Boots & Sabers

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Category: Technology

Commercial Air Travel Returns to Supersonic

What is interesting about this is not the technology. We have had the technology for supersonic commercial air travel for decades (yes, I did ride on the Concorde once as a child). What is interesting is that this seems to be an indication that United, at least, believes that the commercial model of air travel is changing.

The commercial air travel market has been squeezed to the bottom for some time. While everybody says they want more space, more luxuries, faster transits, and more direct flights, there just haven’t been enough people willing to pay for it for airlines to sustain a high-end model. United’s move seems to indicate that they think that the high-end air travel market may be sustainable enough in the future to make supersonic flights commercially viable again.

US airline United has announced plans to buy 15 new supersonic airliners and “return supersonic speeds to aviation” in the year 2029.

Supersonic passenger flights ended in 2003 when Air France and British Airways retired Concorde.

 

The new Overture aircraft will be produced by a Denver-based company called Boom, which has yet to flight-test a supersonic jet.

United’s deal is conditional on the new aircraft meeting safety standards.

Twitter Suspended After President’s Tweet is Censored

Oof

Nigeria’s government has announced an indefinite suspension of Twitter in the country, two days after the social media company removed a post from president Muhammadu Buhari that threatened to punish regional secessionists.

 

The information minister, Lai Mohammed, said the government had acted because of “the persistent use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence”.

 

Mohammed did not spell out what form the suspension would take or give more details on the undermining activities. His ministry also announced Twitter’s suspension on Twitter.

 

When asked about the details of the suspension, a ministerial aide told Reuters: “Wait and see how things will turn out.”

Uber Strikes Deal with Union

Now that Uber’s drivers are all employees and they are unionizing, what differentiates them from traditional cab companies? I might as well just use Yellow Cab. They have an app too.

For years Uber resisted calls to recognise unions, which had criticised the firm for not granting drivers basic rights such as sick pay or a minimum wage.

Uber had argued its drivers were freelancers and not entitled to these benefits. But in March it changed its stance after the Supreme Court ruled that its drivers should be classified as workers – a category entitling them to better pay and conditions.

 

Now it provides them with a National Living Wage guarantee, holiday pay and a pension.

And by recognising GMB, the ride-hailing giant has gone a step further, giving a union the right to negotiate on behalf of drivers for the first time.

AI emotion-detection software tested on Uyghurs

The tools available to totalitarians today are phenomenal

A camera system that uses AI and facial recognition intended to reveal emotional states has been tested on Uyghurs in Xinjiang, the BBC has been told.

A software engineer claimed to have installed such systems in police stations in the province.

 

A human rights advocate who was shown the evidence described it as shocking.

 

The Chinese embassy in London has not responded directly to the claims but says political and social rights in all ethnic groups are guaranteed.

 

Xinjiang is home to 12 million ethnic minority Uyghurs, most of whom are Muslim.

 

Citizens in the province are under daily surveillance. The area is also home to highly controversial “re-education centres”, called high security detention camps by human rights groups, where it is estimated that more than a million people have been held.

 

[…]

 

“The Chinese government use Uyghurs as test subjects for various experiments just like rats are used in laboratories,” he said.

 

And he outlined his role in installing the cameras in police stations in the province: “We placed the emotion detection camera 3m from the subject. It is similar to a lie detector but far more advanced technology.”

 

He said officers used “restraint chairs” which are widely installed in police stations across China.

“Your wrists are locked in place by metal restraints, and [the] same applies to your ankles.”

 

He provided evidence of how the AI system is trained to detect and analyse even minute changes in facial expressions and skin pores.

Abortions Go Virtual

The debate over abortion clinics is becoming moot.

Between March 2018 and March 2020, 57,506 people from all 50 states requested self-managed medication abortion through Aid Access.

Among the requests, 73.5% said they were specifically seeking self-managed abortion because they were unable to afford in-clinic care. An abortion can cost as much as $1,500, according to Planned Parenthood, and that number varies widely based on what form of abortion and if a patient has insurance that covers the procedure. Under the Hyde Amendment, federal Medicaid does not cover abortion, although some states have different rules.

 

In-person abortion care can also incur other costs due to the heavy restrictions around the health care procedure, such as transportation, child care and lodging, especially if a state requires a patient do two office visits over multiple days.

 

The next most common reasons individuals sought self-managed medication abortion were privacy, for 49.3% of respondents, and distance from a clinic, for 40.4% of respondents.

“Ring is effectively building the largest corporate-owned, civilian-installed surveillance network that the US has ever seen”

Yikes.

Ring video doorbells, Amazon’s signature home security product, pose a serious threat to a free and democratic society. Not only is Ring’s surveillance network spreading rapidly, it is extending the reach of law enforcement into private property and expanding the surveillance of everyday life. What’s more, once Ring users agree to release video content to law enforcement, there is no way to revoke access and few limitations on how that content can be used, stored, and with whom it can be shared.

 

Ring is effectively building the largest corporate-owned, civilian-installed surveillance network that the US has ever seen. An estimated 400,000 Ring devices were sold in December 2019 alone, and that was before the across-the-board boom in online retail sales during the pandemic. Amazon is cagey about how many Ring cameras are active at any one point in time, but estimates drawn from Amazon’s sales data place yearly sales in the hundreds of millions. The always-on video surveillance network extends even further when you consider the millions of users on Ring’s affiliated crime reporting app, Neighbors, which allows people to upload content from Ring and non-Ring devices.

 

Then there’s this: since Amazon bought Ring in 2018, it has brokered more than 1,800 partnerships with local law enforcement agencies, who can request recorded video content from Ring users without a warrant. That is, in as little as three years, Ring connected around one in 10 police departments across the US with the ability to access recorded content from millions of privately owned home security cameras. These partnerships are growing at an alarming rate.

Russian Spy Chief Rejects Responsibility for Solar Winds Hack

Uh huh

Asked directly if the SVR was responsible for the SolarWinds attack, Naryshkin quipped with a smile that he would be ‘flattered’ if the SVR had been responsible for such a sophisticated attack but that he could not ‘claim the creative achievements of others as his own.’

 

Naryshkin said he did not want to accuse the US of being behind the attack but quoted from documents leaked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden to suggest that the tactics of the attack were similar to those used by US and British intelligence agencies.

What is most interesting is that he said anything at all. He is clearly sending a message that Russia is both capable and willing to carry out such cyberwarfare attacks.

Our Grid is Exposed

Senator Johnson is right.

The circumstance exposes “how incredibly vulnerable our fuel grid is, our electrical grid is,” Johnson told host John Catsimatidis, but there are “no easy solutions” to the newfangled modern warfare.

 

Johnson believes things might even get more difficult as the Biden administration seeks to pick up the agenda of the progressives’ Green New Deal to remake American energy, particularly as it relates to giving the government more control over energy.

 

“With everybody hooking up their solar panels and hooking into the grid so they can get a few shekels for the electricity they’re selling into the grid, we become more and more vulnerable,” Johnson said, adding it creates “more points of contact that cyber-attackers can exploit.’

 

“We really need to change the direction we’re headed in here. No administration has paid sufficient attention to the vulnerabilities of our electrical grid.”

To take it a step further, we have also not adapted our accepted responses to attacks like this. There is a fine line between a simple criminal act and an act of war. And an act of war does not necessarily have to be perpetrated by another nation.

In this case, the shutdown of the pipeline wreaked untold economic damage on the nation. It also caused a national security issue by starving our armed forces – including the coast guard – of fuel throughout a third of the country. While all of our forces have reserves, how long would they last? What if the pipeline stayed shut down for another week? A month? A year? And what is a terrorist group or cartel or another nation took advantage of our moment of weakness?

This kind of asymmetrical warfare demands a more aggressive response. Put a Tomahawk through the kitchen window of these hackers. It changes the risk profile for these kinds of attacks. They attack us from Eastern Europe because they know that our law enforcement can’t reach them there. As a nation, we have other tools in our arsenal. This kinds of attack is not a matter for law enforcement. It is a national security issue and must be treated as such.

Biden’s Venmo Account

Stories like this just make me want to pay for everything in cash.

Under the headline “Beneath Joe Biden’s Folksy Demeanor, a Short Fuse and an Obsession With Details”, the Times reported lengthy policy debates, angry outbursts at advisers and officials – and plenty of time spent with grandchildren.

 

“They have been known to show their grandfather apps like TikTok,” the story said. “One adviser said he had sent the grandchildren money using Venmo.”

 

[…]

 

BuzzFeed said it took “less than 10 minutes” to find Biden’s account, “using only a combination of the app’s built-in search tool and public friends feature”.

 

“In the process,” it said, it “found nearly a dozen Biden family members and mapped out a social web that encompasses not only the first family but a wide network of people around them, including the president’s children, grandchildren, senior White House officials and all of their contacts on Venmo.”

 

The White House did not immediately comment. By late Friday, BuzzFeed said, accounts for the president and first lady had been removed.

Recycling Plastic Back into Oil

So… basically… melt it?

The most versatile version of chemical recycling is “feedstock recycling“. Also known as thermal conversion, feedstock recycling is any process that breaks polymers down into simpler molecules using heat.

 

The process is fairly simple – take a plastic drinks bottle. You put it out with your recycling for collection. It is taken, along with all the other waste, to a sorting facility. There, the rubbish is sorted, either mechanically or by hand, into different kinds of materials and different kinds of plastics.

 

Your bottle is washed, shredded and packed into a bale ready for transportation to the recycling centre – so far, the same as the conventional process. Then comes the chemical recycling: the plastic that formerly made up your bottle could be taken to a pyrolysis centre where it is melted down. Next it is fed into the pyrolysis reactor where it is heated to extreme temperatures. This process turns the plastic into a gas which is then cooled to condense into an oil-like liquid, and finally distilled into fractions that can be put to different purposes.

Pipeline Hack Causes Shortages

These pipelines seem kind of important.

Gas stations from Florida to Atlanta to Virginia are closing their pumps due to a fuel shortage brought on by the Colonial Pipeline hack – and a state of emergency has been declared by the governor of North Carolina.

 

American Airlines was adding stops to two of its long-haul flights from its Charlotte, North Carolina hub, CNBC reported, as a likely effort to conserve fuel in areas where it could run short.

 

The 5,500 mile Colonial Pipeline was shut down on Friday evening by the company when the ransomware attack was launched. Service was gradually being restored on Monday.

 

[…]

 

The pipeline supplies 45 per cent of all the East Coast’s fuel needs, including Atlanta’s airport – the world’s busiest, by passenger traffic. The pipeline also serves 90 U.S. military installations and 26 oil refineries.

But at least the hackers care… I guess.

The hack is thought to have been carried out by DarkSide, a Russian-based hacking group.

 

On Monday the group posted an apology on the dark web, Vice reported, and said they did not want ‘social consequences’, nor did they seek political influence.

 

‘We are apolitical, we do not participate in geopolitics, do not need to tie us with a defined government and look for other our motives,’ they wrote.

 

‘Our goal is to make money and not creating problems for society.

 

‘From today, we introduce moderation and check each company that our partners want to encrypt to avoid social consequences in the future.’

BLM Leader Advocates for Big Tech After Receiving Millions

Always follow the money

Tech moguls who made their fortunes from Facebook, Twitter and Netflix have donated at least $7.5 million to groups tied to BLM co-founder Patrisse Cullors, who has in turn publicly backed their policy goals, according to a new report.

 

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz, and Patricia Ann Quillin, the wife of Netflix’s billionaire CEO, all gave generously to Cullors’ PAC and associated charities, according to the New York Post.

 

Cullors for her part has strongly advocated for ‘net neutrality’, a policy that financially benefits online content providers such as Netflix and social media sites.

 

And the cozy relationship has even seen Facebook and Twitter censor perceived criticism of Cullors, with Facebook going so far as to block users from sharing a DailyMail.com article detailing a controversy over her expensive real estate holdings.

Facebook’s Political Activism

In case it wasn’t clear, Facebook is not just banning incendiary or hateful speech. They are banning speech they don’t like. They are a political advocacy organization.

Facebook has removed a video of former US President Donald Trump from the page of his daughter-in-law Lara Trump.

The social media giant banned Mr Trump from its platform in January following riots by his supporters on the Capitol building in Washington.

Lara Trump, a new Fox News contributor, posted a video of herself interviewing Mr Trump on a range of issues.

“;l;;gmlxzssaw”

That’s comforting.

The perils of working from home while managing the social media account of a major military power have been thrown into sharp relief after the US Strategic Command tweeted a confusing string of gibberish.

 

Thirteen mysterious characters long, the tweet – “;l;;gmlxzssaw – prompted some on social media to jokingly suggest it was confidential information, for example a password or a nuclear launch code, that had accidentally been leaked.

 

[…]

 

The Strategic Command’s freedom of information officer said in a statement that “the command’s Twitter manager, while in a telework status, momentarily left the command’s Twitter account open and unattended. His very young child took advantage of the situation and started playing with the keys and unfortunately, and unknowingly, posted the tweet.”

The retired US army lieutenant general Mark Hertling summed up a lot of the response by posting: “It’s a pocket tweet from our nuclear headquarters. Everything’s fine,” with a laughing emoji.

Blockchain in Food Supply

If (when) this comes into use, it will be interesting to see to societal ripples.

As it pertains to the food supply, blockchain is an efficient and decentralized way to secure a timeline of analytical information from the farm, processor, distributor and retailer so every ingredient’s source is traceable. Harris compared the food supply and its trend toward blockchain as paralleling Spotify, Amazon and Netflix in their users’ relationship with music, books and movies.

“I foresee the day when nutrition labels will each have a QR code so consumers can use their phone to access the history of nearly every ingredient in that item,” Harris said. “In fact, some companies are already supplying this information.”

The Next Agricultural Revolution

Wisconsin’s farmers are in the vanguard!

Three big developments have rung in the start of the agricultural digital revolution. First, the development of sensor technology that is both astonishingly small and, crucially, cheap. Secondly, the communications technologies required to move data between the field and the computational cloud, and third, the technology to process mind-boggling volumes of information with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning.

 

“This may help a farmer know there is something brewing in the herd or the orchard that needs attention,” says Susan McCouch, director of the Cornell Institute for Digital Agriculture. McCouch predicts that sensors in irrigation systems could be designed to receive signals broadcast from satellites to make decisions about whether to water crops – but only if both the land is dry and no rain is forecast.

 

“This is how you marry the Internet of Things with the Internet of Living Things, and that needs massive data interpretation capabilities,” she says. “For example, we are currently working with dairy cows, placing nanosensors in the rumen of the cow so that when it is not ruminating in a healthy way, the farmer and the vet can identify which animals are having problems before there are symptoms.”

 

Up until now most advances in the industry have fallen under what is loosely termed “precision agriculture”, where the advent of GPS and advances in farm machinery have allowed farmers to more accurately sow, treat, and harvest crops, though the focus has typically been on large-scale commodity arable crops such as wheat, soy, and canola (also known as rapeseed). This technology has now been coupled with satellite and drone imagery to monitor weed levels and canopy coverage, soil analysis, weather patterns and historic crop yield data from specific fields which are then fed into data crunching systems which use AI and machine learning to guide on-farm decision making.

 

This layering of vast amounts of data and subsequent modelling is allowing farmers to make decisions that are far more likely to lead to farming success. The more information they have, the more accurately they can predict the outcomes of farming decisions. Should they plant that crop in that field? If they spray that crop this week rather than next what might the outcome be given the weather forecast? Does this plant variety respond better with a soil of this type? Knowledge brings powerful predictability into farming and a raft of businesses are out there harvesting the data to help bring in the gold-rush.

China Launches Another Attack on U.S.

Biological. Economic. Cyber. China is waging a war on the U.S. whether we want to admit it or not.

The US is expressing growing concern over a hack on Microsoft’s Exchange email software that the tech company has blamed on China.

“This is an active threat,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Friday. “Everyone running these servers – government, private sector, academia – needs to act now to patch them.”

 

Microsoft said hackers had used its mail server to attack their targets.

 

It is reported that tens of thousands of US organisations may be impacted.

The US has long accused the Chinese government of cyber-espionage, something Beijing denies.

Wisconsin Vaccine Registry Site Delayed

Sheesh

Wisconsin’s promised vaccine registry site will be delayed for a second time as the state health department works out glitches with the Microsoft-designed software.

 

And when the website does launch, it will likely feature just a few local health departments at first, health officials said.

 

In a news briefing Tuesday, state Department of Health Services Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk said the department “ran into some components that were not functioning the way we anticipated” during pilot testing last week and over the weekend.

 

“We made the decision that quality trumped speed in this one,” she said.

Perseverance Has Landed

Huzzah

The American space agency has successfully landed its Perseverance rover in a deep crater near the planet’s equator called Jezero.

 

“The good news is the spacecraft, I think, is in great shape,” said Matt Wallace, the mission’s deputy project manager.

 

Engineers at Nasa’s mission control in California erupted with joy when the confirmation of touchdown came through.

 

The six-wheeled vehicle will now spend at least the next two years drilling into the local rocks, looking for evidence of past life.

Hacking Our Infrastructure

It’s always troubling to see how easy it is to hack our primary infrastructure.

An outdated version of Windows and a weak cybersecurity network allowed hackers to access a Florida wastewater treatment plant’s computer system and momentarily tamper with the water supply, federal investigators revealed in a memo obtained by ABC News.

 

The FBI’s Cyber Division on Tuesday notified law enforcement agencies and businesses to warn them about the computer vulnerabilities, which led to the Bruce T. Haddock Water Treatment Plant in Oldsmar being hacked on Feb. 5.

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