Tagged: technology

Uber adds yet another creepy “feature”

My last Uber driver was actually pretty hot.

My last Uber driver was actually pretty hot.

Uber announces plans to use drivers’ GPS and accelerometer data to determine if drivers are speeding. The idea, according to them, is if the trip is too fast or there are sudden braking manuevers, that is something that they should be aware of and take up with drivers. So yet a new way this company is being creepy, evil, and mysterious.

They say this will promote safety. But it’s hypocrisy, because:

  • This is the same Uber that says it doesn’t employ these drivers, they’re just independent contractors. Since they’re independent contractors, why is it Uber’s business how they drive?
  • If you had an accident due to unsafe driving, Uber wouldn’t be there to pay damages. Uber would say, “Hey, sue the 20-year-old kid — we’re just a marketplace.”
  • The post linked above includes vague assurances like “improve safety proactively” and “on the lookout . . . to do better.” But it makes no promises they’ll actually jerk the leash on bad drivers… because if they were to actually promise stuff, then they would become liable.

And do we really need Uber literally tracking our every jerk and twitch? This is the same Uber that invented “God Mode” to track Uber passengers, and whose privacy policy currently says:

If you permit the Uber app to access location services through the permission system used by your mobile operating system (“platform”), [which there is no way not to do, not if you want to be able to get a ride,] we may also collect the precise location of your device when the app is running in the foreground or background.

Yes: Uber sees you when you’re sleeping, and even when you’re not using the Uber app. And you can’t turn it off if you want to use the service. Nothing is to say Uber won’t be following the accelerometer in your phone, too. You can’t trust these people.

The Uber service has changed my world, but the arrogant Silicon Valley technocrats (and their lawyers) are out of control. File this under: dangers of monopoly; the pain of adhesion contracts; the inexorable advance of the security state.

How to get unlimited cell phone data for FREE

I now have a cell phone plan that offers unlimited calling. Amusingly, AT&T sent me a letter about it, printed with ink on pieces of paper.

AT&T then sent me an e-mail telling me that my “unlimited” data plan from a decade ago will be going up $5 a month in price, but it’s the same “unlimited” plan that is subject to harsh throttling when you go over a certain limit. The throttling can be so severe that the data plan is worthless. It’s annoying.

Well, I just realized how I can solve the data problem using the new free calling, and it’s so obvious: bring back modems!

Remember the modem? It was a piece of hardware that connected your computer to your phone line. I actually had a 2400 baud Smartmodem (pictured at right!). And tons of other modems over the years, too. The modem converted digital data into annoying audio sound that could be sent over a phone line.

It seems so obvious. Get a piece of software to run on your cell phone in the background and let it go ahead and tie up the phone line 24 hours a day. (Who cares? You have call waiting anyway if anybody calls, and you could probably configure it to automatically hang up the data line when a call comes in.) Then, send data packets over the telephone line just like in the old days.

It would tear up battery like crazy. And who knows how fast it would be: the old modems went up to 56K but they were using landlines that were decent. Maybe the software modem idea would be better reserved for data that can be batch processed in the background, like app updates, synching the news, and backing up the phone.

Still, every byte that goes out over the modem is a byte that doesn’t come out of your data allocation. And there is just something so sweet about the idea of screwing the man by taking advantage of “unlimited” calling to fix “unlimited” data.

The only problem I haven’t solved is who to call on the other end of the line…

One more thing lost

I’m watching The Pelican Brief (and I’m only 20 minutes in).  Two things stand out.  First of all, Cynthia Nixon played one of Julia Roberts’ law student friends, which is kind of hot.  I guess she got her Sex and The City J.D. by having a part in this film.

Second, I loved — as I always do — the library scene where Julia Roberts rifles through countless dusty old law books, trying to figure out who might have killed the Supreme Court justices.  You can feel the drama.  Then I thought about it: in the digital age, there is no dramatic dusty old book scene.  There’s just Julia Roberts, staring slackjawed at shitty old Westlaw.  Hollywood is never going to put together any frantic iPad research sequence.  (“Turn it to portrait orientation!  Hurry!”)  I hate the iPad and all it is doing to the death of print.

Not thirty yet

So I’m sitting at the Caribou Coffee, here to do some writing and thinking. There’s an incredibly bad guitar singer here with an amp — which never happens. I’m trying to work, but the old man is cranking out bad renditions of the Beatles and the Monkees. (Come on man, pick one and get good at it!)

I am grateful, then, that I at least have my laptop with me so I can listen to my own music. But there’s some terrible problem, and I can’t get the music working! Windows Media Player says it can’t access all of my files, which is bizarre. So I download WinAmp, copy the music to other locations, try Yahoo Radio, reboot multiple times — anything to drown this guy out, but nothing works. It’s a travesty and I can’t think!

Finally, after half an hour of screwing around and NOT writing, I figure out the driver problem, and I crank up the first song that plays: Sedated, by the Ramones. Ahh, sweet blessed peace. I start jamming along, banging my head and really being happy.

And that’s when I notice them. A group of four ‘tweenies, sitting in front of me, giggling. And one of them has a camera phone and is trying to casually hold it over the shoulder so he can video my inspired Ramones performance. The others are dying laughing and trying to discreetly help him point it the right way.

Not wanting to wind up on YouTube, I stop chair-dancing and just stare at the phone intensely. They quit taping me and act like it never happened.

That’s when I turn on the flashlight on my phone, lean over, and take this picture of the little bastards:

Four punks at Caribou

(Perpetrator in blue hoodie.) They immediately melt in mortified embarrassment. Giggling stops, whispering starts. Nobody can stand to look at me after that.

Suck on it, punks. I’m not thirty yet.


Hello for the month of June 2007.  To those who complain about the paucity of material: I remind you, this is a free service!  Send me on assignment to another country, I’ll post once a day.

There was a good article in the paper today about CAPTCHAs.  These are the dumb little visual puzzles you have to solve when you want to do something online to prove you’re not a spam robot.  (I sometimes have one on my site, but all you have to do there is check that box.  Big woop.)  Usually the puzzles are some screwed-up word with lines going through it or funky colors.  The paper was pointing at that the spammers are catching on and getting smarter all the time, so these puzzles are now to the point where it might be too hard to solve them.

So the first interesting link is to a site where spammers brag about beating the puzzles.  It includes visual examples and humorously bad commentary about how weak the puzzles are.  Example: “Work for one hour if work not too fast.”

The other interesting idea was, why not put people to work and have them solve these puzzles as a way to help deal with the problems of digitizing books?  (We all know how everyone feels about stealing books.)  Since scanning technology can’t read everything perfectly, and people solve these millions of times a day, the idea is a good use of otherwise wasted labor.

More on Google Book Search

I couldn’t help writing a rejoinder to those defenders of Google Book Search and, of course, good old Banks.  Because everyone should have the right to own their own content, however, I’ve posted it here on Before.  Why should World get all the good material?  For those who haven’t been following this storyline, start at Marcus’ original post on Google Book Search, then read my comment, followed by his “redux” second posting.

I’m still troubled by some of the arguments advanced in Google’s favor.  However nice or wonderful it would be to have every book in the world instantly searchable on the Internet, we cannot ignore the steady policy and laws of all the world’s democratic governments just because somebody would like to have that index.

Marcus claims that because some of the books have “absolutely no commercial significance to the publishers” somehow immunizes Google from abridging the copyright of the publisher or author.  Unfortunately, our laws don’t permit an infringer to make their own assessment of a work’s commercial significance and, if they find it to be zero, to use with impunity.  Further, I think the fact that the books are scanned shows they do have some commercial significance to Google.  And perhaps many of these titles have been out of print for years: as Google clearly plans to demonstrate, these old books have a value that can be unlocked by the technologies of scanning and indexing.

And, since each book does have indisputable value, why should Google be the one to profit from the unlocking of that value?  They’re not the author who wrote the book.  They’re not the publishers who took a chance and made an investment in the book.  They’re not even the libraries who shelled out a few bucks to buy the book.  They have no stake in the business of writing books at all.  So why should they benefit to the exclusion of the authors and publishers who do?  It’s argued that our copyright laws are out of date, so there should be some special exception for the Googles of the world.  But inventing a new technology is not some magic wand or shield that, when produced, defeats all claims held by the original creator and owner of a work.  The MP3 pirates learned that the hard way.

And I have to disagree that the appropriation of property with no monetary value can’t be “theft” or even just plain wrong.  I myself have been a victim of copyright infringement, so I know what it’s like.  I posted a rather ridiculous video of myself on my web site scaling down the face of an artificial climbing wall.  Months later, I went to the City Center mall and found it was showing on a fifteen-foot-high screen in a continuous loop!  This was part of a video advertising all the fun things that might be found in a great downtown (for the record, the rock-climbing happened at Easton).  Did my video have any monetary value?  No.  Did the company that stole my work and aired it thousands of times in a very public forum derive a commercial benefit?  Yes — else why do it.  Did they have, at the very minimum, the courteous obligation to ask whether they could use it?  I think the answer to that is clear.

Google argues it would be impractical for them to ask the author or publisher of each book for the rights to scan the book before including it in their permanent digital archive.  Therefore, they’re just going to do them all, copyright be damned.  A simple analogy to the physical world points up the absurdity in this logic.  Google’s stance is like my saying I can drive my car across the backyard of every house in the neighborhood, because it would just take too long to get permission from each homeowner.

Our system of copyright could not be more liberal.  In order to claim the copyright on an original work, all the author has to do is put the word “Copyright” and the year on it.  Unlike with patents, there is no central registry that authors have to apply to for permission: we just want to encourage creative endeavors by giving them reassurance that they’ll earn the fruits of their labors without interference.  No high-flying tech company should be permitted to swoop in and take that away.

Recent events and COTA observations

In case you’ve been wondering where I’ve been over the last several months, I’m still here.  Moving downtown has had the effect of joining the witness protection program.  Add to that the fact that I now have a new Rival brand Crock-Pot Slow Cooker and I couldn’t be more home-bound.  So here’s an update from Bill.

I got a parking ticket last week from the good folks at the City of Columbus Parking Violations Bureau. I realize I’m ruining any future political aspirations by admitting this in such a public forum, but I have to explain how it happened.  The short version of this story is, the meters on the new 670 cap are enforced from 7am until 10pm on Saturdays, except for the fact that they’re not enforced from 4pm to 6pm.  (Logical for a day that doesn’t have a rush hour, isn’t it?) Anyway, I tried to get out of it because I didn’t bother to read the sticker carefully and because the meters just a hundred feet away shut off at six, but it didn’t work and they sent me a nice all-caps letter telling me to pay up.  Oh well — it was my mistake.  Anyway, gentle reader, be careful parking on that bridge.

I have to give a shout out to the good people at the Mozilla Organization.  I got their new Firefox browser and it is really good.  In fact, it is the first web browser since Netscape 2.0 I’ve liked better than Internet Explorer.  It’s based on the old Netscape code, in fact, so it’s nice to come full circle.  They’re pitching it as a good alternative to the security nightmare that is Internet Explorer.  Even if you don’t worry about that, though, it’s really fast, and it has tabbed browsing, great keyboard shortcuts, and this wicked cool orange fire logo.  Best of all, Windows SP2 makes it pretty seamless to replace IE with Firefox.  So, click this button, and if you like it, then, all right.
Get Firefox!

I feel compelled to discuss the recent dust-up in the papers about COTA and its last-ditch attempt to save its light rail dreams.  This week, MORPC agreed to help COTA borrow $4 million for an environmental study on the line.  At the same time, the Federal Transit Administration reminded us that its support for the COTA rail plan came with an expiration date, and the support ends soon because COTA never came up with the local matching funds to build the line.

COTA is therefore taking one step forward and one step back.  Some of my friends, and some letter writers in the Dispatch, have suggested that we need to get this sales tax moving so that we can regain federal approval.  Faithful friends and readers of mine will know nobody likes the idea of urban rail transport — or anything that supplements the highway in our cities — more than I do.  But as I’ve been saying for years, COTA’s been so mismanaged that I just can’t support a tax increase until it cleans up its act.  Firing the censured manager Ron Barnes was a great first step, but the agency has a lot more to do to rebuild the public confidence.  How about starting with firing drivers who run red lights?  And fixing the signs that still don’t make sense?  How about a web site that works?  When COTA takes basic steps such as these and improves its existing operations, I’ll be able to push for the tax increase.  Until then, I vote no.

And finally, on a related issue, I believe it’s a mistake for COTA to depend on the sales tax to raise its revenues.  Because a light rail system is a fixed, physical infrastructure improvement, and it does primarily benefit those landowners in the region of the corridor, the economically optimal funding source would be a property tax — say on those landowners within two miles of the route plus all of Downtown.  This undercuts some of the legitimate argument of those who say they would never use the system and shouldn’t have to pay for it.  (However, any decreases in air pollution would benefit the region as a whole, so there should be some way to recover that benefit through a more broad-based tax.)  The other main argument I have with a sales tax is that it is regressive, which means the poor spend the largest share of their income meeting the burden of the tax, and the irony of that is that better transit service benefits the poor more than anyone else.  The sales tax giveth away and taketh back.

The last COTA levy, which was countywide, predictably had its greatest support along the North High Street corridor and lowest support in the low-density south.  The tax increase could have passed comfortably in certain quarters of the city.  COTA should explore a funding mechanism, some kind of special district, that would put the cost on those who would use the service and who demonstrably wanted it the most.

Electronic insults?

My TiVo has started recording the Weather Channel again… What is this supposed to tell me, here? Am I that boring? Or perhaps it’s picked up on my mercurial temperament…

I hate Google

Today, the Times reports on MSN Search, Microsoft’s answer to Google. According to the Times, “The new look consists of an empty white screen that loads blissfully quickly, even over dial-up connections, and an empty, neatly centered text box where you’re supposed to type in what you’re looking for. … In short, MSN Search couldn’t look more like Google if you photocopied it.

Well, if you enter “bill cash” into MSN Search, this web site comes up #2, whereas if you enter the same phrase (without quotes) into Google, it doesn’t even rank in the top one hundred.  So my advice to you is to immediately begin using MSN Search for all of your searching needs.

(Amusingly, the #1 MSN search result is a web site about Bill Gates’ money.) (This web log entry was sponsored by MSN Search.)