Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Sugru hack of the century?

My iphone gets pretty heavy use as a journalist and had developed a small single crack--just from being dropped so regularly. Then last week the baby turned a minor problem into a total disaster. Without any warning he hurled the entire phone onto the concrete floor of Whole Foods Market. 
Duct tape (gaffa tape) worked well to hold it together for a few days, but then I hit upon the solution!

If you have never heard of the 'hack things better' compound Sugru then you need to know about this absolutely awesome stuff. (Particularly if you have children who break things like headphones and dinosaurs. All of which can be fixed with a blob of sugru.) The purple sugru was mixed with three mini packs (blue, red, white). It happened to be what I had in the house, rather than a desire for this shade of lilac. The textured surface was created with a paper towel and a leather iphone case.

Friday, November 09, 2012

"Clusterfuck" 2012

During the campaign this year I must be honest and say it was often impossible to know where downright denial ends and total BS begins. Clearly if one is to win, it is necessary to be optimistic and talk up one's chances. But there are limits.

A case in point. Despite the Romney campaign boasting about its epic get out the vote (GOTV) efforts, it seems the entire thing was a total disaster (and predictably so). Watch this fascinating clip, just prior to the election on PBS Newshour. The Romney campaign boasts about its historic GOTV technology. Then laugh like a drain. Romney's Orca project fell over spectacularly.....

It was an "unmitigated disaster" says one supporter, The Ace of Spaces. More fascinating still are the 600 comments to his post which explain how 30,000 of the most active Romney volunteers were wandering around confused and frustrated on election day.

One writes "the bitter irony of this entire endevour was that a supposedly small government candidate gutted the local structure of GOTV efforts in favour of a centralised, faceless organisation in a far off place (in this case their Boston headquarters). Wrap your head around that". 
Another writes, "I'd say this was a world class clusterfuck. That's a technical term, btw."

 And another, "In the most GOP precinct in my city. Voted at 6AM. Got phone calls all day reminding me to vote. Got the last call at 6:59PM. The polls closed at 7PM. Clusterfuck."

Presumably all the bragging about superior technology was designed to keep the donors happy. If so, this is not the only area in which Republicans have been fleeced according to a clip from Morning Joe, where the conservative columnist David Frum explains how Republicans have been fleeced and exploited and lied to by a conservative entertainment complex.

That is a pretty big idea by itself. In other words that by insulating itself from the mainstream media and within an ecosystem that is little more than a conservative echo-chamber, that the right was unable to see what was really coming or have any real context. (We saw some of this in attacks on the statistician Nate Silver.)

It is one thing to ask whether, after all the money that has been spent, it was wasted given that a campaign has lost. There will always be a sense of money wasted on the losing side. But it is quite another to have a creeping concern that the right-wing media, political consultants, and contractors have had one priority alone: to milk Obama terror for all it is worth. 

Machine politics

Both political campaigns this year have been heavily involved in data analysis. I wrote about this in January in an article for The Economist. Just prior to the election we published a follow up piece. It rather hedged the question of which side had the R&D advantage, although hesitantly suggested that Mr Obama did. Subsequent to the election, I think it has become fairly clear (through leaks to the press) that Mr Romney was never able to even come close to the level of technical sophistication that Mr Obama could muster and given the timescale available to them were forced to buy solutions in from contractors.

Of course the big question now is what happens next to the organisation Obama for America, and the systems, that were built to do one thing: re-elect President Obama. But in the last few minutes, Jeremy Bird, the national field director, has told Obama's army that they are not retiring but resting up for the next battle. "You helped this country stay the course. Enjoy this victory for now and rest up. There will be more work to come. Stay tuned."

Mr Obama has created what must be the largest political organisation in history. It was able to make 125m personal contacts with voters (phone calls and door knocks) in a few days prior to the election. And this army will be re-tasked. But with the next presidential election not for another four years, what task could this army possibly address?

The next elections in the US are actually on November 4th, 2014. During the mid-term elections all 435 seats in the US House of Representatives will be fought over (as well as a number of Senate seats and governorships). Is it too much to speculate that Mr Bird has just fired the starting gun for 2014?

The cyber war 

Deus ex machina 

Voters are being targeted in new and powerful ways 

Nov 3rd 2012 | CHICAGO | from the print edition

 THE scene could be in Tampa, or Santa Barbara, or Chicago. Mr and Mrs Sixpack are relaxing after dinner with their iPads. Each is looking at the same news website, but each will be shown different political advertising. He sees something about naval bases, from the Romney camp; she sees a post about the president’s environmental record. This is a new trick. Behind this year’s digital campaigns—whether through e-mail, social networks, apps or web advertising—lies an enormous body of data that have been integrated for the first time. [More...]