Daily Archives: January 28, 2013

Photo of the day: “Your DNA Will Be Your Data”

dna

Photo taken at London Gatwick Airport…

Thanks to Edo!

 

Arizona Republicans Push Their Own Gun Secession Bill

The bill, known as HB 2291, would, among other things, make it a Class 6 felony for a federal government employee or official to enforce federal laws or regulations of firearms, accessories, and ammunition that are owned or manufactured within state lines and remain within state lines.

The bill would also make any new federal laws restricting semi-automatic firearms and magazines, or requiring any form of firearm registration, unenforceable in Arizona.

Among the bill’s sponsors is state Rep. Carl Seel (R), who previously made headlines as the author of a 2011 birther bill.

According to HB 2291’s primary sponsor, the bill is designed to send a message to the President and Congress.

“Here’s a line in the sand: Thanks, but no thanks. Stay out with your federal regulations you’re going to impose on us,” Rep. Steve Smith (R) told Capitol Media Services.

Arizona’s lawmakers aren’t the first to think of this kind of thing. As TPM reported earlier this month, similar noises have been made by Republicans in Mississippi, Texas, and Tennessee.

Read the full text of HB 2291 here.

Utah Yet Another State Getting In On The Gun Secession Movement

brian-green-screen-grab-cropped-proto-custom_28

tpmmuckraker.talkingpointsmemo.com | Jan 23, 2013

by Eric Lach

For those keeping track at home, add Utah to the list of states where lawmakers and officials are pushing back against even the idea of new gun control measures coming from Washington D.C.

At a rally in front of the Utah Capitol in Salt Lake City on Saturday, newly-elected state Rep. Brian Greene drew cheers when, according to The Salt Lake Tribune, he announced that “he would unveil legislation next week giving local sheriffs the power to arrest any federal agent attempting to seize firearms from Utah residents.”

Greene, who is a National Rifle Association “Golden Eagle,” told the crowd to be wary of President Barack Obama’s recent gun control proposals. Last week, the White House announced 23 executive actions Obama plans to take to reduce gun violence in the wake of December’s mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., as well as other proposals he wants Congress to take up.

“This is all about control,” Greene said. “I saw the president in his press conference the other day with all the children around him and he made this comment — and I want to correct him. He said if this can save just one life we have a duty to do it. No, Mr. President, you have a duty to uphold the Constitution.”

Greene’s bill is known as the Second Amendment Preservation Act. Reached by TPM on Tuesday, Greene said the bill was still being drafted, and public copies were not yet available.

Greene, however, was beaten to the punch by the Utah Sheriff’s Association, which last week, the day after Obama’s executive orders were announced, sent a letter to the President, telling him that “it is imperative this discussion be had in Congress, not silenced unilaterally by executive orders.”

“We respect the Office of the President of the United States of America,” the letter concluded. “But, make no mistake, as the duly-elected sheriffs of our respective counties, we will enforce the rights guaranteed to our citizens by the Constitution. No federal official will be permitted to descend upon our constituents and take from them what the Bill of Rights — in particular Amendment II — has given them. We, like you, swore a solemn oat to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, and we are prepared to trade our lives for the preservation of its traditional interpretation.”

According to the Tribune’s report of Saturday’s rally, some of the speakers’ language went further than that.

“If I could tell one thing to these bedwetting, hand-wringing liberals out there, it’s that Thomas Jefferson anticipated you and called you a tyrant,” Clark Aposhian, Chairman of the Utah Shooting Sports Council, told the crowd. “And there’s already a method of taking care of it, if not by the First Amendment, then by the Second.”

Military equipment flowing to local law enforcement raises questions

swat
Cobb County has two armored vehicles. One was military surplus and the other the police department bought using grant money.

“This is one of the most alarming trends in American policing…”

“The police are preparing for an enemy. My question is, ‘Who is the enemy?”

Atlanta Journal-Constitution | Jan. 27, 2013

By Rhonda Cook

The southeast Georgia town of Bloomingdale is tiny but well-armed.

Metro Atlanta police departments and sheriff’s offices have armored trucks and personnel carriers in their arsenals.

And the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office has in its possession four grenade launchers should there be a need to send canisters of tear gas or bean bags into a volatile situation.

All donated surplus military equipment available to law enforcement agencies nationwide — large and small.

Some people are upset that there are local law enforcement agencies armed with such weapons of war.

But the agencies that got the guns, armored vehicles and grenade launchers say it sends a message to would-be criminals: Officers “are armed to meet any threat,” so criminals should just stay away, said Bloomingdale Police Chief Roy Pike.

“Having the equipment precludes having to use it,” Pike said. “In the 20 years I’ve been here, we haven’t had to use deadly force against anybody.”

From the so-called 1033 program operated by a U.S. Department of Defense unit, Pike’s department of 13 officers acquired a grenade launcher for shooting tear gas, two M14 single-shot semi-automatic rifles and two M16 military-style rifles converted to semi-automatic from automatic.

The Defense Department established the 1033 program in the late 1990s to provide state and local law enforcement agencies with weapons, helicopters, armored vehicles, body armor, night vision equipment, surveillance equipment and protective gear. It also provides such things as surplus .45-caliber handguns and first-aid supplies.

Several local law enforcement officials said if their agencies had to buy the stuff, they’d just do without most of it. But since it’s donated, they find a place for it.

There is no cost to local taxpayers since they’ve already paid for the equipment with their federal taxes.

According to the most recent inventory by the Georgia Department of Public Safety, $200 million in surplus military equipment and weapons is in the hands of 600 Georgia law enforcement agencies, large and small.

Some say it’s an example of the militarization of police departments.

“I think military-grade weapons should be restricted to just that, the military. If local police run into a situation where someone is using those types of weapons, then call in the National Guard,” said LaShanda Hardin, who lives in Clayton County.

The Cato Institute, a Washington-based think tank that promotes individual liberty and limited government, believes the military surplus program should be shut down, said Tim Lynch, director of the criminal justice project.

“When this equipment is given away, police departments start saying, ‘Let’s grab it.’ ” And once the equipment is in the hands of law enforcement, “we have militarized units going into the community in situations where they aren’t warranted,” Lynch said.

“This is one of the most alarming trends in American policing,” Lynch continued. “We used to call them peace officers and they would treat people … with more respect and civility. We’re getting away from that. We’re getting into these military tactics and mindset that the people they (police) come into contact with are the enemy … and part of this is the militarized units in police departments.”

According to state records, the Georgia Department of Corrections has one armored truck and the state Department of Homeland Security has seven armored vehicles.

State records also show agencies that have benefited from the program include:

  •     The Waycross Police Department, which has two armored personnel carriers and 16 M15 rifles.
  •     The Cartersville Police Department, which has an armored personnel carrier and 17 M14 rifles.
  •     The Doraville Police Department, which has an armored personnel carrier.
  •     Newnan PD, which has an armored personnel carrier, 15 M16s and 12 M14s.
  •     Clayton County PD, which has a helicopter, an armored truck, 11 M16s and five M14s.
  •     Cobb County PD, which has an armored truck, 106 M16s and eight M14s. Cobb also has a second armored vehicle, which it bought using federal grant funds.

Other agencies with armored trucks include the Sandy Springs and Pelham police departments and the Gordon, Morgan, Oconee, Pickens and Walton county sheriffs offices.

According to state records, the U.S. Department of Defense has put the value of the armored personnel carriers at almost $245,000 each and the armored trucks at around $65,000 each. State records did not assign a value to the rifles or the grenade launchers.

The agencies who have them say they save lives, and there is a waiting list of agencies that want armored vehicles as well as weapons.

“It gives the … SWAT guys a protection to where they can get closer to the folks shooting at them,” said Don Sherrod, director of excess property for the Georgia Department of Public Safety, which oversees the program for the DOD. “When you pull up in something … and the bullets start bouncing off, they (criminals) give up.”

Cobb County Police Department SWAT uses its two armored vehicles to extricate people from a “hot zone” or to get officers closer to a “volatile situation.”

Capt. Craig Dodson of the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office said the agency has grenade launchers that have not been used, but they are held in reserve for scenarios that require deputies to fire tear gas canisters or non-lethal bean bags. He said the agency also has not yet used any of its 65 M16 semi-automatic rifles from the program.

“Our goal is to try to equip every patrolman in the law enforcement division with a rifle,” Dodson said.

“The M16 … gives you more capability to penetrate body armor or to make long-distance shots if you are not able to get closer. … It’s a safety blanket. We ask people to go out and do a job, and we want to give them the tools to be safe and do the job.”

But regardless of what law enforcement officials contend, Kimberly Binns, a multimedia designer who lives in Decatur, is alarmed by what military-grade firepower could mean for law-abiding citizens.

“I do not see the need for police departments to have such an extended arsenal,” she said.

Candace Garrett Daly, a Cobb County homemaker, is equally unnerved.

“What are we headed to?” Garrett asked. “Whatever it is seems to be already in motion at a breakneck speed. The police are preparing for an enemy. My question is, ‘Who is the enemy?”

Saskatchewan sees coldest winter in 17 years

cold as hell
A participant at the Cosmo Classic Loppet near Prince Albert. Sean Leslie/paNOW.com

Environment Canada says February could be colder than average

ckom.com | Jan 25, 2013

Between wind-chills below minus 30 degrees Celsius, blowing snow warnings and snowstorms in general, if the weather is starting to get to you you’re not alone.

In fact Environment Canada Meteorologist David Phillips says in Saskatchewan we really are justified in thinking we’re having a truly terrible winter.

“I always say to Canadians, well you know there’s some other place where it’s more miserable than you are so hey suck it up,” he commented. “I’m not sure I can say that for people from Saskatchewan, I’m not sure there is any place that’s tougher than you’ve had to endure this winter.”

Minnesota sees coldest temperatures in years

Generally you can complain about the snow or the cold, Phillips says it’s rare to be able to complain about both in the same winter.

We have had almost every single winter warning you can having this season in our province. Phillips admits it’s this winter the weather has been relentlessly pounding the province with snow starting back in October and November.

“There have been a couple of days where my gosh the temperature got above freezing and there was a melting temperature but generally it’s been brutally cold and terrible wind chills and heavy snows,” he said.

While snowfall varies, Phillips says in some areas of Regina this is snowiest winter on record to date in January going back to the 1800s.

We’ve had 75 continuous days of snow in a row. Looking at temperatures from October to January it’s the coldest winter in 17 years. South Saskatchewan has experienced 34 days below minus 20 C or colder.

There is a break on the way this weekend with temperatures above normal, but Phillips says after that you can brace for another cold wave.

“We’re calling for my gosh February – our models show colder than normal with more precipitation so that’s not good,” he commented. “I guess the only strand of hope I’ve got here is we’re calling for a preliminary forecast, a warmer than normal summer. So I guess maybe hold on, be more patient – there is some light at the end of that winter tunnel.”

How do you describe minus 25 or minus 30 degrees Celsius? Tell us on Facebook.

For fun we also made a video showing some cold weather experiments.

Edited by CJME’s Adriana Christianson with files from Samantha Maciag and Lisa Schick

 

East Coast ice box: coldest weather in years freezes big cities

 

washingtonpost.com | Jan 23, 2013

By Jason Samenow


Simulation of temperatures about 1 mile up in the atmosphere. All locations north of the purple shades are sub-freezing – within the core of the arctic airmass. (WeatherBell.com)

Along the I-95 corridor from Washington, D.C. to New York City, the mercury plunged into the single digits and teens this morning – the coldest readings witnessed in years. Factoring in a stiff wind from the northwest, wind chills tanked to near or below zero.

Washington, D.C.’s low of 15 degrees was its coldest since March 3, 2009. New York City dropped to 11 degrees and both Baltimore and Philadelphia plummeted to 12 degrees, their most frigid low temperatures since January 24, 2011.

Related:

Helping homeless during cold front

Record cold puts the heat on construction contractors

In Boston, this morning’s low of 10 wasn’t quite as cold as the 7 degree reading January 3 (earlier this month), but highs this afternoon are only expected to reach the mid-teens, coldest since January 24, 2011. Wind chill advisories are in effect tonight west of Boston for readings as low as 17 below.

“Anyone with outside interests today is encouraged to bundle up as well limit bare skin exposure and time outside,” the National Weather Service office in Taunton, Ma. wrote in its forecast discussion.


Temperatures as of 11 a.m. ET Wednesday (Oklahoma Mesonet)

The cold arrived courtesy of an arctic front that cut across the eastern two-thirds of the country Sunday and Monday.

The brutally cold blast held high temperatures in Minneapolis below zero Monday for the first time in over four years, ending its longest streak on record without experiencing such cold.

Chicago had its chilliest weather in two years Tuesday, with a high of 11 degrees and a low of 1 below.

“By midnight Tuesday, the area moved into a 55th consecutive hour of sub-20-degree thermometer readings and 46 hours with wind chills below zero,” wrote Tom Skilling, chief meteorologist at Chicago’s WGN.

As cold as these temperatures are, very few have been record-breaking. “These temperatures have not even come close to ranking among January’s 10 coldest days or nights on record at long-term observation sites,” the Weather Channel’s Nick Wiltgen said.

In the month of January, 2746 high temperature records have been set compared to 1275 low temperature records across the U.S.

While the core of the arctic chill grips the East today, the cold is expected to ease very briefly in parts of Midwest and Ohio Valley. Chicago, for example, is expected to reach the low 20s, about 10 degrees warmer than Tuesday.

However, a reinforcing shot of cold air is diving south across the northern Plains and will reach the East Coast by Thursday. Along the Canadian border, the low in International Falls tonight is forecast to crash to at least 30 degrees below zero tonight. While that is unmistakably frigid, consider its all-time record low is 55 below, set January 6, 1909.

Colder than average weather stands to remain over much of the eastern U.S. through the weekend.

Will this be the coldest winter for 50 years?

web-cold-winter-getty
The snowy scene in the Mendip village of Priddy, Somerset

Harsh winter weather is prompting comparisons with the Big Freeze of 1963

independent.co.uk | Jan 23, 2013

by Michael McCarthy

Fifty years ago Britain was in the grip of the coldest winter of the 20th century, and the anniversary is prompting comparisons between the present harsh winter weather and the Big Freeze of 1963.

It is clear that 2013, although harsh, will not equal that extreme, at least in terms of duration, because during the cold of half a century ago, it began snowing on Boxing Day 1962, and it was the first week of the following March before the snow began to melt – and in that time, in most of Britain, the snow cover was continuous.

But with six weeks of winter left this year, it is still possible that 2013 may go quite a long way along the spectrum of severity towards the famous 1963 freeze, not least because we seem to be entering a period of severe winters.

Record Cold From Maine to Florida

There has been a noticeable change in Britain in the last four years. Previously we had experienced a very long run of increasingly warm winters, much of which were considered by scientists to be the product of global climate change. After the last really harsh freeze, of 1978-79, which produced in political terms the famous Winter of Discontent, there was a long period in Britain with very little snow, which had notable effects, such as a near-doubling of the badger population between the mid-1980s and mid-1990s (as the ground was rarely frozen and their earthworm food was available).

But the winter of 2009-10 was quite different, being the snowiest and harshest for 30 years, and the winter of 2010-11 even harsher. The present winter is fitting this pattern, but it is far too soon to predict what the outcome of this season as a whole will be.

11 Body Parts Defense Researchers Will Use to Track You

Slightly creepy, no? Well, it gets creepier…
. . .
wired.com | Jan 25, 2013By Noah Shachtman and Robert Beckhusen
The Ear

Cell phones that can identify you by how you walk. Fingerprint scanners that work from 25 feet away. Radars that pick up your heartbeat from behind concrete walls. Algorithms that can tell identical twins apart. Eyebrows and earlobes that give you away. A new generation of technologies is emerging that can identify you by your physiology. And unlike the old crop of biometric systems, you don’t need to be right up close to the scanner in order to be identified. If they work as advertised, they may be able to identify you without you ever knowing you’ve been spotted.

Biometrics had a boom after 9/11. Gobs of government money poured into face and iris recognition systems; the Pentagon alone spent nearly $3 billion in five years, and the Defense Department was only one of many federal agencies funneling cash in the technologies. Civil libertarians feared the worst as face-spotters were turned on crowds of citizens in the hopes of  catching a single crook.

But while the technologies proved helpful in verifying identities at entry points from Iraq to international airports, the hype — or panic — surrounding biometrics never quite panned out. Even after all that investment, scanners still aren’t particularly good at finding a particular face in the crowd, for example; variable lighting conditions and angles (not to mention hats) continue to confound the systems.

Eventually, the biometrics market — and the government enthusiasm for it — cooled off. The technological development has not. Corporate and academic labs are continuing to find new ways to ID people with more accuracy, and from further away. Here are 11 projects.

Above:

The Ear

My, what noticeable ears you have. So noticeable in fact that researchers are exploring ways to detect the ears’ features like they were fingerprints. In 2010, a group of British researchers used a process called “image ray transform” to shoot light rays at human ears, and then repeat an algorithm to draw an image of the tubular-shaped parts of the organ. The curved edges around the rim of the ear is a characteristic — and most obvious — example. Then, the researchers converted the images into a series of numbers marking the image as your own. Finally, it’s just a matter of a machine scanning your ears again, and matching it up to what’s already stored in the system, which the researchers were able to do accurately 99.6 percent of the time. In March of 2012, a pair of New Delhi scientists also tried scanning ears using Gabor filters — a kind of digital image processor similar to human vision — but were accurate to a mere 92 to 96.9 percent, according to a recent survey (pdf) of ear biometric research.

It may even be possible to develop ear-scanning in a way that makes it more reliable than fingerprints. The reason is because your fingerprints can callous over when doing a lot of hard work. But ears, by and large, don’t change much over the course of a lifespan. There’s a debate around this, however, and fingerprinting has a much longer and established history behind it. A big question is whether ear-scanning will work given different amounts of light, or when covered (even partially) by hair or jewelry. But if ear-scanners get to the point of being practical, then they could possibly work alongside fingerprinting instead of replacing them. Maybe in the future we’ll see more extreme ear modification come along as a counter-measure.

Photo: Menage a Moi/Flickr

Odor

Odor

In the early and mid-2000s, the Pentagon’s blue-sky researchers at Darpa dabbled in something called the “Unique Signature Detection Project,” which sought to explore ways to detect people by their scent, and maybe even spot and identify individuals based on their distinct smells. Darpa’s work ended in 2008. The following year, the Department of Homeland Security fielded a solicitation for research in ways that human scent can indicate whether someone “might be engaging in deception,” specifically at airports and other ports of entry.

Odor detection is still just a research project at the moment. The science is intricate, involving more than 300 chemical compounds that produce human odor. Our personal stinks can change depending on everything from what we eat to our environment. But it may be possible to distinguish our “primary odor” — separate from “secondary” odors based on our diet and “tertiary” odors based on things like soaps and shampoos. The primary odor is the one linked to our genetics, and there have already been experiments with mice, which have been found to produce distinct scents unique to individuals. In 2007, the government’s counter-terror Technical Support Working Group even started a program aimed at collecting and storing human odors for the military’s dog handlers. Dogs, of course, have been used to track people by smell for decades, and are believed to distinguish between humans based on our genetic markers.

Photo: Cabaret Voltaire/Flickr

Heartbeat

Heartbeat

Your chest moves, just a little, every time your heart beats or your lungs take in air. For years, researchers have been monkeying with radars that are sensitive enough to to detect those minuscule chest movements — but powerful enough to do it from hundreds of yards away. Even reinforced concrete walls and electromagnetic shielding won’t stop these radars, or so claim the researchers at the small, Arizona-based defense contractor VAWD Engineering, who are working on such a system for Darpa’s “Biometrics-at-a-distance” program.

The key is the Doppler Effect — the changes in frequency when one object moves relative to another. We hear it all the time, when a fire engine passes by, siren blaring. VAWD says their vehicle-mounted Sense Through Obstruction Remote Monitoring System (STORMS) can pick up even small fluctuations of chests.

STORM (pictured above) “can be used to detect, classify and identify the specific cardiac and pulmonary modulations of a… person of interest,” a company document boasts. By itself, a heartbeat or a breathing rate won’t serve as a definitive biometric. But combine it with soft biometrics (how someone subtly sways when he or she stands) and you’ve got a unique signature for that person that can’t be hidden or covered up.

VAWD says these signature will help improve disaster relief and medical care by providing a “reliable, real time medical status equal to or better than the current devices, while increasing the mobility and comfort of the patient.”

But the company also notes that its system performs “automated human life-form target tracking” even when construction materials like “Afghan mud-huts” are in the way. STORM “has already been deployed by the United States Army on one of its most advanced ground vehicles,” the company adds.

Does any of that sound like hospital work to you?

Illustration: Yale University/Wikimedia

Photo: VAWD Engineering

Voice

Most people are likely to be familiar with voice readers on gadgets like the iPhone. But what if there was software that could quickly analyze the voice of thousands, and even use those voices to identify specific people?

Russian biometrics firm Speech Technology Center — known as SpeechPro in the U.S. — has the technology. Called VoiceGrid, the system is able to automatically recognize a person’s voice as their own, provided your voice is pre-recorded in a database and can be recalled by the computer. The company has also developed a version for “large city, county, state or national system deployments.”

It’s seen use in Mexico, according to Slate, “where it is being used by law enforcement to collect, store, and search hundreds of thousands of voice-prints.” The National Security Agency has taken interest in similar technology. So has the FBI. A 2012 presentation from the National Institute of Standards and Technology — with the assistance of the FBI — also speculated on potential uses including identifying and clearing people ‘involved in illegal activities,” locating serial killers and identifying arms traffickers (.pdf). Iarpa, the intelligence community’s research agency, has also been looking into ways to solve some of its problems: audio interference mainly. In 2011, the agency concluded its Biometric Exploitation Science and Technology Program (or BEST), which made “speaker recognition advances which included improving robustness to noise, reverberation, and vocal effort, and by automatically detecting these conditions in audio channels,” spokesperson Schira Madan told Danger Room in an email. But we wonder if it’ll detect autotune.

The Iris

The Iris

Imagine a scanner than can look deep inside your eye — from 10 feet away. Actually, you don’t have to think that hard. The technology is already here. Scanners have been developed that can focus in and scan irises from a distance of 10 feet, such the IOM PassPort, developed by government contractor SRI International. The company promises the machine can scan irises at a rate of 30 people per minute — like in high-traffic areas such as airports and train stations. SRI also claims it can see through contact lenses and glasses.

But the longer-range scanners could also see other uses, aside from airports. U.S. troops field existing, short-range and handheld iris scanners to build databases of Afghan eyes as part of a plan to use biometric data to tell civilians apart from insurgents. The Department of Homeland Security has tested iris scanners at a Border Patrol station along the Texas-Mexico border. The FBI has been working on an iris database for federal prisoners, and Google uses them at company data centers. But these systems can be fussy, and require that the targets don’t move too much.

There might be another way. The Pentagon’s scientists at Darpa have funded a research project at Southern Methodist University to develop cameras that can automatically zoom-in and scan irises, kinda like what happened to Tom Cruise in Minority Report — and without being blocked by pesky obstructions like eyelashes and glare from light. But another problem is that iris scanners are not the most secure means of identifying people. In July 2012, a group of researchers from the U.S. and Spain discovered a way to spoof the scanners by duplicating iris images stored in databases and creating synthetic copies. That means someone could conceivably steal your eyes, in a way.

Illustration: Air Force

Periocular

Periocular

Spotting someone by their irises is one of the best-developed biometric techniques there is. But Savvides and his Carnegie Mellon colleagues think there may be an equally-promising approach in the area around the eye — also known as the “periocular” region.

The “periocular region has the most dense and the most complex biomedical features on human face, e.g. contour, eyelids, eyeball, eyebrow, etc., which could all vary in shape, size and color,” they wrote in a 2011 paper. (.pdf) “Biologically and genetically speaking, a more complex structure means more ‘coding processing’ going on with fetal development, and therefore more proteins and genes involved in the determination of appearance. That is why the periocular region should be the most important facial area for distinguishing people.”

And unlike other biometrics — the face, for instance — the periocular region stays remarkably stable as a person ages. “The shape and location of eyes remain largely unchanged while the mouth, nose, chin, cheek, etc., are more susceptible to changes given a loosened skin,” the researchers note. In other words, this is a marker for life.

Nearby, Savvides and his colleagues think they’ve found a second biometric: the shape of the eyebrow. Face-scanners are sometimes thrown off when people smile or frown. But the eyebrow shape is “particularly resilient to certain (but not all) expression variations,” the researchers note in a separate, yet-to-be-published paper. And the eyebrow can still be seen, even when the subject has most of his or her face covered.

What’s not fully clear is how the eyebrow biometric responds to threading, shaving or waxing. Saavides, who responded to tons of questions about his research, says there’s no fullproof means to avoid this kind of spoofing. But Saavides is also working on sensors that can analyze multiple facial cues and features, while incorporating algorithms that detect the possibility of a person changing one or two of them. A pair of plucked eyebrows might be a weak match compared to the bushy ones the computer has on file — but the computer could also be smart enough to recognize they’ve been plucked.

Photo: Carnegie Mellon University

Long-Range Fingerprint Scanners

Long-Range Fingerprint Scanners

Most fingerprint scanners today require physical contact, but constantly being soaked with finger-oil and dirt can also muck-up the machines. For that reason, among others, one developer is working on a scanner that may one day read your fingerprints at a distance of 20 feet.

But first, scanners with a 20-foot distance haven’t hit the market quite yet. One machine called the AIRprint, made by Alabama firm Advanced Optical Systems, has a range of nine feet, and uses two 1.3 megapixel cameras that receives light in different wavelengths: one horizontally polarized, and the other vertically polarized. To sort out the different wavelengths, a device beams light at your fingerprints, which bounce back into the lenses, which then combines the separate wavelengths into a clear picture. A spin-off company called IDair also has a commercial scanner that reaches up to six feet and is marketed toward “security personnel.” IDair’s 20-foot-range machine is currently in development, and is described as functioning similar to satellite imagery.

The military is reportedly an interested customer. The MIT Technology Review surmised that Marines may use them for scanning fingerprints from inside the relative safety of an armored vehicle or behind a blast wall. It beats exposing yourself to the possibility of a suicide bomb attack. For the civilian market, that seems better than pressing your fingertips against a greasy scanner, if you’re comfortable with the idea of having your prints scanned from far away.

Photo: LetTheCardsFall/Flickr

Gait

Gait

Even before 9/11, researchers were floating that notion that you could pick out someone by how he or she walks. And after the Towers fell, Darpa made gait recognition one of the cornerstones of its infamous Total Information Awareness counterterror program.

The problem is that gait can be kind of hard to spot. A briefcase or a bum leg prevents the recognition system from getting a clear view. So filming someone walk didn’t make for a particularly reliable biometric system. Plus, the same person may have multiple gaits — one for walking, and another for running, say.

But the spread of smartphones has opened up a new way of identifying someone’s stride. Androids and iPhones all have accelerometers — sensors that measure how far, how fast, and with how much force an object moves.

“By using the accelerometer sensor in the cell phone, we are able to capture a person’s walking pattern. As it turns out, these patterns are very good biometric traits for people identification. Because it does not require any special devices, the gait biometrics of a subject can even be captured without him or her knowing,” write Carnegie Mellon University professor Marios Savvides and his colleagues in a recent paper. (.pdf)

In a small, preliminary study, Savvides and his fellow researchers at the CyLab Biometrics Center claim they were able to get a 99.4% verification rate with the system when the subjects were walking. 61% of the time, they were even able to match someone’s fast-paced gait to their slower one. In other words, you can run…. but with a phone in your pocket, it’s going to be harder to hide.

Photo: sfllaw/Flickr

Sweat

Sweat

The Army wants to see some sweat. No, not workout sweat, but sweat that can betray hostile intentions. In 2010, the Army awarded a nearly $70,000 contract to California security firm Irvine Sensors Corporation to develop software that can use sensors to recognize at “abnormal perspiration and changes in body temperature.” The idea was to determine “harmful intent in such military applications as border patrol, stand-off interrogation, surveillance and commercial applications” including surveillance at businesses and “shopping areas.” It’s a bit out there, and still very much in the research stage, but makes a certain kind of sense. Elevated stress levels could give a suspect away when scanned by hyperspectral sensors that read changes in body temperature.

Though a reliable system will have to work in combination with other biometric signals: threatening body movements, facial expressions, iris scans — all of these will also have to be factored into determining whether someone is up to no good. The Army contract, dubbed Image Analysis for Personal Intent, also sought to develop sensors that read these signs from a distance of nearly 150 feet. Perhaps a bit optimistic. But in 2002, a group of scientists in Minnesota managed to determine if military recruits were engaging in deception by scanning for changes in temperature around their eyes. So if you’re at all freaked out about the idea of sweat-scanners, now might be time for a cold shower.

Photo: Army

Advanced Face Recognition

Advanced Face Recognition

Most machines that scan and recognize your face require taking a good, clean look. But now researchers are working on replacing them with scanners that only need a few fragmentary snapshots at much longer ranges than ever before.

One machine that can do it is being developed by defense contractor Progeny Systems Corporation, called the “Long Range, Non-cooperative, Biometric Tagging, Tracking and Location” system. Once a person of interest is spotted, the system captures a 2D image of the person’s face before converting it into 3D. Then, once the image has been converted and filed in a database, it can be quickly recalled when the system spots the person for a second time. That’s because 3D reduces the number of pixels needed to analyze the image, speeding up the process and allowing the system to identify a person with a mere glance. The company also claims the machine works at more than 750 feet.

But a face alone may not be enough to recognize a person with a machine. Everything from lighting conditions to distance can make it harder to get a clear picture, especially if the person being scanned is on the move, in a crowd, or ducking in and out of buildings. Using 3D models makes it easier, but the technology will likely have to be combined with “soft biometrics” like an individual’s gender, height, weight, skin color and even tattoos.

Slightly creepy, no? Well, it gets creepier, like the group of Swiss scientists working on scanning facial features to detect your emotions. Developers at Carnegie Mellon University have also developed a mobile app called PittPatt –which has since been acquired by Google — that can scan your face and match it up with images you’ve shared over the internet, all in less than a minute.

Photo: Carnegie Mellon University

Rapid DNA Testing

Rapid DNA Testing

It used to be that DNA testing took months to perform, from the time when a DNA sample was picked up on a swab, to analyzing it and creating a DNA profile. Now there are machines that can do it in less than 90 minutes, and the Pentagon wants them.

This month, researchers at the University of North Texas are beginning to test a $250,000 machine for the Defense and Justice Departments, and the Department of Homeland Security, so that “casualties and enemies killed in action can be quickly identified in the field,” according to the Biometrics Research Group. But according to the October issue of Special Operations Technology magazine, rapid DNA testing systems co-developed by defense giant Northrop Grumman had already been delivered to “unspecified government customers” beginning back in August. One of those customers is believed to be the FBI. California company IntegenX also has a portable rapid-DNA machine that can analyze molecules taken off everything from clothing to cigarette butts. There’s a simple reason why police are so interested. For a burglar who’s breaking into houses and leaving a DNA trail, the machines could clue-in faster than the burglar is able to continue the spree.

Photo: US Navy

DARPA produces 10 million flu vaccine doses in one month

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Tobacco plants used in the development of the vaccine

**Editor’s Warning: This article is highly infectious military/industrial/medical propaganda. Read at own risk. Take necessary precautions.**

gizmag.com | Jan 26, 2013

By David Szondy

A familiar news topic during the flu season is the difficulties that the authorities face in producing enough flu vaccine fast enough to control the outbreak. That’s a serious enough problem, but when the influenza outbreak turns out to be the start of a global pandemic, then hundreds of millions of lives could be at risk. To combat this, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has developed a new way of making vaccines that has turned out 10 million doses of H1N1 influenza vaccine in a month, in a recent test run.

A globalized world means a world increasingly at risk from pandemic diseases. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 20 to 50 percent of the world’s population is at risk from a pandemic outbreak such as that seen in the influenza epidemic of 1918. US military forces are particularly vulnerable because the nature of military life is perfect for the spread of disease, unless countermeasures such as cleanliness and vaccinations are constantly employed.

The problem is, vaccines for new diseases can’t be produced quickly. According to WHO, it can take up to nine months to develop and put a vaccine into production. Worse, egg-based and other conventional vaccine production techniques may not be able to scale up sufficiently to meet the demand – especially for diseases where two doses per person are required for adequate protection.

DARPA’s approach to solving this is the Blue Angel program. Started in response to the 2009 H1N1 swine flu pandemic, its purpose is to quickly develop practical countermeasures to disease outbreaks due to either natural causes or biowarfare attack. The program has a number of aspects, such as finding ways to identify people who are infected before symptoms show, but one major facet is the Accelerated Manufacture of Pharmaceuticals (AMP) project.

Working with Medicago Inc., AMP uses tobacco plants instead of eggs to produce recombinant proteins that are key to vaccines. According to the company, introducing viral genes into tobacco has a number advantages: the full-grown plants can be used because the protein is produced in the leaves; it avoids the need to procure eggs in huge quantities; and, there’s no danger of the virus killing the egg embryo. Medicago said that the tobacco process can generate the proteins within 14 days of the gene sequence of the virus being identified, with vaccine-grade proteins generated within four weeks. In the DARPA tests, 10 million doses of H1N1 influenza vaccine were produced in one month, as defined by an animal model.

According to DARPA, third party testing confirmed that a single dose in an animal model produced hemagglutinin antibodies at a protective strength. However, only clinical trials can determine how effective it would be on humans, and the entire process still needs FDA approval.

Federal Reserve enters ‘uncharted territory’ with assets of $3 trillion

federal reserve
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke speaks during a news conference at the Federal Reserve Board in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2012, following the Federal Open Market Committee meeting. The Federal Reserve sent its clearest signal to date Wednesday that it will keep interest rates super-low to boost the U.S. economy even after the job market has improved significantly. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

The central bank’s balance sheet has provided record windfalls to the Treasury.

Bloomberg News | Jan 26, 2013

By Joshua Zumbrun and Jeff Kearns

WASHINGTON • Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s unprecedented bond buying has pushed the Fed’s balance sheet to a record $3 trillion as he shows no sign of softening his effort to bring down unemployment.

The Fed is buying $85 billion of securities every month, using the full force of its balance sheet to stoke the economic recovery. The central bank began $40 billion in monthly purchases of mortgage-backed securities in September and added $45 billion in Treasury securities to that pace this month.

“We’re in uncharted territory,” said Julia Coronado, chief economist for North America at BNP Paribas SA in New York.

The Fed’s assets climbed by $48 billion in the past week to $3.01 trillion as of Wednesday, according to a release from the central bank.

Fiscal astrology forecast: Trillion is the new billion
http://www.seacoastonline.com/articles/20130127-NEWS-301270359

Fed policy makers have voiced increasing concern that record-low interest rates are overheating markets for assets from farmland to junk bonds, which could heighten risks when they reverse their unprecedented bond purchases.

Yet with unemployment still high almost 3½ years into an economic recovery, Fed officials are expected to affirm their accommodation when they meet in Washington next week.

“You’re hard pressed to find another example in history where the Fed pulled out all the stops to help a recovery along,” said Michael Hanson, senior U.S. economist at Bank of America Corp. in New York. “It’s at least as revolutionary as Paul Volcker coming in and saying we’re going to hike rates until inflation” declines.

The Fed has a dual mandate from Congress to achieve stable prices and maximum employment. Volcker, Fed chairman from 1979 to 1987, pushed interest rates to as high as 22 percent to rein in inflation that was approaching 15 percent. Now Bernanke is focusing Fed policy on the other mandate, aiming to reduce the ranks of the nation’s 12.2 million unemployed workers.

Fed officials have said their $85 billion pace of purchases will continue until the labor market improves “substantially.”

Still, they disagree on how long to continue the buying.

The minutes from the Federal Open Market Committee’s December meeting show that participants were “approximately evenly divided” between those who said the purchases should end around mid-2013 and those who said they should continue longer. Some policy makers are concerned that the size of the Fed’s holdings “could complicate the Committee’s efforts to eventually withdraw monetary policy accommodation,” according to the minutes.

The central bank’s balance sheet has provided record windfalls to the Treasury. After paying its own expenses out of its interest income, the Fed sent the Treasury $88.9 billion last year.