Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The end of privacy?

A recent AP article discusses the future of RFID technology — a future in which the products you buy inform the government or companies of your movements and shopping habits.

Forget the omnipresent cameras and microphones imagined by Orwell. In this brave new world, even the clothes you wear are spies for Big Brother. Sure, I'm as intrigued about some of the potential applications of RFID technology as anyone — after all, who doesn't want a smart home that customizes the lights and music for you as you walk from room to room? But the potential abuses of pervasive RFID technology are legitimately scary. It's not paranoia if you are constantly being watched.

I'm thinking that portable RFID scanners might become a hot gift item. I'll certainly be investing in one if RFID technology becomea as popular as discussed in the article, if only so I can locate and remove all of the tags in my clothes.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

You don't have to be American to be an idiot

I think this article from the BBC speaks for itself... Just because a group of people have restrictions on eating pork doesn't mean they would be offended by the use anthropomorphic pigs in children's stories — unless they were enticing the children to eat them, I suppose, but that would be a whole new level of weird. I also noticed that none of the officials mentioned in the article seemed concerned that they might offend their Jewish citizens, even though they have similar prohibitions against consuming pork.

They may have more interesting accents, but government officials in the UK aren't necessarily any brighter than their American cousins.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

New on My Bookshelf

With the end of the fall semester, I suddenly found myself with quite a bit more time to devote to my first love, reading, and in the past month I've devoured a sizable stack of novels. A few of those were surprisingly good, and a couple were the the best I've read in quite a while. So if you're looking for something to read in the new year, here are my suggestions.

  • World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks — Brooks made a name for himself with The Zombie Survival Guide. His return to the world of the living dead is a decidedly moreserious and satirical offering than his previous parody. Written in a documentary style consisting of interviews of individuals who survive a zombie pandemic in the near future, World War Z should be on your reading list even if you don't ordinarily like the zombie-horror genre. Brooks uses the premise to examine (and take some wry jabs at) many facets of the modern world, including world politics, religion, philosophy, psychology, racial and cultural stereotypes, the cult of celebrity, pop culture, and the strengths and failings of the human heart.

  • Ilium by Dan Simmons — I've been somewhat apprehensive about this novel even though it's been on my list for quite a while, primarily because all of the reviews I've read talk about it's references and allusions to literary greats such as Homer, Shakespeare, and Proust. In my experience, I've found most of novels hailed by critics for their literary qualities to seem a bit pretentious, as if they were intended to display of the author's knowledge of literature and mastery of the language rather than to entertain and engage the reader. So I was delighted to discover that while Ilium is indeed amazingly literate and intelligently written, it is also an incredibly enjoyable read. Any fan of science fiction authors like Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Charles Stross, or Alastair Reynolds should find something to love about this book, but it should also appeal to history buffs or anyone who enjoys the sword-and-sandals action such as seen in the movie 300 (as a significant portion of the novel revolves around the Trojan War as described in Homer's Iliad). A minor warning, however: Ilium ends with a quite dramatic and extremely satisfying cliffhanger, and is concluded in Simmons' Olympos.