ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

Uninterrupted Power Play —

I was impressed by a cute little brainfuck that happened recently.

There’s a device that’s been made that allows you to take over the power for a computer that’s plugged into the wall, such that you can unplug the machine and it’s still being powered. You can then move the machine around to anywhere, and then plug it into a new plug and the machine never turns off. It doesn’t have to be a computer of course; it could be a radio or an EKG machine or TV, but since it’s computers that flip out and do crazy shit when they get unplugged, computers seem what it’s really for.

The version of the product that got all sorts of attention is called HotPlug. Where it got a lot of attention, really, is security weblogs and tech weblogs. They focused on it for how it was being marketed: as an easier way for police and agents to seize your computer and take it away.

That’s well and good, but it’s just a mobile UPS, if you think about it. It’s a way to keep power going to a plug and move the plug. That’s all it is. The company selling it decided to market it to cops, but it’s truly a general-purpose item. I can think, going back years in the hosting business, where being able to tell a customer we’d be moving their box but wouldn’t have to have it shut down at all would be pretty damn sweet. I actually did this for one customer’s box that had two power supplies; I was able to unplug one, snake it to an extension cord, and then pull the thing along to its new location, stringing the network cable as I went. It was awesome.

But once people have the bug in their mind that this is a fascist tool, the comments fill with hopelessly elaborate ways to foil it. Checks for location, for voltage variance, for activity. You know; delightful spy stuff, the stuff people tell themselves they would do to thwart the man and then they don’t even shred their credit card statements before throwing them in the trash.

Compare this with, say, peer-to-peer programs, where it is so ingrained as a piracy assistance tool that efforts to brand them otherwise seem like errant peeps in the middle of a roaring ocean of opinion. People definitely do use these programs for legitimate, nobody’s-problem transfer of data; but the mark goes back a decade now and it will be a long time, if ever, before the first thing one thinks of with a peer-to-peer program is “oh boy, faster downloads of my legitimate data”.

It fascinates me how a few choice presentations to a neutral technology gives that technology an indelible mark, one that only enormous effort could shift public opinion away from. I have no solution to this; I just see it and try to remind myself not to punish a technology for its potential uses, but to laud/decry the actual uses that occur.

Now pardon me while I cook a roast on this record player.

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  1. Chris says:

    HotPlug, from WiebeTech?