28 October, 2020

I violated a code of conduct


 Summary: NumFOCUS found I violated their Code of Conduct (CoC) at JupyterCon because my talk was not “kind”, because I said Joel Grus was “wrong” regarding his opinion that Jupyter Notebook is not a good software development environment. Joel (who I greatly respect, and consider an asset to the data science community) was not involved in NumFOCUS’s action, was not told about it, and did not support it. NumFOCUS did not follow their own enforcement procedure and violated their own CoC, left me hanging for over a week not even knowing what I was accused of, and did not give me an opportunity to provide input before concluding their investigation. I repeatedly told their committee that my emotional resilience was low at the moment due to medical issues, which they laughed about and ignored, as I tried (unsuccessfully) to hold back tears. The process has left me shattered, and I won’t be able to accept any speaking requests for the foreseeable future. I support the thoughtful enforcement of Code of Conducts to address sexist, racist, and harassing behavior, but that is not what happened in this case.

26 October, 2020

How 30 Lines of Code Blew Up a 27-Ton Generator


 EARLIER THIS WEEK, the US Department of Justice unsealed an indictment against a group of hackers known as Sandworm. The document charged six hackers working for Russia's GRU military intelligence agency with computer crimes related to half a decade of cyberattacks across the globe, from sabotaging the 2018 Winter Olympics in Korea to unleashing the most destructive malware in history in Ukraine. Among those acts of cyberwar was an unprecedented attack on Ukraine's power grid in 2016, one that appeared designed to not merely cause a blackout, but to inflict physical damage on electric equipment. And when one cybersecurity researcher named Mike Assante dug into the details of that attack, he recognized a grid-hacking idea invented not by Russian hackers, but by the United State government, and tested a decade earlier.

The following excerpt from the book SANDWORM: A New Era of Cyberwar and the Hunt for the Kremlin's Most Dangerous Hackers, published in paperback this week, tells the story of that early, seminal grid-hacking experiment. The demonstration was led by Assante, the late, legendary industrial control systems security pioneer. It would come to be known as the Aurora Generator Test. Today, it still serves as a powerful warning of the potential physical-world effects of cyberattacks—and an eery premonition of Sandworm's attacks to come.

25 October, 2020

Study: Breitbart-led right-wing media ecosystem altered broader media agenda


 Rebuilding a basis on which Americans can form a shared belief about what is going on is a precondition of democracy, and the most important task confronting the press going forward. Our data strongly suggest that most Americans, including those who access news through social networks, continue to pay attention to traditional media, following professional journalistic practices, and cross-reference what they read on partisan sites with what they read on mass media sites.

To accomplish this, traditional media needs to reorient, not by developing better viral content and clickbait to compete in the social media environment, but by recognizing that it is operating in a propaganda and disinformation-rich environment. This, not Macedonian teenagers or Facebook, is the real challenge of the coming years. Rising to this challenge could usher in a new golden age for the Fourth Estate.

21 October, 2020

Lots of Overnight Tragedies, No Overnight Miracles


 Pearl Harbor and September 11th are probably the two biggest news events of the last 100 years. Both lasted less than two hours, start to finish.

It took less than 30 days for most people to go from having never heard of Covid-19 to it upending their life.

It took less than 15 months for Lehman Brothers – a 158-year-old company – to go from an all-time high to bankrupt. Same with Enron, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Nokia, Bernie Madoff, Muammar Gaddafi, Notre Dame, and the Soviet Union. Things that thrived for decades can be ruined in minutes. There is no equivalent in the other direction.

There’s a good reason why.

Growth always fights against competition that slows its rise. New ideas fight for attention, business models fight incumbents, constructing a building fights gravity. There’s always a headwind. But everyone gets out of the way of decline. Insiders might try to stop it, but it doesn’t attract masses of outsiders who rush in to push back in the other direction like progress does.

The irony is that growth and progress is way more powerful than setback. But setback will always get more attention because of how fast it occurs. So slow progress amid a drumbeat of bad news is the normal state of affairs. It’s not an easy thing to get used to, but it’ll always be with us.

Tony Green, on dismissing, denying, contracting and spreading the coronavirus


The party was my idea. That’s what I can’t get over. Well, I mean, it wasn’t even a party — more like a get-together. There were just six of us, okay? My parents, my partner, and my partner’s parents. We’d been locked down for months at that point in Texas, and the governor had just come out and said small gatherings were probably okay. We’re a close family, and we hadn’t been together in forever. It was finally summer. I thought the worst was behind us. I was like: “Hell, let’s get on with our lives. What are we so afraid of?”

Some people in my family didn’t necessarily share all of my views, but I pushed it. I’ve always been out front with my opinions. I’m gay and I’m conservative, so either way I’m used to going against the grain. I stopped trusting the media for my information when it went hard against Trump in 2016. I got rid of my cable. It’s all opinion anyway, so I’d rather come up with my own. I find a little bit of truth here and a little there, and I pile it together to see what it makes. I have about 4,000 people in my personal network, and not one of them had gotten sick. Not one. You start to hear jokes about, you know, a skydiver jumps out of a plane without a parachute and dies of covid-19. You start to think: “Something’s really fishy here.” You start dismissing and denying. 

20 October, 2020

Why Does the U.S. Have Three Electrical Grids?


What about the financial benefits of tying together these three interconnects? Are they substantial? And are they enough to pay for the work that would be needed to unify them into a supergrid?

Peter Fairley The financial benefits are substantial and they would pay for themselves. And there’s really two reasons for that. One is as old as our systems, and that is, if you interconnect your power grids, then all of the generators in the amalgamated system can, in theory, they can all serve that total load. And what that means is they’re all competing against each other. And power plants that are inefficient are more likely to be driven out of the market or to operate less frequently. And so that the whole system becomes more efficient, more cost-effective, and prices tend to go down. You see that kind of savings when you look at interconnecting the big grids in North America. Consumers benefit—not necessarily all the power generators, right? There you get more winners and losers. And so that’s the old part of transmission economics.

What’s new is the increasing reliance on renewable energy and particularly variable renewable energy supplies like wind and solar. Their production tends to be more kind of bunchy, where you have days when there’s no wind and you have days when you’ve got so much wind that the local system can barely handle it. So there are a number of reasons why renewable energy really benefits economically when it’s in a larger system. You just get better utilization of the same installations.

19 October, 2020

The Mystery of the Immaculate Concussion


Polymeropoulos countered by warning the Russians to stop meddling in American elections. The Russians denied they would ever do such a thing. It was the way most Russian officials behave in such meetings at all levels of government—a lecture about American racism, theatrical incredulity and hurt feelings that the Americans would think the Russians had meddled in American politics. Still, Polymeropoulos was stunned by how unabashedly combative his Russian counterparts were. He had spent his career in a region where people were exceedingly polite, rolling out banquets and plying him with tea, even as he knew they were plotting to kill him. He knew the Russians didn’t like him, but “I would have expected them to be a little more polite,” Polymeropoulos told me.

The Prophet of the Revolt


In fact, the public, which swims comfortably in the digital sea, knows far more than elites trapped in obsolete structures.  The public knows when the elites fail to deliver their promised “solutions,” when they tell falsehoods or misspeak, when they are caught in sexual escapades, and when they indulge in astonishing levels of smugness and hypocrisy.  The public is disenchanted in the elites and their institutions, much in the way science disenchanted the world of fairies and goblins.  The natural reaction is cynicism.  The elites aren’t seen as fallible humans doing their best but as corrupt and arrogant jerks.  The public, I said, is mired in negation.

The pandemic crisis has been a striking illustration of all this.  Information about the virus moved at the speed of light, but the institutions that were supposed to protect public health moved ponderously and were always playing catch-up, while the experts contradicted each other and sometimes themselves.  In the US, the CDC kept changing its mind about surgical masks.  The FDA seemed to think its mission was to throw out regulatory obstacles to treatment and cure.  Given that lives were at stake, these were not trivial confusions.

Elites like Fauci might become more credible if they admitted that they, too, are dwellers in Plato’s cave, like everyone else, even people with multiple PhDs who are awarded long titles by federal agencies.  We are all trying to make sense of the flitting shadows.  A little humility would go a long way.

18 October, 2020

As Local News Dies, a Pay-for-Play Network Rises in Its Place


 A site called New York Business Daily ran the article, saying the creditor was squeezing the finances of a struggling Manhattan hotel.

What the article didn’t mention: Mr. Bennett owned the hotel and dictated the article.

His spokeswoman said in a statement that Mr. Bennett “has no relationship with the websites.” She added that he had spoken to numerous news outlets “to obtain economic aid for the hotel industry.”

After The Times presented evidence that he directly ordered articles, lawyers representing Mr. Timpone sent The Times a cease and desist letter, demanding that it not publish the information.

17 October, 2020

15 October, 2020

George on Georgia – So, apparently, I’m a racist


But laying the weight of this moral question on Pine Lake is a cop out that excuses the wider community of its own moral failings around racial justice and policing, because the racial composition of DeKalb County’s recorder’s court cases are more or less identical to Pine Lake’s court and no one seems ready to hold the county’s 70-percent majority Black voters accountable for that, either.

I note in passing that if you draw a circle four miles wide around the center of Pine Lake, you have roughly 4 percent of DeKalb County’s territory, 25 percent of its murders and 15 percent of its aggravated assaults. Someone emptied four full magazines of a handgun on Sunday night within earshot of my house. We regularly do the “was that fireworks” discussion as we debate calling the cops or not.

Pine Lake homeowners pay a millage rate of 21.53 — the highest municipal tax rate in Georgia — to maintain a police department that answers to the city. 

Still, I suppose a long-winded, statistically-laden defense for how Pine Lake operates relative to other police departments and court systems is both inadequate and beside the point. There is a big, structural problem in America — Black people are discriminated against in jobs and housing and, yes, the policing system and even the most optimized and ideal process in Pine Lake changes none of that.

14 October, 2020

The Jailed Activist Left a Letter Behind. The Message: Keep Fighting


She left the country in 2013, but she was not happy in exile.

“It’s really hard to watch from outside what happens in Vietnam,” she said at the time. “It makes me feel helpless.”

She returned to Vietnam in 2015, and lived in hiding since 2017.

Ms. Pham’s arrest may also have been prompted by a report she co-wrote last month challenging the official account of a deadly police raid near Hanoi.

In Vietnam, all land is owned by the state, and officials have the power to seize prime parcels and give them to their cronies or foreign companies, a practice that fuels corruption. Such land grabs are a sensitive issue, and some critical activists have been imprisoned.

The dispute in Dong Tam village began when officials transferred 145 acres to the country’s largest telecommunications company, the government-owned Viettel Corp., but residents refused to give up their land. During a confrontation in 2017, villagers held 19 police and security officials captive for a week.

Georgy_K_Zhukov on Holocaust Denial


I wish we had a dozen genocide scholars waiting on standby who could jump on every instance and provide fantastic, thorough rebuttals and nip even the slightest hint of denialism in the bud the moment it shows up.

But we can't, and there is a very real danger in denialist stuff being left up unrebutted. That, in the end, is what deniers hope for. They know they can't win a fair debate. Their talking points have been rebutted innumerable times, and there have been little additions to them in decades anyways. They essentially rely on deceptive presentation that might sound plausible to someone who doesn't know the topic, but would crumble with even a light prodding by an expert. They aren't trying to win a debate, they are trying to win by exhaustion. They are counting that the people who can handle those questions don't have the time or energy to do it every time, or to keep replying as long as the denier is willing to keep posting, if a chain starts up.

08 October, 2020

Excess Deaths by Cause


 So in these data (remember, the numbers are updated regularly, we’re looking at March 1 to September 1 only, and this is a rough-and-ready calculation), we have 1,641,133 All-Cause deaths in comparison to a baseline 2015-2019 average of 1,359,816. In this period the raw excess is 281,317 deaths. COVID-19 was listed as a cause of 179,303 of these, leaving a deficit—a remaining excess—of 102,014. Overall excess mortality from March 1st to September 1st is 17.1% above the baseline, with COVID-19 accounting for 10.9 of those percentage points, with a 6.22 percentage point excess distributed across other causes.

01 October, 2020

Tyler Childers Pushes Back On Southern Values And Our 'Long, Violent History'


The song "Long Violent History" plays out the internal argument that led Childers to make this explicit and remarkable stand in solidarity. It's a lament grounded in bluegrass fiddle and that fundamental African import, the banjo. Presenting himself as a confused "white boy from Hickman" who once understood how the protests might feel like unnecessary trouble, Childers artfully bends perspective at the ballad's center, realizing that for all the times he'd belligerently questioned authority, he'd never felt like he might lose his life. Echoing a long line of labor and other protest songs, Childers asks how many "boys could they haul off this mountain" until their parents, their loved ones, would get out Papaw's pistol and fight back. "Would that be the start of a long, violent history?" he asks. The tune ends with a sonic invocation of the long, violent history of American white supremacy: a few lines of "My Old Kentucky Home," a minstrel ballad written by Stephen Foster, complete with racist depictions of enslaved people.

Childers has taken a chance with this song – in the video, he explains that the eight instrumental songs that precede it on his new album were well-considered as stage-setters for this final, controversial act.