#SOTU part 2

Heed me, oh working class. Corporate America will replace any job they can with a robot. It is so.


How do my Republican associates square “a plan to close the gap” with simultaneous record corporate profits, record unemployment and an adversarial stance against raising the minimum wage?

Google Trends, Debian and SteamOS

I’m surprised to see that SteamOS hasn’t impacted the popularity of “Debian” as a search keyword. So far, the search frequency remains fairly fixed:


The popularity of “Debian steam” and “SteamOS” is exploding:



So its odd that there is no impact on the popularity of Debian itself. I can only suppose that the search activity for “Debian” is already very large and stable so that the impact of Steam is minimal. That’s still surprising though. I would expect it to trend up.

ZipIt Z2

ZipIt Z2

Yesterday I bought one of these little guys off of Amazon for $17. Its a tiny ARM based computer that was built for instant messaging. Amazingly, it has WiFi. For under $20 you can have a tiny, tiny computer. It also apparently exposes 10 GPIO lines on its “docking port” so you can really think of it as a cheaper Raspberry Pi with WiFi, a keyboard and a display for half the price. Cool thing!


The new lynchpin

Kathleen Sebelius recently announced her plans for moving Healthcare.gov forward. Inspector General Dan Levinson has been enlisted to review the entire effort. The Center for Medicare & Medicade will create a full-time risk management position and Jeff Zients‘ company QSSI (now owned by United Healthcare) will continue to manage the day-to-day operations of the web site. Answers about who is in charge are coming quickly enough but the details about what precisely went wrong don’t seem to be as forthcoming. (edit: Jeff Zients is not the owner of QSSI. Mr. Zients will serve as the program manager for Healthcare.gov and manages the relationship with QSSI, the prime contractor)

The Healthcare.gov website has all the makings for a new era of government. From its start as an Open Source project in a garage to its rapid ascent to the forefront of national discussion, we have never seen a situation where politics and software were so entangled. The Obama administration has always had the attention of the Free Software movement. From its focus on transparency to its Drupal powered White House website, it seems to embody the values of the Internet culture. This affinity rose to a crescendo when Healthcare.gov managed to tie the success or failure of an entire Presidency to a single piece of software.

This phenomena of legislation merging with software may very well be a harbinger of things to come. Government has historically been a creature of papers. Armies of bureaucrats keep the cogs of the state moving by following the policies printed up in manuals. The government was certainly the first to adopt computers but its paper machinery is vast. Healthcare.gov hints at a future where legislation emerges not as a new flavor of paper pushing but as software directly facing the citizen.

For a long time people have understood that governments with secret laws, secret policies and secret courts are hazardous to the public’s health. The world has seen enough sneaky dictatorships to want these things nipped in the bud. Unfortunately, not so many people have grasped the possibility of a world where laws, policies and courts are replaced by software. People still think of software in the terms defined by ints private enterprise origins. It is viewed as property, belonging to a person or enterprise. People don’t give a second thought to the fact that there are powerful systems managing their day-to-day welfare that are pretty much entirely secret. Where the line between software and the law lies is suddenly becoming a lot more blurry. Between Healthcare.gov and recent revelations of the NSA’s capabilities we have been thrust into a bold new world.

Its easy to dismiss these thoughts as paranoid. The IRS has used software to manage people’s taxes for decades. Every part of government from Federal agencies to the smallest city department uses some kind of computer to keep track of data, so what is so different? Maybe the important thing is that the newer generations of software are moving from helping government employees find information to actually making decisions. Police departments use software to examine outstanding warrants, correlate them with social media activity and select potential candidates for enforcement. With the NSA under scrutiny for letting thousands of agents listen in on the conversations of so many citizens they have the motivation and the capabilities to replace those agents with software. How long will it be before the software is requesting court orders directly?

Backing Away From Open

It is ironic that one of the first reactions to Healthcare.gov’s problems was to close down access to the source code of the front end. The front end was the only part of the system that actually worked reliably and it had been developed in the open from the beginning. This must have stood in uncomfortable contrast to the rest of the system once things started breaking down. Eric Gundersen, the president of the organization that developed that software, said “If people had more insight into the code, and it was open, a lot more people would have a sense of what’s happening.”

The most important thing that the government can learn about Free Software is that it isn’t a product, it is a process. The reason it succeeds is because if someone really cares about a problem they can look into the facts of the situation for themselves. It is comforting that Mrs. Sebelius put strong and capable managers on the Healthcare.gov problem. Unfortunately, the removal of the Healthcare.gov code and the lack of answers about when that level of transparency will return begs for more than a list of names. If we are to believe the critics of Obamacare, our entire future and the welfare of our nation hang in the balance. If that is truly what is at stake then we should have our nation’s experts, all of them, looking at the code for that system.

Here’s a question

How do you create reputation without compromising privacy? Ideally, you would like to trade goods with people using BitCoin directly but how can you know if the other party is trustworthy? You can take a “web of trust” approach where the people you trade successfully with sign some sort of document that described the transaction but then everyone else can see your trading partners. That’s obviously undesirable. Any thoughts?

Goodbye MOG

I switched from MOG to Spotify now that they have a Linux client in beta. I have to say, the music discovery and friend integration is much better and I have *WAY* more friends on Spotify. MOG’s web client worked terribly on Linux and most other platforms from what I read. Streaming would constantly choke and stutter. I ended up mostly listening on my Android phone, which is OK but isn’t really the service I was paying for. Now that I have a working desktop client I find myself listening to a lot more tunes.

Of course, I wish the desktop client was Open Source but at least there is Linux support and at least it works and works well!

Happy Birthday Debian! You have helped keep my love of hacking alive for 20 years. I still feel like a teenager!

I started running Debian around 1995 after starting on Yggdrasil in 93 and playing around with Slackware for a while. Once I found Debian, I didn’t switch again. I’m typing this on my Debian desktop at home and will go get on my Debian workstation at the office in a bit. All our servers, both in the office and at the Via West colo, run Debian. I wish my phone did too. 🙂

Creation Museum founder Ken Ham

This Ken Ham video is so interesting. In his mind, the evolution vs the Bible argument comes down to a question of authority rather than an argument of facts. Watch the “view promo” link on this page:

I get that his job is to promote the Biblical perspective as he sees it but its still a little shocking to hear it stated the way he does. Its not about whether its right or wrong but about *who* says its right or wrong. I hold the exact opposite view that he does because I think young people are walking away from the church because its authority figures are setting up religious belief against scientific facts. That’s a terrible idea, because science puts computers in your hand and men on the moon. Anyone who spends any time looking into the problem is going to figure out that science works.