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Category Archives: u.s.

The biggest tech hits and misses of 2013

Edward-Snowden

Edward Snowden: the most wanted man since Julian Assange.

So what were the biggest technology related stories in 2013? There were quite a few, but here are the 10 most important.

Selfies take over:

With the Oxford Dictionaries naming “selfie” as the word of the year in November, the self-portrait’s domination of pop culture was complete. Even U.S. President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt recently got in on the action with their own selfie at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service.

Is the self-portrait, followed by its inevitable sharing on social media, a sign of society’s growing narcissism? It’s a topic that’s now being debated. Over at the Globe and Mail, Navneet Alang argues it isn’t – it’s merely the latest evolution of how people are defining their identities while communicating with each other.

I think it’s even a little more innocuous than that. Whenever I show friends or relatives vacation photos of famous monuments or gorgeous vistas, they always wonder why I’m not in them. People like to see other people in photos – it’s often what makes them interesting. Read the rest of this entry »

 

Case for armed robot laws is mounting

Israel’s unmanned armed Guardium vehicle still has a human in the loop, for now.

Human Rights Watch has released a new report that is pretty much self-explanatory: Losing Humanity: The Case Against Killer Robots. In it, the advocacy group argues for a ban on fully autonomous, armed machines, in fear that their development will ultimately result in a Terminator-like situation where robots end up killing innocent humans.

The group believes such machines are only a few decades away, according to a statement:

Fully autonomous weapons do not yet exist, and major powers, including the United States, have not made a decision to deploy them. But high-tech militaries are developing or have already deployed precursors that illustrate the push toward greater autonomy for machines on the battlefield. The United States is a leader in this technological development. Several other countries – including China, Germany, Israel, South Korea, Russia, and the United Kingdom – have also been involved. Many experts predict that full autonomy for weapons could be achieved in 20 to 30 years, and some think even sooner.

As per that last part, the group’s estimate is probably way off with full autonomy likely to come much sooner. Armed flying drones have been taking to the skies in Afghanistan and Iraq for the better part of a decade, while Israel is currently using armed ground robots such as the Guardium, likely in its current conflict in Gaza. In each case, there’s a human operator in the loop, but that’s likely to change soon. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on November 21, 2012 in israel, robots, u.s., uav, war

 

Why the U.S. excels: sex, bombs and burgers

In thinking about Sex, Bombs and Burgers in an American context – which I’ve been doing a lot of lately given its U.S. launch this week – I’ve been reading up on something called “exceptionalism.” It’s a theory that dates back to the mid-nineteenth century and holds that the United States is somehow a special nation in the world. While the term didn’t originally confer a sense of superiority, it has since been adapted by some thinkers to lean that way.

In considering my book, which focuses heavily on the U.S., I think there may be something to the theory, that the United States is indeed a special – and perhaps superior – nation. It’s an abhorrent thought to many non-Americans and especially us Canadians, but in fact, it’s sex, bombs and burgers that are the symbolic roots of this exceptionalism. Some explanation is in order.

Sex (pornography) = freedom. On Wednesday, I wrote about how the U.S. is a porn leader. Like it or not, pornography has its place in a prosperous and exceptional nation. American producers have argued for decades that what people choose to do – or consume – in their own homes is their business and that government has no place in it. For the most part, the courts have sided with them, enshrining free speech as one of the country’s most protected laws along the way. While there have been other tests of this tenet, the right to sex and pornography has essentially been at the vanguard of American freedoms.

Bombs (military) = opportunity. On Tuesday, I outlined just how much money the U.S. military spends every year, much of which has direct ties to corporations and educational institutions. While researching and designing new weapons of war isn’t exactly the most noble of pursuits, the consumer and humanitarian spinoffs are wide, varied and numerous. As such, the military provides a deep funding pool for anyone who is willing to dip into it. Recent examples include some of the most successful companies in the world, such as Google and Apple.

Burgers (food) = surplus. In my Thursday post, I detailed how the United States is the biggest food exporter in the world, a position it has enjoyed since at least the Second World War. Indeed, Americans have so much food that they throw out more than many nations produce. If ever there was a Land of Plenty, the U.S. is it.

When those three things – surplus, opportunity and freedom – are put together, amazing things happen. While some nations may have more of one or the other, no one else comes close to matching the sum combination that is found in the United States. Success is therefore built into the country’s very DNA.

This is especially true when it comes to technological innovation, an area the United States has led for much of the past century. While countries such as China and India are coming up in the world both economically and intellectually, they don’t currently match the right blend of surplus, opportunity and freedom. Moreover, they’re unlikely to any time soon because of long legacies and historical traditions that will be difficult if not impossible to overcome.

It doesn’t apply to just those big countries either – it affects smaller nations such as Canada as well. Here, many are now worrying about a possible collapse by our biggest technology company, BlackBerry maker Research In Motion. The fretting is almost pointless because, as I wrote several months ago, the collapse is inevitable. Canada simply doesn’t have the right mix of surplus, opportunity and freedom either (opportunity is our biggest problem). We are a country that excels at producing small businesses, but those companies will inevitably get swallowed up by bigger concerns and our best and brightest will depart for greener pastures down south.

When it comes to innovation, other countries are – and will be for some time – just satellites that revolve around the United States. It’s a tough pill for many to swallow, but there’s no shame in it. Despite American exceptionalism, the world is truly global now and we all have our parts in it.

There’s also the possibility that the U.S. could do something incredibly stupid – like ban pornography, or enact the Stop Online Piracy Act – to sabotage its own specialness. Many people in many other countries are crossing their fingers…

 
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Posted by on January 6, 2012 in food, RIM, sex, u.s., war

 

America’s food is its best military weapon

Today we wrap up the unholy trinity of Sex, Bombs and Burgers – American division, in honour of the book’s U.S. launch – with a look at the food part of the equation. Realistically, I probably should have started with this aspect as it’s the one that makes everything else possible. Food technology is, after all, the foundation of any country’s prosperity.

The United States is, not coincidentally, the most prosperous country in the world as well as the biggest food producer there is. Today, it’s the biggest per-capita exporter of food by nearly double – the next country on the list, France, produces only about half as much. The American food system has in fact created so much abundance that it literally wastes more food than many countries produce. Americans actually throw away about half the food that is harvested for them.

By the numbers, American consumers spend a trillion dollars a year on food, which is roughly split between supermarkets and restaurants. About half of that restaurant amount – a quarter of a trillion dollars – is spent on fast food. It should be no surprise that Americans have some of the highest caloric intake on the planet, as this map illustrates.

It should similarly not be a surprise that many of the world’s biggest companies are American food producers. Pepsi, Kraft, Coca-Cola, Tyson Foods and McDonald’s are Fortune 500 companies that form the backbone of an industry that is worth nearly $5 trillion dollars, or around 10% of global economic output. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on January 5, 2012 in food, u.s., war

 

Sex, Bombs and Burgers: an all-American book

Happy 2012 to everyone! I hope everyone had a safe and enjoyable New Year’s, as well as a bit of a break from the daily grind. Things are inevitably going to ramp up this week and next, especially for the tech world with the annual Consumer Electronics Show kicking off in Las Vegas on Jan. 9. I’ll be there once again, with more on that in the days to come.

In the meantime, I’m starting the new year on a good note with the long-awaited U.S. launch of my book Sex, Bombs and Burgers. The U.S. is either the fifth or six country in which the book has been published – it was supposed to be released in South Korea in the fall, although I don’t actually know if it was or not (nobody tells us authors nothing).

Such is the long, long tail of a book. Coming from the mindset of writing daily, it’s been weird having to continue thinking about something I wrote close to three years ago and that first hit shelves almost two years ago, especially when I’m already working on the next book (more on that soon). Nevertheless, viva Sex, Bombs and Burgers, out this week! I did an interview last week with the New York Post, which had a nice write-up over the weekend – check it out.

One of the funny things that came up while talking with the reporter was how long it has taken the book to make it to the U.S. The truth is, it’s very difficult for anyone who doesn’t have a built-in “platform” to get published in the country – that’s essentially industry speak for anyone who isn’t a celebrity. It goes double for foreigners, so yes, it has taken a long time and it’s why I’m especially grateful to Lyons/Globe Pequot Press for finally bringing it in.

The Post reporter and I got a chuckle out of all of this because, we agreed, Sex, Bombs and Burgers is an all-American book. It’s all about three things that the United States is really good at: war, pornography and fast food. Literally. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on January 3, 2012 in apple, books, Google, u.s., war

 

Getting Sex, Bombs and Burgers ready for the U.S.

If you’ve been to this blog before and think something is a little different today, do not adjust your screen. Everything is, in fact, different as I’ve given the old blog a snazzy facelift in preparation for the U.S. publication of my book.

Sex, Bombs and Burgers: How War, Porn and Fast Food Have Shaped Modern Technology (notice the slight tweak to the subtitle) finally has an official publication date. It’s Jan. 4, which means American readers will be able to delve right into the book just as soon as they’ve recovered from their New Year’s hangover.

I’m told pre-orders are doing reasonably well, so if you’re in the U.S. and want to get your hands on a copy, don’t mess around. You can do so on Amazon.

The book was originally scheduled for publication around the end of November, a date I was never fully comfortable with. With so much other stuff competing for holiday shoppers’ dollars, I was always worried it’d get lost in the shuffle. I’m much happier with an early January release as things are considerably slower and it’s much easier to get a product noticed.

That said, I figured it was time to spruce up the blog a bit, hence the new design. After getting quotes from some web designers and checking out WordPress’ premium paid themes, this simple free theme (Choco, if you’re curious) seemed to be the best bang for the buck. And, given that I’m completely inept when it comes to HTML coding, it was also the easiest.

I’ll be doing a bit of tweaking here and on the Sex, Bombs and Burgers website over the next little while. Thanks again for reading and I hope you enjoy the redesign!

 
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Posted by on November 22, 2011 in books, u.s.

 

Sex, Bombs and Burgers U.S. cover

It’s with much excitement that I unveil the official cover to the U.S. version of Sex, Bombs and Burgers. Of the various covers my book has had so far, I think this one is my favourite (click on it to get a better view):

I like it for a number of reasons. It’s not too dissimilar to the original Canadian hardcover and indeed retains the same bright yellow colour, which is pretty eye-catching. But when you look closely, you’ll see little grey circles listing some of the inventions and technologies I talk about in the book. The circles are of course interconnected with arrows, which really conveys the point of the book – that all these innovations are tied to each other and ultimately to war, porn and fast food.

The cover is thus grabby yet smart at the same time and it really captures what the book is about. Kudos to the designers at Lyons Press/Globe Pequot.

The book is scheduled for a December release in the U.S. If you want to preorder, you can do so on Amazon. Get yours today!

 
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Posted by on May 17, 2011 in books, lyons press, u.s.

 
 
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