How did the Ukranian govt. know who was demonstrating against it?

[edits Jan. 31] A poli sci friend recently blogged about the Ukranian government’s “text that changed the world,” a mass text message thousands of anti-government demonstrators in Kiev. She asked 1) How did the government know who was in the main square of Kiev that day? (Cell phone location) and 2) How did it send the same message to everyone at once? (Mass SMS)

Demonstrators in Kiev. From CNN 

The second question is easy: phone companies routinely provide mass-SMS services to large customers. For example, I’m on the “emergency alert” texting service of UC San Diego’s campus police. It was designed for earthquakes, but it has been used for other kinds of messages “between earthquakes.” The same message goes out to every phone number on their list.

What to do to avoid tracking? Short version: Leave your phone at home. Second best is to shut it off or switch to airplane mode, but those work only if the government is not making an effort to target you.

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The Decline of Wikipedia: Even As More People Than Ever Rely on It, Fewer People Create It | MIT Technology Review

The Decline of Wikipedia: Even As More People Than Ever Rely on It, Fewer People Create It | MIT Technology Review.

Have any political scientists tried to model /improve governance of Wikipedia? LOTS of interesting questions there, and seemingly a way for an ambitious young academic to stake out new territory that will be increasingly important.  Here’s the author’s view of the cause of problems:

The loose collective running the site today, estimated to be 90 percent male, operates a crushing bureaucracy with an often abrasive atmosphere that deters newcomers who might increase participation in Wikipedia and broaden its coverage.

a few more quotes:

The page explaining a policy called Neutral Point of View, one of “five pillars” fundamental to Wikipedia, is almost 5,000 words long. “That is the real barrier: policy creep,” he says. But whatever role that plays in Wikipedia’s travails, any effort to prune its bureaucracy is hard to imagine. It would have to be led by Wikipedians, and the most active volunteers have come to rely on bureaucratic incantations. 


Yet it may be unable to get much closer to its lofty goal of compiling all human knowledge. Wikipedia’s community built a system and resource unique in the history of civilization. It proved a worthy, perhaps fatal, match for conventional ways of building encyclopedias. But that community also constructed barriers that deter the newcomers needed to finish the job. Perhaps it was too much to expect that a crowd of Internet strangers would truly democratize knowledge. Today’s Wikipedia, even with its middling quality and poor representation of the world’s diversity, could be the best encyclopedia we will get.

How Hollywood Can Stop Suing Downloaders and Capitalize on Piracy | MIT Technology Review

How Hollywood Can Stop Suing Downloaders and Capitalize on Piracy | MIT Technology Review.

Another article refuting Hollywood scare tactics. Apparently even Hollywood studios are coming to recognize that piracy provides valuable free PR, though they won’t admit it publicly.

I fear that ongoing trade treaty negotiations are being used as a backdoor for misguided new restrictions on IP. Because these are being negotiated “in secret” (except from large companies), there won’t be time to hold hearings or have a rational discussion of these provisions when the treaty is presented to the Senate for confirmation.

Million-Year Data Storage Disk Unveiled

Million-Year Data Storage Disk Unveiled | MIT Technology Review.

This is impressive, although perhaps not too practical. They are using lines scribed on tungsten. The underlying data is expressed as QR codes (which will be forgotten in a few centuries at most, but that is a different problem.)

SEM look at storage disk

One problem is that they are using 100nm line width. While impressive, at that width it is invisible to optical devices (which have a limit of approximately 1 micron) without very complex optics and electronics. So they are going for high density, rather than long-term readability. On the other hand, it would be great for a 50 to 100 -year storage, which is longer than any existing technology can reliably handle.

Are You Really Drowning in Data?

This blog challenges the “drowning in big data” cliche. He explains that most organizations don’t have useful access to most of their raw data – it sits somewhere in the IT department, but it’s not accessible, it has quality problems, and so forth.

But I think that is precisely where the “drowning” comes in. The psychological weight of all that unused data presses down and causes a sensation of “drowning.” The part of the data that is actually indexed, described, readily accessible and so forth is the data that we surf instead of drown under.

This applies on a personal level as well…. I drown under the weight of my “to read” pile; I surf the few things I actually sit and study.

Are You Really Drowning in Data? Challenging the Big Data Assumption – FICO Labs Blog.