Teb’s Lab
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Next week I’m starting an experiment: public office hours. Every Tuesday evening I’ll be hosting a one-hour session where I’ll take questions, help you debug your code, and make chit-chat about the implications of software. I hope it’ll be a fun way to interact with our audience in a more personal way, but that’s not the only reason…

One of the main complaints I hear from people studying programming on their own is that when they get stuck, they don’t have anyone to ask for help. As creators of a lot of self-study content, we want to address that need.

I also run a lot of classes concurrently through a lot of different partners. Students in those classes often only have access to me during class and maybe via a Slack channel. …


How AI will exacerbate “coordinated inauthentic behavior”

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Photo by Finan Akbar on Unsplash

In July, Facebook announced they had removed four networks of accounts for “coordinated inauthentic behavior.” It was the latest battle in the long running — and ever escalating — propaganda arms race. The tactics of “inauthenticity” exploded into the American political conversation following the Cambridge Analytica and Russian interference scandals. These two stories are obviously relevant, but their prominence has centered the conversation about digital disinformation narrowly around election interference which, unfortunately, misses the forest for the trees.

“Inauthentic behavior” is not limited to political content online, it’s everywhere — it is the water of our digital ocean. Influencers are masquerading as your friends. Corporations are astroturfing forums and social media. China has created a literal army of censors and information manipulators who deploy battalions of bots to derail untoward threads and amplify their favored ideas, including operations to incite genocide on Facebook. Disinformation campaigns have similarly fueled violence in India. Someone (or ones) cooked up the QAnon conspiracy. State sponsored hackers have even broken into legitimate news sites and planted fake news stories with all the trappings of legitimacy, including the URL and IP address of well-respected brands. …


This week in tech

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Photo by Hanson Lu on Unsplash

When Facebook launched in 2004 I never would have guessed it (and its successors) would be the subject of international diplomacy. In part that’s because I was only 15, but it’s also because the idea that any government should care about “the new MySpace” just sounded silly. Now, after sixteen years, the consumer software ecosystem has metastasized into what we now recognize as the “Age of Surveillance Capitalism,” and government’s can’t ignore the wide ranging implications.

As proof consumer software’s unignorability, India has banned 59 Chinese made apps including TikTok. The stated reason for India’s ban is that these apps are “prejudicial to [the] sovereignty” of India, noting that these apps are “stealing and surreptitiously transmitting users’ data in an unauthorized manner to servers which have locations outside India.” The ban comes after a military skirmish along the China/India border with casualties on both sides, and should probably be seen as — at least in part — retaliation for that clash. …


This week in tech

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Photo by Bernard Hermant on Unsplash

The digital panopticon continues to expand, with a lot of help from the surveillance industrial complex. The surveillance state / surveillance capitalism mega-trend — which dates back to at least the early aughts if you believe Shoshana Zuboff — got a few boosts this week.

The state of Utah signed a 5-year, $20.7 million contract with a company named Banjo. Despite the innocuous name, Banjo provides comprehensive surveillance services that combine data from social media, satellite feeds, and other apps. …


This week in tech

California’s controversial new law about employee classification is doing its best Oprah impression.

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From the very start, there were dozens of specific exemptions carved out of AB5. Some exemptions are cleanly applied to entire industries, others are more complex. But, since the law went into effect in January, many industries and corporations have started battling to win an exemption of their own. Organizations representing California musicians say the law would crush the industry that (so far as I know) coined the term “gig.” …


This week in tech

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Photo by NESA by Makers on Unsplash

The Verge published a long feature looking into Lambda School, one of the controversial “coding bootcamps” that became popular in the 2010s. One of Lambda’s differentiators is their use of Income Sharing Agreements (ISAs). These alternative debt mechanisms allow students to take the course without paying any cost up front and instead pay a portion of their salary after they land a job as a programmer. According to Lambda’s marketing this helps the school align its success with student success — Lambda only gets paid when students start their new career.

I previously taught at a similar bootcamp, and the article dug up a lot of feelings. The students interviewed for the piece describe familiar trappings that are a mainstay of the unholy union of for-profit schools and the hyper-growth mentality of a tech startup. Unfinished curriculum, instructors with little-to-no educational background, a revolving door of former students immediately becoming teachers, and a “minimum viable product” being sold as a world class education. …


This week in tech

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Photo by fabio on Unsplash

I have been obsessing over impeachment, elections, and politics in general the last few months. I watched nearly every minute of the house impeachment inquiry. It was maddening. Even worse was comparing what I saw on CSPAN to what I read in the news, on Twitter, and elsewhere. My confusion — and frankly rage — over the discrepancies compelled me to write an essay titled Reality’s Vanishing Act in early December. …


This week in tech

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It was hard to miss the news that the world’s richest man had his phone hacked with help from the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammad Bin Salman Al Saud. Reports obtained by Vice’s Motherboard indicate that the malware installed on Bezos phone originated from a video sent from MSB’s number via WhatsApp.

There are a wide variety of reasons why someone might want to hack Bezos’ phone as the owner of Amazon (or just a rich person), but reporting by Wired suggests that Bezos actually became a target as the owner of the Washington Post. The malicious video file was sent one month after the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Saudi Arabian officials have denied involvement on Twitter, calling for an investigation to exonerate them. …


This week in tech

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Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash

Microsoft has committed a billion dollars to becoming carbon neutral by 2025, and carbon negative by 2030. The company’s plans are multipronged and include powering their infrastructure with renewable energy, significant investments in carbon capture, and a research budget to help create new solutions to save the Earth from humans. If they succeed Microsoft’s impact won’t be trivial. Big tech companies use a lot of energy and The Verge’s reporting suggests that if Microsoft achieves just its carbon neutrality goal it would be roughly equivalent to shutting down five coal power plants.

While Microsoft has committed to doing it’s part, climate change remains an absolute crisis. New research indicates the oceans are warming at staggering rates: we’ve put 3.6 billion atomic bombs worth of energy into the ocean over the last 25 years — that’s five a-bombs per second, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for 25 years. Making matters worse, many events caused by climate change have feedback effects. For example, the recent wildfires in Australia have put about 400 million metric tons of carbon into the atmosphere. For perspective, in 2018 Australia’s carbon emissions for the year were estimated at 558 million metric tons. Similarly, permafrost releases greenhouse gasses as it thaws in a hotter world. And, make no mistake, the world is hotter — 2019 is officially the second hottest year on record, and the 2010s have been the hottest decade. …


This week in tech

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Photo by Joseph Barrientos on Unsplash

Two new California laws aimed at reigning in technology companies came into effect as we entered 2020. First is the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) — a cousin of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) — which has a host of provisions related to consumer data. The law also empowers Californians to demand access to their data, opt out of the sale of that data, and more. Vox’s Recode has described some of the core tenants of the law.

After a decade of surveillance capitalism, I have to imagine the legal wings of Facebook and Google (among others) are preparing for war. Part of that war will be figuring out exactly what the law requires. As The Verge reports, many companies are not quite sure how to comply with the new regulations or how courts might interpret the law. While we may be a few court decisions away from fully understanding the implications of CCPA, I can already hear the screams of the software engineers who will now have to plumb the depths of monstrous data warehouses in order to demonstrate their compliance. …

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Teb’s Lab

Teb’s Lab is a publication dedicated to educational content…

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