Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The political implications of the Internet, with an emphasis on the last election

I teach a class on Internet applications, implications, and technology and last semester one of our foci was the impact of the Internet on the election. I recently gave a two-hour lecture on the topic, pulling together material we had covered chronologically during the semester. These are the topics covered in the lecture:

  • Historical context
  • Lying
  • Fact checking
  • Fake news for money
  • Fake news for politics
  • Fake images
  • Trump dominated social media
  • More historical context - disillusion
  • Non-political consequences
  • Hacking USA
  • The Internet is ephemeral
  • Breitbart – “alt right” press
  • Money behind the scenes
  • Europe
  • (Imperfect) fixes
  • Future fake media
I created a PowerPoint deck for the lecture. The slides are fairly simple -- typically a mnemonic image, a few words and perhaps a food-for-thought question (as illustrated below) -- but they also have notes and links to sources for those wishing to study the material further.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Crooked Media -- my new favorite podcast emporium

If you are a Republican Trump supporter and listen to a full Crooked Media episode, I will listen to a podcast episode of your choice.

Crooked Media, which produces several political podcasts, was started by Jon Favreau, Barack Obama’s head speechwriter from 2005–2013, Jon Lovett, previously a speechwriter for Hillary Clinton and President Obama and Tommy Vietor, who spent nearly a decade as a spokesman for President Obama, specializing in foreign policy and national security issues. They are highly qualified and well connected so are able to attract high-ranking interview guests from government and academia.

They started Crooked Media because they "couldn’t find a place to talk about politics the way actual human beings talk" and are unabashed, but critical, Democrats. Their motto is "Do Something -- Tweets are not The Resistance" and they have plans to go beyond podcasting.

This might sound kind of wonky and dull, but it is actually wonky and funny and relaxed -- you really need to check them out. Not convinced? Check out the following excerpts from two interviews conducted by Tommy Vietor on his foreign policy podcast, PodSavetheWorld.

To whet your appetite, I created two excerpts dealing with US-Cuba policy. (I chose these excerpts because they are typical of Crooked Media interviews and I have an interest in Cuba).

One excerpt is from an interview of Dan Restrepo, who served as a top Latin America advisor to President Obama. Restrepo had written a Cuban-rapprochement roadmap for candidate Obama during his first campaign and he returned to the topic in 2013. He says Obama was playing a "long game," knowing that his executive authority was limited and he could not move faster than US public opinion. Restrepo characterizes Obama's strategy as a bet that by creating a degree of freedom among the Cuban people, for example by expanding reparations and undermining Castro's excuse of blaming all problems on the Evil Empire, the Cuban government would be forced to change. He noted that the blame-US game was a hard sell after the Cuban people saw the Evil Emperor, who looked more like them than the current Cuban leaders, giving a speech on TV or at a baseball game with Raúl Castro.

The excerpt (14:20) is here and the full podcast (48:37) here.

The second excerpt is from an interview of Ben Rhodes, who served as a speechwriter and emissary for President Obama and was one of two White House staff members handling the negotiations leading up to our opening with Cuba. Rhodes and his colleague Ricardo Zuniga traveled to Canada for 12-15 secret meetings with Cuban representatives while working out the rapprochement details. At the start, they were only negotiating for the release of Alan Gross because Obama reasoned that rapprochement would be politically unacceptable if Gross remained in a Cuban prison. Early in the negotiation for Gross, they realized more was possible and the scope of the discussion broadened. Only a few people in the White House knew of these negotiations, but the Vatican was informed early and played a key role. (If you are unfamiliar with the Alan Gross case, click here).

The excerpt (11:30) is here and the full podcast (1:00:48) is here.

Even if you are a Republican Trump supporter, check out Crooked Media's podcasts. (If you are a Republican Trump supporter and listen to a full Crooked Media episode, I will listen to a podcast episode of your choice).

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Comcast and Charter -- declining competition among ISPs

I am not an expert on the retail ISP industry -- just a dissatisfied customer of the monopoly service provider in my neighborhood -- but the following events have caught my attention during recent years.

In 2012, Comcast and Verizon agreed to stay out of each other's markets -- Comcast would focus on landline Internet and Verizon mobile Internet.

Last year, Charter Communications merged with two other companies to become the second largest ISP in the country.

This month, Comcast and Charter Communication have agreed to cooperate on mobile connectivity, to "explore potential opportunities for operational cooperation" -- "creating common operating platforms, technical standards development, and harmonization, device forward and reverse logistics, and emerging wireless technology platforms."

They also agreed not to make a major acquisition in the wireless sector without the other’s involvement for one year.

They will both resell Verizon wireless service.

President Obama & the Comcast CEO
A visual inspection of the coverage maps of Charter and Comcast does not reveal a lot of geographic overlap in their current service areas. (I'd be curious to see the actual statistics).

Many of us had only one or two choices for a landline ISP during the Obama administration and mobile connectivity remained a stable oligopoly. It does not sound like Charter and Comcast will be fierce mobile connectivity competitors, does it?

Capitalism needs competition to work well and a lack of competition offers a partial explanation for the US, home of the ARPANet, being ranked 15th on the International Telecommunication Union ICT Development Index. It certainly does not look like we can expect more ISP competition during the Trump administration.

Friday, May 12, 2017

The impact of classroom architecture on teaching and learning

Award-winning professor Michael Wesch writes and speaks on the influence of classroom architecture on teaching and learning. I saw a striking example of the impact of classroom architecture when the projector failed in my classroom.

I was reminded of this topic recently when I substituted for a colleague, Larry Rosen, who teaches in a large, half-full auditorium. I was struck by the fact that, as you see here, the students chose to spread out uniformly when there is extra room:

Professor Rosen in a 60 Minutes segment

I can understand that -- I too like space between me and my neighbors and the people in the back row can quietly sneak out of the auditorium if the lecture gets boring -- but it impacts classroom interaction.

Like many others, I encourage student interaction -- with me and among themselves -- during a lecture. One technique I use is to throw out a question and ask them to discuss it or compare answers with their neighbors. The purpose is not to find the right answer but self-diagnosis -- to help them see whether or not they understand the concept I am talking about. That does not work well when the students are spread out as in the auditorium shown above.

For a quick summary of Wesch's view of the implicit messages of traditional classroom architecture, watch the following short (3:14) excerpt from a longer (1:06:12) talk:

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Cool images and video of the latest, increasingly routine SpaceX soft landing

SpaceX has made landing a 549,054 kg rocket that is 70 feet long and only 3.66 meters in diameter and has reached an altitude of 247 km and fallen at a speed of up to Mach 7.9 within .7 m of the target on a drone barge at sea almost routine.

The latest SpaceX launch placed a satellite into orbit and the first-stage rocket soft-landed on a barge. Successful recovery of first stage rockets seems to be becoming routine for SpaceX and that will significantly reduce the cost of launching a satellite, bringing us closer to the dream of low-cost Internet access at every point on Earth.

When the Falcon 9 reached an altitude of 72.6 kilometers, the first stage separated and began falling toward Earth.

Separation and adjustment

Following separation, there were frequent nitrogen-thruster bursts to keep the rocket vertical and position it directly above the landing barge.

Nitrogen thruster adjustment at 160 kilometers

When the first stage had fallen to 61.9 kilometers, it's rocket engines were fired to slow it's decent. The following images show the view from the ground and from the rocket.

Engines fire to slow descent

The rocket has touched down -- speed is 0 km/hour and the altitude is 0 km.

The above images were taken from this 8-minute video which begins at the time of stage-separation and runs through the soft landing on the barge:

For a 22-minute video beginning with the launch and running through the soft landing, click here.

Update 9/4/2017

SpaceX has made landing a 549,054 kg rocket that is 70 feet long and only 3.66 meters in diameter and has reached an altitude of 247 km and fallen at a speed of up to Mach 7.9 within .7 m of the target on a drone barge at sea almost routine. You can see 15 pictures of a recovered rocket being brought back to Hawthorne California for refurbishing here.