Category Archives: security theater

The Drone Problem: Restriction Can’t Make Technology Less Scary

Drones.  It's a huge topic, but this article by the ACLU does a great job with its major points and substantive links-for-more-info.  (That's also a real, researched article; and this is a blog post; so compare accordingly.)

My own take on drones — which are little remote-controlled (or even self-controlled, to various degrees) flying machines that surveil and otherwise interact with people by proxy for their owners — isn't one I come across in my reading all that often, so I wanted to get it written down.  I actually developed this opinion as a result of researching and planning one of the novels I've tried to write*.

We live in a technological world.  In a technological world, one value matters above all:  Who has that technology?

There's often an argument made that technology should be restricted, and it's often phrased as though putting a "NO" label on some technology will stop it from happening.  In fact, all it does is limit who will have it.  People are like crows — they spread knowledge once they have it, and all disallowing it does is limit its use to the people who are willing to do disallowed things

And while criminals are scary, they also usually don't have the kind of resources that the other major group of people who are willing to do disallowed things does — that group of people being, of course, the ones with authority, who share with criminals the perception that they won't be punished for violating the rules.  Technology takes resources, and what drug-dealers, sex offenders, or burglars could do with permission to use drones pales, I think, in comparison to the havoc a government or a police-force could wreak with the same ability.  

The thing is, if you restrict drone technology (as a whole, I mean; not just "making it illegal for anybody to put a laser-gun on one" type of restriction), you:

  • make it impossible for law-abiding citizens and citizen groups to use it.  
  • You may make it more difficult for criminals to use it.  
  • You will make it at best only marginally more difficult for governments and police to use it — especially since technology is global, but restrictions are not; even perfect compliance with US law by US government and police agencies (which, come on, hahahaha) — still doesn't protect US citizens from Russian, North Korean, Saudi, or other drones.  

The law-abiding citizens, the ones who need and deserve protection from the misuse of technologies — and drones are definitely a technology that can easily be horribly misused — are not only not well-served by restrictions; arguably they're the ones most hindered by them.

So who and what can protect law-abiding US citizens from rampant surveillance by, and even attack from, drones, whether piloted by our own police, homegrown (or corporate!) mafia, our own increasingly overzealous government, or agencies aligned with unfriendly countries and foreign criminals?  

The answer is pretty clear, isn't it?  Other law-abiding citizens.  Specifically, ones who understand the technology, and can create it, improve it, and keep it and ways to circumvent it safely IN the hands of the people who a) are least likely to hurt others with it and b) need it to protect themselves from abuses by it.

Who can invent, create, spread and use the technology to protect innocent people from unlawful surveillance and attack?

Who can ensure that the information captured by surveillance technology is fair and honest, and that its capture wasn't in violation of civil rights laws?

Who can make sure that the people with money and power and willingness to break the rules are held accountable for their actions, by making sure they're just as surveilled as everyone else?

Yeah.  PEOPLE can.  Makers can.  Students can.  Garage-DIYers and kids and hobbyists and private engineers can.  Those are the people who can and will put drone technology to use to protect the innocent, to enforce the constitution, to catch the criminals — both the low and highbrow kind — and to defend themselves and their neighbors from the many threats that drones can pose if they're controlled exclusively by the wrong kind of people.  

(The argument will be made:  But it's the authority-figures' jobs to protect innocent people.  Citizens should just never think about it, and leave it in the hands of their cops and their lawmakers and all will be well.  And while I personally find it hard to justify that response with a straight-faced answer, I will give this one anyway:  The argument so often made to citizens is that if we have nothing to hide, then we won't object to being surveilled.  That argument goes both ways and then some, since the cops and the lawmakers are being paid by the people to work for the people — what should they ever have, or be allowed, to hide?  Their rights to privacy are not only the same as everyone else's, but less, since the rest of us aren't working publicly-accountable jobs.  And ditto for anything else that they're allowed to use drones to do to the citizenry; I fail to see why the citizenry shouldn't be allowed to do the same things right back.)

Police-states.  War and invasion.  Criminal overlords.  Corruption and fear.  Corporations have no interest in preventing such things — there's no money in it, plain and simple — and governments only care insofar as it's not their own power being usurped.  (Neither of those are judgments; they're just facts about how corporations and governments work.)  But people care.  People care about their neighborhoods, about their bosses, about the police who pull them over and the adults minding their kids and the gangs on their streets and the judges running their courts.  People are the ones who will use those drones to watch the people who need watching, especially as those people gain ever more power to watch the people, and to remote-control their interactions via little helicopters.

The little helicopters are coming — no, they're here — and trying to outlaw them or stop them is just stupid; it's a reaction based on fear and all it will accomplish is to make the reality of things much worse.  What needs to happen, and quickly, is to protect the right of the people to build, keep, and use those copters, because it's from law-abiding citizens that all the good uses for them will come.  

And there are such good uses!  Even beyond watching the watchers and protecting the innocent from abuse by authorities and criminals.  I think that, like the telephone, which in the early days was thought to be a useless or frivolous-at-best invention, the really cool uses for the drones have barely begun to percolate through the makerspaces, and could change the whole world vastly for the better when the technology gets more momentum.

Think of a world where only authority-figures and criminals could use telephones.  (Actually, that'd be a cool sci-fi dystopia, hmm.)  Think of how much power they'd have that ordinary law-abiding citizens were prevented from using…think about if gangs could call their dealers, and corrupt politicians could call their lobbyists, and terrorists could call their bosses, but it was illegal for you to call your neighbors for help or call the media to give them a tip.  That's the level of power differential we risk if the fear-based gut-reaction to the little helicopters is allowed to take over, and regulations and restrictions come into play that prevent engineers and makers and schoolkids from using and making drones.  And this may seem like a premature warning to some people, but on that you'll just have to trust me — it isn't.  The technology is in the wild-and-wooly state now, where the materials are cheap enough that most people can use them, and the people with a lot of resources are just starting to use the bloody hell out of them, and for more and more extreme things.  Restrictions on what governments can do, in warfare, in surveillance operations, etc. are definitely coming; and the danger — the biggest danger, if you ask me — is that the next step will be to restrict the citizenry from having and using the technology, using fear-based arguments about nameless "bad guys" who might do bad things.

I'm not saying there shouldn't be rules (and if you're such a simplistic thinker that you figured I was, um, why are you even reading this?).  There are rules for using telephones, and obviously-bad things that nobody is allowed to do with them; and that makes sense.  It's access to the technology that needs to be protected from restrictions.

Remember, then, that what enables unfairly bad technology is unfairly huge resources:  And in that arena, it's the big corporations and the governments that we'd better worry about.  As long as the rest of the field is open, the criminal element won't have any real advantage over the law-abiding citizens (and will, in fact, have several important disadvantages, which are apparent enough with a little thought that I won't go into them here).  And remember that criminality is, among those with the usual amount of resources, not the norm:  Other things get done with technology at a far higher rate than criminal things, even if the media is terrible at accurately portraying that ratio.  

If regular, awesome people can build and use their little helicopters, both to protect themselves and their rights, and for all the cool shit regular awesome people typically think of, then I think drones could be the beginning of a seriously awesome revolution.


*I'm always trying to write novels, and sometimes finishing them and throwing them out — my dream is to one day write one of them to my satisfaction!  I have three stories that really need to happen eventually, and one of them concerns the drone/privacy revolution and the fight over who gets access to that technology, and what they use it for.

Class warfare > Class massacre

Those complaining about the Occupy protests being Class Warfare are right.  Finally, it's turning to a war, with both sides aware that they're fighting it.

Thus far, it's been Class Genocide, with one side pooling their immense resources to safely corral and eradicate the 99% from afar.  By controlling the media, they've managed to keep the people they're attacking — depriving of food, shelter, education and rights — from ever realizing or acknowledging that they're under attack.  Like "safari hunters" who shoot caged lions, with enough money the 1% can make it cheap and easy to pick off their opponents like fish in a barrel.  It's been war-without-ever-leaving-your-mansion, winning without risking so much as a profit-margin. 

Until now.  Now the jig is up, and though they've been under attack for at least a decade already, the 99% are grabbing some weapons and getting ready to make this a real, honest fight.

Of course those who've been winning effortlessly for so long don't like it when their prey starts fighting back, turning the easy massacre into a real battle in which, oh yeah, they're massively outnumbered.  Now they might lose something; now, if they want their protected status and special privileges, they may actually have to pay for them.  It's not nearly as profitable to mug a person to their face as it is to sneak into their house while they're out working two jobs and swipe everything, is it?  When someone is facing you and the deal is open on the table, they might fight back, and they might even win. 

Cowards don't like warfare.  They prefer psyops.  They like missions that involve keeping people too scared and hungry to fight back, and "battles" where you can shoot everyone while they sleep.  But the cowards are in for it, if the 99% have woken up.

I'm not a fan of battles in general.  But Class Warfare beats the heck out of Class Massacre.

Oh yay, I don’t really have to say it after all

Awesome author and thinker Cat Valente takes care of writing The Osama Is Dead Post for me.

The long-and-short-of-it:

Well, I don't know. Seems like one more corpse on the pile to me. Sorry, but this war, this decade of war has made me cynical. It's made me not believe in just government on any level, and made me wary and gunshy of my fellow citizens' glee. If we're dancing in the streets either the Lakers won or someone's dead. I was told immediately after posting that it felt like a Pyrrhic victory to me, and tasted like ash, that I was in the minority and that for ALL servicemen and their families, ALL 9/11 and rescue workers families this is joy and closure and relief.

(The rest of her post is totally worth reading too.  As are all the other ones.) 

Well, I'm in that minority too.  Yaaay, after killing thousands upon thousands of innocent civilians, torturing others on both sides, and shooting our civil rights in the face at sunrise, we've finally killed the one guy we were most publicly mad at.  Gee, good for us.  I'm also completely in agreement with my netfriend en_ki:

I would like to hear that we are a strong, free country again; that the nation of cowards who, in the face of this man and a tiny gang of thugs like him, threw out the rule of law and begged our secret police to save us, to snoop and grope and torture and murder with impunity, was some other people in some other time.

Politically, unless this deflates the crazy power-bubble our own government has used the war to build against its own people, I can't really see it doing much good…the people we're fighting in the Middle East haven't been followers of bin Laden for a long time; mostly they're just people who want us to put our guns away and go the eff home.  They'll probably calm down when we do so, and not really before.  (And would you, if there were tanks in your streets?)  I guess the American democrats might gain some bragging-rights, but considering who with and how awful they generally are at controlling messages, I bet that's a wash at the end of the day too.

…Also, just as a philosophical point, can I say that throwing parties because you killed someone is really creepy?

The End.  ;)

When the Law is on Your Side

U.S. Federal Statue

Title 18, U.S.C., Section 242
Deprivation of Rights Under Color of Law

This statute makes it a crime for any person acting under color of law, statute, ordinance, regulation, or custom to willfully deprive or cause to be deprived from any person those rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution and laws of the U.S.

This law further prohibits a person acting under color of law, statute, ordinance, regulation or custom to willfully subject or cause to be subjected any person to different punishments, pains, or penalties, than those prescribed for punishment of citizens on account of such person being an alien or by reason of his/her color or race.

Acts under "color of any law" include acts not only done by federal, state, or local officials within the bounds or limits of their lawful authority, but also acts done without and beyond the bounds of their lawful authority; provided that, in order for unlawful acts of any official to be done under "color of any law," the unlawful acts must be done while such official is purporting or pretending to act in the performance of his/her official duties. This definition includes, in addition to law enforcement officials, individuals such as Mayors, Council persons, Judges, Nursing Home Proprietors, Security Guards, etc., persons who are bound by laws, statutes ordinances, or customs.

Punishment varies from a fine or imprisonment of up to one year, or both, and if bodily injury results or if such acts include the use, attempted use, or threatened use of a dangerous weapon, explosives, or fire shall be fined or imprisoned up to ten years or both, and if death results, or if such acts include kidnapping or an attempt to kidnap, aggravated sexual abuse or an attempt to commit aggravated sexual abuse, or an attempt to kill, shall be fined under this title, or imprisoned for any term of years or for life, or both, or may be sentenced to death.


…Furthermore, not part of the statute, but FYI most police officers sued for violation of Federal law can't be defended (have their legal defense paid for by) the tax payer (i.e. their department). 

Hey, they have no problem using the rules against you.  In light of some of the crap going on lately, it's important to know how to use them in your own favor.

(Can anybody tell I'm writing a story with an anarchist character in it?  ;)

Fantastic Info: Radiation

Don't miss the awesomely informative graphic at Fun takeaways include:

  • Living within 50 miles of a coal-power plant for a year doses you with almost three times as much radiation as living within 50 miles of a nuclear-power plant for a year;
  • A single mammogram gives 24 times the average total dose someone living within 10 miles of Three Mile Island received;
  • Cell phones emit no ionizing radiation (I knew this, but it's great to see it included); and
  • The worst known one-day dose from the Fukushima region in Japan is about 3.6% of the lowest one-year dose clearly linked to an increase of cancer risk.

So…Panic minus facts equals stupid, but facts plus colors equals pure awesome. I get it now! ;)

Arisia 2011, said the totally bland headline

(Yes, sometimes I am allergic to bland titles for things.  Shup.)

So, I've never been to a big bustling con before.  I've been to Construct, which is a small (comparatively) relaxacon in SE MI, and run by by my friends and acquaintances — once.  It was fun, but definitely in the "big party with activities" sort of way.  This was more event-like for sure, and huuuge.

The hotel it was in (in downtown Boston) is beautiful, but they can kiss my ass for the $13/day Internet access.  (Hence the no updates yesterday.)  However, the spiffy shuttle back to South Station for free was a nice addition…even better, the shuttle driver, Andre, is a peace activist with some great ideas, so the ride back was both educational and uplifting.  (Andre's website is awesome!)

I went to several panels…"Leadership in SF/F" was pretty good; the rest were pretty much shit, but I still learned a lot…like, good LORD do people not know how to run a discussion!  I hadn't realized that I knew so much about it, from my limited academic and business experience, but the things I think of as basic — like, have a moderator who has prepared beforehand; have a topics and some subtopic in mind; have panelists who know at least something about the topic; have a clearly defined question-and-answer period — these are apparently a stone cold secret to at least half of the SF/F con world.  The panel on "Time Management for Creative People" was especially awful; not only did the presenters have bare credentials, no preparation and no organization, but they spent half the panel throwing doofy wishful thinking bullshit at people, probably leaving some of them feeling like they were at fault for their struggle to find time and energy for their creative endeavors (due to their horrible habits of working to feed their kids).  I didn't walk out of that one, but after it I was drained enough that I walked out of "What do Women Want (in SF/F characters)", when it turned out to be a horrid all-girl exploration of questions like "does Liv Tyler count as a fat chick" and "can people really fight crime in five-inch heels".  That one, like "Linguistics" — ha! — "and SF/F", had exactly one panel-member who knew anything about the topic actually, and that one spoke up once, got steamrolled by someone saying something insipid that the mods then went along with, and just gave up.  I'm sure there were plenty of good panels I didn't see, but still…I'm seriously *this close* to running a panel next year, just to show people that they can actually be used to convey and uncover interesting and useful information, rather than as vehicles for the uncontrolled wank of a few people who like to hear themselves talk.

Oh yes, I'll definitely go next year, one way or the other.  The art was neat (although fuck the art show for their check-your-bags-or-let-us-search-them policy — your fear of theft is not a valid reason to trample my fourth-amendment rights, and if you think I was loud about it this time, just wait), the artists and dealers were awesome (yay for giving them money directly for work I like), the peoplewatching was great (I may even find a — very nonsexualized — costume for myself next year — it's like grownup halloween!) and I'm sure there was plenty more to it than I actually got to find time for this year.  The con overall was very well-run and well-staffed, and it never felt like there was a shortage of help or supplies, nor any major confusions or kerfuffles that I witnessed.  And though my fears of dealing with massive amounts of people were not unwarranted, having a room in the same hotel turned out to be a brilliant way of dealing with that…I could escape for a few anytime I wanted, and I did, and I only got uncomfortable a few times, and not badly.  So yes, if you're an introvert, go to the con — just get a room.  *yay*

Anyway, I'm wiped out and behind on email and writing, so Imma catch you all later…I know I owe some vlogs and stuff; I haven't forgotten!  ;)


DON’T PANIC — but DO pay attention

Preamble:  I maintain, personally and professionally, that there is no good logical reason to ever be pessimistic. (Pessimism is different from considering all the options; it’s specifically expecting the negative or unpleasant ones.)  Optimism is free and has its own benefits.  Conversely,  pessimism is unpleasant and can be costly.  There’s just no compelling reason, no gains that can’t be had another way, which ought to compel one to ever choose to live with the stress and ick of pessimism.

That said, all the options, all the truths, ought to be in our awareness if we’re going to make good long-term decisions.  And this Bruce Sterling article points out, concisely enough to cut, some things that people are, in the main, doing a rather astounding job of ignoring.

(Warning:  Article will panic you a bit.  Be prepared to follow with meditation or cartoons.  ;)

Panic, or icky news anyway, can be used for good:  For instance, this article made me remember that I’ve been “meaning to” spend a good chunk of money on disaster-preparedness items for my family for quite a few years; but when times are good it’s hard to think about, and when they’re not it’s hard to spend.  So thanks to Mr. B.S. (heh), I’ve officially pledged to spend some of my “economic stimulus” money on water purification, grain storage, first aid and the like.  It’ll make me feel better, give money to some struggling companies (which after all is the idea, I believe — and I fully intend to make sure I buy from only places I’m happy to support), and give an edge to my family and neighbors in a possible time of crisis.

So maybe that’s the platitude:  What’s the best you can do with bad news?

Are Brains Supposed To Squish Like That?



(Image of the evil ScanTron courtesy of some forum and Google Search.  ;)

So, the GRE sucked, pretty much exactly as I’d expected….I hate tests.  For any information or theory or skill that I’m supposed to have learned, I will do half as well on a multiple-choice test about it than I will on an oral exam, and 1/4 as well as I’d do writing a paper on it.  I was nearly despairing Saturday though; after two solid weeks of studying for the math part I still ended up flat-out guessing on most of the questions…I’m not terrible at things like algebra, but not great + horrible with tests = massive fail, for the most part.   And of course my verbal score was good, but only high-end average, because, well, it’s a $@!ing test.  My math score was inexplicably not a total fail, not what I’d hoped for but still…the experience of doing all that studying and then not even knowing how to begin answering most of the questions really had me in the dumps.  Every once in a while I try really hard to make up for the crappy math education I had in high school, and my natural non-affinity for raw symbol-manipulation, and it’s really, really depressing when all that effort basically does nothing.  I’m not a believer in the dismal dogma that says that some people just can’t learn some things…but some days it really does feel like math, algebra especially, is just hopeless for me.

Of course, I did well on the essays — one 45 min. argumentative, one 30 min. analytic, and I know I knocked them both out of the water.  I think I could argue pretty well that the ability to organize one’s thoughts and write them coherently is at least as important to graduate work than the memorization of rote facts and the ability to give the answer expected of you**, but guess how much those essays, which comprised almost half the test in terms of time, count for on your score?

Yup, NOTHING.  Not at all.  They’re graded later and the information is considered "supplemental" to your "actual" score.  Which really makes me wonder why the philosophy – you know, almost 100% writing-oriented — graduate program even requires the dumb test?  Meh.  Probably they’re just expected to.  Dammit though, their "expectation" cost me over a hundred bucks and ruined a Saturday!

Anyway, I didn’t do so badly that it hurts my chances to get in, probably, so I’m going to just try to forget about it, be grateful that I don’t have to study any more math (well, except for what I was studying so I could better understand that awesome MIT physics course I found), and move on to worrying about all the other stuff I have to prepare for grad school in, you know, about a month.


**This is the crux of why I don’t do well on tests, in case you were wondering.  Most tests, especially multiple-choice-oriented ones, are much more about your ability to pick the answer most people would pick, not your ability to distinguish a "right" from a "wrong" answer.  I just can’t turn off the parts of my brain that, ironically, make me good at philosophy; and those parts can often find justification for most or all of the answers offered…often the specific thing they’re looking for depends on context which is assumed but not given, or on other assumptions I either don’t make or don’t want to count on since they’re not explicitly given.  So out of A, B, C, & D, both you and I may know the relevant fact that points to D as the answer, but while you may just pick D, I’m going to struggle over the possible situations in which C and B could both be true, or the sense in which A is more correct if you’re referring to a certain macro- or microcosm of the problem….and often the answer I end up deciding is "best" is not at all the one I was "supposed" to pick.  


P.S. – I’m also tagging this post "security theatre" because, even though I didn’t describe it much (for all I know the contract I signed says that if I talk about it I’ll be hunted down and decapitated), there was truly ridiculous security/theatre at the GRE place.  I ended up smuggling my lucky rock in in my sock, because lucky rocks might help you cheat you know; but with a semi-competent fake I.D. it wouldn’t have mattered anyway.  *sigh*

WOW WOW chicka WOW WOW chicka chicka chicka

Okay, this made me so happy, I was clapping at my desk, and screw what anybody here thinks.

Four stars for musicianship and mega-protest-eriffic awesomeness:

Rage Against the Machine grabs a megaphone and performs a capella after cops shut down the PAs at their (legal, scheduled) anti-RNC concert. That’s just beautiful. I’m totally buying their new album no matter what’s on it. It could be 100% Elmo covers and I’d still buy it, maybe twice. I don’t think I’ve ever been so proud of a band. *yayz*

Original post @ BoingBoing

(Also, can’t help but notice that their security guy is not fscking around. Good job, security guy!)

Security Theater at the Doctor’s Office

I don’t know about you, but “Security Theater” is about my least favorite thing in the world. Security Theater, if you aren’t familiar with the term coined by the awesomer-than-awesome Bruce Schneier, is basically what it sounds like: A “show” of security that has no, and often a negative, effect on actual security. Preventing people from bringing bottled water (and half of everything else on the list) on airplanes is Security Theater.

So is the way a lot of privacy “regulations” are implemented. Now, I’m all in favor of information privacy — totally. But most of the time, as with many things, we don’t actually get privacy. Instead, we get this kind of useless pain in the arse:

Que me, calling the doctor’s office to get my daughter’s immunization records faxed to me. Now, I don’t know these people very well–we’re lucky enough to not spend much time there–so I’m prepared to be quizzed on who I am and why they should release my daughter’s records to me. And that would be fine. But immediately after introducing myself and asking for the records, this is what I got instead:

THEM: “And where should we fax the record?”
ME: “Oh, fax it to my work please. The number is –”
T: “Sorry, ma’am, we can’t fax to workplaces. It has to be a secured fax.”
M: “Well, this one is sitting right outside my door, and nobody else uses it. It’s fine.”
T: “Sorry, no work faxes. HIPAA regulations, you know. You can come pick it up–”
M: “Yeah, right, at four bucks a gallon. Look, can you just put down that you have my permission to–”
T: “No work faxes!”
M: “FINE. There’s a fax machine sitting on my desk at home; use that one.” [gives work fax number anyway]
T: “Thank you. We’ll send it right away.”

Note that nowhere in there did they try to confirm my identity in any way. The receptionist didn’t even ask me to repeat or spell my name. But, um, at least they made me say that the fax machine was at home!

Mmm, feel that security.