I have read and agree to the terms of service

NSA Seal

As revelations continue about the US Government capturing and monitoring online activities and communications, I'm glad (and, ok, only a little bit smug) to see that more conversations are happening about just what privacy expectations we should give up by using modern Internet tools and services.

Most of the mainstream conversation has been focused on what information "big data" companies like Google, Twitter, Facebook and Apple do or don't hand over to the government and under what circumstances, and debating where those lines should be.

The built-in assumption here is that it's inevitable that these are the companies that will continue to have access to our private information and communications. I grant that it's a pretty safe assumption - I don't foresee a mass exodus from Facebook or a global boycott on iPhones - but I do think it's important to note that this is a choice we are making as users and consumers of these services.  We are the ones who click through the "terms of service" and "privacy policy" documents without reading them so we can get our hands on cool free stuff, we are the ones who are glad to entrust our intimate exchanges to technology we don't understand.

A certain amount of naiveté about the security and privacy implications of the tools we use is understandable here.  When I've given presentations on email privacy and security issues, some attendees are legitimately gasping at the new understanding that their e-mail messages are traversing the open internet as plain text messages that can potentially be read by any number of parties involved in the management of those servers and networks.  The average user probably assumes that the Internet was designed from the ground up to be a robust and secure way of conducting financial transactions and sending suggestive photos of themselves to amorous contacts.

Continue reading I have read and agree to the terms of service

Are Wayne County's voting machines trustworthy?

Early voting is underway in Wayne County, Indiana.  Voters showing up at the polling stations will find themselves directed to the Hart InterCivic voting machines.

A 2007 study of these machines, initiated by the Ohio Secretary of State and conducted by Pennsylvania State University, the University of Pennsylvania, and WebWise Security, Inc. found that:

the Hart system lacks the technical protections necessary to guarantee
a trustworthy election under operational conditions...Virtually every
ballot, vote, election result, and audit log is forgeable or otherwise
manipulatable by an attacker with even brief access to the voting systems.

You can read a summary of the study or read the full 335-page report.

Against the proposed use of Richmond tech park funds

Cranes In The Sky.A year ago I blogged about the $5 million dollars that Richmond had available to promote high-tech business growth in our city.

An article in Sunday's Palladium-Item reports that the City of Richmond is proposing to use the funds to purchase 14 acres of land and buildings on the city's northwest side, which they will use to create a space for technology entrepreneurs.

For the record, as someone who created a technology business in Richmond, I'm against this use of the Certified Technology Park funds as it's currently described.

There are a lot of things that technology entrepreneurs in our community could benefit from, but a new physical space is generally not one of them. There are myriad available buildings already suitable for businesses of all kinds - retail, office, manufacturing, etc. With the advent of cloud computing, global distribution systems and other niche service providers, few tech start-ups have specialized space needs.

Not the least of the existing structures is the Uptown Innovation Center, originally designed and built to - you guessed it - house technology entrepreneurs looking for space to get their business up and running. I supported that effort and it's a great space with some great possibilities, but as far as I know, that building has not exactly operated at capacity in its lifetime, and when it has come close it's not been with high-tech businesses.

Continue reading Against the proposed use of Richmond tech park funds

In The Plex, a great history of Google

I just finished reading Steven Levy's In the Plex, a great history of Google, Inc.'s origins and growth, and a great insight into what the company could look like in the future, or at least how it might get there.

The story of Google that matters for most people is how it affects their daily lives (searching, web browsing, mobile phones, mapping/navigation, email, calendaring, YouTube, news, etc.) but I appreciate that Levy's book focuses on the personalities and processes driving the evolution of what is arguably one of the most transformative corporate and technological entities of our time.

It can be easy to forget that behind some of the game-changing products and services produced by the company, there were real people thinking through issues of privacy, dealing with cross-cultural considerations and navigating interpersonal dynamics all while trying to make a living and find a sustainable business model.  They had/have desks, meetings, slide shows to give, families to care for, water-cooler conversations to have, and Levy does a great job capturing and re-telling those stories from the days of "two guys in a garage" all the way through the present days of life as an international corporation.  This is not always done with the most critical eye - those with concerns about Google's operations or policies may be put off by the extent to which this book is an homage - but on the whole I think Levy is fair in calling out the moments when individual Google employees or the company as a whole screws up, and placing those in the context of Google's good intentions.

A few themes in what Levy's book revealed about "the Google way":

Continue reading In The Plex, a great history of Google

Queries for good email management strategies

Inbox ZeroThe new calendar year is a great time to think about how you manage your personal and work/organizational email accounts.  I know that I benefit from the opportunity to purge or rotate out some old folders, delete large attachments just sitting around taking up space, and think about how well my setup is working for me in my daily workflow.

There are a lot of different strategies out there and each person has to find what works best for them.  Here are a few queries that might help you think about how well your strategy is working for you:

  1. Are you able to work through your e-mail inbox in a reasonable amount of time every day, respond to or delegate time-sensitive questions/comments, convert messages into to-do items, or otherwise file them away on the first pass through?
  2. Do you make good use of e-mail filters available in your mail reading program to highlight/tag/sort messages in ways that make you more productive? Continue reading Queries for good email management strategies

Summer reading mini book reviews

What We Leave BehindIt's been a decent summer of reading for me, and I thought I'd post some very brief reviews of some of what I've encountered along the way.  For each book I’ve linked to an online purchase option, but please consider buying from your locally-owned bookseller or visiting your local library first.  I've organized the reviews into three sections: Culture, Novels and Business & Politics:

Culture

Ghost in the Wires by Kevin Mitnick
Finally, Mitnick gets to tell his side of the story when it comes to his adventures in computer cracking and social engineering.  Though his writing style isn't particularly compelling and his personal meditations on the interpersonal aspects of his adventures are a bit awkward, the details of how he pulled off some pretty technologically impressive (albeit illegal and sometimes destructive) hacks - and how law enforcement responded - make for compelling reading on their own.  As someone who spent a fair number of hours in my childhood trying to deconstruct how the phone system and the emerging world of BBSes and Internet nodes worked, Mitnick's book is a great visit to the past and a reminder that humans continue to be the weakest link in all computer security.

Continue reading Summer reading mini book reviews

Richmond Center City Certified Tech Park Funding

On down Main Street(Sometimes I wake with a start in the night and think I can hear Palladium-Item Viewpoints Editor Dale McConnaughay's voice chanting in the distance, "you must take a stand, you must enter the fray!"   It's probably because almost every editorial the newspaper has published in the last two months about the income or expenses of City government have included a not-so-subtle encouragement for current candidates for office to make that particular issue a part of our political campaigns.  Today, I'll bite.)

The Center City Development Corporation has asked that $300,000 of the $5 million in funds available through Richmond's Certified Technology Park account be used to support renewed operations of the organization and its Uptown Innovation Center facility.  The Palladium-Item covered the request today in a news article and related editorial, the latter of which painted the request as just another ask for taxpayer funded handouts to support private business efforts and essentially encourages a "no" vote by the Redevelopment Commission, the entity that approves the funding request.

Continue reading Richmond Center City Certified Tech Park Funding