June 25th, 2008

Euro Foo

Living in the 21st Century

I'm not the most security-minded of folk. To be honest, most of us aren't. There's something impressive (and not a little scary) about the security guru mindset which dissects everything, looking for the tiniest loophole.

Oh, I use relatively strong passwords, and I look at my log files, and run all the security tools that make sense (or that I'm advised to by the security folk I know and respect). However, as most of my life is online and in email, there's one simple security measure above and beyond the standard practices I always take: I use a digital signature. If you get mail from me, you'll know it's from me, and you'll also be able to tell that the content you get is the content I sent. Once I set up my email client to handle my personal certificate it was all automatic and I could simply leave things running.

I pretty much forgot about it (apart from the time a commercial client's email system decided not to show certified mail and it took a couple of months longer than I'd have liked to get paid).

Something new happened the other day, something that took that digital signature and used it in a new way.

It started as I was filling a NDA that I needed to complete in advance of a trip to see a company in the US. There's nothing unusual in that - Non Disclosure Agreements are part and parcel of the world I work in, and are essential if I'm to get an early look at the features of some new software or hardware. It was the usual sort of thing, a PDF document that contained the dates I could talk about the product and space to fill in my name, title and sign the document. I get a couple a week, and I either fill them out in Word or print them, and then scan and email the filled out document.

What was new was that the PDF was a PDF form. I didn't need to print it out, I could just quickly fill in the details on screen. Finally someone was using the technology the way it was meant to be used. I looked for the scan of a signature I keep for letters, ready to paste it in to the PDF. Then I noticed something very interesting: a red arrow in the signature field. I clicked on it, and it gave me a list of the certified digital signatures I had on my PC. I selected one, saved the PDF, and emailed it off to my contact.

Then I realised what I'd done, and just how significant it really was.

That's the first time I've digitally signed something that's legally binding.

It's an interesting development, and one that looks to make my life easier (and greener) the more people start to use it. The existing public key infrastructures that S/MIME uses to secure email make it easy to take those personal digital certificates out into the wider world, and to make things like this possible.

Perhaps it's finally time you got your own digital signature.
Libere El Raton!

Stupid, stupid mouse creatures

The rat creatures in Jeff Smith's wonderful graphic novel Bone were stupid. As much as they liked quiche (and anything else they could eat), they were quickly outwitted by Phone Bone and his compatriots.

The Mouse's creatures, well, they seem to have completely lost it. Disney has been strongly pushing an act that's intended to help promote travel to the US. That seems to be a good thing, as the current US-VISIT border controls have made the US a much less friendly place for tourists (and the next batch will make it even less so).

It's a pity then that the Travel Promotion Act contains a provision for what is going to be seen as another tax on the very people it's meant to encourage to visit the US. The act describes a $200 million fund to help advertise the US as a tourist destination that will be created using an entry levy, to be charged to every visa waiver traveller to the US. With $10 going to the travel industry, that fee is likely to be $25 after administration costs.

Are families going to Disneyland from the UK going to be prepared to pay Disney for the right to go to the US? I suspect an extra $100 tacked on to a family holiday in the US could actually be a deal breaker that sends them off to Center Parcs. Especially when they find out just who they're actually paying that money to...

Story Noodling

I noodled a flash snippet of sampans poling around starships at anchor in San Diego harbour a few weeks ago, and the sharp shard of story is tarting to nag at me rather angrily.

There's something trying to come together, something that involves "the rapture of the rich", a deserted (in more ways than one) and abandoned USA, the nomads of the wastelands, sunken nuclear aircraft carriers in Long Beach, a quest for the Kouros at the Getty Villa (the famous possible fake), and a young woman discovering that there are more ways out of poverty than selling herself across the border to Greater Mexico.

It's not quite ready, still baking.

Still, here are some of the noodles:

"The starships floated in the calm waters of San Diego Bay, the fractal skins of their drive spines glistening in the bright morning sun. Michel rowed her skiff slowly down the line of ships, looking for one that needed a tender for the day."

"They called themselves the Abandonati, nomads who roamed the ruined cities of a deserted America, looting the empty places of art and treasures."

"Over the wall Tijuana’s lights were coming on. The southern horizon glimmered and glowed, the distant city flickering in the summer heat. Somewhere in there her sister was cleaning homes, living the life of el raton, an illegal scrabbling for euros in the walls of the Mexican archologies. If Michel made the deal she could come home."

"The kouros was new-old. Golden stone glimmered in the bright light of the Pacific sun. Left behind in the looting of the old museum it stood in the ruins, it stared out to sea. Michel followed its gaze, past the waves, past the mouldering wooden houses, out to sea. The west beckoned, but the stone pulled her back into the wreckage."
It almost seems to want to be a 90K word YA short novel.

Definitely still in the oven.