The whistleblower behind the NSA surveillance revelations

The individual responsible for one of the most significant leaks in US political history is Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old former technical assistant for the CIA and current employee of the defence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton. Snowden has been working at the National Security Agency for the last four years as an employee of various outside contractors, including Booz Allen and Dell.

The Guardian, after several days of interviews, is revealing his identity at his request. From the moment he decided to disclose numerous top-secret documents to the public, he was determined not to opt for the protection of anonymity. “I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong,” he said…

In a note accompanying the first set of documents he provided, he wrote: “I understand that I will be made to suffer for my actions,” but “I will be satisfied if the federation of secret law, unequal pardon and irresistible executive powers that rule the world that I love are revealed even for an instant.”

Despite his determination to be publicly unveiled, he repeatedly insisted that he wants to avoid the media spotlight. “I don’t want public attention because I don’t want the story to be about me. I want it to be about what the US government is doing…”

On May 20, he boarded a flight to Hong Kong, where he has remained ever since. He chose the city because “they have a spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent”, and because he believed that it was one of the few places in the world that both could and would resist the dictates of the US government…

Once he reached the conclusion that the NSA’s surveillance net would soon be irrevocable, he said it was just a matter of time before he chose to act. “What they’re doing” poses “an existential threat to democracy”, he said.

“I carefully evaluated every single document I disclosed to ensure that each was legitimately in the public interest,” he said. “There are all sorts of documents that would have made a big impact that I didn’t turn over, because harming people isn’t my goal. Transparency is.”

He purposely chose, he said, to give the documents to journalists whose judgment he trusted about what should be public and what should remain concealed.

As for his future…he views his best hope as the possibility of asylum, with Iceland – with its reputation of a champion of internet freedom – at the top of his list. He knows that may prove a wish unfulfilled.

But after the intense political controversy he has already created with just the first week’s haul of stories, “I feel satisfied that this was all worth it. I have no regrets.”

Lots more in the article. A worthwhile read – to aid in understanding the processes that brought Ed Snowden to these conclusions. Watch the whole video up top. He’s bright, articulate, obviously he has been thinking about the hows and why of such a decision for a long time.

I wish him well. He’s done our nation, our democratic traditions, a service.

In tornado alley, building practices boost damage toll


Damaged – and repairable

In a residential neighborhood near the center of a monster tornado that struck Moore, Oklahoma last month, two partially damaged houses stand like an island among others flattened by the storm.

The walls and roofs of the buildings in a new housing development called Featherstone Addition are still upright while there is nothing left but a concrete foundation where other homes once stood nearby.

The two homes were not completely spared but are salvageable, according to David Prevatt, a civil engineer who saw them when he surveyed the damage after Moore took a direct hit from an EF5 tornado, the strongest rating.

He is convinced that the two houses survived because they were built stronger than most in Oklahoma and the rest of “tornado alley” – the region stretching from Texas to Iowa that accounts for roughly a fourth of all U.S. tornadoes.

“This notion that we cannot engineer buildings economically to withstand tornado loads is a fallacy,” said Prevatt, who has studied damage from hurricanes and the devastating tornadoes in 2011 in Joplin, Missouri and Tuscaloosa, Alabama…

Damage costs are rising because of increased population density, even in mostly rural states such as Oklahoma, which has seen substantial urban sprawl in the last decade, said Greg Carbin, Warning Coordination Meteorologist for the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma.

Another important reason that has received less attention, is that most homes in tornado alley are not built to withstand even a modest tornado.

The result is that residents of tornado alley, insurance companies and the U.S. government are footing a mounting bill from damage that could be limited with better construction, according to several engineers, meteorologists and consumer advocates interviewed by Reuters.

“We have to stop this cycle of a storm coming along destroying things and we build them back the same,” said Leslie Chapman-Henderson, chief executive of the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes, a consumer group. “That is the official definition of insanity.”

Oklahoma should follow the example of Florida after Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and adopt a tougher building code to reduce damage in future, said Prevatt, Assistant Professor of Civil and Coastal Engineering at the University of Florida.

RTFA for a boatload of detailed information and analysis. Useful stuff – in a society that responds to thoughtful, scientific study. Unfortunately, that definition doesn’t especially include the United States.

International building codes, the standards for safety and sustenance, generally are about a decade ahead of the United States. Any progressive moves on the world stage take at least that long before consideration gets on the US agenda – Congress and the corporations supplying building materials to American homebuilders. The National Association of Home Builders starts work on analysis and understanding immediately if not sooner – but, everyone in the NAHB knows that the adoption process will be slower than the average tortoise.

Now, we could make regional changes based on what Florida and the hurricane states have learned. That’s still too easy for the States’ Rights crowd. You have to understand that a minor percentage of residents in Tornado Alley – and especially their favorite conservative politicians – still hate the idea of building standards, code ordinances and zoning.

Internet-connected street sign points you in the right direction

Points live

In our increasingly connected world, isn’t it about time the humble street sign received a high-tech upgrade? That’s certainly the thinking behind Points, the newest project from Breakfast, a New York-based design group. Points is an internet-connected directional sign that pulls data from social media and spins its arms up to 360 degrees to aim in the direction of a location or event.

At a glance, Points looks like any other directional sign, with three arrows pointing toward designated spots. Once a person makes a selection on the menu near its base though, the signs rotate toward the three nearest places that match the chosen criteria. At the same time, the LED displays on each one will change to show the name of the location along with pertinent information…

Points connects to the internet via Wi-Fi or Ethernet to pull current information from a wide range of sources, including Twitter, Foursquare, RSS feeds, and transportation APIs. Using this data, the system can determine if any special events are happening nearby, find the most popular landmarks for tourists, or pick out the highest rated restaurants and stores in the area…

The design team built a custom system of gears and motors that could fit inside a slim pole and provide smooth motion to each arm. The sign uses rotary electrical interfaces to move the arms 360 degrees in either direction without tangling any wires…Each sign contains an array of 16,000 LEDs to display locations and info…

For now though, anyone can visit the Points official website and send a tweet to a prototype to watch it spin toward their location in real-time.

Tourist-centered areas are a natural for something like this. I will pass this post along to the Santa Fe City Council. Got to be a hit!

BTW, I tried the livestream via Twitter and it worked perfectly. Took a minute or two, be patient.

Male train drivers get around shorts ban – by wearing skirts

train driver skirts

Male train drivers in Stockholm have rebelled against a ban on wearing shorts by turning up for work in skirts.

Temperatures in the train cab can reach 35C during the summer, and now a group of 13 employees working for the Roslagsbanan railway system have ditched trousers for skirts to keep cool.

According to Sweden’s The Local website, the train company Arriva reportedly insists that staff cannot wear shorts.

An Arriva spokesman, Tomas Hedenius, said that shorts are “more relaxed” than a skirt, and that skirts are a perfectly acceptable alternative.

“To say anything else would be discrimination,” he said.

Driver Martin Åkersten said: “Of course people stare at you a little when you are on the platform, but you just have to put up with it…

A meeting has been arranged for September to discuss the uniform issue.

Eventually, cooler, uh, heads will prevail.