13 May 2013
Continue reading "A Visit from the Goon Squad; Jennifer Egan"
"Older people are more resistant to . . ." She seemed to falter.
Lulu smiled. "See, that's what we call a disingenuous metaphor," she said. "DMs look like descriptions, but they're really judgments. I mean, is a person who sells oranges being bought? Is the person who repairs appliances selling out?"
"No, because what they do is up front," Alex said, aware that he was condescending. "It's out in the open."
"And, see, those metaphors--'up front' and 'out in the open'--are part of a system we call atavistic purism. AP implies the existence of an ethically perfect state,which not only doesn't exist and never existed, but it's usually used to shore up the prejudices of whoever's making the judgments."
"So," he said. "You think there's nothing inherently wrong with believing in something--or saying you do--for money?"
"'Inherently wrong,'" she said. "Gosh, that's a great example of calcified morality. I have to remember that for my old modern ethics teacher, Mr. Bastie; he collects them. Look," she said, straightening her spine and flicking her rather grave (despite the friendly antics of her face) gray eyes at Alex, "if I believe, I believe. Who are you to judge my reasons?"
"Because if your reasons are cash, that's not belief. It's bullshit."
Lulu grimaced. Another thing about her generation: no one swore. Alex had actually heard teenagers say things like "shucks" and "golly," without apparent irony. "This is something we see a lot," Lulu mused, studying Alex. "Ethical ambivalence--we call it EA--in the face of a strong marketing action."
10 May 2013
Months ago, my choice of web-based IM aggregators, Meebo, was purchased by Google and discontinued. Google, like Microsoft before, is deep in the era of purchasing companies for their internal skills and then killing the original product of those skills. I started using Meebo several employers back when the desktop client Digsby was blocked by their IT dept. Digsby had superseded Trillian for me, based on a recommendation from my bro-in-law. I wanted to like the open-source Pidgin but could not. The web-based solutions were ideal for access anywhere (yay, the cloud!), and so I doubt I'll move back to a desktop client. Web-based services can also provide a single archive of all of your conversations. I had used a now-defunct service called Dexrex to archive, but it has since welshed on its promise to provide export and search, and just recently went offline complete (fuck you, cloud!).
After the death of Meebo, I, like many others, moved to imo. It was in many ways better and provided both import and export, including import of the Meebo data. One benefit of having Google buy-then-kill your product: their Data Liberation Front army will make sure its data is retrievable in the most standards-compliant form available. I have a general distrust of loss-of-ownership, and a robust import/export mitigates that. A variation on this is the oddness of Apple forcing users to port their information from MobileMe to iCloud when MM was discontinued. Pretty bold offloading your own internal work to your customers. Imo had been doing its job without much fuss up until last weekend when their connection to Skype's network started failing. It has not yet come back. One theory is that since Microsoft, who purchased Skype, is adding web-based Skype access, they must kill access from other OSes such as Chrome. The removal of Skype from imo has, inexplicably, also removed access to your archived Skype conversation. No word yet on if they will become available again.
These aggregation tools are one of the key concepts behind the web--a system that links services--and walled gardens are a barrier to implementing that concept. There is a trend toward products with no user serviceable parts inside (a la the iPad and Facebook) but it is not necessarily the dominant thread in computer evolution. Wikipedia, open source code libraries, embeddable YouTube videos, embeddable tweets, and RSS are all enablers of that other thread (ignoring the dreaded "Video No Longer Available" static). W/r/t the closed systems: avoid those you can and back up frequently. An easy exit strategy is your plan B.
1 May 2013
Links from last week:
Why does America lose its head over 'terror' but ignore its daily gun deaths? - from Michael Cohen at The Guardian:
But Londoners, who endured IRA terror for years, might be forgiven for thinking that America over-reacted just a tad to the goings-on in Boston. ... It was yet another depressing reminder that more than 11 years after 9/11 Americans still allow themselves to be easily and willingly cowed by the "threat" of terrorism.
How Boston exposes America's dark post-9/11 bargain from Andrew O'Hehir at Salon:
I think the real reason why this gruesome but small-scale attack sent the whole country into such an incoherent panic lies a little deeper . ... We agreed to give up most of our civil liberties (except for the sacrosanct Second Amendment, of course) in exchange for a lot of hyper-patriotic tough talk...
Weekly Review from Harper's:
Legislation designed to strengthen gun control by expanding background checks was defeated in the Senate after failing by six votes to reach a filibuster-proof 60-vote threshold. "It's almost like you can see the finish line," said the father of a man who was injured in the 2007 mass shooting at Virginia Tech, "but you just can't get there."
20 April 2013
[ updated 22 Apr 2013 ] Reddit admins comment on the issue.
Reddit did some things right during the Boston Marathon bombings manhunt. A few users dedicated their time to post minute-by-minute events to a Live Boston Update Thread (eventually growing to nine separate threads spanning 4 a.m. to 9 p.m.). The thread updates include summaries of information taken from scanners and, apparently, direct observation. Links to map locations and source tweets provide reference material. This type of reporting had been done for previous events, and it creates a more robust ticker than feeds from other sources.
Unfortunately, quick updates to a high profile site can also create virulent mistakes. Users of Reddit, 4chan, and Twitter contributed to misidentification of suspects and broadcast the same personal information that they rightly excoriate traditional media for broadcasting (e.g. the Centennial Olympic Park bombing suspect). Here's a list of some of the articles that attempt to summarize how it all went wrong:
It Wasn't Sunil Tripathi: The Anatomy of a Misinformation Disaster from The Atlantic - Attempt to piece together when the first misidentification occurred and how it spread. The author leans further to the "people must have misheard" explanation than the "people wanted to be first" one. I lean towards the latter. One paragraph illustrates the hubris best:
The next step in this information flow is the trickiest one. Here's what I know. At 2:42am, Greg Hughes, who had been following the Tripathi speculation, tweeted, "This is the Internet's test of 'be right, not first' with the reporting of this story. So far, people are doing a great job. #Watertown" Then, at 2:43am, he tweeted, "BPD has identified the names: Suspect 1: Mike Mulugeta. Suspect 2: Sunil Tripathi."
The BPD identified neither.
- When crowdsourcing goes wrong: Reddit, Boston and missing student Sunil Tripathi from NewStatesman.
Reddit had set themselves the task of finding a needle in a haystack, but failed to take account of the fact that they had no way to tell for certain whether they'd found a needle or a needle-like piece of hay.
- 4Chan plays racist Where's Wally to find the Boston bomber also from NewStatesman.
- Reddit Moderator Apologizes To Sunil Tripathi's Family from Huffington Post. From the apology:
Out of respect for Tripathi and his family, I ask that users here please remove any and all links about him. Thank you.A common source of humor online is when a clueless politician or publisher demands something be "removed from the Internet" (see Beyonce's unflattering photos or any celebrity's naked pics).
Several of the articles link to the Reddit thread Is missing student Sunil Tripathi Marathon Bomber #2? as patient zero. That link now 403s [ updated 12 May 2013 ] Link has reappeared, but Google cache still offers it up and I've cached it here for reference. Posted by user pizzatime but no longer exists in their history either. Sample responses:
Great job. Wow, historical thread.
HOOOOOLLLY Shit. Police scanner just confirmed that marathon bomber #2 IS Sunil Tripathi. (this is refuted by the articles above after reviewing scanner records)
according to Boston police scanner (via twitter) - the answer may be yes. (linked tweet no longer exists).
The deleted mistakes risk that they be forgotten and unheeded during the next high-profile event. Reddit, at it's worst, can be defined by attention-seekers hoping to prove their superiority. These failures can cure such hubris.