Archive for April, 2011

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Tell tale signs a person doesn’t get a computer

April 20, 2011

Having spent the majority of my professional life working with people who are, for lack of a better term, idiots when it comes to computer stuff, I’ve picked up on a few tell-tale traits that, while a person may know how to check their email and shop on Amazon, indicate the person really doesn’t ‘get’ computers.  Here are a few examples:

1.    They insist on putting the word ‘the’ in front of internet related nouns.  The most prevalent are, ‘The Google,’ ‘The Powerpoint,’ and ‘The photoshop.’ 

2.    They use internet related nouns as verbs, but without a sense of irony.  “It’s been photoshopped” being a good example. 

3.    They double click on hyperlinks.

4.    They misuse software applications.  A personal favorite is building a powerpoint slide and embedding an excel sheet inside it, rather than simply using excel, like the good lord intended.  Another good one is wanting to buy photoshop so you can remove red-eye and crop pictures.  If you don’t understand why this is stupid, then you are not a computer person.

All of these are good tell-tale signs, but they are largely small things and the people that do them have very little negative impact on their workforce as a result.  Of much greater concern are people who do have a great deal of influence in the development of the cyber world and who also exhibit tell-tale signs of not really ‘getting it.’  For these people, the biggest give away can be found in the articles they write for defense oriented publications.  Here are three good examples from the latest issue of Strategic Studies Quarterly, the premier Air Force published journal on all things air, space, and cyber technology related. 

From the introduction:

“I have compared our entry into cyberspace to mankind’s last great era of discovery European colonization of the Western Hemisphere. During that period, large private corporations like the Hudson Bay Company and the East India Tea Company acted with many of the attributes of sovereignty. What of that experience is instructive today for contemplating the appropriate roles of giants like Google and Facebook? We probably do not want to outfit twenty-first-century cyber privateers with letters of marque and reprisal, but what should be the relationship between large corporations and the government when private networks on which the government depends are under sustained attack?”

“Tough questions all-tougher (perhaps) but not unlike those our air¬power ancestors faced nearly a century ago. As pioneer air warriors grappled with the unfamiliar, so must we.”

From the lead article:

“The topology of the Internet, like the prairie of the 1800s’ Ameri¬can Midwest is about to be changed forever-rationally, conflictually, or collaterally-by the decisions of states.”

See the tell?  It’s the painful attempt at putting the issues associated with cyber into a context that, apparently, Roy Rogers can understand.  The cyber world cannot be viewed as if it behaves in the same way as the real world, for the simple reason that the cyber world does not have any stable boundaries.  This mistaken belief that you can somehow control or partition the internet is fueled by imagery that compares cyberspace to vast tracts of land.  The problem is that, unlike cyber space, land is finite, it has clearly defined boundaries, and it does not change.  Mexico and the U.S. can argue about the border because THEY KNOW WHERE IT IS!  You can’t say the same about cyber related issues where there are no stable boundaries, no clear lines of jurisdiction, and no way of telling where a problem originated.

 I’d be less worried about all this, except the people who wrote those above lines are really big players in the cyber/defense world, and to see them using these sorts of folksy literary devices that mask the true nature of the cyber world does not give me the warm and fuzzy that our government is equipped to handle this new world.  If we are retain control of the cyber world, we must first recognize that the cyber world is unlike anything in our history and its associated issues cannot be viewed through the same lens as more traditional areas of conflict.  Otherwise, we risk repeating the mistakes of the 1920’s naval treaties where governments limited the gross tonnage and size of each others navies in an attempt to avoid a naval arms race, when in reality, unbeknownst to all but a few keen observers, the carrier based aircraft (which was not restricted by any treaty because no one thought it was a viable weapon) was about to become the deciding factor in naval warfare.see how easy it is to create misleading historical/cyber related metaphors?

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If LBJ was President…

April 13, 2011

The other day someone I worked with mentioned a story that said that if LBJ was President, none of this near-government-shutdown-crap would have happened.  The argument was that LBJ was such a hard-ass negotiator and so good at herding cats that he would have whipped everybody into shape and we’d all be happy.  As a student of American history, most recently Presidential history (I’m on Teddy Roosevelt right now) I firmly believe that any historical analogy that places a pre-cable news political figure into a modern political problem is utter nonsense.  The perpetual existence of 24/7 cable news (CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News) and associated internet news sites, organizations whose only purpose is to remain profitable, has had a massive negative impact on our politics and contributed immeasurably to our overall decline as a nation.  First, a couple things to keep in mind: 

1.    The purpose of a news organization is not to serve the public interest; it is to advance a specific political ideology and to make money in the process.  This was well understood prior to the advent of television, when ad dollars suddenly became important, at which point television networks began convincing people they were objective reporters of the news in order to attract a broader audience and command greater ad revenue. 

2.    News media serves as a check against the government, but only when it makes financial sense to do so.

3.    Rarely does more than one hour’s worth of newsworthy events occur in a 24 hour period, meaning the remaining 23 are unnecessary. 

4.    Internet News is like porn; no matter what your tastes, no matter how specific your views, there is a website that will happily cater to your every desire.

5.    News media is self-perpetuating:  It exists to justify its existence, which results in the inflation of events’ importance, endless repetition, and manufactured controversy that does not represent that true state of American affairs. 

6.    News Media has a vested financial interest in creating tension and disruption in the political process.  People working together to resolve problems in boring and not profitable.

The result of these tenants is a fractured American populace which, egged on if not outright directed by the media, is becoming more partisan, more willing to demonize the opposition, and more convinced that those actions are both a normal and healthy part of the American political process.  Intense hatred and vitriol are standard fare for American politics (and in fact, used to be much more intense compared to today’s relatively tame political slurs) but they were always relegated to the fringes, not dragged to the center and repeated to the point that people began to accept it as a mainstream view. 

American politics and the media have always been intrinsically linked and that will not change.  What has changed is the nature of the media – it’s never ending coverage of the trivial, it’s constant elevation of the irrelevant, it’s revealing insistence of it’s own neutrality, and it’s desperately cyclical need for content, have resulted in a populace that is less informed and less willing to work with the opposing side to resolve common problems.  If only there was some way to reach the people and convince them of the validity of my argument…some sort of internet-based means for communicating ideas…oh well….I guess we’re just screwed.