Monday, December 31, 2018

In Time for the End of an Unreal Year in this Age of Trumpian Dystopian Fakery, Reposting in Full Max Read's New York Article on the Matrix-like Unreality of the Internet -OR- Farewell, 2018!

Camden, Maine summer view

*******

Since we are just about at the end of the Unreal Year of 2018 -- a.k.a., Year Two in the Trump Fake Dystopia (or maybe I should say the Trumpian Dystopic Fakery?) -- I think it very appropriate to repost in full an article that appeared in New York Magazine last week, and that as reposted on that publication's online Daily Intelligencer site (the same one for which Jonathan Chait writes).


To break up the text of both this introductory part of the entry and the actual reposted article, I've included a series of very real world images -- 38 in all -- from this House Beautiful photo-montage article dated June 25, 2018 (link embedded): The Most Beautiful Small Town In Every State.


Those images seemed an appropriate counterpoint to the topic of the article, However, as you can see, I didn't quite use all 50 images. For the most part, they are not posted in any particular order (though the ones in this section are all in New England). Also, in many cases, these aren't even the pictures I would have chosen for those "prettiest place in that State" locales (i.e., particular scenes, time of year, lighting, weather, etc.).


With the exception of the lead image to this entry, I'm NOT captioning them, so if you are interested in where they are, either download the image file (since the file name contains that information) or scroll through the above-linked photo-montage.

I have included one image from the article -- or rather, a screenshot of a Tweet embedded in the article that itself contains a video link -- showing a Chinese "click-farm." (I guess it's better than a Bangladeshi sweatshop.)


Also, while I have not included the many inline text links in the article -- for those, see the original -- I included one, specially, a link to the very valuable New York Times article series by Jenny Odell that appeared about a month ago and that is discussed in the article below. I talk a little bit more about that article at the end of this entry.


*******

How Much of the Internet Is Fake? Turns Out, a Lot of It, Actually.
By Max Read
New York Magazine / Daily Intelligencer
Dec 26, 2018
Source here.


In late November, the Justice Department unsealed indictments against eight people accused of fleecing advertisers of $36 million in two of the largest digital ad-fraud operations ever uncovered. Digital advertisers tend to want two things: people to look at their ads and "premium" websites -- i.e., established and legitimate publications -- on which to host them.


The two schemes at issue in the case, dubbed Methbot and 3ve by the security researchers who found them, faked both. Hucksters infected 1.7 million computers with malware that remotely directed traffic to "spoofed: websites -- "empty websites designed for bot traffic" that served up a video ad purchased from one of the internet's vast programmatic ad-exchanges, but that were designed, according to the indictments, "to fool advertisers into thinking that an impression of their ad was served on a premium publisher site," like that of Vogue or The Economist.


Views, meanwhile, were faked by malware-infected computers with marvelously sophisticated techniques to imitate humans: bots "faked clicks, mouse movements, and social network login information to masquerade as engaged human consumers." Some were sent to browse the internet to gather tracking cookies from other websites, just as a human visitor would have done through regular behavior.


Fake people with fake cookies and fake social-media accounts, fake-moving their fake cursors, fake-clicking on fake websites -- the fraudsters had essentially created a simulacrum of the internet, where the only real things were the ads.


How much of the internet is fake? Studies generally suggest that, year after year, less than 60 percent of web traffic is human; some years, according to some researchers, a healthy majority of it is bot.


For a period of time in 2013, the Times reported this year, a full half of YouTube traffic was "bots masquerading as people," a portion so high that employees feared an inflection point after which YouTube's systems for detecting fraudulent traffic would begin to regard bot traffic as real and human traffic as fake. They called this hypothetical event "the Inversion."


In the future, when I look back from the high-tech gamer jail in which President PewDiePie will have imprisoned me, I will remember 2018 as the year the internet passed the Inversion, not in some strict numerical sense, since bots already outnumber humans online more years than not, but in the perceptual sense.


The internet has always played host in its dark corners to schools of catfish and embassies of Nigerian princes, -- Blog editor's note: Hahaha -- but that darkness now pervades its every aspect: Everything that once seemed definitively and unquestionably real now seems slightly fake; everything that once seemed slightly fake now has the power and presence of the real.


The "fakeness" of the post-Inversion internet is less a calculable falsehood and more a particular quality of experience -- the uncanny sense that what you encounter online is not "real" but is also undeniably not "fake," and indeed may be both at once, or in succession, as you turn it over in your head.


The metrics are fake.

Take something as seemingly simple as how we measure web traffic. Metrics should be the most real thing on the internet: They are countable, trackable, and verifiable, and their existence undergirds the advertising business that drives our biggest social and search platforms. Yet not even Facebook, the world's greatest data–gathering organization, seems able to produce genuine figures.


In October, small advertisers filed suit against the social-media giant, accusing it of covering up, for a year, its significant overstatements of the time users spent watching videos on the platform (by 60 to 80 percent, Facebook says; by 150 to 900 percent, the plaintiffs say).


According to an exhaustive list at MarketingLand, over the past two years Facebook has admitted to misreporting the reach of posts on Facebook Pages (in two different ways), the rate at which viewers complete ad videos, the average time spent reading its "Instant Articles," the amount of referral traffic from Facebook to external websites, the number of views that videos received via Facebook’s mobile site, and the number of video views in Instant Articles.


Can we still trust the metrics? After the Inversion, what's the point? Even when we put our faith in their accuracy, there's something not quite real about them: My favorite statistic this year was Facebook's claim that 75 million people watched at least a minute of Facebook Watch videos every day -- though, as Facebook admitted, the 60 seconds in that one minute didn't need to be watched consecutively. Real videos, real people, fake minutes.


The people are fake.

And maybe we shouldn't even assume that the people are real. Over at YouTube, the business of buying and selling video views is "flourishing," as the Times reminded readers with a lengthy investigation in August. The company says only "a tiny fraction" of its traffic is fake, but fake subscribers are enough of a problem that the site undertook a purge of "spam accounts" in mid-December.


These days, the Times found, you can buy 5,000 YouTube views -- 30 seconds of a video counts as a view -- for as low as $15; oftentimes, customers are led to believe that the views they purchase come from real people. More likely, they come from bots. On some platforms, video views and app downloads can be forged in lucrative industrial counterfeiting operations. If you want a picture of what the Inversion looks like, find a video of a "click farm": hundreds of individual smartphones, arranged in rows on shelves or racks in professional-looking offices, each watching the same video or downloading the same app.

Screenshot of Matthew Brennan tweet featuring a video of a Chinese "click-farm" in operation.

*******

This is obviously not real human traffic. But what would real human traffic look like? The Inversion gives rise to some odd philosophical quandaries: If a Russian troll using a Brazilian man's photograph to masquerade as an American Trump supporter watches a video on Facebook, is that view "real"?


Not only do we have bots masquerading as humans and humans masquerading as other humans, but also sometimes humans masquerading as bots, pretending to be "artificial-intelligence personal assistants," like Facebook's "M," in order to help tech companies appear to possess cutting-edge AI. We even have whatever CGI Instagram influencer Lil Miquela is: a fake human with a real body, a fake face, and real influence.


Even humans who aren't masquerading can contort themselves through layers of diminishing reality: The Atlantic reports that non-CGI human influencers are posting fake sponsored content -- that is, content meant to look like content that is meant to look authentic, for free -- to attract attention from brand reps, who, they hope, will pay them real money.


The businesses are fake.

The money is usually real. Not always -- ask someone who enthusiastically got into cryptocurrency this time last year -- but often enough to be an engine of the Inversion. If the money is real, why does anything else need to be?


Earlier this year, the writer and artist Jenny Odell began to look into an Amazon reseller that had bought goods from other Amazon resellers and resold them, again on Amazon, at higher prices. Odell discovered an elaborate network of fake price-gouging and copyright-stealing businesses connected to the cultlike Evangelical church whose followers resurrected Newsweek in 2013 as a zombie search-engine-optimized spam farm.


She visited a strange bookstore operated by the resellers in San Francisco and found a stunted concrete reproduction of the dazzlingly phony storefronts she'd encountered on Amazon, arranged haphazardly with best-selling books, plastic tchotchkes, and beauty products apparently bought from wholesalers. "At some point I began to feel like I was in a dream," she wrote. "Or that I was half-awake, unable to distinguish the virtual from the real, the local from the global, a product from a Photoshop image, the sincere from the insincere."


The content is fake.

The only site that gives me that dizzying sensation of unreality as often as Amazon does is YouTube, which plays host to weeks' worth of inverted, inhuman content. TV episodes that have been mirror-flipped to avoid copyright takedowns air next to huckster vloggers flogging merch who air next to anonymously produced videos that are ostensibly for children.


An animated video of Spider-Man and Elsa from Frozen riding tractors is not, you know, not real: Some poor soul animated it and gave voice to its actors, and I have no doubt that some number (dozens? Hundreds? Millions? Sure, why not?) of kids have sat and watched it and found some mystifying, occult enjoyment in it. But it's certainly not "official," and it's hard, watching it onscreen as an adult, to understand where it came from and what it means that the view count beneath it is continually ticking up.


These, at least, are mostly bootleg videos of popular fictional characters, i.e., counterfeit unreality. Counterfeit reality is still more difficult to find -- for now. In January 2018, an anonymous Redditor created a relatively easy-to-use desktop-app implementation of "deepfakes," the now-infamous technology that uses artificial-intelligence image processing to replace one face in a video with another -- putting, say, a politician's over a porn star's.


A recent academic paper from researchers at the graphics-card company Nvidia demonstrates a similar technique used to create images of computer-generated "human" faces that look shockingly like photographs of real people. (Next time Russians want to puppeteer a group of invented Americans on Facebook, they won't even need to steal photos of real people.)


Contrary to what you might expect, a world suffused with deepfakes and other artificially generated photographic images won't be one in which "fake" images are routinely believed to be real, but one in which "real" images are routinely believed to be fake -- simply because, in the wake of the Inversion, who'll be able to tell the difference?


Our politics are fake.

Such a loss of any anchoring "reality" only makes us pine for it more. Our politics have been inverted along with everything else, suffused with a Gnostic sense that we're being scammed and defrauded and lied to but that a "real truth" still lurks somewhere.


Adolescents are deeply engaged by YouTube videos that promise to show the hard reality beneath the "scams" of feminism and diversity -- a process they call "red-pilling" after the scene in The Matrix when the computer simulation falls away and reality appears. Political arguments now involve trading accusations of "virtue signaling" -- the idea that liberals are faking their politics for social reward -- against charges of being Russian bots. The only thing anyone can agree on is that everyone online is lying and fake.


We ourselves are fake.

Which, well. Everywhere I went online this year, I was asked to prove I'm a human. Can you retype this distorted word? Can you transcribe this house number? Can you select the images that contain a motorcycle? I found myself prostrate daily at the feet of robot bouncers, frantically showing off my highly developed pattern-matching skills -- does a Vespa count as a motorcycle, even? -- so I could get into nightclubs I'm not even sure I want to enter.


Once inside, I was directed by dopamine-feedback loops to scroll well past any healthy point, manipulated by emotionally charged headlines and posts to click on things I didn't care about, and harried and hectored and sweet-talked into arguments and purchases and relationships so algorithmically determined it was hard to describe them as real.


Where does that leave us? I'm not sure the solution is to seek out some pre-Inversion authenticity -- to red-pill ourselves back to "reality." What's gone from the internet, after all, isn't "truth," but trust: the sense that the people and things we encounter are what they represent themselves to be.


Years of metrics-driven growth, lucrative manipulative systems, and unregulated platform marketplaces, have created an environment where it makes more sense to be fake online -- to be disingenuous and cynical, to lie and cheat, to misrepresent and distort -- than it does to be real. Fixing that would require cultural and political reform in Silicon Valley and around the world, but it's our only choice. Otherwise we'll all end up on the bot internet of fake people, fake clicks, fake sites, and fake computers, where the only real thing is the ads.

*A version of this article appears in the December 24, 2018, issue of New York Magazine.


********

I'd like to note here the New York Times multiple part series to which the author (Max Read) refers in his article. The main index page is linked here: A Business With No End.

Sub-headline: Where does this strange empire start or stop?

It consists of ten "chapters," that are arranged into two sets of five (Parts I and II, respectively) as shown here:


I need to read this whole series carefully.

OK, that's all for now for this entry. And I wish you a happy New Year. My next planned entry will be on the other side -- probably Tuesday.

--Regulus

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Jukebox Saturday Night for Dec 29th, 2018: Old School Big Band and Disco Edition Plus Some End of Year Champagne, er, Champaign

Let's start up something Big Band old school …


"I've Heard That Song Before" as performed by Harry James and His Orchestra with the incomparable Helen Forrest providing the lyrics

As for I've Heard That Song Before, it was written by in 1942. According to The Keeper of All Knowledge:

"I've Heard That Song Before" is a 1942 popular song with music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Sammy Cahn. It was introduced by Martha O'Driscoll (dubbed by Margaret Whiting) in the 1942 film Youth on Parade. The song was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1942 but lost out to 'White Christmas'.

"It was recorded by Harry James and his Orchestra with Helen Forrest on vocal on July 31, 1942. This was the last day of recording before the Musician Union's ban.

The recording was issued on Columbia 36668 and became a number one hit on both the pop and the Harlem Hit Parade in the US in early 1943.

This version of the song can be heard in Woody Allen's 1986 movie 'Hannah and Her Sisters'."

The song has been covered by many artists over the ensuing decades.

*******

Next, we'll feature something else upbeat, except from 37 years later in the late Disco era …


"You Know How to Love Me" by Phyllis Hyman from her album of same name (1979)

Ms. Hyman's loss was way too soon and tragic.

*******

Finally, I'd like to feature a song I previously featured in this JbSN edition over four years ago …


"How 'Bout Us" by Champaign from the group's eponymously titled debut album (1981)

As I noted there, the song was originally released in 1975 by the Water Brothers Band but this version was the big hit.

OK, that's all for now. My next planned update will be by New Years Eve. Also, this is my last JbSN edition for 2018.

--Regulus

Saturday Evening Post for December 29th, 2018: The Green Lady Visits Again and Ringing the Tyrell Corporation, er, Institute; Yearly Areawide Record Precipitation Totals; and Brief Update

**This entry was posted December 29th, 2018.**

Trees silhouetted at dusk, New Hampshire Ave and R St NW, Washington, D.C., 4:51 p.m. Dec 25, 2018

*******

Home this Saturday night watching MeTV.

The MeTV joint Super Sci-Fi Saturday Night and Sunday Red-Eye Sci-Fi lineup includes the Svengoolie-hosted movie: Mysterious Island of Beautiful Woman.


What a weird movie. I had a bit of trouble following it in parts, and in the end had a distinctly sad happy ending. However, Svengoolie makes it very funny with some of those interjections and parody skits including joke commercials.


Thereafter, the Lost in Space is the episode is "The Girl From The Green Dimension." This episode features the same actress -- Vitina Marcus who appeared as "The Green Lady" named Lorelei (pictured above) in the episode "Wild Adventure" -- except here her name is Athena and here she has the hots for Dr. Smith.


I talked about her in this entry just over 5 years ago. Ms. Marcus is alive at 81 and she even has a website. It is this page of her website discusses a bit about the role and her life today.

As for the rest of the lineup …

The Buck Rogers in the 25th Century episode is "Ardala Returns" while Battlestar Galactica features the first part of the pilot episode ("Saga Of A Star World (aka Battlestar Galactica): Part 1 ").

The Kolchak: The Night Stalker episode is Mr. R.I.N.G. (where R.I.N.G. means  "Robomatic Internalized Nerve Ganglia"). It centers on a military-constructed android-like robot that has human characteristics including protecting itself from those seeking to harm (destroy) it.

Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea ("Graveyard of Fear"), Land of the Giants ("Ghost Town"); and two episodes of Swamp Thing ("Tremors of the Hearts" and "The Prometheus Parabola").

The pilot episode of Land of the Giants series was on last week, so this is the second one -- first aired way back in Sept 1968 or 14 months before I was born.


Speaking of the Mr. R.I.N.G. episode of Kolchak: The Night Stalker the robot in question was developed at a facility called the Tyrell Institute (see image directly above). It originally aired in January 1975.


I've not been able to ascertain if that was the source, however indirectly, for the name Tyrell Corporation in the 1982 film Blade Runner. At least one other person has wondered this as well.

I'm unsure that I'll make it to Swamp Thing, but last week, I actually watched the two episodes and read up about it including on the actor / stuntman, Dick Durock, who played the Swamp Thing.

I'm referring here to the 1990 - 1993 series that was on the USA Network.

OK, enough of that.

*******

Areawide record rainfall update …


Yesterday's rainfall dropped 1 to 1.5 inches across the region. That being the case, I would like to update the monthly (MTD), seasonal (STD), and annual precipitation (YTD) totals for the three regional airport stations -- Reagan Washington National Airport (KDCA), Marshall Baltimore / Washington Int'l Airport (KBWI), and Washington Dulles Int'l Airport (KIAD), plus the Maryland Science Center (KDMH).

Let me just note that the rainfall yesterday put KIAD over its previous wettest year ever, specifically, the 65.67-inch annual total from 2003, and now all three airports are into annual territory.

Here are the precipitation totals, departures, and normal values (shown in parentheses) through this calendar day.

Normal values are based on the 1981 - 2010 averages, except for KDMH, which has only a partial dataset going back to April 30, 1998.

Seasonal totals are for climatological winter, which began Dec 1st. Because it is still December, monthly and seasonal values are identical

KDCA
MTD: 5.34" +2.45" (2.89")
STD: 5.34" +2.45" (2.89")
YTD: 65.80" +26.22" (39.58")

Current yearly records:
1st: 2018 - 65.80 inches
2nd: 1889 - 61.33 inches
3rd: 2003 - 60.83 inches

KBWI
MTD: 5.85" +2.66" (3.19")
STD: 5.85" +2.66" (3.19")
YTD: 71.13" +29.43" (41.70")

Current yearly records:
1st: 2018 - 71.13 inches
2nd: 2003 - 62.66 inches
3rd: 1889 - 62.35 inches

KIAD
MTD: 5.23" +2.42" (2.81")
STD: 5.23" +2.42" (2.81")
YTD: 66.21" +24.82" (41.39")

Current yearly records:
1st: 2018 - 66.21 inches
2nd: 2003 - 65.67 inches
3rd: 1972 - 59.05 inches

KDMH
MTD: 5.48" +2.24" (3.24")
STD: 5.48" +2.24" (3.24")
YTD: 68.14" +27.42" (40.72")

Sterling (LWX) does not yet have a list of records for KDMH available.

Additional rain is forecasted for New Years Eve, so these totals should rise maybe a half inch or so. I'll have the final numbers as soon as we are into the new year.

*******

As a brief update … For tomorrow, I think I'm going to do a second consecutive day gym visit in lieu of anything else, if only because Monday and Tuesday -- New Years Eve and New Years Day -- represent a double weekend (just like last week's Christmas Eve and Christmas Day) with the attendant disruption to regular schedule. Needless to say, I've way overspent this pay period.

Overcast, showery nigh as seen at New Hampshire Ave and 16 St NW, Washington, D.C., 9:25 p.m. Dec 27, 2018

******

I should note that my difficult wisdom tooth extraction further upended my schedule. About that, I think I'm almost back to normal (with no remaining swelling), although there is some residual discomfort and I'm finishing up the remainder of the amoxicillin (and the painkillers, as needed, and, no, I'm not becoming addicted).

Trees silhouetted at dusk, 2000 block New Hampshire Ave NW, Washington, D.C., 4:43 p.m. Dec 29, 2018

*******

Anyway, the point is that I'd like to get in a second gym visit tomorrow. For tonight, I still need to make some dinner and do laundry. For Monday (New Years Eve), I'm going to work from home in the morning and then go to Rockville for a lunch with some current and former co-workers including DD. Beyond that, I have no particular NYE plans. 

Tree branches and the sky, 2000 block New Hampshire Ave NW, Washington, D.C., 4:43 p.m. Dec 29, 2018

*******

OK, that's all for now. A jukebox Saturday Night entry to follow by about 1 a.m., although I'm going to cheat a bit and "schedule" it for Saturday just before midnight.

--Regulus