Reading. Who Needs It?

September 19, 2023

Book banning aka media censorship is an act as old as human intellect. As technology advances so do the strategies and tools available to assist in book banning. Engadget shares the unfortunate story about how, “An Iowa School District Is Using AI To Ban Books.” Mason City, Iowa’s school board is leveraging AI technology to generate lists of books to potentially ban from the district’s libraries in the 2023-24 school year.

Governor Kim Reynolds signed Senate File 496 into law after it passed the Republican-controlled state legislature. Senate File 496 changes the state’s curriculum and it includes verbiage that addresses what books are allowed in schools. The books must be “age appropriate” and be without “descriptions or visual depictions of a sex act.”

“Inappropriate” titles have snuck past censors for years and Iowa’s school board discovered it is not so easy to peruse every school’s book collection. That is where the school board turned to an AI algorithm to undertake the task:

“As such, the Mason City School District is bringing in AI to parse suspect texts for banned ideas and descriptions since there are simply too many titles for human reviewers to cover on their own. Per the district, a “master list” is first cobbled together from “several sources” based on whether there were previous complaints of sexual content. Books from that list are then scanned by “AI software” which tells the state censors whether or not there actually is a depiction of sex in the book.”

The AI algorithm has so far listed nineteen titles to potentially ban. These include banned veteran titles such as The Color Purple, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and The Handmaid’s Tale and “newer” titles compared to the formers: Gossip Girl, Feed, and A Court of Mist and Fury.

While these titles are not appropriate for elementary schools, questionable for middle schools, and arguably age-appropriate for high schools, book banning is not good. Parents, teachers, librarians, and other leaders must work together to determine what is best for students. Books also have age ratings on them like videogames, movies, and TV shows. These titles are tame compared to what kids can access online and on TV.

Whitney Grace, September 19, 2023

Dust Up: Social Justice and STEM Publishing

June 28, 2023

Are you familiar with “social justice warriors?” These are people who. Take it upon themselves to police the world for their moral causes, usually from a self-righteous standpoint. Social justice warriors are also known my the acronym SJWs and can cross over into the infamous Karen zone. Unfortunately Heterodox STEM reports SJWs have invaded the science community and Anna Krylov and Jay Tanzman discussed the issue in their paper: “Critical Social Justice Subverts Scientific Publishing.”

SJWs advocate for the politicization of science, adding an ideology to scientific research also known as critical social justice (CSJ). It upends the true purpose of science which is to help and advance humanity. CSJ adds censorship, scholarship suppression, and social engineering to science.

Krylov and Tanzmans’ paper was presented at the Perils for Science in Democracies and Authoritarian Countries and they argue CSJ harms scientific research than helps it. They compare CSJ to Orwell’s fictional Ministry of Love; although real life examples such as Josef Goebbels’s Nazi Ministry of Propaganda, the USSR’s Department for Agitation and Propaganda, and China’s authoritarian regime work better. CSJ is the opposite of the Enlightenment that liberated human psyches from religious and royal dogmas. The Enlightenment engendered critical thinking, the scientific process, philosophy, and discovery. The world became more tolerant, wealthier, educated, and healthier as a result.

CSJ creates censorship and paranoia akin to tyrannical regimes:

“According to CSJ ideologues, the very language we use to communicate our findings is a minefield of offenses. Professional societies, universities, and publishing houses have produced volumes dedicated to “inclusive” language that contain long lists of proscribed words that purportedly can cause offense and—according to the DEI bureaucracy that promulgates these initiatives—perpetuate inequality and exclusion of some groups, disadvantage women, and promote patriarchy, racism, sexism, ableism, and other isms. The lists of forbidden terms include “master database,” “older software,” “motherboard,” “dummy variable,” “black and white thinking,” “strawman,” “picnic,” and “long time no see” (Krylov 2021: 5371, Krylov et al. 2022: 32, McWhorter 2022, Paul 2023, Packer 2023, Anonymous 2022). The Google Inclusive Language Guide even proscribes the term “smart phones” (Krauss 2022). The Inclusivity Style  Guide of the American Chemical Society (2023)—a major chemistry publisher of more than 100 titles—advises against using such terms as “double blind studies,” “healthy weight,” “sanity check,” “black market,” “the New World,” and “dark times”…”

New meanings that cause offense are projected onto benign words and their use is taken out of context. At this rate, everything people say will be considered offensive, including the most uncontroversial topic: the weather.

Science must be free from CSJ ideologies but also corporate ideologies that promote profit margins. Examples from American history include, Big Tobacco, sugar manufacturers, and Big Pharma.

Whitney Grace, June 28, 2023

Two Polemics about the Same Thing: Info Control

June 12, 2023

Vea4_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb_t[1]_thumbNote: This essay is the work of a real and still-alive dinobaby. No smart software involved, just a dumb humanoid.

Polemics are fun. The term, as I use it, means:

a speech or piece of writing expressing a strongly critical attack on or controversial opinion about someone or something.

I took the definition from Google’s presentation of the “Oxford Languages.” I am not sure what that means, but since we are considering two polemics, the definition is close enough for horseshoes. Furthermore, polemics are not into facts, verifiable assertions, or hard data. I think of polemics as blog posts by individuals whom some might consider fanatics, apologists, crusaders, or zealots.

Ah, you don’t agree? Tough noogies, gentle reader.

The first document I read and fed into Browserling’s free word frequency tool was Marc Andreessen’s delightful “Why AI Will Save the World.” The document has a repetitive contents listing, which some readers may find useful. For me, the effort to stay on track added duplicate words.

The second document I read and stuffed into the Browserling tool was the entertaining, and in my opinion, fluffy, Aeropagitica, made available by Dartmouth.

The mechanics of the analysis were simple. I compared the frequency of words which I find indicative of a specific rhetorical intent. Mr. Andreessen is probably more well known to modern readers than John Milton. Mr. Andreessen’s contribution to polemic literature is arguably more readable. There’s the clumsy organization impedimenta. There are shorter sentences. There are what I would describe as Silicon Valley words. Furthermore, based on Bing, Google, and Yandex searches for the text of the document, one can find Mr. Andreessen’s contribution to the canon in more places than John Milton’s lame effort. I want to point out that Mr. Milton’s polemic is longer than Mr. Andreessen’s by a couple of orders of magnitude. I did what most careless analysts would do: I took the full text of Mr. Andreessen’s screed and snagged the first 8000 words of Mr. Milton’s writing. A writing known to bring tears to the eyes of first year college students asked to read the prose and write an analytic essay about Aeropagitica in 500 words. Good training for either a debate student, a future lawyer, or a person who wants to write for Reader’s Digest magazine I believe.

So what did I find?

First, both Mr. Andreessen and Mr. Milton needed to speak out for their ideas. Mr. Andreessen is an advocate of smart software. Mr. Milton wanted a censorship free approach to publishing. Both assumed that “they” or people not on their wave length needed convincing about the importance of their ideas. It is safe to say that the audiences for these two polemics are not clued into the subject. Mr. Andreessen is speaking to those who are jazzed on smart software, neglecting to point out that smart software is pretty common in the online advertising sector. Mr. Milton assumed that censorship was a new threat, electing to ignore that religious authorities, educational institutions, and publishers were happily censoring information 24×7. But that’s the world of polemicists.

Second, what about the words used by each author. Since this is written for my personal blog, I will boil down my findings to a handful of words.

The table below presents selected 12 words and a count of each:











































Several observations:

  1. Messrs. Andreessen and Milton share an absolutist approach. The word “all” figures prominently in both polemics.
  2. Mr. Andreessen uses “every” words to make clear that AI is applicable to just about anything one cares to name. Logical? Hey, these are polemics. The logic is internal.
  3. Messrs. Andreessen share a fondness for adulting. Note the frequency of “should” and “would.”
  4. Mr. Andreessen has an interest in ethical and moral behavior. Mr. Milton writes around these notions.

Net net: Polemics are designed as marketing collateral. Mr. Andreessen is marketing as is Mr. Milton. Which pitch is better? The answer depends on the criteria one uses to judge polemics. I give the nod to Mr. Milton. His polemic is longer, has freight train scale sentences, and is for a modern college freshman almost unreadable. Mr. Andreessen’s polemic is sportier. It’s about smart software, not censorship directly. However, both polemics boil down to who has his or her hands on the content levers.

Stephen E Arnold, June 12, 2023

Has the Interior Magic of Cyber Security Professionals Been Revealed?

April 14, 2023

Vea4_thumb_thumbNote: This essay is the work of a real and still-alive dinobaby. No smart software involved, just a dumb humanoid.

The idea of “real” secrets is an interesting one. Like much of life today, “real” and “secret” depend on the individual. Observation changes reality; therefore, information is malleable too. I wonder if this sounds too post-Heisenberg for a blog post by a dinobaby? The answer is, “Yes.” However, I don’t care, particularly after reading “40% of IT Security Pros Say They’ve Been Told Not to Report a Data Leak.”

The write up states:

According to responses from large companies in the US, EU, and Britain, half of organizations have experienced a data leak in the past year with America faring the worst: three quarters of respondents from that side of the pond said they experienced an intrusion of some kind. To further complicate matters, 40 percent of IT infosec folk polled said they were told to not report security incidents, and that climbs to 70.7 percent in the US, far higher than any other country.

After reading the article, I thought about the “interior character” of the individuals who cover up cyber security weaknesses. My initial reaction is that individuals are concerned about their own aura of “excellence.” Money, the position each holds, the perception of others via a LinkedIn profile — The fact of the breach is secondary to this other, more important consideration. Upon reflection, the failure to talk about flaws may be a desire to prevent miscreants from exploiting what is a factual condition: Lousy cyber security.

What about those marketing assurances from cyber security companies? What about the government oversight groups who are riding herd on appropriate cyber security actions and activities?

Perhaps the marketing is better than the policies, procedures, software, and people involved in protecting information and systems from bad actors?

Stephen E Arnold, April 14, 2023

What Will the Twitter Dependent Do Now?

November 7, 2022

Here’s a question comparable to Roger Penrose’s, Michio Kaku’s, and Sabine Hossenfelder’s discussion of the multiverse. (One would think that the Institute of Art and Ideas could figure out sound, but that puts high-flying discussions in a context, doesn’t it?)

What will the Twitter dependent do now?

Since I am not Twitter dependent nor Twitter curious (twi-curious, perhaps?), I find the artifacts of Muskism interesting to examine. Let’s take one example; specifically, “Twitter, Cut in Half.” Yikes, castration by email! Not quite like the real thing, but for some, the imagery of chopping off the essence of the tweeter thing is psychologically disturbing.

Consider this statement:

After the layoffs, we asked some of the employees who had been cut what they made of the process. They told us that they had been struck by the cruelty: of ordering people to work around the clock for a week, never speaking to them, then firing them in the middle of the night, no matter what it might mean for an employee’s pregnancy or work visa or basic emotional state. More than anything they were struck by the fact that the world’s richest man, who seems to revel in attention on the platform they had made for him, had not once deigned to speak to them.


Knife cutting a quite vulnerable finger as collateral damage to major carrot chopping. Image by

Cruelty. Interesting word. Perhaps it reflects on the author who sees the free amplifier of his thoughts ripped from his warm fingers? The word cut keeps the metaphor consistent: Cutting the cord, cutting the umbilical, and cutting the unmentionables. Ouch! No wonder some babies scream when slicing and cleaving ensue. Ouch ouch.

Then the law:

whether they were laid off or not, several employees we’ve spoken to say they are hiring attorneys. They anticipate difficulties getting their full severance payments, among other issues. Tensions are running high.

The flocking of the legal eagles will cut off the bright white light of twitterdom. The shadows flicker awaiting the legal LEDs to shine and light the path to justice in free and easy short messages to one’s followers. Yes, the law versus the Elon.

So what’s left of the Fail Whale’s short messaging system and its functions designed to make “real” information available on a wide range of subjects? The write up reports:

It was grim. It was also, in any number of ways, pointless: there had been no reason to do any of this, to do it this way, to trample so carelessly over the lives and livelihoods of so many people.

Was it pointless? I am hopeful that Twitter goes away. The alternatives could spit out a comparable outfit. Time will reveal if those who must tweet will find another easy, cheap way to promote specific ideas, build a rock star like following, and provide a stage for performers who do more than tell jokes and chirp.

Several observations:

  1. A scramble for other ways to find, build, and keep a loyal following is underway. Will it be the China-linked TikTok? Will it be the gamer-centric Discord? Will it be a ghost web service following the Telegram model?
  2. Fear is perched on the shoulder of the Twitter dependent celebrity. What worked for Kim has worked for less well known “stars.” Those stars may wonder how the Elon volcano could ruin more of their digital constructs.
  3. Fame chasers find that the information highway now offers smaller, less well traveled digital paths? Forget the two roads in the datasphere. The choices are difficult, time consuming to master, and may lead to dead ends or crashes on the information highway’s collector lanes.

Net net: Change is afoot. Just watch out for smart automobiles with some Elon inside.

Stephen E Arnold, November 7, 2022

China Plans to Promote, and Regulate, Digital Humans

October 14, 2022

We learn from Rest of World that “Beijing Will Regulate ‘Digital Humans’ in the Metaverse and Beyond.” Because of course it will. The proclamation was issued in the government’s four-year Action Plan, a document that indicates to businesses what it expects of them in the near future. The Chinese seem quite taken with “digital humans,” from virtual idols to game avatars, and President Xi Jinping is eager to capitalize on the trend. Reporter Meaghan Tobin specifies:

“The plan envisions huge growth in the next few years, projecting that by 2025, revenue will hit $7.3 billion in the capital city alone — and expecting that virtual humans will assist with online banking, shopping, and travel services within the next few years.”

Though the growing virtual idol industry has a real problem with overworked employees, that is not a focus of the plan. It has two main priorities: One, naturally, is to promote the “healthy and orderly development of society.” Aka censorship. The other is the security of personal information. That sounds like a good thing—until one considers the government seeks to secure this data for its own purposes. Protecting users from criminals may be just a side benefit. Citing Hanyu Liu, an analysis of China’s gaming and metaverse industries, Tobin continues:

“The plan also signals that Beijing will take a more active role in handling the personal data generated by these platforms. Some of the directives outlined in the plan require any user-facing aspect of the digital human industry to be subject to rules that protect information about and generated by platform users, while also treating user data as a resource to be traded on the country’s new data exchanges. As is the case on almost all user-facing tech platforms in China today, Liu noted, any users of metaverse or gaming platforms that could be considered part of the digital human industry will likely be required to tie their online personas to their real-life identification documents.”

So we should not expect to see a wave of virtual protestors in China any time soon. According to Qiheng Chen, who has analyzed China’s tech policies, this push is an effort to garner talent and funds that will support its larger goal—making the country more self-sufficient in related industries like semiconductors and artificial intelligence. Those do sound a bit more strategic than simply embracing the whimsy of digital pop stars.

Cynthia Murrell, October 14, 2022

Mastodon: An Elephant in the Room or a Dwarf Stegodon in the Permafrost?

September 22, 2022

Buzzkill and Crackpot have been pushing Mastodon for years. If you are familiar with the big elephant, you know that mastodons are extinct. If you are not familiar with distributed mastodon, that creature is alive and stomping around. (The dwarf stegodon Facebook may become today’s MySpace.

Chinese Social Media Users Are Flocking to the Decentralised Mastodon Platform to Find Community amid Crackdown at Home” explains once one pays up to access the write up:

Mastodon, an open-source microblogging software, was created by German developer Eugen Rochko in 2017 as a decentralised version of Twitter that is difficult to block or censor. It was partially a response to the control over user data exerted by Big Tech platforms, and the source code has since been used for many alternative platforms catering to those disaffected with mainstream options.

Features attractive to those eager to avoid big tech include, says the report:

Older posts are also difficult to resurface, as there is no free text search, only searching for hashtags. This is by design and encourages users to be more comfortable sharing their thoughts in the moment without worrying about how that information will be used in the future. Blocking content is also difficult for the Great Firewall because it is shared across instances. might be blocked, but people on another domain can follow users there.

Will Chinese uptake of Mastodon cause the beast to multiply and go forth? With censorship and online incivility apparently on the rise, yep.

Stephen E Arnold, September 22, 2022

Who Needs Books? Plus They Burn As Well As the Scrolls in the Library at Alexandria

September 20, 2022

Book banning is not new. Ever since humans could think and publish controversial ideas, literature has been banned. In ancient times, Abrahamic religious documents were deemed taboo. The last hundred years showed book banning examples in Nazi Germany, the socialist Soviet Union, and communist China continues to ban many works. The United States should be free of this quandary given the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights, but “over-concerned” people are advocating for the removal of titles. The Grid runs down the current state of book bans in, “Book Banning In US Schools Has Reached An All-Time High: What This Means, And How We Got Here.”

In the past, most books that were banned dealt with magic and depictions of sex. Nowadays the books challenged the most are about gender and sexual orientation, ethnic diversity, and alternative takes on US history:

“Among the 10 most-challenged titles of 2021 were those from prominent Black writers Ibram X. Kendi, Jason Reynolds and Angie Thomas, according to the ALA. And five of the top 10 were challenged specifically because of their LGBTQ content.

From a broader perspective, of the 1,000-plus books banned from July 2021 to March 2022, 41 percent had main characters of color, 22 percent directly addressed race and racism, and 33 percent directly included LGBTQ themes and characters.”

Many groups working to ban titles are trying to protect childhood innocence. Some are not against these titles being published, but believe they do not belong in schools. It is hard to apply First Amendment rights to school curricula, because schools are under the control of school administrations. These administrations institute curricula and can remove books deemed “offensive.” Groups that do sue to take books out of libraries and bookstores are facing a losing battle because they are protected by the First Amendment.

While the Internet allows kids to access books and other information, Internet access is not 100% universal for people in rural and low-income areas. When a book is banned from libraries or schools, kids will never have access to it.

Banning books makes them more popular. Sometimes the banning helps books perform better than if they had been left alone. Book banning does not serve any purpose other than perpetrating willful ignorance.

Whitney Grace, September 20, 2022

ISPs and Network Providers: The Big Warming

September 5, 2022

On September 14, 2022, I will be sharing some of my team’s research about ISPs and network providers. Coincidentally, the “open” information services are providing interesting — but as yet not yet rock solid information — about the ISP and network provider world. In a sense, figuring out what ISPs and network providers are doing is like looking at distant star data in the Webb space telescope data stream. There is information flowing, but making those data speak clearly is not an easy job.

I read “I Ran the Worlds Largest DDOS for Hire Empire and CloudFlare Helped.” The write up struck me as quite interesting. I circled this pass as interesting but not backed up with footnotes or cheerful hyperlinks:

As the infrastructure provider for over 20% of all www traffic traversing the internet today, CloudFlare is in a position to enforce it’s beliefs on a global scale. Most of the time this isn’t a problem, lots of nefarious websites try to take advantage of the services CloudFlare offers and are rightfully kicked off. The problems arise in a small category of websites that blur the line.

The “blur” seems to say to me: Hey, we are big and well known, and maybe some bad actors use our service.”

Here’s another sentence which may catch the attention of legal eagles:

As someone who has previously justified their actions by saying “I am not directly causing harm, the responsibility flows downstream to my end users” I can tell you it is a shaky defense at best. The situation would be different if CloudFlare was unaware of the booter websites they are offering protection to, but that is not the case. CloudFlare knows who they are protecting and chooses to continue doing so, being fully cognizant of the end result their actions will have. Let’s talk about that end result because the hypocrisy of it all stings like a slap in the face as I type this. CloudFlare is responsible for keeping booter websites online and operating, the very same websites who’s sole purpose is to fuel CloudFlare’s very own business model, selling DDoS protection.

I am no lawyer and I certainly don’t understand anything other than my dinobaby world. However, it seems as if a big company is allegedly in a position to do more to protect truth, justice, and the American way than it may be doing. Oh, the American way means operating without meaningful oversight, regulation, and the invisible ethical hand that makes stakeholders quiver with glee.

Worth watching what other ISP and network provider examples emerge as the real journalists reach their coffee shops and begin working this subject.

Stephen E Arnold, September 5, 2022

Bing: Censoring Because China Buys Lots of MSFT Products and Services

May 27, 2022

If you think restrictions in one country do not extend to those on the other side of the world, think again. Motherboard reports, “Microsoft’s Chinese Bing Censorship Impacts United States Too, Researchers Say.” We do not find this to be a surprise since big outfits do what’s necessary to sell in a nation state and reduce their costs of operation. Do the filtering once, then do it for everyone. Efficient. Writer Joseph Cox tells us:

“Microsoft-owned search engine Bing censors content that is politically sensitive to the Chinese government for users who are using the search engine from the United States, researchers claim in a new report. The research shows how censorship efforts in one country can bleed over and impact users in others. The findings come after Bing censored image searches for the infamous ‘tank man‘ even from the United States last June. At the time, Microsoft blamed that issue on an ‘accidental human error.’ The new research indicates more widespread censorship of politically sensitive searches, and especially names of certain people. ‘Using statistical techniques, we preclude politically sensitive Chinese names in the United States being censored purely through random chance. Rather, their censorship must be the result of a process disproportionately targeting names which are politically sensitive in China,’ the report, written by researchers from the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs Citizen Lab, reads. Microsoft operates Bing in China with limitations in place so it falls in line with Chinese law. Much of that involves heavy censorship around certain topics, events, and people, often resulting in those areas being undiscoverable via Bing searches conducted from within China.”

And from without, apparently. Specifically, the study looked at Bing’s auto-complete function. See the write-up for its methodology and findings. For its part Microsoft insists not seeing a relevant autosuggestion is “largely” based on each query and local user behavior and “does not mean it has been blocked.” We note that is not quite an outright denial. Globalization! How is that working out?

Cynthia Murrell, May 27, 2022

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