Thursday, April 30, 2015

"It's hard out here for a pimp" (of older political books)

Yes, I ordered the book “The Sell” by Fredrik Eklund and will review it, and, yes, you can say that all successful interactions with other people (outside family and immediate friends) involve “selling”, even when you work as a content provider in an individual contributor mode.
But there is a big difference between “Selling” (or “Always be closing”, as in the comedy film “100 Mile Rule”) for its own sake, and effectively deploying one’s own content, often by thoughtfully networking with others in a practical way.

Last week, I got some calls from my “first” publisher, regarding my first two “Do Ask Do Tell” books, urging me to become more aggressive in marketing them.  Why not do a book tour in Canada?
First, I was told that the Kindle will be put back, and that would make all three of these books available in the inexpensive Kindle format for readers who prefer that.  That will help.  But there is still the question I keep getting, why don’t I hire public relations agents, go on tours, or push the books in existing stores, or push mere retail sales on the web, the way many other authors do (rather than posting content for browsing where, to quote one of Reid Ewing’s short films, “It’s free.”)
I’ve explained before, that to me this is no longer about selling “instances” of books (as in object-oriented talk).  There is a whole media vision involving music and film, and I need to spend the time finishing it.  I don’t have time for retail operations.  So I outsource it.

I could even add, my own father was a salesman, but in wholesale mode, as a manufacturer’s representative for Imperial Glass, in Bellaire Ohio (now Lenox).  Does the analogy for bookstores hold?
I did have the first book in a Barnes and Noble in Minneapolis in 1999.  I’ve worked with book distributors (like the Bookmen in Minneaplis, which got bought by Ingram – and book distribution models are different from the movies’.)  But the world has changed.  Non-fiction of a more personal type, especially older works, usually is found and consumed online, not in stores.  I may visit a bookstore in a particular case (as I have a few times, like one near Charlottesville one time).  But I don’t have time to work on this the way my father would have, because people typically don’t buy more “specialized” content in physical stores now.

We often hear that independent book stores are closing, not just because of the chains, but because of Amazon, and because people read online (even on their tablets and smart phones – which makes mobile friendliness even an issue for more conventional publication, as I discussed April 3.
All of this is not good for businesses that depend on selling physical copies of books without blending with other media.  But self-publishing companies supposedly shouldn’t have to worry about this, as the authors pay them to put the works out.  But increasingly, some of them do, and are fighting their own earlier model of “vanity” publishing (see Books blog, Oct. 6, 2013). 

I can remember a book author’s forum in Denton, TX back in early 1988, when there was a topic, “What goes into a book proposal?” and then “Who cares?”   That shows how far back my contemplation history goes.
There is a real question as to what a “book” is, but its publication creates and “event”, almost in the sense of particle physics.  But disturbing impressions remain.
Why, the caller implies, would I publish something and then not think enough of it to push it?  Is that typical sales mentality?  Not exactly, for salesmen who think they should be able to sell anything.  I’ve made an ironic argument, which, admittedly, can be viewed as putting me in an a negative light (the stuff about the draft, the physical cowardice, leaving the risk-taking and medical and emotional challenges of war to others less fortunate, for example) in order to influence the debate on a political issue (which for almost two decades, as “gays in the military” and “don’t ask don’t tell” – and that got bigger, didn’t it.  The caller says “just Kindle won’t sell because nobody will know who you are?”  Can a big publicity package tell people who I am?  No, I don’t think you pimp that.

But people do find me online.  Am I "preaching to the choir"?  Is it people who are already interesting in nuance who "read me"?  Probably.  This gets back to that old question of "the privilege of being listened to".  Do I care if a lot of the "non-choir" doesn't "get it"?  Maybe I should, but there is no way to pander with this material.  (I got flamed one time as "bigoted" and "judgmental" and even puritanical for saying this.)  
I realize that it is easier to give people “what they want” if you let yourself get banged around in your own interpersonal relationships first – be human.  (Look at the lesson from the success of “Harry Potter”).  There is a natural temptation to “pimp” the idea that, well. I was discriminated against, or I was partially disabled, and still led a productive life – isn’t that something to sell as a role model?  Would that sell personally autographed books at $20 a copy?  I can see the thinking, but it sends a misleading message.  I’m not about intervening and making “you” OK if you really aren’t.  I’m not going to invent underdog heroes.  Yet I see an underlying ethical point about speaking out from a greater distance as an “alien observer”, far enough away from the event horizon to stay safe. 

There was an occasion when I got a bizarre weekend call in 2012 (I think) that someone wanted to push my second book.  I didn't believe it. But in retrospect, maybe a major magazine would want my "Bill of Rights 2" essay (1999) or my "Narcissism, affiliation and polarity" from about 2000.  Maybe I was too suspicious then. 
I’d say that Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook while, in a personal sense, keeping himself at a distance. (That movie is not quite accurate.) And look at his success today.  
Also: note correlated story on Books blog, May 2, 2015.  Yes, independent books stores do seem to have a renaissance now. 

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Media article on Asperger's, and how close does it come to my own history?

Here’s a piece on Vox by Noel Murray that seems somewhat relevant to my own history, “10 things I want to teach my autistic son before he goes to college,” link here.   The son in the piece is 13, so the early adulthood of college is still some years away; and the article says that he has Asperger’s, which is on the functional side of the autism spectrum developmental disorder.
Some of the advice about body awareness, personal hygiene, and environmental cleanliness (challenged by clumsiness) seems to ring true.  My own “symptoms” seem to have been milder than reported here.
It’s still a mystery how my own developmental backwardness and physical weakness emerged.   At first glance, it could seem rooted in my having the measles in 1950, just before my seventh birthday, but that doesn’t square completely with the record. My parents report some foot problems in early childhood.  I seem to remember being told I was slow feeding myself once, one of the earliest memories.  The first grade comment report card notes some mild issues with dependency on others.  But second grade went well, and I wasn’t acutely aware of my physical problems until my third grade teacher confronted me, way back in 1951.  
I remember wanting to start piano about the beginning of 1952, and don’t remember why!  But it does seem that once I got into piano, my brain, in order to focus on schoolwork and music, pruned out other physical development (for sports) too quickly.  So this whole matter has always had the edge of a “moral” problem.
It is hard to be good at everything, but playing piano requires mechanical skill, and artists often are good at some practical-work things, like cooking, or repair things (like bicycles). 

Is it so bad to talk to oneself?  It just says that one's own world is sometimes more important than anything else.
All of this took on a moral edge, as I grew up in a time when boys were presumed to have a moral obligation to protect other family members – girls and future mothers, and younger children – long before they could understand sex and the responsibility that comes with it.  

Monday, April 27, 2015

A (not so) random encounter on the Metro, and apperception of the Afterlife

On Saturday night, I was returning home on the Metro, Silver Line, from FilmfestDC downtown, and was reading Leonard Susskind’s “The Black Hole War” (2008), which I will review soon on my Books blog.
A young man, in a suit, who said he was a graduate student at GWU, noticed the book and sat down next to me.  A conversation started about, well, the controversy over whether black holes can obliterate “information”.   

The book (after  laying out the triangle of energy, entropy and heat), so far, develops the case that bits of information (10 to the -70 power square meters in area), Planck bits, are the most fundamental kitchen ingredient of all creation.  Information storage depends on available surface area (and this may be true of hard drives, USB flash drives, CD’s, DVD’s, and the like), not on volume.  But technology is nowhere near the Planck limit in practice (as the NSA’s Quantum computer will show).
 Stephen Hawking had at one time proposed that information could be obliterated when the things containing info fall into black holes.  But quantum mechanics shows that eventually, black holes can “evaporate” and heat up, and that the anti-particles emitted in Hawking radiation would transmit the information.  Is this something a more advanced civilization could leverage?

I know that string theory, with the seven unused dimensions, allows for the idea that micro black holes could exist, and evaporate. 
The reason that the storage of info on a black hole surface is important to me is, well, my own perception of the Afterlife.   Mini-black holes could provide a transport layer for souls.  I asked the young man, “Why are you “yourself” today in 2015, instead of in Old Testament times?  Does the body build consciousness, or does consciousness already exist and match to the right body?  Why am I human and not, say, an orca?  Could these ideas support reincarnation?  The Monroe Institute thinks so.

After anyone passes away, his or her experience always exists in a space-time sense.  Because we can’t go back in time (usually), we (usually) can’t access it directly.  (Imagine ghost stories.)   Will the individualized consciousness continue to exist?  My own sense of things is that, if information is to be conserved, the it must.  Hawking may be wrong about religion;  I think mathematics could prove that the afterlife is “real”.
I don’t subscribe to the na├»ve idea of “Heaven” the way it is often described.  I think it makes sense for people who are heavily socialized by family and “tribe”.  It doesn’t work so well for people who make a lot of their independence (and who maybe resist being “right-sized” against others, or accepting the need for expanded openness to some kinds of intimacy).  But is sounds like, once you go, you know where you are – somewhere – and you deal with where you are, just as when you wake up from an “alternate life” rem-sleep dream.

As for entropy, biological systems, reproduction and the "evolution" of new instruments of free will seem to be the natural antidote, so biology and intelligence are probably pretty universal. 
Religion, faith and spirituality can only be secured by personal experience.  Believing a doctrine from a mullah or preacher and going to fight someone else’s battle just under another human’s authority makes no sense.  There is nothing to stop anyone from claiming to speak for God (or Allah, or Jehovah) and starting a cult with impressionable people – only more speech and education.
By the way, I got a funny email offering "lesson plans" for "Do Ask, Do Tell", as if  (US) history teachers (high school) were going to use my books as supplementary reading.  How flattering!

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Sometimes sites go dark and don't provide promised export tools; so use cloud services yourself

When a site goes dark, it’s pretty important to back up your material yourself, it seems.  Although many sites will offer export tools.  Sites do go dark.  In 2007, AOL ended its Hometown “blogging” service (an old Web 1.0 concept, very useful around 1998 or so) but it did provide export to Blogger. 
Today Jason Scott  (“Textfiles”) tweeted a Slate story by Jon Christian about an experience with “” when it shut down “MyFamily”, here
I typically put everything valuable in archive directories and let Carbonite back them up, on more than one computer.  (It used to be other backup services, like Mozy and Webroot, and, yes, I ought to look at Apple iCloud.) I also make copies on multiple thumb drives, and keep one of the drives in a safe deposit box, and rotate that copy once in a while.  Thumb drive capacity gets bigger all the time.  But really, dual hard drives may be the easiest way, with Seagate – that’s what Geek Squad pushes.  Optical storage (CD’s) might have an advantage of not being affected by magnetic attacks (EMP), which have yet to happen. 

Friday, April 24, 2015

Twitter announces new policy encouraging users to report abusive accounts

Twitter has made a formal announcement of a policy encouraging users to report accounts that promote terrorism, according to media reports Friday, such as here on “The Hill”, link , actual policy here 

Earlier this year, Twitter had admitted that it had a problem with abusive accounts, and alarmed some observers (like Electronic Frontier Foundation) that it would summarily close such accounts. 
But in the past, some have accused Twitter from benefiting from terrorism, such as here in the free “conservative” paper “The Examiner”, back in 2013
Authorities have been alarmed about foreign sources using unmonitored social media  to encourage random unstable people (“lone wolves”) to commit vengeful attacks based on “religion”.  (I won’t editorialize this further right here.)  The problem is probably more “serious” in western Europe than in the U.S.
Picture: from the military museums in Fayetteville, NC, downtown, off base from Fort Bragg.  

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

How we respond to coercion, when we "play on the road", does have moral signficance

If you’re “different” and live in your own world, somewhat publicly like I do, then how “you” behave is in part a moral issue.  And how “you” respond to coercion and outside pressure is indeed an important issue, too.  And “you” have a right to get people to come clean with you about what they really “want”.  Sure, conformity.  They want “me” to fit snugly into their power structure and not compete with it.  But “what others want” really does matter.
Coercion can be violent (crime or terrorism), or legal (with the force of government, the subject of libertarianism now), religious, politically morivated, or social, or indirect in business or personal dealings.  It can be simply what comes across as unwanted proselytizing.
One example of coercion is phone calls asking why I’m not more aggressive in selling copies of my books, or in attracting advertisers, or guest posters.  My “business model” is “what it is” as I have explained before.  It’s disruptive to try to change courses overnight.  Any (former) IT professional knows that.
It’s true, as catchy as my “franchise” title is, I don’t exactly “give people what I want”.  I don’t try to make “you” feel “all right”.  I’m not a motivational guru.  I don’t win elections or help other candidates win (very much). 

I do have a unique historical narrative, which was indeed very critical in addressing “don’t ask don’t tell” over the years (in a number of contexts, starting first with gays in the military).  But there is a certain irony or paradox.  I seems like I am putting myself out as a physical coward, particularly with everything surrounding the military draft – and my own encounter with Basic Combat Training (even Special Training Company, or “Tent City”) at Fort Jackson in 1968. I used my education to let others take risks I wouldn’t have to take.  I even was complicit as a graduate student when I taught math, and even some aspects of my stay at NIH in 1962, when the Cuban Missile Crisis went on, are, well, disturbing.  It’s indeed historical non-fiction, but like a historical novel.  Yet, politically, the narrative had underground influence.  I know it did.
Another area of coercion concerns volunteerism, and service.  I recently added Food and Friends, in DC, to my automated trust donation list.  I volunteered for them before effectively in the 1990s, in a different environment as I had for Whitman Walker and the Oak Lawn Counseling Center in Dallas in the 1980s, when, with HIV, the circumstances were more obviously urgent.  (That’s a whole narrative of its own.)  Yet, I don’t need an email saying “can we count on you this time?”  I don’t “belong” to “them”.  
Recently, however, I upped volunteerism, participating substantially in a Community Assistance weekend at a local church, but on a schedule for me set up by me.  “Managed chaos” is what the pastor calls it.
Last fall, Chess for Charity provided a good experience.

Sunday, there was a plea at a church I really like, Trinity Presbyterian in Arlington VA, for “Lotsa Helping Hands”, which is actually a movement here. The speaker asked the congregation to “chant” in unison that anyone (“I”) can need help sometimes.  Of course, that is true, but I found the manner of presentation rather coercive.  When I don’t live in the same emotional world as many families (married couples with small children)  I don’t really think I can be “on-call” for their “needs”.  It could actually be dangerous in some scenarios.  Another interesting area is support for the “30 Hour Fast”  Yes, I know where that is coming from.  But should I get involved in supporting teens’ fasting?  No, I think that is a personal (possibly healh-related) matter for parents only.
While we tote the idea of “personal responsibility” and following through with promises (contracts, as libertarians say) and consequences, we have to realize that not everything in life is chosen, and, in some ways, “equality” as activists promote it really isn’t possible all the time.  So how we respond to things we don’t choose is an issue. Eldercare provided me a lesson in that over the past years, even if I came out of it rather well.
I do get prodded in another way.  If I was willing to use my background, say especially in life insurance (twelve years in IT) and sell it, I could support other people (maybe adopt children) like other “real people” with “real responsibilities” (resulting from conventional committed marital sexuality, often with procreation).  I’ve heard that “We give you the words” speech, at one interview, where I would be expected to shut down my own personal voice, which was so effective against DADT in a manner not possible from anyone else but me, given my unusual history.  When I question the interviewer, he turns defensive, as if indeed presented an existential threat to his world, turning desperately toward aggressive hucksterism.
Let me add, I did take in someone, in 1980, when living in Dallas.  It was an experiment of mixed success.  I came about as an indirect result of the Cuban refugee crisis then.  I did not make the person “better” and the idea that he could be someone to feel “proud of” just wasn’t there.  Recently, I saw a bulletin board asking for housing for an Americorps volunteer.  It stayed up a month or so. Did a "normal family" finally offer?
It’s rather apparent that this idea can come up again, particular with the speculative possibility of sponsoring refugees seeking asylum, as from anti-gay countries (Russia, Nigeria, Uganda, etc) or even Syria.  This is obviously a loaded question which the Obama administration does not want to discuss from the perspective of individual citizen “obligation”, and has security concerns – that is, the administration does not want to cast this issue in “coercive” terms, whereas the GOP wants it to go away altogether (considering how it feels about immigration).  It also sounds like an issue churches will soon address, but this will be very difficult to get traction on (when compared, for example, to summer youth missions in Central American countries).  Compare this to Haiti or other issues with Africa. 

Something like this could work for me if I succeeded in making my media pay its own way (but it’s a lot more than just selling “instances” of books).  That would give it some integrity.  But becoming a huckster and getting paid to sell somebody else’s wares would not.  And, by the way, I wonder if anyone is writing a book or making a documentary film about the asylum issue.  Hint?  CNN Films?  Vox Media?  Morgan Spurlock?   Maybe something for the GWU Documentary Center?  (Really too bad, we lost the West End Cinema.)  But, yes, I'm "lucky" that I didn't "land" with a "Raising Helen" situation, and more specific and urgent demands. 
Indeed, I have an issue meeting “the real needs of other people”. I fell behind physically as a boy, and from a medical viewpoint I don’t know why.  It might have to do with measles, mild autism, or premature neurological “pruning” for music.  Most people who are “different” but publicly successful are first better at a range of practical things than I was.  I also have an issue that, if I met their “needs”, doing so would really mean something if it called for a sacrifice of personal goals – which could happen anyway because of bad luck, coercion, or medical issues. It's a "chicken and egg" problem. No one is above admitting need. We all have to play on the road some times and allow the other team the last at-bat.
I have seen all of this in terms of "paying your dues" and sharing risks individually, rather than "belonging" to a community.  Individualism requires inequality for a while for its innovation, but if it doesn't give back, indignation and instability result.  Sometimes, in historical contexts, revolution and expropriation happen.  This comes back, for "people like me", to moral "rightsizing".  It's a double irony that I see this in moral terms rather than live it.  
One other thing.  Sales people say that creating urgency is key, and that implies coercion, to me at least – more than simple assertiveness or (Rosenfels-like) “masculinity”. 
First two pictures: Basic Combat Training museum at Fort Jackson, SC (Columbia), pd.  Not open to non-military right now, but maybe that can change.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Wikileaks pubs hacked Sony data, says it should be public domain; users might run legal risks

Cnet (story by Steven Musil) is reporting that Wikileaks has republished some of the hacked Sony data (ostensibly by North Korea, in conjunction with the movie “The Interview”) on a searchable database, story here.

Julian Assange insists that the data should be in the public domain because it is in the center of a geopolitical conflict.  But should the personal information of Sony employees and contractors be included in that p.d. area?  I hope not.

The leaked data even included some pirated movies and books.  I’d be flattered if mine were included.

There could be at least a remote legal risk  to a blogger’s deliberately linking to this database, given the Barrett Brown case in Texas discussed here before.  

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Random Earth Day 2015 speakers raise questions about hyperindividualism, and future generations.

Today, I caught some of the Earth Day celebration on the Washington Monument grounds, on the way to Filmfest DC downtown where I watched “Bikes vs. Cars” (review on movies blog today).
There were not many entrances and portable potties blocked a lot of the view from Constitution Ave. 
A speaker from the Interior department encouraged people to volunteer in programs on public lands.
She then made the comment that our Earth is not just something we inherit from our ancestors, we borrow it from future generations. 

People wore shirts mentioning "global citizenship", yet it is belonging to a specific family that may be more challenging.

Another speaker, from Bangladesh, noted how women don’t have privacy in their country even for intimate matters. 
And a speaker from Sweden said we have fifteen more years to meet certain carbon targets to keep temperature rise within acceptable levels this century.
All of this bears on personal morality.  Someone that doesn’t feel obligated toward unconceived future generations may not have the incentive to share resources and live efficiently (“communally”, for common purposes, as often ascribed to early Christianiy).

Friday, April 17, 2015

Bystander who took video of police shooting in North Charleston SC can charge for news outlets to use his video

The person who filmed the citizen video of the police shooting of a black man in North Charleston, SC will be able charge for showing of his video, according to a New York Times story by Frances Robles Thursday, link here. The bystander Feidin Santana had taken the video and turned it over to the family of the African-American man who was shot, Walter L. Scott.  

But a public relations firm in Australia, Markson Sparks, has been having cease-and-desist letters sent to news outlets to seek permission and pay licensing fees.  Apparently, the fair use application by news outlets expires quickly with time once the story is no longer immediately newsworthy.
It would be interesting to ask of the video would be licensed before being shown in a criminal trial.  I guess not, but since paid expert testimony is possible, maybe.  But this seems to be direct evidence.
Santana has his own attorney, Todd Rutherford. 
Nevertheless, some of the video is available free from news channels on YouTube and can be embedded.  There is video of the videographer giving interviews and annotating the event. 
Wikipedia attribution link for photo by Lee Keadle of Charleston SC "palmetto" harbor or waterfront under Creative Commons 1.0 License.  My last trip there was in 1993.  Other picture is Carlisle PA, yesterday.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

DOJ will follow some "due process" with respect to no-fly list

As a result of a court ruling in Oregon on an ACLU suit, the DOJ has announced that US citizens (and legal residents) can find out if they are on a “no-fly” list with the TSA and find out an unclassified list of reasons.  The Washington Post story on p. A3 today Wednesday April 15, 2015 is here.

Previously, someone would find out he or she was banned from air-travel in the US (or to or from it) only when showing up at the airport and going through TSA security. And the Department of Homeland Security would normally not disclose the person’s status or reasons. This all sounds like violation of due process of law.
Most people who get banned do in practice have rather “obvious” negative Mideastern connections.  Nevertheless, the issue is unsettling.  I did fly after July 2006 (to Kansas City from DCA) until June 2011 (to the Twin Cities), after Mother’s passing at the end of 2010. Could something coming out of my blogging (started in early 2006) could conceivably have ever put me on such a list?  I would have had no way to find out.
I even went to a TSA job fair in August of 2002 in St. Paul, MN.  Given the nature of the job, I cannot imagine porting a uniform and potentially having to do pat-downs. 
CNN has an even more detailed story by Marnie Hunter here
Picture: Minneapolis, just before landing in June 2011. 

Monday, April 13, 2015

My life has a narrow calling, and no one can "give me the words"

David Brooks has an op-ed on Sunday Review in the New York Times, “A Moral Bucket List” (and I never saw the rather irreverent film), link here
Brooks talks about the tension between striving for independence and individual achievement and earned accolade, and the willingness to recognize that sometimes “you” really need to depend on others, and let them depend on you.  He talks about the “stumblers” who live a life out of balance, almost to the music of Philip Glass.  Meritocracy only makes sense when “Ordinary People” (another famous movie, from 1980) matter to the achiever.  A “journalist” like me, or a creator of Facebook (and therefore alien ruler of the world) faces a certain paradox.
My life has followed a certain course, and certainly its Second Act since “The Layoff” (really since the 1990s, when the Clinton years started) partly because of a certain kind of Blow or Setback that did occur when I started college, and a series of paradoxes that would build on this.  I don’t imply that anyone else should do what I did, for feel the same constraints.  No one else has quite my own life narrative.
However, I cannot tolerate an existential challenge to the course I took.  I can’t negotiate with coercion.  I can no longer let someone else “give me the words” to hawk their wares.  I cannot just recruit people to someone else’s cause.  I cannot “save ‘you;” or make “you” all right if “you” aren’t already. I still need to focus on winning arguments, but not converts.  That isn’t to say that some past bouts with salesmanship (like the ballot access petitioning drives with the Libertarian Party of Minnesota in the late 1990s) weren’t valuable experiences. 

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Offering "radical hospitality" can generate suspicion, and it's hard to avoid

One of the most challenging circumstances in life can be sheltering and providing for someone else, other than one’s own child (when one has “chosen” to have children conventionally or by adoption). In the real world, there are all kinds of ways this may happen, including the possibility of being expected to raise a sibling’s children after a family tragedy, and, practically speaking, caring for one’s parents, especially in situations like Alzheimers.  There are times that this requirement can come with inheritance.  That did not happen in my case, but the idea makes sense:  you have to “provide” for something that brought a benefit.
Another scenario could be taking care of refugees, as I have discussed in other pages.  The idea came up in 1980 with the Cuban refugees in the gay community in some southern cities, including Dallas (where I lived then).  It has not been mentioned this time directly (by the administration or by “gay leadership”) with respect to gay “persecution” in countries like Russia, Uganda, Nigeria, and many Muslim countries, but it is natural to wonder if some potential people seeking asylum would be allowed to stay if they did not have “sponsors”.  The issue could come up suddenly.
Another issue that often comes up is the need for both foster and adoptive parents. In many communities, like church fellowships, social cohesion builds around this common experience (the “lots of helping hands” idea, and the possibility of “radical hospitality”).
When someone in my situation is “approached” with regard to an issue like this, there is always some unfortunate “suspicion”.  If I were to initiate interest in offering such hospitality, I can imagine the “suspicion” that could arise --- I don’t need to be more graphic than just to acknowledge what seems “obvious”.  It’s natural to become cynical about the motives of others, too.  A good example is the movie “The Overnighters” (Movies, Nov. 15, 2014), my review, and a helpful comment that I processed today. I guess I could fall into the trap of that kind of perception myself. 
I’ve talked about the “hospitality” need on the Wordpress blog before, here.  There was some experience with volunteerism reported today on my Issues blog, too. 
But the “suspicion” can indeed get in the way of extending helping hands to others when it really si necessary to do so.  

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Government wants a "separation of functions" strategy for ultimate user decryption for national security emergencies

The Washington Post has a detailed story Saturday about the dilemma encryption poses for the “fibbies” (to quote novelist John Grisham). The article  is by Ellen Nakashima and Barton Gellman.
A diagram on p. A12 shows the current practices now.  No encryption of your iPhone data would allow you, the FBI (and NSA), and Apple (or Microsoft or Motorola, etc) to access your data.  Single encryption, offered by Apple (and probably soon by others) locks everyone else out.

The NSA wants a system where a decrypt key exists but is broken into pieces in different locations, requiring “separation of powers” (or what workplace security practice calls “separation of functions”) for access, including court supervision (more rigorous that currently with FISA).  The government says that it needs this capacity to break the most serious or existential of bizarre terror or criminal threats, of the “Dateline” variety.  Would this proposal satisfy Electronic Frontier Foundation?

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

What are pingbacks and linkbacks? Do they matter?

I’ve noticed that whenever I provide a link to one of my two Wordpress blogs, I get a “comment moderation” email from BlueHost and Wordpress requesting approval of a “pingback”.
Blogger does not seem to provide such a moderation feature.
The subject is “linkbacks” and the ability of webmasters to be notified when someone has provided a hyperlink to their content.  I suppose it is possible for a webmaster to try to block the link, but I don’t know if I have ever experienced this.  Wikipedia (Linkback and Pingback) notes that there has been concern that link could be used to facilitate a DDOS attack, but I’m not aware that this has really happened. 
Around the year 2000, a few companies tried to ban deep hyperlinks to their sites, until a court ruled that hyperlinks are like bibliographic footnotes in a high school term paper.  Embeds are essentially “just” hyperlinks. 
But in rare cases, liability for defamation for linking to defamatory information is possible.   And an interesting question occurs if one links to another site with information trying to incite violence or terrorism or instructions as to how to do it (with recent international tensions in mind).  Under Section 230, it would seem that a webmaster would not be responsible for anything like this in a user comment (or forum post).  

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

"Equality" doesn't matter until it does (like if you can get drafted)

Recently, there has lived quite a spirited debate about “equality” on the New Republic in comments following an article arguing for paid maternity (perhaps paternity) leave, which I covered on my Issues Blog Feb. 15.  Much of the controversy comes from comments authored by Benjamin David Steele here.    
The comments are all valid within their own context.  Steele says that most people don’t care about “abstract” notions like “equality” but want a society that works for everybody (hence Scandinavian socialism).  Some viewers point out that most people just want policies that better life for them personally.  Some readers see maternity benefits (but not paternity) as actually a way to level the playing field between the two main genders.
After my “second coming”, I didn’t care so much about equality as simply living my own personal life, even with a degree of segregation and urban exile, as a gay man in the Village in the late 1970s.  I wanted to be left alone, and to have the local infrastructure work well enough for me that I could find what I “wanted”.  External threats could derail me, because I was so “picky” even if I wasn’t in a moral position to be.  Then came the move to Dallas, which may have given me enough warning to protect myself against HIV, but also we had new political threats.  Things got much better back in the DC area in the 1990s.  But the “inequality” between the bachelors (often gay) and the married-with-kids was manifest.  I had more disposable income and less debt than most of my “family supporting” coworkers, but sometimes I was “expected” to fill in for them, without direct pay, when family emergencies caused them to miss work (or oncalll duty).  So “equality” mattered when it did!

The political issues grew, too.  First, “gays in the military” (resulting in “don’t ask don’t tell”) and then gay marriage (starting with civil unions then), and a growing public awareness that many more gays were involved in raising kids that people had realized.  And, as the population aged, eldercare became an issue, and it can happen to anyone.  In fact, the whole DADT issue for me was anchored in the idea that everyone needs to be able to step up to sharing come of the common risks and chores of a community.  We no longer had a draft, but as 9/11 (and many other horrors since) has since shown, none of us should take political freedom for granted.

Today, in fact, I revisited the Smithsonian exhibit on military history, on the Second Floor (on the Mall), the visit delayed a bit by a mystery power outage in DC – a reminder that infrastructure matters and that we haven’t been careful with it.  I was particularly interested to revisit more recent history, from WWII, Korea, and most of all Vietnam, as well as the Cuban Missile Crisis.  There was some material on racial segregation in the military, which Truman eliminated in 1948, but no material on DADT (and its repeal) yet, and I think the Smithsonian should add that material.  There was a display of typical basic training barracks during WWII, but I think the exhibit could use more material about the whole Selective Service system during the Vietnam era (including the whole student deferment system, which I took advantage of indirectly and fed into myself when I worked as a grad student math instructor).  That seems little covered in the media today (except in my own books, and at least one of my movie proposals).

 Last night, I was reviewed some of the medical notes on my stay at NIH in 1962.  I’ll come back to that more soon (especially in videos), but I was struck by just how authoritarian our values were then.  The “therapists” and nursing staff really were concerned about apparent homosexual interest, and implied lack of heterosexual interest (that is, likelihood of never procreating), and about a certain judgmentalim in my attitudes toward others in the unit, which I had inherited from the culture of the times.  Was my physical non-competitiveness just “malingering?  I would undergo the draft myself in just a few years.

As for the "equality" matter, remember back around 1962 that JFK had even proposed that married men be exempt from the draft.  Capacity for marital sexual intercourse would have its privileges, that others would pay for with their lives, or by getting maimed. 
Just on another matter, I sometimes get requests from people to write “guest posts”.  Generally these seem to be attempts to sell something or present a one-sided position on something (maybe even paid family leave).  I do understand the value, for bloggers, of using the guest-post strategy (like here from “Blog Tyrant” in Australia, link ).  I’m not in the mode of doing that right now – so I usually ask the writer to give me a link to something on her own blog or site and I’ll comment on it in my blog.  (But that doesn’t promote reputation the way Blog Tyrant explains.)  I am in the mode of working with one or more of several parties over a long period of time, where we share some commonality of content and purpose.  Those parties could be individuals (like in the film business, or musicians or composers), or news organizations.  But the only way to get there right now is to do my own work!

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Social media users get cynical about expecting to pimp their companies

Facebook user “Dutchsinse”, who likes to post mega-warnings about catastrophes (especially earthquakes) wrote Saturday “If you get involved online, be prepared to have your life destroyed”, as here. I think some of his warnings are valid  (like how the East Coast could have a tsunami from the Canary Islands, the Cumbre Vieja volcano). 

But it’s the comment about using social media to self-broadcast, which he does just as I do, rthat caught my eye.  Remember what happened to me when I worked as a substitute teacher and the fiction screenplay short I posted in 2005 was misread out of context.
Allison Freer (author of “How to Get Dressed”) was mandated by her publisher describes, in this YouTube clip, being expected by her publisher to do pushy self-promotion on social media. I’ve been pestered to become more aggressive with my own books, but it my circumstances that would drive people away.
But now many companies (like insurance and finance) expect agents to build (or even buy) lead lists and promote produces on social media.  In fact, as “social capital” has gotten looser (even to the chagrin of libertarians like Charles Murray and even David Boaz), people resist being contacted cold (either online, by phone or by doorbell) to “buy things”.  My father used to say he could sell anyone anything (but he didn’t – he did great customer service for the retail outlets he wholesaled to). 
 Sales culture has changed, and as Terrence Howard’s film “Hustle and Flow” says, “It’s hard out here for a pimp.”

Saturday, April 04, 2015

"Facebook thugging" case in Virginia sounds like more prosecutorial overreach

A woman living near Richmond, VA was arrested for “Facebook thugging” after someone complained about a selfie she took of herself holding a gun.  She says she got into an argument when she was mistaken for another woman, and posted the picture as a form of hyperbole, so people wouldn’t continue to mix her up.
But “harassment by computer” is a Class 1 Misdemeanor in Virginia.  The news story from a Richmond NBC affiliate is here. Police said that what she did you can’t do legally “in public” in the real world, so it is similar legally to disorderly conduct.  She could face a $2500 fine and a year in jail (which is unlikely).
I think the case is troubling because it is far from clear that what she posted was a “threat” or even harassment.  It may well be a Facebook TOS violation (especially as the company has narrowed its standards of acceptable conduct recently), but TOS violations, as EFF points out, aren’t necessarily crimes. 
CNN has the video here.
There are other troublesome cases, such as one heard before the Supreme Court Dec. 1, and the case of Justin Carter in Texas (Internet Safety blog, July 3, 2013).

Friday, April 03, 2015

Mobile searches will need target sites to become mobile-friendly

Webmasters who expect their content to be searched from mobile devices (rather than just PC’s and Macs) are being advised to make their sites mobile-friendly, as Google plans a major change to searches made on mobile devices April 21, according to this post

It would not appear (from the way the posting is worded) that searches on “normal” personal computers would be affected.

The post gives some tools to check web paged for mobile-friendliness.  The tests apply to individual pages, not just to whole sites.

Generally, blog postings (from Blogger and Wordpress) are likely to check out as friendly, as the vendors have already supplied CSS or other code to check for the device accessing the page. 

Flat sites, like my “” may rank as not friendly, especially when they have multiple columns of text or (as with some older sites), frames. Flat sites generally would need some scripting to detect devices, and to display reduced information sets (in just one column) for mobile.  My older sites are largely just HTML. 
But I tried this site with my own iPhone-5. 

When I rotate the phone, the page turns and the print gets larger. The pages load reasonably quickly wherever there is LTE reception.  True, the links are close together and hard for fingers.  But the actual text files from the book align property and are quite readable (the footnote links would be hard to use). For DADT-3, some files are in PDF, but these load and read well.
Furthermore, Reader View enlarges the print for HTML, and for PDF iBook produces a nice-looking page, similar to Kindle.
I don’t how what would happen on non-Apple phones (like Windows or Motorola-Droid).  I had Droid, and previously Blackberry, and the site was a bit hard to read as I recall. But these phones could have improved, too.

Only my DADT-3 book is on Kindle on Amazon.  I have older copies of 1 and 2 on my own Kindle, and I'm not sure why they don't appear on Amazon now. 

Update: April 21

I tried my "do ask do tell", which was not rated mobile friendly, and it still came up OK on my iPhone.

But in the Washington Post this morning, p A12, Hayley Tsukayama writes "Google's focus on mobile could banish small firms", online "Google is about to dramatically change how search works on your phone", link here.  Small businesses don't have the resources to reprogram sites for smartphones, or may not believe that their own customers interact with them that way.

Here's another story on Mobilegeddon.

Update: April 13

Australian bloging guru "Blogtyrant" offers advice to small business (esp. travel related) on Google's change, which has been in the works for a long time, here.

I'm not sure that his comment on optimizing photos for mobile is always necessary.  I think the Instagram square is rather irritating, I'd still rather view photos uncropped.