Remember Andrew Carnegie and Free Public Libraries?

September 17, 2020

DarkCyber spotted “Publishers Are Taking the Internet to Court.” The Nation’s write up states:

On June 1, Whitehead’s publisher, Penguin Random House, together with fellow megapublishers Hachette, HarperCollins, and Wiley, filed a lawsuit against the Internet Archive alleging “mass copyright infringement.” The Internet Archive closed the National Emergency Library on June 16, citing the lawsuit and calling for the publishers to stand down. But the plaintiffs are continuing to press their claims, and are now seeking to close the whole Open Library permanently.

The action is a response to the Internet Archive’s effort to make content available during the pandemic. The Internet Archive, like Google, is not comprehensive. Nevertheless, the idea was a good one even if it created a pathway to obtain some interesting data and possibly content.

On the other hand, the response by publishers is understandable. The notion of digital information has destroyed the gatekeeping role many publishers donned when they decided to convert a manuscript into a marketable product.

What’s up?

DarkCyber believes that the goal of everyone with skin in this information game wants:

  • Lots of content under their control (directly or indirectly)
  • Conversion of the “marketable product” into a subscription service
  • Termination with extreme prejudice any mechanism to make information available without charge.

Does this mean the free public library has a red dot on its forehead? Maybe. Perhaps someone will demand that statues of Andrew Carnegie be destroyed.

Knowledge is power for some except for those without access to lending libraries, broadband access, mobile and desktop computing devices, and time to read and think. Gatekeepers unite.

Stephen E Arnold, September 17, 2020

Amazon and Its Next Leader According to Bezos Owned AMZ Paper

September 14, 2020

Modern “real news.” Definitely interesting most of the time. I read “Bezos’s Likely Amazon Successor Is an Executive Made in Bezos’s Image.” (I know the story is objective because the page displayed “Support journalism you can trust when it matters most.” Thomson Reuters uses the trust thing too. Okay, trust. The write up is notable because one syllable words ending in “s” require an apostrophe s when used in a possessive structure; for example, Bezos’s newspaper or Bezos’s billions.)

The main point is that the head of Amazon Web Services could take over when Mr. Bezos drives the Bezos bulldozer (no apostrophe because the noun is used as an adjective) into / over another challenge.

I learned:

the company still values high-risk, high-reward bets and is less defined by online shopping than some might think.

Plus, there’s a rare pothole in the Amazon autobahn:

Even in the cloud business, Amazon has had to confront a newly vigorous rival, Microsoft, which has won contracts — including a massive one from the Defense Department — that Amazon might have handily taken just a few years ago.

Are there key points about the possible Bezos replacement? Perhaps:

  • Harvard
  • Ideas, not operations
  • Onliney, not retaily.

This statement seems important:

While retail drives Amazon’s revenue, the cloud business fuels Amazon’s bottom line. AWS generated $3.4 billion in net income in the most recent quarter, about 64 percent of Amazon’s total profit, even though the business accounted for just 12 percent of Amazon’s sales.

Several questions:

  1. Why the profile now?
  2. Why emphasize the anti-administration angle?
  3. What’s the plan for AWS?

I know that the Bezos newspaper is objective. And trust. Yep, the trust thing.

Stephen E Arnold, September 14, 2020

Science: Just Delete It

September 10, 2020

The information in “Dozens of Scientific Journals Have Vanished from the Internet, and No One Preserved Them” may remind some people that the “world’s information” and the “Internet archives” are marketing sizzle. The steak is the source document. The FBI has used the phrase “going dark” as shorthand for not being able to access certain information. The thrill of not have potentially useful information is one that most researchers prefer to reserve for thrill rides at Legoland.

The write up states:

Eighty-four online-only, open-access (OA) journals in the sciences, and nearly 100 more in the social sciences and humanities, have disappeared from the internet over the past 2 decades as publishers stopped maintaining them, potentially depriving scholars of useful research findings, a study has found. An additional 900 journals published only online also may be at risk of vanishing because they are inactive, says a preprint posted on 3 September on the arXiv server. The number of OA journals tripled from 2009 to 2019, and on average the vanished titles operated for nearly 10 years before going dark, which “might imply that a large number … is yet to vanish…

Flat earthers and those who believe that “just being” is a substitute for academic rigor are probably going to have “thank goodness, these documents are gone” party. I won’t be attending.

Anti-intellectualism is really exciting. Plus, it makes life a lot easier for those in the top one percent of intellectual capability. Why? Extensive reading can fill in some blanks. Who wants to be comprehensive? Oh, I know: “Those who consume TikTok videos and devour Instagram while checking WhatsApp messages.”

Stephen E Arnold, September  10, 2020

Modern Technology Reporting: The New York Times Is Now a Pundit Platform

August 14, 2020

I was not sure if I would document my reaction to the August 13, 2020, page B5, as “Instagram Reels? No. Just No” and online under the title “We Tested Instagram Reels, the TikTok Clone. What a Dud.”

I reflected on an email exchange I had with another “real” journalist earlier this week. With plenty of time on my hands in rural Kentucky during the Rona Resurgence, I thought, “Yeah, share your thoughts, you Brontosaurian Boomer. “Real” journalists working for big name outfits need to have a social agenda, insights, wisdom, and expertise no other human possesses. Absolutely.

In my 50 year work career, I worked for three outfits with publishing interests. The first was CRM, the outfit which owned Psychology Today (edited by the interesting T. George Harris), Intellectual Digest, and a number of other properties. I did some project work for a marketing whiz who coined the phrase “Fotomat Where your photo matters” and John Suhler (yeah, the Suhler of Veronis Suhler).  At meetings in Del Mar, Calif., a select group would talk and often drag in a so-called expert to hold forth on various topics. However, the articles which were commissioned or staff-written would not quote those at these meetings. Why? I have no idea. It was not a work practice. For me, it was how a reasonably successful magazine company operated.

Then I worked for Barry Bingham, Jr., who with his family owned most of the Courier-Journal & Louisville Times Company. There were other interests as well; for example, successful radio and TV stations, a direct mail operation, one of the first computer stores in Kentucky, a mail order business, and — believe it or not, the printing plant which cranked out the delightful New York Times Sunday Magazine. Plus, the NYT was then a family-owned operation. In my interactions with the NYT, my recollection is that the New York Times shared many of the old-fashioned work processes in use at the Courier-Journal. Was that the reason the Bingham papers won awards? One example is that the editorial writers wrote editorials. These were opinion pieces, personally vetted each day by Barry Bingham, Jr. The news people covered their beats. The reporters listened, gathered, analyzed, and wrote. No one quoted the man or woman across the desk in the alternately crazy and vacant newsroom. Also, the computer people (some of whom were decades ahead of systems people at other companies) did computery things. The printing people printed. Sure, there were polymaths and renaissance men and women, but people stayed in their lane.

My last publishing experience was in the Big Apple. I am not sure how I ended up on Bill Ziff’s radar, but I knew about him. He was variously described to me as a “publishing genius” and “Satan’s first cousin.” Dorothy Brown, the human resources vice president, eased my transition into the company from the Courier-Journal, telling me, “Just present facts. If Mr. Ziff wants your opinion, he will ask for it.” Good advice, Ms. Brown, good advice. (I heard the same thing when I did some consulting work for K. Wayne Smith, General, US Army.) The point is that management did management, which at Ziff included sponsoring a company race car. Advertising people collected money from advertisers dumped money in front of the building on Park Avenue South who wanted to appear in PC Magazine, Computer Shopper, and properties like PC Week. Once again, like the Ziff racing team, everyone stayed in their lanes. That meant that top flight reporters would report; executives dealt facts like Blackjack dealers in Las Vegas.

In these three experiences, I cannot recall an occasion on which the news people at these organizations interviewed one another.

The New York Times’ Brian X Chan interviewed the New York Times’ Taylor Lorenz. Now that’s interesting. Instead of picking up the phone and calling one of the wizards of punditry at a consulting firm, a firm developing short form video content, or an attorney monitoring Facebook’s interaction with regulators — the two ace reporters of “real” news interviewed themselves. Wow, that’s “real” work! Imagine. Scheduling a Zoom meeting.

It is one thing for a blog writer to take shortcuts. It is another thing for a newspaper which once generally tried to create objective news related to an event or issue to repeat office opinions. Was I annoyed? Nah, I think it is another indication that objectivity, grunting through the process of gathering information, sifting it, and trying to present a word picture that engages, illuminates, and explains is over.

In 2020, the New York Times runs inserts which are like propaganda posters stuck to the walls in my second grade classroom in Oxen Hill, Maryland, in 1950. The failure to present an objective assessment of the new Facebook knock off of TikTok was pure opinion. The reason? The New York Times’ “real” journalists see themselves as experts. Even the arrogant masters of the universe at an investment bank or a blue chip consulting firm try like the devil (maybe Bill Ziff) to get outsiders to provide “input.” A journalist may be a reporter, but the conversion of a reporter into an expert takes more than someone saying, “Wow, you guys know more about short form video than any other person within reach of a Zoom call” is misguided and a variant of what I call the high school science club management method. Yes, you definitely know more about Facebook’s short form video than anyone else within reach of a mobile phone or a Zoom connection.

I want to float a radical idea. Do some digging, some work. I think I can with reasonable confidence assert that John Suhler (my boss for my work at Veronis Suhler), Barry Bingham Jr. (the Courier-Journal owner), or Bill Ziff (the kin of Satan, remember?) would have the same viewpoint.

Just a suggestion, gentle reader: If a person wants me to respect their newspaper work as objective, informed, and professional, don’t replicate the filter-bubble, feedback loop of co-worker lunch room yip-yap: Research, sift, analyze, synthesize, and report.

Just my opinion, of course, but even Brontosauri can snort but that snort takes more effort than the energy expended presenting oneself as a wizard. Sorry, you pros are not in Merlin’s league.

Stephen E Arnold, August 14, 2020

Grousing about PDFs: Gently But More People Need to Object

August 11, 2020

I learned about a file format that could be viewed or printed exactly like a composed page in the late 1980s. I think the technology was called Trapeze. A large New York outfit published books and magazines. These could be printed on paper using a series of manual and computer assisted work processes. The publishing outfit was on the look out for a way to create electronic replicas that were visually faithful to the printed version of a document, magazine, or book. The technology emerged after years of “stealth” trials and demonstrations as the Adobe Portable Document Format. Let’s assume that my recollection of Adobe Trapeze is correct. That makes the lovable Portable Document Format language, its original counter dongle thing, and its wonky limitations more than 30 years young. I thought about PDFs, which are now ubiquitous, when I read “PDF: Still Unfit for Human Consumption, 20 Years Later.” Yeah, the date is off, but the main idea of the article seems valid. PDFs suck.

According to the write up:

PDFs are typically large masses of text and images. The format is intended and optimized for print. It’s inherently inaccessible, unpleasant to read, and cumbersome to navigate online.

An important point in the write up seems to be:

Burying information in PDFs means that most people won’t read it. Participants in several of our recent usability studies on corporate websites and intranets did not appreciate PDFs and skipped right over them. They complained woefully whenever they encountered PDF files and many who opened PDFs quickly abandoned them.

What’s the fix? The write up suggests HTML Gateway pages. That’s an interesting idea, but it may be difficult to automate without some ground swell of support for this approach: A link, a summary, and then the PDF. So, think non starter.

I don’t want to dwell on the why a PDF is the way it is. The important point is that Adobe made the PDF an open standard. Why? Can you imagine trying to rehab a Trapeze artist who has minimal balance, a fear of heights, and greasy fingers?

Acrobat is anchored in the centuries-old tradition of print. Postscript solved some typesetting problems. Acrobat fell off the high wire. Today, the beloved but addled performer is popular, but his tricks are no longer capable of evoking applause.

Adobe now sells subscriptions, not Acrobat dongles. Adobe does not have a cost effective way of keeping its software from delivering malware into the soft innards of a user’s computing device. Adobe has made the PDF open so it can leave the innovation to the community to use.

When you want to make life difficult for a researcher, create an unindexed PDF. Let the user figure out how to OCR the page replica and then search the text. Nifty. Want a PDF to open a specific number of times and then block additional accesses? Well, figure it out yourself. Want a page replica of a patent filing that can be navigated in a seamless way? Get serious, folks.

Adobe sells subscriptions, not usability. Hopefully someone with an “affinity” for producing documents will come up with a solution. Neither the community or Adobe have cracked the code.

Stephen E Arnold, August 11, 2020

Spotify: Implementing the Hapsburg Hustle

August 3, 2020

I read “Spotify CEO Daniel Ek Says Working Musicians May No Longer Be Able to Release Music Only Once Every Three to Four years.” I also read the comments in Hacker News related to this write up. The Fader article states:

Ek claimed that a “narrative fallacy” had been created and caused music fans to believe that Spotify doesn’t pay musicians enough for streams of their music. “Some artists that used to do well in the past may not do well in this future landscape,” Ek said, “where you can’t record music once every three to four years and think that’s going to be enough.”

Motivated by financial and psychological factors, the big M (Mozart) hit a fatal D minor  in 1791. He was 35. DarkCyber’s view is that music MBAs want output.

Nothing new. Will Spotify Bach off? Unlikely. Content needed.

Stephen E Arnold, August 3, 2020

The Gray Lady: A New Approach to Real News

July 31, 2020

DarkCyber wants to capture a couple of quotes from “Newsonomics: The New York Times’ New CEO, Meredith Levien, on Building a World-Class Digital Media Business — and a Tech Company.”

The first thing DarkCyber noted is that the NYT will pivot from “real” news to a different business: Technology. Publishing companies have a long track record of innovation in technology. The pivot, therefore, is going to be a continuation of this success trend line, right?

We noted this statement:

The publisher [40-year-old A.G. Sulzberger] is a decade younger than me. The thing that I’ve always said about him, which I think is true about both of us, is that we’re both wired as old souls. Most of what we’re both trying to do is to think what this is going to feel like three years from now, five years from now. And I think he thinks, as the whole family thinks, what’s this going to mean 10 years from now, 20 years from now? We might not have the years, but we’re certainly pushing ourselves to have that mindset. It’s been my experience that everybody in the Sulzberger family has that mindset.

Remarkable a techno-news outfit thinking in terms of decades. How long is that in Wall Street time? How long in Internet time?

And a final quote:

Engineering now is the second largest functional area at the New York Times, only behind journalism, and the largest function by far on the business side.

How will the NYT deal with technical debt? Will the NYT emulate Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google?

And what about objectivity?

Technology is objective. It is the use of technology which has political, social, and economic consequences. And what about the two decade view?

Wall Street and TikTok types have a somewhat more truncated view of “time” as well. The NYT’s digital history seems to be forgotten. The LexisNexis “exclusive,” the Jeff Pemberton Times Online thing, the indexing operation in New Jersey, etc. etc.

Today’s revolution has taken about 50 years to arrive. The result? A newspaper company becoming a technology company. And technical debt? Right.

Stephen E Arnold, July 30, 2020

Catch Up on Physics for Free

July 31, 2020

Navigate to this github link. You will find hot links to the full text of some physics books. Included is the thrilling A first Introduction to Quantum Physics (2018) and Quantum Mechanics (2000). The books are part of Springer’s Covid “support everyone” initiative. After viewing and downloading your faves, hit Home and peruse the categories for other free books from this publisher.

Stephen E Arnold, July 31, 2020

Outvoxed: The Perils of New Age Publishing in Time of Rona

July 17, 2020

CNBC which continues to delight with “real news” published “Vox Media Preparing Round of Layoffs As Business Fails to Improve Amid Coronavirus Pandemic.”

DarkCyber’s reaction was, “How can this be? So hip, so with it, so confident with its flagship podcast. So very Silicon Valley.”

The write up reports:

Vox was 40% off its revenue forecast for the second quarter and plans to miss its full-year target by 25%


CNBC continued:

Vox furloughed about 100 employees in April, or 9% of its staff, until July 31 as Covid-19 affected advertising budgets. Many of the furloughed workers who haven’t already taken buyouts will be laid off, according to a person familiar with the matter. These employees primarily work for parts of Vox that were especially hit hard by the Pandemic, such as SBNation, Curbed and the company’s events group. There are likely to be additional job cuts, two people said.

One possible bright spot is the over talkers program billed as Pivot. Maybe the Pivot for fee educational series will raise the Vox in exaltation.

The Rona Era may inflict further unpleasantness on informed individuals. DarkCyber particularly enjoys the management suggestions Vox experts articulate.

Well, CNBC is reporting news. Vox just makes the news.

Stephen E Arnold, July 17, 2020

Digital Fire hoses: Destructive and Must Be Controlled by Gatekeepers

July 16, 2020

Let’s see how many individualistic thinkers I have offended with my headline. I apologize, but I am thinking about the blast of stories about the most recent Twitter “glitch”: “Apple, Biden, Musk and Other High-Profile Twitter Accounts Hacked in Crypto Scam.”

Are you among the individuals whom I am offending in this essay?

First, we have the individuals who did not believe my observations made in my ASIS Eagleton Lecture 40 years ago. Flows of digital information are destructive. The flows erode structures like societal norms, logical constructs, and organizational systems. Yep, these are things. Unfettered flows of information cut them down, efficiently and steadily. In some cases, the datum can set up something like this:


Those nuclear reactions are energetic in some cases.

Second, individuals who want to do any darn thing they want. These individuals form a cohort—either real or virtual—and have at it. I have characterized this behavior in my metaphor of the high school science club. The idea is that anyone “smart” thinks that his or her approach to a problem is an intelligent one. Sufficiently intelligent individuals will recognize the wisdom of the idea and jump aboard. High school science clubs can be a useful metaphor for understanding the cute and orthogonal behavior of some high technology firms. It also describes the behavior of a group of high school students who use social media to poke fun or “frame” a target. Some nation states direct their energies at buttons which will ignite social unrest or create confusion. Thus, successful small science clubs can grow larger and be governed — if that’s the right word — by high school science club management methods. That’s why students at MIT put weird objects on buildings or perform cool pranks. Really cool, right?

Third, individuals who do not want gatekeepers. I use the phrase “adulting” to refer to individuals able to act in an informed, responsible, and ethical manner when deciding what content becomes widely available and what does not. I used to work for an outfit which published newspapers, ran TV stations, and built commercial databases. The company at that time had the “adulting” approach well in hand. Individuals who decry informed human controls. It is time to put thumbs in digital dikes.

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