Strange things I saw today on the internet

I spent some time at my friends' house today, to have dinner and discuss the officiation of their handfasting.  Things digressed, as they often do, and we ended up spending some time sharing the weird videos we had all respectively seen during our time on the internet. We opened with a video I'd never seen before, Chocolate Bunny by Blink on Vimeo.  It's bright, disturbing, and feels deeply meaningful -- but I have no idea what that meaning could possibly be.

Maybe something about the inherent self-destructiveness of the consumerization of religious celebrations?

The next one was a video I brought to the table, How To Make Fruit Salad by How To Basic.  Here's what the video description says:

Today I show you how to make a healthy, delicious, light & fluffy homemade fruit salad. Follow the simple step-by-step instructions and you will make a fruit salad that will go down a treat with your family. This makes enough fruit salad to feed a family of 83. Perfect for Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner or even a Snack!

Here's what actually goes on in the video:

This guy has 174 videos on his channel.  He appears to make two of them a week. Every single one has a thumbnail of the relevant food, perfectly cooked and beautifully lit.  If you didn't watch what actually happens in the video, please scroll back up and do that now.

We watched a few videos on his channel.

Next, we watched Kracie - popin' cookin' #3 - Sushi candy making kit (Edible / can eat) by RRcherrypie.  This one's one of my partner's favorite kinds of weird video, featuring self-assembly candies that require the user to mix powders with water until they set into molds, then taking them out and assembling them.  I can't imagine ever going to that much effort -- I'm pretty sure I'd just mix the ingredients, let them set, and eat them out of the mold.  But watching them come together into the amazing edible sculptures that RRcherrypie turns them into is enthralling.

We watched a few videos on that channel, too.

After that, we moved on to relatively more normal videos, but since I'm on the topic of weird, surreal youtube content, here's one that I occasionally remember, that seems pretty appropriate for this post.  It's an ad for Litlte Baby's Ice Cream called This is a Special Time.

If you feel like you're going to have any trouble sleeping soon, this might help.  Make it worse.

Mexico pushing for digital equality

Currently 70% of Mexican citizens don't have access to computers or the internet, but they're looking to close that gap.  Al Jazeera reports: 

Mexico wants to be recognised as a high-tech nation competing against countries like China and India with manufacturing jobs and foreign investment.

Mexico has signed more free-trade agreements than any other country in the world, and its economy is currently out-pacing Brazil, but there is one thing that could threaten its potential - that is the digital divide.

Around 70 percent of Mexicans have no access to either computers or the internet. As Mexico's economy roars towards the future, much of its success will depend on how many people get the skills necessary to participate in the boom.

There's a longer video on the article's page.

Movie Triggers: the best new website I've seen lately

A while ago, I had an idea for a website, that would use a social network/review system to catalog movies with triggering content.  It's a pretty basic idea, I don't think it was stolen or anything, and the hard part is obviously the work on putting something like this together. I'm thrilled to say that someone has actually done that work.

MovieTriggers.com is a catalog of movies which, over time, will hopefully accumulate a decent collection of trigger warnings for popular movies.  Right now, most of them say there are 0 triggers -- which, the site stresses, "does not mean that this movie is non-triggering."  (Emphasis theirs.)

Symbols specifically indicate whether more than 10 people have agreed something is triggering, and whether there are comments on the thread, which would hopefully offer a better idea of what the triggering content is, so visitors can make informed judgements about whether they can handle it.

I'm personally looking forward to when the site gets enough traction to start warning about spiders -- I sent a feedback message asking whether arachnophobia was an appropriate tag here's the thread:

[me:] Is there any sort of guideline on what counts as a trigger, or what sorts of things you hope to cover?  For example, I'm arachnophobic -- would it be appropriate for me to add a spiders warning to movies that caused me to panic?  (Right now, my strategy is looking away if spiders show up and letting my partner tell me when it's safe to look back up.)

[Response:] Hi,

Tagging with spiders is completely appropriate. There are no specific guidelines for what counts as a trigger. We specifically left it open ended so people could share their experiences.

Thanks for using the site!

- John

Please, use this site, share it, add your experiences to the catalog.  Including spiders.

Bitcoins are apparently doing really well in Europe

Charles Arthur has written a post for the Guardian, titled Bitcoin currency value reaches record high of $147 before plunging down, in which he discusses the current success, and possible pitfalls, of the Bitcoin system.

 The price of each Bitcoin began rising abruptly on Tuesday 19 March, going from $47 then to $72 by 23 March. That matches the period of the Cyprus bailout almost exactly: its banks shut on Friday 15 March – and then the Cypriot government announced over the next two days that they required a bailout and that all savers' deposits would be tapped. Though that was later revoked, with only larger deposits being subject to a 10% requisition, savers in other countries with troubled finances had already acted.

Bitcoin's usefulness is its lack of the need for a central bank – and that the peer-to-peer network backing it allows transactions to continue as long as there are people willing to exchange the coins for something of value (or to donate them). For Europeans worried about the possibility that their banks might shut, trapping their savings inside, and not open until some amount had been skimmed from them, that makes Bitcoins suddenly attractive.

[...]

Some suggest that the rapid rise in Bitcoins' value may mean that it will become less useful as a currency, because it becomes more attractive to hoard it than to spend it – because exchanging it for any other item or service risks losing out on the rising value. That is "hyperdeflation",argues Joe Wiesenthal of Business Insider. It is the opposite of "hyperinflation", like that which hit the Weimar Republic in Germany after the first world war, or Zimbabwe more recently, where the currency becomes less and less valuable for transactions. By contrast, Bitcoin is experiencing a period when it is becoming less attractive to spend it – which will make it less useful as a currency for trading.

(via Boing Boing) Tim Wu at the New Yorker has written an article about how the White House can help solve a major problem with the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which basically says that using computers is a felony.  He writes:

The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act is the most outrageous criminal law you’ve never heard of. It bans “unauthorized access” of computers, but no one really knows what those words mean. Orin Kerr, a former Justice Department attorney and a leading scholar on computer-crime law, argues persuasively that the law is so open-ended and broad as to be unconstitutionally vague. Over the years, the punishments for breaking the law have grown increasingly severe—it can now put people in prison for decades for actions that cause no real economic or physical harm. It is, in short, a nightmare for a country that calls itself free.

[...]

Both private litigants and the Justice Department began to use the law against [...] otherwise legitimate users who violate the “terms of service” policies that come with nearly ever piece of software and service we use on computers today.

What are terms of service? Remember the last time you signed up for a Web site and clicked through several pages of fine print? Yep, that was it. Chances are, you didn’t read it, and didn’t think that it might be a federal felony to violate the provisions that it contained. The Justice Department has repeatedly taken the position that such violations are felonies.

Wu calls for the Justice Department to officially declare that it's not going to prosecute this way, based on this law, anymore -- which sounds like a fantastic idea to me.  They already only selectively prosecute with it in order to jail people for things that aren't really the crime they've been tried for, so the only thing that the change would accomplish is that prosecutors would be forced to try people they think are guilty based on the crimes they think they've committed.

Mashable: Chrome extensions for everybody

I love lists of "X Must-Have Apps/Extensions/Whatever for [Career]s" -- not because I do most of these jobs, but because special-purpose extensions go a long way towards enriching my experience of the internet.  In this case, there are a few that will be really useful for blogging, and a few that will be really useful for tweaking the design of my blogs. Mashable's list, 10 Essential Chrome Extensions for Designers, has a lot of great stuff for just using the internet.  I've already installed ColorZilla, Screen Capture, Pixlr Editor, MeasureIt!, and Palette.  The rest of them were really, definitely specific to webpage designers and I don't particularly need them.

There's less in the 10 Must-Have Chrome Extensions for Developers, being mostly more technical and less artistic, but Resolution Test looks pretty useful for the occasions when I'm trying to tweak my web page, and I cannot begin to explain how useful I think Session Manager is going to be.  Mashable writes:

When you're working on the web, browser tabs management is a priceless skill -- it's so easy to slip into bad habits and become "tab happy." Session Manager saves your browsing state and lets you re-open the session later. It is particularly useful if you find yourself opening the same web pages over and over.

The extension groups and saves related tabs, so for example, you could save your favorite news or social networking sites under their own session names, and then quickly access them without having to individually open each website.

I've usually got three windows packed with tabs running at a time, and dozens of folders in my bookmarks labeled "Prematurely closed."  I will be using this app extensively.

Public Knowledge on Free Access petition

I wrote earlier today that I wasn't sure about the nature of the recent White House directive requiring open access to research and development in government organizations.  I was iffy because my source was the White House (who will obviously be biased in their own favor) and Huffington Post (who are not notorious for thorough, accurate journalism). I'm a little less reserved in my optimism now, though, because PublicKnowledge.org has published a write-up about it.  It's a re-post of a Google Plus post by Peter Suber, Director of the Harvard Open Access Project.  In it, he talks about why the directive is good, and how it compares and contrasts to the Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), which I didn't know was a thing.

Here's an excerpt:

The two approaches complement one another. FASTR does not make the White House directive unnecessary. FASTR may never be adopted. And if it is adopted, it will be after some time for study, education, lobbying, amendment, negotiation, and debate. By contrast, the White House directive takes effect today. The wheels are already turning. Compared to this executive action, FASTR is slower. (Thanks to Becky Cremona for this good line.)

Similarly, the White House directive does not make FASTR unnecessary. On the contrary, we need legislation to codify federal OA policies. The next president could rescind today's White House directive, but could not rescind legislation. (One lesson: Don't let up on efforts to persuade Congress to pass FASTR.)

So, great news.  Progress for science, freedom of information for America's citizens, and transparency always makes corruption harder, so steps like this almost inevitably improve government.

(Also: I learned about a new thing in Open Access terminology in this article.  Apparently there's two popular standards for access:  Green OA, which means organizations publish directly to their own open access archive; and Gold OA, which means organizations publish their research in Open Access journals.)

Petition granted to make taxpayer-funded research publicly available

According to the Huffington Post, the White House has just granted a petition to "require free access over the internet to scientific journal articles resulting from taxpayer-funded research."  Dr. John Holdren, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, writes:

I have issued a memorandum today (.pdf) to Federal agencies that directs those with more than $100 million in research and development expenditures to develop plans to make the results of federally-funded research publically available free of charge within 12 months after original publication. As you pointed out, the public access policy adopted by the National Institutes of Health has been a great success. And while this new policy call does not insist that every agency copy the NIH approach exactly, it does ensure that similar policies will appear across government.

This sounds super-exciting, but I have some questions:

  • Which agencies conduct research for less than $100 million?
  • What constitutes an R&D department?
  • To what extent does this apply to research already done, and currently boxed-up?

I'll be looking over the next few days for criticisms of this response, and I'll report back on whether this is the step forward it looks like, or if it's a shiny but ultimately empty gesture.

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.

George W. Bush's leaked paintings

I've seen some paintings of George W. Bush around the internet today, and I really had no idea what was going on with them.  I didn't particularly care.  I had also seen some stuff about someone hacking Bush's email account.  I didn't care about that either, and also it sounded like too much effort to read about while I'm sick.  (btw: I'm sick.) But the Daily Kos wrapped it up in a nice, short piece, and here's the gist of what happened:  Some douche hacked into George Bush's email account and publicly distributed a couple of paintings he'd done of himself, in his free time, which had been sent to his sister.  Other douches around the country are making fun of the paintings, criticizing Bush as an artist, and photoshopping stuff into them.

This strikes me as an obvious breach of ethical boundaries:  yes, email hacking of political figures can have positive effects, re: journalism and important leaks.  But these paintings aren't important political information.  They're really obviously part of the private life of a person who happens to also have a significant public life -- or, at least, used to have.

Apart from the fact that it's Absolutely Not Cool to make fun of a non-expert artist for being not an expert at art, this also reflects on the screwed up idea in American culture that notable people are public property.  It should be a no-brainer that responsible citizens of the internet shouldn't encourage this distribution and mutation of Bush's paintings.

If you're really curious, you can go googling, but I'm not going to embed the pictures or link to anywhere that posted them. (The Daily Kos article embedded them, so no link, but they were at least critical of the fact of their release.)

On widespread disagreement

In his 1978 book "What Is the Name of This Book?," Raymond M. Smullyan repeats a riddle from his childhood:

4. Whose Picture Am I Looking At?

This puzzle was extremely popular during my childhood, but today it seems less widely known.  The remarkable thing about this problem is that most people get the wrong answer but insist (despite all argument) that they are right.  I recall one occasion about 50 years ago when we had some company and had an argument about this problem which seemed to last hours, and in which those who had the right answer just could not convince the others that they were right.  The problem is this.

A man was looking at a portrait.  Someone asked him, "Whose picture are you looking at?"  He replied:  "Brothers and sisters have I none, but this man's father is my father's son." ("This man's father" means, of course, the father of the man in the picture.)

Whose picture was the man looking at?

Often, when I get in long arguments about politics or science or the internet or any number of other things that people strongly differ on, someone (usually someone butting in, who wasn't listening, but occasionally the person I'm arguing with) says, "There is no right answer, people have different opinions and that's that."

Now, these people are clearly wrong.  A system can be complicated, and it can be easy to come to incorrect conclusions when trying to understand that system.  People can over-or-under-emphasize the importance of certain details, or fail to imagine certain actors in the system complexly, or for any number of other reasons become firmly convinced that their conclusion is right, even if it's not.

Lately, it's been reminding me of this riddle.  I have a lot of trouble with this one.  I've known it for years, and I still have trouble holding the whole thing in my head firmly enough to produce the correct answer.  I might have even defended that wrong answer, when I first heard the riddle.

But the wrong answer is definitely wrong.  There can be no difference of opinion about it, only people getting it right or wrong.

In real life, problems are more complicated than that.  Some people may be more right or wrong than others, or disagree about how to act on the knowledge of the correct answer.  People may be bitterly divided over small or large issues.  But in real life, like in this riddle, even if the wrong answer is really persuasive, and has a lot of very vocal supporters, it's still wrong.

Here's the solution to the riddle:

[spoiler]

From the book:

A remarkably large number of people arrive at the wrong answer that the man is looking at his own picture.  They put themselves in the place of the man looking at the picture, and reason as follows: "Since I have no brothers or sisters, then my father's son must be me.  Therefore I am looking at a picture of myself."

The first statement of this reasoning is absolutely correct; if I have neither brothers nor sisters, then my father's son is indeed myself.  But it doesn't follow that "myself" is the answer to the problem.  If the second clause of the problem had been, "this man is my father's son," then the answer to the problem would have been "myself."  But the problem didn't say that; it said "this man's father is my father's son."  From which it follows that this man's father is myself (since my father's son is myself).  Since this man's father is myself, then I am this man's father, hence this man must be my son.  Thus the correct answer to the problem is that the man is looking at a picture of his son.

If the skeptical reader is still not convinced (and I'm sure many of you are not!) it might help if you look at the matter a bit more graphically as follows:

(1) This man's father is my father's son.

Substituting the word "myself" for the more cumbersome phrase "my father's son" we get

(2) This man's father is myself.

Now are you convinced?

[/spoiler]

Hanna Rosin AMA

I saw that Hanna Rosin, the author of "The End Of Men," was doing an AMA on Reddit.  I was a little curious, but didn't want to wade through the crap to check it out.  Fortunately, Slate has posted a selection of some of the questions, all neat and stuff.  I liked this bit:

BaduRainsDestruction: I just want to let you know that I love the amount of man-rage you inspire.

Hanna Rosin: I'm getting the feeling that it is definitely NOT the end of men at Reddit—that this is like the 21 Club (or maybe the Hooters) of online communities, one of those places where men still feel free to let loose.

Totallynotbb: I'm kind of surprised that nobody clued you into this ugly aspect of Reddit before proposing you do this AMA. In case you're curious, Reddit's resident angry dudebros have been planning to ambush you since last night.

Eliaspowers: Meta question: Did you expect this degree of hostility coming into the AMA? I assumed (correctly) that MRA would ambush the thread, but is that something you were prepared for?

I'd be interested in your thoughts on how things are going so far.

Also, I don't know how familiar you are with Reddit, but please keep in mind that you are being besieged by a small subset of highly ideological Redditors rather than the Reddit population in general, where there is more ideological diversity.

Hanna Rosin: I knew in advance they'd be interested but, uh, not that interested.

The link at "not that interested," by the way, leads to a post on the Men's Rights subreddit, where a bunch of MRAs were planning an ambush.  They linked to her TED talk, which I hadn't seen before -- they call it "Hanna Rosin Abusing her Children: ON VIDEO."  The clip is about 7 seconds of her daughter explaining why she sees girls as being more successful in elementary school.  The point of that bit was that men and boys deserve the kind of help and attention that women have gotten in the last few decades.

The video itself is pretty great, though.  Embedded below; Here's the link.

No state Pokemon

After the recent response to the We The People petition that the government build a Death Star ("The Administration shares your desire for job creation and a strong national defense, but a Death Star isn't on the horizon."), BetaBeat.com reports that the White House has pulled a petition to establish State Pokémon for every state, arguing that it violated the site's Terms of Participation. Jessica R

oy of BetaBeat writes,

Though there are some worthwhile petitions on We the People, many Internet users have glommed on to the tool as an act of trolling. [...]

To be fair, the White House hasn’t exactly discouraged this sort of behavior. Last week, the administration released a hilarious response to a petition to build a Death Star which, while absolutely delightful, was probably not the best use of government time?

I have to say, I strongly disagree.

Granted, it's not directly productive for the government to employ pop culture experts to craft amusing refusals to any joke that over 25,000 people want to hear.  But anything that gets people to the website gets people to an environment that might point them towards issues they care about, that do deserve the government's attention.

Furthermore, the Death Star response was interesting and informative, even if it was silly.  The administration took that opportunity to illustrate parallels between the fictional geekyness of Star Wars and the real-world geekyness of the International Space Station.  They also pointed out what kinds of issues the government cares about, and in what ways they categorize those issues, and what kinds of considerations go into making financial decisions on a governmental scale.  And it's a fair bet that that more people read the Death Star response than any other White House response, even for petitions they responded favorably to.

It's a way in, is what I'm saying.  And it's a cheap-as-hell one.  I consider it an outright poor decision to pull the Pokémon petition.  Instead, they could talk about the importance of national symbol making, the American entertainment industry versus that of our foreign allies, and the interrelationship between government and pop culture.

Or they could have assigned the states official Pokémon.  I mean, seriously, why not?

Gangnam Style passed 1 billion views

Gangnam Style passed 1 billion views today.  YouTube even made a special  gif for it, dancing next to the view counter.  (For some reason, it won't let me insert the gif into the post, so you'll have to go to the video and hope it's still there.) That's about one view for every seven people on earth.  I mean, obviously it's not exactly that, because it's been more often seen by the same people over and over again than it's been seen by new people, but still.

To celebrate, here's a link and an embed to the most popular song on the internet:

TEDx speaker integrity

(via Slate) TED has published a letter to the organizers of TEDx conferences, a class of conference not run by the TED administrators but entitled to use the TED name, explaining how to detect pseudoscience, and making it very clear that TEDx conferences are obligated to vet their speakers, and weed out scammers and charlitans.

They wrote this letter in response to criticism and concern about the integrity of the TED name, including a reddit thread.  Really.  TED listens to reddit.

Here is my favorite part, a checklist for red flags that should clue TEDx organizers to look more carefully at a potential speaker's credentials:

Be alert if a potential speaker (or the speaker’s advocate on your planning team) does any of the following things:

  • Barrages you with piles of unrelated, over-general backup material, attempting to bury you in data they think you won’t have time to read
  • Holds a nonstandard degree. For instance, if the physics-related speaker has a degree in engineering, not physics; if the medical researcher does not have an M.D. or Ph.D.; if the affiliated university does not have a solid reputation. This is not snobbery; if a scientist truly wishes to make an advance in their chosen field, they’ll make an effort to engage with other scholars
  • Claims to have knowledge no one else has
  • Sends information only from websites they created themselves; there is little or no comment on them in mainstream science publications or even on Wikipedia
  • Provides data that takes the form of anecdotes, testimonials and/or studies of only one person
  • Sells a product, supplement, plan or service related to their proposed talk — this is a BIG RED FLAG
  • Acts oddly persistent about getting to your stage. A normal person who is rejected for the TEDx stage will be sad and usually withdraw from you. A hoaxer, especially one who sees a financial upside to being associated with TEDx, will persist, sometimes working to influence members of your team one by one or through alternative channels
  • Accuses you of endangering their freedom of speech. (Shutting down a bogus speaker is in no way endangering their freedom of speech. They’re still free to speak wherever they can find a platform. You are equally free not to lend them the TEDx platform.)
  • Demands that TEDx present “both sides of an issue” when one side is not backed by science or data. This comes up around topics such as creationism, anti-vaccination and alternative health
  • Acts upset or hurt that you are checking them out or doubting them
  • Accuses you of suppressing them because TED and TEDx is biased against them and run by rich liberals ;)
  • Threatens to publicly embarrass TED and TEDx for suppressing them. (The exact opposite will happen.)

This bit, also, was very good:

As a member of the community, if you do come across a talk on the TEDx YouTube channel or at a future event that you feel is presenting bad science or pseudoscience, please let us know. Bad science talks affect the credibility of TED and TEDx: it is important we get this right.

It's great to see the TED administrators taking seriously the community's concerns about TED's continued legitimacy.  It's especially great that they point out that Wikipedia is a good starting place for research -- and that research that can't be found on Wikipedia is probably bollocks.

Anita Sarkeesian's TED talk

Anita Sarkeesian, the vlogger behind Feminist Frequency and the Women vs Tropes Kickstarter, has a TED talk, at TEDxWomen 2012, now up on YouTube.  The talk is about the backlash to her Kickstarter -- a huge, organized hate campaign against her and her project. Trigger warning: misogyny.

Unfortunately I didn't have any money at the time all this harassment was going on, so I wasn't able to donate.  As a result, I don't have access to the news updates -- but I do have access to the headlines, which inform me that production started in late July of this year, since which point there have been two further updates.  I can't wait until this series comes out.

Syria Offline

An entire country has been pulled off the internet. I admit I haven't been following the events in Syria as close as I should have been, but yesterday I found out that the Syrian government appears to have shut down as much of the internet as they possibly can.  As of today, that includes some smaller internet services, not just the five major ISPs.  I've been following this liveblog on the topic:

Starting at 10:26 UTC on Thursday, 29 November (12:26pm in Damascus), Syria's international Internet connectivity shut down. In the global routing table, all 84 of Syria's IP address blocks have become unreachable, effectively removing the country from the Internet.

Google is doing their part to help out, linking up Twitter with phone service so that anyone with a phone line can get voice messages out.  That news is via cnet, who also posted a video of the internet service being cut of, connection by connection, created by CloudFlare.

In the event of my death

Delete my internet history. No but seriously, what am I going to do with all my data when I die?  I assume it's going to be a very long time from now, but I can't actually be sure.  And I am completely unprepared.

I've been thinking about this occasionally since I read this interview, between webcomic creators Joey Comeau and Ryan North.  North talks about what's going to happen with all his online affairs after he dies.  His answer, too, is apparently nothing:

Joey: Your career is on computers, and probably a large part of your life is, too. Does anyone else have your passwords? What happens if you die tonight? Will your family be able to get into your email and sort out your affairs? Do you want them to? Have you got a goodbye Dinosaur Comic in your will?

Ryan: I've got nothing. I've come close to setting up a dead man's switch: a program where if I don't check in on it once every week or so, it assumes I'm dead, and goes into action. My final Dinosaur Comic gets posted, friends get pre-composed goodbye emails, enemies get a final "HEY SCREW YOU I'M DEAD BUT I'M STILL KINDA CHEESED AT YOU" message, and important passwords get emailed to my family. But I keep thinking, what if it goes wrong? What if it goes off prematurely and starts trying to tie off the loose ends in my life when I'm still around? It's a risk I haven't taken yet. It might make a good subject for a comic though!

Anyway if you're asking for my passwords they're all "ryaniscool" now.

This is on my mind again today because Cory Doctorow posted an article on Locus Online, The Internet of the Dead, last Friday, and I got around to reading it last night.  A friend of his, a much more exhaustively embedded hacker than Ryan North, passed away, and (because no one knew what to do with it) he offered to store the data until his friend's family knew how to deal with it.

Keeping your data on your live, spinning platter means that it will get saved every time you do your regular backup (assuming you perform this essential ritual!), and if the drive starts to fail, you’ll know about it right away. It’s not like dragging an old floppy out of a dusty box and praying that it hasn’t succumbed to bitrot since it was put away.

[...]

if you just stick the PC on a shelf or in a box in the basement until you know what to do with the data, there’s a good chance that the data will be lost. When it comes to computers, storage is fraught with peril. The lubricant on the drives’ bearings dries up and the disks seize. They get flooded out, or damp infiltrates them. They get gnawed by rodents, and insects fill them with droppings.

If natural causes don’t get them, then robbery might.

Ultimately Doctorow puts his friend's files on a cloud drive, where they will be held in an archive for 10 years, prepaid.

I'm not good enough with computers to set up my own dead man's switch, and I can't afford to set up my own cloud drive archive of my whole life.  But I have thought about putting together an envelope, perhaps with a password to a ZIP file I will keep updated with all my current passwords -- or, the ones that I don't want to have entombed upon my passing.  An instruction to locate and post a final blog update, messages to my friends and family, documents appointing artistic and digital executors, and a general outline of what to do if I happen to have some kinds of assets upon my death.

And I think it's a fair bet that I've thought this through more than most of the people I know.  Granted, many of them may not have quite as much of their lives on the interwebs.  But what data they do have online means something, and for some of them, it might be lost forever.

Or, maybe most of the people I know just share all their passwords with their parents, and I'm more than usually paranoid about this sort of thing.

Wikipedia editors' cool new toy

Slate.com has instructed me to be jealous, and I am.  The top 100 editors at Wikipedia are being granted access to JSTOR, for free.  Normally, only universities are allowed this privilege. This cooperation is going to do even more to bolster Wikipedia's credibility -- as Fruzsina Eördögh at Slate puts it,

The online encyclopedia gets a bad rap for being at times inaccurate and easily prank-able; the joke goes that the sources listed are usually the top Google searches, not actual scholarly material. If Wikipedia articles become more well-known for citing scholarly journals, however, these criticisms have a real chance of becoming moot.

I have to admit, it's really fun to watch the academic community slowly torpedo the popular prejudice against crowd sourcing.  After all, the highest possible degree of public cooperation has always been the method that allowed academia to advance.  It's just been a very long time since the amount of cooperation that entailed changed much.