Category: Geek

Geeks + Democrats = Net Neutrality


Yes – there’s still the risk of Big Money court battles ahead

Senior Republicans have conceded…that the grueling fight with President Obama over the regulation of Internet service appears over, with the president and an army of Internet activists victorious.

The Federal Communications Commission is expected on Thursday to approve regulating Internet service like a public utility, prohibiting companies from paying for faster lanes on the Internet. While the two Democratic commissioners are negotiating over technical details, they are widely expected to side with the Democratic chairman, Tom Wheeler, against the two Republican commissioners.

And Republicans on Capitol Hill, who once criticized the plan as “Obamacare for the Internet,” now say they are unlikely to pass a legislative response that would undo perhaps the biggest policy shift since the Internet became a reality…

The new F.C.C. rules are still likely to be tied up in a protracted court fight with the cable companies and Internet service providers that oppose it, and they could be overturned in the future by a Republican-leaning commission. But for now, Congress’s hands appear to be tied.

The F.C.C. plan would let the agency regulate Internet access as if it is a public good. It would follow the concept known as net neutrality or an open Internet, banning so-called paid prioritization — or fast lanes — for willing Internet content providers.

In addition, it would ban the intentional slowing of the Internet for companies that refuse to pay broadband providers. The plan would also give the F.C.C. the power to step in if unforeseen impediments are thrown up by the handful of giant companies that run many of the country’s broadband and wireless networks…

“We’ve been outspent, outlobbied. We were going up against the second-biggest corporate lobby in D.C., and it looks like we’ve won,” said Dave Steer, director of advocacy for the Mozilla Foundation, the nonprofit technology foundation that runs Firefox, a popular Web browser, referring to the cable companies. “A year ago today, we did not think we would be in this spot.”

The net neutrality movement pitted new media against old and may well have revolutionized notions of corporate social responsibility and activism. Top-down decisions by executives investing in or divesting themselves of resources, paying lobbyists and buying advertisements were upended by the mobilization of Internet customers and users.

Our beneficent Telecom rulers and their Republican flunkies will not stop pimping their case, of course. The lies they constructed as part of their agitprop during the campaign to influence the FCC will become a plank in the Republican campaign for the White House in 2016.

Should they win full control of the United States government – those of us who stay behind in the GOUSA to fight a rear-guard action against the building of a Brave New World of Corporatism [Mussolini felt that sounds better than fascism] will no doubt be relegated by law to dial-up, standard def and B&W TV. And flip phones.

John Podesta still wants to reveal the truth about UFOs – whatever that means

John Podesta, former senior advisor to Barack Obama, former Chief of Staff to Bill Clinton, and future chair of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign is offering some reflections on his most recent stint in the White House.

Number one on the list — aliens.

Podesta was out of the big-time politics game briefly early in the Bush years, and lent his considerable prestige to a coalition pushing the oddball cause of greater disclosure of federal information about UFOs.

Soon afterwards, he founded the Center for American Progress which quickly emerged as a key pillar of center-left infrastructure in Washington. I worked for a while at CAP, and can testify that while there were a lot of in-house jokes about Podesta and UFOs (including an alien-themed holiday party one December) there was approximately zero institutional effort expended on the cause.

But in a personal capacity, Podesta continued to lend a hand. He participated in a couple of UFO-themed TV shows and wrote the forward to a book about UFOs that was published in 2010.

Then he went back to the White House where, once again, there was no progress on the UFO disclosure front. It’s genuinely too bad. As a former Chief of Staff, Podesta presumably has had access to highly classified information and knows what he’s talking about when he says the public deserves to know what’s in these files. I hope — though I don’t actually expect — that he’ll use his influence in the emerging Clinton campaign to push this in a more serious way.

I wouldn’t expect that either. There are more relevant questions to consider for a presidential election.

There have been a few straight-arrow pilots, military and otherwise, in my life’s experience who share Podesta’s views about UFOs. I have no reason to doubt them. But, current science is all I have to go on – and the Fermi Paradox among others convinces me these folks bumped into something other than extra-terrestrial intelligence.

Why visit your boyfriend in the slammer when you can chat online?

Arizona mother Cathy Seymour’s 16-year-old son was arrested in August 2013 for allegedly shooting a detention officer to death and was charged with first-degree murder as an adult and held in a jail.

Now she uses her laptop and a video link to spring him from maximum security detention in the 4th Avenue Jail in downtown Phoenix, take him on a virtual tour of some of his favorite places and visit with family and friends.

“If there’s Wi-Fi and you have a laptop, you don’t have to stay in your home,” she says of the recently installed pay-per-view system that links a video terminal in the jail to her laptop at a cost of $5 for 20 minutes.

“His favorite spot is McDonald’s, so we went to McDonald’s … I’ll show him, like, the street … He gets to see other people … He gets to see my mom and dad and church,” said Seymour, who spoke to Al Jazeera America on the condition that her son not be named.

She is among thousands of family members nationwide using pay-per-view video chats to connect with loved ones who are incarcerated. The technology is gaining traction in jail systems across the U.S. in a push by the for-profit prison industry to monetize inmate contact.

At the end of 2014, 388 U.S. jails — about 1 in 8 — offered pay-per-view video visits, and the service was also available in 123 prisons, according to a study by the nonprofit Prison Policy Initiative (PPI).

Since the report was published in January, the PPI has become aware of at least 25 additional jails that have implemented the technology. Once video visitation systems are in place, most jails eliminate in-person family visits, securing a captive market for private firms. Seven companies dominate the market, and for 20 minutes, they charge from $5 in Maricopa County, Arizona, to $29.95 in Racine County, Wisconsin…

For Seymour, the pay-per-view video visits help her maintain a relationship with her teenage son, with whom she shares as many as four video chats a day. “He’s in an ugly place now … I don’t agree with the sheriff on much, but there is benefit to it,” she said of the system…

The boom in for-profit video visitation is also transforming the way lawyers work with their clients. Some criminal defense attorneys, like Marci Kratter in Phoenix, find much to like.

Before the system went live in November, Kratter had to drive to a jail, park, sign in and go to a visitation area to wait for her client in what she described as an “at least a two-hour ordeal.” Now with video visitation, “it’s 20 minutes. You do it from your desk … As far as rapport building goes and trust, when you can check in with [your clients] every week, they know you’re thinking about them.”

RTFA. Many variations on the theme – as you would expect. A predictable number of jailers are more interested in vacuuming every last greenback from the wallets of relatives, friends, lawyers. Some are more interested in security. You ain’t smuggling in smack or a cell phone over an internet connection.

There is a lawsuit started by defense attorneys in Travis County against Securus, the sheriff’s office and other county officials. It charges that video visits were used to illegally record attorneys’ confidential calls with their clients…using the info gained against clients and other prisoners. I’d be shocked, shocked I tell you – if something like that actually happened.

Y’all know how deeply we trust law enforcement in America. Right?

Improbable Research — jet-powered maple seed drone

In 1992, Litos et al. patented their bio-mimic throw-in-the-air toy called the ‘Autorotative Flyer’. It might not occur to everyone that the passive toy could be updated, and militarized, with the addition of a supersonic jet pack. But occur it did to high-tech weapons manufacturer Lockheed Martin Inc. which has just received a US patent for its Active Maple Seed Flyer.

The flying jet-seed, which can be used for transporting a miniature video camera for remote surveillance purposes, can also eject an (unspecified) ‘payload object’ on demand. The (unspecified) ‘payload object’ carries an adhesive causing it to stick to surfaces when it lands.

The remote-controlled, 10 gram, 3.5 cm long vehicle can fly for 20 minutes or so, and spins 250 times per second thanks to its supersonic jet thruster. Onboard (or offboard) electronics can de-spin the resulting images says the patent. For the convenience of the human-in-the-loop the seeds come in a blister-pack of 5 or more.

Martin Gardiner asks, “Is this the first time that a children’s toy has has been adapted to form a military device – rather than the other way around?”

My guess is probably not. Different age groups is all.

Hubble captures Jovian triple-moon conjunction


Click to enlarge

Firing off a string of snapshots like a sports photographer at a NASCAR race, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope captured a rare look at three of Jupiter’s largest moons parading across the banded face of the gas-giant planet: Europa, Callisto, and Io.

These so-called Galilean satellites (named after the 17th century scientist Galileo Galilei, who discovered them with a telescope) complete orbits around Jupiter ranging from 2 days to 17 days in duration. They can commonly be seen transiting the face of Jupiter and casting shadows onto its cloud tops. However, seeing three moons transiting the face of Jupiter at the same time is rare, occurring only once or twice a decade…

Missing from the sequence is the moon Ganymede, which was outside Hubble’s field of view and too far from Jupiter in angular separation to be considered part of the conjunction.

Way cool.

Space telescope capable of images 1,000 times sharper than Hubble


Aragoscope – artist’s conception

The Hubble space telescope has given us decades of incredible images, but it’s reaching the end of its service life and the question is, what will come after? One possibility is the Aragoscope from the University of Colorado Boulder, which uses a gigantic orbital disk instead of a mirror to produce images 1,000 times sharper than the Hubble’s best efforts.

The Aragoscope is named after French scientist Francois Arago who first noticed how a disk diffracted light waves. The principle is based on using a large disk as a diffraction lens, which bends light from distant objects around the edge of the disk and focuses it like a conventional refraction lens. The phenomenon isn’t very pronounced on the small scale, but if the telescope is extremely large, it not only becomes practical, but also extremely powerful.

When deployed the Aragoscope will consist of an opaque disk a half mile in diameter parked in geostationary orbit behind which is an orbiting telescope keeping station some tens to hundreds of miles behind that collects the light at the focal point and rectifies it into a high-resolution image…

The new orbital telescope was selected last June by NASA as one of 12 proposals for its NASA Innovative Advanced Concept (NIAC) program – each of which received US$100,000 to fund nine-months of research for projects ranging from capturing asteroids to sending submarines to the lakes of Titan. The Aragoscope is now up for being one of six projects that will receive an additional US$500,000 in April.

The team sees the Aragoscope as a way to penetrate farther into the universe to observe phenomena like black hole event horizons, or turned on the Earth to pick out objects the size of a rabbit. The next phase of the project involves testing the concept. This will involve laboratory work using a one-meter disk set several meters from a telescope. If this is successful, a more dramatic demonstration will use a disk set on a mountain top while a telescope mounted on a helicopter tries to focus on the star Alpha Centauri.

“Pick out objects the size of a rabbit”, eh? I recall a scientist cautioning me BITD when the US and USSR were involved in a race to develop spy satellites with the finest resolution. He told me if I was going to have sex outdoors – make sure it was under a tree.

I hope someone offers an app which automatically notifies everyone whenever our government turns the Aragoscope around to face Earth instead of deep space.

Verizon’s Supercookies are a profitable corporate threat to your privacy

For the last several months, cybersecurity experts have been warning Verizon Wireless that it was putting the privacy of its customers at risk. The computer codes the company uses to tag and follow its mobile subscribers around the web, they said, could make those consumers vulnerable to covert tracking and profiling.

It looks as if there was reason to worry.

This month Jonathan Mayer, a lawyer and computer science graduate student at Stanford University, reported on his blog that Turn, an advertising software company, was using Verizon’s unique customer codes to regenerate its own tracking tags after consumers had chosen to delete what is called a cookie — a little bit of code that can stick with your web browser after you have visited a site. In effect, Turn found a way to keep tracking visitors even after they tried to delete their digital footprints…

While Internet users can choose to delete their regular cookies, Verizon Wireless users cannot delete the company’s so-called supercookies…

Indeed, after a report on the practice by ProPublica, Turn announced it would suspend its use of Verizon’s ID codes to regenerate tracking cookies and reconsider its use of the technique…

Verizon is now at the forefront of telecommunications companies selling intelligence about their customers to advertisers…

The ad-targeting experiments by Verizon and AT&T are striking examples of the data-mining opportunities open to phone carriers now that they have become the nexus of the information universe, providing a connection to the Internet for people anywhere they go, at any time…

Some leading data-privacy and security experts contend that Verizon’s use of unique and persistent customer ID tags makes its subscribers vulnerable to covert online tracking by third parties.

Harold Feld, a senior vice president at Public Knowledge, a nonprofit group that focuses on information policy, said..“Stuff like this is worse than what Google or Facebook or anyone else does,” Mr. Feld said.

“I can avoid Google and Facebook, in theory at least. But if the network operator is going to spy on me, there is nothing I can do about it.”

Cripes. One more category of snoop we get to feed with information for free – so they can profit.