June 2008
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Month June 2008

I’ve Seen the Future, and It Has a Kill Switch

Bruce Schneier:

It used to be that just the entertainment industries wanted to control your computers — and televisions and iPods and everything else — to ensure that you didn’t violate any copyright rules. But now everyone else wants to get their hooks into your gear.
OnStar will soon include the ability for the police to shut off your engine remotely. Buses are getting the same capability, in case terrorists want to re-enact the movie Speed. The Pentagon wants a kill switch installed on airplanes, and is worried about potential enemies installing kill switches on their own equipment.
Microsoft is doing some of the most creative thinking along these lines, with something it’s calling “Digital Manners Policies.” According to its patent application, DMP-enabled devices would accept broadcast “orders” limiting capabilities. Cellphones could be remotely set to vibrate mode in restaurants and concert halls, and be turned off on airplanes and in hospitals. Cameras could be prohibited from taking pictures in locker rooms and museums, and recording equipment could be disabled in theaters. Professors finally could prevent students from texting one another during class.
The possibilities are endless, and very dangerous. Making this work involves building a nearly flawless hierarchical system of authority. That’s a difficult security problem even in its simplest form. Distributing that system among a variety of different devices — computers, phones, PDAs, cameras, recorders — with different firmware and manufacturers, is even more difficult. Not to mention delegating different levels of authority to various agencies, enterprises, industries and individuals, and then enforcing the necessary safeguards.

“Catch the Spirit Block Party”

I have no idea what these “mimes” were publicizing at the corner of Oakland Avenue and Monroe on a Sunday evening.

Lake Wingra / UW Arboretum Clearing Storm Photo

Verizon’s fiber guru talks strategy

Marguerite Reardon:

Fios also has helped future-proof Verizon’s network. While its cable competitors buckle under the pressure of peer-to-peer traffic on their networks, Verizon has enough capacity in its network, thanks to its fiber upgrades, to weather the storm unscathed and work on its own timetable to find more efficient ways to handle peer-to-peer traffic.
Mark Wegleitner, Verizon’s senior vice president of technology in charge of broadband and consumer services, has helped develop and drive Verizon’s fiber strategy. I sat down with him at the Nxtcomm trade show in Las Vegas last week to talk about a wide variety of topics, including the controversy over Comcast’s treatment of BitTorrent traffic, faster speeds for Fios, and what the company plans to do next when it reaches its 2010 goal of passing 18 million homes with fiber.

The Madison area is stuck with an aging telco infrastructure. Neither AT&T, nor TDS have any plans to upgrade their networks to the home. Not good…. Verizon FIOS Deployment Map.

Midwest Airlines Employees – Between A Rock And A Hard Place

Benet Wilson:

I had to sigh when I read this article in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel on the draconian pay cuts Midwest Airlines is asking its employees to take in order to survive. Having worked at two airlines during turbulent times, I too faced the decision on what to do when management imposed pay cuts.
In the first case, I took a temporary cut at Mesa Air Group after the horror of 9/11, when airlines didn’t know how long it would take to recover from the week-long shutdown of the air system and travelers deciding to fly again. The second time found me swallowing hard as I took a pay cut at Delta Air Lines after the carrier filed for Ch. 11.
But these cuts were nothing compared to what Midwest is asking of its employees — pay cuts of up to 65% for union pilots and flight attendants to avoid filing for bankruptcy. And this is on top of grounding its MD80s — almost half the fleet — and laying off hundreds of workers.

I suspect the days of Midwest’s extraordinary service are over.

Cisco TelePresence Coming to a Living Room Near You

Jennifer Hagendorf:

co Systems (NSDQ:CSCO) is set to deliver its TelePresence high-definition videoconferencing technology to the home market within the next 12 months, said the company’s top executive this week.
The technology will be available via the channel, including via retailers the likes of Best Buy (NYSE:BBY) and Wal-Mart and service providers such as AT&T (NYSE:T), said Cisco Chairman and CEO John Chambers at the Cisco Live conference in Orlando, Fla.
“It will probably evolve. At first we’ll do it … where we’re very careful on how the channel sells TelePresence and very careful that the rooms are set up right and the cameras are set up right,” Chambers said. “Having said that, I think that you will see a combination of distribution points.”
Chambers expects pricing of Cisco’s home-use TelePresence units to come in below $10,000 depending on what functionality the user wants.

Promising, particularly as the air travel experience continues to deteriorate.

A Look Back at The Bill Gates’ Era; and a few lessons

The Economist:

Mr Gates also realised that making hardware and writing software could be stronger as separate businesses. Even as firms like Apple clung on to both the computer operating system and the hardware—just as mainframe companies had—Microsoft and Intel, which designed the PC’s microprocessors, blew computing’s business model apart. Hardware and software companies innovated in an ecosystem that the Wintel duopoly tightly controlled and—in spite of the bugs and crashes—used to reap vast economies of scale and profits. When mighty IBM unwittingly granted Microsoft the right to sell its PC operating system to other hardware firms, it did not see that it was creating legions of rivals for itself. Mr Gates did.
….
And look at what happened when Mr Gates’s pragmatism failed him. Within Microsoft, they feared Bill for his relentless intellect, his grasp of detail and his brutal intolerance of anyone whom he thought “dumb”. But the legal system doesn’t do fear, and in a filmed deposition, when Microsoft was had up for being anti-competitive, the hectoring, irascible Mr Gates, rocking slightly in his chair, came across as spoilt and arrogant. It was a rare public airing of the sense of brainy entitlement that emboldened Mr Gates to get the world to yield to his will. On those rare occasions when Microsoft’s fortunes depended upon Mr Gates yielding to the world instead, the pragmatic circuit-breaker would kick in. In the antitrust case it did not, and, as this newspaper argued at the time, he was lucky that it did not lead to the break-up of his company.

Chicago White Sox vs the Cubs: Capturing the “Spirit of the Weekend”

Walking around Chicago this weekend, I observed no shortage of White Sox and Cubs paraphernalia (the two teams played one another at Wrigley Field). This couple certainly expressed the spirit of the weekend.

Walter Bagehot Was Wrong

James Grant:

The governor of the Central Bank of Luxembourg raised some eyebrows when he questioned the integrity of the fast-growing balance sheet of the European Central Bank. Yves Mersch, a member of the ECB’s governing council as well as the Ben Bernanke of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, raised the issue at a gathering of the International Capital Market Association in Vienna two weeks ago.
Insofar as a currency derives its strength from the balance sheet of the issuing central bank, the euro is unsound and becoming more so, as Mr. Mersch did not quite say. We, however, will say it for him. In fact, we will say the same for most of the leading monetary brands, that of the United States not excluded. The mortgage mess is the immediate cause of the new debasement. A long-held article of central banking dogma is the remote cause.
Mr. Mersch landed on the front page of the Financial Times by acknowledging that the ECB is accepting a dubious kind of mortgage collateral in exchange for loans to the world’s liquidity-parched financial institutions. In so many words, Mr. Mersch charged that the commercial banks are gaming the central bank, a situation he called of “high concern.” Reading Mr. Mersch, we thought of Thomson Hankey.

Tammy Baldwin’s Office on the Farm Bill

Dear Mr. Zellmer:
Thank you for contacting me about the 2007 Farm Bill (the Farm, Nutrition, and Bioenergy Act, H.R. 2419). It is good to hear from you, and I apologize for the delay in my response.
As you know, the U.S. House of Representatives recently considered the 2007 Farm Bill. The Farm Bill is a comprehensive piece of legislation which touches on a number of agriculture-related issues, including commodity price support programs, nutrition programs, alternative energy, and rural development.
After a considerable amount of deliberation in a conference committee, the House and Senate each passed a conference report that represented the resulting policy compromises. You may be interested to know that I joined my colleagues in the House of Representatives to pass this conference report by a vote of 318 to 106.
While I believe that the U.S. House of Representatives should have taken this opportunity to implement expansive agricultural policy reforms, I supported the conference report because it does contain some noteworthy improvements in the Farm Bill programs. The alternatives to reauthorizing the Farm Bill this year were to extend the previous version of the farm bill or to revert to regulations dating to the 1940s. In my view, neither of these alternatives are desirable or acceptable.
The aspects of the conference report that I strongly support include expanding and updating the Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) program, and investments in nutrition programs that help 38 million American families afford healthy food. For the first time, the MILC program will include the cost of feeding dairy cows as a factor for triggering program payments, a relief for Wisconsin dairy farmers who face increasing costs of inputs. The nutrition title includes an additional $10 billion to expand food stamp eligibility and increase the minimum weekly benefit, as increase funding for many worthy programs such as food banks, food pantries, soup kitchens, and schools providing healthy snacks to students.