Our Common Good

climateadaptation:

reuters:

Statement from the group purportedly sent to The Guardian:

This was just another part of our “anti-blogging” campaign. GNAA’s stance on blogging in general has always been a negative one: in short, blogging is lowering journalistic standards to the point where the number of friends a murderer has on Facebook has become news.

Read on…

Hacker group (which I fell victim to earlier today) complains about lowered journalistic standards by lowering standards of hacking. Irony dies a slow death…

A little less than two years ago, when Internet access was cut off in Egypt, we worked with Twitter to launch Speak2Tweet, giving the ability for anyone to tweet using just a voice connection.

In the last day, Internet access has been completely cut off in Syria. Unfortunately we are hearing reports that mobile phones and landlines aren’t working properly either. But those who might be lucky enough to have a voice connection can still use Speak2Tweet by simply leaving a voicemail on one of these international phone numbers (+90 212 339 1447 or +30 21 1 198 2716 or +39 06 62207294 or +1 650 419 4196), and the service will tweet the message. No Internet connection is required, and people can listen to the messages by dialing the same phone numbers or going to twitter.com/speak2tweet.
Google pushing Speak2Tweet during the Syria Internet blackout, via Google on Google+. (via futurejournalismproject)

A little long, but a must read…

Part of that process was Reed, a technologist’s technologist, learning the limits of his own power. “I remember at one point basically breaking down during the campaign because I was losing control. The success of it was out of my hands,” he told me. “I felt like the people I hired were right, the resources we argued for were right. And because of a stupid mistake, or people were scared and they didn’t adopt the technology or whatever, something could go awry. We could lose.”

And losing, they felt more and more deeply as the campaign went on, would mean horrible things for the country. They started to worry about the next Supreme Court Justices while they coded.

"There is the egoism of technologists. We do it because we can create. I can handle all of the parameters going into the machine and I know what is going to come out of it," Reed said. "In this, the control we all enjoyed about technology was gone."

newyorker:

The F.B.I.’s request to access the private Gmail account maintained by General Petraeus would have been only one of 34,614 such requests Google received from governments as well as civil litigants around the world between January and June, 2012.

John Seabrook talks to Kent Walker, Google’s general counsel, about how these requests are handled, and how the Electronic Communications Privacy Act affected the Petraeus scandal: http://nyr.kr/W7O4aH

It was supposed to be a “killer app,” but a system deployed to volunteers by Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign may have done more harm to Romney’s chances on Election Day—largely because of a failure to follow basic best practices for IT projects.

Called “Orca,” the effort was supposed to give the Romney campaign its own analytics on what was happening at polling places and to help the campaign direct get-out-the-vote efforts in the key battleground states of Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, Iowa, and Colorado.

Instead, volunteers couldn’t get the system to work from the field in many states—in some cases because they had been given the wrong login information. The system crashed repeatedly. At one point, the network connection to the Romney campaign’s headquarters went down because Internet provider Comcast reportedly thought the traffic was caused by a denial of service attack.

As one Orca user described it to Ars, the entire episode was a “huge clusterfuck.” Here’s how it happened.

[…]

To build Orca, the Romney campaign turned to Microsoft and an unnamed application consulting firm. The goal was to put a mobile application in the hands of 37,000 volunteers in swing states, who would station themselves at the polls and track the arrival of known Romney supporters. The information would be monitored by more than 800 volunteers back at Romney’s Boston Garden campaign headquarters via a Web-based management console, and it would be used to push out more calls throughout the day to pro-Romney voters who hadn’t yet shown up at the polls. A backup voice response system would allow local poll volunteers to call in information from the field if they couldn’t access the Web.

But Orca turned out to be toothless, thanks to a series of deployment blunders and network and system failures. While the system was stress-tested using automated testing tools, users received little or no advance training on the system. Crucially, there was no dry run to test how Orca would perform over the public Internet.

Part of the issue was Orca’s architecture. While 11 backend database servers had been provisioned for the system—probably running on virtual machines—the “mobile” piece of Orca was a Web application supported by a single Web server and a single application server. Rather than a set of servers in the cloud, “I believe all the servers were in Boston at the Garden or a data center nearby,” wrote Hans Dittuobo, a Romney volunteer at Boston Garden, to Ars by e-mail.

Throughout the day, the Orca Web page was repeatedly inaccessible. It remains unclear whether the issue was server load or a lack of available bandwidth, but the result was the same: Orca had not been tested under real-world conditions and repeatedly failed when it was needed the most.

more…

The rumor in some tech lists is that the Romney campaign outsourced the development of Orca to Avanade, a branch of Accenture, which is heavy in the use of developers in India, China, the Philippines, Spain, Morocco, Argentina and Slovakia.  It seems that the Romney campaign was so paranoid that the Obama campaign might learn something about their application - they did no actual training on it and didn’t turn it on until election day.

——————

The Unmitigated Disaster Known As Project ORCA

This is the story mentioned the the above article.   A Romney volunteer shares a bit about his volunteering and Election Day experience.  Lots more to learn in the comments to it - some I posted below.

On one of the last conference calls (I believe it was on Saturday night), they told us that our packets would be arriving shortly. Now, there seemed to be a fair amount of confusion about what they meant by “packet”. Some people on Twitter were wondering if that meant a packet in the mail or a pdf or what. Finally, my packet arrived at 4PM on Monday afternoon as an emailed 60 page pdf. Nothing came in the mail. Because I was out most of the day, I only got around to seeing it at around 10PM Monday night. So, I sat down and cursed as I would have to print out 60+ pages of instructions and voter rolls on my home printer. Naturally, for reasons I can’t begin to comprehend, my printer would not print in black and white with an empty magenta cartridge (No HP, I will never buy another one of your products ever again). So, at this point I became panicked. I was expected to be at the polls at 6:45AM and nothing was open. I was thankfully able to find a Kinko’s open until 11PM that was able to print it out and bind it for me, but this is not something I should have had to do. They expected 75-80 year old veteran volunteers to print out 60+ pages on their home computers? The night before election day? From what I hear, other people had similar experiences. In fact, many volunteers never received their packets at all.

At 6:30AM on Tuesday, I went to the polls. I was immediately turned away because I didn’t have my poll watcher certificate. Many, many people had this problem. The impression I got was this was taken care of because they had “registered me”. Others were as well. But apparently, I was supposed to go on my own to a Victory Center to pick it up, but that was never communicated properly. Outside of the technical problems, this was the single biggest failure of the operation. They simply didn’t inform people that this was a requirement. In fact, check out my “checklist” from my ORCA packet:


Notice anything missing? My guess is the second “Chair (if allowed)” was supposed to be “poll watcher certificate” but they put chair twice. This was an instruction packet that went out to 30,000+ people. Did no one proof-read it?

From the comments:

16 Ben and John E already know all this but I’ll share.

I had something similar happen with Lawyers for Romney. Long and short of it — they didn’t get me my precinct information until 8pm the night before. I had eight different precincts I had to spot-check and they waited 10 hours before I was supposed to be on-site. Eight. Fucking. PM. The. Night.Before.

Not only that — I was supposed to have a partner that was also going to the same precincts. They gave me his name. That’s it. No phone. No email. We had no way to contact one another.

As I told Ben and John, something weird went down. They were super organized leading up to election day. Hell, I initially got contacted back in May to help out. Something really melted down in the last 10-14 days before election day. I’m trying to determine who was in charge of that clusterfuck.

Good Christ….

32 I signed up, took the training, and tried to get into the final conference call at 8:30 pm Monday night.

Couldn’t get through. About 8:40 I got a call that auto connected me to the conference call, just in time to hear it wrap up.

I never received another email. I finally went Tuesday pm to the Romney Victory/FAIL Center to make calls the rest of the afternoon. Got to see Paul Ryan roll through if nothing else.

Just saw a post on the facebooks from my lefty uncle in The Shire crowing about spending 7 hours pounding on doors Tuesday. Low tech. Works every fucking time.

As a IT developer myself, I’d say this was a world class clusterfuck. That’s a technical term, btw.

39
Gerry, in hindsight I’m 100% sorry I suggested people sign up for ORCA. I’m sorry that I signed up for it.
But I didn’t know it at the time and I only became worried about it a week before the election. By that time it was to late. The Romney campaign told the RNC that it would take care of the poll watchers.
There really weren’t any other options unless your local county committee set up an independent strikelist/poll watcher programs. Most didn’t.
Not only did this fail epically, it prevented 30,000 of the most die hard volunteers from accomplishing anything on election day.

48 I posted this in another thread but here is the summary:

I live in WI and volunteered for ORCA in early Oct. Completed the training online. Participated in the conference calls. And never heard another word from them. I emailed every day and called several times. Nothing.

I checked on 6 precincts within 30 minutes of my house by asking friends who voted in them to look. There were zero ORCA volunteers in any of them. Zero. In Wisconsin.

68 After I completed all of the ORCA training, I took a PTO day off of work, signed on for most of the calls including the final one Monday night…

…and never heard a word from them. Nothing ever about any packet, or web app, nothing about where to go even though I asked multiple times, just nothing.

I sent them a f-u email Monday night, saying “if you had too many volunteers, don’t be dicks, just tell us.”

Now it’s obvious the problems were far more widespread than I assumed.

71 Did I mention that at 5:40am OFA had their person there, with a chair, with a huge sign to answer questions about provisional ballots. When the poll didn’t open at 6am on the dot, the OFA person was calling at 6:01am, and actually talking to a live person.

142 I often could not contribute to the Romney campaign from 3 different computers with different OSs. Their Donation shopping cart page malfunctioned due to poor design and programming, informing me in database speak that several fields were empty when they were not. I wrote them and told them to fire the webmaster as he was derelict in his or her duty. This went on for 3 months. I wonder how much money they lost as a result. One guy called me from the Romneycampaign in Boston and told me they were aware of the problem but that I could contribute by phone. Huh? Why not just get the problem fixed?

165 Here in heavily Republican Idaho, the Dems called my wife to remind her to vote. The DEMS! She’s never voted Dem in her life.

600 I worked the war room at headquarters in Boston and ORCA was an epic fail. It was epic fail from the moment we got there and that was clear. We were supposed to be there at 4:30 AM. Only one problem. The garages to the TD Garden were closed and hundreds of cars could not get in until 5 AM. 45 minute wait to drive 2 blocks. That was the first clue. 2nd clue, got in, grabbed breakfast and went to go set up computer. Could not get on internet. That happened all morning. NO connection to the net in the garden even though we were supposed to be “live” the minute we sat down. Some of the 11 swing states we were monitoring never got connected tot he interactive site. When we finally did and the problems in the field started presenting themselves we were supposed toe “solve” them, but so complex that we had no idea what to say. When people’s registration records on their devices did NOT match their paper records of voter lists from the get go, you knew that this was going to be an epic fail. Supposedly this had been tested with up to 3 million users at one time with no problem, but with 800 people in the garden trying to get on the site all at the same time, the servers at the garden thought that the system was being attacked and shut down. It was 11 AM before they figured out how to solved this problem. Talked to many of my poll watchers in Northern Wisconsin and they were ready to do ANYTHING to get Romney elected, but thought that for the most part their day was a colossal waste of time. When people tried to get into the phone system to call in their voters tabulations, they couldn’t do that either. System too busy and couldn’t absorb the loss. Many poll watches were sending in alerts about fraud and people walking in never having registered and allowed to vote on site. Who knows what happened to all those complaints. The “technical” people that were there to help the OCRA volunteers and solve problems had absolutely NO idea what they were doing and couldn’t answer a single question. Most of them were wet behind the ears know nothing college students that could not answer a single question of any kind any time. And they got irritated when it was clear that they were about a smart as the side of a barn door. A bunch of us started going “rogue” and just started telling our field contacts what to do over the phone. We knew that by 2 pm the entire system was a epic failure and that no valuable data had been collected at all and it was clear by 8 PM that Romney was going to lose big. Rich Beeson, national campaign director was pacing in the lawyer bull pen looking like he has going to toss his cookies ….. and he looked this way starting 3 hours before the polls even closed. I loved hanging out with my fellow Romneyites for almost 24 hours but this was the most colossally stupid waste of time and money in the history of presidential politics and if these “kids” that were involved in this thought they were going to work in Washington and save the country, God help us all. If Romney actually knew everything about this entire plan and had seen what we saw, EVERY SINGLE IDIOT that was involved in this project from a development and execution standpoint would have been fired !!!!! I hope all of them have to stand in the unemployment line and eat crow because not one of them deserve a job.

tartantambourine:

“By the way, we have to fix that,” President Obama said in his acceptance speech last night. No, he wasn’t referring to a specific economic, social or policy issue. He was referring to the issue of voting lines. Long, long voting lines. Across the nation yesterday, and then subsequently across Twitter and Facebook, U.S. citizens shared frustrations, photos and information about voting lines.

The images of the long queues were a dime a dozen, especially when you looked at the #stayinline hashtag on Twitter. People in states like Florida and Ohio waited up to seven hours. In other states, there were shorter, though still-frustrating two- to three-hour waits. Some experts place the blame on high turnout, but many will tell you the culprit is technology – failed and faulty e-voting machines.

The president is right. We need to fix this problem and many others in the way we conduct our elections.

Obama Wins: How Chicago’s Data-Driven Campaign Triumphed
…But from the beginning, campaign manager Jim Messina had promised a totally different, metric-driven kind of campaign in which politics was the goal but political instincts might not be the means. “We are going to measure every single thing in this campaign,” he said after taking the job. He hired an analytics department five times as large as that of the 2008 operation, with an official “chief scientist” for the Chicago headquarters named Rayid Ghani, who in a previous life crunched huge data sets to, among other things, maximize the efficiency of supermarket sales promotions.
Exactly what that team of dozens of data crunchers was doing, however, was a closely held secret. “They are our nuclear codes,” campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt would say when asked about the efforts. Around the office, data-mining experiments were given mysterious code names such as Narwhal and Dreamcatcher. The team even worked at a remove from the rest of the campaign staff, setting up shop in a windowless room at the north end of the vast headquarters office. The “scientists” created regular briefings on their work for the President and top aides in the White House’s Roosevelt Room, but public details were in short supply as the campaign guarded what it believed to be its biggest institutional advantage over Mitt Romney’s campaign: its data.
[…]
That data-driven decisionmaking played a huge role in creating a second term for the 44th President and will be one of the more closely studied elements of the 2012 cycle. It’s another sign that the role of the campaign pros in Washington who make decisions on hunches and experience is rapidly dwindling, being replaced by the work of quants and computer coders who can crack massive data sets for insight. As one official put it, the time of “guys sitting in a back room smoking cigars, saying ‘We always buy 60 Minutes’” is over. In politics, the era of big data has arrived.

Obama Wins: How Chicago’s Data-Driven Campaign Triumphed

But from the beginning, campaign manager Jim Messina had promised a totally different, metric-driven kind of campaign in which politics was the goal but political instincts might not be the means. “We are going to measure every single thing in this campaign,” he said after taking the job. He hired an analytics department five times as large as that of the 2008 operation, with an official “chief scientist” for the Chicago headquarters named Rayid Ghani, who in a previous life crunched huge data sets to, among other things, maximize the efficiency of supermarket sales promotions.

Exactly what that team of dozens of data crunchers was doing, however, was a closely held secret. “They are our nuclear codes,” campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt would say when asked about the efforts. Around the office, data-mining experiments were given mysterious code names such as Narwhal and Dreamcatcher. The team even worked at a remove from the rest of the campaign staff, setting up shop in a windowless room at the north end of the vast headquarters office. The “scientists” created regular briefings on their work for the President and top aides in the White House’s Roosevelt Room, but public details were in short supply as the campaign guarded what it believed to be its biggest institutional advantage over Mitt Romney’s campaign: its data.

[…]

That data-driven decisionmaking played a huge role in creating a second term for the 44th President and will be one of the more closely studied elements of the 2012 cycle. It’s another sign that the role of the campaign pros in Washington who make decisions on hunches and experience is rapidly dwindling, being replaced by the work of quants and computer coders who can crack massive data sets for insight. As one official put it, the time of “guys sitting in a back room smoking cigars, saying ‘We always buy 60 Minutes’” is over. In politics, the era of big data has arrived.

According to the FCC, 25 percent of cell towers in ten states were disrupted or damaged during the Hurricane. Landline outages are “far fewer” but 25 percent of cable services have also gone down, meaning many are without news updates at all.

As far as 911 is concerned, there are only a very small number of call centers that were affected by the storm. But while cell coverage is still shoddy, 911 calls are being rerouted to different call centers for the time being.

Perhaps the worst news of all is that it’ll take some time before coverage gets back to normal, and at a time when people need service most. Apparently, storm surge advisories that are in affect until early morning on November 2 will make it difficult to repair what’s already been damaged for the next few days.

Here’s what FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski had to say:

The storm is not over. And our assumption is that communications outages could get worse before they get better, particularly for mobile networks because of the flooding and loss of power.

We’ve seen throughout the past couple days that some of the carriers are having issues, namely Verizon, which still has a couple feet of water in its Manhattan headquarters. Still, these service providers are asking that customers use social networks like Twitter to take the load off of cell networks.

A software glitch on the Colorado Secretary of State’s mobile-optimized website prevented nearly 800 people using tablets and mobile phones from registering to vote.

Secretary of State Scott Gessler said the problem occurred between Sept. 14 and Monday because of a software update to the site. The update indavertently caused a problem that prevented 779 people from registering, said Gessler, a Republican.

"Frankly, our office did not engage in enough user testing before we rolled out a software fix," he said, placing the blame squarely on his office.

The office now has fixed the problem, having discovered it Monday, but it doesn’t know who the people are who tried to register. That’s why Gessler is asking people who think they registered during the days in question to check their registrations at govotecolorado.com

Almost exactly a year ago, Stanford University took a bold step. It opened up an online version of three of its most popular Computer Science classes to everyone around the world, for free.

Within weeks, close to 100,000 students or more were enrolled in each of these courses. Cumulatively, tens of thousands of students completed these courses and received a statement of accomplishment from the instructor. This was a real course experience. It started on a given day, and the students would watch videos weekly and do homework assignments. These were real homework assignments for a real grade, with a real deadline.

One of those classes was taught by my co-founder, Andrew Ng. In his on-campus Stanford class, he reaches 400 students a year. It would have taken him 250 years to reach the number of students he reached through that one online course.

The Stanford endeavor showed what is possible. It showed that it is possible to produce a high quality learning experience from some of the top instructors in the world at a very low cost.

[…]

This Stanford project led to the founding in early 2012 of Coursera, a social entrepreneurship company that hosts around 200 free courses from 33 of the world’s best universities, including Princeton, Stanford, Penn, Michigan, Caltech, Duke, Illinois, Washington and others.

The courses span a spectrum of topics: physics, biology, computer science, engineering, medicine, literature, sociology, poetry, business and many more. The courses are full courses complete with short video lectures, quizzes and assignments. For some courses, papers or projects are assessed through a peer grading system. They serve a rich community of learners from all over the world, crossing geographic, ethnic and language boundaries. More than 1.4 million students have enrolled to take these great courses, opening new intellectual horizons as well as opportunities.

One of the greatest opportunities of this technology, one that is yet untapped, is the window that it opens into understanding human learning. The data that one can measure is unprecedented in both the level of detail and in its scale.

The article focuses on classes from more ‘elite’ educational institutes, but the success of the Khan Academy also illustrates how the Internet can feed the desires of people the world over for an excellent education. 

A couple of weeks ago, a young single mother I work with was expressing her fears of not passing a college class she was enrolled in because her math skills were so rusty.  I directed her to the Khan Academy and on Monday she came in ecstatic after spending most of the weekend with one of the Khan classes.  After a couple of hours with the class, she talked her mother into watching her children so she could better concentrate on what she was learning and then spent the rest of the weekend bringing her skills back up.  Now she feels confident she will do well in her current college class and intends to also continue with the Khan class.

The opportunities the Internet bring for education - and for educators to test new ways of teaching, really are a bright way forward for our world.

Op-ed: The Internet Vote

internetassociation:

Original story can be found on The Huffington Post.

Campaign strategists and pundits are always trying to predict the newest or most important political demographic groups. For a long time, it was seniors. That was followed by the dawn of the “soccer mom” and lately there has been a lot of talk about “NASCAR dads.” But the strongest untapped political factor these days is rarely mentioned, despite representing a force central to the lives of nearly every American — the Internet.

The political awakening of the Internet voter happened earlier this year when an unprecedented effort to censor web content came dangerously close to becoming law. This threat to free expression awoke a sleeping giant, and on January 18, 2012, the Internet went dark. During the blackout, more than 10 million Americans and 100,000 websites participated in a day of online activism, engaging their elected representatives in direct democracy en mass for the first time.

But who exactly were these Internet activists? The movement crossed party lines and united millions of liberals, conservatives, libertarians and independents. Much like the Internet itself, the protest was organic, bottom-up and decentralized. One thing is clear, they all passionately believe they have a vested interest and stake in the future of the Internet — and they are right.

The attempt to censor the Internet was a political wake-up call. Today, we are proud to announce that some of the most recognized Internet companies in the world — Amazon.com, AOL, eBay, Expedia, Facebook, Google, IAC, LinkedIn, Monster Worldwide, Rackspace, salesforce.com, TripAdvisor, Yahoo!, and Zynga — have joined forces to create The Internet Association, an umbrella public policy organization dedicated to strengthening and protecting an innovative and free Internet.

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