Adam Fields (weblog) » Politics / Society entertaining hundreds of millions of eyeball atoms every day Mon, 08 Apr 2013 17:49:20 +0000 en hourly 1 My Huck Finn edit Sat, 08 Jan 2011 19:17:15 +0000 adam “Jim was monstrous proud about it, and he got so he wouldn’t hardly notice the other dudes. Dudes would come miles to hear Jim tell about it, and he was more looked up to than any dude in that country. Strange dudes would stand with their mouths open and look him all over, same as if he was a wonder. Dudes is always talking about witches in the dark by the kitchen fire; but whenever one was talking and letting on to know all about such things, Jim would happen in and say, ‘Hm! What you know ’bout witches?’ and that dude was corked up and had to take a back seat.”

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Toys and Testing Wed, 10 Dec 2008 22:37:38 +0000 adam BoingBoing reports that new rules on consumer safety threaten to put small producers out of business because the testing is too expensive.

I have a few thoughts on this.

This is a pretty common libertarian vs. nanny state disagreement – should consumers be allowed to make their own choices, but I don’t think it’s that simple, for a few reasons. (Before you go on, I think it’s worth reading my previous piece on some failure modes of the market.)

Keeping toxic chemicals out of kids toys can’t really be the responsibility of the parents, because it’s not within their domain of control. You can be a responsible parent, you can only buy toys you “trust” (whatever that means) and your child will still be exposed to toys you didn’t have any say about. It’s unavoidable – other kids have toys, day care centers have toys, kids play with toys in the playground that other kids bring or leave behind. The only way to prevent these toys from coming into contact with kids is to keep them out of the marketplace to begin with. If you like, it’s society’s responsibility to keep poisons out of kids’ toys in general, because the incentives don’t line up for the individual actors.

After-the-fact deterrents are simply not effective. Lawsuits take years to resolve, are overly burdensome, and it may be impossible to even track down the responsible party (I’m told it’s nearly impossible to sue a foreign company). On top of that, even an expensive PR-nightmare lawsuit may not be a sufficient deterrent to a large corporation with a hefty legal budget. A few million dollar settlements can seem very small in the face of a few hundred million in profits per year. Also, it’s worth noting that this is a reactive response which doesn’t actually fix the problem, but tries to throw monetary compensation in an attempt to “make things better”. But that’s basically what we’re being asked to accept here with the free market solution – let us do what we want and if you don’t like it, sue us, because it’s “too expensive” to ensure that we make safe products. We have that prefrontal cortex for a reason – people are uniquely capable of making predictive decisions, and to allow reactive forces to handle problems we can plainly see are coming seems ridicuously primitive to me. One might argue that we don’t have the capacity to predict how our actions might affect these complex systems, but that’s exactly why we need to be able to adapt and tweak them as we go. I haven’t seen any evidence that the market makes better choices in these kinds of situations, and in fact the call for regulation is a response to the failure of market forces – these companies have already shown an inability to keep toxic ingredients out of their products, yet we still continue to have these problems. Public outrage and whatever lawsuits are currently in the pipeline haven’t served as an adequate deterrent. Why’s that? I don’t know.

This is similar to the conundrum faced by small food producers. See Joel Salatin’s Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal for a lot of good examples of this. The main thrust is that the rules that are meant for large corporations where the overhead gets absorbed by the scale are overly burdensome for small producers, who don’t have the resources for dedicated testing facilities but also have less capacity to do harm, both because they have fewer customers but also because some kinds of harm are caused by the steps needed to operate at scale in the first place. I like to buy local food from farmers that I’ve come to know and trust. This can work at a small scale – if I want to see their operation, I can go visit the farm. I have no similar way to verify that with a larger company.

I don’t think that broken regulation is a condemnation of the entire idea of regulation, but I think it’s obvious that the rules need to be different depending on the scale of the domain they apply to. It is not unreasonable for Hasbro and Mattel to have to follow different rules than the guy who’s carving wood figures in his garage and selling them on etsy. Scale matters – more is different, and bigger is different.

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Vote. Tue, 04 Nov 2008 02:00:12 +0000 adam Get out there tomorrow and do what you feel you need to. This country has gone astray, and we need to fix it. The next four, eight, twelve years are important, and what you do tomorrow will dictate the path for those years. We need strong leadership who will listen to the concerns of our citizenship.

On that note, the Columbia Journalism Review has reported on a new map of political blogs that my company, Morningside Analytics recently produced for a study being conducted by Columbia’s Toni Stabile Center for Investigative Reporting and the Berkman Center at Harvard.

Political Clustermap
(Click the image to read our blog post about it.)

I find this map extremely compelling, and it speaks volumes about the respective approaches that will follow one of these two men to the White House tomorrow.

John Kelly, our chief scientist and founder, sums it up:

“There are some groups of pro-McCain and anti-Obama blogs that are well connected to each other but not densely linked with bloggers in the longstanding political blogosphere, even those on the conservative side [...]. If these were typical political bloggers, we would expect to see them better woven into the fabric of the network.”

Cogitate on that, sleep well, and vote proudly.

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Why I eat what I eat. Sat, 01 Nov 2008 19:20:15 +0000 adam Some number of years ago, I used to think that the ability to get any kind of fresh produce any time of the year was a mark of an advanced global civilization. We had conquered a small piece of space and time and weather to bring me blueberries in February. More recently, we lived for over a year in the shadow of the neighborhood that used to belong to the World Trade Center. I don’t want to talk about that right now, but it serves to highlight a personal revelation. When we moved, we moved to a new neighborhood, a new breath of fresh air. And a farmer’s market opened, literally, right outside my door.

After my first visit, I started making it a point to go every Friday morning, even in the dead of winter, just to see what new bounty would be there. It began with fruit and vegetables, and as I explored more, eggs, milk, breads, and eventually meat. Each new discovery reminded me of what potential could be held by a simple item of food. A peach — this is what a peach is supposed to taste like. The word “luscious” really does not fully convey the impact of biting into a local peach at the height of the season. Apples as tart as you like, strawberries with no white center to be seen, blueberries both sweet and tart at the same time, carrots you can eat without peeling them. This food was not only better for you, it was simply better, in every respect that mattered.

And then August came, and I got to the tomatoes. The tomatoes made me a lifelong convert – the drawn line between “there’s a market there” and “I need to go to the market”. A supermarket tomato is not even in the same vocabulary as a fresh, ripe, local market tomato. Flavor, texture, aroma – it’s just unfair to even do a comparison.

Of course, there’s a tradeoff here. Eating seasonally means you relish every bite until you can’t stand it anymore, because you know that it won’t last. Most crops have a few months, but some last only a few weeks. There are cycles for everything – they come in and they’re not quite ready yet, then the next week or two they’re perfect, then they’re gone until next year. Hopefully by that time you’ve been able to eat your fill to hold you until next year, but then there’s something else wonderful that takes its place. Peas move to berries move to tomatoes move to root vegetables.

The jury’s still out, but the evidence points to organic and sustainable food being healthier. It appears that plants are more nutritious when they have to defend themselves from pests. Garbage in, garbage out — I don’t want to eat vegetables that are made entirely of petrochemical fertilizers in the same way that I don’t want to eat meat that’s made entirely of corn. I don’t voluntarily buy anything that has high fructose corn syrup in it, and you won’t find any of that at the market.

And it’s not just about the food. Yes, it’s better, and everything I can buy at the market, I do. But it’s also about confidence, and community in one of the oldest senses of the word. I know these farmers. I have recently visited one of the farms and plan to go see more. They stand behind their food. I know, for the most part, which ones use pesticides and which ones don’t, and I can see the relative effects that has on the quality of their food. I’m not afraid to eat their eggs raw or undercook my burger.

Seasonal/local is not organic. That’s not to say that organic is bad, but they’re not the same thing. Organic doesn’t necessarily equate to sustainable, or even high quality. All other factors being equal, organic tends to be the better choice, but it’s not the whole answer. A local food may in fact not be the best choice, but at least if you have a question about it, you can often talk to the farmer directly and get whatever answers you’re looking for.

And so – my buying patterns: I always shop at the market first. If I can get something there, I do. The quality is always better, it is certainly healthier, it has a lower carbon footprint when you factor in the petrochemicals they don’t use to fertilize, keep the pests away, and get it to you, and all of the farms at my markets are committed to sustainable farming practices. Plus, I like them personally and I want to give them my business. Shopping at the market isn’t always numerically competetive, but it is always value competetive – if something is 1.5x more at the market, it’s likely 5-10x better.

For the things I can’t find at the market, I do try to buy organic, and I try to ensure that they’re seasonal somewhere. For example, I don’t buy oranges from Florida in July. Not only is there no reason to given the abundance of other wonderful fruits here, they’re just not as good as the ones in January. Organic is usually preferable, because I think that food is healthier and better for the planet than “conventional” (whatever that really means).

I’m not a die-hard localist. I still buy coffee, and I eat imported Italian canned tomatoes when I can’t find good ones here. I love to cook, and shopping at the market simultaneously makes some decisions easier (I make what’s good that week) and improves my results. But what it really comes down to is that I’m committed to procuring for my family and friends the best food we can have while supporting people who love food as much as I do.

This is a healthy food chain. It’s good for the planet, it’s good for the farmers, it’s good for the plants and animals, and it’s good for us. Every little bit makes a difference.

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Shifting the Debate Fri, 24 Oct 2008 14:37:08 +0000 adam My company (Morningside Analytics) has just launched our Political Video Barometer, which tracks the movement of YouTube videos through conservative and liberal blogs:

The Barometer is updated 4 times a day and allows you to see which new videos are starting to break through within either the conservative or liberal blogs and which ones are breaking through to non-political audiences. We identify influential blogs through a unique cutting edge clustering approach – the underlying technology was also used earlier this year to produce this detailed report on Iran’s blogosphere for the Berkman Center at Harvard.

We are also running a blog at which will examine interesting findings from the barometer.

It’s always fun to launch a new product. We worked very hard on this, and I’m proud of it.


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On libertarian/capitalist intent Thu, 02 Oct 2008 13:13:06 +0000 adam For some time, I was a staunch Libertarian. That lasted until I started to examine the boundary cases where Libertarianism didn’t seem to offer a good answer. I still hold a lot of those principles dear, but I’m no longer convinced that complete Libertarianism can work in the real world. What follows are some of my recent thoughts on the free market.

The proponents of the free market often propose that private ownership gives people an incentive to make the most of resources, and that people with ownership incentive are likely to make the best decisions about the use of resources.

I tend to agree in many cases – the market does often work and find the best solution, but I’ve been mulling over some exceptions to that rule.

Some traps that individual decisions in the market can fall into:

1) Divergent interests: the interests of the owning party may not be the same as the general public.

2) Irrationality: people don’t always act rationally or in their best interest.

2a) Obscured Information: even in the face of good information, which is often not present, the right decision isn’t evident.

3) Vested Interest: ownership of a thing is not the same as stewardship of a thing, and if you don’t have a personal vested interest in the thing, your best use of it may be to divest yourself of it (i.e.: use it up, parcel it, consume it) in exchange for lots of short term money you can use to buy something you actually want.

4) Value dilution: the more stuff you own, the less you care about any given individual thing. Ownership of lots of things probably means that each individual one is less valuable, because the value of a thing must be measured not just against the external market value, but also its proportion to your total assets, difficulty to replace, your incentive to replace it if you lose it, sentimental value, subsidiary values (prestige from ownership, etc…), and a whole host of other things.

5) Lack of patience and susceptibility to fear: People in control of a thing may require immediate access to it (liquidity), and will sometimes act to preserve that liquidity at the expense of the health of the overall economy, and therefore at the expense of some value of the underlying asset. This happens even though the people controlling an asset may be able to see the writing on the wall – everyone will be fine if everyone sits tight, but if you wait and someone else moves first, you lose. I think this usually manifests as “private enterprise tends to seek short-term gains”, but it’s tightly tied to #6:

6) The Tragedy of the Selfish: this is a concept I’ve been toying with on and off for a few years. It’s not the Tragedy of the Commons, and it’s not quite the Tragedy of the Anticommons, though there are aspects of both in there, as well as an arms race component, and some Prisoner’s Dilemma. This is the situation that exists when an individual makes what is logically the best decision to maximize their own position, but the sum effect of everybody making their best decisions is that everybody ends up worse off rather than better. Libertarian capitalism hinges on the assumption that making everybody individually better off is the best way to maximize the happiness of the group, and it’s simply the case that there are situations where that assumption does not hold. The example I often use for this is buying an SUV to be safer on the road. You buy an SUV, then other people do, because they want to be safer too. Except that if enough people make that same decision, you’ve overall raised the chances that if you’re hit by a car, it’ll be an SUV, which will do much more damage than a smaller car. Everyone is better off if everyone else backs off and drives smaller cars. It’s a simplification, of course, but I hope that makes the point.

That’s what I’ve come up with so far. I’m sure there are more. Of course these don’t always apply, but I think at least one of them does often enough to warrant a better justification that “the market will solve the problem”. They’re certainly things to watch out for when getting out of the way and letting the market work.

What do you think?

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Martin’s Letter to his Mother-in-Law Fri, 26 Sep 2008 20:23:46 +0000 adam This was posted to a politics discussion list I’m on. I’ve been meaning to write something similar, but he beat me to it. I thought it was good, so here it is reprinted with permission:


Over the years we have know one another, I’ve steadfastly avoided
discussions of politics and religion, and I think that there has been a good
attitude and an agreement to disagree on several key issues of politics and

For the first time in all these years, I’m going to break with that, as
unlike in any time in my life, I think that I have an obligation to reach
out to people close to me to make a case for Barack Obama.

I ask you to step back from some of the specific issues where the
Republicans have long held their base in steadfast opposition to the
Democrats – issues that are more often than not are decided on a
state-by-state level. Divisive issues, like abortion, like gun ownership,
like tax policy – these issues are the classic “party line” issues that have
long divided this nation.

I ask that you look at the reality of what the Republican party has become,
not what they say, look at what they do. They are nothing at all like the
small government, fiscal conservatives they claim to be.

You know this – you must know it, you must see it. The deficit that we have
now – without the bailout of Wall Street, without the cost of the Iraq war,
without the tax breaks for Exxon, amounts to me and my children working
several months of every year for our entire lives just to pay the debt down.
Add in bailing out Wall Street and all of the other corporate tax breaks and
it gets worse.

So I ask you to look at John McCain as a man of the Republican party, in the
context of your own personal situation, as well as the state of the nation.

Following the economic policies of the current
Republican/Neoconservativeparty (and they are nothing at all like
actual Conservatives), we have seen:

- The ascendancy of China through trade policies that sacrificed American
workers for cheap Chinese labor producing deadly toxic goods.

- Wasting the lives of our military men and woman chasing phantoms in Iraq
while Bin Laden walks free in Afghanistan, where we should be.

- Supporting tax breaks for Exxon – a company with the largest profits of
any company in history – while denying tax credits for alternative energy

- Allowing United Airlines and other companies to gut the provisions of
their pension plans, while letting their CEO’s walk away with millions.

- The highest profits ever recorded by the health insurance companies and
pharma industry and the largest number of uninsured Americans unable to get
basic preventative health care.

- The systematic looting of the financial system, leaving you, me, our kids,
grand kids and great grandkids with the largest deficit ever recorded
outside of wartime (and soon to surpass that)

- The overall REDUCTION in take-home wages in the middle class

- The largest INCREASE in income for the top 1% of Americans ever known

- The most authoritarian government, with the most egregious violations of
the constitution ever seen, eradicating one basic right after the other.

- And, as of now, the attempt at the establishment of a
government-controlled financial system that absolutely DWARFS anything you
could ever find in Europe and is nothing less than a gift to the bosses of
Wall Street for their unspeakable economic crimes against America.

There’s more – much more – that I could go into, and while the Democrats are
hardly free of all blame for this, their biggest crime for the last 8 years
was not working hard enough to get elected.

The Neoconservative movement that hijacked the Republican Party leaves
nothing like the party of Lincoln or even of Richard Nixon, who by
comparison was a rank amateur to Karl Rove and company.

I know that Obama is a flawed candidate, and I do have some concerns about
his “experience” in some areas. For example, I’m a strong supporter of
individual gun ownership, I don’t think that public education works at all
anymore (but it can be fixed, maybe), and I grit my teeth when I see that
Obama voted for FISA, which essentially killed the fourth Amendment.

I have the recent Supreme Court decision of US v. Heller on the second
amendment to back me up on the guns, and I have hope that FISA and its
cohorts will be fixed one day. I think they can be.

There are other minor issues where I don’t think Obama is right, and on some
I’m in basic opposition. But there’s enough on the big picture items – the
economic policies, the technology, the plain old fashioned politics of
compromise to move everyone forward a little bit rather than moving some
ahead at the expense of others – an country where we can at least get to
something less punitive on the working person.

I’ve seen the results of the McCain “experience” of the last 8 years (plus
his many years in Washington DC), and if you can honestly say that you feel
better about the future of America today – after 8 years of the Bush
doctrine – which McCain supported 100%, never once voting against a proposed
Bush item – then do what you must.

McCain is no stranger to financial mis-deeds, with his previous involvement
in the Savings and Loan collapse (he was a member of the infamous “Keating
5″) and his wife’s business involvements with the Arabs are many and deep.
He’s not a “man of the people” at all, he’s a company man, through and

If you think CEO’s are over-paid, if you think that the richest people
should pay their fair share of taxes, if you think that the government
should be by, for and of The People, not the corporations, please, I beg
you, vote for Obama.

If you want to see your Grandchildren grow up in a world where America is
actually a kinder, gentler nation, where we take responsibility first for
our people and planet, not for the few oligarchs at the head of the Fortune
500 – where you and I will pay less taxes than a big company with all kinds
of tax breaks – where my children will be free to ask questions of their
leadership, to gather in protest to get redress for their grievances without
fear of being tasered or beaten for the “crime” of peaceful protest, where
their Vice President is competent to step into the job of President at a
moment’s notice, I beg you, vote for Obama.

Although you know I am not a religious man, I ask you to consider your
faith, and to ask yourself, would Jesus condone a man who, like John Mc
Cain, abandoned his wife after she was crippled in a car wreck and married
another woman one month later? Is it Christian to condone the torture of
another human being?

Help your fellow man. That’s a basic rule, isn’t it?

Consider his position on health care, from

“John McCain Believes The Key To Health Care Reform Is To Restore Control To
The Patients Themselves. We want a system of health care in which everyone
can afford and acquire the treatment and preventative care they need. Health
care should be available to all and not limited by where you work or how
much you make. Families should be in charge of their health care dollars and
have more control over care.”

Sorry, but that’s absolute BULLSHIT. A system where “Families should be in
charge of their health care dollars and have more control over care” still
places the financial burden of health care on FAMILIES and profits in the
pockets of insurance companies. Read the words the man has posted. His
proposal has nothing – nothing at all – that will change anything in health
care. You saw the medical bills from the car accident with your own children
20 years ago – today, that would be a million-dollar accident, and what
average FAMILY is in control of $1,000,000 they can spend on healthcare?

OH WAIT – A family where they are not sure how many houses they own, but
they might have written it down somewhere in the family jet (which costs
$6,000 an HOUR to operate, by the way). McCain’s Family isn’t our family,
it’s not your family, his financial reference points have nothing to do with
yours or mine and simply can’t.

How about High tech – an area where I’m certainly interested, but I’m more
interested on behalf of my kids. We’re 25th in the world in terms of
high-speed internet. And falling behind places like Boliva and Argentina and
even Latvia. LATVIA!!! We have poorer internet and mobile phone
infrastructure than LATVIA!

But McCain’s site says:

“John McCain is uniquely qualified to lead our nation during this
technological revolution. He is the former chairman of the Senate Committee
on Commerce, Science and Transportation. The Committee plays a major role in
the development of technology policy, specifically any legislation affecting
communications services, the Internet, cable television and other
technologies. Under John McCain’s guiding hand, Congress developed a
wireless spectrum policy that spurred the rapid rise of mobile phones and
Wi-Fi technology that enables Americans to surf the web while sitting at a
coffee shop, airport lounge, or public park.”
Let’s see, under John McCain, he was on the committee that has been
responsible for on “legislation affecting communications services, the
Internet, cable television and other technologies” .

Uh-huh. And in the intervening years, we’ve seen the USA open up the
commercial Internet, and then fall behind. We have one of the WORST mobile
phone infrastructures in the world. In japan, you can do 2-way video
conferencing from your mobile phone. Home internet connections are 10 times
faster than the fastest connection in the USA and cost $29 a month). So,
what’s the result of a technology policy from a guy who has never used
Google? – oh wait – he called it The Google. Give me a break. You’re more
technologically advanced than McCain – far more.

OK, I’ll stop with the policy for policy comparison and leave you with this.

Do you remember JFK? Do you remember when in the USA it seemed that there
was potential – where there was more we could do as a nation than just what
I want or what you personally want? I can’t. You know why? Because the very
first memory I have of politics was the Watergate scandal. I watched Nixon
resign on live TV August 8th 1974. I was exactly the same age Martin is now,
and all I remember was that the President was a crook who lied and left the
office in shame. His crony Gerry ford let him walk free. That’s the first
political memory I have.

Today, Martin asks why I support Obama, and I tell him that it’s because
Obama isn’t what we’ve had in office for almost his whole life – a failed
administration, with policies that have curtailed my economic opportunities,
that have cost me my ability to save for his future, as my salary has not
increased (in inflation adjusted dollars), since the day he was born (in
fact, accounting for inflation I make about 15% LESS than the day Martin was
born in 1999), while in the same period, billionaires have been created with
the money made from the productivity gains and lowered salaires of American
workers. Thanks to our “free market health care system” This year, I spent
more on healthcare than any other expense including my mortgage. Since 1999
I’ve seen us go to war against a nation that never attacked us, I’ve seen
the steady erosion of my civil liberties in the name of “freedom” and I’ve
seen no end to the rise of corporate power while my own rights have been

I don’t want my kids to grow up with any more years of that, and McCain -
who has always voted in favor of Bush policies, without exception, is
another of the same of the Neoconservative cloth. He’s no Maverick, he’s no
leader, he’s a member of the power elite and he is absolutely corrupt to the
last creaky bone of his decaying body.

I won’t even bother with the issues that come from picking the basic
equivalent of a Township supervisor as a running mate, other than to say
that “likeable” is a great quality, but it does not make up for a total lack
of competence.

My kids have their whole lives to lead, I believe in my heart that with
Obama in office they will have a better life, and a better future than with
McCain. Please consider this on Election day.

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Dear Senator McCain Thu, 25 Sep 2008 14:09:06 +0000 adam Dear Senator McCain,

Please remember that you are in America, and in America, we don’t suspend elections.

Have a nice day.

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The first rule of community Wed, 16 May 2007 02:46:03 +0000 adam I have a personal mailing list for my very close friends, to which I often send a few messages a day. If I stop for a day or two, it’s not a problem. If I stop for a long period of time (a week, a month) without telling someone, I have a strong belief that many of those people will check in to see what’s wrong. This is a major aspect of community for me, and it’s missing from every other piece of online interaction I’ve ever had, including this blog. Part of it has to do with the requirement that everyone on the mailing list is someone I’ve met in person and decided to include – I do not invite people whom I’ve never met physically, and I do not accept solicitations to join the list. But it’s a very strong driver for me, and it’s the reason I still maintain the list even in the presence of so many “better” ways to communicate.

There’s really only one rule for community as far as I’m concerned, and it’s this – in order to call some gathering of people a “community”, it is a requirement that if you’re a member of the community, and one day you stop showing up, people will come looking for you to see where you went.

Incidentally, this quality has been lacking from some real world organizations as well, and it’s become a very strong barometer for me to tell just how welcome I feel with any given group of people. If I left and didn’t come back, would anyone care enough to find out why? It’s a very visceral question, and perhaps a difficult one to ask. But I think it’s an important one, as we move into these so-called communities where all of our interaction is online, and fluid.

I quite enjoy my participation in a number of sites, flickr and ask metafilter among them. But I have no doubt that if I suddenly go away, not one other member will really care, with the probable exception of the people I know from offline. From time to time, they may wonder, “huh, haven’t seen Caviar in a while” (and the use of handles instead of names is probably a big contributor to this), but it’s unlikely that anyone will track me down to ask why, if they can even find out a way to reach me. They’ll probably just assume I found something better to do, or switched to a different site. And therein lies a big piece of the problem – the loose ties go both ways. That guy who disappeared may have just found something better to do, or switched to a different site, but maybe he died, or just didn’t feel welcome anymore. If we don’t have the presence to find out these reasons, or even the capacity to tell when such an event has occurred, are we really building a useful analogue to the binding offline communities that exist, or is it all just a convenient fiction?

I’ve blogged before about some of the problems with online communities, but I think this is a bigger point. That post focused more on how to get online communities to be more outward facing and less insular. This is more about how to get online communities to be more inclusive and meaningful. I must admit that I’m only at the beginning of an answer, but I welcome any ideas on the subject. I’ll avoid the temptation to suggest that we should probably meet for drinks to discuss it.

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Confabb is hosting the Personal Democracy Forum 2007 site Wed, 14 Mar 2007 16:39:06 +0000 adam Exciting! — Confabb is hosting the site for Personal Democracy Forum 2007.

The science of politics is changing, and these are the people who are doing interesting things about it.

You can browse information about the conference (news, events, sessions, speakers, and more), and register from the site. You can use your existing Confabb login, if you have one (OpenID is coming, but not yet).

(Disclosure: I’m one of the co-founders of Confabb.)

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NYT on the Iraqi version of the Daily Show Tue, 24 Oct 2006 13:45:11 +0000 adam This is a NYT article about an Iraqi show which seems to be called “Hurry Up, He’s Dead”.

The description is painful to read, a horrible ironic reminder of the awfulness:

“In a recent episode, the host, Saad Khalifa, reported that Iraq’s Ministry of Water and Sewage had decided to change its name to simply the Ministry of Sewage — because it had given up on the water part.”

“Mr. Sudani, the writer, said he has lost hope for his country. Iraq’s leaders are incompetent, he said. He fears that services will never be restored. The American experiment in democracy, he said, was born dead.

All anyone can do, he said, is laugh.”

Via Perry Metzger:

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Step by step instructions on how to set up a webcam for security monitoring Fri, 29 Sep 2006 15:21:59 +0000 adam With an open source monitoring program – Dorgem.


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GOOD Magazine Wed, 20 Sep 2006 14:59:07 +0000 adam One of the projects I’m working on is GOOD Magazine. We have some incredible things planned for their site in the next few months, and there will be future updates about that. In the meantime, the magazine itself is pretty good. The first issue has come out, and it’s an interesting read. These guys are genuinely interested in the phenomenon of doing good, and they’ve uncovered some great stories.

For a $20 subscription, you get a year’s subscription (six issues), and 100% of your subscription fee goes to your choice of 12 partner organizations.

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Advice for the Democrats Thu, 14 Sep 2006 14:36:28 +0000 adam   Everyone expects you to win Everyone expects you to lose You win. Well, everyone expected you to win. No one’s surprised. Yay, you win. OMG! You overcame all of the odds and pulled it out! You lose. What?? You lost?!? How could that have happened? Oh, well, no one expected you to win. Try again next time.

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Wikipedia refuses to censor in China Tue, 12 Sep 2006 04:10:16 +0000 adam Bravo.,,1869074,00.html

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Who writes Wikipedia Tue, 05 Sep 2006 15:46:15 +0000 adam Aaron Swartz, as part of his bid to join the Wikimedia board, has done some fascinating research into the posting habits of Wikipedia users. He’s come up with some patterns of how entries get created:

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Doing what the terrorists want Fri, 25 Aug 2006 21:24:07 +0000 adam I’ve often said that terrorism is an auto-immune disease afflicting civilization. Bruce Schneier has a great article up about how responding to terrorism by locking things down is, in fact, exactly what the terrorists want.

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An important lesson about key races Fri, 18 Aug 2006 15:13:36 +0000 adam WAS]]> Britt pointed me at this piece about how Lieberman still has very strong support:

There’s an important lesson in here. When you hang principles on a single race, and then lose, the principle goes with the race and suffers a horrible blow. This >WAS< the Dean mistake – it represented the internet way, and everybody fled when he lost, and how long has it taken that approach to recover its reputation?

When Lieberman wins, the ENTIRE “unseat the incumbents” approach dies a horrible death, in one single event.

How to dissociate the principles from the individual race?

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A chef’s response on Foie Gras Fri, 04 Aug 2006 15:50:33 +0000 adam From Eve Felder, CIA dean, someone who’s spent time actually feeding the ducks.

“It was an extremely gentle and intimate experience. The animal does not have a gag reflex. They always waddled away perfectly happy and full and ready for a nap.”

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Designing community Sat, 29 Jul 2006 19:33:01 +0000 adam There’s something really important in here about designing community.

And also, it’s about Snakes on a Plane.

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Putting Comments Out of Our Misery. Fri, 21 Jul 2006 14:10:20 +0000 adam

Dante: You hate people!
Randal: But, I love gatherings, isn’t it ironic?

I hate comments. But I love conversations. As I peruse the web, I find myself (as many of us do) drawn to leave comments across the pages that other people have written. But it’s an incomplete puzzle – a comment as it exists now is an endpoint. It may lead to something else, but it’s up to someone else to figure out what that thing may be, or even if that evolution will happen at all. Comments tend to follow one of two patterns, neither of them productive:

  1. The comment thread trails off as people get disinterested, and nothing really comes of it.
  2. The comment thread gets so long that it’s impossible to follow, things get repeated, and the people commenting on the last page aren’t really talking to the people on the first page. Nothing really comes of it.

The process isn’t helping us out here. We haven’t even gotten into vanity comments, flame wars, or any of that stuff that’s detrimental.

Working on ORGware, we’re revamping comments. We’re starting with two major changes, and there will be others. The first big change is that every comment you leave on someone else’s post also gets posted on your own blog, and it will have to be positively rated before it appears anywhere else. If you want to blather on about whatever, you’re free to do that, but you won’t be allowed to join the discussion unless some threshold of other people think you have something useful to say. That’s a relatively minor one, but it’s important. It shifts the focus of the comment from the commenter to the discussion, and it makes it possible for the community to weed out (passively, by ignoring) the irrelevant wanderings.

The second change is far more interesting, and it deals with how the comment thread metamorphosizes into something else entirely – a discussion with usable output. Right now, you post, people comment, maybe people make followup posts on their own blogs… and if you want more than that, you have to do it yourself. We’re building in another step. Comments on their own, for any post that has an action output, are no longer an endpoint – they’re a stepping stone to writing that action output. Writing “good” comments (in the opinion of the original author and/or the community) gets you an invitation to help edit that output product, which can become a letter, or a fax, or an email, or even a followup post for more discussion. Britt has posted a good overview of the interface I designed for this, which we’re simply calling the comment editor now until we come up with a better term.

More to come…

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Collected thoughts on the futility of online communities Sat, 17 Jun 2006 18:39:21 +0000 adam This is a long post collecting comments and thoughts from some emails and conversations with Britt Blaser, Doc Searls, and others. Some of this is from external impressions of the Dean campaign (I wasn’t involved, and I haven’t found a good postmortem), but also about my own participation in online communities and the lack of incentive that I often feel to do so.

There is a huge untapped market for community software. There’s a lot of “community software” out there, and it all fails on the same key point – it’s all centered on the software itself (or more specifically, the website experience), and fundamentally, communities don’t happen in discussion groups or impersonal online participation. People come to a community like dailykos or metafilter or whatever, and they “join” the community, but those ties are fragile, and the experience of most participants is that they almost never extend to anything beyond participating in the online community itself. If you suddenly disappear, no one will come looking for you. This is not the same as an actual community.

Reading isn’t participation in a community. Writing to the public isn’t participation in a community, and the fatal flaw of the existing approach is that the underlying assumption is that the collective act of reading and writing is equal to participation. This is especially misleading if the online community is supposed to be mirroring some sort of participation in the real world, like political involvement.

The end result is exactly what we saw with the Dean campaign, as perceived by an outsider. Lots of “participation”, lots of “involvement”, but everybody sat around reading and writing and thinking that they were somehow involved, but when it came down to it, no one got up to vote.

Now, actually, there’s a corollary problem here, which is that the online community itself, while very vocal, was also VERY bad at doing anything to engage anyone outside of the online community, because they spent all of their time reading and writing, and those activities, even as they fail to engage those inside the online community to action, COMPLETELY fail to engage anyone outside the online community.

As I wrote the above, the universe graciously provided a perfect example to illustrate my point:,,1788774,00.html

It’s an article about the futility of discussing things online, which has somehow accumulated an inordinate number of comments.

I’ll pause for a moment while that sinks in.

So, we have some problems to fix. Participation in the online community needs to have the following properties:

1) It should be centered around activity that breaks out of the online community. This needn’t actually be physical meetings, although those are also good, but all actions must be classified as “inward” (aimed towards engaging with others in the online community) or “outward” (aimed towards engaging with other outside the online community). EVERY inward action must have a corresponding outward action. If it doesn’t, there’s already a name for this – it’s called “preaching to the choir”, and it’s the death of activism.

2) It should allow and encourage those inside the online community to engage with each other temporarily to reinforce the commitments of those who are already involved, but all such actions should be considered subsidiary to engaging with others outside the online community. Think of this as the difference between vegetables (outward) and chocolate (inward). A little bit of the latter is very rewarding and tastes good, but if that’s all you eat, you get fat and die.

3) It should allow those in the online community to evolve internally the mechanisms for accomplishing goals outside the online community. This may involve consensus building, electing representatives inside the online community, collaborative letter writing, legislation hashing, and so on.

4) It must have a mechanism for elimination of cruft. Old ideas, bad ideas, unpopular ideas, and irrelevant ideas are all barriers to entry. The online community must be able to decide on what the salient points are, and delete the rest. I’ve had it with relativistic egalitarianism. There is such a thing as a bad idea, and they’re distracting and harmful. We need to create a marketplace where all ideas have an equal opportunity to flourish, but if they don’t, then let’s be done with them. Archive the discussion for posterity, and clear it out of the center of attention.

It’s not enough to talk, communities must be a driver for action.

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Elections are not enough feedback Mon, 15 May 2006 14:59:48 +0000 adam Another idea that came out of the tired and somewhat inebriated tail end of last night’s gathering, that I didn’t want to forget.

Our system of representative democracy is predicated on the core idea that elected representatives are beholden to their constituents, because if they’re not, they’ll get elected out on the next cycle. But this is typically a four-year turnaround, and that’s plenty of time to do irreparable damage. I posit that this is not enough feedback, and we need to have a way to get citizen input taken more seriously, with direct consequences for representatives who fail to listen. This also probably goes along with increasing the number of representatives, and possibly giving up on the presumption that people who live near each other necessarily share the same views (or have views that are not directly contradictory and can be rationalized into a coherent position by one representative).

I have to think about this more.

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Dinner with Britt and Doc Mon, 15 May 2006 13:26:12 +0000 adam I had the rare and interesting pleasure of having dinner with Britt Blaser and Doc Searls last night, since Doc is in town for Syndicate (which I’ve never attended, but which does seem to attract fascinating conversations to my doorstep every year).

Doc and Britt

Asked to pick a restaurant for our gathering, I suggested D’Or Ahn, a newish Korean fusion place in west Chelsea. I’d eaten there a few times, and the food has always been top-rate. Unfortunately, the sushi chef was out for the evening (for reasons I didn’t entirely catch, but which seemed to involve some sort of surgery), so their wonderful raw bar was closed. However, the rest of their selection more than makes up for it. The menu is somewhat confusing, separated into “raw”, “cold”, “hot”, and “main” (which are also hot) sections, but the best advice is simply to ignore that, order for the table, and share everything. Flavor is the overriding component here, and everything is full of it, with rich but not overpowering sauces.

Scallops are outstanding now, so we opted for those, prepared a few ways, from a simple pan sear to encased in a crispy sesame leaf (the latter was delightful). The slightly seared duck breast with droplets of foie gras was, as expected, delicious (and it’s hard to go wrong with those ingredients). I’m a huge fan of braised meats in general, and their short rib preparation is beautiful, with a celeriac puree that’s ethereal mixed with slightly crunchy green onion slivers. Their take on the classic Korean dish bibimbop rounded out our selection of “appetizers”. I would have liked to have the rice a bit crunchier, but the flavor of the mushrooms mixed with a lightly soft cooked egg mixed into the rice leaves nothing to complain about. For the “main”, we split the lobster, which is literally a split lobster served spiced and grilled with a melon confit and a lobster claw chunk porridge. Lobster and melon is a combination I first discovered a few years ago in Maine, and I was instantly hooked. The sweet fruit complements every one of the notes in the sweet meat.

We paired everything with one of my favorite sakes – Otokoyama – served cold in boxes.

For dessert, we did an apple (a cake with sorbet) and cheese course (a Fourme d’Ambert “grilled cheese”), which were the two choices we wanted to try. Much as they did not go together in the least, both were still excellent. Their desserts tend to range from enjoyable to outstanding, and I’ve never been disappointed. A few glasses of port rounded out the libations.


But of course, the food was secondary to the conversation. With these two heavyweights across the table, the topics ranged across the board, from social networking, to how to handle spam and read email with mutt, to hacks for piloting a zero-g suspension flight (I’ve never had the honor), and of course to politics and the role of technology. Some portion of what was said can not or should not be replicated in a public forum, and so I won’t, but there was one great new idea (to me) mentioned in the course of a discussion about Doc’s new Santa Barbara community trying to get very high speed internet access and looking to bypass the traditional carriers who refuse to provide the kind of speeds they want. Britt mentioned Free Entry, a term which I’d never heard before. In a certain sense, this concept defines the growth of disruptive web services – if the current provider isn’t doing a good enough job, they should be replaced by someone who’s selling what people want to buy. This goes right to the heart of why lock-in legislation to protect antiquated business models is a bad bad bad idea. It doesn’t protect competition, it’s not an incentive to develop, it’s simply “protection” for companies to foist bad products on consumers who want something better. Disruptive business models work, because they’re good for the consumer.

It’s such a simple idea, yet so rarely practiced. If people don’t want to buy what you’re selling, sell something better. It’s almost the opposite of traditional advertising. It was a strong theme of the evening.

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(Larger photos)

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An Inconvenient Truth Sat, 22 Apr 2006 17:09:27 +0000 adam Al Gore has made a movie about global warming, in case you needed some more convincing.

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Outrage fatigue roundup 3/2/2006 Thu, 02 Mar 2006 17:26:59 +0000 adam The big news this week – video that Bush knew that Katrina would destroy New Orleans a day before the storm hit:

Asking for complaint forms in Flordia Police stations gets you harassed and threatened:

Greek cell phone taps of high officials were enabled by embedded surveillance tech:

Zogby poll shows 72% of troops want to get out of Iraq in the next year, but also that 85% of them think they’re there to retaliate for Saddam’s attacking us on 9/11. So, there’s that:

Human rights abuses in Iraq are worse than under Saddam (oops, Freudian slip – I typed Bush there first):

Daily Kos is mumbling something about State-initiated impeachment:

And, a kitten:

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The Hurtt Prize Tue, 21 Feb 2006 17:24:11 +0000 adam Harold Hurtt, police chief of Houston, has advocated changing building permits to require cameras in public areas of malls and apartment complexes, to try to deter crime:

He’s quoted in the article, saying “I know a lot of people are concerned about Big Brother, but my response to that is, if you are not doing anything wrong, why should you worry about it?”

1) “Wrong” is always changing, and isn’t always correct.

2) Our society and legal system are neither constructed for or capable of handling perfect law enforcement.

3) It’s not worth any price to catch all of the criminals. There are tradeoffs to be made.

The Hurtt Prize is a $1000-and-growing bounty offered for anyone who gets a video capture of Mr. Hurtt committing a crime.

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Retiring to a perpetual cruise Tue, 21 Feb 2006 17:11:41 +0000 adam Interesting tidbit from Snopes, via (Kottke).

Apparently, it’s about the same price to take a perpetual cruise as it is to live in a nursing home, and at least a few people have been doing this for years.

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Google does keep cookie- and IP-correlated logs Fri, 27 Jan 2006 23:18:10 +0000 adam I asked John Battelle the question about whether Google keeps personally identifiable search log information, particularly search logs correlated with IP address. He asked Google PR, who confirmed that they do.

From my comment there, ultimately, this is bad for users. If the information is kept, it’s available for request, abuse, or theft.

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DOJ demands large chunk of Google data Thu, 19 Jan 2006 15:10:32 +0000 adam

The Bush administration on Wednesday asked a federal judge to order Google to turn over a broad range of material from its closely guarded databases.

The move is part of a government effort to revive an Internet child protection law struck down two years ago by the U.S. Supreme Court. The law was meant to punish online pornography sites that make their content accessible to minors. The government contends it needs the Google data to determine how often pornography shows up in online searches.

In court papers filed in U.S. District Court in San Jose, Justice Department lawyers revealed that Google has refused to comply with a subpoena issued last year for the records, which include a request for 1 million random Web addresses and records of all Google searches from any one-week period.

I’m sort of out of analysis about why this is bad, because I’ve said it all before.

See (particularly 4 and 5):


It really comes down to one thing.

If data is collected, it will be used.

It’s far past the time for us all to take an interest in who’s collecting what.

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Preaching to the Esquire Thu, 10 Nov 2005 17:01:54 +0000 adam Long article copied shamelessly from Esquire about”Idiot America”.

“Idiot America is a collaborative effort, the result of millions of decisions made and not made. It’s the development of a collective Gut at the expense of a collective mind. It’s what results when politicians make ridiculous statements and not merely do we abandon the right to punish them for it at the polls, but we also become too timid to punish them with ridicule on a daily basis, because the polls say they’re popular anyway. It’s what results when leaders are not held to account for mistakes that end up killing people.”

Via Novitz:

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Planned Parenthood turns picketers into profits Wed, 14 Sep 2005 19:13:01 +0000 adam Brilliant.

Here’s how it works: You decide on the amount you would like to pledge for each
protester (minimum 10 cents). When protesters show up on our sidewalks, Planned
Parenthood Southeastern Pennsylvania will count and record their number each day from October 1 through November 30, 2005. We will place a signoutside the health center that tracks pledges and makes protesters fully aware that their actions are benefiting PPSP. At the end of the two-month campaign, we will send you an update on protest activities and a pledge reminder.

If you pledge 30 cents per protester, and PPSP has 100 protesters in October and 160
protesters in November, your donation would be 78 dollars for the entire two-month campaign.

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Flying Spaghetti Monster: The Game Thu, 08 Sep 2005 16:39:31 +0000 adam

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Sploid on the Katrina response Sat, 03 Sep 2005 23:10:37 +0000 adam Sploid has written a blistering critique of the federal government’s response to Katrina.

I still haven’t seen anyone come out and say “If you voted for Bush or you didn’t vote in the last presidential election, you virtually begged for this response, and we told you so.”. This, the complete and total failure to respond to an expected national disaster in a way that even approaches sanity, isn’t the fault of the administration – we knew they sucked. This is the fault of every single red dot on that election map, for letting them still be in charge (for whatever that’s worth) when another problem finally rolled around.

A rising tide lifts all boats, my ass. A rising tide strands and drowns those who can’t afford boats in the first place.

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Why I shoot photography. Wed, 17 Aug 2005 05:13:58 +0000 adam I shoot photos for the same reason I cook and program computers.

I believe that humanity’s high calling and deep purpose is the neverending struggle against the varied forces of entropy. Tempered by the wisdom of allowing natural forms of order to co-exist and simultaneously be captured in time, we live to create in our environment a reflection of our own inner sense of order. Every meal prepared, every elegant algorithm, and every imperfect echo frozen by sheer force of will is one more piece of the pattern coalesced from the ethereal storm and notched on the spear of humanity’s collective soul.

Take a handful, grab hold of the writhing chaos, keep your grip in the face of adversity, and shape it into something that can’t help but be beautiful until it hurts.

We will eventually be forgotten, and remembered only for what we added or took away.

I prefer to add.

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David Galbraith’s new theory of unintelligent design Thu, 11 Aug 2005 17:06:45 +0000 adam “I have a new theory – Unintelligent Design, which is the same as Intelligent Design, except that the creator is either a moron or Satan.”


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What does an ID textbook look like? Sun, 07 Aug 2005 16:09:02 +0000 adam Here’s what I don’t get. What would it even mean to teach intelligent design in schools?

Chapter 1: Some things are too complicated to have arisen by evolution, specifically people.
Chapter 2: …..?
(Chapter 3: Profit?)

As far as I can tell, there’s nothing to it. It’s the opposite of science.

“I don’t understand this, so there must be no possible answer”.

It says not just that we don’t know, but that we can’t know, so there’s really no point in trying to figure it out.

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Bush endorses Intelligent Design Wed, 03 Aug 2005 02:05:38 +0000 adam Bush thinks intelligent design should be taught alongside evolution in schools -

“I think that part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought,” Bush said. ” You’re asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas, the answer is yes.”

That is, of course, the usual dodging of the real point. ID is not a theory, it is a vague notion. It is the embodiment of saying “we can’t know, so we’re free to imagine whatever we want”. It is as testable as the flying spaghetti monster “idea”. ID is useless as a scientific concept, because it closes off further investigation.

(I might accept ID as a valid theory if it was accompanied by some attempt to identify, and possibly vanquish, said creator.)

All ideas are not equal. ID should not be taught in schools any more than the “idea” that black people are inferior because they have smaller brains should be.

“Because I say so” is not a valid logical argument.

Why haven’t we put this idiocy to rest yet?

[Update: here's some good dissection of this point.]

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Black Box Voting Board member arrested for trying to view the Diebold vote counting process Wed, 27 Jul 2005 15:06:28 +0000 adam “Jim March, a member of the Black Box Voting board of directors, was arrested Tuesday evening for trying to observe the Diebold central tabulator (vote tallying machine) as the votes were being counted in San Diego’s mayoral election (July 26).”

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Microblogs Thu, 14 Jul 2005 17:32:47 +0000 adam My friend Amanda has started a blog for people who live in Lincoln Towers, an apartment complex on the Upper West Side, which seems to have already attracted some surprisingly mean trolls.

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Crappy new Freedom Tower panned by the NYTimes Thu, 30 Jun 2005 14:03:43 +0000 adam /?p=842 Since when does “one tower” evoke “two towers”?

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Flying Spaghetti Monster created the Earth Wed, 22 Jun 2005 19:29:51 +0000 adam /?p=825 “Let us remember that there are multiple theories of Intelligent Design. I and many others around the world are of the strong belief that the universe was created by a Flying Spaghetti Monster. It was He who created all that we see and all that we feel. We feel strongly that the overwhelming scientific evidence pointing towards evolutionary processes is nothing but a coincidence, put in place by Him.”

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Rep. Conyers calls for signatures to demand answers on the Downing St. Memo Fri, 03 Jun 2005 22:40:04 +0000 adam /?p=789 “We the undersigned write because of our concern regarding recent disclosures of a Downing Street Memo in the London Times, comprising the minutes of a meeting of Prime Minister Tony Blair and his top advisers. These minutes indicate that the United States and Great Britain agreed, by the summer of 2002, to attack Iraq, well before the invasion and before you even sought Congressional authority to engage in military action, and that U.S. officials were deliberately manipulating intelligence to justify the war.”

Here’s the full letter:{4A195451-3934-4C00-B11D-BEE8AFA3D119}

Here’s the actual text of the memo:,,1-523-1593607-523,00.html

Many many signatures have already been collected. Here’s an update:

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Blackbox Voting reports numerous ways to hack a Diebold optical scan machine Wed, 01 Jun 2005 14:26:39 +0000 adam /?p=778 “1. An altered memory card (electronic ballot box) was substituted for a real one. The optical scan machine performed seamlessly, issuing a report that looked like the real thing. No checksum captured the change in the executable program Diebold designed into the memory card.

2. A second altered memory card was demonstrated, using a program that was shorter than the original. It still worked, showing that there is also no check for the number of bytes in the program.

3. A third altered memory card was demonstrated with the votes themselves changed, showing that the data block (votes) can be altered without triggering any error message.”

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We hate you when you’re petty, vindictive, small, and bickering Wed, 25 May 2005 03:37:23 +0000 adam /?p=763 Congressional approval ratings took a real dive recently.

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Why you should urge your Senator to vote against REAL ID Mon, 09 May 2005 16:14:18 +0000 adam /?p=727 In short, the Real ID Act is a huge waste of money that will likely have the opposite of the stated effect, but will enable other kinds of tracking that are not worth the cost at best and totalitarian at worst, while leaving huge vulnerabilities for legitimate users of the system (i.e. MOST of the population).

On Tuesday, it comes up for vote in the Senate. It’s already passed the House.

Senator Durbin’s opposing viewpoint:,594,8140,9251

Bruce Schneier has written extensively on why a National ID card is both a waste of money and likely to make us less safe.

I’ll paraphrase here, but I urge you to read his versions:

And particularly, his analysis of REAL ID:

There are several key points:

1) It’s a common fallacy that identification is security, and that putting a label on everybody will automatically mean you can identify the bad guys. This is simply not true, and it’s an excuse to get an ID card implemented for other things. It is not possible to make an unforgeable ID card, and spending money on that is money that could be better spent on other, more useful (from a security standpoint) things, like training border guards. This fallacy has been propagated for years by the airline industry – matching ID to the name on the ticket does nothing for security.

2) A national ID card is a single point of very valuable failure for ID theft. With a one-stop card that’s good for everything, the incentive to forge that one card goes WAY up.

3) There isn’t one database of every citizen, currently, although the IRS probably comes closest. There has been no discussion about the feasibility of merging a bunch of databases into one, or how access will be limited to that data, how it will be secured, etc… This is not a small problem, and it’s being swept under the rug as an afterthought.

4) A very simple question – “is this a smart way to spend how much money for … what gain exactly?”.

A few quotes from Bruce:

“REAL ID is expensive. It’s an unfunded mandate: the federal government is forcing the states to spend their own money to comply with the act. I’ve seen estimates that the cost to the states of complying with REAL ID will be $120 million. That’s $120 million that can’t be spent on actual security.

And the wackiest thing is that none of this is required. In October 2004, the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 was signed into law. That law included stronger security measures for driver’s licenses, the security measures recommended by the 9/11 Commission Report. That’s already done. It’s already law.

REAL ID goes way beyond that. It’s a huge power-grab by the federal government over the states’ systems for issuing driver’s licenses.”

“Near as I can tell, this whole thing is being pushed by Wisconsin Rep. Sensenbrenner primarily as an anti-immigration measure. The huge insecurities this will cause to everyone else in the United States seem to be collateral damage.”

A few observations of my own:

- This comes on the tail of the realization that the TSA has spent 4.5 BILLION dollars in the past few years on useless “security” measures in the past 3 years, some not insignificant chunk of which was spent on things relating to identification of passengers. It has been widely concluded that the airlines are no safer than they were in 2001.

- This administration is seriously deluded about security measures in electronically readable identification (particularly RFID implementation), and was recently forced against their every protest to face the fact that bad guys don’t play by your rules, and you need to design security measures against the worst case, not the best case. I see nothing like that here.

- Just the fact that it was slipped into a military appropriations bill and will pass with no debate is reason enough for me to be suspect.

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Google wants your logs Thu, 05 May 2005 22:02:32 +0000 adam /?p=716 I’ve been kicking this around for a while, given the release of Google’s ability to save searches.

Google just announced the Google Web Accelerator, and this has the same kinds of privacy issues surrounding it, so I’ll discuss them both here. For those not in the know, Google Search History is the feature that lets you access your past searches if you’re logged into Google. The Web Accelerator is a proxy that pushes all of your browsing through Google’s servers. Ostensibly, this is to make your browsing faster, but it also has the side effect that Google can (and presumably will) monitor both the URLs and contents of every web page you’re looking at. You make a request for a web page, and Google fetches it for you. I’d expect that they’re also doing various tricks with preloading and caching.

Google is poised to collect a lot of data on browsing habits, and every indication is that they plan to keep it around.

As a brief aside, while I don’t personally know anyone who works for Google, I do have some friends who do. Every one of them has, in the past, asserted during conversations about Google’s privacy concerns, that Google both has (or had) no intentions of keeping permanent searching / browsing logs, and has (or had) actually built up complicated encryption / hashing mechanisms to allow aggregate data to be kept without individual search histories. That may have been true at one time, although I personally found it doubtful, given that if it were true, Google could only benefit by stating it publicly. They have never done so, and recent events have shown that assertion to be presently categorically false. Google does want to keep your individual search history. I think that’s a relevant point to the privacy debate.

In reference to search history, I wrote but never published, the following: “Search history is a sensitive area. Saving and aggregating search history is of dubious value to the end user – it’s maybe a minor convenience at best. If you care about that sort of thing, you’ll want to capture for yourself far more information than just search history, and do it locally across the board. There are several plugins for Firefox that will do exactly that for you, and not only watch your tracks, but save complete copies of everything you’re browsing.” In reference to the web accelerator, it’s evident that Google is heading towards collecting that information for themselves.

Set aside the fact that Google has now become an extremely juicy target for a one-stop shop for identity thieves. I’m sure they’ve got great security. But do you? Google’s lifetime cookie is, as always, a serious point of possible failure. One good cross-site scripting attack or IE exploit, or even a malicious extension, and the Google cookie can be easily exposed. What’s your liability for being associated with a search history, or now a browsing history, tied to a stolen Google cookie?

But here’s the real doozie.

The Google Privacy Policy states that Google may disclose personally identifiable information in the event that:

“We conclude that we are required by law or have a good faith belief that access, preservation or disclosure of such information is reasonably necessary to protect the rights, property or safety of Google, its users or the public.”

Welcome to Google, where the Third Law comes first.

This has serious implications. For logged-in users using all of Google’s services, this now includes the contents of your emails, your complete search AND browsing history, any geographical locations you’re interested in, what you’re shopping for, and probably plenty of things I haven’t thought of yet.

I posit that it would not significantly damage Google in any way for them to actually make use of this information, and that Google could withstand any public backlash resulting from it.

I think we’ve long passed the point at which we say “this is bad”.

This is bad.

In case you haven’t been paying attention, there’s a word for this.

It’s called “surveillance”.

I believe that Google should revise their privacy policy to reflect the actual intended usage of this information, and they should clarify under what circumstances this information will be released, and to whom. Will this information be used to catch terrorists? Errant cheating spouses? Tax evaders? Jaywalkers? Anarchists? Litterbugs? As a user, you have a right to demand to know. Of course, don’t expect Google to tell you, since they don’t actually get any of their money from you.


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Sony sets up online auction for selling virtual stuff for real money Wed, 20 Apr 2005 14:50:01 +0000 adam /?p=699 Fed up with trying to police people selling their online stuff in EverQuest and Star Wars Galaxies, Sony set up shop and is taking a cut:

“Late Tuesday, the company unveiled Station Exchange, an auction site that allows players to spend real money on virtual weapons, armor, coins and new, high-level characters.”,2101,67280,00.html

Hint hint:

s/Sony/US Govt/g
s/online stuff/pot/g

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Becker and Posner agree: drugs should be legalized Mon, 04 Apr 2005 15:51:07 +0000 adam /?p=680 There’s a very interesting discussion here on the Becker/Posner blog, between these two very smart and well-educated men, regarding the prospect legalizing drugs in the US:

(The posts seem to be out of order on the blog. I think this is the right order.)

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Illegal Tender Fri, 01 Apr 2005 17:30:07 +0000 adam /?p=673 If companies can insist on non-negotiable terms for every product sold as a service, why not terms for your money in return?

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