Monthly Archives: May 2013

You Would Think a Cell Phone Company Would Want to Blanket an Airport

Verizon, my current cell phone provider, has no signal at the American baggage claim area at MIA. No bars. No data. No phone. No texts. Nothing. Just a phone getting warm as it tries to punch out or pull in a signal.

This isn’t a one-off thing today — I’ve noticed this problem before, as have family members. There is great coverage at the Miami airport while you are on board the plane, and perfectly fine coverage when you are on the departures level. But baggage claim is the lowest level; it’s street level but in every other respect feels like a basement as there is lots of concrete between the person and the sky.

Anyway, being the helpful sort of cuss that I am, I phoned in the problem to Verizon when I got home. The guy took down the info, and said he’d send it off to the right department. Then he kindly explained that Verizon doesn’t promise coverage everywhere, which seemed an odd way to thank me for pointing out that they don’t serve a major part of a major airport, which you would think Verizon would want to do. I asked if anyone would get in touch with me to tell me if they were going to fix the problem. No, he said, that department doesn’t talk to customers.

I complimented him on Verizon’s great customer service, and asked if he would recommend AT&T. “That’s not what I’m saying,” he gamely replied.

You would think a cell phone company might want to cover the busy baggage area at a major airport, no?

As it happens, I am outside the 2-year period on my contract and, although I didn’t mention it, AT&T does have the HTC One…. Problem is, though, I used to have AT&T. I don’t recall if they have a signal in the bowels of MIA, but I do recall that they were, overall, worse at customer service than Verizon.

As for the HTC One, it doesn’t have a SD card, but otherwise, it sounds really good. Switching costs are high though, as I’d lose my unlimited data plan at Verizon…although keeping it would require buying new phones outright rather than taking subsidized ones…

Posted in Shopping | 1 Comment

DRM, HTML5, and You

EFF just took its first act as a full member of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C): it filed an objection to the W3C’s plans to put Digital Rights Management (DRM) into HTML5, the next version of the HTML standard. In a statement EFF said,

DRM standards look like normal technical standards but turn out to have quite different qualities. They fail to implement their stated intention – protecting media – while dragging in legal mandates that chill the speech of technologists, lock down technology, and violate property rights by seizing control of personal computers from their owners.

You can learn more at EFF’s Why the HTML5 Standard Fight Matters.

I am particularly concerned about this issue because I see a link between DRM and the undermining of anonymity — the heart of most DRM is identifying who is accessing content, and that creates systems which either directly make anonymity more difficult, or map the way for others to implement those systems.

OBDisclosure: I’m a proud member of the EFF Advisory Board.

Posted in Internet, Law: Copyright and DMCA | Comments Off on DRM, HTML5, and You

Rental Cars as a Civilization Advance (Herein Also of the Valuation of Locks)

The ubiquity of rental cars are one of the great advances of human civilization. Think about it for a moment: you sign your name (and if you’re a member of a rental car company’s membership program, not even that) and you are given the keys to a vehicle that costs usually $20,000 or more. No questions asked. That’s a real hallmark of trust in markets and highly developed institutions.

via View from the Wing

I’ve wondered sometimes how we should treat the costs of locks.

On the one hand, you buy a lock, that is counted as part of GDP. Well-used locks genuinely make you safer; they add to your welfare function. A world in which you are allowed to have a lock, and can afford locks when you need them, is for you a better world than one in which you are not allowed locks, or they are priced out of your reach.

On the other hand, a world in which you need a lock is not as good a world in which, all other things being equal, you do not need a lock. If you could rely on something free — magic, social conditioning, hardwired biological morality — to secure your places and possessions, then you could save all that lock money and spend it on something else, raising your utility even further. So in this view, each expenditure on a deadbolt is a deadweight loss, a sign of a social and economic failure, a waste of resources that could more profitably be employed for something else.

Posted in Econ & Money, Law | 11 Comments

What They Said

Some links today. Click through – there’s always lots more goodness waiting.

  • Hullabaloo (Digby), QOTD: Robert Borosage: “There is an idiocy about our current national politics that is simply stupefying. We are sitting idly, watching, and suffering, as our nation disintegrates into a run-down backwater.” (See also, Daily Kos, A bridge falling into the water and a vision for the future gone missing)
  • DownWithTyranny!, Can The Democrats Retake The House Next Year?“: “One of the easiest districts for a Democrat to win would be FL-27, the seat now held by Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. But there is no recruitment; there is anti-recruitment. DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz has made it abundantly clear to Florida Democrats that she will not tolerate anyone credible running against Ileana, who, like her, is owned by the sugar baron Fanjul brothers. Last year Obama’s 7 point margin in FL-27 was one of the highest margins of victory in any district held by a Republican Member of Congress. But Wasserman Schultz had the DCCC make sure there would be no viable candidate.”
  • Political Animal, Apple: Living the Lie: “I have three laws of politics. I don’t know if they explain everything, but they often explain something, and that’s enough for me. Malanowski’s First Law of Politics is that the rich and powerful will always act in their own self interest. Malanowski’s Second Law is that the rich and powerful will then get the rest of us to act in their interest as well, usually by making us believe that we hold this interest in common. Malanowski’s Third Law is that when the rest of us figure out ways to act in our own self-interests, the rich and powerful are likely to outlaw whatever we’ve come up with.”
  • Greek Yogurt considered dangerous (for the environment): Modern Farmer, Whey Too Much: Greek Yogurt’s Dark Side (via NakedCapitalism, Links 5/25/13).

OK, enough gloom and doom.

What? You miss the gloom and doom?

Posted in Linkorama | 4 Comments

A Georgian Grandmother’s Take on the TSA

A student I know writes,

My grandmother and I have a unique relationship. We talk about the usual family gossip, but we really get into it when we talk about politics. Why is this unique? Because my grandmother is in her eighties and she lives in Tbilisi, Georgia. Having spent my formative years in the U.S., I make sure to tell her of the liberties that I take for granted that she did not have for the majority of her life in Communist Russia. I tell her that I could support any candidate running for office without fear of retribution from the sitting party (or can I?). Unlike her, I don’t have to fear being audited by the KGB if I support the opposing party (or do I?) (OK maybe I am safe from the KGB). Unlike her, I could become a journalist and try to uncover the truth without fear of being investigated for criminal conspiracy (or can I?). Unlike her, I could rely on my government to tell me the truth about what is going on in the world (or can I?). Unlike her, I am protected by the Constitution to say what I want without being punished (or am I?).

My grandmother does not like being told that she is missing out on these basic liberties by not being in the U.S. (or is she?). Recently, my grandmother visited us in the U.S., and then she visited some family in Israel. She told me about her experience at JFK International Airport. She told me how she was patted down. She told me how she had to stand for what felt like hours (Georgians tend to exaggerate) waiting for the honor to be patted down. She told me how strangers rummaged through her bags. She told me how the TSA threw out her water bottle and how she had to buy another one inside the airport for $3 so she can take her medicine. She told me how rude the TSA agents were to her. She told me how hard it was for her to remove her shoes and then she told me how frustrated she was when she found out she did not have to. I tried to tell her that this is the price we all pay to make sure we have a safe society.

She knew I was going to say that. That’s when she told me about her experience flying to the U.S. and flying from Israel back home. She told me that she was treated with respect and sensitivity. She told me that there were no pat downs, no waiting, no shoe drama, no bag drama, and no “administrative” searches and seizures. I told her it sounds like the security at those airports is lacking. She was not having it. She said there have been no terrorist attacks from those airports and she did research (research-really?) and in fact those airports are safer than their U.S. counterparts. I was stumbling. She was just getting warmed up. Then she went for the jugular. She asked me, oh by the way, whose society is really free?

I realized that in Russia the government knows what you have before you get to the airport so there is no reason for the authorities to scrutinize low-risk passengers. In Israel, law enforcement could track people suspected of terrorism and some form of profiling is prevalent at Ben-Gurion Airport so again there is no need to burden the elderly. However, the U.S. does not use as much profiling nor can the authorities track people’s movements without some kind of judicial oversight. This is the upshot of the discrepancy between how my grandmother was treated at the three airports. My grandmother said she agreed with me and she added that she does not mind being tracked or profiled as long as she can have her dignity and her water while she is traveling.

I asked her if I could write about our exchange. She said sure, but she warned me against using my name. (She said I could use hers, but it’s probably not a good idea because that’s too easy to track. I better listen to her — she has more experience with this stuff.)

Myself, I’d rather undergo some difficulties at the airport rather than live in a surveillance state, but this either goes to show that tastes vary, or that tastes in what counts as freedom are to some extent defined by culture and expectations. Of course, there’s always the possibility that we may end up with both the surveillance and the TSA.

Previously: I write about my grandmother — names and all — in “Rose Burawoy, Political Scientist”.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Law: Right to Travel | 6 Comments

Crawford on Telco Monopolies

Nice profile of Susan Crawford, highlighting her campaign against telco internet monopolies, by David Carr in today’s NYT.

A taste of Telecom’s Big Players Hold Back the Future:

Susan Crawford, a professor at [Cardozo School of Law], has written a book, “Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age,” that offers a calm but chilling state-of-play on the information age in the United States. She is on a permanent campaign, speaking at schools, conferences and companies — she was at Google last week — and in front of Congress, asserting that the status quo has been great for providers but an expensive mess for everyone else.

Ms. Crawford argues that the airwaves, the cable systems and even access to the Internet itself have been overtaken by monopolists who resist innovation and chronically overcharge consumers.

The 1996 Telecommunications Act, which was meant to lay down track to foster competition in a new age, allowed cable companies and telecoms to simply divide markets and merge their way to monopoly. If you are looking for the answer to why much of the developed world has cheap, reliable connections to the Internet while America seems just one step ahead of the dial-up era, her office — or her book — would be a good place to find out.

‘Calm but chilling’ – that’s Susan when she’s doing business; she’s warm and funny when off duty.

Posted in Internet | 1 Comment