Monday, July 14, 2008

The i9/11 and the iPATRIOT Act

Excellent, excellent talk on the future of the internet with some very smart people. Jonathan Zittrain: Author of "The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It" (available free here). Lawrence Lessig: Lawyer and author of dozens of books about free culture, recently having switched from talking about copyright specifically to a more broad range of IT and government corruption issues. Vin Cerf: He basically invented the internet with two other guys. No, really. Currently he is Google's chief internet evangelical (that is his real job title). The whole video is good, but the thing that stands out the most is a comment made by Lessig - the PATRIOT Act wasn't written really quickly in the wake of 9/11, it was sitting in a desk drawer waiting for the opportunity to be passed by a frantic legislature. He asked Richard Clarke, former chief counterterrorism advisor to numerous presidents, if a version of the PATRIOT Act for the internet was waiting for some kind of major internet-based attack which could be compared to 9/11 in terms of disruption and financial loss. Clarke said that, without question, there was. The heart of the problem is our national infrastructure is based on a system that our representatives are largely entirely ignorant of. Here is Senator Ted Stevens demonstrating such ignorance. Here is John McCain admitted to not knowing how to use a computer, much less the internet. None of this would be a problem, except these are the kind of people that can (at least attempt) to legislate internet activity in the country. And when some major incident occurs, which is inevitable due to the open nature of the internet, they may kill the largest and most important communication/content/distribution instrument ever conceived by humankind.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Taking a picture of an image without using light that interacted with it.

When you look at something - any object - your eyes are reading information from all of the light reflected off that object. A leaf appears green because it absorbs or scatters all other kinds of light.

Light actually consists of individual particles called photons. An odd thing about particles - if you "entangle" one particle with another, they still are effected by one another over great distances. Change the spin of one, and the other one reacts. It doesn't seem to make too much sense, but that is quantum physics.

So what happens if you could capture the information of light particles that are hitting an object, but you only have contact with their entangled friend? Turns out you can make an image out of it anyway. The information is, I am told, only useful if you get the other one back too, but it is still pretty nifty. Below is an image of a toy soldier they viewed by this indirect method:

This will be sort of a big deal, as in the future, it might allow for the ability to see through all sorts of things. I know is seems strange, since we only see a cloudless Google Earth whenever we want, but satellites still need clear days for good imagery. This might be another way of mitigating those pesky clouds.

The artificial barrier of licensing, a GIS/Surveying example

There was news recently of a feature story pulled from a professional survey magazine because the work in question was, according to the State Licensing Board, depicting activities that should only be done by licensed surveyors rather than GIS professionals or anyone else. James Fee doesn't know what part of this mess is the worst, but I'd like to take an amateur stab at it. The artificial barrier that government licenses produce can in fact be a good thing when the occupation is such that a minimum standard is required to avoid large-scale fraud, but in so many cases could probably be done by private organizations. Many are put in place by a vocal and monied minority in an attempt to create what amounts to a cartel. I believe one example involved a manicure license that costed thousands of dollars. Professional survey licensing may fall under this, but my limited knowledge of that industry compels me to limit such rhetoric. This isn't the biggest problem with what occurred. Actually, the biggest problem wasn't even the suggestion GIS professionals - or for that matter, simply knowledgable members of the public with increasingly cheap GPS devices - are not competent to do location based field work. For so much geographic data, a 10m resolution is a godsend where previously no one was collecting data. And as more nations put up satellites it will likely become even finer resolution for smaller and more casual devices. This is not to suggest there isn't a place for professional surveyors - both for ultimate liability responsibility and expertise with the more effective tools and procedures. But the percieved elitism is somewhat disconserting. As a GIS/programming guy, I don't find anything I do so absurdly difficult that it would pain my eyes to read an article about an amatuer trying it. The biggest problem is that a state licensing board can effectively kill an article. There isn't any way in which this is a good thing, and I hope whoever has their hands on it leaks it to the internet.