Gawker v Hogan is it really a first Amendment Issue?

Gawker just lost a wopper of a case today. They have lost their case related to reporting on the Hulk Hogan sex tape. It’s unclear how the sex tape was leaked to Gawker, or if there was any money exchanged, according to Wikipedia. Before we can determine if this massive damages of $115 million and potentially more as punitive damages.

Let’s take a step back and figure out what lines were crossed here. First, the Hulkster was not in his house. He as having sex with someone of his own volition. He was having sex with a married woman whose husband was known for filming his wife with other men. These all indicate that his privacy is going to be somewhat compromised, especially if the woman he was sleeping with had no idea if there were cameras running or in the bedroom at that time. So his privacy was already somewhat diminished because there was a likelihood of a camera in the house.

Gawker didn’t film this themselves. They did not set up Hulk Hogan to have sex and be filmed. There was no intent to create a situation where Hulk Hogan would be duped into having sex on camera for Gawker. The person violating Hulk’s privacy was the husband who’s bed he was having sex in.

Let’s take a step back and figure out where the boundary for privacy is in many of these cases. First we know that, due to the Streisand Effect, that suing over pictures of a celebrity’s house isn’t grounds for invasion of privacy. We also know that embarrassing images like Beyonce’s can’t be removed because people are talking about them and have moved into public discourse.

As much as media consumers have a love/hate relationship with the paparazzi, there’s some pretty clear lines for what’s an invasion of privacy and what is not – breaking into a home and taking the pictures themselves. If someone is in public they can be photographed. This may not be fair or really ethical in the manner they strive to get their pictures. But in public our expectation of privacy is greatly diminished.

So what about reporting on other sex tapes? Kim Kardashian sued several years ago over her sex tape that someone actually bought, rather than being leaked to them in the way Gawker had their tape leaked to them. Rather than following through with the law suit, she actually turned it into a business deal and likely made close to $4.5million, which really was the smart thing to do. She didn’t sue any of the many new sites that reported on this deal and the site she sued likely didn’t have the first amendment protections of a new outlet since it was a porn website. Tommy and Pamela Lee did win some money when suing over their sex tape, but that was over copyright infringement, because it was a porn company they sued, not a news site. So, most of the people that have won money in sex suits cases have been due to copy right infringement and, in fact, the women that were victimized during the so called “Fappening” threatened to sue Google using this approach.

In all these cases news sites reported on this and showed, in many cases doctored, images of the people that were involved in these cases. Kardashian’s sex tape was everywhere and snippets were shown on sites like Gawker. The argument here is that these are topics people care about and are news worthy. Which is why the paparazzi get away with the things they do, because people eat it up. The issue at hand is ultimately if this is actually newsworthy or in the topic of conversation. Which it was first talked about on Howard Stern and then stayed somewhat in public discourse afterwards. Ironically, similar to the Streisand Effect, the topic probably became even more interesting to the public as a result of the law suit. If Hogan had done nothing people wouldn’t have cared and I would never have written an article about this.

The goal here was to prevent other new agencies from distributing similar material, according to Hulk Hogan’s attorney. The goal is specifically to chill media activities in regard to celebrities. Which will be unsuccessful in the long run. History is on Gawker’s side and the president indicates that this will likely be overturned in appeal.

So, to answer the question, it’s likely a first amendment issue and because of the personality, it’s “news worthy.” The goal of the suit is to chill discussion and that’s unacceptable.

Tech and Art

Last night I asked for a writing prompt, not for my blog, but for my planned creative writing stream on Instead of a fictional writing prompt, I got one requesting I write about the intersection of technology and art. This is a pretty interesting space to be honest as there are folks that are building crazy things for Burning Man, Soak in Oregon, and just for fun.

The laser reflecting on the windmill is pretty interesting. I haven’t see anything quite like this before. When I used to drive between Austin and Santa Fe on a regular basis the wind mills in east Texas, always got me excited, even when it was just the flashing light on the top. The elegance of the blades juxtaposed with the barren landscape was really a great site to behold.

This gif also brought to mind another Dutch technologist/artist though. This creator uses a form of machine evolution to create super interesting “animals” that move around on beaches without going into the ocean and that move around more efficiently.

A book I read a number of years ago, called “Design Driven Innovation”  talks about how using art along with an understanding of how people use objects allows a great deal of innovation in our products. What might seem useless today, such as a laser on a windmill may actually help pave the way for new energy transmission methodologies or perhaps another way to enhance the amount of energy a windmill actually creates.

I’ll close this with my thoughts about an event in Eindhoven, The Netherlands that I really loved. It was a Glow Festival, which really makes sense because it was a city large built upon the successes of Philips. It is a festival where the entire city center is turned into a series of light art exhibits. It combines the aesthetics of the old city, with modern lights. I really enjoyed it and if you’re living in Europe I strongly suggest you check it out!

You’re Going to Hate the Next President

I think we all need to just admit that there will be policies that the next US President will implement that we will hate. It doesn’t matter if you support a Republican or Democrat candidate. You may even like some of their policies, but you’ll probably hate a handful and those may define what you really think about that President.

In my case I was an Obama supporter. I think overall, he’s done a pretty good job, but I hate his Mid-East policies, many which Clinton was the architect. I also hate his current stance on encryption, because I think it’s incredibly short sighted.I think we need our leaders to be long in vision, because it’s impossible to know who is going to be sitting in that chair when they finish. This is exactly the case we’re seeing with people incredibly alarmed about the policies that Obama has implemented in Donald Trump’s hands.

Techdirt raised this issue a few days ago in an article called “Abuse Of Power: Laws Should Be Designed As If The People We Distrust The Most Are In Power“. In the simplest terms the author calls for all laws to be written as if the people in charge right now expect to be replaced with people that are the polar opposites of them. In our current political climate that would be the conservatives being replaced as soon as they finish their terms with the most liberal democrats conceivable.

This is essentially how the Bill of Rights were written. Basically, the framers had a clear understanding of what the worst tyrannical  rulers in the world do to their subjects. Consequently, they could immediately imaging what would happen if that person became the ruler of the United States, but still bound by the laws of the new constitution. In that case, they could see that the tyrant would be constrained by these laws in such a way as that they would be “comfortable” with them leading the country.

In our case, we have continually eroded the defenses in the Bill of Rights over the past 200 plus years. So now, we have many policies that a great deal of Americans don’t really trust either political party with the powers they’ve been entrusted with. This is further complicated by the fact that our intelligence agencies don’t magically realign with the wishes of a new elected official. Similar to any entity, they continue to pursue their overarching objective and changes in those behaviors require massive changes. In the case of the NSA/CIA it may require changes in laws restricting them from behaving in certain ways with very serious repercussions to those that don’t change their behavior.

As a result, Techdirt is correct. We need to develop our policies with the assumption that “the other” is going to be in charge at some point in our lifetime. The group that we don’t ever want to be in power, will be. We have to admit that. To ensure that they are never able to abuse fellow Americans is to ensure that we do not ever abuse Americans nor other international actors. This then must be codified into law, thus when the most unsavory candidate you can image has a solid chance of winning an election, they will not have powers that we would abhor in their hands. That’s what we need to be thinking about.

Apple v FBI – What supporters are saying

I’m a big fan of Techdirt, I think that they do some really great work in digging into the shit going on around technology, policy, and laws. They put together a nice read through of the amicus briefs supporting Apple in the case against the FBI. They read through the 20 briefs and pulled out some really interesting gems, such as the fact that this software the FBI is trying to force Apple to produce will likely be flawed and insecure because it won’t go through all the proper QA processes that normal software will go through. They will likely try to just break the part that the FBI is requesting without changing much else, which means they won’t really thoroughly test the impacts on other parts of the OS.

Techdirt also has looked through the briefs supporting the FBI. These ones actually undermine the FBI in a few ways. First, other law enforcement groups essentially throw out the illusion of one phone. In fact the Manhattan DA is planning on using the compromised iOS to get into something like 120 iPhones. They will likely use this precedent to force Apple to write comparable versions of the OS for the newer versions of iPhones that this break isn’t expected to work on.

The last brief is from the DA in San Bernardino which really shows that this truly is a fishing expedition. They are worried about a “cyber pathogen” which is pretty crazy, because there is no reason to really believe anything like that would even exist. The DA also raises the specter of a third shooter even though there no evidence of it and there’s clearly never been a third shooter. Simply speculating that these things are there and making up more reasons to break the encryption of the phone when there is no evidence to support any of these speculations doesn’t provide more weight to the argument. In fact, it likely casts further doubt on the likelihood of finding anything useful on the phone. Truly showing that this is a waste of time and effort.


Using Tools to Enable Deep Work

I read an interesting article about programming today, the author says that learning to program is easy, it’s working “Deep” for long periods of time that is difficult. I think this a really insightful way of looking at mastering skills. It’s really easy to jump to the next email or ping when you’re learning because you’re afraid to fail at learning. When learning becomes difficult, people have a more difficult time keeping focused – even if they have an incentive (Pay check or paying someone) to learn.

This can be exacerbate by not having a good environment to learn in or a good teacher. A bad teacher that isn’t willing to give you the examples that you’re able to learn from in a constructive environment is wasting everyone’s time. However, if you’re self learning, then you’re going to be using mostly Google searches or maybe a few books here and there. The best way to learn then is to give yourself an interesting project related to something you care immensely about. I’m not an expert at programming, but I know when I’ve learned most successfully it’s been when I have a clear objective with the right tools in front of me to dig into the problem I’m trying to solve.

There are tools out there that make doing this sort of work easier and others that make this work more difficult. Git and all it’s various version are tools that can, once you learn them, make deep work easier, because you eliminate the fear of mistakes. If you screw up too bad you can simply start over from where you were. Breaking your project into chunks becomes much more important so you can work on items without risking the entire project.

There are other tools like Slack, that apparently, can really be a detriment to deep work. There was a breakup letter about this topic that’s been getting some attention. I think it’s focusing on the incorrect problem. Slack isn’t the issue here, it’s the person doing the work and/or the work environment that has caused the problem “Breaking up” with Slack is like breaking up a hammer because you’re unsuccessfully screwing in screws. The tool is not at fault, it’s doing what it’s designed to do, hammer in things, you’re applying it wrong or using the tool incorrectly. Yes, in this case it is not the right tool for the job, but you’ve done a poor job defining the problem you’re trying to solve with the tool.

At my company, I think we’ve come up with a pretty good solution to this. We don’t use Slack, but it’s competitor HipChat, pretty similar overall, but with the right tools integrated together, you’re able to create rooms for specific features. These are tied together between Bitbucket, Jira, and HipChat (yea we went all in on Atlassian), which means you’re able to see all the information you need about the problem the feature you’re working on is trying to solve. We’ve started to use this to pull in the voice of the customer (me in this case I’m not a developer) earlier into the process so that I am able to give feedback quickly to what the developer needs. This allows the developer to meet my acceptance criteria by getting quick feedback and then getting back onto the deep work of really writing the software.

In some cases can it be disruptive? Yes, but that’s only if people aren’t using it correctly and we work with them to change their behavior before it becomes a problem. Slack, Jira, Bitbucket, et al are only tools that are designed to reduce the burden of working with remote team members to enable us to get down to the nuts and bolts of deep work for programming.

Take a look in the mirror if you’re struggling with learning programming or using a tool like Slack. You’re the problem, create a structure around how you work and how your team works. Use your hammer on nails not screws.

Capitalism vs. Robots – which is more terrifying?

In an article that recently resurfaced on Reddit, Famed Astrophysicists Stephen Hawking argues that we should fear capitalism more than robots. I think the timing of this is somewhat interesting, being an election cycle and the two populist candidates are opposites in many regards especially in terms of Democratic Socialism vs. Crony Capitalism (Sanders v Trump). In the broader context of emerging technology this is important as well though, as many other technology leaders have expressed fear of AI, such as Elon Musk, while other leaders are running full steam ahead towards more and more automation.

Hawking isn’t the only person thinking about the economy and technology though. Warren Buffet just released Berkshire Hathaway’s annual report with some pretty stark warnings about the future of capitalism in action at the corporate level. Indicating that innovation does have a darkside. While he’s speaking as a manager, there are economists looking into this and in the book Second Machine age, the authors argue that the best is still to come, because man and machine work best together, not separately.

Unfortunately, this will only push the ceiling up on skills required for jobs, rather than expanding opportunities. A perfect example of this will be Uber. Being an Uber driver isn’t a difficult job because of skill requirements, but because it’s a boring job that is relatively tiring. Uber has been pushing down their prices over a multi-month/year process which will continue through the introduction of “Autonomous” Cars, or RobotCars. At this time a large number of low skilled workers will find themselves out of a job, including people I know and probably people you know. This has been Uber’s plan for a long time as they understand that people are the biggest costs and risk for the company. Especially in light of the mass shooting in Michigan.

Uber isn’t the only major company looking to replace workers like this. In fact, it’s likely that a lot of White Collar jobs are going to go this route as well, including in industries that notoriously relied on people that then made unethical decisions, such as the financial industry.  We’ve heard of High Frequency Trading, which is basically a set of algorithms to make decisions on buying and selling stocks based on microtrends. However, this is going to continue to expand into newer areas. It’s been well remarked that most brokers are no better than a coin flip (Black Swan; Drunkards Walk; Thinking, Fast and Slow; all reference this) so it is highly likely that algorithms will do better than people in picking winners and losers on the stock market. It’s also likely that those algorithms will have access to more data faster than any person could eve analyze and act upon.

This interaction between capitalism and automation creates huge risks for the economy. A few years ago, there was a “flash crash” which was basically caused by those HFT I mentioned above. As more and more portions of the financial industry come under the purview of robo-traders, these sorts of events are going to be more likely. These institutions still have pushed most of the risk to the public, while retaining the bulk of the profits from these robots.

As these trends continue across industries, the local optimization of companies to automate and create more robots is going to gradually push people out of jobs at a more and more rapid pace than new categories of jobs can be opened. I think it likely that will be likely that we’ll see more companies going the route of Uber. Using tools like Amazon’s Mechanical Turk to get processes started before they invest effort and energy into automating processes. Once they are shown to be successful, the effort to remove the human element will continually increase until those workers are out of a job. What we will eventually see is a white collar migratory worker going from one type of tech job to another only to be replaced by automation in the long run.

The impact to the economy in the long run and the human condition in the short term will be catastrophic as our current institutions are not designed to handle this sort of change in labor type. The incentives for this behavior has been in place for decades and have been pushing bad actors to be worse, such as the Turing Pharmaceuticals’ CEO price gouging dying patients, because the market could support it.

Continual Computing Innovation

Several years ago, I wrote a few blogs about where I felt that the future of computing is heading. The main premise focused on high speed internet, essentially a mesh network with the speed of Google fiber. I feel pretty good at some of the things I predicted have come true, like the personal cloud in some form or another. The other key component that is slowly starting to come true is the phone that you can plug in and use as a computer. HP announced another version of this at the Mobile World Congress to pretty bad press reports. I’m not convinced I agree with TechCrunch’s prognosis, but I also don’t plan to run out and buy one of these phones. I believe that for HP’s product to be successful it really needs to build on the Surface Book. A phone, even a large phone, is nice for some applications, but definitely won’t have enough power for other applications. Especially graphically demanding applications. I’m sure that we’re getting to the point that tablets are getting to be laptop replacements, in the right form factor. I don’t think phones are there yet. What needs to happen, is that the dock for the HP V3 needs to have the ability to enhance the performance of the phone. Furthermore, the switching between docked and undocked needs to be seamless to the point the user doesn’t suffer major slow downs in opening applications that are expected to be used in phone mode (texting, email, etc…). I think we’re finally getting to the point where we’re going to see more and more of these products.

Another more interesting advance in cell phones is the LG G5, which has the ability to add new hardware components, after market. Right now the portion that comes off, removes the battery, but I have a feeling there will be an aftermarket version that will change how that works. I believe that this phone has some serious potential to have an attachment that docks similarly to the HP V3, but with the ability to increase performance of the phone. This is going to be a big deal as more and more people are looking into turning Android into a successful desktop operating system (or maybe laptop operating system). I can imagine a monitor that has the capability to dock with a phone of one kind or another will be developed to further support this ecosystem. It would be easiest to create a dock with an USB-C adapter based on the amount of information and that these are already being used to allow for Graphics Amplification.

I think over the next few years the innovations around the blurring of smart phones with these applications is going to increase. We’ve seen it to some degree with Smart TVs, albeit mostly unsuccessfully compared to set top boxes like Apple TV and Roku. However, with the way phones plow through batteries and the continually evolving use cases of smart phones and computers, this convergence is going to continue and within the next 3-5 years we’ll have at least one company offering a suite of products that is all inclusive to the smartphone as a replacement for computer. Especially, if we’re able to get unlimited 5G on said phone (5G speeds are expected to be in the range of Fiber).