Dealing with a pandemic in the post-internet world

There's a lot of talk about the coming threat of Avian H5N1 flu, how it might kill many millions, far beyond the 1918 flu and others, because of how much people travel in the modern world. Others worry about bioterrorism.

Plans are underway to deal with it, but are they truly thinking about some of the tools the modern world has that it didn't have in 1918 which might make up for our added risks? We have the internet, and a lot of dot-coms, both living and dead, created all sorts of interesting tools for living in the world without having to leave your house.

In the event of an outbreak, we'll have limited vaccine available, if there's much at all. Everybody will want it, and society will have to prioritize who gets what. While some choices are obvious -- medical staff and other emergency crews -- there may be other ideas worth considering.

Today, a significant fraction of the population can work from home, with phone, computer and internet. The economy need not shut down just because people must avoid congregating. Plans should be made, even at companies that prefer not to allow telecommuting, to be able to switch to it in an emergency.

Schools might have to close but education need not stop. We can easily devote TV channels in each area to basic curriculum for each grade. Individual schools can modify that for students who have internet access or even just a DVD player or VCR. For example, teachers could teach their class to a camera, and computers can quickly burn DVDs for distribution. Students can watch the DVDs, pause them and phone questions to the teacher. (However, ideally most students are able to make use of the live lectures on TV, and can phone their particular teacher, or chat online, to ask questions.) Parents, stuck at home would also help their children more.

Delivery people (USPS, UPS etc.) would be high in line for vaccination to keep goods flowing to people in their homes. You can of course buy almost anything online already. Systems like Webvan, for efficient grocery ordering and delivery could be brought back up, with extra vaccinated delivery drivers making rounds of every street.

Of course not everybody has a computer, but that need not be a problem. With so many people at home, volunteers would come forward who did have broadband. They would take calls from those who do not have computers and do their computer tasks for them, making sure they got in their orders for food and other supplies. Of course all food handlers would need to be vaccinated and use more sterile procedures.

Intermittent free wifi

I recently read the story of the coffee shop that's shutting down their free wifi on weekends because it mostly gets them moochers who, far worse than simply not buying anything, sit and stare at computers and don't talk to anybody. They found that when they shut down the free network, they not only got people to buy more coffee, the place was also more social.

Why order at the drive-through itself?

Fast food outlets all have drive-throughs, and they are popular though sometimes it's hard to figure out why, since you get a slow simulation of being stuck in traffic. "Oooh, are we going to move! Yes, he's released his brakelights!" You may also have heard that McDonalds is outsourcing the order-taking part at some restaurants to teleworkers in the midwest, where wages are lower.

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Gotta have a Revenge of the Sith Review

When I was a teenager, my father lived in a downtown appartment tower with a cinema in the basement. Due to his press credentials he had an unlimited free movie pass. Star Wars played there for over a year, and when we would visit him, if we were ever sitting around wondering what to do, somebody would suggest, "Why don't we go downstairs and see Star Wars?" Today everybody does this but then the VCR was just dawning, so this was something really cool.

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Getting the top spammers

A recent item posted on politech and Farber's IP mailing lists caused some controversy, so I thought I should expand on it here.

The spam law debate has been going on for close to a decade. There are people with many views, and we've all heard the other side's views many times as well. The differences lie in more fundamental values that are hard to change through argument.

Because of that there are giant spam law battles among people who are generally all on the same side -- getting rid of spam. Each spam law proposal has people who feel it does too much and chills legitimate speech on one side, and those who feel it does too little and legitimizes some spam on the other. (With many other subtleties as well.)

It's commonly reported that most spam is sent by a relatively small group of hardcore, heavy volume spammers. In theory much from a group of 20, and the bulk from a group of around 200. I have never known if this is true or not, but a recent conversation with a leading antispam activist gave evidence that it was. Antispammers have tracked down a lot of spam, seen billions of spams come into spam-traps and even infiltrated spammer "bulker" message boards to learn who's who and how they operate.

So let's assume for the moment that it's true that most spam comes from this core group. Let's focus spam law efforts on a law designed just to get them. A law so narrowly targetted that nobody need fear a chilling effect on legitimate speech, that everybody can get behind. (A law that also makes it clear that it's not precluding other laws or giving blessing to lesser spammers.)

I would see such a law demanding many criteria. It would require the spammer send millions of spams. It would require the spammer do this with wilful disregard for the consequences -- ie. a malicious intent. It could require the spammer have made $10,000 from their spamming. It would also provide funding and direction for law enforcement to actually go after these spammers. It would fine them into bankruptcy (all they ever made from spamming plus punative fines) and possibly jail them, particularly if other criminal actions like fraud, sale of illegal products and computer breakins were involved.

This wouldn't stop all spammers, but it might well put a real dent in the volume of spam, and scare off many from entering the upper echelons of spamming. This is a great deal more than any other spam law has managed to do.

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Company to fill out rebates

As many of you may know, the rebate system is based on the idea that most folks will not get around to filling out a rebate form, or will fill it out improperly. Estimates run that 60% or more of people don't get their rebate. In some cases, the companies do everything they can to not redeem, some are even accused of illegal behaviour. Some companies are rumoured to be rejecting all rebates then only redeeming to those people who complain.

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Doubleheaded Rear Lens Cap

I shoot with an SLR, and all lenses need a rear lens cap when not on the camera. Every SLR shooter knows the three-handed ritual. (Four handed if the Camera's not on a strap.) You take one lens off the camera. You pick another lens and remove the rear cap from it. Holding the old lens, new lens and rear cap and camera, you put the new lens on the camera, then put the rear cap on the old lens. (Or you put the cap on the old lens first, put it down and put the new lens on the camera.)

Identity systems change the client/server decision

There have been many efforts at internet "identity" systems, such as Microsoft Passport, Liberty Alliance, and a variety of others. A recent conference was held in SF, though I didn't go, but I thought it was time to put forward one important idea.

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Mailing list wiki combo?

I've written before about the dichotomies between serial and browseable, between writer-friendly and reader-friendly.

One idea that now seems obvious is to integrate wiki functions into a mailing list manager (particularly one that does a web interface to the mailng list.)

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We strike down the broadcast flag!

On both a personal and professional note, I am happy to report that the federal courts have unanimously ruled to strike down the FCC's broadcast flag (that's a PDF) due to our lawsuit against them.

On the invention of the internet

Update: A more active thread on how this relates to Goodmail and other attempts at sender-pays traffic

There is much talk these days of "who invented the internet?" Most of the talk is done wearing a network engineer's hat, defining the internet in terms of routing IP datatgrams, and TCP. Some relates to the end to end principle with a stupid network in the middle and smart endpoints. These two are valid and vital contributions, and recognition for those who built them is important.

But that's not what the public thinks of when it hears "the internet." They think of the collection of cool applications they use to interact with other people and distant computers. Web sites and mailing lists and newsgroups and filesharing and VoIP and downloading and chat and much more. Why did these spring into being in this way rather than on other networks?

I believe a large and necessary ingredient for "the internet" wasn't a technological invention at all, but a billing system. The internet is based on what I call the "internet cost contract." That contract says that each person pays for their own pipe to the center, and we don't account for the individual traffic.

"I pay for my half, you pay for yours."

While the end-to-end design allowed innovation and experimentation, the billing design really made it possible. In the early days of the internet, people dreamed up all sorts of bizarre applications, some serious, some entirely frivolous. They put them out there and people played with them and the most interesting thrived.

Many other networks had users paying not by the pipe, but based on traffic. In that world, had you decided to host a mailing list, or famously put a webcam up in front of your company fishtank, the next day the company beancounter would have called you into the office to ask why the company got a big bandwidth bill in order to show off the fishtank. The webcam -- or FTP site or mailing list -- would have been shut down immediately, and for perfectly valid reasons.

Pay-based-on-usage demands that applications be financially justifiable to live. Pay-per-pipe allowed mailing lists, ftp sites, usenet, archie, gopher and the web to explode.

DHCP Option for street address, PSAP for VoIP E911

While for various reasons I believe that the efforts to enforce E911 requirements on Voice over IP phones are bogus and largely designed to make it harder for smaller players to compete with established companies, there is a legitimate need for ways to give your location to emergency services.

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Sermon on the Mount, as annotated by George W. Bush

George W. Bush names Jesus as the philosopher he admires the most. The most central of the teachings of Jesus can be found in the Sermon on the Mount.

I have come upong Bush's edited version of the sermon, amended to make the dictates of his Saviour easier to follow in these modern times.

Enjoy here in the Sermon on the Mount (George Bush Version)

Some fault for Phishing on the people who stopped encryption

During the 1990s, the US Government made a major effort to block the deployment of encryption by banning its export. We won that fight, but during the formative years of most internet protocols, they made it hard to add good authentication and privacy to internet tools. They forced vendors to jump through hoops, made users download special "encryption packs" and made encryption the exception rather than the norm in online work.

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Annotated TV with a DVR

When people watch TV with a hard disk video recorder, they always watch the show delayed, often by hours or many days. They all watch it at a different time.

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Moratorium on computers calling me by name (and form letters)

Dear [[blog-reader's name]]:

When it first started arising, in the 60s and 70s, everybody thought it was so cute and clever that computers could call us by name. Some programs even started by asking for your name, only to print "Hi, Bob!" to seem friendly in some way.

And of course a million companies were sold mailing list management tools to print form letters, filling in the name of the recipient and other attributes in varous places to make the letter seem personal. And again, it was cute in its way.

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Why aren't concert tickets sold by dutch auction?

It seems that whenever you have a popular event, notably concerts in smaller venues and certain plays, the venue sells out their tickets quickly, and then ticket speculators leap in and sell the tickets at high margins. Ticket speculating (aka scalping) is legal in some areas and illegal in others. I don't think it should be illegal, but I wonder why the venues and performers tolerate so much of the revenue going to the speculators.

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Open Source's backwards-compatibility failure

Linux distributions with package managers like apt, promise an easy world of installing lots of great software. But they've fallen down in one respect here. There are thousands of packages for the major distributions (I run 3 of them, debian, Fedora Core and Gentoo) but most packages depend on several other packages.

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3-D art on machine built wall

In this article about a wall-building robot we see another step towards automatic construction, moving the 3-D printer concept onto the grand scale. This is very interesting and could be expanded quite a bit. It notes that arms could add texture to ceramic walls, but I would go further.

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More on Peerflix experiences

Earlier I reported on Peerflix, which is implementing a P2P DVD sharing system with similarities to some of my own ideas. I have tried it out a bit now, and learned a bit more. I also have updated experiences with Peerflix.

The web site is marked beta and still very buggy, which is bad, but my first try on the service was first-rate. I mailed off my first DVD, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,

on Wednesday to somebody in San Jose (who almost surely got it today) and got the replacement for it -- by strange coincidence another memory-related movie called Memento in the mail today. That is faster than most of the services, though people like Netflix could be this fast if they decided to take the same step and trust you when you said you mailed a disk, rather than waiting for it to arrive.

All this is good, but there's still a killer flaw in the idea of actually selling the DVDs. All DVDs will have a limited lifetime of high-demand. As demand drops below supply, somebody holding the DVD at that time will get "stuck" with it, though you can fix that by being fast on the draw in agreeing to be the one to mail any new requesters that do come along.

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