Happy Birthday To Me (What’s Shaking Leonard?)

I’m typing this on my flight from PDX-LAX today, although who knows when this will go up online and when you’ll read this. Time waits for no man and all that.

I am, however, writing this on my 36th birthday. I’m not big on birthdays – I never grew up with big birthday parties, so unlike some people, I never had too many rituals or expectations to be disabused of. On an intellectual level, I also have a bit of an objection to the arbitrary demarcation of an extra year being added to what is ultimately, just another day and so my emotional ambivalence probably also reflects some of that. (or vice versa?)

Still, significant dates do have subjective value, and at the end of the day, that may be the ultimate rubric, not to get too existential about it. Of course, the mechanistic and objective processes of reality transpire no matter how you feel about it… Well, I’m going to stop with the metaphysical caveats just so I don’t spend the rest of this post rat-holing into matters perhaps best discussed in either full earnestness or inebriance.

I’ve never been much on public journaling (or journaling in general). Despite a (self-perceived, at least) predeliction for deep inner-dialogue, it’s not something I tend to present or share, but I’m in a bit of a contemplative mood, as perhaps some others are, after this (possibly? probably?) last XOXO Festival, so I’ll indulge myself a bit today.

For those of you that are unfamiliar with XOXO, Casey Newtown wrote a fantastic summary on the Verge, Matt Haughey also wrote a bit about it, or for a more involved, thematic take, Frank Chimiero wrote a piece, The Inferno of Independence, after 2013’s XOXO (that Andy requested he present as the possibly-last-ever XOXO talk). You can also view the Netflix Original (based on the true story) movie of the Festival. Here’s the trailer:

Like Matt, I’ve been to every XOXO. I’ve been pals (that may be a bit inadequate of a descriptor) w/ Andy for a really long time, so I also get a bit of inside baseball sprinkled in with my experience, but looking back, it’s been pretty amazing and inspiring seeing XOXO grow and evolve over the years. While there are many things that XOXO is about and that XOXO did, for me, the most magical accomplishment, the thing that seems to be quite rare, was creating an environment that unabashedly encouraged (practically reveled in) vulnerability, empathy, and embracing the feels, or feelings as we called it back in the 20th century.

There’s a lot of joy, from the warm nostalgia of catching up with old friends, or the excitement of sharing and discovering awesome new projects and people, but also the sharing of the financial, emotional and psychological distress (not to mention downright toxicity on the Internet) that seems to come with being indie and creating things these days. There’s the awkwardness and discomfort of trying to find something to say to people whose work you admire (or whatever that feeling is when you decide simply not to instead), and the occasional emotional and intellectual exercises in empathy and sensitivity as you try to navigate the sometimes fuzzy, arbitrary, contradictory, or just plain hypocritical edge-cases of applied intersectionalism. It’s messy and challenging, and there’s a reason that “processing” seems to be a term that’s thrown around a lot post-XOXO. And of course, why people love it so much.

In any case, it’s been a great excuse to spend a week in Portland the past few years, and early September often seems like the perfect time of year there. The first year, XOXO literally overlapped with my birthday, and I guess since then, I’d come to treat it as a bit of a birthday gift to myself. So thanks, XOXO, and PLUR.

I should mention, by way of context, for those that are for some reason reading this and who don’t know me (hi internet), that I’ve been wandering around (vagabond, nomadic) coming on three years now. I (very) intermittently keep a travel blog here for those interested. My current plan is to take a short breather to try to clear out some of my 2m x 3m storage unit, and to build/buy a kick-ass drone (Karma? Mavic? oether?) before I continue on.

This is getting quite long, but as this is sort of a State of the Leonard type post, I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk a bit about what I’m up to.

Lensley turns… 8 this year (I think?) and soldiers on (or abides, whevs). I don’t think it’s much of a surprise to say that it’s consumed less of my time and energy these past couple of years.

Back in 2006 I wrote some 5 year tech predictions that weren’t too bad. I didn’t repeat it in 2011, but I did quietly start making some notes on things that were catching my eye in 2014. Some of my recent posts reflects some of those interests. I’m in the process of creating a new umbrella for some of these interests, so expect to see more about this over the coming months.

This is getting quite long (and finishing this up, quite late), so I’ll continue with things that I’m digging (and things that terrify me) in another post.

Some Cognitive Biases

Saw a fantastic quote tweeted the other day, an excerpt from a book entitled Political Animals: How Our Stone-Age Brain Gets in the Way of Smart Politics. While the book has mixed reviews, the biases are worth taking a gander at…

Here are some of the most common cognitive biases identified by social scientists.

Availability Bias
Perseverence Bias
Source Confusion
Projection Bias
Self-Serving Bias
Superiority Bias
Planning Fallacy
Optimism Bias

Do any of them privilege the truth? The answer is no. Not one. They privilege survival.

Here’s the rundown:

  • Availability Bias – overweighting importance based on memorable/dramatic/easily recalled occurrences
  • Perseverence Bias – a type of confirmation bias continuing to believe things that have been proven wrong
  • Source Confusion – misattribution of a source of a memory
  • Projection Bias – projecting your own motivations (priority, attitude, belief) on other actors (including your future self!)
  • Self-Serving Bias – the tendency to see oneself in a favorable light. “It is the belief that individuals tend to ascribe success to their own abilities and efforts, but ascribe failure to external factors”
  • Superiority Bias – the “above average effect” – overrating positives, underrating negatives
  • Planning Fallacy – programmers are probably intimately familiar with; a type of optimism bias where task difficulty/length is underestimated
  • Optimism Bias – believing that you’re less at risk of something bad happening than others

A better book on this stuff might be Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow. Kahneman is a psychologist that won the Nobel Prize Winner in Economics and collaborated for over a decade with Tversky to do seminal research on cognitive biases.

Not Enough Hours In The Day

If you have some spare time and looking for some fun/geeky, but not too intense reading:

Well, that’s more than enough for now. Time’s a wasting.

2015, The Year of Linux on My Laptop

I’ve written a bit about this before[1], so I won’t rehash too much, but reading Andre’s piece on how his new Chromebook Pixel has replaced his Macbook Pro, made me a bit nostalgic and wanting to write some of my own thoughts about switching off of the Mac this year.

Like Andre, this a somewhat notable event for me. I’ve always used a mix of Macs and PCs growing up, but throughout most of the 90s, I built my own PCs for personal use (running DOS/Windows, and then poking around w/ Slackware releases pretty early on). In college, I spent more of my time on Sun workstations, and ended up managing a Mac computer lab (with some NT and SGI workstations in the back), which simultaneously generated a still-to-this-day disdain for the piece-of-crap System 9, but also a growing excitement for OS X. In 2001, I installed OS X 10.0 on a brand new G3 Snow iBook – it was almost unusably slow, but I didn’t look back, and while I continued to maintain a healthy menagerie of gaming PCs and Linux boxen, OS X was my daily driver, and just about every year I’d upgrade to the latest PowerBook, MacBook Pro, and finally, for the past few years, the 11″ MBAs. It was a bit of a sad and slow realization over the past few years that each version of OS X was getting worse for me than the last, and also, that the MBA wasn’t cutting it either, especially as I started traveling full time again. I waited for the 12″ MacBook to see if it were any better, but in the end, that was the final confirmation that Apple was no longer designing laptops for me.

I’d previous tested out a bunch of Chromebooks (including traveling with one on a month-long trip in China), but even with a Crouton setup, it just never worked for me. On the X side, I’d also tried just about every single tiling manager out there (Awesome was probably the best, QTile I had a soft spot for as a Python geek), but they never clicked. This time around, I’ve been using Openbox, and it’s been great – does everything I want, gets out of the way, and its behavior is completely customizable. I spent a month or so yak-shaving (fixing about one thing a day), and in the end, I have a setup that is bespoke in a way that feels fitting considering how much time I spend on my computers.  It’s not perfect – I had to write my own site-specific browser library (works but still needs some polishing), and my 1Password situation is passable, but honestly a huge pain. Also, I’m booting into Windows a lot more than I’d like – a pure necessity to run Adobe Creative Cloud, Unity3D, and the rest of my VR development, although I will admit that Windows 10 is… not that bad.


Since no laptops are powerful enough to currently drive PC VR experiences, I also started carrying around a very powerful PC in a Pelican case with me (my VR bucket). Since I can also use this for my photo editing, that changes the calculus a bit for my portable computing needs. I will probably end up with something a bit slimmer/lighter than my X250 next. Since I also carry a separate mechanical keyboard, this may even end up being a 2-in-1 or tablet. As long is it runs Linux well and has 8h+ battery life, I’ll be alright I think.

We’ll see what 2016 brings, but it’s a bit sad that for me, it probably won’t ever be a Mac again.

[1] For all the details:

Desk.pm Review

I just picked up a copy of Desk.pm after reading about it on HN. At the base, it’s an ingenious, but long overdue idea – an offline/local blog-publishing tool that adopts the style of a focused-writing editor.

I’m very hopeful that this lowered friction will have me publishing more often. Desk.pm is relatively expensive to drop sight unseen ($30 on the Mac App Store) and still quite young, so we’ll see how it works out.

Current Summary (2015-01-27, v1.1 (5)):

  • While it has potential, it also has a bunch of deal-breakers for me so I can’t really recommend it right now, but this may change as it gets updated.
      • Basic editing stuff is slightly buggy (paragraphs!) or missing (embeds/source-editing)
      • Publishing model feels wrong
  • Be sure to check out the forums: http://talk.desk.pm/c/support/ideas

Here are some thoughts so far (I’ll be adding to this as I use it more)


  • The minimal approach is nice, but there probably should be a bit more of a getting started guide (dismissable, of course). Also, there are a lot of hidden options, like spell-checking and some other globals should probably be something that you can set-up on start.
  • Changing the blog-post title is a lot less obvious that it should be. It took me forever to figure out that it’s under “Rename…” in the File menu or you need to hover over over the topbar and click to rename. It feels like maybe “Rename…” should be replaced with a “Post Info” palette or something, and that there should be an option for having a Title Bar/Field that can auto-hide or stick at the top (especially useful if there’s support for tags, categories, post-date, what have you).
  • Publishing is actually more confusing than I’d like as well. Ideally, I’d like to be able to simply see my state and toggle it. For example, here’s how bad/confusing things are.  Currently, I’m editing a new draft that’s saved in a “Blog”.  Great. However, when I go to “Blog > Publish”, it brings up a sidebar where I have to select my blog again, and then use a pull-down to update the status? As far as I can tell, I have to do this every time I want to update my post. It seems like I should only have to set my publish settings for a blog post in a modal once, and simply be able to publish after that. Also, it seems like I should be able to have some sort of auto-publish behavior or barring that, some sort of way to be able to tell when this saved post is different from my published post. (A slick way would be a diffing view I suppose, but something should show my last saved vs last published time and if it’s different at least).


  • I like the Medium-style inline callouts on selection in theory, but in practice, they’re sort of annoying: I wish I could just disable it. There’s nothing there that I shouldn’t be able to do better keyboard-only.
  • Markdown auto-conversion is nice, although I do wish it was a bit more responsive. Hackpad does a better job of doing per-character vs end-of-line conversion.
      • BUG: Markdown italics doesn’t appear to auto-convert in the editor although it will work once posted.
  • The first thing I did was go to System Preferences > Keyboard > App Shortcuts and add CMD-K for link creation. I don’t know why it’s not the shortcut in the first place. However, sadly, the linking behavior is still a bit broken. If you try CMD-K on an empty selection, it does nothing, which is arguably OK behavior, but if you CMD-K with the cursor within an existing link, it should let you edit it, right? Furthermore, if you create a link with CMD-K and then with the word still selected, try to CMD-K again (say to edit the URL) it fails.
  • Doing things like adding an embed are currently impossible. I would have liked to embed a Desk.pm video, for example, but I can’t. As far as I can tell there’s no “manual HTML insertion” ability or any way to extend formatting (personally, I embed Flickr photos a lot in my posts, also I tend to use a fair amount of <blockquote> and <code> tags (<– see how that’d would be useful there?)
  • Full-screen is nice, but it’d be nice just to have an adjustable defocus/darken feature. 
  • It’d be nice to have preview as a split-screen or a sidebar view.
  • Has some serious indents on lists. Wish there was a way to style the editor.
  • BUG: There is wonky stuff going on with line-breaks/paragraphing…

Keyboard Support:

  • In general, Desk is sadly not as keyboard-driven as I would like, and not in a vim-emulation mode either, but lots of little things like the lack of proper focusing when sidebars come up, and less than ideal formatting shortcuts (compare say vs iA Writer), or the way say the linking popup disappears if you use a clipboard manager (I use ClipMenu) or tab out to grab a link. In general, I would just like to be able to use Desk.pm w/o having to touch my mouse, which doesn’t seem like too much to ask, but currently seems impossible.
  • I wish there was a Keyboard Help keyboard shortcut (cmd-/ or cmd-?)
  • Tooltips should have keyboard shortcuts appended
  • Sidebar panes are not keyboard navigable. Since those panes disappear if you type anyway, it seems like focus should change, and you should be able to get out of a pane then by either using the keyboard-shortcut again, Escape, or clicking the main editor pane.

The Future of VR

I’ve been pretty excited about the future of VR for the past few months (I’ve been gathering notes here). I was an original DK1 Kickstarter backer and have been following Oculus’ growth and development pretty closely lately. While an eventual acquisition was always a possibility (after a $90M B round at the end of last year), today’s announcement of a $2B Facebook acquisition came as a bit of a surprise, if only for the timing.

You can read Palmer Luckey’s announcement on the Oculus sub-Reddit, which doesn’t inspire much confidence, or Palmer’s comment responses, which are is a little more interesting. cliffyb and tycho have written interesting counterpoints/rebuttals to some of the knee-jerk responses.

Notch (Minecraft) has written a pretty insightful commentary, as has Max Temkin (Cards Against Humanity), which do a good job of summing up some of the unease/issues, particularly among enthusiasts and developers, are experiencing. cliffyb wrote an interesting counterpoint/rebuttal.

Rather than write something cogent and expressive, I’ll just collect some thoughts:

  • From Facebook’s perspective, buying Oculus right now for $2B is a steal. As Chris Dixon tweeted, it’s the equivalent of Google’s investment in Android. It’s quite clear that VR is likely the next big computing platform. Honestly, it’s about time Facebook got some ambition about the future. (Google’s been making everyone besides Musk look pretty shortsighted) What’s unclear right now is what Oculus has to gain, especially when there are reports of not just other bidders (which probably would have been much worse for Oculus) but also that investors had offered Oculus more funding. It’s unclear whether “more” in this context means more than the FB sale, but assuming the same $2B valuation, Oculus should have been able to pick up at least another $200M. Beyond the exit price (which goes to investors and the team), the question is, what did FB offer Oculus in terms additional resources to make this worthwhile – $1B? $2B? The Oculus team certainly left money on the table, so the question really revolves around FB’s value add beyond the costs that all acquisitions entail. Hints are being dropped, but we’ll have to see what pans out.
  • Part of the cringing I have reading Palmer’s announcement, of course is how familiar it is. Heck, I remember writing one very much like it about 10 years ago. I don’t doubt its authenticity/everyone’s best intentions, but having seen the cycle play out many times, I do think that the Oculus team may underestimate what the loss of independence means. Obviously enthusiasts will find it hard to root for Facebook, and developers should be justly worried (terrified, really) about Facebook’s developer/platform track record and manifold conflicts of interest, but beyond that, even though Oculus has assembled a fantastic team (the best team of creative technologists in field, and possibly across all of tech), what is the appeal for the best and brightest to work at Facebook? (That being said, I’m sure there are many bright people working at Facebook that would be excited to work on the Rift) While autonomy has been promised, maintaining focus as a subdivision of a large, publicly traded tech company has its own pressures/constraints and maintaining focus and drive requires a huge and different type of commitment over the long term.
  • That all being said, people canceling their DK2 orders are being irrational. The current hardware is locked in. It’s awesome. There will be drivers available, and almost assuredly open alternatives will emerge if the worst happens. There are cross-platform APIs available, and while there’s a concerns with patents (if Facebook is serious about creating a new VR market, a commitment to FRAND licensing, open standards, and open source would do much to settle everyone’s nerves). As of right now, all the components for compelling VR are known/available. Future developments like virtual retinal displays, foveated rendering, inside-out tracking are open to whomever has the resources, vision, and willingness to invest.
  • There’s no question that Facebook, Google, et al will want in on the Metaverse. Owning Oculus will give FB a big advantage and all but guarantees a seat at the table (make no mistake, this is the endgame), but I think everyone’s smart enough to realize that a walled garden will end up leading to AOL, not the Internet. No one wants the former (sorry, Shingy 😉 and there’s a lot more money to be made with the latter if there’s enough patience/vision.

Having slept on it, I think a lot of the knee-jerk reaction has merely been about the perceived “cash out”, but also that it feels a bit like giving up before actually taking a shot. While Palmer mentions partnership multiple times, at the end of the day, it’s an acquisition, which carries a lot of existential and practical baggage (and pitfalls) related to autonomy/agency/execution. Here’s hoping there’s enough momentum to carry things through.

Some links:

2013 Review in Tech

I’ve been a bit under the weather the past couple days (the dangers of hanging out near other peoples’ little germ factories (aka kids)), but I wanted to post some of my thoughts about the year in tech. The last time I did that was probably a few years ago (related).

Over the weekend a friend was going on about how this year was a crappy one for “tech” (echoing the sentiments of those crappy articles floating around, but more along the lines of lack of ambition/innovation) which I strongly disagreed with. I think the kernel of truth there is that the SF/SV tech scene is definitely caught up in a weird spiral of chasing/making less and less interesting mobile/social apps, so of course from that vantage point, it’s going to seem terrible, but from the outside, things are… pretty interesting.

  • NSA Leaks – In some articles, this was cited as some negative development, but Edward Snowden’s leaks revealed (and continues to reveal) how much the world has been changed by technology and hints at some of the implications that both as technologists and end-users, we’ve been oblivious to. It’s certainly the biggest tech story of the year, and has profound/deeply unsettling implications. It’s also kicked off a number of new projects, and made a lot of techies think harder about the things they’re working on. I think that in coming years, the world and the tech industry in particular will be better for it.
  • Bitcoin – Bitcoins, alt-coins, cryptocurrency. While it’s been building up steam, this is the year that it boiled over and it’s another development that’s more than a little world-changing. I mentioned it briefly in a rebuttal comment I made on Charlie Stross’s blog post Why I want Bitcoin to die in a fire (I don’t know about his conclusions, but on just about every point of fact supporting his reasoning, he cited inaccurate/just plain wrong sources), but regardless of what the eventual value of BTC ends up as (which this year was driven mostly by the Chinese, not media hype), whether it’s $10K/BTC or $0/BTC, Bitcoin has not only served as a solid proof of existence for the viability of truly P2P digital currency, but has also laid down a protocol/framework that makes it trivial to create your own. The classes of problems that can be solved by a distributed public ledger are numerous… There’s some more thinking I need to put on that.
  • Tesla – Finally, something out of the Valley. Between Tesla, SpaceX, and SolarCity, this was a huge year for Elon Musk, and they seem to all be converging into some techno-utopian vision that’s quite honestly, a rather refreshing respite from the totalitarian surveillance state, increasing economic disparity and general grim meathookiness going on elsewhere. If you aren’t excited about what Tesla has been up to this year, maybe you just aren’t that into tech.
  • Robots – Google’s buying spree was pretty well reported, but less well covered was Schaft’s (one of the Google acquisitions) performance at the DARPA Challenge. It scored 27 out of a possible 32 points on the challenges. That’s 84%. This year has shown some tremendous accomplishments in robotics on just about every level, most interestingly/disturbingly in drone-tech. If you haven’t read this recent brief, but intense editorial in the Guardian this past week, btw, please do: I worked on the US drone program. The public should know what really goes on
  • Kickstarter – I’ve been active (maybe a bit too active, seeing as I started getting KS spam this year) on Kickstarter this year. It’s not new, but it’s certainly gained even more steam in 2013, and I don’t see it decelerating. Kickstarter seems to be increasingly, one of the more important tools helping the Maker/DIY movement grow.
  • 3D Printing – speaking of which, another not quite new, but thought I’d mention it, we finally got our Replicator 2 in the office this year, and it’s been incredibly useful. It’s also very close to being consumer friendly/ready. Like, say if the platform would self calibrate and if the prints were a little easier to peel off… But still, getting a 3D printer is now cheaper than an office laser printer was a decade ago.
  • Quantified Self – In some ways, still nascent, but I got my Basis Watch, and I’ve been trying more than a few autologgers/aggregators released this year (Saga, Memoir, Heyday among others), but I think we’re seeing some really interesting first steps into pulling together both the data exhaust we’re already generating and combining that usefully with other things we’d like to track (beyond fitness trackers, things like the Automatic car tracker). One thing’s for sure though, things are just getting started
  • VR – I admit, my Oculus Rift Devkit sat unloved and completely unopened for months. It’s been a hectic year. I did finally get around to break it out and try out about a dozen demos, and it was great, and also left me motion sick the rest of the night (I’ve played FPS/TPS’s for decades w/o problems). Carmack’s full time commitment and the news coming out of the community has me hopeful that they’ll have that problem licked, but it’s been pretty exciting following along. For those interested in what’s going on, I recommend Road To VR
  • Open Hardware – this is an ongoing thing that isn’t new in 2013, and has also been greatly helped by Kickstarter, but there’s just a ton of interesting stuff happening in the cheap microcontroller world akin to the early web days. I’ve been poking around with a lot of this stuff, but this year, got pretty serious about it, doing a fair amount of soldering, exploring/evaluating pretty much every single ARM dev board around, and getting my first PCBs printed. Again, we’re going to see a continued proliferation of interesting hacks/automation/sensors as it gets increasingly cheaper and easier to program the world

I think most of these things point to how wrongheaded talking about these things in context of a year are though – tech is incremental, and it’s hard work. You can bet anything that’s being announced, let alone making a big splash probably took quite a bit longer than a year to get there.

I’ll also link to Some Notes on Labor, Technology and Economics that I wrote about earlier this year. 2013 started out on sour note and what’s been going on in the world this year has definitely given me some pause.

We’re none of us getting any younger, and the pace of innovation continues to increase though, so here’s to the next year. Let’s hope we can make it a better world.

ADDENDUM: Putting this here since it’s related. Not really an innovation per se, but a tech problem that may be reaching a breaking point – we continued to see bigger and bigger data breaches (Adobe, Target, SnapChat) by cyber-criminals. Will 2FA finally replace Passwords? Is there a different security model that can more effectively handle APTs/inevitably compromised networks? Is there a way to expire/invalidate leaked data or will fraud models improve enough that it’s OK that black-hats and script kiddies around the world trade your personal info? In traditional security, the deck is always stacked against the defense, but it makes me wonder if there’s not a way of changing that – after all, the physics of software (if not software engineering) are malleable…

2013 Geek Reading:

Fixed the Glitch

I think this Hacker News back and forth (in response to new that the NSA will be cutting sysadmin staff by 90% to limit data access) cuts right to the heart of the matter.

But who will manage the systems that are managing the systems? I’m sure this will work out brilliantly for them when systems crash, or hackers start exfiltrating their data, and there’s no one left to analyze the logs and discover and fix the holes.
The problem at the NSA isn’t that there are too many sysadmins, although apparently that plays well with tech illiterate politicians. The problem is too many morally unconscionable programs which lead to a growing revulsion in the ranks.

Mr. Alexander defends his agency’s conduct and claims the press is distorting the facts. “No one has willfully or knowingly disobeyed the law or tried to invade your civil liberties or privacies,” he said. “There were no mistakes like that at all.” Except we know that even FISA says that’s not true, in a report so damning apparently even elected members of congress can’t read it.

I have news for you Keith, blanket collection of the “meta-data” of every call on Verizon’s network is ex vi termini, invasion of privacy and civil liberty. DEA’s SOD (Special Operations Division) handing off your clandestine intercepts to civilian law enforcement is just the latest, but not the last, sickening revelation. The leaks won’t stop until you stop, and I hope your hubris continues to blind you to how close the political tides are to turning against you. It seems to me that your ‘ends justify the means’ mentality conflicts with your sworn oath to uphold the Constitution, and I can only hope history will look back on this whole endeavor as a dark stain in American history, and view you like a McCarthy of our time. Machiavelli would be proud of you, sir.


The problem is too many morally unconscionable programs which lead to a growing revulsion in the ranks.

Au contraire, it’s extremely morally conscionable to people who see law enforcement as a noble profession empowered to rid the nation (and beyond) of people they see as the scum of the earth. These programs are run by people who, I can guarantee you, do not wake up in the morning wondering what morals and ethics they can ignore that day.

“No one has willfully or knowingly disobeyed the law or tried to invade your civil liberties or privacies,” he said.

And he’s right. And that’s the problem: these things are likely not against the law. The law has both been perverted inch by inch and the agencies have been allowed to operate under looser legal interpretations than you and I receive for parking tickets. This means that to the degree that laws exist that permit their behavior (PATRIOT Act, FISAA), those who would constrain them to even the loose boundaries do not (and by all accounts refuse to) do so. This goes for the FISC as much as Dianne Feinstein and Eric Holder. This means they can say it’s legal for them to do pretty much whatever they want. So now what?

I wish I could agree with the zaroth and the optimists – the romantic view that as they squeeze tighter, as they transgress, actors of conscience will react or that as Assange posits, that authoritarian organizations will become less effective as the secrecy cost increases (PDF link to Assange’s 2006 essay State and Terrorist Conspiracies), however sadly I feel that this reduction in numbers will have quite the opposite effect.

While it’s easy (and satisfying) to decry the opposition as evil from my experience, the idea that no one (well most) people are not the villains of their own story seems to reflect reality much better (see also guardian organizations in particular are predisposed feel paternalistic. This is only magnified by a culture of hidden, hoarded knowledge, secrecy and elitism (“if you only knew what I knew”). Depending on your location on the libertarian/authoritarian political compass, your skin may be crawling a bit reading this description, but certainly those involved in this total surveillance view themselves as professional and honorable – their duty is to serve and protect those that (by design) don’t know any better.

However, there of course must be those within the organization that will have qualms and doubts. After all, history has shown again and again the inevitable progression of unchecked state power against its citizenry, especially when an organization can act in secrecy and with impunity. And of course there are those that, having been brought up with the belief in liberal democracy (you know, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Federalist Papers) would have a very hard time indeed justifying secrecy and actions that would fall under what many would consider the very definition of tyranny. And of course, some of those individuals must also be concerned about what it means to society to have total surveillance, archived forever, and searchable instantly. This combination of the panopticon and the memex has never existed before and its existence (and now the public knowledge that it is controlled by a state actor w/ no meaningful oversight) and I suspect its impact and consequences has yet to be fully digested by society at large…

All this is a long way to say that there surely are those working at the NSA that have doubts – but as this continues to polarize, the ranks will only further close. Those that have the strongest doubts will leave or be forced out, but the Death Star is already fully operational, and there will be more than enough authoritarians, opportunistic, power-hungry, and just plain sociopathic boots to fill the ranks. And as those that would resist the trends towards aggregating more power and authority leave, so will the last remaining internal checks and balances (the external ones having disappeared long ago), leaving the organization more focused, in fact accelerating the slide towards… well, something that will no longer be much of a democratic republic in function, if not form.

Without drastic changes (full transparency, full oversight), this logic feels inescapable, inevitable. The truism about power and corruption seems apropos here.

That’s not to say that the issues of digital privacy and surveillance wouldn’t otherwise be a problem, that cat’s certainly out of the bag, but there’s a clear difference between the commerce vs the state (that centers on the monopoly on violence).

It’s also not to say that the society automatically becomes some sort of Grim Meathook (well, unless you’re poor in which case it already is, or if you decide to stand in the way of the Harkonnen fist). After all, in this new society, you capacity for autonomy will depend primarily on how innocuous/complicit you are within the system (also, being rich never hurts) – this, perhaps alarmingly, is not so different from how it’s always been.

OK, this is much longer than I was planning on, and has turned out to be a bit of a ramble that certainly lays out a lot of rope at least as far as my thoughts on political theory goes. I wish, that after quite a lot of thinking and processing, that I had some better conclusions, but … I don’t. Oh, here’s a catchy one:

Welcome to the future. Enjoy your stay.

Catching Up, Braindump

I’ve been working on a few longish posts, but after taking a week or so off in Costa Rica, I’m now back at work with new deadlines looming and realizing that I won’t be getting around to finishing them anytime soon. Some of them really deserve some more thought anyway, but I did want to at the very least want to do a bit of a braindump.

Anyone following my Twitter feed knows that the NSA surveillance news has had much of my attention since it broke. A month later, I still haven’t quite figured out the proper response, except that in my mind, the leak, our response, and its implications (especially if allowed to continued) is one of the more significant turning points for our society. At least its forced me to consider technological progress through a very different lens. In the meantime, I’ve been keeping what I’m calling a “worry wall” tracking news and developments on the topic. It’s a Hackpad wiki, and I’d welcome contributions: stopspying.hackpad.com

It’s quite possible that there’s no sensible course of action, but it deserves some thinking.

I’ve been somewhat keeping up w/ developments in Turkey and Egypt. This video of a 12yo in Egypt that’s been making its way around is worth a watch:

Doug Englebart died last week. A few years ago, I had the privilege to attend one of his lectures, and while my writeup of the event focused on a critique, it was framed within the large shadow that Engelbart’s seminal works cast. While I did not know him personally, it’d be fair to say that Engelbart’s work and thinking might have been the most influential/impactful not just of my field of computing (the part involving people communicating and thinking together), but also on my own work and thinking, both directly and indirectly.

It’s not every day that one of your intellectual heroes/forebearers passes, and I wish I had something better/more to write about it, but the words escape me.

Like in the Snowden case before it, I saw the AAR 214 crash news break on Twitter. A couple comments related to that caught my eye. On the actual accident itself, The Verge has done a surprisingly good job summarizing.

And that’s it for now… I’ll be headed to YxYY this weekend and while I’m not looking forward to the 100+ degree heat, will be looking forward to catching up with some old friends.

MasterCard SecureCode and securesuite.net

Today was my first time encountering MasterCard®SecureCode™ when making an online order. I honestly thought I was being phished. Here’s where I got redirected to.

Going to https://www.securesuite.net/ gives you a nice blank page. And here’s the whois information:

      yaron shohat
      174 Middlesex Turnpike
      Bedford, MA 01730
      Phone: +1.8665606153

   Registrar Name....: Register.com
   Registrar Whois...: whois.register.com
   Registrar Homepage: www.register.com

   Domain Name: securesuite.net
      Created on..............: 2002-08-23
      Expires on..............: 2012-08-23

   Administrative Contact:
      Network Operations
      174 Middlesex Turnpike
      Bedford, MA 01730
      Phone: +1.8665606153

   Technical  Contact:
      Network Operations
      174 Middlesex Turnpike
      Bedford, MA 01730
      Phone: +1.8665606153

   DNS Servers:

Who’s cyota? Who’s yaron shohat? And what fucking moron at RSA thought this was a good idea? Here’s the Google results for securesuite.net phishing. Doing a search for Securesuite.net does not return Visa or Mastercard’s official sites…

Well, it turns out securesuite.net isn’t a phishing scam, after doing some Internet searching, digging up direct links from Mastercard.com, and calling MasterCard directly to get verbal confirmation and to give them a piece of my mind. It’s not a scam, it’s just moronic and a phishing scam waiting to happen.