Will our Love for our Guns Make Us a Police State?


Parkland School Shooting – ABC News

I’m a gun owner. I’m a former cop and a retired Army officer.  I’ve personally fired everything from .38 police specials to M60 machine guns to TOW anti-tank weapons to 105mm howitzers.

I fear, however, the unmitigated love for weapons, and the ever-expanding “rights” to “keep and bear arms” will make the United States a police state, which is the exact opposite of what gun advocacy organizations want.

Here’s the problem:   as more and more mass shootings occur – such as the latest one in Parkland, Broward County – people will become more and more vigilant for signs of potential crackpots who would go on such a rampage.

On the same day as the Parkland shooting – February 14, 2018 – a grandmother in Snohomish County, Washington, read the journal of her grandson, detailing plans to shoot up a school and kill as many students as possible.  He had even purchased a weapon such as the one used in the Columbine school shooting, robbed a 7-11, and felt a sense of power in that robbery.  The grandmother notified authorities, who arrested the teenager.  During the arrest, he assaulted an officer and now is being held on $5 million bail.  The grandmother is (rightly) being hailed as a hero.

Is that what life in these United States has come to – that we are encouraging people to spy upon and inform upon their family and friends to prevent mass murder?   What will we encourage next – spying on family and friends who might sexually assault others? Isn’t that a noble cause too, in the #metoo movement, especially given the abuses of power we’ve seen with the U.S. Gymnastics Team and people like Harvey Weinstein?  President Trump has accused Democrats of treason for not applauding him during his State of the Union address.  Perhaps we should encourage people to report suspected treason like this too?

report-suspicious-activityAre we creating a new Gestapo or East German Stasi, where we encourage citizens to report on their family, friends and neighbors?   All in the name of keeping us safe?

No right is unlimited.

The first amendment states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Yet we do require parade permits for people to “assemble”.  We don’t protect people who slander others or falsely accuse them of crimes in public.  Television stations cannot use the “f” word in their broadcasts during prime time.  The first amendment has limits.

Similarly, the complete text of the second amendment is “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Does this mean people can keep and bear nuclear weapons? No.  Can they buy and use 150mm howitzers? No.  Can anyone – including those who are insane or convicted felons – keep and use firearms? No.   Indeed, one could read the second amendment to state that only people who are part of a “well-regulated militia” have the right to “keep and bear arms”.

It sure seems to me that further restrictions – strict background checks, prohibition on any machine gun or automatic weapon, banning of bump stocks and 60 round magazines, requirements for gun safety courses – might well be in order.

I’d rather limit the “right to keep and bear arms” rather than encourage citizens across the nation to be reporting anything suspicious about their friends and neighbors.  I really want my seven grandchildren, ages 1 to 12, to be able to walk to school and learn there, without fear of having the place shot up. And  I’d live in a nation with strict limits on firearms any day, before living in a nation of informers.

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How the City of Seattle can improve its relationship with Amazon (and Microsoft, too)


Amazon office buildings and cranes dot the Seattle skyline. (GeekWire Photo / Nat Levy)

Amazon is looking for a second headquarters city, “co-equal” to Seattle. Seattle’s city Leaders suddenly have an immense interest in their relationship with the city’s largest employer, a company which has ignited the largest economic boom here since the Klondike Gold Rush. A meeting of the behemoths (city and Amazon) is apparently set for Feb. 9.

Meeting with Amazon is a good step. But city government leaders should not ignore other companies which contribute to making Seattle a wealthy, world-class city, especially Microsoft.

How do Seattle’s elected officials improve relationships with these companies while, at the same time, improve services and quality of life for Seattle’s residents? Elected officials should not “give away the city” as the State of Washington did in 2013, giving Boeing an $8.7 billion dollar tax break; Boeing then actually reduced employment in the state.

Here are some ideas: (read the rest of the article on GeekWire here).

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5,953 Days Later: A Miracle Occurs. 8,859 Days to Go

September 11, 2001.  Terrorists attack the United States.  2,996 people died.  The economic damage was more than 250 billion dollars.  The 9/11 Commission Report made 46 major recommendations in 8 categories.  Virtually all the recommendations were implemented.

Except, perhaps, one.

On December 29, 2017, that is 5,953 days after the attacks, this recommendation finally was addressed:

Allocate more radio spectrum and improve connectivity for public safety communications, and encourage widespread adoption of newly developed standards for private-sector emergency preparedness—since the private sector controls 85 percent of the nation’s critical infrastructure.


FirstNet’s States

On December 29, 2017, the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) became a reality in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and two United States Territories.   FirstNet was created by Congress on February 22, 2012.  Congress allocated 20-megahertz of radio spectrum for FirstNet’s use in creating a nationwide mobile wireless (cellular) network where first responders will have priority.  Congress stated FirstNet must use long-term-evoluation (LTE), a worldwide standard, for the network.  And, while many public safety responders work for governments, there are private sector first responders too, protecting critical infrastructure, who will have priority on the network.   AT&T won a competitive contract to deploy the network, and promised priority on all its existing LTE spectrum, as well as the 20-megahertz assigned to FirstNet.

AT&T delivered on that promise on September 30, 2017.  But the Governor of each State and Territory, and the Mayor of D.C., each had to decide whether to participate in this network.  On December 28, 2017, California became the 50th state, and 53rd government (including D.C., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands) to decide to participate in FirstNet.


Public Safety Officials

Thousands of Chiefs of fire-and-rescue, law enforcement, emergency medical services, and 9-1-1 centers advocated for FirstNet to happen.  Hundreds of federal, state and local officials worked on the details, and hundreds of AT&T employees brought it to fruition on the carrier’s existing infrastructure.

The vision of the 9/11 Commission is, at long last, 5,953 days later, realized:   a nationwide public safety communications network.

Still, there is much to be done.

New advances in technology and therefore terrorist, criminal and public safety capabilities are constantly occurring.  Hacking, cybersecurity, new smart phones, the Internet of Things, body-worn video cameras, new applications, unmanned airborne vehicles, natural language processing (Siri, Alexa, Cortana) and artificial intelligence are just a few of those advances.  Public safety agencies often lag in adopting these technologies to support their mission of keeping 320 million Americans safe.

While one of the last chapters of the 9/11 story is now closing, many new challenges and opportunities present themselves.

The contract for FirstNet has a 25 year life, starting March 30, 2017.  There are 8,859 days remaining.   Many challenges still remain to be completed:  public safety agency adoption of FirstNet, an applications store filled with innovative apps, the Internet of Life-Saving Things, cybersecurity, network connectivity in remote areas and more.

Nevertheless, our nation’s first responders now, on December 29, 2017, finally have a nationwide wireless network with priority for their smart phones, mobile data computers, tablets and other devices.

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1,945 Days and a Miracle Occurs

A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.  A 1,945 day journey to a nationwide cellular network for first responders begins on a single day, February 22, 2012, when Congress passes the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, and comes to a waypoint on June 19, 2017.   On that first day, Congress created the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet).  On the last day, today, FirstNet published a definitive plan for each state detailing how the network will be deployed in that state.

Oh, you can quibble about the dates.  Perhaps the starting date should be in 1997 when the FCC set aside spectrum for use in creating a cellular network for public safety.   And you can argue that “delivery of a plan” is not deploying a network.

But I’m going to count February 22, 2012, as the starting date, because that’s when this network became possible, because Congress funded it and created an agency to make it happen.    And I’ll count June 19, 2017, as the ending date, because these “state plans” are much more than plans.   They are an “on” switch for FirstNet.

All a state Governor need do is “flip the switch” to “on” and immediately FirstNet becomes a reality in that state.

I always believed – since I became involved in this work in 2008 – that deploying a network with priority for first responders would take many years.  I thought it would be an arduous process of acquiring cell sites, putting antennas and electronics at those sites, stringing fiber optic cable between them, and then slowly, one-by-one, lighting up each site to put it on the air.  Just like the long, painful, process of deploying the first cellular networks in the 1980s.

But it isn’t.   Turning on FirstNet is as simple as a Governor signing a letter which says, “go do it”.

then-a-miracle-occurs-firstnetThe Governor doesn’t have to commit any funds or make any commitments.  No public safety agencies in a state have to use FirstNet – they are free to choose other networks.  But if those agencies want priority above all other users, if they want a dedicated help desk, a customized app store, end-to-end security and all the other benefits, they can sign up with AT&T and get it.

All it takes is a simple signature by a Governor, and a miracle occurs.

P.S.   To see the plan, go here.

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First Responder Field, Home of the Seattle Mariners



SAFECO Field has been the home of the Seattle Mariners’ Baseball Club since 1998, when SAFECO Insurance acquired the naming rights.   SAFECO is not planning to renew that 20 year naming agreement when it expires in 2018.

Major league stadiums carry the names of insurance companies, banks, financial institutions, airlines, ketchup companies, even a pet supply store (PETCO).   But none are named for law enforcement, firefighters, emergency medical services, or the military.  These responders willingly place their own lives at risk – daily – to keep 340 million people in the United States safe from harm, both here at home and abroad in foreign nations.

Naming rights are not cheap.  SAFECO Insurance is probably paying $1.8 million a year to get its name on this Seattle stadium.  Citi Field in New York City may be the highest priced venue at $20 million a year.   See a complete list from ESPN here.

First Responders (from FirstNet.gov)We should have a First Responder Field to honor our daily heroes.   But the owners of SAFECO field shouldn’t have to forgo significant revenue to provide that honor – after all, the costs will probably be borne by those attending games in Seattle.

It would be a travesty to ask first responders themselves to pay for naming rights.   Perhaps we could do a Kickstarter campaign to pay for the rights.   Or maybe some of Seattle’s billionaires who own Starbucks, Amazon or Microsoft could kick in the dollars.

But it would be even better, more noble, if the owners of Major League Baseball teams, each of them billionaires, could each kick in a few bucks to compensate the owners of SAFECO Field who could then honor our cops and firefighters and paramedics who respond and save lives nationwide, every day.

What do you think?

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If it is always “Day 1” at Amazon, it is Day 10 in Government

jeff_bezos_headshot11“I’ve been reminding people that it’s Day 1 for a couple of decades. I work in an Amazon building named Day 1, and when I moved buildings, I took the name with me.  [So] what does Day 2 look like?”

“Day 2 is stasis. Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death. And that is why it is always Day 1 [at Amazon].”

So says Jeff Bezos, Founder of Amazon, soon to be a trillion dollar company, in his annual letter to Amazon’s stakeholders.

What are the lessons Government can learn from Bezos and Amazon?  But also, how is Government different from Amazon and other entrepreneurial private businesses?

Government is NOT at Day 2

The City of Seattle is at Day 53,830 (incorporated December 2, 1869) and the United States is at Day 87,948.   Governments have been around for dozens, hundreds of years.  They rarely go into “excruciating, painful, decline” and very very rarely die.   Are governments irrelevant?  Try getting a driver’s license or not paying your taxes.

But this longevity also leads to complacency, poor or indifferent customer service, and skepticism or outright hate by some citizens.   And governments are in competition – for industry, business, skilled and educated citizens, revenue and tax dollars.   Poorly operated governments drive away business and smart citizens, and they decline, even if they don’t die.

process-as-king-cartoonProcess as Servant, not King

Every private company and every government has bureaucracy, process, and procedures to do its business.  But in private enterprise or government, process is should not be the goal:  satisfied customers are the goal.

Jeff Bezos wants a customer-obsessed culture where Amazon employees “experiment patiently, accept failures, plant seeds, protect saplings, and double down when you see customer delight”.

Almost always governments – and most large corporations – focus on the process of customer service, not the customer.  We make following procedures and abiding by policy take center stage, no matter what happens to our customers. The ugly episode where United Airlines recently had police drag a customer off a plane is a one example.  But government – and the Veteran’s Administration is a another example – makes process King.

This isn’t because individual employees aren’t committed to the mission – the VA is filled with thousands of dedicated employees (second only to the postal service in total numbers), working hard to take care of veterans.  But it also has bureaucrats for whom process is King, and too often they are in charge.

This lesson of keeping the focus on customers comes in tiny increments. I recently stayed at a Hilton Hotel which had a happy hour with free beer.  I arrived 15 minutes after the end of happy hour.  The bartender asked “were you here for happy hour”?  I honestly replied “no”.  She gave me a complimentary beer anyway.  In doing so, she made me a delighted customer.

In a more substantial example, I needed assistance on a social security and Medicare application.  I went to a local social security office and had to “take a number and wait in line” for more than 30 minutes.  But when I saw a counselor, she did not hurry me, asked me good questions, and gave me wise advice on choices with advantages and disadvantages of each.  Then she executed on my choice – she made it happen.  I walked away delighted by customer service, despite the wait.

We need to empower government employees to do the right thing, just like Amazon, Nordstrom and similar businesses do.

Embrace external trends

Technology for customer service innovates quickly.  Traditionally government has moved slowly and has been risk adverse.  This must change.

Computers have automated tasks which could be described with clear rules, if-then statements, and algorithms.  Think of an algorithm as a recipe where the inputs and outputs (ingredients) are described along with the steps (procedure) necessary to make the entree.

Private companies now embrace machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) to power chatbots, text messaging, frequently-asked-questions and help desks.    IBM is harnessing its artificial intelligence engine Watson to revolutionize law firms, healthcare and help desks.   The City of New York is trying to use Watson to fix its aging 311 system.

Bezos points out several projects in which Amazon uses AI, including Amazon’s Prime Air delivery drones, its new futuristic grocery stores, and its virtual home assistant, Alexa.

Siri-cartoonVirtual digital assistants are proliferating in homes and businesses.  Burger King intentionally created  “TV commercials that cause Google’s voice-activated, artificial intelligence-driven Google Home speaker to start talking about the Whopper sandwich” (USA Today).  Amazon’s Alexa, invoked by its Echo devices in millions of homes, now will start appearing in many other devices including automobiles.

But few governments embrace these leading-edge technologies, preferring to force our customers to “telephone between 8:00 AM and 5:00 PM” including the “our menu options have changed” phone tree, or to physically, actually show up at a government office to do business.

Public safety officers – law enforcement and firefighters – heavily use two-way radio, but are forced to sit at a keyboard to type reports or make routine queries like checking license plate numbers or verifying identities.  These are all tasks which could be automated with natural language processing and speech-to-text capabilities available in Alexa and similar products.

Governments need to adopt these high-value customer service technologies rapidly.

High-Velocity Decision Making

Most governments and large companies make high-quality decisions, but they make high-quality decisions slowly.  In the case of governments, the decisions can be excruciatingly slow.  For some reason government employees love to play “gotcha”, trying to find every risk and every potential problem with a new idea, even if the chances of the issue materializing are one in a million.

When I was the Chief Technology Officer at the City of Seattle, I would gladly take one enthusiastic, “can do”, positive, product manager looking at the “new idea” glass as half full instead of a dozen devil’s advocate employees who always want to see the glass half empty, or an engineer who would say “the glass doesn’t meet our specifications”.

Speed matters.   Many decisions are trivial and inconsequential.  They can be easily reversed.  Make them fast.   But the very worst outcome is to banish a decision to a committee or kick it upstairs for a more senior manager to make.

Governments are Not Businesses

However there are differences between governments and private businesses.

Governments cannot choose their customers – we need to accept all comers.  This includes those with special needs, low income, the senile, the mentally disturbed, the homeless and the technologically challenged.   This often means we will have a “real person” help desk as well as a chatbot.

Governments are in the eye of public scrutiny.  Amazon can hide most of its bad decisions (the very public failure of the Fire Phone is an obvious exception).  Government cannot.  Mistakes such as a $43 million budget overrun for the City of Seattle’s utility billing system make headlines and are featured on the 11:00 PM news.

Does this mean government should avoid big projects?   Not at all:  Governments must embrace modern cloud-based technologies, professional project management and agile development of software systems, delivering incremental value every 6 to 8 weeks.

ChieGovernments don’t fail, private businesses do.   The United State Government has been around since 1776.  The City of Seattle has been operating since 1869.  Governments don’t face the same competitive pressure as private businesses.   Nevertheless, governments do compete for economic development, industry and citizens to locate within their boundaries.   Successful governments boom, unsuccessful ones languish.

Governments are operated by elected officials, not CEOs.    Mayors, City Council members, County Executives, Governors, legislatures and other elected officials run our various governments.   But almost all governments have three branches – executive, legislative and judicial.  These branches check and balance each other, slowing decision making.    Elected officials also … well … need to run for re-election.   That increases their aversion to taking risks.   Amazon and many private businesses, run by a CEO and a relatively uninvolved Board of Directors, can be nimbler.

It is always Day 1 at Amazon.  If Day 2 is stasis and irrelevance, government should try to be at day 1.5.


Filed under Alexa, artificial intelligence, customer service, future of technology

Nostalgia of the 2040s

20th_century-victoria-and-albert-museumThose of us who can remember the 20th Century fondly recall artifacts and phrases from our “youth”.   And time marches inexorably on.  The cool, whiz-bang, stuff of 2017 is the nostalgia of 2040.

First, as a bit of a reminder, here’s some of today’s technology nostalgia:

  • Television that only came in two colors – black, and white (well, and a few shades in between)
  • Telephone book, telephone booth, party line (and we are not talking politics here), telephone operator.
  • Video tape – along with video “tape” we’ve also remember Beta video recording, VHS video recording and “film” among other terms. Some of us older folks still talk about “filming” or “taping” but really “recording video” or something similar should be the operative term.  Related terms like photo film and negative are also gone from the lexicon.
  • No, not Google maps, but honest-to-goodness paper maps that you could get for free at the gas station as the station’s hired help filled your car for you (something which still happens in Oregon, incidentally).
  • Library research. There was a time when writing a term paper or doing research required a library card and a lot of work finding and reading books and magazines.  Now “research” is simply a Bing search and Wikipedia from a computer.
  • And quite a few other reminders: floppy disks, Blockbuster, game boy, transistor radio, cassette players and tapes, Polaroid cameras.
  • Humans as computers. See the movie Hidden Figures to understand this one.

dui_checkpoint_sign-orangecountyweeklyWhen the 2040s roll around, presuming civilization still exists, what out-of-date artifacts and phrases will we remember from 2017ish?   Here are a few of my ideas:

  • “Extra DUI Patrols On Now”. These signs often appear above freeways on readerboards.   People will still get drunk in 2040.  And they will still climb into cars.  And I don’t think there will a magic sobering pill or drug.  But all automobiles will be self-driving.  In fact it might be illegal to manually drive a vehicle on a public highway.  So DUI (and speeding tickets and auto injuries and millions of associated jobs) will be history.
  • Automobile ownership. People will still own cars, in the way that they own Brownie Cameras or a Victrola today: as an historic artifact to be polished and preserved and admired.  I suspect ride sharing services and public ownership of many vehicles will replace private ownership.
  • Dying of cancer. Perhaps I’m being too optimistic here, especially given the Trump Administration’s proposal to eviscerate funding for medical and health research, but it appears that genetically tailored cancer treatments and other similar discoveries will make cancer an historical anomaly by the 2040s.  Not too many folks will be nostalgic about it, though.
  • Fighter pilots. With the advent of drone warplanes, it is hard to believe that manned fighters or bombers will exist in the 2040s.
  • Paper forms. I was amazed, when I became a federal government employee in August of 2016, that almost all my in-processing consisted of a stack of paper forms on which I wrote my name, date of birth and social security number.  We’ll still use paper in 2040, but hopefully NOT for in-processing to a new job.
  • Certainly many many of today’s jobs will be automated.  Routine, repetitive, physical labor jobs are the first to automate, and perhaps 50% of the work in today’s economy will be done by robots in 2040.  But few jobs are 100% susceptible to automation, so work is likely to change, rather than completely go away.  Indeed, people may end up doing physical work for enjoyment – carpentry and gardening as examples.
  • Smart phone. The smart phone and the tablet computer have fundamentally changed the character of life and work over the past 15 years.  But the newest versions of these devices are only incrementally better than their predecessors.   I suspect that another personal technology innovation is lurking in the next 25 years.  I know it will have a voice control component (Bixby from Samsung or Alexa from Amazon or something similar).

2001-space-stationOn the other hand, I’m fairly certain some facets of life are unlikely to change significantly over the next 25 years:

  • Space travel (or lack thereof). It is amazing that the last manned moon landing was 45 years ago in December, 1972.  Arthur C. Clarke imagined huge space stations in orbit around the earth, and missions to Jupiter for 2001, wildly optimistic.  Elon Musk, China and others are planning moon and Mars missions.   There will be some such missions, but I think human space travel will still be relatively rare in the 2040s, or relegated to suborbital, expensive, pleasure jaunts for the wealthy.
  • The 20th Century heralded some major innovations in the kitchen.  Indoor plumbing, refrigerators, dishwashers, gas and electric ovens are all innovations which have really occurred in the last 100 years.  Indeed, only the microwave oven and the Keurig coffeemaker are recent innovations of any widespread significance in the kitchen.   Remember the TV dinner?  This quick-to-fix, complete-meal-on-a-tray never really caught on, perhaps because the tray tasted almost as good as the food in it.
  • Artificially intelligent killer robots. Nope, I don’t think the singularity will occur by 2040.  I love the concept of IBM Watson and similar “artificial intelligences”, but think we have a long way to go.  And I’m pretty sure I don’t want to live in a world where machines are more intelligent than humans.

I’d welcome your thoughts on any of this, via comment or email, but particularly any ideas on innovations you see (or don’t see) over the next 25 years.

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