Category: Geek

North Dakota first to give coppers armed drones


Lucky intern gets to volunteer as test subject for drone taser

It is now legal for law enforcement in North Dakota to fly drones armed with everything from Tasers to tear gas thanks to a last-minute push by a pro-police lobbyist.

With all the concern over the militarization of police in the past year, no one noticed that the state became the first in the union to allow police to equip drones with “less than lethal” weapons. House Bill 1328 wasn’t drafted that way, but then a lobbyist representing law enforcement—tight with a booming drone industry—got his hands on it.

The bill’s stated intent was to require police to obtain a search warrant from a judge in order to use a drone to search for criminal evidence. In fact, the original draft of Representative Rick Becker’s bill would have banned all weapons on police drones.

Then Bruce Burkett of the North Dakota Peace Officer’s Association was allowed by the state house committee to amend HB 1328 and limit the prohibition only to lethal weapons. “Less than lethal” weapons like rubber bullets, pepper spray, tear gas, sound cannons, and Tasers are therefore permitted on police drones…

And as we all know…

Even “less than lethal” weapons can kill though. At least 39 people have been killed by police Tasers in 2015 so far, according to The Guardian. Bean bags, rubber bullets, and flying tear gas canisters have also maimed, if not killed, in the U.S. and abroad.

RTFA for a great deal of pro-and-con discussion. Not all of it very bright. But, when today’s class of state legislators in involved with corporate lobbyists, I’m surprised when any mention of civil liberties is allowed to creep into a question.

Christie says “track immigrants like FedEx packages”

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said on Saturday if he were elected president he would combat illegal immigration by creating a system to track foreign visitors the way FedEx tracks packages.

Christie, who is well back in the pack seeking the Republican nomination for president, told a campaign event in the early voting state of New Hampshire that he would ask FedEx Chief Executive Officer Fred Smith to devise the tracking system.

Immigration has become a top issue in the Republican campaign, with front-runner Donald Trump vowing to deport all of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants and to build a wall along the southern border…

The Republican clown show is getting so desperate to out-demagogue each other that Scott Walker is now proposing a wall blocking access to the US from Canada.

Christie has been lagging in recent opinion polls and is in danger of not making the top 10 candidates who will participate in the next official Republican debate on Sept. 16.

With real estate mogul Trump taking a hard line on illegal immigration, other Republican candidates in the 2016 White House race have sought to toughen their stances as well.

Christie did not say specifically how the system he proposes would track people the same way packages are tracked by FedEx, which scans a bar code on the package at each step in the delivery process.

The concept hasn’t changed much since the Nazis catalogued folks with tattoos before they warehoused and killed them in concentration camps. Christie just wants to modernize things.

More tech-oriented Republicans [Carly Fiorina?] might prefer injecting RFID tags under the skin. Tidier.

New theory leads to ‘radiationless revolution’


Click to enlargeAnapole Visualization by Andrey Miroshnichenko

Physicists have found a radical new New theory leads to ‘radiationless revolution’: Physicists have found a radical new way confine electromagnetic energy without it leaking away, akin to throwing a pebble into a pond with no splash…

The theory could have broad ranging applications from explaining dark matter to combating energy losses in future technologies.

However, it appears to contradict a fundamental tenet of electrodynamics, that accelerated charges create electromagnetic radiation, said lead researcher Dr Andrey Miroshnichenko from The Australian National University…

“This problem has puzzled many people. It took us a year to get this concept clear in our heads,” said Dr Miroshnichenko, from the ANU Research School of Physics and Engineering.

The fundamental new theory could be used in quantum computers, lead to new laser technology and may even hold the key to understanding how matter itself hangs together.

“Ever since the beginning of quantum mechanics people have been looking for a configuration which could explain the stability of atoms and why orbiting electrons do not radiate,” Dr Miroshnichenko said.

The absence of radiation is the result of the current being divided between two different components, a conventional electric dipole and a toroidal dipole (associated with poloidal current configuration), which produce identical fields at a distance.

If these two configurations are out of phase then the radiation will be cancelled out, even though the electromagnetic fields are non-zero in the area close to the currents.

Dr Miroshnichenko, in collaboration with colleagues from Germany and Singapore, successfully tested his new theory with a single silicon nanodiscs between 160 and 310 nanometres in diameter and 50 nanometres high, which he was able to make effectively invisible by cancelling the disc’s scattering of visible light.

This type of excitation is known as an anapole (from the Greek, ‘without poles’).

Um, OK. Like any physics including the word “quantum” – I usually end up asking SmartAlix to explain it to me. Which he does at least once a year.

Understanding lasts about 5 minutes in this old brain of mine.

Wall Street VP, Evangelical Baptist minister – just the thief you can trust, eh?


Korchevsky’s Sunday gig, Wall Street during the week, full-time crook

A federal judge in Brooklyn, N.Y., has ordered that Vitaly Korchevsky, a former Morgan Stanley vice president arrested for allegedly trading on confidential corporate information stolen by hackers in Ukraine, be released on $2 million bond.

Mr. Korchevsky, 50 years old, also will be required to pay a $200,000 cash deposit, surrender his and his family’s passports, wear an ankle bracelet for location monitoring and restrict his movements to certain parts of Pennsylvania and New York.

Prosecutors had pressed for the judge to keep Mr. Korchevsky detained in federal custody. They alleged that Mr. Korchevsky was one of the biggest beneficiaries of an elaborate scheme in which overseas hackers stole nonpublic corporate information stored in newswires’ systems and gave it to financial traders, who used the press releases to make lucrative bets.

Mr. Korchevsky alone made more than $17 million in profits from the insider-trading scheme, prosecutors allege, and $10 million of that already has been frozen by the government…Charges…include securities fraud and money-laundering conspiracy…

Mr. Korchevsky has been a Baptist pastor for decades, and dozens of his friends, family and congregants came to support him at Wednesday’s hearing—an estimated 80 to 90 people, according to Mr. Korchevsky’s lawyer Steven Brill. So many people packed into the Brooklyn federal courthouse that an overflow room had to be set up, which is unusual for a routine bail hearing. Some showed up from as far away as Spokane, Wash…

“If you don’t play ball, you’re going to disappoint a lot of people,” Judge Dearie said to Mr. Korchevsky, citing “the faith that hundreds of people have placed in him.”

Mr. Korchevsky is one of five defendants arrested in the U.S. for the alleged scheme. Criminal charges also have been filed against four others who are still at large in Ukraine. International warrants have been issued for their arrest.

Gotta love Korchevsky’s lawyer who claimed he was no flight risk because if he fled back to Ukraine he’d be leaving his wife and children behind in the US. Given the list of crimes he’s charged with, the “ethics” he ignored both on Wall Street and as a pastor, why presume he’s not above walking out on his family?

He’s handing over $200K to guarantee his presence at trial. Gee, that only leaves him with $7 million or so to take with him if he skips out on his family.

A selfie from Mars

PIA19808_hires
Click to enlargeNASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Using its robotic arm as a selfie stick, NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity was able to snap some epic low-angle pictures of itself at a site located in the foothills of Mount Sharp earlier this month.

According to BBC News and Space.com, Curiosity snapped the images using the camera at the end of its robotic arm on August 5 while at Marias Pass. NASA officials then took those pictures and stiched them together to create the rover’s latest selfie, which was released on Tuesday…

Compared with previous pictures, this latest Curiosity selfie shows more of its front and underside, and also shows a pair of grey patches located in front of the rover. One patch (the triangular shaped one) is where the samples were extracted from, while the other was where it dumped the powdered rock grain that was too large to be internally analyzed.

Helluva lot more interesting than the crap selfies that pass for entertainment news.

Ignoranus Republicans think if your data is encrypted, the terrorists win

Jeb “I’m my own man” Bush sounds more and more like his know-nothing ex-president brother every day. This time, in between defending the Iraq War and saying he might bring back torture if elected president, he’s demanding that tech companies stop letting billions of the world’s citizens use encryption online to protect their information because of “evildoers.”

Bush’s comments echo the dangerous sentiments of FBI director Jim Comey, who has publicly campaigned against Apple and Google for attempting to make our cell phones and communications safer by incorporating strong encryption in iPhones and Android devices…

First of all, he seems to either be attacking, or just doesn’t understand, that the entire internet – and much of the economy really – is based around strong encryption. Every time he logs onto his email, uses online banking or wants to check his medical records online, there is some form of encryption that is protecting his data from criminals. So the fact that technology companies are “creating” encryption protects all of us

It begs the questions: how many candidates have technologists or computer scientists advising their campaigns? Given how almost every week there is yet another security breach at a major company, and that voters are concerned about their online privacy, you’d think at least some of the candidates would attempt to capitalize on it by merely having a coherent policy that does not make them sound like they’ve never touched a computer (or sent a fax) before without the assistance of their aides.

Strong end-to-end encryption is one of the best defenses against the massive cyber-attacks that have become all too frequent. If there is not a giant pile of data that is accessible by anyone, then the criminals can’t get it either.

As much as rightwing idjits prattle about hating big government they’re always in favor of using government to get in the way of individual privacy, free speech and free thought.

We get that crap daily from the FBI and the NSA. Two bodies with a long iron-clad history of rejecting privacy or civil liberties for anyone they want to sniff around. It doesn’t matter whether the White House or Congress is led by the vaguely liberal half of our 2-party electoral politics. The heads of our officially-chartered thought police are inevitably some flavor of proto-fascist creep.

Today’s Republican candidates for president nod their bobbleheads in agreement.

Computer scientists expose security flaw suppressed by Volkswagen

A major security flaw in more than 100 car models has been exposed in an academic paper that was suppressed by a major manufacturer for two years.

Flavio Garcia, a computer scientist at the University of Birmingham, and two colleagues from a Dutch university were unable to release the paper after Volkswagen won a case in the high court to ban its publication.

The research team discovered car manufacturers including Audi, Citroën, Fiat, Honda and Volvo, as well as Volkswagen, had models that were vulnerable to “keyless theft” because a device designed to prevent the vehicles from being stolen could be disabled easily.

After years of formal and informal negotiations, Volkswagen has agreed to the publication of the paper after accepting the authors’ proposal to remove one sentence from the original manuscript.

Garcia and his colleagues Roel Verdult and Bariş Ege, from Radboud University in Nijmegen, said they found several weaknesses in the Swiss-made immobiliser system, called Megamos Crypto. The device works by preventing the engine from starting when the corresponding transponder – embedded in the key – is not present.

But the researchers showed it was possible to listen to signals sent between the security system and key, making the vehicles vulnerable to “close-range wireless communication” attacks

The RAC said electronic security systems have improved car security as vehicle theft has fallen 70% in 40 years. However, the overall decrease hides a rise in electronic hacking of vehicles, which featured in four out of 10 car thefts in London last year.

The point of any hack like this is lies with manufacturers revising their security. Sounds like VW was more interested in trying to keep the hack quiet instead of a fix.

BTW – Acetaminophen toxic at lower levels than thought – Oh!

Researchers have found that far lower levels of acetaminophen can be toxic to humans than previously thought, shedding light on how people can easily overdose on the commonly used over-the-counter painkiller.

…Oren Shibolet, head of the liver unit at Tel-Aviv Sourasky Medical Center said…”This new technology provides exceptional insight into drug toxicity, and could in fact transform current practice.”

Researchers grew liver organs less than a millimeter in diameter which can survive for about a month — normally, human cells cannot survive outside the body for more than a few days. Where this chip technology differs from some others, said Dr. Yaakov Nahmias, a professor at Hebrew University, is the inclusion of nanotechnology-based sensors within in the tissues.

“We realized that because we are building the organs ourselves, we are not limited to biology, and could introduce electronic and optical sensors to the tissue itself. Essentially we are building bionic organs on a chip,” said Nahmias. “Because we placed sensors inside the tissue, we could detect small and fast changes in cellular respiration that nobody else could.”

This allowed the researchers to make the discovery about much lower levels of acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol, being more toxic than had previously been thought. They were able to detect the drug interfering with cellular respiration, explaining what toxic levels of acetaminophen do to the liver.

One of the better unintended consequences. Research into methods which can replace animal testing of medicines – turns up a danger to human beings that has been long been suspected – and often dismissed.

The ethics of modern web ad-blocking

More than fifteen years ago, in response to decreasing ad rates and banner blindness, web advertisers and publishers adopted pop-up ads.

People hated pop-up ads. We tolerated in-page banners as an acceptable cost of browsing free websites, but pop-ups were over the line: they were too annoying and intrusive. Many website publishers claimed helplessness in serving them — the ads came from somewhere else that they had little control over, they said. They really needed the money from pop-ups to stay afloat, they said.

The future didn’t work out well for pop-ups. Pop-up-blocking software boomed, and within a few years, every modern web browser blocked almost all pop-ups by default.

A line had been crossed, and people fought back.

People often argue that running ad-blocking software is violating an implied contract between the reader and the publisher: the publisher offers the page content to the reader for free, in exchange for the reader seeing the publisher’s ads. And that’s a nice, simple theory…

By that implied-contract theory, readers should not only permit their browsers to load the ads, but they should actually read each one, giving themselves a chance to develop an interest for the advertised product or service and maybe even click on it and make a purchase. That’s also a nice theory, but of course, it’s ridiculous to expect anyone to actually do that.

Ads have always been a hopeful gamble, not required consumption. Before the web, people changed channels or got up during TV commercials, or skipped right over ads in newspapers and magazines. Pragmatic advertisers and publishers know that their job is to try to show you an ad and hope you see and care about it. They know that the vast majority of people won’t, and the ads are priced accordingly. The burden is on the advertisers and publishers to create ads that you’ll care about and present them in a way that you’ll tolerate.

And the invention of time-shifting DVRs also made skipping or slipping over adverts possible. A delight.

Web ads are dramatically different from prior ad media, though — rather than just being printed on paper or inserted into a broadcast, web ads are software. They run arbitrary code on your computer, which can (and usually does) collect and send data about you and your behavior back to the advertisers and publishers…

All of that tracking and data collection is done without your knowledge, and — critically — without your consent…There’s no opportunity for disclosure, negotiation, or reconsideration. By following any link, you unwittingly opt into whatever the target site, and any number of embedded scripts from other sites and tracking networks, wants to collect, track, analyze, and sell about you.

RTFA. More detail and analysis is in there…including Marco’s preferences and choices for auxiliary software to inhibit the ad beasties from populating your life.

Poisonally, I almost walked away from WordPress when the decision was made to go with automatic video commercials for advertising on wordpress.com blogs. It drove me nuts just trying to edit and formulate my posts. I finally had to load ad blocking software to retain what little sanity I have.

I think this will be the latest straw that breaks the back of IP providers. This choice of instant-on blather. I’ve seen the wee compensation I receive from adverts on my blog diminish by over half since self-starting videos appeared. Which means our readers are as offended by obnoxious as I am. Money is not why I blog – still, I may choose to go elsewhere if there is an elsewhere without this crap.

Thanks, Om

Humans were the dominant cause of the extinction of giant beasts

Scientists at the universities of Exeter and Cambridge claim their research settles a prolonged debate over whether humankind or climate change was the dominant cause of the demise of massive creatures in the time of the sabretooth tiger, the woolly mammoth, the woolly rhino and the giant armadillo.

Known collectively as megafauna, most of the largest mammals ever to roam the earth were wiped out over the last 80,000 years, and were all extinct by 10,000 years ago.

Lewis Bartlett, of the University of Exeter, led the research…He said cutting-edge statistical analysis had helped solve the mystery almost beyond dispute, concluding that man was the dominant force in wiping out the creatures, although climate change could also have played a lesser role.

The researchers ran thousands of scenarios which mapped the windows of time in which each species is known to have become extinct, and humans are known to have arrived on different continents or islands. This was compared against climate reconstructions for the last 90,000 years.

Examining different regions of the world across these scenarios, they found coincidences of human spread and species extinction which illustrate that man was the main agent causing the demise, with climate change exacerbating the number of extinctions. However, in certain regions of the world — mainly in Asia — they found patterns which patterns were broadly unaccounted for by either of these two drivers, and called for renewed focus on these neglected areas for further study.

Bartlett…said: “As far as we are concerned, this research is the nail in the coffin of this 50-year debate — humans were the dominant cause of the extinction of megafauna. What we don’t know is what it was about these early settlers that caused this demise. Were they killing them for food, was it early use of fire or were they driven out of their habitats? Our analysis doesn’t differentiate, but we can say that it was caused by human activity more than by climate change. It debunks the myth of early humans living in harmony with nature.”

Matches my own subjective, unscientific feelings derived from wandering physically and intellectually through the Colorado Plateau. Not only large species; but, small to medium animals vanished with the arrival of the Athabascan peoples.

Leaving behind bones gnawed by humans.