It only takes a few days for something like this to be old news, but I couldn't let it pass without comment. It remains to be seen howe effective it will be, and I can't help but think it underestimates how deep this problem runs, and exactly what is happening.
The changes won’t prevent people from uploading offensive content to YouTube, which hoovers up hundreds of hours of new video per minute. But they are meant to make it hard for the people who upload that stuff to make money from it. And they are an important symbolic change for YouTube, which was founded on the idea that anyone can use the platform, and has spent years trying to entice video makers to find audiences and create careers on the site.
What Youtube, and tech companies in general can't seem to grasp is the social aspect of technology. One of the more thoughtful pieces I have read on certain fringe workings of YouTube was written by James Bridle at the end of last year. That article address concerns I could identify with personally. The ability to combine automation with disturbing attention grabbing techniques aimed at children has, over time, made the some of the most bizarre and unsettling elements of that platform some of the most lucrative. It might be enabled by technology, but this is a social issue. As Bridle writes,
I’m trying to understand why, as plainly and simply troubling as it is, this is not a simple matter of “won’t somebody think of the children” hand-wringing. Obviously this content is inappropriate, obviously there are bad actors out there, obviously some of these videos should be removed. Obviously too this raises questions of fair use, appropriation, free speech and so on. But reports which simply understand the problem through this lens fail to fully grasp the mechanisms being deployed, and thus are incapable of thinking its implications in totality, and responding accordingly.
The first is the level of horror and violence on display. Some of the times it’s troll-y gross-out stuff; most of the time it seems deeper, and more unconscious than that. The internet has a way of amplifying and enabling many of our latent desires; in fact, it’s what it seems to do best. I spend a lot of time arguing for this tendency, with regards to human sexual freedom, individual identity, and other issues. Here, and overwhelmingly it sometimes feels, that tendency is itself a violent and destructive one.
The second is the levels of exploitation, not of children because they are children but of children because they are powerless. Automated reward systems like YouTube algorithms necessitate exploitation in the same way that capitalism necessitates exploitation, and if you’re someone who bristles at the second half of that equation then maybe this should be what convinces you of its truth. Exploitation is encoded into the systems we are building, making it harder to see, harder to think and explain, harder to counter and defend against. Not in a future of AI overlords and robots in the factories, but right here, now, on your screen, in your living room and in your pocket.
Addressing the monetisation is a start, but as Bridle was apt to point out, these are big problems built right into the infrastructure. And, not just the technical infrastructure. Whether you won’t to believe it or not, technology is developed by people who make decisions, and thereby coded with intentionality. Kids like Logan Paul — and he really is still a kid — have been socialised by this media. There is no exceptionalism here. Bridle goes on,
And right now, right here, YouTube and Google are complicit in that system. The architecture they have built to extract the maximum revenue from online video is being hacked by persons unknown to abuse children, perhaps not even deliberately, but at a massive scale. I believe they have an absolute responsibility to deal with this, just as they have a responsibility to deal with the radicalisation of (mostly) young (mostly) men via extremist videos — of any political persuasion. They have so far showed absolutely no inclination to do this, which is in itself despicable. However, a huge part of my troubled response to this issue is that I have no idea how they can respond without shutting down the service itself, and most systems which resemble it. We have built a world which operates at scale, where human oversight is simply impossible, and no manner of inhuman oversight will counter most of the examples I’ve used in this essay. The asides I’ve kept in parentheses throughout, if expanded upon, would allow one with minimal effort to rewrite everything I’ve said, with very little effort, to be not about child abuse, but about white nationalism, about violent religious ideologies, about fake news, about climate denialism, about 9/11 conspiracies.
Before the yelling of ’keep you politics out of technology’ starts, I’ll nix it up front by pointing out that notion is, in itself, political. I recommend reading Bridle’s essay, whether or not you have children of your own. You can find it here
Anyone wondering when more content might be added to this site, fear not. Like any sane person with a family, I took a little time away from the desk over the past few weeks. Having returned to task this week I have been feverishly working in the background, putting more permanent fixes in place for some of the things I mentioned last month. Dealing with amateur mistakes I made when both setting up this site initially, and migrating it to WordPress. 1 Even if there is still work to be done, by now the site should be much faster for most users, and in subtle ways it should look nicer. If you are having any trouble viewing the site, please drop me a line here
Now that I am able to get back to the writing, I have a lot to share. In the meantime, here is some of the Show and Tell backlog I have been sitting on.
We Know Where You Live
Amazon wants a key to your house. I did it. I regretted it. | The Washington Post — Never has that subtitle been more apt. Another in case you missed it link, but not for the reason you might think. Sometimes I despair. You’d think this was a critical look at the idea of totalising one’s life with a tech shopping company. Alas, it appears more of a thinly disguised lament that using one place to shop doesn’t allow you to get the best prices. If this is your only concern here, I fear you are lost.
Cryptojacking WordPress | WIRED — Ordinarily I’m opposed to neologisms, but sometimes somebody nails it. To be fair, I’m much more opposed to Cryprojackers.
Meltdown and Spectre: What Apple Users Need to Know — By now this is everywhere, and the patches are arriving. This whole issue is remarkable for how long these vulnerabilities have existed. Whenever you hear that crazy relative of yours telling people not to upgrade their OS, remind them of these vulnerabilities.
What Spectre and Meltdown Mean For WebKit | WebKit — More technical insight into how this all works.
Worst Passwords of 2017: From ‘123456' to ‘starwars' | the Independent — This also did the rounds, but it bears sharing again. I realise how unlikely it is that anyone reading this would engage in such practices, but we all know somebody who needs a little help with this stuff.
Haven: Keep Watch — This is interesting. I’d like to think we could see it on Apple devices, but that seems incredibly unlikely. In fact, it’s the first development in some time that has me casting an envious eye at the ugly green robot.
Elon Musk Shows Off the Tesla Roadster He's Prepping for Space — I’m a space fan, but sorry this is fucking stupid. If you look closely you will notice a disturbing ideology that says we need to send junk to Mars, because we have too much junk down here. If we want to become a multi-planetary civilisation, it can’t be so we don’t have to sort our shit out on this planet.
To be clear, I want to see people on Mars, I was once a single digit child who wanted a laser sword. But I don’t want us to go there just so we have two planets to fuck up.
Oh, and by the way, Musk wants to Nuke the joint too, I guess he really is serious about getting it ready for humans. The funniest response to this I have seen was this: “Shouldn't we try to blow up the moon first?”
First Digital Pill Approved to Worries About Biomedical ‘Big Brother' | New York Times — It says a lot about this historical moment that such a monumental breakthrough should be legitimately accompanied with this kind of suspicion.
The Attention Economy is the Addiction Economy | Medium — That more people involved in tech are starting to wake up to this isn encouraging. If it’s a bit much to suggest articles like this never go far enough, we have to start the conversation one ay or another.
Clean Energy Is a Bright Spot Amid a Dark Tech Cloud | WIRED – An actual example of Blockchain being applied to something other than destructive speculation.
Now Look Here
Panic Blog | the Future of Transmit iOS — This has been about the wires the past week or so. In case you missed it, Panic will stop updating Transmit for iOS. The app will keep working for sometime, but it won’t be getting any further love unless something changes. This is a shame, but it’s sad to say that by the sounds of things, it won’t affect many people. One imagines — at least one hopes — that the iOS Files app will gradually develop to takeover the crucial functionality that pro users might miss. On top of which apps like Workflow and Pythonista can step in.
Remote Control a Mac From an iPhone via Workflow | Six Colors — This is probably the year we will learn the fate of Workflow. Here’s hoping this kind of inventiveness adds to the case for its continued development and success, in whatever form that may be.
Marxico | Markdown Editor for Evernote — Having written up a guide for how to leave the green elephant behind, I thought I might engage some irony. This is pretty neat actually, if you’re an Evernote user who wants to use Markdown this is an option. As a bonus, sometime ago I write up intersections for turning web apps into native apps. 2
And Now For Something Completely Different
The Last Jedi Trailer Song in GarageBand iOS | YouTube — I’ve been threatening to write about iOS music apps for some time. The things you can now do on the iPad, even with GarageBand, are incredible.
How BeatMaker Caught the iOS Music Trend Before It Even Started | CDM Create Digital Music — BeatMaker 3 is one of my favourite iOS apps full stop, let a one music apps. Whether you’re into music making on iOS or interested in development, this is an interesting insight into the history of development on the platform
New App Descript Lets You Edit Audio Like a Word Document – Gearnews.com – If anyone can explain to me how this works?
The Smallest PaaS Implementation You've Ever Seen | Dokku — This is awesome
Star Wars Episode IV.1.d: The Pentesters Strike Back | CyberPoint International on Vimeo — Something that brings together two very specific geek spheres. You know who you are.
Fewer links this week, as I get on with other things.
How to Irritate People
Laptop bans in class seem to be topic of the week:
Why I'm Not a Fan of Laptop Bans | Confessions of a Community College Dean — Naturally, I’m not a fan either. Neither can I concede the point about not shining a light on accessibility users. I can’t see a way in which a ban that included an exception for only a few users with different abilities wouldn’t be a floodlight that says ‘this person is not the same’. Here’s an idea, make your class interesting enough for students to pay attention and you won’t have as many on Facebook. Sure, that’s not easy, but banning technology won’t make your material worth absorbing.
Lecture, Attention, Recall … It's Complicated | Just Visiting – I’ve been thinking a lot about attention lately, and very little about teaching. Then again, I have plenty of thoughts on teaching to turn to. One recurring thought is triggered when I hear this nonsense about banning devices I lectures. I know I’m repeating myself. But, when I come across such a proposal, it recalls the overwhelming sense one gets that universities, and their most institutionalised educators are so often of the mind that there is something wrong with the student. The student must be fixed. Indeed they must be saved from attention grabbing technology. I call bullshit, which is why I was so pleased to read this paragraph:
If we’re going to lecture, aren’t we better striving for triggering a mind-blowing experience and not worry so much about recall. Let the mind-blowing experience that sends the student into a vortex of thought and reflection so deep they can’t pay attention to whatever else is happening be our goal.
Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition
“I Am Root”: A Retrospective on a Severe Mac Vulnerability | the Mac Security Blog – Some more detailed information on that root bug, and the machinations that caused it. With apologies, this website has some appalling design issues, especially if you’re on an iPad . I advise using reader mode.
Uber Data Hack | Schneier on Security – Bruce Scneiers roundup on Uber’s hack
Idle at Work
Editorial Workflow | post to micro.blog – This is for a small subset of an already small audience. If you use micro.blog, and editorial, somebody made a useful workflow for you
And now, for Something Completely Different
Dressing Up as Batman May Help Boost Your Productivity | Gizmodo Australia – And you wonder why Im so sarcastic about the cult of productivity
Apparently that bug is still lingering, the consequences of being proactive about it anyway:
Apple fixed the security flaw with the Security Update 2017-001 patch, but apparently hasn’t replaced its macOS High Sierra 10.13.1 updater to include it. The end result is if you install the patch while running macOS 10.13, and then update to 10.13.1, you can reintroduce the security flaw.
Audrey Watters has put out a heads up on this year’s edition of ‘stories we’ve been told'. It's one thing to gather all these stories, but contextualising them is something entirely different. If this in in your wheelhouse, prime your feed for some long reads. We have been feed a lot this year.
This series is meant to serve in-depth exploration of the events of the past year and an analysis of how these events shape the way in which we imagine and prepare for the future of teaching and learning. We must think more critically about education technology – its technologies and its stories – and I believe that comes in part from scrutinizing its history. The world is not changing more rapidly than ever before – don’t let that story convince you to throw the past into a memory hole.
It starts tomorrow. I will be reading it.
New security update fixes macOS root bug | Ars Technica – If you came across this in the past 24 hours, or earlier even, you will be relieved to learn it has been patched. It is hard to recall a more shockingly simple bug which such brutal implications. If you ever wondered about so-called ‘zero-day’ vulnerabilities, here is a case in point.
Get on to that update…
Yesterday we learned that Apple had made a serious security error in macOS—a bug that, under certain conditions, allowed anyone to log in as a system administrator on a Mac running High Sierra by simply typing in “root” as the username and leaving the password field blank. Apple says that vulnerability has now been fixed with a security update that became available for download this morning on the Mac App Store. Further, the update will automatically be applied to Macs running High Sierra 10.13.1 later today.
We Know Where You Live
Google Collects Android Users' Locations Even When Location Services Are Disabled | Quartz — I’m not part of any holy war, but I’d prefer to have the control that an iPhone gives me
Something is wrong on the internet | James Bridle – Medium — You don’t need to be a parent to find this deeply disturbing. Being a parent makes it doubly so. Buzzfeed reported this week that ‘YouTube Is Addressing Its Massive Child Exploitation Problem’, but this smacks of PR to me. Experience tells us they will do the minimum amount necessary to hush the growing noise.
When Your Kid Tries to Say ‘Alexa' Before ‘Mama' | the Washington Post — If you know anything about socialisation, and/or language development you will recognise what is happening here.
To Save Net Neutrality, We Must Build Our Own Internet | Motherboard — This is an optimistic spin on what looks a shitty situation in the states.
Libraries Look to Big Data to Measure Their Worth–and Better Help Students | EdSurge News — ‘big data’ has become such a catch all. Thankfully for patrons, most libraries tend to value privacy. There are always exceptions
Welcome to the jungle
Amazon Key Flaw Could Let Rogue Deliverymen Disable Your Camera | WIRED — Talk about extreme trade-offs. There has got to be a better way than giving access to your house? Is anyone actually surprised this thing is vulnerable?
Amazon Launches New Cloud Storage Service for U.S. Spy Agencies – the Washington Post — Security is possible, just not for you
Tips and Tricks
Supported Mac Models for Night Shift in High Sierra 10.13.2 | Pike's Universum — If your Mac isn’t supported for night shift, it’s seems that fl.ux is not your only option. This hack is for the brave
iOS 11.2 Beta 3 Introduces Pop-Up to Explain Control Center Wi-Fi/Bluetooth | Mac Rumors – I find this is amusing. Apple changed the behaviour of the Wi-Fi shortcut in control centre in an effort to cut down on the support labour they had to spend to explain it to people. This would suggest that has backfired a little, or not. Either way, it appears people will be confused.
Last Thoughts on Modifier Keys | All This – The doctor continues his philosophical dive on shortcuts and modifier Keys. Like I said, the detail is delightfully nerdy. However, there is something a little obvious I want to point out. I suspect The modifiers are represented as an analogue of their physical location. The Command key is closest to the letter keys, and so on. Not that I care to enter a holy war on programmatic symbolism, it’s more that something’s don’t actually have any real deep meaning. They simply are as they appear to be.
Get Free Private GitHub Repositories Through GitHub Education – Prof Hacker makes a good point, not a lot of people know about GitHub eduction generosity
What Else Floats
Apple Only Wants to Put Its Stores Where White People Live | the Outline — Further to Apple recently deciding it’s stores were the new“the public square” – the white washed square that is. Don’t get me started on the monetisation of the public square. Watch this slide right off. Nothing sticks.
Two Major Cydia Hosts Shut Down as Jailbreaking Fades in Popularity – Mac Rumors – I can understand why interest is waning in jail breaking. The restrictions in iOS are no longer as severe as they once were, and with tools like Workflow it is becoming less and less worth trading off your security for unrestricted access to the file system. Improvements to Android probably have something to do with this too. Android has the ugly but ridiculously powerful Tasker system for automation for those who really want to go nuts
To See Such Fun
LEGO Robots Get Their Jam on | Synthtopia – Seriously cute. Fun.
I have tried to stay away from Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals as much as possible. However, I want to mention the discount on Brett Terpstra’s wonderful Marked 2 app. Given the only other deal I mentioned was DEVONthink — for its relevance to the overarching concerns of this site — that should give you some idea of the esteem I hold Marked in. I'm confident Marked will be relevant to a number of readers of this site. It is one of those apps that you don’t necessarily know you need until you have it, then you wonder how you ever worked without it.
If you don’t know about Marked, it is an essential tool for writers working with Markdown, but it is so much more than that. Marked comes loaded with a stack of advanced tools for formatting, proofing, checking, and analysing your work. Highlighting keywords, checking for repetition, and analysing readability; Marked will give you a Fog Index and Flesch-Kincaid scores. It is essentially a powerful Swiss army knife for text, I honestly don’t know what I used to do without it. That’s not true, actually, I either didn’t have access to tools for improving my writing, or I had to go here, there and everywhere to use a fragmented and forgettable system that gave me a headache.
If you want to see the full list of features, check out the documentation . The details on the deal are these:
For today and tomorrow only, you can get 40% off the direct version of Marked 2. That’s the non-sandboxed version that allows more full-fledged running of your own custom scripts and processors, but is otherwise the same as the Mac App Store version. Use the coupon MARKEDMONDAY at checkout and get Marked for $8.39, 40% off the usual price of $13.99.
The easiest way to grab the deal is to follow the link through Brettterpstra.com. That way the discount will be applied auto-magically. Otherwise, you can head there directly and apply the coupon yourself.
You can also get Marked as part of the Setapp suite.
We Know Where You Live
How One Woman's Digital Life Was Weaponized Against Her | WIRED — Commenting on the ills of social media is a thing at the moment.
New Research: Understanding the Root Cause of Account Takeover | Google Online Security Blog — Google is one big permeative contradiction. On the one hand, they are at the centre of so many security and privacy issues. On the other, the provide a lot of insight into these issues more generally. If you are a Google app user, keeping up on this stuff is a good idea. The stated motivation for this research:
More than 15% of Internet users have reported experiencing the takeover of an email or social networking account. However, despite its familiarity, there is a dearth of research about the root causes of hijacking.
The actual publication can be found here
The Internet of Shit Is so Manifestly Insecure That People Are Staying Away From It in Droves | Boing Boing — Beware geeks enthusing about never having to reach for the light switch again. Although, Apple fans will just tell you the answer is HomeKit
The Drone Zone in Higher Education | University Business Magazine — Because this is what everyone associates with drones. Safety, and security. Nothing like an autonomous surveillance vehicle flying overhead to make you feel safe. We know who is selling these ideas, but who is buying?
Idle at Work
How to Draft a Dissertation in a Year | GradHacker — I don’t necessarily agree with the methods, and others are just plain obvious. What works for some, will not for others. Nonetheless, I have no doubt there are people breezing through here looking for shortcuts. If nothing else p, take from this the idea you need a plan
What Else Floats on Water
Command-E | All This — A knowledge base document has been doing the rounds, highlighting the depth of keyboard shortcuts available on the Mac. Dr Drang offers a way into it with one shortcut in particular. There is something oddly delightful about this site, these unique meditations on detail will not be for everyone, but I couldn’t tell you how much I pick up from them. If you just want the support document for the full list of shortcuts, look here
The Fairly Incomplete & Rather Badly Illustrated
Five Technologies That Will Rock Your World | the New York Times — Voice interaction, it turns out, is a mere stepping stone to a more intimate UI.
Facebook, Google and Others Join the Trust Project, an Effort to Increase Transparency Around Online News | TechCrunch — Yep, you read that right. Transparency is their modus operandi. That’s what they say. Must be true.
The Bright Side of Life
K Machine on the App Store — I can’t help stumbling across interesting music apps. I decided I will add a music app of the week to this collection of links. This is a mixed media app. A sampler, sequencer, and beat maker. If you have problems with inertia, or you were traumatised in the nineties by psychedelic screen savers, this app isn’t for you. If you had the opposite experience, check it out.
And Now, For Something Completely Different
Dupes Gather at Sold-Out Flat Earth International Conference | Boing Boing — What is most remarkable about a flat earth belief system is, these people have somehow convinced themselves (those who are convinced I mean, not the ones who are cashing in on the dupes) that the kind of epic collaboration necessary to maintain such a hoax is possible.