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The open source revolution is coming and it will conquer the 1% – ex CIA spy

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Extremely interesting article by Nafeez Ahmed in The Guardian:

Robert David Steele, former Marine, CIA case officer, and US co-founder of the US Marine Corps intelligence activity, is a man on a mission. But it’s a mission that frightens the US intelligence establishment to its core.
With 18 years experience working across the US intelligence community, followed by 20 more years in commercial intelligence and training, Steele’s exemplary career has spanned almost all areas of both the clandestine world.

Steele started off as a Marine Corps infantry and intelligence officer. After four years on active duty, he joined the CIA for about a decade before co-founding the Marine Corps Intelligence Activity, where he was deputy director. Widely recognised as the leader of the Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) paradigm, Steele went on to write the handbooks on OSINT for NATO, the US Defense Intelligence Agency and the U.S. Special Operations Forces. In passing, he personally trained 7,500 officers from over 66 countries.

In 1992, despite opposition from the CIA, he obtained Marine Corps permission to organise a landmark international conference on open source intelligence – the paradigm of deriving information to support policy decisions not through secret activities, but from open public sources available to all. The conference was such a success it brought in over 620 attendees from the intelligence world.

But the CIA wasn’t happy, and ensured that Steele was prohibited from running a second conference. The clash prompted him to resign from his position as second-ranking civilian in Marine Corps intelligence, and pursue the open source paradigm elsewhere. He went on to found and head up the Open Source Solutions Network Inc. and later the non-profit Earth Intelligence Network which runs the Public Intelligence Blog.

I first came across Steele when I discovered his Amazon review of my third book, The War on Truth: 9/11, Disinformation and the Anatomy of Terrorism. A voracious reader, Steele is the number 1 Amazon reviewer for non-fiction across 98 categories. He also reviewed my latest book, A User’s Guide to the Crisis of Civilization, but told me I’d overlooked an important early work – ‘A More Secure World: Our Shared Responsibility, Report of the UN High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges, and Change‘ (PDF).

Last month, Steele presented a startling paper at the Libtech conference in New York, sponsored by the Internet Society and Reclaim. Drawing on principles set out in his latest book, The Open-Source Everything Manifesto: Transparency, Truth and Trust, he told the audience that all the major preconditions for revolution – set out in his 1976 graduate thesis – were now present in the United States and Britain.

Steele’s book is a must-read, a powerful yet still pragmatic roadmap to a new civilisational paradigm that simultaneously offers a trenchant, unrelenting critique of the prevailing global order. His interdisciplinary ‘whole systems’ approach dramatically connects up the increasing corruption, inefficiency and unaccountability of the intelligence system and its political and financial masters with escalating inequalities and environmental crises. But he also offers a comprehensive vision of hope that activist networks like Reclaim are implementing today.

“We are at the end of a five-thousand-year-plus historical process during which human society grew in scale while it abandoned the early indigenous wisdom councils and communal decision-making,” he writes in The Open Source Everything Manifesto. “Power was centralised in the hands of increasingly specialised ‘elites’ and ‘experts’ who not only failed to achieve all they promised but used secrecy and the control of information to deceive the public into allowing them to retain power over community resources that they ultimately looted.”

Today’s capitalism, he argues, is inherently predatory and destructive: . . .

Continue reading.

This is pretty strongly connected to the previous post, how how explicit efforts to maintain secrecy and supported by big business and the government.

From the article at the link, the preconditions for revolution:

Revolution-Today-USA-2

 

And later in the article, Steele comments:

 “The west has pursued an industrialisation path that allows for the privatisation of wealth from the commons, along with the criminalisation of commons rights of the public, as well as the externalisation of all true costs. Never mind that fracking produces earthquakes and poisons aquifers – corrupt politicians at local, state or province, and national levels are all too happy to take money for looking the other way. Our entire commercial, diplomatic, and informational systems are now cancerous. When trade treaties have secret sections – or are entirely secret – one can be certain the public is being screwed and the secrecy is an attempt to avoid accountability. Secrecy enables corruption. So also does an inattentive public enable corruption.”

UPDATE—And highly relevant: An article in the NY Times today—and read the comments at the link:

Unblinking Eyes Track Employees
Workplace Surveillance Sees Good and Bad

Here are a couple of the comments:

John, Amherst, MA
The degree to which employees are increasingly seen not as human beings but as cogs in a machine that constantly needs tweaked to increase efficiency at the expense of privacy is disconcerting. The speed with which this process is accelerating is downright alarming. The prospects for where this is headed in the near future is nightmarish. David Egger’s “The Circle” is rapidly transitioning from prescient fiction to banal documentary. The concepts of “private life” and autonomy seem on the verge of extinction, eradicated in the service of efficiency, marketing and security.

Gwbear, Florida
I am literally taking a break at this very moment from a series of advanced certification classes at Stanford for leadership and managing complex projects, and thought leading material on creating an effective workplace. These classes are taught by, and include, the ideas of the best leaders in their fields.

All of what they teach flies in the face of this as a way to get the best out of employees. You could not choose a more toxic method if you tried. Clearly, places like Stanford are teaching – but industry is not listening.

And then people wonder why modern employees are so stressed and have such low morale in the US. If the answers got any bigger and obvious, they would smack industry upside the head! Sadly, all training like this tells senior contributors is how pathetic their employers are, even all the so called Fortune 50 industry leaders…

(Sigh…)

Joseph Huben, Upstate NY
Let all be monitored by all! The CEO, Chairman of the Board, The Board, Major stock holders should all be monitored in the execution of their duties. Equity demands that everyone is monitored or no one. Successes and failures should be evaluated and published using transparent observations and a capacity to review all activities equally. Management meetings should also be monitored and shared with all workers. Wages and other remuneration should all be public.

Many more good comments at the link. People quite understand that this initiative is to treat workers as a commodity.

UPDATE AGAIN (a hot topic): Also note this NY Times article, which describes a study that found NOT subjecting factory workers to surveillance improved productivity (and morale, no doubt).

Written by LeisureGuy

22 June 2014 at 10:30 am

Promoting ignorance: Agri-business edition

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Quite often you see groups working hard to discourage research and knowledge in some area, one presumes because they fear what may be found. Two examples that spring to mind: the DEA’s strong opposition to any research regarding marijuana and its effects (one study has worked for 14 years to get approval) and the NRA/GOP’s opposition to any studies of gun violence (that opposition has produced legislation that forbids the use of federal funds for any such study—the claim is that they are trying to prevent bad studies, and the approach they’ve adopted is to prevent all studies).

Now we see ag-gag laws passed to hide information about factory farm operations. That’s our food sources, of course: Big Ag doesn’t want us to know what it’s doing. That makes me uneasy. Lindsay Abrams writes in Salon of an effort to maintain independent inspection of what goes on:

In 2008, the Humane Society released a shocking video taken in a Southern California slaughterhouse. The footage depicted workers using chains and forklifts to drag cows that were too sick to stand across the floor. The abuse was appalling; the cows’ condition, which indicated a food safety risk, led the USDA to order a recall of 143 million pounds of beef. It was the largest meat recall in U.S. history — and it was all brought about by the work of an undercover whistleblower.

Since then, Big Ag has been hard at work preventing this sort of thing from happening again, but not by actually working to stop abuse — at least, not completely. Instead, the industry’s been pushing states to implement laws, known collectively as “ag-gag,” aimed at silencing activists.

Nine states currently have ag-gag laws on the books, the most recent of which, in Idaho, takes anti-whistleblower legislation to a worrisome new extreme. Under the law, signed by Gov. C . L. “Butch” Otter, it is illegal for anyone not employed on the farms — and undercover activists don’t count — to make recordings of what goes on there without the owner’s explicit consent. In practice, that means videos taken of factory farms’ illegal practices — like this one, which depicts three workers at an Idaho dairy farm beating cattle with a cane, kicking and stomping on them once they’ve fallen and dragging one cow across the floor via a chain around its neck — can no longer legally be made public.

But that these laws effectively allow animal cruelty to go undetected and unreported only scratches the surface of why critics find them so appalling. In the interest of protecting the agriculture industry, ag-gag laws criminalize whistleblowers and, ultimately, ensure consumers remain in the dark.

Enter Will Potter, an investigative journalist and 2014 TED Fellow who’s dedicated his career to animal rights and environmental issues — and to exposing the way people dedicated to such causes are treated as domestic terrorists by a government primarily interested in promoting corporate interests. Last week, Potter took to Kickstarter to pitch an ambitious new investigation: he’s going to find out what’s really going on at the factory farms and slaughterhouses hiding behind ag-gag laws.

And he’s going to do it using drones.

It took only five days for Potter to meet his fundraising goal. As of Friday afternoon, he’s raised $35,000 and counting to pay for everything he needs to produce his “aerial exposé”: the drones, but also travel expenses, production costs for planned documentary and e-book, and plenty of legal counsel. The challenge now is going to be figuring out how to actually pull this off. It’s unclear he’ll find what he’s looking for, Potter told Salon, and whether he’ll be able to look at all without breaking the law. But he’s excited to try. Our conversation, lightly edited for clarity, is below: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 June 2014 at 10:04 am

Maybe we shouldn’t rush to have domestic drone aircraft?

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Because it seems that they fairly frequently fall out of the sky:

U.S. military drones have malfunctioned in myriad ways over the past decade, plummeting from the sky because of mechanical breakdowns, human error, bad weather and other reasons, according to a yearlong Washington Post investigation.

The Washington Post story by Craig Whitlock:

 More than 400 large U.S. military drones have crashed in major accidents around the world since 2001, a record of calamity that exposes the potential dangers of throwing open American skies to drone traffic, according to a year-long Washington Post investigation.

Since the outbreak of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, military drones have malfunctioned in myriad ways, plummeting from the sky because of mechanical breakdowns, human error, bad weather and other reasons, according to more than 50,000 pages of accident investigation reports and other records obtained by The Post under the Freedom of Information Act.

Crashes around the world

More than 400 large U.S. military drones crashed in major accidents worldwide between Sept. 11, 2001, and December 2013. By reviewing military investigative reports and other records, The Washinton Post was able to identify 194 drone crashes that fell into the most severe category: Class A accidents that destroyed the aircraft or caused (under current standards) at least $2 million in damage.

Commercial drone flights are set to become a widespread reality in the United States, starting next year, under a 2012 law passed by Congress. Drone flights by law enforcement agencies and the military, which already occur on a limited basis, are projected to surge.

The documents obtained by The Post detail scores of previously unreported crashes involving remotely controlled aircraft, challenging the federal government’s assurances that drones will be able to fly safely over populated areas and in the same airspace as passenger planes.

Military drones have slammed into homes, farms, runways, highways, waterways and, in one case, an Air Force C-130 Hercules transport plane in midair. No one has died in a drone accident, but the documents show that many catastrophes have been narrowly averted, often by a few feet, or a few seconds, or pure luck.

“All I saw were tents, and I was afraid that I had killed someone,” Air Force Maj. Richard Wageman told investigators after an accident in November 2008, when he lost control of a Predator that plowed into a U.S. base in Afghanistan. “I felt numb, and I am certain that a few cuss words came out of my mouth.”

Air Force Maj. Richard Wageman operates a Predator from a ground-control station in Afghanistan on Oct. 25, 2008. A week later, he was the pilot of a Predator that crashed into a U.S. military base. The precise cause of the crash was undetermined. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Investigators were unable to pinpoint a definitive cause for the accident but said wind and an aggressive turn by the pilot were factors. Wageman did not respond to a request for comment through an Air Force spokeswoman.

Several military drones have simply disappeared while at cruising altitudes, never to be seen again. In September 2009, an armed Reaper drone, with a 66-foot wingspan, flew on the loose across Afghanistan after its handlers lost control of the aircraft. U.S. fighter jets shot it down as it neared Tajikistan.

The documents describe a multitude of costly mistakes by remote-control pilots. A $3.8 million Predator carrying a Hellfire missile cratered near Kandahar in January 2010 because the pilot did not realize she had been flying the aircraft upside-down. Later that year, another armed Predator crashed nearby after the pilot did not notice he had squeezed the wrong red button on his joystick, putting the plane into a spin.

While most of the malfunctioning aircraft have perished in combat zones, dozens have been destroyed in the United States during test and training flights that have gone awry.

In April, a 375-pound Army drone crashed next to an elementary-school playground in Pennsylvania, just a few minutes after students went home for the day. In Upstate New York, the Air Force still cannot find a Reaper that has been missing since November, when it plunged into Lake Ontario. In June 2012, a Navy RQ-4 surveillance drone with a wingspan as wide as a Boeing 757′s nose-dived into Maryland’s Eastern Shore, igniting a wildfire.

Defense Department officials said they are confident in the reliability of their drones.[??? Apparently, they are not paying attention. - LG] . . .

Continue reading. To follow up on the reality-denying statement from the DoD officials, the story notes:

The Post’s analysis of accident records, however, shows that the military and drone manufacturers have yet to overcome some fundamental safety hurdles:

  • A limited ability to detect and avoid trouble. Cameras and high-tech sensors on a drone cannot fully replace a pilot’s eyes and ears and nose in the cockpit. Most remotely controlled planes are not equipped with radar or anti-collision systems designed to prevent midair disasters.
  • Pilot error. Despite popular perceptions, flying a drone is much trickier than playing a video game. The Air Force licenses its drone pilots and trains them constantly, but mistakes are still common, particularly during landings. In four cases over a three-year period, Air Force pilots committed errors so egregious that they were investigated for suspected dereliction of duty.
  • Persistent mechanical defects. Some common drone models were designed without backup safety features and rushed to war without the benefit of years of testing. Many accidents were triggered by basic electrical malfunctions; others were caused by bad weather. Military personnel blamed some mishaps on inexplicable problems. The crews of two doomed Predators that crashed in 2008 and 2009 told investigators that their respective planes had been “possessed” and plagued by “demons.”
  • Unreliable communications links. Drones are dependent on wireless transmissions to relay commands and navigational information, usually via satellite. Those connections can be fragile. Records show that links were disrupted or lost in more than a quarter of the worst crashes.

Among the models that crashed most often is the MQ-1 Predator, the Air Force drone manufactured by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, of San Diego. Almost half the Predators bought by the Air Force have been involved in a major accident, according to purchasing and safety data.

And in the meantime:

“Flying is inherently a dangerous activity. You don’t have to look very far, unfortunately, to see examples of that,” said Dyke Weatherington, director of unmanned warfare for the Pentagon. “I can look you square in the eye and say, absolutely, the [Defense Department] has got an exceptional safety record on this and we’re getting better every day.”

“Getting better every day” is fine, but how long until the technology is reliable?

Please read the article and note how military statements are contradicted by facts. For example, the “exceptional safety record” is contradicted by this fact:

Since the drone program began, the Air Force has acquired 269 Predators. Forty percent have crashed in Class A accidents, the most severe category [more than $2 million in damages, as noted earlier in the story - LG]. An additional 8 percent wrecked in Class B accidents [damage costing between $500,000 and $2 million - LG].

You will also note how the Department of Defense refuses to release details and tries to keep the data on drone crashes out of the public eye.

I think we shall be seeing some enormous lawsuits and settlements in the future as drone accidents start happening in the US—along with a fair number of deaths.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 June 2014 at 10:14 am

Posted in Military, Technology

Mormon authoritarianism moves on-line

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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.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 June 2014 at 3:59 pm

Posted in Religion, Technology

Interesting site for language study and more

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Take a look at Memrise.com. I’m using it to study/review Spanish, and it seems pretty good.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 June 2014 at 11:06 am

Posted in Education, Technology

Facebook as a Big Brother that sells what it learns about you

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Interesting ProPublica report about Facebook and how its position on privacy has changed.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 June 2014 at 10:56 am

Posted in Business, Technology

Chile’s highly innovative (and successful) approach to innovative industries

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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.

The experiment, called Start-Up Chile, was such a runaway success that, in an Oct. 2012 story, The Economist dubbed it “Chilecon Valley.”

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. . .

Continue reading.

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.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 June 2014 at 9:40 am

The Internet is almost full

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Written by LeisureGuy

13 June 2014 at 10:31 am

Posted in Technology

Fascinating replication of a Vermeer painting

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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).

Written by LeisureGuy

13 June 2014 at 10:14 am

Posted in Art, Technology

Innovative (and cool) wind-turbine design

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Spiral wind turbine

Read about them here. The one on the left is for Republicans, the one on the right for Democrats.

 

Written by LeisureGuy

11 June 2014 at 10:16 am

At one time, you could just move to another state or across country, but now…

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Written by LeisureGuy

10 June 2014 at 3:08 pm

Posted in Daily life, Technology

Seems a little Fred Flintstone to me: Laser helmet that cures baldness

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Amazing. Apparently true.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 June 2014 at 3:02 pm

Rethinking Viral: Why the Digital World Is Not as Democratic as We Think

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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. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 June 2014 at 11:36 am

Hundreds of Cities Are Wired With Fiber—But Telecom Lobbying Keeps It Unused

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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.

RELATED: Why It’s So Hard to Bring Gigabit Internet to the US

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.”

WATCH: Motherboard’s documentary about the hackers trying to build a distributed network

“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, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 June 2014 at 2:59 pm

Posted in Business, Technology

Desalination plants: The future of the California coast?

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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.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 June 2014 at 1:11 pm

FBI finally starts recording interrogations

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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, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 June 2014 at 8:03 am

Rational redistricting: Is this why it will never happen?

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Read this fascinating article, with many informative maps.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 June 2014 at 2:41 pm

Obama has arranged to destroy Net Neutrality—see John Oliver explain

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Obama put a communications lobbyist as chairman of the FCC: John Oliver has an amazingly good response; watch it all the way through.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 June 2014 at 6:49 pm

Smart rifle: Dystopian SF novel just around the corner.

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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.

Continue reading.

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?

Written by LeisureGuy

30 May 2014 at 3:51 pm

Posted in Business, Guns, Technology

Would it be okay to have autonomous robots kill people?

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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?

Written by LeisureGuy

30 May 2014 at 2:58 pm

Posted in Law, Technology

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