Carpenter: The Gathering Cloud

From the Modification of Clouds

The Cloud is an airily deceptive name connoting a floating world far removed from the physical realities of data.

The Gathering Cloud by J. R. Carpenter is a great interactive work that uses Luke Howard’s Essay on the Modification of Clouds from 1803 to meditate on the digital cloud. The The work “is a hybrid print- and web-based work by J. R. Carpenter commissioned by NEoN Digital Arts Festival 2016.”

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Brianna Wu appalled at FBI’s #GamerGate investigative report

Screenshot of text from FBI Report
From FBI #GamerGate Report

The FBI has released their report on #GamerGate after a Freedom Of Information request and it doesn’t seem that they took the threats that seriously. According to a Venturebeat story Brianna Wu (is) appalled at FBI’s #GamerGate investigative report.

Wu, who is running for Congress, said in an email that she is “fairly livid” because it appears the FBI didn’t check out many of her reports about death threats. Wu catalogued more than 180 death threats that she said she received because she spoke out against sexism in the game industry and #GamerGate misogyny that eventually morphed into the alt-right movement and carried into the U.S. presidential race.

It sounds like the FBI either couldn’t trace the threats or they didn’t think they were serious enough and eventually closed down the investigation. In the aftermath of the shooting at the Québec City mosque we need to take the threats of trolls more seriously as Anita Sarkeesian did when she was threatened with a “Montreal Massacre style attack” before speaking at the University of Utah. Yes, only a few act on their threats, but threats piggy-back on the terror to achieve their end. Those making the threats may justify it as just for the lulz, but they do so knowing that some people act on their threats.

On another point, having just given a paper on Palantir I was intrigued to read that the FBI used it in their investigation. The report says that “A search of social media logins using Palantir’s search around feature revealed a common User ID number for two of the above listed Twitter accounts, profiles [Redacted] … A copy of the Palantir chart created from the Twitter results will be uploaded to the case file under a separate serial.” One wonders how useful connecting to Twitter accounts to one ID is.

Near the end of the report, which is really just a collection of redacted documents, there is a heavily redacted email from one of those harassed where all but a couple of lines are left for us to read including,

We feel like we are sending endless emails into the void with you.

CWRC/CSEC: The Canadian Writing Research Collaboratory

The Canadian Writing Research Collaboratory (CWRC) today launched its Collaboratory. The Collaboratory is a distributed editing environment that allows projects to edit scholarly electronic texts (using CWRC Writer), manage editorial workflows, and publish collections. There are also links to other tools like CWRC Catalogue and Voyant (that I am involved in.) There is an impressive set of projects already featured in CWRC, but it is open to new projects and designed to help them.

Susan Brown deserves a lot of credit for imagining this, writing the CFI (and other) proposals, leading the development and now managing the release. I hope it gets used as it is a fabulous layer of infrastructure designed by scholars for scholars.

One important component in CWRC is CWRC-Writer, an in-browser XML editor that can be hooked into content management systems like the CWRC back-end. It allows for stand-off markup and connects to entity databases for tagging entities in standardized ways.

Dungeons & Dragons: Satanic Panic – Video – NYTimes.com

The New York Times has a video series called the Retro Report. One story is about Dungeons & Dragons: Satanic Panic. It looks at the media fed moral panic that eventually lost steam. It ends by praising all the “leadership” and “moral” skills learned. Now experts are recommending “free play” and … ironically … role playing games are now the solution!

Information Geographies

Thanks to a note from Domenico Fiormonte to Humanist I came across the Information Geographies page at the Oxford Internet Institute. The OII has been producing interesting maps that show aspects of the internet. The one pictured above shows the distribution of Geographic Knowledge in Freebase. Given the importance of Freebase to Google’s Knowledge Graph it is important to understand the bias of its information to certain locations.

Geographic content in Freebase is largely clustered in certain regions of the world. The United States accounts for over 45% of the overall number of place names in the collection, despite covering about 2% of the Earth, less than 7% of the land surface, and less than 5% of the world population, and about 10% of Internet users. This results in a US density of one Freebase place name for every 1500 people, and far more place names referring to Massachusetts than referring to China.

Domenico Fiormonte’s email to Humanist (Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 29, No. 824) argues that “It is our responsibility to preserve cultural diversity, and even relatively small players can make a difference by building more inclusive ‘representations’.” He argues that we need to be open about the cultural and linguistic biases of the tools and databases we build.

Godwin’s Bot: Recent stories on AI

Godwin’s Bot is a good essay from Misha Lepetic on 3QuarksDaily on artificial intelligence (AI). The essay reflects on the recent Microsoft debacle with @TayandYou, an AI chat bot that was “targeted at 18 to 24 year old in the US.” (About Tay & Privacy) For a New Yorker story on how Microsoft shut it down after Twitter trolls trained it to be offensive see I’ve Seen the Greatest A.I. Minds of My Generation Destroyed By Twitter. Lepetic calls her Godwin’s Bot after Godwin’s Law that asserts that in any online conversation there will eventually be a comparison to Hitler.

What is interesting about the essay is that it then moves to an interview wtih Stephen Wolfram on AI & The Future of Civilization where Wolfram distinguishes between inventing a goal, which is difficult to automate, and (once one can articulate a goal clearly) executing it, which can be automated.

How do we figure out goals for ourselves? How are goals defined? They tend to be defined for a given human by their own personal history, their cultural environment, the history of our civilization. Goals are something that are uniquely human.

Lepetic then asks if Tay had a goal or who had goals for Tay. Microsoft had a goal, and that had to do with “learning” from and about a demographic that uses social media. Lepetic sees it as a “vacuum cleaner for data.” In many ways the trolls did us a favor by misleading it.

Or … TayandYou was troll-bait to train a troll filter.

My question is whether anyone has done a good analysis of how the Tay campaign actually worked?

Paolo Sordi: I blog therefore I am

I_am_remix
On the ethos of digital presence: I participated today in a panel launching the Italian version of Paolo Sordi’s book I Am: Remix Your Web Identity. (The Italian title is Bloggo Con WordPress Dunque Sono.) The panel included people like Domenico Fiormonte, Luisa Capelli, Daniela Guardamangna, Raul Mordenti, and, of course, Paolo Sordi.

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Which Words Are Used To Describe White And Black NFL Prospects?

Graphic with words

I’ve been meaning to blog this 2014 use of Voyant Tools for some time. Which Words Are Used To Describe White And Black NFL Prospects?. Deadspin did a neat project where they gathered pre-drafting scout reports on black and white football players and then analyzed them with Voyant showing how some words are used more for white or black players.

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The Malware Museum

There are a number of stories about The Malware Museum on the Internet Archive. This archive gathers a number of 1980s and 1990s viruses (just the animated parts) with emulators so you can run them and see their visual effects. The Toronto Star story has a quote from Hyponnen on the art of the early viruses,

“You could call it an art form,” he said in an interview. “These early virus-writers were expressing themselves with animations and sounds.”

It wasn’t until later that viruses started encrypting things and blackmailing you to decrypt them or doing other things to make money.

There is an extended talk (50 minutes) by Mikko Hypponen, the security specialist who gave this collection, on The History and the Evolution of Computer Viruses. The talk starts with the first PC virus BRAIN that he traced back to two brothers in Packistan to Stuxnet. (For a good book on Stuxnet see Kim Zetter’s Countdown to Zero Day.)

When Women Stopped Coding

The NPR show Planet Money aired a show in 2014 on When Women Stopped Coding that looks at why the participation of women in computer science changed in 1984 after rising for a decade. Unlike other professional programs like medical school and law school, the percent participation of women when from about 37% in 1984 down to under 20% today. The NPR story suggests that the problem is the promotion of the personal computer at the moment when it became affordable. In the 1980s they were heavily marketed to boys which meant that far more men came to computer science in college with significant experience with computing, something that wasn’t true in the 70s when there weren’t that many computers in the home and math is what mattered. The story builds on research by Jane Margolis and in particular her book Unlocking the Clubhouse.

This fits with my memories of the time. I remember being jealous of the one or two kids who had Apple IIs in college (in the late 70s) and bought an Apple II clone (a Lemon?) as soon has I had a job just to start playing with programming. At college I ended up getting 24/7 access to the computing lab in order to be able to use the word processing available (a Pascal editor and Diablo daisy wheel printer for final copy.) I hated typing and retyping my papers and fell in love with the backspace key and editing of word processing. I also remember the sense of comradery among those who spent all night in the lab typing papers in the face of our teacher’s mistrust of processed text. Was it coincidence that the two of us who shared the best senior thesis prize in philosophy in 1892 wrote our theses in the lab on computers? What the story doesn’t deal with, that Margolis does, is the homosocial club-like atmosphere around computing. This still persists. I’m embarrassed to think of how much I’ve felt a sense of belonging to these informal clubs without asking who was excluded.