Thursday, September 29, 2011

OnStar and the Outer Limits

Every once in a while you run across a story that stimulates a reaction. In this case it was recently reported that OnStar would be selling customer data, nothing unusual about that. What became apparent as I read on here and here was that this data collection would be occurring even if you were not subscribing to the service. In other words, the OnStar unit is always on and always in contact with home.

Again data collection today is pretty much endemic. Everything you do is recorded.  Every time you use your credit you are disclosing where you are and at what time you made the transaction.  But the issue that I intend to review has nothing to do with tracking or privacy but the potential that the companies that you bought the product from can continue to CONTROL that product.

We have already witnessed some occurrence of post-sale control. Witness the Amazon Kindle boondoggle where Amazon, post-sale, ironically removed some Orwell books. Amazon Erases Orwell Books From Kindle.  Then there is the Sony PlayStation, where Sony, post-sale, removed some features. Sony Sued Again For Removing PS3 Linux Feature. Whether these instances are isolated or an indicator of a coming future tidal way of similar actions is currently un-discernible.  But what is clear is that the potential is there.

Headlines from Utopia noted that the US is moving towards "Get ready for pay-as-you-go driving." Where GPS devices and associated black boxes will record your driving. While the article raises the typical privacy concerns, the real concern from the article is that “The device the government wants to install on vehicles does more than record miles,” said Cliff Young of the Privacy Awareness Institute.  “It can also override on-board GPS systems, block cell phone signals, and tap into national databases containing information on individual drivers.  It’s an electronic Trojan horse.Feds to require black box event recorders in all new cars.

As a quick wrap, the TV Show "Outer Limits" had this tag line: "There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission. If we wish to make it louder, we will bring up the volume. If we wish to make it softer, we will tune it to a whisper. We can reduce the focus to a soft blur, or sharpen it to crystal clarity. We will control the horizontal. We will control the vertical. For the next hour, sit quietly and we will control all that you see and hear. You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to... The Outer Limits." Quote from IMDB

Welcome to Orwell's "1984" where Big Brother will be able to control your electronic devices without your knowledge and/or consent even to the point of "bricking" it. So if your OnStar equipped vehicle comes to a slow stop in the desert at the dead of night you might want to reflect on why.  Be nice Big Brother is listening.

Friday, September 23, 2011

A Question That Should be Asked

The media should ask the Republicans candidates for President the following question.

"Taxes and regulations were cut under blame Bush. That gave us the financial crises which resulted in today's economic malaise. So if taxes and regulations would be further cut as you propose; why do you believe that further tax and regulation cutting would solve our economic woes?"

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Our Bread and Circuses Economy

 The Washington Post, unintentionally, helped me make my case that our politicians are running a  Bread and Circuses Economy. In the article "Ever-increasing tax breaks for U.S. families eclipse benefits for special interests" (along with some nice graphics) the Washington Post writes: "Over the past two years, largely because of these popular benefits in the federal income tax code, the government has reached a rare milestone in tax collection — it has given away nearly as much as it takes in. ... All told, federal taxpayers last year received $1.08 trillion in credits, deductions and other perks while paying $1.09 trillion in income taxes, according to government estimates. ... For those reasons, the tax code is a popular venue for both parties to pursue costly policy goals. ... Policymakers can give taxpayers a government benefit and get credit for lowering their tax bills — a combination lawmakers find “irresistible,” Kleinbard said, because they can portray themselves as tax cutters rather than big spenders."

Saturday, September 17, 2011

"The America Invents Act" - Another Non-Solution

Obama just recently signed into law "The America Invents Act", which is another piece of useless legislation that will adversely affect the economy in the long-run. Click here for a brief summary of the "The America Invents Act". My essential concern with this bill is that it is an administrative band-aid; not a fundamental re-thinking concerning what deserves to be eligible for patent protection.  Business plans, software, cloud concepts, and natural products such as genes should not be eligible for receiving patent protection. Eliminate the eligibility for these types of activities to receive patent protection and allow the concept of prior-art to have a a real effect on the decision making process; the workload of the patent office will drop dramatically.

When this type of legislation to protect so-called "intellectual property" is passed into law, it damages the free market system. This type of legislation is essentially designed to protect dying business models that should be allowed to gracefully exit the economy.  Mike Masnick  noted that "Nearly all of the good ideas were excised in the process, and you can tell that's true by the fact that no actual tech company appeared with the President at the signing. Instead, it was chemical and pharma companies -- old school legacy industries that are trying to "protect" old businesses, not innovate with the new."

Lets dig a bit deeper into the Mike's comment that innovative companies weren't at the signing ceremony. By coincidence, the September 26, 2011 issue of Forbes had the following article: "Out Sourced Forever, Why Amazon can't make the Kindle in America" by Stephan Denning. (Unfortunately this article does not yet appear to be available on the Forbes website at this time.)  The significance of Mr. Denning's article is that as we loose our capacity to manufacture high tech product here in the US, that the creators of those products will leave the US to work in the attractive overseas markets. In other words, brain drain.

If innovation is moving overseas, that means that patents will also be moving overseas.  If we continue in the US to pursue a "strong" patent regime it won't take long for the overseas companies to start seeing the monetary benefits of formulating their own "strong" patent system. In the end, we will loose when we have to start paying these companies exorbitant licensing fees. The hand writing is on the wall, neither our politicians nor business leaders seem to be aware that they are pursing a suicidal policy by insisting on "strong" patent protection. Be careful of what you ask for. It may bite you.

As a final jab. The political right taunts the phrase: "“That government is best which governs least.” ( I actually agree with the phrase). Derived from that logic, the political right assets that the government stay out of our personal lives and the economy. The political right then goes on to say that entitlement programs for the poor are "bad", regulations are "bad", and that consumer protection is "bad".  If all these things are "bad" why do we need welfare and protection for private businesses? My take; if a business cannot compete in the free-market without government protection, too bad. It goes out-of-business.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Government Job Creation Is An Oxymoron

The title makes for a good sound byte. The title comes from a CNBC interview with William Dunkelberg,Chief Economist of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB). In that interview Mr. Dunkelberg makes it plain that our economic malaise is a debt problem. In the course of the interview (Unknown person at the 6:53 mark), the statement is made that "... this is not a traditional recession. this is a recession caused by too much debt. Debt went from 120% of GDP in the '50s to 360% of GDP now."

Since the consumer is busy paying down debt, they are not buying. Consequently, the stimulus programs being proposed by Obama will not work because businesses will not hire unless there is a demand for new employees in order to increase production. One could even make the case that the recent bankruptcy of Obama's showcase green energy company, Solyndra is a precursor pointing to the stimulus programs eventually failing.

The interview gets to the point at the 3:40 mark. At the 4:40 mark Steve Liesman asks Mr. Dunkelberg if reducing the marginal cost of hiring will help. The answer was essentially no. Mr.  Dunkelberg says that what he needs is customers and they are not buying.  Mr. Dunkelberg does go on to state that businesses would not be interested in hiring since it would not significantly improve the ability of companies to make a profit. Following Mr. Dunkelberg interview, in an unrelated interview Representative Jeb Hensarling (R,TX) made the complimentary statement that temporary tax relief would only bring temporary jobs.

Stimulus programs that provide amorphous "incentives" and "tax breaks" to businesses will not resolve our economic malaise. Government job creation in this manner is an oxymoron.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Science Fiction Database Screen Shots

Screen shots of the Microsoft Access version of the database.  Though I am adding data, I do not expect to be enhancing the programming. Click on the images to see them better.

Please be sure to checkout the Internet Speculative Fiction Database (ISFDB).  Makes my project somewhat redundant. The ISFDB is a great resource.  Cover art can also be viewed here.

Main Screen

October Issue

Story Listing by an Author
UPDATE (3/18/2012) If you are a regular longtime reader of Analog or another SF magazine and wish to have a copy please email your address. I will have to (snail) mail the database on a CD, assuming that there aren't too many requests. The database is just over 82 Megabytes in size. You will need MS Access and you will need to tell me what version of MS Access you have. Familiarity with Access would also be recommended, since the user interface is sparse with minimal user protection for making dumb mistakes.  If you find errors and missing data - I would be interested in fixing them. Please email me. If you send any corrections or additions, please provide a copy of the table of contents.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Obama - Deficit Reduction?

Tonight Obama gave another eloquent positive dynamic speech on jump starting the economy.  In his speech he referred "THE AMERICAN JOBS ACT" . He urged Congress to pass the jobs act "right away". In his speech he stated that the implementation of this legislation would be "paid for" as part of his long-term deficit reduction plan. Huh???????

Below are two excerpts from the Fact Sheet.
5. Fully Paid for as Part of the President’s Long-Term Deficit Reduction Plan.To ensure that the American Jobs Act is fully paid for, the President will call on the Joint Committee to come up with additional deficit reduction necessary to pay for the Act and still meet its deficit target. The President will, in the coming days, release a detailed plan that will show how we can do that while achieving the additional deficit reduction necessary to meet the President’s broader goal of stabilizing our debt as a share of the economy.
Fully Paid for as Part of the President’s Long-Term Deficit Reduction Plan. 
  • To ensure that the American Jobs Act is fully paid for, the President will call on the Joint Committee to come up with additional deficit reduction necessary to pay for the Act and still meet its deficit target. The President will, in the coming days, release a detailed plan that will show how we can do that while achieving the additional deficit reduction necessary to meet the President’s broader goal of stabilizing our debt as a share of the economy.
Following the increase in the debt ceiling, two graphs were published documenting that the deficits would continue over the long term and that our National Debt would continue to increase. So where is the deficit reduction?

Washington Post graph.

The Economist graph from the Cato Institute

If Obama is truly proposing deficit reduction, it should be possible for the White House to produce graphs refuting the two graphs above. I look forward to seeing them, but I won't hold my breath.