The word "Terrorism" has jumped the Shark

“You keep saying that word, I do not think it means what you think it means” – Princess Bride. Growing up terrorism meant something. It meant that someone out there could get to you in a very violent way designed to inspire fear in the general population. These events were rare, but horrifying. The first World Trade Center Bombing, Oklahoma City Bombing, The Unibomber, The Olympics bombing, the nerve gas in Tokyo Subway, etc… However, since 9/11 the word Terrorism has begun to change meaning. 9/11 of course was a terrorist attack and spawned may other attacks that were intended to cause damage and inspire fear in the populace. They worked, the US has spent billions of dollars in security measures that are ineffective at best, we’ve spent trillions of dollars on two wars, and who knows how many shadowy engagements using our special forces and drones.

It’s had many other consequences, the no fly lists, the removal of passengers for speaking Arabic or most recently Russian, hateful actions against both Muslims and the religiously unrelated Sikhs – they have turbans therefore must be a terrorist! – and of course more attacks. The disturbing trend however is the lack of even handedness in classifying an act as an act of terrorism. We’re seeing kids getting arrested and facing 20 years for making terrorist threats by posting rap lyrics on facebook. We have the Boston Bomber charged with terrorism (as he should be), but the guys with the guns in the movie theaters aren’t being charged with terrorism.

Most recently in the UK, there was an attack with a machete on a solider that’s being called Terrorism. Just yesterday there was an attack in France which happened in a similar fashion that’s also being called terrorism. Does terrorism mean any attack on non-Muslim by a Muslim? Why are these not politically motivated murders or even assassinations? That is what they are, is that terrorism? I don’t really think so. David Cameron is going to use these murders as an excuse to stamp out what he considers “hate speech” in the UK. Will this simply turn out to be an attack on Muslims in general?

Many of you out there are not fans of the blow back theory, where our actions in those regions are creating hostile agents that attempt to get revenge in any way possible. Initially, I was very skeptical of this stand point. However, as I’ve paid attention to the new more and expanded my sources of information, I completely accept this theory. I believe that there are clear parallels with the US response to hacking activities. The final piece of evidence I’ll provide in support of the theory is this great short read by Juan Cole:  “Who’s the Threat?” It’s a simple chart showing what countries have invaded each other since 1798 and the numbers killed by the “terrorist regions” or the west. Put in this larger context, hearing about drone strikes would be terrifying – especially since you have absolutely no recourse if your brother is “collateral damage” to a strike.

With that in mind, I think it’s paramount that we work to keep terrorism to mean an act of violence that’s more similar to the Boston Bombing than a brutal machete murder which was more of an attack directed against the state than the people of that state.

Obama’s DOJ assault on civil liberties

Obama’s been really bad for privacy, due process, and discretion when it comes to a litany of topics. Many of these issues aren’t really discussed in the mainstream media and it’s beginning to really bother me. I take that back, it’s been bothering me for quiet some time, but I’m going to be talking about it a lot more now. In fact, many of these issues have dated back to before this past election. I was extremely close to voting for a third party candidate for president because I find it repugnant that the US president would kill US citizens abroad without a trial by jury, because the Bush administration created a legal gray zone called “enemy combatant.” I’m not a fan of conjecturing what our founding fathers think about modern day issues, however, I feel that this one is pretty obvious. People were being imprisoned and killed without trail under British rule. The right to a trail was to ensure this wouldn’t happen to a citizen.

The next area that’s really starting to disturb me is the efforts to shut down some types of DDoS activities. It was just discovered within the past few days that the FBI has backdoor access into a company that does DDoS for hire. Which likely means that they’re used as part of the US Cyber Security Defense League of National Homeland Safetiness. It also means that anyone that uses a service like this can be tracked and arrested for using the service, if the FBI decides to – essentially if the FBI feels that the use would have been justified from their perspective the customer wouldn’t be bothered. However, this isn’t the case at all when it comes to teenagers, young adults, or whatever age you are if you’re in Anonymous, Lulzsec, or just Kim Dot Com. According to a great Guardian article, http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2013/may/04/security-alert-war-in-cyberspace, there’s a general all out attack on people that decide to use the internet in new ways to do different things. These are people that are notifying others of risks to their own security. For example, Weev, was just sentenced to 3 years in prison for alerting AT&T that the had some email addresses associated with iPads exposed, sure he went through Gwaker, but this information was easily accessible and in plain text. This creates a risk to all security researchers, the people that are called “white hats” that are the good Samaritan hackers which find security exploits, inform the firm give them 30 days or so to fix the issue and then release the information into the public to force the fix. Many cases of hacking are “Black hat” hackers that are really up to no good, but as the generation younger than mine continue to explore the web there will be continued clashed of culture of what is right and wrong on the internet. To me, these prison terms (and attacks that lead to Aaron Swartz’s suicide) is the old guard trying to assert authority in an area they don’t understand and cannot control.

The final area of DOJ assault is on whistle blowers and journalists. I’ve long been an advocate for releasing more information to the public and applying more scrutiny to the government. The scandals with the IRS, Benghazi, and military leaderships only indicate we need more transparency not less. The Obama administration has taken the idea of national security needs to new heights and this has created a pervasive atmosphere throughout the US that governments can simply do as they please. For example New York City, which famously said privacy is off the table, refuses to respond to legally binding Freedom of Information Requests. They are simply ignored. If it’s good for the federal government then it’s good for state and city government! Greater transparency to the public is the only way to prevent corruption throughout the government. I believe the only reason we learned of the IRS fiasco is because it was a government issued report to the public. Otherwise, it would have been buried for years and we wouldn’t have heard of it for some time, and even then there would have been a nasty fight over getting the information public.

Back to my main point of the assault on journalism – the DOJ secretly sopenaed phone records from the AP, then charged an investigative reporter from Fox as a co-conspirator which allowed the DOJ to access emails and other records skirting typical judicial oversight when dealing with the press. Furthermore, nearly all aspects of the US Government feel they can just access whoevers email they want without a warrant.

All of these things are setting really bad precedents and we need to hold people accountable to them. I know that many of you out there are apathetic towards voting. Instead of not voting, vote for a third party. Aside from Obama and the guy that ran against Lamar Smith, I voted third party for anything I could. I knew it wouldn’t have much of an impact, but I’m starting to do that and I plan to continue to do so. I also plan to support activities to get money out of our government. You should too.

Nintendo doesn’t get fair use

In the YouTube community there’s a bit of a kerfuffle over the fact that Nintendo has been doing two things. First, they’ve been taking down Let’s Play videos because of copy right infringement. The second is they’ve been putting ads on those videos they aren’t taking down. I don’t believe that either of these should be allowed. As always, I’m not a lawyer – keep that in mind.

Let’s Play videos are essentially play through of a particular game. Nintendo is claiming that they own the copyright to video because they created the content that is in the game, including the text, music, artwork, and characters. This is of course completely true. However, they don’t own everything in the video. The person doing the let’s play makes choices so, while the overall story arc is in fact the same, the manner in which the game is completed is unique and can happen in very different order. Which means if Nintendo owns the copyright of the way you play it, then it owns every possible way the game could ever be played. I could see that there’s some logic to that argument, however, it’s impossible to predict how the game will play out any given time and it also means that Nintendo also owns every time the player fails to beat the game and gives up.

If this was the only thing in the video, I’d say Nintendo has a decent argument, but even then it’s something of a remix, because things are being changed, events happen randomly that aren’t under Nintendo’s control, they set the parameters for something to happen, but they couldn’t predict a priori when something was going to happen or what items would be dropped at any given time – which makes the game different each time.

Furthermore, many of these videos have voice overs by the players. In many cases the players are talking about things completely unrelated to the actual game which Nintendo cannot claim as their own copyright. In many cases it is actually the YouTuber that is driving viewership to the video and not the game alone. Of course if you don’t like Pokemon you’re not going to sit and watch a 45 minute play through of Pokemon even if you find the person hilarious (or you might). It’s the personalities that make these videos valuable as much as the Nintendo game material.

I also think that Nintendo needs to put this in perspective of other mediums that people do a similar type activity. Think of someone analyzing a film, a book, or TV Show – in all of these cases there are direct quotes, clips of the video or whatever with pausing and zooming and highlighting and whatever. In addition there is custom material that the specific critic ads to the video which makes it something new. This constitutes Fair Use. These reviews make the film more valuable because it draws viewers to the movie, the is the same for video games.

Nintendo doesn’t understand this and it’s likely to be contested, eventually Nintendo will lose this and will have lost a lot of good will from the gaming community. This will end poorly for Nintendo.

Trust and Networks

At work today, my team and I went through training on something called the “Speed of Trust” which essentially argues that the more trust an organization has the less costs there are associated with doing business. Not only are things cheaper, but they happen faster. I was actually pleasantly surprised, I’m typically pretty skeptical of things like this as a rule because I feel that they compress extremely complicated ideas down to a single scale to be measured on. However, with the facilitator’s contribution of how the different types of powers interact with trust it became a lot more meaningful, even if there were so many platitudes provided by the author of the book during the videos that were shown.

I think that there’s one area that was definitely missing from this topic that was only moderately touched on – Networks. There are plenty of network theories that discuss the obvious cost savings and accumulation of social capital in better ways than was covered in this discussion.

Social Capital is a way of measuring how much influence you have in a network. Unfortunately, the only networks that were recognized in this method are the formal networks that are created simply by being an organization. There was no discussion of how people can create informal networks that can have more influence on the organization than the actual formal network structures. For instance, if I want to change the direction of some project and I’m struggling within the project itself, I may try to use my formal structure of going up through my manager over to one of the managers of the people on the team. However, this is typically considered poor form, another option would be to discuss the topic with someone else that is influential and spend some social capital and have the problem resolved informally. These networks can influence the structure of organizations because people that are managers may not be the thought leaders in the organizations. When striving for change in an organization it is crucial to expend social capital on the most influential people – titlewise or otherwise.

Furthermore, these networks can enable anyone to generate more powerful ideas. As you discuss issues or ideas with many different people in the organization and include their suggestions or comments around the idea/issue it’s possible to create significantly better ideas. Then whenever you’ve come to the point where you’d like to enact your idea, you’ve already built a coalition of support through your conversations and will have more successful ideas.

The Speed of Trust course was pretty useful to help determine how to address trust issues in an organization. It’s important to identify where and how things are going wrong. However, I think it’s important to keep in mind network theory to maximize the benefit of trust.

Amazing artistic abilities unleashed through remixing

Most people have seen Macklemore’s Thrift Shop video and if not, they’ve heard the song. Roughly speaking the song is about a guy who decides to do all his shopping at thrift shops because he finds it’s better pricing for clothes that look as good or better than the clothes that are popular today and cost $50 for a T-Shirt.

The song was then covered by a band that specializes in big band styles music, which by itself is a pretty cool song. This was then remixed by some French DJs mixed with two different movies and turned into this awesome video, which I found on reddit once it got pretty popular on /r/videos.

 Through this evolution of Thrift Shop, it’s pretty obvious something new is being made each time. In the “Granpa’s Style” version the electropop sounds are replaced with a standup bass, a keyboard, and a jazz drummer plus a fantastic female vocalist. The video is simply a recording of them performing the song. In the final version of the video, it’s so far disconnected from the original video that if you heard it alone, you could be excused for not realizing it was based upon Macklemore’s Thrift Shop.

Not only is it bringing a new and interesting life to Macklemore’s music, it’s reviving two forgotten films that show off some pretty amazing dancing mixed with modern day video remixing that just adds a lot to the song. I think that the song along would be a lot less without the video.

Remixing are a good thing. We all remix things even if we really aren’t aware of it. When you talk about a song or movie in a quote along while watching someone streaming a video game or sports game, you’ve remixed that experience. You’ve created something new. The context of the game you’re watching triggered a memory that you associate with that movie, tv show, or song. Internet memes are all remixes and these highlight the need for more things to be entered into the public domain. No one wants the owners of “Grumpy Cat” to go around suing anyone that makes a meme using their cat. They’ve registered a trademark for Grumpy Cat, so it really could happen.

3D Printed Gun, Robots, and the future of food pricing

Recently there’s been a company based here in Austin Texas called Defense Distributed, which has been garnering a lot of attention. This is due to the fact that first, they developed a 3D printed magazine for an AR15. Then the decided to develop 3D printed versions of portions of the gun itself. These parts are being printed in plastic, so it seems unlikely that a plastic gun would work right? Well, the lower receiver for the AR15 can survive shooting 600 rounds. That’s a big deal. The first version was able to shoot one, the second only 7. As of yesterday they released a fully printable handgun. Due to restrictions in the US gun code a gun must have a certain minimum weight of metal to be detectable by metal detectors (125g). I think that this will have major ramifications – I’m not even talking about gun rights, or gun ownership or gun whatever. I’ll discuss those in a later post. Below is a video of the “Liberator” in action.

How is this a big deal in other ways than just Gun rights? Well, several months ago a book came out called “Race Against the Machine” which argues that we need to figure out how to work with robots and computers in an effective way to maximize the returns for both workers and for the owners of the computer/robots. One of these robots they discuss is a $25k robot called Baxter. This robot is extremely easy to program and control. It offers a lot of the capabilities that a low skill employee could offer and more than many expensive robots. In fact we’re seeing this in re-shoring efforts from companies like Tesla and Apple. They won’t be bringing back the old school manufacturing jobs. There will only be technician jobs related to fixing broken equipment, which will be significantly fewer jobs. Even if Baxter only lasts 3 years, it more than paid for itself in being able to operate for 24/7 for 25k in total rather than paying four people more than that each year.

Add in the capability for people to download  designs for guns and many other things from Thingiverse which can be printed from home and how cheap it is to send designs to companies like Shapeways – where you can print in metal, these changes are going to radically change our current manufacturing infrastructure and distribution system. We aren’t prepared for this and it’s going to reduce the number of low end jobs in existence.

Which brings me to the next point. Food prices are high. When people can’t feed themselves there are riots and revolts. We’ve seen this twice already in the past 5 years and we’re poised for more violence by August of this year. According to a study published two years ago food prices are near the threshold level of the Arab Spring. If these prices are still as high as predicted then we could see some serious issues in the next few years unless we radically begin rethinking our economic models.

We’ll be seeing massive disruption and opportunities in the manufacturing space. This will likely have massive ramifications on our supply chain, which has huge numbers of employees. The ability to print your own cheap plastic products could impact toy sales and the retail industry.

Is this bound to happen, no, certainly not. However, 3D Printers are now available for sale at Staples for $1,300 prebuilt, they’ve come pretty close to mainstream. The next step are going to be more advanced printers that are able to print faster, cool faster, print more complex designs with less structure, and eventually we might be able to print metal products on a printer that costs $1300. A lot of people won’t want to do this, but there will be enough where it could have a serious impact on the economy.

What do you think? Am I overreacting?