July 31, 2008

A Half-Century Search Ends for $1.99 and 2 Gigabytes

Greetings. Once upon a time many years ago -- something on the order of 45 years or so I estimate, I was taken as a young child to a number of film screenings as part of a series at UCLA's famed Royce Hall. The Internet -- and affordable bandwidth -- have in the last few hours closed a circle for me that has been gaping open all these many years since those screenings.

One of the films I saw back then at UCLA, The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T, so disturbed me at the time that we had to leave the screening in the middle. Years later I rediscovered this amazing work, and have shown it a number of times at conferences and film festivals. Amusingly, the scene that so upset me as a child is so remarkable in context that it routinely gets unsolicited applause from audiences!

But Dr. T is comparatively well known now to cult film fans at least. Another of the films in that UCLA series, the 1953 French animation The Curious Adventures of Mr. Wonderbird, remains much more obscure. I only saw it theatrically at that one Royce Hall screening, and then once more a couple of years later when it was serialized on commercial television. Then -- poof! -- it essentially vanished.

For a number of reasons -- perhaps partly the imaginative and fantastic technology portrayed, Wonderbird, particularly a few specific scenes, has remained bouncing around in my head for all these years. I would occasionally try to locate a print -- even at one point decades later reaching the person at UCLA who remembered it from the original film series -- but I never could lay my hands on a watchable copy.

This almost half-century quest ended earlier today. After a new round of Google searches, I found a relatively beautiful and apparently legitimate print available for immediate DVD burning and/or local viewing -- the cost all of $1.99 for a 2 GB download (in fact, simply streaming the film is free). For the curious, here's the link.

As I watched the lights blinking an a nearby router while the film downloaded in about half an hour, I found myself wondering if I'd have been so immediately willing to make the purchase if I knew that the 2 GB involved was going to eat up a significant proportion of an Internet usage bandwidth cap. After a search this long I probably would have gone ahead anyway, but certainly a cap would be a major impediment to all manner of other potential downloads of similarly legal and wondrous content.

Whether we're talking about 5 GB or 250 GB a month, it's clear that bandwidth caps will inevitably have the psychological effect of suppressing Internet media downloads. As the entire video entertainment complex moves to high definition, such negative impacts will be ever more heavily felt. Internet subscribers will feel increasingly pressured to purchase "non-metered" content from their own ISPs rather than purchase from outside sources where the ISP bandwidth meter is running in addition to the cost of the content itself.

I relate this saga since we tend to think about these sorts of issues in theoretical rather than concrete terms most of the time. But sitting here spinning on the hard drive a couple of feet from me is a real world example of memories validated and a quest begun in childhood -- however trivial it may seem to some observers -- finally ended in success, thanks to a forward-thinking content supplier and the typical high quality of Google Search.

It would be unfortunate indeed if unreasonable, anti-competitive bandwidth limitations serve to smother the potential for the Internet to provide the vast range of nearly infinite content that doesn't fit the profiles of the telephone and cable company ISPs.

Here's hoping that we'll all be permitted to find -- and can afford to download -- our own Internet "Wonderbirds" and memories, and that our bytes and neurons won't be held hostage by those parties who view a truly open and neutral Internet as a threat, instead of as a treasure.


Posted by Lauren at 05:35 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

July 30, 2008

Flimflam and the ISP Man

Greetings. As some ISPs increasingly seem to approach the operation of the Internet with something of the egalitarian finesse reminiscent of a medieval warlord, an urgent issue moves ever more toward the center stage -- either the Internet is a crucial resource -- and getting more important every day -- or it isn't.

If the latter, we can let ISPs do pretty much whatever they want -- and subscribers will just have to make do and pony up for whatever the ISPs deem fit to offer.

On the other hand, if we view the Internet as an infrastructural necessity, we need to start thinking in the same terms as power and water, and strike a balance between the commercial interests of network operators vs. society's needs.

As for bandwidth caps, historical surveys of past news items are instructive. Go back to 2002, or 1998, or even earlier, and you can find stories warning of the imminent need for caps due to concerns over "bandwidth hogs" and the like. I remember similar scare tactics back when the ARPANET backbone was 56 Kbps!

The big ISPs' newly resurrected infatuations with bandwidth caps are often disingenuous at best. The DOCSIS 3 data standards are going to provide a whole lotta bandwidth for the cable ISPs.

On the DSL side, AT&T is particularly suspect. For years, they've been publicly boasting that they didn't see a need for bandwidth caps for their subscribers, since supposedly AT&T DSL didn't suffer from the same "architectural limitations" as cable.

Less than a year ago, AT&T was saying that their DSL superiority made bandwidth caps unnecessary, to wit:

Some AT&T customers use disproportionately high amounts of Internet capacity, "but we figure that's why they buy the service," said Michael Coe, a spokesman for the company. -- September 7, 2007 - Washington Post

Why suddenly all the talk of caps from AT&T? Could it have anything to do with their ugly U-verse VRAD boxes sprouting like mushrooms in AT&T service areas, ready to provide television programming, Pay-Per-View movies, and other content that might monetize more effectively if competing Internet-delivered offerings were effectively stifled by bandwidth caps?

More and more, we're being flimflammed when it comes to Internet connectivity and associated terms of service limitations.

Sooner or later, subscribers are going to push back. And then all bets on possible outcomes will perhaps finally be on the table for real.


Posted by Lauren at 02:47 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

July 28, 2008

Chuckling at Cuil: Not Ready for Prime Time

Greetings. The New York Times today ran something of a fluff piece about a new search engine named "Cuil", which includes among its founding staff some former Google engineers.

Cuil (yeah, pronounced as "cool" -- too cute, eh?) appears to be trying to position itself as the "anti-Google" -- particularly by trumpeting a "we don't keep search logs" privacy policy.

I've spent some time experimenting with Cuil. I'm afraid that my initial impressions may be classified as "cruel" rather than cool by some readers ...

Let's start with that "anonymous searches" privacy policy. First off, let's all keep in mind that what Cuil is doing is throwing out data that they might otherwise collect, and that at any point -- either on their own volition or under orders from on high -- collecting identifying search information would typically be as simple as changing a few lines of code.

Perhaps more to the point, I've never been opposed to the collection of such data for reasonable periods of time in raw form. It's useful not only for personalized search implementations and tuning of search algorithms and services over time, but also can be invaluable for fighting network abuses of various sorts as well. I do become concerned when such data is held in non-anonymized forms for long or indefinite periods, increasing the probability of it being abused by outside parties demanding access to that log data for their own purposes.

So it's really a matter of balance. Frankly, when I see an "absolute" privacy policy like Cuil's, I find myself questioning if a reasonable balance is in place there, or rather if Cuil is currently grandstanding for the sake of publicity, and how this will affect the overall usefulness of their product.

And indeed, at least as it stands right now, Cuil needs some serious work. In my testing to date, Cuil's search results generally -- to use a technical term -- suck. Wacky results galore apparent immediately, including combining unrelated results that should have been separated, associating (over and over again!) completely erroneous photos with the wrong texts, and masses of just plain wrong or highly misleading results -- some of which are so ridiculous that one wonders how they became associated within the Cuil index in the first place.

However, I'll admit that in its current state there is a certain entertainment value to Cuil. I rarely laugh out loud when using search engines, but I got some good chuckles and at least one good "choked on the water I was drinking" guffaw from some of the hilariously incorrect, twisted search results that Cuil proudly presented.

No doubt Cuil will be working hard to improve and we'll see how they develop. But somehow I don't think that the Google folks are sweating buckets about these guys right now -- unless Google plans to start a "Get Some Laughs from Purposely Wrong Results (beta)" search engine, that is.


Posted by Lauren at 01:22 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

July 26, 2008

More Shameful Days at the FCC

Greetings. The FCC's approval of the XM / Sirius merger with only trivial conditions required, in direct contradiction to their explicit license grant terms that the two services never merge, has again shown the Federal Communications Commission to be a paper tiger, a political pawn, and a shameful example of promoting absolute monopolies while ignoring genuine public interest considerations.

One hopes that the National Association of Broadcasters proceeds to take this decision to court, where there's at least a chance that some element of concern over the public's standing in this matter, as opposed only to the wallets of satellite radio stockholders, will have some chance of receiving fair play.

Simultaneously, word has come down that the Commission will shortly issue their official "condemnation" of Comcast's P2P blocking procedures, but in a manner that apparently won't even rise to the level of a "slap on the wrist" punishment -- just a bit of minor tongue lashing that most likely won't require Comcast to so much as dip into petty cash.

Such decisions by the Commission are a disgrace. They demonstrate again that the public should have no faith in the FCC to care about most public concerns within the official FCC purview, and why in particular it would be foolish to depend on the Commission to protect consumers against most predatory or intrusive ISP practices.

The ball is moving rapidly into Congress' court. Let's hope that the next Congress (and President) are not only up to the challenge of undoing much of the damage that the current FCC has already imposed, but also are ready and willing to help prevent a new series of shameful FCC episodes.


Posted by Lauren at 12:24 AM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

July 21, 2008

No Special Treatment for McCain by "New York Times" Op-Ed Page

Greetings. A story is blowing around cable news right now making a big deal out of the New York Times refusing to publish (without changes) John McCain's proposed op-ed rebuttal to Barack Obama's recent op-ed there. Yapping mouths are seeing a conspiracy trying to shut out McCain.

I just wanted to note, as someone who has had an op-ed in the Times, that the requirement for back and forth editorial cooperation and editing of proposed New York Times op-eds -- even invited ones as in my case -- is utterly standard and expected. It appears that McCain is being treated just like everyone else in the same position -- no better and no worse. I'll bet that anyone reading this blog item who has been through the NYT op-ed process has had much the same experience as I have.

Op-eds are not free press release distribution points. If the McCain campaign has problems with particular aspects of the op-ed guidelines in this case, my suggestion would be to negotiate with the op-ed editor that they're currently publicly blasting (whom I've communicated with in the past and found to be entirely reasonable) rather than trying to accuse the Times of bad faith.


Posted by Lauren at 05:41 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

July 14, 2008

Google Kills Kittens! Google Censors Critics! And Other Paranoid Falsehoods ...

Greetings. Over the weekend, and spilling over into this morning, the blogosphere and a variety of mailing lists were abuzz with accusations and speculation that Google, a vocal supporter of network neutrality issues, was "censoring" -- by tagging as potential "malware" (virus, etc.) sources -- pages of an organization's Web site that tends to take the ISP-centric stance on these issues, often opposite from Google's positions.

This noise was amplified by a pair of vocal pro-ISP, anti-Google personalities, who jumped with both feet into the opportunity to promote a theory that's about as reasonable as network neutrality actually being a plot to take over the world's communications in preparation for a mass UFO invasion (oops, did I just spill the beans?)

To the credit of the Web site under discussion, they quickly moved this morning to announce that in fact they had indeed suffered a database injection attack, Google's malware warning characterizations regarding the pages were accurate, and Google was not censoring the organization's site.

Story retractions by bloggers followed almost immediately, with the general theme being "better check out these stories more effectively in the future."

But wait a second. How could anyone believe such a wacko scenario in the first place? Because it makes absolutely no sense from the word go, unless your head is stuck in some sort of warped bizarro universe unrelated to the real world.

Even entertaining for a moment the idea that Google would engage in such censorship of those who don't agree with their policy positions, entails a whole string of unreasonable assumptions.

To start with, you have to assume that Google's management is not only evil, but stupid as well. They're neither.

Even if a firm in Google's position wanted to censor its "adversaries" -- to my mind a ridiculous idea from the git-go -- the blowback when it was inevitably and quickly discovered would absolutely lead to crucifixion on the patibulum of public opinion.

And by the way, trying to censor a site by tagging pages as potential malware would make no sense under any circumstances -- it wouldn't be particularly effective at actually censoring anything and would just draw attention to what was going on.

What really bothers me about this entire event is that reasonably well-informed people allowed themselves to be caught up in what can only be categorized as paranoid anti-Google speculation, without first thinking through how seriously ridiculous and unreasonable the whole story really was.

When intelligent people start behaving that way -- in what amounts to a cyberspace version of a mob mentality -- I think it's a strong indicator that passion is getting the better of logic in policy disputes, and that's a red flag that we should all be concerned about.


Posted by Lauren at 06:49 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

July 10, 2008

Google, Network Neutrality, and Bomb #20

Greetings. A recent op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle, penned by a frequent apologist for ISPs, casts dark aspersions on Google's support for Internet network neutrality efforts.

Just as a theoretical for the sake of the argument, let's assume that Google "has been the prime organizer and source of funding" for various network neutrality causes, as the op-ed's author posits.

In such a case, I say, "Hurrah! Keep It Up. Go Google!"

During the wonderful 1974 John Carpenter film Dark Star, a starship crew member attempts to talk planet-destroyer "Bomb #20" into not exploding while still attached to the ship. (Assignment: Go rent the movie to learn how the ship reached this bizarre state in the first place.)

He trys to convince the bomb that the detonation countdown order it received never actually occurred, and that the bomb cannot trust its own senses regarding absolute reality. The bomb then asks how -- if its senses are unreliable -- it can know that it's presently even actually discussing the concept at that moment?

The crewman replies that the concept is valid no matter where it originates.

And so it is with network neutrality. It's ridiculous to suggest that Google's support of network neutrality in any way diminishes the concept. And it's similar nonsense to suggest that Google's concept of network neutrality would be bad for the "little guy."

Does Google stand to benefit in a neutral network environment? Sure. So what? So do lots of other entities, from individuals to large corporations of many varied stripes. In fact, the only real losers under a rigorous network neutrality regime might likely be those ISPs who are currently trying to extend their stranglehold over a now crucial element of our infrastructure -- the Internet itself -- while pushing their "We Control the Net" philosophy and related anticompetitive behaviors even to the extent of modifying and wiretapping user data.

Google itself has the resources to likely survive nicely even without the sort of network neutrality that I want to see in place. I am convinced that while network neutrality could well help Google's bottom line -- and obviously they know that -- Google's interest and support in this area basically springs from a genuine philosophical alignment with the importance of neutrality issues for the benefit of the entire Internet and all of its users.

One last item for now. There is an implicit implication in some of the anti-Google rhetoric related to this topic, which seems to make the tacit suggestion that certain well known and highly visible individuals, who have long been associated with the promotion of causes related to and associated with network neutrality, have somehow been corrupted and invalidated by their relationships with Google. This is in my opinion not only factually incorrect, but also scurrilous and offensive.


Posted by Lauren at 12:01 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

July 07, 2008

Firefox 3's Step Backwards For Self-Signed Certificates

Greetings. If you've switched over to Firefox 3 as your Web browser already -- and in general it's a fine upgrade -- you may at some point discover that rather than encourage (or at least not overly discourage) the use of self-signed security certificates, Firefox 3 makes it less likely that anyone other than an expert user will ever accept a self-signed certificate. This is particularly of concern to me since I've urged an expansion of self-signed certs deployment as a stopgap measure toward pervasive encryption.

Compared with Firefox 2, version 3 throws up so many barriers and scary-sounding warnings to click through to accept such certs, that it would be completely understandable if most persons immediately aborted.

What's going on is that Firefox is now putting so much emphasis on identity confirmation that it's making it even harder for people to use the basic encryption functionality of the browser, which works just fine with self-signed certificates (which admittedly are not good carriers for identity credentials).

But in many situations, we're not concerned about identity in particular, we just want to get the basic https: crypto stream up and running.

I am fully aware of the associated identity considerations, and I know that basic signed certificates that will work in Firefox and some other browsers (but last I heard not in Internet Explorer at this time) can be obtained for free. If browser acceptance of free signed certs broadens out (and especially if wildcard certificates also become freely available) the need for self-signed certificates could significantly diminish.

But for now, Firefox 3 is going overboard with its complicated and alarming warnings, which if nothing else could include improved explanatory text, so that users would be able to better judge whether or not they should accept any particular self-signed certificate. The current wording is unreasonably judgmental given the range of perfectly legitimate situations where self-signed certificates might be used.

I'm not saying to give self-signed certs the same invisible, automatic acceptance as signed certificates, but Firefox 3 has simply gone too far toward making self-signed certs unusable -- from a practical standpoint -- in many situations where they otherwise would be completely adequate and suitable.


Posted by Lauren at 10:22 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

July 06, 2008

Moaning About Google Street View -- While Her Majesty's Eyes Are Everywhere

Greetings. Well, if there's one thing I've come to expect from the United Kingdom's Privacy International and its sometimes amusing leader Simon Davies, it's a sense of disproportion straight out of a bad LSD trip regarding some key privacy issues.

Not that Simon is always wrong. He's upset about Viacom's demand for YouTube log data. I agree that this is a matter of great concern.

But often PI seems to be largely engaged in an anti-Google agenda, and Simon's latest target seems to be the upcoming launch of Google Street View in the UK. Even with Google planning to obscure faces and license plates for local images there, Simon is setting deadlines for Google to respond to his queries and threatening complaints to the British Privacy Overlords -- well the "Information Commissioner" in any case. Various other observers in England have suggested that Street View would be entirely legal there, by the way.

I argue in favor of Google Street View -- I consider it a very useful service with acceptable privacy parameters as currently deployed.

But for PI to complain about Street View in Great Britain has all the hallmarks of a bad joke. The UK is utterly saturated with over four million highly-intrusive, real-time, live, and frequently abused (sometimes in the most inane ways) surveillance (CCTV) cameras under government control -- something like one camera for every fourteen people there. And according to most polls, the public over there overwhelmingly supports this Orwellian infrastructure, buying into the bogus claims that falsely attempt to portray the cameras as crime-busting super tools.

Privacy International is a vocal critic of the UK government camera surveillance system -- and that's to their credit. But when they waste their limited resources on harmless and reasonably implemented services like Street View -- which obviously pales to utter insignificance as an issue compared with government camera abuse -- they're letting their traditional bias against Google get the better of them again, and this can diminish PI's standing generally when it comes to other privacy-related matters as well.

With the UK government spying into every nook and cranny with their powerful and invasive camera systems, it's nonsensical to complain as Privacy International is doing about a useful service like Street View, which at least gives ordinary citizens a bit of photographic assistance while navigating their way amongst the cameras of Her Majesty's surveillance state.


Posted by Lauren at 08:48 AM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

July 03, 2008

Lesson From Viacom: How to Get YouTube Users to Hate Your Guts

Greetings. When a large corporation shows a lack of respect for the public, it shouldn't be surprised if the public at large shows an increasing disrespect for them. The media giant Viacom seems well on the way toward providing the world with an object lesson of how to take an already bad situation and stab oneself in the heart with it.

By now you've probably heard that Viacom has convinced a judge to order that Google turn over comprehensive records of who watches which videos on YouTube. We're talking tens of terabytes of log data, apparently. Viacom claims that since only "made up" login names are involved, and IP addresses that (at least in the case of dynamic addresses -- statics are another matter) don't directly map to individuals without additional data from ISPs, there are no privacy concerns.

This is bull of course. I assume Viacom has smart enough technical people involved in their ongoing battle with YouTube to know that there are a variety of ways in which those frequently interlinked login names, and even dynamic IP addresses that may be stable for months at a time or longer, can be used to dig down to the point where fully-identified dossiers of viewing habits would be entirely feasible. And video viewing habits are among the most personal of entertainment choices that we make.

Is it likely that this order will be narrowed or otherwise diluted on appeal, and/or that Google and Viacom will agree to additional anonymization of the log data? Yeah, probably one or more of these could happen. Do I wish that Google would keep less log data around that attracts these sorts of obnoxious and dangerous fishing expeditions from various private and governmental entities? Yes, that too, though I recognize the complexity of the issues involved in determining what log data to keep, for how long, and on what basis.

But right now my contempt is reserved for Viacom's modus operandi in this case -- their demanding that all YouTube users' activities be stripped bare, including video viewing that has nothing whatever to do with Viacom programs, so that Viacom can continue their attempt to blame their business model worries on kids uploading clips to YouTube after school.

I frequently note that I have sympathy for intellectual property holders who feel at a loss in the brave new world of the Internet. The times are changing rapidly and many of the old rules -- however much some observers might pine for them -- are becoming ineffective and impossible to effectively transpose into the Internet environment. This is true whether or not Viacom and Google reach a financial settlement, and would still be the case even if YouTube shut down completely. The materials of concern to Viacom would migrate elsewhere on the Net, probably in a form even more difficult for Viacom to categorize.

I'll admit that much of the respect that I ever had for Viacom was seriously depleted several years ago, when one of their shows tried to trick me into appearing in a humilating situation under false pretenses. But hey, that's Hollywood, and nobody would have been affected other than me.

But now Viacom is showing disrespect not for a few individuals, but for vast numbers -- untold millions one assumes -- of innocent YouTube users. That's a poison of a different color all together.

If Viacom's goal is to create legions of otherwise law-abiding consumers who might now feel some satisfaction out of pirating Viacom shows -- just to spite Viacom's intrusive actions in this case ... well ... judging from the scuttlebutt around the Net, Viacom may have succeeded in a way that could haunt them for quite some time to come.


Posted by Lauren at 05:59 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

Vint Cerf Comments On Government's Role In Internet Broadband Access

Greetings. Some offhand comments by Google's Vint Cerf at a recent event seem to have a triggered a panicky "Vint Cerf proposes nationalizing the Internet" buzz that's been ramping up fairly rapidly.

Holy BitTorrent, Batman! Army paratroopers seen dropping into parking lots at AT&T and Comcast, while the Transportation Security Agency orders us all to remove our shoes before surfing the Web!

Settle down, everyone. As usual with these kinds of stories, the truth is significantly different from the breathless buzzing.

Here's how Vint described his thinking on this issue to me last night, presented verbatim. And I'll note right here that I agree 100% with his analysis. If the Internet is really the essential infrastructural and economic pillar that is claimed all around, it's time that we started treating it that way.

- - -

Comments From Vint Cerf

"In a NYC event called Personal Democracy Forum, the question of broadband access came up. There isn't enough facilities based competition in broadband and in my opinion there isn't likely to be. I expressed the opinion that perhaps the Internet should be treated more like the road system. You don't have multiple roads going to your house for example. Instead, it is a common resource. I said something like "maybe we should treat the Internet more like the road system."

The discussion went on and the point was made that the incentives for the present set of broadband carriers (basically the telcos and the cable companies) stemmed from their origins as purpose-built networks. Telephone nets were designed and built to deliver one service: telephony. Cable systems were built for one purpose: to deliver television.

In that context [and although it was not said, given the monopoly characteristics of each] the FCC separately regulated them. This worked reasonably [some might disagree] as private sector systems each oriented around a single service. The rules were organized around how that service was to be provided including the network built to deliver it. The Internet service, however, has been treated as a title I information service. There is no regulation.

Moreover, the Internet is not purpose built for one application. It is capable of supporting a wide range of applications. A problem arises with the provision of Internet service via the telephone network and the cable network. The carriers of these services seem to feel that because they own the resource and because the Internet service is unregulated, they can impose any rules they like and constrain users of the services however they wish. There is inadequate competition to discipline this market.

If broadband service is essential to the national economy and to citizens, given the present means by which it is implemented, and given that it appears unlikely that the usual competitive pressures will lead to discipline among the competitors, perhaps we need new national rules to assure that the service is openly and equally accessible to any application provider and to all users. Equal does not mean that everyone pays the same amount. In particular, higher capacity might be priced at a higher rate. Provision needs to be made, however, to deal with high cost (to the provider) areas using a new form of Universal Service or some other subsidy.

I would not rule out municipal networks that citizens decide to build through bond processes (usually meaning the private sector is engaged to build and probably operate). Some of us have termed this kind of open access rule making "horizontal" regulation since the openness is intended to be along the Internet service layer. Applications and services provided above that layer can be highly competitive and provided by any application provider on the network.

In the UK, BT has been split into a wholesale Internet business and a retail business. Anyone can buy raw Internet service at wholesale and then operate any application service above that. Capacity is priced based not on bytes transferred but on maximum rates of use (usually capped). The idea is to provide new incentives for broadband Internet providers to keep the system open to new applications and to promote substantial competition, not at the facilities base but above the IP layer. At present, the incentives do not favor such a posture."

End of Vint Cerf's Comments

- - -


Posted by Lauren at 11:40 AM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

July 02, 2008

Hitchens' Waterboarding Video

Greetings. Writer Christopher Hitchens used to refer to the Bush administration's waterboarding of suspects as an "extreme interrogation" technique.

Now he calls it torture.

See what changed his mind in this video, as he experiences waterboarding first hand.


Posted by Lauren at 01:27 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

July 01, 2008

Google Pilloried For Fighting Blog Spam

Greetings. As the "Google conspiracy freaks" seem to be gathering with increasing frequency, I find it necessary to once again note a new situation where it appears that good deeds by Google don't go unpunished.

In today's saga, anti-Obama bloggers are essentially accusing Google of censorship, by virtue of supposedly permitting Obama supporters to manipulate Google's blogging platform and block anti-Obama blogs.

That the Google system apparently misclassified the blogs in question is seemingly not a matter of dispute, but the evidence suggests that the problem was caused by an unintended consequence of Google's aggressively effective anti-spam mechanisms, which like all other complex mechanisms created by mere humans, can be subject to error.

In fact, if Google didn't aggressively filter for spam-related materials in that environment, the entire related infrastructure could quickly fall into useless chaos and people would be screaming at Google about that, we can be sure.

As anyone who has worked with spam filters knows, there is a complicated balance involved in spam detection, and it's inevitable that sometimes mischaracterization of traffic will occur. In very large and by necessity highly automated environments, this can potentially result in problems such as those reported in this situation.

Just like any other responsible party faced with such a situation, Google will analyze the circumstances that triggered this event and I have no doubt make appropriate changes to help avoid a repetition.

So let's try to keep these sorts of events in perspective. Nobody was killed, no planets were detonated, the space-time continuum is (according to my instrumentation) still humming along in its usual somewhat inscrutable fashion.

Complex systems (and even many simple systems for that matter) are almost never perfect. Making a Matterhorn out of a pimple, as in this case, doesn't advance the ball in a useful and positive way for anyone.


Posted by Lauren at 05:01 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

California's Super-Stupid Anti-Science Cell Phone Law Takes Effect

Greetings. Well, today's the day that political expediency and anti-science stupidity combine for the banning of handheld cell phones while driving in California.

I've discussed this topic here several times before, noting that virtually every study shows no reduction in accident rates when talking on a hands-free cell phone vs. handheld units. In fact, there are concerns that people fumbling around to dial and answer hands-free units may actually make matters worse.

Even the Luddite who spent years pushing through this legislation admits that the science and studies are against him, but he's convinced that having both hands on the wheel is safer. Of course, the law doesn't require two hands on the wheel -- which would be fairly difficult for stick drivers like me in any case, eh?

When I was out driving earlier today, I saw one women swerving while putting on make-up, and a guy weaving all over while apparently wolfing down a burger. Another car almost didn't make a stop while the woman inside appeared to be screaming at her kids in the back seat -- all classic distractions unaffected by the new law. However, I saw several people now driving illegally but safely with handheld cell phones.

There are already laws against distracted driving. The new cell phone law (as applied to adult drivers) is both unnecessary and counterproductive -- the latter by making people erroneously believe that they're safer with hands-free phones while driving.

This sort of "feel good" law that flies in the face of science, studies, and logic, is an example of our political system operating as a pandering pomposity of the most inane kind.


Posted by Lauren at 01:14 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein