Sunday, November 21, 2010

Bruce Schneier, Internet Security Expert, Tells All

I attended a talk by Bruce Schneier earlier this year. I found it so energizing, I wrote the following response:

Okay, so maybe he didn't tell all, but he did say a lot. And I'm not buying every thing he said. But what can I say about what he said that is pretty much axiomatic?

None of the following is a direct quote because I didn't confirm these statements with him when he spoke at the Twin Cities Media Alliance Brown Bag Lunch With A Journalist, this past noon on Wednesday, February 24 at the East Lake Public Library, Minneapolis, Minnesota. So, these statements are what I thought I heard and my own interpretations. If you wonder about any of this, check with Bruce.

1.Information Technology is invading our privacy on a scale we're never seen before--it's not malicious, it's just the nature of technology.

2.What was once ephemeral has become permanent with regard to shared data on the Internet.

3.What was once a one-time conversation has become permanent. Think about that one. It's easy to pull up posts, conversations from message boards, etc. from five, ten years ago.

4.What was once not worth saving, now is saved. And why not? It's cheaper to save than to figure out if it's worth saving. Again, think of how your parents or even you used to save all those documents and tried to remember the rule of thumb about "how long to save a piece of paper" as if the saving of such could save your life. Now we can just download it to a thumb drive and pop it in a drawer along with all those other thumb drives with wedding photos, baby-birthing-events, and the Top 1000 Songs of the 1970s.

5.It is illegal to market according to race, but it's perfectly legal to offer coupons to a target mailing list. Where do those mailing lists originate? This practice is such an easy, tempting, exploited roundabout to marketing equity.

6.Concerning privacy, it now must be made explicit what was once ad hoc. If you don't tell facebook flatout to keep its nose out of your business, you'll end up looking at ads and apps targeted straight at Who You Are. "How'd they know I was thinking about buying some seeds for the garden?" How, indeed.

7.The death of privacy is inevitable. This slope presented itself to our feet long before computers. Think partyline. Think urban dwellings. When was privacy ever sacred?

Bruce spoke most emphatically on the idea of a generation gap in technology. Yeah, sure, we know that kids can whip together websites and programs with their thumbs. But Bruce was talking more about how kids today (warning #1--a generalization, that's never a good sign.) aren't concerned about their privacy. They have grown up living a public life that's all out there on the Internet and they don't flinch from it.

I agree somewhat with Bruce's perceptions regarding high schooler, but here were my inner thoughts: In contrast to many of today's parents, my own parents didn't micromanage me. It often seemed that they didn't even know all that much about my homework, my classes, my teachers, my extracurricular activities. Nowadays, I see parents at the library with their older teenaged child, copying research for them, carrying their books, and telling them what they need to do.

So many parents have infiltrated their child's life in both academic life and social life, that their child has pretty much resigned him/herself to powerlessness. In the false belief that they are "helping" their child, they are undermining their child's sense of self, their child's self-confidence, their child's ability to become autonomous and self-sufficient.

What are the implications of this interference? Emotional paralysis? Indifference to privacy? Political impotency?

Bruce suggests that this waning control of privacy is detrimental and an acute breach to our security. I'm not buying that, either. Jeremy Iggers, executive director of Twin Cities Media Alliance, which sponsored the brown-bag-lunch talk, smartly asked me, in front of everyone, that if I thought privacy wasn't a big deal, then what was my salary? I quipped, "I don't have one. I'm a poet, remember?"

But the truth is, of course, I do earn money and I wouldn't have qualms about revealing that amount. It's not the information itself, but how it's used that's the problem. If we continue to delude ourselves with thinking we can keep anything private, we'll continue to run into breach of privacy and scandal.

We can choose to become a police state in practice all the while believing that we control our privacy or we can lay it all out on the table and say, "Here are the facts. There's nothing more to see, folks. Now go about your business as usual."

I guess I live, or want to live, in a Utopian World of Respect.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Power of Apparel

There's a second story behind The Emperor's New Clothes that does not involve vanity, but self-talk. We know the story, the king was vain and wore clothing that was invisible, all the while thinking to himself that everyone else--who was much smarter than he--could see the clothing perfectly.

In fact, no one could see the clothing because it wasn't there. At the end of the story, a child points this obvious fact out to the crowd, ignorant of the implications of "not being able to see the clothing." The king, however, felt he must go through with the procession to save face and appear dignified. (Although I don't know how dignified he could seem naked as sumo wrestler!)

The second story, as I see it, involves the king who told himself a) he was wearing fine, splendid clothing and b) only he was too stupid to be able to see the clothing.
That relates precisely to how clothing can affect a person with a body-image problem.

If I go and buy some gorgeous clothes that show my best (physical) self off, even if I don't believe it, I can carry myself in front of others with confidence. Now, the Emperor's Clothing story sort of negates my theory, but stay focused on how the emperor felt at the beginning of the story, when he began to parade about the village wearing nothing but a smile. And hopefully some undergarmets.

He believed in his "clothing" and walked about as if it were true. Therein lies the power of self-talk. I already own my glamorous outfit. It's a silky black skirt that flares out when I dance. I recently bought a sheer, yet opaque, black top that follows my form like a glove. At my hips I have a choice of bellydancer bangles in gold or a sequined wide sash that stretches across my hips at an angle. I've worn both.

Even if I've gained a few pounds, wearing that outfit gives me confidence and pizzaz. I can carry myself with attractive confidence when I slip into my dancing clothes.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Jesus and Mavis Staples


Sodium borate decahydrate (Na2B4O7·10H2O), better known as borax, is the third most important boron compound. Borax is a key ingredient in a substance known as Oobleck, a strange material 6th grade students experiment with while participating in Jefferson Lab's BEAMS program. Other boron compounds are used to make borosilicate glasses, enamels for covering steel and as a potential medicine for treating arthritis.

I don't want to create another blog, but I have no place for my fiction. This is essay and my other blog is poetry. Feh. I'm posting here.

I'm sitting quietly, but Mavis Staples is not singing quietly. Her swarthy, mother-lode of a voice belts out, "Stop, children. What's that sound? Everybody look what's going down." The huge hum of our furnace rumbles beneath all the other noises, churning out heat to cold fingers and shivering obliques. For some reason, my sides squeeze tight like a girdle and shiver when I sit here at night.

Above my head is the classic print of Jesus at the Last Supper. A halo surrounds his head, his eyes demurely downcast, arms spread with upturned palms. The apostles flank him in various degrees of disbelief, skepticism.

"Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on," Mavis coaxes. Jesus might be saying the same thing to his disciples. He's focused on what lies ahead although I'm not sure how he can know the future. His followers question his visions, preferring the security of the status quo, taking refuge in what's static--not unsettling--as their rabbi suggests. Harness your hopes on my word, brothers. Trust me.

Keep your eyes on the prize, James, and Thomas. I know it's hard to believe, but soon I will be gone. No, don't ask me why. If you haven't figured that out by now, then the answer will be revealed in time. Simon Peter, soon you will be all ears in a way you can not now imagine.

You've got to wade on the water, brothers. The slurry of people who will rise above the flood need you to rescue them, guide them. Andrew, John, and you, there, Phillip, don adequate foot covering so that you can walk on the rocky beach and not slice your feet. It won't be easy, the waters of Galilee will soak you, but I know you're up to it. Pray, don't tell me you have else to do. You were born to do my will.

I am waiting for my child, for my child to come. I am waiting and I'm watching. Bartholomew and Matthew, have you seen the children? Have you touched them and held them? When I'm no longer here, take their hands and comfort them. You, too, Thaddeus and you also, James. Step boldly, yet tenderly, for the children's path is slippery as if lined with straw and oil. They grow and will be distracted, but grab their hands and show them the way.

I am the Way, you know. I have been the way since my mother prodded me in your lands, Simon, in Canaan. The water never tasted sweeter, did it? I am the way for each of you. I am the way for you Judas. I am the way for you to choose your path of destruction. You will not sleep easy tonight, my brother. You will rest like on a nest of locust, a mat of nettles.

And I will rest likewise, but not from an ill conscience. My heart will be troubled by what I see in your eyes right now, Judas. My soul cries out for the iniquity of your lust, Judas. The iniquity of your lust.

Prompts for January 27, due February 3:

Sitting quietly, listen for three sounds and include them in your post.
Tell the story in a single voice as if it's being told to you.
Include the words: straw, soak, & harness.
Include the phrase: I'm all ears. (You may change the verb tense if needed.)