Roger Huang

Roger has worked in user acquisition and marketing roles at startups that have raised 200m+ in funding. He self-taught himself machine learning and data science in Python, and has an active interest in all sorts of technical fields. He's currently working on boosting personal cybersecurity (youarecybersecure.com)

Life Hacking

What makes for good writing—and what doesn’t.

Good writing

Good writing.

Good writing.

Good writing is about getting the reader to the next line in an organized and inspired fashion, imbuing them with the ideas you hold word-by-word, line-by-line, story-by-story. At the end, they should feel like they’ve encountered something profound, and they should look around to the nearest person to share that new feeling with.

Every word becomes a calculation with good writing: does its definition add to unnecessary complexity or does it tailor the exact experience you want to convey?

“One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.”
― Jack KerouacThe Dharma Bums

All good writers have their own voice, so it’s not up to me to dictate that trade-off point for you. This is your experience you are trying to convey, and not mine.

However, it is good to get back to the root of writing: a good writer tries to make an idea resonate with somebody else. Defining that experience in a way that is mutually pleasurable, and comprehensible, is something all writers should strive for.

Good writing is about good ideas. If you want to be a good writer, strive to find good ideas wherever you can. Constantly strive to read new stories, meet new people, and to dream for those special ideas that move you and others.

Express those ideas in their simplest, and most beautiful form.

Good writing is about touching the undefinable sacred, and profane. Sometimes no words are more powerful than many.

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.”― Albert EinsteinLiving Philosophies

Do not mistake word count for insight. Marx wrote his Manifesto in 48 pages. It was the ideas behind it that really mattered, and those 48 pages shook, and continue to shake our world.

Good writing is not about showing off how many words you can look up in the thesaurus, or how well you can spell and punctuate.

Good writing is about holding a reader’s attention so that they can coherently absorb the idea you’re trying to communicate.

Good writing evokes imagery: it makes the right words dance across the mind’s eye with the right rhythm. It makes the reader feel like they are stuck one wisp away from an engaging conversation over coffee: good writing makes them want to pay for the writer’s next coffee so they can narrate every detail, to the last, of the reader’s life and make them comprehensible and tied to something greater, in ways the reader themselves never fathomed.

Most importantly, good writing leaves readers wanting for more.

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Life Hacking

Pain is good.

Pain is good.

Pain tells you when you’re stretching your limits, and growing. You can be comfortable for your entire life doing the same old thing, but you’ll never grow and go beyond that limit if you don’t want to experience any pain.

Pain tells you when something’s wrong, so you can learn from it. It’s why leprosy is a curse rather than a blessing: when you can’t feel the fire, you don’t know why to pull away, and you don’t know what to think of it when you see your scars.

Pain lets you know you’re taking the risks you want to define the life you need. A full life was never achieved by idling in comfort. You need all the facets of pain, from physical, to mental, to understand and grow yourself.

What you can do with pain

When you understand pain, wonderful things happen. Every company is founded on the premise of solving the pain of others.

You need to understand what real pain is before you start being successful selling a solution for it. A large reason most startups fail is because they’re solving pain that doesn’t exist: they view pain like a phantom limb—it must be there.

Inevitably, with no market validation, they realize the pain they thought was there is a figment of their imagination. The company closes because there’s no reason for it to exist, and perhaps there never was.

Your why has to be solving the pain of somebody. If that pain is large enough, and hurts enough for them to come to you, that’s when you will succeed as an entrepreneur.

“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.”
― James Baldwin

Be comfortable with pain

One should strive for comfort with pain, if not comfort itself. Comfort is the enemy of progress: when you’re comfortable, you’ve resigned yourself to what is happening now as being good enough. There’s always ways forward, and new things to learn, so this should never be true.

Pain can slow you down if you let it. Instead of dwelling over it,  and trying to ignore it, take it as a constructive bridge to the future, and work towards solving it rather than wallowing with it. Your comfort with pain will grow you into a better person.

“Numbing the pain for a while will make it worse when you finally feel it.”
― J.K. RowlingHarry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Being comfortable with pain is a sort of superpower. It allows you to experiment. After all, what do you have to fear? You understand pain, embrace it, and look to learn from it. If everything goes well, that’s great! If everything goes poorly, well there’s a learning lesson in there, and you can cope productively with it: you’ll take that chance to grow.

Either way, you win.

So that speech you’ve been putting off giving, that girl you’re too shy to ask out: why not move forward on those?

Zooey Deschanel with code(love)

She has to be dating someone, might as well be you.

Things you can do with your new superpower to move forward:

Do something you wouldn’t do every day. Take every chance you can to experiment and grow. What do you have to lose?

Relate better to others. Did you really think nobody else in the world has gone through pain? If you can understand your pain, you can understand theirs.

Move on. Really bad shit happens to people all the time. We fail, and others fail us. Sometimes the laws of the universe itself seem to fail us: the good die young, and there’s nothing we can really do about it. Once you understand that, it makes it easier to look forward on what can be done, rather than dwelling on what couldn’t.

Build great new things. Once you’re fully equipped to cope with your pain, and understand the pain of others, you’re perfectly suited to take on the risks you need to do everything you wanted to do. Pain is good, and so are the ventures you’re building. If you register all the pain you get positively as a sign of where you need to grow yourself and your venture, nothing will stop you.

Stop being comfortable. Have you learned to love a shit situation? It’s not too late to go beyond that. Pain is the enemy of comfort, it’s what comfort is designed to shield you from. When you decide enough’s enough, you’ll finally be growing towards a full life, rather than hiding from it.

Conan from about.com---pain is good.

Nothing can hurt you—not even pain.

Comfort is bad, pain is good.

I myself have gotten through plenty of both failing at many things, and succeeding at a few. It can be easy to fall into the trap of holding onto everything you have, and not clawing for more opportunities to grow: I know because I’ve been there. It’s only after I realized how valuable pain was, and how to use it productively, that I’ve been able to move on, and make rational decisions on driving towards the fuller life I’ve always wanted.

I want to be a builder. I’ve come to accept that comes with a fair amount of risk, and a fair amount of pain. But that doesn’t matter to me: after all, comfort is bad. Pain is good.

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Meaningful Multimedia

This is what winning a revolution looks like.

There is no “winning or losing” a revolution in a few short years.

The Prague Spring was a moment in history where the Cold War seemed to thaw in 1968. Czechoslovakia underwent a period of political liberalisation that included the guarantee of fundamental human and political rights. For six short months, the country was able to breathe in democratic ideas.

It was notoriously crushed by an invasion of the Soviet Union, supported by Warsaw Pact countries such as Poland. Powerless in the face of this hateful violence, the Czechs could only stand in front of the tanks rolling over their country.

Prague-Spring from http://blogs.lt.vt.edu/

Prague-Spring from http://blogs.lt.vt.edu/

They might have been regarded as weak in the stupidest sense of “might makes right”.

But the Czechs found other ways to resist. Milan Kundera wrote his modern-day classic the The Unbearable Lightness of Being, dealing with how ephemeral things like love were accorded so much heaviness despite their often coincidental and fleeting nature. To top it off, he decried the art of totalitarian regimes as “kitsch”: non-genuine just like the people under those regimes were forced to be.

“When the heart speaks, the mind finds it indecent to object.”
― Milan KunderaThe Unbearable Lightness of Being

His books were banned by the Soviet Union, and he was blacklisted from his homeland.

Jan Palach and Jan Zajíc were 21 years and 19 years old respectively. They self-immolated in protest at the despair of their countrymen.

The sparks of the fires that consumed their youth would eventually resonate with the people. In the almost bloodless Violet Revolution of 1989, dissident Václav Havel became the last president of Czechoslovakia, and the first democratically elected one of the Czech Republic.

Today, the Czech Republic and Slovakia are among the top twenty nations in the world when it comes to press freedom and some of the highest developed nations according to HDI. Many of the Warsaw Pact nations that invaded them have benefited from the same, most notably Poland.

Free press from humanrights.gov

Free press from humanrights.gov

Was the Spring at the time, at the height of the Cold War, encouraged by external forces? Probably. Did Czechoslovakia have a “tradition” of authoritarianism, much as most European countries do to some degree? Sure. Does any of that matter now? I doubt it.

It may have taken decades, but now both countries are among those who can celebrate creative dissidents such as Kundera, and those who fought to give everything for their compatriots such as Palach, and Zajíc.

The following picture is a memorial for Jan Palach and Jan Zajíc in the centre of Prague.

Palach-Zajic-memorial from Wikimedia

Palach-Zajic-memorial from Wikimedia

This is what “winning” a revolution looks like.

Technology and Society

A Technologist’s Take on Ukraine, Venezuela, and the Arab Spring.

The Obama Administration and its’ allies have successfully scaled democratic ambitions, and American ideals across a variety of theatres. Jared Cohen, formerly of the Department of State and now head of Google Ideas, and Wael Ghonim, MENA manager at Google were instrumental at lighting sparks for Tahrir, and scaling the will of the people.

In Ukraine, many of the NGOs on the field were funded by US aid, and Pierre Omidyar of EBay fame. The breathtaking use of social media to quickly spread revolt from Venezuala, to Egypt, to Ukraine, tapping into the underlying wishes of the people, and multiplying it, has been a revolutionary change in how the people express themselves.

America’s support for these programs is, in turn, a revolutionary change in how America spreads its’ ideals.

Gone are the days where American soldiers died in droves to win international disapproval to “force democracy”. This new way of growing democracy organically is the largest threat to authoritarianism, and the regimes that have the most to lose know this.

The implicit threat is this: if America can help Egyptians occupy Tahrir Square, and Ukrainians occupy the Maidan, what stops her, with enough time and tech-savvy, doing the same thing for Russians in Red Square, and the Chinese in Tiananmen?

The implicit threat is this: if we can help Egyptians occupy Tahrir Square, and Ukrainians occupy the Maidan, what stops us with enough time and tech-savvy, doing the same thing for Russians in Red Square, and the Chinese in Tiananmen?

Putin may have some affinity for Crimea. The larger prize he might be looking for is drawing a red line between what is happening now and what could happen in Russia.

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.

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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.

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

Life Hacking

Three Critical Tricks to Hack and Win Meetings

If life is a series of never-ending wait rooms, entrepreneurship is a set of meetings. A successful meeting can often determine the difference between failure and success for a startup. It’s critical for every growing organization that as many meetings as possible are successful in order to keep the momentum of the organization going. Future customers, investors, donors, and partners often hinge on a contact point as low as half an hour.

A successful meeting can often determine the difference between failure and success for a startup.

I’ve been through a lot of meetings on a lot of projects, so I know what it feels like to go through each and every calendar invite on your list. It is tiring, but hang in there. You’re winning your way to success.

You want to make sure that those short, crucial meetings turn out to your mutual benefit. To that end, here are three critical points to ensure you hack and win your meetings.

1-Get a good space. Don’t just grab the nearest coffee shop. You want to be able to hear what the other people are saying, and you want to be able to communicate effectively: that becomes exponentially harder with a bunch of other people hanging around yelling about their lives. Make sure you spend a lot of time picking out just the right place: it can make all of the difference.

I live in beautiful Montreal, and I often freely explore coffee shops, and restaurants, and keep them held in a spreadsheet. I make sure the meeting I am going for is set to a place where I know the ambiance, and backdrop is just right: from meetings with investors to first dates. It works wonderfully when without even saying a word, you have already struck the right note with your meeting partner.

The space matters with code(love)

The space matters with code(love)

2-Come prepared with at least three meeting points. A lot of meetings get stalled because neither person has prepared exactly what they want to say, and that is the cardinal sin of meetings: wasting time. Bring points, and an agenda to the table, otherwise it will be a waste of time for both of you. Three is a solid set of items to consider, and even if you don’t bring everything up, you’ll be prepared in case it looks like the meeting is about to lag.

Make sure your points are organized thematically, and in a timeline that makes sense. It’ll help you look more prepared, more confident, and your message will be crisper.

Set the agenda with code(love)

Set the agenda with code(love)

3-Make sure you know what you’re willing to give, and what you’re looking to get out of a meeting. A meeting is often an exchange between people who would look to create a mutually beneficial relationship. Make sure you have an idea of what you want out of your first meeting, and what you’re able to give the other people, and be prepared to state it honestly. Show how you can pay it forward in return.

Oftentimes, this is the trick to getting meetings in the first place: you need to be able to clearly state what you’re able to give. I have gotten a lot of meetings by enumerating what I was able to offer: either new insight, my story, or some service like writing about their startup. Steve Blank, credited for launching the Lean Startup movement, and therefore a very popular target for meeting requests put it best in his piece “How to get Meetings With People Too Busy To See You”. Make sure you offer something of yourself if you’re expecting your meeting partners to do the same.

You don’t want to be known as the person who calls meetings just because they can.

You don’t want to be known as the person who calls meetings just because they can. Make sure your meetings are focused, productive, and mutually beneficial by following these three tricks. You’ll be able to hack and win your meetings, on your way to building and scaling that next great idea.

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.

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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.

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

Longform Reflections

An Open Email to the NSA (CC Supreme Court)

Dear NSA,

Twenty years ago, you would have had the pleasure of receiving this in a nice white envelope, but now we know worse. I’m sending this to you virtually, as many of us will, because it only me one click of a button to do so.

We know worse: a large number of us have chosen to sacrifice privacy for convenience or vanity, and I am no exception. I post everything from the most banal to the most profound about myself online. If someone were so inclined, they could build a pretty complete sketch of who I am from the different digital portraits I have constructed over the ages.

I have also connected with more people than ever online. Studies will show that this probably makes me more stressed, and more narcissistic. I don’t know if this is true, but I do know that the number of connections I and everyone around me have make it increasingly likely that our digital metadata will be snagged into your watching eyes.

Using a nifty digital application, also one click of a button away, I’ve ascertained that if anybody in my network of 22 million friends of friends…of friends is up to something potentially nefarious, you could come knocking. That’s if I was American. As a Canadian, I don’t even get this courtesy before you share the data with my domestic security agency.

It’s a funny thing when you make laws that protect only domestic citizens, because everybody is a foreigner somewhere. I wonder if the GCHQ in Britain, with which you are closely collaborating with, have the same respect for the privacy of Americans as you espouse when they are rifling through Gmail for you.

Five Eyes with code(love)

Five Eyes with code(love)

Perhaps, however, your intent is benign. After all, you are balanced by law that binds you only to search for metadata: the fact that you can’t rifle through the actual data should count for something right?

I work in technology. I’m keenly aware of how metadata can be used to trace connections between people, their location, and their habits. It’s perhaps why you and a million other companies are finding it valuable to scoop out this data.

The same technology that allows us to hail cabs at the push of a button, can also be used to track us within meters. If I were to go to an abortion clinic, or a therapist, my parents might not know, but you will.

The connections between me the peers I choose to connect with most frequently can also be equally revelatory. They can reveal the organization I work for, but also my political affiliation or sexual orientation, even if I have not revealed them to anybody.

NSA Listens with code(love)

NSA listens with code(love)

You may ask why we care less if Google has our data but not you.

Until Google gets the robot army they are seeking to build, and has the power to imprison me by force, me and many others will care, but care less that Google has that information about us.

Google buys robot firm Boston Dynamics. ruh roh

You may ask why we should care about this metadata being revealed about ourselves.

The first reason would be because as we relax privacy constraints around all of our information, it is highly possible that financial information, and health information will fall into your hands as well: this has already happened to a certain degree.

The second reason is because you have a history of tracking notable political and business figures for reasons that do not correlate well with national security. In fact, your sister agency, the FBI, often still tracks people for their political beliefs.

The third reason is because, with lax oversight, your propensity to lie to elected representatives, and consequently to the American people, makes you a hard agency to trust with anything.

These are harsh truths, but the American nation was built on these truths. And one overriding truth is the following: absolute power corrupts absolutely. While it is far from me to suggest that you have absolute power at the moment, it is certain that your agency could help somebody obtain it, and it is certain that right now, you are playing around the lines of a balance of powers that has served the American people well for centuries.

“[If a dictator ever took over, the N.S.A.] could enable it to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back.

-Senator Church of the Church Committee

You may ask why it matters if you are authorized by elected representatives to do what you do, even barring how unclear that is given how legislation has been warped to fit your needs.

On this, we do have an agreement of sorts. I do think it sad that security has come to override every other concern, and perhaps it is right that America needs a change in her elected officials if they have allowed you to get away with this. However, I also do know that you are being sly on this point. Consider your interpretation of Patriot Act Section 215 and how you have overstepped it.

So I write this in the open spirit you have abandoned for the American people: please consider reining yourself in. We live in a new age, and there should be new rules.

We live in a new age, and there should be new rules.

If you ignore this advice, I have kindly CCed your friends at the Supreme Court. I am sure they have much more to say on this than I do.

Sincerely yours,

(Well, you can probably figure out who)

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For a look at how the Supreme Court might respond, click here.