Your car is spying on you. If it was made after the early '90s, it very likely has a black box recorder in it, not unlike the ones on commercial jets. And if you don't find that troubling, your next gig involves the cover of MAD Magazine
Event data recorders, as black boxes are known in the auto world, collect data on wheel speed, brake and accelerator position, seat-belt status, and a dozen other parameters. They exist primarily to serve data to other systems, such as your ABS, traction control, and supplemental restraint system (SRS), so that those systems can, in turn, do their thing. For example, when the black box tells the SRS, "Uh, this car is doing 30mph less than it was 3 milliseconds ago, and nobody has touched the brakes," the SRS thinks, "Hmmm, that's a pretty good sign someone's about to get out via the windshield," and it blows the airbags.
But bits are bits, as programmers know, and black-box data is increasingly being seized by accident investigators and insurance companies--and largely in a vacuum of laws that would protect your rights. And you were worried about shredding your credit card receipts.
In Canada there already has been a groundbreaking conviction based on automobile black-box data.
But on July 1, California (world leader in excessive legislation) will adopt a smart law: It will be the first state to regulate black boxes in cars, prohibiting anyone from extracting the information from your car unless they have your permission or a court order. And any new car that has a black box will have to say so in the owner's manual.
Now I can see a bunch of you shaking your heads right now, wondering what I'm worried about. "Marge, is this that same idiot who leaves his PC on all night?"
The bottom line is that Mr. Goodwrench will know when you're doing 80 in a school zone.
I'm concerned because cars are also rapidly getting all sorts of connectivity, and trust me, a whole bunch of parties will be salivating to connect the two, then monetize the whole mess. Oh, sure, they'll sugarcoat it as "customer service," telling us it'll help them "recommend the very highest level of service and support for your GM vehicle." Yeah, whatever. The bottom line is that Mr. Goodwrench will know when you're doing 80 in a school zone. I'm not big on that.
And what about rental car companies? It's their car, so it's their data. What's to stop them from blacklisting you based on the driving data they retrieve from the car after you return it? And what if they sell that info to the Transportation Security Administration, which then feeds it into the CAPPS II system? Pretty soon, you can't even board a plane, just because one afternoon, you realized you went a little heavy on the Arnold Palmers at lunch and had to set a new land-speed record to get to your dry cleaner on time.
I have a feeling this one will generate a lot of talk. It should. Here's a list of cars with black boxes and their locations (hand me the wire cutters, please), plus some sample data pulls. I think you'll find both illuminating.
Breathe deeply and click Print
As if we didn't already have enough environmental issues cropping up around PCs, here's another: the emissions from your desktop printer.
I got a call a couple days ago from a lab in Marietta, Georgia, called Air Quality Sciences (AQS), telling me the lab is pioneering the testing of printer emissions in the United States. Figuring the next line would be, "Do you have Prince Albert in a can?" I damn near hung up. But it's legit. In Germany, they've been testing such things under the Blue Angel seal program for years, and now it's coming to the States as the GreenGuard seal.
AQS's chief scientist, Dr. Marilyn Black, tells me that inkjet printers can emit more than 100 volatile organic compounds (VOCs) as they print. Maybe you've heard of some of them: benzene, styrene, ozone. This stuff makes even biochemists swallow hard.
And laser printers have their own little trick, sending up puffs of "respirable particulates"--toner dust that loves to park in your alveoli.
Now look, this threat pales in comparison to secondhand smoke, but that said, America is becoming a nation of asthmatics. We need to get serious about indoor air quality or send some of those gas masks in Iraq back home to PC users.
If you're all set to head down to CompUSA right now and buy a "clean-rated" printer, hold on. First, the test data that AQS generates is sent back to the printer manufacturer, which can then choose to submit it for a GreenGuard seal--or just bury it, if the product is hopelessly filthy.
Secondly, you've never heard of the GreenGuard seal, and you aren't going to see it just yet. The organization is having its first industry summit next week. I'll let you know what comes out of it. Meanwhile, smoking, drinking, and radon are all looking better every day.
Gorgeous but annoying
I had to pull the plug on that sexy Logitech DiNovo keyboard. Every time I rebooted my machine, the mouse, the keyboard, and the media pad screwed around "rediscovering the Bluetooth hub" for a good three to five minutes. And all that time, the keyboard behaved like an arthritic woodpecker, barely able to process a keystroke per second. Every time I removed the cordless mouse from its charging stand, it took 10 to 15 seconds to start working again.
And all that time, the keyboard behaved like an arthritic woodpecker.
I'm sure the nice press-relations people at Logitech have a little workaround they can step me through in five minutes over the phone, but that isn't the point. I approach this stuff like any other stiff, and it just plain has to work right out of the box--you know, like a microwave oven or a television. So it's back to the standard $6 keyboard that came with my PC.