LRAD ‘sonic cannon’ debuts in U.S. at G20 protests

Posted by on September 28th, 2009


Pittsburgh police on Thursday used an audio cannon manufactured by American Technology Corporation (ATCO), a San Diego-based company, to disperse protesters outside the G-20 Summit — the first time its LRAD series device has been used on civilians in the U.S.

“The police fired a sound cannon that emitted shrill beeps, causing demonstrators to cover their ears and back up,” The New York Times reported. For years, similar “non-lethal” products designed by ATC have been used at sea by cruise ships to ward off pirates.

“LRAD creates increased stand off and safety zones, supports resolution of uncertain situations, and potentially prevents the use of deadly force,” ATC spokesperson Robert Putnam told DailyFinance. “We believe this is highly preferable to the real instances that happen almost every day around the world where officials use guns and other lethal and non-lethal weapons to disperse protesters.”

Still, Putnam acknowledged the potential for physical harm. “If you stand right next to it for several minutes, you could have hearing damage,” he said. “But it’s your choice.” He added that heavy-duty ear-phones can render the weapon less effective.

Now that the law enforcement authorites have begun using the LRAD in U.S. cities, a whole new marketplace for the company may have opened up. Don’t be surprised to see a LRAD at an event with large crowds in your town sometime in the future.

Not exactly the Inferno sound barrier device, but still effective.

Thanks to Noah J. for the link!

September programme of the VivoArts School for Transgenic Aesthetics

Posted by on September 2nd, 2009

We touched on the same program in March of 2008, and now they are back with a new one this month, via

You might remember that back in May i was throwing seedballs all over Amsterdam along with Adam Zaretsky, the Waag society and other eco-enthusiast.

The VivoArts School for Transgenic Aesthetics Ltd. comes back to town in September and this time the focus will be biology and bacterial transformation. VASTAL is a temporary research and education institute that Zaretsky has created in Amsterdam following an invitation by the Waag Society. The lectures and workshops aim to show the public what it means to work both artistically and scientifically with living organisms and materials. VASTAL also aims to make this form of art-science accessible for a broader audience and invite them to discuss the ethical and aesthetic issues at stake.

Topics include:

    • Alt-Biology: Solar Transgenics, Synthetic Biology, Nanotech Biomimicry, Post-Natural History and Green Biofuel

    • Tissue Culture Lab

    • Growing Politics: Tissue Culture and Art meets Urbanibalism

    • (De)Mystified DNA: Sequencing Lab

Bring out the Pain Ray!

Posted by on August 3rd, 2009

For crowd control, when a single taser won’t do:

The Shockwave is meant to “de-escalate/defuse violent crowd/riot situations,” although I have a feeling that if you Taser the first wave of a crowd, it might get a lot more rowdy — especially if they see that your Shockwave is a one-shot device, or three at the most (plus you can duck).

Photo and words via

Forget the geese control it’s designed to do: if it could be developed beyond the few shots it makes, crowd control would take on a whole new meaning.

Landlord sues tenant after tweet about moldy apartment

Posted by on July 28th, 2009

Food for thought on public tweets:

Those 140-character “microblog” posts to Twitter don’t constitute much more than links, dinner recipes, and bitching, right? Be careful with the bitching, though—a property management company in Chicago has filed a lawsuit against a tenant who tweeted an off-the-cuff comment about the company. The company, Horizon Group Management, says that the Twitter user in question sent the message maliciously, and is now asking for $50,000 in damages.

There are several reasons why this lawsuit is breaking new ground, not the least of which is its Twitter origin. There is much debate as to whether people’s Twitter streams are more like blogs—which are increasingly being held to the same legal standards as regular media when it comes to defamation—or a giant chat room, where most people presume “anything goes.” It may actually be somewhere in between, but the one problem with trying to hold tweets to a higher journalistic standard is the hard character limitation—it’s difficult to back up your comments within 140 characters (or even within several 140-character tweets), plus links to sources or pictures of evidence.

The other question is: did Horizon make any effort to sort out this issue with Bonnen before filing the lawsuit? It doesn’t seem so, given Bonnen’s immediate deletion of her Twitter account after the lawsuit was filed, but we admittedly don’t know the answer (and Horizon did not respond to our request for comment by publication time). The lawsuit makes no mention of the company making any effort to ensure that Bonnen’s apartment doesn’t have mold or to work with her to address her concerns.

Either way, the company has now managed to position itself as one that a lot renters and prospective homeowners wouldn’t want to do business with, unlike those that monitor their reputations on Twitter to address customer service issues. Zipcar, Boingo, one of my local pizza places, and even Allstate and Comcast have all swooped in to help out Ars staffers in need after we have aired some complaints. Even if Bonnen really had no mold and Horizon was technically innocent, the bad PR from this move will surely do more damage than Bonnen’s message to 20 of her best Twitter friends.


Amazon Secretly Removes “1984″ From the Kindle

Posted by on July 19th, 2009

The people who think the Kindle is the way of the future have gotten a very public wake-up call this week:

Thousands of people last week discovered that Amazon had quietly removed electronic copies of George Orwell’s 1984 from their Kindle e-book readers. In the process, Amazon revealed how easy censorship will be in the Kindle age.

In this case, the mass e-book removals were motivated by copyright . A company called MobileReference, who did not own the copyrights to the books 1984 and Animal Farm, uploaded both books to the Kindle store and started selling them. When the rights owner heard about this, they contacted Amazon and asked that the e-books be removed. And Amazon decided to erase them not just from the store, but from all the Kindles where they’d been downloaded. Amazon operators used the Kindle wireless network, called WhisperNet, to quietly delete the books from people’s devices and refund them the money they’d paid.

An uproar followed, with outraged customers pointing out the irony that Amazon was deleting copies of a novel about a fascist media state that constantly alters history by changing digital records of what has happened. Amazon’s action flies in the face of what people expect when they purchase a book. Under the “right of first sale” in the U.S., people can do whatever they like with a book after purchasing it, including giving it to a friend or reselling it. There is no option for a bookseller to take that book back once it’s sold.

Now that the public is up in arms over the Kindle deletions, Amazon is once again promising good behavior. Amazon spokesman Drew Herdener told reporters:

We are changing our systems so that in the future we will not remove books from customers’ devices in these circumstances.

That “in these circumstances” bit doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence. Sounds like books will be removed again under other (undefined) circumstances.

Regardless of whether you believe Amazon’s promise to leave your Kindle alone, the company has tipped its hand and shown us the dark side of a culture where books are only available in electronic form. If the WhisperNet service from Kindle allows the company to delete books silently from your device, what other information might they have access to? Can the company monitor what you’re reading and when – and then hand that over to law enforcement? Can it replace a book file with a different file whose content is changed?

Perhaps more than anything else, this mass deletion of 1984 has made it clear that collecting e-books is going to require some technical know-how. No e-book is truly yours unless you can get it off your Kindle and onto your computer – hopefully a computer that isn’t connected to the internet.

Photo and words via

The Ultimate Lock Picker Hacks Pentagon, Beats Corporate Security for Fun and Profit

Posted by on June 1st, 2009

Wired is talking to Tobias Bluzmani:

Thinking like a criminal is Tobias’ idea of fun. It makes him laugh. It has also made him money and earned him a reputation as something of the Rain Man of lock-breaking. Even if you’ve never heard of Tobias, you may know his work: He’s the guy who figured out how to steal your bike, unlock your front door, crack your gun lock, blow up your airplane, and hijack your mail. Marc Weber Tobias has a name for the headache he inflicts on his targets: the Marc Weber Tobias problem.

Lock-breaking is equal parts art and science. So is the ability to royally piss people off. Tobias is a veritable da Vinci at both endeavors. His Web site’s streaming video of prepubescent kids gleefully opening gun locks has won him no points with mothers or locksmiths, and his ideas about how to smuggle liquid explosive reagents onto commercial airlines spookily presaged the Transportation Security Administration’s prohibitions against carry-on liquids. Over the past 20 years, Tobias has been threatened by casinos, banned from hotel chains, and bullied by legions of corporate lawyers. And enjoyed every minute of it.

But to Tobias, pissing off The Man isn’t the point, not entirely. Nor is it, entirely, to make himself famous or rich—not that he’s allergic to either outcome. The point, he says, is to “make shit better.” Tobias thinks of himself as a humble public servant. When he attacks the Kryptonite bike lock or the Club (or those in-room safes at Holiday Inn or Caesars Palace), he’s not a bad guy—he’s just Ralph Nader with a slim jim, protecting consumers by exposing locks, safes, and security systems that aren’t actually locked, safe, or secure. At least, not from people like him.

The problem, if you’re a safe company or a lock maker, is that Tobias makes it all public through hacker confabs, posts on his site, and tech blogs like Engadget. He views this glasnost as a public service. Others see a hacker how-to that makes The Anarchist Cookbook read like Betty Crocker. And where Tobias sees a splendid expression of First Amendment rights, locksmiths and security companies see a criminal finishing school. Tobias isn’t just exposing problems, they say. He is the problem.

What Does Obama’s Identity Management Vision Mean?

Posted by on May 29th, 2009

On the Internet, no one knows if your’re a dog, or so I’m told.  But does President Obama’s newly announced “Cyberspace strategy” herald a possible end to the days of anonymity (or for that matter Anonymous) on the internet?

The answer is, “Possibly”.

Along with his press conference, today listing Cyber-Security as a national security priority, the White House also released the 75 page “Cyberspace Policy Review”.  It all seems pretty straightforward, answering basic national security, infrastructure and financian concerns about various “cyber threats”.  (The validity of a lot of these threats is, of course, up for debate, but isn’t what I’m looking to address here.)   However, buried in the text is a somewhat scary bit of policy jargon:

10.  Build a cybersecurity-based identity management vision and strategy that addresses privacy and civil liberties interests, leveraging privacy-enhancing technologies for the Nation.

Now, to be frank, there’s a few scary bits throughout the document.  There’s a lot of wording that could support the growing of walled gardens in the private and public sector and the promise of more government regulation of the internet in the United States, but that bit sticks out to me.

An “identity management vision” is a means of regulating and more importantly authenticating your identity online.   This would mean the creation of some sort of regulatory agent that can assist in the establishment of authenticity standards in the hopes of allowing federal agencies the ability to tell if, Captain Swing on myspace, and chimplover35 who comments on Digg are all in fact the same individual.  It’s, theoreticaly, the end of anonnimity on the internet.  (At least the US bits.)  Obviously it’s not the first time the US Federal government has shown an interest in policing identity on the internet, and it probably won’t be last, but it doesn’t bode well.

Io9′s Annalee Newitz has an interesting (and likely) take on the likelyhood of indentity policing ending up in the hands of a private sector company:

And here’s where my not-so-wild speculation about Facebook identities comes in. Many companies have turned to Facebook as an “identity management” system (including Gawker Media), allowing people to log into their services using their Facebook identity. The reason is simple: Most people only have one Facebook identity, and they stick with it. There’s a general notion that your Facebook identity is your authentic identity, or at least an identity that you keep over time, and that its characteristics can be traced back to who you are in real life. Therefore, having you log into every web service, from io9 comments to Digg to (possibly in the future) Paypal, is a way of managing your identities. Instead of having a separate identity for each of those services, you have one. Easy to manage, easy to trace.

Why shouldn’t Obama’s cyberczar just cut a deal with Facebook (and maybe a few other social networks like LinkedIn) and turn those profiles into your authentic identities? So you can send mail and buy things using your Facebook ID, and that’s how you’ll be tracked. Hey, you’re already on Facebook right? And you can set your profile to “private.” So it’s easy and “privacy enhancing.” (Never mind how easy it is to get around those privacy settings – pay no attention to that black hat behind the curtain.)

The scenario I’m describing is, in essence, how the Social Security Card became the twentieth century’s identity management system starting in the 1930s. These cards were not originally intended as ID cards, or as a way to authenticate your true identity. They were just a way to manage government assistance to those who needed it. But they became an ID card simply because everyone in the US had been issued one. When the government and businesses needed a way to track people’s identities, it became the easy choice. Showing your social security card meant that you couldn’t just come up with random new names for yourself every time you signed a form or took a job.

Though people in the US now think of the Social Security Card as the “obvious” form of ID, it took years for it to evolve from a simple social assistance card to an “identity management vision.”

Just as the (currently, temporarily scrapped) National ID card system would have been carried on the backbone of private interests, it’s entirely likely that any form of identity policing on the internet would end up being, by and large, maintained by a pre-existing entity in the private sector.   At first glance, a Facebook/US Government partnership seems unlikely, but does it really?   Newitz is right in claiming that this is exactly what happened with the Social Security Card.  This little white and blue piece of paper that most Americans posess quickly became a universal form of ID even though it was never intended to act as such.  (And in fact the card insists that a SSN is not an ID.)     And there are many, many companies that are currently using Facebook as identity sourcing or are looking at doing so.

Why not link your email addresses and your paypal accounts and your amazon information and your bank information to your Facebook account.  It’s safe and private, right?   While you’re at it, why not link your biometric information to your email account to your facebook account?  (Here’s the fun part — a lot of people already do that, and expect to see more push for email-based biometric security in the next year.)

Facebook is just one likely candidate for an increasingly likely scenario, and that scenario is one in which the powerful anonymizing factor of the internet is slowly reduced via public-private partnerships.  Partnerships which will be based on “convienence” and public safety.

On the bright side, Obama claims that he still supports net neutrality:

“Our pursuit of cybersecurity will not include — I repeat, will not include — monitoring private sector networks or internet traffic,” he said. “We will preserve and protect the personal privacy and civil liberties that we cherish as Americans. Indeed, I remain firmly committed to net neutrality so we can keep the internet as it should be, open and free.”

But those aren’t very comforting words when they’re released next to a document that encourages us to look back to the cold war, and discussed the importance of selling the idea of a national security cyber-threat to the American People.  It’s easy to say “I remain firmly committed to net neutrality…” but harder to accomplish when your policy documents outline how to convince the Internet-using populace  to allow internet regulations and promotes solidifying “who is in charge” of the internet.  (Those are just a few of the gems I noticed on a quick skim.)

Am I being reactionary?  Maybe a little.  But while the Obama adminstration has talked a good game regarding electronic civil liberties, he certainly hasn’t actually backed up the talk with actions, yet.  In fact, he’s done just the opposite with his support of enhanced wireless wiretapping powers and his appointment of MPAA/RIAA and staunch anti-P2P advocate Joe Biden as his VP.    While I’m not quite ready to go down to my local teabaggers meeting just yet, It’s obvious that electronic privacy is going to be an interesting minefield to watch Obama walk through.

On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.  Except Facebook.  And Linkdin.  And the FTC and LexisNexis and the CIA and the NSA and SEC.  Oh, and 4Chan.

Papua mulls chips for HIV victims

Posted by on December 1st, 2008

From the BBC News:

The bill proposes tracking the movements of HIV-positive people who behave in what some MPs describe as an irresponsible way.

The proposal is the most controversial of a swathe of programmes to tackle the spread of HIV in Indonesia.

Papua has one of the worse infection rates outside Africa.

As well as proposing to use microchips to track people’s movements, it also suggests tattooing as a way of alerting health officials to carriers of the virus.

It recommends mandatory testing for all Papuans, with special ID cards issued to those who test positive.

Proposal is the first step to implementation.

Girl wins right to refuse heart

Posted by on November 11th, 2008

From the BBC News:

Herefordshire Primary Care Trust (PCT) dropped a High Court case after a child protection officer said Hannah Jones was adamant she did not want surgery.

Hannah, 13, of Marden, near Hereford, said she wanted to die with dignity.

Her father Andrew said he and his wife supported her decision but they had been upset by the PCT’s actions.

He said Hereford County Hospital’s child protection team had contacted them in February threatening to remove Hannah from their care if they did not bring her to hospital for the operation.

Hannah was interviewed by the child protection officer after the trust applied for a court order in February to force the transplant.

She said she wanted to stop treatment and spend the rest of her life at home and the PCT subsequently withdrew its legal action.

Mr Jones said: “The threat that somebody could come and forcibly remove your daughter from you against her wishes, against our wishes, was quite upsetting really.”

Hannah’s heart was weakened by the drugs given to her to combat her leukemia. After talking with the doctors, she decided against the surgery. The surgery might not have worked, and even if it was successful, she’d have to take medications for the rest of her life.

Adaptive Path and Mozilla Labs present Aurora – a future vision of the web

Posted by on August 12th, 2008

Ready for some interface design pr0n? Then prepare yourself for Aurora:

…a concept video presenting one possible future user experience for the Web, created by Adaptive Path as part of the Mozilla Labs concept browser series. Aurora explores new ways people could interact with the Web in the future based on projected technological trends and real-world scenarios.

This is, to my mind, quite a linear extrapolation from current usage. A pretty fair guess at the world we will all reside in within a few years.

For more detail, click through to the site, where they have chunked up the video into four parts, with a helpful commentary explaining the technologies they see intersecting to accomplish the scenes depicted in the video.

UPDATE – Adaptive Path have put up some background on this in their blog, including the scenarios that were developed and how they workshopped this vision of the future:

Through a series of group exercises, we identified three major trends that we thought would have the biggest impact on the web:

  • Augmented Reality: The gap is closing between the Web and the world. Services that know where you are and adapt accordingly will become commonplace. The web becomes fully integrated into every physical environment.
  • Data Abundance: There’s more data available to us all the time — both the data we produce intentionally and the data we throw off as a by-product of other activities. The web will play a key role in how people access, manage, and make sense of all that data.
  • Virtual Identity: People are increasingly expected to have a digital presence as well as a physical one. We inhabit spaces online, but we also create them through our personal expression and participation in the digital realm.

Pollen-coated bullet could make its mark on criminals

Posted by on August 2nd, 2008

Pollen and grit are the components of a new coating for gun cartridges that UK researchers hope will help to identify criminals that use firearms.

Under their scheme, batches of cartridges would be labelled with unique “nanotags”, invisible to naked eye, designed to attach themselves to hands, gloves and clothing of anyone that handles a cartridge. Some of the tags would remain on the spent cartridge casing.

The tags could perform a similar, but more authoritative role to the specks of unintended explosives residue sometimes used to tie people to guns or crimes.

The nanotags are made from pollen, and a mix of grains of crystal oxides such as zirconia, silica and titanium oxide. Using varying combinations of crystal and pollen grains, it is possible to make large numbers of unique tags.

“The most challenging part of the project was nanoengineering a coating robust enough to withstand the [high temperatures of] firing and that would still release the tags when touched,” he added.

Sermon says that the tags are designed to be compatible with current cartridge manufacturing processes and could be implemented within 12 months of companies or government supporting their introduction.

In addition to the tags, the researchers are working on a way to have gun cartridges retain skin cells from anyone that handle them, for later DNA-based forensic analysis. Micro-scale grit can effectively trap cells and protect DNA from the heat of firing. Today, cartridges are smooth and rarely retain DNA or fingerprints.

The team is also looking to apply that technique to knives so they retain DNA more reliably.

Link via

Building the Black Iron Future

Posted by on July 9th, 2008

The first time I ever heard of Shenzhen and the “Special Economic Zone” was when I was working for an international information clearinghouse that should remain nameless. It came up when I was facing the possibility of transferring to our Pan-Asia branch and living there part time. However, over the years, other than being the place where, chances are good, any random bit of tech you have on your desk was manufactured (your iPhone’s been there, as have many other Apple and IBM products, Wal-Mart items and the like) Shenzhen only popped back up on my radar a few months ago as one of the birthplaces of the new surveillance culture.

Chinese officials call it call it “The Golden Shield” and while it’s ostensibly a project of the Chinese Government, it’s being developed by familiar companies like IBM, AT&T, Nortel, Cisco, General Electric, Yahoo, Honeywell, and according to some reports, Google. What the Golden shield comprises is the largest integrated surveillance network in existence. It combines the existing “Great Firewall” which filters almost all net content into China with the “Safe Cities” initiative which includes cameras in all internet cafes, many entertainment venues, and in many cities (2 million cameras in Shenzhen alone by 2010) and a massive photo and biometric information database of all of China’s 1.3 billion citizens.

It’s a massive and lucrative project which is why Western companies are flocking to build a better democracy-free future for China, while here in the US they continue to sell a “freedom friendly” image. Meanwhile the “Golden Shield” has already been tested on examples like the Lhasa riots which recently left anywhere from 16 to 100 people dead as monks clashed with police. The Shield allowed CCTV footage to yield become identities and then locations of many monks and passersby involved in the rioting allowing Chinese police to quickly round up hundreds of people allegedly involved. The same security system is being used, of course, to protect the upcoming 2008 Olympics as well.

As Naomi Klein writes in the Rolling Stone article that many of my statistics are pulled from, these are the kind of companies doing business with China on the sly in order to testbed a new generation of biometrics technologies:

You have probably never heard of L-1, but there is every chance that it has heard of you. Few companies have collected as much sensitive information about U.S. citizens and visitors to America as L-1: It boasts a database of 60 million records, and it “captures” more than a million new fingerprints every year. Here is a small sample of what the company does: produces passports and passport cards for American citizens; takes finger scans of visitors to the U.S. under the Department of Homeland Security’s massive U.S.-Visit program; equips U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan with “mobile iris and multimodal devices” so they can collect biometric data in the field; maintains the State Department’s “largest facial-recognition database system”; and produces driver’s licenses in Illinois, Montana and North Carolina. In addition, L-1 has an even more secretive intelligence unit called SpecTal. Asked by a Wall Street analyst to discuss, in “extremely general” terms, what the division was doing with contracts worth roughly $100 million, the company’s CEO would only say, “Stay tuned.”

The good news, though is that the American Government, as they learn about these technologies is only too eager to strip mine them for ideas:

The revelation that China was constructing a gigantic digital database capable of watching its citizens on the streets and online, listening to their phone calls and tracking their consumer purchases sparked neither shock nor outrage. Instead, Walton says, the paper was “mined for ideas” by the U.S. government, as well as by private companies hoping to grab a piece of the suddenly booming market in spy tools. For Walton, the most chilling moment came when the Defense Department tried to launch a system called Total Information Awareness to build what it called a “virtual, centralized grand database” that would create constantly updated electronic dossiers on every citizen, drawing on banking, credit-card, library and phone records, as well as footage from surveillance cameras. “It was clearly similar to what we were condemning China for,” Walton says. Among those aggressively vying to be part of this new security boom was Joseph Atick, now an executive at L-1. The name he chose for his plan to integrate facial-recognition software into a vast security network was uncomfortably close to the surveillance system being constructed in China: “Operation Noble Shield.”

Empowered by the Patriot Act, many of the big dreams hatched by men like Atick have already been put into practice at home. New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C., are all experimenting with linking surveillance cameras into a single citywide network. Police use of surveillance cameras at peaceful demonstrations is now routine, and the images collected can be mined for “face prints,” then cross-checked with ever-expanding photo databases. Although Total Information Awareness was scrapped after the plans became public, large pieces of the project continue, with private data-mining companies collecting unprecedented amounts of information about everything from Web browsing to car rentals, and selling it to the government.

Check out the rest of that excellent article for far more detail on the topic of surveillance culture in China. My goal isn’t to poke at China in particular. For example the draconian national firewall around our old friend Dubai (as well as Saudi Arabia, and Qatar) is built and administered by U.S. based company Secure Computing a.k.a. Smart Filter. Now leaving aside the possibly vastly hypocritical clash behind some of their senior staff’s personal lives (Google boingboing, adult baby, and smartfilter, if you care to) and the technologies they develop to limit internet access for others, once again we have a Western company (this one more public about it since internet censorship is their raison d’etre) implementing and developing censorship technologies overseas.

What prompts this little link-filled rant, then? Well, today the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 passed. This act, for those of you playing along at home or abroad, first of all offers up immunity to Verizon, AT&T, and several other telecom companies for their part in assisting the National Security Agency with warrentless wiretaps before and after the 9/11 attacks. The act then proceeds to arguably weaken oversight of domestic wiretaps and information collection. The Bill passed with overwhelming support, granting retroactive protections for invasions of privacy by a collection of telecom companies.

These are some of the same telecom companies and their interests that, as we’ve seen elsewhere, have their hands on the rudder of a different Web 2.0. One that resembles the satirical USIdent integrated internet/entertainment/surveillance solution from Southland Tales more than it does the Web 2.0 of a thousand blog entries. While it’s easy to see mainly the utopian or fantastic applications of a lot of the technologies we discuss and trumpet on here, so many of them have an equal footing in a parallel version of the future being grown as we speak by some of the same companies produce the cool new future gadgets.

This is one of the reasons I take the “find outbreaks of the future” mandate so seriously. First of all, outbreaks of the future are not always pretty; but secondly, by keeping our eyes open and aggregating this kind of information, we’re at least increasing the odds of being able to pick our own futures. Because honestly? I don’t want the futures that the people are offering “liberation” with jokes about surveillance are selling.

At least, that’s what I tell myself at night.

Group Sex, Apple Pie, Google Trends and Defining Obscenity

Posted by on June 24th, 2008

According to a 1973 Supreme Court decision, one of the yardsticks used to determine if material can be considered obscene is whether said material violates “contemporary community standards”. Which is why, in his defense of an adult website operator, lawyer Lawrence Walters is using google search information from the area the trial is taking place in.

In the trial of a pornographic Web site operator, the defense plans to show that residents of Pensacola are more likely to use Google to search for terms like “orgy” than for “apple pie” or “watermelon.” The publicly accessible data is vague in that it does not specify how many people are searching for the terms, just their relative popularity over time. But the defense lawyer, Lawrence Walters, is arguing that the evidence is sufficient to demonstrate that interest in the sexual subjects exceeds that of more mainstream topics — and that by extension, the sexual material distributed by his client is not outside the norm.

The search data he is using is available through a service called Google Trends ( It allows users to compare search trends in a given area, showing, for instance, that residents of Pensacola are more likely to search for sexual terms than some more wholesome ones.

Mr. Walters chose Pensacola because it is the only city in the court’s jurisdiction that is large enough to be singled out in the service’s data.

“We tried to come up with comparison search terms that would embody typical American values,” Mr. Walters said. “What is more American than apple pie?” But according to the search service, he said, “people are at least as interested in group sex and orgies as they are in apple pie.”

Genetic Rights now legislated for US citizens

Posted by on May 23rd, 2008

From Wired Science:

The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) was signed into law by President Bush today. In a nutshell, it prevents employers and insurers from using genetic data against you.

The bill’s co-sponsor, Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), calls it the “the first civil rights legislation of the 21st century.” Here’s why it matters:

  • Employers can’t deny you a job because you’re genetically predisposed to develop a particular disease or condition.
  • Insurers can’t use your genetic profile to deny coverage or raise your premiums.
  • Thus protected, you can benefit from medical genetic testing without worrying about the results being used against you.
  • People will be less reluctant to take part in genetic research. This will help scientists, and — as the complex interplay between genes, environment and development is better understood — you.

This is very good news, I think. Hopefully other countries follow suit soon. I see this as a very positive step, encouraging people to actively manage their health, fighting illness and disease pro-actively, instead of waiting to fall ill. An important step towards our Post-Death Future, this is.

See Also: