polemicist: a writer who argues in opposition to others  

A BLOG about science, technology, consumerism, philosophy, higher education, media and other bothersome stuff that makes up modern life...

20070827.0821 Is it still kidnapping if you're not a kid?

This kind of thinking makes my brain emit blue smoke...  Try this one out:  If someone in your family is taken hostage by terrorists and they demand a ransom from you - and you pay it - you are guilty of providing material support to terrorists.

This is a very weird type of thinking.  Governments, companies, and families the world over have paid such ransoms.  However it is being used as one of the security criteria for admission to the country by foreigners.  Homeland Security has used it to prevent emigration by Iraqi refugees for example.

What would you do?  Would you pay if you were in that situation?  Would you pay knowing that you might be convicted of a crime for doing it?  If you were the one kidnapped, would you want the ransom to be paid?  How many times has the military saved the day by finding and rescuing hostages?  You'd think they would play that kind of thing up, no?  If you were the hostage, would you rather someone paid, came in guns a-blazing, or just left you there?

What's that smell?  Blue smoke...

20070824.0531 iphone pwned again

Awesome is a word that I use for a 17 year old technician who managed to get a group of people together to work towards the common goal of hacking the iPhone & unlocking it - and then managed to pull it off.

George Hotz apparently has an iPhone running on TMobile - the only other US carrier that supports the networking hardware.  He apparently identified the JTAG on the iPhone and used it as a hardware based back door.  This is really interesting because IMHO it doesn't violate the DMCA since it is using an existing circuit built into the device - one that is used to test solder joints at the factory - rather than actually modifying the device.


20070817.0815 You Want to Scan my What?

 Nowadays London looks a lot like a Doctor Who episode.  I don't mean that because that's where so many episodes have been filmed.  I refer more to the Ring of Steel - the Orwellian video camera system that has swarmed over the city like some cross between locusts and barnacles.  Are we being enslaved by the Daleks?

These days people are in love with video cameras.  They have the mistaken impression that someone is actually watching the live feed.  They assume that crime is reduced in places where the cameras are set up.  They make some people feel safe.

You are not safe.  You never were before and you never will be - if you accept this, you can provide your own sense of security and not have to rely on anyone else.  If something happens to you, that camera is going to at best capture your ordeal for replay at a later time.

But the cameras are coming here too.  Traffic light cameras are now being repurposed.  New cameras are going up all over the place.

So why is this a problem?  We have had metal detectors and cameras installed in schools for years now.  But what if you combined both systems into one?  Would that make you feel safer?  Would it occur to you that this would amount to someone video taping your child naked?  Would you submit to that yourself to get on a plane or walk into a bank?  Have you already without knowing it?

20070816.1416 Running Out of Names

"A rose by any other name - would wither and die..." - Captain Kirk 

 First there was Prince, who became a symbol and ultimately became The Artist Formerly Known...  Then there was Seinfeld, where George wanted to name his daughter Seven and then his friends stole the name for their child.  Then there was Star Trek: Voyager and 7 of 9.

Now we have a child destined to become a hacker - how can you not with a name like "@"?

20070816.1027 OK, So Who Else is Listening In?

 I do not understand the appeal of Social Networking Technology.  For example, there's a new iPhone-ready version of Facebook.  Is it the fact that setting up your own web server involves some kind of work?  Are we all so keen on using free services that we're willing to give away the content of our lives to corporations in exchange for free web hosting & a convenient interface?  I've ranted before about MySpace.  I went & got an account to see what it was all about & it really depressed me.  Hundreds of thousands of horribly formatted pages full of self-aggrandizing crap.  Are we all so lonely that we have to advertise for friends?  

Some people apparently live their lives through the net in this way.  That is the only way that they can connect with their friends.  Taken to a whole new level, we can build shrines to dead MySpace users.  Weird, but understandable I guess.  Everyone expresses grief differently.

But there's another side to these things.  Sure there's privacy settings so that you can control what information gets to whom.  But the fact that the information is stored out there - means someone can access it.  How many people have been arrested for what they have posted on myspace?  

You don't have to be a bad guy to find yourself under surveillance.  The same folks who used to tap every overseas phone call are now allowed under law to monitor American Citizens without a warrant.  The Democratic Congress recently granted these broad and unrestrained powers.  Why this is necessary when not a single wire-tap request was denied last year I really don't understand.  It seems to me that they're simply  making legal now what the Homeland Security Agency has been actively doing illegally for 7 years now.

Of course, the hard part is actually finding out you've been watched/listened to/read/Data Mined.  The US Patriot Act both forces businesses to disclose information to them and forbids the businesses from disclosing to anyone else that the information has been shared.  Since there is no oversight possible under such a law, reporting of such activity is going to be spotty at best and without any type of audit.  

Looking at the history of surveillance, it is a recurring pattern that enforcement quickly becomes addicted to the power granted to them and invariably over-reaches the bounds set for them.  Why shouldn't citizens now assume that any information that they post on the internet would find it's way into the Homeland Security databases?

So let me ask you - do you really want to meet new people so badly that you're willing to submit to that?  Are you lonely enough to invite agents to come over and search your house too?

How about this one - are you so reckless as to subject your friends to the same?  Everyone you talk to or email or IM will be associated with you.  What if you met someone on-line because they drive the same kind of car you do - and they turn out to be an actual terrorist.  How much time in Gitmo are you willing to spend because you're lonely?

The next person who posts my picture on MySpace without my permission is asking for some seriously creative retaliation.

20070815.0823 "Does Anybody Remember Laughter?"


20070806.1722 Corporate Conscience?

I don't like to be a rude guest.  My mother raised me better than that.  However, I have still taken the occasional pot shot at my corporate host, Google.  Hopefully it has been taken in the spirit offered.  Regardless, a corporation isn't a person, even if it has more rights than a citizen, so at best I'm offending the employees and the shareholders - none of whom I have anything against personally, so don't take it personally, OK folks?

All of that being said, I'm going to start by mentioning something Good that Google has been up to recently.  Since free television broadcasts over the public airwaves is being retired next year, the FCC is putting the 700Mhz range up for auction.

You have to understand that the public airwaves are just that, Public.  They belong to The People.  Your tax money pays for securing, policing, and maintaining them and the FCC is looking to auction them off to the highest bidder so that they would have the Right to charge you to use those same airwaves - and we're talking about a LOT of money here, so it's not being bid on by Citizens, it is being bid on by Corporations.

Google has bid very high indeed, prior to the auction.  They have stated that they would open the bidding at around US$4.6Billion if the FCC changed the terms of the offering to adopt more "open access" policies.   To their credit, the FCC has in fact complied with all but the last request - that the winner of the bid be required to resell access to the network to other providers at a discounted rate.  This is a great win for the Public who will inevitably consume the services derived from the public resource.

On the other hand, it is very scary to note that since Google is acquiring Postini the combination of Postini & GMail provide a large searchable segment of corporate e-mail usage.  Add to this how many search requests are processed - including the built-in links from the iPhone - et cetera, and now the Search Engine company would now have the ability to perform centralized data-mining activities that rival those of the NSA.  It would be ridiculous to think that the NSA isn't already looking over their shoulders - especially since it has been acknowledged that this is exactly what the Chinese government does.

"Evil spelled backwards is Live, and everyone wants to do that"
    - Mok the Magic Man, Rock & Rule 

So the only promise we have that this power will not be abused - or at least much - is the Google policy of "Don't Be Evil."  Is that enough?  I hate to sound paranoid, but you have to keep in mind that the Holocaust was accomplished with shoe-boxes full of index cards.  Every time we accumulate lists of personal data we Must Question who is looking at that data and what their motivation is.

Corporations are legally bound to serve the Stockholders, not the Public.

20070801.1217 If At First You Find Nothing Wrong, look more closely!

My love affair with the iPhone has not run it's full course yet. All in all I still really really like it and I resent the backlash coming from jealous BlackBerry users saying meaningless things like "it's not ready for the Enterprise" without giving a better explanation than you can't remove the battery & you're stuck with AT&T.

That being said, there's still a lot that I would like to see change. Here's a list:

  • Cut & Paste is missing. Go try & edit your Contacts without it. After 10 minutes you'll go back to the laptop & do the editing there then sync. Further, the ability to save a little text from a web page as a note for later would be really useful.
  • Sync is a nightmare - trying to sync with more that one computer is like asking for 3 copies of every name in your address book, all with minor variations. The typical iPod trick of erasing everything & only letting you sync from one system at a time is still present and still really really annoying. You have to manually sync your iTunes collections between computers before even trying to use any other devices. This is a way that Power Users get punished for actually trying to use this stuff seriously.
  • Contacts - you can have a contact set as a person or a company - but there's no switch on the iPhone to set this. If you want something to be treated as a company, save the name with only the Company field populated & then go back and add the person's name afterwards. This is a radio button in the Address Book application on OS/X IIRC.
  • If a contact is marked as a company - then only the Company name displays in the scrollable contacts list. I now have 5 entries for Oracle, each of a different person & I have to guess who is who when I choose from that list. The name should show below the company in a smaller font.
  • Contacts should have a wide-screen mode that lets you flick through contact pictures like albums in iTunes. Sometimes you can't remember someone's name.
  • The sort by Last Name or First Name or Company Name is pretty much up to what kind of data you entered into the Contacts database. This can be confusing when you're not used to thinking of someone by their last name - which leads to....
  • Search - I want to be able to search my Contacts, Calendar, Notes, etc.. Search contacts by the Notes field - how am I supposed to live without this?
  • Flash Player - it's amazing just how prolific it is out on the web. I find new sites every day that I just can see anymore. It's actually more popular than any single web browser. I hope to see it soon - if at all.
  • PDF player - Where's Preview? I want to be able to look at PDF documents & use multitouch to navigate them, just like a web page. Even something like a Safari Plug-In would suffice.
  • More options for recurring appointments - I can't set something for the last tuesday of every month, and as it happens I have a meeting then
  • Outlook support - mail support is only for POP3. I like pop3 and I use .mac so I'm pretty much set. But being able to sync with the calendar at work - cleanly - would be nice, and would deflect the anti-Enterprise arguments. (Though stating that Outlook is an Enterprise application is saying that Microsoft is an Enterprise vendor - which no one really wants to admit to.)
  • The ability to record - even voice notes. or sounds - and use them as ringtones.
  • MP3 ringtones!!!! Hello!?

  • You have the ability to set dates in the Contacts for Birthdays & other events - but they do not appear anywhere on the calendar (!?)


2007 2006