NSA spying on World of Warcraft

Just in case you thought for a second that the NSA spying programs weren’t really a total waste of money, there is this: according to new leaks by Edward Snowden, the NSA has been spying on gamers in World of Warcraft and Second Life. Ridiculous. Read the full story over at the Guardian.


Amazon plans drone delivery

Amazon is currently researching a plan that would use small drones to deliver packages in 30 minutes or less, provided, of course, that you live within range of an Amazon distribution center. The plan, call Amazon Prime Air, is still in development, and is not expected to be ready for another 3-4 years. There is time to wait: the Federal Aviation Administration is currently working on revisions to the regulations governing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), and the new guidelines won’t come into effect until 2015 at the earliest. Check out the promotional video below:


The Dark Web’s “Assassination Market”

Andy Greenberg at Forbes brings us an interesting article about the Dark Web’s “Assassination Market” which offers users a chance to place bounties on well-known figures such as Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke. Priced in Bitcoins (of course) the head of the head of the Fed is worth 124.14 BTC (that’s around $75,000 today.) The site has been in operation for just a few months, but its proprietor, one Kuwabatake Sanjuro sees a bright future for entrepreneurs like himself:

Sanjuro’s grisly ambitions go beyond raising the funds to bankroll a few political killings. He believes that if Assassination Market can persist and gain enough users, it will eventually enable the assassinations of enough politicians that no one would dare to hold office. He says he intends Assassination Market to destroy “all governments, everywhere.”

“I believe it will change the world for the better,” writes Sanjuro, who shares his handle with the nameless samurai protagonist in the Akira Kurosawa film “Yojimbo.” (He tells me he chose it in homage to creator of the online black market Silk Road, who called himself the Dread Pirate Roberts, as well Bitcoin inventor Satoshi Nakamoto.) ”Thanks to this system, a world without wars, dragnet panopticon-style surveillance, nuclear weapons, armies, repression, money manipulation, and limits to trade is firmly within our grasp for but a few bitcoins per person. I also believe that as soon as a few politicians gets offed and they realize they’ve lost the war on privacy, the killings can stop and we can transition to a phase of peace, privacy and laissez-faire.”

Could we be seeing a ressurrection of the anarchist tactic, “propaganda by the deed?” Well, no one, as far as I know, has been killed yet, and for the life of me I don’t see this idea taking off in the near term. But what do I know, I thought Bitcoin was overpriced at $30 (author sobs quietly in his coffee.)


Reflection as technological practice

For many of us, technology, and the adoption of new technologies, is something that simply happens to us; a new phone, or drug, or television, or app arrives in the marketplace and we find ourselves, often under the influence of (pervasive) advertising, being drawn into its orbit. With a force like gravity the new device pulls us in. Too often, we don’t stop and reflect on our new technological friend, and what she represents. Many times, a new technology is a new way of being in the world, a way of being with consequences, and not all of them positive.

It is useful, I think, to see technologies in this way: not as simple means to an end (the phone as a communication device, the suburban house as shelter, the car as transportation,) but as things that pattern our lives.

Which is why it is so important to reflect upon on technological choices, and not simply be accept the new as the ever-young and desirable default. I think it is important, when confronted with a new technology, to ask a simple set of questions, that allow for this kind of reflection:

1. How does this technology affect my mental and emotional well-being?
2. How does this technology affect my body?
3. What effects does this technology have on my community and the larger environment?
4. What effect(s) does this technology have on my financial well-being?
5. Are there alternatives?
6. Am I better off without it?

In a world with a bewildering number of choices, choices that give rise to the patterns that shape our lives, these questions are vitally important. If you aren’t asking them, you are not in conscious control of your decisions.

For these reasons, I see the groups like the Amish as being among the most technologically savvy people on the planet, if only because, when faced with technological choices, they reflect upon them, they deliberate. Their choices are intentional, and they understand clearly that new technologies (like phones, grid-tied electrical power, the automobile, television) carry with them ways of living. Phones may inspire gossip, television can be seen (accurately, for the most part) as a cultural sewer, and dependency on the electrical grid may run counter to an ethic of self-sufficiency, and so on.

Contrary to what is often believed about such groups (which would include certain other Anabaptist sects including the Mennonites and Hutterites) they do not dismiss new technologies out of hand, and in fact they may be seen, at times, “leapfrogging” decades of technological development (for example, some conservative Amish groups may disdain the automobile, and refuse to use grid-tied electricity, but wholeheartedly adopt solar energy; in fact most of the Amish in the Midwest use photovoltaic solar panels.)

In the case of the Anabaptists, their reflective practice may include the question of whether or not a technology allows them to become closer to God and to live better lives as devout and pious Christians. But you need not subscribe to any religious ideology to see the value of the process: thinking about these ideas gives you more control, and perhaps more opportunities to improve the circumstances of your life.

Consider this a call for reflection, chance to step back and ask yourself: do I need this? Is this making my life better, or not?


Acorns: the ultimate permaculture food

Permaculture will change the way you see the world. In fact, it demands that you observe and interact with your local environment and seek to understand it. For those of us raised in the industrialized world, this can be challenging, difficult, and time consuming. We are not raised to understand local, natural food resources, we simply do not see them, even when they are all around us.

Two months ago, I was exploring an area of my property that I hadn’t visited in many years: a ridge that runs east to west, hundreds of feet above the quiet hollow below. It is a steep, rocky climb up the mountain. My friend and I discussed how me might build something at the top, but came to the conclusion that it would be very difficult, if not impossible to do so: it is far too steep for a truck or four-wheeler, and horses or donkeys that might transport materials to the top would struggle with the terrain and could easily become injured.

The inaccessibility of the terrain has an extraordinary benefit, however: it meant that the top was rarely if ever logged, and hadn’t been cut in generations. So at the top, among the moss and rocks, was a large stand of oak trees, that ran the entire length of the ridge. And on the ground–everywhere–were acorns.

First-world eyes would have missed them. Modern North Americans don’t eat too many acorns, and most don’t know that acorns were the anchor, the linchpin of many native American diets at one time. Along with wild game (turkey, rabbits, deer, and the occasional bear,) wild fruits, grains, and vegetables, acorns were a staple of native America’s “Woodland” adaptation, that preceded the emergence of large-scale agriculture and cultivation of the “Three Sisters”: corn, beans, and squash. The map below offers a sense of how dominant and important the oak is to American forests:


Acorns, it turns out, aren’t just food, they were one of the most important foodstuffs on this continent for thousands of years. And it is easy to see why. An ounce of acorn meal contains 140 calories, 8 grams of fat, 15 grams of carbohydrates, and 2 grams of protein. A single cup of acorn flour, boiled with three cups of water to make an acorn mush, or turned into pancakes, contains a lot of calories (1120), fat (over 100% of your fat needs for the day), carbohydrates (40% of your required intake), and a healthy dose of protein (16 grams.)

Oak trees can live for hundreds of years, and typically require no “care” at all (they “know” what they are doing, thank you very much.) And when you consider that an acre of oak trees can produce thousands of pounds of acorns a year, you will understand why I call acorns the ultimate permaculture food.

Acorns do require some processing however: they have to be shelled, ground into flour, and the bitter tannins of the nut should be removed before consumption (typically the tannins are boiled away, and the cooking water discarded, the process being repeated until the meal lacks bitterness.) Note: the tannins can be toxic, especially to livestock. You can read this article from Mother Earth News for more on acorn processing and preparations (there are recipes everywhere.)

Learning about natural food resources (even the humble acorn) will change the way you see the world, and will make you wonder: what else am I missing?