Like Talking to a Brick Wall

 


The First Continental Congress of the American Colonies sent a petition to King George III on October 25, 1774, requesting he redress their grievances against the British Parliament related to the Coercive Acts passed in response to the Boston Tea Party of December 16, 1773. The king ignored the petition, and consequently the colonists’ march toward revolution picked up momentum over the next year, resulting in the beginning of hostilities in the spring of 1775. Petitions were the primary recourse of the American Colonists in dealing with their British rulers across the Atlantic Ocean since they had no official representation in Parliament, hence the slogan “No taxation without representation.”

The nation’s founders regarded the right to petition the government as so essential to a free society that they included it in the First Amendment, adopted in 1791. They made the right explicit despite the reality that citizens of the United States, unlike colonists under the British Empire, had official representation in the government. James Madison, who was largely responsible for drafting the Bill of Rights, understood that while the people had representation in government, their representatives may not be responsive to the wishes of all the people, and that therefore the people required another, independent outlet “for a redress of grievances.”



The unresponsiveness of government representatives to the people has rarely appeared as evident as it does now, when it seems representatives are responsive mostly to the wishes of corporate contributors to their election campaigns. Polls do not necessarily give lawmakers an accurate idea of how some of their constituents are feeling about issues because responding to pollsters is a passive response to a pollster’s sometimes tailored questions. Poll sample sizes are also often ludicrously small on account of the expense and difficulty of polling. Pollsters claim they conduct their surveys based on well-researched principles in order to achieve accurate representation from small sample sizes, but there are plenty of examples to cite in demonstrating that taking polls is as much art as it is science, and not at all infallible. For one example, look at how inaccurate the polling was in several key Rust Belt states in the weeks before the November 2016 presidential election.


Mrs Emmeline Pankhurst, Leader of the Women's Suffragette movement, is arrested outside Buckingham Palace while trying to present a petition to King George V in May 1914. Q81486
Emmeline Pankhurst, leader of the Woman’s Suffragette movement in England, arrested outside Buckingham Palace in London while trying to present a petition to King George V in May 1914. Photo from the British Imperial War Museum.


Signing a petition is an active measure taken by citizens numbering in the thousands or millions, as opposed to a select few hundreds or thousands responding passively to a pollster. Citizens mostly seek out petitions on their own initiative, or are made aware of them by friends or family, or by reading the news. The relative ease of signing a petition online, compared to signing one circulated door to door, does not discount that people are participating in the political process instead of waiting for someone to ask their opinion. The distinction is not a small one. Yes, physical participation in a protest weighs far more than signing an online petition in getting the attention of government leaders and the society at large, but an online petition nonetheless demonstrates that the people signing it are paying attention. Numbers have always given weight to petitions, and in the internet age it is possible for millions of people to make their wishes known to their representatives within days of a petition’s first appearance.

The petitions currently circulating urging United States House of Representatives legislators to impeach the occupant of the Oval Office are an excellent demonstration of the need of the people for an outlet to make their wishes known to their government. To anyone paying attention honestly to developments originating from the White House since January 2017, it has long been obvious that impeachment and conviction of the current president would be necessary sooner or later to uphold the rule of law. The nation’s legislators, however, always conscious of political calculations and of the interests of their big money donors, have been dragging their feet to avoid having to put themselves on the line in upholding the oath they took to preserve and defend the Constitution.

Captain Queeg, the character played by Humphrey Bogart in the 1954 film The Caine Mutiny, was obviously unstable, but nonetheless discharging him from his command was quite difficult because the captain of a vessel at sea is by necessity an autocrat whose authority is fully backed by a nation’s institutions. For all that, Captain Queeg was not a corrupt grifter with contempt for democratic institutions and a sneering disregard for the norms of civil discourse, and in comparison to the offenses of the current president, Queeg’s official transgressions were minor.

In other words, members of Congress have a constitutional duty to impeach this president for high crimes and misdemeanors he has engaged in too obviously for them to ignore any longer. Whether he will be convicted in the Republican-controlled Senate is anyone’s guess at this point. It probably depends on whether political calculations indicate to at least a few key Republican senators that the time has come at last to throw the president over the side, at which point many of the rest will scramble to get on board.

If millions of American people had waited politely for a pollster to ask them if impeachment was necessary, instead of taking matters into their own hands and petitioning their representatives, Congress might still be dithering, possibly all the way up to Election Day 2020. The current president may not get convicted in the Senate and removed from office before then, but it’s important that public hearings in Congress shine a light long enough and brightly enough on the corrupt and unethical practices of his administration that even the most disengaged voters will have to listen. A brick wall, no matter who constructed it, can keep people from hearing their government at work as well as keep government leaders from hearing the people, but now that representatives have finally listened to people engaged enough to petition them, it’s important that the rest of the populace listen honestly to the arguments for impeachment, and honest engagement requires more than checking an often lopsided Facebook news feed, a far sloppier way of exercising one’s civic duty than signing an online petition.
— Vita

 

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Lead, Follow, or Get out of the Way

 

Ajit Pai, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), is at it again, undercutting support for dissemination of broadband internet service when it doesn’t suit the interests of major telecommunications companies. His latest effort involves capping spending on the FCC’s Universal Service programs, which are intended to make broadband available to poor urban neighborhoods and underserved rural areas. Mr. Pai and the other two Republican commissioners on the five person board have voted for the plan, and the next step will be a three month public comment period before the commissioners take a final vote. If most people commenting on the plan are against it, then Mr. Pai and his fellow Republican commissioners will likely ignore their wishes and subvert the comment period with shenanigans intended to muddy the waters, just as they did two years ago with the net neutrality rule change.

 

Government support – or lack of it – for promoting broadband internet service for the entire country is a mishmash of conflicting goals, regulations, and laws at the federal, state, and municipal levels. The FCC under Mr. Pai serves the interests of telecommunications companies, which often do not coincide with those of citizens, while paying lip service to broadband service for all. The current president, who appointed Mr. Pai chairman, is hopelessly muddled in his understanding of the aims and actions of his own administration, as he demonstrated once again in his recent comments about how farmers cannot connect benefit their operations by connecting to broadband service because of deficient infrastructure in the countryside. Of course he and his followers do not care about the facts behind that deficiency, and he may get around as he always does to blaming Barack Obama and Democrats generally for the problem while he does nothing to alleviate it and his administration actively makes it worse.

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A United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) photo of a crew installing electric service lines in the countryside. The Rural Electrification Act of 1936 brought service to underserved areas through electric cooperatives owned by members, bypassing private utilities which saw little profit in the enterprise.

State legislatures around the country continue passing laws intended to cripple the ability of municipalities to take matters into their own hands and get broadband service to small towns and outlying areas. The legislators, mostly Republican, pass these laws at the behest of lobbyists for the major telecommunications companies, who claim services provided by municipalities would undercut their ability to compete. But the big companies aren’t interested in competing in small towns and the boonies anyway! Really they’re afraid it’s a good idea that will spread, and therefore they attack it as socialism, by which they mean it’s bad. Large telecommunications companies, like the large banks, are all for socialism when it benefits them.

The Flintstones: “They’re the modern stone age family!”

Municipal governments and regional electric cooperatives are the only groups trying to ensure broadband service for poor and rural citizens, and trying to do it without price gouging. They get little help from federal and state governments, which often work either at cross purposes are try to undermine their efforts, again with the strings being pulled behind the scenes by Verizon, AT&T, Comcast, Charter, Sprint, and the rest of the big telecommunications companies. Naturally absolutely everyone says they are all for expanding broadband internet service at reasonable rates to poor and underserved areas – who wouldn’t come out in favor of that? – but the actions of many legislators, regulators, and company executives tell a different story. It would be best for citizens – customers – if everyone from the top down in government and private industry worked consistently and uniformly toward the one goal they all claim to be their mission, which is better serving the public, no matter who they are or where they live.
— Techly

 

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Nearly as Good as New

 

The past thirty years have been a golden age of film restoration, starting with the 1989 restoration of the 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia. Robert Harris led that work, and he has had a hand in restoring many films since then, including Vertigo (1958) and My Fair Lady (1964). It’s a shame that great movies need restoration at all, a state of affairs principally due to neglect by the very studios that made them, often at a cost of millions of dollars. Hollywood studios were far less concerned about art or historical preservation than they were about business, and movies retained little value for the studios after their initial theatrical release.

Peck Moby Dick
Publicity still of Gregory Peck from the 1956 film Moby Dick. Photo courtesy of Warner Brothers.

 

Indeed that was the situation for movies until home video opened a new and lucrative avenue for the studios in the 1970s and 1980s. Until then, to the extent the movie studios kept original film elements at all, they kept them in slipshod conditions which allowed the films to deteriorate to one degree or another. By the time demand returned for some of the better movies, restoration was necessary to have a salable product. VHS (Video Home System) tapes could skate by with no restoration because of the low resolution of the format, but laser disc was several steps above VHS in quality and created the first push to restore old films.

Laser disc never caught on the way VHS did, however, and its appeal was limited to cinema buffs. The biggest nudge toward film restoration came in the 1990s with the popularity of DVD (Digital Video Disc), an improvement in quality over VHS at about the same price for content and playback equipment. With that change in the market, movie studios saw the value in packaging their backlog of films in the new format, creating a greater need to restore at least some of those in highest demand. Since the turn of the century, high definition televisions and further improvements in home video resolution have brought the home theater experience into the mainstream, and the demand for quality restorations of old films is at a peak and will probably stay on a plateau hereafter.

There is a limit to how much detail the human eye can discern in the limited space of the typical home theater. DVD was a huge improvement over VHS, and Blu-ray was almost as big an improvement over DVD. 4K resolution is not quite as great an improvement over Blu-ray as numbers alone would suggest, simply because the law of diminishing returns starts to take effect. In the confines of a home theater, even using the best equipment, viewers are less able to discern the finer detail there on the screen. 8K resolution is overkill for all but the most dedicated home video enthusiasts with deep pockets.

Another reason for home video improvements driving film restorations less in the future is the switch by consumers from owning content on physical media, such as a Blu-ray disc, and streaming content in a rental agreement over the internet. Already the rollout of 4K discs has slowed to the point that many good old movies may never be remastered for the format. The potential sales aren’t high enough to interest the major movie studios. As to streaming 4K content, that is subject to the vagaries of the consumer’s internet connection. Some of the 4K content may not be as advertised because of the huge bandwidth requirements, and streaming true 8K content would probably require a 5G internet connection and an actual unlimited data plan from a viewer’s Internet Service Provider (ISP).


In any event, these are good times for fans of old movies. Some classic films, like director John Huston’s 1956 version of Moby Dick, which have long deserved restoration but were nonetheless neglected for whatever reason by the major studios, have been restored by smaller distributors of home video content who have determined it would be worth their time and effort. The movie studio Paramount last year restored It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) and remastered it in 4K, though in a sign of the times they have released the new version only for streaming and have not pressed discs of it. Another classic film, Life with Father (1947), awaits true restoration, and viewers should meanwhile beware the versions for sale which trumpet digital remastering or restoration.

Life with Father (1947)
Screenshot from Life with Father (1947), with Irene Dunne and William Powell. Photo courtesy of Warner Brothers.

Like It’s a Wonderful Life, Life with Father had also fallen into the public domain; unlike It’s a Wonderful Life, Life with Father has not attracted anew the attention of the major studios. While Paramount has lavished care on restoring It’s a Wonderful Life, slapdash outfits have been appropriating Life with Father for the sales catalog, offering horrendously bad versions of it and relying on the phrases “digitally remastered” and “restored” to dupe the ignorant. They hope naive consumers will infer that “digitally remastered” means “improved”. It means no such thing; it means only that the film has been scanned to a digital format, a necessary step in making analog movie film available for home viewing on a DVD, Blu-ray, or 4K player. “Restored” is a relative term and can mean the absolute minimum amount of work was put into it, as is usually the case with the shadier outfits.

Robert Harris worked on this 2014 restoration and remastering of the 1964 film My Fair Lady, starring Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison.

Check reviews online, preferably not on Amazon because the reviewers there rarely get to the nitty gritty about the quality of the transfer, and instead prefer to bloviate about the movie itself, seeing it as their chance to be an authoritative movie reviewer like Roger Ebert. Better are the reviews on news sites or websites specializing in film industry or home theater matters because they generally do mention the quality of the transfer, though consumers still have to take some of those reviews with a grain of salt when they include affiliate links to sites selling copies of the movie. Be wary during research and you’ll have less chance to regret a purchase and better enjoyment of a great old movie given the attention it deserves.
— Techly

 

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Witnesseth

 

Witnesseth: Old English, meaning bear witness to the following or take notice.
— paraphrased definition from Black’s Law Dictionary.

When teams of scientists and engineers worked together for years to bring out the first ever image of a black hole last week, some of the excitement was drained off by internet trolls belittling the contribution of one computer scientist, a woman named Dr. Katie Bouman. Dr. Bouman was initially credited online by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where she had earned her master’s degree and doctorate, with an outsize role in the great work, probably due to nothing more than an excess of exuberance for the achievement of one of their own when they first heard the news. If Dr. Bouman had been male, it is doubtful the trolls would have seized on MIT’s innocent overstatement and launched their campaign of vitriol geared toward minimizing her contribution and smearing her character.


Female scientist from DAST
From the 1983 Draw-a-Scientist Test, one of the relatively few depictions of a female scientist. Photo by Yewhoenter.

The time for minimization of online trolling has long since past. The usual advice to ignore them has not worked. The situation with trolls is like what happens in an eighth grade classroom when a cadre of unruly boys – they are almost always boys – sits at the back of the class disrupting the learning the majority of students and the teacher would like to conduct peacefully and constructively. Has ignoring those jackasses ever worked? No, it has not. The only remedy that works is invocation of real consequences for their actions. The online world is no different. Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube claim they are not interfering with free speech rights when they give free rein to trolls, but they are ignoring the unique qualities of the internet megaphone.

Almost all trolling is anonymous, and making personal attacks while hiding behind anonymity calls up a gray area in slander and libel law. The Tweeter-in-Chief obviously makes all his egregious political and personal attacks without anonymity, and in some tweets he barely conceals incitement to violence against people he dislikes for political or personal reasons. Still, Twitter has not shut down his account. It used to be that one vile person could pollute only a small portion of the world with odious views; now that vile person can disseminate ugliness over the entire world in an instant, and millions more can take up the banner of sexist, racist, or white supremacist internet comments within a day or two. The opposite is also possible, of course, and good things can come about. To make internet freedom rights work, there have to be referees protecting the interests of the majority who would prefer good outcomes without the distraction of constant juvenile disruption, just as in a classroom where a teacher backed up by the school administration and by parents can rule counterproductive behavior out of bounds, restoring the peace and order necessary for instructive dialogue.
— Techly

 

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Serenity Now and Again

 

Dan Robbins, inventor of paint by numbers kits, died recently at the age of 93. The kits Mr. Robbins invented became wildly popular for children and adults in the decades after World War II, and while sales faded in the last decades of the twentieth century, the kits never disappeared altogether. Now with the aid of the internet, paint by numbers kits have regained some popularity, and reproductions of works by famous artists such as Vincent van Gogh are available, widening the scope of painting kits available to hobbyists.
CasinCaillebotte
Portraits in the Countryside, an 1876 painting by Gustave Caillebotte (1848-1894), depicting the artist’s mother, aunt, cousin, and a family friend. With its large areas of uniform color and uncomplicated design, this painting would lend itself well to the paint by numbers treatment.

It hardly matters whether people consider themselves hobbyists or crafters when they pick up paint by numbers kits, or ship modeling, or knitting and crocheting, because the main thing is they are occupying themselves with a satisfying activity that often results in a useful or decorative object. The result doesn’t have to be art, nor does it have to be perfectly made. The value is as much to the maker as it is to the thing made, and possibly more. A person engaged in a hobby or craft gives himself or herself the gift of peaceful hours during which their mind and emotions can heal.

People who sneer at the dubious artistic value of a paint by numbers painting or a Bob Ross painting miss the point of those works. Hobby painters are as interested in the process as they are in the result, which often feels ancillary and even something of a let down because it means the end of the process. If they somehow produce great art, then that’s a bonus. Most of what they produce will be schmaltz, but so be it. They are helping themselves and not hurting anyone.

Take a few moments to relax as Bob Ross paints an imagined landscape and imparts his views on life.

Mr. Robbins did a great service providing at least momentary joy and well being for millions of people over the years with his paint by numbers kits, one of many hobbies and crafts contributing therapeutic benefits to those who took them up, and the gooey sentimentality of some of the subjects of those paintings hardly matters in the grander view. Losing oneself in a hobby or craft is better than watching television, or any of the numerous other electronic screens commanding everyone’s attention in today’s world.
— Vita

 

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Too Much Information

 

The recent revelation that Lin Bennett, a Republican State Representative in South Carolina, subscribes to the QAnon internet conspiracy theory, means the followers of the QAnon cult surrounding the current president have another friend in a powerful position openly siding with them. Validation like that keeps the embers smoldering while the QAnon cult followers await prophesied heroics from their leader in the Oval Office. It’s all fun and games until some deluded idiot with access to weaponry takes it all too seriously and acts out self-righteously, as a fellow from North Carolina did in reaction to the Pizzagate conspiracy in December 2016.

 

With so much factual information available on the internet, it’s hard to understand how people can continue deluding themselves with conspiracy theories that common sense would see fall apart after the application of a few facts. A lack of common sense and a capacity for self-delusion are the very traits preventing some people from seeing the foolishness behind many conspiracy theories. For those people, the great amount of information available on the internet supports their pet theories even when the information is not in their favor. They do not lack for information concerning their theories, for or against. Where they fall short is in the self-confidence to accept and honestly examine divergent information, because to do so might undermine the fragile construct of their self-worth bound up in the things bigger than themselves they have lashed themselves to stay afloat in a world to their minds uncertain and threatening, the cult and the conspiracy.

Gerard Houckgeest 002
Interior of the Old Church in Delft, a 1654 trompe-l’œil painting by Gerard Houckgeest (circa 1600-1661). Are the drapes real, or are they part of the painting?

People in prominent positions, like State Representative Bennett, are irresponsible to publicly endorse nonsense like QAnon, because of the loons who are more likely than ever to act out in light of her endorsement. Some conspiracy theories, like the Flat Earth one, are relatively harmless, and if Rep. Bennett had come out as a Flat Earther the majority of Americans would probably have shrugged and considered her nutty, maybe a little too nutty to be entrusted with public office, but otherwise nothing to worry about since it was unlikely her outlandish belief would have any effect on public policy or discourse. QAnon theorists are different because they advocate smearing, imprisonment, and summary execution of their opponents. It’s as bad as if Rep. Bennett had declared herself a member in good standing with the Ku Klux Klan.

What is real and what is illusion? One of the questions examined in The Manchurian Candidate, a 1962 film directed by John Frankenheimer and starring Frank Sinatra and Laurence Harvey.

QAnon arose and spread entirely over the internet; there was no broad based movement addressing needs in the real world, with people openly discussing its tenets, adopting some and rejecting others. A few trolls threw up some outlandish claims on internet message boards and some of them stuck, not because they were true and promised to solve real problems, but because other people wanted them to be true and hoped they would solve their imaginary problems born of hate for the Other and their own self-loathing. But for responsible adults those are really nothing more than excuses. With more information available than ever before in history, remaining bigoted and ignorant is a conscious choice of chip-on-the-shoulder anti-intellectualism, and such people need to be held accountable for their vile behavior, the better to keep them in check before they act out violently on their delusions.
— Techly

 

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This Just In

 

Website headline writers like to insert the word “just” in their copy for the sense of immediacy it conveys. They have room to insert the word because website headlines are usually sentence length descriptions rather than the terse summations newspaper copy editors used. Longer descriptions can be good teasers and also boost the rank of a website post in search engine results because that’s the way Google has decided sites and posts should be ranked, and Google sets the bar for search engines and for the internet generally. Ask them why.

 

Search engines don’t like the short headlines common in newspapers. The reason many headlines on the internet read the way they do is because writers are responding as much to what search engines like as they are to what they believe their readers like. It’s not easy keeping up with the Kardashians, and the only way websites can do it is to couch everything in terms of immediacy, as if it were all breaking news worthy of readers’ attention. To generate clicks on their posts and get them ranked highly in search engine results, website writers must tease about the content using descriptive headlines, and then make sure to give whatever they’re describing a sense of happening moments ago by tossing in “just” at least once.

War Ends
Residents of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, fill Jackson Square on August 14, 1945, to celebrate the surrender of Japan. Oak Ridge was one of three main sites of the Manhattan Project, and was responsible (though those working there did not know it) for refining uranium to be shipped to Los Alamos, New Mexico, to be fashioned into atomic bombs. Photo by Ed Westcott, working for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The newspaper headline “War Ends” might not fly with today’s internet and social media news headline writers, who would be tempted to write “War Just Ends”, even though it would be open to multiple interpretations.

The tendency is to hype everything, even inconsequential matters. Add news sharing on social media, and the hype gets amplified to 11, as a member of the fictional heavy metal band Spinal Tap observed. Trust and references build credibility on social media, even if common sense and a little digging into sources reveals there are no grounds for credibility. Google hones search results based on what they know about users, and Facebook and Twitter follow Google’s lead while juicing results further by adding the finer details they know about their users. Facebook and Twitter set the bar in social media for how posts get pushed to the front for sharing on their platforms, and as long as readers keep clicking the wheels keep rolling, no matter how worthless are the posts everyone shares.

This clip from Sesame Street could serve as a metaphor for what the internet and social media have become.

A word such as “just” is a fine, serviceable word in most cases. Unfortunately, once some influential writers, platform arbiters, and readers on the world wide web and in social media adopt it as a manipulative expression it gets overused, abused, and misused on its way to becoming trite and tiresome. Just sayin’.
— Ed.

 

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Enough Is Never Enough

 

Amazon.com, the internet’s everything store, recently announced it will be opening two secondary headquarters, one in the New York City borough of Queens, and the other in the Arlington, Virginia, area near Washington, D.C.. City and state officials in both locations offered Amazon enormous benefits at taxpayers’ expense, though the exact amounts are unknown because officials claim they have a competitive advantage by keeping their bids secret.

 

Nonsense. It’s the taxpayers’ money and they have every right to know how officials spend it. The whole nationwide competition for Amazon’s secondary headquarters was a yearlong sham and circus, the kind of municipal debasement and looting that has become far too common as states and cities are pitted against each other for the dubious prize bestowed on them by corporate behemoths relocating or opening new places of business.

Caricature of "Organized Big Business Interests"
Caricature of “Organized Big Business Interests” illustrated by John Miller Baer (1886-1970) for part of the November 17, 1919 cover of The Nonpartisan Leader. Nearly one hundred years later, a caricature of a big business interest is more likely to appear trim and fit, wearing jeans and a turtleneck or other informal clothing.

Amazon is to labor practices and corporate citizenship as an internet business as Walmart is to labor practices and corporate citizenship among brick and mortar stores, which is to say they are leaders in their respective fields in abusing their lowest tier workers and siphoning funds away from local communities. Both Jeff Bezos, head of Amazon, and the Walton family at the head of Walmart are obscenely rich. They got that way because of their cleverness at exploiting the properties mentioned above, not because of their own virtuousness and hard work as they would have everyone believe. There are millions upon millions of people who are every bit as virtuous and hard working as Mr. Bezos and the Walton family, probably more so, and they are not obscenely rich, or even well off.

 

La2-buynothing
Buy Nothing Day demonstration in San Francisco, California, in November 2000. Photo by Lars Aronsson.

Mr. Bezos and others like him are obscenely rich because they are, among their other qualities in starting and running a business, both good and bad, obscenely greedy. Shoppers visiting the Amazon website cannot be blamed for taking advantage of the low prices and good service. That would be a kind of “blaming the victim”. Besides, it is all too easy for shoppers to forget about or remain ignorant of Amazon’s bad labor practices and exploitative corporate citizenship since it does those things mostly out of sight and therefore out of mind, a benefit it has as an internet company that Walmart does not have as a brick and mortar outfit.

Shoppers might fairly ask themselves, however, that even if they are not entirely complicit in sustaining Mr. Bezos’s greed, perhaps their own much smaller proportion of greed is something worth examining. It is a form of greed that drives most purchases from Amazon. Amazon sells some necessities such as groceries, but then so do stores at neighborhood shopping centers throughout the country. Most of what Amazon sells are not necessities. They are convenient luxuries, great or small, delivered to the shopper’s door. With the enormous emphasis on shopping around Thanksgiving all but swallowing up the holiday and its meaning, people might want to step back from the shopping cart, both real and virtual, and reflect on how their own petty greed feeds the monstrous greed of Jeff Bezos and his fellow billionaires and millionaires, while around the world millions upon millions of decent people go hungry.
— Techly

 

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Voting Should Be Easy

 

Over 75 percent of the American people have smartphones, and since voter participation in elections hovers around 50 percent of eligible citizens, the idea has come around to increase voting by making it possible for people to use their smartphones for that purpose. This year, West Virginia is trying out smartphone voting on a limited basis. The biggest concern with this practice is ballot security from smartphone to tabulating facility, usually a government office such as in a county courthouse. The medium used for that transmission would, of course, be the internet.

Smartphone Zombie Girls (15773553090)
Pedestrians in the Rahova neighborhood of Bucharest, Romania, on October 27, 2014, days before the first round of the Romanian presidential election on November 2. Photo by J Stimp.

 

Now the internet is many wonderful things, but numbered among them is not airtight security for the general user. Some users haven’t the faintest idea about or concern for the security of their system, whether it be on a desktop or laptop computer, a tablet or a smartphone. It’s clear that the integrity of internet voting by smartphone or any other device would need to be maintained by a third party, since the users themselves are unreliable.

The voting system would have to be capable of freezing out “man-in-the-middle” hacks, which have historically been the greatest vulnerability of internet communications and the most commonly exploited by hackers. Think of it as the postal system, in which Party A mails a letter to Party B by entrusting it to Party C, in this case the United States Postal Service, with the understanding that in between point A and point B no one will intercept and read it, save perhaps a Postal Inspector who can show probable cause.

 

The internet has never been even as secure as the postal system. More often it has been like the party lines that used to exist on some phone systems around the country. Until the security problems can be fixed, smartphone voting is unlikely to see widespread use. The safest system for voters is still paper ballots filed either by mail or in person at a polling place. Voting should be easier, not more difficult, as all the voter suppression laws passed by Republican controlled state legislatures have made it, with the idea that low turnout favors their candidates.

Voters wait in line to cast their ballots in the US presidential election in Philadelphia 14200A
Voters wait in line to cast their ballots in the U.S. presidential election in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on November 8, 2016. Note how some are looking down at their smartphones, a common sight in public places now. Photo by Voice of America News.

Relatively few people are motivated to spend a long time waiting to vote in a queue that may keep them outdoors in bad weather, though some do appear willing to endure similar conditions in order to purchase the latest iPhone. Smartphone voting is a great idea for increasing participation in elections, but sadly it is one that needs work before becoming wholly viable, if it ever does. Until then, voters can still bring along their smartphones to their polling places to keep themselves entertained while they wait.
— Techly

 

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Don’t Hold Your Breath

 

Ten or more years ago there was some hope among rural internet users that a service called Broadband over Power Lines (BPL) would come along soon to save the day by bringing them high speed internet at affordable prices. Not any more. American Telephone and Telegraph (AT&T) has a program in trials in Georgia that is a last grasp at trying to make the technology feasible without all the stumbling blocks encountered by other companies in earlier efforts. If AT&T’s engineers are successful, BPL may at last be rolling out on a large scale in the next five years.

Because internet service is a two way street, downloading data from a provider to a user and uploading data from a user to a provider, getting reliable, high speed internet to people in the countryside has been more complicated than the similar situation of stringing electrical service to those people in the middle of the last century. Satellite internet service is an option in the countryside, but is limited by slow upload speeds since consumers for good reason are not allowed by government regulation to possess enormously powerful transmitters. Satellite service providers also throttle their customers’ usage at certain limits because there is limited bandwidth available on a satellite.


Power lines during Blue Hour BW
Linear perspective of 230 kV power lines during blue hour in the Castleton part of Virginia Beach, Virginia. Photo by PumpkinSky.

Point to point microwave service has been an option for people living in or near small towns. It has been a rarely used option, however, because state and local laws passed at the behest of large internet providers hinder the ability of local governments to coordinate with small internet providers in setting up microwave service, which is most often undertaken as a public/private partnership. Cable television and landline telephone companies, where they have strung lines for internet service the last country mile, usually charge high rates on account of their monopoly status, with indifferent customer service also reflecting their status as an only option.

The last option left for some country people has been mobile telephone internet service. There are numerous problems associated with reliance on cellular internet service, from the possibility of poor signal to the certainty of data caps and high costs. It’s certainly not the best choice for regularly streaming video or trying to run an internet dependent business. The next generation of wireless data technology, 5G, will be available within the next few years, but it’s questionable whether it will solve the problems mentioned above. When a customer does have a solid connection to 5G service, it will be lightning fast.

The possibility of BPL had always seemed like a Godsend for rural internet users because it would have made connecting to broadband service as easy as plugging a modem into an electrical outlet, and because power lines have high capacity there would have been no need for data caps. The prices would have been relatively low by industry standards because the infrastructure was largely already in place, and because utility companies were more highly regulated than cable and telephone companies. “Would have been” is unfortunately where BPL will have to float in limbo, never to be a real option unless AT&T or some other technology company can resurrect it and make it viable.
— Techly

 

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