Yellowstone Caldera attracting attention for catastrophic eruption potential, but maybe “it won’t be so bad”

There has been some hype in tabloid media (and on doomsday prepper Facebook accounts) in the past couple of weeks about the increase of small earthquakes in the Yellowstone National Park caldera area, interspersed with quiet periods.  Some sources say this could be a warning of a catastrophic eruption which could make two-thirds of the United States uninhabitable.  Other possible indications could be changes in water levels in various ponds and hot springs.

There are reports that that DHS has talked to at least four countries (one of them is apparently South Africa) on other continents about taking American “refugees”.  I could say, fat chance, given Trump’s attempts at travel bans!  There are predictions of at least a 10% probability of a major eruption by 2100.

The Pacific Northwest seems to have a massive eruption about every 650,000 years and we are near that time.  Each eruption occurs farther East than the previous one.   And scientists have found that the magma chambers under Yellowstone were even deeper and larger than previously thought.

But if you check more mainstream media, the sources indicate that earthquake swarms are common and not necessarily a sign of a major eruption. And more stable (and sometimes conservative) sites tend to suggest that the damage possible from a Yellowstone eruption is much smaller than the tabloids or Hollywood disaster movies predict.

Indeed, there would be massive destruction for at least 100 miles or so in every direction from the Caldera, more than was found with Mount St. Helens in 1980.

And there could be considerable ashfall over the upper Midwest, compromising farmland and gumming up streams and rivers.  Furthermore, the volcanic could would block sunlight and cool the Earth for several years, maybe substantially, reversing global warming temporarily and leading to shorter growing seasons.

I can recall that this risk came up on an Outwoods hike near Minneapolis back in the fall of 1998 when a University of Minnesota chemistry professor on the hike mentioned it, as a real hazard to civilization.

This site in the UK is rather sensational, as is Millennium Report, but these (Fox, Gizmodo, Livescience) make more temperate predictions.

I visited Yellowstone myself in May 1981 (also nearby Teton), and the Mt. St. Helens site in Washington State in July 1990.  I also flew over the St. Helens peak on a flight from Seattle to San Francisco in August 1980.

There have also been reports that Mount Rainier in Washington State could have a massive eruption.

Map of past eruptions.

Map of calderas.

Caldera photo.

Mt. St. Helens

(Posted: Friday, June 23, 2017 at 1:30 PM EDT)

Supreme Court to take up gerrymandering; a filmmaker (Jon Ossoff) runs for office today

The Supreme Court will take up the issue of partisan gerrymandering, and the design of voting districts by a party in control to cause the opposing party to “waste” its popular vote. The New York Times has a story Tuesday morning by Adam Liptak here. The specific case deals with Wisconsin.

Gerrymandering helps explain why politicians sometimes persist in passing laws that seem silly to moderate voters but that are designed to appease a more extreme and sometimes ideological base, especially rural conservatives. Gerrymandering made the infamous bathroom bills (with all their add-ons spilling out against other minorities) live as long as they did in North Carolina. Legislators did not seem to care that major tech companies and big league sports events could pull out.

Jeff Reichert had made a documentary film “Gerrymandering” which was offered with the West End Theater in Washington DC opened in 2010. Gerrymandering does indeed pervert democracy.   In a sense, the electoral college in presidential elections (as we found out in 2016) offers the same possibilities for mathematical mischief that gerrymandering does at the local level.

Right now, gerrymandering seems to be more used by Republicans to leveraging the popular vote in rural areas. Gerrymandering reflects a problem that, for example baseball fans know. Suppose a team splits a doubleheader, winning 14-0 and then losing 1-0. The team wishes it could have scored 12 runs in the first game and saved two runs for the second game, to complete the sweep. But it doesn’t work that way.

I get rather annoyed when others try to draw me into hyper partisanship. One time during my mother’s last year in 2010 a relative did that (for the GOP). I get appeals for funds from both parties. I get hysterical emails from Karen Handel in Georgia (today’s election). Why should I support an out-of-state politician anyway, so I might not have to pay a little for someone else’s health coverage?

As far as that race goes, it strikes me as intriguing that a documentary filmmaker and writer Jon Ossoff (“Living with Ebola” and “The Battle for Africa”) wants to run for office, and give up the distance that journalism (“spectating”) and its objectivity allows him. Maybe that’s the point. I can’t imagine asking people to give me money to run for office to get them what they want. I can’t imagine going door-to-door for politicians in a world where people fear home invasions.

(Posted: Tuesday, June 20, 2017 at 11 AM EDT)

Does distributed consciousness really exist with humans? If so, that matters

We often hear loose allegations in the literature about “distributed consciousness” among some animals. In different contexts, we may hear the term used about social insects (bee and ant colonies), siphonophores (like the Portuguese Man-o-War), all the way to mammals who live in social groups.  Orcas (the film “Blackfish“) are said to experience a “distributed sense of self”.

I wonder about the same idea for human society.  Is an extended family, a tribe, a clan, or small nation in some sense conscious?  Authoritarian leaders (whether religious, as in the Islamic world, or secular, as with Vladimir Putin) sometimes talk this way.

One paper that caught my attention recently was a British paper by Johnathan CW Edwards from University College, London.  The paper proposes that every cell in your body has a “copy” or image of your consciousness (rather like every computer in a network having a copy of everything in a network cloud, and constantly refreshing it, rather like the inverse of a product like Carbonite or iCloud).  But the sentience that you experience as “you” has something to do with the “binding” of all of these copies back.  As individual cells dies, other new cells can download the copies.  He then goes on to a long discussion of “the binding problem”.   (Along these lines, the “consciousness” of cephalopods like the octopus (Atlantic; NY Times) becomes interesting to compare with that of a mammal like me;  there is also research that animals like crows don’t need a cerebral cortex like ours to be very smart and sentient.)  Even plants are said to have cellular consciousness (I once saw how a wild grape vine can attach itself to my own cable line, and PBS Nature has a series “Plants Behaving Badly“.)

Parts of the human body sometimes seem to have their own identities — involuntary muscles, twitches, reflexes, and “muscle memory” of events. That would really be strong in a decentralized animal like the octopus.

There seems to exist a loose idea, that if individuals having consciousness (uploading to sentience) bond together with enough solidarity, the larger group will take on sentience of its own.  This idea has certainly been explored in science fiction, like Arthur C. Clarke’s “Childhood’s End”, a big miniseries at the end of 2015.  It isn’t hard to see that this idea can appeal to collectivistic or authoritarian politicians and theologians.

What could go into such “binding” of a group consciousness?  The most obvious element would be the common DNA (nuclear and even mitochondrial) of extended families.  Do some wild animals sense this?  In a pride, the alpha-male lion sometimes kills the cubs of rival males so his own genes propagate, as if he were competing for his own group-uploaded vicarious immortality.  With a little thought, you can see how this could feed homophobia.  I am an only child.  You can imagine what my parents could have though in the fall of 1961 when they learned from a college dean that I had said I am gay.  The idea of “loyalty to blood” came out in an unusual way in an episode of the 2003 series “Jake 2.0”, about a young man accidentally “infected” with nanobots and getting superpowers.

But people in religious, spiritual or meditation practices often deny that blood lineage matters all that much, saying there are many other ways to develop connections to people, that survive mortality. Much of this practice seems to have to do with the willingness to disband old limitations on the ability to love and perceive people in terms of pre-learned physical standards of appearance.  I do see, sometimes in social media, calls to openness to connections to people in need (or who have had permanent losses, sometimes caused by the violence of others), that would not have been contemplated in the more restrictive and socially conservative culture in which I grew up in the 50s and early 60s.  In my day, there was more an attitude of “it is what it is”, and “what you see is what you get”.

In conjunction with a view of afterlife that I discussed  June 6, it seems that strong connections with others in groups while living may be the only way you own “microverse” can keep up after you’re “gone”.  So there may be something at stake when whole groups or families are destroyed.  The “souls” of those who have gone will no longer have others to keep up with.  Maybe this idea does feed some religious fundamentalism, and the idea that what others do really does matter for your own collective “eternity”.

How do you become “connected” to a group?  I can think of perhaps silly examples.  One is rooting for a professional sports team and feeling let down when the team blows a won game (because of a weak bullpen in baseball – the Washington Nationals).  The only thing I can do about it is to start playing chess more again and hold on to my own endgames.

But more challenging are the calls to give up one’s own internal crutches in personal fantasy(as a legacy of my days at NIH in 1962).  The “Tribunals” that I skipped out on that lost fall semester at William and Mary in the fall of 1961 provides one example.  Sitting in the barber’s chair for “Be Brave and Shave” sessions for cancer patients, rather than just filming other people stepping up to it, could provide another example.  I remember that buzz cut the first morning of Basic Training at Fort Jackson in 1968, and the idea of “unit cohesion” as explored in the film “The Strange History of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’”. It does sound like sometimes one is called upon to suspend the old sense of individual self, with all its external trappings, because not of these are permanent anyway.

Indeed, I do appreciate different senses of myself at different times, in dreams, before getting up in the morning, and once involved with the activities of the day, where the momentum of my established drives and initiatives take over.  Yet, maybe we all have the feeling sometimes, “Why am I still doing this?”  The next little brain fix, whether eusocial (a Nationals win without blowing a lead in the ninth), or individual (a chess win, after your opponent blunders and give you the opposition in a king-and-pawn ending), or fantasy-based (the hidden arousal when an icon from my life shows up in shorts at church on Sunday morning, as if to show off a standard of physical perfection for everyone else to follow – “I’m the ocelot without clay feet”) – all of these invoke variations of the former self that can become blurred or lost by absorption into the consciousness of the group.

I’m left with the question, can I become someone other than who I am?  Stay tuned.

(Posted: Thursday, June 15, 2017, at 12 noon EDT)

How an article on the workplace and automation leads us back to network neutrality and other potential issues for Internet user-generated content

A guest post by 30-year-old Australian blogging (and physical fitness) guru Ramsay Taplin (aka “Blogtyrant“), in “Goins, Writer” about how to deal with the invasion of robots and artificial intelligence in the workplace (when these innovations threaten to replace you) rather accidentally re-ignites the debate over the future of the Internet and ordinary speech on it in the United States.  (Before I go further, I’ve love to meet the huge cat on Ramsay’s Twitter page.)

Ramsay’s post seems to be a bit in the tradition of libertarian George Mason University Professor Tyler Cowen’s book “Average Is Over,” outlining how middling people need to deal with the changing modern workplace.  At a crucial point in his essay, Ramsay, after suggesting that employed people consider starting small businesses on their own time, recommends most business owners (as well as professionals like lawyers, financial planners, agents, and even book authors) stake out their property in “modern real estate” with a professionally hosted blog site.  But then he dismissively adds the caveat, “unless the Internet changes dramatically through removing net neutrality…”

Later, he writes “make sure everything you do on the Internet helps someone,” a very important base concept that I’ll come back to. He gives a link to a compelling essay on personal and workplace ethics in a site called “Dear Design Student”, about how you can’t lead a double life and be believed forever.  You can see my conversation with him in the comments.

Whoa, there.  OK, Ramsay works (“from his couch”) in Australia, part of the British Commonwealth, and, like most western-style democratic countries, the Aussie World maintains statutory network neutrality regulations on its own turf (I presume).  But, as we know, under the new Trump administration and new FCC chair Ajit Pai, the Obama era’s network neutrality protections, largely set in place (in 2015) by maintaining that self-declared “neutral conduit” telecommunications companies are common carriers, will almost certainly be disbanded late this summer in the U.S. after the formal comment period is over.  Pro-neutrality advocates (including most tech companies) plan a “Day of Action” July 12, which Breitbart characterized in rather hyperbolic farce.

That situation puts American companies at odds with the rest of the capitalist democratic world (definitely not including Russia and China).  There are plenty of political advocacy pressure groups with “Chicken Little” “Sky Is Falling” warnings (along with aggressive popups for donations) about how exposed small companies and individual speakers online may be intentionally silenced (as I had outlined here on May 11).  Right away, I rebut by noting that not only is there to be (according to Pai) “voluntary compliance”, but also every major general-purpose telecom company in the US seems to say it has no intention to throttle ordinary sites.  In fact, most consumers, when they sign up for Internet, want full access to everything out there on the indexed web, so doing so would make no business sense.

Even so, some comparison of the world now to what it was a few decades ago, when I came of age, is in order.  Telephone companies were monopolistic but were regulated, so they couldn’t refuse service to consumers they didn’t like.  None of this changed as ATT break-up into the Bell’s happened (something I watched in the 80s-job market for I.T.)  But until the WWW came along in the mid-90s, the regulations only protected consumers getting content (phone calls), not wanting to upload it with no gatekeepers for pre-approval.  Back then, in a somewhat regulated environment, companies did make technological innovations for big paying customers (like DOD).  Pai would seem to be wrong in asserting that all regulation will stop innovation.

It’s also noteworthy that the FCC regulated broadcast networks, especially the number of television stations they could own (I remember this while working for NBC in the 1970s).  Likewise, movie studios were not allowed to own theater chains (that has somewhat changed more recently).

But by analogy, it doesn’t seem logical that reasonable rules preventing ordinary content throttling would stymie innovation where there are real benefits to consumers (like higher speeds for high definition movies, or for emergency medical services, and the like), or, for that matter, better service in rural areas.

There are also claims that new telecom technologies could enter the market, and that Obama-like net neutrality rules would stifle newcomer telecom companies.  Maybe this could bear on super-high-speed FIOS, for example, that Google has tried in a few cities.

Then, some of the punditry get speculative.  For example, a faith-based ISP might want to set up a very restricted service for religious families. It sounds rather improbable, but maybe that needs to be OK.  Or maybe a Comcast or Verizon wants to offer a low-end Internet service that doesn’t offer all websites, just an approved whitelist.  Maybe that appeals to locally socialized families with little interest in “globalism”.  That sounds a little more serious in its possible impact on other small businesses trying to reach them.

Another idea that cannot be dismissed out of hand, is that telecom companies could be prodded to deny connection access to illegal content, such as terror promotion or child pornography, or even sex trafficking (as with the Backpage controversy).

If we did have an environment where websites had to pay every telecom company to be hooked up to them, it’s likely that hosting companies like Bluehost would have to build this into their fees to take care of it.  I actually have four separate hosted WordPress blog domains.  It’s significant that Bluehost (and probably other companies) allow a user just one hosting account with a primary domain name.  Add-on domains are internally made subdomains of the primary and converted internally.  So, the user would probably only he “charged” for one hookup, regardless of the number of blogs.  (It’s also possible to put separate blogs in separate installations of WordPress in separate directories, I believe, but I see no reason now to try it.)   But one mystery to me is, that if Bluehost does have a “primary domain” concept with subdomains, why can’t it make the entire network https (SSL) instead of just one “real” domain?  I expect this will change.  SSL is still pretty expensive for small businesses to offer (they can generally outsource their credit card operations and consumer security, but there is more pressure, from groups like Electronic Frontier Foundation, to implement “https everywhere” for all content).

It’s also worthy of note that “free blogs” on services like Blogger and WordPress use a subdomain concept, so there is only one domain name hookup per user to any ISP.  That’s why Blogger can offer https to its own hosted blogs but not to blogs that default to user-owned domain names.

We can note that search engines like Google and Bing aren’t held to a “neutrality” policy and in fact often change their algorithms to prevent unfair (“link farming”) practices by some sites.

So, here we are, having examined net neutrality and its supposed importance to small site owners (nobody really worried about this until around 2008 it seems).  But there are a lot of other issues that could threaten the Internet as we know it.  Many of the proposals revolve around the issue of “downstream liability”:  web hosting companies and social media companies don’t have to review user posts before self-publication for legal problems;  if they had to, users simply could not be allowed to self-publish.  (That’s how things were until the mid 1990s.)  But, as I’ve noted, there are proposals to water down “Section 230” provisions in the US because of issues like terrorism recruiting (especially by ISIS), cyberbulling, revenge porn, and especially sex trafficking (the Backpage scandal).  Hosts and social media companies do have to remove (and report) child pornography now when they find it or when it is flagged by users, but even that content cannot be screened before the fact.  And Facebook and Twitter are getting better at detecting terror recruiting, gratuitous violence, fake news, and trafficking.  But widescale abuse by combative and relatively less educated users starts to raise the ethical question about whether user-generated content needs to pay its own way, rather than become a gratuitous privilege for those who really don’t like to interact with others whom they want to criticize.

In Europe and British Commonwealth countries there is apparently less protection from downstream liability allowed service providers than in the U.S., which would be the reverse of the legal climate when compared to the network neutrality issue.  And Europe has a “right to be forgotten” concept. Yet, user-generated content still seems to flourish in western countries besides the U.S.

I mentioned earlier the idea that a small business or even personal website should help the reader in a real-world sense.  Now Ramsay’s ideas on Blogtyrant seem most applicable to niche marketing.  That is, a business meeting a narrow and specific consumer need will tend to attract followers (hence Blogtyrant’s recommendations for e-mail lists that go beyond the fear of spam and malware).  It’s noteworthy that most niche markets probably would require only one blog site (despite my discussion above of how hosting and service providers handle multiple blogs from one user.) It’s pretty easy to imagine what niche blogs would be like:  those of lawyers (advising clients), financial planners, real estate agents, insurance agents, tax preparers, beauty products, fashion, and games and sports (especially chess).  It would seem that gaming would create its own niche areas.  And there are the famous mommy blogs (“dooce” by Heather Armstrong, who added a new verb to English – note her site has https –, although many later “mommy” imitations have not done nearly so well).  I can imagine how a well-selling fiction author could set up a niche blog, to discuss fiction writing (but not give away her own novels).

Another area would be political activism, where my own sense of ethics makes some of this problematical, although Ii won’t get into that here.

In fact, my whole history has been the opposite, to play “Devil’s advocate” and provide “objective commentary” and “connect the dots” among almost everything, although how I got into this is a topic for another day (it had started with gays in the military and “don’t ask don’t tell” in the US in the 1990s, and everything else grew around it).   One could say that my entering the debate this way meant I could never become anyone else’s mouth piece for “professional activism” or conventional salesmanship (“Always Be Closing”).  I guess that at age 54 I traded queens into my own (chess) endgame early, and am getting to the king-and-pawn stage, looking for “the opposition”.

There’s a good question about what “helps people”.  “The Asylumist” is a good example; it is written by an immigration lawyer Jason Dzubow specifically to help asylum seekers.  Jason doesn’t debate the wisdom of immigration policy as an intellectual exercise, although he has a practical problem of communicating what asylum seekers can expect during the age of Trump – and some of it is unpredictable. On this (my) blog, I’ve tried to explore what other civilians who consider helping asylum seekers (especially housing them personally) could expect.  Is that “helping people” when what I publish is so analytical, tracing the paths of speculation?  I certainly have warned a lot of people about things that could get people into trouble, for example, allowing someone else (even an Airbnb renter!) to use your home Internet router connection, for which you could be personally liable (sorry, no personalized Section 230).  Is the end result (of my own blog postings) to make people hesitant to offer a helping hand to immigrants out of social capital (and play into Donald Trump’s hands)?  I think I’m making certain problems a matter of record so policy makers consider them, and I have some ample evidence that they do.  But does that “help people” the way a normal small business does?

Getting back to how a blog helps a small business, the underlying concept (which does not work with my operation) is that the business pays for itself, by meeting real needs that consumers pay for (let’s hope they’re legitimate, not porn).  Legitimate business use of the Internet should come from “liking people.”  If blogging were undermined by a combination of policy changes in the US under Trump, it might not affect people everywhere else (although Theresa May wants it to), and it would be especially bad for me with my free-content model based on wealth accumulated elsewhere (some of it inherited but by no means all of it); but legitimate for-profit businesses will always have some basic way to reach their customers.

There has been talk of threats to blogging before.  One of the most serious perils occurred around 2005, in connection with campaign finance reform in the U.S., which I had explained here.

(Posted: Monday, June 12, 2017 at 12 noon EDT USA)

Is the pineal gland the key to the afterlife?

I’ve been put under general anesthesia only twice in my life.  One time was in Minneapolis in January 1998 after I had fallen in a convenience store and cracked my acetabulum (hip). That led to a six-hour operation two days later at the University of Minnesota, and I did have first rate insurance and short term disability from my employer, ReliaStar (now ING/Voya), an insurance company itself.  I recovered quickly and completely.  The other time was in January 2010, back in Arlington, for a double hernia repair, where I was under for 67 minutes.

Each time, my last memory was being on a stretcher and being wheeled to the OR.  There would be a sense of discontinuity (unlike sleep), and arousal, in the hospital room or recovery room, with a nurse’s voice.  But I had no memory of the actual surgery.  I was told I was given memory suppression drug, so the operations themselves are not part of my own life experience.

Twice, for putting in implants, in 2013, I had sedation dentistry, with light (3 pads) electrocardiographic monitoring, starting with valium.  In each session, time seemed to speed up.  When I was fully aware again, about five hours had passed and we were ready to finish up, after the multiple extractions, which seemed to go very quickly without effort.

Yet, when you read about near-death experiences, you learn about people in comas going somewhere and reporting what they saw beyond, as well as watching the details of medical procedures done on their bodies with a third eye.

There is a body of only slightly off-mainstream literature about the purpose of the pineal gland, a tiny check-pea-sized organ seated deep within the brain of most vertebrates, for example.  While its recognized purpose may be to secrete melatonin, it seems that it also secretes a controlled substance and hallucinogen, dimethyltryptamine (DMT).  Some literature suggests that the DMT enters the dying brain and sets off the “trips”.  The DMT also apparently has the ability to cause the perception of the passage of time to slow down.  There are a few very celebrated cases of visions from a brain that had no function of all, such as Eben Alexander’s “Proof of Heaven”. The author, himself a physician, reported residing in a “Core” or complete darkness for a long while, before encountering his own vision of a kind of alternative space-time we call Heaven. No wonder the organ is called the “Third Eye”.

The reference I gave indicate that “without the pineal gland, you can’t go to heaven.”  The pineal does need a conventional blood supply to function, so it would have to flood the brain with DMT in the last moments after circulation stopped.  The brain might function with this kind of stimulation for a while longer, even though the brain as normally conscious stops working about 30 seconds after the heartbeat stops.  This scenario would not be possible in the case of abrupt extreme trauma (like thermonuclear weapon on even conflagration like on 9/11), but might survive ordinary trauma (even decapitation) for a while, long enough for this to “happen”.  It might allow the DE to proceed with execution by lethal injection.

One could imagine that the time dilates in a mathematically converging infinite series, so that the individual experiences the illusion of permanent “awareness”.  His or her life exists forever in the space-time sense, bounded by the time of death in the usual sense of the physical world.

One wonders what the person could see.  Maybe a “life review”, as I think the Monroe Institute has proposed.  (Call it “content evaluation.”)  It would be fascinating to review a 1% sample of the days of one’s life in detail and see how one lived and worked decades before, even what one’s body looked like before starting to age.  It would be possible to envision one’s life as a permanent micro-universe, embedded in the Universe of our Creator, where one had been a god of one’s own little world, with consciousness and choice, and the chance to oppose the entropy of the laws of physics with chosen actions.

It would seem that most people (outside of extreme trauma, which a terrorist or society could impose) would have a moment when the person knows that a life of activity is over, and that he/she cannot go back or take anything along, even if there is “read-only access” to one’s completed life for what may be perceived as indefinite time.  Sometimes the end may seem to be announced by a dream in a threatening, illogical situation (like power won’t come on in some rooms) that one cannot arouse oneself from.

Then, Heaven might have something to do with being connected (through “wormholes”) with all the other microuniverses of other people to whom you had been connected.  It is only through connections from future people (descendants) that one knows what is going on after one is gone.

The microuniverses could be viewed as eternal from the view of string theory, where time is just another dimension, once intervention and causality is no longer possible.

But how would the connections be selected?  Would they be based on blood ancestry?  (It’s like the LDS Church believing in eternal marriage.) Would they be based on other levels of group or emotional commitment?  Do groups (like nations) have their own level of consciousness?  If you look at other social animals (like social insects, siphonophores or modular colonies, or even higher social animals like orca schools) you can certainly wonder.  The idea that most societies find that they must demand self-sacrifice sometimes by individual members (like in military service in human societies) suggest that there could be some point to the idea of a higher collective soul facilitating these connections, but right now it’s just speculative. But Arthur C. Clarke may have been on to something with “Childhood’s End”.

But the whole idea of sentience and identity, and whether you can ever return (“reincarnation”) seems as mysterious as ever.  Some coma situations, such as when a person is awake but unaware, as after brain injury, complicate the picture.

It’s hard for me to believe in the idea of a hollow heaven where you have a condo in some other universe with your extended family for all time. But physics suggests that some sort of conscious remnant or “leftover” exists for all time.  And your loved one, at the very end of life, may be aware of your presence (or absence) even if she looks unconscious.  So, watch your karma.

(Posted: Tuesday, June 6, 2017 at 6:15 PM EDT)

What if individual blogs and social media accounts had to pay their own way (to the speaker, not the providing company)?

This Monday morning (like the 60s song), I waited in line at the US Post Office to buy stamps behind people with much more complicated transactions. I asked the manager why the machines were no longer around, and she said that the particular branch doesn’t make enough revenue.  I squawked about customer service.  (Yes, it’s faster at UPS or FedEx, totally private companies.) When I finally bought my stamps on a debit card, it did not have the security chip.  Was that because that branch didn’t do enough business?

Now I turn to the seemingly unrelated topic of user-generated content on the Web, especially those belonging to individuals, ranging from sites (usually embedding blogs), to free-standing free blogs (Blogger, WordPress, Tumblr, etc), to  “true social media” to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram,  and similar (Myspace?)

Niche blogs, as I noted in the previous post, will go right off the hook here.  Generally they support small businesses selling very specific products (which may be authored books or music) or services to customers wanting to pay for them.  I know, porn can be profitable and can skew the remaining discussion.

My content, however, presents a more troubling scenario.  It doesn’t pay for itself.  Yes, I have the money to afford it.  Some of it is inherited, which raises its own moral questions for another day. But even before my “retirement” in 2001, I had saved pretty well and had a decent nest egg from my own career. My first book (1997), however self-published, was easily paid for by gains in Bill Clinton’s stock market with profits of real companies.  Why should there be anything wrong with this? Isn’t that just supporting free speech with the normal mechanics of democratic capitalism?

Yes, I get pestered as to why I don’t go on tours trying to sell books, or run by own retail businesses.  Or why I don’t play ball and try to make the advertising opportunities profitable on their own.

No, I seem to be a Professional Spectator (the bane of the Netflix film “Rebirth”).  Call me a low-level provocateur, a more socially acceptable Milo.   I commit the sin of “criticizing” the proposals of others to solve social justice and national security problems without having to put my own skin in the game.  So you can see how some people could see me as messing with them, trying to deny them the safety net they might otherwise have (or maybe even indirect claims on my own estate).

What I’m trying to do is account for everything that can affect any political debate than can affect “me”.  So I have a repository of playing “devil’s advocate”.  I want to make sure that policy makers really do consider everything.  And there is plenty of evidence that my “free content” has often reached “people who matter”, even though I seem to be “preaching to the choir”, especially given the way today’s news get aggregated by social media according to the visitor’s previously tracked behaviors.

I am very concerned about the future of user-generated content, as I have written several times before on this blog (especially with my post on citizen journalism on Nov. 7, the day before the Election). While some of us feel personally proud of our own knowledge dissemination, the majority of users seem relatively frivolous at best, vulnerable to manipulation by outside powers (the fake news problem), or, at worst, hostile or criminal, engaging in cyberbulling or revenge porn, sex-trafficking or stalking, or criminal hacking (big with overseas users from some parts of the world), or recruiting for terrorism and radicalism.  The degree or volume of “mal-use” has become shocking on the past few years, especially since Syria fell apart (and maybe we can blame Obama if we want to).  As I’ve noted before, both Trump and Hillary Clinton had hinted at wanting some sort of Internet kill switch to stop gratuitous activity on the Web if justified by asymmetric warfare threats (statements back in December 2015).  Both seemed naïve about how much of the recruiting takes place on the Dark Web or under high encryption, a long way from ordinary social media.

The biggest legislative threat may be the gutting of Section 230, for which there is already some legislation floating in Congress related to the Backpage scandal.  We’d need to know how service providers operate profitably in Europe where downstream liability protections are weaker than in the U.S.  But the basic premise remains:  a social media company, or even a web hosting company, cannot continue to offer its service (even if paid for by user subscription) if it is required to pre-screen every post before it goes public.

I can think of another threat, at least on paper, related to my USPS analogy.  (Yes, “The Postman Always Rings Twice” and “Body Heat”: I’ve seen the classic films).  Imagine if every user had to make his or her own content pay for itself.  In the POD book world, that would mean that books that don’t sell get taken down and off Amazon and BN.  In the blogging world, the content would have to show it was connected to products or services that earn their own way by normal accounting.  OK, this is Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal”.  I hope so.

The way this would happen would be (ironically) the extension of Obamacare to Internet liability activity. No one would be able to justify the insurance if the activity did not make money on its own.  Schemes like his were attempted in 2001 (with the National Writers Union) and later 2008 but don’t seem to have been particularly successful (obviously, anti-selection and the subjectivity of the underwriting is a problem;  combining this with umbrella policies reflects a superficial idea of the problem).

The ”moral” justification, or legal one in First Amendment terms, starts with recognizing that a speaker may have the right to say what she wants (outside of “fire in a crowded theater” stuff) to people who are available because of her own direct contacts in “normal life” (the narrowest legal concept of “publication” in my previous post here).  She has the right to assembly and petition.  She has the right to participate in organizing into larger groups that can speak for her.  These can include political PACS on the one hand or media companies with the scale to be profitable (freedom of the press).  Religious speech (or “the church” or synagogue or mosque, etc) may have more protection.  But what’s not so clear (especially now with a conservative majority again in the Supreme Court) is that global ungated self-distribution, which has become within the reach of the average person since the mid 1990s through the Internet and WWW, is by itself a “Fundamental Right”.  Previously, people could normally be published only by third parties who believed they could sell, satisfy consumers and actually make money, whatever the objective cultural value of the content. There was a small, clumsy, expensive subsidy publishing industry which did not have a good reputation.

Of course, there are counter-arguments.  Some of the language in the COPA opinion in 2007 (and perhaps the Supreme Court rulings in 2002 and 2004), as well as the way the Supreme Court handled the original Communications Decency Act in 1997 (I went to the oral arguments), might be construed as supporting a “right to distribute” as embedded indirectly into the First Amendment.  Again, the law sometimes doesn’t like to conflate “manufacture” with “distribution”;  look at how this could play out if applied to the network neutrality debate (not the way we want).

You would wind up with a world where only “established” businesses and organizations would be able to generate their own speech (that would still include authors who actually make money on their books)  Everyone else would have to belong to and remain loyal to and in solidarity with organizations claiming to give them a voice.  Intellectual honesty would disappear.  (Think how Trump played to his base, but think again how the Left often does the same thing.)   Some non-profit or activist groups would love it, because they would be able to control the message.  Solidarity would become an essential virtue again, in a world where no one was allowed to claim credit for much all by himself.  People would have to accept other people’s goals and make personal compromises that in an individualistic world would seem to undermine personal integrity.  All of this seems to aim toward a controlled world of personal “right-sizing” favored by states like Russia and particularly China (and authoritarian leaders like Putin and Xi Jingping), where discipline of individual expression is seen as essential to a populist version of stability and protection of “the people” from marginalization by “the elites” and “know-it-alls”.

And. of course, it sounds like such a policy, if ever enacted by Congress, would destroy social media companies and maybe even hosting companies if ever enacted – including all their asset values.  So I hope it just can’t happen (despite the December 2015 threats).  The British Prime Minister Theresa May sounds to be on a real warpath.  She wants the whole world to control itself to recognize the grievous security problems especially in Britain and Europe.  Ironically, this makes Donald Trump’s “America First”, even his Paris accord pullout, sound a little reassuring.

One can imagine other ideas. For example, an Internet “driver’s license”.  You could apply this thinking style to the world a century ago when who should have a personal car and be allowed to drive could construct a similar controversy.

One aspect of the “asymmetry” of the modern world is indeed very hard to manage, especially given the axiomatic nihilism of one particular enemy.  That is to say, it is nearly impossible to decide whether some speech could be read as an indirect threat to be taken down (which is a problem Theresa May will run into right away).  This gets back to the “implicit content” problem or what I call my “West Potomac High School Problem of 2005”.  I could be seen as the Milo Yiannopoulos Problem, too;  is his speech simply designed to goad people into overreaction because the speaker knows “weaker” people will react violently? In an asymmetric world, anyone is a combatant, and the normal idea of well-separate personal responsibility starts to disintegrate.

All of this is quite troubling to me.  I pride myself in finding the flaws or weaknesses of almost any proposed policy and of rehearsing the mistakes of the past (especially as shown by my own narratives).  But often allies of mine – conventional activists – don’t want all the library-archived but forgotten facts mentioned again or reviewed because showing past “dirty laundry” will simply give the “other side” ammunition to continue “oppressing” weaker members of their constituent groups.  (A good example of this would be the “chain letter” argument regarding gay men and HIV, a weapon of the religious right in the 1980s but largely forgotten now;  another example might be bringing up the possibility of conscription.)

I have another personal side of this.  It’s true, I’m not willing to become someone else’s mouthpiece, but I also don’t seem to find much “meaning” just in meeting the real needs of someone that claims to be oppressed or “powerless”.  I have a real problem with trying to sell (or “pimp”) victimhood or even trying to remedy it personally, unless I caused it – but we’re finding that what we are as a community means a lot more than what I used to experience.

(Posted: Monday, June 5, 2017 at 10:30 PM EDT)


Do security companies overstate privacy risks on social media, maybe for political motives?

Every time I go into Twitter or Facebook on my new laptop, I get a lecture from Trend Micro on my lenient privacy settings.

Particularly I get warned that the Public can see my Facebook posts and Twitter messages, that others can tag me in photos, and that others can see personal information.  On the last point, only “business address and phone” information ever gets posted online, anywhere.  In fact, I normally don’t have circles of security clearances among who can see what information about me online.  It’s all or nothing.

Some of my curiosity about this was motivated by the video in the previous post, where the speaker (a television station reporter)  said that allowing anyone but approved “Friends” (Faceook) or approved “followers” (Twitter) would create gratuitous security risks that insurance companies would find unacceptable behavior on the part of consumers.

Facebook has different concepts, like Friends, Pages, and Groups.  Many people have Pages with followers.  They cannot be made private (you can block comments from specific people).  You can make a Group by invitation only, which is closer to the concept Trend seems to be encouraging.  The conventional wisdom has been that you allow only Friends to see your posts on your Friends page.  But Facebook allows up to 5000 friends.  It is common for people to have over a thousand.  Many, perhaps most, Facebook users don’t carefully screen who gets approved as a friend.  I do allow friends from overseas (including Arabic names).  I generally disapprove of minors only.  (Posts made by others on your timeline in public mode can normally be seen by “friends of friends”).

Some people, after being friends, do behave in an unwelcome way.  Some send greetings or messages and expect to be answered back.  A couple have made pleas for “personal” help with matters I can do nothing about (at least lawfully).  One female kept making silly posts on my Timeline claiming to tag me in sexual pictures when the individual was not me.  I did unfriend her and the posts stopped.

I also had one occasion where someone created a fake copy of my account with no posts.  A legitimate friend (the person who copyedited my books) caught it and reported it to Facebook and the entry was removed before I knew about it.

Tagging has crept up as a problem, for users who allow it.  I’ve noticed that some people are more sensitive about being photographed in bars or discos than they used to be, say, before 2010.  A few social establishments have started prohibiting photography inside their facilities.

In Twitter, it is possible to set up your account so that all followers have to be approved.  Relatively few users do this, but they will block followers who seem stalky or who don’t follow supposed etiquette (by replying to too many tweets when not being co-followed), although etiquette standards are changing again rapidly.

As a practical matter, limiting visibility of posts to “Friends” or approved followers probably doesn’t increase security very much, because it is so easy to be approved and because, to be successful and have an outreach, people need friends and followers.  Indeed, it wouldn’t stop “catfishing” (as in Nev Schulman’s 2010 film “Catflish” for Rogue pictures, as with a recent incident from a fake female catfisher in Manitoba).

On Facebook, I notice that some Friends (even with privacy set to “Friends only”) will “check in” with that red dot that lets others track their movements;  I don’t think this is a good idea myself.  But part of this is that I don’t want anyone to “take me for granted”, beyond security.  Likewise, I don’t announce (even to Friends) what events I will attend, even if I report on the events after the fact on blogs.  Maybe that isn’t playing ball.  I think back to the days of my upbringing in the 50s;  my parents probably “shared” their lives with about ten other families, as with Thanksgiving and Christmas gift sharing that I remember so well (and with the Ocean City beach trips with one family I remember, too). As for services like Snapchat:  I feel that if I need a conversation that doesn’t go anywhere, I just have it by smart phone or in person.  I don’t like the idea of sharing video or photo that disappears.  (Kathy Griffin should know.)


All of this is interesting because Zuckerberg invented Facebook at the time that Myspace had become popular (to the extent that Dr. Phil had programs about misbehavior on Myspace), and, despite winning out over several competing ideas (the movie “The Social Network”; the books “The Accidental Billionaires” by Ben Mezrich, or “The Facebook Effect” by David Kirkpatrick).  Zuckerberg originally intended to set up Facebook for campus environments.  It wasn’t fully public until about 2007 and it didn’t get into its controversial news feed aggregation (so plagued by the fake news that is said to have helped elect Donald Trump) until maybe about 2010 (when Time Magazine honored Zuckerberg as person of the year, the “Connector”).

What such a practice would do, however, is try to discourage online self-publishing with free content.  Social media was built on the premise that known lists of people see your content, more or less like email listservers (or restricted membership sites) that were popular before modern social media.  When people are popular and have lots of “fans”, the practical effect is that social media account is public anyway. It is true that actual friends or followers are more likely to see posts even on public accounts. Blogs can also have “followers” and, with Blogger, can be made “private” (as can YouTube videos), but the normal result is that few people would see them.  Blog following has become less popular since Facebook took off, although YouTube channel subscription is still somewhat popular.

The relevant point seems to be that when you publish a hardcopy (or Kindle or Nook) book, you don’t have the “right” to know who bought it.  That’s the traditional idea or model of “open publication”.  Self-instantiation by open self-publication, with leaving a lot of content free, seems to be a morally suspect or gratuitous practice (even if it purports to offer alternative viewpoints and critical thinking as I think mine do) in the minds of some people:  if it doesn’t pay its own way, it competes unfairly with writers who do need to make a living at it;  it discourages professionalism and facilitates fake news, it can attract cultural enemies (to others as well as the self), leading to the insurance concerns, and (probably most of all) it breaks up political solidarity for those (on both the (alt) right and left) who want to recruit loyal volunteers and who want to control the (often polarized and tribally-centered) message.  “Belonging” to some group seems to be imperative.  The election and  relentlessly tribal and boorish behavior of Donald Trump seems to have brought this point home.

In fact, in the eyes of intellectual property law, this isn’t quite right.  “Publication” in defamation law is communicating the false defamatory claim to even one person who understands the message (which can be one approved friend or follower, or just one email recipient).

I opined before, back in 2000, that “open” self-publication can become an unethical practice for people in some positions (like those with direct workplace reports, when there is a concern over possible workplace results).  Now it’s a possible security issue, especially in asymmetric warfare where civilians can attract enemies who view civilians as combatants.  Yet it’s odd that security company like Trend Micro gets to define what that means, for everybody.

Some observers (like Ramsay Taplan, “Blogtyrant” of Australia) urge an inside-out approach to blogging, focusing on consumer niches that are inherently profitable, the narrower the better.  Then, he says, become aggressive in building email lists from actual customers who need you wand welcome hearing from you, which confounds the conventional wisdom today about spam.  But this practice refers to writing that supports an inherently commercial product or service, not self-expression online for its own sake or even for promoting critical thinking on political or social controversies.

(Posted: Saturday, June 3, 2017 at 11:15 AM EDT)

Behind Trump’s weakening of Obama’s Internet privacy protections, a lot of chaos on what privacy means (esp. to insurance companies)

The Washington Post recently documented “how Congress dismantled federal Internet privacy rules” in a piece by Kimbery Kindy on May 30.

The writer notes a collusion between telecommunications provider companies (that is, Internet ISP’s, like Comcast, Verizon and ATT)) and social media and content servicing providers (like Facebook, Google Twitter, Amazon, Apple) in Silicon Valley. Politics emits strange bedfellows (so libertarians say), and the common interest between the backbone technology interests and the content servicing interests on the ad opportunity inherent in relaxing privacy rules is logical, but in contradiction to the general nature of the disagreement between these big industrial sectors over network neutrality. That disparity seems remarkable to me. Particularly remarkable was the donation of money so quickly as Trump took office to roll back Obama’s end-of-term work. I don’t play K-street Monopoly myself.

But there’s not much question that users do benefit from the existence of ads, which pay for all the free user-generated content platforms. The ethical question at the individual level comes down to the old dilemma of spectators vs. actual players. We can’t flourish just as a society of watchers. People need to be willing to see ads, even those selected algorithmically for them, and sometimes people need to be willing to engage them. Both clicks (Adsense) and actual product purchases (Amazon) do help some people make a living by publishing on the Internet.   Freedom implies (somewhat ironically) a need to some new openness to sharing on terms other than one’s own (as in the film “The Circle“).

Where there is a problem, though, can be with security, and, to some extent, online reputation. Users are sometimes reckless on the web. To the extent that users apply privacy settings and they work, that’s not too bad; but often users place gratuitous material online which could attract harm to them and to others connected to them. That has to become a concern for the insurance industry, for example (yesterday).

In fact, there’s a sliding continuum, in most people’s minds, between privacy and reputation. People post legitimate (not porn) interesting stuff because it makes them appear cool, knowledgeable, or desirable in some way for others, or just politically and socially influential. Sometimes you can do this and maintain a certain amount of privacy (wait until you’re back home or near the end of the vacation before posting public images and videos of your good time at P-town or Disney’s new Pandora). I say this noting that some Facebook friends let Facebook post all of their movements on their timeline to friends on geographical maps. (That makes them feel important.)

Employers have been concerned about watching associate (and especially job applicant) personal social media for about a decade now (giving rise to the whole Reputation industry). They have legitimate concerns, for example, about managers inadvertently creating a legally hostile workplace by expressing their views online even in their own personal accounts. That’s especially true now that in the world of Trump, society seems to be getting more polarized into worlds of identity politics. Businesses may not even want some polarizing people as customers (as Richard Spencer found out from Sport and Health recently).

This problem can spill over into insurance, where we know that insurance companies (both health and property) sometimes scan consumer social media accounts or other blog or content posts for possible claims fraud. They could also get a sense of increased consumer loss risk from some social media content (obviously health risks like STD’s, smoking, drugs, and the like, or risky hobbies like skydiving; imagination goes wild on this.)   Here are a couple of discussions about the problem: Huffington, and Insurance Quotes.  This problem can quickly connect itself to social justice and identity issues.

In fact, the end of the Denver TV station video envisions a world where insurance companies don’t want users to post any vacation details in public mode at all. I haven’t heard that said so bluntly before, but since I dug into it, I have to report it. One immediately problem with this idea is that pages (as opposed to friending accounts) are, almost by definition, public. And there are “friends” and there are “pseudo-friends”. Not everyone expects a personal conversation or relationship with each “friend” as “trusted:. The idea seems not very well thought through.

(Posted: Wednesday, May 31, 2017 at 3:45 PM EDT)

Why the “mandatory coverages” in Obamacare set a bad stage for future Internet law; Trump is actually on to something

Let’s think a moment about how mandatory insurance can work, in different areas, like health, auto, property.

Generally, you have to have auto insurance to have a driver’s license (how it’s required varies by state) you need property insurance for a mortgage, and with Obamacare (and previously Romneycare in Massachusetts) health insurance.  And Medicare and single payer in most other countries can be viewed as mandatory health insurance, paid for by much higher taxes.

Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act) is partly driven by requirement that “healthy” young people will buy coverages they as individuals are almost certainly not going to need, to support otherwise much higher premiums for people who do need them.  I’ve said here that we probably need publicly funded props (subsidies — not just tax cuts — and reinsurance, to help pay for health care for the sickest people), which would affect the deficit and maybe require cuts elsewhere (maybe in Social Security, for example, slowly increasing age eligibility) to control spending.  I may be OK with some of the aspects of “community rating” – that is, men have to buy pregnancy coverage because it takes two to tango – and we want, as a policy matter, some sort of gender equality. (It wouldn’t hurt me some day if PrEP were covered, although at my age it’s not real likely.)

But requiring people to buy add-on coverages for other people’s risks (“moral hazard”) is generally a dangerous idea, that can set up a bad precedent for other misuse.  That’s one reason why I am somewhat behind “TrumpCare” or “RyanCare” or “PriceCare,” if you really get serious about covering everybody somehow.  The Republicans want the states to take more responsibility for this area.  Under a federal system (compared to a unitary system like China’s) that seems appropriate.  We no longer trust the states to manage their own ideas of “equal protection” (from the 14th Amendment all the way to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, ending with Stonewall) but we generally allow states a lot of leeway in just how they want their residents to pay for services or how much to privatize some services.  States vary on whether or not they have their own income taxes, and to what extent they want to charge user fees or tolls.  As California found out in the late 1970s, they can have their own battles on using property taxes to fund public education.  So, yes, the OMB is appropriate concerned about how the reddest states will handle a block grant approach to health care. But our Constitution and federalism limit just how much coercion the federal government can use, even for worthwhile policy goals.

In the past twenty years, auto and property companies have been combining normal property or physical liability (and damage loss, from accidents and storms) with cyber liability from Internet use.  The latter liabilities can include the cost of defending frivolous defamation suits (as with review sites) and copyright or even incidental trademark or patent infringement (from trolls), but they can also include losses due to identity theft or cybercrime (recently, ransomware).  In some cases, the higher limit auto policies are available only in umbrella policies that have all these other coverages (which have nothing to do with the likelihood of causing an auto accident or of being hit by a tornado).  In fact, as we know from the attempts around 2001 or so by the National Writers Union to buy media perils coverage for its members (and another push for this in 2008, shortly before the financial crisis), the risk for an individual consumer of being sued for Internet behavior is extremely hard to underwrite and predict, compared to the risks in the physical world.

I can imagine (especially from the “Left”) pushes to make cyber insurance mandatory components of property policies, and I hope the GOP would apply the same skepticism to this idea it has to health insurance mandatory coverages.  You can imagine the pressures:  because I have an unusual last name, I’m not as prone to identity theft as someone with an Anglicized name, but should I have to subsidize the premiums of someone more likely to experience it?  Because of the “gratuitous” nature of my self-publication (it doesn’t pay its own way) activity “in retirement” (maybe that’s like “in relief” in a baseball game’s bullpen), I don’t face the same risks as other people who actually need to support families with their writing, but I face my own unusual perils (mostly related to “implicit content” as I found out with a bizarre incident in 2005 when I was working as a substitute teacher – the concept has to do with attracting politically or socially motivated targeted risk to others connected to “you”). The main prevention is to know what I am doing.  (I do;  for example, I know how to recognize scams.)

But the permissive legal environment that has allowed user generated content to flourish does raise serious questions for me, involving some personal matters (how I place value on interactions with others who have more intrinsic need, and how I am willing, with volunteerism, to fit in and belong to a group and speak for its needs – accept “partisanship”).  The legal props include Section 230 and DMCA Safe Harbor, all of which makes me wonder how the Web still works in Europe, where these kinds of protections are weaker and where there is even an enforced “right to be forgotten” (and where, as Trump points out, defendants have to prove they told the truth in libel cases).  The permissiveness seems to have led to an world where there is a lot of recklessness and abuse, ranging from cuberbullying or stalking or revenge porn, to outright terror recruiting — largely because writers with sincerely put arguments wind up preaching to their own choirs, created by news aggregation.  Again, I could be silenced if I had to be insured, because my speech is not “popular” enough to pay its own way, especially in a mandatory insurance world.

(Posted: Wednesday, May 30, 2017 at 6 PM EDT)

Governments, tech, travel industry need to get their acts together on in-flight electronics ban; the facts don’t add up

The government (DHS and TSA, and Trump Administration, as well as European and “responsible” middle Eastern country governments) and the tech industry, and the travel industry (airlines and on-land rentals) need to get their acts together – and fast – on the proposed electronics ban in cabins on planes.

The latest information is that the DHS is seriously weighing requiring that all electronics larger than smart phones be in checked luggage, on all flights from Europe and the UK, or probably all inbound flights to the US.

CNN aired a comment early Saturday morning (May 27) that this ban might include outgoing flights.

At the same time, the TSA is requiring laptops be removed from bags (overruling the TSA-approved laptop bag practice) in many airports for domestic US screening.  It’s likely that this will require that laptops boot up successfully without external power.

At this point, a traveler has to wonder, would an electronics ban eventually apply to all domestic flights?  Could it eventually include smartphones if there is more new intelligence?  The issue is further beduffled by the Trump administration’s carelessness in divulging intelligence from allies to the Russians, or allowing media leaks (one of I which I reported on a legacy blog, about Manchester, from the New York Times).

The idea of placing laptops with lithium ion batteries in the cargo hold seems to contradict concerns about the safety of lithium batteries unattended in general, although there are rebuttals that the density of lithium is spread out over a wide volume.  The is also some research on developing aluminum batteries for laptops that would be safer.

Moreover, the TSA has always advised travelers from putting laptops, in particular, because they might be damaged in flight by rough handling, weight of nearby cargo, cold, and high altitude.  No one has tried to rebut this previous advice in current discussions. Here’s a USA Today article on current TSA advice on checking laptops and other electronics in today’s domestic fights.  It doesn’t jive with the new concerns.  No one has an reply to this.

It would be reasonable to ask travelers to consider alternatives.  If a traveler is going to be away for several weeks and stay on the ground, should she ship the laptop by UPS or FedEx?  Should these companies and laptop manufacturers develop industry standard ways to ship laptops without damage?  Could containers for packing for cargo checkin be sold by manufacturers?  Because this problem has developed so suddenly, there seems to be no industry standards.  The tech industry needs to solve this problem fast, but it needs to know what DHS really needs to do.

Could “travel-safe” electronics be developed? (That includes not using lithium.)  It sounds like it is possible to work with a smartphone and keyboard. What I need on the road is the ability to do social media and blog posts with simple text, a few photos and short videos (after YouTube uploading).  But the equipment needs to work. A couple years ago Lenovo was selling a travel laptop based on inner BlueTooth connectivity which broke down a lot.  Such devices need to work reliably when on the road after air travel and transport.

On the other hand, could a ground rental industry be developed?  You rent a computer the way you rent a car.  When you turn it in the hard drive is wiped clean for security, and you store all your work in the Cloud or on thumb drives or min hard drives (which have to go back home).

But this industry will not develop unless it has to.  And we need to know what DHS really wants to do.

In my own circumstances, travel without normal access to electronics is not possible.  I’m not prepared to go dark on vacation for a month.   Indeed, people could run the risk of losing their accounts or content if they cannot respond to problems (after notification) when on the road.  This could become an increasing problem in the future.

There is some talk that the ban (and the new policy about taking laptops out of bags) will not affect pre-cleared passengers.

It was common 20 years ago, before 9/11, for passengers to be asked to start laptops at airports.  I was asked to do this only once (with an old Compaq Windows 95 machine).  But in those days, I did not always carry the laptop.   I did not take it to Europe in 1999 and again early 2001. Sometimes I depended on Kinkos (now FedEx), or other Internet cafes, when all I needed was AOL for email and to check my one domain at the time.  I did not try to update it on the road, but I would check that it was up when on the road (about every other day). Page request volumes would go down by about 40% when I was not actively updating it.

Hotel business centers today are woefully inadequate for heavy use by travelers, because they know travelers carry their own (which is why they offer free Internet).  The one exception was that a hotel in Bilbao Spain had a huge business center for guests back in 2001.

CNN has a nice op-ed by Bruce Scheier questioning the sense of the in-cabin electronics bans.

(Posted: Saturday, May 27, 2017 at 2:30 PM EDT)