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Archive for July, 2005

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Checking in with Bag Checking

Saturday, July 30th, 2005

Last week, the New York City subway system announced it would be randomly checking passenger bags. With much less press coverage, New Jersey Transit and the Port Authority PATH lines are now doing the same thing (I don’t know whhat the other major lines that run into/out of Penn Station – LIRR, Metro North, and Amtrak) are doing. If any regular riders are reading this, drop a comment & let me know – I’m curious.

At any rate, questions, questions, questions:

1) Leaving aside the old, worn-out argument about profiling, I’m curious whether the police are looking for people with suspicious bags or suspicious looking people. They’ve really been very quiet about what they’re looking for, other than the whole “we’re going to be fair” line.

2) They’ve said repeatedly that anyone who doesn’t want to have their bags checked will not be permitted on the train. Two questions here: a) Does that mean that once you’re on the train, you’re safe from inspection? Or if you refuse, do they just escort you off at the next stop? If that’s the case, it would seem an excellent opportunity for someone who wished to commit a terrorist act, and b) if the checks are random, and you can walk away if you’re picked, can’t you just wait a few minutes & walk in again? If the cop on duty starts to recognize you, you could always go in through a different entrance, or a different station. Either way, it seems like a gaping hole in the system.

3) If they do look in my bag, what are they looking for? Let’s say I’m carrying a knife in my bag. It’s not illegal to carry a knife, nor is there any rule (that I’m aware of, anyway) that prohibits carrying knives on the subway. So if they find the knife, do they let me on? What if I’m carrying an explosive device (say I’m a chemist or scientist of some kind, or perhaps I work on special effects for movies or TV)? Again, as far as I know, there is no law against carrying an explosive device on the subway (assuming, of course, you don’t set it off). So what’s the verdict? Confiscate or not? At least with the airlines, they give you a list of what you can’t bring on board…

Any thoughts, anybody?

Categories: New York, New York, Political Rantings | No Comments »

Atlantic City Surprises

Saturday, July 30th, 2005

My wife & I recently spent a weekend in Atlantic City (mostly in the Tropicana’s new attraction known as “The Quarter”). I’ve always been a little fascinated by Atlantic City from a marketing perspective; everything about the place seemed designed to get you into the casino and spending (or as they call it “gambling”) money. This time around, a few thoughts crossed my mind:

1) We went to AC last year too (stayed in the Borgata), and I had noticed that all the slot machines had moved away from coins & to printed tickets, which could be brought to the chasiers or machines for money/credit. At the time, I thought it was a bad idea, since the “ching, ching” of the slots adds so much to the panache of a casino. This time around, in the Trop and also at Harrah’s (where we went on Sunday before heading home), the slots generally seemed to be back on coins. Did the whole ticket thing fail? Or is it just that the Borgata is newer and the older casinos haven’t caught on to the new technology? Usually, when something new comes around, all the casinos jump on it together…

2) The Trop had nickel, quarter, fifty cent and $1 slot machines (as well as a wide variety of video poker-like machines at various prices). A big difference I noticed this time around was that the different priced machines were mixed together. In the past, I was used to seeing a “Nickel Slots Area” for the old folks who wanted to spend rolls & rolls of nickels, a similar area for Dollars & Fifty Cent machines, and then the rest were quarters. I wonder why they changed the configuration…

3) The Trop also had penny slots. I’m surprised they’d want to start dealing with an entirely new coin (before that, the coin-counting machines at the cashier’s counter only had to deal with nickels & quarters). But if they are, what have they got against the dime now?

4) In other trips to AC, as well as my one & only trip to Vegas, it seemed anything you wanted to do in the hotel required you to walk through the casino, in hopes that you’ll drop a few quarters into a machine, or maybe a few bucks on a table, on your way to wherever you’re going. In the Trop’s “Quarter,” you had to walk through various restaurants & shops to get to the casino. In fact, there were so many hallways to walk down, I actually had to ask my wife, “Where’s the casino?” That’s gotta be a bad sign, right?

Categories: Random Acts of Blogging | No Comments »

Greasemonkey Update

Saturday, July 30th, 2005

Also from InternetWeek:

The bug could let a malicious Web site read any local file on a Greasemonkey user’s machine, or view the contents of all local drive directories, said Aaron Boodman, Greasemonkey’s creator, on his blog.

“I’m working feverishly on a fix for this,” said Boodman. “But [it] will take several days. In the meantime, I strongly recommend that everyone either install Greasemonkey 0.3.5, or else disable or uninstall Greasemonkey completely.”

Categories: Tech Talk | No Comments »

Aiding the enemy – Defining Spyware

Saturday, July 30th, 2005

From InternetWeek:

Today, the Anti-Spyware Coalition (ASC), an alliance of technology companies and public interest groups, has taken that step toward giving users more power to control the unwanted software clogging their computers, by drafting a definition of the dreaded malware.

The group hopes that the definition will ultimately provide all users — from individuals to large enterprises — with the knowledge of why some programs on their computers may be identified as unwanted and then assist them in deciding whether to remove or block those programs.

Yeah, sure – let’s all agree on a consistent definition that all the spyware blockers will use. You know who will be most interested in this definition? The MAKERS OF SPYWARE

Categories: Tech Talk | No Comments »

Early Reviews of Longhorn from the Dead Language Department…

Monday, July 25th, 2005

Apparently, those who speak ancient Sanskrit think the new version of Windows is, well, er….crap.

Categories: Tech Talk | No Comments »

Real-time London Tube Disruption Map

Friday, July 22nd, 2005

For those who are interested/affected, the London Tube has a map online that shows disruption status in real-time.

Categories: News and/or Media | No Comments »

Googling at the moon…

Wednesday, July 20th, 2005

Google has created a site based on their mapping tool in honor of the anniversary of the first moon landing (July 20, 1969).

If you zoom all the way in, you’ll see some views of the moon’s surface that have never been seen before…

Categories: Tech Talk | 2 Comments »

Someone build me one of these, please…

Tuesday, July 19th, 2005

It just occurred to me that someone has to make a scanner that’s built right into a monitor. The user would put the paper he/she was scanning right up on the screen, push a button on the monitor frame, and Whammo – the image appears on the screen. It’d be like high tech iron-on’s.

Any engineers out there have some time on their hands? Get on it!

Categories: Tech Talk | 2 Comments »

What Prevents Crime?

Thursday, July 14th, 2005

Jeff Porten, guestblogger on John Scalzi’s Whatever blog this month, posted this about the security cameras in London and their inability to stop the London bombing, touching off an interesting discussion in the comments thread about security versus privacy.

This got me thinking: What prevents crime? Local, State, and Federal governments all around the world have tried various strategies, and many megabytes have been archived over whether or not those strategies are effective and/or worth it. I think it’s best broken down this way:

What Prevents Crime?

Social Convention Prevents Crime
This is the easy one. Most of us are not criminals. Period. (Note to all the bigots of the world: replace “of us” with your least favorite group and the sentence still rings true. Some examples: Most Arabs are not criminals. Most Muslims are not criminals. Most Jews are not criminals. See how easy it is? Fun for the whole family…) At any rate, the fact remains that 99.999% of the people in the world wouldn’t dream of killing another human being, even if they were guaranteed they could get away with it. Heck – a significant percentage of us would stop at a red light on a rural road at 2AM, even if we could see with our own eyes that no one was coming for miles in both directions. Call it habit, call it conscience. Some even call it religion. Whatever you call it, the fact remains that most of us are good people.

So that leaves us with the criminals.

Law Enforcement Prevents Crime
Crooks hate being watched, plain and simple. The New York Police Department’s uniformed headcount increased 42 percent to 40,300 between 1992 and 2000 (that’s one officer for every 7 recorded crimes). In the same period, crime fell by 54 percent. In London, uniformed headcount dropped 10 percent over the same period (one officer for every 41 recorded crimes) and crime increased by 12 percent. [Source]. “John H”, a Whatever commenter, relates similar anecdotes about Chicago in recent years (no direct link – scroll down to Comment #9).

Skeptics will point to other factors that reduce crime (economic growth, community action programs, etc.) and point out horrible stories about crimes committed by cops, crimes that happened while police were on patrol, or crimes committed in the presence of surveillance equipment. While the other factors may also be at play (no one’s saying law enforcement is the only way to prevent crime), the stories are nothing more than anecdotes designed to cloud the big picture.

OK, here’s where it gets really sticky:

The Appearance of Law Enforcement Prevents Crime
If you’re cruising down the highway and a cop pulls up behind you, you slow down. The cruise control could be pegged at the speed limit, but when you see the police car in your rearview mirror, your foot hits the brake. That’s all well and good, but here’s the fascinating part: people also slow down if the cops just park one of their empty police cars on the side of the road. They slow down when they pass an electronic sign that displays their speed and asks them to slow down. They even slow down when they pass a sign that says “Speed monitored by helicopter.” In some cases, the suggestion that someone might be watching can be as powerful as someone actually being there.

Here’s a more haunting example: When the 9/11 hijackers met in Spain, they decided against attacking a nuclear facility in New York, because they assumed the airspace around it would be restricted, increasing the likelihood that the plane would be shot down before impact. [Source: 9/11 Commission Report, Page 245] It wasn’t the security that dissuaded them, it was the assumption that security would exist.

This is also the theory behind the random passenger checks at airports. Jeff slams the TSA in another post for letting loads of people through security with cigarette lighters, calling their security “just for show.” I would argue that this is precisely the point: the TSA can’t possibly hope to identify and confiscate every possible weapon a person may carry on the plane. But by making a very public display about confiscating nail clippers, cigarette lighters, scissors, etc., they hope to dissuade a criminal from attempting to board with a weapon, simply because that criminal might assume that he/she is likely to get caught. If this is indeed the case, missing a few lighters doesn’t matter at all. The “show” is helping to increase security every bit as much as the act itself.

A final thought: in the time between Jeff’s original post and today, the security cameras in London did in fact help the investigation. What now appears to be four suicide bombers were seen on camera meeting just before the attacks and then entering the various train stations, etc. Obviously, the idea that they were being watched didn’t dissuade these terrorists from acting. Hopefully, though, the fact that these guys were found and identified within 72 hours of the attacks makes the next terrorist scrap his plan.

Of course, if that’s the case, we’ll never know…

Categories: Political Rantings | No Comments »

Firefox To Get Its Own Google Toolbar

Sunday, July 10th, 2005

For my Firefox friends, might I highly recommend The Google Toolbar, coming to your desktop soon!

Categories: Tech Talk | 3 Comments »

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