France Wants Cryonically Frozen Bodies Unthawed and Buried

Although I’d like to live forever, one method I am not planning to rely on to get there is cryonics. The idea, of course, is that at death your body is frozen on the off chance that at some period in the future technology might exist to revive you. Since the practice of freezing damages the body, even if someday nanotechnology is around that can revive dead bodies (which I doubt will ever happen — hey, I’m an optimist but even I have limits), I doubt a given person’s consciousness would survive the many changes to cells in the brain (see Pet Sematary for what might happen in such a situation).

But if people want to waste their money having themselves frozen, more power to them. Unless they live in France, apparently. Raymond and Monique Martinot spent a lot of money having themselves cryonically frozen. But French prosecutors claim this is strictly forbidden. The BBC quotes a prosecutor as saying, “What has been done is outlawed in France. In this country, bodies must either be cremated or buried.”

This is apparently common in Europe, and people wanting to freeze themselves after death generally depart Europe for the land where even the kookiest ideas generally have legal protection so long as they don’t harm others — the United States. Cryonics here is regulated by states and several openly permit the process.

I cannot imagine what the European objection to freezing is. The only thing I can think of are concerns that the company or other entity responsible for maintaining the cryonics facilities may become insolvent and leave the government or other third party with a bunch of dead bodies to dispose of, but that concern would be easily addressed through an insurance policy or similar mechanism.

Frozen couple sparks heated debate. The BBC, February 26, 2002.

Worst. Speeding. Ticket. Ever.

Finland has a system whereby the cost of a traffic ticket is proportionate to the income of the person receive the ticket. Nokia director Anssi Vanjoki was stopped for going 47 mph in a 31 mph zone. Since Vanjoki exercised options in Nokia stock when it was very high at the beginning of 2001, the fine works out to almost U.S. $104,000.

How Not to Make IT Decisions

The university I work at is in the process of providing an example of how not to handle technological change, especially when dealing with technology that is likely to become obsolete in the future.

Six years ago the university introduced a new magnetic stripe ID card and also reached an agreement with a bank to link some financial services. There was a basic chip embedded on the front of the card that turned it into a smart card capable of securely handling transfers of small amounts of cash. The system was used entirely on campus.

I could go to a card reader on campus, for example, and have $20 deducted from my savings account and added to my employee ID card. Then I could use the ID card for everything from making copies in the library to buying Diet Coke at McDonald’s. It never really caught on, except for two core user groups (based on my personal observation) — a) people like me who did a lot of research in the library and b) foreign students. I’d say 90 percent of the students I’ve seen using the system are foreign students (maybe because smart cards are becoming common outside the U.S., but pretty much non-existent here?)

Anyway, the bank that the university was working with was recently bought by another bank. The new bank says it is not interested in continuing the smart card technology and the university hasn’t been able to find another vendor, so effective May 30, 2001, the system is gone for good.

That would be bad enough. I can’t believe they went through all of the trouble, expense, and time for a system that lasted a mere 6 years. You’d think they’d at least have a commitment in place in case of just such a contingency.

Even worse is the timetable. People with smart cards have until May 30, 2001, to redeem any money they have stored on their smart cards. After that, the money goes “poof.” The problem with that, of course, being that most students left campus two weeks ago with the conclusion of finals week and won’t be back until late August.

I’m sure they’ll be happy to learn that the university waited until April 26 to issue a memo noting that the deadline is May 30, 2001 to redeem any value off of these cards.

Which sort of explains another technological fiasco they’re embarking on. Somebody in the upper levels of management decided there would be nothing cooler than to set up an 802.11b wireless network all over campus. They’ve been going around with various signal testing instruments to figure out the best places to deploy the system and expect to have it up in the Fall.

The problem is that the security system in 802.11b is known to have a number of flaws that only recently came to light, but the official line here is that the security issues for a wireless and a wired LAN are exactly the same. Now at the moment nobody’s found an easy way to hack their way into an 802.11b system, but it’s probably just a matter of time.

Regardless, do you really want to spend a lot of money on a system that some 15-year-old in Finland might render unusable at any moment? Not to mention that although bigger and better versions of the 802.11 standard are in the works, its becoming pretty clear that it is very unlikely there will be any backward compatibility or cost efficient upgrade path for 802.11b.

Which doesn’t matter to me. If someone wants to go to the lengths of breaking into the wireless system I’m setting up at home, they’re not going to find much and more importantly if a hack does ever become widespread I’ll just ditch the equipment and be out what, $300-$500 or so. But the university is going to sink a lot more than $300-$500 in it (plus I imagine there would be a lot more of interest on the president’s laptop than on mine).

I know why large organizations do these sorts of things — layers of bureaucracy — but it still never fails to amaze me.

One last silly technology story. At one place I worked we used a lot of audiovisual control equipment to switch between literally dozens of different audio and video sources. One of the main pieces of equipment — which was originally packaged with a proprietary control system — was on the edge of breaking down and both it and the control system needed replacing.

So a single manager who never actually used the equipment made the purchasing decision by himself and ended up with a $30,000 piece of junk which had less functionality than a number of $6,000 to $8,000 systems on the market at that time. But, it had a visual, point-and-click mouse-driven interface which the manager thought was the wave of the future, so that was the route we had to go.

Dying Without A Cemetery Plot Is Illegal in Le Lavandou, France

An example of just how crazy state regulation can be, the town of Le Lavandou recently proclaimed that “it is forbidden without a cemetery plot to die on the territory of the commune.” Don’t blame the town’s politicians for the bizarre law, however, — the blame lies squarely with environmentalists.

The small town of only 80 people knew it was running out of cemetery space, but because it is near the sea shore environmentalists successfully sued to block a new grave yard the town had planned. Instead the environmentalists want Le Lavandou to use an abandoned rock quarry as a graveyard, which the mayor, Gil Bernardi, denounced as nothing more than a “dump” which doesn’t give proper respect to the dead.

The town hopes to have the ruling overturned on appeal, but in the mean time officials were forced to enact the “no dying” law in order to minimize their own liability for those who die. The law may remain in effect for awhile as the appeals procedure could take upwards of three years to wind its way through the courts.


Dying prohibited in Riviera town. The Associated Press, September 21, 2000.