Category: Geek

Om Malik on changing old behaviors


Taking a picture of Om taking a picture

When I was a kid, my grandma told me the story of a hard headed man who decided that he didn’t like that his dog had a curved tale. He took the tail and encased it in a tube and left it like that for over a decade, confident that the tail would come out straight. A decade later, when he removed the tube, the tail was still crooked. It is a weird thing to remember especially since I am contemplating my own behavior modifications.

Or perhaps it is a realization that one of the hardest things to do in life is changing and modifying deeply ingrained behaviors. The longer you live, the harder it becomes to make the requisite adjustments. Sure, mortality, or more appropriately the fear of death, forced me to give up smoking (after chain smoking for nearly 25 years) and most of other bad behaviors — I am finding that there are some behaviors that are proving to be pretty hard to modify…

Blogging for me in the early aughts meant writing, short bursts, multiple times a day. That meant being hot wired into the news cycles and constantly monitoring what was happening in the industry. Unknowingly, my mind was being programmed to react and write to the flow of the news. As I have said before, this is a narcotic. My awareness of this problem is because I continue to struggle — that is react to the “news cycle” and often find myself writing blog posts that are well, news-focused blog posts that were the hallmark of the post-investment phase of Gigaom. I am acutely aware of this, because I am trying to turn back the clock to an older time when my blogging was decoupled from the happenings on the front page (or in my case business page) of the daily newspapers.

RTFA. Om sets the stage for a brief – and sharply focused – essay on changing our communication habits, skills. If we were seated in a small group – no matter where – taking the time to reflect upon his analysis and questions raised, I think the discussion would be as varied, interesting and fruitful as the number of individuals involved.

Om Malik is someone I listen to most often through his writing, occasionally via an appearance on TV or a video podcast. He provokes thought. Dangerous habit, I know.

Apple and others ask Obama to reject backdoors for cops and other snoops


Yes, this is what it says on my wife’s iPhone, same on my iPad

In a letter…delivered to President Barack Obama on Tuesday, Apple is among a group of signatories requesting the White House reject incoming government proposals that would modify current policies to allow law enforcement access to encrypted user data.

As reported by The Washington Post, which gained access to the letter on Monday, Apple joins a cadre of more than 140 tech companies, security experts and interested civil groups concerned with upcoming legislation that could force access to consumer data, even if it is encrypted.

“Strong encryption is the cornerstone of the modern information economy’s security,” the letter reads. Further, signatories unanimously recommend that government agencies should “fully support and not undermine efforts to create encryption standards.”

According to The Post, three signatories were on a five-member presidential review team formed to investigate U.S. technology policy in 2013, just after former NSA contractor Edward Snowden sparked public outrage by leaking information regarding secret government surveillance programs. Among the revelations aired by Snowden was the existence of mass data collection initiatives targeting everything from phone calls to social networks and other high-traffic consumer products…

With iOS 8, Apple built an encryption system so secure that it is technically incapable of decrypting a user’s device even with the appropriate documentation. The lockout method was not well received by officials wanting access to user data, a procedure allowed through [so-called] proper warrants.

RTFA if you need to dull your brain with predictable rationales from security-snoops. The history of this sort of political paranoia tends to end with Big Brother having his patriarchal way with your thought and speech. Coppers are accustomed, now, to the government handing them them anything they need or need to know – or think they need to know – on a bulletproof platter.

They’re incensed that Apple dares to advertise the fact that they can’t decrypt your iPad or iPhone, either.

It’s raining spiders In Australia…

This month, the weather reports from down under are downright terrible for arachnophobes. That’s because the story that it has literally been raining down baby spiders in one part of Australia appears credible, according to scientists.

Clouds of millions of baby spiders were spotted falling out of the sky upon the so-called southern tablelands of New South Wales earlier this month, coating parts of the countryside and even some homes with the strands of their webs that they rode upon the wind.

“What happens is that during a particular time of the year, particularly in May and August, young spiders in the Outback somewhere throw these threads of spiderwebs up in the air and use them as a parachute to detach themselves from the ground and move in large colonies through the sky,” one local retiree named Keith Basterfield told the Goulburn Post newspaper.

Basterfield also took the opportunity to request the public to send him samples of the spider web material, which is also sometimes called “angel hair.” The paper obliged, publishing his post office box where the public can send their samples.

But there’s a hidden, more bizarre side to angel hair that might be compelling this retiree to ask for spider web donations. Basterfield is well known in the UFO research community, having published a few books over the years on the topic. He’s also been cataloging and analyzing Australian instances of angel hair since at least 2001.

Why? Well, it could be because many UFO enthusiasts and researchers believe that some instances of angel hair could actually be a mysterious substance created by the interaction of a UFO or its electromagnetic field with Earth’s atmosphere.

Balloon spiders

But in this particular instance, both Basterfield and scientists seem to be in agreement that what fell onto Australian fields this month was probably drifting spider webs…

Of course, if we’re talking about alien spiders riding on angel hair created by UFO exhaust, perhaps there is some reason for concern.

In my neck of the prairie they’re called balloon spiders or parachute spiders. For me, they’re a real sign of the transition from spring into summer. The spider silk collects along our fence line.

Now, downstate in Roswell – I’m not so certain what people think.

How did identity thieves get passport data? From passport agency contractor!

Three women from Houston, Texas, stand accused of engaging in an identity theft scheme in which one of them, a contract employee of the Department of State Passport Agency, was in charge of stealing personally identifiable information of persons applying for a passport.

The information was then used to create counterfeit identification documents, which the other two women would use to successfully impersonate the affected individuals in order to fraudulently obtain commercial lines of credit and to purchase iPhones, iPads and other electronic merchandise.

This scheme went on for over five years.

There are no more details about how Chloe McClendon, the Passport Agency contractor, exfiltrated the personal data in question, but according to The Washington Post, the US Passport Agency has decided last month to ban both federal employees and private contractors from bringing devices equipped with a camera into the offices where they review and process requests for passports…

Technically, banning devices with cameras won’t stop determined insiders from stealing information.

No surprise. The majority of cases like this stem from a disgruntled employee or a plant.

Another problem in this particular case might be cost cutting. According to Rob Arnold, in the last few years the Passport Agency has been employing contractors to do jobs that used to be higher responsibility government posts.

Life with beancounters in charge of Congress produces exactly the most predictable result.

Uncle Sugar closes in on self-guided bullets — maybe by stealing patents

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), basically the US military’s mad scientist division, announced it had cleared another milestone in its quest to develop self-guided bullets. The agency released footage of live-fire tests conducted earlier this year showing .50-caliber bullets making sharp turns in midair…

The first patent for a theoretically functional self-guided bullet was filed in 1997 by an academic. Rolin F. Barnett, Jr., now an associate professor of automotive engineering at North Carolina State University and head of Barnett Engineering, says that he first dreamed up his system as a graduate student, over two decades ago, as a personal challenge…

DARPA seems to have waded into self-guided small arms munitions around 2008, when the agency’s first reported research contract on the subject popped up. The resulting project is known as the Extreme Accuracy Tasked Ordnance program (EXACTO), and aims to increase US sniper lethality from 90 percent at 2,000 feet in good conditions to 90 percent at 6,500 feet…

That 2008 contract, a $14.5 million grant to a Lockheed Martin subsidiary known as the Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico, yielded an impressive public demonstration of a self-guided bullet four years later. Sandia eliminated the grooves in a modern rifle, which normally help a bullet travel straight by making it spin, and instead crafted the .50-caliber bullet to be front-heavy so it would move through the air like a dart. The heaviness at the tip of the bullet was acheived by installing a series of laser-detecting optical sensors, which would follow a laser trained on a target using an internal, eight-bit processing system running a simple control algorithm to guide external fins that make up to 30 directional corrections per second…

“The DARPA project, I think, experimented with my technology,” Barnett says. “The one that was demonstrated at Sandia looked to be identical to my patent…”

Barnett is so convinced that the technology at play was based on his own that he’s tried to file for patent-holder compensation, but he says he was rebuffed by DARPA representatives…

The footage released this year stems from work by a separate contractor, California’s Teledyne Scientific & Imaging, which first received $25 million from DARPA to work on self-guided bullets in 2010. The company released initial footage of their bullets last summer, although it’s not known precisely how they differ from the Sandia ammunition…

“I don’t know about what they’re using [now],” says Barnett, “because simply there’s not enough publicly available information.”

No one’s sure if and when DARPA’s bullets will be ready for use on the battlefield. But details of the still-active Sandia project on its website and in interviews with researchers suggest that the technology may be marketed not just to the military but to civilian law enforcement officials or even recreational hunters.

Please, let’s don’t leave out contract killers. Especially the freelance variety without Pentagon or CIA contracts. They’re still NRA-approved.

Saving avocado trees with drones and dogs

In Florida, a devastating disease threatens the nation’s nearly half-a-billion dollar avocado industry. That’s leading researchers to use extreme measures: drones and dogs…

The hunt for the deadly fungus begins in the air. A drone scans a seemingly healthy avocado grove and in just minutes, its multi-spectral camera spots trees in trouble.

Trees indicated in yellow or red may be infected by a fungus, carried by the microscopic ambrosia beetle that causes laurel wilt…

Once the drone has narrowed the search area, the dogs set to work. The fungus spreads through a tree’s interior and is invisible to the human eye, but the smell is inescapable to the sensitive noses of these trained dogs. They check every tree at risk and sit when the disease is detected…

Laurel wilt has killed an estimated 6,000 avocado trees in Florida in the last few years. The state is the second-largest avocado producer in the nation, and a $64 million industry is now at risk…

Scientists hope to stop the disease in Florida. One of their biggest fears is that it will spread to California, the country’s largest producer of avocados. For now, growers in Florida are hoping to get through this season, as they start harvesting groves in June.

Scary enough for me. I generally have an avocado every day.

In this neck of the prairie, I’m probably eating one from Mexico or California. In fact, we’ve already had some from California already.

How many swimming pools to hold all the excess fat in the United States?

How much energy is there in all the excess human fat in the USA?

This paper, about the amount of energy contained in fat people in the USA, can fuel a new level of contentiousness in the nation’s ongoing, highly opinionated debates about energy policy, and perhaps about other things.

“How much energy is locked in the USA? Alternative metrics…The authors, at Monash University in, Selangor, Malaysia and the Universiti Teknologi MARA, Shah Alam, Malaysia, report:

“Methods: Behavioural Risk Factors Surveillance System data were used to estimate the weight the US population needed to lose to achieve a BMI\25. The metrics for population level overweight were total weight, total volume, total energy, and energy value.

“Results: About 144 million people in the US need to lose 2.4 million metric tonnes. The volume of fat is 2.6 billion litres—1,038 Olympic size swimming pools. The energy in the fat would power 90,000 households for a year and is worth around 162 million dollars….

Thinking about this is challenging enough. Certainly the authors have derived a useful figure for American medicine to contemplate, both physiological and psychological.

Or just bloody depressing.

Thanks to improbable Research

Hostage uses smartphone pizza app to summon 911 help

Florida-woman-uses-Pizza-Hut-app-to-request-911-assistance

A Florida woman being held hostage with her children used a Pizza Hut ordering app to ask store employees to call 911 on her behalf.

The Pizza Hut in Avon Park received an online order about 3:40 p.m. Monday from regular customer Cheryl Treadway and Chef Alonia Hawk noticed the comments section for the order of a small hand-tossed classic pizza with pepperoni read, “Please help! Get 911 to me,” and “911 hostage help.”

Manager Candy Hamilton printed the order and contacted police…

Police said Treadway and her children were being held in their home at knife-point by the woman’s boyfriend, Ethan Earl Nickerson, 26.

A Highlands County Sheriff’s Office negotiator arrived on the scene and Treadway came out of the home with one of the children, but two others remained inside with Nickerson.

“She comes running toward us but two kids are still in the house with a person who’s on narcotics and you don’t know how their mindset with a knife, and we need to get them out,” the negotiator, Lt. Curtis Ludden, told WTSP-TV.

Nickerson was arrested without incident about 20 minutes later, police said. Treadway and her children were not injured.

Treadway told police she and Nickerson had been arguing and he had taken her phone away after threatening her with the knife. Treadway said she convinced Nickerson to let her use the phone to order pizza and he took the phone back after the order.

Quick thinking, Ms. Treadway. You deserve a reward for saving your kids. A super geek solution.