Podcast: Escape Your Gadgets

Here’s

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I recorded for the BBC on how to escape from your gadgets by climbing a volcano. Not an option for everyone, but it worked for me. If you want to subscribe to an RSS feed of this podcast you can do so here, or it can be found on iTunes. My Loose Wire column for The Wall Street Journal Asia and WSJ.com, on which this piece is based, can be found

here (subscription only; sorry.)

Thanks for listening, and comments, as ever, welcome.

Podcast: Backing Up I

Here’s

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on backing up (a topic I revisit in later columns and broadcasts.)

If you want to subscribe to an RSS feed of this podcast you can do so here, or it can be found on iTunes. My Loose Wire column for The Wall Street Journal Asia and WSJ.com, on which this piece is based, can be found here (subscription only; sorry.)

Thanks for listening, and comments, as ever, welcome.

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Drive Safely

This is probably the way to go with USB drives — security features that the user has to follow, or else the device won’t work.  Verbatim’s new Store ‘n’ Go Corporate Secure USB Drives’

mandatory security features safeguard all device contents with a complex password. Hack resistant feature locks down device after 10 failed logon attempts, protecting your data from dictionary or brute force hack attempts.

Of course, Verbatim are aiming this at corporate and government types, but I’d be interested to see this kind of thing used by ordinary folk too, perhaps as part of a handshake between host computer and USB drive. Internet cafes, public terminals at airports etc could encourage users to plug in their drives (as opposed to either blocking the ports or hiding them) so long as they have certain security features in place to prevent transmission of viruses, sending of spam or botnet controlling, or whatever bad people do at public computers.

Journalists’ Responsibility Is To The Truth, Not The Cops

But why the hell not? Shafer argues that this puts the next reporter in a
risky position: Will sources trust him or see him an an agent of the law? I
think the reporter who does not follow Eichenwald’s lead is in a
riskier position: of allowing and thus even abetting crimes to be
committed. And what does that tell the public about our role in our
communities? What kind of citizens are we then? Now to the third,
inevitable illustration. I wish that On the Media had asked Eichenwald
about Judy Miller and related cases, for the parallels are clear. She knew
a crime had been committed and she went

Sneaky Software: AOL’s Bad

AOL 9.0 (free version) Status: Open Inquiry In our preliminary findings, we
find that AOL 9.0 (free version) is currently badware because it installs
additional software without telling the user, it forces the user to take
certain actions, it adds various components to Internet Explorer and the
taskbar without disclosure, it may automatically update without the
user’s consent, and it fails to uninstall completely. We currently
recommend that users do not install the version of AOL software that we
tested, unless the user is comfortable with the level of risk we identify or
until the application is updated consistent with the recommendations in
this report. OVERALL RATING Badware Behavior Installs

An End to the Anonymity of Trash?

Britain is quietly introducing RFID (Radio Frequency Identity) tags to rubbish bins (trash cans) in a bid to measure the individual waste of each household and charge them accordingly. Some Britons are up in arms about this, saying that households have not been informed and calling it an abuse of privacy. Is it?

The UK’s Daily Mail reports that some bins, provided by local councils for households to dispose of their trash, contain coin-sized devices that monitor how much non-recyclable waste the owner throws out:

With the bugging technology, the electronic chips are carefully hidden under the moulded front ’lip’ of wheelie bins used by householders for non-recyclable waste. As the bin is raised by the mechanical hoister at the back of the truck, the chip passes across an antenna fitted to the lifting mechanism. That enables the antenna to ’read’ a serial number assigned to each property in the street.

A computer inside the truck weighs the bin as it is raised, subtracts the weight of the bin itself and records the weight of the contents on an electronic data card.

When the truck returns to the depot, all the information collected on the round is transmitted to a hand-held device and downloaded on to the council’s centralised computer. Each household can be billed for the amount of waste collected – even though they have already paid for the services through their council tax.

According to The Mail two German companies manufacture the bins and sensors, Sulo and RFID specialist Deister Electronic.

As with all such things, the story reflects local fears, obsessions and behaviour. First off, drinking: The Mail quotes a local council chairman saying he believed the chips “were simply to ensure bins could be returned to the right addresses if they got mixed up or drunks rolled them off”. Second, avoiding paying: The opposition Conservative party warns that “people will simply start dumping bags in their neighbours’ gardens or at the end of the street to avoid paying”. And then there’s the whole castle thing: a council spokesman in Wiltshire says the chips were “to sort out disputes between householders about whose wheelie bin is whose. If there are any arguments we can just send out an officer to scan the chip and settle the argument.” Oh, and then there’s the whole WWII hang-up: The headline at The Evening Standard’s This is London website is “Germans plant bugs in our wheelie bins”.

Is this something to be worried about? Well, the government, and local councils, haven’t been very smart about installing these tags before explaining their use to the public. But that’s not unusual: A council in Australia did the same thing a few weeks back. What I think is most interesting about this is that coverage of the subject in both countries lacks depth, pandering to the fears of its readers (The Mail may not know better, but The Press Association and The Independent should.) Even basic research would show that this sort of thing is not new, is widely used elsewhere, and has a name: Pay-by-weight.

It seems the same technology is already in use in Ireland and has, according to the company involved, reduced the amount of trash put out for collection by 40%. (There may have been some privacy uproar, but I can’t find any obvious evidence of any.) In Canada the program has been in place since 1994, and as of 1999 more than 1.5 million transponders have been deployed throughout the world, including the U.S., although there have been problems with the technology (this being RFID an’ all.)

That said, just because it’s being used elsewhere doesn’t necessarily make it a good thing. Trash is as much a privacy issue as anything linked to personal property, and the angry response to the news is related to an individual’s desire to keep what they throw out a secret (however illogical this is, given you’re putting it in an unlocked plastic bin in the street for hours, if not days, before it’s picked up.) Further research into what these RFID chips are capable of isn’t particularly reassuring: The SULO device for example (PDF file), can measure exact weight, when the bin is emptied, can report any damage to the bin, and, if linked to other equipment, could also locate where the bin was emptied. Nothing too sinister about this, but it increases the possibility, at least in theory, that an individual’s trash is no longer as anonymous as it was.

Bottom line? I don’t think this is likely, and given the technology has been in active service for more than a decade. But who knows where the technology may go? This is more a story about how RFID — although it’s not really identified in the story as such — scares people when they hear about it because instinctively they recognise its power. No one would disagree with the goal — reducing the amount of non-recyclable waste — but, as with all technologies, Pay by weight has to be handled carefully, its usage and goals explained, and clear and transparent limits to its usage imposed.

The Skype Recording Thing

Still looking for the perfect tool to record Skype conversations, I looked and Google and found one of my own posts, done 20 months ago, so I’ve updated it into a list of those programs I can find for both Windows an Macs: the LOOSE wire blog: Recording Skype conversations. This is my current state of mind on the issue:

Quite a few folk have since added their suggestions, out of which I’ve cobbled together the following. I haven’t tried some of these, and to be honest, I’ve still not come across one that completely satisfies me. Problems I’ve encountered are recording latency (where two people’s words overlap with each other on the recording where they didn’t in real life), lack of tweakability of sound levels so the two voices are the same and easy ways to give the resulting files filenames.

Perhaps Tom Raftery, who still has my underpants, can shed some light.

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The Wrong Guy Goes to Hollywood

The ‘Wrong Guy’ story just keeps going. The Congo-Brazzaville man who was interviewed on the BBC mistakenly as a computer pundit back in May could have his own movie, according to the BBC:

The incident involving Guy Goma is the basis for a film being planned by Alison Rosenzweig, who produced the 2002 Nicolas Cage film Windtalkers. “If they want to do a movie, I don’t mind talking with them,” Mr Goma, 38, told the Associated Press news agency. .. “He’s a fun, kind of internationally famous person that I think is an interesting source for movie material,” Ms Rosenzweig said. “We’re developing the project, and hopefully we’ll be able to set it up on a major studio.” She added that the amount of money Mr Goma could make would depend on the financing of the project.

Lovely stuff, although I’m not sure the one incident may suffice for a movie. Anyway, he’s big enough to have his own Wikipedia entry, his own web-page, and lots of half-baked news stories that turn out not to be true. No one loves a celeb more than the Brits.
 

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What Goes Around…

I’m belatedly playing with Microsoft’s new Windows Live Writer. I like it, but then I’ve always been a fan of blog writing tools. Here’s a list of them I started keeping, although I’m pretty sure it’s out of date by now.

But does it not strike you as somewhat strange that we’ve gotten to this point? I mean, those blog writing tools were available nearly three years ago, doing pretty much what Windows Live Writer does now — WYSIWYG authoring, HTML source code editing, Web preview mode, adding photos, compatibility with different blog services, some weird formatting and error messages, etc etc. In fact the only thing it’s got the others don’t have, map publishing, doesn’t yet work. Oh, it’s free. But otherwise Dmitry Chestnykh of BlogJet seems to have a point when he claims Microsoft has ripped off his software.

So is this where Web 2.0 has taken us? All the way back to a small software tool that lets us write our blog postings offline so we can upload them later?

What Goes Around…

I’m belatedly playing with Microsoft’s new Windows Live Writer. I like it, but then I’ve always been a fan of blog writing tools. Here’s a list of them I started keeping, although I’m pretty sure it’s out of date by now.

But does it not strike you as somewhat strange that we’ve gotten to this point? I mean, those blog writing tools were available nearly three years ago, doing pretty much what Windows Live Writer does now — WYSIWYG authoring, HTML source code editing, Web preview mode, adding photos, compatibility with different blog services, some weird formatting and error messages, etc etc. In fact the only thing it’s got the others don’t have, map publishing, doesn’t yet work. Oh, it’s free. But otherwise Dmitry Chestnykh of BlogJet seems to have a point when he says Microsoft has ripped off his software.

So is this where Web 2.0 has taken us? All the way back to a small software tool that lets us write our blog postings offline so we can upload them later?