For Alex Jones, The Slippery Slope Argument Doesn’t Work The Way You Think It Does

Alps from Aiguille du Midi (SW) by Tony Fernandez. Creative Commons licenced photo on Flickr

The news that conspiracy theorist and inciter-to-violence Alex Jones had been simultaneously banned from several social media platforms sparked several days of debate and comment – on both mainstream and social media. At stake were questions about the wisdom and efficacy of such a ban, and the acceptable limits of free speech.

A common argument trotted out in several quarters, including by me, was the ‘slippery slope’ argument. It might seem acceptable to ban someone unpleasant like Alex Jones, but who might they ban next? First they came for Alex Jones, but I was not a dangerous snake-oil salesman, so I did not speak up… Continue reading “For Alex Jones, The Slippery Slope Argument Doesn’t Work The Way You Think It Does”

Analogue Apps

I have recently been teaching myself to solve a Rubik’s Cube. This is mainly because my self-image as an intelligent, analytical geek suggests that it’s the sort of thing I should be able to do.

I also want to be able to show off, and in my warped world-view, being able to ‘do the cube’ is something that one can boast about.

Solving the Rubik’s Cube is the International Genius Symbol. Screenwriters use a character’s ability to solve the cube as a shorthand for high intelligence. But as this clip from one such film shows, there is actually a method to solving the cube that can be learnt. Continue reading “Analogue Apps”

Big Little Lies, Of Its Time In Three Different Ways

BIG LITTLE LIES (HBO)

Big Little Lies is an HBO TV show, based on the Liane Moriarty novel of the same name. It stars Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon, and follows the woven lives of several families living in Monterrey, California.

It was first broadcast in the spring of 2017. Following huge recognition the Golden Globe Awards in January, I decided it was time for me to watch the box set.

Each family has a child attending the local Elementary School, and there’s a murder at a school fundraising gala. A death is announced in the very first scene of the very first episode, but neither the victim, the killer or their motive are revealed until the finale.

The show strikes me as being very much Of Its Time, an emblematic cultural artefact of Western culture at the end of the 2010s. I think it does this three different ways.

Continue reading “Big Little Lies, Of Its Time In Three Different Ways”

Twitter Betrays The Promise of Free Speech For All

Buffalo Jump at Wind Cave National Park

Writing in the Guardian last week, Carole Cadwalladr lamented the way in which Twitter catalyses and facilitates global bullying. This prompted a short exchange between me David Heinemann from Index on Censorship. We noted the betrayed promise of free speech for all that social media offers, and what—or rather, who—might solve the problem.
Continue reading “Twitter Betrays The Promise of Free Speech For All”

Free Speech, Identity and Mastodon

There’s a new social nework on the block: Mastodon.

Or rather, it’s a social media technology. When we funnel all our conversations through the servers of a big company like Facebook or Twitter, we grant them enormous power. They control the extent of our privacy and of our free speech, and that power can be abused in ways that are both legal and not. The companies can sell our data to third parties (a process made much easier by the US Congress last week); they can reveal our data to the security agencies of nefarious regimes; and they can throttle or shut down our free speech if they so desire, without going via a court.

Decentralising the way in which we converse online means we can reclaim some of that power. A few years ago I posted a link to a blog post on Dave Winter’s Scripting News which sets out the practical and political importance of this idea: by spreading out, we’re harder to stop.

Mastodon is an open source project, so anyone can install it on a server and run a Mastodon ‘instance’. The software uses a principle called ‘federation’ to allow users to see messages posted on other instances of the software. So people who signed up on (say) mastodon.social can view and respond to messages posted to octagon.social (which is the version I signed up to with the username @robertsharp).

Problem solved, then? Not really. Continue reading “Free Speech, Identity and Mastodon”

These Two Photos Show Eight Years of Change

Inauguration party, 2009. Chicago Tribune/MCT

New York Magazine has a long feature on the eight years of Obama’s America.

The first illustration in the piece is a compelling diptych of President Obama: two portraits taken eight years apart.  The difference is stark.  His hair has turned grey and his face is rumpled.

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President Barack Obama, by Dan Winters

However, the photograph that really brought home for me the changes of the past eight years was one taken on inauguration day in January 2009.  Its a version of an image that I’ve commented on before.

Inauguration party, 2009.  Chicago Tribune/MCT
Inauguration party, 2009. Chicago Tribune/MCT

At first glance, the image looks modern.  People mediating their own experience of the moment via a glowing rectangle.  Taking their very own version of a famous photograph.

But when you compare it to the photograph below, taken in 2016, the inauguration image suddenly looks horribly dated.

clinton-selfie
Hillary Clinton waves to a selfie-taking crowd at a recent campaign event in Orlando, Florida. Photo: Barbara Kinney

 

(My) Fiction Becomes Reality?

The Good Shabti

OMG:

But what if we could restart the body after it shuts down?

The ReAnima Project, a project to assess the possibility of regenerating the brains of dead people, has just received approval from an Institutional Review Board at the National Institutes of Health in the US and in India.

Bioquark Inc., the brains behind ReAnima (sorry, bad pun), was given the go-ahead to work with 20 patients already declared clinically dead from traumatic brain injury to test whether parts of their central nervous system can be brought back to life.

Through the use of different therapies, the company will try to revive patients who are only kept alive through life support. These therapies include injecting the brain with stem cells and a cocktail of peptides, as well as deploying lasers and nerve stimulation techniques that have been shown to bring patients out of comas.

Continue reading “(My) Fiction Becomes Reality?”

I Take Full Responsibility For Apple Inc Protecting The Privacy of a Dead Terrorist

Green Door, by leeroy

Apple have refused an FBI request to help crack the iPhone of a terrorist.

Ray McClure, the uncle of murdered soldier Drummer Lee Rigby has said that Apple is protecting terrorists, and that ‘life comes before privacy’.

I think Drummer Rigby’s uncle is mistaken, both in his assumptions about what Apple is technically capable of, and the moral trade-off between life and privacy.

We need to understand that Apple are not being asked to decrypt just the iPhone of one particular terrorist.  They are not like a landlord with a spare key that will open a particular door.  If they were, then there would be legitimacy in Mr McClure’s complaints.  A judge could examine the particular case at hand, and then sign a warrant that permitted entry to the property or decryption of a device.  Targeted surveillance and privacy violations are a legitimate law enforcement tool.

But that is not the request.  Instead, the FBI have asked Apple to hack their entire operating system in such a way that would enable them to by-pass encryption on any iPhone.  Including mine. Continue reading “I Take Full Responsibility For Apple Inc Protecting The Privacy of a Dead Terrorist”

In Praise of The Room Three

For the past few weeks I’ve been playing The Room series, a set of three games for mobile devices by Fireproof Games.  This week I completed The Room Three, and thought I’d write a quick review.

The premise of all three games is simple.  The player is presented with an ornate contraption, and the task is to unlock the secrets contained within.  Do you pull this lever, or press that button? What combination of switches must you flick in order to open the door? How do I make that panel slide back? Where is the key that fits that lock? Continue reading “In Praise of The Room Three”

Kickstarter’s Honest Response To A PR Problem

Last year, the amazing Zano project crashed both literally and metaphorically.  Once the largest ever European project to have been funded on Kickstarter, Zano was an ambitious plan to produce thousands of remote control drones with auto-follow and return-to-base capability.  But the idea failed spectacularly in November 2015 when the Welsh company Torquing Group went bust.

This was obviously a personal and financial disaster for those running the company; and a serious disappointment for everyone who had paid £139 or more to Kickstarter in the hope of receiving one of the first batch of drones.

However, it was also a public relations nightmare for Kickstarter.  It is certainly not unknown for crowd-funded projects to fail and not deliver the backer ‘rewards’ as promised, but the high profile nature the Zano project, and its complete demise, threatens to destroy the trust that millions of people have placed in the platform.  Worse, it could undermine the whole idea of crowd-funding as a way to finance products and creative content. Continue reading “Kickstarter’s Honest Response To A PR Problem”