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Mozilla’s Advantage in Mobile

Mozilla’s bet on the web is a long play, betting that integration via the web will defeat walled gardens and repetitive technology efforts.

One of the major technology spaces still up for grabs is mobile. Apple led out with the i-series of mobile devices (iPhone, iPad), running iOS, while Google came back with third-party manufactured Android and their own Google-designed Nexus devices. Of course, Microsoft has their devices and their mobile operating system, but they are playing catch-up.

Mozilla has come in late with the FirefoxOS, and without plans for their own hardware. Yet they have a distinct advantage.

One of the frustrating things about new technologies from the big three (Apple, Google, and Microsoft) is lack of integration. Especially if you don’t standardize your technology choices on one of them, but even then.

For example, you can subscribe to various publications or buy certain media from these technology vendors (and others, like Amazon), but you don’t necessarily get equal access from all your platforms. Indeed, some of your platforms may be wholly excluded.

That’s the most common case for me, as a Linux user. There isn’t a native client for accessing media on Linux, and the web offering is usually inferior (example, with the streaming music services). In some cases the web offers no solution, mostly in the case of video. A few video providers utilize Adobe Flash, but these require an obsolete library, HAL, to support their copy protection schemes (“DRM”).

But that’s why Mozilla has a strong position: the native web. It lacks some features, but it can gain them. As it develops, it will provide the strongest point for integration between platforms.

Google recently announced their “Play News Stand” application for Android. It’s an application to deliver news to you, and some of the content is purchased. But there’s no web version. There is less incentive than ever for users to buy content that’s only accessible on one device.

Consumers don’t want to switch all their device profiles and operating systems to one vendor simply to gain the marginal benefit of equal access. The economics aren’t there. They don’t get cheaper access. All they get right now is access to one shop per device.

Credit card companies would not be the force they are today if their cards only worked at just one vendor, or even a handful of vendors. True market capitalism requires open markets, and that’s what the web represents, what the web (and any viable replacement for the web) must evolve into.

Mozilla’s road may be rocky in establishing FirefoxOS and its benefits. The web as a platform has much growing up to do (especially in things like having a common user interface for applications developed by different vendors), but it has every sign that it will.

Mozilla is playing the long game here.

Big Data Needs Variables

We should find ways to use more variables in our daily lives.

Many concepts from Mathematics, Computer Science, and programming should be leveraged to improve our social/market interactions. One such concept is the variable.

You may know one from algebra as x. x = 3; x + y = 7; y = 4. But now x = 11, which means x + y = 7; y = -4.

A sensible, successful information society depends on proper segregation and apportionment of data. But you wouldn’t know it based on the governments’ and corporations’ attitudes towards our data.

What do I mean by segregation of data? I mean that certain information is need-to-know. For example, a corporation does not necessarily need to know my physical address, my e-mail address, my phone number, my date-of-birth, et cetera.

Why do they ask for these things, then? Because they don’t have an alternative choice.

Why should they want an alternative? Look at my examples above and you will notice that except for date-of-birth, they can and will all change from time to time.

What they should want, in lieu of an e-mail address or credit card or other billing data: a variable.

A credit card’s processing information is sort of like a variable. You can pay it off with cash (if the issuing bank is local to you), check, other credit, et cetera. But in its use, it has become largely become a value in itself. It expires, and knowledge of it is treated as authorization to charge to it.

A variable names a piece of ephemeral data. You can e-mail me at variable@variable.invalid (which might as well be programmatically generated for our purposes), and that can then point to my current e-mail.

A strong variable system can mean that I control the value on an ongoing basis, while depending parties don’t have to worry about me updating their copy of my data when it changes.

Have you ever changed e-mail addresses and had to go to umpteen different online accounts to change it? Maybe not if you’re young enough to always have only had one account, but if you’re old enough to have seen your primary e-mail change from, say, hotmail, to gmail, and maybe something else in the future (eg, an employer-based mail or some secure alternative, at least for some uses), you know that pain.

That needless pain, which harms the corporation just as much. Because they see some value in knowing how to contact you, but not enough to recognize the real and profound risk they are placing on themselves by not looking toward a variable-based solution.

Okay, but I mentioned something about apportionment of data. What’s that? The data should have a home, and maybe a vacation place or safe house. But it should not live everywhere. A thousand copies of data that do not follow ACID (Atomicity, Consistency, Isolation, Durability) — in this case the C-as-in-Consistency, is begging for pain.

You want data to be properly allocated across the world for security and privacy, too. If you let the data seep all over, that’s a lot of targets to get your information from.

Other benefits include being able to seamlessly transition between services. The next gmail will have a harder time making a dent in the market, when everyone has to change their services to point to their new shinymail address.

The benefits of variables currently get ignored by big businesses, because they think that their database values outweigh the costs. But my guess is if you look at aging databases, like MySpace or Hotmail, they lost opportunities more than they ever monetized their databases.

Legal Boundaries to Prayer

A look at the arguments surrounding legislative prayer.

The Supreme Court heard arguments this week in the case, Town of Greece v. Galloway. The case examines the constitutionality of legislative prayers.

The crux of the disagreement comes from the question of how a prayer can be non-sectarian. The prayer giver’s religious background surely must taint the prayer with that viewpoint, the appellant and their coterie argue. They seem to rely on the historical aspect to defend the constitutionality in doing so.

The appellee argues the contrary, that there can be clean prayer, free of denominational frictions that would put off all but the staunchly non-religious and the pure minorities believing, for example, in true polytheism.

Several examples come to mind that support the latter. The first being pseudocode in computing. Pseudocode represents the equivalent of the non-denominational prayer, the secular invocation.

In computing we have various languages with various syntax and conventions beyond. But psuedocode exists to express computational ideas in a way that avoids the rigor and trappings of any particular language.

Further, we see examples of pseudocode that belie their origins from a real language. The use of an odd var or an int or of a particular way of writing a name (eg, open_door() versus openDoor()). But still, it remains pseudocode.

Another example comes from the Spanish-speaking priest. The priest gives mass in Spanish, prays privately in Spanish, reads the Bible in Spanish. But when asked to give the invocation for an English-speaking legislative body, the priest may give the prayer in English.

The priest does not believe that her gods will not hear her English prayer. Or if the prayer lacks certain accoutrements of her typical prayer in a sectarian context, she does not worry that the gods will ignore it.

No, we understand and expect that public prayer, meant for public purpose and public consumption, will be constructed appropriately.

That said, the question arises of what remedies or tests might be drawn to the task of both allowing these public prayers while limiting their sectarian nature.

One option would be to adopt a test similar to the so-called Miller test of obscenity cases. This would be ill-advised, as that test violates itself in ways that appeal to the prurient interest.

A test asking whether the prayer taken as a whole appeals to sectarian concerns, and uses patently sectarian language, and lacks serious secular spiritual value? We need less of this sort of hand-wringing law.

We wanted them to behave, we really did. Just a good, clean, non-denominational quasi-Christian prayer; just what we ordered. But there, in the home stretch, they started ranting about the golden hemorrhoids from 1 Samuel and now we must all be rebaptized in the ink of the First Article of Amendment.

Another option, even less appealing, would bar invocations and prayers entirely. No reminder of the higher purpose in legislating, just right into passing laws that benefit the corporations that funded the campaigns. Talk about bleak. Imagine how bad things would get! Prayer must be the only thing preventing the federal legislature from outright gridlock… oh.

But still, barring prayer would lose something important. The ability to add some timid poetry to the start of a legislative session. The occasion to pause and reflect, to acknowledge the judgment of the generations to come.

Computing attempts many other options. Whitelists, blacklists, graylists. Bayesian filters. Maybe a few prayers would be barred for sounding like they wanted to help you enhance your genitals. Most would probably slip through.

The whitelist could employ an official governmental prayer writer, and maybe some committees appointed to determine the secularity of the written prayers. A blacklist would work better for specific prayer givers who had offended in the past.

Rotations. “We’ll split up the week. You can have lymphoma, tuberculosis and —” It might have worked for Jack and Marla, but the court seems to acknowledge that requiring such a scheme, imposing it, would not. It smacks too much of separate, but equal.

Guidelines seem to be the order of the day, but the court may not place them in their main decision, instead trying to suggest that legislatures adopt some common sense in the concurring opinions. Guidelines to be offered to prayer givers, such as, “Just say no — to overtly religious calls in your prayers.”

I’m starting to think the aforementioned example of a Spanish priest may be the best remedy of all. Have the prayer be given in a language few, if any, understand. Nobody can claim to be offended if the prayer gets beeped out in Morse code, or belched out in Latin.

All rise, bow your heads, and make sure your tray tables and seatbacks in their full upright and locked positions, for the opening prayer.