Category: Technology

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.

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.

China expands ban on coal to suburbs


Click to enlarge12,000 died in the London smog of winter, 1952

China will expand its bans on coal burning to include suburban areas as well as city centers in efforts to tackle air pollution…

Detailing its clean coal action plan 2015-2020, the National Energy Administration (NEA) said it would promote centralized heating and power supply by natural gas and renewables, replacing scattered heat and power engines fueled by low quality coal.

The world’s biggest coal consumer will ban sale and burning of high-ash and high-sulphur coal in the worst affected regions including city clusters surrounding Beijing.

If you’ve been around as long as I have – and your memory still works – you recall the two-pronged solution to air pollution and smog has been this simple for decades.

After World War 2 the worst smog in the world belonged to London. Just like Beijing, the problem not only was coal-fired electricity generation; but, coal-fired home heating and cooking. It took a couple of decades; but, the last mile solution of getting natural gas to homes took care of the worst of it.

In Beijing and other polluted Chinese cities renewable energy sources are phasing out the portion of pollution coming from soft coal-fired electricity and, now, the government has dropped the other shoe and will end reliance on coal for home fires.

Under the action plan, coal-fired industrial boilers will all shift to burn natural gas or clean coal by 2020 in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei city clusters, Pearl River delta and Yangtze River delta area…

The government will offer subsidies for clean fuels

Natural gas will serve as the first level of carbon reduction as wind power and solar power continue the most dramatic expansion in the world.

Billowing aerial sculpture flows over Boston park


AP Photo/Steven Senne

Aa colorful 600-foot sculpture by artist Janet Echelman is suspended between high-rise buildings above the Rose Kennedy Greenway in Boston. The sculpture, that is to remain in place through October 2015, is made from over 100 miles of twine and utilizes over half a million knots.

My Apple Watch after 5 days! – Living with Usher Syndrome by Molly Watt

I don’t especially do reviews of hardware or software. Folks who know me well know I spent 22 years in the IBM/Microsoft environment and then walked away [happily] into the Apple world in 2005 with the advent of the Mac Mini. As Steve Jobs expected, many folks like me became a switcher.

This blog post from Molly Watt was suggested by my friend Om Malik and deserves attention because of Molly’s special needs – and uses of the Apple watch. Interesting, useful, a worthwhile read.

Having known about the Apple Watch for some time and knowing lots of my friends were planning to buy one, I was sceptical as my needs are quite different to that of those of the sighted and hearing.

I have to rely on specific accessible features.

However, I was curious as Apple products have been more than just up market gadgets to me, they really have been my access to the many things most take for granted but that those of us with deafblindness, particularly struggle with.

I was born deaf and registered blind when I was 14. The condition I have is Usher Syndrome Type 2a. I am severely deaf and have only a very small tunnel of vision in my right eye now so I was concerned not just about the face size but how busy it would appear to me and also if there would be an uncomfortable glare…

I should explain that I wear two digital hearing aids and communicate orally – not everybody with usher syndrome communicates orally and there are not two people with the condition the same, but there are similarities.

I had been wearing a Bradley Timepiece since last summer and love both the retro look and the practicality of a completely tactile watch brilliant and stylish, quite a rarity when it comes to anything designed specifically for people with disabilities.

I can read the time by touch completely independently with my Bradley and I still love it…

I decided to order the Apple Watch Sport 42mm (the bigger face size) with white strap so I’d not lose it quite so easily…

I was surprised to receive an email the day before launch date to say my Apple Watch had been dispatched and you guessed it “I was excited!”

I was delighted when the long white box arrived on Friday morning as I was heading into London that afternoon.

Please read on.