A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘internet

[BLOG] Some Thursday links

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  • Centauri Dreams examines different ways in which starships can decelerate.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze links to a paper examining the potential habitability of exomoons orbiting bright white main-sequence stars, between F5 and F9.5. Ultraviolet radiation is key.
  • The Dragon’s Tales notes a Chinese ASAT weapons test.
  • Joe. My. God. notes the Swedish language now has officially added the gender-neutral pronoun hen to its vocabulary.
  • Language Hat notes an ambitious new project to digitize ancient Irish-language documents.
  • The Power and the Money’s Noel Maurer is critical of the Democratic Party’s stance on abortion when it gets in the way of necessary policy, likening it to the Republican Party’s ongoing satisfaction of its base.
  • The Planetary Society Blog notes the final interesting weeks of Messenger‘s survey of Mercury, with photos.
  • Peter Rukavina remembers when in 1995 he was commissioned by the government of Prince Edward Island to set up a provincial website.
  • Torontoist reacts with humour to the impending merger of Postmedia and Sun Media.
  • Towleroad notes a lawsuit brought by a Michigan women against her former gym for being too trans-friendly.
  • Understanding Society examines the mechanisms connecting experiments with policies.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy argues against mandatory voting and mandatory jury service.
  • Window on Eurasia observes a controversial election among Moldova’s Gagauz and looks at the extent to which Islam in Russia is not under the government’s control.
  • Yorkshire Ranter Alex Harrowell goes on at length about the ridiculous Biryani project, a failed dirty tricks effort to sabotage the English Defense League and radical Muslims. Wow.

[LINK] “Surveillance shouldn’t be the new normal”

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Mathew Ingram makes the case against the emergent panopticon state.

As the Globe and Mail has reported — based on classified documents obtained from an anonymous source — U.S. intelligence officials appear to be mapping the communications traffic of several large Canadian corporations, including Rogers Communications Inc., one of the country’s largest internet and telecom providers. Perhaps the most depressing aspects of this news is how completely unsurprising it is.

By now, we have all been subjected to a veritable tsunami of surveillance-related leaks, courtesy of documents obtained by former U.S. intelligence analyst Edward Snowden, a trove from which this latest piece of information is also drawn. These files suggest the National Security Agency uses every method at its disposal — both legal and otherwise — to track every speck of web and voice traffic, including tapping directly into the undersea cables that make up the backbone of the internet.

In that context, the idea that intelligence agencies are snooping on the networks of Canadian corporations like Rogers seems totally believable, despite the fact that a 66-year-old agreement between Canada and the U.S. supposedly prevents either country from spying on the residents of its partner. While the document in question doesn’t say that any snooping is occurring, it seems clear that the behaviour it describes is designed to create a map of those networks in order to facilitate future surveillance activity.

The U.S. has repeatedly argued that this kind of monitoring is necessary in order to detect the activities of potential threats to U.S. security. The problem with this approach, of course, is that no one knows where those threats will appear, or how they will manifest themselves — thanks to the diverse nature of modern international terrorism — and so the inevitable result is a kind of ubiquitous surveillance, in which every word and photo and voice-mail message is collected, just in case it might be important.

One of the risks inherent in the steady flow of leaks from Mr. Snowden and others is that the new reality they portray eventually becomes accepted, if not outright banal. Of course we are being surveilled all the time; of course our location is being tracked thanks to the GPS chips in our phones; of course the NSA is installing “back door” software on our internet devices before we even buy them. At this point, it’s hard to imagine a surveillance revelation that would actually surprise anyone, no matter how Orwellian it might be.

Much more is available if you follow the link. Go, read.

Written by Randy McDonald

March 25, 2015 at 11:07 pm

[LINK] “Google, a Search Company, Has Made Its Internet Archive Impossible to Search”

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Matthew Braga of Vice reports on Google’s evisceration of its Usenet archives. As someone who first came to the Internet on Usenet and depended seriously on it back in the day, this is saddening news. Will they fix it? One hopes. (I hope.)

For well over a decade, Google has maintained one of the internet’s most important historical archives—a collection of over 800 million messages from discussion groups dating back to 1981. And much to the chagrin of online researchers, the company has been doing a really bad job.

In December, users discovered they could no longer search for posts across the archive by date. Google, a search engine, had made its archive impossible to search.

“The Usenet archive in Google Groups is an invaluable resource for historians when it comes to researching events that occurred in the ’80s and ’90s,” wrote Kate Willaert in a post to Google support describing researchers’ latest woes. Now? Not so much.

Usenet was where the majority of online discussions took place in the early 1980s and 1990s—a network of topics, or newsgroups, where users could post and read messages on everything from politics to music. A service called DejaNews launched in 1995 in attempt to archive and preserve this wealth of early internet content, and Google acquired DejaNews, along with other historical archives, in 2001.

But the problem, according to Willaert and other researchers, is the way Google Groups now handles searches for posts before or after certain dates. “The “before:YYYY/MM/DD” and “after:YYYY/MM/DD” terms have stopped working, and it also appears to no longer be possible to search by date,” Willaert wrote. It is, apparently, a recent change.

“I don’t understand the point of having 30 years of Usenet archived if you can’t search it with any accuracy,” wrote Neil Cicierega—yes, that Neil Cicierega—in response to Willaert’s post.

Written by Randy McDonald

March 20, 2015 at 9:48 pm

[LINK] The Vulture on Fan Fiction

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Vulture‘s Laura Miller describes for a mass audience in her article “You Belong to Me” the growing popularity of fan fiction. Is this the genre’s moment to enter into the mainstream?

Annie Proulx got ficced. In a recent interview in the Paris Review, the Pulitzer Prize–winning author confessed that she wishes she’d never written her most famous work, the short story “Brokeback Mountain,”about the star-crossed romance between two cowboys. Having fans is a good thing, especially for authors of ­quiet, spare realism — not exactly a cohort with a healthy surplus of readers. But in the last few years, writers, filmmakers, and other artists have seen fans seize control of their creations and re­imagine them as fan­fiction, or fic, as its aficionados like to call it. Proulx first got ficced when a whole new audience came to “Brokeback” after the Academy Award–winning film adaptation was released in 2005. Less reverent than her typical reader, these fans have busily set themselves to producing what Proulx has termed “pornish” fiction based on her story’s two main characters, Jack Twist and Ennis Del Mar. “Unfortunately,” she said, “the audience that ‘Brokeback’ reached most strongly … can’t bear the way it ends — they just can’t stand it. So they rewrite the story, including all kinds of boyfriends and new lovers and so forth after Jack is killed.” The resulting stories, Proulx grumbled, “just drive me wild.”

Proulx is far from the only mainstream artist being dragged unwillingly into a new, fan-dominated world. Once exiled to obscure corners of the internet, fanfiction — amateur fiction based on characters from preexisting works or real-life celebrities — has lately become a force driving popular culture. As Proulx realized, fans these days aren’t satisfied to just sit back and consume. They want to participate. They want to create. And they don’t want to wait for anyone else’s permission to do it. Millions of fanfiction stories have been uploaded onto vast online archives where other fans read, rate, and comment on them. Romances, often torrid, between ostensibly straight male characters like Harry Potter and his onetime nemesis Draco Malfoy are especially popular, and there’s an entire category of fanfiction, called mpreg, in which beloved male characters and celebrities (e.g., One Direction singer Harry Styles) are able, bizarrely, to get pregnant. Fandom’s untrammeled imagination is also colonizing the wider world. E L James’s Fifty Shades of Grey started as Twilight fic. And what are J. J. Abrams’s Star Trek and Star Wars reboots — which take the original source materials (called “canon” in fic circles) and shape them to new ends — if not examples of the fanfiction spirit when enabled by hundreds of millions of dollars?

Although human beings have been stealing and reworking each other’s stories for millennia, fanfiction as we now know it began back in the days of Star Trek fanzines, on whose mimeographed pages female Trekkers wrote of Mr. Spock swooning in the arms of an ardent Captain Kirk. For decades, fanfiction communities — soon to migrate en masse to the web — ­functioned as a subset of science-fiction and fantasy fandom, where they were treated, by the mostly male nerds who ran things, like a younger sister best banished to her room whenever company came by. The internet changed all that by ushering in the era of the networked fan, often a girl who sampled her first taste of fic in Harry Potter fandom. Like it or not, the once-Olympian creators of the canon — known among fic writers as TPTB, or “the powers that be” — now have little choice but to listen to them. Robust, established online networks of Harry Potter and Twilight fans played a significant role in making The Hunger Games books into best sellers and, after that, blockbuster films.

Written by Randy McDonald

March 18, 2015 at 10:27 pm

[LINK] “Medium gets a little more Twitter-like, and a little more blog-like”

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Mathew Ingram suggests that Medium is starting to occupy the online space once occupied by Livejournal. (I really should get back to my account there and see what’s what.)

When it first emerged, and for most of the time since then, Medium has been seen as primarily a place for long-form posts or articles, in part because the site has a clean and flowing design that encourages large images. Most of the content that the site itself commissioned and paid for has also tended to be long-form, and Williams has often talked about his vision for the site as being similar to a magazine.

On Tuesday, however, Medium announced a number of new additions to the service, including a very Twitter-like instant post-creation tool that appears on the front page of the site, with a simple box and the phrase “Write here,” and allows users to publish quickly. In a blog post, Williams said he wanted to make it easier “to start writing whenever you have an idea?—?and also to make it feel like less of a big deal to do so.”

Another feature is more of a redesign of the individual author pages, profiles and tag pages — the latter being the new name for what used to be called topic “channels.” Now authors and editors can add tags to their posts and those posts show up in a feed that is arranged by tags such as Tech or Media or Photos, and then filtered by an algorithm based on how many users shared or recommended each post. The redesign of tag and author pages turns them into more of a stream, Williams said — in fact, a very blog-like stream, with a mix of the shorter posts that the site is trying to encourage and longer posts that readers have to click through to view. Much like tweets, the shorter posts can be read within the stream in their entirety, and readers can click to recommend or share them without leaving the stream.

Although Williams didn’t say this, it seems fairly clear that Medium is trying to lower the barriers to creating content on the site — in much the same way that Twitter has been trying to decrease the friction between new users and the service, in order to increase engagement. Although Medium doesn’t really talk about numbers, it seems likely that it wants to broaden the reach of the site beyond just people who feel comfortable writing a 1,000-word blog post, choosing multiple images, etc.

Written by Randy McDonald

March 17, 2015 at 10:35 pm

[LINK] “Gigaom is dead. Long live Gigaom”

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Canadian tech journalist Mathew Ingram writes at his blog about the reasons for the failure of online tech journalism site Gigaom.

Everyone wants to know why Gigaom failed, and what it says about the online media market. And I feel as though I should know, if only because I was one of the site’s media writers, and I have written so many times about the challenges other online outlets have faced. In fact, I’ve heard from more than one person who sees Gigaom’s death as some kind of karmic retribution for my past criticism of outlets like the New York Times — and perhaps it is. Frankly, it’s as good an explanation as any other.

For me, the business realities and technical aspects of Gigaom are all tied up with my feelings about the place, and about my friend Om Malik, who took a crazy gamble and left his job at Forbes to start a blog, and eventually built what I consider to be one of the best teams of writers and editors I’ve ever worked with. As I have said several times, I have absolutely zero regrets about agreeing to leave a comfy newspaper job and join him in that quest, despite the unfortunate way it ended so abruptly. Was it the best online media business ever? No. But it was a pleasure and a privilege to work there, and I am proud of what we accomplished.

[. . .]

I’ve talked to several media outlets about Gigaom’s death — including Digiday and the Poynter Institute and the Columbia Journalism Review — and that has helped me think through some of the issues around it. Was Gigaom killed by its reliance on outside venture capital, as some have argued? In part, I think it was. As I mentioned in one interview, VC money is a Faustian bargain of the first order: it gives you the freedom to grow quickly, but it also puts pressure on a company to show meteoric growth, and there is a harsh penalty for not doing so — and the media industry isn’t exactly known for meteoric growth of the kind VCs like to see.

One aspect that many people are ignoring, however, is that Gigaom also took on debt, via a financing with several lenders including Silicon Valley Bank, in an attempt to juice its growth even further. In a different kind of market or at a different time, this might have worked — but ultimately the company failed to produce enough cash to service that debt, and that is part of what took it down (Peter Kafka at Re/code has more on that). Creditors are orders of magnitude less accommodating than shareholders or equity investors, and they tend to be a lot more nervous as well. When they want their money, all the happy stories about future growth that startups tell VCs mean less than nothing.

Written by Randy McDonald

March 16, 2015 at 9:50 pm

[BLOG] Some Friday links

  • io9 notes that kale, cauliflower, and collards all are product of the same species.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze speculates on the detection of Earth analogues late in their lifespan and notes the failure to discover a predicted circumbinary brown dwarf at V471 Tauri.
  • The Dragon’s Tales shares Lockheed’s suggestion that it is on the verge of developing a 300-kilowatt laser weapon.
  • Far Outliers considers the question of who is to blame for the Khmer Rouge.
  • Joe. My. God. notes that One Million Moms is hostile to the free WiFi of McDonald’s.
  • Spacing Toronto notes an 1855 circus riot sparked by a visit of clowns to the wrong brothel.
  • Torontoist notes how demographic changes in different Toronto neighbourhoods means some schools are closing while others are straining.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy notes a California court ruling not recognizing the competence of the Iranian judicial system in a civil case on the grounds of its discrimination against religious minorities and women.
  • Window on Eurasia considers the implications of peacekeepers in eastern Ukraine, notes the steady integration of Abkhazia and South Ossetia into Russia, and notes Russian fascism.
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