Colorado is getting bluer

This post is not really related to “technology” except that in order to make the video below I had to edit the Colorado county KML files in Google Earth based off data I got from Wikipedia. Then imported them into Quantum GIS and re-edited them. Then I had to save the resulting maps as PNGs and opened them in GIMP so I could crop and label them. I then took the exported GIFs and opened them in Windows Live Movie Maker, added transitions and captions. Finally I uploaded them to a YouTube account and linked to them here in my WordPress blog.

Some of this stuff I already knew how to do. Using QGIS and using images in Movie Maker were brand new. Obviously I hope my skills get better as I learn QGIS better…and Movie Maker or some better equivalent. Right now I’m really just trying to get a handle on Colorado politics.

The video below doesn’t necessarily say anything as it’s more or less stripped of context. It is of course interesting to see that Colorado’s blueness spread across the election and re-election of Obama. The gains in 2008 were particularly impressive, but it was “a Democratic year.” But one more county turned blue in 2012 and no counties returned to red despite 2012 being “a Republican year.”

The maps could be more informative if I graded the colors in terms of percent blue/percent red. Or if I simply showed the percent above/below some pre-chosen baseline.

It is also worth pointing out that all new blue counties were already adjacent to blue counties. So it’s not at all clear if those counties turned blue due to genuine changes of heart of red voters there or if the blueness was the result of immigration into those counties from blue-minded people from out of state choosing to live near other blue-minded people in state (or people moving from a high-cost blue counties out into nearby-but-cheaper red counties). Which is to say, I’m not providing this map as analysis itself. It’s really just here to document what I hope is a lot of progress in my ability to make useful maps and present them.

Syria’s Internet Disruption

On Thursday morning the Syrian internet went dark. This has several commentators wondering how easy could it be to shut down the internet. Apparently, in Syria, where there’s one major gateway which happens to be owned by the country, pretty easy.

I’m more interested in the other question, the one we asked after similar internet shutdowns in Egypt and Libya. Namely “will it matter”?

I suspect that it will not. There were revolutions and civil wars before there was Twitter and Facebook. It’s hard to imagine that were social media to have been around at the fall of the Soviet Empire there would have been more civil wars than we had. It’s possible of course. We can’t go back in time and relive the end of Communism with today’s internet.

Of course, a world that never had the internet is a different place than a world that had it and then lost. Certainly some greater than zero number of communications will be halted, rallies delayed, arms gone untraded etc. But I don’t think this will amount to more than just a minor hiccup for the rebels. And whatever hindrance it delivers to them, will also be delivered to some greater than zero number of government backers–not to mention all the unaffiliated citizens that want nothing more from the internet than to watch funny cat videos (or whatever the Syrian equivalent is).

Moreover, how many people in Syria are even on the internet? Not many. Its hard to imagine that too many more people joined the ranks of netizenry since the start of the rebel uprising. In 2010, nearly 4 million Syrians had access to the internet. A year later that number had only grown by about half a million. Assuming another half million people have joined since 2011, that puts nearly 5 million internet users…in a nation of just over 20 million, that’s not quite 25% internet penetration.

Although the Syrian shutdown is almost certainly more effective than the Egyptian one, my assumption is that, like its Arab Spring predecessors, it won’t amount to more than a minor bump for opposition and a temporary one.

As a matter of fact, if it was the Syrian government’s desire to upset the internet in order to inconvenience the rebels, then it would have been better to leave the internet up and monitor the communications thereon, because whatever the rebels replace the internet with, it will be harder, not easier, for the beleaguered government to track and intercept those communications.

Photo credit: Slate (“Syria’s Internet Just Went Entirely Dark” 11/29/12)

Assassination Technology Keeps Getting Better

American presidents are already pretty good at killing anybody they want, wherever they want, anytime they want. And they’re gonna keep getting better at it.

Another Peek Behind the Security Theater Curtains

How does TSA let you know whether you’ll get “randomly” screened? Here’s how.

More on Water in the Developing World

I know that when you think a website called “high-technocracy” you’d probably be thinking I’d blog more about computers and other silicon-based widgetry. Well, to be honest, it was in the hopes of forcing myself to think more about the role of computers in governance that inspired me to start this blog. Specifically I was interested in cybersecurity, cyberwar, and the growing threat of attacks (primarily in Latin America, my geographic focus). However, sometimes you have to go with what you know or what you’re already passionate about. And I am passionate about liquids. And the most important liquid is water.

I’ve already posted about new technologies that will hopefully provide improved access to clean drinking water which is a significant public health concern–and in my opinion a growing security concern. The US government is already developing plans for how to deal with domestic conflicts inside the US as water becomes more scarce, specifically in the southwest. This is serious business and not conspiracy-minded claptrap.

But water for immediate human consumption is only one part of the puzzle. The other one is access to enough water to irrigate fields. Irrigation itself is one of the modern marvels of agriculture and therefore civilization. Without the ability to irrigate fields, crop yields drop significantly and in some places this means well below subsistence levels, let alone marketable quantities.

So while high-technologists are developing new ways to get clean drinking water to those who need it, it’s important not to forget there are already moderately low-tech, cheap methods for getting water out of the ground and into irrigation ditches, as long as the people can be taught, and–if they lack them–provided with the proper supplies.

IT and World Politics

Charli Carpenter’s ISA presentation on social media and International Relations scholarship. If you aren’t in the IR fields–or in academia–pay closer attention to the first few minutes where she briefly touches on the role academics play in shaping the world, since I think that part may be more new information. The rest is good too, obviously.

Txt from Hillary. Really.

So by now you know that the Texts from Hillary meme took off like a shot, because of political nerds.

But did you know she submitted one herself?

Water Purification and the Developing World

In my heart of hearts I believe that most of the problems with the world are solvable through good governance. But creating institutions that reliably constrain human excess and focus energy into productive channels is very hard work. Too many people, bad people, can profit if they help create a system designed to fail. And so time and time again we see systems designed to fail and we watch as millions suffer while a few make out, literally, like bandits.

But lack of access to fresh water is a simple problem that can be solved unless leaders shift from being merely greedy to being actively evil. I mentioned in the headline “the developing world” because that’s where the issue is most pressing. If all the fresh water in Arizona dries up tomorrow the people there have plenty of places to flee to (for now). As poor as some people are in this country almost none of them are as poor as the median person in the developing world. Nevertheless, technologies like the ones posted here are going to be important for Americans too and I believe that will be the case sooner rather than later.

Anyway, many of you have probably seen the Slingshot that Segway inventor Dean Kamen demonstrated on the Colbert show a couple of years ago. These bad boys are great, but my understanding is they require too much power to be easily installed in the most rural areas.

Now there’s this, still in the prototype phase, but it looks very promising. “This can purify 35 liters of water in five minutes using only the power required to light a 100 watt bulb;” and it might sell for ~$100. If it can really purify 35 liters of water a day, that makes it about 8X more productive than the Slingshot and significantly less expensive. Probably doesn’t have the purification power of the Slingshot, but most places that need water probably don’t need quite that level of filtration anyway.

Trailer “Water Plasma Sanitation System” from Centro de Innovacion utpch on Vimeo.

This could be a game changer.


I could have skipped just about every news story of the last few months and still confidently said that I was doing my best to run this blog in the midst of an otherwise hectic moment in my life. However, I would be truly derelict if I did not bring to your attention the story of Tacocopter.

Basically, you order tacos through an app on your smartphone and an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle delivers tacos directly to you wherever you stand based on the GPS locator in your phone. BAM! And just like that the temperature is turned up in the Frog in Tepid Water story that ends in Skynet.

In all seriousness, commercial drone use is a pretty controversial topic and one worthy of all our attention. HuffPo’s Jason Gilbert quotes  Star Simpson, one of Tacocopter’s three cofounders:

“Current U.S. FAA regulations prevent … using UAVs [Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, like drones] for commercial purposes at the moment,” Simpson said over Gchat. “Honestly I think it’s not totally unreasonable to regulate something as potentially dangerous as having flying robots slinging tacos over people’s heads … [O]n the other hand, it’s a little bit ironic that that’s the case in a country where you can be killed by drone with no judicial review.”

Simpson isn’t at all incorrect to point to the irony here. Recent legislation is going to make commercial drone use a severely annoying and Constitutionally uncertain future. But as long as our civil rights are going to be undermined by the specter of perpetual surveillance, the least the government could do is let one or two of these things bring us some delicious tacos.

[h/t Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution]

PS: You know what I’m really bad at? Spelling “copter.” My brain insists it’s coptOR. Dunno why.

World Poetry Day

Today is World Poetry Day, I hear…or maybe that was a couple of days ago. Whatever. Here is a poem I hate. Why a poem I hate? Because it’s about computers and it’s “by” a famous poet. Why do I put scare quotes around “by” because the internet lies sometimes and this doesn’t much sound like a Charles Bukowski poem to me. Howeover, if it is a Charles Bukowski poem, it lays bare my age old argument about why Bukowski was such a crappy poet. As a matter of fact, if you want to buy me a beer or three (I’m currently living in DC) I will argue with you over whether we should even extend the title of “poet” to Bukowski. I’m not saying he didn’t create things, nor am I saying that those things lack quality. I’m just saying I don’t think those things, like this thing below, are “poems.” And I’m not hating on Bukowski, btw. I’m a huge fan of all of his semi-autobiographical fiction pieces that I’ve read (Factotum, Ham on Rye and even Women). And I’m a fan of several of his pieces which appear in his “poetry” collections. “You and Me Against the World” is a standout.

Charles Bukowski
Remind me to share the poem I wrote in the style of Bukowski. On second thought, don't. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nevertheless, his line ends are garbage.

Without further ado, “16-bit Intel 8088 chip.”

16-bit Intel 8088 chip

with an Apple Macintosh
you can’t run Radio Shack programs
in its disc drive.
nor can a Commodore 64
drive read a file
you have created on an
IBM Personal Computer.
both Kaypro and Osborne computers use
the CP/M operating system
but can’t read each other’s
for they format (write
on) discs in different
the Tandy 2000 runs MS-DOS but
can’t use most programs produced for
the IBM Personal Computer
unless certain
bits and bytes are
but the wind still blows over
and in the Spring
the turkey buzzard struts and
flounces before his

Happy fucking World Poetry Day, you buzzards.


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