Monday 20 January, 2020

Dennis Hopper was a great photographer. Who knew?

Not me, anyway. But last month Mark Rozzo had a fabulous piece in the New Yorker about a new collection of Hopper’s photographs edited by the photographer Michael Schmelling, to whom Marin Hopper (Dennis’s daughter) granted unlimited access to the archive. Hopper received a Nikon F as a gift on his twenty-fifth birthday, in May, 1961, from the actress Brooke Hayward, who would become his first wife. Her father, the agent and producer Leland Hayward, was “a camera nut”, and Brooke paid $351 for it. (Don’t you just love the fact-checked precision of the New Yorker — right down to that last buck!) “Dennis had the greatest eye of anyone I’ve ever known,” Hayward told Rozzo for a story he wrote last year about her marriage to Hopper. “He wore the camera around his neck all day long.” Some of the shots that illustrate the piece are really terrific. Result: one book sold to this blogger. It also reminded me that I have a Nikon F2 that badly needs servicing. Now where did I put it…?

Joe Biden really doesn’t like Silicon Valley

I’m beginning to warm to him. The NYT team did a really extensive on-the-record interview with him (transcript here). Here’s an excerpt from a passage where he’s been asked about his experience of dealing with Facebook about some stuff published on the platform containing false claims that he had blackmailed Ukrainian officials not to investigate his son.

Biden: I’ve never been a fan of Facebook, as you probably know. I’ve never been a big Zuckerberg fan. I think he’s a real problem. I think ——

Charlie Warzel (NYT guy): Can you elaborate?

JB:I can. He knows better. And you know, from my perspective, I’ve been in the view that not only should we be worrying about the concentration of power, we should be worried about the lack of privacy and them being exempt, which you’re not exempt. [The Times] can’t write something you know to be false and be exempt from being sued. But he can. The idea that it’s a tech company is that Section 230 should be revoked, immediately should be revoked, number one. For Zuckerberg and other platforms.

CW: That’s a pretty foundational law of the modern internet.

JB: That’s right. Exactly right. And it should be revoked. It should be revoked because it is not merely an internet company. It is propagating falsehoods they know to be false, and we should be setting standards not unlike the Europeans are doing relative to privacy. You guys still have editors. I’m sitting with them. Not a joke. There is no editorial impact at all on Facebook. None. None whatsoever. It’s irresponsible. It’s totally irresponsible.

CW: If there’s proven harm that Facebook has done, should someone like Mark Zuckerberg be submitted to criminal penalties, perhaps?

JB: He should be submitted to civil liability and his company to civil liability, just like you would be here at The New York Times. Whether he engaged in something and amounted to collusion that in fact caused harm that would in fact be equal to a criminal offense, that’s a different issue. That’s possible. That’s possible it could happen. Zuckerberg finally took down those ads that Russia was running. All those bots about me. They’re no longer being run.

That’s interesting. Revoking Section 230 is the nuclear option in terms of regulation. It would reduce Facebook & Co to gibbering shadows of their former selves. And of course provoke hysteria about the First Amendment, even though Facebook has nothing to do with the Amendment, which is about government — not corporate — regulation of speech.

The EU is considering banning use of facial recognition technology in public spaces

According to Reuters, a White Paper by the European Commission says that new tough rules may have to be introduced to bolster existing regulations protecting Europeans’ privacy and data rights. During that ban, of between three to five years, “a sound methodology for assessing the impacts of this technology and possible risk management measures could be identified and developed.” Exceptions to the ban could be made for security projects as well as research and development.

Why are Apple & Google wanting you to use your phone less?

Nir Eyal (the guy who wrote the book on how to create addictive apps and subsequently seems to have had an attack of developer’s remorse) argues that it’s because they are trying to get ahead of users’ concern about addiction. He sees it as analogous to what happened with seat belts in cars.

In 1968, the Federal Government mandated that seat belts come equipped in all cars. However, nineteen years before any such regulation, American car makers started offering seat belts as a feature. The laws came well after car makers started offering seat belts because that’s what consumers wanted. Car makers who sold safer cars sold more.

Sunday 19 January 2020

How to choose

I’m a subscriber to The Browser, a daily email reading list. It’s curated by Robert Cottrell, who reads about a thousand Web pages a day, from which he selects five things that he thinks are worth reading. He was asked on a podcast recently how he goes about this. Here’s his reply:

Orwell, Trump and the English language

Simon Kuper, the Financial Times columnist, describes himself as “an Orwell nut”. Like me, his favourite essay is “Politics and the English language”, one basic premise of which is that clear speech enables clear thinking and prevents lies. Trouble is, he says in this weekend’s edition of the FT, Trump and Dominic Cummings have proved Orwell wrong. Clear speech (“BUILD THE WALL”, “GET BREXIT DONE”) can enable lies. What Trump demonstrates, Kuper has concluded, is that “simple language can encourage simple thought”. Agreed, except that I’d have said ‘simplistic’.

Hypocrisy is at the heart of Facebook’s refusal to ban false political advertising

This morning’s Observer column. Based on a sceptical reading of Andrew Bosworth’s faux-agonising internal memo about whether Facebook should modify its policies to stop politicians lying on the platform.

Why you can’t believe anything you read about the royal family in British tabloids

Good piece by Alan Rusbridger. There’s a reason why the royals are demonised, he says. But you won’t read all about it because they won’t admit why they’re hostile. Among other things, Harry is suing some of them. I hold no brief for the royals, but I can understand what Harry is doing in stepping back from his role: he doesn’t want the British tabloids to do to his wife what they did to his mother. And I don’t blame him.

Dave Winer’s sci-fi plot

An alien race from a faraway galaxy visits earth. We know they’re coming and where they’ll land. When they show up, they walk by the humans and greet the dogs. Turns out dogs are the master species of earth. And of course the aliens are canines as well.

Neat idea. Only one thing wrong with it. The story should be about cats, who have such supercilious bearings because — as P.G. Wodehouse revealed many years ago — they know that the ancient Egyptians worshipped them as gods. If you doubt that, ask our cats. This one, for example.

Quote of the Day

” When Donald Trump was running for president, he told voters he would run the country like he ran his business. Two years later, it’s one of the few promises he’s actually kept.”

Saturday January 18, 2020

The enigma that is Twitter

In relation to Google and Facebook, Twitter is a minnow. And yet it dominates our politics and public discourse, in ways that seem increasingly dysfunctional. Writing in The Atlantic, Robinson Meyer argues that that’s because “it’s a machine for misunderstanding other people’s ideas and identities”. Developing the idea led him to dig into the ideas of Walter Ong, a linguist and Jesuit priest who died at 91 in 2003. “Ong spent his life trying to understand the revolutionary technologies, such as the television and radio, unleashed during his lifetime. But he did so by looking far from modern America—and by studying the difference between human cultures rooted in orality and those rooted in literacy. His topic matters for Twitter more than you may think.” Oral conversation is very different from text-based interactions, and the problem with Twitter is that it fuses the two. “The rot we’re seeing in Twitter”, as Bonnie Stewart puts it, is “the rot of participatory media devolved into competitive spheres where the collective ‘we’ treats conversational contributions as fixed print-like identity claims.” Sounds pretentious, maybe, but isn’t: and worth reading in full. permalink

Trolling, epilepsy and human nature

The Internet holds a mirror up to human nature, and much that is reflected there is truly revolting. If you want an insight into the depths of human depravity, then thisis is pretty good illustration. Epilepsy sufferers have been plagued by trolls who target them with strobing GIFs which can trigger epileptic attacks. Last week the trial opened of a guy named John Rayne Rivello who had sent a GIF that triggered a serious attack to a journalist who had posted material critical of Donald Trump. The GIF strobed violently across his computer screen, flashing a red, yellow and blue geometric pattern behind the words “YOU DESERVE A SEIZURE FOR YOUR POSTS.” The attack could have been fatal if the victim’s wife had not discovered him in time. Rivello is expected to plead guilty, making this the first conviction for this kind of inhuman behaviour, but what’s even more revolting is that Rivello’s supporters — among them, neo-Nazis and white nationalists, including Richard Spencer — have been arguing that the issue here is about freedom of speech. In an amicus brief to the criminal case, the First Amendment Clinic at Duke University School of Law put the boot into this idiotic claim: “A brawler who tattoos a message onto his knuckles does not throw every punch with the weight of First Amendment protection behind him,” the brief stated. “Conduct like this does not constitute speech, nor should it. A deliberate attempt to cause physical injury to someone does not come close to the expression which the First Amendment is designed to protect.” permalink


Linkblog

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Upcoming changes

From today, I’m making some small changes in this blog, basically to tidy things up. From now on all posts written on the same day will be included on a single page, with Quotes and the Linkblog at the end, and a permalink for each element. In practice it should make for easier reading, and it might also make it easier to create an email version for readers who prefer getting it in their inboxes.

If you have been, thank you for reading.

Quote of the Day

”The most talked about issues in AI today: deepfakes, bias, explainability, privacy, all have trust as a common denominator.”

  • Technology Review

Has the NSA really changed its mind?

Hmmm… Fascinating report in today’s NYT:

WASHINGTON — The National Security Agency has taken a significant step toward protecting the world’s computer systems, announcing Tuesday that it alerted Microsoft to a vulnerability in its Windows operating system rather than following the agency’s typical approach of keeping quiet and exploiting the flaw to develop cyberweapons.

The warning allowed Microsoft to develop a patch for the problem and gave the government an early start on fixing the vulnerability. In years past, the National Security Agency has collected all manner of computer vulnerabilities to gain access to digital networks to gather intelligence and generate hacking tools to use against American adversaries.

The foolishness of policy was critically exposed A while back when some of those tools fell into the hands of cybercriminals and other baddies, including North Korean and Russian hackers.

So does this new spirit of cooperative ness signal a real shift in strategy? Or does it just show that the agency was temporarily traumatised by accusations that its unscrupulous collection of vulnerabilities caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage? Should we believe the declaration by Anne Neuburger, the NSA’s Cybersecurity director, that “We wanted to take a new approach to sharing and also really work to build trust with the cybersecurity community.”

Good news if she’s serious. And the theft of the tools should serve as a warning against governments’ incessant campaign for backdoors into commercial encryption systems.

Quote of the Day

”Awareness is rapidly changing, and I believe we are on the edge of a fundamental reshaping of finance. The evidence on climate risk is compelling investors to reassess core assumptions about modern finance.”

  • Lawrence Fink, CEO OF Blackrock, the world’s biggest investment fund, reported in the New York Times.

Er, what took you so long, Larry?

Ten tech trends that shaped a decade – Pew Research Center

  1. Social media sites have emerged as a go-to platform for connecting with others, finding news and engaging politically.
  2. Around the world and in the U.S., social media has become a key tool for activists, as well as those aligned against them.
  3. Smartphones have altered the way many Americans go online.
  4. Growth in mobile and social media use has sparked debates about the impact of screen time on America’s youth – and others.
  5. Data privacy and surveillance have become major concerns in the post-Snowden era.
  6. Tech platforms have given rise to a gig economy.
  7. Online harassment has become a fairly common feature of online life, both for teens and adults.
  8. Made-up news and misinformation has sparked growing concern.
  9. A majority of Americans see gender discrimination as a problem in the tech industry.
  10. Americans’ views about tech companies have turned far less positive in recent years.

No surprises, really. But useful to have empirical evidence.

See Source for details.