Greetings. I've been getting lots of continuing interest and queries in the wake of my blog item from late last year:
In an effort to explain this issue in a more demonstrative and somewhat less technical manner, I'm pleased to announce a short free video (under six minutes):
"Is Your Cell Phone Bugged?"
While I'll admit that the production values are much closer to those of Ed Wood than of Cecil B. DeMille, I hope you'll still find this video to be interesting, or at least amusing.
"Is Your Cell Phone Bugged?" Video Access Pages:
Be seeing you!
Greetings. A new article currently online at The New Yorker, titled "Google's Moon Shot", discusses Google's continuing push to scan all books into a massive database.
Leaving aside the Google Book Search legal questions for now, let's ponder a different issue. Once most or all books are online, will every book search we make and every book page we read online be tracked, potentially to be handed over to the authorities of the moment as part of either large-scale or narrower investigations?
After all, as I frequently like to remind folks, future administrations may not be as, uh, "benign" as the current one, but the infrastructure of Google and similar services seem almost certain to outlive us all in one form or another.
Comprehensive online book systems will likely result in the long-run deterioration of access to physical libraries and their physical books, and in the ability to enter libraries, read, and leave without any records being kept. As years go by, libraries are likely to place more and more books in storage for safety, and expect all ordinary patrons to use the online (trackable) versions.
If we are to reap the vast benefits of online books without fear, we must also consider all of the complex issues regarding data retention risks that apply to conventional Web search operations and perhaps even more so to book searches and related access.
This specific issue has already been envisioned by science fiction, in the 1967 novel Chthon by Piers Anthony. I noted this originally in a 2005 blog entry: An Online Library from Science Fiction.
As I mentioned there, at least the "hero" in that story still managed to get access to the untracked library stacks. But will we be able to read online in the future without every page we access being noted and that information being retained indefinitely? There will be those who will argue, as some data retention advocates suggest today, that the more we know about everything that everyone does online at all times, the safer a society we'll have. Afer all, there are those persons who long for the technological aspects of Orwell's 1984.
Google Book Search can be an incredibly valuable resource, ushering in a new era of information access that will be the greatest literary-related feat since the establishment of the Library of Alexandria.
Or, the Google Book Search type of technologies could ultimately provide the means for a level of intrusive surveillance undreamt of by the worst of history's tyrants.
The outcome will be up to Google -- and society at large -- to determine. The time to consider the possibilities, for both good and evil, is right now.
Greetings. As I anticipated, I've been receiving strong reactions to Stupidity Meets Overreaction in Beantown Bomb Scare.
While there's always a "silent majority" one never hears from, most of the responses so far are falling into one of two categories which are diametrically opposed to each other:
Category 1: The Cartoon Network campaign was utterly harmless performance art and the associated persons and companies should not be held responsible in any way. Boston officials have no real justification at all for their actions in this case and are abusing free speech, while demonstrating a poorly run emergency response system. Shame on you, Lauren, for suggesting otherwise.
Category 2: The placing of the Cartoon Network campaign light boxes near major transportation corridors, in combination with more or less contemporaneous but unrelated "conventional" (hoax) threats, fully justifies the authorities' actions. Any suggestion that they overreacted is itself an overreaction. Shame on you, Lauren, for suggesting otherwise.
When I find myself sitting on the fulcrum (ouch!) at the center of an essentially balanced reaction equation on a controversial topic, I tend to suspect that I've staked out a reasonable position.
So I'll stand by my original assessment. The Cartoon Network campaign was misguided and a stupid move -- and the Boston authorities overreacted. All I can do is call 'em as I see them.
By the way, the judge initially pulled into this case has already suggested that the serious "bomb hoax" charges seem unlikely to hold up, since there appears to be no evidence of the required intent on the part of the Cartoon Network culprits. Based on existing public information, this seems to be an appropriate view.
Greetings. Sometimes a media situation unfolds where everyone involved ends up looking somewhat silly, naive, stupid, or some combination of these attributes.
Such is the case in Boston, where authorities called out the troops and shut down parts of the city to collect small flashing animated character signs that had been planted around town as part of an insipid Cartoon Network PR campaign.
The signs had apparently been in place in Boston for weeks and were documented on a Web site. Other cities around the country also hosted similar signs from the campaign, but only in Boston did authorities trigger the heavy artillery.
There seems to be blame to go around on this one. Clearly the PR campaign itself was seriously misguided to say the very least, given the hair-trigger sensibilities of law enforcement these days, and their now standard proclivity to calling anything with wires and a battery a "bomb-like device" of one sort or another.
Stupid, stupid move, Cartoon Network. You got your publicity, and the show will get its bump to be sure, but "irresponsible" doesn't begin to explore the underpinnings of your actions.
Still, one must ask why it took weeks for the alarmed reaction in Boston to take hold in this case, and why other cities didn't respond the same way? Did Boston authorities perhaps overreact a bit, and now -- perhaps feeling somewhat sheepish -- consider it necessary to justify their singular response among all affected cities by inflating the situation somewhat out of proportion?
Reactions of this kind are unfortunately understandable, but to a significant extent they're not always for our benefit. Government officials at all levels have fostered an environment of panic throughout the country for years -- validating the goals of real terrorists to create an environment where we'd willingly destroy our own freedoms and way of life.
Abandoned suitcases or spilled soap powder evoke major evacuations, and while genuine concern for public safety is admirable, one can't help but suspect that a certain amount of self-promoting grandstanding is also playing a role in some of these reactions.
A little more common sense all around would serve everyone well in these kinds of situations. There's absolutely no excuse for the Cartoon Network campaign's actions, but authorities in Boston could have (and still can) use a bit more logic and a dash less testosterone when evaluating such circumstances.
There are genuine threats out there. Public safety is a paramount concern. But let's not turn our country into a bastion of fear, either. To do so would be to hand victory not only to real terrorists but to evil in general. We can do better.
Blog Update (February 2, 2007): Reactions to "Stupidity Meets Overreaction in Beantown Bomb Scare"