Later On

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

FBI says “Trust us” on following drone rules

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Unfortunately, the FBI, based on its own actions, does not merit trust. Shawn Musgrave writes at Motherboard:

After months of fighting against disclosure of its drone use, the FBI has committed to following White House guidelines issued earlier this month. There’s just one catch: Despite repeatedly refusing to release privacy impact assessments regarding its drone use—which legally must be public by default—the Bureau claims to already be in line with the president’s standards, which include a public disclosure timeline and broad principles for protecting civil liberties.

In short, the FBI says it’s following all of the government’s drone guidelines, but is incapable or unwilling to provide any sort of proof.

On February 15, President Obama declared via presidential memo that all federal agencies must hardwire privacy protections into drone policies.

“Particularly in light of the diverse potential uses of [unmanned aerial systems] in the [national airspace system], expected advancements in UAS technologies, and the anticipated increase in UAS use in the future,” reads the memo, “the federal government shall take steps to ensure that privacy protections and policies relative to UAS continue to keep pace with these developments.”

For starters, federal agencies must scrutinize their drone procedures every three years at minimum—and before deploying any new drone technology—“to ensure that privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties are protected.”

Drone use

Such policies must limit information collection to an “authorized purpose,” cap personal data retention to 180 days and prohibit dissemination outside the agency. There are exceptions to the latter two provisions, again, for an “authorized mission” and “authorized purpose” of the agency. The same goes for records covered by the Privacy Act of 1974—which has its own disclosure requirements—or another law.

Agencies must account for oversight, audit and training procedures around drone privacy, as well.

The directive’s standalone transparency section, while exempting information that “could reasonably be expected to compromise law enforcement or national security,” requires each agency to keep the public informed about drone use. In this vein, agencies must publish a yearly summary of deployments, “to include a brief description of types or categories of missions flown, and the number of times the agency provided assistance to other agencies.”

For its part, the FBI says that its drone program is well within the guidelines.

“The FBI’s use of unmanned aerial systems is in accordance with the president’s directive,” wrote Special Agent Shanna Daniels of the FBI’s Office of Public Affairs in an email sent earlier this week.

Notably, the FBI’s statement came in response to a yes-or-no question posed two weeks ago as to whether the Bureau has completed privacy impact assessments around drones. Another FBI spokesperson declined to comment at the time, and this week’s response from Daniels does not address the PIA issue.

Presumably, that the FBI is in “accordance” with the new presidential memo holds that the agency must not only confirm its drone protocols are up to code, but also disclose information it has long fought to withhold from public view.

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 February 2015 at 12:47 pm

Posted in Law Enforcement

New novel, well reviewed: Some Other Town

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Full disclosure: Beth Collison, the author, is a friend whom I’ve known for 35 years or more. We met in Iowa City, at Prairie Lights bookshop. And now her first novel, Some Other Town, has been released to some acclaim. NPR writes:

Five years before the opening of Elizabeth Collison’s debut novel Some Other Town, Margaret Lydia Benning comes to a small, unnamed Midwestern town to study art. She has talent in spades: grim visions that manifest in surreal paintings — “A woman in pink diaphanous tulle, wild boars where her legs should be. Bloated bodies in rivers. Eyeless white heads. Severed hearts wet and still beating.” — that excite her mentors and draw acclaim within her community. Then, just like that, the visions disappear. Her work slows down, then stops altogether. When her classmates move away, she stays.

Now in her late 20s, she’s an assistant editor of design at a small publishing house outside of town. The job is comfortable. The house specializes in early reader books and is fattened on grant money, headquartered in an old tuberculosis sanatorium, and populated with a strange bunch of coworkers: One of them speaks almost entirely through a puppet with cereal bowls for a mouth. Another is obsessed with a ghost that she believes haunts the building and sabotages their work, turning sentences like “Joe Trout went off to his room” into “Joe Trout went off to his doom.”

At home, Margaret mostly watches television, when she’s not navigating around an eccentric elderly neighbor who steals things from her yard, enters uninvited, and sets fire to her possessions. She is not content, exactly, but complacent — and aware of it. “[These are] not the new sort of horizons optimists wake up to, oh look a new horizon,” she says of her life. “Rather the comfortable same old horizons, boundaries on every side.”

Then, there is a rift in her world, a chance meeting at a party with a visiting art professor named Ben. They become friends, and then more than friends, and then he disappears. The novel begins after he has vanished, and veers between her workday and home life and dreams, and her recollections of their meeting, their affair. She resolves to find him, struggling through the molasses of her days and the gravity of his memory. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 February 2015 at 12:24 pm

Posted in Books

Fascinating video

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Written by LeisureGuy

27 February 2015 at 12:18 pm

Posted in Video

Interesting and credible theory on Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370

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Jeff Wise writes in New York magazine:

The unsettling oddness was there from the first moment, on March 8, when Malaysia Airlines announced that a plane from Kuala Lumpur bound for Beijing, Flight 370, had disappeared over the South China Sea in the middle of the night. There had been no bad weather, no distress call, no wreckage, no eyewitness accounts of a fireball in the sky—just a plane that said good-bye to one air-traffic controller and, two minutes later, failed to say hello to the next. And the crash, if it was a crash, got stranger from there.

My yearlong detour to Planet MH370 began two days later, when I got an email from an editor at Slate asking if I’d write about the incident. I’m a private pilot and science writer, and I wrote about the last big mysterious crash, of Air France 447 in 2009. My story ran on the 12th. The following morning, I was invited to go on CNN. Soon, I was on-air up to six times a day as part of its nonstop MH370 coverage.

There was no intro course on how to be a cable-news expert. The Town Car would show up to take me to the studio, I’d sign in with reception, a guest-greeter would take me to makeup, I’d hang out in the greenroom, the sound guy would rig me with a mike and an earpiece, a producer would lead me onto the set, I’d plug in and sit in the seat, a producer would tell me what camera to look at during the introduction, we’d come back from break, the anchor would read the introduction to the story and then ask me a question or maybe two, I’d answer, then we’d go to break, I would unplug, wipe off my makeup, and take the car 43 blocks back uptown. Then a couple of hours later, I’d do it again. I was spending 18 hours a day doing six minutes of talking.

As time went by, CNN winnowed its expert pool down to a dozen or so regulars who earned the on-air title “CNN aviation analysts”: airline pilots, ex-government honchos, aviation lawyers, and me. We were paid by the week, with the length of our contracts dependent on how long the story seemed likely to play out. The first couple were seven-day, the next few were 14-day, and the last one was a month. We’d appear solo, or in pairs, or in larger groups for panel discussions—whatever it took to vary the rhythm of perpetual chatter.1

I soon realized the germ of every TV-news segment is: “Officials say X.” The validity of the story derives from the authority of the source. The expert, such as myself, is on hand to add dimension or clarity. Truth flowed one way: from the official source, through the anchor, past the expert, and onward into the great sea of viewerdom.

What made MH370 challenging to cover was, first, that the event was unprecedented and technically complex and, second, that the officials  were remarkably untrustworthy. For instance, the search started over the South China Sea, naturally enough, but soon after, Malaysia opened up a new search area in the Andaman Sea, 400 miles away. Why? Rumors swirled that military radar had seen the plane pull a 180. The Malaysian government explicitly denied it, but after a week of letting other countries search the South China Sea, the officials admitted that they’d known about the U-turn from day one.

Of course, nothing turned up in the Andaman Sea, either. But in London, scientists for a British company called Inmarsat that provides telecommunications between ships and aircraft realized its database contained records of transmissions between MH370 and one of its satellites for the seven hours after the plane’s main communication system shut down. Seven hours! Maybe it wasn’t a crash after all—if it were, it would have been the slowest in history.

These electronic “handshakes” or “pings” contained no actual information, but by analyzing the delay between the transmission and reception of the signal— called the burst timing offset, or BTO—Inmarsat could tell how far the plane had been from the satellite and thereby plot an arc along which the plane must have been at the moment of the final ping. That arc stretched some 6,000 miles, but if the plane was traveling at normal airliner speeds, it would most likely have wound up around the ends of the arc—either in Kazakhstan and China in the north or the Indian Ocean in the south. My money was on Central Asia. But CNN quoted unnamed U.S.-government sources saying that the plane had probably gone south, so that became the dominant view.Other views were circulating, too, however.Fig. 5 A Canadian pilot named Chris Goodfellow went viral withhis theory that MH370 suffered a fire that knocked out its communications gear and diverted from its planned route in order to attempt an emergency landing. Keith Ledgerwood, another pilot, proposed that hijackers had taken the plane and avoided detection by ducking into the radar shadow of another airliner. Amateur investigators pored over satellite images, insisting that wisps of cloud or patches of shrubbery were the lost plane.

Then: breaking news! . . .

Continue reading.

Read the whole thing. Good photos. Plus he really does have an interesting argument. Later in the article:

It’s not possible to spoof the BFO data on just any plane. The plane must be of a certain make and model, equipped with a certain make and model of satellite-communications equipment, and flying a certainkind of route in a region covered by a certain kind of Inmarsat satellite. If you put all the conditions together, it seemed unlikely that any aircraft would satisfy them. Yet MH370 did.

(He provides the specifics for each criterion.)

Written by LeisureGuy

27 February 2015 at 10:54 am

GOP presidential candidates clueless about ISIS

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Scott Walker famously states that if he can defeat 100,000 union protesters, he will have no trouble with ISIS. (Note: the union protesters lacked artillery support nor were they armed. It’s unclear from Walker’s statement whether he actually knows what ISIS is, but he apparently believes that if you strip them of their bargaining rights, that will do the trick.)

Marc Rubio is neck-and-neck with Walker in the cluelessness sweepstakes. As Kevin Drum points out:

Steve Benen points me to Marco Rubio today. Here is Rubio explaining how his ISIS strategy would be different from President Obama’s:

“ISIS is a radical Sunni Islamic group. They need to be defeated on the ground by a Sunni military force with air support from the United States,” Rubio said. “Put together a coalition of armed regional governments to confront [ISIS] on the ground with U.S. special forces support, logistical support, intelligence support and the most devastating air support possible,” he added, “and you will wipe ISIS out.”

Hmmm. As Benen points out, this sounds awfully similar to what Obama is already doing. Local forces? Check. Coalition of regional governments? Check. Logistical support? Check. Air support? Check.

But there is one difference. Rubio thinks we need a Sunni military force on the ground to defeat ISIS. The Iraqi army, of course, is mostly Shiite. So apparently Rubio thinks we should ditch the Iraqi military and put together a coalition of ground forces from neighboring countries. But this would be….who? Yemen is out. Syria is out. That leaves Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, and Turkey. Does Rubio think these countries are willing to put together a ground force to invade Iraq? Does he think the Iraqi government would allow it?

It is a mystery. What exactly does Marco Rubio think?

Written by LeisureGuy

27 February 2015 at 10:46 am

Western theme: Stirling Texas on Fire, Vie-Long Horsehair, Stetson aftershave—and a GEM

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SOTD 27 Feb 2015

Very fine shave. Texas on Fire yielded an excellent lather. I forgot to time it, but I would guess the loading was perhaps 2-3 seconds longer because of adding a little water twice as I loaded the Vie-Long horsehair brush. The fragrance is very definitely smoke.

I was asked about SE razors, so I thought I’d bring out one today: the GEM G-Bar, as it’s commonly called—I have no idea of the actual model name. The angle is right when the flat head is held against the skin. One drawback: more frequent rinsing is required: you can’t just flip to the other side. Another drawback: very few choices of brand of blade.

That said, I did indeed get an excellent shave. I think I have the Blue Star GEM blades, but no indication on the container. Loading is a snap—that is, the top snaps down to hold the blade, rather than a threaded connection.

Three passes, rinse off the smoke (as is the case with almost all lather, the fragrance is to provide enjoyment during the shave and does not linger), and a then a good splash of Stetson Classic to finish the job.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 February 2015 at 7:47 am

Posted in Shaving

The right’s fear of education

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A very interesting Salon article on how a conservative ex-military guy gradually became a liberal as he became more educated—doubtless an indication of why the GOP hates education. But the details of his transition are worth reading.

The whole article reminded me of this comment to an earlier blog post on italic handwriting. Italic handwriting is occasionally taught in schools as the standard cursive handwriting (italic is also known as “chancery cursive”), and Kate Gladstone commented on one view of education. From the comment:

In my experience and observation, when a school discontinues italic after a thoroughgoing adoption, this happens because the originally trained cohort of teachers has neglected to train successors, and/or because the school administrators have stopped requiring new teachers to learn and use the school’s handwriting program as a condition of their employment. In at least some cases, teachers’ or administrators’ softening in this regard has been traced to parents who had felt embarrassed that their own handwriting looked bad next to that of their children.

One irate mother said to me, after hiring me to work with her son on handwriting:

The problem with italic is precisely that it looks so legible, so confident and competent, If you put my eight-year-old’s handwriting nowadays next to mine, anyone looking at both of our writings would imagine that he is the adult and that I am the child. It is disrespectful to parents, teachers, and other adults to turn out children who write better than most adults, and who know it. It is wrong to have put me in a situation where my son may be tempted to ‘look down’ in any way on my handwriting. The fact that his handwriting is, objectively, actually better than mine cannot be a justification for this to have been allowed. The adults in a family or community — NOT the children — need to be the ones who can be ‘looked up to’ in every way: handwriting included. It is particularly obnoxious that his handwriting is not only better than real [sic] handwriting, it is better at faster speeds. This makes it impossible for him to go along with the important cultural truth that, in our culture, cursive is agreed to be the fastest handwriting. Whether italic is good or bad, italic is bad because it is against the culturally accepted truth and it changes that truth.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 February 2015 at 7:04 pm

Posted in Education


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