Secrets from smart devices find path to US legal system

From phys.org: Secrets from smart devices find path to US legal system.

An Ohio man claimed he was forced into a hasty window escape when his house caught fire last year. His pacemaker data obtained by police showed otherwise, and he was charged with arson and insurance fraud.

In Pennsylvania, authorities dismissed rape charges after data from a woman’s Fitbit contradicted her version of her whereabouts during the 2015 alleged assault.

Vast amounts of data collected from our connected devices—fitness bands, smart refrigerators, thermostats and automobiles, among others—are increasingly being used in US legal proceedings to prove or disprove claims by people involved.

In a recent case that made headlines, authorities in Arkansas sought, and eventually obtained, data from a murder suspect’s Amazon Echo speaker to obtain evidence.

The US Federal Trade Commission in February fined television maker Vizio for secretly gathering data on viewers collected from its smart TVs and selling the information to marketers.

The maker of the smartphone-connected sex toy We-Vibe meanwhile agreed in March to a court settlement of a class-action suit from buyers who claimed “highly intimate and sensitive data” was uploaded to the cloud without permission—and shown last year to be vulnerable to hackers. [continue]

How does this make you feel about the electronic devices in your life?

Boston public schools map switch aims to amend 500 years of distortion

A Guardian article tells us that Boston public schools are switching maps. Instead of using the Mercator projection maps most of us are used to, Boston will now be using Peters projection maps. The article begins:

When Boston public schools introduced a new standard map of the world this week, some young students felt their jaws drop. In an instant, their view of the world had changed.

The USA was small. Europe too had suddenly shrunk. Africa and South America appeared narrower but also much larger than usual. And what had happened to Alaska? [continue]

Maggie won the Global Teacher Prize!

In the Exaltation of Links post yesterday, I noted the CBC story about Maggie MacDonnell, who was nominated for the Global Teacher Prize. (And that comes with a whack of money.) Maggie teaches in Salluit, in a remote community in northern Quebec.

And now Maggie has won! Here is a blog post about Maggie from GlobalTeacherPrize.org, and here’s a page that includes a touching video about Maggie’s contributions to her community.

They rested their heads on Pulu mattresses in the BC Gold Rush

From the BC Gold Rush Press: They rested their heads on Pulu mattresses in the BC Gold Rush.

How did gold rush miners get a good night’s rest? If they were lucky, a roadhouse or inn had beds with Pulu mattresses.

The early roadhouses had either cots or if they had ‘mattresses’, they were stuffed with straw or dried moss and sometimes feathers or curled hair. These were expensive to import because of the tariffs.

An entrepreneur got the idea that Pulu would make a great substitute because there was no import levy on it and also it was soft and cheap. Pulu was from a tree fern known as the hapu’u pulu in Hawaii. The young fronds (fiddleheads) of these tree ferns are covered with a bronze-coloured silky floss called “pulu”. Ancient Hawaiians had long used pulu.

From the late 1850s to the 1880s over 4 million pounds of pulu were shipped in bales, to be used primarily for stuffing mattresses, pillows, and upholstery. Fortunately, this stopped when people realized that [continue]

I went off to see what pulu fronds look like, and found this image at Wikimedia Commons. (Click on the image if you’d like to see a larger version. Oh, and thanks to photographer Tom Burke for sharing it under a Creative Commons license.)

Instant Hawaii has more photos, and a bit more information about this tree. They note:

As the young shoots uncurl they have a fine golden hair that is very soft, almost like velvet. This hair is called pulu and it was collected in the 1800’s and used commercially as stuffing for pillows and mattresses. The remnants of an old pulu factory can still be seen on the Napau Crater trail in the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.

Well, that was fun to learn about. What’s in your mattress? Probably a bunch of synthetic stuff that’s been treated with fire retardants and other chemicals, unless you’ve gone out of your way to find an alternative. If you happen to be looking for an alternative mattress filling now, I think you can strike pulu off your list!

The surprising things algorithms can glean about you from photos

This is an article I’ll be sharing with all my friends, because it’s important for us to understand the consequences one single photo can have.

Even if you do not tag the people in an image, photo recognition systems can do so. Facebook’s DeepFace algorithm can match a face to one that has appeared in previously uploaded images, including photos taken in dramatically different lighting and from dramatically different points of view. Using identified profile photos and tagged photos and social-graph relationships, a very probable name can be attached to the face. (…)

A person pounding the pavement of a city street can be identified and tracked block-to-block by the unique characteristics of her gait. (…)

Taking a photo or video in public isn’t illegal, nor is taking one with a person’s permission. It’s also not illegal to upload the file or store it in the cloud. Applying optical character recognition, facial recognition, or a super-resolution algorithm isn’t illegal, either. There’s simply no place for us to hide anymore. [continue]

That’s from Andreas Weigend’s article, The Surprising Things Algorithms Can Glean About You From Photos, published on Slate. I think you’ll want to read the whole thing.

A note at the bottom of the Slate article says, in part, “Andreas Weigend is the author of Data for the People: How to Make Our Post-Privacy Economy Work for You.” I am grateful for this Slate article – it has super information and will be a handy thing for me to send to friends and post on a certain bulletin board. So I’ve just bought Andreas’ book, as a way to thank him.

Oh, and about laws regarding the taking of photos: we had a house guest from the Netherlands a while ago. He said it’s illegal in the Netherlands to take photos of people without their permission. Really? That’s a great idea. I wish we had a similar law here.

Are any of you saying no when others want to photograph you?

Ornamental hermits

Later, a fad for hermits swept 18th-century England. It was believed that hermits radiated kindness and thoughtfulness, so advertisements were placed in newspapers for “ornamental hermits” who were lax in grooming and willing to sleep in caves on the country estates of the aristocracy. The job paid well and hundreds were hired, typically on seven-year contracts. Some of the hermits would even emerge at dinner parties and greet guests.

Where do I sign up for that? Live in a cave on a good salary, and attend dinner parties? Now that I could do. I’d have to dress down, though.

The quoted text above is from an article about a modern-day hermit: Into the woods: how one man survived alone in the wilderness for 27 years. I enjoyed the article for several of reasons – who can resist the tale of a fellow who escapes modern civilization? – but it’s the comment about ornamental hermits that has my imagination reeling.

And this ornamental hermit thing really did exist! A page at the University of Leicester site, Ornamental hermits: an 18th century ‘must-have’, notes this:

Hermits were often hired for seven years, required to refrain from cutting their hair or washing and had to live austerely. They could receive up to £600 in return, enough to never work again.

Enough to never work again. Enough to never work again. Enough to never work again. Not a bad deal, really, if the dinner parties are good.

Oh and there’s a book on the topic, too: The Hermit in the Garden: From Imperial Rome to Ornamental Gnome. It was written by Gordon Campbell of the University of Leicester, which is why the university has the hermity page I mentioned above.

The future of the open internet

Now this, this is good information in a well-written article that will tell you a bunch of stuff you’ll wish you’d known all along. And see if the historical parallels don’t make you sit up and take notice! Here is Quincy Larson’s article: The future of the open internet — and our way of life — is in your hands.

…corporations want to lock down the internet and give us access to nothing more than a few walled gardens. They want to burn down the Library of Alexandria and replace it with a magazine rack.

Why? Because they’ll make more money that way. (…)

By the end of this article, you’ll understand what’s happening, the market forces that are driving this, and how you can help stop it. We’ll talk about the brazen monopolies who maneuver to lock down the internet, the scrappy idealists who fight to keep it open, and the vast majority of people who are completely oblivious to this battle for the future. [continue]

Thanks to Georgiy Treyvus for posting a link to this article on the Diaspora social network, which is where I spotted it.

Tiny bird’s poo has tremendous impact on Greenland’s nature

Isn’t it amazing the way one animal can modify an entire ecosystem? Here’s another example of that: Tiny bird’s poo has tremendous impact on Greenland’s nature.

The little auk is by any measure a tiny bird. At just 160 grams, which is about one third the weight of a pigeon, yet, it has as a surprisingly big influence on the landscape near Thule in Northwest Greenland.

It turns out that many larger animals like musk ox, geese, reindeer, foxes, hares, and many more have much to thank the little bird for: auk poop provides nutrients for grass and flowers. However, it also makes the nearby lakes and waterways so acidic that almost nothing can survive there besides algae.

“The auk literally transforms the landscape,” says co-author Thomas Alexander Davidson from the Department of Bioscience and The Arctic Research Centre at Aarhus University, Denmark. [continue]

An exaltation of links!

I’ve come across dozens of interesting things to share with you lately, but I’ve also been quite short of time. So here are a whole bunch of things I think you’ll like, all at once, for your weekend reading pleasure.

I’ve thought of doing this for a while now: occasional posts full of linky goodness. But a pleasing name for such postings failed to suggest itself to me, and so I was thwarted. This morning, though, the name arrived in my brain. This is An Exaltation of Links. Because why should the larks have all the fun?

Continue reading

More on the dangers of facial recognition software

This facial recognition stuff gets more chilling at every turn. Did you see this article from the Guardian a few days ago? SXSW panel opens window into dangers of facial recognition software .

He said that his facial recognition system is now so good at recognising races, a challenge in the past, that it can be used as a genealogy tool. “It’s coming back with the percentages of race the person is,” he said, mentioning someone who came up 12% Asian despite looking Caucasian. “Oh, I have a Chinese grandmother,” she said, according to Brackeen.

Brackeen said Kairos has been pushing for regulation, and that although he believes Karios’ conduct is responsible, he could not say the same for some competitors. He mentioned FindFace, for example, the Russian company which made an app that could analyze images of people and match it to their social media accounts.

The app was supposed to be for finding friends, but members of online messaging board Dvach started using it to expose identities, harass porn actors and spam their families with the news of their discovery. [continue]

So here’s how it’s going. You’ll be out having a coffee at the neighbourhood cafe, and anybody with a camera will be able to take your photo, submit it to a facial recognition database, and find out more about who you are. What’s your name? Who’s your mamma? Where did your ancestors come from? And more.

Are you ok with that?

Are maple tree seedlings edible?

Maple tree seedlings appear all at once here, it seems, through vast swaths of the forest. Usually I spot them on February 11th (a friend’s birthday, so easy to remember) but this year they’re over a month late. At any rate, they’re everywhere now. And they look so much like the sprouts I grow in my kitchen that I wonder if I can add baby maple trees to my salads.

Nancy J Turner’s Food Plants of Coastal First Peoples says this about aboriginal use of Broad-leaved Maple:

Broad-leaved Maple was not widely used as food, but the Saanich and Cowichan placed the leaves in steaming pits to flavour meat, and according to Barnett (1955), the Vancouver Island Salish ate the fresh cambium in small quantities, although “it made one thin to eat too much”. The cambium was constipating, so was eaten with oil. It was also occasionally dried in criss-cross stips for winter. The Nlaka’pamux people at Spuzzum, near Yale in the Fraser Canyon, and possibly also the Upper Sto:lo peeled and ate young maple shoots raw, and also boiled and ate the sprouts when they were about 3 cm tall.

So! That sounds promising, yes?

I wonder if Susannah of Wanderin’ Weeta has eaten maple seedlings. She’s not too far from me, and notices lots of details in the forest. The photos she publishes are so often like the ones I have just taken!

Guaranteed basic income on verge of take-off in Canada

From The Tyee: Guaranteed Basic Income on Verge of Take-off in Canada.

Guy Caron is not a household name in Canadian politics. Yet.

Caron kicked off his campaign for the New Democratic Party leadership this week with a policy proposal that’s becoming the subject of a lot of political chatter in Canada and beyond: a guaranteed basic income.

The idea could well become the sleeper issue in Canadian politics in 2017 — not just in the NDP but across the political spectrum, drawing in non-partisan advocates as well. [continue]

Renting a dog?

Bloomberg’s article, I’m Renting a Dog? explains how you can buy a dog at a pet store, and then find out that you’re on the hook for a whole lot more money than you’d dreamed, because you’ve actually agreed to lease a dog. What an insane world! This is why it’s important to read every contract you sign, kids. Sigh.

The fake British radio show that helped defeat the Nazis

You’ll enjoy this Smithsonian Magazine article, I think: The Fake British Radio Show That Helped Defeat the Nazis. Summary:

By spreading fake news and sensational rumors, intelligence officials leveraged “psychological judo” against the Nazis in World War II.

See? It’s just what you want to read while you sip your coffee.

Do we need predators to prevent Lyme disease?

From the New York Times: A Natural Cure for Lyme Disease.

If humans have inadvertently increased the chances of contracting Lyme disease, the good news is that there’s a potential fix: allow large predators, particularly wolves and cougars, to return.

They would help keep down the number of deer, which, although they don’t carry the Lyme-causing bacterium, probably encourage its transmission. [continue]

If you missed it a couple of weeks ago, take a detour over to the how wolves change rivers thing I pointed out. The four-minute video is stunning.

(Link to the NTY article found here at Microfishing.)

Genetic testing, privacy, and the law

If you have your DNA tested for genetic concerns, should the results be private? Or should you be forced to share that information with insurance companies and your employer? That issue is in the news this week. The USA moved in one direction (Guess what they decided – I know you can!) and Canada did the opposite.

Here’s what the US is doing:

And in Canada:

Over the objection of their own government, dozens of Liberal backbenchers voted Wednesday night in favour of a bill banning genetic discrimination.

In voting for what is known as Bill S-201, the backbench Liberals, along with all Conservative, NDP and Green Party MPs made it a crime for, among other things, insurance companies to demand potential customers provide a DNA test in order to get a policy. Additionally, no company will be able to deny someone a job if they fail to have their genes tested.

Protection from discrimination because of an individual’s genetic makeup will now be written into the Canadian Labour Code and the Canadian Human Rights Act. [continue]

That’s from the National Post article, Liberal backbenchers vote against Trudeau, pass law banning genetic discrimination.

Thank you, Canadian MPs.

Scandinavian words you’ll want to steal

There are some fun Scandinavian words in an article the Guardian published today: Fancy a beer outside? There’s a Scandi word for that – and so much else. Here are just two:

Texas

Norwegians love metonymy, or substituting a word for a concept. They also don’t mince their bald etymological insults. Texas translates as “crazy”. Helt Texas, then, means “total craziness” or “peak mayhem”. It goes on like this, incrementally. Indicative, perhaps, of the powerful impact American culture had on those Norwegians who grew up watching westerns.

Sisu

This is a quality unique to Finns and it translates as strength, determination and guts. Etymologically, the word actually translates as insides (of a person) or interior, but the concept itself is a mite sexier. Sisu is inner strength and then some. If you have sisu, you are a real man. If you have sisu, you’d sooner die than lose. Imagine Odysseus if he hadn’t been so bothered by the elements. [continue]

You might like some of the other ones even more.

Ozymandias statue found in Cairo mud

From the Guardian: Look on my works, ye mighty … Ozymandias statue found in mud.

Archaeologists from Egypt and Germany have found an eight-metre (26ft) statue submerged in groundwater in a Cairo slum that they say probably depicts revered Pharaoh Ramses II, who ruled Egypt more than 3,000 years ago.

The discovery – hailed by Egypt’s antiquities ministry on Thursday as one of the most important ever – was made near the ruins of Ramses II’s temple in the ancient city of Heliopolis, located in the eastern part of modern-day Cairo.

“Last Tuesday they called me to announce the big discovery of a colossus of a king, most probably Ramses II, made out of quartzite,” the antiquities minister, Khaled al-Anani, said at the site of the discovery.

The pharaoh, also known as Ramses the Great or Ozymandias, was the third of the 19th dynasty of Egypt and ruled for 66 years, from 1279BC to 1213BC. [continue]

Massive 4,000-year-old Galilee tombs force rethink of Bronze dark age

From the Times of Israel: Massive 4,000-year-old Galilee tombs force rethink of Bronze dark age.

Around 4,000 years ago, a man, a woman and a child were laid to rest in a barrow beneath a massive 50-ton slab of basalt on a hillside in the Hula Valley. Offerings in ceramic pots were laid by their sides, and above their heads mysterious symbols were etched into the stone.

This enigmatic discovery, detailed in an academic article published in PLOS ONE on Thursday, upends our understanding of a little-understood dark age in the Levant following the collapse of Early Bronze Age cities.

Their grave of boulders stacked to form a crude table, known by archaeologists as a dolmen, was one of a vast field of tombs recently excavated by archaeologists in what is now northern Israel. The multi-chambered barrow the three skeletons were found in, however, stood out from the rest. [continue]

Marcus Selmer’s photographs of 19th-century Norwegians

This is gold. If you’ve got Norwegian ancestry, or just happen to be interested in what life was like in 19th century Norway, you’ll love what The Public Domain Review has posted: Marcus Selmer’s Photographs of 19th-Century Norwegians.

It is not immediately clear what drew Marcus Selmer (1819 – 1900), a Danish portrait photographer, to spend most of his life working in Norway. He trained as a pharmacist in his native Denmark, and was working in a chemist owned by his uncle when he discovered daguerreotype photography. He experimented with this new technology in his spare time and began sending his pictures in to local exhibitions. In 1852, Selmer travelled to Norway, to visit some of his uncle’s family in the city of Bergen. He never returned.

He soon found work as a photographer in Bergen and, within a year, was able to establish his own studio. This became the first permanent photographic studio in Bergen, as few photographers who visited would stay all year round. Photographers often visited Bergen in the summer, hoping to capture the fjords and mountains that surround the area, but, as they needed good light for their work, the dark and cold weather had driven most of them away by the time winter rolled around. Selmer ingeniously built his studio almost entirely out of glass, allowing enough light into the space, which enabled him to continue working throughout the year.

Selmer’s work quickly became well-known throughout Norway. He sold many books of his photographs, and sold individual images to the press and the burgeoning tourist industry, before eventually being appointed the royal photographer in 1880. Although his career was varied, Selmer is primarily remembered today for his portraits of local people in national folk costume, as shown here. These photographs depict the customs, traditions and culture of the Norwegian people, and reflect Selmer’s interest in his adopted home. One of Selmer’s most notable portraits is of a local folk hero named Ole Storviken. [continue, see photos!]

To see more of Marcus Selmer’s photos, visit these sites:

Exceptional grave reveals 7,000-year-old garments Stone Age man was buried in

From International Business Times: Exceptional grave reveals 7,000-year-old garments Stone Age man was buried in.

In the first study of its kind, archaeologists have identified the garment a body was buried in between 4950 and 4800 BCE in the Mediterranean, discovering details down to the embroidered design of seashells lining the jacket.

The body, belonging to an adult man between 20 and 50 years old and estimated to be 1.67 metres (about 5’5″) tall, was buried in the 5th Millennium BCE in Avignon, southern France. The grave was first excavated in the 1970s, but has now gone through modern laboratory scrutiny to reveal the nature of the clothes the man was buried in, according to a paper published in the Journal of Field Archaeology.

The garment had sophisticated embroidery, with 158 conical seashells – of the species Columbella rustica – arranged in lines on what was thought to be a jacket or tunic. They are arranged in patterns, either all pointing up, all pointing down, or alternating in pairs. [continue]

Rabbit hole in farmer’s field leads to ‘mystery caves’

From the Beeb: Rabbit hole in farmer’s field leads to ‘mystery caves’.

An apparently ordinary rabbit’s hole in a farmer’s field leads to an underground sanctuary said to have been used by devotees of a medieval religious order – but is everything what it seems?

According to local legend, the Caynton Caves, near Shifnal, in Shropshire, were used by followers of the Knights Templar in the 17th Century.

Located less than a metre underground, they appear to be untouched structurally.

Their original purpose is shrouded in mystery, but Historic England, which describes the caves as a “grotto”, believes they were probably built in the late 18th or early 19th Century – hundreds of years after the Templar order was dissolved. [continue]

I think you’ll want to see the photos.

Related:

Rat-hunting dogs take a bite out of New York City’s vermin problem

I have the sort of dog who would make quick work of a mouse or rat, so this article from the New York Daily News caught my eye: Rat-hunting dogs take a bite out of New York City’s vermin problem.

On a couple of recent nights, an eclectic group of ratters converged on an alley near City Hall about an hour after sunset. The lineups included two border terriers; a wire-haired dachshund; a Jack Russell terrier/Australian cattle dog mix; a Patterdale terrier, an intense, no-nonsense breed that’s uncommon in this country; and a feist, a type of dog developed in the American South to tree squirrels.

“Get ‘im! Go!” Serge Lozach yelled as his cairn terrier, Hudson, streaked down an alley after a fleeing rat. Unlike many of the other owners, Lozach doesn’t breed or show dogs, but he has taken Hudson to several alley hunts.

“I like watching him have fun,” Lozach said.

Although the dogs have hunting instincts, it takes training to capitalize on them. Just because your pet runs after backyard squirrels doesn’t mean it could ever catch one.

When at its best, the alley pack works together. One dog will sniff out a rat and signal its whereabouts, often by barking. Another leaps at the hideaway to rout the quarry, and then a third lurches to catch it as it flees. A rat that scuttles into the open might get caught in a rundown, or even a tug of war, between dogs that circle and flank it.

After making a kill with a bite or a shake, the hunters trot back, rat in mouth, and allow their owners to take it from their jaws. The night’s kill ends up in a trash bin. [continue]

Blood spurt trajectory sheds light on ‘lost Caravaggio’ found in French attic

From ResearchGate: Blood spurt trajectory sheds light on ‘lost Caravaggio’ found in French attic.

When the owners of a house near Toulouse, France went to fix a leak in the ceiling, they discovered a well-preserved canvas depicting the biblical beheading of General Holofernes by Judith. Experts believe the canvas was painted between 1600 and 1610, and that it could be the work of the Italian master Caravaggio. However, this belief is disputed and is currently being investigated by the Louvre Museum in Paris.

In a study published in European Journal of Internal Medicine, Italian doctor Antonio Perciaccante argues that the newly discovered painting may not be the work of Caravaggio, because of the way in which the blood spurt’s trajectory is painted. [continue]

Can tilapia skin be used to bandage burns?

From statnews.com: Can tilapia skin be used to bandage burns?

FORTALEZA, Brazil — In this historic city by the sea in northeast Brazil, burn patients look as if they’ve emerged from the waves. They are covered in fish skin — specifically strips of sterilized tilapia.

Doctors here are testing the skin of the popular fish as a bandage for second- and third-degree burns. The innovation arose from an unmet need. Animal skin has long been used in the treatment of burns in developed countries. But Brazil lacks the human skin, pig skin, and artificial alternatives that are widely available in the US. (…)

Enter the humble tilapia, a fish that’s widely farmed in Brazil and whose skin, until now, was considered trash. Unlike the gauze bandages, the sterilized tilapia skin goes on and stays on. [continue]