Wood model of a tractor in sunlight
Ugears Tractor
"...by telling people to put sensitive data (such as credentials, configuration files, etc) it's a really dangerous lesson for our teams. We're teaching people to blindly trust arbitrary websites that they don't have any relationship with, nor have fully audited the source code, when posting potentially sensitive data."
This is an excellent reminder that I can take a little extra time and make my own validator and make sure my processes don’t rely on external tools like these.
Daily Beast
"The comments represent one of the most explicit acknowledgments to date that the White House’s aggressive push to bring students back to campus this fall has created serious risks for increased COVID transmission. It also underscores just how fragile the current situation is at college campuses across the country."
Seems like something they could have predicted. It’s almost like the push to open campuses was motivated by something other than public health concerns.
Hazelnut orchard in front of a red barn
99% Invisible
"In 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville toured the country and was amazed by the postal system. Even in the most isolated parts of the American frontier he found people who had read newspapers and could talk about politics in America and Europe."
Great episode of 99pi about the origins of the postal service and how it promoted infrastructure and literacy.
Large mossy tree in the foreground, stairs built into a hill in the background
Forest Stairs
BuzzFeed News
"The company did not catch the page despite user reports, Zuckerberg said, because the complaints had been sent to content moderation contractors who were not versed in “how certain militias” operate. “On second review, doing it more sensitively, the team that was responsible for dangerous organizations recognized that this violated the policies and we took it down.”"
Blaming contractors when that’s the moderation system they designed? They can’t control their own moderation system? Facebook stock price is at an all time high so the company doesn’t have much incentive to change their systems. It’s working well for making money, working terribly for society.
The Verge
"At least two separate Facebook users reported the account for inciting violence prior to the shooting, The Verge has learned. In each case, the group and its counter-protest event were examined by Facebook moderators and found not to be in violation of the platform’s policies."
Facebook increases engagement by recruiting new members to groups like this. This is Facebook working as designed.

Conspiracy Thinking as Corrupted Play

I hesitate to mention conspiracy theories at all because while I think they can be entertaining to turn over in your mind they're ultimately not a rewarding way to spend your mental energy. What if humans didn't land on the moon? is a neat party trick once but you can't build a movement on it because it doesn't hold up with any scrutiny. (By the way, check out the fantastic three-episode Our Fake History podcast on this topic: Why Deny the Moon Landings?)

If you haven't been following the big consipracy theory of our day, I don't blame you. There's a good primer in The Atlantic: American conspiracy theories are entering a dangerous new phase. I think it's good to be aware of it because it's starting to affect our politics and creep into our culture. You can't help but encounter these theories on social media. And unlike moon landing denial or flat-earthers, these theories have become a dangerous world view and belief system for many of the people who are snared.

One useful angle I've seen for thinking about these all-encompassing conspiracies is comparing them with alternate reality games. ARG designers Adrian Hon and Dan Hon both had great articles expanding on this connection: What ARGs Can Teach Us About QAnon and QAnon looks like an alternate reality game. I think looking at the history of ARGs can help us make predictions about how current conspiracy behavior will unfold. I especially liked this idea Jon Glover mentioned of corrupted play that describes losing the frame:
Role play is contingent on navigating between real and imagined worlds, which affords opportunities for allegorical thinking, exploration of alternate identities and universes, and creative problem solving. But when this boundary collapses, we have what Joseph Laycock calls “corrupted play,” a term that helps explain dark or weaponized ARGs.
Corrupted play describes both the appeal and danger of conspiracy thinking. The appeal is all of the good pieces of play that we need but twisting it by losing the fact that it is play at all. Here's the article by Glover: This Is Not a Game.

Another post that gave me a lot to think about this topic was Mike Hoye's Connections. He saw conspiracy thinking as similar to occult thinking and summarized C. S. Lewis' view of its ultimate futility:
Lewis saw occultism as a sort of psychological snare, a set of endlessly self-referential symbols of symbols of symbols with no ultimate referent, a bottomless semiotic rathole for the overcurious inquirer designed to perpetually confuse and distract the mind.
In computer terms, this reminds me of a Honeypot:
Generally, a honeypot consists of data (for example, in a network site) that appears to be a legitimate part of the site that seems to contain information or a resource of value to attackers, but actually, is isolated and monitored and, enables blocking or analyzing the attackers.
However, unlike a script that's trapped in a loop gathering bogus data, conspiracy adherents take their collected data and act in the world.
“While I will be a Democratic candidate, I will be an American president,” Biden said. “I will work as hard for those who didn’t support me as I will for those who did. That’s the job of a president. To represent all of us, not just our base or our party.”
Competency looks so unusual! But I think I'm ready for it again.
NBC News
“As of this morning, we have tested 954 students and have 177 in isolation and 349 in quarantine, both on and off campus” university officials wrote in a statement. “So far, we have been fortunate that most students who have tested positive have demonstrated mild symptoms.”
Another danger of opening campuses and then abruptly closing them is creating a spreading event. Here's more from The Chronicle of Higher Education: UNC Pulls the Plug on In-Person Fall. Will Other Campuses Follow?
"Students now must pack up and go home. Once there, Joseph Eron, chief of the infectious-diseases division at the UNC School of Medicine, recommended that they quarantine themselves for a time, away from their family members. They should stay in a separate room, wash their hands frequently, and wear a mask around the house. “They should not expose themselves to their parents or their grandparents,” he said. “That’s the way to be completely safe.” After all, they would be returning from something of a coronavirus hotspot."
Cluster, indeed.
"There are 44 states that don't require any reason to vote by mail or allow concerns about COVID-19 as a valid reason. All 44 states provide alternatives to the USPS to return your mail-in ballot."
You might want to know how to return a ballot without using the postal service. Just in case it’s needed.
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