February 15th, 2002

Kind lady

Straight dope on - How do cell phones work? Do they track me?

They have to know where you are, to a degreee, otherwise your cell phone wouldn't work. What's even scarier (or more comforting, depending on your mood) is that soon they'll be able to track you to within a radius of 50 meters. Will Big Brother be watching you? Maybe. Of more immediate concern is the fact that your friendly local retailers may be watching you too.

First the technical stuff. The genius of cell phones is that they enable multiple users to share the same radio frequency by dividing the world, or at least the affluent urbanized part of it, into a hexagonal array of cells, each of which has an antenna at the center. Your cell phone communicates with the antenna at such low power that another antenna a couple cells away can use the same frequency for a different call with no risk of interference. (For details, including helpful illustrations, see how stuff works and look up "cell phone.")

How does your cell phone provider keep track of where you are? When you switch on your phone, it uses a control frequency to tell nearby cellular antennas who you are and what your cellular provider is. If you're within your local calling area, your location and the fact that you're available for calls are stored in your provider's central database. If a call comes in for you, your provider looks you up, sees your phone is switched on, and routes the call to you via the closest antenna.

Things are only slightly trickier when you're roaming. When you switch on your phone and the cellular system in the area learns that you're an out-of-towner, it immediately notifies your cellular provider via a control circuit. (All of this takes just a second or two.) If a call comes in, your provider looks you up in the database as before, sees you're in a remote provider's service area, and routes the call there.

Now for the interesting part. Cell phones have long been used for communication during emergencies. Of 150 million calls to 911 last year, 45 million involved cell phones. Hard-wired 911 technology automatically tells the emergency dispatchers where you're located so help can be on its way immediately. But with cell phone 911 calls, the dispatchers know only that you're somewhere in the several square miles covered by a cell. The Federal Communications Commission has mandated that cellular systems figure out a way to tell 911 services the exact location of a caller. One popular approach: a tiny global positioning system (GPS) antenna built into the phone. The GPS antenna picks up signals beamed out by GPS satellites that make it possible to determine your latitude and longitude. When you call 911, the cellular system automatically transmits your location too--or it will when the whole thing starts working. The FCC pushed back the starting date because the cell-phone industry hadn't gotten its act together on technology. The new deadline for substantial completion is December 31, 2005.

E (for enhanced) 911 capability has lots of pluses. Apart from helping emergency dispatchers, it'll support some useful commercial services. Say you're driving in an unfamiliar town and you get lost. No prob--push a button and your cell phone sends your location to a navigational service that tells you which way to go. Similarly, you'll be able to request directions to shops and services in the vicinity.

On the other hand, do you always want the world to know exactly where you are? If you were a crook on the lam, using a cell phone would be tantamount to phoning in your coordinates. Most of us don't have anybody tailing us, but check out this scenario: you're walking past the grocery store when it detects that you're close by and sends you a message about today's sale on bananas. Excited? Creeped out and irritated is more like it, particularly since you're paying to receive the call. But the technology is ready to go. (Another concern: that unknown parties will track your movements over time, to God knows what nefarious end... remembe rthat stalking private detective "meeting company"?) Sure, maybe there will be some way to opt out of things like this. But there's a good chance we'll wind up with cell phones and wireless handhelds and so on that combine the most delightful parts of spam and telemarketing. How come they never told us about this? "Kirk to Enterprise. Beam me up, Scotty." "In a second, Captain. I've got to scroll through the Viagra ads first."
travels - where the road leads

roaming around and the conspiracy of the day

Walkies went well... for some reason though, Newtcam deactivated right as I was leaving. I'm going to leave it on today, and see how well it does... it's been a while. I was reflecting on my sweetheart as I walked...spent a nice span over at the beach, thinknig about watching the surf with her, holding hands...She fills my heart and mind... I forgot mister camera, but I'll bring it on next walk there. The camera does quicktime movies, too...I'll perhaps host one of those next.. to get full-motion.

Newt on the windowsill

And now, some overanalysis of today's news...on the theme of diddling with the Internet, there's today's story in the NY Times.

"After a 10-week court-ordered shutdown of nearly all its computer communications, the Interior Department said yesterday that it had restored some of them, bringing e- mail back to government scientists, Web service to national parks - and payments to nearly 40,000 American Indians."

The Interior Department's computer communications have been offline for 10 weeks? How did that one slip by me?

When you consider that the Interior Department is landlord for one-eighth of the country, this is a big dang deal.

"A federal district judge ordered the department on Dec. 5 to shut down its entire computer system, saying it could not safeguard the accounting system that manages money for Indians."

I don't know...Something is making my Scotto-Sense (tm) tingle. Here's the thing: most of the story focuses on the payments to Native Americans. This is hardly an incentive to make people care. It's presented like some egregious form of welfare was held up for a few months. It isn't. It's the fees the government pays for use of tribal land. You know... rent.

This is one thing that is making the squiggly lines come from my head. About 80% of the article is about Indians not getting their government checks. Without explicitly saying as much, the story seems to be about a Native American variation of Reagan's "welfare queens" not getting their handout for sitting on their asses. (Am I being hypersensitive?)

Look at that date again. December 5th, 2001. What other things were happening in the news at about that time?

Hidden among the tales of pissed-off Injuns there are some rather interesting tidbits:

"The shutdown has disrupted recruiting for summer firefighters and studies on wetlands and endangered species, and has forced thousands of government workers back to an era of typewriters and endless paper forms."

Uh huh. I bet it would be pretty fricking hard to do any investigating in that situation. Now let's see, which industries are always coming into conflict with people concerned about wetlands and endangered species?

"Even with the National Park Service Web site scheduled to open within a day, an Interior agency that manages even more land - the Bureau of Land Management - will remain offline indefinitely, as will the Fish and Wildlife Service and the department's general site, officials said."

Hmmmmm. So the Bureau of Land Management will remain offline indefinitely. How conveeenient.

Oh, and the reason given for all this offline time? Those gosh darn hackers. Not that there has actually been any evidence of hacking, but the system is *vulnerable* to hacking so it has to stay incommunicado. Bah, sez I.
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Kind lady

(no subject)

I grew so tired just now that I fell into a doze, only catching myself as my head began a rapid decent to the surface of my desk. I didn't even see the haze surround my mind before blanking and nodding... looking quite forward to visiting the doc on the fourth. I'd like to take care of this apnea once and for all, thank you very much. Some slight throat surgery and I won't have to do the CPAP thing any more. Although, I've gotten quite used to it...another part of my nightly routine. I'd much prefer to just drop and sleep than need a routine.

I imagine that the majority of any weariness will evaporate once I'm home for the weekend.

Tore a line on my pants today...time to replenish the khaki supply. These guys are still good for bang-around, but not for wearing to work.

I have a BDalton's gift card burning a hole in my pocket... there's one the size of borders south of me, on federal. I should go check it out this weekend, while on my shopping time. I still haven't seen Danny since well before my birthday...or the hippies and I wonder what sort of loot I'll be getting from them. Dan let it slip that he got me a game of some sort, which is very out of character for him... he knows I don't play many games, but perhaps something persuaded him to do so this go 'round. I imagine it'll be fun, whatever it might be.

I believe I might've caught someone in a fib today... I'm not sure. I thought I'd let it go, but my mind just opened up to it, like a book that was left open, face down too long. I was told that a certain machine didn't have some privileges it ought to, and it turns out that they have more access than I'd been led to believe. Perhaps it's a recent change, and I just wasn't made aware of it yet. It's no biggie, just would streamline a few things had I known about the capabilities available, instead of having to build a few work-arounds. Fortunately, Apache is very easy to reinstall and reconfigure. Peevish thing.

Sappho's back to work today, and I'm glad that she seems to be recovering from some of the assorted stresses that've been bothering her physically and emotionally. Speaking of that... scanned over some of the Nin... Not sure yet how I feel about her writing style, but I do know that a good chunk of her subject matter isn't to my taste. I think she'll make to 100 rule, but it depends on what atrocities vs. erocities are yet to show up. Certainly descriptive.
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