Thursday, August 31, 2006

Rather than Worry about AOL...

Just move! If you are an AOL user, there are many better ways to get to the internet, and you do not have to worry (as much) about privacy breaches, or "BadWare." AOL got dinged by StopBadWare.Org for their latest version of their software, which installs extensions to other parts of your system with no warning and no consent on your part. A program should stay in its own "sandbox" and not try to take over the machine, but more and more software packages and ISPs are crossing the line.

Of course, AOL also released the searches of its members to the "research community" a few weeks ago.

So, why worry? Be happy with some other ISP.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Revolution is Here?

I have a belief, which is that all this fretting we have over the depletion of oil reserves, coal, and other fossil fuels, and global warming caused by the spewing of CO2 in the air, etc., etc., is unfounded. Yes, we should be concerned, but Al Gore notwithstanding, I believe we are leaving the gas-burning phase of our existence, and moving into the next phase, which is -- what? Nuclear? Fusion? Geo-thermal? Fuel Cell? I don't know what, but it will come.

One thing that is a constant in the history of humans is that we always find a way. We have a fear that we will over-heat the planet, that we will run out of gasoline, and/or that we will over-breed and deplete the food that exists (see Malthus for this latter view). My view is that we will find the answer and prevail, without turning the planet into a billiard ball. That's what we do.

The coming breakthrough that moves us from fossil fuels to the new paradigm is something that I have been calling "The Revolution." The Revolution is cheap, almost free, energy that will move us -- all of us -- to a new level. When you think about it, we have very fancy cars that are driven by 19th century basic technology: explosions in a cylinder that drive a piston to make a shaft turn, which then makes wheels turn. We are very good at making these explosions happen in more and more efficient manner, but we still use at most 40% of the total energy contained in a gallon of gas -- we waste more energy that we use. Here is a way-to-erudite explanation of this.

This is one reason that I am for SUVs, Big Trucks, and huge 20' Caddies: If we use up the gas, we will be forced to get to the answer sooner.

Come the Revolution, gasoline will be obsolete.

Now, comes news from Ireland, that the Revolution just might be here. It sounds pretty far-fetched -- energy is created, violating the law of physics that says this is impossible. The company that is claiming this, Steorn, laid down the gaunlet, challenging physicists to test and disprove the process.

Now, this could be a stunt. But -- what if? I am game. I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

AOL -- Not Too Swift

AOL has been in the news lately. First, it is nearly impossible to quit -- there is a exasperating audio clip of someone trying to quit that is making the blog rounds. I had a free account that AOL tried to charge me for, and my call with them (which I didn't record, unfortunately) was a lot longer than the encouters referenced above.

Next, they released the search logs of 650,000 users (initial reports were 500,000, but it was worse than that) to the "research community." This was quickly retracted. For the short time it was up, however, there were a lot of people looking through it, with some very interesting findings.

What can we learn from this?

First: AOL does not care about its users. To them, users are not customers, but are fodder for their real customers, the people who buy advertizing from them. This has been true since they mailed their first "free" floppy disk years ago.

Second: There is no privacy on the internet. Period. As Scott McNeally said, "get over it." Please assume that all emails, searches, and everything else you do is open to the world. Online banking and most commerce from reputable companies are relatively safe, but there are still real risks, and even then, you must assume that a company will not keep secret your buying a stun gun or mace or something of that nature on line.

Third: This is a corollary to number 1: Quit AOL. They do not deserve to be in business. Period. More importantly, you deserve to have a real internet, not some fake "big brother" cocoon. Who do I recommend? I recommend getting cable or DSL from the likes of AT&T or Charter, and only use them for access to the internet. Go to Earthlink for dial-up, if you are in the sticks. Get your email address from a free service like Yahoo, or Gmail, or, better, get you own domain and email account from GoDaddy. I use their service for all my domain name registrations. There is too much good stuff out there for AOL to be your option.

Fourth: There are some sad and lonely people in the world. Looking through the AOL searches is like looking into someone's diary -- it is creepy, and it feels like you are looking at something that is better left alone.

Five: It is a good idea for all search engines to stop logging searches. Why should they? The only reason is for dubious marketing reasons -- ways to know what is "in the mind" of the user so that you can pitch more directed ads to them. But for logs of the detail that AOL kept - that is bad news. I did not expect better from AOL, but it is a drag to have your worst assumptions realized.