It's spreading: Google Fiber is coming to Austin, TX

City officials in Austin, TX have announced that they are the next city getting Google Fiber.  I am currently more jealous than I have ever been of Texas.

Google Fiber is a new broadband Internet network that is 100 times faster than anything available in Austin right now.

“You could upload your entire DVD collection in less than a day,” said local tech blogger Stacey Higginbotham. “It's super fast internet, and it's cheap."

Apparently Google hasn't made their official announcement yet, they're expected to do so on Tuesday, but the media buzz surrounding it makes it all sound pretty definite.  Austin, one of the few inland, southern cities I might be willing to ever live, has suddenly become a lot more attractive.

Oh my crap I think I almost just ruined everything

I went to log onto my blog just now, like fifteen minutes ago, and I got a 404 page.  Or maybe a 500 error.  I don't know.  I don't know how to internet. The actual website was working fine, but I couldn't figure out how to get logged in.  So I went to the dashboard on my web host (I use iPage.  Nothing that's gone wrong has been their fault.) but there were no alerts that I hadn't paid or anything.

So I googled wordpress login page not found and reached this thread on the Wordpress support page.  There was a lot of advice there that I didn't understand, so I just scrolled until I found something that seemed to make sense.  It was this:

I ran a check database and it said everything was fine. But since I'd exhausted everything else, including the fine suggestions here, and was getting dizzy from reading through all the code, I went ahead and ran a repair database and voila! - I can once again login. Who knows how it happened, but since it's fixed, my mood has been greatly elevated. (Of course, it might be the Thai food I just had.)

That didn't really help, because I couldn't figure out what repairing a database means.  So I googled that, and found this:

Backup your table (If you are using myIsam, just copy your table files to somewhere else). Than execute "repair table yourtablename".

Mostly table corruptions are on index files and easyly recoverable.

Unexpected shutdowns or disk space problems may have results like this.

Hope you resolve your problem easy.

I didn't really know what that meant.  But I did know that the index files on wordpress blogs just have a tiny bit of text letting you know that it only has to be there, it doesn't have to do anything.  So I went into my file manager, opened up the index.php file, copied the text, crossed my fingers, deleted the index.php file, and made a new file named index.php.

That got my dashboard to work, but now my actual website wouldn't load.  This seemed worse.

I crossed my fingers even harder (in my mind, with my hands I had to type) and pasted the contents of the original index.php into the new index.php.

Now, everything's working!  I think.  If I've done something horribly wrong and now there's a countdown running and my blog is going to blow up (or any other problem really) please let me know.  You can email me at or comment on this post or tweet me at @txwatson or anything really just please let me know if my blog is going to die.

Baratunde Thurston on Net Neutrality

via Boing Boing.

Favorite quote:

What's the greatest innovation from the phone company lately?  Texting?  I think that's the last big thing they came up with.  And it kind of sucks.  Have you ever tried to text someone and they just, "I didn't get your text?"  You can't prove that, like, there's no verification whatsoever.  There's no acknowedgement path, you could just lose your phone, people are texting on an old number, you have no way of letting them know the new number, it's a terrible service.

Wordpress can publicize to Tumblr now

When I first signed up for Tumblr, I tried to figure out how to cross-post my blog there.  It turned out, it was a massive pain in the aardvark.  So I gave up.  I wanted my posts to be in both places, but I certainly didn't want to cross-post my Tumblr to my Blog, because most of my Tumblr posts are reblogs of amusing gifs. My posts here are usually longer, and more thought out, or at least contain more of my personal opinions.  There's a pretty big separation between my sense of the most appropriate posts for my blog, and the most appropriate posts for my Tumblr.

But there's a big category in the middle, of things I would always cross-post, if it were easy -- mostly, big, long posts that relate intimately to some fandom or another -- posts about the Lizzie Bennet Diaries, thoughts on a Vlogbrothers video, responses to Adventure Time episodes.  Some of the remainder are more personal posts, that seem like they ought to be on my blog, but kind of belong on Tumblr more than here.

What usually happens is I don't end up writing those posts.

But now there's an automatic Tumblr publicize setting, and this post is, in part, a test to see how the hell that works.

Here's an image, just so I have a clear idea of what's going to happen:

Slate: SEO, Superbowl

Slate has an awesome article up about the way that search engines are changing the way SEO works -- eliminating some of the more horrible SEO practices entirely:

In a follow-up to last year's post, Petchesky today observes that the Super Bowl SEO-trawling is looking a little sad this year. "It might be a lost art," he suggests. Either that, or it has been so well co-opted by the NFL itself that everyone has given up.

Petchesky may be right that "SEO-whoring," as he calls it, is on the wane. But he's got the wrong culprit. After all, it isn't actually the page that shows up first when you search "What time is the Super Bowl" (or "What time is the Superbowl," etc.) on Google. It's [...] not a link to anyone's website. It's Google's own "quick answer" to your search query. These answers predate, but are related to, the company's rapidly expanding "Knowledge Graph," a vast internal "semantic network" that links natural-language queries to facts about the world, culled from an array of sources that includes Wikipedia and the CIA World Factbook. The basic idea: Why force users to sift through a bunch of links to external sites when they just want a straight answer to a simple question?

Youtube paid channels might be a thing I guess

There's a website called  I didn't know that. SourceFed's latest video, YouTube To Unveil Paid Subscriptions?!, is about the rumor that YouTube may, soon, be offering paid subscriptions.  Link to the video. Embedded below.

This sounds like an awesome step up past the sponsored channels that YouTube has been funding this past year.  I love Crash Course and SciShow, and I don't mind Felicia Day's channel so much that it makes me want to unsubscribe.  Of course, I don't want those channels to jump up to a pay model -- especially with Crash Course and SciShow, that would kind of defeat the purpose.  But they do make a great proof of concept that YouTube creators can generate consistent, high-quality content that's worth a greater investment than just "You have access to our upload page."

Imagine if Tor had a YouTube channel, that financed quality adaptations of sci fi and fantasy books, the way HBO is doing for Game of Thrones.  Imagine if getting enough subscribers and jumping over to YouTube had been an option for Joss Whedon when Firefly got cancelled.

According to,

It's not clear which channels will be part of the first paid-subscription rollout, but it is believed that YouTube will lean on the media companies that have already shown the ability to develop large followings on the video platform, including networks like Machinima, Maker Studios and Fullscreen. YouTube is also looking outside its current roster of partners for candidates.

I don't think it would go over very well with fans if old channels threw up a paywall for all their new content.  But I think those channels could expand into higher quality, higher production-value work, that would go up on a new channel, and I think external producers of higher-level content might be able to step down on the payscale the way groups like Machinima would be stepping up -- like, imagine if Pixar had a channel, that just produced those shorts from the start of their movies?

This is a great example of the kinds of things that the internet and companies like Google are doing, not just to open up new opportunities for existing art to thrive, but to create new levels at which art can be successful, unpinned from the constraints of pre-existing time slots or demand based on which advertisers were willing to pay.

Grom social: Facebook for kids

So there's this 11 year old kid whose parents kicked him off Facebook.  He responded by inventing his own Facebook.  It currently has over 7000 users.  So, that's a thing.  Via SourceFed:

The good stuff

I have a few problems with the specific implementation, but altogether I think this is a really good idea.  As has been pointed out in just about every conversation about he internet in the last five years, kids these days are jumping into an environment where all their actions might be permanent, and they don't necessarily have the maturity or perspective to understand what that means.

In that sense, kids on Facebook is a terrible idea, and it's good that they have a more monitored, more controlled social network in which to begin to learn what it means to be a citizen of the internet.

As SourceFed points out, it's also good that they won't be exposed to (a.) creepy adults friending kids in a predatory manner, (b.) aggressive normalization of adult content and rude behavior, and (possibly most importantly because it's probably the most pervasive) (c.) normal adults being their normal, whiny, underachieving and petty selves, normalizing being an awful person for all the kids watching how they talk to each other.

Grom's anti-drug policy

As far as problems, they're going for an aggressively anti-drug policy, which I don't think is really going to help these kids.  I mean, I'm not for under-sixteen year olds doing drugs.  That's the area where research really does show that drugs are bad.  But SourceFed calls it a "D.A.R.E.-like program."  The D.A.R.E. program is a well-established failure -- their extremist approach to insisting all drugs are apocalyptically bad, and the implied message "All your friends are doing it" behind the "Don't listen to all your friends when they tell you to do it" message reliably increase drug use and degrade trust in authority.  Which is legitimate -- the authority is lying to the kids, why would they keep trusting it?

Videos like this one equate the dangers of drugs like alcohol and weed to the dangers of drugs like meth and heroin, which is counterproductive.  They also bulldoze over important distinctions like "You shouldn't do this while your brain and body are still developing" vs. "You're not in a good place in your life to use this drug responsibly" vs. "This is a prescription drug, which should only be used at the advice of a doctor," vs. "This drug is seriously dangerous and addictive, and you should avoid it entirely."  (Alcohol, marijuana, ritalin, and cigarettes respectively.)


It's great to see that kids are getting their own social network, that the frontier-attitude of the internet is beginning to break down enough that we're really trying for safe places for people who aren't yet necessarily in a good place to brave the frontiers of the web.  I hope that they employ the drug policy maturely and effectively, but I don't think they're going to -- they have to appeal to parents, after all, and parents are notoriously irrational about teaching kids lessons consistent with reality -- and I think that's going to degrade trust in the network and ultimately lead to its failure.  But it might not, and the website has enough going for it that I hope it doesn't.

Public Knowledge seeking to avert the Mayan apocalypse

(via Boing Boing) I've been looking at Public Knowledge for a while, trying to decide whether to add them to my list for Charity Debt (spoiler: they're probably going to be this month's pick) .  I'm not going to be able to help with this campaign, because I remain broke.

Apparently, Public Knowledge has found a device that can help avert the Mayan apocalypse.  They even show it in a video, so you know it's legit.  But it's running low on power or something I guess, and it runs on donations to Public Knowledge.

So, I would like to ask my readers to donate leading up to the 21st.  Because I don't want to die.  Also good cause and stuff.

Donate link

Review: FEED by M.T. Anderson

I finished reading FEED by M.T. Anderson this weekend, so now I'm going to talk about it.  (I did not talk about it in the paper I was assigned to write about it, because it was due Monday, I finished reading it Sunday, and this book gets sad.) After the fold, there will be spoilers.  As a consolation, before the fold, there will be a video in which John Green hangs out with M.T. Anderson in abandoned buildings.

Oh my god this book got so sad.

As a general rule of thumb, I prefer what I would describe as Aspirational fiction; fiction that depicts a better possible world, whose main characters act the way one hopes one would in a difficult time.  Cory Doctorow's books are often aspirational, featuring characters who fight against the injustices they see in the world.  In the same way, I think 1984 was aspirational -- Winston is the highest standard of moral and intellectual integrity one could expect to see in a world like the world of IngSoc in the year 1984.

FEED is not aspirational. The best character in FEED is a mildly emotionally manipulative teenager, who utterly fails to make any substantial change in the world, and who, by the end, slowly dies, literally killed by the feed.  The next-best character, the viewpoint character, is just-barely-above consciousness in the fugue state of consumerism the feed seeks to produce.  He has the potential to take a moral stand, and try, at least a little bit, to value the life of another human above his own immediate comfort, but he fails.  It's understandable that he fails.  He lives in a setting that is, in every way, stacked against him.  But his failure is a failure to try, unlike Winston's failure to overcome the obstacles in 1984.

FEED does, to be fair, take place in the grimmest possible future for humanity, and it couldn't possibly be that grim if people like Titus were capable of overcoming the seduction of short-term pleasure.  Fortunately, in the real world, when things start to look like they're going that direction, people like M.T. Anderson write books like FEED and warn us away from the existential cliffs.

This is a really, really god book, and I think it's also an important book.  I'm glad I was made to read it.  But, seriously, I can't imagine deliberately inflicting the last quarter of this book on someone else without at least warning them first.

Internet tax

(Via SlashDot) The FCC is pursuing the possibility of taxing internet broadband access.  The reason for doing this would be to put resources in the hands of the Connect America Fund, whose goal is to give as much of America access to broadband internet as possible.

Prominent tech companies, including Google, support the move, and I can't entirely say that I'm opposed to it.  In principle.

I definitely think that American tax dollars should go towards ensuring that as much of America as possible is connected to the best internet access we can give them.  As far as I'm concerned, internet access should be considered a human right.

On the other hand, taxing broadband access is a regressive tax -- it would cut deeper into the budgets of poor people than rich people, if the ISPs pass the cost on to the consumer.  Which they would.  Obviously.

Much like there ought to be for health insurance, I think there should be a national option for internet access.  It should provide good internet, and it should not presume to extract full cost value for every customer.  It might turn a profit in a major city, but it would still have to run a line out to the middle of the American Wilderness if someone out there has a cabin they want wired.

Right now, the FCC is just talking about this tax, they haven't actually put in a formal proposal.  If they do, they still have to deal with the Internet Tax Freedom Act, which was passed in 1998 and requires that the government not tax the internet.  According to the FCC, this wouldn't be a tax -- it would be a fee, that the ISPs could use to justify price increases.  Which they would.  Obviously.

I'm not totally certain how I feel about all this.  The FCC isn't the first group I want to get in the corner for, and I don't want to support a new regressive tax.  But Americans need better internet access.

Instructions for schools about the internet

Yesterday, Cory Doctorow posted a link to 26 pieces of advice for educators about the internet.  It's on a blog called Dangerously Irrelevant, which I think I'm going to follow now, and  here are some of my favorite points:

 E.  Why are you penalizing the 95% for the 5%? You don’t do this in other areas of discipline at school. Even though you know some students will use their voices or bodies inappropriately in school, you don’t ban everyone from speaking or moving. You know some students may show up drunk to the prom, yet you don’t cancel the prom because of a few rule breakers. Instead, you assume that most students will act appropriately most of the time and then you enforce reasonable expectations and policies for the occasional few that don’t. To use a historical analogy, it’s the difference between DUI-style policies and flat-out Prohibition (which, if you recall, failed miserably). Just as you don’t put entire schools on lockdown every time there’s a fight in the cafeteria, you need to stop penalizing entire student bodies because of statistically-infrequent, worst-case scenarios.

This is, I think, the most vivid explanation in the piece about the hypocrisy of many schools' (including my high school's) approach to the internet.  Perhaps even more so than most of the other tools school educates us about, the internet is a major way that people interact with the world now, and the above method entails teaching it wrong. 

I.  Students and teachers rise to the level of the expectations that you have for them. If you expect the worst, that’s what you’ll get.


T.  When you violate the Constitution and punish kids just because you don’t like what they legally said or did and think you can get away with it, you not only run the risk of incurring financial liability for your school system in the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars but also abuse your position of trust and send messages to students about the corruption of power and disregard for the rule of law. [emphasis mine]

These two reflect the major problems with the approach of "Think of the children!" paranoia that seems to be the standard of the American education system.  It's like they're deliberately trying to anti-educate students into being bad citizens.

The whole list is awesome, and it illuminates one of the biggest issues in the US today -- we have serious education problems, that we're pretty much ignoring.

Surfing the Blagosphere

I was talking to a friend of mine today, about one of my favorite things about the internet -- how completely silly it has made language.  Describing your experience on the internet with even the slightest bit of detachment makes it sound like you live in a cartoon.  There are bloggers and pirates everywhere, arguably the most important website is called Google, one of the best news sources is called Boing Boing.  Another one's called Reddit. Sites like TVTropes make literary analysis sound like rambling nonsense from a children's cartoon: "Yeah, it's a Hollywood science follow the leader, but at least they hang a lampshade on the unobtanium, and I think the whole thing might have just been stealth parody."

My friend suggested that eventually all conversation is going to sound like that.  Maybe he's right -- maybe one day, legal contracts will be written like Doctor Seuss books.  But a certain amount of language isn't just fluidly reflective of the language around it -- it's buried in the way we hear it.  Some sound forms just sound more serious, and I don't think we'll ever run out of uses for them.

The change I've got my fingers crossed for is a massive increase in the amount of, acceptability of, and reference to bathos.  I want to hear bathetic style shifts in newscasts and presidential speeches.  And, especially, I want the word bathos to show up more in public conversation.  Right now, people just mostly think you hit B when you meant to hit P.

DNS Malware -- Potential Internet Mini-Apocalypse

[important]I'm pretty sure this is a big deal.[/important]

(via Mental_Floss)

An Estonian band of hackers have spread a virus which, according to the FBI, has infected more than 277,000 computers worldwide.  There are apparently about 64,000 computers still infected in the US.  Computers still infected at 12:01am EDT, July 9, will lose their ability to go online.

Once again, for emphasis:  Computers still infected at 12:01am EDT, July 9 (Next MONDAY) will LOSE THEIR ABILITY TO GO ONLINE.

According to AP,

The problem began when international hackers ran an online advertising scam to take control of more than 570,000 infected computers around the world. When the FBI went in to take down the hackers late last year, agents realized that if they turned off the malicious servers being used to control the computers, all the victims would lose their Internet service.

In a highly unusual move, the FBI set up a safety net. They brought in a private company to install two clean Internet servers to take over for the malicious servers so that people would not suddenly lose their Internet.

Social networks have apparently been reaching out to their users, to alert them if their computer is infected.  and there are websites you can go to to confirm that your computer is clean.  Google and Facebook should let you know, but if they didn't, you might still want to check out DCWG, the company that is running the safety net.

If you're in the US, this link will take you to a check-up site.

Ethics and the Advertising Model for Web Financing

The Vlogbrothers have had a lot to say on YouTube in the past few days about the relationship between advertising and content on the internet -- the tricky ethical terrain, the financial needs of creators, and the fact that we all want this whole internet thing to stay free. I haven't known what I wanted to say about this, until I watched Hank's song today, and more specifically, the rant afterwards:

The American eyeball -- more generally, the affluent eyeball, and yes, you are affluent if you have an internet connection fast enough to watch YouTube videos -- is one of the most valuable commodities in existence on Earth right now.So valuable, in fact, that many amazing services can be offered, for free, in exchange for nothing more than those eyeballs.

I don't like advertisement. [...]  But the internet is built on the idea that this stuff should be free, so that's problematic, because advertising is then the only model.  And if you want YouTube to be free, and yet continue employing thousands of people, you're gonna have to look at ads.  But if you don't want YouTube videos to be supported by ads, and you don't want them to be free, then we should talk about that.

If there's a way to make an online company that doesn't rely on users providing their psyche and their behavioral habits to be put into a collective commons that is then auctioned off literally to the highest bidder, then let's have that conversation.

(Emphasis mine)

For the most part, I'm okay with advertising.  I feel conflicted about the fact that advertisers get to practice psychological manipulation on us, but I don't mind getting to watch YouTube for free in exchange for occasionally being annoyed by having to click another button before I watch my video after waiting a whole five seconds.

For a lot of people right now, it seems like the solution is just to feel conflicted.  Some people (like, recently, Tom Milsom) decide to forsake advertising revenue altogether, but a lot of people choose to go with the ads, hope they do relatively minimal cultural damage, and try to create art that's good enough that it's worth passing ads to see it.

I think we can do better than that, and I think we should -- and there are three levels on which I would like to see change.

Individual creators' control

Artists should have the right to decide what kind of ads they want on their content.  I imagine an interface in which creators would be able to select particular ads to put on their content, specify categories to let through, specify particular categories to exclude, or just automatically take the highest-paying ads that they have access to.  Advertisers, too, would have the option to make their ads available to everyone, or blacklist or whitelist particular users.

Institution-level ad curation

At an organization-level, websites that rely on artists to create the content that makes their site valuable should do some amount of broad filtration.  The parameters by which they filter should be explicitly stated in an easy-to-understand format so content creators know what they can expect in terms of advertising.

Case:  Project Wonderful

The poster-child example for these first two levels is Project Wonderful, an ad company designed for artists by Ryan North of Dinosaur Comics.

From their website's about page:

They use a mechanism called 'infinite auction,' where advertisers bid on how much they're willing to pay for ad display time, and the highest bidder is automatically charged the lowest amount of money that will beat all the other bids.  Advertisers are only ever charged for the time their ads spend up on the site, and creators get the most anyone's willing to pay for their ad space at the moment.

I don't think that the Project Wonderful system could be directly transposed onto YouTube, but if they were to renovate their advertising system, this would be a good place to get inspiration.

Government-level advertising standards

This category is pretty self-explanatory:  we need better legislation protecting us from misleading and exploitative ads.  I wrote on Wednesday about the DSHEA, a bill passed in 1994 that makes it easier for companies to lie about the medicinal value of their products, and harder for the FDA to catch them doing it.  Food and medicine aren't the only areas where we're not very well protected against false or misleading claims.

This isn't something that individual artists or companies can do anything about directly, but if we adopt more proactive control over what we advertise, we might be able to start breaking down this cultural assumption that ads are entirely good or entirely bad, opening the way for popular political support of legislation that helps to manage false advertising effectively.

Economic drawbacks

Of course, if all my suggestions are implemented, it will necessarily decrease ad revenue for creators and networks.  The more selection creators have, the more the market gets divided and the more intelligently individual advertisers can direct their money.  When networks and governments impose quality control, the effectiveness of manipulative and dishonest ads are severely crippled, so the ads that make their owners the most money, and therefore are worth spending the most money airing, aren't legal anymore.  As John Green explains in his video on ads, You ARE The Product,

Corporations actually have a really good idea of how advertisements affect your behavior.  In fact, there are many thousands of people who are working full time to make sure that the ads you see are worth more than they cost.  To put it succinctly, almost by definition, advertisers buy you for less than you're worth.

I would argue, though, that the dip in revenue would be worth the gains, because in the long term, the more we, as a nation and as a world community, make our information standards, the more thoughtful and responsible we will become.  People are at least in part a reflection of their media landscape, and a more intelligent media landscape means a more intelligent citizenry, a better-run country, and ultimately, a positive-sum world community that will increase value for everyone.

Google chairman calls for computer science education

Google chairman Eric Schmidt gave a talk yesterday in London in which he raised his fears about the future of the internet.  He argued that the greatest threat to the future of the internet was not individual cybercriminals, but nations attempting to disrupt its function.

Eric Schmidt said [that] the internet would be vulnerable for at least 10 years, and that every node of the public web needed upgrading to protect against crime. Fixing the problem was a "huge task" as the internet was built "without criminals in mind" he said. (Source)

He moved on to a plea that British schools focus more energy on computer science and engineering (apparently British schools don't even teach computer science -- which, thinking about it, neither did my high school, except in a fringe occupational class only about a dozen students a year took.) and offered this excellent quote:

[S]o long as more kids aspire to win X Factor than win a Nobel Prize, there's room to improve.

CISPA -- more information

So, as more people have weighed in on CISPA, I have changed my mind. It's not, in relationship to SOPA, also-bad.  It's worse.

Unfortunately, while I intended to write about this earlier today, and write commentary on the broader implications tomorrow, I got distracted.  So tomorrow, I'll be going more into why CISPA is awful, and talking about the broader principles of what laws governing the internet, and information in general, should and shouldn't do.

My thoughts on CISPA

Here's another article on the problems with CISPA (Uproxx):

It’s called the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, although it’s not actually a law, but rather something tacked onto a security law passed in the ’40s. It’s designed to deal with what amounts to the new Cold War: American, Chinese, and Russian security agencies are currently busy hacking the crap out of each other, so this law is designed to make it easier to track and penalize, say, somebody stealing the plans of a new widget.

The big problem is, the way the bill is written, it supersedes all other wiretapping and intelligence laws, although a corporation does not have to comply with any request under the current language.

And another (Huffington Post):

CISPA demolishes existing barriers between the government and the private sector -- and between government agencies, including the military -- that restrict casual data sharing. It would effectively allow information about Americans' use of the Internet to slosh back and forth uninhibited.

So, I'm officially worried.*

I wrote a while ago that privacy is an important and complicated ethical issue, and in that article I tried to stress that there are a variety of considerations in the issue of privacy that pull my conclusion from both directions, and that you can't simplify the debate down to a few slogans without fatally oversimplifying it.

And I do think that, eventually, we're going to need some smart, complicated legislation that deals with the issue of gathering information on the internet in a rational, considered way that obligates companies to protect the privacy of their customers while still allowing the government to guard against the real and serious risks of cyber terrorism**.

The thing I don't like about CISPA is the point that the Huffington Post article makes -- it would allow a lot of inter-organization information sharing.  And I'm against that, especially when it comes to the government.

I think branches of the government, and organizations that deal with the care or wellbeing of human beings (which I think the internet does) should be intrinsically separate, and only overlap in extreme circumstances.

For example, I don't want people to do heroin.  But I also don't want people overdosing on heroin to refuse to go to the hospital, because they know there'll be handcuffs waiting for them on the other side.  And I don't want people who use heroin to refuse to go to the hospital for other illnesses (which, I cannot stress this enough, they might be spreading†) because if a blood test comes back with heroin in it they'll go to jail.

People sometimes need to talk about things that are illegal.  The world is messy and unpleasant, and it doesn't get better by pretending it isn't.  It gets better by embracing those complexities and offering compassion.

We need legislation to protect us from the dangers of the internet.  But CISPA doesn't sound like that.  It sounds like another reactionary, SOPA-like bill designed to make old people feel better about the monster behind their monitor.  It seems like it has less teeth than SOPA did, but it's not good enough.

And if we keep pushing, maybe three or four bills down the road, we'll get some legislation that doesn't suck.

*Yes, there's an 'official' and 'non-official' worrying category set.  Formal worrying requires that the concern pass an advisory board, that I've slept on it, used the bathroom before considering it and properly hydrated.  I can't become formally worried if I've had a headache for the entire space of time I've been considering it, and I can't become formally worried if my data set contains only secondhand reports from people I personally know.

**Cyber Terrorism (n.) The scary internet monsters coming to take away your children and replace them with sophisticated Furbies. Seriously, though.  I accept that cyber terrorists are a real thing, and I would also like to stress that they are, apart from that, used as a scare tactic to push irresponsible, reactionary legislation -- just like real terrorists.

†One of my firmest opinions about drug policy is that it's not okay to reject individuals' health on the basis that they deserve it for doing drugs.  Healthcare doesn't happen in a bubble, and the less institutional help addicts have access to, the more the consequences of their decline spill over into the lives of everyone else.  As it happens, I have a lot of sympathy for addicts.  But even if you don't, it's counterproductive not to try to help them -- not out of concern for the addicts themselves, but for the benefit of everyone else who has to live in a society where addiction is a thing that sometimes happens.


CISPA: Apparently the new SOPA

The Cyber Intelligence Sharing Act is, according to a lot of the sources I follow for news, the new SOPA.  And to be honest, I haven't had the energy to get informed about it yet. Right now, as I write this, I'm watching SourceFed's video on it (link here, embed below).

The government seems to have some rationales for it, but they had their rationales for SOPA, too.

I know I need to learn about this.  It's my responsibility as a citizen of the internet.  (Netizen? World Wide Webbite?  Blaggodude?)  But I just haven't had the energy to bother.

And that makes me worry a little.  Will a persistent effort to create net-regulating bill just wear down on the base of people otherwise willing to stand up to it?  Or have I just been having a bad couple weeks for research?

I'll blog more about this tomorrow, at which point I will try to have become a little more informed.  For now, if any of my readers know of good sources about it, let me know.

Spectrum Crunch

The issue of spectrum crunch to be financial: we're not talking about an imminent apocalypse scenario, but an issue for the cell phone companies.  Smart phones, it seems, might not actually be a viable technology for widespread use.  But concerned businesspeople and politicians are working to find a solution.* According to Sorry, America:  Your wireless airwaves are full by David Goldman on CNN Money, we can expect a lot of drops in the quality of cell phone service if this issue isn't solved soon.

The problem, known as the "spectrum crunch," threatens to increase the number of dropped calls, slow down data speeds and raise customers' prices. It will also whittle down the nation's number of wireless carriers and create a deeper financial divide between those companies that have capacity and those that don't.

Wireless spectrum -- the invisible infrastructure over which all wireless transmissions travel -- is a finite resource. When, exactly, we'll hit the wall is the subject of intense debate, but almost everyone in the industry agrees that a crunch is coming.

Another article by David Goldman on CNN Money, The spectrum war's winners and losers, makes it sound like the problem is that companies just aren't willing to do what it takes to provide their customers good service:

"Wireless operators have to decide whether they spend money acquiring new spectrum or building tens of thousands of new cell sites all over the country," says Dan Hays, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers' consultancy. "That's the big dilemma."

Both of those options cost billions. There's a third choice: consolidate. By merging, carriers can gain access to both spectrum and more cell sites.

That can also cost billions, but it's a turn-key solution.

I'm beginning to get the impression that without a better understanding of telecommunications science I'm not likely to get a solid handle on this issue.  But what it sounds like this article is saying is that the major cell providers, rather than trying to maximize their quality of service and compete for the customer base, are trying to use the spectrum crunch issue to corner the market and control the cell phone customer base in the US.

That article does contain some good news for me and my Droid, though:

Experts agree that Verizon (VZFortune 500) is in by far the best position, with ample capacity for the immediate future -- particularly if its spectrum deal with the cable companies gains regulatory approval.

This article from Reuters, Verizon tells Congress cable deals ease spectrum crunch, illustrates an attempt by Verizon to cut deals with Comcast and Time Warner, in order to share spectrum and work together.  It's currently being evaluated by anti-trust committees.

An article by Todd Shields on the Bloomberg Businessweek website, called Airwaves Sharing Proposed Between U.S., Wireless Industry outlines more about the ways in which the government is getting involved:

The administration has set a goal of adding 500 megahertz of airwaves to almost double the amount available for commercial use. Strickling’s announcement concerned an airwaves band with 95 megahertz, on which more than 20 U.S. agencies including each branch of the military conduct operations on more than 3,100 frequencies. [...]

Congress last month approved auctions of unused television airwaves for use by wireless services, another step aimed at alleviating the spectrum shortage. The Federal Communications Commission is working to devise auction rules.

The FCC has an encyclopedia entry on Spectrum Crunch. Their recommendation for what to do about it -- open up 500 megahertz by 2020, lines up with the above-mentioned plan President Obama is pursuing.  They point out that he made those promises in June 28, 2010, and reiterated them on February 10, 2011.  This gives me the strong impression that the government has a plan and course of action in place to handle the issue.

If I learn anything more about Spectrum Crunch, I'll update on here.  For now, personally, I'm not worried.  It sounds like the government has a plan, so it at least shouldn't be a problem for a while.  And maybe inside the next 10 years the nice folks at CERN will work out some method of perfect quantum cell phone signal or something.  I don't know.  All this stuff is very sciencey, and at this point might as well be magic.

*The fact that these two groups are the people most concerned leads meto suspect the viability of the sources I've found, but this is the information I have.

Asking Google things

I remember reading once (I think it was in Eli Pariser's "The Filter Bubble") that Google executives have described their goal as being to create a search engine that will, whatever you type, return a single result, and it'll be exactly what you're looking for. I know plenty of people who are squicked out by this, and I guess I understand the reasoning.  I do see how it could be dangerous to let a major company have that much access to personal information, especially while they're trying to build an artificial intelligence.  (The book I'm working on sort of contradicts that point, but moving on.)

Honestly, though, I'm really pro-Google, and it's exactly because that's their goal.  As long as they're being responsible with my personal information, I want them to have it.  I want to be able to type in something like "What should I blog about today?" into my search bar, and get back a handful of specific responses tailored to my blogging style, interests, and tastes.  I don't want to have to sift through fifteen posts about Search Engine Optimization to find a simple brainstorm.

I really like the idea of Google getting to know me like that.  I think it's basically how the internet needs to work in order to best serve humanity.

Talk to you tomorrow.