Saturday, June 29, 2013

Info Age Fail 8: Fixing Identity

(This is part 8, Find Part 1 here.)

The first step to fixing the great information age fail is to fix identity. There needs to be a reliable way to prove you are you. (Note the way that is said: You prove who you are, not they determine who you are...).

Don't expect to leave this post with all the answers. It won't offer any answers. It is the framework on which the solution(s) will be built.

There are some key characteristics of this identity system:

It needs to have both a digital, and a physical form. It needs to be able to prove I am me to people in the real world, and to people and computers in the online/digital world. Perhaps a small card with USB and/or RFID and/or magnetic strip interfaces.

It must be a universal system. The same ID that works in New York must also work in California, Singapore, Taiwan, Paris, Rome, Moscow ...

The ID system must NOT be owned or maintained by any government or corporation. Ownership and maintenance must be distributed, the standards behind it must be open, unencumbered by patents or copyrights or other intellectual property rights. It must not in any way rely on any one individual, group, or ideal for operation.

The ID system must ONLY be an ID system. The ID database has the sole purpose of validating who you are. The open API of the system will allow (with the ID owner's permission) the ability to use it as a Single-Sign-On device (for example you can authorize the company you work for to allow your ID card to be used within their security door database, and computer login database.

The ID system must allow the user to Control its use. This might be accomplished by a PIN, a biometric interface,... The ID system might require a registered database of authenticator clients, and the ID holder would need to authorize each authenticator.

It must be illegal to require use of the ID system. Control of the ID and it's use is solely at the discretion of the user. Discrimination against non-ID users must be strictly forbidden and strongly penalized (Though there will be some systems which utilize the ID system, and which will provide a certain level of privilege to users, more on that later.

Remember, this is NOT the solution, this is the framework. There are other bits that are essential both to fix the information problem, and to protect the ID system. More to come.

<to Part 9>

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Californians, Utah Mormons and other evil creatures

I was born with an inherent dislike for Californians. At least I can never remember using the word "Californian" without a certain disdain attached.

I think that was a feature of being raised in Idaho. I was raised on the stories of stupid city slicker Californians who'd come to Salmon to play Grizzly Adams for a weekend, all decked out in yuppie gear, and unable start a fire with a match and dry grass. Or California hunters who shot horses because they couldn't tell them from mule deer ("I swear it is a true story! My friend told me his friend told me his friend...") And there was plenty of enmity for the snobby, rich Californians who moved to Idaho to get away from the big city, paid too much for land, and built oversize houses, causing the local real estate to go bonkers. And then, after moving to Idaho to get away from the city, they'd go around trying to city-fy everything.

I don't think I picked up my disdain for Utah Mormons until I moved to Utah. I heard the occasional remark about Utah Mormons before then. But it wasn't until I moved to Utah that I fully adopted the opinion that Utah Mormons were sheltered, lazy idiots who had no idea what it was like in the "real world", and who were so stuck on themselves that they were unable to treat anyone else like a human being. You are a project, to be assimilated into the mindless horde, or you are an outsider, to be shunned. And the hypocrisy of Utah Mormons - Drinking, Swearing, Drugs and Raves, then spouting off pious testimonies on Sunday. Just like the Zoramites on the Rameumptom. Provo Utah Mormons are the worst. A breed apart. A whole new level of ridiculous.

I am married to a Californian now, and I have lived in Utah for as long as I have lived out of it. I have slowly come to a realization that my attitudes towards Californians and Utah Mormons are precisely the same thing as Racism.

All families, and all groups are the same in many ways. there is always a crazy uncle in the mix, always a stuck-up-snob, a handful of clueless nitwits. a few random "individualists" who work hard at being different than the rest (just like the rest of the individualists. A group within a group... but don't tell them that...).

My problem was that I viewed all Californians/Utah Mormons through the filter I constructed from my impressions of these few nitwits. It funny how once you have that filter in place, "They all look the same". You watch for and pick up any little word or nuance or action that fits your model, and ignore all evidence to the contrary.

Let me give one example, This specific story is fictional, but based on a number of real events I have observed over the years. A guy moved into a neighborhood in a small Utah town. Nice houses, lots of extended family. Mostly LDS. He was not LDS, a bit rough around the edges - had tats, liked Harley's, Loud music, Beer... His neighbors initially did the neighborly things - brought fresh bread, said "Hi". He had been warned about this by his friends - warned that they be over to try and convert him . He made it clear he didn't want anything to do with their religion.

It went downhill from there.

The girls in the neighborhood were all stuck up, and wouldn't ever date him. Cops came to his house because the neighbors complained about his loud music. They were always having neighborhood get-togethers, but he never got invited. It irritated him to no end that he couldn't buy beer on Sunday on account of these stupid Mormon's control of the government.

Now here's the other side of the story. His neighbors had come to say hi - to get to know the new guy. They were greeted with suspicion. He didn't seem appreciative of the gift they brought, and then he attacked their religion, which was something important to them. He didn't seem to want to be friends with his neighbors.

Half the houses in the neighborhood he had moved into were all the same extended family. They had frequent, informal family gatherings. They weren't excluding him, they were just... family. They were young families, with lots of little children, who needed sleep.  And mothers who needed a break from their children - and noise in general. His initial standoffish-ness when they welcomed him to the neighborhood made them all nervous about approaching him about his music blaring at 11:00 at night, so they used the police to deliver the message instead. The single girls in the neighborhood were involved in church activities, babysitting, and the like, and to be honest, they didn't really have anything in common with him. They politely declined his offers of dates to R-rated movies, and raves, and any activity he offered on Sunday, which was often his only day off.

So. Yeah. A few missteps on both sides, actually. A bad intro because of a filter imposed by friends and their filters, a disregard for others' culture. And it went downhill from there.

After 15+ years living here, I have come to realize that Utah Mormons are just like everyone else. Most are decent folk. They are mostly kind, considerate, sincere, imperfect, flawed, busy people. For most, their religion is a significant feature of their lives. That is a cultural feature, like the Queen and Football (The kind you play with your feet) in England. Like any group they want their culture to be treated with respect. And like any culture, there are a handful who hang in the culture but don't really apply the culture (thus seem like hypocrites), and there are a handful on the other extreme who paint their faces in team Colors.

Unfortunately the extremes are what stick out, and what we base our filters on. And we make judgements based on what people say or do, with our filters in place, and no idea what is acutally going on in their heads. Or lives.

So, when I am talking to someone, anyone, I am going to try harder to remember to ask myself. "What filters am I looking through when look at this person? Am I putting words in their mouth - or intent in their speech and actions - based not just on their skin color, gender, or race, but also their state of origin? religion, or group affiliation?" I am going to try harder to see more of what I have in common with them, and less of what is different between us.

Wish me luck.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

I am being watched!!!

This morning I received an email from It had the rather generic opening "Are you looking for something in our Crafts, Hobbies and Home books department?"

This was followed by a very specific list of books on raising Border Collies.

How does know I have a Border Collie? I never told them that. I have never looked for anything even dog related at

I have done several searches on google and youtube recently. Perhaps they sold me out. Or perhaps one or more of the sites I went to from google dropped a cookie from one of the third party marketing companies.

Those are the two most likely avenues. What is certain is that someone has been spying on me, and gave amazon a tip about what I might be looking for.

With all the recent news about NSA spying, this led me to ponder a few questions.

If we are bothered by the NSA spying (which according to polls we are bothered, by it, but mostly accept it as necessary), why is there not an equal degree of concern about evil sneaky corporations spying on us?

Should we even be bothered by any of this information gathering?

People raise the concern that government will use this information in malicious ways, the "Red Scare/McCarthyism" all over again, only on a much grander scale, or they will use it to manipulate political boundaries to serve their ends, or to target troublesome groups (like the IRS targeting of Tea Party groups).

But couldn't corporations do much the same thing with the data they have? Marketing groups have spent billions understanding how color, shape, etc.. influence us. Couldn't they take advantage of this greater volume of information about us to subconsciously manipulate us? Subvert us?

On the other hand, all this information COULD be put to good use.

In the case of my message, yes, I am looking for Border Collie information, and perhaps one of their suggestions is exactly what I am looking for, but didn't show up amid the billions of search hits I got from Google.

It is not impossible to imagine a time when someone could wake up and find an email informing them that there has been a high probability of a specific form of cancer among people born in a certain area with a  certain lifestyle, which they match, and that certain preventative measures drastically reduce that risk. This could be culled from the population at large by collecting enough information. amount where people live, what they eat, what they do,... The more information gathered, the more patterns could emerge, given sufficiently powerful computers and analysis algorithms.

But there is the risk of abuse. You might get rejected  for insurance because your mom gave you peanut butter when you were 9 months old.

Ultimately I conclude that the information is simply a tool, which can be used for good or evil. The real problem with this information gathering is that it is one-way, with no transparency. "They" are collecting all this information on me. I should have the same information on them. I should know exactly what they are collecting, and how they are using it. (I am working on a series of posts that delve more into the information age failure, which will conclude with some suggestions related to this.)

Until then (if then) what do I do to protect myself? I could use an anonymous browsing service, such as Tor. I could use a live CD, or create a virtual machine, and do all my browsing from there. Thus all the cookies and such would be saved to volatile memory, instead of to disk. They would be associated with an anonymous account, not with me, and they would get erased every day, or more frequently, when I turned of the computer (or virtual machine).

(If there is interest, I would be happy to create tutorials on any of these above methods. let me know).

There is a downside to this though. Many of these sites, which are providing me with free information, depend on money they receive from these advertising groups. It costs money to host a web site. Their options are to advertise, or to charge me.

What to do, what to do...

What do you think?

Monday, June 3, 2013

Open letter to President Obama

Dear Mr. President,

I recently watched a video clip of you talking about gun control, specifically about opponents of gun control, and their fear mongering rhetoric regarding evil government's plans to oppress them.

 Your response to this was that "The government is us...", That "We the people" are in charge. I whole-hardheartedly agree with you that we the people SHOULD be in charge. However, we the people are NOT in charge.

"We the people" have been horribly split by divisive politicking., distracted by media fear-mongering, confused by a relentless barrage of half-truths and full lies. "We the people" aren't thinking rationally enough to be in charge.

More than that, "We the people" have lost significant control of our government. I point you to President George W. Bush  and the acts of government which brought us the department of Homeland security as a recent example. For years now, there has been ever increasing consolidation of power under the office of the president. You yourself have wielded "executive orders to effect, though not nearly so often as some of your recent predecessors.

I remind you that we are a representative democracy, not a true democracy. "We the people" select our representatives from a dreadfully short list of individuals, and generally based more on their abilities as momentary charmers, than their abilities as prescient leaders.

The original design for the United States was more of a loose union of largely autonomous states. The states would make most decisions regarding how things were to be done. If you found circumstances of a particular state untenable and unchangeable, there was plenty of other states to choose from. The federal government was to serve as the coordinator for those events which impacted the entire union, not as the director of basic state affairs. This model allows for different people, with different values to join together and form communities around their ideals. It offers the greatest degree of freedom for the greatest number of diverse individuals, while still provide a fundamental linkage for their shared values as a whole nation.

We have shifted from that model to a much stronger federal model, a more centralized approach.

In 2011, I wrote two Blog posts on the subject of kings. The first, titled "The Case for a King"
( Discussed the many benefits of a dictatorship, why it is appealing, and why it is ultimately a bad idea.

The Second, "Kings Revisited" ( discussed some of the ways and circumstances which cause or allow kings materialize.

While I am no great wordsmith, I would nonetheless ask you to carefully consider the points made in these posts.

Finally, consider these key points of many studies done on inherent human behavior. I offer two poignant links:

One on a Halloween candy study -

And one to "The Lucifer Effect", and analysis of several studies, as well as application to real worl events. -

The key takeaways drawn from these and many other studies are:

  • There are many (roughly 1/3) people in the population who will tend to act in their own self interest, without thought of the consequences their actions may have on others. 
  • There are a similar number of people who will tend to act with consideration of the consequences of their actions on others regardless of circumstances. 
  • And the remaining third will tend to parrot the actions of the group (or more typically, the most charismatic individual in the group).

Given that, I found myself  troubled after watching the previously mentioned clip from your speech. To suggest that "We the people" don't have to be constantly, consistently vigilant, is naive at best. To suggest that Americans are somehow immune to the kinds of events that have occurred in Iran or Turkey or any of a number of other places in world over the the past few years is particularly irresponsible of someone in your position.

I urge you to consider the realities of historical and present human behavior, and recognize the need for every citizen to be informed and prepared. Prepared to actively participate in government, and yes, prepared to defend itself against government, should the need arise. Because there will always be those who hunger for power, and those who will take power with the sincerest of desires to act as benevolent dictator (and in their own eyes they will be), but will in fact be to their subjects a malevolent oppressor. We the people are in control of our government only so long as we retain the ability to wrest control from those who would usurp it.


Edwin C. Philips