Friday, December 9, 2016

YouTube is our Culture: Digitized and Cataloged

I just watched YouTube's annual year-in-review video, "#YouTubeRewind", which compiles pop culture icons and fads of the past year. (See below). While I don't watch as many YouTube videos or stay on top of pop culture trends as much as I used to, I still recognize many of the references.
As I was watching, it got me thinking about how interesting it is that YouTube has become the de facto repository for the great majority of our culture.
Naturally music, videos, and other media is easily uploaded and shared on YouTube. However, even more interesting is how all of this is referenced and grown exponentially from, not just primary content creators, but by hundreds of incredibly popular cover artists, commentators, satirists, etc.
Of course, other social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter aid in the word-of-mouth circulation, but YouTube hosts most of the content. Second in visits, only to, over 1.3 billion YouTube viewers watch over 3.25 billion hours of videos per month.
In today's hyper-politicized climate, it is impossible not to look at how YouTube is contributing. Also like Facebook and Twitter, YouTube has become somewhat of an echo chamber for different ideologies. You can find innumerable supporters of every philosophical belief that present their case for support and the comments section may be even more polarizing than other social media sites.
I'm curious to see how, and if, YouTube chooses to address this. As visual evidence can be much stronger than written word, it has the potential to help bridge the gap and promote discussion across ideological lines. I won't hold my breath hoping that it will happen, but it will be interesting to see if it, or Google as a whole, chooses to engage in diffusing polarization of views... or remain neutral and just continue to spread the joy of cat videos.
Not a long post, but I thought the video was fun and wanted to highlight the evolution of YouTube from video-sharing website to a larger platform that is representative of our collective culture.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Will Snapchat's IPO Reinflate the Startup Bubble?

2016 has been a slow year for startup IPOs, but Snapchat has been in the news recently for their projected upcoming debut and the valuation it is expected to receive. At $25 billion, it would be more than Google's back in 2004.
I've previously written about the Startup Bubble and its deflation, but investors took it easy in 2016 and are itching to get back into the game.
Tech Insider: Chart of the Day
Obviously, inflation probably contributes a little (Google's IPO valuation in 2016 dollars would be about $29.4 billion) and Snapchat has become more than a simple messaging service made famous for the potentially scandalous, time-sensitive, disappearing messages it enables.
However, this still seems excessive for what has been a very conservative year in terms of startup valuations and a deflating of a perceived Startup Bubble. Yes, it is one of the few companies able to reach the younger (18-34) demographics; but, as Facebook knows, interest fades quickly, especially when their parents start to join.
Venture Capital firms and other investors have money in their pockets and are anxious to invest, so reinflation of the bubble seems like it only needs a small push to get going again. Fortunately, I think most tech investors are more disciplined and would not let it get out of hand, but I'm not so sure about the rest of the market/public.
One interesting aspect of Snapchat is its ability to monetize. Facebook took years to do so and, even at its IPO, told investors not to judge it on standard financial and earnings metrics. Google and other Silicon Valley giants are still struggling to find the secret formula to mobile ads and the dust still hasn't settled on what will consistently work.
So on one hand, it's a innovative, fast-moving company that has found a unique way to advertise. On the other, it's a messaging app that (for now) appeals to the ever-finicky preferences of the younger demographic.
A $25 billion IPO is significant and it's first-day open and closing prices will be interesting to watch and see how the rest of the industry and world view the company. Even more interesting will be how quickly Snapchat will continue to evolve and if it can have staying power over the next few years.
What are your thoughts on whether it will kickstart a new age of successful tech IPOs or initiate the new startup bubble?

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Self-Driving Cars

Now in Pittsburgh, Uber's "self-driving" car!
I'm a huge fan of self-driving cars.
For those who know me well, this may seem counter-intuitive to my general belief in free will and independence, but I would give up the independence of driving myself to the promise of a safer, traffic-free future with consistently predictably travel times and the ability to utilize time currently spent driving.
I believe the automobile industry and the infrastructure supporting it are in for a massive change in the coming years.
Here are a few quick of my thoughts on the topic and I would love to hear yours in the comments section below.
1. Every year, thousands of people are injured or killed in automobile-related accidents. The majority of these are the result of operator-error and could be avoided if cars were more intelligent.
For example, Google's fleet of self-driving cars have been in relatively few accidents. However, almost all of the crashes were not the fault of the Google car, rather operator-error on behalf of the other cars (and people) involved.
Also, as CPG Grey explained, human nature works against us when driving and actually causes more traffic and build ups at the slightest stimulus.
The point I'm trying to make is that people are terrible drivers and automating that aspect of life would make things safer and less stressful for everyone.
2. Every car must stand alone with limited interconnectivity to other cars.
Early concepts for a self-driving utopia focused on a central computer that would monitor and control all the cars within its system. Obvious now, this is not viable option as the computing power necessary to do this would be immense and the hand-off between systems (whether it is towns, states, or countries) would be complicated.
The advances in machine intelligence have made it possible for each vehicle to independently have it's own "mind" and ability to think for itself, reacting much like each person does, but at a much higher rate with more logical decision-making.
There are several companies working on their own vehicles to solve this problem, the most notable being GoogleUberTesla, (potentially) Apple, and the numerous established car manufacturers who have either partnered together or with other tech companies.
It is still very early, but it will be interesting to see how these different strategies play out and if there will be a consolidation of platforms/software. If so, who will win?
3. While creating the next generation of cars with self-driving capabilities is important, there are a whole lot of cars on the road that we need to consider. This is why I believe the ability to update existing vehicles will be a major need as the industry moves forward.
This is why there is a growing interesting in the company Started by George Hotz, one of the first to jailbreak the iPhone, he has already hacked his own car and is creating a software package that will enable existing cars to be retrofitted with self-driving capabilities for $999.
Another player in this area is Mobileye, which was working with Tesla to power their Autopilot functionality. However, the two companies have since severed their partnership.
4. Despite the efficiency and safety that would be gained from a fully automated transportation system, I still believe in the ability for someone to disable the self-driving features.
This is not just as a precaution to the robot/AI revolution, but to guarantee the right of free will and not allow any one person, corporation, or government to be able to dictate where you are able to travel to and from. Not that I expect it to happen but, for a simplified example: imagine your Apple-controlled car blocking you from traveling to a Microsoft store, or a Google-car requiring you to log all your travel for better targeted ads.

There is a considerable way to go before we have a system that is 100% automated, if we get there at all, but with every advancement in technology, it is good to keep in mind the unintended consequences that may result.
Any other thoughts on the future of self-driving vehicles or consequences of it?

Friday, October 7, 2016

Doing Business in Europe: Google vs. Microsoft

A couple of interesting stories came out on Monday that I thought highlighted two different strategies companies may take when doing business in Europe. They show a wizened Microsoft deftly navigating the European market, meanwhile Google is the juvenile pup still pushing to find its limits.
First was a Reuters article that reiterated the EU's antitrust ruling against Google for pre-installing software (Google Search and Chrome browser) on its Android operating system.
Alphabet's Google has been given until the end of October, the fourth extension, to rebut EU antitrust charges that it uses its dominant Android mobile operating system to block competitors, the European Commission said on Monday.
The Commission in April said the U.S. technology giant's demand that mobile phone makers pre-install Google Search and the Google Chrome browser on their smartphones to access other Google apps harms consumers and competition.
Oddly enough, the same justification was used against Microsoft and their practice of installing the Explorer browser on all Windows machines in both the EU and the United States.
Which brings me to the other article which detailed Microsoft's $3 billion investment in Europe to promote its cloud services.
Microsoft Corp. has spent more than $3 billion building up its cloud infrastructure in Europe, including $1 billion in the past year, part of Chief Executive Officer Satya Nadella’s push to win customers over rivals such as Inc. and Google.
Next year the software maker will open data centers in France as the company continues its investment, Nadella said in an interview Sunday. Microsoft already has more than doubled its computing capacity to deliver Internet-based services in the region, including a network of centers in various European countries to address laws and preferences for keeping data stored locally.
I wanted to highlight these two cases because I think it is amusing that Google is running into the same fundamental problems Microsoft did, but is not learning from their mistakes. As was the case when Microsoft was at its height and 90% of the PC market was Windows, Google expects to leverage the popularity of its Android operating system and muscle its way through. Conversely, having learned its lesson, Microsoft is now localizing its business to appease the EU and play by its rules.
I generally do not agree with the EU's overzealous antitrust crusading but, as I believe companies should be allowed to install programs of their choice on their products, the EU is free to govern as they wish. Regardless of your opinion, the fact is that companies doing business in the Eurozone must comply with their laws.
However, as Microsoft is proving, this can be mutually beneficial for both parties. The EU gets compliance with its laws and grows its local economies. Microsoft gets to develop its business and, I'm sure, receives some preferential treatment or tax credits.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

IoT Toys (Part 2)

Continuing from my first IoT Toys post, here are a few more products I've been playing around with:

amazonechoAmazon Echo

I have an Amazon Echo and Echo Dot and enjoy them both. I use the Echo more often because it's placed in my bedroom and I use it to check the weather and news in the morning. The Dot is connected to my living room A/V receiver, so I primarily use it to play music or adjust the thermostat when I'm too lazy to walk to my Nest or open the app. (Ah, the joys and sloth of modern convenience!)
As I indicated, in addition to being a voice-activated question-and-answer (like Siri or Google), the most interesting part about Echo is the fact that Amazon has built an IoT platform around it. I can control my Nest thermostat by talking to my Echo and you can also connect it to a host of other devices (partial list here).
Industry/Company Thoughts:
Part 1 introduced Google's upcoming competitor to Echo, so Amazon will have to keep innovating quickly and form more partnerships (or buy the companies) to further integrate users into their ecosystem and create more value for theirs instead of Google's, or even Apple's.
This will be difficult because both Google and Apple customers have significant brand loyalty and switching costs due to their smartphone dominance. However, Amazon has established itself with its Prime membership, integrating Amazon Music, Videos, and several other services to its platform. Also, because Amazon is more of a third party to the smartphone wars, it isn't as mutually exclusive to be a user as it is for Google vs. Apple.
What could really set Amazon ahead of Google and Apple in the IoT space would be for easy integration and tools for their Amazon Web Services (AWS) customers. The proliferation of connect devices will continue to increase exponentially over the next decade (Cisco estimates there will be 50 billion devices by 2020, approximately 6.6 devices per person), so it will be critical for any company providing enterprise infrastructure to easily integrate their products.
I loved Amazon's strategy introducing Echo. They simply introduced the product and responded to consumers on quantity and features; then they quickly followed up on Echo's success by introducing the Tap and Dot. (Interestingly, the Tap is no longer listed in the "Echo Family" and is now on sale. It was not a very compelling product, as it is not hands free, so I assume this is due to low demand and the first steps to phasing it out).
Being the first significant platform in the IoT/Connected Home space gives Amazon a significant head start, but Google and Apple have plans to enter in the near future. It will need to continuing leveraging its strong foothold to fend off competition, but it is in a very good position. Amazon is already a mainstay in people's homes (for both Echo and, of course, ecommerce) and I've yet to meet anyone who doesn't use Amazon to buy something. Google has a history of hardware flops, but its advantages in software and machine learning should make things interesting. Apple is on the decline in the home; I hear fewer and fewer instances of Siri being used and I'm not sure how many new customers it attracts for Apple TV. More than the sales of each new iPhone, I believe its voice-activated concierge will play a significant role in the future success (or decline) of the company.


I recently bought an Automatic and have been playing around with it for the past few months. You plug the device into the diagnostic port in your car and it tracks and summarizes a number of different driving metrics and gives you a score to encourage more fuel efficient driving habits.
For example, it will beep at you when you brake or accelerate too aggressively or drive over 70 miles per hour (a preset limit determined by the company) and provides a "dashboard" that summarizes and visualizes this data for you.
Automatic Dashboard. Sample from
I actually haven't adjusted my driving that much based on Automatic's input, nor am I overly concerned with my score, but I can see the value of those features. New drivers, in particular, could benefit from using it.
As it is tied in to the car's diagnostic port, another benefit of Automatic is that it can decipher error codes from your car. So rather than having to bring it to the shop every time a warning light flashes, you can more easily determine what's wrong and decide on what corrective action you want to take before they try to gouge you. Also, if it senses that you have been in a crash, it will automatically message whoever you set as your emergency contact(s).
In general, the product itself isn't too useful for everyday driving, but the data it gathers is interesting to look at and analyze. It's probably too much information for the average driver but, for stat geeks and the curious, tracking things like: battery charge/discharge history, driving habits compared to others, and seeing your entire driving history mapped out are really cool.
Industry/Company Thoughts:
I'm not sure what is next for Automatic, but if management is smart they're already planning long-term strategy. The company just released a 3G-connected version (the older model required a smartphone to sync data), but I hope that's not the end of development and they are coming out with additional products soon.
I agree with John Zimmer (Lyft) and Elon Musk (Tesla) that single-owner car ownership is fading quickly, so I don't think the current product line will sustain Automatic in the long-term. However, tracking metrics for shared vehicles could be useful and, in general, the more data that is collected the better to make good decisions. Perhaps Automatic could transform into a sensors and metrics analysis company targeting the automotive industry.

bluesmartBluesmart One

Bluesmart is one of the big success stories to come out of crowdfunding. The founders raised over $2.2 million on indiegogo back in 2014 and have actually delivered products to all their backers.
I was one of the many (over 10,000) backers and received my suitcase last year. I've taken it on a few trips and, in general, like the product. However, there are many things to improve upon and hopefully those changes will make it into the next version.
The Good: The feature I probably use the most is the internal battery which has two USB ports to charge your electronics and powers the suitcase itself. Not having to scrounge or fight for outlets when you're running low on power is a huge plus, especially on multi-leg trips with long layovers. product_slider_6_2x
Another part about the suitcase that I love is the outside pocket that can hold your phone, tablet, and laptop, and has enough room for several other quick access items. When the suitcase is unlocked, you access the pocket by lifting the top flap and peel it away. The flap is magnetic and will automatically close and seal itself back up so all your things will not be out in the open.
The Average: The company touts several other features that seem cool, but aren't all that useful in practice all of which are controlled by a smartphone app (which is mediocre in itself, but has improved since launch). These features are: GPS/location tracking, built-in scale, and remote locking.
As this is meant to be a carry-on, the location tracking and remote locking features aren't that useful unless someone steals your luggage or you simply forget it somewhere. On the plus side, if you enable the feature, you can have the bag automatically lock when it goes out of range of your bluetooth signal; but again, this is mostly useful if it is stolen.
Even if you were thinking about checking it, I would be hesitant to do so as I'm not sure how well it would fare being tossed around; and if you're buying one at full price, $449 (or $599 for the "Black Edition") is an expensive gamble.
The scale is a nice feature and is preferable to the weigh-yourself-then-weigh-yourself-carrying-you-bag method, but the bag is pretty small and with the electronics, it has even less volume for you things, which brings us to...
The Bad: As I was leading to above, the space inside the suitcase is pretty small. There should be enough room for most weekend trips, but would not be sufficient for anything longer. I will say, if you're not opposed to checking a bag, this is fine because you can pack enough in the Bluesmart for a couple days if you lose your checked luggage.
Industry/Company Thoughts:
Overall, Bluesmart made a great first pass at making "smart" luggage and showed there is a demand for it. However, the company will need to capitalize on what it has learned from the One and create its next product. The "Black Edition" improved the durability of the body and wheels, but that does little to further the electronic technologies.
With its existing technologies in mind, I think Bluesmart could produce a fantastic larger bag that is meant to be checked when flying. The scale, lock, and location tracker are all features I want in my larger bags. There may be a small concern if they use lithium-ion batteries ("hoverboards" and the Samsung Note 7 have show the dangers of poorly made ones), but I doubt it would give them much trouble.
It is still a time of trial-and-error (or "fail fast" is the favorite buzzword now) for the industry, so companies and customers are trying to find which products and what features they value most. I really enjoy having more data on all of my possessions, so the development of the IoT industry and the prospect of connecting more devices together is exciting to me.
Hopefully devices don't get too smart.

Monday, October 3, 2016

IoT Toys (Part 1)

I figured my first "real" post would be a bit lighter and more fun, before diving more deeply, so I wanted to start with one of my favorite fast-growing industries and one that I believe will have profound, lasting effect on the way we live.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is a broad category for the network of devices that are "connected" to the internet. IoT is closely associated with and populated by "smart" devices. I put both in quotations, because some devices are not directly connected to the web, nor are they smart on their own. Many rely on a connection to a smartphone (Bluetooth or other) to upload and process incoming data.
As someone who prefers to be an early-adopter, I try to obtain and have hands-on experience with IoT devices when I can.
Here are a few of the devices I own and my thoughts on the companies that produce them:
(Split into two posts, so they would not be too long).

6cb797ae-c570-4718-83f5-fdd6575613ec_1-459ca8fb52cfa59b609324aaadc20602Fitbit Charge HR

Fitbit is probably the most prolific smart device company with over 29 million units sold (as of January 2016 and millions more sold since then).
Because the industry is still developing, wearables are generally little more than worn sensors with little analysis or extrapolation of that data. Fitbit does calculate distance and calories burned off of the number of steps taken and your physical measurements, but its more of an estimation than personalized algorithm.
That said, I continue to wear mine simply because I enjoy tracking my personal metrics and the heart rate monitor is a good first indicator of overall health. I doubt that Fitbit has created the perfect formula for activity trackers, many people agree as can be seen by their recently falling stock price, but I think they are improving and helping to advance the industry.
Industry/Company Thoughts:
The arrival of mainstream wearable technology has been predicted for years (how long ago did we see Alan Alda play with the "wearable computer" on Scientific American?), but it's yet to truly mature and hit the mainstream. I doubt that the future is just activity trackers and the first company to find the best utility for users will make it big.
Fitbit needs to continue to evolve their products and experiment with features to see what consumers really value and want in their products. If it fails to do so and relies on their existing products, business will stagnate and I doubt the company will exist on its own in two years.


Nest Thermostat

I've had my Nest for several years and I love it.
Remote access and not having to remember to turn down my thermostat when I leave are probably the biggest benefits, but it also "learns" your preferences and adjusts accordingly.
For example, in the summer I like to cool the bedroom down before going to bed. Nest has learned this behavior and turns the temperature down around my bedtime each weeknight (weekends my schedule is more varied so there is less of a discernible pattern).
In addition to the Thermostat, Nest sells a Smoke + CO Alarm, Indoor camera, and, recently released, Outdoor camera. While I really enjoy having my Nest Thermostat, my thoughts on the rest of the company and its products are less optimistic.
The Smoke + CO Alarm ($99) is overpriced for its utility, as are the two cameras ($199), particularly because you have to pay a yearly fee if you want recorded video service (minimum $100/year for 10 days of video).
Industry/Company Thoughts:
Nest purchased Dropcam to obtain its camera product-line in 2014. It sold them branded as Dropcam until recently and just released the outdoor camera this year. The fact that it took so long to rebrand is confusing and should have been a quick and easy change.
There have been rumblings that Nest is being mismanaged by its executives and Google (purchased for $3.2 billion in early 2014) and the company is not doing well financially. This is disappointing to me because I have followed Nest closely from the start and thought it showed much promise.
I wrote a paper back in 2014 about the state of Nest and what I thought it needed to do to succeed. The focal point of my suggestion was to establish Nest as the platform for an IoT household. I believe it tried to do this through the "Works With Nest" program, in which it partnered with various other IoT companies to expand Nest functionality, and its purchase of Revolv, but integration and execution was underwhelming and recently shutdown Revolv.
Nest missed out on a huge opportunity that is being realized by Amazon and its line of Echo products. (Which I will cover in my next post!) Maybe it's just Google's hardware curse but, as I pointed out, management seems to be a part of the problem and that generally indicates poor strategy/roll-out.
Parent company Google has plans for an Echo competitor, Google Home. Hopefully this will establish a strong foothold in the IoT space for Google and, indirectly, refocus attention to Nest and its products. Currently, Amazon has a significant lead as the first mover and it looks like Home will be more limited in its integration than Echo, but I expect that list will grow. Also, Google's excellent machine-learning, software expertise, and omnipresence in all things tech (imagine full integration with your Google account and devices) should be enough to make Home a solid product and competitor to Echo.
As I mentioned, the Thermostat is a great product that I love, but Nest's other products are not as appealing. Unfortunately, it appears Nest's future lies in the hands of Google and its line of complementary products as Nest is not yet self-sustaining and its current trajectory looks shaky.

Thoughts on any of the products/companies I mentioned or IoT in general?
Stay tuned for Part 2!

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Who Watches the Watchmen?

I don't know why I do it, but every once in a while I check on the Facebook pages of 'The Free Thought Project' and 'Police the Police'. Every time I get incredibly frustrated and wish I hadn't...

As you could guess, both are pretty "anti-establishment", with one generally focused on government incompetency and the other on excessive police force/brutality/idiocy.

I wish I could have more faith in government and police, and I'm sure there are hundreds of cases where things work out in a more calm/logical manner, but it's cases like these that make me believe people are best served when their lives are impacted least by everyone other than themselves.

Not much else to say, so if you're interested, here are a few examples:


Cops Pull Gun on Armed Black Man at DUI Checkpoint — You Wont Believe What Happens Next
Video uploaded to YouTube recently shows a man in Newington, Connecticut, refusing to fall for Police State tactics of intimidation at a police checkpoint — widely known as a sobriety or DUI checkpoint, but in reality what amounts to an excuse for cops to surveil and keep tabs on citizens.


VIDEO: Family Outraged After Cop Pulls Over Entire Funeral Procession for Driving Too Slow
The CHP is under fire this week after one of their finest pulled over an entire funeral procession for driving too slow. 
In an ostensible attempt to prevent a traffic problem caused by the procession, the CHP officer caused a far worse problem after having 100 cars stopped along the freeway. 
The incident was captured on cell phone video as the family members were embarrassingly detained on the roadside during this somber time. 
A uniformed officer was acting as an escort for the procession as the cars drove to Forest Lawn Cemetery when they were stopped by another officer, apparently drunk on power.



EXCLUSIVE: Local Govt Seeks Vengeance Against Red Light Robin Hood for Exposing Deadly Conspiracy
Unwilling to sacrifice innocent lives for millions of dollars in gross revenue, a nonviolent vigilante known as the Red Light Robin Hood admittedly sabotaged traffic cameras in order to call attention to drastically shortened yellow lights endangering lives in his community. While facing numerous felony and misdemeanor charges for tampering with the highly profitable cameras, Stephen Ruth has recently become targeted by the local politicians who signed the red light cameras into existence. 
After receiving several $80 tickets in the mail along with his priest and other members of his community, Ruth posted a video last year instructing people how to point traffic cameras into the air by using a painter’s extension rod. Instead of hiding his identity, Ruth openly admitted his actions and was charged with four counts of third-degree criminal tampering and four counts of second-degree obstruction of governmental administration. 
Earlier this month, Ruth was arrested again after admitting during an interview with CBS2 that he cut the wires of at least 18 traffic cameras in an attempt to save lives lost by shortened yellow lights. In an exclusive interview with The Free Thought Project, Ruth admitted, “I specifically cut the Cablevision wires and left the rest of the wires alone.”


"Bonus" from 'Filming Cops':
Instead of Saving Woman from Hostage Situation, Cops Shoot Her to Death and Cover it Up: Lawsuit
The family of a Long Island woman fatally shot in the head by a policeman during a hostage situation fired back with a lawsuit against the Nassau County Police Department, claiming it tried to cover up its officers’ constitutional violations. 
Andrea and Jessica Rebello — 21-year-old twins attending Hofstra University at the time — and John Kourtesis were held hostage by convicted felon Dalton Smith on May 17, 2013 in Uniondale, N.Y. 
Unaware they were confronting a hostage situation, officers and named defendants Joseph Avanzato, Nikolas Budimilic, Michael Leone and Marlon Sanders rolled up after getting a 5-second tip: “I have a guy in my house with a gun. He is holding my friends at gunpoint,” according to the May 16 federal complaint. 
Jessica managed to escape and tried to tell officers what was happening inside, but her words fell on deaf ears, she says in the 69-page lawsuit. 
Officer Budimilic spotted Smith at the top of the stairs, using Andrea as a “human shield” with his arm around her neck while trying to escape out the back. 
Budimilic and Smith squared off, and Budimlic fired at least eight shots, the lawsuit states. 
The second or third sets of shots killed Andrea Rebello, her family says. 
Smith, a 30-year-old from Hempstead, was hit twice and died. 
Officers did nothing to help the woman after she was hit, and stepped over her body to help their fellow officer. Budimlic lifted the woman off her assailant and leaned her onto the bottom of the stairs, her parents and sister say. 
The officer then “immediately began to scream hysterically over the airwaves” that he needed help, then reversed course and told his colleagues to stay off the air “in an attempt to keep all information about the shooting” under wraps, the family says. 
That’s when the cover-up began, the Rebellos say. They claim no investigation was ever conducted against the officer, and the NCPD was “selective and self-serving” when it did little to look into the matter. 
The department declined to comment on the lawsuit Tuesday afternoon.

If that's not enough to get you riled up, there are hundreds of other examples on their respective websites.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Ain't No Party Like a Third Party

With the Republican and Democratic nominees selected (sorry Bernie supporters, keep fighting, but I think the war is won), most Americans are facing the depressing prospect of voting for either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton.

In any other year, it would be significant news that Clinton is more disliked than any other candidate in recent history. However, in this historically awful election cycle, that fact is completely eclipsed because Trump is polling considerably worse:

(FiveThirty Eight)

If you're like a large segment of the voting population, you're probably pretty disappointed with this situation. Nearly a quarter of the population would not vote for either candidate. But on the positive side, you're not alone!

Even better, there is another choice!
Gary Johnson, former governor of New Mexico and 2012 candidate, is once again the Libertarian nominee for President of the United States.

While most people may believe voting for a third party is the same as "throwing away" their vote, (it's true, history has not been favorable to them) I believe this election is unique and, especially this year, supporting a third party candidate is not a waste for several reasons.

First, as noted above, both large party candidates are disliked.
This has translated to more voters open to other options than ever before. 47% would consider a third party candidate this year; that's up from 40% in 2012 and 38% in 2008.

Second, forget the "spoiler" narrative.
Johnson is pulling roughly equally from both Trump and Clinton; whereas, traditionally, Libertarians pulled more from Republicans. In fact, Johnson is polling higher than Clinton among Independents, but lower than Trump. In a race so tightly contested, it is valuable voice your opinion and force the "big two" candidates to come to you.

Third, this is not just about 2016, but for the future of the United States and the direction we wish to drive the narrative.
As I stated, it is valuable to state your opinion through your actions at the polls. True, it is unlikely that a third party candidate will win this year but, if Johnson (or Stein or others) gets significant support, future candidates will try much harder to win those votes. Thus, they must have have positions that more closely appeal to independents and libertarian-leaning voters.

Need more encouragement to diverge from the pack?
Some good synopses from ReasonTV:

Why Democrats Should Vote Libertarian This Year, According to Libertarian Party Members

Why Republicans Should Vote Libertarian This Year, According to Libertarian Party Members

If you're interested in reading more about this topic, here are a few other articles that go into more detail:

Friday, May 27, 2016

Hillary Supporters Want You To Give Up Your Right To Vote

Quick repost of one I made on Facebook.

Someone had posted this Slate article: "A Letter to a Bernie-or-Bust Voter: I get it. I was just like you once."

Typically, I don't respond to such blatant propaganda by Hillary supports, but this one was particularly agitating because it not only attacked Bernie for damaging Hillary's chances in the general election (which it will), but went after a fundamental right of American citizens.
The author encourages Bernie supporters to stop supporting their candidate for the sole reason of boosting Hillary. That is, he wants them to revoke their right to vote and, instead, blindly support the Democratic party's preferred candidate.

This is the dumbest thing I have ever read. 
I'm not the biggest Bernie fan, but this mentality is what got us here in the first place.
Instead of demanding the best candidates and the best of them, we concede to the "safe" candidate and settle for just "OK". 
Consider the current situation:
Sanders has long known that it was a near mathematical impossibility to win the nomination. However, he stayed in and fought.
In doing so he has helped pull Hillary further left (good or bad). Additionally, because of his vast support, he will now influence politics beyond the primaries.
Had he given in and dropped out months ago, this would not have happened. 
Like it or not (and whether or not his policies are fiscally possible), there are people who agree with his views. In a democracy this must be recognized and respected.
The past year, the Hillary campaign has acted like her nomination was a forgone conclusion. That's not how it works. 
Playing safe and simply trying not to mess up should not be a strategy. A campaign is meant to expose weaknesses and reveal a candidate's true self.
Unfortunately for Hillary, despite her best efforts, this is what ended up happening and only happened because Sanders remained in the race. 
So, sorry, Hillary supporters. You cannot silence a significant section of the population in the name of unity and #NeverTrump.  
By the way, for those unhappy with both Trump and Hillary, there is a viable 3rd party candidate that will be on the ballot in all 50 states. 
Gary Johnson is likely the Libertarian candidate and believes in a women's right to choose, legalizing marijuana, the rights of ALL people, and being smart about international policy. i.e. he will not get into endless wars (not just Iraq and Afghanistan, but in Syria and Libya). All of this and he will not spend the country into an unrecoverable deficit, only to pass it on to the next generation.
Maybe he'll win, maybe not. But don't for a second believe that you'd be "throwing away" your vote by expressing your opinion in a manner that many around the world are unable to do.

Thoughts on the article?

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Democratic Party finally Feeling the Bern

Words cannot express how much I love this.

Two recent articles:
'New York Times', May 18, 2016

'Slate', May 19, 2016

While I certainly do not agree with his policies and think his brand of 'Democratic Socialism' would be devastating for the country, the whole Bernie Sanders saga is incredibly amusing to me for several reasons:

1. Self-Inflicted Wound
The Democratic establishment is frantic to try to place the blame on Sanders and demand he step aside; meanwhile they are also trying to make excuses on how this is different from Clinton staying in until the end in 2008.
I feel no sympathy for Democrats because I believe they fell victim to one of their core beliefs, and the one I disagree with the most, which is that they believe they know what is best for the rest of the population.
Had the Democratic establishment not been too preoccupied with preparations for Hillary's coronation, they would not be in the mess they're in and could have avoided it in two ways:
First, having a more open and competitive primary would have brought Hillary's deficiencies out much sooner and they could have been addressed well before the summer and general election.
Second, paying closer attention to Sanders early on, they would have realized his base was very much out of line with the Washington left.

2. Displeasure with the system
Again, had establishment Democrats been listening to the public rather than patting themselves on the back for the past eight years, they would have realized that voters were incredibly unhappy with the status quo and didn't want Obama 2.0.
Also, while everyone assumed Sanders's support came from a core of socialist sympathizers, they underestimated the swell of #NeverHillary sentiment.

3. Fighting against an ideology
For those watching 'Game of Thrones', the battle for the Democratic nomination reminds me greatly of the current situation in Westeros. Bernie Sanders is the High Sparrow and, of course, Hillary Clinton is Cersei.
Much like the High Sparrow, Sanders is not motivated by power or money, he is driven by his ideology and what he believes is right and just. While he was limited as a simple senator from Vermont, as his popularity grew, he realized the power of the mob and used it to influence even the most powerful and established politicians.
Now, emboldened by his supporters, he truly believes he is "of the people" and that his solutions are the only ones to solve the country's problems.
The dangerous thing about fighting an ideology is that, unlike a typical politician, he cannot be bought or intimidated. Sanders knows he's towards the end of his political career and is willing to bet it all on this campaign. Even if he loses, he believes his "revolution" will continue and his supporters will drive change in Washington.

4. Eyes turned to the GOP
Perhaps the best part about the current state of chaos in the Democratic is that for the past year they've been laughing at the dysfunction of the Republican party and its primaries.
Of course, the GOP is in worse shape and more fractured, but Democrats were grossly overlooking their own problems and missed the now obvious issues I laid out in 1, 2, and 3.

I still think a Hillary Clinton vs. Donald Trump general election is inevitable, but how these issues play out in the long term will be interesting to watch.

Additionally, the next few months will be made even more exciting as a Libertarian candidate will be chosen soon. While still not much of a threat to win the election, a third party candidate will definitely garner a lot of attention and could garner the most votes since Ross Perot in 1992 (recent polls show Gary Johnson at 10% vs Hillary and Trump).
Dissatisfaction with both candidates will only grow as the direct attacks do (they are the two most disliked candidates in history) and, much like Perot in '92, could play spoiler to either party's bid.

Finally, I think I'll play around with the Presidential Election as 'Game of Thrones' idea a bit more. Maybe following up with another post on it later.

Thoughts on the concept or anything else?

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Octopi Are Terrifying

I know 'octopi' is not a 100% accepted term and 'octopuses' is more common, but octopi sounds so much cooler.

Anyway, the New England Aquarium recently opened a new octopus tank and as cool as they are (and I will definitely go to visit), they are terrifying animals.

Not only can octopi change color at will and squeeze through almost anything, they are incredibly smart and can problem solve to get what they want.

Some examples:

This octopus opening a screw-top jar to eat the crab inside:

This one carrying around a coconut to hide from larger predators:

Another that can run out of the water to catch a crab:

(And other stories of octopi leaving their tanks at aquariums in the middle of the night to steal fish from other tanks).

But scariest, this octopus that EATS SHARKS:

In short, if octopi ever realized their superiority to humans, I, for one, welcome our new 
cephalopod overlords.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

National Look Alike Day (Office Edition)!

Apparently it's "National Look Alike Day".

For some reason, there are a surprising number of people at my company who look like secondary characters from movies, so to celebrate I'll post some of the actors my coworkers look like. (I don't have pictures of my coworkers and randomly asking for their pictures seems creepy).

Speaking of creepy...

1. The Stalker Guy, Gordo (Joel Edgerton), from 'The Gift'
I guess he's not so "secondary".

Imagine that face looking at you over the cubicle wall.

2. The Drummer, Ed Vallencourt (John Fedevich), from 'Almost Famous'

Weird haircut and all

3. Professor Lupin (David Thewlis), from the 'Harry Potter' series

4. Dick (Todd Louiso), from 'High Fidelity'

Same monotone, sleepy voice...

Final thought... Why isn't it National Doppelganger Day?
"Look alike" sounds so lame. "Doppelganger" is at least ten times better on the scale that measures word-sound awesomeness.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Pop Goes the Higher Education/Student Loan Bubble

Over four years ago, I wrote a post about the "Higher-Education Bubble" and how the growth in tuition costs were unsustainable.


Back then, student loans had just surpassed all other forms of debt.

Now, WSJ is reporting that over 40% of Americans are late or not making payments on their loans.
More than 40% of Americans who borrowed from the government’s main student-loan program aren’t making payments or are behind on more than $200 billion owed, raising worries that millions of them may never repay. 
The new figures represent the fallout of a decadelong borrowing boom as record numbers of students enrolled in trade schools, universities and graduate schools. 
While most have since left school and joined the workforce, 43% of the roughly 22 million Americans with federal student loans weren’t making payments as of Jan. 1, according to a quarterly snapshot of the Education Department’s $1.2 trillion student-loan portfolio. 
About 1 in 6 borrowers, or 3.6 million, were in default on $56 billion in student debt, meaning they had gone at least a year without making a payment. Three million more owing roughly $66 billion were at least a month behind.  
Meantime, another three million owing almost $110 billion were in “forbearance” or “deferment,” meaning they had received permission to temporarily halt payments due to a financial emergency, such as unemployment. The figures exclude borrowers still in school and those with government-guaranteed private loans.

This should be frightening, not only to those in danger of permanent financial damage, but to all Americans. Unlike the housing bubble, which fell on private companies (then the federal government to bail them out), student loans are primarily government backed. So when that bubble bursts, there is no buffer to shield the government's own finances.

The cause of this bubble and potential solutions to fix it are too numerous to outline on a single post, but hopefully these warnings don't go unheeded and Americans start to understand the cost/benefits of higher education and pare back their student loan borrowings.