Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category
Laurie Goodstein writes in the NY Times:
Rock Waterman, a retired innkeeper in California, writes a blog called Pure Mormonism, which attracts Mormons so orthodox that they believe their church is not sufficiently adhering to its own doctrines.
Last month, Mr. Waterman posted a combative challenge addressed to one of the Mormon Church’s top leaders: “Stop making up your own rules and try preaching the Gospel of Christ for a change.”
Two days later, he said, he was summoned to a meeting with his bishop and told to either stop blogging or resign his church membership. If he did not resign he would face excommunication, he said the bishop told him, on orders from another official higher up — one of the church’s leaders known as an Area Seventy.
Continue reading the main story
From California to Virginia and states in between, more than a dozen Mormons interviewed in the past week said they had recently been informed by their bishops that they faced excommunication or risked losing permission to enter a temple because of comments they had made online about their faith, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
These members said their bishops had questioned them about specific posts they had made on their blogs, Twitter and Facebook, in the comment streams of websites or in conversations in chat rooms.
The kinds of comments that have attracted the scrutiny of bishops and stake presidents, who are regional supervisors, include support for the ordination of women; advocacy for same-sex marriage; serious doubts about church history or theology; and, as in Mr. Waterman’s case, protests that the church demands more in tithes than its doctrine requires.
Michael Otterson, managing director of the church’s public affairs office, said: “There is no coordinated effort to tell local leaders to keep their members from blogging or discussing their questions online. On the contrary, church leaders have encouraged civil online dialogue and recognize that today it’s just part of how the world works.”
However, he said, church leaders do grow concerned when discussion is used to recruit others for campaigns to change church doctrine or structure.
“When it goes so far as creating organized groups, staging public events to further a cause and creating literature for members to share in their local congregations,” Mr. Otterson said, “the church has to protect the integrity of its doctrine as well as other members from being misled.”
The crackdown is much broader than the action taken last week against two prominent Mormons, who were threatened with excommunication: Kate Kelly, the founder of the Ordain Women movement, and John P. Dehlin, creator of the Mormon Stories podcast and an advocate for gay Mormons.
It has affected Mormons perceived as dissidents from across the ideological spectrum: liberals such as Ms. Kelly, Mr. Dehlin and others who support same-sex marriage, and conservatives who devoutly believe Mormon teaching and Scripture but criticize the church as straying from it, such as Mr. Waterman and Denver Snuffer, a lawyer in Utah who blogs and writes books about Mormonism. Mr. Snuffer said on his blog that he was excommunicated for apostasy last fall. . .
Continue reading. One Mormon woman was threatened with excommunication for posting anonymous comments in an on-line chat forum: her bishop sent her emails quoting what she had said.
Take a look at Memrise.com. I’m using it to study/review Spanish, and it seems pretty good.
Interesting ProPublica report about Facebook and how its position on privacy has changed.
Fascinating article by Vivek Wadhwa in the Washington Post:
Chile launched a grand innovation experiment in 2010: it paid foreign entrepreneurs to come and visit for six months. It offered them $40,000 plus free office space, Internet access, mentoring, and networking. And, by the way, they would get to live in one of the most beautiful places on this planet, where housing was relatively cheap and corruption and crime were almost nonexistent. All Chile asked in return was that the foreigners interact with local entrepreneurs and consider making the country their permanent home.
It seems too good to be true, doesn’t it? Indeed, many people thought that the idea was crazy. But Chile was making a bet — that the foreign entrepreneurs would transform its entrepreneurial culture by teaching the locals how to take risks, help each other, and form global connections.
Santiago is today buzzing with entrepreneurial activity; university students often look to join start-ups rather than big companies; Start-Up Chile has gained brand recognition in innovation circles worldwide; and local entrepreneurs are becoming more ambitious and looking for opportunities abroad. This is what I have personally observed during my trips there.
Start-Up Chile has also been flooded with applications—more than 12,268, from 112 countries. According to Start-Up Chile’s executive director, Sebastian Vidal, 810 startups from 65 countries have so far been admitted into the program. The first 199 companies that visited Chile and returned home reported that they had raised a total of $72 million in funding. A batch of 132 companies that chose to stay there reported that they had raised $26 million. Several start-ups have had successful exits, and hundreds of others expect to make it big.
This is pretty good by entrepreneurial standards, considering that Chile has invested only about $35 million in this experiment. Other countries have spent hundreds of millions — even billions — of dollars in their efforts to create technology hubs.
Legions of consultants have been advising regions to build science parks next to research universities and to offer financial incentives to selected industries to locate there, touting Harvard professor Michael Porter’s cluster theory. Porter had observed that geographic concentrations of interconnected companies, specialized suppliers, and service providers gave certain industries a productivity and cost advantage. His followers postulated that by bringing these ingredients together into a “cluster,” regions could artificially foment innovation.
They couldn’t. The formula doesn’t work. The top-down industry cluster is a modern-day snake oil. Chile proved that it is people, not industry, who power innovation.
Tens of billions of dollars have collectively been invested by hundreds of regions all over the world in top-down cluster-development efforts. Consultants have reaped hundreds of millions of dollars in fees. Yet there is not one proven success anywhere in the world. Clusters form naturally on a basis of a region’s inherent geographical and economic advantages — and of entrepreneurs’ hard work. Innovation springs not from industry but from motivated risk-takers — from people. The Start-Up Chile experiment’s purpose was to learn whether a technology hub would follow from importing entrepreneurs and providing them with the right networking support and mentorship.
I helped design the Start-Up Chile program and serve on its advisory board. . .
Later in the article, and worth noting:
The challenge Chile faced, however, was that — like most regions other than Silicon Valley — it didn’t have an entrepreneurial culture that tolerated failure and encouraged information-sharing and experimentation. So I suggested that the country import what it needed; that it take advantage of America’s foolishness in turning away the world’s most innovative entrepreneurs. Because of flawed immigration policies, the U.S. is experiencing an exodus of highly skilled entrepreneurial talent.
And, of course, the GOP is determined that no immigration reform will be passed. The GOP is destroying this country.
The goal was to recreate the photo-realistic painting using technology that would have been available to Vermeer, along with an argument that he must have used such technology. Well worth reading (and watching: there’s a teaser video for the movie at the end).
Read about them here. The one on the left is for Republicans, the one on the right for Democrats.
Amazing. Apparently true.
Interesting article in Pacific Standard by John Wihbey:
An average citizen with just a few hundred Twitter followers fires off a 140-character zinger during the presidential debate. The message seems to spread rapidly, apparently leaping across personal networks and ultimately being shared around the country. A celebrity backs a human rights campaign by sharing a video on Facebook, setting off what appears to be a contagious chain of peer-to-peer sharing that finally commands a spot on the evening news.
Stories of communications pandemics abound. We live in the age of the viral phenomenon, where the potential for virality is ubiquitous. Every story, image, meme, and sentiment contains the ember of this hanging fire. The metaphor is meant to imply, of course, that a bit of information might ricochet and expand across a population as a virus would, branching out from a single, original node—a patient zero.
But do we have our mental models, and terminology, right? Does information on social media networks typically behave like a disease? No doubt, one can see what looks like dramatic proof—millions of pageviews, shares, Likes, or retweets. But what is typically going on beneath, within the network graph that connects all the dots?
It may seem counterintuitive, but very little of what we are seeing online these days is actually viral in a technical sense, according to recent research. When data scientists peer into the gearbox of our social networks, they do not usually see long chains of peer-to-peer sharing. More often, a big broadcast of information to many people simultaneously explains the reach of information. This is being confirmed by those doing the biggest, most comprehensive analyses of network data, such as the Microsoft Research team with Twitter data and the Facebook data science team with its own network data. We can speculate and hyperventilate about a democratizing information ecosystem, but scientific network analysis reveals the true pattern. And frequently it does not look like a grassroots phenomenon.
A spectacular, recent example of this potential confusion might be illustrated by the group celebrity selfie photo taken by 2014 Academy Awards host Ellen DeGeneres, which generated more than three million retweets, a record, and crashed Twitter’s technical platform. Across the Web, commentators were quick to deem this a viral phenomenon. But some 43 million people were watching the Oscars. It very well may be that the majority of the effect was caused by the broadcast, and the ensuing social media cascades were short and shallow, not extending beyond a couple of people through most social networks. In other words, this organic viral phenomenon may just be a traditional broadcasting event—a particularly compelling one, but not one driven by peer-to-peer networks.
A FEW THINGS DO go naturally and spontaneously viral, but these are the exceedingly uncommon exceptions. Given that millions of pieces of content are being uploaded every minute on platforms such as Facebook, the true viral success rate is vanishingly small, researchers say.
For the most part, behind any mass online phenomenon there is a powerful group with a megaphone—still usually a big media outlet—doing most of the yelling. We often think of social media platforms as somehow more democratic, but they often function as yet another television channel. Most content is consumed passively. . .
Businesses do not care a whit about the public welfare, so they do not hesitate to block things that would benefit the public. That’s the nature of business, and it’s why good government regulation is important. Jason Koebler has a prime example now at Motherboard:
In light of the ongoing net neutrality battle, many people have begun looking to Google and its promise of high-speed fiber as a potential saving grace from companies that want to create an “internet fast lane.” Well, the fact is, even without Google, many communities and cities throughout the country are already wired with fiber—they just don’t let their residents use it.
The reasons vary by city, but in many cases, the reason you can’t get gigabit internet speeds—without the threat of that service being provided by a company that wants to discriminate against certain types of traffic—is because of the giant telecom businesses that want to kill net neutrality in the first place.
Throughout the country, companies like Comcast, Time Warner Cable, CenturyLink, and Verizon have signed agreements with cities that prohibit local governments from becoming internet service providers and prohibit municipalities from selling or leasing their fiber to local startups who would compete with these huge corporations.
Because ISPs often double as cable and telephone companies, during contract negotiations with governments, they’ll often offer incentives to the government—such as better or faster service, earlier access to (their company’s) cable internet for residents, and the like—in exchange for a non-compete clause.
To be clear, these are often strictly local agreements between cities and cable giants.
In Washington DC, for instance, the country’s first 100 Gbps fiber network has been available to nonprofit organizations since 2006—but not to any of the city’s residents. During a re-negotiation with Comcast in 1999 in which the company threatened to cut off cable service to the city, Comcast agreed to provide some of its fiber access to the city for the government’s “exclusive use.”
“The 1999 agreement was conditioned in important ways,” former Obama administration assistant and Harvard University researcher Susan Crawford wrote in a recent paper examining the city’s fiber network. “First, the city agreed not to lease or sell the fiber. Second, the contract required that the city not ‘engage in any activities or outcomes that would result in business competition between the District and Comcast or that may result in loss of business opportunity for Comcast.’”
Comcast never even made its fiber available to the city, but that agreement, and a future one with Verizon, has, in part, kept the city’s DC-NET fiber network out of residents’ homes.
“The intent was never to take the business away from Verizon or Comcast,” Anil Sharma, director of operations for DC-NET, told Washington City Paper last year. “Our target audience always was community anchor institutions.”
What happened in DC is not uncommon. According to MuniNetworks, a group that tracks community access to fiber nationwide, at least 20 states have laws or other regulatory barriers that make it illegal or difficult for communities to offer fiber access to their residents. Even in states where there are no official rules, . . .
California’s drought is serious. Here in Monterey we are also undertaking a desalination plant. Here’s a story on the desalination plant in San Diego. It will be the largest in the Western Hemisphere.
The FBI seems clueless in so many ways—even beyond the farce that is the FBI forensic lab. Until very recently, the FBI used handwritten notes as the only record of an interrogation. That seems to indicate a severe inability to learn from the experience of others. But now they have ventured into the 20th century; soon they may make it to the 21st. Douglass Starr reports at the New Yorker:
For decades, criminal investigators have known that the best way to obtain and preserve reliable information is to electronically record interviews and interrogations. And yet agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation have continued to rely on handwritten notes taken during interrogations, which they later type onto so-called 302 forms. In an era of ubiquitous iPhones, the nation’s most advanced law-enforcement agency has been using a technology that, in the words of one official, “dates from the time of Hammurabi.”
That will finally change. In mid-May, the Department of Justice issued a memo instructing all federal investigative agencies—including the F.B.I., the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Marshals Service, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives—to use electronic recording while interviewing witnesses and suspects, except in cases involving national security. The new policy goes into effect on July 11th.
The federal government is, in this respect, far behind the states. Alaska required recording in 1985, followed by Minnesota, in 1994; now twenty states require it, as do the District of Columbia and hundreds of individual precincts. States with big Indian reservations have provided a sort of controlled experiment in the differences between federal agents, who did not record, and local police, who did. On the reservations, tribal officers investigate misdemeanors, while agents from the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the F.B.I. investigate major crimes such as murder, rape, and arson. Once charged, the suspect faces indictment in federal court, generally in a major city off the reservation. Paul Charlton, a former U.S. Attorney for Arizona, recalls many trials in which even the most minimally competent defense lawyer would know enough to contrast the behavior of F.B.I. agents with that of the local police. In “long, excruciating cross-examinations,” those lawyers would ask agents if the Bureau owned a recording device; if it was small enough to take to the Navajo reservation; if the device had an On button; if the agents knew how to use the On button … and on and on, until the agents’ refusal to record the interrogation seemed nothing short of ridiculous.
“So we would either lose cases, plea down cases, or find some lesser charge,” Charlton said. He got so tired of the situation that he ordered all federal investigators in Arizona to record interrogations, the rules notwithstanding. That helped to put him on the wrong side of the U.S. Attorney General at the time, Alberto Gonzales, who eventually dismissed him along with eight other U.S. Attorneys in a controversial mass firing in 2006.
In May of 2011, a man sneaked into the home of Travis DuBois, on the Spirit Lake Reservation, in North Dakota, and killed his two children: Travis DuBois, Jr., who was six years old, and Destiny Shaw, who was nine and whom he also sexually assaulted. The father was supposed to be babysitting but he was somewhere else, blackout drunk. Wracked with guilt, he confessed to the crimes after a seven-hour interrogation led by the F.B.I. (Federal agents got permission to record from their regional offices, in Minnesota.) When the Assistant U.S. Attorneys in Fargo watched the interrogation, they felt that something wasn’t right. So, instead of immediately pushing for conviction, they leaned on the forensics team to search thoroughly for evidence. Months later, . . .
Read this fascinating article, with many informative maps.
Obama put a communications lobbyist as chairman of the FCC: John Oliver has an amazingly good response; watch it all the way through.
Hendrik Hertzberg has a good column in the New Yorker:
Soon after the Isla Vista mass shooting, an e-mail from Breitbart News, one of the slicker right-wing Web sites, popped into my inbox. Considering the source, the breathless subject line was startling: THE WORLD’S FIRST SMART RIFLE – NOW IN SEMI-AUTO
A smart gun, as you probably know, is one that can be fired only by an authorized person, such as the weapon’s legal owner. Anyway, that’s the usual meaning. The way a smart gun works, smartplanet.com explains, “is that the gun’s biometric system is set up to recognize the rightful user through a unique identity marker such as a person’s fingerprint, magnetic rings, RFID chips or other proximity devices.”
A smart gun is a technological fix. If guns were smart, we wouldn’t need to worry so much about their falling into the wrong hands—such as the hands of a toddler who might playfully point one at his sister and pull the trigger, the hands of a troubled teen-ager who might borrow Dad’s hunting rifle to commit suicide, or the hands of a thug who has just wrested away a cop’s pistol.
Does it surprise you that the National Rifle Association opposes any attempt to mandate or encourage the use of smart guns, or even study their potential? Or that, earlier this month, when a couple of gun-shop owners decided to stock a few, they changed their minds after being smeared online as traitors and Communists, and threatened with arson and death?
Me neither. That’s why I did a double take at that enthusiastic-sounding subject line. After all, Breitbart, like every other site that caters to the populist Republican base, is a faithful lapdog of the N.R.A.
The mystery cleared up when I opened the e-mail. It wasn’t a news story but a “special message”—that is, an advertisement. And the rifle being hawked to the Breitbart readership is indeed “smart,” but in an altogether more sinister way:
TrackingPoint smart rifles, developed by military experts and a team of over forty engineers, have virtually eliminated shooter error and adverse conditions from the firing equation. Our Tag-Track-Xact system can more than double the proficiency of a skilled shooter and let them take shots they’d never before even attempt, while capturing it all on video. TrackingPoint smart rifles increase effective range, maximize accuracy, and almost entirely eliminate the possibility of errant shots. We’ve combined our technological innovations with the best hardware in the American gun industry has to offer, fusing our integrated trigger and groundbreaking scope system with 7.62, 300 BLK & 5.56 Semi Auto Platforms along with .338 Lapua and .300 Win Mag bolt action rifles to create a firing system unparalleled in the world today.
For the full effect, I clicked through to a Web site, whence I was taken to a video, which I present here for your convenience. It’s a must-see, believe me.
The gun is expensive, from around ten thousand to more than twenty thousand dollars. But price is no object if you’re a wealthy but myopic, arthritic, or just unskilled “sportsman,” or an enforcer for a Mexican drug gang, or a roving troubleshooter (as it were) for a moderately well-heeled jihadist network or an excessively pro-Second Amendment nongovernmental militia.
And you really must watch this video:
Very slick technology, and the automatic firing mode—where the computer fires the gun the instant the gun acquires the target (with the proper lead computed for moving targetss): the human’s job is just to keep aiming at the target.
I don’t think this will end well. Put those guns on autonomous robots who have some half-assed algorithm to figure out who’s a valid target?
I think we should by now have learned the lessons of Terminator: five movies and a TV series. But there is money to be made—defense contractors are doubtless already counting the profits to be had—so we will probably push ahead with it. Here’s a story on a conference to take a look at the idea.
If the title question seems difficult, try this: Would it be okay to have autonomous robots kill you and/or members of your family?
Cool Tools has a nice write-up of an innovative and inexpensive VOIP phone service. We went with AT&T U-verse since we wanted fast Internet and just threw in the phone as well, but after the first-year contract ends, I’m certainly going to look at alternatives for phone.
Pretty cool. It will be available next year for $6800, it says here.
Obama seems to have a bad habit of breaking promises—he does it often, and on high-profile issues. It’s a terrible weakness in a president, particularly one who is elected based on his promises. I do not believe that history will be kind to him. Brian Fung writes in the Washington Post:
Nearly a decade after he vociferously defended an Internet that didn’t speed up Web traffic to Fox or slow traffic to BarackObama.com, President Obama’s stance on net neutrality has considerably softened.
On Friday, White House press secretary Jay Carney declined to say whether a federal proposal that could change the basic economics of the Internet ran afoul of Obama’s campaign promises on net neutrality, the idea that all Internet traffic should be treated equally, not slowed down or blocked by Internet providers.
“What was passed yesterday was something that kept options on the table,” Carney told White House reporters, referring to a vote Thursday by the Federal Communications Commission to advance the proposal. Pressed further, Carney added merely that Obama would be “looking very closely to see that the outcome of this results in a final rule that stays true to the spirit of net neutrality.”
The exchange offered no definitions about what constituted net neutrality, in Obama’s view. Carney offered no official perspective on Internet fast lanes, nor on requiring broadband providers to be more transparent about their traffic practices. Carney only repeated the White House’s statement from Thursday, which said Obama was “looking at every way” and “consider[ing] any option that might make sense” on net neutrality.
The vagueness of the statement is a far cry from 2007, when Obama gave a lengthy response to a town hall question on net neutrality. Then, Obama said he was specifically opposed to “charging different rates to different Web sites” — which is to say, creating a fast lane.
Obama was far more specific in his claims back then, arguing that what he meant by net neutrality was “a level playing field for whoever has got the best idea.” This online equality and fairness was so important, he said, that it amounted to a “basic principle in how the Internet functions.”
“As president,” said Obama, “I’m going to make sure that that is the principle that my FCC commissioners are applying as we move forward.”
It’s hard to know what to make of Obama’s apparent reluctance to define net neutrality that way now. Although Carney vowed that Obama is committed to the free and open Internet, those are terms that FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has also used — and consumer advocates are less than enthused about how Wheeler appears to be interpreting the words. . .
Continue reading. So far as I can see, Obama is simply not to be trusted: if he promises something, he seems to feel little or no need to fulfill his promise. The promise is made, so far as I can tell, simply to get support. He may or may not fulfill the promise, but fulfilling it is clearly not a very high priority for him.