Descanso honors BREAKING BAD’s Walter White

Descanso honors “Breaking Bad” character Walter Whitecourtesy of Michelle Valdez-Browning

“Breaking Bad” fans continue to honor Walter White.

North Valley resident Michelle Valdez-Browning and her brother, Marc Valdez, and son Aaron Browning made a descanso near the Nazi compound where White passed away in the show. (A descanso is a roadside memorial that commemorates a site where a person died. They are seen along roads in New Mexico.)

Valdez-Browning says her brother was part of the locations crew who helped scout the various areas…“He put his heart and soul into finding the right places,” she says.

Once the show aired, the trio decided to pay tribute to White and put the descanso in front of the area…The location is near Second and Los Ranchos Road NW.

In case you want to be among the hundreds who continue to visit Albuquerque to pay their respects.


American coppers demanded 1.3 million cell records last year

Police are monitoring Americans’ cellphone use at a staggering rate, according to new information released in a congressional inquiry.

In letters released by Rep. Edward J. Markey cellphone companies described seeing a huge uptick in requests from law enforcement agencies, with 1.3 million federal, state and local requests for phone records in 2011 alone…

The data obtained by law enforcement in some requests included location information, text messages and “cell tower dumps” that include any calls made through a tower for a certain period of time. The carriers say the information is given away in response to warrants or emergencies where someone is in “imminent” danger.

“There is no comprehensive reporting of these information requests anywhere,” Markey’s office said in a statement. “This is the first ever accounting of this…”

The growth of cellphone use, private computing and social-media use in recent years has greatly expanded the wealth of information available to law enforcement agencies in investigations, a development in which police investigative abilities have expanded faster than the public has been able to keep track of the extent to which it’s being watched…

“The numbers don’t lie: location tracking is out of control,” Chris Calabrese, legislative counsel for the ACLU, noted in an analysis of the new data.

Anyone going to ask the coppers for a solid reason that can be tracked back in case some ordinary citizen wishes to complain about surveillance? Come on. Let’s hear it from the all-American patriotic Constitution-defending voices of corporate telecommunications.

How about the prosecutors and district attorneys who are always telling us of their devotion to the Bill of Rights, eh? Or is it up the the very few members of Congress with a conscience and commitment to something more than papier-mache liberty?

West Cheshire College tries electronic badges for location, access

College staff and students have been issued with compulsory electronic badges that are capable of tracking their movements, leading to criticism of “Orwellian” tactics.

The devices can track wearers within 10 feet, but managers at West Cheshire College have denied they will be used for “Big Brother” surveillance.

The vocational college, which has one campus in Ellesmere Port and another in Chester, serves about 2,500 full time students and 5,000 part-timers. Most are teenagers. Only staff and full-time ‘learners’, as they are called, are required to have the badges.

Kevin Francis, the college’s building services manager, said the aim was to provide automatic registration and improve use of the estate. Students must wear them to register and to be able to access different areas…”We are interested in teaching and learning, building use and the security of students and staff. We’re not Big Brother…”

Although Mr Francis said that location information would be anonymised, it can be individualised too. Staff with first aid training can be identified if needed in an emergency, he stated.

However, he said he was “confident” that the data “couldn’t be used maliciously…We are not allowed to do anything with data that we have not been upfront about.”

No staff or student representatives had complained about them during prior discussions, he added.

So far the complaints are of the “what-if” variety. RTFA if you want to see them.

I have a habit of not condemning technology and science out of hand just because it offers the capability of misuse and abuse. Human beings have always been able to pervert hardware. The fearfull need to keep on eye on the human beings running the school – not so much the gear.

Chain stores join with Michelle Obama to green the food deserts

Some of the largest U.S. grocers announced that they would join forces with First Lady Michelle Obama to bring healthy food to parts of the country, urban and rural, where access to fresh groceries is poor.

Walmart, the largest food retailer in the United States, took part in an announcement with the first lady at the White House on Wednesday afternoon. Supervalu and Walgreens are also participating.

All three chains announced plans to open stores in so-called “food desert” parts of the country, where people lack access to grocery stores and their fresh produce and meats. According to data provided by Supervalu, there are more than 23 million people, including more than 6 million children, live in U.S. food deserts…

Such efforts could help Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, to win favor with city councils and other leaders who object to its efforts to open stores in New York City and other parts of the country…

The first lady’s efforts in these areas have helped focus our real estate process, to take a particular look at these areas as we build out our real estate plans,” said Leslie Dach, executive vice president of corporate affairs at Walmart.

Supervalu already operates about 400 stores in areas some may consider food deserts, including five recently opened units on the Chicago’s South Side, Chief Executive Craig Herkert told Reuters.

“What’s new for us is committing very publicly with the Partnership for a Healthier America and the first lady to 250” new stores in food deserts, he said.

Walgreen Co, the nation’s largest drugstore chain, committed to convert or open at least 1,000 “food oasis” stores over the next five years stocked with fruits, vegetables and other healthy fare.

More than 45 percent of Walgreen’s existing stores are in areas that do not have easy access to fresh food, CEO Greg Wasson said in a statement.

Every little bit helps.

Convincing urban poor folks that better food, better nutrition is a benefit will be as big a problem as access to healthier food in the first place. Not just my humble opinion – but, my experience dealing with 2nd or 3rd generation urban poor. That’s a very different culture from poor rural folks moving into cities.

Congressional panic over Apple’s EULA

Just days after a sensationalist report by the LA Times suggested that Apple was spying on users’ location based on an incorrect understanding of the company’s revised privacy policy, two Congressmen, one a chair of the House Privacy Caucus, have demanded that the company answer a series of basic privacy questions.

The original report by David Sarno of the LA Times set off a firestorm of privacy panic three days ago after it suggested Apple was tracking iPhone users’ locations in some radical new way that other devices weren’t, and assumed that users were powerless to do anything about it…

The report has since been amended twice, once to note that users can turn off Location Services entirely or on a per-app basis, while also stating “there’s nothing to indicate that these settings prevent Apple itself from gathering and storing location data from Apple devices,” and again two days later to acknowledge that the privacy policy change is not really new at all, but rather simply a restatement of the privacy policy contained in the company’s product EULAs, which contained precise language instructing how users can withdraw their consent for system wide and per-app data collection.

What the LA Times failed to report is why the change in presenting the privacy policy was made, and how users can opt out of geographic location data used by Apple’s iAd program. Formerly, Apple and third parties used Location Services solely to power features such as locating the device in Maps, Find My Phone, GPS driving directions, and similar applications. With the company’s purchase of Quattro Wireless, it’s now in the business of display advertising, and can potentially allow third parties to collect geographic and other user information to enable ads to provide more relevant and targeted results.

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Flu doesn’t die out – it hides out

Every autumn, as predictably as falling leaves, flu season descends upon us. Every spring, just as predictably, the season comes to a close. This cyclical pattern, common in temperate regions, is well known, but the driving forces behind it have been in question.

Do existing strains die off each spring, only to be replaced each fall by new founding strains from other parts of the world, or does a “hidden chain of sickness” persist over the summer, seeding the next season’s epidemic?

A genetic analysis by University of Michigan postdoctoral fellow Trevor Bedford and colleagues at U-M, Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Florida State University reveals that in the United States, not all strains of influenza die off at the end of winter; some move southward to South America, and some migrate even farther.

“We found that although China and Southeast Asia play the largest role in the influenza A migration network, temperate regions — particularly the USA — also make important contributions,” Bedford said. Rather than dying off at the end of our flu season, many strains simply move on to more favorable environments.

Growing knowledge about patterns of flu migration eventually may make it possible to tailor vaccines to particular locations, Bedford said.

“We found, for instance, that South America gets almost all of its flu from North America. This would suggest that rather than giving South America the same vaccine that the rest of the world gets, you could construct a vaccine preferentially from the strains that were circulating in North America the previous season. As we gather more data from other regions, this could be done for the entire world.”

All the more reason to develop a universal flu vaccine – even if it needs to be tailored geographically.

Gmail to alert users to suspicious activity

Google has launched a new feature in Gmail that will alert users when the system detects suspicious activity that might indicate the account has been compromised.

Gmail already displays information at the bottom of the in-box showing the time of the last activity on the account and whether it’s still open in another location. But people often don’t think to check that information, Will Cathcart, a Gmail product manager, said in an interview.

So Google is taking the extra step of displaying a warning to users in the form of a big banner that says “warning your acct was accessed from…” and which specifies a geographic region where the account was accessed when unusual activity was detected.

“For example, if you always log in from the same country and all of a sudden there is a log in from halfway around the world” that is suspicious, Cathcart said. Or, if the system detects that one particular IP address is accessing numerous accounts and changing passwords for them, that would trigger warnings for affected accounts, he said.

After receiving the warning banner, users can click a “details” link to get more information, such as where the last access points were. Users can change their password from that window.

The Gmail blog has a bunch more info on the topic. Seems like a useful pointer.

Justice Department appeals ban on tracking cell-phones

The government argued on Friday that it should be allowed access to people’s cell-phone records to help track suspected criminals.

A Justice Department attorney urged a federal appeals court to overturn lower court rulings denying it the right to seek information from communications companies about the call activity of specific numbers that authorities believe are associated with criminal activity.

But civil rights lawyers argued that providing information such as dates, times and call duration, and which cell towers the calls used, would be an invasion of privacy and a violation of constitutional protections against unjustified arrest.

Attorneys for the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Center for Democracy and Technology said the government should have to obtain a warrant to track an individual via a cell phone and show probable cause that the information would provide evidence of a crime…

Judge Dolores Sloviter, one of a three-judge panel, told Eckenwiler the government’s case raised questions about the government’s rights to track individuals.

“There are governments in the world that would like to know where some of their people are or have been,” she said, citing Iran as a government that monitors political meetings. “Wouldn’t the government find it useful if it could get that information without showing probable cause? Don’t we have to be concerned about that?”

I don’t recall a year since I publicly joined anti-establishment politics that meetings or manifestations I attended weren’t monitored by government. Local, state or federal. The record, in my experience, was 5 of us handing out draft dodger leaflets in front of the New Orleans draft board while being photographed by 14 separate federal, state and local police bodies – that we could identify.

All this case is discussing is how convenient and cost-effective courts may make snooping for the government. Not the process.

OTOH, I hope this post doesn’t nudge our more paranoid readers into hurling their cell phone out of fear and trembling into the nearest dumpster. Sometimes, simple, easy access to communications trumps snoopery.

Location meets news – in Canada

Foursquare has inked a partnership with the Canadian version of Metro, the free newspaper that gets distributed on subway trains and other locations in various cities, that will give its users the ability to see local news and reviews related to a specific location they are “checking in” at using the service’s iPhone or BlackBerry app.

Metro International, a Swedish company that publishes free papers in more than 100 cities around the world, says this is the first time the location-based startup has partnered with a news organization in any country.

In Canada, the paper is in Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver and claims circulation of some 800,000. So if a Foursquare user is near a restaurant in one of those cities for which Metro has a review, that will be displayed as a choice for the user. Although the Metro release doesn’t say whether other forms of news will be available as well, the potential is there for Metro reports on fires, break-ins, celebrity sightings or other news to be provided to users of Foursquare based on their location as well…

Mark Briggs at Lost Remote makes a good point that in the long term, location-based news would be better accomplished by way of an open API and open data-sharing rather than proprietary relationships between news services and app vendors. But at least in the short term a deal like that of Foursquare/Metro could provide some interesting evidence as to what’s possible when you blend location and news (or marketing) content.

Any of our Canadian readers have a chance to try this, yet?

Palm caught snooping on Pre owners

Palm has responded to claims that its recently-launched Pre smartphone abuses owners’ privacy.

The company issued a statement after one owner discovered his phone was sending data every day back to Palm. The information included the current location of the phone and how long each application was used for.

In its statement, Palm said it took users’ privacy “seriously” and said it gave phone owners ways to turn features on and off.

The discovery was made by software developer and Pre owner Joey Hess, who found that his phone was reporting his location over a secure connection back to Palm. It also sent back information about application crashes – even those not seen by a Pre owner.

Also in the daily update sent to Palm was a list of the third party applications installed on the phone.

In its privacy policy, Palm does explain that it will gather geographical data to help with location-based services. However, commentators were puzzled as to why it needed to gather so much data and why owners were not told about what it had gathered…

Palm issued a statement about Mr Hess’ discovery and said it “offers users ways to turn data collecting services on and off”.

It added: “Our privacy policy is like many policies in the industry and includes very detailed language about potential scenarios in which we might use a customer’s information, all toward a goal of offering a great user experience.”

Har! That’s a gotcha.

True, it’s the sort of discovery that keeps some geeks in perpetual orgasm – and makes the rest of us yawn. But, at least it keeps the corporate mavens on their toes.