Softball with Zuckerberg: When Being the “Smartest Guy in the Room” is a Global Disaster

Reflecting on the Zuckerberg testimony from yesterday, the biggest take away from the joint hearing between the Judiciary Committee and the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee is that no one sitting on either committee has a clue about what Facebook is, what Facebook does, and the only person in the equation that has the ability to ask a legitimate question on Facebook is Zuckerberg himself. And he’s picking answers off a sheet of paper that gives little insight, clarification, or does anything but market Facebook as a dorm room startup that made some mistakes and will do better in the future, and just consider all the good that it can do.

Literally, no one in that chamber has a clue what to ask, how to ask it, and it wouldn’t matter if they did. It’s a farce. Watch a video about nailing Jell-O to a tree, or go do it yourself, you’ll get the same kind of insights into Facebook and data privacy as you would get from watching the Senate hearing.

Just a few questions that needed to be asked and honestly, genuinely, and succinctly answered regarding Facebook, the data users share, their role as moderators of an online community, and the implications that Facebook has in the lives of their billions of users: Continue reading “Softball with Zuckerberg: When Being the “Smartest Guy in the Room” is a Global Disaster”

Stop Blaming Christopher Wylie: The Oven isn’t the Problem

Many people are missing the point, Christopher Wylie’s whistleblowing—and that it occurred after the election—is the proverbial equivalent of J. P. Oppenheimer’s reflection on the detonation of the first atomic bomb, “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds” from the Bhagavad Gita. Essentially you’re asking for Wylie to have known, before the election, the complete picture of what was going on, how the data and the algorithms applied to that data, was going to influence the election. Seeing users call him a “traitor” for his role in the election of Donald Trump, and the damage to LGBT advances, as a result, is ludicrous.

To make him the scapegoat for the Donald Trump presidency and subsequent problems that has created is to say that Wylie should have been able to take one theoretical use case from start to finish and see it’s ultimate outcome. Which is hardly fair, hardly critical, and is frankly only the proverbial tip of the iceberg in the way that the data and applied algorithms could be used. Just as easily it could have been applied to secure marriage equality, change the way the public views PREP, reduce HIV infection and promote testing to curb the epidemic, is one of the many, many possible uses of such data. That it could be used to elect a president, one so horrible for LGBT rights is only one horrible use case.

All of which comes to a point, the theoretical applications of this are limitless, and you’re choosing to attack him for, effectively, being naive about the reality of what he was doing and the power that it would allow political campaigns to exert.

Instead of seeing that it was a multipronged problem—social media usage has inherent vulnerabilities in how user data is made available to companies, the lack of care or consideration that companies may exhibit in their use and storage of that data, and the carelessness that we have as social media users in understanding just what we are agreeing to as we take quizzes, play games, and get free stuff. Which is not to mention the overarching problem of social media platforms in which the data you are sharing isn’t just your own, but also the data of everyone you are associated with. That—as I don’t know anyone on social media who haven’t taken a quiz, played a game, or otherwise used an app—you are ultimately consenting on behalf of everyone you are associated with to making their data, as well as your own, part of an ever-growing database. I’ve done it, you’ve done it, your friend’s mom has done it, and we are, in effect, “frenemies” with everyone we’re attached to on social media platforms.

Yeah, that personality test was fun. Yeah, that farming game is great. Yeah, that birthday reminder is helpful. But, with that cool free thing came a cost. The opportunity for a business, like Cambridge Analytica, to access and exploit every one of your online friends for profit. We did this to ourselves, we allowed this to happen, we exchanged our data, and the data of our friends and families, like Hansel and Gretel chowing down at the witch’s table. Instead of blaming the witch and acknowledging our role in getting into the situation, taking our own responsibility, we’re blaming the oven?

Wild, Wonderful Infectious Diseases: New WV Slogan is Catching

From the great brain trust of West Virginia, it’s elected officials and their “Ok Google, what’s the shortest path to Almost Hell West Virginia” ilk, comes a wonderful new express lane for getting there. In Health department suspends needle-exchange portion of harm reduction clinic, The Gazette-Mail—The Charleston, WV based newspaper burdened with the soul-crushing task of keeping us informed regarding the antics and hijinks of our seemingly brain-damaged state capital—gives us a look at the brilliant plan to reduce crime and start a new epidemic from Police Chief Steve Cooper and Mayor Danny Jones. Ill-contented with the pace of our state’s race to last place in everything, Cooper and Jones have apparently made it their mission to manipulate policy intended to facilitate discretion, common sense, and flexibility in implementing harm reduction efforts, choosing instead to eradicate the intelligent efforts to keep people alive and healthy. Can’t say these two are soft on crime, they are rock hard on property theft, and they are gleeful at the opportunity to shove their drooling members into public health to prove that virility. Continue reading “Wild, Wonderful Infectious Diseases: New WV Slogan is Catching”

Taking Control: Suicide of a Friend

Monday seemed like it was set to be a rather uneventful day. True, I had to go to the Post Office and mail some things (a rare occurrence), but other than that, just do some studying, clean the house, and otherwise have a forgettable day. And then, a Facebook post about the suicide of a mutual friend. “What?!”

Part of me wants to be upset, rage at the world about “how does this happen,” to be furious that there wasn’t more I could offer him, that I didn’t have the insight to offer, that the world couldn’t have been a better place for him. The situation of his life had become quite dire in the last year in a half and left him feeling like a square peg struggling to survive in a world full of round holes. A kind and beautiful soul, liked and loved, but feeling like a houseguest that had overstayed his welcome. There didn’t seem to be a way forward, financially tapped out, that wonderful soul trapped in a body that was failing, in a world that felt rejecting.

And I can’t say that I don’t understand it. I can’t say that I can’t see where he was coming from, that I didn’t see him painted into a corner with no way out. I don’t think anyone wanted to see it, that we were all hoping for a tomorrow that will never come. A day in which his problems would lessen, a job offer would arrive, his health would improve. A day in which the storm would finally pass and he would find himself standing in the sun. Continue reading “Taking Control: Suicide of a Friend”

Spot on the Wall

Embed from Getty Images

For the entire 20th century, from 1900 to 1999, there were 270 school shootings, 254 people were killed, 406 were injured. Of those 270 shootings, 82 took place from 1987 when I started Kindergarten, until 2000 when I graduated High School, most of the deaths and injuries occurring during the 1980s and 1990s.

There have currently been 207 school shootings since I graduated High School, 227 killed, 278 injured, at last count. That count is only through the end of 2017.

One of those school shootings, in 1993, took place in my high school, just a few years before I started there. Asked about the “spot on the wall” outside his classroom, with a cold detachment, our teacher told us the story of what happened. One shot was fired into a wall to prove a gun was loaded. A student, with a sawed-off shotgun and a pistol, took hostages in a classroom. No one dead, no one injured. Just a painted over spot on a cinderblock wall. Continue reading “Spot on the Wall”

My Struggle to Get My Comp TIA A+

I’m supposed to be studying, I should be studying, I should be further along in the book, I should be registering for my exam by now, I should…

But, I’m struggling. I’m struggling with the words, “if you can do it, it must not be very hard.” So it’s either going to be hard and I won’t pass and I don’t want to spend $500 to find out that I’m stupid, or it’s going to be “easy” because I pass it and I’ve wasted $500 to get a meaningless certification, further proof of how stupid I am. The further I get in the book, the more tests I pass without struggling to answer, the more stupid I feel. So I’m stalled.

I don’t know how to get past this block, or how to fix this accomplishment issue. And I don’t know why anyone should ever be given that message about their accomplishments. Was it to stall me out later in life? Was it to undermine my self-confidence and tear me down? Were they just thoughtless words from a thoughtless man?

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.”

Instead of studying, I find myself trying to understand my issue, and getting lost in the works of Brene Brown. And I question whether I’m actually absorbing those ideas, or using them as a balm for old wounds and a distraction from my growing issue. I’m running out of time to make this happen. I’m running out of airstrip and I’m hurtling toward disaster, and my wheels are still firmly planted on the ground. I’ve turned to writing. The thing I’m usually procrastinating because that usually scares me more than anything else because it is currently less frightening than finishing the Comp TIA A+ book and taking the test. At least if I fail here, it feels like no one can see me.