Two Documentaries on ‘Hacking’

BBC – How Hackers Changed the World While Anonymous was given most of the treatment in this piece, I didn’t feel like their story was the strongest thread in the overall hacker narrative. Lulzsec appears to be the group that did the most actual damage, while WikiLeaks is the most ethically challenging. Anonymous comes across as a bunch of people posting on message boards who all showed up to protest the Church of Scientology once. Occasionally they were able to DDoS some government websites. They are presented as being large and formidable because allegedly ten thousand people participated in the Scientology demonstrations – but 10k isn’t that much, in the grand scheme. Ten thousand people shop at the Gap, ride the metro, buy a hot dog, blah blah every day. Boring and mundane stuff also attracts many people. Crowds don’t predicate meaning or importance. Lulzsec on the other hand appeared …

Continue reading

on my Ethical Radar

‘A man got to have a code.’ – Omar As I wrote in a previous post, I just began a class in ethics and technology. During lecture last week, I couldn’t help but remembering the quote from Omar in The Wire on how everyone should have a code, or sense of morals – even if they don’t adhere to societal norms. One of the ideas I’ve been most interested in, after two sessions with the class, is the concept of ‘discussion stoppers,’ and how they can be categorically expected to occur and also why they should be avoided. I’ve never really enjoyed arguing for the sake of it. Many people get pleasure from the competition of proving their own righteousness or intelligence through ethical battles, and those people always turned me away from the activity. I prefer finding common ground in conversation, rather than exploring differences of opinion. In class, …

Continue reading

Identity is the New Money

Thoughts on Identity is the New Money, by David Birch. 126 p. London Publishing Partnership, May 2014. Despite its provocative title, I didn’t finish this book with a precise understanding of how money will be replaced by identity; but along the way there were several interesting points regarding the advancement of mobile technology as a payment mechanism, and the implications for digital identity and privacy. The brief case studies indicate international efforts to make digital identities are further along than the USA’s, but no one is making great strides in adoption just yet. I was left with questions about the book’s central idea, which is not a necessarily a bad thing when reacting to this kind of abstract premise. Was he saying I’ll be able to buy goods and services based on how many facebook friends I have? That the social graph alone will prove my ‘credit-worthiness’ and earn me whatever I need that I …

Continue reading

I’m actually wearing pants right now

I  just finished reading ‘The Year Without Pants,’ written by a Scott Berkun, a former manager at WordPress.com. It’s an in-the-weeds tale of life at a distributed (remote work) company, something anybody who has ever sat in a cubicle fantasizes about. I picked the book up because I wanted to know more about working from home, and whether it’s a realistic alternative.   I love WordPress, the company, which is a great way to write, receive feedback, and share my thoughts with whoever wants to read them. As a user of their products I totally endorse their mission and what they stand for. But a few things about the story make me think the author wasn’t completely sold on working remotely all of the time.   The story finishes with the writer’s departure from the company, only a few years after starting. To me, this makes a pretty big statement. He doesn’t really elaborate on his decision to leave, aside …

Continue reading

on Walter White and ‘Offline’ Identity

I’m apologetically writing this well after it originally aired, but I’ve been watching Breaking Bad for the first time. (Spoilers will be small and few, out of respect for the uninitiated.) Instead of offering my own full-bootlicking about how amazing the show actually is, I’ll simply quote from, and agree with, these words from the AV Club’s review of the episodes ‘ABQ’ and ‘Full Measures’ – “…this show has been one of serialized drama’s greatest accomplishments.  Television itself suddenly seems to have an expanded horizon of possibilities — for characterization, for juxtaposition, for thematic depth.  Whatever happens from this hellish moment, the long descent to this point, with all its false dawns and sudden crashes, was singularly awe-inspiring, uniquely cathartic. People living through a golden age often don’t know it.” “Extraordinary flowerings of art, technology, culture, or knowledge are obscured by intractable problems, crises, declines in other parts of the society… It’s easy to look at television, …

Continue reading

Trendy Tech Article Round-up

Half of my cognitive load on any given day is spent fighting the urge to read EVERY SINGLE ARTICLE on the internet. Fortunately, some make it through my productivity filter, and I allow myself to read them. Lately I’ve been using the very cool application Pocket to save things I want to read later. Several pieces grabbed my attention this week. Each touched on the start-up culture in which I work, but I didn’t feel like the target audience – they all hinted direction at a reader on the outside of the tech world: Rolling Stone’s big interview with Bill Gates, the NY Times Magazine’s ‘Silicon Valley’s Youth Problem‘, and two from the Wall Street Journal – ‘Success Outside the Dress Code‘ and ‘Have Liberal Arts Degree, Will Code.’ Mr. Gates’ most interesting statements revealed his thoughts on morality, religion, and government, but he also answered questions about the current state …

Continue reading

In Reality, Googling

Q&A With Google’s Eric Schmidt The line of audience members queuing up for their turn to throw a question at Eric Schmidt, Google’s Executive Chairman, seemed oddly like an inefficient search engine. There were so many things un-Googley about it, like having to wait for someone else to finish before I could ask a question, and having to get up out of my seat to get in line. Otherwise, the hour that Schmidt spent discussing his latest book “The New Digital Age,” with co-author Jared Cohen, covered much ground and put a human face on a company that often seems much more robotic than peopled. The book was just released in paperback and plastered with glowing reviews from statesmen including Bill Clinton, Henry Kissinger, Tony Blair and the like. In it, the authors Cohen and Schmidt attempt to map out a future which they label as humanity’s greatest experiment to …

Continue reading

Three Books About Computers

I’ve been reading some more essays on software engineering and computer programming lately, from the three following books. Here’s a brief synopsis and some of my thoughts on each: Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age – Douglas Rushkoff The back jacket of this book describes Douglas Rushkoff as an author and media theorist – not as a programmer, which should be a yellow flag for anyone coming to this text looking for pragmatic programming advice. That said, he offers an easily digestible summary of trends in internet technology, and where he thinks society as a whole would benefit most if certain standards of thought were subscribed to in the future. Many of his concepts are agreeable, if a little alarmist. (Which is okay, because I think I might be turning into a bit of an alarmist myself.) I think the most important message Rushkoff is trying …

Continue reading

the Fictionalizations of ‘the Google’

I had a colleague a few years ago who joked about how his aging parents always referred to Google, the search engine, as “the Google,” as if the internet giant had become an entity of such massive, generic proportion that it deserved its own “the..”, like “the city,” or “the ocean,” or “the internet.” The Google. Popular culture has been producing fictionalized narratives about what life at Google might be like, to complement the hordes of reportage documenting the reality of the company. For an account of how it came to be, and an outsider’s view of the founders, Ken Auletta’s non-fiction book “Googled” tells a fascinating story. But the real story of Google is about the people who work there, and what they are trying to accomplish. There are plenty of imaginary guesses as to what that’s like – in ‘The Internship,’ actors Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn actually …

Continue reading

Australia from Four Cameras — (4 of 4)

Moto RAZR (phone camera) The least technically capable camera I carried in Australia was the one built into my cell phone, the Moto Razr.  And when I say ‘least technically capable’ about the imaging quality, what I mean is that it is pretty atrocious. The shutter is remarkably slow, the color calibration is bland, the orientation and ergonomics are awkward and unpleasant. That said, although it was less capable than my other ‘real’ cameras, in non-traditional ways, it was the most capable. With all its limitations I was able to do some interesting things. The panorama feature was slightly redeeming – I could wave the phone in a circle, and it would stitch together a wobbly but coherent frame.  I could instantly share pictures by uploading to Instagram. I could take “selfies.”  Most importantly, I was able to use pictures as a surrogate notepad, for ‘mentally bookmarking’ things I needed to remember …

Continue reading