Using Cell Phones to Track Shoppers

I’ve said cell phones are the best spy devices we’ve ever decided to voluntarily carry around and, as Bruce Schneier points out, the ability to judge a person’s location based on their cellphone signal isn’t restricted only to government agents:

Online retailers have long gathered behavioral metrics about how customers shop, tracking their movements through e-shopping pages and using data to make targeted offers based on user profiles. Retailers in meat-space have had tried to replicate that with frequent shopper offers, store credit cards, and other ways to get shoppers to voluntarily give up data on their behavior, but these efforts have lacked the sort of data capacity provided by anonymous store browsers—at least until now. This holiday season, shopping malls in the US have started collecting data about shoppers by tracking the closest thing to “cookies” human beings carry—their cell phones.

The technology, from Portsmouth, England based Path Intelligence, is called Footpath. It uses monitoring units distributed throughout a mall or retail environment to sense the movement of customers by triangulation, using the strength of their cell phone signals. That data is collected and run through analytics by Path, and provided back to retailers through a secure website.

The location of any device that emits a wireless signal can be triangulated. Again I will state that cell phones are immensely useful but not only to their owners. Combining the fact that cell phones are almost always on their owner, contain a vast amount of personal information about their owner, and have built-in cameras and microphones makes for devices that are great for spying on select individuals. While people can harp on the malls for implementing this technology ultimately it’s nothing new as your cell phone provider, whom I worry about far more, have the exact same information at all times (usually with some history of your past locations).

Another Pointless Study Parroted by the Media

The media loves to run headlines that sound shocking and a majority of people seem unwilling to read the actual content of articles meaning baseless information becomes widely circulated. Take this article titled Wi-Fi Near Testes Could Decrease Male Fertility: Study. After reading the headline many people probably go, “Gosh Wi-Fi is killing my sperm, we need to ban it!” Truth be told the study is meaningless because of the following fact:

A team of Argentine scientists placed healthy sperm under a laptop running a Wi-Fi connection. After four hours, the Wi-Fi-exposed sperm showed signs of damage including slowed motility and increased DNA fragmentation, the researchers found. Healthy sperm stored for the same time and temperature away from the computer didn’t show the damage.

Sounds like a pretty solid method so long as you ignore this tidbit towards the end:

The study, however, is far from conclusive on the effect of Wi-Fi on male fertility, mostly because the study was done with in vitro (out of the body) sperm. To continue to advance knowledge in this area, the authors of the paper suggested further in vivo (in organism) studies.

So the study didn’t test sperm in testicles, which is very important because the type of radiation emitted at the power levels we use for our wireless devices (Wi-Fi and cell phones for instance) don’t penetrate skin all that well. This study would be akin to demonstrating ultraviolet radiation kills sperm when they’re outside of a body. Being one purpose of skin is to protect the internal organs from ultraviolet radiation this is one of those no-shit-sherlock results.

This study is nothing more than sensationalist bullshit meant to generate scary headlines to up newspaper sales and page hits. People who read articles before parroting what the headline states need not worry about these traps but it appears as though a large portion of our population does not do this.

Salon, Again, Attempts to Slam Ron Paul But End Up Looking Ignorant

Take it away Rothbard:

Due to general economic ignorance I’m getting my milage out of that image. Salon is a giant progressive circle-jerk publication that spends a great deal of time espousing ideas without actually understanding them. While the publication is generally anti-war, a position I greatly agree with, their writings on economic subjects demonstrate a complete ignorance on the subject. Writers as Salon have latched onto the occupy movement and are attempting to demonstrate their complete support of the “99%.” Their hatred of everything liberal (using the classical definition of the word of course) is constantly seen in every article they write, which is why I’m not surprised they spent so much time writing a hit piece on Ron Paul. I call it a hit piece because the accusations they make are entirely false or stem from ignorance:

So there’s no question that there’s a lot to like in Paul’s foreign policy positions, if you’re leaning to the left. The problem is that Paul is less of a 21st century dove than he is a throwback to the isolationism of the early to mid-20th century, in which fear of foreign entanglements was embraced by the hard right — with all that came with it.

Isolationism is not noninterventionism. Ron Paul is a noninterventionist, a belief that American should stick to minding its own business but willingly engage in free trade with other nations. On the other hand isolationism is the belief that no interaction between your nation and foreign nations should occur. The difference may seem minor but it is in fact quite stark as noninterventionism is simply a removal of one’s self from the political affairs of another. Using the interaction between individuals as a demonstration isolationism would be you refusing to interact in anyway with a neighbor who is of a different religion while noninterventionism would be you interacting with your neighbor but simply not involving yourself with his religious beliefs. Our interventionist foreign policies, waring with anybody and everybody who doesn’t do as we command, is what lead to a great deal of strife in this country. I’ve dwelled on this point long enough and this article is a vast smorgasbord of stupidity so let’s move on:

Paul is, in fact, the closest of all the GOP candidates to carrying out the anti-government policies Rand advocated.

Any Rand wasn’t anti-government, she believe there needed to be a government for military protection of the citizenry. Murray Rothbard on the other hand is a true enemy of the state. I admit stating this has no point in regards to this post, I just wanted to say it, but it would do well if writers at Salon used proper examples when making broad statements.

His “restore” plan embraces the kind of deprivation that Rand’s Objectivist philosophy would impose on America, and would enact a fundamental change in the role of government that the radical right cherishes.

Depravation? You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means. Deprivation implies corruption which is what our government currently has in spades primarily due to the vast amount of power they wield. Taking power away from government reduces their ability to act on the corrupt desires of politicians. It’s becomes far more difficult to extort money from a businessman if that businessman’s company doesn’t fall under government regulations. Likewise government actors have less to offer private actors in exchange for favors and political contributions further reducing the corruption when reducing government power. Reducing government power as expressed by Ayn Rand wouldn’t submit the American people to more corruption, it would reduce it.

No more aid to education. Goodbye, Department of Education.

The Department of Education doesn’t aid education, they redistribute money based on performance of students and willingness of schools to adhere to government mandated educational points. Our system is rather convoluted in the United States as each state is required to pay money to the federal government but that money is not returned proportionale. Minnesota is one of the states that pays more to the federal government than it receives back. In the case of education the amount of money you receive back from the federal government is based strongly on the performance of students on standardized tests (No Child Left Behind is one of many pieces of legislation that regulated this). Students who perform well on mandatory tests earn more money for their schools while schools with lower average student scores on these tests receive less money.

While many people claim such a system rewards high performing teachers what it really does is encourages teachers to teach students how to memorize facts. Teachers spend a great deal of classroom time drilling specific facts into the heads of students instead of educating them on matters not found on standardized tests. This style of “teaching” has another side effect, students become very good and simply memorizing facts but are unable to critically think to come to their own conclusions. Our education system basically stomps out creativity and attempts to churn out cookie cutter factory workers.

Since students living in poor regions generally do worse on these standardized test than students in wealthy regions these policies negatively affect the poor.

No more government-subsidized housing. Goodbye, Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Government subsidized housing is another example of an idea proclaimed to help the poor but in reality only serves to hurt them. How so? When government injects money into a market they artificially raise the price (something people are witnessing with education at the moment). A house worth $50,000 on the free market becomes worth $100,000 (I’m using arbitrarily selected numbers for example purposes) since the builders are able to get $100,000 for the home. Prices are set based on what the market will bear, if your price is too high you will fail as nobody will buy your product. Governments are not subject to pricing though as they obtain their money through coercive methods and thus can pay whatever the asking price is. Builders knowing this will increase their bid to construct a building when they know the government is footing some or all of the bill.

This type of cost inflation is far more notable with defense contractors. Even though the government goes with the lowest bidder every bidder knowns this and knows their competition is likely increasing their bid by a large amount so they also increase their bid by a large amount (just not as large an amount). Thus a hammer that costs $2.50 to make can cost the government $100.00 to buy.

Subsidized housing only harms the poor as it increases the cost of houses through government distortion.

No more energy programs. Goodbye, Department of Energy.

Damn, whatever shall we do with no more cases like Solyndra?

No more programs to promote commerce and technology. Goodbye, Department of Commerce.

Without programs to “promote” commerce how will we promote the Christmas Tree industry after charing additional taxes on each tree? We don’t need government to promote commerce and technology, companies do a fine job of this through marketing already.

*No more national parks. Goodbye, Department of the Interior.

I wonder what that asterisk is supposed to denote. Maybe a footnote is missing? Perhaps a footnote stating national parks are also control by the United States National Park Service making the Department of Interior redundant in this case? Who knows, the author never actually inserted the footnote.

His opposition to the very existence of the Federal Reserve — he wrote a book titled “End the Fed” — is straight out of Rand, as is his promotion of the gold standard.

Paul would not reform the abysmally flawed and underfunded Securities and Exchange Commission, he would eliminate it. The only agency of the federal government that stands between the public and greedy bankers and crooked corporations would be gone.

I can’t believe I just read that. The author claims the Securities and Exchange Commission is the only agency that stands between the public and greedy bankers but also implies Dr. Paul’s desire to end the Federal Reserve is somehow bad (by proclaiming the ideas expressed by Ayn Rand are bad for American and ending the Federal Reserve is something Rand believed in).

The Federal Reserve is the enabler of bankers. Our glorious Federal Reserve was created by bankers during a secret meeting on Jekyll Island and today bankers make up a majority of the board of directors. Ending the federal reserve removes the teeth of the bankers and thus claiming Ron Paul is an enabling of bankers while trying to eliminate the federal reserve is a logical fallacy of astronomical proportions.

And this is but the beginning of the shower of blessings that would rain down upon the very richest Americans. He would end the income tax, thereby making the United States the ultimate onshore tax haven. The message to both the Street and corporate America would be a kind of hyper-Reaganesque “Go to town, guys.” With income, estate and gift taxes eliminated and the top corporate tax rate lowered to 15 percent (and not a word about cutting corporate tax loopholes), a kind of perma-plutonomy would come to exist in the land — to the extent that there isn’t one already.

Because having people put their money in the United States is a bad thing? I fail to see how promoting business by reducing the mount of money stolen from them by the government each year is a bad thing. Note the author next explains how lowering the income tax would hurt the little guy who would also be keeping more of their money instead of forfeiting it to the government. The author also makes the accusation that reducing corporate income tax would create a perma-plutonomy without justifying the accusation. A plutonomy, according to the link in the article, “is a form of capitalism that is designed to make the rich who control a nation’s government and its economy—aka, the plutocrats—even richer. ”

Once again how do the rich control the United States government and the economy? Through the Federal Reserve. Obviously the author lacks any understanding of what the Federal Reserve is or does.

Despite all its window-dressing and spin, the heart of every libertarian plan for this country is a kind of mammoth subtraction: making deep cuts in programs benefiting millions of Americans, out of a belief that such programs are morally wrong. Restoring America is a moral statement, an enshrinement of the Randian belief that aid to one facet of the population (the poor) is really “looting” of resources from other facets of the population (the wealthy).

The author never attempts to argue against this libertarian belief, probably because it’s entirely true. Taxation is theft and is opposed by libertarians because it violates the non-aggression principle. Truth be told millions of American would benefit if the government simply walked into Bill Gate’s home, stole all of his money and belongings, and redistributed them among millions of other Americans. Then again every American would suffer as entrepreneurs would flee this country for fear of having their wealth confiscated for being successful. Our country would be a far bleaker place had the Henry Fords, Steve Wozniacks, and other successful inventors been in other countries.

Ayn Rand believed that there is no such thing as a “public,” and that the public was a collection of individuals, each having no obligation to the other. So when you read through this budget, and see the deep cuts in food stamps and child nutrition, what you are seeing is an expression of a philosophy that is at odds with the Judeo-Christian system of morality embraced by most Americans.

Emphasis mine. How is advocating charity and mutual aid in conflict with traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs? While theft is opposed by most Christian, and is even against one of the ten commandments, voluntary giving to help others is advocated as a great thing. Eliminating government programs reduces theft and doesn’t oppose charitable contributions or mutual aid. Pro tip to the author, religions is a tricky beast and can easily been used for argue both sides of the same point so it’s best to avoid using it as justification for any non-theological debate.

What I’ve just described is many things, but it is the very antithesis of the values of Occupy Wall Street, which is based on opposition to the prerogatives of the top 1 percent at the expense of the 99 percent.

So by taking away power from the “1%” Ron Paul is somehow against the prerogatives of the “99%.” Interesting indeed.

No, strike that. His positions are scary only if you know what they actually are, and not how he spins them.

Actually his position are only scary if you don’t know what they actually are.

Man Charged for Advocating Jury Nullification

Julian Heicklen is a good man who has been informing jurors of their right to nullify for some time. Unfortunately for him he’s in the state of New York which isn’t known for their respect of law or rights, which is what has likely lead to his arrest:

Julian P. Heicklen, a 79-year-old retired chemistry professor, has often stood on a plaza outside the United States Courthouse in Manhattan, holding a “Jury Info” sign and handing out brochures that advocate

Emphasis mine. The idea of jury nullification isn’t controversial, it has a long standing precedence in English common law which our system was built upon. Nullification is an extension of the fact that juries can’t be punished for the verdict they deliver. That is to say if a jury finds a defendant not guilty members of the jury can’t be charged with a crime because they ruled in opposition to the desires of the court. Were this protection removed it would effectively eliminate the entire idea behind juries.

Thus jury nullification isn’t controversial but an unpreventable (thankfully) side effect of jury trials. Juries are not required to even justify their verdict hence they could nullify without anybody knowing they did so. In summary nullification is a power juries have by the very fact juries exist. It pisses me off when people claim the idea of nullification is in any way controversial and demonstrates the sheer ignorance of the person making the statement regarding jury trials. The following quote is also golden:

“No legal system could long survive,” they added, “if it gave every individual the option of disregarding with impunity any law which by his personal standard was judged morally untenable.”

Actually our legal system, as well as the legal system of countless other countries, have survived giving every juror the option of disregarding the letter of the law. Again nullification is a power that is granted juries by the very fact that juries can’t be punished for their verdict. Since there has never been a case in the United States (that I’m aware of) where members of a jury have been punished for delivering an “incorrect” verdict and our system is still in operation it’s impossible to claim a legal system can’t survived nullification.

I wish more people were capable of using basic logic and had an understanding of history.

Man Killed with Taser for Being Hard of Hearing

Many police officers in the United States seem to think Tasers are a non-lethal weapon system that can be deployed whenever the desire to teach a suspect a lesson about respecting authoritah is desired. In North Carolina a police officer decided it would be a jolly good time to Taser a person riding down the street on his bike when he didn’t stop upon the officer’s command. That man is now dead and the officer is on paid leave and, as is common for these of cases, will likely be allowed to return to work once this entire mess blows over:

Scotland Neck Police Chief Joe Williams said they received a call Monday night about a man who fell off of his bicycle and injured himself in the parking lot of the BB&T bank, 1001 Main St. The caller was concerned that the man was drunk.

When Officer John Turner arrived, he saw Roger Anthony pedaling away along 10th Street. He followed Anthony in his patrol car, briefly put on his sirens and lights and yelled out of the window for him to stop, but Anthony continued to ride away, police said.

Williams said Turner then saw Anthony take something out his pocket and put it into his mouth. At that time, Turner got out of the car and yelled for Anthony to stop. When Anthony didn’t stop, the officer used a stun gun on him, causing him to fall off of his bike.

I forgot to mention the most important detail of this case, the man was hard of hearing:

Freeman said her brother was disabled, suffered from seizures and had trouble hearing. She said he was riding his bike home from her house on Sunday night. Anthony lived alone in an independent living community.

The reason the man didn’t stop upon command is probably due to the fact he didn’t hear the command. I believe Tasers should be treated the same as firearms (with the acknowledgement that they’re less effective) and thus only be deployed in self-defense situations. When a person is riding his bike and refusing to stop because some asshole with a badge demands it there is no need for the deployment of weapons.

Instead of being intelligent about the situation and attempting non-lethal intervention the officer instantly went for a weapon and initiated an attack. The man is dead because, through hearsay, the officer suspected the biker may have been drunk while riding a bicycle. Police officers should be taught that Tasers are lethal weapons and thus should only be deployed in response to violant acts because the consequences of using one is often deadly.

Lana Peters, Stalin’s Daughter, has Died

Something that isn’t covered well enough in American history classes is the number of people butchered by Joseph Stalin. Stalin ordered the death of more people than Hitler yet we are still willing to gloss over that fact since the Soviet Union was our ally during World War II. Imagine though that you were the child of one of these murderous individuals, how would you go through life? In many cases the children of murderous authoritarians end up taking after their parents and end up being the next rulers of the countries their parents terrorized. Lana Parker took a different route, she defected to the United States and eventually returned to the Soviet Union which makes her case far more interesting:

Her three successive names were signposts on a twisted, bewildering road that took her from Stalin’s Kremlin, where she was the “little princess,” to the West in a celebrated defection, then back to the Soviet Union in a puzzling homecoming, and finally to decades of obscurity, wandering and poverty.

At her birth, on Feb. 28, 1926, she was named Svetlana Stalina, the only daughter and last surviving child of the brutal Soviet tyrant Josef Stalin. After he died in 1953, she took her mother’s last name, Alliluyeva. In 1970, after her defection and an American marriage, she became and remained Lana Peters.

Ms. Peters died of colon cancer on Nov. 22 in Richland County, Wis., the county’s corporation counsel, Benjamin Southwick, said on Monday. She was 85.

It is interesting to note that she defected after her father’s death and the defection didn’t appear to be related with the actions of Joseph Stalin. Personally I’ve always wondered what it must be like having a father or mother known first and foremost as a murdering tyrant. Some children end up following the parent’s footsteps while others seem to completely rebel and choose a different path in life. What shapes these decisions is most interesting to investigate and speculate on.

While she did publish an autobiography after defecting to the United States I would find it interesting if she were to have written another one later in her life after her return and eventual second departure from the Soviet Union. I’m sure her outlook would have been different and would certainly have been worth reading.

Norway Mass Murderer Declared Insane

Not surprisingly the Norwegian man who killed 77 people earlier this year has been diagnosed as insane:

Psychiatrists assessing self-confessed Norwegian mass killer Anders Behring Breivik have concluded that he is suffering from paranoid schizophrenia.


Breivik admits carrying out the attacks but has pleaded not guilty to charges.

He has previously said the attacks were atrocious but “necessary”.

The two psychiatrists, in their report, concluded that he lived in his “own delusional universe where all his thoughts and acts are guided by his delusions”.

I would argue that anybody willing to kill people outside of self-defense are already a little messed up in the head but somebody willing to kill 77 fellow humans has nothing but bad wiring upstairs. Many people may feel as though this is giving the murderer an easy out but as I said previously Norway has a maximum prison sentence of 21 years unless the person is judged a high risk to society. The fact that this murderer has been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia may very well be the justification used to keep the man imprisoned for the rest of his life.

Of course the gun control nuts are going to latch onto this diagnosis as a demonstration of why strong checks of mental history are required. More to the point the boys over at the Brady Campaign are probably going to use this incident to demand mental health evaluations be performed on all persons wishing to buy a gun. While such a tactic would work exceptionally well at preventing poor people from purchasing firearms (mental health evaluations aren’t cheap after all) they wouldn’t lower the rate of gun crime in this country in the slightest since many mental disorders don’t manifest until later in a person’s life.

Think Before Click the Like Button on Facebook

Thailand has never been a bastion of free speech as far as their royalty is concerned. You can end up facing some very real jail time if you insult their king and now you can also face jail time for liking criticism of the kind on Facebook:

Thailand has warned users of Facebook that they could face prosecution under harsh lese-majeste laws if they press ”share” or ”like” on images or articles considered unflattering to the Thai monarchy.

The prosecution of a Thai-born US citizen who has pleaded guilty to translating a banned biography of King Bhumibol Adulyadej has signalled that authorities are also targeting lese-majeste offences committed overseas.

Talk about a man who can’t take criticism. I’m probably going to make myself a prohibited person in Thailand for saying this but their kind (royalty) is a worthless piece of shit who should sodomize himself with a retractable baton. What asshole thinks so highly of himself that he feels it’s a jolly good idea to imprison anybody who saying something unflattering about him?

Suppression of speech is a disgusting thing that requires the use of real violence in order to censor mere words. If their king’s ego is so fragile that he can’t take a little criticism perhaps Thailand should look into getting a new king, or better yet abolishing the monarchy.

EDIT: 2011-11-29 18:40: Placed a disclaimer after “their kind” as it was pointed out by Jim that the language could be used to construe my statement as racist. I’d rather not deal with false accusations of racisms so the statement has been clarified.

Black Friday is Serious Business

Every year Black Friday rolls around and further destroys what little faith in humanity I have left. While others are piling up in front of stores readying to stampede upon the opening of doors I try to be as far away from civilization as possible. With people getting trampled to death and pepper spray flying I’d rather spend a little extra money on my products than face the hoard of ravenous shoppers:

A woman shot pepper spray to keep shoppers from merchandise she wanted during a Black Friday sale, and 20 people suffered minor injuries, authorities said.

The incident occurred shortly after 10:20 p.m. Thursday in a crowded Los Angeles-area Walmart as shoppers hungry for deals were let inside the store.

Police said the suspect shot the pepper spray when the coverings over the items she wanted were removed.

I’m not even remotely surprised although I would like to know the thought process that preceded this act. How did the lady come to the conclusion that dousing the area in pepper spray was going to turn out to her benefit? If she didn’t get burning eyes from her own stunt she had to know her arrest was imminent after unleashing her bright idea.

A Good Old Fashion Book Burning

Members of Occupy Wall Street are claiming the New York Police Department (NYPD) has destroyed around 5,000 books during their raid of Zuccotti Park. Now the occupiers are demanding the destroyed books be replaced:

fter police raided Occupy Wall Street’s encampment at Zuccotti Park last Tuesday, the reported destruction of as many as 5,000 books in Occupy’s “People’s Library” sparked an outcry by protesters and bibliophiles across the country.

The remains of the People’s Library (Occupy Wall Street) “This breaks my heart. This is [expletive] 1984,” an Occupy Philadelphia protester said at the time. “[Expletive] Nazis,” Occupy protester Dylan Bozlee said. Even Salman Rushdie joined the furor: “Nazis destroyed books to ‘purify’ German culture. Bigots do it in the name of God, or Allah. What’s Bloomberg’s excuse? ‘Hygiene?’ ”

Today, Occupy Wall Street held a news conference about the library, and reported that 79 percent of books were missing or wrecked. The remaining books are reportedly in the condition pictured at left. Occupy’s attorney is demanding that the city replace every missing book.

I consider myself a bibliophile so I’m going to be a bit biased here but if these charges are factual it’s a rather disgusting move by NYPD. Truthfully I doubt the books were destroyed to censor the ideas contained within, it was more likely a case of the police simply not discriminating what they threw in the trash. Yet it is sad that 5,000 titles were destroyed as opposed to being collected and donated to a library or something along those lines.