Tales of the Sausage Factory

Policy, Anecdotes and The Problem of The Black Swan. Why Events Like Comcast/Netflix and Fire Island Matter.

Often in policy debates I find myself facing a broad general statement, such as “Wireless is just as good for everyone as wireline, just look at how the market has adopted it.” Or “ISPs would never block or degrade service because they would lose customers.” Point to a counter example, e.g., “Verizon’s effort to replace wireline with Voicelink on Fire Island was a total flop” or “But Comcast, AT&T, Verizon and other ISPs have deliberately allowed Netflix quality to degrade as a negotiating strategy” and the response is invariably “Oh, that’s just an anecdote and you can’t base rules on anecdotal evidence.”

 

Oddly, this throws most people into a tizzy of confusion because (a) they vaguely remember learning something about anecdotes not being proof or something; (b) everyone always says anecdotes aren’t proof; but (c) the general statement is clearly false based on real world experience. People know that “it’s only an anecdote, therefore it doesn’t count” is a bull$#@! answer, but they can’t explain why. Hence confusion and much bull$#@! going unchallenged in policy.

 

In logic, we refer to this as “The Problem of the Black Swan.” No, this has nothing to do with the somewhat racy but very artsy so that makes it OK movie starring Natalie Portman. And, while it is the inspiration for the book by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, it actually means something different. “The Problem of the Black Swan” is a demonstration of the problem of reasoning by induction and falsifiabilty. You cannot prove all swans are white just by finding a white swan, but you can disprove all swans are white by finding a single black swan.

 

While I don’t normally use this blog to teach Logic 101 type stuff, application (and misapplication) of the “Problem of the Black Swan” comes up so often that I will delve into this below. By the time we’re done, you will be able to explain to people who pull that “oh, an anecdote isn’t evidence” crap exactly why they are wrong. You’ll also be able to apply the “anecdote rule” properly so that you don’t get caught in any embarrassing errors.

Elucidation below . . .

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Posted in General, Life In The Sausage Factory, Tales of the Sausage Factory | 3 Comments (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

Net Neutrality Videos Much More Interesting Than I Could Ever Make.

It’s impossible to keep up all the videos about net neutrality. Heck, I have been delinquent in flogging my own. For example, I have two new “5 Minutes With Harold Feld” videos out: one on what I call “virtual redlining” (about how permitting prioritized content invariably leads to targeting and segmenting audiences in ways that recreate all the usual stereotypes and re-marginalizing traditionally marginalized communities) and this on “rural virtual redlining” (how allowing prioritization further isolates rural and exacerbates the digital divide).

As you can see from the pathetic hit counts if you click through, my personal contributions are a total flop. Why? Because, in my own words, 5 Minutes with Harold Feld takes “insanely complicated and incredibly boring stuff and make it slightly less boring because THIS STUFF IS IMPORTANT.” So even at my most wildly successful, I am only slightly less boring. This apparently does not help much.

However, lots of much more interesting and entertaining people have used the power of online video — and even traditional media — to provide a much less boring perspective. I’m listing my top 5 Internet videos below the break. Please feel free to add links to your favorites in the comment section, assuming you did not fall asleep trying to watch my videos.

Actually interesting Net Neutrality videos below . . .

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Posted in Censorship Public and Private, How Democracy Works, Or Doesn't, International, Series of Tubes, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Tagged , | Comments closed

General Exception

Spam Redux (err… Reduce?)

So, part of my weekend was spent addressing the aforementioned spam issue. Turns out we’re not the only ones getting this same spam influx: this guy is getting it, too, and he links to another site. As the spam tidal wave rolled in, I realized that this was a massive spam operation. The IP’s are from all around the world, bot just China and Venezuela. There are also hits from legitimate ISPs and hosting companies, not just the fly-by-night places well known for tolerating spam. Someone has themselves a huge-ass botnet.

Fortunately, a bit of Googling turned up a solution to at least reduce if not totally stem the tide. This post over at RTCXpression explains how to block spammers from commenting based on their country code. Since most of the spam was coming from a  few countries we’d never imagine would be posting real comments here, that seemed perfect. You can also specify a separate list of IP ranges to block, and the auto included his blocklist. That list mainly consists of Web hosting and virtual server companies, which generally won’t be posting comments to a blog. This solution is faster than some WordPress plugin. It also works with the web server we’re running. Most of the WordPress plugins rely on features found in the Apache web server  (which most sites use).

The solution isn’t perfect, simply because of the breadth of the botnet that has been assembled to advertise various craptastic products. Servers that aren;t on the blacklist and aren’t in one of the banned countries are still popping in to drop a load of spam. But now it’s along the lines of 3-4 posts per day, rather than 80-90.

 

Posted in General Exception, Wetmachine site news | Comments closed

General Exception

In the Spam Crosshairs

We’re in the crosshairs of a very aggressive comment spammer. Last night, I noticed we had 800+ spam comments in our comment spam queue, which had accumulated in a week or so. I’ve set up a bunch of WordPress plugins to spot fake comments and filter them out.  Usually, we get less than 5 spams in a busy spam week, and many weeks it’s 0. I cleared it out only to find 90 more spams in the spam folder this morning.

Of those nearly 1000 spams, precisely 1 made it through the spam filters and showed up attached to a post. So, that a success rate of 0.01%. I think that pretty much qualifies as an epic fail on the spammer’s part.

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Posted in General Exception | Tagged | 1 Comment (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

My Handy Guide To The May 15 FCC Meeting: What The Heck Is An Open FCC Mtg And How Does It Work?

Even before Chairman Tom Wheeler proposed to issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on possible new net neutrality rules to replace the ones vacated by the D.C. Cir. the May 15 Open Meeting of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) promised to be one of the more important meetings in recent memory.  As a result, it has become one of the more contentious in recent memory as well.

 

In addition to the net neutrality NPRM, we have an Order deciding key issues for the upcoming incentive auction (aka the 600 MHz auction, aka that really complicated thing where we pay broadcasters to get off spectrum they got for free by simultaneously selling it to wireless companies for mobile broadband). This mega item has two fairly important side pieces from my perspective: the future of unlicensed use in the TV broadcast bands (aka the TV white spaces (TVWS) aka “super wifi” aka “engineers will never be allowed to name anything ever again”) and possible limits on how much spectrum any one company can acquire (aka the “no piggies rule” aka spectrum aggregation policies aka “lawyers are not allowed to name anything ever again either”). The TVWS item has its own satellite proceeding about wireless microphones and coexistence between wireless mics and unlicensed use in an ever shrinking broadcast band.

 

So for those of you first timers, and those of you who have gone so long without a contentious FCC meeting you’ve forgotten how it’s done, I’ve prepared this helpful guide on “what is an open FCC meeting and how does it work.”

 

Mechanics of the meeting below . . .

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Posted in Life In The Sausage Factory, Series of Tubes, Spectrum, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Comments closed

Tales of the Sausage Factory

Tom Wheeler and the Defining Question of Network Neutrality

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler caused quite a stir last week when he circulated a new Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on network neutrality. As reported by the press, the proposed rule moves away from generally prohibiting wireline broadband providers from offering “paid prioritization” (aka Internet “fast lanes”) to explicitly permitting wireline providers to offer paid prioritization subject to conditions designed to guard against anti-competitive and anti-consumer conduct.

 

Needless to say, this pleased just about nobody. Supporters of network neutrality regard paid prioritization as intrinsically anti-competitive and anti-consumer by making the Internet experience dependent on the ‘commercially reasonable’ deals of the network provider rather than the choice of the subscriber. By contrast, opponents of net neutrality oppose any limitations on what ISPs can do as “regulating the internet.” To employ a crude analogy, network neutrality supporters see Wheeler’s proposal as roughly the equivalent of teaching the rhythm method in sex ed, while opponents are outraged that Wheeler would teach anything other than pure abstinence.

 

What Wheeler has done here is to frame the defining question of network neutrality. The upcoming Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) gives those of us who believe that paid prioritization is the opposite of net neutrality and an Open Internet the opportunity to make the case. Even more importantly, Wheeler has now confirmed that the May 15 NPRM will ask whether the FCC needs to reclassify broadband as a Title II “telecommunications service” so that the FCC will have sufficient authority to create real and effective network neutrality rules. (You can see Wheeler’s blog post setting out his proposed approach here, and his aggressive speech in the veritable heart of enemy territory — the 2104 Cable Show in Los Angeles) here.)

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Posted in Series of Tubes, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment (Comments closed)

My Thoughts Exactly

Wetmachine has a new baby sister! And so does Acts of the Apostles!

Well, what I mean is, I’ve finally set up JohnSundman.com as a place to discuss, promote, wax ecstatic about, and, mainly, Real Soon Now, sell direct to you, dear friends, my hackertastic philosopho-literary tales of the technopotheosis. It’s not nearly as nice as it soon will be, but on the other hand it does exist, which is (as my pal Gary Gray will attest) something.

TOO-ALSO, my ancient chef-d’oeuvre Acts of the Apostles has been cloned, and the new instance has thereafter been given an oil change, face lift, new transmission and a stern talking to and rechristened Biogigital: A Novel of Overmind Emergent. For the next month you can get it (ebook only, DRM-Free) from Unglue.it. So please do check it out.

Posted in General, infotainment, My Thoughts Exactly, Writing | Comments closed

Tales of the Sausage Factory

Appreciation: Professor Robert B. Seidman RIP: 1920-2014

On April 3, 2014, the world lost a true giant of the public interest. Professor Robert B. Seidman, of Boston University law school died of heart attack in his home in Milton, MA at age 94. With him was his wife of more than 65 years, co-author, co-professor, and all around partner in every sense of the word, Professor Ann Seidman. You can read a far too abbreviated obituary here, see his CV here, and a list of publications here.  None of these, of course, come even vaguely close to capturing Bob’s importance in the world generally, or in my life personally.

I’ll insert this video here where Bob and Ann explain their work. I try to put some of what Bob did and what he taught me below  . . .


http://youtu.be/iTc5f8Qv-o8

 

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Posted in General, International, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Comments closed

Tales of the Sausage Factory

Transcript of Wheeler’s full Statement At FCC Meeting

Because no one else has posted it anywhere, I have transcribed below the relevant portion of Wheeler’s responses to questions at the March 31 FCC Press Conference following the meeting.

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Posted in Life In The Sausage Factory, Series of Tubes, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Comments closed

Tales of the Sausage Factory

My Insanely Long Field Guide To Understanding FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler Statement On Peering.

At the press conference following the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) March 31 Open Meeting, Chairman Tom Wheeler made the following observation:

 

“Interconnection is part of the Network Compact.” Peering “is just a $3.50 word for interconnection.”

 

Wheeler followed up this statement by explaining that there was a difference between “network neutrality” and the “open internet” on one hand and “interconnection” as the ‘path to the Internet’ on the other hand. While government has a critical role in monitoring peering/interconnection to protect the values of the Network Compact, it isn’t a network neutrality issue. You can see Wheeler’s full statement here (Start at 144:45 – 147:23 has unrelated stuff in middle).

 

After the meeting, the FCC released a separate statement that they really mean it when they say that they aren’t going to do peering as part of the Net Neutrality rules. While Brendan Sasso at National Journal gets points for noticing that “the FCC could decide to enact separate regulations on the issue or force Comcast to accept new rules in order to receive permission to buy Time Warner Cable,” most folks I’ve read in the press have broadly interpreted this as indicating the FCC will not look into the Comcast/Netflix dispute or complaints by Cogent and Level 3 about large edge-providers squeezing them for higher interconnection fees.

 

Personally, I think most people are totally misreading this. Wheeler’s statements make it look more likely to me that the FCC will start looking closely at the Internet peering market, not less likely, especially as part of the Comcast/TWC deal. Indeed, Comcast’s Chief Lobbyist David Cohen, who ranks in my book as one of the absolutely smartest and most effective telecom lobbyists ever, has already started backing away from earlier statements that regulators would ignore peering issues and that he expects them to look at the Comcast/Netflix deal. (Unsurprisingly, Cohen also said he expects regulators to find no problems with the deal and called Netflix CEO Reed Hasting’s arguments that this eviscerated net neutrality “hogwash.”)

 

Below, I will rant at considerable length that (a) Wheeler is right, this is not a “network neutrality” issue, but the same goddam interconnection issue that we have struggled with for more than a hundred years in every networked industry from railroads to electricity to broadband; (b) The FCC needs to actually look at this and study it and understand how the market works before it makes any decisions on what to do; and, (c) While Wheeler is not saying in any way, shape or form he actually plans to do anything before he has real information on which to base a decision, he is signaling — for anyone actually paying attention — that he is, in fact, going to actually look at this as part of his overall transition of the agency around his “Fourth Network Revolution” and “Network Compact” ideas.

 

 

While this last would seem pretty basic and obvious, it represents a significant change in policy from the previous insistence that IP magic pixie dust obscures all things Internet and makes them invisible to the FCC. Whether I agree with what Wheeler ultimately does or not — and I have no idea what he might ultimately do here, he could decide the market is competitive and working just fine — I don’t believe Wheeler is going to go around with his eyes and ears covered blathering about the magic nature of the Internet. I think Wheeler is actually going to check under the hood and see what actually makes the damn thing tick — and Comcast is just the company to help him do it.

 

Much ranting below . . .

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Posted in Life In The Sausage Factory, Media Ownership, Series of Tubes, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment (Comments closed)
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