What I Am Reading Wednesday

Jan. 30th, 2013 | 01:09 pm

I didn't know this was a thing, but since I've seen two posts about it on my flist today I'm guessing that it is. Which gives me an excuse to mention that Ta-Nehisi Coates is launching a Leviathan reading group, in case anyone else is interested.

I've never read Leviathan (the embarrassing truth is that philosophy in general tends to make me break out in hives, and I haven't read much of the core Western canon), but there's something about Hobbes' language that speaks to me; I think working through the book in company might be fun. And who knows? Maybe some of you all who haven't already seen TNC's post might think so too.

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JSTOR and the death of Aaron Swartz

Jan. 13th, 2013 | 11:40 am

I am too unhappy, and too angry, to have much to say about last night's news. (By which I mean that I have altogether too much to say, but suspect that those who had the privilege of actually knowing him are busy saying all of it better than I could.)

But for anyone who might be wondering about the background for the U.S. Attorney's apparent vendetta against him, here's a useful link about JSTOR and the state of academic publishing, scholarship, and access to scholarship. (That link goes directly to a thread about JSTOR and academic publishing; the parent article and threads give more general background about the case.)

There's already a petition, obviously drafted in grief and haste, up at the White House site asking for the dismissal of Carmen Ortiz, the U.S. Attorney responsible for the prosecution (which, by the way, neither JSTOR nor MIT supported*). I can't imagine that it will have any effect on her tenure in office, no matter how many signatures it might gather, but it would be good to see the signatures pile up as a matter of public record.

And for those of us who are Massachusetts voters, there are names we need to remember arising out of this. Carmen Ortiz has been mentioned as a likely candidate for higher office down the road: although she rejected the idea a few weeks ago her name had been floated as a potential replacement for John Kerry, and it keeps coming up in discussions of possible Democratic candidates for governor. Unless there's something here we don't know, her handling of Aaron's case demonstrates a streak of authoritarianism, and a willingness to use the judicial system for political purposes, that is incompatible with qualification for any such office. And the same is true for any political ambitions that any of the senior prosecutors on the case might ever prove to have.

*The prosecution, I mean, not the petition. I gather MIT waffled a little at first, but came down on the right side in the end.

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Blink and you miss it (a report on copyright)

Nov. 18th, 2012 | 03:32 am

Some of you may be interested in this catch by a dKos diarist: evidently the Republican Study Committee released a fairly radical report on flaws in current copyright law and the desirability of correcting those flaws this past Friday, only to have it pulled almost immediately in response to pressure from the RIAA and MPAA. The diarist did manage to preserve the report before it was taken down; you can read it here.

We can't have people saying things that upset the lobbyists like that, can we? Why, it's almost as bad as saying that tax cuts don't actually increase revenue.

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security and pseudonymity, round two billion

Aug. 7th, 2012 | 10:32 pm

. . . yes, it's another boring post about something I didn't particularly want to be talking about. In this case, online security and hacking issues, brought to you by a combination of yesterday's high-profile and harrowing story by Matt Honan of how his Apple account was hacked, with disastrous and instantaneous consequences (read it if you haven't, but be warned that it may give you nightmares), and James Fallows' reiteration of his strong suggestion that anyone with a gmail account turn on Google's two-step authentication system. He, in turn, refers to a lucid and useful video walkthrough of how to use the authentication system by one Matt Cutts. It all looks usable and simple, and while I suspect I'm actually at relatively low risk for account hacking, and at low risk for downstream damage even if I were hacked, I'd do this in a heartbeat -- except for one small problem.

To make it work, you have to give Google your mobile phone number. In fact, you have to give them your mobile number plus a backup phone number -- your land line, your best friend's mobile number, your mother's land line, something they can use in an emergency.

Which is to say, for this to work you have to give them your full RL identity, and a ton of extra information about you, and you obviously can't control what they'll do with it when they have it. Several people have commented on Cutts' blog to point this out; no one has come up with any sort of answer for them.

Obviously (or, am I wrong about this?), the people who need two-step authentication the most are likely to be those who are least concerned with any kind of pseudonymity, or privacy from the cloud in general. They're the ones who have their lives in the cloud, who're constantly using it to sync information between devices and locations, or to free themselves from having their information on local devices at all. (Fallows notes that when his wife's gmail was hacked, she lost all her archived mail because the hackers wiped it. I kind of boggled at this when I first read the story -- doesn't everyone download mail to a local device, just in case? -- but evidently I'm old-fashioned and strange. And paranoid.) You wouldn't do that sort of thing, I assume, if you were really compulsive about not connecting your various identities: you just wouldn't have your working drafts of your fic up in Google Docs, and you certainly wouldn't have given cloud services access to your local hard drives. Just as you wouldn't have used the same passwords for more than one important service.

But I'm not hugely knowledgeable about any of this stuff. And a set of stories like these leave me wondering whether I'm even remotely paranoid enough. What say you, more sophisticated citizens of this online world? Do we all now need some way of acquiring phone numbers for our pseuds, that can be disconnected from the tokens of our other identities? If so, how are we supposed to do it?

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A thank you to the Readercon committee

Aug. 5th, 2012 | 02:52 pm

As one of the people who was critical of the Board's decision, I think it's only fair for me to make a point of thanking the Readercon committee for doing the difficult (and I'm sure painful) work of fixing it. I speak only for myself, of course, and I'm far from being the person most affected by all that has happened; but as a woman and a member of the greater community, it did unavoidably affect me, however distantly.

Thank you all. You give me hope.

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Readercon: Some key (new, or new-ish) links

Jul. 31st, 2012 | 11:40 am

For anyone who is following this situation, and for any reason hasn't seen these yet:

1. Genevieve Valentine's situation report, as of this morning.

2. Referenced in that post: Farah Mendelson's brief announcement of the likely (long-ish, but internet standards) timeline for results from the full Readercon committee's ongoing reconsideration of the Board's decision.

3. Also referenced in GV's post: the petition/open letter to the Board requesting that the decision be overturned, which is open to signatures from anyone in the community who is so moved. The response to the original post requesting co-signers was sufficiently enthusiastic that the initial LJ post was maxed out; the followup post where signatures are still being collected is here. (It will remain open for at least another day or two, and probably everyone reading this has already added their signature or else has reasons not to, but just in case.)

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the Readercon sexual harassment incident

Jul. 27th, 2012 | 03:24 pm

The concom has handed down a decision, more or less, but is apparently refusing to explain its reasoning.

I find this troubling enough to be making an exception to my usual avoidance of the whole signal-boosting routine. Unless I'm reading things very wrong, this is a con that had a model anti-harassment policy. While that's never sufficient to prevent sexual harassment, the con has also enforced it as written in the past, when incidents were reported to the committee (as opposed to suffered through by victims who found the thought of going through the reporting process even ickier than putting up with stalking, etc. for the duration of the con). Now, suddenly, the policy that was in place for this year's con -- harass people, get banned for life -- is retroactively not in effect, for reasons the committee won't disclose. Instead, this year's harasser got a two-year suspension, and the victim has been told that the anti-harassment policy is being rewritten for future years.

Maybe I'm a little sensitive on the topic; both the victims who've come forward are friends of mine, which makes it impossible for me to treat this with complete detachment.1 But I don't think so. And I especially don't think so because of the ugly hints, already beginning to surface, that one difference between this year's incident and the one from 2008 is that the harasser this year is some kind of BNF.

I hope it turns out that this is all better than it sounds, and that I'm overreacting by even posting this. But, but, but.


1Though it also gives me reason to know, even more directly than I would by simple life experience, that no, victim-blaming slime people, neither one is making anything up, exaggerating, or overreacting to ordinary social awkwardness from geeky men. Don't even go there. Just don't. Not that I think any of you guys would.

ETA: I wrote this, obviously, before the Readercon Board issued its profoundly unhelpful statement about the matter. Read it and weep. Or don't read it, and spare your blood pressure.

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The single best post about Bain and economic issues maybe ever

Jul. 17th, 2012 | 01:19 pm

I was going to call this "Today's Must Read," but it may actually be the season's must-read: Cole's new front-pager at Balloon Juice talks about what precisely it is that Bain Capital does to make all that money, why this is not the "creative destruction" so beloved of the theory of capitalism and efficient markets, and why and how our current ideologies and legal structures enable and encourage these practices, to the great detriment of our well-being and overall wealth.

I've been making a pest of myself at social gatherings by waving my arms around and trying to explain this to people for more years than I like to think about now, so it's possible that I'm overestimating the simple lucidity and force of Mr. Finel's explanation: if there's anything in there that wouldn't be clear to someone who hadn't spent a lot of time thinking about these issues, I'm not in a position to notice it. But I don't think I'm overselling this one. I suspect it really is that good.

If you're an American voter, go and read it. Then consider forwarding it to anyone you know who thinks he or she ought to vote for Romney. And when they complain about biased analysis from hippie lefty commie socialists who hate America, you can tell them that actually, Bernard Finel is a professor at the National War College, with a Reagan Youth background. As the conservative pundits have been known to say, Heh. Indeedy.

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OS angst

Jul. 11th, 2012 | 04:41 pm

It had to happen, sooner or later, and I did know that. Eventually, I was going to find software I was interested in using that won't run under my old but stable and efficient OS 10.5.8. And now it has happened: if I even want to try the demo for Tinderbox, I need to upgrade to 10.6.1

I should probably think about doing this anyway, or at least about acquiring the installation disks for Snow Leopard, because the more I hear about 10.7/Lion and 10.8/Mountain Lion, the more violent my DNW reaction becomes. So assuming the machines will continue to allow for it, it seems horribly inevitable to me that next time I need a new computer, my first act upon getting it home will have to be wiping 10.13/Sabertooth Catamount off the thing, reformatting, and installing Snow Leopard. By which time the latter will no longer be available from Apple, so better to make sure I have it now.

Still, the whole idea makes me more than a little uncomfortable. I like 10.5.8. There are things it won't do, but up to now they haven't been things I wanted (do I care about the App Store? no, I do not). And the reports on upgrading to 10.6 I've seen haven't been universally enthusiastic (though to be fair, it turns out that a lot of comments masquerading as bad reviews of 10.6 turn out on examination to actually be complaints about 10.7).

So as usual, I come to you all for advice. Does anyone have experience with this particular upgrade, which you likely did years and years ago? If so, is there anything in particular one needs to watch out for, and will I be sorry if I do it?

1Not that doing so now will really help, because by the time I got hold of the physical disk from Apple, the Tinderbox sale would be over. And Tinderbox isn't exactly inexpensive software; even on sale it's not the sort of thing you buy on a whim. Not on sale, I'm not sure it's the sort of thing I ever buy. But the principle remains: this isn't going to be the last time this ever happens.

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James Fallows goes there

Jun. 24th, 2012 | 09:40 pm

Fallows is an establishment figure, albeit a liberal-leaning one: not a man one thinks of as a wild-eyed conspiracy-theory-prone partisan given to overheated rhetoric about the state of the nation and the world. As of today, he is calling what has been happening in the United States over the past twelve years a slow-motion coup d'etat. I wish I thought he were wrong.

The only bright side I see is that at least someone who is solidly a part of the mainstream is freaked enough to say it out loud. If others are willing to follow his lead, there's still a chance that it will do some good.

Anyway, my choice for today's must-read. I'm surprised that it hasn't already been linked everywhere I've looked.

ETA: It has been pointed out to me that he's since backed down, and retitled the second post "Five Signs the United States Is Undergoing a Radical Change." But he hasn't actually backed down on the substance of either post: the text and analysis are unchanged from the earlier version. It would be interesting to know why he felt the need to alter the headline -- whether he frightened the horses, as it were, or frightened himself, or whether it was purely that on reflection, he felt that "coup" wasn't really a technically accurate description of how the alteration of our form of government is taking place.

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Windows control series - safe removal tool?

Jun. 23rd, 2012 | 08:34 pm

You know the drill, right? You're the person in your family who isn't afraid of computers, so you're the person your mother calls when something scary happens to hers. Which would be fine, if only you could convince her to buy a computer you understand. Which is to say, one that doesn't run Windows. Only you can't convince her to do that, so you find yourself flailing when something like Windows Control Series shows up on her desktop.

Fortunately, she yelled for help before following its instructions. But now it's there on her computer, hijacking her attempts to access the real internet, disabling her existing antivirus software, and generally making her machine unusable. And I have googled from my uninfected Mac and found a dozen sites offering removal tools; but none of them look terribly official to me, and I don't know whether I can trust any of them. If I could trust one or more, presumably I could restart her computer in safe network mode, download the tool, run it, and be fine; but obviously I don't want to respond to one piece of malware by downloading and installing other malware.

Do any of you more computer-literate folks know where I should be going to find safe tools to get rid of this thing? Or do I need to sit on my hands until Microsoft releases an official fix or something?

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sharing the temptation

Jun. 11th, 2012 | 01:44 pm

I'm not really here. But I thought my fellow Making Things addicts might want (or not want) to know what I just learned via phialastring: Interweave, suppliers of many very tempting books on technique, is having a Hurt Books Sale. It ends tomorrow, but right now? I didn't look at the knitting or spinning sections, but if they're as good as the metalworking section there may be some serious bargains to be had.

Said metalworking section didn't have that many really serious books, as opposed to the nine thousand wireworking-projects kinds of books, but the ones they did have look choice. And they seem to have a nice firm 30-day-return policy. And I would feel bad if I didn't pass the temptation along.

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Because sometimes a person just needs to look at hats.

Jun. 6th, 2012 | 04:10 pm

The good, the indifferent, and the inexplicable.

I think my favorites are that red number the Duchess of Cambridge was wearing, the Duchess of Kent's piece of architecture, and the Countess of Wessex's bit of tailoring aspiring to be fire. On the less envy-making side (why do I not own hats like this? why do I have nowhere I could reasonably wear them if I did?), I have no idea what the Duchess of Cornwall thought she was putting on her head, or why. Do you suppose it was intended to be a joke?

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Our failed media experiment, New York Times edition

Jun. 4th, 2012 | 12:05 am

So, who else has read today's Page 1 story about alleged over-prescription of pain medication for workers who have suffered workplace injuries?

It's like a little horrible microcosm of everything that's wrong with our press: the selective presentation of data to reach a predetermined (deeply alarmist) conclusion, the placement of this thing on Page 1, as if to emphasize both the importance of the alleged problem and the solidity of the reporting, the drum-beating in favor of an activist, potentially-harmful solution to the alleged problem, and the giveaway line buried in the middle of the story, where only a careful reader is likely to see it and lose her temper.

If you haven't had the displeasure of reading it for yourself, the thesis of the article is that pain medication is overprescribed for workplace injuries, and that because injured workers who are prescribed higher amounts of pain meds do worse than those who are prescribed fewer or no pain meds for apparently-similar injuries, the higher level of pain medication is a bad thing and should be curtailed. Particularly since, the story tells us, those meds are expensive.

It's a long-ish piece, although not as long as some NYT features, and virtually every paragraph goes to reinforce that carefully-implied idea that high levels of pain meds are usually harmful, or at best unnecessary and potentially dangerous. Only there lurking in the very middle of the thing, proof that the reporter and editors involved knew or should reasonably have known how bankrupt the story is, we get this, "There is little question that strong pain medications can help some patients return to work and remain productive. But injured workers who are put on high doses of drugs can develop chronic pain and face years of difficult treatments. It is not clear how, or if, the drugs are involved in the process, but when pain becomes chronic, the cost of a commonplace injury can equal a crippling one, experts said." [Emphasis mine, though I promise I trusted you guys to pick up the giveaway line for yourselves.]

Reporters don't write their own headlines, but somebody writes them and approves them, and the headline on this thing is "Pain Pills Add Cost and Delays To Job Injuries." And there's a little graph to accompany it that's titled, "Painkilling Spree."

. . . I don't have the proverbial dog in this fight, at least as to the drugs. But even if I didn't know that people who need pain treatment are denied it because of a vicious cycle of moral panic and government intervention, and even if the stupid implied argument that if one person doesn't suffer serious pain from a given condition, that means nobody else does either, didn't make me foam at the mouth over its sheer idiocy, I'd be upset about this article.

Because I do have a personal stake in whether our newspaper of record, God and his angels save us all -- the newspaper whose reporting is relied on to shape policy and our national agenda -- can be trusted even a little. Do you suppose there's even any point to writing the public editor about this one, or is the whole enterprise too unthinking and/or corrupt to make it worth one's while even to try?

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Friendblab: threat or menace?

May. 18th, 2012 | 01:19 am

So there's this site -- friendblab.com -- that appears to be scraping DW accounts and displaying them in their entirety. Possibly LJ accounts as well, I didn't look. The site has essentially no contact information anywhere, only a home page that invites you to make an account or log in if you have one and a privacy policy that applies to account holders.

There is no indication anywhere, in other words, that this is a respectable operation run by anyone to whom one might send a note saying, "I didn't grant you permission to repost this content, please take it down immediately." Does anybody know what's up with this? And what we should be doing about it? Or whether DW/LJ is on the case? Or whether this is too trivial to fuss about (not that I'm likely to stop fussing, because this bothers me more the longer I think about it)?

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Quote of the Day

Apr. 25th, 2012 | 10:45 am

From Ta-Nehesi Coates, writing about (among other things) Poussin's "Abduction of the Sabine Women":

"This is the problem of didacticism. It is a dishonest selfishness. It pretends to give you something. But what it really wants is to make hostage of your imagination and march you at the point of a bayonet down some predetermined road."

If LJ were up, I'd suggest that someone go and link it at f_fa, that hive of scum and villainy. Especially since this not only sums up my lifelong problem with fiction that tries to, erm, model appropriate moral and social values (or, as cultural authorities used to say, teach a valuable lesson), but also sums up my difficulty with certain kinds of wish-fulfillment OC fic. And does a much better, clearer job of it than I've ever managed to do.

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Internet privacy startups

Apr. 11th, 2012 | 08:35 pm

Some day I'll have a real post. But for now, links to a couple of intriguing-looking projects, still in very early phases, pushing back against efforts to destroy privacy on the net.

First, Priv.ly. An open-source project still very much in early alpha stages; their introductory blurb says, "Privly is a proof-of-concept for a new standard of private sharing. It is the only way to maintain control of your data on the social web."

Their website seems to me, in my admitted ignorance, to be a model of clarity and full disclosure, though I don't know enough to be able to evaluate what they're telling me. I hope they succeed, though, if only because they won my heart with the message you see on their landing page if you're running NoScript. You know how most websites have some vaguely insulting message that says something like, For your convenience, using this site requires that you enable Javascript. If you do not know how to enable Javascript, follow these instructions to do so now? Well, Priv.ly's says, "You do not have scripts enabled, which means you are either running old technology, or are our kind of person. If you are the latter, we hope you will consider helping out." Which is immensely flattering, and if I had the technical skills to do more than run NoScript, I totally would.

They have a Kickstarter running, and I can only hope they'll do well out of it.

And second, Calyx (this is a link to a CNET article about the project, not directly to the project website): a proposal for a nationwide ISP that will guard subscribers' privacy by using technologies that would make it impossible for them to store and turn over subscribers' data. Again, I'm in no position to guess whether the technology stands any chance of working, but I'd like to think that it might.

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"I Killed the Internet"

Mar. 5th, 2012 | 01:43 pm

Sort of a drive-by post here, and not any of the posts I actually wanted to be writing. But this essay about the effects of our cultural move from browsing an open Internet for information and connections to the use of proprietary networks like Facebook, and of apps rather than browsers, is worth all the buzz it's been getting.

It's easy for me to say that, since I've had something of a knee-jerk reaction against the trends the author is talking about here: I won't use Facebook in part because I don't like walled gardens, and I've never seen the point of a lot of the apps that are available. But even if his suggestions required me to move in directions I didn't find intuitive, I think I'd try to follow them anyway. What he's saying makes sense to me, and if he's right, this is actually pretty important.

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If I actually understood Pinterest and how it works

Feb. 14th, 2012 | 02:32 pm

I'd pin the giant sizes of everything here.

Pictures of a volcanic crater in Ethiopia. It's like Yellowstone on steroids.

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Prop 8 (I suppose it's like posting to say "First!")

Feb. 7th, 2012 | 01:03 pm

But I feel compelled to do it anyway, in case people weren't waiting eagerly until 10:00 Pacific, keeping half an eye on the news feed for word that the decision had come down.

It's out now, and it appears to be a win for the good guys. The article at dKos, where there must have been people staking out the clerk's office, is here. And ETA: Here's the decision itself.

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