John F. Kennedy and One Person, Armed With Powerful Technology

John F Kennedy Official Portrait

Today marks the fiftieth anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. I wasn’t alive when it happened, so it is not an event that really touched me personally. Yet, the anniversary has led me to reflect on it quite a bit, if only for the fact that it is really difficult to avoid all of the media coverage.

And what strikes me is that it was a profound precursor to the world we live in now: one person, armed with powerful technology, can absolutely change the world with just an idea and three presses of a finger.

Hard to fathom in the ’60s. Routine today.

Defending Patents Against Patents

Some news in the tech patent world yesterday, where Jared Favole and Brent Kendall reported in the Washington Post (Obama Plans to Take Action Against Patent-Holding Firms) that

The White House on Tuesday plans to announce a set of executive actions President Barack Obama will take that are aimed at reining in certain patent-holding firms, known as “patent trolls” to their detractors, amid concerns that the firms are abusing the patent system and disrupting competition.

Mr. Obama’s actions, which include measures he wants Congress to consider, are intended to target firms that have forced technology companies, financial institutions and others into costly litigation to protect their products. These patent-holding firms amass portfolios of patents more to pursue licensing fees than to build new products.

Original patent for the first pedal-driven bicycle, filed by Pierre Lallement

Original patent for the first pedal-driven bicycle, filed by Pierre Lallement

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The Fairphone—A Good Start at Ethical Hardware

Casey Johnson at Ars Technica (“Fairphone” looks to give power back to customers):

The “Fairphone,” a phone that purports to approach smartphone design in the most ethical way possible from every conceivable angle, opened for preorders last Friday. The phone uses only conflict-free resources wherever possible, it has an open design, and it is marketed in a transparent way to customers.

Starting small.  Android only, Europe only, and about $400.  As a product, it probably won’t have a huge impact in and of itself. Hopefully it will serve as a very successful proof-of-concept that we can do tech in a way that both respects everyone involved (trying to improve practices along the way) and is financially viable.

Fairphone

© Fairphone

Clay Shirky, MOOCs, and Living the Deeper Mission of Education

Seems like the discussion about MOOCs so often gets cast in an “us vs. them” narrative, with people wondering whether or not the new guy on the block will supplant the venerable institutions of higher learning.

Media theorist Clay Shirky wrote a great piece that contextualizes the revolution in education within the “big pictures” of both technological innovation and higher education. It’s a long piece that is worth the read. One bit that particularly resonates:

The fight over MOOCs isn’t about the value of college; a good chunk of the four thousand institutions you haven’t heard of provide an expensive but mediocre education. For-profit schools like Kaplan’s and the University of Phoenix enroll around one student in eight, but account for nearly half of all loan defaults, and the vast majority of their enrollees fail to get a degree even after six years.

…In the US, an undergraduate education used to be an option, one way to get into the middle class. Now it’s a hostage situation, required to avoid falling out of it. And if some of the hostages having trouble coming up with the ransom conclude that our current system is a completely terrible idea, then learning will come unbundled from the pursuit of a degree just as as songs came unbundled from CDs.

Well put.

It’s one thing to argue for traditional classrooms against the onslaught of massive online classes.  It’s quite another to remain ignorant of all the people who are boxed out of our current educational framework.

 

Netflix, Closed-Captioning, and a Legal Settlement

Back in July, I posted about Netflix’s lost bid to have the a lawsuit against it thrown out of court. A class action lawsuit filed by the National Association for the Deaf asserted that Netflix violated the Americans with Disabilities Act because Netflix when it failed to provide closed-captioning for many of its streaming videos. My post reflected a bit on how the right thing to do can sometimes be very complicated. There are times, I think, when people/groups that demonstrate generally good will get (themselves) into questionable situations because they either didn’t think through their plans entirely, or they through it so late that changing course is so difficult, they are stopped in their tracks. Doing justice (a virtue) thing requires bravery (another virtue), but it also requires prudence (a third virtue) to figure out the right course of action to achieve justice.  For publicly traded companies seeking to do the right thing while both staying in business and—most importantly—keeping major shareholders happy, that’s no mean feat. Putting yourself out of business is not necessarily the most morally laudable course of action.

Well, it looks like the legal process worked its magic.  According to Joe Mullin at Ars Technica:

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Seatbelts and Cellphones: Re-wiring Driving Practices

On the mobile while mobile front, Abdul Shabeer of the Anna University of Technology in Tamilnadu, India has published a paper (“Technology to prevent mobile phone accidents” in Int. J. Enterprise Network Management, 2012, 5, 144-155) on in-car cell blocking tech:

The team [Abdul Shabeer of the Anna University of Technology in Tamilnadu, India, et al.] has now devised a system that can determine whether a driver is using a cell phone while the vehicle is in motion and “jam” or block the phone signals accordingly using a low-range mobile jammer that ensures the vehicles passengers might use their phones unhindered. The system has the potential to report “infringements” depending on local laws and might also report vehicle registration number to the traffic police under such laws. The team suggests that an alternative approach might be to alert others in the vehicle that the driver is attempting to use the phone. They suggest that not only would such a system reduce road traffic deaths, but it would have the positive side effect of improving how the average goods vehicles are driven overall.

So, stop, narc, or warn. Interesting move to suggest that the system could be used in different ways.

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