Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Warrantless GPS Tracking Update

It does require a warrant.

This is the position I took when I wrote about this subject the first time.  Evidently Antoine Jones took his case all the way to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, or at the very least is riding on the coattails of others who did.

Like I said before, there is no big defense Antoine Jones gets to bring to bear here: he got caught with a buttload of cocaine and a mountain of cash.  However, the manner in which those things were discovered is also indefensible so at best the cops can only apprehend the coke and the money and Jones gets a Get Out Of Jail Free card.

This time.  With a haul like that we can safely assume it isn't Jones' first trip to the Coke machine and probably not his last.  He'll get nailed good and proper soon enough, never fear.

Courts in other districts have ruled that warrantless GPS tracking is admissible in court as evidence; I find it strange that the Third Circuit Court would differ and wonder how the conundrum would be settled if a plaintiff used one court's stance for precedent and the defendant used another court's stance for defense.  It could become a pretty silly slapfight pretty quickly.

Friday, October 18, 2013

An Open Letter to Congress: You're All Fired

Every last one of you.  Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Librarians, whatever.  I don't care what party affiliation you have.  Pack your crap and get out.  I want you gone by the end of the business day.

Allow me to explain my rationale.  All of you:

1) are members of parties that have become so polarized against each other that you will take our country to the brink of default rather than find compromises.  That's not government, that's hostage-taking.

2) have been party to the process of creating a state of constant war against drugs and terror but with little to show in the way of progress  in those wars.  The actual products that we see of those wars are a slowly rising tide of fear.  Did anyone ever stop to ask whether war was the right course of action?

3) have been spitting into the rapidly warming wind of global climate change.  The time for debate was decades ago, as was the time for action.  A solution - and there is no single solution - will not be litigated.  Solutions must be encouraged, rewarded and extolled.  Browbeating, denial and obfuscation will not change the fact that as the population grows and resource use accelerates, we humans have a tangible and far reaching effect on our environment.  Stop standing in the path of people who can improve matters, stop putting stumbling blocks in their paths.

4) are paid too damned much to behave in the manner you have.

5) get paid too damned much, period.

The United States' wars overseas do not make sense to me.  A much better policy would be one of global non-aggression.  That option may not be available anymore.  I would strongly recommend exploring it.  Let the aggressors kill each other off and take no side in hostilities.  If you must take a side, provide humanitarian aid to the sides we support.  Heck, even offering humanitarian aid to the side we DON'T support would be universally positive karma.  But that avenue may be irrevocably closed to us.  Too bad.  We can afford to build a lot more hospitals and schools than we can tanks and bombers.  Hospitals and schools are cheaper.

The United States could be nearly energy independent with the vigorous support of alternative energy development.  Yes, the infrastructural demands of oil and coal are well developed.  So what?  Developing other technologies provides jobs, jobs, jobs.  Whether you're a Republican or a Democrat, building the job market is good for the economy, good for national morale, good for your constituency.

So that's it.  I've had enough of the pack of you.  Obama is on his last term and as near as I can tell hasn't screwed up anywhere near as much as the bunch of you Congressmen, so I won't bother him.  But the rest of you, forget it.  Sign your time card...have any of you EVER had to work a real job that involved punching a clock?  I bet not.  You should try it.  Honest work with dirty fingernails and a satisfying fatigue at the end of the day.  Not flying a desk and bickering with other rich lawyers, something a bit more real than that.  Anyway: sign out, turn in your keys, and go home.  Your performance warrants dismissal, and it's time for you to go.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Too Smart?

How much "smart" is too much smart in our luxuriously convenient panoply of personal technology?

Cellphones with so-called "smart" features - essentially a small computer that is easily carried around on one's person, a "smart phone" - have to have a certain minimum of capability in order to do what people want them to do.  Users want to be able to surf the Internet from anywhere, check email, take and upload photos to social media sites - all of that requires a fair amount of processing power.  Not as much as even a mediocre laptop, but a fair bit.  But these silly things also play games, offer sales discounts and tell you exactly where on the planet you are in relation to the sales.  Smart phones are indeed pretty smart.

Comparing to the various computers I've owned, the ranking of processing power goes like this, from lowest to highest:

Timex-Sinclair 1000 ("Sherman, set the Wayback Machine to Early Pleistocene")
Kaypro II
Commodore 64
Commodore 128
Texas Instruments TI-86 (this is a handheld calculator)
nameless IBM clone running DOS
Packard-Bell running Windows 3.1
Compaq running Windows XP
Raft of parts assembled by Son #2 running Windows 7.

This last one was a shoestring computer that cost about $400 total, and it equals about ten times the processing power of all the other computers combined.  And in standardized dollars, it was the cheapest.  My mom got me the Kaypro back in 1986 for $200 - when $200 would buy one hell of a lot more than it does today.  Now when a working example approaching 30 years old is available on eBay, it is either priced according to where it lands compared to other computers - worth $20-50 - or as a borderline historical artifact, worth $50-100.  And even so, a Texas Instruments calculator that can run rings around it costs more, and is the better bargain.

I would hazard a guess that the best smart phone on the market is equivalent, possibly even more powerful than my next-to-last computer.  The graphics they can generate are utterly gorgeous.  Certain brands make arguably better cameras than they do phones.  Most play a broad array of games, virtually all - even my current, unimpressive budget phone - can do email.

How much is too much?

There's a news item today about a couple that discovered to their horror that someone had hacked - and there's some argument among the commentariat whether "hacking" is an appropriate term in this context - into their baby monitor and was talking to their sleeping baby.  On a related note, it would appear that with very little work you can probably find your way into someone's "smart" TV and observe them through the onboard camera.  So while you're sitting there on the couch watching TV, someone somewhere is watching you through the TV, just like for Winston Smith.

How long before the inclusion of a simple sliding shutter that covers every built-in camera becomes a standard feature?  How long before regular consumers start to get a little creeped-out at how connected their lives are, and how much that connectedness has pried the covers back on the privacy of their own homes?