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I was reading in the New York Times the other day an article entitled Snowden Defends Query to Putin on Surveillance. The article references a question-and-answer session with Russian President Vladimir Putin. In the interview, Snowden shows up unexpectedly and asks President Putin and asks him whether or not Russia engages in the same sort of unlawful surveillance that the NSA participates in.

Putin jockeys with him jokingly for a bit, saying that they’re both intelligence agents, and then denies it. They don’t have the money to do it, and their intelligence gathering is governed by society and by law. In other words, Russian intelligence agencies are more ethical than US intelligence agencies.

American journalists were quick to criticize Snowden. Just how, exactly, did he manage to conveniently show up on this telethon to ask President Putin these questions? The underlying message is that Snowden is being used as a propaganda piece for the Russian government, willingly or unknowingly. While pointing his arrows at the US for intelligence gathering practices he finds unethical (and the morality of which is still ambiguous, at least in the United States [you may disagree with my assessment but there is not universal condemnation]), how can he clearly miss the unethical actions that Russia is taking in Ukraine, first by annexing Crimea and then threatening to invade Ukraine, or at least causing unrest?

In other words, the criticism is that Snowden is picking-and-choosing at whom he feels outrage; it is hypocritical to give the Russian government a chance to showcase their moral superiority at the expense of the US, while ignoring the Russian government’s current transgressions.

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Snowden disagrees with this. He flat out denies it:

Calling Mr. Putin’s answer evasive, Mr. Snowden wrote that he was “surprised that people who witnessed me risk my life to expose the intelligence practices of my own country could not believe that I might criticize the surveillance policies of Russia, a country to which I have shown no allegiance, without ulterior motive.”

He also noted that a Russian investigative journalist, Andrei Soldatov, “perhaps the single most prominent critic of Russia’s surveillance apparatus” described his question as “extremely important for Russia.”

As soon as I read this, many red flags went up in my mind.

For you see, a few years ago I started studying up on deception – how humans do it and how to detect it. There’s no sure-fire way to tell when someone is lying, but with training you can get it right 80-90% of the time (without training you can get it right 53% of the time, roughly equal to a coin flip).

People don’t like to be labeled as deceivers. We have a great need to feel consistent and will often explain things to ourselves in order to convince ourselves of our actions to make that cognitive dissonance go away.

I am not an expert in detecting deception, nor am I a trained analyst. But I have read many books and Snowden’s answers jumped out at me with their obviousness.

What follows is what I think:

  1. The first red flag – Look at the past good things I have done!

    When someone is accused of something and they change the subject by bringing up past examples of good behavior, that is suspicious. This is known as a “convincing statement.”

    For example, suppose the police were interrogating a suspect about breaking-and-entering and he says “You know, this past weekend I was helping out at the homeless shelter.” The idea is to deflect suspicion by creating a halo effect – the tendency for us to believe that good characteristics about a person spills over into all traits about that person. Surely someone who helps out selflessly to assist the homeless would not commit a crime! But that this person helps the homeless does not mean they could not break-and-enter.

    Look at Snowden’s response: he risked his life to expose the intelligence practices of his own country. That was a very ethical thing to do, so why would he do such an unethical thing and appear as a propaganda piece for the Russian government now?

  2. The second red flag – you haven’t seen me do anything

    Snowden issued a non-specific denial: Russia is a country to which he has shown no allegiance. If the “no” statement is delivered in a way that’s open ended but overly specific, that can be a sign of deception. Snowden said he has not shown any allegiance, without ulterior motive. That is subtle; it doesn’t mean he has none, nor has no ulterior motive, only that others can’t see it.

  3. The third red flag – Turning around the accusations

    When someone is caught in a lie, they will often flip around the question and attack the accuser. In this case, Snowden expresses surprise that people who saw him do such a heroic action now can’t believe that he would break from his past ethical actions. In other words, they should be ashamed of themselves for not trusting his character.

  4. The fourth red flag – Redirection with an appeal to authority

    This one is not as strong, but Snowden dismisses the attack against him by appealing to another journalist who has similarly criticized Russia’s surveillance state, and this journalist says that Snowden’s question is very important.

    Snowden’s question is important, yes, but that is not what we are discussing; we are discussing whether or not this question-and-answer session was staged and whether or not Snowden is being used by the Russian government to further its own public relations.

Regardless of what you think of Snowden – that he’s a hero for exposing a corrupt government or that he is a traitor for giving away trade secrets – my view is that his most recent critics for this Putin Q&A session struck a nerve that he had to defend himself. But the way he phrased it indicates to me that he is hiding something. Maybe he realizes now that he initially thought he was asking Putin a hard question but upon further reflection, that he was used to further the Russian agenda and now has to rationalize what he did… but can’t admit it.

Or perhaps I am wrong and he actually means what he says and the red flags I detected are false positives.

I guess that depends on what I want to believe.

Since 2010, my dentist has been trying to convince me to get braces on my teeth. They are not too bad except for four of them, two on top and two on the bottom, that are out of alignment. The one on the bottom is very out of alignment.

I’ve been procrastinating for four years. Why? Well, I might have done it earlier but the idea of having to hold my mouth open for two hours while they put them on has dissuaded me. For you see, in 2010, I went in and had two get a whole bunch of fillings put in. It sucked; my jaw hurt every 15 minutes, I kept gagging and it fills my memories with that. Since then, I have kept putting it off.

I remember in 2011 I decided not to do it because I was getting an operation on my hip for the 3rd time and I decided to do one medical procedure at a time. Well, here I am, three years later, still with crooked teeth.

Your teeth change over time, and I know that I have to get it done eventually. And I’m not looking forward to it. I’m sure my jaw will ache, and I’m sure the procedure will suck.

This had better be worth it.

Earlier this month, the wife and I went to Taiwan to visit her parents, as you can read elsewhere on this blog. Well, the Wednesday after we got back, I had to stay home from work because I was sick.

I don’t take sick days very often, but this time I had to.

For you see, I don’t sleep very well on planes, if at all. I didn’t really sleep on the flight home, and then that night I only slept about four hours (Sunday night). Similarly, Monday night and Tuesday night I only slept about four hours.

But I didn’t feel tired the next day. In fact, I felt pretty good! I wasn’t groggy nor did I fall asleep early in the evening.

But the Wednesday things changed. All the lack of sleep hit me all at once. I got up in the morning and felt like I had the flu. I couldn’t eat breakfast. My head was pounding. I was nauseous. My back hurt. I made the decision to call in sick.

I went back to bed where I slept on and off. It was tough because my back muscles were so sore I couldn’t really get comfortable. My head was pounding. And I didn’t want to eat.

I stayed in bed until about 3 pm when I forced myself to get up and go to the store to pick up some Gatorade on the theory that I was severely dehydrated and that was why I felt so bad. I came home and drank a bottle of it and went back to bed around 5 pm where I remained until the wife returned.

The next day I felt a lot better.

But it was weird, I had never felt that bad after returning from overseas. Normally I feel tired in the evening but not this time. It was like my body stored up all the lousiness I wasn’t feeling and them slammed it into me all at once, telling me to rest.

I did.

But it wasn’t fun.

My cat Ruby has a routine in the evening.

Usually when I get home I walk into the house and she comes downstairs and greets me. She does this by saying “Meow!” several times, over and over. I then go to the fridge and give her some tuna (which she used to love until Whole Foods changed the brand; now she merely likes it).

I make something to eat, wash dishes after and then clean up her litter box. I then go to the couch where I rest my brain by watching videos on the Internet or reading things. Sometimes I do some extra work.

However, Ruby also likes to sleep on me. She’ll wander around for a bit and then sometime between 7:30 pm and 8:30 pm, if I’m on the couch doing nothing, she will jump on the couch and then sleep on me. This is pretty consistent, she does it every day.

She’ll at first be hyper sometimes and try to bite me but after a while she dozes off and I can harass her a little bit. She doesn’t mind, though, she likes to nap. She either lays down by me or right on me.

When she wakes up, she doesn’t jump off me completely. Instead, she goes to the edge of the couch and waits for the wife to get home (playing both sides, she stays near me but is ready to go to the door when the wife arrives). Her timing isn’t bad. About 50% of the time she starts to get ready within 20 minutes of the wife’s arrival.

When her routine is broken, the part about napping on me, she tries to make it up. This is normal on weekends late at night where the cat will walk into our bedroom, jump on the bed, ignore the wife and lay by me. Sometimes she will jump up on my side of the bed, other times she will go around so she can walk over the wife and come to me just to make sure the wife notices.

Believe me, the wife does.

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Ever since I cut back on my consumption of meat starting August 2013, I have dropped 7 lbs. My weight is now pretty consistently around a certain marker and it isn’t going down beyond that. While I also now walk 5+ miles per day, it was the change in diet that has produced the most effects.

The one on the left is me from June 2013 (I don’t have many pictures of me where I’m not wearing a hat) and the other is me from March 2014. This blog distorts the picture and stretches it down so my face looks skinnier than it actually is in real life but you can tell that my cheeks look thinner now than they used to.

So yes, I guess I do look a little different.

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As I mentioned in my previous post, I recently went to Taiwan with my wife to visit her parents and extended family. And as I said in my previous post, I was really underwhelmed by the promise of “life in the cloud”.

However, there is one big advantage – when I take pictures with my phone, it syncs it to my OneDrive (formerly SkyDrive) automatically; that is, whenever there is an internet connection nearby. My phone does not take pictures as good as a digital camera but I really like that it syncs without me having to transfer from the digital card.

So, here are 10 of pictures from Taiwan from my phone:

1. Me outside Din Tai Fung, one of the best dumpling places in the world. I’ve been to the one in Seattle (Bellevue) and now I can say I’ve been to the one in Taipei. If M3AAWG ever has a session in Taipei, someone should sponsor a night-out here!

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2. The fruit in Asia is better than anything in North America. This is Shakya and it is amazing!

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3. In Taitung on the southeast corner of Taiwan is a Museum of Prehistory. It is one of the best natural history museums I have been to. They used to have elephants in Taiwan, something I never knew!

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4. One of the computers I saw running Windows XP with Internet Explorer 6.

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5. One of the theories about the origins of the people populating Austronesia – the islands stretching as far west as Madagascar and as far east as Easter Island, but excluding New Guinea and Australia – is that they originally descended from Taiwan. This large head is not native to Taiwan but instead pays tribute to the Easter Islanders who may be descendants of the Taiwanese.

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6. Did you ever wonder how they grow rice? Below is a rice field. They’re all like this – slightly flooded.

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7. The Pacific coast of Taiwan.

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8. A busy street in Taichung on the west side of the island.

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9. Checking out some of the street markets in Taichung.

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10. Finally, can anyone translate what this says? The app on my phone says it means “F**k capitalism.” Is that true?

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That’s all for now, thanks for viewing.

You can call me cynical but the latest digital revolution – putting your life in the cloud where you interact with it using devices – seems overrated to me.

You know what I mean; if you’re a member of the tech industry, the latest major trend is cloud computing. This is where all of your data is stored in various companies’ cloud computing database and you interact with it through devices like tablets, smart phones and PCs (laptops/desktops, not necessarily Microsoft OS’es). I am exaggerating, but the hype surrounding it makes it sound like this is going to be greatest thing in the history of the computer! Get ready for it! It’s going to be amazing!

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I’m not going into a lot of detail here, but you’re smart readers. You know what I mean. I’ve saving time to get to my real point.

All this talk about life in the cloud… I have real doubts that it in real life it will live up to its greatness.

Why do I say this?

Last week, my wife and I visited her family in Taiwan. She lives here in the US and speaks English but speaks Taiwanese with her parents who can also speak English. They speak English with me, but Taiwanese with each other. Last fall, they retired and moved back to Taiwan where it is cheaper (outside of Taipei where the housing costs are worse than most of the US).

I’ve tried learning a little Taiwanese but it is very difficult. I was also learning Mandarin for a few weeks before I left (also difficult). The problem is:

  1. Unless you spend a lot of time in the country where it is the native language, you will never pick it up well enough to converse.

    They say that for English speakers, Chinese, Japanese and Korean are the hardest languages to learn and it could take around two years.

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  2. There are not a lot of resources to learn it.

    This is important: Taiwanese != Mandarin. They are not the same language and they are not mutually intelligible. Even though Mandarin is the official language of Taiwan, most of the population also speaks Taiwanese. There are a lot of resources (books, learning apps on my tablets, translation sites) available for Mandarin, but not for Taiwanese. The population of Taiwanese speakers is perhaps 20 million which is why there isn’t that much.

  3. Mainland China’s writing system is Simplified Chinese which is what I was learning (I was also trying to learn Mandarin). By contrast, Taiwan uses Traditional Chinese.

    In the 1950’s, mainland China converted Traditional Chinese to Simplified Chinese in order to make it easier for the population to learn. However, Taiwan did not. While some characters are the same, many are different. Thus much of the time I spent learning Simplified Chinese did not help that much in Taiwan.


My wife, in-laws and other members of her extended family were nice enough to speak English to me, but with each other they spoke Taiwanese.

They say that communication is 7% verbal and 93% non-verbal (part body language and part tone-of-voice). Well, let me tell you, that’s completely false. I am good at observing body language and when my relatives were talking to each other I absolutely did not understand 93% of what was going on.

Perhaps if you are observing others this quote is true, but once you are part of the conversation and seated at the table, that 7% verbal communication is the most important part by far! I could follow basically nothing of what was being said. Sure, I can tell the emotions of what’s going on – sometimes funny, sometimes concern, sometimes curiosity. But that’s a far cry from taking part in a conversation. I know that most of the chatting is about regular family things – who’s working where, who’s neglecting what, who’s being irresponsible (you know, gossip – the thing we all do yet all say we revile), but I was not apart of what was being discussed. I could only sit and watch.

Out on the streets, I could tell what things were:

  • I could tell what food stores were
  • I could tell the street signs
  • I understood the food vendors

But in terms of advertisements and exact messages, I could read almost nothing. All of the symbols in Mandarin I knew already didn’t show up often except for water, 水 (that sign was everywhere and I never figured out why); fish, 魚; beef, 牛; meat, 肉; man, 男; woman, 女; and good, 好. But this amounted to 1% of all the symbols I saw. Imagine reading this blog post and understanding only 1% of all the words.

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And therein lies my disconnect.

I expected to be able to understand very little conversation or read very little. Yet I had this vague hope in my mind that technology would help me. Why did I think this? Because somehow I had the idea that life in the cloud changed everything! Why would I think that? It’s not a conscious decision, it’s something I had to have picked up somewhere and it must be from advertising and the reinforced message of having lived and worked in tech for 10 years.

Yet technology was basically useless.

For one thing, my phone’s data plan works in the United States only. If I try to use data overseas, I get charged a ridiculous amount. Can I afford it? Yes. Will I pay for it? NO!

For you see, even though it’s not logical, I am psychologically averse to going through the trouble of getting additional communication devices (phones) for something I use so infrequently (going overseas). I know there are ways around this, but there are deep seated cognitive “defects” in my brain for loss-aversion that prevent me from doing it or trying to work around it.

It seems that technology’s “Life in the cloud is great” belief assumes you have Internet connectivity everywhere. Well, I don’t. And if you don’t, then what?

Secondly, even if you have a translation app like I did on my phone that works offline, it isn’t very good for east-Asian languages. Using the translator app on my phone it has Norwegian, Russian, Swedish, Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish, French, Italian, German and Simplified Chinese available for download. As I explained above, Simplified Chinese != Traditional Chinese. I tried using it anyways and the result was worthless. There wasn’t a single instance of me pointing my phone at a line of text and having it translate something intelligible back to me. It was all a bunch of gobble-de-gook.

Every. Single. Time.

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There was a time when I thought that the major languages like the ones that are available for offline download were the most important ones. I still think that, but the smaller languages are also still very important for two reasons:

  1. Communication – not everybody can speak the major languages.

  2. Cultural preservation – I don’t think it’s a good thing to be losing smaller languages. Cultures are important, language is one of those things that preserves it and losing them loses a cultural identity. I don’t think that people moving to the main languages of a couple dozen worldwide is a good thing.

Basically, if I want to learn a foreign language and culture, then I need to learn the language and culture. I can take a class, buy some books, learn on the web, buy software like Rosetta Stone, download some apps, and converse with native speakers. There’s really no way around it (short of having a translator). In other words, I need to do this the old fashioned way.

But here’s the point – I don’t need my life in the cloud for that. Sure, the cloud helps. I downloaded a bunch of apps onto my iPad from the Cloud. There are ways to use Skype to help practice with native speakers. I can browse Amazon book reviews to see which ones are the best ones for learning languages.

But all of that stuff existed before the “life in the cloud revolution” took place. And now that it’s being sold as the next big thing, I didn’t find that it helped me in my real life for something new. This causes me a lot of cognitive dissonance and personal conflict because I work in an industry that is trying to get everyone to move to the Cloud, and I am paid to sell that vision.

I guess that’s the disconnect I’m having a hard time articulating. It’s true that maybe I’m probably doing things wrong. Sometimes I feel like I’m too dumb to use technology the most efficient way possible.

I wonder if anyone else feels the same way?

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