Submitted by brad on Tue, 2006-02-21 14:50.
Found a thread on avsforum where NBC's engineers are participating. Turns out it would be very simple for them to include a second audio stream without the commentary. In addition, this has apparently been done by some European broadcasters.
I would like to even propose we expand the standard a bit here, to indicate when two streams are "mixable." If Stream 1 had the full audio, and stream 2 had it without commentary, one could also mix these streams, to effectively adjust the volume of the commentary if your equipment knew enough to do so. You could also subtract them if you wanted just the commentary. In a perfect world, each audio channel would come in its own stream so that you could mix yourself, and edit out Scott Hamilton for example, but that's not likely to happen.
So let's encourage them to do this for all sports. Give HD viewers a true "being there" sense. Other interesting things learned: The SD stuff is being shot with widescreen PAL (625 line, 50hz) cameras, cropped and coverted to 525line 60hz for SDTV, upconverted with no need for crop for 1080i60hz viewers.
Sport inflation: It keeps going. Just too many sports. I must admit I am of two minds on Snowboardcross. On the one hand, sports where people physically race one another (like in track) are much more exciting to watch. On the other hand, both Snowboardcross and short-track speed skating tend to have too much luck in them because of this, as people both fall, or are hit by those who fall. Those who are innocent have been getting free passes from the heats (fair) but are just out of luck in the finals.
At least there is no "program component." In spite of Figure Skating's efforts to revamp the terrible judging system which ended in scandal last time when a French judge was bribed to reduce the score of a Canadian pair, it seems that "reputation" remains a huge hidden component in the scores.
It probably wouldn't get the audience, but I would switch figure skating to a pure, non-judged event like high-jump. You keep raising "the bar" (difficulty level on a series of jumps and moves) until only the gold medalist can do it. You would end up with more medals (at least one for the Axel and Toe Loop, or just a general for toe jumps and edge jumps.)
It's not that the dances and choreography aren't pretty and fun to watch. It's just that they are artistry rather than pure athletics -- and thus depend on reputation too much.
These olympics are doing poorly in the ratings. I would have figured with all the HDTVs out there the reverse would happen. Of course, I watch with MythTV. It would be unbearable to watch these games without Myth or Tivo or similar, and most HD users don't have those things.
Interesting issue with Ice Dancing. One of the teams featured a U.S. man and Canadian woman, who could not compete in 2002 because of this. They competed this year after some lobbying got U.S. citizenship for the woman via act of congress. I wonder if we'll see more Olympic gamesmanship with modification of citizenship rules. (It's been common for years for people with dual citizenship who can't get on one country's team to just compete for the other country, particularly small ones.)
I suppose one could just allow a bi-national team like this one to compete. I mean they give 2 gold medals to the winning team, what harm is there if it's one for each country? Seems like something grand in the spirit of international cooperation. The problem is the rules about how many competitors a country can send. Both nations might be afraid to send half of a team if it counted the same as sending the full team against their quota. If it only counted half, they would need to send half of two teams, but it might work.
The national borders are becoming less important in the big money sports. The US-Canadian ice dancers train in the US. I recall at least one eastern team which trained in Calgary. (Such training in richer countries is common.) Why not present the world with the best team?
Submitted by brad on Mon, 2006-02-20 15:46.
I’ll be moving soon to the Canon 5D camera from my 20D. It’s better in just about every way, but like many “pro” cameras it does not have a built in flash.
It’s not that there isn’t a reason for this. Built in flashes usually suck, and nobody would use them for any sort of serious photography, except for fill. So if you’re going out on a shoot, you would of course carry along some quality flashes and the built-in would be a waste of space.
On the other hand people use cameras like the 5D and 1Ds for more casual shooting, and if you don’t bring a flash and you find yourself wanting an indoor shot, you may find yourself out of luck with your multi-thousand-dollar camera. And, as noted, there is the need for fill. Pro flashes are big and unweildy, you don’t strap them on if you don’t need them.
So here’s a compromise. Add lines to the hotshoe for power, with a smart power bus that only applies real power when a smart flash is confirmed in place, and communicates digitally about voltages and current levels. This would have several benefits.
First, one could sell a small add-on flash that needs no batteries, it’s just capacitor, controller and flashtube, no more than the built-in flash used to be, but perhaps on a telescoping stick so it can raise up high over the camera as a flash should. In fact the camera batteries are pretty powerful, so you could consider making this a decent flash, at the cost of sucking your camera battery faster. But why not? Why not just carry more of one type of battery rather than having two different types for flash and camera? In addition, some people use a special grip on the camera that holds extra battery power.
This power bus could actually even have value with a flash that has its own batteries. You might elect that when those batteries get too low, you could switch to internal batteries. If it means getting a shot that you could not get due to dead flash batteries, of course this is worth it. In Canon cameras, internal battery is 7.2v and flash uses 4xAA meaning 6 or more likely 5 with NiMh, but a flash can easily take this range of voltages. (A fancy camera power supply might even be able to work in reverse, sucking power from the flash batteries when the camera battery is the one dead.)
Of course, I still want all the other goodies I’ve asked for — making infrared flash control standard in the camera bodies, instead of a $200 add-on. (At least with the power available the add-on transmitter could be smaller and cheaper.) And the dream we’ll never get — some standarization among vendors.
This power bus could also power other things — GPS receivers, radio transmitters, audio recorders, portable microdisks, anything people can think of.
Submitted by brad on Mon, 2006-02-20 14:11.
Ok, like a lot of people I find it fascinating to browse Zillow and see the estimated values of my neighbour’s houses, and yes, I admit it, my friends. Another example of the little shock you get when data that was always technically public becomes truly public thanks to some new internet application.
Of course Zillow is adding to the data, by taking the public info (house sale figures, house size and features from county records and MLS) and applying algorithms to guess current values. However, they’re often quite innacurate. High for my house, way low for a number of others I checked. (Diane Feinstein’s new house, which just sold for $16 million, shows as only around 5 million. I wonder if she played some tricks to keep the value out of the records?)
Anyway, as this data becomes more available it would be nice to do other things with it. The idea I thought about was a something like a topographic map, so you could soar, Google Earth style, over “hills” of high value. Or plot other metrics like cost per square foot etc. Might also help people neighbourhood shop, and an interesting lesson in real estate capitalism.
Submitted by brad on Sat, 2006-02-18 00:22.
We’ve been working on an inherited house in the Irving Street/23rd avenue neighbourhood of the Outer Sunset of San Francisco. This is one of SF’s “new chinatowns” — the original one on Grant St. long ago given over to the tourists. Irving is where the real asians go to shop and eat. I’ve been impressed at the incredible quality to price ratio of the food here, I think it’s the best locus of value in the city.
As such I have prepared a map of the Irving Street/Sunset Restaurants with some commentary for those visiting the area. I did it as an HTML table to mimic the streets. Of course, this is mostly for readers in the Bay Area. The Sunset is rarely visited by tourists, and has notoriously bad fog in summer, but it has a lot more character than I expected. The street is also full of asian grocery stores and miscellany shops.
It’s also just one block from Golden Gate Park. One can readily gather food on Irving and walk to picnic tables in the park at 25th or 18th.
Submitted by brad on Thu, 2006-02-16 13:10.
I’m not in the business of helping countries be repressive, but I started thinking what I would do if I were the Chinese internet censor. I don’t think I’m giving them any secrets, but these thoughts may affect our own plans on how to fight such censors.
The most important realization was that I wouldn’t want to make my great firewall really strong. That it was not only easier, but possibly better, to make it possible to bypass it with a moderate amount of determination. Not trivial, as in “hold down the shift key” but not requiring cypherpunk level skills.
The reason is that if I allow such holes, I can watch who uses them, and watching them is more valuable to the secret police than plugging them. And if the holes don’t require fancy data encryption and hiding techniques, most people seeking to bypass the firewall will do so unencrypted, making it far easier to watch what is done. But even if people encrypt, they do reveal who they are. So long as there are not immense numbers, that’s enough to give me a good dissident watchlist.
My goal as censor would be to tune the filtering so that the true dissidents can all bypass it, but make it hard enough that I don’t get so many people on my watchlist that I can’t handle the size of it. The censors know they can’t keep information from the truly determined, even in the most repressive regimes. They just need to keep it from the masses. (Even the masses will hear rumours in any society, but they will always just be rumours.)
This explains why many of the proxies people have put up to let people bypass the firewall remain themselves unblocked. This also can be explained by inefficiency of maintaining the block-list, but this time I am prepared to attribute something to malice rather than incompetence. Especially if the proxies are unencrypted I would not want to block them — unless they go so popular that I could no longer track the users.
This is one of the problems with the Google China decision. In the past, use of the firewall-blocked google.com was not suspicious, though typing certain phrases into it may have been. Now, with censored google.cn, use of google.com suggests you are trying to get past the censorship at least. A big win for surveillance. Google is, wisely, not keeping logs in China, but that doesn’t stop the international gateways from keeping the logs.
(Read on for some anti-censor techniques.) read more »
Submitted by brad on Wed, 2006-02-15 16:09.
I haven’t been to a laundromat in ages, but we’re fixing up a house that has no washer/dryer yet and has a laundromat 200’ away. Long ago, when I lived in an appartment tower, I would go to the basement laundry room, and leave my clothes there. Worst case was they ran out of machines and somebody tossed them in a basket. And even though the odds of somebody stealing your clothes are low, most people are not as willing to leave their stuff unattended in a city street laundromat.
So how about combining the machines with a timed airport style locker system. You would insert the coins and pull out a key which you could use to open the washer or dryer. The lock would auto-reset about 10 minutes after the cycle ends, so in addition, you could put in more coins, which would act as insurance. If you didn’t get to the machine in time, these coins would be taken, and give you more time on the lock. If you did get to the machine shortly after the cycle ended, you could get back your extra coins in the coin return… read more »
Submitted by brad on Mon, 2006-02-13 13:50.
Note 1: NBC doesn’t have nearly enough HD cameras for the Olympics, and I can’t really blame them for not having one for every section of luge track to show us something for half a second.
But it seems in many areas they are showing us a widescreen image from an SD camera, and it looks more blurry than the pillarboxed SD footage they show of past scenes. I wonder, are they taking a cropped widescreen section out of their 4:3 SDTV camera? If so, that’s not what I want. Or are there a lot of 16:9 SD cameras out there?
Note 2: I haven’t researched much how people are using broadcast HD cameras for live events, but notes I have found suggest the camera crews shoot in 16:9 and compose the frame so that the 4:3 frame in the middle will look good for downconvert.
I propose a fancier scheme. Sometimes you want HD to get more detail on the same scene. Sometimes you want it to get the same detail and a bigger view, especially in sports. It would be good if somebody (camera operator or directors in control room) could set the crop box dynamically. It could just be a 4:3 box in the middle, or panned left and right, but it could and should also be a smaller box anywhere in the frame, perhaps 2/3rds of the frame height (a 480 line section of a 720 line field) or even a 480 line section of a 1080 line field.
The camera operator would have to see a clearly marked box in their viewfinder, to show what the current 4:3 SDTV view is like, and compose to assure the main action is in that box. In the meantime HD viewers would see the whole scene. When it makes more sense to show both viewers a similar view, the box would pull out. In theory, the box could pull out all the way so the SDTV viewers see a letterboxed view, though I doubt many networks would use that.
It would be confusing for the camera operator to do this at first, and it might make sense for the control room folks to do this at least some of the time.
This would also be a sort of digital zoom for the SDTV viewers, and the UI might be integrated into the zoom control. Possibly a button would control whether an optical zoom was done, or the SDTV view was shrunk.
Anybody know if they’re doing it this way? I’ve certainly seen TV shows like SNL recently that are clearly composed for 16:9. Are we seeing a crop of the 4:3, or are the 4:3 people seeing letterbox? I would have to tune both programs to find out.
Submitted by brad on Thu, 2006-02-09 14:58.
Google’s decision to operate a search service in China, implementing
Chinese censorship rules into the service, has been a controversial
issue. Inside Google itself, it is reported there was much debate,
with many staff supporting and many staff opposing the final decision,
as as been the case in the public. So it’s not a simple issue.
Nonetheless, in spite of being friends with many in the company,
I have to say they made the wrong decision, for the wrong reason.
Google, and many others including other search engines, argue that their presence there, even censored,
will be good for the ordinary Chinese people. The old uncensored
google.com is just as available today as it was before, which is to say
it works much of the time but is often blocked by the so-called great
firewall of China, and blocked in frustrating ways. So, Google can
claim it hasn’t taken any information access away from the Chinese, only
added more reliable access to the information not banned by the Chinese
To some credit, Google could have moved into China much earlier.
Competitors, like Yahoo, got more involved sooner, with poor
results for press freedom.
Furthermore, most people agree that search engines, including Google,
have been a great and powerful force for increasing access to information
of all sorts, and that it will help the Chinese people to get more
access to them. We can even take heart that the Chinese regime’s
censorship efforts will be futile in the face of the internet’s remarkable
ability to route around such barriers.
The point that is missed is that all these claims of benefit can be true, and it
can still be the wrong decision.
15 years ago, when I was publishing an online newspaper, I got a
customer at a university in apartheid-ruled South Africa. I did not
want to do business with South Africa, but I hadn’t investigated things
much. My feed was not to be censored, so it would only be a positive
influence. They convinced me to do it.
However, later, I asked South Africans about the boycotts. Most
agreed that the boycotts were hurting the ordinary South African, the
poor black South African, more than they were hurting the ruling
Broderbund. That “engagement” (non-boycott) resulted in more good
than harm at the individual level. But, in spite of this, many of
them said, “Please boycott!”
Why? Because it was doing something. Selling to South Africa was
the ordinary path, acting like nothing was going on there. It sent
no message, made no statement, was even a light endorsement.
Boycotting was the active course, an act of defiance, an act of
Google’s course, however, turns out to be clearer. There are many
levels of engagement. We all do business with China; it seems half
our clothes and manufactured goods come from there. Only a few
call for a boycott of China entirely. Even though we’ve seen, painfully,
that just by doing business in China, Yahoo has felt itself compelled
to turn over the identity of a reporter to the police so that he could be
jailed for a decade.
But Google decided to go beyond doing business in China. They are
not just doing business in a repressive country. They have agreed
to become the actual implementer of the repression. Their code,
their servers, do the censorship.
They are not just selling goods to a repressive country, they are
selling arms, to put it in extreme terms.
And that’s too far. That is collaboration, not merely engagement.
And that’s where the line must be drawn to “not be evil.”
Serving queries may help the individual Chinese in the short run.
Not serving them, however, makes a bold statement, a message to
China and to Google’s competitors that can’t be missed, and helps
the Chinese people even more in the long run.
Addendum: There’s another reason this is a problem — it makes the people using google.com easier to spot.
Submitted by brad on Thu, 2006-02-09 00:41.
Yahoo is now entering the context-driven ad field to compete with Adsense, and that’s good for publishers and web authors. I have had great luck with adsense, and it provides serious money for this blog and my other web sites, which is why I have the affiliate link on the right bar encouraging you to join adsense — though I won’t mind the affiliate fee as well, of course.
But I’m trying Yahoo now, and soon MSN will enter the fray. However, it seems to me that no one network will be best for a diverse site. Each network will have different advertisers bidding up certain topic areas. In an efficient market, advertisers would quickly shift to the networks that give them the best performance (cheapest price, most qualified clicks) but in practice this won’t happen very often.
So it would make sense for somebody to build a web site optimizing engine. This engine would automate the task of switching various pages on a site between one network and another, and measuring performance. Over time it would determine which network is performing the best for each page or each section of the site and switch the pages to use the best network. It might run further tests to see how things change.
Such optimizations could take place even during the day. (Yahoo doesn’t have much intraday reporting yet.) For example, Google does better in the morning than it does in the evening. I guess that this is because advertisers have set a daily budget, and more of them hit their budget as the day goes on. My CPMs usually start high and then sink in the later hours. It might make sense to switch from Google to Yahoo as the CPM drops. However, Yahoo’s advertisers will have their own budget limits so this may not help.
Another interesting optimization might be to present different ads depending on whether the user came in from the associated search engine. Theory: If the user searched for “copyright” on Google to come to my copyright myths page the chances are they already saw a lot of copyright related adwords ads. Might make more sense to show a different set of ads from another network. Likewise if they came in from Yahoo, might be best to show the Google ads. If they come in from elsewhere, use the best performing network. This would be generated live, based on the Referer field. Hard to say if the search engines would like it or not
Submitted by brad on Wed, 2006-02-08 21:35.
There are 14 different calendars possible — With Jan 1 on each different weekday, in both regular and leap-year form.
An interesting idea for schools (and other places) would be to put up a calendar for a year from the past which has the same form as the current year. For example, an old 1995 Calendar would work mostly fine for 2006.
One could use real calendars, or specially made calendars which would talk about the history of the year in question, showing events which took place on the days those years ago.
Certain holidays are not the same each time around, such as Easter and holidays from the Jewish calendar and other calendars. And of course some holidays are modern, like MLKing day. A modern retro-calendar could show both. (Puzzle: How many calendars are there if you factor in Easter/Passover and the major Jewish holidays?)
In 2020, it might be fun to use, for part of the year, the 1752 calendar (USA/UK) which, after Wed September 2, jumped immediately to Thursday, Sept 14. This was the gregorian calendar correction. One would have to replace the calendars on Sept 2 with
some other year to keep them accurate, and tell the story.
Calendars could also be printed with historical scenes and other worthwhile lessons.
And for fun, one could do a future calendar as well, with imagined events of history.
Submitted by brad on Tue, 2006-02-07 01:50.
In thinking about a Kitchen remodel, in a house which sits on top of a garage/basement where the recycling and garbage bins are, I thought it would be nice to have a chute in the Kitchen to drop stuff into the bins down below. But you don't want to waste a lot of space in the kitchen on those.
One idea is to put the chute under a regular cabinet/countertop. It would look like a large mail slot at the base of the cabinet, under the door (or behind the door so you have to open it up to see it.)
Push the newspaper into the slot, and it falls down the chute and into the basket. The chute can be very wide for no-jam.
I've seen some counters have a circular hole for cans and bottles to fall down to the basement for recycle, which would also be nice. Haven't seen one for the papers before though. Alas for ordinary trash, you need a big chute with a big access, which still may be worth it, but the bottle/can and newspaper chutes take up no valuable space. (Laundry chutes are of course popular but also take up enough space to be jam free.)
Submitted by brad on Thu, 2006-02-02 18:31.
While I have been using Google ads on the blog for some time (and they do quite well), they don’t yet do RSS ads outside of a more limited beta program. So I’m trying Yahoo’s ads, also in beta but I’m on the list.
They just went live, and all that’s showing right now is a generic ad, presumably until they spider the site and figure out what ads to run. Ideally it will be ads as relevant as Google Adsense does.
Competition between Google and Yahoo will be good for publishers. Just on basic click-rates, one will tend to do better than the other, presumably. If one is consistently doing not as well, they will lose all the partners, who will flock to the other. The only way to fix that will be to increase the percentage of the money they pay out, until they get to a real efficient market percentage they can’t go above.
Read on for examination of the economics of RSS ads. read more »
Submitted by brad on Thu, 2006-02-02 17:22.
Some flat panel displays being made today have modestly thin edges, and people like using them for multi-monitor systems with a desktop that spans one or more monitors.
I suggest a monitor design where the edge moulding on the monitor can come off, and be replaced, with care by a special interlock unit. The interlock would join two monitors together strongly and protect the LCD panel but try to bring the two panels as close together as possible. Most of the strength would be on the back, and on the front, the cover would just be a thin but strong strip, in choice of colours, to cover only the small gap between the monitors.
The result would be a good way to make display walls, and of course big multi-monitor displays. Dell is now selling a 2560 x 1600 monitor for $2100 that is very tempting, but two 1600 x 1200s, for similar screen real estate, can now be had for under $1000, and they don’t require a new $300 video card to boot. Four 1280x1024 isplays, though smaller at 17”, can be hand for under $1000 and even more screen real estate with two dual-head video cards (which cost under $50). Though with 4 screens people don’t necessarily want them so flat any more.
However a 2x2 grid of 17” displays at $1000 would attract customers if the lines between were small.
Of course, in time that lovely 4MP display will get cheaper, and an even better one will come along. I am tempted by the 4MP because that’s half the pixels of my 8MP digital camera, and I could finally see some of my images at at least half-res without having to print them. But other than for that, multi-monitor is just fine.
Of course if you use multi-monitors, be sure to visit my panoramic photography pages for super-wide photos you can use as wallpapers on such setups. Regular blog readers can ask me nice and I’ll get you an image 1024 or 1200 high if available.
Submitted by brad on Wed, 2006-02-01 13:22.
There are a lot of popular programming languages out there, each popular for being good at a particular thing. The C family languages are fastest and have a giant legacy. Perl is a favoured choice for text manipulations. Today's darling is Ruby, leader of the agile movement. Python is a cleaner, high-level language. PHP aims at the quick web/HTML scripter language and has a simpler access to SQL databases than most. Java's a common choice for large projects, with lots of class libraries, slower than C but faster than interpreted languages.
However, my goal here is not to debate the merits of these languages, which are only barely summed up above (and no doubt incorrectly to some perceptions.) My goal is to point out that we all love our different languages for different purposes. And more to the point, one of the reasons we love a particular language is that we *know it*. In many cases we might decide we could more quickly solve a problem in a language we know well, even though another language might be better suited overall.
Sometimes I'm sitting coding in one of the more concrete languages, like C or Java, and I think to myself, "This problem would be 2 lines in Perl." It would probably be slower, and perl would not be a suitable choice for the whole project, so I spend the time to solve the problem in the language I'm coding.
Many of the languages have mechanisms to deal with foreign or "native" methods, ie. to deal with objects or functions from another language. Most of these systems are clunky. You would not use them for 3 lines of code, nor would it be particularly readable.
So I propose being able to "switch languages" in the middle of a piece of code. You're programming in C, and suddenly you break out into perl, to so something you immediately know how to do in perl. You get access to the core data types of the original language, and as much of the complex ones as can be made simple. If you need to get real in-depth access to the complex data types of the other language, go back to its foreign methods interface and write a remote function.
Read on... read more »
Submitted by brad on Wed, 2006-02-01 03:03.
Tom Selleck narrates:
Have you ever arranged a wiretap in Las Vegas without leaving your office in
Or listened in on a mother tucking in her baby from a phone booth, all without
the bother of a warrant?
Or data mined the call records of millions of Americans with no oversight?
And the company that will bring it to you… AT&T
Submitted by brad on Tue, 2006-01-31 16:32.
A big announcement today from those of us at the EFF regarding the
NSA illegal wiretap scandal. We have filed a class-action lawsuit against
AT&T because we have reason to believe they have provided the NSA and
possibly other agencies with access to not only their lines but also
their “Daytona” database, which contains the call and internet records
of AT&T customers, and probably the customers of other carriers who outsource
database services to Daytona.
AT&T, we allege, gave access to this database when it should have told
the federal agents to come back with a warrant. This is the
communications records of not just people phoning Al-Qaida. It’s
the records of millions of ordinary Americans.
Allowing access to these records without a warrant is both a violation
of the law and a violation of their duties to protect the privacy of
their customers. Worse, we believe AT&T may still be doing it.
We’re asking the court to make AT&T stop giving the NSA or others
access without proper warrants, and to exact penalties for having
done so. The potential penalties are very, very large. We want to
send a message to carriers and operators like AT&T that they have
a duty to follow the law and protect their customers.
You can read more at our AT&T wiretap lawsuit page.
Submitted by brad on Mon, 2006-01-30 23:05.
Last week I spoke at O’Reilly’s Emerging Telephony (ETEL) conference about CALEA and other telecom regulations that are coming to VoIP. CALEA is a law requiring telecom equipment to have digital wiretap hooks, so police (with a warrant, in theory) can come and request a user’s audio streams. It’s their attempt to bring alligator clips into the digital world.
Recently the FCC issued notice that they would apply CALEA to interconnected VoIP providers and broadband providers. They don’t have that power, and the EFF and several other groups filed suit last week to block this order.
In my talk, however, I decided to turn the tables. My “evil twin” gave a talk addressed at incumbent carriers (the Bells, etc.) and big equipment vendors as to why they should love CALEA, Universal Service and the E911 regulations.
A podcaster recorded it and here’s the blue box security podcast with that recording or you can go directly to the mp3 of my talk. I start 3 minutes into the recording, and it’s a 15 minute session. It was well received, at least based on the bloggers who covered it. You may not hear the audience laughter too well, but they got it, and came to understand just how bad these laws can be for the small innovator moving in on the incumbent’s cash cows.
Indeed, I like the “evil twin” so much that he’ll be back, and I’ll try to write up my talk as text some day if I get the time. When bad things happen, it’s useful to understand why some people might push for them.
A more muffled version including audience can be found via Skype Journal.
Submitted by brad on Sat, 2006-01-28 13:09.
With too many people defending the new levels of surveillance, I thought I would introduce a new word: Panoptopia — a world made wonderful by having so much surveillance that we can catch all the bad guys.
David Brin introduced the concept to many in The Transparent Society, though he doesn’t claim it’s a utopia, just better than the alternative as he sees it.
It used to be that “If you are innocent you have nothing to hide” was supposed to be a statement whose irony was obvious to all. Today, I see people saying it seriously.
Because of that, we’re on our way to building the pushbutton panopticon. We’re building the apparatus of very high levels of surveillance and pretending we are putting checks and balances on their use. Cameras everwhere. NSA taps into all international communications. Total Information Awareness and other large data mining projects. Vast amounts of our private records stored on 3rd party servers of search engines and email companies where we have fewer rights and even less control. CALEA requirements that phone equipment and broadband lines have pre-built wiretapping facilities, in theory to be turned on only with a warrant.
In all these cases we are told the information won’t be abused, that process will be followed. And in most cases, I can even believe them.
But the problem is this. Now our rights are protected not by physical limits or extreme costs, but by a policy decision. To the extreme, by a simple policy bit, a single switch. Now to change the society from a free one to a police state can become effectively just throwing a switch if you have the political will.
In the old days, creating a police state required taking over the radio stations with tanks, and putting police on all the street corners. We are building a world where it involves getting the political will to throw a switch. And we’re selling that switch to all the countries of the world as they buy our technology.
Can you wonder why I fear this doesn’t end well?
Submitted by brad on Thu, 2006-01-26 00:50.
In playing with a few firefox extensions that display things like my cellular minutes used, I realized they were really performing a limited part of something that could be really useful — deep bookmarks which can go past login screens and other forms to go directly to a web page.
So many web sites won’t let you bookmark a page that you must log-in to see, and they time out your login session after a short time. The browser will remember my password for the login screen, but it won’t log me in and go to the page I want. Likewise, pages only available through a POST form can’t be boomarked.
A deep bookmark would be made by going to a page, then using the BACK tool to go back to the entry page before it, which may be more than simply the previous page. You would then ask for a deep bookmark, and it would record the entire path from entry/login page to most forward page, including items posted to forms. Passwords would be recorded in the protected password database of course.
This would work in many cases, but not always. Some deep URLs include a session ID, and that must explicitly not be recorded as the target, as the session will have expired. In a few cases the user might have to identify the session key but many are obvious. And of course in some cases the forms may change from time to time and thus not be recordable. Handling them would require a complex UI but I think they are rare.
This would allow quick bookmarks to check balances, send paypal money and more. There is some risk to this, but in truth you’ve already taken the risk with the passwords stored in the password database, and of course these bookmarks would not work unless you have entered the master decryption password for the password database some time recently.
Submitted by brad on Mon, 2006-01-23 20:18.
We’re always coming up with new technologies that affect privacy and surveillance. We’ve seen court cases over infrared heat detectors seeing people move inside a house. We’ve seen parabolic microphones and lasers that can measure the vibration of the windows from the sound in a room. We’ve seen massive computers that can scan a billion emails in a short time, and estimates of speech recognition tools that can listen to millions of phone calls.
Today we’re seeing massive amounts of outsourced computing. People are doing their web searching, E-mails and more using the servers of third party companies, like Google, Yahoo and Microsoft.
Each new technology makes us wonder how it can or should be used. The courts have set a standard of a “resonable expectation of privacy” to decide if the 4th amendment applies. You don’t have it walking down the street. You do have it in your house. You don’t have it on records you hand over to 3rd parties to keep, or generate with those 3rd parties in the first place.
But I fear that as the pace of change accelerates, we’ve picked the wrong default. Right now, the spooks and police feel their job is to see how close to the 4th amendment and statutory lines they can slice. Each new technology is seen as an opportunity for more surveillance ability, in many cases a way to get information that could not be gotten before either due to scalability, or the rules. Right now, when technology changes the rules, most of the time the result is to lessen privacy. Only very rarely, and with deliberate effort (ie. the default encryption in Skype) are we getting the more desireable converse. Indeed, when it looks like we might get more privacy, various forces try to fight it, with things like the encryption export controls, and the clipper chip, and manadatory records retention rules in Europe.
I think we need a different default. I think we need to start saying, “When a new technology changes the privacy equation, let’s start by assuming it should make things more protected, until we’ve had a chance to sit down and look at it.”
Today, the new tech comes along, privacy gets invaded, and then society finally looks at the technology and decides to write the rules to set the privacy balance. Sometimes that comes from legislatures (for example the ECPA) and more often from courts. These new rules will say to the spooks and LEOs, “Hold on a minute, don’t go hog wild with this technology.”
We must reverse this. Let the new technologies come, and let them not be a way to peform new surveillance. Instead, let the watchers come to the people, or the courts and say, “Wow, we could really do our jobs a lot better if we could only look through walls, or scan all the e-mails, or data mine the web searches.” Then let the legislatures and the courts answer that request.
Sometimes they will say, “But our new spy-tech is classified. We can’t ask for permission to use it in public.” My reaction is that this is tough luck, but at the very least there should be a review process in the classified world to follow the same principles. Perhaps you can’t tell the public your satellites can watch them in their backyards, but you should not be able to do so until at least a secret court or legislative committee, charged with protecting the rights of the public, says you can do so.
If we don’t set such a rule, then forever we will be spied upon by technologies society has not yet comes to grips with — because the spooks of course already have.