Encryption Battles Continue

June 4, 2024

dinosaur30a_thumb_thumbThis essay is the work of a dinobaby. Unlike some folks, no smart software improved my native ineptness.

Privacy protections are great—unless you are law-enforcement attempting to trace a bad actor. India has tried to make it easier to enforce its laws by forcing messaging apps to track each message back to its source. That is challenging for a platform with encryption baked in, as Rest of World reports in, “WhatsApp Gives India an Ultimatum on Encryption.” Writer Russell Brandom tells us:

“IT rules passed by India in 2021 require services like WhatsApp to maintain ‘traceability’ for all messages, allowing authorities to follow forwarded messages to the ‘first originator’ of the text. In a Delhi High Court proceeding last Thursday, WhatsApp said it would be forced to leave the country if the court required traceability, as doing so would mean breaking end-to-end encryption. It’s a common stance for encrypted chat services generally, and WhatsApp has made this threat before — most notably in a protracted legal fight in Brazil that resulted in intermittent bans. But as the Indian government expands its powers over online speech, the threat of a full-scale ban is closer than it’s been in years.”

And that could be a problem for a lot of people. We also learn:

“WhatsApp is used by more than half a billion people in India — not just as a chat app, but as a doctor’s office, a campaigning tool, and the backbone of countless small businesses and service jobs. There’s no clear competitor to fill its shoes, so if the app is shut down in India, much of the digital infrastructure of the nation would simply disappear. Being forced out of the country would be bad for WhatsApp, but it would be disastrous for everyday Indians.”

Yes, that sounds bad. For the Electronic Frontier Foundation, it gets worse: The civil liberties organization insists the regulation would violate privacy and free expression for all users, not just suspected criminals.

To be fair, WhatsApp has done a few things to limit harmful content. It has placed limits on message forwarding and has boosted its spam and disinformation reporting systems. Still, there is only so much it can do when enforcement relies on user reports. To do more would require violating the platform’s hallmark: its end-to-end encryption. Even if WhatsApp wins this round, Brandom notes, the issue is likely to come up again when and if the Bharatiya Janata Party does well in the current elections.

Cynthia Murrell, June 4, 2024

Spot a Psyop Lately?

June 3, 2024

dinosaur30a_thumb_thumbThis essay is the work of a dinobaby. Unlike some folks, no smart software improved my native ineptness.

Psyops or psychological operations is also known as psychological warfare. It’s defines as actions used to weaken an enemy’s morale. Psyops can range from simple propaganda poster to a powerful government campaign. According to Annalee Newitz on her Hypothesis Buttondown blog, psyops are everywhere and she explains: “How To Recognize A Psyop In Three Easy Steps.”

Newitz smartly condenses the history of American psyops into a paragraph: it’s a mixture of pulp fiction tropes, advertising techniques, and pop psychology. In the twentieth century, US military harnessed these techniques to make messages to hurt, demean, and distract people. Unlike weapons, psyops can be avoided with a little bit of critical thinking.

The first step is to pay attention when people claim something is “anti-American.” The term “anti-American” can be interpreted in many ways, but it comes down to media saying one group of people (foreign, skin color, sexual orientation, etc.) is against the American way of life.

The second step is spreading lies with hints of truth. Newitz advises to read psychological warfare military manuals and uses an example of leaflets the Japanese dropped on US soldiers in the Philippines. The leaflets warned the soldiers about venomous snakes in jungles and they were signed by with “US Army.” Soldiers were told the leaflets were false, but it made them believe there were coverups:

“Psyops-level lies are designed to destabilize an enemy, to make them doubt themselves and their compatriots, and to convince them that their country’s institutions are untrustworthy. When psyops enter culture wars, you start to see lies structured like this snake “warning.” They don’t just misrepresent a specific situation; they aim to undermine an entire system of beliefs.”

The third step is the easiest to recognize and the most extreme: you can’t communicate with anyone who says you should be dead. Anyone who believes you should be dead is beyond rational thought. Her advice is to ignore it and not engage.

Another way to recognize psyops tactics is to question everything. Thinking isn’t difficult, but thinking critically takes practice.

Whitney Grace, June 3, 2024

Guarantees? Sure … Just Like Unlimited Data Plans

May 30, 2024

dinosaur30a_thumb_thumbThis essay is the work of a dinobaby. Unlike some folks, no smart software improved my native ineptness.

I loved this story: “T-Mobile’s Rate Hike Raises Ire over Price Lock Guarantees.” The idea that something is guaranteed today is a hoot. Remember “unlimited data plans”? I think some legal process determined that unlimited did not mean without limits. This is not just wordsmithing; it is probably a behavior which, if attempted in certain areas of Sicily, would result in something quite painful. Maybe a beating, a knife in the ribs, or something more colorful? But today, are you kidding me?

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The soon-to-be-replaced-by-a-chatbot AI entity is reassuring a customer about a refund. Is the check in the mail? Will the sales professional take the person with whom he is talking to lunch? Absolutely. This is America, a trust outfit for sure. Thanks, MSFT Copilot. Working on security today?

The write up points out:

…in T-Mobile’s case, customers are seething because T-Mobile is raising prices on plans that were offered with “guarantees” they wouldn’t go up, such as T-Mobile One plans.

Unusual? No, visit a big time grocery store. Select 10 items at random. Do the prices match what was displayed on the shelves? Let me know. Our local outfit is batting 10 percent incorrect pricing per 10 items. Does the manager care? Sure, but does the pricing change or the database errors get adjusted. Ho ho ho.

The article reported:

“Clearly this is bad optics for T-Mobile since it won many people over as the ‘non-corporate’ un-carrier,” he [Eric Michelson, a social and digital media strategist] said.

Imagine a telecommunications company raising prices and refusing to provide specific information about which customers get the opportunity to pay more for service.

Several observations:

  1. Promises mean zero. Ask people trying to get reimbursed for medical expenses or for post-tornado house repairs
  2. Clever is more important that behaving in an ethical and responsible manner. Didn’t Google write a check to the US government to make annoying legal matters go away?
  3. The language warped by marketers and shape shifted by attorneys makes understanding exactly what’s afoot difficult. How about the wording in an omnibus bill crafted by lobbyists and US elected officials’ minions? Definitely crystal clear to some. To others, well, not too clear.

Net net: What’s up with the US government agencies charged with managing corporate behavior and protecting the rights of citizens? Answer: These folks are in meetings, on Zoom calls, or working from home. Please, leave a message.

Stephen E Arnold, May 30, 2024

The Death of the Media: Remember Clay Tablets?

May 24, 2024

dinosaur30a_thumb_thumbThis essay is the work of a dinobaby. Unlike some folks, no smart software improved my native ineptness.

Did the home in which you grew from a wee one to a hyperspeed teen have a plaster cast which said, “Home sweet home” or “Welcome” hanging on the wall. My mother had those craft sale treasures everywhere. I have none. The point is that the clay tablets from ancient times were not killed, put out of business, or bankrupted because someone wrote on papyrus, sheep skin, or bits of wood. Eliminating a communications medium is difficult. Don’t believe me? Go to an art fair and let me know if you were unable to spot something made of clay with writing or a picture on it.

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I mention these older methods of disseminating a message because I read “Publishers Horrified at New Google AI Feature That Could Kill What’s Left of Journalism.” Really?

The write up states:

… preliminary studies on Google’s use of AI in its search engine has the potential to reduce website traffic by 25 percent, The Associated Press reports. That could be billions in revenue lost, according to an interview with Marc McCollum, chief innovation officer for content creator consultancy Raptive, who was interviewed by the AP.

The idea is that “real” journalism depends on Google for revenue. If the revenue from Google’s assorted ad programs tossing pennies to Web sites goes away, so will the “real” journalism on these sites.

If my dinobaby memory is working, the AP (Associated Press) was supported by newspapers. Then the AP was supported by Google. What’s next? I don’t know, but the clay tablet fellows appear to have persisted. The producers of the tablets probably shifted to tableware. Those who wrote on the tablets learned to deal with ink and sheepskin.

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Chilling in the room thinking thoughts of doom. Thanks, MSFT Copilot. Keep following your security recipe.

AI seems to be capable of creating stories like those in Smartnews or one of the AI-powered spam outfits. The information is recycled. But it is good enough. Some students today seem incapable of tearing themselves from their mobile devices to read words. The go-to method for getting information is a TikTok-type service. People who write words may be fighting to make the shift to new media.

One thing is reasonably clear: Journalists and media-mavens are concerned that a person will take an answered produced by a Google-like service. The entering a query approach to information is a “hot medium thing.” Today kicking back and letting video do the work seems to be a winner.

Google, however, has in my opinion been fiddling with search since it “innovated” in its implementation of the GoTo.com/Overture.com approach to “pay to play” search. If you want traffic, buy ads. The more one spends, the more traffic one’s site gets. That’s simple. There are some variations, but the same Google model will be in effect with or without Google little summaries. The lingo may change, but where there are clicks. When there are clicks, advertisers will pay to be there.

Google can, of course, kill its giant Googzilla mom laying golden eggs. That will take some time. Googzilla is big. My theory is that enterprising people with something to say will find a way to get paid for their content outputs regardless of their form. True, there is the cost of paying, but that’s the same hit the clay table took thousands of years ago. But those cast plaster and porcelain art objects are probably on sale at an art fair this weekend.

Observations:

  1. The fear is palpable. Why not direct it to a positive end? Griping about Google which has had 25 years to do what it wanted to do means Google won’t change too much. Do something to generate money. Complaining is unlikely to produce a result.
  2. The likelihood Google shaft a large number of outfits and individuals is nearly 99 percent. Thus, moving in a spritely manner may be a good idea. Google is not a sprinter as its reaction to Microsoft’s Davos marketing blitz made clear.
  3. New things do appear. I am not sure what the next big thing will be. But one must pay attention.

Net net: The sky may be falling. The question is, “How fast?” Another is, “Can you get out of the way?”

Stephen E Arnold, May 24, 2024

A Cultural Black Hole: Lost Data

May 22, 2024

dinosaur30a_thumb_thumbThis essay is the work of a dinobaby. Unlike some folks, no smart software improved my native ineptness.

A team in Egypt discovered something mysterious near the pyramids. I assume National Geographic will dispatch photographers. Archeologists will probe. Artifacts will be discovered. How much more is buried under the surface of Giza? People have been digging for centuries, and their efforts are rewarded. But what about the artifacts of the digital age?

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Upon opening the secret chamber, the digital construct explains to the archeologist from the future that there is a little problem getting the digital information. Thanks, MSFT Copilot.

My answer is, “Yeah, good luck.” The ephemeral quality of online information means that finding something buried near the pyramid of Djoser is going to be more rewarding than looking for the once findable information about MIC, RAC, and ZPIC on a US government Web site.  The same void exists for quite a bit of human output captured in now-disappeared systems like The Point (Top 5% of the Internet) and millions of other digital constructs.

A survey report conducted by the Pew Research Center highlights link rot. The idea is simple. Click on a link and the indexed or pointed to content cannot be found. “When Online Content Disappears” has a snappy subtitle:

38 percent of Web pages that existed in 2013 are no longer accessible a decade later.

Wait, are national libraries like the Library of Congress supposed to keep “information.” What about the National Archives? What about the Internet Archive (an outfit busy in court)? What about the Google? (That’s the “all” the world’s information, right?) What about Bibliothèque nationale de France with its rich tradition of keeping French information?

News flash. Unlike the fungible objects unearthed in Egypt, data archeologists are going to have to buy old hard drives on eBay, dig through rubbish piles in “recycling” facilities, or scour yard sales for old machines. Then one has to figure out how to get the data. Presumably smart software can filter through the bits looking for useful data. My suggestion? Don’t count on this happening?

Here are several highlights from the Pew Report:

  • Some 38% of webpages that existed in 2013 are not available today, compared with 8% of pages that existed in 2023.
  • Nearly one-in-five tweets are no longer publicly visible on the site just months after being posted.
  • 21% of all the government webpages we examined contained at least one broken link… Across every level of government we looked at, there were broken links on at least 14% of pages; city government pages had the highest rates of broken links.

The report presents a picture of lost data. Trying to locate these missing data will be less fruitful than digging in the sands of Egypt.

The word “rot” is associated with decay. The concept of “link rot” complements the business practices of government agencies and organizations once gathering, preserving, and organizing data. Are libraries at fault? Are regulators the problem? Are the content creators the culprits?

Sure, but the issue is that as the euphoria and reality of digital information slosh like water in a swimming pool during an earthquake, no one knows what to do. Therefore, nothing is done until knee jerk reflexes cause something to take place. In the end, no comprehensive collection plan is in place for the type of information examined by the Pew folks.

From my vantage point, online and digital information are significant features of life today. Like goldfish in a bowl, we are not able to capture the outputs of the digital age. We don’t understand the datasphere, my term for the environment in which much activity exists.

The report does not address the question, “So what?”

That’s part of the reason future data archeologists will struggle. The rush of zeros and ones has undermined information itself. If ignorance of these data create bliss, one might say, “Hello, Happy.”

Stephen E Arnold, May 22, 2023

Wanna Be Happy? Use the Internet

May 13, 2024

dinosaur30a_thumbThis essay is the work of a dinobaby. Unlike some folks, no smart software improved my native ineptness.

The glory days of the Internet have faded. Social media, AI-generated baloney, and brain numbing TikTok-esque short videos — Outstanding ways to be happy. What about endless online scams, phishing, and smishing, deep fake voices to grandma from grandchildren needing money — Yes, guaranteed uplifts to sagging spirits.

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The idea of a payoff in a coffee shop is silly. Who would compromise academic standards for a latte and a pile of cash. Absolutely no one involved in academic pursuits. Good enough, MSFT Copilot. Good enough.

When I read two of the “real” news stories about how the Internet manufactures happiness, I asked myself, “Exactly what’s with this study?” The PR push to say happy things about online reminded me of the OII or Oxford Internet Institute and some of its other cheerleading. And what is the OII? It is an outfit which receives some university support, funds from private industry, and foundation cash; for example, the Shirley Institute.

In my opinion, it is often difficult to figure out if the “research” is wonky due to its methodology, the desire to keep some sources of funding writing checks, or a nifty way to influence policies in the UK and elsewhere. The magic of the “Oxford” brand gives the outfit some cachet for those who want to collect conference name tags to bedeck their office coat hangers.

The OII is back in the content marketing game. I read the BBC’s “Internet Access Linked to Higher Wellbeing, Study Finds” and the Guardian’s “Internet Use Is Associated with Greater Wellbeing, Global Study Finds.” Both articles are generated from the same PR-type verbiage. But the weirdness of the assertion is undermined by this statement from the BBC’s rewrite of the OII’s PR:

The study was not able to prove cause and effect, but the team found measures of life satisfaction were 8.5% higher for those who had internet access. Nor did the study look at the length of time people spent using the internet or what they used it for, while some factors that could explain associations may not have be considered.

The Oxford brand and the big numbers about a massive sample size cannot hide one awkward fact: There is little evidence that happiness drips from Internet use. Convenience? Yep. Entertainment? Yep. Crime? Yep. Self-harm, drug use or experimentation, meme amplification. Yep, yep, yep.

Several questions arise:

  1. Why is the message “online is good” suddenly big news? If anything, the idea runs counter to the significant efforts to contain access to potentially harmful online content in the UK and elsewhere. Gee, I wonder if the companies facing some type of sanctions are helping out the good old OII?
  2. What’s up with Oxford University itself? Doesn’t it have more substantive research to publicize? Perhaps Oxford should  emulate the “Naked Scientist” podcast or lobby to get Melvin Bragg to report about more factual matters? Does Oxford have an identity crisis?
  3. And the BBC and the Guardian! Have the editors lost the plot? Don’t these professionals have first hand knowledge about the impact of online on children and young adults? Don’t they try to talk to their kids or grandkids at the dinner table when the youthful progeny of “real” news people are using their mobile phones?

I like facts which push back against received assumptions. But online is helping out those who use it needs a bit more precision, clearer thinking, and less tenuous cause-and-effect hoo-hah in my opinion.

Stephen E Arnold, May 13, 2024

Social Media: Do You See the Hungry Shark?

April 2, 2024

green-dino_thumb_thumb_thumbThis essay is the work of a dumb dinobaby. No smart software required.

After years of social media’s diffusion, those who mostly ignored how flows of user-generated content works like a body shop’s sandblaster. Now that societal structures are revealing cracks in the drywall and damp basements, I have noticed an uptick in chatter about Facebook- and TikTok-type services. A recent example of Big Thinkers’ wrestling with what is a quite publicly visible behavior of mobile phone fiddling is the write up in Nature “The Great Rewiring: Is Social Media Really Behind an Epidemic of Teenage Mental Illness?”

image

Thanks, MSFT Copilot. How is your security initiative coming along? Ah, good enough.

The article raises an interesting question: Are social media and mobile phones the cause of what many of my friends and colleagues see as a very visible disintegration of social conventions. The fabric of civil behavior seems to be fraying and maybe coming apart. I am not sure the local news in the Midwest region where I live reports the shootings that seem to occur with some regularity.

The write up (possibly written by a person who uses social media and demonstrates polished swiping techniques) wrestles with the possibility that the unholy marriage of social media and mobile devices may not be the “problem.” The notion that other factors come into play is an example of an established source of information working hard to take a balanced, rational approach to what is the standard of behavior.

The write up says:

Two things can be independently true about social media. First, that there is no evidence that using these platforms is rewiring children’s brains or driving an epidemic of mental illness. Second, that considerable reforms to these platforms are required, given how much time young people spend on them.

Then the article wraps up with this statement:

A third truth is that we have a generation in crisis and in desperate need of the best of what science and evidence-based solutions can offer. Unfortunately, our time is being spent telling stories that are unsupported by research and that do little to support young people who need, and deserve, more.

Let me offer several observations:

  1. The corrosive effect of digital information flows is simply not on the radar of those who “think about” social media. Consequently, the inherent function of online information is overlooked, and therefore, the rational statements are fluffy.
  2. The only way to constrain digital information and the impact of its flows is to pull the plug. That will not happen because of the drug cartel-like business models produce too much money.
  3. The notion that “research” will light the path forward is interesting. I cannot “trust” peer reviewed papers authored by the former president of Stanford University or the research of the former Top Dog at Harvard University’s “ethics” department. Now I am supposed to believe that “research” will provide answers. Not so fast, pal.

Net net: The failure to understand a basic truth about how online works means that fixes are not now possible. Sound gloomy? You are getting my message. Time to adapt and remain flexible. The impacts are just now being seen as more than a post-Covid or economic downturn issue. Online information is a big fish, and it remains mostly invisible. The good news is that some people have recognized that the water in the data lake has powerful currents.

Stephen E Arnold, April 2, 2024

Map Data: USGS Historical Topos

February 20, 2024

green-dino_thumb_thumb_thumbThis essay is the work of a dumb dinobaby. No smart software required.

The ESRI blog published “Access Over 181,000 USGS Historical Topographic Maps.” The map outfit teamed with the US Geological Survey to provide access to an additional 1,745 maps. The total maps in the collection is now 181,008.

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The blog reports:

Esri’s USGS historical topographic map collection contains historical quads (excluding orthophoto quads) dating from 1884 to 2006 with scales ranging from 1:10,000 to 1:250,000. The scanned maps can be used in ArcGIS Pro, ArcGIS Online, and ArcGIS Enterprise. They can also be downloaded as georeferenced TIFs for use in other applications.

These data are useful. Maps can be viewed with ESRI’s online service called the Historical Topo Map Explorer. You can access that online service at this link.

If you are not familiar with historical topos, ESRI states in an ARCGIS post:

The USGS topographic maps were designed to serve as base maps for geologists by defining streams, water bodies, mountains, hills, and valleys. Using contours and other precise symbolization, these maps were drawn accurately, made mathematically correct, and edited carefully. The topographic quadrangles gradually evolved to show the changing landscape of a new nation by adding symbolization for important highways; canals; railroads; and railway stations; wagon roads; and the sites of cities, towns and villages. New and revised quadrangles helped geologists map the mineral fields, and assisted populated places to develop safe and plentiful water supplies and lay out new highways. Primary considerations of the USGS were the permanence of features; map symbolization and legibility; and the overall cost of compiling, editing, printing and distributing the maps to government agencies, industry, and the general public. Due to the longevity and the numerous editions of these maps they now serve new audiences such as historians, genealogists, archeologists, and people who are interested in the historical landscape of the U.S.

This public facing data service is one example of extremely useful information gathered by US government entities can be made more accessible via a public-private relationship. When I served on the board of the US National Technical Information Service, I learned that other useful information is available, just not easily accessible to US citizens.

Good work, ESRI and USGS! Now what about making that volcano data a bit easier to find and access in real time?

Stephen E Arnold, February 20, 2024

Amazon: The Online Bookstore Has a Wet Basement and Termites

February 15, 2024

green-dino_thumb_thumb_thumbThis essay is the work of a dumb dinobaby. No smart software required.

I read a less-than-positive discussion of my favorite online bookstore Amazon. The analysis appears in the “real” news publication New York Magazine. The essay is a combo: Some news, some commentary, some management suggestions.

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Two dinobabies are thinking about the good old days at Amazon. Thanks, MSFT Copilot. Your indigestion on February 9, 2024, appears to have worked itself out. How’s that security coming along? Heh heh heh.

In my opinion, the news hook for “The Junkification of Amazon: Why Does It Feel Like the Company Is Making Itself Worse?” is that Amazon needs to generate revenue, profits, and thrill pulses for stakeholders. I understand this idea. But there is a substantive point tucked into the write up. Here it is:

The view of Amazon from China is worth considering everywhere. Amazon lets Chinese manufacturers and merchants sell directly to customers overseas and provides an infrastructure for Prime shipping, which is rare and enormously valuable. It also has unilateral power to change its policies or fees and to revoke access to these markets in an instant

Amazon has found Chinese products a useful source of revenue. What I think is important is that Temu is an outfit focused on chopping away at Amazon’s vines around the throats of its buyers and sellers. My hunch is that Amazon is not able to regain the trust buyers and sellers once had in the company. The article focuses on “junkification.” I think there is a simpler explanation; to wit:

Amazon has fallen victim to decision craziness. Let me offer a few suggestions.

First, consider the Kindle. A person who reads licenses an ebook for a Kindle. The Kindle software displays:

  • Advertisements which are intended to spark another purchase
  • An interface which does not provide access to the specific ebooks stored on the device
  • A baffling collection of buttons, options, and features related to bookmarks and passages a reader finds interesting. However, the tools are non-functional when someone like me reads content like the Complete Works of William James or keeps a copy of the ever-popular Harvard “shelf of books” on a Kindle.

For me, the Kindle is useless, so I have switched to reading ebooks on my Apple iPad. At least, I can figure out what’s on the device, what’s available from the Apple store, and where the book I am currently reading is located. However, Amazon has not been thinking about how to make really cheap Kindle more useful to people who still read books.

A second example is the wild and crazy collection of Amazon.com features. I attempted to purchase a pair of grey tactical pants. I found the fabric I wanted. I skipped the weird pop ups. I ignored the videos. And the reviews? Sorry. Sales spam. I located the size I needed. I ordered. The product would arrive two days after I ordered. Here’s what happened:

  • The pants were marked 32 waist, 32 inseam, but the reality was a 28 inch waist and a 28 inch inseam. The fix? I ordered the pants directly from the US manufacturer and donated the pants to the Goodwill.
  • Returns at Amazon are now a major hassle at least in Prospect, Kentucky.
  • The order did not come in two days as promised. The teeny weensy pants came in five days. The norm? Incorrect delivery dates. Perfect for porch pirates, right?

A third example is one I have mentioned in this blog and in my lectures about online fraud. I ordered a CPU. Amazon shipped me a pair of red panties. Nope, neither my style nor a CPU. About 90 days after the rather sporty delivery, emails, and an article in this blog, Amazon refunded my $550. The company did not want me to return the red panties. I have them hanging on my server room’s Movin’ Cool air conditioner.

The New York Magazine article does not provide much about what’s gone wrong at Amazon. I think my examples make clear these management issues:

  1. Decisions are not customer centric. Money is more important that serving the customer which is a belabored point in numerous Jeff Bezos letters before he morphed into a Miami social magnet.
  2. The staff at Amazon have no clue about making changes that ensure a positive experience for buyers or sellers. Amazon makes decisions to meet goals, check off an item on a to do list, or expend the minimum amount of mental energy to provide a foundation for better decisions for buyers and sellers.
  3. Amazon’s management is unable to prevent decision rot in several, quite different businesses. The AWS service has Byzantine pricing and is struggling to remain competitive in the midst of AI craziness. The logistics business cannot meet delivery targets displayed to a customer when he or she purchases a product. The hardware business is making customers more annoyed than at any previous time. Don’t believe me? Just ask a Ring customer about the price increase or an Amazon Prime customer about advertising in Amazon videos. And Kindle users? It is obvious no one at Amazon pays much attention to Kindle users so why start now? The store front functions are from Bizarro World. I have had to write down on notecards where to find my credit card “points,” how to navigate directly to listings for used music CDs, where my licensed Amazon eBooks reside and once there what the sort options actually do, and what I need to do when a previously purchased product displays lawn mowers, not men’s white T shirts.

Net net: I appreciate the Doctorow-esque word “junkification.” That is close to what Amazon is doing: Converting products and services into junk. Does Amazon’s basement have a leak? Are those termites up there?

Stephen E Arnold, February 15, 2024

Old News Flash: Old-Fashioned Learning Methods Work. Amazing!

February 9, 2024

green-dino_thumb_thumb_thumbThis essay is the work of a dumb dinobaby. No smart software required.

Humans are tactile, visual learners with varying attention span lengths. Unfortunately attention spans are getting shorter due to kids’ addiction to small screens. Their small screen addiction is affecting how they learn and retain information. The Guardian shares news about an educational study that didn’t need to be researched because anecdotal evidence is enough: “A Groundbreaking Study Shows Kids Learn Better On Paper, Not Screens.” American student reading scores are at an all time low. Educators, parents, bureaucrats, and everyone are concerned and running around like decapitated chickens.

Thirteen-year-olds’ text comprehension skills have lowered by four points since the 2019-2020 pandemic school year and the average rate has fallen seven points compared to 2012. These are the worst results since reading levels were first recorded in 1971.

Biden’s administration is blaming remote learning and the pandemic. Conservative politicians are blaming teacher unions because they encouraged remote learning. Remote learning is the common denominator. Remote learning is the scapegoat but the claim is true. Kids will avoid school at all costs and the pandemic was the ultimate extended vacation.

There’s an even bigger culprit because COVID can’t be blamed in the coming years. The villains are computers and mobile devices. Unfortunately anecdotal evidence isn’t enough to satisfy bigwigs (which is good in most cases) so Columbia University’s Teachers College tested paper vs. screens for “deeper reading” and “shallow reading.” Here’s what they found:

“Using a sample of 59 children aged 10 to 12, a team led by Dr Karen Froud asked its subjects to read original texts in both formats while wearing hair nets filled with electrodes that permitted the researchers to analyze variations in the children’s brain responses. Performed in a laboratory at Teachers College with strict controls, the study – which has not yet been peer reviewed – used an entirely new method of word association in which the children “performed single-word semantic judgment tasks” after reading the passages. Vital to the usefulness of the study was the age of the participants – a three-year period that is “critical in reading development” – since fourth grade is when a crucial shift occurs from what another researcher describes as “learning to read” to “reading to learn”.”

Don’t chuck printed books in the recycling bin yet! Printed tools are still the best way to learn and retain information. Technology is being thrust into classrooms from the most remote to inner cities. Technology is wonderful in spreading access to education but it’s not increasing literacy and other test scores. Technology is being promoted instead of actually teaching kids to learn.

As a trained librarian, the utility of reading books, taking notes in a notebook, and chasing information in reference materials seems obvious. But obvious to me is not obvious to others.

Whitney Grace, February 9, 2024

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