Thinking about Twitter and Learning

Twitter icon upside downApologies for the lack of posts but I’ve been traveling and did a lengthy talk at the Sloan Conference on Online Learning on the potential of Twitter to reinvent the traditional paradigm of learning and foster a new mode of academic discourse. I’m fascinated by Twitter – and by the resistance to it by so many faculty in higher education. It seems acceptable for their own professional development but far less use it in learning environments for students.

I’ve also been playing around with Dalton Caldwell’s project App.net, a user-supported platform that was funded through KickStarter a few months back. App.net is similar to Twitter with many of the same features but has a minimalist interface and space for 256 character messages. More importantly, it is a fee-based service designed to avoid the dilemma that Twitter finds itself in – having begun with an open API and now pulling back and limiting access to developers as it becomes more commercial. Twitter is still in the throes of an internal debate about its future but seems to be shifting toward an ad-supported model. As Caldwell argues, that means developers and users come last.  Not good.

There are too many issues to cover here but the talk may be republished later. If not I’ll throw it up it here after I get through a backlog of posts.

 

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First Debate: Jon Stewart’s Take

The first debate dissected by Jon Stewart on the Daily Show: one candidate seemed like he was on Ambien and the other appeared to have tried caffeine for the first time in his life. As Politicalwire says, priceless. Obama looked like a loser even when he was silent and if history is any guide to the power of image in the debates, that’s devastating. If Nixon appeared sinister and Carter seemed defensive, Obama looked like he just didn’t want to be there.

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Politician Attacked for Online Gaming

Colleen Lachowicz’s self-created identity, Santiaga

Colleen Lachowicz’s self-created identity, Santiaga

You knew this was bound to happen – a politician linked to online gaming and their virtual persona. In a way, it’s odd that it took so long given the number of people playing World of Warcraft (WOW) and other online games as some might decide that being a politician is a useful real life role. But as people live part of their lives in online games, political opponents will try to turn their online personas against them in elections.

This instance involves Maine Democratic state senate candidate Colleen Lachowicz who clearly spends a little time in World of Warcraft. But she talks a lot about her life online and how it differs from the “real” world. That’s all it took for the Maine GOP to do a quick attack mailing with quotes of her life as an orc assassin. Actually Lachowicz, aka Santiaga, sounds pretty good at WOW – not sure I’d want to meet her on the battlefield with a level of 85.

Whether this has wings or not really depends on how savvy Maine voters are in her district. It’s only a game, and a popular one at that, but for those uncomfortable with the digital revolution it just might resonate. For others, it just might get them to take a second look – hey, I can vote for an orc assassin – well, actually, I can vote for someone who has a life online. Only problem is that the younger generation does not go to the polls nearly as much as the older crowd. You can see the GOP attack site on Lachowicz at colleensworld.com.

The other problem for Lachowicz – and it’s one that many politicians trip over – is that she let her online world bleed into the broader political environment. The Maine GOP seems to have pulled her quotes from discussion areas on the popular DailyKos site and if you’re there talking about killing people online, someone is going to come across it. Had she kept her World of Warcraft in the game itself, chances are no one would have noticed. One can’t blame her for the spillover, but if you’re planning on being a public figure, misinterpretation and attacks come with the territory. Just like murderous orcs in World of Warcraft.

Like I said, we’ll see more of this in the future. But it’s a good URL, actually. Lachowicz should buy it from the GOP once the election is over.

A flier distributed by the Maine GOP attacks Democratic state senate candidate Colleen Lachowicz for playing an orc assassin rogue in World of Warcraft

A flier distributed by the Maine GOP attacks Democratic state senate candidate Colleen Lachowicz for playing an orc assassin rogue in World of Warcraft

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Political ad: John Dennis goes after Nancy Pelosi and Zombies

John Dennis campaigns against Nancy PelosiThis political ad by John Dennis (R) in his battle against Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has to be one of the most bizarre ever. Pelosi and zombies seem to be the ultimate target here. I’m not at all clear how effective this might be – or even the intended demographic – Republicans? Independents? Former Pelosi voters? I just don’t know.

Dennis is a sharp Libertarian so he is both to the left and right of Nancy Pelosi on the political spectrum. From the SF Weekly:

But John Dennis, who says he’s raised $2 million to unseat Pelosi, is a “Liberty” Republican. And for committed Libertarians, the notions left and right don’t have quite the same meaning as they might with traditional liberals such as Pelosi. Sure, Dennis supports Proposition 19, the marijuana initiative. But he also backs San Francisco left-wing anathema Proposition L, which would prohibit sitting or lying on public ways between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m.

“In a strictly Libertarian world, the roads and sidewalks would be private property,” Dennis explained. “If you’re obstructing private property, you should be able to get people out of the way.”

This is not the only strange political ad that Dennis has done but it definitely ranks as his most bizzare. Hard to imagine this builds support for a campaign – but definitely a 1:42 of unusual entertainment. From Politicalwire.

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Pussy Riot Interview

Pussy Riot - Nadya Tolokonnikova enters the courtroom vowing resistance.

Pussy Riot – Nadya Tolokonnikova enters the courtroom vowing resistance. (GQ Magazine)

GQ magazine has a fascinating interview with two of the three jailed members of Pussy Riot, the feminist punk collective in Russia. Charged with ”hooliganism motivated by religious hatred”  - an absurd charge – for a guerrilla performance in a cathedral, a sham trial resulted in a two year jail sentence despite international protests.

Michael Idov was able to get questions to Nadezhda “Nadya” Tolokonnikova, Maria “Masha” Alyokhina, and Yekaterina “Katya” Samutsevich through their lawyers. Katya’s responses were discovered but the answers of Nadya and Masha were smuggled out and they talk about the challenges of daily life in a Russian prison and the influence they have now that they are behind bars.

Just a small segment here – it’s worth reading the full interview:

GQ: This is perhaps an insensitive question, but what’s more useful for the progressive movement in Russia right now: Pussy Riot at large or Pussy Riot in jail?
Nadya: 
We will know the answer only after the next wave of protests. I would love to see that, even imprisoned, we can still be useful and inspiring. In any case, I’m happy I got two years. For every person with a functioning brain, this verdict is so dumb and cruel that it removes any lingering illusions about Putin’s system. It’s a verdict on the system.

Masha: At large, of course. That’s why the authorities don’t want to let us out. But we still have things to say, and we still want to say them. And even locked up, we’re not doing too bad of a job.

“We couldn’t even imagine that the authorities would be so dumb that they would actually legitimize our influence by arresting us. Sure, they tried to intimidate us constantly. But unlike Putin, we’re not chickenshit.” 

Back on February 21st, they stepped into an area outside the altar of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow and sang an anti-Putin protest song. The lyrics included:

“Holy Mother, Virgin, drive Putin away
The KGB head, their (the Orthodox Church priests’) chief saint
Takes protesters to prison under convoy
Shit, shit, the Lord’s shit
Patriarch Gundyai (Kirill Gundyaev) believes in Putin
The bitch had better believe in God.”

It was less than two weeks before the elections of March 4, held during massive street protests, where Putin was returned to power. It was a provocative performance, an expression of a younger generation and growing middle class increasingly connected through the digital revolution and wanting change. Russia is not much in the news this month, but the undercurrents of change are still swirling through the country.

They should not be forgotten.

 

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TSA Theft – Caught with the Find My iPad App

TSA Theft of iPadHere’s some great (if basic) TV investigative journalism of TSA theft of an iPad from an ABC News investigation of the Transportation Security Administration. This sting operation involved “accidentally” leaving iPads behind at airport security areas and seeing if they were returned. It was easy to execute as ABC News used nothing more than the Find My iPad App.

It’s pretty funny when the audible alert goes off inside the TSA agent’s home.

Really no surprise here given that in less that ten years some 381 TSA agents have been fired for theft – which makes you wonder how many are getting away with it. Here’s more detail from Gothamist.com (and link to the ABC News video) if you’re interested.

Just don’t dare leave anything behind, especially electronics.

ABC News did an investigative report wherein reporters “accidentally” left behind iPads at ten major airports with a history of theft by government screeners. And they got some poor slob to take the bait: Security camera footage shows TSA screener Andy Ramirez with the iPad after it had gone through the screening process at Orlando airport. Using a tracking device in the gadget, ABC confronted Ramirez at his home, where he proceeded to blame his wife.

First Ramirez denied knowing anything about any stupid iPad, but then ABC set off an audio alarm feature in the iPad, and it could be heard beeping inside his home. At that point, Ramirez had no choice but to admit the iPad was in his possession, but he blamed it on his wife. “I’m so embarrassed,” Ramirez told ABC News. ”My wife says she got the iPad and brought it home.” He then shut the door. And then he got fired. Eat your heart out, Arnold Diaz.

381 TSA officers have been fired for stealing since 2003, 11 of them this year. ABC’s investigation turned up “case after case” of TSA theft, and one former TSA screener—who did three years in prison for airport theft—tells the network no one is checked for stolen goods. “I played in with the rest of them with ‘I don’t care’ and ‘they’re not paying us right.’… It was so easy one day I walked out with a Nintendo Wii in my hand. Nobody said a word.”

 

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Truck Crash – Driver Goes Through Windshield – and Walks Away

I usually don’t post crash videos like this of a truck crash (they’re everywhere on the Web) but this particular one is remarkable. From Russia, a near head-on collision that sends the driver of one truck through his windshield with his blanket. And he’s thrown out, well, not gracefully, but almost like a practicing gymnast stepping off the pummel horse at the end of a routine. And yes, he walks away from the incident, a little dazed but completely intact.

The accident was caught by a dashboard cam, which is starting to appear more frequently as it can resolve insurance claims for accidents. With all of the technology being added to motor vehicles (including rear-facing cameras and seats that provide warning alerts), one might anticipate that the days of freewheeling driving will become a thing of the past.

If Google cofounder Sergey Brin’s prediction is right, within five years Google will have self-driving cars available for the public. Google has already driven over 300,000 miles with the vehicles. But with greater power and flexibility will come demands for increased accountability – it won’t do for a driver to say, “I didn’t cause that accident, my car did it on its own.”

Welcome to a world of dashboard cams and route and driver sensors.

Anyway, back to Russia. One lucky person, in a country where for now luck is still an essential commodity for a career as a truck driver. (from kottke.org)

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Spyware on Rent to Own Laptops Photographed Users Undressed, Having Sex

Showplace Rent to Own Computers included spyware

Seven companies settled spyware charges with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for offering rental computers that included spyware to photograph users without their consent. The FTC charged the maker of the software, DesignerWare in Pennsylvania, and seven companies with recording keystrokes, taking photographs of users and using the laptop webcams to record any activity within view, including users undressing, their intimate activities and a few having sex.

The media seems to have downplayed this story but read just one paragraph from the actual FTC settlement document:

Detective Mode to record data every two minutes until prompted to stop doing so. DesignerWare’s servers collect this information and transmit it to the licensee for however long the licensee leaves “the Detective” turned on. In numerous instances, data gathered by Detective Mode has revealed private, confidential, and personal details about the computer user. For example, keystroke logs have displayed usernames and passwords for access to email accounts, social media websites, and financial institutions. Screenshots have captured additional  confidential and personal information, including medical records, private emails to doctors, employment applications containing Social Security numbers, bank and credit card statements, and discussions of defense strategies in a pending lawsuit. When activated, Detective Mode can also cause a computer’s webcam to surreptitiously photograph not only the computer user, but also anyone else within view of the camera. In numerous instances, Detective Mode webcam activations have taken pictures of children, individuals not fully clothed, and couples engaged in sexual activities.

No small infraction here – the spyware was on some 420,000 laptops that were distributed to renters. All of this done without consent and the data, photographs and video was transmitted to DesignerWare, which then redistributed it to the store from which the laptop came.

Unfortunately, it seems the FTC has no criminal jurisdiction in a case like this and with only civil authority cannot even level fines against the companies. Instead, the settlement only requires the companies to now notify users in advance of the spyware on the machines.

The companies claim this is the only way they can track customers who fall behind in the payments. But they were able to gather a wealth of data including social security numbers, passwords and account information, medical data and any activities that went on in front of the laptops while they were open.

Somehow, one feels that this is like seeing a cockroach – if you see one, you know there are many more – and we have already seen other cases of this with a couple in Wyoming and a well-reported case of the school system (also in Pennsylvania) that spied on children through their laptops.

We hardly seen the last of these corporate intrusions on privacy. And here’s one final ploy they used – a “Windows Registration” screen that was nothing but a ploy to collect more data – the Windows OS on the laptops was previously registered when the laptops were configured.

Fake windows registration spyware screen

Fake Microsoft Windows registration spyware screen

 

 

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Toy Train in Space – Dad Sends Young Son’s Toy Train Aloft

Toy train goes to space - at least to the stratosphereThis is so touching – a father sending his 4 year old son’s toy train in space, attaching an HD camera to video the trip, and then recovering the train through GPS. It’s no small achievement but much easier than it would have been a decade ago. All that was needed was the dearly beloved toy train, a weather balloon, an old iPhone for the GPS, and a HD camera.

The father, Ron Fugelseth, sent it up on an hour-long, twenty-seven miles (across the ground) flight and after recovering the camera, set the video to music. Fugelseth, who works at a digital agency, also added some animation to the face of the train when he processed the video:

My 4 year old and Stanley are inseparable like Calvin and Hobbes. He’s been attached to him since he was two, and they play, sleep and do everything together. I animated Stanley’s face with After Effects and Photoshop to bring him to life how I imagine my son sees him. (YouTube)

You just have to love the way the Stanley the train is smiling on the way up and then frowns as the balloon bursts and begins the bumpy trip back down to the ground. Only to smile again once a successful landing has taken place.

In truth, the toy train is not really going into space, but just some 18 miles up into the stratosphere, the layer right above the troposphere which extends 11 miles above the earth’s surface and is what we depend on to survive. The stratosphere extends some 50 miles above the earth and where space technically begins is an ongoing debate (not surprisingly, the boundary keeps getting extended). But for a young child this is close enough to space.  What’s really important here is that the project itself is both impressive and heartwarming.

And, of course, the child’s reaction is priceless. A toy train in space – this is a joy to watch.

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Gangnam Style: Quirky South Korean Artist PSY Breaks YouTube Record

Say what you will about South Korean rapper PSY’s Gangnam Style video, but will probably have over 250 million views by the time you read this and interest hasn’t faded yet. The video is a strange sequence of moves, a horse-riding like dance that combines odd scenes – trash blown in his face, dancing on a tour bus, in a car park building, singing on a toilet, in a horse stable, and on it goes.

You don’t need to understand Korean to enjoy the entertaining PSY or the repetitive chorus of the song that has become the surprise viral hit. But there’s more going on here then just the odd moves as the video picks apart a fault line in Korean society.

No this didn’t come out of someone’s utterly wild imagination; it’s done as a spoof of a small but very influential segment of Korean society.

So video first, if you haven’t seen it, and then the Christian Science Monitor’s (CSM) effort to unpack the context:

Here’s the analysis from CSM:

Gangnam is the most coveted address in Korea, but less than two generations ago it was little more than some forlorn homes surrounded by flat farmland and drainage ditches.

The district of Gangnam, which literally means “south of the river,” is about half the size of Manhattan. About 1 percent of Seoul’s population lives there, but many of its residents are very rich. The average Gangnam apartment costs about $716,000, a sum that would take an average South Korean household 18 years to earn.

The seats of business and government power in Seoul have always been north of the Han River, in the neighborhoods around the royal palaces, and many old-money families still live there.

Gangnam, however, is new money, the beneficiary of a development boom that began in the 1970s.

As the price of high-rise apartments skyrocketed during a real estate investment frenzy in the early 2000s, landowners and speculators became wealthy practically overnight. The district’s rich families got even richer.

The new wealth drew the trendiest boutiques and clubs and a proliferation of plastic surgery clinics, but it also provided access to something considered vital in modern South Korea: top-notch education in the form of prestigious private tutoring and prep schools. Gangnam households spend nearly four times more on education than the national average.

The notion that Gangnam residents have risen not by following the traditional South Korean virtues of hard work and sacrifice, but simply by living on a coveted piece of geography, irks many. The neighborhood’s residents are seen by some as monopolizing the country’s best education opportunities, the best cultural offerings and the best infrastructure, while spending big on foreign luxury goods to highlight their wealth.

“Gangnam inspires both envy and distaste,” said Kim Zakka, a Seoul-based pop music critic. “Gangnam residents are South Korea’s upper class, but South Koreans consider them self-interested, with no sense of noblesse oblige.”

In a sly, entertaining way, PSY’s song pushes these cultural buttons. 

PSY – his name coming from the first three letters in “Psycho” pulls this off with finesse. His Gangnam Style is anything but Gangnam, as he pokes fun at a community that many Koreans see has having unearned wealth, of having been the recipients of lucky breaks in real estate deals that now lets them afford plastic surgery, spend their time in spas, horseback ride, and enjoy a life of luxury.

PSY may look and act Psycho, but he’s unraveling a seam that lays bare the conflict between rapid gain of economic wealth and a society’s cultural traditions.

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Losing Battle: More Magazines Publish Nude Photos of Kate

Kate and William greeted by topless islanders

The effort to block the spread of nude photos of William and Kate’s vacation in France is doomed to fail, and frankly, the significance of nudity all depends on its context as the Duchess so easily saw on the remaining days of their tour. The topless photos of Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, continue to spread with their publication by a gossip magazine in Denmark, Se och Hoer, following on the heels of their sister magazine in Sweden.

Legal Action

In France, the magazine Closer was fined and ordered to hand over all copies of the photos:

A French court ordered a magazine publisher to hand over all digital copies of topless photos of the Duchess of Cambridge within 24 hours and blocked furtherpublication of what it called a “brutal display” of William and Kate’s private moments.

Under the ruling Tuesday, the publisher of the French gossip magazine Closer faces a daily fine of €10,000 ($13,100) if it fails to hand over the photos featured in Friday’s “world exclusive” issue of Prince William’s wife Kate. The photos were taken without authorization during the royals’ vacation at a private residence in southern France.

The court also handed out an injunction to stop Closer France from republishing the offending pictures — including on its website and its tablet app — as well as re-selling them.

A statement Tuesday from the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge said they “welcome the judge’s ruling.” Maud Sobel, a lawyer for the royal couple, described it as “a wonderful decision.”

“We’ve been vindicated,” Sobel said.

Calling that “vindication” is a hollow victory.

Even if the Royal Family wants to continue legal action, it’s becoming impossible. First, there’s the obstacle of national borders – which the Internet simply ignores and courts simply have to abide by – and the laws in each country. In Italy, paparazzi can take photos as long as they’re standing on public property. The nude photos of Kate were taken from almost a half mile away(!) with a telephoto lens (nice lens, essential hardware for any paparazzi) , but the photographer wasn’t on the property of the chateau. And anyways, an injunction by a French court is not enforceable in other countries.

All Copies?

Secondly, no one knows the source of the photos in the Danish magazine. Possibly they were sent prior to the injunction. Perhaps after. Handing over “all copies” is near impossible unless everyone who had the digital copies cleaned out their computers along with the Sent box of their email accounts and the Temporary directory in their operating system.

And how would you enforce this? Send someone in to go through everyone’s computer at Closer? And how would that keep someone from passing it on through a USB key or similar portable storage?

Give me a break.

There are no originals photos here. As Walter Benjamin would appreciate, the image you view on your screen is already a copy. Everything is viral-like even at the most basic level of our operating systems.

UK Press Left Out Again

We’ve been here before. The Mirror notes that:

It is worth noting that the pictures remain unpublished by the UK press. As with the pictures of Prince Harry , where The Mirror and most other papers did not publish, William and Kate’s privacy is being respected.

Here in the UK, self-restraint is working more effectively than supposedly strong European privacy laws.

Restraint is more effective than privacy laws in the digital era, but the images are easily accessible online and the UK press is heading toward the same situation it was in with the Prince Harry images – they’ll be available everywhere but in the UK, driving more readers to pass on the papers and grab their “news” (such as this is) from online.

But in a way, the position of the UK press is admirable, even if there’s a bit of not wanting to anger the Royal Family or run up against UK regulations. If almost everything “public” (even at a half mile) can be recorded, it can be distributed and restraint becomes the last remaining drawbridge in the castle of privacy.

Chill Out

Calming down and letting it go may be the best advice. Trust me, the news cycle will soon move on to something else. Maybe even something with more substance and consequence for us all – such as Syria or a downward spiraling EU economy.

Tom Sykes in the Royalist on the Daily Beast has best comment on this entire affair:

In his editorial, editor Signorini argues that “instead of getting angry with the media, who are just exercising their right to report, the royal family should, in my humble opinion, run with the ball and react with typical Anglo-Saxon humour, saying ‘So what?’”.

The Royalist agrees.

Anything else is a waste of time in a deeply interconnected digital world.

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NASA’s Curiosity Photographs an Eclipse on Mars

Eclipse on Mars: NASA image of Phobos grazing the sun's disk

Eclipse on Mars: NASA image of Phobos grazing the sun’s disk

The NASA rover Curiosity is just getting its work underway, but photographing a lunar eclipse on Mars has to stand out as a remarkable achievement. Think about the technical challenges here – besides safely landing this one ton hunk of metal and technology on the martian surface:

NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity, dispatched to determine if the planet most like Earth in the solar system could have supported microbial life, has taken on a second job – moonlighting as an astronomer.

Last week, Curiosity outfitted its high-resolution camera with protective filters and took pictures of the sun as Phobos, one of Mars’ two small moons, sailed by.

It was a tricky shoot. Phobos and its sister moon Deimos are closer to Mars than our moon is to Earth, so they shoot across the sky relatively quickly. Phobos takes less than eight hours to circle Mars. Deimos takes about 30 hours to make the trip.

Last Thursday, the moons started to cross paths.

“Phobos grazed the edge of the sun, as seen from Curiosity. We had basically a partial eclipse,” astronomer Mark Lemmon, with Texas A&M University, told reporters during a conference call on Wednesday.

The rover took more than 600 images with its left and right cameras, about 100 of which captured some part of the eclipse. Not all the pictures have been radioed back to Earth. (Reuters News)

Not only did the timing and camera position have to be precise, Curiosity had help from the rover Opportunity on the other side of Mars, also shooting images of the eclipse. The next eclipse is in eleven months when Curiosity should be in an even better position to observe an eclipse from another planet.

A remarkable achievement. Now back to work on Gale Crater.

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Romney Video – The Wheels Come off the Campaign

Romney teleprompter meme

(source: allhatnocattle.net)

As the full Romney video of the infamous fundraising dinner talk is released, the campaign is in damage control mode. While the rest of the video is not as damning as the initial clips released, it does nothing to help his case and even adds a few other choice lines to an already full platter of them.

The main sign a campaign has derailed when figures in your own party turn against you. Here’s a selection of Republican barbs from Politico in an article by Katie Glueck, “The right’s many attacks on Mitt Romney“. 

Check out the piece for all the quotes on Romney and the additional criticisms of his foreign policy remarks:

Here’s a look at who’s keeping some distance from Romney…

On the “47 percent ” comment:

Bill Kristol, The Weekly Standard: “… Romney’s comments, like those of Obama four years ago, are stupid and arrogant.”

David Brooks, The New York Times: “[As] a description of America today, Romney’s comment is a country-club fantasy. It’s what self-satisfied millionaires say to each other. It reinforces every negative view people have about Romney.”

Peggy Noonan, The Wall Street Journal: “It’s time to admit the Romney campaign is an incompetent one.”

Kevin Glass, Townhall.com: “Romney’s just wrong on the facts here.”

Jonah Goldberg, “The Corner” blog, National Review: “Ultimately Romney’s division of the electorate has an odd Marxist twang to it, as if those dependent on government are simply voting their naked economic self-interest.

“… Which raises the other, bigger, problem with the blanket derogation of people who don’t pay income taxes. Undoubtedly moochers and layabouts are overrepresented in the ranks of the non-filers of income taxes. But so are the working poor (thanks to, among other things, the Earned Income Tax Credit), retirees, college students, et al.”

David Frum, Newsweek/The Daily Beast: “Mitt Romney has just committed the worst presidential-candidate gaffe since Gerald Ford announced in 1976 that ‘there is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe.’

“Irreparable? To Romney’s image, yes; to his election chances … we’ll see.” 

. . . .

W. James Antle III, The Daily Caller News Foundation: “Since when has it been the job of Republicans and conservatives to make sure everyone has IRS obligations?”

Linda McMahon, GOP Senate candidate, Connecticut: “I know that the vast majority of those who rely on government are not in that situation because they want to be. People today are struggling because the government has failed to keep America competitive, failed to support job creators, and failed to get our economy back on track.”

Ross Douthat, The New York Times: “… Romney finds himself conducting a winnable (yes, still) campaign from the weakest possible position.”

Reihan Salam, National Review: “We need conservative politicians who are willing to explain why low-income and middle-income parents should be removed from the tax rolls during the years they are making the biggest investments in their children, and who are willing to make the case for the EITC program as an alternative to worklessness and lifelong dependency.”

Susana Martinez, governor, New Mexico: “We have a lot of people that are at the poverty level in New Mexico, but they count just as much as anybody else.”

Scott Brown, U.S. Senator, Massachusetts: “As someone who grew up in tough circumstances, I know that being on public assistance is not a spot that anyone wants to be in.”

Matt Welch, Reason: “This is economic determinism at its worst, going against the very message the Republican Party was trying to sell to the world during its quadrennial national convention last month.”

Dean Heller, U.S. Senator, Nevada: “You got to understand, I grew up with five brothers and sisters. My father was an automechanic. My mother was a school cook. I just don’t view the world the same way he does.”

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Romney Campaign Reels from Secretly Recorded Video

Romney video and quote

Whatever your political view, the Romney campaign is not in good shape this week. With rumors of a dysfunctional campaign staff and the too-quick remark on foreign policy, the secretly recorded video may prove to be one of those classic campaign moments, the kind that remain in the public’s consciousness for years to come.

A few have rushed to Romney’s defense, including Herman Cain, Erick Erickson of redstate.com, and conservative radio host Laura Ingraham. But you know things are in turmoil when major figures criticize their party’s candidate; Bill Kristol, editor of the conservative Weekly Standard, said that Romney’s remarks were “stupid and arrogant” and David Brooks argued that:

It’s what self-satisfied millionaires say to each other. It reinforces every negative view people have about Romney . . . He’s running a depressingly inept presidential campaign. 

The Victims

What is so strange about the remarks – putting aside for a moment the question of what Romney actually believes – is that it reveals a deeply flawed political assessment of the voting public. A significant portion of the 47 percent who do not pay income taxes are in the military, working lower income people and those on social security – and probably a majority are inclined to vote Republican.  To speak of them as an entitlement group, or as Andrew Sullivan notes in his devastating analysis (recommended reading), to use the word “victim” with this group is astonishing.

Yes, there are people in this group with a victim mentality, just as – we should note – there are apparently a number of millionaires with a victim mentality. It’s hard to describe it as anything else when you think you’re entitled to something and that others are out to get you.

It’s hard to say what the ultimate fallout of the video will be, but you don’t elections by writing off the people already on your side. If you want a detailed analysis of who pays what in taxes, and who the 47% are, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities is a good place to start.

The Video

The video was done in Boca Raton, Florida at the home of Marc Leder, a private equity executive. More details are coming out and it seems the video was leaked by James Carter IV, former President Carter’s grandson. Is it legal? That’s not clear given that it was done in the State of Florida which stipulates that all parties must consent. On the other hand, it was (more or less) a public campaign event so it may very well be considered within the bounds of the law.

One can almost guarantee that more more details will come out on the making of the video and quite possibly some legal moves down the road.

The “YouTube Era”

In 2006, when then-Sen. George Allen singled out a man videotaping his talk and called him "Macaca," the video went viral and Allen's campaign for re-election collapsed.

In 2006, when then-Sen. George Allen singled out a man videotaping his talk and called him “Macaca,” the video went viral and Allen’s campaign for re-election collapsed. http://www.wjla.com

I’m using Romney’s own words here. Seriously. This is not (was not?) a man like Anthony Weiner who had no understanding of technology except how to click the “Send” button. No, Romney himself has been quite aware that something like this can happen in our age of increasingly miniaturized electronics and the fact that every moment has the potential to be a public event. Listen to Romney talk about this possibility five long years ago:

Running for president in the YouTube era, you realize you have to be very judicious in what you say . . . . You have to be careful with your humor. You have to recognize that anytime you’re running for the presidency of the United States, you’re on.  (Daily Beast)

Well, Mitt, you were definitely on, and the “YouTube era” is much more pervasive now than it was in 2007 (when it was only two years old, though already popular).

But at least Marc Leder and his guests kept their clothes on for this event – now THAT is about the only thing that could top the video as it is – but they haven’t always been so modest.

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Voyeuristic Ad: Sarah Colonna Beauty Bust

It’s probably just sheer luck that this voyeuristic ad appears now, but fitting in a week of news over hidden cameras and people caught unawares. It’s an effective ploy and while not the best dialogue, there’s a few choice lines.

The ad is from Benefit Cosmetics and uses a fake police officer (a “resident beauty officer”) to write “tickets” to pedestrians on the street for “beauty infractions and makeup crimes.”

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Nude Photos of William and Kate – The End of Privacy

Britain's Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, wave to staff as they leave Hospis Malaysia, the largest hospice in the country, in Kuala Lumpur September 13, 2012. Credit: Reuters/Samsul Said

Britain’s Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, wave to staff as they leave Hospis Malaysia, the largest hospice in the country, in Kuala Lumpur September 13, 2012.
Credit: Reuters/Samsul Said

As if there were not enough problems with the nude photos of William and Kate in the French magazine Closer, the Italian magazine Chi published 18 images over 19 pages on Monday of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. While it’s an issue for the Royal Family, there are more basic privacy issues that affect us all.

The Scandalous / Not Scandalous Photos

The defiant editor of Chi, Alfonso Signorini, has already tweeted that “not even a direct call from the Queen” will stop publication. Chi‘s Monday’s cover with three images of a topless princess was already available by Saturday in the Italian press and on TV.

And the headline from Monday’s edition? “Court Scandal: The Queen is Nude!’ This, of course, from an editor who also claimed that:

These pictures are not offensive or in poor taste, they are not morbid and they do not damage the dignity of anyone. (USA Trends)

Clearly some words – perhaps all – have no meaning. Or to put it differently, meaning here is as pixelated as the photos which really don’t reveal all that much.

Good Taste or Not, Royal Nudity is Viral

Obviously, there’s a difference in the latest scandal from the recent situation with Prince Harry in Las Vegas. Those images were not in good taste, there were major security concerns, and one had to wonder about Harry’s own lack of good judgment (Yes, one really had to wonder about the latter). The William and Kate images, already published by Closer and the Irish Daily Star, are just ordinary scenes from their vacation at the Chateau d’Autet, east of Avignon. Okay, most of us don’t stay in a Chateau, but we do the sunbathing part, and in Europe, often topless.

The Royal Family took legal action against the French publication and tried unsuccessfully to stop the Chi publication. But Chi is owned by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who, shall we say, is no friend of moderation. And now interest is coming from other magazines, including some in the United States.

Good taste or bad taste, if people want them, the images will go viral and have a life of their own.

Two Points – the Web and Privacy

Two points here that go beyond the issue of royalty revealing a little flesh.

The House of Windsor ‘s efforts to stop the publication of the photos – through public expressions of dismay and legal action – is essentially futile given that the images are coming online. Even if not directly posted on the tabloid websites, someone will scan them. And once online in the  highly distributed network of the Web, you might slow their distribution but it’s near impossible to stop. Once the images are out of the hands of the photographer, your leverage – both moral and legal – is gone.

Secondly, the episode with Harry in Las Vegas and now William and Kate in France is just further confirmation that we are entering a radically different era, one that will challenge our understanding of personal space and public personas. The blurry telephoto images of a Prince and Princess – however offensive to some sensibilities, however pointless to others – are just one more crack in the crumbling dam behind which is a deluge that marks the end of privacy as we know it.

Think this is a major issue?  Wait until Google Glass comes out. Are you photographing me? Am I videoing you? Is a corporation analyzing my every move? Our interaction with each other? For an overview of some of the challenges here, see the recent article in The Next Web, “Google’s Project Glass is Cool, But It Raises a Number of Privacy Concerns.”

And the recent news on webcam dating blackmail just adds to the opportunities where you may find yourself in a compromising position.

Celebrities tend to get impacted sooner as they are public figures but we all are stepping into this realm together, one that is remarkable for the reach and access that each of us have not withstanding our physical location, but one that simultaneously undermines the notion of physical space and the individual privacy embedded within it. Back in 2010, Mark Zuckerberg basically announced that privacy as a “social norm” is dead. It was a clarion call to a future that we may not like but seemingly cannot avoid.

The Duke and Duchess are fighting a minor skirmish that – as important as it is to them and others – I suspect will seem laughable a decade from now. So in the words of Prince Harry, it’s time to “keep calm and carry on” over this little kerfuffle, for it’s only the beginning.

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Webcam Dating Blackmail

Webcam Blackmail in FranceWith everything new that technology offers, someone figures out a way to scam people out of money – the latest being webcam dating blackmail. This involves using a webcam to record a video of someone disrobing and threatening to post it online. Definitely an upgrade over the old Nigerian 419 scam (which most of us still probably receive but automatically route to the delete folder).

Usually, it’s a young woman coming on to a man and recording him as he takes off his clothes. With the increasing prevalence of webcams, expect this one – apologies for the pun – to take off.

Here’s one person’s account in BBC News of how easily he was taken in:

She sent me a message and I was happy because normally the girls don’t take the first step,” he says.

“She said she was French, living in Lyon, but was on holiday in Ivory Coast. We then chatted for a bit on MSN and I could see a video of her. She was a very beautiful French-looking girl, very pretty.”

“She was dressed to begin with and asked whether I would be interested in going further. I asked what that meant and she said she wanted to see my body… everything.

“She put on another video and started to undress. I was completely taken in. I had no idea this was a video. I thought it was real.

But her real intentions soon became clear.

“After five minutes she sent me a message saying: ‘Have a look at this video I’ve taken of you. I am going to put it on YouTube unless you send me some money.’

“I looked at the video – you could see my face… you could see everything.

Throw in an allegation of pedophilia and suddenly, one is in a very difficult position. According to French police, there appears to be several of these attempts everyday and since it’s a very public form of blackmail, many of the instances are probably going unreported. The money requested seems to be low, anywhere from $1400 to $4000 which is paid into a Western Union account. But like scammers everywhere, they apparently come back with subsequent demands, and since your webcam moment turned out to be a video . . . well, you get the idea.

Probably the only protection one might have is the difficulty of connecting the webcam moment to one’s actual identity online; but the very fact that it’s out there would be enough to get some (many?) to acquiesce to the demand for payment.

How this impacts online dating and the evolution of personal relationships online is anyone’s guess. Once again the Web undermines the boundaries between reality and illusion or, perhaps better said, the boundaries the authentic and the inauthentic.

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Muhammad Video – Public Drama and Hidden Drama

Nakoula Basseley Nakoula is escorted in a Los Angeles County Sheriff's vehicle from his home by officers in Cerritos, California

Nakoula Basseley Nakoula is escorted in a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s vehicle from his home by officers in Cerritos, California. September 15, 2012. REUTERS/Bret Hartman

As protests and demonstrations continue throughout the Arab world in reaction to the Muhammad video (I still will not dignify it with the term “film” or “movie” as some do), a number of developments and articles are worth noting. But most striking – outside of the scenes of the violence in the streets – are two unfolding dramas: the questioning of Nakoula Basseley Nakoula who may be the individual behind the video and the hidden drama of the Egyptian government as it negiotiates the complexities of creating a democracy.

The Mystery Man – Nakoula Basseley Nakoula

From Reuters: Nakoula Basseley Nakoula voluntarily went with officers to a meeting in a sheriff’s station in Cerritos, Los Angeles County. This was not an arrest but an “interview” – and he continues to deny involvement in the video. Officials are looking into possible parole violations – Nakoula was sentenced to 21 months in prison (with five years of probation) for bank fraud. His release was contingent on not using aliases or accessing the Internet, both of which appear to have been done if he is the producer of the Muhammad video.

Nakoula will never end up back in jail for the video with the free speech rights in the United States, but he could for parole violations. Regardless, his name will go down as a waypoint in the history of the Internet for the havoc, destruction and death that could be brought about by a single video clip.

The Egyptian Government’s Drama Behind the Scenes

Egyptian Protestor Runs from Burning Car

Everyone is understandably focusing on the street protests in Egypt and rest of the Arab world, but there is another drama – a fundamental struggle going on behind the scenes as the Egyptian government comes to terms with a functioning democracy.

For decades,  the country lived under the iron fist of a dictatorship with protests and arrests at periodic intervals. But Mubarak could pretty much do what he wanted, with the ongoing calculation that he could only push his people to a certain point. He was a master of knowing where that (somewhat fluid boundary was).

Now that Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi leads the country, it’s not so simple. For days, he has scored points with supporters and opposition parties (particularly with the radical Islamist party Salafi Al-Nour) by keeping security low and letting the protesters have the upper hand. But the very technology that keeps the video in front of peoples eyes – and helped support the overthrow of Mubarak – backfired on the Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi who were saying one thing to the West and issuing statements with a radically different tone for domestic consumption.

Sometimes it seems like everything in the digital revolution is a boomerang - no matter how far it gets thrown, you’ll soon be ducking as it comes back at you. From the Wall Street Journal:

Until today, Mr. Morsi’s presidency had appeared less than contrite about the security lapse that allowed protesters to invade the fortress-like U.S. mission. On Thursday, the Brotherhood went so far as to call for nationwide “vigils” in front of “major mosques” throughout the country on Friday—a day in which protests in Egypt have become a ritual.

Though the call for demonstrations smacked of intentional escalation, Brotherhood leaders portrayed the call as a kind of contained catharsis that would move the focus of popular rage away from the volatile flashpoint that is the U.S. embassy.

Essam El Erian, the head of the FJP, said the Brotherhood firmly rejected any attacks on foreign missions and insisted that the continuing violence in downtown Cairo includes “mainly young men” and no politicians.

The Brotherhood’s mixed message was encapsulated by a Twitter exchange between the group and the U.S. Embassy. Just as the Brotherhood’s English-language Twitter account made earnest inquiries about the safety of U.S. diplomats in Cairo, its Arabic-language Twitter account praised Egyptian protesters for “rising to the defense of the Prophet.”

The @USEmbassyCairo Twitter handle replied: “By the way, have you checked out your own Arabic feeds? I hope you know we read those too.”

“I hope you know we read those too” – diplomacy these days gets carried out on Twitter.

Leading a democratically elected government is no simple task in a deeply interconnected world. Especially when what you say domestically (to an electorate with a widespread anti-American bias) is the opposite of what you say to people abroad. We can trip up on this ourselves – just witness how some campaign statements play differently here and overseas – but it’s even more difficult when a democracy is just getting underway. Just as the video has a viral quality about it in the Arab world, so do domestic statements for support of the protesters in the rest of the world. It’s a classic lose-lose situation, and yet, for Morsi to be a legitimate leader in the global community and the government an effective democracy at home, he will have to turn it into a win-win.

I don’t envy the challenge.

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The Inflammatory Muhammad Video – A Story that Gets Even Stranger

Who is sam bacile?

The story behind the inflammatory Muhammad video, Muslim Innocence, gets stranger and stranger after the awful events in Libya and the demonstrations in Cairo which are now spreading to Yemen, Sudan and Tunisia. People are trying to uncover the identity of  the mysterious pseudonymous writer-director, Sam Bacile, who may or may not be an Israeli real estate mogul (whoever he is, he is now in hiding). An analysis of the video reveals that the controversial parts were dubbed in during post-production and now the actors are speaking out against the project.

Muhammad Video – A Question of Access

First, let’s note that what has plunged areas of the Middle East into turmoil is not the entire film (I’m not even sure it warrants that term), but a 14 minute trailer which has been translated into Arabic and is getting significant airplay, especially in Egypt. If you like, you can watch the trailer which has put Google into an incredibly difficult position. After the death of the Ambassador, they blocked access to it in Egypt and Libya, but it is still available elsewhere on YouTube. Blocking videos is not a road one goes down lightly – Google regularly gets take-down requests for videos for political reasons. On the other hand, once American lives have been lost, Google had to make an effort to limit access.

Badly Done – and then Dubbed

As for the movie itself, as Sarah Abdurrahman has noted in On the Media, the production values are film-student quality at best and show no evidence of a supposedly $5 million budget. The Prophet Muhammad is portrayed as essentially a dim-witted character and a pedophile, and it includes scene after scene of amateurish staging, lighting and camerawork with teenage-level insults directed at Muslims.

Now it turns out that key lines of the movies dialogue were dubbed in after the filming. Abdurrahman does a close analysis of the trailer and uncovers the following instances of dubbing:

1:25: The Islamic Egyptian police arrested 1400 christians.

2:30: His name is Mohammad. And we can call him “the father unknown.”

3:03: Mohammad! Mohammad the bastard! Your lady summons you!

5:14: I’ll help you, Khadija. I’ll make a book for him. It will be a mix of some version from the Torah, and some versions from the New Testament, and mix them into false verses.

6:30: Mohammad is Allah [sic] messenger, and the Koran is our constitution!

8:25: [not dubbed] It is not enough to believe in one God. [dubbed] You must say “God and Mohammad, his messenger.” Now, go read the Koran.

9:04: Is your Mohammad a child molester?

10:27: …[not dubbed] And in all my young life [dubbed] I have not seen such a murderous thug as Mohammad.

Angry Actors

With events spiraling out of control, now the actors are speaking up. Cindy Lee Garcia, an actress from Bakersfield, Calif. has said all of them were deceived about the project. Apparently much of the shooting was done in Los Angeles and green screened so that backgrounds could be added later. According to Garcia, there were no references to Muhammad in the script – he was called “Master George” and the working title was “Desert Warriors.”

The 80-member cast and crew have released a statement deploring the violence sparked by the video:

The entire cast and crew are extremely upset and feel taken advantage of by the producer. We are 100% not behind this film and were grossly misled about its intent and purpose. We are shocked by the drastic re-writes of the script and lies that were told to all involved. We are deeply saddened by the tragedies that have occurred. (from CNN)

You can see the original casting call which was posted on craigslist in July 2011 for an “historical desert drama set in Middle East” - there is no mention of Islam at all.

What Happens Next

The scary aspect of the Muhammad video is that the same digital environment that fosters greater connectivity and helped support an Arab Spring can also inflame false accusations and misunderstanding. The ideals of free speech in the United States are neither widely understood or supported in much of the world. Many of the protesters want the U.S. to “take down” the video – not something we can do. We are in the midst of a cultural/political dialogue – one that we have enough trouble dealing with at home – that is now spreading globally. One has to have a certain Jeffersonian faith that the truth and reason will triumph in the end, but this particular moment seems far removed from that ideal. According to Abdurrahman, Ambassador Stevens was ”. . . kind, warm and welcoming. . . genuinely excited to be working in Libya at such a historic moment.” His death is profoundly disturbing. Sadly, it may not be the last consequence of this video.

When we talk about the openness of the Internet, we seldom consider all of the implications of what that concept actually means. We tend to look at the ideal through our own rose-colored glasses, not realizing that openness can serve the purpose of deeply closed minds on all sides.

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Has Apple Become Boring?

Apple CEO Tim Cook will introduce the iPhone 5 on Wednesday. Photo: Lea Suzuki, The Chronicle / SF

Apple CEO Tim Cook will introduce the iPhone 5 on Wednesday. Photo: Lea Suzuki, The Chronicle / SF

As we wait for the Apple product launch on Wednesday, it’s worth reading a contrarian view by Dan Lyons, creator of the “Fake Steve” blog that ran until January 2011. Dan has always had a sharp eye for Apple’s moves and the expectations for the new iPhone and possibly a new iPad (perhaps even a mini) are high.

The stakes are high for Apple since the iPhone generates 70% of its profits. According to SF Gate:

Phone sales last quarter alone reached $16.2 billion, 33 percent higher than Google’s total sales and almost as much as Microsoft’s $18.1 billion.

And even more striking given the current state of the economy:

 Apple’s new iPhone could contribute as much as half a percentage point to U.S. economic growth in the fourth quarter, according to analysts at JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Lyons has a long list of what’s wrong out in Cupertino. FIrst, Android-based phone sales are up significantly and Apple market share for the iPhone (the design has changed little over the years) is down. Instead of innovation, Apple now seems to be copying it’s competition – a larger iPhone here due to Samsung’s Galaxy, a smaller iPad there due to Amazon’s Kindle and Google’s move into the tablet market.

Here’s a few observations from Lyons article on BBCNews:

This week it’s the the iPhone 5. Everyone pretty much accepts that Apple will introduce it, and there have been so many leaks that everybody pretty much seems to know what it’s going to be. Word is it will look a lot like the last two versions of the iPhone, except a bit thinner and a bit taller, with upgraded guts and a refreshed operating system.

If that’s correct, I imagine Steve is not happy. First of all, he’d be furious about the leaks. Steve liked surprising people.

More important, is this really the best we can expect from an outfit that claims to be the most innovative company in the world? This is the sixth version of the iPhone, and the user interface still looks almost exactly like the original iPhone in 2007 . . . 

What else is there to complain about?

Um, Siri still doesn’t work. The oft-rumoured Apple TV doesn’t exist yet, presumably because media companies won’t let Apple take over their business.

The latest batch of Apple ads were such embarrassing garbage that Apple to take them down from YouTube. Apple’s new guy in charge of retail launched a plan to lay off workers and boost profits, then had to walk it back when people pointed out that this was stupid . . . . 

Apple got where it was by taking bold risks. Now it has become a company that copies others and plays it safe.

A company that once was run by a product visionary now is run by a number-cruncher – chief executive Tim Cook, whose claim to fame involves running an efficient supply chain and beating ever lower prices out of Asian subcontractors and component suppliers . . . .

Apple has more than $100bn in cash. Its market value of $632bn makes it the biggest company in the world, bigger than any company in US history.

That’s great for Apple’s shareholders. But for customers, who cares? In terms of products, Apple has become the one thing it should never be. Apple has become boring.

Somewhere up there, I can hear Steve screaming.

For Lyons, Apple needs to confront two major problems: the lack of investment in research and development (Apple spends about 2% of revenues on R & D, Google and Microsoft are closer to 14%) and a lack of vision. While it’s true that Steve Jobs singular vision drove the company, it was not a one-man show. Or so we thought.

We will see on Wednesday to what extent Apple was more than Steve.

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A Death this Morning – NYC Subway

NYC Subway accidentThis morning, at the NYC subway 14th Street station, a woman died.

I missed seeing it directly as I was a few seconds too early and further along the platform. But close enough, and too close for the aftermath – a disfigured, crumpled body underneath one of the subway cars toward the rear of the train.

I stayed for some minutes, pointed out the body to the crew and cops who just arrived. I realized – curiously they did not – that it would be easier to find by crossing over to the downtown platform where it was easily visible. The crowds came. I called work to say I needed some time, went for a walk through Chelsea and finally up to Grand Central for my usual commute.

Within minutes of the accident, the smartphones came out but now that I think about it, I was there first and didn’t take a photo even though I had the clearest view. Eventually I took a couple but I couldn’t focus myself. I turned and walked away. Cameras are easy, feelings a world unto themselves.

I understand the need to record death in Syria and other countries where publicizing it may build support to bring down a tyrannical regime. In parts of the world, ghastly atrocities go undocumented. In some cases, I almost wish for images of death, images that would show the world what some people live through every day of their lives. But I do not understand it here, on a subway platform, when it serves no purpose.

I’ve seen death before, but never so vividly, this close to home. On a route that I’ll use tomorrow and in the days to come. As I walked through the city, the flood of questions, thoughts and emotions was difficult to handle. Did she intentionally kill herself? Was she pushed? Did she stumble? The latest report is that she was despondent. I’m sure we’ll have answer,  though in the end, it only touches the surface.

Standing there a few hours ago, it was hard to think that someone woke up this morning, did whatever they do to be part of the world that day, and ended the morning as a bloody heap of flesh and bone underneath a subway car.

It also makes you think about the ebb and flow of life in a densely populated urban environment. How close one can be to death and completely miss it. By seconds, literally. And the crowd that quickly formed . . . . some visibly shaken and others pushing just to get a look. The frustration of people outside the station, and up and down the Seventh Ave. line. No trains, disrupted schedules and plans that are all important.  Until it is someone they know.

And then you wonder about the other lives affected. How her friends and family are dealing with the loss.

It makes you cherish the moments we take for granted, moments of just being alive. As I walked through the city, I was struck by the warmth of the sun, the cool breeze of an almost fall morning, even the firmness of the concrete under my feet. This began as a difficult day, listening to the names being read on the radio for the 9/11 memorial service as I got ready for work. It got worse once I left the house.

I know it will be better.

Volcanoes Poking Through (Borobudur temple with Merapi volcano in the background, Java, Indonesia. Photo by Trey Ratcliff

Volcanoes Poking Through (Borobudur temple with Merapi volcano in the background, Java, Indonesia. Photo by Trey Ratcliff

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News International Phone Hacking Scandal Continues

Murdochs testify

A while back, the Murdoch’s News International phone hacking scandal was almost daily news. While it’s front page status has given way to the Olympics, a self-destructing euro zone and other matters, it still continues, especially with the recent news that some 230 additional claims will be filed. All one can conclude from this is the staggering depths to which the News of the World (NOTW) went to hack into peoples phones. No wonder James and Rupert Murdoch shut the paper down – there was much more going on than they wanted the public to know.

Here’s the latest from the Guardian:

News International is expected to face at least 230 new compensation claims from alleged victims of News of the World phone-hacking, including former England footballer Sol Campbell.

Other new claimants include former Atomic Kitten singer Kerry Katona, her ex husband Brian McFadden, formerly of boyband Westlife, and The Apprentice contestant Ruth Badger.

The names were revealed at a high court case-management conference overseen by Mr Justice Vos on Friday, during which it emerged that 68 new civil claims for phone-hacking damages have now been lodged.

Hugh Tomlinson, QC, representing phone-hacking victims, also told the high court that 395 people had now applied for disclosure of phone-hacking evidence from the Metropolitan police and up to 40 more claims were expected to be lodged by the deadline set by Vos of next Friday, 14 September.

Undoubtedly, the upcoming deadline is leading to a rush of last minute claims. And you wonder just how much of what was done will never see the light of day, through silence either bought through loyalty or intimidation.

But more importantly, I suspect the historical perspective on this entire episode will be brutal. As the traditional news media staggers through the onslaught of the digital revolution, News International will become a benchmark, much like the recent discovery of a fossil of a complete track of a horseshoe crab in its death march, which fell into the bottom of a lagoon where the anoxic conditions soon sucked out its life. Immortalized in a remarkable fossil, we now have a complete record of an ancient life form as it struggled for survival. Likewise, News International’s death is laid out for all to see, forever to stand as evidence of a dying industry that understood innovation only as the violation of peoples’ privacy, that saw itself above both the law and the environmental conditions in which it existed.

. As Dr. Nic Minter from the University of Saskatchewan, Canada, noted with the discovery of the fossil:

Discoveries such as this provide unique insights into the behaviour of extinct species – in this example during the last throes of its life and the environmental conditions that led to its demise. 

Soon enough, we’ll be able to say the same of the entire news industry. News International took one – patently illegal – approach to survival. Others tried (or are trying) different tactics. But in the end, Murdoch’s paper only illustrates how the depth of the current media crisis has fostered in some an astonishing loss of integrity.

horseshoe crab death march

Horseshoe Crab Death March

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Viktor Hertz – Honest Corporate Logos

Viktor Hertz Apple Logo Redesigned

Viktor Hertz is doing some fascinating work with corporate logos – redesigning them as an honest expression of what the companies are (at least partially) about. Inventive and fun to encounter, they stick with you, perhaps because they reveal something you already know, but just don’t associate with the actual logo. It’s as if the logo is turned against itself, becoming starkly honest instead of offering the illusion that underpins our relationship with the company.

Hertz is a graphic designer and artist from Uppsala, Sweden. Besides the current Honest Logo series, he has also done a set of alternative movie posters, rock posters and the like. More on his site at http://www.viktorhertz.com/50714/home

Viktor Hertz - Dunkin Donuts Logo Redesign

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Convention Speeches, Elections and Social Media

Twitter Political Index

The complex relationship between elections and social media continues its rapid evolvution during 2012 election. Where we once measured media interest in TV viewers, we increasingly look to data in social media to assess interest in a supporter or candidate’s performance. Of course not everyone uses Twitter and other social platforms, but the immediacy of the feedback makes them all but impossible to ignore.

Witness the current assessment of the speeches at the Republican and Democratic conventions.  If  Ann Romney speech generated a little over 6,000 tweets a minute, Mrs. Obama shot up to 28,000 tweets per minute during her speech yesterday evening in Charlotte. The well-received speech trounced Mitt Romney’s own performance at the Republican convention in Tampa, Florida, which tallied some 14,000 tweets per minute last week.

Tweets per minute do not equal votes, but they do gauge the interest of a generally younger, high technology user demographic. And Twitter trending lines now tend to closely follow Gallup poll popularity ratings. No doubt, we’ll have a better understanding of this by the 2016 election, but it’s worth watching even now.

Bloomberg News notes how dramatically it has changed in just the past four years:

Four years ago, the term “social media” wasn’t widely used. On Election Day in 2008, there were 1.8 million tweets; now that many tweets are sent every six minutes, said Rachael Horwitz, a Twitter spokeswoman. In 2008, Facebook was popular mostly among college students. This year, there are more than 110,000 political Facebook pages in the U.S. and 11,000 pages for politicians, said Andrew Noyes, manager of public policy and communication for Facebook.

From a full election day to an equivalent number of tweets in six minutes today – with that rate of growth, picture the political environment in four years.

So, if you’re interested in elections and social media – or perhaps just one or the other – it’s worth following the new Twitter Political Index, or Twindex, put together by Twitter, the Topsy data analysis firm, and two polling outfits. Here’s the details offered by Adam Sharp, head of government, news and social innovation at Twitter:

We believe the Twitter political index reinforces the transitional models of research,” explained Mr. Sharp. “By providing more signals, more dials — that can agree or disagree — these new technologies give a more complete picture of crafting a political forecast.”

On a company blog post, Twitter said the Twindex was built in partnership with a data analysis team from Topsy, an online search and analytics company, and two polling firms, the Mellman Group and North Star Opinion Research.

Topsy sifts through Twitter messages and uses advanced semantic analysis software to determine if someone is in support of a candidate, or a detractor.

Mr. Sharp said the index had a database of thousand of words to understand if these Twitter messages were for or against a candidate. As these messages are being shared by millions of people on Twitter, the software also takes into account colloquialisms.

Mr. Sharp noted that “bad,” for instance, could mean bad, or it be slang for good. He said that Topsy could differentiate between these words in a sentence and if they are positive or negative. 

As I write this, President Clinton just peaked at 22, 087 tweets per minute. Not quite what the First Lady did but far above everyone else. As there’s no embed option, you’ll need to visit Twindex to see the data in action, but here’s a snapshot of the historical data:

Twindex Historical Data

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Newtown Creek: A Close-up View of Pollution


Here’s a novel way to get up close to Newtown Creek, the notoriously polluted body of water in NYC (Queens) that is now a superfund site. While there are finally plans for a clean-up, authorities still have to work out who is paying the cost, so don’t expect any major changes soon. But with a nature walk on the banks and a new art project, you can see all you’ll ever want to see of the water itself with the Newtown Creek Armada. Brooklyn artists Laura Chipley, Nathan Kensinger, and Sarah Nelson Wright have put together a novel flotilla of small boats and cameras with some simple technology, giving you the chance to see the creek through a new perspective. The small-boat Armada sets sail Saturday, September 8th and then continues on September 9th, 15th, 22nd, 29th and 30th.

It’s a cool idea, and worth seeing. Superfund have a way of being abstract until you get up close and personal to them. Just don’t watch the video while eating lunch.

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Filed under Art, Nature, Technology