xpda

Bob's Junkmail (important stuff.)

Bob’s Junkmail, #222

Big Data

In 1980, IBM introduced the world’s first gigabyte hard drive. It weighed 550 lbs and cost $40,000. Today you can get a 500 gigabyte drive weighing a few ounces for less than $100, even after theflood in Thailand….

In the late 1970′s I took a course in Data Communications. One anecdote from the class was about a bank that had to transmit a huge amount of data (several megabytes) to and from Alaska on a daily basis.

Today you can download a megabyte in a few seconds on a DSL. With a commercial internet connection you can download a megabyte in a fraction of a second. In the 1970′s it was a few thousand times slower, a lot more expensive, and much less reliable. You had to pay the phone company for a leased line, from one point to another, and there were a lot of data errors because the communications line had a lot of noise, echoes, lag, and gremlins. On top of that, the equipment on both ends could only handle a limited bandwidth.

It turned out that it was more efficient for the bank to put the data on computer tapes (20 megabytes capacity) and ship it overnight. This was really expensive (FedEx went public in 1978), but it was cheaper more reliable than the leased line.

Things have changed in the past 40 years. Or have they? When the amount of data grows as fast as the technology, you have the same problem.

BGI is the world’s largest genomics research institute. They have 167 DNA sequencers that produce the equivalent of 2,000 human genomes a day. There was an article in the New York Times about BGI and how they have to ship their data on hard drives by FedEx because there’s so much of it.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/01/business/dna-sequenci…

But when you check the numbers, it looks like it should be feasible for them to upload the data.

The human genome has about 2.9 billion base pairs, which can be stored 4 base pairs per byte, so about 725 megabytes, uncompressed, and less than 10 megabytes compressed. It seems like the largest genomics research institute in the world should be able to upload 17 gigabytes per day. Upperspace has the bandwidth to upload 540 gigabytes per day.

Maybe they transmit the original images rather than the base pair information. Or maybe it’s just cheaper for them to FedEx hard drives for large amounts of data. Or maybe there is a lot more information in the genome data they generate than the base pairs. Or maybe I misplaced a decimal point. Or all of the above.

The article says, “One near victim of the data explosion has been a federal online archive of raw sequencing data. The amount stored has more than tripled just since the beginning of the year, reaching 300 trillion DNA bases and taking up nearly 700 trillion bytes of computer memory.”

700 trillion is a huge number. It has 14 zeros. 700,000,000,000,000. If you count up to 700 trillion at four numbers per second (which is tough when you get to a billion), it will take you over 5 million years.

But data sets of that size are not uncommon. A trillion bytes is a terabyte. You can buy 2 terabyte drives for your computer, and they’re not too expensive. Two years ago, Google processed data at a rate of 24,000 terabytes every day. You can set up 700 terabytes on Amazon Web Services relatively cheaply.

IBM is once again building the world’s largest data “drive”. It’s actually a collection of drives. About 120,000 1-terabyte drives. This drive will hold 120 petabytes. One petabyte is 1000 terabytes, or one thousand trillion bytes, or 1,000,000,000,000,000 bytes. That is a lot of zeros and ones.

http://www.technologyreview.com/computing/38440/

This is being built for “an unnamed client that needs a new supercomputer for detailed simulations of real-world phenomena.”

Another use for massive data storage is gathering all the internet communications in a country.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203611404…

Internet communications gathering equipment used is governments around the world without individual privacy concerns, which includes just about all of them. Prominent intelligence agencies from the United States, China, Russia, Egypt, Libya, Pakistan, and a host of other countries intercept and save the internet communications of their loyal citizens.

http://arstechnica.com/news/2011/12/gallery-how-the-sur…

Whether you’re planning to start a new country or secede from an old one, you can get your hacking and eavesdropping hardware and software here:

http://projects.wsj.com/surveillance-catalog/#/


Bad Astronomy

Phil Plait is the Bad Astronomer. He currently writes an excellent blog for the Discover Magazine site, (and maybe the magazine too). He has also written a book or two and has even been known to read Junkmail on occasions of extreme boredom or moments of mental incontinence.

http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/

Here’s a good interview from Slashdot:

http://interviews.slashdot.org/story/11/11/14/0657203/b…

… and a good TEDx talk:

http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2011/10/…

Three things got me sidetracks on Phil Plait. First, Venus is crossing between the Earth and the Sun next June. Don’t miss it! Delay your trip to Mars!

http://www.transitofvenus.org/

Second, here are some cool moon pictures:

http://www.pixheaven.net/galerie.php?id=22

05_060808_0813.jpg

Third, check out the Heavens Above site. This is a pretty cool web site. You can tell it where and when you are, then it will tell you what’s in the sky and when which satellites will be flying across.

http://www.heavens-above.com/

For example, the unmanned space shuttle X-37B will be visible from Pryor, Oklahoma on December 19, 20, and 21.

http://www.heavens-above.com/PassSummary.aspx?satid=373…

You can see the errant Russian satellite Phobos Grunt on the 16th, 17th, 18th, and 19th at Key West.

http://arstechnica.com/science/news/2011/11/russias-pho…

http://en.ria.ru/science/20111213/170212896.html

There are also some good apps for smart phones — you can “shine” your phone at the sky, and it will show you what’s up there in your field of view. Since my phone is dumb, you’ll have to find them on your own. Or ask any of my toddlers what’s available.

Here is a nice composite made up of 1300 images from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter’swide angle camera, taken about a year ago. It is one of the most detailed images of the moon ever made, better than images from Hubble and earth-based telescopes.

wac_nearside-4000.jpg

Here’s the 266 megabyte 24,000×24,000 version:  wac_nearside.png…  You may have some trouble reading and printing this with 32-bit Windows.

It’s even more detailed than this one:
P1370381.jpg

http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2011/02/…


History Channel

The History Channel began life in 1995 by airing historical documentaries. Sometime since then they’ve transformed into a clone of CNN, Discovery, MTV, and other “information” channels, with programming like “Ancient Aliens” and “Ice Road Truckers.” This prompts just a slight bit of skepticism with some cynics.

John Stewart on the Daily Show (or more likely, his staff) recently made the mistake of trusting the History Channel. Stewart claimed that Congress met on Christmas Day most of their first 68 sessions, which was claimed as an undisputed fact on the History Channel. He has since learned two things about this.

First, Congress only met twice on Christmas Day in their first 68 sessions (the House did once and the Senate did once). Second, instead of trusting the History Channel, you should get your information from a reliable source such as the internet, where everything is true.

http://www.politifact.com/rhode-island/statements/2011/…


How to Fix Windows 7

Windows 7 is a prime example of the “condescending user interface.”

http://www.theverge.com/2011/12/9/2616204/the-condescen…

There are a lot of things in Windows 7 that I find irritating. I have let some of these go for a year or two, but I have finally decided that several Windows 7 “features” have no redeeming social and should be banned from the planet, beginning with my computer. Here are some Windows 7 customizations I have made:

1. In Windows Explorer, if you click on the CD drive while it’s empty, displays a message asking for a disk, which might be OK, but it also opens the drive door. And then I have to close it. This is quite rude and I do not like it.

The Solution: Disable Windows CD burning in the drive, using either a registry change or the group policy editor if you have one.

http://www.sevenforums.com/tutorials/5942-burning-cd-dv…

This has the additional benefit of getting rid of the desktop.ini that’s always waiting to be written onto any disk that happens to be in your drive. You can still use CD burning applications.

2. In Windows XP, there was an icon of couple displays down in the lower right part of the screen that flashed whenever there was internet activity. With those I could tell when some misbehaving software was trying to access the internet without my knowledge, such as Adobe trying to upgrade some utility I have never used. These flashing tubes are missing on Windows 7, but now I’ve found them. They’re here:

http://www.itsamples.com/network-activity-indicator.html

3. Quick tip: Press Alt-D to jump to the address bar of a browser or Windows Explorer.

4. Classic Explorer Shell is really nice for fixing most of the dumb things Microsoft did to Windows Explorer. And it is configurable, in case you are demented enough to like some of those dumb things. Here are some handy things you can change with Classic Explorer Shell:

Disable Breadcrumbs — This leaves the file path (such as “D:\junk222\test”) in the title bar instead of some odd names with triangles.

Navigation Pane — The Navigation Pane is the sidebar on the left of Windows Explorer. You can set it like XP was, with the vertical dotted lines. It’s not as pretty, but it’s a lot quicker to understand at a glance. (To help with this, I also name my hard drives “-” to make it easier to see the letters.)

Copying Files — In Windows 7 when you copy files, there is a large dialog with too little information unless you click “show more details”. You can default to “show more details” with Classic Explorer Shell.

File Overwrite — When you are copying files with Windows 7 over existing files, a dialog box comes up with big pictures and a bunch of text, and no easy way to make the selection with the keyboard. Classic Explorer Shell lets you replace this with the XP style that is clear, concise, and works with a single shortcut key.

Classic Explorer Shell also comes with Classic Start Menu, which allows multiple columns in the Programs menu. This is important for me because I have so much stuff installed that it doesn’t fit in a single column and it’s too slow to scroll down to find a program with the original Windows 7 Start Menu.

5. You can turn off the Details Pane and the Preview Pane in Windows Explorer using the Organize button in the Command Bar (that menu that’s under the regular menu). After you do this, you can disable the Command Bar itself. This is handy on a laptop that doesn’t have a lot of screen height to waste. The settings for the Details Pane and Preview Pane disappear along with the Command Bar, so you can either replace it temporarily or use the registry if you want to change these after you remove the Command Bar. Here are details on all this:

http://www.sevenforums.com/tutorials/65416-window-explo…

6. Over the past several iterations of Windows, Office, and Firefox, it has become increasingly difficult to paste something from a document or web page into another document, because it inevitably arrives in some crazy or at least incompatible format. Microsoft once again thinks they know what I want when they don’t. All I want to do is copy some text and paste it into another application.

There is a way to paste text only in Office, but it takes a some mouse clicks every time you paste. There should be an option to do this automatically. Until then, I have started using Pure Text. With that you can hit Command-V instead of Control-V to paste plain text.

http://www.stevemiller.net/puretext/

http://download.cnet.com/PureText/3000-2384_4-10069166.html

Download.com has been adding some toolbars and other crapware into applications’ installation files, so be careful when you install something from download.com. You’re liable to end up with half a dozen toolbars in your browser and a default search engine you’ve never heard of.

https://threatpost.com/en_us/blogs/cnet-apologizes-nmap…

SevenForums.com is the best site I’ve come across for Windows 7 information. You can search for information, ask questions, and read tutorials.


Carrier IQ

Once upon a time last month, a guy named Trevor had a smartphone. Trevor noticed that there was an app on his phone called Carrier IQ, and it was recording button presses, search queries, and the contents of text messages. He also noticed that there was no way to shut down this unwelcome “feature” of his new HTC Evo Android phone.

Trevor posted this information on his web site, and included some manuals that were available on Carrier IQ’s web site.

http://androidsecuritytest.com/features/logs-and-servic…

Carrier IQ did not like this publicity one bit. They responded with a Cease and Desist order, claiming Trevor was in breach of copyright law and could face damages of $150,000. Carrier IQ also removed its manuals from its own website.

http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2011/11/mobile-…

When this happened, Trevor naturally became an instant hit on the internet, and people figured out that Trevor was right, and Carrier IQ was logging data on millions of cell phones.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T17XQI_AYNo

After all the adverse publicity, Carrier IQ said, “Oops, we apologize, and by the way, we don’t record you keystrokes.”

http://www.carrieriq.com/company/PR.EckhartStatement.pdf

Since then, aside from a couple of class action lawsuits against Carrier IQ and cell service providers, things have died down. For a while, anyway.

http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2011/12/carrier…

A guy named Michael used muckrock.com to issue a Freedom of Information Request to the FBI for “any manuals, documents or other written guidance used to access or analyze data gathered by programs developed or deployed by Carrier IQ.”

The FBI responded, saying they could not comply with the request because they were currently using this information in investigations.

fbiCarrierIQ.png

http://www.muckrock.com/foi/view/united-states-of-ameri…

I guess this identifies one place Carrier IQ is sending data from your smartphone.

I really don’t think the FBI is recording everybody’s cell phone usage, but they can if they want. Some people are pretty wound up about it. I can understand why. It was not too many years ago that they used to jail FBI agents and other police officers for illegal wiretapping. Now it seems like that’s just business as usual, and not many people mind.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/andygreenberg/2011/12/12/fb…

http://boingboing.net/2011/12/12/fbi-says-it-uses-carri…

FBI boss Robert said, “The phony emergency text messages instructing thousands of cell phone users in New Jersey to ‘take cover immediately’ was not issued as a distraction, and had nothing to do with Carrier IQ. It was merely a natural byproduct of gross incompetence and overfunding of the Department of Homeland Security.” Or maybe I just made that up. It’s hard to tell sometimes.

http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-716589

I am happy I don’t have to worry about that sort of thing. I don’t read my text messages very often, and any fake emergency will be long forgotten before I get the message.

Speaking of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the U.S. Department of Homeland Security was chastised by Congress last Spring for not taking it seriously, and making public relations a major consideration when deciding whether to release information as required by law.

The Secretary’s political staff views FOIA through the prism of politics. Public relations
were a major consideration when the political staff considered how to handle significant FOIA responses. It comes as no surprise that the involvement of political staff lacking a sophisticated understanding of the statute led to a dysfunctional FOIA response process.

The Secretary’s political staff failed to recognize that they are servants of the public. They are entrusted to place the interests of the American people ahead of their own. In the case of FOIA, political appointees were more concerned with protecting themselves from embarrassment than running an effective disclosure program. The extent of the mismanagement of the FOIA function at DHS calls into question the competence and commitment of high-level staff charged with protecting the homeland from serious threats.

During this Administration, the significant FOIA response process evolved from a weekly report of significant FOIA activity to an approval process that caused delays and confusion. This is not what the President envisioned when he proclaimed on his first day in office the arrival of a new era of openness and transparency.

Here is the report….


The Budget Deficit is Solved!

It is clear that the budget deficit problems are over, and the economy is not only on the mend, but booming. State and federal governments are spending like there’s no tomorrow!

The state of Virginia will share the cost of your burial in space.

http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-sp…

I am trying to get them to buy me a trip to space before it’s time for my burial, but they haven’t come through yet.

From Slashdot…: “How much does it cost to make a phone app to tell local temperature and suggest how not to get heatstroke, such as drink water and avoid alcohol? Using MuckRock to file a Freedom of Information Act, Rich Jones of GUN.IO discovered that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration paid $106,467 for the Android version; $96,000 for the iPhone version; and an additional $40,000 for a BlackBerry app that never got distributed.”

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has so much money that they’re fighting the war on terrorism with snow cone machines.

http://gawker.com/5865847/11700-worth-of-snow-cone-mach…

The U.S. government is buying 1.7 million doses of a new vaccine for Smallpox, which was eradicated 42 years ago, for the low, low price of $255 per dose. It is being purchased in a no-bid sole-source contract from a company owned by a big political donor.

http://science.slashdot.org/story/11/11/17/2228251/the-…

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is paying police officers more than $200,000 per year to guard the George Washington Bridge.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/port-authority-p…

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (yes, I know I already did them, but they’re big.) bought the LA suburb of Glendale a Bearcat armored vehicle, complete with a turret. This is not such a big deal, as it only cost $205,000 and Glendale doesn’t have any big bridges to guard, but Homeland Security has bought hundreds of these things for local police departments across the country.

Nash_Bearcat.jpg

http://www.americablog.com/2011/08/la-times-on-75-billi…

Speaking of Homeland Security, they’ve got a record high 2012 budget of $57 billion, $47 billion of which is discretionary funds. Some of the Homeland Security projects are so bad that I would pay the money not to do the projects.

budget-bib-fy2012-overview.pdf…

Federal, state, and local governments are spending $75 billion a year on domestic “security,” in addition to normal police protection. I would feel much more secure without all that domestic security.

http://articles.latimes.com/2011/aug/28/nation/la-na-91…

In 2005, and I assume since then, as the percentages have been growing year to year, more than half the Department of Homeland Security’s spending on contracts were for no-bid and other forms of non-competitive contracts. There won’t be any corrupt deals, though, despite billions of dollars changing hands. This is Homeland Security.

http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politic…

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/09/september-11-h…


Ceres

The dwarf planet Ceres wanders around the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, about 2.5 or 3 times farther from the sun than the Earth is. It’s about 590 miles in diameter. This Hubble photo is a little blurry. Maybe I should volunteer to go take some better pictures.

Ceres_optimized.jpg

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ceres_%28dwarf_planet%29


LightSquared and GPS

LightSquared has proposed using a radio band next to the GPS band for high-speed mobile Internet service, using 40,000 base stations. The frequency band LightSquared wants to use has been reserved for satellite communications.

GPS satellites weigh 2000 lbs, but they transmit at only 50 watts or less. 50 watts is a decent signal if you’re within a mile or two of the transmitter, but GPS satellites are 12,000 miles above the earth. Since the signal received is inversely proportional to the distance squared, the GPS receivers get a really weak signal, and so they have to be very, very sensitive. Like me.

http://www8.garmin.com/aboutGPS/

Each of LightSquared’s 40,000 base stations will transmit 1,500 watts, and they will be a whole lot closer to GPS receivers than 12,000 miles. As a result, they are likely to interfere with GPS receivers.

In fact, they are very likely to interfere. The government ran some tests, and the results were leaked, but not on a radio frequency. LightSquared’s system interfered with 75% of the GPS receivers that were examined.

http://www.businessweek.com/news/2011-12-09/falcone-s-l…

LightSquared responded to the tests, saying, “Liar, liar, pants on fire!” and promised to reverse the study’s findings with campaign contributions.


Fun with Copyrights

About a year ago, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security got into business of seizing domain names for copyright violations, to make us safe and to protect us from interstellar aliens.

http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/infolaw/2010/12/02/u-s-get…

Some of the sites protested.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/20/business/media/20musi…

One of the 82 domains seized in the batch of December 2010 was the blog site dajaz1.com.

It’s no longer a blog, apparently. After Homeland Security seized it, they never prosecuted, filed charges, or even notified the blog owner, who has records showing the music in question was given to him by the artists, or his attorney.

Homeland Security says they had several court hearings and postponements. However, dajaz’s attorney never received any notice. When he asked about it, he was told that the court records were all sealed (national security, I assume), and that he’d just have to trust Homeland Security.

Finally, the domain was released and dajaz was not prosecuted because there was no “probable cause” of breaking the law or copyright infringement. Some people claim that the recording industry and Homeland Security managed to censor the site for a year without due process of law. It’s garnered quite a lot of attention lately.

http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20111208/08225217010/b…

http://news.cnet.com/8301-31921_3-57339569-281/dhs-abru…

http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2011/12/senator…

http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20111208/12500917012/r…

The site torrent-finder.com is still being held by the Department of Justice. They have not filed any charges and there has been no actual court process, but they have effectively killed the site by keeping it offline for a year. Department of Justice officials apparently have a problem with the way the search engine operates.

http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20111212/17023317058/j…

Undeterred, the Department of Homeland Security seized another 132 web domains last month.

http://yro.slashdot.org/story/11/11/26/1453227/us-govt-…

Former U.S. Senator Chris Dodd, now the head of the MPAA, said that if China can censor the internet, then the U.S. should have no problem with it. It seems like some of the McCarthy-ites used to call the movie industry a band of communists, but that might have been a different issue.

http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20111208/14521817014/m…

Chris Dodd did not comment on Thailand, where the government warned Facebook users they could face 3 to 15 years in jail if they press ”share” or ”like” on images or articles considered unflattering to the Thai monarchy.

http://www.smh.com.au/world/thai-crackdown-on-facebook-…

The Bush and Obama administrations both considered this policy, but were unable to find any photos or articles that were not unflattering.

Chris Dodd is using the integrity and honor of a former U.S. Senator to get SOPA passed.

http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20111214/04100017081/c…

Meanwhile, the European Union issued a statement against U.S. domain seizures and censorship of the internet, stressing “the need to protect the integrity of the global internet and freedom of communication by refraining from unilateral measures to revoke IP addresses or domain names.”

http://activepolitic.com:82/News/2011-11-17b/EU_Adopts_…

A Spanish sports site accused of linking to streams of sporting events claimed the seizure of their site RojaDirecta.com constitutes prior restraint of speech, and the case was dismissed. The U.S. Government will probably re-file, since Homeland Security is still using RojaDirecta.com for their own advertisement.

http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2011/12/spanish…

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1647 allows someone who notices their copyrighted work on the web without permission to issue a “takedown order.” The offending web site, such as YouTube, notifies the poster and takes down the offending content. Then the poster can appeal, and YouTube can re-instate it.

As you might guess, it is illegal to issue false takedown notices. Otherwise, people like me would demand that all lousy songs and videos be removed from the internet. I mean, just think of all the wasted bits!

The big music companies send out a lot of takedown notices for YouTube and other sites. Most of these are legitimate, some are questionable, and some are just plain wrong.

http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2011/11/warner-…

MegaUpload is a site used to store and exchange files.

http://www.megaupload.com/

A lot of people use it for sharing software and music. Sometimes there may be copyright violations. I haven’t tried it. The founder of the site, Kim Dotcom, does not have a stellar reputation. The RIAA and MPAA do not like MegaUpload.com, but some of their artists do.

P Diddy, Will.i.am, Alicia Keys, Kanye West, Snoop Dogg, Chris Brown, The Game, Mary J Blige , Kim Kardashian, Floyd Mayweather, and Jamie Foxx made a song about how great MegaUpload is, and it was uploaded to YouTube with their authorized written permission.

I’m not really a fan of these people, but they are pretty popular. Their MegaUpload song got to be very popular very quickly on YouTube. So Universal Music issued a takedown notice to YouTube, claiming falsely that they owned the copyright to this song. YouTube removed the video.

Then MegaUpload appealed and got the song re-posted. And then Universal Music issued another false takedown notice and got the song removed. They lied about owning the copyright to the song twice! The song is back online now.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pCkI5I8vsBg

It’s not a great song, but I consider it very bad manners for Universal Music to take down songs that they don’t own, even if they don’t like the music. (This would naturally be OK if I don’t like the music.) The people who prosecute this sort of thing don’t seem to mind when a major record label does it.

http://torrentfreak.com/riaa-label-artists-a-list-stars…

http://torrentfreak.com/universal-censors-megaupload-so…

In Germany, a copyright troll sent out about 70,000 letters demanding money from people who supposedly downloaded music without permission, averaging around 1200 Euros ($1,600) each, a total of €90 million ($120 million). Instead of suing and forcing collections, they are auctioning off the 70,000 claims to the highest bidder.

http://torrentfreak.com/copyright-trolls-auction-off-e9…

There is a new Russian web site that tracks about 20 percent of all bittorrent downloads, recording the IP address and the files downloaded. You can display the files downloaded from your own IP address or an IP address that you enter.

http://www.youhavedownloaded.com/

It turns out that people at Sony Pictures Entertainment, Fox Entertainment, and NBC Universal have been pirating copyrighted content. They probably won’t get sued.

http://torrentfreak.com/busted-bittorrent-pirates-at-so…


Statistical Evidence

Correlation equals causation?

http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/correlation-or-cau…


TSA Fan Mail

The Transportation Security Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, was criticized in a Congressional Report… for being incompetent and ineffective. Here are some highlights.

With more than 65,000 employees, TSA is larger than the Departments of Labor, Energy, Education, Housing and Urban Development, and State, combined. TSA is a top-heavy bureaucracy with 3,986 headquarters personnel and 9,656 administrative staff in the field.

Since 2001, TSA staff has grown from 16,500 to over 65,000, a near-400% increase. In the same amount of time, total passenger enplanements in the U.S. have increased less than 12%.

Since 2002, TSA procured six contracts to hire and train more than 137,000 staff, for a total of more than $2.4 billion, at a rate of more than $17,500 per hire. More employees have left TSA than are currently employed at the agency.

On average, there are 30 TSA administrative personnel-21 administrative field staff and nine headquarters staff-for each of the 457 airports where TSA operates.

TSA‘s behavior detection program, Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques (SPOT), costs a quarter of a billion dollars to operate annually, employing almost 3,000 behavior detection officer full-time equivalents (FTEs). TSA has invested more than $800 million in this program since 2007, and it will require more than $1.2 billion more over the next five years. In spite of this costly program, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that 17 known terrorists traveled on 24 different occasions through security at eight airports where TSA operated this program. In fact, GAO found that not one terrorist had been caught by the SPOT program, and the program has not been scientifically validated.

TSA wasted $39 million to procure 207 Explosive Trace Detection Portals, but deployed only 101 because the machines could not consistently detect explosives in an operational environment. After lengthy and costly storage, TSA recently paid the Department of Defense $600 per unit to dispose of the useless machines.

TSA deployed 500 Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) devices in a haphazard and easily-thwarted manner at a total cost of more than $122 million. By 2013, TSA estimates that the total cost to taxpayers for AIT deployment will reach almost half-a-billion dollars. In 2010, GAO examined the AIT devices and found that ―it remains unclear whether the AIT would have detected the weapon used in the December 2009 [Underwear Bomber] incident.‖ While TSA continues to use AIT machines, the effectiveness of these devices in detecting explosives is still under review and remains questionable.

http://news.slashdot.org/story/11/12/09/2127231/tsa-fac…

The TSA prevented a 17-year old girl from blowing up a plane with her purse that had a miniature, metallic gun design on it.

http://www.news4jax.com/news/Teen-stopped-at-airport-fo…


Habeas Corpulent

The U.S. Government has decided that terrorism suspects can be detained forever, or at least as long as they are alive, without trial or charges, except for U.S. citizens inside the U.S.


License Plate Readers

They’re here! I’ve wondered for a few years why they didn’t use all the traffic cameras scattered around to track cars driven by bank robbers, file sharers, and other criminals. I don’t know that I’m in favor of it, but the equipment and technology is readily available, so I figured somebody would be using it.

They areusing it now, in some cities such as Washington DC. That’s scary, because I drove my own car there a few months ago. I hope they didn’t record all those creative driving maneuvers.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/license-plate-reade…

They also have portable cameras that beep whenever a police car meets a car with a flagged license tag. Maybe I should pay some outstanding parking tickets around the country before I wash my car. It’s a little too dirty to read the tag at the moment.

http://www.policeone.com/police-products/traffic-enforc…

I am afraid video cameras are here to stay, recording criminals, police, and even university chancellors. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes not, but the ubiquitous vidcam is not going away.

http://www.zdnet.com/blog/igeneration/uc-davis-official…

There are even eyes in the sky, and there are more on the way.

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/nationworld/20168…


Road Signs

If I was into illegal activity, I might be tempted to customize some road sign messages. Some electronic road signs are absolutely necessary from a safety standpoint, but some of them (“report suspicious activity” or “warning, bright sunlight ahead”) could stand some modification. In my opinion. If it were legal.

32580231_932a_4666.jpg


Money

An economics lesson.

http://xkcd.com/980/

Here’s a large png:

xkcd980.png


NFL Views

I am not much of a football fan, so maybe everybody but me already knows this: The NFL actively refuses to air any camera shots of all 22 players on the field during a play. That seems strange, but then the NFL doesn’t always seem normal to me. Or the fans.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203716204…


Cyber War

There is no such thing as CyberWar. But there are a lot of computers with weak security connected to the internet, and there are cyber attacks. If there ever is a real war between major countries, there will be a lot of hacking and cyber attacks going both ways, at least until nuclear weapons destroy the internet.

Last month there was big news about a water plant control system that was brought down by international hackers. It made national TV, newspapers, and web sites everywhere.

http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2011/11/hackers-destro…

But the problem with the water plant was a bad pump that had been malfunctioning for years. The problem with the news media could get us into a war over imaginary weapons of mass destruction.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/w…


Spotify

Spotify is a pretty good program you can use to listen to most songs, free. If you pay them a little bit you get more access and no ads.

You can get some very fine music on Spotify, such as Na Pomoč by Skuter, Talking Fishing Blues by Woody Guthrie, and Fish On by Primus. You can also get music that people other than me like. I have heard that you can capture the music files as they are played, but that might be unethical. I haven’t used Rhapsody so it may be just as good.

Here’s how Spotify works:

http://pansentient.com/2011/04/spotify-technology-some-…


Job Hunting

Career tip: Blackmail rarely gets you hired.

http://www.securityweek.com/hungarian-man-pleads-guilty…


Palantir

This is an interesting company. I am surprised it’s not more controversial. It sounds amazingly like the Total Information Awareness system that was killed off by Congress several years ago, but persistently reappears under new names.

http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/palantir-the-vangu…


Duqu

The Duqu virus is a relative of the Stuxnet virus that damaged the uranium centrifuges in Iran a few months ago. Duqu probably had some or all the same developers as Stuxnet.

When people started investigating Duqu, the people running Duqu shut down all their Command and Control servers, some of which had been running since 2009. Maybe they got worried. (The Command and Control servers are just ordinary infected systems used by the virus people to control other infected computers.)

https://threatpost.com/en_us/blogs/duqu-attackers-wiped…


Judy and the Retrovirus

In 2006, a group of researchers announced that a retrovirus called XMRV was responsible for prostate cancer in mice. But the results could not be reproduced in other labs. Then they announced that XMRV was responsible for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). One author of the XMRV/CFS paper named Judy landed a position as research director of a private foundation dedicated to CFS.

The relationship of the virus with CFS and prostate cancer never panned out. Judy, however, was not willing to let facts get in the way of her career. Here is the story — it’s pretty good:

http://arstechnica.com/science/news/2011/11/how-the-col…


Sulfur Dioxide

Sulfur Dioxide is a gas that turns into Sulfuric Acid when it dissolves in water. When high sulfur coal is burned in a power plant without scrubbers, it gives off a lot of sulfur dioxide. This was a major source of the controversial “acid rain.”

Some antipollution measures were implemented a several years ago limiting sulfur output by power plants. Since 2005, levels have dropped more than 40 percent in one problem area including parts of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, and Maryland.

http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/IOTD/view.php?id=76571


FBI Terrorism Plots

Did you ever notice that when the FBI announces the arrest of someone for a terrorism plot, the “terrorists” were working with undercover FBI agents? Some people consider this entrapment, claiming that there would be no terrorist plots without the FBI. I suppose it depends on how far the FBI goes to hatch the plot.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/nov/16/fbi-entrapm…

I am very happy that the FBI or some such organization has plenty of undercover agents willing to buy any plutonium that comes up for sale on the Russian black market.


American in Color from 1939 to 1943

Since the Denver Post has gotten rid of Righthaven and the boss who hired them, I can link to their site again. This page has some good color pictures from 1939 to 1943. I usually think about that period in black and white, even though I know better.

http://extras.denverpost.com/archive/captured.asp


RQ-170 Sentinel

I am hoping to buy one of these on eBay for Christmas. I heard there might be one available.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lockheed_Martin_RQ-170_Sentinel


Chinese Economy

China’s economy is booming, but China has a long way to go before it catches up with the U.S. or Europe in terms of personal wealth. They are on the right track, but it makes no sense to encourage the U.S. to emulate China when they are so far behind, and Chinese workers get paid so little.

http://www.themoneyillusion.com/?p=12171


Today’s History Lesson

In 1916, German agents blew up a major ammunition depot on Black Tom Island, off the coast of Jersey City near the Statue of Liberty.

BlackTom.jpg

The explosion was as powerful as a 5.0 or 5.5 earthquake. Thousands of windows were shattered in Manhattan, including some in Times Square. The outer wall of Jersey City’s City Hall was cracked and the Brooklyn Bridge was shaken.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Tom_explosion

In 1919, a huge tank of molasses ruptured in Boston, and a giant wave of molasses flooded the streets. 21 people were killed and 150 were injured.

BostonMolassesDisaster.jpg

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boston_Molasses_Disaster

In 1921 the Battle of Blair Mountain erupted in Logan County, West Virginia. Between 10,000 and 15,000 coal miners confronted an army of police and strike breakers in a week-long battle over forming a labor union.

Blair_Mountain_Fighting.jpg

They estimate that a million shots were fired, but only about 100 people were killed. I guess either the one million rounds figure was exaggerated, or those people were exceptionally bad shots.

At one point, a mining company hired planes to drop gas bombs (probably mustard gas or nerve gas) and explosive bombs left over from World War I on the strikers.General Billy Mitchell ordered Army bombers from Maryland to be used for aerial surveillance against the miners.

After the battle, 985 of the miners were arrested, and UMW membership dropped from 50,000 to 10,000 over the next several years.

Miners_with_bomb.jpg

A bomb dropped on the miners

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Blair_Mountain

The Kettering Bug was an unmanned aerial torpedo developed in 1918. It was tested but never used in combat. The Kettering Bug was the forerunner of today’s cruise missiles and UAVs.

Kettering_Bug.jpg

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kettering_Bug

Here is an 1889 New York Times article about the Oklahoma Land Run:

http://www.nytimes.com/learning/general/onthisday/big/0…

Here is a map of slaves as a percent of population by county in 1860. I didn’t realize there were so many slaves in the South.

cw0013200.jpg

Warning: hi-resolution, 26 megbytes.

2TB Flash Drives in 2 Years

Intel and Micron have a join venture and have produced a die that should make 2 terabyte SSDs available in 2013.

http://arstechnica.com/business/news/2011/12/worlds-fir…


Adobe Deblurring

Adobe had a big presentation promoting a new deblur feature in Photoshop.

http://blogs.adobe.com/photoshopdotcom/2011/10/behind-a…

However, the photos they were deblurring in the demonstration had been algorithmicly blurred, making the deblurring a lot easier.

http://www.dpreview.com/news/2011/10/18/adobeclarifies


Adobe Flash Vulnerability

InteVyDis, a Russian firm specializing in packaging software security exploits, is offering one for sale that can give a remote computer access to an up-to-date Windows 7 machine running the most recent version of Adobe Flash Player 11.

http://arstechnica.com/business/news/2011/12/another-ad…

That should encourage people to move to html 5.


ATM Skimmer

Here’s a nice card “skimmer” that fits over an ATM slot and copies your ATM card’s data as you slide it through the slot. It even has a tiny camera built-in to video your PIN when you enter it. It was made on a 3D printer.

https://krebsonsecurity.com/2011/12/pro-grade-3d-printe…


Buying Laws

Two senior aids who helped write the ill-fated (hopefully) SOPA bill have taken jobs as lobbyists in the entertainment industry. The new high-paying positions were in no way rewards for doing political favors for the entertainment industry while they were employed by Congress. You can ask them if you don’t believe me.

http://www.politico.com/news/stories/1211/70149.html


Diploma Frame Dot Com

My two elder toddlers made a web site for a diploma frame company, Church Hill Classics.

http://www.diplomaframe.com/

It’s really sophisticated, with inventory management, multiple stores, lots of reports for the company, customization, and CONTESTS. You could win a $1000 scholarship! Well, you could if you’re going to college in the U.S. next year. Enter here:

http://www.diplomaframe.com/contests/frame-my-future-sc…

Here are the finalists from last year. They’re good.

http://www.diplomaframe.com/contests/frame-my-future-sc…


Michael Stern Hart (1947-2011)

Michael Hart, founder of the Gutenberg Project and inventor of the eBook, died last September.

http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2011/09/michael…

In 1971, Michael Hart typed in the Declaration of Independence on a computer at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He made it available to all the computer users. After that, he entered the Bill of Rights, and then the entire U.S. Constitution.

He kept it up, founding Project Gutenberg which today has more than 36,000 free books and publications. That doesn’t sound like a huge number when I’ve been nattering on about petabytes, but it is more books than I’ll read in my life.

The same file of the Declaration of Independence, no doubt through many iterations, is still available as Gutenberg Press EBook #1, December 1971:

http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/1/pg1.txt

I started getting e-books from Project Gutenberg long before there was an internet. I ordered them on 5.25″ floppy, 3.5″ floppy, and downloaded them on a 300-baud modem from BBS systems. I noticed the term “sysop” on the Gutenberg site just now, something I haven’t seen for a while.

I have made a few contributions to Project Gutenberg over the years, the latest being the Journals of Lewis and Clark.

http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/8419

I exchanged emails with Michael Hart a few times, and he was a recipient of Junkmail (though I’m not sure whether he actually read it.)

Project Gutenberg eBooks are available now in several formats, including the Kindle .mobi format. Maybe I’ll have to figure out how to copy files from a PC to my Kindle.

Here are the top 100 eBooks on Project Gutenberg (yesterday, past week, titles, authors, etc.). There are some good books there.

http://www.gutenberg.org/browse/scores/top


ICEX, the Connecticut, and Classified Information

U.S. Navy submarine forces have conducted exercises in the Arctic every two or three years since the USS Skate surfaced through the ice at the North Pole in March 1959.

USSSkate1959

This year the USS New Hampshire and the USS Connecticut participated in ICEX, north of Prudhoe Bay.

http://www.navy.mil/search/display.asp?story_id=59112

Here are some blog entries on the exercises. This is the Navy’s official blog, and the entries are like press releases, but it’s still pretty interesting.

http://navylive.dodlive.mil/index.php/tag/icex/page/2/

110319-N-UH963-293.jpg110326-N-7058E-029.jpg

The USS Connecticut 160 miles north of Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, about 73N 147W.

They didn’t just pick a random spot to bust through the ice. There was a team that selected and prepared the area, and cleared the ice of the hatches of the submarine. I guess this isn’t absolutely necessary, but it cuts the risk of damage.

http://navylive.dodlive.mil/index.php/2011/03/24/the-ma…

The Secretary of the Navy, Chief of Naval Research, Lieutenant Governor of Alaska, and a few others visited the ICEX Ice Camp.

While the USS Connecticut was tooling around under the ice, its commander Michael was being investigated for mishandling classified information and then lying about it. He used a portable hard drive in Afghanistan in 2006-2007, and ended up with some classified documents on his Mac Book at home, a big no-no.

I wonder if the people who ordered the Navy to Afghanistan realize Afghanistan is land locked.

Michael lost his command a couple of months after ICEX.

http://www.navytimes.com/news/2011/06/navy-sub-co-flout…

It’s not uncommon for commanding officers to be fired in the navy. The Navy has pretty strict rules.

http://www.navytimes.com/news/2011/12/navy-2011-co-xo-c…

I imagine you’ve been staying up late at night wondering what they do with nuclear reactors from submarines when they’re finished with them. You can finally get some sleep. They send the reactors to Hanford, Washington.

http://bubbleheads.blogspot.com/2011_06_01_archive.html…

http://playtechs.blogspot.com/2007/11/flying-over-easte…

Some submarine parts were shipped from California to Maine a few weeks ago, along with a batch of black widow spiders.

http://www.navytimes.com/news/2011/12/ap-navy-bath-iron…


Aircraft Charts

In the past two or three years, there has been a big trend toward digital charts in aviation. The FAA’s data is public domain, so companies can buy it cheaply (for the cost of distribution), and you can read the charts on an iPad or other computer easier and cheaper than using paper charts. They’re less likely to blow out of the plane that way, too.

IMG_4790.jpg

In an effort to prevent anything in aviation from becoming less expensive, the FAA has proposed a $150 per year end user charge for these public domain digital charts.

http://www.avweb.com/eletter/archives/avflash/2082-full…

NOAA handled the production and distribution of aviation charts for a lot of years, until the FAA took over in 2000. The FAA promptly fired most of the smaller aviation chart dealers, and now they’re complaining that they’re losing too much money because people are using digital charts instead of the expensive paper charts.

I was confused. I thought the FAA was supposed to provide a service, not sell things for profit. Maybe they should give the charts back to NOAA. NOAA still does an excellent job with nautical charts, and their digital nautical charts are free to download.

http://www.nauticalcharts.noaa.gov/mcd/Raster/download_…

I have been keeping a copy of nautical charts in printable .png format here:

http://xpda.com/nauticalcharts


Stolen Laptop?

There is a nice open source application called Prey for laptops, iPads, etc. that will track the device if it is stolen. Prey checks in every 20 minutes or so (whatever you select), and if your device is flagged as stolen, it will send a screen image, webcam image, and location information to your email or a web site.

http://preyproject.com/


Electric Catapult

Aircraft Carriers use steam catapults. Steam pressure moves an arm, which pulls the airplane and accelerates it at several g’s. (Maybe a max of 6 g’s and average of 3 g’s for 2.5 seconds, but I’m not sure.Figure it out if you’re interested….)

However, steam catapults have some limitations. They are big and heavy. It’s hard to control the acceleration along the launch rail. They also are limited in weight and speed of the aircraft because things explode under too much pressure.

New aircraft carriers are using Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch Systems (EMAL). This is like a giant linear electric motor. Some of the advantages are that they can have more power, the power can be adjusted along the launch rail to get a more controlled acceleration, and they are smaller and lighter that steam catapults.

http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/systems/ship/sys…

Here are some test photos of the EMAL system designed for the new aircraft carrier Gerald Ford. This test was in Lakehurst, New Jersey about a year ago. The USS Gerald Ford should be commissioned in 2015.

101218-N-0000X-001.jpg101218-N-0000X-002.jpg


Pictures of Today

P1360484.jpg
The Minnow in the Dry Tortugas

P1360121.jpg
A barge on the Potomac River

P1360481.jpg
A Ketchikan seaplane at Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas

P1360488.jpg
Some old brickwork at Fort Jefferson

P1360759a.jpg
This boat has twin turbine engines and will go about 220 mph. It’s going over 100 mph in this picture.

P1360803.jpg
Bottom Work, Key West

P1360876a.jpgP1360973a.jpg
A Malachite Butterfly, Boca Chica Key

P1370144.jpg
Lizard, Key West

P1370206.jpg
Two Lizards and a Bird on an Island, Key West

P1370186.jpg
Transportation from Cuba to Florida

P1370371.jpg
Spanning the Arkansas River

P1370375a.jpg
Peak One, Breckenridge

I didn’t take the rest of these pictures, but I helped pay for them.

101023-N-1776T-243.jpg
Blue Angels, Jacksonville, last October

110301-N-7237C-009.jpg
A Trident II D5 missile launched from the ballistic missile submarine USS Nevada off the coast of Southern California, March 2011.

100506-N-1325N-003.jpg
The USS Nevada, Bremerton, WA, May 2010.

110309-N-FG395-007.jpg
The fast attack sub USS Pittsburgh, Kings Bay, Georgia, March 2011.

110304-O-9999L-001.jpg
An F-35C Joint Strike Fighter test aircraft returns from a flutter envelope expansion flight, March 2011. That would be a scary test flight.

110313-N-SB672-164.jpg
A house floating in the ocean after the Tsunami in Japan, March 2011

110923-N-AC979-143.jpg
The U.S. Navy’s newest destroyer, the USS Spruance at Key West, September 2011, for its commissioning. Fort Zach is in the background.


Friday, December 16, 2011 - Posted by | Junkmail | , , , , , , , , , , ,

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