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Pardon our dust! This website is under reconstruction. There is no cause for alarm.

Reification of Spam

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Still harder for me to grasp was the total interpenetration of e-commerce and physical space. Standing inside Stevens Books was like being on a stage set for Stevens Books, Stevens Book, Stevens Book Shop, and Stevensbook — all at the same time. It wasn’t that the bookstore wasn’t real, but rather that it felt reverse-engineered by an online business, or a series of them. Being a human who resides in physical space, my perceptual abilities were overwhelmed. But in some way, even if it was impossible to articulate, I knew that some kind of intersection of Olivet University, Gratia Community Church, IBPort, the Newsweek Media Group, and someone named Stevens was right there with me, among the fidget spinners, in an otherwise unremarkable store in San Francisco.1

The insanity of online algorithm-generated spam has begun to maniphest in physical form.

Trumponomics

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It’s as if Robert McNamara published a book in 1968 boasting of his successful efforts to persuade Lyndon Johnson that the Vietnam War would be won by 1967.

—Jonathan Chait1


  1. Chait, Jonathan. (2018-Nov-28). An Insider Book Tries to Praise Trump, But Instead Exposes His Corruption. New York Magazine. Retrieved from http://nymag.com/intelligencer/2018/11/trumponomics-book-trump-tax-cuts-rich-deficits.html

Content Cycle

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Some people might complain that the Content Cycle is corrosive and demeaning — that it’s cynical and even fraudulent to strip minor joking tweets of any context and to present them to audiences for the sole intent of generating outsized emotional reactions. But you can begin to see from this description how vital the cycle is to our natural media environment. It sustains not just major cable hosts like Carlson, but also HuffPost bloggers; not just aggregation-happy media conglomerates like Verizon Media Group, but also vast social networks like Twitter. People like to discuss the ill effects of social media on misinformation, but the Content Cycle demonstrates the deep, almost biological connection between the megaplatforms of the internet and legacy media like television, in a complex ecosystem of aggregation, outrage, performance, and attention.

—Max Read, NY Magazine1

Hat 101

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Hat #101

What to expect when the NSA calls you

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Dave instructed me to hang up the phone and dial 411 (information) and ask the operator for the main number to the naval base in Bethesda, MD. I was to call that number and then work my way through a series of other base operators, asking each in turn to connect me to the next one in the chain. He gave me the exact words to say at each hop since I’d be asking to be put through to a secure facility.

—Peter Avritch1

A very long sequence of small files

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In The Golden Compass, Dust permeates the world. It is created by consciousness and is itself conscious, and can condense into angels. Blockchain is not like that.

So in summary, here’s what blockchain-the-technology is: “Let’s create a very long sequence of small files — each one containing a hash of the previous file, some new data, and the answer to a difficult math problem — and divide up some money every hour among anyone willing to certify and store those files for us on their computers.”

Now, here’s what blockchain-the-metaphor is: “What if everyone keeps their records in a tamper-proof repository not owned by anyone?”

An illustration of the difference: In 2006, Walmart launched a system to track its bananas and mangoes from field to store. In 2009 they abandoned it because of logistical problems getting everyone to enter the data, and in 2017 they re-launched it (to much fanfare) on blockchain. If someone comes to you with “the mango-pickers don’t like doing data entry,” “I know: let’s create a very long sequence of small files, each one containing a hash of the previous file” is a nonsense answer, but “What if everyone keeps their records in a tamper-proof repository not owned by anyone?” at least addresses the right question!

—Kai Stinchcombe1

In the Pauli Wrongness Model2, the the second answer is wrong; the first answer is not even wrong.


  1. Stinchcombe, Kai. 2018-Apr-05. “Blockchain is not only crappy technology but a bad vision for the future”. https://medium.com/@kaistinchcombe/decentralized-and-trustless-crypto-paradise-is-actually-a-medieval-hellhole-c1ca122efdec
  2. Not Even Wrong

Everything the CIA touches turns to …

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Previously: Botched CIA Communications System Helped Blow Cover of Chinese Agents

At the CIA, there was “shock and awe” about the simplicity of the technique the Iranians used to successfully compromise the system, said one former official.

In fact, the Iranians used Google to identify the website the CIA was using to communicate with agents

› “In 2008 — well before the Iranians had arrested any agents — a defense contractor named John Reidy, whose job it was to identify, contact and manage human sources for the CIA in Iran, had already sounded an alarm about a “massive intelligence failure” having to do with “communications” with sources.

People will say, ‘I went to the inspector general and it didn’t work; I went elsewhere and it didn’t work.’ People will see it as a game. It will lead to corruption, and it will lead to espionage. When people see that the system is corrupt, it affects everything.”

In the end, said the former official, “our biggest insider threat is our own institution.”

Secret Ballots and unintended consequences

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[In 1888], in Kentucky, a state still voting viva voce, the legislature attempted the reform in Louisville. After the voting that year, an observer wrote to The Nation, “The election last Tuesday was the first municipal election I have ever known which was not bought outright.”

A government-printed ballot that voters had, even minimally, to read made it much harder for immigrants, former slaves, and the uneducated poor to vote. Some precincts formally imposed and selectively administered literacy tests; others resorted to ranker chicanery. … The year after Arkansas passed its Australian-ballot law, the percentage of black men who managed to vote dropped from seventy-one to thirty-eight

—Jill Lepore, New Yorker

An actual bit of progress in IoT security

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Consumer Reports is starting to evaluate the security of IoT devices. As part of that, it’s reviewing wireless home-security cameras.

It found significant security vulnerabilities in D-Link cameras:

If you set up this kind of remote access, the camera and unencrypted video is open to the web. They could be discovered by anyone who finds or guesses the camera’s IP address – and if you haven’t set a strong password, a hacker might find it easy to gain access.

The real news is that Consumer Reports is able to put pressure on device manufacturers:

In response to a Consumer Reports query, D-Link said that security would be tightened through updates this fall. Consumer Reports will evaluate those updates once they are available.

This is the sort of sustained pressure we need on IoT device manufacturers.

—Bruce Schneier1


  1. Schneier, Bruce. (2018-Nov-07). Consumer Reports Reviews Wireless Home-Security Cameras. Schneier on Security. Retrieved from https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2018/11/consumer_report_1.html

The Other Collusion

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… MLB team owners were found to have colluded against players by limiting free-agent contracts in three consecutive offseasons: 1985, 1986, and 1987. The Players Union filed grievances against ownership following each offseason — respectively dubbed Collusion I, II, and III — and an arbitrator sided with the players in each case.

The issue facing players and agents is that the league has learned lessons from the collusion scandals of the past. … the CBA ratified in 2016 restrict[s] spending in such a way that may not technically violate the CBA’s rules against collusion but achieves the same goals … this isn’t a bunch of old rich guys smoking cigars in a dimly lit meeting room while Ueberroth yells at them about fiscal responsibility.

It’s the new, legalized normal … and the last ones to realize that might be the ones impacted the most by it, the ones still sitting around in mid-January waiting for a worthwhile free-agent offer.

—Marc Normandin, SB Nation1

Meanwhile, right here in River City, some dramatic irony:

What’s a fair amount for a billion-dollar company to pay a writer for reporting, writing, and publishing one post per day on the company’s website? Two posts per day? One post per week? Two posts per week? These are the questions Vox Media and SB Nation are batting back and forth as they grind their way, ever so slowly, toward making it look like they’re fairly paying the thousands of (previously unpaid or lowly paid) people who write for their hundreds of sports websites. Based on new SB Nation employment contracts obtained by Deadspin, the company is now paying some team site writers a few dollars per post.

—Laura Wagner, Deadspin2


  1. Normandin, Marc. (2018-Jan-18). MLB collusion, explained. SB Nation. Retrieved from https://www.sbnation.com/mlb/2018/1/18/16882650/mlb-collusion-offseason-free-agency-explainer
  2. Wagner, Laura. (2018-Jul-31). SB Nation Is Paying Workers As Little As $3 Per Blog Post. Deadspin. Retrieved from https://deadspin.com/sb-nation-is-paying-workers-as-little-as-3-per-blog-po-1827998745

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