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The Greatest Propaganda Machine in History

If you haven’t yet seen Sacha Baron Cohen’s remarks to the Anti-Defamation League’s summit on antisemitism and hate in New York – which has been covered extensively in the media – here’s your chance. Well worth watching the full thing.

Video courtesy of The Anti-Defamation League

There’s a couple of things that stood out to me: that Facebook, Youtube, Google et al are effectively the biggest publishers on earth, and that with that, and the way they police their platforms, they become the largest and most effective propaganda machines ever created. He singles out Facebook as being the worst offender – especially Zuckerburg’s assertion that they continue to allow politicians to serve targeted lies because accountability trumps censure.

The algorithms these platforms depend on deliberately amplify the type of content that keeps users engaged – stories that appeal to our baser instincts and that trigger outrage and fear. It’s why YouTube recommended videos by the conspiracist Alex Jones billions of times. It’s why fake news outperforms real news, because studies show that lies spread faster than truth … As one headline put it, just think what Goebbels could have done with Facebook.

Sacha Baron Cohen

A few years ago a friend of mine, one of the most compassionate, fair and reasonable people that I know, shared a post on Facebook created by Britain First (a fascist pseudo political organisation) which in turn ended up on my feed. My friend had no idea who the author was and the post wasn’t actually offensive – it was cleverly designed to amass likes so that their other content would show higher on peoples feeds – but I was offended that my friend had been manipulated into sharing it. That was the day that I permanently closed my Facebook account.

Large social networks are certainly the worst thing to happen to the internet, and probably one of the worst things to happen to our societies.

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Week Notes

Week 17: Perfect circle

Greetings from the Humber Estuary.

My car went in for the mandatory yearly safety check this week and needed no work, which was lucky as I couldn’t have paid for any work unless garages now accept tokens of gratitude as payment. This car is the most boring car I have ever owned, but in three years it’s only cost me four tyres and a two wiper blades. Can’t argue with the economy of it.

Currently Reading:

  • The Heart Goes Last, By Margaret Atwood

    This dystopian fiction is a welcome relief from the dystopia outside my front door, and the one in my head.

From the net:

The internet blessed me with the following great content this week:

Be amazed as Alexander Overwijk draws a perfect freehand circle:

Look after yourselves, anonymous readers, and be kind to each other.

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Week Notes

Week 16: I wish I could have the time back

  • On Tuesday, Costa Coffee machines around the country were dispensing for free because in recognition of International Coffee Day. Whatever that is. Anyway, I didn’t find out until Wednesday.
  • Confession time: I can’t tell the difference between a robot made Costa coffee and a real one.
  • We got new mobile phones at work. They’re quite fancy. We have to ask permission from the gods above to install anything – which I imagine, because I have not yet tried, is by way of a gloriously convoluted process that only makes sense to IT people. I understand why they do this but they haven’t even given me a calculator.
  • An oddity of this new device is that I can’t see missed calls unless I unlock it. It’s a GDPR compliance thing, apparently.

Finished Reading:

The Wanderers, by Chuck Wendig.

This huge book took me nearly a month to read. It was so, so long. You know when you read a big book and the time flies past because your really engrossed and invested in the story? This wasn’t like that at all. I wish I could have the time back.

Finally:

Here’s your regular reminder that not everything is as it first appears:

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Week Notes

Week 15: Slow puncture

While last week was a week of winning, this week has been the opposite. There is a screw neatly embedded in the offside front tyre of my car, and our house is plagued by a random electrical problem.

Here is a rough overview of me troubleshooting our electrical issue:

  1. Examine the consumer unit. Identity that RCD and lounge sockets have tripped. Cool. Safety features are working as designed. Reminisce about changing fuse wire in old style fuse carriers.
  2. Turn off all breakers and reset the RCD. Switch on breakers one by one until problem circuit is identified.
  3. Swear.
  4. Unplug all appliances on the problematic circuit.
  5. Flip the breaker again and watch in despair as the RCD trips despite no appliances being plugged in.
  6. Swear loudly and scratch my head.
  7. Open every socket and look for loose wires or damp.
  8. Ring father-in-law for advice.
  9. Show father-in-law all of the troubleshooting activities you’ve done before escorting him to the consumer unit.
  10. Flip breaker and watch, despondently, as the power stays on.

I went through this routine three times over two days, but thankfully the power has stayed on since. We’ve no idea what caused it and no idea how to solve it. We wait in suspense.

It’s cold, and wet, and officially autumn.

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Week Notes

Week 14

It’s Sunday, so time for another report of my weekly activities.

  • I built a set of steps for our new decking. Technically it was just one step, but you have to take two steps to get from one level to another and saying ‘I built a step’ doesn’t sound very impressive. It took far longer than I expected – but it works. You can stand on it and everything.
  • I spent more time than was probably reasonable figuring out how to slice an audiobook into small parts and serve it up as a podcast so that I can subscribe to it so with Overcast and play it on my watch.
  • An enjoyable lunch with friends old and new.
  • Missed the bramble harvest, again, but overall this was a week of winning.
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Week Notes

Week 13: Sixty three

We’re at the fag end of summer now. The wind carries a hint of chill, and the nights are noticeably shorter. I’ve had a quiet week.

  • Little E and I tried to catch up on our geocaching challenge this week and bumped this years haul up to sixty three. Still a way to go, but we might just bag the century after all.
Fields at Riplingham
  • My favourite shirt, which has been under my careful ownership for at least a decade, threw in the towel this week and headed off for retirement. Whilst in mourning, I enjoyed reading Ben reflect on the shirt that he has owned for 26 years. Being from from Yorkshire, I would rather pluck my eyeballs out with teaspoons than spend £75 on a single item of clothing. But then again, if I had, maybe I would still have my favourite shirt.
  • I can’t believe I’ve managed to do this for thirteen weeks straight.

From the net:

Some things I enjoyed reading this week:

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Week Notes

Week 12: Hogsmeade Station

  • My job is a little strange sometimes. This week I was asked to write a policy on what you should do upon finding a dead body. I didn’t have a clue where to start, but I figured I had a rough idea of what you shouldn’t do and it kind of worked itself out from there.

  • Went camping again. Overnight temperatures are down to six degrees, so that’s probably the end of camping season for this year. It was a bit chilly. We camped on a small site in the Yorkshire Moors, just above Pickering. The moors are beautiful at this time of year – bleak and wild, but full of color and life.

    We visited Goathland, whose train station was the setting for Hogsmeade Station in the first Harry Potter film; and Whitby, famed for being visited by Dracula. Plenty of culture around these parts.

  • I’ve got it in my head that a caravan would be a wise investment. Less messing around than a tent, and a few more home comforts included. E says that we are far too young to own a caravan. She’s probably right, and I doubt our feeble car could pull one anyway.

Finished reading

  • The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

    Never has Alaska sounded so beautiful yet so formidable. I put off reading this for ages – a mistake because it was wonderful. Also, this marked three hundred books since I started counting in 2012. Imagine what I could have done with all that time.

From the net

Some things I enjoyed on the internet this week:

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Week Notes

Week 11: No halloumi?

  • Sometimes I sit down to write these week notes and find I have nothing to say.

  • Brexit is everywhere, and nowhere. Its a a perpetual dark cloud that blots out the sun and periodically pelts tennis ball sized bits of bad news on the population below. It’s a whole lot of nothing and then everything at once. Maybe there will be no crisis. It might be like the build-up to Y2K: anxious excitement, fear, and then nothing. Perhaps, come October 31st my biggest worry will be that there is no halloumi in Tesco. I don’t know. I don’t think the people who are supposed to know do either.

  • The UK government website now carries a warning reminding us that we are leaving the EU on the 31st October, the beginning of a blitzkrieg campaign to prepare the nation for our biggest folly. I suppose it is possible that some people don’t know about it, so fair play to the civil service. As a responsible citizen I have completed the suggested questionnaire and have been assured that there is nothing I need to do. Just wait.

  • It worries me that a section of the population has permanently lost faith in the economic, diplomatic and political structures that stop everything unravelling into chaos – and that there is a breed of politician that is willing to exploit this for their own ends. This strikes me as being ultimately more problematic than the headline issues. Screw those people.

  • Sorry. This is what happens when I read too much news.

  • Little E made chocolate brownies. They were delicious.

  • Turns out I did have something to say.

From the net:

New blogs discovered:

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Week Notes

Week 10: Double Exposure

  • It was our first wedding anniversary this week. Well done E for making it through another year.

  • On the bank holiday weekend we drove out to West Yorkshire and found ourselves at Heptonstall, high above Hebden Bridge. It had been recommended to E a couple of summers ago by someone working in a nearby tourist information centre who described it as being ‘like Haworth, but before the tourists ruined it’.

    This is a perfectly good description. Built on the steep hill that rises from Hebden Bridge the village is made up of perhaps a hundred or so sandstone cottages and terraced houses, connected by narrow cobbled streets. A victorian church sits proudly in central place and in its grounds the ruined shell of it’s twelfth century sibling. The graveyard is home to Sylvia Plath.

    A steep cobbled road divides the village and provides a smattering of shops for the few tourists that seem to make it up from Hebden Bridge. Think Robin Hoods Bay but sixty miles from the sea and nearly a thousand feet above sea level. Well worth a visit if you are nearby.

  • This week I have removed an old deck, built another deck in its place and then cleaned and stained a completely different deck. I am hoping there are no more decking related tasks in my near future.

  • I cancelled my Amazon Prime account. When you know your Amazon delivery drivers by their first name it’s time to take a step back and reassess your shopping habits.

From the net:

  • The Guardian as a long piece on how social media companies keep us hooked on their platforms. I feel like we’ve heard this stuff a million times now. Does it actually make any difference? I don’t think people are listening, but it’s an interesting read nonetheless: The machine always wins: what drives our addiction to social media [Guardian]

  • Jonathan Turner introduces ‘nushell’ which is, as the name would suggest, a new shell. It looks pretty interesting. If I wasn’t in the middle of learning Fish I’d jump right in: Introducing nushell

  • Ever heard of a Ha-ha wall? You have now: Wikipedia – Haha Wall

  • Russell Ivanovic shows us what life is like with solar panels and Tesla Powerwall units: Rusty Shelf – Self Powered. I think there will be a time within our lifetimes when homes no longer need to be connected to the electricity grid. Maybe we’ll all have miniature Tokamaks in the basement, but in the meantime solar, wind and batteries seem to get us most of the way there.

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Week Notes

Week 9: Treacle Pudding

  • Our home is normally a calm and tranquil space. We held an early birthday party for our youngest this week and the house was invaded briefly by a small horde of excited children who tore through the house, terrified the dog, ate all the food and took peace and quiet hostage. But Little E had fun, and that’s what it’s all about.

  • Another week off work beckons, and this time I’ll be doing something useful with it. The small deck that leads out on to our back garden was at the end of its life when we moved in four years ago – and now most of the wood has the consistency of a well done treacle pudding. This week I’ll rip it all out and rebuild it. I enjoy working with timber. It’s reasonably cheap, you don’t need crazy expensive tools, and if you do it wrong (which I will) it’s easy to tear out and start again.

  • There have been many things lost to the onward march of technology, but the thing I miss the most is picking the dirt from the rollers in my rollerball mouse.

From the net:

Good news: