Saturday, January 27, 2018

Time: "Cybersecurity: Hacking, the Dark Web, and You"

Time has a Special Edition coffee table book. “Cybersecurity: Hacking, the Dark Web, and You”.
The most startling chapter is the third, “Inside the Hack of the Century”, by Peter Elkind, about the hack of Sony Pictures in late 2014 as the showing of “The Interview” approached.(Movies, Dec. 27, 2014). Sony had weak security, although this was probably comparable to what many companies had at the time (individuals and small businesses are much better at this). And the consequences, including the doxing of employees, were horrific, and for a time theaters felt threatened by Commie-terror attacks.  Today, the incident reminds one of the possibility that a foreign enemy (like North Korea) could try to undermine our system by going after much smaller businesses or individuals it didn't like, just to prove it could do it.  

Robert Hackett writes about “Google’s Elite Hacker Swat Team” (p. 42), about how they detected a vulnerability at Cloudflare in February 2017, and how Cloudflare (later prominent in shutting down Daily Stormer) fixed it in London in the middle of the night. The SWAT team Project Zero has recently exposed the Meltdown and Spectre vulnerability of Intel chips.

Massimo Calabresi writes “The Secret History of an Election”, p. 34, about how the Obama administration would have called out the military to protect voting systems, but it couldn’t stop the fake news manipulation on social media that preceded the election.

Charlotte Alter writes on p. 22 “Fighting Revenge Porn”, which gives the gratuitous web one of its most serious challenges in the downstream liability (Section 230) issues. It also shows how difficult “online reputation” can be to manage.

“The Deep Web” on p. 12, by Lev Grossman and Jay Newton Small, gives a biography of Ross Ulbricht and the story of the Silk Road, which was supposed to be legitimate but which the government claims is used mostly for evasive purposes.
The book concludes with the usual home safety tips. 

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Wired January 2018 issue takes up "The Golden Age of Free Speech" and its self-destruction

The January 2018 issue of Wired is dedicated to the paradox of how tech is using free speech to turn it against itself.  The issue is titled “The (Divisive, Corrosive, Democracy-Poisoning) Golden Age of Free Speech”, link here.

There is an opening essay by Zyneck Rufecki, explains that the passive outreach technique that I used with the infrastructure set up by Googles and others has run into the limitation of human attention spans (and cognition in the masses).  I actually do go looking for articles on my own, where one thing leads to another; so I am not as influenced by algorithmic news feeds as others. (Neither would be Dr, Shaun Murphy.)  But most people have too many social commitments to maintain such intellectual oversight of their ideas.  There seems to be a problem with “viral outrage” which can cause people to feel targeted, to lose jobs or employment opportunities, or lead to other family members. 

The article goes into some specifics, then, as with a long essay by Steven Johnson on Cloudflare’s cutoff of Daily Stormer, which spread quickly.  The content lead-in "Nice Website  .... shame if something happened to it" suggests that activists will pursue almost any site they see is dismissive of minorities (neutrality equals aggression) and tech executives say this is happening, and they have practiced grade school self-control. 
Doug Bock Clark then explains the sub-doxing campaigns by some of Antifa’s activists.  Generally these activities are barely within the law.


Alice Gregory writes about a startup, Yondr, with a pouch that keeps your phone silent until you get to a “smoking pen”.   Reduce your speech and unchanged the world?  This sounds like a good idea for public schools and cell phone use.   The concept could also work at venues that don’t want to allow photography (as of other attendees). 

Monday, January 22, 2018

"Moron Corps": short book that would accompany "McNamara's Folly"

Author: John L. Ward, with Dr. William E. “Gene” Robertson
Title: “Moron Corps: A Vietnam Veteran’s Case for Action
Publication: Strategic Book Publishing and Rights Co., 2012, ISBN 978-1-62212-207-3, 95 pages, paper, 12 chapters (link)

This short personal account is mentioned in Hamilton Gregory’s “McNamara’s Folly”.  The writer enlisted in the Marine Corps as one of “McNamara’s Morons”, so to speak, although his performance generally outruns most of his peers, and the book (with some help) is reasonably well written.   The book is more about the treatment of Vietnam veterans with PTSD and herbicide damage than about the social bad faith of the “Moron” program, which he admits was supposed to provide job training.

He would serve in Vietnam and be wounded once, and recover, only later to have serious health problems from Agent Orange and herbicides, and to get short shrift from the VA and civilian bosses.
He claims, on the last page, that he has a “narcissistic personality” but sees nothing wrong with promoting your victimhood. He provides a lucid discussion of Affirmative Action for government contractors regarding war veterans.

He also notes Dr. Martin Luther King's strong radicalism in a 1967 speech. 
He says he supports the military draft when necessary, and maintains we may be headed back toward it, with all the Stop-Loss policies of the Iraq war. 

Friday, January 19, 2018

Huffington Post cuts off unpaid self-published contributions

The Huffington Post is ending is unpaid self-publisher’s platform, the New York Times reports, here. The reason is, well, fake news and the cluttering of the debate in the past two years.

But I had not been aware that HuffPost had accepted “self-published” contributors.  It still might accept some authors, but only if it thinks it can afford to pay them.
Also, this Personal Tech story in the New York Times casts a much more positive picture on book self-publishing, and mentions that some self-publishers (like Milo Yiannopoulos) now publish other authors. 

Thomas F. La Vecchia has invited former Huffington contributors to New Theory

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

"The Population Bomb": How a book can unintentionally give repressive governments excuses to do what they want

The Smithsonian Magazine has an interesting interpretive article about a 1968 book, Paul R. Ehrlich, “The Population Bomb”. I remember scanning this on the bus when I was in the Army. 

The article indicates that the book had a tremendous but misleading influence on the future of world population growth, causing repressive birth control policies in authoritarian countries (maybe even China’s one-child policy).  The article notes that it is consumption per person that matters as much as population itself.  That ties in to the current debate on climate change, which Trump wants to deny.


It’s interesting that a single book can have so much worldwide influence. Sometimes well-meaning authors give authoritarian leaders excuses to do what they want. 

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Stephen King explains how Donald Trump could get elected

Stephen King on Donald Trump (in the Guardian): “How Do Such Men Rise? First as a Joke”, link

What follows is like a short-film screenplay, where King hauls in some of his fictional characters from his novels, gives them truth serum, and asks who they voted for and why.

The childishness and low cognition of them is shocking. 

Also, on MLK Day, there was an outdoor used book stand at Foggy Bottom Metro, selling mostly African-American material books, out in the cold.  

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Midwest Book Reviews sheds light on how authors should get reviews

Recently, Pam Daniels (author of Robert LeBlanc’s book “Silent Drums” [my Wordpress review]) mentioned submission to Midwest Book Review, and I thought I would pass along the site.

My own immediate reaction is that my most recent book is already four years old (from early 2014), and the first is over twenty years old.  But I would consider working with a review company in advance of the novel I plan for this year.

The site (the company is located in Wisconsin) is set up in old-fashioned way, with frames, and links to a lot of articles with somewhat repetitious content.  My own older sites were set up this way.

The site has a low opinion of some of the self-publishing companies and of vanity publishing in general, and says it prefers small presses (which tend to stress local and iconic topics, or specialized writing like poetry).  But it also says you can apply to work for them as a book reviewer. 

Sunday, January 07, 2018

NYTimes has booklet-length front page story on intelligence failures with respect to North Korean "speed"

The Sunday New York Times has an alarming front page booklet-length story by David R. Sanger and William J. Broad: “U.S. Miscalculated the Nuclear Progress of North Korea by Years”, with subheadline.”Flawed Estimates Rank as One of the Biggest Intelligence Failures”, link here

But Mike Pompeo of the CIA criticized this assessment on CBS’s “Face the Nation” today. 

I tend to agree with the NYT.  It seems that Kim had a lot of black market help from other post-Communist nations. 

Friday, January 05, 2018

Is self-publishing starting to implode under criticism?

Here’s a provocative piece from a conservative-to-libertarian site, “Way too many books are being published”.  But open self-publishing has become one reason. About two-thirds of the new books offered today are self-published.  It’s not reported what percentage are print-on-demand.  (416,000 books were self-published in 2013;  300,000 by traditional;  most traditional need to sell about 10,000 at a min.)

It reminds me of a time in the mid 1960s when we thought “too many people are going to college”. And there was a draft.

I do wonder how well self-publishing-assist book publishers business models will hold up – the sustainability issue.  Starting around 2012 I started getting calls asking my why my old books from 1997/2000 and 2002 were no longer selling.  Well, even with most trade books (with certain exceptions like Harry Potter) that tends to be the case.

Note the BookScan (doesn’t look at ebook) from Nielsen – it knows how well your self-published books have sold (or not).
Intellectual Takeout seems to make a curious point for a libertarian site:  people need to share more goals in common and belong more.  That’s Charles Murray’s theme in “Coming Apart”. 

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Trump seeks to block publication of a book about White House with Bannon's leaks

In an move that sounds like totalitarian censorship, Donald Trump’s lawyers are seeking a cease-and-desist order against author Michael Wolff and publisher Henry Holt regarding the publication of the upcoming book “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House”.  The Washington Post article by Josh Darsey and Ashley Parker is here.   CNN Money reports on it here

The title of the book is provocative in that it invokes Trump’s threat against North Korea (“fat little rocket man”) 

But the “objectionable content” in the book has to do with Steve Bannon’s “telling” and Trump’s break with him.  Apparently a cease and desist was sent to Bannon too about breaking his employment agreement. 

Some attorneys are saying that this action constitutes "prior restraint".  The publisher says it intends the release Tuesday.  I have a pre-order on Amazon.

Author's Guild has weighed in as Trump's threatening to sue a journalist "is what dictators do" (Guild statement). 

Monday, January 01, 2018

Timothy B. Lee's "Gentle Primer" on Bitcoin

Timothy B. Lee has a booklet-length article on Ars Technica, “Want to Really Understand How Bitcoin Works? Here’s a Gentle Primer”.  Gentle indeed.  It takes time to follow this.  (This is the "right" Tim Lee;  he is "Binarybits" on Twitter.) 

This would have taken a long time to write.  Lee explains the Blockchain (which any advanced alien civilization will also have come up with), and the importance of public and private cryptography. These things don’t matter a lot until people want to do things under the covers.  It also depends on robust peer-to-peer computing (with all affiliated security risks from using it).

My own perception is that it is a good idea for any retired investor to have a small percentage of holdings in digital currencies, and learn how to use them.  Maybe 1% of liquid assets is a good target. I plan to look into this in 2018.  

Tim's own website "AboutMe" page has some interesting comments, especially March 25, 2012, and June 4, 2016, which I think was directed at me and my own books, not Tim (whom I met in Minneapolis, and who helped set up my 1999 lecture at the University of Minnesota; I also spoke at Hamline in 1998).

Update: Jan 3

There is increasing concern about the energy consumption (and fossil fuels, especially in China) for bitcoin mining.  Would solar plants solve this?

Update: Jan 23

While energy consumption of mining continues to be controversial, here is a New York Times piece by Nathaniel Popper, "A View from the Bitcoin Bubble", referring to the Winklevii.