news report: 93% of those horrified by Facebook data leak(s) will still leave Amazon Echo plugged in

amazon-echo

It’s perfectly normal to have a live listening device inside the privacy of your home, say trendy tech savvy people.

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Giant Octopi, The Little Guy, and the curse of the Trump lens

I would gather that if I walked up to ten people on America’s streets and asked them what Qualcomm is, nine of them would provide one of these answers:

1) the quality control program my stupid boss(es) make me use

2) an internet or phone company

3) a robot assassin bent on revenge for the untimely murder of his girl

4) a blank stare indicating the person’s desire not to talk to idiots like me

Only one in ten would know they’re carrying Qualcomm in their pockets.  If the brave new modern world is one where your smartphone is more important than having two functioning hands, then Qualcomm is more important to your life than your ability to digest food.

Qualcomm chips and semiconductor technology run in almost every new thing of the internet age.  They have a monopoly on the business that would make even the most jaded of 19th Century railroad tycoons sweat with envy.

For years Qualcomm has been investigated, fined, sued, yelled at by its customers, rivals, and competitors as one of the very worst of the Giant Octopi.  Qualcomm’s two biggest current problems are a massive lawsuit from Apple (which I find delicious given Apple’s known desire to cheat its own customers) and a $1.2B fine from the EU’s competition watchdogs.  Over the last decade Qualcomm has likely kept food on the table for at least 13,487 lawyers, judges, court clerks, court security guards, and court security doggies.

Nobody knows about these things or cares.  To them, their Apple or Samsung smartphone is Apple or Samsung.  They don’t know or care that the chip that makes it all possible is from Qualcomm.

(As a brief aside, you need to admire the gall, guile, and skill of Intel’s marketing goons that got them front and center in the psyche of every computer user on the planet.  In the 1990’s anybody who knew anything about a computer knew about Intel chips.  You bought computers based on what Intel processor it had, and barely cared whether Dell or Compaq made the overall machine.)

So for those who don’t know what Qualcomm is, or are too busy wondering who Jennifer Aniston’s ninth husband will be, Qualcomm has been under a hostile takeover bid by Broadcom.  Broadcom is another chipmaker based in Singapore.  The purchase price offered was $117B.  Yes, $117B.  Or enough money to manufacture ten large aircraft carriers with swanky Slavic tracksuit racing stripes included.

This deal was always controversial because it would have further increased a trend in American business lately: CONSOLIDATION.  There are only four major American airlines left.  There are three major American cellular providers.  Americans pay four or five times more for cable internet compared to other Western nations, and get slower speeds for the privilege.

So it was always a concern that Qualcomm and Broadcom could become one company, when Qualcomm is already essentially a Monopoly Man of the Giant Octopi.  The question was if the Trump administration would allow the deal to proceed, or block it on anti-trust grounds?

Well, all of that’s changed yesterday.  What’s happened instead is Trump has disallowed the deal on national security grounds.  Essentially, USA is not going to allow THE American internet chipmaker to be owned by foreigners.  Trump signed an order as such.

The Washington Post, as the newspaper of the capital, thus covers this story.

Because this is politics, and it’s DC, the article must of course focus upon Trump.  According to the Post, Trump has signed this order because of his “protectionist instincts”.  They even got some guy (everybody loves the anonymous quote now) to state that Trump wants the lesson “don’t screw with the government” and that the order is “brutal”.  Again, “It smacks of anger on the part of the government to me. This feels a little more personal to me.”  How dramatic.  I’m seething with excitement at the rage drama associated with this esoteric technology topic.

So what we have here is a situation where one of the worst Monopoly Man companies on the planet wants to merge with another member of the Giant Octopi and then make the situation for the consumer even worse with a super-super Giant Octopi company.  The US government stops this effort, for any reason at all, and the answer of the capital’s newspaper is it’s about Trump?  Really?

You know, I’ve avoided saying this for a long time, because to me there’s almost no point addressing Trump.  It is what it is.  People think what they’ll think.  Many people seem to have a visceral emotional reaction to Trump (one way or the other) that I just can’t understand.  But essentially it’s this: Trump will be gone someday (likely in three years).  Trump is who he is, for all the awfulness that he is.  But one day he’ll be gone.  But the Washington Post will still be here.

If I was a member of The Washington Post, I think I’d make it a point to understand that.  Because essentially what has happened is The Washington Post, The New York Times, and most other major news organizations have mortgaged what little benign credibility they had left, in order to get at one singular man.  I get it, I hate Trump too, but that credibility is never going to return.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not naïve, and certainly wasn’t before Trump came onto the scene, but it’s gone over the edge.

Hey remember when it was generally considered suspicious when a newspaper article quoted anonymous sources?  Now it seems every news article is based on anonymous sources.  Now I guess we just have to take it on faith that they didn’t get the quote from some guy down by the Sizzler.  But seeing as how we can’t trust them [get Trump at any price] why would I believe anything an anonymous source says?

I’m never going to look at The Washington Post the same way again.  It will always be an organization whose handlers sold their souls and journalistic integrity to get at one guy.  To the point that they can’t even write an article about one of the most consequential technology topics of this year, without making it all about Trump.

Normally this wouldn’t be a massive problem.  You’d be like, whatever, go read another newspaper each day.  True.  Except that every, single, person, in DC who makes decisions (Democrat or Republican) reads the Post every day.  As in, the people who run government, and make decisions that impact people’s lives every day, are fed information by a publication that essentially has no credibility.  That’s not a good place for any democracy to be in.

If the Post was a responsible newspaper, or at least understood their place in society, they would cover the Broadcom / Qualcomm deal through the lens of the status of monopolies, how the deal impacts American consumers (who pay more each day for their stuff because Qualcomm is corrupt), and also address the completely valid national security implications of handing Qualcomm to a foreign buyer.  But instead, it’s about Trump and Trump and Trump, and the Trump lens.  For everything.

That doesn’t help the Little Guy, it doesn’t help America, and that’s a sad, sad thing.

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That this deal is dead, for any reason at all, is a good thing.

we use our first ride hailing experience to ponder the future downfall of the human brain

I took my first car app ride a few weeks ago. Most of you will probably wonder what took so long. You must understand, part of me wishes for the return of the stone age. I could probably do without the tetanus, lack of running water, or everpresent ancient angry demon gods, but otherwise a lot of that simplicity appeals to me. If it wasn’t for my dogs, I’d spend most of my evenings at home lit only by candles. Because night should be night and day, well, day.

So when on travel, and for whatever reason I don’t have a rental car, I’ll typically either walk or just call for a traditional cab. If I have a rental and can’t or don’t want to drive because alcohol is the cause of and solution to all of life’s problems, then regular cabs or walking work then too.

But a few weeks ago I just figured I’d try ride hailing apps. I’m moving overseas for work in a few weeks and the country has ride hailing there. Which I figured would be vastly superior to some of my prior international cab experiences I’ve had where I threaten to debark the cab while in motion because the crook in the front seat refuses to run the meter.

Work is sending me out the door so my colleagues (who I actually like) want to do a farewell party downtown. I’m in a hotel in the suburbs that’s an hour away by train. The hotel is three miles from the train station. Usually if the weather is decent and the walk is safe, I’m walking those three miles. In this case, the weather was rainy, chilly and it was most certainly not a safe walk.

Ironically I could’ve just driven to the train station. We all had to work very early next morning and so we hardly drank at all. My need for a ride from the hotel to train station and back later in the evening turned out to be entirely unnecessary. But I can’t see through time, so I used the app. I won’t tell you which app I used because that’s not really the point of the post.

The driver ends up at the hotel in less than 15 minutes. I found this timely and easy to arrange, so far so good. I’ve been driving around this area a long time so I know my way around. The driver clearly has no idea where he is. I offer to guide him but he refuses and says he’ll follow ‘her’ directions. The app takes us the wrong way, and then down an industrial access road that adds about five minutes to what is otherwise a short three mile drive.

But then the app starts to tell him to go the wrong way. At the intersection the train station is right. The app tells him to go left. He has no idea where he’s going and so is in the left lane to obey the app. I tell him the app is wrong and he should turn right. He refuses. I have to tell him three times that the app is wrong. He keeps saying he has to obey ‘her’, like he’s the app’s mind slave or whatever.

Eventually I talk him to the train station. The entire time the app is telling him to turn around blaring in the car. I get out and the driver mentions to me that he’s going to have to drive back to where the app tells him to. I ask him if the app can’t just be told he dropped me off where I wanted to be, that the app is wrong? He says no and drives off.

While I’m waiting for my train out of curiosity I observe his movements on the app. He does indeed drive the wrong way for ten more minutes arriving at the ‘destination’ of the train station. Even though I’m sure what the app thought was the train station was just a parking lot. Only after he arrived at this mythical area did my ride close out and I was prompted to tip him. Total cost $10 with tip.

Following the evening’s abbreviated festivities I’m back at the same station off the train. Now I need a ride back to the hotel. I use the app to hail a ride and it refuses to work. It keeps telling me that where I am, where the train station is, is at the mythical parking lot to the north. I can’t find a way to fix this.

This goes on for ten minutes until I finally just decide to acquire the ride and then call the driver once he’s chosen, or whatever. Again, this is my first ride app experience, what the hell do I know? The driver agrees and I see his car is a mile down the road. Awesome. I call him and let him know the app says I’m way up north, but I’m actually at the train station. Please come to the train station and get me here.

The driver says he doesn’t know where the train station is. I’m at the only train station within five miles. He’s one mile away, on the same road as the station, he doesn’t know. I offer to talk him to me, but he refuses, gets frustrated and starts to run his mouth against me. I immediately hang up.

I then call a regular traditional cab company. I tell them where I am on the phone to the dispatcher. A cab arrives in about 90 seconds. When I get into the cab, I tell the driver my hotel name and the street it’s on. He agrees and we’re off. That’s it. He needed no additional information, he needed no directions, he knew exactly where to go.

I ended up talking with him for the whole ride back. He was a bit of an older guy, been driving cabs for a long time and knew the whole area. We talked about my brief ride hailing experience, which amused him, as if a master wood craftsman saw a child trying to build a chair with a hand grenade. He also told me where all the cop speed traps were. He then made various belligerent comments about fellow members of the human race, which we won’t get into, but had me laughing my ass off in the car. He was a well thought out guy. He drops me off at the hotel. Total cost $15 with tip.

I have seen the future. It goes like this.

As soon as five or ten years from now all my frustrating moments with ride hailing won’t exist. Using voice recognition, I’ll tell my phone simply, “Need a ride back to the hotel.” Within five minutes a car will arrive and take me there. That’s it. No problems with directions, or location finding, or drivers who are angry or incompetent. In fact, within a few decades I think the car that shows up will be driven by a computer. But, because tech freaks are the new robber barons of the Giant Octopus, the ride will cost $20. And something will have been lost to the human race.

Ponder if you will, that on one hand I had two app drivers, who were so utterly unaware of their surroundings that they were entirely reliant upon the app to tell them how to get from point A to B. Otherwise they couldn’t do the most basic aspect of their job. It’s like a nurse who can’t treat a patient without a computer telling them the commands step by step.

But hold on a minute, why can’t nurses be told exactly what to do on command by a computer in say 20 years? Why not? And why when I’m driving do I need to know where I’m going anymore? Why can’t I just always follow the map app’s directions? Why do I have to think or do things that can be done by an app for me?

Let’s leave aside the horrific privacy, security, financial, and ethical arguments of this brave new world for the moment. What I’m most interested in is what this does to the human brain. On one hand you have two dudes who can’t do their jobs, at all, without machine assistance. On the other hand I had a cabbie who could recall in his brain the entire map of a city on command. Without machine assistance. Without error.

We’re turning more and more of our most basic and timeless brain functions over to machines. What happens to the human race, to the human brain if say 50 years from now most people can’t get from point A to B without machines. What if 100 years from now there are no people, cabbies or otherwise, who can recall in their brain the entire map of a city on command?

Tech freaks will convince you their future world is going to be a swell place for us. Where technology can and will make all our lives easier.

At what cost? Technology is just a tool. The human brain, human thought, human knowledge are supposed to be timeless and eternal. I’m not sure what happens next.

an ode to flight

In the last three weeks I’ve been all over the map.  I have no idea how many individual flights it was.  I literally can’t remember.  Was it 8, 13, 17, who knows?  All I know is where I ended up.

But the thought occurred to me just how darn routine air travel is.  You show up, you fly, you get to where you need to go.  Sure there are delays and occasional customer service nightmares, but it’s statistically about 700 times safer than your drive to the airport.

We take it all for granted.  The last major Western carrier to lose a plane was Air France Flight 447, an Airbus A330 which fell into the Atlantic on June 1, 2009 killing 228 aboard.

In other words, for nearly eight years the airlines have a crash record of 100%.  This is insane.  Given the complexities involved you’d think bad things would happen all the time.  Nothing ever works 100% of the time.  I think even washing machines hurt more people each year.

When you really think about it, it’s pretty cool.  It shows that when we’re serious, humanity can do some real awesome stuff.  It’s mind boggling that it’s this way.  Yet it happens.  Take a moment to relish it.

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safer than locking yourself in your own closet

the Giant Octopi are pleased

So I’m on a 737 full of live humans bound for Chicago Midway.  We’re all getting settled in for a quite brief flight of only two hours.  The flight attendant makes her usual announcements and then casually mentions that the aircraft wifi is not working.

About 1/3 of the plane gasps in frustration or offers a bunch of “ohh”s.  Kind of like if you’re at a hockey game, and the home team fires a shot that just misses and clangs off the pipe, and the whole hometown crowd yells “ohh”.  That’s what the plane sounded like.

I shook my head, and continued to read my paper magazine who’s design was originally modeled in 1632.  Apparently folks can’t do without access to the Internets for a whole two hours.  The Giant Octopi are pleased.  They’ve got humanity wrapped around their little finger.

At the time of this incident, Bezos, Zucky, and all the other Giant Octopi goons suddenly got the urge to smile.  They didn’t know why, but I did.

Gee wiz people, read a book, talk to somebody, stare at the back of the tray table and let your mind wander.  Anything at all will do.  But do please unplug from time to time.

oh, no

I’ve connected through Houston Bush before, but that was years ago.  So I deplane and as soon as I get out the gate I notice there’s a bunch of small screens everywhere.  The normal waiting areas with rows of chairs were apparently replaced with tables.  Each individual seat had a tablet in front of it.

I didn’t think much of it at first.  I had a quick hour to grab food before the next flight.  I ended up at a place called Bam Bam for Vietnamese.  I sit down at the bar, and I’m face-to-face with another tablet.

Oh, no.

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It’s the future.  Today!

It took me about five minutes to realize no bartender was coming to see me.  I figured out on my own that to get a beer or order food I had to use the tablet.  Then I had to swipe my credit card right on the spot.

Even after you’re done ordering, there’s this still that evil screen right in front of you.  They continuously bombard you with ads, proposed money games, and whatever else.  You can’t turn the damn thing off, at least not that I could figure out.

The beer was local Texas good, they had a great banh-mi, and a so-so salad.  But I couldn’t get over the darn screen.  I want a quiet beer and meal.  And maybe to watch sports behind the bar.  Not get ads shoved in my face.  Note the company logos on the shot above from the many, many usual suspects of the Giant Octopi.  I should have put a napkin over the thing.

I’m an introvert.  So you better believe it’s a legit problem when I say I actually genuinely missed ordering my food and drink from a real live person.  To actually engage in conversation with a fellow human.

I eventually figured out the screen thing, but almost nobody else did.  Other folks coming in were exasperated with trying to work it out.  And they got frustrated as the one poor waiter had to walk them through it.

Business consultants told Bam Bam and Houston Bush that there would be friction during the “initiation period”.  But that eventually customers will get used to using this technology on a regular basis to order.  Then they can save 47% on restaurant personnel costs once all orders are handled in this electronic manner.

This is the future.  Every single moment of your time is one giant opportunity for somebody to shove ads in your face.  Everyone notice the new gas pumps?  Where they throw ads at you in the 49 seconds it takes to pump your gas?

Machines probably won’t totally take over every job.  You won’t see a full blown robot bartender.  Instead you’ll see various aspects of humanity removed from the equation.  Technology will destroy jobs on the margins.  Instead of six waiters a restaurant will have two.  What are the other four newly unemployed humans supposed to do?

If you believe the wizards of the future, technology will free those four people to go become artists, or learn a new trade like plumbing, or whatever.  What I suspect will happen instead is that society will generally continue to become poorer and more unequal.

When traveling, I don’t think I’ll do this again.  If I see a screen like this again, I’m walking away.  I’ll take my cash to a business that employs humans.  And if every bar stool on the planet has a screen one day?  I don’t know what I’ll do, but that’ll be a sad, sad day.

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The future can kiss my ass.

why is it only now that folks think Uber is evil?

I’ve always been fascinated by the selective enforcement of opinion some folks display. This is because, in general, I try to be somewhat consistent in what I say and do. Like all humans, I fail at this all the time, but I do try.

For example, for half-a-decade Uber has been the cool little thing for folks to use. It’s been the trendy, young, urban way to get around oh so many metropolitan areas. But now, all of a sudden, Uber is evil. Why?

Well, first off the impression was (incorrectly) that Uber had sided with Trump (that guy folks don’t like) against airport taxi drivers striking against the immigration plan. Then, Uber’s Overlord Travis Kalanick had flamed one of his own drivers with the oh so memorable line, “Some people don’t like to take responsibility for their own shit.”

So now, folks want to delete Uber. There’s a hashtag or a messenger pigeon that says so, or something like that. Why?

A few things here:

1) Uber has always been evil

Since its beginning, Kalanick has always had a reputation (even within the Silicon Valley lifelines, which is saying something) of being a dirty asshole. For instance, once upon a time Uber got caught creating fake Lyft profiles which called for Lyft rides when nobody was actually there. Generally speaking, you would think one would like to purchase a product from a company that at least tries to conduct itself in a moral manner. But I specifically remember this incident getting largely ignored. I doubt anybody gave it even a second thought before they opened the app those few years back. Why was there not a delete Uber campaign back then?

Sure, Uber taxis were cleaner and their drivers polite and usually well dressed, but did folks realize that in most cases those same drivers were making substantially less money than a normal taxi driver? Or that Uber basically railroads them on costs and percentages? I have in my mind, a bunch of cool, hip youngsters. They go protest for a $15 minimum wage for fast food workers. They get back and forth from the protest, by taking Uber.

2) This is how Silicon Valley thinks

“Some people don’t like to take responsibility for their own shit,” should now become the motto of Silicon Valley. I’ve got some news for all you cool earnest young people with your cool trendy apps and expensive phones: everybody in Silicon Valley thinks this way. They just don’t foolishly admit it like Kalanick did. These are ultra-Type A people who believe that success or failure in Silicon Valley (aka Life) is almost entirely dependent upon raw skill. In other words, Kalanick is rich because he is awesome. Those who are poor or fail are not awesome. And it’s their own fault.

Generally I tend to believe in the idea that we each can make our own life. Success or failure is in our own hands. But I also acknowledge that there are various intangible factors that can shape how hard it is for folks to make it in life. Kalanick is the son or a marketer and an engineer and went to a private high school. Does he make Uber happen if he was born in say West Baltimore? Or how about if Kalanick was a recent immigrant who drives for Uber? But in Kalanick’s brain, it’s not like that. People who drive for Uber are losers. If they were winners, they’d take responsibility for their own shit and get a better job.

3) The cool factor

Again, it’s always been like this, but only now has Uber crossed over and is thus evil. Why? The cool factor. If you are cool, you can (mostly) get away with anything. Steve Jobs is basically considered a demigod. Apple is the cool of cool. But Jobs (in true Silicon Valley style) was also an asshole. At one point Apple got caught colluding with book publishers to cheat the price offered to consumers. Ostensibly it was to undercut Amazon’s growing market dominance, but it’s still basically a Monopoly Man moment. Apple cheated its customers. Jobs got caught sending e-mails to The Mini Monopoly Man himself in James Murdoch trying to boost prices. Guess what? Nobody cared.

People still think Apple is the coolest thing on the planet. Your average Apple junkie either never heard of this incident, or mentally just wrote it off. Oh, Jobs tried to cheat me? Eh, but Apple is so cool. My iPhone is the coolest!

I think it was the same way with Uber. But I guess, even cool can only take you so far. So now Uber is less cool, and perhaps even evil.

Hmm, Apple, take note!