Blogs

What would we do with 802.11 in our car

I wrote some time ago of how I would like a car's MP3 player/computer to have 802.11, so that when it parks in my driveway, it notices it is home and syncs up new data and music.

That would be great, of course, but it seems there should be other things you would do with it. Networking with the car next to you on the road seems like a cool idea but I'm having trouble dreaming up applications. Listening to the music in the next car seems cute but probably would be boring after a while. Being able to talk to the driver of the next car seems like a nice social game (and it hardly needs 802.11) and might just result in road-rage.

If common, I could see it for dating, since people seem to attach a strong romantic image to making eye contact with an attractive person in another car. There was even a dating service I read about long ago which gave you bumper stickers so you could contact somebody if you felt sparks. The personals have a section for this.

You might be able to create longer mesh networks, to share traffic info or the sort of things you used to share on CB if there are enough cars, but this would be highly unreliable, and any application here might be better served by broadcast data that goes over longer ranges. (We are already seeing broadcast traffic data services, though they will never warn about speed traps, I suspect.)

And of course, if you can connect back to the internet that's highly useful, but again this would be highly intermittent connectivity. 802.11 isn't really set up for short-burst connectivity though one could create a protocol that was, good enough to fetch live audio etc. But this ends up being just another microcell network -- what can we get car to car?

So -- all sorts of cute little applications but nothing really compelling in my view. But since we will get wireless networking in our cars for the carport sync, I invite readers to dream up some apps.

P-Day is already past?

I recently spoke to Gordon Bell about the Digital Life Bits project he's doing at Microsoft Research, digitizing his entire life. I'm seeing more and more evidence that a prediction I made several years ago for "P-Day" may already have come true.

The prediction was this. We don't have the AI level technology today to perform ubiquitous automatic surveillance of our society, and that's a good thing. However, we have developed the technology to start recording everything. The cameras are already in lots of places (with their number growing) and storage has become cheap enough to keep all those recordings forever, and eventually to put them online.

Today we can't do anything so bold as perform facial recognition on all those images to track people. But that won't always be true. In the future we'll build such technology thanks to Moore's law (see the prior post!)

But this technology will be able to do more than find people in the cameras of the future. Thanks to recording it will be able to track people into the past. Audio and image records will become records of people. Data trails not possible to correlate today will be correlated in the future. The complete computerized tracking of your life is being done already, but the computation to write it down awaits future computing power.

P-Day is the day your privacy went away but you didn't yet know it. Thanks to other people digitizing their lives, it may have already happened to you. What touristed public space today is not constantly being camcordered or digitally photographed?

Walter Jon Williams recently explored this question in his Hugo nominated story The Green Leapord Plague. I've known him for many years, having published his story "Prayers on the Wind" in my 1993 Hugo & Nebula Anthology and highly recommend his work.

New law on semiconductor growth

In 1965, Gordon Moore of intel published a paper suggesting that the number of transistors on a chip would double every year. Later, it was revised to suggest a number of 18 months, which became true in part due to marketing pressure to meet the law.

Recently, Intel revised the law to set the time at two years.

So this suggests a new law, that the time period in Moore's Law doubles about every 40 years.

Friendscrow -- Key Escrow Among Friends

In thinking about the GMail encryption problem, I came to realize that for ordinary users liable to forget their passwords, it would not be suitable to tell them after such an event that all their email archives are forever lost. This means some sort of Key Escrow. Not the nasty kind done with the clipper chip, but one done voluntarily.

I came up with a system I call Friendscrow. (I suspect others have also thought of the same thing.) This is a ZUI (Zero User Interface) system, at least for normal operation.

Your key would be broken up into some number of fragments, say 20. The fragments would be arranged so that getting any 10 of them recovers the key, but getting fewer gets you no closer.

The system would search your mail logs to find your 20 most frequent correspondents in the system. (It has to be a big and popular system for this to take place, otherwise some UI is needed.) Most of these will be your friends, a few may be enmies. Techniques would be used to eliminate mailing lists, etc. If you want to add basic UI, you might scan and approve the list.

The key fragments are then distributed to the 20 close contacts. They will not know this has been done, the fragement will just be placed in their files, encrypted with their key.

If you lose your key (or when you die) you use your friends to get it back. You mail those you know to be your closest correspondents a special message. It says to them, "You may not know it, but you may have a fragment of my lost key. Go to the system and click on the link to help a friend recover a password."

The link explains that you should first confirm you are really talking to the friend through some other means than e-mail. Or confirm that they are dead. It will ask you to confirm they are not under duress. Then it will give you the fragment to hand over to the authorized person.

You should be able to find half the fragments, which would be enough to get back your key, and read your archives again.  read more »

McCain-Kerry Ticket

Many have seen talk of a proposed Kerry-McCain ticket, since they are longtime friends, and while McCain has been a loyal GOP member and endorsed the President, it's well know he is no real fan of Bush.

McCain has said he would not take the Democrat's VP nomination and no wonder. What's in it for him except a chance at the Vice Presidency? He would lose his Senate seat and probably never regain it. His old party would disown him and brand him a traitor. The Democrats would never nominate him for President when Kerry's term was over. Why trade Senator for a chance at VP and the end of your political career?

Another, much more radical suggestion comes to mind. McCain-Kerry. This seems like a ticket that would win. The only question is whether more Democrats would bolt from the movement by not voting, voting Nader or trying to run a backup Democrat (Edwards, Dean, etc.) than Republicans would switch to the bipartisan ticket of McCain & Kerry.

I think this ticket could win, and has the best chance of defeating Bush of any ticket that might happen. For those in the "Anybody but Bush in 2004" camp, this would be the reason to support it.

But would more ordinary democrats support it? The machinations required would be large but I believe workable. (Many delegates to the Dem Convention are already committed to vote for Kerry or another.)

McCain would have to agree to compromises, to agree to be a bipartisan President -- just Democratic enough to keep the Democrats on board, and Republican enough to win over the moderate Republicans under-thrilled with Bush, the ones he had supporting him against Bush last time. McCain is a man of principle, he would keep promises he made, I believe.

He would promise to do some Democrat items, and back off on Republican ones. (For example, abortion, supreme court appointments and a few other items.) He might even promise to resign at some point in his term, or only run one term.

McCain gets the brass ring -- he gets to be President, and get rid of Bush. That's worth risking your political career over. Kerry gets to be VP in a White House that promises to give a lot of duties to the VP, and he becomes the presumptive nominee for President after the McCain-Kerry administration is done.

The alternative is a 50% (probably less) chance of being President, and a 50% chance of 4 more years of GWB.

Closed-circuit HDTV for cruise ship inside cabins

Inside cabins on cruise ships are somewhat depressing. Here's a plan to make them better. Equip them with flat-panel HDTV video screens. Then place HDTV cameras on the bow, stern and both sides. Tune the video panel to the camera that is pointed in the same direction to make a virtual porthole.

Why is this valuable? Well, aside from giving the passengers something to look at in high-res, a lot of seasickness comes from your eyes not telling you the same thing as the balance organs in your inner ear. It's why staring at the horizon is the right thing to do when feeling queasy. This simulated window (if aligned well with the camera) should provide some help with that.

Not having done tests I don't know if it will be necessary to have the camera be close to the screen or whether a camera amidships (not moving up and down so much) could work with a screen near the bow, or vice versa. The disparity might make things worse, and tests would be needed. One axis might work while another would not. It might also be possible to compensate for the difference by cropping the frame from a larger view, and introducing artificial motion to provide the level of horizon motion that would be seen from a window.

Of course, they could also add bright full-spectrum lights to the inside rooms (I assume some ships do) to make them more cheery.

Inside cabins sell for a lot less than outside ones, this could jack up their price. Of course the screen could also tune the other cameras, or indeed other closed circuit cameras showing public areas on the ship, or semi-public ones like the bridge during interesting times.

And, duh, they would be great for movies and other video entertainment. In fact the outside cabins might want them so they can see out the window to starboard and see forward as well! Making a few hundred extra per trip would easily pay for the flat panel displays in a short time.

How are pricepoints moving on HD cameras meant not for camcordering (with associated expensive compression) but closed-circuit work? I could see a market for this even in homes, with one's flat panel showing the view from the roof of your house, if it has a view.

Conference of the governors

Just got a new frame-capture, thanks to Burak KALAYCI, for my amusing page Governor Schwarzenegger and Governor Ventura confer, which features a rare screen cap from the movie Predator. Strange days indeed.

New word: Spamigation

Spamigation: The abuse of bulk legal action. Filing lawsuits in bulk (as in the RIAA filesharing lawsuits or DirecTV smartcard lawsuits) without taking care to assure all defendants are actually at fault. As such, some defendants are bound to be entirely innocent, but this doesn't matter because you don't really plan to take any to trial.

Can also be used for threats of legislation, when sending out cease and desist and other threatening letters is bulk, because it's easier to bulk threaten than to research. Possible alternate spelling: Spammigation.

Privacy issues in GMail and other webmail

Most people have heard about the various debates around Google's new GMail service. I wear many hats, both as a friend and consultant to Google and as chairman of the EFF. There have been some tinfoil-hat flaps but there are also some genuine privacy concerns brought about by people moving their life online and into the hands of even a well-meaning third party.

Check out the Essay on privacy issues in GMail and webmail. I welcome your comments in the blog.

Will 3 tech trends change where we live?

I suspect that some time this decade we will see 3 tech trends converge which might make a big difference in the utility of remote real estate, land that currently remains undeveloped because it is so remote.

The first is already here, the internet. Many people can now use the internet to work from anywhere, and both long-range wireless broadband and satellite let you get the internet anywhere. That can give you data, video and phone service as well as the conduit for work.

It also gives you shopping, thanks to the commitment of the shipping companies to deliver to any address, even remote ones. Now you don't need much locally -- just your groceries and urgent needs. Everywhere now has a giant bookstore and a giant everything-else store if you can get UPS.

The second trend is cheaper remote power. Possibly solar, but perhaps sooner the fuel cell, to give quiet, clean and cheap electricity anywhere you can get propane delivered. We're not there yet but some products are already on the market. If not there are other improving forms of off-grid power.

The next is the return of cheaper general aviation, allowing people to own planes so they can live far from cities and get to them quickly. This is the only trend to see a recent reversal, as 9/11 has put general burdens on aviation. Today the money you save on the cost of a home, comparing a remote location to a big city, can easily buy that plane.

Some things are still harder, including schooling and of course an active social life. But for a component of society that wanted to live remotely but could not make it workable, this may be about to change. Suddenly that remote hilltop with the fabulous view that was undeveloped because it was off-grid and too remote for the good life may get a house on it. We may see a lot of this.

Some new terms to throw out

I like to make up terms. Here are some more for your use or enjoyment.

Re-fried
Returned to Fry's Electronics and re-shrinkwrapped. "Don't buy that one, it's been re-fried!"

Nerd Trolling
For women who want a geeky guy, dressing up to the 9s and going out on Friday night to the computer store, then standing in front of the hard drives muttering about whether you should get SATA, IDE or SCSI. The guys there alone Friday night are single, smart and probably well off or gainfully employed. Much better odds than the bars.

Post-Futurism
Modern, post-modern and futurist are not enough. If you're into the Singularity, worry about Gray Goo and copying uploaded human minds, you're a post-futurist.

The ideal airline

I wrote recently on better boarding strategies. Let me talk about what I really want in efficiency from an airline. Well, it seems we are stymied on getting what we really want, something as easy as a train, due to 9/11 oversecurity, but let's see what we can do.

This airline, at least here in California airports, doesn't use a giant air terminal. Instead, the airport is just the airstrips with a big parking lot running all along the side. (Could still do that at many of today's airports backsides.)

The trip begins as I drive off to the airport. I punch the airline's number on my cell phone. They take the caller-id and check me in, then text message me an electronic boarding pass. (I can also do this from a more advanced device or web browser of course.)

I drive into the parking lot and park right at the "gate." I mean 100 feet from the waiting plane. I grab my bag, hand my keys to the parking valet. I flash my cell phone's screen with the text message in front of their scanner which confirms my boarding pass. I go through the security scan, and into the small structure to sit in the chair with my boarding number on it. I access the free wi-fi.

Not long after, boarding is called, and we stand up from the chairs and walk up the stairs to the plane. (No jetways, at least here in California, though you could have them.) The front and back of the plane are used, everybody gets on in just a few minutes.

We land at a similar airport. When I confirmed boarding, the rental car company (or taxi or shuttle) was informed. As I get off the plane, waiting in the parking zone is my rental car. The scanner in the car reads the text message with my rental code and it activates. I drive away. Or perhaps I take a taxi. Perhaps I indicated that I would be happy to share a cab to the convention center so the cab has a list of 2 people to wait for.

On the way back, again I pull up right at the small valet zone at the airplane's gate. The rental company takes the car and I walk on the plane. My boarding is sent to the parking valets, and when my plane arrives, my car is ready in the valet zone. Off I go.

Of course there are flaws...  read more »

Don't call it a hole, call it a window

In talking of computer security, we often use the term "hole" to refer to a security flaw. We also say vulnerability or exploit.

Instead of calling it a hole, I suggest calling it a "window." As in "Somebody found a window into ssh" or "They got in through a window left open in Sendmail."

The plural is left as an exercise to the reader.

New way of watching series TV

My blog's popular today, so let me expand on an older essay of mine I never blogged before, concerning my new style of watching TV, thanks in part to my Tivo hard disk recorder.

In the past series-based TV has made its money by the series getting fans which watch it every week. The fans watch the good episodes and they watch the bad. As long as they get enough good episodes (or very rarely, all-good) they continue to watch the show. Advertisers buy space based on the popularity of the show (though they pay based on the ratings it actually gets.)

With movies and books, we have some fandom (especially for a big series like Star Wars) but more commonly you choose your movie based on things you hear about a particular movie. You may be brought in by good marketing, but more often you wait and hear good things, and then you go.

I've started watching series TV the latter way. I have my Tivo record the series I am interested in. For many series, there are fan websites where the fans hold polls about how good the episode was, starting the very night of airing.

I look at the poll a few days later, and if the episode was a turkey, I delete it. If need be, I read the summary of plot details found on the fan web site. As a result, my TV series end up with nothing but good episodes. Some series are much more watchable if you remove the bad parts. Life is too short to watch bad TV.

You can read more at the bottom of my essay on the future of TV advertising or below in the blog...  read more »

More on plane loading

In thinking about plane loading again, where I suggested they paint the rows in reverse order on the carpet where people line up to board, it occurs to me that in reverse order by row may not be the most efficient boarding order.

When each person gets to their seat, they tend to stop there to put away luggage, blocking other people in their row or further back. If they block the people in their row they make them block the people in the next row and so on, which is not efficient.

The most efficient order might be to do all the windows first (starting with the rear), then the middles and then the aisles. (Modify as appopriate for widebody aircraft.)

This way everybody does the luggage loading in parallel, as nobody is stopping them, then another column moves in. The first-row window passengers might block the last row middles for a short time but it would be minimal.

However...  read more »

American Express threatens me over joke on web site

On my rec.humor.funny web site, I maintain the newsgroup archives, including this 13 year old joke entitled American Expressway.

Today I got one of those bullying "cease and desist" letters from American Express's law firm, ordering me to take down the joke for trademark infringement. Here's the text of the cease and desist

Do these guys know who they are trying to bully? I guess not, here's my response to them:

You can "Screw More" with an American Express Lawyer

Do you know me?

I built a famous company with a famous name, and then satirists made fun of me by taking advantage of the constitutional protections afforded parody when it comes to trademark law?

That's why I retained Leydig, Voit & Mayer, Ltd, the "American Express Lawyers." Should you ever feel your reputation lost or stolen by free speech and satire, just one call gets LVM to write a threatening cease and desist letter -- usually on the same day -- citing all sorts of important sounding laws but ignoring the realities of parody. Most innocent web sites will cave in, not knowing their rights. LVM will pretend it has never read cases like L.L. Bean, Inc. v. High Society and dozens of others. There's no preset limit on the number of people you can threaten, so you can bully as much as you wish.  read more »

Official Candidate Picker

I recently tried one of those online surveys that tries to tell you which candidate is actually most in line with your policy beliefs. These are fun, but subject to bias.

In keeping with my New Democracy category, I started wondering if there was a way to make this process official, and unbiased. It's an interesting process because often these surveys surprise the voter, who, based on campaign ads or peer pressure don't realize they are highly in agreement with a smaller-party platform.

Here's one suggestion for a way to make it non-biased. Each registered candidate could submit a policy statement that they think differentiates themselves from the other candidates. After all are submitted, they would be revealed and the other candidates would decide how they themselves want to be scored by the proposition. (The submitting candidate would be classed as strongly agreeing.) You don't want to put in a motherhood proposition that everybody agrees with as it won't differentiate you from others.

After this we go another round, candidates can submit entries which either continue to differentiate them, or refine or rebut earlier proposals. You can go several rounds, though you don't want the survey to be super-long.

Then voters can take this survey and it will tell them how close they are to each candidate, on the whole and issue-by-issue.  read more »

Redeem transit tickets for Carpool lane permits

Carpool lanes exist to reward those who work to reduce congestion and pollution with a faster trip. I know that's good every time I look out my window and can't see the hills for the haze. Some areas allow zero-emission-vehicles (electric cars etc.) to also use carpool lanes with a solo driver, reducing pollution if not congestion.

Proposals have been made to also allow solo drivers of hybrid cars into the lanes, as well as solo drivers who simply pay a fat fee for a permit. Let me propose an interesting variant of these payment ideas.

Let people pay for part of their capool permit with used commuter train tickets. A person who rides the commuter train takes a car off the road just as much as a person who carpools. If used train tickets (for longer trips) could be credit for a carpool permit, this would encourage people to take the train "most days" but still use their car when it's called for. You could allow only redemption of your own ticket (such as a monthly pass) or any ticket, in which case a market would develop with people paying transit riders for their ticket stubs. This would effectively mean the solo drivers would subsidize the transit riders, even making their trips free. Which is part of what we want to have happen here.  read more »

Telling good patents from bad

Many people feel there's a patent law crisis underway. The Patent office has been granting patents that either seem obvious, or aren't the sort of thing that should be patented. Some advance that software shouldn't be patentable at all, just as mathematics is not patentable.

I don't go that far, for reasons I will explain. But I have found a common thread in many of the bad patents which could be a litmus test for telling the bad from the good.

Patent law, as we know, requires inventions to be novel and not obvious to one skilled in the art.

But the patent office has taken too liberal a definition of novel. They are granting patents when the problem is novel, and the filer is the first to try to solve it. As such their answer to the new question is novel.

The better patents are ones that solve older problems.

Amazon was one of the earliest internet shopping operations. So of course they were among the first to look hard at the UI for that style of shopping, and thus were first to file an invention called one-click-buy. But one-click-buy was really just an obvious answer to a new problem. The same applies to XOR cursors, browser plug-ins, and streaming audio and video.

Some patents, however, are deserving. I remember seeing CS professors give lectures in the mid-70s about how Huffman coding was provably the be best form of data compression, even after Ziv and Lempel published their paper on their compression algorithms. They took a very old problem and came up with a new answer. Key management in cryptography was a 2000 year old problem, and Diffie, Hellman and Merkle came up with a bold new answer. (As did cryptographers at British intelligence, but I still don't think this makes this obvious.)

While it would not solve every problem, I think if patent examiners asked, "How long has somebody been trying to solve the problem this invention solves?" and held off patents when the problem was novel, or at least applied more scrutiny, we would have a lot less problem with the patent system.

Many people simply say, "we should not allow patenting of software."

This has always bothered me. To me, software and hardware are the same thing, and the rest of the world is slowly realizing that. The virtual world is the real world, and having one law for that done in software and another for that done in hardware is a poor course to take.  read more »

Being a privacy nut

Those of us who opposed the TIA and other programs were recently branded as "privacy nuts" for doing so. Hiawatha Bray wrote that it was stupid to quash this sort of research just because it might lead to abuse.

Nonetheless, it is important to understand that this is exactly the role
of the privacy advocate.

Protecting privacy is one of the most difficult tasks in the civil rights
pantheon for several reasons. One is that people are rarely concerned about
privacy invasions until after they have taken place. The consequences of
privacy invasion are often subtle as well, even after the fact. The
simple fact that you know you are being watched alters your behaviour in
subtle ways, causes self-censorship of all sorts of speech and activities.

After all, who acts the same home at dinner with their mother than they
do out on their own at college for the first time away from her eye?

Thus it is important not only that the government not engage in general
surveillance. It must, like Ceasar's wife be _seen_ to not engage in
such activity. Anything that gives the public grounds to fear they
are under surveillance impinges on freedom. Even if the watchers are
well intentioned and well behaved and don't exceed their authority.

But of course, even though they may be well intentioned, countless
evidence shows they do exceed their authority, and not infrequently.

Thus we come to the next princple. That we must not build the
infrastructure of the police state. We must not make it be that the
action needed to have a real police state is to flip a switch or
change a policy. Perhaps the risk that the switch will actually be
flipped is one in 100 in your judgement. To me the cost of such a
state is so high we must not even let that level of risk go by.

Instead, let us always have those who would want a surveillance state
have to do both things -- change the policy and create the infrastructure.
Let us not do the hard work for them.

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