Browsing the New Year's Resolution

You probably don't wonder about my resolution, but I am very interested in your resolution. I thought I'd review the resolution of visitors to this blog.

The resolution tallied in this chart is screen resolution in pixels, given as (width vs height). These numbers represent the monitor resolutions of those visitors whose computers report their screen settings, so there's one source of bias - older computers with lower settings don't report their parameters. Also, the numbers represent monitor size, not window size - you may very well be browsing in a window that's 800 pixels wide, on your monitor that's 1280 wide.

It wasn't that long ago that websites were designed for 800x600 pixels, and today you'll see that 800x600 screens are only 1% of reported data.

You'll also see that 2% of the blog's visitors are 320x396, which means cellphones and PDAs. I think that's about to become our next big wave, especially when Google rolls out the Nexus Googlephone (as opposed to branded Android phones).

While we're getting our geek on, let's look at the browser distribution:

I've moved the bottom-left slices out a little bit, to segregate the Microsoft Internet Explorer users from ... well, from everybody that gets it. It's remarkable to me that Microsoft is down to 40% of the market. It's also remarkable to me that 6% are still using Internet Explorer 6.0, in spite of campaigns like IE6 no more, BringDown IE6, and IE6 Must Die.

Blogger, heal thyself!

Alas, I have a confession to make. While I'm at my day job, I'm required supposed to use an 800x600 monitor and IE 6.0 as a matter of corporate policy. Ugh, Double-Ugh. I'm a one-percenter on both charts.

How do you know which Browser is best?

Best is a subjective term, but we can objectively describe fast. A recent benchmark test by DailyTech produced these results (1 is fastest, 5 is slowest):

Celtic Kane's JS Benchmark
1. Chrome 4 - 432 ± 24
2. Safari 4 - 297 ± 3
3. Opera 10.5 - 252 ± 5
4. Firefox 3.6b5 - 157 ± 4
5. IE8 - 67 ± 3
1. Chrome 4 - 3984 points
2. Opera 10.5 - 3597
3. Safari 4 - 3570 points
4. Firefox 3.6b5 - 2905
5. IE 8 - 1006 points
1. Opera 10.5 - 470.2ms
2. Chrome 4 - 503.8ms
3. Safari 4 - 622.8ms
4. Firefox 3.6b5 - 883.2ms
5. IE8 - 4539.0ms

All tests were run in Windows 7 on a 15" MacBook Pro with a 2.8 GHz Core 2 Duo Processor and 4 GB of DDR3 RAM, running at 1066 MHz (Boot Camp was used to boot into Windows 7). The notebook has a GeForce 9600M GT, which has its own 512 MB GDDR3 memory, and a NVIDIA GeForce 9400M which shares 256 MB of the main DDR3 system RAM.

The Fastest Three Browsers

To simplify choosing a fast browser, the top three in each speed test are Opera, Chrome, and Safari.
  • Opera is the most web-standards-compliant browser, and has newly updated Javascript and graphics engines. It's as close to a pure browser as you can get (if that matters to you). It's on the Wii, it's on cellphones.
  • Chrome features "tab sandboxing", managing the memory for each tab separately, meaning that if you open and close lots of tabs for long sessions on a PC you might find improved performance with Chrome. If you're embracing the Cloud for applications as well as storage, Chrome should be your browser. Caveat: Pay attention to their privacy policy - Google's allowed to track what you're doing in those apps.
  • Safari brings the Mac aesthetic into the PC browsing experience. It's an excellent, fast browser. Minor gripe: I object philosophically to their default policy of requiring an ITunes update in order to get a Safari update.
  • If you're really into Social Media (Facebook, Twitter) you might want to experiment with new entrant Flock, which is Firefox adapted to Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Blogger, and YouTube.

My geek hopes for the new year:
  • computers using IE6 will self-destruct
  • IE7 and IE8 will be stigmatized and IE users shunned
  • IE9 will be cancelled due to European Union policy
  • everybody will choose a web-standards-compliant browser
  • HTML5 and CSS3 will be a great success
  • my day job will let me use Opera

Geek Frisson du Jour

That's frisson (the shiver of excitement), not 'fusion', just to be clear.

Apple has the wildly successful iPhone, packaged with an exclusive AT&T service that delivers poor service in cities with a lot of iPhones (notably New York and San Francisco). The iPhone isn't a stand-alone product, it's entry to All Things Apple, it's a platform backed by iTunes and the AppStore. It has been the Next Big Thing. Something happened in New York over the last few days where AT&T stopped selling iPhones online to people with New York City zip codes, but that's gone away now.

The whispered challenge to Apple's iPhone is Google's ... well, GooglePhone. Although several manufacturers are now selling smart phones running Google's Android operating system, the new Nexus (named in homage to Blade Runner's androids) is a phone designed and spec'd by Google, and produced by a manufacturer partner. They may introduce it this week, just prior to the CES trade show.

So that's an impending geekfest, Apple's iPhone vs. Google's Nexus phone.

January teases us with the titillating possibility of an Apple tablet. Whether the tablet is a large iTouch or a small MacBook is an open question, and some inquiring minds have discovered that Apple owns the domain, which may be the product's name.

Not willing to cede the vaporware buzz to the other guys, Google has leaked the specs for the Google tablet, running the Chrome OS and using a multi-touch interface. The Google tablet is reported to be a Cloud device, meaning that you'll store both documents (ie, work) and applications on the internet, and the client side (that is, your side) won't do the heavy lifting.

What I find most surprising is the identify of the players. At the consumer product level, nobody's talking Wintel (ie, Microsoft Windows and Intel); the discussion is Apple vs. Google, and the chips are mostly AMD. The only discussion you hear about Microsoft is they're selling a new version of Vista Windows7 that's not as terrible as Vista.

Here's a list of the lineup in the Apple vs Google competitive marketplace:
  • Smartphone operating systems: iPhone vs. Android
  • Web browsers: Safari vs. Chrome
  • Music and video: iTunes vs. YouTube
  • Cloud computing: MobileMe vs. iGoogle
  • e-mail services: Mail vs. Gmail
  • Address lists: Address Book vs. Contacts
  • Calendars: iCal vs. Google Calendar
  • Chat: iChat vs. Google Talk
  • Photos: iPhoto vs. Picasa
  • File storage: iDisk vs. Google Docs

Ah, it's a good time to be a geek. It's always a good time to be a geek.
I've written before about Minard's chart of Napoleon's 1812 March on Russia, considered by many to be the best chart ever made in that it communicates many levels of detail with an economy of markings.

To read the chart, you should know that Napoleon's Grande Armée starts out as the wide, brown line on the left. 422,000 men crossed the Niemen River to begin the campaign. The Army is marching to the east, left-to-right. As the Army progresses further, soldiers die and the size of the force is reduced, indicated by the diminishing width of the brown line.

You'll also see where two splinter forces leave the main body to cover the supply lines and any possible retreat.

Eventually, a reduced French force arrived in Moscow, which the Russians had abandoned. There was very little food in the city, and fires broke out over several days. Napoleon was forced to retreat, and 100,000 men started marching west (signified by the black column).

Losses continued in their retreat, even as they rejoined the forces left behind. The weather turned very cold (the chart on the bottom shows the temperatures during the retreat). The final column that returned to cross the Niemen River westbound was 4,000 men from Moscow and 6000 men from the units left to cover the retreat.

This was a battle of logistics as well as of tactics; the French Army lost more men to starvation, desertion, typhus, and suicide than to combat. The Army advanced faster than supply trains could manage, and there was no forage available.

Best Mashup of 2009

Minard's chart tells this brutal story with elegance. Until recently, reproductions and redesigns of the information have been paper-based, but new work at Standford University has used a mashup of Google Maps and a visualization tool called ProtoVis to produce a digital presentation of Minard's chart.

The temperature scale presented uses the now obsolete Reaumur scale (°R), the same scale as Minard used.

Click here to see the chart in it's own webpage, where you can scroll, zoom in and out, and look at either Maps or Terrain. It's very well done, and conveys the efficiency of the original along with new tools.

NewYork Magazine Covers for the 00's Issue

I think I'm developing an appetite for clever magazine covers.

NewYork magazine had a design contest to choose a cover for their "00's issue". (click here for a slideshow).

Here are my two favorites, neither of which was selected:

Pong : Retro-Geek Gaming

Before the Wii, before DDR, a long time ago, back at the beginning, there was Pong.

Pong was the first mass-produced video game. It simulated ping-pong, played either between two players or between one player and the computer. The screen showed the position of two paddles, adjusted by the player twisting a knob, and the position of the ball. The score was also shown.

It was originally a coin-operated arcade console, but in 1975 it was released in home versions that used a television set as a display.

Now we've come full circle, and you can play Browser Pong on the Internet. Player One uses the A and Z keys to control their paddle, and Player Two uses the up and down arrows.

Instead of providing graphics within a window, this version of Pong actually uses windows as the paddles and the ping-pong ball. Its very true to the original experience. If it doesn't work for you, you may need to disable your pop-up blocker.

According to the website, Browser Pong was designed to demonstrate emerging HTML5 features, and is intentionally non-compatible with older browser versions and substandard browsers such as Internet Explorer. It works best in Safari 4, Chrome 4, FireFox 3.5, and Opera 10 in that order.

Browser Pong has got all the significant parts of the original Pong with one exception: no coin slot. Enjoy.

What Kind of Person Does That?

I was looking at the Drudge Report and I saw a teaser headline about Brittany Murphy's death that caught my eye.

Something didn't seem quite right. The phrasing seemed like more of a tentative assertion than an official report, and I didn't get their use of quotation marks. So I clicked on the link and was taken to CBS news and this headline:

I wondered — what kind of person offers opinions on a cause of death when the autopsy isn't finished and the family is still grieving? It continued:
"It's possible, certainly" (that Murphy died of natural causes), Dr. Cyril Wecht told "Early Show" co-anchor Maggie Rodriguez Tuesday, "and usually, it will be some kind of a congenital heart condition. But in most of those cases, the patient will be aware that there is some heart problem.

"When you have a 32-year-old person dying suddenly, and especially a celebrity in Los Angeles, you can place your bet down that it's going prove to be a case of acute combined drug toxicity. And I bet you that this young lady tragically died in the same way that Michael Jackson did, and Anna Nicole Smith, and her son, Daniel Smith, and Heath Ledger -- a combination of drugs that had been prescribed for her, prescribed for her husband, for her mother, in some fictitious names, probably by doctors who are very, very quick to make available anything that celebrities want, sometimes using knowingly fictitious names."
The following things jumped out at me:
  • Cyril Wecht!
  • They've underlined his name!
  • he's used the word bet twice!
  • Cyril Wecht! (wiki)
And then...

I clicked the underlined Cyril Wecht and discovered Who knew?

My first impressions of included: (1)there's a curious code at the very top of the website, yellow text on red background, and (2) mid-page on the right margin there's a link that says: A note to funeral home directors. And I thought: that's just got to be interesting. So I read the note and found it was morbidly fascinating. I was surprised that he provides a 24x7 phone number on the web.

And then I was done with

A part of my mind tugged at me, my inner geek noodged me and I wondered, what was that code on the top of the website? On my browser (Firefox on XP-pro) there was just a single line of text displayed, it looked like this:

Autopsy No. 96A-155. What could this cryptic, arcane reference mean? Why is it so prominent? I googled "Autopsy No. 96A-155" and learned that this is the autopsy case file for JonBenet Ramsey, a little girl who was killed in Boulder, Colorado, on Christmas 1996.

Then I put my geek thinking cap on, and wondered: was there anything else to that image on the top of Could it be an easter egg, or does it lead to any more information? So I went back to, and right-clicked the cryptic code, and clicked ViewBackgroundImage. And I saw this:

And I wondered, what kind of person uses the autopsy number of a dead little girl as the masthead image on their website?

The Coming Overthrow of XML - Orderly Makes Further Strides

My feeling that XML is due to be dethroned grows stronger by the month.

A quick recap of recent history:

First, JSON offered a simpler data structure than the angle bracketed format of Unicode XML. But that still lacked rigour around data definition, so even though XML suffered the confusion of having at least three competing schema definition languages (XML Schema, RelaxNG and Schematron), the world did have a way to specify data types, formats and constraints with XML that JSON could not match.

Then, thanks to Kris Zyp, JSON Schema appeared on the scene and plugged the rigour gap. JSON Schema parsers now exist for a number of languages including Java. One of the design decisions of JSON Schema was for a schema document itself to be valid JSON, much as XML Schema is itself valid XML. Unfortunately, this meant that brevity wasn't JSON Schema's strong point because the JSON way of expressing properties is necessarily long-winded.

The third shoe has dropped now (never mind the grotesque image that conjures up of the wearer). Orderly is a new schema language developed by Lloyd Hilaiel that is far more compact than JSON Schema and yet round-trips to JSON Schema quite effectively. [There's a really cool Ajax-y screen that converts back and forth between Orderly and JSON Schema before your eyes, so you can tweak either code to see how it looks in the other representation.]

Bottomline: SOA architects can recommend the use of the simpler JSON data format instead of XML without having to worry about the lack of rigour in data definition. Data architects, designers and developers can use Orderly to design schemas without bothering about JSON Schema's cumbersome syntax. JSON parsers can work with the equivalent JSON Schema to validate a piece of JSON data without the need to understand two different syntaxes.

A great solution, and it's all come together quite nicely in time for Christmas. Thanks to Lloyd (and Kris before him) for a wonderful Christmas present to all SOA practitioners, and ultimately, everyone wrestling with XML in any capacity.

A friend sent me this link to a piece written by Jonathan Rosenberg of Google on the meaning of the term "open". This is old hat to those of us who have already seen the light, of course ;-). [Rosenberg's calisthenics when he then tries to justify the closed bits of the Google ecosystem are quite amusing.] But to people who have not given much thought to openness and tend to follow the herd on technology (the bigger the brand name, the better), this open letter may hold many eye-opening insights (all puns intended).

I would perhaps have said what Rosenberg did in half the length, but brevity isn't a necessary quality of openness, so I'll forgive him :-). The main danger of the unnecessary length is it may just cause some of the audience to stop reading before the end, when Rosenberg delivers his most inspired paragraph:

Open will win. It will win on the Internet and will then cascade across many walks of life: The future of government is transparency. The future of commerce is information symmetry. The future of culture is freedom. The future of science and medicine is collaboration. The future of entertainment is participation. Each of these futures depends on an open Internet.
Amen to that. In fact, that's worth repeating in a more structured form:

The future of government is transparency.
The future of commerce is information symmetry.
The future of culture is freedom.
The future of science and medicine is collaboration.
The future of entertainment is participation.

I would like to analyse these in greater detail and add to/modify the list, because I'm sure this is incomplete.

For now, this is a document that is worth circulating to our brand name-dazzled colleagues. After all, Google is one of the biggest brands out there, so if Google is endorsing openness, there must be something in it ;-).

Now if only IBM would come out with an OpenTM line of products, we would be willing to write a cheque...

Javascript: The Good Parts

Finished reading, Javascript: The Good Parts. This was one of the most enjoyable programming books I've read in quite a while, and I think that's because it gave me a new perspective on a language I've been under-appreciating for quite a while.

I've been using Javascript (aka ECMAscript) to manage and manipulate web pages since probably 1996, and I've studied and worked with its application within websites. You can use Javascript for simple things like image rollovers and for much more complex things - for instance, mature Javascript is the basis for modern AJAX applications.

The genius of this book (by Douglas Crockford) is it refrains from viewing Javascript as a mere scripting tool for tweaking websites, and instead treats it as a standalone programming language in its own right. The author then contrasts/compares programming in Javascript to using more classical programming languages. It was really an eye-opener.

The other thing that I really appreciated in the book is the description of DDT's - "don't do this". Crockford identifies the weak and "evil" parts of Javascript that can lead to unintended consequences, and that's something that I also found valuable.

Icycle Bicycle Ride 1/01 @ 11:00

Courtesy of the Western Pennsylvania Wheelmen and the Southside REI, the Icycle Bicycle Ride takes place at 11:00AM on 1/1/2010.

Click here for the flyer. This is a noob-friendly ride of weather-sensitive duration. There's a special short ride for parents and children. Road bikes, mountain bikes, hybrids, recumbents - it's all good. Helmets are required.

Click here for photos of previous Icycle Bicycle rides.

I'd like to respectfully suggest that the Icycle Bicycle Ride makes a little more sense than jumping in the river, but to each their own.

Post Gazette Plus: A Look Behind The Subscription Veil

Nov.16th: PG-Plus Offers a Free Peak!

This screen capture is what looked like on 11/16/09:

Finally, a look behind the Veil of Subscription! I was pleased they were offering a free visit to PG-Plus, a chance to look around, but I wasn't really impressed at what I saw there.

I think it would be unethical to (re-)present their proprietary content, since that is their value proposition. I was stumped on how to discuss this supposed new business model and I came upon two points I thought were reasonable: (1) wait a month, so as to not steal anybody's thunder, and (2) instead of showing content, let's just check the images from PG+'s first page to analyze the focus - because if a page is designed right, you can look at the pictures and know what it's about.

These are the key images from the first page of PG+ on 11/16/09.

I was surprised at two things: (1) this was all there was, and (2) this was the content on the day they chose to offer a Free Preview - when they should put their best page forward. What I saw in PG-Plus was not hyperlocal media, it was more like 1986 Yinzer-AOL-2.0

Perhaps there's a market for that, but I don't think it's the basis for a subscription website. It would be interesting to see some subscription numbers. I hope they publish them in the non-subscription website.

If you're a person of a certain age you may need a youngster to provide the full context on this: there's a cohort of people who like to play a video game named Guitar Hero .

In a different category, there's people who are into sophisticated Christmas light displays that are synchronized with music. Usually they transmit the music on an FM signal so the neighbors don't get rocked out.

And then there are people who do both: hack Guitar Hero into their Christmas lights, play the game in conjunction with the lights, and transmit the output via FM.

Again, talented people astound me.

A Day to be Remembered

Beethoven's Eve

The New Yorker
Dec, 14, 2009
"Season's Greeting" by Barry Blitt

                                 (see other covers by Barry Blitt)

Clever, talented people astound me.
(Click here for a Foreign Policy slideshow on bowing, going back to Nixon.)

The Pittsburgh Promise : Life Imitates Art

I watched The Office last week (Season 6, Episode 12) and one of the issues was a ten-year-old promise that Michael Scott had made to pay the college tuition for an entire class of an inner-city high school.

Unfortunately, he did not have the money to keep his promise, so he had to go to the school and tell them it wasn't going to happen. When he arrived, the students (who call themselves Scott's Tots) surprised him with a ceremony honoring Mr. Scott, including an rap song set to the Bad Boys jingle:
Hey Mr. Scott,
What'cha Gonna Do,
What'cha Gonna Do,
Make Our Dreams Come True!

Throughout the various demonstrations of gratitude, Mr. Scott sits there weeping, and finally he stands up and explains that he doesn't have the money to pay for anybody's tuition. The response is predictable: dismay and disappointment. Tone-deaf to the situation and feeling like a victim himself, Michael Scott says, "Of all the empty promises I've made, this was by far the most generous".

As Oscar Wilde said, often life imitates art. This was tragic-funny on television, but I don't think it's going to be so funny in Pittsburgh. The Pittsburgh Promise, proposed in 2006, was funded by voluntary donations from city non-profits with the tacit understanding that their donations would preclude having to pay city taxes, or make PILOTS (payments-in-lieu-of-taxes).

The city's finances are not balanced, and the Mayor has played brinksmanship with the Universities with his proposed (and unprecedented) $15 Million tuition tax called the "Fair Share Tax". Then the Mayor stated that he'd settle for $5 Million. The Universities have declined to agree to the shakedown.

In the next round, the City will continue to demand money. It'll be rushed, before City Council changes in January. There'll be threats of tax legislation. Eventually, the non-profits will play their card: "you might be able to tax tuition, of course, but then we're going to stop supporting the Pittsburgh Promise. Because, Mr. Mayor, you promised that if we supported this, we'd be good."

The Pittsburgh Promise was politically expedient for Luke, if not for the city's long-term financial posture. The Education Tax was volatile, so it wasn't released until after the election. I believe this is all Kabuki theater, designed to provide Luke political coverage: I could have balanced the books, but then the non-profits would have hurt our kids.
Hey Mayor Luke,
What'cha Gonna Do,
What'cha Gonna Do,
When the bill comes due!

I've been enjoying the comments on Nullspace, in which I am guilty of hijacking the thread, so I thought I'd continue the PC vs Mac riff over here. The essay below, by Umberto Eco in 1994, is the best thing I have read on The Great Schism.

Insufficient consideration has been given to the new underground religious war which is modifying the modern world. It's an old idea of mine, but I find that whenever I tell people about it they immediately agree with me.

The fact is that the world is divided between users of the Macintosh computer and users of MS-DOS compatible computers. I am firmly of the opinion that the Macintosh is Catholic and that DOS is Protestant. Indeed, the Macintosh is counter-reformist and has been influenced by the ratio studiorum of the Jesuits. It is cheerful, friendly, conciliatory; it tells the faithful how they must proceed step by step to reach -- if not the kingdom of Heaven -- the moment in which their document is printed. It is catechistic: The essence of revelation is dealt with via simple formulae and sumptuous icons. Everyone has a right to salvation.

DOS is Protestant, or even Calvinistic. It allows free interpretation of scripture, demands difficult personal decisions, imposes a subtle hermeneutics upon the user, and takes for granted the idea that not all can achieve salvation. To make the system work you need to interpret the program yourself: Far away from the baroque community of revelers, the user is closed within the loneliness of his own inner torment.

You may object that, with the passage to Windows, the DOS universe has come to resemble more closely the counter-reformist tolerance of the Macintosh. It's true: Windows represents an Anglican-style schism, big ceremonies in the cathedral, but there is always the possibility of a return to DOS to change things in accordance with bizarre decisions: When it comes down to it, you can decide to ordain women and gays if you want to.

Naturally, the Catholicism and Protestantism of the two systems have nothing to do with the cultural and religious positions of their users. One may wonder whether, as time goes by, the use of one system rather than another leads to profound inner changes. Can you use DOS and be a Vande supporter? And more: Would Celine have written using Word, WordPerfect, or Wordstar? Would Descartes have programmed in Pascal?

And machine code, which lies beneath and decides the destiny of both systems (or environments, if you prefer)? Ah, that belongs to the Old Testament, and is talmudic and cabalistic. The Jewish influence, as always....
Umberto Eco

I believe one test of great writing is whether it remains relevant in the face of subsequent events, and I submit that Eco's essay retains pertinent. There has been a tremendous amount of evolution change in the world of computers and yet Eco's theme remains valid.

His description may have anticipated the rise of the platform-agnostic Linux community and even the humanistic DIY Open Source Movement. We leave to the future the placement of the Apple-iPhone/Google-Android conflict along this spectrum, and tend to ignore the comments of those who believe that the appearance of a Google phone will signify the beginning of the End Times.

Is Canonical Trying to Purge Ubuntu of the L-word?

I don't think much of revisionist history, and biting the hand that feeds isn't an endearing trait.

Visiting the Ubuntu site today after a while, I was unpleasantly surprised that I couldn't see the word "Linux" anywhere. After trawling the site exhaustively, I did find two or three references, and I leave it as an exercise for the reader to find more. Warning: You'll have to search really hard.

Under "What is Ubuntu?", the site says, "Ubuntu is a community developed operating system that is perfect for laptops, desktops and servers".

What's up, guys? Does it hurt a lot to use the phrase "based on Linux" somewhere in that sentence?

Canonical and Ubuntu, great as their contributions have been, would be nowhere without Linux, especially the Debian distribution. So why not acknowledge that debt? Why try to pass Ubuntu off to newbies as a completely original operating system with no ties to Linux?

On the same page, right at the bottom, there's a section titled "What does Ubuntu mean?" and it goes on to explain, "Ubuntu is an African word meaning 'Humanity to others', or 'I am what I am because of who we all are'."

How apt. Dear Canonical, why not show some Ubuntu (humanity to others) and acknowledge that you are who you are because of what Linux is?

GPS Road Tax and Big Brother

Traditionally consumers pay for roads through a gasoline tax. The more you drive, the more you pay (at a linear rate). There are two perceived problems with this approach:
(1) as we move into electric/hydrogen cars, the tax base supported by gasoline-fueled vehicles diminishes, and
(2) the gasoline tax is a rather blunt instrument, which doesn't support nuanced applications like congestion-based pricing (city centers or crowded highways during peak hours).
An alternative to a gasoline-based road tax is a mileage tax utilizing GPS. The Netherlands has announced their intention to implement a GPS mileage tax, and in the US there's interest in Oregon, California, and Massachusetts.

One of the problems with GPS-based road taxes is that there's no infrastructure to support it. We'd have to install a GPS in each car, establish a reporting system, and build a new agency to administer the program.

Another problem is privacy; I may not want Big Brother to have records of where my car has been. Advocates of a GPS-based road tax are quick to promise that the GPS data will only be used for revenue, and possibly for some criminal investigations.

That's what leads me to this week's news about how in the United States, Sprint/Nextel's Electronic Surveillance Department has provided GPS location data about its wireless customers to law enforcement over 8 million times in 13 months.

Paul Taylor, the Sprint/Nextel Electronic Surveillance Manager, said: We turned on the web interface for law enforcement about one year ago last month, and we just passed 8 million requests. So there is no way on earth my team could have handled 8 million requests from law enforcement, just for GPS alone. So the tool has just really caught on fire with law enforcement. They also love that it is extremely inexpensive to operate and easy (to use).

That's just one telecom company, giving up location info 8 million times over 13 months, without any interaction with the courts. No checks and balances - the police go to the web portal, submit their request, and they get the info.

This blog describes how "the government routinely obtains customer records from ISPs detailing the telephone numbers dialed, text messages, emails and instant messages sent, web pages browsed, the queries submitted to search engines, and geolocation data, detailing exactly where an individual was located at a particular date and time."

Personally, I'm not pleased about my cellphone reporting my whereabouts to the authorities without a court order. It's not that I live a Tiger Woods lifestyle, but I believe I have a right to be left alone, free from surveillance unless a court issues a warrant.