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When Technology Gets Commercial

February 27, 2015

Let’s face it.  Everything goes commercial eventually.  Part of this dumb Net Neutrality debate is all about the perception that the Internet is getting commercial.  After all, we wouldn’t want someone to build millions of dollars of infrastructure for their service if everyone else can’t just take advantage of it for free.  That totally goes against the fairly communist (small c) underpinnings of the Internet.

So why aren’t more people up in arms about the wholesale commercialization of DNS?

ICANN has been gradually auctioning off the different domains since June 2014 in what can be a competitive and expensive process (Dot Tech LLC spent $6.7 million on the “.tech” domain last year, reportedly beating out Google, which also bid).

Amazon bought “.buy” for nearly $5 million and “.spot” for $2.2 million last fall.

Comparatively, Google’s $25 million investment in “.app” looks pretty steep; it’s the most any company has paid in one of ICANN’s auctions so far.

Frankly, I don’t particularly care.  I, for one, don’t necessarily believe that technology is only there for technology’s sake.  It’s cool to build things, but it’s cooler that things people build can become a source of revenue for them over time.

So turning the entire domain name industry into a commercial enterprise is something that I’ve expected to see for a while.  After all, Tuvalu, a small island country, has made a fair amount of money selling off pieces of its .tv domain, even if nobody’s noticed.

But still, the tech community almost crashed the music industry over “free” music before Apple managed to broker peace.  And the Linux operating system move changed the whole business model over how operating system software, and all subsequent infrastructure pieces are monetized.  Well, sort-of monetized… nobody’s making any real money off open source yet, other than services.  Anyway, tech is supposed to be the great equalizer if you ask a lot of the geeks in charge.  I wonder how the big companies like Google and Amazon are getting away with going commercial on naming?

Partial answer… ICANN is the source of all IP redirection in the world, and I think most people who really know stuff in tech are terrified that it’s going to eventually run out of operating budget and have to sell off to a commercial company for maintenance.  So funding them from big companies is okay, as long as they don’t actually take them over.

Just interesting if you ask me…

Great Tin Cans… Where’s that String?

February 26, 2015

Here’s an interesting piece from JD Tuccille over at Reason Mag.  He talks about something that I think about quite a bit, as I live in a relatively remote part of the country with very limited access to the rest of the world.  I wonder how people would react if, one day, it totally lost any modern convenience?  All it might take is cutting the right communications cable.

What went with that cable was most cell phone service (every company but Verizon was down), the Internet (multiple ISPs run through the same pipe), the 911 system, and pretty much any digital communications connection you can imagine. Northern Arizona businesses largely became cash only—including the roadside stops vending gas to cross-country travelers. Trucks lined up waiting for the stations to get back online so they could process company credit cards to fill their tanks. It’s not like the drivers could just take out cash—ATMs were down, too.

My wife’s pediatric office was able to examine kids and patch them up. But checking on test results, getting reads on x-rays, scheduling appointments with specialists, and electronically sending prescriptions to pharmacies were all out. Old-fashioned landlines worked, but medical facilities are part of the modern world. Thoroughly digitized and electronic, hospitals, labs, and clinics were reduced to sending couriers back and forth.

The US communications grid is essentially a set of large-interconnected rings that are cabled along major trunk lines.  More remote places that aren’t right on the trunk are essentially spurs off those rings.  Mr. Tuccille’s example is one that could happen to many large swaths of the Western US, and some areas elsewhere.  Where there’s a lot of miles in between you and a city of a million people, it starts to get pretty lonely.

I was thinking about this the other day when I was discussing how to get somewhere with a friend.  I was patiently explaining a couple landmarks that could be easily spotted on a trip, and he responded by whipping out his cell phone and typing in the address.  I pretty much asked point blank what he’d do without the phone.  Well, that’s something we all need to consider.

I’d like to explain at this point that I’m not a totally crazy prepper hoarding ammunition in my closet… except that I’m a sort-of-crazy prepper who does have a month of food and multiple alternative cooking sources.  We can talk about the ammo later.  Most of the reason that I think about stuff like this is that stuff like this can happen.  And it’s not a bad idea to think a little bit about some answers just in case.

Last I Heard

February 19, 2015

I’m sitting here reading e-mail and listening to the President talk to the Whitehouse Summit on Violent Extremism, otherwise known as the, “It’s not anyone’s fault but ours, really,” apology session.  It’s a nice summary of the strategy that the current administration is trying to combat the terrorist threats.  Here’s what I’m hearing:

  • Don’t treat the Islamic faith as a problem, everyone in the West has to understand the faith to see that it’s not violent.
  • Try to open lines of communication between the West and the rest of the world to show them that we have a nice culture and they shouldn’t hate us.
  • Find ways to drive higher employment and opportunity worldwide so kids have more hope.
  • Hope hope hope.  Change change change.

Maybe I’m missing some of the nuances, as the spokes people say, but this seems like it’s all one way in its efforts.

Let’s look at Eastern Africa as an analogous example.  For years, we’ve been funneling money there trying to improve the lives of the people.  The most success has been when we’re there working with the people to bootstrap themselves to success.  So our money helps, but only when we show them how to use money to create wealth of their own.  That says positive things about the need to create jobs, but mostly that only works when the people desire peace with each other first.  You can’t sell something to someone when they want to kill you, or when you’d rather kill them.

And the trope overall seems tired to me.  It really does seem to be all about the hope that we can show people a better way, and that they’ll believe and change if the vision is that positive.  If we were talking about Christianity, that might work.  But we’re talking about capitalism.  While wonderful to live in, capitalism is tough to understand when the only opportunity you know comes after violence.

I’ve compared the current crisis in the Middle East with the war we faced with the Japanese culture in the 30’s and 40’s.  The real change that finally happened was one where we enforced peace and then focused on changing the culture.  In this case, we’re hoping that peace happens, and then that they recognize that different culture is better.  The strategy might be a sound one (I doubt it, but it could be), but there needs to be action to support it.

Right Decade for a Comparison, but Wrong Country…

February 3, 2015

I’ve been on the road again.  I think it’s pretty much a constant now.  But anyway, this morning in the hotel, I heard some random reporter ask a question to the effect of: Is ISIS just another reincarnation of Nazi Germany?

Heck, i can answer that.  No.  The Nazis were an instance of a pretty constant German empire that reigned in Europe for years.  The leadership played politics to rise to power, and then brutalized the people different from it to keep the citizens in check.  But that’s not anywhere near the closest parallel to ISIS in my mind.

But it’s the right time period.

I think the very likely comparison for ISIS is the Japanese empire from the same time period.  The Japanese culture had been repressed by its neighbors and most of the rest of the world for years, and it cultivated a weird society-wide religion that emphasized its superiority and belittled everyone else as a result.  The soldiers were trained that it would be a total disgrace to ever be captured and instead to essentially leave an ugly corpse.  The soldiers and non-soldiers captured in their conquest were totally brutalized.  Go read some of the stories of US POWs in Japanese internment during the war.  They’re as bad as anything you’ll read about the nutjobs from today.  And the inevitable end left a scar on a large portion of the world for decades afterwards.

The reform of the Japanese culture was an amazing story in the second half of the last century.  But it was done because in some part because the leadership (really, the emperor) finally realized that it was surrender and reform or a total eradication of the culture.  I don’t think the world has the stomach to do to the Middle East what it would have done to Japan had the Allied Forces been forced to go with the invasion of Japan… and again, go read your history, particularly Okinawa and Iwo Jima.

So, if we want to examine the culture we’re facing, it would be best to identify it and understand what we might face.  And then decide if we have the guts to actually do something about it.

And You Don’t Even Have To Pay for My Advice

January 28, 2015

I caught this one as I was paging through articles on my phone this morning while on the exercise bike.  I thought about posting, decided I’d send it to Lynn.  Forgot to send it to Lynn, ran into it again this evening… You get the point.

Hey, Ladies.  Whatever you do, don’t make it this:


Be pro-active: Put yourself out there, don’t wait for a man to invite you out or talk to you. Chat them up or ask them out first.

Buy them dinner: Show you are in control.

Don’t wait for him to call: Get in contact with him after a date to say thanks. Don’t leave it for days waiting for him to call.

Sleep with him on the first date: Give him what he wants and he’ll be hooked.

This is the advice some mid-50’s guy gives ladies on how to find the man of her dreams in 60 days.  Oh, mid-50’s divorced guy.  And with that said, I’m not a trained psychologist, or even an untrained one.  I’m an engineer, and one that truly never dated in high-school or beyond all that much.  But let me give you ladies a bit of advice.

The most mysterious and desirable woman a guy will find is one that is confident in her own skin and isn’t interested in just doing what the guy wants or giving him what he wants.  If you decide to pay the meal, you’re just finding guys who are too cheap to object that it’s their job to pay for the R&D.  If you hop in bed the first date, then you’re just devaluing the gift that most interests the guy in winning it.  So he might decide to hang around and let you keep paying and giving, but what’s he really giving back.

I’ll give you the call him part.  I’d have saved a lot of time if I’d gotten to the point where I had to stop decoding whether the lady was really interested, but that’s more just courtesy.

Want to really win a guy, to my mind?  Show him respect and demand respect from the first date, and let that grow to affection and love.  It might take more than 60 days, but you’ll be in a relationship that lasts a long time.  Keep loving and respecting the guy, and demand it in return, and you’ll keep it healthy.

But maybe I’m just being an engineer.

Taxes and Fees… or: Fees Instead of Taxes

January 27, 2015

Work with me here…

I started with this article on 529 plans.  Essentially the White House decided to back off taxing 529 plans because, well, because it was a dumb idea.  For all the claims that they want to enable kids to go to school, the idea of hitting people who were smart enough to save for a kid to go to school was probably the easiest way to deter kids going to school.  And I get that not everyone can supposedly save.  I also get that punishing people who can is the worst way to increase any savings rate.

But this comes back to something I’ve thought of on occasion.  Here’s an example. According to this document, the total National Parks budget is $3.6B (give or take).  That says that every person in the us pays about $10 a year to run the parks.  How do we remove the burden for the parks service from the normal tax burden on the average citizen and put it more on the backs of the people who actually use the park?  First, you’d have to actually make the parks run like a business… you can’t dump all the central federal funding, but about $2.6B of that total is discretionary, so that’s a start for the target.  Then you drive the fees up to go into the parks drastically, and run a funding campaign on everyone donating $10 a year to support the parks.  Say you get an average of $10 a family, (who pays this tax-free), which still leaves you severely underfunded… so fees to actually get in likely go to $200 a day or so for actual visitors.  Or for $1000 you get free access annually.  That’s still a lot of people that need to move through the system, but it starts to drive a streamlining of the system.

It’s not workable, and I’d have to spend more than five minutes looking through the report.  But my point is… what if we gave people a ton of their money back and actually let them pay to use formerly taxpayer-funded resources as a super-tax?

I suppose the biggest losers in this would be social work programs, but then again, a lot of people think that social work programs are the worst part of government spending anyway.

Hmm, I have to think about this more…

Who Tracks, and Who Cares?

January 27, 2015

Hey, is anyone concerned that there are people out there who track your every move?  I mean, everyone is worried that there are cameras everywhere, and that the government can actually look at them… right?

According to the Journal, the DEA program uses high-tech cameras placed on major highways to collect information on vehicle movements, including location and direction. Many of the devices are able to record images of drivers and passengers, some of which are clear enough identify individuals. Documents seen by the Journal also show that the DEA uses information from federal, state, and local license plate readers to burnish their own program.

Jazz Shaw at Hot Air isn’t all that impressed, mostly because he thinks it gives us the ability to do better law enforcement.  At some level, our tax dollars are going into the government paying for those traffic cameras.  We should use them for something other than posting the occasional car crash warning.

But really, how many of you out there are using Google Maps?  You happily clicked yes on those terms of service the first time you used it, right?  You had to, otherwise it would exit.  There are three or four links in there to other terms of service that you also agreed to in the process… so you can’t even find everything on one page.

Google collects location data from every device that has Maps loaded and uses it to determine traffic patters, make decisions on route planning, and the like.  While all the data is anonymous in the system, it’s data that Google collects and uses.  How hard would it be for Google to ID and track an individual user in the system?  Not hard at all.

The fact that Google can track more personal information than the government can is something that most people just take for reality.  And I don’t think that Google is going to use that to do the equivalent of a Hollywood movie on any person.  Despite anything that Hollywood tells you, a company that kills or maims either its employees or customers won’t stay in business for very long.  But with that said, we all seem to look at the, “Don’t be evil,” corporate mission and assume that all is right in the world.  In the meanwhile, our government is actually trying to prevent evil (while occasionally creating it by accident, hey, it’s the the government…), and we assume all evil intent.

So am I upset that some camera base has my license plate info?  The government could be paying someone to sit on the corner and track that.  Meanwhile, I give Google (and others) all the info they want and more by using their free service.

So what’s the greater concern?