Monthly Archives: November 2003

Things we can be thankful

Things we can be thankful for, even during the war on terror � in ascending order of importance:

Better spam filters. I get about nine hundred emails a day, and about ten per cent of them are worth reading. I have trained Outlook 2003 to detect that ten percent and trash the rest. It took time, but it�s worth it.

Palm phones. I used to carry a huge purse with a ton of crap in it. Now I carry one Kyocera 7135, a driver�s license, a credit card, and I�m good to go anywhere and work productively.

Quicken and TurboTax. My accountant used to charge me $1500 to fill out my income tax forms. That�s $1500 for each form: one personal, one business, one trust. Now I dump all my records from Quicken into TurboTax, which costs under $100 � Quicken itself is bundled with most computers � and it takes me about two hours. Was my accountant making $750 an hour?

The Internet. I once fainted in the stacks of the Columbia University Library while working on my Master�s Thesis. I�m a big fan of information � indeed, I�m an information junkie � but moving the people to the books was not convenient for the people (especially if they had just had their wisdom teeth pulled). Now we move the books to the people. Today, if I need to know something, I lay on my bed with my laptop, connected to my home wireless network, and look up everything from turkey recipes to flight schedules.

Yoga. Five years ago, some doctor told me I had a bad back and would need surgery. I was terrified of the down time, the complications, and the percentage of poor outcomes. I decided to try taking yoga. Today if you looked at my MRI, I�m sure it would be the same as it was five years ago (or worse). But I can stand on my head, bend my body in six directions, and balance on one leg with my arms stretched up to the sky. And I�m pain free.

Dogs. The world is a better place because dogs are in it. One of my dogs sleeps on my bed, and the other on the floor next to it. If I wake up in the night, a dog wakes with me, checking to see if I�m okay. During the day, the dogs sleep on the rug by my desk. If I get up to walk around, they follow me, waiting to see if they can amuse or entertain me.

When we go to the dog park, and I watch their personalities emerge alongside other dogs, they always make me laugh. If you are ever depressed and need a pick-me-up, go to a dog park and observe the dogs at play.

Family. Thirty-two years ago, I decided not to have an abortion. This was a woman�s right to choose. This was the best choice of my life. It introduced me to the power of children to make a difference. Since then, I have acquired two birth daughters, three foster kids, five step children, and nine step-grandchildren. Every one of them is beautiful, wonderful, and special. Because of their love, I am never lonely and always connected, even when the dogs are out at the groomer�s.

Good health. Although people confuse other things with good health as the primary driver of happiness in human life, I believe health trumps absolutely everything. Even love is not enough if your beloved dies of cancer, as mine did.

If you�ve got good health, don�t take it for granted. Be thankful for it and try to preserve it. People always ask me when I will be able to retire, and whether I have saved enough for retirement, and I tell them I have saved NOTHING for retirement. I never intend to retire. Because I enjoy the blessing of good health, I am able to work as long as I wish. So I spend every penny, a great deal of it on promoting my own good health.

Please feel free to make your own list, or to rearrange mine. My purpose in writing this was to take myself through the process of recognizing my blessings, and to urge you to take yourself through a similar process to recognize yours.

Namaste, and happy Thanksgiving!

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A big change has happened

A big change has happened to the technology industry in the past few years, even while we thought we were in a recession. Although you might not often think about it, the center of your information technology universe has shifted from the desktop to the network– and the internet is the center of the network. The internet has replaced the pc as the dominant force in your life. More and more, you spend your most productive moments away from your pc, but still connected to the internet�either by your cell phone or your laptop.

That�s why the wireless industry is growing so fast. According to the panelists at Wireless Expo 2003, the wireless market will double in 2004 (although the revenues to wireless companies won�t, because with the widespread adoption of wireless, prices are going down). A big shift happens in the end of November, when cell phone users become able to take their numbers with them when they change carriers. Soon land line numbers will be equally portable.

Several obvious trends are driving the wireless market. The first is the availability of small, light devices that don�t require much power and don�t burn up from the heat they generate (as the old analog phones and laptops did). Along with that convergence comes rising consumer expectations: we want to be able to talk to everyone on our cell phones no matter where we are, and now we�re expecting to transmit data as well�email, stock quotes and pictures. Soon we�ll expect to get movies on our cell phones or PDAs while flying on major airlines. As consumers, we now feel a sense of entitlement to broadband networking. We�re always on.

We�re also broadly aware that the nuisance of wires is already overcome in Europe and Japan, and that the American consumer is somehow behind the power curve. We hate that. In rural areas and underdeveloped countries, broadband grows linearly, with enormous support from government. Deploying a wireless network is much cheaper, and whole regions and even countries will skip the land line phase altogether.

At home, in the area of data transmission, we are also being trained to reject wires. Bluetooth already connects our printers, keyboards, and mice. And there�s a new technology on the horizon called ultrawideband. Ultrawideband would replace the majority of connections in a home theatre. It would transmit data (movies, music, pictures) in the home without wires. You can download movies to your PC and beam them wirelessly to your TV.

The vision is for a future without the restrictions of lines and cords. The future of telecommunications is total access solutions; one seamless communications experience. This is driving the telecom industry to a frenzy of rapid change and industry growth, accompanied by uncertainty about which technologies will win. Wireless manufacturers are under unprecedented financial and competitive pressures, as time to market becomes ever more rapid.

In the US, we still have the competing standards of CDMA and GSM for our cell phones. While it is commonly believed in the industry that CDMA uses spectrum most efficiently and is more secure, Europe has a huge investment in GSM, and many Americans wish we�d switch so they can use their cell phones on business trips. If we are indeed to carry our cell phone numbers with us over the world, we have to migrate to a single platform with backwards compatibility.

For example, Sprint is committed to CDMA, and is beginning to roll out broadband data services in an evolutionary fashion. According to Sprint, there are now 164 million CDMA customers worldwide and all major carriers are migrating to CDMA. The number of international CDMA subscribers grew 31% in 2002.

In 2004, a technology called w-CDMA will increase the speed of data transmission on cell phones to 2 mbps. Then they will evolve to another technology called EV-DV (evolutionary voice-data video). That will enable cell phones to transmit video.

With all the progression of data speed in cell phones, where does wi-fi fit in over the long haul? Currently, it is believed that Wi-fi and CDMA are complementary, with
Wi-fi being the equivalent of the wireless Local Area Network, and CDMA the equivalent of a wireless Wide Area Network.

Despite the power of cell phone operators, wi-fi will continue to exist as the grass roots broadband protocol of choice. Wi-fi has several very engaging properties: it�s unregulated; it�s unlicensed; it�s simple, and it�s cheap. No matter what the cell phone purveyors roll out, don�t look for Wi-fi to vanish any time soon. It�s just coming on strong.

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American Justice My friend Susan

American Justice

My friend Susan Wintermute Sinclair never sees it coming. A respected bankruptcy attorney, she first married an alcoholic who had an affair right under her hard working nose. Then, seeking financial security for her children, she married an entrepreneur who moved her to Missouri, where he operated a consumer finance company under rather business-friendly laws. She was finally divorced from him, took a job outside the country teaching law and moved on with her children and her life. We thought she was finally on the right track. But it was only the beginning.

She and Damian Sinclair, the entrepreneur, were married in 1993, separated in 1995 and divorced in 2000. While they were married, they were owners in Sinclair Financial Group, Inc., the consumer finance company. However, although Susan owned 25% of the stock and Damian owned 75%, he still controlled Susan�s shares. He controlled everything. Susan served as titular in-house counsel for a short while until full-time in house counsel was hired. Even during her brief stint as in house counsel, Damian relied on an army of outside lawyers and accountants for the �real� legal work. Everything he did was complicated and heavily researched.

In July 1999, Damian sold Sinclair Financial Group to its president, and two years later SFG filed for bankruptcy. Meanwhile when he and Susan divorced, he gave her as a property settlement $3 million of the loans which he had received for the sale of SFG. (The trustee in bankruptcy now owns those loans, and Susan is working three jobs to support herself and the children. So much for financial security.) With the money from the sale of SFG, Damian bought himself a bank and gave Susan 5% of the stock.

The bankruptcy of SFG triggered a series of investigations involving Damian Sinclair, SFG and the bank. Damian filed several lawsuits. In September, 2001, after approximately eighteen months of operation, the Office of the Controller of the Currency determined that Sinclair National Bank was critically undercapitalized and closed it. The lawsuits were complicated, but in the end the government was able to destry Damian and the bank in the process.

A federal agent asked Susan to be interviewed about Damian, and presumably to be a witness. She voluntarily returned to the US for questioning. Unfortunately, she didn�t have any information that they could use against him, although they kept pushing her. Unfortunately for her, Susan had, indeed, signed the application for the Office of the Controller of the Currency for Damian to buy the bank. Damian and his in-house counsel had completed the application. Very soon after that, however, Susan got divorced moved on. She knew of nothing illegal Damian had done. But the government was heavily invested in the case after two years of investigation, and they really needed Susan to perform.

Naively, she assumed that if she came back to the US and met with the federal justice system, it would be acknowledged that she had no responsibility. She�s an attorney; she believes in the justice system.

But this is the post-Enron, post-9/11 Department of Justice. When the government was first informed Susan would bring an attorney to the interview, the prosecutor objected to the attorney. This frightened her and she cancelled the appointment. In response she was told there was an arrest warrant issued for her. She surrendered. The court released her to return to her job and family abroad. She later found evidence that the agent had perjured himself in swearing out the affidavit and so informed the court. Next time she returned to the US to appear in court, he had another warrant issued for her. It had now become personal. She again surrendered, but this time was tossed into a holding tank and later shackled. Again, the court released her to return to her job and her family. She had been subjected to the �Reid Technique,� a well-known way of forcing confession:

�The primary persuasive vehicle of the interrogation is a theme that offers moral justification for the suspect�s crime. The theme is presented as a monologue and the investigator discourages the suspect from offering denials or explanations for incriminating evidence.
The impetus for the first admission of guilt is in the form of asking an alternative question. This question presents the suspect with two choices concerning some aspect of the crime. For example, “Did you plan this out months in advance, or did it pretty much happen on the spur of the moment?” The suspect is encouraged to accept the positive choice (spur of the moment). In presenting and contrasting the alternative question, the investigator must not offer threats or promises. An example of an improper alternative question would be, “Do you want to be charged with first degree murder, which will mean life in prison, or was it just manslaughter, where it happened on the spur of the moment?”
Once the suspect accepts the positive alternative, active persuasion stops within the interrogation process.�
Susan didn�t break down. She isn�t guilty of anything. Unable to provide valuable information, she was charged with giving false information, or rather omitting information from the application for the bank she had signed shortly before her divorce. She almost had her passport confiscated. She has made four trips to the United States for further proceedings. Worse, we are now in the age of the Internet, and the Justice Department puts out press releases about every incident in the case.

So now if you �google� my friend, you will find a string of indictments, warrants for arrests, accusations, and other documents that can ruin someone�s life. The government, of course, doesn�t care about that. It doesn�t care about Susan�s reputation. It doesn�t care that she was subjected to intimidation to make her confess to something she doesn�t know anything about.

It doesn�t care that Susan�s old friends see exactly why this happened: Susan Wintermute Sinclair never sees anything coming.


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Of implants and freedom I�ve

Of implants and freedom

I�ve just read that the next generation of implantable heart devices (pacemakers, defibrillators) will have wireless transmission capabilities; any untoward change in the heartbeat will send an immediate alert to a physician or an emergency service. We have certainly come a long way from the days when no one knew what was in anyone else�s heart.
We have also taught monkeys to control computers with their brain waves using neural implants (yes, I know I wrote about this before). But now I�m using it as an example of how far we have come from the days when no one could read anyone else�s mind.
These medical developments are the technological leading edge for questions of privacy now facing our nation � and to some extent the world. In �1984� George Orwell envisioned a world in which Big Brother put a TV and a listening device in your house, not an implant in your brain. That was bad enough. In many ways, our world is a lot worse than Oceania.
Technology empowers us, but it also should frighten us. In 1984, people are tracked by line of sight devices, but we can be watched by implanted devices (the same technology that can be used for good, e.g. GPS tracking of auto accidents, can also be used for ill). I have often mused about how the private investigator who tracked adulterous husbands has been replaced by OnStar. The characters in �1984� are subjected to blatant indoctrination, but we are subject to a more subtle form of indoctrination.
We are not told today where we are watched, yet we still can be watched in 3D with cameras smaller than the head of a pin. Many public spaces routinely record the movements of pedestrians as a crime-prevention technique. And we can be heard by invisible lasers pointed at a solid from a mile or more away. We can be tracked from space with satellites with a reported resolution of less than one foot (we can see tire tracks in the mud with hi-res black and white sat photos). Under the affects of local anesthesia, a GPS transponder with biometric and biological recording capabilities can be implanted without our knowledge in the base of the skull, where it would not be noticed, in under a minute. This isn�t just the stuff of B movies.
Everyone who knows me knows what a fan I am of technology, and how open I am to change and possibility. However, the ethics of some of the new information-gathering devices should still be evaluated. As we advance, we need to read and educate ourselves with the broadest range of literary works, such as �1984,� which encourage exploration of the current reality and the future possibilities in which we likely will live. Big Brother doesn’t have to make himself so obvious to our society. Big Brother is smarter, sneakier, and more invasive than that.
Take CBS, for example. It cancelled the Reagan mini-series because of the threats of advertisers and the ire of conservative talk show hosts. That�s the first time I ever remember a mass medium responding to such political pressure. Now, it�s probably not the first time it has happened, but this event still marks a change in the American environment. The arts have finally been politicized.
This week, too, George Bush signed a bill banning partial birth abortion: the first ban ever to lack an exception for the health of the mother.
And then there�s the 20th hi-jacker phenomenon: Zacarias Moussaoui has been held for more than a year, even though he refused to enter a plea and has said he�s not the man. Now, suddenly, the FBI has found another person they think might be the 20th hi-jacker. What happens now to Moussaoui? He rots in jail?
And these are only the beginning of the things which Big Brother tells us. We neither choose our presidential candidates directly, nor even who chooses them.
How far has Big Brother gone, where is Big Brother headed, and what does Big Brother really know? Who can verify what our ‘free press’ reports? Who checks and rechecks where the information the media reports to us? What plausible lies are we constantly fed until they become fact, and get changed slowly a bit more?
I�m not advocating anything more than a thorough understanding of how much ideology we are taking in and how much privacy we are giving up. We should all still have the choice to watch �The Reagans� or have a partial birth abortion; we should all have the choice to stop transmitting every once in a while.

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