Thursday, January 5, 2012

Recent Reading On Technological Unemployment

In the last month I read two Kindle books about the same topic: How our economy, specifically employment, is going to change in the face on increasing computer automation. Due to automation’s potential negative effect on employability, this is termed ‘technological unemployment’. The books were both excellent and flawed, each in their own way. For the purposes of this review, I think it is important to look at them simultaneously to better assess the books and to help get a ‘big picture’ view of how exactly these concerns apply to ‘the average worker’ (ie – me and you).

The books in question are

“Race Against The Machine: How the Digital Revolution is Accelerating Innovation, Driving Productivity, and Irreversibly Transforming Employment and the Economy”
“The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future"
The links are to the Kindle editions as that is what I read.

Both books make separate but complimentary cases for the potential negative impact of automation of the employability of the population at the current and, following trends, expected future state of things. They both succeed in making these arguments but do so to differing degrees. “Lights In The Tunnel” makes an excellent analogy of, well, lights in a tunnel that I think is one of the major accomplishments of the book. Ford should be commended for creating such an evocative and educational allegory of the modern income & consumer-driven economy. Not only does it demonstrate exactly why an economy with large unemployment is a long-term bad thing on economic grounds, he provides a great easy-to-comprehend tool for people to think about macroeconomics and how to relate big-to-small (ie – them). This is no small accomplishment.

In explaining the coming problem, “Race Against The Machine” is no less convincing but does not provide that an over-arching mental model through which to view all the potential changes that the book is attempting to make people aware of. However, their approach is far more even-handed. In “Lights…Tunnel” Ford’s tone veers towards the panicky. Not explicitly so but his attitude towards automation and view towards where it will all end up both reflect concern without much counterbalance. “Race…Machine” goes to some trouble to point out that automation’s benefits and technology’s benefits in general will act as a counter-point to some of these potential negative effects. This differing attitude in framing the problem has huge consequences when it comes to arriving at prescriptions for handling technological unemployment. I’ll talk about this in a little bit.

The macroeconomic effects of income/revenue dependence in the modern economy is pretty much the punch-line of most concerns about automation. Our consumer economy works because people get paid and use that money to buy things, profits from this are reinvested by businesses in new products and we get new innovations. This is, of course, greatly simplified but this chain of causality is important because if 1/3 of people do not earn money anymore and, in fact, are not capable of earning money ever again then it isn’t just unfortunate for them. Whole industries will cease to exist because the money is not there any more. In addition, our government's financing problems would also become infinitely worse as aside from credit (which is in the process of imploding on a fairly epic scale) the government’s main financing comes from redistributing revenue in various ways. You take that money out and how will any government services continue to work?

I actually think this is a huge, huge deal because all this talk about the Singularity requires something that pro-singularity people do not often deal with directly: In order for all these technologies to be developed a staggering about of money has to be invested in developing them. This investment can and likely will occur in a variety of ways (public/private, standard-venture-capital/kickstarter, etc) but if there is no more income in the economy then it cannot occur at all. Not every aspect of the Singularity will require it but the really, really "Rapture of the Nerds" type stuff definitely does. The other braking effect comes from fact that technologies don’t really ‘mature’ until you make 20million of something on four continents and that most of these technologies are networking-intense so their exponential power really doesn't kick in until you have a lot of them everywhere.

This is how mobile tech is today. We are getting really, really good at incorporating increasing functionality and cost-reduction into mobile devices. This maturity is being driven by the fact that everyone has phones and is willing to pay for financing those innovations. If 1/3 of people can’t pay their cell phone anymore, it doesn’t necessarily stop this innovation but it certainly would slow it down. In the case of technological unemployment, Singularity-type technologies may indeed succeed in developing in the lab but the money isn’t there to put them everywhere or to commoditize them to the extent they become ubiquitous and some of the positive networking effects are seen. What I find really strange is that in both books, even when they mention the Singularity, there's minimal discussion of these potential connections except in a very general nod to "future tech needs research today".

Another more explicable failing of both books is in regards to how they present technological unemployment’s effects on educated versus uneducated people. “Lights In The Tunnel” does better job of pointing out how education does not necessarily protect you from technological unemployment. Ford outlines a great comparison of a housemaid and a radiologist showing that, of the two, the radiologist is far, far more replaceable. “Race Against The Machine” points out the negative effects to the uneducated in quite overwrought terms but doesn’t spend a much time dealing with the fact that certain educated, professional jobs are equally in danger. Where both books fail rather spectacularly is in the prescriptions. Both treat education as if it were magic. If only enough people were educated, then they would be less replaceable. Neither really bother to prove or justify this assertion. For “Race Against The Machine” it’s more forgivable but “Lights In The Tunnel” actively points out how education will not necessarily be protection and then Ford proscribes more of it. It is a pretty dissonant step that decreased the effectiveness of Ford’s argument in general (to me anyway, obviously YMMV).

As stated earlier, the differing frames for the problem especially in light of how “Race…Machine” actively acknowledges the potential positives of Singularity technologies, greatly affect the prescriptions offered in the two works. Ford, while far superior at presenting the problem in an evocative and specific manner, takes quite a negative perspective. We can’t stop technological unemployment only therefore our only option is to delay it long enough to forcibly "freeze" our economy into an income-based one. Basically, use income redistribution to mimic the existing system but without employment. This involves the usual suspects of income redistribution and state control a la Platonic guidance and goodness. It also struck me as completely infeasible to implement and demonstrably unworkable in practice. While “Lights” predates “Race…Machine” and therefore its more simplistic analysis is perhaps excusable for that reason, “Lights” single biggest failing is in its prescriptions. They are so unimaginative, reflexive and ultimately, about preserving the status quo at all costs in the face of immeasurable dislocations that it resulted, in my case at least, in a real let-down of an ending.

Perhaps Ford wished to reduce the amount of ‘new’ or ‘wild’ ideas in the book. But, I think that no matter the historical success of transaction/income based economies it is completely fair to ask "In light of new technological possibilities, do non-income economies become more feasible or more possible and what are the possibilities there?". Both books actually fail to really think about this problem. Ford because I think he was more focused on promoting awareness of this problem without perhaps following through in thinking on solutions. “Race..Machine” acknowledges the unpredictability and complexity of divergent economies via implied associations with non-commercial developments such as Wikipedia. They also do a good job of justifying entrepreneurship on the grounds that the best way to try lots of things and see which are useful is to make it easy for innovators to innovate. But, because this is a scholarly audience and people are generally skeptical about questioning historically proven ideas, they do not really question the income/transaction based model either. I don’t really think we need to tear down the present system (it is in many ways quite fantastic). However, in light of potential game-changers, re-examining key assumptions could be quite useful.

The redistribution of incomes also ignores one consequence of Singularity developments and that is the rise of the “Sovereign Individual”. Right now our redistribution system in the US is highly dependent on star-performers. It works because we have a lot of successful people. But, these are also likely some of the first people to effectively become "Sovereign Individuals" and in doing so, become less bound by state control as it were. This is a huge wild-card factor. Any system proposed to "fix" technological unemployment via redistribution or some state control scheme to forcibly maintain the income-transaction-taxation system will have to intelligently address the new capabilities of star-performers. I'm not just referring to malicious evasions either. Star-performers could innovate services traditionally performed by government. Think the current troubles of the U.S. Post Office magnified by several orders of magnitude.

I will acknowledge that my own libertarian inclinations undoubtedly affect my opinions of Ford’s plan. However, to me, it really seemed that after spending a couple chapters outlining the wild, new and counter-intuitive aspects of the problem of technological unemployment, Ford just phoned-in the prescriptions.

“Race Against The Machine” by comparison, manages to acknowledge the inevitability of at least parts of the Singularity but take a far more innovative and optimistic stance. They actively point out how automation is not a fix-all. They deal with what aspects of our jobs aren’t currently threatened but might be and what involves significant innovations whose solutions are not apparent at present. The authors of “Race Against The Machine” demonstrate significantly more thoroughness in their recommendations because they are actively attempting to make these changes a net positive and do so in a manner that gives far more credence to how people actually behave, what is likely to become public policy and potential interactions between non-economic or non-technological factors for which they cannot properly account. The only prescription which fails in these respects is the education one which I already discussed.

Overall, I would say both works are thought-provoking enough, despite their flaws that they are definitely worth their respective prices. In fact, since reading them, these works have prompted a large degree of consideration on this idea of a ‘Singularity’, the possibilities involved, my own concerns and how people can get a handle on these potentialities. These thoughts are beyond the scope of this review but I am intrigued, curious and eager to learn more. Therefore, in terms of promoting thought and discussion on technological unemployment and the Singularity, both books more than succeed.

Full post here.

Link to full post.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

3rd Party Shippers & Amazon: Stress That I Do Not Need During The Holidays

Tried to order a gift-card from Amazon last weekend. Got "assigned" a crappy third party shipper called "Ensenda" who are known failures at delivering packages, you know, on time. Surprise, surprise. They managed to be unable to deliver my package even though UPS & FedEx have managed to do so under similar circumstances before.

Attempted to file a negative review on Amazon & received a polite email informing me that Amazon could not post my review because it violated their guidelines. After careful review of guidelines, I realized that yes I did violate the guidelines. Now, I do not contest Amazon's right to have review guidelines. The problem is that the guidelines in question forbid discussion of shipping or packaging issues and my recommendation to buy elsewhere if you are assigned "Ensenda". Obviously, the latter is something Amazon would be opposed to and I wouldn't have any problem removing just that. Except, guess what, I have a shipping & packaging issue. So, clearly Amazon reviews are not the forum to air my grievance. Again, I do not think Amazon is in the wrong for this particular thing.

So, since I have this weblog, I decided that posting here was far preferable to editing the key portions of my dissatisfaction out of my review. I am going to post my review unaltered as I submitted it with the exception of Amazon header information which should probably not be used by me in this context.

2day shipping pointless if you use crappy 3rd party shipper

December 21, 2011
While you would think delivering a giftcard is a relatively straightforward affair, Amazon chose to out-source their delivery of my Christmas giftcard to notorious screw-up delivery service called "Ensenda". If you see this as a shipper for your Amazon sale, cancel immediately and order the item elsewhere!

I ordered 2 items to be sent to my workplace. One shipped UPS & I received with no problems. The gift-card shipped Ensenda and I have not received it. Ensenda attempting delivery to my workplace which was apparently quite baffling for them. They noted in their tracking information that "destination was closed". Yes, my office is closed at 7:30pm. HOWEVER, we have 24hr security and they are authorized to accept deliveries &/or sign for packages. Both UPS & FedEX routinely make after-hours deliveries to my office location with no problems whatsoever.

When I inquired with Security, they said that they do not turn away after hours deliveries and are able to sign for packages. Security provided logs showing no record of an attempted delivery at the time Ensenda stated the attempt was made. Now, my office is shutdown for the year and I highly doubt the package will ever be delivered, much less in time for Christmas. My only options are either tonight waiting in the cold by the apparently intimidating gate of our work property or re-ordering the gift-card in a printed format (that avoids this shipping fiasco) and eating the $40 I spent on this gift-card. Because the package is "en route" Amazon will not let me cancel the order.

In the future, I will avoid ordering physical goods from Amazon as long as Ensenda is a potential shipper (you won't know until the package is en route). The holidays are quite stressful enough without having to deal with Amazon hiring no-name shippers to deliver their packages.

PS - Amazon customer service gave the following excuse: "ENSENDA tracking information shows they attempted delivery on December 20, 2011 but couldn't leave your gift card unattended due to their delivery policies." How exactly is a delivery to a security guard considered "unattended"? If it's good enough for UPS & FedEx, why not Ensenda? And if a 3rd party shipper has more strenuous delivery requirements, shouldn't the customer be informed of that?

That's my super-negative review of Ensenda's performance. Again, I do not have a problem with Amazon guidelines on reviews preventing the posting of said review on their site. It's their site; they pay for the bandwidth so they get to make that call. Thankfully, I have the option (via this blog) to share my review anyway that way the key issue: 'Ensenda shipping sucks' is publicly shared.

My problem is with Amazon out-sourcing to 3rd party shippers with variable performance. I was not kidding about skipping orders of physical goods in the future. I am an Amazon Prime member, mainly for the benefits of 2-day shipping. If Amazon chooses to use a shipper which cannot deliver reliably in 2-days on specious and easily disprovable grounds, then what value-added am I getting from my Amazon prime membership?

Now, I went ahead and re-ordered a printable gift card. I did not get one initially because I think that they look cheap. But cheap-looking & physically present is far, far preferable to slightly less cheap-looking and completely unavailable for Christmas gift exchange. I do not have the time to lie in wait at a closed office for a delivery truck that may or may not show up. Again, I deliver to work address specifically because someone is always physically present to receive packages. In all my years of ordering from Amazon, I have never gotten a failure to deliver at work no matter the time of day. But again, that was with actual, professional shippers and not these Ensenda yahoos.

Permalink here

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Monday, November 7, 2011

SOPA: Enabling & Facilitating The Death Of Internet Innovation

WARNING! After not posting in forever & a day, I'm breaking my dry spell with a mega-post. Double-warning - no cut-tag on this one. I may only get a hundred or so people a week but you are should be aware of what Congress is up to.

Many people have dissected the proposed SOPA bill before the US House of Representatives Judiciary Committee. I am not here to rehash all of those arguments as others have made compelling cases regarding the problems with this bill. Today, I am going to explain what I find to be the worst portion of the bill, and why that portion is a fundamental danger to the internet and our future as an innovative society. There is a phrasing in this law which potentially endangers the entire Internet: every site, every domain, every single aspect up to and including the US government’s own websites. Several articles I read mentioned that this phrasing is a concern but to me, it is the most broad and most dangerous portion of the proposed bill.

People may find it ridiculous that I'm getting worked up about three little words but court rulings have been decided based upon slight turns of phrase buried in the text of a law. The fact that everyone supporting this bill believes their own web presence exempt from this clause reflects a nauseating hubris resulting from a combination of entitlement, technological or economic ignorance and knowing corruption of our legal system.

Let’s get to the clause in question. I’m going to include the preliminary stuff to give you some context but the key phrase will be bolded.

“(a) DEFINITIONS.-In this section:
(1) DEDICATED TO THEFT OF U.S. PROPERTY.-An “Internet site is dedicated to theft of U.S. property” if –
(A) it is an Internet site, or a portion thereof, that is a U.S.-directed site and is used by users within the United States; and
(B) either-
(i) the U.S.-directed site is primarily designed or operated for the purpose of, has only limited purpose or use other than, or is marketed by its operator or another acting in concert with that operator for use in, offering goods or services in a manner that engages in, enables, or facilitates-“(1)
The text goes on to list various violations of trade-mark and copyright laws. Now, if you do not know anything about either IP or information technologies this may seem sensible. But this phrasing is the exact opposite of sensible because it ignores two key facts.

One, all intellectual property is information. IP is a legally recognized monopoly on segments of information consisting of either designs (encoded as CAD, drawings, etc) cultural artifacts (encoded as songs, pictures, videos), processes (encoded as services optimized for most-useful function) or objects (encoded as physical goods). So any law regulating IP is ultimately about regulating who gets to control what information and who gets to replicate or make profitable use of that information. This post is not arguing against doing this.

Secondly, all information technologies, the best known and largest being the Internet, are by design and intent about the sharing, copying and distribution of information. The initial purpose of networking was to communicate with and share computer resources among mainly scientific users at the connected institutions. This information-sharing default is not a historical factoid with no relevance today. For a number of the sponsors of this bill advertise their IT products or advocate other IT products which also help people share information. For example:

A number of this bill's sponsors share their IP via Hulu. From Hulu’s website:
Hulu's mission is to help people find and enjoy the world's premium video content when, where and how they want it. As we pursue this mission, we aspire to create a service that users, advertisers and content owners unabashedly love.(2)
The entire purpose of Hulu is to make information protected under IP laws available to the public. It exists to share information of a cultural nature.

Circling this square of two contradictory facts, and ultimately two fundamentally different economic models, will be a very important political and economic adaptation in the twenty-first century. Especially since information is neither industry-specific nor commercially-specific. We tend to be aware of information-proliferation effects on the entertainment industry but that is because its profits are the most dependent on perceived information-scarcity. However, every single business on the entire planet is affected by information technologies. Also important, every single cultural and political sphere is equally affected because all social networks are ultimately, information networks. This is exactly why information technology is quite so transformative and why it is also quite so destabilizing. Again, getting this balance between tolerating the old until we can transition to the new (or determining if we do not want to transition particularly valued portions of the old) is pretty much the Great Big Deal of our times.

So, we have this ongoing question of how to balance between two seemingly contradictory industry structures. Into this debate, our lawmakers have given us SOPA with its "enables or facilitates" criteria for illegality. This annihilates a balanced approach to our two contradictory structures. Again, every single information-sharing technology ever meets the criteria of “enables or facilitates”. EVERY ONE. Every webpage, every domain, every database, every peer-to-peer network, all of it regardless of the amount of actual infringing being performed on or using these tools. Every single one of those companies listed as sponsors is also a violator of this standard because every single one enables or facilitates information exchange via information technologies cited in this law. And if you enable or facilitate exchange of information, then it becomes possible to exchange (legally or not) IP which is nothing more than a protected category of information. This bill does not provide IP owners the ability to destroy those who violate IP law; SOPA gives whomsoever can afford legal counsel the opportunity to destroy websites based upon the physical possibility of IP infringement absent any other proof of wrongdoing. This would cover every single site on the entire Internet.

I know what supporters of this bill will say, “But that’s ridiculous! We only mean sites which break the law!” But, and this is important, that is NOT what the law actually states. “Enables, or facilitates” does not require that IP laws are broken only that the violation of the laws cited is enabled or facilitated. Again, all web sites, by inherent definition and function, including those of the bill’s sponsors, meet this standard.

Wait a minute! I’m ignoring something. Elsewhere in Sec.104 of SOPA we find that in order to get these take-down injunctions the submitter must include:
“...under penalty of perjury, that the signatory is authorized to act on behalf of the holder of the intellectual property right harmed by activities described in subsection (a)(1)” (3)
Well, that solves everything, right? Because copyright holders never submitted frivolous or wrong-headed take-down notices. Being major corporations, they would not be terribly burdened by the occasional court costs imposed for being a little too aggressive. Especially compared to IT start-ups or mom-and-pop business who can't blow money on litigation with no revenue coming in without ending up in bankruptcy court. Also, RIGHTHAVEN. A company proved NOT to own the copyrights in question managed to shake-down dozens of people for who knows how much money before getting caught. How much worse would it have been if RightHaven could have brought whole sites down first? How many small business owners could be extorted before they were caught?

Nothing in the this clause actually delimits the “enables or facilitates” to portions of sites or users of sites actually violating the IP laws cited. Someone, who is a legitimate IP representative, could file these injunctions against a site not for violating their IP law but for “enabling or facilitating” a violation of their IP law. This is the key. You do not have to actually commit IP infringement to get these injunctions placed upon you. And anyone who makes an argument about judges not allowing frivolous injunctions – how are they to determine the facts when they only have the plaintiff’s accusations to go on? An injunction is issued prior to the defendant being told about it not after you have had the opportunity to contest the claim and failed.

Now, supporters of this bill all claim that this level of regulation is necessary to stop “real companies [from] being bled to death by these foreign IP-thieves” (note the hand-waving over the fact this bill also regulates domestic sites). This would be significantly more believable if these same bill sponsors hadn't just issued the “Copyright Industries In The US Economy” Report which basically says theses same poor, put upon industries are somehow, despite being threatened by every website ever, making absolutely bagfuls of money. All that profit does not exactly justify broad extrajudicial powers to protect these guys. If they are doing fine, why do they need this law? Especially since content-sharing industries based on IP-law exceptions are actually a pretty significant boom to our economy as well.

The problem is that none of these pro-SOPA folks are honestly dealing with the elephant in the room: A great many business-models are based around the scarcity of information in time and space. No industry more so than entertainment. So, you have a global information network which eliminates the scarcity all of these businesses are based on and, surprise! They want to control it. Of course they do. Control = Forced Scarcity. With this control, their business model survives and so do they.

More importantly, this level of control means that anyone who wants to do business on the internet has to go through them, the self-selected gate-keepers, first. Innovators have to make “gentleman’s agreements” with this protection racket in order not to be threatened by these take-downs. These same innovators will be forced to make these deals from a negotiating position of extreme and government-enforced weakness. Anyone who attempts to threaten an information-scarce-based organization, political or commercial, without breaking the IP laws cited does not get to compete fairly against these scarcity-based models because whomsoever is most threatened by a legal information-proliferating competitor can file a take-down injunction against them under the “enables, or facilitates” criteria. Anyone who denies this possibility simply has not been paying attention to how IP law actually operates in our courts.

If a patent or copyright troll can hack existing law to extort people for money, what do you think they will do with an opening like this one? One which does not require the breaking of IP laws, but only the possibility that such violations could occur.

This is of course, a ridiculously broad criteria. And the second you start applying it elsewhere, that becomes very clear. For example, it is physically possible for me to run over people with my car. Doing so is rightfully illegal and morally wrong. However, I am not required, every time I purchase or use a car, to swear under penalty of perjury that I will not do this. Pedestrians cannot sue me based on the physical possibility of me injuring them with my vehicle, only if I do in fact injure them. The current text of SOPA, via “enables or facilitates”, is not so restrained. This broadness is exactly what all information-scarcity based organizations want. The broader the criteria of control, the better they will be able to control the marketplace rather than compete within the marketplace.

What is most face-palm-inducing about this is how little any of these organizations, companies or even the government itself realize that this law threatens them. Any portion of the web meets these criteria, including the parts SOPA's sponsors currently own or control. Each and every one of them are equally bound by “enables, or facilitates.” The difference is organizations like the MPAA operate under the principle that “he who has the best lawyers, wins.” They pay big money to have the best lawyers (and the best members of Congress). So, in creating this law as it is written, Rep. Smith, far from promoting “prosperity, creativity, entrepreneurship, and innovation”, is more accurately promoting “rent-seeking, extortion, litigious behavior and stagnant economic growth due to technology innovation slowdown”.

In some respects, I almost hope this law passes as is. Because I would pay for tickets to a trial some of these companies when it comes the IP battles that they start and fight with each other all the freaking time. Do they really think that their constant on-going IP suits against each other won’t extend to this law? Do they really trust each other not to use every legal tool available to win these lawsuits?

Which is another horrible future allowed by this law: One of IP trade-wars where companies, who routinely sue each other for patent or copyright infringement, now have a new tool in their legal arsenal to go after each other. While this would be amusing to watch, the legal costs of fighting these battles would likely be passed along to consumers or taxpayers. Additionally, site-shutdowns would endanger anyone whose livelihoods depend on websites, ads on websites and/or online payment providers. All that is right there in the text of “enables or facilitates”. All that is being pointedly ignored by these trade organizations because all of them believe that “enables or facilitates” ultimately, does not apply to them.

This hand-waving over “enables or facilitates” and insistence that, no matter the actual text of the law, it won’t be abused is why I am completely furious to share a state with Rep. Smith. Because you are giving today’s industries veto-power over tomorrow’s industries. You will not continue on the internet unless you get permission to exist first from some vested interest and your continued survival will entirely depend on cultivating that toleration. Again, I don’t give a damn about what anyone of the writers or sponsors of the bill intend. Laws and litigation are not often about intention; they are about what the text of the law actually says and allows. And, for SOPA the text of states “enables or facilitates” IP infringement NOT “actually commits or advocates the commission of the IP crimes listed below”.

Doubly ridiculous is how this bills’ supporters in Congress are being disingenuous about the scope of this law in regards to politics, elections and free speech. Because this same standard applies to government and political websites. The Department of Homeland Security recently got caught using a PSA video for which they likely did not have the appropriate copyright licensing. Members of Congress routinely use copyrighted materials in crafting campaign or position advocacy videos. Again, copyright law is very complex. It is easy to make a innocent misstep, especially if you’re a campaign staffer who does not specialize in IP issues. Do members of Congress really want to run the risk of accidentally having a copyright violation and, in the middle of an election campaign, having their websites and web-based campaign finance machine shut-down?

Again, each and every one of them is either ignorant of this possibility or thinks themselves above it. Now, D/R Establishment politicians would probably have a vested interest in not using this law against each other and they possess the lobbyist connections or experience to prevent this. But what about political outsiders like Tea-Party primary challengers or the Green Party or third party candidates in general? Establishment politicians see these kind of challenges as threats to their power base. This law empowers Establishment-supporting IP-holders with a rather specific tool to take down amateurs in the political arena, again because the criteria are so broad that it is not a question of who is violating IP law, but rather of, who doesn’t have the resources to stop us from litigating them out of existence? Who does “enables or facilitates” empower and who does it burden?

Now, again, I’ll probably get a lot of song-and-dance about IP infringers and darknets. If this law actually targeted those sites and people who actually break IP laws, then I would have no problem with it. Frankly, including commercial aspects of a web-site in take-down is a smart improvement for combating actual rogue sites and actual rogue users of popular sites. If the law targeted these people and only these people, then I would not be writing this post. But, “enables or facilitates” is such a gaping-wide criteria that the entire IT industry is under the gun. Again, this is not hyperbole because:

IP = Information (valuable because scarce or difficult to apply in valuable manner)

IT=Information-proliferating (reduces economic and political value of scarce information by making it common and easily shared/implemented but information also gains value due to network effects, commercial or social)

SOPA encodes into law is not a “targeted killing” of IP-infringers or IP-infringing websites but rather an ongoing threat of nuclear bombardment regardless of actual, provable wrong-doing in the hands of people who routinely sue grandmothers and get caught abusing the existing DMCA take-downs process (for example).

The important thing for the average citizen to understand is that none of these sponsors, political or commercial, has any incentive to interpret “enables or facilitates” narrowly. Information-proliferating technologies undermine entire industries on a structural level. These sponsors are big, unwieldy organizations and the people who benefit from their financing, all of which are at risk in the changing marketplace of default information-proliferation. This law means they don’t have to bother with adapting to these changes anymore. “Enables or facilitates” encodes into law “some (industries/politicians) are more equal than others” by empowering vested interests. “Enables or facilitates” takes the decision of who succeeds in this brave, new world out of the hands of the market and the consumer. It then places the IT marketplace, and all that transformative possibility, in the hands of lawyers and anyone with the deep pockets to pay them.

Now, you may think this overhanging threat is a good thing because it will keep people in line. People won't pirate when they could lose whole sites. But again, “enables or facilitates” does not threaten only those who violate IP law; it threatens everyone who is physically capable of violating IP law which in an Internet connected world is EVERYONE. This is because every single webpage, server, social network, peer-to-peer file sharer, campaign website, advocacy group, industry website, EVERY SINGLE ONE is designed to "enable or facilitate" the exchange of information. And again, all intellectual property is ultimately information. If you enable or facilitates the sharing of information then by design you are enabling or facilitating the sharing of intellectual property.

That’s the true extent of “enables or facilitates.” That’s the terrifying breadth of this law and ultimately, I fear, that is exactly what the industry supporters want. Because nothing terrifies any corporation more than being outmaneuvered by the marketplace. A lot of these bills sponsors feel out of control in an interconnected world. This is not an irrational fear nor should we dismiss it entirely. These companies have thus far succeeded in providing what people are willing to pay for. But the marketplace is an tempestuous, ever-changing mistress. Businesses come and go all the time. This is a reality that every business must deal with. These sponsors have been caught flat-footed by technology developments before and do not want it to happen again.

However, in a free market system, creative destruction is a fact of life. Of course, arguments could be made that we do not truly have a market-system anymore. Obviously, when the government intervenes in the banking, automotive and aviation industries in order to pick who survives and who doesn’t, then clearly, the market is being manipulated. As it is currently written, SOPA becomes just one more example of these sort of interventions. “Enables or facilitates” is exactly the tool by which the marketplace for ideas or money could be short-circuited. “Enables or facilitates” ultimately means that whether in politics or business, you either are deemed non-threatening to vested interests and are left alone OR you are labeled a threat and because of “enables or facilitates” vested interests can use their legal and institutional clout to make you disappear instead of having to compete with you.

If Congress wants to protect intellectual property, that’s great. This transition from information-scarcity to information-proliferation does not have to be dangerously disruptive. Striking a good balance between intellectual property and information technologies is a smart way to improve both old and new alike. So, how about Congress write a law that actually does strike that balance? That actually treats intellectual property holders and innovative technology companies like they are equal partners in creating a profitable, diverse marketplace of ideas and money? Because, as it is written, SOPA is not balanced or really even about protecting intellectual property. The actual text of SOPA is about giving legacy industries veto power of how the Internet should be used and how it should develop far, far beyond protecting their intellectual property.

(1) Found in Section 104 of the bill. This phrasing is repeated in a similar form in Sec.103(a)(2) for foreign-based web sites as well (keyword “facilitates”). Meaning the U.S. Congress is applying the standard everywhere.

(2) How does this “enable or facilitate” IP infringement? Streaming videos on the internet can be retrieved from sites like Hulu in a number of ways. Hypothetically, let us say that an IP holder licensed their material to be shared via Hulu and later discovered users had stolen it provably from Hulu. If they believed that Hulu did not do everything the IP holder considered technically necessary to protect their IP, they could conceivably sue Hulu under “enables or facilitates” clause. Because Hulu is about, well, sharing videos Hulu would bear a high burden of proof regarding how they could be expected to both share videos and prevent the sharing of videos. That's how insanely crazy broad the "enables or facilitates" standard is.

(3) SOPA, Section 104(b)(4)(A)(vii)

Link to full post.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Suddenly Feel Like Blogging Again...

Returning from the void to share more opinions. The past 2yrs have been a bit crazy but I kinda missed doing this.

As a 'welcome back me!" exercise, NPR recently put together a list of the "Top 100 Science-Fiction Fantasy Books". Below in bold are the ones that I've read....

1. The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy, by J.R.R. Tolkien
2. The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, by Douglas Adams
3. Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card
4. The Dune Chronicles, by Frank Herbert

5. A Song Of Ice And Fire Series, by George R. R. Martin
6. 1984, by George Orwell
7. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
8. The Foundation Trilogy, by Isaac Asimov
9. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
10. American Gods, by Neil Gaiman
11. The Princess Bride, by William Goldman

12. The Wheel Of Time Series, by Robert Jordan
13. Animal Farm, by George Orwell
14. Neuromancer, by William Gibson
15. Watchmen, by Alan Moore
16. I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov
17. Stranger In A Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein

18. The Kingkiller Chronicles, by Patrick Rothfuss
19. Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
20. Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
21. Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, by Philip K. Dick

22. The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood
23. The Dark Tower Series, by Stephen King
24. 2001: A Space Odyssey, by Arthur C. Clarke
25. The Stand, by Stephen King

26. Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson - Started this but only got 1/3 of the way through
27. The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury
28. Cat's Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut
29. The Sandman Series, by Neil Gaiman
30. A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess
31. Starship Troopers, by Robert Heinlein
32. Watership Down, by Richard Adams
33. Dragonflight, by Anne McCaffrey
34. The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, by Robert Heinlein
35. A Canticle For Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller
36. The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells
37. 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, by Jules Verne
38. Flowers For Algernon, by Daniel Keys
39. The War Of The Worlds, by H.G. Wells

40. The Chronicles Of Amber, by Roger Zelazny
41. The Belgariad, by David Eddings
42. The Mists Of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley
43. The Mistborn Series, by Brandon Sanderson
44. Ringworld, by Larry Niven
45. The Left Hand Of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin
46. The Silmarillion, by J.R.R. Tolkien
47. The Once And Future King, by T.H. White
48. Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman
49. Childhood's End, by Arthur C. Clarke
50. Contact, by Carl Sagan

51. The Hyperion Cantos, by Dan Simmons
52. Stardust, by Neil Gaiman
53. Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson
54. World War Z, by Max Brooks - In my "To-Read" pile
55. The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle
56. The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman
57. Small Gods, by Terry Pratchett

58. The Chronicles Of Thomas Covenant, The Unbeliever, by Stephen R. Donaldson - Started this & hated it
59. The Vorkosigan Saga, by Lois McMaster Bujold
60. Going Postal, by Terry Pratchett
61. The Mote In God's Eye, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle
62. The Sword Of Truth, by Terry Goodkind

63. The Road, by Cormac McCarthy
64. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke
65. I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson
66. The Riftwar Saga, by Raymond E. Feist
67. The Shannara Trilogy, by Terry Brooks
68. The Conan The Barbarian Series, by R.E. Howard
69. The Farseer Trilogy, by Robin Hobb
70. The Time Traveler's Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger
71. The Way Of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson
72. A Journey To The Center Of The Earth, by Jules Verne
73. The Legend Of Drizzt Series, by R.A. Salvatore
74. Old Man's War, by John Scalzi
75. The Diamond Age, by Neil Stephenson
76. Rendezvous With Rama, by Arthur C. Clarke
77. The Kushiel's Legacy Series, by Jacqueline Carey
78. The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. LeGuin
79. Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury
80. Wicked, by Gregory Maguire
81. The Malazan Book Of The Fallen Series, by Steven Erikson
82. The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde
83. The Culture Series, by Iain M. Banks - Am reading the first book in the series, "Consider Phlebas" now....
84. The Crystal Cave, by Mary Stewart
85. Anathem, by Neal Stephenson
86. The Codex Alera Series, by Jim Butcher
87. The Book Of The New Sun, by Gene Wolfe
88. The Thrawn Trilogy, by Timothy Zahn
89. The Outlander Series, by Diana Gabaldan
90. The Elric Saga, by Michael Moorcock
91. The Illustrated Man, by Ray Bradbury
92. Sunshine, by Robin McKinley
93. A Fire Upon The Deep, by Vernor Vinge
94. The Caves Of Steel, by Isaac Asimov
95. The Mars Trilogy, by Kim Stanley Robinson
96. Lucifer's Hammer, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle

97. Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis
98. Perdido Street Station, by China Mieville
99. The Xanth Series, by Piers Anthony
100. The Space Trilogy, by C.S. Lewis

Hmmmm....47 of 100. I really thought it would be higher. Guess I have some reading to do...

Link to full post.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Are You Freakin' Kidding?!

Washington University shuts down End of Communism memorial. Because reminding people about the horrors of the gulag & communism's obscene death toll is "too offensive". WTF?

(Twitter pics here of the protest which seem fairly typical in terms on on-campus protest outrageousness)

Link to full post.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Moving Notes

So, I'm in the final throes of my moving preparations. Hopefully, by this time next week I will be forevermore done with apartments. In the process of cleaning, packing, etc, I've noticed several things:

1) I am the kind of person who packs their rock collection more carefully than their breakables. Which is completely reasonable! Those rocks are the unique outcomes of millions of years of geologic history than I can never hope to duplicate. I can always go to Pier One if I break a vase.

2) You become attached to the strangest my largest Tupperware bowl. This thing is ancient. It went with me to college. This was the first large "serving bowl" I ever owned. When I went to place it in the give-away pile, I almost couldn't do it. To appease my guilt, I used it one last time to make green-bean casserole. Still, I feel like I'm abandoning an old friend.

3) WHY DO I KEEP EVERY SCRAP OF PAPER THAT PASSES THROUGH MY HANDS????!!!!! I had notes from Junior High School classes, fortune cookies from I-dont-know-when, passing notes written between my friends from freshman year of high school. WHY?! I went through several garbage bags just getting rid of all the crap.

4) I buy a lot of blankets. Somehow, I did not realize this until I cleaned out my linens cabinet (it's amazing how many blankets you can cram into that tiny little space). I know I do not need 7+ afghans...Somehow I must attempt to remember this when I am confronted with them in the store.

5) Culling my book collection resulted in some odd choices. I have no problem ditching romance novels but I will rarely part with a science-fiction book even if I hated it (*cough*"Looking Backward"*cough*). However, the hardest choices were the older books that I've had since I was a child. I went through a Joan Lowery Nixon stage when I was like 10 & I still had them. All those crap Junior High School reading books like "Light In The Forest" are finally gone. But I just couldn't part with "Terror In the Tomb Of Death" or "The Reluctant God".

6) In a fit of nostalgia & practicality, I cooked my last full meal in my apartment tonight. If you can call dumping anything vaguely Asian from the fridge & pantry into a pot, adding sesame oil & soy sauce until the bottles empty, putting it in high and hoping for the best "cooking". It was tasty though.

Link to full post.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Interpersonal Decency FAIL

I would like to propose a hypothesis: Anyone who needs advice on whether to remain friends with people who mistreat them as horribly as this, has irredeemable self-worth issues. I'm not talking modern wishy-washy self-esteem issues but a complete blindness to the idea that your person has a worth and that your person is worth the effort to defend, comfort, and preserve.

That's totally aside from the complete failure of human decency exemplified by the deceptively-title "advice columnist". Many people around the web have commented on that perspective. However, I'd rather just note that to me friendship means you find a person worthy in some way of your time, companionship and private emotional life. And, presumably, they reciprocate. That's what makes people friends.

This woman, in needing to ask if she should remain friends with two women who obviously don't think she's worth the least inconvenience, expresses uncertainty herself as to whether she's worth getting up out of bed in the wee hours of the morning and being comforted. Think about that. I don't know this woman's history or any facts which would explain how she believes her friendship, those unique aspects of herself that only certain people know, is worth so little. I fear that her suspicions of her low-worth were so heartily confirmed by the columnist, who is irrevocably on my list of "Indecent Losers". Because it is fundamentally indecent to treat people like they are worthless, like no trauma or strain in their lives could possibly trump a broken fingernail in yours. And I mean "indecent" in the old-fashioned sense of the word. While I generally prefer our more informal free-wheeling times, when it comes to respecting the value of the person you're with (or at least showing respect), a little bit of propriety does a lot of good.

Maybe my opinion is influenced by the fact that I'm such an extremely introverted person. When socializing at all is so high stress, than you only choose to do it when it's really worth it to you. That's how I view my friendships. These are people who are worth my time and my private thoughts, whose companionship offers something unique that trumps the stress I sometimes feels when I am around others. From this introvert's point of view, why would I bother to befriend someone if I don't think they are worth doing inconvenient stuff for occasionally? Why would I befriend someone who doesn't think I'm worth driving to a hospital after I've been roofied?

From this comment on a blogpost about the column, here's another pertinent thought:

what to make of Rosenfeld’s comment that late-night help is only expected of husbands or boyfriends, not mere girlfriends? Lovely thought, that: “Unless someone’s having sex with you, don’t expect them to give the slightest damn about your well-being.”
My inner feminist weeps angrily.

Just thoughts, somewhat unfocused...

Link to full post.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Blog? What blog?

Between my Xbox haze, work and scrambling to get moved before the end of November, I've been quite negligent in my blogging duties. 5 months worth! Jeez, my backlog of PotW alone will take forever to get posted. I'll be typing those up for a massive series of catch-up posts sometime in the next week.

To get my through my social media drought, I've been listening to:

Creaturesque "Throw Me A Statue"

Eli "Paperboy" Reed & The True Loves "Roll With You"
Mt. St. Helen's Vietnam Band "Mt. St. Helen's Vietnam Band"
MC Yogi "Elephant Power"

Royksopp "The Girl & The Robot"
Apocalyptica "Inquisition Symphony"
Bomba Estereo "Fuego"
Infected Mushroom "Smashing The Opponent"
The Apples In Stereo "Energy"

More (hopefully) sooner than later...

Link to full post.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Everything Really Is Better With Zombies

Completely unable to resist the allure of the evil undead, I bought “Pride And Prejudice And Zombies” recently. While it was somewhat jarring reading, overall, I quite liked the book. And zombies really do make everything better. In full post, there are many spoilers as I discuss the changes that I liked and (a few) that I didn’t.

Overall: Worth reading if you enjoyed the original and don’t mind some gore.
(Slight aside: I can't believe I didn't have a "zombies" tag until now!)

Changes I Really Liked:

1) Wickham really got his and voluntarily too! Lydia still gets off scott-free and totally delusional (as in the original – oh how I long for a story where she becomes more than a caricature).

2) Mr. Bennett is made into the early nineteenth century version of a gentlemen survivalist nut. When zombies take over, every gentlemen in England apparently went flocking to the Orient to learn proper beheading skills in order to protect their families. Bennett however, decided the best way to protect five daughters was if they could protect themselves (“Girls, Pentagram of Death!” - hehehe). Of all the changes, this felt like the most natural progression from the original novel.

3) Lady Catherine & her ninjas – making her a legendary zombie-killing bad-ass was a really good call. Without that, the new Elizabeth’s toleration of her behavior would have been completely out of character. Plus, I really liked how completely disposable those ninjas were. No matter the problem she had, Lady Catherine always just threw some ninjas at it. Don’t like Elizabeth? Goad her into dueling your ninjas. Angry Mr. Darcy won’t marry your daughter? Send your ninjas to invade Pemberly. So very in keeping with her personality.

4) Mary was a lot more interesting as a dedicated warrior who never married (but still developed a few relationships with the soldiers protecting the countryside). I especially liked how when it appeared that Wickham had kidnapped Lydia, both she & Kitty swore to kill him and then spent the whole debacle in the dojo devising slow, painful ways to fulfill their oath. Mary was still utterly embarrassing but somehow more sisterly than I remember from the original.

5) They gave Darcy a sense of humor, especially when having to deal with Miss Bingley. While it was done with some ribald jokes, they managed to show that the only way a Mr. Darcy trained in combat could NOT kill Caroline Bingley where she stood was to make fun of her without her knowing. That the author gave Elizabeth just enough knowledge of sex to get the jokes actually helped justify her change of mind later. In the original, this always seems a little abrupt but here, where no matter her opinion on Darcy she at least respects his fighting skills and his ability to toy with Miss Bingley without her catching on, it works.

6) Whatever Mr. Collins’ other flaws, he did care for the woman he married and was devastated by the act of killing her to spare her becoming a full zombie. I liked how it was done off screen and the characters were caught up enough in their own drama that they didn’t dwell on it. In a world overrun by zombies, it is just one more tragedy.

7) They managed to make Jane a 100% believable zombie-killer while changing absolutely none of her personality as a generally good, kind-hearted person. Prior to reading this book, I would have never believed this possible.

8) The fact that zombies, driven mad by hunger for brains, easily mistake cauliflower for their favorite organ and can be trapped thusly.

9) The “Literary Questions” at the end of the novel were hilarious! Just like re-printed classics which try to spur on classroom discussion with talking points, these questions for the most part focused on the strange, dual nature of the characters as zombie killers and members of the English gentry. Although, my favorite: "Does Mrs. Bennett have a single redeeming quality?"

Changes I Did NOT Like:

1) In a book where the deprivations of the undead are universally condemned, not the least for eating human flesh, I could have done without Elizabeth taking a bite from the heart of Lady Catherine’s ninja that she killed while dueling and dreaming quite so specifically about drinking blood from Mr. Darcy’s skull as vengeance for his wrongs against Jane. It did little to distinguish her from her friend, Charlotte’s descent into zombie-dom.

2) They made Mrs. Gardiner unfaithful to her husband for no reason whatsoever. In some respects, the Gardiners are supposed to be the foil for the Bennetts, everything that the latter couple is not. This is both to represent that Elizabeth does have a clear example of a successful marriage nearby and to demonstrate to Mr. Darcy that not all of the Bennett relatives are embarrassing. By making Mrs. Gardiner so careless, they undermine the importance of that marriage in being both a catalyst and a standing example for Mr. Darcy’s & Elizabeth’s burgeoning affections.

Still, these two are fairly minor quibbles in a quite satisfying book.

Link to full post.

Poem of the Week #20

Very Late but with 2 BONUS! Haiku...

Bewildered drifting
Metal arcs frozen, silent
In pain evermore.

Imposition great
That no puppy eyes can cure.
Plants are enough work.

Blue/orange hoops dangle
Required & exacting much;
I leap - to what end?

Buttons stick with sweat.
Sensors hum, all out of tune.
These are excuses!

Gems of power gleam
With hues too varies and wild.
I need order, thrice.


Link to full post.

Monday, May 25, 2009

My Memorial Day Spree

So, in commemoration of our fallen veterans, I purchased a Xbox this weekend & “Guitar Hero: World Tour”. Needless to say, I have been having lots of fun. While setting up & using the Xbox & game was a total cinch, I did have some trouble with purchasing the GHWT game. Basically, I wasn’t paying attention in the store and just grabbed what I knew I wanted & checked out. I got home, set up my Xbox, turned to the “Guitar Hero” box and went “Why does it say Playstation 2?....Shit.” Thankfully, “Best Buy” was very understanding and let me exchange it but I felt like the biggest idiot because it says “Playstation 2” in about half a dozen locations all over the box. HOW COULD I HAVE MISSED THAT?!

“Guitar Hero” is awesome btw. I’m not very good but the game is so fun that I don’t care. Only, I have no endurance. I’ve got maybe an hour’s worth of play in me and then my hands whether from drums or guitar are just done. And I need a decent stool for the drum set. I was just sitting on my coffee table but that’s really uncomfortable after a while, especially for songs where you have to use the foot pedal a lot. Also, there is nothing better in the world than playing drums for Foreigner's "Hot-Blooded".

I also joined X-Box Live, originally to download new music for "Guitar Hero" but I quickly began downloading games from the arcade & ODing on demos. The best of which (by far) was the "Portal" demo. Dear God, that was AWESOME!!! As soon as I get some more Points, I'm downloading the full game. It was just wonderfully interesting and creepy and it's a game about solving puzzles with PORTALS! Who wouldn't like that?!

PS - I know there should be a PotW#20 posted by now but Sunday night, instead of writing poems, I stayed up until 3am trying for a PuzzleMode Achievement in "Bejeweled 2" (and, eventually, got it). The Poem will be up later in the week.

Link to full post.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Poem of the Week #19

Very, very late. But here goes:

PotW #19

A gleefully blank day flies.
My hands awhirl, carefully
Selecting hues & pieces
For walls unknown & nowhere,
Except a vague "someday" soon.

Bonus Haiku (as penance for lateness)
Blinking cursor sits -
Daring and cue-less to me;
A tool out of reach.

Link to full post.

Overheard At Work, pt 19

Released from work a little early, plan to spend weekend introducing myself to "Guitar Hero: World Tour" (more on that later). For now,

QualityGuy: [returning a borrowed part] Once again, you have out pack-ratted me.

Link to full post.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Arachnid Assassination Plot FAIL

Clearly the world of creepy-crawlies could not let my gleeful post on Zombie fire ants go unpunished. While reading on-line responses to tonight's "Supernatural" finale (WOW!), I look up to see one of nature's stingiest arachnids attempting to nonchalantly scuttle into my bedroom. "It's just summer in San Antonio" you say? *shakes head* No, this can't be coincidence. They're after me. But, they will have to do better than a mere Infiltrator-Scorpion-Ninja-Assassin as he was easily foiled by a rear attack with a pair of needle-nose pliers.

Additionally, while I hate and despise scorpions to the extent seeing them fills me with more dread than other household creatures with more than four legs, I enjoy mocking their utter lack of hiding skills. No matter what surface they are on when you spot them, they always freeze like they still live in a world where "if I don't move, it won't see me" is an effective anti-predation defense. They could be on a brilliant chartreuse paisley-print pillow but upon being spotted, hold very still and act like eight-legged arachnids with curling stinger tails are always found on chartreuse paisley-print pillows, didn't you know? Silly scorpions. I wave my needle-nose pliers at you in defiance!

Of course, now I can't go to bed for a while....*clings to pliers*

Link to full post.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Zombie Fire Ants!

Finally, those pernicious insects which haunt every yard in Texas are getting what's coming to them! Found via AceofSpades, here's an article with all the wonderfully gory details. That's the thing about Nature, she's so much more disturbing than most horror films:

The flies "dive-bomb" the fire ants and lay eggs. The maggot that hatches inside the ant eats away at the brain, and the ant starts exhibiting what some might say is zombie-like behavior.
.....The maggot eventually migrates into the ant's head, but Plowes said he "wouldn't use the word 'control' to describe what is happening. There is no brain left in the ant, and the ant just starts wandering aimlessly. This wandering stage goes on for about two weeks."
About a month after the egg is laid, the ant's head falls off and the fly emerges ready to attack any foraging ants away from the mound and lay eggs.

But wait! It gets better. The flies terrify (rightfully so) the ants!
Plowes said fire ants are "very aware" of these tiny flies, and it only takes a few to cause the ants to modify their behavior.

"Just one or two flies can control movement or above-ground activity," Plowes said. "It's kind of like a medieval activity where you're putting a castle under siege."

I know it may seem exceedingly petty to revel in the horrific death of an anonymous hive insect but considering how often & how badly I got bit by these things when I was a kid, dude, revenge is SWEET. *wonders where I can purchase large quantities of phorid fly*

Link to full post.