Science Addiction

A dormant blog by Devanshu Mehta

Tag: Technology

US Presidential Politics and Geek Activism

When I had my idea for “a questionnaire for US Presidential candidates”: about issues important to geek activists like myself, I started reading up on the positions of the most popular candidates.

Guess what? None of them talk about the issues that matter to us directly. Even the big ones like reforming the USA PATRIOT Act aren’t being touched with a 10-foot pole- no one wants to look weak on security, I suppose.

At the same time, I have been thinking a lot about Lawrence Lessig. For those not familiar, after 10 years of leading the fight to protect a free culture among other things, “Lessig is stepping away”: to embrace a much broader issue- *corruption*. At first, this seems simplistic, naive. But in the end, isn’t that what it _all_ comes down to?

Net neutrality, copyright laws and fair use, the MPAA/RIAA, the DMCA and all the other issues that lock consumers, fans, hackers and hobbyists in a cage where the key is sold to the highest bidder. As a geek, these look like issues for _hacktivists_. In a broader sense, however, this is the oldest game in politics- the government serving the deepest pockets.

Corruption. Lessig is specific about what he means by corruption, in this quote as applied to himself:

I never promote as policy a position that I have been paid to advise about, consult upon, or write about. If payment is made to an institution that might reasonably be said to benefit me indirectly, then I will either follow the same rule, or disclose the payment.

The key word is *never*. Not sometimes. Not with disclosure. Just, plain, never.

So coming back to the issue of getting the current US Presidential contenders to answer questions about PATRIOT Act reform or Network Neutrality- shouldn’t the ultimate question be: *What would you do to remove the influence of lobbies and corporations from US politics?*

If we have an answer for that- a workable, sincere one- then we have an answer not only for problems in hackland, but also in healthcare, in energy policy, in every major social issue of this land of plenty.

Along those lines, here are links to what the major contenders have to say on Washington’s _culture of corruption_:
* Barack Obama on “Reforming Washington”:
* Hillary Clinton on “Government Reform”: and how “she is shaping up as the Privacy Candidate”:
* John Edwards’ “letter to the FCC Chairman”: regarding the upcoming 700MHz auction.
* The closest Rudy Giuliani comes is in “talking about fiscal responsibility”: but that’s a stretch. Also, here is “video of Edwards’ talk at Google”:
* Mitt Romney on “investment in technology and tort liability”:
* John McCain on “Lobbying & Ethics Reform”: and “McCain at Google”: talking policy.

(Send me more links for the rest of the candidates if you find them. Also, I’m still putting together a questionnaire for the candidates, so suggestions would be great!)

More on the iPhone Hearings: Free the iPhone!

The so-called “iPhone Hearings”: yesterday were entertaining and it seems they may only be the first shot fired on the issue of separating devices from the network.

The folks at “”: have set up “Free the iPhone”: as a ‘save the internet’ (net neutrality) and ‘save net radio’ type movement. The idea is to strike while the iPhone publicity peaks and the current 700MHz auction planned by the FCC rolls around. Also, since the FCC, Google and some “members of Congress”: seem to be showing interest in the idea of separating the Network from the Devices (“Delaminate the bastards”: says Weinberger) this seems to be the appropriate time to be pushing for separating the layers.

Free the iPhone.

Also, the folks at “Public Knowledge”: have a set of videos from the _iPhone Hearings_ including Rep. Ed Markey comparing the iPhone lock-in with Hotel California (_check out, but they can never leave_), Professor Tim Wu pointing out the tech gap between US and Europe in the wireless space, the Verizon General Counsel claiming that there is no consumer demand for delamination, and finally “Jason Devitt”: on the issues for small innovators in the business.

A few more reads:
* Om Malik on “the meaning of competition in the US”:
* Susan Crawford on “balancing public interest, security and business pressure”:
* Google’s Public Policy blog on “open access to the wireless network”:
* “Jason Devitt”: on the implications of the new spectrum auction

The iPhone Hearings

Susan Crawford, a law professor who specializes in intellectual property and cyberlaw, has a “description of the proceedings at today’s iPhone hearing“: chaired by my own representative: Rep. Ed Markey. Now Mr. Markey usually gets it on the subject of technology (e.g. net neutrality) and even when he is completely wrong (e.g. when he went after the guy who demonstrated a crucial flaw in airline security), he has the sense to very quickly apologize. Generally, however, I am pleased that he chairs the House Commerce Committee (Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet). Read the rest of this entry »

Worst Privacy Debacles of All Time

“Wired”:,71622-0.html has put up a list of the worst privacy debacles in the United States of all time. Of course, since this article was prompted by the “AOL debacle”: that incident in particular has not made the list. I wonder if it would have made the list, and if so, at what position. I would rank it pretty high on importance on principle but low on potential damage to individuals.

This list is pretty good, and the #1 position is my favorite:

*1. The creation of the Social Security Number:*
Although security blogger Adam Shostack is known for his expertise on information-age data leaks, he considers the creation of the Social Security Number in 1936 to be the “largest privacy disaster in the history of the U.S.” Referencing controversy over the card’s creation at the time, he said, “Ironically, privacy advocates warned that the number would become a de facto national ID, and their concerns were belittled, then proven right, setting a pattern that still goes on today.”

The Commandments of the EE

This just came up in my fortune on my Mac:

The Commandments of the EE:

(5) Take care that thou useth the proper method when thou takest the measures of high-voltage circuits too, that thou dost not incinerate both thee and thy test meter, for verily, though thou has no company property number and can be easily surveyed, the test meter has one and, as a consequence, bringeth much woe unto a purchasing agent.
(6) Take care that thou tamperest not with interlocks and safety devices, for this incurreth the wrath of the chief electrician and bring the fury of the engineers on his head.
(7) Work thou not on energized equipment for if thou doest so, thy friends will surely be buying beers for thy widow and consoling her in certain ways not generally acceptable to thee.
(8) Verily, verily I say unto thee, never service equipment alone, for electrical cooking is a slow process and thou might sizzle in thy own fat upon a hot circuit for hours on end before thy maker sees fit to end thy misery and drag thee into his fold.