Sips from the Firehose
A blog that seeks to filter the internet into a refreshing, easily-gulped beverage


Jul 18

Quirks of the Internet in Myanmar

Posted: under Blogging, Blogs, Conspiracy Theories, Politics & New Media.
Tags: , , , ,

No TOR, but Rule 66 instead

I’ve been in Yangon for more than two weeks now, and I’m starting to run into the outer edges of what is allowed here on the internet.

First, Netflix and Apple Music work here. So I’m able to (pretty much) update the apps on my iPhone and download & watch movies. Which is nothing short of amazing, really.

However, connecting to the TOR network seems to be blocked; the login process looks a lot like this:

TOR network connections in Myanmar

It gets about 1/3 of the way to connected, and then it just … stops.

I don’t know if this is a temporary of a permanent condition. However, in talking to the locals, there is a lot of controversy over a Telecommunications Law, that is known as Rule 66. This basically holds that if you “defame” someone on the internet, that is a crime and you go to jail.

The nefarious thing is that not only can the person claiming they were defamed go running and get someone peremptorily locked up…

… but any third party can denounce someone else. So basically, if I see that you’ve said something – anything – online that might be construed as negative, EVEN IF IT’S NOT ABOUT ME, I can go running to the authorities and have you locked up.

From FrontierMyanmar.net:

The previous parliament approved the Telecommunications Law in October 2013 to liberalise the sector and encourage private investment. While the law has certainly achieved that aim – billions of dollars of investment have been pumped into telecoms since licences were awarded to the country’s first two foreign mobile operators in 2014 – its provision on defamation has also been used to stifle comment online, particularly on Facebook.

Section 66(d) of the law forbids anyone from “extorting, coercing, restraining wrongfully, defaming, disturbing, causing undue influence or threatening any person by using any telecommunications network”, and carries a possible prison term of three years.

The section is a stark reminder that the Telecommunications Law is as much a product of the military regime as the Thein Sein era. Reports from as far back as 2008 indicate that the junta wrote the initial draft.

Find the flaw in THAT law. Sheesh.

The good news is that there are a lot of people here that are realizing that the current law, as written, is unwieldy and wide-open to abuse.

The bad news is that rather than junking it, the effort underway seems to be to instead replace it with something that is more narrowly construed to target the press.

Oy.

Comments (0)



Jun 18

DDoS Attacks for $2/day: Researching the DarkNet

Posted: under Blogging, Sip With Caution.
Tags: , , , , , ,

Hackers hire out their botnets for DDoS attacks for as little as $2/day

I’ve been working on a series of articles on the threats to activists, independent journalists and innocent bystanders targeted by trolls that lurk on the web. This has led me to some of the shadier corners of the internet: the fabled DarkNet. The research phase of looking into DDoS attacks has already made me tape over the camera on my laptop and run repeated anti-virus scans on my computer, every damn device attached to my home network, and my external hard drives.

Paranoia is just the entry fee for this fun game. Read More

Comments (0)



Feb 20

The UX of Decent Online Discussions: Twitter’s New Troll-Killing Algo

Posted: under Blogging, Sip With Caution.
Tags: , , , , ,

Twitter declares open season on trolls

“I think the new moderators are striking *just* the right tone for dealing with the 4chan infestations…” (/lame attempt at New Yorker-style caption)

Twitter is rolling out three new tools to crack down on trolls, spam & abuse

Meanwhile, there’s also “Project Coral” – backed by NY Times, Washington Post and Mozilla – rolling out Talk and Ask, aimed at making comment threads a way to connect with an audience – rather than to alienate & depress them. Read More

Comments (0)



Apr 22

Lesson from Reddit and the Boston Bombing — Don’t Stop Experimenting with Crowdsourcing

Posted: under Blogging, Blogs, Conspiracy Theories.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Is every crowdsourced “let’s catch the Bad Guys” effort inherently doomed to wind up as a witch hunt?

For a while last week, as we were all caught up in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing, I was cheered up a bit by the efforts of Reddit and 4chan to try to figure out what they could do to assist in a positive way. It seemed like they were doing all the right things, in a sincere effort to help law enforcement by crowdsourced the efforts to determine who had planted the bombs. Right up front, Reddit said that racism, trolling, idiocy of any kind would not be tolerated. They even had as a “sticky” post up at the top of the page, a notice reminded everyone of the sad story of Richard Jewell.

For a while, it seemed like they might actually be able to contribute something. That maybe having tens of thousands of sharp-eyed internet sleuths poring over the mountains of photos, videos, and eyewitness reports might lead to what the pros call “actionable intelligence.”  Noted internet provocateur Jason Calacanis went so far as to say,

“Twitter is where all the smart and important people in the world spend their time, which means  instant coverage of these horrific events unfolds there in real time. Sure, there are spammers and idiots on Twitter, but smart people favor Twitter over any other social network by far.”

(snip)

Yet folks say, ‘Don’t speculate’?!

Ummmm, that’s exactly what we need to do!

Sometimes the rules change. Sometimes dogma needs to be flipped: ‘Shut up and let the cops do their job’ in the case of a terrorist attack is EXACTLY wrong.”

But very quickly, the idiot side of the internet took over, as 4channers started inserting “Where’s Waldo” into the photos and mocking the efforts to sift through the assets to find something of use, while outlets like CBS started wringing their hands over the fact that hordes of people on the web had self-deputized, and were now possibly (because who knows? It’s the unruly internet, after all!) out of control.

CBS news doubts the effectiveness of amateur internet sleuths

CBS news was not a believer.

But the apology today from Reddit makes it clear that whatever clear intentions we started out with, no matter the warnings posted to try to ward off the kind of unthinking, hysterical shaming/assumptions of guilt … at the end of the road, we wound up at the same old familiar virtual lynching tree.

reddit boston bomber thread taken down

Like two vast and trunkless legs in the sand, this is all that remains of the once-great campaign to find the Boston Marathon bombers.

A few years ago, reddit enacted a policy to not allow personal information on the site. This was because “let’s find out who this is” events frequently result in witch hunts, often incorrectly identifying innocent suspects and disrupting or ruining their lives. We hoped that the crowdsourced search for new information would not spark exactly this type of witch hunt. We were wrong. The search for the bombers bore less resemblance to the types of vindictive internet witch hunts our no-personal-information rule was originally written for, but the outcome was no different.

Of course, the traditional media is now pretty much hanging on the rim, whooping it up over the mistakes made on Reddit, Twitter, Facebook, etc. And the digital media are firing back at the well-publicized errors at CNN, the NY Post, AP, and Fox News (whose coverage could have had poor Zooey Deschanel wondering if she was about to be sent to Gitmo with a sack on her head).

From 4chan to the front page. Not such a short journey, after all.

So what’s the real takeaway here? Well, the hard fact that I keep coming back to is that there were hundreds of thousands of people spending hours of their lives, obsessively poring over photos and videos. In some cases, this can lead to killers being found, mysteries being solves, and the innocent being set free.

In this case, it did not.

That does not mean that we should slam the door on crowdsourcing and leave everything to “the professionals.”

Look, we’ve got The People Formerly Known As The Audience no longer willing to sit passively and just let “news” wash over them. They want to be involved. They want to react. They want to DO SOMETHING. Send money, travel to New Orleans and man a bass boat with a rescue crew, build tents in Haiti, pepper their congressman with Tweets … whatever.

Philly-reddit apologizes for Boston witchhunt

This generation grew up playing video games. You push the buttons on your digital device, and stuff on the screen in front of your face reacts. This paradigm is powerful. That’s why kids, including me, back in my [*wheeze*] youth loved playing them. They make you feel involved, empowered, in charge, filled with agency. Pick a phrase.

This genie is not going back into the bottle. No matter how much all the scolders tut-tut, the impulse of human beings to get off their asses and do something when they see something that moves them deeply, is going to continue. It will continue not just in the safe and societally acceptable channels of sending money/volunteering (and I think the mountains of teddy bears sent to the parents in Sandy Hook are misguided). This impulse is inevitably going to continue to play out in the digital realm, where we increasingly spend so much of our attentionshare.

Nobody really covered themselves in glory this past week.

Nobody really covered themselves in glory this past week.

The genie is not going back into the bottle. Nor should it.

Our jobs as journalists/media professionals are to figure out how better to make this impulse actually turn into something productive. I give Reddit a lot of credit for actually pitching in and helping.

Apropos of this: over the weekend, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsome was at the Los Angeles Book Fair, plugging his new book “Citizenville,” all about Government 2.0. He answered questions about what he thought the intersection of technology and society can and should do and told a great story about the virtue of trying. Paraphrasing here:

“I own a hotel in Reno that was built back in the 60s. It’s old-school, so it has no air-conditioning. In the summer, to keep it cool, we open the doors to let the breeze flow through. The problem is, the mosquitoes also come in.

“Well, we had a night clerk. He was a little … strange. Like you’d pretty much expect from a guy who chooses to work the 2 a.m. shift. So he comes up with an idea to try to solve the mosquito problem. He goes out and gets a whole bunch of catfish and stocks them into the ponds surrounding the hotel, that were the breeding grounds for mosquitoes.

“A day later, I get a call from one of the managers. He’s freaking out – ‘There’s blood everywhere! Blood and meat and torn flesh in the hallways! Something terrible happened here! I gotta go!”

“And then he hangs up. I’m freaking out. Wondering if the Manson Family somehow got loose and went Helter Skelter all over my hotel.

“And then I get the callback. Turns out the catfish really didn’t feast on the mosquitoes the way it was planned.

“But the raccoons? They feasted on the catfish. They went into such a frenzy, they were running through the halls of the hotel, ripping apart and eating the catfish they were easily catching out of these ponds. Looked like a massacre.

“The manager says, ‘So we fire him, right?’

“I said, ‘Hell no! Give that man a raise! At least he tried to solve the problem. He didn’t sit around, waiting for someone else to try to solve things. He saw a need and he jumped in and tried to fix things.’

“Granted. His solution didn’t work. But at least he tried something new and different.

“And that’s how the award for ‘Best Failure’ was born.”

 

That, in a nutshell, is how I feel about not only the attempts by ordinary citizens to help find the Boston Bombers … but the fact that Reddit is trying to work out the acceptable rules for how to run a crowdsourcing project that adds value to the response to a tragedy. If nobody tries anything until we have it all perfect … then nothing will ever get done.

If you want a more formal response to media coverage of the Boston bombings, you can check out the Poynter “4 Takeaways” list.

Comments (0)



Mar 07

How to Tell a Story – from Pixar, via BoingBoing

Posted: under Blogging, Digital Migration, new media.
Tags: ,

OK, this is really derivative, but I’m so impressed with the insight in this list that I’m shamelessly repeating it here. Go to BoingBoing. Click on the ads. Give them some money. They are good. I like BoingBoing.

(Please, no DMCA notice for this…)

To my journalism students – when you’re trying to construct a compelling narrative, for a story that goes beyond “On Tuesday, the Board met for two hours to consider blah-de-blah…” you could do a helluva lot worse than use these rules to challenge yourself to come up with something that grabs the reader and makes them keep clicking the “Next” button at the bottom of your page.

Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling – Boing Boing

From Aerogramme Writers’ Studio, via Adafruit. My favorite is #13: “Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.”

These rules were originally tweeted by Emma Coates, Pixar’s Story Artist. Number 9 on the list – When you’re stuck, make a list of what wouldn’t happen next – is a great one and can apply to writers in all genres.

  1. You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.
  2. You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be very different.
  3. Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.
  4. Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.
  5. Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.
  6. What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?
  7. Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.
  8. Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.
  9. When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.
  10. Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.
  11. Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.
  12. Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.
  13. Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.
  14. Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.
  15. If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.
  16. What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.
  17. No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.
  18. You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.
  19. Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.
  20. Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?
  21. You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?
  22. What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

Technorati Tags: , , , ,

Comments (0)



Mar 04

Gaming Twitter Follower Counts Makes You a Dick

Posted: under Blogging, Lemmings, Sip With Caution.
Tags: , ,

The “Follow/Unfollow Dance” builds your lists … but to what end?

Social media whiz & Cheesehead Homie Erik Johnson writes powerfully about his experience with one of his intellectual idols. Viz:

Every school had one. The kid who pretended to be your friend just to get something he wanted from you and then acted like you’d never met. The user. Not the model you would build a business around and certainly not the model for a business social media strategy.

If you’ve been paying attention to the growing phenomenon on Twitter of people who want to bill themselves as thought leaders & social media experts following you & then unfollowing you a few weeks later after snookering you into believing there is a mutual interest, this sad saga will seem very familiar. I’m having my own issue with it myself – I’ve noted that a lot of the people that I follow don’t seem to actually be interested in connecting with me, other than to connect. I don’t get any follow-up conversation out of the connection.

I’ll admit it. I’m not as diligent as I should be in following/unfollowing and tracking everything that’s going on in the social sphere. Been spending a lot of time on content creation the past few months – writing books, creating lesson plans, wireframing sites, handling social media for other people … so yeah, mea culpa.

I turned to JustUnfollow to see if this would help.

JustUnfollow home page

JustUnfollow purports to help you keep track of whether or not you’re being gamed … and perhaps even to start gaming the system yourself (Not Recommended). I am dismayed, but not surprised, that services like this are becoming common & in-demand.

The service generates a DM that you can customize to say thanks to the people that follow you. It’s kinda filled up my DM column with these messages. As you can see, I tried to make the “Thanks” message a little less boilerplate sounding.

JustUnfollow DM in Tweetdeck

I get a steady stream of notifications as to who has followed me in Tweetdeck. This is handy, as the notifications often wind up in my spam folder in Mail. However, this is still something of an impersonal-feeling process, mostly because I’ve been slacking off on actually connecting with those who connect with me. My bad, people.

I had kinda hoped that this service would run in the background and keep some kind of order to my Twitter feed. And then, I got this little notification:

Alan Rosenblatt @DrDigiPol

Apparently, I’ve been rude. Didn’t realize that I was doing so. I was buried under book deadlines, designing a multi-platform site for a client, and teaching a class. Still, I was negligent and I got called on it. Worse, it seems the solution I tried to impose has actually done the opposite from my intentions.

It appears that in trying to set up a system by which I rewarded people with at least a DM for following me, I somehow stumbled into a situation where that DM is seen as the very thing that I was trying to avoid. I probably need to go in and tweak the settings on JustUnfollow to make sure this doesn’t happen again. Also, I should probably use JustUnfollow to see if there is some chicanery going on with my Follow/Unfollow stats. I’m interested in connecting with journalists and New Media thinkers, to widen the variety and depth of the info-flow that I expose myself to.

However, I still struggle with taming the torrent. And yeah, I know that is ironic, given the stated mission of this blog. But The situation is not being helped by the amount of “Hey, are you really paying attention to me?” messages coming at me, especially when compared to the “Social Media Users” that are trying to get me roped into following them, just so they can boost their own Klout score.

Here’s what I wrote as a comment on Erik’s blog. And yes, I do recommend that you follow him.

Unfortunately, I am locked in exactly this kind of dance myself on social media. As the number of Twitter followers you have starts to become a real badge denoting authenticity and authority, the incentives are there to “game the system.” I’ve tried to restrict my Twitter feed to only people that I actually can pay attention to; when in the early days, I went nuts and got up into the thousands, my feed was streaming so fast that I couldn’t actually get any value out of it. Which brought my efforts to the equivalent of spitting into a vast, anonymous torrent. I’ve got quite enough of that trying to engage in the blogosphere, thank you very much.

Whenever I see Twitter accounts with 40,000 followers and 40,000 following – well, I know that the person has devoted significant time to building a list and a presence. But it makes me wonder – will they actually respond to an attempt at conversation? Can they? Is it even possible with the flow from 40K people coming through HootSuite/Tweetdeck? I couldn’t do it with 1500.

And if the point of social media isn’t to actually have a conversation with people about something of mutual value … then what’s the damn point, anyway? Just start graffiti’ing up billboards and save the rest of us from the tricks and games, already.

At this point, I’d have to give JustUnfollow a Sip With Caution rating:

Sips from the Firehose two shotglasses

Sip With Caution

Comments (0)



Jan 12

NMX – Blogger Tools

Posted: under Blogging, Blogs.
Tags: , , , , , ,

The blogging community is notoriously hard to please. Check out the vitriolic tweets directed at the poor victims who dared to sit onstage at the close of the NMX convention, talking about “Inventing the Future.”

Check out the silvery television-headed robots:

20130112-143237.jpg

Despite the rather ugly tone at the end, there were some creative attempts at serving the pajama-clad tech nerd lynch mob:

First, there were the somewhat shellshocked crew behind the counter at the BlackBerry booth. They were apparently laboring under the misconception that there are actually talented developers in the world that, given a choice, would pour their time and energy into creating an app for their platform.

20130112-141307.jpg

If there is a clearer indication that upper management at BlackBerry is delusional and out of touch, I haven’t seen it.

The signs plaintively exhort the fictional mobile developers to “blog about it!” Not sure if publicly acknowledging that you’ve just wasted your time & effort on a platform that’s got one foot in the gave and the other on a banana peel should be seen as a complicated cry for help, or a confession of bad business judgement.

Next, the folks at Readz, promising “Simply Beautiful Tablet Publishing.” I’ve been grinding my mental gears on the various tablet-publishing solutions for the past two years, most recently with Atavist, iBook Creator, and the Adobe Digital Publishing Suite. What I’ve learned is that these tools promise much, but run headlong into the contradictions inherent in this chaotic new space.

20130112-141617.jpg

For example, there are the crazy quilt screen resolutions, video formats and typographic specs. Ad then there’s the whole horizontal/vertical screen orientation layout problem. IBook Creator is particularly ugly and opaque on this issue — your layout will look fine one way, but flip the iPad the other way, and some elements will show up and others … won’t. No rhyme nor reason to it either.

Meanwhile, the InDesign files churned out contain such spaghetti code that you are directed to open them in Dreamweaver to clean up the CSS3 and HTML 5.

I’ll give Readz a spin, even though they inexplicably have “Wilson” the volleyball from Castaway as part of the booth decor.

20130112-141902.jpg

I did like the quirky spirit displayed by the WordPress “Happiness Bar,” where they touted the fact that the WordPress platform is being used by everyone from giant corporations to “your dad’s book club.” The folks there were talking about vague plans for better ecommerce plugins.

If someone were to come up with an open-source PayPal, that would really rock a lot of worlds. The challenges would be enormous – whenever there’s money involved on the web, you WILL get haxxors. It’s inevitable. Then again, getting out from under a corporate monolith that is vulnerable to pressure (such as in the Wikileaks case) would be a step in the direction of international press freedom.

20130112-142015.jpg

Next up, Raven. I’ve been looking at them for a while – they’ve been struggling for a long time, trying to compete with Radian6, Crimson Hexagon, et al. They seem to be engaged in a re-branding pivot, trying to go to the low-end blogger side of the spectrum, to sell us indie freaks the long-awaited way to monetize our audience(s).

They’re offering a 30-day free trial, and that alone differentiates them from the competition.

20130112-142155.jpg

UStream was one of the big sponsors for the conference, and they (allegedly) worked to fatten the backhaul pipes so that the bloggers in attendance could all either upload live streaming video of themselves, or download everyone else’s livestreams. Which is kind of a strange thought-exercise: an entire conference room full of people all looking at themselves looking at each other on their ubiquitous tablets.

I’ve worked with clients over the past few years to use UStream to give their fanbase and users access to live events. Where it starts getting tricky is when you want to archive the events and make them available to the audience later, or even store them on your own site’s multimedia library.

Comments (0)



Jan 08

Inventing the Future at BlogWorld

Posted: under Blogging, Blogs, Digital Migration.
Tags: , , ,

Somehow, I expected more of a mad scientist’s lab, with chortling henchmen. Or hench-Americans, as I hear they prefer to be addressed….

20130108-164940.jpg

It is always dangerous to give a group of bloggers (should that be “a flamewar of bloggers”?) a stage and a microphone, and dare them to get pretentious about predicting The Next Big Thing.

UPDATE: the always irascible bloggers have deemed the event a FAIL because of the lack of interactivity. Also: keyboard pants?

Comments (0)



Nov 22

Real-Time Coverage of Nerve Gas Rumors (via Storify)

Posted: under Blogging, Blogs, Digital Migration.
Tags: ,

Once again, I’m using the social media-aggregation tool Storify to work up a story using the Twitter feeds of reporters & protesters on the scene. This time, it’s in Tahrir Square, where the confrontations between the police and the citizens (fed up with the emerging military dictatorship) are taking a darker turn.

 

I put this together in about 5 minutes, after following the increasingly alarming messages coming out of #Tahrir via @acarvin. Knowing what I do about nerve gas (VX and/or Sarin) and mustard gas (whose effects I saw myself in the wheezing of my great-uncle Pete St. John, who had gotten a dose on the Western Front in WWI), it freaked me out that the Egyptian military may have taken such a drastic step.

It turns out that they were perhaps using some kind of new tear gas – one that is invisible, but that still stings like a sonofabitch. If you’ve clicked the link above, you were taken to a page of clinical data from autopsies of British soldiers killed by gas in WWI. Grim, grim reading. Basically, the gas causes chemical burns all over your body, and you die from choking on the ragged, torn-up lung tissue that you cough up as you drown in your own blood.

Yeah. Fun times. There’s a reason we as a species have reacted with horror at anyone using these kinds of chemical weapons ever since.

Anyway, the rumor mills flew into hyperspeed on Twitter & social media, and you could see the rise and fall of the meme (fostered by a Twitter account purportedly belonging to Mohamed El Baradei) of chemical weapons use.

Comments (0)



Jun 24

Applause lines and final thanks

Posted: under Blogging, Blogs, Digital Migration.
Tags: , , , ,

Here’s a short audio file i recorded at the close of the Civic Media conference this week at MIT. I’d like to add my own thanks to the sentiments expressed herein; thus was a fabulous antidote to the general malaise afflicting so many of our traditional media brethren…

http://audioboo.fm/boos/395702-final-thoughts-and-thanks-at-civic-media-conference-at-mit-media-lab

Comments (0)