Categories
ranting

The coming machine wars

The Verge has as a story [theverge.com] and title says it all They’re putting guns on robot dogs now. So, yea, that’s thing we’re doing now. As the article says, it was only a matter of time.

One robo-dog with a gun is scary, a pack of these things is nightmare fuel. Imagine being hunted by a pack of these things. Sounds like a video game I would die in, repeatedly.

And I expect that packs of these things aren’t far off. Combine gun toating robo-dog with the UN report a few months back that last year drones were used to anonymously attack opposing forces [independent.co.uk], and possible to kill them, and the future is shaping up.

We can only hope the robot warriors of the future are more like Trade Federation Droids than Terminators…

In other news, I’m having way too much fun using Adobe Spark to create featured images for posts… Movie poster parodies for the last two posts.

Categories
quotes ranting

Thank You for Scrolling

Engagement is not a synonym for good mental health.

James Mickens, quoted in Facebook’s success was built on algorithms. Can they also fix it? [cnn.com] on CNN.com

It’s true, I checked my thesaurus (though engagement is a synonym for battle, conflict or confrontation which is maybe more relevant). Should it be? Who is responsible for ensuring good mental health? Is it the responsibility of Facebook, or other social media, to promote things that will improve, or at the least not damage, their users mental health? I don’t think so, in fact this is potentially at odds with their responsibilities.

Facebook and other social media companies do have a clear responsibility, as public companies, to make as much profit as they can which they do by selling ads. Remember, you are the product [confusion.cc]. To sell ads they need people engaged with the platform(s) to show ads to. The higher the “engagement” i.e. how long you spend scrolling through Facebook or Instagram, the more ads a user sees. So, if doomscrolling [wikipedia.org] is the best way to get more eyeballs on ads, Facebook (and Twitter, and other social media companies) will inevitably start to optimize for doomscrolling. Using negative or shocking content to sell is nothing new; “if it bleeds, it leads”. Like everything the scale and speed has grown exponentially thanks to tech.

And they know it is causing harm:

[Frances] Haugen revealed internal documents from Facebook that show the social network is aware that its “core product mechanics, such as virality, recommendations and optimizing for engagement, are a significant part” of why hate speech and misinformation “flourish” on its platform.

Rachel Metz, writing in Facebook’s success was built on algorithms. Can they also fix it? [cnn.com] on CNN.com

Facebook’s internal research agrees; in it’s current form Facebook (and by extension social media) is bad for us. Bad for us like smoking is bad for us. Bad for individuals and for society. Smoking is an informative analogy here. The tobacco industry hid their internal research that showed they were causing harm for decades. It was not in their interest to tell people “we are, literally, killing you.” So they buried their own science, and spent decades pushing back on anyone who claimed smoking was bad. Advertising the “health benefits” of smoking even when their own research that showed smoking was deadly.

The tobacco companies didn’t make any efforts to improve; they spent money to lobby the government to ensure it didn’t try to force them to improve and reduce their ability to mint money. It took decades for the government and the public to catch up with tobacco. And people still smoke, but we’ve taken (some) steps to try and reduce the impact on society as a whole and regulated who can smoke and where you can smoke.

A key difference between the tobacco industry and social media is we are seeing the internal damning research much earlier.


So, how can it be fixed? If society wants to change social media then i doubt relying on the “good intentions” of companies is going to result in any change. Apologies to activist shareholders but no mater what companies say about corporate social responsibility it’s a nice to have. They can drop, or ignore, or lie and cheat about these things the moment it affects their bottom line. What they can’t ignore is laws and regulations (at least not without en curing real penalties that they care about).

[Change] would require pressure from advertisers whose dollars support these platforms. But in her testimony, Haugen seemed to bet on a different answer: pressure from Congress.

Rachel Metz, writing in Facebook’s success was built on algorithms. Can they also fix it? [cnn.com] on CNN.com

By “pressure from Congress” I assume the author means laws and regulation. Regulation is a bad word for many people, especially on the right and a bit of a wonder drug for many on the left. So expect a long fight over it, even if both sides agree that “Facebook needs to be regulated” they disagree over what aspect needs to be regulated. The republicans think Facebook is censoring them, the democrats say Facebook is radicalizing the republicans.

Wikipedia’s article on Regulatory Economy [wikipedia.org] says The ideal goal of economic regulation is to ensure the delivery of a safe and appropriate service, while not discouraging the effective functioning and development of businesses. This is why we have regulations on things like food and drugs, or more specific classes like alcohol and tobacco.

What would regulations on social media look like? Facebook and Twitter already have warning labels on some things, elections and COVID19 vaccines:

Which, back to our Tobacco analogy, is familiar. Way back in 1965 the Congress in the US passed a law requiring cigarettes to have a warning: “CAUTION: CIGARETTE SMOKING MAY BE HAZARDOUS TO YOUR HEALTH.”

Didn’t stop people from smoking.

There are minimum age restrictions on who can smoke. And Facebook also has a minimum age for who can signup, set at 13. But 13 would seem to be too low if teenagers are developing mental health issues due to Instagram content and it’s easy to get around. Maybe they should require a real world ID to register…

There are also restrictions on advertising tobacco… which, I think, amounts to preventing tobacco companies from sponsoring events and from advertisements directed towards under-aged people. Not sure it’s so relevant here; when was the last time you saw an ad for Facebook?

Maybe better enforcement of the age restrictions is something that can be done. But I think the tobacco regulations can only help so much since the industries are just to different. Tobacco companies sell a standard product to people while social media sells people to advertisers and the content that brings people to the platform is user generated. Facebook and Twitter can slap warning labels on things as fast as their AIs can detect the content but it’s hard to imagine a world were it’s as accurate or efficient as labels on cigarette packages. There are too many topics and too many ways for people to work around the AI. It’s an arms race and unless we want to put all social media behind a new version of the Great Firewall [wikipedia.org] it’s an unwinnable race.

In the end I have not seen any proposals for regulating Facebook that seems like they actual address the issue. It will be interesting to see the coming fights between the industry and congress and the public. If it gets too depressing, go watch Thank You for Smoking [imdb.com], it’s hilarious and it’s relevant.

Categories
ranting

COVID19 Singapore Update

We are currently in the midst of our second major COVID19 outbreak in Singapore. Not sure I should call it second wave as that term was used before but take a look at the chart and this is the real second wave:

Source: https://covidsitrep.moh.gov.sg/, snapshot taken October 5, 2021

Clearly that little uptick in July/August last year does not deserve to be called the “second wave”. The past month has been the true second wave thanks the to delta variant. The big difference between the two spikes is who was affected. The blue bars above represent people living in overseas workers dormitories, while the yellow bars represent everyone else living in Singapore.

Much was made of Singapore being “blindsided” by the dormitory issue last year. During our first wave almost all cases were people residing in the dorms:

Source: https://covidsitrep.moh.gov.sg/, snapshot taken October 5, 2021

But now all the cases are “in the community”:

Source: https://covidsitrep.moh.gov.sg/, snapshot taken October 5, 2021

In addition to the difference between mostly affecting those living in dorms in the first wave and the general population in this new wave the other key difference is vaccination status. According to the Ministry of Health, 82% of residents are fully vaccinated, with an additional 3% having had one dose of the two dose vaccines. This makes a huge difference in the affect on people:

Source: https://covidsitrep.moh.gov.sg/, snapshot taken October 5, 2021

So we are all good right? 0.2% fatality rate seems low. Dispute this, the deaths in Singapore have accelerated in the past month or so:

Source: https://covidsitrep.moh.gov.sg/, snapshot taken October 5, 2021

We were steady in the upper 20s between July 2020 and July 2021, and in the past few months we have added almost 100 deaths. This curve is disturbing, even with the caveat about who is dying in the most recent update from the Ministry of Health:

As of 3 October 2021… 6 more cases have passed away from complications due to COVID-19 infection. Of these, 5 were male Singaporeans and 1 was a female Singaporean, aged between 68 and 91 years. Amongst them, 2 had been unvaccinated against COVID-19, and 4 had been vaccinated. 5 of them had various underlying medical conditions, while an unvaccinated case had no known medical conditions.

Emphasis mine. Source: https://www.moh.gov.sg/news-highlights/details/update-on-local-covid-19-situation_3_October_2021

So, the deceased were older, and seem to have had “various underlying medical conditions” but 4 of the 6 on this day were vaccinated. Scary, but is this normal or an outlier? I couldn’t find anything showing the number of deaths vs. vaccination status on in government charts. Maybe I Missed it, but I did find “Deaths by Age Groups”:

Source: https://www.moh.gov.sg/, snapshot taken October 7, 2021

I think who is dying is the key to the yo-yoing of restrictions. This whole deep dive into the numbers was triggered by a story in the South China Morning Press [scmp.com] shared on WhatsApp the other day. That article included this chart:

Source: Singapore’s coronavirus cases could reach 10,000 a day in next two weeks | South China Morning Post (scmp.com)

This shows something that is not clear from the data on the Ministry of Health site: the number of deaths among fully vaccinated people. There were 11 deaths among fully vaccinated people in September, more than the total number of deaths from March to July! And a quarter of all deaths in September were fully vaccinated people.

So, despite the fact that most people testing positive for COVID19 in the past 28 days are asymptomatic or had mild symptoms this wave is deadly. Already more than three times as deadly in Singapore than the previous year, and deadly even to some who were fully vaccinated.

Due to all of this the Government pushed us back into more restrictive stance. Not a lock down but a step backwards.

  • Group size for “social gatherings and interactions”, in public or at home and including dine-in, reduced from 5 to 2 persons
  • Work from home “the default” again; before it was 50% capacity for offices

Although, most things didn’t actually change (see here [moh.gov.sg]) the things that matter, that make the most difference day-to-day, did… You can see the conundrum… The death rates in Singapore are among the lowest in the world, and other places, with much higher rates of infection and death, like Israel or the UK, are “back to normal”. But for a politician if you say “lets open” and people die they you could take the hit. I suspect the government of Singapore would not want to be blamed for a higher death toll, to keep the reputation of having among the lowest death rates in the world. To be seen as setting an example of how to handle COVID19. But that means a very slow and cautious reopening that has been pulled back several times now. Given that all the deaths are among older people and those people were the first to be vaccinated I’m guessing we will continue with the tighter restrictions until the majority of over 60’s have had a booster shot to get that “deaths among vaccinated people” number down. But they just started the booster shot program so it could take a while.

One step forward, one step back…

All in all, Singapore is in much better shape than most places, so I shouldn’t complain too much but damn. I want to get on a plane and go somewhere… The biggest thing standing in the way right now is how bad it is in other places, only Germany and Bahrain are open for quarantine free travel, but I would totally go to Japan and spend two weeks in quarantine one the return. That is if Japan was open and if my younger daughter was vaccinated. But there is no approved vaccine for those under 12 yet, and Japan is closed. I envy those who live somewhere they can travel even a bit, by car or train to get out to the country or another city. You can’t go more then 20 kilometers from my house without needing a passport…

Categories
ranting

Odd Search Terms…

So, the other day I noticed that my usually very lonely blog was getting a lot of traffic… My wordpress dashboard showed a spike in visits. After a bit of poking around the stats I found something odd in the “search terms”. Most search terms are not provided on inbound clicks these days, so the vast majority are unknown, but here is a short list of search terms that were recorded:

  • jijjiirraa barsiisotaa
  • two sure for mark 2 today
  • sipa gasy manja ty lelena
  • games java waps itel keypad java waps
  • sermon on overcoming delays in life dr paul eneunch
  • baba ijebu key fairchance
  • meaning of ibi in okun land
  • iwulo imunmuna
  • tamil.kamakathai
  • how to install apps on itel it9210 keypad phone

OK… According to Google translate’s auto detect there are Malagasy (Madagascar) and Yoruba (West African). Dr. Paul Eneunch is a pastor at a church in Nigeria. Itel is a Hong Kong based manufacturer of low cost mobile phones, if you search it a bunch of links to African operators and distributors come up. Two Sure is a Nigerian lottery. I’m seeing a pattern here… WTF?

A bit of poking around on the server and I located a bunch of garbage directories filled with binary junk, no readable text, in my wp-includes folder.

Searching for “site:confusion.cc wp-includes” on Google returned a bunch of links:

Nothing African on this list, but these are not things I posted on Confusion… But there were almost three thousands results. I did a quick scan of the first few pages of results, they were all over the place. I did not click on any of them (I should have take a few screenshots). I’m guessing it was someone making money on adverts.

So I did a full rip and replace on Confusion. Rebuilt the whole server from a backup, updated everything, new passwords, verify WordPress was properly hardened… I never found anything specific in the logs or other data. I didn’t find any reports of specific vulnerabilities in any of the software. Not sure how they got it.

Maybe I should have tried to find a way to trace the ad account, I’m sure there would have been a key in the page for Google or some other ad network but I didn’t think of it before I terminated the whole VM.

Categories
photography ranting

My Best Mobile Photos — 2015

Judging by my 2015 mobile photos on Flickr, taken with the iPhone 5S [flickr.com] or taken with the iPhone 6S [flickr.com], I must have been exhausted from the amount of good mobile phone photos I took in 2014 [confusion.cc]. I counted and there are about 50 photos in 2015 while there were over 70 in 2014. Not as big a difference as I thought but still…

Anyway, most of the year I continued to use the iPhone 5s and I took a couple of shots I would point to as “my best of 215”.

First up is this shot of a dandylion taken in Stockholm at a friends house. Lovely detail for macro shot on the iPhone.

IMG_7963

Second, another macro shot of matcha power in a tea cup, waiting for the hot water. The color of the matcha is intense and set off well against the dark ceramic cup. The harsh light from my kitchen lights is a bit much.

IMG_7551

At the other end of the spectrum is this telephoto shot of Millenia Tower near my office in Singapore. The monotony of the windows and the shadows are great. Too bad it’s not leveled correctly.

IMG_7269

Per the norm, I changed handset to the iPhone 6S [wikipedia.org] when it came out. Skipping one generation. The 6S jumped the rear camera up from 8 megapixel to 12 megapixel. A sizable jump but, seeing as I didn’t get the 6S until late November, I didn’t take many photos with the 6S in 2015. One I will share is not because it’s that good of a photo but because it’s the return of the panorama!

You will remember, of course, that I started this journey into my best mobile photos in 2004. Back then I had a Sony Ericsson K700i. and it had a built in panorama program. You can see a panorama taken on the K700i in both the 2004 [confusion.cc] and 2005 [confusion.cc] entries in this series of posts. Apple introduced it’s panorama functionality originally with the iPhone 6. But I didn’t have an iPhone 6 so, I first got it with the 6S in 2015. I made full use of it in Harbin, China on my winter vacation. Here is the best example:

IMG_9767
Click to see it bigger on Flickr

Please ignore the poor people on the right hand side, that a tragic story.

That’s really about it for 2015, but I want to jump back to the 5S and include this shot of some sticker graffiti in Tel Aviv:

IMG_8529