Thursday, December 08, 2016

Trump's China tweets -- data for historians, political scientists, journalists and us

Trump's tweets and other posts provide us with an unprecedented stream of current information and data for political scientists, journalists and future historians.

The New York Times has published a thorough analysis of Donald Trump's recent phone conversation with the president of Taiwan. It takes a multifaceted look at the call, asking whether it was a "diplomatic gaffe or a calculated new start" in our relationship with China.

Only Trump, his advisors and perhaps some of the people he has been interviewing for Secretary of State can answer that question, but we can get clues as to Trump's thinking by looking at his Twitter stream.

A search of his Twitter stream for the word Taiwan, returned only four tweets:


The two October tweets are anti-Obama campaign statements.

The tweet announcing the call says "CALLED ME" in caps. Was that Trump crowing about his stature or was it intentionally saying he had not initiated the call? I cannot know, but I am certain that this was not a casual call -- it was planned and scheduled by both sides in advance.

The latest tweet justifies the call and serves as a message to China and Trump's constituency. (I have to reluctantly admit that I agree -- pretending that Taiwan does not exist is absurd).

Trump's tweets do not provide definitive answers, but they do give us more information about what is going on than we are used to.

"China" tweets

Since Trump is focusing on China, I searched of his Twitter stream for the word China. Twitter returned 276 tweets -- here are the earliest four:


Trump has been posting anti-China tweets for nearly six years. The first had little engagement -- one reply, 73 retweets and 26 likes -- while the latest one has had 22k replies, 39k retweets and 122k likes so far. He was already campaigning at the time of the first tweet, which refers to a site called shouldtrumprun.com. (Today that site contains only a copy of a statement by the Federal Election Commission saying he was eligible to run).

Who is the intended audience for these tweets? No doubt, the early tweets were intended for Trump supporters -- Breitbart readers and Limbaugh listeners -- but future tweets might also be for the general public and the Chinese government.

I have no doubt that both our State Department and the Chinese Foreign Service are well aware of the issues on which our nations co-depend and where we have conflicts, but discussions of such things are traditionally held in private. Whatever you think of Trump, he is providing us with a degree of transparency we are not used to in our politicians and civil servants.

Listening to a fireside chat
New media are mastered by new politicians and Trump's use of social media is reminiscent of the fireside chats President Roosevelt used to communicate with the American people and others when radio became ubiquitous.

If I were a political scientist, I would begin looking at these and Trump's other tweets and posts as research data, ripe for content analysis and fact-checking. They will also be data for historians one day. (The archive of network traffic during the 1991 Soviet coup attempt might be the earliest example of historical data online).

One thing is for sure -- I hope he keeps tweeting after becoming president.







Tuesday, December 06, 2016

I hope Trump keeps tweeting

I hope Trump keeps up his tweeting. They say our eyes are windows to our souls, his late-night tweets are a window to his.

Since I have a blog on the Internet in Cuba, I took a look at Trump's tweets, hoping to learn something about his likely Cuba policy. I searched his Twitter stream for tweets with the words Cuba or Cuban and Twitter returned 27 results, but only three were what I was looking for.

I was surprised to see that 20 of the tweets were about Mark Cuban, an entrepreneur, business man and outspoken Trump critic and four related to President Obama. What do those tweets reveal about Trump?

Two of the tweets illustrate his competitive nature.

In this tweet, he brags (with reason) that his reality TV show, The Apprentice, was a bigger hit than one Cuban was on, The Shark Tank.


(NBC later severed relations with Trump because of his remarks during the campaign).

This tweet refers to the Dallas Mavericks, a professional basketball team owned by Cuban:


The next tweet illustrates Trump's proclivity for personal, ad hominem attacks:


(Trump's physique has also been ridiculed).

Three of trump's Cuba tweets were shots taken at President Obama during the campaign, for example these:


An earlier tweet about President Obama was as goofy as Trump's "birther" campaign:


It turned out that only three of the tweets pertained to my initial question:


They give us a clue as to his posture on Cuba during and after the campaign, but I suspect his hard line will be tempered by practical economic and political factors. Regardless, Trump's tweets reveal more about him than about his Cuba policy.

I plan to repeat my Twitter search "Cuba from:realdonaldtrump" from time to time to see how his views evolve. I hope Trump keeps up his tweeting. They say our eyes are windows to our souls, his late-night tweets are a window to his.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Is the Internet becoming a vast wasteland?

I've written posts about trolls in Cuba, where Operation Truth is said to use a thousand university-student trolls and trolls in China where government workers fabricate an estimated 488 million social media posts annually.

Now we are reading about Russian government trolls. Just before the election, this post documented Russian trolling and warned that "Trump isn’t the end of Russia’s information war against America. They are just getting started."

After the election a new site, PropOrNot.com (propaganda or not) came online. Their mission is outing Russian propaganda using a combination of forensic online sleuthing and crowdsource reporting and they have compiled a list of 200 sites that rapidly spread stories written by Russian trolls. (More about PropOrNot here).

But, is PropOrNot what it claims to be? The people behind the site remain anonymous (for understandable reasons) and their domain name registration is private. How do they determine that a site is home for Russian content? Is there a chance that they are pro-Clinton, sour-grapes trolls? Might trolls and hackers figure out ways to game ProOrNot and get sites they oppose blacklisted?

Hmmm -- I wonder if the US government hires trolls and, if not, should they? How about Canada? Chile? Zambia? How about Exxon Mobile trolls or McDonalds trolls? Is it trolls all the way down?

The fake news and trolling revealed during the last few months of the US political campaign has sowed doubts about everything we see and read online. We're beginning the transition from "critical thinking" to "paranoid thinking."

Newton Minow
In 1961, Newton N. Minow gave a talk to the National Association of Broadcasters in which he worried that television was becoming a "vast wasteland:"
But when television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite each of you to sit down in front of your television set when your station goes on the air and stay there, for a day, without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland.
Will the Internet become a vast wasteland? Newton Minnow was correct, but there were and still are oases in the television wasteland. In spite of the trolls, fake news sites, troll-bots, etc. the Internet is and will remain replete with oases, but we cannot ignore the wasteland.

-----
Update 11/28/2016

I reached out to PropOrNot, pointing out that they do not identify themselves and their domain registration is private and asking how I could know they were not posting false claims themselves. They replied that "We sometimes provide much more background information about ourselves to professional journalists."

They have now posted a document on their methodology, showing how they select sites for their list. They are not saying the sites are paid trolls, but that they publish information that originates on Russian government sites -- that they disseminate Russian propaganda.

At least one of the sites on their list, The Corbett Report, has refuted the claim that they are pro-Russian, but they do not address the question of their distributing material that originated on Russian sites.












Monday, November 21, 2016

Teaching slides on the political impact of the Internet

I teach a class on the applications, technology and implications of the Internet and we begin each week with a discussion of current events relevant to the class. This semester many of those discussions have included material on the implications of the Internet for politics.

I've gone through my discussion slides for this term and put those that deal with the political impact of the Internet in a single, annotated PowerPoint file.

The slides focus on the current election, but also establish context by covering the use of then-new media in earlier elections, starting with radio, and other disappointing political uses of the Internet.

The slides are in chronological order as we have gone through the semester. If you are teaching a related class -- perhaps in political science -- you might find something useful. (I will continue adding new material -- suggestions welcome).


-----
Update 12/1/2016

I've added new slides dealing with the outing of fake news purveyors, truth versus freedom of speech, risk-limiting audits, a Stanford study of junior high, high school and college students reading of Internet news and the possibility that the Internet might become a "vast wasteland."

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

A real-names domain-registration policy would discourage political lying.

I've discussed the role of the Internet in creating and propagating lies in a previous post, noting that Donald Trump lied more frequently than Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders during the campaign.

Now let's look at fake news like the claim that Pope Francis had endorsed Trump. The fake post features the following image and includes a "statement" by the Pope in which he explains his decision.


The post evidently origniated on the Web site of a fake news station, WTOE 5. Avarice, not politics, seems to be the motivation for the site since it is covered with ads and links to other “stories” that attack both Clinton and Trump.

WTOE 5 states that it is a satirical site on their about page, but how many readers see that? Other sites do not claim satire. For example, the Christian Times about page says nothing about satire, but does assert that they are not responsible for any action taken by a reader:
Christian Times Newspaper is your premier online source for news, commentary, opinion, and theories. Christian Times Newspaper does not take responsibility for any of our readers' actions that may result from reading our stories. We do our best to provide accurate, updated news and information
The Christian Times "editorial" policy is similar to that of WTOE 5 -- they published pre-election news stories on thousands of dead people voting in Florida, hacking of voter systems by the Clinton campaign, Black Panthers patrolling election sites, etc. As soon as the election was over, they informed us that Hillary Clinton had filed for divorce. Don't believe it? Here is their evidence:

Given the WTOE 5 claim to be satire or the Christian Times eschewing responsibilty for actions taken by readers, I suspect that unliess Pope Francis or Hillary Clinton sues, there is no legal recourse.

The dirty tricks during this election remind me of the Watergate burglary, but, unlike Watergate, it is not clear that a law has been broken. In the Watergate case, a crime was committed and the burglars were convicted and sent to prison in 1973. In 1974 investigators were able to establish a White House connection to the burglary and, under threat of impeachment, President Nixon resigned.


Would it be possible to establish a connection between a Web site like "WTOE 5 News" and the Trump campaign?

A Whois query shows us that the domain name Wto5news.com was registered by DomainsByProxy.com. We can see the address, contact information and names of people at DomainsByProxy.com, but the identity of the person or organization registering the domain name is private.


I also checked the Whois record for the Christian Times. It turns out that DomainsByProxy.com is also the registrar for Christiantimesnewspaper.com and the registration is also private.

I am not a lawyer, but I suspect that a request for a subpoena to get the contact information of a long list of people registering domain names for misleading Web sites would be seen as a "fishing expedition" by the courts.

I understand the wish to protect the privacy of a person or organization registering a domain name, but there is also a public interest in discouraging sites like Wto5news.com. A verifiable, real-names policy for domain registration would discourage this sort of thing. The WELL, an early community bulletin board system, adopted such a policy years ago. Their slogan is "own your own words" and it serves to keep discussion civil, stop bullying and lying, etc.

Trump supporters seem to worry a lot about voter fraud. They advocate easing mechanisms for challenging a voter's registration and encourage strict requirements for proof of identity and residence. There is more evidence of demonstrably fraudulent political information on the Internet than fraudulent voting. If their concern is genuine, they should support a real-names policy for domain registration.

If warrants will not pass legal muster and a real-names policy is unrealistic, someone might be tempted to follow the example of the Trump supporters who hacked the Democratic National Committee and resort to hacking registrars to get contact information of their private clients. Maybe Julian Assange could distribute what they find on WikiLeaks.


-----
Update 11/17/2016

I received some comments on this post from an attorney.

For a start, he said labeling something as "satire" was irrelevant because the defense would be 1st amendment free speech. He said there might be a slight chance for the "shouting fire in a crowded theater" argument, but he and this Atlantic Monthly article agree that that is a long shot. He also said there might be a remote chance of a false advertising claim succeeding, especially if it were against a person working on the Turmp campaign like Steve Bannon of Breitbart or Sean Hannity with his popular radio and TV shows. Regardless, it would be necessary to show that their behavior had altered the election result (for president or "down ballot" contests).

I agree that it would be nearly impossible to show that a single site or lie had provided the margin for Trump's victory, but I do believe that rigorous survey research by a reputable organization could demonstrate that the marginal impact of fake sites and posts in the aggregate was sufficient to elect Trump and I hope that such research is conducted.

Regardless, a true-names policy would help investigators looking for possible connections between the Trump campaign and intentional, systematic Internet misinformation. The revelation of the White House role in Nixon's "dirty tricks' was what mattered, not the conviction of the burglars.

-----
Update 11/18/2016

The attorney who commented on this post (above) suggested that it would be relevant if Breitbart published a lying article.

After Khizr Khan spoke at the Democratic convention, Breitbart published a story saying he had deep ties to the government of Saudi Arabia, international Islamist investors, controversial immigration programs that wealthy foreigners can use to essentially buy their way into the United States and the “Clinton Cash” narrative through the Clinton Foundation.


That is a lot of deep ties, but it turns out the post was false.

The Breitbart story has had 167,000 Facebook engagements and the refutation has been shared 32,600 times on Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, Reddit, by email and shared links combined.

A real-names domain-registration policy would discourage political lying.

I've discussed the role of the Internet in creating and propagating lies in a previous post, noting that Donald Trump lied more frequently than Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders during the campaign.

Now let's look at fake news like the claim that Pope Francis had endorsed Trump. The fake post features the following image and includes a "statement" by the Pope in which he explains his decision.


The post evidently origniated on the Web site of a fake news station, WTOE 5. Avarice, not politics, seems to be the motivation for the site since it is covered with ads and links to other “stories” that attack both Clinton and Trump.

WTOE 5 states that it is a satirical site on their about page, but how many readers see that? Other sites do not claim satire. For example, the Christian Times about page says nothing about satire, but does assert that they are not responsible for any action taken by a reader:
Christian Times Newspaper is your premier online source for news, commentary, opinion, and theories. Christian Times Newspaper does not take responsibility for any of our readers' actions that may result from reading our stories. We do our best to provide accurate, updated news and information
The Christian Times "editorial" policy is similar to that of WTOE 5 -- they published pre-election news stories on thousands of dead people voting in Florida, hacking of voter systems by the Clinton campaign, Black Panthers patrolling election sites, etc. As soon as the election was over, they informed us that Hillary Clinton had filed for divorce. Don't believe it? Here is their evidence:

Given the WTOE 5 claim to be satire or the Christian Times eschewing responsibilty for actions taken by readers, I suspect that unliess Pope Francis or Hillary Clinton sues, there is no legal recourse.

The dirty tricks during this election remind me of the Watergate burglary, but, unlike Watergate, it is not clear that a law has been broken. In the Watergate case, a crime was committed and the burglars were convicted and sent to prison in 1973. In 1974 investigators were able to establish a White House connection to the burglary and, under threat of impeachment, President Nixon resigned.


Would it be possible to establish a connection between a Web site like "WTOE 5 News" and the Trump campaign?

A Whois query shows us that the domain name Wto5news.com was registered by DomainsByProxy.com. We can see the address, contact information and names of people at DomainsByProxy.com, but the identity of the person or organization registering the domain name is private.


I also checked the Whois record for the Christian Times. It turns out that DomainsByProxy.com is also the registrar for Christiantimesnewspaper.com and the registration is also private.

I am not a lawyer, but I suspect that a request for a subpoena to get the contact information of a long list of people registering domain names for misleading Web sites would be seen as a "fishing expedition" by the courts.

I understand the wish to protect the privacy of a person or organization registering a domain name, but there is also a public interest in discouraging sites like Wto5news.com. A verifiable, real-names policy for domain registration would discourage this sort of thing. The WELL, an early community bulletin board system, adopted such a policy years ago. Their slogan is "own your own words" and it serves to keep discussion civil, stop bullying and lying, etc.

Trump supporters seem to worry a lot about voter fraud. They advocate easing mechanisms for challenging a voter's registration and encourage strict requirements for proof of identity and residence. There is more evidence of demonstrably fraudulent political information on the Internet than fraudulent voting. If their concern is genuine, they should support a real-names policy for domain registration.

If warrants will not pass legal muster and a real-names policy is unrealistic, someone might be tempted to follow the example of the Trump supporters who hacked the Democratic National Committee and resort to hacking registrars to get contact information of their private clients. Maybe Julian Assange could distribute what they find on WikiLeaks.


-----
Update 11/17/2016

I received some comments on this post from an attorney.

For a start, he said labeling something as "satire" was irrelevant because the defense would be 1st amendment free speech. He said there might be a slight chance for the "shouting fire in a crowded theater" argument, but he and this Atlantic Monthly article agree that that is a long shot. He also said there might be a remote chance of a false advertising claim succeeding, especially if it were against a person working on the Turmp campaign like Steve Bannon of Breitbart or Sean Hannity with his popular radio and TV shows. Regardless, it would be necessary to show that their behavior had altered the election result (for president or "down ballot" contests).

I agree that it would be nearly impossible to show that a single site or lie had provided the margin for Trump's victory, but I do believe that rigorous survey research by a reputable organization could demonstrate that the marginal impact of fake sites and posts in the aggregate was sufficient to elect Trump and I hope that such research is conducted.

Regardless, a true-names policy would help investigators looking for possible connections between the Trump campaign and intentional, systematic Internet misinformation. The revelation of the White House role in Nixon's "dirty tricks' was what mattered, not the conviction of the burglars.

-----
Update 11/18/2016

The attorney who commented on this post (above) suggested that it would be relevant if Breitbart published a lying article.

After Khizr Khan spoke at the Democratic convention, Breitbart published a story saying he had deep ties to the government of Saudi Arabia, international Islamist investors, controversial immigration programs that wealthy foreigners can use to essentially buy their way into the United States and the “Clinton Cash” narrative through the Clinton Foundation.


That is a lot of deep ties, but it turns out the post was false.

The Breitbart story has had 167,000 Facebook engagements and the refutation has been shared 32,600 times on Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, Reddit, by email and shared links combined.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

The FCC under Trump -- a long shot

Tom Wheeler surprised us as head of the Federal Communication Commission -- might Trump?

Obama and Roberts
In May 2013, President Obama picked Tom Wheeler to head the Federal Communication Commission. The Internet community generally disapproved because Wheeler had been a lobbyist for both the cellular and cable industries and a major contributor to the Obama campaign. Internet service providers AT&T and Comcast lauded the appointment and a few months later, the President was spotted playing golf with Brian Roberts, chief executive of Comcast.

It looked like a Washington insider deal.

But after looking at Wheeler's blog posts and his service on a Presidential commission, I speculated that Wheeler might be a "wolf in sheep's clothing" and, by August 2013, we had mounting evidence that Wheeler was in fact acting in the public interest, not that of the ISP industry.

Now that Donald Trump has been elected President, the Internet community is understandably worried. There is speculation that Trump will reverse Wheeler's stance on network neutrality and he has chosen Jeffrey Eisenach, an (often paid) oponent of regulation as his telecommunication "point man." (You can see his testimony on net neutrality here).

Obama and Wheeler
That seems consistent with Trump's promise to get rid of red tape and regulation and let big business do its thing, but using the words "Trump" and "consistent" in the same sentence is oxymoronic. He also promises to fight the elites in support of ordinary people. That would seem to call for pro-competitive measures to weaken the grip of the Internet service giants.

Tom Wheeler surprised industry insiders by supporting net neutrality, raising the speed used to define "broadband," fighting to curb state legislature power to stop municipal broadband, pushing for a standard TV-interface box combining the functions of today's set-top boxes and Internet interfaces, favoring sharing of Federal spectrum and scrutinizing transit Internet agreements.

Will Donald Trump surprise us and work to make the American Internet Great Again?

(I doubt it, but, if Trump can be elected president, anything is possible).

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Internet service providers -- still the lowest ranked US industry on customer satisfaction

The performance of the ISP industry is as bad as it gets -- what do you expect from companies in monopoly or duopoly markets?

The other day, I got a notice saying my Internet service provider, Time Warner Cable (TWC), was changing its name to "Spectrum." At first I hoped they were changing their name because they were ashamed of the way I had been trashing them in blog posts. (For example, this is the most viewed post in the history of this blog).

But, then I remembered that Charter Communications bought TWC a while back.

The last time I looked at the University of Michigan American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), TWC was rated next to worst among Internet service providers and the ISP industry was the lowest rated of all.

Can I expect service to improve now that I am a Charter customer?

I guess not. The latest ACSI survey shows that the ISPs are still the worst regarded industry by Americans:

The six lowest rated industries

TWC was the worst of the worst last time I looked -- might Charter pull them up? Here are the latest ISP ratings:

ISP ratings

TWC has improved since I last checked -- they are no longer the lowest rated ISP. That's the good news. The bad news is that Charter is ranked lower than TWC. I guess it could have been worse -- Frontier Communications, the lowest ranking ISP, could have purchased TWC.

An irony -- Verizon FIOS, the highest rated ISP, was abandoned by Verizon years ago and has now been sold.

The performance of the ISP industry is as bad as it gets -- what do you expect from companies in monopoly or duopoly markets?

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

WiGig certification has begun -- in time for virtual/augmented reality

What we call "WiFi" today began at the National Cash Register company (NCR) with the development of a product to wirelessly connect point-of-sale terminals in stores. NCR took their design to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), a professional society that defines standards. IEEE formed a committee, which issued their 802.11b and 802.11a wireless communication standards in 1999.

Standards enable competition and a number of companies began selling 802.11-compatible equipment. They also formed a trade association -- the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance -- to test and certify that their products met the IEEE standards and to market the concept of wireless local area networking. They soon changed the association name to the Wifi Alliance and coined the marketing term "WiFi."

As technology improved, new WiFi standards were invented -- 802.11a, b, g, n and ac.

This week, the WiFi Alliance began certifying compliance with the latest (though not the last) WiFi standard (802.11ad) and gave it the trade name "WiGig."

Each of these WiFi variants has different characteristics -- transmitting on different frequencies and using different methods of signalling whether a bit is a 1 or a 0. WiGig uses a much higher frequency than the others, which enables it to send data very fast -- at a gigabit per second or more -- with very low latency.

That is the good news. The bad news is that high frequency radio transmission travels short distances in air and loses power when passing through obstructions. WiGig will typically be used within rooms.

So, what are the WiGig use cases? The WiFi Alliance suggests these examples:

  • Wireless docking between devices like smartphones, laptops, projectors, and tablets
  • Simultaneous streaming of multiple, ultra-high definition videos and movies
  • More immersive gaming, augmented reality and virtual reality experiences
  • Fast download of HD movies
  • Convenient public kiosk services
  • Easier handling of bandwidth intensive applications in the enterprise
Augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) is the most interesting to me.

First head-mounted AR/VR display
In 1965, Ivan Sutherland wrote a short note outlining a sci-fi vision of the Ultimate Display, which "with appropriate programming ... could literally be the Wonderland into which Alice walked." He proceeded to build an AR/VR prototype using a headset that was tethered to a computer.

That was fifty years ago. Today, we have low-quality AR/VR using our phones, but high resolution, fast AR/VR -- anything approaching Alice in Wonderland -- still requires tethering a head-mounted display to a computer.

Next year computers, smart phones and tablets with WiGig connectivity will be on the market. How about head-mounted AR/VR displays?

WiGig will enable untethered, high-performance AR/VR. A computer or an AR/VR appliance in the room will generate high definition, low latency video that the user sees in a relatively "dumb," light and comfortable headset or glasses and information from the headset and any controllers will be transmitted wirelessly back to the computer.

The untethered user will be free to move about the room and, since most of the computation will be off-loaded to the computer, the headset will not consume much power.

To put the possibility of untethered, high performance AR/VR in perspective, check out this this short video showing Sutherland's research prototype demonstration of very slightly augmented reality:


-----
Update 11/6/2016

Microsoft has demonstrated a relatively low cost, tethered head set that can track six degrees of freedom -- head up/down, head left/right and forward/backward in the room.

They say more details will be available in December and OEMs like Dell will be shipping product early next year starting at $299. The computing load is said to be low compared to the more expensive tethered virtual reality headsets on the market -- within the capability of a $500 PC.

Once WiGig is available, the tether will disappear and Microsoft will have a strong entry in the virtual reality market. They will also benefit from engineering synergy between this product and their untethered Hololens augmented reality product. (Some of the tracking technology was borrowed from the Hololens).

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The government role in shaping the Internet in China and the US

The US government invested $124.5 million in building and demonstrating the feasibility and value of the ARPANet, TCP/IP internetworking protocol and subsequent deployment to education and research organizations with the establishment of NSFNet and the NSF developing nations program. That was a pretty good investment. (Government procurement was also important -- for example, lessons learned and programmers trained in building the SAGE early warning defense system played a key role in the progress of networking and computer science in the US).

Internet development timeline

The Internet is
dumb by design.
NSFNet was at first the backbone for the international Internet, but the government stepped back once the initial research and development was completed, phasing out the NSFNet subsidies over a four year period. Private telephone and cable companies with local monopolies or oligopolies became Internet service providers and owners of our Internet infrastructure.

In contrast, the market for Internet applications and services was competitive from the start. (Note that the Internet was designed to be "dumb" -- to move packets of data as quickly as possible between "smart" computers that would connect to it and host innovative applications and services).

Private capital has financed and developed our Internet startups and ecosystems of organizations to support them -- incubators, accelerators, co-working spaces, investors, consultants and hackerspaces. The first startup ecosystems were in the Silicon Valley and along Massachusets Route 128, but many, including my home town, Los Angeles, have followed their lead.

1,113 tech startups in Los Angeles

535 startup support organizations

The Chinese have taken a different approach to Internet infrastructure. They established an academic network in 1987, linked it to Stanford University in 1993 and the following year established a full Internet connection. Like all other nations, they began with a slow link to a small academic network, but within a few years, the Chinese had realized the importance of the Internet and had established competing, government-owned national backbone networks.

Unlike the United States, the Chinese government is also playing an active role in support of Internet application and service companies. In his 2016 Report on the Work of the Government, Chinese premier Li Keqiang stated that
Further progress was made in implementing the strategy of innovation-driven development, the penetration of the Internet into all industries picked up pace, and emerging industries grew rapidly.
The Chinese are funding startup ecosystem organizations like those created by the private sector in the US. For example, 710 subsidized startups are clustered in the Dream Town district of Hangzhou.

Chinese workers remodeling Dream Town spaces

How has it worked out?

The US had a significant lead over the entire world when a small Chinese academic network joined the Internet. One cannot directly compare the US and China -- there are many confounding differences, but we can compare China with India, a nation with some similarities. India's academic networks joined the Internet a little before China, but they essentially started at the same time. By 2002, the Chinese Internet was significantly more advance than that of India.

The International Telecommunication Union's Information and Communication Technology development index (IDI) provides a recent indicator of Chinese progress. The IDI is a function of eleven indicators measuring ICT access, use and skills in a nation. In 2015, China ranked 82nd on the IDI while India ranked 131st. In 2010, China ranked 87th and India ranked 125th.

While China has done better than India to date, their economy is slowing and their program of support for startups can lead to misallocation of resources and cronyism -- as happened in the Chinese construction industry:


The US started at the top, so our infrastructure had no where to go but down relative to other nations. The US ranks 21st in fiber deployment among the 34 OECD nations and our average Internet connection speed ranks 15th among the 74 nations served by Akamai.

Percent of broadband connections with fiber,
OECD, December 2015

Connection speeds, Akamai, Q1 2016

While the US has faltered in infrastructure deployment, we have retained the lead in Internet applications and services. As shown here, the US had 39 of the most popular 100 Web sites as ranked by Alexa in September 2016 while China had only 10.

These rankings should be taken with a grain of salt – SimilarWeb, an Israeli company, rates the US substantially higher with 40 sites in the top 100 as opposed to 10 for China. Chinese sites also focus heavily on China whereas the US sites generally seek a global audience.

It seems that the US private sector has done well in Internet applications and services and not as well in deploying infrastructure. Private companies seek to maximize corporate profit rather than social goals regarding education, the economy, etc. This has contributed to other nations surpassing our infrastructure in spite of our pioneering role.

These are complex issues and I cannot reach definite, generalizable conclusions (nor can anyone else), but, if I had to guess, I would think that China would be better off cutting back on subsidies for Internet application and service companies and the US would be better off with a more competitive Internet service provider market -- discouraging consolidation and "gentleman's agreements" among companies and encouraging ownership of infrastructure by local governments and customers.

-----
Update 10/16/2016

For teachers or others who might like to present this topic, I have prepared (and used) a nine-slide, one-video annotated PowerPoint presentation.


Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Vision precedes engineering prototypes which precede products

Google unveiled voice controlled "intelligent" assistants today -- in a phone and a home listening device.



The vision of a voice-controlled intelligent assistant in which the manufacturer made tightly integrated hardware and software was shown in Apple's 1987 Knowledge Navigator concept video.



We'll see if Google has pulled it off.








Monday, October 03, 2016

Google Hangouts on Air is a useful, evolving teaching medium

Google Hangouts on Air is a useful tool for teaching today and it will be different and improved tomorrow.


Google Hangouts on Air (HoA) is a free service within YouTube. It allows one to hold a live teleconference with up to ten people. During the teleconference, an unlimited number of people can watch the live stream and it is recorded. When the teleconference ends, the video is automatically archived on YouTube. (See this presentation for some examples and instructions on how to create an HoA).

I've experimented with HoA for teaching three times. The first time, my class met online when I was out of town in 2013. It was a complete failure -- the Internet speed and student hardware were not up to the task.

The second time, the results were good, but we made and learned from some mistakes:


The third time -- a couple weeks ago -- we avoided most of those mistakes (and made a couple new ones). I am ready to use HoA more frequently, even when I am not out of town.

I polled the students the week after our last HoA session. Eight students were in the live hangout, 2 watched the live stream, but were not in the live hangout, 8 others only watched the archived video later and two did not participate. (A couple were also absent the night I did the poll). Here are the results:


This is a small, anecdotal sample but it is consistent with the assessment of the students last year. We also talked about the experience in class the following week and the students confirmed that they were batter able to focus in the hangout than in the classroom and were more relaxed and willing to participate. (Most also saved travel time by participating from home). The students who were in the live hangout had a generally better experience than those who only watched the video.

We are entering an era of live-streaming on the Internet -- Twitter is streaming football games and a number of Web sites streamed the presidential debate. Google, Facebook and others are offering streaming services and, like all other media (including textbooks), live streaming will evolve and improve. Google HoA is a useful tool for teaching today and it will be different and improved tomorrow.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Hybrid fiber-wireless tests by Google and others

Hybrid fiber-wireless technology will improve our access to the Internet and alter infrastructure ownership and business models.

Google Fiber installations run fiber all the way to the premises, but that is costly and the subscription rate has been disappointing, causing Google to slow installation and cut staff. It seems they are looking for a hybrid fiber-wireless connectivity solution.

In an earlier post, I noted that Google was experimenting with high-frequency wireless for possibly providing "last kilometer" links from homes and offices to Google Fiber. In a recent FCC filing, they requested approval for high-speed wireless testing in 24 US cities.

Even more interesting is their recent acquisition of Webpass, a boutique high-speed Internet service provider that has been experimenting with "PCells" an experimental wireless technology developed by Steve Perlman of Artemis Networks. I first heard about PCells when I saw a video of a talk and demo that Perlman gave at Columbia University, but you should start by watching this shorter, more recent demo:


There are other videos and tech papers on the Artemis Web site.

Perlman's demos are impressive -- computers, phones and tablets that are inches apart receive full-speed wireless connectivity and they freely move around without losing contact. Transmission speed slows a bit as they are moved, but full speed resumes as soon as they stop moving.

PCell access points are small and distributed compared to conventional cell towers and, if they turn out to be simple and effective, they could be installed and owned by individual users as well as companies --forming next-generation "street nets," connected to Google's, or anyone else's, fiber.

The jury is still out on PCells, but it is safe to say that they or other fifth generation wireless technology will improve our access to the Internet and alter infrastructure ownership and business models.

A PCell access point









Monday, September 26, 2016

Live streaming of football games and presidential debates, version 1.0

I would also be willing to pay for interaction -- perhaps asking a question or making a comment of my own.

There has been a lot of discussion of the appropriate role of moderators in the presidential debates -- should they challenge the debater's statements if they are false or simply ask questions and let the candidates challenge each other? That will become a moot point in the era of live-streaming on the Internet.

Twitter is streaming Thursday night football games -- you see the game as well as the stream of tweets. I reviewed the experience and concluded that there were too many commercials and that I wanted to be able to filter the tweets. I am not interested in the comments of a million football fans, but would like to be able to follow the live-stream comments of experts like a group of professional football players, sports writers, Las Vegas odds-makers, etc.

Now, let's apply that to the live streaming of a presidential debate. (Note that Twitter is streaming the debates).

There will be plenty of commentary in the tweet stream accompanying Twitter's video and the audience will fact-check the debaters regardless of what the moderator does. But, as in a football game, I don't want to see tweets from every partisan viewer, I want to see informed, factual commentary.

If I could watch the streaming comments of a relatively small group of experts along with the video stream, I would not care whether the moderator challenges the debater's statements or just reads questions and keeps the speakers on schedule. I would also be willing to pay for interaction -- perhaps asking a question or making a comment of my own.

The asynchronous Internet has changed political campaigns just as newspapers, radio and television did. Now we have a new medium -- live streaming over the Internet.

Early movies, like those shown below, were made by filming stage plays. Similarly, today's live coverage of football and presidential debates is just a starting point. Adding expert or crowd-sourced fact checking and commentary would only be a small variation on what Twitter has already done with football games. There will be more changes as the medium co-evolves along with our culture and education system.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Has the Internet enabled lying, crooked Donald?

We are in the early days of the Internet as a political medium and hopefully it will co-evolve along with our society and education system.

Last June, Donald Trump began calling Hillary Clinton "lying, crooked Hillary" and established a Web site of the same name. Leaving Trump's coarseness aside, is the allegation fair? (His coarseness calls for a separate post).

Politifact is a fact-checking Web site run by a Florida newspaper. They rate political statements on a six-level scale ranging from True to Pants on fire:

True – The statement is accurate and there’s nothing significant missing.
Mostly true – The statement is accurate but needs clarification or additional information.
Half true – The statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context.
Mostly false – The statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression.
False – The statement is not accurate.
Pants on fire – The statement is not accurate and makes a ridiculous claim.
They justify their ratings with reasoned, sourced analysis and have been awarded a Pulitzer Prize. (You can read the details on the rating rubric here).

The following are summaries of the Politifact ratings of statements by President Obama, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. (Click the image to enlarge it).

As you see, Clinton is a bit more honest than President Obama and lies much less frequently than Donald Trump. The ratings of Obama and Clinton have changed little since January. Trump is telling the truth a little more frequently, but over half of his statements were found to be lies.

I retrieved the September ratings from Politifact this morning and retrieved the January ratings using the Internet Archive Wayback Machine.

I guess all politicians lie, but few, if any, lie as frequently as lying, crooked Donald. (The "crooked" part calls for yet another post on his business dealings).

The Internet has changed political campaigns just as newspapers, radio and television did. Candidate's statements are archived and Politifact and others can analyze them, but the Internet also enables the dissemination of lies like this faked image of Hillary Clinton and Osama bin Laden, which can be found on many Web sites:


(To be fair, a lot of democrats shared a fake image showing President Bush holding a picture book upside down at the time he was informed of the 9/11 attacks).


The Internet also increases the odds that we will see lies we might "like." As Eli Pariser points out in his book The Filter Bubble, ad-driven sites like Facebook have an incentive to send us things we agree with to keep us on their sites longer.

The Internet enables us to easily create and disseminate lies and it also enables us to discover and expose them, but does that matter? Has the Internet brought us to what William Davies calls the age of post-truth politics? After all, Politifact shows that over half of Donald Trump's statements are lies, yet millions of Americans are willing to vote for him. While Hillary Clinton and President Obama lie less than Trump, they also have millions of supporters who are ignorant of or indifferent to their lies.

That is discouraging, but remember that we are in the early days of the Internet as a political medium and it may co-evolve along with our society and education system to bring us something better. For perspective, check out this early use of television in a political campaign:



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Update 10/23/2016

The Internet facilitates the repetition of lies and exaggerations and we tend to become more polarized as search engines and news services show us things we are likely to agree with. On the other hand, the Internet facilitates fact-checking services and Duke University tracks over 100 such sites:

Interactive map of over 100 fact-check sites

The Internet, like other technologies, can be used for good and bad -- the Internet doesn't tell lies, people tell lies.

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Update 11/10/2016

Well, the election is over, so I made a final check at Politifact. Donald Trump ended up with 34% false and 17% pants on fire statements and Hillary Clinton ended up with 10% false and 2% pants on fire. Trump ended up with 4% true and 11% mostly true and Clinton finished with 25% true and 26% mostly true. These were close to their earlier scores, so it seems that lying was not much of a factor in determining the outcome of the election.

I find that disturbing. It is an indication that slogans, groundless claims, incivility and outlandish statements and promises count for more than truth on our attention-deficit Internet.

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Update 11/15/2016

Here are the Politifact ratings of statements by Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump after the election. Clinton clearly lied less frequently than Trump.

Ratings of Clinton and Trump during the campaign

We will never know whether Bernie Sanders would have beaten Donald Trump, but Politifact also finds him to be much more honest.

 Bernie Sanders' honesty rating

 
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