Reduce clutter. Keep a clear picture. Stay sensitive: Net Neutrality

 

The net neutrality fallacy again rears its empty head

 

When I was a 23 year old kid in the Navy, I heard a lot ‘Navy-isms’ spoken in ‘Navese’ that I always thought were funny. Recently, I recalled one of these in the light of current events. I had a Warrant Officer in my department named CWO Fritz. He was the System Test Officer, (we called him STO, pronounced ‘stow’) and he had the responsibility to run periodic tests on all the equipment in the Combat Information Center to ensure that each weapon system component could function as a unified Combat System. This included weekly simulations of target engagements under different scenarios.

He was Irish, a former enlisted Fire Controlman and he didn’t take any crap. He also didn’t like Officers touching equipment they had no business touching. It was like he had this philosophy that while everyone had a responsibility, the scope of that responsibility should be limited as it was defined. As long as everyone minded their scope, the teamwork part of unit cohesion would always pull us through. I stood a few watches with him in Combat. He stood watch underway as the Tactical Action Officer. Most Officers standing TAO were content to let us Spy Guys run our gear unabated, simply acknowledging the information we gave. Their concern was a clear picture that was free of clutter.

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STO was different. When we were deployed in the Northern Arabian Gulf with the Lincoln Carrier Strike Group, he would come over and want to look at the equipment settings, and ask why we had them set the way we did. We discussed scenarios just like we did every week in-port. He talked about the importance of the Radar sensitivity settings in this theatre. He did this, I assumed, because he had more than a just functional understanding of the importance of the sensors. While other officers complained about the occasional clutter, STO seemed to appreciate frequent operator tweaking, making adjustments in a dynamic environment always looking for the best balance between a clear picture and best sensitivity. Keeping the clutter at bay, while still being sensitive to a real threat.

Having the initiative to obtain competent understanding of how things work at the component level and taking initiative to understand how that component functions within a system is something a lot of people do not have.

The research on Net Neutrality that I have conducted over the past month and a half, brought me to the conclusion that many folks are content to believe they are getting screwed over by their ISP when it comes to data throttling claims by Ron Hastings and David Schaeffer, CEO’s of Netflix and Cogent respectively. Even though the Net Neutrality argument is anchored in 2003, and realistically heard in a 2007 peer-to-peer throttling case, it has been applied to the current situation of Title 2 and the Telecommunications Act. Especially in this ‘net-neutrality’ debacle, that has been misdirected and used as a campaign for new legislation. It’s campaign consists of demonization and glossed as packet discrimination or, ‘Packet-ism’, if you will. As if some social injustice is being actively wrought against data packets by the evil last-mile ISP, judged simply by their origin, and with the purpose of making the internet speeds of the young and poor as slow as possible.

Then it gets compounded by terms of vilification like ‘monopoly’ and ‘Big-Business’. All of the wonderful things certain ideological components of our society like to use to piss people off. Granted, the issue is obfuscated on all sides. But just like all things in life: a little research and some commonsense thinking should allow you to find a clear picture and reduce the clutter, while still being sensitive to detect the real threat.

There is one thing I heard the STO say (I will get to it in just a moment) that was so prophetic in a completely different context 20 years after I heard him say it that I chuckle and stand amazed at the same time. When a decision is made that would purposefully degrade one part of a system because of a perceived condition, just to satisfy the less important but expedient issue, it may prevent you from having cognizance of the real threat. As the Radar System Controller, I was one of 5 people responsible for making sure we knew what was out there flying around. Aegis is a Primary Air Defense responsibility. We had a Carrier to protect. So in the event that an in-bound missile or aircraft threat becomes a reality, we needed to make sure that SPY (the radar element and heart of the Aegis Weapon System) could see it, we could identify it, track it and kill it if needed.

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Operating a radar in an environment like the Northern Arabian Gulf with the above responsibility is no small task. Doing it for 6 months away from home brings a dynamic that is unlike anything a common workplace environment could ever experience. The environment outside the ship produced a lot ‘clutter’. The radar was so sensitive it would detect everything. Changes in atmospheric density, sand clouds…things that aren’t inbound missiles or aircraft. This clutter would look like a bunch of tracks headed in different directions and would pop up out of no where. When tracks weren’t identified, consoles responsible would buzz.

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The rAdar operators are responsible for what shows up on those displays. This information also gets broadcast to the other ships in the Carrier Strike Group. Because no one wants a bunch of clutter on the display, it puts the responsible person, the kid in the RSC (Radar System Controller) chair in a hot spot. In the event of an environment where atmospheric conditions were poor he could continue to do his job and manage the Radar in a way that would best detect an inbound missile threat. This might be inconvenient because of the clutter that also gets detected with increased sensitivity. People start asking questions, inquire about the job you are doing. Questioning the maintenance condition of the radar. Things one would take quite personally considering the magnitude of the reality that its your job to prevent people from dying in a missile or aircraft attack.

Or, to satisfy the need for some officer to be ‘clutter free’, we could inject enough STC (Sensitivity Time Control) into the Radar return, that you could create a ‘zero clutter’ environment. The consequence of this is a reduced detection opportunity. Meaning, that while your picture may be free of clutter, it may also mean it is free of aircraft and missile threats. That can be good or bad, depending on whether or not one exists. Purposeful degradation of the detection environment has its purpose, but the ability to detect the threat is paramount, not a clutter free environment where no questions are being asked. This was explained to me in a…not so eloquent but incredibly effective way by the STO on a mid-watch we shared:

A screwed pooch cannot be unscrewed. So you better make damn sure that if you want to **** * *** on purpose, you have thought out the entire process.

It was a clear and on point message that I quickly understood, and remember to this day. Not just because it was funny, in a crass way, but it was absolutely a true statement.

Why this matters

Here is how that translates into today’s Net Neutrality debate: It’s possible to be misled into adjusting what you pay attention to, based on what you hear or read in headlines. You may read something that sounds good on the surface. It may be compelling enough for you to make a decision on where you stand. But it may simply be someone else’s uninformed opinion, and to purposefully degrade your own perception by not digging a little deeper into the opposing view can leave you unable to perceive the real threat. Just because it’s the easy and convenient option it may not be the wisest choice. The consequence of your choices may be difficult if not impossible to recover from. The good thing is there are some things you can do to make sure you are getting a clear picture, free of clutter and base your decision on that.

Reject the arguments obfuscated by the red herring

For some reason, the president believes an ISP wants to choke a high school kid blog

Contrary to presidential belief, ISP’s are not out to choke the bandwidth of some kids blog. This is such a foolish way to attempt to use children as a tool to manipulate people, and the debate. Clutter like this is usually generated by those devoid of an informed opinion and would rather use the ‘victimization of children’ by ‘rich people’ who have ‘big businesses’, to try and piss you off. Other clutter you will hear in the realm of the last-mile ISP are, ‘monopoly’, ‘Big Business’, and ‘Rich people’. Stay sensitive enough to detect this fallacy, but reject the premise.

Resist the temptation to be content with your current level of knowledge

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Strive to learn just a little bit more. Be diverse in your choice of news on the subject. Frequent the blogs of technology enthusiasts who have more concern for the state of the technology than the Technology of the State.

Accept that there is no one person that knows everything, especially you

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In my interactions with people on this subject, I have a high level of respect for those who will admit what they do not know, rather than guess or BS. The smartest people will admit they don’t know every-frickin-thing. While being well researched may not make you intelligent, it does make you informed. While you may not understand the science behind the tech, you will understand the function of the politics surrounding the debate. That my friends, will make you better equipped to make a decision than the majority of the people in Washington.

Dig deep in your research. Take the time to investigate both sides of the debate. If that does not interest you, or you simply don’t have the time to complete that kind of tasking, don’t be afraid to stay neutral on net-neutrality. Admit that you don’t have enough information to make an informed decision if the topic ever comes up in a social setting. You may be lucky enough to be in the company of someone who is, and learn something new.

Remember: Reduce clutter. Keep a clear picture. Stay sensitive so that you can detect the real threat:

Ignorance.

 


Also published on Medium.

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