House Republicans Read the Constitution

That’s right.  On day 2 of their rule in the House, the AP reports that House Republicans will read the U.S. Constitution.  Better late than never, I suppose.  Of course I would like a reading comprehension test to follow.  Let’s hope that they don’t read the Constitution off an iPod/iPhone app.  When President Obama did his recess appointments last week, I wanted to review Article II (Powers of the President), and it was at that point I thought I should carry a pocket version.  I’ll leave out the names of the guilty, but one free version had truncated each of the articles, and another free version omitted Article II entirely.  That’s probably the version Congress would enjoy.  Fortunately the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia has done a very nice job on theirs.  Funnily enough, however, the Constitution is not accessible from their home page.  Here’s a link to Cornell that I like.

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Microsoft Does Something Right?!?!

You know how when you install software, usually there’s a lengthy license that nobody ever reads?  Don’t lie- you don’t read it either. Apple and iPhones are the worst, where they suggest that you read something like 56 pages of license on your iPhone.  YEAH RIGHT.

Well, I just installed an update for Mac Office 2011 and here is the entire license:

MICROSOFT OFFICE FOR MAC 2011
PLEASE NOTE: Microsoft Corporation (or based on where you live, one of its affiliates) licenses this supplement to you. You may use it with each validly licensed copy of Microsoft Office for Mac 2011 software (for which this supplement is applicable) (the “software”). You may not use the supplement if you do not have a license for the software. The license terms for the software apply to your use of this supplement. Microsoft provides support services for the supplement as described at www.support.microsoft.com/common/international.aspx.

That’s it.  And it’s simple to read, and its meaning is clear.  Nice, eh?  Of course I’m sure the main agreement is still very long (I don’t know– I didn’t have to agree to that since this is a corporate copy, lawyers probably did).

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Tunnels, Infrastructure, and Stupid Governors (like that of New Jersey)

Here in Switzerland people may have noticed the news last month about the new 57km (35 mile) Gotthard Tunnel having been broken through from both sides.  The Swiss are to be congratulated on their achievement, which by the way, cost $13 billion, but will shift huge amounts of freight from trucks and roads to rail, reducing CO2 emissions and fuel costs.

Meanwhile in New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie has cancelled a new rail tunnel project across the Hudson because, he claimed, it was over budget.  Having lived in New Jersey for many years, of course it was it was going to be over budget, to say the least.  But by most reports it wasn’t really that over budget, and the governor seemed to ignore many facts that were placed in front of him, forgoing $3 billion in federal aid.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg knows a deal when he sees one, being a business man.  And so now he has proposed extending the Number 7 subway line across the Hudson to Secaucus, according to the this article in the Wall Street Journal.  From a commuter perspective this would be second best, because it would mean yet another transfer to get to where one is going.  Furthermore, the implications to PATH will have to be carefully studied.  One wonders what it would take to combine PATH with the subway.  A whole lot of downtime comes to mind, of course.  I don’t even know if they use the same gauge track.

Anyway, it’s nice to see someone in America looking at infrastructure in a serious way.

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Hello Insecurity, Goodbye Privacy. Thank you, President Obama

Some people say that Internet Security is an oxymoron, because we hear so much about the different ways in which hackers and criminals break into our data, steal our identities, and even use information to commit “real world” crimes like burglary, when it becomes clear that someone’s gone on vacation.  Well now the Obama Administration along with the FBI and NSA are proposing to make things worse, according to an article in today’s New York Times.

According to the Times, the government is going to propose requiring that developers give up on one of the key principals of securing information– use of end to end encryption, the argument being that law enforcement does not have the visibility to information they once had, say, in the Nixon era, where the NSA acted as a vacuum cleaner and had access to anything.

As our friend Professor Steve Bellovin points out, weakening security of the Internet for law enforcement also weakens it for benefit of criminals.  Not a month ago, for instance, David Barksdale was fired from Google for violating the privacy of teenagers.  He could do that because communications between them were not encrypted end-to-end.  (Yes, Google did the right thing by firing the slime).

This isn’t the first time that the government has wanted the keys to all the castles, since the invention of public key cryptography.  Some of us remember the Clipper chip and a government-mandated key escrow system that the Clinton Administration wanted to mandate in the name of law enforcement.  A wise friend of mine said, and this applies equally now, “No matter how many people stand between me and the escrow, there exists a value of money for me to buy them off.”  The same would be true here, only it would be worse, because in this case, the government seems not to be proposing a uniform technical mechanism.

What’s worse– this mandate will impact only law abiding citizens and not criminals, as the criminals will encrypt data anyway on top of whatever service they use.

What you can do: call your congressman now, and find out where she or he stands.  If they’re in favor of such intrusive policy, vote them out.

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