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Zoom needs to clean up its privacy act

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As quarantined millions gather virtually on conferencing platforms, the best of those, Zoom , is doing very well. Hats off. But Zoom is also—correctly— taking a lot of heat for its privacy policy , which is creepily chummy with the tracking-based advertising biz (also called adtech ).

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Zoom’s new privacy policy

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Yesterday (March 29), Zoom put up a major rewrite to its privacy policy. The new language is far more clear than what it replaced, and which had caused the concerns I detailed in my previous three posts: Zoom needs to clean up its privacy act , More on Zoom and privacy , and. Helping Zoom.

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More on Zoom and privacy

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Zoom needs to clean up its privacy act , which I posted yesterday, hit a nerve. While this blog normally gets about 50 reads a day, by the end of yesterday it got 15000. So far this morning (11:15am Pacific), it has close to 8000 new reads.

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Helping Zoom

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I really don’t want to bust Zoom. No tech company on Earth is doing more to keep civilization working at a time when it could so easily fall apart. Zoom does that by providing an exceptionally solid, reliable, friendly, flexible, useful (and even fun!)

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Remembering Freddy Herrick

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The picture of Freddy Herrick I carry everywhere is in my wallet, on the back of my membership card for a retail store. It got there after I loaned my extra card to Freddy so he could use it every once in awhile.

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We haven’t seen this movie before

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Three weekends ago, we drove from New York to Baltimore to visit with family. We had planned this for awhile, but there was added urgency: knowing the world was about to change in a big way. Or in many big ways. The hints were clear, from China and elsewhere: major steps would need to be taken—by people, businesses and governments—to slow the spread of a new virus against which there was yet no defense other than, mainly, hiding out.

Let’s get #deepreal

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Deepfakes are a big thing, and a bad one. On the big side, a Google search for deepfake brings up more than 23 billion results. On the bad side, today’s top result in a search on Twitter for the hashtag #deepfake says, “Technology is slowly killing reality.

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On Dion Neutra, 1926-2019

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The Los Angeles in your head is a Neutra house. You’ve seen many of them in movies , and some of them in many movies. Some of those are now gone , alas, as is the architect and preservationist who also designed, or helped design, many of the buildings that bear his surname.

The universe is a start-up

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Earth is 4.54 billion years old. It was born 9.247 years after the Big Bang , which happened 13.787 billion years ago. Meaning that our planet is a third the age of the Universe.

Going #Faceless

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Facial recognition by machines is out of control. Meaning our control. As individuals, and as a society. Thanks to ubiquitous surveillance systems, including the ones in our own phones , we can no longer assume we are anonymous in public places or private in private ones.

GDPR will pop the adtech bubble

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In The Big Short , investor Michael Burry says “One hallmark of mania is the rapid rise in the incidence and complexity of fraud.” ” (Burry shorted the mania- and fraud-filled subprime mortgage market and made a mint in the process.).

About face

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We can know more than we can tell. That one-liner from Michael Polanyi has been waiting half a century for a proper controversy, which it now has with facial recognition.

Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica problems are nothing compared to what’s coming for all of online publishing

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Let’s start with Facebook’s Surveillance Machine , by Zeynep Tufekci in last Monday’s New York Times.

Here’s hoping our Age of Ageism is a brief one

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A few days ago a Twitter exchange contained an “OK Boomer” response to one of my tweets. At the time I laughed it off, tweeting back a pointer to Report: Burying, Cremating Baby Boomers To Generate $200 Trillion In GDP , which ran five years ago in The Onion. But it got me thinking that “OK Boomer” might be more—and worse—than a mere meme. Still, I wasn’t moved to say anything, because I had better stuff to do.

Saving the Internet—and all the commons it makes possible

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This is the Ostrom Memorial Lecture I gave on 9 October of last year for the Ostrom Workshop at Indiana University. Here is the video. The intro starts at 8 minutes in, and my part starts just after 11 minutes in.)

What’s wrong with bots is they’re not ours

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In Chatbots were the next big thing: what happened? Justin Lee ( @justinleejw ) nicely unpacks how chatbots were overhyped to begin with and continue to fail their Turing tests , especially since humans in nearly all cases would rather talk to humans than to mechanical substitutes.

At Root an Evanescence

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A Route of Evanescence, With a revolving Wheel –. A Resonance of Emerald. A Rush of Cochineal –. And every Blossom on the Bush. Adjusts it’s tumbled Head –. The Mail from Tunis – probably, An easy Morning’s Ride –. Emily Dickinson. ( via The Poetry Foundation ).

Toward no longer running naked through the digital world

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We live in two worlds now: the natural one where we have bodies that obey the laws of gravity and space/time, and the virtual one where there is no gravity or distance (though there is time).

Wanted: Online Pubs Doing Real (and therefore GDPR-compliant) Advertising

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This is what greets me when I go to the Washington Post site from here in Germany: So you can see it too, wherever you are, here’s the URL I’m redirected to on Chrome , on Firefox , on Safari and on Brave. All look the same except for Brave, which shows a blank page.

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Cluetrain at 20

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The Cluetrain Manifesto went online for the world o n March 26, 1999. “People of Earth,” it began. Nothing modest about it. . Chris Locke and David Weinberger both had newsletters with real subscriber bases ( Entropy Gradient Reversals and JOHO , respectively).

The deeper issue

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Journalism’s biggest problem (as I’ve said before ) is what it’s best at: telling stories. That’s what Thomas B. Edsall (of Columbia and The New York Times ) does in Trump’s Digital Advantage Is Freaking Out Democratic Strategists , published in today’s New York Times.

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Do you really need all this personal information, @RollingStone?

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Here’s the popover that greets visitors on arrival at Rolling Stone ‘s website: Our Privacy Policy has been revised as of January 1, 2020. This policy outlines how we use your information. By using our site and products, you are agreeing to the policy.

Ad blocking passes 2 billion worldwide

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GlobalWebIndex ‘s Global Ad-Blocking Behavior report says 47% of us are blocking ads now. It also says, “As a younger and more engaged audience, ad-blockers also are much more likely to be paying subscribers and consumers. Ad-free premium services are especially attractive.”

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The Spinner’s hack on journalism

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The Spinner* (with the asterisk) is “a service that enables you to subconsciously influence a specific person, by controlling the content on the websites he or she usually visits.” ” Meaning you can hire The Spinner* to hack another person.

The real problem is Decoy News (and decoy content of all kinds)—and the platforms can’t fix it

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The term “ fake news ” was a casual phrase until it became clear to news media that a flood of it had been deployed during last year’s presidential election in the U.S.

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Without aligning incentives, we can’t kill fake news or save journalism

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It’s time to move past the toxic and destructive business called adtech : surveillance-based advertising. Adtech is the Agent Smith of digital advertising: a rogue programmatic approach to digital advertising that rationalizes tracking people like marked animals.

Data is the New Love

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Personal data, that is. Because it’s good to give away—but only if you mean it. And it’s bad to take it, even it seems to be there for the taking. I bring this up because a quarter million pages (so far) on the Web say it “data is the new oil.”

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On Linux Journal

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I’ve been involved with Linux Journal since before it started publishing in 1994, and have been on its masthead since 1996.

Where journalism fails

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“What’s the story?” ” No question is asked more often by editors in newsrooms than that one. And for good reason: that’s what news is about: stories. I was just 22 when I got my first gig as a journalist, reporting for a daily newspaper in New Jersey.

There are better ways to save journalism

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In a Columbia Journalism Review op-ed , Bernie Sanders presents a plan to save journalism that begins, WALTER CRONKITE ONCE SAID that “journalism is what we need to make democracy work.” He was absolutely right, which is why today’s assault on journalism by Wall Street, billionaire businessmen, Silicon Valley, and Donald Trump presents a crisis—and why we must take concrete action. Real journalism is different from the gossip, punditry, and clickbait that dominates today’s news.

Lost stories

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A few weeks ago, in Where journalism fails , I wrote about how journalism is interested only in stories, that all stories have just three requirements— character , problem , and movement —and that journalism comes up short both by tending to exclude facts that don’t meet those requirements and by being vulnerable to expert manipulation of by experts at feeding journalism’s appetites for stories. In this post my focus is on the vast abundance of stories that have never been told, or have been forgotten. The most abundant example of these is cemeteries. All a cemetery’s occupants were, in life, characters. Each of their lives was a story, and within their lives were many more stories. But their problems are all over, and there is no movement toward a conclusion, since all their lives are done. In most cases their characters have been erased by time and the disinterest of the living, especially across subsequent generations. For example, among the three hundred and fifty thousand persons buried in New York’s Woodlawn Cemetery is my great-grandfather, Henry Roman Englert , whose headstone is above. To make him more real as a character, here is how he looked as a sharp young man: His headstone says nothing about him, other than that he died at age eighty-seven, seventy-six years ago. Being a journalist, however, and knowing a bit about Henry, I tell some of his story in captions under the dozens of photos I’ve put in this album. For example, that he headed the Steel and Copper Plate Engravers Union in New York, that he was what his daughter ( my grandma ) called a “good socialist,” that he had at least seven daughters and one son ( Henry Jr., known as Harry , who died at age four), that he was married twice, and outlived both his wives and three of his kids, all by long margins. There are also questions (or, in a more storylike way of putting it, mysteries) that have no answer or solution, or even a way to get one; so the story just stops, even if the facts matter. For example, Henry’s plot is marked only by his headstone, with no markers for five others buried in the same plot, in just three graves, including both his wives and three of his children, all of whom predeceased him: My grandmother and her sisters used to take their families on picnic trips to this plot, which was unmarked until their dad died, and was then marked only for him. Why was that? (Henry’s brother Andrew, who also died young, and a cousin, are buried not far away in a grave that remains unmarked.). The sad but true summary here is that today none of these people matter much to anybody, even though they mattered to others a great deal when they were all alive. The great-grandchildren of Henry and his wives are now all advanced in death’s queue, or have already passed on. The living ones, including me, are way too busy with stories of their own and long since past caring much, if at all, about any of the gone people here. And the same is pretty much true for all but the most recently planted dead among the occupants of Woodlawn. For a very different example (one that hardly matters more), take the killing fields of Cambodia: the story about how Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge committed a genocide on a massive scale, wiping out between one and a half to two million people, or around twenty-five percent of the country’s population. I first heard about this one day in the late 1970s, from Hughes Rudd , who was anchoring the CBS Morning News. He said, almost offhandedly, that there were reports coming in saying that perhaps half a million people were dead in Cambodia. Rather than a story, this was just an item: too important to not mention but not interesting enough to say more about. The next morning I checked The New York Times and found the same item mentioned in a short piece on an inside page. It blew my mind: half a million dead, and no story. What made it not a story was the absence of all three elements. There were no characters, no conflict that was easy to describe, no movement toward resolution. Just a statistic. It hardly mattered to journalistic institutions of the time that the statistic itself was a massive one. The killing fields finally became a story on January 20, 1980, when Sydney Schanberg ‘s The Death and Life of Dith Pran ran in the Times ‘ Sunday Magazine. Now the story had all three elements, and pulled in lots of relevant an interesting facts. Eventually it became the movie that gave Cambodia’s killing fields their name. For journalism, however, what also matters about this is that years went by, with hundreds of thousands more dying, before the killing fields became a big story. And this wasn’t the first or last time that massively important and consequential facts got too little attention in the absence of one or more of a story’s three elements. Consider The Holocaust (six million dead) vs. the story of Ann Frank. The Rwandan genocide vs. Hotel Rwanda. The Rohingya conflict (more than 10,000 civilians dead, 128,000 internally displaced, 950,000+ fled elsewhere) vs. approximately nobody. Heard of Holodomor ? How about any of the millions who died during Mao’s revolution in China? Without characters to care about, or a conflict to focus interest, or movement toward resolution, you mostly just have statistics which, in telling without a story context, become cemeteries of facts. Sure, some of it will be studied by academics and obsessives of other kinds (including journalists who care about the topics and publish what they learn wherever they can). But Big-J journalism will mostly be preoccupied elsewhere, by more interesting stuff. Like it is right now. Journalism

Making sense of what happened to Montecito

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Note the date on this map : That was more than a month before huge rains revised to red the colors in the mountains above Montecito. The LA Times also ran a story a week before last, warning about debris flows , which are like mud slides, but with lots of rocks.

Where public radio rocks

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Where does public radio rock—or even rule? And why? To start answering those questions, I looked through Nielsen ‘s radio station ratings , which are on the Radio Online site.

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Geology answers for Montecito and Santa Barbara

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Just before it started, the geology meeting at the Santa Barbara Central Library on Thursday looked like this from the front of the room (where I also tweeted the same pano): Our speakers were geology professor Ed Keller of UCSB and Engineering Geologist Larry Gurrola , who also works and studies with Ed. That’s Ed in the shot below. As a geology freak, I know how easily terms like “debris flow,” “fanglomerate” and “alluvial fan” can clear a room. But this gig was SRO. That’s because around 3:15 in the morning of January 9th, debris flowed out of canyons and deposited fresh fanglomerate across the alluvial fan that comprises most of Montecito , destroying (by my count on the map below) 178 buildings, damaging more than twice that many, and killing 23 people. Two of those—a 2 year old girl and a 17 year old boy—are still interred in at places unknown in the fresh fanglomerate, sought by cadaver dogs who remain on the case. The whole thing was beyond sad and awful. The town was evacuated after the disaster, so rescue and recovery work could proceed without interference, and infrastructure could be disinterred from under twenty thousand truckloads of mud and rocks. That work continues while evacuation orders are gradually lifted, allowing the town to be repopulated. The return isn’t easy. I talked today with a friend whose business is cleaning houses. Besides grieving the dead, some of whom were friends or customers, she reports that the cleaning work is some of the worst she has ever seen, even in homes that were spared the mud and rocks. Refrigerators and freezers, sitting closed and without electricity for weeks, reek of death and rot. Highway 101, one of just two freeways connecting Northern and Southern California, runs through town near the coast and more than two miles from the mountain front. Three debris flows converged on the highway and used it as a catch basin, filling its deep parts up to the bridge girders before overtopping its far side and continuing to the edge of the sea. It took two weeks of constant excavation and repair work before traffic could move again. Most exits remain closed. Coast Village Road, Montecito’s Main Street, is open for employees of stores there, but nothing is open for customers yet, since infrastructural graces such as water are not fully restored. (Or so I heard. Corrections welcome.) Opening Upper Village will take longer. Some landmark institutions, such as San Ysidro Ranch and La Casa Santa Maria, will take years to restore. (San Ysidro Ranch still has a legacy website up, thanking firefighters for salvation from the Thomas Fire. All the top red dots along San Ysidro Creek in the map below mark lost buildings at the Ranch.). Here is a map with final damage assessments. I’ve augmented it with labels for the canyons and creeks (with one exception: a parallel creek west of Toro Canyon Creek): Click on the map for a closer view, or click here to view the original. On that one you can click on every dot and read details about it. I should pause to note that Montecito is no ordinary town. Demographically, it’s Beverly Hills draped over a prettier landscape and attractive to people who would rather not live in Beverly Hills. (In fact the number of notable persons Wikipedia lists for Montecito outnumbers those it lists for Beverly Hills by a score of 77 to 71.) Culturally, it’s a village. Last Monday in The New Yorker , one of those notable villagers, T.Coraghessan Boyle , unpacked some other differences: I moved here twenty-five years ago, attracted by the natural beauty and semirural ambience, the short walk to the beach and the Lower Village, and the enveloping views of the Santa Ynez Mountains, which rise abruptly from the coastal plain to hold the community in a stony embrace. We have no sidewalks here, if you except the business districts of the Upper and Lower Villages—if we want sidewalks, we can take the five-minute drive into Santa Barbara or, more ambitiously, fight traffic all the way down the coast to Los Angeles. But we don’t want sidewalks. We want nature, we want dirt, trees, flowers, the chaparral that did its best to green the slopes and declivities of the mountains until last month, when the biggest wildfire in California history reduced it all to ash. Fire is a prerequisite for debris flows, our geologists explained. So is unusually heavy rain in a steep mountain watershed. There are five named canyons, each its own watershed, above Montecito, as we see on the map above. There are more to the east, above Summerland and Carpinteria, the next two towns down the coast. Those towns also took some damage, though less than Montecito. Ed Keller put up this slide to explain conditions that trigger debris flows, and how they work: Ed and Larry were emphatic about this: debris flows are not landslides , nor do many start that way (though one in Rattlesnake Canyon 1100 years ago did). They are also not mudslides , so we should stop calling them that. Debris flows require sloped soils left bare and hydrophobic —resistant to water—after a recent wildfire has burned off the chaparral that normally (as geologists say) “hairs over” the landscape. Wildfires are common, and chaparral is adapted to them. But rainfalls as intense as this one are not.More than half an inch fell in just five minutes. That’s all it took. It’s hard to generalize about the combination of factors required, but Ed has worked hard to do that, and this slide of his is one way of illustrating how debris flows happen eventually in places like Montecito and Santa Barbara: From bottom to top, here’s what it says: Fires happen almost regularly, spreading most widely where chaparral has matured to become abundant fuel, as the firefighters like to call it. Flood events are more random, given the relative rarity of rain and even more rare rains of “biblical” volume. But they do happen. Stream beds in the floors of canyons accumulate rocks and boulders that roll down the gradually eroding slopes over time. The depth of these is expressed as basin instablity. Debris flows clear out the rocks and boulders when a big flood event comes right after a fire and basin becomes stable (relatively rock-free) again. The sediment yield in a flood (F) is maximum when a debris flow (DF) occurs. Debris flows tend to happen once every few hundred years. And you’re not going to get the big ones if you don’t have the canyon stream bed full of rocks and boulders. About this set of debris flows in particular: Destruction down Oak Creek wasn’t as bad as on Montecito, San Ysidro, Buena Vista and Romero Creeks because the canyon feeding it is smaller. When debris flows hit an obstruction, such as a bridge, they seek out a new bed to flow on. This is one of the actions that creates an alluvial fan. From the map it appears something like that happened—. Where the flow widened when it hit the Montecito Creek culvert under Olive Mill Road, fanning east of Olive Mill to destroy all three blocks between Olive Mill and Santa Elena Lane before taking Olive Mill itself across 101 and down to the Biltmore while also helping other flows fill 101 up to the roadbed of the bridge. In the area between Buena Vista Creek and its East Fork, which come off different watersheds. Where a debris flow forked south of Mountain Drive after destroying San Ysidro Ranch, continuing down both Randall and El Bosque Roads. For those who caught (or are about to catch) Ellen’s Facetime with Oprah visiting neighbors with her iPhone , that was among the red dots at the bottom end of the destruction area that’s one long row of red dots indicating destroyed buildings. Oprah’s own place is in the green area beside it on the left, looking a bit like Versailles. (Credit where due, though: it was a good and compassionate report.). Big question: did these debris flows clear out the canyon floors? We (meaning our geologists, hydrologists and other specialists) won’t know until they trek back into the canyons to see how it all looks. Meanwhile, we do have clues. For example, here are after-and-before photos of Montecito, shot from space. And here is my close-up of the latter, shot one day after the event, when everything was still fresh muck: See the white lines fanning back into the mountains through the canyons (Cold Spring, San Ysidro, Romero, Toro) above Montecito? Ed explained that these appear to be the washed out beds of creeks feeding into those canyons. Here is his slide showing Cold Spring Creek before and after the event: Looking back at Ed’s basin threshold graphic above, one might say that there isn’t much sediment left to yield, and that the stream beds in the floors of the canyons has returned to stability. But that photo was of just one spot. There are many miles of creek beds to examine back in those canyons. Still, one might hope that Montecito has now had its required 200-year event, and a couple more centuries will pass before we have another one. Ed and Larry caution against such conclusions, emphasizing that most of Montecito’s and Santa Barbara’s inhabited parts gain their existence, beauty or both by grace of debris flows. If your property features boulders, Ed said, a debris flow put them there, and did that not long ago in geologic time. For an example of boulders as landscape features, here are some we quarried out of our yard more than a decade ago, when we were building a house dug into a hillside: This is deep in the heart of Santa Barbara. The matrix mud we now call soil here is likely a mix of Juncal and Cozy Dell shale, Ed explained. Both are poorly lithified silt and erode easily. The boulders are a mix of Matilija and Coldwater sandstone, which comprise the hardest and most vertical parts of the Santa Ynez mountains. The two are so similar that only a trained eye can tell them apart. All four of those geological formations were established long after dinosaurs vanished. All also accumulated originally as sediments, mostly on ocean floors, probably not far from the equator. To illustrate one chapter in the story of how those rocks and sediments got here, UCSB has a terrific animation of how the transverse (east-west) Santa Ynez Mountains came to be where they are. Here are three frames in that movie: What it shows is how, when the Pacific Plate was grinding its way northwest about eighteen million years ago, a hunk of that plate about a hundred miles long and the shape of a bread loaf broke off. At the top end was the future Malibu hills and at the bottom end was the future Point Conception, then situated south of what’s now Tijuana. The future Santa Barbara was west of the future Newport Beach. Then, when the Malibu end of this loaf got jammed at the future Los Angeles, the bottom end of the loaf swept out, clockwise and intact. At the start it was pointing at 5 o’clock and at the end (which isn’t), it pointed at 9:30. This was, and remains, quite a show. Find more geology, with lots of links, in Making sense of what happened to Montecito. I put that post up on the 15th and have been updating it since then. It’s the most popular post in the history of this blog, which I started in 2007. There are also 58 comments, so far. I’ll be adding more to this post after I visit as much as I can of Montecito ( exclusion zones permitting). Meanwhile, I hope this proves useful. Again, corrections and improvements are invited. Future Geography Geology history infrastructure Nature Photography Places Research Santa Barbara Science ThomasFire weather wildfire

Fake ad sources on Facebook

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Nearly all the ads I see on Facebook are ones like these two, next to Mark Zuckerberg’s latest post : Besides being false and misleading clickbait, they are not from espn.com. They’re from [link] , and bait for a topic switch:to pitching a diet supplement called Alpha Fuel.

Please let’s finally kill logins and passwords

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How would you feel if you had been told in the early days of the Web that in the year 2018 you would still need logins and passwords for damned near everything. Your faith in the tech world would be deeply shaken, no?

A miracle of flight

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That was the view to the south over center of Greenland a few hours ago: a late afternoon aurora over a blue dusk. I departed London about four hours before taking this shot, and am writing this in Santa Barbara.

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New York lights

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I had a bunch of errands to run today, but also a lot of calls. And, when I finally got up from my desk around 4pm with plans to head out in the car, I found five inches of snow already on the apartment deck. Another five would come after that. So driving was clearly a bad idea.

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Let’s get some things straight about publishing and advertising

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[Because it’s too @#$% hard to edit a long piece in WordPress (especially when one’s vision has not fully recovered from recent surgery), the latest edits of this are over here in Medium. Thanks.].

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A dark review for United’s Boeing 787

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I’ve been wanting to fly on the Boeing 787 “Dreamliner” ever since I missed a chance to go on an inaugural junket aboard one before Boeing began delivery to the airlines. But three days ago I finally got my chance, aboard United Flight 935 from London to Los Angeles.

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How True Advertising Can Save Journalism From Drowning in a Sea of Content

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Journalism is in a world of hurt because it has been marginalized by a new business model that requires maximizing “content” instead. That model is calle d adtech. We can see adtech’s effects in The New York Times ’ In New Jersey, Only a Few Media Watchdogs Are Left , by David Chen.

The problem for people isn’t advertising, and the problem for advertising isn’t blocking. The problem for both is tracking.

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In Google Has Quietly Dropped Ban on Personally Identifiable Web Tracking , @JuliaAngwin and @ProPublica unpack what the subhead says well enough: “Google is the latest tech company to drop the longstanding wall between anonymous online ad tracking and user’s names.”

Here’s a cool project: completely revolutionize shopping online

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This was to be my September column for the subscriber edition of Linux Journal, which was terminated last week after 25 years in business. The theme for that month’s issue was to be Cool Projects. The website is still up, however, so now the coolest project for its owner is to save it, so none of that long and valuable history gets 404’d.