Tag Archives: the internet

How I Choose To Unplug (And Why I Recommend It For Others)

Workout of the Week: Cross-Training Trail Run | Be Well Philly

I love technology.

I love my smartphone.

I love this age of gadgets, gizmos, and gimmicks that we live in right now.

I don’t care that it’s a byproduct of a quasi-capitalist system that isn’t perfect or that it can come off as shallow at times. It’s still fun and it makes our lives easier, richer, and more convenient. For that, I am grateful. The tech industry is still full of assholes, but the products do a lot of good.

I know there are people who claim the world was better off before the age of the internet, social media, and TV. I don’t believe them for a second. I’m willing to bet that if those same people had to suddenly live without all the modern conveniences we have, they’d go crazy with boredom and drudgery.

All that being said, there are times when it helps to just completely unplug for a while. By that, I don’t just mean turning off your smartphone and lying on the couch. That’s not really unplugging. You’re still within easy reach of it all and can reconnect on a whim.

By unplugging, I mean actually going outside without your phone, your watch, or any gadgets of any kind. It’s just you, the outdoors, and nothing else. To some, I’m sure that sounds scary. Some people are a lot more attached to their gadgets than others. For most, though, I think there’s a genuine benefit to just stepping away from the gadgets and being alone with your thoughts for a while.

I learned that years ago when I was in college. I didn’t have a smartphone back then, but I was almost always connected to something, whether it was my computer, my TV, or my iPod. Some of that was out of necessity. I couldn’t really do much work without any of those tools. However, by my sophomore year, I quickly learned that being connected all the time can really compound everyday stresses.

I found ways to deal with it. Most of them didn’t work that well, but they did get me through some tough times. It wasn’t until I started working out that I realized the true benefits of unplugging for brief periods. This is also where I really came to appreciate being alone with my thoughts for a while.

When I first started working out, I would go to a gym. That was fine in the beginning. I just brought my iPod and later my iPhone, loaded with music, and let that play during my workout. Then, I quickly realized that running on a treadmill was kind of boring and not very good for my joints. That’s when I started running around some local trails.

This is where I found the best place to unplug while also getting a better workout. At first, I tried to bring my phone with me so I could listen to music. That was nice and all, but I found it had an odd effect. By listening to music, I became a bit too concerned about how long I was running. Even if I didn’t check the time, my brain could figure it out by just how long each song was.

I just couldn’t stop myself from overthinking. That’s a problem I’ve had for much of my life. In order to get around that, I actually had to leave my phone, my watch, and all my gadgets behind. So, for my next run, the only things I brought with me were my wallet and keys.

Almost immediately, I felt a difference and it was a positive difference.

Running along these local trails, with no music and no watch or smartphone to check, became incredibly therapeutic. Nobody could call me to interrupt. Nothing could prompt me to just stop, take out my phone, and check something. It was just me, nature, and my thoughts as I ran about these local trails. I also found that the more I did it, the more I got out of it.

By disconnecting, I could just let my thoughts catch up with everything I had been dealing with. I could step back, give myself a chance to process everything, and get myself in a better place.

On top of that, this also gave me a chance to entertain new ideas for sexy short stories, sexy novels, and YouTube videos. I think it’s fair to say that I wouldn’t have produced nearly as much content, including the sexy kind, if I didn’t take this time to disconnect and be alone with my thoughts.

It’s now a big part of my routine. I go running almost every day and I make it a point to use that opportunity to disconnect. It’s a time and experience that I’ve come to value a great deal. It keeps me focused, centered, and inspired to keep being more awesome.

Now, I won’t claim that what works for me will work for everyone. Every person is wired different. Some need to disconnect more than others. Some don’t really need to disconnect much at all. However, I highly recommend everyone trying it at some point.

It doesn’t matter what form it takes.

You can go for a walk, sit on our back porch, or just turn off all the lights in your bedroom.

Go some place where you can disconnect from tech, gadgets, and distractions of all kinds. Be alone with your thoughts for a while. Let them catch up with everything you happen to be dealing with, whatever it might be. I believe that’ll be good for you and your mental state.

Again, I love technology and gadgets as much as the next guy. However, getting away from it every once in a while can have many benefits. You won’t know just how far those benefits go until you try.

If you have a different way of going about it, please share it in the comments. I’d love to hear the input of others on this.

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Filed under human nature, Jack Fisher's Insights, technology

Why Ethereum Might Have More Value Than Bitcoin (In The Long Run)

Ethereum 2.0 Deposit Contract Surpasses $25 Billion Worth of ETH | Finance  Magnates

Nobody can predict the future. As someone who often talks about the future and future technology, I like to belabor that. It’s an important disclaimer because if the future were that easy to predict, then there would be no need for lotteries, fantsy sports, or the stock market.

It’s like my old political science professor once told me in college. Nobody knows anything. He said that in the context of a lesson about politics, but I think it also applies to many other fields. Technology, economics, and finance are definitely among them.

I’m certainly no expert in any of those fields. I like writing and telling sexy stories about technology. I’m not the least bit qualified to make informed predictions about it or any related subjects. I’m not dumb, but my expertise is limited to comics, sexy short stories, and football stats.

Having gotten that out of the way, I’d like to give a brief layman’s opinion about cryptocurrencies. I know that’s a chaotic subject, at the moment. The recent rise of multiple cryptocurrencies has made headlines, albeit for absurd reasons at times. However, I think it’s safe to say that this is not another passing internet fad in the mold of planking.

This technology has real value.

This technology is changing the world.

This technology will likely continue to evolve and improve with time.

I say this as someone who has followed the news surrounding cryptocurrencies for years. I also say that as someone who recently purchased his first stash of Bitcoins. As of this moment, I only have a few hundred bucks in my Bitcoin wallet. I’ve also seen the value fluctuate significantly. I’ve even had a chance to spend them, which was surprisingly smooth.

After this experience, I wouldn’t call myself a full-fledged Bitcoin enthusiast. I’m not planning to invest all my money into Bitcoins anytime soon. However, I genuinely believe this technology has great value. I also believe it’ll become an integral part of our future, with respect to finance and the economy.

At the same time, I can’t help but note its limits. I’ve even highlighted a few of them before. Bitcoin has many benefits, but I think its value is somewhat skewed because it just happens to be the biggest in terms of market cap, as well as the most well-known cryptocurrency.

When most people think cryptocurrencies, the first thing they think of is Bitcoin. That gives it a huge benefit over other cryptocurrencies, of which there are many. That benefit is likely to fuel its value for years to come.

However, having used it and followed the growth of cryptocurrencies more closely in recent years, I do not believe it’s the most valuable cryptocurrency on the market. I also don’t think that Bitcoin, in its current form, will succeed beyond a certain point.

Many people compare Bitcoin to digital gold and I think that’s a fairly apt comparison. Bitcoin, like real gold, is mostly a store of value. That’s what it was designed to be and, for the most part, it fulfills that purpose well. A bar of gold and a stash of Bitcoins will function in primarily the same way.

In terms of value and utility, though, that’s where I think Bitcoin falls short. Even gold has more uses beyond being a store of value. I think if cryptocurrencies are to achieve more than just functioning as digital money, they need to do more.

For that reason, I believe Ethereum, the second-most popular cryptocurrency in terms of market value, may have more value in the long run. It’s not a meme currency like Dogecoin. The technology behind Ethereum actually makes use of the features that have made Bitcoin so valuable.

For those not familiar with Ethereum, it’s a cryptocurrency that’s similar to Bitcoin in many ways. It also uses blockchain technology to create a digital store of value. It has been operating since 2015 and has grown considerably in recent years. What sets it apart, though, is its ability to be programmed.

Whereas Bitcoin is mostly raw math and data, Ethereum is more like an operating system or a programming language. With it, users can create smart contracts, which are essentially digital contracts that are self-enforcing. That means no middleman or lawyers are needed to enforce a signed agreement.

For anyone who has ever had to deal with lawyers or contracts, it’s hard to overstate the value of such a feature. Since many contracts already involve money, Ethereum essentially tightens that connection. In the same way Bitcoin allows people to be their own bank, Ethereum allows them to be their own legal team.

In a world that has only become more connected and digitized, especially after a global pandemic, there’s considerable utility in that. I would argue that utility will make Ethereum more useful than Bitcoin in the long run.

That’s not to say it’ll eventually usurp Bitcoin or all other cryptocurrencies. I think Bitcoin will always benefit from the first, as well as the most well-known. I just think that benefit will only take it so far. Gold is useful, but it’s not nearly as useful as electricity, oil, or even steel. Those assets have tangible, measurable utility. Ethereum offers that on top of being a store of value.

Now, at the moment, smart contracts and other programs run on Ethereum aren’t exactly mainstream. That’s to be expected. This technology is still relatively new. People aren’t quite sure what to do with it yet.

Then again, the same could’ve been said back in the mid-2000s when smartphones came out. It took a while for developers and entrepreneurs to create the kinds of applications that would go onto make billions. It wasn’t just one app or one use. The phones were just a platform. The value came once people started building things atop that foundation.

With Bitcoin, there’s not much of a foundation. Its only app is as a store of value. That’s akin to a flip-phone, which can only make phone calls and store numbers. Granted, even flip phones still have utility, but they’ll never be able to do what a basic smartphone can do.

I don’t pretend to know what sort of applications or programs Ethereum could help create. It’ll probably take more than one for it to truly show its value. I also don’t pretend to know when those sorts of applications or programs will come along. The potential is there. It’s up to people far smarter and more ambitious than most of us to realize it.

I could still be dead wrong about this. Given the malleable nature of cryptocurrencies, it may be the case that Bitcoin eventually gains the same function as Ethereum. For all I know, an entirely new cryptocurrency could emerge that’s better and more valuable than any created to date. That’s entirely possible. Like I said, nobody knows anything about what the future will hold. We just know we’re creating some incredibly valuable tools with cryptocurrencies. We just haven’t figured out how to maximize their value. One day, we will and we’ll all be richer because of it.

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Filed under Bitcoin, Cryptocurrency, futurism, technology

The (Bleak) Future OnlyFans And The (Ever Evolving) Porn Industry

OnlyFans to bar sexually explicit videos starting in October | Technology  News,The Indian Express

Imagine, for a moment, that you’re a wildly successful coffee company. You grew from a small start-up to a multi-million dollar enterprise by providing a willing public with quality coffee, which was made by a sizable network of willing workers who gladly supplied you with your product in exchange for a share of the profits. By nearly every measure, your company is a success.

Then, one day, you decide to stop selling coffee because of pressure by a vocal minority of anti-coffee advocates. As a result, you’re leaving all those people who helped make your company a success to an uncertain future while putting their livelihoods in jeopardy.

Now, what I just described isn’t a perfect analogy for what’s happening with OnlyFans, a site once synonymous with personalized porn production. It still helps get my point across. This site that owes much of its success to porn and the people who make it is ditching anything that’s too obscene for an R-rated movie on cable.

First, let me just take a moment to roll my eyes and share a collective groan with all who heard this announcement.

Second, let me extend a sense of sympathy and sorrow to those whose livelihoods will be negatively impacted by this move. Many content creators are rightly concerned about how this will affect them. These are people who were already in a vulnerable position in the first place. This will just make it worse.

It doesn’t matter what your opinion about porn is or those who make it. This action will negatively affect a lot of people in ways that go beyond what they do in the bedroom or on screen. If you ignore that, then you’re just being an asshole. There’s no way around it.

As someone who writes sexy stories and follows sexy news, I feel compelled to comment on this development. In case you need the full story about what’s happening with OnlyFans and why it’s happening, here’s the story below from NPR.

NPR: OnlyFans Says It Will Ban Sexually Explicit Content

OnlyFans, a site where fans pay creators for their photos and videos, is planning to ban “sexually explicit” content.

The ban will start Oct. 1 and is the result of requests from banking partners and companies that handle financial transactions, a spokesperson said.

Still, nudity is OK if it’s “consistent” with the company’s policy. It’s not clear what that policy is, and the company did not reply to questions. OnlyFans will be sharing more information in “coming days.”

Before I get to the bigger picture, I’d like to offer OnlyFans’ side of the story. They’re not doing this because of some sort of moral epiphany about the evils of pornography. Like most things in the modern world, there’s a financial reason behind this.

OnlyFans is a company and every company needs investors. Traditionally, most investment firms shy away from anything that’s too sexy or pornographic. It offends too many people who are otherwise uncomfortable with sexuality. Those same people may not be able to legally ban the content, but they can keep it from getting money.

That’s how they attacked PornHub in late 2020. In addition to making them purge a good chunk of their content, these moral crusaders convinced credit card processing companies to not do business with them. These same crusaders were even bolder with OnlyFans. They basically lobbied the same credit card companies to force OnlyFans’ hand. If they want to keep accepting payments, they can’t host full-fledged porn.

Who are these crusaders? Well, one of them is the National Center on Sexual Exploitation. That may sound noble, but read the fine print and you learn they’re an extreme right-wing organization with ties to the religious right. They’re not really concerned about ending sexual exploitation as much as they are ridding the world of anything sexual. If you don’t believe me, then please note these same people pushed Wal-Mart to stop selling issues of Cosmo.

They’re basically the Christian Taliban, minus the guns. Yes, I know that’s going to push the buttons of some people. No, I’m not apologizing for it.

If the only way your only solution to sexual exploitation is to create a theocratic state that censors, micromanages, and punishes peoples’ sex lives, then you lack imagination. You’re also an asshole.

There’s a lot more I could say about the people who pushed for this and/or support it, but I think that’s a waste of time. If fact, I actually take comfort in the knowledge that all this time and energy they put into stopping a single website from hosting sexy content will likely amount to nothing in the grand scheme of things.

Why am I so certain of this? That’s because we’ve seen this movie before.

It happened back in 2018 with Tumblr, a site that had also built much of its userbase from hosting pornographic content. At one point, it was purchased for $1.1 billion. By 2019, a year after the ban, it was worth around $3 million. Even if you’re bad at math, you can surmise that is not a trivial decline.

This is likely the future for OnlyFans. When so much of their growth and userbase was built around adult content, it’s bound to lose most of its value. It can try all it wants to be as safe for work as any mainstream site. It’s going to fail because, like it or not, the demand for sexy content vastly exceeds the demand for workout videos, cooking videos, and anything of the sort.

People aren’t going to stop being horny because OnlyFans removes porn.

Moreover, the content creators who made their living on OnlyFans aren’t going to just give up on such a lucrative job. They’re just going to search for another medium.

That’s because the porn industry has been attacked for decades by every side of the political spectrum. In every instance, it has found a way to adapt and grow. Today, despite all the regulations and moral crusading, it’s still a multi-billion dollar industry.

As long as there are horny people in this world, the porn industry will find a way to get them what they want. Despite the efforts of moral crusaders, PornHub is still very active. It may not be able to accept credit cards anymore, but that was only a temporary inconvenience. Now, it and other porn companies have started accepting cryptocurrencies.

That actually might help them make even more money because, unlike credit card companies, cryptocurrencies are global, decentralized, and more private. On top of, they have the potential to go up in value. In the long run, getting the sex industry to embrace crypto might just make things easier in the long run.

It’s because of moral crusading and prudish investors that the adult industry has to innovate. OnlyFans may or may not go the way of Tumblr, but it’ll still go down in internet history as the company that screwed over the people who helped make it a success. It’ll also make whoever creates the next outlet for all things sexy very rich.

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Filed under Cryptocurrency, prostitution, sex in media, sex in society, technology

In Honor Of Pride Month: A Tribute To Alan Turing (The Man Who Decoded The Future)

Life of Alan Turing, Code-Breaking Computer Scientist

I’m a straight male. I don’t deny that. I’m also a strong proponent of LGBTQ rights and will gladly side with them against all those who would undermine, alienate, or denigrate that community. In honor of Pride Month, I’d like to make that clearly and proudly.

At the same time, being a straight male means I can only do so much to understand the plight of LGBTQ individuals. I can never fully understand the feelings they feel or the thoughts they think as they live their lives in a world that’s still very hostile to them. Even though I have close relatives who are openly gay, my perspective is still limited.

Having said all that, I’d like to make another small contribution to Pride Month 2021. It’s not much, but it’s something I hope adds to the greater perspective of others, regardless of their orientation. During times like this, that perspective is more important than other.

Like it or not, our lives have been profoundly affected by people who identify as LGBTQ. You may not realize it, but you wouldn’t even be able to read this, nor would I be able to share it, were it not for one prominent member of the LGBTQ community.

His name is Alan Turing. He’s the reason why we know how to make the computer or smartphone you’re using right now. He may also be the reason why some of us aren’t saluting a Nazi flag.

The life of Mr. Turing may have been tragic in many respects, especially towards the end, but few men have affected the modern world more than him. He was more than just a brilliant mathematician, computer scientist, and philosopher. He practically laid the foundation for our modern world through his work.

The fact that he was a gay man living in an era where being gay was considered a mental illness only makes these accomplishment more remarkable. However, his sexuality was still often secondary to his brilliance.

Alan Turing had a genuine gift for math and science. That gift earned him diplomas from universities like Cambridge and Princeton. It also earned him a role at Bletchley Park during Word War II, the home of Britain’s efforts to break the seemingly unbreakable German Enigma Code. It’s not unreasonable to say that this effort wouldn’t have succeeded without Alan Turing.

You also don’t need to be an expert in alternative history to know that breaking the Enigma Code played a big part in ensuring World War II ended the way it did. Even if you believe the Allies were always going to win, that victory came sooner and saved more lives because of Turing’s role in breaking that code.

The breadth and details of that effort are vast. It would take too long to go over everything he did to help the Allies in World War II. Thankfully, others with more expertise than me have done so. Check out this YouTube video to get a better feel for how Turing did what he did in cracking Enigma.

It’s also through that same effort that he laid the foundations for modern computing. He is largely credited with creating the fundamental structure of things like algorithms and computation. He may not have built the first modern computer, but he created the model by which all future computers were built.

Without Alan Turing, computer technology would not be where it is today.

Without Alan Turing, the internet as we know it would not exist.

Without Alan Turing, the modern world as we know it simply would not be possible.

That’s a hell of an accomplishment for anyone, let alone someone who was gay. It is a great tragedy that Turing had to spend most of his life hiding his sexuality. He did marry a woman who knew his secret, but that was only a cover. He still had to live a lie day after day for most of his life.

It only came crashing down in 1952 when Turing was arrested in Manchester for the “indecency” of admitting to a sexual relationship with another man. As a result, Turing lost his various security clearances. All that work he’d done to help the world was suddenly an afterthought. On top of that, he was forced to take hormones to “treat” his desires.

I put “treat” in quotes because what this did to him was nothing short of unconscionable. I won’t go into the disturbing details. I’ll just say that this “treatment” played a major role in him eventually taking his own life in 1954. It was a sad end to the life of a man who gave us so much through his brilliance and his work.

Now, to be fair, the British Government did eventually apologize for the role it played in destroying Alan Turing’s life. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen until 2009. I’d usually say better late than never, but that’s really pushing it.

It’s hard to say how much we lost because Alan Turing’s life was cut short. Who knows where we would be if he hadn’t been persecuted because of his sexuality? Even if we ended up at the same place, Turing deserved better. This is a man who served his country and contributed immensely to the knowledge of mankind, only to be ruined by bigotry.

How many other brilliant men and women suffered a similar fate?

How many of those individuals had something to contribute to mankind, but never got the chance?

How many had to live their entire lives hiding this part of themselves, suffering in silence out of fear of enduring a fate like Turing’s?

We can never know the answer to those questions. The answers are probably as distressing as they are tragic.

If nothing else, the story of Alan Turing should give us pause in how we see the past, present, and future of LGBTQ struggles. It’s true that we’ve made a great deal of progress since the days of Alan Turing. In more recent years, awareness surrounding the struggles and accomplishments of men like Turing has grown.

There are still challenges to overcome and we should be ready and willing to face those challenges. Despite how it ended, the life and accomplishments of Alan Turing should inspire us to do better. The fact we can make those efforts through the very machines he helped create is a fitting tribute. So, in honor of Pride Month 2021, let us take a moment to remember and celebrate the life of Alan Turing. He contributed immensely to our modern world, despite living at a time when his very identity was criminal. That’s an accomplishment and a strength that’s worthy of pride.

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Filed under Current Events, LGBTQ, technology

Why We Should Teach The Uglier Parts Of History (And Why Avoiding It Is Pointless)

Tulsa Race Massacre Sidelined Legacy of Black Wealth in Greenwood - WSJ

I am an American.

I am proud to be an American.

There’s no other country I’d want to be born in.

I say all while also acknowledging that America isn’t perfect. I’ve taken plenty of history classes, both in high school and in college. I’ve also sought out information about America’s past and the facts are clear. The United States of America does have some undeniably dark moments in its history. Some could be classified as outright atrocities.

It’s not wrong to state that those events happened and they were awful. In fact, I believe it’s critical for any country, nation, or community of any kind to admit their past failures and flaws. We cannot learn, grow, or improve as a society if we ignore those less favorable parts of our history. If we only ever know the good stuff, then we have no reason to improve and that only breeds complacency, arrogance, and stagnation. That’s something the world needs less of.

This brings me the controversy surrounding critical race theory. I know that just uttering that phrase in passing these days is sure to draw ire from certain crowds, some more so than others. In general, I try to avoid touching on topics like this when the outrage machine is still going full-throttle. Even when I do discuss something controversial, like abortion, I try to focus on the bigger picture.

Now, the specifics of critical race theory are too vast for me to get into. I’m certainly no expert, nor would I ever claim to be. I encourage people to investigate it themselves on Wikipedia. However, do not seek sources from the likes of PragerU, the Heritage Foundation, or any information source that claims to espouse the “truth” about Critical Race Theory.

They’re just right-wing propaganda pushers who are lying to you on behalf of their donors. They are not credible on this matter.

While I don’t see Critical Race Theory as being completely neutral either, it does have some relative themes. It gives greater scrutiny to how racism and past racist policies in America have had lasting effects on minority communities, even after the progress made during the civil rights movement.

That’s not an unreasonable approach to studying the past and present. After all, it’s undeniable that racism and its past effects still exist. If you deny that, then you’re just denying reality outright. Certain aspects of racism can’t be resolved by simply passing a law or enacting a certain policy. People and societies are just too complex.

Now, the way in which Critical Race Theory scrutinizes these issues isn’t perfect. In terms of analyzing and making sense of history, I think it doesn’t paint the clearest picture in terms of America’s racist past and how that past affects the present.

That said, I support it being taught or, at the very least, explored within a school. I think this is something we should teach kids and young people about in order to get them thinking about history, race, and the society in which they live. At the same time, I also think it exposes a critical element with respect to appreciating history and its many lessons.

The reason I’m bringing it up now is two-fold. Firstly, I think those protesting it are absurd and their reasons for criticizing critical race theory are equally absurd. Some are going so far as to try and ban it. Instead, they favor a more “patriotic” education for school age children. I put “patriotic” in quotes because there’s nothing patriotic about it. It’s just pure propaganda, plain and simple.

A true patriot doesn’t need propaganda to be proud of their country.

A true patriot loves their country, despite their flaws. Just like you do with someone you love, you don’t ignore those flaws and use them as motivation to be better.

The second reason I’m bringing it up has less to do with the political rhetoric surrounding Critical Race Theory. It’s being framed as though this is somehow redefining the story of America. It’s seen as somehow diminishing America’s greatness and ideals. Those who are blindly patriotic or excessively nationalistic are going to have a problem with that.

Now, blind and excessive nationalisms is a problem all its own. I won’t get into that, but I do feel that it highlights another important point about protesting new forms of study. In essence, those complaining about Critical Race Theory are working against their own agenda. They seem to forget that the internet still exists.

It doesn’t matter if efforts to ban Critical Race Theory succeed. It doesn’t matter if every American textbook removes all mentions of slavery, Jim Crow, Japanese internment camps, or atrocities committed against Native Americans. That information is still out there. It’s on the internet and it’s easy for anyone with an internet connection to find.

In fact, by outright banning or opposing certain studies of history, it may only raise greater interest in it. Like it or not, people are going to get curious. Tell kids and teenagers that they should never learn about Critical Race Theory is only going to make them more curious. So long as they still have an internet connection, they will find that information.

That’s exactly why I’m in favor of teaching history that explores, analyzes, and dares to extrapolate from the uglier parts of history. It can do more than educate. It can also help us come to terms with our flaws and inspire us to be better.

A good example of this is the recent relevance of the Tulsa Race Massacre. There’s no getting around it. This event was a horrendous moment in American history and one that reveals just how ugly racism got in this country. Growing up, I never learned about this event. Most people probably never would’ve learned about it, had it not re-entered the news amidst recent pushes for racial justice.

This moment in history was awful. There’s no getting around that. Even if you’re an American who wasn’t alive during this event, we should still acknowledge it. We should still learn from it. That’s how we’ll get better. The past has so many painful lessons and we’ll never learn those lessons if we try to gloss over them.

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Filed under Current Events, history, outrage culture, political correctness, politics

A Cyber Attack Managed To Shut Down A Major US Pipeline: Why We Should Be (Very) Concerned

In general, fearmongering is not productive. It’s one thing to raise awareness or express concern about an issue. It’s quite another to say that it’ll lead to the end of the world as we know it and everyone should drop what they’re doing immediately to address it.

One is a serious, substantive conversation.

The other is outright panic porn mixed with doom-saying.

This is why certain alarmists are hard to take seriously. I believe that climate change is real. I believe it’s a serious issue. However, I think those who just publicly yell about how awful the situation is and how terrible it’s bound to get aren’t helping. They’re just making it easier for people to write off valid concerns as fearmongering.

I don’t want to fall into that trap whenever I talk about issues I think warrant serious concern. At the very least, I’d like to raise reasonable awareness about an issue that may very well affect large swaths of people, both locally and globally. Even if an issue is urgent, we can’t let fearmongering obscure the issue.

Having said all that, I want to state outright that we should all be very concerned about the recent cyber attack on a major pipeline in the southern United States. You may not have felt its effects yet, but it’s likely you’ll notice the next time you have to gas up your car. To appreciate just how serious this attack was, here’s the story from Reuters.

Reuters: Cyber attack shuts down U.S. fuel pipeline ‘jugular,’ Biden briefed

Top U.S. fuel pipeline operator Colonial Pipeline shut its entire network, the source of nearly half of the U.S. East Coast’s fuel supply, after a cyber attack on Friday that involved ransomware.

The incident is one of the most disruptive digital ransom operations ever reported and has drawn attention to how vulnerable U.S. energy infrastructure is to hackers. A prolonged shutdown of the line would cause prices to spike at gasoline pumps ahead of peak summer driving season, a potential blow to U.S. consumers and the economy.

“This is as close as you can get to the jugular of infrastructure in the United States,” said Amy Myers Jaffe, research professor and managing director of the Climate Policy Lab. “It’s not a major pipeline. It’s the pipeline.”

Now, before you start freaking out about the possibility of terrorists hacking major utilities, it’s worth looking at this attack in context. This was not an attack done in the mold of the movie, “Live Free Or Die Hard.” These criminals were not Hans Gruber or some super-hacker in the mold of “Tron.” This was a ransomware attack.

For those not familiar with cyber crimes, a ransomware attack is when someone gets into a network or a specific computer and installs a piece of software that effectively locks all your drives. The only way to unlock it is to pay the hacker a certain sum of money, often in Bitcoin.

In general, these cyber-criminals are out to cause chaos and destroy entire countries. They’re just looking for some money. I guess in that sense they are like Hans Gruber.

For most people, there are established procedures to protect against ransomware and to weed it out. However, that’s just for personal computers and basic IT infrastructure in an average company. This attack hit a major utility. That fundamentally changes the context of this attack.

Ransoming someone with poor computer skills is one thing. That person will only suffer so much loss and frustration if they cannot save their data. A major utility is very different by orders of magnitude. Utilities like the Colonial Pipeline are critical for the basic functioning of our infrastructure. Shutting them down, even for a brief period, can cause a lot of damage.

On top of that, you’d think that a major utility would have some pretty robust cyber security, but you’d be distressingly wrong. Major government networks are still routinely hacked and hacked successfully. While most of these attacks are after personal data, the idea of a more malicious cyber attack is not an unreasonable concern at this point.

If a simple ransomware attack can disrupt a major pipeline, then what could a more coordinated attack do? It’s a disturbing question with equally disturbing answers. Remember, those who attacked the Colonial Pipeline were just after money. Imagine if they were looking to cause serious damage and loss of life.

This kind of cyber attack is not the stuff of science fiction and sub-par Die Hard movies. It has happened in the real world, the most famous being the Stuxnet attack that crippled Iran’s nuclear weapons program. That was a government-on-government attack that had major geopolitical ramifications.

Also, that’s just an attack we know about. I don’t think it takes an elaborate conspiracy theory to surmise that there have been other attacks like this that have not been made public. Some of those attacks might be many times scarier than either Stuxnet or the Colonial Pipeline.

This is all serious cause for concern. With each passing year, the world is becoming more connected and more tech savvy. An entire generation is coming up in a world where the internet is everywhere, both in industrialized nations and in developing countries. Like every generation before it, there will be conflict. It just won’t be fought in the same ways we’re used to.

If it’s possible to shut down a country’s pipelines, electricity, and communication networks without ever dropping a bomb or deploying a single troop, then we can’t assume it’ll never happen. We also can’t assume that it will, especially if we actively work on addressing the issue.

We managed to do that with nuclear weapons. We should make a similar effort with cyber attacks. We just learned that hackers can disrupt a major utility using a type of attack that is almost a decade old. Let’s not wait for another bolder attack on a larger target.

That still doesn’t mean freaking out and trying to live off the grid. It just means doing the necessary work to improve computer security, both on a personal level, as well as a governmental level. I don’t claim to be an expert in either, but if we can all do our part by just not having such an easily guessable password, we can all make a difference.

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A Message To Those Who Whine About The “Mainstream Media”

There are certain institutions and organization no one wants to defend. Usually, there’s a good reason for that. Who would ever want to stand on the side of the IRS, insurance companies, or oil companies? I don’t deny some will make the effort, but it’s often born of questionable motivations.

Now, I’m not out to defend any of those organizations or the people they pay to protect them. In fact, I’m going to try very hard to not take a side here. That may not be possible because in this case, I’m going to try and be balanced on an institution that has only become more imbalanced over the years.

I’m referring to “the mainstream media.” Yes, I put that term in quotes. There’s a good reason for that.

I’m also aware that people talk about “the mainstream media” the same way they talk about hemorrhoids, traffic jams, and malignant tumors. You’re unlikely to find anyone who will come to their defense. It’s why trust in “the mainstream media” is at an all-time low.

However, is that entirely the media’s fault?

Don’t get me wrong. The modern media is a mess and definitely needs a top-down overhaul, but I’m not smart enough to discuss that at any great length. Instead, I want to focus on those who constantly whine about “the mainstream media.”

You hear it from liberals who claim right-wing news sources peddle disinformation and outright propaganda.

You hear it from conservatives who claim left-leaning news sources basically treats anyone to the right of Jimmy Carter a fascist.

You basically hear it from everyone from every side of the political spectrum. Either “the mainstream media” is actively undermining democracy or they’re an unofficial arm of an oppressive government. There’s no middle-ground or nuance. No matter your politics, you’ll find an excuse to hate them.

I’m sorry, but I have to call bullshit.

Again, this is not me coming the defense of mainstream media. This is just me saying there’s legitimate criticism of modern media institutions and then there’s just bullshit whining. The latter has grossly overwhelmed the former as of late.

I see it in comments section and social media. It takes many forms, but it often boils down to this.

“The mainstream media is covering up the truth!”

“The mainstream media is spreading lies!”

“The mainstream media is attacking [insert favorite politician/pundit/celebrity]!”

“The mainstream media is destroying the country I love!”

Trust me, it gets more hyperbolic and vulgar. In some cases, real people faced outright death threats because of peoples’ hatred for “the mainstream media.” Even after the death of Rush Limbaugh, the hate isn’t subsiding. It’s only going to get worse.

That’s because it’s easier than ever to basically customize your news feed. If you want to only hear news from a right-wing bias, you can do that. If you only want to hear news from a left-wing bias, you can do that too. If you just want news that’s uplifting, there’s even a source for that too.

It’s not entirely a result of the internet. This has been happening since the rise of talk radio. People learned that you could garner a large, loyal audience by telling them the news and opinions that they want to hear. They won’t care how factually accurate it is. They just want to hear what makes them feel good.

That’s not inherently wrong. We’re human. We have our biases. There’s no way around it.

The problem is that, because people are having their biases satiated, they’re becoming more antagonistic towards anything that doesn’t do exactly that. That means any news that isn’t their preferred news is “the mainstream media” and “the mainstream media” is always bad.

I wish I could write that with more sarcasm, but this is a serious issue and one with deeply distressing implications.

This is part of why it’s becoming increasingly harder to convince people that a certain news story has been debunked or discredited. It’s also why people will cling to certain issues, citing only uncredible and bias sources, long after they’ve faded from the headlines.

You cannot reason with someone who clings to an unreasonable source of information. You also cannot have a civil discussion with someone who sees anything that doesn’t agree with them as wrong, evil, or a conspiracy by shape-shifting lizard people. I swear that last one is an actual conspiracy theory. I wish I was joking.

For this reason, I’ve had many unpleasant conversations with people who are otherwise decent human beings.

For that same reason, I’d like to send those people, as well as those who side with me on most arguments, a simple message.

The mainstream media is not out to get you.

The mainstream media is not out to destroy your way of life.

The mainstream media is not some evil organization run by a cabal of supervillains.

In essence, whining about “the mainstream media” has just become code for whining about certain people or organizations that don’t agree with you politically or ideologically. It’s a knee-jerk reaction that gives people an excuse to dismiss every point they make, even if it’s right, accurate, and completely credible.

It’s pathetic that people are that insecure about their politics, but it’s also dangerous. The events of January 6th at the Capitol is proof of that. I’m not saying we should all start trusting the media at every level. I’m just saying that there’s a better, more balanced way to get a clearer view of our world. You’re just not going to get that view if you only ever listen to Infowars.

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Why Starlink Is The Next Step In The Evolution Of The Internet

Say what you will about Elon Musk. Believe me, a lot can be said about a Tony Stark wannabe whose wealth is on par with Jeff Bezos. Not all of it is flattering, either. I know I’ve expressed a strong appreciation for him in the past. I genuinely believe some of the technology he’s working on will change the world.

I don’t deny that he can be eccentric.

I also don’t deny he says dumb things, often on Twitter.

The man has his faults, but thinking small isn’t one of them. You don’t get to be as rich or successful as Elon Musk by being careful. You also don’t create world-changing technology by being short-sighted. Love him or hate him, Musk has changed the world. He’ll likely change it even more in the coming years.

Some of those changes are years away. A product like Neuralink is probably not going to become mainstream in this decade. However, there is one that’s likely to change the world a lot sooner. In fact, it’s already up and running to some extent. It’s just in the beta phase. Some people can already use it and it’s already proving its worth.

That technology is called Starlink and I believe this will change the internet in a profound way.

Now, you can be forgiven for not keeping up with all of Elon Musk’s elaborate ventures. This one isn’t quite as sexy as brain implants or rockets, but it’s every bit as groundbreaking. If you value internet speeds that don’t suck or lag, then it should be of great interest.

In essence, Starlink is the name and brand of a new satellite-based internet service provider that Musk is creating through his other ambitious venture, SpaceX. The goal is simple on paper, but resource intensive. Instead of the messy network of ground-based hardware that most providers use to deliver the internet to hour homes and businesses, Starlink will deliver it from space.

It’s actually not a new idea or product, for that matter. Satellite based internet service has been around for years. In terms of speeds and utility, though, it just sucks. At most, you’d be lucky to get speeds on par with old school 3G wireless. For some people, that’s better than nothing. For most, it’s not nearly enough to maximize the full power of the internet.

Starlink is hoping to change that. Instead of expensive satellites with high latency and limited bandwidth, these new brand of low-Earth satellites promise to deliver on speeds at or greater than the best 4G internet providers.

On top of that, you don’t need the same elaborate infrastructure and or cell towers to deliver it. You just need a constellation of satellites, a receiver no larger than a pizza box, and a clear view of the sky. If you have all that, you can get the full breadth of the internet. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the middle of the desert or at the top of the Empire State Building. It’s there for you to access.

Make no mistake. That’s a big deal for the 3.8 billion people in the world who don’t have internet access. Whether due to lack of infrastructure or funds, it’s just not an option for them. It’s not just underdeveloped third-world countries either. Even here in America, there are large swaths of the country that have little to no reliable internet access.

It’s a big factor in the ongoing divide between rural and urban areas. If you live in a small rural community full of good, honest, hard-working people, they’re still going to struggle if they don’t have reliable internet. They’ll struggle economically, socially, and financially. To date, the efforts to expand the internet to their communities has been lackluster at best.

I can personally attest how bad it is. A few years back, I drove through a very rural part of West Virginia. For a good chunk of that drive, there was pretty much no reliable internet, be it Wi-Fi or cell phone coverage. The people there didn’t hide their frustration and I certainly sympathized with them.

There are many reasons for this, not all of which is because of how awful cable companies can be. A bit part of that has to do with the tools we use to access the internet. As good as they are for urban areas, they don’t work on a global level. It’s one thing to wire a big, advanced city like New York with fiber optics. It’s quite another to wire an entire planet.

Starlink promises to change that. These satellites aren’t bound by those logistics. They just orbit overhead without us even realizing it. They’re small and easy to mass produce. They can be taken out of orbit easily and replaced with better models. In principle, they could easily deliver the same high level gigabit speeds that are currently at the top of the market.

In terms of opening the internet to the rest of the world, that’s a big deal.

In terms of disrupting the market for delivering the internet, that’s an even bigger deal.

That’s because, to date, the world wide web has struggled to be truly world-wide. When nearly half the world can’t access it, then you can’t truly call it a global network. With Starlink, the internet can become truly global. People in rural India can have access to the same internet speeds as people in downtown Los Angeles. That promises to open up the world up in ways we can’t predict.

It’ll also provide some badly needed competition to internet delivery. For most people in America, you don’t have much choice when it comes to internet service. Cable companies basically have a monopoly on the whole enterprise, which is a big reason why it’s so expensive compared to other countries. Starlink will be the first real competition they’ve had in years for many areas.

I don’t doubt those companies will complain, whine, and lobby, but they’re not going to stop something like Starlink. They’re also not going to muscle out someone like Elon Musk. You don’t become the world’s richest person by being a push-over. Musk has already made clear that Starlink is a big part of his business model for the future.

At the moment, Starlink is still in beta, but Musk himself proves the technology works. He even used it to send a tweet. There are people right now who are testing it and they can confirm its speeds are way better than the crappy DSL internet of yesteryear. Many others have also expressed a keen interest in buying into this service.

At the moment, it’s still expensive. It costs $99 a month to access Starlink and it also costs $500 to buy the necessary antenna to receive it. However, that’s not a whole lot more than what I pay for internet in a month. Once it’s refined, that cost will come down.

Remember, there are over 3 billion people in the world without internet who have no options to access it. Starlink could be their only option and it could be a damn good one. It could be the key to the rest of the world becoming truly connected. That has big implications for society, commerce, and governments. Some countries are already making Starlink illegal for its people to access. Don’t expect that to stop it, though.

The promise of fast, reliable internet at all corners of the globe is too enticing for too many people. It will both connect the world and make Elon Musk even richer. However, for a man who connected the world and pissed off cable companies, I’d say he’ll have earned it.

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Filed under Current Events, futurism, Neuralink, technology

Telework, Online Learning, And What A Global Pandemic Can Teach Us About Both

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In general, people don’t radically change their habits unless there’s a huge incentive and/or a major disruption. By that, I don’t just mean habits relating to drug addiction, exercise regiment, or bedroom kinks. I’m mostly referring to peoples’ overall tendency to keep doing things the way they’ve been doing them, even if they have major flaws.

While it’s rare to get huge incentives to change those tendencies, it’s just as rare to face the kind of disruption that would force people to re-evaluate how they do things. People are, broadly speaking, pretty stubborn. It takes a lot of time and energy to abandon old habits in exchange for new ones. There’s no guarantee they’ll work. Sometimes, they’ll fail miserably.

In terms of disruptions, it’s hard to top a global pandemic. There’s just no way to overstate how big an impact something like that can have on a society. Pandemics have changed the course of history, as well as the course of society. They are the million-ton sledgehammer to whatever stable social system we have in place.

The ongoing crisis surrounding the Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic is the biggest disruption our society has faced in over a century. It has jarred us all from our comfort zone, to say the least. Between cancellations of major events and concepts like social distancing, we’ve had to reassess how we go about our daily lives.

As frustrating and frightening as it has been, these kinds of disruptions also present rare opportunities. We may never face a situation like this that affords such opportunities, so we would be wise to take advantage of it. In this case, it has to do with how we go about work and school.

We all have this time-tested notion of what it means to have a job and get an education. Having a job means going to an office or work site, doing your work there, and then coming home after a certain amount of time. It varies from person to person, but that’s the general approach.

Going to school is similar. You get on a bus, go to some building across town, stay there for six or seven hours while going to multiple classes, and then you come home. That’s what we think of when we think about getting an education and going to school.

Now, thanks to a global pandemic, this time-tested system has been disrupted. Going to crowded facilities is now a health hazard. Kids can’t go to some big school facility and workers can’t go to some crowded office for a third of their day. Instead, people are having to telework or utilize online classes. For now, this is just a temporary measure while we endure all this massive social upheaval.

At the same time, it also gives us a rare opportunity to see just how necessary it is to go somewhere else to do our work or get our education. It’s a relevant issue that goes beyond our current crisis. These questions are worth asking.

How necessary is it for us to go to some office or school to achieve what we seek?

Is that system really the best we can do?

What are the limitations of telework and online schooling?

What can be done to mitigate those limitations within the current infrastructure?

Can people be more productive with telework and online schooling?

How effective is our current system at supporting these options?

Now, I’m the last person who should defend the current school system. My past experiences with public school give me a somewhat heavy bias in assessing it. However, I doubt I’m alone in saying the current system has room for improvement.

When it comes to telework, I have less experience. In the past, I’ve had instances when I’ve been successful with telework. It depends on the situation and what I’m working on. I suspect that’s common for many jobs. An accountant and a brain surgeon work in very different spheres. One is easier to do at home. The other is a lot messier, to say the least.

It’s worth taking note of just how much we’re able to function over the next few weeks with respect to telework and online schooling. If a sizable chunk of the population demonstrates they can get the job done this way, be it with telework or online schooling, then that’s valuable insight that we should not ignore.

I understand that there are some jobs that cannot be done from home. There are also some things you can’t learn remotely. However, looking back at my experience in school, I’d say about 80 percent of what I learned could’ve been learned online. In terms of work, over half of what I did could’ve been done from home with a laptop and an internet connection.

There’s no reason we should be locked into this mindset that work involves leaving our house or that learning has to take place within a school. There are other ways to do these things and certain people might function better that way.

During a massive upheaval like this, things cannot and should not go back to exactly how things were. We have an opportunity to find a new approach to school and work. I say we take advantage of it as best we can.

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Filed under Current Events, Environment, futurism, human nature, technology

The Joys Of (Briefly) Unplugging And Running

I freely admit that I love technology. I also admit I’m on my phone constantly, checking social media and playing games. I’m the kind of person who gets extremely stressed out when my phone battery is low or think I’ve misplaced it. I think that puts me in line with most people my age.

I cherish technology. I celebrate it and contemplate how future advances will change our society, for better and for worse. Mostly, I favor the better, but I don’t deny that it can negatively effect people in certain ways. Like anything, you take the bad with the good and determine whether the good will suffice.

That said, even I see the importance of disconnecting every now and then. It’s not about fighting an addiction. The whole concept of tech addiction dubious at best and deceptive at worst, depending on who stands to make money off it. It’s a good thing, but like cake or beer, you can have too much of it.

That’s why I make it a point to do something regularly that allows me to separate myself from my phone, my computer, and any other device that has more computing power than a calculator. It’s not pretentious. It’s not because I’m trying to make a stand or something. I just find it genuinely helpful for my physical and mental well-being.

The way I disconnect is simple. I put on my workout clothes. I put my wallet and keys in my pockets. Then, I go out for a nice long run around the various trails around my house. I don’t listen to music, podcasts, or radio. It’s just me, the trail, and my thoughts. It may sound boring and bland. For me, it’s anything but that.

Unlike running on a treadmill, with which I do listen to music and podcasts, running outdoors along trails is more active. You’re not staring at the same wall or hearing some outdated piece of gym equipment crack with every step. You’re actually traversing the real world. You watch trees, streams, and grasslands pass you by. Even when you haven’t gone far, you feel like you’ve gone somewhere.

It’s not just a nice dose of fresh air. Running without any device beyond my keys allows me to just organize my thoughts. Sometimes, I have a stressful day when it’s hard to keep up with everything. A nice run outdoors allows me to get my heart going while my brain just streamlines itself.

It’s a very therapeutic experience. Thoughts become more streamlined. Ideas become clearer. Perspectives feel more balanced. Some of the ideas that have made it into my novels and my sexy short stories have come to me while I’m running. I doubt I would’ve gotten those ideas if I’d been focusing on music, podcasts, or something else.

Again, I love technology. I love my phone and my music collection. It’ll always have a place in my world. However, there are times when I just need to be on my own with my thoughts and the natural world. It’s a simple pleasure that I’ve come to cherish in my adult life. I won’t claim it has the same effect for everyone, but I strongly encourage everyone to try something like it. You may be surprised by how much you enjoy it.

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