • I’m betting the humanities will prove to be at least as good at it as the sciences.
    • And I recall, not without a pang of regret, the time when my beloved Theology was Queen of the Sciences, and one might converse with Abelard on the streets of Paris…

    Posted in Academia, Arts & Letters, Diversions, France, History, Internet, Miscellaneous, Morality and Philosphy, Music, Philosophy, Religion | Comments Off

    Follow-up: Martyrdom, messianism and Julian Assange

    Posted by Charles Cameron on 24th December 2010 (All posts by )

    [ cross-posted from Zenpundit ]

    This is a follow-up to my earlier post on Zenpundit and ChicagoBoyz, picking up on some comments made on both sites, explaining my own interests, and taking the inquiry a little further.

    On Zenpundit, Larry said, “Your need to destroy Assange is getting embarrassing. Why not make lemonaid?” and JN Kish, “The real story here should be about the data – and who is helping Assange – not Assange himself.” Meanwhile on ChicagoBoyz, a certain Gerald Attrick commented, “Ah, but as we say in in art crit: Deal with the Art and not the Man…”

    To Larry I would say, I think that my post WikiLeaks: Counterpoint at the State Department? — in which I point up the irony inherent in the same State Department spokesman celebrating World Press Freedom Day and chiding Assange for “providing a targeting list to a group like al-Qaida” on the same day — could as easily be read as pro-Assange as today’s post, Martyrdom, messianism and Julian Assange can be read as calling for his destruction.

    More generally, it seems to me that there are a whole lot of stories to be told here: the ones I wish to tell are those where I have a reasonably informed “nose” for relevant detail, and which tend to be overlooked by others — and thus have the potential to blindside us.

    *

    My own main interest is in tracking religious, mythic and apocalyptic themes in contemporary affairs, where they are all too easily overlooked, misunderstood or dismissed. Thus I have posted on Tracking the Mahdi on WikiLeaks, and added related material in section 1 of my post today.

    I am also interested in concept mapping, games and creative thinking — interests which led me to post WikiLeaks: Critical Foreign Dependencies and The WikiLeaks paradox, and more lightheartedly to take an amused sideways glance at WikiLeaks in The power of network visualization.

    And I certainly find Assange himself an interesting figure, and have done what I can to illuminate his background in mythology, religion and games in Wikileaks and the Search for a Cryptographic Mythology, again in Update: Wikileaks and Cryptographic Mythology and (again light-heartedly) in A DoubleQuote for Anders.

    *

    Let me be more explicit: I have no wish to lionize Assange, nor to feed him to the lions — I would like to understand him a little better.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Human Behavior, International Affairs, Internet, Iran, National Security, Religion, Society | 2 Comments »

    Martyrdom, messianism and Julian Assange

    Posted by Charles Cameron on 23rd December 2010 (All posts by )

    [ cross-posted from Zenpundit ]

    Martyr and messiah are two of the more intense “roles” in the religious vocabulary, and unlike mystics and saints, both martyrs and messiahs tend to have an impact, not just within their own religious circles but in the wider context of the times.

    Martyr and messiah are also words that can be bandied about fairly loosely — so a simple word-search on “messiah” will reveal references to a third-person platform game with some gunplay and the white messiah fable in Avatar, while a search on “martyr” might tell you how to become a martyr for affiliate networks, just as a search on “crusade” will turn up crusades for justice or mental health – my search today even pointed me to a crusade for cloth diapers.

    1. Martyrdom and messianism in WikiLeaks

    Unsurprisingly, perhaps, both terms crop up occasionally in WikiLeaks, with the Government of Iraq, for instance, banning use of the word “martyr” for soldiers who died in the war with Iran, and US diplomats wiring home a report by an opposition psychiatrist to the effect that “Morally, Chavez [of Venezuela] combines a sense of tragedy and romanticism (a desire for an idyllic world) to project a messianic image.” Indeed, the whole paragraph is choc-a-bloc with that kind of imagery, and worth quoting in full:

    Ideologically, Chavez wants to project an image of a “utopian socialist,” which de Vries described as someone who is revolutionary, collectivist, and dogmatic. In reality, de Vries argues, Chavez is an absolute pragmatist when it comes to maintaining power, which makes him a conservative. Coupled with Chavez’ self-love (narcissism), sense of destiny, and obsession with Venezuelan symbolism, this pragmatism makes Chavez look more like fascist, however, rather than a socialist. Morally, Chavez combines a sense of tragedy and romanticism (a desire for an idyllic world) to project a messianic image. De Vries, however, said Chavez is a realist who uses morals and ethics to fit the situation.

    PM Netanyahu of Israel was using the term “messianic” with a little more precision when he described the Iranian regime as “crazy, retrograde, and fanatical, with a Messianic desire to speed up a violent ‘end of days.’”

    2. Julian Assange in the role of martyr

    The words martyr and messiah, then, carry a symbolic freight that is at the very least comparable to that of flags and scriptures – so it is interesting that both terms crop up in the recent BBC interview with Julian Assange.

    My reading of the interview suggests that it is Assange himself who introduces the meme of martyrdom, though not the word itself, when he answers a question about the impact of the sexual accusations against him, “What impact do you think that will have on your organisation and what sort of figure do you think you, Julian Assange, cut in the face of all this. How will you be regarded? What will it do to you?” with the response, “I think it will be quite helpful for our organisation.”

    In the follow up, interviewer John Humphrys twice uses the word “martyr” explicitly:

    Q: Really? You see yourself as a martyr then?
     
    JA: I think it will focus an incredible attention on the details of this case and then when the details of this case come out and people look to see what the actions are compared to the reality of the facts, other than that, it will expose a tremendous abuse of power. And that will, in fact, be helpful to this organisation. And, in fact, the extra focus that has occurred over the last two weeks has been very helpful to this organisation.

    and:

    Q: Just to answer that question then. You think this will be good for you and good for Wikileaks?
     
    JA: I’ve had to suffer and we’ve had incredible disruptions.
     
    Q: You do see yourself as a martyr here.
     
    JA: Well, you know, in a very beneficial position, if you can be martyred without dying. And we’ve had a little bit of that over the past ten days. And if this case goes on, we will have more.

    3. Julian Assange in the role of messiah

    If the role of martyr implies, at minimum, that one suffers for a cause, that of messiah implies that one leads it in a profound transformation of the world. Both terms are now found in association with the word “complex” – which applies whenever a individual views himself or herself as a martyr or messiah – but a “messianic complex” is presumably more worrisome than a “martyr complex” if only for the reason that there are many more martyrs than messiahs, many more willing to suffer for a cause than to lead it.

    It is accordingly worth noting that it is the interviewer, John Humphrys, who introduces both the word “messianic” and the concept of a “messianic figure” into the interview, although Assange makes no effort to wave it away…

    Q: Just a final thought. Do you see yourself… as some sort of messianic figure?
     
    JA: Everyone would like to be a messianic figure without dying. We bringing some important change about what is perceived to be rights of people who expose abuses by powerful corporations and then to resist censorship attacks after the event. We are also changing the perception of the west.
     
    Q: I’m talking about you personally.
     
    JA: I’m always so focussed on my work, I don’t have time to think about how I perceive myself… I had time to perceive myself a bit more in solitary confinement. I was perfectly happy with myself. I wondered what that process would do. Would I think “my goodness, how have I got into this mess, is it all just too hard?”
     
    The world is a very ungrateful place, why should I continue to suffer simply to try and do some good in the world. If the world is so viciously against it ,why don’t I just go off and do some mathematics or write some books? But no, actually, I felt quite at peace.
     
    Q: You want to change the world?
     
    JA: Absolutely. The world has a lot of problems and they need to be reformed. And we only live once. Every person who has some ability to do something about it, if they are a person of good character, has the duty to try and fix the problems in the environment which they’re in.
     
    That is a value, that, yes, comes partly from my temperament. There is also a value that comes from my father, which is that capable, generous men don’t create victims, they try and save people from becoming victims. That is what they are tasked to do. If they do not do that they are not worthy of respect or they are not capable.

    4. Julian Assange, martyr and messiah?

    I think it is clear that both Assange and his interviewer are in effect reframing the religious terms “martyr” and “messiah” in non-religious, basically psychological senses — although I don’t suppose Assange is exactly claiming to have the two “complexes” I mentioned above.

    Here’s what’s curious about this reframing, from a religious studies point of view:

    Assange’s implicit acceptance of a “messianic” role undercuts the specific force of the role of “martyr” – one who gives his life for the cause. “Everyone” he says, “would like to be a messianic figure without dying.” Assange wouldn’t exactly object to being a martyr without dying, too.

    Posted in Christianity, Human Behavior, International Affairs, Internet, Iran, Iraq, Islam, Israel, Judaism, Media, Morality and Philosphy, National Security, Personal Narrative, Philosophy, Privacy, Religion, Rhetoric, Society, The Press, USA | 9 Comments »

    WikiLeaks: Critical Foreign Dependencies

    Posted by Charles Cameron on 9th December 2010 (All posts by )

    [ cross-posted from Zenpundit ]

    The most interesting part of the WikiLeaks-posted State Department Request for Information: Critical Foreign Dependencies, it seems to me, is the part that ties in with Zen’s recent post Simplification for Strategic Leverage.

    Zen referenced Eric Berlow‘s recent TED talk to the effect that sometimes a complex network can be made effectively simple by reducing it to the graph of nodes and links within one, two or three degrees of the node you care about and wish to influence.

    “Simplicity often lies on the other side of complexity”, Dr Berlow says, and “The more you step back, embrace complexity, the better chance you have of finding simple answers, and it’s often different than the simple answer that you started with.”

    *

    This resonates neatly with a few things I’ve been thinking and talking about for some time now.

    1. There’s the need for visualization tools that don’t operate with as many nodes as there are data points in a database like Starlight — I’ve been wanting to reduce the conceptual “load” that analysts or journos face from thousands, sometimes tens of thousands of nodes, to the five, seven, maybe ten or twelve nodes that the human mind can comfortably work with:

    What I’m aiming for is a way of presenting the conflicting human feelings and understandings present in a single individual, or regarding a given topic in a small group, in a conceptual map format, with few enough nodes that the human mind can fairly easily see the major parallelisms and disjunctions, as an alternative to the linear format, always driving to its conclusion, that the white paper represents. Not as big as a book, therefore, let alone as vast as an enormous database that requires complex software like Starlight to graphically represent it, and not solely quantitative… but something you could sketch out on a napkin, showing nodes and connections, in a way that would be easily grasped and get some of the human and contextual side of an issue across.

    2. There’s the fact that the cause is typically non-obvious from the effect. In the words of Jay Forrester, the father of stocks and flows modeling:

    From all normal personal experience, one learns that cause and effect are closely related in time and space. A difficulty or failure of the simple system is observed at once. The cause is obvious and immediately precedes the consequence. But in complex systems, all of these facts become fallacies. Cause and effect are not related in either time or space… the complex system is far more devious and diabolical than merely being different from the simple systems with which we have experience. Though it is truly different, it appears to be the same. In a situation where coincident symptoms appear to be causes, a person acts to dispel the symptoms. But the underlying causes remain. The treatment is either ineffective or actually detrimental. With a high degree of confidence we can say that the intuitive solutions to the problems of complex social systems will be wrong most of the time.

    3. There’s the need to map the critical dependencies of the world, which became glaringly obvious to me when we were trying to figure out the likely ripple effects that a major Y2K rollover glitch – or panic – might cause.

    Don Beck of the National Values Center / Spiral Dynamics Group captured the possibility nicely when he characterized Y2K as “like a lightening bolt: when it strikes and lights up the sky, we will see the contours of our social systems.” Well, the lightning struck and failed to strike, a team from the Mitre Corporation produced a voluminous report on what the material and social connectivity of the world boded in case of significant Y2K computer failures, we got our first major glimpse of the world weave, and very few of the possible cascading effects actually came to pass.

    I still think there was a great deal to be gleaned there — as I’m quoted as saying here, I’m of the opinion that: “a Y2K lessons learned might be a very valuable project, and even more that we could benefit from some sort of grand map of global interdependencies” – and agree with Tom Barnett, who wrote in The Pentagon’s New Map:

    Whether Y2K turned out to be nothing or a complete disaster was less important, research-wise, than the thinking we pursued as we tried to imagine – in advance – what a terrible shock to the system would do to the United States and the world in this day and age.

    4. That such a mapping will necessarily criss-cross back and forth across the so-called cartesian divide between body & mind (materiel and morale, wars and rumors of wars, banks and panics):

    You will find I favor quotes and anecdotes as nodes in my personal style of mapping — which lacks the benefits of quantitative modeling, the precision with which feedback loops can be tracked, but more than compensates in my view, since it includes emotion, human identification, tone of voice.

    The grand map I envision skitters across the so-styled “Cartesian divide” between mind and brain. It is not and cannot be limited to the “external” world, it is not and cannot be limited to the quantifiable, it locates powerful tugs on behavior within imagination and powerful tugs on vision within hard, solid fact.

    Doubts in the mind and runs on the market may correlate closely across the divide, and we ignore the impacts of hope, fear, anger and insight at our peril.

    *

    Getting back to the now celebrated WikiLeak, which even al-Qaida has noticed, here’s the bit — it’s really just an aside –that fascinates me:

    Although they are important issues, Department is not/not seeking information at this time on second-order effects (e.g., public morale and confidence, and interdependency effects that might cascade from a disruption).

    It seems to me that the complex models which Starlight provides, and Eric Berlow pillories, overshoot on one side of the problem – but avoiding all second-order effects?

    One cause, one effect, no unintended consequences?

    What was it that Dr Berlow just said? “if you focus only on that link, and then you black box the rest, it’s actually less predictable than if you step back, consider the entire system”…

    Avoid all second-order effects?

    If you ask me, that’s overshooting on the other side.

    Posted in International Affairs, Internet, National Security, Tech, USA | Comments Off

    WikiLeaks: Counterpoint at the State Department?

    Posted by Charles Cameron on 8th December 2010 (All posts by )

    [ cross-posted from Zenpundit ]

    [ note: all links are to youtube videos ]

    The pianist Glenn Gould is celebrated for his ability to bring the different and at times positively oppositional voices in a fugue by Bach to our attention, so that we follow each one separately while hearing all at the same time as a single whole. What is less known is that he liked to sit at a table in a truck stop and listen to the different conversations at the other tables and booths, mentally braiding their pale or brightly colored threads of human together into an analogous tapestry — one voice harmonizing with or conflicting against another, here a new subject introduced, there an echo of an earlier idea heard in a fresh context, with the murmurings of waitresses punctuated by the kaching! of the cash register, the hydraulic hiss of a door closing — conversation as counterpoint.

    Organizations and individual alike, we all have different and at times dissonant voices, and strive to bring them to some kind of resolution. The many stakeholders debating an issue in town halls, blogs or letters to the editor, the many drives within each one of us, idealistic, hopeful, defeated, paralytic, angry, evasive, sluggish, vengeful, curious, alert, defiant, all have voices, all constitute an experience of polyphony, a “music of many voices”, in point counter point.

    One of my interests is to find a way to score these many fugues, these musics of meaning.

    My DoubleQuotes, then, can be considered as two-part inventions, attempts to show the multiple tracking of the mind — whether of a single individual, as in this case, or of a group, a community, a world divided – so that something of the music begins to be visible, and some of the dissonances can move towards necessary resolution.

    *

    QUOwikileaks

    *

    I believe there is unresolved irony between these two statements, made on the same day by Philip J Crowley, the US State Department’s Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Public Affairs – but each has its reasons, and there are arguments to be made for both transparency and opacity, diplomacy and publicity, secrets and revelations.

    Between them lies the possibility I think of as a virtual music of ideas.

    *

    Bach published a series of two-part inventions, BWV 772–801, and wrote of them that he intended to offer them as an honest method

    by which the amateurs of the keyboard – especially, however, those desirous of learning – are shown a clear way not only (1) to learn to play cleanly in two parts, but also, after further progress, (2) to handle three obligate parts correctly and well; and along with this not only to obtain good inventions (ideas) but to develop the same well; above all, however, to achieve a cantabile style in playing and at the same time acquire a strong foretaste of composition…

    Later comes the Art of Fugue.

    Posted in Civil Liberties, International Affairs, Internet, Law, Libertarianism, Morality and Philosphy, Music, National Security, Quotations, Rhetoric, The Press | Comments Off

    Wikileaks and the Search for a Cryptographic Mythology

    Posted by Charles Cameron on 2nd December 2010 (All posts by )

    [ cross-posted from Zenpundit ]

    Jean Rosenfeld of the UCLA Center for the Study of Religion just posted a comment on an earlier Zenpundit post of mine, opening up a topic which may interest some readers here: that of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange’s mythological associations.

    1

    Jean had earlier pointed me to Assange’s use of the name “Marutukku” to describe his encryption program, and a little fishing brought me to these two Assange-related documents:

    One Man’s Search for a Cryptographic Mythology
    Enuma Elish

    2

    I’d been idly wondering about cryptographic mythology myself, as it happens, nudged by vague memories of a cache of porno images tweaked by jihadists as encoding devices for steganography.

    Steganography is the cryptographic – or is it kabbalistic? — art devised by one Abbot Trithemius, whose 1518 Polygraphia is the first work on cryptography printed in Europe, and whose Steganographia was known in MS to such hermetic philosophers as Cornelius Agrippa, Giordano Bruno and John Dee. Jim Reeds captures the ambiguity of Trithemius’ work nicely in his paper, Solved: The Ciphers in Book III of Trithemius’s Steganographia, when he asks:

    Is it [the Steganographia] primarily an exposition of cryptographic techniques disguised as angel magic, or is it primarily a magic work disguised as cryptography?

    Readers of Frances Yates and Ioan Couliano will be somewhat familiar with these matters.

    And jihadist steganography? The technique itself is described in the al-Fajr Information Center’s Technical Mujahid magazine of Feb. 2007 according to a Jamestown Foundation Terrorism Monitor piece, but the reports of actual jihadist use of the technique may turn out to be fabrications.

    3

    But it was Julian Assange‘s bliss we were trying to follow, right?

    Assange sidekick Suelette Dreyfus wrote The Idiot Savants’ Guide to Rubberhose — which is the manual for Assange’s crypto program… but this business of naming the program gets complicated, eh?

    Dreyfus explains:

    If you’re wondering about the name of this program, Marutukku is the internal development name (it’s spelled Ru-b-b-e-r-h-o-s-e, but it’s pronounced M-a-r-u-t-u-k-k-u)

    In case you didn’t get it, there may be a play on Lewis Carroll there, and the exchange Alice has with the White Knight in Through the Looking-Glass as to what the name of a certain very sad song is called.

    Alice aside – and such detours are in fact the very method of discovery in non-linear thinking – Dreyfus offers as an epigraph to her piece the following quote:

    The third name is MARUTUKKU, Master of the arts of protection, chained the Mad God at the Battle. Sealed the Ancient Ones in their Caves, behind the Gates.

    which she attributes to “The Akkadian Creation Epic”. That would be the Enuma Elish.

    Assange, in his One Man’s Search for a Cryptographic Mythology, attributes his choice of the name Marutukku to a conversation he had with a friend concerning the Enuma Elish, telling us (after much other curious and wandering stuff) that his friend recommended the god Marduk’s third name to him, saying

    The third name is MARUTUKKU, Master of the arts of protection, chained the Mad God at the Battle. Sealed the Ancient Ones in their Caves, behind the Gates.

    Assange liked the idea, observing, “Even the very word MARUTUKKU looked like it had been run through a product cipher”.

    A little later in the same document, he quotes from the Enuma Elish, and the phrases given above appear in the quoted excerpts from that text – although they are not present in the version “Based on the translation of E. A. Speiser, with the additions by A. K. Grayson, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, third edition, edited by James Pritchard (Princeton, 1969), pp. 60-72; 501-503, with minor modifications” that Assange offers us on the sibling-page at Enuma Elish.

    As Dr. Rosenberg pointed out to me, “the quote — if it is a translation — differs from other translations I found on the Internet. It is more specific and extensive and ‘mythological.’”

    4

    Okay, I’ve kept what may be the most practical (ie 21st century) “creative leap” made by my skittish and wandering mind for this, my penultimate paragraph.

    Oxford’s Anders Sandberg blogs today about Assange’s application of network theory to conspiracies, quoting Assange as saying:

    Conspiracies are cognitive devices. They are able to out think the same group of individuals acting alone Conspiracies take information about the world in which they operate (the conspiratorial environment), pass it around the conspirators and then act on the result. We can see conspiracies as a type of device that has inputs (information about the environment) and outputs (actions intending to change or maintain the environment).

    And Anders’ summary of Assange’s position? “In short, conspiracies are a kind of collective intelligence enhancement.”

    [ admission: I associate the name Anders Sandberg with some brilliant early net writings on role-playing games and the hermetic tradition – I'm hoping this is the same guy ]

    5

    Finally, let’s go back to that enhancement of the Enuma Elish text. That phrase, “Sealed the Ancient Ones in their Caves, behind the Gates” struck me, too – it reminded me of the Chthulu Mythos of HP Lovecraft, and its apocalypse:

    That cult would never die until the stars came right again and the secret priests would take Cthulhu from His tomb to revive His subjects and resume His rule of earth. The time would be easy to know, for then mankind would have become as the Great Old Ones; free and wild, and beyond good and evil, with laws and morals thrown aside and all men shouting and killing and revelling in joy. Then the liberated Old Ones would teach them new ways to shout and kill and revel and enjoy themselves, and all earth would flame with a holocaust of ecstasy and freedom.

    And with that quote from Lovecraft, courtesy of Erik Davis, we have returned by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to the hermetically sealing and revealing world of John Dee.

    Posted in Arts & Letters, History, Human Behavior, Internet, Islam, Miscellaneous, Religion, Rhetoric, Tech, Terrorism | 3 Comments »

    Quote of the Day

    Posted by Jonathan on 1st December 2010 (All posts by )

    And I don’t want no pussyfooting. You can’t succeed in tech by playing it safe, by taking baby steps. If you could, Sony and Microsoft would rule digital music. But they don’t, because they were so worried about rights holders, they forgot about users. And it’s all about users.
     
    The users used to be excited about music.
     
    Now they’re thrilled with offers on Groupon.
     
    Shopping has become exciting!
     
    Music is boring.

    -Bob Lefsetz

    Posted in Business, Internet, Music, Quotations, Society, Tech | Comments Off

    What the Dickens? Symbolic details in Inspire issue 3

    Posted by Charles Cameron on 21st November 2010 (All posts by )

    [ cross-posted from Zenpundit ]

    It’s easily missed. It’s part of the “small print” that most small-format paperbacks carry on the copyright page:

    The sale of this book without its cover is unauthorized. If you purchased this book without a cover, you should be aware that it was reported to the publisher as “unsold and destroyed.” Neither the author nor the publisher has received payment for the sale of this “stripped book.”

    Here’s the picture that AQAP took of the copy of Dickens’ novel Great Expectations they inserted into one of their bombs recently – which they then published in issue 3 of their English language magazine Inspire:

    Dickens

    And here’s the explanation that accompanies that photo, in a piece titled “The Objectives if Operation Hemorrhage” by their “Head of the Foreign Operations Team”:

    This current battle fought by the West is not an isolated battle but is a continuation of a long history of aggression by the West against the Muslim world. In order to revive and bring back this history we listed the names of Reynald Krak and Diego Diaz as the recipients of the packages. We got the former name from Reynald de Chatillon, the lord of Krak des Chevaliers who was one of the worst and most treacherous of the Crusade’s leaders. He fell into captivity and Salahuddeen personally beheaded him. The name we used for the second package was derived from that of Don Diego Deza, the Inquisitor General of the Spanish Inquisition after the fall of Granada who along with the Spanish monarchy supervised the extermination and expulsion of the Muslim presence on the Iberian Peninsula employing the most horrific methods of torture and done in the name of God and the Church. Today we are facing a coalition of Crusaders and Zionists and we in al Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula will never forget Palestine. How can we forget it when our motto is: “Here we start and in al-Aqsa we meet”? So we listed the address of the “Congregation Or Chadash”, a Gay and Lesbian synagogue on our one of our packages. The second package was sent to “Congregation B’nai Zion”. Both synagogues are in Chicago, Obama’s city.
    .
    We were very optimistic about the outcome of this operation. That is why we dropped into one of the boxes a novel titled, Great Expectations.

    They may not have read the book or seen the movie, as Ibn Siqilli comments at the link above, but they do have long memories and/or a taste for history, and they are indeed sending signals with small details like the fictitious names of their addressees.

    *

    This is in line with one of the basic premises of Islamic thought: that the world we inhabit is a world of ayat or symbols (the singular is ayah, and the word is also used to refer to the verses of the Qur’an, each of which is viewed as a symbolic utterance). Here, for instance, is a passage from Fazlun Khalid’s paper, Islam and the Environment, from the website of Jordan’s Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought:

    The Qur’an refers to creation or the natural world as the signs (ayat) of Allah, the Creator, and this is also the name given to the verses contained in the Qur’an. Ayat means signs, symbols or proofs of the divine. As the Qur’an is proof of Allah so likewise is His creation. The Qur’an also speaks of signs within the self and as Nasr explains, “… when Muslim sages referred to the cosmic or ontological Qur’an … they saw upon the face of every creature letters and words from the cosmic Qur’an … they remained fully aware of the fact that the Qur’an refers to phenomena of nature and events within the soul of man as ayat … for them forms of nature were literally ayat Allah”. As the Qur’an says, “there are certainly signs (ayat) in the earth for people with certainty; and in yourselves. Do you not then see?” (Adh-Dhariat, 51:20, 21).

    *

    BTW, I don’t think Penguin (or, for that matter, Charles Dickens) got paid for that book… whatever their expectations may have been.

    Posted in Arts & Letters, History, International Affairs, Internet, Islam, Miscellaneous, National Security, Religion, Rhetoric, Terrorism | 7 Comments »

    Net Protest: extending the Anglosphere

    Posted by Charles Cameron on 5th November 2010 (All posts by )

    [ cross-posted from SmartMobs ]

    One little detail caught my eye in a Foreign Policy AfPak Channel blog report yesterday.

    Whether their first language is Kashmiri or Farsi, the internet makes English the language of choice for protesters.

    Kashmiris are slowly harnessing the power of the internet to create a communal digital protest and to forge a voice for themselves in the democratic realm of cyberspace. In 2010 Kashmir’s Generation Next, those who were born or young during the turbulence of the 1990s, found their voices. Unlike Kashmiri youth of the 1990s who were silenced given India’s media, U.N. and NGO blackout of Kashmir, new technologies and social media have made it possible for Kashmiris to begin to tell their own stories, to have a voice and a narrative that can reach beyond the Valley and into international consciousness. Facebook and You Tube have been transformative, creating a cadre of citizen-journalists and more artistic expressions in which Kashmiris create video montages set to music and images, providing a voice whether in Kashmiri or English, such as Kashmiri-American Mubashir Mohi-u-Din’s take on the Steven Van Zandt song Patriot.
     
    This summer Kashmir’s youth have learned two lessons from other international struggles for justice: Iran and Palestine. In 2009 Iranian youth and social activists harnessed the power of social media as young Iranians took to the internet and street in the face of state suppression. Iranians demanded “where is my vote?” — the slogan, appearing curiously and ubiquitously in English, was meant for an international audience, to raise attention to the struggles occurring within the Islamic Republic of Iran after the results of the presidential election were called into question. Similarly, “I protest” cries out in a language that is not native to Kashmir but has united Kashmiris globally as they seek an international audience.

    Posted in Afghanistan/Pakistan, Anglosphere, International Affairs, Internet, Iran, Miscellaneous | Comments Off

    The left’s romance with terrorists.

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 11th October 2010 (All posts by )

    It is a bit peculiar how the left seems to be fond of terrorists. Bill Ayres and his wife, of course, are prime examples but not the only ones. Some of them have adoring books written about them. Naturally, Sarah Jane Olsen had become a “community activist” in her new identity.

    Now we have a new example disclosed today by Andrew Breitbart. Bradblog is a left wing blog that has become very successful while attacking such people as James O’Keefe of the ACORN tapes, and it has spun numerous conspiracy theories about the right and election fraud, etc. It turns out that one half of the blog, which has received over $1.3 million in donations from such sources as Teresa Heinz’s Tides Foundation, is a convicted murderer and terrorist. His name is Brett Kimberlin although he was once known as the “Speedway bomber” as he terrorized a town in Indiana. He was also a drug smuggler and dealer and he eventually ended up with a 50 year prison sentence. He was paroled after only 13 years but, when he refused to make any payments to the widow of one of his victims who had won a civil suit against him, he went back to prison for four more years.

    Today he is a prominent figure on the left and his story of how he went to prison, a total fabrication, has made him even more of a hero. It’s pretty interesting reading.

    Posted in Blogging, Internet, Law Enforcement, Leftism, Politics, Terrorism | 12 Comments »

    “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?”

    Posted by onparkstreet on 6th June 2010 (All posts by )

    Small Wars Journal has kicked off our first fundraising campaign.”

    So to better serve you, the small wars community of interest, we are in the unpleasant but necessary position of coming to you, hat in hand, in an NPR-like scenario. We are counting on your contributions, coupled with support from grants and foundations, collateral income (advertising and referrals), and volunteer contributions of effort and content, to help us do more of what you seem to value and want us to do.

    I learn a lot from the SWJ community and the folks that gather in the comments section. Sort of like the Chicago Boyz community and comments section. Hmm – thanks, CBer’s!

    Posted in Advertising, Announcements, Internet, Military Affairs, War and Peace | Comments Off

    My Boss’s Phone

    Posted by Joseph Fouche on 20th April 2010 (All posts by )

    Not my boss's phone

    Not my boss's phone

    Per Lex’s request, on this, the day America laid siege to Boston, MA, interrupting the otherworldly disputations of many a Brahmin:

    Noted American science fiction writer Philip K. Dick once observed:

    The ultimate in paranoia is not when everyone is against you but when everything is against you. Instead of “My boss is plotting against me,” it would be “My boss’s phone is plotting against me.”

    My boss’s phone is rather nondescript. It’s color is a few shades darker than full oppression gray. It whimpers with the soul draining anonymity of the standard corporate VoIP phone design. It has a gray LCD, gray buttons with obscure functions, and an incomprehensible gray user manual.

    It frequently finds itself on sales calls.

    If it was a person, it would have no face.

    My boss’s phone lacks the personality of the door from Ubik:

    The door refused to open. It said, “Five cents, please.”
     
    He searched his pockets. No more coins; nothing. “I’ll pay you tomorrow,” he told the door. Again he tried the knob. Again it remained locked tight. “What I pay you,” he informed it, “is in the nature of a gratuity; I don’t have to pay you.”
     
    “I think otherwise,” the door said. “Look in the purchase contract you signed when you bought this conapt.”
     
    In his desk drawer he found the contract; since signing it he had found it necessary to refer to the document many times. Sure enough; payment to his door for opening and shutting constituted a mandatory fee. Not a tip.
     
    “You discover I’m right,” the door said. It sounded smug.
     
    From the drawer beside the sink Joe Chip got a stainless steel knife; with it he began systematically to unscrew the bolt assembly of his apt’s money-gulping door.
     
    “I’ll sue you,” the door said as the first screw fell out.
     
    Joe Chip said, “I’ve never been sued by a door. But I guess I can live through it.”

    Of course the motives of doors are usually open and shut. The hang ups of boss’s phones are more cryptic:

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Commiserations, Internet, Personal Narrative, That's NOT Funny, War and Peace | 2 Comments »

    Put the Keyboard Down and Back Away From Facebook

    Posted by Shannon Love on 27th February 2010 (All posts by )

    So, I bought this little iPhone app called “Sleep Cycle alarm clock“.

    It’s an interesting idea. It uses the iPhone’s accelerometer to monitor the motion of your bed while you sleep. Like so:

    mzl.ozennwoo.480x480-75

    It uses the motion of the bed as a proxy measurement for your REM states. When you’re not moving much you are more likely to be deep asleep and when you move more it means you’re more likely nearly awake. You set a 30 minute time window in which you wish to awake and the app wakes you up when your motion peaks so you wake up alert instead of dragging yourself up out the depths of REM and starting the day feeling vaguely stunned.

    It’s a neat idea and the basic idea is scientifically sound but that’s not what I’m blogging about.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Internet, Tech | 4 Comments »

    The Delocalization of Events

    Posted by Shannon Love on 18th February 2010 (All posts by )

    A small, single-engine plane has crashed into a building here in Austin. It’s national news being covered on all the cable networks.

    The site of the event is about five miles to the South of my house. I’ve driven by that building literally thousands of times…

    … but for all that the crash directly affected me it might as well have been on the other side of the planet. Had my spouse not called, I wouldn’t have know about it until I did my lunch-break scan of Instapundit. I can’t even see the smoke. Everything I know about the event comes from the TV news.

    In short, I have as much information about this local event as does someone elsewhere in America or, indeed, even the world.

    Prior to the Internet, most news was local. An event such as this would have been known to the local population via the local media, and then only an abbreviated story would make it to the national news and no one outside the country would ever have heard of it.

    What are consequences of this delocalization of news? Any individual only has so much time to spend consuming news. If we spend time consuming reports from all over the world, that means we displace our consumption of local news. We end up in the perverse situation wherein we know more about a community on the other side of the world than we do our own.

    Will this further decouple us from our local communities? I know that in recent years I have paid less attention to the local news than I did pre-Internet. Will we grow more concerned about distant problems over which we have little to no input, and neglect local problems that we could actually fix?

    I don’t know what the future will bring but this event feels very surreal.

    Posted in Internet, Media | 15 Comments »

    A Google Privacy Stumble

    Posted by Jonathan on 13th February 2010 (All posts by )

    If you use Gmail you may have noticed a new feature called “Buzz”, which is Google’s attempt to create something like Facebook.

    Email and Facebook-type social networking services are different in function and in their users’ privacy expectations. Google erred by 1) assuming that users of email, the less intrusive service, would want to be signed up by default for the more intrusive social networking service, and 2) configuring the privacy settings of the social networking service in a way that can casually expose a user’s private information before the user has a chance, or even knows, to change the relevant settings.

    Here is an example of the kinds of problems Google’s new scheme caused.

    Here are instructions for restoring the (relative) privacy of your Google account.

    Google will probably correct its blunder soon if it hasn’t already. But it’s interesting that they blundered in this way in the first place. They showed a Microsoftian level of cluelessness about privacy and security. It’s as if the Google offices were a monoculture of young computer geeks for whom clever new features are first and foremost cool toys with business upside and no downside, rather than complex systems that sometimes interact in unexpected ways and may have the potential to harm people who have something to lose. Oh, wait…

    Google’s “don’t be evil” motto, always a cynical joke, deserves at least as much ridicule as does the DHS terror-threat color code. People in China learned this some time ago.

    Don’t be stupid. Don’t trust Google or other free Web-service providers with information that you can’t afford to make public.

    UPDATE: An attorney offers scathing and insightful critique of Google here and here. The second linked post gives additional advice on deactivating your Buzz account, including a link to Google’s own instructions for doing this.

    Posted in Internet, Privacy, Tech | 8 Comments »