Yearly Archives: 2005

Blogging for USA Today for the next few days

USA Today’s hip tech columnist Kevin Maney is taking a holiday break from his blog so I’m doing some guest posts for him. I’m in Argentina right now enjoying the summer and surfing the news. My hotel has WiFi everywhere and let’s just say that I’m not sitting in my room. Living in the digital age is fabulous.

San Francisco Cops Exposed by Digital Village

Those who claim that racism, sexism, and homophobia run rampant in the San Francisco Police Department got some high-powered ammunition last week. Videos posted on the Web showed police officers participating in outrageous acts – an embarrassment for the city and a strong demonstration of how technology is reshaping society

Although the videos have been taken down from their original site, they still exist elsewhere on the Web. In a lame attempt to be funny, the footage shows officers ogling a woman stopped for a traffic violation, an African American officer eating out of a dog bowl, and an officer dressed as a transgendered person wiggling his tongue towards a police captain.

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom held a press conference to denounce the digital dirt. “It is shameful. It is offensive. It is sexist. It is homophobic, it is racist, and we’re going to make sure it ends,” he said.

It’s nice to see the mayor taking a break from his wasteful quest to foist a government-run Internet on every man, woman and child in San Francisco. Real concerns, such as a disrespectful and unprofessional culture among city police, call for fixing and fortunately have been exposed by the largely unregulated Internet. In fact, the creator himself posted the damning data.

Read more here.

Welcome to the robot world

Oh yeah – I want one of these.

Honda’s second-generation Asimo robot can run 6KM and hour (that’s 3.7 miles) and can carry drinks on a tray. Soon, it might be possible to feel as though you just landed in the middle of a Star Wars flick – bars with robot-waiters could be just around the corner! Advances in robotics are accelerating at an amazing clip. It wasn’t long ago that the biggest problem was just getting them to balance and not fall over.

Check out this Honda ad to see how flexible and natural this robot looks. Very cool! Thanks to Vince for pointing it out (and, yes, I know people who would be outrun by the robot as well…)

Latest idea from Brazil: Ban Death

I’m no fan of death, but a plan by a Brazilian mayor to fine people’s relatives when they die “too early” seems a little extreme. Would a stiff fine and jail time for Mom incentivize people to work out, eat right, and stop risky behaviors? hmmm….

According to this article “Gym memberships have reportedly shot up since the mayor announced his plans, and more people are visiting doctors.”

Hearing today at 1pm on San Francisco’s wireless plans

San Francisco supervisor Chris Daly is holding a hearing today “to discuss how the City can have a more consumer-driven rather than tech industry-driven process for establishing a TechConnect network in San Francisco.”

If you’d like to testify, the hearing starts at 1pm and is at City Hall, Room 263. The Pacific Research Institute will be there and you can find some of our data here.

Susan Kennedy goes back to CA’s capitol

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger rocked the political world recently with the appointment of Susan Kennedy, Democrat and Public Utilities Commissioner (PUC) as his chief of staff. Republicans might feel snubbed, but Kennedy’s appointment is good for the technology sector.

A thriving technology sector is good for California, and next year key policy issues will affect both consumers and technology companies. These include the so-called “Consumer Bill of Rights,” cable franchise reform, and broadband deployment.

Read more here.

Face recognition tech goes mainstream

There’s a company called Riya that offers software to search personal photos using face recognition technology. Jennifer Granick of Stanford law school wrote a piece about it and its privacy implications, but her take is old and doesn’t see the big picture. Yes, face recognition technology changes society in ways that no longer allows the type of anonymity we have been used to, but that’s not the story here. The news — and it’s GOOD news — is that the government no longer has a monopoly on this piece of surveillance tech. That means the threat of living in a big brother state actually decreases, as it allows anyone to watch the watchers. Moore’s law keeps making technology more accessible and that promotes liberty.

Rooting Out Spyware: Sony’s Lesson

Sony used to be associated with the popular Walkman music player, but these days it’s more likely to conjure up images of nasty spyware. The company’s anti-piracy measures have created a security problem for unwary Sony customers — and highlighted the inadequacies of a key piece of federal legislation, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

On October 31 programmer Mark Russinovich sounded the alarm. He blogged about a music CD from SonyBMG that, when inserted into a user’s CD drive, secretly installed software known as a “rootkit.” The software not only spied on the person’s music habits, but it also made their computer extremely vulnerable to hacker attacks.

After the news got out, Sony released a software patch to fix the problem, but that created even more vulnerabilities. The entire debacle took the computer security industry by surprise. Indeed, Sony’s flawed copy-protection scheme had been in use for seven months before being discovered. Even computers run by the Department of Defense were affected, making Sony’s ploy to protect its intellectual property a menace to national security.

Read more here.

WiFi with your Bourbon

The city of New Orleans announced it will offer “free” WiFi over a network it deploys and owns. Everyone knows that “free” is not really free, making this one more disaster to add to the city’s woes. Using taxpayer dollars to subsidize porn surfing whilst people starve and go homeless is unconscionable. Hasn’t that city suffered enough?

Rick Mercer has a blog

Now that Canada’s parliament has been dissolved and Canadians face yet another federal election, it will be fun to read Rick Mercer’s blog. In case you don’t know who Mercer is, he’s one of Canada’s best political satirists — highly recommended! Thanks to Chris for pointing this out.

Fight government-controlled Internet in San Francisco

Mayor Gavin Newsom has been pushing the idea of “free WiFi” in San Francisco, but it would be anything but free. The Mayor’s play to grant special status to only one WiFi provider in San Francisco would essentially create a government-controlled WiFi monopoly in SF. There are so many reasons to oppose a government-controlled Internet, that if I listed them all here, you’d be reading all day. To learn more, you can go to the Pacific Research Institute’s (PRI) fact page or you can see links to related data here.

PRI is calling on all San Franciscans to oppose government controlled WiFi. Please go to the PRI homepage and click on the “Fight Government-Controlled Internet in San Francisco” banner up top. This will send an e-mail to Mayor Gavin Newsom expressing your views.

If you join in — and if you pass the word on to your friends and family to join in — it will help to strengthen the voices of the free market and free speech.

Here is a open letter PRI wrote to the Mayor.

When the Cable Guy gets scary…

In a move that makes Jim Carrey’s character in “The Cable Guy” look angelic, the California Cable and Telecommunications Association (CCTA) recently circulated a letter to Sacramento lawmakers in an attempt to scare them into protecting cable’s dominant video market position

It’s now easy for cable companies and others that offer high-speed Internet services to get into the voice market, but it’s hard for telephone companies to enter the video market. The ease of entry into voice is due to a technology called Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), which allows for low-cost telephone calls over the Internet. The invention and spread of this technology slashed consumer telephone bills and sliced a good portion of revenue from telecom companies.

With the convergence of multiple communications technologies, everyone is expecting a similar scenario in the video market, but it’s not happening as quickly. That’s because the change relies not on technological advances, but on government taking down roadblocks like cable franchise rules. And there’s a big lobby that doesn’t want to see competition happen.

The CCTA’s November 9 letter begins by stating, “The Bell telephone companies are beginning to aggressively offer local video services in California and around the nation.”

True enough, and that should be good for consumers, right?

Read more here.

PRI’s 2005 Gala event

Last night was the Pacific Research Institute’s annual gala dinner featuring Ambassador Howard Leach and satirist PJ O’Rourke. Around 450 people attended the event and listened to Ambassador Leach’s commentary on his time in France and what it will take to solve the social crisis that’s caused recent rioting. PJ O’Rourke was funny as ever, with a choice line being that “Muggers are freelance politicians — they only steal from some people.”

World Summit Drama Threatens Internet’s Future

Imagine a world where China argues for guaranteed freedom of speech and Cuba and Iran push for democracy. If that sounds like an episode of “The Twilight Zone,” then welcome to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s new show set to air again next week in Tunisia.

Before anyone starts to think that Chinese and Cuban communists have suddenly become enlightened, or that Iranian theocrats have experienced a moral epiphany, readers should know that the reason these countries are spouting ideas so foreign to them has to do with their deep desire to gain control of a system that threatens their authoritarian ways: the Internet.

Read more here.

Harry Benson’s photography & politics

I met photographer Harry Benson today. He’s photographed a number of high profile people, including many politicians. He told me he liked Reagan b/c he was funny, Nixon b/c he was smart, and he thought Clinton was patronizing. He also talked about Hillary Clinton. He said she told him she learned a valuable lesson from him: always keep smiling. Apparently, when you’re smiling, it’s harder for people to figure you out…

A FEMA-ized broadband?

Should high-speed Internet access continue to develop in the marketplace, or should government bureaucrats take over?

In this national debate, Americans need to consider how political management of key services often results in disaster, as in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Read my Cnet column on this topic here.

Forward Future Requires Past Principles

The imperative to fight diseases like AIDS and cervical cancer is a no-brainer, yet new technologies that help in this quest are under assault from bureaucrats and advocacy groups. As technology advances, questions surrounding its control and use will only get hotter. A key set of guiding principles is therefore of the utmost importance.

This month, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will consider whether or not Pennsylvania company OraSure will be allowed to sell an in-home test for HIV, which causes AIDS. Contrary to what many might assume, the ability to conduct in-home HIV tests has been around for years but a coalition of laboratories and AIDS counselors has blocked its use.

Read more here.

Attack of the killer robots!

A new book by Carnegie Mellon University roboticist Daniel H. Wilson makes fun of all the silly scenarios people come up with about how robots could go bad. Apparently, it’s also being made into a hollywood film — this is something I can’t wait to see.

Wanted: Government Leaders for Telecom

Revolutionary innovation and competition have shaken up the telecommunications sector, prompting at least three important mergers. Government officials who set the rules of the game are now faced with key decisions that will affect the future of communications in America.

Today, the DOJ approved the SBC/AT&T merger, but some states, such as California, are dragging their heels. At both levels of government, self-interested competitors and profiteering interest groups are predictably calling for handouts and unfair hand-ups.

Read more here.

Printer-Spy Caper Threatens Freedom

The next time you print a summary of your favorite James Bond film, you should consider that there might be more than one spy on the page. That’s because printer manufacturers and the U.S. Secret Service have been quietly collaborating to track documents — a worrisome revelation.

An announcement by the Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF) that their staff cracked the code Xerox uses to secretly tag documents printed by color laser printers recently put the issue in the spotlight.

Read more here.