Sunday, September 30, 2012

Brain freeze -- I try to return to USCF-rated chess


One of my objectives in this period of my life (after my mother’s passing at the end of 2010), is to regain all the old skills I used to have.

I bought some up-to-date books on chess openings (Books blog, July 3),  checked base with the local Arlington Chess Club (in a Methodist Church just off Route 50), and, on Friday night, showed up, paid my dues, and played one rated ladder game.  The link for the club is here

I’m afraid that I must admit that I crashed and burned in the opening about as quickly as Washington Nationals’s pitcher Edwin Jackson got knocked out by the St. Louis Cardinals Friday night, a debacle that was going on in almost simultaneous time.  My defeat would have been the equivalent of a 16-0 shellacking in baseball.

I don’t blame the Two Knight’s Defense.  (I hadn’t yet looked at it.)  With everything else going on, I just got brain freeze. It wasn't even a "senior moment".  I hallucinated that the position was something other than what it was, and tossed a piece very quickly, and resigned (as Black).  But it was me, not the opening.  (By the way, that opening fits into a Broadway show, “Chess The Musical”,  reviewed on my Drama Blog, Sept. 1, 2010 – and a visitor entered the score of the actual game using this ancient chess opening as played in the musical.)

It’s hard to play very well cold, and it’s necessary to find a place to play more skittles again, totally unrated, maybe even at Dupont Circle in DC or Washington Square Park in NYC.  I think there’s an area behind the AFI Silver Theater in Silver Spring MD where people play, too.

I’ll get back to this endeavor soon.  Next time, I’ll have reviewed all those old openings that real chess players use.  I had some periods where I was pretty competitive in USCF-rated chess: when I was in the Army (1968-1970) and in the early 1980s when I lived in Dallas (for much of that time, the Dallas Chess Club was located in East Dallas until moving to Forest Lane).  Once I instantiated myself as a published author, time and concentration on chess became much more limited.  I had last played in a rated torunament in Minneapolis in 2000, a weeknight 3-round action where I went 1-2.  Returning to chess is part of establishing my credibility as a "professional wallflower."


Saturday, September 29, 2012

Illegal sales of unauthorized prescriptions online could pose "SOPA-like" questions for websites and services


A story in the news yesterday about “online pharmacies” raises some questions about the ease with which websites are set up (off shore, often), and whether future government attempts to regulate them could pose “SOPA-like” risks to web hosting companies in the future (see especially my Nov. 25, 2011 posting).  Domestic sites that sell counterfeit products can be taken down by Customs (ICE), and there can be questions sometimes about services that host these sites.  Typically, though, when sites are removed, operators set them up offshore elsewhere quickly on other servers.  

The specific story concerns websites that sell prescription drugs while trying to bypass the legally mandated (by both federal and state laws and by some FDA rules) requirements for prescriptions appropriately signed (at least electronically or called in) by physicians who have actually examined the patient (at least remotely, in some cases). 

A typical media account appeared in USA Today Friday, by Linda Johnson (AP), here

 There’s no question that online “pharmacies” have been particularly prone to generate email spam, some of it offensive, leading to a few prosecutions in New York State a few years ago.

There is also a story that the FCC will be tightening up rules on collecting information from minors.  This does not appear to affect websites that merely “publish” without trying to profile customers.  More about this matter will appear on my COPA blog next week.

Friday, September 28, 2012

New York Times continues to report on cheating by top high school students


The New York Times has again returned to the subject of high school student cheating with a story by Vivian Yee, “Elite school students describe the how and why of cheating” in print (Friday, September 28, 2012; an earlier story appeared Sept. 8), or “Stuyvesant students describe rationale for cheating” online, link here

One thing that’s interesting is that grades really do promote social peer approval in this environment.

I find it rather strange to think that it is that difficult to memorize a bunch of chemistry reactions:  you’re supposed to learn the principles and learn how to balance equations (rather like algebra).  Do students have access to the Periodic Table for exams?

I can remember the “memorization” challenge for organic chemistry, starting with nomenclature.  What happens then in medical school?

The cheating problem goes on up the chain, as recycling of previous tests is common (and controversial) in medical specialty exams, especially radiology.

I also was criticized by peers in high school for predicting a question on a government test, about “institutionalism”.  I really had thought of it; I did not know it had been asked in earlier periods.  In fact, good students can predict what will be asked on a test.

When I was an assistant instructor in grad school, I made up separate sets of problems for the two classes in algebra.  Today, teachers have “A” and “B” tests for alternate rows.

Another thing that some teachers do is divide a test into two parts.  The closed book portion (as in calculus) has to be turned in before the open book part starts (with a graphing calculator). 

And during my high school and undergraduate days, grades could be a measure of personal survival.  We had a Vietnam-era male-only military draft,  with student deferments, during those years.

Plagiarism becomes a problem not only for students but for professional journalists.  I’ve even heard complaints that my own Internet postings have become the object of high school plagiarism. 

But think of this: the kinds of kids who invent Facebook, Napster, or other similar innovations don’t need to copy other people’s work.  But in the software world, all code has some copying.  It’s bound to result in issues (as was shown by the “Winklevii” litigation).

Music and film nearly always involves some amount of copying, too.  Culture is necessarily transformative of what has come before.  

Thursday, September 27, 2012

North Carolina goes after blogger who gives pseudo-professional (diet) "advice"


George F. Will has a particularly troubling column and anecdote on p. A17 of the Thursday, September 27, 2012 Washington Post, “Censoring Free Adbvice”, or (online), “Bureaucrats declare war on free advice”.
   
Will gives the story of Steve Cooskey, who, after a successful personal weight-loss experience, faces possible prosecution from North Carolina for offering “free advice” to readers of his “paleo diet” blog when he responds (presumably in comments) with diet- or disease-specific (diabetes is mentioned) “advice” to presumably naïve reader questions.

The site appears to be “Diabetes Warriror”, here

Will goes into the constitutional issues, about compelling state interest v. rational basis review. 
  
I’ve wonder the same things about my own blogs, and I was particularly concerned around 2006 or so after the high school substitute teaching incident that I’ve discussed (July 27, 2007). 

For example, on my “Bill Boushka retires” blogs I talk a lot about filial responsibility laws.  They are on the books in many states but are rarely invoked, but such a law was used recently in Pennsylvania.  I present the issue with the idea of promoting debate on the policy and ethical issues, which are obviously related to today’s demographic (longer lives, fewer children) and financial (stressed state budgets) concerns, as well as “family values” and respect for life.  A few times, I’ve gotten emails from people on this.  I can’t say what will happen in your state.  I can point out a link to your state’s applicable statutes, and possibly to news stories as to whether the issue has come up before your state.  I can’t tell you specifically if you could get in trouble by some particular action or inaction (like leaving a disabled parent alone).  I’ve also written, for example, about the “Annual Earnings Test” for social security benefits started early.  I can explain why I think it’s silly policy, and give all the references.  But I go get naïve questions.  No, I’m not a lawyer and I can’t say what will happen in a specific case.

This kind of question obviously comes up in other areas, like employment discrimination.  It used to come up with security clearances for LGBT people (things are much better now than they’ve ever been before – but watch the politics.)

In a blog – and in answers to comments – the line between policy or issue discussion and “advice” is almost non-existent, because consequences for real people can affect what public policies should change. And that includes North Carolina law.

I also have other blogs with movie and music reviews.  These couldn’t possibly be regarded as “advice”.  But one time I got a cell phone call from someone about piano lessons when he confused me with a concert pianist (whom I actually know pretty well) because we have similarly-styled blogs and he couldn’t remember who was who. 

What seems to be going on here is “gatekeeping”, as Google counsel William Patry says about the way copyright law has been used (see my Books blog, Jan. 3, 2012).  Or call it “turf protection.”  Licensed professionals in some areas (especially law) could fear that they will lose clients to bloggers, although the practical risk seems facetious.

The link for George Will’s story is here.

The Huffington Post also carries a story here.

The Institute for Justice is helping defend Cooksey, with a story here

Cooksey has filed a countersuit against the state called "Cooksey v. Futrell".  The Institute has a lot of discussion about the relationship between the First Amendment and licensure requirements.  Libertarians generally oppose licensing and zoning rules. 


There is some question, perhaps, about “offline private advice” if Steve actually charged for it.  But there are also other reports that the state objects when the advice is free, and that columns like “Dear Abby” could be illegal in NC if Abby doesn’t have a psychologist’s license, or my writings about Social Security rules or filial responsibility laws (or security clearances) are illegal (at least when read in NC, maybe in other states) if I’m not a lawyer.
   
What if Cooksey lived in another state but had visitors or “clients” in North Carolina?.  

The issue reminds me of the "debate" a few years ago over whether political blogging amounted to "off the books" campaign contributions.  

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Can actors be "responsible" for words they utter in controversial videos?


On ABC’s “The View” today (Wednesday, September 26, 2012), attorney Chris Cuomo interviewed an actress from the “controversial” film “Innocence of Muslims”.  She is suing the filmmakers, claiming the job was misrepresented to her as an adventure film (“Desert Warriors”) and that she did not know she was being fooled into making a propaganda film.

She says she has been targeted by extremists, and therefore believes the filmmakers are responsible for putting her in physical danger. The words she speaks as an actress are not hers, but she says she was duped into saying them.  She is trying to use the argument of misrepresentation to form a legal basis for forcing YouTube to remove the video completely everywhere, not just in a few Muslim countries.  She claims that the video is dangerous and inciting if it stays up anywhere.

Usually, when reputable production companies make movies, all actors are shown entire scripts.  I’m under the impression that SAG/AFTRA (the Screen Actors Guild) requires complete disclosure of the script if SAG union actors are used.  Of course, this sounds like good practice.  Actors would need to understand the entire film to do a good performance.  It used to be said that actors usually learn all the other actors’ lines as well as their own.  (See more about this with Sept. 7 posting, below.) 

But I’m concerned about the arguments that the plaintiff here is advancing, and I’m sure EFF and other free speech advocates will have plenty to say about it.  It’s disturbing to maintain that one person is responsible for someone else’s acts around the world, and it’s also specious to claim that other believe that the lines spoken by an actor belong to that person.  The case could set disturbing precedence for domestic films about controversial topics, such as harm to minors, abortion, or personality issues. 

Didn't the actress (who said she is also a pastor) suspect something in the lines she was asked to read?

ABC has not (as of yet) posted the Cuomo interview. 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Opinions vary on free speech issues with internationally provocative videos, and on "private" censorship


The Los Angeles Times has an important op-ed September 18, “Does ‘Innocence of Muslims’ meet the free-speech test”?  The link is here.

The concept refers to the idea that possibly the film should not even have been published online in the United States, because it could stir up violence overseas that could come back here.  The article suggests that violence within “two weeks” could be considered “Imminent”, and that asymmetry could be seen as increasing the risk. 

On the other hand, the analysis is complicated by the way speech is perceived and manipulated overseas by agitators in an uneducated population.  It’s pretty obvious that much of the violence had been plotted and would have happened anyway, and was simply looking for a trigger or excuse.

It's the immediacy of the possible threats that seems to be the main issue.  Moderate Muslim scholars have been pointing out that it is illogical to expect a faith to be respected around the world and then say it can never be parodied.  But that is a longer term observation. 

   
Electronic Frontier Foundation has a brief but important perspective September 20 by Jillian C. York, “YouTube’s censorship of anti-Islam video raises numerous questions about online free expression, link here.

EFF points out that the censorship is being carried out by private companies, without the redress of a constitutionally protected review system.  It's a kind of corporate "self-censorship" that we've seen debated  before (as with COPA a few years ago).  But of course private companies must respond to the desires of investors and practical security concerns, as well as the laws of countries overseas.  In a libertarian model, other private companies could come along with more lax standards.  (For example, Facebook is considered stricter in its TOS matters than most other social media companies.)

EFF tweeted this story Friday. 

Check also William Saletan on Slate, "Peace Be Upon You: Internet videos will insult your religion; ignore them", link

Saturday, September 22, 2012

"Facedeals" seems to have journalists running in circles (despite "reassurances")



Facebook seems to be running around in circles on the use of its facial recognition technology (and not just in Europe), and so are news journalists trying to explain what Facebook is or is not doing. For example, taste the word salad (and maybe imagine a recipe)  in this story in the New York Times by Somini Semgupta and Kevin J. O’Brien, here

Here’s another  tasty story trying to explain Redpepper’s Facebdeals on a site called “All Facebook” by David Cohen, here

There seem to be several companies and sites on the web called Redpepper (trademark issues, maybe?), but the Facebook page for advertising agency in Nashville hits a homerun with some “cute” men whose appearance, perhaps accidentally, corresponds to preppy gay stereotypes. (Check the link).
  
I suppose this matter about Facedeaks will go pretty viral. (although talk about it has been around for a month or so.)  This next video about it plays “Fireflies”:


Oh, yes, you do have to grant Facedeaks permission.

Seriously, I wonder how facial recognition technology can be dependable.  People can look alike, or not alike, in lower resolution images commonly found online.  It would take a certainly amount of resolution to measure facial components accurately.  Faces (and bodies) can look different in sunlight than in flash.  How would the presence or absence of beards or other hair affect recognition?.  Lookalikes (especially of Bill Clinton) are all too common. 

And for some people, it’s going to be problematical.  Some people say they cannot “afford” to allow others to have a visual record of their whereabouts.  Oh, the police, yes (especially in London).  But not other real people.
  
Related post: Aug. 19.  

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Internet companies form lobbying group on K Street to oppose future SOPA's and COPA's


Ceclia Kang reports in the Washington Post today (Thursday September 20, 2012) on p. A12, that major Internet companies (Facebook, Google, Yahoo!, Amazon, and probably some others like Netflix) are forming an Internet Association on “K Street” in Washington for lobbying against possibly dangerous federal laws that get proposed in Congress.

The article was reproduced on Benton with link here

The most recent visible battle concerned piracy legislation (SOPA and Protect-IP), and there are other concerns about international regulation (CIPSA) and surveillance. 

Earlier, Congress had passed COPA and the ancestor Communications Decency Act, both of which would be overturned by the Supreme Court or other (in the case of COPA) a complicated history of litigation, mostly based on First Amendment problems.

The recent furor of Internet videos “causing unrest” overseas, while probably a canard, at least raises the idea that “asymmetric” or “gratuitous” speech could be regulated in the future over national security concerns, and idea that sounds like giving in to terror or bullying. Congress could want to meddle in how Internet companies define their TOS rules (right now, Facebook's are the strictest).  Generally, service providers have been able to turn off access to unusually "controversial" content in countries with violence, without regulating speech domestically. 

Other concerns include regulating tracking of web visitors, because advertising business models may be predicated on the practice.

It will be interesting to see how Electronic Frontier Foundation works with this new group. Sometimes, even ordinary citizens are on both sides of an issue, such as with tracking, or possibly even piracy.

Again, a blogger like me is a “journalist” so it is difficult to see how I could be employed by a lobbying group, which must in some sense behave in an adversarial and not completely objective matter.  But I guess I would never have wanted to work in “public relations.”

Monday, September 17, 2012

Microsoft creates controversy by announcing Internet Explorer 10 will come with "do not track" preset


Microsoft has created quite a stir with its plans to release Internet Explorer 10, in conjunction (at first) with Windows 8, with the “do not track” option preset as a default, not requiring users to make a conscious decision to opt out.

Natasha Singer discusses this matter in her “Bright Ideas” column in the New York Times in the Sunday Business section (Sept. 16), p. 4, “When the privacy button is already pressed”, link here

It’s obvious that other browsers, like Chrome, Safari, and particularly Firefox, could feel similarly pressed.  Google Chrome says it will support voluntary “DNT” by the end of the year (PC world, here).

But Apache has warned Microsoft that its plan violated industry server settings standard, and Apache says it will override the setting, story by Jeff  Blagdo for “The Verge”  here

Some people fear that the development (of preset “do not track” options to stop data gathering of users) could unravel the entire business model upon which free Internet content lives.  There are others who say that the behavioral tracking is really not that critical for ad revenue.  Personally, I am concerned, because I can tell that most of what gets served to me depends on my own browsing habits, and I can understand the financial motives for big corporate sites (especially those trying not to use "paywalls") and eventually for service providers and even webhosting companies.  Even though bloggers like me don’t depend on the income from advertising and find it incidental, service providers eventually might not have the incentive to continue offering low-cost, essentially unregulated platforms.  So those of us who don’t care a lot about revenue are perhaps freeloading on the backs of companies (and people) that do – it’s like the childless freeloading on families with children!

I’ve been getting pressure from people (especially with respect to my “old” books) to become more aggressive at “selling” when I’m still more interested in developing new content and solving new problems.  


Saturday, September 15, 2012

YouTube says TOS rules vary according to laws and cultures of receiving countries, not those governing speakers


News reports since Friday indicate that YouTube has no plans to reconsider the legitimacy of controversial videos that composed “Innocence of Muslims” with regard to its TOS rules.

The company said that the video seemed to “attack” Islamic religious beliefs but not Muslim people.  One could probably wonder if a physically deceased (in the usual secular sense) religious historical figure (or prophet) would quality as a “person”. 

The Obama administration had reportedly asked it to review its own TOS rules with regard to the video, and many bloggers (including myself) had posed TOS questions.

The company does disable content in countries where it could be illegal according to specific local law (as with Nazi materials in Germany), where it knows there is extreme cultural sensitivity, or an unusual security issue.  Controversial content is often user-generated, and material acceptable in one community often is not in another.

The New York Times has a recent story on p. A10 of the Saturday Sept. 15 New York Times, by Claire Cain Miler, here

Michael Walsh has a similar, if shorter, story in the New York Daily News here

The company also noted that it could never prescreen all uploads, because of overwhelming user volume, an issue well known from the SOPA debate. 

Again, as noted Thursday, people (including those in mobs that weak governments have trouble controlling overseas) do not grasp the idea that people can speak  or broadcast themselves so publicly without government censorship, and expect that governments of other countries can be expected to restrain their citizens and companies.   (They may grasp what China does more easily that they can understand the way we value freedom of expression.) This could cause delicate political, economic or security issues down the road.  

Friday, September 14, 2012

"Six Strikes" rule (effectively) on illegal downloads, enforced by telecomms, may go into effect by end of 2012


The Center for Copyright Information now says that the consumer “education program” (which it says should not be called a “six strikes program”) will launch by the end of 2012.  Earlier reports had said it would launch this summer on July 1.

Consumers would get educational warnings and could be forced to watch videos or pass tests if they have a record of infractions, or face shutoff. 

One troubling idea could be that a home router could be hijacked, since the range of these devices can be hundreds of feet.  Passwords might not be strong enough. 

Cyrys Farivar has an article in Ars Technica (“not baseball”) here.
  
Whimsically, I recall a “one strike” rule in high school gym class softball back in the 1950s.  I actually “pitched” a “shutout” under those rules in May 1959.
    
There is an important story about a big defamation lawsuit against ABC News by a food company. That will be looked at soon.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Middle East sudden "blow-up" could have serious ramifications for user-generated Internet content in US. Remember SOPA?


The possible ramifications of the rioting in the Middle East in apparent response to a low-budget, apparently patently offensive film  (called “Innocence of Muslims”) available only on the Internet, are mounting and hard to predict.

The facts about the source of the film are changing rapidly, as are reports from the Middle East suggesting that the rioting might have been intended anyway by radical Islamists, and that they film played into their hands as an excuse.  That could well be the case, given precedence with several incidents (like the reprisals against author Salman Rushdie, the Jyllands-Posten Cartoon Controversy, and the film “Submission” by Theo Van Gogh, who would be assassinated). Have we seen this all before?

There have been calls that the US make it illegal to offend Islam on the Internet – obviously something that would violate our First Amendment.  But there could develop calls that service providers must screen postings for such offense – an idea similar to the challenge to downstream liability immunity we saw late last year with SOPA and Protect-IP.   As with SOPA, the Internet as we know it, with robust and free user-generated content, could not exist if service providers had to screen content (especially at home – they are already doing some of it abroad) to protect international stability.

It’s conceivable that radicals in the Middle East could try to leverage the US government or major corporate providers – with “threats” ranging from 70s-style oil embargos to cyber warfare or various other terror scenarios that have been discussed before.
   
A professor of Middle Eastern relations said to Anderson Cooper on his 360 show tonight that radical Islam – and indeed the culture of much of the middle East – does not believe it can afford to tolerate offense.  And by “offense” we mean something more than familiar epithets and blunt attacks, but any expression that seems to lack obvious benefit and is therefore interpreted as intended to provoke others into “eventual” harm.  But to some extent, in this psychological scenario, one can be “offended” only when one wants to be or finds it “politically advantageous”.

That happened to me when I was substitute teaching in 2005.  I told an intern teacher about my websites in response to a newspaper editorial. The next day, I got a call from the school assistant principal that she had been “offended”.  But it was really the school principal who was offended because my site had an experimental screenplay short (by me) of a teacher (resembling me) who is manipulated into “wrongdoing” by a student.  This is discussed here July 27, 2007.

Again, "Tolerate no offense. Tolerate no hostile purpose you can imagine in someone." That seems to be the mentality.

It extends, in some cultures, to families.  An outspoken person is seen as jeopardizing an entire family, or all those associated with him. 

Although the current incident relates to a (feature-length) “film”, it’s imaginable that it could happen with an online Kindle book (and Amazon did have a controversy a couple years ago after an Anderson Cooper report  -- Books blog entry Nov. 11. 2010) or even a single blog or blog post.  A “blogger journalist” who has set himself up to have to cover a wide range of topics (because of hidden relationships among the topics) could be perceived as instigating something merely for covering something else “gratuitously” when he has no obvious personal stake (as would be created by taking the "risk" of having or even adopting children).


The appearance of this (anti-Islam) “film” seems to be having the effect of a lighted cigarette thrown into a dry forest ( or, to use a smaller common trite metaphor, a “shout” in a crowded theater).  But on whose side did this start?  The “filmmakers”?  Or the radicals on their own?   It seems as though a lot of malevolent people know that young men with no jobs and no girlfriends are easily manipulated into "action". 

First picture: It looks "inciting" but actually it's an ad in the Washington DC Metro System (9/12/2012) from the American Lung Association. 

Second picture: An outdated camcorder, with some footage made in conjunction of the late Gode Davis's project "American Lynching" which ought to get rebooted.   

Update:  September 14

Commentators have noted that Mideast protestors complain that the United States government doesn't do enough to stop blasphempous films from going on the Internet or being exported.  Individuals in authoritarian countries don't seem to understand that individual people express themselves without the approval of government, even without any third party collaboration.  This fits into my concerns about downstream liability and SOPA.

This is a difficult concept for people who don't publish by themselves on the Internet to get.  At one time, back in 1997, I even thought that adult-id filters (as mandatory) could solve the problem of inappropriate content for minors, but by late 1998, after COPA had passed, I understood how the idea of spontaneous publication with the prospect that search engines will find you, really works.  
September 15:

The Washington Post today discussed YouTube's willingness to block the "offending film" (or excerpts from it) in specific countries, after the White House approached it about "terms of service" analysis.  "Clear and present danger" in a specific country can be a reason to block a particular item.  There is precedence for this, as pro-Nazi materials are blocked in Germany where they are illegal. 

Police have questioned one of the producers of the film about possible "supervised probation" violations in Internet use. 

However, protestors overseas seem to be implying that the US isn't "doing enough" in allowing the video to go out in the first place, and seem not to understand the separation between individual and collective speech. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Washington DC business sues (a few) "John Doe" posters on Yelp; controversy over Yelp's effect on small business online reputation continues


An exercise studio in the Dupont Circle area of Washington DC, Fuse Pilates, has filed a lawsuit against up to three anonymous people who allegedly posted malicious reviews of the restaurant on Yelp.  It was not clear if this was in federal court. The story appeared this evening on the website of ABC Affiliate WJLA-7  in Arlington VA, link here
  
Under Section 230, Yelp would normally be immune to liability for what its users post. It is not clear whether  Yelp could be compelled to submit the IP addresses of the people who posted, and it is not clear that these would necessarily identify individual people (what if they were in libraries?)

I have never heard of a lawsuit against anonymous posters on a review site before. 

I have never visited the studio  (I had heard the name before and had thought it was an eatery!) although I often visit the general neighborhood.  The company’s self-explanatory link is here

According to a Wall Street Journal story on Oct. 28, 2011 (by Geoffrey A. Fowler), a federal judge dismissed a class action lawsuit against Yelp.  The litigation had claimed that Yelp “extorts” businesses into paying for advertising on the site to get rid of or prevent unfavorable reviews.  The WSJ link (paywall) is here

On March 12, 2012, I wrote a story here about a report by Anderson Cooper of another site that allowed users to identify people as STD “carriers” and then tried to get them to pay to have their “online reputations” cleansed.  I have not seen Cooper report on the Yelp matter.

Nevertheless, the website for the litigation is still out there, called “Yelp Lawsuit”, here

A website called Pixsym has a discussion of the now controversial “Yelp extortion” complaints (“are they back at it again?”), saying “thousands of people each day are making buying decisions based on the very visible reviews at Yelp”, link here.

Now, I don’t personally pay much attention to review sites, and I don’t give weight to a few negative reviews.  I certainly would look at negative anonymous reviews with some “suspicion” and tend to disregard them.  Where I have noticed troubling negative comments are in the areas of customer service by ISP’s (web hosting services) and telecommunications companies. In a couple of cases, I’ve looked into the claims and determined that they were probably unfounded.  

I had discussed another similar story about Twitter and reputational problems for small businesses Monday.

Yelp has its own vdieo on its "Review Filter"


Picture: from the Washington Monument, Aug., 2007 (before the earthquake). 

"All Things" site helps visitors turn off tracking cookies


A site called “All things” actually offers an unusual guidance to visitors on disabling tracking cookies the first time the site is visited.  The information shows up in a yellow box that “pops” at the top of the web page (like a “thunderstorm”).   It will pop the first time you visit the site on any computer with a different browser.  The link is here.

It does recommend a few resources.  These include Spybot S&D (website url link), The Wall Street Journal Digital Network Registry from BlueKai (website url link) , Lavasoft Ad-Aware (link ) , and Webroot Spysweeper (which seems superseded now by Webroot Secure Anywhere).

I haven’t seen a commercial news site offer this much help in users controlling tracking, which may be especially important to some parents or to people in sensitive jobs. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

"Wikitravel" caught in struggle between "wiki volunteerism" and capitalist branding


The “Link by Link” column by Noam Cohen (sorry, that’s not Noam Chomsky) has a curious story on Sept. 10 in the New York Times, p. B3, about the legal and cultural conflicts between Internet publishing for profit, and Internet publishing for speech or just public service.

The story is titled “A travel site built on Eiki ethos now bedevils its owner”, link here

The site is Wikitravel (link). 

The “capitalist” owner is Internet Brands, a discussion of which will probably wind up on my Trademark Diluition blog later, link here

One problem for Internet Brands is that the Wikimedia Foundation (which operates Wikipedia) can use articles from Wikitravel to create its own free guide, since the content was licensed under Creative Commons.  So Internet Brands is trying to claim what amount to violations of non-compete agreements (tacit) and maybe trademark (and that sounds like a stretch – will look at again), after many of its staffers and freelancers moved to the Wiki operation. Internet Brands has been reported as going after the individual volunteers (to intimidate them personally) as well as Wikimedia. 

Wikimedia’s blog post on the possible litigation is here

Look at the responses and stay tuned. 

Monday, September 10, 2012

Visible local sites have trouble with fundraising; small businesses find that Twitter can affect their "online reputation"


A story by David Carr in the Business Day section of the New York Times on Monday,  in his column “The Media Equation”, titled “Innovation in journalism goes begging for support”, tells the story of Homicide Watch DC, a site that attracted hundreds of thousands of readers but could not easily attract more funding. It is run by a married couple that says it cannot maintain the site indefinitely without money, and is trying to raise money from Kickstarter.

The link is here

“Homicide DC” however is up right now and says it is accepting applications for reporting internships, here

The Washington Post today has a story by Mohana Ravindranath, p A9, “The tweets of a dissatisfied customer: social media used for complaints: Small businesses face a new PR challenge”, link here.  It’s easy for people to search Twitter for a site’s “dirty laundry”, and Twitter users with thousands of followers can inflict real damage to “online reputation”.   This issue is somewhat distinct from sites that allow consumers to rate businesses (like Angie’s List).  The link is here.
  
On March 12, I reported on a show by Anderson Cooper showing how such a service can be abused.

While I do discuss my customer service experiences with large companies (like Microsoft, Apple and Comcast), and while I do "review" media products (books, movies, TV shows), I don't get into rating or reviewing small businesses by name, partly because of my own concerns about online reputation, which I cover so often.   

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Ethical meditation today: Actions turn belief into faith, but belief itself matters


There was an interesting message at a “homecoming service” in Fairfax, VA today for the Metropolitan Community Church of Northern Virginia, delivered by interim pastor Onetta Brooks, a sermon titled “Faith Without Works”  (the New Testament reference is James 2:1-10. 14-17).

Dr. Brooks stated, “Belief becomes faith when validated by action”.  The Biblical reference asks “Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it?”  Words alone don’t do anything for a person in need.

Yet, experience says that people often need “belief” to get going in life.  We’ve heard a lot in the past few weeks  (from Mitt Romney’s campaign) about the practically mandatory missions for Mormon young men, which they pay for themselves.

Apparently the missions involve both service and proselytizing (the “words”), and that means directly approaching people and knocking on doors.  Most of us don’t like to do that today, and most of us don’t want to be approached all the time.  It seems like it’s impossible to take the time to respond to multiple calls for donations every day for so many specific causes, each representing some sort of “belief”. Of course, we've come to resent to disruption of the calls as technology has made us more "independent" and perhaps less interested in manually maintained "social capital". 

The track record for many men who experience these missions seems to be quite good.  It seems that people benefit from becoming committed to a cause, even if that cause is questionable to others on some intellectual level (and the Mormon “belief” system – made into faith by action – certainly seems questionable to “the rest of us” just on the basis of “evidence”).  Mitt Romney (whatever you think of his policies and of the securities industry in which he succeeded) certainly went on to do very well in life, while always tithing and, in personal ways, giving back on what had become for him, a faith – even most of the rest of us don’t believe it. If a young man believes something strongly enough, maybe spreading the word is part of his action -- as long as he also meets some real needs in the process. 

I’m reminded of a comment by social conservative Phillip Longman, with his 2004 book “The Empty Cradle” (Books blog, March 28, 2006), that today many adults have become too “self-absorbed” to have and raise children, or for marriage itself. That's a more fundamental "problem", perhaps, than failing to support the kids one has already sired. It's a kind of lethargy, diffidence, indifference, aloofness. 

Without a “belief” of some kind, there is a tendency to get lazy about one’s karma, and to think that virtue is already out there in other people, to be found already matured, rather than to be nurtured.  There is a tendency to think that just to respond to a need, from someone else who may be much less than perfect, doesn’t accomplish much.  It seems that only a belief that a shared purpose really matters can get someone (me at least) out of that sort of funk.  


Saturday, September 08, 2012

Academic cheating and plagiarism increasing even among high achievers


The New York Times has a story (by Richard Perez-Pena) about academic cheating on p. A13 of the Saturday September 8, 2012 paper, oddly not online at the NTY yet but reproduced elsewhere, as at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, here.

The title is “Studies find more students cheating, with high achievers no exception”.

I have reviewed David Callahan’s 2004 book “The Cheating Culture” (March 28, 2006 on the Books blog), and his arguments certainly hold.  Perhaps Perez-Pena hit the most salient point when he talked about parenting that doesn’t stress obedience and duty (or karma) but stresses visible success.

When I went to college, many schools had honor codes, and some had codes regarding failure to report as offenses on their own.  Honor courts were run by students.  And expulsion was a grave matter in the 1960s, in the days of a male draft and student deferments. Teachers would say that students who cheat were just "cheating themselves", but given the political climate then (and maybe now), a lot of people found that claim self-serving and incredulous. 

Cheating is more “relative” in the days of possible collaboration on the Internet, as the article points out.
And the parameters of plagiarism are hard to define.  When I went to GW in the 1960s, English professors took back copies of term papers after students got their grades, so that the papers could wind up in “fraternity files”.

Take-home exams were common in graduate school (in mathematics) in the 1960s, and I don’t recall concern over collaboration.
  
Sometimes I think a blog post, if it is trying to make an air-tight logical argument about something, as like a “tame home” left over from graduate school. 

Academic success is supposed to demonstrate ability to master an area.  Curiously, students master things quickly when they are motivated by self-interest.  Look at teenagers who has become super computer programmers as teenagers, and went on to create things like Facebook and Napster.  And they did these things on their own, without "help". 

When I substitute-taught, I noticed that some students wanted to do everything "in groups". 

Coordinated post: On Movies blog, review of "The Words" (about literary plagiarism) and "Shattered Glass" (about journalistic fabrication), Sept. 7.  

Friday, September 07, 2012

DCShorts Film Festival forums advise artists on how to network to get money (get involved!)


Today (Friday, September 7), DCShorts Film Festival held some free workshops of general interest to “artists”, even beyond film, at the Landmark E Street Theater in Washington DC.

Steve Bizal from NYC-based Media Services talked about a wide variety of complicated tax incentives offered by about forty states, the most visible of which is probably Louisiana, but Michigan (especially Detroit), Texas, Virginia, Maryland, Minnesota and North Carolina (as well as obbioulsy New York and California) all have interesting setups.  States began to offer incentives after so much film production moved to Canada.  Filmmakers can buy insurance, in some cases, against legislatures taking away rebates, some of which are transferrable, and some of which require offices and corporate structures in those states.  Some states may be interested more in television series than movies, because television sometimes offers more revenue because of long periods of many episodes.

The link for Media is here

Their industry news blog is here.

Then Kim Patton, from the Foundation Center, talked about grant writing.  Generally, the NAEA tends to process funds through smaller local foundations.  Grant writing is a well-known technical discipline that follows precise formats and uses certain software.  But the artists needs to have a lot of social and professional connections to have a realistic chance of securing a grant.  A resume of professional achievements, including volunteering and interning (“paying your dues”), is desirable.  This means that the artists generally would need some focus or specificity in his or her areas of interest (or social causes), which is somewhat more problematical for me now personally than it used to be (as in the past, much of my own activity had been driven by external issues, like AIDS, the “don’t ask don’t tell”, and eldercare).  I’ll get more into this from an ethical level in future posts.

The link for Foundation Center is here

The second hour covered the hiring of actors, particularly through SAG/AFTRA, which does offer a variety of low-budget agreements.  With short films, under 35 minutes, deferral of compensation to most actors is often possible.

One point that came up in audience questions was the willingness of the director or artist to be flexible as to the appearance of the actor (actress) hired for a part.  This would be an issue for a few parts in the film projects that I envision.  

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

School districts start using Facebook "professionally", guiding teachers and parents


Greg Toppo has an interesting article in USA Today, “should parents ‘friend’ their child’s teacher?”, with link here

While some school districts have forbidden social network friending among teachers and students, some are now encouraging the use of classroom accounts that don’t require friending, and some are setting up professional school accounts. 

This is significant because Facebook doesn’t allow anyone (including a teacher) to have a “double life” online.  You’re a teacher under your real name and that’s it. 

In the past, however, many teachers have simply put up course materials on school websites, without the controversy that direct use of modern social media can evoke. 

When I wrote my first book (published 1997) and created my giant behemoth of political controversy online in the late 90s, you could lead a double life, particularly if you stayed out of “management” in the workplace and functioned as an “individual contributor”, compensated for technical expertise.  That’s not too easy now.

Toppo has another article in USA Today Wednesday about the large increase in percentage of new teachers, particularly in lower grades.  That’s partly because more teachers have retired, some have been forced out because of stricter performance standards and some lost out to budget cuts. 

Teaching did not enjoy a good reputation as a “career” during my working news.  The idea of “career switching”, especially for older workers nearing retirement age, started to get promoted around 2003 or so, in the environment created by “No Child Left Behind”, but it has been undermined by the economy and teacher layoffs following the strain on school districts partly due to recession and the financial crisis of 2008. 

The need for teachers seems to be greater with underprivileged, disadvantaged, or special needs students, or in lower grades in general.  Many professionals who would consider a career switch might have preferred to get into the AP area.  This, along with the complexity of licensure requirements, is an area in which outplacement firms should have developed expertise sooner than they did.  And they would also have to follow the whole issue of social networking and online reputation and how that can affect teachers – and the picture is changing quickly.