Monday, October 27, 2014

Time to reflect

I don't use my blog as much as I used to due to lack of time and something to say that I don't say through other avenues. But something happened today that made me stop and think that perhaps I could use this blog for a more personal posting than usual.

I've always thought that life is precious and yet we often take it for granted, typically until the last moment. We make a big show of people being born because whatever your faith or beliefs, seeing a new life born into the world is a wonderful thing! Death is often more dour and a more personal thing. Typically unless someone we knew died, we all only hear about the deaths of celebrities, many of whom probably had little or no impact on our own lives.

Death is a sad enough occasion at the best of times. Again depending upon your faith or belief system it probably is the last time that unique individual will set foot on this planet and mingle with people here. Some aspects of what made them human, such as the raw materials, will eventually find their way back into the environment and, just as we're all made of "star stuff", back into other people in one way or another. But their uniqueness, their individuality, is gone forever - as best we can tell. That is sad. At it's rawest, this is a loss of information that can never be retrieved. A loss of memories, experiences etc. that helped to make the person who they were.

We often hear statements like "they're not dead as long as we remember them". Thinking about the sentiment behind these kinds of statements it makes sense. And we can all probably know someone who died, family or celebrity, that we remember fondly. But what of those people who have no one? That's the biggest loss of all: there's no one to remember them, to remember what made them unique within the 7 billion people on the planet. Maybe they weren't celebrities. Maybe they weren't world leaders or people who went down in the history books. But they were people nonetheless and to not be remembered is like them falling into a black hole, where no trace remains.

If you've gotten this far then you may be wondering why I'm writing this. I live with my family in an area of the country that means we have only 2 neighbouring houses. Both houses have people in them who have lived there for over 7 decades (we've been here for 14 years). Today one of those people, John Hudspith, died. He was 80 and a kind, quietly spoken gentleman; a man of his era. But he was alone. No family left alive. Few friends, other than ourselves and the other neighbours; none really close. Even then he was a private person. And it struck me that in his death he would be forgotten because he lacked celebrity status or family or history-worthiness. Well this is my small attempt to give him a little immortality, because if you've read here then you've paused for a moment to wonder about this John Hudspith, who he was and why I would want to remember him. Thank you.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Encrypting Data?

I read that the FBI doesn't want Google or Apple to encrypt data on phones by default. Their reasoning is that it makes it harder for them to track evil doers. I do understand their concerns but I don't believe in their solution: no encryption, or give them keys to decrypt. It's not that I distrust the police or security forces or believe criminals should be able to get away with their crimes, but if my data can be decrypted by one group then there's a good chance it can be decrypted by others (backdoors can and will be exploited). I don't encrypt my data to hide it from the law; I encrypt it to stop it getting into the hands of criminals and people who could use it against me or others!  And if we're not allowed to encrypt phones then what's next? Laptops? Cloud?

Unencrypted data may make their job easier, but surely they do detective work too? Just imagine if the FBIs approach had been enabled decades or even centuries ago. Letters couldn't go into envelopes or envelopes could be opened at any time (probably happened/happens today anyway); it would be illegal to write in anything other than plain English or natural languages (no codes); presumable all of your data would be easily accessible (no bank vaults, or their codes would have to be available to the police without a warrant!) The latest Sherlock Holmes stories would be very mundane as he'd just need to access the criminals' documents to discover their evil plans.

The reality is that encryption of data, hiding of that data, has always happened. Whether it's Sherlock Holmes story The Adventure of the Dancing Men, the Germans during WW2, the Romans, there are countless examples of coded information being used for one reason or another. And good detective work, aided by people in the field, has always been at the heart of the solutions. I don't want criminals to have access to my data and if that means the police need to do a bit more work then so be it.