April 10, 2018 in 3,784 words

The Moscow Midterms

How Russia could steal our next election


The first Americans to line up to vote on Nov. 6, 2018, will be the East Coast’s earliest risers. As early as 5 a.m. EST, rubbing the sleep from their eyes and clutching travel thermoses of coffee, they will start the procession of perhaps 90 million Americans to vote that day. The last to cast ballots will be Hawaiians, who will do so until 11 p.m. East Coast time. When all is said and done, the federal election will unfold something like an 18-hour-long ballet of democracy: 50 states, dozens of different kinds of voting machines and an expectation that everything should be counted up in time for TV networks to broadcast the results before Americans head to bed. Election Day 2018 is expected to unfold no differently than it has in years past.

Except it might.

While Americans are well-acquainted with Russian online trolls’ 2016 disinformation campaign, there’s a more insidious threat of Russian interference in the coming midterms. The Russians could hack our very election infrastructure, disenfranchising Americans and even altering the vote outcome in key states or districts. Election security experts have warned of it, but state election officials have largely played it down for fear of spooking the public. We still might not know the extent to which state election infrastructure was compromised in 2016, nor how compromised it will be in 2018.

Most of us can’t really picture what it would look like to tamper with an election, but security experts can. Even as you read this, voting systems, so dry and complicated and completely taken for granted, could well be in the midst of fending off attacks from foreign adversaries. Things could get bad — really bad. Bad like this:

The following is a rendering of what a worst-case Election Day scenario could look like, based on FiveThirtyEight’s interviews with voting and cybersecurity experts and state election officials, along with news reports and documents in the public record.


Congress wants to ‘inflict pain’ on Mark Zuckerberg. Is he ready for it?

  • Facebook CEO will testify before committees over data misuse
  • A major test for Zuckerberg’s communication skills


Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Mark Zuckerberg would like you to know one thing – Facebook messed up. During a rare press conference last week, Zuckerberg was grilled by journalists over Facebook’s privacy lapses. His message was consistent: mistakes were made, he takes responsibility and the company has made sweeping changes to better protect user data.

“We didn’t take a broad enough view of what our responsibility is, and that was a huge mistake. It was my mistake,” he said.

While some of the questions were tough, it was merely a dress rehearsal for a much more consequential grilling in Washington DC this week. On Tuesday, Zuckerberg will testify before a joint hearing of the Senate commerce and judiciary committees over data misuse, following revelations that Cambridge Analytica acquired millions of profiles of US citizens and used it to build a software program to predict and influence voters. The next day, Zuckerberg will testify on the same topic before the House energy and commerce committee.

Taking the stand will be a major test for Zuckerberg’s communication skills. Unlike when he deals with the media, his public relations team won’t be there to cherry-pick questions from friendly parties. And Congress wants its pound of flesh.


It’s time to talk about Mark Zuckerberg’s resignation

PLAN B


Zuckerberg will face the music in Congress this week.

Mark Zuckerberg isn’t planning on going anywhere.

“I’m very confident that we’re gonna be able to work through these issues,” the Facebook founder and CEO told The Atlantic. When a reporter asked last week if he was the right person to lead Facebook through its current crisis, Zuckerberg responded with a resounding “Yes,” adding “I think life is about learning from the mistakes and figuring out what you need to do to move forward.”

But Zuckerberg is about to face a very public trial, with two days of testimony to Congress broadcast online. It would be unusual for Facebook’s investors, high-powered board, and Zuckerberg himself not to have a “Plan B.”

Zuckerberg faces a grilling today in front of Judiciary Committee Senators, a seasoned group of former prosecutors with oversight of the US’s Homeland Security Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation. Tomorrow he appears in front of the House’s Energy and Commerce Committee. On both days, he will likely be quizzed on data privacy for Facebook users in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Russian meddling on the platform and the spread of disinformation generally. Congressional hearings are rarely kind to CEOs whose companies have messed up.


Here’s why tech companies abuse our data: because we let them

In the pursuit of ever-faster online transactions, we have facilitated surveillance capitalism – it’s time to create some friction.


‘Silicon Valley’s pursuit of frictionless transactions has given rise to the creeping use of our data to ‘scientifically’ manage most facets of our lives, to efficiently deliver cheap bliss and convenience.’

We live in an e-commerce utopia. I can call out orders and my demands are satisfied through an automated, seamless transaction. I just have to ask Alexa, or Siri, or one of the other digital assistants developed by Silicon Valley firms, who await the commands and manage the affairs of their human bosses.

We’re building a world of frictionless consumerism. To see the problems with it requires you to stop and think, which itself runs against the grain of this technology. Utopia is in the eye of the beholder. One person’s utopia is another’s dystopia. Take the obese humans in Pixar’s Wall-E: never having to move from their mobile chairs with screens they use to get their food delivered to them. The point is not that Alexa will make us obese. Rather, it’s that intelligent technology can manage much more than isolated purchase orders of books, or the devices and systems in our homes. It can manage our lives, who we are and are capable of being, for better or worse.

Silicon Valley’s pursuit of frictionless transactions in our modern digital networked environment is relentless. It has given rise to surveillance capitalism – the extraction and monetisation of our data – and the creeping use of such data to “scientifically” manage most facets of our lives, in order to efficiently deliver cheap bliss and convenience.

Yet there is much more to being human than the pursuit of such shallow forms of happiness. Flourishing human beings need some friction in their decision-making. Friction is resistance; it slows things down. And in our hyper-rich, fast-paced, attention-deprived world, we need opportunities to stop and think, to deliberate and even second-guess ourselves and others. This is how we develop the capacity for self-reflection; how we experiment, learn and develop our own beliefs, tastes and preferences; how we exercise self-determination. This is our free will in action.

DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: “We need to introduce digital speed bumps to prompt consumers to slow down and think about their transactions.”


Apple Now Runs On 100% Green Energy, And Here’s How It Got There

The most important thing about the company’s big renewable push might be that it’s bringing everyone–from suppliers to local utilities–along for the ride.


Apple Park’s enormous roof is covered with solar panels.

You have to see Apple’s Reno, Nevada, data center from the inside to truly understand how huge it is. It’s made up of five long white buildings sitting side by side on a dry scrubby landscape just off I-80, and the corridor that connects them through the middle is a quarter-mile long. On either side are big, dark rooms–more than 50 of them–filled with more than 200,000 identical servers, tiny lights winking in the dark from their front panels. This is where Siri lives. And iCloud. And Apple Music. And Apple Pay.

Powering all these machines, and keeping them cool, takes a lot of power–constant, uninterrupted, redundant power. At the Reno data center, that means 100% green power from three different Apple solar farms.

The nearest one, and the first one built, is the Fort Churchill solar farm an hour southeast in desolate country near the town of Yerington, Nevada, where there’s nothing but flat, dry land bordered by low, jagged hills and blue desert sky. From the main road you can walk up to the fence and look down the seemingly endless lines of solar modules on the other side, with long concave mirrors catching and focusing the sun’s energy into the line of small black photo cells sitting just behind them.

Churchill is representative of the growing number of renewable energy sources that have popped up around Apple’s data centers in recent years. Since these massive computing machines use more power than any other kind of Apple facility, the company worked hard to get them powered by 100% renewable energy, reaching that goal in 2014.


For every $1 the US put into adding renewable energy last year, China put in $3

GROWING GAP


Powering up.

China, the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, is determined to rebalance its energy mix, and incorporate more clean energy. That determination is reflected in the money it put into renewable energy last year, dwarfing spending by the next biggest investor, the US.

Last year nearly half of the world’s new renewable energy investment of $279.8 billion (pdf, p.11) came from China, according to a report published April 5 by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, and the sustainable energy finance center run by the United Nations Environment Program and the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management. China’s investment in renewable energy—excluding large hydro projects—rose 30% compared with 2016, and was more than three times of that of the US, whose investment in the sector dropped 6% from 2016 to $40.5 billion last year.

China first overtook the US in new renewable energy investment in 2009 (p.14), but the gap between the two only amounted to $14 billion at that time.

Together, the “big three” developing economies, China, India, and Brazil, accounted for a record 63% of global investment in renewable energy in 2017, noted the report (p.20). Developing countries first surpassed developed country investment in renewables in 2015, but fell back in 2016.


7 Times Google Maps Straight Up Ruined People’s Lives

Have you ever gotten mad at Google Maps for underestimating how long a road trip would take, or telling you to turn left when it was really more of a light merge? How about for nearly leading you to an agonizing death in the desert, or nudging nations ever so slightly closer to nuclear war? People, companies, and even governments have blindly followed Google Maps to such disastrous destinations. You’d almost think the app is getting its revenge for all the times we’ve asked it to look at “Batman, Turkey.” Here are seven landmark cases in Google Maps v. Humanity.

7. An Error Got The Wrong House Demolished


You remember planning to have your house demolished. It takes scheduling and meeting contractors and signing documents and a whole lot of red tape. It’s not an impulse decision, to say the least. Which is why a Texan woman was a tad surprised to find that she had apparently OK’d a crew to tear down her home.


“I’m sorry, but I have the ‘destroying your house’ papers right here, and you don’t have the ‘not destroying your house’ form.”

Lindsay Diaz came home one day to find that her life was ruined by the kookiest of mishaps. Her house had been completely demolished by Billy L. Nabors Demolition, whose slogan is “We could wreck the world — Jesus saves,” which is the demolition man’s version of “Kill ’em all and let God sort them out.” When confronted, the company insisted that they had been contracted to tear down 7601 Cousteau Drive. The only problem was that Diaz’s address was 7601 Calypso Drive, which for Google Maps somehow counted as “close enough.”

A spokesperson for Google admitted, “Both addresses were shown as being in the same location on Google Maps,” adding that “the issue was fixed as soon as it was brought to our attention.” Thank goodness they corrected that glitch after the demolition. That solves everything! At least now the pizza delivery guy won’t get lost when he’s bringing an order to the pile of rubble.


AI experts want government algorithms to be studied like environmental hazard

DATA DANGER


Best of luck.

Artificial intelligence experts are urging governments to require assessments of AI implementation that mimic the environmental impact reports now required by many jurisdictions.

AI Now, a nonprofit founded to study the societal impacts of AI, said an algorithmic impact assessment (AIA) would assure that the public and governments understand the scope, capability, and secondary impacts an algorithm could have, and people could voice concerns if an algorithm was behaving in a biased or unfair way.

“If governments deploy systems on human populations without frameworks for accountability, they risk losing touch with how decisions have been made, thus rendering them unable to know or respond to bias, errors, or other problems,” the report said. “The public will have less insight into how agencies function, and have less power to question or appeal decisions.”

An AIA would first define the automated system a government wants to use, the researchers said. Such a definition shouldn’t be too broad, unless the government wants to spend its time disclosing every time they use a spell-check on a word document, but not so narrow that it leaves out important details. The AIA should disclose not only how an algorithm works mathematically, but what kind of data it needs to train, as well as who will be influencing and interpreting its outputs.


Blockchain is not only crappy technology but a bad vision for the future

Blockchain is not only crappy technology but a bad vision for the future. Its failure to achieve adoption to date is because systems built on trust, norms, and institutions inherently function better than the type of no-need-for-trusted-parties systems blockchain envisions. That’s permanent: no matter how much blockchain improves it is still headed in the wrong direction.


This December I wrote a widely-circulated article on the inapplicability of blockchain to any actual problem. People objected mostly not to the technology argument, but rather hoped that decentralization could produce integrity.

Let’s start with this: Venmo is a free service to transfer dollars, and bitcoin transfers are not free. Yet after I wrote an article last December saying bitcoin had no use, someone responded that Venmo and Paypal are raking in consumers’ money and people should switch to bitcoin.

What a surreal contrast between blockchain’s non-usefulness/non-adoption and the conviction of its believers! It’s so entirely evident that this person didn’t become a bitcoin enthusiast because they were looking for a convenient, free way to transfer money from one person to another and discovered bitcoin. In fact, I would assert that there is no single person in existence who had a problem they wanted to solve, discovered that an available blockchain solution was the best way to solve it, and therefore became a blockchain enthusiast.

POINT OF REFLECTION: It may not have been useful to embed a hyperlink to a widely-circulated article that isn’t written in English. Though it was pretty cool to watch it translate in real-time as I scrolled down through it.


Your Body is a Teeming Battleground

It’s time to rethink the quest to control aging, death, and disease—and the fear of mortality that fuels it.

I went to medical school, at least in part, to get to know death and perhaps to make my peace with it. So did many of my doctor friends, as I would find out. One day—usually when you’re young, though sometimes later—the thought hits you: You really are going to die. That moment is shocking, frightening, terrible. You try to pretend it hasn’t happened (it’s only a thought, after all), and you go about your business, worrying about this or that, until the day you put your hand to your neck—in the shower, say—and … What is that? Those hard lumps that you know, at first touch, should not be there? But there they are, and they mean death. Your death, and you can’t pretend anymore.

I never wanted to be surprised that way, and I thought that if I became a doctor and saw a lot of death, I might get used to it; it wouldn’t surprise me, and I could learn to live with it. My strategy worked pretty well. Over the decades, from all my patients, I learned that I would be well until I got sick and that although I could do some things to delay the inevitable a bit, whatever control I had was limited. I learned that I had to live as if I would die tomorrow and at the same time as if I would live forever. Meanwhile, I watched as what had been called “medical care”—that is, treating the sick—turned into “health care,” keeping people healthy, at an ever-rising cost.

In her new book, Barbara Ehrenreich ventures into the fast-growing literature on aging, disease, and death, tracing her own disaffection with a medical and social culture unable to face mortality. She argues that what “makes death such an intolerable prospect” is our belief in a reductionist science that promises something it cannot deliver—ultimate control over our bodies. The time has come to rethink our need for such mastery, she urges, and reconcile ourselves to the idea that it may not be possible.


How I Made A Dumb Video Making Fun Of Sinclair Broadcasting And Somehow Started A Media War

his past weekend, the media watchdog group Allied Progress began airing a message on Sinclair Broadcast Group stations urging viewers to contact the FCC and ask the agency to stop Sinclair’s consolidation of local news. This is something that the FCC could do, if it wanted—Sinclair is in the process of buying out Tribune Media and its 42 local TV stations, a merger that would put the number of stations Sinclair owns or operates past 200 if the agency allows it to go forward. Coincidentally, Sinclair has consistently produced content praising Donald Trump while it seeks that approval from Trump’s FCC.

The Allied Progress ad mostly uses a video I made a week ago, featuring dozens of Sinclair anchors reading a ridiculous statement bashing the media and parroting Trump’s rhetoric against “fake news.” Sinclair, in turn, bracketed the 30-second Allied Progress ad with its own, moderately-to-severely unhinged commentary on the Allied Progress ad:

Allied Progress didn’t spare any expense on this, as the spot is airing on Sinclair stations in its largest markets—including Washington, D.C., Baltimore, and Seattle. La guerra de los medios is upon us.

This was not my intention.

On March 7, CNN’s Brian Stelter first reported that Sinclair would be pushing its local news staff to air the message, and that’s when I got the idea to make a video of all the Sinclair anchors reading this ridiculous statement, together, in that all-too-familiar speech pattern shared by nearly every American TV newsreader. It would be absurd, a visual spectacle. Most importantly, it would be dumb.


Man in hospital after eating world’s hottest chilli

A man who ate the world’s hottest chilli pepper in a chilli-eating contest ended up in hospital after experiencing “thunderclap” headaches.

The 34-year-old man had eaten one Carolina Reaper chilli in the contest in New York State.

The “crushingly painful” headaches came on in the next few days.

His experience has been published in the BMJ Case Reports as it is the first case to be associated with eating chilli peppers.

The doctor who reviewed his case has warned anyone eating hot chilli peppers to seek medical attention immediately if they experience sudden onset headaches.

“Thunderclap” headaches are caused by the sudden tightening of the vessels that supply blood to the brain, a condition known as reversible cerebral vasoconstriction syndrome (RCSV).

Immediately after eating at the contest, the man experienced dry heaves.


Video Goodnesses
and not-so-goodnesses

Anchors at Sinclair-owned local news station parrot a script pushing Trump talking points and “the troubling trend of irresponsible, one sided news stories plaguing our country.”


“I gotta do like, I gotta do a long time.”

This is what it’s really like to be a kid in prison.

See more on Raised In The System on @HBO NOW and learn more at http://raisedinthesystem.com/

THANKS to HBO and VICE News for making this program available on YouTube.


Aerones, a Latvian startup, designed a giant industrial cleaning drone. Cleaning wind turbines and grain storage drums is often done by helicopters, but it’s expensive. This drone does it for a lot less money. Aerones is still in its incubator phase (it’s backed by Y combinator), so the company’s drone has yet to reach the commercial market.

Read more: http://robotics.sciencemag.org/conten…


Scott Pruitt, the head of the EPA, comes under fire for a long list of scandals, primarily involving overspending with taxpayer money.


In Hari Kondabolu’s documentary “The Problem with Apu,” the comedian explains how a show as beloved as “The Simpsons'” still retains a racial blind spot after 30 years.

THANKS to Comedy Central and The Daily Show with Trevor Noah for making this program available on YouTube.


Trump’s attorney Michael Cohen had his office, residence and hotel room raided by the FBI. Ugh, Mondays!


If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in Trump’s White House.

THANKS to CBS and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert for making this program available on YouTube.


Several short videos combined.


FINALLY . . .

Quiz: Are these idioms British or American English?

SPEECH MARKS


We’re chuffed just to be here.


English is a messy language. The roots of its grammar are Germanic, but its vocabulary comes mostly from Romance languages. And as a global lingua franca, hundreds of millions of people modify it, and invent new meanings and grammar. So how can any one culture lay claim to its proper use?

The Prodigal Tongue, by Lynne Murphy, comes out today from Penguin Books. In it she argues against linguistic snobbery, in particular between some of the most powerful speakers of English, Brits and Americans. The stereotype that British vocabulary is silly and over the top, and the stereotype that Americans are jargon-izing killers of proper English, are both unfounded, she shows.

The American-born linguistics professor and language blogger has lived in Brighton, England for nearly 20 years. In her new book she analyzes our many preconceived notions about what we believe is correct English, and by extension, what is “bastardized” English.

Drawing on Murphy’s research on Britishisms and Americanisms, Quartz has made a quiz to test your knowledge and challenge your biases.

Guess where each word or phrase came from originally, the US or the UK:


Ed. More tomorrow? Probably. Possibly. Maybe. Not?