Monday, December 11, 2017

Trolls damage the Internet

Trolls are everywhere on the Internet. They ruin otherwise good conversations, they attack, demean, or even threaten people, and they upset people for fun. There seems to be no good way to stop trolling behaviour and that fact is damaging the entire Internet.

We all run into trolls at some point or other, people who “post an off-topic or inflammatory comment to disrupt an online conversation”, as defined (well defined, I think) in a video from SciShow that I shared the middle of last year. Most of the time most of us back out of interaction when a troll shows up, but I know that I (and others I know) avoid making any comment in the first place simply to avoid being trolled. This makes perfectly logical sense: No matter how strong we may be most of the time, a troll can bring down any of us, at least sometimes. Sometimes self-defence is the best offence.

Two times recently I encountered a troll. The first was engaging in trolling behaviour without being, as far as I could tell, an actual troll. The second was sort of a classic troll: Someone who set up an entire fake identity in order to engage in disruption of inline conversation.

I encountered the first troll last month in the midst of a spirited political discussion I was having with a staunch conservative I’ve sparred with many times. He’s a friend of a friend, not someone I know personally, but no matter how strident our rhetoric (which is part of the game we play), we don’t take it personally nor do we attack each other personally. Their are rules of engagement, even in heated battle over strongly held views.

Then suddenly a different staunch conservative jumped into the discussion and posted the meme at right (heh!). I don’t know the guy (again, a friend of a friend), and as far as I know he’s never said anything racist, sexist, homophobic, etc., but from what I’ve seen in other comments, it’s fair to say that unlike me and the guy I was “discussing” politics with, I probably have no common ground with the intruder. Fair enough, it’s neither possible nor desirable to agree with everyone all the time. But that meme? It’s a dickish thing to post that meme and an example of trolling behaviour by someone who may not actually be a troll ordinarily.

This should be obvious, but the fact that we disagree with a person does not, without some evidence aside from the disagreement, make our adversary evil. Yet the intruder, who agreed with the guy I was sparring with, dismissed everything I said—and me personally—by posting an offensive meme to attack me and all people on the left of centre as people—not our ideas, views, opinions, etc. That’s what a troll does. Sure, the guy may have been a dickhead rather than an actual troll, but does the distinction actually matter? I don’t think so. I immediately deleted all my comments, and deleting the first one deleted almost the entire comment thread. This is a tactic I first hit on last year, and it served me well in the 2016 US Presidential election campaign.

The second troll did say offensive racist things, though borrowed from a well-known elderly New Zealand ex-politician and current professional far-right whinger. For a lot of reasons, it was obvious to me his Facebook profile was phoney, but what made him so obvious as a troll was that he’d used his online accounts to attack both Labour Party supporters AND National Party supporters. It looked to me like he was the type who gets their jollies out of upsetting people, and he didn’t really care who or about what. The funniest thing, I thought, was that he started attacking me for having a cat (Bella is with me in my current Facebook profile photo), attacking cats in general, and when that got no rise from me, he tried calling me a hypocritical Labour supporter because I had a cat (at least, I think that’s what he was trying to say—by then his spelling and grammar had dramatically deteriorated, probably because a friend and I started sharing how we knew his profile was phoney). This was in a discussion about protecting endangered native trees, so having a cat or not was clearly not relevant, demonstrating it was trolling rather than any attempt to engage on the actual issue. Again, I deleted all my comments in the thread, then went one step further: I blocked him on all social media. Trolls may be merely pathetic most of the time, but some are also dangerous; I have no idea which he was.

From these two very different experiences I learned that anyone is capable of engaging in trolling behaviour, though most of us never will, of course. The second thing I learned is that a normal well-adjusted person cannot begin to understand a genuine troll, or why they troll. We keep looking for what they have to gain when, in fact, there’s nothing. The third thing I learned is that ignoring trolls/trolling behaviour ends up destroying online interaction and conversation. There has to be another way, but I sure don’t know what it is.

Real trolls deserve our contempt, and blocking them is a sensible thing to do. In fact, when I see obvious trolls in the comments of news or political pages I follow on Facebook, I sometimes pre-emptively block them so that I don’t see their male-bovine-excrement when I visit the page. But what if someone is just having a really bad day and saying really stupid things, when on other days they’re perfectly okay?

I have no solutions, so I block sparingly, and always with cause. But neither do I engage with trolls most of the time, and far too often that extends to not participating in comments in the first place. Trolls are damaging the entire Internet, and maybe that’s what they want most.

Until we have a way to end trolling behaviour, we all have to come up with our own strategies—what works for us. Being on the Internet makes this a necessity: Trolls are everywhere on the Internet.

Friday, December 08, 2017

Congratulations, Australia!

Yesterday, the Australian House of Representatives voted to legalise marriage equality. Only four MPs voted against the measure, which passed without amendment. Some prominent opponents didn’t vote either way. The Australian Senate passed the measure last week.

Today Australia’s Governor General, Sir Peter Cosgrove, gave Royal Assent to the bill, and it is now law. The first same-gender weddings can be held on January 9.

Congratulations, Australia!

The graphic above is from the Facebook Page of Australian Marriage Equality.

John Anderson

John Anderson in 1980.
The 1980 independent US Presidential candidate John B. Anderson died earlier this week, and it brought up a lot of misunderstanding and misremembering. John Anderson did not help elect Ronald Reagan, nor did he defeat President Jimmy Carter. Those two did all that on their own. But he did give them a good run.

John Anderson didn't give the presidency to Reagan, for many reasons. If one looks at the breadth of Reagan’s victory, Anderson being absent would not have changed the results. Even if one looks at the states where Anderson did the best, his margin wasn’t enough to hand victory to Carter, nor did the few closer states matter in the end: Reagan had too much of a lead. My friend Roger Green has laid out that case clearly.

Immediately after the election, it was widely reported that polling indicated that had Anderson not been in the race, his voters would have broken more or less the way the general public did, meaning Reagan would have won the majority of those votes, too. So, in nearly every state it wasn’t a case of simply handing Anderson’s votes to Carter: Had Anderson not been in the race, the result wouldn’t have been any different.

The main reason for this is the USA’s idiotic Electoral College system for electing presidents means that in most US states whoever wins a mere plurality of the popular vote—just one vote more than the next highest vote getter—gets all a state's Electoral College votes. Because of that, the winner of a presidential election WILL be the Republican candidate or the Democratic candidate without exception, and the only two questions are, what winning margin of Electoral College Votes will they achieve? Also, will they win the totally irrelevant nationwide popular vote? Of the two, only the first question actually matters. That’s because a candidate merely needs to win just enough popular votes in just enough of the right states to win 270 Electoral College votes. Under the US system, it’s theoretically possible for a candidate to win a tiny percentage of the nationwide popular vote and still become president because they got one more vote than any other candidate in enough states to get to 270.

And all of that means that there was actually no way John Anderson could ever have won the presidency, and votes for him were not “spoiler” votes helping Reagan, they were—electorally speaking—wasted votes, meaning they achieved nothing. All First Past The Post election systems have the potential for a VERY high percentage of wasted votes, and the USA’s presidential election system is particularly bad for that.

I voted for Anderson in the 1980 general election. When he didn’t win, I took comfort in the fact that he didn’t help elect Reagan, and that even if all of Anderson’s votes had gone to Carter, the president would still have lost. I stuck to that position for years—until I began to regret my vote for Anderson, something I mentioned only in passing in a post back in 2012.

I eventually came to regret—somewhat—not voting for Carter, even though I know that my vote didn't help Reagan. It's because the idiotic Electoral College system disenfranchises all voters who vote for an independent or third party candidate, so voting for one is too big a risk to take. That will be the case until the Electoral College is abolished or the electoral system is changed (neither will happen, by the way). Since 1980, I’ve voted for the Democratic candidate for president most of the time, but also against the Republican a few times. Each election I’ve marked the ballot for the Democrat, and never again voted for an independent or third party candidate because after battling the Reagan regime and the extremism he unleashed, I realised that doing anything other than voting for the Democrat was simply too big a risk to take.

However, I haven’t made a total repudiation of my earlier support and vote, which is why I said I “somewhat” came to regret not voting for Carter. The fact is, I quite liked Anderson’s no-nonsense positions. At the time, I was a Liberal Republican, like Anderson, and I was also socially liberal and fiscally conservative. I perceived Carter as inept, and Reagan as a dangerous extremist. For most of the general election campaign, I thought Anderson would knock out Reagan because of Reagan’s harsh conservatism and often extremist views. I was wrong. I also vastly underestimated how utterly loathed Carter was, a factor that helped Reagan. Anderson calling for a 50 cent per gallon gasoline tax to help fund energy independence, while bold and maybe even visionary, helped kill off his campaign in the eyes of the general electorate.

So, when I backed Anderson it was out of principle, and born of conviction. This is a sentiment that a former colleague of mine shared in a Letter to the Editor published recently in the Chicago Tribune. Like Tim, a friend and I were also at the 1980 Republican Presidential Forum that was held in Rosemont, Illinois, but I don’t remember it with the detail that Tim does.

What I remember most about that event was Phyllis Schlafly, because, as I wrote back in 2011:
She flowed into the room where the forum was being held like royalty, entourage in tow, and wearing June Cleaver-type housedress and a huge red stop sign-shaped badge demanding “Stop ERA!” in type larger than any eye chart I’ve seen. She put on her best fake smile and handed out her propaganda to attendees who, like me, were early. I don’t remember her staying to actually watch the forum.
The other thing I remember, apart from Phyllis, and the fact that Reagan, who hadn’t yet announced his candidacy, didn’t turn up (his absence was somewhat controversial for and against), was that we visited some hospitality suites. Bush the First and his wife Barbara were really nice, John Connolly was smarmy, and John Anderson ate a sandwich. It was a little surreal to be in the room with a presidential candidate who was sitting on a sofa having something to eat, while we stood around a little awkwardly, I thought.

So, I technically regret voting for John Anderson, because voting for an independent or third party candidate is too much of a risk. Even so, I would never tell anyone else what they should do, but that’s me. The fact is, I completely understand why someone would vote for a third party/independent candidate on principle, because I did it.

In the end, John Anderson didn’t actually change anything. The system now is as bad as it was then—worse in many, many ways—but that’s not his fault. Neither is it his fault that Reagan won or that Carter lost. And that means that it’s not the fault of those of us who voted for him in 1980. However, because he ran as an independent, we’re talking about him now, and I doubt very much that would have happened had he not run as an independent. I guess that’s something.

Photo above by Leffler, Warren K., photographer. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Secret and unexpected trip

Yesterday night, we got back from an eight-day trip to Australia. It wasn’t supposed to be an eight-day trip, but, as the crew and passengers of the S.S. Minnow found out, sometimes trips take unexpected twists.

We went to Australia to celebrate my sister-in-law’s birthday, and, as the Instagram caption above says, it was a major surprise. She knew that one sister and their mother was coming, but she was oblivious that the rest of us were, too (there were actually 16 of us on that flight, not 17). So, all her brothers and sisters were there, along with their partners.

We’d actually arrived in Brisbane on Tuesday, November 28, spent a couple days in there, then flew up to Gladstone, further north in Queensland, on Friday for the party the next day. We were due to fly home the following Tuesday, December 5. Things didn’t work out that way.

Sunday night, some family members became sick with what we worked out was norovirus, a highly contagious virus that’s the leading cause of gastroenteritis—basically a very nasty bug. More fell ill on Monday, with the final family member becoming sick on Monday night. Nigel became sick on Monday, and was quite sick at the height of it. By the time he saw a doctor on Tuesday, he was starting to improve, and that continued when he started drinking the electrolyte solution the doctor recommended. In fact, he recovered faster than other family members who didn’t use the solution.

I didn’t become sick, nor did Nigel’s Mum or several other people. The most likely reason for that is that it was the same strain of the virus that I was infected with at Christmas 2015. Generally speaking, one is protected from reinfection by the same strain for around 4 to 8 years, though that doesn’t provide full protection from infection of different strains of the virus, though it is possible.

In any case, this meant we couldn’t fly home on Tuesday, and are now in the midst of making a claim on our travel insurance—the first time we’ve ever had to do that. Someone with norovirus isn’t supposed to fly for 48 hours after the end of symptoms, and for Nigel that was on Tuesday, meaning we were good to go by yesterday. Meanwhile, although I seemed to have escaped the plague, I had to wait, too, to make sure I was symptom free (as well as look after Nigel, of course), so I couldn’t fly home on my own.

We arrived home last night and drove to pick up the dogs from Nigel’s cousin, who’d been looking after them, first at our house, then at hers after our return was delayed. We could have waited until today to get them, sure, but after 8 days away from them we didn’t want to. And they were very happy we didn’t.

So, what was supposed to be a six-day holiday and a family party ended up being an eight-day trip, at least some of which was very, very unpleasant. Fortunately, there was more than enough good and fun stuff to make up for the bad part, and I’ll be publishing separate posts about the trip so I can talk about it without creating one massive post.

All of this is also why I haven’t been blogging the past few days. I’d set up posts to automatically publish from Tuesday right through Friday—and I felt very Roger Green-like doing that. They were all set to publish at different times so that my sister-in-law wouldn’t be suspicious, because I know she reads my blog sometimes and I was worried that either a sudden silence or publishing at set times might tip her off).

I also planned to share the posts to the AmeriNZ Facebook Page, as I normally do, and for the same reason. That worked well—apart from one day I accidentally shared a post to my personal page. That mattered because I’d forgotten to switch off automatic location stamping for Facebook posts, and I was terrified it would come up as being posted from Brisbane (where we were at the time). I quickly deleted it, turned off automatic location stamping, then shared it correctly. She never noticed—whew.

However, creating new posts was very difficult, and I ended up only posting the one on Saturday. Oh, well. I shared a lot to Instagram, and many of those will end up here, too, in the days ahead so that I can comment on them.

However, none of this—nor even posts for this year’s Ask Arthur series—will help me reach my annual goal of 365 blog posts, something I’ve pretty much given up on. It’s not the lack of content, it’s that there just isn’t enough time left in the year. And, as if that wasn’t enough, I’m also in the midst of my final work project of the year, and the “extra holiday” cost me two full days, so I’ll be “a bit busy” until Monday. Still, I plan to post at least a little in the next few days; I may be behind schedule, but I still need a break now and then.

And that’s what I did on my holiday in Australia.

Saturday, December 02, 2017

Mirry Christmus from Air NZ

The video above is from Air New Zealand, and, not for the first time, it’s going viral. I can see why: It’s pretty awesome.

The premise of the ad is that Santa, who prides himself on understanding kids from around the world, is befuddled by the Kiwi accent. It is so on-target that it’s almost a documentary. Not really, obviously, but it IS very accurate.

This technically isn’t an ad, but it does do some promotion of Air New Zealand, so I’m including it in this year’s Christmas ad series.

Friday, December 01, 2017

Welcome to summer

Today is December first, and that means today is the start of summer in this part of the world. When you stop to think about, any date chosen for the start of a season is arbitrary, and even when it’s an equinox or solstice, it's not necessarily any more accurate for seasonal changes than any other date we could choose—and equinoxes and solstices re often not very accurate.

In this part of the world we pick the first of whatever month the corresponding equinox or solstice occurs in. I’m sure there are logical reasons for why this is so, but I have no idea what they are. And, being the start of summer, I’m far too busy to look it up. That’s really true, actually, as I begin my last work project of the year.

And then I can really enjoy the summer—however old it may be by then.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

The end of things

Everything ends sooner or later. We all know that, and we’ve seen the evidence. Technology changes a lot, too, and new products and services come and go all the time. One technological change is happening here in New Zealand and it’s the first of its kind for me, and also the end of something that lasted 21 years.

Vodafone, one of the telecommunications companies operating in New Zealand, announced recently that it was shutting down its email services today. This affected me because I had a few email addresses that were provided through Vodafone after 2006 when the company bought the New Zealand Internet Service Provider we used at the time, ihug (also known as “The Internet Group”; the acronym stands for the “Internet Home Users Group”). By then, we’d been with the ISP for ten years. That means that I had that original email address for more than 21 years (the others somewhat less) when it ended.

Over the years, I’ve added a lot of email addresses, ones I’ve used for different purposes. But even though I still have many email addresses I can use, it feels weird to be losing the one that was a constant for most of the time I’ve lived in New Zealand. I didn’t still use the addresses for anything other than some email alerts I got for products, services, and news organisations (most of which I’d been receiving since before Vodafone’s acquisition, some since near to 1996). It’s been that way for quite a few years now. The thing is, I got that soon-to-be-gone email address when everything about New Zealand was still new to me, so it feels weird to be losing it.

The address I used when I first came to New Zealand was one I’d set up with Apple Computer’s eWorld online service while I still lived in Chicago. Apple closed the service down in March, 1996, some six months after I arrived in New Zealand, and that was why we got an account with ihug.

It’s hard to remember how things were back then. It wasn’t easy to get extra email addresses in 1996 because ISPs didn’t provide more than one. Originally, Nigel and I shared the email address, something I can’t imagine doing now.

Hotmail (now called Outlook dot com) was launched July 4, 1996, some four months after we joined ihug, and it was created specifically so people could have email addresses independent of ISPs. RocketMail was also launched in 1996, and then its parent company was acquired by Yahoo! in 1997 and the service was rebranded as Yahoo! Mail. I set up my Yahoo! Mail address (the address I use for this blog) in 1999 as we prepared for a trip to visit the USA. It was the second email address I’d set-up after moving to New Zealand. I still have that one.

Throughout the 1990s, it was common for people to have the same email address—and to share it—for many years. People also didn’t switch ISPs all that often, so for a long time they didn’t change email addresses often either. That all started to change as ISPs started permitting more than one email address, and as people started to buy their own domains and email hosting. In 2004, Google launched Gmail, and it finally ended beta testing and went public in 2009. I remember when I was finally able to get a Gmail address, and that was sometime after it went public.

So much has changed over the years. The ISP we switched to in 1996, ihug, is largely forgotten now, though it once was a kind of a big deal. Vodafone itself is rumoured to be in trouble, and looking to exit New Zealand or merge with another company. And email itself is both ubiquitous and temporary: Most people add or delete email addresses all the time, even if only as they change jobs.

I spent about a month going through emails sent to my ihug email addresses, trying to update the ones I wanted to keep, unsubscribing from the ones I didn’t want. There were some that I couldn’t change, so I unsubscribed, including: Democrats (had to create an account; that option didn’t exist back when I signed up for email alerts), Democrats Abroad, Organising for Action (OFA), Dick Smith (online retailer), Chicago Tribune (I was able to change the address, but emails kept going to old email address, anyway. I unsubscribed and then the emails switched to the new address), and AA Smartfuel (again, I was able to change the address, but emails kept going to the old email address, anyway. I unsubscribed.) Similarly, I changed Adobe, but kept getting emails—even ones about my account—to the old address. I contacted their help system, they told me they had the correct address, but he manually purged the old address from their systems. Now I’m not getting any emails at all. Sigh. This sort of thing ought to be much easier by now.

On the other hand, I was could easily change some, including: New York Times, Disqus, and Countdown (NZ supermarket).

I’m actually kind of surprised these addresses lasted this long before being closed down. I’ve barely used them for years, and I don’t actually need them anymore. And yet, there was that one address I’ve had for more than two decades, a thing that was a constant over all that time, and it will now be going away. I’ve never experienced anything like this before. eWorld was gone less than a year after I joined it. The ISP we joined to replace eWorld was acquired by Vodafone, but service continued. But now the last remaining technological tie to my earliest days in New Zealand is going away, too, and that’s the first of its kind for me. It’s unlikely anything exactly like this will happen again.

So, here’s to a first and last event of its kind, all in one.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Sainsbury’s 2017 Christmas ad

The ad above is the Christmas ad for UK supermarket chain Sainsbury’s. I have a confession to make: When I started watching the ad the first time, I didn’t like it because I thought it was really naff. But as it went on, I was drawn in by the infectiousness of the enthusiasm of the people taking part. It was fun, much to my surprise, and that’s a good thing.

The ad is very different from their 2016 ad, which is another reason I didn’t like this year’s ad at first. They say in the YouTube description: “The 2017 Sainsbury's Christmas advert squeezes every bit of Christmas into a wonderfully fun and festive song, sung by people all over Britain.” It reinforces their theme, “Every bit of Christmas”, and it does it well.

But when I watched the ad more carefully, after I decided I liked it, I noticed how multicultural it is: There are same-gender couples, interracial families, young, old, all celebrating Christmas. It made me like the ad just a little bit more.

Sainsbury's also released a karaoke version (below), but I kind of think they don’t get karaoke: Their video has all the lyrics, but doesn’t include the melody. That would make it kind of hard for anyone who doesn’t know the melody to have a go—though after a couple mulled wines (or whatever…) that might be very entertaining.

At any rate, the ad (the actual ad) is meant to be fun, and I think it is. Clearly when they say “every bit of Christmas” they mean the fun bits, too. That’s a good thing, I think.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

M&S Christmas ads

The ad above is the 2017 Christmas ad for UK retailer Marks & Spencer, these days usually stylised as “M&S”. Like their 2016 ad, this one is also quite good.

This year’s ad shows, they say, “the tale of true Christmas spirit – with our favourite Paddington Bear”. I think it’s quite entertaining, and even heartwarming. It’s nice.

M&S is also known for food retailing, and they have a separate ad for that:

That food looked awfully tempting. I guess that’s a sign of a well-made ad.

There are more ads I’ll be sharing, including tomorrow. I love well-made ads, and well-made Christmas ads most of all. Obviously.