How a “Political Astroturfing” App Coordinates Pro-Israel Influence Operations

“…a pro-Israel smartphone app that seeds and amplifies pro-Israel messages
across social media — saw its first major test in May 2019. It offered a glimpse of the novel methods by which future influence campaigns will
be conducted and information wars won…[the app] assigns users a series of ‘missions’ — typically a comment, retweet, or ‘like’ — intended to boost pro-Israel content across multiple platforms. Through these missions, Act.IL claims to have
reached millions of people.”

—Emerson T. Brooking of the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, “How a ‘Political Astroturfing’ App Coordinates Pro-Israel Influence Operations.” Medium.com. August 19, 2019.

Also:

“One of the most unique aspects in our activity is our “no-logo”
strategy. The no-logo strategy allows anyone to use our content, [sic]
and makes it easier than ever to reach audiences that aren’t necessarily pro Israel since they look at the content without a bias that is based on who created the content.”

—Act.IL internal documentation quoted in ibid.

Astroturf, pretending to be or hiding behind a third party to obscure identities and sources of information isn’t unique, it’s what defines Astroturf. It’s manipulative, jackass behavior that works only when it isn’t found out. When it is discovered, it reflects poorly both on its origin and the interests they are attempting to promote. Choosing this approach says a lot about someone’s character.

Ishkur’s Guide to Electronic Music

“This guide is rated [M] Mature. It is a love letter to underground counter-culture. 90% of the music here is enjoyed by freaks wearing crazy outfits, consuming copious amounts of drugs, and engaging in 3-day sex benders with indeterminate genders. It is not for children. I am not going to sanitize things just so your precious little Jeighden can locate the latest tweenwave ringtone they ripped off Twitch…

Q: What literature did you read to learn all this stuff?

A: I have 30 years of back issues of Electronic Music and Keyboard magazine, with an ungodly number of books also collected over the decades…As for modern literature, a better answer is what I don’t read: For starters, any magazine, blog, website, newsletter, flyer, TV show, podcast, record label, chart, press release or bathroom graffiti that uses the acronym ‘EDM’ is complete donkey balls and should not be relied on as a source for anything…

Q: What makes you the authority on electronic music?

A: You may know some of it more than me, but I know all of it more than you.”

http://music.ishkur.com/#

This guide is not complete donkey balls. Even if you have zero interest in electronic music, the frequently unasked questions page, some of which is quoted above, is hilarious.

h/t Openculture.

Domestic War on Terror Is Not the Answer to White Supremacy

“At a time when the American system of government is already being sorely tested by a demagogue and would-be autocrat in the White House, it would be disastrous to grant more power to the Justice Department and the nation’s security services.”

—James Risen, ” To Fight White Supremacist Violence, Let’s Not Repeat the Mistakes of the War on Terror.” The Intercept. August 17, 2019.

Anytime you think the solution to a problem takes the form of “War on X” or “X War”, you probably need to think a little harder about it.

The War on Terror treats a symptom while acting as a catalyst for the underlying disease. Same goes for the “War on Drugs”. The moment marijuana was getting legalized, the criminal elements supplying it went to opiates. Further, one has to wonder how much longer “The Cold War” enabled communism to last by providing a facade the underlying structural problems could hide behind.

Also, this idea of, “At a time when…” is bogus. This kind of testing could happen at any time. If there is some capability you think the next Hitler shouldn’t have as head of government, then you have a good sense of what powers your government shouldn’t have, and you should use that line to have a principled discussion of the powers of state. Should one person be able to start a nuclear war? Should one person be able to start any war, via the War Powers Act? These are conversations that are overdue.

Wearable Robots | Science

“…it is realistic to think that we will witness, in the next several years, the development of robust human-robot interfaces to command wearable robotics based on the decoding of a representative part of the neural code of movement in humans. The need for wearable technologies that minimally alter human biomechanics will result in a transition from rigid wearable robots to soft exosuits such as the one reported by Kim et al., and, eventually, to implantable neuroprostheses that can influence or
assist human movement. The need for preserving human neuromechanics while using assistive technology will likely lead to implantable and networked recording and stimulation neuroprostheses. Such devices would implement effective interfaces to decode the wearer’s movement intent and influence it when necessary to enhance human performance (7).”

—José L. Pons, et al, ” Witnessing a wearables transition.” Science. 16 Aug 2019: Vol. 365, Issue 6454, pp. 636-637.

Practical applications to efforts like Elon Musk’s Neurolink weren’t immediately apparent to me. Ok, a neuro-implant as a human artificial intelligence interface may make sense a few decades off. However, a neuronal interface for a soft exosuit seems like it something that could be used today.

Bad Exercise Advice, Exhibit B

“Despite the apparent complexity of modern exercise programs, you really have only two options if you want to get fitter: you can train harder than you’re currently training, or you can train more. Those two variables, intensity and volume, are the basic levers that all training plans fiddle with in various ways. But let’s be honest: two variables is still too many. We all secretly want to know which one is really the master switch that controls our fitness.”

-Alex Hutchinson, “Is It More Important to Run Faster or Run Longer?Outside. August 14, 2019.

As covered in the discussion on adaptation response, there is no “master switch that controls our fitness.” If you want to be good at doing push-ups, do push-ups. If you want to swim the English Channel, then practice swimming miles at a time in cold water currents. If you want to be able to hold your breath for an extended time, then practice holding your breath. If you want to have six-pack abs, then you need to reduce your eating and increase your activity to the point that you can get your body fat below 10%. Everybody has six pack abs, it’s just that, for most of us, they are hidden behind a thick layer of fat.

Of course, goals tend to be more complex. If you want to run your first marathon, then you need to run more. You should work up to running 50 miles a week and be able to run for 20 miles straight a month before your race.

If you want to run faster than your last marathon, then you can increase your mileage up to 120 miles a week of elite runners and you can work in as much speed work as your body can handle at that volume, which will not be much unless you have been running that kind of volume for years and your body has adapted to it.

It is possible to run shorter distances fast and move up to the marathon. So, after years of adapting to a high volume of speed and middle distance running, you can start training for longer distances and increase mileage.

However, if your new to running, your goal is to run a marathon and you don’t have a decade time horizon to do it, then it’s probably easier to start with running more rather than a running program focused on running faster. Conversely, if your goal is to run a sub-20 minute 5k race, then running more than 50 miles a week will likely make you slower, not faster. Better to do intervals of 5k, a mile, a half-mile and a quarter mile with lower total mileage.

Your training has to reflect the activity you are training for. Sprinting is not the same as long distance running. Cycling isn’t the same leg exercise as doing squats and deadlifts. Our body (and mind) adapts to the training (or lack thereof) we give it.

The Art Of Warez

Warez is a common computing and broader cultural term referring to pirated software (i.e. illegally copied, often after deactivation of anti-piracy measures) that is distributed via the Internet. Warez is used most commonly as a noun, a plural form of ware (short for computer software), and is intended to be pronounced like the word wares, /ˈwɛərz/. The circumvention of copy protection (cracking) is an essential step in generating warez, and based on this common mechanism, the software-focused definition has been extended to include other copyright-protected materials, including movies and games.”

Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, s.v. “Warez,” (accessed August 08, 2019) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warez.

Forecasting in R: Probability Bins for Time-Series Data

This time-series.R script, below, takes a set of historical time series data and does a walk using the forecast period to generate probabilistic outcomes from the data set.

Input file is a csv file with two columns (Date, Value) with dates in reverse chronological order and in ISO-8601 format. Like so:

2019-08-06,1.73                                                                
2019-08-05,1.75                                                                
2019-08-02,1.86

Output is as follows:

0.466: Bin 1 - <1.7
0.328: Bin 2 - 1.7 to <=1.9
0.144: Bin 3 - 1.9+ to <2.1
0.045: Bin 4 - 2.1 to <=2.3
0.017: Bin 5 - 2.3+

Note: Patterns in data sets will skew results. A 20-year upward trend will make higher probabilities more likely. A volatile 5-year period will produce more conservative predictions and may not capture recent trends or a recent change in direction of movement.

R Script

# time-series.R 
# Original: December 4, 2018
# Last revised: December 4, 2018

#################################################
# Description: This script is for running any 
# sequence of historical time-series data to make 
# a forecast for five values by a particular date.
# Assumes a cvs file with two columns (Date, Value) 
# with dates in reverse chronological order and in
# ISO-8601 format. Like so:
#
# 2019-08-06,1.73                                                                
# 2019-08-05,1.75                                                                
# 2019-08-02,1.86

#Clear memory and set string option for reading in data:
rm(list=ls())
gc()

  #################################################
  # Function
  time-series <- function(time_path="./path/file.csv", 
                        closing_date="2020-01-01", trading_days=5, 
                         bin1=1.7, bin2=1.9, 
                         bin3=2.1, bin4=2.3) {

  #################################################
  # Libraries
  #
  # Load libraries. If library X is not installed
  # you can install it with this command at the R prompt:
  # install.packages('X') 

  # Determine how many days until end of question
  todays_date <- Sys.Date()
  closing_date <- as.Date(closing_date)
  remaining_weeks <- as.numeric(difftime(closing_date, todays_date, units = "weeks"))
  remaining_weeks <- round(remaining_weeks, digits=0)
  non_trading_days <- (7 - trading_days) * remaining_weeks
  day_difference <- as.numeric(difftime(closing_date, todays_date))
  remaining_days <- day_difference - non_trading_days 

  #################################################
  # Import & Parse
  # Point to time series data file and import it.
  time_import <- read.csv(time_path, header=FALSE) 
  colnames(time_import) <- c("date", "value")

  # Setting data types
  time_import$date <- as.Date(time_import$date)
  time_import$value <- as.vector(time_import$value)

  # Setting most recent value, assuming descending data
  current_value <- time_import[1,2]

  # Get the length of time_import$value and shorten it by remaining_days
  time_rows = length(time_import$value) - remaining_days

  # Create a dataframe
  time_calc <- NULL

  # Iterate through value and subtract the difference 
  # from the row remaining days away.
  for (i in 1:time_rows) {
    time_calc[i] <- time_import$value[i] - time_import$value[i+remaining_days]
  }

  # Adjusted against current values to match time_calc
  adj_bin1 <- bin1 - current_value
  adj_bin2 <- bin2 - current_value
  adj_bin3 <- bin3 - current_value 
  adj_bin4 <- bin4 - current_value 

  # Determine how many trading days fall in each question bin
  prob1 <- round(sum(time_calc<adj_bin1)/length(time_calc), digits = 3)
  prob2 <- round(sum(time_calc>=adj_bin1 & time_calc<=adj_bin2)/length(time_calc), digits = 3)
  prob3 <- round(sum(time_calc>adj_bin2 & time_calc<adj_bin3)/length(time_calc), digits = 3)
  prob4 <- round(sum(time_calc>=adj_bin3 & time_calc<=adj_bin4)/length(time_calc), digits = 3)
  prob5 <- round(sum(time_calc>adj_bin4)/length(time_calc), digits = 3)
  
  ###############################################
  # Print results
  return(cat(paste0(prob1, ": Bin 1 - ", "<", bin1, "\n",
                  prob2, ": Bin 2 - ", bin1, " to <=", bin2, "\n", 
                  prob3, ": Bin 3 - ", bin2, "+ to <", bin3, "\n", 
                  prob4, ": Bin 4 - ", bin3, " to <=", bin4, "\n", 
                  prob5, ": Bin 5 - ", bin4, "+", "\n")))
}

Bringing a Knife to a Fruit Fight

Apple: A good knife wants to cut you.
Orange: Huh?
Apple. A good knife wants to cut you.
Orange. Why would a good wife...
Apple. A good *knife* wants to cut you.
Orange. Cutlery doesn't cut you.
Apple. A sharp knife will slice the off-hand.
Orange. Spoons are safer than knives. Use a spoon.
Apple. Two-edged blades, split both ways.
Orange. Yet, an ax still chops, either way.
Apple. A ax does not cleave the cutlass or slash the sabre.
Orange. To perforate, try words, looks, needles and hooks.
Apple. A sandal beats steel with no handle.
Orange. Loose cannons, don't step on knives.
Apple. Stir with a knife, stir up strife.
Orange. Dipping for honey, licking the shiv.
Apple. Taste of onion, blame the blade.
Orange. Are you trying to say something?
Apple. I am saying something.
Orange. Are you? Or, are you being dull?

Exceptional Access to Encrypted Communications

Bob Barr has recently added his voice to the ongoing call of law enforcement to provide exceptional access to encrypted communications. Here’s why that’s not going to work.

“Exceptional access — as governments propose — is the problem of making a system selectively secure. I can tell you, it’s hard enough to make a secure system. It’s vastly harder to make a system secure except for governments, and only available to governments that consist of ‘democratically elected representatives and [a] judiciary’ as the GCHQ authors imagine.”

—Jon Callas, “The ‘Ghost User’ Ploy to Break Encryption Won’t Work.” DavisVanguard.org. July 24,2019.

Is being able to access the encrypted communications of everyone enough? Between the drone’s Gorgon Stare above, the Ring camera on every other front door for police to access, televisions tracking every show being watched, phones and digital assistants listening in on conversations, fitness trackers as evidence in court cases, Stringray and other technology for phone tracking, license plate readers to track vehicle movement over time, surveillance balloons and so on, it feels to me like the police and military are a little under-powered these days.

I was promised a camera in my television watching my every move, a Room 101 for not sufficiently toeing the line and a boot stomping on a face of humanity forever. Was Uncle Orwell lying to me?

Adaptation Response

“Stress + Rest = Growth. It’s as simple and as hard as that.”

-Brad Stulberg, “The Equation That Will Make You Better at Everything.” Outside Magazine. July 26, 2019.

There’s a lot of advice on the internet. From the vague, live your best life, to the strangely specific, drink more water, everyone has a suggestion about changes we can make that is going to make our lives better. Most of it is harmless, even if it is baloney.

But, this idea about stress is good, if poorly articulated. The problem is that ‘Stress’ should be ‘Training.’

Stress is not necessarily good. Hate your job and find yourself wolfing down a whole Meat Lover’s Pizza from Domino’s Pizza every Friday night? That’s a maladaptive response to stress.

Training, on the other hand, implies a purpose. It also implies progression.

I read an article in Men’s Journal several years ago, called “Everything You Know About Fitness Is a Lie.” It covers a lot of territory, such as bad gyms, but the main idea is that if we want to be fit, we need to train to be strong. If you want to get strong, you should probably listen to Mark Rippetoe:

It is May 15, and you decide that this year you are going to get a suntan – a glorious, beautiful, tropical suntan. So you decide to go out in the back yard (to spare the neighbors and innocent passers-by) to lay out at lunchtime and catch a ray or two. You lie on your back for 15 minutes and flip over to lie on your belly for 15 minutes. Then you get up, come in and eat lunch, and go back to work. That night, your skin is a little pink, so the next day you just eat lunch, but the following day you’re back outside for your 15-minutes-per-side sunbath. You are faithful to your schedule, spending 30 minutes outside every day that week, because that’s the kind of disciplined, determined person you are. At the end of the week, you have turned a more pleasant shade of brown, and, heartened by your results, resolve to maintain your 30-minutes-per-day schedule for the rest of the month. So, here is the critical question: what color is your skin at the end of the month?”

-Mark Rippetoe, “The Biggest Training Fallacy of All.” StartingStrength.com. May 6, 2013.

The vast majority of people get this question wrong because they think a month long change of behavior is stress. The reality is that we have adapted to the new stress within a week. As Mark puts it:

“[A]daptation occurs in response to the stress, and specifically to that stress, because the stress is what causes the adaptation. This is why calluses form on the part of your hand where the bar rubs, and not on the other parts of the hand, or on your face, or all over your body. It can obviously be no other way.

Furthermore, the stress must be capable of being recovered from. Like the 2 hours of sun the first day or the 55 bench reps once a month, the stress must be appropriate for the trainee receiving it. So, if the stress is so overwhelming that it cannot be recovered from in time to apply more of it in a time frame which permits accumulated adaptation, it is useless as a beneficial tool that drives progress. And if this excessive stress is applied so infrequently that any adaptation to it has dispersed before you get around to it again 3 months later, no adaptation can accumulate.

An awareness of this central organizing principle of physiology as it applies to physical activity is essential to program design. Exercise and training are two different thingsExercise is physical activity for its own sake, a workout done for the effect it produces today, during the workout or right after you’re through. Training is physical activity done with a longer-term goal in mind, the constituent workouts of which are specifically designed to produce that goal. If a program of physical activity is not designed to get you stronger or faster or better conditioned by producing a specific stress to which a specific desirable adaptation can occur, you don’t get to call it training. It is just exercise…

-ibid.

You could replace stress for exercise in the preceding paragraph, and it would still be right. The adaptive response is a fact of life, whether we are talking about our careers, skills or relationships. But, how many of us are deliberately training ourselves toward goals by seeking out new challenges? The problem with advice like: “Stress + Rest = Growth” is that it’s like sitting out in the sun for 15 minutes a day and thinking it’s going to result in a tan. Having a goal is useless if the road you are walking on won’t take you there. In order to grow, we need to plan and progress toward it. Stress, by itself, isn’t going to do it.