Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Are all politicians this blatant and all contributers this naive?

Saturday, Newt Gingrich asked me to join the President's Trust. Newt said I had to act quickly because the membership list was being sent to the White House at midnight. Here's the invitation:

When I clicked on the link to join the Trust, Newt asked me for a donation. He suggested amounts a lot higher than $1 and offered me the chance to make it a recurring donation:

The next day, I got an invitation to take a survey to show the liberal fake news outlets how out of touch with the truth they were on immigration.

I took the survey and, when I submitted it, got another request for a donation. It looked a lot like Newt's.

This is my first experience with a political mailing list and I have a couple questions:
  • Is this typical -- have other presidents requested donations this frequently and this early in their terms?
  • If so, is the childish deception in these offers typical?
  • Outside of Trump's base "base," are people stupid enough to fall for this sort of thing?
  • Who actually gets the money?

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The role of the Internet Archive in the rise and fall of a fake news site

The New York times reported on the rise and fall of a fake news site. The site, ChristianTimes, has been deleted, but it was archived by The Internet Archive, enabling the Times to expose the site and its creator Cameron Harris.

Harris ran the site for around 20 weeks and made $22,000 on ads, but he lost his job (and reputation) as a result of The Times story. I've prepared an annotated two-slide teaching presentation on the ChristianTimes and the Internet Archive, which is posted here.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

About this blog

I have several blogs that relate to my Internet literacy class and another on the Internet in Cuba. Each is focused on the Internet -- its applications and technology as well as its implications for individuals, organizations and society.

This blog is for miscellaneous "footnotes" that don't quite fit in one of the other blogs. I'm not sure how it will evolve or how frequently I will post to it.

A note on my PowerPoint presentation style

This is the sort of slide I use in teaching:

As it says, I prefer slides with few words -- I want the students to listen to me and think about what I am saying rather than reading the words on a slide.

I include images to aid their memory of the main point being made and to hopefully engage them with a bit of a puzzle -- figuring out how the image ties to what I am saying.

I include links to source material and written annotation and tell the students that they are responsible for that material and encourage them to study the presentation and its links before coming to class. (Few do :-).

The "stop sign" questions are also meant to engage the students -- whether they read the slides before or after class or during my presentation in class.

I stole all of this from Steve Jobs and you can see a presentation on my presentation style here.

(I'm also a fan of self-referencing material).

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Recommended podcast -- Interview of Internet Archive founder Brewster Khale

The following is a transcript of Bob Garfield, co-host of the podcast On The Media, interviewing Brewster Khale, founder of the Internet archive and a partner in the End-of-term Project with a lead-in question for on climate-science research Eric Holthaus of Slate Magazine.
Bob: Meanwhile a small army of volunteer archivists, scientists and advocates have been working to save the government climate change research that already exists
Eric: at NASA and NOA that takes the temperature of the planet from weather stations from satellites from ocean buoys.
Bob: Meteorologist Eric Holthaus spoke to NPR about his effort to save government climate data.
Eric: Sometimes these data sets are only stored in United States government servers so there hasn't really been an effort to catalog those in other countries because we haven't thought it was necessary before
Bob: The Internet Archive on the other hand has given a lot of thought to what gets lost in presidential transitions. Every week the archive tapes three hundred million Web pages and every four years it enlists a bunch of volunteers to make copies of government Web sites as a hedge against what the next administration may choose to delete. It's called The End-of-term web archive and for some reason this year the organizers are getting a lot more offers of help. Brewster Kahle founder of the Internet Archive says that this year his team also is backing up its data to Canada
Brewster: When the election went the way that it did, it was a bit of a surprise, so we looked through the television archive at what President-elect Trump said about freedom of the press and about the Internet and what we found was shocking. He wanted to close up parts of the Internet that there was mocking of freedom of the press. This was kind of a wake-up call and we said let's make sure we have a copy in some other location.
Bob: What are your priorities? How does it work?
Brewster: So the Internet Archive works with the Library of Congress, University of North Texas -- now a growing list of groups to try to do as best we can to record the information that's available on the Web sites and now the web services that have been made available on .gov and .mil Web sites. We found in 2008, 83 percent of the PDFs that were available back then are no longer available even by 2012. So with an 83 percent loss rate when the Obama administration came on board we're likely to see something like it maybe even more with the Trump administration.
So we're coordinating activities to go and archive web pages and we're reaching out to federal webmasters to go and see if we can keep whole services up and running. Can we take virtual machine versions of the databases that they're running and be able to run them in snapshot form so that we can keep these services going as they were in 2016 in the future?
Bob:Give me some examples of when the federal web archive has come in handy. Was there something that you and disappeared that you were super glad to have archived?
Brewster: Oh the anecdotes go on and on. Example -- there is a press release from the White House during the George W. Bush administration when he stood on an aircraft carrier and declared “mission accomplished.” And the headline of that press release was combat operations in Iraq had ceased but a couple of weeks later they changed the headline and said major combat operations had ceased with no notice that it had changed. The only reason why we know is because we had archived both versions. And then a couple of months later the press release went away completely from the web. You know what is more Orwellian is it changing a press release that's in the past or is it disappearing completely?
Bob: What are you most worried is going to disappear in a Trump administration?
Brewster: Frankly we have no idea. This upcoming administration is very aware of the power of the Internet and how it can be manipulated -- how you can go and push things out in the middle of the night and use the journalist system in ways that are really pretty blatant. So let's at least keep a record of it.
Bob: We have just experienced the interference in a political campaign by outsiders. Is this archive secure -- I mean really secure against hacking, against intrusion?
Brewster: The history of libraries is a history of loss. Libraries are burned. That's what happened in the Library of Alexandria. It'll be what happens to us -- just don't know when. So let's design for it. Let's go and make copies in other places. Let's make sure people want universal access to all knowledge, that they want education based on facts. Let's go and make sure that there is an environment that supports libraries. That's the only way that in the long term we're going to survive. And the copies that are maybe now unique at the Internet Archive will survive based on all sorts of changes whether it's earthquakes or institutional failure or law changes.
Bob: Brewster as always many thanks.
Brewster: Thank you very much.
Bob: Mr. Khale is the founder of the Internet Archive and a partner on the End-of-term Project.
You can listen to the interview here.
You can listen to the podcast here.
Khale's interview was part of longer podcast episode called Hurry Up. They discussed other steps President Obama could take during the last weeks of his term. The suggestions included disclosing information on contributions by government contractors, surveillance and the drone program, closing Guantanamo and clemency. The episode ends with a discussion of the nature of time by science writer James Gleick.
Finally, I created the interview transcript using a nifty service called PopUpArchive. You simply upload a sound file and wait for the text version to be posted ready for download. It takes a little proofreading and editing, but it is a lot faster than manual transcription and as this Microsoft Research report shows, we can look forward to more accurate speech recognition in the future.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Is democracy dead?

In the Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln gave us the rationalle for the Civil War -- it was fought so that a nation of the people, by the people and for the people would endure, shall not perish from the Earth.

 But, has it perished in spite of their sacrifice?

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Recommended podcast: China's Cultural Revolution

Historian Frank Dikötter talked about his new book on China's Cultural Revolution in an interview on NPR's Fresh Air. During the interview described the Cultural Revolution, Mao Zedong's motivation for creating it and the importance of Chinese government archives to historians. Speaking of the archives he says:
Well, indeed, one of the great things about the People's Republic of China over the last I would say five, six, seven, eight, nine years is that it has very gradually been opening up archives. So you can imagine that if you can get into the party archives to study episodes like Mao's Cultural Revolution, you'll get a very different sort of insight than if you were to rely on semi-official or official publications released by the state itself.
He says the Cultural Revolution began with denunciation, but went on to widespread violence and confiscation of assets. In addition to listening to the podcast, check out this article on the Cultural Revolution and if you want still more, read his book. Dikötter feels the Cultural Revolution was motivated by Mao's fear that after the economic failure and famine of the "Great Leap Forward," a Chinese rival could succeed by denouncing him as Krushchev had done Stalin. He believes Mao conceived of the Cultural Revoltuion as a tool for distracting the people and eliminating his opponents:
And '66, with the start of the Cultural Revolution, (Mao) unleashes students against their teachers and a few months later, in the autumn of '66, incites ordinary people to remove revisionist elements from the very ranks of the party itself.
A little later in the podcast, moderator Terry Gross sums up Mao's strategy as follows:
The revolution was officially about purging the country of bourgeois values and the enemies of communism. But Dikötter says it was also about Mao settling scores with his colleagues and subordinates and turning people against each other to shore up his own power.
That sounds like a template for establishing a "populist" dictatorship with a "cult of personality."