Musings from Brian J. Noggle
Saturday, January 03, 2004
I Feel Pretty, Powerful

Meatriarchy leads me to some introspection, wherein I discover I am:

You's a bounty hunter, bi-yatch!
Which Typical Anti-Hero Are You?

brought to you by Quizilla

Reaching the Outer Limits of Property Rights

Drudge linked to a story (registration required) in the New York Times about how radio broadcasters are exploring a new system, called Radio Data System, wherein the radio stations can push text advertising onto your car dashboards (or other radios, I would guess). Some critics assail the possibility of drivers becoming distracted from their driving, but I'm not so worried about that. I realize most drivers aren't paying attention to their driving anyway, and that the text advertisements might only distract drivers from their phone conversations, newspapers, breakfast, or make-up application.

Instead, I am worried more about property rights slowly but continually eroding, almost invisibly. Because, citizens, when it comes to who holds broadcast or reception rights to your personal property, the answer always seems to be not you.

It used to be that if you bought something and it became your property, you had rights to use it and dispose of it as you saw fit. No one else had rights to use it without your permission, else it would be stolen (or borrowed by your irresponsible sibling, but that's something else). The Constitution even addresses a particular instance of government appropriation, quartering, in the Bill of Rights. You owned something, you could use it as you saw fit, and unless you were doing something illegal, no one could stop you.

Technology changes things. With radio, you bought a device that allowed you to receive information broadcast by another person or a corporation. So you had a personal device through which you could opt to listen to a broadcast, and you could choose among available broadcasts that you wanted to receive. The act of owning a radio and receiving a broadcast require an explicit owner action. Granted, the user had no control over the content, but the user had the control over the reception thereof. The radio broadcaster could not force the user to listen.

The telephone represents a two-way communications device that most people possess as personal property. The telephone allows you to either receive a transmission (a phone call), or it allows you to create a transmission (pick up and dial out). In either case, the owner must explicitly use the device to broadcast. The owner retains the right of transmission through his personal property.

The right of transmission, as I have so eloquently labeled it, should be a fundamental corollary of basic property rights. That once I own a device, I and I alone determine how to use it and when to use it. As technology outpaces understanding and forethought, we're in great danger that this right is being ceded de facto to corporations whose products send and receive data without explicit owner consent--often without owner knowledge.

I see this end-run around the right of transmission in any number of instances, including existing and projected technologies. RFID tags that continue broadcasting their signal after purchase, not for the benefit of the owner but instead for the benefit of the manufacturer, retailler, or their bestest, closet "business partners." Silver boxes beneath your car seat that record what you're doing so that the manufacturer can point its finger at you, not the automobile, if an accident occurs. Of course, the worst offender is computer software.

New Internet-connected software often, without explicit user consent--phones home to rewrite "patch" itself or to "improve the customer experience"--by transmitting information about you and your computer to, once again, the manufacturer and its closest friends. The user's experience improves in that he or she only sees the targetted marketing and reminders to upgrade that the manufacturer thinks the user wants to see, which is probably better than all possible marketing the manufacturer could send you. The software in some cases will contact its home without seeking consent to fix manufacturing defects--"consent" is granted through a single click at some time in the past or a nebulous and unreadable license agreement. Because of its current Wizard-of-Oz nature, the software industry gets away with this because its magic takes place behind the curtain, its functionality apparently wizardry when it works.

But I digress from my thesis with the expenditure from my information-systems-industry-venom sacs. Unlike automobile manufacturers who issue recalls that require a user's specific action to take the auto into the dealership for repair or upgrade, some software manufacturers insist they'll fix it automatically. A person who purchases a house would recognize his or her rights have been violated if he or she came home from work to find the house has had its deck removed and has been painted eggshell blue by the previous owners--however, some software companies reserve the right to refactor and rewrite--that is, replace--private property of its customers. The more they condition customers to accept this as normal, the less customers will recognize the nature of their property rights.

I admit that the article linked above only provided a jumping-off point for thought regarding this matter. I have trouble imagining people will rush out to buy radios that provide an extra benefit for broadcasters and nothing for the consumer. However, these companies do see it as their right to push marketing and to take other liberties with your personal property, and we as consumers and as citizens must stop clicking Yes, signing unread or undisputed contracts, and accepting quietly this usurping of our property rights.

Holidays Are Over

Put the fruitcake back in the freezer and dig into the cheesecake.

Friday, January 02, 2004
Suburban Knees Jerk

Memorandum to a neighbor:

Dear sir, and undoubtedly you are a sir and not a ma'am, I understand that the weather was nice in Casinoport, Missouri today, with a temperature reaching seventy-one degrees FARENHEIT, but what on earth prompted you to go to your shed or garage, get out, and start your lawn mower on the second of January?

Pray tell, how much shorter did you want your brown lawn to be?

Thursday, January 01, 2004
Step Five: Classified

Fark led me to a set of helpful tips about how to handle giving your old computer to someone else. Here's a summary of what Kim Komando, noted radio computer "expert," suggests as steps or protocols for what you can do to safeguard personal information you might have on the P.C.:
    1. Don't want a big hassle? Give the computer to a trusted employee, friend or family member.

    2. Reformat the hard drive and re-install the operating system.

    3. Buy software and overwrite the disk, again and again and again.

    4. You're totally paranoid, so get out the acetylene torch.
That's it, Komando? That's all you have? What about step 5?

If you don't know what Protocol 5 is, you're not totally paranoid.

I guess not everyone can afford an atom-smasher in the basement.

When Frilly Meets Football

As I was reading the Febuary 2004 issue of St. Louis Homes and Lifestyles on the cycle at the gym (and I must have picked it up on the cycle, because for what sort of Man reads such a fru-fru magazine--hey, look, the person who left it here has the same name and address as I), I came across the article entitled "Running for Daylight: A light-filled domicile is where Rams' head coach Mike Martz and wife Julie touch down". As you all know, I don't care for the St. Louis Lambs--I mean, come on, any football team with less than fifty years' tradition in their city is a bunch of tax-sucking mercs. However, I like to look at the pretty pictures of rich peoples' homes had nothing better to do for 20 minutes of intense cardiovascular working. I mean, aside from looking at the scantily-clad, physically-fit women as they sweat, but once you've seen the best, everything else is just furniture.

The text, amid the pictures, included this cute little nugget written by Carla Patton (whose name I included so the next time she Googles herself, she'll read my blog):
    The Martzes arrived here with the Rams from L.A. in 1995; Mike was then the wide receivers coach. With the exception of a two-year stint in the northwest with the Washington Redskins, they have lived here ever since.
You remember those two years, don't you, when the Redskins played the Seahawks sixteen times?

(Note to Carla: The Washington Redskins are the Washington D.C. Redskins.)

Wednesday, December 31, 2003
Public Service Announcement for New Year's Eve Revellers

Plenty of ink is spent reminding you each year that firing guns into the air is a dangerous way to celebrate the holiday.

As a public service announcement, we at MBJ remind partiers that firing guns into each other is not a good idea either.

Thank you, that is all.

Tuesday, December 30, 2003
New Divining Rod for Drunkeness

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, St. Louis area police have a new gizmo to use on motorists:
    More St. Louis-area police officers are carrying extra gadgets this holiday season to help them catch drunks on the road.

    Several police departments in Missouri and Illinois have acquired the new technology during the past year. It is geared for traffic enforcement and could be key in the campaign to halt drunken driving during the holidays.

    In the past six months, St. Louis County police bought portable breath testers for each precinct station.

    Now officers in the field can easily test a driver who might straddle the line between sober and illegally drunk, police said. Results from the tests are not admissible in court, but officers can use the test as probable cause to arrest a driver then test him or her on a more sophisticated machine at the jail.
That's right, fellows. They've got a new divining rod that, if it twitches right, indicates you might be in violation of the law. Enough to arrest you and drag you downtorn or to Clayton. For violating a law that's sliding slipperily but certainly to the point where wearing an alcohol-based cologne will make you legally intoxicated. Why do the police think this new gizmo is important?
    "Some professional drunks can fool you," said Maj. Timothy Fitch, commander of the St. Louis County police patrol division. "Even if they can pass the field sobriety tests, they can't pass this."
Got that? People who are "professional drunks" can pass field sobriety tests--by not behaving in such a manner as to indicate the alcohol has affected them! Could it be that they're perhaps not driving badly either?

What, you think I am making this up and it will only be applied to people who drive forty miles an hour in reverse on the shoulder on the wrong side of the highway? Wrong.

    Departments expect these gadgets will come in handy during roadside safety checks and extra patrols scheduled for the New Year's holiday. [Emphasis mine.]
Roadside safety check? Buddy, that means the sobriety checkpoints the police set up on the roads wherein all vehicles get screened. So whatever false positives this thing provides, complete with paddy wagon ride and booking, that means you Mormons are eligible, too.

A pile of cash and another nick in our liberty, for what? Here's the numbers, in a metropolitan area of up to three million people (depending upon the counties you include):
    Officers gave DWI violations to 713 drivers through November last year. They arrested 922 in the same time period this year.
That's almost three arrests per day. In a population of three million. Obviously the profession of drunkeness does not pay well, or most professional drunks are telecommuters. What's the life savings?
    Last year, Missouri lost 525 people in alcohol-related crashes.
Fewer than two per day, and I would wager that many of those deaths were self-inflicted.

Individually, drunk driving deaths are tragedies, particularly the non-drunk victims. However, I do dispute that all the effort and ever-tightening legislative and law-enforcement nooses drawn around the problem probably have entered the diminishing returns effort. And it's more than the returns that diminish; it's our very freedom, Chester.

Now have a Guinness, and walk home, for crying out loud. A little cool air will clear your head, and you could use the exercise.

Monday, December 29, 2003
Easy Transition

The Noggle household for the holidays:

Pretty Green and Red Lights

The Noggle household for the NFL playoffs:

Pretty Green and Gold Lights

Join Your Loyal Citizens Book Burners Watchers Brigade

Drudge links to a story entitled FBI urges police to watch for people carrying almanacs in the San Francisco Chronicle. Lead:
    The FBI is warning police nationwide to be alert for people carrying almanacs, cautioning that the popular reference books covering everything from abbreviations to weather trends could be used for terrorist planning.
    "For local law enforcement, it's just to help give them one more piece of information to raise their suspicions," said David Heyman, a terrorism expert for the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. "It helps make sure one more bad guy doesn't get away from a traffic stop, maybe gives police a little bit more reason to follow up on this."

    The FBI noted that use of almanacs or maps may be innocent, "the product of legitimate recreational or commercial activities." But it warned that when combined with suspicious behavior -- such as apparent surveillance -- a person with an almanac "may point to possible terrorist planning."
To better prepare you intrepid citizen informers out there, I'll give you a head's up to other suspicious characters in America:

Educated people.

That's right, folks. Keep an eye out for:

  • Physicists.
    These diabolical intellectuals study such dangerous things as force, velocity, gravity, and other skills useful to terrorists who want to use everyday objects and the laws of nature against innocents.

  • Chemists.
    These "scientists" study how natural and artificial combinations of atoms interact, which can lead to substances harmful to the population.

  • Biologists.
    These dabblers in the arcane arts know how microorganisms--as well as larger organisms, such as angry mutant sea bass--can be used against the children.

  • Engineers.
    These hands-on appliers of science understand the way bridges work, buildings stand, dams hold, and electric circuits work. It's best to let the FBI know immediately if you find an engineer around a possible target. Particularly if the engineer is doing something suspicious, like holding a clipboard.

  • Information Technology professionals.
    Computer geeks, misanthropes and asocial misfits all, know the vulnerabilities of the technological infrastructure of the nation, nay, THE WORLD!
You don't need to fear all academics, intellectuals, or college faculty, however. Although English, History, and *-Studies departments fancy themselves revolutionaries, they're harmless.

Instead, citizen, you should focus on nefarious characters who read books. Sound harmless? Consider someone who reads:
  • Comic books or mystery novels.
    These people often determine that there exists a standard of right or wrong aside from U.S. law and court rulings, and often read books where "good" triumphs over "evil," often without the proper bureaucracy in place to spread blame for failure or leak credit for success.

  • Science fiction.
    Non-academics or speculative individuals often read these books, which, like religious documents, contain fantastic versions of reality or blueprints for the future. These individuals are harder to trace than academics since they're "freelancers" who often have telescopes, chemistry sets, or workshops in their homes, garages, or closests and are not subject to sanction by removal of federal funding.

Of course, anyone who reads literary fiction or Oprah's book choices are safe enough--for now--because they've embraced a passive fatalism that will make them easier to control less likely to perform wanton acts of destruction.

So turn your neighborhood watching eyes on those cash only used book stores, loyal citizens, and the federal law enforcement officials will review bookstore and library records to see who has the dangerous information.

Sunday, December 28, 2003
The End of the Conversation

Since we painted our master bathroom last autumn, I've been meaning to recaulk around the tub. It's starting to break down and show its age. Not that the mold spores mind. They've found a good home and some tasty latex upon which to feast. But I've meant to recaulk this tub since about spring, but I haven't had quite the stretch of time to devote to it. Several hours at least, non-stop, to devote to the project. How could I find the time, when Civilization III called?

But since I had a personal day on Christmas Eve, I had a long block of time available. Particularly since I could not leave the house until the FedEx truck delivered Heather's Christmas gift (which is another story entirely). So I got into the bathroom and began removing the existing caulk. I think a previous owner just applied a layer of latex caulk over an existing layer of silicone caulk when it came time for him/her to do the deed. So it took me almost five hours of intermittent scraping, cursing, and swearing to get all of it off. Once I got the old caulk off, it was a breeze to apply a new ring of caulk.

So although I was reluctant to perform this much-needed household maintenance, I'm still proud to have done it. But why is it that the casual conversations end when people ask me how my holidays were and I answer:

"I spent Christmas Eve in the bathtub with a razor blade and wondered if I really wanted to go through with it."

Book Review: Who's Looking Out for You? by Bill O'Reilly (2003)

I have read O'Reilly's first two nonfiction offerings (The O'Reilly Factor: The Good, the Bad, and the Completely Ridiculous in American Life amd The No-Spin Zone: Confrontations with the Powerful and Famous in America), so you can expect I'm somewhat a fan of O'Reilly's message. Be that as it may, you should know that I don't fully appreciate, in an O'Reillyriffic way, his television show; as a matter of fact, I drew attention to my recent personal record of watching forty minutes of his sixty minute show. I don't even bother with his radio show. So my enthusiasm for all things O'Reilly is somewhat tempered.

His books, though, and in particular this book, captivate me. Contrary to what his schooling and his valuable work experience with CBS, Fox, and so on, bring him, he's a better read than a watch. He gets to elucidate his points in far greater detail than when he's got a two minute Talking Points Memo or five minutes to spar with someone with an opposing viewpoint. Still, The O'Reilly Factor is nice, and The No Spin Zone drops a lot of names, but this book is the masterwork of them all.

The title question frames the message. Who's looking out for you? O'Reilly contends that none of the power structures out there, from the government to the media, really have your individual goals and best interests in mind. Of course not; those institutions really aren't about your best individual interests, but they often act as though they are, so it's a point that we the people need to remember.

Of course, even though I agree with his points in the book, O'Reilly has a couple things to with which I contend. First of all, he's a blowhard. He even illustrates this in the book when he quotes himself disagreeing with an opponent and calling him a pinhead. However, I get the sense that he knows the role he's playing, that he is a bit over-the-top. Kind of like Rush Limbaugh speaks with a tongue-in-cheek in many cases. I don't get that sense with many opposing viewpoints, from Michael Moore to Molly Ivins and Barbara Ehrenreich.

Second, O'Reilly asserts that he's on your side. Well, no, but thanks, Bill. I know enough to know you're suspect as well. You don't know me, and you might crusade for an idealized collection of people you know as the little guy, but unless I know you personally, I still see you through the filter of MegaOther--that other person who speaks to many people anonymously and individually. So you might be good to your friends, and you might be good for me as you pursue your audience, but I don't put all my faith in trust in you, Bill.

I know you'll understand.

Still, gentle blog reader, I'd recommend this book highly. I have given it as a gift this Christmas to a family member I value highly. So although I won't give it to all six of you regular readers (especially since Heather can just read mine), I'll give you my honest opinion that it's worth reading.

Take it for what it's worth. I'm only looking out for my personal integrity as a reviewer. You might not even like it.

To say Noggle, one first must be able to say the "Nah."