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Comment Because they're the servants, not the masters (Score 4, Insightful) 513

These programs didn't start under Obama. Echelon has been going for decades. Cheney and Bush had the Total Information Awareness program. So the reason I don't blame Obama exclusively is because both Republicans and Democrats are doing it at the command of the same masters, the corporations and the .01% who run them. It's out in the open now--much of this spying that Snowden has revealed was industrial espionage. Focusing ire on the party(ies) in charge in DC is a dodge, a convenient lightening rod for the powers-that-be to draw the popular anger that has historically hung people like them from trees and beheaded them. Every once in a while you throw one of your cannon, Congressmen and Presidents to the wolves, Joe Sixpack grunts with clueless satisfaction, cracks open another beer, and puts the game back on; and you can get back to the business of robbing his pension fund blind under the cover of law.

To stop being part of the problem and part of the solution, we all have to stop pretending that the political process makes any difference or that there's such a thing as the rule of law; they have been entirely subverted and the American people will have to get about the messy business of re-asserting popular sovereignity and bringing the criminals and sociopaths who brought this about to justice. It sucks and I don't want to have to do it either, but it's our duty to our children to not condemn them to live in slavery.

Comment Great! Can we have a copy? (Score 5, Insightful) 513

I think it would be useful for the American citizenry to have a copy of this data so that we can know exactly who the NSA employees are, who they know, what they're doing, and where they are at all times. Also the heads of JP Morgan, Citibank, Halliburton, etc, and all the shadowy 1% who are implementing this police state.

Oh, it's only for informational purposes, you know. Not like we would act on any of that information.

Seriously, do these people think these tools can't be turned on them? Americans have grown pretty fat and lazy but we are still a relatively heavily armed people, and you can't exactly go around ordering F-15s to drop napalm on suburban Cleveland. That is, the troubles the US Army has had suppressing IEDs and small arms fire in Afghanistan and Iraq multiply exponentially when you're turning your artillery on the friends and families of the very people you count on to manufacture your ammo, grow your food, and ship it to your butt.

So go ahead, totalitarian fantasists, keep turning the weaponry and spying machinery on the very people you count on to make your activities possible. See how that turns out. ***Spoilers ahead*** It ends with you swinging for lampposts or torn limb from limb by angry mobs.

Comment 3D printing and its parallels (Score 2) 81

I remember sending my first email over a modem in the early 80's. By the time I was in college 10 years later Usenet, BBS'es, MUDs, and the like were old hat to me, but the general public had no real use for computers and even many of my classmates still used actual typewriters to write their papers. It wasn't until the Dot-Com era was in full swing that the general public started to pay attention to computers and the Internet. Even then, though, many people of my generation and older smirked to refer to themselves as "Roadkill on the Information Superhighway." That only really disappeared around 2005 when social media started to take off.

So the point is, from the perspective of the general public there is a significant lag between when a transformative technology changes the world and when your average Joe wakes up to the fact that a revolution has already happened. I suspect it will be much the same with 3D printing, and the other significant, significant technologies that are birthing now such as wearable computing or implantable electronics, RFID or the "Internet of Things."

However in this case the real transformation is not technical, but psycho-social. Getting people to transform from the brain-dead, passive consumers they've been conditioned to be the past 100 years to the self-directed, creative makers 3D printing and these other technologies will enable them to be (at a lower barrier to entry than before, naturally), will take a lot longer than the 30 years it's taken the Information Revolution to get truly underway. That does mean early adopters will enjoy a significant, significant competitive advantage for a generation because now more than ever they can talk to other like minds via the Internet and multiply their native talents. And, now more than ever, they can say who gives a shit if Joe Sixpack next door doesn't get it? I can run circles around him before he even knows there's a race on.

Amid the totalitarian shadow of the NSA and the counter-revolutionary tendencies of the Powers-That-Be, it's the one thing that gives me hope for the future.

Comment Break-even in New York (Score 1) 165

$0.34/kwh is already what we pay ConEdison in NYC. So we're already at break-even here. ConEdison has raised rates double-digit percentages every year for the past 10 years. The price per watt solar panel installation has fallen to $2, and that's dropping quickly. With those two trends we don't need any government intervention to produce a sea-change from centralized- to distributed power generation in this country in the next decade.

There is also the not inconsiderable effect Hurricane Sandy had on hearts and minds in the northeast US, where most financial and political power in this country is concentrated. People were quite upset to be without power and gasoline for weeks and weeks. So even from a climate resilience perspective there is a keen and growing will to move to distributed power generation.

Comment Why is this Criminal not in Prison? (Score 3, Interesting) 126

He has violated the Constitution of the United States tens of thousands of times, without repercussions. He has consistently lied to Congress and the American people. He has created a rogue agency that threatens our very democracy and therefore represents a Clear and Present Danger to our freedom. I fear him and his lackies far more than Al Qaeda.

He and his followers are the ones who should be super max for the rest of their lives. Or executed. Either works for me.

Comment International Diplomatic Fallout? (Score 4, Insightful) 260

I would much, much rather see Washington DC pay a very high, very personal price for their rampant criminality and violations of the Constitution, as in all of them swinging from the trees that line the national mall and DC itself burnt to the ground with large letters scored in the ground with a bulldozer that say, 'Don't Tread On Me! ---The American People"

An angry speech by the president of Brazil is nice, but there need to be real consequences for these criminals.

Comment Jackass Cop (Score 1) 1440

Using GPS on your phone is entirely legitimate. Checking it at a red light is the best time to do so. Sitting there writing ticket after ticket to people doing that is a jackass trying to get jackass of the month at his precinct. Like it or not, phones can do what single-use devices like garmin can do, so why should we all have to go out and buy yet another device and add yet another monthly leech on our paycheck for their service?

To the guys complaining about slow starts at lights, perhaps you are the ones with an inflated sense of entitlement. Perhaps your honking at people who don't anticipate the green by a second and peel out in a cloud of burning rubber is the more annoying behavior. Because, guess what? Not everyone on the road in front of you is from your area or travels on your little habit trail from home-to-work-to-PigglyWiggly-to-home, and don't know every pothole and timing of every light intimately so they need to consult GPS.

Comment Re:The Problem of Scarcity (Score 1) 347

Obviously we're far away from that now. I was carrying the thought experiment forward to assume near perfect recycling. Then the problem of scarcity ceases to even be about raw materials. MakerBot is on the verge of unveiling its 3D scanner, which takes us a big step in that direction. They and the guys at Fab@home and all the other 3D printers are surely thinking about closing the loop, which is the hopper I was talking about. I'll ask Bre Pettis, founder of MakerBot, about it at the Maker Faire in NYC tomorrow and let you know what he says.

Comment The Problem of Scarcity (Score 1) 347

There will be many items that cannot be 3D printed for quite a while. CPUs, lasers, specialized equipment. But mass manufacturing of simpler items will be gobbled up from below. Sure, it's cheaper per item to mass produce a plastic bowl, but when you can throw the pieces of the broken bowl into a hopper and have it print out like new again, the convenience factor will trump all. And that hopper is a pretty key piece of the puzzle, because raw material will continue to be a limiting factor without it. Who has ABS plastic sitting around that isn't already formed into a finished good?

From there it's straightforward to predict ripple effects. People ceasing to buy manufactured goods puts pressure on manufacturers and on the distribution networks that move products from fab to store shelves. Walmarts shut down. Shipping companies take a hit at all levels. Unemployment hits in a massive deluge. Service industries might continue for a while, but when unemployment restricts people's incomes it puts deflationary pressure on services, too.

On the other hand, the average joe will have access to productive power undreamt of. Why not print yourself out a Ferrari, or a bazooka? Want the latest iPhone? Print it out using a scanned & downloaded file. Heck, print out a 3D printer and give it to your mom.

Then the limiting factors would be energy and land. Distributed power generation through wind and solar, and reduced power consumption through more efficient devices, might balance that equation, but at the end of the day there is only so much land in the world. What happens to the masses of people who can't afford to pay rent or property taxes anymore? Do they become seasteaders or overthrow the systems of land ownership? Do particularly determined individuals print out rockets and emigrate to Mars? Standing here at the dawn of this revolution, it's a bit hard to gaze into that particular part of the crystal ball. But I feel sure that before most of us /.-ers reach retirement the world will look almost nothing like it does today.

Comment Why Use a Cloud? (Score 3, Insightful) 177

Yesterday I spent three hours trying to help a friend upload a mysql file to his Amazon cloud service. There was no such thing as a simple ftp. Trying to PuTTY into his setup was impossible too. Calling tech support, which he paid for, resulted in them sending us links to articles we had already found via google and which were not helpful. Everything was so cloaked in marketing speak that it was impossible to tease out how to do anything normal and straightforward. They couldn't even manage to say words like "VPN" or "ssh." Simply ridiculous. Who has the time to learn a whole new nomenclature for the same old tasks we've all been doing for decades, just to satisfy a bunch of marketing droids whose only interest is in being the least helpful they can possibly be, and sucking as much cash out of you as they possibly can. Jeeze, just set up your own server and VPN and you have your own "cloud." And it costs you nothing, and nobody gets in your way with a bunch of nonsense.

Comment Fear and Loathing in New York (Score 1) 148

There are another couple of factors at work. First, journalists tend to be English majors who say things like, "math is hard," or "computers hate me." Second, once they come to work for a place like the New York Times their fragile egos swell to gargantuan proportions to insulate them from the reality that they really don't know how to do anything, and nobody really cares what they have to say. Next to those two factors, the presence or absence of engineers in their walls is irrelevant.

Even as recently as two years ago their entrenched attitudes had not altered one bit, though the increasingly frequent waves of layoffs had sent hot jets of fear up their spines. They started to wake up to the fact that their way of life was slipping away. But instead of taking concrete action to do something about it, they clung to fantasies like ebooks and tablets being the white knight that would save all of publishing and allow them to continue to be elitist snobs.

Now that that promise has evaporated, they are reduced to sniping at the "pfah! mere bloggers" who have been scooping them on story after story lately. They thumb their noses at crowd-sourced reporting platforms like Ushahidi. They get their panties in a bunch when the Whitehouse invited the first blogger to participate in the press briefings. They worry that they are incapable of doing that kind of reporting any more because the corporate overlords who they've gotten so deeply into bed with will not allow the truth to come to light lest they should not invite them to their fabulous parties anymore.

But most of all, they won't deal with reality because they just cannot tolerate the idea that the control of the public discourse is slipping out of their fingers for good, and that they will be undeniably as irrelevant as they, deep down in their hearts, have always known they are.

And that, my friends, is something that no amount of engineers or platforms or technology in the world can save them from. So, dear old New York Times, because you refuse to adapt to the times, I am afraid your times are about up. Pack up and go commiserate with your former star reporters, Jayson Blair and Judith Miller.

Comment Hackathons are ruses (Score 5, Insightful) 104

Some colleagues of mine recently participated in the NYC BigApps series of hackathons this spring. We went into our first one thinking you had to hack something together from nothing in 2-3 days after pitching your idea and attracting collaborators. In fact the CollabFinder site they set up to facilitate putting together a team "from scratch," and all the window dressing suggests that. But when you get to the "competition" it's mainly established teams that already have products that they're tweaking or putting some kind of new, minimal gloss on it. Plus all the palaver and marketing suggest that they're hoping to spur innovation that uses Open Data to make life better for New Yorkers. But at the final awards ceremony the game became clear--the judges were all Venture Capital guys, and the only apps that won were mobile apps that were Yelp/Facebook/Instagram clones, that could be capitalized by the VCs and flipped on unsuspecting 2nd round investors for some multiple, or a clone of something else that was already successful in the market. The app that took top prize in the Education category was a blatant rip-off of Scratch, the MIT-developed, open-source program that teaches kids how to program by treating code blocks like legos, and which is freely available on the Raspberry Pi that my kids play with.

So, it's a bit silly to talk about cheating at Hackathons when the entire essence of these events is really "Pitch-a-thons" so VCs can find new crap to pass off on suckers.

Call us when the judges are tech-savvy people who really know what they're talking about and what real innovation looks like. Then we can talk productively about cheating.

Comment Scale of Ambition (Score 1) 625

One part of the equation that people never raise is the scale of our ambition. They always assume that the scope of the things we need to do, or that we want to do, remains constant. The medieval man might well wonder why in the world he would want a vehicle that goes 70mph when everyone he knows or has ever known lives within an hour's walk of his home. It would boggle his mind that we should spend so much time and energy fretting about a retirement age of 65 when his forefathers and everyone he knows never made it past 45, except for that one dude named Methuselah. Or, more recently, a fellow with more money than all of us put together calmly assured us 640K of RAM ought to be enough for anybody. The point is, when we can do more we naturally tend to think bigger. And bigger ambitions means bigger jobs, because even with automation and everything else there is still only so much one human brain can hold, and inherent laziness and the desire to have one's cake and eat it too tend to hold our individual productivity well below that outer limit; so we tend to hire others to do part of the thinking/doing for us. Until there is AI, that will always be true. And even after AI, it might still be true because who's to say that AI will do what we tell it to, or that its calculated maximums equal our human ones?

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"The urge to destroy is also a creative urge." -- Bakunin [ed. note - I would say: The urge to destroy may sometimes be a creative urge.]