5. Surviving in the Surveillance Society

Sep-07-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: As even casual readers know, I love technology. But as Ani Defranco observed, “Any tool is a weapon if you hold it right.” And a lot of our brave new tools are weapons for others to watch us. Here are some insights into the problem, and a specific suggestion for a solution.

* Your Cellphone Is A Tracking Device That Lets You Make Calls  Cory Doctorow Boing Boing

Cell phones are tracking devices that make phone calls. It’s sad, but it’s true. Which means software solutions don’t always matter. You can have a secure set of tools on your phone, but it doesn’t change the fact that your phone tracks everywhere you go. And the police can potentially push updates onto your phone that backdoor it and allow it to be turned into a microphone remotely, and do other stuff like that. The police can identify everybody at a protest by bringing in a device called an IMSI catcher. It’s a fake cell phone tower that can be built for 1500 bucks. And once nearby, everybody’s cell phones will automatically jump onto the tower, and if the phone’s unique identifier is exposed, all the police have to do is go to the phone company and ask for their information.

* Minority Report and the Surveillance State

Seemingly taking its cue from science fiction, technology has moved so fast in the short time since Minority Report premiered that what once seemed futuristic no longer occupies the realm of science fiction. …Spielberg’s unnerving vision of the future is fast becoming our reality, examples abound

FICTION: In Minority Report, police use holographic data screens, city-wide surveillance cameras, dimensional maps and database feeds to monitor the movements of its citizens.

REALITY: Microsoft, in a partnership with New York City, has developed a crime-fighting system that “will allow police to quickly collate and visualize vast amounts of data from cameras, licence plate readers, 911 calls, police databases and other sources. It will then display the information in real time, both visually and chronologically, allowing investigators to centralize information about crimes as they happen or are reported.”

FICTION: No matter where people go in the world of Minority Report, one’s biometric data precedes them, allowing corporations to tap into their government profile and target them for advertising based on their highly individual characteristics….

 REALITY: Google is presently working on context-based advertising that will use environmental sensors in your cell phone, laptop, etc., to deliver “targeted ads tailored to fit with what you’re seeing and hearing in the real world.” However, long before Google set their sights on context advertising, facial and iris recognition machines were being employed, ostensibly to detect criminals, streamline security checkpoints processes, and facilitate everyday activities. For example, in preparing to introduce such technology in the United States, the American biometrics firm Global Rainmakers Inc. (GRI) turned the city of Leon, Mexico into a virtual police state by installing iris scanners, which can scan the irises of 30-50 people per minute, throughout the city.

* Why You Should Start Using a VPN Lifehacker

You may know what a VPN, or Virtual Private Network, is; you probably don’t use one. You really should be using a VPN, and even if you don’t think so now, at some point in the future you may consider it as important as your internet connection.

When we took at look at your five favourite VPN service providers, we noticed a few things. First, being the “best” is big business for VPN providers, and they’ll fight dirty to be one of them. Second, there are so many VPN providers that it’s difficult to choose a really good one. VPNs are not all created equally, and in this post, we’re going to look at what a VPN is, why you want one, and how to pick the best one for you. Let’s get started.



5. In the Belly of the Zuckerbeast

Aug-31-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: Why Facebook? Because if it were a country it would be the third largest in the world. Because it’s breaking new ground, and that makes it interesting. Because forewarned is forearmed, and even four arms may not be enough to defend yourself.

* Facebook: The Real Presidential Swing State – Technology Review

Facebook and Internet campaign strategies grew up at the same time. In 2003 and early 2004, when Facebook was a new dorm-room plaything, Howard Dean’s presidential campaign pioneered Internet fund-­raising. By 2008, Facebook had crossed the 100-million-user mark and was coming to dominate online social networking; that year, Barack Obama’s campaign wielded a custom social-networking site that helped win the White House  A Facebook cofounder, Chris Hughes, helped build that site.

Now, in 2012, Facebook is central to the upcoming presidential election.

* Facebook Processes More Than 500 Tb Of Data Daily CNET News

Here’s a breakdown of how much data flows through the Facebook machine each day:

  • 2.7 billion likes made daily on and off of the Facebook site
  • 300 million photos uploaded
  • 70,000 queries executed by people and automated systems
  • 500+ terabytes of new data “ingested”

Since Facebook uses this data to build its user experience, it wants teams from across the company — whether they sell ads or build functions — to be able to access any of the data as needed. Parikh said this keeps the creation and improvement of Facebook features as fast as possible.

* 5 Design Tricks Facebook Uses To Affect Your Privacy Decisions  TechCrunch

Cory (boingboing) says, “On TechCrunch, Avi Charkham provides an excellent side-by-side comparison of an older Facebook design and the latest one, showing how the service has moved to minimize the extent to which its users are notified of the privacy “choices” they make when they interact with the service. The Facebook rubric is that people don’t value their privacy (“privacy is dead, get over it,”) and we can tell that because they demonstrate it by using Facebook. But really, Facebook is designed to minimize your understanding of the privacy trades you’re making and your ability to make those trades intelligently.”

* 10 Incredibly Simple Things You Should Be Doing To Protect Your Privacy – Forbes

This post is for you, guy with no iPad password, and for you, girl who stays signed into Gmail on her boyfriend’s computer, and for you, person walking down the street having a loud conversation on your mobile phone about your recent doctor’s diagnosis of that rash thing you have. These are the really, really simple things you should be doing to keep casual intruders from invading your privacy.



7. The Beauty Of Data

Jul-13-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: The geek is strong in me, so I love massaging data. And I am always impressed with the ways that some people can take a complex series of numbers, and represent them visually in a way that makes them easy to comprehend. Here are some lovely pictures, that communicate a lot more than 1000 words each.

* 100 Years Of Earthquakes   Boing Boing

This map of all the world’s recorded earthquakes between 1898 and 2003 is stunning. As you might expect, it also creates a brilliant outline of the plates of the Earth’s crust—especially the infamous “Ring of Fire” around the Pacific Plate.

But the real story—which Smithsonian points out and which was also the first thing I noticed—lies elsewhere. To put it colloquially: Holy shit, you guys, look at all those intraplate earthquakes!

Plate tectonics explains a lot of things, but it doesn’t totally explain why earthquakes (and, in rare cases, extremely large earthquakes) happen in places far from the meeting point of two pieces of crust. There are a few possible explanations out there. We just don’t know yet which one is correct.

* If Wikipedia Were Printed, This Is How Big It Would Be.

* The Art Of GPS: Secret Corpse Flights, Pizza Boy Delivery Routes And The Daily Commute 

These stunning CGI images reveal what the nation looks like from the skies, and how its transport and communication infrastructures work to power the vast nation on a daily basis.

* Stanley Cup Summed Up Vimeo

Animated ambient data visualization of all goals and penalties of the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs.



8. When Experts Fail

Jun-15-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: Never having been able to taste faint hints of grapefruit, lavender, and tobacco in wines, it’s a pleasure to find out that the experts are faking it. A delightful New Yorker article starts off the debunking, followed by evidence that economists don’t know what’s going on, and that back surgeons are confusing coincidence and causation. And on a lighter note, the Nook folks kindle a fire under themselves.

* Does Wine from New Jersey Taste the Same as Wine from France?   The New Yorker

now, in an even more surprising turn of events, another American wine region has performed far better than expected in a blind tasting against the finest French châteaus. Ready for the punch line? The wines were from New Jersey.

The tasting was closely modelled on the 1976 event, featuring the same fancy Bordeaux vineyards, such as Château Mouton Rothschild and Château Haut-Brion. The Jersey entries included bottles from the Heritage Vineyards in Mullica Hill and Unionville Vineyards in Ringoes. The nine judges were French and American wine experts.

The Judgment of Princeton didn’t quite end with a Jersey victory—a French wine was on top in both the red and white categories—but, in terms of the reassurance for those with valuable wine collections, it might as well have. Clos des Mouches only narrowly beat out Unionville Single Vineyard and two other Jersey whites, while Château Mouton Rothschild and Haut-Brion topped Heritage’s BDX. The wines from New Jersey cost, on average, about five per cent as much as their French counterparts. And then there’s the inconsistency of the judges: the scores for that Mouton Rothschild, for instance, ranged from 11 to 19.5. On the excellent blog Marginal Revolution, the economist Tyler Cowen highlights the analysis of the Princeton professor Richard Quand, who found that almost of all the wines were “statistically undistinguishable” from each other. This suggests that, if the blind tasting were held again, a Jersey wine might very well win.

* Why Do We Take Economists So Seriously?  Suzanne Moore The Guardian

It’s the economists, stupid! While we were not waving but drowning in soggy flags, economic stuff was happening. Big stuff, though it could not break through the gooey queen-fest. In the news blackout that was the jubilee, other countries were reporting the meltdown of the Spanish banks, and thus, eventually, the euro. Obama was on the phone to Cameron telling him to do something about Merkel. It’s all pretty dire. It must be for me to understand it, for though I am not an economist, I know what I like. Some sort of stimulus, please. Fiscal will do nicely.

…Why all this panic, though? Aren’t economists in charge of it all? Yes. And this is the problem. These highly skilled people carry on, though they exhibit not only a lack of foresight but an astonishing lack of hindsight. Why on earth are they taken seriously when they keep getting things wrong? We are silenced by some jargon and bogus maths (sorry, probabilities) because we are mostly innumerate and because economic orthodoxy presents itself as a higher faith. 

* Why Science Is Failing Us  Wired Magazine

This hands-off approach to back pain … changed, however, with the introduction of magnetic resonance imaging in the late 1970s. These diagnostic machines use powerful magnets to generate stunningly detailed images of the body’s interior. Within a few years, the MRI machine became a crucial diagnostic tool.

The view afforded by MRI led to a new causal story: Back pain was the result of abnormalities in the spinal discs, those supple buffers between the vertebrae. The MRIs certainly supplied bleak evidence: Back pain was strongly correlated with seriously degenerated discs, which were in turn thought to cause inflammation of the local nerves. Consequently, doctors began administering epidurals to quiet the pain, and if it persisted they would surgically remove the damaged disc tissue.

But the vivid images were misleading. It turns out that disc abnormalities are typically not the cause of chronic back pain. The presence of such abnormalities is just as likely to be correlated with the absence of back problems, as a 1994 study published in The New England Journal of Medicine showed. The researchers imaged the spinal regions of 98 people with no back pain. The results were shocking: Two-thirds of normal patients exhibited “serious problems” like bulging or protruding tissue. In 38 percent of these patients, the MRI revealed multiple damaged discs. Nevertheless, none of these people were in pain. The study concluded that, in most cases, “the discovery of a bulge or protrusion on an MRI scan in a patient with low back pain may frequently be coincidental.”

* Nook Version Of War And Peace Turns The Word “Kindled” Into “Nookd” Ars Technica

In one of the truly bizarre incidents we’ve seen out of the e-book publishing world, a translation of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace for Barnes & Noble’s Nook platform has replaced all mentions of the word “kindled” with “Nookd.”



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