Random musings on whatever subject strikes my fancy, published every other day.

Tag: Ideas Page 1 of 3

Please Don’t Leave a Message At the Beep

I don’t know exactly how long – at least eight years now – but I have been a hater of voice mail for quite a while.

Here’s the breakdown of ways that exist to reach me, in decreasing order of efficiency for you:

  1. Call my smartphone
  2. Text me at my smartphone
  3. Email (any)
  4. Call my desk line at work
  5. Call my Google Voice number (it’s in my profile)
  6. Text me at Google Voice
  7. Google +mention me  
  8. @mention me in Ingress (I’m Kahomono there)
  9. Message or mention me on Facebook (you can, but I wish you wouldn’t)
  10. @mention me on Slack (I’m Kahomono there also but I only look at it a few times a week)
  11. Google Hangouts (the planets really need to align for me to see this in time to act on it)
  12. Snail mail
  13. Find me and say Hi!

If you call my Google Voice number, you will have to leave a voice mail… BUT… it will be transcribed by Google and emailed to me, so I will read it and then respond.  (So, enunciate!)

If, however, you leave a voicemail at my smartphone or desk line, what I have to do is call another place that acts as a repository of your recorded voice for me to hear in order to know that you called.   This is 98% of what I have ever learned from a voice mail: Joe Bloggs called me and wants to talk to me, he wishes I would call him so I can leave him a voice mail telling him that I am agreeable about talking to him too, and maybe someday we’ll get to do that before the whole issue we want to talk about is moot. It’s a coin-flip whether that happens or not, by the way.

You know that my smartphone has caller-ID.  So does my desk line.  The phone companies don’t even get to charge for that anymore, it’s just expected.  And both my phones have visual indicators that I missed your call.  If I missed your call it’s plain that you want to talk to me, and I should call you back.  Why would you reiterate this in a voice recording?

On the other hand if you have anything to tell me in a voicemail that goes beyond “call me!” it’s more accurate and efficient for both of us if you would type it into an email or any of the other message formats… choose your favorite.

I was triggered to this rant by the note in the WSJ about JP Morgan Chase saving $3.2M by eliminating voice mail for over half its employees.  I would love love love if my employer did the same!  I can assure them, in my case at least, it adds no value.

Biometrics Are NOT Passwords, Dammit!

Today in Stupid Extensions of Biometric Authentication: this item from Sophos.  Brainprints will apparently be the new fingerprints.

Here is what the press (and from the looks of it, half the security industry) seems unable or unwilling to get: you cannot change your biometrics.  You cannot ever change your fingerprints.  Nor can you ever change your iris, your retina, your “brainprint,” or any of the other too-clever-by-half schemes researchers may yet dream up for biometric authentication.

In fact, the whole idea of two-factor authentication has traditionally been based on “Something you know, something you have, something you are… pick two.”  We need to drop the last, and go with “Something you know and something you have” – period.

Fingerprints are already easier to steal than a password ever was.  Digital photography is probably good enough by now that iris patterns are equally easy, and retinal scans from afar cannot be that far behind.  What was that twinkle?  Oops, too late.  Once the “brainprint” technology is usable, its targets will be equally pilferable.

Just because it looked cool in 1970’s SciFi does not mean it’s truly going to be valuable in this century.

Warrant Canaries

When the FBI or some other government agency comes a-calling at any custodian of your private information, from Google or Yahoo! to the local public library, they bring something called a National Security Letter (NSL).  This not only serves as a warrant for the information they seek, but it also includes a gag order — the institution is not permitted to disclose that they have been served, or what information they handed over.

But companies are fighting back, in a passive-aggressive way (don’t worry, this time it’s a good thing).  As detailed in this article on ZDNet, companies have realized that post-Snowden, customer trust in protection of their data is quite important.  And so many of them are implementing what is called a “warrant canary.”  The name derives from the old practice of taking a canary down with coal miners, so that if gases start to accumulate the more-sensitive canary would die and hopefully give the miners sufficient warning to escape the local buildup of carbon monoxide or similar.

Low-tech warrant canary

A warrant canary is a statement that a company makes proactively that they have not received a demand for data — and silence — bundled into a NSL.  Then, we in the public watch for the statement to go away.  It can be a line in the text of a webpage, or a periodic statement perhaps in a quarterly report for a public corporation.  It can also be a sign on a bulletin board as in the picture to the left.

Legal scholars wonder whether the NSL’s gag order can also be interpreted to require the subject organization to actively lie to the public, and continue to say, “no, they have not been here.”  Moxie Marlinspike has stated his opinion that removing a warrant canary would “likely have the same legal consequences as simply posting something that explicitly says you’ve received something.”

But the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) believes that a law specifically outlawing this practice would be required, and there is no such thing on the books as of now.  So they have established a website, Canary Watch, that maintains a list of existing canaries and monitors them for changes.  

ZDNet quotes EFF staff attorney Mark Rumold as saying, “No court has ever publicly addressed the issue,” and that it would be “unprecedented”  for the government to force a company to keep that warrant canary in place. “I’m skeptical it would ever happen….”

Once a company has been served with a gag order, though, it’s too late.  Verizon was forced to comply with a Section 215 order for phone records data of every one of its customers.  And Twitter is suing with the Justice Department aiming to settle whether or not warrant canaries are protected under the First Amendment right to free speech.

Visit Canary Watch for more on this.  I check it a couple times a week.

Totally non-discriminatory

Gov. Steve Beshear of Kentucky filed a delightful brief with the Supreme Court on March 27 in defense of “traditional marriage” or “natural marriage” or whatever dog-whistle the bigots are using this week to identify the sentiment, “I get to marry whoever I want but I think your love is icky.”

Kentucky’s marriage laws treat homosexuals and heterosexuals the same and are facially neutral. Men and women, whether heterosexual or homosexual, are free to marry persons of the opposite sex under Kentucky law, and men and women, whether heterosexual or homosexual, cannot marry persons of the same sex under Kentucky law.

Well, there you go!  True equality under the law!  It immediately made me think of that paean to equality from Anatole France,

In its majestic equality, the law forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets and steal loaves of bread.

It’s easy to see that under Gov Beshear’s ideal system, we’d have no Americans with Disabilities Act; let everyone alike go up the same stairs!  No Equal Employment Opportunity Commission; let everyone alike deal with the same racist manager!  

By constraining a government built (loosely) on majority rule, the Bill of Rights accomplished what few societies before had managed.  It created a public and commercial sphere in which majority and minority populations could coexist and flourish.  Congress, as the branch of government most driven by the sentiments of the masses, is constrained time and again from doing everything the Founders could think of that would support the proverbial tyranny of the majority.  Indeed, the phrase “tyranny of the majority” is not the exact phrase James Madison used, but he did write, in a letter to Thomas Jefferson about the need for a Bill of Rights added to the Constitution,

“… In Virginia I have seen the bill of rights violated in every instance where it has been opposed to a popular current. Notwithstanding the explicit provision contained in that instrument for the rights of Conscience, it is well known that a religious establishment would have taken place in that State, if the Legislative majority had found as they expected, a majority of the people in favor of the measure; and I am persuaded that if a majority of the people were now of one sect, the measure would still take place and on narrower ground than was then proposed, notwithstanding the additional obstacle which the law has since created. Wherever the real power in a Government lies, there is the danger of oppression. In our Governments the real power lies in the majority of the Community, and the invasion of private rights is chiefly to be apprehended, not from acts of Government contrary to the sense of its constituents, but from acts in which the Government is the mere instrument of the major number of the Constituents.

So when I hear the repeated appeals of anti-marriage-equality and anti-anti-discrimination demagogues  to “the will of the people”, it is supremely chilling.  Because what this means is, they got a bigoted ballot measure to pass a popular vote in someplace like Kentucky.  Well, knock me over with a feather.  

What this means to me is: marriage equality and anti-discrimination laws are all the more desperately needed in just those places.

God, Ultimate Alpha Male

In a new book, Alpha God: The Psychology of Religious Violence and Oppression, Hector A. Garcia explores the similarities between the ideas of God in the Abrahamic religions, and the mechanisms primate communities in general use to establish a social dominance hierarchy.

It should come as no surprise that these parallels are enough to fill a book.  One telling excerpt:

Foot kissing, a behavior observed widely in primatology, is another way submissive monkeys and apes demonstrate acquiescence to dominant members of their societies. This behavior carries forward to human societies that are highly rank structured, such as monarchies. For instance, kissing the king’s foot has always been synonymous with supplicant behavior — e.g., showing him extreme deference, begging for his mercy, or even recognizing that he represents God.

Christ — who is sometimes referred to as Christ the King — is also greeted with foot-kissing, as are his proxies. At the Basilica in Rome stands a large bronze statue of St. Paul, built in the fifth century. Though the statue has stood stalwart now for fifteen centuries its feet have been worn thin by the lips of pilgrims. There was even a custom in the Catholic Church of kissing the feet of the pope. The custom was actually made into law by Pope Gregory VII in his Dictatus Papae (Dictates of the Pope).

Many have observed what a stunning coincidence it is that the god people worship always seems to share their prejudices.  Well, it seems the similarities are more fundamental than that.  By declaring a conveniently invisible being the real apex of the hierarchy, the alphas of the pack can enjoy more of the benefits of being the alphas and at the same time, diffuse some of the responsibility for any unpopular rules.  Hey, it wasn’t my idea, {Elohim|Yahweh|Allah} said to do it.

Voltaire famously said, “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.”  Consider this as a conditional statement in Boolean logic,  A→B (read, “If A then B” or “A implies B”).  A statement like this can be true in one of two ways: if A is true and B is also true, then the whole statement is true.  Or if A is false, it does not matter what B is; the statement is still considered true.

The second case, where A is false, makes sense from a pure logic point of view but is unsatisfying from the point of view that it simply does not add much to our knowledge of the world.  Certainly not in comparison to the first case.

So the nonexistence of gods required the invention of same.  And the inspiration for the attributes of a god, one that was in any way useful to its inventors, came from the exact attributes that could make one ape higher in the pecking order than another.  Or as it has been put most succinctly, Man created God in his image.

via Friendly Atheist 

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