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Steven Johnson
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Coding, Caving, Comics (not necessarily in that order).
Coding, Caving, Comics (not necessarily in that order).

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Went for a walk in +Muir Woods National Monument yesterday to help clear my mind. (It helped a little). While there, I took the opportunity to buy a National Parks Annual Pass. Only $80 for a year's unlimited use of our glorious National Parks -- what a deal!. Why not buy yours today? (A surge in purchases might be a nice signal to the people who want to silence Park Service employees or sell off our federal lands...)


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This video has been making the rounds on social media, and at first I ignored it because I figured it would just be a piece of propaganda meant to preach to the choir. I was wrong: this is actually an extremely intelligent and informative short film about despotism. (And despite being an American film from 1946, made in the immediate aftermath of WWII, it doesn't give the US any sort of free ride at all – as you'll notice from some of the examples shown silently in the background)

The film begins by reminding you that the forms of democracy alone don't tell you anything; you need to look deeper. The two key indicators it points at are whether respect and power are equally shared across the community, or whether they are concentrated, with only certain people being thought worthy of those. Those two, in turn, are powered by two leading indicators: whether the distribution of economic power and information is shared or isolated. It points at things like farm foreclosures or towns entirely dependent on a single industry, for example, as factors which make a community more susceptible to despotism.

There are some things I would modernize here; for example, it's become clear that the model of centralized versus distributed control of information (which was key in the 20th century) doesn't fully account for some kinds of vulnerability that can show up even when communication is notionally even. (This is tied to the "fake news" problem which everyone is discussing right now, though I think that term misses a great deal of the mark; correctly understanding the nature of the broader problem we are seeing today, which also includes things like filter bubbles and "distributed censorship," is probably one of the most urgent tasks before us in the computing and communications world today)

There's a great deal more in here, and it's quite well-explained; I recommend watching it, and showing it to your kids as well.

The "Hamilton" thing is amusing and all, but don't get distracted:

Trump has appointed a white supremacist for "chief strategist" and nominated a man for AG who was deemed "too racist" for a judgeship by a Reagan-era Congress that included Jesse Helms.

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I don't have time to write much today, but I want to remind you all of this:

Right and wrong have not changed since yesterday. An "accommodation" which goes in the face of that is not an accommodation, it is collusion in a moral wrong which does not gain any innocence by the defense of "I had to" or "those were the orders."

We will all be sorely tried in the months and years which are to come; we will see our fellow citizens and neighbors harmed and harassed, fired and fired upon. To stand up for them will not be easy, nor will it come without a price. We will pay the price, because the price of refusing is measured in lives and in souls.

But I will also tell you this: we will survive. We will, now and always, use every tool at our disposal, to fight and to shelter, to speak and to listen, to think and to act. This country is not, and has never been, the Promised Land; there was never a promise, only what we chose to build out of it. That choice is undiminished today.

I want you to remember, today, the words of Tarfon: "it is not yours to finish the task, but neither are you free to set it aside." We do not stop, we shall not stop, and we shall never surrender our morals.

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I want to hug whoever wrote this.

Or sing along. Either works.
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Are Donald J. Trump and Victor Von Doom multiversal cousins? Consider:
- Both name everything they create after themselves
- Both consider -- nay, know -- that they are the pinnacle of human perfection
- Both have legions of robotic servants
- Both wear a mask to cover their faces, which are rumored to be horribly disfigured

The only difference I can tell is that Trump hasn't (yet) been defeated by Squirrel Girl.

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Hidden inside the network protocol that powers the Internet is a system designed to fight a nuclear war, even if Washington were destroyed by a surprise Soviet attack. Today, it mostly powers cat videos.

This is the system of "precedence," the mechanism that lets the network know that some traffic is more urgent than others. While this may seem like a straightforward idea, the levels of the precedence system -- before the "great renaming" which gave them anodyne names like "AF4/1" -- have a very interesting history indeed.

The first four levels came from US Army standards developed during the Korean War: "routine," "priority," "immediate," and "flash." (With flash priority being for messages that had to be sent in real time -- like "messages recalling or diverting friendly aircraft about to bomb targets unexpectedly occupied by friendly forces," which I think you'll agree is something you want people to know about quickly so they'll STOP SHOOTING AT YOU)

The fifth level, "flash override," was developed in the late 1950's -- a special precedence level which only the President and Secretary of Defense (or their deputies, if they were killed) were allowed to use, intended to let them override all other traffic and give the orders to end the world.

On top of this is a sixth level, "CRITIC/ECP." This level was almost entirely forgotten: it was introduced between 1958 and 1963, and then promptly ignored by every generation of documentation afterwards. It remained not quite secret, but never really discussed; a drastic highest priority never used, until mathematical necessity forced its introduction into the Internet Protocol./

The story below is a dive into the rabbit-hole of Cold War planning: how the system designed in secret for the Air Force ultimately ended up powering realtime games and video chat.

The next time you’re streaming an old X-Files episode on Netflix that you’re actually using a mechanism designed to ensure that nuclear war could be reliably fought, even if it had to be done from a modified Boeing 707 after Washington was destroyed. The truth, in this case, is in there.


(Footnote for interested readers: This is, I believe, the first time the entire story, from the military side through to the network side, has been in one place. Many thanks to +Lauren Weinstein, among others, for helping me trace the various threads that led to this.)

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OMG PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE
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