Archive for November 2009

One Mistake Rule Threatens All Our Electronic Freedoms

20 November 2009

Internet SafetyHere’s the problem: everyone over-reacts. One low-life kills a masseuse who advertised her services on Craigslist and Craigslist has to shut down an entire category of advertising [Read more CBSNews].

Yet for years when someone murdered a masseuse using the telephone and Yellow Pages, the phone company was not asked to stop taking ads for message parlors, nor did the government try to control the phone company.

Last year, a postal worker in Maryland recognized one single Operation Santa volunteer as a registered sex offender, and the Post Office summarily drops a popular national program begun in 1954 in the small Alaska town of North Pole, where volunteers open and respond to thousands of letters addressed to Santa each year [Read more CNews].

There is an element of risk to everything in life. Drowning Is the number one cause of death among children in Miami, Florida; does that mean we should close all pools, beaches, lakes and water parks? Or doesn’t it make more sense to educate the public and put in place better pool fencing in the case of pools, and to examine how the deaths occurred so as to prevent them?

A fourteen year old Texas girl and her mother sue MySpace because the young girl went out on a date with a 19 year old who, they claim, sexually assaulted her. Luckily for all of us, the suit was dismissed by a Federal Judge, but cases like this continue. This was never a MySpace problem, but a negligent mother problem.

One day, a woman will be buying a car she saw on eBay and will get murdered and the auction house will be pressured to close down that portion of its business.

When a plane crashes and people die, we do not ask that the entire airline industry stop doing business. The causes of the crash are investigated and the problem identified and improvements are made. As a consequence, airplane travel is one of the safest modes of getting from here to there in the world. That is the proper response to a problem, actually find the cause and fix it – don’t just shut it down.

The easy, knee-jerk reaction by government to anything untoward on the Internet is to try to shut it down. In September of 2006 the FBI joined the Bush administration’s War on Porn and began looking for a few good agents for a new anti-obscenity squad. The new squad was to gather evidence against ‘manufacturers and purveyors’ of pornography — not the kind exploiting children, but the kind that depicts, and is marketed to, consenting adults [Read more Planck’s Constant].

Closing down a Craigslist section does not make women safer from predators. One incident should not spell the end of our electronic freedoms.

Photo Credit:


How to Get a Million Dollars of Free Press

19 November 2009

mailorama melee
Photo Credit: Turban Bomb

Here’s the deal:, a French Internet marketing company similar to fatwallet planned a great publicity gimmick to promote its website which offers cash-back to visitors who click through their site to make online purchases.

The idea was simple: drive around central Paris throwing cash in envelopes from the windows of a double-decker London bus. The plan was to distribute a total of 5,000 envelopes, each containing €5 to €500 ($7.50 to $750).

But the scheme went agley. Just before the event was to have started, the Gendarmes freaked out when they saw an unruly mob of 7,000 that had formed near the Eiffel Tower in search of free cash. As soon as the cops announced that the whole thing was being canceled, the crowd ran amok.

About a dozen people were arrested, store windows were broken, a car was overturned and at least one man (see photo above) was beaten by thugs. SWAT had to be called in to restore order.

Some of my readers may view this promotion as a flop; however, as the New York Times noted, “… the uproar brought the company notoriety beyond its wildest dreams.”

Fort Hood and the Tweeting of the News

8 November 2009

Paul Carr at Tech Crunch believes that the news reporting of Thursday’s Fort Hood shootings is a perfect example of how social media might not be an unequivocally Good Thing in terms of privacy and human decency.

Paul notes that: “the first news and analysis out of the base didn’t come from the experts. Nor did it come from the 24-hour news media, or even from dedicated military blogs – but rather from the Twitter account of one Tearah Moore, a soldier from Linden, Michigan who is based at Fort Hood, having recently returned from Iraq.”

The problem, Paul writes, is that her information was not accurate. But wait, Paul, neither is information that we get from the mainstream news. Reuters, the BBC, the New York Times have in the past not only misreported the news, but also have photoshopped their images to make them more newsworthy.

Paul castigated the soldier for tweeting instead of helping. We all have watched YouTube videos of kids getting the crap kicked out of them while no one steps in to help, instead making sure to focus their cellphones on the events unfolding before them. And while we may all tsk-tsk about how “citizen journalists” are more interested in boosting their own egos than calling 911 or actually stepping in and helping the victim, this is no different from real-live accredited journalists who report the news.

If a real news reporter from CNN or the BBC with a camera had been on the post, would Paul have criticized him for filming the images rather than putting down the camera and “helping” out? The truth is, any reporter doing so would have been fired by his bosses if he shut off his camera.

We also do not know what would have happened to the story if there were no tweets. Would this have ended up as just another training accident? We have a President who is actively trying to court the favor of Muslims throughout the world. Who knows how the story might have been reported by the military.

The American mainstream media actually lag behind blogs as to what is really happening. For example, from Debbie at the Right Truth, we are presented with links to other stories discussing in more detail Hasan’s links to terror organizations. At the Jawa Report we learn that a member of the Texas mosque (where Hasan was currently attending) not only refuses to condemn Hasan, but justifies their murder because “they were troops who were going to Afghanistan and Iraq to kill Muslims”. Not something one will read in the New York Times.

I believe it is important for the news to come to us unfiltered by those with huge corporate advertising behind them, without pressure from the government, without the worry of political correctness. While political correctness may be an important social lubricant, it should be absolutely excluded from news reporting.

See this Flickr video.

How to be a Great Programmer

3 November 2009

Will Code HTML for food
Photo Credit: Internet Annoyance Day

There are only three things you need in order to be a great programmer.

Before I list these, let me give you some background. I went to a hospital in Secaucus, New Jersey a few weeks ago for a sleep study; I have been waking up in the middle of the night and well, that’s not important. What I want to write is that I noticed that I had to repeat certain details, like my insurance ID, on different screens. Whoever wrote the software did not bother to carry the information over from the admitting page to the billing page. I asked the receptionist about this and she complained that it’s been like this for the past 30 years.

Every ten years or so, another company would be hired to update the hospital program and every time it would be abysmally horrid in the manner that it kept patient’s data. I’ve been programming since 1975 and I know what happened here. The hospital, without a clue as to what it really needed, gave out specs to a software company and that company put together a group of programmers (also clueless as to what was really needed) to fill out the order. When I asked her if any programmer ever came to interview her as to how to best design the system, she told me that no one, not even the hospital’s administration ever asked her for input.

So rule number one: talk to the people who are really going to use the program. When talking to company officials, administrators, IT personnel, just nod your head as if you are listening – then go talk to the secretary or warehouse worker who’s fingers will actually be punching in the data.

You have all read that great programming requires inspiration which brings us to:

Rule number two: many programs in order to work efficiently require a certain amount of creativity. To foster creativity one needs to be cheerful. Cheerfulness fosters creativity. So put yourself into a happy mood. Watch a few youtube videos on cat antics, scarf down a few donuts, chew on a Snickers bar, and paste a happy smile on your face. Programming is an art. Loosen yourself.

Great programming also should be as error-free as possible, which brings us to:

Rule number three: once you have written your code, you will need to debug it. You will need to be attentive to details and think critically and carefully, not creatively. For this you should be grumpy. Professor Forgas, of the University of New South Wales, tells us that the grumpier we are, the more likely we are to get problems sorted out and make less errors. Watch a youtube video of children being whipped in Bangladesh, drink a bitter cup of coffee, better yet, spill it on your lap, put yourself into a foul and gloomy mood. Programming is a science. Focus.

This all assumes you already know a programming language and how to fashion an if-then clause.