Monday, May 25, 2015

"It's Free": well, not forever. Is it OK to compete with yourself this way? A devious thought-experiment follows

Here’s a nasty little thought experiment, for a legal holiday.  Imagine that no one were allowed to keep self-published material (that is, online, in blogs, in self-published books, in videos) up and available (and findable by search) to the public unless it paid its own way with sales.   

You can imagine “exceptions” – like social media posts, but only those that were marked private outside of a pre-selected list of people that you already know and interact with in the real world. *
I throw out this “modest proposal” (like Jonathan Swift) as a kind of reaction to the constant calls I get to become aggressive in “selling”.   

I can immediately point to the same dilemma with newspapers, many of which have put up paywalls, with varying success.  Most scientific journals have mandatory pay, too (and subscriptions are expensive).  And in the past, even the government tried to support a system that kept some free academic journals away from the public, leading to the open access debate, started by the tragedy of Aaron Swartz (PACER should have been free, but not JSTOR) and recently taken up by teen medical innovator Jack Andraka.  

But in my own world, the basic moral setup is something this.  People calling have to make a living (often on commissions).  My “it’s free” idea isn’t fair to them.  Other people have children to raise, mouths to feed.  They didn’t inherit an estate that allows them to coast and do what they want.  

So I should get a taste of the life of a “pimp” and do the “Hustle and Flow” myself.   

That’s not quite accurate in another way.  I paid for the self-publishing of my first book (in 1997) because I found vendors who would do it rather inexpensively, because I made a good salary in a stable job, had ample savings, and because those savings had grown substantially in the 90s because the stock market (under a “Republicrat” Bill Clinton, who was very fiscally responsible himself) did well. I essentially “invested” stock market gains into the book.   Yes, Wall Street matters.  Rentier capital matters.  It can help you do what you want.  (And fiscal responsibility by governments helps.) All of this happened well before the eldercare endgame with Mother. 

And yes, I don’t have kids.  I didn’t procreate. I have no lineage to take care of me or to replace me.  But the cultural fault lines are appearing, and there are more than just two opposing sides to this. *
Normally, media projects do have to pay their own way when they use other people’s money (OPM).  Publicly traded companies have the biggest accountability, and that’s one reason why the “creativity” behind big Hollywood movies may be entertaining and dazzling, it’s often not too challenging intellectually, or doesn’t ask too many questions.   Independent movies still use investor money (often as LLC’s), usually, but usually investors who are much more interested in a creative message and not as demanding about returns.  Proprietors, like some self-published book authors and webmasters (me) are relatively free, a lot of sales hype in recent months and years is eroding that assumption.  

My strategy was to put out a morally nuanced, even ambiguous and perhaps self-effacing theory, at let people find it.  Yes, I did sell copies of the book in the first couple years, reasonably. But gradually, I came to depend on search engines to find me.  This worked very well from about 1999 until maybe 2008.  Gradually, never forms of social media have eroded that “market”.   
There is something alarming to some people about “passive” marketing like the way I managed it.  It is more likely to be found by people who don’t have the best intentions, the theory goes.   (This could feed into recent theories about how ISIS is able to abuse social media and use social leveraging to recruit.)  If “I” and really proud of what I have to say, then I should promote it with conventional public relations and advertising services, and work on a large scale.  I should spend time on sales activity, and not just on reworking more content.   
Historically, there is a twist in all this. I think the whole strategy I used would not be possible without Section 230, and if Facebook, Twitter, and to some extent newer Google products hadn’t come along, we might have much weaker downstream liability protections than we do now.  So while Mark Zuckerberg may have taken away some of my audience, he may have also saved it, and provided a new one. 

But imagine a world where you have to “earn the privilege of being listened to” (ironically, the title of my third book).  “You” (or “I” – I get defensive here and use pronouns impersonally, like in French class) only get heard when other people “want” or “need” what you have to say. That expands to a personal life, even for a singleton, based on meeting “the real needs of other people” and, moreover, letting that mean something to “you”.  I heard a lot of this back in the 1970s in the Rosenfels environment at the Ninth Street Center in NYC, with a great deal of irony and moral paradox that has never resolved.  There seems to be another cultural divide in our culture, between people who can “play” in an individualistic, secularized culture and those who need personalized attention in a group.  But man is a social animal before he is an individual.  
There’s a good question, as to the effectiveness, and even the ethics, of competing with oneself  (e.g., “you can compete with ‘free’”)– putting it up for sale on Amazon and other sites for those able and willing to pay, but also giving it away on PDF’s on owned sites or on “free” YouTube videos.  I wonder if this is partly what the big media companies worry about as eroding their market, rather than actual piracy.  (Mark Cuban, from Shark Tank, once ratified that idea in an email to me a few years back.)   

So, just moments ago, I played “Flirtation Avenue” from Timo Andres’s “Shy and Mighty”, an ironic name, from own YouTube channel, for free (ironically, the link on his website is incorrect!). But, yes, I played good karma and bought the CD a few years back, as I will with any artist I want to support (like by going to see his or her film with a normal admission ticket).  (The piece ends loudly.)  The meaning behind the “How Can I Live in your World of Ideas?” (the preceding piece), seems relevant.  Ideas alone can be dangerous when they just lie fallow.  But musicians, unlike bloggers and novelists, don’t have to be that explicit about meaning.  Arnold Schoenberg even said that – although opera and cantatas have a lot of textual meaning that can provoke.  
The mockumentary film series (3 8-minute shorts) by Reid Ewing (known from “Modern Family” and various indie films) starting with “It’s Free” (starting in an LA library, going to an aquarium and then a courthouse!) from around 2012 summarize all this beautifully.  And unfortunately they aren’t available right now, as far as I can tell. 

Friday, May 22, 2015

Federal anti-SLAPP bill would let state cases move to federal court for pre-emptive dismissal

Electronic Frontier Foundation reports that an Anti-SLAPP bill has been introduced in the House, by a bipartisan group. The story by Sofia Cope is here.  It will be called the “Speak Free Act of 2015” as introduced by Blake Farenthold (R-TX) and Anna Eshoo (D-CA), link here
One of the most important provisions would allow defendants in purported SLAPP suits in states without SLAPP laws or weak SLAPP laws to federal court, where judges would follow certain guidelines of reasonableness in dismissing cases.  These standards include “actual malice” in speech, as well as Section 230, and the protection of anonymous speakers.  It would be an interesting question if people posting negative (and sometimes anonymous) reviews on Yelp! And Angie’s List could have cases dismissed by a federal court this way.  It sounds as if it would.
Above is some more discussion of Caifornia’s law now, but this is advice to potential plaintiffs!  “Be very careful!”

Thursday, May 21, 2015

IPv4 addresses getting short this year in North America, could this affect small business, small websites?

The Internet is running out of IPv4 addresses (the four node addresses that we became accustomed to).  The United States (North America) will run out of its ration this summer, and Robert McMillan reports that Amazon and Microsoft are “scrambling” to buy up the rest, link here

The newer IPv6 codes offer an essentially unlimited supply.  Businesses need new routers to support these, and I’m not sure how significant that is.  A quick check with another tech journalist on the story last night indicated that he didn’t think it would be a big deal.
If you have a major telecomm vendor (like Comcast) and do an “Ipconfig” at the command prompt (in Windows 7), you’ll see a “Link-local IPv6 address” followed by the provider’s root IPv4 address, a Subunit Mask, and a Default Gateway, which is also IPv4. You telecomm provider already gives you a dynamic IPv6 address. 
What’s not clear is how this would affect average users and small businesses, which need to set up new websites.  It would sound as though dedicated web hosting could become difficult. Right now, dedicated hosting (your own server) costs about $300 a month, typically about ten times shared hosting.  However, blogging consultants are strongly recommending this  and this comports with the newly articulate idea that blogging needs to pay for itself with its own profits, as covered recently here.
I’m not sure how shared hosting IP address generation works.  It looks as though most providers have just one IPv4 per server, and generate you all the IPv6 addresses you need for your own domains.  This should work for most users.  However, one of my sites, while having a shared hosting account (on Windows Server), has had its own IPv4 for years, which Domain Tools confirms.  I’m really not sure what this means.  It might be possible that a service provider would set up one if a domain were a target of hackers and not inform the user, but I don’t know if this really .happens or would be industry practice.

Persons or entities who lose dedicated IP hosting accounts because a provider goes out of business or fail, could have difficulty getting another one.  It's not clear how this will play out. 
PCMag has an article on this issue back from 2011, here   Cisco has a technically detailed 2011 article here.
There is a lot to go through.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Foreign contributions for ballot initiatives (in CA) complicate the campaign finance debate; the partisan pressures to "take sides" and "join up"

The concerns over campaign finance reform and political contributions, even indirect, has resurfaced this week, in a USA Today story by Fredreka Schouten Tuesday, “Condoms-in-porn initiative spurs concern about foreign money in elections”, link here.   

The Federal Election Commission says that the ban on foreign campaign contributions applies only to candidate elections, not to ballot initiatives. The issue concerned a 2012 ballot initiative requiring actors in “adult” films to use condoms during filming (even if not actually having “sex”).   Some of the contributions had come from Manwin, a porn distributor in Luxembourg.  The AIDS Healthcare Foundation had objected to the practice, and some (especially in the state GOP) say that California law alone would have banned the foreign contributions.  

But the influence of “money” on elections and initiatives, and the Supreme Court’s view of contributions as “speech” in most cases, is troubling.  In Washington DC, a lot of the jobs are in lobbying groups – I once worked for a company that generated analytical reports for healthcare lobbying groups.  I actually learned a lot from the experience, setting up how I would handle my own book “business” later. 

Heavy lobbying, however, tends to polarize people into partisan camps, often driven by emotion and social loyalties that trump critical thinking.  (See my review of William Gairdner’s book “The Great Divide” May 15.)  I find people pressuring me to “join” something and pimp someone else’s cause rather than continue “gratuitous publication” about “everything”.  I plead “Cloud Atlas” – everything is connected.  
On the other hand, trying to limit campaign influence has its problems.  Remember the flap in 2005 over the idea that bloggers could inadvertently make illegal campaign contributions, and where that led. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Facebook "Instant Articles" is posed to "eat the Internet"

The Facebook Instant  Articles is generating even more debate on how mainstream media outlets – and bloggers alike – can best monetize their content and maintain a presence with visitors.  Forbes has an interesting perspective (pre-Instant) from Lewis DVorkin, link here

But the Motley Fool (which I remember being very popular 15 years ago in the Web 1.0 days) says that the concept could “eat the Internet”, dragging away revenue from Twitter and Google (and Bing and Yahoo!) because it makes content-following so easy for users (and advertisers to them) on mobile devices.  The article, by Adam Levy is here.  I have a bone to pick here.  The article, at the end (with a tag “Eating the Interet”), said that Cable and Hollywood are dying, and invited the user to go to a link to identify some new hot tech companies – and I went there I got one of these endless come-ons.  When I came back, that last comment about cable and Hollywood had disappeared.  Fool considers Instant Articles as a boon to publishers, but it’ now so clear how small, indie publishers jump in.  Would instant articles change the algorithms from Friends’ feeds?  How does this affect something like Reddit?

Cynthia Cizilla, however, writes in the Washington Post Monday, “for legacy media publications, Face experiment is a tricky one”, link here

It’s a good question, too, about conventional blogging platforms (the latest advice column on monetizing blogging that I found is here), as newer media formats draw away their traffic.  That could be one reason there has been so much desperate hype about niche blogging and traffic-generating techniques in the past few months.  Not as many people hunt for their news in search engines online (the way I still do) as would have maybe seven years ago.  My own very best traffic days came during the Financial Crisis of 2008, when I really had some good numbers.  That’s a sinister lesson – disaster, along with notoriety, sells.   

Monday, May 18, 2015

Backpage protected by Section 230, according to MA federal judge; 9th Circuit turns down injunction based on copyright claim against anti-Muslim film

Electronic Frontier foundation reports two very  important cases this Monday morning.
In Massachusetts, a federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit against for a user-generated sex trafficking ad.  The judge felt the ad was abhorrent (as would most reasonable users), but said that Section 230, as written protects the site, which does not have a practical ability to presceeen what users do.  The story by David Greene is here. The court apparently rejected “good faith” arguments as well as those that claimed that Backpage was actually a “back door” information content provider, or claims of “tacit encouragement”. The case is “Doe #1 v. Backpage”.  The Opinion is here
Kris Olson has an article “’Free and open Internet’ trumps against Internet sex trafficking”, in Massachusetts Lawyers, link here. Some observers feel the Backpage case is weak even without Section 230. 
There is separate litigation going on in Washington State about Backpage, before the state supreme court here.

Also, in the case Garcia v. Google (Feb. 27, 2014), the en banc Ninth Circuit affirmed a lower court’s denial of Cindy Lee Garcia’s request for a preliminary injunction requiring YouTube to remove materials related to “Innocence of Muslims” under DMCA Safe Harbor.  The embedded PDF for the opinion is here.

The en banc oral arguments from Dec. 2014 are available on YouTube.

The “threat” was considered as part of the auxillary “irreparable harm” idea used to justify a preliminary injunction for a copyright claim later.  The script had been originally titled “Desert Warrior”. 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Will conventional blogging go into decline? Introductory sites for beginning bloggers abound

Okay, on a humid Saturday afternoon, where there’s not the intensity for heavy stuff, I’ll mention that someone advertised to me her “First Site Guide” (and she even reminded me with a second email) on how to start a blog.  “Here it is”, link.

It’s set up on a PDF as a free “book”  (yes, “It’s free”, like the public library). 
The advice is pretty basic, compared to the technical details from Australian blogging guru “Blogtyrant” (who, I believe, is still considerably under 30).  And it may make more sense for niches and small businesses.
I also found a “” site that looks rather new and unfinished, but that seeks members. (Some of the existing member names were in the Russian alphabet.) By the way, I have a habit of having more than one Blogger panel open at a time.  It never seems to hirt anything.  Sometimes Blogger warns me that I am signed on twice.
I’ve also noticed that sometimes, when I pull up a blog, it pulls in an embedded video from the previous post instead of the current post, an automatic caching issue.  It goes away when I pull up the specific post.  I seem to have automatic Chrome caching on Blogger, but not Wordpress.
My analytics from Wordpress Jetpack seem accurate.  But Google analytics seems to undercount visits.  Some visits don’t get counted even when reloading the page.  And there are many more counts on specific pages from Blogger stats than reflected in analytics, sometimes, especially on politically “controversial” postings (like about the NSA, Snowden, surveillance, etc.) that normally draw more traffic.  Do Blogger counts reflect “spying”? 

Update: May 18

"Blogelina" has a tip page, of what you need, that is, if you have a niche blog, link.  The comments about Cloud storage are interesting.  It's interesting, that a blog has to meet a real "need".

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Amtrak accident in Philadelphia leaves disturbing questions about infrastructure, Internet security even if cause is finally found to be simple human error

The Amtrak accident in Philadelphia has the potential to have frightening implications for both our personal mobility and for the Internet, based on what future investigations find.  
I was in the Port Richmond area of Philadelphia myself (by car) on January 19, 2015, as I have mentioned a few times on these blogs (Fishtown, a subject of a book by Charles Murray, is nearby.) 
At first, I did wonder if there had been the possibility of explosion in the first passenger car, which would indicate terrorism, comporting with recent international and religious politics, if true.  But the best information now says that the train was going 106 mph in a 50 mph zone.  I have ridden this train (both Northeast regional and Acela) many times and remember the curve.  I think that the Philadelphia Zoo is nearby, as is a major electrical substation.  The train always slows down on this curve.  Or, having left 30th Street Station, it usually travels slowly until past this curve.  Many trains also used to do a stop in North Philadelphia, which I used sometimes when living in New Jersey in the early 1970s (and which my father often used on business trips).  

So I was rather shocked at reports of the train’s speed, which I did notice early today watching this surveillance video (CNN link ).  One possibility that occurs, to me at least, is the possibility of hacking or tampering with the train’s computer systems, conceivably from the Internet, if indeed the control systems were accessible on Internet topology.  Homeland security reporters have speculated on cyberwar and on attacks on power plants or airlines this way by hackers, and my reaction has always been, there simply should not exist any topological path between my computer and an Amtrak train, and airliner, or a power plant.  The mathematical concept (in graph theory) is called connectedness, and is easily proved or disproved. I studied plenty of theorems about this in graduate school in the 1960s (at KU).  If connection existed, maybe I could reach a USAF missile silo in North Dakota, NORAD, or the Pentagon (as in the prescient 1983 movie “War Games”).  This should not be possible at all.  
We know, though, that Sony was compromised, although probably from an inside source.  And the enemy was secular (North Korea), not Islam.  That can be true now.  Russia and China (as Donald Trump warns) are not our friends now.  
It’s also true the IT shops in many organizations do have loopholes.  I found plenty of these in the elevation processes at work when I was in mainframe IT (a very good employee in data control found a tremendous loophole in 1991), and there were indeed three or four incidents of deliberate compromise by others during my career (resulting in firings and at least two arrests).  DBMS’s can have “wormholes” when accessed in unusual ways (as with mainframe IDMS when accessed in batch through a “central version” – I think I’ve talked about this before on my IT blog).  While we have no specific information on Amtrak’s shop, I know that in general these sort of problems often exist.  Metro was found to have serious IT problems after the tunnel smoke fatality in Washington DC in January 2015.  Organizations like Metro and Amtrak may have difficulty attracting the very best technical talent to configure these systems properly.  
A lot has been written today about Congress’s unwillingness to fund Amtrak properly (relative to freight-owned tracks), and about a speed control system yet to be implemented in much of the Amtrak system, including Philadelphia.
The most recent news reports on CNN suggest that speeding on train systems is more common than we think.  A horrible accident in Spain, and several commuter rail accidents in the US have resulted from speeding.   Centrifugal force causes trains to derail (can cars and trucks to lose control) on curves, and it’s easy to demonstrate on a model railroad. But it is very hard to imagine an engineer’s allowing a train to go over 100 mph so soon after leaving a major train station in an area with a lot of curves and branch connections (one that goes to Atlantic City).  If a computer controls the train’s speed and somehow worked improperly (possibly because of sabotage), it’s hard to understand that the engineer wouldn’t be able to override it manually and slow the train down, well before it reached this speed. 
If indeed, however, it is found that external sabotage took place, Hitchcock-style, this could have serious implications for efficient transportation and Internet use for everyone.  
Over the past few months, Homeland Security has already floated the idea of severely restricting onboard electronics and cell phones on planes.  Could this even happen to trains?  How would people stay wired when they got to their destinations?  Little has been written about this yet (see Dec. 5, 2014 post). 
Note: the latest CNN report now says the engineer slammed on the brake just before the wreck.  The engineer will not answer questions of police without an attorney. The Philadelphia mayor condemned the engineer, and the NTSB says the mayor is out of line.  It now appears that an automatic speed control system in place between Washington and the Delaware line and in parts of New Jersey has not been implemented in the Pennsylvania portion  -- so there was no control system to "hack" in this case.  Once it is installed, as it must be, security for it will be critical. 

Also, along the lines of topological isolation, I see that Newsweek (May 15). has an article on "Cyberpower" by Owen Matthews where the topic of "air gaps" to reach isolated utility networks is mentioned. I'll get into this on another posting soon. 

Update: May 15

The Philadelphia Inquirer has a running update of the factual investigation here. An Atlanta TV station article here. LA times has more here.  I haven't yet found any of Brandon's original blog postings. 

Later update:  It appears possible or even likely that the Amtrak train was struck by a bullet or missile, as was another SEPTA train (CNN).  The engineer might have been struck, which could cause incapacitation that he did not remember (although medical examination of injuries should have found that by now).  FBI is investigating.  This sounds ominous, like "lone wolf" activity feared in recent FBI, Homeland Security, and NSA statements, to be honest.  But facts are not in all in.  Philadelphia Inquirer seems to be the most detailed and up-to-date.  

May 16:  The New York Times discusses the problem of objects being thrown at trains in the NE corridor, here

May 22:   NTSB says there's no evidence of a bullet, and some of the other stories about other trains being struck and conversations with the engineer have been discounted. The best theory, although speculative, may be that a thrown object struck the locomotive and distracted the engineer, and he made a mistake at the control, and thought he was north of the curve.  That's not certain.  But the lack of an automated speed control system on the northbound track was fatal.  It has since been installed. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Could our foreign enemies tempt the government to pull the "Internet Kill Switch"? The security concerns with "audience leveraging"

The rhetoric about the misuse of the Internet by foreign elements (ISIS) in the media has been scary in recent days.  The NSA and FBI have made some alarming and probably speculative statements about the way the Internet is being used to recruit lone wolves.  There is more vague talk of cyberwar.  CNN, ABCNews and Fox have been particularly aggressive with this matter;  other outlets, including Vox and NBC, seem more restrained. Particularly disturbing is the notion of the Internet as a weapon of war.  

As I’ve written here before, enemies can be real, and coercion has a big impact on how we engineer our own lives.  Actual war can change a lot of things quickly.  

So one “obvious” idea comes back to mind.  What about the supposed “Internet kill switch”?  An article in Mother Jones by Dana Liebeson from November 2013 (pre-ISIS) seems to give about the best explanation of how it could work in practice. You would hope that there is considerable pressure from Wall Street never to do this. 
In fact, there is an independent film called “KillSwitch” from Akorn (director Ali Akbarzadeh).  I’ve contacted the production company to find out about DVD, streaming availability.
In fact, there is a great deal of entropy in our discussion of Internet safety, freedom, and privacy right now.  On the one hand, the courts come down on the NSA, but on the other hand we realize encryption products could very well prevent law enforcement from detecting a deadly plot.  
Advocacy groups debate these points from the narrow views of their own supporting constituencies.
And the nature of threat varies with the enemy. North Korea poses different problems from ISIS, which in turn is not quite the same as the 9/11-version of Al Qaeda.  For years after 9/11, a lot of discussion concerned nuclear terror and dirty bombs, and more recently, with EMP flux devices.  The lone wolf, however, is most easily recruited by misuse of social media.  
We’ve had a lot of non-Muslim lone wolf incidents already, ranging from our own extreme right to the “mentally ill”, prompting the debate on the Second Amendment and gun control.  So the nature of this kind of incident, while tragic, has plenty of precedent. 
The basic process seems to be that foreign adversaries tweet links to “Dark Web” (to be differentiated from “Deep Web”) accounts not readily indexed, and the government claims that there are tens of thousands of people following these Twitter accounts, which Twitter can’t monitor and close quickly enough.  Perhaps a miniscule percentage of these tens of thousands might act on the violent rhetoric, which has been produced to look like professional media.  The strategy is unprecedented, but “logical” given the topology of the Internet and the mindset of the adversary. The effect is to locate the “three psychopaths in Minnesota” or anywhere else, so to speak.  Inevitably, the government says, this can lead to more Boston-style incidents, which might be directed particularly at police and military.  It is not too much of a stretch to imagine a foreign adversary (and it could be secular communism as well as radical Islam) trying to connect to public discontent over domestic police incidents in recent months, or other varied social issues and perceived victims. 
One could call this process “audience leveraging”, and that is something similar to what I have done, with a totally different (and I hope benign) purpose and result.  That is, in a world without gatekeepers (remember, Section 230 and DMCA Safe Harbor) it takes very little capital to post content and, with the help of both conventional “Web 1.0” search engines and now newer social media sites, develop an audience which magnifies your message.  You may not even need impressive numbers by the usual analytic measures, and you may not need to make any money, to be effective politically with this kind of asymmetry. In my case, the idea is that advocacy groups (like lobbying orgs) would know there is always someone like me around to keep them “intellectually honest”, and to encourage people to learn to think beyond their own immediate needs in the way they act politically.  I was somewhat the “enemy” of old-fashioned “solidarity”.  But here, what the “enemy” is doing is use leveraging to find the very few people who really will carry out their wishes. 

The government does have a program to counter propaganda, as reported in the Washington Post Monday by Scott Higham and Greg Miller, specifically focusing on Twitter, detailed story link here. More effective counters would have to come from (largely Muslim) religious leaders in western mosques working with youth. 
It’s natural to wonder if “amateur” content may be more regulated in the future than it has been.  Recently, a number of blogging gurus (like “Blogtyrant”) have been promoting the idea that you should be serious about getting a large audience and making money if you blog at all, by following many evolving professional techniques.  I think that is indeed true of “niche blogs”, or of blogs that support small businesses.  But it isn’t necessary to have big numbers to be effective “politically”.  But over time, the companies that host blogging platforms (at least the free services) could well decide that moving I this direction is in their best business interest, and international politics could be part of the picture.  Imagine, if you will, requirements of minimum distinct visitor counts, maximum bounce rates, and the like.  I do wonder now if that could happen. This question could come up in the context of encrypting the entire “public” web, which is now a double-edged idea.

Also -- check the Internet Safety blog Oct. 13, 2014 for article on Shodan.  

Friday, May 08, 2015

Copyright suits still used to censor, following a bizarre case where a businessman claims he isn't a public figure; do you need to be "big" to blog?

Is the world a safe place for small bloggers?

Consider the case of litigation brought by Ranaan Katz, part owner of the Miami Heat, for against a blogger (not named in news stories) for posts somehow critical of him.  The blog by “RKAssocates”, now removed (try the link ) brought suits for defamation, in which the attorney even threatened other media outlets for writing about the suit for somehow spreading to or pointing to defamation, as reported by PopeHat in June 2012, here.  Defamation suits for links to “defamatory” material are possible but rare in practice.
Techdirt has further details from 2012, in which the plaintiff apparently claims he is not a “public figure”, here. The Miami New Times has a 2011 story by Tim Elfrink, here, in which both attorneys are quoted (Marc Randazza for the “anonymous” blogger and Todd Levine for the plaintiff) and where there is a hint (from the plaintiff) that the blogger was set up as a virtual chess game pawn by business enemies of the sports owner.  Well, how can you really own a sports team (at least partially) and other big businesses like real estate (just Google his name) and not be “famous”? You can’t have it both ways.  I haven’t heard of any suits like this from MLB owners. 
Finally, the plaintiff sued for copyright infringement over a rather unflattering photo, after acquiring the rights to the photo but apparently before getting it registered with the Copyright office.  He even sued Google for not honoring a takedown request (and then backed down).  The federal district court dismissed the case, and the plaintiff appealed, and Electronic Frontier Foundation discusses its amicus brief in a piece by Jamie Williams here.  By the way, suing over the use of a dicey photo is an example of the “Streisand Effect”.
As we saw with the Righthaven cases a few years back, a lot of establishment interests don’t believe individual people have any business sticking their necks out with speech until they prove themselves competitively.  They see bullying as part of power and maintaining an orderly and stable world, rather the way Vladimir Putin does.

The ideas that bloggers (like self-published book authors) should “aim high” and have established themselves doing something interpersonally competitive is showing up in another area, in a number of tweets to articles on the effort that ought to be made to draw large audiences if you “bother” to blog at all.  Richard Adams has a detailed article on optimizing a Word Press blog here where he talks about various plugins, and suggests that if the blog means anything (beyond “pictures of your cat”, surely copyright-safe), you really ought to have a dedicated server (not use shared hosting). And Aussie Ramsay Taplan (“Blogtyrant”) has a similar post about SEO on how to get “119.717 visitors” (unique) every month, here   It takes a lot of work.  I noted his column here on March 2.  Again, it seems that this advice is more suited to narrow (which to me usually means “partisan” – a bad word with me) niche blogs (like mommy blogs, most of all “to dooce”). Musicians or independent artists, however, would do particularly well to follow some of this advice.  It would be helpful if these blogging gurus would take up the question of how to encrypt blogs in a straightforward matter, as this may eventually become "required". 

Thursday, May 07, 2015

2nd Circuit throws a curve at the NSA today; could Snowden return?; Senate looks at radical recruiting on social media

The Second Circuit has ruled that the NSA’s phone metadata surveillance program is not authorized by the Patriot Act.  NBC News has a typical news story from New York, here.   The court seems to invite Congress to make the NSA’s authority more explicit when it must consider renewing the Patriot Act in June.
The case is ACLU v. Clapper and the opinion is here
In March, CNN had reported on a possible deal with the DOJ to let Edward Snowden return to the US, link here. It would be very difficult for the government to gain a meaningful conviction in a trial.  Snowden, the star of “Citizenfour” (Movies, Oct. 27, 2014), is charismatic, honest and likable.  He is somewhat like a heterosexual version of Alan Turing.
Today, terrorism expert Peter Bergen testified before a Senate Homeland Security committee on the use of social media by enemies overseas (especially connected to ISIL or other groups connected to “radical Islam”) to recruit impressionable teenagers or young adults (especially young women, lately) into radical behavior.

The ABC video ask, how disillusioned does a person need to be in order to be recruited into radicalism?  My own experience in the early 1970s sitting in sometimes on the “radical Left” suggests there is more discontent than the “establishment” realizes.  But religious radicalism (which occurs mainly “on the right” with Christian fundamentalism but really seems connected in many ways to the former Soviet Union and the left when it comes to radical Islam – even given the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan) takes ideology out of the more familiar concerns with fairness. 

Twitter (and Facebook) often close accounts that seem to be used for this purpose, which then soon open again under different handles, but it does take time for the new accounts to get followers.  On the other hand, the government can monitor these accounts for possible domestic plots.  This would not violate user privacy to the extent that users allow their social media accounts to be public (as many users do).  It becomes more dicey when account postings are supposed to be visible only to friends or followers.  

Update: May 8

Electronic Frontier Foundation reports a decision in the 11th Circuit in Miami, en banc, 9-2, in U.S. vs. Davis, that citizens can presume no right to privacy in cell phone location data held by third parties, story by Cindy Cohn and Hanni Fakhoury, link here

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Being "special" is a stretch beyond being "different"

The opposite bookend from abstract policy discussion is considering of the question, “How should I live anyway?”  Up close and personal, life is relativistic and “quantized”.  I’ve posed this as a topic question for someone who views himself as “different” or even “special”.  The simple libertarian idea of “personal responsibility” as generating all moral considerations gets complicated by essential or inherent inequality, by the reality that we don’t start at the same place in line, and that some of us benefit from the invisible sacrifices of others.  So life comes knocking, and sometimes demands conformity to goals set by others.  The fact that others make so much of “my” own personal choices only reinforces my notion that I am “special” as well as different.  Maybe that’s not so good. 

So, “I am what I am”, and “my life what it is”, and even. “I am where I am”, whatever the surrounding political issues.  At any given time, the typical cause that someone tries to recruit me to has little or no chance of significantly affecting me.  But over time, many do.  Back in the 70s, the energy crisis could have affected my “getting around” and meeting people on my terms during my “second coming”.  Because of my own background with the military draft and previous college expulsion, the “don’t ask don’t tell” issue was more pertinent to me than, say, marriage equality is today.  In fact, during my “working life”, I was left alone most of the time (not all), and the pressing personal issues (circumstances in the workplace, or a desired “relationship”) seemed to constitute my universe  There was “real life”, even in my own separate world, back in the 70s and 80s, even earlier, and it could become quite captivating. 

But, coercion and discrimination were a major factor in my life earlier, and a different kind of pressure exists now.  So, I ask, what do “You” want?  I think it’s fair that “you” should be able to articulate your needs.  

I think what is “needed” falls into a few, about four steps.  First, you want “me” to display the practical skills that meet the real, even adaptive needs of other people.  I know that, in the sense of gender conformity as a male, I have an issue with this and really did when I was growing up and coming of age. Then you want me actually to deploy the skills with real people with needs.  Then you want me to find emotional satisfaction doing so, even if the time and resources divert me from my own goals.  You want this process to start with “family first” and only then move out into the world.  

An obvious question would be, doesn’t this fit into an authoritarian system?  Doesn’t it serve those already in charge of a patriarchal (perhaps religious, perhaps communistic or fascist) political structure? It can, but we’re still asking “what do ‘I’ do?”  Furthermore, what it the ends of those “in charge” are morally wrong?  Doesn’t that make me wrong to?  Pastor Rick Warren has taken up that question and says, for a while that’s not “my” responsibility, but that is a reason I need a “savior”.  Even modern quantum physics says, there is no way to be “right” all the time, so you need forgiveness.  Once “I” am socialized in my family, then I may constructively start applying critical thinking and, in a free enough society, migrate to a different community if necessary.  But, “I” must always “belong” somewhere first.  

Indeed, I could see this process through different periods of my life.  Once established in New York City in the mid 1970s in my young adulthood, the Ninth Street Center, which I had discovered, seemed to expect some of the same psychological loyalties of a “family”.  But I was always “cherry picking”, and bringing up extraneous external issues (the political ones, like the energy and financial crises then), that could limit my own field to what was before me.  My tendency toward “upward affiliation” could indeed inspire resentment of others. 

But, because of my lack of physical competitiveness, I indeed had to strike a separate peace.  I would avoid partisan advocacy or alliance, play umpire from a distance, and keep on throwing “critical thinking” at everyone. “Upward affiliation” made sense in driving what I would find important and people, and I needed to do my own work alone and put it out.  That is often the temperament not so much of, say, a novelist (who really must care about ordinary people), but of a musician and composer, who can “live in your world if ideas” and hide the most disturbing implications of some of his ideas.  There are some young artists and composers, a few decades younger, whose lives seem a bit parallel to mine and who appear more successful in art and music as a legitimate career than I was.  They had the advantage of technology and a more progressive society, to be sure, but they were also better at “practical things” first as boys or young men than I was. 

On the other hand, if I were more “competitive” socially, I would indeed be more willing to show “solidarity” and join with others in pursuing narrower goals.  And, frankly, the same would have been true in the world of marriage and dating.  Had I been “better at it”, I would have found it more “alluring”.  I don’t think I ever processed what it would mean to raise a biological child from conception to adulthood, but I had every reason to believe, according to the ideas of the time, to believe it would not turn out well (that is, self-exclusion and “eugenics”). 

So why is all of this socialization necessary?  One major reason is simply, to provide resilience.  Bad things happen to good people, ranging from disease (inherited, environmental, sometimes behavioral) to external aggression, including crime and war.  People need to form and keep relationships despite the loss of appeal from these incidents, and their ability to do so helps keep a society or “tribe” strong and resistant to enemies, as well as make it sustainable.  Yes, I resented the idea that this sort of common need should actually motivate a conjugal relationship among less than ideal partners.  Sharing of risks and sacrifices, somewhat publicly, supports stability (and aims toward “equality”).  Solidarity, if not completely honest intellectually, can be necessary for survival. But, at an individual level, this is all a bit like quantum mechanics, it is unpredictable.  We all face our own specific challenges, and they will be different for different people.  So I could be expected to deal with mine, and not pretend it was “disability”. 

Furthermore, challenges are different in various generations.  I had to deal with male-only conscription, and as I wrote about it in my DADT books, I could see it made me look a bit self-serving and cowardly, according to the values of earlier generations.  Today, as an extension of reverence for life when vulnerable, there is a lot more emphasis on very personalized sharing, like for medical transplants, in ways not imagined when I was growing up.  But they are still special challenges.  We can also see that, ironically, modern social media can bring war to own lands.

The libertarian idea of personal responsibility, which I tried to reduce to atomic terms in the Introduction to my DADT-1, gets muddied when one “belongs” to a group.  If one stands out by being critical of one’s cohort, even in the interest of critical thinking, one can bring harm to others in the group. I saw that with the way the AIDS epidemic played out, when I started questioning leadership with 80s-level technology, living in Dallas at the time.  It happens to today in other contacts, including especially religious hostility. 

Having "pubbed" my story (without really "pimping" it commercially), I find others sometimes try to "drag me in" to their lives, in ways that would have been inappropriate before, so I walk in their shoes before being heard (and don't "get out of things", as my mother would have said it).  I can see how my openness to that could be seen as related to stability, at least with matters of social or economic inequality or injustice, although not necessarily religious. There is an idea, common however in religious circles, called personal "rightsizing" as relevant to stability and gradual migration not just fairness but community. 
We have gotten used to the neo-modern idea that responsibility for others starts with procreation – voluntary acts that create children.  True, but there are other ways it happens.  Look at happens with eldercare now, and “filial responsibility”.  It can also arise when you get a benefit that you didn’t earn by yourself, like inheritance – the “Raising Helen” scenario being the example case.  All of this bears on the debate about inequality and the instability that results.  If you didn't earn something and it gets yanked away by force because of indignation, you just might not get it back.  Look at Scarlet O'Haa in "Gone with the Wind"-- Oh, she got it back, and lost it again. 

Monday, May 04, 2015

Mozilla, Google push to see all web content encrypted, seen as a national security concern

Since sometime in 2014, there has been a gradual increase in proposals that the entire web should be encrypted.
That is to say, not only e-commerce sites, which take personal information and process credit card and bank information, but even news sites, or even amateur blogs. 
Recently Mozilla (behind Firefox) has announced that it will mark websites that don’t use “SSL *” (secure socket layer (Wiki) as “defective” or deficient in security, announcement here . A key verb here is "deprecate".  A typical news story is one on Vox by Tim Lee here
And Google has announced that with will penalize pages not protected by SSL in its search engine ranking as a negative “ranking signal” whose importance will grow over time. 
Sunday, I wrote a story on my Internet Safety blog about this, reiterating the idea that encryption may make ordinary non-commercial sites much harder to hack, especially from overseas, and especially given today’s world political climate.  I am personally less concerned about the snooping issue, but for some people, especially in authoritarian countries, this is a big deal.  And I can see from analytics that I do have traffic from Muslim countries, Africa, Russia and China, even when supposedly blocked. 
In the 1990s, encryption was slow, cumbersome and expensive.  Over time, it has gotten much more efficient.  Still, in my own experience, I find that most sites go into encrypted mode only when I have to log in, or transmit PII or financial information.  A few sites, like Electronic Frontier Foundation, encrypt all pages, but most news stories on other sites do not. 
I also checked my own ISP’s and I don’t see a straightforward set of steps to accomplish encryption yet.  It appears that Blue Host intends to (here), and Verio has a page on how to work with third parties that offer certificates here. 
Generally, it seems that encryption may be easier in a hosting environment when it is setup as a commercial site.  E-commerce, relative to non-commercial, is not as expensive as it once was.  Also, all internal linking needs to be relative (no hard-coding of URL’s). 

Ironically, this observation comports with a story here April 30, where many parties feel that independent artists like me should become more aggressive in retailing their own work rather than "depending" on the super-outsourcing from Amazon, which makes some of us "lazy" about our own salesmanship. 
One article that may be helpful is “Let’s Encrypt”, here  which sets a good example.

Seth Schoen has a video for this site, below. 

I will, in the coming period, look more closely at what it would take to encrypt my blogs and sites.  
But what would be helpful would be for hosting providers to come up with straightforward instructions and pricing plans as to how to do this.  That may require considerable project development on their side now, and I guess that would provide some good (coding and testing) jobs for college students right now working their way through school. 

Friday, May 01, 2015

May Day: EFF's "Route 301" and its "404 Report" on international copyright abuse

For May Day, I think it would be good to look at Electronic Frontier Foundation’s “404 Report”, discussing abuse of copyright outside the US, even in democratic countries like Canada.  EFF is augmenting (and criticizing) a report called the “301 Blackist”, as explained in this link.
The case in Canada of Connie Fournier, founder of Free Dominion, deserves special attention. Connie and her husband were pursued for copyright infringement on a copied news clip (with back link), and embedded photo, and a republished court speech (which should have been public domain).  
The embed was actually just a hyperlink, not normally actionable under copyright.  But because Canada doesn’t have a safe harbor apparently the speech wasn’t silenced immediately.
It is no surprise to see Russia on the list, although here the issue wasn’t the anti-gay propaganda law.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

"It's hard out here for a pimp" (of older political books)

Yes, I ordered the book “The Sell” by Fredrik Eklund and will review it, and, yes, you can say that all successful interactions with other people (outside family and immediate friends) involve “selling”, even when you work as a content provider in an individual contributor mode.
But there is a big difference between “Selling” (or “Always be closing”, as in the comedy film “100 Mile Rule”) for its own sake, and effectively deploying one’s own content, often by thoughtfully networking with others in a practical way.

Last week, I got some calls from my “first” publisher, regarding my first two “Do Ask Do Tell” books, urging me to become more aggressive in marketing them.  Why not do a book tour in Canada?
First, I was told that the Kindle will be put back, and that would make all three of these books available in the inexpensive Kindle format for readers who prefer that.  That will help.  But there is still the question I keep getting, why don’t I hire public relations agents, go on tours, or push the books in existing stores, or push mere retail sales on the web, the way many other authors do (rather than posting content for browsing where, to quote one of Reid Ewing’s short films, “It’s free.”)
I’ve explained before, that to me this is no longer about selling “instances” of books (as in object-oriented talk).  There is a whole media vision involving music and film, and I need to spend the time finishing it.  I don’t have time for retail operations.  So I outsource it.

I could even add, my own father was a salesman, but in wholesale mode, as a manufacturer’s representative for Imperial Glass, in Bellaire Ohio (now Lenox).  Does the analogy for bookstores hold?
I did have the first book in a Barnes and Noble in Minneapolis in 1999.  I’ve worked with book distributors (like the Bookmen in Minneaplis, which got bought by Ingram – and book distribution models are different from the movies’.)  But the world has changed.  Non-fiction of a more personal type, especially older works, usually is found and consumed online, not in stores.  I may visit a bookstore in a particular case (as I have a few times, like one near Charlottesville one time).  But I don’t have time to work on this the way my father would have, because people typically don’t buy more “specialized” content in physical stores now.

We often hear that independent book stores are closing, not just because of the chains, but because of Amazon, and because people read online (even on their tablets and smart phones – which makes mobile friendliness even an issue for more conventional publication, as I discussed April 3.
All of this is not good for businesses that depend on selling physical copies of books without blending with other media.  But self-publishing companies supposedly shouldn’t have to worry about this, as the authors pay them to put the works out.  But increasingly, some of them do, and are fighting their own earlier model of “vanity” publishing (see Books blog, Oct. 6, 2013). 

I can remember a book author’s forum in Denton, TX back in early 1988, when there was a topic, “What goes into a book proposal?” and then “Who cares?”   That shows how far back my contemplation history goes.
There is a real question as to what a “book” is, but its publication creates and “event”, almost in the sense of particle physics.  But disturbing impressions remain.
Why, the caller implies, would I publish something and then not think enough of it to push it?  Is that typical sales mentality?  Not exactly, for salesmen who think they should be able to sell anything.  I’ve made an ironic argument, which, admittedly, can be viewed as putting me in an a negative light (the stuff about the draft, the physical cowardice, leaving the risk-taking and medical and emotional challenges of war to others less fortunate, for example) in order to influence the debate on a political issue (which for almost two decades, as “gays in the military” and “don’t ask don’t tell” – and that got bigger, didn’t it.  The caller says “just Kindle won’t sell because nobody will know who you are?”  Can a big publicity package tell people who I am?  No, I don’t think you pimp that.

But people do find me online.  Am I "preaching to the choir"?  Is it people who are already interesting in nuance who "read me"?  Probably.  This gets back to that old question of "the privilege of being listened to".  Do I care if a lot of the "non-choir" doesn't "get it"?  Maybe I should, but there is no way to pander with this material.  (I got flamed one time as "bigoted" and "judgmental" and even puritanical for saying this.)  
I realize that it is easier to give people “what they want” if you let yourself get banged around in your own interpersonal relationships first – be human.  (Look at the lesson from the success of “Harry Potter”).  There is a natural temptation to “pimp” the idea that, well. I was discriminated against, or I was partially disabled, and still led a productive life – isn’t that something to sell as a role model?  Would that sell personally autographed books at $20 a copy?  I can see the thinking, but it sends a misleading message.  I’m not about intervening and making “you” OK if you really aren’t.  I’m not going to invent underdog heroes.  Yet I see an underlying ethical point about speaking out from a greater distance as an “alien observer”, far enough away from the event horizon to stay safe. 

There was an occasion when I got a bizarre weekend call in 2012 (I think) that someone wanted to push my second book.  I didn't believe it. But in retrospect, maybe a major magazine would want my "Bill of Rights 2" essay (1999) or my "Narcissism, affiliation and polarity" from about 2000.  Maybe I was too suspicious then. 
I’d say that Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook while, in a personal sense, keeping himself at a distance. (That movie is not quite accurate.) And look at his success today.  
Also: note correlated story on Books blog, May 2, 2015.  Yes, independent books stores do seem to have a renaissance now.