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Letters to the Editor: Exploding Guns, Future Bots, and War Porn

Read the mail.

by Brian Merchant
Nov 20 2015, 9:35pm

Image: US Army

Big week here—we published a major investigation into Pentagon's exploding guns, debuted our very own future-predicting twitter bot, and ran a bunch of stories that proved adept at kicking up conversation. (Also, lots of people wanted to know where they could get the $10 smartphone our tech news editor Nicholas Deleon flagged, too.)

Our story about the Pentagon's habit of shipping out defective guns to soldiers, where they still sometimes explode in their hands, was a year in the making, and drew on scores of FOIA documents, public records, and veteran testimonies. We heard from a number of vets who knew first-hand exactly what Damien Spleeters, the reporter on the story, was revealing to the public.

Meanwhile, Terraform, Motherboard's speculative fiction section, launched @TheseFutures, a twitter bot that draws on the crowd, famous ponderings, and crude AI to predict the future. We got some responses to the project, on Twitter, naturally, which we'll share below. Without further ado, to the mailbag:


RE: When Big Guns Go Down

Well written article. I am a former Marine that was with FASTCo. PAC and 3/1 1stMarDiv. It is not surprising to hear about a lack of inspection and lack of oversight. DLA has always been their own worst enemy. From a training perspective they used the cartoons allot, but using them to spot crap parts is bad. We had issues with M203's in Desert Storm. I am curious if the M240 has had issues also.

RE: The WorldStar of War Porn

I enjoyed the piece on War Porn by Christopher Looft. As someone who underwent Edna Foa's questionable therapy and was the worse for it, I find the idea of her skepticism about vets watching war porn somewhat humorous.

A great many veterans have been injured by Foa's therapy and some clinicians have even gone so far as to equate her therapy with torture. It is rather ironic that when vets choose to revisit old memories on their own initiative and at their own pace that such visits would be deemed "sickening" by Dr Foa. More than a few veterans, myself included, find her therapy, upon which she has established a lucrative academic career, sickening.

Here's a piece I wrote on the subject for the NY Times:

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/01/17/af...

Best,

David Morris

Re: The Next Gold Rush Will Be 5,000 Feet Under the Sea

Dear Editor,

Thank you for your article on deep-sea mining, an important emerging issue that we at the Center for Biological Diversity have been watching closely with great concern. Solwara I and other mining projects have been moving forward without enough public or scientific scrutiny. That's why your reporting is so valuable and it's why these projects are so risky. As deep-sea scientist Cindy van Dover noted in your article, these ecosystems and mineral deposits were only recently discovered and scientists have barely begun to study deep-sea ecosystems and their role in the marine food chain. But what we do know suggests that strip-mining the seafloor and creating massive sediment plumes could have far-reaching impacts to everything from phytoplankton to migrating whales. Mining doesn't belong in the ocean—a gold rush in the deep-sea will ruin the richness of delicate marine ecosystems.

Emily Jeffers
Staff Attorney, Oceans Program
Center for Biological Diversity

Brian Merchant, senior editor adds: A spokesman for the company the article was focused on, Nautilus Minerals, told me in an email that the story was "pretty fair and even-handed."

Re: Depression-Fighting Magnetic Fields Made My Brain Feel Better

Paul Tadich:

First of all, thank you for this article about repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS) published on October 22nd, 2015. The personal account and description of changes throughout the various stages of rTMS treatment create a whole new perspective and hope for individuals suffering from depression. Fortunately, in Canada this is more of an easily accessible treatment unlike much of the U.S. due to cost, lack of insurance approval, access to care, stringent pre-authorization requirements by insurance companies, and overall lack of knowledge that this treatment exists even within the healthcare community. My hope is that with stories like this, people all over the world will begin seeing how effective rTMS treatment can be for individuals suffering from depression, among other illnesses.

As a mental health clinician in Seattle, Washington, U.S., I have been involved with both inpatient and outpatient mental health treatment and research for about a decade, and have had my own experience with mental health, as many of us have. After recently taking a position in a new outpatient practice as a clinical director and rTMS clinician with three psychiatrists focusing solely on the use of rTMS, I have been able to see the newest form of this treatment touch the lives of many, in ways they hadn't experienced in years. For most, this treatment option is a last resort and many times considered alongside Electroconvulsive Treatment (ECT). Most referred will have undergone nauseating amounts of medication trials, therapies, and other forms of treatment. This constantly leads me back to the question as to why this can't be an option for anyone suffering from clinically diagnosed depression, just as medications are available once they are FDA approved. Your account is a great example of how this can change the lives of many, including those who are suffering at a mild-moderate level of depression, but wouldn't currently be a candidate for rTMS due to the current guidelines set by insurance companies. Clearly we have a lot to work on in order to help people gain information and access to this treatment option.

As an rTMS clinician, I see patients every day for at least 4 weeks, and have had the great privilege of watching their heaviest weights of depression lift, piece by piece. Echoing your documented account, it doesn't work for everyone. However, after being open for less than 9 months, I have seen over one-third of our patients in remission, and two-thirds having a significant clinical response in their overall depression. People who were unable to work, care for themselves and their families, and had lost hope of having any satisfaction in almost anything at all, are getting their lives back. The stigma of mental illness and fear of reaching out to professionals who can provide this treatment, doesn't help. This is why your article means so much to me, and countless others that I hope will one day find something that works for them, and will speak out about it. Until then, I will carry their voices, hopes, and dreams. Thank you, again.

Angela Phillips, MSW, LSWAIC
Director of Clinical Services and TMS Clinician
Pacific Center for Neurostimulation

Re: Canada's Navy Would Like You to Know It Is Willing to Spend $40,000 on a Bassoon

Good article on the Forces purchase.

While the cost of the bassoon will sound high to the public, this is actually a very intelligent decision. Bell is the only Canadian maker of bassoons and they happen to be

equivalent in quality to the world standard German made instrument [Heckel] at half the cost. I would presume that the public would endorse the purchase of a Canadian made

military product if it was of international standard and a competitive cost.

— Chris Millard

The bassoon is the photo is a Heckel, which have generally been considered the best pro instruments for the past 150 years or so. Benson Bells are supposed to be decent too, and are Canadian. But every instrument is unique, and finding a match between player and horn can be difficult.

— Doug Ridgway

It's true, bassoons are expensive. I used to work procurement for the forces and I saw a bunch of requests go through that would have many people outraged. Please keep in mind that 40k is not that much money in government terms. Bad day at sea in February? Exercise cancelled? Fiscal year-end March 31st and there's an un-forecasted budget surplus. Like 800k type surplus that needs to go in the next 20 working days.

So, ok, it looks bad to average Canadian making 40k a year for the Navy to buy a bassoon. Yet when three F18s do a 30 second flyby at a football game, it's shiny, loud and awesome. Motherboard should maybe look into what that costs. Suddenly a bassoon with a 25 year lifespan isn't so bad.

***

You captioned a picture in your clickbait article asking how the bassoon in the picture would stack up to the one ordered by the Navy band. The bassoon in the picture runs about $65000. This is not an unreasonable cost for a professional grade instrument so I'm not sure how you felt that this was somehow newsworthy.

Hi Amahl—

Thanks for the note. I'm sorry you felt this was clickbait. The point of the article wasn't to imply that a $40,000 bassoon was frivolous or unwarranted, but rather, that the government's procurement process requires it to post such a tender in the first place. I spend most of my time on the procurement portal looking for interesting technology-related purchases, and it came as a surprise to see a musical instrument listed. That's why I wrote this piece, and intended it to be somewhat tongue-in-cheek!

Thanks for reading,

-Matt Braga, CANADA Editor

RE: Microsoft Invented Google Earth in the 90s Then Totally Blew It

Avi Bar-Zeev, one of the cofounders of Keyhole—which eventually became Google Earth—took issue with our retrospective feature about Terraserver, a Microsoft project that put aerial photos of the earth online for the first time.

"Google Earth was re-branded around 2005. Keyhole existed from 1999 on, and the code from even earlier. It's hard to claim MS invented Google Earth as TerraServer when this was fairly contemporaneous at best," Bar-Zeev listed among his several complaints. "The premise that MS abandoned maps is just plain wrong. There are plenty of things we can fault MS for doing or not doing. But let's not make stuff up."

Motherboard staff writer Jason Koebler, the author of the piece, responds:

The Terraserver feature was intended to look back on the remarkable technological achievement of the service and delve into why Microsoft ended up killing it. The idea of putting maps online was obvious even in the mid 1990s and as Bar-Zeev noted, lots of people were working on different mapping projects at the same time. But having code and having a working product are two different things. Microsoft went public first, and its success on such a large scale is notable and worth remembering.

We never suggested that Microsoft totally abandoned maps but its emphasis with Terraserver was always on the database software, not on the remarkable product it created. Terraserver ended up being popular despite the fact that it wasn't intended to be a major product—perhaps if the company pivoted and put more attention into refining the user experience and upgrading Terraserver, it'd still be around today.

What Bar-Zeev helped create at Keyhole was also revolutionary and the article was not intended to take anything away from his product. It simply wasn't within the scope of the article. Maybe a future one!

-Jason Koebler

RE: The One Reason I Switched from an Android to an iPhone

Lorenzo,

Obviously you are blinded by your Apple and Android only viewpoint. I am a BlackBerry supporter, and if you had looked in my signature you would've noticed.

The Black Phone is more secure, BlackBerry is more secure, Priv is more secure, hell - I even ber that Windows phones are more secure.

Open you mind and maybe you'll start reporting better.

-Kevin Button

Staff writer Lorenzo Francheschi-Biccherai responds:

I noticed your reference to Blackberry in your signature, I just wanted to make sure you were not talking about other models.

For the record, I wrote about Blackphone: http://motherboard.vice.com/read/blackphone-is-the-right-phone-for-the-paranoid-android-user

As for Blackberry, maybe you are right, maybe I should look into it. But I just feel that a company that gave a backdoor to India deserves all my skepticism when it comes to security and privacy of its users.

Another point, that is probably valid when it comes to Windows phones, these phones are just not as good as Apple and Android phones. I also haven't really seen anyone looking into them and telling me they are secure (I have a feeling hackers and security researchers aren't looking into them because nobody uses them.)

Thanks for the feeedback, I'll try to include our exchange in this week's letters to the editor. (And by the way, had you commented on one of my articles, I'd probably have missed it and never had this conversation.)

Best, lfb

***

I read the article, but, one of the options presented as a solution isn't necessarily a viable option. Rooting a device to install CyanogenMod. Most devices nowadays have locked bootloaders, and they need to be unlocked. Except most of them don't have the means to unlock their bootloaders, making it impossible.

Worse yet, lots of Android devices don't even have CyanogenMod for them, be it official release or unofficial port; for instance, the long-defunct LG Optimus S only had CM7 officially for Gingerbread (since the stock OS also had GB); all versions of CM9/Ice Cream Sandwich, CM10/Jellybean 4.1, CM10.1/JB 4.2, CM10.2/JB 4.3, & especially CM11/KitKat, are ALL fanmade ports...with CM11 having been so tough to pull that to date, nobody ever did get a working CM12/Lollipop port...and with Marshmallow (Android 6.0) already among us with a potential CM13 to match, CM12 for this old girl (Optimus S) will likely never happen.

Another example: my Samsung Galaxy Rush (runs Jellybean) doesn't have ANY form of CyanogenMod at all, legit, fanmade port, or otherwise. Worse yet, I actually got the security patch OTA and it won't install. I hate iTrash as much as you do (perhaps more), but, I will NEVER jump to the Crap Side. I'll just get a device that HAS some form of CM. For instance, Walmart has their Straight Talk Samsung Galaxy S3, and being a Jellybean device by default (and stuck there; only the Boost & Virgin branded LTE capable model has KitKat), it should be easy to root and prep for CM. There's SlimKat by SlimROMs, and there's CM12.

***

And as for that Twitter bot that predicts the future, here are some tweets responding to its inception: