Tag Archives: technology

Built to win: Deep inside Obama’s campaign tech | Ars Technica

The reelection of Barack Obama was won by people, not by software. But in a contest as close as last week’s election, software may have given the Obama for America organization’s people a tiny edge—making them by some measures more efficient, better connected, and more engaged than the competition.

That edge was provided by the work of a group of people unique in the history of presidential politics: Team Tech, a dedicated internal team of technology professionals who operated like an Internet startup, leveraging a combination of open source software, Web services, and cloud computing power.

A truly impressive story of systems engineering, from the macro to the micro level. I really commend the Obama tech team on their impressive re-imagining of how big data and scalability could change the way political parties interact with voters. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that their system gets re-packaged and licensed out to future political orgs. Heck, I can think of a few corporations that could use this kind of model, too. Like mine.

Boeing’s New Missile Remotely Disables Computers as It Flies By

Boeing’s new missile otherwise known as the Counter-electronics High-powered Microwave Advanced Missile Project. It automatically disables PCs and other electronic devices as it soars through the skies, using a burst of powerful radio waves—and it was successfully tested last week.

The CHAMP tests took place in the Western Utah Desert on October 16th. As it flew by a two-story building, its on-board microwave system shut down every piece of electronic equipment running inside the place. In fact, the test went so well that it disabled all the cameras recording the event, too. Oops.

via gizmodo.com

Apple Is Said to Discuss an Investment in Twitter via @NYtimes

Apple, which has stumbled in its efforts to get into social media, has talked with Twitter in recent months about making a strategic investment in it, according to people briefed on the matter.

Apple has worked Twitter into its computer operating system. Apple made it easy to send photos from iPhone to Twitter.

While Apple has been hugely successful in selling phones and tablets, it has little traction in social networking, which has become a major engine of activity on the Web and on mobile devices. Social media are increasingly influencing how people spend their time and money — an important consideration for Apple, which also sells applications, games, music and movies.

Apple has considered an investment in the hundreds of millions of dollars, one that could value Twitter at more than $10 billion, up from an $8.4 billion valuation last year, these people said. They declined to be named because the discussions were private.

via nytimes.com

Touché: Enhancing Touch Interaction on Humans, Screens, Liquids, and Everyday Objects

This is absolutely blowing my mind. 3 cheers, Disney Research!

Computer interfaces with NO input screen or device? Using my body as a touchscreen? Sounds too amazing to be true. Except of course, for the inevitable second coming of the ‘cellphones cause cancer’ backlash.

I’m surprised they saved the best for last, though. A TV that turns on as soon as I sit on the couch? This is truly exciting stuff. Everyone in America would want this killer feature. (Everyone that hasn’t accidentally locked themselves out of their house by closing the door too hard, that is.)

Ok… everyone as lazy as I am, that is.

Jailbreaking the Degree | via @TechCrunch

The traditional degree, with its four-year time commitment and steep price tag, made sense when the university centrally aggregated top academic minds with residency-based students. Education required extensive logistics, demanding deep commitment from students worthy of being rewarded with the all-or-nothing degree.

But education isn’t all-or-nothing. College and its primary credential, the degree, needn’t be either. The benefit of modern, online education is that the burden of logistics and infrastructure are greatly reduced, allowing for the potential of a fluid, lifelong education model. The problem, to date, is that formal, online education is still being packaged in all-or-nothing degree programs, falsely constraining education innovation. The New Republic writes, “Online for-profit colleges haven’t disrupted the industry because while their business methods are different, their product—traditional credentials in the form of a degree—is not.”

Technology creates efficiencies by decreasing unit size while increasing utility. To falsely constrain anything to historically larger canons is to render technology impotent to do what it does best.

Interesting argument in favor of completely reinventing the higher education accredidation-diploma model.

I agree that making education more modular may increase overall effeciency of the system, but I think Mr. Blake underestimates both the benefits of the self-selecting nature of the often difficult-to-withstand 4-year committment (even if somewhat arbitrarily designed), and the secondary social effect the process creates. To me, a huge part of the value of a degree is related to the successful navigation of a complicated system, as much as Mr. Blake might be saddened to hear it.

Measuring the effectiveness of education using an industrial model is a bit troubling, also. Doesn’t measuring efficiency miss the point of our education system?

Humans Lose, Robots Win in New Defense Budget

The big loser in the Pentagon’s new budget? Ordinary human beings.

About 80,000 Army soldiers and 20,000 Marines are getting downsized. Half of the Army’s conventional combat presence in Europe is packing up and ending its post-Cold War staycation. Replacing them, according to the $613 billion budget previewed by the Pentagon on Thursday: unconventional special-operations forces; new bombers; new spy tools; new missiles for subs; and a veritable Cylon army of drones.

This is the first of the Pentagon’s new, smaller “austerity” budgets: it’s asking Congress for $525 billion (plus $88.4 billion for the Afghanistan war), compared to a $553 billion request (plus $117 billion in war cash) last year.

The idea of replacing human combatants with machines terrifies me. When the results of war are so disconnected from the actual citizens involved in the decision to make war, what stops us from engaging in military actions? The Vietnam War was eventually ended because of the cold reality of Americans seeing American body bags coming home, but what heartstrings would a broken machine body pull at?

Similarly, increasing the budget for mechanized warfare will only strengthen the grasp of the military-industrial complex, for as the perceived benefits outweight the potential sacrifice of human life, combined with the number of jobs and absurd level of profits to be had from producing these war machines, I can’t imagine the trend reversing anmy time soon. You can’t manufacture humans (per se), but you can manufacture mechanized, remote-controlled soldiers now, apparently.

As the technology becomes more proficient, these tools will undoubtedly become more accurate – meaning, fewer collateral civilian casualties for military strikes – which means they’ll be perceived as safer, leading to a positive feedback cycle. But whereas human soldiers can distinguish between a real enemy and a civilain far more accurately, relying on any number of real-world cues, machines will destroy whatever they’re aimed at without regard for potential errors in judgement. Soon, we’ll start hearing more about “acceptable losses” and “military-civilain death ratios” in terms of these unmanned strikes. And reducing warfare to a numbers game, is, in my opinion, completely unacceptable.

Without the remorse of traditional person-to-person warfare, without the moral restriction on civilian casualty, and with an absurdly high profit margin at work, will our humanity be left behind as we continue to engage in worldwide wars on multiple fronts? Can we really stomach the idea of killing foreigners for our own ideology, when we put nothing of ourselves at risk as well?

Computer Virus Hits U.S. Drone Fleet via @wiredmag

A computer virus has infected the cockpits of America’s Predator and Reaper drones, logging pilots’ every keystroke as they remotely fly missions over Afghanistan and other warzones.

The virus, first detected nearly two weeks ago by the military’s Host-Based Security System, has not prevented pilots at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada from flying their missions overseas. Nor have there been any confirmed incidents of classified information being lost or sent to an outside source. But the virus has resisted multiple efforts to remove it from Creech’s computers, network security specialists say. And the infection underscores the ongoing security risks in what has become the U.S. military’s most important weapons system.

I certainly understand the tactical advantage of removing our soldiers from combat situations, but I fear what this technology implies. The drones are tools, which can be hijacked and reused – just like any other weapon of war. Or worse, they can be used to justify engaging in conflicts we otherwise normally wouldn’t partake in due to risk. But when we start to value our own lives so much more than our enemies that we put the destrictuive power in the hands of autonomous agents of war, and disconnect ourselves from the reality and consequences of our war machine, we open the door to our military system being hijacked from within, and fostering even more ‘shadow wars.’

Complete roundup of iProduct updates, specs, and release dates (via @engadget)

Apple’s done its fair share of introducing today, and now it’s on us to distill everything down into something understandable by folks who don’t have the time to pore over every single morsel of iPhone and iOS 5-related news oozing from Cupertino. You can relive our liveblog right here — for everything else, [follow the link] below.

A well-formatted summary of all the changes to the iProducts line, including iOS5.

Judge in Sony vs. Geohot orders YouTube and others to give up users’ personal info — Engadget

Remember when Sony sued Geohot and demanded that YouTube hand over the user info of all the folks who posted comments to Geohot’s PS3 jailbreak video? Well, score a victory for SCEA, as the judge overseeing the case’s jurisdictional discovery process has ruled that Sony can get what it wanted — information from: Bluehost (who hosts Geohot’s website) regarding who downloaded the jailbreak, Twitter regarding any tweets made by Hotz, Google Blogspot regarding comments made on his blog, and the aforementioned YouTube user data.

There goes Sony once again, buttering up the slippery slope of wielding technology against their users. This ends well for no one.

iMovie And Garageband For iOS Announced, Looks Good On iPad 2

Today, Apple announced new versions of iMovie and Garage band for iOS 4.3. Apple says they have set the bar high for devs with the release of the two apps and hope devs build on what they’ve seen in Apple’s programming capabilities.

iMovie on iPad gets a bunch of the same features found in the OS X version. Precision editor, multitrack audio recording, new themes, AirPlay to Apple TV, and sharing of HD videos are just some of the features included. It’s going to cost $4.99 when it releases March 11th.

…and so the iPad becomes a media production device, not just a vehicle for consumption. I’m going to lobby my film school to adopt a herd of these puppies.