A quick thought on the Crimean situation

I’ve heard more than a few people talk about Vladimir Putin as if he is some sort of genius who easily outwitted our flat-footed president. But I’m not that confident. Here is a story from the New York Times:

MOSCOW — The day after he returned from the Winter Olympics, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia gathered the 12 members of his national security council for a crisis meeting to manage a political implosion in Ukraine that, by all accounts, had surprised Russia’s political and military elite and, above all, infuriated Mr. Putin himself.

One prominent member of the council, Valentina I. Matviyenko, chairwoman of the upper house of Parliament, emerged from the meeting declaring that it was impossible that Russia would invade Crimea, yet a couple of days later Russian troops were streaming into the peninsula.

When Mr. Putin made his first public remarks on the crisis on Tuesday, he said that Russia would not support Crimea’s efforts to secede. On Friday, the Kremlin allowed a mass pro-secession rally in Red Square while senior lawmakers loyal to Mr. Putin welcomed a delegation from Crimea and pledged support to make it a new province of the Russian Federation.

That doesn’t exactly scream “methodical evil mastermind” to me.

Of course some people will criticize this narrative because it comes from the New York Times. I’m not so sure. Some people just like to see misdirection and intelligence where there isn’t; it’s part of the human mind’s nature to see patterns where they don’t exist. I’m not, by any means, calling Putin stupid; he is a shrewd, dangerous man. But still, I think Ukraine probably blind-sided him; nobody expected Yanukovych to flee so suddenly and give up power so quickly. Putin also probably felt he had a duty to protect and secure the Russian naval base in Sevastopol, which is a strategic interest for himself and Russia. His only card to play? Send in troops to secure the region as Ukraine entered a period of instability.

Putin probably doesn’t want to take over Crimea directly as a Russian federal subject. It would make a difficult situation more tense and no matter how hypocritical the rhetoric might be or fallacious the argument, it would stir up a lot of resentment towards Russia that Putin frankly doesn’t need. But I would bet dollars to donuts that there are some ultranationalists within Putin’s own party who would love to get Crimea, and are subtly pushing things that way. So what we have is that Putin needs to appease the more radical members of his own government while also trying not to annoy the West too much. Even though the West is, admittedly, powerless to do anything in Crimea, he still wants to keep relations smooth for future needs. And bad PR is just bad PR.

I don’t envy the guy, that’s for sure.

Of course, not being a foreign policy expert, I could be completely wrong, but I don’t think things are playing out right for Putin either. Which only reinforces my opinion that right now, the best thing we can do (other than exporting American natural gas to Europe, which would weaken Russia’s economic hegemony over Europe, as well be, you know, free trade) is really nothing at all. This is not America’s business, and for once I can say I am content with our president’s current stance.

Was I right about Bitcoin?

Last year, when writing about 2014 predictions, I made the following about Bitcoin:

Bitcoin will crash

This is just a hunch, but not too long ago we saw China ban Bitcoin transactions (as well as Thailand and India, basically) and the value of Bitcoin plunged about 40%. That’s pretty damn volatile, and while I am not a monetary expert, I think that’s not good for a currency. If the value of your currency changes that much so quickly (and if you put in terms of it’s rapid growth over 2013, which I think was 50x–if you bought $100 worth in January it was worth $5,000 at the end of the year) it’s not going to be very usable.

Now I could be totally wrong about that, and also totally wrong about this, but I have a hunch Bitcoin will dramatically decrease in value next year and might go out. I think it will also bring down other cryptocurrencies, including Litecoin, Peercoin, and the so-called “Dogecoin,” which is actually real. Although it’s also hit the reputation of these cryptocurrencies already…

Of course, everyone is ranting about the bankruptcy and shutdown of one of the largest Bitcoin exchanges, Mt. Gox, in Tokyo. There have also been major thefts and hacks elsewhere. Roughly $400 million worth of Bitcoin has been stolen and disappeared, amounting to somewhere around 6% (if I’ve read correctly) of the entire global Bitcoin supply. Meanwhile, Bitcoin has plunged from a price of $1,200 last November to about $573 as of this writing.

The concern over Mt. Gox and the ripple effects it’s collapse is having are making some wonder if this is the end of Bitcoin itself:

Documents purportedly leaked from the company lay out the scale of the problem. An 11-page “Crisis Strategy Draft” published on the blog of entrepreneur and Bitcoin enthusiast Ryan Selkis says that 740,000 bitcoins are missing from Mt. Gox, which roughly translates to hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of losses, although figures are fuzzy given Bitcoin’s extreme volatility.

“At the risk of appearing hyperbolic, this could be the end of Bitcoin, at least for most of the public,” the draft said.

In a post to his blog, Selkis said that the document was handed to him by a “reliable source” and that several people close to the company had confirmed the figures. Reached by phone, he declined further comment. The Japanese government, meanwhile, has not announced any formal investigation.

Not all agree, however:

Now that what’s left of Mt. Gox’s credibility has been shredded, the company is unlikely to rebound even with a bailout from investors or other members of the Bitcoin community. That leaves the question of what comes next. A host of funded exchanges are ready to take its place. But for an exchange to regain users’ trust after the fall of Gox, it will need new transparency standards and safeguards, some of which have already been proposed.

Others see currency exchanges as a gap technology that the Bitcoin economy is poised to move beyond. Once people are being paid in Bitcoin and spending money in Bitcoin, there won’t be as much need to buy it for cash, which is the primary function of an exchange. “These large exchanges that are international and global are more important in the early stages of Bitcoin when we need price discovery,” says Jon Matonis, director of the Bitcoin Foundation. “You don’t need them in the long run because in a true Bitcoin economy you’ll have a closed-loop system.”

There are precedents for Bitcoin bailouts, as when the Polish exchange Bitomat accidentally erased all its customers’ bitcoins. Mt. Gox bought the company and reimbursed its customers. But a bailout of Mt. Gox would be contrary to Bitcoin’s libertarian ethos and it doesn’t seem necessary. The price has already rebounded. A number of well-funded, reputable Bitcoin companies are standing by ready to sell the idea to the vast majority of potential users who have never used the currency or heard of Mt. Gox. And anyone who wants a bailout is likely to be shamed by the sense of self-determinism that kickstarted Bitcoin in the first place.

Personally, I find myself more with the latter viewpoint than the former. I still think Bitcoin will go out; I just don’t think it will be Mt. Gox specifically. There are going to be other things bringing it down, namely further instances of major theft and fraud and bad management. There won’t be just one issue.

I do want to slightly modify part of my above prediction, namely this:

I think it will also bring down other cryptocurrencies, including Litecoin, Peercoin, and the so-called “Dogecoin,” which is actually real.

I’m not as convinced as this as I used to be. To explain why, let’s take a quote from one of Mt. Gox’s investors:

Roger Ver, a big investor in Mt. Gox, said he did not know if he would ever get any of his lost bitcoin back.

“But the important thing to realize is that Mt. Gox is just one company using bitcoin. The bitcoin technology itself is still absolutely amazing,” he said.

“Even if one email service provider is having a problem that doesn’t mean people are going to stop using email. It’s the same with bitcoin.”

Ver is right, but he’s not expanding it far enough. Even if Bitcoin fails, it will not completely destroy the general cryptocurrency technology or concept. The way I see it now, Bitcoin is basically going to be the sacrificial lamb. It will get a lot of attention, a lot of press–and it will hit every bloody pitfall on the way up and out. Imagine, if you will, a Macross Missile Massacre heading straight for a convoy of cryptocurrencies. Bitcoin will be that ship that takes all of the blows and is destroyed, but the rest of the convoy will keep going–many damaged, perhaps a few unscathed. And the developers of these cryptocurrencies will learn from Bitcoin’s failures and push out innovations that will improve their products. (Granted, most of these cryptocurrencies, if not all, are very decentralized, so there’s no one person controlling the network, but I think the users will work out something.)

Will these cryptocurrencies replace national currencies? Barring a catastrophic global monetary collapse–which, to be fair, there is enough stupidity going on at central banks and governments around the world that we can’t definitely rule that out–I would say no. People are going to use it for speculative purposes, for liquidity, and occasionally to buy things, but for the most part I just can’t see them being used for everyday transactions by the majority of the populace. That is going to take a lot of convincing to get people to move outside their comfort zone. For better or worse, being attached to a government makes a currency look “safe”. It will take magic or tragedy to sever that thought in people’s minds.

One thing I do find interesting about all this is a concept and organization known as Mastercoin. I visited their booth at the International Students for Liberty Conference this year and was fascinated. It’s an attempt to have a sort of meta-protocol on top of the Bitcoin–and other cryptocurrencies’–protocol. It would facilitate seemless transfers between cryptocurrencies and people, and allow the development of what they term “smart contracts.” An example would be if I and someone else had a bet on what the weather would be, and I had Bitcoins and she had Litecoins. The smart contract would check the weather, and instantly transfer over the money bet from one person to the other and convert it, without us knowing what the other person has in terms of currency. But it was a lot more than that; the guy I was talking to said that it would permit the creation of infinite cryptocurrencies which could be used to support any number of things. One example was a hypothetical “Mathcoin,” which would support mathematical research. If a company accepted Mathcoin and people used it to buy things, the usage of Mathcoin–and the mining, I think–would instrinsically support mathematical research.

I’m doing it a major disservice; the Conference was a couple of weeks ago (and it gave me a nasty cough I haven’t really recovered from) and it was a very complicated subject. But it was still fascinating that people are working on this kind of stuff right now. Will it turn into anything? I have no idea. But come on, isn’t this interesting?

Still, Bitcoin…that won’t make it. Pretty sure of it.

The Day We Fight Back – #StopTheNSA

I shouldn’t have to write anything like this. It should be painfully obvious why privacy is important. It should be blindingly clear why it is wrong to have the National Security Agency put tracking devices in your computers, collect all your phone calls and emails, and turn on your webcam to spy on you directly.

These things are just not permissible.

Sadly, American society has become all the more accepting of these things in the past decade. Perhaps accepting isn’t the right word; maybe it is “resigned.” Either that or they just think they have nothing to hide, which is a painfully stupid thing to say.

A world without privacy is a world where we lack individuality. Sure, we share a lot of things on our social media accounts. But the point is we choose to share. We don’t have others deciding what is public and what isn’t. With all of our secrets laid bare, suddenly we start to censor ourselves, to conform, to stop being ourselves.

Think of what happened to people in East Germany or Soviet Russia. Think of the social atomization that went on in these societies. The pain, the fear, the terror.

A society cannot survive without privacy, without civil liberties, without individuality. A democracy cannot survive.

That is why I too am fighting back against the NSA. Stop it today. Stop it before it stops all of us.

Why Banning Learn To Code Bootcamps Is A Modern Atrocity

Over the past week, my Twitter feed has shown me at least two or three stories out of California on the state banning learn to code bootcamps. As someone who last year discovered had a natural talent for web coding and actually enjoyed it, leading to a career shift, this story dismays the hell out of me.

From VentureBeat, “California regulator seeks to shut down ‘learn to code’ bootcamps”:

BPPE, a unit in the California Department of Consumer Affairs, is arguing that the bootcamps fall under its jurisdiction and are subject to regulation. BPPE is charged with licensing and regulating postsecondary education in California, including academic as well as vocational training programs. It was created in 2010 by the California Private Postsecondary Education Act of 2009, a bill aimed at providing greater oversight of the more than 1,500 postsecondary schools operating in the state.

These bootcamps have not yet been approved by the BPPE and are therefore being classified as unlicensed postsecondary educational institutions that must seek compliance or be forcibly shut down.

“Our primary goal is not to collect a fine. It is to drive them to comply with the law,” said Russ Heimerich, a spokesperson for BPPE. Heimerich is confident that these companies would lose in court if they attempt to fight BPPE.

Heimerich stressed that these bootcamps merely need to show that they are making steps toward compliance: “As long as they are making a good effort to come into compliance with the law, they fall down low on our triage of problem children. We will work with them to get them licensed and focus on more urgent matters,” Heimerich said.

The question, really, is why there needs to be such burdensome regulation in the first place.

What happens at these bootcamps is that students come, they learn to code, they gain a valuable skill, and they can later turn that into a job. While the bootcamps cost between $10,000 – $20,000, they only last about 10-12 weeks, much less than the minimum $40k a year parents must shell out for 4-5 years of college. These bootcamps are a great opportunity: not only do the students get training in an actual, real world skill, but they do it for a lot less than a traditional college and they don’t waste 4-5 years unable to collect a paycheck, but can get right into the coding world with a job.

California regulators are citing “fraud prevention and safety concerns” as their reason for barging in and imposing themselves, but let’s be honest: that is not the case whatsoever. I would bet dollars to donuts that what’s really behind the regulators’ push is some market incumbent–some college, school, provider, whatever–that sees these bootcamps as a threat to its market share and wants them to be regulated so hard they go out of business, or at least until they stop being a threat. This is how the vast bulk of regulation in the United States comes about.

And here, because we are talking about education, knowledge, and individual empowerment, it’s especially atrocious. Any time someone steps in to prevent another from learning, well, mere words cannot describe how horrific such a thing is. I would never say it’s as bad as, say, the Holocaust, but it is truly a terrible thing. Knowledge is what empowers people to take control of their lives, better themselves, and in turn better all of the world. Knowledge knows no boundaries, no limits–except those imposed by the jealous and short-sighted. And even then, it will get out. You don’t need the bootcamps to learn how to code and get a job as a programmer, but it helps. A lot.

I myself was working in PR and media relations until the end of 2012. In 2013 I was very fortunate to have a friend recommend me to take a job in web programming, as he knew I had studied it a long time ago with my father. I was initially nervous, as I hadn’t done it in a long time…but before I knew it, I was becoming an expert on a completely new (to me, anyways) content management system, and was becoming an ace at HTML5, CSS3, and working my way into new forms of JavaScript. I became intimately familiar with responsive web design (taking one online course to help) which is a huge boon with the rapid growth of mobile web usage. This has opened all sorts of doors for me, and moreover, I actually enjoy it tremendously. It has turned me away from a period in my life where I was struggling to find what I was good at and could do for a day job, and was banging my head against the proverbial wall to do so, and into a life where I see possibilities and growth and a future and something I can do. Will it be easy? Of course not. It’s life. Life will never be easy. But now that I have this knowledge I have gained and taught myself, there is at least a path forward. That’s all anyone can ask for.

Why on Earth would regulators deny students this same empowerment? This is a modern atrocity.

I AM NOT A COMMITTEE: Disney to form group to kill Star Wars Expanded Universe

Disney appoints a group to determine a new, official Star Wars canon.

Well, we all knew this was coming eventually. And to be brutally honest, it is way overdue. The Star Wars Expanded Universe has a lot of stuff in it that really shouldn’t be there, whether some poorly thought out children novels in the 90s (looking at you, Jedi Prince series) or, you know, the entire “New Jedi Order” era. Or really anything off of this list.

The sad thing is, though, the EU is probably going to just be killed off entirely, at least post-Return of the Jedi, because let’s face it, the EU’s fanbase is about as valuable as sand on Tatooine. Vibrant as it is, the vast majority–we’re talking about 99 out of 100, here–of Star Wars fans do not care about the EU, and indeed think it is an international alliance of Old World socialist nations that in 100 years will be fighting with the Asians over the last scraps of this planet. I mean I love it, there are other nerds who love it, but then they dress up as Twi’lek girls and it just gets awkward.

Besides, it would totally get in the way of JJ. Abrams’ lens flares, and we can’t have that!

Now, Leland Chee, the Keeper of the Holocron (and thus, for several years now, effectively the Director of Continuity Management at Lucasfilm Licensing) will be in on this, which means that all of us EU fans will be appeased like the good people of Alderaan…before our jewel is blasted to tiny, tiny bits. Remember, lens flares. Can’t get in the way.

But you know, maybe that’s a good thing. I have a list of things we could easily kill:

  • The New Jedi Order Series
  • Legacy of the Force
  • Fate of the Jedi
  • Courtship of Princess Leia
  • The Force Unleased (as well as its sequel)
  • Knights of the Old Republic
  • The Crystal Star
  • The Jedi Prince series
  • Galaxy of Fear series (seriously, what a joke)
  • The Ewoks series and movies

Well, that’s all I can think of at the moment, but I am sure there are more. There have been a flurry of Star Wars novels lately, many of whom involve Han Solo, that I hear aren’t that good. (Like one that was going to be Ocean’s Eleven but with Dash Rendar, but turned out horribly; and a couiple of ones with zombies. Look, I like zombies, and I like Star Wars. But unless your name is Eden Studios, Inc., you don’t have permission to mix the two. Or into the Sarlacc with you.)

But yeah, it’s not really a bad thing. I would like a fresh start. Still skeptical that whatever JJ will do with that galaxy far, far away will actually be good (I’m really not a fan of his Star Trek reboots) but I will give a shot. And by a shot I mean a dram of Corellian whiskey, because that is always good.

2014 Predictions Part 3: Everything Else

With little over 24 hours left in 2013, it’s time for my last predictions for 2014. I couldn’t be arsed to do two more bits, so I’m just doing one more blog post, and hopefully will keep this short.

Without further ado:

We’re gonna get dumber next year

2013 was the year of stupidity, or just another year of it. We also had a lot of internet hoaxes (hoaxi?), ranging from a stupid spat on an airplane which turned out to be completely false, a story about how Iron Maiden followed it’s music pirates, and a few others. Over the past year, the credibility of online sources went really downhill.

While part of me wants to lay it at the feet of outlets such as Buzzfeed, Upworthy, ViralNova, and Breitbart, in reality the problem is really us, the consumers. We simply do not take the time to examine what we hear or read critically. Mainly, this is because we don’t have the time, nor the resources, to do so. But still, people can and should be raising their eyebrow in a Spock manuever more often. It’s a shame we don’t.

I honestly expect it to get worse. People are offloading so many cognitive functions to others–hoping for experts and the “news” to tell them everything–that they just won’t think about things.

Also, in a related vein, I see the phenomenon of trying to create viral posts by outfits like those mentioned above increasing dramatically, before suffering some sort of backlash and dying…only to be replaced by something even more grotesque. You know what I’m talking about: “This Guys Had A Great Plan Going, But What Happened Next Changed Everything.” It’s a technique that has annoyed a lot of people, though nowhere near enough to actually change things.

So that’s depressing.

Quality of discourse will suffer

Ever had socio-political, economic, theological, or any other debate online? Yeah. They’re gonna get worse next year. More ad hominem, more fallacies, more refusal to even research their own opinions (and probably demand you to do it for them), more just plain stupidity.

How do I know? Call it an educated guess. The longer I’ve lived, the worse and worse these discussions have gotten.

No significant change in religion

Dunno if anyone’s said there’s going to be an uptick in atheism next year, but I’m calling it now: there won’t be any significant change in anything religious next year. Maybe a point or two fewer Christians calling themselves evangelical, but probably not even that.

Cable companies will continue to suck (your money)

So I bought my parents a Google Chromecast for Christmas so they could watch their ABC shows online without having to physically plug in the laptop to the TV. (They’re old, you know.) However, we just discovered that starting Jan 6th, they’re going to need a provider code from their TV provider in order to watch ABC shows online.

They don’t have a “provider.” They get their shows over the air, via digital broadcast.

This is the way of the cable companies twisting the arms of the networks to force consumers to buy hideously expensive cable/satellite packages instead of just cutting the cord and using Roku (or a Chromecast). This will continue throughout 2014. My question is when it actually ends; when will the jig be up? 2015? 2016? 2020? Later? I don’t know. But it seems to me that it will happen sooner or later. Probably sooner. Then people will watch what they want online, including with all the ads.

Just not soon enough, unfortunately.

Kansas City Chiefs Crush The Seattle Seachickens To Win Super Bowl XLVIII

I’m calling it now. I’m also calling my bank to reassure myself I have enough money to cover my losses.

2014 Predictions Part 2: Science & Technology

So after giving my political predictions, let’s move on to something eminently more satisfying and cool: that which is in my headline.

Online services will get crappier

Perhaps it is only me, but the past two years have seen many great online services climb up the stupid tree, then fall down it and hit every branch on the way to–well, not the ground, but maybe the bedrock.

It’s a lot of little things. Twitter retired the 1.0 API which allowed web developers to organically integrate Twitter timelines into websites; the newer 1.1 API forced a lot of people to use the bog standard Twitter widget, which isn’t very customizable and looks ugly in many environments. (There is a way around it, using JavaScript, fortunately, but it took a lot of pain to find that workaround.) Twitter also recently started auto-expanding images in Tweets; have these guys seen the sickos on there? One of them may link to Fourier’s Gangrene (and no, I will not link to that because it’s a pretty gross image.) Facebook, meanwhile, keeps futzing with the layout, as well having the page dynamically update–a great obscenity generator when you’re in the middle of writing a comment and the whole page moves. (And let’s just not get started on the privacy crap.) Youtube implements DASH, preventing a video from actually loading and making it freeze all the time. And then Google+…

…just keeps being Google+, I guess.

Oh, and the rampant advertising…

It used to be that these services was useful, interesting, fun, and were only mildly annoying. But I’ve noticed that, especially in the last 18 months-2 years, they’ve gone downhill. I suspect a huge part of this is due to IPO’s, at least in Facebook’s and Twitter’s cases. Why? Because the incentive structure has shifted. Instead of delivering value to their users, these services are now focused on delivering value to their shareholders. There isn’t anything wrong with that, but it does lead to a lot of frustration for end users.

The thing is, these companies aren’t focused on delivering value anymore, and the shareholders, I fear, don’t realize that delivering value is the very way they make profits. In other industries, one way of making profits is by sucking up to the government teat and lobbying for special favors for yourself and special prohibitions for your opponents (affiliate link). That isn’t really viable in the social media sphere, however, at least not yet (thankfully; hopefully it will never be viable.)

Will it actually hurt these companies? To be honest…I doubt it. Yes there are always people who make #TwitterSuxSoBad and “Make Facebook Go Back To Its Old Non-Sucky Ways Group,” but they’re a minority. So I think in 2014 this trend will continue and we’ll continue to see more and more little annoyances mount. I also don’t think we’ll have any resolutions to privacy concerns from this year. While more people are aware of and upset over these things, and this will only increase next year, I doubt it will hit critical mass for anything significant to happen during the next year. Oh, sure, noises will be made to assuage folks and placate users, but anything dramatic? Not unless Google decides to unilaterally implement Lavabit-type encryption and tell everyone else to screw themselves.

Which probably wouldn’t happen.

Facebook will start to slow down

This is less of a prediction for next year and more of a prediction for 2015-2020, but what the heck, it will likely start next year. Whereas Twitter & Google will weather the various storms (controversial changes to blocking mechanisms, ending Google Reader) they’re facing, I’m far less certain about Facebook. Recently, a Business Insider writer wrote that Facebook is collapsing under it’s own weight. Milennials are dropping out of Facebook, and that doesn’t bode well for long-term viability.

I think next year we’ll see an uptick in stories about people leaving Facebook. (Lifehacker might even run an update on their old article about how to quit Facebook, or get a “minimalized” Facebook profile.) It won’t actually lead to an actual contraction in Facebook users, but growth will slow. Which will make shareholders more antsy than Barack Obama coming home after taking a selfie at a funeral with another woman.

Longer term, I think it spells doom. But then, everything ends. Facebook was launched in February 2004; it will definitely live to see it’s 10th birthday next year. When it finally goes I’m not sure; probably around 2019. Put your bets in the comments and let’s come back and see who wins.

We’ll see a 1TB solid state drive under $400

To me, this is a no-brainer, and kinda cheating because it’s so easy. Technology prices drop as people adopt these technologies; as demand increases, it becomes easier to make these things as economies of scale take over. (Distinguished economists can lambast me for what might be faulty economics.) Right now, a 1TB solid state drive (SSD) on Newegg costs between $540-$700 (there is one refurbished option for $150, but I think that must be some mistake.) These will definitely be under $400 next year, possibly as low as $320 (but not much lower than that, unless it’s part of a Newegg sale they have every three days.)

Also, we’ll probably see a 2TB SSD come out next year, probably costing around $750 at first and maybe bottoming out at $600 before the year is done.

2014 will be Linux’s year

Maybe I’m being way too optimistic, but I see a bunch of things coming together to benefit Linux.

A couple of things have been long-term developments. The first is really anecdotal, but in the past couple of years the number of people I’ve personally witnessed using Linux computers has jumped from absolute zero to about half a dozen. Granted, that’s small, and that’s just my personal experience, but it’s something. Next, there are way more Lifehacker articles on how to actually use Linux (usually Ubuntu because it’s supposedly very user friendly), and people out there are actually tinkering with this stuff. Third, Android, the most popular mobile OS in the world, is based on Linux; because of this, hardware manufacturers have had to rewrite their drivers to support the Linux kernel, and because of that Linux can now work on a lot more hardware combinations, without waiting for someone in the open source community to reverse engineer a driver. It used to be–back in 2007 when I first dabbled with Linux–that wireless was a hit and miss proposition. In 2013, I downloaded and installed Kubuntu and it worked perfectly. This is catching on and people are noticing.

Two other things, external to Linux, will help it along. The first is that, while Windows 8 is actually a great operating system, it’s also a total bust. It might actually be stalling Windows sales. In fact, Microsoft had previously announced it was ending Windows 7 sales next October; that decision has been reversed, no doubt because Windows 8 adoption has been about as real as one of the Surface commercials. Windows 7 is still a viable operating system. However, it does cost a lot of money.

And the other thing: Windows XP will finally go unsupported in April 2014. As they say on Twitter: #DOOOOOOOM.

According to NetMarketShare, on December 21st 2013, nearly a third of users were still running Windows XP. Most of those are either idiots, senior citizens and the like who can’t upgrade, or businesses with mission critical applications. (Ed Bott went over this pretty well at ZDnet.) Still, to me, that’s pretty insane that almost a third of people are using an operating system that is going to be 12 years old come next year. Granted, a huge bunch of that is in China (the above report was global) where nobody upgrades their blasted computers. Still, that’s incredible. And foolish. After April, Windows XP will be dangerous to use. Yes, there will still be security updates by third parties in the IT security business, but without official support from Redmond using XP will be dubious.

Enter Linux. While Windows 7 and 8 are costly, and can only run on modern systems (I think both require at least 2GB of RAM to operate, if I’m not mistaken), Linux is both free (usually) and runs on a wide range of hardware, including some really old stuff. Plus, because it’s open source, the code is there for anyone to see, meaning security holes are patched pretty quickly, instead of being held in secret at Microsoft’s engineering headquarters, so it’s more secure (generally, at least.) And for those who want support, there are paid support options. The most famous are probably Red Hat (whose Linux distribution is one of the major bases of the Linux family, next to Debian) and Canonical, who make Ubuntu, but Oracle and Novell also have their own Enterprise linux offerings (Oracle’s being based on Red Hat Linux.)

When XP goes down, people are going to have to move somewhere. Many are going to try Linux. And thanks to Android, Linux will work. So I think 2014 will be a good year for Linux and it might finally break out of the “only for nerds” trap it’s been living in for years. But that depends on a couple of things: good documentation, and if it comes preinstalled with Flash, MP3 codecs, and the like. If the documentation is terrible and if the free software fanatics prevent mainstream Linux distributions from coming with nonfree codecs, drivers, etc., then you can forget about any Linux gain. Nobody will go for that; they would rather pay out the nose than deal with an OS that ships without any support for their flash games or mice or monitors or printers (people still print, you know). So this is dependent on how much Linux teams work for it. If the effort is not made, the success will not happen. If the effort is made, I think Linux will see tremendous gains.

Now, what that will do I’m honestly not sure. It might make the Internet more secure….

Google+ is going to continue to have nobody on it

Sorry.

Bitcoin will crash

This is just a hunch, but not too long ago we saw China ban Bitcoin transactions (as well as Thailand and India, basically) and the value of Bitcoin plunged about 40%. That’s pretty damn volatile, and while I am not a monetary expert, I think that’s not good for a currency. If the value of your currency changes that much so quickly (and if you put in terms of it’s rapid growth over 2013, which I think was 50x–if you bought $100 worth in January it was worth $5,000 at the end of the year) it’s not going to be very usable.

Now I could be totally wrong about that, and also totally wrong about this, but I have a hunch Bitcoin will dramatically decrease in value next year and might go out. I think it will also bring down other cryptocurrencies, including Litecoin, Peercoin, and the so-called “Dogecoin,” which is actually real. Although it’s also hit the reputation of these cryptocurrencies already…

There are going to be some awesome technological advances next year

We’ve seen some incredible things the past year. Soylent, dataSTICKIES, massive curved TV’s, not to mention all these really cool technologies that modern scifi is ignoring.

I have no idea what specific technologies will emerge next year. But I really think that there will be some super-cool technological advances next year, whether those guys working on building a sun in New Jersey get anywhere, or the scientist who is refining the formulae for faster-than-light travel finds something, or something completely different.

One thing is clear: 2014 is going to be cool.

2014 Predictions Part 1: Politics

Recently, a friend of mine noted that not enough people–mainly pundits–actually put their reputation (and even money!) on the line and make hard predictions. He admired a lefty blogger for doing so last year when said blogger made a line-in-the-sand prediction that everyone would be sold on Obamacare by today. (Naturally, my friend disagrees with this lefty blogger on several issues, though not all.) That got me thinking to what predictions I would make, so, well, at the end of 2013, here are a few.

I’m probably not going to make anything definite, or super-hard; I always try to hedge my bets as there’s always a degree of uncertainty. You can never be 100% certain about something; if you are, you’re probably wrong. But then I’m not sure about that either.

And also, because this turned out to be longer than I expected, I’m breaking it up into parts. Part 1 is politics; part 2 will be science & technology; I may be a part 3 for society; with part 4 a catch-all for anything miscelleanous, if I get to that.

So, here are some predictions I have for 2014, along with some that go a little beyond that…

Continue reading 2014 Predictions Part 1: Politics

Employment & Free Speech

So A&E (apparently) suspended Phil Robertson, the patriarch of the Robertson clan from Duck Dynasty, for homophobic & racist statements he gave in an interview. Naturally, there’s been a lot of outrage on all sides.

Let’s get something clear: this is not the First Amendment. That applies to the government, not private employers. Don’t even think of making it a First Amendment issue. Matt Yglesias is completely right on this. (And I disagree with him on a lot of things.) So let’s just get that out of the way: First Amendment applies to government, not to private employers.

However, be that as it may, is it still right for companies to terminate or suspend employees over voicing opinions and views, no matter how backward or detestable they may be? Sure, companies may have a right to do so, but it does not make it right. It may also be completely legal, but again, not right. It’s very clear it is legal, but it is not at all clear that it is right to me.

Libertarians frequently talk about the chilling effect on speech whenever government censors. What libertarians don’t talk about is the chilling effect when companies censor. Now, to a large degree, this is because employment is a largely voluntary activity. If you don’t like your company, you can leave. You can even blow the whistle and enjoy certain legal protections.

But you still have to deal with the consequences of those actions. And one of those consequences is losing your paycheck. In a world that is the end result of a century of rampant inflation, losing your paycheck means a lot of struggle and hardship. (Okay, it did before the rampant inflation too, but not nearly as much. With things costing less, I think it was easier to compensate.) To speak your mind and possibly lose your source of income that pays for your housing, food, clothing, transportation–everything–is one hell of a chilling effect.

Now that doesn’t really apply to Phil Robertson. He’s clearly well off and will not be harmed by this whatsoever. But most of us are not Phil Robertson. We don’t have those resources to fall back on. Even if we may have some resources, we may be facing hardship we are not ready to face.

The problem with then saying “Nobody should be fired for voicing their opinions” is that you have a free association issue. People should not be forced to associate themselves with people they don’t want to. That includes corporate management that wants nothing to do with a person who vocally articulates hateful or otherwise harmful rhetoric. I wouldn’t want to be around a gay-bashing homophobe, and I suspect most A&E employees don’t either. So by mandating some sort of “don’t fire” principle, you’re effectively forcing people to pal around with people they really don’t want to.

And that creates a whole heaping load of problems on its own. I mean, hello: hostile work environment lawsuits.

I want to make it clear that I don’t support homophobic or racist rhetoric. However, if that’s the content of Robertson’s speech, I’m still not sure that suspending him was the right thing for A&E to do. I also want to make it clear that I think that employers should not terminate employees based on voicing their opinions outside the office, so long as they are not bashing the company, the company’s clients, or even possibly the company’s vendors. I also want to make it clear that any resolution towards these problems should not involve new legislation; we know how that creates a horrible, unmitigated mess.

In short, I am very conflicted. I think good, sensible employers will realize they cannot punish employees for voicing their opinions and will not do so. Bad employers will, and they will lose talent and suffer. But at the same time, I hate what the guy has said and I wouldn’t want to work at a company if such speech was allowed to run rampant in the office. Yet if companies start punishing employees for speaking their mind, what kind of a world would we be living in?

And this is the real world, unfortunately, where nothing is easy and you get your dilemmas for free.

Image: By Njallis (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.