Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Camel's Nose

The Camel's Nose is in the tent, you know, the first "innocent" foray into formerly forbiddion territory regarding any governmental or corporate policy that causes alarms bells to go off, particularly in terms of privacy, is moving into the marketplace as seen by Alternet's incendiary article titled.

Biometrics at Pizza Hut and KFC? How Face Recognition and Digital Fingerprinting Are Creeping Into the U.S. Workplace

When looking at the larger picture regarding biometrics, no doubt this techology can be easily abused just as tech was abused by the banks in turning dollars into bits able to be packaged into complex toxic assets that bankrupted the world.

All summer, Lathem Corp. product marketing manager Tony Burks has been on tour, pitching the biometric company's line of face-scanning time clocks at trade shows around the country. In his presentations Burks moves toward the small device and then backs away, showing how FaceIN uses some of the latest advances in face recognition technology to assess his identity from up to three feet away.  

FaceIN uses two cameras to map a worker's face, converting the width of their cheekbones, depth of their eye sockets, nose shape, and other unique facial features into an ID code. Every day after that, workers punch in by standing in front of a machine that recognizes them after a two-second face scan. Unlike the old-fashioned electronic password, FaceIN promises to tightly monitor when workers come and go, permanently banishing "buddy punching" from the workplace -- the time-honored practice of covering for a co-worker who may be running a few minutes late.

Identical twins can't con it, because, as Burks tells AlterNet over the phone, the two cameras that survey the face capture even slight variations in cheek plumpness and eyelid droop. As workers age, their FaceIN avatar ages with them. Changes to the face brought on by weight gain and weight loss are also clocked. "Let's say you gained 15 pounds next month," Burks says, "It would still recognize you." 

Winston Smith would recognize the implications of this tech in a heartbeat, do you?

Behind Winston's back the voice from the telescreen was still babbling away about pig-iron and the overfulfilment of the Ninth Three-Year Plan. The telescreen received and transmitted simultaneously. Any sound that Winston made, above the level of a very low whisper, would be picked up by it, moreover, so long as he remained within the field of vision which the metal plaque commanded, he could be seen as well as heard. There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You had to live -- did live, from habit that became instinct -- in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized. 

As often stated in BRT, technology has no morality, it all depends on how it's used determines the impact it will have on society.
Click on Lanthem's FaceIN's image to see this tech in action, something somewhat disconcerting to watch if you ask me.

Addendum: The Fed's getting into the act as well. Not Biometrics but rather surveillance of online conversations on social networking sites like Facebook and Google+.

"How often do you mention the word 'Fed' online? There is about to be a new breed of Big Brother "watchers" and electronic surveillance on billions of online conversations before eavesdropping on the emotion behind how the 'Fed' was used. The monitoring will include identifying and reaching out to "key bloggers" and "influencers."

ZeroHedge reported the Federal Reserve Bank will soon monitor billions of conversations on social networking sites to know who mentions "Fed" as well as the sentiment in which it was used. 

Enemy of the State anyone? and yes, I'll bet BRT could be monitored if the proposal goes through since "The Fed" has been mentioned many times in posts this blog has produced discussing the actions of a private organization who controls the monies of our once great nation.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


While this video illustrates, in spades, EPFL's cutting edge advancement of bots able to flock and land without crashing into one another, the real story in this post is the brilliant work of Craig Reynolds  making this behavior possible by developing Boids, the code enabling machines to flock, like birds, in real time.

To show how Boids can contribute to art, view Breaking the Ice, the classic CG love story showing how love conquers all in timeless fashion even though the animation was done way back in 1987.


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Privatize Profits/Socialize Losses

Dr. Paul Craig Roberts is one of the few economists who, IMHO, gets it. Articulate, concise and above all else, non partisan, he demystifies the economic malfeasance the banks, with government collusion, have foisted upon the world.

To add fuel to the fire, this excerpt will really warm the cockles of your heart.

A trillion dollars,  routinely given to the banks thanks to the Fed's largess at our expense equates to this...

"But enough of the analogies.  What does it mean to you, if you were budgeting a trillion dollars spending in your household?  One trillion dollars spending divided by 300 million Americans comes out to $3,333 per person.   So every time the government wants to toss around a trillion here and a trillion there, think of writing a check for $3,333 for each person in your household.

That, my friend, is a trillion buck-a-roos."

Any questions?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Goals & Objectives

Had to put this gem in. Says it all regarding goals and objectives, no matter what industry you find yourself in. :)


Just read a sobering article regarding the ability of man to overreach, not only in terms of finance and debt, courtesy of tech, the banks and the fed, but also in lack of intelligent resource management, something getting scarier by the moment as we move further into the 21st century.

"Humankind will slip next week into ecological debt, having gobbled up in less then nine months more natural resources than the planet can replenish in a year, researchers said Tuesday.

The most dominant species in Earth's history, in other words, is living beyond the planet's threshold of sustainability, trashing the house it lives in.

At its current pace of consumption humankind will need, by 2030, a second globe to satisfy its voracious appetites and absorb all its waste, the report calculated.

Earth's seven billion denizens -- nine billion by mid-century -- are using more water, cutting down more forests and eating more fish than Nature can replace, it said.

At the same time, we are disgorging more CO2, pollutants and chemical fertilizers than the atmosphere, soil and oceans can soak up without severely disrupting the ecosystems that have made our planet such a comfortable place for homo sapiens to live.

Counting down from January 1, the date when human activity exceeds its budget -- dubbed "Earth Overshoot Day" -- had receded by about three days each year since 2001.

The tipping point into non-sustainability happened sometime in the 1970s, said the Oakland, California-based Global Footprint Network, which issued the report.

This year, researchers estimate that the equivalent of Earth's resource quota will be depleted on September 27."

and that's not all.

"But as India, China and other emerging giants continue to grow their economies at breakneck pace -- fuelled in large part by the desire for a "Western" lifestyle -- that per-capita footprint will become much larger, scientists warn.

Already today, for example, China is the top emitter of greenhouse gases and the top producer of automobiles."

No doubt, technological solutions able to deal with this non-sustaialble lifestyle we find ourselves mired in are emerging from labs all over the wold but successful research does not equate to real world solutions given the time frames needed to 1: develop new manufacturing modalities to produce this new tech and 2: create innovative ways to finance same, something becoming all the more difficult given the momental fiscal malfeasance the banks (with governmental support) have perpetrated on the world with unprecedented speed and efficiency.

We are in trouble and we better do something about it because if we don't, the possibility of Earth becoming  a Giedi Prime looms ever larger, a prospect truly unsustainable if we want to remain a viable species residing on a tiny planet we call home.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Deus ex Machina

"This is the first time in history that we have been able to decode brain activity and reconstruct motion pictures into a computer screen. The path that this research opens boggles the mind. It reminds me of Brainstorm, the cult movie in which a group of scientists lead by Christopher Walken develop a machine capable of recording the five senses of a human being and then play them back. This new development brings us closer to that goal which, I have no doubt, will happen. And, given the exponential increase in computing power, this all will arrive sooner than most mortals expect. [UC Berkeley]"

How this was done was fascinating to say the least.

"They used three different subjects for the experiments, which were part of the research team because it requires to be inside a functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging system for hours at time. Inside the machine, they were exposed to two different groups of Hollywood movie trailers as the fMRI machine recorded the brain's blood flow through their brains' visual cortex.

The readings were fed into the computer program, in which they were divided into three-dimensional pixels units called voxels (volumetric pixels). This process effectively decodes the brain signals generated by moving pictures, connecting the shape and motion information in the movie to the brain activity. As the session progressed, the computer kept learning about how the visual patterns presented on the screen corresponded to the brain activity.

After recording this information, the activity from the second group of clips was used to reconstruct the videos on the screen. The computer then analyzed 18 million seconds of random YouTube video and built a database of potential brain activity for each clip. From all these videos, the software picked 100 clips that looked more similar to the ones that subject watched, combining them into the final movie. Although the movie is low res and blurry, it clearly matches the actual video the subjects were watching.

Taken in context, it's obvious the acceleration of tech is truly double exponential, a concept put forth by Ray Kurzweil in describing Vernor Vinge's notion of a technological  singularity whereby the future (2020?) cannot be predicted due to the ever quickening pace of computer hardware/software, the engine that drives all things digital in the world. While I don't agree with everything Kurzweil says, (reality tends to alter grand visions in ways only quantum theory, initial conditions and chaos can understand) this Gizmodo article graphically shows how man is touching aspects of reality not even dreamed of just two years ago.

Another symptom of progress toward the Singularity: ideas themselves should spread ever faster, and even the most radical will quickly become commonplace. When I began writing science fiction in the middle '60s, it seemed very easy to find ideas that took decades to percolate into the cultural consciousness; now the lead time seems more like eighteen months. (Of course, this could just be me losing my imagination as I get old, but I see the effect in others too.) Like the shock in a compressible flow, the Singularity moves closer as we accelerate through the critical speed.

And what of the arrival of the Singularity itself? What can be said of its actual appearance? Since it involves an intellectual runaway, it will probably occur faster than any technical revolution seen so far. The precipitating event will likely be unexpected -- perhaps even to the researchers involved. ("But all our previous models were catatonic! We were just tweaking some parameters....") If networking is widespread enough (into ubiquitous embedded systems), it may seem as if our artifacts as a whole had suddenly wakened.

And what happens a month or two (or a day or two) after that? I have only analogies to point to: The rise of humankind. We will be in the Post-Human era. And for all my rampant technological optimism, sometimes I think I'd be more comfortable if I were regarding these transcendental events from one thousand years remove ... instead of twenty."

Note that Vinge's visionary yet cautionary comments were written just when Mosaic brought the Net to the world, an event forever changing how man conducts business on planet earth. Since then, the web's 24/7 connect to us has only gotten more pervasive and more powerful, the one essential ingredient able to make the Singularity valid, a notion both frightening and exhilarating at the same time. Food for thought if you ask me.

Questions, Questions, We All Have Questions :)

Monday, September 19, 2011


"This is home." - Carl Sagen. Isn't it about time we took better care of her? Thanks Murry for the post.

There be Monsters

One of the truly great sites on the net, The Oil Drum talks about Peak Oil with articulate and vetted information coming forth from pros who have in-depth knowledge of how the industry operates at the highest level. It is a resource I rely on, in part, when discussing the aspects of energy from the tech perspective. In this light, the OD post titled Peak Oil, Peak Debt, and the Concentration of Power piqued my interest as Clarles Eisenstein understands how emerging technologies threaten the entrenched power base(s) who have ruled the world for hundreds of years.

"When theorists approach the peak oil problem from the perspective of finding a substitute that will allow us to maintain our present energy infrastructure, their conclusion is one of despair. There may be many substitutes for oil as a concentrated form of storable energy, but none of them are nearly as good as oil itself. Those invested in the status quo would, quite understandably, like to maintain it, but it is becoming apparent even to the most highly invested that the status quo is doomed; that it can be maintained only temporarily, and at a rapidly accelerating environmental cost. The transition before us is not merely a transition in fuel types. It is also a transition in the whole energy infrastructure, both physical and psychological; a transition away from big power plants, distribution lines, and metered consumers; away from capital-intensive drilling, refining, distribution, and consumer fueling stations. More broadly, it is a transition away from centralization, concentration, and all the social institutions that go along with it.

Both the energy system and the money system are based on accumulation and the concentration of power. Not only our energy infrastructure, but our dominant yet invisible way of thinking about energy, presupposes a centralized system of distribution based on a highly concentrated energy source. Many alternative energy technologies have made little headway, not because they are technologically unfeasible, but because they don't fit into our present physical, financial, and psychological infrastructure."

In reading the article, one finds the power elite in many industries trying to maintain control while tech and the web make this increasingly difficult to do so, i.e.
  • Hollywood: Realize the fact you make money primarily on releasing the product, after that, price points of same goes down with the eventual move of said product to public domain in shorter time frames. It's just a matter of time but this will happen. To whit, Netflix, Apple and Google are making plays to distribute flicks at low cost. It's up to Hollywood to get with the program.
  • Music: The same rules apply. Apple has changed the playing field here and will, along with significant others, do the same for video. Interesting enough, many artists are moving away from this hostile, restrictive model of copy-write by fiat by becoming web savvy and pushing their content out there for all to download without the DMCA or other such niceties as it makes good business to do so.
  • Medicine: PLOS is changing the game on researchers releasing state-of-art info medical data to all of us without cost or restriction, thus changing the relationship of informed patient to doctor forever. Watson will play a huge role on medical as well as digital diagnosis of illness is coming to a computer near you.
  • Patents: The rules of granting patents is changing, thanks to the web. With openness and intelligence, you can eliminate Patent Trolls, the bane of all things relating to tech.
  • Power: Cheap, reliable solar is coming and when it does, the ability for people to generate enough energy to power a home or business without the need for the electric company becomes doable.
  • Portable Power: Graphene ultra capacitors for cheap, efficient energy storage is coming, thus lessening dependence on Lithium ion, an expensive way to store power.
  • Fabbing: The distributed way to build stuff is taking off and yes, much of it is open source.
  • Power II: Wind, wave and geothermal is ramping up as well thanks to the increasing cost of oil.
  • Hollywood II: Cheap, high end tech from 3D imaging to video production is enabling amateurs to produce really good content. The question to ask is, do we need Hollywood to be "properly" entertained. Increasingly, Vimeo and YouTube are showing that we don't.
  • Books/Newpapers: Tablets, Google and the web is transiting this invaluable resource from paper to bits. The courts not withstanding, publishers and authors will be digital whether they like it or not.
  • Going Local: The world is moving toward this as the old, centralized way of doing things is dying. Neighbors must help each other as government begins to decay. Efficient, local food production is the biggie here as it will become unaffordable to send tomatoes to New England via truck as the train system in the US has died, thanks to the advent of the car and the lack of vision of government to sustain it. 
  • And the list goes on and on and on...
Of course, the transition from a centralized to a distributed system is going to be hard as there is no free lunch, particularly when seen in the context of a corrupt and bankrupt financial/political system seeking to hold onto power by whatever means possible but move we must if we are to survive as a viable species while moving further into an uncertain future of climate change, dwindling natural resources and innate distrust of one another thanks to religion, nationalism and gross public ignorance.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Next Wave

For quite some time, BRT has talked about fabbing or the way to build things using 3D printers. Seems the tech is now becoming serious, so serious that it could change how man produces stuff, for the better.

"3-D printers can make complex shapes that can't be manufactured with conventional techniques. Until recently, however, they couldn't print strong, durable objects. The machine Turner is using can make intricate forms out of high-grade metal, an advance that has allowed researchers to apply the design possibilities of 3-D printing to mechanical parts. The printers use software that works out where the parts need to bear loads and places material just in those areas, halving the weight of the complete part without sacrificing strength. That saves energy, metal, and money. The complex, curving forms that result couldn't be cast in a mold or carved out of a larger block even with the most advanced computer-controlled tools, but they can be printed in a succession of layers tens of micrometers thick."

In the opinion of yours truly, the only way out of the conundrum we face is to become disruptive and do things leveraging tech, creativity and common sense. Only by doing that can we move into a sustainable future able to meet the needs of society in ways that benefit all of us on a tiny planet called Earth.

Seen below is a detail graphic of a 3D printer going for $1300, not bad for something able to build something usefus (or fun) in real time. :)

Music of the Spheres

The real power of quantum computing is NOT the ability to crack security codes or to search huge databases at blinding speeds, the real power of quantum computing lies in simulating reality.

"The physicists of the University of Innsbruck and the Institute for Quantum Optics and Quantum Information (IQOQI) in Innsbruck have come considerably closer to their goal to investigate complex phenomena in a model system: They have realized a digital, and therefore, universal quantum simulator in their laboratory, which can, in principle, simulate any physical system efficiently."

Back in 2008, Seth Lloyd, in his eloquent book Programming The Universe, stated the underlying reason why the scientists at Innsbruck were able to do something which, in time, could change the future of man in ways impossible to comprehend.

"Quantum computers process the information stored on individual atoms, electrons, and photons. A quantum computer is a democracy of information: every atom, electron, and photon participates equally in registering and processing information. And this fundamental democracy of information is not confined to quantum computers. All physical systems are at bottom quantum-mechanical, and all physical systems register and process information."

In indirect fashion, The Music of the Spheres seems apropos as man begins to tease information out of reality using photons and atoms just as the ancients used the motion of celestial bodies to tease out harmonic and relational aspects of nature using music as the mechanism to make it happen.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Can You Hear Me Now?

Every time one hears a bloviator like Rick Perry or Michelle Bachman states categorically that Climate Change is but a myth, something not to be considered by anyone of good faith, should consider this...

"The rapidity with which the planet is losing its northern ice cap continues to astonish experts. The defrosting northern pole is one of the prime drivers of Earth's climate system and is changing global weather patterns in unpredictable ways.

The Arctic ice melt is also accelerating the rate of climate change beyond what humanity is doing with every barrel of oil, tonne of coal or cubic meter of gas burned."

The frightening thing about Global Warming is the fact it's only just beginning...

"One consequence is the acceleration of global warming as the Arctic flips from all white to dark blue, with the ocean absorbing tremendous amounts of heat from the 24-hour summer sun. That shift in albedo - from white to dark - is expected to add an additional amount of heat energy of about 0.3 watts per square meter over the entire land and water surface of the planet, calculates Stephen Hudson of the Norwegian Polar Institute.

That's enough additional energy to power an LED night light for each square meter of the 510 million square meters that comprise the Earth's surface. That will raise global temperatures about 0.25 C, John Abraham of the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota told IPS.

Of course, most of that tremendous amount of heat will reside first in the Arctic, where temperatures are already an average of three to five degrees C higher than 30 to 40 years ago. This winter parts of the Arctic were 21 C above normal for a month.

All that additional heat threatens to light the fuse of the world's biggest "carbon bomb", the vast permafrost region spanning 13 million square kilometers across Alaska, Canada, Siberia and parts of northern Europe."

At this point in time, it looks like James Lovelock's dire view of the negative impact Global Warming is beginning to have on the world may be spot on even though a very sizable percentage of people (in this country)  continued to deny its existence because of the subtlety of change, something vastly different from the speed of tv or the web where instant gratification is not fast enough.

Seen below is a video of Lovelock's take on the emergence of the 900 lb gorilla no one wants to talk about as we move further into the 21st century.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Lost Decade

Not to belabor the point the middle class has been screwed but the NYTimes shows the grim facts of what has happened to us during the reign of the banksters and the minions they control via PACs, lobbyists and money under the table in an article titled Soaring Poverty Cast Spotlight on "Lost Decade".

"Another 2.6 million people slipped into poverty in the United States last year, the Census Bureau reported Tuesday, and the number of Americans living below the official poverty line, 46.2 million people, was the highest number in the 52 years the bureau has been publishing figures on it.

And in new signs of distress among the middle class, median household incomes fell last year to levels last seen in 1997.

Economists pointed to a telling statistic: It was the first time since the Great Depression that median household income, adjusted for inflation, had not risen over such a long period, said Lawrence Katz, an economics professor at Harvard.

“This is truly a lost decade,” Mr. Katz said. “We think of America as a place where every generation is doing better, but we’re looking at a period when the median family is in worse shape than it was in the late 1990s.”

The bureau’s findings were worse than many economists expected, and brought into sharp relief the toll the past decade — including the painful declines of the financial crisis and recession —had taken on Americans at the middle and lower parts of the income ladder. It is also fresh evidence that the disappointing economic recovery has done nothing for the country’s poorest citizens.

The report said the percentage of Americans living below the poverty line last year, 15.1 percent, was the highest level since 1993. (The poverty line in 2010 for a family of four was $22,314.)

 Nuff said.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Creativity - Not

When reading The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost, one sees how creativity just comes forth when one is ready to accept it. It cannot be forced, it simply happens by chance and is nurtured by one who is open and courageous enough to use his or her craft to bring the creative act to fruition, able to be seen by all, no matter what the consequences may be. Thanks to new findings about the inherent close mindedness of man, we now know why the creative act is all too rare, something that has bedeviled man since the beginning of time...

After reading this blurb from Physorg, the fact of why so many people cling to religion as the one true answer to the meaning of life (whatever that is) rings true as religion demands obedience, not curiosity, when purporting  to tell the faithful the real story, from it's perspective of course, on how reality works without the need for science or other such niceties because god (whatever that may be) will tell you and that's all you need to know.  Creativity, on the other hand, requires curiosity, a deep sense of play and the need to question because without these essentials, Einstein's Theory of Relativity or da Vinci's Last Supper, among many significant others, never would have seen the light of day. 

In prior BRT posts, the notion of questioning anything is depicted to be hard while acceptance is easy, a fact religion (and politicians) play upon while asking the flock to pray and pay because god, as the late great George Carlin said "always needs money."

Robert Frost