Paul Ceglia’s Sinking Ship

Two months ago I posted about Paul Ceglia’s lawsuit claiming a 50% ownership stake in Facebook.  The suit’s timing and evidentiary support were suspect and Ceglia is a dubious character, but I did not dismiss his case out of hand because he was represented by DLA Piper, which I described then as “one of the bluest of blue-chip international corporate law firms.”  No longer.  DLA Piper withdrew from the case for reasons undisclosed.

Now I’m comfortable dismissing it.

Nachas with Spam

No, nachas is not a feminine form of nachos.  NACHA.org is the electronic payment system, a legit organization, and it does NOT send individual emails with subject lines like “Rejected ACH transaction.”  Nacha.org spam has been around for a while; I encountered it today for the first time when Gmail flagged it.  I looked at the email because I made an electronic payment earlier today and thought it might be related.  The mail appears to be from NACHA.org but a link to a “transaction report” in a “self-extracting PDF file” inflamed my already-tingling spider sense.  A Google search confirmed it to be malware-installing spam. It’s bad stuff.

Corrosion

Today’s life lesson:  inspect your moorings at least once a season.  One look at this picture explains why.  Five+ years ago the top chain was identical to the brand-new 1/4″ hot-dipped galvanized chain below. The entire chain is corroded, but the pictured area wore faster because it rubbed the lake bottom and rocks and sand continuously removed the accreted corrosion, reducing the remaining metal to about twice the diameter of a large paper clip.

Whitey Bulger

Those not from Boston, those who’ve not lived in Boston for decades, and those too young for it to have registered must wonder why we are so caught up in Whitey Bulger’s arrest after 16 years on the run.  It’s a rare thing when discussion with my morning coffee buddies settles on a single topic for more than ten minutes.  Rarer still is when there is one inclusive conversation rather than two, three, or four small-group conversations.  Today nine of us talked about Whitey for more than a half hour.

I first heard of Whitey Bulger in 1973 or 1974.  I’d dropped out of college and found work in Spalding Printing Company, running an Ozalid blueprint machine (it was surrounded by a miasma of the ammonia used to fix images) and working the bindery.  Richie, the delivery guy, was my age, from South Boston., and a natural story-teller whose material all related to his hometown:  growing up in Southie, dating in Southie, hanging out with friends in Southie, fighting outsiders who strayed into Southie, going on his only trip outside Massachusetts with Southie friends and fighting people they met who were not from Southie.  From Richie I learned both the official lyrics to Southie is My Home Town–

I was born down on “A” Street, Raised up on “B Street, Southie is my hometown;

There is something about it, Permit me to shout it, It is tops for miles around;

We have doctors and flappers, Preachers and scrappers, Men from the Old County down;

They will take you & break you, But they’ll never forsake you; For Southie is my hometown

And his twist on the final stanza:

If you want to stay healthy, stay the hell out of Southie, because Southie is my hometown.

Whitey Bulger was one of the colorful, outsized characters in Richie’s stories–a legendary tough guy, brother of one of Boston’s most adept politicians (brother Billy did not become president of the Massachusetts Senate until 1978), a fiercely loyal Irish Robin Hood who Took Care of His Own, a fierce defender off Southie from all outsiders.  Richie told stories of Bulger’s financial generosity and contempt for outsiders.

With this vivid portrait lodged firmly in my consciousness in early 1975 I started doing paralegal work in MCI-Walpole, the state’s maximum security prison.  (Years later at the behest of Walpole’s image handlers the state changed it’s name to MCI-Cedar Junction, but to me it will always be MCI-Walpole.)  There I met many Irish mob guys and learned more of the culture.  They were loyal to their crime partners, murderous to their enemies, and abhorred rats.  I heard more whispered tales of Whitey. His portrait became more ominous and shadowy.

With this background every story about Whitey compelled my attention.  His co-purchase of a winning Mass Lottery ticket and his strong-armed takeover of a South Boston liquor store show different his different faces: the irreverent maverick and the stone gangster. (The first story provides some flavor of the ambiguity of Bulger’s reputation in late 1980’s, although its author misses the sarcasm in the Mike Barnicle column he quotes.) The idealized gloss of Richie’s portrait faded.  Bulger was a plain hood, not Robin Hood.  But I was still shocked by the claimed extent of Bulger’s murders, and then by revelation of his long-time cooperation with the Boston F.B.I. An informant? Bulger?  In the code of honor (such as it was) that I learned from my old Walpole clients, nothing is more despicable than a rat. Murdering 19 people, according to the government indictment, is bone-chilling. Murdering 19 people while cooperating with the F.B.I. requires incomprehensible, cold-blooded, calculating duplicity.   How does a person live a lie of that magnitude?  Boston is hanging on this story’s latest chapter.

Music Deja Vu

From Jon Pareles’ NY Times article The Cloud That Ate Your Music, discussing the evolution of music playback devices:

Baby boomers who remember the transistor radio, that formerly miniature marvel that now looks and feels like a brick compared to current MP3 players, can experience again the sound of an inadequate speaker squeezing out a beloved song.

Growing up we had this transistor radio in my kitchen:

The Invisible Hand and the Daily Me

In his 1995 book Being Digital Nicholas Negroponte came up with the term “The Daily Me” to describe news and information tailored to the recipient’s interests and biases.  In his 2002 book Republic.com Cass Sunstein explained the Daily Me as a filter:

It is some time in the future. Technology has greatly increased people’s ability to “filter” what they want to read, see, and hear. General interest newspapers and magazines are largely a thing of the past. The same is true of broadcasters. The idea of choosing “channel 4” or instead “channel 7” seems positively quaint. With the aid of a television or computer screen, and the Internet, you are able to design your own newspapers and magazines. Having dispensed with broadcasters, you can choose your own video programming, with movies, game shows, sports, shopping, and news of your choice. You mix and match.  You need not come across topics and views that you have not sought out . . . The market for news, entertainment, and information has finally been perfected. Consumers are able to see exactly what they want. When the power to filter is unlimited, people can decide, in advance and with perfect accuracy, what they will and will not encounter. They can design something very much like a communications universe of their own choosing.

In an article discussing the book Sunstein feared that “from the standpoint of democracy, filtering is a mixed blessing.”  He continued:

First, people should be exposed to materials that they would not have chosen in advance. Unanticipated encounters, involving topics and points of view that people have not sought out and perhaps find irritating, are central to democracy and even to freedom itself. Second, many or most citizens should have a range of common experiences. Without shared experiences, a heterogeneous society will have a more difficult time addressing social problems and understanding one another.

Sunstein’s provocative premise generated a fair amount of commentary.  My Google search of <“cass sunstein” “republic.com” “daily me”> produced 825 “relevant” results and the concept of the Daily Me continues to resonate, but without great vigor–only 480 relevant Google hits.

Perhaps it should resonate more.  It came immediately to mind when I read this passage from Sue Halpern, Mind Control & the Internet, The New York Review of Books, 23-Jun-11:

The [Google] search process, in other words, has become “personalized,” which is to say that instead of being universal, it is idiosyncratic and oddly peremptory. “Most of us assume that when we google a term, we all see the same results—the ones that the company’s famous Page Rank algorithm suggests are the most authoritative based on other page’s links,” Pariser observes. With personalized search, “now you get the result that Google’s algorithm suggests is best for you in particular—and someone else may see something entirely different. In other words, there is no standard Google anymore.” It’s as if we looked up the same topic in an encyclopedia and each found different entries—but of course we would not assume they were different since we’d be consulting what we thought to be a standard reference.

Among the many insidious consequences of this individualization is that by tailoring the information you receive to the algorithm’s perception of who you are . . . Google directs you to material that is most likely to reinforce your own worldview, ideology, and assumptions . . . In this way, the Internet, which isn’t the press, but often functions like the press by disseminating news and information, begins to cut us off from dissenting opinion and conflicting points of view, all the while seeming to be neutral and objective and unencumbered by the kind of bias inherent in, and embraced by, say, the The Weekly Standard or The Nation.

The insidious difference, of course, is that we construct our own Daily Me through some degree of conscious choice, while personalized searches use our choices invisibly to define responses.  Reading The Wall Street Journal editorial page spikes your blood pressure so you get news feeds from The Huffington Post.  HuffPo makes your brain hurt but Fox News makes sense.  You care nothing about politics but Lolcats get you through the day. You make an affirmative decision about what to read, what to visit, what to ignore.  While I know that SEO games search results, I assumed that if Glenn Beck and I did the same Google search at the same moment we would obtain the same results.  I’m alarmed that that”s not necessarily the case.

Coming to a Foreclosure Sale Near You

SOAP =  Snakes on a Plane.  SIAH = Snakes in a House.  Thousands of ’em, in the walls, ceilings, and floors, slithering through the grass, fouling the well, driving an Idaho family from the house they purchased last January.  Stories:  Idaho House Infested With Snakes; Foreclosing On a Bunch of Snakes.  Video:  http://youtu.be/Hs2g22APCQg

Snakes would be bad.  Worse would be wolf spiders.  This beauty was on recently on my chimney in Maine.  I didn’t get close enough to it to provide a scale of reference (hence the fuzzy iPhone image), but its leg span was easily 3.5-4 inches.