Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Short One...

So I pull out of the station with the reporter on the way to a Kidney Walk -- that's a fundraiser for kidney disease research and patient assistance -- when I look into the vehicle's side mirror as we come onto the highway. Back, at the intersection of the branch road we're pulling onto (581) and the main interstate (81), some two or three miles away, I see a big, black cloud of smoke.

Now, a range of thoughts flash through my mind. Black smoke is bad. Aside from indicating there's no new Pope, outside of the Vatican it indicates a petroleum product burning, like plastic or rubber ... as in a car or a plane or something. (Houses tend to burn white -- wood and fabric -- until it gets to the furniture and stuff, and fires being extinguished put out white smoke, from the water.) So my first thought is this is something bad ... and newsworthy.

Then I remember that sometimes heat plants and diesel generators (petroleum still) often put out black clouds when first fired up, sort of like that big black cloud from the tractor trailer when it first accelerates. So I hesitate.

But then I decide to say something. "What the hell is that?!" I say, still looking at the cloud in the side mirror. The reporter, seated next to me, answers with a tone of surprised disdain. "An Escalade," he says, naming the car passing us. I realize he can't tell I'm looking in the mirror.

"No, behind us." He sees the cloud. "Turn around," he says, and we do. An RV was burning on 81. Traffic had just begun to stack up; we skipped around it on the shoulder. Good footage.

Welcome to my world...

Monday, October 11, 2010

Private Lives ...

So it's been a while, and the New York Times has an article today that reminded me of something. It's about web privacy and how the new HTML5 provides more opportunity for data tracking with cookies, etc. And I've heard these worries before with other systems, like Facebook, and -- with concessions I'll get to in a moment -- I'd like to say: I don't care.

That's right, I don't care. They can follow my boring shopping and reading habits until their eyes bleed, for all I care. As a matter of fact, it's worse than that. I actively hope they follow me. If they can do stuff to more quickly and accurately bring me stuff that I want with less effort on my part, good! My life was just made easier.

I'm tempted to go off on a short side rant about how, when these stories come out, they so often are written in a breathless tone of horror that a business should want (God forbid!) to encourage people -- actively encourage them, by use of all means available -- to buy their products. (Long pause, รก la Jon Stewart.) Really? This is a moral crime of some sort?

But instead (that was sufficient, I think, and any more would draw us off in some tangential direction), allow me a short aside on the actual moral crimes possible. The ability to muck around in my life and personal data is not something I want anyone to be able to do with reckless abandon, but I don't mean to say this in contradiction to the above. Rather, what I mean to say is that there are indeed bad people out there: those who would steal identities, blackmail, steal assets, pry into stuff that's none of their business, etc.

Now, this is the very argument that many "privacy advocates" would make in answer to my opening statement, but I think that is a red herring. The bad people are just that ... BAD people. They are engaged in activities that are morally wrong, and generally illegal already. If we didn't have computers and the internet, they would still be doing whatever nastiness they do by whatever analog means available. There was fraud in the 19th Century -- check out Huckleberry Finn -- and even, I venture, in the time of Christ. Some caveman probably ripped off another by lying and saying he knew Ug from the next cave over, when he really didn't.

Evil and theft, like the poor, shall always be with us. The Eeyores of this world can kill any idea by pointing out the ways it can be misused. The fault is not in our technologies but in ourselves; we can't legislate behavior and we can't prevent, by technical means, badness.

So track away, dear businesses, and bring me those obscure products that I just can't live without, but would otherwise live in ignorance of.

Then again, it would help if I had any money. Maybe they'll figure that out, too, and leave me alone ...