19 Jan 2017
I spend a lot of time thinking about how technology can be used for good, and for bad. I feel pretty strongly that many technologists do not think deeply about the alternative ways in which their technology can be used, for both good and evil. This is one of the big challenges in the world of APIs, how do you encourage companies to open up their resources, knowing they may not fully understand what they are doing. It may be something that stimulates innovation, but it may also be something that gets abused.
One of the ways I push my understanding of technology is through my process of design fiction, where I write stories that push realities on my alternate Kin Lane blog, and similar stories from the world of APIs on alternate API Evangelist. A topic I'm pushing forward in this areas centers around how do law enforcement or the "good guys" conduct forensic analysis on mobile devices, as well as via laptops, desktops, and servers they obtain custody of--inversely I'm trying to understand how hackers or the "bad guys" cover their tracks. I prefer talking about this stuff out in the open so that others can learn from, whether it is for good, or for bad--I believe the good from being transparent outweighs the bad in many scenarios (not all).
When it comes to recovering data from laptop, desktop, and server hard drives, practices for recovering data, as well as covering your tracks, are pretty proven. When it comes to doing this on mobile phones there is still much being figured out when it comes to reliability getting into mobile devices, as well as a whole lot of discussion around what is currently possible, and being used by law enforcement, banks, and other corporate and government entities. We are seeing regular trickles of information emerging about what technology and services are available out there to help get at people's information stored on mobile phones--a discussion that needs to be further brought out in the open.
In my style, I am thinking about the future of how information is protected, and how the surveillance machine is getting at information. I'm focusing on virtualization, and like the unallocated space on a hard drive, how long does information stick around in virtualized environments. Increasingly we are storing information on virtualized storage instances, and running applications and desktops in virtualized environments. What does data storage, and recovery look like in these environments? I regularly fire up 20-30 virtual servers, along with virtual storage drives to process jobs, harvest and crunch data, then delete them when I am done. What happens to all this data? What is retrievable? I am not just talking about for my recovery needs, I'm talking about in law enforcement scenarios.
I'm not looking to do anything illegal--not my style. I'm looking to understand this so I can be ahead of the curve in poking, prodding, and stimulating the conversation about how we keep our bits private, as well as understand what the police and surveillance apparatus is up to. I am not team terrorist or criminal, but I am team anti-surveillance. I am a strong believer that if we can have an honest conversation about this out in the open, and better understand what is possible that we can sensibly mitigate criminal activity while also protecting the privacy of citizens and businesses. I'm just getting going thinking about this, talking with experts in my circle, and learning more. I will keep exploring both in reality here on my blog, as well as on my alternative blogs, and see where this all goes.
If you have any expertise or opinions in this area, I'd love to hear your thoughts.
19 Jan 2017
Have you ever spoken up critically on the Internet about a company? I'm not talking about the random gripe with a brand when it comes to their products or services, I am talking about taking a direct shot at the ethics of a company. You know that feeling you get when you do this, where your mind starts going through the possible repercussions: Will this impact my job? Will this impact me getting future contracts? Maybe people won't return my calls now? Will I be sued? On and on....
While this is definitely a REAL problem, I can't help but feel that in 80% of these situations it is more about self-policing, then it is about real repercussions. This is the beauty of how this works in business. Something I've seen play out in government, higher education institutions, the enterprise, and in the startup space when it comes to VC investment. If you ever want VC money, you better not bad mouth venture capital, or any individual VCs! I get a number of backchannel DM's and emails from folks telling me I'm brave for saying something, or asking if I have concerns about repercussions.
I deeply consider the impacts of anything I say and write online, whether it is public or not. However, I do not self-police myself for a fear of those in power (at any level). While I do worry about where my next paycheck will come from, I'm not concerned with calling out companies I work with, or would potentially depend on for a paycheck. If a company can't take constructive criticism from me and truly get to know who I am and what I represent, then I do not want to take money from them. It is just how I operate, something that keeps me confident in myself, my business, and what I do for a living and to make my impact on the world.
This type of self-policing and intimidation is how power works. I'm putting this out there because I feel like the precedent has been set by Trump and his followers, that they will come after you legally--if you speak up. Something I think some businesses will emulate. While I do consider these repercussions throughout my work, I'm not going to let it disrupt what I do because this is how power works. If we are going to manifest the world we want, we have to speak truth to power, otherwise, we've created our own jail cells, and put ourselves into them, giving up on ever making a meaningful impact on the world around us.
14 Jan 2017
I'm thinking about my digital bits a lot lately. Thinking about the digital bits that I create, the bits I generate automatically, the bits I own, the bits I do not own, and how I can make a living with just a handful of my bits. I have an inbox full of people who want me to put my bits on their websites, and people who want to put their bits on my platform so that they are associated with my brand, increasing the value of their bits. I know people think I'm crazy (I am) when I talk so much about my bits in this way, but it is a just response to my front-row seat watching companies getting pretty wealthy off all of our bits. #BlueManGroup
Obviously, this is not a new phenomenon, and we've heard stories about Prince, John Fogerty, and George Clinton fighting for the funk and ownership of their musical bits, something artists of all types have had to battle on all fronts, throughout their careers. Lately, I have I have found myself sucked in listening to stories from Carrie Fisher in her documentaries, better understanding her struggles to maintain a voice in the merchandising, representation and control over her likeness, and her most famous role--Princess Leia. <3
Carrie Fisher made Prince Leia the icon she is today. However, she did it on the LucasFilm platform. How much does LucasFilm own, and how much does Carrie Fisher own? How dependent are they on her, and how dependent is she on them. Something that has been intensely worked out between lawyers since the 1970's. Now that she has passed, I'm sure her estate will continue to take on LucasFilm on this front, but the company has so many of her video, audio, and images (her bits), that they can possibly recreate her for future movies if they desired.
As I'm thinking about my own bits, and the control, or lack of control I have over these this week, I'm also reading that Lucasfilm released a statement that:
We want to assure our fans that Lucasfilm has no plans to digitally recreate Carrie Fisher’s performance as Princess or General Leia Organa.
Remember the Tupac and Michael Jackson holograms? The precedent for digitally recreate all of or the parts of pieces (bits) of a human is out there. Let me stop here. I'm not talking about anything remotely in realm of the singularity, I'm simply talking about what is possible with existing technology using video, audio, images, and text content generated from or containing the fingerprint of a certain human being (me). I know that some geeks love to masturbate to this shit, but I'm just talking about some of you delusion mother-fuckers realizing there is a lot of money to be off of someone else's hard work, or even just their human existence. #Exploitatification
The platformification of everything is all about getting people to come do shit on your platform, and making money doing this--I just happen to study this stuff for a living and possess a borderline unhealthy obsession on the subject (#help). Carrie Fisher had to learn the hard way how to fight for what is hers, back when she was a young adult, something that continued throughout her life. With advances in technology this battle has evolved, morphed, and changed, with the greatest amount of control and power always existing in the hands of the platform (Lucasfilm) operator, who has the most lawyers.
if you publish anything on the web regularly you know that there are folks who immediately copy your shit and post elsewhere, trying to generate ad revenue--this is the lowest level of things out there. At the higher levels, we have Youtube, Facebook, Instagram, and others who want all your bits in their walled garden, where they can measure, track and run your bits through their "machine learning" and "artificial intelligence" algorithms (go Evernote). Where they obtain a license and control over your videos, images, audio and other objects. Where their machine learning can learn to write like you, understand your behavior, where you go, what you like to buy, where you eat, and what you like to read and watch, think, and write in your journal.
At what point can Facebook or Google launch an API channel that behaves just like what I perform as the API Evangelist. At what point can Amazon understand which algorithms are getting the most use, the most traction, and awareness, and access to the most data and content, and recreate all of this for themselves, within their domain, presented as the latest AWS offering. You know why platform operators are afraid of folks stealing their AI through APIs? Because it is the reverse of their business model, training their algorithms using your bits, and providing a plantation for developers to tend to, cultivate, and grow the best crops.
Thankfully I am a human being, and no amount of AI, machine learning, and algorithms will ever replace me, and what I do, but it doesn't mean that there won't be endless corporations willing to step up and exploit, profit from my existence as said human being. As I struggle to understand my digital self, and make ends meet for my physical self, I just had to take pause, and point out that a corporation just promised to a bunch of human beings that they would not be digitally recreating another beloved human being, simply so they could profit from the hard work she did as a living human being. It leaves me wondering if Lucasfilm will always have this attitude, and whether or not other companies like Facebook and Oculus Rift will have similar ethical stances, and not use all of us in their social and VR bubbles productions.
11 Jan 2017
Domain literacy is one of my new causes in 2017. We'll see how successful I am convincing people of what domain literacy is, what the benefits are, and the power of the domain at this point in time. Web domains like Twitter.com and Facebook.com are influencing the world in ways we haven't even imagined.
Think about the power wielded by Twitter and Facebook right now. The collective energy they wield to shift markets, influence opinion, and change how the world works. Or, do they? They only do because we operate within their domain. We go to Twitter or Facebook.com, and have them in our pockets via mobile applications. We give them this power. What if we chose not to? What if we did not use Twitter.com or Facebook.com?
With each message, image, video, and like we've incrementally given power to these domains, and in turn given power to those who have figured out how to dominate within these domains through the replication, automation, and application of their ideology. We tend to mistake this for some Internet-enabled democracy, where in reality those with the know-how, and compute power can out-blast, troll, and silence those who do not.
I'm fascinated by the power we've given to these web domains in just a decade. How much they've captured our attention, and how we've accepted them as the way things are, and something that is inevitable. While I do not think we can fully escape the powerful effects of these domains, I do think that we can maintain our own domains, frequent and support domains that we trust and believe in, and minimize the power we bestow to some of the domains that are destabilizing our world right now.
11 Jan 2017
Further evolving what I mean when I mean when I say "domain literacy", and wanted to brush up on the benefits of domain literacy are, which is why this is an area I'm focusing more attention on in 2017. It is important to me to be able to articulate what I mean by domain literacy because it is a potentially complex, multi-dimensional concept that impacts our physical as well as our digital worlds.
While there is no antidote for everything that ills us on the web these days, I feel like domain literacy brings some interesting benefits to the table that can help protect the average person from two of the most dangerous things that we face on the web right now:
- Phishing - If your are domain literate, you will always right click on ANY link in an email before clicking, closing up the number one way that hackers, and cyber(in)security specialist get into secured networks and systems.
- Disinformation - If you are domain literate, you will know every share on Facebook links to a domain, and understand that there is wider context beyond the catchy title, description, and image of the Facebook "card" being shared.
There are many challenges with ensuring a large percentage of the population meets a baseline domain literacy, and there will be other benefits beyond these, but I feel like we have to begin somewhere. These are two of the most important tools in any cyber(in)security specialist's toolbox. It is how the average person is compromised digitally and misled emotionally, resulting in a very malleable, and exploitable individual.
I am not suggesting that everyone should be fully aware of each web domain of everything they use and share daily, or the inner workings of DNS, I am just suggesting that we draw a baseline of what is domain literacy, and identify what we'd like to accomplish with this definition. If we can help enough folks meet a baseline definition of domain literacy, I can't help but think we could shift the current cyber(in)security environment significantly and make for an incrementally healthier online environment for everybody.
10 Jan 2017
Things seem really out of control right now, because they are. After getting through a very dark period after the 2016 election, I am working to better understand what is going on, and find the most effective path forward in my work. Over the holidays I overwhelmingly lost faith that the majority of US citizens were decent people, who genuinely cared about the human race. Now that I'm coming out of that funk, I'm trying to figure out a healthy path forward tht will allow me to keep doing work that will make a meaningful impact.
Taking a slightly different path than what I'm reading in the media and some of the blogs I tune into, I'm not going to invest much time in slowing down, changing course, or waiting for 26% of Americans who "got left behind", and felt they needed to vote for Trump. I'm sorry, I do wish the best quality of life for these folks, but not at the cost of women, people of color, Muslims, and queer folks...sorry. Instead, I'm focusing on the other 74% of Americans, many of whom felt they didn't need to vote in the last election--this is where my hope for the future lies.
I simply cannot believe that the major of this country think that Trump represents a way forward. I'm confident that this is just 26% of Americans seem much louder than the other 74%, making things everything feel way more fucked up than they really are--I see two primary reasons for this:
- Suppressing The Voice Of Other - White men with power have long excelled at suppressing the voice of women, people of color, and queer folk. This is how 26% of the population can still inflict so much control over the rest. They have been doing this for centuries, and conditioned many to just be silent, not speak up, and used to being shouted over.
- Technological Amplification - The web has overwhelmingly been developed, designed, and operated by men, and specifically white men. There is a reason why the alt-right, conservatives, and Russia are good at this stuff, it was designed by like-minded folks, often with affinity for similar causes (whiteness), possessing a singular focus on generating revenue and extracting value at all costs--making it a rich environment to be co-opted for other more sinister objectives.
I do not hold out much hope that we will win the technological battle in coming years. The bros own the platforms inside and out, and the bros are investing in each wave of technological disruption--all we can do is vote with which platforms we use, and which domains we frequent, and try to operate successfully in the cracks. I want to have hope that we can do technology right, but after having a front row seat for the mobile evolution, and now for the Internet of Things and voice enablement, hope is fading fast.
Where I do hold out hope, is that the people who have had their voices suppressed for decades (centuries / always), and their children who are making white people a minority in the United States will find their voice. I am hoping that Trump is a horrible response from a shrinking group of very fearful and scared white people. Their fear of people who are different from them--a hatred is being amplified by technology, and I'm hoping at some point the voice of the 74% of Americans who do not feel this way will grow louder. I'm hoping they can be more aware of the damaging effects technology can have on our lives and our communities. I'm hopeful that they will speak up in the next election and shift our direction down a better road than we find ourselves on right now.
09 Jan 2017
I feel the overlapping bubble(s) I witnessed on my Facebook profile during the 2016 election is just a little taste of what the future of the web will look like. Many of my conservative friends don't believe they live in a bubble, as well as many of my more liberal friends. I saw claims that "fake news" and "disinformation" does not exist from both camps, and after digging a little, I usually found that these folks lived in a carefully crafted bubble of one kind of another.Â
These bubbles weren't designed to split Democrats and Republicans during an election, they were designed to keep you all separated into comfortable little groups so that you could be sold things. It just so happened that overlapping groups of white men, who are really good at the Interwebz employed these existing mechanisms to shift the balance in the election. Obama used a version of this to get elected in both of the last two elections, it just so happened that the conservatives, with the backdrop of the current (and growing) cyber(in)security landscape were just able to take it to entirely new levels, discovering new and exciting ways to disrupt the world around us. #DisruptionFTW!
Everything is being personalized right now for us in the name of capitalism, from education to healthcare, and back again. The young energetic entrepreneurs believe they can make your life better and easier (they will for select groups), but they do not realize what a great vehicle they are also for disruption (I meant they, but they don't). The disruption of markets, the disruption of democracy, and the disruption of the thing that makes the experiment that we call WORLD WIDE web actually work. It's ok they, in the end, they will be fine--they always are.
Increasingly startups are building tools to separate, segment, and personalize the web for "you", leaving out all the bits about where you exist only in their sales funnel. They have a single focus, to identify you, target you, and put you into a bucket where they can monitor, track, and sell you things, on the way to their business exit (cha-ching). They really do not care what other "business models" can be derived from this, as long as it supports their mission of converting you into a transaction. The open web has been under assault by walled gardens like Facebook and Google for some time nowÂ and actively being converted into toxic domains where only the bravest will go like with Reddit, and soon to be Twitter--this is by design.
If you don't have what it takes to be on the open web, you'll stay within walled gardens, sticking to where you feel safe, and the messaging speaks to you (good or bad). Public websites will continue to be sliced off by class and access, and if you have the resources to be in the club, you will see a very different version of the web. If you can afford it, there will be someone there to support you. If you are in the club, the features, benefits, and protections from the worst on the web will be there for you. If you can't afford it, things like privacy and security will be sold to you incrementally like your mobile phone plan is currently.
This shift has been going on for a while now. The seeds were planted in the 2.0 version of the web, which gave rise to our current wave of tech leaders like Facebook, Twitter, Google, Amazon and others. In this environment, personalization has taken root, allowing us to target, segment, augment, and compartmentalize the world wide web into smaller much more marketable, and safer bubbles. We have even given the average citizens knobs and levers to pull and twist to further speed up and dial in the process, where they only see, hear, and engage in what they want, and what makes them feel safe. Exactly the version of the webÂ and the world we want to seeÂ will be sold to us in real-time, bit by bit, transaction by transaction--it was fun while it lasted.
06 Jan 2017
Online web domains are an increasingly important aspect of our daily business and personal lives. I get that the average folk could care less about domains, DNS, and the nuts and bolts of how the web works, but after this election, and as more of our personal and professional lives move online, I feel like folks ignore some of the deeper details at their own peril. In 2016, you either work on someone else's farm (domain), or you work on your own, and increasingly folks are operating their personal lives and business worlds entirely on someone's else's domain.
I do not expect folks to understand domains at a very technical level, but I'm working to develop a baseline expectation of what people should know, and evolve this into a coherent definition of what domain literacy means to me. Domain literacy for me means that an average citizen should have the following awareness:
- Domains Exist - A basic knowledge that domains exist, they there are many different top level domains, and be able to look at the address bar in their browser and make sense of the domain they are operating within.
- Domain Due Diligence - Have a basic awareness that there are different entities behind domains, ranging from individuals to corporate, institutional, and government own domains. Ideally they also have basic knowledge of how to conduct a little due diligence to understand who is behind (ie. Whois, Business Search).
- Domain Experts - Understand which domains are goto when it comes to finding domain experts. Ok, this is where the meaning starts to morph and bend, but I think contributes to the depth of domain literacy, and contributes to the importance of critical thinking as part of developing and strengthing domain literacy.
- Operate Your Own Domain - That is possible for ANYONE to purchase, and operate their own domain on the Internet, and that this means more than just having a blog or an e-commerce site. Ideally, there is a basic understanding of where to purchase and host your domain, even if it is with an existing service provider like WordPress, Wix, or Reclaim Hosting.
- Reclaim Your Domain - It is important for people to understand that they have control over their accounts and presence in other domains. That they can download their data, access via APIs, and use in services like Zapier, and even delete their presence within any domain--if they can't, they shouldn't be operating there.
- Safely Operate In Variety of Domains - Even for those of us who operate heavily within our domains, the reality is that we will always have to operate in 3rd party domains, either mandated by work, our schools, government agencies, or just because it is the popular place to be for fun or business. This is where the average citizen needs a basic level of awareness about operating safely and securely in each domain whether it is Facebook, Twitter, or your banking applications while protecting your own best interface.
These are the core elements of domain literacy in my opinion. It may sound like a lot to ask fo the average citizen, but I don't think it is much different than basic security, safety, common sense, and financial literacy required in the real world. You don't walk into shady establishments in the physical world, and hand over your private information to people you don't know or trust--we just need to help make people more of aware of the details of doing this in the digital, as well as our physical worlds.
This definition is a work in progress for me. This is the first time I've tried to define as a simple outline. I will work to keep refining, and hopefully also provide some basic exercises that people might be able to engage in, to strengthen their awareness when it comes to domains. This stuff will become increasingly important in the future. It will determine whether you are well informed during elections, as well as in control of your finances, the value generated by your own work, as well as your privacy and safety in an increasingly volatile online environment.
05 Jan 2017
I wanted to use the recent news about Medium downsizing as an opportunity to educate folks about the importance of maintaining your own domain. I like Medium. I am not as excited about it as some folks are, but I see enough value there that I make sure and make sure it is one of the channels I tend to on a regular basis. However, as I've discussed before, its important to weigh the pros and cons of how much you depend on 3rd party platforms and services for essential pieces of your online presence--like your blog.
I am always thinking deeply about which online services I adopt. Balancing my needs, my budget, how much control I have over my data, content, and algorithms, while also working to understand the motives of each platform, product, and service they offer. I find value in operating on Medium and have even showcased some API provider's usage of the platform for their blog presence, and Medium's own approach to delivering their API. However, I've always been skeptical about Medium's viability, motivations, and what the future might hold.
We should not stop playing with new services, and adopting those that add value to what we are trying to accomplish online, but we should always consider how deeply we want to depend on these companies, and be aware that their VC-fueled objectives might now always be alignment with our own. It is a good time to focus on this topic as we ponder the future of Medium, but I wanted to beat this drum again mainly because of the number of folks who felt they needed to tell me in 2016 that I should move my blog entirely to Medium, without considering that impact to my operations--it is cool man!
I do not condemn folks running their blog on Medium, but at a minimum, you should make sure and set up your own subdomain, otherwise you are handing over all your content, power, and control to Medium. If you are blogging for fun, or just as a side to your career, this might not be a problem, but if you are like me, and depend on your blog to pay your rent, you have to put more thought into where your blog operates. I enjoy the network effect of Medium, but I also enjoy the 5-10K my blog makes each month through sponsorship and content creation--something I have been able to cultivate because I'm maintained full control over my operations for seven years now.
Startup centric folks love to push back on this way of thought, as they prefer all of us to be dependent on them, regardless of their objectives, exit strategies, or high risk of failure. I'm perfectly happy to enter into partnership arrangements with platforms that bring value, but I want to make sure I can always get my data in, and my data out, and make sure all public URLs are reachable via a domain I have DNS control over. I'm sorry, its just good business. In 2016, either you are working on someone else's farm (domain), or you are working on your own, enjoying the fruits of your labor, and profiting from the value you generated on a daily basis.
03 Jan 2017
This is the first time I've written about the 2016 election. Last year was difficult for me, and I'm guessing things aren't going to get better. I am not going to rail about Trump, as I would rather spend my energy on progressive things, but I will say I am extremely disappointed in many of my friends, family, and fellow citizens. I feel like it came down to business corruption vs government corruption, and then we piled racism, misogyny and fear on the trump side, and white folks, completely blind to the racism and misogyny, were ready to have their fear and hatred stoked, opted for business corruption. I feel the conservative anti-government efforts have been successful, making folks very distrustful of government, and somehow resulting in the thought that big business is our friend. WTF?
That is where my election rant ends. There is a lot of work to be done, and I do not have the emotional bandwidth to fight in a fact-free environment and spend time with folks who have opted to roll the world back to the 1980s, or earlier. I am going to continue doing what I was doing before--mapping out the API layers being leveraged as part of almost every aspect of our increasingly digital lives, and help make sense of the technical, business, and political side dimensions of it all. I'll be focusing heavily on API definitions and standards, which I feel are central to all other areas of the API lifecycle, helping push for meaningful specifications like Open Referral, OpenAPI Spec, API Commons, APIs.json, and beyond.
You will find me heavily focused on work in the coming years, with no time for other social requirements. Any free time I get will be spent on my drone trips, image and video algorithmic rotoscope work, which provides me with a creative outlet and release--which allows me to go back to work easily. Any free energy will be spent helping my teenage daughter prepare for this world she is entering into, finding a university to attend, and obtaining the skills she needs to survive in the digital world, as well as the very male dominated, and toxic online environment we seem to be doubling down on. This is my number one source of anxiety during, and after the election and is where I will be spending ALL my emotional bandwidth on HERE--not fighting, or discussing non-issues with folks who welcomed the Trump administration into our world.
The next couple of years will be hard. They are going to be particularly hard for my friends of color, the Muslim faith, from the LGBTQ community, and for women. I'm very disappointed in my friends, family, and fellow citizens for their blindness in these areas, and only thinking of their self-centered concerns and party lines--a Trump administration elevates everything toxic in our world to entirely new levels, and is not a solution to anything. I am hunkering down, getting to work on the projects that matter. Let me know if you can help in my work, or you need my help on something API or open data related. I can't guarantee I will have the bandwidth, but if it's worthy, making a positive impact on our country, I'm willing to consider. #Onward
03 Jan 2017
I got sucked into a project over the holidays, partly because it was an interesting technical challenge, but mostly because it provided me with a creative distraction after the election. I started playing with image filters from Algorithmia, using their Deep Filter service, which some may recognize as being similar to services like Prisma. The difference is with Algorithmia is you can use their 30+ filters, or if you want you can train your own image filters using their AWS machine learning AMI.
As I was playing with Algorithmia after the election, I had many images in my head of the dystopian landscape that is unfolding around us. Many of these images were reminiscent of my childhood in the 70's and 80's, during the cold war, where the future perpetually seemed very bleak to me. I wanted a way to take these images from my head and apply to the photos I was taking, and even better, what if I could to it to the video, and more specifically, the drone videos I am making. Four weeks later, I have gotten to the first set of filters, that when applied to my photography that gets me closer to the visions I had in my head.
Here is an original photo taken by me on January 2nd, 2017 in East Los Angeles:
Next, I wanted to reduce the world around us to be less than real, comic, or drawn. I wanted a way to algorithmically reduce the outlines of the world into something that resembled our real world, to make things as familiar as possible, but then quickly bending and skewing it, so that I could help us see how dark things are becoming.
To borrow a phrase from my partner in crime, I wanted to be able to reduce everything I captured in my photography and videos down to a transaction. I wanted to show us how the world around us is being digitized, de-humanized, and rendered into an even more hostile landscape, that has very little concern for the humans living in it.
I wanted to be able to go even further and visualize how noisy the world has become, not because of cars and airplanes, but because of our bits and bytes that were flowing around us every day. Help us visualize the constant assault on us, the people we love, and that increasingly there is no escape from this constant assault--it is in our homes, cars, business, and public spaces.
I want to paint a dark dystopian digital landscape, but ultimately I want as wide as a possible palette as I can. I needed an algorithmic palette of colors and textures that were born from the true artists who came before us, making the colors and textures familiar, and even soft before I took things to a much darker level. I didn't want to just shock, I wanted to slowly shift the world around us down a dystopian road.
Transforming our world into a cartoon or painting in a way that didn't make you feel completely uncomfortable. You were slowly slipping into a dream, falling asleep, and things haven't gotten too scary yet. The world is still familiar, with bright and colorful elements that still keep you smiling, and hopeful that things will get better--believing in the story I was telling.
Then slowly I want to be able to turn up the heat. Allowing the sun to set on the world you once knew. Then begin to reveal some of the darker outlines of the shadows and some of the darker aspects of our reality. Bringing some of the scarier aspects of the unfolding world around us out of the dark, and into the open.
Then looking to make you feel like you just dropped a substantial hit of LSD, allowing the sun to set on reality, where we let all the demons out to play and roam the streets. If you still live on the 10th floor or above the world might still look beautiful, but if you live on the ground floor, the world is a very scary place, where nobody is safe.
Something that will eventually affect everyone. The rich, the poor. Nobody will be safe, and nobody is immune from the dystopian effects technology and politics is having on our world. Just because you do not see the negative effects of the surveillance economy on your floor, doesn't mean it won't eventually reach you--at some point, we'll all be impacted.
I wanted to play with ways of taking us back in time. Take modern images, and make them feel like we were in the 50's, 40's, or any other decade or time period the conservatives want us to live in. I needed filters to apply to the current photos and videos I was taking, and shift them in time, keeping some of the context, while also allowing me to tell other stories that take us anywhere in the past.
I wanted a variety of ways to visualize the impending doom on the horizon. I wanted to be able to force the sun to set on the current day and paint an ominous picture what will happen once the sun goes down, and tomorrow begins. What did we do today, that will impact us tomorrow? How can I paint a picture that grabs our attention and potentially avoid a darker tomorrow?
And as the world begin to bend out of control, and we begin to lose our grip on reality, how can I point out how dark things are on the landscape, and show you that things are slipping? What is the right color palette, and texture for showing us that we are slipping into a darker reality, and potentially going down a road where there is no return?
In the same way, how to I paint a hopeful picture of tomorrow, either as the sun is setting, or right before it is coming up? Things might be a little dark, but this is a new day, and there is a little hope out there if do the right thing today, or maybe not make the same mistakes today that we made yesterday.
How do I articulate depression, and the mental illness around us, which we are in denial of? How do I take the color out of everything that matters to us, suck all the hot air out of the marketing hype and advertising polish that exists everywhere? How do I limit the color palette we have access to be more realistic, allowing us to have an honest conversation about what the fuck is really going on?
Most importantly, how do I avoid us heading down the darkest, most dystopian landscapes we can imagine? How do I make textures, colors, and filters that show the bombed out landscape ahead of us if we do not pull our shit together? How can I take the buildings, streets, and roads around us, and make the main street look like Syria, reminding us of what is just around the corner?
This is just the beginning. I have trained 25 separate filters, using Algorithmia's style transfer model machine learning process. I have another week or so of training these filters. I'm also working to gather more video and image footage that I can apply these filters. At each step of the process 1) capture images, 2) train models 3) apply filters I am learning a lot, something I hope never really ends. Training filters are costly, so I won't be able to continue indefinitely, but I wanted to mark the point on the calendar where I had achieved the results I had envisioned early on in my head.
Now I just ned to rinse and repeat. I am going to the US / Mexico border next week to gather some footage, and I will be going to DC later this month for some work, where I will also be working to gather some valuable footage. By then I am hoping I have a palette of about 50 separate machine learning filters I can apply to images and to videos using my algorithmic rotoscope process. Then I should have enough footage to begin telling more stories about the world around us, and help quantify the uneasy feelings we are all having about the world unfolding around us.
28 Nov 2016
I spent some time studying the "fake news" problem over the holidays to prepare me for speaking intelligently on the topic. I fired up a bunch of Amazon servers, gathered a bunch of data about what has been going on, but as of this weekend I put a pause on the work, publishing what I had gathered to Github, and set the project on the back burner to simmer for a while.
One of the realizations I had while doing this work was of the limitless depths of what "fake news" can be. I looked at the home pages of 350 disinformation sites this weekend, as I studied the results of this "fake news" harvesting via the Twitter API. One of the central actors in my work this weekend was Fidel Castro, who just happened passed away. He was on over 90% of the websites I looked at over the weekend, with a diverse range of positions from the left, to the alt-right--Fidel became the poster child for my "what is fake news" thought process.
In the current online environment, separating out "fake", "propaganda", and "marketing" is nearly impossible. While I do not subscribe to many of the conspiracy theories about leading news and media outlets, I would put out there that we all suffer from a significant lack of trust in these critical institutions. From Russia to Cuba, to Iran, Egypt, Iraq, and on, and on...think about the "fake news" that has been put out there by these outlets. Fake news and disinformation is nothing new--we just have a more automated, real time, and algorithmically controlled edition that exists in everyone's pockets, automobiles, and homes today.
So far, all roads with my fake news and domain literacy work lead me back to my earlier digital literacy work. My time, energy, bandwidth, and compute power should be spent helping folks develop their awareness of the online world emerging around us. I will keep developing my domain literacy codebase for profiling the domains I feed it but will be emphasizing domain literacy over "fake news". Investing my time into quantifying, connecting, and defining who is behind domains, and educating average individuals about owning their own domain, and being more aware of the pros and cons of operating within, sharing, and engaging with other major and minor online domains that exist online today.
28 Nov 2016
I spent some time studying the "fake news" problem over the holidays to prepare me for speaking intelligently on the topic. I fired up a bunch of Amazon servers, gathered a bunch of data about what has been going on, but as of this weekend I put a pause on the work, publishing what I had gathered to Github, and set the project on the back burner to simmer for a while.
After running around 30 separate servers for a week, I felt like these resources could be better spent educating people about the digital world around us, not battling the well-equipped, and ever evolving disinformation groups that seem to thrive online. It is no secret that white men are good at the Internet, something that became even more evident with the whole gamergate shitstorm, but is something that has reached alarming levels during this election. After evaluating almost 350 domains engaging in disinformation campaigns, one thing became very clear--white angry men are good at the Internet, and amplifying the (dis)information that supports their view of the world.
From a technical standpoint, I'm perfectly happy mapping out these domains, understanding who is behind (or not) each of these efforts, and the organized search and social efforts behind them. From a human standpoint, I can't keep wading through their hatred, and validating that yet another site is spreading hate, and that spending my money on compute and storage capacity, to map out, define, and quantify this world is not the healthiest and most sustainable way forward for me.
I am better off educating one or two people at a time about being more critical in how we use the Internet. Helping the average individual establish, define, and defend their own domain(s), while also learning to sensibly operate in other leading domains like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and beyond. I do not feel like there is a technological fix to get us out of the "fake news" situation. I feel like this needs to be a human solution, and my time is better spent helping contribute to digital literacy, and not engaging with or defining the worst domains in the Internet realms.
28 Nov 2016
There was a lot of fake news swirling around during the election, and like I do with other ways that technology (APIs) are impacting our world, I wanted to better understand it before I opened my mouth telling people there was or was not a problem here--let alone talk about any possible solution. Building on my friend Mike Caulfield's work, I set out to understand how "fake news" was being shared, compared to "regular news".
I seeded my list of "fake news" domains with just a handful that are making the rounds in the press and kept adding to it, resulting in 327 separate domains I was evaluating as of yesterday when I spun down the servers. I fired up an Amazon server and began pulling all of the URLs that make up these sites, and passing those URLs to Facebook so that I could better understand how these sites were being shared, compared to other more recognized news outlets.
Establishing a list of these domains, and harvesting their sites isn't that hard, but understanding their virality on Facebook and Twitter is more costly, as these platforms are in the business of monetizing this information, which contributes to why this is a problem in the first place. I was able to get around some of the limitations of the Facebook and Twitter APIs by launching many different servers (30 as of yesterday), that allows me to pull data with a unique IP address--something that is proving to be more costly than any value I generated.
I am shutting down the servers, and leaving my research on Github for others to build on. I am just unsure of what would be next, uneasy about spending money I do not have on this, and be in the business of generating lists of domains that say this is "good" or this is "bad". The reasoning behind these websites spreading information or disinformation vary, and honestly it is very difficult to draw a line regarding what is good or bad--something I'm not very interested in spending my time doing. I will keep working on evolving the code for this project to keep profiling domains, hopefully providing a fingerprint of healthy and unhealthy behavior.
Honestly, this world is very very toxic. These folks are obviously very scared of people of color, government, god, and much, much more, and I'm not really interested in spending my days wading through this stuff. In my opinion, there is no technological solution to this problem. We can encourage the platforms to filter better, and the advertising networks to cut off the revenue generation, but they will continue. This group of disinformation peddlers are extremely resourceful and will find new domains if they are blacklisted, leverage alternative advertising networks when they are cut-off, and launch new social media accounts when cut-off. In short, it would be technology whack-a-mole, and I'm not interested in playing.
The diversity in the number of sites I came across presented the biggest challenge, with the only common goal across them being capitalist in nature. Many sites speak to the alt-right, or right, but many were crafty at finding affinity with often left-leaning causes like herbal products, marijuana, aliens, and beyond. They are all very search engine optimization (SEO), and social media marketing (SMM) savvy. They leverage all the top social and seo services, and were obviously very adept at purchasing new domains, and scaling content generation, cross-posting, and gaming Google, Facebook, and Twitter along the way. You could dedicate your life to counteracting this world, and die having never accomplished your mission.
There is plenty of interesting work to be conducted in this area, but it is all work that will cost money to fire up servers, crunch, store, and process the data. Being an independent operation I just can't afford spending money doing this, and after spending upwards of $500.00 on computing and storage costs, I didn't see any light at the end of the tunnel. I'd be happy to continue indexing domains, or evaluating which social services and advertising network these disinformation sites are using, but I can't continue doing it without any funding assistance, I have better things to spend my time and money on, that provide a measurable impact on digital literacy.
In the end,we have to focus on a more digitally literate society. People who are willing to question who is behind any news item they share. Who individually is responsible any piece of information, as well as which company's, government agencies, and ideology exists behind anything being shared. I just do not feel like technology can get us out of this mess. It is humans and educated humans that can get us out of this quagmire. A lack of education is why people voted for Donald Trump, and it is why they believe in fake news, propaganda, and disinformation. No amount of filters, or domain black or white lists will make that better--we need people to be curious, inquisitive, and to want to understand what is behind.
I'm hoping others will continue to work on other data projects and tooling to help push back on this problem. I want all of us to push back on Facebook and Google to help provide solutions. Ultimately I do not hold out much hope because it is the advertising driven incentive model that will drive this. The clueless white dudes behind these efforts, like the guy who NPR found to be behind the Denver Guardian fake new site, are the problem...they don't care about left or right, they care about making money. This is why fake news, cybersecurity, and any other cesspool of the Internet will keep bubbling up and burning all of us--until we address this incentive model for building out the Internet, very little will change.
14 Nov 2016
I'm seeing a lot of critical thinking being focused on Facebook, and even Twitter after this election. I will be joining in the effort to understand how social media was leveraged for both good and evil this election with my friend Mike Caulfield. This type of work is a natural extension of my existing work to understand the technology, business, and politics of APIs, but is something that just had the volume turned up on significantly.
It makes me happy to see everyone question the role Facebook has played in the election, and how misinformation sites are leveraging the Facebook API to broadcast their work and manipulate users and their networks. While some of these people have intentions to manipulate things for left-wing or right-wing interests, many are just doing so for profit and could care less the damage they inflict. Mark Zuckerberg has denied the impact his company has had on the election, but this is something that cannot be reconciled with the platform promise being made to its advertisers, and content publishers.
As I prepare to dive in and support this work I wanted to remind folks that this is not exclusive to Facebook and Twitter, or just during this election. We suck at understanding history or considering the future when we adopt new technologies -- this is often intentional. We need to make sure we are this critical when any new technology comes along, and work hard to understand the historical motives and ideology behind the tech, as well as get better at exploring possible dystopian futures brought on by each technological tool we are unleashing in our personal and professional worlds.
Let's please keep track of the questions we are asking about Facebook right now, and make sure we apply those same questions to every other piece of technology in our lives.
11 Nov 2016
When I was a teenager I believed I would die by the time I was 30. I was convinced of it. I saw the moment in my mind’s eye, making every moment of my life seemingly more meaningful — carpe mother fucking diem! I was forced this summer to open up some of this baggage from my youth, as I worked to help my partner’s son with his own depression and addiction. While this baggage is still open I figured I’d go through some of it and figure out what should be thrown away, sent to “Goodwill”, or possibly items I might want to keep and learn from.
I came of age in the 1980’s, fed a steady diet of fear uncertainty and doubt from the Cold War era. It was the early 80’s and the Russians were coming to get us — WOLVERINES!!! The shit could come to end any day with nuclear bombs dropping on all the major US cities. I was fed a steady diet of fear from the US government, as well as the elders who surrounded me. I remember one of my mother’s early boyfriends giving me a book about nuclear holocaust which centered around the beautiful valley I lived in Southern Oregon, being one of the few places immune to the fallout, because our jet stream came from over the ocean — don’t move to the city young man!!!
This was reinforced as the black hawk helicopters landed in the fields of my friends homes, executing Nancy Reagan’s War on Drugs. You could smell the fear as we got ready to go to the school bus, as my friends parents were being arrested under gun point, as his father yelled — I flew that fuck’n helicopter in nam you fucking PIG!! The smell stuck in my nose throughout the 1980s as me and my friends trained for warfare in the rivers and mountains, they weren’t war games — we were training for an inevitable future. I was on my way to be a Navy Seal — until my reality was diverted with some fine album cover LSD when I was 15. Which, looking back I realize is what saved my life and gave me the powers to manifest the reality I desired, and avoid death (and the end of the world) before I turned 30.
Having my life redirected from a formal military path, I settled into the guerrilla warfare in the world of marijuana cultivation during the 1980’s and 1990’s. My enemy became the US government, and my training allowed me to spend summers hauling water to remote grow operations and the fall days in remote trimming operations of my friend’s parents. By this time my mother had remarried and started a new family, and since we lived in a one room cabin, if I wanted to any space I had to build my own cabin up in the woods — which I did. This gave me the freedom I needed to continue my training, fed a steady diet of end-times at the hand of the US government, either from my drug dealing family and friends, or at home from my mom’s new husband who bought me my first gun(s), and possessing a bookshelf of end-times survival manuals to keep me well fed.
By my senior year in high school, I found myself kicked out of school, not due to failing grades, as I was in AP english, and AP History courses, in top mathematics and computing classes, maintaining a 3.6–3.8 GPA. I was kicked out because my principal liked to rub shoulders in the cafeteria, and he came up behind me and started rubbing my shoulders — I thought it was my friend, and I punched behind me and hit him in the face. He took me to the office, and used the excuse that I had too many absences (I had strep throat a lot as a kid), and he said he was sure my hippie doctor had fabricated them, and kicked me out of school. At this point in time it was exactly what I needed to kick my end-times belief into full gear allowing me to become a professional drug dealer.
Equipped with sufficient fear of the US government, and having been fed a steady diet of FUD about the world from my elders growing up, I became an invincible drug dealer. I will leave these details for another story, but from 1990 through 1995 I fearlessly sold any drugs (except meth) around the country. When you are equipped with a steady diet of end-times, and convinced either you will die, or the world will end by the time you are 30 — it makes for a pretty successful formula for dealing drugs. I made a lot of money, which I burnt through in real-time, until it all came to a screeching half on the freeway outside Effingham, Illinois in 1996.
As I stood on the freeway after a traffic stop, with 20+ police offers and their guns drawn at me — I had reached the moment I saw in my minds eye. It was the end time! My best friend was in the RV we had rented, with orders to come out with guns a blazin (we had a shotgun) if the pigs made it past me. I remember one of the one officer approaching me to talk to me, and I felt his sly pick-pocket had on my hip, and as I reached into my pocket I pulled out a 38 round, which I assume he planted on me as some sort of justification — I threw it back at him and called him a pig. He asked me if I believed in god, I said no — religion was not something I got out in the woods as a heathen, and I didn’t believe in his end-times bullshit (only now realizing I had been raised in a different, but overlapping religion — which now is indistinguishable from the Christian edition).
My head was clear. I was calm. i was not afraid of dying. My training was solid. Only….I could still see a life in front of me. I could see a beautiful woman whom I didn’t know talking to me, telling me that I could create any future I wanted (It was my daughter). I could! I could create any future I wanted. It was within my control to keep living. I could create any world I wanted! I had the power to change the world and see it any way that I wanted. As this emotion rushed through my veins I felt the blow of a nightstick on my legs, and the taste of the freeway on my lips, and my hands were being cuffed behind me.
Thankfully my friend didn’t come out guns a blazing, and I went to jail for a couple ounces of pot, a case of glass pipes, and the shotgun. Three felonies in the state of Illinois, which after a year on the run I came back to face. Luckily the officers who arrested me were “good ol boys” who were just “fishing along the freeway”, and each felony cost me about $7,500.00 cash, leaving me with no actual record. After a year on the run, and losing my best friend (not the one in RV), ironically to suicide by cop in Kansas, after he developed a nasty heroin habit I had introduced him to, I moved to Eugene, OR and began to get my shit together.
I was doing well, I had gotten clean, narrowly escaped death or life in prison (another story, as I had more drugs in RV, that police didn’t find), the end times rhetoric continued to follow me in my new life. Each time I was around my family I was still being fed a steady diet — this time it was centered around the year 2000. Stock up on food! I bought a case of SKS rifles, and a palette of ammunition — what have you bought? The shit is gonna hit the fan. At the same time, I’m being bombarded with job offers because I’m on lists of COBOL programmers from the 1980’s who have the skills to deal with the impending “date” issue. Thankfully in 1999 my then-wife became pregnant — establishing an immovable anchor for me to leverage as I continued to live.
September 7th, 2000, after it was clear that the world hadn’t ended (I think), I pulled this beautiful baby girl into the world, cut her cord, and slapped her on the back. This is why I wanted to live. This is why I wanted a world to live in. This is why I would work to make each day livable, and move towards a more functional, friendly, and loving world. It may not always be the reality of the world, but I would focus on this version of the future, not spread FUD about a world that might happen. I wanted to live. I didn’t want to dwell on financial collapse, war, death, and doom. I wanted to manifest a better world for the girl who had saved my life.
In 2001 through 2003 I decided to move back to my home-town and built a house on 10 acres given to us by my father in law. As the house was finished, my mom and her then husband decided to divorce in a spectacularly explosive fashion, and at the same time my father-in-law had an accident that left his brain swollen. After several early morning visits by him threatening end times, and saying he would burn down our house, we moved back to Eugene. My wife and our kids went to live with her mother, while I slept in my Volkswagen van and got a job, and began to pull things back together, with my mother-in-law loaning us the money (thank you) to eventually get into a house.
Shortly after we moved into this house, and began stabilizing ourselves my mother showed up with her new boyfriend to conduct a sort of intervention — you see I smoke marijuana and needed saving from myself. Ok? I had just escaped death, prison, heroin addiction, and gotten away from all the elders in my life losing their shit. Once back on my feet doing well, I was in need of saving?? WTF. This was the first time I had met this gentleman, I didn’t know him, but this would be just the first taste of a never ending wave of predictions of doom, financial collapse, continuing a long tradition of elders in my life trying to scare the shit out of me, when in reality they are woefully ill-equipped to deal with the world around them.
I’ve long since moved on from Oregon, and that marriage. I’ve dedicated my life to being out in the world and making change where I can — specifically focusing in the area of Internet technology, and how it is being used for good and bad. I know many people I grew up with see my traveling the globe and think I’m rich, and some sort of sellout. They haven’t seen me and my partner sleeping in airports, crappy hotels, eating conference food, and over-drafting our debit cards (as we don’t have credit cards) to get rooms and eat. We do this to make sure we are out in the world making change and getting to know people of diverse ethnicities, and backgrounds. We have dedicated our lives to making real change, not sitting back and spreading FUD about the collapse of the world — before anything will get better.
As the 2016 election played out I’m once again faced with the damage brought by people around me who perpetually believe in the end times. The world is always about to end. The financial system is always going to collapse. There are always people who are looking to hurt us, and make us suffer. Most of these people live in isolation and refuse to go out in the world and see the damage this perspective is doing to our children, and less privileged people around the world. We wonder why our children are turning to opiates to feel better. Our elders do not offer them any hope. Why should you live? The world is going to end right? I refuse to accept this, and I will take the life I’ve been given and work to make the world a better place for my daughter, and not let the “Illuminati” convince us that the world is a dark place. The world is beautiful if we choose to see it that way, and I am dedicated to making the world a more beautiful place despite the odds, and the belief of the naysayers around me.
At this point, there is no left or right to me in America. There is no Republican or Democrat. There are just those who are committed to making the world a better place, and those who are not, and let their fear control them each day — hang onto your guns!!
24 Oct 2016
I am a supporter of the principles of net neutrality -- that Internet service providers should enable access to all content and applications regardless of the source, and without favoring or blocking particular products or websites. However, I can't help but feel that it is doomed, and something that is already being eroded by cellular networks in the service of mobile devices, and will continue to erode in the service of the Internet of Things (IoT).
Our desire to capture, meter, monetize, and surveil at the packet level has provided the fertile environment to kill any notion of net neutrality, and the desire to deliver specialized networks for drones, automobiles, and industrial implementations will further fragment and splinter the already embattled concept. It won't be about prioritization of certain packets on the Internet that does in net neutrality, it will be the prioritization of access to networks, where the principle will be rendered mute.
Continued investment will be made into the rolling out of specialized networks and further disruption of the public Internet. You want the preferred content, and media, be on our network. You want your drone to fly with the ability to stream video to Facebook uninterrupted, be on our network. You want to be on the "safe" network, without all the noise and garbage, then you want to be on our network. It won't be out packet prioritization, it will be about network prioritization.
In the future, there will be many different networks. There will be public networks, and private networks, and dark networks. There will be industrial networks and institutional networks. If you can afford it, you will get access to the best networks, the secure networks, and if you can't, you will get the messy, cluttered, advertising-saturated and cyber-disrupted network. What Internet you see will increasingly depend on what you can afford, and the access that you afforded through your status in the world.
19 Oct 2016
I love thinking about and playing with my drones, but probably not for the reasons you might think. Drones for me are just a reflection of the wider tech space for me and filled with endless opportunities for good and bad examples fo how tech can be put to use. One example from the real world today, that I think reflects the widening gap between what technology is promised to do, and what it can really do, is from the Google / Chipotle drone delivery story.
In short, the drones do not bring a burrito to you in any convenient, or expected way. It is all staged to provide marketing to Google and Chipotle, hype up the world of drones, and NOT about actually having drone technology making our lives easier. It is all technology theater and keeping you believing that these companies are innovating, and technology is making your life better.
I find it tough to be a critic in the tech space when this type of behavior going on. There is an overabundance of individual belief in the power of technology, as well as organized storytelling and marketing that takes this to almost religious levels. If you start questioning this reality, there are plenty of folks who love to jump on. Whether you are questioning the reality around the self-driving car, artificial intelligence, the blockchain, or that you'll have burrito and weed delivery in your neighborhood next week, the system is designed to shut you down.
A controlled drone experience on campus, with a wave of positive press ahead of it, and almost no press about the outcomes, is pretty much what about 90% of the tech space is up to these days. Invest heavily in the spectacle, the promises, and the press campaigns, and be as defensive as you can when it comes the outcomes. Then there is a lot of money to be made on the upside, and the downside, if you position yourself in the right ways--there is almost nothing about technology, and everything to do with making money.
I am not saying there will not be drone deliveries in the future. I am saying that there will be a million bullshit stories about drone deliveries, investments made and lost, tech bloggers and readers who eat up every wave of shit thrown at them before we ever see drone deliveries. I would say that it is more likely that any opportunity for drone deliveries at the consumer level gets blown to pieces by drones dropping pizzas on your roof, concerns around privacy, and generally bad behavior from drone operators, before it is ever technically feasible.
Now take drone, and replace it with artificial intelligence, self-driving car, bots, and on, and on... #FUTURE
19 Oct 2016
I scan a lot of blog posts as I work to monitor the API space. I subscribe to well over 1500 blogs at last count and read the titles of thousands of posts, and the full content for hundreds of posts each week. I see it all. Most of what I see is just content. Those 250, 500, or 750 word posts that are so easy to craft, with an unlimited number of domains willing to let you vomit up for free, in exchange for making a name, or sometimes willing to pay you $10, $15, or $25--it is easy, they are just words!
I can tell that most of it is written to meet some perceived notion of the minimum viable content needed to play in some SEO game. Most of it written by someone who barely cares about the products and services they are paid to write about. I sift through endless amounts of this stuff looking for the stories. In 2016, the return on this investment is worth it. I love it when I do find a story written by someone who cares about a product, a service, the technology behind and the customers that they are in service of.
When I find these people telling stories in the space, I tend to follow them around online. The saddest thing I witness on a regular basis is when these folks go work for the enterprise, where storytelling isn't encouraged. If I catch folks telling stories I tend to follow them around and harass and encourage them to keep telling stories, no matter what environment they find themselves working in. Who knows, it might encourage them to keep telling stories, even if it is not on a regular basis.
I am always super confused when folks tell me that stories do not matter and that nobody pays attention to my stories. Everything is about stories. The stories startups tell. The stories VCs tell. The stories we tell to each other. The problem is that we all seem to grow up and stop believing, and subscribe to the notion that we should be blogging and generating content, and forget how to all tell the stories that matter, the stories that people will listen to, remember, and tell to others.
12 Oct 2016
Some people are really confused by the alternative editions of my sites. If you hadn't noticed the links in the navigation for each of my sites, there is an alternate.kinlane.com and an alternate.apievangelist.com blogs to compliment the main editions. What's the difference? Well, the alternative editions are fiction, and the primary editions are all non-fiction.
I had published a story the other week about running synthetic data and content through your APIs and my partner in crime expressed her sadness that this wasn't about the alternative side of my world. This prompted me to think more about why I am increasingly running "synthetic content" aka #DesignFiction through my platform on a regular basis.
- Distraction - It is a real-time distraction for me as I'm spending hours monitoring the real world of APIs. Thinking about fictional concepts, that are closely aligned with the regular work I am doing, helps me stay fresh, creative, and reduce burnout--allowing me to be more efficient in my regular non-fiction writing.
- Mind Expanding - The more I write, the easier it is for me to write on a regular basis. I find that my writing was suffering from just focusing on a single topic. I am able to take more diverse takes on all of my work, have a diverse set of ideas to work from, and just craft more stories since my expansion into the fictional world.
- Out of the Box - Beyond expanding my mind, I find writing fiction alongside my regular industry analysis often puts me completely out of the box. When it comes to monitoring the API space I'm usually focusing on what people are already doing, with the occasional filling in the gaps--when I'm writing non-fiction there are no boundaries, I can talk about ANYTHING!
- Startup Release - I can write about my ideas for startups like they exist, and explore the ideas like I was actually doing the work. The best part is that I do not actually have to do them. I can put the ideas out there, exercise the muscles provides seeds for other people's startups, but don't actually have to own the shitty side of actually doing a startup.
- Law Enforcement - When I research and write my non-fiction it allows me to explore topics and concepts that normally might get law enforcement to take another look at me. In the current online climate. this can be a problem, where I can easily point to my fictional writing as the reason for my strange web searches and social activity.
These are just a handful of the benefits I'm seeing from running synthetic content through my network, alongside the regular work I do each day. Right now I am producing about 15% fictional work, and 85% non-fiction storytelling and analysis. My goal is to reach a 50/50 balance in my writing, where I am spending equal time exploring design fiction scenarios for every topic and industry I'm researching and providing analysis on.
Some folks have expressed concerns about there being confusion between my fiction and my non-fiction, but I think this already exists online from the promised made by startups regarding technology, all the way to the current cybersecurity environment being defined online. It can be difficult to tell fact from fiction--at least I use the #DesignFiction hashtag in my titles! The fuzziness between fact and fiction online is one of the reasons I think that #DesignFiction is so important, allowing us to tell stories of what might be, or could be, as a result of all this technology we are unleashing on the world.
11 Oct 2016
One thing I notice regularly in my storytelling and sharing in the API space is how many people don't really notice the authorship behind many of the stories floating around. I often see a retweet of one my tweets sharing out a story I have read, where the person references me as the author of it when it's pretty clear that it isn't API Evangelist if you click on the link.
There are a couple things at play here I think. The first layer of folks making this mistake is derived from the fact that people rarely actually read what they Tweet out. Many times folks are just retweeting a title that resonated with them, from a Twitter account they are familiar with. I understand that folks are busy, but you really should be reading things before you share. #JustSayn
Nexxt I think another layer of all of this is that even when people do read a post, they tend to not always see the author behind. I found that I didn't always notice the author, and learn their name before I began blogging regularly. If you aren't authoring content, I don't think you recognize authors work. It is one of those subtle things I think we can take for granted as we make our way around the Internet each day.
This is one of those things I won't be policing, but felt I should recognize, and help folks realize that I did not write everything that I tweet out.
11 Oct 2016
I am building out a number of micro tools on Github lately, and since I'm using a lot of the same features across many different projects, before I implement for any specific solution, I am making sure I develop it as a standalone component. I'm trying to encourage a much more modular approach to how I develop API-centric micro tools, building a whole toolbox of reusable components that I can use in my work and something that I can evolve over time, independently of each project.
I am using this component in a couple different websites and micro tools that I'm developing. Some of these projects involve a non-developer maintaining data and content via a Google Spreadsheet, then triggering the update of the Jekyll website that presents the data or content via website and application. I am increasingly storing machine-readable data and content as YAML in the _data store of various Github hosted research projects, visualizations, and other applications--so opening up this work to be easily edited via a Google Spreadsheet is an important piece of the puzzle for me.
As with each component, I am developing, you can find the code for this in the Github repository, and leave any feedback as an issue for the work.
07 Oct 2016
I have my own style to blogging that I call workbench blogging. While I do work to edit and polish the stories I publish regularly across my blogs, it is more important to me that I'm producing content alongside my daily research, than it is to be precise in its delivery. Think of my blogs as my workbench, and the stories you read each day are the notes about what I am working on in my workshop each day.
As I'm working, I'm crafting stories to help me think through what I am working on. I act like I'm having a conversation with myself, and with you, my readers, to help me evolve and polish my approach. At the same time, I'm generating content that can be discovered via search and social media, helping immediately make my work accessible to others. I also use my own blog as a discovery mechanism, helping me remember specific companies, services, tools, and other parts of my research for use in future work.
This approach to blogging is not for everyone. I find it rewarding. I get to work through my ideas and research while sharing with others. I find it is an easy way to create a lot of content when you are this transparent. Almost everything I do as API evangelist becomes content, definitions, and code that can be reused--this is why it all runs on Github. My entire workbench is accessible to the public, and my ideas are right out in the open, allowing you to reuse, while also allowing me to make a living and keep doing what I do.
Thanks for taking the time to stop and read my workbench blog.
07 Oct 2016
After coming back from the woods I have worked hard to put in place, and maintain what I'm calling an air gap, between me and the online world. It's basically putting distance between me and what happens in the online world, giving me room to breathe, increasing my overall productivity, and leaving me with more time to be creative.
After I checked out this summer I had to uninstall all unnecessary applications from my iPhone, iPad, and Macbook. When I had 3G network or wireless Internet, it was always crap, and I needed to keep communication channels open for only the most important of things. After I came back to work I was very cautious and thoughtful about which channels I turned back on, and let into my life once again. The ones I did, I make sure there is an air gap in place, keeping me in control.
Whether it's Google and Medium analytics, or my email inbox, the Facebooks or Twitters and the numerous Slack channels I'm on--they are all demanding my attention. An air gap isn't a fix-all solution, but it does give me the space to focus on what matters and get the important things done. I don't get caught up in every demand for my attention, and I don't get sucked into unhealthy conversations and toxic battles like I used to. It's not that I don't engage anymore, I am engaging even more than before, I am just being much more thoughtful about where and how I engage.
I'm writing about it because I want to get better at talking about it, and making sure that I keep an air gap in place. The more I talk about it, the more I'm aware that it is in place. The more I remember not to have Facebook, Twitter, and Slack open at all times. The more I remember not to respond to any topic, without some deep thought and writing on the subject. I'm not the fastest responder to email, but that is ok. The critical conversations still occur, and the people that matter get through. The rest will wait.
An air gap isn't the perfect solution, but it does give me the space I need to do my research consistently, and maintain a positive outlook on what is going on in my online world.
06 Oct 2016
A European Union agency has said that mobile network's Three's plans to offer ad-blockers would violate net neutrality, which I think is the perfect example of how laws trying to protect the virtue of the Internet will ultimately play out. I'm not saying that we shouldn't try to have these laws in place, it is more a nod to the dark creativity of capitalism to find a way around the containment powers of laws and regulation.
I am pretty sure that the experiment we know as the web is over as we knew it. Relevant to this story, I am pretty confident the lust for advertising has been one of the main reasons the web is so fucked up. There is just too much money in the game now. The stakes are high, and people are too greedy to go back to the way things were. Sadly, thinking about loopholes in laws, and understanding how to twist and bend good laws for those in power is how some smart people enjoy spending their time.
The social walled gardens we tend like Facebook, and the aggressive nature of the public social gardens we loiter, will continue to drive us to the world where we ask for net neutrality to be broken. We will demand a clean, sanitized, and ultimately the corporate vision of the web because it is safe and more secure than the alternative. While I am fascinated by the dimensions of how net neutrality can be interpreted and put to use, I'm saddened that we couldn't make the web work as it was intended by its creators.