Friday, August 26, 2011

"To Catch a Quake"

Science, the flagship journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), has a weekly roundup of some of the most interesting recent science publications called "Editors' Choice." In this week's issue (v. 333, n. 6046, Aug. 26, 2011), one of the seven featured publications is described in a paragraph entitled "To Catch a Quake" by Nicholas S. Wigginton (p. 1072). If you or your institution doesn't have a subscription to Science, the link probably won't work.

Wigginton's synopsis of the article describes the Quake-Catcher Network, "a volunteer-based seismic network that employs personal computers as low-cost seismic stations by sending seismic data collected with a small USB accelerometer through the user's Internet connection." After Chile's huge earthquake in 2010, "volunteers rapidly installed nearly 100 accelerometers within weeks in and around the mainshock [sic] area."

The study showed that this network was able accurately to collect aftershock data. Such networks could be inexpensively deployed in high-risk areas to provide first responders real-time information on the areas most likely to need help.

The citation of the original article, by "Chung et al.," provided by Science  is "Seismol. Res. Lett. 82, 526 (2011)." (The cryptic, telegraphic style of citation is typical of the sciences.)

Don't let it be said that I only share bad news on this blog.

Ken Pimple, PAIT Project Director

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The ubiquity of surveillance

Arlo and Janis, one of my favorite newspaper comic strips, featured a PAIT-related subject yesterday. The strip is subtle and funny, and the subject is scary or annoying, depending on your point of view. To me it's both. Read the strip and let me know what you think (use the comment feature below).

Ken Pimple, PAIT Project Director

Monday, August 22, 2011

In the news: Privacy, security, hacking

Six tidbits in the news - some a bit late in being posted, others quite recent - in three categories:
  1. Privacy a: The Week in Privacy (Just Between You and Me) Peter Catapano (New York Times, June 17, 2011) reviews the "the theory of the insidious plot to flood the minds and bodies of the American public with ever-more-mesmerizing and shinier technological gadgets and distractions so that those who already mostly control the world can for their own benefit further monitor and control the behaviors of the powerless masses, and that said powerless masses will be too busy operating or figuring out how to operate their new personal devices to even know what happened"
  2. Privacy b: Just Give Me the Right to Be Forgotten Natasha Singer (New York Times, August 20, 2011) wishes that people in the United States had something like "the data protection directive of the European Union," under which "people who have contracted with a company generally have a right to withdraw their permission for it to keep their personal data. Under this 'right to be forgotten,' Europeans who terminate frequent-flier memberships, for example, can demand that airlines delete their flight and mileage records."
  3. Security: Federal Push for ‘Cloud’ Technology Faces Skepticism Sean Collins Walsh (New York Times, August 21, 2011) reports on security concerns raised in the light of enthusiasm in some corners for using cloud hosts for some Federal agencies. The "selling points" include "lower cost [and] greater flexibility, because agencies can change the size of a project without having to add or subtract from their computing infrastructure." The unpromising history (so far) of deficits in Internet-linked computing some people worried.
  4. Hackers a: Deploying New Tools to Stop the Hackers Christopher Drew and Verne G. Kopytoff (New York Times, June 17, 2011) describe some of the threats to the security of Internet-accessible computers, as well as some of new approaches to fighting back.
  5. Hackers b: Web Site Ranks Hacks and Bestows Bragging Rights Riva Richmond (New York Times, August 21, 2011) reports an "upstart" Web site which "offers a way to separate the skilled [hackers] from the so-called script kiddies by verifying hacks using codes that participants must plant somewhere on sites they have compromised."
  6. Hackers c:  Master Hacker Kevin Mitnick Shares His 'Addiction' "Famed hacker" Kevin Mitnick is interviewed (All Things Considered, August 21, 2011) about his new book, Ghost in the Wires: My Adventures as the World's Most Wanted Hacker.
Arms races are alive and well.
Ken Pimple, PAIT Project Director

Friday, August 12, 2011

Skintight monitoring

A research article in the August 12, 2011 issue of Science, "Epidermal Electronics," describes a bandage-like "electronic skin" (as it's called in a commentary, "An Electronic Second Skin," in the same issue). According to the abstract of the research article, the material can incorporate "electrophysiological, temperature, and strain sensors, as well as transistors, light-emitting diodes, photodetectors, radio frequency inductors, capacitors, oscillators, and rectifying diodes."

The potential uses in medical applications alone are impressive. Zhenqiang Ma, author of the commentary, describes one current technology that this material may replace one day: "a patient who may have heart disease is usually required to wear a bulky monitor for a prolonged period (typically a month) in order to capture the abnormal yet rare cardiac events." Skintight monitors would eliminate the bulk and weight and have other benefits.

In addition to "physiological status monitoring," the authors of the research article say that the material could be used for "wound measurement/treatment, biological/chemical sensing, human-machine interfaces, covert communications, and others."

Naturally it's the last two examples that catch my attention. Human-machine interfaces? A cool and no doubt really useful application, but vaguely scary, too. And of course covert communications always seem nefarious.

Ken Pimple, PAIT Project Director