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Category: Tech

Interview on Monocle’s Globalist Podcast

Henry Rees-Sheridan invited me to speak on Monocle’s Globalist podcast today. They’ve been running a series on press leaks, so Henry and I discussed the new wave of encrypted communication tools and their role in connecting confidential sources to journalists. You can find the full episode here (I come on around 21:30) or listen to an excerpt of my segment below:


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Article on Whistleblowing Tools in CJR

As a break from dissertation writing, I accepted an invitation from the editors of the Columbia Journalism Review to write an article revisiting last year’s Tow Center report on the use of SecureDrop in newsrooms. Here in the early months of the Trump presidency, all indications point to an incredible surge in the use of secure whistleblowing tools among Washington insiders hoping to contact journalists anonymously. A handful of my sources not only confirmed that this is the case, but also offered some sense of how they’ve coordinated this growing stream of information. Find the article here.

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Inverting Veblen

Just for the record, it’s been one month since this stretch of our time on Earth became Historically Interesting (but in the very bad sense implied by Chinese proverbs).

In other news, today I was interviewed for The Setup, which sounds like it might be a gangster movie, but it’s actually a website where various and sundry nerds talk about the gear they use for work. Huge thanks to Daniel Bogan for the invitation, and especially for going through with it even after I subjected him to several rounds of threadjabber about how his website performs a perverse Marxist reversal towards conspicuous production and productivity fetishism. For those unfamiliar, Bogan is a delightful Australian man who assumes the moniker @waferbaby, and yet recently had the good fortune to acquire a genuine human baby.

If you haven’t visited The Setup before, do yourself a favor and browse around. The interview with John McAfee is just remarkable. It’s almost like he’s channeling some sort of Hunter Thompson who emerged from the ooze of the dotcom boom.

My tools for national security consulting are primarily a semi-auto .22 rifle with a silencer. They are virtually completely silent and can pierce car doors and other light armor. They are perfect for urban environments.

My accessory tools are mostly extremely strong espresso and research chemicals from China that are classed as “Smart Drugs”. They allow me to solve 2nd order partial differential equations in my head and to spontaneously create 4 dimensional images of software structures that I can mentally manipulate.

I also do my most productive security designs while having extended sex. I apologize if you think I am pulling your legs but, God’s truth, these are the facts.

Erik Spiekermann’s interview reveals his taste to be precise and totally impeccable. No surprise there. And you can really hear his voice in the prose — glib and yet totally serious: “Yes, I do have residences in all those places.” It makes me miss Berlin.

And it appears that Bruce Schneier either does not have an arsenal of magical security gear, or else he is too shrewd to disclose it on a gear blog. If anything at all is true in the Schneier post — and this is not just an act of misdirection for would-be attackers — I’m just damn surprised that he doesn’t use Linux.

One thing that’s not surprising is how much overlap I have with Ben Welsh, a data journalist at the LA Times who also started PastPages, a continuously updated archive of front pages for news websites.

(Sidenote: one of the stranger things I’ve noticed about the general perception of data journalism is that many people assume it’s boring work, or even that data journalists themselves are dull. Totally false. These people are hackers, not accountants. In fact, data journalists are often among the most clever, creative, and even subversive people in any newsroom. These are the ones pushing the field forward. /Sidenote)

At any rate, you should check out The Setup to learn about things you can buy for work.

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Old and New Technologies

The text below the fold is an excerpt from “Teaching Data and Computational Journalism”. I wrote this part hoping to broaden the scope of ‘emerging’ technologies to include not just today’s newest inventions, but also the broad range of creative practices that promote ‘emergence’ itself.

Old and New Technologies

The history of technology often appears to move in regular cycles of emergence and obsolescence, but in fact old technologies are rarely eclipsed entirely. We must be cautious with the concept of ‘emerging’ technologies because we risk missing the continued utility of old ones.

For example, microcontrollers like the Arduino have minimal computing power by contemporary standards, but they are powerful enough to process a set of programmed instructions for projects like gathering sensor data. These devices have proved especially useful because of their simplicity, not in spite of it. Similarly, as we promote spaces for journalism schools to explore technologies so new that their uses are not yet apparent, it will be worthwhile to maintain a perspective broad enough to consider the utility of seemingly obsolete technologies.

We should also bear in mind the long histories of platforms like virtual reality and holograms as part of our cultural imagination, if not yet as successful mass products. In past conceptions of the future, we may rediscover promising avenues for innovation.

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