On presuming competence

A few weeks ago, while our car honked its way through dense traffic in Delhi, I imagined an Onion headline: American Visitor Seeks To Explain What He’ll Never Understand About India.

By the norms of traffic laws in countries where people’s tendency is largely to obey them, vehicular and pedestrian traffic in the dense parts of Indian cities appears to be chaotic to an extreme. Yet it’s clearly at least … well, organic. People do seem to go where they want, individually and collectively. Somehow. Some way. Or ways. Many of them. Alone and together. Never mind that a four-lane divided highway will have traffic moving constantly, occasionally in both directions on both sides—and that it includes humans, dogs, cattle, rickshaws and bikes, some laden with bags of cargo that look like they belong in a truck, in addition to cars, trucks and motorcycles, all packed together and honking constantly.

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A helpful approach to personal data protection regulation

Enforcing Data Protection: A Model for Risk-Based Supervision Using Responsive Regulatory Tools, a post by Dvara Research, summarizes Effective Enforcement of a Data Protection Regime, by Beni Chugh, Malavika Raghavan, Nishanth Kumar & Sansiddha Pani. While it addresses proximal concerns in India, it provides useful guidance for data regulators everywhere.

An excerpt:

Any data protection regulator faces certain unique challenges. The ubiquitous collection and use of personal data by service providers in the modern economy creates a vast space for a regulator to oversee. Contraventions of a data protection regime may not immediately manifest and when they do, may not have a clear monetary or quantifiable harm. The enforcement perimeter is market-wide, so a future data protection authority will necessarily interface with other sectoral institutions.  In light of these challenges, we present a model for enforcement of a data protection regime based on risk-based supervision and the use

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When a thunderstorm appears right on top of an airport

This is the situation at Newark Airport right now:

Those blobs are thunderstorms. The little racetrack in upstate New York is an inbound flight from Lisbon in a holding pattern.

Follow the link under that screen shot. Interesting to see, in close to real time, how flights on approach and departure dodge heavy weather.

I’ll be flying out of there in a few hours myself, to India, for the firs time. Should be fun.

Without enforcement, the GDPR is a fail

And the same goes for California’s AB-375 privacy bill.

The GDPR has been in force since May 25th, and it has done almost nothing to stop websites that make money from tracking-based-advertising stop participating in the tracking of readers. Instead almost all we’ve seen so far are requests for from websites to keep doing what they’re doing.

Only worse. Because now when you click “Accept” under an interruptive banner saying the site’s “cookies and other technologies collect data to enhance your experience and personalize the content and advertising you see,” you’ve just consented to being spied on. And they’re covered. They can carry on with surveillance-as-usual.

Score: Adtech 1, privacy 0.

Or so it seems. So far.

Are there any examples of publications that aren’t participating in #adtech’s spy game? Besides Linux Journal?

 

What’s wrong with bots is they’re not ours

In Chatbots were the next big thing: what happened?, Justin Lee (@justinleejw) nicely unpacks how chatbots were overhyped to begin with and continue to fail their Turing tests, especially since humans in nearly all cases would  rather talk to humans than to mechanical substitutes.

There’s also a bigger and more fundamental reason why bots still aren’t a big thing: we don’t have them. If we did, they’d be our robot assistants, going out to shop for us, to get things fixed, or to do whatever.

Why didn’t we get bots of our own?

I can pinpoint the exact time and place where bots of our own failed to happen, and all conversation and development went sideways, away from the vector that takes us to bots of our own (hashtag: #booo), and instead toward big companies doing more than ever to deal with us robotically, mostly to

vrmcrmconduit
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Wanted: Online Pubs Doing Real (and therefore GDPR-compliant) Advertising

This is what greets me when I go to the Washington Post site from here in Germany:

Washington Post greeting for Europeans

So you can see it too, wherever you are, here’s the URL I’m redirected to on Chrome, on Firefox, on Safari and on Brave. All look the same except for Brave, which shows a blank page.

Note that last item in the Premium EU Subscription column: “No on-site advertising or third-party tracking.”

Ponder for a moment how the Sunday (or any) edition of the Post‘s print edition would look with no on-paper advertising. It would be woefully thin and kind of worthless-looking. Two more value-adds for advertising in the print edition:

  1. It doesn’t track readers, which is the sad and broken norm for newspapers and magazines in the online world—a norm now essentially outlawed by the GDPR, and surely the reason the Post is running this offer.
  2. It sponsors
    Continue reading "Wanted: Online Pubs Doing Real (and therefore GDPR-compliant) Advertising"

GDPR will pop the adtech bubble

In The Big Short, investor Michael Burry says “One hallmark of mania is the rapid rise in the incidence and complexity of fraud.” (Burry shorted the mania- and fraud-filled subprime mortgage market and made a mint in the process.)

One would be equally smart to bet against the mania for the tracking-based form of advertising called adtech.

Since tracking people took off in the late ’00s, adtech has grown to become a four-dimensional shell game played by hundreds (or, if you include martech, thousands) of companies, none of which can see the whole mess, or can control the fraud, malware and other forms of bad acting that thrive in the midst of it.

And that’s on top of the main problem: tracking people without their knowledge, approval or a court order is just flat-out wrong. The fact that it can be done is no excuse. Nor

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For privacy we need tech more than policy

Nature and the Internet both came without privacy.

The difference is that we’ve invented privacy tech in the natural world, starting with clothing and shelter, and we haven’t yet done the same in the digital world.

When we go outside in the digital world, most of us are still walking around naked. Worse, nearly every commercial website we visit plants tracking beacons on us to support the extractive economy in personal data called adtech: tracking-based advertising.

In the natural world, we also have long-established norms for signaling what’s private, what isn’t, and how to respect both. Laws have grown up around those norms as well. But let’s be clear: the tech and the norms came first.

Yet for some reason many of us see personal privacy as a grace of policy. It’s like, “The answer is policy. What is the question?”

Two such answers arrived with this morning’s  Continue reading "For privacy we need tech more than policy"

Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica problems are nothing compared to what’s coming for all of online publishing

Let’s start with Facebook’s Surveillance Machine, by Zeynep Tufekci in last Monday’s New York Times. Among other things (all correct), Zeynep explains that “Facebook makes money, in other words, by profiling us and then selling our attention to advertisers, political actors and others. These are Facebook’s true customers, whom it works hard to please.”

Giant Irony Alert: the same is true for the Times, along with every other publication that lives off adtech: surveillance-based advertising. These pubs don’t just open the kimonos of their readers. They treat them as naked beings whose necks are bared to vampires ravenous for the blood of personal data, all ostensibly so those persons can be served with “interest-based” advertising.

With no control by readers (beyond tracking protection which relatively few know how to use), and damn little care or control by the publishers who bare those readers’ necks to the vampires,

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Enough Alreadies

I just unsubscribed from Quora notifications.

Reasons:

  1. With my new full-time gig as editor-in-chief of Linux Journal, I have close to no time for anything else, even though many other obligations do take time. Some of those also pay, and so require that I cut out as many distractions as I can.
  2. The filter bubble thing works a bit too well. Two topics I’ve answered a lot—about IQ and radio—seem to bring an avalanche of others that beg to be answered, which I do too quickly, again and again. As a result I’ve said the same damn thing, or the same kinds of damn things, too many times.
  3. I’m not sure writing there does much good. But then, the world is now so thick with “content” that I’m not sure writing anywhere does as much good as it used to.
  4. It’s time now to look for effects. Except Continue reading "Enough Alreadies"

A Qualified Fail

Power of the People is a great grabber of a headline, at least for me. But it’s a pitch for a report that requires filling out the form here on the right:

You see a lot of these: invitations to put one’s digital ass on mailing list, just to get a report that should have been public in the first place, but isn’t so personal data can be harvested and sold or given away to God knows who.

And you do more than just “agree to join” a mailing list. You are now what marketers call a “qualified lead” for countless other parties you’re sure to be hearing from.

And how can you be sure? Read the privacy policy,. This one (for Viantinc.com) begins,

If you choose to submit content to any public area of our websites or services, your content will be considered “public” and will

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Mics Matter

Sometimes you get what you pay for.

In this case, a good microphone in a bluetooth headset.

Specifically, the Bose Soundsport Wireless:

I’ve had these a day so far, and I love them. But not just because they sound good. Lots of earphones do that. I love them because the mic in the thing is good. This is surprisingly rare.

Let’s start with the humble Apple EarPods that are overpriced at $29 and come with every Apple i-thing:

No, the sound isn’t great. But get this: they sound good to the ears at the other end. Better than the fancy new AirPods. And better than lots of other earphones I’ve used: ones from Beats, SkullCandy and lots of other brands. I’ve not heard any that sound better than plain old AirPods.

So, when a refurbished iPhone 7 Plus arrived to replace my failing iPhone 5s two days ago, and Continue reading "Mics Matter"

Geology answers for Montecito and Santa Barbara

The geology meeting at the Santa Barbara Central Library on Thursday looked like this from the front of the room (where I also tweeted the same pano):

Geologist Ed Keller

Our speakers were Ed Keller of UCSB and Engineering Geologist Larry Gurrola, who also works and studies with Ed. That’s him in the shot below.

As a geology freak, I know how easily terms like “debris flow,” “fanglomerate” and “alluvial fan” can clear a room. But this gig was SRO because around 3:15 in the morning of January 9th, simultaneous debris out of multiple canyons deposited fresh fanglomerate across the alluvial fan that comprises most of Montecito, destroying (by my count on the map below) 178 buildings, damaging more than twice that many, and killing 23 people. Two of those—a 3 year old girl and a 17 year old boy—are still interred in at places unknown in the fresh fanglomerate, sought

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Geology questions for Montecito and Santa Barbara

This post continues the inquiry I started with Making sense of what happened to Montecito. That post got a record number of reads for this blog, and 57 comments as well.

I expect to learn more at the community meeting this evening with UCSB geologist Ed Keller in the Faulkner Room in the main library in Santa Barbara. Here’s the Library schedule. Note that the meeting will be streamed live on Facebook.

Meanwhile, to help us focus on the geology questions, here is the final post-mudslide damage inspection map of Montecito:

I left out Carpinteria, because of the four structures flagged there, three were blue (affected) and one was yellow (minor), and none were orange (major) or red (destroyed). I’m also guessing they were damaged by flooding rather than debris flow. I also want to make the map as legible as possible, so we can focus on where the debris Continue reading "Geology questions for Montecito and Santa Barbara"

Making sense of what happened to Montecito

Note the date on this map:

That was more than a month before huge rains revised to red the colors in the mountains above Montecito. The LA Times also ran a story a week before last, warning about debris flows, which are like mud slides, but with lots of rocks.

When rains locals called “biblical” hit in the darkest hours last Tuesday morning, debris flows gooped down the mountainside canyons that feed  creeks that weave downhill across Montecito, depositing lots of geology on top of what was already there. At last count twenty people were dead and another three missing.

Our home, one zip code west of Montecito, was fine. But we can’t count how many people we know who are affected directly. Some victims were friends of friends. It’s pretty damn awful.

We all process tragedies like this in the ways we know best, and mine is

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Doing the after math

When I flew out of California on the 14th, this blog was still working. When I went here to post about the Thomas Fire on 15th, it wasn’t. (Somebody later told me Harvard was moving servers around, so maybe that was it.) But then the fire looked to be under control. It wasn’t.

On the 16th it blew hard down across the mountain flank of Montecito and Santa Barbara, straight toward our house.

So I posted reports, throughout the day, on the #ThomasFire, which is still burning—and will continue burn after it becomes the largest in California history, which will likely happen soon—over at Doc.Blog, which has the old-fashioned blogging virtue of being extremely easy to post on and to edit in real time, and in a WYSIWYG way.

Here are my posts there, in chronological order:

#ThomasFire 2017_12_16 9:35am PST

#ThomasFire 2017_12_16 9:55am PST

#ThomasFire 2017_12_16 Continue reading "Doing the after math"

The real problem is Decoy News (and decoy content of all kinds)—and the platforms can’t fix it

The term “fake news” was a casual phrase until it became clear to news media that a flood of it had been deployed during last year’s presidential election in the U.S. Starting in November 2016, fake news was the subject of strong and well-researched coverage by NPR (here and here), Buzzfeed, CBS (here and here), Wired, the BBC, Snopes, CNN (here and here), Rolling Stone and others. It thus became a thing…

… until Donald Trump started using it as an epithet for news media he didn’t like. He did that first during a press conference on February 16, and then the next day on Twitter:

And he hasn’t stopped. To Trump, any stick he can whup non-Fox mainstream media with is a good stick, and FAKE NEWS is the best.

So that pretty much took

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An evacuated view on the #ThomasFire

Here’s the latest VIIRS data, on the most active parts of the Thomas Fire, mapped on Google Earth Pro:That’s 1830 Mountain Standard Time, or 5:30pm Pacific. About half an hour ago as I write this.

And here are the evacuation areas:

Our home is in the orange Voluntary Evacuation area, and we made a round trip from LA to prepare the house as best we could, gather some stuff and go. Here’s a photo album of the trip, and one of the last sights we saw on our way out of town:

This, I believe, was a fire break created on the up-slope side of Toro Canyon.

This afternoon I caught a community meeting broadcast on KEYT, Santa Barbara’s local TV station, which has been very aggressive and responsible in reporting on the fire. I can’t find a recording of that now on the site, but Continue reading "An evacuated view on the #ThomasFire"

#ThomasFire Tuesday

Here is the extent of the Thomas Fire, via VIIRS readings going back a week:

Here are the active margins of the fire alone. The distance from one end to the other is about 40 miles:

We also see it’s eleven or twelve separate fires at this point. The ones happening in the back country matter less than the ones encroaching on civilization. Here’s the corner we’re most concerned with, since we have a house in Santa Barbara:

That’s what’s burning now.

According to Windy.com, the wind is a light breeze to the east-southeast, meaning back toward itself. This is good.

Here’s a photo set I shot driving to and from our place in Santa Barbara yesterday. It was pretty dramatic last night as we crept on a side road, avoiding the 101 traffic gawking its way past Summerland:

I’m not sure if some of those were back-fires Continue reading "#ThomasFire Tuesday"

#ThomasFire live

MODIS fire data, plotted on Google Earth, current at 3:45pm today. You can see the Thomas Fire advancing through the back country,westward toward Santa Barbara, and already encroaching on Carpinteria:

Those are fire detections. Radiative power data is also at that first link.

Here is a collection of links to facts about the #ThomasFire: