the digital imprimatur

Apparently John Walker has written a better description of the perils in store for the internet than I ever could. You can find it here: http://www.fourmilab.ch/documents/digital-imprimatur/

Paranoia, Paranoia, everybody's coming to get me...

I was talking to someone recently about the future of the internet. His take on it was that current system we have is very unorganized and insecure, and that we can do better in the future.

He's right, of course: it's no secret that there are Linkstructural problems in the current internet standards.
Whenever someone clicks on a fake ebay email and gives out their credit information to a scammer, he is feeling the effects of the internet's loose security infrastructure.
Of course, spam and piracy are also, at root, an authentication problem.
And quality of service is a joke... if I want to set up a low-latency channel to talk to someone on the other side of the planet... basically, I can't.

But leaving all this aside, we should be HAPPY with the network we have now. Why? Because we have a lot of freedom. At least in the States, nobody is really making a serious effort to tell you what you can and can not access online. You can find porn, pirated software, music, bomb making instructions, websites promoting cult religions, and every kind of subversive literature online. Anything and everything is available, and with suitable security precautions, you are untraceable. Wireless is, of course, the most gaping security hole in the system, but there are others.

All this is going to change. It has to. What we are seeing now is the "wild west" stage of the web's evolution. The online world has evolved so much faster than the mindsets of government agencies and politicos, that people have come to feel that the online world is invincible. But nothing could be further from the truth. Someday, e-commerce will be taxed, like everything else. Filesharing will be prosecuted the same way drug use has been, and by the same methods-- secret police, informants, special agencies. Security will be enforced by webs of trust between vendors and governments.

I do not know if it will come to this... but in theory, it is possible to give everyone on the internet an ID. Once that step is taken, it's a simple matter to track. Why not? After all, we live in an era where even the confidentiality of public libraries has been challenged. The RealID legislation passed Congress, and it will soon be necessary to carry an ID at all times in the States. Google it if you don't believe me. Tracking web traffic is just the logical next step.

And as for software piracy: there is a big push towards so-called secure computing. For those who haven't heard of it, secure computing is basically a code word for network-based access control and copy protection. I'm not even going to try to provide a neutral link for this, but here is a somewhat biased one which I think is pretty succinct.

Maybe I'm just a pessimist. But I see all of these technologies... RFIDs, "trusted computing", spyware, ad databases... and none of them seem to really be adding anything. They all seem to take away more and more of the privacy and freedom that the US has always claimed to value so highly. I look at the current state of the internet, and I see an entire electronic continent ready to be settled. Is it possible that, decades from now, we will look back from our highly secure, locked-down network, on these early days, and see them as the golden age of the internet?

I'm going to go put on my tinfoil hat now.


The Price of Gasoline

The price of gas was $2.40 a gallon when I pulled into the gas station yesterday.
There's been a lot of hand-wringing over this "crisis." For me it wasn't much of a crisis, but my ten gallons of fossilized fern did cost me more.

In the long term, of course, everyone acknowledges the need to find alternate energy sources. There is, after all, only so much oil and coal. Everyone is positive about the future of wind and solar power. And of course, fuel cells... and who can forget fusion reactors. Alternative power sources are coming "real soon now."

The new energy bill that passed last Friday included a lot of tax breaks for alternative energy sources.
I saw a picture of President Bush in front of a wind turbine. Very moving.
The assumption seems to be that we will switch to a cleaner power source once that source becomes available, and completely painless.

But I think the real question is, why do we, as a society, keep paying the high price of gasoline?
I mean, it's pretty obvious to everybody just what those costs are. Smog. Lung cancer. The risk of climate change. In the case of diesel exhaust, lead poisoning. The whole Middle East situation.

Truthfully, I think gasoline OUGHT to cost more than it does. We should bring our prices in line with Europe's, where gas can cost as much as $5 a gallon.
Why? Simple. The only thing that can make clean power viable is an increase in the cost of conventional power. Nothing else will do. Funding for R&D? Just a costly boondoggle. Tax breaks? Just another technicality for the tax lawyers to mull over.

Decisions at well-run large corporations are not made by idealists or ethicists. They're made on the basis of profit and loss-- and sometimes, for PR value. All of these well-meaning, idealistic half-measures are just ways to ease the public's conscience. They're just Potemkin villages set up to reassure people that yes, BP really does care about your children's future-- and by the way, the tooth fairy is real too.

I notice that one thing the energy bill does accomplish is making oil and gas exploration cheaper.
In the words of cnn.com:
"The bill provides $14.5 billion in tax breaks and potentially billions more in loan guarantees and other subsidies to encourage oil and gas drilling, improve natural gas and electric transmission lines, build new nuclear power reactors and expand renewable energy sources."

That's right... even if you walk to work in your all-natural hemp clothing, and spend your entire day peeling organic potatoes, you are helping to pay for oil and gas drilling all over the world.
Whoopee. I don't know if I can handle any more "freedom."

A lot of people are predicting that there will be some kind of oil crash. The peak oil theory, among others, makes this prediction. Supposedly, at some dire moment, all the oil rigs will simultaneously stop spewing, and the leaders of the world will come back from their golf courses to find a crisis of global proportions.

I don't buy it. First of all, we currently have the ability to turn coal into oil. It's not efficient, of course, but this means that once oil starts getting low, we can keep the current infrastructure burning for that much longer. Second of all, what reason is there to supposed that oil supplies are going to decline any time soon?

My greatest fear is that there won't be an oil crash, or even a slowdown. My greatest fear is that we'll keep going until every inch of oil and coal has been burned up, every last iota of carbon dioxide released. If our so-called leaders don't have the spine to take action now, why should we suppose that they will have it in 10 years, or even 50? It's just the tragedy of the commons, on a global scale.

I'm sorry for the long and excessively bitter post. But I promised you a rant, and here it is.
That's all for now.