Tech – for Everyone

Tech Tips and Tricks & Advice – written in plain English.

What your car is saying about you*

The auto manufactures are competing to put the most computer into your car. The merging of digital devices and personal transportation is progressing with alacrity. We know this. The fact that there has been “chips” in our cars for a decade or so is also well known. OnStar™ GPS tracking of our movements has been successfully marketed as a benefit to us, and we pay extra for the privilege. And our car has a microphone, to listen for ‘our calls for help’ (but, only when we push the button… Right??).

I read that the Vehicle Infrastructure Integration Consortium, a government “safety and efficiency” program, (there is a detailed description on Wikipedia, I suggest you scroll down to the paragraph titled “public concerns”) has developed a prototype for an on-board vehicle computer designed to interact with the Internet that will use Linux. (These are the folks who want to put radars in cars, “to detect proximity to the vehicle ahead and automatically apply the brakes to avoid rear-end collisions”) And they want to use the Web so the cars can, “provide a direct link between a vehicle on the road and all vehicles within a defined vicinity. The vehicles would be able to communicate with each other (and the cops), exchanging data on speed, orientation, perhaps even on driver awareness and intent.” This, to “improve traffic flow.”
Hmmm…. Driver intent?!?

Of course, this is being touted as a boon to us dumb citizens. We are told, “this will improve the driving experience” (not to mention, make us safer). How could our car accessing the Web be a benefit? The VII-C says, “by alerting cars about approaching emergency vehicles, collecting data to map weather patterns with high precision, and allowing for ‘over the air’ upgrades of vehicle firmware.”

Hmmm… Let me think about that…
1) Don’t approaching emergency vehicles have flashing lights and loud sirens?
2) Weather??? Like, I’m not going to go where I need to go because there’s a cold front developing..?
3) Automatic updates (aka “patches”)? What does this imply? That there’s concern about viruses and hackers, maybe? (You bet there’s concern!)

Of course the key words here are ‘traffic flow’, and ‘transmit its location’. By publishing its onboard data via the Web, some person in some government office will be able to see where every car is, its speed and direction of travel, and by activating the microphone, will be able to listen to the conversations taking place inside.
Think about that. Frankly, it scares the pants off of me.

I want you readers to know that the government already has this ability to some extent. We are rapidly approaching the point where every car being produced has some type of GPS built into it. They track us through the cellular phone signals (but these are “unreliable”). To “get better gas mileage”, we have all kinds of mini-computers on board that record our speed and braking, and store that info for later perusal — this aids in “accident reconstruction”. But these are not enough. They want more and better tracking technology installed. They don’t want “recorded”, they want “reported”.

Do NOT violate the speed limit in a rental car. The onboard computers will snitch, and when you go to return it, you will be hit with a stiff fine. I kid you not. Joyriding is out, too: excessive acceleration, hard braking, and high lateral G’s are recorded and reported too, even if you never top out above 65. Yes, your car is a snitch. Divorce attorneys and Law Enforcement love the GPS recorder.

Let’s tout the boon to mankind: parents can benefit from these automatic recorders too. Want to know how your kid treated the family car? Where they went? If they braked too hard or accelerated too hard? If they parked at Lover’s Lookout? Just buy an adapter and plug in your laptop. You can play Big Brother and see everything the car did. (I’m still working on how you can send the signal that activates the car’s microphone, and listen in on your kid… That will be a money-maker!)

The miracle of technology is in our cars. We are being told it’s for our benefit and we believe it. OnStar is something we all think is great, and we’re convinced it’s a status symbol (remember when only top-end cars offered it?). Sometimes, I think our desire for security makes us kinda dumb, and I think dummies get what  dummies deserve.

I, for one, don’t want a single recorder, chip, microphone, GPS locator, or transmitter on my person or on my car. It’s nobody’s business where I am, where I’ve been, or… my speed and direction of travel. (Did you miss my article, “It’s time to write your Representative”? Click here.)
They are going to do this, folks, and they’re not giving us citizens much say (“not much” = none).

Tip of the day: Use a soft, lint-free cloth, very slightly dampened with plain water to clean your monitor screen. You do not really need fancy, or expensive products to do this.

Today’s free link: Today I’m putting out the call for your input in this section. Is there a free program or tool that you think is fantastic, but you haven’t seen me post it here? Send me your recommendation — the name, not the link — and I’ll run it through my testing. Those that pass will appear here, with accreditation.

For those of you who aren’t at all bothered by this, and have quite the opposite view; in that you want access to this info (perhaps you are the parents of a beginning driver), devices are available now. If your vehicle is newer and GPS equipped, all you need is a special plug (adapter), if your vehicle [or, the one you’re letting the kid drive] is older, you may want to take a look at this Wall Street Journal article: http://online.wsj.com/public/article/SB110911718132361463.html

Folks– there’s only a few days left. Tell me if you prefer this site’s new look by taking this 1-question survey Click Here to take survey

* Original posting– 8/17/07

Copyright 2007-8 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.jaanix post to jaanix

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May 14, 2008 Posted by | advice, computers, privacy, security, tech | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

It’s not your fault– how the Tech Industry is failing you

Your computer was infected with pop-up pornography because you visited a popular travel Website to look at hotel room prices in Orlando. And you have a well-known Company’s Internet Security Suite.

Or maybe, because your ISP promised you they’d scan all your e-mails for you, before they got into your Inbox.. you thought they really did, and you also thought that made your e-mail safe. You clicked on a link in one of those e-mails… (it said it was from your Uncle Victor..) and, voilà! Someone’s using your credit card.
In Malaysia.
To buy big-screen TV’s.
Like, six of them.. so far.

Perhaps you did neither of those things. But.. your friends wanna know why you’re sending them all this junk e-mail, and your ISP is threatening to turn you off if you don’t stop sending mass-mailings. Huh?
Turns out, you happen to have CoolProgram 6.0* on your machine, and a cracker has “exploited” the code and turned your machine into a spambot. Your machine has been merrily sending out thousands of e-mail come-ons for generic drugs, male enhancements, and penny stocks… all while you were asleep in bed.

Or you brought home a new digital picture frame…

Does this sound like a bad sci-fi movie to you? It does to me. But, sadly, this is our current reality.

You haven’t done anything wrong (or, really stupid) and you’ve even tried to protect your machine, but you got hijacked anyway.

I, for one, think there’s something seriously wrong with this state of affairs. When I think about the state of the Internet, I start feeling like that guy in the movie.. you know the one..

Why is this happening? Many reasons. Some are:
* Software companies are, to this day, releasing programs which contain insecure code.
* Hardware manufactures don’t include any extra features– like hard-wired security.
* In their rush to bring us new and exciting technology (he who’s first to market, wins), nobody stops and ponders the consequences.. or the vulnerabilities.
* For a long time, nobody took the hackers seriously enough.
* Cost. (I put this last because this can be offset.)

Believe it or not, there are steps the IT Industry can take to remedy a lot of this, and counteract this unsecured Internet. They could be doing much more to combat spam, malware, and hackers. There’s also steps we (us “consumers”) can take as well.. which space restriction has run out of room for today, and I will discuss tomorrow.

To be continued…

Today’s free link: I have recommended other graphics manipulation/image editing tools in the past, and it is only fitting that I give space to another winner: Paint.NET is simply the closest thing to Photoshop I have seen. 5 Star-rated by C/Net.

* Pick a program, any program. “CP 6.0” is simply my generic example.

*** Folks, like my new look? Hate it? Let me know by answering this 1 Question survey Click Here to take survey. ***

To read part 2, click here.

Copyright 2007-8 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.jaanix post to jaanix

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May 9, 2008 Posted by | advice, computers, hardware, Internet, PC, security, software, tech | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments