Meet the Eyeborg

Rob Spence, a Toronto-based film-maker, lost his right eye in a shooting accident on his grandfather’s farm when he was a teenager. Now 36, he decided some years ago to build a miniature camera that could be fitted inside his false eye. A prototype was completed last year, and was named by Time magazine as one of the best inventions of 2009. He calls himself “the Eyeborg guy”.

The eye contains a wireless video camera that runs on a tiny three-volt battery. It is not connected to his brain, and has not restored his vision. Instead it records everything that he sees. More than that, it contains a wireless transmitter, which allows him to transmit what he is seeing in real time to a computer.

The current model is low resolution, and the transmitter is weak, meaning that Mr Spence has to hold a receiving antenna to his cheek to get a full signal. But a new higher-resolution model, complete with stronger transmitter and a booster on the receiver, is in the works. He says: “Unlike you humans, I can continue to upgrade…”

As a film-maker, Mr Spence wants to use the camera to record “truer” conversations than would be possible with a handheld camera. “When you bring a camera, people change,” he says. “I wouldn’t be disarming at all. I would just be some dude. It’s a much truer conversation.”

His subjects would only become aware that they were being filmed after the conversation was over. Then he would give them a chance to sign, or not sign, a release form permitting him to use the footage.

He says: “There’s ethical issues with that, but I am a filmmaker. “If you’re averse to it, that’s fine, don’t sign the release form. I won’t put you in the documentary.”

The ethics may turn out to be bullshit; but, the documentary might be fun. Maybe even useful?

Homeland Security demands more laughable standards

The National Institute of Standards and Technology offers up this article with a straight face:

With summer travel season hard upon us, specialists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have helped create two new standards designed to increase safety as we rush from gate to gate in crowded mass transit centers. Their efforts will help to fortify against potential bomb threats in the nation’s transportation centers…

In case you considered worrying about this.

While industry has been producing blast-resistant trash receptacles for years, there were no widely-accepted specifications for judging a manufacturer’s particular claims of product safety. The Science and Technology Directorate of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and several manufacturers began working with NIST in 2007 to address the lack of standards for blast resistance among trash receptacles. The results of the DHS-funded work now have been published by the standards development organization ASTM International…

“In practice, this means a transit center manager can make a purchase with confidence in the performance of the unit, the specific threat level anticipated and cost,” explains Chris White, a researcher in NIST’s Building and Fire Research Laboratory. “If, for example, you know you can, at a minimum, detect the trafficking of five or more pounds of plastic explosive, you can purchase trash receptacles that will redirect the blast at up to that level of explosive force.”

You can also pour endless amount of taxpayer dollars down every rathole paranoid profit center the government can think up.

New snoop system records public conversations

A controversial covert surveillance system that records the public’s conversations is being used in Britain.

The technology, called Sigard, monitors movements and speech to detect signs of threatening behaviour. Its designers claim the system can anticipate anti-social behaviour and violence by analysing the information picked up its sensors.

They say alerts are then sent to police, nightclub bouncers or shop security staff, which allow them to nip trouble in the bud before arguments spiral into violence…

The system, produced by Sound Intelligence, is being used in Dutch prisons, city centres and Amsterdam’s Central Rail Station.

Leave it to the Brits. They’ll figure out how best to use it to inhibit civil liberties.

Coventry City Council is funding a pilot project which has been used for six months and has installed seven devices in the nightlife area on the High Street.

Dylan Sharpe, from Big Brother Watch, said: “There can be no justification for giving councils or the police the capability to listen in on private conversations.

“There is enormous potential for abuse, or a misheard word, causing unnecessary harm with this sort of intrusive and overbearing surveillance.”

The new Coalition Government has announced a review of the use of CCTV with a pledge to tilt the balance away from snooping by the authorities to defend civil liberties.

Not that anything noticeable has happened, yet.

Colombian drug gangs get World Cup fever


Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

A replica World Cup trophy seized by anti-drugs police in Colombia is made out of cocaine, lab tests have confirmed.

The 36cm statue was found in a delivery crate at Bogota airport.

The crate was in an airmail warehouse waiting to be sent to an address in Spain, airport anti-drug chief Jose Piedrahita said.

In another development, a submarine built by drug-traffickers was found in Ecuador before its maiden voyage.

The World Cup replica was made up of 11kg of the drug, mixed with acetone or gasoline to make it mouldable.

The gold-painted statue was found on a routine sweep of the airport on Friday, authorities said.

Are they certain it wasn’t headed to Argentina?

Oil Industry gets billions in tax breaks and subsidies – from you

When the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform set off the worst oil spill at sea in American history, it was flying the flag of the Marshall Islands. Registering there allowed the rig’s owner to significantly reduce its American taxes.

The owner, Transocean, moved its corporate headquarters from Houston to the Cayman Islands in 1999 and then to Switzerland in 2008, maneuvers that also helped it avoid taxes.

At the same time, BP was reaping sizable tax benefits from leasing the rig. According to a letter sent in June to the Senate Finance Committee, the company used a tax break for the oil industry to write off 70 percent of the rent for Deepwater Horizon — a deduction of more than $225,000 a day since the lease began.

With federal officials now considering a new tax on petroleum production to pay for the cleanup, the industry is fighting the measure, warning that it will lead to job losses and higher gasoline prices, as well as an increased dependence on foreign oil.

They’ve learned all the appropriate catch phrases used by Democrats and Republicans alike.

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Pride 2010: Tories come out in force


David Cameron and Nick Clegg addressing Gay Pride luncheon at #10
Dayife/Reuters Pictures used by permission

When the Conservatives last had their hands on the tiller of power, none of their MPs would admit to being homosexual, they voted against lowering the age of consent for gay sex, and invented a law which made it illegal for schools to mention homosexuality.

How things change: Saturday, eight years after Alan Duncan became the first Tory MP to come out of his own volition, Nick Herbert, the openly gay Conservative policing minister, gave a speech at Pride London about “how the Tories have come a helluva long way”.

And that’s not all. His department, the Home Office, has chartered a float at this year’s event, which will wind its way down Oxford Street and Regent Street towards Trafalgar Square from 1pm.

Pride’s theme this year is “Paint the Town Ruby Red”, to mark the 40th anniversary of the creation of the Gay Liberation Front, which was formed after the Stonewall riots, when police clashed with gay demonstrators in New York…

Herbert said he wouldn’t be following the sartorial lead of Boris Johnson, who famously wore a pink stetson when leading Pride two years ago, and will march again on Saturday. “I’m not telling you what I’ll be wearing,” said Herbert, preferring to talk about how seriously the government was taking the reporting of homophobia as a hate crime…

Though David Cameron cannot attend himself, two weeks ago he held a reception for the organisers in the garden at Number 10. He has also charmed most of the LGBT groups with the coalition manifesto, which said the government will help schools deal with homophobic bullying, pressure other countries to support gay rights, push for international recognition of UK civil partnerships and stop deporting gay asylum seekers at risk of harm.

The coalition is so pro-gay that not only have they has set up a cross-government programme of work addressing LGBT policy, but they have promised “additional action for transgender equality” – exactly the sort of initiative the Tories used to mock Harriet Harman for daring to suggest when she held the equalities brief. To return to the Home Office float’s Shakespearean theme of yore: “The wheel is come full circle.”

Anyone out there think anything more than rank-and-file Republicans in the Log Cabin Club will lend support to parallel efforts in the GOUSA?

At least the Log Cabin Republicans have a sense of humor missing from the rest of the GOP. The Log Cabin’s L.A. chapter is celebrating with a Tea Bag Toss.

They’re the biggest chapter in the country and still not officially recognized by the state GOP.

Yet another way your hair can fink on you!

The bottled water, soda pop, or micro brew-beer that you drank in Pittsburgh, Dallas, Denver or 30 other American cities contains a natural chemical imprint related to geographic location. When you consume these beverage you may leave a chemical imprint in your hair that could be used to track your travels over time, a new study suggests.

The findings, believed to be the first concerted effort to describe the use of beverages as a potential tool to investigate the geographic location of people, appears in ACS’ bi-weekly Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry: “Links between Purchase Location and Stable Isotope Ratios of Bottled Water, Soda, and Beer in the United States.”

Lesley Chesson and colleagues explain that the body removes hydrogen and oxygen atoms from water (H2O), and beverages containing water, and incorporates them into proteins, including the protein in hair. Hydrogen and oxygen exist in different forms, or isotopes. The proportions of those isotopes vary in a predictable way geographically, with higher values in low-latitude, low-elevation, or coastal regions, for instance, and lower values elsewhere. Since manufacturers usually use local or regional water sources in producing beverages, isotope patterns in hair could serve as a chemical “fingerprint” to pinpoint the geographic region where a person has been.

The scientists analyzed isotope patterns in bottled water, soda pop, and beer from 33 cities and found that patterns in the beverages generally matched those already known for the tap water. They noted that the isotope pattern in beverages tends to vary from city to city in ways that give cities in different regions characteristic “iso-signatures.”

A person who drinks a beer or soda in Denver, Des Moines, or Dallas, for instance, consumes a different isotope signature than a person in Las Cruces, Las Vegas, or Laramie. The finding may help trace the origin of drinks or help criminal investigators identify the geographic travels of crime suspects and other individuals through analysis of hair strands, the study suggests.

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