Saturday, 23 June

14:00 EDT

How Jurassic Park led to the modernization of dinosaur paleontology [The Verge - All Posts]

Paleontologist Steve Brusatte loves Jurassic Park. Without it, he jokes, he wouldn’t even have a job. So he’s not going to criticize all the inaccuracies in the Hollywood franchise. But he’s also studied dinosaurs his whole life (real ones, with feathers), so he loves talking about giant creatures that ruled over the Earth millions of years ago.

In his new book The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World, Brusatte, a professor at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, charts the origins of dinosaurs from the beginning of the Triassic period all the way to their abrupt disappearance about 66 million years ago. He also takes a close look at the evolution of the field of paleontology, and how it has diversified and...

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13:00 EDT

Oracle Plans To Switch Businesses to Subscriptions for Java SE [Slashdot]

A reminder for commenters: non-commercial use of Java remains free. An anonymous reader quotes InfoWorld: Oracle has revamped its commercial support program for Java SE (Standard Edition), opting for a subscription model instead of one that has had businesses paying for a one-time perpetual license plus an annual support fee... It is required for Java SE 8, and includes support for Java SE 7. (As of January 2019, Oracle will require a subscription for businesses to continue getting updates to Java SE 8.) The price is $25 per month per processor for servers and cloud instances, with volume discounts available. For PCs, the price starts at $2.50 per month per user, again with volume discounts. One-, two-, and three-year subscriptions are available... The previous pricing for the Java SE Advanced program cost $5,000 for a license for each server processor plus a $1,100 annual support fee per server processor, as well as $110 one-time license fee per named user and a $22 annual support fee per named user (each processor has a ten-user minimum)... If users do not renew a subscription, they lose rights to any commercial software downloaded during the subscription. Access to Oracle Premier Support also ends. Oracle recommends that those choosing not to renew transition to OpenJDK binaries from the company, offered under the GPL, before their subscription ends. Doing so will let users keep running applications uninterrupted. Oracle's senior director of product management stresses that the company is "working to make the Oracle JDK and OpenJDK builds from Oracle interchangeable -- targeting developers and organisations that do not want commercial support or enterprise management tools."

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Star Wars fans: You have to see this animated ASCII remake of Episode IV [Boing Boing]

It was 1997 when Simon Jansen started his remake of the first Star Wars film -- Episode IV - A New Hope -- as an ASCII animation (or "asciimation," as he coined it). (more…)

Katie Arrington, S.C. Republican Who Beat Mark Sanford, Is Badly Injured In Car Crash [News : NPR]

The state lawmaker surprised the political world when she upset the incumbent in a GOP primary just a week and a half ago. Now, Arrington is in the hospital after a fatal collision Friday night.

U.S. And South Korea Agree To Suspend Upcoming Military Exercises Indefinitely [News : NPR]

A photo of President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is on display as a member of People

The announcement of additional suspensions follows the summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un earlier this month.

(Image credit: Ahn Young-joon/AP)

7 new trailers you should watch this week [The Verge - All Posts]

I know watching movies on plane screens is supposed to be a cinematic sin, but there’s also something great about using a flight to catch movies you might have otherwise skipped over when given a wider library to pick from on land. The tough part is picking out something that’ll play well on the smaller screen.

Earlier this year, I saw Battle of the Sexes and Murder on the Orient Express while on flights for work. Even my desperate need for entertainment couldn’t save Orient Express, which, I don’t know, I guess I shouldn’t have expected more of. But Battle of the Sexes was so relentlessly fun and big that it locked me in, fuzzy screen and all.

So what makes a movie right for planes? I’m not sure; it’s probably a little different for...

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Weekend deals on Razer laptops, an LG soundbar, and more [The Verge - All Posts]

The best time to buy gadgets during the summer is usually around July 4th or Amazon Prime Day, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few sales worth checking out in the meantime.

Razer is offering special weekend sale on a few of its Razer Blade gaming-focused laptops. While every model is receiving some kind of discount, the best deals are for the Razer Blade Stealth 13 and the Razer Blade Pro 17. They might look similar, but keep in mind that these are two very different models. The Blade Stealth 13 is a capable laptop with tremendous battery life and a high-resolution display, and it’s been marked down $200 this weekend. The Razer Blade Pro 17 is $500 off this weekend. It’s bigger and comes with a couple of other freebies like a Razer...

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12:00 EDT

Red Hat Changes Its Open-Source Licensing Rules [Slashdot]

An anonymous reader quotes ZDNet: When leading Linux company Red Hat announces that -- from here on out -- all new Red Hat-initiated open-source projects that use the GNU General Public License (GPLv2) or GNU Lesser General Public License (LGPL) v2.1 licenses will be expected to supplement the license with GPL version 3 (GPLv3)'s cure commitment language, it's a big deal. Both older open-source licenses are widely used. When the GPLv3 was released, it came with an express termination approach that offered developers the chance to cure license compliance errors. This termination policy in GPLv3 provided a way for companies to repair licensing errors and mistakes... Other companies -- CA Technologies, Cisco, HPE, Microsoft, SAP, and SUSE -- have taken similar GPL positions... In its new position statement, Red Hat explained that the GPLv2 and LGPL, as written, has led to the belief that automatic license termination and copyright infringement claims can result from a single act of inadvertent non-compliance. "We hope that others will also join in this endeavor," says Red Hat's senior commercial counsel, Richard Fontana, "to reassure the open source community that good faith efforts to fix noncompliance will be embraced." ZDNet points out that the move to new licenses "doesn't apply, of course, to Linux itself. Linus Torvalds has made it abundantly clear that Linux has been, will now, and always shall be under the GPLv2."

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Insecure internet security cameras and nannycams are actively exploited by voyeurs to spy on owners [Boing Boing]

Shenzhen Gwelltimes Technology Co., Ltd is the white-label vendor behind a whole constellation of Internet of Things networked home cameras sold as security cameras, baby monitors, pet monitors, and similar technologies; these cameras are designed to be monitored by their owners using an app, and because of farcically bad default passwords ("123") and other foolish security practices (such as sequentially numbering each camera, allowing attackers to enumerate vulnerable devices), the devices are trivial to locate and hijack over the internet. (more…)

Look closely: These Hawaiian shirts depict our plastic-polluted oceans [Boing Boing]

A staggering eight million tons of plastic trash is dumped in our oceans each year, according to a 2015 Science report.

As a way of putting a spotlight on the issue, Spanish designer Adolfo Correa created the art for The Paradise? Shirt, a Hawaiian-style shirt that, at first glance, looks standard-issue. Look closer and you'll see he's put plastic waste -- like toothbrushes and six-pack rings -- into the design.

The shirt was a collaboration between Wieden + Kennedy Amsterdam, Corona and Parley for the Oceans, created for World Oceans Day (June 8). The limited-edition shirts were being sold at the World Surf League Store for $69/each but have already sold out. https://vimeo.com/274255636

images via Adolfo Correa

(Dezeen)

11:00 EDT

Acer Chromebook Tab 10 review: Chrome OS revives Google’s tablet future [Ars Technica]

Enlarge / Hellllloooooo Chrome OS tablets. (credit: Valentina Palladino)

Chrome OS took over schools with clamshells, but now Google is shaking things up with slabs. After a spring announcement, Acer has built the first Chrome OS tablet, the $329 Chromebook Tab 10, to give teachers and students a more flexible device to use for schoolwork both in and out of the classroom.

Some might perk up at the idea of a lightweight yet durable tablet with a 2048×1536 display and a built-in Wacom stylus running Chrome OS, but this device (like many other Chrome OS devices) will only be sold in the education market. While regular consumers may not be able to get their hands on the Chromebook Tab 10, however, there will be more Chrome OS tablets to come that will be sold to the general public.

After spending some time with this inaugural Chrome OS tablet, it would be remiss to think that it's essentially the same thing as an Android tablet—devices that are largely unsupported at this point. We may not be traditional educators or students at this point, but Ars tested the Chromebook Tab 10 with a few things in mind: how does the Chrome OS experience translate on a tablet sans-keyboard? And, perhaps more importantly, can Chrome OS bring Google's tablet category back from the dead?

Read 44 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Tech Giants Urge Congress To 'Protect Entrepreneurs' From Supreme Court Ruling [Slashdot]

U.S. states can now require online retailers to collect local sales taxes, according to a recent Supreme Court ruling that could affect thousands of third-party sellers on top tech sites. An anonymous reader quotes The Verge: In fact, Amazon, which last year started collecting sales tax in all 45 states that require it by law, may have a substantial amount of work to do to help its Amazon Marketplace sellers stay compliant. Yet we don't know if that burden will fall primarily on Amazon or if it will be the responsibility of the sellers. More than 50 percent of all sales on the site are conducted via third-party sellers, some of which use Amazon for fulfillment but otherwise operate independent small- to medium-sized businesses... Etsy, eBay, and others are in similar boats. According to the US Government Accountability Office, as much as $13 billion in annual sales tax revenue is at stake.... Etsy is concerned about what it sees as "significant complexities in the thousands of state and local sales tax laws" and that by overruling the Quill decision, the Supreme Court has put the ball in Congress' court. "We believe there is now a call to action for Congress to create a simple, fair federal solution for micro-businesses," Silverman added. The Verge writes that "the case may be litigated for years to come to figure out how to account for the over 10,000 state jurisdictions that govern sales tax across the country. That is, unless congressional legislation supersedes the state court decisions... Even groups that were in favor of the ruling, like the nonpartisan research institute the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, are imploring Congress to act." eBay has already mass-emailed many of their users urging them to sign an online petition "to protect entrepreneurs, artisans and small businesses from potentially devastating Internet sales tax legislation." The petition presses state governors, U.S. lawmakers, and president Trump to "support the millions of small businesses and consumers across the country." Keep reading to see what eBay is urging legislators to do...

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Googlers' ethical refusal to build airgap systems curtailed Google's ability to bid on sensitive military contracts [Boing Boing]

A group of elite Google Cloud engineers simply refused to put any work into an airgap system designed to let the company bid on sensitive military contracts, which undermined the company's ability to seek military work. (more…)

Would you buy a $28 bottle of "unfiltered Hot Dog Water"? Some people in Canada did [Boing Boing]

What's in the water in one Canadian city? Uncooked hot dogs, apparently.

Last weekend, a reality-hacking hero offered bottles of unfiltered, "keto-compatible" "Hot Dog Water" at a Vancouver street festival for CAN$37.99 (~US$28) a pop. The vendor, performance artist/"foodie-troller" Douglas Bevans, claimed his special water (which included a real hot dog inside each bottle) had health benefits.

"Several" people "bought-and-consumed" his expensive meat water though his hilarious venture didn't turn a profit, according to the blog Vancouver is Awesome. The blog also shared Bevans' reason for selling it in the first place, which appeared at the bottom of the health claim:

If you get all the way to the fine print, you’ll find this: “HOT DOG WATER IN ITS ABSURDITY HOPES TO ENCOURAGE CRITICAL THINKING RELATED TO PRODUCT MARKETING AND THE SIGNIFICANT ROLE IT CAN PLAY IN OUR PURCHASING CHOICES.”

Bravo, well done! https://www.instagram.com/p/BkJrgGmFyL5/?taken-by=bernadettiums https://www.instagram.com/p/BkJHk7TlCVg/?utm_source=ig_embed

lead image by Bernadette Price, 2nd image by Franklin Sayre, both used with permission

This cordless Dyson vacuum helps you clean every corner of your living space [Boing Boing]

Spring came and went, but we're not here to judge if you didn't get around to cleaning up your living space. After all, taking the time to vacuum your floors can stretch out into a lengthy task when you're constantly switching between power outlets and trying to jam your machine into those tight corners. With the Dyson V6 Bagless Cordless Handheld Vacuum with HEPA Filter, you can sidestep the vacuum hassles and finally catch up on your spring cleaning. It's available today for $179.99. Powered by Dyson's digital V6 motor and armed with cyclonic technology, this bagless, cordless, handheld vacuum uses cyclonic technology to separate dirt from the air and deliver more than 3x the suction power. Its rinseable HEPA filter traps dust, pet dander, and pollen while you clean, preventing it from escaping back to the air. And, with the included crevice and combination tool, you can easily get dirt out of those troublesome corners. The Dyson V6 Bagless Cordless Handheld Vacuum with HEPA Filter is available in the Boing Boing Store for $179.99.

At this rodeo, robots enter downed planes and explore fake radioactive disasters [The Verge - All Posts]

Last week in the New Mexico desert, military and civilian bomb squads faced off at the 12th annual Robot Rodeo, which is a week of intense training organized by Sandia National Laboratories. To test their skills, bomb squads steered their bots to enter downed planes, explore faux-radioactive disaster sites, and climb flights of stairs.

“Everybody else is running away from the bomb, and these guys are going in,” says Jake Deuel, robotics manager at Sandia and coordinator of the rodeo. His goal is for the event to help bomb squads tackle real-world situations and learn what their robots can and cannot do. “We train these guys to come home safe,” he says.

Some of the crafted scenarios are designed to test the robot operators’ skills and...

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10:00 EDT

How American Vandal expertly crafted a doc (that just happened to be fiction) [Ars Technica]

The American Vandal creative team chats with Ars at ATX TV Festival 2018. (video link)

AUSTIN, Texas—Among the reasons Netflix’s American Vandal worked: dedication, not just to the bit but to the DNA. The creative team had an obsession with true crime documentaries, obviously. But they didn’t set out to make an homage, showrunner Dan Lagana and co-creators Dan Perrault and Tony Yacenda told Ars at this summer’s ATX TV Festival. Instead, they wanted to approach their fictional, scripted high school drama the exact same way Sarah Koenig (Serial) or Andrew Jarecki (The Jinx) would—like they were creating the most important documentary in the world.

“We didn’t want to do a parody. We love that stuff,” Yacenda later told the crowd during the show’s panel. “Sarah Koenig is a genius, what she did bringing us in as an unreliable narrator told a story in a way journalists wouldn’t before. We thought maybe we can do this for fictional narrative… if we use the tools our favorite documentarians use to get the audience to care, could we get people to care about dicks?”

Read 17 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Researchers Fish Yellowcake Uranium From the Sea With a Piece of Yarn [Slashdot]

Wave723 shares a report from IEEE Spectrum: Researchers at the U.S. Energy Department's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) and LCW Supercritical Technologies made use of readily available acrylic fibers to pull five grams of yellowcake -- a powdered form of uranium used to produce fuel for nuclear power reactors -- from seawater. The milestone, announced in mid-June, follows seven years of work and a roughly US $25 million investment by the federal energy agency. Another $1.15 million is being channeled to LCW as it attempts to scale up the technique for commercial use. The effort builds on work by Japanese researchers in the late 1990s and was prompted by interest in finding alternative sources of uranium for a future time when terrestrial sources are depleted. "[U]ranium in seawater shows up in concentrations of around 3.3 parts per billion," the report notes. "With a total volume estimated at more than 4 billion tons, there is around 500 times more uranium in seawater than in land-based sources."

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

'Rolling Stone' gives an unflinching portrait of Johnny Depp and the financial mess he's in [Boing Boing]

Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow After "a month and almost 200 e-mails," Rolling Stone writer Stephen Rodrick succumbed to an interview with Johnny Depp at his London home to discuss how the 55-year-old actor lost nearly all of his $650M fortune. The piece was devised by his lawyer in an effort to put Depp and his financial woes in a positive light, instead Rodrick compared Depp to a late-stage Marlon Brando and detailed the eccentricities he witnessed over a 72-hour period. The longform interview is a brutal portrait of a man who's suing the people who once handled his money.
It's estimated that Depp has made $650 million on films that netted $3.6 billion. Almost all of it is gone. He's suing The Management Group, run by his longtime business manager, Joel Mandel, and his brother Robert for negligence, breach of fiduciary duty and fraud...

The Mandels categorically deny all wrongdoing and are countersuing, alleging that Depp breached his oral contract with the company. The suit suggests that Depp has a $2-million-a-month compulsory-spending disorder, offering bons mots like "Wine is not an investment if you drink it as soon as you buy it."...

Rodrick's interview with Depp was published Wednesday and by Friday Deadline was reporting that it did him no favors in an article titled, Johnny Depp Loses Bid To Delay $25M Fraud Trial On Heels Of Train Wreck Rolling Stone Profile.

They describe Depp's legal troubles as so:

Now battling ex-bodyguards who claim drug abuse and owed pay and a countersuit from his former longtime attorney too, Depp first sued The Management Group back in January 2017.

At the time and since, the actor alleged that despite making hundreds of millions of dollars he was feeling the financial pinch because of having been swindled in the Hollywood accounting shell game by those trusted and the much respected TMG.

The Management Group swung back with a countersuit of their own on the last day of the first month of 2017 over unpaid commissions and tales of excess and irresponsibility, to put it very mildly, that proclaimed that the up tp $20 million a picture plus a share of profits actor’s spending habits were the real cause of his apparently emptying bank accounts. Among the various residences, dozens of vehicles, tens of thousands a month on wine, guitar collection, artwork, hangers-on, sibling provisions, security, acting assistants and other indulgences, TMG’s reaction revealed that the Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas star paid out $3 million to have Hunter S. Thompson’s ashes shoot out of a cannon in 2005 and forks out more $2-million in monthly expenses.

About that cannon, from the Rolling Stone article:

Depp says they got the Hunter S. Thompson cannon story wrong too. "By the way, it was not $3 million to shoot Hunter into the fucking sky," says Depp. "It was $5 million."
Oof. https://twitter.com/stephenrodrick/status/1009778406148325377

Read: Rolling Stone's The Trouble With Johnny Depp

Tune in at noon! [Pharyngula]

I’ll be talking to Phrenomythic at noon Central time today about various evo devo things and aliens. Join us!

You might also do some homework and watch his video on basic body plans ahead of time.

Analysis Finds Geographic Overlap In Opioid Use And Trump Support In 2016 [News : NPR]

In 2016, Donald Trump captured 68 percent of the vote in West Virginia, a state hit hard by opioid overdoses.

Counties with higher rates of opioid use skewed heavily Republican in the 2016 election. What role did the opioid epidemic play in President Trump's victory?

(Image credit: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Gaming Addiction Disorder; White House Pitches Big Changes For Education Department [News : NPR]

Boy playing on phone

Also in our weekly roundup of education news, the Federal Commission on School Safety met publicly to brainstorm ideas around how to make schools safer.

(Image credit: Alex Green/Getty Images/Ikon Images)

ZTE claims it can’t fix its broken urinal because of the US export ban [The Verge - All Posts]

The US Department of Commerce in April banned exports to ZTE, which has left the company struggling to continue operations — apparently down to some basic office maintenance levels. According to a report by Southern China Morning Post, the company is claiming that it cannot fix a broken urinal at its Shenzhen office because it is made by American Standard, a New Jersey-based manufacturer.

A photo shared on the Chinese microblogging site Weibo shows a note above the offending urinal, saying that it cannot be fixed without ordering parts from the US, which would violate sanctions. “Our company is now subject to the export ban posed by the US government. Since this bathroom appliance is a product of American Standard, we...

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08:00 EDT

Tesla fires back against alleged whistleblower: “He is nothing of the sort” [Ars Technica]

Enlarge

Tesla is now wholly refuting the claims made by an ex-employee and self-proclaimed whistleblower who previously leaked information to the press.

In a lengthy statement provided Friday to Ars via a Tesla spokesperson, the company flatly denied that Martin Tripp, the man that the company sued earlier this week for alleged trade secrets violations, had any noble motivations.

"He is nothing of the sort," the company wrote. "He is someone who stole Tesla data through highly pernicious means and transferred that data to unknown amounts of third parties, all while making easily disprovable claims about the company in order to try to harm it."

Read 25 remaining paragraphs | Comments

A Global Guide For Leery Travelers [News : NPR]

The beaches of Brazil beckon — but travelers need to find out if they

Is your destination too dangerous? How do you protect yourself from health threats?

(Image credit: Diego Herculano/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

07:00 EDT

Making Comics [Cool Tools]

Magnificent! A work of genius. The best how-to manual ever published. I could keep piling on the superlatives because this book is simply a masterpiece. At one level, it is a comic book about how to make comics, and for that it is supreme; the best. It will walk you through every step of making a comic, including how to make them on the web, digitally, or in pen and ink. I’ve been working on a near-completed graphic novel, and every page has told me something important and spot on. With brilliant graphics, Scott McCloud combines the most profound insights from his two previous books, Understanding Comics and Reinventing Comics. But in this book he raises your understanding of graphic communication further by making every lesson utterly practical and useful for both novice and expert. I can’t imagine anyone ever doing a comic manual better.

However, even if you are not planning on making a graphic novel, this book is a gold mine. McCloud’s section on constructing facial expressions and emotions is astounding, and worth the price of the book alone. The clever way McCloud arrays human expressions in one chart reminds me of the first time I saw all the colors arranged in a color wheel; it’s the same aha! The insights McCloud extracts from comics and presents so vividly here are useful to novelists, sociologists, film makers, artists, roboticists — anyone interested in human expression. That’s probably you.

Indeed, even if you have no interest in comics at all, this charming book will win a place in your life because ultimately it is about communication and stories — and those are the foundations of all cultures. Making Comics teaches you the visual elements of stories. If I had to re-title it, I would call this book Making Visual Stories.

Finally, as an example of communication itself, this comic book has few peers. I read, review and use hundreds of how-to books every year. I can’t think of any instructional manual in any subject that is clearer, more thorough, more honest, more user friendly than Making Comics.

As I said, it’s a classic. You can expect to find marked-up copies on bookshelves (or on hard drives) a hundred years from now.

Scott McCloud's website, featuring chapter

Sample Excerpts:

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Valve's Knuckles EV2 Controller Will Let You Squeeze Things In VR [Slashdot]

Valve's "Knuckles" controllers for VR, first introduced in 2016, are getting upgraded. According to Engadget, Valve is "sending game makers another version, the EV2, that has revamped buttons, straps and a slew of sensors that essentially translate finger motion and pressure to let you touch, grab and squeeze objects inside games." From the report: Some of the EV2's changes are evident: The old Steam Controller-style touchpad that dominated the controller's top has been shrunken to an oval 'track button' that measures touch and force. That's flanked by traditional inputs: A joystick (by developer demand, Valve noted in a blog post) and standard circular buttons. The strap is adjustable for different hand sizes and pulls tight to let players let go of the controller completely without dropping it -- which could be key for the pressure inputs. While last year's model had touch inputs tracking each finger in the 'grip' area, the EV2 introduces pressure sensors that measure how much force the wielder is using. Obviously, this has implications for VR developers who want players to grip or squeeze objects in the world, but as Valve's blog post points out, combining those with the touch sensors tells games when players let go of the grips -- like, say, when they're throwing things in-game. Lastly, the battery life has been extended to last six hours.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

05:00 EDT

Large Methane Leaks Threaten Perception Of 'Clean' Natural Gas [News : NPR]

A gas flare is seen at a natural gas processing facility near Williston, N.D. in 2015. A new study says the amount of methane leaking is more than government estimates.

A new study finds that oil and gas operations are leaking 60 percent more methane than previously reported by the federal government.

(Image credit: Matthew Brown/AP)

04:00 EDT

Tesla To Close a Dozen Solar Facilities In 9 States [Slashdot]

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNBC: Electric car maker Tesla's move last week to cut 9 percent of its workforce will sharply downsize the residential solar business it bought two years ago in a controversial $2.6 billion deal, according to three internal company documents and seven current and former Tesla solar employees. The latest cuts to the division that was once SolarCity -- a sales and installation company founded by two cousins of Tesla CEO Elon Musk -- include closing about a dozen installation facilities, according to internal company documents, and ending a retail partnership with Home Depot that the current and former employees said generated about half of its sales. About 60 installation facilities remain open, according to an internal company list reviewed by Reuters. An internal company email named 14 facilities slated for closure, but the other list included only 13 of those locations.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

01:00 EDT

Link [… My heart’s in Accra]

On Wednesday, June 20th, Matt Smith and Aura Bogado broke a harrowing story about the Shiloh Treatment Center, south of Houston, TX, one of the contractors the Trump administration is using to house migrant children who were separated from their parents. Their report for Reveal, a Center for Investigative Reporting publication, and The Texas Tribune is based on an analysis of federal court filings, which allege that children held at Shiloh have been forcibly subdued with powerful psychiatric drugs. Released at a moment when media attention has been focused on separation of children from their families at the US/Mexico border, the story was widely shared online – as of this morning, Reveal’s tweet about the story had been retweeted 22,000 times.

The story gained attention for reasons other than its harrowing revelations. When Reveal tried to “boost” their post on Facebook, the platform alerted them that they were “Not Authorized for Ads with Political Content”. This is a new safety feature implemented by Facebook in the wake of scrutiny towards the company’s role in the 2016, permitting over 3000 ads to be illegally posted by the Russia-based Internet Research Agency, with the goal of sowing discontent in the US. Facebook is in a tough bind – they need to vet purchasers of political ads far more carefully than they have been, but thus far, their algorithmic review process is flagging some stories as ads, and allowing some ads to pass through unscreened. And Facebook Ads VP, Rob Goldman, didn’t help clarify matters by telling Reveal “…this ad, not the story, was flagged because it contains political content.”

Last night, one of the authors of the Reveal story, Aura Bogado, pointed to another problem she and Matt Smith are experiencing:

One of the long-standing patterns of the news industry is the tendency to copy reporting someone has already done. In the days when most people subscribed to a single newspaper, this copying served a helpful civic function – it helped spread news to multiple audiences, helping citizens have a common basis of news to inform democratic participation. A very clear journalistic ethic emerged around this practice: you prominently credit the publication that broke the story. You’ll see even fierce competitors, like the New York Times and the Washington Post, do this with their biggest scoops.

The internet has changed these dynamics. On the one hand, there’s no longer any civic need to copy stories – you could simply link to them instead. But there’s also a powerful financial incentive to make any story your own – the ad clicks. This story, written by Andrew Hay and bylined “Reuters staff”, shows how easily original reporters and outlets can disappear – it contains original reporting, in that it has a novel quote from Carlos Holguin, a lawyer for the Center for Human Rights & Constitutional Law, who’s cited in the Reveal piece… but it doesn’t mention Smith and Bogado, the Texas Tribune or Reveal. (Reuters is not the only outlet that’s scrubbed provenance from this story. But they are a publicly traded company with 45,000 employees, $11 billion in annual revenue, and have been in the news industry since 1851. They should know better.)

This is not only a shitty thing to do, it’s a profitable thing to do. Reuters gets the ad views from the story they largely rewrote, while the two non-profits responsible for the original reporting get nothing, not even credit.

I’ve been thinking about this problem for some time, because the origins of important news stories is one of the main uses for Media Cloud, the system we’ve been developing for almost a decade at Center for Civic Media and the Berkman Klein Center. One of our first publications, “The Battle for Trayvon Martin: Mapping a Media Controversy online and offline” is at its heart a provenance paper, trying to understand who first reported on Trayvon’s death as a way of understanding how the story turned into a national conversation on race and violence. (TL;DR: Trayvon’s family worked with civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump to pitch the story to Reuters and CBS: This Morning. It was well over a week before the internet began amplifying the story with petitions and protests.) Rob Faris and Yochai Benkler’s massive Media Cloud analysis of the 2016 US Presidential elections focuses on provenance, tracing influential stories in mainstream media publications to their origins in the fringes of the right-wing blogosphere that surround Breitbart, Gateway Pundit and others.

Media Cloud works by ingesting (usually via RSS, sometimes via scraping) all the stories from tens of thousands of media publications, multiple times a day. We can often trace the provenance of a story by identifying an appropriate search string – “Shiloh” AND (migrant* OR drug*) might work in this case – and looking to see what stories hit our database first. Often a story breaks in several places simultaneously – that’s often an indicator that it was written in reaction to a statement made by a public official or a corporate leader, not the result of long investigative reporting. This process is imperfect and requires the input of knowledgeable humans to create search strings. What if we could automate it?

We’re working on this problem, looking to create automatic signatures that identify clusters of related stories. Duncan Watts is working on it at MSR as well, generating “fingerprints” for these clusters that rely in part on named entities. And obviously Google has a clustering system working that they use to organize related stories in Google News. With automated signatures and clustering, combined with a deep database of stories collected many times a day, we might be able to identify the initial stream that leads to a later media cascade.


Attention in US mainstream media to “Larry Nassar” from January 2017 to present, via mediacloud.org

What then? Well, that would depend on what media platforms did with this data. Consider a major, ongoing story like Dr. Larry Nassar’s abuse of US gymnasts. That horrific story was uncovered by the Indy Star, who began a massive investigative series on sexual abuse within US gymnastics in August 2017, months before Nassar’s name became a household word. When platforms that aggregate, distribute and monetize news – Apple, Google, Facebook – share revenues with publishers, maybe they should check against a provenance service to find out whether they’re rewarding someone who did original journalism, or someone who’s simply chasing clicks. Perhaps one or more platform would end up sharing revenues between the publisher that captured the clicks and the one that initially sponsored the investigation.

Could this ever really happen? Yes, but it would require not only the technology to work, but for there to be pressure from readers for ethically sourced journalism. It took a great deal of work for consumers to demand that their coffee be sustainably grown and that Apple look into whether suppliers are using child labor. What Bogado and her colleagues are asking for is good for anyone who cares about the long-term future of journalism. We need more resources to investigate stories like the abuse of children at the hands of the US government. We don’t need hundreds of news outlets rushing to cover the same stories. Establishing – and rewarding – provenance of stories that start with investigative journalism could help shift the playing field for original reporting.

Yesterday’s joke protest sign just became today’s reality [Valerie Aurora's blog]

Tomorrow I’m going to a protest against the forcible separation of immigrant children from their families. When I started thinking about what sign to make, I remembered my sign for the first Women’s March protest, the day after Trump took office in January 2017. It said: “Trump hates kids and puppies… for real!!!

trump_hates_puppies
My  protest sign for the 2017 Women’s March

While I expected a lot of terrifying things to happen over the next few years, I never, never thought that Trump would deliberately tear thousands of children away from their families and put them in concentration camps. I knew he hated children; I didn’t know he hated children (specifically, brown children) so much that he’d hold them hostage to force Congress to pass his racist legislation. I did not expect him and his party to try to sell cages full of weeping little boys as future gang members. I did not expect 55% of Republican voters to support splitting up families and putting them in camps. I’m smiling at the cute dog in that photo; now the entire concept of that sign seems impossibly naive and inappropriate, much less my expression in that photo. I apologize for this sign and my joking attitude.

I remember being terrified during the months between Trump’s election and his inauguration. I couldn’t sleep; I put together a go-bag; I bought three weeks worth of food and water and stored them in the closet. I read a dozen books on fascism and failed democracies. I even built a spreadsheet tracking signs of fascism so I’d know when to leave the country.

I came up with the concept of that sign as a way to increase people’s disgust for Trump; what kind of pathetic low-life creep hates kids AND puppies? But I still didn’t get how bad things truly were; I thought Trump hated kids in the sense that he didn’t want any of them around him and wouldn’t lift a finger to help them. I didn’t understand that he—and many people in his administration—took actual pleasure in knowing they were building camps full of crying, desperate, terrified kids who may never be reunited with their parents. In January 2017, I thought I understood the evil of this administration and of a significant percentage of the people in this country; actually, I way underestimated it.

At that protest, several people asked me if Trump really hated puppies, but not one person asked me if Trump really hated kids. In retrospect, this seems ominous, not funny.

I’m going to think very carefully before creating any more “joke” protest signs. Today’s “joke” could easily be tomorrow’s reality.

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