Thursday, May 28, 2020

Of Heavens Above and Stories


Back in 2014, I put my own interpretation of Judaculla Rock on canvas and posted the result here.  Who would have guessed that the image would reach a blogger in Pakistan who reflected on that star-map view. Zeeshan Ahmed posted this on September 26, 2015:


As I looked at the celestial objects, up-close, I wondered. I wondered of all the ages, and the people, who had seen it before. I thought of the prehistoric times, when the heavens were brightly lit, and had no artificial, manufactured light to pollute them. I thought of the people who looked above and wondered. They imagined all these fantastic stories, and attempted to give a meaning to everything they saw above. They saw the whole sky as a canvas on which there were these lights, and strange mists. They moved, every night, until the sun came up. The giant, yellow ball of light, hid everything else, until it disappeared and gave way to the celestial painting again.

Not all of them wondered about the heavens, I believe. Like today, there were these people, storytellers, if you will, who wanted to come up with the reason why the ceiling was the way it was, and why it was there. And why this ceiling anyway, which is such a wonderful sight, and not mere emptiness? Oh, imagine if there was nothing above, and just plain darkness. Of course, if that had been the case, we wouldn’t have come up with all these glorious myths, the kind we know of today. There would have been some other kind. These storytellers, I tell you, always find a way to come up with truly amazing tales.

So, if a storyteller belonging to those early days, were here, what would he say? Of course, he would be really surprised at the current state of the world, and its inhabitants. But I will try to keep him far away from the modern world, and ask him questions. I will ask him what he saw in the night sky and what fascinated him. Perhaps, he will tell me that the shimmering dots had their own tales. How some were grouped together, and some were far away. How that misty, hazy pathway above was a gateway to some other world. Then, he might get excited and tell me about these streaks of light which appear, and then vanish. He would perhaps tell me that these were little wanderers who jumped from here and there. They travelled quickly and left behind this wonderful trail of light. At that moment, I will think of these ‘streaks of light’ and think of him, and other such storytellers. Who keep jumping between stories, and worlds, and always have a lot to share with rest of the people. Oh, how fascinating indeed!  


Saturday, May 23, 2020

Ravi Zacharias, 1946-2020



“Love is a command, not just a feeling. Somehow, in the romantic world of music and theater we have made love to be what it is not. We have so mixed it with beauty and charm and sensuality and contact that we have robbed it of its higher call of cherishing and nurturing.”

“God often reinforces our faith after we trust Him, not before.”

“Teaching at best beckons us to morality, but it is not in itself efficacious. Teaching is like a mirror. It can show you if your face is dirty, but it the mirror will not wash your face.”

“Without God, you take man to be God, your body to be a soul, and time to be eternity.”

“Historic figures have homes to visit for posterity; the Lord of history left no home. Luminaries leave libraries and write their memoirs; He left one book, penned by ordinary people. Deliverers speak of winning through might and conquest; He spoke of a place in the heart.”

“We are commanded by God to love our fellow human being no matter how much we disagree with them.”

“An argument may remove doubt, but only the Holy Spirit can convict of truth.”

“We all want Canaan without going through the wilderness.”

“Television has been the single greatest shaper of emptiness.”

“Justice is the handmaiden of truth, and when truth dies, justice is buried with it.”

“Humor aside, I think the reason we sometimes have the false sense that God is so far away is because that is where we have put him. We have kept him at a distance, and then when we are in need and call on him in prayer, we wonder where he is. He is exactly where we left him.”

“Unless I understand the Cross, I cannot understand why my commitment to what is right must be precedence over what I prefer.”

“It was not the volume of sin that sent Christ to the cross; it was the fact of sin.”

“It is easier to hide behind philosophical arguments, heavily footnoted for effect, than it is to admit our hurts, our confusions, our loves, and our passions in the marketplace of life's heartfelt transactions.”

“There is no greater discovery than seeing God as the author of your destiny.”

“Truth has been relegated to subjectivity; beauty has been subjugated to the beholder; and as millions are idiotized night after night, a global commune has been constructed with the arts enjoying a totalitarian rule.”

“Many Christians have so busied themselves with programs and activities that they no longer know how to be silent and meditate on God’s word or recognize the mysteries that are in the Person of Christ.”

“If you believe in subjective morality, why do you lock your doors at night?”

“Redemption is prior to righteousness. You cannot be righteous until you are first redeemed.”

“The loneliest moment in life is when you have just experienced the ultimate, and it has let you down.”

“In naturalism, man is actually very insignificant, but arrogates to himself stupendous power. In Christianity, man is actually the apex of created significance, but is called to see it in abject humility.”

“Jesus said, ‘Greater things of these you shall do…’ Become a peace builder, a bridge builder, not a destroyer, and the way you do that is through friendships and relationships, and through authentic character.”

“Beginning well is a momentary thing; finishing well is a lifelong thing.”

“A man rejects God neither because of intellectual demands nor because of the scarcity of evidence. A man rejects God because of a moral resistance that refuses to admit his need for God.”


Thursday, April 16, 2020

"What Failure Looks Like"


"Globalization and the increasing availability of knowledge required to develop biothreats, coupled with declining computing costs, work together to dramatically increase the likelihood of biological weapon proliferation over the next 25 years. Given a future proliferation of biological weapons to terrorist groups, facilitated by globalization and rapidly increasing technological advancements, can a bureaucracy develop an effective network of countermeasures to bioterrorism?" 
 - Lt. Col. Stephen G. Hoffman



Papers from the United States Air Force – Air War College gives us a peek behind the curtains obscuring current and future events.

Case in point – an October 2012 paper by Lieutenant Colonel Stephen G. Hoffman – Bureaucracy versus Bioterrorism, Countering a Globalized Threat.

Hoffman discusses how rapid advancements in technology will make it easier and easier for malcontents to become powerful bioterrorists:

Three key developing technologies underlying the biothreat environment are genome sequencing, synthetic biology, and nanotechnology….

One consequence of increasingly cost-efficient computing power coupled with advances in genomics, synthetic biology, and nanotechnology is that do-it-yourself (DIY) genetic engineering is entering the realm of the possible. Barry Pallotta and Michael Finnin at the Institute for Defense Analyses detailed how DIY biologists can use everyday items [such as jewelry cleaners, coffee grinders pressure cookers and household chemicals] to attain rudimentary biological engineering capabilities….

Failure of bureaucracy to develop a novel network of countermeasures against DIY scientists and would-be bioterrorists, who can wage warfare from Wal-Mart, is foolhardy….

Hoffman relies on the work of one defense policy analyst to describe “What Failure Looks Like:” 

If the bureaucracy can ever hope to develop an effective network of countermeasures to bioterrorism, then certainly the first step in that development is an accurate assessment of the consequences of what failing to do so would have on the United States. Andrew Krepinevich, in the “Pandemic” chapter of his 2009 book, 7 Deadly Scenarios, provides a glimpse of how that failure might look.

Meanwhile, as the United States increasingly resembles a vast collection of semi-ghost towns, to the south literally millions of peoples are on the move. . . . This mass of Mexicans, now estimated at nearly eight million, has no organizing force directing it, yet all its participants are unified toward one goal: crossing the border into the United States, in hope of gaining access to this country’s medical system—which ironically in many ways has simply ceased functioning in any meaningful way. This mass migration is . . . driving Mexico’s population north—a human tidal wave about to crash across America’s borders.10

A bioterrorist attack on the United States could take the form of an introduction of a mutated avian flu virus, capable of being passed human-to-human into unsanitary villages in Mexico. Poor surveillance by the World Health Organization, coupled with typical American disbelief of vulnerability to a pandemic, would likely permit early reports of 10, 20, or 50 deaths scattered across Mexican villages to go largely unnoticed in the United States. One characteristic of viral growth is its exponential increase, so these seemingly small and scattered deaths could, within weeks, ramp into millions of cases of avian flu. Even though the Spanish influenza of 1918 killed 675,000 Americans and estimates of an avian flu pandemic are that 2,000,000 could die, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has failed to develop sufficient antivirus stockpiles.

“The combination of the pandemic, the lack of government preparedness, and sensationalist media [would diminish American’s] confidence and trust in their government.”11 

Furthermore, the second and third order effects of a pandemic, coupled with global mobility, may be increased gang activity, looting, and violent crime worldwide such that implementation of martial law may be required. Overwhelmed governments may attempt to clamp down on individual rights to free speech and assembly if mob violence were to spontaneously erupt anywhere social networks indicated medical supplies existed. In the United States, the president could nationalize all antiviral treatments under the direction of the CDC, Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Defense. 

Since “95 percent of the world’s vaccine is produced by countries comprising only about 10 percent of the world’s population,”12 minority groups may characterize the president’s nationalization of medical supplies as nothing more than opportunistic ethnic cleansing. In light of these global implications to bioterrorism, it is imperative that the United States show leadership in propagating ethical norms of responsible conduct.

10. Andrew F. Krepinevich, Seven Deadly Scenarios: A Military Futurist Explores War in the 21st Century (New York, NY: Bantam Dell, 2009), 92.
11. Ibid., 99.
12. Ibid., 113.



In his conclusion, Hoffman considers possible countermeasures to such a scenario:

Even in a future where biological weapons are proliferated to terrorists through globalization and technological advancements, a bureaucracy can develop an effective network of countermeasures to bioterrorism.

The first aspect of this network is professional policing among life science professionals through development of an oath of ethical actions. A life science oath would “reinforce norms of safe and responsible conduct” while creating ethical standards within the profession.

The second aspect in this network is a nanotechnology detection capability to permit unambiguous attribution of bioterrorist activity. For example, this attribution capability may strip anonymity from bioterrorists and coerce them toward civil behavior through the use of fluorescing nanotaggants….

The third aspect of this network is mitigation of the consequences of terrorists’ desires though development of quick response teams capable of rapidly identifying pathogens, treating the infected, and inoculating the masses through nanovector delivery techniques.

Through the use of nanotechnology and improved implementation of international life science laws and treaties, an increased likelihood of punishment to bioterrorists may be realized. Neither the reduction of reward nor increase of risk must be perfect; merely disincentivizing the economics of biological weapon use may discourage would-be terrorists from investing effort in this area….

Effective Air Force participation in this proposed bureaucratic network of countermeasures requires a few foundational questions be answered. To reduce risks of a 2035 biothreat and better support the 2010 National Security Strategy, the Air Force must (1) determine the proper level of scientific personnel required; (2) institutionalize cross-functional communication across the intelligence, scientific, acquisition, and medical functional communities; and (3) develop an industry accepted certification program for life science officers. Amid a rapidly changing technological environment, accomplishing these actions now will decrease future risk in the president’s overall biothreat strategy by systematically increasing American credibility, capability, and communication.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

WHO Are You?



In Progressive Utopia America, “happy easter” is when the churches are closed and the liquor stores are open. 

It is OK for everybody in town to flock to the supermarket, the supercenter, and the home improvement store, but religious observances are something else. Who would dare to call them essential, when LIVES are at stake?

From Kentucky, a WHAS News report explains how religious persecution is for your own good:

Kentucky governor: Anyone at mass gatherings this weekendmust quarantine, WHAS News 11, April 10, 2020, by Taylor Weiter, Jessie Cohen.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said the state will require people who participate in mass gatherings this weekend to quarantine for 14 days.

In his Friday press briefing, Beshear said the state will record the license plates of any people at a mass gathering, including in-person church services this weekend, and give the information to local health departments, who will order people to quarantine for 14 days.

"Even on a weekend like this, we cannot have any in-person gatherings of any type," Beshear said.

Beshear said there are about seven churches in Kentucky who will not comply with the recommendations to not host in-person services….

In his Friday briefing, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said he recommends no gatherings for Easter this year, saying people should not gather in homes, public spaces or houses of worship.

“It hurts me to say again that, in order to save lives, we must not gather for Easter this year," Fischer said. "Not in groups in our homes. Not in public spaces. And we can’t gather in our houses of worship, either.”

Fischer said the local agency will be involved as well. "Metro police department will be there on Sunday handing out information detailing the health risks involved and I've asked LMPD to also record license plates of all vehicles in attendance," Fischer said.

People of faith need not feel singled out, though.  Infringement of civil liberties is liable to affect every American, even if the coronavirus doesn’t.  A March 23, 2020 article in Forbes considers the long-term risk:

Forbes, March 23, 2020, by Simon Chandler

...Even the surveillance of general activity levels is harmful to privacy and civil liberties. Firstly, data on general activities and activity levels will still enhance the ability of governments to manipulate and control populations, and this may not always be desirable (at the very least, a government telling you how to act usually reduces your input into your own behaviour). Secondly, it may enable mission creep, providing one slippery step towards even more invasive forms of data gathering and surveillance.

More generally, the coronavirus pandemic brings another trend that could potentially impact privacy and civil liberties long term. Namely, surveillance capitalist corporations such as Facebook, Google and Microsoft have assumed a much greater 'public service' role in the wake of COVID-19's dissemination throughout the globe. And by increasingly acting like public services (that operate for private profit), they'll potentially increase not only their reach, but their respective abilities to extract and exploit personal data….

An opinion piece in the University of Connecticut student newspaper is more specific about the erosion of civil liberty in the name of “health:”

The Daily Campus, March 27, 2020, by Nidhi J Nair 

Should we sacrifice privacy in the face of a global pandemic? Can we use our technology effectively, and not destroy our liberties? During an international crisis like this, suspending fundamental rights may seem comforting, because people feel relieved to hand over control to big government, instead of facing immense uncertainty. However, this should never be the first solution to global crises.

The increased surveillance we endure during this pandemic could have lasting effects after the world comes back to normal. In China, the virus has given the government an opportunity to increase surveillance as citizens install self-monitoring apps for their own good. Facial recognition technology is also being used to detect heightened temperatures or raise concerns about particular civilians.

An egregious example of this is an app called HealthCode, which dictates freedom of movement, whether people should be quarantined, or even allowed into public spaces, while also sharing location data with police. What makes this worse is that there is absolutely no transparency about how these apps function, what data it collects and where it sends the data—and there’s no sign of this technology disappearing even when the pandemic ends....

A statement from the Brennan Center for Justice provides some historical context for current efforts to invade the privacy of individual citizens:


The rise of mass surveillance after 9/11 offers a cautionary tale for using tech to keep tabs on people during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The impulse to turn to high-tech tools in this time of crisis is understandable — and some such tools might indeed be a useful part of our response to Covid-19. At the same time, history offers ample reason to proceed with caution. Before embracing new forms of surveillance to address the coronavirus, we must ensure that any such responses are proportionate and grounded in evidence.

Our experience with expanded surveillance after 9/11 provides an object lesson. With the laudable-sounding goal of preventing the next terrorist attack, the government secretly undertook new dragnet surveillance programs that violated Americans’ privacy rights. The hasty rollout also sacrificed necessary assessments of whether these programs were likely to work.

Years later, government analyses found that mass data collection for counterterrorism purposes was ineffective. The Department of Defense, for example, found that machine learning systems were unable to “accurately anticipate” terrorist threats. Furthermore, this data collection was actually counterproductive, because it ended up burying useful intelligence. Even with a dismal success rate, many of the post-9/11 surveillance programs are still active today, nearly two decades after the emergency that was used to justify their inception....

On April 3, 2020, Democracy Now (not known for disseminating “right-wing conspiracy theories”) shared some clever uses of technology during the current hubbub:

Democracy Now, April 3, 2020 

In San Francisco, the founder and CEO of the videoconferencing company Zoom apologized Wednesday over software flaws that have allowed hackers to steal passwords, to join private calls and even to hijack Mac users’ webcams and microphones. Zoom has seen a sudden surge of nearly 200 million daily users working and studying remotely.

In Tunisia, police are remotely operating robots — equipped with cameras, microphones and loudspeakers — to check residents’ IDs while enforcing a lockdown in the capital Tunis.

Indonesian authorities are using drones to spray disinfectant in some residential neighborhoods, raising concerns over privacy and toxic chemicals.

South Korea’s government has collected massive amounts of cellphone data to create a public map warning residents if they’ve come into contact with someone who has COVID-19.

In Israel, the high-tech firm NSO Group is promoting software that would assign every person a 1-to-10 ranking of how likely they are to carry the virus. NSO Group previously developed spyware known as Pegasus, which allows hackers to turn on a cellphone’s camera and microphone and to trawl through personal data and messages. NSO Group is being sued by WhatsApp after the malware was discovered on the phones of human rights activists and journalists, including a Saudi dissident close to murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi….

When I began to investigate Technocracy, I thought lefties might share some of my concerns, but I was wrong.  As one progressive sage put it: “Technocracy means that the smart people are running things.”  

Really!!!???

Generally, though, leftists embrace the potential of technology to bring about the happy world described in that old song, “Imagine” – no religion, no borders – just multi-cultural bliss. 

A great example of what you get when the so-called smart people try to run things is the ID2020 Alliance.  What sorts of people are inspired by the gobbledegook emitted by this outfit:

The ID2020 Alliance Announces New Partners in Digital Identity Initiative, ID2020 Alliance News Release, January 22, 2018

At the World Economic Forum, Microsoft, Mercy Corps, Hyperledger and the UN International Computing Center join Accenture in a public-private partnership committed to improving lives through digital identity.

The ID2020 Alliance is committed to developing digital identity solutions that are personal, private, persistent and portable. With its focus on user-control and privacy, Alliance partners are considering the potential of blockchain technologies to give individuals direct ownership of, and control over, their personal information. User-owned digital identity would be complementary with existing identity management systems, including forms of legal identification issued by a government.

The digital identity provides a backbone to which any sort of credentials, including state-issued ones, can be associated, allowing a seamless authentication process for individuals and simplified interoperability for institutions. Just last summer, Accenture and Microsoft unveiled a blockchain-based digital identity prototype for the ID2020 Alliance at the ID2020 Summit held at the United Nations in New York….

The ID2020 Alliance is also focused on the non-technical elements of bringing secure digital identity to scale. Launched with an initial grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, the alliance is focused on a market-based approach, leveraging the diverse capabilities and broad reach of its partners in a coordinated manner. The ID2020 Alliance's transparent, multi-stakeholder governance model is unique among initiatives focused on digital identity – partner organizations jointly manage a pooled fund, used to implement pilot projects, and work jointly to develop user-centric technical requirements and data privacy standards. In the coming year, the group plans to launch pilots focusing on refugee populations and childhood immunization…

Ironic that a Tech Titan who raked in billions of dollars selling us computer products that are always vulnerable to devastating “virus” attacks has gone on a mission to vaccinate the whole world.  But criticize the actions of Bill Gates these days and the fact-checking websites will chide you for spreading “unfounded” rumors.  There is no disagreement, though, that Gates helped establish ID2020.

Who needs church services in their future when they can look forward to “a seamless authentication process for individuals and simplified interoperability for institutions?”  That’s what I call “essential.”  And there’s nothing like a pandemic to make it essential for everyone. 

OK, so the language from ID2020 is a bit vague.  What might digital identity actually look like?  One piece of the puzzle is found in a December 19, 2019 news release from Rice University.

Rice University News Release, December 18, 2019, by Mike Williams

Rice bioengineer reveals dissolving microneedles that also embed fluorescent medical info

Keeping track of a child’s shots could be so much easier with technology invented by a new Rice University professor and his colleagues.

Kevin McHugh, an assistant professor of bioengineering at Rice since this summer, and a team at his previous institution, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, report in a cover story in Science Translational Medicine on their development of quantum-dot tags that fluoresce with information after they’re injected as part of a vaccination.

A pattern of 1.5-millimeter microneedles that contain vaccine and fluorescent quantum dots are applied as a patch. The needles dissolve under the skin, leaving the encapsulated quantum dots. Their pattern can be read to identify the vaccine that was administered. The project was co-led by Rice University bioengineer Kevin McHugh during his time at MIT.  

The tags are incorporated in only some of the array of sugar-based microneedles on a patch. When the needles dissolve in about two minutes, they deliver the vaccine and leave the pattern of tags just under the skin, where they become something like a bar-code tattoo.

Instead of ink, this highly specific medical record consists of copper-based quantum dots embedded in biocompatible, micron-scale capsules. Their near-infrared dye is invisible, but the pattern they set can be read and interpreted by a customized smartphone.

The two-year project is aimed at the 1.5 million preventable deaths that result from a lack of vaccinations, primarily in developing nations.

“The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation came to us and said, ‘Hey, we have a real problem — knowing who’s vaccinated,’” said McHugh, who was recruited to join Rice with funding from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas. 

“They said, ‘We go on vaccination campaigns where people get into Hummers, drive to a rural village, set up a tent and start immunizing people, but they don’t always know who’s been immunized before and what vaccines are still needed.”

Parents often don’t know their children’s vaccination histories, McHugh said. “So our idea was to put the record on the person,” he said. “This way, later on, people can scan over the area to see what vaccines have been administered and give only the ones still needed....

Delve into ancient history, say the year 2010, and nifty little tricks like quantum-dot tattoos were the stuff of science fiction. 

CNN, May 3, 2010, by John D. Sutter

Palo Alto, California (CNN) -- In the 1990s, a researcher named Kris Pister dreamed up a wild future in which people would sprinkle the Earth with countless tiny sensors, no larger than grains of rice.
These "smart dust" particles, as he called them, would monitor everything, acting like electronic nerve endings for the planet. Fitted with computing power, sensing equipment, wireless radios and long battery life, the smart dust would make observations and relay mountains of real-time data about people, cities and the natural environment.

Now, a version of Pister's smart dust fantasy is starting to become reality.

"It's exciting. It's been a long time coming," said Pister, a computing professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

"I coined the phrase 14 years ago. So smart dust has taken a while, but it's finally here."

Maybe not exactly how he envisioned it. But there has been progress.

The latest news comes from the computer and printing company Hewlett-Packard, which recently announced it's working on a project it calls the "Central Nervous System for the Earth." In coming years, the company plans to deploy a trillion sensors all over the planet.

The wireless devices would check to see if ecosystems are healthy, detect earthquakes more rapidly, predict traffic patterns and monitor energy use. The idea is that accidents could be prevented and energy could be saved if people knew more about the world in real time, instead of when workers check on these issues only occasionally.

HP will take its first step toward this goal in about two years, said Pete Hartwell, a senior researcher at HP Labs in Palo Alto. The company has made plans with Royal Dutch Shell to install 1 million matchbook-size monitors to aid in oil exploration by measuring rock vibrations and movement, he said. Those sensors, which already have been developed, will cover a 6-square-mile area.

That will be the largest smart dust deployment to date, he said.

"We just think now, the technology has reached a point where it makes basic sense for us ... to get this out of the lab and into reality," Hartwell said.

Smart dust (minus the 'dust')

Despite the recent excitement, there's still much confusion in the computing industry about what exactly smart dust is.

For starters, the sensors being deployed and developed today are much larger and clunkier than flecks of dust. HP's sensors -- accelerometers like those in the iPhone and Droid phone, but about 1,000 times more powerful -- are about the size of matchbooks. When they're enclosed in a metal box for protection, they're about the size of a VHS tape.

So what makes a smart dust sensor different from a weather station or a traffic monitor?
Size is one factor. Smart dust sensors must be relatively small and portable. But technology hasn't advanced far enough to manufacture the sensors on the scale of millimeters for commercial use (although Berkeley researchers are trying to make one that's a cubic millimeter).

Wireless connections are a big distinguisher, too. A building's thermostat is most likely hard-wired. A smart dust sensor might gauge temperature, but it would be battery-powered and would communicate wirelessly with the internet and with other sensors.

The sheer number of sensors in the network is what truly makes a smart dust project different from other efforts to record data about the world, said Deborah Estrin, a professor of computer science at the University of California, Los Angeles, who works in the field.

Smart dust researchers tend to talk in the millions, billions and trillions.

Some say reality has diverged so far from the smart dust concept that it's time to dump that term in favor or something less sexy. "Wireless sensor networks" or "meshes" are terms finding greater acceptance with some researchers.

Estrin said it's important to ditch the idea that smart dust sensors would be disposable.

Sensors have to be designed for specific purposes and spread out on the land intentionally -- not scattered in the wind, as smart dust was initially pitched, she said.

'Real-world web'

Despite these differences, researchers say the smart-dust theory that monitoring everything will benefit humanity remains essentially unchanged.

And there are a number of real-world projects that, in one way or another, seek to use wireless sensors to take the Earth's vital signs.

Wireless sensors currently monitor farms, factories, data centers and bridges to promote efficiency and understanding of how these systems work, researchers said in interviews.

In all of these cases, the sensor networks are deployed for a specific purpose.

For example, a company called Streetline has installed 12,000 sensors on parking spots and highways in San Francisco. The sensors don't know everything that's going on at those parking spots. They are equipped with magnetometers to sense whether or not a huge metal object -- hopefully a car -- is sitting on the spot.

That data will soon be available to people who can use it to figure out where to park, said Tod Dykstra, Streetline's CEO.

It also tells the cities if the meters have expired.

Other sensors are equipped to measure vibration in factories and oil refineries to spot machine problems and inefficiencies before they cause trouble. Still others might pick up data about temperature, chemistry or sound. Tiny cameras or radars also can be tacked onto the data-collecting network to detect the presence of people or vehicles.

The power of these networks is that they eventually can be connected, said David Culler, a computer science professor at UC Berkeley.

Culler says the development of these wireless sensor networks is analogous to the creation of the World Wide Web. What's being created with the smart dust idea is a "Real World Web," he said.

But he said we're still early on in that progression.

"Netscape [for the wireless sensor network] hasn't quite happened," he said.

Big Brother effect

Even when deployed for science or the public, some people still get a Big Brother feeling -- the uncomfortable sense of being under constant, secret surveillance -- from the idea of putting trillions of monitors all over the world.

"It's a very, very, very huge potential privacy invasion because we're talking about very, very small sensors that can be undetectable, effectively," said Lee Tien, an attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a privacy advocate.

"They are there in such numbers that you really can't do anything about them in terms of easy countermeasures."

That doesn't mean that researchers should stop working on smart dust. But they should be mindful of privacy as the work progresses, he said.

Pister said the wireless frequencies that smart dust sensors use to communicate -- which work kind of like Wi-Fi -- have security built into them. So the data is public only if the person or company that installed the sensor wants it to be, he said.

"Clearly, there are security concerns and privacy concerns," he said, "and the good news is that when the radio technology was being developed for this stuff, it was shortly after all of the big concerns about Wi-Fi security. ... We've got all the security tools we need underneath to make this information private."

Further privacy concerns may arise if another vision for smart dust comes true. Some researchers are looking into making mobile phones into sensors.

In this scenario, the billions of people roaming the Earth with cell phones become the "smart dust."

Bright future

Smart dust researchers say their theory of monitoring the world -- however it's realized -- will benefit people and the environment.

More information is better information, Pister said.

"Having more sensors improves the efficiency of a system and reduces the demand and reduces waste," he said. "So all of that is just straight goodness."

Hartwell, the HP researcher, says the only way people can combat huge problems like climate change and biodiversity loss is to have more information about what's going on.

"Frankly, I think we have to do it, from a sustainability and environmental standpoint," he said.

Even though the first application of HP's "Central Nervous System for the Earth" project will be commercial, Hartwell says the motives behind smart dust are altruistic.

"People ask me what my job is, and I say, well, I'm going to save the world," he said.

Well, if post-pandemic, post-Christian America is looking for a Savior, it sounds like Pete Hartwell is the man for the job, what with his endless supply of omnipresent, omniscient Smart Dust.  After all, don’t forget what was written in the book of Genesis:  

For you are dust, and to dust you shall return. 


Monday, April 6, 2020

Twelve Things to Remember


Marshall Field (1834-1906) was an American entrepreneur and wildly successful retailer.  



As a member of the Jekyll Island (GA) Club, he rubbed elbows with the Morgans, Rockefellers and Vanderbilts.  His “Twelve Things to Remember” was frequently circulated among the staff of his department store and, later, among the general public:


TWELVE THINGS TO REMEMBER.

The value of time

The success of perseverance

The pleasure of working

The dignity of simplicity

The worth of character

The power of kindness

The influence of example

The obligation of duty

The wisdom of economy

The virtue of patience

The improvement of talent

The joy of originating.