Toward no longer running naked through the digital world

We live in two worlds now: the natural one where we have bodies that obey the laws of gravity and space/time, and the virtual one where there is no gravity or distance (though there is time).

Rather than talk about that here, I’ll direct you instead to my TEDx talk on the topic, which I gave last month in Santa Barbara:

Next I visited the same topic with a collection of brilliant folk at the Ostrom Workshop on Smart Cities. Among those was Brett Frischmann, whose canonical work on infrastructure I covered here, and who in Re-Engineering Humanity (with Evan Selinger) explains exactly how giants in the digital infrastructure business are hacking the shit out of us—a topic I also visit in Engineers vs. Re-Engineering (my August editorial in Linux Journal).

Now also comes Bruce Schneier, with his perfectly titled book Click Here to Kill Everybody: Continue reading "Toward no longer running naked through the digital world"

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,

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

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

Continue reading "Making sense of what happened to Montecito"

#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:

 

Bad and dead air

That was yesterday. Hard to tell from just looking at it, but that’s a 180° shot, panning from east to west across California’s South Coast, most of which is masked by smoke from the Thomas Fire.

We weren’t in the smoke then, but we are now, so there’s not much to shoot. Just something more to wear: a dust mask. Yesterday I picked up two of the few left at the nearest hardware store, and now I’m wearing one around the house. Since wildfire smoke is bad news for lungs, that seems like a good idea.

I’m also noticing dead air coming from radio stations whose transmitters have likely burned up. Here’s a list that I’m pretty sure is off the air right now, because they’re within the Thomas Fire perimeter:

Still no serious coverage of pirate radio

Here’s what I wrote about pirate radio in New York, back in 2013 . I hoped to bait major media attention with that. Got zip.

Then I wrote this in 2015 (when I also took the screen shot, above, of a local pirate’s ID on my kitchen radio). I got a couple people interested, including one college student, but we couldn’t coordinate our schedules and the moments were lost.

Now comes news of pirate radio crackdowns by the FCC*, yet little of that news concerns the demand these stations supply. The default story is about FCC vs. Pirates, not how pirates address the inadequacies of FCC-licensed broadcast radio. (One good exception: this story in the Miami Herald about an FCC-fined pirate that programs for a population licensed radio doesn’t serve.)

To sample the situation, drive your car up Broadway north of 181st Street in Manhattan (above which Continue reading "Still no serious coverage of pirate radio"

Jack Ucciferri for 4th District

Santa Barbara is one of the world’s great sea coast towns. It’s also in a good position to be one of the world’s great Internet coast towns too.

Luckily, Santa Barbara is advantaged by its location not just on the ocean, but on some of the thickest Internet trunk lines (called “backbones”) in the world. These run through town beside the railroad and Highway 101. Some are owned by the state college and university system. Others are privately owned. In fact Level(3), now part of CenturyLink, has long had a tap on that trunk, and a large data center, in the heart of the Funk Zone. Here it is:

Last I checked, Level(3) was in the business of wholesaling access to its backbone. So was the UC system.

Yet Santa Barbara is still disadvantaged by depending on a single “high speed” Internet service provider: Cox Communications, which

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Some new ways to look at infrastructure

Nothing challenges our understanding of infrastructure better than a crisis, and we have a big one now in Houston. We do with every giant storm, of course. New York is still recovering from Sandy and New Orleans from Katrina. Reforms and adaptations always follow, as civilization learns from experience.

Look at aviation, for example. Houston is the 4th largest city in the U.S. and George Bush International Airport (aka IAH) is a major hub for United Airlines. For the last few days traffic there has been sphinctered down to emergency flights alone. You can see how this looks on FlightAware’s Miserymap:

Go there and click on the blue play button to see how flight cancellations have played over time, and how the flood in Houston has affected Dallas as well. Click on the airport’s donut to see what routes are most affected. Frequent fliers like myself rely on tools like this

Continue reading "Some new ways to look at infrastructure"

How the personal data extraction industry ends

Who Owns the Internet? — What Big Tech’s Monopoly Powers Mean for our Culture is Elizabeth Kolbert‘s review in The New Yorker of several books, one of which I’ve read: Jonathan Taplin’s Move Fast and Break Things—How Facebook, Google, and Amazon Cornered Culture and Undermined Democracy.

The main takeaway for me, to both Elizabeth’s piece and Jon’s book, is making clear that Google and Facebook are at the heart of today’s personal data extraction industry, and that this industry defines (as well as supports) much of our lives online.

Our data, and data about us, is the crude that Facebook and Google extract, refine and sell to advertisers. This by itself would not be a Bad Thing if it were done with our clearly expressed (rather than merely implied) permission, and if we had our own valves to control personal data flows with scale across all the companies we deal with, rather Continue reading "How the personal data extraction industry ends"

Google enters its chrysalis

In The Adpocalypse: What it Means, the great Vlogbrother Hank Green issues a humorous lament on the impending demise of online advertising. So invest the next 3:54 of your life in watching that video, so you catch all his points and I don’t need to repeat them here.

Got them? Good.

Every one of Hank’s points are well-argued and make complete sense. They are also valid mostly inside the bowels of the Google beast where his video work has thrived for the duration, as well as inside the broadcast model that Google sort-of emulates. (That’s the one where “content creators” and “brands” live in some kind of partly-real and partly-imagined symbiosis.)

While I like and respect what the brothers are trying to do commercially inside the belly of the Google Beast; but I also expect them, and countless other “content creators” to get expelled after Google finishes digesting that market, and Continue reading "Google enters its chrysalis"

Open Word—The Podcasting Story

Nobody is going to own podcasting.990_large By that I mean nobody is going to trap it in a silo. Apple tried, first with its podcasting feature in iTunes, and again with its Podcasts app. Others have tried as well. None of them have succeeded, or will ever succeed, for the same reason nobody has ever owned the human voice, or ever will. (Other, of course, than their own.) Because podcasting is about the human voice. It’s humans talking to humans. Voices to ears and voices to voices—because listeners can talk too. They can speak back. And forward. Lots of ways. Podcasting is one way for markets to have conversations; but the podcast market itself can’t be bought or controlled, because it’s not a market. Or an “industry.” Instead, like the Web, email and other graces of open protocols on the open Internet, podcasting is NEA: Nobody owns it, Continue reading "Open Word—The Podcasting Story"

Being human vs. rating people

starI’ve hated rating people ever since I first encountered the practice. That was where everybody else does too: in school. Because rating people is what schools do, with tests and teachers’ evaluations. They do it because they need to sort students into castes. What’s school without a bell curve? As John Taylor Gatto put it in the Seven Lesson Schoolteacher, the job of the educator in our industrialized and compulsory education system is to teach these things, regardless of curricular aspirations or outcomes:
  1. confusion
  2. class position
  3. indifference
  4. emotional dependency
  5. intellectual dependency
  6. provisional self-esteem
  7. that you can’t hide
It’s no different in machine-run “social sharing” systems such as we get from Uber, Lyft and Airbnb. In all those systems we are asked to rate the people who share their cars and homes, and they are asked to rate us. The hidden agenda behind this practice is the same as the one Gatto describes above. Continue reading "Being human vs. rating people"

Have we passed peak phone?

2017-03-27_subwayphones I should start by admitting I shot this picture with my phone. Also that on my rectangle with the rest of these people through most of this very typical subway trip yesterday. I don’t know what they were doing, though it’s not hard to guess. In my case it was spinning through emails, texting, tweeting, checking various other apps (weather, navigation, calendar) and listening to podcasts. We shape our tools and then they shape us. That’s what Marshall McLuhan’s main point was. And then we shape society, policy and the rest of civilization. People won’t stop staring at their phones, so a Dutch town put traffic lights on the ground, Quartz reports. In less than two years, most of the phones used by people in this shot will be traded in, discarded or re-purposed as iPods or whatever. And most of us will be tethered to Apple, Google and
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Defibrillating a dead horse

esb-antenae Before we start, let me explain that ATSC 1.0 is the HDTV standard, and defines what you get from HDTV stations over the air and cable. It dates from the last millennium. Resolution currently maxes out at 1080i, which fails to take advantage even the lowest-end HDTVs sold today, which are 1080p (which is better than 1080i). Your new 4K (4x the resolution of 1080) TV or computer screen “upscales” the picture it gets over the air or cable. But actual 4k video looks better. Sources for that include satellite TV providers (DirectTV and Dish), and streaming services (Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, etc.). In other words, the TV broadcast industry is to video what AM radio is to FM. (Or what both are to streaming.) This is why our new FCC chairman is stepping up for broadcasters. In FCC’s Pai Proposes ATSC 3.0 Rollout, John Eggerton Continue reading "Defibrillating a dead horse"

Exploring the business behind digital media’s invisibility cloaks

  amsterdam-streetImagine you’re on a busy city street where everybody who disagrees with you disappears. We have that city now. It’s called media—especially the social kind. You can see how this works on Wall Street Journal‘s Blue Feed, Red Feed page. Here’s a screen shot of the feed for “Hillary Clinton” (one among eight polarized topics): blue-red-wsj Both invisible to the other. We didn’t have that in the old print and broadcast worlds, and still don’t, where they persist. (For example, on news stands, or when you hit SCAN on a car radio.) But we have it in digital media. Here’s another difference: a lot of the stuff that gets shared is outright fake. There’s a lot of concern about that right now: fakenews Why? Well, there’s a business in it. More eyeballs, more advertising, more money, for more eyeballs for more advertising. And so on. Those ads are aimed
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A few words about trust

cropped-wst-logo-mainSo i was on a panel at WebScience@10 in London (@WebScienceTrust, #WebSci10), where the first question asked was, “What are two aspects of ‘trust and the Web’ that you think are most relevant/important at the moment?” My answer went something like this:::: 1) The Net is young, and the Web with it. Both were born in their current forms on 30 April 1995, when the NSFnet backed off on its forbidding commercial traffic on its pipes. This opened the whole Net to absolutely everything, exactly when the graphical Web browser became fully useful. Twenty-one years in the history of a world is nothing. We’re still just getting started here. 2) The Internet, like nature, did not come with privacy. And privacy is personal. We need to start there. We arrived naked in this new world, and — like Adam and Eve — still don’t have clothing Continue reading "A few words about trust"

The Internet deserves its proper noun

doc036cThe NYTimes says the Mandarins of language are demoting the Internet to a common noun. It is to be just “internet” from now on. Reasons:

Thomas Kent, The A.P.’s standards editor, said the change mirrored the way the word was used in dictionaries, newspapers, tech publications and everyday life.

In our view, it’s become wholly generic, like ‘electricity or the ‘telephone,’ ” he said. “It was never trademarked. It’s not based on any proper noun. The best reason for capitalizing it in the past may have been that the word was new. But at one point, I’ve heard, ‘phonograph’ was capitalized.”

But we never called electricity “the Electricity.” And “the telephone” referred to a single thing of which there billions of individual examples.

What was it about “the Internet” that made us want to capitalize it in the first place? Is usage alone reason enough Continue reading "The Internet deserves its proper noun"

The Giant Zero

The Giant Zero

The world of distance

Fort Lee is the New Jersey town where my father grew up. It’s at the west end of the George Washington Bridge, which he also helped build. At the other end is Manhattan.

Even though Fort Lee and Manhattan are only a mile apart, it has always been a toll call between the two over a landline. Even today. (Here, look it up.) That’s why, when I was growing up not far away, with the Manhattan skyline looming across the Hudson, we almost never called over there. It was “long distance,” and that cost money.

There were no area codes back then, so if you wanted to call long distance, you dialed 0 (“Oh”) for an operator. She (it was always a she) would then call the number you wanted and patch it through, often by plugging a cable between two holes in a

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