Archives for category: tech

(a review of Cosmic Trigger 1 I posted on Goodreads)

Would give this five but for the outdated predictions. Life extension, increased space travel, a lot of the things haven’t happened yet. But, when I look at what has happened over the past thirty years, it isn’t that surprising. There has been a TREMENDOUS increase in the use and availability of personal technology. People like Elon Musk and Richard Branson are doing good things with regards to space flight. However, a whole lot of the money and research has gone into personal computers -> laptops-> smartphones -> tablets -> smartwatches, Glass, etc. Yes, the internet is a wonderful place and can allow people to connect (to a degree) but to my mind the connections aren’t genuine. Rather than move toward things which could unify us as a world people and possibly realize our common interests, we have managed to come up with more ways to make us more self-involved and things to addict ourselves to. I have had the idea for a while for a scifi story. Basic premise is that the machines are, in fact, taking us over. But they are doing it covertly and by preying on our human weaknesses. They managed to insinuate themselves even more strongly into our lives with the advent of the personal computer (think about the famous Apple 1984 ad – maybe prescient in a different way than intended). In the process of this intrusion into our lives, they manage to interface with us and get into our brains to make us THINK they are more vital to us than they actually are. And make us “need” them more, to do more things. And subsequently convince us that we need to constantly get the latest, greatest, smallest new gizmo out there. This initial entree was so successful that they upped their game and put themselves in our pockets, and upped the ante in terms of how “valuable” and “necessary” they are to us. Their latest strategy is to put themselves directly in front of our eyes at all times, and on our wrists. Of course, this is all leading to the next goal which is to get into our actual bodies. Which they have managed to accomplish to a small degree. The more interaction we have with them, for more hours of our day, the more of our consciousness they take over as they manage to convince us they are so important to us that we should allow them even more free reign. They manage to manipulate and persuade us to allow them even more control over our lives, and that the avenues for connection are more important than genuine connection. We don’t need things like consciousness expanding substances or techniques which might encourage us to have genuine connection with other humans, the beings on this earth and the earh and universe itself. No, we just need them to attain the simulacrum of happiness they offer. It’s all virtual anyway, right?

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

BruceS on Snowden as Solzhenitsyn

the mind reels. This turns the conventional wisdom on its head and inside out. We can all be Snowden, or Assange, or Manning, if we choose to. All three of those men are far braver than I.

Are we ready to hoist the black flag?

And start slitting metaphorical throats yet? If this story is true, and if it gets any traction, we should be. What is it going to take for we complacent, complicit children of privilege to take to the streets? Our brothers and sisters in Taksim Square and Tahrir Square have shown us how to do it. Are we ready to stop admiring and applauding them from a distance, and follow them into the streets? I’m ready if you are. If you aren’t outraged, at least a little bit, you simply aren’t paying attention.
http://m.cnet.com/news/nsa-admits-listening-to-us-phone-calls-without-warrants/57589495

Mr. Simon et al –

I have been reading the posts here over the past week, the comments (at least a lot of them – enough to be aware of the general lines of argument), and consider the debate you have been facilitating here to be valuable. I appreciate the fact that you have been thoughtfully considering the various points of view expressed here and being dismissive, though respectfully, when necessary, and engaging and informative when warranted.

However, I am in fundamental disagreement with some of your lines of defense. James Bamford was just on the Charlie Rose show, and something he said resonated with me and hopefully helped to coalesce some of my thoughts on the subject. We’ll see. Bamford mentioned that the NSA uses a lot of contractors to do some of the footwork, if you will, to analyze the data they collect, including listening to the calls which are recorded. What came to mind for me when I heard this was Eisenhower’s old chestnut warning us of the dangers of the military-industrial complex. Today, though, that phrase needs to be amended to be the military-industrial-technological complex. Back in the ancient days of UNIVAC, the capabilities we have today were simply unimaginable. Moore hadn’t even come up with his law yet, and the fact that the room-sized computers of those days could be compressed to something which fits in your hand couldn’t even be conceived of, even by the most prescient. In sci-fi maybe, but not in reality. I’m going to try not to veer too far into the paranoid here, but the dangers of which Eisenhower attempted to warn us have only increased as the collusion between government, military and industry has deepened over the ensuing years. I guess you would have to add the media in there too. Along with the other three, their reach and capabilities have dramatically increased over the decades. It is such an obvious point to make, but I’ll make it anyway, that as the availability of methods of media delivery that encourage more thoughtful consideration (i.e. newspapers) has decreased, the proliferation of methods which more insidiously play to our emotions (i.e. today’s teevee and the internet) have increased, and continue to increase seemingly ad infinitum. This collusion and cooperation has led us into a situation, these days, where individual liberty and freedom are more threatened than ever before.

So, on to my main points of contention. We are all complicit in our own co-optation. We have gradually sacrificed our privacy on the altar of convenience. Convinced by the powers that be that they have our best interests at heart, and seduced by the enticements they offer, we have collectively said “ehhhhhh, OK” as our rights have gradually been eroded. We do not live in a democracy in any sense of the word – Jeffersonian, Grecian or otherwise. We live in some weird, oppressive combination of a plutocracy, an oligarchy, and the kind of corporate capitalist state of which Marx tried to warn us. I am not a Marxist, or any other kind of -ist really (though I do believe at times that we are in the late stages of capitalism as foretold by Marx, and elucidated on by Frédéric Jameson among others). At least, I don’t see myself that way. A few years ago, I explored the back alleys and thoroughfares of anarchism, never completely buying into that point of view but learning along the way. One of the main things I brought away from those explorations is to trust no institution, regardless of how convincing they are that they have my best interests at heart. The bigger the organization or institution, the less they can be trusted. This, to me, is axiomatic.

In the time since I started this piece this morning, the news has broken that yes, all along, the NSA has been not just collecting that supposedly innocuous metadata, but the actual calls themselves. The whole facade of legitimacy is crumbling, and the justifications that it is for our own good, necessary in these troubled times, ring hollow. I never believed them anyway, Is THIS revelation, if true, the piece of information that will provoke Ma & Pa America to get genuinely, justifiably fucking OUTRAGED? We’ll see. I have my doubts. But in a way I consider myself fortunate to live in such interesting times.

Necessary links:

http://m.cnet.com/news/nsa-admits-listening-to-us-phone-calls-without-warrants/57589495

http://davidsimon.com/to-and-fro-and-real-respect-to-mr-shirky-for-checking-in-regardless/comment-page-1/#comment-9178

http://m.guardiannews.com/commentisfree/2013/jun/12/check-agree-government-snooping

English: Ana Marie Cox, founder of American po...

English: Ana Marie Cox, founder of American political blog Wonkette; cell phone photograph. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ana Marie Cox on privacy vs security, from the Guardian

So much here I agree with without reservations. I first encountered Ms. Cox on Wonkette, and I have to say it has become a slightly diminished thing without her presence. In fact, I used to read it every day, ten years or so ago when she was there, but started visiting only occasionally after she left.

The line which resonated most strongly with me in this piece is

We’ve lost the habit of keeping things to ourselves – and with that, we’ve lost the conviction that privacy is a right.” I have been thinking about this lately, about how our spheres of personal space have shrunk so dramatically in the past decade, roughly. Is it a coincidence that as the incidences of our being subjected to listening to others gab on about every little thing, all the time, have increased, that the prevalence of market based “solutions” to the dismay and discomfort created by these impositions have increased? Most likely not. I refer here to more drugs to control (interesting word) every little physical or psychological tic, more money-making methods to provide us with relaxation and exercise, more methods to make us, as Radiohead put it “fitter, happier”. Prescient guy, that Thom Yorke.
OK Computer, that track in particular, has a computer synthesized voice whispering sweet nothings meant to soothe us. Really, though, it’s creepy. Sixteen years ago, synthesized voices quite obviously were a machine talking, regardless of how human they attempted to seem. Fast forward to today, and not only do we have devices in our cars and in our pockets which talk to us in voices that have lost, mostly, that “computercreep” factor (you can even get a directional system for your auto that will tell you where to go in the voice of one of your favorite teevee characters!), but a lot of us can talk to our devices and have them recognize and respond to our entreaties. I do it, on occasion, for the sake of convenience (TYPE the words?! Bah!) or the sheer novelty. I can’t, and frankly don’t want to, lose the sense of how outright fucking bizarre that is. I have the feeling that our machines are learning from us as we interact with them on increasingly intimate levels. Learning, and slowly, subtly convincing us that they are indispensable and that they are our best, and most understanding, companions.After all, a lot of us, especially the millenials, spend more time on a daily basis interacting with them than with those pesky and difficult IRL folks. Down that way lies a kind of madness, or at the very least a radical, and I am not convinced entirely “advanced” change, on what it means to be human. My beloved Blake spoke of the Satanic mills and the dangers they foretold, and we are increasingly ceding control of our existences to machines and their insidious demands. Is this truly a positive development in the evolution of our species? A big part of me thinks “no, it absolutely isn’t”.

Isn’t this SPECIAL?

Hey look! Another “Sean Parker is a jackass” post!

Dude sets TWO world records, simultaneously in the same paragraph! First is for being, though there is stiff competition for this role, the world’s most egregious douchemonster. AND, at the same time, he sets the record for “most meaningless buzzwords in the same set of sentences”. Truly awe inspiring. I salute you, you turd!

Let’s go to the videotape:

“As an entrepreneur and investor I’m drawn to disruptive companies in explosive new markets,” Parker said. “The common thread between these companies is a missionary desire to leverage technology to change the world. I’m optimistic that the clever application of technology might someday obsolete the combustion cigarette and all the harm it causes.”

He also displays his douchebaggery by doing something that only dumb people, who don’t have a decent vocabulary, do. In order to seem smart, they will employ an adjective like “obsolete” as a verb in an attempt to baffle people with their bullshit. I can do nothing but bow in homage, Sean Parker. You are a truly craptastic human being, though I use that term loosely. Loose, like the diarrhea that comes out of your mouth. Get it?

Jeremy Bentham's "Auto-Icon" at Univ...

Jeremy Bentham’s “Auto-Icon” at University College London. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Listening to the news this morning, struck by the fact that when they described Verax (which I shall call him from now on – so much cooler than Snowden, though Snowden could have come straight from LeCarre), they chose to mention in the first part of the description that he is a high school dropout. May be true, I don’t know, but if that’s how they are trying to discredit him they need to try harder. Doesn’t matter – dude got educated somewhere, somehow, as is evident from the way he speaks and writes.

I love the fact that he references Jeremy Bentham. and the Panopticon, in this piece. I first became aware of Bentham through Foucault‘s work on the objectification and control of the body and human beings. This trend began in earnest during the late eighteenth century, with advances in medicine and science that encouraged the view of, and analysis of the human being as a collection of component parts rather than as a discrete entity. This way of looking at things has only increased and intensified over the subsequent centuries.

This is how the creation of a prison design in the late eighteenth century relates to an intelligence leak in the twenty first. Bentham’s realization was that if you could observe prisoners at all hours of the day and night, having a view of all their activities, never allowing them one moment in which they weren’t being scrutinized, your control of them would be complete. Sound familiar? Totaliarian societies depend on their ability to regulate and control the activities of their inhabitants through fear and intimidation. When that control is compromised, and their people begin to question and challenge the authority of the state, these regimes begin to develop cracks, and eventually crumble.

OUR government has very effectively used the bogeyman of Islamist terror (which I am not discounting in total, just questioning the assertion that it is really as severe a threat as they would have us believe) to encourage, and sometimes force, us to cede control of our rights and liberties. Bullies intimidate until you give up what they want, and when they decide that sacrifice is not sufficient, or that the object of their intimidation is becoming reluctant, they will use manipulation and intimidation to get more. If you still refuse to accede, they’ll just take the shit anyway and beat your ass in the process, so that your cowering ass will just give it up without question in the future.

The more I see, the more I believe that we live not in a nanny state, but a bully state. A sometimes benevolent bully, to be sure, but one which always keeps the stick poised in case you get out of line. We have allowed this, but it isn’t too late for us to start changing it. It is never too late. Some of us may suffer metaphoric (a process which has already begun with Verax, with the attempts to marginalize him by emphasizing his lack of high school and college degrees) or even physical death along the way. No matter. I am hopeful enough for the human spirit to believe that when one falls, ten will rise up to take his place.

Philip K. Dick talked about the Black Iron Prison and ways we can use to escape it. He chose to use drugs as one of his methods, along with his writings. Drugs are a perilous path (they are tools, but all tools can cause damage rather than repair if they are over- or mis- used), and in Dick’s case they led him down the road to a kind of madness and paranoia. His writings, however, may be even more dangerous than drugs. What is more dangerous, in an allegedly free society, than a convincing pamphleteer or propagandist whose works can encourage people to think for themselves and question everything, in some cases our constructed, consensual reality itself? Verax’s sacrifice and efforts should inspire ALL of us to begin to question, challenge and find an escape from the Black Iron Prison whose construction we have encouraged and facilitated. There is a way out, people, and we can find it separately or together. Maybe Verax’s example can help all of us to begin to see what has happened and is happening from a different perspective, and bond together to start chipping the cracks that will eventually cause it to crumble.