Saturday, April 25, 2015

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


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


Friday, April 24, 2015

Twitter announces new policy encouraging users to report abusive accounts


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

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


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

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


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

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


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

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


Monday, April 20, 2015

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


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

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

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

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

Saturday, April 18, 2015

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



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


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


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

Friday, April 17, 2015

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


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

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

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

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


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

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


Monday, April 13, 2015

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


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

Sunday, April 12, 2015

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


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


Saturday, April 11, 2015

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


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

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

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

What are pingbacks and linkbacks? Do they matter?


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

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

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


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

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

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

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


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



Sunday, April 05, 2015

Social media users get cynical about expecting to pimp their companies


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

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


Saturday, April 04, 2015

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


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


Friday, April 03, 2015

Mobile searches will need target sites to become mobile-friendly


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


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


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

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

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

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

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




Update: April 21

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

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

Here's another story on Mobilegeddon.

Update: April 13

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

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

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Cute "Ted Talk", where teen medical inventor Jack Andraka explores the open access and "knowledge aristocracy"; does tax code hurt artistic entrepreneurs?


A TEDx “Orange Coast” talk “Tapping into the Hidden Innovator” by Jack Andraka (book reviews March 18, 2015), about 8 minutes, brings up some important points about open access, YouTube link here.  Maybe embedding isn’t fair here, with the Roman toga and beefcake, and maybe this would make a nice short film for an Angelika pre-show, but the comments about whether there should exist a “knowledge aristocracy” do matter.  Paywalls, and bureaucracy surrounding peer-reviewed scientific papers do matter, particularly if other researchers don’t have the thousands to pay list price just to see previous work. That is what Aaron Swartz was fighting, “the privatization of knowledge”.
   
In my own novel, “Angel’s Brother”, I use the word “royalty” where Jack uses “aristocracy”.  And unfortunately or not, in the novel the “royalty” takes the people back and gets to live on.  (I even coin the term “erotic royalty”.)
  
There’s also the mention of “applied dreaming”, which could be renamed “lucid dreaming”, and that’s what the world of Christopher Nolan’s 2010 masterpiece “Inception” is all about.
  
But in the world that I grew up in, knowledge was indeed passed in hierarchal fashion. And that’s still the view of places like Russia and China, where there is concern that open access to certain things will interfere with stability (in Russia, it is perceived as endangering the birth rate).  There is a view that social solidarity is important in its own right for a group to survive, even if the aims at the top are not completely legitimate.
  

This would be a good place to mention a column in the New York Times, p. A21, “How the tax code hurts artists”, link here.  Add to that category screenwriters, actors, entrepreneurial filmmakers.  The problem is the way the Alternative Minimum Tax works.  
 
Pictures are from the NIH campus, Bethesda MD, my visit, March 2015. 


Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Flickr offers automated tools to release photos into public domain, creative commons


Recently Wikipedia has been instructing users to apply appropriate attribution for most photos when used in blogs or sites, including the photo author and the nature of the Creative Commons license (most are 3.0 level share-alike). 
  
Flickr has recently released an automated tool to allow publishers to release their own photos in the public domain or into creative commons, as explained here.
  
YouTube has a detailed information page for copyright owners, here.  Because YouTube videos often have a closer affiliation with commercial film, owners tend to be more insistent on protecting rights.
   
Parker Higgins has a story on Flickr’s new capability, and the willingness of some private companies, like SpaceX, to release photos into Public Domain, here
  

Monday, March 30, 2015

Can a newspaper safely report an employment dispute, especially when it has political (or fairness) implications?


An article by Chico Harlan on the Washington Post Wonkblog reports that a manager at a franchised Days Inn in Pine Bluff, AR threatened to sue (the newspaper and perhaps the reporter) if the paper published an article involving him and/or a particular employee who would be terminated after talking to the Post about the small increase in the Arkansas minimum wage.  The link is here. The manager is reported to have made a comment about employees wanting “free money”.
  
It appears that she was terminated for talking to the papers, although the facts are a bit complicated.
Michelle Singletary tweeted the story today. 
  
There’s no question that it is difficult for people to raise families on low-wage work.  In some cases, poor choices have contributed to the workers’ situations.  Is this a legal situation, like my “conflict of interest”?  It hardly seems that she makes enough or has enough responsibility.  Is it whistleblowing?  Not exactly.
  
It’s probable not something that could be rectified in court.  But hopefully, other businesses in the area will offer hire the person, given popular outcry.  (That’s better than “gofundme”.)  And hopefully Wyndham Worldwide will step in and exercise a tighter rein on the acceptable conduct of management of its franchised properties, because stories like this are not good for its brand or its ability to provide customer service. 
  
Wikipedia attribution link for photo near Pine Bluff by Keith Wahl, Creative Commons 2.0 license


Friday, March 27, 2015

Broken links on some of my older domains: some feedback


Recently, I got an email from a college student about some broken links on my “doaskdotell.com” domain.  In fact, the page in question was a “links” reference page, and the links in question concerned Gays and Lesbians for Individual Liberty (GLIL) which was very active in the 1990s. I was the editor of its newsletter, “The Quill” in 1995 and 1996. 
  
I’ve experimented with several domains, as summarized on Wordpress in January 2014, here.  I started with Blogger in January 2006 and started increasing my use of it around the start of 2007, and using the “doaskdotell.com” domain less.  Generally, the only two files on “doaskdotell” that I maintain a lot to day are the “XREF” (upper left) cross reference, to major media reviews, and the “content navigation guide”. 
  

I do have a lot of “sidebar” and “opinion” pieces there that predate my starting with Blogger in 2006.  Generally, the functionality of these pieces is replaced by Blogger (and now Wordpress).  Likewise, the Movies, Books, and Drama (and music) reviews were continued on appropriate blogs on Blogger and now Wordpress (the special “Media Reviews” blog).
  
Also, my Wordpress blogs exist mainly for two purposes: to provide more detailed notes for my three DADT books, as new issues come up (replacing the “footnote files” on “doaskdotell”), and to reinforce older media reviews or do special ones related to my own writing projects.  I also document the progress of my screenplay, novel and music projects here.  Sometimes I place additional QA session videos here, too.
  
There is certainly an issue with allowing older sites to stay up when they are not often maintained.  I have thought about removing a lot of old content, but this would take non-productive effort!  What I will do more of is tagging many of the opinion pieces and link references with dates showing when they were created. Over time, many links in older pieces do tend to disappear. 
  
There is also an issue with the quality of comments.  Most of my blogs have automatic spam filtering of comments.  One of them does not, and so occasionally I have to mass mark about 2000 comments as spam.  The quality of comments on blogs is not what it once was, as so much commenting has moved to social media (although established newspapers seem to be able to keep attracting comments, as do more specialized sites). 
  
I’ve noticed that there is a certain immaturity even behind the legitimate comments.  There is a certain tendency to resent “know it all’s” and to looks for easy answers to immediate questions.
  
As to the links, I suppose I could consider installing a "broken link checker", link this one, on older sites, even blogs. You can read the pros there for using them.  I get a lot of emails and tweets from SEO and other website services, and get so wrapped up in "news" and current projects that I don't respond to them often. 
    
I can even imagine that in the future, web hosting companies or service providers could feel some incentive to monitor the quality of visits that websites and blogs, especially run by amateurs, receive from the public.  That could involve metrics like bounce rates, depth, distinct visitors, and new visitors.  They could also become concerned about the quality of links and their management.  But that speaks to a more authoritarian kind of world where speech and broadcast is not as spontaneous as it is today.  Sounds like China.  

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Another lawsuit against a consumer for a "bad" review, against a dog training business in northern Virginia, stirs debate on anti-SLAPP in more states; also, reviews are safer if they stick to "opinions"


There’s another defamation lawsuit (for $65,000) against a customer for a negative review in northern Virginia. This time, the business is Dog Tranquility, in Burke, VA and the consumer is Jennifer Ujimori, as reported in the Washington Post by Justin Jouvenal in the Metro Section, first page on Thursday March 26, 2015, link here.  Jouvenal links to an earlier Post story on December 4, 2012 about another earlier suit in Fairfax against a home remodeling contractor, “In Yelp suit, free speech on Web vs. reputations”. Indeed!
  
The reviews had been posted on Yelp and Angie’s List.  The Yelp review was removed by the company, so far.  The business claims it had tried to work with the consumer. 
  
The consumer says that businesses are playing hardball by forcing consumers to spend money on legal fees to defend possibly frivolous suits.  The businesses say that one bad review can deep-six them, and the owners have to make a living to provide for their families in the real world.  In the US, “truth” I an absolute defense to libel (no so in Britain, according to Kitty Kelly).  Still, it can cost money for a defendant to show “truth” to a jury (by a 51% preponderance).  Some regard the suits as a form of legal bullying as a “real world” tactic. 
  
In the video above, reporter Jouvenal says attorneys tell him that they should stick to “opinions, not facts”, because there is an “Opinion Rule” that says that opinions alone cannot be defamatory. But when reviewers state “facts” they may have to prove the facts in court at their own expense.  Think about this.  When I have a fender-bender, I don’t report the “facts” about an accident online. 
     
In this specific case, the news story reports the business owner saying that, as a small business owner, the business has to “rely on these review sites as a major source of advertising.”  To me, that sort of argument doesn’t sound like it can work;  review sites are a kind of “journalism”; they are not “supposed to be advertising”. Except when they are!.  But, true, some of the material I get from Angie’s strikes me as “advertising”, personally at least. 
  
In another case, Hadeed Carpet Cleaners, the Virginia Supreme Court will decide soon whether Yelp must release the identities of anonymous “critics.” Electronic Frontier Foundation, among others, has been a strong proponent of defending anonymous critical speech on the Web.  (This was reported here Jan. 9, 2014.)
  
The consumer wants to encourage Virginia to pass an “anti-SLAPP” law, similar to what exists in DC, Maryland, California, and over half of states.  SLAPP stands for “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation”.  Such a law allows a judge to dismiss a frivolous suits on First Amendment grounds.

There are other accounts already on the case.  The American Bar Association has a summary (with some of the reported fact pattern) here. The "Inquisitr" has a valuable article on the underlying debate and how it could affect the "consumer review site" industry here.  
  
I do belong to Angie’s List and get its magazine by mail (their article on water heaters and new EPA standards sounded important, for example), and I get contacted by email to write reviews all the time!  I don’t do reviews on these sites. News media has reported on Angie as aggressively promoting her business model.  Wikipedia characterizes it as “subscription supported” with “crowd-sourced” review content.
  
 I do have a few small disputes in the past, a couple outstanding, but not of an existential nature.  One of these concerned an unqualified assumption sale of real estate in Texas in the early 90s. and another involved my tangential involvement with a dubious discrimination claim by another employee back in the 1990s.  Had that case gone to trial, my first book might have been delayed, as well as my 1997 relocation!  Generally, I don’t settle individual disagreements online, as, yes, that’s dangerous.  On the other hand, “journalistic integrity” would seem to demand full disclosure eventually.  I may eventually give more details on some of these on my “Do Ask Do Tell Notes” Wordpress blog.
Art work: from St. Mary's City. MD (my trip).


Update: March 27, 2015

The NBC Today show covered this incident briefly, and conducts a survey that reports that 87% of respondents report that review sites affect their purchasing decisions.  I replied "No", although I sometimes look at hotel reviews (does the WiFi work?) and movie and theater reviews.  Frivolously, an actor said he wondered if Hollywood would sue critics.
   
The UK Daily Mail has a story by Evan Bleier, and the comments are interesting.  The story also has screenshot illustrations of the review process.  One comment suggested the defendant use "GoFundMe".  That strikes me as a bit tacky, but the defendant probably does get a lot of "free publicity", which maybe she didn't want.  The business owner is likely to get resentment from the public for merely filing the suit, which may hurt business more than the review itself.




Update: March 29

Rick Callahan, on p. A3 of the Sunday Washington Post, in discussing protests against Indiana's new "religious freedom" law. notes that Angie's List has considered adding (or moving) 1000 jobs in Indiana (link here).  Wikipedia says it has over 1600 employees now. I had no idea that a review site company could need so many employees and was this big! In fact the Indianapolis Star reports more detail about possible cancellation by Angie's here.  The company had planned to rehab a run-down area of the city (in which I worked for the summer in 1970). 


Update: April 1

There has been a sequence where people posted negative reviews of an Indiana pizza place over its position on gay marriage, with the reviewers never visiting the place, on Yelp, story by Robby Stoave on the Hit-Run Blog on Reason.