mellowtigger: (changed priorities)
Type the words "Hillary Clinton is" into Google, Yahoo, and Bing. Really, I'm not kidding. Do it yourself. Do it now. I'll wait.

Don't trust what I say, just because you read it on the internet.  Go to the search engines. Type the phrase into the search box yourself.

You'll get suggestions like these when I searched those words tonight.

google resuilts for "Hillary Clinton is"Yahoo results for "Hillary Clinton is"Bing results for "Hillary Clinton is"

You might think these preliminary suggestions are customized specifically for me (they're supposed to be), except that I abundantly use Google resources, so they should know my political opinions. I'm a liberal who supported Bernie Sanders, opposes Hillary Clinton's candidacy, and will not vote for her.

Now go read this long story from the former editor-in-chief of Psychology Today. You'll wish you were wearing a tin foil hat.
The article starts slowly with some background storytelling to set the mood, but the very important bits are farther down into the text. They tried manipulating the opinions of their test subjects, and they were quite effective.

What we actually found was astonishing. The proportion of people favouring the search engine’s top-ranked candidate increased by 48.4 per cent, and all five of our measures shifted toward that candidate. What’s more, 75 per cent of the people in the bias groups seemed to have been completely unaware that they were viewing biased search rankings. ...

Over the next year or so, we replicated our findings three more times, and the third time was with a sample of more than 2,000 people from all 50 US states. In that experiment, the shift in voting preferences was 37.1 per cent and even higher in some demographic groups – as high as 80 per cent, in fact. ...

It means that when people – including you and me – are looking at biased search rankings, they look just fine. So if right now you Google ‘US presidential candidates’, the search results you see will probably look fairly random, even if they happen to favour one candidate. ...

Writing in the New Republic in 2014, Jonathan Zittrain, professor of international law at Harvard University, pointed out that, given the massive amount of information it has collected about its users, Facebook could easily send such messages only to people who support one particular party or candidate, and that doing so could easily flip a close election – with no one knowing that this has occurred. And because advertisements, like search rankings, are ephemeral, manipulating an election in this way would leave no paper trail. ...

Perhaps even more disturbing is that the handful of people who do show awareness that they are viewing biased search rankings shift even further in the predicted direction; simply knowing that a list is biased doesn’t necessarily protect you from SEME’s power. ...

The formation of The Groundwork prompted Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks, to dub Google Clinton’s ‘secret weapon’ in her quest for the US presidency.

I'm so glad that I called attention recently to Google's failure to include Green Party candidate Jill Stein (and Transhumanist candidate Zoltan Istvan) in their search ranking results. Their favoritism was too obvious, I guess.

It's bad enough that I have to distrust all electronic voting machines. We use paper ballots here in Minnesota, so we have a trustworthy validation mechanism. Your area may differ. It's even worse that I have to distrust all media because it has consolidated to the point that only a few individuals can shape the message across vast swaths of broadcast, print, and online sources of news. Now, sadly, I have reason to distrust the primary interface to the internet: search engines.

I think the only real solution will be for all of us to have personal artificial intelligence assistants on our machines that we can direct to search data for us and present us with opinions that haven't been manipulated by any influence but our own fallible selves. Maybe we can start with open source web crawlers and search engines. I installed a useful one a few years ago on Windows before I made the switch to Linux Mint, but now I can't remember which package it was. Sorry, I don't have any recommendations tonight. Let me know if you have one that you like.
mellowtigger: (Terry 2010)
Free web services like Yahoo or Facebook or Gmail are not really free.  Subscribers pay for the service, just not in ways that they understand.  Data is enormously valuable, and meta-data (information about data) is rich with potential uses.  MIT makes a tool available to you that lets you glimpse the potential of this vast database that you are trading for "free" web services.

Here, for example, are my results of letting MIT's Immersion tool peruse my Gmail account for 7 years of meta-data.  (Click to see a larger version.)

Immersion analysis of my Gmail account

It identifies these networks of people with whom I communicate.
  • Autism: The brown network in the middle are other adults with autism that I know.  Curious that it puts them front and center, perhaps because I'm more likely to send emails to this network than the others?
  • Home: The large blue network on the left are my landlords, an extra roommate, and the people they know.
  • Bicycling: The pink network are the outdoorsy folk that I know, although it's been a long time since I've had the energy to join them.
  • Gamers: The green network are the other gamers that I have known.
  • Faeries/Occupy: The red network on the right side strangely connects both the Radical Faeries and the Occupy Minnesota crowd.  Who knew?
  • Work: The small purple network confuses me.  I think maybe it's related to coworkers from a few jobs back.  I'm not sure.
  • Bears: The small grey network at top is also confusing.  I think it might be two local Bears.  "B"?  Who is "B"?
  • Everyone else is listed as solitary orange dots, lacking connection to my other contacts.
The analysis also shows that I receive emails that vastly outnumber the emails that I send.  It's approximately 10:1 odds.  It also shows that I've grown increasingly isolated over the years, trending toward fewer and fewer new contacts.  It would be nice if I could combine data from the various email accounts (Gmail, Outlook, Earthlink, Yahoo) that I've used for a larger view of my communication patterns.

Anyway, this is the kind of information that we voluntarily give to companies in exchange for free web services.  We also give this information to the NSA, although I wouldn't call that transfer a willing exchange.  When the NSA says that they're "only" collecting meta-data, trying to downplay its significance... don't believe a word of it.

All data is valuable.
mellowtigger: (Terry 2010)
Google has indexed 20 years of Usenet posts. Good archeological history is available in those closing signatures! You can see the planetary computer networks that flourished prior to "the internets" (a plural name that I can still use with ease) within those contact addresses. My own electronic footprint goes back to 1989, excluding genealogical records.

I still disapprovingly shake my head at people who insist on posting electronically with limited viewership. They fear retribution from employers and harassment from internet trolls. Those consequences are real, yes. But nobody ever has any control over what happens to their words after they reach another person. Either keep your words to yourself, or share them with the world. There are no secrets in a world of technological telepathy; there is no forgetting in a world of digital memory. As a rule, I post publicly. I accept the consequences of my speech. Yes, there have been consequences.

Partly, we were more cooperative back then. All the people who were connected electronically were either educated at universities or employed by multinational corporations. We were much better trained for getting along with diverse opinions. The general population just wasn't prepared for exposure to such freedom of expression. Partly, we were all just naive. We really didn't understand that anyone would want to take advantage of other helpful people or exploit the free exchange of information. Some of my assigned userids incorporated part of my Social Security Number, for crying out loud! We know better today how selfish, abusive, and exploitative the general human population can be.

Here is the timeline of my electronic adventures. (Helpful hint: when clicking to one of the Usenet discussions, scroll to the top and click the button to "Expand all" conversations.)

1989.03.21"Calculation of pi"
I asked a question on the BITnet listserv about an algorithm for calculating pi specifically on a computer platform. I was inspired to ask after reading the book "Contact" by Carl Sagan. My email address was "N107BQ@TAMVM1", one of the IBM VM mainframes at Texas A&M University. These days, virtual machine host systems are becoming quite the popular item on personal computers. Everything old is new again.
1991.03.07"Clues?! Anybody have a clue? Clues purchased for $5! "
"The One". This maelstrom of emotions happened in pre-diagnosis days. "Asperger's Syndrome" wasn't even a possible diagnosis back then. That name wouldn't enter the manuals until 1992. No wonder I was confused. I never understood the breakup that happened soon afterward, either. I asked several times over the years, but I never got an answer that I understood. "I have NO idea how the mechanic[s] work in starting a real relationship!" And half a lifetime later, it's still the same.
1991.04.10"question for you TIers out there"
I posted from a DECnet Vax mainframe, but luckily my university was slowly dual-routing their mainframe email services so they could transmit messages on both the traditional networks and the newfangled ARPAnet. My "venus::" address on the Vax mainframe translated to "" on the new network. Texas Instruments had its own international network, but it wasn't yet connected to ARPAnet routers. Or so I'm guessing since nobody was able to answer my question. It wasn't until more ARPAnet routers were connected together that "the interconnected networks" (aka "internets" aka "internet") were born.
1991.04.13"QUESTION: What corporations protect us?"
I asked about anti-discrimination language in corporate policy. It was rare back then. Look at some of the signatures. You'll see contact addresses for people on BITnet and WWIVnet. One Microsoft employee is listed, but he has a UUnet address in his signature because Microsoft (like Texas Instruments) wasn't connected to ARPAnet. The corporate takeover of the internet hadn't started, because the internet itself hadn't yet consumed the other networks. ;)
1991.05.08"AD&D2: Austin, Texas"
I committed months earlier to the life-saving decision to quit university and head out to get a real job. I finally do it.
Best. Decision. Ever.
"New Orleans travel question"
"Gay Toulouse"
Another attempt at a relationship. His work Visa ended, so he had to leave the country.
I amuse myself by playing games on my Amiga.
1994.01.13"Q: HIV+/HIV- couples"
My next attempt at being a boyfriend. It was the longest relationship to survive.
1994.06.15"Austin, Texas: Liberty Books folds"
For two years, I had volunteered every Saturday morning at Liberty Books near downtown Austin. I opened the store and operated the register alone for 3 hours every weekend. I was disappointed to see it go.
1996.11.05"Q: Daggerfall residence"
I amuse myself by playing games on my pc.
1997.04.27"Q: where are endlers livebearers?"
I branch out. I amuse myself with aquaria too.
1998.09.13"70 ga aquarium, 30 ga aquarium"
Another (my last, ever) relationship ended months earlier, allergies are destroying me, and I need a change of life. I decide to move. I drive straight up I-35 from Austin, TX to Minneapolis, MN for a "Year 2000" programming project. I've been here ever since. Notice the Mindspring email account.  It eventually became Earthlink, but service declined at that point.

By 2000, the internet was everywhere. Few people talked about the old networks any more. Websites had taken over, and Usenet and Listserv seemed like ancient technologies already. The Borg assimilation was complete. :)

If you found amusement in this trip through history, be sure to help Google promote a free and open internet. It's important stuff!

mellowtigger: (penguin coder)
Am I being an old fogey for wanting email, profile, and webpage all at the same domain name? I'm having problems making payments (various errors from their server) on my grandfathered account at Earthlink, so I'm pondering ditching the service after a decade of use.

These days, most people just use the free providers (gmail, yahoo, hotmail) for email, they use the free social networks for their "About Me" online introduction pages, and they use free blogs if they want to write their own webpages.  Maybe I should stop clinging to my old Earthlink addresses that do all of these things under one roof?

My old webpage service is limited to 10 MB (yes, that's not a typo), so I really should upgrade to something else.  If I ever leave this subscription, though, then I lose the specific url that I've used for a very long time.  I have urls published online.  Some of my writings on autism have their urls cited in presentations and even a footnote in somebody's book.  Am I ready to give up that link to the past? I wish I had a DOI for those pages, so moving them wouldn't harm anyone's chance to find them later.

I guess I won't have a choice if I can't get any of my payment options to process. I normally use enom for my domain registration.  Maybe I should buy a new domain name and start moving my webpages there? What name, though?  I need something suitable for both personal and professional use.  But I don't have any ideas.  *sigh*
mellowtigger: (the more you know)
Pen-and-paper roleplayers are familiar with the idea that games (via trial and error and social interaction) help us learn about our personal strengths and weaknesses. Online gaming is poised to take that notion to a new, data-verifiable level. I mentioned yesterday about 3 sources of user data that were mined and shared back with the source population. Today's post discusses the world of online computer gaming.

Although some sociologists examine the history of their own interaction in a virtual world, others arrange to download the entire database of player interactions from the host company. Either way, there's a lot of information to mine. A third method is to solicit the direct involvement of players by asking permission to download their individual gaming histories on a daily basis.

This third method seems most responsive to the "customer" base, even providing frequent notices about the results obtained.  In this particular case, it's a much smaller sample set of only 1000+ players, but it's nice to see such direct feedback during a sociological project. So far, the data mining has addressed some of the traditional questions that come to mind during online play.
  • Is that sexy female elf really a female player?
  • Do women emote more than men?
  • Are men inclined to follow front-line combat while women follow medicine?
So far, the answer to all of these questions seems to be: Yes.
Read the 3 scenarios with images... )

This new data mining projects intends to release new results every week or two.  The authors write:

As we slowly but surely churn through the data, we ask ahead of time for your patience in that it may take us a while to answer specific questions, but the accumulation of blog posts here will hopefully provide a multi-faceted lens over time.

I really like the idea that playtime helps us learn about ourselves. I enjoy gaming for other reasons, but this kind of observation adds a whole new dimension of interest in the pastime. I hope they add more players to their database to develop a very large population base for study.
mellowtigger: (the more you know)
The internet connects society, and it permits the collection of huge amounts of data about people. You can be sure that companies are mining that data. I know only three cases where the results are shared back directly with the population base that contributes the raw data.

Today's example comes from a social dating website called People there post detailed descriptions of themselves. People also answer multiple-choice questions generated by other users of the site. Those questions make for a very interesting mix of ideas and potential interactions.

They occasionally mine their half-a-million profiles for nuggets of interesting knowledge. The news last week was specifically about findings of racial differences. Click on the gender image at the top of each racial profile to switch between male and female results. Being an infovore, I enjoyed reading through the revelations about various trends in the data.

Buried towards the end of the long entry, however, are some nuggets about literacy that are separated by religious identity. They used a formula called the Coleman-Liau Index to rate the "readability" (grade level) of the text that people write into their profiles. This formula ignores word meaning and instead focuses specifically on structure complexity (characters per word, words per sentence).

Here are the literacy charts by race, religion, and religious fervor. The results practically write their own punch lines.

Cut for 3 large images... )
As they summarize at the end of the blog:

"Note that for each of the faith-based belief systems I've listed, the people who are the least serious about them write at the highest level. On the other hand, the people who are most serious about not having faith (i.e. the "very serious" agnostics and atheists) score higher than any religious groups."

Kudos to the Buddhists and the Jews for keeping pace (almost) with the freethinkers.  That almost all of these groups operate at an average Junior High (7th and 8th grade) reading level is a testament to the efficacy of the American education system.
mellowtigger: (penguin coder)
I need a kind of document that can be edited on any computer platform without someone having to pay for programs to install.  It needs to work without someone having to lower security settings on their pc.  It needs to allow a person to enter data within specific fields in the document.  It needs to be small enough that people can easily email it as a file attachment.

What is there?

I find that Microsoft Word just isn't generic enough.  We put documents out on the web, and some people cannot view/edit/save Word format.  Or miscellaneous Microsoft formats come in to us that require additional software installed to convert to our current version.

I find that PDF is just plain awful.  The Adobe editor is expensive and a cpu hog.  Documents don't always work correctly, even with Adobe Reader.  I do like Foxit as a generic pdf viewer, but it's impossible to get every program to play correctly with a pdf document that expects fields to be filled in.

I find that Tiddlywiki is a security risk because it requires users to alter their security settings so that the program can save data to its own source file.  Prime virus territory.  Yuck.  Too bad, since I really like the concept of it: an editor embedded within the document itself.

So what options are there?  Flat html provides the forms, the dropdown lists, the radio buttons, etc, but it cannot save the data anywhere.  Argh!  Business has needed a solution to this problem for decades.  Why don't we have one yet?
mellowtigger: (Default)
Suppose you have a [connection X] for your business, and you want to know whether you need to upgrade to a faster [connection Y]. How do you define what bandwidth you need? Do you focus on the average 8am-5pm usage, or do you focus on the spikes of activity? Do you care about total bytes transferred, or do you run a constant ping-test between your server and the outside world to see what latency appears?

I have access to the Sonicwall data archives for a T1 connection. The web interface that they provide can easily show average byte transmission over the course of an hour, but that seems far too coarse a view. So, I went about some data mining to see what other numbers I could produce.

bandwidth exampleI successfully imported one of the archive files into an Access database. This particular file happened to have nearly 20k records for a total of 83 minutes of data. Although the data points are identified down to the second, unfortunately an entire file transfer is reduced to just a byte count and a timestamp for the close of the connection. I can't tell how long the connection was active in order to transfer those bytes. I aggregated information up into the measure of individual minutes.  I could break it into smaller chunks of time if I wanted to, but it seemed like a minute was a nice compromise between too broad and too fine a measure.

I calculated the theoretical maximum bandwidth of a T1 connection (using decimal MB instead of binary MB here, since MB transferred were counted decimally).
1536000 bit/sec * 1/8 B/bit * 1/1000 KB/B * 1/1000 MB/KB * 60 sec/min = 11.52 MB/min

So there's my chart.  I know from the one spike that during at least one minute of my 83-minute sample, the bandwidth was insufficient to transmit the amount of data that was requested.  But then the average is still far below the maximum capacity. 

Should I just throw all this data away though?  Should I instead be using a constant ping test between "inside" servers and "outside" servers to see what kind of latency (delay) is appearing?  Should I be using charts of latency rise and fall instead of total byte transmission?

I know what bandwidth saturation "feels like".  (And it does not feel like this T1 is being taxed that hard.)  But how do I define it?
mellowtigger: (Default)
I work at a non-profit, and we're looking for free (or very cheap) software to do some basic monitoring of our systems.  We use Windows Server 2003, and we have 5 sites.  We'd like something that does basic ping tests, of course, but it would also be handy if it can check available disk space and cpu usage statistics, maybe even the health of the Exchange server.  It should email reports to us (assuming basic email and net services are still available, of course).

Right now we're evaluating a nearly-affordable program, but f/oss would be better since we have a very limited budget.  Yes, we could eventually learn to cobble together our own system from Microsoft utilities, but we don't have the manpower to spare for that project.  So a ready-made program would really help us out.

Any suggestions?
mellowtigger: (Default)
I've noticed this morning that some locations respond quickly, but other sites are wholly unreachable.

So I started to google network outages, and I figured I'd check out the reporting form at the Federal Communications Commission to see if there were any telecomm problems reported there. No good. The site responds, at least, but it's an "Object not found" error.

Gmail works.  Earthlink doesn't.  YouTube videos load, but XTube videos do not.  DDO connects for updates, but EQ2 and Age Of Conan do not.

What gives?  I didn't change anything on my pc since last night.


mellowtigger: (Default)

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