USA Security at Cost of Economy or Pride?

Well, wow… new secure US passports are being made by European contractors using Far East facilities.

You want free market capitalism; you have it.

http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/us/2008/03/27/verjee.passport.outsourcing.cnn

There are questions going around about whether this foreign manufacture is a security compromise to the whole US security mission.

The foreign companies manufacturer blank passports and chips (vaguely equivalent to having blank CDs made abroad).  Given suitable PKI this should not represent a security problem.

The real joke is that the apparent reason for this happening is that the US does not have the facilities domestically, to do this production – slight loss of pride.

Well that’s a good thing, because the alternative would be that the US government is chosen to outsource jobs to another country – a loss to the US economy.

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Kudos to Apple on their CNN Advertising

Today, I saw this clever advertising on CNN’s website.

Of course it may not be there when you click that link.

Essentially they had the PC/Mac characters in one flash movie on the right, talking about (and looking up at) the flash banner across the top of the screen, including changes to the top banner caused by actions of the PC character is the side movie.

Death of Hal

Arthur C Clarke has died at age 90.  He co-authored 2001: A Space Odyssey (based on one of his short stories) and envisaged the idea of the communications satellite 20 years before one was launched.

Some people may not know that there are sequel books to 2001 (along with one sequel movie) including 3001: The Final Odyssey.

I’m just getting started on the 2nd of his Time Odyssey series that he co-authored with Stephen Baxter.  The 3rd book of the series was published just last December.

Will That New Electricity Meter Make you Poor and Fat?

In some locations electricity meters are being replaced with new models that record and transmit data about how much electricity you use at intervals over the day.

The meters communication use RF in small groups to a lead meter that is connected to a phone line in the lead meter’s residence.  I wonder if that user gets anything for that?

I was given such a meter recently.  The time-of-use (TOU) data should be available to consumers at some point in the future.

Also at some unpublished time in the future, the electricity company will switch to TOU billing like this (note the proposed pricing):

Current price is (5c per kWh up to first 2000kWh, and 5.9c thereafter)

Off-peak (3c per kWh)

  • Mon-Fri 22:00 to 07:00 summer/winter
  • All Weekends/Holidays

Mid-Peak (7c per kWh)

  • Mon-Fri 07:00 to 11:00 and 17:00 to 22:00 in the summer
  • Mon-Fri 11:00 to 17:00 and 20:00 to 22:00 in the winter

On-Peak (8.7c per kWh)

  • Mon-Fri 11:00 to 17:00 in the summer
  • Mon-Fri 07:00 to 11:00 and 17:00 to 22:00 in the winter

The accompanying leaflet says I should be “shifting activities that are energy-intensive to the less expensive mid-peak and off-peak hours”.

Given the current rate (5 or 5.9c) the only “less expensive” period will be Off-peak and look when that is!  The “energy-intensive” activities they include are “air conditioning, clothes dryers, clothes washers, electric ovens, electric heating and electric water heaters.”  Only the first 4 apply to me.

So – to summarise so far.  My bill will go up because I cannot effectively use air conditioning after 10pm!!!#$!#$!#$ and I will have to do my laundry after 10pm or on weekends otherwise my bill will go up (and the insurance companies can plan on more claims for flooding as washers overflow while people are sleeping).  It is unlikely that the saving of doing laundry for a couple of hours on the weekend will offset the huge increase of needing air-conditioning during the day (even if it’s set to a higher temperature).  We are about to get ripped off on 3 activities at least and/or be sleep deprived!

So about that electric stove activity (or microwave to some extent).  I will now pay more money to cook lunch and dinner.  In fact I will now have to start cooking dinner after 5pm in the summer or after 10pm in the winter (noting that before 5pm is not feasible for many dual-working-adult families), in order to keep my costs down – or just eat uncooked food.  This leads to 2 realistic choices (excluding extremes like starving during the week):

  • Pay more money.
  • Put on weight due to either buying more take-out (and also spending more money) or cooking/eating later, both because you are trying to save money.

So when the booklet says “What are the best strategies for smart metering?”, that section should be re-titled as “What are the best strategies for choosing how much extra weight you will put on vs. how much your bill will go up”

Solar panels are sounding like such a great investment these days!

UPDATE:

I said most of this to the electricity company and they sent me a link to an official report.  The report was conducted by the energy board and local electricity company.

A sample of 124 people were tested on a TOU plan (of mostly new single-family homes with well educated and above poverty-line income) against 125 control group – that’s a horrible sample demographic and size for an official test!!.  Note that 125 & 124 others tried two other plans that are not in my meter literature.

In the best case under TOU someone saved $9 a month; in the worst someone paid $6 more.  The average was a saving of $0.78 per month (wooo), i.e. over the 124 people trying TOU pricing, there was little change and some people did pay more. 

However, since there was a 6.0% reduction of overall use and people were shifting their use (a figure the report hides as not significant for this price plan), on average I still believe people would be spending more.

Also, the TOU pricing structure was officially designed so that someone on TOU would pay the same if they did nothing.  Remember that these people are trying hard to save money and change their habits.  People are lazy – after a few months (and not getting another $75 for participating in the survey!), most people will tend to revert back to old habits plus >64% can’t recall aspects of the pricing structure, so the average bill would go up! 

I don’t see any old houses, old people, socially/economically-challenged groups or stay-at-home workers in the samples. 

Many people who (worked their butts off and managed to save their $0.78) were expecting large savings, so many of those people will not bother now and just end up paying more.

While conversation efforts are observed with TOU pricing, “a main purpose of time-of-use and critical peak pricing is to reduce peak demand” – nice to know the energy company’s view of energy conservation and everyone’s efforts.  Admittedly, the point is to increase system reliability/availability, but I don’t think it’s appropriate to put this responsibility on the customer who will end up either doing it or paying more (and will that more pay for better service?)

And as for getting fat?

According to surveys with focus groups: “In response to a critical peak notification, customers might reset their thermostats by a few degrees [get hot]… plan on dining out [get fat or pay more money] or cook on an outdoor grill [abandon their electricity supply]…”

I support conservation but as clearly stated, smart meters are not about conservation.  Oh, and someone has to pay for the system…

My Kingdom for a Silverlight 2.0 Beta 1 Go-Live License

So you’ve got your Silverlight 2.0 Beta 1 download and have synaptic marvels firing off about how to make a cool application with it, and perhaps some money.

On the Silverlight website you see that there’s a Go-Live license for this release – oh but there’s no information on how to get this.

Being a good boy you remember that there’s a software license with the SDK so you check it out – here’s a non-comprehensive sample:

a. You may install and use any number of copies of the software on your premises to design, develop and test your programs for use with Microsoft Silverlight.

b. You may not use the software to develop or distribute programs that work with the final commercial release of the Microsoft Silverlight 2, you must acquire the final release version of the software to do that.

c. You may also use the software to design, develop and test sample code and programs that you (i) make available to other designers and developers in source code form as examples of how to use Microsoft Silverlight or (ii) deploy to end users for non-commercial purposes. These license terms will refer to such sample code and programs as “Silverlight applications”.

Bummer – no commercially exploitive opportunities there.

But wait – there’s more:

If you want to use or distribute your programs for commercial purposes, you must do so under another agreement or an amendment to this agreement. For more information about applying for commercial use rights, please contact golive@microsoft.com.

Yippee… the words “golive” sound promising – time to send an email…

Then this:

Final-Recipient: rfc822;golive@microsoft.com
Action: failed
Status: 5.1.1
Diagnostic-Code: smtp;550 5.1.1 User unknown

:(..

The next move will therefore to be to contact Mr Tim Sneath (evangelist for Silverlight, etc) or Mr Scott Guthrie (head silverlight man and circus performer wannabe – see mix08 keynote) directly…

For those that don’t know – you can’t just pick up the phone and call Microsoft and ask for the Silverlight team – you need to know someone’s name.

OK we have some names, but these are busy people, so best to try contacting them via their blog or possibly email first – these are busy guys after all. 

UPDATE:

Adam Kinney (formerly MS Channel9, now MS client platform evangelist with Tim) spots the post and forwards the issue to the appropriate people.

UPDATE 2:

Tim Sneath contacts me here and by email with a humble and helpful response – the golive@microsoft.com mailbox had an issue but should be working shortly.  A fantastic response experience.  Thank you Tim & Adam.

The ultimate Horrific Question

Warning: the article referred to, deals with with war-crimes.

In reading this CNN article about a war crimes trial (only for the non-squeamish!) I came across what seems like one of the worst questions of all time – you’ll know which one it is if you read it.

I thought twice about posting this.  Not much surprises me and I generally post about technology surprises or disappointments.  While I was aware that the subject matter dealt with has been known to happen in human history, I was surprised that the defense attorney would ask such a question.