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"Murphy was an optimist!"

Today’s Social Media Revelation December 10, 2009 12:04 pm

Posted by Doug McCaughan in : Communications, Privacy, Technology, Touchy Subjects
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Last night LinkedIn became Facebook and Facebook tried again to become Twitter: Facebook’s New Privacy Changes: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

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My Clients Now Get P3P Privacy Policies November 17, 2009 11:15 am

Posted by Doug McCaughan in : Privacy, Programming, Security, Technology, Touchy Subjects
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Does your website collect identifying information on your visitors? If you think because you do not sell anything, ie. no shopping cart, and have no subscription services that you are not collecting identifying information on your site’s visitors then you are probably wrong. Most web servers log IP addresses along with the time of the visit and what that IP address read. ISPs keep logs showing which IP addresses were allocated to what users at particular times. Your logs can be correlated to their logs to identify a person. If your site as a comment form then you are definitely collecting information but more importantly that form gives you a name of a person to associate with the IP address without having to involve the ISP.

So now that we are clear that you are probably collecting identifying information about the visitors to your site, do you have a privacy policy? A privacy policy states how you will use that identifying information. For instance, perhaps you sell it to mailing lists. Or perhaps you specifically do NOT sell it to mailing lists but aggregate it to be able to explain to your potential advertisers that 70% of your site’s visitors are women between the ages of 22 and 35.

If you have a privacy policy, as a human, I can follow the link to that policy, read it, and try to interpret it. But why should I do that when I may not even understand what I’m reading? Shouldn’t the browser or other software handle the privacy policy for me? Yes! And on April 16, 2002 the W3C recommended the Platform for Privacy Preferences Project or P3P which is "a machine-readable language that helps to express a website’s data management practices." What this comes down to is that you can set your privacy preferences in your browser and if the website’s policy does not match, the browser blocks cookies from that site. Certainly there is a bit more to it than that but for most users, it boils down to blocking cookies.

P3P is a bit of a pain in the neck but every website (and that means your blogs) should have a privacy policy. This is definitely something I will encourage of each of my clients.

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Random searches of students passes unanimously October 1, 2008 8:44 pm

Posted by Doug McCaughan in : Education, Health, Local Politics, Of Interest, Politics, Privacy, Touchy Subjects
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The Knox County School Board voted unanimously to approve random searching of students. The next steps are to have the Law Department issue a legal memorandum then to have a final reading of the policy on November 2nd.

A commenter with good common sense from Volunteer TV’s comments regarding the Knox County School Board wanting to implement random searches in the school (emphasis added):

Posted by: Keri Location: Knoxville on Oct 1, 2008 at 09:46 AM
Are we, as members of a free democracy-protected by a Constitution, going to allow the constitutional rights of our children to be trampled upon? I am as concerned as most citizens about the safety of our children at school, but I am more concerned about the intimidation and conditioning of our children to accept infringements on their rights as American citizens. If we accept policies that not only allow, but encourage the powers that be to randomly search our children, without cause or evidence of wrong doing, how much longer before these policies obscure the rights of every citizen? These children are the future policy makers and leaders of our country and they will lead us based on the manner in which they have been lead. It is time to send a message to our children and the policy makers of our community that we value our Constitutional rights and those who fought and died to secure those rights, far too much to allow anyone, for any reason to strip our children of their liberty. [Source, VolunteerTV.com, Knox Co. School Board considering random search proposal, Keri]

Quit looking for quick fixes and think about the future. Please.

See also: teenagers are not criminals

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Safer traffic is with less, not more May 30, 2008 1:52 pm

Posted by Doug McCaughan in : Privacy, Touchy Subjects, Transportation, Travel
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Michael Silence has posted that another Oak Ridge camera company (we have many: Ipix (dead), Pips, Perceptics, Aldis, others?) is attaching cameras to traffic lights. The full story is in the Knoxnews. These new cameras are being tested to replace the magnetic strips in the pavement that detect the flow of traffic or vehicles backed up at an intersection. These strips are often the bane of motorcyclists as they sometimes do not get detected and have to sit at a light forever. These cameras might be a good thing! Of course, No Silence Here commenter Joe Lance notes "Chattanooga has invested in a couple of cameras — complete with loudspeakers — that announce to illegal dumpers that they are being photographed." When do cameras cease to be a good thing?


Cameras are a passive not active means of traffic enforcement..ie, treating symptoms not problems. "Since speed cameras have their effect after the incident, they in no way prevent tragedy! The camera that send a ticket to a speeding high schooler for speeding from West High to Kingston Pike does not save the life of the child who runs out into the road to get his lost ball." Re-engineering roads and educating drivers prevent tragedy.

I twitch a bit as we throw up more traffic lights, more signs, more lines on the road, more cameras, cameras, cameras. Traffic engineer Hans Monderman believes signs to be a danger to driving.

To him, they are an admission of failure, a sign – literally – that a road designer somewhere hasn’t done his job. "The trouble with traffic engineers is that when there’s a problem with a road, they always try to add something," Monderman says. "To my mind, it’s much better to remove things." [Source, Wired, Roads Gone Wild]

How does Monderman recommend building better intersections?

  1. Remove signs
  2. Install art
  3. Let lighting illuminate both roadbed and pedestrian areas
  4. Do it in the road (ie, get store fronts and Cafes closer to the road)
  5. Negotiate right-of-way by human interaction instead of signs
  6. Eliminate curbs

Knoxville has re-engeered roads for traffic control.near West High Schoolnear West High School Of course this project is not yet complete and Knoxville hasn’t reported on it at all much less said anything about its success or lack of success. Re-engineering roads for traffic control is not simply about removing lights and putting in traffic circles. It is about not cutting down that tree which seems so close to the road. A road with such an apparent danger causes drivers to be more alert. Re-engineering is about not straightening the roads and letting curves control speed. Re-engineering is about rethinking the paradigm by which we design our roads. I think some direct quotes from the article are in order. My favorite is when Monderman proves that designing without signs and signals works by putting hsi hands behind his back and walking backwards, blindly into traffic.

Monderman is one of the leaders of a new breed of traffic engineer – equal parts urban designer, social scientist, civil engineer, and psychologist. The approach is radically counterintuitive: Build roads that seem dangerous, and they’ll be safer.

He [shows] a favorite intersection he designed. It’s a busy confluence of two busy two-lane roads that handle 20,000 cars a day, plus thousands of bicyclists and pedestrians that doesn’t contain a single traffic signal, road sign, or directional marker, an approach that turns eight decades of traditional traffic thinking on its head. Several years ago, Monderman ripped out all the traffic lights, road markings, and some pedestrian crossings – and in their place created a roundabout, or traffic circle. The circle is remarkable for what it doesn’t contain: signs or signals telling drivers how fast to go, who has the right-of-way, or how to behave. There are no lane markers or curbs separating street and sidewalk, so it’s unclear exactly where the car zone ends and the pedestrian zone begins.

Monderman and I stand in silence by the side of the road a few minutes, watching the stream of motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians make their way through the circle, a giant concrete mixing bowl of transport. Somehow it all works. The drivers slow to gauge the intentions of crossing bicyclists and walkers. Negotiations over right-of-way are made through fleeting eye contact. Remarkably, traffic moves smoothly around the circle with hardly a brake screeching, horn honking, or obscene gesture. "I love it!" Monderman says at last. "Pedestrians and cyclists used to avoid this place, but now, as you see, the cars look out for the cyclists, the cyclists look out for the pedestrians, and everyone looks out for each other. You can’t expect traffic signs and street markings to encourage that sort of behavior. You have to build it into the design of the road."

In West Palm Beach, Florida, planners have redesigned several major streets, removing traffic signals and turn lanes, narrowing the roadbed, and bringing people and cars into much closer contact. The result: slower traffic, fewer accidents, shorter trip times.

In the village of Oosterwolde was once a conventional road junction with traffic lights [which] has been turned into something resembling a public square that mixes cars, pedestrians, and cyclists. About 5,000 cars pass through the square each day, with no serious accidents since the redesign in 1999. "To my mind, there is one crucial test of a design such as this," Monderman says. "Here, I will show you." With that, Monderman tucks his hands behind his back and begins to walk into the square – backward – straight into traffic, without being able to see oncoming vehicles. A stream of motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians ease around him, instinctively yielding to a man with the courage of his convictions.
[Source, Wired, Roads Gone Wild]

Some countries have no traffic controls what-so-ever and still function fine. We can also use traffic calming methods or make our roads play music to control speed.

Here is how to make a city bicycle friendly and how to get cars under control.
Uploaded by Streetfilms

Related: One way to be environmentally sound and avoid tickets is to pickup a free bus ticket from Kroger when you buy groceries!

Update 6/3/08: Knoxviews reports that Oak Ridge is considering red light cameras at the same time The New York Times reports Trolling for Trouble in the Red Light District.

Perhaps a better way to reduce red light running lies in improving the design of the intersection. Studies have shown that extending the duration of the yellow light by just two seconds has significantly decreased the number of red light violations. In Dallas, longer yellows and signs warning motorists of red light cameras have helped reduce the violations so dramatically that the cameras are no longer generating the revenue needed to keep them in operation. [Source, The New York Times,Trolling for Trouble in the Red Light District]

Update 6/4/08: Red light cameras legal?.


Streetview Sighting! March 9, 2008 10:49 pm

Posted by Doug McCaughan in : Of Interest, Privacy, Touchy Subjects, Transportation, Travel
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Google Streetviews car spotted in Chattanooga!

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Engineer Roads for Speed Control November 11, 2007 9:49 am

Posted by Doug McCaughan in : Local Politics, Politics, Privacy, Touchy Subjects, Transportation, Travel
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View Larger Map

Knoxville is pondering the use of automated speed cameras to ticket people who violate the speed limits. I am opposed. I am a treat the problem, not the symptom type of guy. My quality assurance training taught me that if you automate a flawed process, you simply perform that flawed process with greater efficiency.

Florida came up with a solution. I read about it a couple of years ago. (unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find the reference) An architect and civil engineer reduced speed by eliminating traffic controls, removing signs, putting people and trees closer to the road, and narrowing the roads. widening the double yellow narrows the roadThey engineered speed control! It worked. Would you like to try it? Knoxville is engineering roads for speed right now! The roads that connect Kingston Pike to Sutherland passing by West High School are changing to reduce speed. If you turn from Kingston Pike to Forest Glen Dr you will undoubtedly notice that the double yellow widens briefly, the road has some lines painted across it, and some ruts have been carved into the road to audibly warn you to slowdown. These are fairly intangible but work! You cannot help but slow down.

What happens when people get used to the lines and drive fast anyway? Firstly, the faster you drive over the ruts, the more horrid the noise which sounds like you are destroying your tires. Secondly, in addition to the psychological narrowing, the roads are being physically narrowed at the midpoint. With the addition of this median, cars will slow down. Maybe they’ll add a tree! (doubt it)

Why not engineer the roads and use speed cameras? Speed cameras treat the symptom. The symptom is that people are speeding. Physical narrowing of Tobler LnThe problem is that people feel like they are making good time and packing more into their lives by speeding. The truth of the matter is that if you are speeding in a town or city, you may be shaving a minute or two off your commute but due to traffic patterns, and the placement and timing of lights and other traffic controls, your commute does NOT change that dramatically as compared to simply driving the speed limit.

Won’t cameras teach people to slow down? No, cameras work after the fact, catch the wrong people, and cannot identify the driver. They also cannot judge the situation. Safe driving sometimes includes speeding up. Often we try to avoid an accident by slamming on the brakes. It feels natural. Sometimes accidents can be avoided by speeding up and I shouldn’t have to speed a day of my life in court plus fees explaining that to repeal a ticket from a robot. Since speed cameras have their effect after the incident, they in no way prevent tragedy! The camera that send a ticket to a speeding high schooler for speeding from West High to Kingston Pike does not save the life of the child who runs out into the road to get his lost ball. The re-engineered roads, which treat the problem and force the new high school driver to slow his vehicle, give that driver the opportunity to stop in time to save the life of the child running into the road to get his lost ball.

Update: Groovy!


AT&T Secret Room Back in the News November 8, 2007 6:47 am

Posted by Doug McCaughan in : Communications, Privacy, Technology, Touchy Subjects
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The Washington Post brings us a story from Mark Klein, a former AT&T technician, about the AT&T secret room used by the NSA to copy the entire Internet.

He knew that the NSA was supposed to work on overseas signals intelligence. … "This splitter was sweeping up everything, vacuum-cleaner-style," he said. "The NSA is getting everything. These are major pipes that carry not just AT&T’s customers but everybody’s." … the NSA was doing content analysis. [Source, The Washington Post, A Story of Surveillance]

Do you feel safer giving your government unchecked authority?

Update: See also: AT&T Whistleblower: Telecom Immunity Is A Cover-Up

Update: BoingBoing points to Senator Dodd’s video at the EFF.

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Knoxville Street Views Happening Now October 30, 2007 10:15 pm

Posted by Doug McCaughan in : Gadgets, Of Interest, Privacy, Technology, Touchy Subjects, Transportation, Travel
, 9comments

Narration with additional commentary (note: since this was ad libbed I misspoke and called the antenna on top of the car "a satellite" when I intended to say "a satellite uplink" or "satellite antennae):

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

camera carPut your best lawns on! A California company is driving around Knoxville taking pictures of your neighborhood for Google Street Views or a competitor. I saw one of these cars zoom through my cove a few weeks ago and I wasn’t quick enough to strike an interesting pose. Westmoreland Gets on Google MapsI was also unhappy with the state of my lawn and porch but oh well. So, will Google catch you peeing on the side of the road? Getting a ticket? Breaking into a house? Growing pot? Or just showing off your favorite thong? (see also). Concerned about privacy?

Better picture:
Google Streetview Car photographs Knoxville

Update: Confirmed! That is a Google car!

Update: The WebUrbanist presents 10 urban snapshots from Google Street View including one implying that the google camera van ignores traffic blockades. Mashable asks Should Google offer to blur Street View imagery for people requesting privacy? And get my cat off your website! If you are enjoying these links then you will also enjoy http://www.streetviewfun.com/, some bizarre splicing issues, and Wired’s voting system to find the best Street View pictures.

Update: Jon Hickman asks, "Where do you actually see the pictures they take?" I am pretty sure these will show up in Google maps and Google Earth. Mashable suggests that they will be accessible from http://www.googlestreetview.com/ and two others but those domains aren’t live yet. Ah! Here is Google’s video explanation of Street Views and a direct link to where Street Views are available.

Of course Microsoft has Windows Live Street View.

Update Feb 6, 2009: Top 10 Moments Caught on Google Maps Street View (link to the flasher – she’s just a blur of pixels now)


Orweillian of the Day October 4, 2007 1:22 pm

Posted by Doug McCaughan in : Conspiracy, Of Interest, Privacy, Security, Touchy Subjects
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All those cameras and now "give us your keys."

People in the UK who encrypt their data are now obliged by law to give up the encryption keys to law enforcement officials…[Source]

Note: I have not confirmed the above against any other sources.

Per capita there are more surveillance cameras in the UK than any other country in the world…

The average city dweller can expect to be captured on film every five minutes…

Source, UK Something to watch over us, BBC News

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AT&T to Spy On Everything You Do June 13, 2007 12:08 pm

Posted by Doug McCaughan in : Privacy, Technology, Touchy Subjects
, 3comments

1984 finally arrives!

AT&T has decided to start targeting pirated content being moved across its network.

AT&T has begun selling pay-television services, the company has realized that its interests are more closely aligned with Hollywood

Don’t forget that AT&T already spies on the US citizenry for the government (see also).

Update: more words here