Archive for June, 2005

Privacy: Notes from the EPIC Real ID conference

Friday, June 17th, 2005

Last week, EPIC hosted a conference on the recently signed REAL ID Act, which effectively mandates a National ID card. This should make any minimalist nervous, since it will almost certainly mean more databasing of our lives, worse identity theft (since one ID will be linked to everything), and abuse through expanding scope. Yes, in theory a National ID card has advantages – potentially less paperwork (after you get the card), less to carry, possibly less of certain types of fraud, etc. However, the cost of implementing the ID will be enormous, it will not solve the problems many supporters think it will, it will have large unintended consequences, and it will be hacked and abused. Bruce Schneier gave the most compelling presentation of the day, outlining all the complex ways that the entire system will fail.

The sole voice of support for Real ID was Dennis Bailey, a sheep in the lion’s den despite the kind words to the contrary on his blog. Although the panelists were quite civil, every time he made a point the woman next to me smirked and made a snarky comment. It was good he was there, but I always feel bad for the sole dissenting voice at these events – perhaps they ought to get at least two from the opposition so the abuse is shared opposing faction has fairer representation.

When I signed up for this event, I was pretty excited. (more…)

The savings glut? Huh?

Friday, June 17th, 2005

Slate’s Savings Glut: The self-serving explanation for America’s bad habits discusses the theory that our economic problems are the fault of foreigners salting away too much cash for the future. The core thesis is that the US is virtuously propping up the global economy by spending like banshees, while too much saving in Asia is causing too little spending:

By running large budget and current account deficits, then, the U.S. acts like a sponge, soaking up the world’s excess savings and providing it with a decent return.

Maybe I’m old fashioned, but I’ve always thought that saving is a virtue. Save up, then buy. Makes things much simpler. Credit has its place for true investments like education, but seems to be used much more often to keep up with the Joneses.

The savings-glut meme changes the terms of the conversation about global imbalances. It’s not our fault that we rely on foreigners to fund our desire to spend in excess of our resources. Au contraire. Our extreme consumption and failure to save become something of a virtue. Somebody has to keep the world’s factories humming and absorb all the products made in Japan, China, and elsewhere. And until the rest of the world becomes More Like Us in its consuming habits, the imbalances are likely to persist.

I’m not so sure that the whole world should be just like us in terms of consumption. We certainly don’t seem much happier for it.

Kodak phasing out B&W photo paper. For good.

Thursday, June 16th, 2005

Onward goes the digital march, and we’re not too sad. We always used Ilford photo paper anyway. Gizmodo sums it up most humorously, while PDN gives the straight scoop. Yes, B&W film and paper does have a unique feel, but so does seeing your film get zapped by the X-Ray machine at every dang airport. We won’t miss that airport feeling. If you select your digital gear carefully, you’ll have to carry far less stuff and have way less hassle while traveling. Long live digicams.

Portable urban meditation chamber

Thursday, June 16th, 2005

Or something like that. Cool Hunting posted this “City Hideout” by OOOMS the other day. I don’t think I’d try using this in downtown DC, but what a hoot – if you managed to set it up without anyone noticing, you really would be completely ignored even on a super-busy street. Of course, watch out for people shoving litter in the vents. Ick.

Privacy battles, slurping electricity, digital photography, more

Thursday, June 16th, 2005

More battles over Secure Flight and the Patriot Act, specifically provisions about library and bookstore records. Sounds like congress is getting testy. Amtrak is still in trouble though. TVs are consuming more power than ever before as they grow larger. Windows XP plug-in lets you view Canon and Nikon RAW digital camera formats. That’s good since Nikon SLRs are getting smaller, lighter, and less expensive with the release of the Nikon D50. Full text of Steve Jobs’ Stanford graduation speech. Walking is healthy and efficient, but don’t trust awards for places that claim to be pedestrian friendly.

Distributed computing – spare CPU cycles are not free

Wednesday, June 15th, 2005

Wired writes about “How Gamers Can Help Cure Cancer,” discussing distributed computing. The basic idea has been around for a long time, from distributed.net to Seti@Home and many others. I used to run these things, but I’m no longer convinced they give good bang for the buck. Today, many processors, especially those in laptops, can throttle back to use significantly less energy when the processor is idle. On my laptop, this means the fan isn’t running, the system is cooler, and it uses less energy. It is hot in DC right now, so any excess heat has to be removed by our air conditioning, making it even more expensive to run. Say it costs $10/month to run your PC, including air conditioning, wear and tear, etc. Would it be better to donate $120/yr to your favorite cause? I’m thinking yes.

Morning roundup: saying “no,” gold staples, faster fast food

Wednesday, June 15th, 2005

There’s no better way to minimize the amount of stuff on your plate than saying “no” to the stuff that doesn’t make sense. LifeHacker points us to To-Done’s tips for saying no. Cool Hunting shows us gold-plated staples as a fashion statement. I suppose it looks very minimalist from a design perspective when used as an accent on a shirt collar, but the concept of golden staples leaves a funny buzz of ostentation in my head. I’m holding out for the gold-plated binder clip myself. Can’t get your greasy burgers fast enough? Contactless payments with your credit card will save you a few seconds. They are trying to replace cash – one less thing to carry, but I hope it is secure.

“Disposable” video camera – good or bad?

Tuesday, June 14th, 2005

I’m torn on the CVS One Time Use Digital Camcorder reviewed by Rainy Day Magazine. I’m opposed to pretty much anything disposable, but I also hate carrying expensive stuff around when travelling – then you have to worry about setting it down at a cafe, leaving it in the room, getting it too near the ocean, etc. Gizmodo hits it on the head – maybe good for vacations when you forget your camera or at weddings for guests to fool around with. If you’re handy, BoingBoing has a listing of the pinouts so you can figure out how to download from it and use it repeatedly. What do you think? Good for a carefree minimalist, or evil consumer trash?

Morning roundup

Tuesday, June 14th, 2005

Slashdot has a pointer to a “cheap, environmentally friendly” DIY air conditioner that isn’t friendly at all since you have to fill it with ice water, which is probably coming from your electricity slurping freezer. Wired points us to Newsweek’s article on the best tech tools for business travelers. Are you a prosumer? Always check your bank statements within a month or so, or you could be out big bucks. The Washington Post tells us “Fat Found to Accelerate Aging Process,” so switch to bite-size muffins. Maybe MSN will create a music subscription service that fixes the problems with Yahoo!’s current system. If you need to monitor your blood glucose, this wristwatch monitor seems like a huge win from carrying a kit around and remembering to stick your finger. Steve Jobs exhorts Stanford grads to live each day to the fullest according to Wired Magazine, but Lifehacker points us to this SF Chronicle article which tell us:

By routinely switching on our iPods and dialing up our favorite tunes, we’re cocooning ourselves in the old and familiar. Whether we’re conscious of it or not, we’re erecting a defensive barrier against the new and alien, and retreating into our own personal worlds.

Maybe we should retreat from digital photography to tintypes, like photographer John Coffer…and give up electricity, plumbing, phone and the internet along the way.

Driving food home is the big impact…

Monday, June 13th, 2005

New Scientist recently ran Driving food home can cost the Earth, which is in the same vein as the previous post. As much as we agonize over minimizing environmental impact by choosing the right foods with minimal packaging, our other choices have a vastly greater impact. Forest for the trees and all that.