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.

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.

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Also at some unpublished time in the future, the electricity company will switch to TOU billing like this (note the proposed pricing):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

iTunes DRM-free doesn’t mean Scott-free Sharing

In a comment on Mack’s post about iTunes going DRM-free I speculated whether they would still keep identity information in tracks to fight file sharing.

Well I’ll happily boast that I seemed to have called it.

The BBC is reporting that the new DRM-free tracks have the full name and email address of the purchaser in them! 

The DRM-‘full’ tracks apparently also had this, but it appears that DRM-free, doesn’t mean scott-free or audit-free sharing.

I personally really think this was to be expected.  Perhaps it’s stated somewhere, but it’s clearly not obvious to most.

So don’t expect someone to set up something like the old-style Napster again fueled by iTunes downloads ๐Ÿ™‚

Microsoft Surface: Over-Due, Over-Priced, Over-Done, Over-Hyped, Totally Unavailable

It’s this year’s Origami and years from surfacing.

I’m sorry, but I’m simply not going to get on the wow bandwagon.  I’ve even had an IM debate with a friend already this morning.

The fact is that there really isn’t any NEW innovation in this, where NEW means “wow I had absolutely no idea this could be done today” or “this wasn’t available a year ago”.

I’m a Microsoft fanboy most of the time, but the answer to the following questions are all “no” so I’m just going to find myself bored and at the same time amused at all the hype that’s going to come out of this.

  • Can I have one today?
  • Does it cost the same as a computer + projector + sensors + table or even close?
  • Can I get it the way I want it in terms of colour, size, form factor?
  • Can I use my existing computer with it – like dock my tablet into the side and so just purchase the table/projector/sensor combo and install some software?
  • Does it have an intuitive interface?  Easy to learn yes; immediately intuitive, no – completely breaks UI standards with different apps having different drag semantics.
  • Is this the first time Microsoft has shown this technology?
  • Can I get one this time next year for the same price?
  • Can I get the runtime and build my own?
  • Is there an SDK?
  • Does my credit card or other existing devices work with it directly?
  • Is there a consumer-friendly kit for making my existing devices readable for placement on the surface?
  • Can consumers get one at a reasonable price with three years?

Do I want one today as my coffee table?  YES, if there’s an SDK.

Over-Due

I could play space invaders on a coin-op machine in a pub about two decades ago.  Why did this take so long?  Microsoft admits starting on this in 2001 – why did it take until now?  If anyone is thinking “But… <insert whizzing technology> wasn’t available….”, stop right there and think if you are acting on blustering belief or considered application.  Even on the 1990s space invader table, you could have had useful applications with that level of graphics.  Considering Microsoft did Zune and Xbox so fast, and everyone up to Bill Gates authorised a team, what took so long?!  I’m not saying it could have been done back then, though I could have justified US$10K at that point – more like 2000 perhaps.  Actually, those paying attention know that Bill Gates has shown this kind of technology already, and it was a while ago, so why is everyone acting like bread could only be sliced today?  Calm down!

Over-Priced

Apparently these devices will cost $5K to $10K US and the END of 2007?  Why?!  Makes it sound awfully delicate to put one in a restaurant if it costs that much to replace.  Does everything in the furniture market have to be so over-priced and unavailable?

Over-Done

Many people aren’t quite as fixated on technology stuff as some of us, so this all looks so cool, but it has been demo’d prominately by Bill Gates before.  It feels overdone because it has been on the cards for such a long time and this announcement (mostly consisting of consumer experiences) carries zero promise of availability to consumers and an extremely low chance of a consumer getting to interact with one.

It’s not surprising that all the sophisticated demoes are for brands that have the money to invest in these things: casinos and telcos.

Everyone is so into this that they fail to notice that the demos are done by people that have been using it for a long time and have learnt the drag semantics.  The demos are so far baked that they all have their differing ideas for what dragging does and how the UI goes.  WPF can be used to break years of Windows UI consistency, and this new UI is a whole new UI that screaming excitement but hasn’t been given to anyone to really standardise or play with.

Over-Hyped

Oooo, Ahhhh, so when can even a developer get one at a reasonable price?  Is news really that slow, and everyone really that bored that they think this is really that innovative? 

“How can you say… or not be excited by…” – because I already asked myself the questions above, the first time I saw a Microsoft demo of the technology months ago.  Everyone seems to be acting like a kid in a candy store, but they haven’t yet realised that all the candy is made of promotional cut outs, because someone hasn’t yet finished developing the candy and their pocket money wont be able to afford this kind of candy for quite some time.

If it’s that innovative, then why does it take companies with deep pockets to get it rolling and drive the price down?

So why has it been announced today?  Well, I’d guess it’s probably because it has been incubated for 6 years, and it would almost be embarrasing not to announce something, especially after Bill demo’d it a while ago already, plus the reality that if some money isn’t made back on the work, it will just end up getting dropped or developed at a cheaper cost by a start-up or hobbyist somewhere (if there’s isn’t one already doing it?)

Of course, all hype (good or bad) adds to the discussion, so even if you don’t agree with anything I’ve said, it will create the opportunity for more people to talk about Microsoft Surface (which is currently 1000s of fathoms far from surfacing).  I haven’t included a single link in here, because it’s all over the Web today and it certainly doesn’t need any help from me ๐Ÿ™‚

Engadget /verbose

In a previous post I discussed how Engadget appears to be getting more verbose with its posts, making it slower to skim through, and less effecient for obtaining useful information.

This was an observational hunch, until now…

Today, Yuvi has posted a detailed analysis of Engadget from the beginning of Engadget’s existance, and guess what I found…

Thatโ€™s growing as well. The average number of words per post is now 160, up from just a 100 in May 2004. More words, more posts, more people, more news.

Could that be 60% more verbosity?  Along with an increase of about 25% in the average number of posts per day, that’s twice as much information to read through from when they started, with 37.5%+ of post content being potentially redundant.

Bullet points!

Microsoft’s Mobile World Strategy at WinHEC

In his WinHEC keynote (at 07:00), Craig Mundie (Microsoft’s Cheif Research and Strategy Officer) talked about the fact that in ‘ermerging market’ countries, the main computer that millions do have, is a mobile phone.

He showed a video of a Windows Mobile phone playing audio and allowing illiterate individuals to seek services through icon choices, e.g. getting help dealing with a child’s medical symptoms.

Note that he talked about ’emerging market’ countries, rather than ‘developing’ countries, but I still don’t think it’s realistic to think that hoardes of people can afford a Windows Mobile phone but are still illiterate, so goverment or remote funding would likely be required.  In fact, he illustrated (with a pyramid) a view of the richest 1 billion people (that have computers), the 2 billion that has limited disposable incoming, and the 3 billion that do need government or agency sponsored programs, all under the umbrella of something called “Microsoft Unlimited Potential” (complete with local and slogan).

Craig’s keynote was quite dry and there wasn’t really anything too novel or far future-looking from Microsoft Research; in fact the first half of his speech was mostly about application and strategy.

While there was talk about medical assistance for other markets, this keynote really seemed like Microsoft airing it’s idea for how it can get to the 2 billion (who largely have mobile phones that are not Windows-based, but were having an interoperable Windows-based device could bring new activities) and the 3 billion where perhaps medical needs could justify getting a Windows-based phone in were there is still the opportunity to compete from a fresh start.

Remember, while this may sound like a cynical view, Microsoft is a publically traded company looking to increase stock price which often means growing its market reach, and Craig is the Strategy guy.  While it would have made for a cooler keynote, we aren’t ready for Windows SpaceCraft edition yet, especially when it’s proving so hard for Microsoft to penetrate into the automobile market (but I wish they would).

Crappy logic over gun rights

Yes, I’m going to go there…

What does it say that every time I turn on CNN for 5 minutes, just in the hope of getting some unbiased update I see something, that makes me cringe.

I turned on and saw Paula Zahn NOW. I don’t watch CNN enough to know which shows are on when but I was sure to hear something on the tragedy eventually (as CNN has threatened intense coverage which ironically was convenient, if it had only been of any value…).

What I observed was the end of a debate betwen what I assume was a gun proponent, a professor, and a woman whose involvement I didn’t figure out.

The professor said that professors should not carry guns and that neither should students. The gun proponent basically said that the rule preventing the carrying of guns on campus contributed to the number of deaths this week. Let’s consider that for a second…

So if a class professor or student had had a gun, there’s a chance that not as many people would have died. Of course the gun fight may have potentially escalated if the ‘defender’ didn’t hit home with the first shot (remembering that you don’t need training to purchase a gun there). On the other hand, if shooter had not been able to buy a gun, no-one would have been shot. Of course you could argue that he could have got a gun in some underhanded way.

Take a look at the UK, the rest of Europe and Canada (on CNN’s handy but not very detailed world map of where not to live if you don’t want to get shot). In those areas, there are no rights to bear arms and less than 1 in 100,000 people are murdered with a gun – unfortunately it doesn’t say how much less.

Someone I know had a friend die in the UK this week. His friend was riding a bike and died as a result of a collision (that occured due to reasons subject to inquest) with a rubbish/garbage collection vehicle. There’s a rule that says you need a certain license to drive drucks/lorries. Would the gun proponent’s values suggest that such a rule was the reason the kid couldn’t have been driving his own truck, possibly preventing him being severly injured? In fact the gun proponent would not seem to care whose fault the collision was, but be more concerned that both parties could have at least had a truck each, no matter what the risk of untrained truck drivers would be on those who choose not to drive a truck…

I’m not saying there isn’t a valid defense with a gun or that rights should not be there, but enabling an increased risk of danger is moronic. In the UK you can own a shotgun for sport so long as the police come round to interview you periodically and ensure it’s locked away. I’m sure that someone subject to home invasion in the UK who had such a weapon, may consider its use to defend their lives, but home invasions are rare, possibly because no-one can easily tote a weapon to enter into such an endeavour feeling indestructible.

There is perhaps simply a distinct difference in culture between the USA and countries like the UK, largely driven by a belief system in the USA which is at the core of many divided opinions, none of which will be ‘resolved’ any time soon. And to some, that may be what makes the USA ‘great’ – they may be right, but personally I like to avoid potential exposure to crappy logic when it comes to risking the lives of those I care about.

Media whoring over today’s shooting in the US

I knew something had happened today – I saw the headline on cnn.com

I went to watch CNN on TV – the live news conference with the police chief at Virginia tech was just starting.

Questions asked (by reporters from undeclared news companies) included:
‘Can you describe the scene?’ and ‘Was it execution style?’

There’s the asking of questions that everyone is thinking but too afraid to ask, and there’s these kinds of questions – they serve no useful purpose at all. Those and the accusatory ones about campus authorities. I’d be the first to question the organisational prowess of some educational institutions, but this is not the forum for that. These guys have a campus police force.

This kind of tabloid journalism has seeped into mainstream news reporting and it is sickening.

Even CNN has gone down hill. News anchors stand infront of tacky looking multi-screen displays and ask these kinds of questions. The fundamental issue is that these news anchors don’t come over as representing the concerned voice of a nation (though they do their best to spread it on with a thick knife with an acid edge), but often as egotistical people who seem to be trying only to beat down the interviewee (or put them on a pedastal as seems to fit the mood) and raise interest in how good the show is. It stinks of insincerity. I’ve watched UK TV news go the same way.

This is not every journalist of course; just a handful. However, the fact that they are not taken to task makes me think that their ‘showmanship’ must be bringing in the bacon for the network.

In relative terms, horrible things happened in Virginia today and it’s a definate loss for the related family and friends. Systems will be improved. Sensationalising it and chipping away at the campus authorities will not bring back those people and will not necessarily even help avoid future issues.

UPDATE (Apr 17): To check up on this story today I read the most recent CNN article. It included a link to “watch how quickly these guns can be fired, reloaded” after the paragraph talking about a doctor’s quote regarding the number of bullet holes! It did not include a link to the gunman’s ‘vitriolic’ note which may have shed some light on why this happened and how to prevent it. I turned on CNN: there was the live broadcast of a Virginia Tech service going on (presumably to share the moment with those who could not attend), only to hear announcers commentating during the ‘moment of silence’ to talk about a guy being helped out of the service – why must they commentate on everything?

Tech in education survey doesn’t add up

According to a CNN report, computer software in 132 schools not using it one year and then using it the next, says that it didn’t help.

There are far too many variables and major overlooked factors in this experiment, despite 132 schools to make this meaningful. There has been plenty of evidence that kids can engage and learn from computers.

I believe this experimental approach is avoiding four major factors:

  • The general professional training of the teachers
  • The overall methodology or the curriculum
  • The means of measuring results
  • The general calibre of software used

Being trained to use the software is not the same as being trained to use software in education.

Computers in education are a tool that can be well used to engage student interest. This sounds like an “oh well let’s give it a go I suppose” kind of experiement.