Archive for October, 2012

More than you know technology has changed elections

October 30th, 2012

ThinkTech Hawaii

It’s not just that we get email every day, repeatedly, from every candidate. It’s not just that we get social media from them too. It’s that the elections create a thought bubble where people are not only trying to get our attention, but to affect our thought process.

The professionals know that most people don’t read the paper. They know that those who do may be turned off not read about politics. They also know that the political reporting on TV is short and shallow.

At the same time, they know that people watch television as a primary source of information. They know that people can’t escape ads in prime time. They know that people watch those ads, eyes clamped open as in Clockwork Orange.

Citizens United has made it possible to raise obscene amounts of money from undisclosed sources so they can barrage us with ad after ad after ad on TV, penetrating every corner of our brains. Yes, the new system is based on the principle that with the right media buys money can buy votes.

They know that people watch these ads just like they watch commercials, half-believing, but accepting more with repetition. Repetitio mater studiorum, “repetition is the mother of study.” They know if they repeat a phrase 100 times, it starts to sink in. Familiarity breeds belief. Where the individual has made no other analysis, it becomes reality and fills the vacuum.

A prime example would be Linda Lingle’s “you know me.” The implication is that we know her so what she’s telling us is true. She’s saying we need not look further because we “know her.” But a recent piece in Civil Beat points out that if you check out what she’s saying, if you really do know her, you’ll know the ads are misleading and a matrix of campaign psychology.

In short, far too many people get their voting ideas from far too few sources, and that ads like this displace the possibility of critical thinking. It’s subtle, manipulative and scary.

Polls are also very high tech, and part of the arsenal. You can ask a question one way or the other way. It’s an art. A skilled pollster can write questions to achieve a biased agenda. People believe polls and even vote on the basis of polls. And the release of a poll can be gamed for maximum effect on other polls or on the election itself. This is also scary.

Polls are an inside tool also. Candidates use them to see how many percentage points a hit piece has nicked away from the opponent. If it works, they’ll repeat it, even if it’s false or misleading. This is useful for negative campaigning. Win at all costs.

Is the public sophisticated enough to see through these machinations? Some may see what’s going on, but many don’t, and get duped on the way to the ballot box. It’s all very scientific and calculating, made possible by our highly programmed data-driven 21st Century campaigning systems. It wasn’t as bad before Citizens United, but this year it’s noticeably worse.

Some say these are just the new tools of modern Democracy, but what’s happening is certainly not what our Founding Fathers had in mind for the selection of our elected leaders. Can we, the electorate, make good choices in this environment? Can we be confident about how those choices are being made? Does the new system work or is it undermining the principles of the Republic?

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Drones are here to stay

October 9th, 2012

ThinkTech Hawaii

Last week, the Israelis shot down a drone that flew into their airspace from over the Gaza Strip. It’s not the first time this has happened. There have been other drones shot down by Israel. None of these are Israeli or U.S. drones. They're made and sent by someone else. Not good.

Drones, as we saw argued in the New York Times a few weeks ago, should be of some concern. They are being used to assassinate people. Sometimes they assassinate the wrong people. High tech or not, they can be made into assassination machines. In that, they can fly in any direction.

As we saw in the “spring gun” court decisions 100 years ago, the American rule is that killing or injuring someone by a remote control device is wrongful, even if that person has been engaged in a wrongful act himself. It’s not clear that automated assassination meets the morality standard.

Maybe we thought we had a monopoly on drones. We thought that our military technology could invent and deploy drones with impunity, and that although everyone could see how they operate and what deadly things they can do, no one could actually imitate and emulate them.

Not true. This is a world where anyone can do research. If you’re not concerned about IP rights, it’s not so hard to emulate what someone else’s device is doing. The Internet answers so many tech questions and reveals so many secrets. So the way drones work is no longer a mystery.

You could learn the ABCs of drone making at any engineering school in the world. You could learn how to design and fabricate one, fly it, navigate it, manage it, take pictures from it and for that matter make it into a killing machine. These days, it’s not exactly rocket science.

Do you recall when we were losing drones over Central Asia because the enemy had found that $50 software off the Internet could block their high tech navigation systems? That was embarrassing, but we were still in charge, the only ones actually sending them into the air.

Now it's different, and worse, in the sense that others are also making drones just like we make drones. It doesn't take a big factory to make a drone; a relatively small machine shop could suffice. Just as they are small, he space in which they are fabricated can be small, and secret

And the same rules apply to deploying them. It doesn’t take an airfield or runway to launch them. You can carry them around in an everyday backpack and launch them, well, nearly anywhere. And they’re not that easy to see when they’re flying overhead because they’re small.

But even with a small package, there can be a big payload, like high definition photography or video, pinpoint sniper firing devices and of course powerful lightweight explosives. Have you heard of the “humming bird” devices that hover over a crowd and take pictures of protestors?

The revelation in the news is that we don’t have an exclusive on drones anymore. Other people are designing, making and using them, over Israel and who knows where else. They can be carried anywhere and flown high enough not to be noticed, internationally or domestically.

It goes beyond the anonymity of backpacks. They can be fabricated from small parts that come separately, none of which is particularly noticeable. Suffice to say we'll see more drones. In the years and semi-wars of the future, we'll see them all over the place, and in greater sophistication.

We have reconnaissance drone makers here in Hawaii and in fact they make very good ones. The School of Engineering builds underwater vehicles as well as air borne drones. And for $300, you can buy a super-lightweight radio-controlled photo helicopter at the Sharper Image.

When we started using them in the Middle East, it seemed like a good idea. We had the edge, and once you get past the moral issues you could say they’ve been quite effective. It’s the miniaturization of war. I suppose you could argue it’s better to have a little one than a big one.

But like the nuclear bombs of World War II, the cat's out of the bag. It didn't take very long for our enemies and not-so-friendly friends to get their hands on some and otherwise learn how to make and improve on them and then use them against us, and now we'll pay another price.

Maybe this is something already engrained in the 21st century, but at the same time maybe we should consider our experience so far the next time we think about rolling out a disruptive weapon of this kind, and maybe that'll make us a little more cautious about the implications.

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Kakaako can't get along on four-way stop signs

October 2nd, 2012

ThinkTech Hawaii

Pohukaina and Cooke is the ground zero of Kakaako. That’s a real honor for any intersection.

It’s not only that the intersection ts decked with street art, but also that the traffic seems to converge there. The cars come through Diamond Head from downtown, and from Queen to makai, the new 680 Ala Moana building and the Medical School, and vice versa.

This is now a real thoroughfare, reflecting that Kakaako is attracting not only transit but activity. There are more shops and places to see and go. There’s life here. It has begun to take on the trappings of a neighborhood, although it’s far from being a community.

There’s still parking available on the street, and there are no condos, no chain stores and only a few restaurants. Walk east for the new UFC gym and the newly renovated expanded Box Jelly. Walk west for the Friday Eat the Street lunch wagon festival. Feel the pulse.

This Is It Bakery and Deli is down the block, Hanks’ Haut Dogs and the Whole Ox are two blocks down. Mother Waldron Park is right at the intersection. It’s a great park, although it ought to be mowed more often.

All these points are within a stone’s throw and are now coming together. They all point to Pohukaina and Cooke as ground zero. Look in any direction and you can see the promise and prospect of the new Kakaako. It’s right there.

In January, Kamehameha Schools will be doing a major renovation on the R&D and Greenhouse block of Pohukaina. That will confirm these suspicions and pave the way for new vitality and bigger development. We can hardly wait.

But here’s the thing: Pohukaina and Cooke is designed as a four-way stop sign intersection. All the cars have to stop for the cross traffic. This wasn’t a problem a few years ago because there was nobody there to stop. Now, the traffic is want to stack up.

Increasingly, everyone has to wait his turn for stack of cross traffic to clear. Sometimes, often, you have to wait for several cars to get through ahead of you, not one but half a dozen or more. Try it at lunch time and you’ll see.

The cooperative utopia of a four-way intersection is now being badly strained. Ground zero has of late become a real intersection with real traffic. Kakaako is emerging as a gathering place in the shadow of downtown, and this and other intersections need real traffic lights.

Of course, real traffic lights cost money. Nevertheless, HCDA ought to install one here. It’s not something that can wait for legislative action in years to come; it’s become necessary right now. After all this time, quiet Kakaako is becoming a high traffic neighborhood.

Every time I pass through ground zero I ask myself why isn’t there a light here, not just to avoid four-way accidents (a real consideration), but to mark the growth that’s already happening, and to respect the efforts of those who are working so hard to build the neighborhood.

And if I ask myself that question, I’m sure other people are asking the same question. Kakaako is arising, so when exactly will the lights come? That’s part of the infrastructure too. We’ll be watching and thinking about this, and we hope HCDA is too.

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