Later On

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

Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Computer for symptomatic relief from senior moments

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The name was on the tip of my tongue, and I even recalled stories of how he developed his musical taste through hearing marching bands and thus frequently hearing two or three different marches played simultaneously and, in the right location, equally loudly. But the name!  So I entered “American composer dissonant” in my search engine (Duck Duck Go), and the top of the hit list was the Wikipedia entry for Charles Ives. Thank goodness.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 February 2014 at 1:37 pm

ISP lobby has already won limits on public broadband in 20 states

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Public broadband is an excellent idea, especially since ISPs do not like to spend money on upgrading services. (The goal of a for-profit corporation is always to increase profits. Cutting costs is an easy way to do that, and not spending money to upgrade services is an easy decision if people have little or no choice of alternatives.) Jon Brodkin writes in Ars Technica:

It’s no secret that private Internet service providers hate when cities and towns decide to enter the telecommunications business themselves. But with private ISPs facing little competition and offering slow speeds for high prices, municipalities occasionally get fed up and decide to build their own broadband networks.

To prevent this assault on their lucrative revenue streams, ISPs have teamed up with friends in state legislatures to pass laws that make it more difficult or impossible for cities and towns to offer broadband service.

Attorney James Baller of the Baller Herbst Law Group has been fighting attempts to restrict municipal broadband projects for years. He’s catalogued restrictions placed upon public Internet service in 20 states, and that number could be much higher already if not for the efforts of consumer advocates.

Some state restrictions have been in place for decades. A new wave of state laws were passed in the years after the federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 was passed, Baller told Ars. Another wave of proposals came after a US Supreme Court decision in 2004 that said the Telecommunications Act “allows states to prevent municipalities from providing telecommunications services.”

Pennsylvania enacted a new law limiting municipal broadband later in 2004, but then the tide began to turn.

“The next year we saw 14 states consider barriers, and we fought most of them off, and then it was two or three a year,” Baller told Ars. “We won all the battles for a while until North Carolina in 2011 and South Carolina in 2012, and there were no new ones in 2013.” (That North Carolina bill was titled, “An act to protect jobs and investment by regulating local government competition with private business.”)

There could be two new states restricting public Internet service in 2014. As we’ve reported, the cable lobby proposed a bill in Kansas to outlaw municipal broadband service for residents except in “unserved areas,” which were defined in such a way that it would be nearly impossible to call any area unserved. After protest, the cable lobby group said it would rewrite the bill to change how it defines unserved areas.

In Utah, a new bill would make it harder for regional fiber networks to expand. That one also drew criticism, and the legislator who proposed it said he’s make some “minor adjustments.”

Baller said the Kansas bill is the most extreme one he’s seen. . . .

Continue reading. There’s quite a bit more, and an interesting situation review by state.

On a related note, utility services (power, water, etc.) from private companies are priced much higher when there’s no public utility nearby.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 February 2014 at 11:29 am

One problem with Facebook

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Two brief videos describe the problem well:

And the problem moves toward fraud:

Written by LeisureGuy

12 February 2014 at 11:02 am

Posted in Business, Technology

Netflix speeds are down. But don’t blame Verizon.

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It turns out that Verizon was not throttling Netflix bandwidth. Brian Fung explains in the Washington Post:

If you’ve noticed a recent slowdown in your Netflix service, it isn’t anything to do with Verizon, according to a J.P. Morgan analyst who says he’s had conversations with the streaming video company.

The analyst, Doug Anmuth, told Re/code Tuesday that Netflix CEO Reed Hastings is confident that Internet providers won’t dare to provoke the wrath of users by slowing down access to films and TV shows. More importantly, Re/code reports, Netflix itself hasn’t observed anything to suggest that Verizon is throttling bandwidth.

Netflix isn’t officially commenting on the issue, but the note throws cold water on a theory endorsed by some subscribers to Verizon FiOS. Last week, a Texas software engineer said some of his Internet usage, including Netflix, was being slowed to 40 kBps, despite paying for a 75 Mbps pipe.

The engineer suspected that Verizon was taking advantage of a recent court decision that made it legal for broadband providers to prioritize network traffic.

The company’s denial also appears to be bolstered by Netflix’s own data showing that streaming speeds on FiOS have been on the decline since October — long before the D.C. Circuit ruled against government regulations on Internet speeds.

Screen-Shot-2014-02-12-at-9.59.02

The data help undermine the argument that Verizon is intentionally throttling traffic. Other broadband providers such as Comcast have also seen a drop in their Netflix speeds.

So if Verizon isn’t acting to slow down traffic, what explains the slowdown in service?

Increased loads could be to blame. By some estimates, Netflix accounts for up to a third of North American Internet traffic at peak hours. To cope with the rising tide of demand, Netflix has been promoting OpenConnect, a technology that boosts speeds but requires Internet providers to cache some video inside their own networks. This makes it faster and cheaper for Netflix to deliver content.

Verizon and Comcast have declined to partner with OpenConnect. Netflix warns that this could result in reduced speeds. To help keep track of ISP performance, Netflix has an index that ranks Internet providers according to how well they carry streaming content. Google Fiber tops the list, while major networks fall toward the middle. Some have argued that the ranking serves two purposes: to give an account of streaming speeds, yes, but also to shame providers that haven’t signed on with OpenConnect.

In the future, OpenConnect will only become more important. Netflix in September expanded access to its Super HD streams from just those ISPs that use OpenConnect to include those that do not. The resulting deluge of extra data may be one reason for the recent slowdown — and the decline in performance across more than a dozen broadband services appears consistent with that decision.

If Netflix previously . . .

Continue reading.

This would less of an issue if the US had decent broadband.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 February 2014 at 10:35 am

Posted in Business, Movies, Technology

Fast!

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The Eldest has been a big of fan of Formula 1 racing, and I thought of her when I stumbled across this video of a Ferrari F1 pit stop. It takes less than a minute, but I ended up watching it several times, focusing on individual members of the pit crew to see what they are doing. Total time is around 2 seconds for the stop itself. Note that front and rear jacks: the car is lifted up so that all four wheels can be changed simultaneously. It’s a bit noisy—racing—but the noise adds to the excitement.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 February 2014 at 9:36 am

Posted in Business, Technology

Frighteningly effective malware from unknown source

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This report should heighten your caution. Timothy Lee reports in the Washington Post:

Most of the early Internet malware were simple programs created by bored amateurs. But it’s not 1999 anymore. As the Internet has grown more sophisticated, so has malware. A new report from Kaspersky labs dissects what could be the most sophisticated malware yet discovered in the wild.

The software, dubbed Careto, is a sophisticated suite of tools for compromising computers and collecting a wealth of information from them. Whoever is behind the malware sends out “spear phishing” e-mails, with addresses designed to be mistaken for the Web sites of mainstream newspapers, such as The Washington Post or the Guardian. If the user clicks on a link, it takes her to a Web site that scans her system for vulnerabilities and attempts to infect it. There are multiple versions of the malicious software designed to attack Windows, Mac OS X and Linux versions, and Kapersky believes there may be versions that attack iOS and Android.

Once Careto has compromised a system, it begins collecting sensitive information from it. The software can “intercept network traffic, keystrokes, Skype conversations, analyse WiFi traffic, PGP keys, fetch all information from Nokia devices, screen captures and monitor all file operations.”

It can also capture any encryption keys found on the machine, which can help launch attacks against other machines. The software has a plug-in architecture, allowing the attacker to dynamically load new software to perform tasks such as monitoring keystrokes or capturing the victim’s email.

Early malware spread uncontrolled from computer to computer. In contrast, Careto is highly targeted. Kaspersky was able to gather data about who was subject to attacks. Most of the attacks targeted government institutions, embassies, oil and gas companies, research organizations, private equity firms and activists.

Computers around the world were targeted, with no apparent pattern: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 February 2014 at 3:04 pm

Posted in Daily life, Technology

Drones attack cellphones, not people

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As the Obama administration works out a way to kill American citizens at will, based on suspicion and without due process (no defense allowed), it turns out that the targets are generally not individuals, but individual cellphones—so whoever happens to be carrying the cellphone is killed. Not so much concern as to who it might be: cellphone possession is sufficient for a lethal attack. Jeremy Scahill and Glenn Greenwald write at The Intercept:

The National Security Agency is using complex analysis of electronic surveillance, rather than human intelligence, as the primary method to locate targets for lethal drone strikes – an unreliable tactic that results in the deaths of innocent or unidentified people.

According to a former drone operator for the military’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) who also worked with the NSA, the agency often identifies targets based on controversial metadata analysis and cell-phone tracking technologies. Rather than confirming a target’s identity with operatives or informants on the ground, the CIA or the U.S. military then orders a strike based on the activity and location of the mobile phone a person is believed to be using.

The drone operator, who agreed to discuss the top-secret programs on the condition of anonymity, was a member of JSOC’s High Value Targeting task force, which is charged with identifying, capturing or killing terrorist suspects in Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

His account is bolstered by top-secret NSA documents previously provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden. It is also supported by a former drone sensor operator with the U.S. Air Force, Brandon Bryant, who has become an outspoken critic of the lethal operations in which he was directly involved in Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen.

In one tactic, the NSA “geolocates” the SIM card or handset of a suspected terrorist’s mobile phone, enabling the CIA and U.S. military to conduct night raids and drone strikes to kill or capture the individual in possession of the device.

The former JSOC drone operator is adamant that the technology has been responsible for taking out terrorists and networks of people facilitating improvised explosive device attacks against U.S. forces in Afghanistan. But he also states that innocent people have “absolutely” been killed as a result of the NSA’s increasing reliance on the surveillance tactic.

One problem, he explains, is that targets are increasingly aware of the NSA’s reliance on geolocating, and have moved to thwart the tactic. Some have as many as 16 different SIM cards associated with their identity within the High Value Target system. Others, unaware that their mobile phone is being targeted, lend their phone, with the SIM card in it, to friends, children, spouses and family members.

Some top Taliban leaders, knowing of the NSA’s targeting method, have purposely and randomly distributed SIM cards among their units in order to elude their trackers. “They would do things like go to meetings, take all their SIM cards out, put them in a bag, mix them up, and everybody gets a different SIM card when they leave,” the former drone operator says. “That’s how they confuse us.”

As a result, even when the agency correctly identifies and targets a SIM card belonging to a terror suspect, the phone may actually be carried by someone else, who is then killed in a strike. According to the former drone operator, the geolocation cells at the NSA that run the tracking program – known as Geo Cell –sometimes facilitate strikes without knowing whether the individual in possession of a tracked cell phone or SIM card is in fact the intended target of the strike.

“Once the bomb lands or a night raid happens, you know that phone is there,” he says. “But we don’t know who’s behind it, who’s holding it. It’s of course assumed that the phone belongs to a human being who is nefarious and considered an ‘unlawful enemy combatant.’ This is where it gets very shady.”

The former drone operator also says that he personally participated in drone strikes where the identity of the target was known, but other unknown people nearby were also killed.

“They might have been terrorists,” he says. “Or they could have been family members who have nothing to do with the target’s activities.”

What’s more, he adds, the NSA often locates drone targets by analyzing the activity of a SIM card, rather than the actual content of the calls. Based on his experience, he has come to believe that the drone program amounts to little more than death by unreliable metadata.

“People get hung up that there’s a targeted list of people,” he says. “It’s really like we’re targeting a cell phone. We’re not going after people – we’re going after their phones, in the hopes that the person on the other end of that missile is the bad guy.”

The Obama administration has repeatedly insisted that its operations kill terrorists with the utmost precision. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 February 2014 at 11:44 am

Another sign we’re living in a science-fiction world (speaking from the viewpoint of the ’50s)

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NASA is starting talks with companies regarding Moon mining operations (and rights—dividing up the pie). The key, I think, is to do pretty much anything that will transfer money from taxpayers into corporate coffers. These truly are monumental boondoggles, so far as I can tell. (I’m not referring to the unmanned missions and the various satellites or the mission to Mars: those do seem worthwhile. I’m specifically talking about the idea of humans doing long-term deployments (years) in space. Biology seems to me to rule against: we’ve evolved to need gravity.)

I guess we’re living in a science-fiction world (mining the Moon!) but not a science-fantasy world (humans living for long periods in zero- or micro-gravity with no ill effects). If we must transfer large sums of money from government to corporations, how about rebuilding our decaying infrastructure, improving our electrical distribution system, building more fiber-optic networks, and so on? I think the reason is that the construction-industry lobby is not so strong politically as the aerospace lobby, possibly because the latter appeals strongly to a certain widespread military mindset: the weaponization of space, which means “space troopers”, more or less. So there’s strong backing for manned space missions, as a matter of research into wars of the future. And when you’re lobbying, it’s very helpful to have the military in your corner.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 February 2014 at 1:18 pm

One American City Enjoys a Hyperfast Internet — Any Surprise Corporations Don’t Control It?

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Thom Hartmann writes at AlterNet:

It’s time for high-speed internet access for all!

This morning, President Obama spoke to a crowd at a middle school in Adelphi, Maryland about the importance of high-speed internet access for America’s students.

But while high-speed internet access may still seem out-of-reach for many Americans, down in Chattanooga, Tennessee it’s been a reality for a long time.

That’s because Chattanooga is home to “The Gig,” a taxpayer-owned, high-speed fiber-optic network.

According to The New York Times [3], back in 2009, Chattanooga received a $111 million stimulus grant from the federal government, which allowed that city to get “The Gig” up and running.

Maintained and operated by Chattanooga’s publicly-owned utility company EPB, “The Gig” allows Chattanooga’s residents to surf the web at lightning-fast speeds.

For less than $70 per month, residents browse the World Wide Web on a high-speed fiber-optic connection that shoots data back and forth at one gigabit per second – that’s 1000 megabytes per second. Where I live in Washington, D.C., you have to pay a lot just to get a 20 megabit-per-second connection.

As The New York Times points out, one gigabit-per-second is 50 times faster than the average internet speed for homes in the rest of the US, and is just as fast as internet service in Hong Kong, which has the fastest internet on the planet.

Someone in Chattanooga can download a full-length movie in high-definition in under 35 seconds.

In the rest of the country, downloading that movie would take around 25 minutes.

But “The Gig” isn’t just good for downloading movies and shopping online. It’s good for business too.

Chattanooga officials say that “The Gig” has helped to create at least 1,000 jobs over the past three years.

And, internet-based businesses are moving to Chattanooga from high-profile cities like New York and San Francisco because of the lightning-fast internet speeds.

In the years since “The Gig” went live, other cities across the country have jumped on the publicly-owned internet bandwagon.

Lafayette, Louisiana and Bristol, Virginia also have rolled out publicly-owned high-speed networks.

So why are more and more cities copying the Chattanooga model, and putting control over the internet in the hands of the people?

Because they realize that the internet has become a natural monopoly in our country, just like water and electricity, and therefore should be in the hands of We The People, rather than in the hands of a for-profit corporation that just wants to squeeze money out of its users.

Today, Americans are paying hundreds of dollars to internet service providers like Comcast and Verizon, for so-called “high-speed” internet access that’s slower than much of the developed world.

In fact, the United States isn’t even in the top 25 [4] when it comes to internet speeds. We come in at 31, behind countries like Bulgaria, Estonia, and Romania.

Chattanooga has realized that natural monopolies like the internet function best when they’re run by We the People for the benefit of the people, rather than by a big corporation for the benefit of profits and stock-holders. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 February 2014 at 12:59 pm

A very nice ending temporary victory

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Written by LeisureGuy

4 February 2014 at 4:07 pm

New communications channels can help a lot

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Richard Winton and Kate Mather report in the LA Times:

A former teacher arrested and charged with multiple counts of sex abuse after one of her accusers went public in a YouTube video confessed to detectives that she molested the former student, court records show.

Riverside police Det. Roberta Hopewell, in seeking an arrest warrant for Andrea Michelle Cardosa, 40, stated that the former Alhambra assistant principal “admitted to having a sexual relationship” with the teenager when she taught in Riverside County.

The detective said Cardosa initially stated the girl was 15 or 16 but later acknowledged she may have been as young as 14, according to a copy of the arrest warrant obtained by The Times.

The detectives interviewed Cardosa after the victim posted a video on YouTube of a phone call she made to the teacher in which Cardosa “admits” to the sexual relationship, Hopewell said. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 February 2014 at 3:27 pm

Posted in Daily life, Law, Technology

Cars should have an “apology” signal

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Very interesting article by Paul Bisceglio in Pacific Standard:

Last week, our own Lauren Kirchner wrote “The Psychology and Biology of Road Rage,” a post that asks why on-the-road altercations can so quickly escalate to fatal violence—especially shootings. Among a number of reasons driving encourages aggression, one thing Kirchner lists stands out because it seems like it could be so easy to fix: It’s really hard to apologize to other drivers.

“Drivers make little mistakes all the time: timing things incorrectly, for instance, or accidentally going the wrong speed for whatever zone they’re in,” Kirchner writes. “And it’s pretty easy for those mistakes to be misinterpreted as purposeful acts of aggression, especially since there’s no type of horn-honk that says ‘sorry.’”

So, why isn’t there some type of horn-honk that says “sorry”? Or, more broadly, why isn’t there any device at all on cars for communicating helpful messages to other drivers aside from turn signals and brake lights? There are novelty items and archaic hand signals, sure, but in an age of Google Glass, insect drones, and Netflix, isn’t it a little surprising that I still have to wave my hand awkwardly in front of my mirror when I accidentally cut someone off, instead of simply activating a blinker in my rear window to make sure the person knows I’m aware of my own incompetence?

In light of Kirchner’s post, such a simple addition seems like it actually could save some lives—or at least save us all a little stress on the road. But whether or not we’d ever see “sorry” signals as a standard feature on cars, and whether or not they’d really do any good, depends on whom you ask.

The idea of this type of indicator may seem out of left field, but Kirchner is far from the first person to imagine it. The notion pops up from time to time in media pop culture, usually as a punchline—something that’s clever, but not to be taken too seriously. Tom and Ray Magliozzi, the retired hosts of Car Talk, for instance, included a “sorry button” on a list of “Features We’d Really Like to See in All Cars,” and Matthew Inman has drawn a comic about the same device at the Oatmeal. Comedy writer Dennis Hong advocates for what he calls a “’My-Bad’ Horn” after he describes one time a BMW almost ran into his car: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 February 2014 at 10:52 am

Posted in Daily life, Technology

How the FCC could intervene to stop cable companies from preventing cities from building fiber networks

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Businesses do not really care about the public except as a source of money; the only goal of corporations to increase profits continually. So when a city offers its citizens a service that a business could charge money for, then businesses go to extreme ends to stop such initiatives. Brian Fung writes in the Washington Post:

Google Fiber promises to bring high-speed Internet to the masses at low cost — but only in certain cities. So around the country, local governments have taken it upon themselves to build their own fiber-optic networks that can deliver the same capabilities. Last week, this effort was met in Kansas with a bill written by cable lobbyists who sought to ban cities from building municipal broadband projects. While the state cable association has since agreed to amend the bill in the face of public criticism, the incident is a reminder that public infrastructure projects can be especially fraught when it comes to Internet service.

But what so far has been a fight between states, cities and established commercial incumbents may soon become an issue for federal regulators. A recent court decision has given the Federal Communications Commission a green light to intervene in these situations, industry analysts say. While it’s too early to tell whether the FCC intends to exercise this power, mayors would find a powerful ally in Washington if they could convince the FCC to intervene.

Kansas isn’t the only place where cable companies have thrown up barriers to publicly funded fiber optic networks. Colorado, for instance, has a law on the books thatrequires cities to pass a referendum if they want to start building a municipal network. The cable industry has campaigned against such ballot measures there in the past. In Seattle, cable companies lobbied to defeat mayor Mike McGinn, who was an advocatefor public fiber.

The cable industry argues that public financing of city-wide networks costs taxpayers extra for what is already available commercially. This can be true if a city levies a new tax to pay for the fiber cables, if not enough subscribers sign on to make the network cost-effective or if it’s unable to foot the bill through other means. But some cities have also circumvented this problem by offering public bonds instead of passing new taxes — and to many fiber supporters, the benefits of insanely fast Internet are enough to outweigh the criticisms.

When cities decide to offer fiber-optic Internet themselves, they wind up challenging the interests of cable companies and other existing providers. Assuming the financing and construction goes over without a hitch, the fiber-optic service — which is capable of speeds up to 100 times the national average — effectively becomes a public utility. Customers who sign on with the city must switch away from their old company, and in some cases get a better deal out of it. For $70 a month, residents of Chattanooga, Tenn., get access to speeds of 1 Gbps (1,000 Mbps). That’s way faster than even the highest speeds in many communities served by commercial providers.

Cable companies understandably don’t like that. But their policy of trying to thwart city-led efforts at building broadband now risks running afoul of the FCC. In an ironic twist, the federal court decision striking down the FCC’s net neutrality regulations may have given the agency just the power it needs to stop them.

Until now, the FCC’s authority to regulate broadband has been somewhat ambiguous. In its ruling last month, the D.C. Circuit said the agency isn’t allowed to write prescriptive prohibitions on regulating Internet traffic. But it also explained that the FCC can regulate broadband in other ways, under a section of the Telecommunications Act known at Section 706. This is a perspective even the dissenting Judge Laurence Silberman endorsed in spite of his overall argument that Section 706 doesn’t grant the FCC power to implement the net neutrality regulations at stake in the case.

“Section 706 is a grant of positive regulatory authority,” Silberman wrote in his partial dissent. “The key words obviously are ‘measures that promote competition in the local telecommunications market or other regulating methods that remove barriers to infrastructure investment.’ Those are the words that grant actual authority.”

In a footnote, Silberman went on to highlight municipal broadband projects explicitly, citing state laws (such the one Kansas is now considering) as “a paradigmatic barrier to infrastructure investment” that the FCC could use to invoke Section 706.

Even as industry watchers are trying to determine just how far the FCC can go with Section 706, its authority to act on city-level fiber-optic efforts seems clear. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 February 2014 at 10:12 am

Another example of how business goals conflict with citizen needs

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Just as private prison corporations work hard to keep large numbers of people imprisoned—and ideally a growing number of people imprisoned—so also communications companies want public wifi and broadband crippled or simply unavailable so they can sell the services—thus the frantic effort to defeat the Seattle mayor who was going to provide public broadband to the city.

Take a look at Kansas, whose legislature (at the behest of business) has made it illegal for cities to offer broadband.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 February 2014 at 6:28 pm

The backpack nuclear bomb

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Fascinating story with cool graphics and effects on how the US built a backpack (90 lb) nuclear bomb. It’s in Foreign Affairs and (free) registration is required if you don’t have a login already. Well worth the effort.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 February 2014 at 10:14 am

Posted in Military, Technology

Stupendously bad ideas: Permanent electronic government dossiers on everyone

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It would take a few years, but if you start building a comprehensive dossier on each individual from the time they enter school, so that a Total-Information-Awareness style of database contains gigabytes of data on each person in the US—and so long as you have all that education data and can pull data from other databases, one would also have complete record of fines, arrests, and the like; credit history and current standing; medical data (with “safeguards,” of course); financial information, including tax-return data, bank accounts, loans, and the like…  you see where this is going. The proposal is to build a foundation and start working out how to have such a datastore on everyone.

I don’t think that will end well. That sort of database of dossiers is dystopian.

Aaron Contú writes at AlterNet:

The education sector, long frustrated by transient fads that have failed to uplift decades of sub-par student achievement, thinks it has finally found its knight in shining armor: an omnipresent data archive that will track students from pre-school to graduation, noting every teacher and test score. Then it will tack that trail of data onto a person well after they leave school.

Enthusiasts say they hope the constant tracking will help policy-makers identify the precise factors that make a successful student, and foster the creation of well-informed education policy, while opponents worry that growing intrusiveness will normalize the mass surveillance and obsessive record-keeping of humans foretold in dystopian literature.

The $100 million repository that will catalog all the information is called inBloom, an initiative funded primarily through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and a division of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.

The Department of Education is in the finishing stages of building a system to share student data with colleges and six other state agencies—a program known as “P-20,” which refers to the time span between entrance into pre-kindergarten and the workforce. Some of the other agencies that may have access to the data by 2015 include the Department of Labor, Health and Taxation and Finance, and the offices of Technology and Children and Family Services.

In addition to money from the Gates Foundation, the DOE has received $40 million from state and federal agencies since 2008 to construct the program, which has been spearheaded by Obama’s Race to the Top initiative. It has steadily expanded out of New York into the rest of the country. As USA Weekly reports, “forty-four states are synching data between schools and colleges, and 19 have connected workforce data, according to the Data Quality Campaign.”

“Data is painting a profile of a student that is richer and more valuable than ever before,” said [3] Jim Shelton, a U.S. Education Department official to USA Weekly. He went on to dismiss the invasiveness of the program as a “small price to pay for progress.”

Parent and technology training specialist Brian Wasson has strong reservations: “As this develops, will they decide to use this data for more than research? I don’t buy the rationale for it.”

Written by LeisureGuy

29 January 2014 at 1:29 pm

Oil done well: Norway

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Lisa Margonelli has an excellent article at Pacific Standard:

Oil-exporting countries generally have high rates of poverty, internal conflict, and corruption—a kind of chronic dysfunction known as the resource curse. Not Norway. Europe’s largest oil exporter and the world’s second-largest natural gas exporter has instead engineered a sort of resource blessing. Since oil was discovered there in 1969, Norway has continued to enjoy a healthy democracy and a corruption-free government—while taking its place among the world’s top 10 countries in per capita GDP. If such a thing is possible, Norway has done oil right: pioneering safety and environmental practices, and even squeezing almost twice as much oil from its fields as the rest of the world, extending the life of the country’s economic boom by decades.

Norway’s anti–resource curse is often attributed to exceptionalism: Viking genes or the like. But one secret of its success—maybe the secret—is not Norwegian at all, but a twinkly 77-year-old Iraqi-born oil geologist named Farouk al Kasim.

I met al Kasim in the sparse office where he has worked as a consultant, near the waterfront in the bustling port city of Stavenger, since he retired. Our interview turned into a conversation that turned into dinner at a nearby Chinese restaurant. He has an expressive chortle and a tendency to slap the table when he’s delighted. He started the interview by offering me coffee, cookies, and local strawberries. And by insisting that Norway’s successes are not due to exceptionalism—his own or Norway’s—but to exceptional policies.

On May 28, 1968, a young al Kasim had a few hours to kill before his train left Oslo, so he stopped in at Norway’s Ministry of Industry to ask whether it had a list of the oil companies working in the country. He had gone to Imperial College London on the Iraqi government’s dime, and fairly quickly became one of the top executives at the Iraqi Petroleum Company, overseeing enormous amounts of oil and money. But he and his Norwegian wife wanted better care for their son, who has cerebral palsy, so they relocated to her home country. The day he walked into the ministry, he was welcomed: the staff needed an oil geologist to interpret the results of new drilling tests in the North Sea. For the next three months al Kasim examined seismic studies and data from 13 wells, cross-tabulating and mapping results by hand. By the time he was done, he was convinced Norway owned a doozy of an oil field.

“Norway didn’t know anything about oil,” he told me. But leaders knew about the resource curse; they knew they didn’t want a tsunami of fast money and corporate influence to wash over their neat country. “It scared them,” al Kasim said, and better than most, he could empathize. “I had lived the agonies of being a stooge of imperialism,” he said. From his previous perch, he’d had ample time to watch most of the benefits of Iraqi oil elude the Iraqi people. In the late 1950s and ’60s many Middle Eastern countries had tried to solve oil’s “imperialism” problem by banishing international oil companies and replacing them with national ones. These new petrostates concentrated oil, money, and power in the hands of a few, creating the very definition of path dependency as their economies stagnated. “If you simply replace international oil company monopolies with state owned monopolies, it’s not an improvement,” al Kasim says. As an alternative, he’d spent years pondering how to foster competition between state-owned and international oil companies. Competition, he says, is “the essence of competence.”

In December of 1969, as al Kasim had predicted, . . .

Continue reading. The closing question has quite an impact.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 January 2014 at 12:32 pm

Another look-back-in-amazement post

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I am updating the maps in my Garmin Navigator—I presume they come out with their new editions around the first of each year—and I wondered how I’d explain this to the senior-in-high-school me: the glimpse-of-the-future thing, and that led me to realize the enormous backstory required: I am downloading (?) files (?) via the Internet (??) on my laptop computer (???) and then sending those to my portable GPS (??) device. Imagine starting with this: “Road maps of the future will be very different from those you pick up for free at your gas station.” (And my own “??”: free? Those were highly detailed maps, and good cartography is not cheap. I cannot imagine they would be free today, except, of course, they’ve been replaced.)

With that beginning, how do you explain the difference in 10 minutes or less, to a h.s. senior around the mid-50s?

It’s astonishing how far we’ve gone. Come to think of it, computers and I are about the same age, only they’ve become considerably more spry.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 January 2014 at 12:03 pm

Posted in Daily life, Technology

Doodling and technology

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Everyone, I believe, does from time to time doodle—or that was once the case, when everyone had ready access to notepads and pencils. As we have moved away from paper and pencil to the keyboard and smartphone, I wonder what has happened with doodling. According to the TED talk in this post, a talk given by a woman who has a book on doodling, the activity of doodling aids recall.

I was an inveterate doodler, but in recent years, with a computer constantly at hand, my doodling has pretty much stopped. I wonder whether that’s just me, or whether the omnipresence of keyboards has in fact depressed doodling.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 January 2014 at 9:29 am

Posted in Daily life, Technology

How to build better passwords

with one comment

I got some useful hints from this article. In fact, I’m changing a couple of my passwords as a result—specifically one I developed using the 5-dice method. Note the comments—that’s what induced to me to (for example) separate the individual words in the string with special symbols.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 January 2014 at 11:36 am

Posted in Technology

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