Saturday Thoughts

On Mozilla: Yeah, this pretty much sums things up for me. For me this is a question of collaboration in a quagmire. In this, liberalism as a political ecosystem is tarnished. Big win for atavism.

And here’s an excellent read on Octavio Paz. Sort of like: did Kundera turn informant or not and what would you have done no matter?

And this on Indie games doesn’t make sense to me. One thing, I don’t know what Indie actually means. It’s an unnecessary term, in my view.

Childhood and Stray Tires

Reading this Atlantic piece brought to mind a memory of the El Paso, TX streets when I was a kid in the late 60s and then 70s. My friends and I would find stray tires. We’d roll them to the top of a steep street and let them go and watch. They’d bounce against parked cars, the occasional fence, walls. Most everyone understood that there were kids stalking the neighborhood.

It wasn’t all rosy. Most everyone understood that too, least of all us. Guess what we did with the discarded but not-so-empty box of Benson and Hedges. We’d be called for dinner, enter and eat, then leave again. We rarely saw parents, and when we did it was like encountering exotic wildlife.

Childhood culture. Here’s an added feature: since we were out so much, we knew who to avoid; we knew where the strange people were, who’s dog would bite, what house or region was off limits. We knew the gang signs.

That doesn’t mean everyone survived.

My Changing Attitudes about Failure in the Classroom

Over the years my attitudes about managing classroom activity has changed. It’s a long story. It begins with my own college experience being read to by the professor or even further back being told that thinking on my own would get me into trouble in grade school. I hated school. But I loved graduate school. I thought (which was probably a mistake): why not take the things I liked and make them work at the undergraduate level.

The thing I liked about undergraduate and graduate learning was that, for the most part, I could make my own decisions: I could drink beer instead of going to class; I could go to class and drink beer; it was up to me. To me compulsory is a dirty word and my fingers still smell of the iron bars of grade school. Yes college: I could do it or not do it and take the consequences. I remember a conversation with a professor. I said, “I have to do this reading.” He stabbed me with his reading-shrunken eyeballs and said, “You don’t have to do shit.” In addition, the lively use of technology by many of my professors was an inspiring mix of theory, application, and invention. The good professors would think a lot about why something might work and then try it, even if it failed. Then they would try something else. They asked questions like: how can we make big classes feel smaller? How can we take the advantages of residential colleges and mimic these with tech?

Recently (by recent I mean the last ten years or so), I’ve altered my strategies to include more emphasis on competency-based evaluation and instruction, generic assessments, and to placing more of the burden of learning on the people in my courses. By competency-based I mean telling students that they’re not after a grade on a paper but aiming to improve thinking and skills through written revision and hard work. By generic assessment I mean going from something like this:

Read this specific article and evaluate the author’s use of evidence

to this

Evaluate an author’s use of evidence in support of an argument. Find the author on your own.

Much of the above has to do with the fact that I like to change readings a lot and I don’t want to have to rewrite every assessment I provide to students.

By placing more of the burden on students, I mean to remove what I see as artificial or un-unassessable quantities in the regular movements of the semester: what’s the proper punishment for missing a deadline, I ask myself: grade diminishment or loss of opportunity to learn something? Recall the above conversation with my professor: he meant, “It’s up to you, Bub.”

I still have deadlines, but I tell people that if they miss a paper, what they miss is the opportunity for assessment. This presents a lot of risk, risk I’ve been willing to live with. For example, years ago I stopped reading student drafts because I found it difficult to avoid what might be called robotic or automated revision. That story goes like this: Cut this, this, and this comma and here’s a little about why, and develop the idea in this paragraph with more evidence. The commas would go, simply to reappear elsewhere and in the same context, and people would simply not do the development, responding with the common, “I didn’t know what you meant.” The whole business started to feel oddly enabling. I asked: does teacher editing lead to deep learning?

The typical semester now goes like this: students revise their own copy based on discussion and concepts worked on in class. I expect students in the research course to find copious amounts of information on topics and to study it against some fairly formulaic questions (what I call the argument framework): what’s the problem; what’s the position; what are the arguments; what’s the evidence; what are the appeals; and is it all done effectively or ineffectively by the author or authors and why? What’s your take? Students hand in their respective papers, I evaluate them and provide general ideas about improvement and expect students to revise, applying what they’ve learned. The results are still pretty raw, but those results reflect writing only the student has touched. They own them.

The general competencies are: identification, description, and evaluation/analysis.

Hypothetically, it all sounds pretty well and good. But in the last few years, students have taken the option of not turning things in for evaluation and waiting until the end of the semester to make their case, as the majority end-of-semester grade comes from final portfolios, which is meant to show the results of assessment and revision. Most of the time this makes for strange papers that show almost no improvement because very little option for improvement was made available. They’re supposed to own it all.

Consider this scenario. Student A stumbles to class most days but forgets to wake up in time for the first Chemistry exam. The teacher notes that the student failed to take the exam, hence marking a zero in the grade book. Let’s say this happens throughout the semester, grossing the student a zero in Chemistry. The teacher’s puzzled because attendance was perfect, with the exception of exam days. What’s the accurate conclusion: the student failed to demonstrate any knowledge of the subject even though they attended every session and appeared to take notes? I could give this story the most positive of outcomes: the student weeps about the goose egg but invents a new cure for disease in their basement.

Writing courses are similar. A student may participate in the day to day and then fail to turn in a paper, or not participate in the day to day and turn in nothing, or play the truant, turn in all their stuff at the end, and win the golden apple. In the first two scenarios, what they’ve failed to do is demonstrate what they’ve learned (maybe they didn’t show and neglected  their papers because they were working on a novel). In a writing course the main method for providing proof of learning is the much-loved academic, MLA-styled paper, the revised paper, and then a final proof. In a competency push, I want to be able to compare the first to the final, where evidence of learning shines through. Problem is: students are not providing me the drafts.

Time to rethink my approach.

Why I Worry About Students

Well, I worry about a lot of things. I’m a personality that worries.

It would appear that nationally the causes of higher education, one of which is to produce independent, thoughtful citizens (real rabble-rousers, you might call them), are being crushed by political interests. Most people have read about student debt and the costs of “choosing” to invest in an institution after high school. But the investment is lopsided with national and state government transferring costs to “the people.” We know that one person’s debt is another person’s profit.

I’m encouraged by organizations like Young Invincibles. I wonder if they’ll have as much impact as our  civil engineering graders.

There are a number of big sectors in Higher Ed. Public colleges and universities, privates, and for-profits, and somewhere beneath these trade schools stick their nose out from under the bed. What an interesting story this has been since financial turmoils in the 70s, late 90s, and 2008. It’s a complicated story. Sufficit it to say, most public institutions and families are increasingly going it alone, wielding their pea shooters in the woods. (I’m still waiting for the verdict on the Bayh-Dole Act.)

I live on metaphors. They help to boil things to their approximate essence. So, I imagine I’m a local politician in Connecticut driving the winter streets. What I see are humps, cracks, and holes in the gritty pitch from this long cold season and its mysterious substances meant to melt the ice and corrode brake lines. Someone’s going to have to pay for the repair, and I’ll be waiting for the complaints. It’s a life phenomenon: in your 40s, 50s, and mores, you’ll complain about paying for stuff you couldn’t imagine paying for in your 20s. Maybe our new robot kitchens in the future will bust holes in the wall board by opening the cabinet doors with too much force. Could happen. Or the metallurgical requirements of my coming bionic fingers will hammer the final coffin nail into some rare frog “somewhere south of not here.”

But I speculate this: we need all-out return to publically-funded higher ed and the material that holds us all up. And that means solving the inequality equations. Maybe my students will start marching on their own behalf.

Then there are a hundred other things to worry about.

Test 2

This shouldn’t come as a title.

Okay, another test.

Not much to say at the moment except that this post goes via Fargo 2.

Reading Ecologies and Information Architecture

I caught Andy Fitzgerald’s last post titled Architecting the Connected World this morning. He writes:

Here (the model of down-scrolling) we can see different modes at play. The trackpad isn’t strictly symbolic, nor is it iconic. Its relationship to the action it accomplishes is inferred by our embodied understanding of the physical world. This is signification in the indexical mode.

“Embodied understanding” is the language I’ve been looking for in the context of thinking across or against digital and analogue objects. Translation: reading a NYT article in a database vs the paper NYT vs the digital NYT. Fitzgerald’s analysis has to have something to do with how teachers approach research and reading with their students. Objects can be out of their original context. Sure, a rattle snake in a boot is still dangerous. But the serpent is “out of context.”

I’ve always thought scrolling was a bad idea. Such a text is fundamentally different than a page turn or swipe text. As the scrolling habit has evolved, I’ve begun to rethink how reading on the screen and scrolling through hidden abundance just adds to more hidden abundance. The prior paragraphs slide out of field. There’s only so much one can see in the traversal, and then there’s the swipe. In Tinderbox, the writer can side-by-side the draft. He or she can write against the scroll.

It’s a different leverage to craft.

Part-Time Teaching and Mentorship

I’m doing certain work at the college which has brought back certain issues about part-time teaching. There are many numbers. 70% part-time to the other full-time, tenure track. I don’t know what to think about the veracity of the ratio, but I’d venture it’s pretty close. When we have courses to run to meet enrollment or offerings, we have a limited number of full-time faculty to fill all the sections. When a full-time person retires in our system, the slot will not typically be filled by a sparkling new tenure-track hire. The slot will be plugged by a couple of adjunct faculty.

Adjunct, a corrosive term, means a non-essential add-on. The above scenario, however, doesn’t really mean “non-essential.” It points to a trend toward cost saving, which some people would claim is “essential.” In this case another term might be used: “contingent.”

We could get a whole bunch of smart people together and reengineer the college or university to run only on contracted faculty. No tenure track, no full-time teaching, just a lot of people running into the office with their signed contracts and hoping to land the same slot next semester or next year. One extreme result of this type of “college” might be “fun with sabotage,” where in order to complicated a competitor’s end-of-semester review, I simply make their computer difficult to use, the equivalent of removing a wire to just one spark plug.

I doubt this would be such a standout place.

The solution to our present mess is to go on a hiring spree. One argument against this is that money is insufficient in local, state and national budgets for education. This is diversionary non-sense. The money may be going to the wrong place. Then there’s the throw money at the problem argument, but then we have to rush to identify the problem. That rush will drive us into the murky dungeons of politics and economics. Is there light in those tunnels? For example, do tax incentives to draw investment in a state really work? Throwing money may be easier than a football.

Once the spree is over, elevating colleges and universities to sustainable ratios of teaching and learning, we can get down to the real business of reframing part-time teaching into what it should be: providing experience to people who will be seeking either full-time work at colleges or research institutions or other areas of the living sector. Mentorship, in other words. There’s a lot more to say about that approach than I have time for at the moment.

Teachers need places to park and think about what they’re doing. Places to sit with students and colleagues. Part-time faculty have great difficulty vesting in the institutions where they’re often lucky to find a course or two. Part-time faculty worry too much about staying healthy because they typically don’t possess the benefits that come with tenured positions.

Our current neglect is unsustainable and unethical.

There are a couple of notable benefits: growing full-time staffs will enlarge the pool of good-paying jobs (Samsung will sell more TVs), thereby encouraging investment in institutions and curriculum (TVs or no TVs). Enlarging staffs will improve the development of skill in both faculty and students and will encourage innovation. Full-time faculty are on campus most of the day. They’re parked and can listen and take part in what needs doing. Finally, institutional ethics has been seriously harmed. We’ve treat people poorly. Enlarging staffs is just the right thing to do and that includes supportive, professional staff.

So, my call is this: go on a hiring spree.

The Year of the Neglected Subordination in Politics

It’s probably going to be the year of “if you like your current insurance you can keep your current insurance. Period. End of story.” The story line is already broadcasting.

This is why I can’t go into politics because what I would say is: “Yes, I said it, now go fuck yourself.”

In one instance, in Green Bay, the president said this: “No matter how we reform health care, I intend to keep this promise:  If you like your doctor, you’ll be able to keep your doctor; if you like your health care plan, you’ll be able to keep your health care plan.” Here’s a link to other instances.

The president made a blunder because this is an incomplete thought. The subordinating conjunction problem in politics  should be a famous war between the devil and its details. In other words, President Obama should have said, “You can keep your insurance unless it doesn’t meet the new specs because there are new specs which I’ve listed ad nauseum.” The conjunction problem comes with the existence of Prometheus’s brother Epimetheus, who represents “foresight.”  Sometimes it’s impossible to know the political consequences when many people are aware of unarticulated but obvious facts. For example, many people after 2011 knew that certain insurance products would not meet the “new specs” and would therefore be illegal. But agents, like insurance companies, and members of Congress, and the President, neglected to provide a photo of the devil to their customers.

Now, here’s why the statement is not a lie. Everyone knew that the ACA would prohibit price gouging. There were insurance plans priced higher for women than for men. Logically, if a person likes being gouged and the law prevents this gouging, then regardless of whether one likes being gouged, one cannot keep the plan that gouges them, and certainly a company can’t offer the gouging plan as legal. Here’s another way Obama could have said what he knew at the time: “If you like your compliant plan, you can keep it.” But that wouldn’t be accurate either because an insurance company, I’m sure, might have numerous compliant plans and simply not offer them for renewal.

The president’s statement is like defining pornography. Most people knew what he meant because they read between the thick strokes. But the quotes make for good fun, I suppose. His statement is a broad assurance for the majority yet inaccurate and a blunder.

It should be noted that there are many corollaries. Let’s say you like your car but you like your car precisely because it doesn’t have seat belts. You will hear many people say: “You can drive whatever car you want in this country.” You know what they mean.

So, if I were a politician I would not make stuff up to defend against the “keep it if you like it” generalization. I would say: “Yeah, I said it, but you can’t drive a car with seat belts made out of toilet paper.”

Inequality, Unemployment, and Making Things

I’m not an economist, but it’s unfortunate that Rand Ghayad posted a link  on his blog to his policy brief called “A Decomposition of Shifts of the Beveridge Curve.” It’s also unfortunate that the paper might have been read by Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, who wrote an article called “Taxpayers, jobless Hurt by Extended Aid” for the Kentucky website. The reason I say it’s unfortunate that Ghayad posted the link is because it lead to his having to write an article at The Atlantic called “… No Reason to Cut Unemployment Benefits.”

Paul writes:

In fact, it’s worse than that. According to a study by Rand Ghayad and William Dickens for the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, employers will choose a less-skilled worker who has been unemployed for two months over a worker with more skills who has been unemployed for two years.

So yes, extending unemployment benefits to two years does a disservice to the unemployed. I want to be clear: No one is blaming the worker. Economists are simply looking at the facts that motivate employers.

Ghayad writes:

So why does he want to end unemployment benefits for people who have been out of work for 6 months or longer? Well, Paul cites my work on long-term unemployment as a justification—which surprised me, because it implies the opposite of what he says it does.

Now, we clearly have a long-term unemployment problem. The question is why. Paul says it’s all about incentives. He thinks extending unemployment benefits does a “disservice” to the unemployed by encouraging them to stay unemployed for too long. And as a “big-hearted” member of a party that cares about the jobless, he wants to protect them from making such mistakes—by cutting their benefits, of course.

In my view, cutting benefits when it’s pretty well known that people are getting tired of looking for work that isn’t there should be construed as cold blooded. In Paul’s piece there seems to be a striving imperative of getting the policy right. Maybe that’s true, but just because one policy might be good for people doesn’t mean that we should dash the ones that immediately assist.

Some economics scholars argue that leaner government is better. The austerity story. Others argue we need much much more stimulus to make up for the loss of demand in our current “free market.” Here’s a round-up of some the context of the debate on the issue. If the Obama administration is going to do something, I’ve argued in the past for making and fixing things, like rails, bridges, schools, and crashing the world with new energy sources and solutions. We need to do this Yesterday. If I own a pizza shop and more and more people are unemployed with no income at all, I’m eventually going to have to close up shop. If only 20% of people in the country can afford my product, I’m losing the potential other 80%.

Paul writes:

As a nation, though, there is more to be considered. The biggest consideration should be our $17.3 trillion debt. Should we continue to borrow from China to pay for unemployment benefits? Currently, unemployment benefits are paid for by employer taxes for 26 weeks — anything beyond that is borrowed money.

One reason that the above bugs me is that it implies several good reasons why unemployment benefits should be cut (I can’t actually think of any, though I could fabricate something). One: China; two: the debt; three: the research supports it. Ghayad strips the last one. And I don’t see how the first two are connected to the problem at all.

Computer Savvy vs Gadget Savvy and other Booleans

Anecdotally, since the 80s, I’ve seen a rapid rise of general computer savvy in students and am now seeing a decline in computer savvy with a corresponding rise in gadget savvy students, though I’m not quite sure if that’s what I mean since I’m not really sure what computer savvy or gadget savvy actually means, in any meaningful sense.

Let me see if I can parse this out. By computer savvy I mean a general comfort and “comfort in the” interest in the workings of the machine, which I would attribute to newness or greenness of the object (not a general interest with its next iteration when that “its” becomes an annoyance). Has anyone cared about the next iteration of the stove?  In the nineties we were excited about computers for all kinds of reasons. Telephony gadgets were things you feared being clubbed with. The Walkman wasn’t a digital gadget but it was the iPhone of the 80s. In the 90s, students were still using typewriters. Before the ’00s, computers, I would argue, were “exploratory.”

I don’t think this is true for most college students these days. Computers are things people just have. I don’t see a lot of students “exploring” the possibilities. In the recent years, I’ve observed platform cliches (people still argue Redmond vs Cupertino and now vs Mountain View)  but the chatter’s all old hash and you can hear the hinges creaking.

Still, things are changing fast and I don’t really know what to expect when I say, “Send it to me through email.” Not a lot of  ”savvy” that maybe one doc might not work if sent through mode of transfer. The proliferation of “types” is driving me crazy. I cringe when a student sends me something with the extension .pages, and wonder when I get one that says .odt (hm, I know when someone’s using open source but isn’t worrying about the information contained in the dialogue or context box dropdowns). In other words, thinking about “what one sends” matters. But what people hear when I say “through email” is “okay, my doc is the same as yours, so, I’ll send my .pages doc or ‘whatever I’m saving.’” But I wonder if people are thinking about the object they’re actually saving. One way of thinking about this is the “personal cloud”: drag it to my public file, but then I have to worry about what’s being dragged in.

I have students who text during class. They have their phone on the desk and periodically tap a message out. And then get one back. It’s amusing to think about this activity. It doesn’t get me anywhere to judge the behavior, but it is curious to think about what sort of compulsivity to which this points. I tell students we need those things to look up information. When you want to evaluate data it’s good to have the real numbers from the CDC or the FBI. Computing devices, wifi enabled, are fantastic for that.

Which finally gets me to the reason why I started this post: the recent news about the NSA and the iPhone, about which I’m holding a certain amount of skepticism. I need someone to tell me how this actually works. And thus the problem: how does one search for a piece of software on the iPhone or the iPad. How does one know, and manipulate, specifically, “all” the software on their gadget?

This story, true or false, tells me something about the relationship people have had with computers and the technical relationship they’ve developed with the iPhone.  This is the “decline of the computer savvy” narrative. My conclusion or observations here may, of course, be true or false.

Must Reads for Americans: When the Bizarre becomes Logical

After more reports on NSA and tech, these concerning Apple, I decided to include the recent ruling by Judge Pauley in the morning’s reading. I think the ruling should be required reading for Americans. The prior link goes to what appears to be a photocopy of the tezt, which is just about as bad as a pdf for cutting and pasting. One of the significant issues at the heart of the ACLU’s case is the fact that they’re Verizon customers and that the NSA has access therefore to their workflow and communications. We learn this under the Claims section on page 12. The next section has to do with whether or not the ACLU has standing to sue. The government is claiming that the ACLU doesn’t have that status, which is a good move because Verizon has a lot of customers (see page 24), potentially making for a pretty bad-ass class action. I’m a Verizon customer, also, and I also use lots of keywords that might flag me on this blog and in my Twitter stream.

The court argues, using an Amnesty International case wherein Amnesty failed to “concretely” prove “imminent” injury, that the ACLU does have standing to sue because the NSA had indeed captured its data. That’s about all the love the ACLU is going to get  from the Judge, though (and I’m not quite sure after reading the whole thing that he thinks they do have standing). Most of the reporting on the ruling goes to a question of constitutionality. But my reading of the ruling is that the thinking here is much more complicated. Consider this snippet:

Read in harmony, the Stored Communications Act does not limit the Government’s ability to obtain information from communications providers under section 215 because section 215 orders are functionally equivalent to grand jury subpoenas. Section 215 authorizes the Government to seek records that may be obtained with a grand jury subpoena, such as telephony metadata under the Stored Communications Act.

The Section 215 question here is significant. That’s the part of the Patriot Act that requires, say, the FBI to prove that it needs certain info to pursue a case, and that’s where the FISA court comes into the picture. But the distinction for the court is that it’s not the FBI doing the collecting. That activity is limited only to the NSA. (See page 33). I think Judge Pauley is at his best when he explains why bulk collection can be done by the NSA. He argues that “all phone call metadata” is a class of things the FBI might require as “relevant” in an investigation and that to prohibit the collection of this class of things would  ”require the Government to determine wrongdoing before issuing a subpoena–but that determination is the primary purpose of a subpoena” (34). And that’s followed by this: “And in the context of a counterterrorism investigation, that after-the-attack determination would be too late.” And, “Here, there is no way for the Government to know which particle of telephony metadata will lead to useful counterterrorism information.”

Then comes the typical Katz case argument about the “presumption of privacy” issue. But I don’t intent to minimize Pauley’s arguments in this regard because he goes into some pretty good analysis against the ACLU on their privacy assertions and their assertions about “sweep” and “bulk.”

But now to the point. This ruling should be read in full and not just by lawyers. There’s more in it than I can go after at the moment. However, reading the ruling leaves me with a bad taste in the mouth, and I think that Pauley is incorrect. Everyone can understand that keeping information from “the enemy” is critical. If the Red Team coach knows the Blue Team’s plays, then there’s no real game to be played, and if the NSA or CIA broadcasted its moves, whatever group or individual who intended harm would alter their strategy, as any criminal would. But it seems to me the judge is writing in the bizarre context or world where a “war on terror” has been unleashed, and outside this context or world–this new “war condition”–his arguments wouldn’t be required. So the real question is, is any of this stuff legal, not just one program or several by the NSA? If the Patriot Act works inside the context of a “war on terror,” then maybe it’s the “war on terror” that’s the problem here.

I did a little reading on the controversial 215 section. Such language is about as bizarre as it gets, so many safeguards, so many “presumed” safeguards that the law of the falling dominoes would seem to be realized. It’s terrifying language, a house made of a million toothpicks. Why, because it sets up a massive “begging the question” argument: it’s constitutional because it’s constitutional, like claiming that something is legal by virtue of it being on the books, and by the way we just need to do it.

For Pauley, we’re caught between a piece of steel and an anvil. But he sets up his own and our problem with all this, the balance between liberty and security.  He writes, first quoting from Boumediene, “‘Liberty and security can be reconciled; and in our system they are reconciled within the framework of the law.’ The success of one helps protect the other. Like the 9/11 Commission observed: The choice between liberty and security is a false one, as nothing is more apt to imperil civil liberties that the success of a terrorist attack on American soil” (52). That’s a pretty big generalization and amounts to telling people what they should fear most. Rising sea levels will also do a number on civil liberties. This language could only be written in the cloud of the “war on terror” paradigm. And that’s what scares me the most about our current NSA mess.

How to Write a RSA Press Release and Other Sidetracks

It’s that time for the habit of the semester roundup and some thinking about what I’ve learned. But first a bit about how news stories tend to follow a path that might look like a mole’s tunnel. Not sure why. This goes to the NSA and the more recent issues with RSA, what we might call the “back door” story or the “purposeful vulnerability” story or the “How did this happen in the first place” story. Here’s what I mean about the mole’s tunnel. Tomorrow the story will turned nuanced. The stories will become the “well, it was sort of the back window not really a back door” or “vulnerability but with invulnerable characteristics just to make sure it still worked” or “well it just sorta happened by chance and we feel awful about it, and that you can believe, and this finger I’m wagging at your face proves it” stories. And so forth.

I’m reading this Guardian article at the moment titled “Security Company RSA Denies Knowingly Installing  NSA ‘back door.’” And then the subtitle, which acts as a thinner mustache: “Denial follows allegations that pioneering company made NSA algorithm its default in return for payment” (italics mine).  If the Guardian is accurately representing the verbs here, then I’m reminded of how I used language like this as a kid to slap accusations away. “Okay, sure I ate all the peanuts, but I didn’t know they were the last ones.” “Okay, I broke the plate, but I swear I didn’t know that I would drop it and didn’t think that the water on my hands would be so slippery.” It’s the “I didn’t know I was doing it” excuse that always works because it appeals to both an epistemological bias and a prevalent but often suppressed ability in people to trust in facts and discernible evidence. Since we really can’t know that RSA hadn’t known that they were actually doing something even though they were doing it goes to the question, “Hey, did you know you were just now talking to yourself?”

But it gets even sillier. Here’s the first paragraph of the article: “The security company RSA has denied that it knowingly weakened the encryption it used in its products as part of a secret contract with the US’s National Security Agency.” There’s little congruence between the title and this first paragraph: “knowingly installing” and knowingly weakening.” Indeed, the first paragraph is much better. It gives that nuance we all so love. Now RSA denies “it knowingly weakened the encryption …” Think about that. I’ve tried to tighten things up, tidy things, or make something thinner, but I’ve never actually verbed any of that “unknowingly.” I intended to make my bed. I’ve even tried to write some encryption myself. Consider this fiction:

He cracked his knuckles but before he could start, Larry said, “Put a J there in that as an extra expression.”

He said, “Duh, okay.”

Larry said to himself, “Ha, ha. He doesn’t know that that  J will open the back door. He He.”

Not only did RSA not “knowingly weaken the encryption” but they deny doing it knowingly AND as a “secret contract” with the NSA. In the first paragraph, the “as part of a” elbow acts like a conjunction in an unwritten compound sentence. We deny “knowingly doing something” AND we deny “knowingly doing something as part of a secret contract.” As every good obfuscator knows, ANDs make for future denials. Consider this part where Charles Arthur quotes from a RSA blog post

RSA initially declined to respond to the reports. But in a blogpost on its site posted Sunday, the company now says: “Recent press coverage has asserted that RSA entered into a ‘secret contract’ with the NSA to incorporate a known flawed random number generator into its BSAFE encryption libraries. We categorically deny this allegation.”

In terms of the  AND theory of obfuscation, this is grandiloquence. We “deny that we entered into a secret contract to incorporate a known flawed [something]”  Very good writing, I would say. The reporters one flaw here is the use of the word “now says” which would imply a change of heart or alteration.

In all seriousness, knowing what people did or what they were thinking is always hard. Of course it is. I would submit that the solution is pretty simple and it goes according to the deux ex machina formulation in storytelling. Some powerful person or force, maybe the American president, tells the NSA: “That’s it, stop storing Ersinghaus’s data.” Believe me it ain’t all that interesting.

Driving in the snow

When I was much younger, we’d take the cars out in the (rare) snow or heavy rain (not rare) in El Paso, Texas.

To test things.

Did the same tonight for the new tires in Connecticut. Nice. Very very cold. A few inches of the white powder. No donuts.