Freedom of expression is at risk, to provide more security

June 29, 2010 Technology No Commenti

Just like it is happening (or at least, some are trying to make it happen) in Italy, where the Berlusconi government is trying to have a bill approved which would dramatically limit freedom of expression, thus placing a gag also on blogs which are regarded as the last real free means of expression on the Net, it looks like the US as well are somehow trying to gag the Web.

In Italy, an amendment to what has been nicknamed “gag bill” gives bloggers the obligation to rectify their posts within 48 hours of a possible request received by anyone who might get offended; in case of non-compliance they would be subject to a fine of 12500 Euros, thus forcing them to choose: if for example they want to go out on a weekend or a short holiday, they should always be near a computer… or alternatively (and this is what this bill seems to be obviously designed for) they should not publish their posts at all, giving them the possibility to go on holiday even for a full month, not forgetting to put their freedom of expression in their bag as well…

In the US instead, the Senate is discussing a bill named “Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act”, which would allow the President to control the Web by giving him the power to order, in case of potential threats to national security coming through the Web, to abide by some unspecified “emergency measures” which might go as far as shutting down websites or search engines. Try to imagine for a moment that Obama (or one of his successors) might for example shut down Facebook or Twitter if their pages are used to carry messages seen as a threat to national security.

According to this bill, an Office of Cyberspace Policy would be created, which in cooperation with another newly-created Internet security center should identify any key infrastructures which, in case of collapse, might generate a series of disastrous events; furthermore, these offices would set up the emergency measures to protect the infrastructures, which are then ordered by the President. The only limit to the Office’s power would be a preemptive notice to the Congress before putting these restrictive measures (which can be renewed or prolonged by Presidential decree) into effect.

The bill has been presented by Sen. Joe Lieberman (Democrat, Connecticut) who already a couple of years ago had an attempt at trying to add into the Terrorism Prevention Act the possibility for the Government to control the Internet infrastructures and ultimately the power to shut down, by President’s order, any site whose existence may be defined as dangerous for security of the United States.

These measures might potentially give a single man absolute control powers over the net, or at least, a discretional power that would allow him to control a large part of freedom of expression, guiding it into a certain (limited) range of possibilities. Obviously, the technical feasibility of this idea is not that easy to implement (the Web 2.0 users are always a tad faster than their controllers).
But what is bothering is that not only the Internet privacy, but the freedom of thought on the Net must be the object of lawmaking, and that the policy of too many governments, liberal only by name, is slowly but inevitably switching towards a dangerous authoritarianism, aimed at controlling free thought and its expression as if it were the most dangerous of foes.

The first supersonic jet with vertical takeoff and landing

June 28, 2010 Technology 1 Commento

For the first time in history of military aviation, a jet fighter capable of taking off and landing vertically, and also equipped with Stealth capabilities to escape enemy radars, has been able to flay beyond the wall of sound.

This achievement was reached by an F-35 series jet fighter, called F-35B, which a few months ago had already completed its first test run for vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) and last week reached the supersonic speed of mach 1.07, a first step towards a final target speed of Mach 1.6.

The Joint Strike Fighter program, which includes development of this kind of aircraft, had already reached the not-to-be-proud-of achievement of being the most expensive weapon program in the history of the United States (and the world, of course), but thanks to these results, the money spent is finally paying off.

The program stems from the idea of building jet fighter planes with different characteristics and capabilities, but all based on using common parts for at least 70%, which makes maintenance a lot easier, as well as providing a high level of flexibility and interchangeability of the different systems on board of an aircraft, with the final aim to replace fighters currently in service and using a common standard.

For example, the F-35 jet, both conventional and with vertical takeoff, should in the long run replace F-16s and A-10s used by most of the NATO countries, and should sport two interchangeable engines manufactured by Pratt & Whitney and Rolls Royce.
All this, in 2009 only, cost a whopping 650 billion dollars, that is, around 43% of the entire Department of defense budget for the year.

A wall is not enough to stop a radar camera

June 28, 2010 Technology No Commenti

In Japan, researchers from the public broadcasting company NHK are working on the development of a new kind of camera called “millimeter wave”, which works with a principle similar to radars, and is capable of visualizing images of objects and people thanks to the usage of radio waves instead of visible light, even if the people or objects in question are hidden behind a thick cloud of smoke or fog, or even behind a wooden wall.

This is made possible because the camera itself can emit radio waves at a frequency of approximately 60 GHz. Once these waves detect a person or an object, they basically bounce on it, and they are then picked up by a receiver. What the receiver does is measure the time that the wave uses to travel to the object and come back to the camera, thus being able to produce an image by using these response times.

The images generated by using this radar camera, at the present stage, are blurred and at a very low quality, but at least, they can be used to detect the presence of a person or an object behind the obstacle that blocks our view.

Due to the low resolution of these images (which is a point that researchers are working on) it would not be possible to use this technology for real TV footage to be sent on air, but this kind of technology can be very useful not only in the video surveillance field, for example to detect the presence of a group of people in an area under control.

Alternatively, it could be a life saver if used by firefighters during rescue operations in a place where fire broke out, allowing them to detect the presence of moving people on the other side of a thick cloud of black smoke, allowing firemen to promptly intervene and possibly save lives in danger.

A high definition Action Cam for your adventures

June 28, 2010 Technology 1 Commento

To take video footage of extreme sports or parachute jumps, or of a simple bicycle trip with your friends, to mount them on your helmet while riding your bike or to keep them in your backpack during a picnic, the so called Action Cams are becoming more and more common.
Thanks to their sturdiness and ease of use, they can be used not only in situations like the ones above, but also as you would do with your ordinary camcorder.

The latest addition in this field is HD170 manufactured by Drift Innovation. What makes this action cam particular is that it is the first one of its kind to sport a LCD display to play back the footage being shot, thus being able to optimize the quality of your videos; it is also equipped with a small infrared remote control.

Thanks to its display you will be, for example, able to mount it on the bar of your bicycle and see at any time what you are shooting, while you can start or stop recording with the remote control, which can conveniently be strapped on one of the handles.

Furthermore, while in photo mode, HD170 can shoot images continuously at preset intervals, for example every few seconds; to reduce the noise level it is also equipped with an external microphone, which you will be able to place inside your helmet or in your car, so that your videos can have a real soundtrack or live commentary instead of just wind noise.

Of course, all this comes in high definition, with a 1720×1080 resolution and a wide-angle 170 degrees lens (hence the name), and with a price tag of 330 dollars.

Telephone interception on the rise in the US. And in Italy?

June 10, 2010 Technology No Commenti

In the States, the public opinion is extremely sensitive when it comes to financial crimes, especially when Wall Street is involved, where huge sums of money are constantly moving; these huge sums are often made up of normal people’s lifetime savings, and thanks to reckless financial operations carried out by so-called “wizards”, these savings may end up disappearing within a short time.

To fight such crimes, certainly one of the most efficient methods is using telephone eavesdropping, which can prove very useful in gathering intelligence to fight tax evasion, scams and financial offences of several kinds.

In fact, if thanks to the usage of miniature bugs, the US law enforcement has been able to uncover scams as big as the one perpetrated by the Ponzi-scheme master Bernie Madoff, who embezzled something like 15 billion dollars over the course of several years, recourse to interception, both for phone calls and for conversations that take place inside a room or a conference hall, can also be a great tool to fight terror, which is often tightly connected to the world of finance.

In the US territory, during the year 2009, interception of phone calls and environmental conversations has increased 26% in comparison with the previous year. Obviously, the US justice places a great deal of trust in the technicians specialized in this kind of war against crime, in the analysts who work on the intelligence gathered, and in detectives who place all this information into the right context to fight crime and defeat terrorist cells or scammers’ gangs of any kind and at any level.

Without including in the count investigations for crimes connected to terrorism and national security, whose data is not published, last year the installation of bugs, listening devices and hidden microphones in the US has been authorized for more than 280 thousand people.

In Italy instead, by hiding behind the excuse that “honest people are afraid that their conversations might be eavesdropped” or that “trials happen first on the media and then before a court”, the Berlusconi administration is doing everything to pass a bill which, by limiting recourse to interception of phone calls and conversations, and reducing the lifespan of eavesdropping operations, would in the end make life much easier for criminals, scammers, pedophiles or mobsters, while tying the detectives’ hands, or at least, making their job much harder than now.

According to this bill, telephone interception will be possible only for criminal offences which can be punished with more than 5 years in prison, and for a maximum of 75 days, which can be prolonged by 3 days at the time after a specific court order (one every 3 days). For mafia crimes, the time limit is 40 days and can be extended of 20 days at a time. Environmental eavesdropping will be done via bugs which can be installed only for a maximum of 3 days (plus a 3-day extension).

Furthermore, it will no longer be possible to publish the intercepted conversations on newspapers or magazines, otherwise journalists might be sent to jail, and their editors dearly fined.

All this goes in a direction which is exactly the opposite of the world trend (as we can see from US statistics) of using the services of the much-feared, ever present and almighty technological “Big Brother” which can potentially listen to our every breath, by taking advantage of possibilities offered by technological advancement to defend honest people and fight crimes, not only of a financial nature but also connected with terrorism, drug trafficking and organized crime.

Only a few weeks ago, with an unprecedented move, even the US Administration showed a polite, albeit clear, criticism of this new Italian bill. What we all hope for, not only those who work in the surveillance or law enforcement field, is that the Italian government takes a step back and rethinks its position.

How not to lose a single detail out of your CCTV footage

June 9, 2010 Technology No Commenti

When you are using a closed circuit TV system, in case of particular events it may happen to have to sit and closely watch hours and hours of footage that always looks the same, to find those few seconds in which something important is happening, and try to extract clues or information out of those scarce, and sometimes blurred images, while the risk of losing important details because of an understandable lapse of attention is always present.

In order to avoid losing details which might be of vital importance for any kind of investigation, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem has developed a software to analyze video surveillance footage.

This software quickly scans and analyzes the footage shot by a surveillance camera, for example during a night when something happened to the area under control, squeezing everything into a few minutes of footage which will contain only images showing events of relevance; all this is achieved thanks to an algorithm which can tell a still image from one which contains moving parts or objects.

In practice, what the software does is getting rid of all those hours in which absolutely nothing happens inside the camera’s visual range, saving only the moments in which cameras detect a motion. In this way, those who later analyze the footage can, in case they notice something important, return to the original video and view it normally to place the images in a context.

This kind of software might find a field of application for video surveillance of areas where nothing is supposed to happen during the night, for example like the dark halls of a museum, while it may not be very useful if used, for example, to monitor areas with a lot of traffic, for example transportation companies with cargo trucks moving around.

360-degree video surveillance for a complete visual coverage

June 9, 2010 Technology No Commenti

Surveillance cameras, which nowadays can be seen at any street corner in our cities, use “fish-eye” lenses to cover an angle as wide as possible. Of course though, a fish-eye lens would end up providing a distorted image, especially on the outer edges, offering a wide view but a lack of clarity or of proportions.

In order to sort out the issue, the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is working on the development of a video surveillance system which would provide clear images at a very high resolution without losing a single detail.

This result can be achieved by using several single cameras, all mounted together on some sort of dome, which can shoot videos of the same area from different angles, providing a 360 degree image. The footage shot by the eyes of each single camera is then “stitched” together by a software which would eliminate the overlapping electronically, thus creating a single 360-degree video image.

Furthermore, each single camera is capable of zooming into a specific area of interest, to have a better specific view without losing visual contact with the rest of the environment under surveillance, and all this while maintaining the clarity of detail provided by a resolution of approximately 100 megapixel.

It is also possible to create an “exclusion zone”, like for example the vault of a bank: as soon as an intruder enters the area, the alarm would immediately go off.
The core of the system is a software which can stitch images together, just like you can do with photographs, with the difference that in this case we are talking about moving images, and that the stitching is done in real time while the image is being filmed, in order to guarantee a complete coverage of the entire area, and to be able to observe closely any potentially dangerous situation.

Do you have a vehicles fleet? Track them by GPS

June 8, 2010 Technology No Commenti

For companies that have a fleet of company vehicles, either cars entrusted to agents, sales representatives or managers, or trucks for cargo transportation, it is important to keep their movements under control, not only to make sure that it is used according to company guidelines instead of personal use, but also to intervene promptly in case of an inconvenience or an accident, which can always happen to those who travel a lot for work.

For example, to make sure that agents do not overdo with personal use of company cars, or that they do not use it to run a business of their own or with competitors, it can be useful to equip the car with a GPS tracker which, once mounted inside the car in an invisible way thanks to its tiny size, allows you to remotely receive its position at any time, and make sure that everything is under control.

Since it has a SIM card just like the one you have on your mobile phone, you can just send a simple SMS at any time, to receive immediately a message containing information regarding the car’s or truck’s whereabouts, even for more than one vehicle at the time (up to 40).

This GPS system is connected to a monitoring software which, installed on the monitoring computer at your office, can keep track of all cars. Thanks to this software, you can track the movements of any vehicle during the day and have them displayed with a graphic animation, with all data saved on a history file that you can retrieve at any time.

For more information concerning this GPS tracking system, along with a wide range of products for monitoring, surveillance and protection of your safety, we recommend that you visit the Endoacustica website, where you can contact our online experts for a specific consulting service.

A GPS navigator for the visually impaired

June 8, 2010 Technology 1 Commento

Those who have lost, or never had, their sight, are always forced to resort to an external aid, such as a support person or a guiding dog, as soon as they set foot outside their home. To make life a bit easier for them, at least during their journeys on foot, Na:Vi, the first GPS navigator for the visually impaired has just been created.

This GPS guidance system helps them not to lose their orientation in any situation, without having to use a dog or other people to find their way, and even without having to use the worldwide recognized white cane which identifies a blind person.
Na:Vi was developed by a group of Austrian designers, and at a first glance it looks like a comfortable and elegant bracelet, which beneath its modern look is packed with technology, like gyroscopes and laser sensors which enable the user to get oriented in the space close to him by spotting any obstacles on the way.

It is also equipped with a GPS navigation system, with a three-dimensional user interface. Thanks to this interface, it will be possible to “display” the directions in Braille, so that the user will easily be able to find his way home simply by running his fingers on the bracelet.

Therefore, this system, apart from being a valuable support under a practical point of view, is a huge step forward for the visually impaired on the way towards regaining self-sufficiency, with an undeniable benefit also from the point of view of morale; in fact, it helps to alleviate the sense of being dependent from others, that can often come along with suffering from diseases that make it impossible for their patients to live a completely free and self-sufficient life.

Police is after you… with a robot car!

June 8, 2010 Technology No Commenti

Those with the unhealthy habit of pushing a bit too hard on the gas, and maybe even willing to challenge the cops by breaking through a checkpoint or trying to escape the police chasing them, might calm down a little bit if the agents were assisted by Scarab, the prototype of an electric vehicle, completely automated, designed to help police forces during a car chase.

Designed by Carl Archambeault, Scarab is an electric vehicle unmanned prototype, which in normal conditions would just be side by side with the police cars during a routine patrol operation.

If during one of these operations, a car is seen speeding, the police officer inside the patrol car would send a signal via a radar gun to “mark” the vehicle, just like fighter jets do with their enemies during a battle in the air.

At this point, a signal is sent to the Scarab, and it immediately starts the chase, driving close enough to the offender until he decides to stop. Scarab is powered by an electric engine which makes it completely emission-free, and does not carry any kind of weaponry.

In order to make sure that the fugitive does stop, he might be equipped with an array of technological devices such as jammers, who would transmit interference signals which cause damage to the electronic systems in the car, forcing it to stop and wait for the cops to come on the scene.

For now, Scarab is just a prototype, real only in its designer’s ideas, but in the future, either it or the solutions that could be installed on it might really be used by police forces, much to the chagrin of heavy-footed drivers…

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