Mar 08, 2001

Self-negating prophecy
3/8/2001; 4:24:22 PM

Everybody's heard of a self-fulfilling prophecy... "Mr. National Anchorperson, I predict there will be a shortage of milk in the stores today, so I recommend that everybody immediately run to their local grocery store and buy all the milk they can possibly need." So of course there's a nationwide rush on milk.

Of course, self-fulfilling prophecies are not amazing when they come true; some, like the example above, would be amazing if they didn't come true. The prophecy itself has a hand in causing what it predicts.

Of course, if you get good at them, you can make a comfortable living making these prophecies. Just ask any television psychic. . . though they may not admit that's half of what they do.

The self-negating prophecy is less well recognized, because by their very nature, we don't see them happen. We tend to think someone who makes a self-negating prophecy was simply wrong, rather then wrong because the prophecy itself helped make it not happen.

Some examples: Security experts who predict certain flaws, which are then closed as a result of the prediction; the entire Y2K crises, averted because people were predicting catastrophe; a company announcing in advance that they will not meet Wall Street expectations (which are immediately revised downwards).

I'm adding this to my Glossary (an underused aspect of my site) because I find myself using the concept increasingly often, and I want a page to point people at explaining what I mean without having to explain every time

Mar 08, 2001

Expert: Web gadgets threaten your privacy
Privacy from Companies
3/8/2001; 4:11:44 PM

Kind of on the theme from yesterday:

'Popular electronic gadgets with links to the Internet pose a mounting threat to consumer privacy, Richard Smith, a leading computer privacy expert, said in an interview on Wednesday.

'Such everyday "spy" devices include fitness monitors that track heart rates and pump out exercise-related advertising, digital music players that track listening habits, low-cost wristwatch and wireless surveillance cameras, as well as location-tracking mobile phones and other monitoring devices.'

They mention a couple of these specifically, such as the Kodak picture frame that downloads pictures from the Internet.  One quote bothered me. After Smith (the "expert" of the title) mentions SportBrain, some heart monitoring product:

'A SportBrain official dismissed Smith's arguments, saying that he had failed to take account of the company's response to his position.

'"There are no privacy concerns here," said Greg van den Dries, SportBrain's vice president of sales. "We don't sell data. We are not some crazy Internet company. We make money selling hardware."

'"People who are security experts can never admit they are wrong. Smith is barking up the wrong tree here," van den Dries said. The Sunnyvale, Calif. company is backed by Softbank Ventures and Ronnie Lott, the former U.S. football star.'

Well, first, van den Dries is flat wrong. Security experts are in the business of being professionally wrong (by which I mean that they tend towards the paranoid; things aren't as bad as they often claim, but of course, it's because their claims are self-negating prophecies); it's salesmen who can never admit they're wrong. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black!

Secondly, I looked at their privacy policy. They do not make a promise to keep it private in the future, and history shows that means they can chnge their minds any time. In fact, with the legal precedents currently in place, any privacy policy that does not include a commitment to always being at least as protective in the future is no privacy policy at all.

Finally, the security section brings up an interesting point. By doing this stuff on the website, rather then on a user's home computer where such processing should be done, they are subjecting their users to unnecessary security risks.  No matter how much they promise about their security, the fact of the matter is the data is "out there" in the world, and there are entities who can obtain it, legally and otherwise, who could not if it was merely on your home computer.

Mar 07, 2001

Computer Programming for Everybody
Technology & Sociology
3/8/2001; 1:03:54 AM

'In the seventies, Xerox PARC asked: "Can we have a computer on every desk?" We now know this is possible, but those computers haven't necessarily empowered their users. Today's computers are often inflexible: the average computer user can typically only change a limited set of options configurable via a "wizard" (a lofty word for a canned dialog), and is dependent on expert programmers for everything else.

'We ask a follow-up question: "What will happen if users can program their own computer?" We're looking forward to a future where every computer user will be able to "open the hood" of their computer and make improvements to the applications inside. We believe that this will eventually change the nature of software and software development tools fundamentally.

'We compare mass ability to read and write software with mass literacy, and predict equally pervasive changes to society. Hardware is now sufficiently fast and cheap to make mass computer education possible: the next big change will happen when most computer users have the knowledge and power to create and modify software.'

Now you understand why people like, say, me, find news like the news 'The open PC is dead' so horrible.  The most dangerous (and possibly overlooked) aspect of the headlong rush into proprietary systems that won't allow anyone to commit any 'crimes' is that these same devices won't allow anybody to do anything innovative, interesting, or basically unapproved/forseen by machine's true owner either!

If we lock our computers down until they are nothing but glorified televisions, we will lose the true revolutionary power of computers, which is the amplification of the power of the human mind.

The realization that we are expending so much effort taking the most powerful tool for mankind in the world and bastardizing it into a method for extracting money from rubes by jamming pre-processed entertainment tripe and making sure said tripe can only come from Big Media Conglomerate can be nausea inducing!

(Also be sure to see the Motivation section.)

Mar 07, 2001

Survey of Intellectual Property Issues for Distance Learning
3/7/2001; 6:38:11 PM A nice article on how IP issues are affecting educators.  I think a lot of what's mentioned applies to education in general, not just distance education. Of course, this is to be expected. While in some sense "distance education" might be moving more slowly then some predicted, a lot of "conventional classes" are taking on many aspects of distance learning. For instance, both classes I am currently taking post a lot of material online, including all class slides, sample code, project code, etc. IP issues are affecting all education.

Mar 07, 2001

The open PC is dead - start praying, says HD guru
General IP Issues3/7/2001; 5:41:57 PM

'Hale Landis maintains the website, and has been working for open standards for twenty five years. He has been a participant in the ANSI X3/NCITS Technical Committees that developed the ATA and ATA/ATAPI standards since 1990, and works as a consultant and provider of test software. 'His chilling, deeply pessimistic view is that the good times are over. The fight for an open hardware platform is very real, and the power has swung from the PC leaders to the entertainment industry. It's a valuable strategic view from the trenches of the T.13 committee, where the fight over copy control mechanisms continues. It was posted to the private T.13 mailing list, and we cite it here with permission....'

'Basically your "general purpose personal computer", aka "home computer", is history.... So have fun fighting the battle against CPRM and alike but please do not be surprised when you fail, after all the war has been lost, long live the new world order: proprietary devices, proprietary interfaces, copy protection, limited functionality, and prepare you credit card accounts for all those monthly rental and service charges you will be paying for every "computer controller consumer electronics device" you use.'

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