SunTechRamble: Right to Repair and Modify

copyright-hackingThere’s a new advocacy group lobbying for the right to repair everything. It’s not so odd that I found this the same week that Apple will brick (make useless) your phone if you get non-Apple repairs.

It’s not a coincidence. There’s a quickening. Just recently, General Motors (GM) told consumers that they don’t own their cars. They license them.

Why? Because profit. Share prices. And maybe even that 401K you’re letting someone else manage is applying the pressure to the companies to make larger decisions like this. Or maybe it’s just the way things go, like when Dell was nasty enough to make sure that it’s computer components were compatible with off the shelf components. I don’t know if they still do it, but I still won’t buy a Dell. Sadly, I use one at work because… low cost. Warranty. Convenient for companies.

Most people who don’t fix things may not understand why all of this is important. Most people run screaming from anything that blinks 12:00 at them – which is kind of understandable because that was a horrid design from the start (what, no battery? Really?). But non-technical people don’t want things that blink at them expectantly.

People want their cars to run. They want their computers and software – to them, they are sometimes the same thing – working so that they can do whatever it is they wish that apparently includes malware. They don’t want technology, as Douglas Adams wrote. They want stuff that works. So why is this so important?

What people need to  understand is that the idea that you could pay for something and not have anyone but the seller repair it could be a win for everyone except for one thing: Things inconveniently break, and warranties aren’t always as long or as inclusive as those that paid expect them to be.

Ask anyone who has been to a car dealership with a problem, or has had to return a device they got.

Repairing things, be it on your own or in your local area, is a handy thing that enhances a local economy, develops intellectual capital in a geographic (and geopolitical) area. Sure, Cuba’s been embargoed so long that many people don’t know why – yet they have cars from the 1950s driving around. Why? Because they fix their own stuff.

For those of us from the the 70s and before, that was simply a fact of life.

Now we have manufacturing life cycles.

The life cycle isn’t, ‘built to last’. It’s ‘built to last this long’.

Probably before the moment you started hearing about a life-time warranty, this was reality. The days of building things ‘to last’ had passed into the days of manufacturing things ‘to last this long’. Really, it’s not all bad, but in doing this in conjunction with Copyrights and Patents assures that no one can repair but those that are authorized.

To those of us in the software world who have been paying attention, this is nothing new. Famously, the Free Software Movement began when Richard Stallman (RMS) was unable to fix someone else’s code. The Open Source Initative splintered over distinctions in defining whether people could lock the source code away or not. There are plenty of opinions on that, and I do have one, but suffice to say that while distinctions are made between the two, the overall philosophy is largely the same. Both sides would argue with me.

Software itself suffers entropy. It gets more complicated no matter how hard you try for it not to – except maybe Solitaire and Notepad.

So people fix software if it’s worth it to them. Like a car, if they want to spend the money to get something fixed, they can – except maybe in the near future. I wonder how they’ll handle the performance market, the tuners, etc.

I won’t even touch patents in this post.

The point is that what started off as just software has become seen in just about any field. And it’s why Repair.org exists now.

What Repair.org focuses on.

The focus is on a few different industries:

 

I just joined as an individual member. I’m not going to make money off of my membership, and neither will you. But you may be able to help make legislation such that you’re not stuck with items that can’t be repaired or modified.

The Sunday Tech Ramble (Jan 31, 2016)

I’ve set a high bar for myself – to come up with an interesting Tech Ramble every Sunday to force me to a schedule and a focus. We’ll see how long it lasts.

This week, I’ve been in an introspective mood. It is necessarily nostalgic and is a focus until I sort out some choices I have to make about my future. This influenced what I read, having been let down by the promises of technology in the past, one looks for meaning in what you do. I was looking not for the great philosopher of our time but for my own great philosophy. The next one, anyway.

The first article I’ll toss out there is The 21st Century Philosophers:

…And whether you like their thinking or not, today’s techno-philosophers are incarnating the next generation of big ideas, intentionally tackling fundamental questions about the nature of consciousness and what constitutes the good life, questions that once lived mainly in philosophy departments…

I’d like to think that this is true, that some great philosophers over in Silicon Valley are going to make the world a better place despite the world’s best efforts otherwise. I don’t necessarily agree with them, either, but they have something I do not have. Consumers. It’s not that I don’t have people who have used my work in the past and continue to do so, it’s that I don’t study the popularity of things as large marketing departments do. As an individual, I’ve floundered in that regard because I was taught by people who floundered in that regard and because maybe, just maybe, that’s neither who I am or who I am capable of being.
A fear sits in me that we become that society. A society that markets to us more than listens to us. A society that doesn’t get the best product or service that their money can buy but instead the best marketed product or service. I’m an engineer. I have an admitted bias, but as someone who buys things, I’m also a consumer. I’m a lazy consumer. I quit running Drupal on my own site and paid WordPress for handling the CMS updates for me when I could do it all myself.

So then I read How Intellectuals Create A Public, and I laughed because that fits so well with what I described above – only it’s being done with marketing tools:

…The problem with our public intellectuals today has little to do with their style. It has little to do with their professional location, whether they write from the academy or for the little magazines. It has little to do with the suburbs, bohemia, or tenure. The problem with our public intellectuals today is that they are writing for readers who already exist, as they exist…

That’s exactly what Silicon Valley has been doing. It’s not so much about advancing things to make things better as much as it is to sell things that make people think things are better. I’m sure that there are some well intentioned folks out there, I’m sure that they understand this better than any one of us probably could. It’s how things are done in society. Rocking the boat is a dangerous game, and the status quo does make for easier living of the few. To balance that, Crowdfunding sites have shown how much people are willing to scratch their itches with their wallets, directly.

In How Innovation Became A Whim, this one line put things in focus:

…To steal a line from Carlos Castenada, the path of innovation many have chosen does not have a heart…

I’m not really sure where technology has taken us, but I can say the promises of yesteryear have not yet come to pass.

The Pitter Patter of Digital Footprints

Golden TunnelAnything you have ever done online is a part of your digital footprint. The other part of your digital footprint is what other people and entities have determined your about you.

Some use this information to predict what you’re going to do even when you don’t know you’re going to do it. That’s fairly benign in the hands of marketers because all that will happen is that you’ll go broke buying things that you hopefully need… but likely just want because of ‘good’ marketing.

The increasingly granular bits of information out there might make it more toxic.  Old data hangs around, and while it may have representative of you at certain points, it may not represent you at this time.

I have that issue with LinkedIn.com and wherever I’ve posted my resume in the past. People still ask me if I want to do Drupal when, no, I don’t. But because of this latency of the information, I still get people with thick accents calling me about Drupal. This is an annoyance, but if it were something else it could be damaging. In fact, if I were looking for a job, it would limit me to what I have done rather than what I want to do. It would work against me.

So from my digital footprint, I cast Drupal in my digital shadow and it bytes me on the ankle. Why? Because I made the mistake of working with it for a while – and that, to headhunters who pay for old lists, means I’m still doing it well after leaving it behind for a year. Sure, we know that they’re cheap. That’s not the issue.

What is the issue is that I’m being judged based on data that is no longer relevant. It could just have easily been something else. It could be that I was accused of a crime that I was later found innocent of- and an employer might see that and decide that they don’t want to hire someone felonious. I boggle at writing an example of it because someone’s cheap bot might scrape it and think I did something wrong, when in fact, I did not. But it’s in there now, stuck in the head of a demented network. Like a bad song that plays only to me. Or you.

So when you’re making that little digital footprint sound in what you consider private, it’s not that private – and those little echoes will play until eternity.

Or everyone updates their databases.

 

 

Social Networks Don’t Make Sense To You?

3D Social NetworkingI was sitting by myself eating lunch, with only my Kindle as company, when I heard from a voice from another table say that they didn’t understand how to use LinkedIn.

A few other people agreed. One or two shook their heads in not-so-mock consternation. Having overheard this group before – beware solitary people with Kindles eating lunch – I knew that these were business folk. Marketers. Salespeople. And while there was a part of me that wanted to say something, I decided to be quiet and consider what they said.

After all, they’re right.

They don’t understand it. They owned that. In the grand scheme of things, that really isn’t a failure – social networks are hardly transparent in how they work, and they do allow people to think that it’s about the members of the community when the bottom line says it is not. There’s no shame in not understanding how social networks work, or don’t. There’s no shame in that at all, and coming to that conclusion within a moment or two, I listened some more.

I mean, really, social networks suck. They almost always show us things that we don’t want to see while somehow failing to show us what we need to see. Renowned sociologist, Zygmunt Bauman, said that social networks are traps – and largely, they are.

This leads us to the first thing you need to understand.

Social Networks Are Not About You

I know, I know, we all would like to think so as we impress upon each other our politics, our perspectives and our silliness – not to mention kittens.

Follow the logic:

  • The social network belongs to a company. =>
  • The company isn’t altruistic, it needs to make money. =>
  • The company makes money based on advertising and selling what they find out about you. =>
  • You are the product that buys and whose information is sold.

An antiquated perspective would say, “Well, then we’re in charge!”. The idea that you could control what is bought of you and sold to you is a bit naive at best; at worst it’s a simple matter of giving yourself away in bytes.

So then we like to think that, like a casino or lottery, we will come out the winner when no one else is beating the house. A few do. The majority will not. Despite your best efforts, you’re likely to be a part of the majority rather than the minority.

If that sounds bleak, well, shucks, I apologize for being the guy who gives you the news, but I do expect you to thank me at some point when it sinks in.

Now that we have established that it isn’t about you, you’re ready for the second point.

Social Networks Are Not Designed For You.

Wow, I’m just pulling down your worldview. It’s a bummer, I know, but someone pretty intelligent said to me recently, “the person who reads the reports makes the decisions, not the one who uses the user interface” (take a bow, M.E.). That summarizes it quite well.

The people who pay for your data and who pay the owner of the social network to sell you stuff are the ones who drive the interface. You’re just a statistic. They might tell you that they’re warm and fuzzy human beings, but that warm and fuzzy goes away fast when the black line falters.

And yet, I must make the final point.

Social Networks Can Benefit You.

When you realize that you’re just a squirrel in their world trying to get your nut, you learn how to gather your nuts by paying attention.

The first rule of being popular on a social network – something I’ve never tried to do except professionally – is not to be like everyone else. Your posts need to represent what you want your digital shadow to be seen for.

If you have a business, you should stand out not just with better products and services – what do you mean you don’t have those? Go get them and then finish reading this– you have to stand out. The best and easiest way to stand out is to be yourself. Don’t just post things about your company. Post things that people find interesting, and if you have good salespeople and marketers, they can give you input so you can at least fake it to the demographics you’re looking for.

If you’re an individual, take the risk of being yourself. Don’t post pictures of your food. Don’t use a professional network to explore your love life candidly. Use the funny shaped thing inside your skull, equidistant between your ears.

You may not be popular.

You’ll have a presence, and really, that’s the only way to leverage a social network your way. Be interesting, or as close to interesting as you (or your company) can abide.

I encourage you to read this LinkedIn post as well:

Your Personal Brand and LinkedIn

 

 

 

On Innovation (Part n)

Math WallInnovation is one of my favorite topics, but it’s one I don’t write about as often as I’d like to because… well, I write code and like everyone else who writes code, I have a boss who needs me to do more stuff, and so I don’t get to think about as much innovation as I’d like.

Just like about every other software engineer. It eats at the soul but it’s a necessary evil that can – and should – stretch the coder.

But off and on, I get an odd request about innovation because in some places I’m known for that.

So here’s the revised ‘Taran’s rules of innovation’. Note the lack of capitalization and numbers. The unspoken rule of innovation is that you never quote rules of innovation.

There is no rule book for innovation.

By definition, innovation breaks the mold. So if you read stuff – as you should! – don’t look for the solution right there in the text. Don’t try to think applying everything you read will be innovative; you’re copying someone else’s ideas more than likely and as much as you might think the ideas apply well to your project(s), in a few chapters or a few books from now you’ll find the folly in this. Trust me.

No one who wrote a book, created a video or otherwise broadcast something did it for your specific issue. You’re not that important. The people who think your problem is important are the ones who will be of most help.

 

Innovation is most likely to occur when there is a deep understanding of the problem, and deep understanding of many ways to solve the problem – and what works for the context.

I see people trying to force innovation. That forced peristalsis is how you get hemorrhoids. Stop it. You can’t really rush innovation. You can, however, create the right conditions for it, and there’s no magical solution for that too.

And no, you can’t spend money to directly fund innovation. That’s the cart before the horse.

Innovation requires looking at the same problem differently.

Einstein broke out of the rut of Physics in that way. In fact, any true advance in science and technology challenges the status quo. Breadth of knowledge is as important as depth. And hey, since I brought up Einstein, let’s paraphrase him.

The solution cannot be found with the same kind of thinking that hasn’t solved the problem – and may have even enabled it.

I’d argue that if you’re not solving a problem, you’re enabling it. Problems do not go away if you ignore them. However, people do. Trust me on both.

Innovation isn’t about spending money.

Granted, you will have to spend money to implement something, but throwing money at problems hasn’t worked for just about any problem out there. I could pick on government institutions, but that’s just too easy.

Innovation is about standing on the shoulders of giants.

I wrote about this in the context of knowledge quite some time ago, but what in short it’s really about is that knowledge you leverage from those who came before. There are plenty of good ideas out there that have never reached fruition because of many challenges.

Innovation is bigger than a blog post.

You’re not going to get more innovative by reading about it. Not even this post. But you can innovate by stretching yourself in new directions.

Should You Do What You Love?

That is all he has to say about that...So I was thinking of the possible dread irony of living most of our finite lives doing what we love, and then I realized it’s not an irony. Whether we’re happy with our time on Earth is appropriate, and ‘wasting’ time on it is not a life wastedThe irony is that I even thought it was irony. It’s what we should be doing.

 
I mean… the alternative is to die having not loved what you do.
 
How’s that better?