Re: Who Killed Tumblr? We All Did

[Note:  This comment comes from friend Wendy Grossman.  DLH]

From: “Wendy M. Grossman” <wendyg@pelicancrossing.net>
Subject: RE: [Dewayne-Net] Who Killed Tumblr? We All Did
Date: August 15, 2019 at 8:05:52 AM PDT
To: dewayne@warpspeed.com

And before tunblr usenet. Every social medium follows this pattern once it reaches a certain size. You can practically carbon date people by the version whose loss they lament.

wg

Who Killed Tumblr? We All Did
What plagues the internet today hit the social media platform hard and early.
By Kara Swisher
Aug 14 2019
https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/14/opinion/tumblr-sold.html

India Shut Down Kashmir’s Internet Access. Now, ‘We Cannot Do Anything.’

India Shut Down Kashmir’s Internet Access. Now, ‘We Cannot Do Anything.’
Pharmacists can’t restock medicines; workers aren’t being paid. But the government still loves to block the internet for “peace and tranquillity.”
By Vindu Goel, Karan Deep Singh and Sameer Yasir
Aug 14 2019
https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/14/technology/india-kashmir-internet.html

MUMBAI, India — Masroor Nazir, a pharmacist in Kashmir’s biggest city, Srinagar, has some advice for people in the region: Do not get sick, because he may not have any medicine left to help. 

“We used the internet for everything,” said Mr. Nazir, 28, whose pharmacy is near the city’s famed clock tower. He said he normally went online to order new drugs and to fulfill requests from other pharmacies in more rural parts of Kashmir Valley. But now, “we cannot do anything.”

As the Indian government’s shutdown of internet and phone service in the contested region enters its 11th day, Kashmir has become paralyzed.

Shopkeepers said that vital supplies like insulin and baby food, which they typically ordered online, were running out. Cash was scarce, as metal shutters covered the doors and windows of banks and A.T.M.s, which relied on the internet for every transaction. Doctors said they could not communicate with their patients.

Only a few government locations with landlines have been available for the public to make phone calls, with long waits to get a few minutes of access.

The information blockade was an integral part of India’s unilateral decision last week to wipe out the autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir, an area of 12.5 million people that is claimed by both India and Pakistan and has long been a source of tension. That has brought everyday transactions, family communications, online entertainment and the flow of money and information to a halt.

While Prime Minister Narendra Modi has promoted the rapid adoption of the internet, particularly on smartphones, to modernize India and bring it out of poverty, the country is also the world leader in shutting down the internet.

The country has increasingly deployed communications and internet stoppages to suppress potential protests, prevent rumors from spreading on WhatsApp, conduct elections and even  stop students from cheating on exams. Last year, India blocked the internet 134 times, compared with 12 shutdowns in Pakistan, the No. 2 country, according to Access Now, a global digital rights group, which said its data understates the number of occurrences.

“Shutting down the internet has become the first go-to the moment the policethink there will be any kind of disturbance,” said Mishi Choudhary, founder of SFLC.in, a legal advocacy group in New Delhi that has tracked the sharp rise in web shutdowns in India since 2012.

In Jammu and Kashmir, a Muslim-majority territory where security forces constantly worry about attacks by separatist militants, the internet has been blocked in at least part of the region 54 times this year, according to SFLC.in’s data. The authorities simply order internet service providers and phone companies to stop providing access to the web or to mobile networks.

But this latest shutdown has been far more sweeping than others, Kashmiris said.

Umar Qayoom, who used to spend his days running around Srinagar signing up merchants for Paytm, a digital payments service, is now stuck in his house. He said he had not been able to contact his girlfriend since the shutdown began, and his smartphone — his primary source of entertainment, with its endless supply of videos and social media — is an inert hunk of metal.

“I don’t know when to sleep, when to wake up, what to do with my life,” he said during a rare foray outside on Monday evening for Eid al-Adha, the holiest festival in Islam. “There is no life without internet, even in Kashmir.”

Muheet Mehraj, founder and chief executive of Kashmir Box, a start-up that buys traditional handicrafts like pashmina shawls and pottery from local artisans and sells them online, said he could not check incoming orders or communicate with his suppliers. His 25 employees are idle. If the shutdown lingers, they will soon be out of work.

“We’ve seen more than 400 shutdowns,” he said. “This has been the worst of them all.”

[snip]

India was a miracle democracy. But it’s time to downgrade its credentials.

India was a miracle democracy. But it’s time to downgrade its credentials.
By Ramachandra Guha
Aug 14 2019
https://beta.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2019/08/14/india-was-miracle-democracy-its-time-downgrade-its-credentials/

Were I a biographer of the Buddha or a historian of the Mughals, there would be little overlap between my politics and my profession. However, as a historian of modern India, I find there is a continual and often agonizing tension between how I think as a scholar and how I feel as a citizen. The past few days — following the government’s decision to scrap the special status of Kashmir — have been, even by Indian standards, extraordinarily tumultuous for my country and its people.

Meanwhile, I was asked to write this essay to coincide with the anniversary of my country’s independence from British colonial rule. How can the events of the past two weeks affect a broader (and deeper) understanding of what Indians have done with 72 years of freedom? Can I set aside what I feel about my government’s persecution of my Kashmiri fellow citizens when considering, dispassionately and objectively, how India has fared since 1947?

I must, or must at least try.

Kashmir sits on one of India’s foundational fault lines, that of religion. With the rise and consolidation of an aggressive Hindu majoritarianism, many rightfully worry about India’s future as a multicultural democracy. But no assessment of our recent history can be complete without first acknowledging what I, as both historian and citizen, see as India’s three most striking achievements.

A nation out of many nations

Had the country been a start-up in 1947, not even the most venturesome of venture capitalists would have invested in it. Shortly after India became free, the last British commander in chief of the Indian Army, Gen. Claude Auchinleck, wrote: “The Sikhs may try to set up a separate regime. I think they probably will and that will be only a start of a general decentralization and break-up of the idea that India is a country, whereas it is a subcontinent as varied as Europe. The Punjabi is as different from a Madrassi as a Scot is from an Italian. The British tried to consolidate it but achieved nothing permanent. No one can make a nation out of a continent of many nations.”

Such predictions were ubiquitous in the early years of independence. India could not survive as a single nation, said the smartest of Western observers, and it could never become a democracy either. But it did. Another former British official who was in India during the first general elections of 1952 wrote home that “a future and more enlightened age will view with astonishment the absurd farce of recording the votes of millions of illiterate people.”

But India defied its skeptics to remain united, and stay somewhat democratic. To be sure, there was violence at its birth, and rebellion afterward, in Kashmir, Nagaland and elsewhere, put down by force. But when one considers how much blood was shed in the forging of the British or American or French or Chinese nation, I think Indians have gotten off relatively lightly. That a poor, divided and still not fully literate country is a democracy is an even greater feat. Each general election is the greatest exercise of free will in human history — and with many states being larger than some European countries, holding hundreds of provincial elections is rather impressive as well.

There is a third thing Indians should be proud of: our record in sustaining linguistic pluralism. Americans are paranoid about people who do not speak English; yet the rupee note in my pocket has not just 17 languages, but 17 scripts printed on it. Wisely, the founders of India rejected the conventional wisdom that a single language would enhance national unity and refused to impose Hindi across the republic. On the other hand, in Pakistan and Sri Lanka, linguistic differences helped provoke bloody conflicts and even secession.

Indeed, as a large, diverse multilingual political unit with a single market and free movement of people, India anticipated the European Union by many decades.

Failures and fault lines

But set against these achievements are three major failures.

India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, vowed not to let India become a Hindu Pakistan. As he wrote to state chief ministers in 1947: “We have a Muslim minority who are so large in numbers that they cannot, even if they want to, go anywhere else. They have got to live in India. That is a basic fact about which there can be no argument. Whatever the provocation from Pakistan and whatever the indignities and horrors inflicted on non-Muslims there, we have got to deal with this minority in a civilized manner. We must give them security and the rights of citizens in a democratic State.”

With independence, India assured Muslims and Christians and Sikhs and Parsis equal rights. So long as Nehru was alive there was little religious conflict, but after his death in 1964 riots between Hindus and Muslims began breaking out episodically.

These conflicts have only accelerated since the 1980s, with the rise of the Hindu-first Bharatiya Janata Party. With the BJP now in power in Parliament and in most major states, and with many of its leaders and virtually all of its cadres being absolutely majoritarian in their outlook, India is closer to being a Hindu Pakistan than at any time since 1947.

One of the reasons that the Indian state has, in recent years, shown such a harsh hand in Kashmir is that the majority of Kashmiris are Muslims. Yet, because of Pakistan’s long-standing role in fomenting Islamist terrorism in the valley, and the cult of personality around India’s current prime minister, Narendra Modi, these repressive methods have attracted applause rather than criticism from Indians outside Kashmir.

[snip]

Who Killed Tumblr? We All Did

Who Killed Tumblr? We All Did
What plagues the internet today hit the social media platform hard and early.
By Kara Swisher
Aug 14 2019
https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/14/opinion/tumblr-sold.html

It’s most definitely a nasty digital world out there these days. But it’s not just President Trump and his daily dose of toxic tweets. Or the insane conspiracy theories that cycle through social media like raggedy-edged tornadoes, causing damage that is impossible to fix. Or the endless flood of news that flashes so fast past your eyes like bright headlights on a dark road that it brings only blinding disorientation and little illumination.

It’s all that, but more broadly, it’s that this is the ugly place where we live now, and it’s very hard to figure out how to find our way out. Are you completely exhausted by it? Me too.

Which is why, sometimes really late at night when it is quiet, I think about an alternate universe for the internet: one in which the internet actually managed to remain a pretty nifty place, as it was in the early days. 

Is it just a fantasy? Maybe, but it certainly seemed that could be the internet’s path when I first saw Tumblr. 

In its earliest incarnation, the kaleidoscope of a microblogging platform was rich with quirky communities, wonderful memes and, most of all, where vibrant creativity once reigned and often astonished. It was one of the most delightful places one could be at the time.

I am not, of course, talking about today’s Tumblr, which was bought this weekby WordPress’s parent company, Automattic, from Verizon, which had bought AOL, which had bought Yahoo, which had originally bought Tumblr for $1.1 billion in 2013.

Yahoo’s acquisition of Tumblr caused a giant hubbub in the social media space after it was heralded by Yahoo’s chief executive at the time, Marissa Mayer, as the cornerstone in her plot to take over the digital media world. She promised not to meddle with Tumblr’s magic and not “screw it up.”

Oops. It was soon meddled with and screwed with a lot by a series of owners. Its slow decline is a fact that should have come as no surprise to anyone, given the sloppy handovers from one brain-numbing corporate entity to another over the years, as well as a series of vexing internal and external challenges it could not easily overcome.

The price today? It reportedly sold for as low as $3 million, which many have pointed out is about what one will pay for a middling Silicon Valley dwelling. Ha. Ha. Ha. Sigh, because such a joke is peak 2019, even though the minuscule sale is hardly the point anymore.

This was not the fate anyone imagined when Tumblr was founded in early 2007 by David Karp and Marco Arment. It quickly became the brightest in a flurry of truly innovative social media developments of the time. Pronounced “tumbler,” it allowed users to post all kinds of short-form blogs called tumblelogs, which could be followed by others.

And tumble they did, especially the much-coveted teen demo and also the more fringe types who had no interest in the dull blue suburb that was the then 3-year-old Facebook. Unlike that site, which its founder, Mark Zuckerberg, called a “utility,” Tumblr was the hippest club in town, attracting wonderful blogs like Scanwiches (yes, scans of sandwiches) and Garfield Minus Garfield (just what it sounds like) and one of my faves, which I could really relate to at the time, called STFU Parents (“You used to be fun. Now you have a baby.”) And so much terrific art and so many amazing photos and a cornucopia of funny bits and pieces of just about everything.

I even had (and still have) what is now a moribund blog there, called “Graffiti From the Gods,” which I explained a decade ago: “I find signs everywhere. On sidewalks. On walls. Sometimes misspelled. I cannot ignore them. So it is written, so it shall be posted.” 

I really enjoyed posting there. And why not? The always twitchy Twitter had only started the year before with significantly fewer bells and whistles and, more to the point, the social networks that would really supplant Tumblr — Instagram and Snapchat — would not appear for several years. That left the field to Tumblr.

Thus, it quickly got its lofty valuation with $125 million in investments from tech’s smartest investors and took off. It hit a billion blog posts by 2010, and when the site started accepting advertising in 2012, Tumblr seemed golden.

Fool’s gold. What plagues the internet today hit Tumblr hard and early. There were the inevitable copyright problems and spam and security problems and product problems. And the content itself, which started as edgy, got rather gnarly, from self-harm sites to neo-Nazis to what really tanked Tumblr: sex.

[snip]

Talk about unintended consequences: GDPR is an identity thief’s dream ticket to Europeans’ data

Talk about unintended consequences: GDPR is an identity thief’s dream ticket to Europeans’ data
Revenge plan morphs into data leak discovery
By Iain Thomson
Aug 9 2019
https://www.theregister.co.uk/2019/08/09/gdpr_identity_thief/

Black Hat When Europe introduced the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) it was supposed to be a major step forward in data safety, but sloppy implementation and a little social engineering can make it heaven for identity thieves.

In a presentation at the Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas James Pavur, a PhD student at Oxford University who usually specialises in satellite hacking, explained how he was able to game the GDPR system to get all kinds of useful information on his fiancée, including credit card and social security numbers, passwords, and even her mother’s maiden name.

“Privacy laws, like any other infosecurity control, have exploitable vulnerabilities,” he said. “If we’d look at these vulnerabilities before the law was enacted, we could pick up on them.”

Pavur’s research started in an unlikely place – the departure lounge of a Polish airport. After the flight he and his fiancée were supposed to travel on was delayed, they joked about spamming the airline with GDPR requests to get revenge. They didn’t, but it sparked an idea to see what information you could get on other people and Pavur’s partner agreed to act as a guinea pig for the experiment.

For social engineering purposes, GDPR has a number of real benefits, Pavur said. Firstly, companies only have a month to reply to requests and face fines of up to 4 per cent of revenues if they don’t comply, so fear of failure and time are strong motivating factors.

In addition, the type of people who handle GDPR requests are usually admin or legal staff, not security people used to social engineering tactics. This makes information gathering much easier.

Over the space of two months Pavur sent out 150 GDPR requests in his fiancée’s name, asking for all and any data on her. In all, 72 per cent of companies replied back, and 83 companies said that they had information on her.

Interestingly, five per cent of responses, mainly from large US companies, said that they weren’t liable to GDPR rules. They may be in for a rude shock if they have a meaningful presence in the EU and come before the courts.

Of the responses, 24 per cent simply accepted an email address and phone number as proof of identity and sent over any files they had on his fiancée. A further 16 per cent requested easily forged ID information and 3 per cent took the rather extreme step of simply deleting her accounts.

A lot of companies asked for her account login details as proof of identity, which is actually a pretty good idea, Pavur opined. But when one gaming company tried it, he simply said he’d forgotten the login and they sent it anyway.

The range of information the companies sent in is disturbing. An educational software company sent Pavur his fiancée’s social security number, date of birth and her mother’s maiden name. Another firm sent over 10 digits of her credit card number, the expiration date, card type and her postcode.

A threat intelligence company – not Have I been Pwned – sent over a list of her email addresses and passwords which had already been compromised in attacks. Several of these still worked on some accounts – Pavur said he has now set her up with a password manager to avoid repetition of this.

“An organisation she had never heard of, and never interacted with, had some of the most sensitive data about her,” he said. “GDPR provided a pretext for anyone in the world to collect that information.”

Fixing this issue is going to take action from both legislators and companies, Pavur said.

First off, lawmakers need to set a standard for what is a legitimate form of ID for GDPR requests. One rail company was happy to send out personal information, accepting a used envelope addressed to the fiancée as proof of identity.

[snip]

Our Brains Tell Stories So We Can Live

Our Brains Tell Stories So We Can Live
Without inner narratives we would be lost in a chaotic world.
By ROBERT A. BURTON
Aug 8 2019
http://nautil.us/issue/75/story/our-brains-tell-stories-so-we-can-live

We are all storytellers; we make sense out of the world by telling stories. And science is a great source of stories. Not so, you might argue. Science is an objective collection and interpretation of data. I completely agree. At the level of the study of purely physical phenomena, science is the only reliable method for establishing the facts of the world.

But when we use data of the physical world to explain phenomena that cannot be reduced to physical facts, or when we extend incomplete data to draw general conclusions, we are telling stories. Knowing the atomic weight of carbon and oxygen cannot tell us what life is. There are no naked facts that completely explain why animals sacrifice themselves for the good of their kin, why we fall in love, the meaning and purpose of existence, or why we kill each other.

Science is not at fault. On the contrary, science can save us from false stories. It is an irreplaceable means of understanding our world. But despite the verities of science, many of our most important questions compel us to tell stories that venture beyond the facts. For all of the sophisticated methodologies in science, we have not moved beyond the story as the primary way that we make sense of our lives.

To see where science and story meet, let’s take a look at how story is created in the brain. Let’s begin with an utterly simple example of a story, offered by E. M. Forster in his classic book on writing, Aspects of the Novel: “The king died and then the queen died.” It is nearly impossible to read this juxtaposition of events without wondering why the queen died. Even with a minimum of description, the construction of the sentence makes us guess at a pattern. Why would the author mention both events in the same sentence if he didn’t mean to imply a causal relationship?

Once a relationship has been suggested, we feel obliged to come up with an explanation. This makes us turn to what we know, to our storehouse of facts. It is general knowledge that a spouse can die of grief. Did the queen then die of heartbreak? This possibility draws on the science of human behavior, which competes with other, more traditional narratives. A high school student who has been studying Hamlet, for instance, might read the story as a microsynopsis of the play.

The pleasurable feeling that our explanation is the right one—ranging from a modest sense of familiarity to the powerful and sublime “a-ha!”—is meted out by the same reward system in the brain integral to drug, alcohol, and gambling addictions. The reward system extends from the limbic area of the brain, vital to the expression of emotion, to the prefrontal cortex, critical to executive thought. Though still imperfectly understood, it is generally thought that the reward system plays a central role in the promotion and reinforcement of learning. Key to the system, and found primarily within its brain cells, is dopamine, a neurotransmitter that carries and modulates signals among brain cells. Studies consistently show that feeling rewarded is accompanied by a rise in dopamine levels.

This reward system was first noted in the 1950s by two McGill University researchers, James Olds and Peter Milner. Stimulating electrodes were placed in presumed brain reward areas of rats. When allowed full unrestricted access to a lever that, when depressed, would cause the electrodes to fire, the rats quickly learned to repeatedly depress the lever, often to the exclusion of food and water. Realizing that our brains are capable of producing feelings so intense that we choose to ignore such basic drives as hunger and thirst was a first step toward understanding the enormous power of the brain’s reward circuitry.

Critical to understanding how stories spark the brain’s reward system is the theory known as pattern recognition—the brain’s way of piecing together a number of separate components of an image into a coherent picture. The first time you see a lion, for instance, you have to figure out what you’re seeing. At least 30 separate areas of the brain’s visual cortex pitch in, each processing an aspect of the overall image—from the detection of motion and edges, to the register of color and facial features. Collectively they form an overall image of a lion.

Each subsequent exposure to a lion enhances your neural circuitry; the connections among processing regions become more robust and efficient. (This theory, based on the research of Canadian psychologist Donald O. Hebb, a pioneer in studying how people learn, is often stated as “cells that fire together wire together.”) Soon, less input is necessary to recognize the lion. A fleeting glimpse of a partial picture is sufficient for recognition, which occurs via positive feedback from your reward system. Yes, you are assured by your brain, that is a lion.

An efficient pattern recognition of a lion makes perfect evolutionary sense. If you see a large feline shape moving in some nearby brush, it is unwise to wait until you see the yellows of the lion’s eyes before starting to run up the nearest tree. You need a brain that quickly detects entire shapes from fragments of the total picture and provides you with a powerful sense of the accuracy of this recognition.

One need only think of the recognition of a new pattern that is so profound that it triggers an involuntary “a-ha!” to understand the degree of pleasure that can be associated with learning. It’s no wonder that once a particular pattern-recognition-reward relationship is well grooved into our circuitry, it is hard to shake. In general—outside of addiction, that is—this “stickiness” of a correlation is a good thing. It is through repetition and the sense of familiarity and “rightness” of a correlation that we learn to navigate our way in the world.

[snip]

Counting Calories to Stay Fit? There’s a Trillion Little Problems With That.

Counting Calories to Stay Fit? There’s a Trillion Little Problems With That.
New discoveries about the microbiome are complicating what we thought we knew about losing weight.
By TOM PHILPOTT
Jul/Aug 2019 Issue
https://www.motherjones.com/food/2019/08/counting-calories-to-stay-fit-theres-a-trillion-little-problems-with-that/

More than 120 years ago, a scientist named Wilbur Atwater launched what would become an enduring dieting trend: He started meticulously counting calories. In a series of experiments, Atwater set fire to hundreds of foods and measured the released energy. In another experiment, he and his team planted a grad student in an airtight “room calorimeter” and passed him portions of bread and beans and determined how much heat, carbon dioxide, and waste he generated. To this day, when the food industry lists calories on labels, as required by federal law, it often relies on Atwater’s calculations.

Atwater’s work helped give rise to the nutritional dogma that your body weight is governed by whether you burn off all the calories you eat. Just ask chips-and-soda giant PepsiCo. When “the amount of calories you take in equals the amount of calories you burn,” the company insists on its website, “you maintain your body weight.” Excess calories will stick around as “body fat and weight gain,” warns the Department of Agriculture’s Weight Management webpage. This is true whether they “come from protein, fat, carbohydrate, or alcohol.”

But recent research challenges this belief. The scientists during Atwater’s era saw the human digestive system as a single engine producing a predictable quantity of energy from a given amount of fuel. Yet the human gut contains a multitude of engines, and they interact with each other in ways science is just beginning to unravel. Over the past 15 years, a fast-growing body of literature suggests that the gut microbiome—the trillions of microbes that live inside us—shapes the way we metabolize food and may play an important role in how we gain weight.

Our microbiome is sensitive to our diets—including which medicines we take. Several recent studies have shown that infants repeatedly treated with antibiotics are at significantly higher risk of being overweight in early childhood. Antibiotics, it turns out, reconfigure your gut’s balance in favor of microbes that help us store food as body fat. “We’re four generations or so into [the age of] antibiotics already,” says Martin Blaser, a professor of medicine and microbiology at Rutgers and the author of Missing Microbes: How the Overuse of Antibiotics Is Fueling Our Modern Plagues. As a result, our microbiomes are better at helping us store fatthan those of our ancestors.

Antibiotics aren’t the only force shifting our internal ecology. Modern diets are full of processed foods and low in fiber, the kind of hard-to-break-down carbohydrates found especially in vegetables, legumes, and whole grains that are crucial for a healthy microbiome.

The vast majority of our internal microbes live in the far reaches of our digestive tract, the colon, explains Justin Sonnenburg, an associate professor of microbiology and immunology at Stanford. Because of their location, these microscopic critters “really only get access to the dregs of what we eat”—the dietary fiber that our organs can’t digest. The microbes have evolved to process that fiber by fermenting it with enzymes.

Researchers, including Sonnenburg, are still sorting out exactly why, but feeding this fermentation process appears to be crucial for averting weight gain and diseases like obesity and Type 2 diabetes. For example, a 2017 study by Georgia State University professor Andrew Gewirtz found that mice fed high-fat diets and no fermentable fiber gained weight and added visceral fat—the kind that sits at the midsection and can trigger a range of metabolic problems. Adding inulin, a fermentable fiber supplement, dramatically cut the effect.

[snip]