Unintended Affordances (or why I believe encrypting everything is a bad idea) | Armin Ronacher’s Thoughts and Writings

In psychology there is the term of affordances. It’s the concept that an object affords different actions for someone interacting with it. Most objects in this world have a plethora of things you can do with them, many are not even intended by the designer of that object. … What I find interesting about that concept is that most of the time the actions that you can perform on an object are heavily shaped by your state of mind and environment.

A similar thing applies to the enforcement of rules.

I’m not going to discuss whether digital enforcement is a good thing or not, more that when you take such a strong stance on an issue it’s important to not just consider the situations in which everything goes by design. … When implemented properly, encryption is a very binary enforcement: there is no way around it.

Source: Unintended Affordances (or why I believe encrypting everything is a bad idea) | Armin Ronacher’s Thoughts and Writings

This Is How Fast America Changes Its Mind | Bloomberg Business – Business, Financial & Economic News, Stock Quotes

Social change in the U.S. appears to follow a pattern: A few pioneer states get out front before the others, and then a key event—often a court decision or a grassroots campaign reaching maturity—triggers a rush of state activity that ultimately leads to a change in federal law.

Source: This Is How Fast America Changes Its Mind | Bloomberg Business – Business, Financial & Economic News, Stock Quotes

Guy Trading at Home Caused the Flash Crash – Bloomberg View

The futures exchange wrote to Sarao on the day of the flash crash, telling him to stop spoofing, and he called them back “and told em to kiss my ass.” And then regulators pondered that reply for five years before deciding that they’d prefer to have him arrested in London and extradited to face criminal spoofing charges.

But the FBI’s and CFTC’s theory here is far more troubling: It suggests that existing algorithms are not just dumb enough to give spoofers some of their money, but dumb enough to give spoofers so much of their money that they destabilize the financial markets. It’s not especially confidence-inspiring to read that a guy with a spreadsheet can trick everyone into thinking that the market is crashing, and thereby cause the market to crash.

Source: Guy Trading at Home Caused the Flash Crash – Bloomberg View

The New Enemy Within – The Atlantic

The right wing finds a new target for its ire.

Why are conservatives more hostile to Muslims and Islam today than they were in the terrifying aftermath of 9/11? And why have American Muslims, who in 2000 mostly voted Republican, apparently replaced gays and feminists as the right’s chief culture-war foe?

Sadly, McCarthyism is not the only precedent in American history for this type of demonization: hyper-nationalist politicians went after German Americans during World War I and Japanese Americans during World War II. Similarly, today, with conservatives frustrated by America’s failed wars in the Middle East and the increasing unassailability of their traditional domestic foes, they are turning on American Muslims for the simplest of political reasons: because they can.

Source: The New Enemy Within – The Atlantic

The Machines Are Coming – The New York Times

Low-wage jobs are no longer the only ones at risk.

This cannot just be about machines’ capabilities or human skills, since the true solution lies in neither. Confronting the threat posed by machines, and the way in which the great data harvest has made them ever more able to compete with human workers, must be about our priorities.

It’s easy to imagine an alternate future where advanced machine capabilities are used to empower more of us, rather than control most of us. There will potentially be more time, resources and freedom to share, but only if we change how we do things. We don’t need to reject or blame technology. This problem is not us versus the machines, but between us, as humans, and how we value one another.

Source: The Machines Are Coming – The New York Times


Also, see: SMBC 3711

This is what oligopoly collusion looks like

JPG made out of the GIF by Quartz, taken from their article What will happen if the US government kills the Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger?.

This is what oligopoly collusion looks like. The two largest corporations in the same industry providing the same product/service just “coincidentally” don’t compete with each other. They also coincidentally come up together in consumer satisfaction surveys — DEAD LAST.

Comcast and Time Warner Cable aren’t just the lowest ranked among pay-TV providers and Internet service providers, but that they account for the four lowest-scoring spots on the entire year’s survey.

Source: Comcast, Time Warner Cable Still Bringing Up Rear In Customer Satisfaction Surveys

Is This Justice? Charging an Eighth Grader with a Felony for “Hacking” | Electronic Frontier Foundation

Slip an “adult” magazine into a prudish teacher’s desk? Prank.
Change the background image of their computer? Felony hacking.

A 14-year-old eighth grader in Florida, Domanik Green, has been charged with a felony for “hacking” his teacher’s computer. The “hacking” in this instance was using a widely known password to change the desktop background of his teacher’s computer with an image of two men kissing.

Source: Is This Justice? Charging an Eighth Grader with a Felony for “Hacking” | Electronic Frontier Foundation


I absolutely agree with the idea that liberal education is a good thing and that the drive towards STEM is bad. I agree with the rejection of concepts like common core in favor of a more diverse curriculum. I agree with the value of an inspirational teacher no matter what subject is being discussed.  They are on the right line of discussion on the really big issues.

But then they don’t ever get to the things that prevent the inspirational teaching to think that they talk about. They never get to the problems of underpaid and overworked teaching labor. They don’t talk about the almost complete death of the full time teaching job. They don’t talk about how much damage is done by the idea that the purpose of college is job preparation rather than life preparation.

Instead they talk about Massive Online Courses.

The idea that teaching hasn’t changed and that this new technology changes everything is just bald ignorance.


When Cops Check Facebook – The Atlantic

America’s police are using social media to fight crime, a practice that raises troubling questions.

The fundamental problem with policing via social-media data is that it misrepresents what social networks actually look like on the ground. Despite what techno-evangelists might wish, not all social relationships can be described using computational logic. The problem is structural and epistemological. Like all computer programs, databases are ultimately based on binary logic. If you want shades of meaning, you have to explicitly build that capability into your system. And building nuance is far harder than it seems.

For the kid listed in a gang database, it can be unclear how to get out of it. In the world of human interaction, we accept change through behavior: the addict can redeem himself by getting clean, or the habitual interrupter can redeem himself by not interrupting. We accept behavior change. But in the database world, unless someone has permission to delete or amend a database record, no such change is possible.

This permanence does not necessarily match real-world conditions. Kids cycle in and out of street gangs the way they cycle in and out of any other social group, and many young men age out of violent behavior. Regularly purging the gang database, perhaps on a one-year or two-year cycle, would allow some measure of computational forgiveness.

Now that the Internet is thirty years old, the long-term consequences of information permanence are becoming clear. We also need to acknowledge that computer systems are not a panacea. … We need to put people before programs, and if programs don’t reflect our human values, we need to change the code. And if programmers can’t write code that is fair and just, we should consider relying on people instead of programs.

If our technological systems are entrapping innocent citizens or tampering with the presumption of innocence, should they be used?

Source: When Cops Check Facebook – The Atlantic