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A few days ago, I posted about Rust, having just watched a wonderful talk about it at Scaladays. That presentation is now online. It's highly recommended for all programmers who are interested in language design -- it's a lucid talk about the language, focused on the rationale behind it and how they achieved those goals. Exciting stuff: Rust is probably the first language since Scala that I've found really compelling, the C++ replacement to Scala's Java.

And from the same series of videos comes this talk from the creator of Jepsen -- again, nothing to do with Scala, but a great technical talk. I tweeted that this one was "Funny, educational and terrifying". (The laughter isn't much picked up by the microphone, but was pretty loud at times.) Jepsen is a toolkit for testing distributed databases, and this talk (illustrated entirely with hand-drawn slides) goes into fairly deep detail about why it's so hard to build them. The upshot is that nearly every new-fangled DB turns out to be seriously broken in at least one or two respects. A great talk for anybody who is interested in distributed systems architecture. (And anybody who is using any of these databases.)

(And yes, there was one keynote that was actually about Scala -- Martin Odersky talking about "What to Leave Implicit". Also a good talk, but mainly interesting if you already know Scala; the other two don't require as much background...)

Rust

Apr. 20th, 2017 11:30 am
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This week's adventure in conferencing is my first trip to ScalaDays, which is in Chicago this year. This morning's keynote was a bit surprising, because it was about the language Rust, rather than Scala. But it was a great talk, and very educational -- I've known vaguely of Rust for a while, but really hadn't known the details. Here's a summary of what I learned, but I recommend checking out the video of the talk once it comes out.

I've been a serious evangelist for Scala for a number of years -- my usual take is that it is currently the best language for general, high-level application programming. You can argue the point, but I'm confident about this one: it's a lovely mix of pragmatism, power and principle, and makes programming more efficient and safe.

But -- not all programming is high-level. Some code needs to be closer to the bare metal, for efficiency, access to the hardware, or other reasons -- it needs to be specifically low level. Scala is only now beginning to be able to do this (with the relatively new Scala-Native compiler), and it's yet to be proven in that environment. Rust, on the other hand, is designed for that world from the get-go.

Or to put it another way, Rust is to C++ as Scala is to Java: a much newer, rethought, more powerful and safe language for playing in that domain.

The core problem with low-level systems programming is that it is scary -- it is very easy to commit any of several major mistakes, each of which leads to crashes or, worse, security leaks. This is true even if you're good at this stuff: programs are complex, and the interactions between the parts are where the bugs tend to arise. Rust is all about reducing that fear, and letting you code with confidence.

The beauty of Rust is that they've taken a very principled look at where those problems tend to come from, and found a few key areas to improve. In particular, the observation is that many bugs arise from uncontrolled access to memory. Plain and simply, pointers are a problem.

So Rust's biggest innovation is removing that word "uncontrolled". It introduces a compiler-time notion of "ownership", and distinct notions of mutable references (which give a code block the right to alter that memory block) vs "shared" references (which allow you to inspect the memory). While they don't use the same terminology, the concepts appear to be quite similar to write vs read locks in database programming.

They've built a lot of infrastructure on top of that, with some really remarkable results. Perhaps most impressive, they've built a concurrency framework that manages to be both flexible and safe. Most of the standard patterns for concurrent programming exist, but they're all adjusted to this ownership-centric world, such that many of the common race-condition problems just can't arise unless you explicitly say "yes, this code is cheating -- I know what I'm doing".

It doesn't solve every problem -- I checked after the talk, and confirmed that it's totally easy to cause deadlocks (unsurprising, given how much this looks like database programming) -- but it's still beautiful and powerful. In the area of concurrent programming, Rust is arguably better than most high-level languages.

Overall, I'm impressed, and I'm pleased to see Rust being presented at a Scala conference -- it looks to me like the languages are nicely complementary. Rust isn't really in competition with Scala: it is optimized for different kinds of problems. But it is principled, and well-designed, in a way that is very reminiscent of Scala. The combination of Scala for application-level programming with Rust for systems and components provides a solid replacement for the older Java/C++ stack.

Not that I've done much systems programming in the past 15 years, so I don't know if I'm likely to use Rust any time soon. But it's good to see the rise of a language that doesn't suck for that domain. God knows, my life 20 years ago would have been much happier with it...

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Today in "boneheaded corporate moves", we have Verizon.

My mother has triple-play (Internet/phone/TV) service from Verizon; as such, her primary email address is currently through verizon.net, as you'd expect. She also has a Gmail address, that I nudged her into.

She got a letter yesterday, announcing that Verizon is terminating its email service. She has three weeks to decide whether to transition entirely to a third-party service, or switch to AOL.

AOL.

Even Mom, who is, shall we say, not the most tech-savvy member of the family, had the reaction of, "Isn't AOL -- bad?". I've told her to just switch everything to her Gmail account: while Google may not be my favorite company in the world, this is yet more proof that getting your email through your ISP is just a bad plan.

But still -- AOL? Really? I mean, yes, they want to justify their ownership of the stupid company, but that's one of the most poisoned brands in the history of tech. Pushing all of their ISP customers over to it seems like a recipe to lose a lot of customers, with no obvious benefit.

Anybody have any insights into this apparently-foolish move?

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In the comments from my previous post about cross-posting from Dreamwidth to FB and TW, [personal profile] laurion recommended trying Zapier. At the time, I said that it wasn't worth the effort -- that using Zapier in a straightforward way didn't produce any better results than dlvr.it, which is easier to use.

Problem is, that was basically accepting a mediocre solution, and the engineer in me rebelled. In particular, just judging from "likes" on FB, people are reading my direct status updates there, but most probably aren't actually following through to read the links. So what I really want is to repost the text of my post here over there. The only difficulty is that what you have available is either the raw HTML of the post (which looks like crap on FB), or the completely-stripped version (which drops all the links, formatting, and so on). Both are kind of ugly.

But the thing that makes Zapier so particularly interesting is that you can inject semi-arbitrary code into your pipelines -- it's pretty limited, but you can use both JavaScript and Python. And while I may hate JavaScript, I do know it modestly well. So I just spent an hour hacking up a stupid but adequate regular-expression engine that basically takes the HTML output from your RSS feed here, and turns it back into something vaguely like Markdown. Once I figured out the ins and outs, it wasn't terribly hard, and the results are exactly what I want: the text of my post as a decently readable and complete Status Update on Facebook, with the link to the original post here at the bottom.

Of course, there's a catch (which I didn't figure out until I had all of this working): Zapier's Free plan doesn't include "multi-step Zaps", and as far as I can tell you have to have multiple steps in order to make this work. And their Basic plan is insanely expensive for personal use ($20/month). My solution seems to be working, but I'm still in the "trial" period, and I suspect they're lying to me about the claim that I'm currently on the Free plan. I would bet that, during the trial, I'm secretly upgraded to a higher level, and once the trial is over, they'll tell me I can't use this Zap unless I pay them a fortune.

We'll see how it plays out: for now, I'm going to leave this solution working, but I'm prepared to go back to dlvr.it if this goes up in a puff of extremely-expensive smoke. For reference, in case anybody else wants to play with it, here's the JavaScript that I injected into my Zap to get it working.

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This week's been an interesting one. Not happy-making, by any means, but slightly less ulcer-inducing, not least for the omnipresent leaks that Steve Bannon may be out of favor with His Imperial Orangeness. So I shouldn't be surprised that Trump's core supporters are apparently beginning to freak out. From the sound of things, they are beginning to believe that -- the terrible truth dawns -- Donald Trump might not have been entirely honest with them!

The situation still sucks, and we need to keep the pressure up. But for now, I'm quietly enjoying the view of these assholes panicking because they aren't getting to destroy the country as efficiently as they want...

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A minor but amusing signal boost: The Daily WTF (one of those useful news sources I mentioned the other day) has just gotten its own Alexa skill. So you can apparently install this, ask "Alexa, WTF Just Happened?", and she'll read off the day's craziness.

(Not that I have any particular intention of installing Alexa, but for my friends who have done so...)

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For those who knew Jane: given the kerfluffle around LiveJournal, [personal profile] keshwyn suggested to me that I should make sure there is a copy of her journal over here. That got stymied by the fact that I don't know her DreamWidth password (she had a mostly-empty account here, but the password isn't any of her usual ones), and getting it changed isn't simple at this point. So I eventually just created a memorial account for her. (Fortunately, I do have her LJ password.)

So -- you can now find msmemory's LiveJournal copied over to here, as [personal profile] msmemory_archive -- pass it on if you know folks who would care...

ETA: before clicking over there, please remember that it's in standard reverse-chronological order, so the depressing stuff at the end is on top. Take due notice thereof, and govern yourselves accordingly...

ETA2: oh, right -- unlike my journal, a lot of hers was locked, and those access permissions are only granted automatically if you've claimed your LJ OpenID here. (In practice, I only see 8 accounts that currently have access.) So if you don't see the locked entries in [personal profile] msmemory_archive and you had locked access on LJ, subscribe to it and I'll add your DW account to the access list. (Assuming you have the same handle here as there.)

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(This one's not really part of the "Wartime Thoughts" series -- it's simpler old-fashioned politics.)

For those who haven't been following the aftershocks of November: there are a series of special elections happening around now, filling Congressional seats that are currently vacant due to, eg, Cabinet appointments. And they are getting terribly interesting.

A couple of days ago, the Republican running in the Kansas 4th managed to win his election -- by seven points. This is Kansas we're talking about here, mind. Nobody expected the Democratic candidate to win -- but the spread was 20 points, and the pre-election calculations were that if the Republicans won by anything less than 20, it was a Very Good Sign for Democratic prospects in 2018. A 7-point differential was closer than pretty much anybody's wildest dreams. (The day before, the members of 538's weekly podcast put their guesses at anywhere from a 9 to 16 point differential.)

Now, the Georgia 6th is a toss-up. Seriously: the Democrats have a solid shot of winning a House seat in Georgia.

Yes, it's just one seat, and it's not going to tip the scales in any immediate way. But much of politics is about momentum, and it's time to make clear to the Republican Congress just how unhappy the country is with them. They're not going to listen to us unless they start losing elections, so it's time to start making that happen.

So -- if you're down there, you might want to help with the get-out-the-vote effort. And if you're not, but want to support the project, you might consider donating a few bucks to the Ossoff campaign.

It's time to start scaring the snot out of the Republican Congress. This seems like a lovely step in that direction...

ETA: while I think of it, a NB -- this is a political campaign, and they will start sending you emails if you donate. There are unsubscribe links at the bottom of those, but don't be surprised. (This is why I'm fond of using burner email addresses for things like this.)

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It's been a hell of a week in national events. Some thoughts about how all the pieces fit together.

I will admit, even I didn't expect Trump to play the Wag the Dog strategy (Wag the Dog = start a war to distract everybody) quite this soon, although I was certainly expecting it sooner or later. In this particular case, I have to say that it was actually a bit clever.

Trump's core problem at the moment is that a narrative has been brewing, that he is actively a pawn of Putin. Distractions entirely aside, I suspect that's the real motivation for the Syrian strikes: they're not just starting a war, they are starting a war with Russia on the other side. Memetically, this is all about showing that he is his own man, and thereby defusing the Russiagate controversy. The message is essentially, "So they got me elected. So what? I don't work for them." That's a fairly smart message for him to be sending to his wavering supporters right now, and plays cleverly into the general understanding that he's a changeable crook.

It might even be true. Let's assume for the moment that this isn't a truly Machiavellian plan on Putin's part, sacrificing the pawn of Assad in the name of broader strategic objectives. (I think it is entirely possible that that is what's going on, but a bit beside my point.)

There's an interesting question that not enough people are asking: what is the game here? What are Putin's strategic objectives?

I mean, sure -- you can assume that he's just a villain out of a Bond movie, sitting in the back and twirling his invisible Stalin mustache. But I suspect that's too simplistic.

My guess is that controlling the US would be a fine goodie for Putin (why not?), but his primary aim is to neutralize the US. To that extent, the goal of backing Trump was only secondarily getting him elected -- the primary objective was to hurt Hilary as much as possible, throw the US into chaos, and make it ineffectual on the international stage. Which, note -- Mission (largely) Accomplished.

What Putin mainly wants, I figure, is to be able to secure his borders, in the sense of turning everybody around Russia into client states again, as in the Good Old Days. And of course, for his murderous kleptocracy to be able to do what they want, with minimal interference.

To that end, we should be clear that it is quite possible that Trump is just a Useful Idiot, not actually being controlled by the Kremlin. It's possible that he is, of course, but don't delude yourself that it's a clear certainty. Even if that was true at the beginning, he's not a complete moron, and it's clear that he has figured out that that's a bad image for him. So he's going to focus for now on making clear that he's not a puppet. Which is good -- aside from raising the likelihood of Stupid Nuclear Holocaust a step higher.

But the other thing to keep in mind (and the cause of the title here) is, we shouldn't feel too comfortable in our own certainties. I was starting to think about this essay last week, and then hit the latest episode of Full Frontal -- with the interviews claiming that Sanders supporters were also being manipulated by the Russian alternative-media machine.

Which is entirely what I would expect: if their goal was to cause chaos and discredit American democracy, just manipulating one side is silly. Instead, you should be playing all of the sides against each other. I lack evidence, but would guess that they were trying to stir up the Clinton camp as well, simply because it fits the goals.

The point is, alternative narrative is a tool, and can be used in any and all directions. This crap is not just effective on the uneducated and credulous -- it works precisely because the world is complicated, and humans prefer to seek easier answers. (Heaven knows there is plenty of similarly silly nonsense that is believed by many wealthy, well-educated left-wingers.)

It's easy to get paranoid, and I'm not advocating that -- melting down into a puddle of helplessness is kind of what the Putinites want you to do. But it does mean that serious critical thinking is a necessity if you're not going to be easily manipulated. Facts aren't true or false simply because they come from the mass media, or the Internet, or your neighbor: you have to keep a well-balanced diet of information sources, always examining what their agendas are (because everybody has their own agendas -- that's just human) and keeping an open mind to the possibility that you're being misled.

It's a tricky game, and easier to just avoid altogether. But if you really care about civics and doing the best thing, it's going to be a part of modern daily life, I suspect...

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Since I'm pretty sure some folks care, here are my findings on cross-posting.

Background: my journal is largely public, and I like to have it disseminated to where people want to read it -- Facebook (FB hereafter), Twitter (TW), whatever. (While I think DreamWidth (DW) is the best place for following one's friends, the reality is that most of my friends are only on FB.) LiveJournal (LJ) has had built-in cross-posting to those services for a long time now, and I've been using that; even after I moved to DW, I've been cross-posting from DW to LJ, and thence to FB and TW. But now that I'm thinking of dropping LJ entirely, the question is how I keep the other services in the loop.

After doing some research (and finding that most of the crosspost-to-FB services have gone away in the past two years), I came to the conclusion that the most robust option seems to be dlvr.it. We are not their primary target market: they are really focused on marketing people who want to be able to write something once and then spew it widely, and their Pro plan is oriented to that. But they do have a Free plan, and their service -- take RSS feeds and post them to social networks -- is more or less what we need. I've been using it for a few days, and it seems to work.

To get this up and running:

  • Go to the DreamWidth FAQ about RSS feeds, which should show the URLs of your feed.
  • Sign up for dlvr.it. I signed up using my Facebook account.
  • Once you're signed up, it will take you their "Automate" page. There, you set up an automation with a "Feed" (the URL of your DreamWidth RSS feed) connected to one or more "socials" (Facebook, Twitter, whatever). The Free plan allows you to take up to 5 Feeds as inputs and 3 Socials as outputs.

That's pretty much it, and it seems to work pretty well; I might even upgrade to Pro eventually, if I decide to use this for official Querki stuff.

That said, some caveats:

  • Most importantly, this is a third-party service, and they conspicuously indirect all links through themselves. This stuff is really only for public posts anyway, but keep in mind that they are probably doing traffic analysis on who clicks through to your DW page.
  • dlvr.it requires slightly more FB permissions than I love. I believe I understand why they require what they do, but basically you have to agree to all of the permissions required by all of their features, even if you aren't using all of those features.
  • dlvr.it is a commercial service, and they support themselves with subscriptions. They really want you to be buying their Pro service, which is expensive. ($10/month) They don't seem to be nasty about Free users, but be prepared to see "Try Pro Now -- Free Trial!" buttons on all the screens.
  • They provide a good deal of control over how cross-posts show up, and I had been quite encouraged that there was a "Status Update" option -- that is, cross-post the post in its entirety to Facebook. Sadly, though, it looks like links don't survive the process, so I've backed off to simply posting links.
  • The Free plan is explicitly a bit slow in its cross-post speed -- they only check for new posts every half hour. (Unsurprisingly, the plans that cost real money are quicker.)

So -- that appears to be a viable approach to cross-posting from here without LiveJournal in the middle. There are likely other possibilities. (It looks to me like IFTTT is possible, although I'm not sure how well that would work.)

Anybody have other suggestions?

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For those who are struggling to keep up with the ever-growing clusterf**k in Washington and elsewhere, here's how I'm doing it:

First, on a daily basis, there is The Daily WTF. This is an irreverent but relatively straightforward summary of the major US political news stories. I've signed up for the mailing list, which sends out an update each afternoon. There's no in-depth perspective here, but it's a good way to stay up-to-date.

On a slower beat, there is Amy Siskind's Weekly Authoritarian News Watch. Siskind is a more-serious-than-average reporter, and her weekly braindumps are relatively long -- she typically covers 50 to 75 bullet points each week, keeping it all pretty factual, but organizing the news nicely and letting you draw your own conclusions. Her column is one of the reasons I've decided to bite the bullet and buy a Medium membership.

Then there is Kara Hurvitz' National News Roundup. Kara is more openly opinionated, and also more fun to read: she organizes each week into The Weird, The Bad and The Good, poking a little more humor into just how strange this nonsense is, and remembering to point out the wins when we get them.

And finally, there is The Economist. Yes, it costs real money to read the whole thing, but it provides a less navel-gazing perspective, and reminds you that there is a world out there beyond our borders. I read it for the wider view, and for analysis-after-the-fact of what's been happening. It's the most sensible news source I'm aware of, and well worth a subscription if you're willing to pay for quality.

All of the above are highly recommended. If you have the time and stomach for it, it's worth reading all of them, but any one or two will help keep track of the rapidly-mutating timeline we've found ourselves stuck in...
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This is a test to see whether dlvr.it does an adequate job of crossposting from DW to FB and TW.

I recommend ignoring it...

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Mainly for Somerville residents -- the developer of an enormous new apartment complex at Assembly Square is trying to skeeve out of some of the mandatory affordable housing: they're seeking a waiver to cut 37 affordable units out of the plan. IMO, the city shouldn't allow this; if you agree, it's time to go write to the Planning Board about it. More info on Mark Niedergang's website.

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...

Having heard the rumblings of the latest controversy, I just wandered over to LJ, and was presented by the Gigantic Wall of Text in the Little Tiny Box that is the new Terms of Service. Some offhand thoughts:

First and most importantly -- the TOS refers a couple of times to "Article 10.2 of the Federal Act of the Russian Federation No. 149", which is a bit mysterious, so I did a little digging and found this translation of the Act in question. Note that Article 10.2 is not the same thing as subsection 2 of Article 10 -- keep scrolling further down. The following is my personal read of this stuff, but please bear in mind that IAverymuchNAL.

In general, this stuff is only officially relevant if you have 3000 user views in a 24 hour span, at which point you are officially a "Blogger". I suspect most of us have never crossed that line, but it's unpleasantly arbitrary.

If you do cross that line, it basically says that you are going to get put on A List in the official Russian government. More importantly, you are legally liable for your words under Russian law, and while I don't know the extent of that, I would bet that the freedom of speech protections are a heck of a lot less useful than those in the US.

Granted, I don't know how relevant it is to the average American citizen if they get indicted in Russia. But under the circumstances, I'm less than comfortable rolling those dice.

Based on sections 8.3 of the TOS, I believe the same is true for any community that passes 3000 views in a single day, which I suspect is rather more common, and that the Community Moderators are liable for what gets posted in the community. ("Community Owner shall be responsible for the Community, including the Community rules, the Content posted within the Community, the actions of Community Supervisor and Moderator.") IMO, the upshot there is that communities should get the hell out of dodge.

It is bloody damned weird that the English TOS you are signing is officially unofficial -- you're actually agreeing to the Russian text, and the document says quite plainly that the English translation is not legally binding.

Section 9.2.6 ("User may not ... without the Administration’s special permit, use automatic scripts (bots, crawlers etc.) to collect information from the Service and/or to interact with the Service") seems to likely outlaw DW's backup-your-LJ feature, so I'd recommend doing it sooner rather than later if you haven't already.

It's worth noting that nothing in the TOS itself is obviously malign or ill-intentioned: far as I can tell, it's a fairly ordinary TOS that is somewhat twisted by the implications of the Russian legal code. But it does drive home that LJ is now a Russian service, governed by Russian rules, which are pretty hostile to anything that might be considered a threat to public order by the Kremlin.

Personally, I think I'm going to agree to the new rules, but I may stop cross-posting there after this, and limit myself to reading the few folks I care about who haven't jumped over to here. (Now I just need to figure out how to cross-post this stuff to Facebook without having LJ in the middle -- time to look into the current relationship of FB and RSS feeds...)

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Thanks to [personal profile] drwex for pointing out this fascinating and remarkably disturbing little article from a couple of months ago, titled Weaponized Narrative is the New Battlespace. It examines the current situation from essentially a military POV, and carries forward the previously-discussed logic: not only are we in a literal propaganda war, but the weapon being used is Narrative itself.

The article isn't very long, and it's a must-read -- it lays out the situation quite bluntly. It is, mind, not optimistic: the contention of the article is that there are assumptions about individual mental capacity built into the ideals of the Enlightenment and the democratic institutions that grew from it, and that Weaponized Narrative is all about overwhelming that capacity.

Note that there are some considerable differences from the traditional fears of propaganda-for-oppression that we're used to from 1984 and its ilk. First of all, in this discussion it's not just being used for internal oppression, it's being applied as a tool of conquest -- propaganda not just in support of a military advance, but as the military advance itself. Second, it's not about restricting the subject's available information to a single approved viewpoint; quite to the contrary, it's about overwhelming the subjects with so much contradictory information that they flee to a created narrative that is simpler and more comfortable than the complex reality. In the modern world, where information overload is a constant problem, that's a damned good tactic.

Seriously, read it. Thoughts welcomed...

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When I dubbed my current politics posts with the tag "wartime thoughts", that was not originally intended as a general statement about the political arena. I've wound up using it more generally, but it was originally planned (before the gush of events distracted me) to be a series of posts on a specific topic, to make a specific point: we are already at war, a propaganda war. And the enemy are way the bloody hell ahead of us.

This was inspired by a moment on the WBUR call-in show "On Point", shortly before the election. One caller started matter-of-factly talking about how the show was of course being controlled by Project Mockingbird, and Tom Ashbrook, the host, completely lost his shit -- it was the only time I've ever heard him out-of-control angry. Which made me curious, so I Googled "Project Mockingbird", and quickly found myself in this weird parallel dimension of websites parroting all sorts of insanity. It was the moment when I finally realized where the bloody hell the Trump phenomenon had come from: in this parallel universe, Trump is right. (Or at least, not so obviously crazy.)

I'm reminded of that original inspiration by this brilliant article by Kate Starbird, a professor at the University of Washington. It's long, but you should find the time to read it in detail, because it is describing one of the primary causes of what's going right now. It outlines how her lab originally set out to do some analysis of the way that "alternative narrative" rumors spread after crises, and wound up consequently delving into the structure of what I think of as the "alt-net" -- the collection of websites and feeds that are the backbone of the alt-right movement.

This is seriously scary shit: while she keeps things carefully factual, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that what looks like an agglomeration of kooks are in fact a very principled and organized project to undermine Americans' collective sense of reality. On the surface it all appears to be authentic and independent opinion and reportage, but the cross-links are too deep to put much credence into that. There's a lot of very clever psychology at work here, focused on convincing readers that there is a gigantic conspiracy composed of the mainstream media, conventional government, the Jews, and so on, and that these plucky little websites are the good guys who are just trying to expose the truth.

(And while she never quite comes out and says it, the connections to Russia are kind of screamingly obvious. It is likely over-simplistic to say that this is just a Russian plot, but they are almost certainly deeply involved.)

This stuff is dreadfully important background, because it goes a long ways towards explaining the apparently-incomprehensible mindset of many core Trump voters. It isn't that they are stupid or insane, it's that they have been very carefully converted to a view of reality that is deliberately at odds with everything you and I know to be true. Their reality has been hand-crafted by some talented artists to be at least moderately self-consistent, and provides easy answers to many problems that, in reality, are just plain complicated. It's a reality view that is comforting, and therefore easy to believe, not least in that it provides for nice clear Enemies.

And through all of it, I'm left horribly curious about one key question: I honestly can't tell if Donald Trump is in on the joke. I mean, this is being run by a bunch of master manipulators. And I have a nasty feeling, based on his outbursts, that Trump is the Manipulatee-in-Chief...

Adtech

Mar. 29th, 2017 08:42 am
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Here's an interesting article about "adtech" -- those automated algorithms that companies like Google and Facebook use to spy on you and serve up advertisements that they think you will respond to. The major upshots are:

  • Adtech is at best wildly ineffective, and at worst actively damaging, for brands that are trying to advertise.
  • The core precepts of adtech is going to be illegal in Europe starting next year.

I'm not sure how accurate all this is -- it sounds a tad self-serving in favor of traditional advertising, so I take it with a grain of salt -- but I suspect there's a substantial grain of truth in it. It clarifies a distinction that the tech world has been trying very hard to blur, between direct sales and branding. It appears to me that adtech works a little for direct sales, but I suspect the article is right that it's inappropriate for serious branding.

I find myself ever more glad that Querki's business plan is specifically not built on the "spy on the users for purposes of advertising" model, which is looking ever more rickety. Asking people to pay for a service is old-fashioned, but it at least makes sense...

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If you're not already following Yonaton Zunger, you might want to consider doing so -- his Medium blog has been one of the more consistently interesting ones out there.

Particularly interesting is his post yesterday, From Russia With Oil, which provides a nicely clear summary of what is currently known about the Trump/Russia connection, spelling out explicitly what we have reasonably strong evidence of, and what is merely circumstantial but compelling.

I confess, I especially like the title of the post, which calls out just how much the whole mess feels like a James Bond story -- without Bond around to stop things before Spectre puts its fiendish plan into motion.

Part of me still feels like it's too outlandish to be true, that the Kremlin *literally* bought the US President -- but the story is compelling enough that I'm starting to feel that demanding an independent investigation may be the single highest priority right now. We can't take our eyes off all the other issues that need attending to, but this could yet prove to be the block that takes down the entire Jenga tower of corruption in this Administration...
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Since I know that a lot of my friends are security-conscious, and might be using it, I call your attention to this article in Ars Technica about the messaging service Confide.

The implication I'm getting (based on these reports, and what Confide itself is saying) is that Confide isn't secure -- and that isn't a matter of bugs, it's that the architecture is fundamentally broken. Indeed, I have to wonder if they even understand what "end-to-end encryption" actually means. I particularly call your attention to a couple of details:

  • One of their brags is their "code obfuscation". Never, ever put any stock in that. Code obfuscation basically means they have made it very slightly harder to figure out what's going on, and it's basically waving a red flag in front of hackers, going "Break me!".
  • They basically say that nobody except themselves could listen in on your conversations. That basically means that there is no end-to-end security. True end-to-end security means that nobody, including the service itself, can do anything with it. One of the signs of a good service is often when they say something like, "Don't forget your password, because if you do, you're out of luck -- we can't help you". Anything other than that means that they have backdoors, which can be exploited.

It is possible that Confide could fix all this -- but I wouldn't count on it, because like I said, these are fundamental architectural issues. End-to-end security is hard to do well, and it imposes real limitations on what you can do...

jducoeur: (Default)

I just came across this marvelous essay on the SCA fun/authenticity false dichotomy, and a different way of looking at it. It was written some years ago, but is still worthwhile reading for any SCAdian. (It's from Tibicen, who some of you might remember from days of yore.)

I totally agree with the philosophy here: while I'm pretty indisciplined about it, I'd say that "atmospherist" nicely describes where I think the Society is at its best, and I think we still hamstring ourselves by under-emphasizing it. Indeed, while I've often thought of myself as a "funnist", I've always been clear that the distinctive fun of the SCA -- what makes this club particularly fun -- is the atmosphere...

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