I have posted numerous articles related to the overall theme of personal privacy and, in particular, the need to keep a vigilant eye towards threats to it. Don’t get me wrong, though, my concerns are not directly related to the matter of privacy directly but rather they pertain more to the procedures that must be undertaken if it is deemed necessary to pry into one’s personal matters. There are times when it may be necessary to snoop, electronically, on others. Public safety CAN trump individual rights. The matter, as I see it, can be viewed similar to the way that one views physical intrusions. If it is deemed necessary to gain physical access to your home or other property then there are straightforward and easily-understood procedures. In particular, those seeking access have to demonstrate to a judge that this is necessary and a warrant needs to be obtained. This (a) ensures that there is a trusted gatekeeper and (b) leaves behind a public record of the event. This should be no different electronically. If you need to spy on citizens then go see the judge. This should be true whether the surveillance involves electronic snooping on Internet traffic, cellphone usage or visual surveillance through the use of drones. The matter of urgent access that just cannot wait should be no different. Those who snoop electronically maybe should be allowed to submit the ‘illegally obtained’ evidence if it is found. If, however, the search is not fruitful then a record should exist of the search anyway and I do believe that this illegal search record should be fair game to set off a civil or perhaps even criminal action. There should be consequences either way–that’s the way it needs to be with the hard cases. This I see to be common sense and so it was with a little satisfaction that I discovered that others believe it too. Several websites including this one ran stories last week about how Massachusetts congressman Ed Markey is suggesting a US bill to much this effect. I certainly hope that something similar eventually happens here in Canada.
I say this in light of stories in the Globe and Mail as well as CBC this week that describe how it is now deemed legal in this country to use information obtained through torture. News that, to be frank, has left me cold. This is not a new issue. In fact every ‘morality 101’ course since–ever–has discussed it top to bottom. It has been well understood and much discussed and it is known that it is one of those issues that does not have a finely determined ending; just an acknowledgement that it involves a morality conflict that no sane human being wants to have to be the arbiter on. Educators such as Michael Sandel, for example, have done much to educate students and the general public on the depth of the issue. With that said I will not take a cheap shot and try to accuse our federal government of being thoughtless or cruel-minded. It is evident when you read the story, that the decision makers thought long and hard about this one and did try to avoid the obvious pitfall–that of initiating a slide to a vicious police state. That said, there is no amount of reassurance that can make me lose the unease I have here. That is, I believe, the way it should be. The only sensible response I can think of is for increased vigilance on behalf of private citizens and on behalf of what I know to be a well-meaning government. but you know what they say about good intentions, right? So let’s make sure we do not go THERE.
Continuing with on the theme of justice, the Atlantic ran a very thoughtful piece this week in the wake of the announcement of the sentencing of Anders Brevik. the article struck a chord with me as I frequently find myself discussing issues of justice with whoever will listen and it certainly seems that the crux of most of the disagreement is the issue of whether the basis should be punishment or restoration. This article does a decent job of contrasting the two systems focusing on the primarily-restorative Norwegian model vs. the somewhat-retributive US model. The bit of hope I get from this is that we here in Canada do not need to pick one or the other exclusively. Consider, for example, our young offenders act, which has always sought to balance elements of both. That’s not to say that either is perfect! For every case you can cite regarding a person who, through our justice system, managed to set his/her life straight I imagine you can cite another where the system either worsened the situation or loosed a hardened criminal. Still, if we, as citizens are to add productively to the conversation it is worthwhile for us to understand its many sides. The article is worth a read.
Back to opinions and why they need to be informed, here’s a nice article from the Atlantic in praise of the lowly fact checker and why they are of even greater importance in this information-rice age. If course that applies to us on an individual level too :>)
On the geek front, an article in Forbes addressed the new crop of inexpensive but capable 7″ tablets that are now entering the market. The devices pack much the same punch as the existing iPad but come in a smaller package priced at a very affordable $200-ish. I am struck by the thought that not only will these transform the way we interact with the Internet and with one another but also they comprise an almost perfect instrument for learning. I always try to be one who does not put the cart before the horse–that is, as far as education is concerned I put the learning (outcomes) before the methodology and resources but this time, because the applications are so obvious and the machine so well suited that I will just come out and say it: this is the thing we should ensure that all of our students from k to 12 should have access to. The justification is obvious. Not only that, but the flexibility and power of these new devices is such that I bet everything on the fact that they will create applications that we have not even dreamed of. In the same way that iTunes, YouTube, Facebook and such just changed everything, this time a piece of hardware will launch another revolution. I can’t wait! By the way, the revolution is already underway and the PC is slumping as a result as this Wired article shows.
Random surfing during a sleepless Thursday night also let me find out about something called nanocrystaline cellulose, or ncc. Just YOU try saying it! Some of the better articles are here, here, here and here. In a nutshell, ncc is derived from wood pulp and can be added to other materials to make they incredibly strong while remaining lightweight. the potential that this holds for materials science and technology are enormous–building and construction materials for example. Super-paint and super-paper are already partially developed. Canada and in particular Montreal’s Domtar, are well into this but I am particularly interested in the benefit this could have for my home province, NL. Its domestic pulp and paper industry has been in decline and, perhaps, this new technology holds great economic promise for its future.
The first round of the Apple vs. Samsung US trial ended this week with a victory for Apple and 1.05 billion in damages. There are too many thoughtful stories on this to list. All I can say is that this far from over and it will have a profound effect on the whole portable industry. Other than that…too hard to call.
Jerks–they do get ahead, don’t they? Forbes explains why.
Voyager 1 is still continuing that awesome voyage of discovery. It’s now leaving the solar system but still sending back amazing data. Curiosity is alive and well and adjusting to its mission on Mars. It underwent a successful test drive and a zap of its laser this week.
On a sad note Neil Armstrong passed away on the 25th. There were two reasons why I pursued a physics degree: my dad’s good advice and the inspiration I got from the Apollo 11 teams achievement. Neil was, of course, the ‘front person’ for that mission but it never went to his head. In his own mind he was just a geeky engineer. It was truly inspiring to see how the individual who first put his feet on the moon was able to keep them so down to earth. I am truly saddened by his passing but take comfort from knowing that his spirit lives on.
Three quotes: (courtesy, as always, of Philosophy Tweets–follow them!)
“Intuition is unconscious accumulated experience informing judgement in real time.” –Alain de Botton
“music is the answer to the mystery of life. The most profound of all the arts, it expresses the deepest thoughts of life.” –Schopenhauer
“The obscure we see eventually. The completely obvious, it seems, takes longer.” –Edward R. Murrow