Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Guardian reports on NSA tool "XKeyscore"; is it really "Big Brother"?

The Guardian is reporting that an NSA system called “XKeyscore” has the capability of monitoring almost everything  user does on the Internet.  This could include keystrokes (hence private emails or restricted social media posts) and search arguments.  The NSA says it does not normally use this capability against domestic Americans, unless there is some kind of connection to an international terrorist or enemy.
The Guardian story by Glenn Greenwald is here

Apparently the details of this application were leaked by Edward Snowden.
There seems to be little supervision on an analyst’s deciding to use the tool, however.  It would be possible for an analyst to use it in bad faith, out of a personal vendetta.  Somehow the tool can end-around even the procedures that are supposed to be part of FISA.

Tech Feed has a thorough explanation on YouTube of how XKeyscore works.

 Much of the enormous volume of data is kept only briefly.  It would be possible, for example, to identify every  user who had visited a particular site (like this blog) in a recent time period, and correlate with other activity or searches.

Although the practical risk to an average Internet user is low, it’s possible or conceivable that the tool could lead to an individual’s receiving unusual scrutiny from law enforcement, in combination with metadata factors that “look bad”. 

And I recall writing a program called "BigBR" when I worked for Univac in the early 1970s, to monitor programmer system use.  

Later Wednesday, CNN reported that NSA says that XKeyscore is used only with data already lawfully collected; it doesn't collect new data that wasn't there before.  NSA says this is an analysis issue, not a data collection issue.

I would have been a good NSA or CIA analyst.  I do like to connect the dots!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Manning and Snowden: actually, anyone could "leak"

The news of Bradley Manning’s acquittal on “aiding the enemy” charges in his courts-martial hit the Twitter-verse first, before the convictions on all the “theft” charges were known.

I heard comments on CNN that most classified information is over-classified and probably is classified for political rather than genuine security reasons.  Certainly the “Collateral Murder” video released by Manning (of the “friendly fire” casualties in Iraq did not seem to have any real national security value and had been kept secret to protect the negligent.

But it is true that a great deal of information from informants on the ground is important for national security, and certainly for bringing some stability in many areas of the world, like Afghanistan and now Syria.  When real secrets can be leaked, sources are compromised and informants in “enemy territory” are put in jeopardy, and will be less willing to share information in the future.

While Manning thought he was whistleblowing on misconduct in the Armed Forces, Snowden thinks he is whistleblowing on the way metadata on Americans can be gathered.  And the “nothing to hide” argument can fail any person, because any person can be set up and framed the appearance of other information around some particular incident  (See my Internet Safety posting on July 23, 2013 to get an idea of what could happen to any “innocent” home Internet user.) 

 There is something important, in my mind, to what Assange, Manning and Snowden all say.

One of the issues that I wonder about is indeed the responsibilities of the ordinary computer user or novice blogger.   For one thing, a home user who does not follow property security might indeed be construed as “aiding an enemy”, although apparently not in the sense that Manning was prosecuted.  This sort of talk was common after 9/11.   Another issue is whether a home user who (“accidentally”) receives classified information from a leak when he or she is not cleared and republishes it is committing a crime.  The laws say that she is, although prosecutions of people not actually employed in handling the classified  information almost never happen.   Technically, I am probably violating the law by presenting an embed (legally “distributing”) Manning’s 40-minute YouTube video on my “Films on major threats to freedom” or “cf” blog on April 7. 2010, even though common sense says that my doing so does not harm the country. I don’t think any jury would convict or even indict me just for this.  The embed still works.  I do “worry” about some other embeds or postings for various reasons (like people’s privacy, copyright, reputation, even provocation) but  somehow this video now seems completely innocuous  Tens of millions have seen copies of it.

I have several times received information which I have not published but passed on to authorities.  At least one of these communications had to do with the previous background (in the 1980’s) of Osama bin Laden, sent to me in 2005.  I did spend some time on the phone discussing this with the FBI (I’m surprised that they talked about this on the phone, although they almost bought me a train ticket to come to an office in Philadelphia).   Most of the other communications occurred within the first eighteen months after 9/11, and one of them may have been a warning of a possible overseas attack in SE Asia that was later prevented.  Ordinary citizens who are active in writing about controversy do sometimes attract tips, and this can become a significant issue.
I do take quite seriously that there are some domestic attacks that could happen and could be quite devastating to domestic society (and the value of my remaining years on this planet) if they did.  I think that one of the answers is proper investment in infrastructure, particularly the hardware of the power grid as well as security of cyberspace.   Open discussion and “connecting the dots” in the policy issues is quite appropriate.  However publication of information about some particular vulnerability or specific threat may not be.  I do believe, to some extent, in the maxim, “See something, say something.”  But don’t always broadcast it.
Manning, as we all know, was gay; and it’s fortunate that his anomaly did not forestall ending “don’t ask don’t tell”.   I like to find more convincing gay or “rainbow” role models. 

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Libertarian political views don't preclude a "moral assessment" of how people meet the real needs of others

We often hear the argument, particularly with respect to the health care debate and “Obamacare” that government doesn’t the “right” or responsibility to take money from a healthy person to pay for an less healthy person’s medical problems.  We hear that there is no “right” to health care, only the right to purchase it on an open market.
These libertarian arguments do resonate with me to a point, when we get into discussions about protecting individual rights from government, as in my two DADT books.

But there is a deeper question, as to what we “should” do for others , or should not do because of their downstream effects on others, beyond our horizon.  I think of these as moral questions.  It is true, that we want to do things for people we love, so posing this as a moral question raises questions about why we don’t “love” more openly, and why we look at our “choice” of intimate others as expressive activity – which itself can have cumulative influence on the lives of others (not always good). 

Still, there are things that have to get done for a society to sustain itself  (especially expanded respect for human life, as medical opportunities increase when social and family support is possible).  There are some things that will become hidden or unseen burdens on others if we don’t do our share.   What these things are, will vary from one person to another, and from one period or place of history to another. I can induct principles about these matters from pressures that have been put on me in my own life.
So political discussions of equality, while necessary, do seem to skim over the deeper idea that we are should be “equally” or comparably exposed to the possibility of “sacrifice” even though not everyone will experience it to the same extend.  We have to share the risk of unfairness and adversity.  That’s a bigger part of the “equality” debate. 

The military draft (during the Vietnam era) provides a lot of material for this discussion. 

Friday, July 26, 2013

No, I am not a gadget, and I'm not a lawyer either

I thought I would just note a few reminders, given a few emails I have gotten recently.

First, I always view emails from “new” senders with some skepticism, because of the obvious spam and phishing problems that have been out there for years now.

I do correct broken links, if the sender tells me the exact url that I should use today.  But I’ve gotten requests to fix broken links when I wasn’t told which day or posting the link was in (just the blog and month), or wasn’t given a working new link or correct information on where the material is now.

I suspect that as an individual blog remains out for years and older posts stay up (same with old websites), links to content put out there by organizations become obsolete, and organizations are naturally less nimble in stay online or keeping their own access points up than are people.

I’ve also gotten an email or two asking for legal assistance.  No, I am not an attorney and I don’t have a license to practice law, and I’ve never said that I do.  I don’t understand how someone thinks I can do something about their own debt or credit score. 

I have written and published on Blogger since early 2006.  My other sites are “”, “” and “”.   The first of these is the most important, and much of the material there was on “” (an abbreviation for “High Productivity Publishing”, which I used as the imprint for my 1997 DADT book) until mid 2005, when I ditched hppub (the only domain name I have stopped using).  “Bill” is the nickname for “John William”, and the “johnw” site was mainly for the mainframe IT resume, not in much use right now.  The “doaskdotell” site is on a Windows server platform, and “billboushka” (much smaller and experimental) is on a Unix platform.  Until 2006, I also had a java component, until the company supporting it failed. 

There could be more changes coming (I know I’ve said that before), and more details will appear soon. 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Substitute teaching and special education: sudden deja vu when "on the road"

Today, on a little day road trip, I stopped for dinner in Fredericksburg, VA in an Italian restaurant downtown, and got into a chance conversation with a special education teacher. 

It seems that when I go "on the road", the karma from my months as a substitute teacher keeps coming back, with plenty of deja vu. 
I told him about my experience as a substitute teacher some years back when I got special education assignments despite it not being in my “profile” (see the posting here July 25, 2007).  He said that school systems often do try to get subs to take special education assignments before the subs understand what is involved, and fear that not many would take them.  But he did not want schools to do this with any of his classes.

I showed him, on my iPad, my review (Books blog, July 4) of Kristine Barnett’s book “The Spark” about her autistic son, who blossomed with his gifts and was able to go to college at age 15 and study physics.  There’s also the story of basketball player J-Mac  (March 18, 2008), who appeared on Larry King Live o CNN and seemed fine as a young adult.   These great outcomes are rare.

The moral quandary comes when someone who is “different” and somehow challenged (physically or neurologically) but can excel in his own niche in life quite publicly, understands the sacrifices of others to give him or her the opportunity.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

"Eusociality" and baseball voodoo: The Washington Nationals need to take up chess (to turn around their performance)

In his book “The Social Conquest of the Planet” (Books blog, May 1, 2012), Edward O. Wilson talked about rooting for local sports teams as an example of eusociality, of social capital, as a process related to essential altruism.

It seems relevant right now  The Washington Nationals, the pride of baseball last year finishing over .600 and winning the NL East, despite stumbling in a tie-breaker game of the playoffs in the ninth inning, now are playing like a minor league team, dropping the first five in a row at home after the All Star Break.  Despite the return of their regular position players, they have actually suddenly gotten worse.  This season could spiral into unprecedented disaster, as humiliating as ever. The team has stopped functioning.

In big league sports, especially baseball and football, teams can go up and down very quickly.  The Detroit Tigers won only 43 games in 2003, but have been a powerhouse in the AL for several years now.
And some commentators, like Malcolm Gladwell, have begun to challenge collegiate sports (football, at least) on safety and public health grounds (and bad karma), that could make the entire world of sports unravel (Issues blog, July 21).
Plus, baseball (like cycling and other sports) has been hit by doping scandals.  The Nationals have stayed clear of it as far as we know, but recently a star for the Milwaukee Brewers was suspended for the rest of the 2013 season.  How much does all this mean?

One could even see the doping as part of “The Cheating Culture” so well described by David Callahan in his 2004 book (Book reviews, March 28, 2006).  Just today I picked up the latest issue of “Wired” with cover story “Celeb Bill Hader comes clean: “I’m a Cheater: 37 hacks, cheat codes, and workarounds guaranteed to make you a winner”.  Things like claiming you’re indigent when going to the hospital (if you aren’t). Don’t follow the rules, just don’t get caught.

But my own well-being in life has often tracked to how “my own” major league sports teams did.  I had a great spring my senior year of high school, and the “new Senators” in 1961 started out well, at 30-30 when I graduated.  Then they got swept in Fenway Park (blowing a seven run lead in the bottom of the ninth with two outs) and never recovered the rest of the year (losing 70 of their last 101 games). I had a good summer, but would have my disastrous expulsion at William and Mary that fall.  While I was done there, the Redskins lost every game, too (including a 53-0 loss to the New York Giants).  The only game the Redskins won in 1961 was against the “new” Dallas Cowboys.

1963 was the absolute worst year for the “new Senators” (they finished a horrible 56-106, and lost a makeup doubleheader at home to the "Pascual-rich" Minnesota Twins 10-1 and 14-2 the day after Martin Luther King's March on Washington!). It was not a good year for me, either.  My parents “bailed me out” of the wrongful thing that had happened at WM, but I had to start a wage-earning job that summer at the Bureau of Standards, while going to school part time, and became even more socially isolated.  It was not a good time for me.  I wound up dropping organic chemistry after a lab accident, and becoming “just a math major” – but eventually that turned out well.
I’ve had my own good and bad periods as an individual performer.  That was true in tournament chess, where I got pretty good while I was in the Army, and then again in the early 1980s while living in Dallas.  A chess player’s opening repertoire is like a baseball team’s starting pitching staff;  his endgame is like the bullpen.  Playing White is like playing at home.

It was true in academics sometimes.  My first semester in grad school was rough, I made a record low “D” on a partial differential equations midterm (but got a B in the course anyway at the end).  
Yet, when we become sports fans, we put our “happiness” in the hands of others who perform in our stead.   That’s an essential part of “socialization”.  The Washington Nationals are performing incredibly badly right now, and I don’t know why.  I’ve even shared tweets with a couple of them (a couple are practically neighbors in Arlington).  It hasn’t helped.

I think that the management and players alike need to take up chess.  Start with  (Arlington Chess Club) GM Larry Kaufman’s opening repertorie (aka pitching staff).  Maybe if I got to playing chess again more and actually started winning (rated games), it would amount to baseball voodoo.  I can do something about that.  
(Note: Misspelling in URL direct title is a typo error.)

Update Thurs AM:  Will the Nats get out of their funk today?  Hope so. 

Monday, July 22, 2013

New York Times remains unconvincing on "do not track"; maybe Washington Post's "Switch" blog will take up the business model issues

Sunday, the New York Times took a fairly strong position supporting “Do Not Track” in an editorial, called “Don’t Track Us”, link here.

I was a bit bemused by the way the editorial tries to have it both ways as to how advertisers could sell effectively to customers who wish to opt out of all tracking with straightforward settings (preferably set in browsers by default) that are not easily subverted by advertisers with clever workarounds.  It suggests that Twitter has a solution, but then says that the user can still opt out of it.

We’re only beginning to grasp the “trade-offs” implicit in our Internet policy decisions.  “Free entry” (or low barrier-to-entry) by novice authors or writers does add to the depth of debate and does tend to keep established corporate and political (and even familial) interests “honest”.  Anderson Cooper’s pet phrase really belongs to the newbie speakers, not just to CNN.  Yet the speech comes at a price: lax responsibility for it (backed up by various immunities to downstream liability for pocketed providers), with the result that in various ways some people become victims to various evils, whether piracy, cyberbullying, reputational damage, or sleuthing and stalking, and possibly, in extreme cases, being set up.  To some extent, modern social media has softened the issue by tying the distribution of content preferably to people known to the speaker in advance.

I share the concern of many people, however, that “surveillance” by both “private” commercial and government interests can, while usually innocuous, in extreme cases create dangerous situations for some people, based on “appearances”.   I’ll take this up soon when I review another book by GWU law professor Daniel Solove.
I see that the Washington Post is going to introduce a  new tech blog, “The Switch, headed by Timothy B. Lee, who came to the Post from Ars Technica (and whom I met at “the U” when living in Minneapolis 1997-2003 and promoting my own DADT book), story here. I hope The Switch will take up this “business model” question, posed by “do not track”. in detail soon. 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Rolling Stone's long article on "Jahar" Tsarnaev leaves some troubling questions open; Picture is no problem for me; Tamerlan was a "composer" (??)

I’m a bit neutral about Rolling Stone’s use of an “attractive” picture of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev ("Jahar") on its cover, as I am about a Boston cop’s release of images of him bloodied when he was captured.  Yes, this was all against police department policy, and, yes, the public needs to know.
But the article by Janet Reitman, “Jahar’s World”, long and in five segments online, is important.  On balance, I think CVS and other retail outlets would do the public a better service by resuming sale of the print copy.  I would have no problem with paying for a print copy (and you all know that I support people “paying” for content and not expecting it all to be free).
Reitman gives a long biographical sketch of both Tamerlan and “Jahar”.  I did not know that Tamerlan was a “pianist and composer” (on p. 3 of the online essay).  What music he “composed” I have no idea.  I circulate quite a bit in both the classical and now movie and entertainment music world, and I had never heard of this (and think I should have).  It certainly sounds like an anomaly.  In any case, Tamerlan’s temperament, to move into boxing and outright physical competitiveness and combativeness, is certainly not typical of males in the art and music and “geek” world as I know it, even among young men who look “physical” otherwise.
More unsettling is the “motive” for the attacks, or the lack of one.  The article suggests that both men, like many (as she says) immigrant boys, felt a need to belong to the “mother country” culture.  Islam was as much a place to belong as a belief system.  America (or American and western culture) had become the “enemy” of their tribe.  A lot of this traces back to the economic troubles both brothers had during the economic downturn of recent years, which they could have viewed as related to the “evils” of excessive capitalism and self-indulgence.
What is striking about the attack at the Boston Marathon in April 15 is how personal it was.  The devices were set off in a crowd, next to individual people, some children but mostly young adults in their own primes, whom the brothers could see and possibly target even as individuals (for immediate maiming and disfigurement as I would see it, as horrifying as this sounds).  I wonder if that aspect or possibility has been investigated thoroughly, by both federal (for terrorism prosecution) and local Massachusetts authorities.  That suggests a grievance that can become personal and directed at specific people.  But that does not comport with the nebulous idea that the acts are “payback” because Muslims die overseas from American military action (or perhaps because of Zionist West Bank settlements).  Okay, we can get into the “friendly fire” abuses related by Wikileaks, Manning and others if we want (especially from Iraq); but the overwhelming quantity of violence in Muslim lands on Muslims is vented by other Muslims.  So none of this makes any sense.  Did the brothers want to make a statement about western self-indulgence, or economic and social inequality on a personal level, perhaps in a Maoist line of thinking>  The article doesn’t suggest anything like that and really doesn’t convey much of a sense of ideology at all.  The violence of their own rampage the early morning of April 19 was indeed shocking. 
Jahar’s tweets (even his thumbnail) and demeanor that last week are indeed troubling in other ways.  Did he really feel like he lived in the shadow of his older brother because he looked less imposing physically in some ways, as the article hints?
Even so, the real motives seem to deserve more investigation, which seems to have only just begun.  

Update: July 23

The New York Times has a moderate editorial on the Jahar picture and story in "Judging Rolling Stone by its Cover",  July 18, here

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Has the "deep hyperlinks" issue returned?

Interesting things happen with blogging.  When I came home tonight, I had a bizarre email request to remove a link from a 
movie review file for April 2011, but the person did not say which film, and I could not find it.  

Links become obsolete all the time in the blogosphere.  When a link no longer resolves, it just gets a 404, not found HTML error.  Happens all the time.  Perhaps it suggests to the visitor that the site linked isn't that stable or permanent and leaves  bad impression.  But that's the breaks (as they used to say in Army Basic).  That's how it works.  It's long been accepted that "deep linking" is the online equivalent of a footnote on a term paper in the physical world (of school). 

Of course, I'm happy (within reasonable volume) to update URL's with new ones when informed by the source. 

Actually, in 2009 Electronic Frontier Foundation and Ars Technica reported on a preposterous case about linking and trademarks (really?) involving BlockShopper, and Jones Day, here. I'll have to look at this one some more. 

I thought this had been settled with the Ticketmaster case in 2000 (Wired story), but I'll look again some more. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Reprisal, of the "we need each other" and "we need God" theme, because things can happen

Elizabeth Bernstein has an interesting psychological article on p. D1, “Personal Journal”, of the Tuesday, July 16, 2013 Wall Street Journal, “I’m OK, You’re Needy: Why So Many Demand So Much?”

Remember that “I’m OK, You’re OK” during the 1960’s?

Despite the tone of the article, some people would say that our problem is that people don’t accept interdependence when they need to.  (See March 13, 2011 here.)

The same page has a headline piece “The Decline in Male Fertility” by Shirley S. Wang.  Later marriages could be added to the list, leading to the discussion of “demographic winter”.

Monday, July 15, 2013

We all pay for each others sins and problems

I note, in my own mind, as a reaction to the Not Guilty verdict on George Zimmerman in Sanford FL, for the shooting death of Trayvon Martin in a tragic and unnecessary encounter in February 2012, that we often do pay for each other's sins, and when we do, it's very real to us.  It's easy to see how profiling fits into this idea.

There are so many other examples.  Yesterday I wrote a blog post about how parents making what we know are innocent pictures of family intimacy are targeted for prosecutors for political purposes, because they're easier to go after than real "predators".

We all pay for crime committed by "others."  Sometimes it can make us less than we were. Some on the far left, like Noam Chomsky, see street and property crime as a kind of class warfare, and it's easy to see where he is coming from.  That sort of thinking turnings victims into casualties.  Imagine that thinking when pondering the recent tragedy in Boston of domestic terrorism.

And we all pay for the environment, and for the consequences of not taking care of it.  And we pay for not taking care of our infrastructure.

Yesterday, on another blog, I wrote a post about the possibility of huge and long-lived power loss for parts of the country from extreme space weather.  If it happened, it might the end of hyper-individualism and personal autonomy as we know it, and a call for "radical hospitality"

I know the Christian religious argument, as to why we need a Savior.  There is no way not so sin,  That's almost a tautology.

Picture: Vietnam, Smithsonian Museum of American History

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Asking people to make contributions in "your name": the illegal practice still goes on

“Would you donate in another’s name?”  That’s the eye-catching title of an op-ed in the Washington Post Saturday, p. A13, by Colbert I. King.  The online title is narrower in focus, “Straw donors are part of D.C.’s corruption problem”, link here. 

Colbert outlines some situations, that are illegal under federal election law and District of Columbia law.  Your boss (or a “friend”) asks for permission to use your name for a political contribution.  Your boss hands you a money order for a political contribution and asks you to fill in your name.  Or your boss asks you to make a campaign contribution in your name, and reimburses you.

I guess this goes on a lot.

When I was working a “regular IT job”, employers generally had PAC’s, but I would not participate in them in any way, because I was writing books and later blogging on my own.  As I have covered before, I even considered it questionable to continue working in an company that focused on selling life insurance to military officers once I became publicly active in opposing “don’t ask don’t tell” in the 1990’s.

The idea of being asked to use your name on a political contribution is shocking to someone like me who values the independence of his own voice.  That was an issue that came up in the COPA trial in 2006.

The story also catches my eye because a decade ago there was controversy over whether bloggers could be considered as (inadvertently) making campaign contributions, which triggered a major incident for me (see July 27, 2007).

Friday, July 12, 2013

Apparently, WGA union writers can't work on non-union shows or movies

While I’m used to writing what I want (whether blogging of self-publishing books), I see that in Hollywood, others (whom I blog about in reviews) don’t always have the same freedoms.

Variety reports that the Writers Guild of America East (WGA) has filed charges against Joan Rivers for violating union rules by “showrunning” and writing for the show “Fashion Police”, a non-union effort produced by the “E! Network”.  I have not yet seen an episode of the show but will track it down later. 
Apparently, union rules prohibit member writers from working on non-union projects. She will face a “trial board”.  What happens if they produce their own videos (like YouTube, Vimeo) non-union?
The Variety story by film reporter Dave McNary is here

I don't know if a similar rule exists for SAG,  A film is either SAG or non-SAG, but can SAG members work on low-budget, non-SAG films, or make their own?  Does anyone know?  I'm a little surprised if this is really an issue.  Unions and guilds don't always serve "liberty" interests.
When I entered a screenplay “Baltimore Is Missing” in the Project Greenlight contest in 2004, I filed a copy with WGA West.  I don’t think that obligates me further (I hope). 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Florida accidentally bans computers and smartphones in trying to stop Internet cafes that allow gambling (LOL)

Here’s a story about government running amok.  Florida was trying to shut down Internet cafes that were functioning as unlicensed casinos, but passed a statute that would seem to ban all personal computers (maybe even mainframe) and smartphones instead..  Kelly Hidgkins has a story in Infomobile, here.  

I saw the story on CNN (with cideo, by Heather Kelly, here) yesterday as I was playing with an iPad with slow Extended response in a luncheon cafĂ© in Harpers Ferry, WVa, when I was driven inside by a thunderstorm (with fifty “kids”).  That’s the second time I’ve felt like a sub in that town.  The story was amusing (“LOL”), to say the least, more maybe not.  The “kids” won’t be denied their toys.

Florida’s law was written overbroadly, apparently to include anything that could possibly be used as a gaming device.
The federal government and many states have tried to prohibit most online gaming, the status of which is explained in Wikipedia here.   New Jersey seems to have made some progress in legalization.

When I gave up my domain name “” in 2005, and moved everything over to “”, an online poker company took over the domain name.  Soon, I found that incorrect links would still go to that site, which might have presented legal problems for me (but I never found any real evidence that it actually did).  

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Could I blog for the establishment and become "professional"?

Okay, tomorrow is my 70th birthday, at around 6 AM. 
As my audience numbers fall somewhat (compared to what they were during the crisis months of 2008, for instance), partly because of the success of “likeonomics” in social media, I do wonder, could I “join forces” with a larger party and practice “real” journalism.
I’ve said that I won’t wear other people’s uniforms or huckster other people’s causes, or (right now) give endorsements (disguised as news), I can indeed finding it a good thing to be affiliated with a Wikipedia, a CNN, a Huffington Post, maybe even a Washington Post Wonkblog.   These outlets (and I know conservatives will disagree) do practice thorough journalism and cover the issues.   (Anderson Cooper’s phrase “Keeping them Honest” has kindred meaning to “Do Ask Do Tell”, and, for that matter, “Connecting the Dots”.)  The advantage of affiliation is stable infrastructure.  You don’t have to “worry” as much about things breaking in your own stuff, especially during travel.
But the only way I would have a consistent approach to such an arrangement is to complete the work I’m in the middle of.  All the components – the non-fiction, stories, novel, music, planned  major video, and screenplays – matter.  I have to stay in my own driver’s seat and not get distracted or diverted. I can’t be pestered about “numbers” (whether dollars or likes), or “popularity”.
People may ask, why can’t you give us the numbers (last post);  is it because you don’t “like people” enough?  This is a disturbing blowback.  Do I enjoy just “helping someone” and having some sort of emotional interchange?  I know the sense in which others experience and expect that.  I was never welcome in those sorts of circumstances before, so I haven’t been very welcoming.  That would leave me with subordination to the aims of others, to “fitting in” because I couldn’t learn to be socially competitive.  That isn’t very acceptable to me. 
Yet, I can imagine scenarios where I can do people some good, more personally.  But they have to involve my own life pursuits – including chess, music, publishing. 
One of the most important things I can do is to get my music organized (on Sibelius, and online) so that others could work with it if something “happens” to me suddenly. 

But I’m at three score and ten. 

Sunday, July 07, 2013

"Cookie-cutter marketing" directed at me (constantly) is a sign of sustainability issues for Internet business models

As I’ve related, I’m planning to offer some new media through the more “established” system.
I wanted again to take a moment to note that I get a lot of inquiries, by email and phone calls, that seem, almost desperately, try to goad me into “monetizing” my work more vigorously. 
My world has many landscapes or components.  I get communications from parties concerned about only one aspect of media development and sales, from people who probably get paid largely by commissions, and pitch what sounds like “cookie cutter marketing” that seems totally irrelevant to my circumstances.  It honesty takes a lot of time to take the calls and get the parties to let go.  Furthermore, I do not need to be “checked up on”.
The world sees an end-product.  Since I go solo, there's no allowance for disruptions, especially those caused by infrastructure problems, weather, or worse.  It's turnabout.  It's just like when I "scope" someone, I see and end result.  I don't see the bad luck.  I know that's a "moral" problem, but the culture I lived in closely has been that way my whole life.  I've seen it isn't always like that elsewhere.

 I do understand that sales people must live in a world where their own product or service is “all that matters”.  But that’s not how it is with content developers.  It’s the content that goes out the door!
For example, I sometimes get pitched “marketing packages” for the two “Do Ask Do Tell” non-fiction books out there right now – the most recent one dates to 2002. Obviously this material is dated and needs to be updated. The blogs do that, of course (as does the old “” site, still up), but the updating does need to happen in a more commercial setting with a more fixed, permanent format.

As for the need for generating numbers by winning converts, I was particularly impressed by the pitch, when I was invited (without my solicitation) to an interview to become a life insurance agent in 2005, on how much emphasis there is on a "fast start" in developing numbers of leads online -- in the days before "friends", "followers" (stalkers?), and "likes". But soliciting and recruiting people is not what I am all about.  I guess I would fail as a Mormon missionary. I'm no Mitt Romney (or Jack Kennedy, Lloyd Bentsen or Dan Quayle).       
When deploying content covering a wide range of intra-related material, there are other things that happen, too.  On my review blogs (Movies, etc.)  I lump together media created by people largely from the commercial world, often working under different rules, like those involving guilds or unions.   Everything is in the same playing field, for my purposes;  occasionally visitors may not understand that if they look at postings out of context (of many of them). 
I wear two hats when it comes to the “it’s free” question.  I think that many items (like YouTube videos) that are “free” now could be monetized, and sold (in an Amazon Cloud or iTunes like service) for something like $.99 (including both video and music, which mp3 alone doesn’t do).  In other cases, placing older feature films on rent for something like $3.99 on YouTube is a good idea and ought to happen more often.  Short videos need to be purchased (not rented) in the iTunes-market philosophy, because people want to see them repeatedly.

But I also fought vigorously the proposals like SOPA and Protect-IP that generated the outrage around the end of 2011. The main reason was that SOPA particularly could have gutted the “downstream liability” protections (especially DMCA Safe Harbor) that make the modern “low barrier to entry” possible.

 But I think that in practice, part of the “threat” that the establishment fears is low-cost competition from content creators who for whatever reason don’t feel pressured to get the same financial results as everyone else.  I know this is a sensitive matter with some of the guilds. (A few years ago, Mark Cuban said as much bluntly in response to my comment on his BlogMaverick).   There have been predictions of the death of a lot of Hollywood as we know it, and that big movies might become “special occasions” with Broadway-like ticket prices.  (Oh, what happens when they film “Book of Mormon”?)  All of the concern about "free content" and low-cost deployment comport with Jaron Lanier's concerns about the effect on the middle class. 

The business models that made the “free entry” world that we know today result in large part from downstream liability protection for big corporate service providers – which some people disagree with because of the “deep pockets” theory – and from a business model predicated on consumer willingness to interface with advertising and – as is controversial now – to allow some information to be collected in exchange for “free”.  It’s true that in the past three years or so, the model has been enriched by “Likeonomics”, directing content and ads toward specific friends and followers.   I wonder how long we can sustain all of this. .  

Friday, July 05, 2013

National service, jury duty can raise questions about social media and "free content"

On July 4, I wrote on my “Bill Retires” blog about a proposal to introduce “voluntary national service” (Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s proposal) that would be “expected” of young adults 18-28, a minimum of one year.  I questioned whether a smiliar expectation could be made of fit retirees.
Certainly, such a development would cause issues for recent graduates, who need to work in paying jobs to pay off student loans.  It could even affect sports teams (it was reported that Washington Nationals sensation Bryce Harper, now 20, had thought about working as a volunteer fireman).  If it’s really expected, no one should be privileged enough to get out of it.  There's even an ego thing here, as some people used to being in the limelight (or in settings where egotism really works) find the tables turned on what is expected of them as members of a sustainable community or culture. 
It could also cause issues in social media and regular web hosting.  “National service” would probably lean leaving home and living in a quasi-military fashion, likely overseas, often without access to the Internet.  Social media use might have to be forbidden for security or public relations reasons in some settings .  So some real “sacrifice” of self-promotion (almost necessary these days) would occur.
There would also be issues in the “free content” world.  Since it’s not normally held to standards and doesn’t have regular support (from a media company), it could be left fallow when people serve.  Companies might have to adopt policies that “self-promoted” content be taken down (or made private, with limits on numbers of contacts) if the authors were going to be out of touch for more than 30 days or so and there were no other responsible or accountable party agreeing to maintain the site. 
Of course, the same problems come with hospitalizations, death.  Or here’s a good one: jury duty.  Can you imagine being an alternate on a jury for a controversial trial and being sequestered for months?  I;m not sure if the Zimmeran-Martin jurors in Flordia are forbidden all Internet and social media use, or only use related to the trial.  Residents in northern Virginia can get called for difficult terrorism or “espionage” (like Snowden) trials held in the federal court in Alexandria, VA. 

Picture: Capitol Fourth; the bandstand didn't resolve into focus. 

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

"It's free" is not forever; Sometimes "private modes" are good: details of my own future publication plans

In the relatively near future, I expect to be submitting a new book, “Do Ask Do Tell III” for editing and publication and sale on Amazon, particularly for the Kindle market.
The book will comprise tow “sub-books”.  “Book 1” will be the “real DADT III”, comprising an Introduction, five chapters, and an epilogue, summing up developments in personal liberty areas since my most recent book (in 2002).  There is preliminary version (now rather incomplete, especially given the progress on same-sex marriage) online, as explained on my Oct. 1, 2011 blog posting on my “Book Reviews” blog).  The DADT-III book covers the material by topic rather than chronologically.  This has turned out to be a somewhat clumsy concept, because the concepts and issues are so inter-related and keep generating more potential “devil’s advocate” arguments. 

It isn’t practical to rewrite the mammoth  1997 “Do Ask Do Tell” book to bring it up to date to 2013, for a number of reasons.  Length is one.  And particularly would be difficult would be re-covering the whole history of “don’t ask don’t tell”.  In the early days of the policy (the mid 1990’s), I had a direct relationship to the issue, even though I am not in the military (I was at one time).  That didn’t remain so, and my attention gradually shifted into areas like Internet speech and downstream liability issues (COPA, and eventually SOPA), and eldercare (because of my mother’s issues).
Production of a satisfactory manuscript for publication would probably require two editing cycles by separate parties, and one more substantial travel event for me.  Unforeseeable disruptions (like property damage from weather, or simply software or infrastructure failure) can slow the process, because “the buck stops with me”, and I am “on my own”.  That also means that I cannot respond easily to repeated calls or questions about progress or particularly the contents (for reasons of integrity).  Anyone working with me – please respect that.   

What would be practical, though, would be to make a video, actually a short indie film, in which I give my entire chronology and show how the issues grow out of it.  Interview or “lecture” film is potentially more interesting than people think (the most recent example is “Inequality for All”, Movies blog, June 24), but I would add a lot of background video and images of real places as I talk. 

As I’ve blogged before, my main concern is the “rights” and “responsibilities” of those who are “different”, and there is a lot of potential inductive reasoning, as in so many episodes in my life (in various phases or “eras”) there was obvious pressure from others as to what would be expected of me (as a male member of the community), and gradually this accumulates to suggest a philosophy that can be broken down into statements and reasons (yes, like in plane geometry class).

I also have a novel manuscript (“Angel’s Brother”) that I want to put into the editing and publication cycle by early fall.

Finally, there is music, which I have discussed on the “Drama and Music News” blog, most recently on June 29.  I would like to produce the three piano sonatas from my “coming of age”.  Doing so, with my Casio and Sibelius software on the MacBook, will require assistance, and it is looking like it will require a major software upgrade, before the end of the year.  There are some technical issues in producing a usable manuscript for others to play from.  The practical suggestion of presenting some of the material in smaller miniatures (like Schumann) is quite useful.

Although I have been quite open and public on my websites, blogs, and social media (right now, everything is in public mode), it may be necessary to post some interim versions of material (especially video material) in private mode at first.  Both YouTube and Vimeo offer this possibility. 
It could be necessary to upgrade Internet cable service (to business class, or to FIOS) to have speeds fast enough for uploading longer videos.  I’m watching progress in the telecommunications world in Internet speeds for home use in the IS (compared to other countries like South Korea and Finland) quite closely. 

Another effort would to “simplify” my websites – eliminate redundant or old material (mainly form “”) and make it easier for people to find any critical material (especially the movie and book reviews – those before 2007 are on the old “Web 1.0” format which I set up in 1997; new ones are on the blogs).  This could include more indexing and more equating of blogs to domain names. 

I placed all the content of my first DADT book online 13 months after publication for free viewing, and the second one almost immediately.  (I kept the material current with "running footnote files" in simple HTML format.) Am I competing with myself?  As a practical matter I would like people who cannot pay or do not want to pay to still read the material.  That was certainly "politically effective" during all those years of debate about "Don't Ask Don't Tell" and other "family values" issues.  I wasn't going away, and had few costs.  Of course, I cannot claim piracy, and might undermine any future claims of infringement.  (There were some examples of plagiarism that came to my attention.)  Others might feel that my doing so can even affect their copyright protection, and they may have more immediate need for the media to pay its own way in providing its own income flow.  Publishers, even "supporting self-publishing" companies might fear it could undermine income (but not with book prices so high, although Kindle and maybe Nook can change the game). I am not sure yet how I will handle the new books (the preliminary DADT-III, two years old, is out there now).  But I am, as I noted, very likely to use the private viewing opportunities for video and music, especially during final editing. Understand also that "older" non-fiction books (my :DADT-II book came out in late 2002 and is over a decade old) are hard to sell on their own merit. I constantly tell publishers who call this.  
But in the long run, the intention is to work with the commercial world, and break through.  Jaron Lanier is right: "It's free" is not forever.  I do have several commercial screenplay drafts, one in particular maps to the “books” with a sci-fi setup.  More about that another time.  I do have my hands full, in "retirement", as I approach age 70, perhaps a chess endgame.

Monday, July 01, 2013

Washington Post hosts debate on "repealing the Internet" (on Wonkblog)

There was a whimsical exchange in the Washington Post “Wonkblog” area today about “repealing the Internet” to make the nation’s essential old-fashioned infrastructure (like during the Reagan years) more secure. 
Robert Samuelson started it, and then Timothy B. Lee responded with his own analysis of the purported study by the Defense Science Board (basic link, has earlier reports on cybersecurity).  Lee writes “Let’s not shut down the Internet to ward off cyberattacks”, link here,  and subsequent links to Samuelson. 

Samuelson argues that the connection of everything in Cyberspace (the Zuckerberg Effect) makes the entire infrastructure unusually vulnerable to determined attack.  In the past, various industries had separate systems, and these could be linked only manually (for example, by paperwork procedures like Medallion signatures in banks). 
A real attack that could cripple the US infrastructure completely would normally require a huge effort, including Hollwyood-style sabotage of physical assets by foreign agents or by disloyal internal people, going way beyond the issues of cybersecurity as we usually see it.
That’s true generally, but there are some serious asymmetric dangers and even natural ones we need to bear in mind.
I’ve covered on my blogs recently the dangers to the power grid (and Internet infrastructure, of course) that could be posed by an electromagnetic pulse attack (EMP).  The worst case scenario for such an attack could be a nuclear explosion at high altitude from a Scud-type missile launched off shore from a supposed cargo ship commandeered by terrorists (possibly set up by Iran or North Korea).  In some cases, not only would the power grid transformers be fried and take months or years to replace, but many consumer electronics would be destroyed.  Possibly more likely would be the discharge of non-nuclear radio frequency weapons that have local effects (over city blocks); these weapons are in possession and overseas use by the US Army now and could fall into the wrong hands or possibly be improvised (although the latter is not as easy as some on the right wing claim). Indeed, the Washington Times covered this idea a few years ago 
 (See also Books blog, April 1,  “A Nation Forsaken”, by Michael Maloof).  Related is the threat of a Carrington-sized solar storm with coronal mass ejections.  Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee has published papers on these possibilities. ORNL also takes seriously the idea of a physical attack by terrorists on a nuclear or conventional power plant.
The idea that an asymmetric interest could create such disruption as to make success in today’s civilization irrelevant (as measured by the usual money system) certainly fits in with ideological discussions of “class warfare” and “revolution” and religious parables like “The Rich Young Ruler”.  Revolution, though, could come from within the establishment itself, too, as in J. J. Abrams NBC series about a 15-blackout this past season (although the scientific premise of that series turned out to be baloney).
What may be more a  cyber threat, than what Samuelson describes, could be wholesale corruption of financial information by hackers, although on a scale we have never seen.  Or possibly large scale attempts to frame people for computer crimes.  

While physical attacks on infrastructure are a grave danger (look at the recent explosion in Texas), it would sound easier to secure power grids and fuel delivery systems against attacks by properly isolating them from the public Internet.  This has been written about since at least 2002.  The security reverts back to more the usual concerns well known from the world of Tom Clancy, even a few decades ago.  Maybe Clive Cussler, with his Dirk Pitt novels, has some ideas worth looking at, too.