Posts Tagged ‘ tech

Innovators – A Dying Breed in the US (more like being killed off)

And bam! Like I said, China and India will be two of the emerging world powers when it comes to technological innovation. I had read an earlier article many moons ago that discussed Professor Vivek Wadwha’s findings with regards to his students’ desires to return to their homelands. At the time, the push against illegal immigrants were already under way and, as mentioned, many companies found this appalling. It wasn’t too hard to connect the dots and realize that we would be massively screwing ourselves in the global market. Sadly, there isn’t much one (or a few) people can do to get Senators to care about the well being of the US over their desire to get votes for reelection. Now we see the affects of our Government’s shortsightedness – China and India are indeed two of the fastest growing markets for tech and with a greater influx of bright minds from US universities, it won’t be much longer before we see their reliance on US “innovation” fade away. Perhaps that will be the wakeup call that slaps some sense into US Government and gets them to listen to engineers instead of self-serving lobbyists.

Then there is the epic student debt problem that haunts our youth. So not only are we driving away the best and brightest foreigners, but we are also fucking over our own best and brightest newcomers. Good job America! President Obama is trying to find a way to alleviate the pains of the recession on new grads by pushing for a bill to help with student loan debt. Now the big question is: will this be enough to push new grads into starting their own businesses? I personally believe that this is too little, too late and, combined with the influence huge corporations have over the government, will be one of the contributing reasons we will lose our dominance as technological innovators. And do the numbers back me up?

Just looking at past census data (2008), we know that a gigantic chunk of employment is by small businesses. Using even 500 employees as a cutoff instead of actual dominance and ignoring the fact that huge companies tend to have a higher percentage of non-US based workers, we still end up with about 40% of the population being employed by small businesses. That is a shitfuckton of people and doesn’t even account for unregistered entrepreneurs (i.e., the new grads coming out of college). Oh, and then there are the freelancers too. Can’t forget them. Using this as our basis for small business importance, it becomes strikingly clear that pushing for small businesses and fostering startup growth is crucial to keeping our economy alive. Entrepreneurs, in particular, are some of our best innovators and provide quite the buffer setting us apart from other countries. As our buffer slowly dies, it becomes much easier for large companies in other countries to compete with the US as those companies will have the resources to match our own local R&D departments (i.e., they are on even grounds for hiring the best US workers for R&D and have the additional benefit of being much more attractive to the best and brightest foreigners – those that got educated in the US and left to go home). Once this happens, the US is going to be in deep economic shit.

So what can we do about this? For one, getting the government to realize that idiotic laws like E-PARASITE (formerly known as PROTECT IP) and the ridiculous software patent laws will only serve to hasten our decline. Perhaps getting the government to follow through on some of the We The People is a non-superfluous way would be a good start. For example, this is the response from the many marijuana petitions. The arguments and justifications put forth are idiotic (and rather than usurp my own post, I will refrain from going through them in detail) and just out of morbid curiosity (cause I don’t even agree with the petition), I’ve signed this petition just to see what inane response they send out that won’t contradict what they just wrote (or I can just sign this one). Remember Us Government, when you try and use illogical arguments against the entire US populous, you will get some sarcastic assholes who will tear your argument apart with a counterexample. Or perhaps the government can listen to the 99% and stop shacking up and fucking with corporations (Occupy Wall Street anyone?). There is a lot wrong with our government and the combination of media explosion (YouTube, Twitter, etc.) and the recession has made it much more transparent that we are declining as a nation of innovators.

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A Response To Senator Schumer

So this article by Cringely is a good read and finally prompted me to finish this article that I’ve been meaning to write after receiving a response from Senator Schumer about the PROTECT IP Act (more on this later).

A lot of people see and recognize the problem [of having no new frontier] but few have a solution. Personally, I think the US is partially fucked because the frontier that we could have gone into (or rather, should be currently exploring), the internet, has been blocked off by nonsense patent laws (why do you think this We The People petition is so popular – Direct Patent Office to Stop Issuing Software Patents), insane copyright/trademark issues, and overall government corruption that caters to lobbyists pushing for stronger “IP” laws in both the US and other countries. And no, that is not hyperbole. I really do mean the US government is corrupt in the sense that they cater to lobbyists. Of course people always suspected the power of lobbyists but it wasn’t until Wikileaks came about that these sources of corruption have become so public and have been revealed in a timely (meaning the issues are still relevant) manner.

Specifically for the topic at hand (IP laws), Wikileaks has shown that the US gov’t has strong armed some countries into implementing stronger DMCA laws and other IP related changes (e.g., Wikileaks Cables Show Massive U.S. Effort to Establish Canadian DMCA). Case in point: ACTA (signed by the US very recently) and PROTECT IP – both of which are horrible for entrepreneurs and small businesses. Hence why most promising startups are moving away from the US and the trend is happening faster than I predicted because of these idiotic laws/lawsuits. But do our representatives listen to us? Do they see the downward trend in the industry and realize why it is happening (the developers, myself being one, state it quite clearly)? I’d venture to say no because this is the scripted response I got from Senator Schumer when he replied to my email several months after Protect IP went to vote (sent in at the same time I wrote my article on PROTECT IP):

Dear —–:

Thank you for your contacting me in opposition to S.968, the PROTECT IP Act. Like you, I believe that consumers should have access to a vibrant and innovative online community to discuss their ideas and opinions. At the same time, we must not let the internet become a haven for intellectual property thieves.

The threat to intellectual property owners over the internet is clear. Every year, the US Chamber of Commerce estimates that copyright theft costs our nation about $58 billion in lost output, 373,375 in lost jobs, and $16 billion in lost employee earnings. These numbers present an unacceptable burden to US businesses. In addition, companies may be less likely to innovate because their products may be stolen by intellectual property pirates, creating a drag on the US economy.

The PROTECT IP Act addresses the problem of intellectual property theft online, but it also contains important due process protections to ensure that legal activity over the internet is not disrupted. As you may know, the PROTECT IP Act would allow the Department of Justice to file a claim against a website that 1) has no significant purpose other than engaging in or facilitating copyright infringement, circumventing technology controlling access to copyrighted works, or selling or promoting counterfeit goods or services; or (2) is designed, operated, or marketed and used to engage in such activities. A judge would have to find that a website is intentionally violating intellectual property rights of an American entity before he could issue an order against that site. I believe PROTECT IP Act would provide law enforcement and intellectual property holders additional tools to protect American intellectual property from websites while still ensuring the constitutionally protected rights of free speech and due process. The PROTECT IP Act currently is awaiting action on the floor of the Senate, and I will continue to monitor this bill as it moves through the Senate.

Thank you for contacting me on this important issue. Please do not hesitate to contact me in the future if I can ever be of assistance to you on this, or any other matter.

Sincerely,

Charles E. Schumer
United States Senator

Please do not respond to this email. To send another message please visit my website at http://schumer.senate.gov/SchumerWebsite/contact/webform.cfm . Thank you.

Ouch! Talk about being paid off to spew shit that he doesn’t know anything about. The original mail I wrote to him was similar to my old post on PROTECT IP except without the profanity and stripped down to the most important factual points. His response doesn’t address a single argument I put forth and relies on “statistics” that were created by lobbyists strictly to push their own agenda. If you read the actual source of those numbers (here you go for your reading pleasure), you will see that they are based on very poor premises such as (and I’m only posting a few):

  • Some of their inane premises, specifically:

    1. Internal estimates of piracy losses compiled by each of the copyright industries.
    2. ConīŦdential estimates of piracy losses developed by others on behalf of individual copyright industries.

    4. Sales data by country and physical piracy rates for recorded music from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI).

    Seriously? Would you trust a study that uses non-biased data AND data whose methodology for being produced isn’t even revealed? It’s like writing your thesis without a bibliography and claiming yourself to be an unbiased expert in the field. Yeah, I think my professors would have flunked me if I tried pulling that on them.

  • Every download = 1 lost sale. Yeah… sure. You wish. There isn’t a single economist that believes that to be the case. There are so many reasons that this cannot be true, it’s mind boggling to see them use this assumption (e.g., some of these people don’t even have the disposable income, some wouldn’t even bother looking at media X because the cost is greater than their desire to check it out, etc.)
  • The double counting of losses using multipliers, taxes (counted in multiple ways), and the icing – employees’ lost earnings. Yeah right, like they would hire more people or give raises if piracy suddenly disappeared. Production of new works wouldn’t suddenly require more people nor would they suddenly start producing additional works – and this is giving the kind assumption that they produce things which they don’t because the RIAA, etc. are just representatives for production companies. The industries themselves, specifically the artists, see very little of the money that is collected. And that isn’t even accounting for how little money the RIAA, etc. seems to get.)

Being an optimist, I thought that my well thought out letter would have elicited a better response. It saddens me to see the direction my nation is going and worse yet, the time I take to read and understand these issues is probably 100 times more than the amount of time Senator Schumer puts into understanding these issues. This is disappointing on two levels:

  1. Senator Schumer is our representative and it is his duty to do what is best for America. I have yet to see a good argument as to how this would benefit anyone other than the richest people in the US.
  2. As someone who is fairly well read in this field (I’m primarily a web developer so this is a crucial part of my industry), I would assume Senator Schumer would need to put in a lot more effort to understand the nuances of these issues to fully comprehend the effects that will result from pushing for things like PROTECT IP.

I know our Representatives can’t possible dedicate time to all issues, but they shouldn’t allow themselves to be spoon fed complete bullshit from lobbyists. Our Representatives can always abstain from voting on an issue that they are not knowledgeable in. It would show better judgement (patience is a virtue after all, so take your time to do your due diligence), result in fewer knee jerk decisions, and perhaps (yes, remember I’m an optimist) allow for more sensible laws. So Senator Schumer, I put in my time, how about you put in some of yours?

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Voting Machines – Yes or No? Oh wait, I rigged the choices.

Ignore the title of the video since it is sensationalist and not accurate. However, you should listen to the testimony. The computer program explains that there are only 2 ways to verify that voting machines are not rigged:

  1. view the source code on every machine prior to compiling and embedding it on the machine
  2. have voters also hand in the traditional paper ballots as a failsafe audit trail

What I’d like to talk about is #1. In particular, the common response given by companies like Diebold (they have renamed them selves after being accused of creating bad/rigged voting machines, but that is another discussion altogether) on why the source code should not be open sourced. All voting machine companies have constantly made the argument that the hardware and software tech behind voting machines should be kept secret and proprietary. They give these reasons:

  1. Security
  2. Trust

However, every reputable programmer I know (and even all of the stupid ones) has argued that these reasons are false and misleading. Since the general public does not understand how computers and software works, people will assume that big companies “know what is best.” However, as this very well qualified developer testifies, these reasons are pretty much shit.

  1. Diebold relies on security through obscurity. Meaning that it is more secure because people don’t know what software is running and therefore can’t look for holes. Well Windows is the easiest example of showing that this argument is pure crap. Everyone in security knows that security through obscurity is a very weak deterrent (especially when dealing with something as big as voting/politics). The payoff is huge so people will look for holes in your actual security model and if you do a shitty job, it will not be hard to crack.
  2. Then there is the issue of trust and as this testimony shows, you really should not be trusting these types of companies to be honest. Whether or not this company was approached for rigging shouldn’t be a concern. Rather everyone should be worried that with a single company controlling all aspects of development and rollout, any corrupt politician can just pick up a phone and know exactly who to ask to try and rig an election.

If source code and hardware is open sourced, there is no single controlling body that can modify the code base away from the prying eyes of the public. In fact, shouldn’t it be obvious that being able to see the source code and hardware designs would instill more confidence that nothing is being rigged? Open source projects (big ones) are generally more secure than proprietary counterparts because we have so many people looking at the code and criticizing it (and fixing it).

The continuance by the government on relying and granting monopolies to companies like Diebold is mind boggling. If we really want to stop all of the controversy over voting fraud/machine rigging, then just open source the code and hardware and create one governing body that audits and rolls out the machines during elections (make that process transparent too). It’s that fucking simple, and all developers have been arguing this for years. And now I shall end this on a controversial statement: the biggest indicator that voting fraud (or rigging) is happening is that the lobbyists have been successful at keeping voting machines proprietary and in the hands of companies like Diebold (if you read up on them, most of the other voting machine companies were absorbed by Diebold and they are now essentially a monopoly in this sector).

 

 

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