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User Journal

Journal Journal: Meta: Is the new threading system messed up? 2

So it seems like the new discussion-threading system (aka "D2", according to the preferences page) no longer works for me.

I had just gotten used to it -- in particular, being able to click on comments to expand or collapse them -- and suddenly at some point this afternoon I reloaded a page and the whole thing just went away. I'm back to the regular discussion style, where clicking on the title of another user's post will open that post in a separate page.

However, I still have the new style selected in my preferences. I'm just curious whether this is a global problem or something specific to my network or configuration. I've tried disabling AdBlock and some other relevant FF extensions but no dice.

Anyone else noticing anything amiss?

User Journal

Journal Journal: Ruminations on Rememble 5

So I recently ran across a new site, courtesy of the fine folks at MetaFilter: Rememble. In a nutshell, it's a sort of 'digital scrapbooking' site. It describes itself as "a 'washing line' for your digital bits and pieces. Thread together texts, photos, videos, sounds, scribbles, scans, notes, tweets... so they're not drifting in a digital wasteland."

As a compulsive digitizer, I'll go first and say that it sounds great. There are a lot of services that provide the ability to save little text snippets for later (Google's Google Notebook, when coupled with the appropriate Firefox Addon, comes to mind), and Flickr is the gold standard for digital photo organization and sharing, and there are similar single-media sites for other purposes. However, there's a distinct lack of a single site that allows you to collect, view, organize, scrapbook, and share various types of digital media in a cohesive format. And that's a darn shame: as more people get online and involved in modern interactive services, as they get more of their lives online, it's only natural that they'll want to be able to save parts of it for later, just like they do in the physical world. (And, of course, being virtual lets you do things in an online notebook that you can't easily do in a dead-tree one, like suddenly decide to view all your clippings by date instead of by subject.)

Unfortunately, Rememble's execution -- at least at the moment -- falls flat. For a site that treads on being almost postmodern, its approach seems driven by a desire to create a vast silo of exploitable content. First major gaffe: you can't see *anything* without registering for an account. That's right, nothing. So let's say you set up an account, dump a lot of stuff into it, and then want to share it with some friends? Nope, sorry, they all have to sign up for accounts. This is such a major, deal-breaking limitation, it's hard not to immediately think of one of those ubiquitous "FAILURE" image macros. I can only hope that this is some sort of limitation due to the service being new -- I mean, they can't really be that stupid, can they?

Similarly, you can't deep-link to content that you upload. That's right; you can't embed things you upload to Rememble on your blog. While this isn't as obvious a death-wish as the lack of sharing ability, it's potentially more damaging. Flickr succeeded in its early days mainly because it became popular with bloggers looking for an alternative to services like ImageShack that didn't suck quite so badly. Flickr offered one-click tools for resizing an image and embedding it into a blog post. It was slick, people loved it, and they got a community of users rather quickly.

Beyond that, there doesn't seem to easily be a way of getting content *out* of Rememble once you've gotten it in. This bothers me, personally, although it may not be the sort of thing that a casual, non-backup-obsessed user might think of. (Though, in my opinion, they should.) A service like Rememble could, over time, end up being a significant repository of information and digital relics; having your Rememble store disappear would be like having your family scrapbooks torched.

After taking a casual look at Rememble, and comparing it to a successful service like Flickr, a number of concrete steps come to mind for, if not actually ensuring the success of a community-oriented "Web 2.0" media-sharing site, at least making it slightly less prone to sucking:

1) Sign-ins should only be required for content creators, never viewers. Even a free, one-minute signup procedure is one minute too long to expect random people I might want to share content with to go through. It's unnecessary and borders on arrogant.

2) Prohibiting blogging and direct linking may seem like a good idea, but it's not. Really. The people who are going to want to blog and direct-link are also the ones who are going to make or break your service. Don't alienate them 30 seconds after they upload their first bit of media. Yes, it may burn you to spend money on bandwidth so your users can use you like ImageShack, the Internet's cheap village whore, but chin up: everybody has to start somewhere.

3) Expose your APIs, and encourage third-party development. (To be fair, I'm not sure what Rememble is doing with their APIs; maybe they expose them and just aren't obvious about it.) Use standard interchange formats whenever possible. Since exposed APIs are considered one of the keys to useful, modern web services, they really need to get this right. Luckily, Flickr has a good model. Follow it. Also: Let users *export* content, not just import it. Acting like the NSA, hoovering up stuff and never letting anything slip back out, makes people justifiably nervous.

4) Provide a way for backups. Also: nobody likes commitment. Don't expect users to trust you, your datacenter, your RAID array, or your backup strategy. For all we know, you're running this thing on a spare server that your boss could repossess at any time. Provide users an easy way to grab a snapshot of everything they've created (a big tarball of media files and XML metadata) for their own peace of mind. Also, people like knowing that they have a way out if things go sour.

If Rememble took those four steps, they would probably have a service that I'd use right now -- at least for trivial stuff. From there, the sky's the limit.

Of 'second tier' features, an ability to encrypt content using an open-source, client-side applet (so that it gets encrypted by me, not by the server on the far end) would be nice, particularly when you're talking about automatically archiving text messages and other communications that may be sensitive now but nice to have later -- perhaps this could be offered as a premium service? If you do it right, with full auditability, you might even get corporate interest.

What really would make a service like Rememble outstanding are the interfaces. Imagine plugging a service like this into your SMS/text-messaging service from your phone, your email reader, and your IM client (archiving both conversations and status messages): you'd have a single online archive of all your communications. Privacy nightmare? Quite possibly. But it would also be handy; no more trying to remember how somebody sent you a bit of information. Plug it into your address book, so that you could cross-reference other people's online identities, and you'd be able to see all communications with a particular person over time, regardless of medium. Or run a quick search and you could see all the people you discussed a particular topic with.

I find the possibilities for a Rememble-like service pretty exciting; for someone who really likes compiling and managing information, it's just oozing with potential. And more than anything else, that's why Rememble is painful: it takes something that should be mind-blowing and renders it in a form that's lame and unimaginative; without an obvious grasp of what web services are all about.

User Journal

Journal Journal: ClearCom "Headsets"

[A while ago I mentioned the ClearCom brand of headset intercoms in a post. These are commonly used in theaters and TV studios, in order to let everyone backstage / in the control room talk to everyone else. They're a pretty simple "party line" system (at least the 3-pin XLR type most commonly encountered) but are, IMO, a neat application of analog electronics. I got a few emails about the post, asking for more information on how they worked, and in responding to them I ended up typing out a fairly long document based on my best understanding.

In particular, people seemed curious about a feature of the ClearCom system, which allows the person at the "master box" (in a theater, it's usually the Stage Manager or their Assistant) to remotely unlock the PTT switches of everyone else on the line. This is nice if someone else has locked their mic on and is breathing into it, or if you have people whose hands are too full to unlock their own mic, or you don't want to bother them while they're doing something critical -- e.g., camera operators, stagehands, etc.

Don't assume anything I describe here is correct. It's been a few years since I've worked with any ClearCom gear, and I'm not an EE by trade anyway. I'm about 75% certain that the general principles described below are correct, but I wouldn't swear by any of it. Okay?]

The unlock feature isn't really a hack, it's an actual feature of the ClearCom system, by design.

I'll try to describe what I know about the ClearComs, but really the best explanation I've ever seen, and where I learned most of this, is from this page:

Basically it's a page on how to construct ClearCom-compatible (he calls them "ComClone") intercoms.

Basically ... it works something like this. The ClearComs use three-pin XLR (balanced audio microphone cable) as a physical medium. There is one master box, which plugs into the wall, and then there are many portable beltpacks, which you daisy-chain off of the master. In terms of topology it's kinda similar to old coax-based ethernet, only in addition to the shared-medium data line, you also have a Vcc and Gnd wire.

But instead of coax, you're using balanced audio cable, so you have two signal wires and then a shield wire running around them. One of the signal wires is used in the clearcom setup for power, another is used for (unbalanced!) audio, and then ground is used for a shared power/signal ground.

The master box feeds DC onto the power wire, and this is how all the devices on the system get power -- this way the belt packs don't need batteries. I think it's like 24VDC or so. The master box also terminates the audio signal wire, with some fixed resistance. I think it's like 600 ohms or something (don't quote me on that, though). And it grounds the third (ground) pin.

Each beltpack transmits audio onto the signal wire, by acting as a variable AC CURRENT source (not a variable voltage source, as you might suspect). Remember that the audio line is terminated at one point, back at the master console. So V = IR, with a fixed R (the termination resistor), means there's a fluctuating voltage signal.

In order to receive audio, each beltpack acts as some very very high resistance in between the audio signal and ground, and basically measures the voltage change. Since each beltpack acts as some really high impedance (up in the megohm range, I think), and the audio is transmitted as a fluctuating current through the terminating resistor, which is much, much smaller than the internal impedance of the beltpack receivers, you can put a lot of beltpacks on a circuit without diminishing the audio signal. The audio is basically right around "line level" (few hundred mV).

Also, and this is fairly important -- all the audio parts of the transmitters and receivers (which I think are opamps) are AC coupled; they're isolated with capacitors. This is important, because the system imposes a DC bias on the audio wire in order to send signals.

There are two types of control signals that the system allows for. One is the "attention" signal, which makes a light flash on the beltpacks, so that you can wake up someone who might have their headset off and get them to come on line. The other signal is the "hangup" signal, which causes the PTT switch on the remote stations to release.

Both of these functions can only be initiated from the master console (the one with the power supply in it). Basically, when you want to send 'attention,' you press a button, and the box imposes a DC bias equal to about half of the supply voltage on the signal line. The belt packs have a bright LED that goes on in response to this. I don't know exactly how it's triggered but there are a lot of ways you could do it (zeners, etc.)

For the other signal, the hangup signal, there's an even higher DC bias imposed, I think. (Maybe just Vcc, assuming that the attention signal is Vcc/2?) It could conceivably be a negative DC bias with respect to ground, or something else (I've never actually measured it), but it's some other kind of DC bias on the signal line.

The beltpacks all have PTT switches on them that are non-mechanical. When you press and hold one, it works like a PTT. When you press it twice, quickly, it "locks" and you can talk without holding it down. They are designed so that if the person at the master console presses the unlock button, the belt packs will unlock the PTT in response to the signal. Honestly I'm not sure exactly how the beltpacks accomplish this, since I've never reverse-engineered one; I'm pretty sure though that the home-made ComClones *won't* do it, so I think it's a fairly complex analog circuit. (The easiest way would be with a latching relay, but I'm pretty sure that this is not how the beltpacks work, I think it's all solid-state.)

Since the audio signal and these DC signaling pulses are on the same wire, whenever the person at the master console uses one of these features -- attention or unlock -- you can hear it in the headset as a "clunking" sound.

That's about all there is to them. There are a few competing designs for simple party-line intercoms to ClearCom's; Telex is the biggest alternative, and I think they may do something that allows for balanced audio (the ClearComs will hum if you get them too close to a power line, which is a problem in the theater where you're using them alongside horrifically noisy SCR-based lighting dimmers) but they're essentially the same idea.

They also make two-channel versions that use 4-pin XLR cable, and basically just have two signal lines, so you can have two "subnets" (say, you can put all your backstage crew on channel A, and all your front-of-house crew on chan B, so the FOH people don't hear the backstage chatter if they don't want to, but the stage manager, sitting at the master console, can talk to everyone or even bridge the two groups if he/she wants).

More modern systems made in the last 5-10 years are digital and/or allow for multiple channels on top of each other by using frequency modulation techniques; wireless ones are also big. However, the 2-wire (plus ground) ClearCom system is the de facto standard in many theaters and production facilities, and in many cases the buildings have been wired for them (plus you can run them through unused channels in XLR "snakes", etc.).

Anyway hope this made sense. I'll probably copy this email and put it in my /. journal, and perhaps some other knowledgeable folks will correct any mistakes I've made.

The body of the above message, excepting material quoted or reproduced from other sources, and specifically excluding any and all attachments unless specifically noted, is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License Version 1.2, with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts an no Back-Cover Texts, and may be copied, distributed and/or modified subject to the terms of the License at

If anyone sees anything in this description that's wrong, please feel free to correct me. Back when I worked in theaters more frequently, I had a variety of little interface boxes, that would convert from ClearCom intercom connections, to balanced line-level audio. My favorite use of these was to record a performance, keeping the backstage headset audio as an alternate audio track. (Generally I'd record them to the linear audio tracks on a VHS tape, and put the house-reinforcement audio onto the HiFi tracks; then I could dub people whichever version they wanted -- the actors could get one of their show, the technical people one of 'theirs.' Today I suppose you could do the same thing with multiple audio tracks on MiniDV.) I've also seen projects for interfacing audio+ClearCom systems together, so that you can hear the house sound as background on your headset, behind the backstage chatter.

Anyway, point is, from a geek's perspective, the ClearCom is a great system, because the hacking potential is limitless and pretty easy.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Inheritance taxes and the perpetuation of the aristocracy 4

In a comment earlier today, I responded to a comment regarding inheritance taxes. As I find the topic interesting, I decided to expand on it. Consider this a work-in-progress.

Inheritance taxes are frequently put forward as a sort of anti-aristocratic tool; a way to somehow prevent families from passing large sums of money -- and consequently, power -- down from one generation to another and perpetuating themselves without any real 'work.'

I believe this is wrong, in multiple senses. First, it is wrong in the moral sense, since I believe that it is a violation of any reasonable definition of human rights which allow for the free and independent action of individuals to exercise control over their property as they see fit. (I am aware that there are some people who do not believe in such rights, but frankly I'm not interested in arguing with them -- I'm also aware that there are people who believe that the Earth is flat, or that God created the world 5,000 years ago in about a week; there's a certain point where I'm willing to just write people off as wrong and save my breath. Suffice it to say that if you don't believe in, or are unwilling to take the concept of physical property as a premise, I have very little else to say to you.)

Leaving aside the moral wrongness of inheritance taxes, I also think that they clearly fail at what's often put forward as their chief purpose: preventing the creation of a capitalist aristocracy. Far from this, they actually perpetuate and protect a very particular kind of non-meritocratic aristocracy: the aristocracy not of money, but of political and social power and connections.

Inheritance taxes punish hardest those people who are highly successful in the financial sense, but unsuccessful in the political or social realms; when they die, they leave their children mostly money, which is then pillaged by the government. In contrast, someone else who took the majority of their financial wealth and skillfully converted it to political power (a basically straightforward transaction, for someone raised in the right environment), could easily pass these connections onto their children, entirely untaxed and unfettered.

Thus, the true aristocracy escapes the inheritance taxes and manage to perpetuate their power, because their biggest assets are not necessarily in their bank accounts or even in their investments, they are in their social networks and contacts; they are in the people that they can get their children in to meet; the schools they can get them into; in some cases, simply their names themselves.

Rather than being hurt by inheritance taxes, the true aristocracy realizes that wealth is more than just money, and doesn't seem too worried by them; you rarely hear the Rockefellers or the Kennedys whining, for instance. And why should they -- in fact, inheritance taxes are the best form of protectionism for the truly powerful, because it provides a barrier to entry, keeping the nouveau riche from ever pushing themselves into the very top echelon. The nature of true power is that it takes time to accrue, and by levying punishing taxes on those who have recently acquired power (and still have it in cash, rather than in the more nebulous social connections of "old money") they can keep them down and the playing field sparse.

In short, inheritance taxes protect and encourage those who play 'by the rules' -- rules written by the very powerful. Buy into the system, take your money and pour it into quasi-philanthropy, skillful investment, and political contributions, and you can create power that will last through generations; try to keep it in the bank, and it'll be decimated before your children can use it.

User Journal

Journal Journal: The Attraction of "Strong IP" 3

(I got a fair bit of email about this so I'm putting it here just for convenience and so I don't have to keep digging for the original comment. I was asked about redistribution rights -- you may consider it licensed under the GFDL, although I would appreciate attribution via a link to this page or the original comment if possible.)

Original URL:

I think the answer is staring you in the face: as a nation, the U.S. imports a lot of physical goods, but exports a lot of intellectual property. Therefore, we reward companies who chisel their foreign suppliers into squeezing their employees, because this results in cheap imports here in the States. Likewise, we punish IP 'theft,' because IP is one of the last things that we seem to be able to produce and sell.

Now, I'm no fan of the DMCA, because I think it causes more damage and economic loss, here in the U.S., than it can or will ever possibly create in new IP-export revenue. But the logic driving it, when you separate it from the implementation, isn't that hard to understand, at least from a certain point of view. Allow me to illustrate how I think many people see the problem:

When we set aside irrational feelings of American exceptionalism -- those warm feelings that politicians always play to, when they talk about the "American worker" being the "best in the world" as if it was self-evident -- it is not immediately clear exactly how our previous success over the past century [1], necessarily translates into continued success in the future. In short, although everyone likes to say reassuring things like "Americans have always been at the forefront of innovation!", those words ring pretty hollow -- it's not clear why we would continue to be. We're not smarter than everyone else, our education system basically sucks, and we have a culture that's increasingly anti-intellectual and in some cases bordering on non-secular.

What this boils down to is: in a fully globalized economy, it's not clear what areas the U.S. will have a comparative advantage in. We'll probably always be able to export some agricultural products, but agricultural products do not a first-world civilization pay for. Same with natural resources like coal and timber but we'll need them here eventually, so we'd just be selling ourselves down the river. So what do you have left, when you've outsourced everything that can be outsourced to lower-cost second- and third-world areas? I think Neal Stephenson was onto something: music, movies, microcode, and pizza delivery.

'Pizza delivery' is the remaining service-sector crap that can't be outsourced. Music and movies are 'cultural exports,' things that for whatever reason, have a certain cachet in the rest of the world, and so don't really fall victim to direct price competition with foreign competitors. And microcode [1A] -- even if we're not the best at that, either, we'll use our monopoly to milk the rest of the world pretty good for as long as we can. But we can only do that if we can get them to buy into the legal framework which lets you sell IP as if it were physical goods. Hence, the DMCA and other 'strong IP' laws.

All of this is just my rather long-winded way of trying to explain why so many people (people in government in particular) are hooked on strong IP law (including the DMCA, DRM, and anti-circumvention), and proprietary software: they see it as a way to ensure that the U.S. can still make money doing the only thing that we seem to be good at. It may not seem at first glance to make a whole lot of sense, particularly to non-Americans, but I've met a lot of fairly powerful people who are very, very nervous about where the New/Global Economy is headed, and how the U.S. is going to maintain its standard of living [2] in the future. If you're looking for a near-magic solution, which you are if you're a politician, grabbing onto intellectual property as the salvation of high-cost Western society probably isn't the stupidest thing you'll do all day.

### Footnotes: ###

[1] Much of which is attributable to having had the good luck not to get involved in any home-turf land wars (like Europe, which got flattened, some of it twice) and getting on board the capitalism bus early (unlike Asia, which is just coming around to this whole market-economy business).

[1A] I'm using "microcode" here to represent basically all IP-derived exports, which includes most pharmaceuticals, since they're more of an information product than a physical good, even if they're generally distributed only in a 'compiled' form (pills).

[2] To say nothing of its political dominance (which is driven by economic dominance) and which a fair number of conservative people see as essential to keep the world from being overrun by Communists/Islamists/Huns/whatever.

User Journal

Journal Journal: AC on Capitalism

One of the better AC comments I've read in a while:

Actually, capitalism is entirely neutral.

The officers of a company are not obligated to worry about stock values. They are obligated to act in the interest of the stockholders. If the stockholders value stock value above all else, then the officers of the company must act in a way which maximizes stock value. However, stockholders may hold core ethical values (e.g. environmentalism) above profit, in which case the officers of the company must act accordingly.

Yes, on the surface, it looks like capitalism favors efficiency above all else. A company which inefficiently uses environmentally sound manufacturing practices has a competitive disadvantage against a polluting, but more efficient competitor. However, the reality is that this simply reflects the values of consumers. As long as consumers value a lower price over environmentally sound manufacturing processes (for instance), corporations will act accordingly or die. It is survival of the fittest - and the consumers create the environment.

So, who is really to blame? Well, the officers are not directly to blame. But their only defense is that they were "just following orders". So there is absolutely nothing wrong with denigrating them. (They could, after all, go find work elsewhere.) Likewise, the stockholders are not responsible for the environment they find their business in, but they are responsible for its actions. So it is perfectly acceptable to denigrate them as well.

However, only consumers who refuse to use such products have any right to denigrate the companies which provide them! Consumers who use these products and do not demand companies meet their own core values are the ultimate cause here. They've created the environment in which these corporations must survive. To denigrate the corporation for trying to survive in this environment while simultaneous actively creating such an environment is hypocrisy.

User Journal

Journal Journal: FCC Drops Morse Requirement for Amateur Radio

[I wrote this up as a story but was late in submitting it (not that there was anything wrong with the one that went through) ... so I just thought I'd post it here for posterity.]

In a surprise announcement last month, the U.S. FCC announced a Report and Order that effectively eliminates the Morse Code requirement for all classes of Amateur Radio licenses in the U.S. In the past, although an applicant could become a "Technician" and gain access to VHF frequencies without being able to use Morse, the second-tier "General" license and the long-distance HF bands required it. The move, which will take effect sometime in mid-Feb, means that only two short written tests stand between prospective Hams and across-the-globe radio communication.

User Journal

Journal Journal: The Problem with Driver-Loaded Firmware

(Submitted as a story on 12/31/2006)

If you've gone to a big-box store and purchased a wireless card recently, you might have had some trouble getting it to work under Linux, or any non-Windows OS for that matter. One reason for this is that more and more manufacturers are producing hardware that are useless without proprietary firmware. While these new designs allow for lower parts counts and thus lower cost, it presents a serious problem for F/OSS software because it can sometimes guarantee no out-of-the-box compatibility. Jem Matzan has produced a detailed article, "The battle for wireless network drivers," on the subject, including interviews with manufacturers' representatives and OS developers, including Theo de Raadt. The bottom line? In general, Asian hardware manufacturers were far more responsive and liberal about firmware than U.S. manufacturers (Intel included). Look for more firmware issues in the future, as not only wireless hardware, but regular wired Ethernet cards, take the driver-loaded firmware approach.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Telcos, Customers, Voters: Taking sides on IPTV and FTTN. 1

ArsTechnica recently posted an interesting article discussing the experiences of several Chicago suburbs experiencing the first waves of telco-delivered next-gen broadband (FTTN) deployments.

On one hand, traditional telecommunications carriers like AT&T want to use their existing right-of-way agreements and "last mile" copper wiring to offer 20Mb data service, which would include the magic trifecta of voice, data, and video, to residential customers' homes. But facing them is a range of challenges, including the homeowners themselves, with local municipal governments in tow; that's in addition to the resistance you'd expect from existing cable TV franchises. Customers dislike the large fiber/copper interface boxes that must be deposited around neighborhoods in order to provide the service, and are worried that telcos will use their status as "data services" to avoid traditional franchise agreements that require whole-town build-outs, similar to what cable companies had to do in the 1980s.

The result is what you'd expect: lawsuits. The municipal governments are stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place: if they allow the telcos to go ahead with their (generally undisclosed, trade-secret) plans, they'll be sued by the cablecos for not keeping the playing field level; if they block the telcos, they'll be sued for not allowing "network upgrades." Since there are currently no court rulings or Federal laws to act as guides, it's anyone's guess as to which way it will turn out.

As someone who just wants a fast, cheap data pipe, it's a difficult issue to take sides on. It's obvious that the U.S. regulatory and competitive climate is poisonous, as evidenced by the lack of broadband options here, compared to other countries with similar population densities. What's not obvious is whether letting the telcos deploy according to their own schedules is best, or whether municipal governments should be allowed to force them to build-out, deploying service to areas that may not be as immediately profitable. The telcos are quick to threaten that the latter will cause the deployment of the services to be aborted entirely, while others have speculated that including low-income areas in next-generation deployments might help to keep prices down later, benefiting everyone.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Chinese company releases $203 Linux PC

According to this Engadget article a Chinese company, the Jiangsu Menglong Science and Technology Company, has produced a 1600 yuan ($203 USD) Internet PC. The system runs on a "750MHz 64-bit homegrown Godson IIE chip" rather than an Intel or AMD part, and includes 256MB RAM and a 40GB hard drive. Based on promotional photos, it seems to run some form of Linux as an OS. Prices are exclusive of a keyboard and monitor; you'll have to bring your own for now. Also reported by Agence France Presse, via PhysOrg: the Godson chip "was produced by the Institute of Computer Technology under the state-run China Academy of Sciences as part of a project to lower computer costs in China."

User Journal

Journal Journal: A Technological Solution to Drunk Driving? 3

(Submitted as a story on 11/21/2006.)

The U.S.-based anti-drunk-driving group Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) has announced its new campaign this week, which prominently features technological measures against drunk driving. In particular, MADD is planning a nationwide call for wider use of "ignition interlocks," devices which require a driver to blow into a Breathalyzer in order to start their car, for all convicted drunk drivers and not just repeat offenders. However, the group sees this as only the first stage in a wider plan, which would eventually make Breathalyzer-like devices standard equipment in all U.S. automobiles. According to the N.Y. Times article: "Ms. Ferguson said the most promising technologies would work automatically, like air bags." Automatic, mandatory alcohol sensing has received support from the Governors Highway Safety Association, whose chairman was quoted as saying "When 40 percent of all our crashes are alcohol-involved, I don't think it's going to be that difficult of a sell."

User Journal

Journal Journal: Verizon Drops New DSL Fee

According to several news sources, Verizon has dropped its controversial new fee that it had planned to add onto DSL accounts, in place of the recently-removed FCC fee. The move is an apparent win for many irate customers, who saw a potential cost savings disappear into what was almost universally felt to be a cost increase. The move comes as Verizon was taking critcism not only from disgrundled customers and the press, but from the FCC itself.

Now, if they could only get rid of those "Regulatory Compliance Fees" that the telcos and cellular providers are somehow exempt from including in their advertised prices...why is any 'fee' not assessed by the government considered anything but part of the price of the service?

User Journal

Journal Journal: Wireless Remote Root Vulnerability found in MacBooks

As reported by Ars Technica and the Washington Post, two hackers have found an exploitable vulnerability in the wireless drivers used by Apple's MacBook. Machines are vulnerable if they have wireless enabled and are set to connect to any available wireless network, fairly close to their default state, and the exploit allows an attacker to gain "total access" -- apparently a remote root. Although the demo, performed via video at the BlackHat conference, takes aim at what one of the hackers calls the "Mac userbase aura of smugness on security," Windows users shouldn't get too smug themselves: according to the Post article, "the two have found at least two similar flaws in device drivers for wireless cards either designed for or embedded in machines running the Windows OS." Ultimately, it may be the attacks against embedded devices which are the most threatening, since those devices are the hardest to upgrade. Currently there have not been any reports of this vulnerability 'in the wild.'

User Journal

Journal Journal: Chrysler to bring SmartCar to U.S.

As reported by Bloomberg and others, DaimlerChrylser's SmartCar may soon be coming to the U.S.. The iconic vehicle weighs 1,609 pounds, has a 50-HP gasoline engine, and gets approximately 52 MPG. Its small size have made it popular in some urban European areas, and Chrysler is betting that the inreasing price of gas will make U.S. consumers receptive to the idea of a small, efficient urban ride. No word on safety, although the idea of being struck by an H2 at highway speeds while riding in one of these is unsettling, to say the least.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Revenge of the eBayer, or, "Surprise!"

A British eBay user known only as "spikytom," frustrated when a laptop he bought didn't work or match the advertised specs, took revenge on the seller when he created a website and posted information allegedly taken off of the computer's improperly wiped hard drive. Included were a number of embarrassing pictures, plus scans of the seller's passport, and excerpts from his resume. The website received national attention in the U.K., and the seller was quoted as describing his life as "a living hell." Opinions on the site seem to be mixed: while most of us who have used eBay for any length of time have ended up on the wrong end of a shady deal, this seems distressingly close to extortion, since the buyer is asking for his money back in exchange for removing the page.

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