Cambridge Analytica “whistle-blower”

I watched the Guardian’s interview with Christopher Wylie, the former (founding) staffer of what became Cambridge Analytica, as he described what the organization did, and pointed the finger at the CEO, at Steve Bannon, and so on.  He described his own role as “data scientist”, “running an experiment” using psychological profile information to modify voter behavior, making it sound like some sort of value-neutral lab test.  Apparently he left the firm only after deciding that the right-wing clients his company was working for were not to his taste.

When asked about the result of the experiment, he professed not to know how much what he and his colleagues had done had influenced the outcome of the elections in the US and the Brexit referendum in the UK.  Not much of the scientific method there.

It seems clear to me that this is a man with a self-professed blindness to the moral position of the work he, personally, did.  Blanketing it in sciency-sounding terms is an attempt to obscure the fact that what he was doing was morally indefensible.

The Steve Bannons and Donald Trumps of the world can’t wreak the havoc they do without the technical people like Mr Wylie providing them with the tools.  I see and hear of technical people all the time electing to work on questionable ends, all the time touting the value-free nature of the tools they’re building (“it’s not the tool, it’s the person using it” – sound familiar?)  This is particularly hurtful to me, since I’m in a technical field.

We all get to make these decisions with the work we choose to do, or not to do.  We all should live with the consequences.

Why do people still use email? Because it works

I want to IM someone. Do I use Messenger? Sorry, Apple only. How about Allo? Android only. Hangouts? Works everywhere, but most people haven’t got it. Skype? Same, and many people who use to use it have uninstalled it. Text message? Talk about lowest common denominator: (maybe) no photos, … I want to video-chat. Even worse.

Why do tech companies constantly reinvent this stuff in incompatible ways? I just got a message from Slack (which I use because I have to, for work) saying their XMPP gateway will be taken down soon, because their system is better. Couldn’t they just make XMPP better? Couldn’t everyone make XMPP better, so we could all use the client of our choice and still talk to one another?

Imagine if AT&T had done this with phones. Or Philips with audio cassette tape. Or cars with gas tank fittings.

Fake news

From the article:

“The issue here is how much we believe what we read,” Badawy said. “There is going to be a lot of content that we’re not sure of anymore, and this problem opens up more room for doubt in American politics and politics around the world.”

Doubt is good. Skepticism is good. Fundamental to the scientific method, and to rationality in general. If the takeaway from this explosion of propaganda is that people start doubting what they read, we are in better shape.

I’d read John Kerry

Of all the officials involved with the endless war in the Middle East, I’d love to hear what John Kerry has to say.  He’s the one guy who, because of his formative experience during the Vietnam war, should have some inkling about why the US is bogged down spending lives and money for decades in a cause that thas nothing to do with the defense of the country.

He should write a book, like Robert McNamara did, that explains what everyone was thinking.  Maybe it’s too soon, but I’d read that book.

American politics has never been normal, and now they never will | New Republic

A short history of politics in the US. TL;DR: the US has been here before. The civility of the period 1870-1970 is not where we are heading, we are going back to politics as war, and thinking that a Democratic majority in the Congress will return us to reasonableness is naive.