Tuesday, July 29, 2014

EFF presents white paper on copyright law reform


Electronic Frontier Foundation staff attorney Mitch Stoltz has published a 9-oage white paper “Collateral Damages: Why Congress Needs to Fix Copyright Law’s Civil Penalties”, with the lead link here.

The paper emphasizes the unpredictability of civil damage awards, per unit of infringed material, without any real showing of intent for misuse or of harm to the commercial potential of a work. 

It also notes that the existing copyright law encourages “copyright trolls” to bully small bloggers, publishers, or even ordinary home users, when they don’t have credible cases.

There is also a problem of complete shutdown of sites for infringing material by one user.  And copyright law holds auxiliary parties potentially liable (such as the printing company for a publisher), with the exception of safe harbor within the DMCA for service providers, which does not help original content providers or other kinds of services.  I was aware of this possibility even with printers even back in the 1990s when I wrote my first DADT book. 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Recent NASA report on "near miss" with massive solar storm in 2012 makes us apprehensive about our "dependence" on technology (from electricity); a call for "Amish values"?


NASA has a paper, published July 23, by Tony Phillips, in Science News: “Near Miss: The Solar Superstorm on July 2013, link here.   CBS News included this paper as a link for a surprising news story July 25 prompted by comments from Daniel Baker of the University of Colorado, link here.  I reviewed a video about a conference at the University of Colorado on my “cf” blog late Friday, with the report having been made public in Boulder in April 2014, almost two years after “the Event”.  Surprisingly there has been little media coverage, although it was mentioned on CNN late Friday July 25.
  
The report concerned a two-part coronal mass ejection (CME) that followed a solar flare, that missed the Earth by a week.  The worst case interpretation is that had the Earth passed through it, the CME could have fried all of the Earth’s electronics and sent civilization suddenly back to the 19th Century, much like an EMP (electromagnetic pulse) from a terrorist or enemy could be.

If such an interpretation is possible, which NASA seems to acknowledge now, why wasn’t it covered before?

I’ve covered a few times (most recently May 13, 2014 on my Issues Blog) and visited at least two locations of companies in Virginia that manufacture transformers.  There is a lot of concern that large transformers cannot be manufactured quickly in the US or imported if many were damaged.  There are vague suggestions that there are steps electric utilities could take to protect equipment (starting with blackouts) if warned of a coming massive CME, but’s not clear how much warning can be given or what can be done.  Literature on the Internet is spotty (example) , but there have been efforts in some states, including Virginia, to require some standards of preparedness be met.
  
One official at NASA wrote that we have a 12% chance of a major incident within the next decade.  Then how have we gotten so far?
  
The Sun rotates at varying speeds, ranging from 24-38 days.  The Earth could conceivably pass over an unusually active zone on the Sun every 24 days, but it sounds unlikely that one area remains dangerous that long.  To hit Earth, a super CME would have to go out on the same plane as the Earth’s orbit when the Earth is transiting in the “right” place. 
  
Bur if it’s really true that we could be sent back 100 years at any time by a solar storm, you would think major media would cover it.  “They just aren’t telling us.”  This sounds like climate change denial, but is potentially much graver.

What makes this problem unique is that in past centuries people were not technology-dependent.  This situation has crept up on us in the past half-century.  (But, what, “they” really didn’t know during the Cold War, or when we put a Man on the Moon, or survived the Cuban Missile Crisis?)



I wouldn’t be of any use in a world without technology.  The moral implications of that statement are cannon fodder for another day.  But coercion can teach us a lot and test our commitment to individual freedom. Most of us wouldn't voluntarily choose Amish values.   



Actually, a sermon that I heard today "Worth Working For" by Aaron Fulp-Eickerstaedt at the Immanuel Presbyterian Church in McLean VA seems relevant.   A technological civilization allows us to seem more independent, to be picky about the imperfections in people before we will love them.  You can put it all together. 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Uniform laws proposed regarding estate trustee's access to social media and other web accounts of deceased


The Pew Research Center has an important story by Maeve Duggan (May 6) about a “Fiduciary Access to Digital Access Act” (FADAA”, proposed by the Uniform Law Commission (National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws), story link here, actual law text here.  

Web service companies have been somewhat skittish on the topic, some recently more willing to give estate executors access.  Some could fear liability for material after death if they allow another party access.  I have wondered if service providers someday might require an “in case of” contact with consent from that contact, but I’ve never run into that.

In the video below, John Berlin pleaded with Facebook to be allowed to see a video posted by his deceased son.


The Washington Post has a story by Anna Fitfield July 21 about an expensive “Yahoo Ending” service in Japan, that would send emails to friends after one has died, story here. t seems rather questionable in taste. 

Bill 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Arguing fair "policy" against filling specific needs used to be seen as "rude" speech


When I started self-publishing my “story” through my books and websites in the 90s (with blogs to follow), there wasn’t much question that my “story” (regarding a civilian college expulsion and then getting “drafted” anyway) would be relevant (with some irony) to the debate on gays in the military as it had developed.  I was able to “sell” copies of the book and get speaking engagements in the 1997-1999 time period.  Traffic on my websites grew steadily as Google and other engines indexed everything (even without applying or using meta-tags very much).  There was no need to be particularly aggressive in “selling” my book or content although I did chose strategies for specific and correlated audiences.
  
Over time, my coverage of things enlarged in “concentric circles” and I indeed became a pundit, with the connection to the original issues (discrimination v. shared risk or responsibility) somewhat forgotten or covered.  It was apparent I had a real “stake” in things when this all started;  that’s not particularly apparent now.  I still live in a separate world from social-emotional closed circuits of most people.  I observe, watch, and report, and comment.  Yet, it seems I don’t have my own skin in the game now, even though I once did.  And while my “giving back” and “paying my dues” seems necessary morally and as a way to help with stability, it’s very hard to dive into the worlds of others (for example, to mentor the disadvantages) without taking orders again.  The “mind your own business” principle becomes very double-edged and inconsistent.  And unsolicited emotional pleas become intrusive, and repetitive.

All of this could twist on a head.  I remember one time, about ten years ago, after I had returned to Virginia, when my mother said I should never mention William and Mary in public again.  Of course, I had to ignore her; the whole business model for the “second half of my life” (post “All-Star Break”) had started with the WM Expulsion-NIH period and what it meant.  She really never understood what was going on while I lived here.

Actually, I had more skin in the game than people saw.  Everyone is emotional about eldercare, but nobody talks about the fact that there are filial responsibility laws, and the ethical and financial (and public policy) conundrum they could cause if they were enforced and taken seriously.  “Everybody” begs for the government to mandate paid paternal leave (or paid family leave), but no one wants to talk about how to pay for it.  (True, in Europe, it seems to work relatively well, but why it does, that deserves a whole “Vox explanation”, not out there yet.)  There were times when I “worked for free” (unpaid overtime as salaried) when others took sudden family leave.  Over the years, there have been many other examples where I have "skin" in the game of an issue, especially with public health.
    
That brings me to another point.  Sometimes, bringing up “logical” objections to a popular idea is seen as rude.  To object to paid family leave might be seen that way, from someone who “doesn’t have kids” – someone not willing to take the “risk” or “responsibility” to have them but instead remaining a free spirit with disposable time, income and wealth – maybe because he wasn’t sexually competitive enough to have children in the first place.  We’re different, but we do have to sit in the same canoe sometimes.

  
Some people see monitoring of sensitive issues like this as the function of the “natural family” or of its leadership.  Our world of hyper-individualism is rather exceptional in historical terms.  Most societies have been organized into clans or tribes, where there was great emphasis on family survival.  Having and raising children was a necessity, not a choice.  Homosexuality and marital infidelity (at opposite or separate vertices today) were seen as offenses against the family or tribe, but not against specific people or victims (often translated religiously as disobedience to God or Allah).  Family socialization taught people to live together in close quarters, often under conditions of forced intimacy common with poorer populations (or low-tech).  They had to share risks together against common perils and enemies (which sounds like the Middle East today).  Life was not a matter of choices.  A family patriarch (or sometimes religious leader) was empowered to decide who could afford to make “sacrifices” without insulting others in the group and jeopardizing the tribe.  Speaking out or complaining about a sacrifice, even if not “fair” in modern individualistic thinking centered around narrow ideas of personal responsibility, was seen as rude or even dangerous.  Hence the Internet censorship in many parts of the world, or the comment about WM from my mother.  In this kind of world, social competitiveness was understood as a good in itself, and the ability to get others to take your orders was seen as important (even if the orders were for the wrong “reasons”).  Yes, we call this authoritarian.  Sometimes it does result in stability, even at the cost of individual liberty,  And it does invite corruption. It sounds like Chicago under Daley.

At a local level, tribal culture is indeed communitarian (almost as Marx would have liked).  Family members take care of their own first, under leadership, and that doesn’t always wait for having your own children.  Morally, one place where things break down is in reaching out beyond the family or tribe.  Often religious custom or law determines how that is to happen. 

Social skills acquired within the family should enable reaching out, to those (especially impoverished) in other places or countries who are very “different”.  But often tribalism discourages this (look at how the child migrant crisis is getting debated).  Individualism would encourage outreach with intellectual justification, but sometimes falter at actually doing it. 

Many of the ideas of how people should behave in the family or tribe affect social norms in public, at least informally, as the law becomes less important with succeeding generations wanting a libertarian approach.  
  
 There is still the nagging question of how the “different” person (like me) interacts with others when he seems to have less personal stake in them and doesn’t find gratuitous interactions or sharing with others rewarding or meaningful.  I’ve been used to seeing the “poor” (etc) as those who failed morally or competitively, but I’ve come to know (especially in recent years, at least intellectually) that a lot of times a lot of luck and fortune is involved.  My personal attitude toward individual others (especially those at a disadvantage) mirrors the attitude peers often had toward me.  That raising disturbing questions in a society that says it values all human life as miraculous and special.  I can’t say that I always feel that way. 

  



Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Pew study finds turf protection and associated regulation by "legacies" as the biggest threat to the Web


The Switch Blog reports on a Pew survey of 1400 experts on the biggest threat to the Web.  It isn’t cyberterror or malware.  It’s overreaching regulation by governments and greed by companies.  There’s a story by Hayley Tsukayama in the Washington Post Switch blog, here

Some of the biggest threats can come from political pressure from legacy corporate interests, as we said with SOPA, as a great overreach to eliminate piracy.  Another could be a gross erosion of downstream liability protections in areas like Section 230, or copyright.  Overreach could occur with attempts to eliminate or find child pornography by filtering everything.  And the Internet may split into different zones because of filtering and control by countries, and a demand that some data be hosted within the countries.  We already see that with attempts to stop the Arab Spring, and with censorship in China. 

The Benton Foundation has a similar story here.  Pew’s report, “Net Threats”. by Janna Anderson and Lew Raine, is here. We may be fortunate to have as much freedom as we have now.


Bill 

Monday, July 21, 2014

NBC Today again vets growing controversy over photography even in normally public places


Today, the NBC Today Show had another brief conversation (with Bob Hansen) showing concern over the taking of pictures of people even in public places.  This seemed to be new coverage (I see that NBC had discussed it March 31, 2014).  It was said that it seems inconsistent that you can’t record people’s conversations without consent but that you can photo them, and that many people don’t appreciate what can be done with images in the digital age.
     
NBC didn’t have a link yet on this discussion, but the ACLU has a very useful guide (“Know your rights”0 here  and notes that in some states (like Pennsylvania) recording of voices without permission even in public is illegal.  The New York Times has a compelling column by James Estrin from August 2012 “criminalizing photography”, here. It seems that in some cases police stop photography even when it is legal, and that there are cases where the established press is not allowed to phorograph but amateurs are (not what you would expect).
    
Property owners can always prohibit photography on the premises.  A few bars do this, as I’ve covered on the LGBT blog.  Most businesses won’t allow photography of employees at work.  Some prohibit “commercial” photography, as evidenced by tripods or large equipment, but such a distinction seems weaker as cameras become miniaturized on smart phones.  Would republication of a photo (like from a sports event) on a blog that accepts ads legally constitute commercial use?


Friday, July 18, 2014

Some notes about SEO, quality guidelines, and avoiding bad links


Like many bloggers, I get lots of email trying to sell search optimization services.  My interest is content-and-logic driven and not numbers driven (to the irritation of people who call me), but there are some good discussions about there about search engine placement and holding readers (like how to deal with bounce rates).
  
Entrepreneur  has an interesting discussion on Google’s quality guidelines (which would apply pretty much to Bing and Yahoo!, too), which can lead to problems if you have a lot of low-quality “back links” to your pages. 
   
These can happen from obsolete forums, or from ill-conceived practices like entering link exchange schemes, buying link services, guest posts, and creating “unnatural links”, all of which it explains in this article.. The article mentions a valuable HTML coding attribute called “NoFollow” which may help prevent low quality backlinks.  I have to say that I do find some automated links to pieces of my blog posts (perhaps infringing) and articles on specific issues. 
  
Entrepreneur also does have SEO tips that appear more specific and legitimate than those on most other sites on the topic.  But of course the need for it depends very much on a site’s circumstances.  The whole topic of SEO came to mind this weekend when a Washington DC local gay magazine, the Metro Weekly, wrote about it. (here ) in an article by Robert MacLean.   
   
One item that I think is noteworthy is the quality of comments that one gets.  I got “good” comments more much often five years ago, before Facebook and Twitter made getting news and interacting with well so easy.  Blogger and Wordpress do offer ways to eliminate spam comments.  But what I often see is comments that are non-specific and flattering, and that seem to come from businesses whose purposes seem rather silly, even if harmless. 



Above there is a discussion about linking among multiple sites that one party owns, and making sure that crosslinking doesn’t violate quality standards or cause search engines to view them as “link farms”.  It's not so much the number of links as the number of sites.  

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Want to sell your media? Have good karma first


Last night, I saw the Swedish film “The Last Sentence”, about a Swedish newspaper editor who tried to influence opinions in his country against Hitler (reviewed on the movies blog today).  Yes, I had a reason to think again about my whole entry into self-publishing, and continuing it through now, in the 1990s, motivated most of all by the issue of “gays in the military” and the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
  
I didn’t try to make much money from the publishing, or to make it “pay for itself”.  The value of what I did was that it was always there and easy to find, and loaded quickly.  I kept the technology down to simple HTML.  In the early days, my kind of setup worked well with the search engines, better that the material of large companies that used databases and complicated scripts.  When I started my first sites (“hppub.com” and the mirror on “Hometown AOL”) I didn’t even have subdirectories.
  
What gained some traction was the nature of the arguments I made.  Rather than just talking about equality, discrimination and immutability in a more conventional, politically correct way, I brought in my own experience, back in 1961, of being thrown out of a civilian college (William and Mary) for reasons similar to those advanced in 1993 to oppose allowing (open) gays in the military.   It’s a little layered: in time, the “unit cohesion” concept became more important or relevant than had just “privacy”.  But I conflated my argument with that of civic obligation and sharing risks, of answering those knocks on the door.  I took the argument back to the days of the Vietnam era draft with the moral issue of the day:  student deferments and the idea that the “privileged” got out of shouldering some of the risk (which multi-faceted, including the kind of personal life wounded veterans and their families can face).  My “reputation” besmirched by the expulsion, I actually took the draft physical 3 times to get rid of the 4-F, and then “served without serving”.  (The only other case I know of where someone did this was J.D. Salinger.)

I did indeed color the argument with older ideas about personal responsibility as having a collective and unavoidable or compulsory component, lest some people depend on the unseen sacrifices of others.  That was a common moral belief in the 50s and early 60s, which might seem hard to explain today when one considers the historical resistance of many people to the Civil Rights movement.  That sort of idea, that some portions of life are unpredictable and not always “fair” immediately, often got cloaked in religious terms, and indeed seems to relate to the deeper teachings in the Gospels. 

At first, I expanded my commentary into other adjacent areas that seemed amendable to ideas about personal responsibility and libertarianism, Cato-style.  That carried interest for a while.  The military ban, for one thing, implied that the government would invade the “personal” and “private” lives of soldiers (although sometimes it has to, by the very nature of military service).  After 9/11, the collective “we’re all in the same boat” ideas became stronger, and the use of the draft argument (with the help of some public statements by Charles Moskos) kept people interested in my site (not so much the book by then).  Likewise, my increased concerns with COPA and censorship issues. 

I worked on fiction and movie ideas, while home with mother and doing odd jobs (including sub teaching).  In 2006, after a breakdown of the teaching, I gradually switched over to Blogger.  The media reviews (Movies and Books) did the best.  There was an uptick in interest during the 2008 financial crisis, as well as when I reported on some arcane and neglected areas (like filial responsibility laws).  But generally, over time, the interest in coverage of gay issues dwindled somewhat, as my arguments lost currency.  People started getting their news from Facebook and Twitter, which I found effective to use myself.

As I noted Sunday, I get pressured, for reasons of “karma”, to take up something else, even in retirement.  A lot of things would require me to give up being a public pundit and riding in the same lifeboat as everyone else (the opera “The Raft of the Medusa” by Henze), and take orders from a position of social inferiority.   That’s how I perceive it. (I’ve covered the way “conflict of interest” over my involvement with the military played out in the 1990s before, but there were a couple of odd and disturbing twists in the story.)   Some of the most recent ideas look better, like high school teaching combined with junior college. 

There are some media players that I think I could work with and be more effective.  And there are other projects somewhat similar to mine, which I am nearly finished outlining on the Wordpress blogs.  There are projects developed by some parties who do not know each other and where only I am familiar with both.  That can present some opportunity. This includes my music. There’s something disturbing about some of the fiction.  Yes, I can “play god” with my own characters on paper, and some of them don’t “make it”, at least in an Ayn Rand-values world. The problem is that the “masses” don’t seem to get their fair chance.  And religion is no longer their opiate.

But, then, there is karma, and “payback”, which can be a “b” (at least in the soap opera world). My own arguments, very useful to overcome DADT, put me in a potential penalty box.  But I may have to deal with that to sell anything.    

Monday, July 14, 2014

EFF reports that TPP still wants to burden ISP's or service providers with becoming copyright police


Electronic Frontier Foundation is still reporting on the secretive nature of TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) negotiations, with the most serious proposal being an requirement or expectation that ISP’s be empowered and indentured with the responsibility to police copyright infringement by users.   EFF presents a Scribd copy of a letter from many companie or signatories shown below in graphics.  This would flood service providers with dubious but time consuming takedown notices above what we have with today’s DMCA Safe Harbor.  This could undermine user-generated content as we know it now.  

YouTube, in particular, does have an automated tool for screening out some kinds of infringement. 
         
Congress will be taking up copyright term and particularly moral rights in this summer term, according to another EFF story today. 


Sunday, July 13, 2014

No, I can't change my goals for someone else's cause


There certainly have been some changes in my perceptions and priorities in all the years since my “retirement” from my long IT career.

I’m more aware than I was in the past of the influence of luck on people’s lives, and on the possibilities that enormous changes on our way of life can be forced on us.  Call that “purification” if you like, the idea has been with us since 9/11. 

Indeed, a personal and public set of ethics depending on “personal responsibility” – anchoring “individual sovereignty” or “personal autonomy” --  all depends on a society and economy that works for those who play by the rules.  Indeed, for most of my adult working life – really, all of it – it did work.  But I’m certainly aware that it doesn’t or hasn’t for everyone, and that includes those whom I tend to “reject” as potentially personally important.

In the past decade or so, I’ve gotten a lot of feedback, some of it unwelcome or unsolicited, over the years on what should or can be “expected” of someone in my position.  I’ll go into some of this feedback in more detail soon on one of my new Wordpress blogs.  

I realize that I came out of the “big layoff” after 9/11 better than a lot of people (ING was rather generous with those over 55). And I came out of my mother’s passing at the end of 2010 rather well, at least on paper, despite some years that were trying.  I also know that those who don’t “give back” within a reasonable timeline can lose it, or have it yanked away.  Yes, some of the “revolutionary” rhetoric of the far Left came to my ears early in my adult life, including talk of “expropriation,” and the memory traces of all that talk stick.

I have, since the mid 1990s, pursued a “second career” as a journalist and media person.  Yes, it’s amateurish.  Yes, I stick my neck out, and possibly tug on people associated with me and drag them into an unwanted limelight.  But there’s really no going back.  I cannot stop what I did (requiring “devil’s advocacy” and “objectivity” as part of punditry) and simply become a huckster for someone else’s cause, no matter how compelling that need or opportunity may sound to others.  And, true, I don’t have time to respond to a lot of the pleas I hear.

It’s true, my capacity for “relationships” is somewhat limited, both by my “selectivity”, dependence idealistic fantasy, and by my lack of personal competitiveness.  I stand alone, and I can be vulnerable, to accidents, to natural disaster, or to wrongful or violent or indignant behavior from others.  Inequality, which has helped me in recent years, now presents risk.  The buck will stop with me, sometimes, and others who work with me in the future probably have to know that.  I have to have my own affairs working before I can help anyone else.  There isn’t much negotiation on that.

What about faith?  I sometimes find myself personally repelled by religious calls to “surrender all” and become the “Lord’s” or anyone else’s servant.  That parallels the issues early in my life, how my own use of my own talents (music) would be balanced against what others wanted to demand of me (gender conformity).  I understand the need for Salvation by Grace, partly because the world is an unequal place and unfortunate for some;  the Gospels, as I understand them, did not promise political or social equality that we expect today.  Instead, the Gospels mediated personal attitudes about social relations in a way that makes consideration of equality through the political process possible (more likely than in other religions, perhaps). 

 I think that modern physics and cosmology really does necessitate an afterlife, in which time and space act in ways unknown to us while we live our earthly lives.  But I don’t see the idea of “heaven” as if is often presented (even in “near-death” experiences) as relevant to me.  Reincarnation, starting over at the bottom in another society, maybe on another planet, could make sense.   The law of karma certainly holds.

Just one other thing right now.  The word “coward” today seems to have taken on a different meaning than it had when I was growing up, when you didn’t get to choose your circumstances or even your course in life.  
  
True, my own experience with the military draft and deferment system in my day (and the idea that it was an essential part of Cold War deterrence) did affect my own moral perceptions.  There was a saying with the drill sergeants in Army Basic Combat Training, "That's the breaks" (with the f-word).  Sometimes you own your own breaks.  Life sometimes come knocking on your door.  

Friday, July 11, 2014

Ninth Circuit continues to stall on "Innocence of Muslims" takedown issue; a dangerous precedent for the movie business?


Electronic Frontier Foundation is reporting that the Ninth Circuit “doubled down” on the request by EFF and others to revisit the opinion regarding YouTube’s pulling copies of the “Innocence of Muslims” video on the claim of “copyright infringement’ on one of the female performers, who in practice had faced threats.   Corynne McSherry writes on the matter here today, July 11.  The case was Garia v. Google.
  
EFF is still critical of the Circuit for its effective prior restraint on free speech on the basis of a speculative and legally dubious copyright claim which would probably not succeed. 
  
   

Nicholas O’Donnell, from Sullivan and Worcester, argues on the “Art Law Report”  (and LXBN video above) that the reasoning behind the copyright claim was particularly dangerous because actors normally do “work for hire” and don’t have their own claims on the material, link  It is looking as though the objectionable nature of the material, rather than legal objectivity, has driven this case.   

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

"Resignation" of blogger defending NFL Redskins's name makes an important point about "objectivity", to me at least


A liberal blogger, Ben Tribbett, had been hired by the Washington Redskins to help sway public opinion toward the team’s keeping its name and the right to claim the name as a trademark.  He resigned after two weeks because of personal criticism, as in this AP story that appeared on ESPN, link  Apparently he sent the resignation on Twitter (link his Twitter name ). Think Progress has a longer history of Tribbett’s career here. There’s a story on my trademark blog about this matter on June 18.

The CBS Sports clip here refers to him as an “employee”, which is certainly misleading.


I can’t imagine being “hired” to promote one party’s viewpoint about something in public.  I’ve always been dedicated to some intellectual honesty and objectivity, a willingness to present all sides of an issue.  I can’t do that if I’m hired by one side of a dispute.  I guess journalistic objectivity is a “luxury” for individual bloggers, some of whom have families to support.

I have been approached to co-write a couple of times (in conjunction with others who fought the past bans on gays in the military) and never quite got out of the circle of telling my own story.  That I would do. And I would love to collaborate in real journalism, and in certain other kinds of film and media projects, which I will be talking about more soon.  
  
The Redskins had better improve on 3-13 this year.  Picture: Training camp in Richmond, July 2013.  

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

New concerns about airline security and electronics could disrupt travel for independent journalists


Back in the 1990s, it used to be common for travelers to have to turn on laptops at airports.  It’s curious that this practice stopped and wasn’t resumed after 9/11.  Generally, travelers, at least domestically, have found that carryon electronics are left alone, as long as laptops are placed in appropriate bags.


  
There has been a lot of news that passengers on inbound flights to the United States will have to prove that they can turn on their electronics based on battery power (not depending on a local plug in power source).  The reasoning is that the battery bays could hold plastic explosives reportedly being developed by terrorists in the Middle East. The idea may have been anticipated by the Universal film “Non-Stop” last February (review on Movies blog July 2).


Although right at this moment the rules seem to apply overseas, there is every reason to believe that they will soon apply to domestic flights.  Terrorists with western and US passports and visas could re-enter and try to disrupt domestic air travel.

I reported on this Sunday night on the International Issues blog, but would like to talk here a little more about the ramifications.

I’ve traveled by air on four airline round trips since the passing of my mother at the end of 2010.  I had not traveled by air since late 2006 before then.  I’ve also gone by Amtrak and car on many instance.  By air and train, I usually take a Windows notebook (right now, a gateway), an iPad (which is vintage 2011 and rather heavy now) as a hotspot, cell phone, two digital cameras, and all relevant charging cords.  An interesting complication is that some things are not easy on an iPad and need a computer, especially access to Blogger.  So far, I’m batting 1.000.  I’ve had Internet access every single day “on the road” and actually been able to use Blogger every day.  But I can’t forget or lose anything.  I’m not sure how easy it would be to replace a power cord on the road.  In 2011, in Texas, the Toshiba Notebook seemed to be failing but I got it working again for the rest of the trip (but have since replaced it).  Last time I checked, it’s not easy to replace a Notebook immediately and have everything ready (like all the software updates) if there is a problem upon arrival, even though these products tend to be inexpensive. 

One danger is that a component suddenly fails at the airport.  But of course if it really broke it probably wouldn’t be usable on the trip anyway.  So one tip would be to use smaller, newer, lighter items, preferably less than two years old if possible.  It’s not a problem to charge everything the night before.   

Of course, there are more technical complications in Europe.  The current is different, and transformers must be used.  The proper connections probably have to be purchased.  Connectivity and availability of some services could be different.  There are sites (like this) that outline  the options for cell phone rental, v. beefing up your own plan with your own phone, here.  It depends on what company you have, and the specifics are likely to change quickly over time. 

Wolf Blitzer, in one interview, raised the issue that it would be possible to miniaturize explosive chemicals to the point that they could be inserted into electronics that work.  The answer from the government was that a “balance must be struck.” 

In any case, an environment could develop where it is much more difficult to travel with electronics by air (especially overseas) than it has been.  This can be very important to an independent blogger like me.  An “establishment” journalist has a company behind him to take care of the logistics and keep him or her wired; I do not.  Various ideas come up.  One is obviously collaboration with others.  That possibility will actually be explored pretty soon.   But the collaboration could lead to much more travel (especially to some areas, like California, Canada, the UK, especially if video or music production is involved) than in the past.  Another idea is that hotels could do a better job than they do now of providing reliable “business centers” (with enough security) than they do now.  (Most standard hotels have one or two computer terminals in their business room – I’ve used them to print out return airline boarding passes – oh, I ought to use the smart phone – but what if these become forbidden?)  The Amtrak Arrive magazine has a short piece on this problem on p. 58 of its July/August 2014 issue (“Rethinking the Business Center”) but these ideas seem only to help companies or organizations of some size.
   
Another aspect for an individual blogger or “pundit” is being reachable and able to respond if there is some sort of problem, especially on trips longer than 3-4 business days, not counting weekends and holidays.  Typically, right now, there is no one else who could answer in my stead.  (This leads to consideration of the “digital executor” issue taken up here before; because I, like everyone eventually, can pass away, too).  If I have access when travel, even if through a hotel business center, and can address problems in a secure and timely manner, then that is OK. 
  
One issue if significance is having a support contract with your provider.   But social media companies don’t provide contracts, and Google does not offer one for Blogger.  I think it would be nice if it would, maybe $100-$200 a year, depending on number of blogs.  That would give more response to problems and “due process” in certain kinds of situations.  On the other hand, it has worked since 2006;  that same year (2006), a company that did provide a support contract for a javastarter site failed. 

Most of my concerns here relate to travel within and among the US and other "western" countries.  Many services are not available in authoritarian countries (like China), and travel to some of these places for openly LGBT people may be dangerous.  I'm going to look into this myself further, maybe with attorneys,. maybe the State Department.   



Let me add also that Virginia Hospital Center (next door) tells me that patients can have wireless Internet access in their rooms if they are able to work (despite the cell phone ban), in a comment they made on my movies blog for a July 6 entry. 
  

Second picture is Minneapolis, 2011.  



Monday, July 07, 2014

NSA surveillance has led to lots of "selfie" info on ordinary Internet users in US; remote risk that it could be misused by mistake exists


Paul Waldman has a brief perspective this morning, on how people around the world feel about the NSA spying issue, here where  refers to some other specific stories.  But he skips the enormous story Sunday July 6 by Barton Gellman, Julie Tate and Askkan Soltani, “Caught in the NSA net: Intercepts mostly from non-targets; ordinary web users’ data dominates collection”, here.   Generally, as reported before, the NSA has been using the more lenient standards of PRISM to go after data when it doesn’t have time for FISA court supervision.

The circumstance that seems to lead to extraneous collection is an “ordinary” person’s calling or texting a number on a target list (often overseas), or possibly answering emails, forwarding or responding to tweets or other social media posts of targets, or sometimes visiting certain websites.  The story mentioned the collections of selfie photos, family pictures, resumes, job applications, even medical history or perhaps psychiatric information.  But the case histories of actual collections seem to involve individuals incidental to foreign persons under big-time surveillance because of (usually) radical Islamic activities or sometimes hacking or organized crime in places like China and Russia. 
  
Personal blog posts are probably culled.  Since mine are public, that’s fine with me.  Maybe the NSA has the unusual email sent to my AOL account Aug. 15, 2008 by activists in Nigeria threatening to attack oil fields (I don’t think it’s spam).  I reported it publicly (on the International Issues blog) , and the government (as are oil companies) is free to use it and correlate the info as it likes. 
   
CNN discusses the story this AM (related link), and still expresses concern that someone can wind up on a no-fly list without recourse.  It gave one obscure example.  There does need to be Congressional oversight.  I did not fly from late 2006 until mid 2011, and I didn’t fly in 2012 (I did a plane trip to Atlanta recently). Something could happen behind my own back.  CNN expects more users to want to use end-to-end encryption, as offered recently by Google.    

Saturday, July 05, 2014

"Right to be forgotten" ruling starts to get implemented in Europe, with ridiculous outcomes; attention on former Merrill Lynch executive Stan O'Neal


Recently, the supreme court in the European Union ruled that search engines could be required to remove links to search results from older postings by individuals, according to the “right to be forgotten” idea, and Google has started doing this with links visible from its European sites.  This does not affect searches in the United States.  The main story concerned the removal of links of former Merrill Lynch executive Stan O’Neal.  Business Insider has a typical story here. There are some reports to the effect that the request came from someone who had commented on one or more of the stories rather than O’Neal.  In any case, the end result seems to be calling more attention to O’Neal’s past, not less.
   
The Guardian reports that it has been required to remove at least six other items by others not related to the O’Neal mess, in a story here. Guardian gives examples of how US searches work compared to European with former Scottish Premier League referee Dougle McDonald.  The original articles still appear in Europe, but they are harder for novices (or perhaps future employers) to find.   

Robert Preston of the BBC asks why he has been cast into oblivion as a journalist (a bit of hyperbole), .here 
   
Note that there is a very recent YouTube video that reports that Google has restored the links in Europe on the referee but not on McNeal.  The details on this matter could change rapidly.


Google has received over 70000 requests in Europe.
  
The New Republic had published a prospective article on the dangers of the “right to be forgotten” concept back in 2012, by Jeffrey Rosen, “A grave new threat to free speech from Europe,” here.  Note the wording of the title.  The insinuation is that European law could eventually compromise free speech and broadcast in the US.  Already, there is a ruling from a Canadian provincial court that attempts to implement itself worldwide.  

Thursday, July 03, 2014

See Bryce Run! Harper's comments amount to insubordination; recalling my own issue with workplace "conflict of interest" and public speech


I’ve written before about “conflict of interest” in terms of public speech.  I feel implored to mention it today because of news reports about the public criticism that Major League Baseball’s star 21-year-old outfielder Bryce Harper launched on the way Matt Williams was managing the team.  The Washington Post has a complete story this morning by Jason Reid (link). Harper was out over two months after ligament surgery on his thumb, injured in a reckless slide in April. (Previously, Williams had taken him out of a game for not running out a one-hopper, and I had scolded him on Facebook.)  Any time a star player routines, others are benched and sometimes sent back down to the minors.  Of course, professional baseball players are used to this.  I’d like to see the Nationals get more use out of pitchers Blake Treinen and Ross Detwiler.  And I’d like to see more of Tyler Moore, now in the minors, who can actually hit monster homers that out-distance Harper’s. 


It surely does put manager Matt Williams in a tough position, because Harper’s behavior in this regard is inappropriate, even insubordinate.  It reminds me of a political squabble in the workplace that I retired from some ten years ago.

I’ve experienced the possibility that my public speech could create ethical conflict at work in the past.  A lot of this related to my authorship and publication of my first “Do Ask Do Tell” book in 1997 when I had been working for a life insurance company specialized in selling to military officers.  The “don’t ask don’t tell” policy and my own gay history (both in the military and as a civilian) contributed to the potential conflict, which took on a certain moral and existential nature.  I’ve given the details on my Wordpress blog, here. There are obscure ways that this issue could surface again, even in my estate-management environment.  But given my own background, I find it astounding that a player would feel free to speak out like this.  Harper was actually warned about how he used social media when he was coming up the ranks in 2011 and 2012.

I have reason to believe that a few of the Nationals know who I am, so maybe these comments will have some effect.
  


Yes, I was in New York last weekend  (partly for NYC Gay Pride Sunday) and went to the Yankees’ game Saturday night (to see a 2-1 Yankess loss).  I had not been in the “new” Yankee stadium before, and found it rather overwhelming.  You can actually see the IRT elevated trains pass by the outfield beyond the right field stands.  The Nats won a Pride game in Chicago while I was there – the game had been moved to a Saturday double header because Chicago Pride would take place near Wrigley Field on Sunday. 
  

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Don't let Facebook hurt your feelings; composer Jaron Lanier weights in


Classical music composer and technology commentator Jaron Lanier asks in the New York Times today “Should Facebook manipulate users?”, link here. Of course, music composers  (most of all Mahler) and songwriters (and performers) can manipulate the emotions of listeners.  But I found it rather astonishing that the moods of Facebook users could be affected by the order of their personalized news feeds.  Oh, I feel better when my sports team (right now, the Nationals) wins.  Call that a bit of necessary eusociality.

  

I don’t like to make too much of the whole whitelisting mechanism, and the preoccupation with numbers of “friends” or “followers”.  Sure, it’s nice to know that you can post a link to something important without the effort of writing a story and that dozens of people will see it.  But I don’t like to be in the position where being unfriended or unfollowed can mean that much.  I do wonder about some of the followers that look like spammy advertisers, or "friends" from Africa and Russia (where I have never been yet -- although that could be motivated by the anti-gay laws there).  I don’t see the need for layers of visitors who get to see different areas of personal information according to some kind of “security clearance’.  Everything I post is public (unless I send an email to a specific party).  True, I do use one listserver (GLIL) a little.  I find most celebrities or public people do keep public twitter and Facebook feeds (that used to be Myspace), and you can look at them any time without having to be a follower.  I find you can send a tweet or Facebook message to a “celebrity” and most (not all) will acknowledge or reply – some will “favorite” and forward the messages (to millions).  

Friday, June 27, 2014

Some retail businesses get threats of spammed negative reviews, unless they pay up in bitcoins; ABC offers advise to people using Yelp and Angie's List


The latest twist in the “negative review” problem is businesses (like restaurants) reporting receiving “notice of extortion” letters, demanding payment in bitcoins to prevent assaults by negative reviews (especially on Yelp, it seems) and various other threats that don’t need to be repeated.  A little bit of the Mafia seems to getting into the bad-review business.  Sounds like soap-opera stuff, maybe a future plot thread for “Days of our Lives” (with Theresa as villain). 
   
Webroot wrote a story about it on its blog, with an entry, “2014: The Year that Extortion Went Mainstream”, link here.  Not to mention, I don’t pay much attention to online reviews on these sites myself, because I know a lot of them are bogus – that is, until I run into a problem with a particular business’s customer service (like warranty or repair service).  Typically, I’ll be skeptical of a review if it doesn’t seem to be factual or well written.    If I was in the dating game, maybe restaurant reviews would matter more.  (Oh, that brings to mind the days of heterosexual dating back in 1971, and we didn’t go Dutch.)
  
Darren Paul has a story about the problem on the UK Register here. It seems that there is an element that wants to do this “because we can”, just like in crime films.  You would think the public would wake up and not believe “spam” reviews.  
   
In another story on the online review issue, ABC World News Tonight broadcast a brief report on how to avoid getting sued if you review businesses on Yelp or Angie’s List.  Make sure that you emphasize that these are your opinions (“I believe that …).   Stick to verifiable facts, with proof (like photos or receipts).  I wasn’t able to find the link for this story online. 


Thursday, June 26, 2014

The "Don't call me, I'll call you" problem (especially for marketeers)


I thought I would provide an update on “how I work”.  I’m still evaluating all of my screenplays (scripts and treatments) and novel manuscripts, to see what is the most sellable.   I’ve summarized most of my efforts over the years (going all the way back to my 1969 manuscript “The Proles”) on my Wordpress sites.   What remains is two very large projects:  the “best” of the novel manuscripts, called “Angel’s Brothers” (singular or plural, I could argue for either), which embeds many plot threads and characters from earlier manuscripts, and a “Do Ask, Do Tell” screenplay treatment that incorporates my own personal story threads into an “interview” situation that seems to be located on a space station, perhaps on Titan, the largest moon of Saturn. 

The other main content projects on my plate are “big” “autobiographical” video (probably a series of ten minutes segments), and getting some of my piano music performed, especially the 1962-1974-2012 piano sonata (or at least some “pieces” from it).

When I’m engaged in developing content, I do have to spend a lot of uninterrupted time alone.  I also go to events or on trips, and I have to get to specific destinations on time. 

I get a lot of phone calls, and more or less more legitimate emails, from  parties who can wonder why I’m not more responsive.  But it doesn’t take many of these calls and contacts to eat up a lot of time. 

When working on content, I’m not much in the mindset of figuring out how to do “deals” to push retail volumes of anything.  It’s an entire mix of media centered around a body of content, not just one item. 
Nor do I like to be recruited to pimp “other people’s causes.” 

There is something disturbing about all this.  The Internet has indeed allowed us to remain “alone together”.  We often feel we don’t need others the way we used to.  It also seems that, even though I entered the world of punditry through the “gays in the military” issue because of a most ironic connection to my own life, I have branched out into so many areas, which intersect and affect each other, that I have to keep some personal distance from everything, almost like an alien anthropologist. Having done what I decided to do with the second half of my life (back in the 90s), I can’t just drop everything and take care of other people’s lives (like by preparing their tax returns, or setting up their life insurance policies).   I am quite far out on some thick limbs.

After I get through the next two manuscripts (hopefully by the first week of July), I’ll give a lot more attention to how I can work with others more than I have.  There are some projects around which I believe I have something in common with. 

We used to have a culture where we accepted being contacted by others selling things to us.  Many people are employed trying to sell this way, and people like me probably make it harder.  Maybe it’s bad karma;  back in 2002-2003, I had a job calling for the Minnesota Orchestra. 

I’ve talked about volunteerism before.   There’s something about service, taking one’s turn filling in to do it, that may communicate the idea that others get a fair shake (what Elizabeth Warren calls a “Fight Chance:, Books blog June 3) .  It doesn’t have to get that personal to let others know that sometimes you will walk in their shoes.  If you were outside the emotional world of most people, you have to start where you are. 
Some arts groups, like gay film festivals, may need more help.  Some of them may not be doing as well as they used to, because so many people have withdrawn back into their own worlds.