12 November 2010

On a side note... (TSA and Backscatter)

This has pretty much nothing to do with the normal topics for this blog (though I'll try to relate it in a minute). None the less, I think this is a really important issue and is something that needs attention. Sorry if it's "off topic."

I have one thing in common with most other consultants.
I travel a lot.
This is generally a part of the business of being in services - and especially true for consultants. In my case, as with most strategy consultants, as business has become more and more distributed and global my travel has become more and more frequent.

I have one thing in common with a lot of technologists.
I'm skeptical of governmental claims of safety when it comes to new and unproven technologies.

As a result - the TSA "backscatter" issue is something that concerns me greatly. As most of you know, TSA has begun a nationwide roll-out of the so-called "backscatter" full body scanners.

Various folks have raised concerns about the privacy implications of these devices; about their efficacy; and most of all about their safety. The pilot's union has suggested that all commercial pilots decline going through the devices due to the safety and health concerns.

After reading about these concerns, on a recent flight I found myself routed into a line with the backscatter device (against all my plans to avoid this). I chose to decline.

I'd heard stories about the "enhanced" pat-downs that would be required if one were to decline. These stories in no way prepared me for the reality. Describing this experience as "invasive" would be an understatement. If the "pat-down" had occurred in private it would have been uncomfortable and invasive seeming. As it occurred in public, in front of an audience of hundreds, it was instead what I would describe as deeply embarrassing and humiliating.

Since this experience I've read about the horrible experiences other folks have had with this pat-down option. I'd never thought about how much worse it would be if one were female - much less a victim of sexual abuse or rape.

This is unacceptable.

In a civilized society we should not be forced to choose between reliving a horrific, scarring experience causing psycho social harm - and taking potentially significant risks with our long-term health (and potentially our lives).


Inspired by a (fantastic) shared letter developed by Steve O'Grady of RedMonk, I sent off my thoughts on the topic to my elected federal officials. This isn't something I regularly do (in fact, it's something I've done probably less than 5 times in my life). But in this case I feel like it's entirely justified.

Since then, O'Grady has shared a (boilerplate) version of this letter as a Google Doc. In includes a link to a site you can use to find and contact your elected officials.

I'd urge you to at least educate yourself on the topic and the issues and would, in fact, plead with you to at least consider following suit and contacting your elected officials to express your outrage and demand a change to this situation.

Thank you.

01 November 2010

Androids and iPhones and Carrier Douchebags

I've tried to love the iPhone.
Really... I've tried.

I work on Macs. I only work on Macs. I'd probably refuse to take a job that didn't allow me to work on a Mac.
I'm not an Apple fanboy -- I just like working with tools that allow me to get the job done.

The trouble is that I want to choose how I use these tools. If I think the best way to peel ginger is with a spoon not a vegetable peeler (which is a fact btw) then I want to be able to use a spoon -- even if the person making my tools thinks I should use a peeler.

And this is why I hate the iPhone.
I want the freedom to use my tools the way I want to use them - and I want to be able to customize these tools to work best for me. I honestly don't care what Apple thinks is the best (or "right") tool for the job - or how they think I should use these tools. I know what works for me.

So I use Android phones.
And today's experience with my phone is a perfect illustration of both how well this works for me -- and why it works so poorly.

I got a replacement phone in the mail from TMobile (warranty replacement for a phone that their own over-the-air update had bricked on me). The phone sucked.

As it was when I got it.

There was an enormous amount of bloatware pre-installed on the phone (seriously, does anyone want a copy of Avatar on their phone - with custom video player?). Various standard Android applications had been replaced by inferior custom ones (the calendar that eliminates a number of critical options for creating new Google Calendar events for example). Various interface elements had been replaced but in a half-assed and unintegrated manner (resulting in UI and UX consistency issues all over the place).

And all of this was locked. I could not uninstall or change any of it.

Just like the fucking iPhone. Right?

Well.... no. Not really.

With almost no effort at all I preceded to root my phone (enable superuser access to the phone). This then allowed me to install an app to manage files etc on my phone - including system ones. I used this to delete all the bloatware. I installed a ROM (package) manager application and replaced a bunch of the crap carrier / OEM replacements with the stock Android versions (calendar, wifi tethering, launcher, etc). I deleted all the horrible widgets and replaced them. I changed all the various interface elements and styles to what I wanted (yeah... including changing the system font to Frutiger - so sue me, I like the font).

And now I have a phone that works the way I want it to work.
Not the way the carrier wants me to use it.
Not the way the OEM thinks I should use it.
The way I want to use it.

But here is the problem.
I've now violated my warranty.
I can't accept OTA updates without waiting to see what happens to other guinea pigs.
I'm on my own for support.

And that's bullshit.

I'm not blaming Android (or Google). Yeah... I'm still pissed about the Nexus One, the wireless spectrum auction, and Google blowing it on their chance to castrate the carriers for once and for all. But really... they're offering freedom -- and freedom is not just for me, but for douchebags like cellular carriers.
And that's who I'm blaming this on.

So cellular carrier douchebags. If any of you are reading this, listen up.
We hate you.
No... let me rephrase that...
We all fucking hate you.
We hate you because you suck. We hate you because you refuse to give us what we want and what we need and instead give us what is going to make you the most money -- and then overcharge us for using the devices we don't want. We hate you for your over-promising and under-delivering. We hate you for your lying. We hate everything about you.

And one of these days someone is going to come along and break your back the way that Google could have done.
And we're going to throw a party to celebrate.

You've been warned.