Privacy and Chaos

Some of you who know me understand that I have a “weakness” for self-organized systems (so-called chaos, scale free networks, etc.) I think that there is real power in analysis of human systems that focuses on agents (that can be people) and how they interact. I also, however, find the unauthorized use of personal identity data by governments to be abhorrent and disturbing

In order to discover patterns of behavior in human systems, a researcher should not need  metatdata that fully identifies people. Metadata should be anonymized/de-identified to protect privacy and unwarranted use of the data. It simply is not necessary to know a person’s name, ssid, etc. in order to create a data set that can be used to discover patterns in human systems. Those of you who have worked with me know some of the techniques for performing such work.

There are people who do want to introduce real identity information into such data for reasons that they think are good. Such people work for marketing organizations, homeland security, even state government agencies. I have learned not to trust such organizations to maintain the privacy of individuals, however. We have all seen examples of breeches in the news. I don’t think that we should tolerate such misuse of data. Maybe it would be OK if we all had the chance to approve use of our data and acknowledge the possibility of misuse in advance. Kind of informed consent. That is clearly not common, however.

I think that Mr. Snowden has done us a real service by publicizing examples of the misuse of data. I encourage you to at least try not to be unknowingly manipulated by clueless or ill-intentioned people and organizations. Most of us are relatively powerless in this arena, but awareness of the issues might help identify situations in which you can have influence. We should not easily give up privacy and the presumption of innocence.

Here are some references that you might find interesting.

(There, I fell better now. – Add your comments.  You can fell better too!)

Telecom Updates

I just finished updating all of my phone technology, and I’m pleased with the results – lower cost and more functionality than before. I’m relating the experience in the event that it is useful to you.

I started with (1) an old Sprint cell contract and phones, (2) a land line from Centurylink to support a device that sends out alarm calls on low temp, water in sump, and power fail events, (3) internal Panasonic phones driven from the land line from Centurylink, and (4) Comcast cable internet service.

Briefly, here’s what I did.

  • Established a Google voice number to allow me to play with voip.
  • Installed an Obihai bridging device – OBI110. (about $50 from or amazon) Configured it to act as a bridge between my internal phones, the land line, and the Google voice voip service over the Comcast internet service. This gave me confidence and some understanding of the OBI110 device and voip features.
  • Signed up with for a more professional and stable voip service to replace the Google one. This cost all of about $10, including a monthly fee of similar size. I ported my land line number to CallCentric, which ended my CenturyLink relationship and saved nearly $20/mo.
  • Bought a simple smartphone and cell service from This is a reseller of Verizon access. This saves me on the order of $30/mo over sprint. The smartphone is a low end model and cost me $150, but I figure that a 5 month payback period is just fine.

So, I end up with more features, total portability, no long commitments, flexibility, etc., and I save about $50/mo. Oh yes, and I can make internet-based phone calls from my tablet anywhere in the world or from the smartphone to just about anywhere else in the world to save more $. It is not “sexy”, but being a nerdy, cash-strapped retiree, thinking about travel/relocation, this was all important to me.

I should also mention that to protect against power outages at home I have made sure that key components are powered from UPS devices, which I already had since power is unreliable here. This means that my device that sends out alarms can operate for a while during power outages.