You wake up one day and realize you have a chip in your arm, a chip in your car, a chip in your wallet, and a chip in your computer, none of which is directly controlled by you, and none which you escape.

This is how the future will come to you.

Industry and the government will begin suggesting fingerprint scanners, retina scanners, RFID chips, and closed circuit cameras. After all, industry wants to know what you do with your time in order to sell you stuff, and the government wants to know what you do with your time for national security interests, or to fight crime, or for whatever reason you insert there.

Both industry and government are exercising self-preservation and self-propagation. If you are more enticed to buy because adverts are better targeted to your individual preference, industry preserves and increases itself through your dollars. If you are less inclined to speak out about the government, less inclined to think independently, and less inclined to flex your rights, governments preserves and increases itself through annexing your former freedoms.

Once you’re used to fingerprint scanners on your appliances and gadgets, retinal scanners at your bank and ATM, RFID chips in your credit card and keyfob, and closed circuit cameras in high-crime neighborhoods, you’ll see them popping up everywhere, even in places where there isn’t a clear reason for them. You will be watched constantly, though a disorganized collection of devices, few of which are connected together.

In the meantime, your computer hardware will be standardized along a set of guidelines, ostensibly to provide better security and stability. Operating systems will begin to run only on this secure hardware platform. Everything else will adapt or die. Eventually, new protocols will be adopted, so that any non-compliant device won’t connect to the network. Slowly but surely everything on the internet will gain a real, physical address. Privacy and anonymity will disappear, the chilling effects of which will ensure that free speech will also begin to disappear. This push will again come from vendors (who desire software/hardware locking), the government (who don’t like the idea of anyone being able to do anything), and parents (who want to easily be able to monitor what their children are doing without any actual effort).

One day you’ll wake up and notice that all these databases have been linked together. Suddenly, you are being watched by the industrial/governmental establishment, along with everyone else, and there is nothing you can do. Your RFID chips are being tracked, your eyes are being scanned, your fingerprints are being read, and your face is being analyzed. You wake up one day and realize you have a chip in your arm, a chip in your car, a chip in your wallet, and a chip in your computer, none of which is directly controlled by you, and all of which you cannot escape.

The scary thing is that no one person is responsible for this. You won’t see a total information agency trying to scan everyone and spy on everyone all the time. There will be all these separate data streams, and one day some legislature or agency will come along and merge them into one.

And it will all be done for your security, your safety, and your children.

Thing is, this isn’t a bad idea. Probably the last thing you thought you’d see coming from my blog, right?

If there’s no way to exempt anyone from it, if there are no powerful men that are “excused” from the program, if it’s truly universal and truly egalitarian, it could be a very good thing. It could be a combination of personal history and personal witness.

The only question is this: could any human ever design such a system?

Notes upon installing Mozilla Thunderbird 2.0

  • The interface looks much cleaner, much neater. The new default icon set is at once less busy and more attractive, giving the application a much-needed facelift.
  • Almost everything is in the same place as before. That’s good. Some functionality has been renamed. That’s alright.
  • Tabs are good, but they’re essentially the same as the Labels they replace, a major exception being the ability to apply more than one Tag. Which is troublesome, actually, because they’re still numbered by what I can only assume is priority and have the ability to turn the subject line of your email different colours (a helpful visual clue for important messages, or simply marking which messages have been dealt with). But if you add more than one tag, the colour system obviously doesn’t follow. It remains the colour of the highest priority tag. I find this somewhat clumsy.
  • Still on tabs here. If you add the “Tag” column to your second pane (as I’ve done), you can see what tags have been applied to your message. This is good, this is nice, but adding a tag to a message is still a three-click process, which is tedious, unless you remember what numbers are applied to which tags. Which is also clumsy. Tagging emails is a great feature, but let me show the Thunderbird developers what would make it an amazing feature: Allow me to click on the Tag Column portion of the second pane and have it turn into a text field (with a selectable tag list or tag cloud underneath) into which I can type and have Thunderbird autocomplete for me.
  • Still on tags. Please, divide them up with something. Like a comma. Or a pipe. Or a slash. I don’t care. At least then they don’t look like a badly-formed sentence.
  • The new mail notification is so much better than the old one, which was hopelessly broken beyond belief. It would report mail that was being marked as spam, mail that was routed directly to junk, mail that didn’t exist, and wouldn’t disappear from the system tray when the message it was reporting was clicked on (instead choosing to wait until I exited the folder). The new one seems to have solved these problems, is better to look at, and contains more information than simply “MAIL IS HERE HURR”.
  • Folder summary popups are a nice feature. Don’t know if I’ll ever use it… except maybe when someone’s looking over my shoulder and I’ve got a barn-burner of an email coming in from my political dissident friends.
  • Installation was fast, too. Surprisingly so.
  • One last thing. Thunderbird needs a distributed installation system for Windows. I really don’t want to walk around to 20 desktops and make sure each one is dandy.

Here is the fundamental problem with voting machines.

The fundamental issue with electronic voting machines versus paper ballots is not that fraud can happen, as some like to suggest. No, fraud has been around for a long time. As long as there has been elections, there has been election fraud.

The difference is the ease with which it can be done. And the scope of the effects.

I mean, you know how hard it is to keep things under wraps: two people can hardly keep a secret, no matter how insignificant. Imagine the army of people it would take to rig a paper ballot election. Now imagine all those people keeping that a secret. Something that big? No way. It’d be in the news in a week.

How many people does it take to rig an electronic election? I don’t know, but certainly not 100,000. Maybe two. Maybe three. Maybe ten. These people don’t have to run around registering dead people as voters and stuffing ballot boxes, either. They have to make some changes to the software the computer inside the box runs. That’s all. A few people making a few changes, and an entire election, potentially across an whole nation, is rigged.

Who would do such thing?

People with something to gain by it. Money, government grants, graft, power, whatever. These things happen all the time. In Canada, the Liberal party managed to squander something like a billion dollars by letting those with something to gain use it. And I don’t even have to talk about Watergate and a hundred other more minor scandals.

This is why I object to electronic voting. Unless something changes in their procurement, design, and use, I won’t ever use one myself. I don’t trust myself enough to handle that kind of power and influence without some kind of oversight, some kind of transparency. Why would I trust some faceless bureaucrat or executive with a power so awesome as the vote?

The question, then, is this: are you willing to put democracy in the hands of a few people, none of whom are elected by you, none of whom are responsible to you, and none of whose names you even know?

I know I’m not.

I have several memories of New York.

It hasn’t been long since I was in New York, New York with my friend Nick, but it feels like another lifetime, almost. I’m sure almost everyone has that at some point, where some memory seems fragile with age despite its relative youth, but it’s still strange. Or maybe they’re not fragile with age, but rather separating into bits and pieces that surface at odd times and in odd places. I don’t really know; describing something that goes on in my head is complicated enough that I can’t really approach it without a metaphor of some kind.

I remember being in the Museum of Natural History, awed at the sheer size of the blue whale hanging in the marine biology room. Even when Nick left to go back to our hostel, I wandered around that room for hours, taking it in. Nothing I’ve seen since has managed to monopolize my attention like that sea of information. But what really surprised me was the fragility of the environments housing all these alien creatures, as if the ocean is made of tissue paper, as we’re tearing it apart casually, without really understanding what we’re doing.

Sometimes I imagine ships approaching the New World, their hulls almost impeded with the mass of fish roiling in the water. The ocean must seem so empty now, in comparison.

I remember walking the edge of Central Park, almost afraid of going in. The border between the park and the city seemed like a place where a curtain had been drawn open on another world. Like a giant surgeon had removed this rectangle of city and replaced it with this sea of green. All around the edges, the buskers and traders set up their wares; the homeless sat at the intersection of wall and sidewalk. But inside the park itself an air of reverence had laid itself down, only to be broken by a barking dog, a laughing kid, an iPod playing louder than iPods should be allowed.

Can’t say I’d ever want to go in there after dark, but during the day I could pass the veil and imagine I was walking into Narnia. There’s nothing like it here in Mississauga. Nothing even similar.

I remember walking into Penn Station with Nick and seeing armed guards posted at every entrance: the mental scars of 9/11 still hadn’t healed. Everyone was on high alert. Later, viewing the site of the attacks, I imagined the buildings crumbling, imagined the plume of dust and debris spreading through the city. I couldn’t take it all in, that something so tall, so massive, could be reduced to fragments in mere hours, mere minutes.

Thankfully, I’ve never been witness to such events. Hopefully I never will. Sometimes I can picture the panic of that day, and of the aftermath, but I have no desire to be a party to them. I want to go back to New York someday, maybe even live there. The subway, the Starbucks, the hostel, the cigars on the roof, Times Square: it was a wonderful time.

Ruminations on the Virginia Tech shootings.

Everyone has their opinions, their thing to say, their condolence to offer. I’m adding my voice to the fray not because you need to read it, but because it’s something I need to write.

There is evil in the world. That’s clear enough. There’s something wrong with what happed at VT, no matter what philosophy you hold. You can feel it. The good news in all this is that’s not the end of the story: there is good, too, and the good is stronger.

Quite a few people, specifically in Virginia these days, need our prayer.

In the frantic search for a villain, for someone to blame, I’ve felt a bad taste growing in my mouth. The media, in their often tasteless and always sensational way, are by far the greatest villains in the aftermath. This isn’t a time to do something in Virginia, unless that something is a moment of silence and reflection. It’s a time for mourning, not a time for action; it’s a time for laying those who died to rest, not a time to take the president of VT behind the barn. There are enough casualties of this tragedy already.

Free Music Tuesday

Yep, it’s that time again. And I’ll spill the beans: this week’s FMT comes after several hours of weeding out the not-quites and so-not-going-to-happens. I like doing this, but seriously, people. Get on the ball.

In any case, today’s FMT features another instrumental release, Jean Nine’s Whispers and the Storm. But this one you’ll have to listen to for yourself: don’t just take my word for it. It begins with some goth-tinged synth, ventures into postrock sprinkled with piano and strings, and then for the coup de grâce switches to triphop before settling back down to its postrock underpinnings.

That was a long sentence.

One note: the files are encoded as Ogg Vorbis, so you’re going to need a player capable of handling this fine format. WinAmp full edition, for instance. Also those of you using Linux will notice that Ogg Vorbis support is generally built right in.

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A brief note about how to conduct ones self in a conversation.

I’m not a big fan of justifying people’s positions on things. I guess I just figure if you’re old enough to write and if the thing you’re talking about has enough merit to stand up on its own, you don’t need me to give the whole thing a backrub. Maybe that’s selfish or something, but I don’t know; I mean, there’s just that difference between someone asking advice in order to get advice and someone asking for advice to get a vote in his favour. You can feel it. It’s covered in slime.

See, I think people are generally pretty sensitive and pretty intelligent. Most people don’t hold ideas so paper-thin that they can be poked through with a few questions. And conversely, so blindingly obvious that you can confirm them without a second thought. Understanding doesn’t usually come with a couple words of explanation. It usually takes time.

My pastor is responsible for kick-starting this post.

We had a good sermon Sunday morning. One of those sermons that have been a long time coming and seem somehow overdue, you know? It began with talk about how Christians are supposed to become more like God over time, which seems entirely right and correct to me. I mean, if you’ve ever hung out with a bunch of people that think a certain way, it’s hard to keep from buying into that. It’s sort of like osmosis, if you think about it; it makes sense that if you’re in community with God you’d become more like him.

I’m not going to say anything ground-breaking here. I know loads of people have said it, and a good percentage of them have said it much better. I just have to get it off my chest.

Here’s the thing, though: if you’re supposed to start looking more like God as time goes by, what does the way you look say about your God? Or what does the way your community looks say about its God? You have to figure that a bunch of people in community growing together to look like something, well, eventually they’re going to come to resemble (as a group) that thing that they’re growing towards.

That is to say, if your religious community resembles elaborate kabuki, what does that say about your god? If it looks like an exclusive monastery for masochists, what does that say about your god?

It’s a good question, I think. Ask yourself. Are you growing up to look like your father, God, or are you growing God up to look like you? Or to put it in the language of scripture, are you being conformed to the image of God, or is God being conformed into the image of you?

I imagine that we often think of this in terms of it being someone else’s problem. For instance, it’s the problem of modernist, consumer-oriented mega-churches held rapt by the glittering American materialist dream. Or it’s the problem of a bunch of German post-Enlightenment scholars who decided one day that their empirical measurement of scripture was more important that scripture’s measurement of itself. Or it’s the problem of a few woo-woo postmodern shaman types who dance in the aisles and light candles and stuff during what one could loosely describe as “services”.

But of course it’s not just their problem. It’s your problem, too. Because it’s not just as easy as picking up the Bible and seeing what God looks like. I guess we have this history of “interpreting” scripture for exactly this reason: Jesus doesn’t just leap up out of the book and give you a list of bullet points. It’s quite complicated, really.

I just realised this post could go on forever, if I wanted it to. I could talk about the Holy Ghost moving in people, and how people chose these books to be scripture while rejecting others, or how people split up into camps about what God looks like, or how everybody thinks everybody else is wrong.

At the end of the day (and at the end of this paragraph), though, there’s nothing left to do but take a good long look at yourself. Maybe stop glancing around to see what other folks look like, and just get out a mirror or something. What does what you see say about your God?

Apples are good, and if you eat one every day, your dead body will be remarkably well-preserved.

It’s amazing how we can get used to things, isn’t it? I think so. I imagine you might think so too, after looking at that sentence for a while. Yet maybe even more amazing is what we get used to.

I don’t have any grand point here. I just had a thought this morning, and I’m sharing it with you, because I’ve found you can even get used to that dull, massive pain of a tooth in trauma. And if you can get used to that, what other just plain backwards stuff can you just come to accept over time?

Sometimes I get the feeling that people are like entire worlds, in a way. We’re these microcosms that walk upright, and talk about sports, and think in the car on the way to work, and fight with our wives, and try to build a bigger bomb, and like coffee whitener instead of cream or vice versa. We’re all these little pieces doing these things all at the same time, running down bit by bit.

I can see the people of these worlds eating apples for millennia. Then one day, the apples start poisoning people. People start dying. And for a while, there’s a public outcry. But after a few generations, people begin to forget that apples didn’t always kill the people who at them. People begin to forget that apples are supposed to be good.

That’s all I have to say. But if you take anything away from these words, let it be this: apples are good. Especially a ripe Fuji.

Free Music Tuesday

I know, I know. I’m boring, and so you have two FMT’s in a row. I assure you there are lots of things I’d love to write about, but between my work, my woman, and my (not drinking any) wine, I seem to have lost most of my free time. Not that I’m griping. I’m just saying.

This week’s FMT comes courtesy of 12rec.net, a pretty fantastic Netlabel I found the other day. Fantastic because it’s the home of bands like Milhaven, and records like Milhaven’s Bars Closing Down.

Now, some of you know I’m a sucker for postrock. I’ve said as much before. I’ve this funny idea that — in terms of pop music, at least — postrock is the new instrumental Common Practice Period.

That said, Bars Closing Down is not spectacular postrock. It’s solid, and it’s competent (two things very difficult to find on the Netlabel scene, at least when looking for music that is a) not electronica, and b) any good at all), which is enough for me to recommend you download Bars Closing Down and give it a listen.

Zip set; 192kb MP3
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