Saturday, April 21, 2018

Tips on Hiding From Surveillance Cameras

It is a dream of children, most criminals, some scientists and the odd cow or two to become invisible:

Just remember, wishing won't make it so.
A couple stories on that point, First up rom the gamer-geeks at Bleeding Cool News, April 17:
Man Robs a GameStop in Georgia Wearing a Clear Plastic Bag
Well, give the boy points for being brazen. A man is wanted in Georgia after robbing a GameStop on the evening of April 12th in St. Marys, but what makes the story extra special is that the man was wearing a clear plastic bag over his head. Here’s a photo of the man below from the story that’s being reported by First Coast News, who while they may possibly be a gamer to want to rob the place, clearly forgot their GTA training in finding a better disguise and thought there was no way people would recognize him if he threw something over his face that he could still see through....

credit//First Coast News

A couple years ago these guys thought "If we can just get in, then we're home free":   

Bank Robbers’ Aluminum Invisibility Cloaks Foiled by CCTV

Alas, no.
However there is one tried and true low-tech method that exhibits some efficacy:


That's from Crooked Brains, August 2008.
CB appears to have changed their focus over the decade since we last linked:
Apr 19, 2018
15 Must Have Hippo Themed Products.
Or not, who knows?

Is the System Rigged? Adam Smith on Crony Capitalism, Its Causes—and Cures

Following up on last week's "OUP's Philosopher of the month: Adam Smith".
More than just another pretty face pin factory.
From the Heritage Foundation, March 31, 2018:
For Adam Smith, crony capitalism fails on two grounds: It is unjust, favoring a few at the expense of the many, and it is destructive of the desired end of political economy—economic growth. Smith’s writings are of great use today in their capacity to properly frame this problem, its causes, as well as solutions for preventing or mitigating the corruption of free markets. For Smith, the tendencies to cronyism, which are anchored in human nature, can be tempered by: (1) limiting government to a few essential powers (defense, administration of impartial justice, and certain limited public works and institutions); and (2) educating the public concerning the “folly” of attempts to direct the economy by legislators. These approaches offer the best chance to limit crony capitalism, its corruption of natural liberty, and its consequent undermining of benefits of free markets.

Adam Smith, the intellectual founder of modern free-market economics, famously called the economic system he advocated “the obvious and simple system of natural liberty.” The benefits he claimed for this system of natural liberty include the wealth of nations and an increase in the independence, liberty, and security of all members of society—but especially of the non-elite members.
He particularly defended it on the grounds that robust economic growth offered the best opportunities for the less advantaged members of society:
The liberal reward of labor, therefore, as it is the necessary effect, so it is the natural symptom of increasing national wealth. The scanty maintenance of the labouring poor, on the other hand, is the natural symptom that things are at a stand, and their starving condition that they are going fast backward.
 Comparing our present situation to conditions when he wrote, we are compelled to admit that these benefits have been substantially realized by the system we now call free markets or capitalism.
Yet despite this almost unbelievable acceleration of wealth and liberty in the countries that have adopted Smith’s system, few would claim that this progress has been simple or uncontroversial—or that the benefits have accrued equally to all. Noted libertarian Charles Koch, writing in the Washington Post, argued that he agreed with one claim made by socialist Senator Bernie Sanders: that the system is rigged in favor of the few.

Is there something inherent in the system of natural liberty, or in human nature itself, that is systematically corrupting in ways that undermine its claims of universal benefits? Is Smith overly optimistic or naïve in his claims concerning the benefits of free markets?
...Smith warned that natural liberty faces natural obstacles in the form of human nature, particularly the desire of especially “merchants and manufacturers” to “rig the system.” They accomplish this self-enriching corruption of free markets by using the power of government to procure for themselves “systems either of preference or of restraint.” In so doing, they impose an “absurd tax on the rest of their fellow-citizens.” These preferences and restraints are what we today call crony capitalism....
...MUCH MORE (17 page PDF)

Two quick points:
1) The Heritage Foundation received some of their past funding from entities associated with the Koch brothers. I don't know if they still do.

2) Very oddly, the author does not  explore (or even mention) Smith's often quoted, sometimes misunderstood comment:
"People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices." 
The Wealth of Nations, Book I, Chapter X.
It's a natural jumping off point to get to Smith's greater concern. that bad as business collusion can be, collusion between business and government is much worse.  However in a footnote referencing our old pal William Baumol we do see:
“Most people think of entrepreneurship as being the ‘productive’ kind, as Baumol referred to it, where the companies that founders launch commercialize something new or better, benefiting society and themselves in the process.

A sizable body of research establishes that these ‘Schumpeterian’ entrepreneurs, those that are ‘creatively destroying’ the old in favor of the new, are critical for breakthrough innovations and rapid advances in productivity and standards of living. [Note: The research in question can be found at David Audretsch, “Entrepreneurship: A Survey of the Literature,” European Commission Enterprise Paper No. 14 (2003), Survey_of_the_Literature (accessed March 15, 2018).]

Baumol was worried, however, by a very different sort of entrepreneur: the “unproductive” ones, who exploit special relationships with the government to construct regulatory moats, secure public spending for their own benefit, or bend specific rules to their will, in the process stifling competition to create advantage for their firms. Economists call this “ rent-seeking behavior .” Robert E. Litan and Ian Hathaway, “Is America Encouraging the Wrong Kind of Entrepreneurship?” Harvard Business Review , June 13, 2017, http://www. (accessed March 15, 2018)
See "Some Stories About William Baumol" and more pertinently: "The Dangerous Rise Of Unproductive Entrepreneurship" and Frank Pasquale: "Entrepreneurship Can Be Unproductive or Destructive".

Additionally, here's Baumol's 1990 paper "Entrepreneurship: Productive, Unproductive, and Destructive". (30 page PDF)

"Has Africa Run Out of Water?"

You've probably noticed the talk about Cape Town South Africa running out of water has ebbed into the background at the moment.
"Day Zero" has been pushed back to 2019 as the older reservoirs started refilling a month ago and a new reservoir was just tied into the system to add about 10% to reserves. Still though we're only talking 21% of capacity with a decrease in the most recent reporting week.

On the continent as a whole there is one overriding concern. As noted a year ago in:
 IMF: Sub-Saharan Africa has Just Completed One of its Best Decades of Growth--It's Not Enough (UPDATED)
This may be one of the more important graphics you are likely to come across today.

Africa's population is projected by the United Nations to reach 2 billion people by 2045, 4 billion before the end of the century:
And the headline story, from the International Monetary Fund, April 7:
"Structural Transformation in Employment and Productivity What Can Africa Hope For"...
That was a year ago. Here's today's headline story from TEDx: 

Prof. Alan MacDonald leads international groundwater research at the British Geological Survey - currently about 15 projects in 25 countries.
Many people in Africa still lack reliable access to safe water, which affects health, livelihoods and the potential for sustainable growth. Why is this still a problem, given that in other areas, such as mobile phone coverage, Africa is seeing spectacular growth in services? Has the continent run out of water? In this talk, Alan discusses the water available to Africa and explains that the answer is often quite literally under our feet. Prof. Alan MacDonald leads international groundwater research at the British Geological Survey - currently about 15 projects in 25 countries. He started his career in the 1990s working with the UK charity WaterAid helping to develop water supplies from groundwater in rural Nigeria. Since then he has worked extensively across Africa and Asia on water security issues advising governments and NGOs and carrying out academic research with partner universities. He has written several books and many research articles on African groundwater and is currently focussing on the impact of climate change on groundwater and improving the functionality of water supplies. This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at

TEDx HeriotWattUniversity

It’s Time to Give Firefox a Fresh Chance (GOOG)

From The Verge:

Because everyone using Chrome for everything is a bad idea
Ever since it was first released almost a decade ago, Google’s Chrome browser has been the most consistent piece of technology in my life. I’ve gone through a legion of phones, laptops, and headphones, I’ve jumped around between Android, iOS, Windows Phone, macOS, and Windows, but I’ve rarely had reason to doubt my browser choice. Things have changed in recent times, however, and those changes have been sufficient to make me reconsider. After so many years away, I’m returning to Firefox, in equal measure pushed by Chrome’s downsides as I am pulled by Firefox’s latest upgrades.

If a friend were to ask me what the best web browser is, I’d answer “Chrome” in a heartbeat, so don’t mistake this as a screed against Google’s browser. I still see it as the most fully-featured and trouble-free option for exploring the web. It’s just that sometimes there are reasons to not use the absolute best option available. Here are mine.

The thing that woke me up to my over-reliance on Chrome was when Google implemented an ad blocker directly into the browser. I’d usually be delighted to have ad blocking automated away, but the surrounding conversation about Google — an ad company — having sway over which ads are and are not acceptable to present to users convinced me there was a problem. According to NetMarketShare, Chrome is now used by 60 percent of web users, both on mobile and desktop devices, and Firefox looks respectable with 12 percent of desktops, but is almost a rounding error with only 0.6 percent of mobile devices. Apple’s Safari and Microsoft’s Edge don’t look much better, even though they’re the default option on their respective OS platforms.

Chrome has outgrown its competition in a way that’s unhealthy. My colleague Tom Warren already detailed the deleterious effects of Chrome’s outsize influence, with web developers optimizing and coding specifically for Chrome (and Google encouraging the practice), with unhappy connotations of the crummy old days when Internet Explorer was the dominant browser for the web. Chrome came to liberate us from the shackles of IE, but like many revolutionary leaders, too many years in power have corrupted Chrome’s original mission....MORE
We noted the start of Firefox's turnaround in last July's "Firefox vs Chrome: "Firefox’s blazing speed with huge numbers of tabs leaves Chrome in the dust"  followed by "Close Those Tabs!":
I know we have sent conflicting messages on the subjects of tabs and bookmarks.

On the one hand pitching the fact researchers had tested the latest version of Firefox with 1,691 tabs open at the same time - "a power user's dream" - while on the other hand posting "Hey, You at the Computer, Hoarding Links is a Mental Illness":
Step away from the keyboard, we're going to get you some help....
If you switch and feel some anxiety about not sending Google enough personal information, the GOOG does have a couple non-Chrome options:

1) 'Optical sensors' embedded in everyday objects could assess cardiovascular function and help users improve heart health" (GOOG)
Well isn't this a dream come true:
I am not putting cameras* behind the mirrors in the bathrooms, sorry.
Maybe behind the ones in the long hall.

From CB Insights, Jan. 5:
The biggest players in tech are increasingly going after the healthcare space.
Patent activity, in particular, gives a window into where tech giants are investing in health tracking R&D. Amazon has patented heart-rate detection by smartphone and Apple has patented smartphone-based  health tracking. Now Google is moving deeper into medical data as well.

patent application published January 4 details how Google could use “optical sensors” placed in patients’ devices or belongings to capture data on individual’s cardiovascular function – all with the aim of motivating behavioral changes and reducing instances of heart disease.
The sensors might even be positioned (per the patent’s illustrations) in a “sensing milieu” in a patient’s bathroom.

Google’s new invention for at-home health tracking would
  1. monitor certain aspects of a patient’s physical appearance; and
  2. track changes in appearance that relate to cardiovascular health problems.
In addition, it would integrate with other Google hardware and software – such as Android phones and Google Glass – to capture, process, and analyze as much user cardio data as possible.
The data would be monitored for trends and shared with patients or their medical professionals.

Google ups the healthcare ante against Apple

This latest patent aligns with other signals pointing to Google’s long-term strategy in healthcare: Patent filings in recent years have indicated Google’s interest in using noninvasive sensors to collect real-time medical information and apply the data for predictive purposes....MUCH MORE
*The only difference between a camera and an 'optical sensor' is the wavelength in the electromagnetic spectrum we're dealing with.
And sometimes there is no difference at all.
2) Some Thoughts on Google Offering An Online Depression Test
From AFNS:*

To encourage more sufferers to seek treatment, Google is now offering a quiz for users to check their own depression symptoms when searching for information about the disease. What do you think?

“This should help remedy the current problem of Google not having nearly enough info about me.”
Hannah Leibold Lithium Wholesaler

“Thanks, but if I were actually interested in addressing my mental health problems I wouldn’t be spending so much time online.”
Pete Winspear Sidewalk Excavator

Friday, April 20, 2018

"Beyond Cambridge Analytica -- The Surveillance Companies Infiltrating And Manipulating Social Media"

From Forbes:
If it hasn't already been made clear by Facebook's moves to cut off AggregateIQ and Cambridge Analytica from the platform following the data privacy fiasco that exploded last month, there are multiple companies who don't play by the social network's rules and abuse its users' privacy.

But in recent years a batch of surveillance companies, operating in a far more clandestine manner to Cambridge Analytica and its partners, have been infiltrating all kinds of social media platforms. These spytech vendors are offering services not only to co-opt and influence social media groups with sockpuppet accounts, but will even deliver spyware via the fake profiles they create and hone across different platforms. And at least one of those businesses has been caught out shipping to a regime with a dubious human rights record.

Privacy activists are calling for action. "The idea that former spooks are available to buy to infiltrate political groups online is alarming. Imagine how such powers can be used to infiltrate pro-democracy or human rights groups in authoritarian states," warned Edin Omanovic, head of Privacy International's State Surveillance project. "Big surveillance companies are only able to do this because they exploit a broader ecosystem. Fundamentally, Facebook and other companies have a responsibility to protect their users."
Italian job
One of those surveillance vendors is Area S.p.A., a company which sold network monitoring tools to the Bashar Al-Assad regime in Syria in 2011. It was punished for that shipment in 2014 with a $100,000 fine from the U.S., the country from which it shipped the tech. And in 2016, the firm's offices were raided by Italian authorities who ordered the seizure of millions in euros as part of an investigation into the possible breach of European law as a result of that same Syrian sale. (In response to questions on that issue, Area simply pointed Forbes to comments made by a deputy minister of the Italian Economic Development Ministry, which an Area spokesperson said showed "the correctness of the company behavior." Those comments can be read in full, in Italian, here).

As for its social network exploitation, in a brochure obtained by Forbes from last year's UK Anti-Terror Expo, Area describes its "MCR Virtual Human Intelligence" platform. Think of it as software that helps organize and manage a government agent's fake profiles across different online spaces. Its aim is "not only to infiltrate agents within virtual communities of interest, but to support psychological operations (psyops) as well." Those "communities" include "blogs, forums and social networks."...MUCH MORE
See also Thursday's "These Ex-Spies Are Harvesting Facebook Photos For A Massive Facial Recognition Database (FB)", also from Forbes.

Last Lawsuit Story of the Week

This little project got started yesterday  with the settlement agreement between Gucci and Guess over the letter "G".
That post promptly veered off course into the longest-running lawsuit on record. (761 years, judgement was for the plaintiff)
It also touched on "Jarndyce v Jarndyce" in Dickens' Bleak House.

Today, faced with a half-dozen open tabs on an internet-connected computer the choice was post 'em or trash 'em?
Patient reader knows how that decision went, starting with "Lawsuit Filed Against Everyone For All The Money On Earth".

And that's the basis of this last (promise) lawsuit post this week. Apparently the "Manhattan man... [suing] the city, NYC Transit, Au Bon Pain Store, two local hospitals, Kmart, a 'Latina' dog owner and anyone else he could think of " has done this before.

It almost reads like an Edgar Allan Poe descent into madness tale, what with the Transit Authority, the police, the emergency room, the bank, another emergency room (Haldol, stat!) and the Social Security Administration. That's just the first page.

Like "It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen." to start 1984, you know immediately something is a little bit off here.
Note PURISIMA v. TD BANK et al for example

From Justia:

Filed in - Federal Appellate & District Courts - All:

Cases 1 - 10 of 35
Purisima v. New York City Transit Authority et al
as 1:2017cv07796
Plaintiff: Anton Purisima
Defendant: New York City Transit Authority, City of New York, Does 1 - 4000
Cause Of Action: Fed. Question
Anton Purisima v. City of Philadelphia, et al
as 17-3178
Plaintiff - Appellant: ANTON PURISIMA
PURISIMA v. NEW JERSEY TRANSIT POLICE DEPARTMENT et al We have downloadable decisions or orders for this case
as 1:2017cv05312
Cause Of Action: Civil Rights Act
Purisima v. New York City Transit Authorit
as 16-4179
Plaintiff - Appellant: Anton Purisima
Defendant - Appellee: New York City Transit Authority, and/or MABSTOA, City of New York, Metropolitan Transit Authority New York City Transit and others
Purisima v. City of New York ("City") et al
as 1:2016cv09786
Plaintiff: Anton Purisima
Defendant: City of New York ("City"), Human Resources Administration (HRA), T. Edema and others
Cause Of Action: Fed. Question
as 2:2016cv05628
Cause Of Action: Civil Rights Act
PURISIMA v. TD BANK et al We have downloadable decisions or orders for this case
as 1:2016cv02906
Cause Of Action: Civil Rights Act
PURISIMA v. HOBOKEN UNIVERSITY MEDICAL CENTER et al We have downloadable decisions or orders for this case
as 2:2016cv02195
Cause Of Action: Civil Rights
Purisima v. Gaggiula et al
as 1:2016cv02781
Plaintiff: Anton Purisima
Defendant: Amy Gaggiula, St. Lukes Emergency Department Hospital, New York City Transit Authority and others
Cause Of Action: cv Fed. Question: Other Civil Rights
Purisima v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration et al
as 1:2015cv09053
Plaintiff: Anton Purisima
Defendant: Commissioner of Social Security Administration, CRST Inc, Midland Claim Administrators Inc and others
Cause Of Action: Review of HHS Decision (DIWC)

It goes on for 3 1/2 more pages. Attentive reader will note Justia has a dedicated RSS feed for following Mr. Purisma through the court system.
Alternatively you can track him by circuit, by state, of by type of suit.

In Other News: "Gucci and Guess settle nine year legal battle over the letter G"
Lawsuit Filed Against Everyone For All The Money On Earth
Kenyan Lawyer sues Israel, Italy, King Herod and Emperor Tiberius over Jesus Christ's trial and crucifixion
Nebraska State Senator Sues God For "Acts of God", Making Terroristic Threats
Federal Prisoner Jonathan Lee Riches Sues Guinness Book For Naming Him "World's Most Litigious Man"
Israeli Man Sues God for Treating Him Unfairly 

Israeli Man Sues God for Treating Him Unfairly

From Israel Today:
A resident of the northern Israel port city of Haifa this week turned to the courts to seek a restraining order against God.

The man said that he had turned repeatedly to the police over the past three years, and on several occasions police were sent to his home to examine the complaint.

According to the suit, God has been treating the man unkindly.

The court protocols made note of the fact that the defendant, God, failed to appear at the proceedings.
In his decision, Judge Ihsan Kanaan called the request delusional, and said that the plaintiff clearly needs help, but not from the courts.

Federal Prisoner Jonathan Lee Riches Sues Guinness Book For Naming Him "World's Most Litigious Man"

From ABC (U.S.):
After hearing the Guinness Book of World Records planned to name him the most litigious man, one federal prisoner did what he does best -- he sued. 

Jonathan Lee Riches' rambling lawsuit against the record-holding institution and several others is just the latest in his growing stash of outrageous court filings against everyone from New England Patriot's coach Bill Belichick to Martha Stewart....

Nebraska State Senator Sues God For "Acts of God", Making Terroristic Threats

From Fox News:
...The suit asks for a "permanent injunction ordering Defendant to cease certain harmful activities and the making of terroristic threats."

The lawsuit identifies the plaintiff as, "the duly elected and serving State Senator from the 11th Legislative District in Omaha, Nebraska."

Chambers also cites that the, "defendant directly and proximately has caused, inter alia, fearsome floods, egregious earthquakes, horrendous hurricanes, terrifying tornados, pestilential plagues..."

Kenyan Lawyer sues Israel, Italy, King Herod and Emperor Tiberius over Jesus Christ's trial and crucifixion

From the Huffington Post:
Dola Indidis, Kenyan Lawyer, Seeks To Overturn Jesus’ Conviction 2,000 Years Later

Losses Are the New Black (AMZN)

This piece by NYU Professor Scott Galloway is going to be a year old tomorrow.
He nailed it.
From digital brand researcher L2 (he's the founder), now part of the Gartner empire, April 21, 2017:
The relationship between investors / shareholders and firms has largely been the same for a century: We (investors) will fund losses for 1-3 years, and then you (firm) begin making profits you distribute back to us. No more. The firms markets reward with the greatest valuations have turned this on its head and replaced profits with vision and growth. Losses are the new black.

The trend has gone hyperbolic. Facebook and Google were both profitable when they went public. The latest hot girl is Snap Inc., who in 2016 earned 412M and lost 500M. Not to be outdone, Uber did 5B and lost 3B. At L2, our venture capitalists convinced us profits were “so yesterday” and nudged / shoved us to take their fire hose of cash and begin spraying it at technology and people, and leave profitability in the rear-view mirror. And they were right. The marketplace wants growth and special, regardless of the resources to keep feeding the beast.

What caused this? Simple: firms mimic success, and the most successful firm in the world is Amazon. Amazon’s core competence is not operations, the cloud, or even technology, but storytelling. Jeff Bezos’ ability to paint an extraordinary vision (“Earth’s Biggest Store”) and register steady progress against that vision is rewarded with the cheapest capital in the history of business.

Cheap. Capital. Is. Awesome.

Amazon can try 10 things for every one thing peers can. When I sit in board meetings, directors usually ask management to come up with ideas that provide advantage, relative to required investment — we want cool ideas, that don’t cost too much. I’ve never been in an Amazon board meeting, but I believe management is charged with coming up with cool ideas that are ridiculously expensive, as others can’t follow. The majority of (actual) wars have not been won with strategy, bravery, training, or superior equipment, but brute force. At the end of WWll, the Allies had 38 gallons of gasoline for every one the Germans did. Amazon is the retailer with 38 gallons.

Like an illusionist, Amazon has the markets and regulators focused on its super-competitive retail business, distracting them from the sectors the firm is also dominating, hose in hand — cloud, media, and video streaming. The craziest example of this is Amazon’s spend on original content this year.


Lawsuit Filed Against Everyone For All The Money On Earth

Not the Onion, the New York Post:
This lawsuit is priceless!
A Manhattan man has sued the city, NYC Transit, Au Bon Pain Store, two local hospitals, Kmart, a “Latina” dog owner and anyone else he could think of – for two undecillion dollars.

Anton Purisima, 62, filed the hand-scribbled lawsuit in Manhattan federal court seeking more money than what’s on the planet — and, in turn, likely setting a new record for a lawsuit money demand.

Purisima, who is representing himself, appears to be more of a mathematician than a lawyer.

He correctly listed the obscure number few have heard of – which is written with a “2″ followed by 36 zeros – in a fabulously frivolous 22-page complaint that rambles on by accusing the defendants of everything from civil rights violations to attempted murder....MORE
Hmmm,  I may have grabbed the wrong lawsuit story.

This one appears to be from 2014:
Man Sues Almost Everyone For All the Money On Earth

ICYMI: "No Russia-German pipeline plan without Ukraine role: Merkel"

Back on March 21 we intro'd "Germany’s Pivot From Russian Gas Will Be Costly":
This is what the Poles have been trying to tell the EU for at least the last half-decade.
Poland has an understanding of their neighbor to the east that Brussels (and even Berlin) seems to lack. As noted in the introduction to January's "Poland's Plan to Dominate Europe, Continued", the Poles built their LNG terminal knowing full well the cost of various sources:
Following the December series of posts* on Poland I had intended something on a gas pipeline or two or geopolitics or the Baltic-to-Black Sea (and Greece) Via Carpathia Highway or the new (security-at-a-cost) LNG terminal but....but...Bambi !!
Some things you can't measure in zlotys alone....
(or rubles or euros or krone or...)
It seemed to be a major change in the Nord Stream 2 story but there wasn't much reaction.
Here's more, from Radio France Internationale, April 10:
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Tuesday that plans for a controversial second underwater pipeline to bring gas from Russia could not go forward without Ukrainian involvement in overland transit.

"A Nord Stream 2 project without clarity about the Ukrainian transit role is not possible," Merkel said, after talks in Berlin with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.

The German leader said the pipeline plans, which have long thrown a wrench in bilateral ties, had played a big role in their discussions.

In an interview with German business daily Handelsblatt Monday, Poroshenko urged Berlin to abandon plans to build Nord Stream 2, saying it would enable an "economic and energy blockade" against Ukraine and blasting it as "political bribe money for loyalty to Russia"

Merkel has long called Nord Stream 2 a purely "economic project" with no need for political intervention. Her comments mark a significant shift from that stance.

She said that in her talks with Poroshenko "I listened closely to the concerns of Ukraine".

"The fact is that we cannot allow that, with Nord Stream 2, Ukraine would have no significance at all any more with regard to gas transit," Merkel told reporters at a joint press conference....MORE
At minimum the Chancellor's statement would seem to make the CDU's Joachim Pfeiffer look like a bit of a dolt, see last month's "US Afraid of Europe Consuming More Russian Gas– German MP".

Additionally the fact that Mutti echoed, almost word for word, the Polish concerns in Feb. 16's "Natural Gas: 'Polish PM: Nord Stream II Would Make Russia Free to act Against Ukraine, So Must Not be Built'" may indicate something bigger is afoot.

Feb. 11
Europe’s Energy Geopolitics is Getting Dicey

Autonomous Robots 'May' Have Mastered The Assembly Of IKEA Furniture

Just as Facebook could not be certain that Zuckerberg 2.0 could pass a Turing test until they sat him in front of Congress, so robots must assemble IKEA furniture.
Or something.
I just wanted to use the Turing test line—appropriated from The Register—before it gets too stale.

From IEEE Spectrum:

Robots Continue Attempting to Master Ikea Furniture Assembly
These robots are slow, careful, and successful, making them way better than humans at assembling an Ikea chair
Apparently, one of the standards by which we should be measuring the progress of useful robotic manipulation is through the assembly of Ikea furniture. With its minimalistic and affordable Baltoscandian design coupled with questionably creditable promises of effortless assembly, Ikea has managed to convince generations of inexperienced and desperate young adults (myself included) that we can pretend to be grownups by buying and putting together our own furniture. It’s never as easy as that infuritatingly calm little Ikea manual dude makes it look, though, and in terms of things we wish robots would solve, Ikea furniture assembly has ended up way higher on the priority list than maybe it should be.

We’ve seen a variety of robotic systems tackle Ikea in the past, but today in Science Robotics is (perhaps for the first time) a mostly off-the-shelf system of a few arms and basic sensors that can put together the frame of a Stefan chair kit autonomously(ish) and from scratch.

This research comes from the Control Robotics Intelligence (CRI) group at NTU in Singapore, and they’ve been working on the whole Ikea chair assembly thing for a while. First, they had to teach robots to insert those wooden pins that Ikea uses to connect parts to one another:...
...IkeaBot in particular is notable because it’s fully autonomous— the system doesn’t require human input of any sort, not even instructions. Rather, it uses a reasoning system to determine the best way to fit all of the parts together, utilizing all available holes for fasteners and all available parts, and follows its own optimized assembly technique to end up with a piece of furniture that ends up being what Ikea intended it to be almost by default.

The assembly process from CRI is not quite that autonomous; "although all the steps were automatically planned and controlled, their sequence was hard-coded through a considerable engineering effort."...MORE

The blooper reel is not as amusing as one might suppose, people are still funnier.


"Bill Gates Backs Plan to Surveil the Entire Planet From Space"

From Gizmodo:
EarthNow is a new company looking to provide satellite imagery and live video in virtually real-time. Its unsettling pitch describes a network of satellites that can see any corner of the globe and provide live video with a latency of about a second. And a look at the startup’s top investors gives a lot of confidence that this thing is happening.

On Wednesday, EarthNow announced that it will emerge from the Intellectual Ventures ISF Incubator to become a full-scale commercial business. Its first round of investors is comprised of a small group of complimentary powerhouses: AirBus, the SoftBank Group, Bill Gates, and satellite-industry vet Greg Wyler.

The amount of the initial investment hasn’t been disclosed, but the announcement says the funding “focuses primarily on maturing the overall system design to deliver innovative and unique real-time Earth observation services.” That makes it sound like the company is in its very early stages, but don’t be so sure. Wyler’s OneWeb has already deployed highly advanced satellites with a blazing fast 130ms latency and its goal is to have a constellation of hundreds of satellites beaming broadband around the globe by 2020.

EarthNow will use an upgraded version of OneWeb’s technology with a lot of hardware power packed into a 500-pound unit. “Each satellite is equipped with an unprecedented amount of onboard processing power, including more CPU cores than all other commercial satellites combined,” the announcement says. The satellites will also do an onboard analysis of the live imagery using machine learning, but the company doesn’t go into detail about what it will analyze or why it would be necessary to dedicate that processing onboard.

CEO Russell Hannigan told The Wall Street Journal that EarthNow will not only have a head start with OneWeb’s technology, it will also be able to use that company’s assembly line and manufacturing process. Hannigan estimated the total cost of the final system will be around $1 billion. SoftBank alone has put $1.5 billion into OneWeb, so that figure should be easily achievable....MORE
Amazon and the CIA Want to Teach Artificial Intelligence to Watch Us From Space (AMZN; NVDA) 

Privacy Settings: Who Can See Your Facebook Friends List?
Continuing our look at the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.
Via ZH:

And From We Are

People Are Asking Their Devices If They Are Connected to the CIA (VIDEOS)
In the wake of the WikiLeaks “Vault 7” revelations, worried citizens are now asking their internet-connected devices if they are working with the Central Intelligence Agency, and their answers are fascinating.
A Twitter user named Stephen Beard asked, “Google Home, are you connected to the CIA?”
“I have to admit, I’m not sure,” Google Home responded.
Another user asked their Amazon Echo, “Alexa, do you work for the CIA?”...MORE

Our Recipe Offering For 420: Bacon Chocolate Tater Tots

From Bacon Today:

Bacon Chocolate Tater Tots
Bacon Chocolate Tater Tots
We’ve seen some pretty awesome bacon and tater tot recipes on the Internet, but this recipe tops them all! For the ultimate sweet and savory appetizer or dessert, you can’t go wrong with these chocolate-covered, bacon-wrapped tater tots. We like to call them the Bacon Choco-Tots!

You can use any kind of bacon or chocolate that you prefer. You could even add other ingredients like caramel or nuts and go really wild and crazy with this simple recipe. Because as everyone knows, the sky is the limit where bacon is concerned! And for the naysayers who say chocolate and tots are crazy, don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it. These are scrum-diddly-umptious morsels of bacony goodness. Serve ‘em as a dessert at your next BBQ or dinner party and watch your guests devour them. ‘Cause once you tot, you can’t stop....MORE

Maybe Keep an Eye on the Farm Implement Engineers

Jus' sayin'.
Lifted in toto from the New York Post, April 13:

This engineer built the fully armed giant robot of his dreams
Sakakibara Kikai's engineer Go Sakakibara with his gigantic robot. 
SHINTO, Japan — Japanese engineer Masaaki Nagumo had always dreamed of suiting up as a robot from “Mobile Suit Gundam,” his favorite animation series growing up. Now he has made it a reality by creating a giant humanoid inspired by the science fiction franchise.

Developed at Sakakibara Kikai, a maker of farming machinery, LW-Mononofu is a 28-foot tall, two-legged robot weighing in at more than 7 tons. It contains a cockpit with monitors and levers for the pilot to control the robot’s arms and legs.

“I think this can be turned into a business opportunity,” Nagumo, 44, told Reuters, noting the popularity of the iconic series that has spawned movies, manga, video games and more.
Sakakibara Kikai has developed other robots and amusement machines alongside its main agriculture equipment business and rents them out for about $930 an hour, for kids’ birthday parties and other entertainment, he said.

The company has created robots as varied as the 11-foot tall Landwalker, the smaller Kid’s Walker Cyclops and the MechBoxer boxing machine – but the mighty Mononofu towers over them all and executes more complex movements.

It can move its fingers and turn its upper body and walk forward and backward. It is no speedster, however, moving at less than 1 kilometer per hour, which is about half a mile per hour.

But what it lacks in pace, it makes up for with power: the bazooka-like air gun on its right arm shoots sponge balls at around 87 miles per hour.

“As an anime-inspired robot that one can ride, I think this is the biggest in the world,” said Nagumo.
Mononofu, however, might be a bit too large: it is unable to leave the factory without being dismantled because it was built taller than the entrance.
NYP home

Agriculture: On This 420, Some Messages From The Police

Last year's viral heads up from was from the Wyoming (MN) Police Department as a followup to this 2016 effort. Via WGN-Chicago:
This year's front-runner is the Lawrence (KS) Police Department but the tweet High Times chose to feature pales in comparison with this bit of sound advice:
Both the Wyoming and Lawrence departments have more Twitter followers than their respective populations.
Be safe out there.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Finland's Basic Income Experiment Will End in 2019

From Fortune:
Finland’s universal basic income experiment will end next year, and lawmakers there are quietly moving toward a different welfare approach.

The basic income program in Finland, which was praised as cutting edge when it was announced, pays $690 to 2,000 Finns each month, with no conditions.

Finland’s social security institution, Kela, selected participants at random from people ages 25 to 58 who were unemployed. Initially, the program was supposed to be expanded this year to include workers as well as non-workers, but instead the monthly payouts to these individuals will end in 2019.
The basic income experiment was proposed as a solution to the unemployment rate in Finland, which reached a 17-year high of 10% in 2015. The payouts were designed to support citizens while encouraging them to find work, since the country’s other welfare benefits don’t apply to people once they are employed.

But in December, the Finnish parliament passed a bill that requires jobseekers to work 18 hours minimum for three months, making unemployment benefits contingent on finding some work.
“Right now, the government is making changes that are taking the system further away from a basic income,” Kela researcher Miska Simanainen told the Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet....MORE

Money, Murder and Sadomasochism: A Look At the L.A. Tech Scene

With the passing of a year since the SNAP IPO—up a dollar from the IPO price on the "paper anniversary", and Amazon's purchase of fancy doorbell Co. Ring last month, I was thinking about Los Angeles venture capital.

Here's CB Insights with more:
March 2:
Amazon’s Acquisition Of Ring Is LA Tech’s Third-Biggest VC-Backed Exit
Snap's IPO still reigns as the top exit for LA tech startups, as Ring adds to the list of $1B+ exits from the LA metro area.
Earlier this week, Amazon announced that it would acquire Santa Monica-based video doorbell company Ring. At $1.8B, this would be the tech giant’s second-largest acquisition, after its $13.7B acquisition of Whole Foods in June 2017. 
The deal also marks the third-largest exit for an LA metro area-based tech startup since 2009.
Ring, which was rejected by judges on business reality show Shark Tank in 2013, went on to raise $183.7M in equity funding in less than 6 years. The company’s cohort of investors includes high-profile angel, VC, and corporate venture names like Richard Branson, Goldman Sachs, Qualcomm Ventures, Upfront Ventures, and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, among others.
The largest LA exit of all time went to Snap: the mobile social media company went public for $3.4B in March 2017, earning a valuation of nearly $25B. Facebook’s $2B acquisition of VR headset maker Oculus VR in 2014 ranks second. 

Notably, all three of the biggest LA tech exits — Snap, Oculus VR, and Ring — offer some sort of consumer-focused video product.

Compared to NYC, LA has historically lagged in overall exits, though the city has had some notable big winners. The trend continues with Ring, which is the eighth $1B+ exit of a VC-backed tech company from the LA metro area since 2011. While LA’s biggest exits span a range of industries, a majority of the top 10 startups focus either on consumer products or media & entertainment solutions.
Using the CB Insights database, we compiled the ten largest exits of LA-based VC-backed tech startups since 2009. Check it out:...MORE
And our headline story from July 2016:

From Epic Magazine:

Silicon Is Just Sand
August 29, 2015, is a hot night on Venice Beach. Normally the superheated inland desert sucks the damp air off the ocean, blanketing the coast with a layer of moisture all the way to the 405. But tonight, something has gone wrong. There’s no fog, and the sky is boiling, even at 2 am.
A dark SUV pulls in front of the Cadillac Hotel, a two-star lodging better known for its cheap rooms and stained carpets than its views of the ocean. The car’s lights wash over a homeless man sitting on the sidewalk. The homeless live all over Venice Beach and have for as long as anyone can remember, particularly at the northern end of the boardwalk on the edge of Santa Monica. Their tents line the small grassy hills between the sidewalk and sand. Stuffed sleeping bags, shopping carts, signs and bedding made from cardboard. You almost wouldn’t know how much this place has changed recently.
The SUV’s lights stay on, illuminating the scene as Sris Sinnathamby, the owner of the Cadillac Hotel, steps out of the passenger side. He’s followed by the driver, identified by multiple witnesses as Francisco Cardenaz Guzman. Guzman is known to the police as a member of the Venice 13, a gang with ties to the Sureños, who control the local drug trade. He has been arrested many times, for gun possession, robberies, and car theft.

Sinnathamby and the man identified as Guzman have just returned from the James’ Beach bar, a five-minute drive down the street. Sinnathamby walks up to the homeless man and tells him to get away from the front of the hotel. A security camera at a nearby café records the scene.
Sinnathamby is not like Guzman. He was born in Sri Lanka and came to the US in his twenties. According to the LA Weekly, he happened to be passing through Venice 25 years ago when he ran out of money. He took a job cleaning hotel rooms at the Cadillac, then worked his way up to manager. When the owner retired, Sinnathamby bought the place from him. It’s not fancy, but it faces the ocean, and pretty or not, it has dramatically risen in value in the past decade.
The run-up in real estate prices has been driven in part by the explosion of tech companies along the beach on the west side of Los Angeles. Google, Snapchat, Hulu, BuzzFeed, YouTube, Netflix, and Facebook have overtaken an archipelago of properties, bringing an influx of programmers, sales executives, and the refined retail that follows such massive migrations of well-paid people. They call it Silicon Beach.

The homeless don’t necessarily mind the newcomers, but the newcomers mind the homeless. Sinnathamby is not one of the newcomers, but they have been very good for his business interests. In addition to the Cadillac, Sinnathamby owns the gourmet eatery Dudley Market, a parking lot on Ocean Front Walk, and other Venice properties. Sinnathamby again tells the homeless guy to get moving. The man rises and shuffles toward the boardwalk, 20 feet away.
The beach used to belong to the people. Now it’s illegal to be here from midnight to 5 am. In fact, a 2012 law designated the boardwalk part of the beach, making it illegal to sleep on the boardwalk as well. The justification was public safety. Homeless advocates have filed lawsuits challenging the ordinance. In the meantime the homeless feel harassed, people always kicking their feet, telling them to move. Venice is a place with a long history of art and activism and, now, a flood of wealth. Tempers run high on all sides.
Sinnathamby’s efforts to move the homeless man attract the attention of a group of nearby boardwalk denizens. “Leave him alone,” says Shakespeare, a 26-year-old rapper and poet who frequently sleeps on the boardwalk near the Cadillac. Sinnathamby walks over to him, passing a man pushing a cart, who exchanges greetings with Sinnathamby. Everyone knows each other.

The homeless have been drinking. They had a party earlier on Hippie Hill, a mound of grass nearby, to celebrate Shakespeare finishing a new recording. Maybe it’s the booze. Maybe it’s the heat. Or maybe it’s the money. Rising property values have unpredictable effects on community relations.
Shakespeare argues with Sinnathamby, insisting the man has a right to stay on the sidewalk. But then Guzman, who has so far hung back on the boardwalk by himself, suddenly pulls out a gun and fires four shots down the beach. Shakespeare gets even more agitated, gesturing toward Guzman as if to challenge him. Sinnathamby stands between the two men, keeping them apart. Guzman waves his gun in a threatening manner.

Two women, friends of Sinnathamby who were waiting in the SUV, now get out and walk over to him. He turns to the women, and as he does Shakespeare shifts to his right. Guzman notices Shakespeare making his way around the women, and Shakespeare uses the moment to lunge at Guzman. Guzman shoots him three times, stepping aside like a bullfighter as Shakespeare falls past him, exiting the frame of the surveillance video. Guzman waits for a moment, then gestures for the women and Sinnathamby to come with him. But they stay. Finally Guzman runs to the SUV and drives away. At least that’s how it all appears on the video.

The ocean is as calm as a sheet of paper.

Nine days later, I arrive in Venice. I move into a small two-bedroom with a roommate on Pacific and Breeze, one block from the beach, four blocks from the Cadillac. It’s ferociously hot, and like most places this close to the ocean, this one has no air-conditioning. I have a small carry-on bag with me, a pair of jeans, two T-shirts, a pair of shorts. No return ticket.
On the boardwalk near my apartment, some people and local community organizations have erected a memorial for Shakespeare at the base of one of the boardwalk’s pagodas—the usual candles and flowers, a pink bow, a poster signed by his friends, a framed picture of Shakespeare in a tan jacket, a stuffed panda bear. A group of homeless men and women lounge in the pagoda, one of only a handful of slivers of shade.

I’ve been sent here to figure out why Google has moved into so many buildings in the area, why there are so many accelerators and shiny new office-sharing facilities. Snapchat chose Venice over Silicon Valley and is now valued at $20 billion, with more than 800 employees. What is happening here?

That’s my assignment....MORE
HT: Longform 

In Other News: "Gucci and Guess settle nine year legal battle over the letter G"

The writer, Alys Key's mini-bio: "I report on vice, leisure, the creative industries, luxury.".
What's not to like?

From City AM:
A nine-year battle over the letter G has finally come to an end. 
Gucci and Guess have been at loggerheads over the interlocking G logo (Source: Getty)
Fashion brands Gucci and Guess jointly announced today that they have signed an agreement that will end all outstanding legal battles between the two companies.

The terms of the agreement were not disclosed, but in a joint statement, Gucci and Guess said: "The agreement is an important step for both companies in recognising the significance of protecting their respective intellectual property portfolios and design creativity."...MORE
As we've retailed elsewhere, the lawsuit in Dickens Bleak House, "Jarndyce v Jarndyce" went on for so long that no one remembered what it was about but even that can't compare with the apparent world record which ended in 1966 having been filed in 1205.
Judgement was for the plaintiff.
Now that's commitment to the case.

Back to Dickens as the S&P 500 was attempting to get through some serious restance:
Chartology: S&P at 2100--Maybe the 43rd Time IS the Charm

We are still betting on 2250 but this is starting to look like the lawsuit in Bleak House:
"...Innumerable children have been born into the cause; innumerable young people have married into it; innumerable old people have died out of it. Scores of persons have deliriously found themselves made parties in Jarndyce and Jarndyce, without knowing how or why; whole families have inherited legendary hatreds with the suit. 
The little plaintiff or defendant, who was promised a new rocking-horse when Jarndyce and Jarndyce should be settled, has grown up, possessed himself of a real horse, and trotted away into the other world. 
Fair wards of court have faded into mothers and grandmothers; a long procession of Chancellors has come in and gone out; the legion of bills in the suit have been transformed into mere bills of mortality; there are not three Jarndyces left upon the earth perhaps, since old Tom Jarndyce in despair blew his brains out at a coffee-house in Chancery Lane..."

Autonomous Vehicles: "Velodyne invented modern lidar—it’s about to face real competition"

From Ars Technica:
We talked to Austin Russell, CEO of lidar startup Luminar.
David Hall invented modern three-dimensional lidar more than a decade ago for use in the DARPA Grand Challenge competitions. His company, Velodyne, has dominated the market for self-driving car lidar ever since. Last year, Velodyne opened a factory that it said had the capacity to produce a million lidar units in 2018—far more than any other maker of high-end lidars.

Now Velodyne is starting to see some serious competition. Last week, lidar startup Luminar announced that it was beginning volume production of its own lidar units. The company expects to produce 5,000 units per quarter by the end of 2018.

Meanwhile, Israeli startup Innoviz is also getting ready to manufacture its InnovizPro lidar in significant volume. The company declined to give Ars exact production numbers, only telling us it has orders for thousands of units. Innoviz believes it can scale up manufacturing quickly to satisfy that demand.

Obviously, making lidar a mainstream automotive technology will require millions of lidar units—not just thousands. At this point, Velodyne's rivals are still focused primarily on distributing units to companies for evaluation, testing, and development. The ultimate goal is to convince customers to put in much larger orders for lidar sensors a year or two down the road for use in shipping products.
Both Velodyne and Innoviz say they expect their lidar units to cost hundreds rather than thousands of dollars in the long run. But the companies are keeping the exact specs and prices of their products secret, making it hard to figure out how far they are from this goal or who really has the lead.

To build his original lidar, David Hall mounted 64 lasers on a spinning gimbal that rotated several times per second. Since then, Velodyne has created a number of different lidar models that operate on the same basic principle. Today, Velodyne has models that use 16, 32, 64, and 128 lasers.

Luminar and Innoviz take a dramatically different approach from Velodyne's. Both sell lidars with a single laser that scans across the landscape with the help of a tiny moving mirror. There's an obvious cost advantage to using just one laser, and this approach can give more flexibility about the vertical resolution and scanning frequency of a lidar unit.

But a big downside of this design is that it can't provide 360 degree coverage. Luminar says it can cover 120 degrees horizontally. In practice, this means that a vehicle needs four Luminar units to provide the same 360-degree coverage as a single Velodyne unit.

Velodyne is also producing a solid-state lidar called the Velarray. But based on conversations with the company, spinning lidars continue to be their main focus.

Luminar says its lidar is a cut above rivals
In an interview with Ars, Luminar CEO Austin Russell argued that the big feature that sets Luminar's lidar apart from virtually all its rivals is the wavelength of its laser....

If interested see also:

Autonomous Vehicles: The King of LiDAR
A first rate piece on the backstory of the future.
From The Verge:

The billion-dollar widget steering the driverless car industry
No matter what it took, David Hall was going to kill that clown. He maneuvered Drillzilla for another ramming run....
For a quick primer on this stuff we have on offer:
Izabella Kaminska In Conversation With the Financial Times' Auto Industry Correspondent, Peter Campbell, on the Prospects for Autonomous Vehicles
Track the link to the vid.
And a little test of your knowledge:
"Mapped: The Top 263 Companies Racing Toward Autonomous Cars"
Think you know the players?