Brad Templeton is Chairman Emeritus of the EFF
, Singularity U
computing chair, software architect and internet entrepreneur, robotic car strategist, futurist lecturer, photographer and Burning Man artist.
This is an "ideas" blog rather than a "cool thing I saw today" blog. Many of the items are not topical. If you like what you read, I recommend you also browse back in the archives, starting with the best of blog section. It also has various "topic" and "tag" sections (see menu on right) and some are sub blogs like Robocars, photography and Going Green. Try my home page for more info and contact data.
Submitted by brad on Tue, 2006-05-02 13:24.
There’s lots of buzz now about IE7 and the “search box” at the top of the window. Microsoft says if you download IE7 that box will use the search engine you used in IE6, which is normally MSN search. For anti-trust reasons they are not rushing to just force it to be MSN or live from the start.
Recent comments to me have made me think about just how valuable that box is, and whether in fact it’s as valuable as all of Windows Vista Home, for example. Rumours have circulated that Mozilla foundation got something close to 70 million dollars by making Google the default search in the Firefox search box. For about a 10% share of the browser market.
Microsoft may have views on what default to set, but the real parties that will set the default for a lot of users are the OEMs (like Dell and HP) that ship with Windows Vista, and the big ISPs (Cable, DSL) who love to push a customized browser on their users. Both these groups have done basic customizations like setting the home page and throwing in some bookmarks. But nothing has every been so valuable as the search box.
It was suggested to me that the OEMs might open the default on the search box to bidding. Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and the rest would bid on who could offer the vendor a better deal — either as a percentage of revenues or a flat fee. Indeed, the type of customer (rich, poor, corporate, personal) might dictate the deal.
At some point, if it hasn’t already happened, the value of the search box could exceed the OEM’s cost for Windows Vista Home (street buzz suggests this is around $40 for high volume OEMs.) In other words, at some point, Microsoft would be effectively offering Windows Vista Home to the OEM for free, or even paying the OEM to take Windows if Microsoft search is the default search box. (Or even locked in. While MS dare not lock it in for anti-trust reasons, an OEM could do this.)
All of this depends on the dynamic of the negotiation between Microsoft and the PC vendors. Since I doubt MS wants to be in the position of paying vendors to take Windows — effectively putting them in the search business where they are #3 instead of the OS business — they will use whatever tools they have to fight this.
It doesn’t matter a lot that many users would switch from the default, or download a new browser (even IE7 directly from MS) if they don’t like the choice. The value of the default is powerful enough, unless it truly sucks.
This line of thinking goes further. Our PCs are becoming a conduit for much of our commercial activity. Google makes about $2B/quarter from ads, without forcing much on you at all, which has been part of their genius. In the past, people like NetZero failed to even pay for dial-up ISP service from ads. But there’s still much more to exploit. As Moore’s law drives down the price of the computer, and the effectiveness of Google and other companies at monetizing the web experience moves up, at some point the lines cross and it becomes worthwhile to subsidize, and then give away the entire PC, at least to certan prospects. Decent Linux PCs with no monitor are $160 at Fry’s. Are we that far away from this happening?
Submitted by brad on Tue, 2006-05-02 00:03.
Here’s an interesting problem. In the movies we always see scenes where the good guy is fighting the Evil Conspiracy (EvilCon) and he tells them he’s hidden the incriminating evidence with a friend who will release it to the papers if the good guy disappears under mysterious circumstances. Today EvilCon would just quickly mine your social networking platform to find all your friends and shake them down for the evidence.
So here’s the challenge. Design a system so that if you want to escrow some evidence, you can do it quickly, reliably and not too expensively, at a brief stop at an internet terminal while on the run from EvilCon. Assume EvilCon is extremely powerful, like the NSA. Here are some of the challenges:
- You need to be able to pay those who do escrow, as this is risky work. At the same time there must be no way to trace the payment.
- You don’t want the escrow agents to be able to read the data. Instead, you will split the encryption keys among several escrow agents in a way that some subset of them must declare you missing to assemble the key and publish the data.
- You need some way to vet escrow agents to assure they will do their job faithfully, but at the same time you must assume some of them work for EvilCon if there is a large pool.
- They must have some way to check if you are still alive. Regularly searching for you in Google or going to your web site regularly might be traced.
Some thoughts below… read more »
Submitted by brad on Mon, 2006-05-01 15:03.
I’ve been playing with various calendar systems, such as Mozilla calendar, Korganizer, Google Calendar, Chandler and a few others, and I’m finding them wanting. I have not used iCal or Outlook so perhaps they solve all my problems, but I doubt they do.
I see two ways to want to merge in additional calendars, neither of which is supported very well.
The first type of merger is an intmate one, for calendars in which I will attend most or all events. Effectively they are like extensions of my own calendar, in that I should be considered busy for any event in these calendars, unless I explicity say otherwise. One example would be a couple’s calendar, for social events attended as a couple — parties, weddings etc. Family calendars and workgroup calendars could also qualify.
The other class of calendar is a suggested calendar. These calendars are imported but I will be attending relatively few
events from them. It’s more I want to browse them. There are many such calendars now available on the calendar sharing
In a few of the tools you can copy an event from an imported calendar into your personal calendar, but after you do you now see two of the event. What you really want is a pointer to the imported event. Minor changes in the imported event should flow through into your final personal calendar. Changes in date or changes that cause a conflict should also flow through but be flagged as needing attention.
Tools like Google calendar, which allow you to access your calendar from remote locations (and easily publish public calendars) are good but they have privacy problems. As you may know if you read this blog, information on your own computer is protected by the 4th amendment. Information on somebody else’s computer (like Google’s) is not. As such, you would like to have any export of your personal calendar be encrypted, and accessible only while you are logged on with the password. Distilled, “free/busy” information may remain unencrypted for access even when you’re not online. However, this is a hard engineering problem to get right — in the long run we need the scope of the 4th amendment re-expanded so that “your papers” include not just your records stored at home, but your records stored on external servers.
Have I just not used enough tools? Do some calendars work this way that I haven’t seen?
Submitted by brad on Fri, 2006-04-28 12:57.
Since writing in the previous post about an end to all ringing of cellphones through the use of cheap bluetooth enabled vibrating devices in watches, belts, shoes and other wearables, I’ve been listening to the cacophany of rings in public meetings (even those were people are told to put their phone on vibrate.) One thing I am sure we’ve all experienced is hearing somebody’s ring get louder and louder in a meeting as they fumble to get the phone and open it to press the silence button.
I suggest the phone have a capacitave sensor on the outside so it knows when human skin is touching it. Once you are holding the phone there is no need for it to keep ringing, and certainly not to keep increasing in volume. Then one could open it and send the call to voicemail (or, in my design, push the button that answers and plays a recording to the caller saying you are walking out of a meeting and will be able to talk shortly.)
Of course, many of these fumbles are caused by phones that vibrate first, then start playing ringtone and then increase the volume of the tone. That’s not a bad design though obviously phones are often in a place where they are vibrating and that’s not being noticed. For those fumbling in a bag for their phone there will still be lots of loud noise.
It would be nice if phones had cheap accelerometers in them and only got really loud when they knew they were sitting still. In particular, if a phone has been sitting still for a while, and starts vibrating/ringing, and then it suddenly notices it is picked up thanks to the accelerometer, it could reduce the ringing (and perhaps do more flashing.) This might not work too well in vehicles, unfortunately. In cars we don’t care about loud rings but in trains we do.
Submitted by brad on Tue, 2006-04-25 21:10.
No, not the sexual kind of personal vibrator. Today we regularly hear reminders to put phones on vibrate, and they are often ignored. The world is becoming rapidly swamped with loud, deliberately destracting cell phone ringtones. (The ringtones themselves are a business.)
I remember visiting Hong Kong 10 years ago, and a business lunch was a serious cacaphony of pagers in a crowded restaurant. They were going off ever few seconds, and this was acceptable there. I don't know how much worse it has gotten. I was on the train today and since that's a place people actually expect to take calls, ringing was quite regular.
Perhaps it's time to declare that cell phones should no longer ring at all, except in certain special circumstances. That the very idea of a ringer should be viewed as rude and pointless and in fact an invasion of your own privacy. Why should the world know you are getting a call?
To make this happen, I propose bluetooth based personal devices to be worn on the body. The most obvious one would be your watch. However, bluetooth based vibrating devices could be placed in glasses, belts, shoes, shirt collars or wallets. Anything the always-available wear on their body. Shoes and belts have the most potential for long battery life. Yes, you would have to charge your device once a week.
The vibrators would have a temperature transducer to know if they are indeed on the body. If that goes cold, a slowly rising ring could be issued from the device or the phone. The phone could also ring if the vibrating sensor is off or not connected to the phone. Or if the phone detects it is in a private car and plugged into car power, though frankly by this time we should all have cars with bluetooth handsfree anyway.
The phone itself, using temperature and other metrics, can also figure out if it is in a pocket, though this works mostly for men. Women tend to keep phones in purses.
Next step -- your cell phone should warn you when you are yelling. It knows if it is getting a good audio signal from you compared to ambient noise. As you probably know, people tend to talk loudly on cell phones if they are having trouble hearing the other party. Your phone should notice this, and give you some subtle "be quieter" tones. If you are using a headset yourself, the phone display could run a VU meter for constant reminder.
(Unfortunately most phones today shut down the backlight and even the processor in the phone during a call to save power, making this harder.)
Here's to a more peaceful public world.
Submitted by brad on Thu, 2006-04-20 16:47.
We all know that racecar drivers wear jumpsuits plastered with the logos of the companies that have sponsored them.
Why not have the same system for members of the legislature? When they vote on bills, they would need to wear a suit with patches from Halliburton, Exxon, AT&T or any other companies that have given them major contributions. Larger contribution, larger patch.
Ok, not going to happen, but perhaps it’s less wild to suggest that as an alternative to having to register to donate money (which many people still feel is a violation of freedom of speech), we have politicians publish a list of all their donors, and the amount, for any given bill whom they feel have a special interest in the bill. They would have to say the top entries while voting, and publish a complete written list.
They would need to be liberal in listing contributors, because if a relationship were revealed later it would look bad, and possibly criminal. Ideally we would have a Caesar’s Wife approach, there they make sure to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.
Submitted by brad on Mon, 2006-04-17 23:18.
Watching 60 minutes last night on the fact that in China’s new generation, there are 120 boys for every 100 women, due to the one-child-policy and the abortion of girls by those who insist on a son, an obvious answer came to me.
Instead of a one-child policy, have a one-son policy. Ie. after you have your first boy, you must stop. (China actually forces sterilization or insertion of an IUD under surveillance, which I obviously don’t think is a great way to do things.)
A one-son policy, would obviously increase the population pressure, since strice one-child means 1 child for every woman (though in practice it is not perfect, so it’s a bit more than that,) while one-son probably results in about 1.7 children per woman.
But in theory, there would be far less aborting of girls. There might be a cap of 3 children, which would mean that after 2 girls, the parents might consider abortion of a third, but this would apply to a much smaller fraction of pregnancies than it does today. In addition, a number of couples would stop with all girls after 2 or many times even 1, both because they can’t afford more children, or state pressure still pushes them to stop. The policy would actually be that one should still have only one child, but that draconian measures would not be taken on those who have daughters who insist on trying for a son.
The key is simply to present the easiest path. Right now aborting a child based on sex is illegal, it’s illegal for a doctor to tell the parents the sex of a child, and that would probably remain true. They just have to make it so that those daring enough to break the law to identify and then abort a girl would take the slightly easier, if perhaps more bureaucratic, path of having another child.
And of course, as long as you’re not aborting based on sex, you will get an even sexual balance no matter what rules you place on when to stop.
They need to do something. Lots of evidence suggests that a giant surplus of men who will never find women will sharply increase the crime rate and cause other problems. (Though perhaps it will cause revolution which would probably not be all bad.) Already one new nasty crime of desperation has sprung up — kidnapping girls, sometimes just as babies, to be future brides. I had hoped that being so valuable would increase the women’s power, but this may have been a false hope.
A search reveals I am not the only one with this idea, but it has not yet gathered much of a foothold. Both approaches are draconian, of course, and have no place in a free society.
Submitted by brad on Sat, 2006-04-15 12:07.
I’ve been writing a bunch about transportation of late, and I got the chance to have lunch with Robin Chase, founder of Zipcar, and talk about the economics.
She proposes that we really need to make the true cost of our transportation visible to solve many of our problems (congestion, pollution, etc.) It’s often been described just how much of a subsidy the U.S. and in particular California gives to the car driver, but to most people it’s not too visible.
She’s particularly interested in changing the rules on parking. We subsidize parking a lot. Most people are aware of the use of roadsides for free or cheap parking on public land. Robin proposes getting rid of the requirements that force building developers to provide adequate parking for their building. Most people think these are a good idea, because otherwise developers would not provide parking, and the cars coming to the building would suck up all available parking in the area and there would quickly not be any. read more »
Submitted by brad on Thu, 2006-04-13 23:43.
I get a lot of party invites by Evite, and it’s very frustrating. I’ve missed some events because they refuse to improve their interface.
When I get event invites, I save them to a mail folder. Then I can browse the mail folder later to check dates. If I am not in front of my calendar (which alas is not available everywhere) I can go back and enter items I save.
When I am on the road, sometimes my connectivity is bursty. That means I download mail and read it offline. But this is useless with Evites, as they don’t tell you anything about the event except a usually vague title if you are offline. After that it’s easy to forget you needed to go back and re-read the thing while online. Almost all other invites I get put the party date into the subject line, as it should be.
I’ve complained to Evite several times about this. So have many other people. They say they “are taking it under advisement.” One friend pushed Evite (using the threat of spam complaint, which is not really valid here) to put in a block so she doesn’t get evites. Her friend get told to send her a direct invitation. I’ve concluded that since this change is pretty easy to do, Evite has decided deliberately to be user-unfriendly here, in order to get more people to click on the links to see the ads.
While Google gets a lot of ribbing over the “don’t be evil” mantra, the truth is it started out with a simple principle like this one. Don’t do things deliberately against user interest because it seems they might generate a bit more advertising revenue. Examples of this sort of “evil” include pop-up ads, animated ads and paying for search results, which are all things other sites did. I would have hoped more companies would have learned the lesson of that, and try to emulate the successful strategy of Google. No luck, at least with Evite.
Do don’t be Evite. If you use their product, stuff at least the date, and if necessary the place, into what they consider the short title of the party, even if you must shorted the title. Yes, you will then enter it again, but your guests will thank you.
Submitted by brad on Thu, 2006-04-13 18:27.
TONIGHT, April 20th, there will be a debate on the issue of per-message charges for E-mail, sparked by the recent debate over Goodmail and AOL.
The debate will feature former EFF Chair Esther Dyson, who has become a surprising supporter of pay-to-send E-mail, and EFF Activist Danny O’Brien, NTK author and coordinator of EFF’s involvement in the efforts against Goodmail. Esther is also publisher of Release 1.0, host of the PC Forum conference and former chair of ICANN.
Alas, I won’t be able to be there, as I am at a conference out of town, but those who followed the debate in my blog may wish to attend.
EFF will be fundraising, suggested donation $20 but donations are not mandatory.
You can get full details at the BayFF page
Submitted by brad on Thu, 2006-04-13 10:39.
Earlier, when proposing the term Schizophonic to describe people who wander the streets, waving their arms and apparently talking to themselves, I said the only difference between those folks and crazy homeless folks was the earbud.
I suggest we get manufacturers of phone headsets to donate the defective ones to the homeless. Then, they can wear and earbud and it will be much harder to tell the difference.
Submitted by brad on Mon, 2006-04-10 11:37.
These days a lot of conferences are being recorded and even live broadcast on the net. So they make a rule that people asking questions must wait for the microphone, causing long pauses that ruin the momentum of a debate or discussion.
I recommend conferences doing this get one of those small parabolic microphones if they can (mount it on the video camera if there is operator controlled video) or give it to an assistant. They can point it at the asker, and then they can talk until a better microphone arrives.
Another option (which might actually be good for coordinating questions) would be to tell question askers to phone a special number on their cell phone. When they are acknowledged to talk, they would press a key, and the sound mixer guy could unmute their channel. They could talk, at low fidelity until the wireless mic arrives. This could also be a way to line up for questions. The moderator could announce a the last few digits in the participant’s phone number (enough to be unique) and allow that phone into the sound
People with laptops could also use a voice app (perhaps even through the non-connected AP described in the prior blog post) if they had a microphone on their laptop!
Submitted by brad on Mon, 2006-04-10 10:47.
Most people use wireless access points to provide access to the internet, of course, but often there are situations where you can’t get access, or access fast enough to be meaningful. (ie. a dialup connection quickly gets overloaded with all but the lightest activity.)
I suggest that AP firmwares be equipped with local services that can be used even with no internet connection. In particular, collaboration tools such as a simple IRC server, and a web server with tiny wiki or web chat application. Of course, there are limitations on flash size, so it might be you would make a firmware for some APs which rips out the external connection stuff to make room for collaboration.
There are a variety of open source firmwares out there, particularly for the Linksys WRT54 line of APs, where these features could be added. There are a few APs that have USB ports where you can add USB or flash drives so that you have a serious amount of memory and could have lots of collaborative features.
Then, at conferences, these collaboration APs could be put up, whether or not there is a connection. Indeed, some conferences might decide to deliberately not have an outside connection but allow collaboration.
Submitted by brad on Fri, 2006-04-07 11:03.
There already are some drive-by-wire cars being sold, including a few (in Japan) that can parallel park themselves. And while I fear that anti-terrorist worries may stand in the way of self-driving and automatic cars, one early application, before we can get full self-driving, would be tele-operated cars, the the remote driver in an inexpensive place, like Mexico.
Now I don’t know if the world is ready, safety-wise for a remote chauffeur in a car driving down a public street, where it could hit another car or pedestrian, even if the video was very high-res and the latency quite low. But parking is another story. I think a remote driver could readily park a car in a valet lot kept clear of pedestrians. In fact, because you can drive very slowly to do this, one can even tolerate longer latencies, perhaps all the way to India. The remote operator might actually have a better view for parking, with small low-res cameras mounted right at the bumpers for a view the seated driver can’t have. They can also have automatic assists (already found in some cars) to warn about near approach to other cars.
The win of valet parking is large — I think at least half the space in a typical parking lot is taken up with lanes and inter-car spacing. In addition, a human-free garage can have some floors only 5’ high for the regular cars, or use those jacks around found in some valet garages that stack 2 cars on top of one another. So I’m talking possibly almost 4 times the density. You still need some lanes of course, except for cars you are certain won’t be needed on short notice (such as at airports, train stations etc.)
The wins of remote valet parking include the ability to space cars closely (no need to open the doors to get out) and eventually to have the 5’ high floors. In addition, remote operators can switch from vehicle to vehicle instantly — they don’t have to run to the car to get it. They can switch from garage to garage instantly, meaning their services would be 100% utilized.
Read on… read more »
Submitted by brad on Sun, 2006-04-02 22:47.
I’ve blogged several times before about my desire for universal DC power — ideally with smart power, but even standardized power supplies would be a start.
However, here’s a way to get partyway, cheap. PC power supplies are really cheap, fairly good, and very, very powerful. They put out lots of voltages. Most of the power is at +5v, +12v and now +3.3v. Some of the power is also available at -5v and -12v in many of them. The positive voltages above can be available as much as 30 to 40 amps! The -5 and -12 are typically lower power, 300 to 500ma, but sometimes more.
So what I want somebody to build is a cheap adapter kit (or a series of them) that plug into the standard molex of PC power supplies, and then split out into banks at various voltages, using the simple dual-pin found in Radio Shack’s universal power supplies with changeable tips. USB jacks at +5 volts, with power but no data, would also be available because that’s becoming the closest thing we have to a universal power plug.
There would be two forms of this kit. One form would be meant to be plugged into a running PC, and have a thick wire running out a hole or slot to a power console. This would allow powering devices that you don’t mind (or even desire) turning off when the PC is off. Network hubs, USB hubs, perhaps even phones and battery chargers etc. It would not have access to the +3.3v directly, as the hard drive molex connector normally just gives the +5 and 12 with plenty of power.
A second form of the kit would be intended to get its own power supply. It might have a box. These supplies are cheap, and anybody with an old PC has one lying around free, too. Ideally one with a variable speed fan since you’re not going to use even a fraction of the capacity of this supply and so won’t get it that hot. You might even be able to kill the fan to keep it quiet with low use. This kit would have a switch to turn the PS on, of course, as modern ones only go on under simple motherboard control.
Now with the full set of voltages, it should be noted you can also get +7v (from 5 to 12), 8.7v (call it 9) from 3.3 to 12, 1.7v (probably not that useful), and at lower currents, 10v (-5 to +5), 17v (too bad that’s low current as a lot of laptops like this), 24v, 8.3v, and 15.3v.
On top of that, you can use voltage regulators to produce the other popular voltages, in particular 6v from 7, and 9v from 12 and so on. Special tips would be sold to do this. This is a little bit wasteful but super-cheap and quite common.
Anyway, point is, you would get a single box and you could plug almost all your DC devices into it, and it would be cheap-cheap-cheap, because of the low price of PC supplies. About the only popular thing you can’t plug in are the 16v and 22v laptops which require 4 amps or so. 12v laptops of course would do fine. At the main popular voltages you would have more current than you could ever use, in fact fuses might be in order. Ideally you could have splitters, so if you have a small array of boxes close together you can get simple wiring.
Finally, somebody should just sell nice boxes with all this together, since the parts for PC power supplies are dirt cheap, the boxes would be easy to make, and replace almost all your power supplies. Get tips for common cell phone chargers (voltage regulators can do the job here as currents are so small) as well as battery chargers available with the kit. (These are already commonly available, in many cases from the USB jack which should be provided.) And throw in special plugs for external USB hard drives (which want 12v and 5v just like the internal drives.)
There is a downside. If the power supply fails, everything is off. You may want to keep the old supplies in storage. Some day I envision that devices just don’t come with power supplies, you are expected to have a box like this unless the power need is very odd. If you start drawing serious amperage the fan will need to go on and you might hear it, but it should be pretty quiet in the better power supplies.
Submitted by brad on Sun, 2006-04-02 11:17.
GPS receivers with bluetooth are growing in popularity, and it makes sense. I want my digital camera to have bluetooth as well so it can record where each picture is taken.
But as I was drivng from the airport last night, I realized that my cell phone has location awareness in it (for dialing 911 and location aware apps) and my laptop has bluetooth in it, and mapping software if connected to a GPS — so why couldn’t my cell phone be talking to my laptop to give it my location for the mapping software? Or ideed, why won’t it tell a digital camera that info as well?
Are people making cell phones that can be told to transmit their position to a local device that wants such data?
Update: My Sprint Mogul, whose GPS is enabled by the latest firmware update, is able to act as a bluetooth GPS using a free GPS2Blue program.
Submitted by brad on Fri, 2006-03-31 17:24.
April 1, 2006, San Francisco, CA: In a surprise move, Department of Justice (DoJ) attorneys filed a subpoena yesterday in federal court against the National Security Agency, requesting one million sample Google searches. They plan to use the searches as evidence in their defence of the constitutionality of the Child Online Protection Act.
The DoJ had previously requested a subpoena against Google, Inc. itself for the records, but Google mounted a serious defence, resulting in much more limited data flow. According to DoJ spokesperson Charles Miller, “Google was just putting up too much of a fight. The other sites and ISPs mostly caved in quickly and handed over web traffic and search records without a fuss, but Google made it expensive for us. We knew the NSA had all the records, so it seemed much simpler to just get them by going within the federal government.”
“Yahoo, of course, gave in rather easily. If they hadn’t, we could have just asked our friends in the Chinese government to demand the records. Yahoo does whatever they say.”
The White House revealed in December that the NSA has been performing warrentless searches on international phone, e-mail and internet traffic after the New York Times broke the story. Common speculation suggests they have been tapping other things, to data mine the vast sea of internet traffic, looking for patterns that might point to enemy activity.
“The NSA has the wires into all the hubs already, it’s just a lot faster for them to get this data.”
“We can neither confirm nor deny we have these search records,” said an un-named NSA spokesperson. “In fact, even asking if we have them makes you suspect.”
(Thanks to John Gilmore for the suggestion.)
Submitted by brad on Fri, 2006-03-31 02:25.
Next week (Mon-Tuesday) I will be speaking at David Isenberg’s “Freedom To Connect” conference, on an open net, in Silver Spring, Maryland (Washington DC.)
April 10 I will be at UCSB’s CITS conference (Santa Barbara, obviously) on growing network communities.
The next week April 19-21 sees the annual Asilomar Microcomputer Workshop, always a good time.
See you there.
Submitted by brad on Wed, 2006-03-29 13:16.
Today many services offer MRI scans for a fee. DNA testing services are getting better and better — soon they will be able to predict how likely it is you will get all sorts of diseases. Many worry that this will alter the landscape of insurance, either because insurance companies will demand testing, or demand you tell them what you learn from testing.
Many criticise the MRI scan services because they quite often show up something that’s harmless but which inspires a medical demand to check it out just to make sure. That check-out may be expensive or even be invasive surgery.
So people are suggesting, “don’t get tested because you don’t want to know.” However there is stuff you do want to know, and stuff that may be useful in the future.
I propose escrowed testing services that promise not to tell you, or anybody, certain things that they find. For example, they would classify genetic tendencies for diseases for which there is no preventative course, like Parkinsons or Alzheimer’s. Many would say they have no desire to know they might get Parkinson’s as they get older, since there is nothing they can do but worry.
The service might escrow the data themselves with the big added plus that they would regularly re-evalutate the decision about whether you might want to know something. Thus, if a preventative treatment comes along that is recommended for people with your genes, then they would recognize this and tell you the thing you formerly didn’t want to know. They would also track what new things can be tested, and tell you when a re-test might make sense as technology improves.
The information could also be escrowed with a trusted friend or relative. You might have a buddy or spouse who could get the full story, and then decide what you need to know. A tough role of course, perhaps too tough for a spouse, who would worry about your pending Parkinson’s almost as much as you. You can’t easily use relatives, because they share lots of your DNA, at least for DNA scans.
Of course, your doctor is an obvious person for this, but this goes against their current principles and training.
Of course there is a legal minefield here. One would need a means to provide pretty good immunities for the escrowers, while at the same time not allowing them to be totally careless. The honest belief that information was in the don’t-tell profile should be enough to provide immunity.
There is another risk here, of course, which is that strangers, even doctors, can’t be fully trusted with the final decisions on your health. You will be taking a risk that the 3rd parties won’t work quite as hard at solving problems or even paying attention to them as you would. In fact, you’re doing this because you would worry too much.
There’s another benefit to this. Many people, if told to expect something, will invent it. This is very common with things like drug side-effects. In order to avoid this, when I take a new drug, I don’t read the long PDR list of side-effects. Instead, I have Kathryn read them. Then I can wait until I truly sense something and ask if it’s a side effect, rather than expecting it. The same principle applies here, though that suggests you need somebody very close as your health escrow. Of course again your doctor would be the right choice here, so that when you went there to say “I’m feeling numbness in my fingers” she could say, “Ah, well now it’s time to tell you about this thing we found in your gene scan.” Possibly a system that lets the doctor search, but not read, the gene scan, could help.
Submitted by brad on Tue, 2006-03-28 21:18.
Jeff Pulver is a giant fan of the SlingBox, a small box you hook up to your TV devices and ethernet, so you can access your home TV from anywhere. It includes a hardware encoder, infrared controllers to control your cable box, Tivo or DVD player, and software for Windows to watch the stream. The creators decided to build it when they found they couldn’t watch their San Francisco Giants games while on business trips.
And I get that part. For those who spend a great deal of time on the road, the hotel TV systems are pretty sucky. They only have a few channels (and rarely Comedy Central, which has the only show I both watch on a daily basis and which needs to be watched sooner rather than later) as well as overpriced movies. But at the same time you have to be spending a lot of time on the road to want this. My travel itineraries are intense enough that watching TV is the last thing I want to do on them.
But at the same time it’s hard not to be reminded of the kludge this is, especially hooked to a Tivo. And if you have a Tivo or simliar device, you know it’s the only way you will watch TV, live TV is just too frustrating. I don’t have Tivo any more, I have MythTV. MythTV is open, which is to say it stores the recorded shows on disk in files like any other files. If I wanted to watch them somewhere else, I could just copy or stream them easily from the MythTV box, and that would be a far better experience than decoding them to video, re-encoding them with the SlingBox and sending them out. Because of bandwith limits, you can’t easily do this unless you were to insert a real-time transcoder to cut the bandwidth down, ideally one that adapts to bandwidth as the Slingbox does. And I don’t think anybody has written one of these, because I suspect the MythTV developers are not that too-much-time-on-the-road SlingBox customer.
(Admittedly the hardware transcode would be useful, but a 3GHZ class machine should be capable of doing it in software, and really, this should just be software.) For watching live TV, if you cared, you probably could do that in Myth TV. If you cared.
So the SlingBox… read more »