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The FCC has voted to kill off the Obama-era net neutrality rules. And this is one of those issues that makes me want to scream because everyone I know has taken a legit issue and boiled it down to opposing conspiracy theories in which (1) Corporate America or (2) The US Government is trying to take 100% control of the internet so they can censor it and control you. There seems to be no middle ground on this, and it’s insane.

This is why I try not to say anything about it because there’s no real common ground for a conversation about it.

But, you know, what the hell?

1. First things first: I’m in favor of net neutrality and an open internet.

2. I’m also in favor of telcos and ISPs having the ability to manage and prioritize bandwidth because they need that capability to make sure that video traffic from Netflix, Facebook, etc doesn’t overwhelm their network capacity. In the future, they’re going to need that ability to make sure that mission-critical real-time stuff like digital healthcare services and driverless cars don’t experience their equivalent of the buffer wheel. Don’t give me the “That’s no excuse, they can just add more capacity!” argument – I’ve covered the telecoms industry for over 20 years, and I can tell you it’s not that simple.

3. The first two points are not mutually exclusive – at least in terms of my definition of net neutrality.

4. My definition of net neutrality (and, I believe, the original definition of net neutrality before the conspiracy theorists took over) is where telcos have the ability to prioritize bandwidth for traffic management purposes, but they must be transparent about how they do it, and be neutral in terms of pricing. They must do this without favoring their own services over competing services. Also, they can’t block access to any service or site that isn’t illegal. And there has to be real consequences for violating that neutrality. Obviously this is a moot point since no one is describing net neutrality in these terms. But I think it’s the one that establishes the best compromise.

5. The Obama net neutrality rules were a nice but flawed idea – it made no sense to classify ISPs under Title II as telecoms utilities. It’s an outdated framework that has little to do with what an ISP does. The only reason the FCC implemented it is because ISPs were outside of its jurisdiction, and it had nothing else to work with to enforce net neutrality of any kind. What’s needed is new legislation that creates a realistic and modern framework for the FCC to regulate (and more importantly, enforce) net neutrality. But that requires an act of Congress, and as we know, the Obama-era Congress was in no mood to cooperate with Obama on pretty much anything. At all. So the Obama-era net neutrality rules were a workaround, not a proper solution to creating a pro-neutrality regulation regime.

For my money, if you REALLY want effective net neutrality, you need: (1) healthy and ubiquitous competition in the broadband access space, (2) a proper and modern legal framework that spells out how the FCC can effectively regulate net neutrality, and one that strikes the right balance between open access and traffic management, and (3) sufficient consumer protections (including a transparent and fair process).

6. So, for me, the real question (and the one that no one seems interested in asking) is: given that the 2015 net neutrality rules were at best a stopgap, does Ajit Pai’s new policy fix the problem?

7. IMO, the answer is a resounding “no”. Not only does it not fix the problem, it indicates Pai has a poor understanding of what the problem is, and apparently he figures it doesn’t matter because his political ideology dictates there’s no problem that free markets can’t fix.

Pai and telecoms lobby groups like USTelecom have argued that the Obama rules hurt telecoms investment in broadband, but that’s a dubious claim when you look at the actual numbers from USTelecom, which show a slight drop in investment between 2014 and 2015 from $77 billion to $76 billion. That’s still the highest level of investment since 2001, and relatively speaking that’s a small enough year-on-year drop that almost anything could account for it (and I’ve seen no evidence at all that net neutrality regs had anything to do with it).

So all up, the only “problem” Pai is proposing to fix is the problem of the FCC having a policy he’s ideologically opposed to. And his idea of fixing that is a policy that can basically be summed up as: “ISPs can do whatever they want as long as they tell you they’re doing it.” Pai is betting that whatever they do won't violate net neutrality because they won't be able to legally hide the fact that they’re doing it, and with something like 80% of the public in favor of net neutrality, why Comcast et al would be fools to do anything to violate that principle because they’d lose customers! Hurrah for The Invisible Hand!

Except that switching ISPs isn't like deciding between buying groceries at Wal-mart or Whole Foods because grocery stores generally don’t make you sign a two-year contract to shop only at their store. Also, there are still many places in the US where you only have one option for broadband connectivity – and with consolidation currently a thing, what choices do exist are narrowing considerably.

8. To be clear, I think the pro-neutrality groups pushing the line that Evil Corporate ISPs are going to charge you per website/app, censor anti-Trump sites and make Netflix unusable in favor of their own crappy video streaming service are going way overboard with the drama. It’s mostly paranoid worst-case scenarios fueled by the worldview that all corporations are run by cartoon villains. YES, it COULD technically happen. YES, a few ISPs have been caught throttling customers from time to time (for that matter, so has Netflix). What that tells me is that – given the FCC had no net neutrality policy to speak of until 2015 – the Big Evil ISPs could have legally staged all these worst-case scenarios ages ago. They haven't. So I don't see why the Pai policy is suddenly a green light for a Corporate Internet Takeover that ISPs have been able to do for 20 years. 

That said, I’m sure we’ll see ISPs testing the waters to see what will fly and what won’t – and at least some of it will be ill-advised. I think a lot of it will be harmless, although pro-neutrality groups will probably depict them otherwise. 

9. Then again, it all depends on to what point the transparency provision in the new policy actually works in terms of telcos being honest about it and responding to whatever negative publicity trends on Twitter. Which is why I recommend that pro-neutrality groups make the most of that transparency requirement and hold the ISPs’ collective feet to the fire. If that’s the only mechanism the current admin is willing to provide customers to ensure a free and open internet, then use it. Use the hell out of it.

10. Of course, none of this is a done deal anyway – the lawsuit challenges are already primed, and Congress might also step in if they feel enough pressure to do so, although this Congress is even worse than the one Obama had to deal with – and currently they seem to be only interested in passing bills that the majority of Americans are against, not for – so good luck getting anything worthwhile from them. So either way I’m not especially optimistic about the outcome. But it may mean that the telcos will hold off on any drastic changes in their service plans until judges start making decisions. We’ll see.


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Trash talking,

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ITEM: The US Senate’s commerce committee is investigating whether Facebook is suppressing ideologically conservative news or stories from conservative organizations from its "trending topics" column.

The allegations originate from a story on Gizmodo citing anonymous Facebook “news curators” who say they were told to ignore certain stories and inject others into the column, regardless of how popular they were. Facebook denies this.

A few thoughts:

1. If Facebook is suppressing conservative content, you sure can’t tell from my newsfeed because I get an earful of batshit every day from that side of the aisle.

2. It’s reasonable to assume that Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) only really cares about this because of the alleged liberal bias. If news curators were ignoring liberal-leaning stories, I doubt he’d bother calling the committee to order over it. The same goes for any other conservatives who may be crying outrage over this.

3. Thune’s contention seems to be that because Facebook is a social media site and not a news organization, it’s subject to different considerations regarding political media bias, not least because Facebook itself states that the trending module only lists “topics that have recently become popular on Facebook” and is generally driven by algorithms, with minimal human input to confirm the algorithms are working.

4. The thing is, even if the allegations are true, there’s nothing illegal about it unless yr argument is that Facebook is guilty of misleading marketing. In terms of the First Amendment, free speech and fairness, there’s an eloquent argument out there that social media outlets – which are privately owned companies – can set whatever content policies they want, and are under no legal or constitutional obligation to be “fair”. Pretty much all online sites set content policies (to include policing trolls in the comments section). And technically there’s no law dictating that any media outlet has to be fair and balanced, so why should Facebook be any different in that regard?

Thune may be right that “Any attempt by a neutral and inclusive social media platform to censor or manipulate political discussion is an abuse of trust and inconsistent with the values of an open Internet.” On the other hand, “the values of an open Internet” doesn't mean every site on the internet has to give equal coverage to all issues. Furthermore, it’s disingenuous for him to complain about anything being “inconsistent with the values of an open Internet” since Republicans are currently ideologically opposed to net neutrality, which is very much an “open Internet” value.

5. The actual point of the Gizmodo story was that Facebook’s trending column is run pretty much like any other news media outlet – with a gatekeeper/editorial function that is subject to the personal biases of the editorial team. Those biases may be more or less balanced, or they may be along the lines of Breitbart or AddictingInfo. But they’re rarely 100% neutral.

It's also worth mentioning that, according to Gizmodo, Facebook’s editorial decisions on trending topics were based in part on whether the stories in question were (for instance) duplicate topics, hoaxes, poorly sourced, or a rumor going viral within its own particular echo chamber with no outside verification. For example, if a story breaks that Obama is planning a false flag terrorist attack to cancel the election and declare himself emperor, and it’s only being reported on World Net Daily and similar right-wing crackpot conspiracy sites who are basically just repeating what WND said, then it’s not necessarily a “trending” news story, depending on yr definition of “trending”.

However, this does raise a valid question: is trending by definition 100% organic? Should it be? Would it more useful if it is? If so, to who – you, or Facebook’s advertisers? (Let’s remind ourselves here that Facebook users are not customers – they are product for the actual customers – i.e. advertisers.)

If there’s any “scandal” here, maybe it’s that Facebook’s trending algorithms don't work that great without human monitoring. Personally I’d prefer more human curators than less. But then I’m old school and I’m an editor by trade, so I would say that, wouldn’t I?

(Also, I don't actually use the Facebook trending topics thing. So it doesn't matter to me how good Facebook’s algorithms are.) 

And it probably doesn't matter in general because from here on out, most people won't be arguing about algorithms. They’ll be arguing over Facebook’s Big Fat Unfair Liberal Conspiracy against poor oppressed conservatives. There's a trending topic for you.


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I need me one of these.

Frank R. Paul. Dream Viewer. 1953.

[Via Magic Transistor]

Insert NSA joke here.

Electric dreams,

This is dF

defrog: (science!)
ITEM: A cute happy robot that has hitchhiked across Canada and parts of Europe, posting its progress on social media sites along the way, tried the same thing in the US.

He got as far as Philadelphia before someone killed it and stole its head.

HitchBOT was an experiment from a couple of Canadian researchers. Details from Ars Technica:

… the bot couldn't move on its own but it did interact with humans utilizing Cleverscript speech technology (yes, the same stuff that has attempted to top the Turing Test. Hence why HitchBOT listed "trivia" as a hobby in its about me). The robot was three feet tall and weighed about 25 pounds (so it took some effort to pick up), and it came equipped with its interaction tech (camera vision, a microphone, and a speaker system), 3G and GPS capabilities, and an external battery meter (so it could juice up in cigarette lighters or outlets).

The goal: "to see whether robots could trust humans."

Not American humans they can’t.

On the other hand, we’re not all bad. Some people in Philly have offered to try and repair or rebuild HitchBOT so it can complete its journey to San Francisco. And HitchBOT did survive for two weeks before getting whacked.

Meanwhile, no word yet as to who might have ripped up HitchBOT, or why, although the internet being what it is, it probably won't take long to find out. Supposedly we already have alleged footage of the attack, which indicates it was simple vandalism, as opposed to, say, someone worried that HitchBOT was an Obama NSA/FEMA drone, or a North Korea/Iran/ISIS recon scout, or a Mexican rapebot (all of which are actually possible, and none of which speak well of the current state of the national character).

Hopefully that won’t result in a Internet Revengepalooza lynch mob thing like we saw with the dentist from Minnesota over Cecil the lion. For one thing, lynch mobs aren’t cool, digital or otherwise. Also, the creators of HitchBOT have said they aren’t interested in pressing charges on whoever did it no matter what the reason may have been.

Robot down,

This is dF

defrog: (science!)
Museum of Science and Industry - Chicago, Illinois PICTUREPHONE - Among the many unusual displays in the Bell Telephone exhibit is a Picturephone, with which Museum visitors can talk to and see visitors at Disneyland in California or the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia

Via Cardboard America:

PICTUREPHONE - Among the many unusual displays in the Bell Telephone exhibit is a Picturephone, with which Museum visitors can talk to and see visitors at Disneyland in California or the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia


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I was in Shanghai last week. I hadn’t been there since 2006, and I hadn’t been to mainland China at all since 2010, so it took some readjustment on my part.

I didn’t see much of Shanghai this time, though I did have a decent view of Century Park.

Otherwise, most of my time was spent either in the hotel, the convention center or the metro between the two of them. But I do have some bullet points to pass along:

1. None of my flights were on time. This is normal for Shanghai and not unexpected.

2. The Shanghai taxi I took to my hotel had no A/C so we drove on the expressway with all the windows down. Which was invigorating.

3. I got mild food poisoning from room service beef.

4. I bought a prepaid SIM card with a 1GB data plan – which was about 980MB more than I needed since most of the apps I use (Facebook, Twitter, Gmail and Flipboard) are illegal in China. I can verify that WhatsApp, Google Maps, and Yahoo Mail work fine.

5. Century Park is pretty festive at night, judging from the traditional Chinese music blaring from the pavilion across the street from my hotel. Luckily, they shut it down by 9pm.

6. The Shanghai Metro didn’t exist last time I was in town. It’s actually pretty good once you figure out the ticketing machine, and as long as you do a little prelim research on which lines you’ll need and which stops you plan to use.

7. I got unsuccessfully hustled twice – once from a guy pretending to have lost his money under complicated circumstances, and once from another guy who wanted to sell me his iPhone.

8. When I went back to the airport, the road leading to the departure hall in Terminal 2 was blocked off for no apparent reason. So the taxi driver dropped me off in the short-term parking area.

9. I saw my first 3D food printer.

I didn’t try one, no.

10. This song was running through my head for most of the trip.

11. Thanks to this trip, I now have a ten-year visa for China. That’s because US passport holders can now only apply for ten-year visas (as opposed to single entry, double entry, multiple entry for six months, one year, etc). No idea why.

Anyway, you may be seeing future posts about me being in China, is what I’m saying.

Over the borderline,

This is dF

defrog: (science!)
Hard to believe these never caught on.

Floating on air,

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There’s been a rash of Big News Stories in the last few days that are probably worth commenting on, but I’m a little pressed for time, so please enjoy these unsolicited and ill-informed capsule opinions.

1. That Sony hack

A lot of people have blasted Sony for pulling The Interview after being threatened by hackers (allegedly from North Korea). I would generally agree with that. It sets a bad precedent when you give in to the demands of hackers who don’t approve of yr content. But I also think that’s a minor story compared to the fact that Sony’s online security measures are as bad as they are.

The censorship angle is the least troubling aspect of all this. Sony isn’t the first company – and won’t be the last – to be subjected to hacking and cyberblackmail, and that’s a problem in this day and age when everything is online. Bruce Schneier has a good breakdown of the real issues at stake here and what companies need to do to get ready. He also explains the futility (and inevitability) of overreacting to this.

As far as the censorship angle goes, well, you can always count on Larry Flynt to lead by example.

2. Cop killers

Two cops dead in Brooklyn, another shot and run over in FLA. When I heard the news, I didn’t even have to go on Facebook to know that all the people who supported Darren Wilson were going to offer this as “proof” that black people were wrong to cry racism and protest on the streets because now look what you’ve gone and done.

Which really just illustrates the extent of the very problem that protesters have been complaining about. The message is basically, “If cops are shooting unarmed black people, don’t complain or someone might shoot a cop and then it will be all yr fault for criticizing cops for shooting unarmed black people.”

Besides, there's nothing lazier or more expedient in the world than using the actions of one crackpot to blame an entire group of people he/she claimed to represent by his/her crackpot actions. Any idiot can do that.

3. Havana affair 

I’m kind of ambivalent towards this, but I see no good reason not to start lifting restrictions. The naysayers are rolling out the usual arguments, and they might be right in the sense that Cuba won’t become a free(er) nation as a result of Obama’s policy.

But let’s not pretend the previous policy was working, or making any real difference. It might have made sense during the Cold War. That ended 25 years ago. Critics have been recycling the same 50-year-old old arguments out of habit, and also because Obama is for it. (And because Cuban exiles vote.) These arguments do not impress me.

I think the worst that will happen is nothing will change in Cuba, so why not try something different? And anyway, it’s hard to argue that we shouldn't normalize relations with dictatorships when we’ve been doing that with China since the 1970s.

Our man in Havana,

This is dF

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Or saving it, depending who you ask.

One interesting statistic in the US and global music industry is that streaming is the fastest growing category of music sales these days, at the apparent expense of not only CD sales, but even digital downloads. The appeal isn’t hard to understand – why pay $9.00 per digital album when you can listen to ALL the albums for a monthly fee (or even for free if you don’t mind yr music collection being peppered with commercials every few songs)?

The idea has been around for awhile, and the pros and cons are pretty simple – the download model means you get to keep those albums forever unless you forget to back them up (or unless the online store you bought them from goes belly up and you lose yr DRM keys – imagine that). The streaming model means yr basically renting yr music collection and paying for it forever, but you do get more value for money in terms of sheer variety.

The other, less talked about angle is what does that mean for the actual music artists whose livelihood depends in large part on selling albums? The answer depends who you ask. Taylor Swift is not impressed, for one. And she’s one of the artists who actually made decent money from Spotify before she pulled all her music from it.

Here’s an article about Spotify, which explains their calculation system, and how it works great for artists like, say, Lorde and The Pixies, but not so much for, say, Marc Ribot and Rosanne Cash.

Here’s an article where Steve Albini says the new system is much better for artists than the old system.

Here’s an article from a guy making a documentary about the same topic saying no, Steve, it’s not.

Here’s an article from East Bay Ray saying YouTube is even worse when it comes to streaming-based business models.

The articles are worth reading. I don’t have any particular wisdom for you, but I will say I think Albini makes some good points in comparing the old economic model of the music business and the new model. The old model is undeniably corrupt and wasteful and not especially friendly to the artists, and the music industry overall is better off without it. And there’s no doubt the internet has made more and better music more accessible than ever before.

On the other hand, the new model does seem to be a much better deal for the Googles and Spotifys than it does for the artists. The math doesn’t make a lot of sense to me either (disclaimer: I suck at math), and certainly doesn’t seem to take into account the actual cost of recording music. Sure, it’s a lot cheaper and easier to record music in 2014. But there is an expense involved, and Spotify’s economic model isn’t designed to take that into account, as Marc Ribot has pointed out:

“Here’s the simple fact that no one wants to talk about. Spotify says it pays out seventy per cent of its revenues to rights holders. Well, that’s very nice, that’s lovely. But if I’m making a shoe, and it costs me a hundred dollars to make it, and the retailer is selling that shoe for ten dollars, then I don’t care if he gives me seventy per cent, I don’t care if he gives me one hundred per cent—I’m going out of business.”

Now granted, streaming is only one source of revenue. But if streaming flourishes at the expense of CD/digital sales, it’s difficult to see how things will improve for music artists in the longer term.

A lot of artists who dislike Spotify say they’re not against streaming itself, they just want a better compensation model – and they also argue that companies like Google and Spotify can afford to provide one. In that sense, Google and Spotify may have become the 21st Century version of Evil Corporate Record Labels, only not intentionally evil, and with no A&R expenses.

Or something.

Did I mention I have no wisdom here?

Anyway, I think it’s fair to say that for all the progress the music business has made, it’s still by definition a business – and it’s one designed to exploit both music artists and their fans for maximum gain. In that respect, all that's changed is who gets to do the exploiting.


FULL DISCLOSURE: I don’t use Spotify much. And I use streaming mainly to preview music before I buy it. I also use Soundcloud mainly for my own music, but I don't have any expectations of making any money from it.

Stream on,

This is dF

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I have this problem, and I don’t know what to do about it.

This is it: Every time someone on Facebook posts something about net neutrality – and it doesn’t matter which side on the issue they’re on – I want to take my laptop and fling it like a Frisbee through the nearest window.

Which would be dangerous for any innocent passersby below. Plus, it’s a company laptop.

The NN issue has always been around, but has surged to the top of the news cycle again now that the FCC has announced an idea and Presidente Obama has expressed an opinion about it. And so my Facebook page is filled with new variations of the same hysterical memes that floated around the first few times NN has come up.

They read more or less like this:



In other words, it’s pretty much the same recycled conspiracy theories, although the “Net neutrality is the Obamacare of the Internet” is a new variation that certain Republican politicians are now kicking around.

Ha ha. No, Ted and Marsha – net neutrality is nothing like Obamacare. The comparison is as inaccurate and stupid as it is lazy. Not that it matters – it’s a cut-rate talking point that’s more of an excuse to slap Obama and Obamacare around.

That said, this doesn’t mean the pro-NN’s conspiracy theories about Comcast are validated. It just means their conspiracy theories are less crazy.

I’ve written about this before, and I don’t really have anything new to add, except maybe this:

What really bothers me about the NN debate, I think, is that most people I know are resorting to conspiracy-theory bullshit to make their point when they actually don't have to.

There is a genuine and rational argument in favor of net neutrality, and I fully agree it’s the best model for internet innovation.

But there’s also a genuine need for traffic prioritization to make real-time streaming and other services work properly. And it’s not unreasonable for ISPs to charge companies differently based on that. The balance has to be struck to ensure that process is done fairly and transparently, so that Comcast or AT&T or anyone else can’t throttle competitors or railroad customers (and as I’ve said before, I don’t believe they plan to do either, but there’s no harm in regulations making sure they can’t if they ever decide to do so for some weird reason, like if Lex Luthor becomes CEO of Comcast or something).

But no one is talking about that. They’re just screaming conspiracy theories at each other. Which means that the US is going to be the only country on Earth whose policy on net neutrality is going to be based on which batshit conspiracy theory the FCC chooses to back.

That may still result in a workable net neutrality policy. But it’s depressing to think this is what passes for debate in America now, and that we’re basing important policy decisions on which paranoid conspiracy theory gets the most support.

*drops mic*


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You probably know by now that U2 has a new album out. And odds are you already knew that because it suddenly appeared in your iTunes. Or, if you don’t have an iCloud account, you knew about it because of all the iCloud users going insane on Twitter about finding some f***ing new U2 album on their f***ing iTunes and how the f*** do I f****ing delete it and BTW what the f***ing f***, Apple?

I think the outrage is a little overdone, but I can see why people are annoyed. I admit I didn’t, at first – my first thought was, “It’s in the cloud – it’s only on yr device if you download it. Don’t want it? Just delete it. What’s the big deal?”

This is because my own iTunes account isn’t set for automatic downloads of purchased items. Many people do set their iDevices for auto download, which means an album they didn’t ask for just ate up some of their data plan and is now taking up valuable storage space on their iDevice. So I can see why that would bug people.

Many users are also bugged that Apple is sticking things in their iCloud account without at least asking first, which is also understandable – especially given recent revelations about iCloud’s security issues. It’s sort of like U2 sneaking into yr house and slipping their new album into yr record collection – or, for the auto download people, sticking it in the CD changer of yr stereo.

Of course, it seems a lot of the complaints are based on the premise that U2 fucking sucks and I don't want their fucking albums even for free, fuck you U2. Which suggests that they might object to it less if Apple had given them a free album by a band they actually like.

Anyway, the whole episode is a bit strange, as new album promotions go. Reportedly Apple, U2 and Universal were negotiating this for about a year. U2’s motivations are pretty obvious – Apple’s are less clear. According to Forbes, it’s probably a tactic to beef up iTunes (which saw music sales drop last year, due to more popular streaming services like Spotify and Pandora) and a way to promote Beats Music (the streaming music service Apple bought a few months ago).

Whatever Apple in mind, they clearly didn't really think it through in terms of how users would react to it. I guess you can look at it as an interesting consumer experiment in music distribution. Lesson learned: if you want to give away music online, ask first. I mean, the deal with U2 included a $100 million marketing campaign. Surely some of that money could have covered the cost of sending every iTunes user an email with a link to the album if they wanted to download it. The reaction probably would have been more favorable.

Of course, if they did it that way, then Tim Cook wouldn’t be able to say that Songs Of Innocence is the “largest album release in history” (on the grounds that Apple’s 500 million iTunes users “purchased” it). But Billboard has said it isn't playing along with that tactic.

And so much for that.

As for the actual album … is it any good?

I’ll let you know when I listen to it. I will say two things in advance:

1. I do like U2, but not all of their albums are great. That’s particularly true of their previous album No Line On The Horizon, IMO.

2. The preview tracks I heard on iTunes before I downloaded it weren’t very inspiring. But you can’t always tell with previews. And hey, free album.

Well, we’ll see. Stay tuned.

All that you can't leave behind, 

This is dF

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When news broke of all those nude celebrity photos being hacked out of iCloud (allegedly) and set loose on the interwubs, my Facebook feed was filled with posts blaming the celebrities for (1) taking nude pictures of themselves in the first place (because who DOES that?), (2) being dumb enough to put them “in the cloud” and then (3) having the nerve to complain that the pictures were made public.

Oh, and okay, yes, hacking bad. But godDAMN, celebrities, what were you THINKING?

Which annoys me in all kinds of ways, the main one being that it’s another case of blaming the victims, slut-shaming them and passing moral judgments on their behavior – as if Jennifer Lawrence was asking to have her private pictures distributed on Reddit because she actually let herself be photographed naked and put the pics in the cloud where hackers could get to them (unlike, say, the hard drive on her laptop or a thumb drive, which would be so much safer). Which is like arguing that if someone robs my bank, it’s my own fault for depositing my money where bank robbers could steal it.

I could go on. Fortunately this piece from Forbes (of all places) saves me a lot of typing. The short version: (1) nude selfies and sexting are part of human sexuality whether you personally approve or not, (2) “the cloud” isn’t some public park on the internet, and (3) cloud storage services like iCloud are designed to be both automated and – to the average user – indistinguishable from having content stored on your hard drive, all in the name of ease of use (which in turn means getting more people to use cloud services).

So lay off, maybe.

But then, for a lot of people, celebrities exist for us to kick around. The “blame the celebrities” meme is emblematic of society’s strange love/hate relationship with Good Looking Famous People, where Normal Decent People obsess over the juicy details of celebrities’ private lives so that when they do something outrageous or extremely naughty, we can hold it against them.

Invasion of Celebrity Privacy (a.k.a. celebrity gossip media) is a multi-billion dollar industry, and “candid” pics are a major component of that business. And it’s not just rags like New York Daily News or TMZ. Go look at The Huffington Post, where the “most popular stories ” sidebar is usually populated with stories about Kim Kardashian wearing something inappropriate in a restaurant or Miley Cyrus at a topless beach or a Beyonce nip-slip/sideboob picture or Taylor Swift’s sex tape. Because the public has a right to know, you see.

So in that context, it seems disingenuous for people to say “Shame on you for taking those pics” when there’s so much public demand for them.

To be fair, some people have focused their criticism in terms of “personal responsibility”. As in: “If you take naughty pics of yself, you should own up to it. Don't do it if you’d be embarrassed by it.”

I don’t really care for that line either, for a couple of reasons besides the ones I mentioned above: (1) everyone has aspects of themselves they want to keep private, including the critics, and (2) it suggests that you should always act as though you are being watched. Given how even the assumption of panopticon surveillance affects behavior, that grates against my more libertarian instincts.

The other “personal responsibility” angle is taking responsibility for security of yr private data, especially when so much of yr private data is constantly being collected and sold (legally and otherwise), in which case we should all know better by now so yr an idiot for not being more careful.

Technically this is a good point. But as mentioned above, not everyone knows how to go about doing that, and in this specific case they often assume that the cloud service provider has that covered. In which case the more helpful response isn’t “don’t take nude pics, slut” but “here’s how you can take steps to make sure they don’t fall into the wrong hands”.

Violet Blue has some great advice about that here. She also makes a good point: this isn’t just about celebrity pics getting stolen. This is everyone’s problem – and even more so for women, because the consequences can be more serious than minor embarrassment:

In the celebrity nudes aftermath this week I've seen tweets -- even from security professionals -- saying things like, "she shouldn't have spread her legs for an iPhone."

What BS. As if we deserve to lose our jobs, our friends, custody of our kids, our personal safety, our emotional well-being, or our mental health because we did what lots of people do voluntarily on Twitter every week (or what a million creepy dudes do on Tinder every day with their own "dick pics"). That’s stupid and just plain wrong.

When someone takes our personal photos and posts them online, it's not a joke.

It is a violation. It drives some women -- especially young women -- to suicide.

Suggesting that the violation of our consent is our fault is harassment.

Exactly. Which is why all the shame-based criticism comes across to me as the equivalent of “she asked for it” and abstinence-only sex education. It may not be intended that way. But that’s what it sounds like to me.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I have taken nude selfies. I think it’s fun. And no, you can’t see them.

Ain’t that a shame,

This is dF

defrog: (Default)
always reblog.

[Via Beatnik Daddio]

All systems righteous,

This is dF

defrog: (Default)
ITEM: Facebook has started adding a “satire” tag to articles originating from satirical news sites like The Onion.

The tag appears in front of the headline, and only applies to stories that appear in the “related stories” link once you “like” a given article on Facebook.

Which I only mention because a lot of people seem to be complaining about this. And I don't really know why.

The complaints are generally along the lines of “Facebook thinks we’re so stupid we don’t know satire when we see it!”

On the other hand, they also mention Literally Unbelievable, the site that proves that yes, some people are that stupid. Or at least lazy enough to not bother checking a story’s source.

My Facebook feed is filled with examples of people passing on fake news or memes under the assumption that they’re both real and accurate. Some people may think that’s harmless to fool the ignorant and gullible. I’m not really sure about that.

So I don’t see what the objection is to tagging articles as satire.

I certainly don’t see how doing so would “ruin” it. I suppose it depends on yr motivation for sharing Onion articles. Maybe you just want to share a funny article. Maybe you want to prank yr friends, in which case the tag would be inconvenient. I’ve done both. But I don’t mind giving up the latter, if only because no one fell for them (which is because most of them don’t read any of the stuff I post anyway).

Whatever. My only concern would be Facebook’s criteria for labeling something “satire”. Otherwise, I have no problem with it.

Now if they could only come up with a “Batshit” tag. THAT would be handy.

Won’t get fooled again,

This is dF

defrog: (Default)
ITEM: Psychologists at the National Center for Credibility Assessment (NCCA) are developing an interview system that uses a responsive on-screen avatar for the first stage of the national security clearance process.

Put another way: in future, people applying for government jobs requiring national security clearance will be interviewed by robots.

Motherboard explains:

Initial screening for a variety of government jobs currently requires applicants to fill out a form disclosing past drug use, criminal activity, and mental health issues, which is then reviewed during an interview—with a human.

But a recent NCCA study published in the journal Computers and Human Behavior asserts that not only would a computer-generated interviewer be less “time consuming, labor intensive, and costly to the Federal Government,” people are actually more likely to admit things to the robot.

Obviously the bot doesn’t get the final say on whether yr cleared. And it’s not an AI program so much as something similar to those computers some companies use for telephone customer service.

But I’m intrigued by the idea that yr more likely to be candid about yr past history if you talk to a machine.

Especially a machine that “is racially ambiguous and looks like a sort of cross between Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin.”


You just want to pour yr heart out to it, don't you?

Dashboard confessional,

This is dF

defrog: (Default)
Saaaaaay, this would make a good movie.

science70: Douglas R. Mason, Matrix (Ballantine Books, 1970).

[Via 70s Sci-Fi Art]


This is dF

defrog: (Default)
Yr Future-Of-Crowd-Control lede of the day:

Their first customer is a mining company, apparently.

The International Trade Union Confederation is understandably alarmed:

"This is a deeply disturbing and repugnant development and we are convinced that any reasonable government will move quickly to stop the deployment of advanced battlefield technology on workers or indeed the public involved in legitimate protests and demonstrations," said spokesman Tim Noonan.

So is the International Committee for Robot Arms Control (and yes there is such a thing):
Noel Sharkey, chair of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control campaign group, is concerned that the deployment of such drones risks "creeping authoritarianism and the suppression of protest".

"Firing plastic balls or bullets from the air will maim and kill," he said.

"Using pepper spray against a crowd of protesters is a form of torture and should not be allowed.

For perspective, this is unlikely to come to America – at least not to the private sector. The FAA has already nixed the idea of Amazon’s delivery drones. I don’t think they’ll okay private riot-control securitybot fleets. If anyone’s going to conduct pepper-spray airstrikes on people, it’s going to be the police.

Twenty seconds to comply,

This is dF

defrog: (Default)
ITEM: Oklahoma-based company ProTecht (see what they did there?) unveils the Bodyguard Blanket, a blanket designed to protect kids from both flying tornado debris AND bullets from a deranged school shooter.

Couldn't they just arm the teachers?

File under "Better than Nothing"

Problem solved!

Because at the rate things are going in America, they’re probably going to need them.

Anyway, Wonkette has as good a write-up of this as yr going to read anywhere else.

Duck and cover,

This is dF

defrog: (Default)
Someone hipped me to the fact that Billboard has teamed up with Twitter to create two new charts: Trending 140 and Emerging Artists.

Essentially, it rates new songs in real time based on how many people are tweeting about it.

From the FAQ:

Billboard Twitter Trending 140

An up-to-the-minute ranking of the fastest moving songs shared on Twitter in the U.S., measured by acceleration over the past hour. Titles are ranked based on a formula comparing the number of times they are shared within the last hour to the hourly average of shares over a rolling 24-hour period. The chart can also be filtered to present a real-time view of the most shared tracks in the U.S. on Twitter over the past 24 hours.

Billboard Twitter Emerging Artists

A ranking of the most shared songs on Twitter in the U.S. by up-and-coming artists (defined as artists with fewer than 50,000 Twitter followers who have also not appeared as a lead artist in the top 50 songs on the Billboard Hot 100), ranked by the number of times each song was shared over the past 24 hours.

There’s also a weekly ranking based on the same criteria.

I confess I’m fascinated by the idea. It only makes sense in an age where radio doesn’t really as big a role in breaking new records as it used to. Radio airplay used to be THE benchmark for how popular a song is. Now it’s arguably Twitter, Facebook and other social media.

At the same time, I’m not convinced it actually means anything. For a start, I wonder what’s the most active demographic sharing songs on Twitter? If it’s the demo that generally listens to One Direction, Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande (who are currently at the top of the Trending 140 list as I type this), then the range of information is somewhat limited.

Also, I wonder how many of those tweets are the results of PR flacks and crowdsourced fan initiatives gaming the system to push a given artist up the chart? If there’s not that many now, there will be later. I don’t know if Billboard is doing anything to screen those out.

And either way, does it really mean anything to have a No.1 song even if it’s just for two hours after you played on (say) Late Night With David Letterman?

Maybe not. I guess the way to look at it is that Trending 140 is introducing an all-new metric in music charts. Traditional charts measure what songs are getting the most airplay on radio, and/or which artists are selling the most records. Trending 140 is basically measuring word-of-mouth – which artists people are talking about (and promoting via sharing).

And considering that trad charts are really only intended for music label executives anyway, I can see where they’d find that useful.

Off the charts,

This is dF


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