Thursday, August 30, 2007

Good news for privacy advocates or telcos - I'm not sure which

Here's a nice article on DCSNet, the FBI's "sophisticated, point-and-click surveillance system that performs instant wiretaps on almost any communications device" (from Lauren Weinstein). From my years at AT&T I'm dubious that the technology works with the 1984-like seamless smoothness the article suggests, but this part sounds accurate to me:

Despite its ease of use, the new technology is proving more expensive than a traditional wiretap. Telecoms charge the government an average of $2,200 for a 30-day CALEA wiretap, while a traditional intercept costs only $250, according to the Justice Department inspector general. A federal wiretap order in 2006 cost taxpayers $67,000 on average, according to the most recent U.S. Court wiretap report.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

As summer finally ends...

Back from vacation, I'm so behind in everything it's amazing...starting with the news....
  • What's cooler than printing 3-D objects? Maybe printing human organs? This is only a little bit far-out...and even modest success would be hugely interesting, not necessarily to clinicians, but to developmental biologists and others that study how cells interact in tissues.
  • Some useful warnings about the "cult of FireFox" and the evil of Ad Block Plus. Remember, not reading ads is theft. And not citing my papers - that causes uncontrollable weight gain.
  • Hal Daume promises to automate the construction of LDA-like statistical models. Well, at least partly. A fascinating idea, although a challenging one...for whatever reason the ML community doesn't seem to take to these sort of high-level tools. AutoBayes and WinBUGS are prior efforts along these lines.
  • The scary privacy-infringement stories of the week: from Ars Technica, we learn that China is to begin web monitoring with Clippy-style animated police and, if that's not horrifying enough, a confessed movie pirate has been ordered to switch to Windows by the court, so his parole officer can install the appropriate monitoring software. (However, the rumors that the court also ordered a switch from Emacs to Notepad are apparently false.)
  • In related news, the EFF's suit against AT&T may have gotten stronger: even though National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell has said before that "the disclosure of any information that would tend to confirm or deny... an alleged classified intelligence relationship between the NSA and MCI/Verizon, would cause exceptionally grave harm to the national security" he, oops, confirmed that AT&T was assisting in surveillance: "under ... the terrorist surveillance program, the private sector had assisted us...and they were being sued". And the DoD's official web sites are more than 100x more likely to leak sensitive information than milbloggers.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Please re-calibrate yesterday's posting...

Today, the same news source has a post on DARPA's bootstrap learning project which, while accurate enough in most of the details, has a pretty high hyperbole factor. (I helped write a grant for this program, which is novel enough, but not exactly "far far far out" - it has very concrete one-year deliverables, and is a pretty typical DARPA 6.1 program in terms of risk and innovation.)

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Nothing to hide, and nowhere to hide it

Shenzhen, China attempts to take the next step in citizen surveillance with 20k cameras "equipped with 'intelligence'".

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Famous researchers barking about SEAL

Richard Wang's SEAL system has gotten a few hits from the curious since my posting. Now it's getting some discussion from Matt Hurst and Fernando Pereira.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Hard to do vs hard to figure out

I'd like to argue for a second that better websites might do more to stop global warming than hybrid cars....

Sometimes it's easier to just go with what you know than to try something new. Case in point - I was down in DC earlier this week, and even though I had a car and free parking at my final destination, I ended up taking the Metro to my workshop rather than driving - not because it was faster or cheaper, but just because it was easier. I understand the Metro; but I get lost driving around DC on my own. Likewise, when I first moved to the NYC area, I tended to walk or take cabs more frequently from point-to-point in Manhattan...then, after a I'd figured out the baroque and arcane subway system (and no longer found myself mysteriously deposited in Brooklyn at random intervals) I used it instead.

Now I live in Pittsburgh and one of the fringe benefits of my job is a free bus pass. So, I take the bus everywhere, right? Well, not really - I use a few routes I know, and drive most other places. The main obstacle, I think, is just not knowing what bus to take when. It's easier to drive. But that's changing...

Matt Hurst has a nice run-down of mapping systems that give information on public transit (or ways to walk instead of drive). Google transit also has a great system for Pittsburgh (and a handful of other cities). I think all that's really needed to make public transit more widely used is some tools like this, development of the BusML standard for route information, free municipal wifi and something to access it with that fits in my pocket.