Showing posts with label Technology. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Technology. Show all posts

August 23, 2014

Brainier-less Law Maker Introduced a Kill Switch for Police on Smart Phones in California

Tech and civil liberties groups are pushing back on a California "kill switch" bill that they warn could be used to silence protests like the ones seen this week in Ferguson, Mo.
Critics say a California bill passed on Monday contains a dangerous carve-out that could give law enforcement the power to shut down cellphones during emergency situations, possibly including public demonstrations.
 The California bill is aimed at curbing cellphone theft by requiring all smartphones sold in the state — home to 37 million people — to come equipped with a feature that allows users to remotely wipe their personal data and make the devices inoperable.
It requires that the “kill switches” be turned on by default, though a user can opt out of using the tool.
If signed by Gov. Jerry Brown (D), the bill will add to the features that some companies already offer to let users disable their phones if stolen.
But the bill “is not explicit about who can activate such a switch,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation said in a June letter opposing the bill.
“And more critically, the solution will be available for others to exploit as well, including malicious actors or law enforcement.”
Concerns about the provision have been heightened by the demonstrations this week in Ferguson, where police at times demanded that protestors and journalists turn off the video cameras on their phones.
Jake Laperruque, fellow on privacy, surveillance and security at the Center for Democracy and Technology, said the California bill could create the potential for an abuse of power by law enforcement.
“This could effectively be co-opted to disrupt protests,” Laperruque said.
“So much of what’s happening [in Ferguson] is relevant,” he continued, wondering what the situation would look like “if this was required there.”
The bill’s supporters say it incorporates protections against the hypothetical police actions.
The measures specifically references California law that requires law enforcement to obtain a warrant to interrupt communications services except in the cases of “extreme emergency” situations.
In situations where there is “immediate danger of death or great bodily injury and there is insufficient time, with due diligence, to first obtain a court order,” law enforcement officials must quickly obtain retroactive court approval for activating the kill switch.
Max Szabo — a spokesman with the San Francisco District Attorney’s office, which supported the bill — called critics concerns “alarmist” and “akin to ambulance chasing.”
“This legislation addresses the violent, global epidemic of smartphone theft,” he said.
“Not only does the bill forbid usage of such technology by government without a court order, these solutions will only be available on smartphones.”
According to 2013 figures from the Public Policy Institute of California, roughly 58 percent of California residents have smartphones.
Because the bill only requires kill switches for smartphones — as opposed to all cellphones — “the utility of limiting speech for a fraction of protesters defies logic and basic commonsense,” Szabo said.
In its letter, the EFF notes that current California law limits when law enforcement would be able to use the kill switches but also “provides the necessary legal roadmap” to disable cellphones in some circumstances.
“Because it is difficult to implement a ‘kill switch’ that can only be utilized at the behest of the device user but not third parties or the government, EFF strongly believes the state should not mandate this backdoor be installed into phones in California.”
Laperruque agreed that those legal protections are insufficient.
“If you give law enforcement a tool that can be abused, you’ll have an instance of asking for forgiveness rather than permission,” he said.
The bill “creates a pretty concerning risk considering history on the issue,” he said, recalling a controversial 2011 decision by San Francisco’s subway authority to interrupt cellphone service in the hope of clamping down on protests.
While the bill is specific to phones sold in California, phone companies may “just start doing this nationally” to cut down on costs, meaning law enforcement could soon have access to the power in every state, Laperruque said.
Laperruque said the focus should be on creating a federal cellphone kill switch bill, such as the one from Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Rep. Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.), which would let device owners wipe their phones of personal data and make the phones inoperable if stolen. 

July 9, 2014

WH brings out Tech intertwined with gay rights and Help for the poor


A program from the White House LGBT Innovation Summit
Technology and gay rights came together at a White House meeting Monday to discuss how technology can help alleviate issues such as poverty and workplace discrimination in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
The president’s offices of Public Engagement and Science and Technology Policy hosted nearly 200 entrepreneurs, technologists and community leaders at what it called an LGBT Innovation Summit.
One theme that emerged from the sessions was the need for more data about LGBT communities, since data can be instrumental in getting grants and making political decisions.
“Everyone is collecting data for their populations, but in most spaces LGBT questions are absent. And data is required for the advancement of any population,” said one attendee who declined to be identified because the event was off-the-record. The White House declined to comment about why the event was off-the-record.
Speakers included Tim Gill, founder of Quark publishing software and a prominent gay rights activist; Geena Rocero, founder of transgender rights group Gender Proud; and Leanne Pittsford, founder of Lesbians Who Tech, an organization dedicated to increasing the number of women and lesbians in technology.
“To have the White House hold a summit on LGBT innovation and technology is truly remarkable,” Thomas McAfee, president of gay social network wrote onFacebook FB -3.88%. He wrote that discussion focused on “how technology can be used to end discrimination, as well as the discrimination that members of our community face in the tech sector.”
Many big technology companies publicly support gay employees, though the meeting came as some tech firms are under fire for hostility to women and minorities. Last week, a former executive at startup Tinder sued the popular dating app and its parentIAC/InterActiveCorp IACI -3.03%, claiming she was sexually harassed and discriminated against before being forced out. Earlier this year, a female employee of code-management system GitHub said the startup’s leaders harassed her and fostered an uncomfortable workplace.
Recent disclosures by leading tech companies showed women are under-represented in their workforces, which include few blacks and Hispanics; those disclosures did not include numbers of gay employees.

June 10, 2014

Can Machines Think? Gay Scientist Alan Turing asked that question in 1950

Portrait of Alan Turing from archive of papers relating to the development of computing at the National Physical Laboratory between the late 1940s and the early 1970s. Includes material on Pilot ACE, ALGOL, Alan Turing etc. 74 boxes + 1 envelope.  CREDIT: Science Museum, London/SSPL
Alan Turing from archive of papers relating to the development of computing at the National Physical Laboratory between the late 1940s and the early 1970s. (Science Museum, London/SSPL)
In 1950, famed London scientist Alan Turing, considered one of the fathers of artificial intelligence, published a paper that put forth that very question. But as quickly he asked the question, he called it “absurd.” The idea of thinking was too difficult to define. Instead, he devised a separate way to quantify mechanical “thinking.”
“I shall replace the question by another, which is closely related to it and is expressed in relatively unambiguous words,” he wrote in the study that some say represented the “beginning” of artificial intelligence. “The new form of the problem can be described in terms of a game which we call the ‘imitation game.’”
What he meant was: Can a computer trick a human into thinking it’s actually a fellow human? That question gave birth to the “Turing Test” 65 years ago.
This weekend, for the first time, a computer passed that test.
“Passing,” however, doesn’t mean it did it with flying colors. For a computer to pass the test, it must only dupe 30 percent of the human interrogators who converse with the computer for five minutes in a text conversation. In the test, it’s up to the humans to separate the machines from their fellow sentient beings throughout their five-minute inquisition. (Gizmodo has a pretty good breakdown of how the test works.)
This go-round, a Russian-made program, which disguised itself as a 13-year-old boy named Eugene Goostman from Odessa, Ukraine, bamboozled 33 percent of human questioners. Eugene was one of five supercomputers who entered the 2014 Turing Test.
“We are proud to declare that Alan Turing’s Test was passed for the first time on Saturday,” declared Kevin Warwick, a visiting professor at the University of Reading, which organized the event at the Royal Society in London. “In the field of Artificial Intelligence there is no more iconic and controversial milestone than the Turing Test, when a computer convinces a sufficient number of interrogators into believing that it is not a machine but rather is a human.”
There is some cause for concern, however. For starters, convincing one-third of interrogators that you’re a teenager who’s speaking in a second language perhaps skews the test a bit. Was the computer that smart? Or was it a gimmick?
And then there is the concern that such technology can be used for cybercrime.
“The Test has implications for society today,” Warwick said in a university news release. “Having a computer that can trick a human into thinking that someone, or even something, is a person we trust is a wake-up call to cybercrime. . . . It is important to understand more fully how online, real-time communication of this type can influence an individual human in such a way that they are fooled into believing something is true . . . when in fact it is not.”
Indeed, if the optimism of Eugene’s programmers is any guide, we may be headed for a scenario not dissimilar to “Her” — the 2013 blockbuster that depicted a complex man falling in love with his computer.
“Going forward we plan to make Eugene smarter,” Vaselov said, ”and continue working on improving what we refer to as ‘conversation logic.’ ”
Terrence McCoy

December 29, 2013

Hard Pill to Swallow to be Secured

 Vitamin authentication password pill

Motorola and a few others are interested in a system in which you take a pill with your pin encrypted inside of it. You have to take one everyday with different pins and because you will loose the one you had within 24 hrs or so it will need to be replaced. The way it works is your stomach juices will melt the coating of the pill or capsule and your electrolytes will serve as the means to transmit to your computer the information.  You will have to be in front of your computer in order to work of coarse.  No one will be able to connect to your computer from afar even if they electronically deciphered your pin/password.

There are still some kinks on the idea like what happens if someone else gains access to your pills.  Can you overdose if taken more than one causing your computer to crash or what happen if you get the revenge of Montezuma? I guess you will be too busy making trips to the bathroom to want to network?

As the end of this year comes quickly to a close those are the things that we know are happening, the frightening stuff comes from your fav cell, cable company and your money supported and voted on by you and me, 'our government’. There isn’t much we can do to stop or slow down what’s coming down the pipes, what we can do is make sure that we know what we are doing to be able to survive and in many cases enjoy developments putting them to our advantage.  One thing you can control I hope is you. Our lives are lived through decisions and the fruit or aftermath of those decisions.  If you know you and how you make your decisions this will help.

If you want to see an example of bad posting on a security point of view,  all you have to do is go to Facebook and see the stuff scrolling down on your screen. Either too much important information is laid out for people you never met to see to others panicking when they hear that FB read your private messages or that people can take the pic of your child and publish it in some sort deviant magazine or web site.

Just three days ago I read a message from someone I knew, a mom. The message was written in a “breaking news” kind of format and I could see from hundreds of miles apart the expression of agony in this mom. The message was a warning to moms not to post pictures of their kids because “they’ discovered a website in FB that is after kids pictures for use by pedophiles. I wanted to send her a message and tell her that there are ways to pick the people you want the photos to be seen and wether they  could be tag or not. Im sure she knew, she was just passing the message along like when commerce law virgins were putting disclaimer on the pages stating that their stuff was theirs. I still see it today. How interesting! The site belongs to FB but what you give to FB belongs to you. I guess none of these forks read Face Books’ disclaimer saying that everything there is theirs.

I decided not to say anything because after not being in contact for a long time for me to start telling them how to do things, I was afraid the information might get lost along the conversation about me, not in touch and may be even writing badly about their hero the ‘Duck and his dynasty.” Besides I was afraid that by the time I explained how you do things today it might be different tomorrow.

I figure if they are afraid of a pedophile web site even though there are but many in every social network and they won’t learn the tool to protect themselves, What are they doing there? Posting pics and being part of it all?  The warning from this mom was well intentioned but it was not based on the realities of security on FaceBook.

A lot of the mistakes I’ve made in FaceBook have been based in not checking for changes frequently.  One day my pics are all private and my setting are being followed and the next day they are all visible to all because FB changed their settings without any warning and it exposed things I thought they were private.

What I do now is review all the time my settings on my private page of FB and post what is known or what only has importance to people that I personally know and it has no real importance if reposted by someone. Still I had an ex-employer calling to tell me someone complaint to have seen me naked on Face Book. I was disappointed about a complaint on my body, but I figure it wasn’t me.  It was probably a posting from this blog with someone semi naked.
On the public page on FB I only post the story tittles with the link to the site. If I decide to talk about the snow or the rain I will do it from my private page. Separating your professional pages from personal stuff is very important.

 Im writing for you to warn you that our times are not ours anymore because we have to share.  Once we know we are not alone anymore then we can take steps, what ever they are and what ever works for you (no cookie cutter system to follow for all) to insure our personal security and the security of what we try to accomplish in a public way.

If target can be hit exposing not only customers name and address with may be social security numbers, which was the past, now Target gets hit and all the information is lost including the account numbers pins and any bank account numbers and pins connected to their target account. That is as bad as it gets nowadays and unless the simple pin base system to encode applications is not change, we will see of more instances like these. I guess bring on the pill? Im hoping for something better!

Target as a target teach us to review our security on the net and know where you should be on that spectrum. If you do banking on the net many banks offer free filters and malware detectors for suspicious sites for your computer and sometimes your iPhone and android. They do business with you on the net so they are smart enough to know that they don’t want you to be the weak link in the chain.

Good Luck and Chin Up like the British will tell us.

Adam Gonzalez, Publisher
Sourcing done by this blog using public, government, commercial sites.

Peter Tatchell Calls for PM Cameron to Investigate Death of Gay Wiz Alan Turing

PIONEER Alan Turing designed some of the first computersPIONEER: Alan Turing designed some of the first computers [PA]
Peter Tatchell has written to Prime Minister David Cameron calling for an inquiry into Turing’s death nearly 60 years ago. The gay computer pioneer, who was instrumental in cracking the Nazi’s Enigma code during the Second World War, died in 1954 after eating a cyanide-laced apple.
An inquest at the time recorded a verdict of suicide. However, Mr Tatchell believes Turing was actually poisoned by British spy chiefs who were worried that his private life combined with an expert knowledge of code breaking, advanced mathematics and computer science put him at high risk of being blackmailed by enemy agents.
His claims come days after Turing received a posthumous royal pardon from the Queen, which overturned a 1952 conviction for homosexuality.
Mr Tatchell said: “The Government should open a new inquiry into the death of Alan Turing, including an investigation into the possibility he was murdered by the security services. The security services would have been very fearful that Turing was vulnerable to blackmail and anxious that he might pass information to the Soviets.
“There was an irrational, paranoid fear that other leading scientists might also aid the Soviets. Although there is no evidence that Turing was murdered by state agents, the fact that this possibility has never been investigated is a major failing. The original inquest was perfunctory and inadequate. Although it is said that he died from eating an apple laced with cyanide, the allegedly fatal apple was never tested for cyanide.
“A new inquiry is long overdue, even if only to dispel any doubts about the true cause of his death.”
Alan Turing, suicide, death investigationTRAGIC: Turing is said to have eaten an apple laced with Cyanide [ALAMY]
At least 50,000 other men were convicted under the same law. They have never been offered a pardon and will never get one
Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary
Mr Tatchell, 61, said Fifties Britain was gripped by an anti-homosexual witch-hunt which was hounding gay ­people out of the Armed Forces and the civil and foreign services. He said: “In this frenzied, homophobic atmosphere, all gay men were regarded as security risks – open to blackmail at a time when homosexuality was illegal and punishable by life imprisonment.”
Turing admitted to having sexual relations with another man, 19-year-old Arnold Murray, after reporting to police that a friend of Murray’s had broken into his home. Both men were charged with gross indecency, with Turing only avoiding jail after agreeing to undergo a ­scientifically unsound hormonal treatment with the intention to reduce his libido.
On Christmas Eve, the Queen signed the royal prerogative of mercy for the pardon of Turing with immediate effect.
Announcing the pardon, Justice ­Secretary Chris Grayling said Turing deserved to be “remembered and recognised for his fantastic contribution to the war effort”. However, Mr Tatchell added: “Singling out Turing for a royal pardon just because he was a great scientist and very famous is wrong. At least 50,000 other men were convicted under the same law. They have never been offered a pardon and will never get one. Selective redress is a bad way to remedy an ­historic injustice.”
Turing, who was 41 when he died, is regarded as the most famous of all the Bletchley Park codebreakers.
He developed a Polish idea of using huge “bombe” machines, the earliest form of computers, to sift through millions of combinations of the German Enigma code. The bombe cracked the permutations of settings available, which enabled the British to gain details of ­Hitler’s plans. Turing’s work and that of his colleagues has been hailed as shaving four years off the end of the war.
There was nothing in Turing’s final days to suggest he was in despair. He had left a note on his office desk the Friday before he died reminding himself of tasks to be done after the weekend.
Turing’s housekeeper found him dead in bed on June 7, 1954, with the half eaten apple on his bedside table.
The circumstances of his death are rumoured to have inspired the Apple computer company logo.

December 13, 2013

5 Major Carriers Let Unlock Cells but Will it Cost You?

Gold iPhone 5s

  • {at&t,
  • verizon,
  • t-mobile,
  • sprint, carriers}

 You know that car mechanic you see often? The one who does an OK job but always forgets a little something here and there? Imagine if you wanted to switch mechanics, but you couldn't without asking him to unlock something in your car. That sounds annoying, right?

Unfortunately, this analogy actually describes our relationship with US wireless carriers, who have been allowed by regulations to lock phones even after a subscriber had fulfilled their contractual obligation to the carrier.
CTIA, the trade group that represents these companies, announced Thursday that all five major carriers—that includes AT&T, Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile, Sprint, and U.S. Cellular—have voluntarily agreed to make unlocking phones a guaranteed and more transparent process. The announcement of six principles that outline how the carriers will handle unlocking devices means consumers looking to unlock their phones and tablets should have a simpler time doing so. The only time a carrier won't unlock your phone is if it feels that the unlock request is fraudulent or that the phone has been stolen.
Carriers have long opposed unlocking phones, likely for fear of losing customers to a competitor. It's been frustrating for consumers, though, who want the freedom to take their phones overseas or to another carrier within the US. Last year, the Librarian of Congress even declared that unlocking a phone violates the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
But the pressure has been mounting on carriers to rethink their opposition. Earlier this year, the Obama administration came out against a ban on cell phone unlocking. Last month, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler told carriers to ease up on unlocking restrictions or face the possibility of increased regulations. Apparently, the five carriers decided that volunteering to change was a better option than being ordered to do so.
There's still some work to be done with the announcement, however. Sina Khanifar, founder of Fix the DMCA, wrote in an email blast that, "the real solution needs to come from Congress" and that people should be able to unlock their devices without consulting with their carriers first. "If you've bought something you should be able to do whatever you want with it, whether it’s modifying it, or unlocking it. You shouldn't need a massive corporation's permission."
The voluntary agreement will go into effect immediately, with three of the six principles being implemented within three months and the remainder within the next year.

December 9, 2013

Africa is Being Remade from the Bottom Sideways with New Technology

 Photo Gallery: Africa Goes Online
When Kirinya drops into the iHub café to buy a latté, he pays his bill of 100 Kenyan shillings (€0.85 or $1.16) by text message. First he types in the café's telephone number and enters a PIN. Then he hits "send" and the transaction is complete.
This payment system is known as M-Pesa. The "M" stands for "mobile" and "pesa" means "money" in the local language of Swahili. M-Pesa turns a mobile phone into a bank account, credit card and wallet all in one. Invented in Kenya, the system is now used in nearly all developing nations. These days, a third of Kenya's economy is conducted via M-Pesa -- at a time when, in Europe, a few major cities are just starting to experiment with the possibility of paying for parking via mobile phone.
'We Feel Very Global'
As for Kirinya, he programs games for mobile phones. His latest project is called "Ananse" and features the spider-god of the same name, a figure from Ghanaian legend, battling unscrupulous politicians. "We've beamed Ananse into the present day," Kirinya explains. The game hit the market in Ghana and Kenya in October and has since been downloaded over 100,000 times. Starting in January, Ananse should start bringing in money, when Kirinya starts charging $1 per download. Updates cost extra, and payment, of course, is via M-Pesa.
In the process, Kirinya has made a name for himself, and not only in Africa. In March, he and his colleagues flew to San Francisco for a computer games fair. "They took us Africans absolutely seriously," he says. "We suddenly feel very global. Finally, we belong."
Game designers in the United States, of course, are much more advanced technically, Kirinya says, with working conditions he can only dream of. "But we could tell they appreciated what we're able to create with the resources we have," he says. The low-tech games Kirinya develops for the African market are a good example. The Americans he met, he says, were reminded a bit of their own pioneering days.
Kirinya works on his career at iHub 12 hours a day, sometimes longer, at which point his wife gets angry and the children complain. But Kirinya has big dreams -- and sees Africa's tremendous online potential. His next idea is to develop an African news portal for mobile phones.
Silicon Savannah
Everyone here at iHub has a similar story. The center was created by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar to serve as an incubator for the future-oriented ideas of Kenya's computer elite. Omidyar outfitted the building, a former shopping center, with affordable workspaces and Internet cafés in 2007.
The project, a kind of digital development aid, is modeled on India, where the IT boom that began in the 1980s has turned that developing country into an up-and-coming tech nation where millions of people now develop software, program games and work in call centers. In Kenya, the information and communications sector already accounts for more than 5 percent of the country's economic performance. Global corporations such as Google, Microsoft, IBM and Cisco have also recognized Africa's potential and taken up offices close to iHub. These days, Ngong Road, where iHub is located, is known locally as Silicon Savannah.
And that's not a joke but a promise. Sub-Saharan Africa is the world's fastest growing market for mobile phones, tablets and laptops. There are more SIM cards in use here than in North America. And with nearly half the continent's population of 900 million people under the age of 15, experts estimate there will be over 1 billion additional mobile phone users here by 2050.
Mobile Phones Where Governments Fail
In the space of barely 10 years, mobile phones and the Internet have changed many Africans' daily life more dramatically than any other societal shift since African nations won their independence from former colonial powers. During the independence era, Africans hoped to finally close the gap between themselves and the rest of the world. Today, after 50 years of hunger, war and corruption, that goal seems to be in reach - thanks largely to smartphones, which have achieved something most governments here have failed to do, by making up for the lack of infrastructure, the greatest obstacle to development.
Where there are mobile phones, there is less need to lay cables for conventional landline telephones. There is also less need to build highways, clinics and schools, because mobile phones are all these things in one -- as well as bank, weather station, doctor's office, atlas, compass, textbook, radio and TV station. Africans can now send money across the jungle or steppe with the click of a button, merchants can compare prices, and farmers can access weather data relevant to their harvests or get advice from veterinarians. Bloggers and social media users also function as a substitute for a free press, keeping watch over those in power. All that's needed to do all this are mobile phone antennas, which are built by companies, not governments.
Africa's Digital Visionary
"It's now easier, technically speaking, to supply a village with Internet access than with clean water," says Mo Ibrahim, a man who has done more than almost any other person for Africa's digital revolution. Timemagazine named the Sudanese businessman one of the most influential people of our time.
When some of the world's most powerful people meet, that tends to include Ibrahim. Last June, for example, he convened with the singer Bono, International Monetary Fund Director Christine Lagarde and Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg in New York to discuss the fight against HIV, on a panel moderated by former US President Bill Clinton.
Ibrahim founded his company Celtel, one of the first mobile phone providers in Africa, in 1998. Despite having had a successful career as an engineer at British Telecom and being the founder of an IT consulting firm in London, Ibrahim wasn't satisfied. "I never entirely became a European," he says. "Africa is simply part of me." So he began soliciting venture capital from his colleagues in the telecommunications industry to invest in Africa.
At the time, the sole advantage of being in Africa was that mobile communications licenses that went for billions in Europe and the US were available there for a couple million, because no one wanted them -- except Mo Ibrahim.
In the years that followed, Celtel expanded into 13 countries, with 24 million people using the company's network, and 5,000 employees. When Ibrahim sold Celtel to Kuwaiti mobile communications provider MTC in 2005, he received $3.4 billion.
A Subdued Mogul
Ibrahim, the son of a Nubian cotton merchant, catapulted Africa into the information age. "Africa is the future," he says. "We're finally part of the global process."
He says this in Marrakech, where he is guest of honor at an African Development Bank conference. The topic of his presentation today is the rule of law and transparency as prerequisites for progress in Africa. Ibrahim says he built up Celtel without paying any bribes.
The Sudanese billionaire walks the halls of the conference hotel alone. He doesn't feel the need for an entourage, as so many other African dignitaries do. He doesn't hold court and he doesn't summon to him those who wish to speak with him. Instead, he comes to the hotel's reception to collect them personally. Even the finance minister of Madagascar patiently waits his turn.

Ibrahim doesn't look like a brash businessman, but rather like someone who weighs his words carefully, an intellectual. He wears round glasses and understated suits -- only the embroidered initials on them betray the work of a custom tailor. His occasionally ringing mobile phone is a surprisingly old Samsung model. All this hardly seems to fit a man who maintains homes in London and Monaco, as well as a sailing yacht moored in Monte Carlo. He's very rarely at home, Ibrahim says. Most of his time is spent traveling the world, promoting Africa's causes. His wife, a radiologist, is used to it. Their son and daughter are grown.
Ibrahim also created a foundation which releases an annual ranking of good and bad governance among African nations, based on a number of indicators. Free and fair elections garner positive points, for example, while corruption lowers a country's ranking. The foundation also presents the annual Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership, which awards $5 million to a commendable African politician. This year, though, for the second year in a row, the jury found no one it considered worthy of receiving the prize.
Does that mean things in Africa are not, in fact, getting better? Ibrahim shakes his head and says he does believe the continent is developing -- primarily thanks to mobile phones and the Internet. "The mobile phone is an important tool of civil society," he says. "If a border customs officer extorts money from you, take his picture with your mobile phone and put it online. If someone pressures you during an election, do the same."
Even tensions between tribes and ethnic groups can be overcome, Ibrahim believes, if people are connected by the Internet instead of leading isolated existences in their own villages. "The more we know about each other, the more difficult it is to sow discord," he says. "Through modern communication, Africans will learn that it's better to do business with each other than to hate each other."
Billionaire Mo Ibrahim and Internet businessman Wesley Kirinya are two faces of the new Africa. The one has already ridden a good idea to technological success, while the other is just starting out, an entire generation of Africans alongside him. The continent has not yet produced an Internet billionaire, but that will come. "Give us a couple years," Kirinya says confidently.
Cutting-Edge African Apps
Africans have increasingly become sought-after experts at IT conventions -- their knowledge is valued because African IT developers have to be especially creative given the continent's limitations. The greatest obstacle to their work is the fact that so far only a small proportion of the mobile phones used in Africa are Internet-enabled. But African programmers have found ways to coax more functions out of basic mobile phones. Special programs, for example, can turn text messages into emails, allowing people to send text messages to government authorities, universities or banks which are then processed and continue their trajectory online.
This is how the social network Mxit works in South Africa. All the site's over 7 million users have to do in order to participate in chats or upload statuses or posts is send a text message, and Mxit does the rest. The social network offers its own chat rooms, but can also connect users with Facebook or Yahoo.
Another successful app from Africa that works via text message basis is iCow. The brainchild of Kenyan farmer Su Kahumbu, this program received development and technical implementation funding from a British foundation.
Medical, Agricultural Uses
Small farmers throughout the country can register for the program using the code *285#. They then enter their cows' age, breed, weight, sex and date of last calving, and iCow automatically sends them advice developed by veterinarians concerning feed, illnesses and fertility cycles. To make it possible for illiterate farmers to use the program as well, it uses voice messages rather than text. Many thousands of farmers now use the system.
The Internet helps sick people, too. Hardly any doctors in Africa practice entirely offline these days, even in the most remote locations. Practices in small villages can send their lab results to university clinics, and receive diagnoses and treatment suggestions in return. Such reporting systems also make it possible to identify the start and spread of epidemics early on.
Mobile phones can also be used to determine the authenticity and quality of medications -- a very important application in Africa, where thousands of people die each year as a result of counterfeit drugs. To address this problem, computer experts in Ghana developed a simple security program. First, patients scan the bar code on the packaging with their mobile phones or note down the identification number. They then send this information to a central office that checks the drug's authenticity and sends back the result, together with dosage advice. This system, called mPedigree, is supported by government health authorities and pharmaceutical companies in West Africa.
Map Program Drawn from Violence
But mobile phones in Africa do even more than just helping sick people, farmers and children -- they can also save lives in catastrophes and wars. The best example of this is a platform created by a Kenyan company called Ushahidi, which likewise has its office at iHub on Ngong Road. Ushahidi, which means "testimony" in Swahili, is also the name of a platform that allows users to upload instances of fighting, corruption and epidemics to an interactive map.
Ushahidi provides free, downloadable software that is used to generate interactive catastrophe maps. Victims, witnesses and aid workers can send in reports via text message, which Ushahidi then displays as points on a map.
Political scientist Daudi Were, 34, is one member of the team that developed Ushahidi. He didn't get involved because he loves technology, he says, but because of the project's political aspects. He was one of the country's most famous bloggers six years ago, when violence exploded on New Year's Eve following Kenya's presidential election and supporters of both candidates fought with each other. In the space of just a few hours, Ngong Road, too, became a battlefield. More than 1,500 people in Kenya died.
"We were shaken," Were says. "No one knew the true extent of the violence, and the statements the government issued couldn't be trusted." So he sat down with some programmer friends and in just six days they developed Ushahidi's software. More than 5,000 witnesses and victims of violence reported their experiences to the platform by text message.
Saving Lives Around the World
There are now around 45,000 maps available online based on the program Were and his friends put together over the course of a few nights in early 2008. Human rights activists, the UN and emergency medical services around the world use it. Even the Libyan rebellion that toppled dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011 used Ushahidi to create maps of battles and troop movements. In Macedonia, the organization Transparency Watch uses the software to log cases of corruption. Television broadcaster Al-Jazeera used it in the fall of 2011 to map earthquake damage in Turkey. And in the wake of devastating Typhoon Haiyan, scientists from Heidelberg University compiled an Ushahidi map of the damage the storm caused in the Philippines.
"These maps fulfill two functions," Were says. "They offer an overview of the scale of a crisis, and they also allow aid teams to make contact with victims and witnesses. This has made it possible to save human lives." This is possible because people who enter data into the platform can leave their telephone number or email address as well.
Brck: Spreading the Internet
The next project coming from the makers of Ushahidi is called Brck. This device is named for its appearance -- roughly the size and shape of a brick -- and contains a mobile router capable of connecting up to 20 mobile phones, laptops or tablets to the Internet, even in the most remote villages. A rechargeable battery provides up to eight hours of back-up power during power outages.
Currently, Brck's inventors are traveling to far-flung corners of Kenya, such as Lake Turkana, to subject first prototypes of the device to stress tests under extreme conditions.
Mass production of the mobile router is scheduled to begin soon. The first Brck routers will be manufactured in Asia, but Were hopes eventually to be able to move production to Africa. That would make Brck the first hardware component manufactured in Africa, by Africans. The company has received 700 preorders so far, with particular interest from aid organizations and the UN, which want to equip their emergency response teams with these devices.
Were believes the product's export prospects are also excellent, seeing as there are still 4.3 billion people in the world who are not yet online. Besides, he says, “What works in Africa will work anywhere."

November 9, 2013

Time to Run to Your Bunkers Folks Satellite is Coming Down

This sleek satellite is set for a spectacular flame-out.
This sleek satellite is set for a spectacular flame-out. / EUROPEAN SPACE AGENCY 
The European Space Agency says its GOCE research satellite will crash to Earth on Sunday night or during the day on Monday. It says it cannot predict where the debris will hit. But it claims the small fragments that survive reentry are unlikely to cause any casualties. GOCE -- which stands for Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer -- was launched in 2009 to map the Earth's gravitational field. It ran out of fuel last month, ending the mission.
Since then, the satellite has been spiraling steadily downward. Scientists say the 1,100-kilogram (2,425-pound) satellite already has fallen to an altitude of about 105 miles and is coming closer every minute.
Once it reaches an altitude of 50 miles, the satellite will break apart and most of it will burn in the atmosphere.
However, the space agency says about 20 percent of the spacecraft's original mass could survive and reach the ground. That portion, totaling about 200 kilograms (440 pounds) will break up into dozens of small fragments, scattered over a wide area. Scientists have been unable to calculate where or exactly when the debris will hit.
The agency points out that in the history of space flight, no man-made space objects that have re-entered Earth's atmosphere have ever caused injury to humans. It claims people are 250,000 times more likely to win the lottery than to get struck by any debris from the satellite. 

August 25, 2013

NYC Engineer Wants to Help Homeless Man Not By Food But By Coding Knowledge


But the 23-year-old engineer didn't think those two parts of his day had to stay separate. Earlier this week, he made an offer to one of those homeless men.
"I walk by a homeless guy every day on the way to work and I get this feeling every day that he is a smart guy -- he has books and he writes," McConlogue told ABC News. "I was trying to think of a way to engage him and help him."
McConlogue approached Leo, a 36-year man who lives on the streets of lower Manhattan, on Thursday and gave him two options.
The first was $100 in cash.
"I figured that was enough for a ticket some place or a few meals, if that's what he wanted," McConlogue said.
The second option on the table was a laptop, three JavaScript books and two months of coding instruction from McConlogue.
After hearing the offer, Leo, who McConlogue described as very articulate and gifted, especially in on the topic of environmental issues, decided to take the coding option.
"I want to spread knowledge and information about climate change and global warming," Leo told ABC News in a phone interview facilitated by McConlogue.
Soon, McConlogue will deliver him a Samsung Chromebook with 3G connectivity, three JavaScript books, a solar charger for the laptop and something to conceal the laptop in. He will spend an hour before work every morning teaching him the basics of software coding.
McConlogue began documenting his plans to help Leo on the blogging platform Medium earlier this week and has seen a mix of reactions.
The technology community, in particular, was critical of his first post, which was titled, "Finding the unjustly homeless, and teaching them to code." Many commenters criticized McConlogue for using the word "unjust," which he admitted was a poor word choice.
Still, some writers heavily criticized McConlogue's effort beyond that.
Techcrunch editor-in-chief Alexia Tsotsis said McConlogue was "tone-deaf" and that his plan demonstrated "a profound cluelessness about poverty and the disenfranchised."
Slate's Matthew Yglesias argued that housing, not coding, is the first step in fixing homelessness.
Then, Slate's Will Oremus called him a "naive techie."
But along with the critics, there were those who supported his effort. More than 1,200 people have liked the "Journeyman" Facebook page McConlogue has set up about the project and he said he has even heard from some previously homeless individuals who see the effort as useful.
Leo himself, who is aware of the online chatter, said that he is understanding of the criticism. "It's America, people have the right to have their opinions," he said. "It's the Internet, people have the right to post what they want. I agree to disagree." When asked about housing Leo said that he thought "housing was great for people who want to be put in housing, for people who want and need it."
Ultimately, McConlogue says he is offering what he can right now to help.
"Being able to code will help him do some of the things he wants to do," McConlogue said. "The negative feedback is that you should give him housing and food. My thought is that technology will do a better job connecting him, in the long term, to what he wants."
McConlogue plans to keep blogging about the experience on Medium and Leo himself will write the next post. He said he doesn't have plans to do anything with the larger homeless community at this point, however.
"I've tried to build products for the many before, but I wonder if this new generation is building projects for the power of one," he said. "I am going to do a really good job with this guy. I will learn from him, maybe even more than he learns from me.”
By JOANNA STERN | Good Morning America 

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