Privacy

An odd thought came to me totally out of the blue while using a toilet in a restaurant: what if there was a hidden video camera recording me? It seemed unlikely though not totally irrational to worry about it. I could literally spend my life watching bits of others’ on YouTube. Much of our lives is recorded, often unwittingly. A sixth-grader was even recording me lead his class on a tour last week.

The consequences of such an intrusion, beyond the embarrassment, intrigued me. If, say, a secret video of me peeing in a restaurant toilet were to be immortalized on the World Wide Web, what incentive would I have to ever pee in private again? What would be point of ever closing a bathroom door or even going into a bathroom? Could it be that at some point so much of our lives is recorded by cameras that walls would exist not for the privacy of the people within them but to protect the proprietary rights of the person doing the recording?

Thinking about stuff like that sure made it hard to pee.

The Ed “Cookie” Burns effect

Google Analytics revealed something surprising to me. The most visited post on this website last month was a hasty, mistake-ridden entry from four years ago. The title of my one-sentence commentary on the execution of Stanley Tookie Williams played on his name by mentioning Edd “Kookie” Byrnes. Among other mistakes I incorrectly spelled Byrnes’ name as Ed “Cookie” Burns. Whenever someone searches for the term “ed cookie burns” in Google, that post is the top result. For some reason, November 8, 2009 was a high water mark for visits from people searching for “ed cookie burns”.

While it’s nice to come out on top of at least one Google search, that poorly-written blurb is not the gateway through which I want to welcome readers to my site. I have corrected the errors, and now the searchers of “ed cookie burns” may become acquainted with my blog through this awful bit of meta-commentary. Enjoy.

Cognitive dissonance at work

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at this news release from the Secretary of the Interior. It heralds the entrance of the Interior Department into the “YouTube, Facebook, Flickr, and Twitter Age.” However, the Department of the Interior, as of this afternoon at least, is still blocking employees from accessing YouTube, Facebook, and other social networking sites from government computers (Twitter has been temporarily unblocked this month so we can communicate during the airing of “The National Parks” on PBS). The National Park Service’s Facebook site, mentioned in the article, is likely maintained by employees from their homes on their own time.

Discussing the news

Lore was telling me about an article she read online about a couple who asked the staff at their hotel to send someone up for a couples massage. The concierge sent up a prostitute. This story begs a lot of questions, like:

  1. How did this get into the news?
  2. What happened before the couple realized that the lady was a prostitute?
  3. What other requests do the hotel staff think are euphemisms for “send me a prostitute”?

So in order to answer these silly questions of mine, she’s trying to find the article by typing key words of the subject of the article. Guess what comes up when you type “massage” and “prostitute” into an Internet search engine? Not the news.

As for answers to my third question, I nominate:

  1. Can you call me a ride to the airport?
  2. I’d like to order a glass of chocolate milk.
  3. The faucet is dripping. Can someone come up to fix it?

Online social networks

I’ve been involved in some discussion within our agency about how to use online social networking (the shorthand for it is usually Facebook, but it could be YouTube, Flickr, craigslist or whatever). On one hand, something really bothers me about the government belatedly oozing into what people have been doing just fine without it. On the other hand, online social networking could be a powerful tool for engaging (a popular buzzword) the public. To what end nobody can really explain to me. All I hear is “we have to go where the people are.” Go and do what? Nobody knows yet but it ought to be good.

I use Facebook a little bit (at home), for no other reason than most of my friends are on it. E-mail wasn’t helping me keep up anymore. But I find Facebook to be shallow and proprietary. Fine, I’ve taken some movie quizzes and had a sheep thrown at me. But I can’t communicate into or out of it, so if a friend isn’t using it I’ll have to keep up with him some other way (back to e-mail anyway). If I understand their business model, in return for free use of the site they are putting all that personal information to use somehow.

Also, I maintain this blog at some personal expense of effort (and a little of money). Facebook allows you to import blog entries but they seem to discourage it and it seems to not work all that well anyway. I’d like to be able to share my writings and photos with my friends without signing them over to some business.

In the future, online social networking ought to transcend proprietary sites like Facebook by being more portable and by respecting the users’ ownership of their information.