Archive for the ‘Appropriate Technology’ Category

Wikileaks LogoThe world has developed a love-hate relationship with WikiLeaks and Julian Assange. Some are praising WikiLeaks for using the internet to champion freedom of information and expose the lies and deceptions of government. Conversely, self-described entertainers like Glen Beck assert that Assange is “a dangerous man” who “believes in global chaos and bringing down the system.” Others have accused Wikileaks of selling secrets for commercial gain.

A range of US political figures have called for criminal prosecution of Assange. Potential Republican presidential candidate, Mike Huckabee, said the person who leaked the information to Assange should be tried for treason and executed. Sarah Palin says WikiLeaks should be hunted with the “same urgency we pursue al Qaeda and Taliban leaders.” Some extremists have called for the assassination of Assange. Others like Michigan’s Representative have criticized WikiLeaks while demonstrating their ignorance of technology and international law.

Sarah's Second Amendment Remedies?

Conservative commentator William Kristol questions

“Why can’t we use our various assets to harass, snatch or neutralize Julian Assange and his collaborators, wherever they are? Why can’t we disrupt and destroy WikiLeaks in both cyberspace and physical space, to the extent possible? Why can’t we warn others of repercussions from assisting this criminal enterprise hostile to the United States?”

All this furor is happening because government officials and corporations are in a dither about the current release of classified US diplomatic cables over the internet and the earlier release of military documents pertaining to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. They fear exposure of secret and often embarrassing comments and past actions. Officials have cited potential risks to lives, but no proof has yet been provided to support that position. No charges related to the document releases have been filed against Julian Assange so far.

Mark Zuckerberg

There is an ironic familiarity with this controversy. Recall that the largest social media company in the US, Facebook, got its start through theft of government data. Mark Zuckerberg hacked private student records on the Harvard University computer network and compiled student photographs and names into an “online facebook”. So far, he’s had a fair amount of success in his career and has never been targeted for assassination by US officials. Despite being caught and sanctioned for his crime, Zuckerberg said “I thought that the information should be available.”

Obviously, he couldn’t have made the student data available without both the cajones to risk his reputation and skills with internet technology. There would be no online documents to reveal, no means of distribution, and no immediate and robust way to share the data with the world without the internet technology platform.

Daniel Ellsberg Photo

Daniel Ellsberg

History seems to be repeating itself in other ways too, but the issues are far more serious than the release of college Harvard student photographs. One might wonder if Julian Assange is the newest incarnation of the “most dangerous man in America?” Shades of the Pentagon Papers and Daniel Ellsberg!  Those critical of WikiLeaks including Fox News first accused the organization of being a terrorist organization, then they went after its leader on unrelated sex charges, and now they are accusing WikiLeaks supporters of being enemy combatants at war with the United States.

I felt that as an American citizen, as a responsible citizen, I could no longer cooperate in concealing this information from the American public. I did this clearly at my own jeopardy and I am prepared to answer to all the consequences of this decision. ~ Daniel Ellsberg, 1971

Et tu, Julian?

Supporters of WikiLeaks seem to be falling into four camps:

  1. The Who Cares? camp.
  2. The Whisperers – a camp that dare not speak too loud for fear of being ostracized, fired or arrested.
  3. The We Want the Truth camp that demands government be far more transparent.
  4. The Warriors camp that is willing to fight back against perceived injustice.

The Warriors camp strongly identifies with Assange and WikiLeaks and is attacking the corporations alleged to be unfairly treating WikiLeaks and Julian Assange. So far, the growing list of targets includes Amazon, VISA Europe, MasterCard, PayPal, SarahPAC, Moneybookers (Skrill Holdings Ltd.), Swiss PostFinance, and others. Their members include an international network of web activists self-named Anonymous that are implementing Operation Payback. Their mantra: information wants to be free.

Hell hath no fury like a hacker scorned.

WikiLeaks certainly has friends in cyberspace and the international free speech community. The We Want the Truth camp members appear to be growing in number. Initially, 28,000+ Australians signed a letter to President Obama supporting WikiLeaks and Assange. The WikiLeaks Facebook page already has more than 1.2 million fans. In 2008 WikiLeaks received the Economist Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Award and the 2009 Amnesty International human rights reporting award.

The number of international websites that mirror WikiLeaks content has soared to over 1885 and will likely increase. Despite the loss of its original website host, WikiLeaks is able operate from its modern, underground data/bomb shelter in Switzerland with just an IP address ( The number can change should it also become blocked. It already uses more than a dozen name servers to guide web browsers to the correct site. This configuration significantly immunizes WikiLeaks data from becoming inaccessible. Completely stopping spread of WikiLeaks material is nearly impossible.

This information war is the historic equivalent to trying to stop the distribution of the Bible after Gutenberg invented the printing press. Information, once released with the speed and complexity of the internet, is difficult to hide, but it does not prevent governments from prosecuting those they define as criminal.

OpenLeaks LogoSpurred by both the success and dissention within the ranks of WikiLeaks plus the desire to operate under more democratic procedures, similar whistleblower organizations are forming. One or more groups using the name of OpenLeaks is expected to launch. One report says a new organization will not receive and publish information directly. Instead, organizations will allow the source to choose any media or non-governmental organizations he or she wants to receive the information for independent fact-checking, redaction and publication.

Everything you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight” (Luke 12:2-3)

The ACLU and Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) are deeply skeptical that US prosecution of WikiLeaks will pass a constitutional test because Julianne Assange is not a US citizen. He is an Australian hacker turned journalist. The US might attempt prosecution by using or amending the Espionage Act of 1917, but they would need to prove Assange was either aware that the documents could harm US national security, or that he had a hand stealing them from the government. Assange claims to have contacted the US Ambassador in London, Louis Susman, seeking help to redact information that could put people at risk. The US government refused assistance. Instead Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., and Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Me., released the a statement on 12/9/10 in support of companies that have severed their business relationships with WikiLeaks. Australia’s Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, reportedly said the Australian government will offer him no support although the Australian consulate in the UK has offered him access to their services.

WikiLeaks has a history breaking major stories in major media outlets and robustly protecting sources and press freedoms. We have never revealed a source. We do not censor material. Since formation in 2007, WikiLeaks has been victorious over every legal (and illegal) attack, including those from the Pentagon, the Chinese Public Security Bureau, the Former president of Kenya, the Premier of Bermuda, Scientology, the Catholic & Mormon Church, the largest Swiss private bank, and Russian companies. WikiLeaks has released more classified intelligence documents than the rest of the world press combined. ~ WikiLeaks

Welcome to the new age of radical transparency and cyberwar.


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Disaster victim with cooking set gift

Red Cross Disaster Aid

As we all sit down to our holiday meals, we probably give little thought to the cooking technology that made our meal possible.

Considering that mankind has spent most of its “kitchen” time working over an open wood or peat  fire, the use of induction cooking, microwave ovens, food processors, and silicone bakeware is no small kettle of fish.

But what if you went back in time before the 17th Century? It wasn’t until then that Western man was finding it common to use metal cookware?  Imagine your life with no metal frying pan, bowl, plate or utensils. Could you survive?

Ok, this is the 21st century and we don’t have that problem anymore, right? 

What happens when we lose our cooking tools due to some natural or man-made disaster: a hurricane, a tsunami, or any of a twenty-seven (27) military conflicts now underway on this planet?

This holiday season you can return some self-sufficiency to those affected by disasters with a gift to the American Red Cross.

A Red Cross cooking set can restore a family’s independence and allow them to cook and serve food in the wake of a catastrophe. The set that the Red Cross distributes includes two cooking pots, a frying pan, bowls, plates, cups and utensils.

Your gift of a Red Cross cooking set won’t fill your belly, but it may make your heart feel full.

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Social Media BrandsIn my recent blog about dangers of social media I made reference to my IT work over the last twenty years. It wasn’t until after the blog was published that the significance of the time span hit me like a 2 x 4. Twenty years! How many of us remember that the first website was created only 20 years ago in December.

How did I pick that topic at this time? Was my subconscious directing me write on the subject because of the anniversary? Serendipity? Some unter-geek, genetic, internal clock awakening my limbic brain? I don’t know.

How interesting then to see a far more prescient, but related article by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, just published by Scientific American Magazine on the web: Long Live the Web: A Call for Continued Open Standards and Neutrality

Berners-Lee assails the corporatization of the web, governmental threats to freedom of speech, and the `walled garden’ approach to social media sites.

The Web as we know it, however, is being threatened in different ways. Some of its most successful inhabitants have begun to chip away at its principles. Large social-networking sites are walling off information posted by their users from the rest of the Web. Wireless Internet providers are being tempted to slow traffic to sites with which they have not made deals. Governments—totalitarian and democratic alike—are monitoring people’s online habits, endangering important human rights.

He remains hopeful that OUR internet can be saved from itself and draws a line in the sand.

As long as the web’s basic principles are upheld, its ongoing evolution is not in the hands of any one person or organization—neither mine nor anyone else’s. If we can preserve the principles, the Web promises some fantastic future capabilities.   …

The goal of the Web is to serve humanity. We build it now so that those who come to it later will be able to create things that we cannot ourselves imagine.

Bob Pauls writes for his company, Des Moines Tech Support, about appropriate technology and computers in business, education, and community development. You can follow Bob on Twitter @desmoinestech.  Bob’s e-mail address is bpauls@dsmtechsupport.com

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I count myself among the early champions of the internet who believed that the highest potential for Internet technology would be for sharing information, advancing personal prosperity, creating liberty for all. That’s one of the reasons why I started a BBS in 1990 and later an ISP. Our aspirations for the internet were probably similar to those that championed creation of public libraries and public schools.

We proponents of appropriate technology have always known that there could be a dark side to the Internet. The Web could:

  • Become a tool for censorship and propaganda.
  • Lead to addictive behavior, productivity decline, and ill-health.

There is increasing evidence of these negatives. Google, Facebook and others have been lax in protecting user privacy. Nation states (E.G. China) are openly censoring content, and academics worldwide are expressing increasing concern for the effects of “excessive Internet use”, in particular social media. They say that social media use is having negative consequences for the health of children.

A report out of Great Britain this week, Social networking: teachers blame Facebook and Twitter for pupils’ poor grades, heaps blame for poor student achievement on excessive use of social media. The report was issued by a private outdoor recreation business, so the conclusions are somewhat suspect. But, even more damning and illuminating is a fresh New York Times video, Fast Times at Woodside High. It documents the battle taking place for the attention and concentration of young minds.

Part of the ongoing education debate in the US focuses on the failure of the ‘industrial training” methodology still in use in our schools and the increasing dependence of young minds on instant gratification. Social media has the potential to be too distracting from other important activity. Simply stated, it’s hard to find time for learning core academic subjects when a student is otherwise engaged sending up to 900 text messages a day or playing video games 30-50 hours a week. Yes, social media helps develop other types of skills, but at what cost? When is there time to do homework, eat, sleep, and spend some recreation time outdoors?

Until recently, I’ve not been an alarmist about the future of technology and student achievement. Tech can truly enhance learning. I’ve worked as a high school technology coordinator; have been a strong proponent for erasing the digital divide, and promoted social media as a tool for learning and building communities of interest. But now I’m starting to have more serious doubts about social media, all the while increasingly using it myself. Maybe I’m becoming the curmudgeon I never wanted to be.

Non Sequitur courtesy of Universal Uclick. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

I’m worried. Heavy technology use is affecting our brains. No, I’m not talking about the risk of ionizing radiation from cell phones. (The National Institute of Health is still engaged in studies on that subject until 2014.) I do fear that obsessive social media use is affecting our safety and the nation’s capacity to meet the challenges of the future. How many car drivers have you seen distracted talking or texting on their phones. I see about one a day.

The Fast Times…video does a good job of portraying the behavioral and cultural risks of too much tech. The subject really warrants our attention … after I check my e-mail, send my Twitter tweet about this post and update my website, blog, and Facebook page, and answer .. (excuse me, I’ll be back to finish this post after I text my friend back).

Related Websites: The Side Effects of Media


Bob Pauls writes for his company, Des Moines Tech Support, about appropriate technology and computers in business, education, and community development. You can follow Bob on Twitter @desmoinestech.  Bob’s e-mail address is bpauls@dsmtechsupport.com

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I live and work as a technologist in Des Moines, Iowa. Wherever I have lived, I’ve tried to become part of the local community and contribute regularly to one or more environmental, disaster response or neighborhood organizations. Since the application of technology is a very much a prerequisite for supporting those activities and effectively managing any modern company or organization, I am frequently dismayed by people’s disdain for understanding and experiencing modern technology.

pencil technology

High Tech

It seems like a significant portion of every generation deliberately chooses to not learn about technology. They resign themselves to being passive customers/users of mainstream “consumer tech” and have limited scientific literacy. Does this explain why the US ranks only average in scientific literacy compared to other developed countries?  I don’t know. Maybe it’s just brain fatigue from experiencing so much change over the course of a life.

I get frustrated with my peers that tell me that technology is “moving too fast”, that it’s just too damn hard to learn, and that “I just can’t keep up with all the changes.” As a consequence, they choose not to learn about it, and shut their naturally inquisitive minds off.  I imagine every generation has its share of Luddites and Neo-Luddites.

Honestly, I empathize with them a little. Over the last twenty years working as a computer systems administrator I have worked with about a dozen computer operating systems, literally hundreds of different software applications and computer hardware brands, many of which no longer exist. They were rendered to the scrap pile or trumped by competitors. Examples include AST, Compaq, Kaypro, EMachines, Maxtor, Orange Micro, Osborne, Tangerine, Wang, and Zeos

It’s not just the tech vendors that no longer exist. Many once noted futuristic and innovative technologies have been superseded by so-called “better” technologies. If you are not yet pushing middle age, you may have never experienced these technologies: 78-45 RPM-LP vinyl records, B&W analog TV, computer bulletin board systems (BBS), library card catalogs, ditto printing machine, home fuse boxes , laserdiscs, office mimeograph printers, overhead projectors, pagers, pocket calculators, dot matrix printers, slide projectors, slide rules, and Walkman cassette music players.

I don’t think I’ve ever been afraid of changing technology unless it threatens human liberty, has a decidedly military purpose, or when the human operator has too much power to use the technology for harming the environment (e.g. the hydrogen bomb, biological weapons, nanotechnology, and mass surveillance/profiling ).

Change happens. Rather than purposely remaining ignorant of the purpose, application, and opportunities of emerging technology each of use needs to employ some critical analysis of technology acquired through experience.

I am an advocate for “appropriate technology.” The term means different things to different people, but I began to use and appreciate the concept just prior to the 1973 energy crisis when great thinkers such as Mahatma Gandhi reiterated that ‘technological development is not inherently synonymous with progress.’

My Father: Gerald C. Pauls


My enthusiasm for emerging technology was kindled primarily by three people. It began with my father who as a young man applied cutting edge technology to mass screen for tuberculosis (TB) in the Dakotas.  He was a survivor of TB having both resided and worked in radiology at the San Haven Tuberculosis Sanitarium near Dunseith, ND.  After meeting my mother, a nurse at the sanitarium, and subsequently marrying her, he moved on to operate one of the early mobile radiography and fluoroscopy (X-ray) trucks. In the 1950’s he traveled the cities and towns of rural farm economies of the Dakotas providing TB screening services for the state’s public health agency.

Leonardo da Vinci self-portraitLater in my young adulthood, I was inspired by the archetypal Renaissance man, artist, scientist, inventor, and genius: Leonardo da Vinci.

R. Buckminster Fuller Commemorative Postage Stamp

My enthusiasm for most things tech was moderated by da Vinci’s end-of-life regrets about inapproopriate technology he developed. I was also inspired by the works of R. Buckminster Fuller, whom I came to know briefly from his visits to Southern Illinois University (SIU) in Carbondale. He once lived there with his wife in a simple geodesic dome home of his own design. I was a graduate student at SIU at that time studying community computing networks. 

The vision and work of my father, Leonardo, Bucky, and those that came before me exploring appropriate technology have been the guideposts for my continuing career and passion for technology. The synergistic relationships among computing, shelter, and the environmental technology offer hope for the survival of man… if only we desire to experience and better understand.

Consider how much must society places in ancient writings about the human soul, although such a thing cannot be proven to exist, and yet consider how little we understand about the tangible things around us that are easy to observe.

Many people will probably accuse me of attempting to discredit men who are highly respected as being authorities in their field even though they have no science behind what they say. Many will refuse to acknowledge that my conclusions are instead drawn from real experience.

Only through experience can you know what is true or false, and this is why wise men take care to only make claims about things that can be observed. Nothing true can come from ignorance, and trying to uphold unproven claims only leads to despair.

I am well aware that because I did not study the ancients, some foolish men will accuse me of being uneducated. They will say that because I did not learn from their schoolbooks, I am unqualified to express an opinion. But I would reply that my conclusions are drawn from first-hand experience, unlike the scholars who only believe what they read in books written by others.

Although I cannot quote from authors in the same way they do, I shall rely on a much worthier thing, actual experience, which is the only thing that could ever have properly guided the men that they learn from.

These scholars strut around in a pompous way, without any thoughts of their own, equipped only with the thoughts of others, and they want to stop me from having my own thoughts. And if they despise me for being an inventor, then how much more should they be despised for not being inventors but followers and reciters of the works of others.

When the followers and reciters of the works of others are compared to those who are inventors and interpreters between Nature and man, it is as though they are non-existent mirror images of some original. Given that it is only by chance that we are invested with human form, I might think of them as being a herd of animals.

Those who try to censor knowledge do harm to both knowledge and love, because love is the offspring of knowledge, and the passion of love grows in proportion to the certainty of knowledge. The more we know about nature, the more we can be certain of what we know, and so the more love we can feel for nature as a whole.

Of what use are those who try to restrict what we know to only those things that are easy to comprehend, often because they themselves are not inclined to learn more about a particular subject, like the subject of the human body.

And yet they want to comprehend the mind of God, talking about it as though they had already dissected it into parts. Still they remain unaware of their own bodies, of the realities of their surroundings, and even unaware of their own stupidity.

Along with the scholars, they despise the mathematical sciences, which are the only true sources of information about those things which they claim to know so much about. Instead they talk about miracles and write about things that nobody could ever know, things that cannot be proven by any evidence in nature.

It seems to me that all studies are vain and full of errors unless they are based on experience and can be tested by experiment, in other words, they can be demonstrated to our senses. For if we are doubtful of what our senses perceive then how much more doubtful should we be of things that our senses cannot perceive, like the nature of God and the soul and other such things over which there are endless disputes and controversies.

Wherever there is no true science and no certainty of knowledge, there will be conflicting speculations and quarrels. However, whenever things are proven by scientific demonstration and known for certain, then all quarreling will cease. And if controversy should ever arise again, then our first conclusions must have been questionable.                  ~ Leonardo da Vinci

Bob Pauls writes for his company, Des Moines Tech Support, about appropriate technology and computers in business, education, and community development. You can follow Bob on Twitter @desmoinestech.  Bob’s e-mail address is bpauls@dsmtechsupport.com

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I often think about a man who had an insatiable curiosity about science and technology: Leonard DaVinci. He studied art, science, and technology until his death in 1519 at the age of 67. His stimulating occupations included that of an anatomist, musician, painter, sculptor, writer, architect, cartographer, scientist, mathematician, inventor, engineer, geologist, and botanist. It’s fortunate that the incredible traveling exhibit on Leonardo Da Vinci–The Genius is showing in Des Moines at the from October 2nd through January 16, 2011

“The noblest pleasure is the joy of understanding.”  — Leonardo da Vinci

What do you think Leonardo would be doing today if he were alive in 2010? Watching reality TV all day? I think not.

“A well spent day brings happy sleep, so life well used brings happy death. “   — Leonardo da Vinci

What would he think about computers, the Internet and all of its resources?  I think he’d marvel at the advancement in technology over the last 500 years, forewarn of its dangers, and ask what good resulted from it.

What do you think?


Bob Pauls writes for his company, Des Moines Tech Support, about appropriate technology and computers in business, education, and community development. You can follow Bob on Twitter @desmoinestech.  Bob’s e-mail address is bpauls@dsmtechsupport.com

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