Posts tagged “life”.

Privacy and Security in the Digital Age

I came across an article on Wired.com (no affiliation) today that struck a cord. It’s Time to Drop the ‘Expectation of Privacy’ Test is the title of the article. And after reading and thinking about it for some time I’ve come to a few conclusions.

  1. Government can’t save us from ourselves.
  2. People are stupid.
  3. People with power are dangerous.
  4. Lawyers and Politicians are people and they have power.

OK, I’ll confess, I knew this all along but the discussion of privacy in the Digital Age gave me an excuse to highlight these truisms.

What’s wrong?

In this equation it’s assumed, security + privacy = null. And security and privacy are both defined as perfect — perfectly secure and perfectly private. The assumptions of the arguments always go unstated, but the argument has been spiraling out of control because these variable haven’t been defined properly. What is a reasonable expectation of security? What is a reasonable expectation of privacy?

Security

Let’s first tackle the question “What is a reasonable expectation of security?”. As I stated above, I feel our problem with balancing security and privacy comes from our unreasonable wants, desires, and needs for perfect security. We are blinded by some Utopian dream-world where there is no crime and people do not die from the misdeeds of others. I hate to be the one to harsh your mellow, but that will not come to pass during this evolutionary stage of our species. We will have to be very different, physically and emotionally — so different, I imagine we’ll be a new species by then, another branch of the evolutionary tree — before we see this particular, violence-free, utopian, future.

The question remains. And as I write this I struggle with the answer, can reasonable security be defined by body count? Can we say a reasonable expectation of security be that no more people die in terrorist acts than die on the roadways in car accidents? Or do we look at it by incident? Can we say that our reasonable expectation of security is that no more than one terrorist act take place within the borders of a state per year? Every two year? Every five years?

Now I see the dilemma. As a species we have probably lived in communities for safety for too long. The world is just not safe and no matter what we do, we will never make it a perfect place where one will not be harmed by the actions of another. People die all the time. People die going to the grocery. People die going fishing. The government can not give you eternal life. The government can not make you perfectly safe. It is true that the government can do some things to help insure you’re not mugged, raped or murdered. I’ve seen it happen. A cop on every street corner in the 80’s made NYC streets safer. Streets are public and public implies the lack of privacy.

I personally like the idea of the body count criteria. I also like correlating terror-deaths with traffic-deaths. Sure, the horror of 9/11 was that most of the people who died, died at their desks at work. They thought they should be safe at work. But if you look at traffic fatalities, you can die on the interstate driving to work. You should be safe in your car, right? But traffic deaths we’re not outraged over. Probably because of the lack of intent to do harm. Negligence comes close to producing those feelings of outrage; drunk drivers come to mind for example. But still, 2000 dead on our roadways, no problem. 2000 dead and six months or more of constant media attention and we all collectively scream that we can’t have that now, can we?

Privacy

I agree that there shouldn’t be a test for privacy, it should be defined and guaranteed by our legislature. How would you define privacy though? The most basic communication occurs between just two people. Any personal communication between two people is definitely private communication no matter what circumstances or setting it happens in. If I’m talking to a girl I just met at a bar, our conversation is private. If I’m talking to a friend in the park, our conversation is private. If I’m talking to a stranger at a hot dog stand, our conversation is private. Could the conversation be overheard by a third party, yes. If that third party was a representative of the government, should that information overheard be admissible in court? No. Here I make the distinction between knowing, and officially acting on that knowledge.

But there are so many ways that two people can communicate: speech, sign language, e-mail, SMS text messaging, cell phone, fax, POTS land line phones, IP telephony, etc. Do we define all cases and methods of communication or do we just simply say that the conversation taking place was between two people and cannot be listened in on without a warrant? Warrants can no longer specifically be for ‘wire taps’, or for opening e-mail, or any other specific thing. There needs to be a new warrant in the digital age. One that allows the government agent to listen to a particular person, no matter what the setting, no matter what the method of communication. A digital-age-warrant. An official court document stating that this individual’s right to privacy has been temporarily remanded (a specific and short time frame) for the greater good of the society. I am all for letting law enforcement do it’s job, but I’d also like some checks and balances. Tell me again, who watches the watchmen?

Congress is the answer

Now I see how laws grow to volumes. I haven’t even covered conversations of small groups. Declarations of privacy, e.g. “Don’t tell anyone, but…” “This is just between us…” and the plethora of unthought of situations and circumstances. All of what we do as a species is communicate in one form or another. I don’t write laws for a living, so here I think I’ll leave that up to the people who do. Congress must act to protect our privacy. Congress must act to make our privacy a right. We should guarantee this as an amendment to our constitution. It is such a basic human right that many of us assume it is somehow guaranteed already.

Privacy must be paramount. Liberty must prevail. If you want to be secure, the government can put you in a small room, give you cable TV and Internet service, feed you three square meals a day, and let you exercise in the yard once every third day — it’s called prison.

The government can not ensure your protection. Surprisingly, the entity who has the most control over your safety and well being is you. Do you want to not feel like a sheep or lemming in public? Train yourself in self defense. Are you fearful that an attacker might use a weapon against you? Train with firearms and get a concealed carry permit. Take control of your life. Be the master of your own destiny.

Those who would sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither. -Benjamin Franklin

Video Project, Phase 3

Last year, June 2009 to be more precise, I contracted imemories to digitize some old 8mm film that I had saved from my parents. It was pretty expensive, but I didn’t have a lot to do. I figured I’d break the job up into smaller bits and spread the cost over a few years. I’m glad I got part of it done before my father passed away this summer. I think that motivated me to make sure all of the video I’ve taken over the years was safe.

So back in March of 2010 I started a project to ‘recover’ all my home video. I could have used imemories to do this also, but I had so much video, it wasn’t cost effective to pay someone else to do the conversion work. It would have been tens of thousands of dollars for them to do it. And sure most of the tedious, boring, busy-work would have been farmed out; but, I’d still be stuck doing the hard work of categorizing and editing the video. It just wasn’t a cost effective solution. Plus, I had almost everything I needed. My old Video8 VHS camcorder still worked. I had a way to capture and digitize the analog footage. I just needed to pick up a miniDV camcorder that was in working condition to digitize the close to fifty hours of miniDV footage I had. Thank goodness for Craig’s List! I found a working camera for $80 and after about a month of working, I completed Phase 1 of the project — getting everything onto a hard drive.

Thinking this through, phase 2 might still be uncompleted. Phase 2 consisted of getting everything into an iMovie format ready for archival and editing. I migrated computers and think I may have several dozen hours of Video8 footage in EyeTV format. If that’s the case, I’ll figure it out after Phase 4, which will be the accounting and audit phase to make sure I didn’t miss anything. If I missed anything, Phase 5 will be to do whatever it takes to finish the project. I do mean, “Whatever it takes!”

So, I find myself here, in phase 3 — “Compression and Archival”. Since I started this whole process, I learned that iMovie saves my HDTV footage from my newest camcorders in Apple Intermediary Codec format. This is the native format that iMovie uses for editing. My understanding is that it’s a lossless codec and takes up 50% of the space that DV encoded events do. With this new knowledge, I am in the process of re-encoding all my DV footage to be this newly discovered native apple format. Afterwards, I plan on encoding each event as a .mov and .m4v file, then archive it onto optical medium (DVD +R DL).

I just started this last week. So far, I’m working on my third event. I think I could do an event a day: it takes about four hours to encode both formats and two hours to burn it to disc with verification for each hour long event… some events are two hours long. It takes ten minutes to set it up to start, two minutes to export to the 2nd format after one two hour conversion, then ten more minutes to set up the disc burning. So, about twenty two minutes of real computer work per day of waiting. Taking into consideration the lack of efficiency on my part, and the inevitable hurdles I’ll come across, let’s say I can complete five events a week. At around a hundred and twenty hours of events I’m looking at approximately four months of work for this phase. The product will be a DVD library of cataloged, home, video footage in neat little DVD cases with covers and explanations of what is contained within.

Wow, sounds a bit OCD, doesn’t it? Well, you know what they say… if the skin fits… wash it! They don’t really say that… it was my attempt at OCD-humor. Forget it. OCD stands for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and is sometimes epitomized by the frequent washing of one’s hands — it’s also epitomized by the compulsive need to explain failed humor, inform and enlighten others, and generally drone on for hours, blogging crap no one will ever read. But I digress.

“So what,” you say? So, I started another phase of this monumental task. I do it for me, to keep track of time, but, mostly to show that if you break it up into small enough pieces, no matter how big the task is you can tackle it.

How’s that for a blog entry really about nothing pulling a moral and life lesson out of nowhere! I think what I just did needs a name. If we were playing hockey, it would be comparable to a hat-trick, so let’s call it a head-trick!

A sad summer…

Not that I think anyone reads this, but if there is a person out there that does, or if years from now when I’m suffering from Alzheimer’s I need an overt reminder, last year I had a really bad week. My Dad went into ICU and was eventually diagnosed with MDS, a form of Leukemia. So, from that week in September, till July 4th, my Dad fought his disease. On July 4th, 2010, he succumbed to pneumonia.

I saw my dad just weeks before when I took a few extra days off to visit him on my way to Michigan for the Odyssey of the Mind World Finals. It was only 600 miles out of my way and only an extra day of vacation from work to visit for three days. At work we were (and sadly still are) navigating a huge merger and unfortunately the pressure there on top of everything else prohibited me from spending more time with my father during his last days on Earth. It saddens me, but I take comfort in the simple phrases, “That’s life,” and “You have to do what you have to do.” They were phrases I heard from him often. He missed a lot of my childhood too. Not that I blame him. He was doing what he had to do to keep a family afloat, although, sometimes against his will, but all that is water under a very old, very distant bridge. I was doing what I had to do. I keep telling myself that. And I know that he understood.

I’m the kind of adult to make myself a big bowl of ice cream before dinner and when my kids complain I reply, “It’s good to be an adult!” Now I feel quite the opposite. Being a responsible adult, I was compelled by cynical, rational, dependable, logical thought to do what I had to do instead of doing what I wanted to do. Although, maybe to be fair I cowardly hid behind my responsibilities to avoid mental anguish and heartbreak? It was so difficult being with my father the last two or three times I visited him. Each time it tore a hole in my heart. I can honestly reflect and see that I did take comfort in my responsibilities and felt a little like they were excuses to avoid my obligations to my father. If I were to grade myself, I’d give myself a B+, I did a good job, but I could have done so much better.

And since my last post, I’ve been in a really bad place all summer long… last spring… last winter, and all of last fall. Life is just starting to feel like it’s beginning to return to normal. I know I’m still grieving. I also know that I won’t know when I stop. It’s not like you can put a date and a time stamp on the end of the process.

If someone sees this writing, far in the future when technology allows time travel into the past, please do me a favor, visit Mike Esposito at the Barry Tepp Company in Metuchen, NJ, USA at 11 Lenard Street, (Latitude 40.547102, Longitude -74.372678) some time between 1973 and 1974 and give this message to him, “Your son Andrew has sent a message through time. He loved you with all his heart and missed you terribly. He knew everything you’ve done in your life, all your secrets were revealed, and he forgave you and loved you unconditionally until the end.” That would be nice and shouldn’t mess up the time line any, he came to know that. It would just be nice if he knew it sooner.

Dad at the NJ Aquarium, Aug 2008

Towel Day, May 25th – Did I miss it? Again!

I just stumbled upon a reference to Towel Day this morning on the web and felt a little saddened that I missed being able to salute Douglas Adams in a positively silly way. Then I checked the calendar. Towel day was two days ago, May 25th, not yesterday. I remembered what I was doing that day, it was very easy, I was driving from NJ to MI — six hours through PA on route 80… not even I could forget that. The greatest thing? I had my towel with me that day!

Not only did I just happen to have a towel with me in the car, but I NEEDED it too. I was wearing shorts in the car. After a few hours driving west in the southern sun, my left leg started to hurt from a sunburn I could feel starting. So, I opened my center console of my car and pulled out a towel! I wrapped it around my leg, in pure, unprompted Hitchhiker fashion, and drove on.

Not only did I have that towel handy, but I had two other towels that were just laying around, handy if they were needed, because it is what all travelers, hitchhikers and road-tripers alike, need.

I feel so much better that even though I may have consciously missed celebrating Towel Day, I happened to have lived it that particular day and, as every Galaxy Hitchhiker knows, I’m going to keep my towel close by at all times.

Southern Snow Shoveling

Special Thanks to my brother Donald for the Snow Shovel. 😉