The 2016 election and weird patterns on Twitter.

Dec 18, 2016

You've already read my opinion of the 2016 election's outcome so I'll not subject you to it again. However, I would like to talk about some weird stuff I (we, really) kept noticing on Twitter in the days and weeks leading up to Election Day.

As I've often spoken of in the past, a nontrivial portion of my Exocortex is tasked with monitoring global activity on Twitter by hooking into the back-end API service and pulling raw data out to analyze. Those agents fire on a stagged schedule, anywhere from every 30 minutes to every two hours; a couple of dozen follow specific accounts while others use the public streaming API and grab large samples of every tweet that hits Twitter around the world.

If you want to look at a simplified version of that agent network to see how it works I've made it available on Github. As you can see, the output of that particular agent network is batched into e-mails of arbitrary size using the Email Digest Agent and is sent to one of my e-mail addresses as a single batch. The reason for this is twofold; it's easier to scan through a large e-mail and look for patterns visually than it is to scan through several dozen to several hundred separate messages in sequence, and it uses fewer system resources on my e-mail provider to store and present to me that output.

Six or seven weeks before Election Day, Lifeline (the recognition code for the agent network which carries out these sorts of tasks for me) started sending me gigantic e-mail digests every hour or so, containing something like several hundred tweets at a time (the biggest was nearly a thousand, as I recall). Scanning through those e-mails showed that most of the tweets were largely identical, save for the @username that sent them. Tweets about CNN and the Washington Post being GRU and SVR disinformation projects or on-the-ground reporting tagged with #fakenews. Links pointing to Infowars articles (the tweets consisted of the titles of posts, links, and the same sets of hashtags; if you ran the Twitter-compressed URLs through a URL unshortener they all pointed to the same posts). Anti-Bernie and anti-Hillary tweets that all had the same content and the same hashtags. Trump as the second coming messages and calls to action. Rivers of bile directed at political comentators and reporters. Links to fake Wikileaks Podesta e-mails that went to Pastebin or other post-and-forget sites (there wasn't even enough data in the fakes to attempt to validate them (by the bye, the method linked to is really easy to automate)). I saw the same phenomenon with #pizzagate tweets, only the posts came in shorter bursts more irregularly. It went on and on, day and night for weeks, hundreds upon hundreds of unique copies of the same text from hundreds of different accounts. I had to throw more CPUs at Exocortex to keep up with the flood.

All of these posts, when taken together as groups or families consisted of exactly the same text each and every time, though the t.co URLs were different (a brief digression: Twitter's URL shortening service seems to generate different outputs for the same input URL to implement statistics gathering and user tracking as part of its business strategy). Additionally, all of those posts went up more or less within the same minute. The Twitter API doesn't let you pull the IP addresses tweets were sent from but the timestamps are available to the second. If you looked at the source field of each tweet (you'll need to scroll down a bit), they were all largely the same, usually empty (""), with a few minor exceptions here and there. The activity pattern strongly suggests that bots were used to strafe circles of human-controlled accounts on Twitter that roughly correspond to memetic communities. Figuring that somebody had already done some kind of visualization analysis (which I suck at), I had Argus (one of my web search bots) do some digging and he found a bunch of pages like this study, which seem to back up my observations.

The sort of horsepower needed to create such an army of bots would be very easy to assemble: Buy a bunch of virtual machines on Amazon's EC2. Write a couple of bots using Ruby or Python. Sign up for a bunch of Twitter accounts or just buy them in bulk. Make a Docker image that'll effectively turn one EC2 instance into as many as you can reasonably run without crashing the VM. Deploy lots and lots of copies of your bots into those Docker containers. Use an orchestration mechanism like Ansible to configure the bots with API keys and command them en masse; if you're in a time crunch you could even use something like pssh to fire them all up with a single command. Turn them loose. If you've been in IT for a year, this is a Saturday afternoon project that won't cost you a whole lot, but could make you a lot of money.

"Well, yeah, there was an army of bots advertising on Twitter. What else is new?" you're probably saying.

What I am saying is simply this: This post describes a little bit about how this sort of media strategy works, what the patterns look like at the 50000 foot view, and my/our observations. I don't think I did anything really ground-breaking here, only in the sense that I used a bunch of AI systems that stumbled across what was going on by accident. It was the hardcore data scientists who did the real academic work on it (though that work is a bit inaccessible unless you're a computer geek).

Memetic warfare is here, and our social networks at the battlegrounds. Armor up.

Memetic warfare in America.

Dec 04, 2016

The current state of anyone's capacity to get any useful information in the United States these days, which is to say next to impossible due to the proliferation of fake news sites and pro-trolls doing their damndest to lower the signal-to-noise ratio to epsilon, is the logical end result of the following progression of cliches:

"You can't believe everything people tell you."

"You can't believe everything you read in books."

"You can't believe everything you see on TV."

"You can't believe everything your friends tell you."

"You can't believe everything your teachers tell you."

"You can't believe everything you read in magazines."

"You can't believe everything in your textbooks; they're written by people with agendas."

"You can't believe anything in newspapers."

"You can't believe everything you read on the Internet."

The @DNAlounge is in trouble.

Dec 19, 2016

20161228:  The DNA has started a Patreon account to accept donations!

20161222: It seems that the DNA Lounge is coming up with contingency plans, and they need our help!

Yesterday, JWZ, owner and operator of the DNA Lounge in San Francisco, CA made an upsetting and disturbing announcement.

The DNA Lounge is in danger, and may have to close down soon.

JWZ bought the space that is now the DNA roughly 17 years ago and during that time it's become one of the premiere hotspots of SF nightlife.  Just about any kind of event you can imagine has been thrown here, from a local motorcycle club renting it out while their primary clubhouse was undergoing repairs to the Electronic Frontier Foundation's silver anniversary, and raves a-plenty over the years.  Many have come to see a burlesque show or two at the DNA, or catch an up-and-coming band in a new and strange genre of music, or even come for a slice of pizza and a glass of beer while hoping to be tapped for the stage show of Point Break Live once upon a time.  I don't think anybody can easily count the number of concerts the DNA's hosted over the years (though I've no doubt that JWZ would probably know off the top of his head).  Long time readers are probably aware that I usually haunt Death Guild, the country's longest running gothic/industrial club night as well as Turbo Drive, the only synthwave dance night I've found anywhere in the country.

In the last two years attendance has dropped off noticeably, and it's hurt the DNA Lounge in a real way.  JWZ says that he can't afford to subsidize it anymore, and it might have to go out of business for good.

All I can ask of any of you, gentlebeings, is this:

Please re-share this post far and wide, so that as many people can see it.  If you'll be in the Bay Area for any length of time, please visit the DNA Lounge.  Go on a night of the week and pay the club a visit, it's not expensive to get in and the people there are genuinely cool folks; treat them well and they'll treat you well.  Give the music on that night a fair listen that night.  You might like it, you might not, but either way you'll be exposed to something new.  If you can't make a concert or a club night (or the night's really not your thing), visit DNA Pizza next door and pick up breakfast, get lunch, or maybe have a slice or two and a cold one after work.  DNA Pizza's open 24x7 and they have some of the best pizza in SF.  Hell, if you're on the other side of the country and there's no way you'll make it to California in time, consider buying something from the online store?

The DNA Lounge is a fixture in the community of San Francisco.  You can see just about any kind of live act, hear styles of music you've never heard before, and dance until your legs are sore.  This club means a lot to many of us and we don't want to see one of the few places that we can be ourselves go away.  Please, if you can, help JWZ out and keep the DNA Lounge alive.

Neologism: Hopepothesis

Dec 18, 2016

Hopepothesis - noun - What you come up with when you really don't know what you're doing or what's going on, but you pull something out of your ass anyway.  If anybody asks, that's your working hypothesis.

To everybody waiting on responses..

Dec 18, 2016

It's the holidays. I'm pretty busy right now, and hoping I don't have a sinus infection. I haven't forgotten about anybody. I'll get to the time-sensitive stuff first, and rest as I can.

Happy holidays.

Blind Guardian - 5 October 2016

Nov 23, 2016

Historically, it's rare that Blind Guardian goes on tour in the United States, so whenever they come to the States we scramble to get tickets because they put on a hell of a show. Around the house we jokingly call them elven thrash metal because their lyrics are steeped in the works of Moorcock and Tolkien, with influences from many different myth cycles, such as Arthurian legend. To be blunt, their show was face-meltingly good. They played some classic crowd singalongs like The Bard's Song and Valhalla during the show and brought the house down in so doing.

Unfortunately, when I was pulling these pictures off of my phone I accidentally deleted about half of them. I was able to recover all of the deleted files but now I need to sort through five or six gigabytes of recovered files... when I finally sit down and sort through them all I'll update this gallery. Sorry.

A thought on memorization and memory techniques.

Dec 12, 2016

In many memorization techniques it is often taught that you should make use of overly vivid, even absurd imagery to make sure that bits of information stick in whatever organizational technique you might use, be it a ladder of pegs or something as elaborate as the method of loci. Sometimes you have to work to make something stick, and sometimes the absurd makes itself known spontaneously.

Have you ever pondered why there are so many things that you simply can't unsee on the Internet?

Stop and think about all the things that you wish you'd never seen over the years. All the stingers and nasty surprises that gave you a nasty jolt. No, I won't list any, I've no shortage of my own memories that routinely invade my nightmares... the point I'm making is that those things are so far off the beam, so far removed from our daily experience (regardless of what it may be), so... there's probably a word in German for the concept. The best I've got it ho'polis d'l'Byr (Horror of the Other) that it wraps around into Lovecraftian or possibly Gigeresque surrealism or disgust (sometimes with a bouncy, catchy techno remix playing in the background) that it burns itself indelibly into one's long-term memory in exactly the same way that Musashi Miyamoto rolling out pizza dough with a shinai on a wicker papsan chair in the back yard does.

The 2016 election was not rigged.

Nov 27, 2016

There, I said it.

I don't think that votes were messed with, I don't think that any (horribly insecure) voting machines were tampered with, and while jerrymandering is totally a thing I don't think it had anything to do with the election. I think that appealing to people's most deeply held beliefs, the ones that few are willing to talk about openly had everything to do with it.

Donald Trump is everything that USians want to be, deep down inside. Let's be honest: Whether or not Donald Trump is really as rich as he says doesn't matter. What matters is that many people believe he is rich. In the United States cultural mindscape that equates to power. As he's bragged about on television repeatedly, he's done some pretty heinous and ignorant things and gotten away with all of them. That show of power demonstrates that he's effectively above the law. He's on television a lot, which to the USian cultural mindset equates to fame. Fame is a form of power all its own, because to be on television you have to have access to the media somehow, and having access to the media means that he can reach everyone watching a television, listening to a radio, and haunting every social network without even trying. If you follow his Twitter feed you can observe his antics first-hand.

USians love money. USians love power. USians love getting away with things. USians love fame. He's everything every USian wants to be - he's the American dream.

And who doesn't want to be like him? Who doesn't want to be Bruce Wayne, who's stupidly rich, gets away with the craziest shit during the day, and still has time to himself to practice being a badass after dark? Who doesn't want to be Tony Stark ("Genius, billionaire, playboy, philantropist."), hook up with Playboy centerfolds, and kick asses around the world while getting away with it (mostly)? Who doesn't dream of being Lex Luthor, an amazingly wealthy industrialist who just happens to want to kill Superman, the all-American do-gooder?

Donald Trump is all of those fictional characters brought to life (modulo being a hero, though I'll get to that in a second), every badass example of the American Dream that people think they have. Throughout the entire election he showed off all of those qualities writ so large you could see them from orbit, and people ate it up. The hero bit I mentioned? He promised a nebulous effort to "make America great again," which just about everybody who's worried about their lot in life ate up and went back for seconds. Afraid that the middle class is vanishing like spilled water in the desert? Hate "them other folks" but either won't admit it out loud or don't even realize you're racist? Openly racist and hold demonstrations calling for ethnic cleansing in the United States? Want reassurance that anything sketchy you might be up to might get a pass because Trump's promised to make it go away? Just want to watch it all burn? Trump not only validated those feelings but openly embraced them among his constituency and campaign staff. He promised to make the boogiemen under the bed go away. Everybody on the fringe, from the folks who took somebody's attempt at trolling seriously to genuinely scary people sat up and howled when the dog whistle blew.

You don't have to rig an election when you work to be the person that everybody identifies with. When the people of the United States voted for Donald Trump, they actually voted for the kind of people they themselves most want to be.

The bed's made, and bedtime's near. Nightmares are coming.

Vice Reine, Night Club, and Beautiful Machines at the DNA Lounge.

Nov 23, 2016

In October of this year, I once again made my pilgrimage to the DNA Lounge to spend the night dancing at Turbo Drive, the club's monthly (sort of) synthwave dance party. A sucker for the old-school synths as always, I dressed up in my finest to see Vice Reine, Night Club, and the Beautiful Machines perform live. I especially wanted to attend because that particular night celebrated the release of Night Club's first full album, entitled Requiem for Romance (listen to it!) This was one of the few nights where Turbo Drive was held on the main dancefloor of the DNA and not at Code Word, the side club upstairs. All three bands put on top-notch shows; Night Club was enjoyable as usual, and I really got into the Beautiful Machines.

In my photo album, you'll find a couple of photographs of a woman in a hand-made, full cyber costume constructed especially for Turbo Drive. Her name is Mikaela Holmes, and she specializes in wearable art of all kinds, from leather to optical fibre, low-light reflective to hand-formed electroluminescants. Photographs (hers and mine) don't do her work justice, you really have to see it up close to really appreciate it. She even has a bunch of tutorials up at Instructables. If you get a chance, stop by her Facebook page and check it out.

Anyway, here are the pictures I took.