Ramblings & ephemera

Better security = reduced efficiency

From Robert X. Cringely’s “Stream On“: Yet nearly everything we do to combat crime or enhance safety comes at the expense of reduced efficiency. So we build airports to make possible efficient air transportation, then set up metal detectors to slow down the flow of passengers. We build highways to make car travel faster, then […]

Richard Wilbur on the advantages of being a poet

From Helen McCloy Ellison, Ellesa Clay High, & Peter A. Stitt’s interview of Richard Wilbur in “The Art of Poetry No. 22” (The Paris Review: Winter 1977, No. 72): INTERVIEWER Are there what one could call advantages to being a poet? WILBUR Well, one is allowed enormous license in behavior, one is forgiven everything, one […]

Ambient awareness & social media

From Clive Thompson’s “Brave New World of Digital Intimacy” (The New York Times Magazine: 5 September 2008): In essence, Facebook users didn’t think they wanted constant, up-to-the-minute updates on what other people are doing. Yet when they experienced this sort of omnipresent knowledge, they found it intriguing and addictive. Why? Social scientists have a name […]

David Foster Wallace on being a tourist

From David Foster Wallace’s “Consider the Lobster” (Gourmet: ): As I see it, it probably really is good for the soul to be a tourist, even if it’s only once in a while. Not good for the soul in a refreshing or enlivening way, though, but rather in a grim, steely-eyed, let’s-look-honestly-at-the-facts-and-find-some-way-to-deal-with-them way. My personal […]

Should states track cars with GPS?

From Glen Johnson’s “Massachusetts may consider a mileage charge” (AP: 17 February 2009): A tentative plan to overhaul Massachusetts’ transportation system by using GPS chips to charge motorists a quarter-cent for every mile behind the wheel has angered some drivers. … But a “Vehicle Miles Traveled” program like the one the governor may unveil this […]

US government makes unsafe RFID-laden passports even less safe through business practices

From Bill Gertz’s “Outsourced passports netting govt. profits, risking national security” (The Washington Times: 26 March 2008): The United States has outsourced the manufacturing of its electronic passports to overseas companies — including one in Thailand that was victimized by Chinese espionage — raising concerns that cost savings are being put ahead of national security, […]

Problems with airport security

From Jeffrey Goldberg’s “The Things He Carried” (The Atlantic: November 2008): Because the TSA’s security regimen seems to be mainly thing-based—most of its 44,500 airport officers are assigned to truffle through carry-on bags for things like guns, bombs, three-ounce tubes of anthrax, Crest toothpaste, nail clippers, Snapple, and so on—I focused my efforts on bringing […]

2007 Summer Vacation, Day 5: 3 July 2007

Today encompassed both a disappointment and an amazing surprise where we least expected it. It’s all there – with humor, pathos, and pictures – at Tuesday, 3 July 2007.

2007 Summer Vacation, Day 4: 2 July 2007

Today’s big event was our tour of the Battlefield of Little Big Horn. We did other interesting things today as well, but we spent over 5 hours learning about Custer’s Last Stand, and I think you’ll find it fascinating. Find out about Custer and more by reading what we did on Monday, 2 July 2007.

2007 Summer Vacation, Day 3: 1 July 2007

Day 3 of our trip involved huge statues on mountains, lots and lots of bears, an old frontier town, an abandoned gold mine, and a famous cemetery. Sounds like an episode of Scooby Doo! Read all about our adventures on Sunday, 1 July 2007.

2007 Summer Vacation, Day 2: 30 June 2007

Gus and I had a busy busy busy day in South Dakota. From the Badlands to Wounded Knee to the Mammoth Site, and from Crazy Horse to Custer. It’s all there on Saturday, 30 June 2007.

2007 Summer Vacation, Day 1: 29 June 2007

Gus and I are off to visit the Great Plains for a week. This day’s journal is for Friday, 29 June 2007, as we drive from Kansas City to Wall, South Dakota, with selected stops along the way.

Favelas, the slums of Rio De Janeiro

From Alex Bellos’s “Coke. Guns. Booty. Beats.” (Blender: June 2005): In the slums of Rio De Janeiro, drug lords armed with submachine guns have joined forces with djs armed with massive sound systems and rude, raunchy singles. Welcome to the most exciting—and dangerous—underground club scene in the world. … Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, is the […]

A private espionage company for businessmen

From Bo Elkjaer and Kenan Seeberg’s “Echelon’S Architect” (Cryptome: 21 May 2002): After that, [Bruce McIndoe] started to design Echelon II, an enlargement of the original system. Bruce McIndoe left the inner circle of the enormous espionage network in 1998, a network run by the National Security Agency, the world’s most powerful intelligence agency, in […]

What RFID passports really mean

From John Twelve Hawks’s “ How We Live Now” (2005): The passports contain a radio frequency identification chip (RFID) so that all our personal information can be instantly read by a machine at the airport. However, the State Department has refused to encrypt the information embedded in the chip, because it requires more complicated technology […]

It’s easy to track someone using a MetroCard

From Brendan I. Koerner’s “Your Cellphone is a Homing Device” (Legal Affairs: July/August 2003): Law enforcement likewise views privacy laws as an impediment, especially now that it has grown accustomed to accessing location data virtually at will. Take the MetroCard, the only way for New York City commuters to pay their transit fares since the […]

How to travel to the most isolated human settlement on earth

From Adam Goodheart’s “The Last Island of the Savages” (The American Scholar, Autumn 2000, 69(4):13-44): This is how you get to the most isolated human settlement on earth [North Sentinel Island, in the Andaman Islands]: You board an evening flight at JFK for Heathrow, Air India 112, a plane full of elegant sari-clad women, London-bound […]

Failure every 30 years produces better design

From The New York Times‘ “Form Follows Function. Now Go Out and Cut the Grass.“: Failure, [Henry] Petroski shows, works. Or rather, engineers only learn from things that fail: bridges that collapse, software that crashes, spacecraft that explode. Everything that is designed fails, and everything that fails leads to better design. Next time at least […]

Don’t fly where we won’t tell you not to fly

From Bruce Schneier’s “The Silliness of Secrecy“, quoting The Wall Street Journal: Ever since Sept. 11, 2001, the federal government has advised airplane pilots against flying near 100 nuclear power plants around the country or they will be forced down by fighter jets. But pilots say there’s a hitch in the instructions: aviation security officials […]

1,000,000 miles in 30 days

From MSNBC’s “Very, very frequent flyer hits 1 million goal“: On his blog “The Great Canadian Mileage Run 2005,” [Marc] Tacchi reported on Wednesday that he had racked up 1,003,625 mileage points and spent 56 of the last 61 days in an airplane. … The 30-year-old embarked on his venture using Air Canada’s North America […]