Archive for the 'Government' Category

Wikipedia and The Daily Show

Thursday, August 25th, 2005

I have come to realize that WikiPedia has become an absolutely indispensable tool on the order of Google. Now that I think about it, I use wikipedia all the time.

This should really come as no surprise. When growing up, we had two sets of encyclopedias and a huge dictionary in the house. I can remember frequently looking up interesting topics or simply browsing the various volumes for fun.

It dawned on me exactly how valuable WikiPedia is while I was watching The Daily Show. Jon was interviewing Trent Lott and mentioned the ‘controversy’. I instinctively grabbed my computer and brought up the Trent Lott page on wikipedia. Question answered, context determined.

Thinking about it, this happens all the time and it is an incredibly valuable resource. WikiMedia (the foundation) is looking for funding. I’m going to commit $50 and feel bad about being so stingy in comparison to the knowledge I have gained.


Tuesday, June 14th, 2005

As a kid, I had a stamp collection. As a computer professional mostly dealing with data management, I have always been interested in how the USPS can route so many bits of mail so quickly for such a relatively low cost. As a result, news from the Postal front usually piques my interest.

Endicia released PictureItPostage for Mac OS X Tiger. It is a little (2.1MB) Cocoa & Quartz Composer app that leverages your iPhoto library to enable the creation of custom postage stamps. You can then buy sheets of said stamps from Endicia to splat on your various paper envelopes.

It is a neat little application. Given the 50 cent/stamp premium, I doubt I’ll use the service for anything but the rare special occasion.

Paris Hilton redux

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2005

In the comments to the original posting, there was this:

I have the Address book email me

I haven’t redacted the email address for a couple of reasons. First, it is in the original comments and, secondly, it isn’t hard to find this information without either paying for it or dealing with some random person’s email.

If anything, the Paris Hilton Phoneplosion seems to have confirmed that information wants to be free. That link is actually very interesting in that it delves into the history of the phrase and concept.

It would seem that the economy works something like this:

  • A piece of marketable information is obtained. Ethically or not is irrelevant. Hell, whether or not it really happened may not be relevant, either.
  • The person obtaining it brags about it in a relatively public forum. This used to often be solely to news agencies of one ilk or another. Now, it is often on any of a number of cracking/phreaking related community sites.
  • The information is eventually revealed as either proof of the crack or pursuit of the story, depending on forum. Around this time, money exchanges hands — either someone packages the information and offers “girls gone wild” style “see celebrity X in compromising position” products (as happened in this case) or a news agency pays money to “own” the story.
  • If it is widely considered “newsworthy”, the story breaks through channels like DrudgeReport as a “developing story”. This creates a frenzy of online interest. For more niche stories, there are other channels of disclosure such as SlashDot, various rumor sites, celbrity oriented sites like gawker, and — of course — porn sites.
  • If there was any previous event– such as the Paris Porn Tape– that could be associated with this event, it is repackaged and sold and/or displayed along with the new event. What is old is new again.
  • Now, about 24 hours into the new economy, Google’s indexing engine starts producing useful hits. So does Google News, if the story is hitting the press. Once this happens, much wider coverage is sure to follow.
  • At this point, the folks in step #3 that are selling the product are likely making some serious cash. It would be interesting to see a graph of sales over time correlated to various disclosure events. At the same time, the content starts popping up in the mainstream; monologues on late night TV, Fark style story repositories, etc…
  • People continue to pay for the content, yet– at the same time– the content becomes more easily found through free channels. Sales decline, views decline, interest declines.
  • ….
  • Weeks or months later, the legal system actually starts to make noise in regards to suing for damages, claims against ownership or applying criminal charges. By this time, the event has largely been forgotten within the cultural hive mind and most of the initial events surrounding disclosure– the pieces of information most important to the legal action– are now buried in log files, hazy memories or otherwise obscured by the weeks of ‘fast culture’ events that have occurred since.

So, it appears that an entire economic niche comes into being and fully matures within about 72 hours. Once the market has been established, there is so little cost to keeping the product– pure information– on the market that the “buy a snap of Paris’s Private life” sites will be with us until taken down simply through someone forgetting to migrate it to a new server.

Paris Hilton’s T-Mobile SideKick compromised.

Sunday, February 20th, 2005

Apparently, Paris Hilton’s T-Mobile SideKick has been compromised and the contents have been posted to the Internet. As a result, many famous folk’s phone numbers have also been posted. If this were the personal info of any random John Doe, it wouldn’t have made the news. But it wasn’t just anyone and the list of numbers includes all kinds of people the rabid celebrity worshippers and tabloid press obsess over. I bet there are a lot of personal assistants stressing out as they try and grab a new device and transfer all the data.

This raises a more serious concern. That T-Mobile’s network is vulnerable has been known for some time. Personal photos of various celebrities had been ripped off along with some other personal information.

In this case, it sounds like the contents of Paris’s phone was ripped down and posted. The story specifically mentions personal notes and other non-phone number information that one might keep on a SideKick.

The simplest explanation is that T-Mobile offers an automatic service via which the contents of the phone is backed-up to their systems. But I couldn’t find anything like that mentioned as a service.

If not that, then what happened?

If the phone was compromised and the data was downloaded directly from it, that would imply that a powered down cell phone is the only way to keep data secure (making it rather useless). I can’t imagine T-Mobile storing data without customer permission, but sillier things have been known to happen.

Google news for T-Mobile. Paris Hilton google news.

Of course, this is still very early in the Drudge “exclusive report” cycle. So, there is always a chance that this isn’t a real story or it is just a case of Paris misplacing her SideKick such that the wrong person found it and posted the contents.

Update #1: Banner ads and the like are already starting to show up for Paris Hilton Phone Pic Packs. Apparently, there were about 35 pictures on the phone and you can now pay for the privilege of downloading and viewing said pics. Let’s see — less than 24 hours between the alleged hack and the “productization” of the results. The window of revenue generation is likely so short that the individuals and companies involved in the distribution will simply disappear before the law can even start to properly investigate this. I would bet that the porn-conomy is all abuzz with renewed interest in the original Sex Tape about now.

Update #2: Through very useful comments (Thanks!), I have learned two things. First, the SideKick uses Danger as the information service that drives the SideKick’s data storage and handling service. Apparently, the SideKick constantly syncs the Address Book, Notes, and other data to the central server. Secondly, T-Mobile controls the authentication process and authentication with T-Mobile is also counted as authentication with Danger’s service.

As documented at Security Focus, T-Mobile’s service had been compromised almost a year ago.

I wonder if the recent high profile compromise exploited the same security hole or a new hole has been found. Or, to rephrase the question: Is T-Mobile completely incompetent at managing their security or are they simply feeling the pains that many companies experience as they grow over time?

Ohio Redux

Tuesday, November 16th, 2004

It looks like the Ohio votes will be recounted.

As I had written in an earlier post, my primary concern with this election was less about the outcome and more about the utter stupidity of the voting procedures that were deployed across the country.

The electronic voting machines are poorly designed and have an even worse implementation. Worse, many precincts had no idea how to deal with voters that wanted to use paper ballots. Thousands– millions?– of paper ballots were considered “provisional”, and likely not counted, that should not have been. The problems were not unique to Ohio. Fortunately, Ohio had exhibited a number of the common problems and, as such, a recount in Ohio will help quantify the depth of the stupidity and help push along the effort to reform election procedures and equipment.

It would appear that shedding light upon the voting procedure itself is the primary motivation for the recount as the recount was triggered by actions taken by independent presidential candidates.

The recount will happen after the election results are certified. I wonder what would offically happen in the extremely unlikely event that the recount shows that Kerry won Ohio?

Ohio isn’t over yet.

Friday, November 5th, 2004

Kerry conceded and the press, the president, and everyone else I know of are all acting like the election is over and done with.

The reality is that Ohio won’t call the official results for another 7 days.

Now, I doubt if there will be a reversal of the called decision. There is little chance that Kerry could pull out a surprise victory.

There is something far, far more important at stake.

There have been a disturbingly large number of reports of serious problems during the Ohio voting process. The same goes for the rest of the nation, but Ohio is obviously a focal point.

These problems range from potentially illegal actions on the part of “challengers” to lost ballots to mishandling of ballots to reports of voting machines reporting thousands of extra votes for one Bush (site requires registration. can help. I have summarized the story below).

By rolling over and playing dead, Kerry & the democrats are sending a clear message that the way this election was run is A-OK. The reports coming in from the field indicate that this election was not run smoothly. These problems need to be trumpeted from the rooftops to ensure that they do not happen again.

To my layman’s eyes, it would seem that the very tenets of our democratic process are at risk. If we cannot hold an election without some assurance that all votes will be counted, then what the hell is the point? How the hell can we continue to call our solves a model democracy whose role it is to spread democracy and freedom throughout the world?

This would seem to be a pretty big and scary story to me. The kind that draws eyeballs to TVs and newspapers quite effectively. Why isn’t it even being mentioned in any mainstream press?

An excerpt from the aforementioned news story.

Computer error at voting machine gives Bush 3,893 extra votes

Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio – A computer error with a voting machine cartridge gave President Bush 3,893 extra votes in a Gahanna precinct.

Franklin County’s unofficial results gave Bush 4,258 votes to Democratic challenger John Kerry’s 260 votes in Precinct 1B. Records show only 638 voters cast ballots in that precinct.

Wait. 4,258 votes recorded in a district that only had 638 people cast ballots? Shouldn’t that, alone, be enough to raise a huge warning flag and be something that should be caught immediately? Apparently not. The error wouldn’t have otherwise been caught until later in the month, well after the 10 day window until Ohio casts its final decision.

Computer error? There are hundreds or thousands of the same damned computers deployed throughout the state. All identical. If the error happened to one machine, chances are it happened elsewhere.

Is this the future of our “democracy”?

I Voted.

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2004

I voted this morning at about 8:45AM. Only took about 30 minutes from start to finish and we ran into a number of our neighbors.

Was completely painless.

My wife and I both opted to use the paper form, not trusting electronic voting in the first election where it will be widely used.

I did note one irregularity in the process. If you opt for a paper ballot, you get a traditional small “I Voted” American Flag sticker. However, if you used the electronic voting machines, you receive a big, full color, “Touchscreen Voter” sticker.

I have heard of problems at other polling places in California. A friend went to a polling place and was turned away because no one at the location could figure out how to use the electronic voting machines. Worse, she was not offered a paper ballot or made aware that a paper ballot was even available.

This is going to be a long and drawn out election, I fear. My hope is that the results are such a total blow out that it cannot possibly be chalked up to polling place fraud or broken e-voting machines.