Phil Kerpen, net neutrality, and socialism: A post-mortem

I learned the hard way a few weeks ago how net neutrality can be equated with socialism, an argument that puzzles people who work on computer networks for a living and see networking as a big flow of electrons. I think it’s very important that we understand how this happens.

Here’s the tactic: Find a socialist who supports net neutrality. Anoint him the leader of the movement. Bingo, anyone who supports net neutrality follows him, and therefore is a communist.

Political lobbyist and Fox News contributor Phil Kerpen told me Robert W. McChesney was the leader of the net neutrality movement, and he sent me a quote in the form of a meme longer than the Third Epistle of St. John. Yet in a Google search for the key words from that quote, “net neutrality bring down media power structure,” I can’t find him. So then I tried Bing, where I found him quoted on a web site called sodahead.com, but I couldn’t find the primary source.

For the leader of a movement the size of net neutrality, he sure keeps a low profile. Google and Netflix are two multi-billion-dollar companies that support net neutrality. I’m sure it’s news to them that they’re taking orders from Robert W. McChesney. Read more

The danger of conspiracy theories

It seems like a hundred years ago, but in 1996, I briefly infiltrated a group of conspiracy theorists–“sovereign citizens”–and wrote a few news stories and an analysis piece about them. They quit speaking to me after the first one was published, and I received threatening phone calls at the newsroom.

The group was newsworthy because it was causing a lot of problems for officials in that town, but we struck gold. Another reporter in the newsroom was a Marine–there are no former Marines–and when he saw the ringleader’s claim he was a retired Marine colonel, he made some phone calls. This “colonel” turned out to only be a low-level enlisted. (There are two tracks in the military: officers and enlisted. A colonel is the rank below a general–a big deal. This guy was probably a common infantryman, and probably wasn’t in very long.) When I printed this finding, he lost credibility. If he was lying about his rank, what else was he lying about?

This movement fizzled out after a couple of years, but this and other movements like it are back again. Read more

The 11 Neff Hall chop shop

I saw an IBM PS/2 Model 55SX at an estate sale this past weekend. It took me back to my first non-food service, non-retail job, doing desktop support at Mizzou.

Well, as a precursor to doing desktop support, they tried me out just building and tearing down machines. I worked out of Room 11, which was at the time a dingy, dark, musty place. But they pay was good and it meant I got to spend my time between classes taking computers apart all day, and that was nice.

My first assignment was to build IBM PC 330 and PC 350 computers to sit on professors’ desks. These were 50 MHz 486DX2s. They were a bit outmoded by then, but they were a lot better than what they were replacing, which was, in most cases, a PS/2 Model 55SX, which was a 386SX running at either 16 or 25 MHz. My second assignment was to disassemble those Model 55SXs, reverting them back to their factory configuration, and sort out all of the add-ins so we could use them to upgrade other machines, and then, sell whatever was left as surplus. Read more

The hall of famer lets me down

My check engine light came on this morning. I’ve been driving this Honda Civic since May 2003, and this is only the third time that’s happened. But the other two times were nuisance lights. The car ran fine, so I bought a new gas cap, replaced the cap, and the light went off.

This time was different. I confirmed it when I turned the corner and tried to accelerate to 25 miles per hour. The car acted like I was asking it to go a hundred and twenty-five.

After 10-plus years and 194,000-plus miles, I had my first mechanical problem. For the first time, I was going to the mechanic for something other than arbitrary, mileage-based maintenance. Read more

How to maximize a Computer Science degree

Yesterday an interesting question popped up on Slashdot, asking for an alternative to a computer science degree for an aspiring web developer. He complained that what he’s learning in class doesn’t relate to what he wants to do in the field.

Assuming that by “web developer” he means someone who can code stuff in ASP and/or PHP with a database backend and do stuff in Javascript–as opposed to a designer who just does HTML and CSS–I think he’s best off staying where he is and asking better questions.
Read more

Take back some privacy

The creepy Girls Near Me smartphone app is drawing some much-needed attention at data brokers, companies that aggregate information about you from public information and information you provide to marketers. I even found an article that talks about how to opt out from selected brokers.

I recommend you do. Open up a temporary Yahoo or Hotmail account, use it for your opt-outs, then close or abandon the account. Read more

Should journalists hack?

I experienced an interesting collection of contrasts going to journalism school in the mid 1990s. Inside the same building, we had investigative journalists who specialized in advanced use of databases and stodgy editors who missed the days of manual typewriters and wore technological ignorance as a badge of honor.

And yet, there were textbooks that said journalists ought to be learning computer programming, because there was going to be a need for journalists who had the ability to do both. It took a while, but it seems that day has come. Maybe not to sit down and write applications software, but to hack.

But is it ethical for a journalist to hack?
Read more

Linguistic analysis isn’t hooey

For the second time in two months, I’ve seen a case where a linguist analyzed writing and tried to conclude whether someone was or wasn’t the author of a suspicious e-mail message. The first was a threatening letter purportedly sent to Christopher Coleman, who was convicted last month of murdering his family, and the other was Paul Ceglia’s attempt to prove he owns a substantial share of Facebook.

The inevitable flood of comments calling such analysis “black magic” followed. But as an author, I have to give validity to it.

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