New Guard Education Benefits Rock the Rock

Note: I do not speak for the trees, nor the U.S. Government, its affiliates, or my employer; the standard disclaimers always apply.

I rarely report the news, but this is too important to not talk about.  Yesterday, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson signed Senate Bill 278 providing free college tuition to members of the Arkansas National Guard for their first 120 hours of undergraduate work.  This is a huge benefit, because it not only ensures free education for current Guardsmen, but ensures that they'll be able to transfer most - or all - of their federal education benefits to a spouse or child.

Previously, when I went through my undergraduate degree, the state would provide $2,500 per semester to Guardsmen studying for their first baccalaureate degree; the remaining tuition and fees would need to be paid for by my Montgomery GI Bill (or the newer Post-9/11) benefits, leaving me with a fantastic, free, education but with little left to transfer to my spouse.  New Guardsmen will be able to enlist for six years, obtain their baccalaureate degree (or at least 120 hours of it) from an instate university, with the entire 36 months of their Montgomery GI Bill (or Post-9/11 GI Bill) benefits left to do with what they see fit.

These enlistees can then pursue their Master's Degree, mostly free, or transfer their benefits to a spouse or dependent in exchange for remaining in the military for a certain amount of time.  Service in the Arkansas National Guard has now transitioned from an unbelievable way to bring yourself out of a cycle of poverty - as I did - to an incredible tool to boost entire families; change entire legacies within the State of Arkansas.

Increased education attainment has been linked to numerous benefits for the individual whose obtained the degree, including: 10% less reliance on government aide (i.e. SNAP), $20,000 average increase in salary, 6% decrease in unemployment rates, and increased number of insurance policy purchases and fewer health insurance claims due to chronic illness.  This translates into families who are better able to invest into the local, state, and national economies.

The ability for these families, many of who may lack rapid upward mobility, to be able to jumpstart two and maybe even three careers through reduced or free college is phenomenal for the state. If that doesn't tickle your fancy, then consider this: The Arkansas National Guard's shortfalls in manning cost the state an estimated $37.2 million last year in inefficiencies, retention bonuses, and travel costs associated with an understaffed force.


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Redefining the Cold War

Redefining the Cold War

Consider the following questions:

  • How does a NATO country, like Belgium or Spain, raise its defense spending rapidly over the short term (i.e. 4 years) without incurring the risk associated with research and development or costs associated with increased manpower?
  • How does a businessman-turned-politician drive down the costs of a weapon's program whose costs are "out of control?"
  • How does one make good on promises to "bring manufacturing jobs back home?" to appease Economic Security voters?
  • How does an administration, in dire need of showing strength against a country who allegedly helped it get elected do so without leading to an accidental international incident?

The answer to all of these is through Foreign Military Sales; the one thing that the U.S. government has been decidedly good at over the last several decades.  Currently, the most prolific export of the U.S. military sale market is the F-35 and it has been catapulted into the limelight as a cornerstone in the next Cold War.

Making Sense of November 8th, 2016

Making Sense of November 8th, 2016

Donald Trump was elected as President of the United States on November 8th, 2016 in an upstart victory that, frankly, no one thought possible. As Daniel Estrada describes his feelings prior to November 8th, "I was convinced that Clinton would win not just because all the sources in the media said she would, but because I though [politics as usual] was the dominant position." My assessment that Clinton would win the election was not as thoughtful as Daniel's, but it was just as strong:  Clinton was all-but guaranteed the victory.

The media, after all, had all but promised a Clinton victory, with election predictions giving Donald Trump a 1 to 28.6% chance of securing the necessary electoral votes to win the White House.  So, what in the world happened, and how does it affect life as we know it?  

In order to understand the ramifications of the 2016 election we need to examine three key factors: 

  1. Political Polarization
  2. Historical Context
  3. Words, the best words

Foreign Policy of the 1800s, the Birth of Terrorism, and the Pursuit of Economic Security

Foreign Policy of the 1800s, the Birth of Terrorism, and the Pursuit of Economic Security

Barriers in the name of security, and defiance through bureaucratic incompetence, for the sake of an all too common theme: Economic Security. It's clear that President-Elect Donald Trump was elected with just this goal in mind, and with the 2008 Recession not having been far removed from the election, we can't exactly blame the American population for its vote.

We must be careful that we are not repeating the mistakes of our past. This pursuit of Economic Security cannot, nor should it, usurp the pursuit of minimizing human suffering or promoting the American ideals of equality, democracy, and freedom. Furthermore, as the ongoing War on Terror has all-but definitively proven, combating terror on the scale that we've forced ourselves to runs contrary to this elusive goal.

Five Fantastic Free-to-Play Games

Five Fantastic Free-to-Play Games

It's been two years (!) since I've had a blog post dedicated to video games, and I don't think that I've ever had one dedicated to some of my favorite games: Freebies!  Free games, commonly referred to as "Free-to-Play" and sometimes derisively as "Pay-to-Win" games, have mixed reviews among the gaming community.

It's a fine line for developers to walk without building a game that's too financially weak to have compelling and entertaining content or too greedy to attract gamers who aren't interested in being milked through endless microtransactions.

On Classified E-mails

On Classified E-mails

With the election cycle nearing its conclusion, you have undoubtedly heard a lot about Hilary Clinton (henceforth referred to as her honorary "Secretary") and her damned e-mail scandal.  In fact, you have probably heard about it far more than you would have liked; because, to put it bluntly, if Republicans aren't talking about Benghazi, then they're probably rambling on about this damned scandal.

The problem is, not many people really understand what the scandal is about, or why it's important in the first place. So, I endeavored to read through a few articles on the Internet, and - more importantly - the FBI documents released on the investigation, in an effort to build a primer on the issue and its relevance to the American Citizen.

This is not a political post; it is a technical primer, and as a result, my conclusions at the end of the post will be focused primarily on the ways in which technicians and engineers, like many of the people who read this blog, can learn from this cluster fuck.

Privacy As Currency

Privacy As Currency

Arguments for and against the use of "Big Data" to tailor services and advertisements litter the blogosphere, but one thing is certain: Without this data, many of the tools society depends on would be inconceivable. However, these revolutionary tools aren't without consequences.  In one prolific example, captured by Charles Duhigg in his book The Power of Habit, the national retailer Target predicts the pregnancy of, and sends relevant advertisements to, a teenage girl at such an early stage of her pregnancy that her family, friends, and boyfriend had not yet been informed of the new development. The situation caused such an uproar among privacy advocates and those against general 'creepiness' of the situation, that Target artificially diluted the accuracy of its algorithms in order to prevent alienating future customers. 

While companies like Target grapple with the nuances of using this data, break through technologies have emerged that enable us to turn our unused rooms into mini-hostels, prevent food shortages in Philadelphia, and create insanely popular TV shows like Luke Cage. Unfortunately, these technologies face the same privacy concerns that Target once grappled with, and the privacy debate continues to evolve.  This evolution must continuously be refined as society and technology advance, or the political, legal, and ethical frameworks it helped create will no longer provide much protection. Unfortunately, while this debate has evolved around the safety of consumers and the protection of data, there has been little discussion about the economic security of consumers and their data.

Just as countless technological innovations were made possible throughout human history by capitalizing on previously wasted byproducts, data must one day cease to be treated as happenstance, and be understood for the value it possesses. It's not enough for the government to protect the only physical safety of its citizens, it must enable its citizens to be educated and capable enough to fight for their economic security in light of a booming industry. It's only in doing so that consumers will be able to understand the true cost of their consumerism.


The Accidental World War

The Accidental World War

A recent report by the Washington Post claims that the IC is investigating the possibility of Russian influence in American politics through cyber attacks, propaganda, and disinformation.  While this makes for a fantastic headline, it doesn't really tell us anything.  

However, the existence of the investigation does give us an interesting thought experiment. US interests are routinely being barraged by cyber attacks, like the Sony hack by North Korea in 2014, that are nominally ignored by the US government apparatus and IC alike.  However, there are two key differences between an attack at the electoral system:  First, it is an attack that undermines our ability to practice democracy; and second, it undermines our ability to project military, political, and technological power throughout the rest of the world.

Nationalism: The Rise of the Warrior Class Post-9/11

Nationalism:  The Rise of the Warrior Class Post-9/11

I can no longer open an essay about September 11, 2001 with "We all know where we were that faithful day," because an increasingly large number of individuals are coming of age without having any discernible memory of a life prior to the World Trade Center attack.  This generation, even moreso than mine, has always lived in the Post-9/11 world, and embodies the concept behind my popular essay "Generation at War" better than my generation ever could.  

These individuals lack the pre-9/11 context in which to frame their new world views, and as such will rely heavily on the narrative that generations before them have provided. As a result, it becomes increasingly important that, as we round the fifteenth anniversary of this tragic event, we pause for some introspection in order to better understand the narratives that we are providing.

Free Weekend: Understanding IT & DAISY

Over Labor Day, (4 - 8 September) both Understanding IT and DAISY will be completely and totally free; no strings attached or reviews required.  Simply click on one of those links to download the book to your kindle compatible device!  

[DAISY] was an adorably quirky story, with intelligent themes. It exceeded my expectations and left me smiling, both quite surprising for a short story.
— Brandy

Understanding IT is a "crash course" introduction into everything Information Technology (Databases, Statistics, IT Service Model, etc); aimed for the professional who has to carve out time on the train ride to work, or over lunch. DAISY is a romantic comedy from the point of view of a quirky, romantic, and well-intentioned artificial intelligence, DAISY, who spices up her life of targeted advertising by playing match maker with unsuspecting users.

If you're interested in more of my work, you can check out NASA Down, my first short story, and read up on my upcoming book, Voyager for free. Both stories are realistic science fiction narratives about climate change, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), and the effects these transnational issues will have on humanity.