Sunday, May 31, 2015

NSA metadata surveillance on ordinary users expires at midnight; no deal in Congress on Section 215 of Patriot Act

Government surveillance powers, living largely within the NSA, expire at midnight tonight, since the Senate Republicans could not broker a deal with the House.  The AP story appears on WJLA here.  RT has a story that identifies Section 215 of the Patriot Act for surveillance here

Rand Paul (R-KY), arguing today, said that the government needed only to get a warrant on anyone it suspects has meaningful ties to terrorism.

CNN’s Jeffrey Toobin has argued that he metadata from wireless communications still exists with the phone companies, so it isn’t hard to get the data when it needs it, even without Patriot Act provisions.
Still, the AP story notes that it could be harder to track “lone wolf” terrorists with foreign ties.

Libertarian and pro-privacy groups have tweeted very one-sided, one-issue campaigns against renewing the Patriot Act.  Commitment to just one issue goes against my own grain (although I behaved that way one time regarding gays in the military).  

Today, at a church service at Trinity Presbyterian in Arlington, the guest pastor Tara Spuhler McCabe spoke about “leaping into safety” or “trust falls”.  It’s an interesting concept in character development (if not faith), that relates to a transformation of a particular character late in my novel.  I needed to make a note to myself of this right now! 
Update: June 1:

Tim Lee explains the options in Congress with regard to the Patirot Act, Section 215 (it has nothing to do with "Section 230") and the USA Freedom Act, and the three big "abuses" of the NSA, on a Vox column and card stack this morning, here.  I've tweeted and Face-d it.  

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Apple resists making charitable donations on the iPhone convenient, maybe for good reasons

 Ron Lieber has an interesting piece Saturday in “Business Day: Your Money”, “Moved to give but slowed by the Phone”, online titled “One tap giving: extra steps mire online donations”, link here.  This sounds like an issue that would get the attention of Michelle Singletary, but I don’t recall a piece on this from her yet. 
Apple’s policy is, if you want to collect donations through the iPhone, you have to use text message and then Safari.  It’s a clumsy process on a phone compared to a normal PC or MacBook, or even maybe a larger iPad.  Droid is said to be easier. 
Lieber says that Apple would not explain this policy to him, but it seems to have to do with two main things:  protecting consumer privacy, and not wanting to play umpire with which orgs are most worthy or having to police them. 
I do my charitable giving monthly through a more automated process set up with a bank (Wells Fargo).  But that is partly the result of circumstances surrounding my estate.  I don’t respond to individual appeals often, although I did for Nepal because Facebook agreed to match.  I do change the recipient amounts as needs increase after disasters – as usually, in my estimation, the Red Cross or secular children’s charities can make the best use of the money. 
I do get a bit turned off by the idea of “Go Fund Me” (or campaigns like Ice Bucket) and begging after bad luck.  (I talked about this yesterday in another context.) Shouldn’t people have (flood) insurance or be more careful or make better choices?  At the same time, the level of risk that most Americans are exposed to is increasing, partly because of political and social instability associated with inequality (leading to crime or outright conflict or “expropriation”), possibly because of aggressive US foreign policy (that is really debatable), and likely because of climate change, already.  There is drought, fire, and flooding, and it is likely our “collective” behavior is increasing these perils.  Some things, like earthquakes ("San Andreas") and volcanic eruptions, we can’t prevent.  We can turn even more attention to building disaster-resistant homes. There are construction techniques (still expensive, but they could be automated more to make them more affordable) to make homes resistant to high-end hurricanes and tornadoes.  Right now, the reality is that anyone could become homeless or wind up with the “shame” of living in a shelter.
Still, it’s very hard to say that one charity, or party or person, is more “deserving” than another, when an appeal is made.
Even libertarian-oriented writers (like Charles Murray and Jonarthan Rauch) have recently written that we have carried the hyper-individualistic idea of self-sufficiency too far, to schizoid levels.  We have some competing social cultures that live in different worlds as to the role of the individual vs. the extended family and community. “Lotsa Helping Hands” doesn’t seem to apply to everyone.

Picture: Bat St, Louis, MS, my picture, 2006.   

Friday, May 29, 2015

Holmes case (notebook and testimony) in Colorado shows how hatred can simmer in one person

I don’t usually follow the details of criminal cases on these blogs, although I may review films or news specials (Dateline) about them. But I do note cases that have some personal notability. 
The recent testimony from James Holmes in Colorado does bring up something significant under the table.  CBS has video coverage as communicative as any, here. The line “The meaning is that there is no meaning” caught my ear.  I remember a certain nihilism in the rebellious talk of a soldier back in the Army at Fort Eustis talking about the Manson stuff (“Aquarius” on NBC last night, and “Helter Skelter”).  He once said, “The point is that here is no point.” 
Colorado law requires the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Holmes was sane at the time of his acts.  He says he was increasingly obsessed with killing when he was a boy (which could suggest unusual sensitivity to violence – “bad for you” -- in media), and the Notebook says something like others should die so that he could live.  All nonsense, and perhaps the consequences of extreme OCD.  But the repeated question “Why?” seems significant. He was particularly concerned with bad luck.  The “weak” were simply the “unfortunate”.  History (Nazism, for one thing) has made a lot of this point. 
Indeed, while we believe in meritocracy, I find the idea troubling.  How often do “we” refuse to communicate with less intact people when we suspect that indeed they may be “unlucky” when it comes to past circumstance as well as biology.  I’ve often sensed that others want to drive me off my “high horse” (an image from “Strangers on a Train” and a favorite term of Dr. Phil) and be open to some kind of real relationship with someone “in need” (of me), as a new goal.  Yes, that is unsettling.  Was such an idea imposed on him (Holmes) at one time in the past?
Even ponder the idea of how well-educated young men have become radicalized into extreme Islam (sometimes women, too), which (admittedly) does confer “meaning”.  Is the idea that everyone else must follow “my rules” to the letter a nice convenient shell?  Did that drive homophobia in the past? 
These lessons can be gleaned from some of these trials.  Similar processes could have happened with the Tsarnaev’s. 
Let me add, in conjunction with a posting on he LGBT blog today, that I found “gender role complementarity” (so promoted by the Vatican) as an offensive reason for sexual intimacy and romance. But maybe that was because I wasn’t good at it. 
Wikipedia attribution link for map of Aurora CO is author WikiLeon, under Creative Commons Share-Alike 2.0 license.

Update: June 11

The New York Times published a PDF of Holmes's handwritten composition notebook, 36 pages, here, rather like a crude manifesto (a small version of Unabomber's).  There is concern about no sense of justice and about the "strong, average and weak".  But the answer to "why" there is free will (p. 33) is simple to answer.  It's to counter entropy.  Good decisions by people (or any beings with free will) decrease entropy.  Enough bad decisions, the universe could fail.  (With the Cuban Missile Crisis, the world almost failed in 1962, a bad time in my own life.)  That sounds like the metaphysics of it.  So choices really do matter, in the sense of quantum physics and cosmology.  They call it the law of Karma.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Blogging gurus give more detailed tips on content, and "Buzzsumo" is a very useful news evaluation tool

I keep seeing more blogging tips on Twitter, from several gurus. 
One of them is to use “BuzzSumo” (link) to analyze what content gets seen on various social media platforms.  That could be useful in telling a blogger what the most-visited versions of a news story will be, in choosing what to link to.  It could also give an idea whether a particular story is likely to be really significant for most visitors.  Try this today with “iPhone bug text fix”.   
And here is a lecture on a site called Moz on why “good, unique content” is no longer “good enough” to do well with search engines, by Ramd Fishkin, link (note Moz has encryption). He talks about “10x” content (getting into the top 10 for a likely search string). 
But being found quickly on SE’s isn’t always an objective for everyone.  Indeed it is for small business, usually.  Sometimes it is if it’s a subject matter blog intending to earn a lot of revenue (especially a mommy blog like “Dooce”).  Sometimes, a blog post continues a topic presented before, linked to earlier posts by Blogger and Wordpress labels. 
I do notice that Google has gotten pickier in search engine results.  It used to be that my Blogger movie reviews came up by name, but not so much now.  Wordpress blog entries now seem to do about was well as Blogger (with no SEO), when I think in the past Blogger posts seemed to come up first. 
There is some contradiction between various counts reported by Analytics, Adsense, and Blogger’s own totals (Adsense now only counts page requests that could have generated valid clicks, it seems).  But generally, I’ve notice that individual posts get more requests, and blogs get more unique visitors, when recent posts contain detailed content that isn’t widely available elsewhere.  Personal narratives and interpretations of personal events do increase visits (and it’s not necessary to give away PII).  Controversy generally increases visits.  Including embedded videos seems to help.  Adding updates to existing posts seems to get more visitors if the additional content is substantial and includes images or video.
Here’s a piece  on Techcruch?  What if Facebook paid users for content (when it actually generates ad revenue)?  The question comes up with Instant Articles.   There’s a site (encrypted!) that encourages patronage of content creators, here.  I’ve never been one to place a “tip jar” or say “go fund me” or raise money, because I don’t really have targeted “clients” or “fans”, so it seems a little tacky. 

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Copyright controversies affect Instagram photos, car repairs

Jessica Contrera reports in the Washington Post that some Instagram account members have found their photos digitally reproduced and sold to art galleries, link here
The application of copyright law in these circumstances seems a bit ambiguous.  It’s more acceptable when there is some kind of “transformation”.  But it can be very difficult for the original photographer to protect his rights in practice, if he cares.
CNN discussed the problem today, May 27, mid afternoon. I don’t think this is likely to happen to most people in practice.  CNN (art critic Jerry Saltz) says that the Instagram pictures are in public domain, and that transformation happens by adding comments.  Most of this happens with portraits of celebrities.  Taylor Swift might have an issue.  Saltz made a comparison to “drone warfare”. 
Pictures including existing photos have a potential to run into problems, although usually they don’t in practice (except in an area with a no photography sign, like some museums).

But on Vox, Tim Lee writes that copyright law can hamper tinkerers from repairing their own cars when software is involved, or may hamper independent auto shops and shoot more repair business to dealers. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Asymmetric "psychological warfare" could change the perspective on Internet user-generated content

So, is asymmetric speech a good thing?
A good part of my strategy for all these years was simply to post it, let the search engines index it, and let people find it.  I covered almost everything, even though my starting point had been the unusual aspects of the “gays in the military” debate in the early and mid 1990s.  This a way of “keeping ‘em honest” – the professional lobbyists and “organizations”. 

I’m generally reluctant to find too much purpose in belonging to single-cause organizations, because they can’t (by definition) be objective.  Of course, that sounds like I’m saying I’m “above” the indignity of walking in a picket line.  I know the line – if I had kids…    My own worst hour of need from the political system came in the 1980s, when AIDS created a personal political threat, more than a medical one (as I didn’t get infected).  I was a joiner then, to an extent.  By even then, with my pre-Internet letter writing campaign on an old Okidata printer and Radio Shack or ATT 6300 in a Dallas garden apartment or condo, I insisted on exploring all the public health arguments as they could be understood at the time.
But over time, some of the quirky aspects of my thinking could come through, like, how I perceived certain aspects of other people.  That had been an issue earlier in my life, as  when living in a dorm (William and Mary) and then as an “inpatient” at NIH (1962), where my ideas could be viewed as making others less confident in their own ability to start families later.  This was particularly true of my movie reviews, and Urchin or Analytics reports would show that people were catching on and searching for them. 
The biggest breakpoint came in 2005, with the major flap over my short film screenplay “The Sub”, while I was working as a substitute teacher (July 27, 2007 here).   Suddenly, my intentions seemed to be flipped on their heads.  Why would someone in charge of kids even suggest online that he could be “tempted”?  On the other hand, I could say, my screenplay (even if the protagonist resembled me) warns teachers of what can happen if they’re not wary.  I could also say that as a sub, I wasn’t paid enough for such an assumption of how I fit in to a social hierarchy as a role model in someone’s world. I’ve called this problem “implicit content”, which actually got mentioned at the COPA trial in Philadelphia in 2007.
As I noted yesterday, the biggest societal risk from low-volume (and non-commercial) but broad-based individual searchable speech may be attracting the rare bad actor.  A quirky idea can be defended as just a “fantasy” (as in the New York cop case, March 21, 2015).  But the speech could be viewed as “useless” and likely eventually to have the effect of attracting lone wolf who really will act out on hostile fantasies.
We see that idea now playing out in discussions on how ISIS recruits through social media accounts (especially Twitter) that reach thousands of possible visitors.  But search engines don’t come into play;  instead visitors are directed to “dark web” site are not indexed, and that have all kinds of violent propaganda that would normally violate TOS.  The idea is that the tiny fraction who do act when finding such material can mount what amounts to asymmetric warfare.  So this sounds like a “do no good” argument, but it also throws a different spin on how we might interpret free speech rights.  Normally, in an individualistic legal culture, you can say what you want, and if some other psychopath does something because of being inspired by something he finds online (even that “you” wrote), he alone is held responsible by the criminal justice system.  But if this asymmetric technique is actually crafted into a way to wage war, even psychological warfare, that could change how the original speaker and his output is viewed.

Monday, May 25, 2015

"It's Free": well, not forever. Is it OK to compete with yourself this way? A devious thought-experiment follows

Here’s a nasty little thought experiment, for a legal holiday.  Imagine that no one were allowed to keep self-published material (that is, online, in blogs, in self-published books, in videos) up and available (and findable by search) to the public unless it paid its own way with sales.   

You can imagine “exceptions” – like social media posts, but only those that were marked private outside of a pre-selected list of people that you already know and interact with in the real world. *
I throw out this “modest proposal” (like Jonathan Swift) as a kind of reaction to the constant calls I get to become aggressive in “selling”.   

I can immediately point to the same dilemma with newspapers, many of which have put up paywalls, with varying success.  Most scientific journals have mandatory pay, too (and subscriptions are expensive).  And in the past, even the government tried to support a system that kept some free academic journals away from the public, leading to the open access debate, started by the tragedy of Aaron Swartz (PACER should have been free, but not JSTOR) and recently taken up by teen medical innovator Jack Andraka.  

But in my own world, the basic moral setup is something this.  People calling have to make a living (often on commissions).  My “it’s free” idea isn’t fair to them.  Other people have children to raise, mouths to feed.  They didn’t inherit an estate that allows them to coast and do what they want.  

So I should get a taste of the life of a “pimp” and do the “Hustle and Flow” myself.   

That’s not quite accurate in another way.  I paid for the self-publishing of my first book (in 1997) because I found vendors who would do it rather inexpensively, because I made a good salary in a stable job, had ample savings, and because those savings had grown substantially in the 90s because the stock market (under a “Republicrat” Bill Clinton, who was very fiscally responsible himself) did well. I essentially “invested” stock market gains into the book.   Yes, Wall Street matters.  Rentier capital matters.  It can help you do what you want.  (And fiscal responsibility by governments helps.) All of this happened well before the eldercare endgame with Mother. 

And yes, I don’t have kids.  I didn’t procreate. I have no lineage to take care of me or to replace me.  But the cultural fault lines are appearing, and there are more than just two opposing sides to this. *
Normally, media projects do have to pay their own way when they use other people’s money (OPM).  Publicly traded companies have the biggest accountability, and that’s one reason why the “creativity” behind big Hollywood movies may be entertaining and dazzling, it’s often not too challenging intellectually, or doesn’t ask too many questions.   Independent movies still use investor money (often as LLC’s), usually, but usually investors who are much more interested in a creative message and not as demanding about returns.  Proprietors, like some self-published book authors and webmasters (me) are relatively free, a lot of sales hype in recent months and years is eroding that assumption.  

My strategy was to put out a morally nuanced, even ambiguous and perhaps self-effacing theory, at let people find it.  Yes, I did sell copies of the book in the first couple years, reasonably. But gradually, I came to depend on search engines to find me.  This worked very well from about 1999 until maybe 2008.  Gradually, never forms of social media have eroded that “market”.   
There is something alarming to some people about “passive” marketing like the way I managed it.  It is more likely to be found by people who don’t have the best intentions, the theory goes.   (This could feed into recent theories about how ISIS is able to abuse social media and use social leveraging to recruit.)  If “I” and really proud of what I have to say, then I should promote it with conventional public relations and advertising services, and work on a large scale.  I should spend time on sales activity, and not just on reworking more content.   
Historically, there is a twist in all this. I think the whole strategy I used would not be possible without Section 230, and if Facebook, Twitter, and to some extent newer Google products hadn’t come along, we might have much weaker downstream liability protections than we do now.  So while Mark Zuckerberg may have taken away some of my audience, he may have also saved it, and provided a new one. 

But imagine a world where you have to “earn the privilege of being listened to” (ironically, the title of my third book).  “You” (or “I” – I get defensive here and use pronouns impersonally, like in French class) only get heard when other people “want” or “need” what you have to say. That expands to a personal life, even for a singleton, based on meeting “the real needs of other people” and, moreover, letting that mean something to “you”.  I heard a lot of this back in the 1970s in the Rosenfels environment at the Ninth Street Center in NYC, with a great deal of irony and moral paradox that has never resolved.  There seems to be another cultural divide in our culture, between people who can “play” in an individualistic, secularized culture and those who need personalized attention in a group.  But man is a social animal before he is an individual.  
There’s a good question, as to the effectiveness, and even the ethics, of competing with oneself  (e.g., “you can compete with ‘free’”)– putting it up for sale on Amazon and other sites for those able and willing to pay, but also giving it away on PDF’s on owned sites or on “free” YouTube videos.  I wonder if this is partly what the big media companies worry about as eroding their market, rather than actual piracy.  (Mark Cuban, from Shark Tank, once ratified that idea in an email to me a few years back.)   

So, just moments ago, I played “Flirtation Avenue” from Timo Andres’s “Shy and Mighty”, an ironic name, from own YouTube channel, for free (ironically, the link on his website is incorrect!). But, yes, I played good karma and bought the CD a few years back, as I will with any artist I want to support (like by going to see his or her film with a normal admission ticket).  (The piece ends loudly.)  The meaning behind the “How Can I Live in your World of Ideas?” (the preceding piece), seems relevant.  Ideas alone can be dangerous when they just lie fallow.  But musicians, unlike bloggers and novelists, don’t have to be that explicit about meaning.  Arnold Schoenberg even said that – although opera and cantatas have a lot of textual meaning that can provoke.  
The mockumentary film series (3 8-minute shorts) by Reid Ewing (known from “Modern Family” and various indie films) starting with “It’s Free” (starting in an LA library, going to an aquarium and then a courthouse!) from around 2012 summarize all this beautifully.  And unfortunately they aren’t available right now, as far as I can tell. 

Coordinated post on Trademark blog today (also, Books blog on May 24, 2015 and Oct. 16, 2013).

Friday, May 22, 2015

Federal anti-SLAPP bill would let state cases move to federal court for pre-emptive dismissal

Electronic Frontier Foundation reports that an Anti-SLAPP bill has been introduced in the House, by a bipartisan group. The story by Sofia Cope is here.  It will be called the “Speak Free Act of 2015” as introduced by Blake Farenthold (R-TX) and Anna Eshoo (D-CA), link here
One of the most important provisions would allow defendants in purported SLAPP suits in states without SLAPP laws or weak SLAPP laws to federal court, where judges would follow certain guidelines of reasonableness in dismissing cases.  These standards include “actual malice” in speech, as well as Section 230, and the protection of anonymous speakers.  It would be an interesting question if people posting negative (and sometimes anonymous) reviews on Yelp! And Angie’s List could have cases dismissed by a federal court this way.  It sounds as if it would.
Above is some more discussion of Caifornia’s law now, but this is advice to potential plaintiffs!  “Be very careful!”

Thursday, May 21, 2015

IPv4 addresses getting short this year in North America, could this affect small business, small websites?

The Internet is running out of IPv4 addresses (the four node addresses that we became accustomed to).  The United States (North America) will run out of its ration this summer, and Robert McMillan reports that Amazon and Microsoft are “scrambling” to buy up the rest, link here

The newer IPv6 codes offer an essentially unlimited supply.  Businesses need new routers to support these, and I’m not sure how significant that is.  A quick check with another tech journalist on the story last night indicated that he didn’t think it would be a big deal.
If you have a major telecomm vendor (like Comcast) and do an “Ipconfig” at the command prompt (in Windows 7), you’ll see a “Link-local IPv6 address” followed by the provider’s root IPv4 address, a Subunit Mask, and a Default Gateway, which is also IPv4. You telecomm provider already gives you a dynamic IPv6 address. 
What’s not clear is how this would affect average users and small businesses, which need to set up new websites.  It would sound as though dedicated web hosting could become difficult. Right now, dedicated hosting (your own server) costs about $300 a month, typically about ten times shared hosting.  However, blogging consultants are strongly recommending this  and this comports with the newly articulate idea that blogging needs to pay for itself with its own profits, as covered recently here.
I’m not sure how shared hosting IP address generation works.  It looks as though most providers have just one IPv4 per server, and generate you all the IPv6 addresses you need for your own domains.  This should work for most users.  However, one of my sites, while having a shared hosting account (on Windows Server), has had its own IPv4 for years, which Domain Tools confirms.  I’m really not sure what this means.  It might be possible that a service provider would set up one if a domain were a target of hackers and not inform the user, but I don’t know if this really .happens or would be industry practice.

Persons or entities who lose dedicated IP hosting accounts because a provider goes out of business or fail, could have difficulty getting another one.  It's not clear how this will play out. 
PCMag has an article on this issue back from 2011, here   Cisco has a technically detailed 2011 article here.
There is a lot to go through.

Update: May 31

BlueHost appears to be offering "free" SSL to all webmasters, but those on shared hosting would have to purchase separate IP addresses (right now $4 a month per domain). But could this run out if IPv4 gets short?  I will have to look into this in detail  But some people say on Twitter that this is just a "scare" to sell more services.  

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Foreign contributions for ballot initiatives (in CA) complicate the campaign finance debate; the partisan pressures to "take sides" and "join up"

The concerns over campaign finance reform and political contributions, even indirect, has resurfaced this week, in a USA Today story by Fredreka Schouten Tuesday, “Condoms-in-porn initiative spurs concern about foreign money in elections”, link here.   

The Federal Election Commission says that the ban on foreign campaign contributions applies only to candidate elections, not to ballot initiatives. The issue concerned a 2012 ballot initiative requiring actors in “adult” films to use condoms during filming (even if not actually having “sex”).   Some of the contributions had come from Manwin, a porn distributor in Luxembourg.  The AIDS Healthcare Foundation had objected to the practice, and some (especially in the state GOP) say that California law alone would have banned the foreign contributions.  

But the influence of “money” on elections and initiatives, and the Supreme Court’s view of contributions as “speech” in most cases, is troubling.  In Washington DC, a lot of the jobs are in lobbying groups – I once worked for a company that generated analytical reports for healthcare lobbying groups.  I actually learned a lot from the experience, setting up how I would handle my own book “business” later. 

Heavy lobbying, however, tends to polarize people into partisan camps, often driven by emotion and social loyalties that trump critical thinking.  (See my review of William Gairdner’s book “The Great Divide” May 15.)  I find people pressuring me to “join” something and pimp someone else’s cause rather than continue “gratuitous publication” about “everything”.  I plead “Cloud Atlas” – everything is connected.  
On the other hand, trying to limit campaign influence has its problems.  Remember the flap in 2005 over the idea that bloggers could inadvertently make illegal campaign contributions, and where that led. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Facebook "Instant Articles" is posed to "eat the Internet"

The Facebook Instant  Articles is generating even more debate on how mainstream media outlets – and bloggers alike – can best monetize their content and maintain a presence with visitors.  Forbes has an interesting perspective (pre-Instant) from Lewis DVorkin, link here

But the Motley Fool (which I remember being very popular 15 years ago in the Web 1.0 days) says that the concept could “eat the Internet”, dragging away revenue from Twitter and Google (and Bing and Yahoo!) because it makes content-following so easy for users (and advertisers to them) on mobile devices.  The article, by Adam Levy is here.  I have a bone to pick here.  The article, at the end (with a tag “Eating the Interet”), said that Cable and Hollywood are dying, and invited the user to go to a link to identify some new hot tech companies – and I went there I got one of these endless come-ons.  When I came back, that last comment about cable and Hollywood had disappeared.  Fool considers Instant Articles as a boon to publishers, but it’ now so clear how small, indie publishers jump in.  Would instant articles change the algorithms from Friends’ feeds?  How does this affect something like Reddit?

Cynthia Cizilla, however, writes in the Washington Post Monday, “for legacy media publications, Face experiment is a tricky one”, link here

It’s a good question, too, about conventional blogging platforms (the latest advice column on monetizing blogging that I found is here), as newer media formats draw away their traffic.  That could be one reason there has been so much desperate hype about niche blogging and traffic-generating techniques in the past few months.  Not as many people hunt for their news in search engines online (the way I still do) as would have maybe seven years ago.  My own very best traffic days came during the Financial Crisis of 2008, when I really had some good numbers.  That’s a sinister lesson – disaster, along with notoriety, sells.   

Monday, May 18, 2015

Backpage protected by Section 230, according to MA federal judge; 9th Circuit turns down injunction based on copyright claim against anti-Muslim film

Electronic Frontier foundation reports two very  important cases this Monday morning.
In Massachusetts, a federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit against for a user-generated sex trafficking ad.  The judge felt the ad was abhorrent (as would most reasonable users), but said that Section 230, as written protects the site, which does not have a practical ability to presceeen what users do.  The story by David Greene is here. The court apparently rejected “good faith” arguments as well as those that claimed that Backpage was actually a “back door” information content provider, or claims of “tacit encouragement”. The case is “Doe #1 v. Backpage”.  The Opinion is here
Kris Olson has an article “’Free and open Internet’ trumps against Internet sex trafficking”, in Massachusetts Lawyers, link here. Some observers feel the Backpage case is weak even without Section 230. 
There is separate litigation going on in Washington State about Backpage, before the state supreme court here.

Also, in the case Garcia v. Google (Feb. 27, 2014), the en banc Ninth Circuit affirmed a lower court’s denial of Cindy Lee Garcia’s request for a preliminary injunction requiring YouTube to remove materials related to “Innocence of Muslims” under DMCA Safe Harbor.  The embedded PDF for the opinion is here.

The en banc oral arguments from Dec. 2014 are available on YouTube.

The “threat” was considered as part of the auxillary “irreparable harm” idea used to justify a preliminary injunction for a copyright claim later.  The script had been originally titled “Desert Warrior”. 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Will conventional blogging go into decline? Introductory sites for beginning bloggers abound

Okay, on a humid Saturday afternoon, where there’s not the intensity for heavy stuff, I’ll mention that someone advertised to me her “First Site Guide” (and she even reminded me with a second email) on how to start a blog.  “Here it is”, link.

It’s set up on a PDF as a free “book”  (yes, “It’s free”, like the public library). 
The advice is pretty basic, compared to the technical details from Australian blogging guru “Blogtyrant” (who, I believe, is still considerably under 30).  And it may make more sense for niches and small businesses.
I also found a “” site that looks rather new and unfinished, but that seeks members. (Some of the existing member names were in the Russian alphabet.) By the way, I have a habit of having more than one Blogger panel open at a time.  It never seems to hirt anything.  Sometimes Blogger warns me that I am signed on twice.
I’ve also noticed that sometimes, when I pull up a blog, it pulls in an embedded video from the previous post instead of the current post, an automatic caching issue.  It goes away when I pull up the specific post.  I seem to have automatic Chrome caching on Blogger, but not Wordpress.
My analytics from Wordpress Jetpack seem accurate.  But Google analytics seems to undercount visits.  Some visits don’t get counted even when reloading the page.  And there are many more counts on specific pages from Blogger stats than reflected in analytics, sometimes, especially on politically “controversial” postings (like about the NSA, Snowden, surveillance, etc.) that normally draw more traffic.  Do Blogger counts reflect “spying”? 

Update: May 18

"Blogelina" has a tip page, of what you need, that is, if you have a niche blog, link.  The comments about Cloud storage are interesting.  It's interesting, that a blog has to meet a real "need".

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Amtrak accident in Philadelphia leaves disturbing questions about infrastructure, Internet security even if cause is finally found to be simple human error

The Amtrak accident in Philadelphia has the potential to have frightening implications for both our personal mobility and for the Internet, based on what future investigations find.  
I was in the Port Richmond area of Philadelphia myself (by car) on January 19, 2015, as I have mentioned a few times on these blogs (Fishtown, a subject of a book by Charles Murray, is nearby.) 
At first, I did wonder if there had been the possibility of explosion in the first passenger car, which would indicate terrorism, comporting with recent international and religious politics, if true.  But the best information now says that the train was going 106 mph in a 50 mph zone.  I have ridden this train (both Northeast regional and Acela) many times and remember the curve.  I think that the Philadelphia Zoo is nearby, as is a major electrical substation.  The train always slows down on this curve.  Or, having left 30th Street Station, it usually travels slowly until past this curve.  Many trains also used to do a stop in North Philadelphia, which I used sometimes when living in New Jersey in the early 1970s (and which my father often used on business trips).  

So I was rather shocked at reports of the train’s speed, which I did notice early today watching this surveillance video (CNN link ).  One possibility that occurs, to me at least, is the possibility of hacking or tampering with the train’s computer systems, conceivably from the Internet, if indeed the control systems were accessible on Internet topology.  Homeland security reporters have speculated on cyberwar and on attacks on power plants or airlines this way by hackers, and my reaction has always been, there simply should not exist any topological path between my computer and an Amtrak train, and airliner, or a power plant.  The mathematical concept (in graph theory) is called connectedness, and is easily proved or disproved. I studied plenty of theorems about this in graduate school in the 1960s (at KU).  If connection existed, maybe I could reach a USAF missile silo in North Dakota, NORAD, or the Pentagon (as in the prescient 1983 movie “War Games”).  This should not be possible at all.  
We know, though, that Sony was compromised, although probably from an inside source.  And the enemy was secular (North Korea), not Islam.  That can be true now.  Russia and China (as Donald Trump warns) are not our friends now.  
It’s also true the IT shops in many organizations do have loopholes.  I found plenty of these in the elevation processes at work when I was in mainframe IT (a very good employee in data control found a tremendous loophole in 1991), and there were indeed three or four incidents of deliberate compromise by others during my career (resulting in firings and at least two arrests).  DBMS’s can have “wormholes” when accessed in unusual ways (as with mainframe IDMS when accessed in batch through a “central version” – I think I’ve talked about this before on my IT blog).  While we have no specific information on Amtrak’s shop, I know that in general these sort of problems often exist.  Metro was found to have serious IT problems after the tunnel smoke fatality in Washington DC in January 2015.  Organizations like Metro and Amtrak may have difficulty attracting the very best technical talent to configure these systems properly.  
A lot has been written today about Congress’s unwillingness to fund Amtrak properly (relative to freight-owned tracks), and about a speed control system yet to be implemented in much of the Amtrak system, including Philadelphia.
The most recent news reports on CNN suggest that speeding on train systems is more common than we think.  A horrible accident in Spain, and several commuter rail accidents in the US have resulted from speeding.   Centrifugal force causes trains to derail (can cars and trucks to lose control) on curves, and it’s easy to demonstrate on a model railroad. But it is very hard to imagine an engineer’s allowing a train to go over 100 mph so soon after leaving a major train station in an area with a lot of curves and branch connections (one that goes to Atlantic City).  If a computer controls the train’s speed and somehow worked improperly (possibly because of sabotage), it’s hard to understand that the engineer wouldn’t be able to override it manually and slow the train down, well before it reached this speed. 
If indeed, however, it is found that external sabotage took place, Hitchcock-style, this could have serious implications for efficient transportation and Internet use for everyone.  
Over the past few months, Homeland Security has already floated the idea of severely restricting onboard electronics and cell phones on planes.  Could this even happen to trains?  How would people stay wired when they got to their destinations?  Little has been written about this yet (see Dec. 5, 2014 post). 
Note: the latest CNN report now says the engineer slammed on the brake just before the wreck.  The engineer will not answer questions of police without an attorney. The Philadelphia mayor condemned the engineer, and the NTSB says the mayor is out of line.  It now appears that an automatic speed control system in place between Washington and the Delaware line and in parts of New Jersey has not been implemented in the Pennsylvania portion  -- so there was no control system to "hack" in this case.  Once it is installed, as it must be, security for it will be critical. 

Also, along the lines of topological isolation, I see that Newsweek (May 15). has an article on "Cyberpower" by Owen Matthews where the topic of "air gaps" to reach isolated utility networks is mentioned. I'll get into this on another posting soon. 

Update: May 15

The Philadelphia Inquirer has a running update of the factual investigation here. An Atlanta TV station article here. LA times has more here.  I haven't yet found any of Brandon's original blog postings. 

Later update:  It appears possible or even likely that the Amtrak train was struck by a bullet or missile, as was another SEPTA train (CNN).  The engineer might have been struck, which could cause incapacitation that he did not remember (although medical examination of injuries should have found that by now).  FBI is investigating.  This sounds ominous, like "lone wolf" activity feared in recent FBI, Homeland Security, and NSA statements, to be honest.  But facts are not in all in.  Philadelphia Inquirer seems to be the most detailed and up-to-date.  

May 16:  The New York Times discusses the problem of objects being thrown at trains in the NE corridor, here

May 22:   NTSB says there's no evidence of a bullet, and some of the other stories about other trains being struck and conversations with the engineer have been discounted. The best theory, although speculative, may be that a thrown object struck the locomotive and distracted the engineer, and he made a mistake at the control, and thought he was north of the curve.  That's not certain.  But the lack of an automated speed control system on the northbound track was fatal.  It has since been installed. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Could our foreign enemies tempt the government to pull the "Internet Kill Switch"? The security concerns with "audience leveraging"

The rhetoric about the misuse of the Internet by foreign elements (ISIS) in the media has been scary in recent days.  The NSA and FBI have made some alarming and probably speculative statements about the way the Internet is being used to recruit lone wolves.  There is more vague talk of cyberwar.  CNN, ABCNews and Fox have been particularly aggressive with this matter;  other outlets, including Vox and NBC, seem more restrained. Particularly disturbing is the notion of the Internet as a weapon of war.  

As I’ve written here before, enemies can be real, and coercion has a big impact on how we engineer our own lives.  Actual war can change a lot of things quickly.  

So one “obvious” idea comes back to mind.  What about the supposed “Internet kill switch”?  An article in Mother Jones by Dana Liebeson from November 2013 (pre-ISIS) seems to give about the best explanation of how it could work in practice. You would hope that there is considerable pressure from Wall Street never to do this. 
In fact, there is an independent film called “KillSwitch” from Akorn (director Ali Akbarzadeh).  I’ve contacted the production company to find out about DVD, streaming availability.
In fact, there is a great deal of entropy in our discussion of Internet safety, freedom, and privacy right now.  On the one hand, the courts come down on the NSA, but on the other hand we realize encryption products could very well prevent law enforcement from detecting a deadly plot.  
Advocacy groups debate these points from the narrow views of their own supporting constituencies.
And the nature of threat varies with the enemy. North Korea poses different problems from ISIS, which in turn is not quite the same as the 9/11-version of Al Qaeda.  For years after 9/11, a lot of discussion concerned nuclear terror and dirty bombs, and more recently, with EMP flux devices.  The lone wolf, however, is most easily recruited by misuse of social media.  
We’ve had a lot of non-Muslim lone wolf incidents already, ranging from our own extreme right to the “mentally ill”, prompting the debate on the Second Amendment and gun control.  So the nature of this kind of incident, while tragic, has plenty of precedent. 
The basic process seems to be that foreign adversaries tweet links to “Dark Web” (to be differentiated from “Deep Web”) accounts not readily indexed, and the government claims that there are tens of thousands of people following these Twitter accounts, which Twitter can’t monitor and close quickly enough.  Perhaps a miniscule percentage of these tens of thousands might act on the violent rhetoric, which has been produced to look like professional media.  The strategy is unprecedented, but “logical” given the topology of the Internet and the mindset of the adversary. The effect is to locate the “three psychopaths in Minnesota” or anywhere else, so to speak.  Inevitably, the government says, this can lead to more Boston-style incidents, which might be directed particularly at police and military.  It is not too much of a stretch to imagine a foreign adversary (and it could be secular communism as well as radical Islam) trying to connect to public discontent over domestic police incidents in recent months, or other varied social issues and perceived victims. 
One could call this process “audience leveraging”, and that is something similar to what I have done, with a totally different (and I hope benign) purpose and result.  That is, in a world without gatekeepers (remember, Section 230 and DMCA Safe Harbor) it takes very little capital to post content and, with the help of both conventional “Web 1.0” search engines and now newer social media sites, develop an audience which magnifies your message.  You may not even need impressive numbers by the usual analytic measures, and you may not need to make any money, to be effective politically with this kind of asymmetry. In my case, the idea is that advocacy groups (like lobbying orgs) would know there is always someone like me around to keep them “intellectually honest”, and to encourage people to learn to think beyond their own immediate needs in the way they act politically.  I was somewhat the “enemy” of old-fashioned “solidarity”.  But here, what the “enemy” is doing is use leveraging to find the very few people who really will carry out their wishes. 

The government does have a program to counter propaganda, as reported in the Washington Post Monday by Scott Higham and Greg Miller, specifically focusing on Twitter, detailed story link here. More effective counters would have to come from (largely Muslim) religious leaders in western mosques working with youth. 
It’s natural to wonder if “amateur” content may be more regulated in the future than it has been.  Recently, a number of blogging gurus (like “Blogtyrant”) have been promoting the idea that you should be serious about getting a large audience and making money if you blog at all, by following many evolving professional techniques.  I think that is indeed true of “niche blogs”, or of blogs that support small businesses.  But it isn’t necessary to have big numbers to be effective “politically”.  But over time, the companies that host blogging platforms (at least the free services) could well decide that moving I this direction is in their best business interest, and international politics could be part of the picture.  Imagine, if you will, requirements of minimum distinct visitor counts, maximum bounce rates, and the like.  I do wonder now if that could happen. This question could come up in the context of encrypting the entire “public” web, which is now a double-edged idea.

Also -- check the Internet Safety blog Oct. 13, 2014 for article on Shodan.  

Friday, May 08, 2015

Copyright suits still used to censor, following a bizarre case where a businessman claims he isn't a public figure; do you need to be "big" to blog?

Is the world a safe place for small bloggers?

Consider the case of litigation brought by Ranaan Katz, part owner of the Miami Heat, for against a blogger (not named in news stories) for posts somehow critical of him.  The blog by “RKAssocates”, now removed (try the link ) brought suits for defamation, in which the attorney even threatened other media outlets for writing about the suit for somehow spreading to or pointing to defamation, as reported by PopeHat in June 2012, here.  Defamation suits for links to “defamatory” material are possible but rare in practice.
Techdirt has further details from 2012, in which the plaintiff apparently claims he is not a “public figure”, here. The Miami New Times has a 2011 story by Tim Elfrink, here, in which both attorneys are quoted (Marc Randazza for the “anonymous” blogger and Todd Levine for the plaintiff) and where there is a hint (from the plaintiff) that the blogger was set up as a virtual chess game pawn by business enemies of the sports owner.  Well, how can you really own a sports team (at least partially) and other big businesses like real estate (just Google his name) and not be “famous”? You can’t have it both ways.  I haven’t heard of any suits like this from MLB owners. 
Finally, the plaintiff sued for copyright infringement over a rather unflattering photo, after acquiring the rights to the photo but apparently before getting it registered with the Copyright office.  He even sued Google for not honoring a takedown request (and then backed down).  The federal district court dismissed the case, and the plaintiff appealed, and Electronic Frontier Foundation discusses its amicus brief in a piece by Jamie Williams here.  By the way, suing over the use of a dicey photo is an example of the “Streisand Effect”.
As we saw with the Righthaven cases a few years back, a lot of establishment interests don’t believe individual people have any business sticking their necks out with speech until they prove themselves competitively.  They see bullying as part of power and maintaining an orderly and stable world, rather the way Vladimir Putin does.

The ideas that bloggers (like self-published book authors) should “aim high” and have established themselves doing something interpersonally competitive is showing up in another area, in a number of tweets to articles on the effort that ought to be made to draw large audiences if you “bother” to blog at all.  Richard Adams has a detailed article on optimizing a Word Press blog here where he talks about various plugins, and suggests that if the blog means anything (beyond “pictures of your cat”, surely copyright-safe), you really ought to have a dedicated server (not use shared hosting). And Aussie Ramsay Taplan (“Blogtyrant”) has a similar post about SEO on how to get “119.717 visitors” (unique) every month, here   It takes a lot of work.  I noted his column here on March 2.  Again, it seems that this advice is more suited to narrow (which to me usually means “partisan” – a bad word with me) niche blogs (like mommy blogs, most of all “to dooce”). Musicians or independent artists, however, would do particularly well to follow some of this advice.  It would be helpful if these blogging gurus would take up the question of how to encrypt blogs in a straightforward matter, as this may eventually become "required".