Preventing the next massacre with technology?

The recent shooting at the Robb Elementary School at Ulvade Texas, where an 18 year old boy shot dead 19 children and injured 2 adults has left us all wondering once again, what would it take for America to get over its gun problem. If you haven’t heard about the tragedy (or can’t recall because you are reading this long after this post was first published), check this timeline.

Today we woke up to another shooting. This time in a hospital in Tulsa Oklahoma. Which got me thinking. One tragic news story has news outlets looking for others in the similar vein. So yes we are going to hear more stories about shootings in America and around the world in the next few weeks or months. It is probably possible for tech to filter out these stories. But wearing blinders to the problem isn’t the solution.

As a person interested in technology, I felt that there were some obvious solutions to help prevent such heinous crimes. So to start understanding why these hadn’t been implemented I first had to understand the issue. A little internet research about the tech lead me down the rabbit hole, to the United Nation’s Office On Drugs and Crime’s global study on Homicide. You can check out the executive summary here.

Key facts that stood out for me:

  1. While the American homicide rate is higher than other countries, Europe’s homicide rate has been declining by 63% since 2002.
  2. Deaths in homicides far outweigh the death by terrorist activities, however deaths connected to organised crime has been approximately equal to all the loss of life caused by armed conflicts across the world combined.
  3. The US amounted for 37% of the global total of intentional homicide.
  4. Yet paradoxically while the national homicide rate rose by 2% between 2003 and 2016, the homicide rate in the large cities have dropped by 29%. Indicating that homicidal violence is on the increase outside the cities.
  5. Oceania had the lowest rate of intentional homicide.
  6. Firearms were involved in more than half of all homicides worldwide in 2017.
  7. In Northern United States and Canada a majority of homicides were perpetrated with sharp objects.

I think it has been quite evident that with easy access to guns and gun ownership you see a proportionate rise in homicides across the world. Which makes me a little happy to know that gun ownership in India is such a complex affair and that procuring guns isn’t an easy task either. You can’t walk into a shop and buy a gun after all.

We still remember a few years back the Christchurch mosque shooting incident in Newzealand in 2019. Fifty One people were killed and another fifty injured. Which was very unusual for the country that had few gun related mass shootings. What made this tragedy different though was what came in its wake. Within a month there was an immediate ban on semi-automatic weapons and assault rifles. Current owners had to trade in their guns. That is remarkable in contrast with the United States, where there has been little reform in gun laws for over 25 years!

So let’s say you weren’t so fortunate to live in a gun regulated environment. Could technology help? How can technology make schools safer. Is there anything from popular fiction and tv that could inspire change in gun ownership and usage? These were the thoughts I had when I sat down to pen this short article.

An AI heads up

If you are a tech enthusiast you might have come across one of many AI enabled retail solutions that use in-store cameras that identify when someone picks up a product from a shelf. The tracking and recognition system is so good that it can be trained to distinguish between different products just by their packaging. Imagine you grabbed a bunch of chocolate bars off the shelf. The Deep Learning image and object recognition system can tell if you picked up a Mars, Snickers or Bounty, from across the room. This is the very the tech behind driverless cars avoiding objects.

It seemed to me as a no-brainer then that a warning system could be built using AI that used Deep Learning algorithms to identify a person holding a gun or knife and trigger an alarm. Or even lock doors. This idea is hardly new or revolutionary. Some research on Google turned up multiple research thesis on this. A little more digging and you are likely to come across companies that are beginning to sell customisable off the shelf solutions that do just this.

Key challenges:

  1. Architecture – depending on the layout of the school you would need to place IOT cameras at the entrance and across common thoroughfares.
  2. Real time recognition – the processing of live-feed data needs to be instantaneous for these systems to work. Which means there is going to be a certain amount of server side computing necessary to make this work.
  3. Cost – Lets face it the government is going to have to subsidise the cost of this implementation to get it off the ground for those schools that are in the suburbs that don’t have deep pockets but are likely targets.

In-built Gun controls

The premise of gun ownership and gun laws in the United States revolves around personal protection. Yet mass shootings are never singular. There is always more than one victim. What’s more, sometimes we hear stories of mass shootings perpetrated by adolescents using their parents guns. So what if we could have smart guns that could understand context. Guns that would require finger print verification to be activated. Or some other such check that recognises the owner of the gun. Sure its an idea straight out of Judge Dredd, but perhaps it has some warrant to it.

Key Challenges:

  1. It only works if you get rid of existing guns. Due to the sheer volume of existing guns there are bound to be ways to procure them.
  2. There is going to be a lot of political push-back.

The truth of this tale is technology can only do so much.

In the end, I realise that while technology might be able to provide warnings, at the end of the day it is the attitude towards gun ownership and usage is what needs to shift. If New Zealand could do it, so could other countries. Canada just stepped in and froze its gun ownership.

Yet it’s not just the politicians that need to make policy. The news media and the entertainment media, with the likes of Hollywood, need to play their part too. For example, when reporting on the recent massacre, I was appalled that many news outlets compared the shooting to an earlier tragedy at Sandyhook. While true, the problem with that is it sets a kind of benchmark for the deranged mind to want to exceed in future scenarios. Which could be entirely avoided without drawing such comparisons in the public domain. If you compare popular crime shows from England with those of the United States, the depiction of the amount of gun play is very evident.

Till we collectively make an active choice to downplay the narrative behind gun ownership and the power that gun owners wield, I hope that big tech firms step up with affordable solutions to identify gun wielding individuals.

At the same time I realise that for every technological innovation that becomes widespread there will also be those who find ways to circumvent and hack these solutions and that knowledge will be easily available online. That just happens to be the circular nature of the evolution of technology.

The rabbit hole of rejuvenating old hardware

The beginner’s guide to old tech’s new problems

If there is one thing the lockdown reinforced, it is the need for ample amount of computing power at home and a reliable internet connection. Yet when the economy is turned all tipsy turvy, and retail is on lockdown you aren’t going to be running to the stores to get a brand-new laptop. No. You need to look at what you have and make the best of it. As a person interested in computers, there is a good mix of not-so-new and old pieces of tech lying around my house to enable that. Half of these ageing wonders decided to give Murphy’s Law a run for its money and started staggering to a standstill or conking out altogether. Case in point was my hand-built, ‘assembled’ PC . Which was followed by an ageing laptop from HP that I had bought as a replacement to my trusty college IBM Thinkpad (yes it was an IBM, not a Lenovo, the good old days). The PC’s plight was it refused to start. The laptop had Windows 7 (which is no longer supported) and was suffering from freezing up in the hot Madurai summer. It was time to look under the hood.

When it comes to rejuvenating old tech a good reason to do so is that what were very rare and expensive parts may now be cheaper and easy to find. The caveat however is if its too old and rare its still going to be as expensive as it was when you bought your old hardware. New hardware brings with it different kind of components that often are incompatible with new hardware. It’s all a balancing act.

Rejuvenating a ten-year-old PC

Our main home PC is a labour of love, birthed over an entire day in a tiny shop tucked away towards the end of Lamington Road in Mumbai some 11 years ago. This was the first time we had bought an assembled PC having owned a Zenith PC and a HP before that. At the time it was pieced together, it was cutting-edge tech on a budget. Anyone could tell it was not your average PC in a box, with a mix of quality mid-tier components that maximized our budget. But since its birth, like many assembled PCs, this machine has had its innards replaced every now and then. Like having to swap the Asus motherboard (that lasted a year) for a more reliable Gigabyte one. Trading in the XFX GEForce card for an AMD Radeon and even adding additional hard drives, RAM and such. What brought this machine to its knees after years of service however was a combination of a failure of two key components. One I believe was the 550-Watt power supply from Cooler Master, which according to a wire tester is not able to deliver power from its -5V rail. The other issue was the CPU fan seemed to be failing. It just wouldn’t spin up and the machine would automatically shut down to protect the CPU before the boot sequence had finished.

To give you an idea about how old this PC is, this machine is powered by an Intel Core 2Duo Quadcore processor. The RAM frequency is 800HZ and yes it still has a DVD drive. Yes, it is ancient. While I might be a tad sentimental over it, it is still sufficiently powerful enough to run basic tasks on Windows Ten. Trying to repair a machine so old is however challenging. Apparently, you cannot get a fan replacement for this particular processor / motherboard. Why? Because the LGA 775 Intel processor sockets were succeeded by new ones that have a 3mm difference where the fan screws would fix around the CPU socket. Three millimeters makes a lot of difference unfortunately!

Scouring Amazon for days finally turned up an Antec A30 fan with heat sink that would allegedly fit. And it did. So now the PC does power on – albeit only with a certain number of USB cables plugged in. It still doesn’t have enough power it would seem. A new power unit might be the likely fix. Though I remain a little uncertain if it could be a USB issue. Though my additional USB hubs do seem to have the same issue as those soldered onto the board.  I had picked another Antec product, but that PSU went out of stock. And I wasn’t certain I wanted to shell out for another Cooler Master since I wouldn’t be using this product that long. Though the demand caused by Covid-19 seems to have brought both brands prices closer. My Cooler Master power unit has been flawless till now. And so has the case which is made by the same brand. The one exception being that some of the plastic tabs have now become brittle and break. If I am building a new PC, I will turn back to Cooler Master most likely.

Upgrading a HP Pavillion DV6

The HP Pavillion laptop was a different story altogether. It needed more RAM and a fresh new battery in the hardware department. It was simple enough to secure these from Amazon. A task that would be almost impossible if I had had to resort to trawling through brick and mortar establishments in person on Lamington Road to find the matching legacy parts.

The final touch was to shift to Windows 10. This is where I hit a hurdle. HP Pavillion DV-6 laptops come with what was called switchable graphics. Two GPUs that you could select from. An Intel for power efficient usage and an AMD for gaming. Windows 10 pegged this AMD processor as legacy hardware and refuses to support it, though it recognized the card. However, it does load default drivers for this card, which causes Windows 10 to start behaving erratically. Causing boot loops and sudden crashes. Solving this involved experimenting with a registry fix that didn’t work and trying to disable the device – which caused the Intel GPU to also stop working. The workaround I achieved was doing yet another reinstall of Windows 10 and before the AMD drivers were installed for the first time – to disable the card (which showed as an unknown device) and update only the Intel drivers. So far this works as I don’t expect the laptop will be used for gaming or any GPU heavy tasks moving forward.

From tech shopping on Lamington Road to amazing deals on Amazon

This whole experience has made me think about how I would have solved such problems before and the key differences today. I am now no-longer based in Mumbai so Lamington Road is no longer an option. And even if it was, Lamington Road isn’t the perfect place to shop for when it comes to legacy tech. For those of you who haven’t been there, Lamington road is a street in South Mumbai that reeks of old-world dilapidation but is a labryinthe of technology vendors. While the main thoroughfare is jam packed with vendors selling PC parts, if you venture within its by-lanes you discover a maze of retailers selling every kind of hardware item you could conceive off and more. While you might have two or three favoured retailers squashed into the main road it takes a lot of research walking the road to understand who is overpriced and who is ripping you off. If you’ve ever shopped at Lamington road you will know that the shops operate on a networked intercom system where one retailer will call up another retailer to inquire if they have the part you are looking for and then act as a middle man to make some profit and buy the part for you. This entire process results in you having to wait for the part for quite a while. The benefit of this system though is you can choose to shop at say three key retailers and get access to almost everything you could possibly need through them. And these three retailers are responsible for the warranties of the products that you buy.

Today everything is different. Even if it weren’t for the Covid-19 lockdown, my only recourse would be to turn to Amazon. And buying obscure parts there is just fantastic! Even in Singapore when I had to get my laptop fixed at Sim Lim Square I was told it would be nearly impossible to get a matching RAM stick to upgrade it. Amazon in contrast had options of various known brands having stock of this legacy part for me to choose from. Products are delivered to your doorstep. One wonders with all these lockdowns whether such e-commerce can closely marry the Lamington Road network experience to an e-commerce platform. This already happens to an extent in Amazon, it’s just that the user journey is quite different. But the benefit is that you can at a click of a button literally scour every shelf in every online IT retail shop in India and find what you are looking for. And that is a PC hardware dream.

A point of view for technology & you in 2019

The year is nearly over and we stand on the threshold of a new one, wondering what can we really expect headed our way in our lives and in the world of technology? 2018 has been another interesting year in technology, but not quite an extraordinary one. Small improvements, not too many game changers. Apple hit all the right notes at its heavily scripted annual key notes. Predictably so. To the extent I wonder if they will ever be able to sound different, invent a new presentation format or keep what they are working on under wraps before a launch ever again. You know. Surprise us. I’d wager good on a guess that these so called product leaks just could be the marketing strategy you were searching for. But I digress.

You are going to be assaulted with a slew of articles that tell you about their predictions about how technology will make 2019 the best year for you yet (pun intended). So this article isn’t going to quite be a prediction list. Rather a quick review of a few exciting things I discovered and a point of view for the New Year.

Interesting reads related to technology

I had quite a bit of time to spare in 2018. I immersed myself in a few tech related reads on the way, while upskilling myself in other areas. I was lucky in my choices. Each one a page turner in itself. Though to be honest I had starting read one of these years earlier. We spend most of the year doing tactical stuff, focused on campaigns or product launches. It was refreshing therefore to find The Economist’s ‘Mega Tech Technology in 2050’, an excellent snapshot of technology you need to keep an eye on when thinking about big picture for the next thirty years. What makes this read stand apart is the wide range of industries it covers. ‘Now for then, how to face the Digital Future Without Fear’ by Ben Hammersley reads like a text book on critical tech and concepts in digital. Even though it was written in 2012, it still stays relevant to date. Just look at how he calls out Bitcoin before it became such a craze. Finally Jason Schreier’s Blood Sweat and Pixels was something I chanced upon accidentally at an airport book shop. A sneak-peak into the multi-billion dollar game industry works and how Indie developers make their mark. This book exposes that Game Development is quite a messy industry to be in (seeming more challenging than advertising), but worth every pixel if the stories are to be believed.

Tech themed fiction

If you are more of a fiction fan, I’d suggest Change Agent by Daniel Suarez and Ready Player One for all you 80s fans (better than the movie for sure). When it comes to movies and TV we had a slew of technology themed stories that were told. On top of the list according to the Google Search Trends for the year is the futuristic thriller Altered Carbon. Although I did watch an episode or two, it still remains on my to-complete list. On the other hand, with the world seething with Facebook every other day, you have serials like God Friended Me – an old tale retold, with a contemporary social networking twist for a new generation. Lastly while I haven’t watched it yet, Ralph Breaks the Internet is on my movies to watch in 2019. What were your favourite technology related reads in 2018? If you have a recommendation do comment below.

A fresh point of view for the year ahead

So what do I dare predict for 2019, looking at where we stand at the end of 2018?

I would say the last year has definitely seen Instagram come to the fore. While we haven’t left Facebook in the dust quite yet, there’s definitely a change in how we use social media. The short video story in the vertical format seems to have been mastered by most brands I followed over the year. On a personal level, you’ve probably been provided a sneak peek into lives from your friends and favourite artists, celebrities or influencers view. ‘The Point of View’ (POV) that has become the new normal. People are more brazen about putting more of their personal life online. Which is kind of ironic and paradoxical with all the privacy concerns about Facebook.  Think about all the Instagram and Facebook stories that you watched across this year. It’s what we consume on a daily basis. Stories of friends who share their POV while on vacation, at the dining table, while hitting the gym or doing Yoga. I’ve seen so many shots of legs and feet that makes me wonder two things. Firstly why aren’t they walking talking ambassadors for footwear brands? Shoe sales must be out of this world! And are we nurturing a generation glued to their phones, head-down immersed and capturing the world through their phone, while perhaps not fully appreciating the experience that surrounds them by living in the moment. I pointed this out to a friend who was well documenting their holiday that she should stop to live the moment without her mobile. Her reply was that I wasn’t to be worried and that the stories were ‘latergrammed’. Oblivious of the fact that even if that were the case, a considerable time was taken to film the moment and POV for posterity sake, instead of enjoying the moment for what it was. Are we too quick to take snap decisions and reach for our phones.

At the same time there are few brands that truly master the POV experience though. Sure 2017 saw a good use of 360 videos, but that’s not what I was talking about. The question for 2019 as a marketer is will we shift from living other people’s ‘idealised’ lives from their point of view to living ‘idealised’ brand experiences? It’s happening already on Instagram with brands like CNN Travel tying up with travel influencers and pages like Beautiful Destinations getting their team brand sponsors. But there isn’t any one brand that captures this first person POV from a personal point of view and memorably makes it, its own. The closest I’ve seen is airlines like Etihad’s with walkthroughs of their new planes with celebrity endorsers like Nicole Kidman. But this isn’t quite what we are talking about. Nor are unboxing videos. What we are talking about is somewhere in between about how you as a person would experience your favourite brand. A view to ponder over as we look to the brand new year. For brands. For you.

A slice of celebrity life

The one influencer that I am sure you watched this year was a celebrity who we have come to love for his wit and his action movies. Yup that’s right. It’s hard to have missed Will Smith’s antics on Youtube this year. Jumping out of a helicopter into the Grand Canyon on your birthday anyone? He is truly the first celebrity personality whose antics I would consider watching on Instagram.

Like they say. One last thing for the year

What I do hope to see in the New Year is affordable technology aimed at the disenfranchised. The millions of refugees in camps around the world, trying to find their place in a new world. From war torn zones to refugee families in new cities that struggle to accommodate them. To victims of natural disasters. Technology can make a difference to them. If it is affordable and accessible and easy to deploy. It might not be something that you or I are going to use in our day to day lives, but it is very likely to be something you or I take for granted. Yet something inaccessible to millions who are in refugee camps or disaster rescue sites. It is this area, rather than what we do next on social media or the next digital trends that will make a difference for society at large.

To all my followers and friends a Happy 2019 to you all. May you live it large and less on social. 😉 


I just finished reading these two books from Daniel Suarez. Daemon was a recommended read to me by an ex-colleague of mine, who gave me the book as an audio book. Audio books somehow take more time for me to read and I tend to listen to them at night till I am really sleepy that I dose off. This makes me having to do a bit of back tracking the next day. Such was the case with Daemon that I finally decided to get my hands on the book. The result was so enthralling that I had to read the follow up of Daemon – Freedom, just to see how the story ends.
Daemon is a technological thriller where a person creates this computer program which basically takes over the world, after the person who created it is dead. Without giving much away, this is the looking glass for what would happen to our ‘digital lives’ if suddenly it was hijacked by someone or something. What makes it different from the movie ‘The Net’ is the way this has been pieced together. We are all growing more and more dependent on technology day by day. Take shop keepers for example. Even some of the smallest of shops here in India tally up their bill totals using a calculator. Daemon weaves a murder mystery into something bigger, touching upon a variety of topics including global politics, cutting edge technology a bit of romance and much more. All in all a very nice read.

Touching technology

Social networking awakens Egypt

Technology continues to touch lives and change them. We woke up today to news that Egypt’s struggle had finally born fruit. President Hosni Mubarak had finally been overthrown and the military was placed in control for the time being. From a technological viewpoint the role of social media amongst the chaos in Egypt is interesting. The web is rife with stories how Social Media sites like Facebook and Twitter was used to spread news about and coordinate the first demonstrations on January 25th.  Not only did the medium help convey news about the unravelling events, but even set the tone of reportage. Though not the starting point, the medium definitely acted as an accelerant. By the time the Egyptian government pulled the plug on the internet, it left no doubt that once again digital tools had been used to mobilise people.

This is certainly nothing new. We have seen time and again how normal people have become reporters by using services like Twitter and Facebook in times of crisis. With the increase in popularity of smart phones and their dropping prices, this is not really a surprise. Most of these phones come bundled with software that allows you to connect to these services conveniently.

But this is just one example. There are countless more. Everywhere you look you see new technology slowly and surely becoming indispensable. The cover story of the latest Economist issue talks about how great strides are being made in the realm of 3D printing. Think of the possibilities years down the line if this technology was available in our homes. Kids will be creating amazing 3D projects at home, things we can never imagine. On the other hand if perfected it would mean anyone could create anything they wanted. The entire concept of the product as we know it could be very different. Product designs could be purchased online and then printed out in working form from your printer. Sounds like science fiction today.  And the cynics would point out that if price was not a factor, this technology would probably lead to rampant piracy here in India. To think of it, one would probably be able to print out a synthetic gun. The ramifications are endless. This blog is the next step to my free blogger blog wackywildweb, and continues to delve into how technology touches our lives. This blog will also synergise my other interests like advertising and photography as it develops. Stay tuned. Enjoy the read.