Monday, June 26, 2006

Privacy conflicts

I think we're about to enter a time of accelerated privacy concerns. No, not accentuated, accelerated. Challenges appearing at greater and greater frequency. It's a conundrum, really.

See, there are a lot of really neat and nifty things that can be done if we know who you are. By the same token, Heinlein said it best: "Freedom begins when you tell Mrs. Grundy to go fly a kite."

Let's take the public library as an example.

A perfect library (in many ways) would know every patron. We'd get books in your fields of interest, and call you when they've arrived. When you stopped by the desk we'd let you know of new books in which you might also be interested - and perhaps some old favorites. We'd know you were in high school (for example) and the classes you're taking, so we'd reserve the various copies of Tom Sawyer for your reading assignment - no need to scramble, here it is thank you very much. We'd pay attention to how often you came and how many books you borrowed (or videos or audiotapes) and try to ensure that your limits met your typical uses.

But what my staff knows, others can find out. There are laws that protect all the above - your reading habits, your phone numbers, etc. But it's accessible to law enforcement if they bring a subpoena or a warrant. It's open to hacking. It's open to all the staff, who are human and prone to human errors and failings. It is, in other words, potentially available for abuse. And now Mrs. Grundy knows that you like reading "trash", or perhaps it's "just" books on something other than Christianity even though you live in the heart of the bible belt.

Now for a lot of people, the thought of this for libraries brings a yawn and wondering "why bother". But it turns out these issues are cutting edge.

There's a supermarket out west getting ready to allow purchases with fingerprint and pin. No need to carry cash and card that might be stolen. No real chance of someone else using your card before you get it reported. And joy of joys, they're supposed to begin tailoring advertising to you based on what you bought. There are some clothing stores (among others) that have made quite a business of this "personal awareness." But the followon question is with whom is it being shared? And how easily is it shared?

Remember the "do not call" lists? If you've done business with a company, it and its affiliates are exempt from the restrictions. If they're sharing phone numbers, bet they're sharing everything else?

And yet... getting stuff that fits you - physically and psychologically - is so darn convenient and makes life SO much easier. It's so nice when my credit card company sees I've purchased a sailboat and knows I've NEVER bought such (or related) before, so puts on a hold and calls to confirm the purchase.

We're going to have a lot of fun and frustration with the privacy puzzle, and in the meantime the conflicts are going to be more frequent and more severe. It's probably going to be one of the big issues of the upcoming decade. It and water.

Friday, June 23, 2006

on carry loads

Way back when, I was enlisted infantry. Airborne, no less. I remember the loads under which I staggered, and look on the constantly resurfacing discussion of combat loads with amusement. Here's the reality.

A grunt will carry no less than he can, and no more than he has to.

"Has to" deals with what individual items he carries, as ordered (and can't get out of) and beyond that as he's discovered to be useful or important.

"Can" is just that - to his physical limit.

If you reduce the weight of what he's carrying - changing the weight of the weapon, combining several tools into one multitool that weighs less - you'll discover on a subsequent visit that the weight has returned. That's because there are hundreds of things the grunt and his sergeants and officers wish were coming along but are left behind due to sheer physical limits. And since you so obligingly reduced the weight already there, you created space for some of the other stuff. Make a hard limit on how much can be forced on the grunt, and the grunt himself will fill the gap.

It may be bullets or weapons. It may be food or water. It may be gadgets found useful in limited circumstances. But the grunt will always carry as much as he can.

And complain about the weight every step of the distance.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Scooby Doo quotes

I'm seeing a lot of quotes out of context lately. Oh, it's been bad for a few years now, but the last few months have been almost insane. The problem is that if you simply say, "they're out of context" people respond with, "but they said it, didn't they?"

Yes, but...

I'm tired of explaining the but. Look, people, it was displayed in clear and simple terms what the problem with this sort of thing can be in a KID'S MOVIE. It's a critical plot point in the Scooby Doo sequel - the reporter snips and plays only Fred's sarcastic responses, and not the rest. If it's that simple and obvious, it's that simple and obvious.

From here, at least on these pages, I'll start calling these "Scooby Doo Quotes", or SDQs. Just so you know what I'm saying.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

An economic insight?

One of the great laments and causes of consternation I see among economists is in regard to the savings rate. Basically, the US resident is saving less and less of their income - to the point that they've actually spent more than they've earned in a couple of recent quarters .

I had an insight recently as to why this may be happening. Basically, i'ts a slow-motion version of what happens in a hyperinflationary period. That is, why bother to save when what you save will be worth less (or even worthless) when you need it?

For all currently employed US citizens, inflation in the United States has been a constant, with a nominal rate slightly over 3%.

This means that if I save $100,000, in 20 years it'll buy the equivalent of $50,000 in goods. If I get 3% interest from the bank, it'll buy as much tomorrow as it buys today - which means I lost the use of my money for no real gain. Why, then, should I save instead of buying?

You can see this writ more broadly in hyperinflations. People get their money and spend it immediately. Ideally they get something for a promise of payment later, because the promised money will be an effective savings. Yes, this also explains the increasing debt load of the nation - sure, it's staggering, but due to inflation the 'practical' cost of it is less. All you have to do is make it through the growth window while your income catches up.

I'll be pondering this for a while. I think it's got major implications for the next decade, but want to get this down so the basic key isn't forgotten - even if I later have to change my mind due to being wrong.