The #DigitalSkeptic Not-Technically-An-Hour Radio Hour: Show Five

"The Wheels Come Off The Tech-Backlash Bus:" We spend about 20 minutes breaking down the minimal fines on Facebook, for its involvement in the Cambridge Analytica affair. And how changes in the European Union Copyright Directive compares to the poorly-worded California Consumer Privacy Act.

Plus, we talk to Mo Bitar, at about minute 23, creator of the most-excellent privacy tool Standard Notes.

Bottom line friends, we are going to be living with the Web we have for quite some time.

The #Digitalskeptic Not-Technically-An-Hour Radio Hour: Show Number Three

We're back, yet again, for another hour of how young adults can manage information better in the Information Age.

This week, we fix the "Broken Bicycle Wheel that is Twitter."

Here's the breakdown on this show:

5 Minutes: Intro and "What IS Twitter Anyway."

7 Minutes: Shameless plug from our sponsor Brookside Research.

11 Minutes: Why "Bicycle Wheel," the conceptual master piece by Marcel Duchamp, is the best way to think about Twitter. 

15 Minutes: Effing up The Follower Factory: If you're confused by Twitter, don't worry, even the smartest people are to, like in this story from The New York Times.

18 Minutes: Blum Outtweets Trump: How my meager Twitter following at @Digitalskeptic, is in many ways, more effective than President Donald Trump's.

32 Minutes: The RemindYouWhatItsLikeToBeAlive Mix: The Goldberg Variations. How JS Bach's 1741 piece can be an example of what Twitter could be: Short, iterative and utterly free of hate and fear.

42 Minutes: The Doooo Something Moment. You asked for it. Some serious Twitter Analytics. We enter Twitter's simply-awful analytics page, and show you how it works and doesn't work. And what you can do to use the system more efficiently.

54 Minutes: Ideas of the Week: A round up of ideas and opportunities in Twitter, running on Twitter. Aren't we clever.


Deep Learning, with Robert Mapplethorpe


Allow me a moment, if you will, to use art to tell a story of our times.

And if I'm going to use art as the best guide for perceiving information in this nasty Information Age of ours, I figure I might as well start with the Robert Mapplethorpe mini-retrospective, going on through April 13 at the Gladstone Gallery in the heart of the contemporary art ghetto on Chelsea's West 24th Street.

Now, you must be asking yourself, "What on earth is this data geek gonna say?"

The show appears to be nothing more than several dozen photo portraits, still lifes and the occasional nude. There are none of the tired Olympic-Games-Closing-Ceremony-style contemporary art antics of flaming bits of aluminum, digitally enhanced virtual reality or any of the other gimmicks of visual trickery hoping to be our proverbial LED flashlights in this dark time. Yet somehow, these just-off-square, just-off-black, mostly 16 x 20 silver-gelatin prints blast a beacon of clarity into the process of processing information.

And that stark simplicity helps to maintain Mapplethorpe as the singular star still-life shooter of this age or any other. He was, simply, that good.

Mapplethorpe died 29 years ago, but all these blurry past three decades have done is confirm him to be the master of the transgressive photo pole vault, an event for which he very much still holds the world record.

All his gold medal attempts are on the wall at Gladstone. There's the shot of a shirtless Richard Gere, back when he was so hot. There's the iconic smirkless portrait of singer Patti Smith. There's the heartbreaking shot of Sean Young, the porcelain original replicant that Harrison Ford falls for in 1982's Blade Runner. There are the portraits of kids and sailors and soldiers and probably a bust of Shakespeare or Shaw. And then there are the signature nudes -- the still oh-so-perfect shots of the human body that $100 says could trigger an honest discussion about sexuality between just about anybody -- even, say, Karen and Mike Pence.

On some levels, every Christian should see this show, no matter how uncomfortable it makes them. It's that kind of eye opener. 

But what's perceptive gold here is how the show's curator, Roe Ethridge, brilliantly leaves out the details of each print. There are no names or titles -- just photos. So all you're left with is the sense that you're looking at somebody important, even if you don't know who it is. And if you can stay off your dang smart phone for 40 minutes, you can live in the glory of not being exactly sure who all these ultra-famous people are. And from there, you can calibrate your own sense of memory and value of what matters. As you wander around this 2,500-square-foot gallery, Richard Gere becomes just another prince of a person, like us.

There's also a lesson for all of us struggling in the face of overwhelming amounts of information. It can be found in Mapplethorpe's resplendent self-portrait. Instead of seeing the artist as we usually have, vamping or carrying a tommy gun, he's holding court, relaxed, sitting in a chair, wearing what appears to be a smoking jacket and ... house slippers?!? This picture puts itself right up there on the self-portrait Mount Rushmore, along with Rembrandt and van Gogh. Take a look.


See what the show is trying to tell us about our time? Even in this room full of images that nobody else could have taken, we see Mapplethorpe for who he was: a seemingly boring old white guy from Queens. He grew up not far from me, in New York's dorkiest borough, where he went to local schools and made good back in the days when this town was cheap. There were no hashtag trends to bail out this street kid, no social media to be part of, and no community to support him. He just grabbed a camera, stood up and shot what he thought mattered -- even if it was a "fully functioning" man naked as the day he was born.

To me, this retrospective is a clear challenge: Go ahead, break down that wall, kick open that door, blow up that market. Mapplethorpe would have loved #Deeplearning, #NRA, and #MeToo, until he saw the mostly feeble progress of these "movements." Then he'd probably wonder if he should be part of it all.

More than anybody else, Mapplethorpe understood that destroying first and building later is the worst kind of cheap shot.

The #DigitalSkeptic Not Technically an Hour Radio Hour: Show Two.

We're finally back in the studio -- after all these years -- talking Information Science to young adults. Who knew, but today's younger minds want to know how data ... eh, works.

Go ahead. Take a listen. On some connections this download can take a while.

Here are the APPROXIMATE run times for this 1 hour and 9 minute show.

1 Minute or so: Introduction.

8 Minutes or so: A word from our sponsor, Brookside Research:

10 Minutes or so: Check the Box: If the news isn't making you angry sometimes, it isn't news.

14 Minutes or so: My "Conference call" with Mr. Zuckerburg and Mr. Louis CK.

21 Minutes or so: The "RemindYouWhatit'sLiketobeAlive" Mix. Our refreshing mystery music mashup that will help you tell what's a robot from what isn't, by Glowpuppy Studios

32 Minutes or so: The "Do Something" Section: Today we De-Zombify Facebook.

41 Minutes or so: Our "What's Money" Segment for the week: Cyrotocurrency: The Storyless Investment.

44 Minutes or so: News of the Week: A whole slew of amazing news that we never expected to hear.

  • Amazon raises Prime prices to cover its costs. Wow!

  • Wall Street Journal uses the word "Anti-trust" next to Google, Facebook and Apple.

  • Huffington Post ends unpaid contributions from writers and creative (Wow!)

  • Streaming video companies admit what horrible businesses they are.

62 Minutes or so:  Farewells, and our last line: "You folks have a world to go fix."


Bernie Sanders' 11 Favorite Numbers

"Point four three. Point five three. Point five six!" It's not every day that you get to write a lede this juicy. 

But in an election year where who's making how much money is making serious headlines, the story behind 0.43, 0.53, 0.56, and 8 other numbers just like them, cut to the very heart of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders' argument for becoming the next Cranky Ol' Commander and Chief of these United States.

Bernie's Favorite Numbers: The Gini Index quantifies income inequality. I mapped it since 1820! What do you think the trend is? Hmmmm?

Bernie's Favorite Numbers: The Gini Index quantifies income inequality. I mapped it since 1820! What do you think the trend is? Hmmmm?

These 11 numbers -- which you can explore live here -- are numeric royalty. They're part of the Gini Index, a single-number score for just how effing bad society is at dividing its riches. The Gini Index is the brainchild of turn-of-the-20th-century Italian sociologist and numbers-nerd Corrado Gini. Who back in 1912, rocked the numeric world by developing a score of how the rich dick over the poor. 

I Dream of Gini:  Italian sociologist Corrado Gini is the eh ... "Prince" of social scientists. 

I Dream of Gini: Italian sociologist Corrado Gini is the eh ... "Prince" of social scientists. 

The Gini Index is rock-star numeric stuff: The World Bank uses the Gini Index. The CIA uses the Gini Index. Mathworld even uses the Gini Index. And I see why: The Gini score packs big meaning into just a few numbers. And in these days where terabytes of data can be worse than meaningless, it is positively thrilling to be reminded that exactly 11 numbers, if they are the right numbers, can teach anybody about the rich and the poor -- over the past two hundred years! 

If only Mr. Gini had founded Google, who knows how lean and mean the Web would have turned out to be.  

Gini's Index in Action: Each ten-out-of-hundred get a given share of society's wealth. The steeper the curve, the more unequal the wealth. Where do you think you live? Chart by Clear Lines Consulting.

Gini's Index in Action: Each ten-out-of-hundred get a given share of society's wealth. The steeper the curve, the more unequal the wealth. Where do you think you live? Chart by Clear Lines Consulting.

Here's how the Gini Index works: Each group of 10 people out-of-a-100 in society is ranked from right to left in the chart above. And the share of society's wealth each gets is ranked from top to bottom. I dug this Gini Index chart from the kind folks at Clear Lines Consulting, a San Francisco-based analytics firm. The straight blue line is the theoretical county of Equalistan, where wealth is divided evenly across all 10 groups. The top 10 out-of-every-100 people may be richer than the bottom 9, but not proportionally so. See the idea? Everything is equal. What happens if the top 10 percent sneak in more than average say, 15 cents of every dollar of wealth? That leaves the bottom 10 people out of 100 with only 5 cents of every dollar. And the curve sags down to the red line now graphed as Similaristan. Here wealth distribution is essentially similar across all groups. But not equal. Pretty cool!

But, and this is a big but, if the top 10 out of a 100 get a full 90 cents of every dollar of society's wealth, what happens? We are all shivering away in a country called Slaveristan, where the top 10 out of a 100 people make 90 cents out of every dollar society makes. Or pretty much what the United States of America looks like these days if you believe Bernie Sanders' "ten percent take-all" argument.

A World Bank data nerd named Branko Milanovic took Gini's work and retrofited it back to 1820, with this WikiPedia post. That's the chart I created above that shows the relative progress of income inequality over the past few centuries.

If these 11 numbers are even half-correct, is it any wonder a political nobody from Vermont came to dominate the debate on how the world splits its wealth? Agree or disagree with Bernie Sanders, but Mr. Gini, and his ratio show why this man has the shaped national debate. 

90 people out of a 100 have no other choice but to feel the "Bern."

Donning The VR Leisure Suit Of Technology.

Before you spend $600 on a new Oculus Rift VR headset, pop on this 15-minute podcast; and as you work, watch TV, or wander around town, you'll hear me, the #DigitalSkeptic, having a ton of fun breaking down the century's long disaster picture that is virtual reality. From 19th-century stereoscopes that went bust, to 3-D films that never got made, you'll learn why the technology behind VR hits -- like Oculus Rift, The Playstation VR, and The Samsung Gear VR -- are probably doomed before they start. 

You know it's bad: I hear Dwayne Johnson is up for the lead role in the movie adaptation. 

What Big Data Thinks Donald Trump Said.

Donald and I. Me and Donald. We seem to be separated at birth, at least grammatically speaking. We both were born into the "Struggle-To-Write-Well's." The nice family down the road with lots of interesting things to say; but who just can't seem to get all their ideas under control. 

For my work, read my work. I strive to make Information Science interesting, for crying out loud. Who's crazy enough to try that? A decent sentence takes me all morning. For Mr. Trump, it's his press releases that are challenging. Just read any one at Particularly, the rant he laid down to Pope Francis' criticism of how the candidate handles immigration. Most of Trump's sentences are anything but. 

To help Trump out, I downloaded the latest in grammar software packages, including Ginger, Grammerly, and a few others. And lumped all the changes they suggested into one big Word document. Take a look:

My writing sins are Donald's sins: Passive voice, confusing use of tense, floating participles -- pretty much a third of this release flunked one automated test or another. 

When I originally posted this piece, Trump's poll numbers fading: I had a cheap line about he might want to consider what a survey says: Teeth and grammar are what people find most important in new mates. But now that Trump's road to the nomination gets shorter and shorter, maybe the lesson is deeper. 

The rules that Big Data is trying to organize, and what we writers spend our days mastering, may not matter so much any more. If a machine can write "right," what must a human do to communicate?

This post has been unwritten.

It's like picking through a printing press fire bomb. Or Michael Bay's latest Transformer movie. "That's not the futzed-out head of Optimus Prime, my man. It's Jonathan Franzen's 'The Corrections.' See it?" 

And like any FEMA disaster, it's a struggle to see what you're seeing, when it comes 21st-century publishing. 

The narrative is supposed to be easy reading: The more that's published, the more that gets published. It's all content and it's all powerful. All of us who order words and letters for a living are damned spooked by books like Jon Ronson's "So You've been Publicly Shamed." Oblivion nowadays is one badly-worded Tweet or misquoted source away. Ask poor Jonah Lehrer, who faced digital disgrace for apparently misquoting Bob Dylan. It's a hard rain a-falling -- or whatever Dylan meant.

There's just one itty-bitty bit: We don't actually publish anymore, in the "prepare printed material for public distribution" traditional definition of publishing. 

What I am doing now with you is all about changing the settings. Usually, from a collaborative document that sits on a distant computer somewhere. One moment it's only me and my editors that can tinker with the sentences in this file. The next, billions can. Gone is the paper and ink that makes those words last forever. How you read digital documents like these is anybody's guess: The size of the page and the type and the language and ads and the device are all up for grabs.

The hieroglyphic telepathic lock of paper and print that puts your mind right here with mine (scary thought, huh?) is not exactly gone. But it's not exactly there either. It's all unpublishable, all the time. 

All these words can be unwritten.

I've unwritten these sentences dozens of times. Because most of them sucked. And they needed the TLC. As do most of yours. When I published on paper, I unwrote right 'till it all went to print. Then I lived with the horrors. But now? Not so much. I changed "Micheal Bay" to "Michael Bay" on the 25th of January. A week after I opened these revisions up to the world. (So I struggle with seeing "ae"s. You probably do too. Why pretend otherwise?) 

Face it folks, it is unethical to not let Lehrer merely update the contested quote. Dylan misquoted Dylan all the time. "My world's a pyramid. All all and all."  And all. 21st-century publishing is digital jello.

Now, is it progress? Of course it is not. We have taken a 3,000 year step backward. We no longer know who said what or when. But it is a trip we have taken. Acting otherwise only opens you up to those who spin our anxieties up into a super-storm of  self gain. That is social media, if you think about it. 

Here then is what works : If you want to publish so it lasts forever, it's why they make printers. Print! If you want to publish here and now? Knock yourself out. But accept how little we understand what publishing is. And, at the very least, organize your digital day so those sentences of yours can be changed. Chances are, they probably should be. 

It's what transformers do. Maybe Michael Bay is trying to tell us something, after all. 

Notes on The Post-Information Economy.

Like so many other bad ideas, this one was supposed to last a millennium. Or at least a 100 years. But what have we all gotten of late from The Information Age or The New Economy or The World Wide Web -- or whatever pretending a network of ones and zeros is the world, when it's anything but.

How many years of dead solid progress has the data thing gotten us? Was it 20? Or even 10.

If my retirement savings accounts are like yours, they're stuck in the cyrofreeze, along with Matt Damon from the sci-fi picture "Intersteller." Not exactly dead for 15 years; but just sort of frozen in the ooze of the declining value of what we know. Are we more peaceful or safer? North Korea's Kim Jung-Un and the thugs behind Isis might think so. But you and I? Don't you feel trapped in a spooky digital copy of Sierra Leone, where virtual Ebola is the least of your worries. How much time do you spend every day making sure your online self does not get murdered? And are we more interesting or smarter? I'm certainly not. Last week I had to ski off-the-grid for a full morning to have this remarkable experience: an 11-minute conversation where no smartphone could be involved. "You know what, I can't remember who starred in The Revenant." 

To turned out to err is human. But to forget? That was divine. 

That's what I'm here to ask: What do we do with all this information now that all this information is all we have? What works. That's what I'm looking into with essays and lists and maps and charts and maybe some fiction. The truth has become so odd, openly making the stuff up is often the only sense that can be made. 

And by all means, let me know where I go wrong: Can I recast a sentence or a paragraph in another way? Did I forgot a fact? Or a word or letter. I have a degree in Web Induced Mistypography. Let me know what can be clearer.  I am happy to tweak or change. 

Wouldn't we be better off publishing less and editing more?