This Is Water

In his seminal commencement address to the Kenyon College class of 2005, David Foster Wallace told the story of two fish, one of which had never heard of “water” before. His friend replied that “dude, this is water,” and the audience laughs. DFW goes on to discuss the essential value of staying aware, of elevating our observance and our consciousness to an active engagement with our environment even as we pass through the tedium of daily life.

He proceeds, however, do bring this idea to something of its opposite conclusion. DFW goes on to argue that we cannot possibly know the circumstances or situations in which people find themselves, and so being cognizant of the “water” around us, we should mentally treat them with charity. For example, instead of mentally shaming the larger woman for eating too much fast food, perhaps an understanding of our “water” will allow us to consider that eating may be the only link she has to her dead husband who was a chef, or perhaps it’s simply how she avoids crippling depression.

In short, an awareness of “water” allows us to further rationalize with the end goal of charity. Sure, the man in the Mercedes just cut you off in traffic, but perhaps he’s rushing to a hospital. Sure, that person did X, Y, or X. But they have motivation A, B, or C.

His argument isn’t that these things do exculpate, but that they might exculpate, and so we can consider this in allowing ourselves to be more charitable to the people by whom we find ourselves surrounded or attacked.

Our current cultural understanding of “charity” comes more or less directly from Jesus, who urged his followers to “love those who hate you.” This is a fundamental difference. He urged not rationalization, but acceptance. The message spoken by Jesus was one of unreserved love, charity, and compassion.

Yet even Jesus had a human moment. As He hung from the cross, His prayer wasn’t “Father, forgive them,” but rather “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” As He hung dying, even Jesus found Himself praying with a spirit of what I call “empathetic forgiveness.”

And while the charity of empathy is lovely, admirable, and incredibly difficult to practice, I find myself working to mentally dismiss it. Because the fact of the matter is that some people simply act without regard for my well-being or happiness. Or yours. A significant portion of the population will cut you in line, knowing it delays your day, simply to advance theirs. They do this not on a special day, or because of emergency, but because they simply don’t think about you as an equal, if they think about you at all.

As a human, as a man, and as an unabashed narcissist, I find this incredibly difficult to swallow. Even today, it was with relish that I sped up in my car, refusing to allow a car to cut in front of me after I’d waited in traffic for 45 minutes. If he (or she) think that they can cheat the system, the norms of society, then they should be shown that they cannot, for the good of society.

And yet … this is a mindset which I find repugnant, and which I work actively to overcome. Because a more accurate, and a more fortified, charity is one which can forgive those who mean you harm.

This is still a lesser charity because it is a passive charity. Forgiveness happens in a passive manner, alone and in one’s heart. The greater charity is active, seeking to help those who contact you, who ignore you, who hate you, or who solicit you. Each can be difficult. But first, I try to focus on a simple dedication towards “objective forgiveness.”

In Defense of Transformers

Near the beginning of Transformers: The Last Knight, Viviane Wembly (Laura Haddock) dismisses the fantasies of her young female students:  brawny, beautiful, men fighting for freedom and righteousness are a myth, created so as to give us hope in ourselves, hope in something greater than the mundane. It’s stupid to give ourselves examples of heroes, because the world simply doesn’t work like that.

Except, sometimes it does. Sometimes it does humanity good to have heroes, to have an inspirational rallying point for our hopes, ideas, and goals. In the end, that’s all the Transformers series is, wants to be, or needs to be: a silly story about good and evil, which untimely rests on its excesses to make a point about its simple truth: good can beat evil, and there’s an inherent good to watching that happen, to emotionally participating in that moral victory.

**

There has arguably never before been a Hollywood film series as consistent as the Transformers saga. From Bond to Indiana Jones, Star Wars to Harry Potter, never before has one series of films so singularly reflected a cohesive and consistent vision. This alone is no mean feat, and it is due in significant part to the genius of the narrative’s auteur, Michael Bay (I’m not alone in calling him a genius, either: http://www.slashfilm.com/anthony-hopkins-calls-michael-bay-genius/.)

Consistency isn’t necessarily a mark of talent (though it can be), but it does allow us to holistically evaluate the merits of the series without falling into the danger of over-generalizing. And as a whole, the series offers consistently excellent cinematography, engaging mis-en-scene, strong performances (we’ll get to that!), and genius (I said it again!) directing.

 

Cinematography:

These movies look incredible. My number-one complaint with most Hollywood cinematography involves the depth of the compositions – they’re so flat! Not in these films. Each frame operates on multiple levels, both as an aesthetically pleasing image and as an efficient way to convey narrative information. Moreover, the cinematography never falls into the trap of bland mono-chromatic monotony. The films burst with bright, highly saturated colors, with camera movement and light flares operating in conjunction with each other to convey a sense of realism through color. The films are stylized, but not alienating; the color serves to bring the audience into the story. Not to mention, Bay does an incredible job of using composition to convey a character’s emotional status. Even when there are technical errors (the 4th film’s grain structure is all kinds of wack), the beauty and momentum of the images, the passion in each frame, carry the narrative effortlessly.

 

Action Directing:

Directing is honestly just a sum of all elements involved, but I wanted to specifically point out the merits of how Bay handles action in these films. He’s the best in the business. On one level, he often juggles 5-6 story threads happening at the same time, effortlessly establishing time, location, and consequences. In his action sequences, we cut from scenes of battling robots, to the protagonist chasing some goal, to the love interest doing something (usually something empowering and active, by the way), to soldiers doing something, to bad guys scheming, to military folks at a command base, then back to the robots. Through it all, the chaos and the destruction, each plot point is established, the geography of the locations is clear, incredible and inventive action is displayed, and it only ever feels overwhelming in the best sense of the word.

The Transformers films never fall victim to the insidious disease of “if we shake the camera enough, blocking and special continuity won’t matter.” There’s a clear trajectory to each action beat, the cameras are kinetic but never sloppy, and even though the line is crossed all the time (the 180 rule), Bay is able to explore scenes from every perspective without disorienting the audience. That takes an immense amount of talent and care.

 

Acting:

I don’t want to bad-mouth any film in particular, but I’ll say this: while recently watching a very successful big-budget blockbuster, I was shocked and appalled at the acting, particularly in relation to the VFX and SFX. Looks of mild fear during “life or death scenarios,” or just half-assed scenes of “running for your life.” It couldn’t have been clearer that the actors were merely “running” in a comfortable room between naps in their trailers.

That can never be said of the Transformers films. Those actors are sweaty, they’re dirty, they’re bloody, and they’re participating. They’re living it. Michael Bay may be a tyrant and a workaholic, but he gets performances.

Even more importantly, the performances in his films are mostly unexpected. Why pay an actor to interpret a role that anyone can do? So many big-budget films play it safe. The characters may be well-written, but the actors never take any risks. They’ll starve themselves, or take on a daring role, but the choices within that context are so bland … crying, not crying, yelling, whispering. Yawn. Not in a Michael Bay movie. Juvenile? Sure. Silly? Yep. Boring? Never.

 

Miscellaneous:

Before we get into most people’s biggest complaint (story!), I wanted to point out that the production design consistently conveys futuristic authenticity, the coordination between wardrobe, camera, and production design melds seamlessly, and these films have some of the best sound design ever recorded.

 

Script and Story:

No, the scripts for the Transformers films aren’t Shakespeare. But neither are the scripts for masterpieces like “The Tree of Life,” “The Master,” or even “Tokyo Story” or “The Leopard.” Likewise, I can’t imagine that reading the script for “Ail: Fear Eats the Soul” or even “JAWS” would be that much fun. But the atmosphere of those films brings an almost transcendental evolution, raising the mundane to the profound. Analogously, the trite narratives featured in Transformers, good vs. evil, basic hero’s journey stuff, provides nothing more than a framework for the true intent of the film: thrill, passion, hope. In a narcissistic and cynical world, Transformers offers audiences a silly plot: one in which we can easily thrust ourselves, easily lose ourselves, and live in a world of thrills, in a world of danger and bravery. We spend our lives in the safe haven of the first world, and Transformers offers audiences an opportunity to feel the passion of adventure. If the cost of that is a bland screenplay, consider me sold.

 

Conclusion:

We’ve been so conditioned by film critics to “know” what a “great” film is: what it looks like, what it feels like, how it handles itself. But I’ve noticed that criticism of the Transformers films tends to build on itself; in the theater, everyone is a fan. Laughing, gasping, holding their breath. It’s not until after the movie, in the cold light of reality, that people criticize the films. Maybe that’s because the films don’t stand up to scrutiny, but maybe that’s just an effect of group think, or a let-down from such an adrenaline-fueled experience in the theater.

At the end of the day, these gloriously messy films achieve greatness because they do exactly what all great cinema must do: they entertain, they enliven, they engage. Art aesthetically explores the human condition, and in order to do that, it must adhere to its prime directive: it must entertain. How can you instruct inattentive students? A film cannot engage a bored audience. So many films try for greatness without ever considering if they’re even good, while the Transformers films find greatness as a function of being good. Through technical excellence and narrative competence, these “popcorn” films offer a shot of life, a visceral experience of *experiencing*. Say what you want about them, but in a packed movie theater (and those showings are packed), every single person is held captive by the reality of the world they’re experiencing on screen. We might be divided politically, our nation may be belligerent with yours, but for the few precious hours that we have together in the cinema, we’re all fighting as one.

The Strategy to Dismantle the Trump Administration: Introduction

If you want to demolish a building, don’t target the ugly stained-glass windows. Target the load-bearing beams and walls.

The efforts to politically undermine the Trump administration have been thoroughly disappointing, in-effective, and neutered. They’ve lacked vision and cohesion.

It almost makes me think that there isn’t a consortium of Democratic Party leaders, elders, and strategists who meet in a smoke-filled room, debating the future of their party. If there isn’t, there should be. This county is a republic more than a democracy, and republics require strategic leadership.

The steps are simple: follow Sun-Tzu and know your enemy. President Trump is remarkably consistent, and the patterns and schedules that he so disdainfully eschews in his management style ironically appear regardless with magnificent frequency in his administration, his political life, and his emotional trajectories.

What we know:

  • The President cannot stand to have anyone rival his fame or oxygen. The minute someone becomes too “influential,” or the center of attention, they’re destroyed. Steve Bannon is the most obvious example, but this is also apparent to anyone who dares question the size of his inauguration crows, his approval ratings, or his genius. Numerous reports indicate that the President has a penchant for belittling his team, both privately and publicly, thereby ensuring that he’s always the alpha.
  • The President clearly has the intellect to get elected, but he seems to lack any sort of grasp, at all, about the nuisance or details of the job – particularly foreign policy. His first foreign policy trip was a “success,” which offers a significant opportunity; the President feels secure in an area that he should not.
  • President Trump’s most significant approval jumps seem to have come about from military action in Syria, and “imminent” military action in North Korea. The timing of the Syrian action is questionable … right as larger Trump/Russia collusion implications were being raised, Trump does something to piss off the Russians, who complain loudly and publicly. e He then changed the subject a week later with North Korea … which nevertheless succeeded, for a time.
  • President Trump starts trends: from “fake news” to “deep state,” the President is the one dictating the conversation.
  • His only loyalty seems to be for certain members of his family.
  • He and his wife appear to only have one thing in common: a mutual distain for each other.
  • He likes his golf!
  • His budget negotiations were a complete disaster, and Democrats didn’t capitalize on that at all.

Let’s focus our attention on the first point, and perhaps the later observations can come into play further into our strategy. Mr. Bannon was an easy target: his extreme views made for a fascinating accusation of a “shadow” presidency, and the fame and notoriety surrounding him quickly demoted him. A scathing double-punch by SNL also damaged the career of Sean Spicer.

Those were the worst possible targets. Their incompetencies / failings / extremism speak for themselves, and the average America won’t learn anything from their attacks. The more Trump degrades Mr. Bannon or Mr. Spicer, the more attention will focus on the competent members of his administration, such as Def. Sec Mattis, or even Mrs. Huckabee-Sanders. Why attack the ridiculous members of the Trump administration, when they do the opposition so much good?

If you want to demolish a building, don’t target the ugly stained-glass windows. Target the load-bearing beams and walls.

As seen above, President Trump offers a unique opportunity. We don’t need to target with criticism, but with kindness. In this way, the American Political Left kills two birds with one single stone. Firstly, they “go high,” and appear magnanimous. Vicious and mean attacks on incompetent fools and shadow presidents won’t change the minds of any partisans, and they arguably will only help the Trump Administration. Mr. Trump has at least 2 more years to figure out his message before re-election happens, and that’s more than enough time for him to drop the dead weight that he identifies by the criticism. Mr. Trump is so ignorant that he won’t recognize ignorance or stupidity in others, which is why Mr. Bannon is valuable. He’s a tumor that could (and should) go un-recognized by the host.

Instead, the fastest, easiest, and most effective way to destroy the Trump Administration is by constantly praising Vice President Mike Pence. Get a few friendly reporters to publish headlines like “Vice President Pence Stabilized Chaotic Administration” or “Pence Saves the Day,” or “Pence Pushed Legislation X,” or, best yet, more and more “Republicans Whisper … President Pence.” With any amount of talent and finesse, this will remove the President or the Vice President within a year. Internal strife between the boss and the competent #2 cannot last for long.

During the deluge of Republicans, Independents, and conservative Democrats praising the Vice President, all of the “villains” of the left need subtly praise someone else. Senator Schumer, Senator Warren, Rep. Pelosi, and maybe even Rep. Waters need to mention the stabilizing influence of …. Jared Kushner. While *always* maintaining the caveat that his Russia connections are dangerous, a tone of “thank God, he at least stopped the President from X” or “it’s a blessing that he made the president do Y.” (Keep the embassy in Tel Aviv, not cut XYZ from the budget, concede on the budget re: the wall, etc.) Mr. Kushner won’t leave, but it may make the President a little less secure, a little more paranoid, a little less effective. It helps that Mr. Kushner was a registered democrat; the entire Bible Belt needs to know that.

Democrats can’t yet win a special election. The American public hasn’t seen or heard of a Russia “breakthrough” in a few weeks. The economy isn’t in the toilet. Trump is becoming normal. His administration is stabilizing. Resistance is tiring. The president golfs, and the VP runs the country. There’s only one solution: remove the VP.

Praise him constantly through back channels. Make him the story. Get under Trump’s skin. Invite the VP, publicly, to events usually attended by the President. Don’t let it slow down.

And for goodness sake — *don’t* go ape-shit over the next SCOTUS nomination if Kennedy retires. You didn’t fight over Gorsuch, and a serious fight now (over the direction of the court) will only seem political, animated by partisan ideologies. Feign weakness, and let Trump nominate an extremist. Hell, even broker a “back room deal” where Trump gets to nominate an extremist in exchange for something “big-ish,” then torpedo the nomination after it’s announced, based on the textual ideologies of the nominee.

Focus on the fundamentals; the Republicans are already tearing themselves apart, ruining the ACA repeal. They clearly don’t have their act together, so go after the foundations. Praise the VP.

This is only part one of many, many parts. The president is playing checkers, and his better people are playing chess. We need to be playing WeiQi (Go), an ancient Chinese game that focuses on deception and entrapment.

The Opposite of Meek

Nietzsche, of course, postulated that the deity had died, and then every college freshman with the intelligence quotient of a toddler found it amusing to then retort on God’s behalf: no, Frederic, it is instead you who have died.

While moderately amusing as the meme of choice on less hip corners of Facebook, this joke also reinforces a belief of which Nietzsche himself would have been a vocal advocate: Christianity (the most common end result of “deity” in the western lexicon) stands in stark and diametrically opposing contrast to the works, beliefs, and values of the outspoken German philosopher.

In “Thus Spake Zarathustra,” (part 1), the nominal protagonist establishes a contrast between the weak and the strong, the sickly and the healthy, the feeble and the intelligent, and the meek and the Uber-Mensch. He is aided by our language, which inadvertently belies a weakness within the western ideals of virtue. To both Frederic and the implications of the English (German, too, I suspect) language, “meek” is the opposite of “confident” or “proud,” and “sickly” is the opposite of “strong.”

Whereas “big” and “small” are opposite, and “short” indeed finds its antonym in “tall,” suppose that “strong” and “sickly” are more akin to “love” and “hate.” Fort “love” and “hate” are not opposite, but cousins, each fundamentally opposed not to each other, but to “apathy.”

Allow for clarification. “Love” and “hate” are mirror inverses of each other (perhaps one definition of “opposite”), in a similar way to how communism and fascism are “opposites” that resemble each other in practice. However, “apathy” and “democracy” are the true opposites of these examples. Not mirror inverses, but ideals standing in firm contradiction.

Likewise, Nietzsche presented the uber-man as the opposite of the Christian, but in reality, Frederic’s uber-man stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the man of Christian strength. True humility does not lie in worthlessness, or a lack of self-respect, but an ability to have the strength to accept one’s self-worth, then voluntarily sacrifice it to help others.

The old idiom advises “if you love her, you have to let her go,” because true love is free, yet always returns. So much the same with humility. Humility requires the self-confidence to abandon dignity for the sake of others, in the full confidence that said dignity will not abandon you when called upon. Humility, meekness, charity: they require the exact virtues espoused by the nominal Persian demagogue.

Jesus did not wash the feet of his followers out of self-loathing, but out of a confidence that this humbling and socially degrading act would instead further inspire his followers. When the church now-in-days washes the feet of their congregation on Holy Thursday, the image loses all potency for this very reason: it is not a proud act because it is not a humble act. The priest or celebrant washes for the sake of washing, for the sake of acting as a leader, for the symbolic-ness of the act of it. Feet today are clean (at least relative to the feet of Jesus’ time). A truly equivalent act would require radical confidence, strength, and weakness. Not characteristics in contradistinction to each other, but as a harmonious act within itself.

Zarathustra, and Nietzsche, in his writings, feared that the Christian embrace of the meek prevented strength. Yet the gospels themselves refute this: Jesus was a carpenter who worked with his hands, Peter was a strong fisherman, and John was a fast runner. Jesus even advocated that he could, with a word, unleash armies of angels to save him. In cinema, perhaps the most appropriately analogous example is in “Schindler’s List” – true strength comes from the act of forgiveness. Nietzsche thought forgiving, pardoning, helping was weak. So did the German commandant; he was so insecure in his command that he couldn’t stop himself from killing a child.

The confident man needn’t declare his confidence; the rich man needn’t pronounce his wealth. Nietzsche’s Uber-Mensch could only have strength if he was able to surrender that strength. Otherwise, it’s simply a mask of insecurity hiding a man who “doth protest too much.”

Privatize Prisons

Let’s start this discussion with a simple axiom: the American prison system is broken. There are significant breaches of justice, atrocious mistakes, and poor conditions to be found in penitentiaries across the country. The recidivism rate is off the charts, and prisons punish more than they rehabilitate.

N.B. – this is an axiom, which means that the objective truth of the statement is assumed, and thus irrelevant to the rest of the argument.

The solution posited most frequently, from a quick survey, involves the elimination of private prisons. This argument, flawed as it is, follows the basic logic of a free market: people (and companies) respond to incentives. These private prisons are paid X dollars by the government, and they then will do their best to minimize their costs to maximize their revenue. Prisoner recidivism is a good that they require: the more prisoners they house, for longer, the more money they can get from the government.

Eliminating private prisons will address this concern. However, the solution replaces one problem for another. Exchanging the brutal efficiency of private prisons for the bureaucratic indifference of state or federal prisons doesn’t seem much better. Surely we must have learned by now that the government can rarely be trusted to do anything efficiently, cost effectively, or humanely. [See health insurance, wars, and the death penalty, respectively.]

Furthermore, the lessons of the infamous Stanford Prison experiment remain: human nature has some vile tendencies. We as a society can try to fight those tendencies through government regulation, but the question always arises: who watches the watchmen?

If, as the free market suggests, it is in human nature to work for self-interest, wouldn’t it simply be more efficient to change the nature of the incentive? Instead of trusting private prisons to be humane, or government prisons to be self-regulated, why don’t we harness the power of self-interest into something worthwhile?

Suppose: all prisons are privatized. For each prisoner who earns a degree (AA or BA or BS) from an accredited online college, the prison gets a bonus. For each prisoner who committed a crime under the influence, the prison gets a financial incentive if said prisoner completes AA or NA. For every legitimate anonymous complaint lodged by the prisoners, the prison is fined. For each prisoner who remains out of the penal system for 6 months after release, the prison gets a token bonus. That bonus is increased for 1 year, 3 years, 5 years, etc of successful life outside of the penal system. For every prisoner who completes vocational training, the prison is incentivized. And, perhaps most importantly, every prisoner who agrees to reside in a state other than the state in which he was arrested gets a personal bonus. This would splinter and break gangs, dispersing their members, influence, and mob mentality to the point of lethal strain. Vicious criminal groups of local offenders (gangs) would be effectively broken if, after a member serves time for an offense, they were sent to Kansas or Alaska or Wyoming to start over. The streets of LA and South Central would change in just a few years.

Violence begets violence. A system which incentivizes healthy living, while penalizing physical aggression and rape, will do more good than any current system. Too often, criminals go from “offender” to “hardened criminal” while they are incarcerated. It’s how they survive, and humans are survivors. What if, instead of a prison hierarchy based on toughness and the ability to survive, residents of the penal system arranged themselves into a social hierarchy based on education? Good grades for early release? Might go a long way towards fixing a system that, by almost any standard, isn’t working.

Using Stupidity for Good

Question: Is there a correlation between the quality of an internet posting and its associated comments? I.e. can the vitriol, stupidity, and hate found in anonymous comment sections of the internet be found to have an inverse relationship with the quality, intellect, or veracity of the target material?

Simply put: do stupid articles attract stupid people?

If so (as I presume there is some relationship…) can this be reverse engineered to “crowd-source,” in a sense, the best ideas on the internet? Search engine algorithms could theoretically judge intellect based on online postings … could this result in an easy way to find the best of humanity’s ideas online?

Rethinking Computer Passwords

Ancient Egyptians purportedly used crocodile dung as a contraceptive. The Greeks practiced pederasty. And Abraham Lincoln is older than the doorknob. Which is all meant to say this: sometimes, the common practices of the past are simply absurd by modern standards. It therefore goes to reason that today’s common axioms will be absurd, barbaric, cruel, and perhaps even bafflingly stupid to our descendants. How often, if ever, do we stop to really challenge the dogmas and practices of everyday life?

Today, the information from two websites on computer passwords will be used as the basis for an examination of computer passwords and their future.[1],[2] These aren’t academic sources, and like Gödel, I’m not concerned with the factual veracity of my axioms. Instead, I will proceed as if they are true, simply for the exercise of arriving to a new conclusion.

In short, a computer password like “Password” is currently translated by the host website into something of a unique code, comprised of numerous binary characters. The simple example from one site is this, “ADD = 1 + 4 + 4 = 9.”[3] This process, grossly simplified here, is apparently called a hash. Slightly more complexly:

  1. You tell them you want your password to be marbles
  2. Instead of storing marbles, they hash it and store something like 3832c** instead.
  3. Next time you want to sign in, you say “my password is balloons!”
  4. They hash balloons and get d0eea, which is totally not the same as what they already have stored (3832c). REJECTED!
  5. You try again with marbles – they hash it, get 3832c, and since it’s the same as what they stored already you’re good to go. SUCCESS!
  6. Hackers hack the database, get your email address and 3832c, which they totally can’t use to log in to your Facebook account. BUMMER FOR THEM![4]

As any curious reader could surmise, then process has significant variables, including techniques called salts, which made the hacking of information exponentially more difficult (or logarithmically more difficult?). Regardless, I suspect this is why, when “hackers” invade the sanctus sanctorum of the DNC, or Target, or wherever, they can steal CC information, email addresses, SS numbers … but never (rarely?) passwords. This is because the system hacked stores the passwords as encrypted information, linked to a specific email address, and useless when taken out of context.

 

All of this is well and good, but it seems to me not only a missed opportunity, but a serious flaw. Encryption can always be out-thought, from what I understand, and anything that “exists” can be stolen, somehow. (My citation is the Soderbergh Ocean’s 11). Instead of encrypting, trans-mutating, and distorting passwords that *do* exist in the system – why not use passwords that *do not* exist?

Think of it like this: in the current system, when a user enters his login information (usually his email address), it links to a (encrypted, blah blah blah) password. If the email address and password match what is on file, then, like a key, the door is opened and the user gains access. Somewhere, the password exists in some form and must match that which exists in order to grant access.

Now, imagine this conception instead. An email address or user ID is entered, bringing the user to an impenetrable Rubik’s cube of a wall, an encrypted barrier through which no entry is permissible. All email addresses lead to a unique wall (unique to each site, that is), made of millions (billions? trillions?) of random matrices, each of which defies any reason or logic. It would be un-hackable, because there is no logic to it (and most hashing requires some sort of calculated guess as to the nature of the user’s password).

Okay, so this is quite stupid and useless so far. Let’s look at an example for, say, Amazon.com. Each Amazon account is identified by the email address used, correct? So I enter my email address, email@address.com, and instead of seeing if my password matches one stores in its servers, I am brought to a digital Great Wall of China, impassible to everyone due to its absurd complexity.

However, when I created my account, I was also asked to create a password. This passcode is a simple series of letters or numbers (eg: Password) that, when created, makes a *one time* hole in the billions of characters that comprise the internet wall. That is to say, when I create my account any my password, the act of creating that password slightly but fundamentally re-writes the revolving, morphing, matrix of code that a hacker could not pass or deduce.

Then, conceptually, instead of my password being a key that lets me through, the password is the fingerprint which, when aligned perfectly with the revolving matrix, allows light to pass through. No metaphorical door is swung open because of an entered passcode that is verified by a stored passcode; instead, the passcode exists only as a subtraction from a veritable morass and avalanche of digital noise and fortifications.

Additionally, of course, we add on things like the amount of time the passcode entry takes. For instance, if an intruder was to hack and try hundreds of billions of combinations, even a supercomputer would take a few minutes. But a user’s fingers have a certain rhythm – the passcode must be entered with the same rhythm and speed, constancy and tonality, as when it was originally created.

[1] https://www.wordfence.com/learn/how-passwords-work-and-cracking-passwords/

[2] https://brooklynbrainery.com/blog/how-passwords-work-in-90-seconds

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

Tinder

Tinder Executives:

You have either not figured out a decent pricing model, or you have refused to implement it. Either way, what you’re doing will crash an impressively useful and ubiquitous app.

First off: cut the “Tinder Plus” spam. There will always be other start-up apps that will offer unlimited free swiping; there’s just too much competition. From my personal experience, the quality of options on Tinder has had an unmistakable inverse correlation to your new pricing system.

Instead, your revenue stream must build on your greatest strength: your massive market share. Like I said – Tinder is ubiquitous. You were there first. Why would you possibly want to erode your own strength by implementing “Tinder Plus” – alienating users?

A much more efficient system of monetization is right in front of you – once two people “match,” they chat. They flirt. Whatever. If a date is a possibility, give either party the opportunity to buy movie tickets, a dinner reservation, put-put tickets, etc – through your app.

All you have to do is start with a simple beta test – partner with Fandango. The film ticket industry is in a perpetual state of worry; they’ll love the increased revenue. Obviously customer service matters – the tickets will be purchased for $25, but it must be completely refundable (dates do fall through). In return, the tickets will be made out with the names of each partner, and they can be made up to one week in advance.

Then you upsell – coupons for popcorn, suggestions for romantic restaurant reservations, etc. Here’s the key – currently, once two people enter into a relationship, “deleting Tinder” has become a milestone (much like becoming “Facebook Official” once was). This is bad for you. What is good for you? Allowing users to *privately* upload their address. Once the users inform Tinder that they are dating, then partner 1 can use Tinder to spontaneously order partner 2 flowers, chocolate, massive teddy bears … etc. All through your app. Of course, this feature only becomes unlocked once both partners indicate that they’re in a relationship – which automatically blocks them from swiping other users. As long as each partner knows that the other is still listed as their “partner” on Tinder, then they have the peace of mind that the app won’t let their partner swipe others.

All the while, Tinder can offer encrypted picture swapping, messaging, and one-swipe purchases – Fandango movie tickets, restaurants, flower delivery, whatever. 1-800-Flowers.com would jump at a partnership opportunity. So would Redbox, or Amazon Instant Video for at-home movie rentals.

This is incremental revenue – what is massive revenue is the data this provides. Hell, you could probably offer most of these products to your customers at a loss, simply because their preferences would provide very, very valuable data to any of the companies. What’s more – each date a Tinder user goes on can earn them “points,” which earn discounts to the above services. And the app grows at an incredible degree.

I could be way off base … but it’s better to try something than just make your users constantly swipe left on beer ads … Which you do for the data feedback, anyway (I assume).

Common Sense is Stupid

Before we begin, some facts:

* One in six black men had been incarcerated as of 2001. If current trends continue, one in three black males born today can expect to spend time in prison during his lifetime. (NAACP)
* The United States is the world’s leader in incarceration with 2.2 million people currently in the nation’s prisons or jails — a 500% increase over the past thirty years. (Sentencing Project)

* 20.4% of prisoners are “pre-trial” – legally innocent. (World Prions Brief)

 

I planned to write this article as of two days ago, before the atrocious shooting that occurred in Oregon. But my theory remains unchanged, even reinforced: we suffer from an incredible, institutional failure. By any standards, a society in which 1/3 of a racial population suffers incarceration operates on an unfair basis. In any other cultures, we’d call that cultural genocide.

Politicians on both sides of the aisle appeal to our inner morons by claiming to wield magical “common sense” solutions. The world is a complex place; millions and millions of factors go into even the most mundane of policy decisions. A simple bridge requires hundreds of precisely shaped concrete, millions of screws, nuts, and tons of rebar, and immense coordination. Most of us have a difficult time with an Ikea set. Proceeding to something slightly more complex – road upkeep – and, well, our roads suck.

Now, let’s take, oh, gun control – and the variables spiral out of control. “Restrict the guns!” they say. Other countries do, and their violence plummets. Yes, but correlations implies not causation. For one, it’s not like guns go out of style or something; they’ll still work, and the market is already flooded. So much so that while we complain about Mexican immigrants, their market is flooded with American guns. Stemming the flow of new guns seems like a great idea, but it’s not nearly enough.

The other frequently mentioned “common sense” solution is improved mental health care. I can’t argue with that need; finding a decent psychiatrist was a nightmare. But by what standards do we restrict gun ownership? Depression? Threats of violence? Or will simple ADD suffice? Where’s the line? And should we worry that the possibilities of being put on a “this person is too crazy to own a gun” list will dissuade the troubled from visiting their doctors? Might that only increase the nonsensical stigma against needing mental help?

And I don’t mean to be an ass, but it may be simply inevitable; doctors make mistakes. Anyone with half a brain is smart enough to lie to a doctor about his or her motives. Will anyone who wants a gun have to get an ok from a doctor? Easy lie to get around that one, while the difficulty of seeing a doctor increases significantly. Or will it be up to doctors to report patients unfit to own a gun? Welp, there goes doctor-patent trust.

I’m by no means claiming that the above ideas are bad, or wouldn’t work, but please, stop calling them “common sense” and simple.

There is obviously a legal component as well. This component, although I am not a lawyer, is bullshit. Not only must the militia be “well regulated,” but it clearly exists solely for the purpose of “the security of a free State.” If so, we can *constitutionally* restrict guns to homes for the sole purpose of protection against foreign invasion (I’m aware of the Court’s stance on this. I just disagree with the “textual” reading of the Constitution).

Furthermore – withholding guns treats the symptom, not the problem. I own a gun, and I’ve never hurt anyone with it. What’s beneath the issue? Mental health, perhaps, but other countries have mental health issues and don’t suffer these crimes. It’s a cultural failure. A cultural failure. That’s on us. We fail.

Gun control constitutes but one small part of the social policy that fuels the prison complex. We’re still barbaric enough as a nation to embrace the death penalty and ignore the horrendous abuses inside of prisons. By what metric do we delude ourselves into thinking prison rape, which occurs alarmingly often, is a fitting crime? The Bureau of Justice Statistics “findings suggest that in one year alone more than 70,000 prisoners were sexually abused” (HRW). How do we allow this? Because it only happens to poor prisoners? Where is the rationale for allowing long-term solitary confinement?

All of these pieces coalesce into something bigger, and this writing is simply a way to trace that development. This “superpower” might be little more than a cardhouse, and the bottom suddenly seems very weak indeed.

Mass incarceration, unstable populations, rampant civil rights and privacy violations, ferocious partisanship, no viable presidential candidates at all, atrocious healthcare, reactionary unrest in the middle east, Putin, and, most dangerous of all looms the promise of technology which evolves faster than we do. This has (up to this point) always been positive for mankind, but negative for the society that birthed it.

 

http://www.sentencingproject.org/template/page.cfm?id=107

http://www.naacp.org/pages/criminal-justice-fact-sheet

http://www.prisonstudies.org/country/united-states-america

https://www.hrw.org/news/2007/12/15/us-federal-statistics-show-widespread-prison-rape

 

 

How do you think without “yes”?

Mandarin Chinese doesn’t have a word for “yes.” They instead repeat the inquisitive preceding verb. (“Did you eat today?” “I ate.”) The Ancient Romans, likewise, lacked a word for “yes.” Abraham Lincoln is older than the concept of the doorknob. The novel has existed as a literary device for only 300 or so years. And most of today’s teenagers can’t imagine a word without the Internet. Imagine what the world will look like tomorrow.

Of course, within the timespan of an 80-year human life, these changes all seem fairly momentous. But within the context of human history, none of them are longer than a blink. If homo sapiens have roamed the earth for 100,000 years, then we’ve recorded only the most recent 3% of our past experiences. Imagine how many empires rose and fell.

Within the context of our lives, none of this particularly matters. On first glance. For within the next 100, 200 years, all of this will be different. None of our conventions will matter anymore. They have to change at some point. Our most sacred institutions can evaporate in the blink of an eye. Government, internet, driving, shoes, shirts, sitting while eating, democracy, music, film … the list goes on.

If I lived each day like it was devoid of convention, what might that change?