The week that was (08-17-2018)

The massive Carr Fire in Northern California was traced to sparks from a wheel rim of a trailer with a flat tire. When one individual in Redding reached out to forgive the elderly owners of that trailer for what was clearly a tragic mistake, many other followed suit. “I would think, no matter what race, what color, people are kind. . . deep down I think that compassion and community are at the core of human beings.” said Rachel Pilli, the catalyst of good.

Reebok launched a line of shoes made from corn.

Japan launched, in Hiroshima, the nation’s first pizza vending machine.

The Who’s Roger Daltrey said in an interview that hip-hop music has not really evolved and Kanye West’s music is “kind of meaningless.”

A nun from the Adorers of the Blood of Christ in Missouri was caught at Sydney Airport smuggling over a kilogram of cocaine inside a pair of high-heeled shoes. It appears she was an innocent victim and was duped into thinking she was doing someone a favor.

Ikea opened in India with local modifications such as solar-powered delivery rickshaws and samosas and biriyani in the cafeteria instead of the traditional Swedish meatballs.

The “tinny sounds of a cellphone ringtone” cut into the hushed silence of the gallery just as Tiger Woods drew back his club at the PGA Championship causing him to flub an important drive on the 5th hole. “I thought I might see a riot,” wrote one fan.

Mathematicians finally solved the age-old problem of how to break a spaghetti stick into two. (thx Dav)

Berry-growers in the Pacific Northwest have discovered a new way to keep birds from feasting on their crop. Lasers.

6-year-old Caitlin was left alone with her mom’s computer to order herself a new Barbie. She got a little carried away with the one-click Amazon Prime purchase account and racked up $350 in additional toys. She’s lost her internet privileges for a month.

Photo credit: Reddit user ConyCony

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Civil Eyes

I’m not great with words so I’ve been looking for someone else to quote that best expressed my views on the recent moves by social media companies to curate the discussions taking place on their platforms. I did not feel comfortable with the knee jerk reaction to simply get rid of the “bad stuff” as such blanket bans could too easily be misapplied and cause collateral damage. But,  like others, I was impatient with @jack’s intellectual distancing.

The light bulb finally went off when I read Jeff Jarvis’ piece in The Atlantic, Platforms Are Not Publishers. Jarvis points out that we view the internet through the lens we have for print – a medium where words are published for consumption. Print is broadcast. The internet is, by definition, bi-directional. The internet is not about content, it is about conversations. Conversations are iterative, messy, hard to curate, let alone control. An editorial board is not the solution.

The banning of Infowars from most major platforms is a sign of that process beginning to work. Civilization is winning, at last. Alex Jones went too far and the public, empowered by the same tools of social media he exploited, told the platforms that his behavior is unacceptable in a civilized society. The platforms—like media and like regulators—might prefer to start with a set of rules that can be enforced by government, by social-media managers, or by algorithms. But that’s not how we negotiate our standards. The breach makes the rule. We know pornography, propaganda, trolling, and spamming when we see it, and then write the rules to prevent it. That progress always seems to take too long, but it is prudent that we ban what we see rather than everything we might fear.

– Platforms Are Not Publishers

The norms of acceptable conduct are still being refined. With each new transgression or outrage such as the Infowars example, we collectively define the line between a provocative debate of a contrarian viewpoint and an attention-grabbing, deceitful and malicious commercial enterprise.

Political discussions used to be along a familiar Liberal – Conservative spectrum in which both sides used agreed upon tools (facts, scientific method) to argue their case. Think of the Federalist Papers or, more recently, the Buckley/Vidal debates during the early days of television.

Today, agreed upon facts have been discarded and shared decorum has gone out the window, replaced by intimidation and violence. Democracy’s unconditional support of free speech has been weaponized and used to justify the distribution and amplification of the outrageous and untrue. The folks at Pod Save America took to their blog to describe how we got to where we are today.

The company’s lip-service defense of free speech is in practice a choice to collapse the distinction between disinformation and news-analysis. The right-wing narrative of social-media censorship is dishonest, but it has also been incredibly effective in pressuring platforms into accepting lies as opinion.

– Facebook Is The World’s Biggest Right-Wing Media Company

We must return to Jarvis’ framework for the internet as a conversation to better understand how to manage our way forward. “Twitter is not The New York Times. It is Times Square,” says Jarvis. In a public space, no one would tolerate someone screaming and threatening another individual or group with half-baked ideas. To curate a debate that improves our understanding of the world today, we should favor voices that respectfully lay out an argument that is well-researched and moves the debate forward. We have too many hair-raising threats to our existence just over the horizon to waste our time on anything less.

My 7th grade school bus driver was this amazing woman who managed to keep the 50-odd kids on her bus in line during our 30-minute ride through rural Connecticut to John Winthrop Junior High. She had this enormous, panoramic mirror so she could keep an eye on things. Whenever things started to get out of hand, she’d peer up into the mirror and stared into your soul while bellowing, “KNOCK IT OFF BACK THERE!” Justice was meted out equally, without bias or favor.

The social networks need to start acting more like that school bus driver, keeping us kids in line, with a modicum of civility and mutual respect, so no one gets hurt and we can move the conversation forward.

The week that was (08-10-2018)

Two elderly men escaped a nursing home in Germany to go to a heavy metal festival. They were discovered at 3am and were “reluctant to leave” the four-day festival which included bands such as Judas Priest, Hatebreed, In Flames, Running Wild, Arch Enemy, and Eskimo Callboy.

A teenager who really wanted to go to a concert in the next state was arrested for trying to steal a twin-engine jet plane. When asked, the 18-year old said, “he didn’t believe there was much more to the task than pushing buttons and pulling levers.”

A New Zealand man is recovering from injuries sustained while defending a jogger from a herd of hostile cows.

A 9-year-old’s lemonade stand was held up by another boy brandishing a BB gun pistol. He made his getaway on a bicycle. The suspect was later arrested and the local Lowe’s gave the victim a lawn mower for which he had been saving up to buy.

A McDonald’s in the UK refused to serve a woman because she went to its drive-thru window on horseback.  “I can’t serve you, you are not a car” said the worker, citing their drive-thru lane policy.

15-year old Kevin Dimaculangan was crowned the new Microsoft Excel champion. He has his sights set on Word or Powerpoint next.

City government workers in Alaska had to resort to using typewriters and hand-written receipts when dormant ransomware kicked into gear and encrypted nearly all the workstations and most of their servers.

Employees at the National Weather Service were confused when a message in Chinese that translated roughly as, “You have a package from Amazon at the Chinese Embassy, press 1 for more details” boomed over the entire building’s intercom system.

Hackers descended on Las Vegas for the annual DEF CON conference and within hours had already hacked the hotel room thermostats, elevators, and slot machines.

Airbus announced that it has successfully flown an unmanned, solar-powered drone for a record 25 days straight.

A new law in Tennessee will require the national motto, “In God We Trust,” be prominently displayed in all public schools.

Photo credit: posted by Reddit user philiphan25

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The week that was (08-03-2018)

Tesla dipped, every so briefly, into the surfboard business before completely selling out of their limited-edition, carbon-fiber, surfboards.

Thieves kidnapped a shark from the San Antonio Aquarium by wrapping it in a blanket and disguising it as a baby in a stroller. The three-foot horn shark known as “Ms Helen” was found and is now recovering.

Someone had second thoughts about a ring-tailed lemur that they stole from the Santa Ana Zoo and left it in a crate on the doorstep of a Newport Beach hotel with a note asking that it be returned.

A company called We Rent Goats lost track of about 100 goats that wrecked havoc in West Boise, Idaho as they ate their way through a suburban neighborhood.

A sunflower farm in Canada is “closed for good” after Instagrammers overwhelmed their fields in search of the perfect selfie.

Lagunitas, a Northern California brewery purchased last year by Heineken, launched a new line of THC-infused sparkling hop-water drinks, Hi-Fi Hops. “This isn’t some fly-by-night, amateur’s jungle juice. This is contemporary consumer beverage tech mixed into every 12-ounce can, which retails for $8,” says Leafly magazine.

The company behind Canada Dry Ginger Ale is being sued because the soft drink apparently doesn’t contain any ginger.

A young boy’s lemonade stand was shut down by the New York state health department for operating without a permit. The New York Governor offered to pay any fees to re-open Brendan Mulvaney’s front yard stand.

NASA’s TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite) began operations and will head out into deep space in search of life on other planets.

France announced that all students under the age of 15 must leave their cellphones at home or turned off while at school. Meanwhile, the French culture ministry launched an app called Pass Culture which gives each 18-year-old EUR€500 to spend on museums and film.

The New York Mets lost to the Washington Nationals by a staggering 25-4 margin. It was not the worst loss in the franchise’s history.

Photo credit: Reddit user ggfergu

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