Later On

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

Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

The Supreme Court protection of your cellphone from warrantless searches does not apply to the US Border Patrol

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The Border Patrol continues to be a troubled (and troubling) agency. Brian Fung reports in the Washington Post:

It was supposed to be a simple day trip to Niagara Falls. Little did he know the visit might land him in prison for the next 100 years.

Ali Saboonchi was returning from the Canadian side of the falls with his wife in 2012 when he was detained by customs agents at the U.S. border. The agents eventually let the Maryland man go, but not before seizing his electronic devices: an iPhone, an Android phone and a USB flash drive.

At a special facility in Baltimore nearly 400 miles away, officers from Immigration and Customs Enforcement made a copy of the drives and performed what a judge later called an invasive forensic search using “specialized software.”

In the devices’ storage was what U.S. officials say is evidence of a plot to violate U.S.-Iranian trade restrictions, according to federal court documents. Now Saboonchi, who was allegedly involved in the plot, faces four counts of illegal export and one count of conspiracy.

The case against Saboonchi, a U.S. citizen, opens a new chapter in the ongoing debate about digital privacy and law enforcement just weeks after a major Supreme Court ruling held that police must obtain a warrant before accessing a suspect’s cellphone. But it also draws attention to the nearly unlimited ability of border patrol agents to perform warrantless searches of Americans’ digital lives, based on little more than a hunch.

“It truly is a suspicion-less search policy,” said Catherine Crump, an assistant law professor at the University of California—Berkeley and a former attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union. “When you cross the border, the U.S. government asserts the right to search for no reason at all.”

The type of search U.S. officials performed on Saboonchi’s devices is known as a “forensic search” — a more comprehensive hunt for content than what a cursory, manual search at the moment of detention might yield. The process is intended to reveal information on the device such as e-mails, photos, videos, contacts, call records or other data.

Such an invasive search can be performed on virtually anyone entering the United States, according to legal scholars, based on an exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement. While the border search doctrine is meant to help U.S. officials secure contraband and halt criminal activity, there are realistically few limits on what officers can examine, and how. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2014 at 11:00 am

Self-reflexive metapost on why we’re here (on-line)

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Interesting. In my meme-oriented view, the internet would be an emergent phenomenon of memes, drawing in more and speeding up their evolution. And, of course, the most successful of those memes would (by definition) capture the attention of the greatest number of people. That’s quite a fertile environment for meme evolution—and of course it’s attractive by (more or less) necessity/definition: the most successful memes are the most attractive, so the Internet, which allows more or less free evolution, would quickly (in human terms) evolve to a high level of addictiveness.

Or maybe not. But it’s clear that the entire Internet is a creation built of memes. That’s what the whole thing is—nothing but memes (in the Richard Dawkins sense). And it’s clear that the Internet (i.e., the memes that comprise it) is evolving rapidly—just look at the Internet’s underlying technology as one group of its memes and see the rapid advance there—and that’s mainly, I would think, because the environment is uncontrolled. That is, it’s not a medium where the big content makers totally predominate: we are all on-line, and networks have developed that quickly draw the attention of the Internet denizens  to things of greater interest (thus the origins of its addictive nature). Those networks are all the various link-exchange sites of whatever level—even news stories now include many hyperlinks. So this network of connections surfaces things more quickly, thus allowing more rapid memetic evolution.

It all sort of hangs together, doesn’t it? What we’re seeing and a part of (and a part of us if I’m right that one’s identity is constructed from memes) is a meme Cambrian Explosion.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 July 2014 at 2:16 pm

Weakening security to give NSA more power

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NSA’s work to make cryptographic systems insecure is well-known—NIST specifically recommends against one encryption method that NSA weakened. And now the intelligence community (NSA) wants to weaken security social media, instant messaging, and chat services so that they are easier to wiretap. In our efforts to become more secure, we are becoming less secure.

Ellen Nakashima writes in the Washington Post:

Law enforcement and intelligence agencies want to be able to wiretap social media, instant message and chat services. But building in ways to wiretap these kinds of communication can lead to less secure systems, say technical experts, including former National Security Agency officials.

Some security experts suggest hacking as an alternative, but other experts – including FBI officials — say that method poses serious risks.

Right now, only phone companies, broadband providers and some Internet phone services are required by law to build in intercept capabilities, but the government wants to extend that requirement to online communication providers.

“From a purely technical perspective, when you add this sort of law enforcement access feature to a system, you weaken it,” said Steven M. Bellovin, a computer science professor at Columbia University. “First, it creates an access point that previously didn’t exist. Second, you’ve added complexity to the system … and most security problems are due to buggy code.”

In 1994, the government passed the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, which mandated that phone companies make their systems wiretap-ready.

Richard “Dickie” George, a former NSA technical director until he retired in September 2011, recalled how in the mid-1990s, “in the early days of CALEA,” the NSA tested several commercial phone systems with intercept capabilities and “we found problems in every one.” Making the systems hack-proof, he said, “is really, really hard.”

He said, however, that over the years, “We’ve come a long way.”

Susan Landau, a faculty member in the Worcester Polytechnic Institute Department of Social Science and Policy Studies in Massachusetts, said that phone services are more complicated now — and so the switches are, too. “It’s highly doubtful,” she said, “that the new switches are secure.”

The United States, she said, “has a lot more to lose by building ways into communications networks than it has to gain, because those ways last for a very long time, and we enable others who couldn’t afford to build [backdoors] in themselves with ways to get into our communications systems.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 July 2014 at 9:29 pm

Best calendar apps for the iPhone

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Written by LeisureGuy

25 July 2014 at 1:31 pm

Posted in Daily life, Technology

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:


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


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