Gongol.com Archives: July 2012
Brian Gongol

July 31, 2012

Computers and the Internet Twitter suspension of journalist looks fishy
Was it because of the ostensible violation of terms (that he posted the email address of an NBC executive), or because he was so sharply critical of NBC's Olympics coverage and NBC somehow put the pressure on Twitter to block him? Either way, it looks odd -- it's not exactly difficult to reverse-engineer the email addresses of most people at major corporations, once their particular version of [firstname].[lastname]@[corporation].com can be worked out. ■ Twitter took a few days to reverse its decision, so the journalist in question has his account back. But some real damage has been done -- including the revelation that Twitter was actively watching out for NBC when it alerted them to the comments that led to the suspension. That undoubtedly will resonate badly with many users who would prefer not to think that their comments were being watched carefully (or even automatically) for criticisms of organizations like NBC. ■ It should also be a reminder to people that you should never rely upon an outside service to deliver your primary "face" to the digital world. Today, Twitter and Facebook make it easy for celebrities and non-celebrities alike to park their digital selves on those sites. But Facebook and Twitter should always -- always -- be secondary to a stand-alone website under your direct control, no matter whether you're Joe Sixpack or the United Nations. Intermediaries (whether they're Facebook or Twitter or Wordpress or Blogger or Google Plus or any of a hundred other choices) can be fickle. They can fail. They can change policies. They can pull the plug on you. And if you're dependent upon them for your primary digital presence, you're at their mercy. Buy your own domain name and have a site hosted by a trusted webhosting provider. If you always have a backup of the content on that account (which you should), you can move to another webhost in a matter of minutes should any need ever exist. Use Twitter and Facebook to interact with people and to point people to that website -- of course. But don't rely upon them as your primary interface with the digital world.

Weather and Disasters Americans are woefully inclined to ignore weather warnings
About five years ago, the National Weather Service refined its system for issuing warnings -- changing from the old county-based system to an approach that confines warnings to just the areas expected to be hit by storms. Unfortunately, they chose the clunky (though accurate) name of threat-based polygon warnings. So even though the new warning system (also called "storm-based warnings") has resulted in far, far fewer unnecessary warnings, that point still hasn't gotten across to many people. ■ The reality is that the new warnings should be taken substantially more seriously than they were five years ago; if you're under a warning now, it's much more likely that there's a real threat nearby than under the old rules. But in practice, half of people say they aren't likely to act even if they receive notice of a warning, and a quarter of the general public are so stubborn (and stupid) that they insist on seeing some actual action (like a funnel cloud) before taking action. ■ Rather than letting natural selection take its course on these people, it may as well be acknowledged that no amount of public education is going to be enough to get these people to heed warnings and think ahead. So perhaps it's time to think about funding a project to give National Weather Service volunteers access to video-enabled autonomous aircraft -- call them "weather drones". ■ There's plenty of reason to be skeptical of the use of drones by law enforcement and government agencies, but this may be a role they could play without endangering civil liberties. In fact, one might imagine that a live video stream of a tornado would provide (a) valuable information to the National Weather Service, and (b) the kind of confirmation that the weather-warning skeptics might actually heed for their own good. They can be built for minimal cost -- around $1,000 -- and it's rapidly becoming easier to stream live video via cell-phone towers, thanks to the rapid deployment of 3G and 4G networks. It's obvious there are legions of people who already want to be storm chasers and tornado hunters, so it likely wouldn't even be all that difficult to enlist volunteers to do the work.

News Power outage in India affects population twice the size of the US
We frequently lack the kind of perspective we need to really understand the news

Broadcasting British government committee wants all TV to move to the Internet
They want to use the leftover radio spectrum space for mobile phones. That would/will require putting a heaping helping of brand-new fiber-optic cable into the ground, because the world's network just aren't ready yet to carry that much data.

Science and Technology The new Nobel Prizes are the Milner Awards

Threats and Hazards Where is the data going?
Des Moines and Sioux City are about to start using license-plate scanners to hunt down lawbreakers automatically. But what are they going to do with the data on the thousands of law-abiding citizens they pass? It's an epic threat to civil liberties.

Humor and Good News A small collection of mainly house-themed musicians

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