Tag Archives: featured

Technology and Society

A Letter I Sent To My Elected Official on Privacy

With the latest revelations on the British security services tapping into webcams and storing video data en masse, I don’t think it’s acceptable that anybody can sit back and not register their voice in the face of our eroding collective privacy.

I highly encourage everybody to send letters to their elected official. Here is mine:

I’m writing because with each passing day, revelations are getting worse and worse about the surveillance capabilities of security agencies. Just today the Guardian revealed that the GCHQ, our British allies, collect webcam recordings en masse, including sexually explicit material shared between two consenting individuals.

We know the Harper administration is stuck as being part and parcel of Five Eyes, and that the CESC has conducted spying for the NSA, using Canada’s good name for nefarious purposes.

I write this in the hope that you are aware of this issue, and to inquire as to what you and your party are doing with this regards, and what active efforts you will be making in the future to shed awareness about this creeping invasion on our privacy. As Canadians, we should be protected under Section 8 of the Charter with regards to reasonable expectation of privacy, but I do not want this to constantly shift because security agencies continually push us down the slippery slope Senator Church so eloquently warned Americans about during the Church Committee:

“If this government ever became a tyrant, if a dictator ever took charge in this country, the technological capacity that the intelligence community has given the government could enable it to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back because the most careful effort to combine together in resistance to the government, no matter how privately it was done, is within the reach of the government to know. Such is the capability of this technology.

“If this government ever became a tyrant, if a dictator ever took charge in this country, the technological capacity that the intelligence community has given the government could enable it to impose total tyranny.”

I don’t want to see this country ever go across the bridge. I know the capacity that is there to make tyranny total in America, and we must see to it that this agency and all agencies that possess this technology operate within the law and under proper supervision so that we never cross over that abyss. That is the abyss from which there is no return.”

Let me know how I can contribute to any efforts with this regards. I hope you are well, and eagerly await any response you have on this topic.

——————————————————————————-
Why is this debate so important?

 

Defining the Future

Defining the Internet of Things in one line

The Internet of Things is a new innovation that is sweeping into gradual mainstream awareness, if not adoption. It’s become a recent topic of some fascination, especially for Google-watchers who are trying to uncover the latest technological trends by following the Internet giant: surely the $3 billion dollar plus purchase of smart home device maker Nest did not escape notice.

Internet of things with code(love)

Internet of things with code(love)

I recently had the pleasure of sitting down to have a coffee with one of the engineers in the field pushing it forward, Jeff Dungan, co-founder of reelyActive. His startup was named the World’s best technology startup last year by Startup World, and he is a visionary in the field.

The first thing Jeff notes is that what we conceptualize as the Internet of Things can be very exactly defined. Devices that communicate with one another have always existed. Harken back to your childhood when you used a remote control to control a toy car: would that not qualify as being part of the Internet of Things?

Jeff says no. The reason why is because the Internet of Things encompasses internet-enabled devices that can communicate with one another, with one very distinct defining trait: they can do so without any direct human input. As your toy car zips around, you are controlling it directly. However, a Nest thermostat can adjust the heat without you ever touching anything.

This is the magic of the Internet of Things. Jeff imagines a world of “smart spaces” where entire houses, and even neighbourhoods could shift to be adapted to you. A house could be heated at the right temperature, with the lights dimmed for the right ambiance, without you ever doing anything but the initial setup.

Smart Spaces with code(love)

Smart Spaces with code(love)

Jeff’s company works on allowing for devices to identify you. reelyActive uses hardware RFID devices to tag you as you move through multiple spaces, therefore allowing for the possibility of “smart spaces” to grow, sooner than later. Already, Jeff is working on realizing a Google Analytics for retail at a low enough cost and without significant friction, perfectly suited for smaller retailers—this was a pipe dream just a few years ago. The world he imagines is coming sooner than later, and it can be summed up in one line.

The Internet of Things is a network of internet-enabled devices that can communicate with each other without direct human input, allowing for the evolution of smart spaces that can adapt to you without you doing anything at all.

The Internet of Things is a network of internet-enabled devices that can communicate with each other, without direct human input, allowing for the evolution of smart spaces that can adapt to you without you doing anything at all.

——————————————————————————-

Interested in hearing more about Jeff’s story? Support my efforts to write about him and other entrepreneurs. 

Defining the Future

Defining growth hacking in one line

Growth hacking is a buzzword. As soon as somebody says it, the fury of meaning nothing, but signifying everything envelopes any situation you place it in. It’s mysterious and ambiguous, but it really doesn’t have to be.

It’s always been hard for me to figure out this term, and yet it’s been a necessity because I’ve always wanted to work in the field. I think part of what compelled me to get into building and scaling web platforms was the mystery of understanding what growth hacking was about: even the  mysterious bits I could get out of it sounded cool. Some sort of marketing meets technology was something I thought would be ideal for me.

So, what I did was take a target list of everywhere I thought growth hackers might be, from mentoring sites, to tech entrepreneur networking sites—most notably FounderDating—to good old LinkedIn. I get familiar with the big names in the field. I reached out to many of them systematically, seeking the same insights: what exactly is growth hacking, how do you go about growth hacking, and how can I go about growth hacking? I then recorded the answers, and compared them, looking for some sort of pattern or formula that defined the concept.

In doing so, I realized that what I was doing embodied what growth hacking was all about. Trying out new stuff, and then measuring whether or not it was more efficient than what I had been doing before is the core of growth hacking. Every one of the answers pointed me to a direction, a direction that I can sum up in one line.

Growth hacking is being creative and trying new stuff, anything, to try to acquire new website users, measuring the effects of each individual outreach on the numbers of new engaged users, then determining whether it’s more efficient than what you were doing before on a monetary and time basis, and if so, piling as many of your resources as you can into those new channels.

To summarize even further: To growth hack, try new stuff, and measure whether or not you’re being more efficient driving users to your webpage in doing that new stuff.

To growth hack, try new stuff, and measure whether or not you’re being more efficient driving users in doing that new stuff.

Next time someone brings up growth hacking, make sure you share, and send them here. I’m measuring whether that works.

——————————————————————————-

Want a great resource to getting you started with the kind of actionable measures you can test and measure with growth hacking? Check out this list of 21 Actionable Growth Hacking Tactics.

Learning Lists

Create Your Own Webpage in Under Ten Minutes

The biggest obstacle for most people when they start getting into web development is that it seems obscure how to go about creating a reasonably nice-looking webpage, nevermind a website.

These insights will help you create and flesh out your online projects infinitely faster than it took for me to start initially building mine from scratch.

1-Get yourself a better text processor than Notepad (should take about 2 minutes)

Sublime Text is a great resource for this, and while you think you’re getting it for the evaluation period only, the fact that it’s not compulsory to register basically makes this freeware. Do try to help the makers if you can with a tip, as this is a great code processor that works so much more efficiently than Notepad for code: it can match your opening, and closing tags, and autofill in certain code functions. It should take you about 2 minutes to set it up.

Open it up, and you’ll see it’s a flashier version of Notepad, that can be used accordingly. If you’re on a Chromebook, try Caret instead, or look around for any text processor.  You can even stick with Notepad if black text and white space are your thing.

Sublime with code(love)

Sublime with code(love)

2-Start a new file in Sublime Text or your word processor, save it as index.html (should take about 2 minutes)

Now it’s time to do some coding work. You can begin by starting to type with a <HTML> tag, then a <head> tag, then wrapping in the title of your webpage by writing as follows: <title>Your title</title>. Then end it with a closing head tag. Finally wrap it up with a closing </HTML> tag—but always make sure that is your last line! Your head should look like this:

<html>
<head>
<title>Your title.</title>
</head>
</html>

Save your new file as index.html, in a folder that comprises your project name.

 3-Copy and paste some front-end template elements in, link to the template at hand, and play around with the text (should take about 4 minutes)

You’ll want to download a front-end CSS framework if you want to build things rapidly. CSS frameworks style things for you, so that you can just refer to already existing style classes and IDs located in the files you downloaded. Popular frameworks include Bootstrap, Foundation, and Semantic.

For our purposes, it will be good to use Bootstrap, but the others will work according to the same theory. Bootstrap is one of the most popular front-end frameworks, developed by Twitter programmers to simplify their work with Twitter’s interface.

Bootstrap with code(love)

Bootstrap with code(love)

Download Bootstrap here. Unzip all of the files into the same folder as you saved index.html. Now, modify index.html, by including a link to the CSS bootstrap style sheet in the head.

This entails copy and pasting <link href=”bootstrap.css” rel=”stylesheet”> somewhere after the </title> closing tag, but somewhere before the </head> closing tag.

Your head should look something like this:

<html>

<head>

<title>Your title.</title>

<link href=”bootstrap.css” rel=”stylesheet”>

</head>

</html>

Now let’s open the body tag. <body></body>. Always remember that the closing </HTML> tag has to end the whole thing, so move that to the bottom.

Stick a Bootstrap template in between: in this instance you can go Jumbotron mode, right click and then click on view page source, and copy/paste everything between the <body> opening tag (at line 29) to the </body> closing tag (at line 98). If you don’t like that look, check out the rest of the templates. Customize it by playing with the placeholder text within the body tags, and by adding components.

Your last two tags should be </body> and then </html>.

 4-Save on Google Drive, and manipulate your new webpage! (should take about 2 minutes)

The entire walkthrough can be accessed here.

Create  a public Google Drive folder. You can do this by right clicking on the folder, and then clicking the Share button on the dropdown menu that pops up, then switching the settings so you are sharing with everybody on the web by changing the default private setting.

Upload your HTML document along with all other files in your project folder (which should include your CSS files) on a Google Drive folder. These files should take on the public properties of their parent folder after Google prompts you to ask if you want to upload and share—click on the blue button as this is the case. If you do not, you will not be able to preview your documents.

Preview your document by clicking on the file in your Google Drive, then clicking the blue “Open” button at the bottom right, then clicking the preview button on the top left corner of the HTML Google Document. The corresponding hyperlink on top can then be copy & pasted and shared with others, so that they can view your work as well!

Google will be doing all of the legwork of hosting for you. It may take a while for Google Drive to process everything, so be patient if it doesn’t work at the beginning. Check back in half an hour or so.

Waiting with code(love)

Waiting with code(love)

If you want to see what I did with this walkthrough, click here.

You can right click and view source to see the code behind the webpage.

This is a very basic primer, and there is so much more you can do beyond this, from scripts (which you can see in the last few lines of what we copy & pasted from Bootstrap), to learning how to host on your own domain. This is only the first step, but I hope it inspires you to code, and build out those great intangible ideas you’ve had into tangible web products.

 ——————————————————————————

Are you excited, and want more resources to practice coding? Click here.

Learning Lists

Five Brilliant Resources for Learning How to Code, Design, and Think

When I first founded my tech startup, I did it without any technology knowledge. I’ve now firmly realized that this was a mistake—but perhaps in many ways a benefit, as I have been forced to learn the importance of coding, and design, and how it can frame one’s mind into thinking a certain rational way that will help not only with coding websites, but with how to consider and reflect on a whole host of problems, and communicate solutions to them effectively.

Here are five great resources I used along the way to help my journey along from being a total code novice to being able to understand and communicate web technology.

1-      Bentobox.IO (full repository of links to different coding schools)

http://www.bentobox.io/

Bentobox is a comprehensive walkthrough on how to learn how to code multiple languages, and the fundamentals of the web. A great starting point to see where you should start if you don’t know anything at all about coding.

2-      Hacker News (reddit-like technology subsection focused on startup enterpreneurs)

https://news.ycombinator.com/

The virtual forum of the world-famous Y Combinator, I find it is a great resource for discussing with tech-minded individuals, and for seeing what’s going on in the technology space from people working on it every day. I guarantee that you’ll feel more at ease with technology and new ideas if you browse through it daily.

3-      Hack Design (emails sent to your inbox full of design goodness)

https://hackdesign.org/

When you think design, you might think of pretty pictures fitting together in beautiful ways, but it is so much more than that. Design is really placing yourself in the shoes of someone else and ensuring they have a great experience, instead of the experience you think they should have. Design is me saying this should help you, instead of me saying this helped me. For all of that good stuff, and pretty things falling together in pretty ways, check out Hack Design’s emails.

4-      CodeAcademy (gamified version of learning how to code)

http://www.codecademy.com/

Get a handle on how to think like a coder, and how to build some projects, all while having fun! You’ll have a blast running through CodeAcademy, and it definitely will help you understand the common logic that unites most coding languages, and to get a handle on how to go about building your first projects.

5-      JQuery’s user interface documentation (simple instructions and copy+paste on how to build in cool things into your web projects)

http://jqueryui.com/

Are you past the point where you can scurry around HTML and CSS with no pain? Wondering how to go about doing the really cool things web developers do—those datepickers, and autofill fields? Did you ace the JQuery track of CodeAcademy?

Before you go off wandering too much into Javascript land, check out the JQuery user interface. JQuery is a simplified library of code that allows you to take certain common features of a website and replicate them without knowing too much about Javascript. It takes many lines of codes in Javascript, and turns it into one word you can play around with. Playing around with it will allow you to firmly get the principles behind front-end code, and will allow you to build cool projects quickly.

——————————————————————————-

Nothing beats trying to build your projects out and marshaling whatever resources you can to get that done, once you’ve finished all this. People often have a misguided notion of how hard this can be coming from a non-technical background. I graduated in business, and I can firmly tell you that I fundamentally believe that everybody can understand the basics behind the web—and that they should attempt to do so. Good luck on your journey!

Technology and Society

A Moral Opinion on Bitcoin

Why ultimately the ideals of the system may triumph over its’ practicalities

On this, the 100th anniversary of the Federal Reserve System’s founding, it is worth remarking upon the mysterious Satoshi Nakamoto and his bitcoin creations.

Are bitcoins prone to speculative excess, are they under-regulated, do they have some aspects of a Ponzi scheme? Do they represent the same tired attitude of having to burn societal value (in this case electricity, processing power, and fans) to gain private value? Is it possible Satoshi will come back and show us all his true face, while taking the system away with him?

Yes to all.

However, the ideals behind bitcoin represent the technologist’s perspective on how to cut the bloated financial sector to size. Bitcoin allows for individuals to use digital means to escape the real pressing needs of dealing with conventional banking systems (such as privacy, and avoiding the double-count of money). On that rationale alone, I can support Bitcoin in principle. Bitcoin may have had its’ Silk Road, but Wachovia had the Mexican drug cartels.

If only the penalties for those responsible were equivalent. Wachovia, after all, was fined a small percentage of its’ yearly profits and allowed to largely maintain “business as usual”. In contrast, Silk Road was shut down, and its’ owner was arrested. It is abundantly clear where government power fears to tread. Eric Holder, attorney general of the United States, put it best when he declared that some banks were becoming “too big to prosecute”.

Major banks have been caught in the last five years laundering drug money, laundering money for terrorists, forging foreclosure documents, manipulating markets, manipulating key interest rates, pushing shoddy products on clients, taking on unneeded risk due to Excel errors (London Whale), and generating a whole host of economic bubbles that put food and commodities away from the reach of those that need them most. The most infuriating aspect of this is that most of the time, they did this while they were under taxpayer protection and funding.

The Federal Reserve System, while nominally supposed to act as a check on the banks, has become dependent upon them to a point where it is abundantly clear that alternatives to the bloated financial sector must be considered. While bitcoin may be imperfect in terms of some of its’ practicalities, ultimately the ideal behind bitcoin stands out as a laudable cause that will triumph in some form, sooner or later, if we properly apply the lessons we should have learned in the last 100 years.

Technology and Society

The 21st Century Prisoner’s Dilemma

Decreasing labor in order to salvage profits, to the detriment of both

A prisoner’s dilemma is when two groups that would be better off cooperating in order to achieve a higher coordinated payout choose instead to sacrifice their better aggregate payouts because their individual incentives lead them to forgo cooperation.

Typically represented in a matrix form, one way to conceptualize it is to describe the following scenario: I and Stephen Colbert are both in prison for being fearless conservatives.  We are given the choice to either be silent or to cooperate with the statist authorities by informing on the other. If we are both silent, we would get two years each in prison, if we both informed we would get three years in prison, and if one of us cooperated and the other remained silent, the one cooperating would be free, while the other who was silent would get five years.

It is in both of our private interests to inform on the other, because then we face a choice between freedom if the other was silent, and three years if the other informed, rather than in the case of if we choose to be silent, in which case we face either two years in prison if the other was silent, and five years if the other informed.

In aggregate that means instead of having two years in prison if we both were silent, we will both inform on one another and get a negative aggregate outcome of having three years in prison each because it is in our private interest to arrive to this equilibrium, since both of us will seek the better payoff of informing on the other. We will harm each other as we seek to help ourselves.


The 21st century’s prisoner’s dilemma will be that every firm will not want to hire workers, but will want every other firm to hire workers in order to have a consumer base for itself. This is because the private payoff of having less labor (and saving on what for many businesses is the largest cost) is such a powerful private incentive. Despite what other businesses do in aggregate, it will almost always be better for the individual firm to shed workers.

Unfortunately, this will lead to a worse social equilibrium. Castes of the unemployed, political and economic volatility, and staggering inequality may become the norm. Ironically, this economic chaos will then lead to lower profits, as less consumers will be able to buy most products. If left unchecked, lower private costs will be overwhelmed by higher social costs.

The 1950s saw the rise of the Great Society, the establishment of the welfare state, and of mass infrastructure projects that set the foundation of the 20th century. We will have to do even better to build the 21st century, and ensure a balence between private and social incentives.

(Now please help break me and Stephen out of prison!)

Defining the Future

Defining Big Data in Less Than Three Minutes

I remember the first time I said the word “big data” with pride when describing my work. It, like every good buzzword, meant nothing to me, but conveyed a lot to my imagined prospective audience. It said something about my intelligence that I was working in “big data”, plying away at Excel sheets with way too many lines—a sure sign of a “big data” expert!

I know better now. After doing some research, I’m proud to say that I knew absolutely nothing about the topic at the time. In many ways, I still don’t—but I know enough to talk about the basics of “big data” and what it really represents, so you can explore with me.

The first step is to realize that big data represents data that is so large and complex that conventional data tools such as the table-based SQL cannot handle the load. Big data is not simply a big dataset that can be handled with Excel. Think of, for example, someone tracking every time someone commented on Ahnold’s accent on social media, their location, and other user attributes, in a mad quest to find who had the best “get to the choppa!” or “there is no bathroom!” quote variations: you’d quickly go mad trying to pass through every single one of those data points in a relational table or in an Excel file, even if you worked for a large Arnold-watching company, and had a set data process.

An easy rule of thumb to describe this is to say that big data refers to data sets that become difficult for an organization with a conventional data process to handle. This can be on several orders of magnitude. A smaller business may struggle with a lower threshold than a larger one. Nevertheless, it is the beginning of the struggle, and the search for alternatives to bread-and-butter SQL/Excel that is at the core of big data.

Traditional data tends to group data into tables, and operates with a smaller number of servers. Big data tends to ungroup data, and organize and analyze data through parallel processing across a larger number of servers.

When people in the field comment about the possibilities offered by big data, they are espousing the collection of unfathomable amounts of details we are now leaving on the web which was impossible five or ten years ago—because there were not so many details on the web, and there were no tools to collect them. Now with smartphones, sensors, and social media, data points are multiplying on an exponential level. Those who would take a dragnet over all of this data, pry them through tools not traditionally used in data collection that spread the volume and velocity of data over several servers instead of one or two, and then emerge with finely combed and actionable insights despite the overbearingly massive amount of data, are dealing with big data. This includes the NSA, but also data scientists who won the 2012 election, and health analysts working to ensure better care for all.

Please contribute to big data by commenting or forwarding me your terabytes of favorite Ahnold quotes.

It’s probably big data: new tools and terms

Hadoop

NoSQL

MapReduce

MongoDB

Look at me in very not-tabled Javascript Object Notation, a favorite of web-based Big Data databases:

JSON

JSON in relation to Big Data

 

It’s probably not big data

Your Excel spreadsheets of political enemies, no matter how many you have

Your Excel spreadsheets of dateable people, no matter how many you have

Your SQL tables of your favorite Arnold movies, and quotes contained within

Your handwritten list of things you would do for a Klondike bar

Look at me in traditional SQL table form:

SQL

SQL in relation to Big Data