Category: Geek

In a cameras-everywhere culture, everyone can watch everyone else

Science fiction writer David Brin calls it “a tsunami of lights” — a future where tiny cameras are everywhere, lighting up everything we do, and even predicting what we’ll do next.

Unlike George Orwell’s novel “1984,” where only Big Brother controlled the cameras, in 2015, cheap, mobile technology has turned everyone into a watcher.

With each technological advance, more of our lives — from the humdrum to the hyper-dramatic — is being caught on camera.

That includes the police, whose actions can be recorded by anyone with a camera phone. In South Carolina, a cellphone video released last week showed a police officer firing eight shots at a fleeing man’s back. In San Bernardino County, news choppers captured footage of deputies punching and kicking a man as he lay face-down on the ground with his hands behind his back.

Painting a picture that cameras are everywhere and anywhere is pretty provocative,” said Ryan Martin, a technology analyst at 451 Research, but it can also present opportunities to increase accountability and improve safety.

There are 245 million surveillance cameras installed worldwide, according to research firm IHS, and the number increases by 15% a year…

ParaShoot is selling a $199 HD camera that’s light enough to wear on a necklace or stick to a wall or car dashboard. “Never miss the meaningful moments again,” the company touts.

Another company, Bounce Imaging, is manufacturing a throwable camera shaped like a ball, with police departments as the target customer. The omni-directional cameras can literally take pictures on the fly and instantly transmit pictures to a smartphone.

It’s not just governments that are collecting rich stores of data. Facebook uses face-recognition technology to identify users’ friends in photos.

We expect the government, city, state or feds, to keep an eye on us. In public places, I think it can serve up as much good as opportunist evil. They didn’t expect us to start watching them on our own.

“Evolutionarily, we’re primed for it,” said Kevin Kelly, author of the book “What Technology Wants.” “For most of human history, we’ve been covering each other. It’s only in recent history we’ve developed a heightened sense of privacy.”

But, he adds, social norms guided behavior in the less-private past. Norms for the cameras-everywhere era haven’t been developed — nor are there well-thought-out legal structures that would keep inevitable abuse in check.

Meanwhile, while courts continue to uphold the rights of ordinary citizens to record police and politicians, the states run by the most repressive politicians fight back – passing new laws every year making it illegal to photograph or record the actions of officialdom even in public. Every one of those has to be challenged.

From Texas to Kansas, Arizona to Minnesota, conservative political hacks are scared crapless that someone will catch them being stupid – or criminal – and post it online. And if they’re scared, I’m impressed.

Graphene light bulb set to be 1st commercial consumer application

In two claimed firsts, researchers at the University of Manchester have produced both the first commercial application of graphene and the world’s first graphene light-bulb. It is expected that this new device will have lower energy emissions, cheaper manufacturing costs, and a longer running life than even LED lights. And this isn’t just a pie-in-the-sky prototype, either. The team who developed it believes that the graphene light-bulb will be available for retail sale within months.

To that end, the University of Manchester has partnered with the UK company Graphene Lighting PLC to produce the new bulb and share in the profits of its sales. This will also make certain that the University is directly advantaged by commercial products being developed out of their National Graphene Institute (NGI)…

The University of Manchester told us that the light bulb comprises a traditional LED coated in graphene which transfers heat away from the LED, prolonging life and minimizing energy usage.

Known as “the home of graphene,” the University of Manchester is where this unique form of carbon was first isolated in 2004. This feat earned Sir Andre Geim and Sir Kostya Novoselov the Nobel prize for Physics in 2010. Today, with more than 200 researchers in a myriad 2D material projects, the University is at the forefront of graphene know-how.

The sort of consumer advancement that birdbrains like Michelle Bachmann and other Tea Party types sought to halt. They oppose funding of research in US universities of energy-saving means and practices. Efforts to retire incandescent light bulbs are considered a socialist plot.

Mail me a penny postcard when the Koch Bros. and their flunkies announce they’ll pay my electricity bill.

1,000-year-old prescription for onion and garlic eye salve kills MRSA


An eye salve from Anglo-Saxon manuscript Bald’s Leechbook was found to kill MRSA

A 1,000-year-old treatment for eye infections could hold the key to killing antibiotic-resistant superbugs, experts have said.

Scientists recreated a 9th Century Anglo-Saxon remedy using onion, garlic and part of a cow’s stomach…They were “astonished” to find it almost completely wiped out methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, otherwise known as MRSA.

Their findings will be presented at a national microbiology conference.

The remedy was found in Bald’s Leechbook – an old English manuscript containing instructions on various treatments held in the British Library.

Anglo-Saxon expert Dr Christina Lee, from the University of Nottingham, translated the recipe for an “eye salve”, which includes garlic, onion or leeks, wine and cow bile.

Experts from the university’s microbiology team recreated the remedy and then tested it on large cultures of MRSA…

In each case, they tested the individual ingredients against the bacteria, as well as the remedy and a control solution.

They found the remedy killed up to 90% of MRSA bacteria and believe it is the effect of the recipe rather than one single ingredient.

Dr Freya Harrison said the team thought the eye salve might show a “small amount of antibiotic activity”.

“But we were absolutely blown away by just how effective the combination of ingredients was,” she said.

Nice to see modern researchers declare the scientific method predated many discoveries they thought might have been necessary to bring about the transition from superstition to methodical testing and verification.

That the effect of the whole compound is greater than the sum of its parts is just another portion of that realization.

Tampons glowing in blacklight detect leaking sanitary sewers


Professor Lerner checking a stream in Sheffield with more typical, more expensive methods

“You do get people looking at you strangely, but the tampon is not that obvious.”

That’s Professor David Lerner, explaining what it was like to conduct a research project where feminine hygiene products were inserted into streams and sewers around Yorkshire, UK. Why? It turns out tampons are an accurate and cheap way to sample water quality.

Towns and cities usually have two separate sewer systems. A sanitary sewer collects everything you flush or rinse down the drain, and transports it to a sewage facility for treatment. Storm sewers or overflow sewers collect up rain and runoff from roofs, paved roads, and parking lots. They empty that water into natural waterways like streams or rivers.

Storm sewers are not designed to handle untreated waste waters so it’s important to keep what goes into them clean. “Grey water” contamination is a common problem — water from dishwashers, showers, and laundry that ends up in the storm sewer via incompetent plumbing or deliberate dumping…

OBs – optical brighteners – are a regular additive to detergents that brighten whites and help hide yellow stains. They do this with a clever bit of visual trickery — an alternative name for optical whiteners is fluorescent whiteners. These compounds absorb invisible ultraviolet light and re-emit it as visible blue-white light, making your whites whiter. If you happen to have yellow stains on your shirt collar, the blue covers up the yellow via complementary color masking.

Optical brighteners do not occur naturally in rivers and streams, so they are a handy marker for contamination from human grey water sources. Brightening compounds glow brightly under UV light, so they’re a clear indicator of pollution.

Fibre optic cables can be inserted into sewer systems to monitor contamination, but the cost is quite high–up to $13 per meter of sewer tested. Spectrophotometers can be used to detect contaminants, but they aren’t cheap, and require training and calibration to use reliably. Testing an entire network of drains and sewers in a large urban area would be incredibly expensive in both time and equipment.

What Lerner and his research collaborator wanted was a simple, low-cost method for monitoring water contamination. Something that members of the public could do to to check their neighborhood streams. So the two Yorkshire engineers modified a US Environmental Protection Agency monitoring technique using cotton pads to be even simpler, smaller, and more portable: they used tampons as environmental samplers

Preliminary lab tests by the researchers confirmed that tampons quickly picked up optical brighteners at very low concentrations. Once they had their proof of concept, the scientists moved out into the field.

Tampons were placed in 16 surface water sewers, using the handy attached string to secure them to bamboo poles. After 3 days the tampons were retrieved and tested under UV light. And indeed, they did successfully detect grey water contamination, and determination of a positive and negative result was pretty clear. The total cost of each sampling? An estimated 30 cents including the cost of the black light…

This is what the military calls a field expedient. Like an improvised explosive device – the ever-popular IED so profligate in bits of the Middle East – any kind of field expedient can completely replace a more expensive traditional flavor of device.

After a couple of Yorkshire engineers complete larger, broadly inclusive testing, it sounds like another field expedient will enter the arsenal of water quality testing.

Solar-powered plane continues flight circling the globe


Click to enlarge

Solar Impulse, the fuel-free aeroplane, has completed the fifth leg of its round-the-world flight.

The vehicle, with Bertrand Piccard at the controls, touched down in Chongqing in China just after 17:30 GMT.

It had left Mandalay in Myanmar (Burma) some 20 hours previously.

The intention had been to make the briefest of stops in Chongqing before pushing on to Nanjing in the east of the country, but that strategy has been abandoned because of weather concerns.

The team will now lay over in southwest China until a good window opens up on the east coast…

Getting to the city of Nanjing would set up Solar Impulse to make its first big ocean crossing – a five-day, five-night flight to Hawaii…

The team will use the time in Chongqing to promote renewable energy as part of its “future is clean” campaign…

It is almost three weeks since the venture got under way from Abu Dhabi.

The project expects the circumnavigation of the globe to be completed in a total of 12 legs, with a return to the Emirate in a few months’ time…

No solar-powered plane has ever flown around the world.

Humans always want to fly. Doing it without pumping carbon into the atmosphere makes it all the better.

Sneeze catcher – Patent issued 12/16/2014

sneeze catcher

It’s a given that all manner of unwelcome microbial and viral particles can be exhaled by a person during a sneeze or a cough. Prompting inventor Joseph Apisa of Colts Neck, NJ, US, to create a ‘Sneeze catching method and apparatus’ It’s just received a US patent (Dec. 16, 2014). It can be, and indeed is, described in one sentence :Sneeze-catcher

“An apparatus for catching bodily fluids ejected during a sneeze or cough, said apparatus comprising: a sleeve having a first open end, a second open end and a perimeter wall being attached to and extending between said first and second open ends; a frame being pivotally coupled to said perimeter wall, said frame having an exterior edge, an interior edge, an upper surface and a lower surface, said frame having an attached edge and a free edge positioned opposite of each other, said attached edge being attached to said perimeter wall, said frame being positioned in an open position having said free edge spaced from said sleeve or in a closed position having said free edge secured to said sleeve, said frame bounding a receiving space when said frame is in said closed position; a covering being attached to and being coextensive with said interior edge, said covering extending over said receiving space, said covering being comprised of an air and fluid permeable material; a closure being mounted on said sleeve and releasably retaining said frame in said closed position; a pad being removably positioned in said receiving space, said pad having anti-bacterial properties; and wherein said sleeve is configured to be worn on an arm of a person such that the person may sneeze or cough into said pad and that said pad captures and destroys bacteria exhaled by the person.“

Thanks to the annals of Improbable Research

Google loses appeal in Safari cookie tracking case – can face trial in the UK


Security company director Marc Bradshaw, editor and publisher Judith Vidal-Hall

“Ordinary computer users like me will now have the right to hold this giant to account before the courts for its unacceptable, immoral and unjust actions”

The U.K.’s Court of Appeal has denied Google’s request to block lawsuits from British consumers over the search giant’s disregard for Safari privacy restrictions designed to prevent advertisers from tracking users.

These claims raise serious issues which merit a trial,” the Court said in its judgement, according to the BBC. “They concern what is alleged to have been the secret and blanket tracking and collation of information, often of an extremely private nature…about and associated with the claimants’ internet use, and the subsequent use of that information for about nine months. The case relates to the anxiety and distress this intrusion upon autonomy has caused.”

The case stems from 2012 allegations that Google intentionally bypassed Safari’s default privacy settings, which restrict websites from setting cookies unless the user has interacted with those sites directly. Google skirted this limitation by amending its advertising code to submit an invisible form on behalf of the user — without their consent — thus allowing tracking cookies to be set.

Those allegations prompted a six-month investigation by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, which Google eventually settled. The $22.5 million fine levied by the FTC was the largest such sanction in the agency’s history, and Google later agreed to pay a further $17 million in fines to settle cases in 37 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

Google was able to avoid class-action lawsuits in the U.S., but its defense — that consumers had not suffered monetary harm — was not enough to evade British courts.

That’s right. The Feds and 37 states were able to claim damages from Google. But, US courts in their infinite concern for the almighty dollar and little else – ruled that the computer users whose privacy was deliberately abused by Google have no standing to sue in a class action because they didn’t lose any money as a result of Google’ sleazy practices.

But, in the UK, privacy is considered the right of an ordinary citizen and Google’s abuse of that right makes them liable for a class action suit by users. So saith this pissed-off cranky old geek who thinks we should have the same right here in the GOUSA.

And, yes, I think Google is just about the same level of scumbag as the NSA.

Dark matter is darker than we thought


Click to enlarge

This panel of images represents a study of 72 colliding galaxy clusters conducted by a team of astronomers using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and Hubble Space Telescope. The research sets new limits on how dark matter – the mysterious substance that makes up most of the matter in the Universe – interacts with itself…

RTFA – more research in progress. I wonder if we’ll sort out dark matter in what remains of my lifetime?

14-year-old shows up auto industry security

image

A 14-year-old boy may have forever changed the way the auto industry views cyber security.

He was part of a group of high-school and college students that joined professional engineers, policy-makers and white-hat security experts for a five-day camp last July that addressed car-hacking threats…

With some help from the assembled experts, he was supposed to attempt a remote infiltration of a car, a process that some of the nation’s top security experts say can take weeks or months of intricate planning. The student, though, eschewed any guidance. One night, he went to Radio Shack, spent $14 on parts and stayed up late into the night building his own circuit board.

The next morning, he used his homemade device to hack into the car of a major automaker. Camp leaders and automaker representatives were dumbfounded. “They said, ‘There’s no way he should be able to do that,'” Brown said Tuesday, recounting the previously undisclosed incident at a seminar on the industry’s readiness to handle cyber threats. “It was mind-blowing.”

Windshield wipers turned on and off. Doors locked and unlocked. The remote start feature engaged. The student even got the car’s lights to flash on and off, set to the beat from songs on his iPhone. Though they wouldn’t divulge the student’s name or the brand of the affected car, representatives from both Delphi and Battelle, the nonprofit that ran the CyberAuto Challenge event, confirmed the details…

It was a pivot moment,” said Dr. Anuja Sonalker, lead scientist and program manager at Battelle. “For the automakers participating, they realized, ‘Huh, the barrier to entry was far lower than we thought.’ You don’t have to be an engineer. You can be a kid with $14.”

She described the breach as more of a nuisance attack, and emphasized that, in this case, no critical safety functions, like steering, braking or acceleration, were compromised. But the incident underscored just how vulnerable cars have become.

None of this is geek news. Nor is is there any surprise to this display of auto industry leaders’ ignorance of the vulnerability of their tech, the sophisticated toolkits of hardware and software available to even kid-level hackers.

European manufacturers experienced something similar a few years back and revised their engineering designs to match reality. Some more successfully than others, some less so. Why American corporate leaders didn’t pay attention and learn speaks to how parochial, insular, most Americans are. Another part of that corporate [and political] personality is native to imperial populations. If you have the most power you think you must also know best how to do anything.

In fact, reality, especially when much of your culture is well past its peak, contradicts that belief.