Saturday, February 26, 2011

Do Not Knock List

After yet another religious type coming to the door today trying to sell us their non-evidence-based beliefs, and some semi-frequent hassling by utility companies, I started thinking: If we can have a Do Not Call list, then why not a Do Not Knock list?

If people could put their addresses on a list to indicate a lack of interest for certain types of door-knockers, then the householders could avoid being annoyed and the door-knockers could avoid wasting their own time and being abused for disturbing people.

I'm not so concerned about restricting the freedom of people who really want to communicate with others by door-knocking for non-sales purposes, as a legislated Do Not Knock list would have the same kind of exceptions for non-commercial communication as the Do Not Call list, but all this could lead to helping marketers to identify a household's demographic, which would be undesirable.

So, as an intermediate step, I've knocked up the following:

I tried to put one together that would refer to utilities, but I'm not very good with graphic design, and I was having trouble showing power plugs, gas flames, mobile phones and similar. If you like the idea and put together some better imagery, write a comment to let me know.

In the mean time, print out the image and stick it to the outside of your front door if you'd like to avoid having people annoy you with religious crap while you're sleeping, eating or otherwise uninterested. If they still annoy you, I'd guess you have licence to go nuts at them.

Edit: I decided to do a search and noticed that there is already a Do Not Knock campaign. Support it if you are interested.

Another edit: Completely unrelated to this post, but I just want to ensure that Pratik the Ninja's site gets indexed in Google.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Ways to Prove Homoeopathy doesn't Work

These experiments are not intended to be fully double-blind compliant or anything, but they are more scientific than homoeopathy, as low a bar as that may be.

Method #1:

1. Make a solution containing 9 parts water and one part bowling ball.
2. Stir.
3. Extract a drop of solution.
4. To the drop, add 10 litres of water.
5. Repeat 3-4 several times to ensure that no bowling ball remains in the solution
6. Drink the solution: You will notice that nothing bowling bally happens.

Now, post your own ways of disproving homoeopathy in the comments.

Palantir Technologies

I once went for an interview with Palantir Technologies.

It has great technology for visualisation of data. It can be used to allow operators to see connections in unstructured data where they might otherwise remain hidden.

I saw a demo on the website that showed the system being used for anti-terrorism purposes, and while I thought it looked very cool, it raised the question, which I asked during the interview: From where does the data come?

When people use this software, are they getting court orders for bank transactions, phone calls, emails etc.? The answer I received was about what I would expect: Palantir provides the software and it is up to the users to use it legally. That's totally fine with me. It's the same argument that can be used for guns, drugs (including alcohol and cigarettes), BitTorrent and cars.

I thought that there was nothing about the fact that Palantir makes software that can be used in corrupt, illegal ways to imply that the company itself, or its employees, were unethical.

So, it turns out that in this case, I seem to have been wrong.

Through documents that were obtained when Anonymous hacked the security firm HBGary Federal, it has been shown that Palantir was directly involved in plans to attack WikiLeaks in order to protect Bank of America, about whom WikiLeaks is believed to possess a trove of documents.

Since this has all become public, Palantir has apologised profusely for its part in the scheme. Is that enough though? Who wouldn't apologise when caught red-handed trying to illegally attack another organisation? Surely the test for ethical behaviour is conducted when you don't think anyone else is watching. That's one of the main arguments for promoting the right to privacy: To enable people to choose to be good, rather than just forcing them to be, with no conscious thought.

In this case, Palantir's private actions came out, and it has failed the test. As it stands, no mere apology can compensate for its complicity.

If it truly wants to redeem itself, Palantir should put its money where its mouth is: Donate a large amount of money to organisations like EFF or WikiLeaks.

So, to Palantir CEO Alex Carp, put your money where your mouth is. Don't just talk up freedom of speech. Actively support it.