Wednesday, May 14, 2003

What? Me Worry? The image of Mad Magazine's Alfred E. Newman comes to mind.

The idea behind Palladium seems innocent enough ... software and hardware that will work in tandem to protect users' data from malicious hackers, viruses and spyware. The sales pitch makes users think ... HOT DAMN! Another weapon in the war against information theft.

But critics think something more sinister is at hand. And they may be right. Microsoft tries to deflects the accusation that it is in league with the media industry to override consumers' rights. They insist that the draconian buzz around Palladium (aka Next Generation Secure Computing Base or NGSCB for short) is mythic.

But any mad scientist can tell you that any invention meant to help humanity can also be turned into a weapon to victimize it. And in the digital world, Palladium has the potential to be just that.

Privacy advocates warn that NGSCB can, and probably will, be abused by content providers to Enforce copyright protections (with a capital "E"). In other words, imagine working on that report and Palladium discovers that you are working on an unregistered piece of software? BLAMMO, it goes into lockdown and you don't get your report done. In addition, Palladium will rat you out to Microsoft and the FBI could come a knockin'. So your boss has fired you and you're doing time in SingSing.

Microsoft wants you to believe that this "mythology" surrounding Palladium makes no sense because no one would "choose to commit professional suicide by creating software or hardware that won't allow it's users to use their system. Well, when it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that any company CONTROLS 90% of the OS market, one can do whatever they wish.

And the fact the word has gotten out about Palladium makes Microsoft skittish. Otherwise, why change the name - which they recently did - to NGSCB. Why confuse the issue even further by plans to include the software in the next version of the Windows XP operating system, code-named Longhorn?

Technology has a natural habit of leaping ahead of the legislative arms which are meant to keep it in check. So while Longhorn/Palladium/NGSCB may sound like a good idea to protect copyright and media rights, it may also allow companies to implement restrictions against computer users that they currently are not able to enforce through the law. And since the political process tends to avoid the path of most resistence, they may choose to be powerless to stop it.

Which only leaves market forces ... otherwise known as you and your wallet.

And that may be the most powerful defense of all.


The GPS, or Global Positioning Satellite Network, is a network of satellites that transmits high-frequency radio signals containing time and distance data that can be picked up by a receiver, allowing the user to pinpoint their precise location anywhere around the globe. GPS originally had military applications - which were used with stunning accuracy during the current Iraq War. Munitions, guided by GPS receivers can hone in on it's target with classified accuracy of a few feet (or maybe even more).

Commercial applications have come about as a result of increased used of civilian bands of the system.

How Satellite Navigation Works
Global navigation satellites continuously transmit time and distance information as they orbit the earth in a precise formation. Navigation satellite receivers use this information to calculate an exact location through triangulation. Every point on Earth is identified by two sets of numbers called coordinates. These coordinates represent the exact point where a horizontal line, known as latitude, crosses a vertical line, known as longitude. The receiver locks on to at least three satellites and uses the information received to determine the coordinates of the device.

By comparing the time the signals were transmitted from the satellites and the time they were recorded, the receiver calculates how far away each satellite is. The distance of the receiver from three or more satellites reveals its position on the surface of the planet. With these distance measurements, the receiver might also calculate speed, bearing, trip time, distance to destination, altitude and more.

The satellite navigation device may display its position as longitude/latitude, Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM), Military Grid (MG) or simply as a point on an electronic map. Many Thales Navigation receivers provide comprehensive mapping data, making satellite navigation an easy tool to enhance your recreational and industrial activities.

So how does this relate to your average GPS user? Imagine going traveling to a part of the country, or world for that matter, that you are unfamiliar with. You key in the coordinates of where you want to go and of where you are and your GPS will tell you how to get there - right on down to telling you when and where to turn. General Aviation pilots have discovered the beauty of GPS as it is invaluable in aiding in navigation. Fishermen could concievably download coordinates from NASA Reconnaisance satellites of hard to find hot spots are for locating that great catch. Farmers could get updated GPS information for where richer farmsoil is on their land. Oil companies could pinpoint pockets of crude for drilling.

GPS has an unlimited amount of potential for the business world.

Magellan's GPS Companion (I tested it for the Visor PDA) works great. You set it up by establishing a fix. Click the general location on a global map and then again on a national map. Then key in your elevation/altitude above sea level. The GPS gets a fix and you know where you are on the big, blue marble. Hop in the car and it tells you not only where you are (via longitude/latitude coordinates) but how high you are, how fast you are travelling, and what direction you are heading.

That's the beauty of GPS.

The only downside to the Magellan GPS is that the available maps used in it's Nav software are sparse and simplistic. If you are expecting to see detailed map as you follow it, you'll be disappointed. Pocket PC variants have greater detail.

Is it a toy? Sure it is. A very cool one. But it's also a tool which has specific applications for specific users.