Read Old Books

C.S. Lewis:

It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones… People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us.

This quote amused me because it certainly feels like we are making the same mistakes. I suspect our lack of reading about the past (new or old books) leads to Dunning-Kreuger style hubris where we commit the same mistakes.

TED Talk: Trolling a Spammer

Back in the early days of spam, I did try replying to a few, but I never got anything like this.

Suspicious emails: unclaimed insurance bonds, diamond-encrusted safe deposit boxes, close friends marooned in a foreign country. They pop up in our inboxes, and standard procedure is to delete on sight. But what happens when you reply? Follow along as writer and comedian James Veitch narrates a hilarious, weeks-long exchange with a spammer who offered to cut him in on a hot deal.

Phishing

Over a month ago, I received a creative phishing attempt. We use a relatively popular service which is mimicked fairly well. I typically receive notification emails from it by an administrative assistant. This came from another name. That was my only real clue that made me look closer. Since, I have received almost a dozen, each pretending to be a different product.

I noticed they all used different domain names for the payload link. But, they all use file.php?d=<value> or f.php?d=<value> to deliver the payload.

Computers are smarter than I am when it comes to patterns like this, so I created an email filter to look for the file names and set it loose. If I see another phishing attempt using another script name, then I will add it to the list. But, so far, I am pleased with how well it protects me from myself.

Renowned

Saw a Facebook post claiming “… a renowned psychologist believes that…” which made me curious. Such a psychologist ought to have thousands of academic journal citations. So, I looked up the name on Google Scholar and saw one to five. The most highly cited stuff was about metaphysical stuff that psychologists refute.

Roy F. Baumeister is what I would call a renowned psychologist. His motivation article has over 13,000 citations. His ego-depletion, which is where I know him, has almost 4,000. People know about his work and cite his in their own. That is renowned.

The thing that prompted this is clickbait pseudoscience bullshit. Calling the creator renowned is Appeal to Authority so probably quite effective.

Balance Theory

Found it especially weird that podcasts advertising Zip Recruiter tend to talk about how they found people to work for them without using Zip Recruiter. We are supposed to believe that even though they did not use it, we should not leave it to chance to find a good employee like they did.

These bothered me for months until I heard it again while reading about Heider’s Balance Theory. (It came up in a discussion with a friend earlier today.) The idea of it is Person likes Other person but has neutral or negative impression of X. This imbalance creates a cognitive dissonance which is resolved by creating a favorable view of X. Person disliking Other person could create a negative view of X. Essentially celebrity endorsements exploit this function of our brains.

Basically, Zip Recruiter paid Malcolm Gladwell to talk about this product on Revisionist History in order to create a cognitive dissonance where I would get a favorable view of their product. Me (Person) liking Malcolm Gladwell (Other) should create a favorable impression of Zip Recruiter (X).

This effect can backfire. If I dislike Zip Recruiter more than I like Gladwell, then I might come to dislike him because of this.

Borked

I often use a term “borked” to mean to fail in a spectacular fashion. (The official definition is: obstruct (someone, especially a candidate for public office) through systematic defamation or vilification.)

The “fake” news about President Trump wanting to end Mueller’s investigation in the Russia connection reminds me of origin of this word.

President Nixon ordered the firing of an independent special prosecutor looking into the Watergate scandal. The Attorney General refused and resigned in protest. The deputy who was then acting also resigned in protest. The Solicitor General, Robert Bork, was the new acting AG and fired the special prosecutor.

Bork’s memoir stated Nixon promised him a Supreme Court seat afterwards for his loyalty. Instead, he was given an appeals court seat by Reagan in 1982. Then Reagan put him up for a Supreme Court seat in 1987. He was so strongly opposed that we got a new word from it. There were 46 Senators in Reagan’s party and 6 voted against Bork. Justice Kennedy was then appointed and managed to get confirmed 97-0.

Weird that I missed the stories celebrating the 30th anniversary of the nomination on July 1, 1987. The nomination vote was October 6th, so there is still time!

The current witch hunt firestorm makes me curious what new terminology we will have in 30 years because of current events.

WP Maintenance Nightmare

Discovered this blog was showing:

Briefly unavailable for scheduled maintenance. Check back in a minute.

Any time it upgrades, this gets thrown up during the process. However, it goes away once the process is completed. It showing is not an error so much as a notification and should as it says go away in a minute. The problem is that if the upgrade hangs, it does not go away.

To manually fix it, go to the directory on the server with the files and remove the .maintenance file. (I rename them to .maintenance_YYYYMMDD so as to track how often they happen.)

I noticed that a particular plugin stated it needed an update. Even better, that plugin was set to automatically update, which suggested it was the cause. Kicking off the update hung the site again. Deleting the plugin also failed.

Eventually, I found myself looking at the wp-content/upgrade folder and noticed there was a folder named for the plugin that was the only content of the folder. I renamed that folder to prepend the name with zzz- and tried the upgrade again. The upgrade worked this time.

My guess is something was bad with the contents of the downloaded plugin upgrade temporary folder, but instead of deleting the contents of the folder as the first step the upgrade process, it just used the existing folder and hit the error each time until I removed it. Weird.

Facebook Feature Request: Privacy and Tags

This is essentially the issue of the Friends of Friends post. In this case, I am not really interested in expanding the audience.

Say I publish a friends only post. Victor, my friend, makes a comment tagging Roberta, not my friend, and asks a question directed at her. She is not notified about the tag. Nor can she see the comment or post.

Therefore, in my mind, allowing the tag to be done is counterproductive. Facebook should warn Victor that Roberta cannot see it. Ideally it would be ahead of time and prevent it. Less acceptable, but I would be happier is after the fact having a “Roberta cannot see this” notice. (The “Who can see this?” thing is vague and not generally very helpful clarifying exactly who can see it.)