Quotulatiousness

August 13, 2017

CBC Comedy exists to make us appreciate private-sector comedians that much more

Filed under: Cancon, Humour, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In the National Post, Tristin Hopper gently points out that the taxpayers are not getting positive results from their involuntary funding of yet another Canadian Broadcasting Corporation “comedy”:

If there was ever a textbook example of the terrible, bone-chilling things a government can do to humour, it’s CBC Comedy.

To be clear, I’m not talking about the general phenomenon of comedy appearing on CBC. I’m talking instead about cbc.ca/comedy, a section of the CBC website devoted in part to publishing satirical news headlines.

Although it’s existed for three years, chances are you’ve never heard of it. Because while CBC doesn’t publicly release its website analytics, all signs point to the site having utterly dismal traffic.

CBC Comedy’s social media accounts are embarrassingly devoid of attention. On Twitter, posts will commonly fail to attract a single retweet or like — meaning that they aren’t even being promoted by the writers who created them.

On Facebook, a sample of 53 recent satirical news posts found that they averaged 65 reactions apiece — a standard routinely bested by Newfoundland grandmothers.

So where can you go to get your regular ration of full maple-flavoured online comedy? That is, something actually funny, unlike CBC “Comedy”.

Of course, there already is a Canadian Onion: The Beaverton, an online satire site founded in 2010.

The Beaverton became so widely read that its producers secured a show on the Comedy Network. Meanwhile, their posts routinely tear up social media, constantly topping 1,000 likes on Facebook and dominating the Canada sub-forum on Reddit.

They are a motivated, private sector venture that has arguably mastered the form — and yet our public broadcaster insists on propping up a piss poor competitor.

In head-to-head competition, The Beaverton routinely spanks anything that comes out of CBC Comedy offices.

H/T to Chris Myrick for the link.

August 12, 2017

Why The Government Shouldn’t Break WhatsApp

Filed under: Britain, Government, Law, Liberty, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 3 Jul 2017

Encryption backdoors – breaking WhatsApp and iMessage’s security to let the government stop Bad Things – sounds like a reasonable idea. Here’s why it isn’t.

A transcript of this video’s available here: https://www.facebook.com/notes/tom-scott/why-the-government-shouldnt-break-whatsapp/1378434365572557/

August 3, 2017

QotD: Improved quality of life doesn’t always show up in GDP figures

Filed under: Business, Economics, Quotations, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

We economists marvel, too, but we also wonder how free apps fit into GDP. They do have their long-run downside, as we forget how to read maps and plot routes ourselves. (Anybody out there remember how to work a slide rule? No? That’s not a loss for computation but it does mean lower average numeracy.) But in the short run they save billions of hours in wrong turns not taken and trillions of cells of stomach lining no longer eaten up by travel anxiety. Not to mention their entertainment value.

But hardly any of that very big upside shows up in GDP. In one respect, in fact, GDP goes down. I used to buy maps, including travel atlases. I’m unlikely to do that anymore. Maps purchased by consumers are a “final good or service” and thus do enter into GDP. Maps I interact with online but don’t pay for aren’t GDP. So well-being has gone up — a lot — as a result of Google Maps. But GDP may well have gone down.

In fact, apps do produce some GDP. Google sustains itself in part by selling ads, including to retailers and restaurants looking to pay for prominent mention on its map display. Its ad revenue is an intermediate input into GDP. Many of the entities buying Google ads are in the business of selling “final goods or services” and if they’re money-making, the prices of their goods have to cover the cost of their ads. So by that circuitous route the “value” of the apps does end up in GDP.

But what’s the relationship between what advertisers pay for my eyeballs and the value of the app to me? The two are not completely unrelated. The more I use the app the more I’m likely to buy the advertised products, presumably. But in practice, the probability of my buying is pretty small while my benefit from the app is pretty big. How strange that miracle apps can change our lives but not our GDP.

William Watson, “How using Google Maps on your summer road trip messes with the GDP”, Financial Post, 2017-07-18.

July 20, 2017

ESR on the early history of distributed software

Filed under: History, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Eric S. Raymond is asking for additional input to his current historical outline of the development of distributed software collaboration:

Nowadays we take for granted a public infrastructure of distributed version control and a lot of practices for distributed teamwork that go with it – including development teams that never physically have to meet. But these tools, and awareness of how to use them, were a long time developing. They replace whole layers of earlier practices that were once general but are now half- or entirely forgotten.

The earliest practice I can identify that was directly ancestral was the DECUS tapes. DECUS was the Digital Equipment Corporation User Group, chartered in 1961. One of its principal activities was circulating magnetic tapes of public-domain software shared by DEC users. The early history of these tapes is not well-documented, but the habit was well in place by 1976.

One trace of the DECUS tapes seems to be the README convention. While it entered the Unix world through USENET in the early 1980s, it seems to have spread there from DECUS tapes. The DECUS tapes begat the USENET source-code groups, which were the incubator of the practices that later became “open source”. Unix hackers used to watch for interesting new stuff on comp.sources.unix as automatically as they drank their morning coffee.

The DECUS tapes and the USENET sources groups were more of a publishing channel than a collaboration medium, though. Three pieces were missing to fully support that: version control, patching, and forges.

Version control was born in 1972, though SCCS (Source Code Control System) didn’t escape Bell Labs until 1977. The proprietary licensing of SCCS slowed its uptake; one response was the freely reusable RCS (Revision Control System) in 1982.

[…]

The first dedicated software forge was not spun up until 1999. That was SourceForge, still extant today. At first it supported only CVS, but it sped up the adoption of the (greatly superior) Subversion, launched in 2000 by a group for former CVS developers.

Between 2000 and 2005 Subversion became ubiquitous common knowledge. But in 2005 Linus Torvalds invented git, which would fairly rapidly obsolesce all previous version-control systems and is a thing every hacker now knows.

Questions for reviewers:

(1) Can anyone identify a conscious attempt to organize a distributed development team before nethack (1987)?

(2) Can anyone tell me more about the early history of the DECUS tapes?

(3) What other questions should I be asking?

July 12, 2017

The real newspaper problem is not Facebook and Google … it’s their monopolistic heritage

Filed under: Business, History, Law, Media, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Tim Worstall argues against allowing US newspapers to have an anti-trust exemption to fight Facebook and Google:

The first thing to note is the influence of geography and transport. By definition a newspaper needs to arrive daily — in physical format least — meaning that there’s a useful radius around a printing plant which can be served. What then happened is exactly what is happening with Google and Facebook, network effects come into play. Each urban area effectively became the monopoly of just the one newspaper. Sure, there were more than that in New York City for example, SF supported two majors later than many other places. But even in such large and rich places we did really only ever end up with one “serious” newspaper.

The network effects stem from the revenue sources. Roughly speaking, you understand, one third came from subscription revenues, one third from display advertising and one third from classifieds. Classifieds are a classic case of said network effects. Everyone advertises where they know everyone reads. Everyone reads the ads where they know everyone advertises those used baby bassinets. Whoever can get ahead in the collection of either then almost always wins the race. Classifieds are also hugely, vastly, profitable.

The way that American newspapers are sold, on subscriptions with a local paper boy, also contains elements of such network effects.

The effect of this economic structure was that each major urban area really had the one monopolist newspaper. This is where that famed “objectivity” comes from too. If there’s going to be the one newspaper then it’s going to try to make sure there’s no room for another by steadily occupying the middle ground on anything and everything. This is just the Hotelling problem all over again. Swing too viciously left or right (on any issue, political, social, whatever) and there might be room for someone to sneak in from the borderlands. Thus the very milquetoast indeed political views at most of these newspapers.

[…]

And that, I insist, is what is really happening to US newspapers. Most certainly, their problems stem from the internet. for the internet broke that monopoly imposed by economic geography and all else stems from that. They got fat and happy within those monopolistic areas and their pain is coming from the adjustments necessary to deal with that. The likely outcome I would expect to be many fewer first line newspapers staffed by many fewer people in much the way that the UK market has worked for near a century now. I would also expect to see them using political stance as a differentiator just as in Britain.

June 7, 2017

“Hey, Joey, ‘splain me public key cryptography!”

Filed under: Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 10:20

Joey deVilla explains public key cryptography for non-geeks:

Have you ever tried to explain public-key cryptography (a.k.a. asymmetric cryptography) or the concept of public and private keys and what they’re for to non-techies? It’s tough, and I’ve spent the last little while trying to come up with an analogy that’s layperson-friendly and memorable.

It turns out that it already exists, and Panayotis Vryonis […], came up with it. Go over to his blog and check out the article titled Public-key cryptography for non-geeks. Whenever I have to explain what private keys and public keys are for to someone who’s new to cryptography, I use Vryonis’ “box with special lock and special keys” analogy. Not only does the explanation work, but it’s so good that the people I’ve used it on have used it themselves to explain public-key crypto to others.

I’ve recently used Vryonis’ analogy in a couple of presentations and thought I’d share images from my slides. Enjoy!

June 2, 2017

Ethiopia goes offline

Filed under: Africa, Education, Government, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Cory Doctorow on Ethiopia’s decision to shut down access to the internet “to prevent exam cheating”:

The entire nation of Ethiopia — a corrupt, oligarchic state with the distinction of being “the world’s first turnkey surveillance state” where spy technology from the “free world” is used to spy on the whole country — just dropped off the internet.

The ruling clique says it turned off the country’s internet to prevent Ethiopian students from accessing final exam questions via Facebook groups run by the global Ethiopian diaspora, and indeed, last year’s exams were spoiled by early-circulated exam questions.

But Ethiopia routinely disappears from the world’s internet in response to dissent and protest, and these are never far from the surface in Ethiopia, so the exams might just be a convenient excuse.

It’s an interesting counter to the idea that even authoritarian regimes struggle to turn off their national internet systems, because these are vital to maintaining the elites’ business interests, as well as extractive industries like oil, or other industries like tourism. In Burma and Egypt, totalitarian regimes have wrestled with the question of when and whether to shut down the internet, often pulling the switch after it was too late (for them).

May 20, 2017

Net Neutrality Nixed: Why John Oliver is Wrong

Filed under: Humour, Law, Liberty, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Published on 19 May 2017

Progressives are freaking out now that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is beginning the repeal of Net Neutrality regulations, which give the government the right to regulate Internet Service Providers (ISPs).
—————-
The main arguments in favor of Net Neutrality are really arguments guarding against hypotheticals: that ISPs could otherwise block and censor content (they never have) or that they’ll run their operations like shakedowns, requiring content providers to pay up or slow their traffic to molasses. The main documented instance of an ISP favoring one content provider over others wasn’t sinister collusion. Metro PCS offered unlimited YouTube in a budget data plan but not unlimited Hulu and Netflix, because YouTube had a compression system that could be adapted to the carrier’s low-bandwidth network. In a different context, critics might have applauded Metro PCS, since bought by T-Mobile, for bringing more options to lower-income customers.

Net Neutrality is a proxy battle over what type of internet we want to have — one characterized by technocratic regulations or one based on innovation and emergent order. Progessives are generally suspicious of complex systems existing without powerful regulators present and accounted for. Small-government folks are repulsed by bureaucrats in general, and think the internet will fair better in a state of benign neglect. The FCC has come down on the side of an organic internet, instead of treating the internet more like a public utility.

We don’t know how the internet is going to evolve over time, but neither do the government administrators trying to rein it in. But given the record of free-market innovation vs. government-regulated services, the odds are with market forces and entrepreneurs.

Written and performed by Andrew Heaton, with writing assistance from Sarah Rose Siskind and David Fried.

Edited by Austin Bragg and Siskind.

Produced by Meredith and Austin Bragg.

Theme Song: Frozen by Surfer Blood.

May 19, 2017

Common Sense Soapbox #1: Fake News is Old News

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 18 May 2017

The term “Fake News” gets thrown around all the time, but what is it?

Sometimes it’s just a phrase people use to to discredit information or sources they don’t like. But there are also people who spread misinformation to further their own agenda. So how do you avoid getting stuck in a bubble without being a victim of misinformation?

We give you 5 helpful tips on how to spot Fake News, and use a skeptical eye to assess information.

Written by Seamus Coughlin & Sean W. Malone
Animated by Seamus Coughlin

Check out FEE.org: https://fee.org/articles/fake-news-is-old-news/

April 24, 2017

A new anti-censorship tool – Slitheen

Filed under: Cancon, Liberty, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

The Register‘s Thomas Claburn on a new tool being developed in Canada to aid internet users in countries with hard censorship access material their governments don’t want them to see:

Computer boffins in Canada are working on anti-censorship software called Slitheen that disguises disallowed web content as government-sanctioned pablum. They intend for it to be used in countries where network connections get scrutinized for forbidden thought.

Slitheen – named after Doctor Who aliens capable of mimicking humans to avoid detection – could thus make reading the Universal Declaration of Human Rights look like a lengthy refresher course in North Korean juche ideology or a politically acceptable celebration of cats.

In a presentation last October, Cecylia Bocovich, a University of Waterloo PhD student developing the technology in conjunction with computer science professor Ian Goldberg, said that governments in countries such as China, Iran, and Pakistan have used a variety of techniques to censor internet access, including filtering by IP address, filtering by hostname, protocol-specific throttling, URL keyword filtering, active probing, and application layer deep packet inspection.

In an email to The Register, Goldberg said the software is based on the concept of decoy routing.

“The basic idea behind decoy routing is that the (censored) user’s computer makes an Internet connection to some non-censored (‘overt’) site, such as a site with cute cat videos,” said Goldberg. “However, it embeds a hidden cryptographic tag in its connection, which only a particular Internet router somewhere on the path between the user and the cute cat site can see. That router, seeing the tag, then redirects the traffic to a censored (‘covert’) site, say Wikipedia.”

As Bocovich and Goldberg explain in a paper [PDF] they co-authored, these tags make the web session’s master TLS secret available to a cooperating ISP. This allows the ISP to conduct what amounts to a friendly man-in-the-middle attack by having a network relay it controls open a proxy connection to the censored website.

March 31, 2017

“You can’t buy my internet data. You can’t buy your internet data. That’s not how this works

Filed under: Government, Liberty, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

At Techdirt, Mike Masnick bravely attempts to tamp down the hysteria over this week’s vote in Congress to kill broadband privacy protections (which, as he notes, hadn’t yet come into effect anyway):

People are rightfully angry and upset about this. The privacy protections were fairly simple, and would have been helpful in stopping truly egregious behavior by some dominant ISPs who have few competitors, and thus little reason to treat people right. But misleading and misinforming people isn’t helpful either.

[…]

But here’s the real problem: you can’t buy Congress’ internet data. You can’t buy my internet data. You can’t buy your internet data. That’s not how this works. It’s a common misconception. We even saw this in Congress four years ago, where Rep. Louis Gohmert went on a smug but totally ignorant rant, asking why Google won’t sell the government all the data it has on people. As we explained at the time, that’s not how it works*. Advertisers aren’t buying your browsing data, and ISPs and other internet companies aren’t selling your data in a neat little package. It doesn’t help anyone to blatantly misrepresent what’s going on.

When ISPs or online services have your data and “sell” it, it doesn’t mean that you can go to, say, AT&T and offer to buy “all of Louis Gohmert’s browsing history.” Instead, what happens is that these companies collect that data for themselves and then sell targeting. That is, when Gohmert goes to visit his favorite publication, that website will cast out to various marketplaces for bids on what ads to show. Thanks to information tracking, it may throw up some demographic and interest data to the marketplace. So, it may say that it has a page being viewed by a male from Texas, who was recently visiting webpages about boardgames and cow farming (to randomly choose some items). Then, from that marketplace, some advertisers’ computerized algorithms will more or less say “well, I’m selling boardgames about cows in Texas, and therefore, this person’s attention is worth 1/10th of a penny more to me than some other company that’s selling boardgames about moose.” And then the webpage will display the ad about cow boardgames. All this happens in a split second, before the page has fully loaded.

At no point does the ad exchange or any of the advertisers know that this is “Louis Gohmert, Congressional Rep.” Nor do they get any other info. They just know that if they are willing to spend the required amount to get the ad shown via the marketplace bidding mechanism, it will show up in front of someone who is somewhat more likely to be interested in the content.

That’s it.

* Amusingly, Rep. Gohmert voted to repeal the privacy protections, which makes no sense if he actually believed what he was saying in that hearing a few years ago…

H/T to Amy Alkon for the link.

On a related note, LifeHacker posted a recommendation for “The Laziest, Cheapest Way to Circumvent Your Snooping ISP“. (Spoiler: it’s Opera). I use Opera, but not exclusively … I also use Brave, Chrome, and Firefox on a daily basis.

March 5, 2017

The three kinds of prostitution

Filed under: Business, Law, Liberty — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Kim du Toit on the world’s oldest profession:

The problem is that there are in essence three kinds of prostitution: the age-old “selling yourself on the street kind” — i.e. to all comers [sic] — and the more formal transactions, whereby women contract for sex on a more formalized basis, or marry for money. In all cases, the motivation is the same: women are trading themselves to men for financial support, only the first kind is frowned upon by society, the second kind winked at, and the last is pretty much the glue whereby society is held together. (As my friend Patterson once commented: “All women fuck for money if they’re going to be honest about it, but they seldom are.”)

And, of course, as with all things, there is a murky area between these two extremes: the “contracted” kind whereby young women (and it seems to be mostly the young ones, for obvious reasons) rent their bodies out to wealthy men in order to pay off college loans, or get through some other adverse financial circumstance — hence the popularity of websites like Sugardaddy. This is what I call a “part-time prostitute”, and the exchange is quite cynical — as are most transactions of this kind. But this is different from the “brief encounter” or street-corner type of prostitution, because older men (usually older, because younger men don’t have the financial wherewithal to pay a young woman thousands of dollars a month just for “companionship”) set up an ongoing financial support system, buying Little Miss Hotbody expensive clothing, jewellery, cars and even sometimes a condo. (Note that I’m not saying that this is better than the street-corner kind of prostitution, just that it’s different. The process is the same — women having sex for money — but the terms of congress, as it were, are dissimilar.) If I’m going to be really cynical about it, I’d call this kind of prostitution a “halfway house” between street-corner sex and marital sex.

[…]

We can argue all day about the morality of the activity of women selling their bodies for sex, and about the disappearance of public morality which allows Sugardaddy.com to exist, nay flourish, but this is where we find ourselves today, for better or for worse. As the modern idiom goes, it is what it is, and it seems like we pretty much have to live with it.

Fine. Let us at least acknowledge that street-corner prostitution presents a greater danger to women — slavery, forced prostitution, human trafficking, violence and murder — than does the Sugardaddy – and Anna Nicole-style prostitution. (We can leave class out of it because, as with most Marxist thought, that’s just an overlay of political theory on an age-old situation, and no class warfare is ever going to “solve” or end street-corner prostitution.) I do think, however, that in this regard there is a real need for law enforcement attention, simply because of the many dangers to which poorer women are exposed. Honestly, though, I think that the law should go after the management of the street-corner prostitution industry — that would be the pimps and procurers of women — rather than the actual participants (the women and their clients), because the former are the ones who generally cause real harm to the hapless women under their control. I’m not advocating State-run brothels because both the concept and likely execution are going to be foul. (To put it in perspective: imagine a State-run restaurant, e.g. managed and staffed by the same kind of people at the average DMV office, and you’ll see why I think State-run whorehouses are a bad idea.) Nevertheless, they are the lesser evil than those managed by the (illegal) private sector, who as a rule do not have the interests of their employees at heart.

March 3, 2017

QotD: Is the Internet itself making us less tolerant and more prone to confirmation bias?

Filed under: Media, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

I think it’s time to declare the internet a failure. At least with respect to its early promises of increased knowledge sharing and positive impact on collaboration.

Decentralization of media, Social media, has increased the rate in which misinformation is being transmitted. Once learned invalid information has to be unlearned and that is a much harder task than educating people with accurate information in the first place.

Social media also appears to have increased the rate that people cluster around misinformation and create specialized groups of individuals that aggressively seek to disseminate their ideas.

The asocial aspect of social media encourages individuals to behave in ways that they normally wouldn’t when face-to-face with people that don’t share their views. It has made intolerant people more belligerent and it has forced tolerant people to adopt less tolerant stances.

The trend seems to be to continue to partition people into increasingly specialized and narrowly focused groups. At the extreme we see individuals with highly individualized views agitating groups with more generally accepted views.

People have become more militant, intolerant, and unaccepting of society. The impact on society is a weakening of collaborative spirit, increased cynicism, and further increases to militancy.

In the mid-90s I was very excited at the opportunities collective information sharing could produce. We’ve realized some of those but I simply didn’t foresee the degradation of democratic values that reveal the best in the humanity.

Social media has increased the ability to create social anxiety by pouring misinformation into peoples’ lives with ideas that they are directly threatened or that there are limits to resources, ideas that are often mere fabrication.

Today we are bombarded daily with absurdity, aggression, fear mongering, and intolerance. It’s as if we unwound the clock a hundred years and abandoned the great freedom experiment. Only now the weapons to resolve differences of opinion are much more destructive.

Hard to be bullish on the consequences of increased nationalism around the globe.

The world does face some difficult issues we need to address but things are not nearly as bad as what has become status quo thinking.

Douglas Gunn, posting to Facebook, 2017-02-20.

February 3, 2017

“In a secular age … it is inevitable that people will attach themselves like limpets to miniature religions”

Filed under: Cancon, History, Media, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Colby Cosh draws some parallels between the early Federalists in post-revolutionary America and the mainstream media today: both groups attempted to retain their privileged position in society as that society changed dramatically all around them:

But now the seeds of fleeting confusion have fallen into the fertile soil of Internet crap-mongering. On social media there were immediate, unabashed, conflicting total lies circulating about the identities of the “two” perpetrators. Now, before much is known at all of the actual killer, we are seeing deliberately engineered hints at some kind of inexplicable cover-up by the (Muslim-controlled?!) police of Quebec, or by higher authorities — Liberals, reptoids, George Soros clones? Pick your poison!

Those trivial little wobbles in the initial news coverage are being exploited by journalists and commentators who have abandoned respect for facts like “there are always reports of a second shooter” in favour of efficient, direct manipulation of “the narrative.” The actual full-fledged conspiracy theories are being designed as we speak, and soon will be ready for harvest.

We live in a post-revolutionary media environment, and traditional newspapers and broadcasters are like the American Federalists: we are hoping to stay on top as trusted, sensible informers and teachers. I make no claim that this hope is well-founded or appropriate, but either way, the strategy did not end very well for the Federalists. One notices that they are already in irreversible, humiliating retreat at the moment when Wood’s book begins.

There is money in offering an alternative account, any alternative account of anything important or dramatic, to the gullible. Build a suspicious audience of millenarians and ignoramuses, and some of them will keep following you until you can start selling them protein supplements, bulk food for the apocalypse, religious knick-knacks, or penis pills. (Which business line will Rebel Media break into first? It’s only a matter of time!)

In a secular age, like ours or like the late 18th century, it is inevitable that people will attach themselves like limpets to miniature religions. Today they range from gold-bugs to survivalist “preppers” to disturbingly overenthusiastic Harry Potter fans to Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop. (My apologies to those readers, and I’m sure there are a few, who are devotees of all four faiths.) Such subcultures are the reliable basis of a bulletproof “news” media model. The horrible part is this: they might be the only such model.

January 1, 2017

Blog traffic in 2016

Filed under: Administrivia, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

The annual statistics update on traffic to Quotulatiousness from January 1st through December 31st, 2016. Overall, the traffic dropped slightly from 2015, which in turn was down a bit from the peak traffic year of 2014:


Over eight and a half million hits. That’s a pretty good number for an obscure Canadian blog.


The final count of visitors to the blog will be about 2,500-3,500 higher, as I did the screen captures at around 10:30 in the morning.

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