Category Archives: Technology

F-104 Will Launch Satelites

What an amazing journey this aircraft has had.

The F-104, designed just after the first jet-vs-jet air combat in The Korean War, was created to fly as fast as possible, hurtling past all the previous speed records. Less than a decade after test pilot Chuck Yeager first broke the speed of sound, it became the first jet to fly more than twice the speed of sound.

On top of a military career which lasted nearly 50 years, the F-104 found itself serving as an experimental testbed – a rocket-powered spacecraft stand-in that allowed pilots to practice the kind of rocket-thrust manoeuvring astronauts would use to control a spacecraft.

Now, some 60 years after the prototype first flew, the F-104 has found another role – as the launch vehicle for a new generation of tiny satellites.

[…]

Cubecab plans to launch very small satellites – known as cubesats – using a rocket that weighs a similar amount. It’s much smaller, and therefore cheaper, than any other launch  method currently available.

How will CubeCab launch these tiny satellites? Simple – they’ll use Starfighters.

Cubecab will strap its lightweight rockets, each carrying a satellite weighing around 10kg, on to the kind of underwing ‘pylons’ usually used to fire missiles. And Starfighters Inc, a Florida-based company which still flies a handful of F-104s, will take their pint-sized payloads up to the edge of the stratosphere and fire them into orbit.

State should standardize access to police body cam videos

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. Actually, it was online yesterday, but I was busy. Here you go:

Technology has always pushed the boundaries of culture and it often takes time for the law to catch up. As body cameras become more common for police, the management of that footage has largely been left to individual law enforcement agencies. The Wisconsin State Assembly has passed a good bill to govern the public’s access to law enforcement body cam footage that the state Senate and governor should quickly enact into law.

The use of body cams by law enforcement has been expanding mainly due to the public’s pressure to do so. Americans grant a lot of power in our police and extend a lot of trust that they will use that power appropriately on our behalf. But that trust is not absolute and in the wake of a series of high profile incidents where a law enforcement officer killed a citizen under questionable circumstances, many members of the general public pushed for police to wear body cams to help discern the truth in such incidents.

On the other side of the coin, many law enforcement officers asked to use body cams under the belief that while a body cam video might indict a cop doing something illegally, it might also exonerate a cop who is wrongly being accused of committing a crime. Now that many law enforcement agencies are using body cams, the results are predictably varied. What we are finding is that the body cam footage of controversial incidents rarely conclusively show the “truth,” and a jolting video rarely quells the controversy.

While the use of body cam footage may not be the antidote to controversy that many had hoped, body cams have become a useful tool in the routine business of law enforcement. The question remains: now that we have thousands of law enforcement officers going about their work while recording themselves and all of the people around them, who is allowed to see those recordings?

In general, the video recorded by law enforcement’s body cams are public records. That means that upon request, the law enforcement agency must give that video to anyone who asks unless there is a compelling government interest not to do so. Our common law has always set a fairly high bar for withholding public documents, so the end result is that 95 percent of requests for police body cam video are granted.

The presents a problem in balancing the public’s right to know with the individual’s right to privacy and protection under the Fourth Amendment. While policies for when law enforcement officers activate their body cams vary, most of them are recording whenever they are engaging a member of the public for any reason. This means that even when an officer is engaging a citizen who has not committed a crime, which is the vast majority of the time, that engagement may be recorded and released on the internet for everyone to see.

For example, if an officer responds to an elderly person’s fall in his or her home, that could be recorded and released. If an officer responds to a woman who was raped, that encounter could be recorded and released. If an officer helps a person who slid into a ditch, that could be recorded and released. While some of these incidents are benign, releasing the video of the encounter could be embarrassing for the citizen, or worse, used by someone to harass or further traumatize a victim of a crime.

Rep. Jesse Kremer’s (R-Kewaskum) bill seeks to set some reasonable standards for when law enforcement body cams must be released and when they should be kept confidential. Under the bill, footage would be considered an open record and available to the public if it was taken in a public place and involved a death, assault, arrest or search. If one of those actions occurred in a place where a person had a reasonable expectation of privacy, then the footage could only be released if all of the people involved agree.

Under Kremer’s bill, police body cam footage would still be available for any legal action, civil or criminal, but only footage of actual or suspected criminal behavior could be released to the public. This strikes a reasonable balance that allows the public to continue to have general oversight of police in the most serious encounters, but protects the public from malcontents using police videos for harassment, bullying, preying, or just feeding their creepy voyeurism.

This bill was passed on a bipartisan voice vote in the Assembly and now sits in the Senate awaiting action. The Senate should pick up Kremer’s torch and carry it to Gov. Walker’s desk.

Engineering Wisconsin’s Roads for Autonomous Vehicles

Foxconn is pushing Wisconsin to the forefront of technology and innovation.

Spurred by Foxconn Technology Group and its plans for a mega-factory in Racine County, state highway planners are studying the possibility of including special lanes for driverless vehicles on I-94.

Should that come to pass — and at this point it is only something being contemplated — it would put Wisconsin in the vanguard of what many believe will be a key part of transportation in the future.

Driverless cars have been developed and are being tested, but there are no highway lanes dedicated to so-called autonomous vehicles, a spokesman with the U.S. Department of Transportation said.

[…]

One possibility, Sheehy said, would be driverless lanes between the Foxconn plant and Milwaukee’s Mitchell International Airport as a way to move supplies and products to and from the factory.

He said the fact that Foxconn executives brought up the use of autonomous vehicles indicated the vision the company is bringing to the project.

“We’re thinking about two years down the road; they’re thinking 20 years down the road,” Sheehy said.

Facebook Trials Program to Combat Revenge Porn

This seems like it will not end well.

Facebook is testing a system that allows users to message themselves their nude photos in an effort to combat so-called revenge porn.

It will store a “fingerprint” of images to prevent any copies of them being shared by disgruntled ex-lovers.

The trial is in Australia, where studies suggest one in five women aged 18-45 may have had image-based abuse.

But one expert says there will still be problems outside Facebook and related sites such as WhatsApp and Instagram.

Facebook said it looked forward “to getting feedback and learning” from the trial.

Drones at Work

Doing the work Americans won’t do?

It could be a scene from Blade Runner 2049; the flying drone hovers in the warehouse aisle, its spinning rotors filling the cavernous space with a buzzing whine.

It edges close to the packages stacked on the shelf and scans them using onboard optical sensors, before whizzing off to its next assignment.

But this is no sci-fi film, it’s a warehouse in the US – one of around 250,000 throughout the country, many gargantuan in size: retail giant Walmart’s smallest warehouse, for example, is larger than 17 football fields put together.

And these automated drones are now doing the jobs humans – on foot, or operating fork-lift trucks and mechanical lifts – used to do: and they’re doing them more cheaply and more accurately.

Layoffs at Tesla

That stinks.

Tesla has fired at least 400 employees this week, including associates, team leaders and supervisors, a former employee told Reuters on Friday.

The dismissals were a result of a company-wide annual review, Tesla said in an emailed statement, without confirming the number of employees leaving the company.

‘It’s about 400 people ranging from associates to team leaders to supervisors. We don’t know how high up it went,’ said the former employee, who worked on the assembly line and did not want to be identified.

Tesla Inc fired about 400 employees this week, including associates, team leaders and supervisors, a former employee told Reuters on Friday

Though Tesla cited performance as the reason for the firings, the source told Reuters he was fired in spite of never having been given a bad review.

Tesla is an innovative company that is pushing the boundaries of culture and technology. It is also a company that consistently fails to meet expectations, is propped up by taxpayers, and is apparently very poorly managed. It would be nice to see a better managed company acquire them, their patents, and move it forward.

We’re Listening

And this is why, despite the fact that I love technology and am a certified geek, I will not have one of these kinds of devices in my home.

A major flaw has been detected in the newly-unveiled Google Home Mini speaker that allows it to secretly record conversations without users knowing.

Last week, Google showed off its next-generation smart speakers at an event in San Francisco. Following the event, it sent members of the press home with a review unit of the Google Home Mini, expected to launch on October 19.

Android Police tech blogger and founder Artem Russakovskii was the first to discover a bug in the software used by those devices. After using the gadget, he went to his Google (GOOG)activity account page and noticed it was populated with audio clips recorded in his home.

The Google Home Mini saved recordings at times when the wake word “OK Google” wasn’t used. (A wake word typically triggers smart devices like Google Home and the Amazon Echo to start listening to your verbal commands).

AP Obtains Recording of Embassy Audio Attack

Wow. It seems clear that it was a deliberate attack.

Washington (CNN)A new audio recording said to capture what was heard by some US embassy workers amid a series of attacks on American diplomats in Cuba is adding another layer of intrigue around the mysterious incidents that sickened at least 22 US diplomats and family members.

The recording — obtained by The Associated Press and released on Thursday — is the first publicly reported audio sample said to be related to attacks that, according to a US official, may have involved the use of an acoustic device.
The device was so sophisticated, it was outside the range of audible sound, the official said. And it was so damaging, the source said, that one US diplomat now needs to use a hearing aid.
But what remains unknown is what kind of device may have been used, where exactly it was placed, and who put it there.

Unsent Text Serves as Last Will and Testament

Fascinating.

A court in Australia has accepted an unsent, draft text message on a dead man’s mobile phone as an official will.

The 55-year-old man had composed a text message addressed to his brother, in which he gave “all that I have” to his brother and nephew.

The message was found in the drafts folder on the man’s phone after he took his own life last year .

Brisbane Supreme Court ruled that the wording of the text indicated that the man intended it to act as his will.

In the message, the man gave details of how to access his bank account and where he had hidden money in his house.

“Put my ashes in the back garden,” he wrote. “A bit of cash behind TV and a bit in the bank.”

According to ABC News, the man’s wife applied to manage his assets and argued that the text message was not valid as a will because it was never sent.

Typically, for a will to be valid in Queensland, it must be written and signed by two witnesses.

As technology evolves, so does everyone’s jurisprudence.

Frankly, I agree with the wife. The fact that he killed himself is relevant. If he met an untimely demise, then perhaps an unsent text would be relevant. But given the fact that he chose the moment of his own death, his unwillingness to send the text first indicates that he didn’t intend for it to be his final word.

Equifax Failed to Patch Known Vulnerability

Yikes.

Equifax was alerted to the breach by the U.S. Homeland Security Department on March 9, Smith said in the testimony, but it was not patched.

On March 15, Equifax’s information security department ran scans that should have identified any systems that were vulnerable to the software issue but did not, the testimony said.

As a result, “the vulnerability remained in an Equifax web application much longer than it should have,” Smith said. “It was this unpatched vulnerability that allowed hackers to access personal identifying information.”

It’s one thing to get hacked. It’s quite another to know about it and refuse to take basic countermeasures for weeks on end.

Bill Climbs for Volkswagon

Ouch.

The diesel emissions cheating scandal will cost Volkswagen an extra $3bn (€2.5bn), because engines are proving “far more technically complex and time consuming” to adapt the company said.

The additional cost, for fixing engines in the United States, takes the total bill to $30bn.

Two years after the problems first emerged, Volkswagen is still struggling to put the crisis behind it.

Separately Munich prosecutors made an arrest in connection with the scandal.

Dangers of Rail Transport Persists

Huh. Groups like the Sierra club sure were quiet about the dangers of transporting fuels by rail when they were opposing pipelines.

Canadian Pacific, which in 2014 was hauling 7 to 11 trains per week on its Wisconsin route, reported in 2016 that its weekly traffic was down to 1 to 3 trains.

That translates to a roughly 97 percent reduction in the number of oil trains passing through La Crosse County.

“It’s kind of a good thing, but there are still concerns,” said Alan Stankevitz, a La Crescent-based wildlife photographer and editor of a rail safety watchdog blog.

Those concerns include ethanol, ammonia, benzene and other unknown hazardous materials that are transported by rail every day, about which the public — and some first responders — have little knowledge and that pose potential threats to thousands of people who live and work near railroad tracks as well as to the Mississippi River, flanked by two major rail carriers.

“There’s still plenty of other hazardous materials that if they were to get into the river system would be catastrophic,” said Stankevitz, who was one of nine plaintiffs who took the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to court in 2015 in an unsuccessful attempt to block BNSF Railway from expanding its capacity in Wisconsin.

Bill Davis, director for the Wisconsin chapter of the Sierra Club, shares that concern.

While the Sierra Club didn’t like the idea of putting people at risk to move fossil fuels, the group also warned about the environmental dangers of hazardous materials moving over aging rails and bridges.

Russians Stoked BLM Discord?

Are the BLM folks all just Russian puppets?

The Black Lives Matter ad appeared on Facebook at some point in late 2015 or early 2016, the sources said. The sources said it appears the ad was meant to appear both as supporting Black Lives Matter but also could be seen as portraying the group as threatening to some residents of Baltimore and Ferguson.

Related: Russian-bought Facebook ads sought to amplify political divisions

New descriptions of the Russian-bought ads shared with CNN suggest that the apparent goal of the Russian buyers was to amplify political discord and fuel an atmosphere of incivility and chaos, though not necessarily to promote one candidate or cause over another. Facebook’s review of Russian efforts on its platform focused on a timeframe from June 2015 to May 2017.

Summit Credit Union Sues Equifax

It’s tough to see how Equifax survives this. But it is also an important message to businesses that they must take data security seriously.

It states that Equifax was negligent in securing its website from the hacker intrusion, in failing to detect the intrusion for weeks and in failing to notify consumers of the breach for nearly six weeks. Equifax also knew or should have known that its data security measures were inadequate, the lawsuit states.

Summit, with $2.6 billion in assets, 34 locations in Wisconsin and more than 162,000 members, is asking for orders temporarily and permanently barring Equifax from negligent business practices that are alleged in the lawsuit, along with unspecified costs, restitution and damages.

“Financial institutions often incur the costs of fraud due to others’ data breaches,” Summit said in a statement issued Friday. “Equifax may be the largest compromise in U.S. history, and we believe Equifax should cover any losses incurred due to their breach.”

On another note, if you want a job right now, get into IT security.

State Legislators Near Budget Deal

Meh.

Leaders of the state Legislature’s budget-writing committee said Tuesday they have a plan to resolve the most contentious area of the state’s overdue budget: how to fund Wisconsin’s roads and bridges.

The plan slightly trims Gov. Scott Walker’s road-borrowing blueprint, imposes a new fee on electric and hybrid vehicles and moves the state closer to collecting highway tolls, according to the committee’s co-chairpersons, Rep. John Nygren and Sen. Alberta Darling.

The great missed opportunity of this budget was to make dramatic reforms in the size and scope of government. The problem with the transportation budget is that Wisconsin still spends way too much – much more per mile than comparable states – and legislators refuse to make serious reforms in the way the state goes about building and maintaining our transportation infrastructure. Instead of tackling the fundamental problems while Republicans control the entire law-making apparatus of state government, they have chosen to nibble around the edges and kick the can a little further down the road.

As for the framework of a deal itself, the biggest item, symbolically if not fiscally, is the imposition of a new tax on electric and hybrid vehicles. While I abhor the notion of a new tax to just prop up bloated spending, this tax is conceptually palpable.

As I said, the big issue is the spending, but a secondary issue is that the funding mechanisms for transportation isn’t as applicable as it once was. Wisconsin funds transportation by the vehicle registration fees and by the tax on gas. The gas tax was intended as a proxy for usage. In general, the more gas one buys, the more they are driving, the more they are using the roads, the more they are paying for the roads. But electric cars (and hybrids to a lesser extent) subvert that proxy.

If we want to stick to the notion that people who use the roads more should pay more for them, and we don’t want toll roads, then we need to find a way to impose more taxes on those who use the roads but don’t buy gas.

I was struck by a quote in a biography of Robert Morris that I’m finishing up. In countering David Howell’s opposition to the Impost Law in his native Rhode Island, Morris said:

“As all taxes are unpleasant, some state will be found to oppose any which can be devised, on quite as good ground as the present opposition. What then is the Consequence?”

The same is true here. The drivers of electric cars and hybrids will protest a new tax on them, but opposition and clams of unfairness can be found in any tax. At some point, if we have decided that we collectively want to spend this money, we have to tax people to get the money somehow. It seems that spreading the burden out on as many users of the system as possible is the fairest way to do it.

North Korea Claims to Have Tested Hydrogen Bomb

Whoa

What’s happened: North Korea claims it’s successfully tested a hydrogen bomb for its intercontinental ballistic missile. This is the country’s sixth test of a nuclear weapon and the first since US President Trump came to office.

What do we know about it: Initial data suggests this is the most powerful weapon the country has ever tested. It caused a 6.3-magnitude tremor in the country’s northeast.

What’s the reaction been: US President Donald Trump said North Korea’s actions were “hostile and dangerous.” South Korea said it will seek to “completely isolate” North Korea, while China urged Pyongyang to “stop taking wrong actions.” Russia said the test “deserves the strongest condemnation.”

If true, this is a significant next step on their progression.

Americans Attacked in Cuba

There are casualties from Cuba’s attacks.

(CNN)The State Department announced Friday that incidents of acoustic attacks on US diplomats in Havana, Cuba, which have led to a variety of serious medical symptoms, continued until as recently as last month.

“As we’ve said previously, an investigation into the incidents is ongoing, and we revise our assessments as we receive new information,” State Department Spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement. “We can confirm another incident which occurred last month and is now part of the investigation.”
“Based on continued assessments of personnel, there are now 19 confirmed U.S. government personnel who have been affected,” she added, updating her previous count of “at least 16 US government employees.”
Last week, Nauert said the incidents, which began in late 2016, appeared to have ceased.

Google Flexes Muscle to Squash Speech

Good thing we don’t do Google ads around here.

On Tuesday evening, Google sent a conservative website an ultimatum: remove one of your articles, or lose the ability to make ad revenue on your website. The website was strong-armed into removing the content, and then warned that the page was “just an example and that the same violations may exist on other pages of this website.”

“Yesterday morning, we received a very bizarre letter from Google issuing us an ultimatum,” Shane Trejo, media relations director of the Republican Liberty Caucus of Michigan, wrote on The Liberty Conservative. “Either we were to remove a particular article or see all of our ad revenues choked off in an instant. This is the newest method that Big Brother is using to enforce thought control.”

The ultimatum came in the form of an email from Google’s ad placement service AdSense. The email specifically listed an article on The Liberty Conservative’s site, stating that the article violated AdSense’s policies.

This is a shift because it isn’t the advertisers objecting to the content and pulling their advertising. That has happened forever and is fine. This is an advertising distribution service threatening to pull other people’s ads from websites they disapprove of.

Botched Espionage May Be to Blame for Injured American Diplomats

Hmmmm… it is possible that the Cubans may be 1950’s technology.

An outbreak of hearing loss and other health problems affecting at least 16 employees at the US embassy in Havana could have been caused by an electronic surveillance operation that went wrong, former intelligence officials said on Friday.

The state department said it was investigating the outbreak, and that some of the worst affected diplomats had been evacuated to Miami for examination and treatment.

“This is something that we have not experienced in the past,” Heather Nauert, the department’s spokeswoman, said. “We are working very hard to try to take care of our folks who are there on official duty – and trying to provide them all the care and the treatment and the support that they would need.”

Earlier this months, US officials had said the symptoms appeared to have resulted from a covert sonic device. But Nauert said on Thursday no device nor any perpetrator had yet been found and that Cuba was cooperating with the US investigation.

The US asked two Cuban diplomats to leave in May, after American embassy officials were forced to leave Cuba because of serious symptoms. But the Cuban diplomats were not banned from returning, as normally happens in expulsions linked to espionage, and the US has so far not explicitly blamed the Castro government.

Warships Hacked?

This appears to be speculation, but it is curious that this has happened twice in such a short time. Could someone be probing?

A top admiral has said that the US Navy will ‘consider’ whether two fatal collisions this summer could have been the result of a cyber attack.

Admiral John Richardson, the chief of naval operations, said on Monday that there were ‘no indications right now’ that the two ships were hacked, but added investigators ‘will consider all possibilities’.

The shocking possibility emerged as the Navy ordered a broad investigation into the performance and readiness of the Pacific-based 7th Fleet.

Early Monday, the USS John S. McCain collided with an oil tanker in Southeast Asian waters, leaving 10 American sailors missing and several others injured.

It was the second major collision in the last two months involving the Navy’s 7th Fleet, after seven sailors died when the USS Fitzgerald and a container ship collided in waters off Japan on June 17.