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Events and Life Mindsets Policy issues Politics and government Social Web

The greatest propaganda machine in history

Sacha Baron Cohen recently spoke about how social media services have become the “greatest propaganda machine in history”.

Much of the media’s focus, when reporting on his remarks, was on his attack on Facebook. While he certainly targeted Facebook, he also spoke about how Google, YouTube, and Twitter shape online discourse, and how they help spread lies, bigotry, and attacks on fact-based discussions.

Think about it.  Facebook, YouTube and Google, Twitter and others—they reach billions of people.  The algorithms these platforms depend on deliberately amplify the type of content that keeps users engaged—stories that appeal to our baser instincts and that trigger outrage and fear.  It’s why YouTube recommended videos by the conspiracist Alex Jones billions of times.  It’s why fake news outperforms real news, because studies show that lies spread faster than truth.  And it’s no surprise that the greatest propaganda machine in history has spread the oldest conspiracy theory in history—the lie that Jews are somehow dangerous.  As one headline put it, “Just Think What Goebbels Could Have Done with Facebook.”

Sacha Baron Cohen

As much as we embrace free expression, we find it difficult to draw a line when liars and bigots abuse their right to free expression because doing that feels like hypocrisy.

Free expression isn’t unlimited, though. And pushing back against channels that help propagate misinformation, abuse, and false statements that impact substantial segments of the population is becoming more important.

At the very least, it’s worth watching Cohen’s talk, or reading his remarks:

We should also think carefully about how much trust we place in services that profit from the social chaos we see around us.

Featured image by Miguel Henriques
Categories
Events and Life Sports Wellbeing

I ran my first timed 5km race

Last week I ran my first timed 5km race as part of the annual Modiin Race. I set myself the goal of running in the 5km race last year when my wife and son competed in last year’s Modiin Race, and I’m pretty proud of myself for achieving my goal.

I started running again towards the end of 2018/beginning of 2019, and was pretty consistent until about April when I stopped running.

Then, as the race approached, I decided to start running again at the beginning of November when the weather started to cool.

My November running log
My November runs

My pace was predictably relatively slow to begin with (I hadn’t done much exercise for months, after all), but I feel like I improved nicely over the following two weeks.

I was hoping to complete the race in under 30 minutes, although I just realised that I based that goal on the assumption that the race course was 5km.

It was actually a little more, so my time was pretty good for my first 5km race in years (I ran a 5km fun run years ago in Johannesburg).

I wouldn’t say that I enjoy running, necessarily, but I do like getting out and exercising. I also enjoy the feeling of progress when I run further without slowing to walk, and the feeling of having accomplished something for myself afterwards.

My post race moment
Categories
Events and Life Music People Travel and places

Music in the park with Tal Kravitz

Tal Kravitz performed at one of our city’s annual Autumn music festival events in a neighbourhood park yesterday. According to his bio on his Facebook Page

Tal Kravitz is a musician and a singer educated at Israel’s finest music institutions. He is also a traveler who journeyed on a personal search for original tribal music in far corners of the world not yet exposed to Western civilization. Tal plays piano, harp, guitar, a variety of bagpipes, the musical saw, African percussion instruments and more.

We really enjoyed the event. Kravitz is really engaging, and involves the audience (who loved him).

Fortunately we arrived early enough to find good seats. I took advantage of that for some photographs.

Kravitz used a range of musical instruments including an Irish harp, a saw (the kind you use to cut wood), bagpipes, and some sort of electromagnetic/sonic device.

Categories
Design Events and Life People

… you can create blocks like it’s 1999

I’m watching Matt Mullenweg’s “State of the Word 2019” from the recent WordCamp US, and almost snorted my tea when he had this to say about the new colour gradients feature for blocks in Gutenberg v6.8:

You can create blocks like it’s 1999 …

Matt Mullenweg, speaking at WCUS 2019

😂

You can find Matt’s keynote here:

Luke Chesser
Categories
Events and Life Science and nature

Generational differences in our Space Age

First All Women Spacewalk At The ISS

NASA streamed a milestone in Human spaceflight yesterday: an all women spacewalk at the International Space Station. Although it wasn’t exactly a thrilling ride (I’m pretty sure that when it comes to working in Earth orbit, “thrilling” isn’t what you want), it was still momentous in that both astronauts doing the spacewalk were women.

iss061e006501 (Oct. 15, 2019) --- NASA astronauts Jessica Meir (left) and Christina Koch are inside the Quest airlock preparing the U.S. spacesuits and tools they will use on their first spacewalk together. The Expedition 61 flight engineers are holding the pistol grip tools they will use to swap out a failed power controller, also known as a battery charge-discharge unit, that regulates the charge to batteries that collect and distribute power to the International Space Station.
Upcoming spacewalking duo Jessica Meir and Christina Koch, courtesy of NASA on Flickr

Generational gap

Watching the stream on TV left me with the sense that how we and our kids view these events is very much a generational thing:

Parents who grew up with rare televised Space stuff: “Hey kids, check out these astronauts working in space, right now! Wow! And this time they’re all women, wow!”

Kids who grew up with on demand streams of constant Space stuff: “Oh, ok … 🙄” <back to their gaming device>

Parents: 😲


About the spacewalk

If you’re interested in the mission (and likely older than 20-something), take a look at the NASA blog post about the mission:

Two NASA astronauts switched their spacesuits to battery power this morning at 7:38 a.m. EDT. Expedition 61 Flight Engineers Christina Koch and Jessica Meir are venturing out into the vacuum of space to replace a failed power controller, also known as a battery charge-discharge unit (BCDU). The BCDU regulates the charge to the batteries that collect and distribute solar power to the orbiting lab’s systems.

Female Duo Ventures Outside Station for Historic Spacewalk – Space Station

The video stream ran to almost eight hours, but it’s definitely watching, at least in part (this is the sort of video you may just have on in the background):

Categories
Events and Life Music Travel and places

Vicarious adventures with GoPro

Vicarious adventures with GoPro

One of my new favourite YouTube channels is the GoPro channel. It’s an awesome channel for vicarious adventures, and some great music I wasn’t aware of. One of my favourite videos is this promo of the GoPro HERO6:

The track in this video is A Moment Apart by Odesza, and it’s my morning work anthem today:

unsplash-logoCover image by Chris Osmond
Categories
Business and work Events and Life Mindsets Writing

In person kudos at the Automattic Grand Meetup

Appreciating our colleagues

We have an amazing culture at Automattic that includes giving each other kudos as one form of recognition for great work, whether that’s delivering happiness to a customer, or to each other.

Typically we use a Slack bot to share kudos, and that’s posted to an internal WordPress site dedicated to showcasing internal kudos.

At the Grand Meetup (which we attended in mid-September – I’ll probably share more from that soon), we also have the option of giving handwritten kudos to each other. I like the ease of giving digital kudos, and at the same time I really like being able to write a note to my colleagues to express my appreciation for their efforts.

Automattic kudos card
Kudos IRL

This year I was fortunate to receive a few cards from my colleagues, and really appreciate each of them.

I decided against sharing details of all of the cards I received as the messages can be pretty personal. At the same time, I’m grateful for each card.

Categories
Events and Life Photography

Accumulating memories in large photo libraries

Jamie Rubin wrote a thought-provoking post on his blog about his accumulated library of photographs, and his thoughts about what to do with it.

The problem is that I am not organized about my photos the way I am in other parts of my life. I’ve made reluctant attempts at organization now and then, but my heart was never in it. I’ve had all kinds of great ideas for photo taxonomies that would allow me to put my finger on a photo within seconds. These ideas never pan out. I just don’t have the interest. And yet the photos accrue.

Jamie Rubin

I commented on the post, and then thought I’d share my thoughts here too.


I have around 100k images in my Flickr library (this is probably my most complete, and organised library outside my various backups). I sometimes wonder if accumulating such a huge library will be problematic for my family when I eventually shuffle off into the Great Darkroom in the Sky.

On balance, though, I’d much rather preserve these memories, than start stripping them away because they seem too voluminous. I’m pretty determined to document our lives, and our memories for future generations. I wrote a bit about this in this post, so I won’t elaborate much here.

When I look at what I have from my childhood, and from previous generations, I see moments now and then, certainly not complete pictures of what those times were like. I rely on photos to remember my past because my memory can be pretty spotty.

When it comes to my growing library of photos, I’m working on the assumption that image recognition technology will only improve over time, and our kids will be able to use it to find the stuff that matters to them. If I look at how good Google Photos is now when it comes to recognising subject matter in photos, and even filtering photos, I’m less and less concerned about the size of my library.

I think Jamie make a great point about being mindful of the moment we’re in, and not immediately distracting ourselves from it by taking a photograph of the scene. We can’t spend all our lives looking through a viewfinder.

unsplash-logoFeatured image by Julie Johnson