Back in the virtual saddle

It’s been almost a year since I last posted anything on this page. I’ve been concentrating on book reviews and longer essays, on my other page, but the modest but persistent interest shown in the old posts on this page has led me to think that it might be time to post some topical articles again. (The two pages have now accumulated more than 75,000 reads.)

I still have strong opinions on the subjects about which I used to write, and so much has happened in the last year that would have been worthy of comment. So, I’m back. Perhaps not with my former frequency, but I hope with as much clarity and specificity as I can muster.

Meanwhile, don’t forget to read the book reviews, which will continue to be posted on More Notes from Aboveground.

See you soon.

 

Big Data, or Big Brother?

I don’t know what you think of the recent revelations about the extreme-seeming scope of the U. S. anti-terror people’s telephone data collection. I’m of two minds, which is an uncomfortable position at the best of times.

It seems that “impending real attacks” have been thwarted by the surveillance. That’s a good thing, isn’t it? But do we really need to let the government into every detail of our lives? I say “our” even though I’m in Canada, for I have no illusions that Stephen Harper has ever hesitated to share and share alike with the Americans. He’s a natural control freak in the first place, and a sycophantic neighbour into the bargain.

Continue reading

Reading me, reading you

In an attic room in a cheap part of town, the writer sits at a battered desk. Two years of solitary effort, and the book is finally finished. Into the brown envelope, off to the post office. Maybe this one will be published. And maybe, against all the odds, this one will be a best-seller. Only time will tell.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it. So familiar that it’s a painful cliché — the struggling author, hoping against hope to strike a chord that resonates with the reading public.

And if the book is a hit, what then? Can the magic formula repeat itself? Will the second book be as well received as the first? What was it about the first that made it work?

Who knows. The only thing we can say for sure is that, for some reason, it sold well. All the writer can do is hope for the same kind of luck, or the same unconscious artistry, the next time.

The only thing wrong with this story is that it’s completely, irrevocably passé. And it’s not just that quaint part about the post office. Continue reading

Now you see me, now you — see me

Last week was not a good week for digital media users concerned about their privacy.

First, the Conservative government of Canada introduced legislation that will significantly broaden police and security agency powers to eavesdrop on citizens, without the need for warrants and the limited judicial oversight they now provide.

Then, in an article published February 15th, Bloomberg investigated some of the largely-unknown powers hardware and content providers like Apple and Amazon reserve for themselves, without the explicit consent of their customers.

And on Sunday the 19thPC World reported on Google’s intransigence in the face of user lawsuits over alleged privacy violations.

Any of these stories is alone sufficient to raise the antennae of privacy watchdogs. Taken together, they emphasize the continuing — and growing — intrusion of government and commercial interests into the details of what we do online. Continue reading