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Archive for May, 2006

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Senator Leahy on Privacy in the Post 9/11 World

Wednesday, May 3rd, 2006

Hat Tip to Jeff Porten for this. Some thoughts:

1) It’s good to see the Senator get around to discussing this. I said many of the same things on March 25, 2002. Of course, not nearly as many people were listening to me.

2) I’m constantly amazed at our elected officials’ ability to say nothing in the maximum number of words

3) Regarding the NSA Wiretappings, a few points:

First, point taken about the warrants. I sincerely believe the White House’s argument about the need for speed in these situations, but given FISA’s stipulation for obtaining warrants retroactively, I don’t know why they didn’t get warrants. It is interesting, though, that the Bush administration has requested more FISA warrants than any other administration before it, so it’s not like they don’t believe in the process. No one has ever theorized as to why they followed the law so many times before but were so nefarious here. They must have believed this to be a special case. I’m glad we’re investigating the reason why, and I hope when it’s found, we can resist the need to spin it in a big game of “gotcha.”

Second, it really, really bugs me when people talk about the wiretapping as if Bush himself was personally wiretapping the phone calls or random Americans. Leahy, to his credit, at least implies (but doesn’t say) that the wiretaps were done on those whose phone numbers were discovered in the “recent calls” list of cell phones obtained from known terrorists in Iraq and/or Afghanistan.

Third, I’ll note that Leahy blatantly plays the “politics of fear” in much the same way the Republicans are accused of doing. To wit: Can they bug your home? Can they open your mail? Hey, who’s that behind that door?!?

Fourth, a serious question about wiretapping purely domestic calls: Let’s say our troops find two domestic numbers on cell phones in Iraq. Should they be able to listen in on a conversation between the two? I’m not so sure the answer is an automatic “no.”

Finally, history just doesn’t bear out Leahy’s assertion about “the chilling effects of surveillance on the right to protest and to express dissent in our nation.” His own examples seem to disprove his point: did Martin Luther King, Jr. feel stifled to express his concerns? Were the Vietnam War protests curtailed in some way? In fact, logic suggests that if the goal of surveillance was really to squash protest and dissent, it wouldn’t be secret at all. After all, people won’t be afraid to speak unless they know they’re being listened to.

4) Regarding his rather predictable call for congressional hearings on the matter, a familiar cliche comes to mind: I have a hammer, therefore this problem must be a nail.

Categories: Political Rantings | 2 Comments »

Who Said Charity Had to be Efficient?

Tuesday, May 2nd, 2006

On May 17th, a group called City Harvest is sponsoring a program called Skip Lunch Fight Hunger. The idea, apparently, is that you take what you would normally spend on lunch that day and donate it to CityHarvest, which then uses the money to feed hungry kids in the NYC area.

It’s a nice idea, of course, and they’ve got corporate involvement. Here’s what Starbucks is doing, according to Rockefeller Center’s tenant newsletter:

Visit participating NYC Starbucks from 11AM – 1PM to make a donation to Skip Lunch Fight Hunger; you’ll be rewarded with a sample of Starbucks new sandwiches and beverages (while supplies last).


How about we keep our money and Starbucks just gives the sandwiches to the kids?!?

Categories: New York, New York | No Comments »

The Zealots Respond: We’re Not Zealots, We’re Fanatics!

Tuesday, May 2nd, 2006

Jeff Porten is responding to my Being All That Apple Can Be Rambling (which was in response to his original post, Spending my summer in Boot Camp) with multiple posts on his blog, The Vast Jeff Wing Conspiracy.

For sanity’s sake, the ensuing discussion will take place on his blog, since my Ramblings don’t have comment capabilities. I’ll keep a running list of links in this post, though, so those who are interested can follow the discussion more easily:

1) About the Cult of Macintosh

Categories: Tech Talk | 2 Comments »

Et Tu, Google?

Monday, May 1st, 2006

Frequent readers of this blog know how much I love Google. Heck, with the exception of a few friends of mine who read this fairly regularly, almost everyone who comes here does so because of Google. I’m a big Google fan (and even a shareholder).

So it is with great sadness that I report that Google has begun playing the accuse your competitors of unfair practices game with Microsoft, the Justice Department, and the European Union. Many levels of hypocrisy abound:

[Internet Explorer, version 7] includes a search box in the upper-right corner that is typically set up to send users to Microsoft’s MSN search service. Google contends that this puts Microsoft in a position to unfairly grab Web traffic and advertising dollars from its competitors.

The move, Google claims, limits consumer choice and is reminiscent of the tactics that got Microsoft into antitrust trouble in the late 1990′s.

Actually, after a lot of hand-wringing (and a new administration), the DoJ dropped the case about integrating the browser into the OS. It was the European Union that finally nailed Microsoft for anti-trust practices, and that was over their inclusion of a Media Player in their OS, not a browser. We continue:

The best way to handle the search box, Google asserts, would be to give users a choice when they first start up Internet Explorer 7. It says that could be done by asking the user to either type in the name of their favorite search engine or choose from a handful of the most popular services, using a simple drop-down menu next to the search box.

The Firefox and Opera browsers come with Google set as the default, but Ms. Mayer said Google would support unfettered choice on those as well.

Uh huh…I guess they never noticed this completely unfair, choice-limiting feature of Firefox and Opera until just now, right? Or perhaps they’ve been privately fighting for its removal all along, and the press just never covered it? Or maybe it’s only unfair when the feature doesn’t point to your product, and it lives in a browser that has 80%+ market share?

Microsoft responds with a couple of good points:

Giving users an open-ended choice could add complexity and confusion to the browser set-up process, while offering a few options would be arbitrarily limiting.

MSN [is] not always the default search in Internet Explorer 7. When downloaded, the new browser inherits the settings from the old Microsoft browser, version 6. But the search default in that program was based on a feature called AutoSearch that Google says was not widely used.

So again, limiting consumer choice is only OK if it’s in a feature that no one uses? But here’s the icing on the cake:

[Google sponsored] a study . . . conducted by Tec-Ed, a research firm. It found that only a third of users could master the four-click process to change the default.

Seriously? 67% of web-browser users can’t master a four-click process? I highly suspect that what the study really showed was that 67% of browser users didn’t bother to use the four-click process to change the default. But that doesn’t sound as good to an anti-trust lawyer, now does it?

What’s not mentioned here at all is the Google toolbar. Download statistics are not readily available (since you can download it from multiple places), but I’m willing to bet that a very significant portion of the IE installations out there (half? maybe more?) have the Google toolbar installed. That means there’s a search box right there on the screen that will take users directly to Google’s search results. Of course, there are mitigating factors here: you have to install the Google toolbar yourself – it doesn’t come pre-loaded with the browser. On the other hand, the search box on the Google Toolbar is just below the address box, making it more convenient than the one in the upper-right corner. Also, there is no way (four clicks or otherwise) to change the toolbar to search with another search engine. And before you declare me crazy for suggesting that Google build a tool that allows people to search with their competitor’s site, allow me to point out to you that this is exactly what they’re asking Microsoft to do, and in fact, Microsoft has already done it and Google is asking them to make it easier! There’s even a beta version of the toolbar available for IE v7

For shame, guys. Why not take a more novel approach and declare your indifference to the IE search box, market the hell out of your own toolbar, and tell people they should use your product because it’s better (which I happen to believe it is, by the way), rather than appealing to some trumped up assault on their free will?

Categories: Tech Talk | 8 Comments »

The Bizarro, Inverted Universe of Politics and Gas Prices

Monday, May 1st, 2006

This from the New York Times (registration required):

There are competing proposals on the table for how to provide relief to the American taxpayer, given the $3/gal price of gas. One party (we’ll call them Party A) wants to suspend the 18.4 cents/gal federal gas taxes for the big oil companies (who pay the tax). The other party (Party B) opposes the plan because “they fear the oil companies would not pass savings on to the public, or that the laws of supply and demand would push the price up again.” A spokesman for Party B said, “Our folks thought it might amount to nothing for consumers.”

So would it amuse you to learn that Party A (“cut taxes for the big corporations”) is the Democrats and Party B (“giving big corporations a break won’t trickle down to the consumer”) is the Republicans? Wha?!?

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to stare out my window and watch out for Evil Superman…

Categories: Political Rantings | No Comments »

Is It Too Soon for TWO Movies?!?

Monday, May 1st, 2006

Flipping channels this weekend, I came across a movie on A&E called Flight 93, about the plane that crashed in Shanksville, PA on Sept. 11, 2001. At first, I thought maybe the producers of United 93 had decided to air the movie on television as well as in the theaters, but that sounded economically and logistically impossible, even for a film on this topic.

As it turns out, they really are two different films, made within a few months of each other. What’s amazing to me is all the ink United 93 has been getting of the “is it too soon?” variety, without a single mention of the fact that another (almost identical, it seems) movie is also coming to cable TV at the same time.

Then, there’s this:

The trailer for [United 93], shot documentary-style and featuring a no-name, non-Hollywood cast, was pulled by one theater in New York after 9-11-sensitive audiences complained–and, per one report, cried.

RV, the family-friendly road-trip comedy starring Robin Williams, did not appear to tap such emotions. It did, however, tap wallets. Its $16.4 million take was the best of the weekend, answering the question as to whether it was too soon for audiences to laugh at a movie that seemingly ignored sky-high gas prices.

It’s good to see that the movie critics can maintain a sense of humor (at least, I hope they were kidding…)

Categories: Movie Talk | No Comments »

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