While I enjoyed Oppenheimer, Keith Harris’s full review here helps solve my askew feelings about it.

quote box detailing a passage from Keith Harris's essay

Nice to see Japan Airlines’ sustainable traveling push (by way of carbon reduction) by encouraging passengers bring only essentials and rent their wardrobe upon arrival, which is sourced by second-hand stores and excess retailer inventory.

Screenshot of the beginning of linked-to article in Financial Times

Negotiating with AI companies for licensing IP to be fed into LLMs is a slippery slope, especially since fundamental components of those models were already informed by mass website data scraping. I’d be quite surprised to see this shake out in anyone’s favor other than for AI tech.


Fantastic sale on Micro.blog, an exceptional, independently-run content management system for short and long form blogging. It’s everything you need in a minimally rich product.


Tom Leighton’s (@tomleightonart) Geomorphology photo series is stunning.


If I’m reading this piece right, it appears fine dining has eroded quick serve’s and fast casual’s lead in off-premise eating since the pandemic derailed people’s preferences. And now… there’s a problem with filling restaurants’ capacities. Which… we all guessed was happening?


🔗 Concerning piece by Fionn Pooler on “coffeewashing” practices in the industry. A Short Introduction to Coffeewashing - by Fionn Pooler


More on the “why” of the Lincoln Project, explained by Vox. This point is apt:

Liberals who oppose the Lincoln Project object to its core conceit: Trump, and Trumpism, are a cancer on the Republican Party, and by removing him and his ideas, things can perhaps go back to normal. In the conservative group’s mindset, Republican presidential candidates like John McCain and presidents like George W. Bush exemplified the best of American conservatism, while Trump is an aberration: a former reality show host with divorces, affairs, and affronts to “traditional morality” aplenty.

But as historian Eric Foner argued in 2016, Trump can be seen as “the logical conclusion of a lot of things the Republican Party has been doing” for decades, with predecessors like Richard Nixon’s “law and order” presidential campaign, rife with racist implications, and populist appeal as a businessman railing against Washington corruption. To many liberals, Trump isn’t an aberration; he’s the culmination of a decades-long political project.


➔ Agreed with Dave Winer on this bit:

Project Lincoln so far has been great entertainment. Good for base-rallying. They can't really get into inspiring visions, given that they are Republicans and won't be in power if the ads work.

While Project Lincoln has been savvy and entertaining, it’s unknown what their longer-term vision is for the country aside from defending “democracy”. Are they moderate Republicans? Their line has been that “those who sign onto Trumpism are a clear and present danger to the Constitution and our Republic”. But if they’re only hoping to dethrone him with a Democrat and influence more experts in a new administration, let’s hope it’s in the spirit of returning America to its values (including whatever is even left of the Republican Party), and not stymieing progressive movements forward.


Linked List (First Post!)

➔ Read the New York Times Magazine interview with Charlie Kaufman, who published his first book last week (Antkind). If I were to distill the interview into one key piece, it’s this about his approach to writing:

This was one simplified understanding of who Charlie Kaufman was: He was someone who valued truth. When he detected the absence of it, it pained him. He would prefer, for example, if film critics prefaced their negative reviews by disclosing that they’d just had a fight with their spouse, or: ‘I don’t like this guy because I don’t like the way he looks.’ Because those things are true, he said. Our thoughts and feelings are true. They are facets of the world at whichever moment we attempt to describe it.

“You’d be called self-indulgent, which I am all the time,” Kaufman said. “But if it’s done in a way that’s expansive, to me it’s very interesting. Because that is what’s going on. Because it’s true.”

➔ Honest piece from RO Kwon on women choosing to be childfree (note the specific nomenclature there).

Throughout history, people without children – women, especially – have often been persecuted, mistreated, pitied, and killed for their perceived lack. In ancient Rome, a woman who hadn’t borne children could legally be divorced, and her infertility was grounds for letting a priest hit her with a piece of goat skin. (The blows were thought to help women bear children.) In Tang Dynasty China, not having a child was once again grounds for divorce. In the Middle Ages, infertility was believed to be caused by witches or Satan; worse yet, an infertile woman could be accused of being, herself, a witch. In Puritan America, it wasn’t just having no children that was suspect. Giving birth to too many children could be perilous, too, and grounds, yet again, for being condemned for a witch.

Also in the US, enslaved women were expected to have babies, and were routinely raped, their potential future children considered a slaveholder’s property. Some of the only times women without offspring have garnered respect might be when they have formally devoted their lives to a god, and to celibacy: nuns, vestal virgins.

Which brings us to a word I haven’t yet used, but which often is levied against childfree women like me: selfish. Despite everything, it’s still common to view parenting as a moral imperative, to such an extent that voluntarily childfree people can be viewed with such outsize emotions as anger and disgust. Pope Francis, a lifelong celibate, has said: “The choice not to have children is selfish. Life rejuvenates and acquires energy when it multiplies: it is enriched, not impoverished.” Such judgments might be even more available now, at a time when so much, especially including parenting, has become more difficult for so many people.


A Round of Memorable Op-Eds This Week

While I've been around the clock a number of times with some of the most astute and compelling pieces of journalism across publishers this week, I wanted to shine a light on a few notable opinion editorials for the weekend. These aren't overly long, and they're stitched together thematically around the challenges of U.S. leadership and its commitment to democratic policy in the world today.

The Atlantic

While drenched in superlatives, Yoni Appelbaum's piece titled Is the American Idea Over?, one of the headliners in the latest Atlantic issue, covers a range of survey points and perspective on the U.S.'s role in the world today, and how its population is reckoning with it.

It is no surprise that younger Americans have lost faith in a system that no longer seems to deliver on its promise—and yet, the degree of their disillusionment is stunning. Nearly three-quarters of Americans born before the Second World War assign the highest value—10 out of 10—to living in a democracy; less than a third of those born since 1980 do the same. A quarter of the latter group say it’s unimportant to choose leaders in free elections; just shy of a third think civil rights are needed to protect people’s liberties. Americans are not alone; much of western Europe is similarly disillusioned.

But most notable (and agreeable) is the reality that true democracy is fragile, an ever-escalating balancing act of security, freedom, opportunity, and tolerance of differences:

The greatest danger facing American democracy is complacence. The democratic experiment is fragile, and its continued survival improbable. Salvaging it will require enlarging opportunity, restoring rights, and pursuing equality, and thereby renewing faith in the system that delivers them. This, really, is the American idea: that prosperity and justice do not exist in tension, but flow from each other. Achieving that ideal will require fighting as if the fate of democracy itself rests upon the struggle—because it does.

The Economist

America’s global influence has dwindled under Donald Trump

On trade, [Donald Trump] remains wedded to a zero-sum view of the world, in which exporters “win” and importers “lose”. (Are the buyers of Ivanka Trump-branded clothes and handbags, which are made in Asia, losers?) Mr Trump has made clear that he favours bilateral deals over multilateral ones, because that way a big country like America can bully small ones into making concessions. The trouble with this approach is twofold. First, it is deeply unappealing to small countries, which by the way also have protectionist lobbies to overcome. Second, it would reproduce the insanely complicated mishmash of rules that the multilateral trade system was created to simplify and trim. The Trump team probably will not make a big push to disrupt global trade until tax reform has passed through Congress. But when and if that happens, all bets are off—NAFTA is still in grave peril.

The New York Times

If you haven't first read anything about the Paradise Papers, it's essential reading for the weekend. In a follow-up op-ed, Gabriel Zucman noodles on how we can enact policy to stop corporations and the wealthy from avoiding taxes in havens around the world:

The United States loses, according to my estimates, close to $70 billion a year in tax revenue due to the shifting of corporate profits to tax havens. That’s close to 20 percent of the corporate tax revenue that is collected each year. This is legal.

Meanwhile, an estimated $8.7 trillion, 11.5 percent of the entire world’s G.D.P., is held offshore by ultrawealthy households in a handful of tax shelters, and most of it isn’t being reported to the relevant tax authorities. This is… not so legal.

These figures represent a huge loss of resources that, if collected, could be used to cut taxes on the rest of us, or spent on social programs to help people in our societies.


The Trials of Deleting Uber

Uber's public image has had a hell of a first quarter. I can't recall the last tech company in recent history that ran into shitstorm after shitstorm as reliably and as damningly as they have. In today's New York Times, there's a profile on Uber CEO Travis Kalanick by Mike Isaac that details some of these tribulations, among them them a confrontation with Apple's CEO, Tim Cook. Notably, Uber had attempted to obfuscate from Apple its nefarious practices around user location-tracking and device-identifying (called "fingerprinting"). This practice would allow Uber to identify an individual iPhone even after the app was deleted and/or the phone reset. If it sounds egregious, it is. As The Verge points out, this is more of the same deceptive bullshit Uber has pulled off in recent years, including “evad[ing] government regulators and track[ing] rival drivers, track[ing] customers without permission, and being sued for allegedly stealing proprietary information regarding self-driving cars from Alphabet’s Waymo. “

Can most of this be blamed on the CEO? According to that profile, probably:

But the previously unreported encounter with Mr. Cook showed how Mr. Kalanick was also responsible for risk-taking that pushed Uber beyond the pale, sometimes to the very brink of implosion.

Crossing that line was not a one-off for Mr. Kalanick. According to interviews with more than 50 current and former Uber employees, investors and others with whom the executive had personal relationships, Mr. Kalanick, 40, is driven to the point that he must win at whatever he puts his mind to and at whatever cost — a trait that has now plunged Uber into its most sustained set of crises since its founding in 2009.

As long as deleting apps and still having the potentiality of being tracked by the deleted company is a threat to privacy and security, I hope technology gate companies like Apple continue to fight the good fight.

Update (APRIL 24, 2017)

Additional speculation (and clarification) from the fallout of the New York Times profile article from John Gruber (Apple pundit extraordinaire):

That sounds like Uber was doing the identifying and “tagging” (whatever that is) after the app had been deleted and/or the device wiped, but I think what it might — might — actually mean is merely that the identification persisted after the app had been deleted and/or the device wiped. That’s not supposed to be technically possible — iOS APIs for things like the UDID and even the MAC address stopped reporting unique identifiers years ago, because they were being abused by privacy invasive ad trackers, analytics packages, and entitled shitbags like Uber. That’s wrong, and Apple was right to put an end to it, but it’s far less sensational than the prospect of Uber having been able to identify and “tag” an iPhone after the Uber app had been deleted. The latter scenario only seems technically possible if other third-party apps were executing surreptitious code that did this stuff through Uber’s SDK, or if the Uber app left behind malware outside the app’s sandbox. I don’t think that’s the case, if only because I don’t think Apple would have hesitated to remove Uber from the App Store if it was infecting iPhones with hidden phone-home malware.

John's whole piece is worth reading if you want much clarity on what Uber was presumably doing. Curious what their tactics were/are for other phone manufacturers.

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1: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/23/technology/travis-kalanick-pushes-uber-and-himself-to-the-precipice.html?_r=1


Take the VPN Route with Caution

We should have seen this coming.

That online scammers are now attempting to piggyback on the confusion caused by the Donald Trump and the Republican Party's wholesale selling out of your online privacy shouldn't be too surprising: in the days after Congress passed the legislation, numerous outlets, including Motherboard, published guides on how to select and properly configure a VPN to minimize the risk of your private data being sold to the highest bidder (even if they can sometimes be difficult to use).

Satnam Narang, the Norton by Symantec security response manager, told me that "users should be skeptical on social media and via email of scammers looking to capitalize on their interest in VPNs." For a list of VPNs trusted by Motherboard, you can check out our guide here.

Motherboard's guide is right here. Lots of sites are SEOing the shit out of VPN guide pages (good luck), so I encourage you to find a few trusted sources to guide your usage decisions. Just keep in mind that if you choose to use a VPN, the company that provides it to you can see your browsing data and other Internet activity that you're obfuscating from ISPs. FYI.

It'll be illuminating to see how the VPN business fares over the next year, as using one is still a mostly confusing series of steps and setups for most consumers to navigate. And at the end of the day, will it be worth it? Which data will be sold by ISPs, and to whom, exactly? Curious not a peep has been made about this from advertisers or ISPs (probably because selling this data for direct response TV has been going on for a while now), and no one has really noticed or cared up until this point.


MN Police Receive Search Warrant for Anyone Who Googled a Name

As a former Minnesotan, this story piqued my attention over the weekend. Police in Edina, which is one of the metropolitan suburbs of Minneapolis, were granted a warrant that permitted them to collect information on any of the city's residents who used specific search terms (on Google's search engine), all in the spirit of locating a thief who stole $28,500.

Why, exactly, did this happen? According to the Edina police:

The complicated investigation stems from the fact the Edina police believe someone used the victim's name, date of birth, social security number and a forged passport to illegally wire the money.

That fake passport included an incorrect photo only attainable by searching the victim's name in Google images. No other search engine allegedly reveals it.

Apart from this raising considerable concerns over privacy voilations for everyone who isn't the thief, Google is taking a stand as well. The broadness of probable cause definitions is at the heart of the controversy, as this kind of thing could set dangerous precedents moving forward. A lot of information is being demanded for residents associated with looking up the name:

In addition to basic contact information for people targeted by the warrant, Google is being asked to provide Edina police with their Social Security numbers, account and payment information, and IP (internet protocol) and MAC (media access control) addresses.

A spokesperson for Google, which received the warrant, said Friday: “We will continue to object to this overreaching request for user data, and if needed, will fight it in court. We always push back when we receive excessively broad requests for data about our users.”


Oxford Comma Woes in Maine

If you know me at all, there's a particular grammatical deployment of the comma I prefer when it comes to serial sentences. A few years ago, I wrote at length about it in my piece, Defending & Deflating the Use of the Oxford Comma. And so it is only fate that I stumble upon this gem of an article on the Times about how the misuse of the comma could cost a Maine dairy company millions of dollars in an overtime dispute from truckers.

How did this exactly come about?

The debate over commas is often a pretty inconsequential one, but it was anything but for the truck drivers. Note the lack of Oxford comma — also known as the serial comma — in the following state law, which says overtime rules do not apply to:

The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of:

(1) Agricultural produce;

(2) Meat and fish products; and

(3) Perishable foods.

Does the law intend to exempt the distribution of the three categories that follow, or does it mean to exempt packing for the shipping or distribution of them?

Delivery drivers distribute perishable foods, but they don’t pack the boxes themselves. Whether the drivers were subject to a law that had denied them thousands of dollars a year depended entirely on how the sentence was read.

Apparently, the Maine Legislative Drafting Manual prohibits the use of the Oxford comma. While I'd argue against that directive, perhaps there is simply a clearer way to describe the contentious language in question so as to avoid misunderstanding?


Pod Save the World's Interview with Glenn Greenwald

Crooked Media's newish podcast, Pod Save the World, has a great 45 minute interview with The Intercept's Glenn Greenwald, who has been a long-time journalist and constitutional lawyer. His biggest journalist contribution of recent note, of course, was the work he did to sift through and communicate the files and intel Edward Snowden brought to bear. Much of the interview focuses on the Snowden situation and his book, No Place to Hide, but there are some amazing nuggets about how and why Snowden did what he did, national security, and privacy in the modern era.

Of note:

[Snowden's] overwhelming priority was to make sure he meet with the journalists with whom he had selected and safely provide that material to us and review that material with us to make certain we that understood what we needed to understand, and start reporting it.

The fear of being detained before he could get the materials into the journalists hands was felt in both of the recent films about him (Snowden and Citizenfour, the latter of which Greenwald plays a significant role). But the extrapolation of this narrative by Greenwald is fascinating to listen to all over again. The places Snowden goes to, how he instructs the journalists to secure their communication, and the delivery of only some of the materials after he poured over them himself -- essentially, the high-level decision-making around how, why, and with whom to share such sensitive, earth-rattling intel is still to this day underreported and underappreciated. As Greenwald notes, he could have dumped the entirety of the files to Wikileaks and had the whole thing publicly revealed, but instead he took the time to read, understand, and to the best of his ability, share the right kinds of files that we as Americans must trust are the most important aspects of what he had access to that infringe upon our rights as US citizens.


Weekend Reading List - Hope Amidst the Darkness

Round-up for March 11-12

Machine Bias: ProPublica's ongoing investigation into machine/data-driven usage for criminal risk assessments and crime predictions.

What should you think about when using Facebook?: Facebook logs drafts of posts/keystrokes before you post, or even if you don't post.

Apple says it’s already patched ‘many’ iOS vulnerabilities identified in WikiLeaks’ CIA dump Title says it all, but it’s a hopeful reassurance that Apple has detected and patched many of the alleged CIA exploits brought forth in the Wikileaks unraveling.

Your Own Facts: A great essay/book review on the “filter bubbles” we continue to create ourselves or sign up for with external apps and services. Essentially, author Eli Pariser argues that “this is not to deny that Silicon Valley engineers […] have responsibilities that extend far beyond their job descriptions. But their modest quests to improve relevance, alleviate information overload and suggest books that may interest us — rather than to engage in algorithmic paternalism and assume a more critical social role — may be the lesser of two evils”.

Internet Censorship and What We’re Doing About It: A leading encryption-based email service provides a rundown of why we should care about internet censorship, and what some of its plans are in terms of helping the wider world. Of course, this is leading up to a release later this summer of their ProtonVPN service, set to compete against other VPNs (virtual private networks) that can assist in black boxing your internet traffic and behaviors.


WikiLeaks Unloads 'Alleged CIA Hacking Documents'

This happened just a short while ago, but an important development nonetheless. According to the New York Times:

The initial release, which WikiLeaks said was only the first part of the document collection, included 7,818 web pages with 943 attachments, the group said. The entire archive of C.I.A. material consists of several hundred million lines of computer code, it said.

Among other disclosures that, if confirmed, would rock the technology world, the WikiLeaks release said that the C.I.A. and allied intelligence services had managed to bypass encryption on popular phone and messaging services such as Signal, WhatsApp and Telegram. According to the statement from WikiLeaks, government hackers can penetrate Android phones and collect “audio and message traffic before encryption is applied.”

And here's the link to the vault of documents on WikiLeaks. Haven't had a chance to read through anything yet, but will update as needed over the next week.

Update | March 07, 2017 11:42AM CT

Edward Snowden posted an update on Twitter regarding one of the big call-outs, thus far, from the leak: "first public evidence USG secretly paying to keep US software unsafe."

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              <noscript><img src="https://cdn.uploads.micro.blog/25423/2023/529a26eee7.jpg" alt="From Edward Snowden's tweet" /></noscript><img class="thumb-image" src="https://cdn.uploads.micro.blog/25423/2023/529a26eee7.jpg" data-image="https://cdn.uploads.micro.blog/25423/2023/529a26eee7.jpg" data-image-dimensions="840x499" data-image-focal-point="0.5,0.5" alt="From Edward Snowden's tweet" data-load="false" data-image-id="58bef0caff7c50a1c83ce2bb" data-type="image" />
            
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Weekend Reading List

Round-up for March 4-5

New Bill Would Force NYPD to Disclose Surveillance Tech Playbook: Though not as pressing as other privacy disclosures, this is a timely local-level one that could predicate other states/cities following a similar line. What's notable here is that we are all essentially under a watchful eye from city security cameras, other citizen's cameras, and a myriad of tactics alluded to in the bill (including facial recognization). The New York Civil Liberties Union's statement on this being "critical to democracy" is rather obvious.

How to Keep Messages Secure: Friendly rundown of why teens (ahem, anyone) should avoid using popular chatting apps like Snapchat, et al, for serious communication or for chatting at all. Surprising editorial source, too.

Is There a Business Model For Serious Journalism in the Age of Trump?: Comprehensive analysis on the state of serious journalism.

Smart Condom to Track Your Sex: Here we go with another invasive Internet of Things product. At this point we're just turning ourselves into constantly-monitored subject matter for government, medicinal, and corporate overlords.

Government's Privacy Watchdog is Basically Dead, Emails Reveal: Should we have seen this one coming? "[T]he agency, known as the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, is down to just a single voting member — which means it has been stripped of nearly all its powers, according to emails obtained by The Intercept." Important to note: it appears that this didn't start with Trump, and it's been "been withering away for almost a year."

That Free Health Tracker Could Cost You: Handing out Fitbits is something my agency recently did, and I've seen a number of health insurance providers do the same thing -- not sure if all circumstances are leading to more risk pooling bullshit, but this is certainly where it starts.

Want to Improve Data Quality, Reduce Liability, and Gain Consumer Trust? Try Deleting: In its latest white paper, CDT "explores th[e] disconnect and the reasons why commercial data stores have grown. We make the case that it is neither in a company’s nor a customer’s best interest to hold onto large amounts of data." Deleting old, unusable, or irrelevant data is absolutely a consideration to make, especially if you don't plan to use it anymore.


The Terms of Service Dilemma

Great piece from The Guardian on how no one reads terms of service for apps/services/hardware they sign up for, and points to solutions in the way of redesigning them.

[T]here’s a lot in click-to-agree contracts that would give many people pause if they knew about them. For example, users give web-based services – and third parties the services contract with, about which users know nothing – the right to keep, analyze and sell their data. Increasingly often, too, people click away their right to go to court if anything goes wrong. “There’s a real concern that consumer protection law is basically being swallowed by click-by-agree clauses,” said David Hoffman, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, who researches the law and psychology of contracts.

Hoffman is among the legal scholars who believe the no-reading problem isn’t new. After all, he points out, few people read the fine print even when it was literally in print.

However, it’s possible that the design of click-to-accept pages makes the problem worse. A few years ago Rainer Böhme of UC Berkeley and Stefan Köpsell of Dresden’s Technische Universität tested alternative wordings of a simple consent form on more than 80,000 internet users. Some were told their consent was required and presented with highlighted “I agree” button. They went along 26% more often than did other users, who had been politely asked to participate (with phrases like “we would appreciate very much your assistance” and both “yes” and “no” options represented by lookalike buttons).

In other words, when design invites people to consider their options, at least some do. If the design nudges them instead to follow a habit that years of click-to-agree has instilled, then they’ll do that instead. “Ubiquitous EULAs [end user license agreements] have trained even privacy-concerned users to click on ‘accept’ whenever they face an interception that reminds them of a EULA,” Böhme and Köpsell wrote.

This kind of thing has been pointed out ad nauseum, but it is a vital struggle to acknowledge and consider. There is a great site out there called Terms of Service; Didn't Read that operates as a user rights initiative rating and scoring websites' terms of services/privacy policies from Class A (good) to Class E (miserable). A wise read for anyone who has clicked or tapped away on agreeing to walls of unreadable text before engaging with software.