Tag Archives: technology

YesWeScan

Now Scoping Americans

(Reposted, as it disappeared from the site.)

We are relaxing to the idea of every communication between us being monitored by a government that considers the other political party to be “enemies.”  (Isn’t it odd that President Obama will talk about compromises with Iranian jihadists, but not with Republicans?)

As has been revealed recently, NSA has off-shore sites making their gathering of email lists from Americans technically legal. So, despite recent court activity and supposed “executive actions,” this would not be affected: Continue reading

Bad Outlook on Privacy

To avoid government snooping into the contents of emails, many people use encryption. But if you use Microsoft Outlook, there’s a problem with this: Microsoft helpfully saves the unencrypted version of the email for the NSA before doing the encryption for you, according to this UK article:

The documents show that:

  • Microsoft helped the NSA to circumvent its encryption to address concerns that the agency would be unable to intercept web chats on the new Outlook.com portal;
  • The agency already had pre-encryption stage access to email on Outlook.com, including Hotmail;
  • The company worked with the FBI this year to allow the NSA easier access via Prism to its cloud storage service SkyDrive, which now has more than 250 million users worldwide;
  • Microsoft also worked with the FBI’s Data Intercept Unit to “understand” potential issues with a feature in Outlook.com that allows users to create email aliases;
  • In July last year, nine months after Microsoft bought Skype, the NSA boasted that a new capability had tripled the amount of Skype video calls being collected through Prism;
  • Material collected through Prism is routinely shared with the FBI and CIA, with one NSA document describing the program as a “team sport”.

[Defeating] Your Privacy is Our Priority — Microsoft’s privacy statement, corrected. They claim that they are resisting the NSA/Obama administration intrusions — but they also claimed that none of the above was happening.

===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

dna-double-helix-marc-phares

Soft storage

This article caught my attention, and combines my interests in bioscience, computer science,  and Shakespeare:

London, January 24 (ANI): Researchers have downloaded all 154 of Shakespeare’s sonnets on to synthetic DNA in a breakthrough that could lead to major advances in computer storage.

Scientists were then able to decode the information and reproduce the words of the Bard with complete accuracy.

The same technique made it possible to store a 26 second excerpt from Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have A Dream’ speech and a photo of the Cambridgeshire laboratory where the work took place.

Researchers were also able to turn a copy of Watson and Crick’s paper describing the nature of DNA into genetic code.

This opens up possibilities for non-powered storage of extremely high density — “Library of Congress in a teaspoon”-type density.

Now, how small can the reading/writing apparatus be?  This sounds like a job for nanoengineering, and of course it has already been that.

===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

The Death of Music

Or at least, the death of the music industry is fort0ld in this article.  While the author perhaps overstates the case in some respects, the concerns certainly seem valid to me. And it doesn’t take the usual angle of “the kids’ music is terrible” — he comes at this from a different direction.

A good friend is in this now-suffering industry, and described the article as spot on.

There’s another effect not quite described here. In previous times — say, pre-radio — music was something you heard at home if you were lucky enough to live in a home with a piano (or guitar or fiddle, which seemed more culture-specific). When you were able to hear music professionally performed, it was a Big Deal, and memorable.

Now it is trivial; music seems to be relegated to simply the background noise of most people’s lives.  People who decades ago might have spent significant money making their high-end audio equipment as distortion-free as humanly (and technically) possible now listed to low-quality music on YouTube recordings through cheap speakers.  And even though iTunes and similar systems can deliver high-fidelity music data, the audio environment of the car, the street, or the office does not lend itself to absorbed contemplation of excellent music.

We are missing something, here, and I think it is symptomatic of larger effects.

===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

High Voice

I was asked yesterday about the “surly bonds of Earth” reference in the post about Neil Armstrong’s death.  There is indeed a story behind that and a very unusual young man.

John Gillespie McGee Jr. was born in Shanghai to a US ambassador, thus was American. His initial school was in Shanghai, “The American School” there — no doubt he was fluent in multiple languages by the time he left around age 10. As a boy in the US in the Rugby School, he became fascinated with poetry. And when war broke out in Europe, he was ready — but the US was not. In 1940, he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force, and wound up eventually in the UK flying Supermarine Spitfires protecting London from bombing attacks.

On December 8, 1941, the US joined World War II officially after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Three days later, McGee and two squad mates were diving together through an opening in the clouds near London, only to have a trainee suddenly appear in their path.  In the collision, McGee’s aircraft was badly damaged, and he was unable to get out before the craft struck the ground. Witnesses suggested that he’d just gotten the canopy open.  He was 19.

Weeks before, across the back of a letter to home, McGee had scrawled this text after a particularly inspiring flight: Continue reading

The Cats Trying to Kill Curiosity

I was delighted, as were millions, by the successful touchdown of the Curiosity rover on the surface of Mars.  It was a monumental achievement, of equipment working right (thanks to tremendous engineering and science) despite nearly a year’s exposure to extraordinary conditions and extremes in rapid succession. But as Sam Rayburn (48th, 50th, and 52nd Speaker of the House) notes, “Any jackass can kick down a barn. It takes a good carpenter to build one.” We’ve seen NASA in the role of “good carpenters” here. Who’s the “jackass”? Continue reading

Mars the Record of Nuclear Power

Tonight — 10:31 Pacific Time Sunday, or 1:31 AM Eastern on Monday — the Curiosity rover will hopefully touch down safely on the surface of Mars.  The events actually take place about 14 minutes in advance, but we cannot know the results until the radio communications get from Mars to Earth. The vehicle is big. While the two famous rovers Opportunity and Spirit were roughly grocery-cart sized, this one is more like an automobile. It has tremendously greater science capability — and it is too big, and needs too much power, to operate from solar panels.  So it does not: Curiosity is nuclear-powered. Continue reading