Category Archives: Tech

Bank heists are inappropriate uses for Google Street View

Planning a heist has never been easier. This is the 21st century: Just pull up a mapping website like Google Maps with Street View to figure out your getaway route.

Fortunately for the rest of us, Louisiana lawmakers added a legal roadblock in 2010 by making this sort of thing against the law. The Volokh Conspiracy (whose name shouldn’t suggest they were planning such crimes) has found that using these tools for a crime will get you an extra year in the slammer. It’s an extra ten years if this was terrorism.

And for what it’s worth, I haven’t gone back to using Google. I use it as an example here because Mr. Volokh uses that. As I’ve said before, I’m a user. This is an important point when Google has been going full Big Brother.

Star Trek tech

Via Jeb Kinnison, the transporter pad coasters that every Star Trek fan must have:

Available at They’re cheaper than you’d think. (I’d tell you the price, but Amazon has a nasty habit of changing it after you go there.)

Once at the site, check out the other Trekkian items. I had no idea some of this stuff was out there.

There’s a phaser that functions as a TV remote. It’s based on the specs from the original series, and the power pack pistol grip can come apart like the originals, but it’s a lotta money. The price of that set of transporter coasters looks better and better in comparison.

A Star Trek: TOS Bluetooth Communicator – Cell Phone Handset and Speaker seems a bit overboard — until you really, really need one.

There’s more, of course.

Google isn’t invincible

There were once a couple of guys (lawyers, I think) who had a clever idea on how to beat the big web near-monopoly: Offer prizes to site users. After all, if you’re going to search for something, you might as well use the site that effectively gives you a free lottery ticket. They took their clever idea to Viacom, and thus began a short-lived partnership.

The site was called iWon. It’s gone now. You might think that means the king of the web can’t be beat. But the king of the web at the time was Google was still just a clever search algorithm. Google is on top now, but that can change.

I use Microsoft’s as my default search-engine. That doesn’t mean I won’t ever use Google, but I’ll always prefer an alternative.

Never trust Google

You may have seen this: One Statistics Professor Was Just Banned By Google: Here Is His Story.

I’ll pause here to say that, although I happen to like ZeroHedge, and often find it fascinating, I very much agree with Tam’s basic point on whackadoodle beliefs.

That being said, their article is an important one. Math professor Salil Mehta had come to rely on Google for its services, including email and data storage, and was then banned. The icing on the cake is that he was running a math site. He doesn’t appear to hold extreme views.

I’m tempted to say what everyone else is saying, but I’ve got a slightly different take. First, businesses shouldn’t be in the habit of policing political views. Twitter went off the rails on this one, and now YouTube (a Google company) is doing the same. They built these businesses by attracting users of all types, basically pretending to be open to almost everyone, and then began tightening the rules when nearing monopoly status. If they wanted to cater to narrower viewpoints then they should have said so earlier.

It would be different if the government had demanded they shut the site down, which is always possible. We don’t really know everything.

But my real point is this:  Don’t put your critical data in Google’s hands.

You don’t know when a policy-change might lock you out. That can happen even when you’re apolitical, but it’s a client who’s attracted the wrong kind of attention. It might not even be a company decision. A company like that must be chock-full of nutcases who think a greater justice could be served by altering your data, if not ruining your day.

Yes, I’m sure they have safeguards. I’m less sure that they don’t have backdoors.


Indian business-site OfficeChai does a piece on this, basically telling the same story, although they do find some political posts giving points to Trump on immigration and the ban on foreign-nationals from seven Muslim countries. Not entirely apolitical, but it’s hard to believe that’s the reason Dr. Mehta was kicked off the site.

Now ZeroHedge reports that Google changed their minds.

But the lesson remains the same:  Don’t trust Google with your data.

Another telemarketer’s foot in the door

This is clever: Telemarketers know we don’t want to talk to them. Their latest trick is to spoof the caller ID to make it look like they’re calling from a phone number with the same prefix/exchange and area code as yours. They could be calling from anywhere, but you’re more likely to answer if you think it might be a neighbor. And once they have you, you’re more likely to buy. As with spammers, this is a never-ending fight.

I once had an idea for a device that would pick up the telephone on the first ring. It would put the caller on the speaker, but not connect the microphone until you actually pick it up. You’d get to listen to sounds and voices on the other end, but the caller would continue to hear fake ringing as though you hadn’t answered yet. It’s a safe bet that somebody’s already done this.

Yes, this is a mean trick. I never bothered with the idea, although I’ve had modems in the past that could have done it if I’d written the right software. It’s a privacy violation of sorts that I wouldn’t do to a friend. Of course, telemarketers are fair game, but not everyone is.

Another smoking font

Some readers may recall the 2004 “Rathergate” scandal when CBS News ran a story about President George W. Bush’s service in the Texas Air National Guard during the late ’60s/early ’70s. Dan Rather was given a letter supposedly from Bush’s commanding officer with various gripes about his service. It went on the air with insufficient scrutiny.

As I remember the story, somebody commented on a message board that the letter looked like it was written with a modern-day word processor instead of an old typewriter. Someone else then went through the trouble of printing one out and it turned out to be an exact match for the default settings of Microsoft Word. The story went viral, and that was that. Dan Rather fought on, but the truth was too funny to ignore.

A similar problem is now getting the Prime Minister of Pakistan in hot water. His three kids had been named in last year’s Panama Papers leak. As a way of explanation, they denied it, showing paperwork dated 2006.

The trouble is, the documents were printed in a Calibri font, which was not sold until 2007.

This isn’t as obvious a slip-up as the one that got Dan Rather. It depends on how hard they can press this. The truth doesn’t always matter in politics or the media. We’ll have to see.

It’s interesting to think that Dan Rather and his forger may have pulled it off if only the perp had thought of switching to a Courier font with left-justified text. Someone might still have figured out the deception, just as now in Pakistan, but the truth might not have gotten as far.

Next level of editing audio

Via KurzweilAI:

Imagine you are in post-production of a podcast. As in this video, the speaker says:

“We leave the eventuality to time and law.”

You can edit that — in text — to this:

“We leave the eventuality to time and belief.”

It plays it back in audio, mimicking the speaker’s voice for the changes.

You might then point out that some words may need to sound different, depending on the circumstances. They’ve got that covered.

This is astounding, but not surprising, given where we’re at.

Expect hijinks in the 2020 campaign by nearly anyone with a computer and a YouTube account. With luck, we’ll have gotten used to this by then.

In a side issue, some jobs in TV and film production may take a hit.

Nice cars finish last

From 1944:

Grin and Bear It — Feb 15, 1944*

Civilian car production stopped within two months after December 7, 1941. But this joke works even better today with self-driving cars on the horizon.

John C. Dvorak writes that self-driving cars will be too polite. They’ll be programmed to obey the rules while pedestrians and regular drivers will take advantage. It’ll be like an American driving in Sicily, not really understanding the nuances. Dvorak doesn’t say this, but I could imagine somebody hacking an aggressiveness into their own computer.

But maybe not: These cars will also be recording everything. Memory storage will be cheap. They might very well call the cops automatically.

* There was once a time when it was permissible to make fun of women drivers. Nowadays, they can only make fun of men drivers.

Colonizing the bubble

Wil Wheaton, Star Trek’s Wesley Crusher, is an internet star with a lot of Twitter followers.

He gets a lot more traffic than the rest of us do. Some of it must make him uncomfortable. I’m sure some of it is really bad. He’s apparently pretty quick with Twitter’s block feature. That’s where you tell it not to show you tweets from people you’d rather not hear from.

He has a reputation for blocking people simply for saying “Shut up, Wesley!”

That’s his right. The trouble I see is this:

Join that, and you’ll miss tweets simply because Wil Wheaton disagrees with their senders. That’s a lot of people to censor yourself from. Needing his block list is a sign that you’re on Twitter too much.

Bubbles are dangerous. Join his blocklist and you’re in one. I’m reminded of the apocryphal quote of Pauline Kael: “How could Nixon have won? Nobody I know voted for him.”

Just imagine missing a retweet simply because the original writer had once said, “Shut up, Wesley!”

MIT Technology Review’s top 10 breakthrough technologies

Via NextBigFuture: The top ten breakthrough technologies for 2017 according to MIT Technology Review:

  1. Reversing Paralysis (in 10 to 15 years)
  2. Self-Driving Trucks (in 5 to 10 years)
  3. Paying with Your Face (available now)
  4. Practical Quantum Computing (in 4-5 years)
  5. The 360-Degree Selfie (available now)
  6. Hot Solar Cells (in 10 to 15 years)
  7. Gene Therapy 2.0 (available now)
  8. The Cell Atlas (in 5 years)
  9. Botnets of Things (available now)
  10. Reinforcement Learning (in 1 to 2 years)

NextBigFuture describes each item, and links to each individual article in MIT Technology Review, whose main article is here.

I’d rather that things like reversing paralysis were available now, with the 360-degree selfie being 10 to 15 years away. Perhaps the progress on items 4, 7, 8 and 10 can accelerate this timetable.