Saturday, October 31, 2015

Why Daylight Savings Time is a Very Good Thing.

OK, daylight savings time is not about the "spring-forward" or "fall-back" days that mildly inconvenience us. I love DST, and here's why:

It's about getting the sun to rise somewhere between 5 AM and 7 AM year round, as best as possible, in every given time zone.

Without it, here in Detroit, we'd have a sunrise on June 21st at 4:55 AM. That's a lot of wasted daylight, but it's not the worst thing in the world. However, we're on the forgiving western edge of a timezone. On the other side of the Eastern Time Zone, Bangor Maine would have a 3:49 AM sunrise on June 21st. Let's all accept this as unacceptable and move along.

So why not just go to DST all year round you might ask?

We on the western edge of a timezone would suffer the most! Over on the east edge of the timezone (Bangor, again), on the solstice, they'd get an 8:00 AM start, and sunset at 4:54 PM. They can muddle through that, I suppose. However, on the western edge, like Detroit, if we were under DST all year, we'd have our latest sunrise (interestingly enough, NOT on the winter solstice) in early January around 9:01 AM, and sunset at 5:59.

Anyone want to be at their desks for an hour BEFORE the sun comes up?

Thus concludes my arguments for the merits of inconveniencing ourselves two days out of the year, to not suffer what would feel like an intolerable timeshift in our circadian rhythms for months on end around the solstices.

Rest easy. Fall back. You're welcome

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Retrospective on a retrospective

I wrote this post 7 years ago in a facebook feature so old that its now deprecated.

I'm posting here for two reasons: it's still relevant and I don't want to lose it.


We've been summoning up the imagery from 9/11/2001 so often over the past seven years, that the events of that day become a sort of abstract reference to itself. Speeches honoring the victims and heroes each year draw us ever further from the visceral experience of that day. 

Of course we've been hearing all about it today, and mostly it just sort of hung around in the back of my head all day, without much impact on me, and certainly no more than any of the previous 5 anniversaries of that day.

I was in class late tonight, so I haven't been around the house much. I walked outside to let the dog back in, and an airplane passed overhead. Then the real memories of September 11th flooded back to me.

I remember around this time of night seven years ago, after a day of silent skies, the first aircraft I had heard in the sky all night were fighter jets flying over my house. I remember first how odd the silence had been all evening (I live under a pretty crowded flight corridor into Metro). Next I remember how the sound startled me, and the image of a flight of fighters overhead, protecting me from who-knows-what, stunned me. 

I remember spending the day worrying about friends in New York and Washington. I remember my relief as their phone calls and e-mails came through to me to tell me they were alright. 

I remember how badly my yearning that day was to simply *not be alone*.

But most of all, I remember how uncertain I felt at that moment about our future, as a nation, as a people, and as a specie. 

Saturday, September 6, 2014

A Libertarian's take on the Detroit Water Project

I recently had dinner with a good friend, who, as it happens, is a fairly staunch liberal. He made a joke at some point in the evening about me being "a conservative." Of course, my political leanings are towards libertarian more than anything else, so to highlight the difference, I explained that he and I shared the same end goals, politically: I'm pro-choice, egalitarian, and against corporatism. I dislike military adventurism. I support equal work for equal pay. So on and so forth.

"The only difference between us", I went on, "is that you think the way to achieve all of these goals, is through government".

In the minds of my more progressive friends, their default instinct to solve any problem is a simple three step process:
1) Voting your conscience is just as good as acting upon it.
2) Tax "the rich"
3) Government will handle the rest.

They're happy to let government act as a proxy for them, allowing someone else to do the work (government programs), and someone else to pay for it (the apocryphal "rich".)

It's not that I think that government doesn't have a good and proper role in our lives, it's only that I feel like it should be our absolute last resort. It's never efficient, rarely effective, and frequently unintentionally harmful. It's best left to those roles that can't be filled by any other form of collective action. And thanks to the internet, there are new forms of collective action taking shape every day to step in. Problems that 25 years ago were only solvable by large monolithic institutions, like corporations or governments, are now solvable through ad-hoc collective action, organizing people via new technology.

Which brings us to the Detroit Water Project.

Here is a true grassroots movement, started by web developer Tiffani Bell and designer Kristy Tillman, to do one simple thing: when the city started shutting off water to homes who were delinquent in their water payments, they stepped in to match willing donors to accounts that were in arrears. Today, my pledge was matched with an overdue account that I could pay off directly for someone in need that I didn't personally know. This is a logistical lift that would have been impossible to recruit for, and impossible to coordinate before the internet. The Detroit Water Project isn't an organization or a foundation. It simply coordinated people who wanted to help, with their own cash, with accounts that needed paying, directly. It's ad-hoc, and low-overhead. Most importantly, the bills got paid, so the people in need are cared for, and the water company got it's due. All parties are satisfied without having an outside authority step in and pick a winner and a loser.

It's important not to overlook the marvel that this is: it's not any form of institution that existed before the internet; it's not a corporation, a church, a government, or a non-profit. It's just a pop-up phenomenon, led by two people who cared enough to gather other caring people to them, and pointed them at the people who needed their help. For the first time in human history, this kind of charity is truly scalable.

This project is a model for the kinds of solutions that are possible in the 21st century--solutions that go beyond the "government vs. corporations" left-right mentality that taints our political discourse, and distorts our options to collectively solve the problems that our society faces. This kind of collective action keeps us directly involved, but still scales to levels that allow real change and broad effect. So few human accomplishments that really matter are individual achievements; collective action is necessary to solve big problems. This is a powerful new way to think about how we can organize ourselves to solve some of our toughest problems, and no matter where you fall in the traditional political spectrum, it satisfies the desire to collectively organize to help those in need, while bypassing the inefficiency and clumsiness of asking the government to go and do it for you.

Thank you Tiffani and Kristy, for your efforts to organize this project. It's an incredible testament to what caring people will do when given the opportunity.


Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Net Neutrality: Quick Highlights

Looks like there's a new set of proposals coming regarding Net Neutrality from FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. Some details have been leaked, but we'll have to wait until May 15th to see everything. More than a few people have been asking my opinion, so I'm going to dump everything here, and refer back to it.

1) Net Neutrality is a loaded term.
On the surface, I'm a huge proponent of Net Neutrality. But when I say that, I want to see exactly what the TCPIP protocol was built for: best-effort per-packet delivery, end to end. However, I can promise you that if you put any two people in a room, you're going to come up with two different definitions of Net Neutrality. My idea of Net Neutrality, for example, is much different than Netflix's. (Netflix reluctantly signed an agreement this year where they had to pay Comcast to connect to their network in order to get the speeds necessary to make sure your House of Cards marathon didn't stutter. ) [1] In many cases, you don't want your traffic treated neutrally, you want it prioritized. Which brings us to...

2) Paid Peering.
Paid Peering is the process by which, essentially, big content providers host copies of their servers directly adjacent to or within ISPs so the traffic doesn't have to cross the whole internet to get from Netflix/Google/Microsoft to you, the end user. These agreements have never been covered by Net Neutrality, and it appears the new rules won't try and curb them either. This is a good thing. Network congestion scales exponentially over distances (hops), meaning that every hop we can remove between that Microsoft Update and your home PC is bandwidth freed up. Of course, the difference between Paid Peering and simply connecting edge networks directly together is a bit fuzzy, which is why the FCC wants to address complaints on a case-by-case basis, which Net Neutrality advocates are opposed to. I'm pretty much for it, pending some conditions, for example...

3) Transparency and "Reasonable Network Management Practices"
This is the crux of the recent hissy-fit. The 2010 Open Internet Order from the FCC barred "unreasonable discrimination" against traffic; the new (leaked) proposal allows for "commercially reasonable" traffic management. The difference is a fine one, but it should be noted that the first order was struck down largely because of this wording. Thus the proposed changes. The thing I'll be combing through the May 15th release for is protections providing for transparency and disclosure of the network management practices by ISPs and other carriers. Disclosure isn't going to be an absolute necessity. If you recall the evidence that Comcast was holding up BitTorrent traffic purposely on its network was rooted out by everyday Internet users, using free tools. However,anything that promotes sunlight would help. But the most vociferous advocates of Net Neutrality just aren't going to be happy until we have...

Telecom Regulated: the first 80 years

Telecom Deregulated: the last 20 years 

4) Reclassifying Broadband as a Tier II  telecommunication service by the FCC.
This is what most of the online petitions, and carefully crafted outrage by organizations like Free Press and Public Knowledge are really after. How anybody can look at the track record of the FCC ruling the common carriers and think that it's the way forward to innovation on the Internet, I do not know. It's very tough for me to equate the days of Ma Bell, where the Western Electric Model 302 didn't change for 60 years, to 1984's breakup of AT&T created an explosion of new phone technology and the creation of cellular networks and free long distance calls.

When the proposal is made public on the 15th, I'm sure I'll be revisiting the topic. Wheeler wants to get something approved by the end of the year, which would be at light-speed for the FCC. We'll have plenty of time to argue over it, but until then, don't sign any petitions until you really know the details. You may not be getting what you bargain for.

[1]: (4/30/2014): In the Netflix example, Netflix wanted to use Net Neutrality to force Comcast to cover the cost of providing high-speed access from Netflix to Comcast users at no charge to Netflix. This would ultimately mean that non-Netflix-using Comcast customers would foot the bill to subsidize their Netflixing brethren. See how the some interpretations of "Net Neutrality", and their unintended consequences, can get messy fast?

[2]: (2/27/2015): Well, we had to wait a lot longer than until May. In fact, I thought this was a dead issue, until the President revived it. And it pretty much looks like we exactly what I mentioned in #4 above, reclassifying broadband as a Tier II Telecommunication service.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Google's Killing Me, Killing Reader

Google is killing Reader come July 1, 2013.

This is a real shame, because the RSS protocol is truly a thing of beauty, and one of the great ways that original content gets distributed.  But to do so, it needs a client as good as the spec, and there was none finer than Google Reader, which could follow me from device to device, platform to platform.

It was my gmail, but for web content. 

Now Google's pulling the plug on the service, which is a real shame. I truly hope this isn't the sign of the New Google, where every service must have a 65% market share, and pump traffic into Google+ to stay alive. I'm a huge Google fanboy, and for me to think of something so cynical is probably not a good sign, Mountainview.

See, it's not that I don't "trust" Google (I don't think Google will ever "trap" my data, or use it for bad ends), it's that I have a hard time investing much faith in Google when they are so capricious about the life and death of their products. I just don't want to do too much heavy lifting of my life into Google's services when they live and die by a single company's edict, and not the will of the internet, like an RFC spec.

I guess it's time for me to rethink my commitment to truly open platforms. So expect more light sharing from this blog, and more links back here from Facebook, Google+, and other social media sites. I'm going to try and keep more of my content where I know it's going to stay put. 

And when Google pulls the plug on Blogger, I'll be able to grab my data and put it on a host of my choosing, because HTML and RSS aren't controlled by anyone but us.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Inalienable Rights?

I don't know how to ask what I'm about to ask without pissing everyone off, but maybe that's what makes it good material for discussion. +Jeff Jarvis wrote in his blog today:
Zeynep Tufecki, a brilliant observer of matters media, digital, and social, cautioned on Twitter that we must understand a key difference in attitudes toward speech here and elsewhere in the world: “Forget Middle East, in most of Europe you could not convince most people that *all* speech should be protected. That is uniquely American,” she tweeted yesterday. “In most places, including Europe, ‘hate-speech’ –however defined — is regulated, prosecuted. Hence, folks assume not prosecuted=promoted…. US free speech absolutism already hard to comprehend for many. Add citizen media to mix, it gets messy. Then, killers exploit this vagueness.” Excellent points and important perspective for the current situation.
I, like Jeff, am a Free Speech absolutist. I'm lucky enough to live in a country that has chosen to protect this unalienable right. So much so, that just like the quote above, I had to be reminded that this is far from universal. Watching Erin Burnett on CNN tonight, I witnessed a clip of a protester in Cairo talking to the media, repeating that "Obama is guilty! Obama is guilty!" in reference to the idea that the President Obama, backed by U.S. Intelligence, had to "know about this movie", and "chose not to stop it", as if such a thing were even possible in America.

The concept of free speech was utterly alien to that man.

The distance between an American and the American Government was non-existent to him.

As an American, I fully--instinctually--understand that it is not a contradiction to be utterly disgusted by the hate-filled speech of a fellow citizen, and still stand up to defend that citizen's right to speak it; that the answer for Bad Speech is More Speech. It is so important to our way of life, that it was the very first thing codified in the Bill of Rights.

Here was a citizen of Cairo, demanding that a foreign leader in a foreign country betray one of the most fundamental pillars of that country's way of life, because, not only does he think freedom of speech *should* not exist, but that it *could* not exist. The idea was utterly alien to him.

So the thought that popped into my head that I'm wrestling with is this:
Is this man an exception? Is he the rule?

If the latter, what hope is there in an Arab Spring for freedom in that part of the world, where one of the fundamental tenets of liberty is literally inconceivable? I frequently wonder whether or not Americans--who were born to these concepts--are still capable of shouldering the great burden that liberty demands of us. What, then, can we expect of those to whom these concepts are alien?

I ask these questions off the cuff, and with an open heart and curious mind. I don't mean to offend. At the very least, I hope you find this question more interesting than figuring out which campaign tweeted which statement when--which seems to be the discussion that's taken over CNN for now.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Vote "NO" on SOPA - An Open Letter to Congressman Thaddeus McCotter

An open letter the Thaddeus McCotter,
U.S. Rep. for Michigan's 11th District, and my congressional representative, whom I much admire.

Dear Congressman McCotter:

Please vote NO on SOPA (HR-3261)

Why is SOPA/Protect-IP such bad legislation?

First, let us agree that preventing online piracy is a noble and worthy goal. I don't fault legislators for trying to protect intellectual property. As is so often the case though, good intentions are no excuse for bad legislation. And SOPA is nothing if not "bad legislation".

SOPA is a bill that aims to thwart piracy by turning ISPs, website operators, credit card companies, and domain registrants into police. It guts the DMCA's "Safe Harbor" provision, opening the gateway for Hollywood to shut down websites it believes to be infringing upon intellectual property rights without due process. Lastly, it imposes a huge cost of regulatory compliance on entities that are some of our most economically vibrant, in a time when there aren't many bright spots in the economy.

As is so often the case, the damage it does won't just be to existing services, sites, and companies, but to all the innovation that will be strangled in infancy because a tech company's first hire will have to be a lawyer instead of an engineer.

Make no mistake - if this law were in place 15 years ago, there would be no YouTube, no Facebook, no Google, no iTunes, no eBay, no Craigslist, no Etsy. You could probably name the corporations and organizations that would have benefitted had their business models never been disrupted by the Internet. That list will look a lot like the list of organizations who spent $91 Million lobbying for SOPA. This is not an accident.

In 2006 Yochai Benkler wrote, in _The Wealth of Networks_:
For the most part[...] the state in both the United States and Europe has played a role in supporting the market-based industrial incumbents of the twentieth-century information production system at the expense of the individuals who make up the emerging networked information economy. Most state interventions have been in the form of either captured legislation catering to incumbents, or, at best, well-intentioned but wrongheaded efforts to optimize the institutional ecology for outdated modes of information and cultural production.
Sound familiar?

Destined to Fail

Even if SOPA passed, and all of the effects that I listed above were somehow mitigated, it wouldn't do a thing to slow down, let alone halt, piracy.

The internet is built to route around "damage". That's what it was designed for. And the internet sees censorship of this kind as damage. The major tool for "taking down" an infringing site is to claim its DNS entry (which turns a name like into an address that your computer can connect to like, and pointing it to a different IP address.

Routing around internet censorship will simply be in the form of the distibution of IP addresses instead of DNS names. We saw this effect when was "blocked" in 2010 (voluntarily, by its DNS provider). People just went to the IP address directly, and mirror sites popped up to distribute copies of the data.

This kind of "takedown" won't even slow a pirate down. But it will incur a tremendous amount of regulatory overhead for legitimate companies to contend with.

If I were addressing this plea to my friends on the left I might say that this bill is being bought and paid for with $91 Million in lobbying from the RIAA, MPAA, and Hollywood. I might say that they are the 1%, and they'd like to keep it that way, even if it were to harm the consumer, the public, the economy, and the United States.

However, this message is for the one person who has represented me best in Washington, and I know from long admiration, that you, Congressman McCotter, share many of my views from the right. Therefore I say that this legislation is nothing more than rent-seeking from a industry whose business model is failing in the face of innovation. This is the same industry who has tried to legislatively hinder everything from VCRs to MP3 players to cable television, all in the name of protecting their historically comfortable profit margins. They are unwilling or unable to innovate, and are fearful of the creative destruction that awaits them in the face of their obstinance. It's easier for them to petition Congress than it is to face the 21st century, and even if this legislation comes to pass it will do absolutely nothing to save their outdated business model. They are using their present position of relative strength to permanently hinder the one industry that, more than any other, shows promise for American workers in the 21st century.

Finally, (and only slightly in jest):

What would Youtube's fate be under SOPA if the Beatles or Roy Orbison decided that this video of your band playing FarmAid was infringing material?

Congressman McCotter, please consider voting NO on SOPA.

Thank you,
Eric Reasons
11th MI resident and proud Thaddeus McCotter supporter