Ten things the recession may or may not kill

According to Mike Elgan’s article on computerworld.com, there are ten things that won’t survive the recession, most notably landline phones, pay-to-surf Wi-Fi, satellite radio, and a large number of retail stores.

I have my doubts particularly about the first three of these four (and I’m intentionally focusing on a subset of the full ten for the moment).

Let’s start with landline phones. Just about everyone has found it fashionable to say landline phones are going to be extinct Real Soon Now, or as Elgan says it, “only grandma still has a landline phone.” I do think fewer people will have landline phones, but I don’t think they’re going anywhere for quite some time.  The only real change I see is that VoIP may start to replace analog service, better known to geeks as POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service). Landline phones are not just for the over 50 set; there is a reason that technology has been the primary way to make and receive telephone calls for most of a century. That reason is, landlines simply don’t drop calls. Way back in the day (back when AT&T was The Phone Comany), they dropped a few, mainly due to obscure technical problems like birds landing on phone lines a little too hard.

Pay-to-surf Wi-Fi will probably still hang on in certain places, though I would like to see it die the death it deserves. If anything I would think a recession would have an opposite effect, pinching the businesses just hanging on with free Wi-Fi into charging for it, something I would really hate to see happen. (I’ll probably revisit this one later.) $DEITY forbid, if ISPs ever start charging by the byte in any significant fashion, forget free Wi-Fi where the establishment gets their connection from such an ISP. That cost will be passed straight on to the end user.

Satellite radio? That’s barely gotten started, and has too large of an installed base to just up and crumble. The environmentalist in me cringes at the amount of e-scrap we will wind up with should the now-combined Sirius/XM bite the dust.

I don’t think retail will ever truly die. We may see a few stores here and there bite the dust (Linens N Things, CompUSA, some Circuit City stores), but there will always be room for the drive-down-to-the-store-and-get-it-now people to do just that. Let’s face it, UPS has taught us ground shipping can be fast, but it still isn’t that fast.

There’s another item in this list that I’ll visit, but my take on it needs its own post to really do it justice.

Same old dog, same old tricks: China and censorship

This time none other than the New York Times is the (un)fortunate victim:

China blocks Internet access to New York Times – Yahoo! News

My notes to Chinese government officials who may stumble across this:

  1. The Soviet Union collapsed for a reason.
  2. As John Gilmore so eloquently put it: “The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.”
  3. Trying to censor the New York Times just makes you look like a bunch of boneheads to the rest of the world.

The roots of Internet Explorer’s security problems

About a day ago Zack Whittaker posed the question: Has Internet Explorer ever been safe?

Overall I think this is a pretty good write-up on the history of Internet Explorer for those who don’t understand its faults and/or are actually still using IE for serious Web browsing.

I think on a greater scale, it’s a great example of Microsoft’s utter failure in terms of security, and quite possibly a testament to the problems facing non-free software.

Non-free software is defined here as software licensed under terms which do not grant at least one of the four freedoms in the FSF’s Free Software Definition. This includes most of the shrink-wrapped boxes on the shelf at your local computer/electronics retailer.

This class of software, particularly software made available without human-comprehensible source code (like just about all of Microsoft’s products),  starts at a significant security disadvantage. The users are stuck waiting on the maintainer’s patch, and in the case of some remotely exploitable holes, are “sitting ducks” until one is available.

The FSD’s freedoms 1 and 3 are particularly important for getting security fixes out on the users’ timetable instead of the maintainer’s timetable, with freedom 2 playing a strong supporting role in the case where the maintainer refuses to even acknowledge the problem. This is how the teardrop vulnerability in the kernel, Linux, made it out in a matter of hours, instead of days or weeks like the corresponding patch for Windows. Unfortunately for the Windows users in 1997, Microsoft’s stance on security had much more room for improvement than it does today. Even if there was a fix which came from a user or group of users, it could not be legally distributed due to Microsoft’s end-user license agreement (EULA).

Note that this is only an example. The issues are still just as relevant in 2008 (or soon 2009) as it was in 1997. They apply to the recent zero-day IE exploit the same as they do to the teardrop vulnerability.

It is possible Microsoft’s programming staff may one day, finally, match the speed at which Firefox’s development team (which includes users capable of fixing security holes in Firefox)  on a consistent basis. In fact I would like to see that happen in the near future.

However, I’ll be honest here and say I’d also like to win a multi-million dollar lottery jackpot in the near future. Casting wishful thinking aside and sticking to strict realism, I don’t see either happening soon.

[Edit 2020-12-15: dead link updated]

An ever-so-brief commentary on voting and politics

So today we had a run-off election for a Texas Senate seat. I got all kinds of political ads over the past week from both candidates, so there was no way I was going to forget to vote in this one. I have missed a couple of minor elections before.

What shocks me is that there was a rather low turnout. I was the 21st voter in my precinct, and I’m pretty sure we have at least 10 to 20 times that many eligible voters. I’m not expecting huge lines for an election like this, but I’d like to think we could get at least a 20% turnout.

I don’t think we’ll ever see mandatory voting like some other countries have. Indeed, that would go against a lot of why the US was founded to begin with. But, I also think our Founding Fathers way underestimated the possibility of voter apathy two centuries later.