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You think that you understand technology but when you arrive at The Known World, you discover a land where software pirates sail the seven seas, Derek the Rocket Scientist holds a communal barn raising to install his solar roof, and the future of technology policy is perpetually debated by the Society for the Promotion of Goodness and its rival, the Association for the Prevention of Bad Things.  These are some of the people and institutions that populate The Known World and help explain the nature of society and technology.

This blog contains the essays of David Alan Grier, which appear each month to discuss the ideas, the culture and the stories of the digital age. These blog postings and podcasts come from the column of the same name in Computer.

This podcast is brought to you by Computer magazine, the flagship publication of the IEEE Computer Society.

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Entries with tag usb sites.

The Art of Privacy

 We've long been told that privacy is dead and that we are "to get over it."  All of our email, which seems to be the only kind that matters, is scanned multiple times as it passes around the world, we are frisked at airports and photographed as we pass our own neighborhoods.  Yet, I recently found a counterintuitive way of sending electronic messages in private.  

A New York artist has created a primitive store and forward network by cementing USB memory sticks into brick walls.  Only the connector sticks out of the wall.  Users plug their computed into the socket and deposits files with the instructions for delivery, much as mail was handled in the 18th century.  They also pick up any files that are on the stick and look to see if they can move them to a site any closer to the desired destinations. 

The problems with this approach are obvious.  A public plug can attract all sorts of nasty malware.  Anyone interested in looking for clandestine messages can monitor the plugs.  Finally, it needs a grid that is far bigger than it is at the moment.  Last I checked, the current grid had a total of 5 plugs, most of them near New York.  

Of course, this project doesn't desire to support a full grid.  It is a artistic endeavor, called deaddrops (deaddrops.org) that is supposed to make us think in new ways or perhaps bring a little remembrance when correspondence was carried from site to site with little privacy.  I believe that the artist plans no more drop boxes.  

I learned about the project during a boring meeting when I was scanning the news.  This one came from a French newspaper, so someone clearly knows that I read this article and am interested in secure correspondence.   We have lost our privacy but gained the world.  In the process we ask if it was indeed a fair transaction.




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David Alan Grier

David Alan Grier is a computer scientist, an established observer of the technology industry and a writer on issues of science and society.  In addition to producing The Known World, he has written two books,  When Computers Were Human, (Princeton University Press, 2005), which is the story of the workers who did scientific calculation before we had electronic computers.  In addition he has published Too Soon to Tell: Essays for the End of the Computer Revolution, (John Wiley/IEEE Computer Society, 2009).  A video of When Computers Were Human can be found here while a brief talk about Too Soon to Tell is found here. 

He is currently an associate professor at the Center for International Science and Technology Policy at the George Washington University.  

Despite sharing a common hometown and a common birth year with David Alan Grier the actor, he is an entirely different person.