Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category
Fascinating story with cool graphics and effects on how the US built a backpack (90 lb) nuclear bomb. It’s in Foreign Affairs and (free) registration is required if you don’t have a login already. Well worth the effort.
It would take a few years, but if you start building a comprehensive dossier on each individual from the time they enter school, so that a Total-Information-Awareness style of database contains gigabytes of data on each person in the US—and so long as you have all that education data and can pull data from other databases, one would also have complete record of fines, arrests, and the like; credit history and current standing; medical data (with “safeguards,” of course); financial information, including tax-return data, bank accounts, loans, and the like… you see where this is going. The proposal is to build a foundation and start working out how to have such a datastore on everyone.
I don’t think that will end well. That sort of database of dossiers is dystopian.
Aaron Contú writes at AlterNet:
The education sector, long frustrated by transient fads that have failed to uplift decades of sub-par student achievement, thinks it has finally found its knight in shining armor: an omnipresent data archive that will track students from pre-school to graduation, noting every teacher and test score. Then it will tack that trail of data onto a person well after they leave school.
Enthusiasts say they hope the constant tracking will help policy-makers identify the precise factors that make a successful student, and foster the creation of well-informed education policy, while opponents worry that growing intrusiveness will normalize the mass surveillance and obsessive record-keeping of humans foretold in dystopian literature.
The $100 million repository that will catalog all the information is called inBloom, an initiative funded primarily through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and a division of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.
The Department of Education is in the finishing stages of building a system to share student data with colleges and six other state agencies—a program known as “P-20,” which refers to the time span between entrance into pre-kindergarten and the workforce. Some of the other agencies that may have access to the data by 2015 include the Department of Labor, Health and Taxation and Finance, and the offices of Technology and Children and Family Services.
In addition to money from the Gates Foundation, the DOE has received $40 million from state and federal agencies since 2008 to construct the program, which has been spearheaded by Obama’s Race to the Top initiative. It has steadily expanded out of New York into the rest of the country. As USA Weekly reports, “forty-four states are synching data between schools and colleges, and 19 have connected workforce data, according to the Data Quality Campaign.”
“Data is painting a profile of a student that is richer and more valuable than ever before,” said  Jim Shelton, a U.S. Education Department official to USA Weekly. He went on to dismiss the invasiveness of the program as a “small price to pay for progress.”
Parent and technology training specialist Brian Wasson has strong reservations: “As this develops, will they decide to use this data for more than research? I don’t buy the rationale for it.”
Lisa Margonelli has an excellent article at Pacific Standard:
Oil-exporting countries generally have high rates of poverty, internal conflict, and corruption—a kind of chronic dysfunction known as the resource curse. Not Norway. Europe’s largest oil exporter and the world’s second-largest natural gas exporter has instead engineered a sort of resource blessing. Since oil was discovered there in 1969, Norway has continued to enjoy a healthy democracy and a corruption-free government—while taking its place among the world’s top 10 countries in per capita GDP. If such a thing is possible, Norway has done oil right: pioneering safety and environmental practices, and even squeezing almost twice as much oil from its fields as the rest of the world, extending the life of the country’s economic boom by decades.
Norway’s anti–resource curse is often attributed to exceptionalism: Viking genes or the like. But one secret of its success—maybe the secret—is not Norwegian at all, but a twinkly 77-year-old Iraqi-born oil geologist named Farouk al Kasim.
I met al Kasim in the sparse office where he has worked as a consultant, near the waterfront in the bustling port city of Stavenger, since he retired. Our interview turned into a conversation that turned into dinner at a nearby Chinese restaurant. He has an expressive chortle and a tendency to slap the table when he’s delighted. He started the interview by offering me coffee, cookies, and local strawberries. And by insisting that Norway’s successes are not due to exceptionalism—his own or Norway’s—but to exceptional policies.
On May 28, 1968, a young al Kasim had a few hours to kill before his train left Oslo, so he stopped in at Norway’s Ministry of Industry to ask whether it had a list of the oil companies working in the country. He had gone to Imperial College London on the Iraqi government’s dime, and fairly quickly became one of the top executives at the Iraqi Petroleum Company, overseeing enormous amounts of oil and money. But he and his Norwegian wife wanted better care for their son, who has cerebral palsy, so they relocated to her home country. The day he walked into the ministry, he was welcomed: the staff needed an oil geologist to interpret the results of new drilling tests in the North Sea. For the next three months al Kasim examined seismic studies and data from 13 wells, cross-tabulating and mapping results by hand. By the time he was done, he was convinced Norway owned a doozy of an oil field.
“Norway didn’t know anything about oil,” he told me. But leaders knew about the resource curse; they knew they didn’t want a tsunami of fast money and corporate influence to wash over their neat country. “It scared them,” al Kasim said, and better than most, he could empathize. “I had lived the agonies of being a stooge of imperialism,” he said. From his previous perch, he’d had ample time to watch most of the benefits of Iraqi oil elude the Iraqi people. In the late 1950s and ’60s many Middle Eastern countries had tried to solve oil’s “imperialism” problem by banishing international oil companies and replacing them with national ones. These new petrostates concentrated oil, money, and power in the hands of a few, creating the very definition of path dependency as their economies stagnated. “If you simply replace international oil company monopolies with state owned monopolies, it’s not an improvement,” al Kasim says. As an alternative, he’d spent years pondering how to foster competition between state-owned and international oil companies. Competition, he says, is “the essence of competence.”
In December of 1969, as al Kasim had predicted, . . .
Continue reading. The closing question has quite an impact.
I am updating the maps in my Garmin Navigator—I presume they come out with their new editions around the first of each year—and I wondered how I’d explain this to the senior-in-high-school me: the glimpse-of-the-future thing, and that led me to realize the enormous backstory required: I am downloading (?) files (?) via the Internet (??) on my laptop computer (???) and then sending those to my portable GPS (??) device. Imagine starting with this: “Road maps of the future will be very different from those you pick up for free at your gas station.” (And my own “??”: free? Those were highly detailed maps, and good cartography is not cheap. I cannot imagine they would be free today, except, of course, they’ve been replaced.)
With that beginning, how do you explain the difference in 10 minutes or less, to a h.s. senior around the mid-50s?
It’s astonishing how far we’ve gone. Come to think of it, computers and I are about the same age, only they’ve become considerably more spry.
Everyone, I believe, does from time to time doodle—or that was once the case, when everyone had ready access to notepads and pencils. As we have moved away from paper and pencil to the keyboard and smartphone, I wonder what has happened with doodling. According to the TED talk in this post, a talk given by a woman who has a book on doodling, the activity of doodling aids recall.
I was an inveterate doodler, but in recent years, with a computer constantly at hand, my doodling has pretty much stopped. I wonder whether that’s just me, or whether the omnipresence of keyboards has in fact depressed doodling.
I got some useful hints from this article. In fact, I’m changing a couple of my passwords as a result—specifically one I developed using the 5-dice method. Note the comments—that’s what induced to me to (for example) separate the individual words in the string with special symbols.
The FBI is becoming increasingly heavy-handed. From TorrentFreak:
Google Glass is expected to transform the way that people interact with data and communications but for one unlucky user a paranoid reaction to the device ended up becoming a huge time waster. After wearing a turned off and prescription lens-equipped model to the theater, a man had it torn from his face on suspicion he was engaging in movie piracy. Several hours later the FBI conceded they’d made a big mistake.
Sometime during 2014 the much-anticipated Google Glass will launch to the general public. When it does the age of the wearable computer will have truly arrived in the form of a relatively unobtrusive pair of eye glasses.
While every technology enthusiast is bursting to at least test the device, there are concerns over its appearance. On the one hand it looks cool and futuristic, but on the other it could quickly be perceived in the same way as the original bluetooth ear-piece.
Nevertheless, in a few months time thousands of people will be wearing them, which will only serve to amplify the already considerable debate over the device. From the inside looking out, the integrated video camera is generating privacy worries in abundance and just last week a San Diego traffic court threw out a traffic violation against a Californian motorist after she was accused of watching video on her Glass while driving.
And now, right on cue, for the first time a Glass user has revealed the kind of treatment people can expect from the movie industry should they dare to wear even a switched-off device in one of their establishments.
Last Saturday evening a man and his wife attended the AMC movie theater in Easton Mall, Columbus, Ohio, to watch Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. The Glass unit itself was switched off, but out of convenience the man had paid for prescription lenses to be fitted to the device turning them into regular glasses. Sadly, theater staff and their friends at the MPAA and FBI were geared up to presume only the worst.
“About an hour into the movie, a guy comes near my seat, shoves a badge that had some sort of a shield on it, yanks the Google Glass off my face and says ‘follow me outside immediately’. It was quite embarrassing and outside of the theater there were about 5-10 cops and mall cops,” the man told Gadgeteer.
After trying to establish the official’s identity and authority (and trying to get his property back), the man was put firmly in his place.
“You see all these cops, you know we are legit, we are with the ‘federal service’ and you have been caught illegally taping the movie,” he was told.
His protests that this was a big misunderstanding only led to the couple being split up and taken to different rooms. The man was searched and his wallet plus work and personal phones (both off) were taken away from him.
“What followed was over an hour of the ‘feds’ telling me I am not under arrest, and that this is a ‘voluntary interview’, but if I choose not to cooperate bad things may happen to me,” he explained.
“They wanted to know who I am, where I live, where I work, how much I’m making, how many computers I have at home, why am I recording the movie, who am I going to give the recording to, why don’t I just give up the guy up the chain, ’cause they are not interested in me. Over and over and over again.”
And then yet more paranoia. Even though the Google Glass was switched off the man wasn’t allowed to touch the device out of fear he would “erase the evidence.” The FBI also asked some pretty strange questions.
“Then they wanted to know what does Google ask of me in exchange for Glass, how much is Google paying me, who is my boss and why am I recording the movie,” he explained.
Finally someone had the good sense to . . .
Continue reading. I hope he takes action. The presumption of guilt by the FBI is chilling, and so far as I can tell the guy broke no laws at all. So this is what can happen in the US if you’re completely law-abiding.
Paramount has announced that the 35mm motion-picture format is over for its movies, and other studios will doubtless follow quickly.
Some good tips at Informed Comment by Julia Angwin:
In the course of writing her book, Dragnet Nation, ProPublica reporter Julia Angwin tried various strategies to protect her privacy. In this blog post, she distills the lessons from her privacy experiments into useful tips for readers.
One of the easiest and simplest things you can do to protect your privacy is to be a smarter Web browser.
This is surprisingly difficult because most popular Web browsing software is set up to allow users to be tracked by default. The reason is simple economics – you don’t pay for Web browsing software, so the companies that make it have to find other ways to make money.
The most egregious example of this conflict came in 2008 when Microsoft’s advertising executives helped quash a plan by the engineers to build better privacy protections into the Internet Explorer 8 Web browser. Microsoft has since added additional protections – but they are not turned on by default. The situation is no better at Google, whose Chrome Web browser has “buried and discouraged” the “Do Not Track” button, and is pioneering the use of new tracking technology that cannot be blocked. And it’s worth noting that the other big Web browser maker, Mozilla Corp., receives 85 percent of its revenues (PDF) from its agreement to make Google the default search engine on Firefox.
Even worse, many of the tools that Web browsers offer to protect privacy are not effective. Tracking companies have refused to honor the “Do Not Track” button. And Google Chrome’s “Incognito” mode and Internet Explorer’s “InPrivate Browsing” mode won’t protect you from being tracked. Those settings simply prevent other people who use your Web browser after you to see where you’ve been online.
And so, in order to prevent the most common types of tracking, I ended up loading up my Web browser – Mozilla’s Firefox – with a bunch of extra software. It sounds like a lot of work, but most of this software can be installed in a few minutes. Here’s what I used:
- I installed “HTTPS Everywhere,” created by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Tor Project. This tool forces your Web browser to use encrypted Internet connections to any website that will allow it. This prevents hackers – and the National Security Agency – from eavesdropping on your Internet connections.
- I also installed Disconnect, a program created by former Google engineer Brian Kennish, which blocks advertisers and social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, from tracking which websites you visit.
- And finally I set my default search engine to be . . .
From Wonkblog in the Washington Post this morning:
On Tuesday, a federal appeals court struck down the Federal Communication Commission’s net neutrality rules. The argument was a technical one: The FCC claimed it could regulate broadband providers under its authority to regulate “common carriers,” but the courts noted that, in other contexts, the FCC doesn’t define broadband providers as common carriers.
To some, like Columbia law professor Tim Wu, this is “a FEMA-level fail” for the FCC. But John Blevins sees it differently. Blevins, a law professor at Loyola University New Orleans College of Law, submitted a pro bono amicus brief in support of the FCC’s open Internet rules on behalf of various Internet engineers and technologists. So he was disappointed in the ruling. But he also thinks it’s being misinterpreted — and, in the long run, it could actually strengthen the FCC’s authority to protect the internet. He sent along these comments.
The reports of network neutrality’s death have been greatly exaggerated. Yes, the D.C Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the heart of the FCC’s open Internet rules. But it also, more quietly, ruled that the FCC has authority to regulate broadband providers to protect Internet openness. In doing so, the court may have handed the FCC — and the public — a victory that goes well beyond network neutrality.
The specific legal dispute is arcane, but the stakes are high. In 2010, the FCC adopted rules to protect the open Internet. These protections are essentially nondiscrimination requirements that apply to Internet access providers who physically connect end users to the Internet (i.e., telephone and cable companies).
Nondiscrimination rules are necessary because Internet access providers have a unique type of monopoly — a monopoly over you, the end user. When you choose to watch Netflix on your computer or smartphone, Netflix’s data can only reach you through your specific access provider. In effect, the access provider owns the only “driveway” to your house and can block content from entering. Or, it can decide to selectively impose additional tolls on the sites you request, which drives up the costs of those services and stifles new entrants who are less able to pay them.
The FCC’s open Internet rules quite sensibly prevented Internet access providers from engaging in blocking and other unreasonable discrimination. The D.C. Circuit, however, struck down these rules, which has led to criticisms that network neutrality is dead.
Fortunately, it’s not. The court vacated only these particular rules, not the FCC’s ability to act in the future. Specifically, it concluded that the FCC could regulate Internet providers under a statute known as Section 706, which authorizes the FCC to take various steps to promote broadband deployment. The court correctly recognized that prohibiting blocking and discrimination can lead to greater broadband deployment by increasing consumer demand. For instance, the introduction of the World Wide Web (which required no permission or toll payments) fueled the network investments of the 1990s. The growth of online video is driving modern investment today.
The court objected to FCC’s current versions of the rules because they swept too broadly and indiscriminately. In affirming Section 706 authority, however, the court simultaneously opened the door for the FCC to implement similar versions of these rules on a case-by-case basis against individual access providers who abuse their monopoly. In legal terms, the FCC can now act through adjudications instead of rulemakings. Indeed, one bedrock principle of administrative law is that agencies are generally free to enforce law through either method.
For instance, under Section 706, the FCC could investigate and potentially sanction an individual access provider whose data caps are so restrictive that they threaten online video competition. At the same time, it could leave in place another data cap system designed for customers who use very little data. These decisions would, over time, deter other access providers from adopting measures that violate the Internet’s openness. The FCC could also use non-binding policy statements to give parties proper notice of their enforcement priorities. . .
Also useful and from the Post: Answers to common questions about net neutrality.
Brian Fung explains how in The Switch at the Washington Post:
It costs a lot to build and maintain a cellular network. First you have to build the towers. Then you’ve got to buy the airwave licenses that let you carry people’s calls. Then you’ve got to strike deals with handset makers and lure customers with subsidies and other goodies.
All this makes it really hard for new players to enter the market — and even for established players to stay in it. Some people think that these trends naturally encourage industry consolidation, if not outright monopolies. (You may have heard about a rumored merger between Sprint and T-Mobile; that’s a perfect example.) But there’s a clear case for having more wireless companies rather than fewer of them, and this week demonstrates why.
On Monday, . . .
The more we learn about the NSA, the more it seems a liability rather than asset. Take this example.
A long, interesting, and somewhat depressing article on one front of the war against women. In reading it, I am stunned by how intensely some men dislike women—to the point that the dislike seems almost psychotic. One can only wonder what has trigger such intensity of feeling, what sort of abuse at the hands of a woman (the mother?) or women the man must have suffered to have conceived such an intense hatred.
It’s difficult to propose a solution, but as the problem becomes better known, perhaps we’ll see more measures like the “report abuse” button Twitter reluctantly added (as described in the article).
In the old days, as the article points out, cowardly bullies wore white sheets with pointed hats. Nowadays they use pseudonyms on the Internet.
Yet more pressure to get an iPad. WordPlay Shakespeare is described by Charles Isherwood in the NY Times:
Pity the English teacher of today, faced with a roomful of adolescents busy updating their Facebook status, communicating on Snapchat or gossiping via text message about the latest perfidy committed by a frenemy. Trying to instill in students a passionate interest in Shakespeare (or even a passing one) has never been a teacher’s easiest task. With all those digital distractions, the challenge of awakening teenagers’ interest in his plays has surely become harder.
The abbreviated discourse of texting and tweeting are a mighty distance from a dense Shakespearean soliloquy. A funny Roz Chast cartoon from The New Yorker several years ago riffed upon how removed new generations are from the language of Shakespeare. Ms. Chast’s Romeo and Juliet converse through as a series of text messages, with a version of the balcony scene concluding thus:
Juliet: xoxoxo bye see u tmw
Romeo: xoxoxoxoxo bye
A new project called WordPlay Shakespeare attempts to harness students’ aptitude and affection for new technologies to help them engage more easily with the plays. Created by the New Book Press, these $9.99 e-books can be downloaded from iTunes and are, so far, available only in the various Mac and iPad formats. The books combine the full texts of the plays with video versions made specifically for the series. When you open the “book,” a page of text appears on the left half of the screen, much as it would appear in a standard book. On the right half, a quick click brings up an image of actors performing the passage opposite.
Alexander Parker, the publisher of the New Book Press, said he sees this format as an ideal way to enhance students’ ability to grasp the complexity of Shakespeare’s language. “The tablet,” he said, “is well suited to mixing media that haven’t been mixed before,” in this case standard text and video. “When you have the text and a performance next to each other, you have a mutually reinforcing experience.”
So far, the company has produced only “Macbeth” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” — two of the most regularly taught plays in the canon. Another pair of plays that are often students’ first encounter with Shakespeare — “Romeo and Juliet” and “Julius Caesar” — are in preproduction.
A brisk test run had me sold on the merits of the project, although there are aspects that take some getting used to. It’s clean, well produced and easy to use. Click on the right of the white screen and up pop actors bringing the words to life, dressed in modern clothing with, in “Macbeth,” mild Scottish trimming. (Coincidentally, Francesca Faridany, who can be seen in the current Broadway revival of “Macbeth,” as the witch Hecate, plays Lady Macbeth in the WordPlay version.) . . .
Read the article and think about how this will end. Not happily, I fear. This is a place where government regulation/standards could help, although they would have to be craftily phrased to avoid being an impediment to innovation.
Actually, most of the visible struggle is the struggle from communications companies who are fighting to keep slower speeds. Edward Wyatt reports in the NY Times:
San Antonio is the seventh-largest city in the United States, a progressive and economically vibrant metropolis of 1.4 million people sprawled across south-central Texas. But the speed of its Internet service is no match for the Latvian capital, Riga, a city of 700,000 on the Baltic Sea.
Riga’s average Internet speed is at least two-and-a-half times that of San Antonio’s, according to Ookla, a research firm that measures broadband speeds around the globe. In other words, downloading a two-hour high-definition movie takes, on average, 35 minutes in San Antonio — and 13 in Riga.
And the cost of Riga’s service is about one-fourth that of San Antonio.
The United States, the country that invented the Internet, is falling dangerously behind in offering high-speed, affordable broadband service to businesses and consumers, according to technology experts and an array of recent studies.
In terms of Internet speed and cost, “ours seems completely out of whack with what we see in the rest of the world,” said Susan Crawford, a law professor at Yeshiva University in Manhattan, a former Obama administration technology adviser and a leading critic of American broadband.
The Obama administration effectively agrees. “While this country has made tremendous progress investing in and delivering high-speed broadband to an unprecedented number of Americans, significant areas for improvement remain,” said Tom Power, deputy chief technology officer for telecommunications at the White House.
The disagreement comes over how far behind the United States really is in what many people consider as basic a utility as water and electricity — and how much it will affect the nation’s technological competitiveness over the next decade. “There aren’t any countries ahead of us that have a comparable population distribution,” said Richard Bennett, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, who said that the United States was closing the gap. . .
Very interesting answer here, which begins:
I’m a hacker [in the UK - LG] who served 4.5 months of a 9 month sentence 5 years ago. I was in two jails in that time, spending the majority of the time in the second, lower security place. The experience totally changed me, but in a positive way.
First of all, I actually had a lot of fun in jail. My education made certain aspects of the prison system very easy for me to navigate, such as legal documentation and debating with guards. My ability to mend broken electronics very quickly became known. These things made me feel very safe, since people were actively protecting me. It also made me feel quite important in the community.
It started when someone came to me and asked what I knew about mending mobile phones. In UK jails, many people have mobiles, usually obtained by over-the-fence smuggling. Pay-as-you-go credit vouchers are a major form of currency. This guy was very important on the wing – he had a crew of other guys who walked around with him and people often came to pay him. I said I knew enough about phones, and what did he want? He explained that someone had owed him money but couldn’t pay. He’d taken the guy’s phone as payment, but the phone was pin-locked and he couldn’t get in. The phone was an old Samsung, one which I knew (having previously owned one) didn’t impose any limit on the number of pin attempts. So I told the guy: yeah, I know a few tricks. But I need to get my tools out so I’ll do it overnight. (Note: I didn’t have any tools). The guy left me with the phone overnight, and I sat up through the night to try all 10,000 possible 4-digit combinations. Thankfully, the correct code turned up in the mid 2000s. So the next day this guy turned up and was amazed that I had figured out the code. He went round telling everyone that I was some tech wizard and that people should always come to me with their problems. In return for the job he arranged for me to have a Playstation 2 in my cell for two weeks, and to get access to a phone whenever I wanted. For the rest of my time, people would bring me trivially broken electronics and I would retire for the evening to make it out like I was doing something difficult, then return the fixed item the next day. It massively increased my quality of life in there.
Secondly, it opened my eyes to how people less fortunate than me live their lives, and how terrible the prison system is for most people. Many, many people in jail were severely mentally ill. There was no support for them. Some were killed in jail, either by inmates or staff, because they flipped out and people got scared. Another large group of people were hopelessly addicted to very harmful drugs. People who exploited this group were the most powerful – they would have drugs smuggled in, then build an army of addicts who would do their bidding to get the next fix. It was a really explosive situation. Almost every act of violence was drug debt related. Immigrants were completely screwed in jail, because there was no way for them to navigate the bureaucracy. I helped several people avoid deportation, including one cell-mate who had a hit contract out on him in Jamaica because he defended his business when yardies tried to extort him. He couldn’t read or write, so he couldn’t fill out the asylum application. His patois was so strong that his lawyer couldn’t really understand what he said, and the border agency was going to send him back to Jamaica to be killed. I wrote letters to the border agency, the prison governor and the home secretary and he was granted asylum and an interpreter was arranged so that his legal visits would be more productive. Hundreds of others in similar situations go without that help every year.
Thirdly, . . .
Chris O’Brien reports in the LA Times:
The massive data breach at Target this week has again highlighted how the United States remains a relatively insecure backwater when it comes to credit card technology.
Over the last decade, most countries have moved toward using credit cards that carry information on embeddable microchips rather than magnetic strips. The additional encryption on so-called smart cards has made the kind of brazen data thefts suffered by Target almost impossible to pull off in most other countries.
Because the U.S. is one of the few places yet to widely deploy such technology, the nation has increasingly become the focus of hackers seeking to steal such information. The stolen data can easily be turned into phony credit cards that are sold on black markets around the world.
“The U.S. is one of the last markets to convert from the magnetic stripe,” Randy Vanderhoof, director of the EMV Migration Forum. “There’s fewer places in the world where that stolen data could be used. So the U.S. becomes more of a high-value target.”
EMV stands for Europay, MasterCard and Visa and is the technology standard that involves placing an integrated circuit of some kind into a credit card. Most European and Asian countries began adopting the technology a decade ago, pushed by regulators in those countries.
About 80 countries use smart credit cards, which allow for greater encryption and security. By comparison, only about 1% of credit cards issued in the U.S. contain such technology.
Smart cards in most countries are so widely adopted that U.S. travelers are increasingly running into problems using their magnetic stripe cards when they travel abroad. Banks and credit card companies often advise customers to request a smart credit card they can use for foreign travel.
The reason such technology has been embraced is simple: Hacking into a system to collect information on a chip and then creating a counterfeit credit card using similar technology is too complicated. As a result, hackers have increasingly turned to the U.S., where the cards are significantly easier to duplicate because information is stored on a common magnetic strip. . .
The decline of the US is best seen through its falling behind other nations: in healthcare, in education, and (as in this example) in technology. The US was once a leader. It now lags behind other nations, and the lag seems to be increasing.
If we had a functioning Congress, it would be easy to mandate the use of this technology, but our Congress can’t seem to do much of anything.
Really an excellent article: thorough and well-written. Brian Fung writes for The Switch in the Washington Post:
One hundred years ago Thursday, one man sent a letter that would transform the telephone industry. The letter gave rise to the country’s last and most powerful monopoly. And like the Internet of this century, it gave millions of ordinary people the chance to stay in touch more easily than they ever had before.
The letter’s author was Nathan C. Kingsbury — a vice president of AT&T many have since forgotten. But his 1913 correspondence rapidly made its way from Kingsbury’s desk to the attorney general’s, and soon after, to President Woodrow Wilson’s.
Wilson’s administration was threatening a legal assault on AT&T. The telephone company had been aggressively buying up its competitors around the country — maybe too many. Perhaps AT&T should be broken up, Wilson mused. Perhaps the government should take control.
Then came Kingsbury’s letter. In under 900 words, Kingsbury smoothed everything over. It produced a miraculous result in Wilson and his deputy in the Justice Department.
“I gain the impression more and more from week to week that the businessmen of the country are sincerely desirous of conforming with the law,” Wilson gushed, “and it is very gratifying to have the occasion, as in this instance, to deal with them in complete frankness and to be able to show them that all that we desire is an opportunity to cooperate with them.”
The White House’s antitrust concerns were resolved practically overnight. But the letter’s impact can still be felt today. By dropping its antitrust case, the Wilson administration effectively gave its blessing to AT&T’s dominance of the telephone industry. In exchange for this government-sponsored monopoly, AT&T agreed to operate as a public utility, eventually providing high-quality phone service to the vast majority of Americans regardless of income or geography. Kingsbury’s commitments to President Wilson would later be formalized and expanded by Congress into the legal obligations that still bind the modern successors of the old AT&T: Verizon, CenturyLink, and the new AT&T.
But technological changes are rapidly undermining the century-old bargain of the Kingsbury Commitment. Telephone incumbents want to abandon conventional analog phone service in favor of a new generation of Internet-based voice applications. In this new age of telephony, Americans will need to decide whether phone companies owe them the same obligations they demanded in the 20th century.
A businessman’s big chance
Theodore Vail was living a happy kind of self-imposed exile. A decade before Kingsbury’s fateful letter, the 58-year-old former head of AT&T had a wife, lived in Buenos Aires and owned a horse-drawn streetcar company — along with a power plant in nearby Cordoba and a 1,500-acre farm in Vermont.
As an early AT&T executive, Vail had helped to build the company into a telephone behemoth. After rising to the position of AT&T president, he left the telephone business in 1889 for what an early biographer called “the incentives of a life of leisure.”
But while he was living the good life in South America, Vail was still thinking about the potential of the phone company he had left behind. He dreamed of a gigantic communications network, in the hands of one monopolist, that would be as vital to American society as the printing press was for Europe.
Vail’s perspective on monopolies might seem dated, but they made a certain amount of sense at a time when oil, steel and other industries were dominated by single companies, too. In his mind, Vail saw the telephone as a potential platform upon which national or even global interactions could take place. But he believed it could only work if everyone agreed to use a single system — and if the business running it took the public’s interest to heart.
Vail might never have executed on this vision if his wife and son hadn’t suddenly died, leaving him alone to his work. Heartbroken, he responded to calls from financier J.P. Morgan to once again take the reins at AT&T. He returned in 1907 and set about building an empire. . .