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The freedom to fix our stuff

This week the Wall Street Journal ran an editorial about the right to fix our gadgets. It was surprisingly pro-consumer. The author wrote about a friend whose Samsung TV broke due to $12 worth of capacitors and how he fixed the TV, with no experience, in a couple of hours. I can relate, though I took the easy way out.

He lamented the throwaway of gadgets being unethical on several levels, and I agree. I also remember a time when it wasn’t this way.

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Anthem, HIPAA, and encryption

Late last week, the Wall Street Journal reported that Anthem wasn’t encrypting the database containing tens of millions of health records that were stolen by sophisticated hackers.

There are numerous problems with that story, the first being that we don’t know yet whether the data was encrypted. There are other unconfirmed reports that say the attackers used a stolen username and password to get at the data, which, if that’s true, likely would have allowed them to decrypt the data anyway.

Still, I’m seeing calls now for the government to revise HIPAA to require encryption, rather than merely encourage it. And of course there are good and bad things about that as well.

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Taking a stand: Rupert Murdoch and the Chicago Sun-Times

Some people are ready to throw the entire journalism trade out with the week’s trash thanks to the deepening Rupert Murdoch scandal. But to some people, this wasn’t a surprise at all.

In 1984, 60 journalists took a stand against Rupert Murdoch. Without them, he quickly ran a once-proud paper into the ground, and he cut his losses and sold out after just two years of ownership. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

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Intel inside a Mac?

File this under rumors, even if it comes from the Wall Street Journal: Apple is supposedly considering using Intel processors.

Apple’s probably pulling a Dell.It’s technically feasible for Mac OS X to be recompiled and run on Intel; Nextstep ran on Intel processors after Next abandoned the Motorola 68K family. Mac OS X is based on Nextstep.

Of course the x86 is nowhere near binary-compatible with the PowerPC CPU family. But Apple has overcome that before; the PowerPC wasn’t compatible with the m68K either. Existing applications won’t run as fast under emulation, but it can be done.

Keeping people from running OS X on their whitebox PCs and even keeping people from running Windows on their Macs is doable too. Apple already knows how. Try installing Mac OS 9 on a brand-new Apple. You can’t. Would Apple allow Windows to run on their hardware but not the other way? Who knows. It would put them in an interesting marketing position.

But I suspect this is just Apple trying to gain negotiating power with IBM Microelectronics. Dell famously invites AMD over to talk and makes sure Intel knows AMD’s been paying a visit. What better way is there for Apple to get new features, better clock rates, and/or better prices from IBM than by flirting with Intel and making sure IBM knows about it?

I won’t rule out a switch, but I wouldn’t count on it either. Apple is selling 3 million computers a year, which sounds puny today, but that’s as many or more computers as they sold in their glory days. Plus Apple has sources of revenue that it didn’t have 15 years ago. If it could be profitable selling 3 million computers a year in 1990, it’s profitable today, especially considering all of the revenue it can bring in from software (both OS upgrades and applications), Ipods and music.

Sorry I’ve been away

I meant to post last night, then I noticed nobody had written a Wikipedia entry for Daniel Pearl. I had to jump on that one. We’re talking about a guy who wrote a feature story about Iranian pop music and got it published on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, folks. Who gets those kinds of ideas? And then gets them published in a venue like that?
OK, OK, getting it published on the front page of the WSJ isn’t quite the accomplishment it first seems–the WSJ seeks out stories like that to put on its front page to break up its notorious monotony. Still, this is one of the holy grails of journalism.

He also wrote a story about a Stradivarius violin being found on a highway on-ramp. That’s not something you hear about very often. The best story I ever heard like that was about someone finding a working Micron laptop on a highway on-ramp. The reason those things ended up on the on-ramp was the same: both of them allegedly were placed on top of a car before the driver absentmindedly forgot and drove off.

In the case of the Stradivarius, it’s also highly possible the thing was just stolen. In the case of the Micron laptop, it’s the theory of my coworkers that the guy who did it just wanted a new one and wasn’t quite as thrilled as everyone else when the laptop was returned to him in perfect working order. But, as usual, I digress.

There was a lot of drama surrounding the Daniel Pearl story. He was a highly-regarded WSJ bureau chief, chasing the trail of shoe bomber Richard Reid. He was kidnapped because he was an American Jew in a Muslim country. (Never mind that there’s every indication that to Pearl, being Jewish was just a label and he had no particular hatred of Arabs or Mohammedanism, and that Pearl was known at the WSJ for being one of its most outspoken critics of the U.S. government.) His loving wife was pregnant with their first child. That child was born several months later without a father. His grisly death was highly publicized because it was videotaped and released.

It’s easy to forget in all of that that Daniel Pearl was a human being, with a sense of humor and the unusual quirks you find and enjoy in your best friends.

So I had to jump at writing his story.