Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Meet the Online Tracking Device That is Virtually Impossible to Block

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Written by LeisureGuy

22 July 2014 at 10:14 am

Posted in Daily life, Technology

The drawbacks of videotaped confessions and interrogations

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Very interesting article on how choices of camera angles can completely change the conclusions one draws from a videotaped interrogation. Obviously, adding background music would make it even worse…

The CIA made sure that its videotapes of its own brutal interrogations did not get misinterpreted by destroying all the videotapes. (Obvious reason for destruction: war crimes and heinous brutality.)

Written by LeisureGuy

21 July 2014 at 9:29 am

Interruptions kill writing

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There’s a lot to be said for sitting at a table alone in a room that’s free of distractions, and writing in pencil on pads of paper. Certainly better than writing on a computer, because interruptions kill writing, and self-interruptions (to check email, to glance at the headlines, and perhaps click on a few stories—it’s now a full-fledged derailment of one’s train of thought.

It seems to me that prior to putting thoughts into words, there is first a mostly unconscious process of gathering allusions and associations and letting the idea take form in a sort of web or nest of our other notions/ideas/knowledge, testing the developing idea for fit and comfort. That is,when we write we are putting into words an ideational entity that is the outcome of a process of concept formation, and I think it’s at this stage that the interruptions are killers. You’re trying to “gather your thoughts”—leaning back in the chair with the pencil poised as you sort of get a grip on the outlines of the thought, and then you lean forward and start writing.

Breaking up that in-gathering to create the concept means starting anew, which means finding your way back to the place where you started.

And of course, computers abound with interrupters. That’s what they are, in fact.

And by all means read this article on how computers and tablets and e-readers have changed the way that we read. And the way we read is a skill—if you don’t practice reading books, it becomes harder to read book. In reading books I can get so immersed in the book that when I stop, it takes me a beat or two to realize where I am, to re-orient myself from the world of the book, a world that seemed somehow real enough to daze me a bit upon departing it.

Those things don’t happen with on-screen reading, for reasons the article explains.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 July 2014 at 3:38 pm

Can the FCC keep states from banning public Internet?

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Corporations will do anything to make money (read this article on how they are leeching money from higher education), and one tactic is to get states to make it illegal for cities to offer free (and quite good) broadband services to residents. The FCC might be able to forestall this heavy-handed tactic, as Brian Fung explains:

While everyone’s worked up about how to keep the Internet an open platform, another little-known controversy is quickly gaining steam. How it plays out could determine whether millions of Americans get to build their own, local alternatives to big, corporate ISPs such as Comcast and Verizon.

Last night, House lawmakers pushed through legislation that would effectively undo those prospects for many cities around the country. In an amendment to a must-pass funding bill, Republicans led by Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee approved an amendment that would prohibit federal regulators from ensuring cities’ ability to sell their own high-speed broadband directly to consumers.

Cities have lately been taking matters into their own hands, attempting to lay down publicly owned fiber optic cables where they say there are gaps in coverage, quality or price from incumbent ISPs. In Blackburn’s state, Chattanooga has emerged as a prominent example of a city that successfully challenged the status quo; the local government now offers 1 Gbps service for $70 a month. (Those speeds are roughly 100 times faster than the national average.) Longmont, Colo. is also moving forward with its municipal broadband project despite earlier resistance from the cable industry.

In Longmont and various other jurisdictions, though, state laws have made it difficult if not impossible for cities to build their own broadband networks. Some states, like Colorado, require voter referendums to reach a certain threshold before it’ll let cities proceed. Google Fiber reportedly passed over Boulder, Colo. because of such restrictions, meaning that consumers missed out on a potentially game-changing service.

Other states have sought to ban municipal networks outright: Earlier this year, Kansas tried to outlaw city broadband before public opposition convinced the legislature to back down. New Mexico is also considering a ban.

The Federal Communications Commission has signaled its intention to intervene, saying that its congressional charter, the Communications Act of 1996, gives it the authority to overturn or “preempt” the state-level restrictions. A federal court seemed to agree with that interpretation of the law in January when it wrote that the bans posed a “paradigmatic barrier to infrastructure investment” that the FCC is empowered to move against.

“If the people, acting through their elected local governments, want to pursue competitive community broadband, they shouldn’t be stopped by state laws promoted by cable and telephone companies that don’t want that competition,” wrote FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler in a recent blog post.

But opponents of intervention argue that whatever the law says about the FCC’s authority, the agency must first deal with a higher constitutional problem. By leaping into the municipal broadband debate, the FCC would be inserting itself into the relationship between states and their cities — a potential no-no when it comes to the issue of federalism. . .

Continue reading. Later in the article:

“If the people, acting through their elected local governments, want to pursue competitive community broadband, they shouldn’t be stopped by state laws promoted by cable and telephone companies that don’t want that competition,” wrote FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler in a recent blog post.

The GOP pretty much hates anything the government does that benefits the public. The GOP wants businesses to make money from the public in every way possible, because the GOP derives its support from businesses. It’s very difficult to see any benefit to the people of the state for the legislature to make it illegal for cities to offer a municipal broadband service—and the vigorous public reaction in Kansas showed that the state legislature was doing this in obedience to private businesses, not out of a concern for citizens.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 July 2014 at 9:09 am

Even Just the Presence of a Smartphone Lowers the Quality of In-Person Conversations

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Written by LeisureGuy

16 July 2014 at 11:18 am

Posted in Daily life, Technology

@CongressEdits tells you when Congress is changing Wikipedia

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Unfortunately, the US Congress has repeatedly demonstrated that it is not to be trusted, and like any organization works very hard to conceal its mistakes and malfeasance. One technique members of Congress use is to rewrite history—e.g., Rand Paul now claims that his support for the Civil Rights Act is strong, whereas previously he slammed it.

One target for revisionism is Wikipedia, which is regularly altered by members of Congress and/or their staff to present (or hide) things to produce a better image of the member of Congress and/or cast his/her enemies in a worse light. These are almost impossible to detect—until now. As this article in Verge explains, there is a now a Twitter feed that broadcasts Wikipedia revisions coming from Congress.

I believe that Congress currently has a 7% approval rating. This sort of activity should drive it a bit lower.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 July 2014 at 8:34 am

Posted in Congress, Technology

British electrical plugs better than those in the US

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Here’s why:

Written by LeisureGuy

10 July 2014 at 12:19 pm

A+B:A::A:B – The Golden Mean

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And now you can get (or make) Golden-Mean calipers.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 July 2014 at 10:45 am

Old bridge saying: “One peek is worth two finesses.”

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And in intel terms, that means stealing the research done by others: much cheaper than doing your own. Story.

What’s interesting is that they do this essentially out in the open: everyone knows it’s being done, everyone knows who’s doing it. But it continues because, I suppose, it’s worth it to avoid war? I guess I would say that it is. Obviously we should use good security and not simply set things out for the taking (in effect). So improving security is important. It would help if NSA were interested in strengthening instead of weakening cybersecurity. As it is, no one trusts NSA, for very good reasons: while past performance is not an indicator of future results, it’s still the best predictor we’ve got, and NSA’s track record is abysmal.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 July 2014 at 6:12 pm

How to Block Online Tracking

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I use Disconnect, but this article discusses some other tools as well.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 July 2014 at 3:38 pm

Posted in Software, Technology

Tagged with

Cool article on rapid notetaking

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Very interesting article in the Atlantic by Dennis Hollier.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 July 2014 at 11:44 am

This is depressing: Destroying small businesses for fun and profit

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Kevin Poulsen reports in Wired:

Washington DC-area residents with a hankering for lion meat lost a valuable source of the (yes, legal) delicacy last year when a restaurant called the Serbian Crown closed its doors after nearly 40 years in the same location. The northern Virginia eatery served French and Russian cuisine in a richly appointed dining room thick with old world charm. It was best known for its selection of exotic meats—one of the few places in the U.S. where an adventurous diner could order up a plate of horse or kangaroo. “We used to have bear, but bear meat was abolished,” says proprietor Rene Bertagna. “You cannot import any more bear.”

But these days, Bertagna isn’t serving so much as a whisker. It began in early 2012, when he experienced a sudden 75 percent drop off in customers on the weekend, the time he normally did most of his business. The slump continued for months, for no apparent reason. Bertagna’s profits plummeted, he was forced to lay off some of his staff, and he struggled to understand what was happening. Only later did Bertagna come to suspect that he was the victim of a gaping vulnerability that made his opened his Google listings to manipulation.

He was alerted to that possibility when one of his regulars phoned the restaurant. “A customer called me and said, ‘Why are you closed on Saturday, Sunday and Monday? What’s going on?’” Bertagna says.

It turned out that Google Places, the search giant’s vast business directory, was misreporting the Serbian Crown’s hours. Anyone Googling Serbian Crown, or plugging it into Google Maps, was told incorrectly that the restaurant was closed on the weekends, Bertagna says. For a destination restaurant with no walk-in traffic, that was a fatal problem.

“This area where the restaurant is located is kind of off the beaten path,” says Bertagna’s lawyer, Christopher Rau. “It’s in a wealthy subdivision of northern Virginia where a lot of government employees live on these estates and houses with two- or three-acre lots … It’s not really on the way to anything. If you’re going there, it’s because you’ve planned to go there. And unless you know that the place is going to be open, you’re probably not going to drag yourself out.”

Bertagna immigrated to the U.S. from northern Italy when he was young. He’s 74 now, and, he says, doesn’t own a computer—he’d heard of the Internet and Google but used neither. Suddenly, a technological revolution of which he was only dimly aware was killing his business. His accountant phoned Google and in an attempt to change the listing, but got nowhere. Bertagna eventually hired an Internet consultant who took control of the Google Places listing and fixed the bad information—a relatively simple process.

But by then, Bertagna says, his business was in a nose dive from which he couldn’t recover—service suffered after the layoffs, and customers stopped coming back. He shuttered the Serbian Crown in April 2013. . .

Continue reading.

Later in the story:

. . . Beneath its slick interface and crystal clear GPS-enabled vision of the world, Google Maps roils with local rivalries, score-settling, and deception. Maps are dotted with thousands of spam business listings for nonexistent locksmiths and plumbers. Legitimate businesses sometimes see their listings hijacked by competitors or cloned into a duplicate with a different phone number or website. In January, someone bulk-modified the Google Maps presence of thousands of hotels around the country, changing the website URLs to a commercial third-party booking site (which siphons off the commissions).

Small businesses are the usual targets. In a typical case in 2010, Buffalo-based Barbara Oliver & Co Jewelry saw its Google Maps listing changed to “permanently closed” at the exact same time that it was flooded with fake and highly unfavorable customer reviews.

“We narrowed it down as to who it was. It was another jeweler who had tampered with it,” says Barbara Oliver, the owner. “The bottom line was the jeweler put five-star reviews on his Google reviews, and he slammed me and three other local jewelers, all within a couple of days.”
Barbara Oliver.

Barbara Oliver. Courtesy Barbara Oliver & Co.
Oliver’s Google Maps listing was repaired, because she had something Bertagna didn’t have: a web consultant on retainer feeding and caring for her Internet presence. That consultant, Mike Blumenthal, says he’s countered a lot of similar tampering over the years.

“I had a client who’s phone number was modified through a community edit,” says Blumenthal, who closely tracks Google Maps’ foibles in his blog. “It was a small retail shop—interior design. I traced it back to a competitor who left a footprint.” . . .

Those who destroy businesses in this way should face prison terms.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 July 2014 at 10:20 am

Posted in Business, Technology

Only you can prevent blackouts… [photo of sad Reddy Kilowatt]

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Erez Yoeli, Moshe Hoffman, and David Rand write in the NY Times:

IT’S July, and it’s starting to get hot. This month last year — on Friday, July 19, 2013 — New York City broke its electricity usage record. The demand strained Con Ed’s grid until it broke. Within hours, 5,200 Bronx residents were without power. And as more heat rolled in, the blackouts did too, in Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia and Boston — no major metropolitan area on the East Coast was spared. Earlier that summer, California, Texas, Illinois and other states fought the same battle with heat-driven peak demand. Canada, Japan, India, Nepal and virtually the entire world face the same issue.

We have the technology to eliminate these blackouts. We’ve had it for years.

It works like this: Your utility installs a small radio device near your air-conditioner that can receive a signal from the power company when there’s a risk of a blackout. When the signal is sent, the device raises the temperature a bit, and, while you go about your business in the slightly less-air-conditioned comfort of your home, all those devices together ease the pressure on the system. In tests, most participants aren’t even aware that the device has been activated. Without noticing a thing, you’ve helped prevent a blackout.

The M.I.T. Technology Review calls it “the key technology for the electricity grid of the future.” President Obama’s administration has identified these programs as the answer to improving electrical grid reliability.

What’s the problem? It’s not the utilities. Virtually every large utility in the country has asked residents to sign up for these programs. It’s not the devices. They’ve proved themselves to be reliable over years of testing and in a host of real-world conditions. It’s not the installers. They get it right.

You are the problem — getting you to sign up in the first place. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 July 2014 at 9:20 am

The resurgence of the Stirling engine

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I’ve always been very fond of the Stirling engine, which uses an external heat source (external combustion or hot springs or other geothermal energy) for its power. From the Wikipedia article at the link:

In contrast to internal combustion engines, Stirling engines have the potential to use renewable heat sources more easily, to be quieter, and to be more reliable with lower maintenance. They are preferred for applications that value these unique advantages, particularly if the cost per unit energy generated is more important than the capital cost per unit power. On this basis, Stirling engines are cost competitive up to about 100 kW.[59]

Compared to an internal combustion engine of the same power rating, Stirling engines currently have a higher capital cost and are usually larger and heavier. However, they are more efficient than most internal combustion engines.[60] Their lower maintenance requirements make the overall energy cost comparable.

Now Dean Kamen (inventor of the Segway) is developing Stirling engine power generators for commercial use and developing models for home use.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 July 2014 at 8:27 am

Posted in Technology

OMG! This is wonderful: See the owners of any member of Congress is real-time—a new app

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Install the app, hover your mouse over the name of any member of Congress—the example used is John Boehner—and you see:

Boehner

Very cool. AND it obviates the need for members of Congress to wear sponsor patches on their suits, as race-car drivers do. Win-win, eh?  The Washington Post story is here. The app itself is here. (It’s free.) The guy who wrote the app is 16. Years. Old.

Here’s the explanation:

Screen Shot 2014-07-03 at 4.26.01 PM

Written by LeisureGuy

3 July 2014 at 4:10 pm

Information Theory and you

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Written by LeisureGuy

3 July 2014 at 2:15 pm

Posted in Math, Technology

The biggest threats to the Web according to 1400 experts

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Read the story by Hayley Tsukuyama in the Washington Post:

What are the biggest threats to the Internet in the next 20 years? According to experts canvassed by Pew, the biggest threats aren’t a rise in hacking attacks or new waves of Internet crime. They’re government and big online corporations.

Control and consolidation were the top threats for experts canvassed by Pew’s Internet and American Life Project in a study published Thursday. The think tank asked more than 1,400 experts — academics, theorists and those who work in the technology industry — to weigh in on what risks the Internet faces through 2025.

The majority pointed to government surveillance, restrictive regulation and corporate greed as the things most likely to kill the idea that the Web is a free-flowing network of information. Plenty expressed concern that the Internet will fracture due to government policies, such as those that limit access to the Web as some governments did during the Arab Spring, aggressive intellectual property laws or even well-meaning policies in Canada and Australia that aggressively filter all Internet traffic to combat child pornography. These efforts, experts said, cross the line — or at least flirt with it.

Paul Saffo, managing director at Discern Analytics, said: . . .

Continue reading.

Once the government is no longer accountable to the governed—and the US government is certainly moving in that direction, with legislators increasingly being purchased by big corporations and vested interests—it becomes the out-of-control 800-lb gorilla in the room. We’ve already seen how a modest payment to one Congressman (Simpson of Idaho) can kill lifesaving regulations regarding the level of arsenic in drinking water. One Congressman and apparently one payment.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 July 2014 at 1:15 pm

The open source revolution is coming and it will conquer the 1% – ex CIA spy

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Extremely interesting article by Nafeez Ahmed in The Guardian:

Robert David Steele, former Marine, CIA case officer, and US co-founder of the US Marine Corps intelligence activity, is a man on a mission. But it’s a mission that frightens the US intelligence establishment to its core.
With 18 years experience working across the US intelligence community, followed by 20 more years in commercial intelligence and training, Steele’s exemplary career has spanned almost all areas of both the clandestine world.

Steele started off as a Marine Corps infantry and intelligence officer. After four years on active duty, he joined the CIA for about a decade before co-founding the Marine Corps Intelligence Activity, where he was deputy director. Widely recognised as the leader of the Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) paradigm, Steele went on to write the handbooks on OSINT for NATO, the US Defense Intelligence Agency and the U.S. Special Operations Forces. In passing, he personally trained 7,500 officers from over 66 countries.

In 1992, despite opposition from the CIA, he obtained Marine Corps permission to organise a landmark international conference on open source intelligence – the paradigm of deriving information to support policy decisions not through secret activities, but from open public sources available to all. The conference was such a success it brought in over 620 attendees from the intelligence world.

But the CIA wasn’t happy, and ensured that Steele was prohibited from running a second conference. The clash prompted him to resign from his position as second-ranking civilian in Marine Corps intelligence, and pursue the open source paradigm elsewhere. He went on to found and head up the Open Source Solutions Network Inc. and later the non-profit Earth Intelligence Network which runs the Public Intelligence Blog.

I first came across Steele when I discovered his Amazon review of my third book, The War on Truth: 9/11, Disinformation and the Anatomy of Terrorism. A voracious reader, Steele is the number 1 Amazon reviewer for non-fiction across 98 categories. He also reviewed my latest book, A User’s Guide to the Crisis of Civilization, but told me I’d overlooked an important early work – ‘A More Secure World: Our Shared Responsibility, Report of the UN High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges, and Change‘ (PDF).

Last month, Steele presented a startling paper at the Libtech conference in New York, sponsored by the Internet Society and Reclaim. Drawing on principles set out in his latest book, The Open-Source Everything Manifesto: Transparency, Truth and Trust, he told the audience that all the major preconditions for revolution – set out in his 1976 graduate thesis – were now present in the United States and Britain.

Steele’s book is a must-read, a powerful yet still pragmatic roadmap to a new civilisational paradigm that simultaneously offers a trenchant, unrelenting critique of the prevailing global order. His interdisciplinary ‘whole systems’ approach dramatically connects up the increasing corruption, inefficiency and unaccountability of the intelligence system and its political and financial masters with escalating inequalities and environmental crises. But he also offers a comprehensive vision of hope that activist networks like Reclaim are implementing today.

“We are at the end of a five-thousand-year-plus historical process during which human society grew in scale while it abandoned the early indigenous wisdom councils and communal decision-making,” he writes in The Open Source Everything Manifesto. “Power was centralised in the hands of increasingly specialised ‘elites’ and ‘experts’ who not only failed to achieve all they promised but used secrecy and the control of information to deceive the public into allowing them to retain power over community resources that they ultimately looted.”

Today’s capitalism, he argues, is inherently predatory and destructive: . . .

Continue reading.

This is pretty strongly connected to the previous post, how how explicit efforts to maintain secrecy and supported by big business and the government.

From the article at the link, the preconditions for revolution:

Revolution-Today-USA-2

 

And later in the article, Steele comments:

 “The west has pursued an industrialisation path that allows for the privatisation of wealth from the commons, along with the criminalisation of commons rights of the public, as well as the externalisation of all true costs. Never mind that fracking produces earthquakes and poisons aquifers – corrupt politicians at local, state or province, and national levels are all too happy to take money for looking the other way. Our entire commercial, diplomatic, and informational systems are now cancerous. When trade treaties have secret sections – or are entirely secret – one can be certain the public is being screwed and the secrecy is an attempt to avoid accountability. Secrecy enables corruption. So also does an inattentive public enable corruption.”

UPDATE—And highly relevant: An article in the NY Times today—and read the comments at the link:

Unblinking Eyes Track Employees
Workplace Surveillance Sees Good and Bad

Here are a couple of the comments:

John, Amherst, MA
The degree to which employees are increasingly seen not as human beings but as cogs in a machine that constantly needs tweaked to increase efficiency at the expense of privacy is disconcerting. The speed with which this process is accelerating is downright alarming. The prospects for where this is headed in the near future is nightmarish. David Egger’s “The Circle” is rapidly transitioning from prescient fiction to banal documentary. The concepts of “private life” and autonomy seem on the verge of extinction, eradicated in the service of efficiency, marketing and security.

Gwbear, Florida
I am literally taking a break at this very moment from a series of advanced certification classes at Stanford for leadership and managing complex projects, and thought leading material on creating an effective workplace. These classes are taught by, and include, the ideas of the best leaders in their fields.

All of what they teach flies in the face of this as a way to get the best out of employees. You could not choose a more toxic method if you tried. Clearly, places like Stanford are teaching – but industry is not listening.

And then people wonder why modern employees are so stressed and have such low morale in the US. If the answers got any bigger and obvious, they would smack industry upside the head! Sadly, all training like this tells senior contributors is how pathetic their employers are, even all the so called Fortune 50 industry leaders…

(Sigh…)

Joseph Huben, Upstate NY
Let all be monitored by all! The CEO, Chairman of the Board, The Board, Major stock holders should all be monitored in the execution of their duties. Equity demands that everyone is monitored or no one. Successes and failures should be evaluated and published using transparent observations and a capacity to review all activities equally. Management meetings should also be monitored and shared with all workers. Wages and other remuneration should all be public.

Many more good comments at the link. People quite understand that this initiative is to treat workers as a commodity.

UPDATE AGAIN (a hot topic): Also note this NY Times article, which describes a study that found NOT subjecting factory workers to surveillance improved productivity (and morale, no doubt).

Written by LeisureGuy

22 June 2014 at 10:30 am

Promoting ignorance: Agri-business edition

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Quite often you see groups working hard to discourage research and knowledge in some area, one presumes because they fear what may be found. Two examples that spring to mind: the DEA’s strong opposition to any research regarding marijuana and its effects (one study has worked for 14 years to get approval) and the NRA/GOP’s opposition to any studies of gun violence (that opposition has produced legislation that forbids the use of federal funds for any such study—the claim is that they are trying to prevent bad studies, and the approach they’ve adopted is to prevent all studies).

Now we see ag-gag laws passed to hide information about factory farm operations. That’s our food sources, of course: Big Ag doesn’t want us to know what it’s doing. That makes me uneasy. Lindsay Abrams writes in Salon of an effort to maintain independent inspection of what goes on:

In 2008, the Humane Society released a shocking video taken in a Southern California slaughterhouse. The footage depicted workers using chains and forklifts to drag cows that were too sick to stand across the floor. The abuse was appalling; the cows’ condition, which indicated a food safety risk, led the USDA to order a recall of 143 million pounds of beef. It was the largest meat recall in U.S. history — and it was all brought about by the work of an undercover whistleblower.

Since then, Big Ag has been hard at work preventing this sort of thing from happening again, but not by actually working to stop abuse — at least, not completely. Instead, the industry’s been pushing states to implement laws, known collectively as “ag-gag,” aimed at silencing activists.

Nine states currently have ag-gag laws on the books, the most recent of which, in Idaho, takes anti-whistleblower legislation to a worrisome new extreme. Under the law, signed by Gov. C . L. “Butch” Otter, it is illegal for anyone not employed on the farms — and undercover activists don’t count — to make recordings of what goes on there without the owner’s explicit consent. In practice, that means videos taken of factory farms’ illegal practices — like this one, which depicts three workers at an Idaho dairy farm beating cattle with a cane, kicking and stomping on them once they’ve fallen and dragging one cow across the floor via a chain around its neck — can no longer legally be made public.

But that these laws effectively allow animal cruelty to go undetected and unreported only scratches the surface of why critics find them so appalling. In the interest of protecting the agriculture industry, ag-gag laws criminalize whistleblowers and, ultimately, ensure consumers remain in the dark.

Enter Will Potter, an investigative journalist and 2014 TED Fellow who’s dedicated his career to animal rights and environmental issues — and to exposing the way people dedicated to such causes are treated as domestic terrorists by a government primarily interested in promoting corporate interests. Last week, Potter took to Kickstarter to pitch an ambitious new investigation: he’s going to find out what’s really going on at the factory farms and slaughterhouses hiding behind ag-gag laws.

And he’s going to do it using drones.

It took only five days for Potter to meet his fundraising goal. As of Friday afternoon, he’s raised $35,000 and counting to pay for everything he needs to produce his “aerial exposé”: the drones, but also travel expenses, production costs for planned documentary and e-book, and plenty of legal counsel. The challenge now is going to be figuring out how to actually pull this off. It’s unclear he’ll find what he’s looking for, Potter told Salon, and whether he’ll be able to look at all without breaking the law. But he’s excited to try. Our conversation, lightly edited for clarity, is below: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 June 2014 at 10:04 am

Maybe we shouldn’t rush to have domestic drone aircraft?

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Because it seems that they fairly frequently fall out of the sky:

U.S. military drones have malfunctioned in myriad ways over the past decade, plummeting from the sky because of mechanical breakdowns, human error, bad weather and other reasons, according to a yearlong Washington Post investigation.

The Washington Post story by Craig Whitlock:

 More than 400 large U.S. military drones have crashed in major accidents around the world since 2001, a record of calamity that exposes the potential dangers of throwing open American skies to drone traffic, according to a year-long Washington Post investigation.

Since the outbreak of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, military drones have malfunctioned in myriad ways, plummeting from the sky because of mechanical breakdowns, human error, bad weather and other reasons, according to more than 50,000 pages of accident investigation reports and other records obtained by The Post under the Freedom of Information Act.

Crashes around the world

More than 400 large U.S. military drones crashed in major accidents worldwide between Sept. 11, 2001, and December 2013. By reviewing military investigative reports and other records, The Washinton Post was able to identify 194 drone crashes that fell into the most severe category: Class A accidents that destroyed the aircraft or caused (under current standards) at least $2 million in damage.

Commercial drone flights are set to become a widespread reality in the United States, starting next year, under a 2012 law passed by Congress. Drone flights by law enforcement agencies and the military, which already occur on a limited basis, are projected to surge.

The documents obtained by The Post detail scores of previously unreported crashes involving remotely controlled aircraft, challenging the federal government’s assurances that drones will be able to fly safely over populated areas and in the same airspace as passenger planes.

Military drones have slammed into homes, farms, runways, highways, waterways and, in one case, an Air Force C-130 Hercules transport plane in midair. No one has died in a drone accident, but the documents show that many catastrophes have been narrowly averted, often by a few feet, or a few seconds, or pure luck.

“All I saw were tents, and I was afraid that I had killed someone,” Air Force Maj. Richard Wageman told investigators after an accident in November 2008, when he lost control of a Predator that plowed into a U.S. base in Afghanistan. “I felt numb, and I am certain that a few cuss words came out of my mouth.”

Air Force Maj. Richard Wageman operates a Predator from a ground-control station in Afghanistan on Oct. 25, 2008. A week later, he was the pilot of a Predator that crashed into a U.S. military base. The precise cause of the crash was undetermined. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Investigators were unable to pinpoint a definitive cause for the accident but said wind and an aggressive turn by the pilot were factors. Wageman did not respond to a request for comment through an Air Force spokeswoman.

Several military drones have simply disappeared while at cruising altitudes, never to be seen again. In September 2009, an armed Reaper drone, with a 66-foot wingspan, flew on the loose across Afghanistan after its handlers lost control of the aircraft. U.S. fighter jets shot it down as it neared Tajikistan.

The documents describe a multitude of costly mistakes by remote-control pilots. A $3.8 million Predator carrying a Hellfire missile cratered near Kandahar in January 2010 because the pilot did not realize she had been flying the aircraft upside-down. Later that year, another armed Predator crashed nearby after the pilot did not notice he had squeezed the wrong red button on his joystick, putting the plane into a spin.

While most of the malfunctioning aircraft have perished in combat zones, dozens have been destroyed in the United States during test and training flights that have gone awry.

In April, a 375-pound Army drone crashed next to an elementary-school playground in Pennsylvania, just a few minutes after students went home for the day. In Upstate New York, the Air Force still cannot find a Reaper that has been missing since November, when it plunged into Lake Ontario. In June 2012, a Navy RQ-4 surveillance drone with a wingspan as wide as a Boeing 757′s nose-dived into Maryland’s Eastern Shore, igniting a wildfire.

Defense Department officials said they are confident in the reliability of their drones.[??? Apparently, they are not paying attention. - LG] . . .

Continue reading. To follow up on the reality-denying statement from the DoD officials, the story notes:

The Post’s analysis of accident records, however, shows that the military and drone manufacturers have yet to overcome some fundamental safety hurdles:

  • A limited ability to detect and avoid trouble. Cameras and high-tech sensors on a drone cannot fully replace a pilot’s eyes and ears and nose in the cockpit. Most remotely controlled planes are not equipped with radar or anti-collision systems designed to prevent midair disasters.
  • Pilot error. Despite popular perceptions, flying a drone is much trickier than playing a video game. The Air Force licenses its drone pilots and trains them constantly, but mistakes are still common, particularly during landings. In four cases over a three-year period, Air Force pilots committed errors so egregious that they were investigated for suspected dereliction of duty.
  • Persistent mechanical defects. Some common drone models were designed without backup safety features and rushed to war without the benefit of years of testing. Many accidents were triggered by basic electrical malfunctions; others were caused by bad weather. Military personnel blamed some mishaps on inexplicable problems. The crews of two doomed Predators that crashed in 2008 and 2009 told investigators that their respective planes had been “possessed” and plagued by “demons.”
  • Unreliable communications links. Drones are dependent on wireless transmissions to relay commands and navigational information, usually via satellite. Those connections can be fragile. Records show that links were disrupted or lost in more than a quarter of the worst crashes.

Among the models that crashed most often is the MQ-1 Predator, the Air Force drone manufactured by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, of San Diego. Almost half the Predators bought by the Air Force have been involved in a major accident, according to purchasing and safety data.

And in the meantime:

“Flying is inherently a dangerous activity. You don’t have to look very far, unfortunately, to see examples of that,” said Dyke Weatherington, director of unmanned warfare for the Pentagon. “I can look you square in the eye and say, absolutely, the [Defense Department] has got an exceptional safety record on this and we’re getting better every day.”

“Getting better every day” is fine, but how long until the technology is reliable?

Please read the article and note how military statements are contradicted by facts. For example, the “exceptional safety record” is contradicted by this fact:

Since the drone program began, the Air Force has acquired 269 Predators. Forty percent have crashed in Class A accidents, the most severe category [more than $2 million in damages, as noted earlier in the story - LG]. An additional 8 percent wrecked in Class B accidents [damage costing between $500,000 and $2 million - LG].

You will also note how the Department of Defense refuses to release details and tries to keep the data on drone crashes out of the public eye.

I think we shall be seeing some enormous lawsuits and settlements in the future as drone accidents start happening in the US—along with a fair number of deaths.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 June 2014 at 10:14 am

Posted in Military, Technology

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