Just How Much do We Value Privacy?

It has become clear that the United States government is spying on it’s citizens in the name of preventing “terrorism.” Just exactly what they are doing is under debate. Most experts outside the government itself seem to believe it is mathematically impossible for such surveillance to be effective. Many private citizens are asking what they can do (and here are two places to start).

But I’d like to mention a personal security breach that many people overlook: making private phone calls in public places.

Over the weekend, I did some shopping. Naturally, it was in a crowded public place. Nevertheless I heard several people having extremely sensitive phone calls and being really loud about it. The only way I could have avoided listening was to leave the area. Among the topics of conversation:

  • Legal troubles
  • An upcoming divorce (“Oh he doesn’t know it, but it will be good for him!”)
  • Personal health issues
  • Undergarments (No, I won’t be more specific)

Granted, nobody was discussing a hit, bomb, or robbery, but that is beside the point. These same people probably would be outraged that some cop could get a recording of that call, but all the cop has to do is ask random shoppers what they were talking about! No warrant required. I would gladly tell the officer what the obnoxiously loud lady who damn near ran over me with her cart was talking about.

More irony, these people probably use Amazon to buy their “embarrassing” items, the stuff they don’t want some cashier to know about.

Value your privacy? Step one is to STFU.

In Closing: running; facial recognition; jobs; girls on film.

R.I.S.D: Rest In Shorties Department

I Would Watch That!: I have been given permission to share my son’s brilliant idea for a new TV show: he calls it “Law and Order and Batman.”

Dumbasses: There are plenty of vegan parents out there who manage not to starve their babies to death.

Leia: 20 facts, 20 pictures, one princess.

Startling: The amount of data that cell phone companies might have.

Pope Francis: I could like this Pope.

Coincidence, I’m Sure: The Feds cut off Vegas’s counter-terrorism funds (whatever) the same day a “suspicious package” forced evacuation of Nellis AFB’s hospital and the day after a suspected pipe bomb was left by the side of the freeway.

Sheila Bair Sounds the Alarm: the banks are getting ready to screw the economy again.

On Expanding War: “[Our leaders] should not casually initiate conflict with only limited understanding of complex situations. It’s past time for greater caution in commitments of U.S. military forces, particularly in the Middle East.”

Here Comes the Sun: Sunshine turns out to be good for humans.

Let’s Get Physical: So is exercise.

Imagine: Today and here are the important things.

What?: A man and his bike and his cat.

What Would Bryan Boitano Do?: Bacon restaurant and bacon cocktails (check the slide show).

Extremism and Understanding: Turns out they don’t go together well.

Yuck: Margarine.

About Time: Costa Concordia captain finally facing a trial. Hey, let’s not rush into anything, it’s only been a year and a half.

Dave is Right: Let’s fix the real problems.

German Efficiency: Not always a good thing.

Valjean’s Confession: Right, because preventing desperate people from feeding their families will totally solve the problem of crime. I’ve said this about Megan’s Laws and I’ll say it about this: if we have decided that some people will always be criminals, they should be put in prison for the rest of their lives, but then we need to have a serious discussion about what that means.

Things I learned

 

Last night, I completed my first semester of for credit college classes in a couple decades. Over the next few days, I will be sharing a few of the things that I have learned. Let’s start with generalities:

  • This is the sort of college where “admissions requirements” are pretty much “has a valid credit card.” As a result, there is a great variety of students: the fresh out of high school; the “holy crap my parents were right years ago when they told me I needed more education” crowd; more than a few recently discharged Veterans of varying ages; people embarking on an Xth career; etc.. In some ways, the place is remarkably like a less-funny episode of Community.
  • Some have the drive to succeed, and some just don’t. Some have the desire, but not the skill set. Some have the desire, but life gets in the way.
  • An alarming number of my classmates have woefully inadequate reading skills. That is despite the fact that free reading (and math) placement exams are available, and there are plenty of opportunities to improve one’s skills. Without the ability to quickly read and understand things like textbooks, assignments, and tests, a student is doomed.
  • Not surprisingly, the parking lot was much emptier the last week of class than the first week.
  • The irregular attendance of some of my classmates baffles me. They all paid good money for this class; you would think they would at least try to maximize their chance of passing!
  • Not all counseling departments are created equal. Some are there to get you the help you need — this is partly a matter of self-preservation, since that makes the student more likely to continue to pay tuition. Others are there to point out hoops that need to be jumped, come back when you’re done.

Next, we talk about my classes.

In Closing: book; or, we could admit that something that needs wheels is by definition not a carry on; or, we could enforce existing law; yeah I remember those days; blood pressure; what?; is this going to be what reins in drones?; 97% of scientists agree; and truth… Truthdogg.

I think I have a better idea….

So Clark County School District — the 5th largest school district in the nation — has a “successful” pilot of a program to keep track of students on school busses. Parents can theoretically find out whether their kids got on the bus, and where the bus is. Roughly 700 of the 110,000 students who daily ride the bus got special ID cards and were tracked for 4 whole weeks. Clearly something short of a representative sample. However, “because of financial problems, the district has shelved any large-scale program.”

Good for administrators for realizing that there were concerns about losing passes, and concerns about the costs of the system.

However, here’s the thing. There’s already a great technology in the hands of many middle school students and virtually all high school students that parents can use to keep track of their kids. Better yet, there is absolutely zero cost to the school district for this technology; most parents willingly — nay, eagerly — pay for implementation and all necessary equipment. I personally tested it for 4 years within the Clark County School District Transportation Department, and I feel certain that other parents here and elsewhere have similar experiences. In one case, I was even alerted to a wreck involving the school bus. This of course not only delayed pickup, but changed the pickup location. Use of this amazing technology saved the school district the time and expense of individual notifications to parents in most cases.

It’s called a cell phone.

Stop trying to reinvent the wheel, and stop pretending that a child’s RFID tag is necessarily in the same location as the child.

In closing: good call; inconvenient truth for anti-porn crusaders; Heinlein; I guess none of the researchers ever played the “telephone game”, or they could have saved a lot of research; so some busybody docs and pharmacists think they know more about women’s reproductive health than gynecologists; support a political cartoonist; hackers, crackers, and black swans; Expert Ezra; what could possibly go wrong; income inequality; the Buffett Rule; sure, there’s no such thing as inflation; and Cat Heaven Island. Enjoy an early Caturday.

The iPhone

So here’s my iPhone. It’s ok. It’s way too easy to take a screenshot, unless of course you want to take one.

As you can see, just by looking at the main screen, I can tell what time it is, how much signal I’ve got, battery life, unread emails, even how many items are on my grocery list. If I had missed calls, voicemails, or text messages, they would show up here as well.

Here’s my frustration: It’s always 73 and sunny according to my phone.

Don’t get me wrong, it sounds trivial, and I know this is sort of a tough computer science kind of problem to solve. How often should this update? Should it pull data when I un-sleep it, or should data be pushed to it? Should it use use my GPS features to find and use my current location, or should it use my default location?

Well, I thought it was a hard problem. Until I noticed my partner’s Android phone showed him exactly what the temperature and forecast were every time he unlocked it.

Maybe a new phone in my future. Maybe.

In Closing: hoodie magic; muscle confusion; Depak Desai takes the 5th; Strong government; and the importance of commas.

The First Husband: Not Exactly a Roman Holiday

Today’s BlogHer Book Club selection is The First Husband by Laura Dave. Although I am being compensated for this review, the opinions expressed are my own. Join the discussion over at BlogHer!

One fine day, travel columnist Annie Adams’s live in boyfriend of 5 years arrives home from a business trip and announces that he’s leaving her. Some quack therapist says he needs time on his own — and by the way he wants to see what happens with a high school crush. Oh, and one last thing, he’s taking their dog.

Who wouldn’t be devastated? A couple weeks later, she finally tries to put her life back together. Almost immediately, Annie meets someone new, exciting, totally different. Just a few months later she’s married to her new love and moving cross country to his hometown.

What could possibly go wrong?

The First Husband is a novel about self-discovery. Obviously, lots of things go wrong, from bizarre situations with the in-laws and run-ins with exes to job troubles. But just as obviously, Annie becomes a much better person in the process; one who knows what she wants and knows that she’s already got a lot of it.

So to use a cliche straight out of the book: What’s the best and worst thing about The First Husband? The worst thing is Annie blaming her troubles on watching Roman Holiday. The best thing: a little spoiler for you, she did get her dog back.

In Closing: No, HFCS is not “corn sugar“; a picture says a thousand words about maternity leave; SEC fail; and misuse of authority.

Climbing the Mountain of Paperwork

This week’s Life Well Lived question is:

How do you organize paperwork both online and off? Share your tip(s) to managing physical and digital clutter!

Be sure to visit BlogHer’s main post on the topic and add your comments. While you’re in the area, don’t forget to enter the current Life Well Lived sweepstakes.

I will be honest. Stuff tends to pile up on my desk. Thankfully, my brokerage has a really great digital document storage system to help me keep that stuff organized properly.

File folders are great things. Heck, folders in general are great things. It makes it a lot easier to keep related items together: bills to be paid, receipts, tax documents, Christmas cards, appliance manuals, whatever. When you’re done, it goes into a filing cabinet where it’s easy to find right up until the day you don’t need it any more and can shred it. Pro-tip: label folders with a fine point marker or permanent ink pen and do your best to make it easy to read.

This still leaves a pile on the corner of my desk that I must go through and ruthlessly prune about once a month.

I organize email with folders too. A folder called “Receipts 2012” contains exactly what you think it does. Maybe there’s one called “Smith” that has all my correspondence with a client named Mr. Smith. It also contains scans of his documents and emails back and forth to the title company. And once my transaction with Mr. Smith is done, the whole folder gets archived.

I’d like to say my hard drive is that well organized. Thank goodness OSX does a lot of this stuff automatically: apps end up in the “Applications” folder without too much effort on my part. “Downloads” go into the right folder unless I specifically save it elsewhere — and yes I periodically have to purge that folder.

So that’s my tip. No fancy organizers beyond a vertical file holder on my desk and a filing cabinet in my home office. Cheap and easy to implement.

In Closing: Jon Lovitz 3, anti-Semite teenagers 0; 6000 Japanese vocabulary words; War on Drugs is a failure; drone on; life in space may have come from Earth; security theatre; no kidding; follow up on unlicensed doctors; tornado alley is bigger, climate change deniers blame almost anything but climate change; over 1 in 5 health care dollars spent is because of obesity; and no, it’s not illegal to use a cell phone while driving in Nevada! It’s illegal to use one without a hands free device.

Is the 50 State Foreclosure Fraud Settlement Dead?

It sure looks that way!

The California Attorney General has pulled out of the settlement talks and plans to run her own investigation! I wouldn’t be surprised if the New York Attorney General followed, since he‘s already talked about investigating on his own, and says he’s looking forward to talking with her.

For that matter, since Nevada‘s Attorney General has taken Bank of America to court for (allegedly) not abiding by a 2009 agreement on foreclosures and foreclosure fraud, it would make sense for her to join the party as well.

In Closing: The D Word; I miss the old days too; I guess they were in the building so that makes them accessories?; Occupy Wherever (like, say, Vegas); yes, mostly; about time somebody called out this BS; mechanically challenged; hell no!; and Happy October.

Target Acquired.

The San Francisco Bay Area is home to a whole lot of tech companies. Surely you’ve heard of “Silicon Valley?” Dozens of tech giants from Adobe to Yahoo have their headquarters in or around the Bay, to say nothing of dozens more companies with large offices there.

So then, with thousands if not millions of tech savvy residents, maybe — just maybe — it was short sighted for Bay Area Rapid Transit to attempt to thwart a possible protest by blocking cell phone service. After all, we can’t have people trying to communicate (or call 911) in the event of a possible riot (or First Amendment protected peaceable assembly). Today, Anonymous struck back.

It’s about time we had some peaceful protest that afflicted the comfortable.

In Closing: The law of demand and hiring; handy.

Wouldn’t that be nice?

Taken at Clark High School in Las Vegas.

In Closing: Foreclosure mess (update, Bank of America has halted all foreclosures nationwide); new 300 year old Vivaldi concerto; progressive agenda; we have to be better; I hope the FDIC bankrupts these [redacted]; always check your work; on Afghanistan; 30% of unemployed have been out of work for at least a year, and the number of jobs in the economy went down last month (no wonder bankruptcies are up); good idea; speaking of food stamps; “none of the above“; new style CPR; sometimes it’s how you say it; and cell phones don’t and can’t cause cancer (“physics shows that it is virtually impossible for cell phones to cause cancer”).

Oh and one more thing! Surf over to Vegas Video Network to see my new show later today!