He bought his guns on the Internet

Gun Room at Philadelphia's City Hall

In casual conversations, we often hear someone say “I read blah blah on the Internet,” and if you ask for a specific source, you’ll often get “I don’t remember where.” So it could have been the New York Times, or it could have been an inexpert blog post: a comment qualified in that way has no authority or meaning. Same with “bought it on the Internet.”

I was struck by a comment MSNBC’s Chuck Todd made while talking about access to weapons in the U.S. He mentioned that James Eagan Holmes, the Aurora shooter, bought considerable guns and ammunition “on the Internet.”

My first thought was that Todd is a careless journalist (something I never thought before), in part because he used a phrase so vague. Also because he followed with a comment suggesting that Holmes dyed his hair bright orange “like Heath Ledger’s Joker in Batman.” The Joker existed as a character before Heath Ledger played the part, and clearly does not have the bright orange hair we see in the photos of Holmes. Chuck, you’re thinking of Bozo the Clown. The Joker’s hair is green.

But I digress. The relevant question here is the significance of saying that Holmes bought his arsenal online? That anyone can buy guns? Could we argue that, had Holmes bought his guns from a physical gun store, the clerk would have noted his demented stare and refused to make the sale? I doubt it.

It doesn’t matter where he bought the components of his arsenal. He could have bought them anywhere guns (and bullet-proof vests) are sold. Or so I read on the Internet.

Data-driven journalism: approaches to interactive storytelling (at #ISOJ)

The session that impressed me most at last week’s International Symposium on Online Journalism was this one, led by Aron Pilhofer of the New York Times. Major innovations are possible in data journalism;the key is getting or creating the requisite databases. The journalism is in extracting meaning.

http://storify.com/jonl/data-driven-journalism-approaches-to-interactive-s

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Technology: tipping the balance

Roger Cohen in the New York Times:

Something immense is happening as the world transitions to a hyperconnected state where, for many, the distinction between the real and virtual worlds has ceased to exist. All the trailing paraphernalia of states and borders and government-to-government palavers, not to mention privacy laws, look so 20th century.

The more I speak and write about “the future of the Internet,” the more I realize that I’m talking about the future of the human world. Cohen goes on to say “that technology and international relations are becoming interchangeable topics. There are many more networks in our future than treaties.”

Clueful, yes. Also interesting is the article’s mention of Google Ideas and Jared Cohen’s thinking

that technology is agnostic: It can be used in the cause of freedom — and has been to great effect from Tunis to Cairo — just as it can be used in the cause of repression. So how do you “tip the balance in favor of the net positive?”

There’s seven billion people in the world, population’s growing every day. We’ve been organized as nations, and more recently corporations have been taking power and authority for action (though they still work through legacy forms, i.e. legislatures that are influenced by various means, including contributions of money and personal persuasion). We see a tendency for people to want to have something we call “freedom,” though the meaning of that label, and its limits, are not always clear. Traditionally effective action has been associated with authority and leadership, and the nature and meaning of leadership in a democratized world is unclear. (Also the pervasive influence of corruption, and how it will play out if systems of authority are diminished, as we have more “freedom.”)

We live in exciting and “interesting” times, but we should be skeptical – and I appreciate Jared Cohen’s point about the uncertain potential in social technology. We should be exploring how to tip the balance.

Are there “master keys” to the Internet?

Interesting article in the New York Times“How China meddled with the Internet,” based on a report to Congress by the United States-China Economic and Security Review Commission. The Times article talks about an incident where IDC China Telecommunication broadcast inaccurate Web traffic routes for about 18 minutes back in April. According to the Times, Chinese engineering managers said the incident was accidental, but didn’t really explain what happened, and “the commission said it had no evidence that the misdirection was intentional.” So there was a technical screwup, happens all the time, no big deal? Or should we be paranoid?

No doubt there’s a lot to worry about in the world of cyber-security, but what makes the Times article interesting is this contention (not really attributed to any expert):

While sensitive data such as e-mails and commercial transactions are generally encrypted before being transmitted, the Chinese government holds a copy of an encryption master key, and there was speculation that China might have used it to break the encryption on some of the misdirected Internet traffic.

That does sound scary right? China has an “encryption master key” for Internet traffic?

Except it doesn’t seem to be true. Experts tell me that there are no “master keys” associated with Internet traffic. In fact, conscientious engineers have avoided creating that sort of thing. They use public key encryption.

So why would the times suggest that there’s a “master key”?

Tim Wu and the future of the Internet

Tim Wu explains the rise and fall of information monopolies in a conversation with New York Times blogger Nick Bilton. Author of The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires (Borzoi Books), Wu is known for the concept of “net neutrality.” He’s been thinking about this stuff for several years, and has as much clarity as anyone (which is still not much) about the future of the Internet.

I think the natural tendency would be for the system to move toward a monopoly control, but everything that’s natural isn’t necessarily inevitable. For years everyone thought that every republic would eventually turn into a dictatorship. So I think if people want to, we can maintain a greater openness, but it’s unclear if Americans really want that…. The question is whether there is something about the Internet that is fundamentally different, or about these times that is intrinsically more dynamic, that we don’t repeat the past. I know the Internet was designed to resist integration, designed to resist centralized control, and that design defeated firms like AOL and Time Warner. But firms today, like Apple, make it unclear if the Internet is something lasting or just another cycle.

Arianna Huffington – interviewed by Evan Smith

Wrote this in May and saved it as a draft. Timing’s good for publication: I’ve been thinking a lot about the Huffington Post as a model for network journalism that combines the work of professionals with contributions from a broader set of bloggers. In this interview, Huffington showed that she was savvy about the contemporary Internet and the future of journalism.

May 4, 2010 – As part of the Texas Monthly Talks series, Evan Smith interviewed Arianna Huffington, in town to speak at a benefit for the Texas Freedom Network. Huffington’s flight arrived late, so the talk was abbreviated. Much of the discussion was about the current state of journalism and Huffington Post’s (HuffPo’s) success as new media hybrid journalism – a combination of user-generated and professional content.

Huffington led with the observation that people want contgent, but they also want engagement – they want “to be part of the story of our time.” That’s the essence of participatory journalism. She said that self-experssion has become the new entertainment. Evan: “It all counts.”

Huffington Post has been successful, has a readership apporaching that of the New York Times, and leaving other major online publishing venues in the dust. She says part of the secret of HuffPo’s success is that “we’re not just talking to people who agree with us.”

HuffPo has a thriving community and “human moderators” that maintain the civility of the conversations – “we don’t want it to be the Glenn Beck Show.” When Rick Perry shot the coyote and it was reported at HuffPo, there was an immediate surge of interst – 1,000 comments within a day. In addition to moderators, the Post’s readers police the site – they wouldn’t be able to manage the conversations without help from the community.

Evan: “What happened to journalism?” Why is for-profit legacy journalism failing? Have they lost sight of their mission, or is it that new media approaches are more compelling. “Are they down, or are you up?”

Huffington responds that they just didn’t get it. When HuffPo launched, legacy media were still skeptical of new approaches (participatory media/social media), but now they’re moving online, moving toward a hybrid model. Pay walls haven’t worked – worked for Wall Street Journal initially, but their subscriptions are down. In this context, she mentioned that traditional tenets of journalism should prevail – meaning that fundamental journalistic ethics and standards will necessarily be maintained in new media. [I’ve been thinking about this, and want to be involved in training news bloggers and citizen journalists. Matt Glazer of Burnt Orange Report and I have been instigating a conference for this purpose.]

Digital natives consume all their news online. We can’t go back to old ways of doing journalism – can’t put the genie back in the bottle. The Internet has a culture of free content that can be monetized [she didn’t specify how, but I suspect she was thinking of advertising and some other mix of revenues associated with brand].

You have to be prepared to take your content to the readers, rather than expecting them to come to you. [This is a 101 new media concept, but always worth repeating.] Evan notes that this implies a “disintermediation of content from the source.” Arianna: “ubiquity is the new exclusivity.”

HuffPo includes content contributed by unpaid bloggers, paying only editors and reporters. Is Huffington building an empire on the backs of unpaid contributors? Not at all – bloggers are leveraging HuffPo’s visibility, finding and building audiences, getting book deals, etc.

HuffPo aggregates content from other sites, too – is this leveraging others’ content? Huffington notes that they strictly follow fair use guidelines and have never been sued for infringement. Aggregation and curation of content are essential parts of an Internet information service. Curation means identify what’s important and elevate it, give it visibility. Put flesh and blood on data.

Evan: “Obama – how is it going?” Huffington says she is very glad he was elected, that he inherited a huge crisis. One problem: he’s surrounded himself with Clintonites like Larry Summers, and did everything humanly possible to save Wall Street, but nothing to save Main Street. Huffington is writing a book on the decline of the middle class, and is very concerned that there is no effort to reverse the decline, which has been going on for thirty years. So Obama’s administration should be doing dramatic things to save the middle class – though he may have done a lot already, he’s not necessarily taking the right approach, making bold moves that he should be making to support those in the middle. Some say he saved the economy, but he didn’t – he just saved Wall Street. We still have 25 million people out of work, and escalating foreclosures.

It also bothers her that no strings were attached to the salvation of Wall Street.

Otherwise, Obama is an extaordinary communicator and has improved U.S. standing in the world community – those are real pluses. “I will definitely vote for him again. What’s the alternative?” The “loyal opposition” is not talking today’s issues seriously. They treat governing like it was a debating club.

The administration’s attempts to be bipartisan are wasted effort, she says. She compares it to guys hitting non Ellen Degeneres “and not being told you’re not going to get anywhere.”

Arianna Huffington – interviewed by Evan Smith

May 4, 2010 – As part of the Texas Monthly Talks series, Evan Smith interviewed Arianna Huffington, in town to speak at a benefit for the Texas Freedom Network. Huffington’s flight arrived late, so the talk was abbreviated. Much of the discussion was about the current state of journalism and Huffington Post’s (HuffPo’s) success as new media hybrid journalism – a combination of user-generated and professional content.

Huffington led with the observation that people want contgent, but they also want engagement – they want “to be part of the story of our time.” That’s the essence of participatory journalism. She said that self-experssion has become the new entertainment. Evan: “It all counts.”

Huffington Post has been successful, has a readership apporaching that of the New York Times, and leaving other major online publishing venues in the dust. She says part of the secret of HuffPo’s success is that “we’re not just talking to people who agree with us.”

HuffPo has a thriving community and “human moderators” that maintain the civility of the conversations – “we don’t want it to be the Glenn Beck Show.” When Rick Perry shot the coyote and it was reported at HuffPo, there was an immediate surge of interst – 1,000 comments within a day. In addition to moderators, the Post’s readers police the site – they wouldn’t be able to manage the conversations without help from the community.

Evan: “What happened to journalism?” Why is for-profit legacy journalism failing? Have they lost sight of their mission, or is it that new media approaches are more compelling. “Are they down, or are you up?”

Huffington responds that they just didn’t get it. When HuffPo launched, legacy media were still skeptical of new approaches (participatory media/social media), but now they’re moving online, moving toward a hybrid model. Pay walls haven’t worked – worked for Wall Street Journal initially, but their subscriptions are down. In this context, she mentioned that traditional tenets of journalism should prevail – meaning that fundamental journalistic ethics and standards will necessarily be maintained in new media. [I’ve been thinking about this, and want to be involved in training news bloggers and citizen journalists. Matt Glazer of Burnt Orange Report and I have been instigating a conference for this purpose.]

Digital natives consume all their news online. We can’t go back to old ways of doing journalism – can’t put the genie back in the bottle. The Internet has a culture of free content that can be monetized [she didn’t specify how, but I suspect she was thinking of advertising and some other mix of revenues associated with brand].

You have to be prepared to take your content to the readers, rather than expecting them to come to you. [This is a 101 new media concept, but always worth repeating.] Evan notes that this implies a “disintermediation of content from the source.” Arianna: “ubiquity is the new exclusivity.”

HuffPo includes content contributed by unpaid bloggers, paying only editors and reporters. Is Huffington building an empire on the backs of unpaid contributors? Not at all – bloggers are leveraging HuffPo’s visibility, finding and building audiences, getting book deals, etc.

HuffPo aggregates content from other sites, too – is this leveraging others’ content? Huffington notes that they strictly follow fair use guidelines and have never been sued for infringement. Aggregation and curation of content are essential parts of an Internet information service. Curation means identify what’s important and elevate it, give it visibility. Put flesh and blood on data.

Evan: “Obama – how is it going?” Huffington says she is very glad he was elected, that he inherited a huge crisis. One problem: he’s surrounded himself with Clintonites like Larry Summers, and did everything humanly possible to save Wall Street, but nothing to save Main Street. Huffington is writing a book on the decline of the middle class, and is very concerned that there is no effort to reverse the decline, which has been going on for thirty years. So Obama’s administration should be doing dramatic things to save the middle class – though he may have done a lot already, he’s not necessarily taking the right approach, making bold moves that he should be making to support those in the middle. Some say he saved the economy, but he didn’t – he just saved Wall Street. We still have 25 million people out of work, and escalating foreclosures.

It also bothers her that no strings were attached to the salvation of Wall Street.

Otherwise, Obama is an extaordinary communicator and has improved U.S. standing in the world community – those are real pluses. “I will definitely vote for him again. What’s the alternative?” The “loyal opposition” is not talking today’s issues seriously. They treat governing like it was a debating club.

The administration’s attempts to be bipartisan are wasted effort, she says. She compares it to guys hitting non Ellen Degeneres “and not being told you’re not going to get anywhere.”

Jon L.’s iPhone in the NY Times

I’ve been interviewed by the New York Times before, but usually for the technology section. Who’da thunk I would turn up in “Fashion and Style”? Katie Hafner included me in a piece called “When Phones are Just Too Smart.” She originally asked how I find iPhone apps, and I realized I have no one method – some I find online, some I find by searching the store for a particular kind of thing, or I might search for the app that goes with a specific service (like Yelp). Others I see friends using – like “Bowl” (Tibetan singing meditation bowls) and “Bloom” (Brian Eno’s virtual musical instrument app), both of which I found via David Armistead.

I counted around 80 apps on my phone, and I use about 20 of those regularly. As Katie mentions, I found several Buddhist apps, including the very useful “Meditator,” a mediation timer. (Looking for the link, I discovered that Simple Touch Software also has an app called “Meditate.” Checking that one out, too.)

I’m really digging music apps, like Soma.FM’s, and DJ Spooky’s interactive app for his new release, “The Secret Song.”

Water and waste

If you’re tired of worrying about climate change or the economy, you can start worrying about water pollution: an article in the New York Times says raw sewage is leaking into waterways. I know that I take water for granted, and I suspect you do, too. There’s always been plenty, and it’s been so cheap we think of it as free. For most of my life, we drank water from the tap without giving it a thought. Lately we’re more comfortable buying the tap water in plastic bottles, thinking somehow that packaged water we pay more for must be safer/healthier.

I don’t really know where my water comes from, and how vulnerable that mystery supply is to toxic pollution. An eye-opener from the Times:
As cities have grown rapidly across the nation, many have neglected infrastructure projects and paved over green spaces that once absorbed rainwater. That has contributed to sewage backups into more than 400,000 basements and spills into thousands of streets, according to data collected by state and federal officials. Sometimes, waste has overflowed just upstream from drinking water intake points or near public beaches.

There is no national record-keeping of how many illnesses are caused by sewage spills. But academic research suggests that as many as 20 million people each year become ill from drinking water containing bacteria and other pathogens that are often spread by untreated waste.

That buzzing sound…

Geographers are researching buzz, according to this New York Times article (thanks to the phenomenal Oliver Markley for the pointer). They’re creating a study and an exhibit, both called “The Geography of Buzz,” and in the process finding that buzz is hard to define explicitly. “Rather, like pornography, you know it when you see it.”

As a digital guy, I looked for the tech implications:

… the geo-tagging represents a new wave of information that can be culled from sites like Flickr and Twitter. “We’re going to see more research that’s using these types of finer-grained data sets, what I call data shadows, the traces that we leave behind as we go through the city….They’re going to be important in uncovering what makes cities so dynamic.”

“People talk about the end of place and how everything is really digital. In fact, buzz is created in places, and this data tells us how this happens.”

The geographers have some very cool buzz maps.