Skip to content

June 29 2013

July 1, 2013




N.S.A. Leak Puts Focus on System Administrators

NY Times


Published: June 23, 2013

As the N.S.A., some companies and the city of San Francisco have learned, information technology administrators, who are vital to keeping the system running and often have access to everything, are in the perfect position if they want to leak sensitive information or blackmail higher-level officials.

“The difficulty comes in an environment where computer networks need to work all the time,” said Christopher P. Simkins, a former Justice Department lawyer whose firm advises companies, including military contractors, on insider threats.

The director of the N.S.A., Gen. Keith B. Alexander, acknowledged the problem in a television interview on Sunday and said his agency would institute “a two-man rule” that would limit the ability of each of its 1,000 system administrators to gain unfettered access to the entire system. The rule, which would require a second check on each attempt to access sensitive information, is already in place in some intelligence agencies. It is a concept borrowed from the field of cryptography, where, in effect, two sets of keys are required to unlock a safe.

From government agencies to corporate America, there is a renewed emphasis on thwarting the rogue I.T. employee. Such in-house breaches are relatively rare, but the N.S.A. leaks have prompted assessments of the best precautions businesses and government can take, from added checks and balances to increased scrutiny during hiring.

“The scariest threat is the systems administrator,” said Eric Chiu, president of Hytrust, a computer security company. “The system administrator has godlike access to systems they manage.”

Asked Sunday about General Alexander’s two-man rule, Dale W. Meyerrose, a former chief information officer for the director of national intelligence, said, “I think what he’s doing is reasonable.”

“There are all kinds of things in life that have two-man rules,” added Mr. Meyerrose, who now runs a business consulting firm. “We’ve had a two-man rule ever since we had nuclear weapons. And when somebody repairs an airplane, an engineer has to check it.”

John R. Schindler, a former N.S.A. counterintelligence officer who now teaches at the Naval War College, agreed that the “buddy system” would help. “But I just don’t see it as a particularly good long-term solution,” he said.


“Wouldn’t it be easier to scrub all your I.T.’s for security issues,” he asked, “and see if there is another Snowden?”

The two-man rule “has existed in other areas of the intelligence community for certain exceptionally sensitive programs where high risk was involved,” he said, “but it’s not a standard procedure.”

Mr. Meyerrose and Mr. Schindler both said that software monitoring systems can also help, though they can be evaded by a knowledgeable systems administrator. The biggest issue for government and industry, they said, is to vet the I.T. candidates more carefully and to watch for any signs of disillusionment after they are hired.

“It’s really a personal reliability issue,” Mr. Meyerrose said.

Insiders of all types going rogue have become a problem for the government and industry over the last decade. One of the most prominent is Pfc. Bradley Manning, who downloaded a vast archive of American military and diplomatic materials from his post in Iraq and gave it to WikiLeaks. But there have been others, including scientists and software developers who stole secrets from American companies where they worked and provided them to China.

Now the spotlight is on the system administrators, who are often the technology workers with the most intimate knowledge of what is moving through their employers’ computer networks.

Beyond their store of technical manuals to keep the system running, administrators at intelligence agencies can have access to specific top secret programs without necessarily being cleared for them, like other intelligence agents must be.

If they can get into one part of the network with credentials for what is called “root access,” they can get into almost everything else. They are known as the “super user.”

Since 9/11, the vast majority I.T. experts in the intelligence world have worked for private contractors, and the Snowden case has set off a new debate about whether the government could have more control of the workers if they were direct employees.

“This is a dirty little secret that’s being revealed,” said Robert Bigman, a former chief information security officer at the Central Intelligence Agency. “When you log on with a root account, it doesn’t know if you’re staff employee or a contract employee. It just knows you’re root. You’re known as a superuser. You have all privileges.”

At a New Jersey pharmaceutical firm in early 2011, a former I.T. administrator gained access to the company’s system, deleted several files — including those that tracked customer orders — and froze the firm’s operations for several days, causing $800,000 in damages. Prosecutors called it a revenge attack after the company, Shionogi, announced layoffs. The administrator, Jason Cornish, pleaded guilty in August 2011.

And in 2008, a network administrator for the city of San Francisco named Terry Childs found out that he was about to be laid off and modified the city’s network in such a way that only he held the password. He refused to hand it over for 12 days, effectively disabling everything from the mayor’s e-mail to the city’s payroll records.

Reuters has reported that Mr. Snowden had made many posts anonymously on an online forum, including one in 2010 in which he seemed critical of technology companies cooperating with government surveillance programs.

Mr. Schindler, the former N.S.A. counterintelligence officer, said that while a person’s political views are not considered in terms of security clearances, the reviews may need to be expanded to include Twitter posts and other online comments that could yield clues to a job candidate’s thinking.

He said the N.S.A. could also do what Soviet officials did after one of their cipher clerks defected in 1945.

“Their response wasn’t to crack down on code clerks, but to make them happier,” Mr. Schindler said. “They boosted their pay and gave them more reasonable hours, and they got no-knock privileges with the boss to keep them happy.”

Mr. Simkins, the former Justice Department counterespionage lawyer, said that it is “more difficult than it sounds” to address threats posed by rogue insiders.

“At the end of day, there’s no way to stop an insider if the insider is intent on doing something wrong,” he said. “It’s all about mitigating.”


U.S. worried about security of files Snowden is thought to have

Washington Post

By Ellen Nakashima and Greg Miller, Published: June 24

The ability of contractor-turned-fugitive Edward Snowden to evade arrest is raising new concerns among U.S. officials about the security of top-secret documents he is believed to have in his possession — and about the possibility that he could willingly share them with those who assist his escape.

It’s unclear whether officials in Hong Kong or in Russia, where Snowden fled over the weekend, obtained any of the classified material. A spokesman for the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, which has been assisting the former National Security Agency contractor, strenuously denied reports that foreign governments had made copies of the documents.

“This rumor that is being spread is a fabrication and just plays into the propaganda by the administration here that somehow Mr. Snowden is cooperating with Russian or Chinese authorities,” spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson said in a phone interview Monday.

Nonetheless, in 2010 and 2011, WikiLeaks published hundreds of thousands of sensitive U.S. documents it obtained from Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, and co-founder Julian Assange suggested in a teleconference call with reporters Monday that the group was interested in gaining access to the documents Snowden had obtained.

“In relation to publishing such material, of course WikiLeaks is in the business of publishing documents that are supposed to be suppressed,” Assange said. He declined to say whether Snowden had shared any of the material.

The NSA has teams of analysts scouring systems that they think Snowden may have accessed, officials said. Analysts are seeking to retrace his steps online and to assemble a catalogue of the material he may have taken.

“They think he copied so much stuff — that almost everything that place does, he has,” said one former government official, referring to the NSA, where Snowden worked as a contractor for Booz Allen Hamilton while in the NSA’s Hawaii facility. “Everyone’s nervous about what the next thing will be, what will be exposed.”

Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian columnist who has published a series of stories based on documents provided by Snowden, said he has exercised discretion in choosing what to disclose. Snowden, too, has said he was selective in choosing what to disclose.

“I know that he has in his possession thousands of documents, which, if published, would impose crippling damage on the United States’ surveillance capabilities and systems around the world,” Greenwald told CNN. “He has never done any of that.”

The Guardian, Greenwald said on “Meet the Press” on Sunday, has withheld “the majority of things that he gave us pursuant not only to his instruction, but to our duty as journalists.”

Over the past several weeks, The Washington Post and the Guardian have published articles and portions of documents that describe two major surveillance programs. One, called PRISM, deals with the interception of e-mail and other Internet content of foreign terrorism suspects thought to be located overseas. The other involves the amassing of a database of Americans’ phone call records — numbers dialed and received, length of call, but no content — which can be searched for a specific phone number when there is “reasonable, articulable” suspicion of a terrorist plot or activity associated with the number.

A former senior U.S. official said that the material that has leaked publicly would be of limited use to China or Russia but that if Snowden also stole files that outline U.S. cyber-penetration efforts, the damage of any disclosure would be multiplied. The official, like others in this article, spoke on the condition of anonymity because the official wasn’t authorized to discuss the matters on the record.

U.S. officials said their assumption is that China and Russia have copied the materials that Snowden took from classified U.S. networks but that they had no way to confirm those countries had done so.

“That stuff is gone,” said a former senior U.S. intelligence official who served in Russia. “I guarantee the Chinese intelligence service got their hands on that right away. If they imaged the hard drives and then returned them to him, well, then the Russians have that stuff now.”

Hrafnsson said such assertions are unfounded. In his call with reporters, Assange insisted that neither the Chinese nor the Russians had debriefed Snowden during his stops in their territories.

Asked about the security of the trove of material thought to be on Snowden’s laptop and the possibility that it could fall into the wrong hands, Assange said: “Mr. Snowden’s material has been secured by the relevant journalist organizations prior to travel.” Asked if he could elaborate, he said, “I’m afraid I cannot.”

The damage assessment being conducted by U.S. officials is expected to take “a few months, at best,” said a senior intelligence official. “We’re looking for all of the information that was disclosed, and assessing the damage it may have caused in terms of national security sources,” he said.

A second senior intelligence official said there were concerns that disclosure of U.S. surveillance methods would make it easier for terrorist groups to avoid detection. “The more material that gets made public the more capability we lose,” the official said.

Already, several terrorist groups in various regions of the world have begun to change their method of communication based on disclosures of surveillance programs in the media, the official said. He would not elaborate on the communication modes.

“It’s frustrating,” he said. “Because if they find some other method to communicate, we go dark. And we miss dots. That’s not something we’re particularly excited about.”

Anthony Faiola in London and Philip Rucker and Julie Tate in Washington contributed to this report.


How Edward Snowden’s encrypted insurance file might work


By Zachary M. Seward @zseward June 26, 2013

Now we have a bit more clarity on what Edward Snowden meant last week when he said, “The US government is not going to be able to cover this up by jailing or murdering me. Truth is coming, and it cannot be stopped.”

It turns out Snowden has given copies of the files he purloined from the US National Security Agency, his former employer, to “many different people around the world,” according to Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian journalist who first published some of the materials provided by Snowden. But the files are encrypted, so the people who have the documents can’t read them. “If anything happens at all to Edward Snowden, he told me he has arranged for them to get access to the full archives,” Greenwald told the Daily Beast.

How might that work? Snowden could be using any of a number of complicated cryptographic gambits.

Cryptography is a gatekeeper. It allows us to check our bank accounts, sign into email, and browse Facebook without worrying that any of that data can be intercepted by others (the NSA surveillance revealed by Snowden notwithstanding).

The simplest form of cryptography that Snowden and his allies could be employing would involve one person keeping an encrypted copy of the files and someone else holding the key necessary to decrypt it. But that method is vulnerable, relying on the trustworthiness of the person who has the key, and it doesn’t sound like what Snowden has done.

More complex, more secure, and more interesting would be a form of “secret sharing.” Essentially, the files can only be unlocked if each member of a group shares his portion of the encrypted information; or, alternatively, if several people are given encrypted portions and a combination of, say, any three of them is sufficient to unlock the files. For instance, this illustration represents the data shared by three people as intersecting planes; the point where they intersect represents the secret that is unlocked when they’re shared:

It’s obviously more complicated than that, and there are other methods Snowden could be using. How well he knows advanced cryptography also isn’t clear, but he’s receiving assistance from Wikileaks, which is skilled in it. Wikileaks has also used its own form of “insurance files” in the past.

Snowden remains in diplomatic limbo in the transit area of Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow. As to what his insurance file contains, beyond what has already been revealed by the Guardian, Washington Post, and South China Morning Post, we have yet to find out; Greenwald told the Daily Beast that just the non-encrypted material Snowden gave him consists of “thousands of documents.”


Dozens of Security Clearance Reports Falsified

Office of Personnel Management IG Investigates Top Contractor

By Eric Chabrow, June 24, 2013. Follow Eric @GovInfoSecurity

The federal government has identified dozens of cases of alleged falsification of reports submitted by investigators examining individuals being considered for security clearances.

In testimony at a Senate hearing June 20, the inspector general of the Office of Personnel Management said there are 20 cases in which investigators – federal employees and contractors – were either found guilty or were about to plead guilty to falsifying security clearance reports. The office also is investigating dozens more cases, he said.

The hearing was called in the wake of revelations that former National Security Agency systems administrator Edward Snowden, who worked as a contractor for Booz Allen Hamilton, leaked information about top secret intelligence-gathering programs.

In a criminal complaint dated June 14, federal authorities have charged Snowden with theft of government property, unauthorized communications of national defense information and willful communications of classified communications intelligence information to an unauthorized person. News reports on June 24 say Snowden left Hong Kong over the weekend for Moscow and could be heading to Ecuador, where he would seek political asylum.

At that joint hearing of two subcommittees of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, OPM Inspector General Patrick McFarland confirmed the IG is conducting a criminal investigation of USIS, the largest contractor that conducts security-clearance investigations for the government.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, the Missouri Democrat who co-chaired the hearing, said the government knows Snowden received his clearance from USIS. “We know that their investigation encompasses the time he received his clearance,” said McCaskill, chair of the Subcommittee on Financial & Contracting Oversight. “We need answers.”

McFarland declined to provide details at the hearing on the IG’s investigation of USIS.

USIS Unaware of Criminal Probe

In a statement issued after the hearing, USIS said it was never informed by the inspector general that the company was under a criminal investigation, adding that it complied with a January 2012 IG subpoena for records and has cooperated fully with the government’s civil investigation.

USIS said in the statement: “Questions were raised as to whether USIS had conducted the initial background investigation, or a periodic reinvestigation, for the security clearance of Edward Snowden. USIS conducts thousands of background investigations annually for OPM and other government agencies. These investigations are confidential, and USIS does not comment on them.”

Susan Ruge, the IG’s associate counsel, told the Washington Post that USIS’s review of Snowden’s security clearance ended in April 2011 and that the IG began its probe of the firm later that year.

No Margin for Error

As of last year, about 3.5 million federal employees and 1.1 million government contractors held top security clearances. “Given the increasing number of folks with access to that information, we have a real problem on our hands if we can’t get this right,” said Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., who co-chaired the hearing with McCaskill. “There is no margin for error.”

Most individuals holding top security clearances don’t have the type of access to computer files that Snowden had. For example, military pilots who transport sensitive materials must gain security clearances.

Vetting individuals for top-secret security clearance is costly, topping $4,000 for each instance, according to the Government Accountability Office. A statement issued by McCaskill and Tester said OPM’s security clearance and background investigations cost the federal government about $1 billion in 2012; that annual cost is expected to rise to $1.2 billion by 2014. They said OPM spends 46 percent of its funds on the contractors who perform investigations, adding that about 75 percent of all field investigators are contractors, an estimated 4,600 out of 6,200 in total.

Falsifications Uncovered

McFarland, in his testimony, told the panel that the IG office had uncovered a number of falsifications of security-clearance investigation reports by federal employees and contractors who reported interviews that never occurred, recorded answers to questions that were never asked and documented records checks that were never conducted.

Since 2006, McFarland said, 18 background investigators and record searchers have been convicted of falsifying records, with a 19th investigator pleading guilty last month and a 20th investigator expected to plead guilty this month. The IG said his office is engaged in fabrication cases against nine other background investigators, with another 36 cases pending.

Of the 18 investigators convicted, 11 were federal employees and seven were contractors. Because of a lack of federal funding, McFarland said the IG’s priority is to investigate federal employees, so these 18 cases do not necessarily reflect the rate of falsification based on employers. “If that background investigation is not thorough, accurate and reliable, then all other decisions made related to the issuance of the security clearance are suspect,” he said.

The decision to grant a security clearance is made by government-employed adjudicators and not the background investigators.

Antiquated System Hindering Process

The way the federal government investigates security-clearance candidates makes the process ripe for possible falsification by some investigators, says Evan Lesser, who has closely followed the government’s security-clearance apparatus since co-founding the employment site in 2002.

Lesser, managing director, characterizes investigators more as data collectors because they’re required to stay close to an OPM script their given in their questioning. He says investigators go into the field with pencil and paper and not mobile computers or smart phones. The responses they receive are entered into an ancient DOS-based computer system, he says.

“If you look at some of the cases that have been brought against investigators who had falsified information, you often heard that they were under the gun and moving quickly in trying to get cases completed,” Lesser tells Information Security Media Group.

Background investigators are inundated with new guidance and regulations, he says. “Like any group of people, you’ve got your bad apples. They’re definitely a good group of people, no more or less patriotic than any other government employee or contractor. But their situation is somewhat unique by the fact that they do deal with antiquated technology, they do have high work loads and they’re pressured to get things done quickly.”

Age a Possible Factor

Lesser says the 30-year-old Snowden’s age may have played a significant role with him getting top-security clearance.

“The younger the clearance applicant, the less financial history they have, the less foreign travel and foreign connections they have,” Lesser says. “For older people, there’s a lot more data. For younger people, there’s just not whole out there.

“It’s entirely possible that the USIS investigator who talked to Edward Snowden did his or her job 100 percent perfectly and by the book [but] they weren’t able to get a whole lot of information about and from Mr. Snowden.”


U.S. energy companies seen at risk from cyber attacks: CFR report

WASHINGTON | Wed Jun 26, 2013 12:11am EDT


(Reuters) – U.S. oil and natural gas operations are increasingly vulnerable to cyber attacks that can harm the competitiveness of energy companies or lead to costly outages at pipelines, refineries or drilling platforms, a report said on Wednesday.

The energy business, including oil and gas producers, was hit by more targeted malware attacks from April to September last year than any other industry, said the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) report, citing data from a Houston-based security company, Alert Logic.

Cyber attacks on energy companies, which are increasing in frequency and sophistication, take two main forms, the CFR report said. The first kind, cyber espionage, is carried out by foreign intelligence and defense agencies, organized crime, or freelance hackers.

These parties covertly capture sensitive corporate data or communications with the goal of gathering commercial or national security intelligence. U.S. energy companies are subject to frequent and often successful attempts by competitors and foreign governments to access long-term strategic plans, bids tendered for new drilling acreage, talks with foreign officials and other trade secrets, the report said.

A campaign against U.S. energy companies by hackers based in China, called Night Dragon by McAfee, a leading security company that is part of Intel Corp, began in 2008 and lasted into 2011. The campaign stole gigabytes of material, including bidding data in advance of a lease auction. One unidentified energy company official believes his company lost a bid in a lease auction because of the attack, the CFR report said.

Many companies are either unaware of similar attacks or are afraid to disclose them for fear of upsetting investors, it said.

“That’s too bad because it makes it harder for Washington to help them and it also makes it harder for the public to be aware of what threats are out there,” said Blake Clayton, a fellow in energy and national security at CFR and a co-author of the report.

The second main cyber risk to energy companies is the disruption of critical businesses or physical operations through attacks on networks.

“This has a lower probability but potentially higher cost,” said Clayton.

The Stuxnet virus, said to have been created by the United States and Israel to attack Iran’s nuclear program, is an example of a campaign that ended up escaping from its intended target at the risk of causing harm to a U.S. company. Chevron Corp said late last year it had been infected by Stuxnet, but said without elaborating the virus was quickly controlled.

An attack dubbed Shamoon last year on Saudi Aramco, Riyadh’s state oil company, ultimately disabled some 30,000 computers. The company said the attack was aimed at stopping oil and gas output at the biggest OPEC crude exporter.

Oil production was apparently unaffected, but damage could have been more severe had the attack penetrated further into the network, the report said.

Hackers from a group called “Cutting Sword of Justice,” suspected to be insiders, claimed responsibility for the attack, which was believed to have been delivered using a USB drive.


(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Matt Driskill)


Drones evolve into a new tool for ag


Laurie Bedord 05/10/2013 @ 7:21am

Loss of pilots over hostile territory fueled the birth of the drone in 1918. Nearly a century later, the mention of the word evokes a negative connotation.

“I think the first thing you imagine when you hear the word drone is this image of a predator operating in Afghanistan with an assault weapon or missile strapped underneath,” says Rory Paul, of Volt Aerial Robotics.

Yet, these devices, which Paul refers to as unmanned aerial systems (UAS), have the potential to be more than just spies in the sky. A passionate advocate for the use of this technology in agriculture, Paul has been working to change that image from foe to friend.

“UAS are something more intelligent than just a target drone that is shot down by antiaircraft artillery,” he notes.

Though he’s been working to introduce the concept to agriculture since 2006, it’s only recently that the tides have turned.

“It is an area that has been ignored, but there’s a change in the focus that has happened in the last few months,” says Paul. “The big defense players are slowly turning their eyes toward the potential these devices hold for ag applications.”

The greatest possibilities, he believes, are in aerial imagery and data acquisition. He also thinks size won’t matter when reaping the benefits. “These systems will be operated by small and large farmers to acquire data when they want it,” he says.

Agent for change             

Despite the potential value UAS bring to agriculture, there are still challenges to navigate. Their use falls under the jurisdiction of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). It is in the process of developing rules and a plan for commercial use of UAS in national airspace by 2015, which is currently strictly prohibited.

As both a full-scale, instrument-rated private pilot and a model airplane enthusiast, Roger Brining has been flying model remote-controlled (RC) aircraft for recreational use under the rules and safety guidelines of the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) since the 1970s.   

“Model aircraft have successfully and safely coexisted with full-scale planes for years,” he says. “The FAA has worked with the AMA for decades to ensure that safety is maintained. The catch is that all of these guidelines and safety programs specifically exclude any commercial use of RC aircraft. Once we get into a company charging a farmer to take aerial imagery, this becomes a commercial use.”

There is no question there will be FAA regulations on what can and cannot be done with sUAS,” says Brining, who farms in Great Bend, Kansas. “This is a must for their safe coexistence with manned aircraft.”

Gathering information              

Universities also see this tool as an ally for many in the industry.

“UAS can reduce equipment wear and tear as well as labor and fuel costs to get highly precise data you wouldn’t necessarily be able to gather going through the field at ground level,” says Kevin Price, professor of agronomy and geography at Kansas State University.

For over a year, Price, along with Deon van der Merwe, an associate professor at Kansas State’s college of veterinary medicine, have been collaborating to explore how unmanned technology can play a role in ag missions.

They have uncovered a wide range of uses with the help of two units: a RiteWing Zephyr II and a DJI S800 Spreading Wings hexacopter.

For example, they’re working with professors who do crop breeding with literally thousands of plant crosses. Seeds are planted in patches, and larger fields are filled with thousands of patches.

“Professors walk the field looking at each patch and its phenology, which is the way the plant looks – its height and shape,” Price says. This information is then used to estimate yields.

“Every patch is harvested, and seeds of the different varieties are weighed,” he continues. “It can take up to 1,500 hours of labor to get one phenotype, which is a bottleneck for moving the genetic breeding program along.”

To speed up the process, he looked to a spectroradiometer, which measures the energy coming off the plants in thousands of wavelengths.

“With two wavelengths – red and near-infrared – we can explain over 80% of the variability in yields on these thousands of phenotypes. If we can take those two wavelengths and build them into a camera, we can fly a field, take an image, and project the yield on every plot in minutes. We can ignore the bad plots and not have to collect that data. It’s going to save millions of dollars in research time.”

Beyond the crop, he can see UAS counting cattle, checking for water in the pond, or determining if blue-green algae that can kill livestock is present.

Other jobs that once took hours, if not days, are reduced to minutes. “We mapped an area of about 640 acres in 18 minutes,” he says.

The camera system they have, which is a Canon s100 converted to color infrared, takes a picture every four seconds.

“This provides us a lot of coverage, and the more coverage, the better,” he says.

Agisoft, a Russian software program, splices together the hundreds of images taken to create a mosaic. All of the fields over a 640-acre area are then pulled together into one large image at 1-inch resolution.

“I’m looking at individual plant leaves now,” Price says. “Images are going to get even better in the near future with the new camera systems coming out.”

Rugged business

Finding a device rugged enough to take some abuse and to not cause people to lose valuable equipment like cameras is another area his team is looking at.

The RiteWing Zephyr II is made of expanded polypropylene, which is high-grade engineering foam that has an elastic nature, allowing it to regain its shape.

“It is rugged and flies stable,” Price notes. “It also has fewer parts, which means less breakage.”

On a typical aircraft, the rudder and movable flaps called ailerons on the rear edge of each wing make a plane turn to the left or right. Moving flaps called elevators on the tail make the nose of the plane go up or down.

“The RiteWing Zephyr II has elevons, which combine the functions of the elevator and the aileron,” Price explains.

Besides fewer moving parts, other advantages include less mass, less cost, less draft, and faster control response.

To date, Price says they have spent about $25,000 on their equipment. However, through trial and error, he believes they could build a unit for less than $2,000.

“We tell farmers to expect to pay around $5,000, because they have to buy a radio, which is about $400,” he notes.

Taking flight

As the new owner of a RiteWing Zephyr XL (similar to the Zephyr II but with an 81-inch wing span), Brining has tried several forms of aerial imagery in the past.  

“I have used custom-flown, traditional aerial imagery,” he says. “The resolution was poor. The costs were extremely high (around $3.50 per acre per flight), and they didn’t get the flights accomplished in a timely enough fashion to meet my objectives.”

What intrigued him about this technology is its incredible flexibility, speed, and low cost for flights combined with a very high-resolution final product.

“I think the new system will let me make tactical decisions, which have all been done strictly based on ground scouting and sampling,” Brining adds.

He estimates the entire system will cost $5,000 to $7,000.

In the first year, he wants to get the system operational, learn to process images, and use the flights as a tool so his agronomists can make better use of their time by scouting the right parts of the field.

“I think it will also be extremely helpful in locating leaks in my subsurface drip-irrigation systems,” he adds.

Crunching the numbers

According to The Economic Impact of Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration in the United States, precision agriculture is one of the markets with the largest potential for this technology. The document, which was released by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), estimates that in just two years the economic and employment impacts of ag spending in all 50 states will be nearly $2.1 billion and creating more than 21,500 jobs.

UAS are tools to apply precision agriculture techniques,” says Chris Mailey, vice president of Knowledge Resources for AUVSI. “They are a key piece in the future of precision agriculture.”

However, he cautions, realizing those gains will be tied to certain factors.

“State incentives, like a tax incentive or a test site, may bring more jobs to one state vs. another,” he notes. “Legislation – positively and negatively – may affect the adoption of these devices in the short term. I believe that once any technology – no matter what it is – is proven out, it is much easier to get larger adoption.”

Every year that sales of the technology are delayed, the report says the U.S. stands to lose $10 billion.

Safety first

With more than 18,000 airports, 750 air traffic control facilities, and 4,500 air navigation facilities, national airspace is a huge system to manage. There are more than 238,000 general aviation aircraft in the system at any time. Maintaining safety in the sky is the FAA’s top mission.  

Mailey says it should be the mission of the ag industry, as well.

“Safety is going to be paramount,” he says. “UAS are just like a tractor or a truck. If you take your eyes off of it or do something not very smart, it can be a very, very dangerous device.”

The hybrid Samsung Ativ Q laptop has Windows 8 and Android Jelly Bean (hands-on)

  • presented by

CNET Editors’ Take

June 20, 2013 12:00 PM PDT

LONDON — It’s a hybrid device, transforming from a Windows 8 slate into a full-fledged laptop in one quick motion. That’s not all, though — at the tap of an icon it’ll boot into Android Jelly Bean, letting you swipe around all of your favorite apps from the Google Play store.

It’s packing the latest Intel Haswell Core i5 processor, with a 13-inch display boasting a whopping 3,200×1,800-pixel resolution. Samsung has yet to announce pricing or availability, but make sure to keep checking CNET for all the latest news.

The Ativ Q’s standard form is a rather chunky 13-inch slate. Lift the display up at the back, though, and it reveals a keyboard underneath. The screen folds up and locks into place behind the keys, allowing you to type and swipe in much the same way you would on any other touch-screen laptop.

It’s the same converting technique we saw on Sony’s Vaio Duo, but Samsung has taken it a step further. Rather than converting just between laptop and slate, the screen can lie flat, lifted above and parallel to the keyboard. I’m not entirely sure why you’d want to keep it in that position — rather than have it lying flat in tablet mode — but I guess it’s useful to have the option.

More helpful though is the option to flip the screen all the way over, turning it, essentially, into a tablet on a stand. The screen automatically rotates as you turn it over. Samsung reckons this mode is best to use for presentations in meetings or just for watching video when you don’t want the keyboard exposed.

Samsung also includes its S Pen stylus for handwritten notes or doodling when you’re bored. It’s the same smaller variety you’ll get on the Galaxy Note 10.1, meaning it’s not particularly comfortable to hold, but does at least slot neatly into the base.

The converting motion seemed fairly smooth in my brief hands-on time, although I worry that over time the small hinges might not be able to put up with much punishment. That’s particularly important, as the rear stand is actually where the CPU is housed. While that’s an interesting space-saving design, it potentially puts the delicate components at more risk from knocks and bumps. We’ll give it a full stress test when we get it in for review.

Samsung’s Ativ-apalooza

It’s a 13-inch machine with physical proportions roughly the same as any other 13-inch ultrabook’s. It’s 14 millimeters thick, which is satisfyingly skinny, it’s small enough to slide easily into most backpacks, and at around 1.3kg (2.8 pounds), you won’t struggle to carry it around for long periods either.

The keyboard’s keys are quite small, so it might not suit those of you with hands the size of continents. There’s no touch pad like you’d find on a normal laptop either. You’ll have to make do with the little trackpoint in the middle of the keys, or just use the touch screen.

The 13.3-inch display boasts an astonishing 3,200×1,800-pixel resolution, which is the highest pixel count we’ve seen on a 13-inch machine. It gives it a pixel density of 275 pixels per inch — better than the 9.7-inch Retina iPad‘s 264ppi, and a massive amount for such a big display.

Unsurprisingly then, everything looked absolutely pin-sharp. It’s bright, too, and colors seemed rich and vivid. I wasn’t able to spend a lot of time with the screen, so I’ll leave my final judgment for the proper review, but suffice to say I’m excited to see my own high-resolution photos on it.

Windows 8 and Android Jelly Bean
Like James Bond’s gadget guru, Samsung’s own Q has a trick up its sleeve. It’s first and foremost a Windows 8 laptop, but at the tap of a tile, it can boot into Android Jelly Bean. At first glance this might seem a bit of a gimmick, but when you take a moment to think about it, it actually makes a lot of sense.

If you’re struggling to decide whether to splash your cash on a Windows laptop, a Windows tablet, or an Android slate, Samsung might have just the solution in the Ativ Q.

You can work in Windows 8 as on a regular laptop, taking advantage of the familiar Windows layout and Office tools. When the busywork is done, switch over to Android to play touch-screen games and casually swipe around any of the hundreds of thousands of apps from the Google Play store. Even if that doesn’t appeal, the sheer number of additional Android apps goes a fair distance to make up for the lack of good titles in the Windows Marketplace.

The Android portion runs on the same Intel Core i5 processor as the Windows portion, so performance should be satisfyingly zippy. The chip is the latest Haswell silicon from Intel, which promises better battery life than its predecessor — again, I’ll test this properly in the review.

Switching between the two operating systems is a simple task of hitting a tile on the Windows 8 desktop. The switch takes a couple of seconds at most and thankfully doesn’t require a restart. Going back to Windows is simply a matter of hitting the Windows home key beneath the display. The operating systems also share file folders, meaning anything you save in your gallery in Android will be available in your pictures folder when you return to Windows.

Interestingly, Samsung hasn’t tried to apply any of its usual software additions over the top of Android. Instead, you get the pure vanilla Jelly Bean experience. It’s the full-fat version of Windows onboard, too, rather than the hobbled Windows RT version, which was specifically designed for tablets. That means you’re able to install any normal desktop software.

You can’t blame the Ativ Q if it struggles to understand itself. It’s at once a Windows tablet, an Android tablet, and a Windows laptop. Samsung evidently hopes this combination will be the perfect solution for people who want a device to suit both work and play.

Whether that’s really the case or if it’s actually a confusing hash of products that should remain separate entities remains to be seen. I’m certainly looking forward to finding out which it is, though.


B-1 school sees pilots losing currency during sequestration

by Airman 1st Class Peter Thompson

7th Bomb Wing Public Affairs


6/24/2013 – DYESS AIR FORCE BASE, Texas — A unit responsible for producing elite B-1 Lancer weapons officers has had its budget cut nearly in half due to sequestration.

The 77th Weapons School at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, took this as a challenge and opportunity to maximize efficiency.

“We have taken notice of the mentality that we need to have at this time,” said Lt. Col. Brian Vlaun, 77th WPS director of operations. “Efficiency is closely linked to a call to find innovative solutions, which applies to us by maximizing the training we have in our syllabus.”

Without funding to supply flying hours for the squadron, instructors at the 77th WPS won’t be able to complete their yearly proficiency requirements, which allow them to fly as instructors, aircraft commanders or mission leads.

“Based on the last time each of our instructors flew, their currencies will last them through the middle of July,” said Lt. Col. Jonathan Creer, 77th WPS commander. “Bottom line is we won’t be able to fly.”

The weapons squadron, and U.S. Air Force Weapons School at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., were forced to cancel a full six-month course, which normally produces a batch of officers trained in applying multiple weapons platforms and strategies to the battlefield.

When the first class of 2013 was cut short in May, the squadron took a day to evaluate their situation and plan steps they would take to maximize efficiency with their almost non-existent budget.

The weapons school has four main objectives to work toward until they regain funding. Their first and primary objective is to update their syllabus.


Normally, the 77th WPS takes the short amount of time between classes to assess their syllabus and make adjustments as needed. This revision process is now the squadron’s main priority.

The first class of fiscal year 2014 will learn from the enhanced legacy syllabus. The second class of the year will be the first at the 77th WPS to train using the B-1 Bomber’s newest upgrade, Sustainment-Block 16, which is the most advanced hardware and software enhancement to date for the bomber.

The squadron’s second objective is to upgrade their tactics, techniques and procedures manuals.

“We will work with the 337th Test and Evaluations Squadron to develop new manuals that will be used to employ the upgraded aircraft,” Creer said.

Their third goal is to simultaneously provide cadre and instructors to support combat operations, and operational testing and training across the B-1 fleet. Instructors have transitioned their efforts from teaching classes to providing their expertise to 9th Bomb Squadron operators as they prepare for future deployments.

“We have the expertise available to help other squadrons with their academics and training,” Vlaun said. “It is our duty to provide for the B-1 community.”

To meet their fourth and final objective, 77th WPS instructors are prepared to continue producing the Air Force’s best weapons officers, and maintain currencies once funding is available.

Looking forward, the 77th WPS’s intent is to create opportunities to grow and learn from their present situation. Their outlook is that even though they have a minimal budget, they are still operational.

“I tell my guys all the time, this is not a throttle back, it’s a change in roles and duties,” Creer said. “We challenge them to do better, exceed their expectations, think critically, receive and give criticism, communicate more effectively and become problem solvers.”


Air Show Turnout is among lowest in history

Lack of military planes, not crash, seen as reason.

Dayton Daily News

By Barrie Barber

June 25, 2013

DAYTON — Attendance at the Vectren Dayton Air Show dropped sharply over the weekend, bringing just 23,000 people through the gates in the lowest turnout in the show’s recent history.

Air Show General Manager Brenda Kerfoot could not say whether the number of spectators was the lowest in the 39 years the show has been in Dayton, but turnout was less than half of last year and less than a third of what it was in 2009 and 2010.

Last year a withering, record-setting heat wave shrank turnout to 47,000 as the Navy’s Blue Angels performed. This year weather wasn’t a big factor, but there was no jet team because of federal budget cuts, and Saturday’s tragic crash may have been a factor in Sunday’s smaller-than-usual crowds.

The show, which often draws 70,000 people or more in a weekend, turned tragic Saturday when stunt performer Jane Wicker, 44, and pilot Charlie Schwenker, 64, were killed after the 1941 Stearman biplane they were in crashed while Wicker was performing her signature aerial wing-walking act near show center at Dayton International Airport.

Kerfoot attributed the sharp attendance decline to the scrubbed appearance of the Air Force Thunderbirds and no other active military aircraft on the grounds or in the sky because of federal budget cuts known as sequestration. The air show fi lled the lineup with well-known civilian acrobatic aerial acts.

“We really think the low numbers are an effect of sequestration (and) that it had nothing to do with the crash,” she said.

The National Transportation Safety Board has launched an investigation into the biplane accident that could take six months to a year. A preliminary report on the crash is expected this week.

John Cudahy, president of the International Council of Air Shows based in Leesburg, Va., said air shows nationwide have had fewer spectators this season because of the no-show of popular military jet teams and solo aircraft demonstrations.

“I think that the lack of military assets at air shows around the country have been a drain on attendance, not just in Day-ton but at a number of shows this year,” he said.

More than 60 air shows with an estimated $400 million economic impact have cancelled because of sequestration, according to Cudahy. The Dayton/ Montgomery County Convention & Visitors Bureau has fi gured the Dayton Air Show has a $3.5 million economic impact with 70,000 visitors.

“The air show is very iconic for our region,” said Jacquelyn Powell, president and CEO of the Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Many people when they think of Dayton, they think of the Dayton Air Show.”

Like Kerfoot, Cudahy does not think the fi ery crash before thousands of people contributed to the fall in attendance.

“Historically, that has not been the case,” he said of air show crashes impacting attendance. “Crashes that have happened in the past, when there was still a day left in the air show,” were not a big factor in attendance.

Kerfoot said Dayton Air Show leaders haven’t reached a decision on the size or scope of the 2014 show with the Blue Angels as the headline act.

The Pentagon has not decided whether military jet teams and planes will › y at air shows next year, but the Blue Angels have booked appearances in 35 places in 2014.

“I think that’s a No. 1 factor we need to determine before we determine what kind of show to do,” Kerfoot said. “I think the (Dayton Air Show) Board (of Trustees) and the community support for an air show is very strong. We have a fund balance to weather bad years, but obviously you can’t keep doing that.”

She did not release how much money the air show has on hand to cover potential losses.

Navy spokesman Lt. John Supple said the Blue Angels are eager to › y in 2014. “We’re hoping the show stays on,” he said. “The Blue Angels are itching to get out there and perform.”

Cudahy said his organization has pushed Congress to let military planes return to air shows. “I think the military recognizes they cannot suspend their interaction with the American public indefi nitely,” he said.

Air show o› cials do not know yet if last weekend’s show made or lost money while accounts continue to be tallied, Kerfoot said. The show spent about $1 million this year, or around a third less than normally budgeted in anticipation of fewer spectators.

Vectren, an Evansville, Ind.-based energy company that has sponsored the show since 2001, and Cincinnati headquartered supermarket giant Kroger, signed three-year deals last year to sponsor the air show through 2015.

“We wanted to be a part of what was at that time a premier event for the Miami Valley and we believe that’s still the case,” Vectren spokeswoman Chase Kelley said Monday. The air show crash and jet team no-shows have not aff ected the sponsorship, she said.

“Those are the exceptions rather than the rule and we still want to be a partner,” Kelley said.



The U.S. Military Aircraft That Flew in Paris


by Brendan McGarry on June 24, 2013


PARIS — Aviation enthusiasts were quick to spot the few American-made military aircraft that did fly at this year’s Paris Air Show, 17-23 June.

No fixed-wing plane currently operated by the U.S. military took to the skies. Drone-maker General Atomics brought a new Predator B, better known by its Air Force designation, MQ-9 Reaper. But the unmanned vehicle remained grounded.

Two other U.S. planes flew, including the World War II-era P-38 Lightning fighter and the C-121 Super Constellation transporter, both made by the predecessor of Lockheed Martin Corp. But those types of propeller-driven craft completed their final military missions decades ago.

The only aircraft in U.S. service today that flew at the event was an export version of the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter, made by Sikorsky Aircraft Corp., part of Hartford, Conn.-based United Technologies Corp.

The U.S. fighter fleet, including the F-15, F-16, F-18 and F-35, was entirely absent.

The U.S. drastically scaled back its presence at the world’s biggest international air show, as the Defense Department froze spending on such events amid federal budget cuts. The move allowed European arms makers, especially Russia, to take center stage.

Still, Pentagon officials and U.S. company representatives attended the event to capitalize on upcoming opportunities in locations such as Eastern Europe, the Middle East and the Asia-Pacific region.

United Technologies Corp.’s Sikorsky brought the S-70i to the show to market the chopper to potential international customers, especially Poland. The country next year plans to pick a firm to build as many as 70 combat support helicopters in a potential $3 billion deal that’s among the biggest opportunities on the international rotorcraft market.

United Technologies Corp.’s Sikorsky is competing for the order against AgustaWestland, part of Rome-based Finmeccanica SpA, and Eurocopter, part of Leiden, Netherlands-based European Aeronautic Defence & Space Co.

General Atomics plans to sell an unarmed version of its Predator unmanned system to the United Arab Emirates and other countries in the Middle East as part of a plan to boost international sales, a vice president said.

The drone, called the Predator XP, is equipped with radar and sensors to offer wide-area surveillance but not weapon systems such as laser-guided bombs or air-to-ground missiles, according to Christopher Ames, director of international strategic development for General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc., based near San Diego.


The company made an effort to display a new Predator B at the show, Ames said. “I’m told we’re one of the only U.S. companies displaying an actual aircraft,” he said. “We worked hard to make it happen.”

The classic planes were also brought to the show by the private sector. The P-38 is actually the restored White Lightnin’ aircraft owned by the Austrian company, Red Bull GmbH, which makes the popular energy drink, Red Bull. The C-121 “Connie” is owned by the luxury Swiss watch maker, Breitling SA.



China’s Fighters, Drone Look Like U.S. Aircraft


by Brendan McGarry on June 20, 2013


PARIS — China’s models of military planes at the Paris Air Show bear resemblance to U.S. aircraft, drawing attention to the rising concern in the Defense Department that the country is using cyber espionage to obtain sensitive defense technology.

The state-run Aviation Industry Corporation of China had a large exhibit of military and civilian models of aircraft at the show, held outside Paris at the historic Le Bourget airfield.

The display included three fighters and a drone: a single-seat version of the FC-1, a single-engine fighter built for the Pakistani air force and designated JF-17; a dual-seat variant of the FC-1 in development; the dual-seat, twin-engine L-15 trainer; and an unmanned system called Wing Loong.

The fighters looked like the F-16 made by Lockheed Martin Corp. and the drone bore resemblance to the MQ-1 Predator made by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc., without the inverted tail. The Chinese drone is designed as a low-altitude craft that can fly up to 16,500 feet and loiter for 20 hours.

A spokesman from the Beijing-based corporation was quick to note that the FC-1 is “a lot cheaper than the F-16,” though he declined to provide a figure. The man gave a brief overview of the systems to Military​.com but declined to be named, citing corporation policy.

Notably missing from the exhibit was any display of the J-20, China’s classified stealth-fighter program.

During talks this month at an estate in Rancho Mirage, Calif., President Barack Obama reportedly warned the new Chinese President Xi Jinping that cyber attacks against the U.S. threaten the two countries’ strategic relationship. Xi insisted China is also the victim of computer hacking.

Obama faced pressure to raise the issue after the recent leak of a classified section of a Defense Department report showed that designs for the most advanced U.S. weapons have been compromised by suspected Chinese hackers. The list of weaponry includes the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the Littoral Combat Ship, and the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System, among others.

The Pentagon in its latest annual assessment of China’s armed forces for the first time blamed China directly for targeting its computer networks. The attacks were focused on extracting information, including sensitive defense technology.

“In 2012, numerous computer systems around the world, including those owned by the U.S. government, continued to be targeted for intrusions, some of which appear to be attributable directly to the Chinese government and military,” it states. “The accesses and skills required for these intrusions are similar to those necessary to conduct computer network attacks.”

That document also concluded that the People’s Liberation Army, or PLA, considers the strategy of “information dominance” a critical form of defense against countries that it views as “information dependent,” such as the U.S.

China called the accusations “groundless” and “not in line with the efforts made by both sides to strengthen mutual trust and cooperation,” according to a May 9 article published on the state-run website, “People’s Daily Online.” The country is a “victim itself of cyberattacks,” it states.

A Chinese espionage group since 2006 has stolen hundreds of terabytes of information from at least 141 companies across 20 major industries, including aerospace and defense, according to a February report from Mandiant, a closely held company based in Alexandria, Va., which sells information-security services.


Where Has All The Nuke Waste Gone?


 James Conca, Contributor

6/24/2013 @ 11:30AM |1,599 views

A funny thing happened on the way to our high-level nuclear waste dump. Most of America’s high-level nuclear waste is no longer high-level. This is a good thing. Unfortunately, on paper it’s still called high level waste. On legal paper, no less. The bar code says it’s high-level waste so that’s what it is, right?

Wrong. Various processes have changed the nature of this waste over the last 50 years. However, various human laws only consider where it came from and what it was a long time ago, not what it is now.

What happens when human law collides with natural law?

First, it always ends up costing us a lot of money. Second, we always take too long to change the human law, which is why it ends up costing us a lot of money.

So, the bar code says it’s high-level waste. What does that mean?

There are four general categories of nuclear waste in the United States (figure below): commercial spent nuclear fuel (SNF), high-level nuclear waste (HLW) from making weapons, transuranic waste (TRU) also from making weapons, and low-level radioactive waste (LLW) from many things like the mining, medical and energy industries. A minor amount of other radioactive wastes are sprinkled among these categories.

Nuclear and radioactive waste comes in four different flavors, defined in the text, that are treated and disposed of in different ways for very different costs. However, most of the high-level waste (HLW) is no longer high-level, a technical distinction, but one that is worth $200 billion.

SNF is the hottest waste, primarily from two isotopes, Cs-137 and Sr-90, both with approximately 30-year half-lives, making the waste high-level for less than 200 years. Similarly for HLW – it’s the Cs-137 and Sr-90 that make it hot, although not so much as SNF. LLW is not very hot at all. TRU waste spans the gamut from low-level to high-level, and is primarily determined by the amount of plutonium, while the level of hotness is again determined by the amount of Cs-137 and Sr-90.

The details get a little complicated, but HLW refers to waste with high levels of radioactivity that was generated from reprocessing nuclear fuel from weapons reactors to make atomic, and then nuclear, weapons. HLW is defense waste, and much of it is nasty, gooey, watery sludge with the consistency of peanut butter or week-old pudding.  Tricky to handle.

This is very different from commercial spent nuclear fuel (SNF) that has even higher levels of radioactivity but comes from commercial
power reactors and is dry and solid. Easy to handle.

TRU waste is a combination of debris, cements and sludge, a real mish-mash of materials that just has enough plutonium in it to call it TRU, but not enough Cs-137 and Sr-90 in it to call it HLW. Not so tricky to handle.

TRU and HLW tank waste are both generated in the reprocessing of spent fuel from a weapons reactor (not a commercial power reactor), but are differentiated by when in that process they were generated (figure below; definitely click on this one to see the detail). HLW is generated in the early steps of the process that remove the fission products, i.e., the pieces left over when the uranium or plutonium nucleus splits, or fissions, particularly the Cs-137 and Sr-90. TRU is generated in the following steps that separate and concentrate the Pu for weapons, and has much less Cs-137 and Sr-90.

The HLW and the TRU sit at various Department of Energy sites around the country in liquid, sludge and solid forms, but most of the HLW is in those famous old humongous tanks up at the Hanford site that hold 57 million gallons of it, recently made more famous by a few leaks. Not any threat to human health and the environment, but enough to get everyone upset (The First Amendment Bombs Nuclear Energy By Accident).

The strange thing is, we have long ago removed much of the Cs-137 and Sr-90 from these HLW waste tanks, and the rest has been through a couple of half-lives, so there’s not enough Cs-137 and Sr-90 to make it HLW anymore, at least in reality, scientifically.  Instead, most of it is now TRU waste (see figures). But it’s still legally HLW.

High-Level Waste (HLW) and transuranic waste (TRU) in tanks at the Hanford site were originally defined by which step they came from in the reprocessing of weapons fuel to make nuclear weapons. The steps that removed most of the Cs-137 and Sr-90 produced HLW, while the steps that removed most of the Pu produced TRU. However, we have since removed so much Cs-137 and Sr-90 from the HLW, and the rest has decayed away so much, that the HLW tanks now are TRU. Source: the Department of Energy.

What we have here is a classic bureaucratic knot of conflicting definitions that we need to fix in order to stop spending money just treading water.

The President’s Blue Ribbon Commission, which included the new Secretary of Energy Dr. Ernest Moniz, already laid out a plan to correct this mess in a series of well-crafted recommendations (Chris Helman, Forbes; BRC Report to President Obama). First, put SNF in interim storage for decades. This allows it to be separated from the defense HLW. Then the other recommendations can lead us down a reasonable path.

But we have to call the waste what it is. I know that requires a hefty bureaucratic lift since many groups are ideologically wedded to the past. But, come on, please don’t say we can’t even define anything anymore by what it actually is.

The multitude of laws and orders developed over the last 50 years has given us all the language and solutions we need, from the Ronald W. Reagan National Defense Authorization Act to the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, from wording by the House Armed Services Committee to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s 10 CFR Part 61, to various DOE Orders. We just have to revisit them and merge them into a coherent set of definitions.

Changing laws and agreements is very difficult these days, but is still a lot easier and cheaper than ignoring reality and treating HLW that is no longer high-level. The cost of physically and chemically treating TRU as though it’s HLW is very expensive and unnecessary. The difference is about $200 billion, a lot of money to spend on a legal technicality.

This is more than an academic exercise since we’re, you know, broke.


What’s the matter with Microsoft?

Experts search for meaning in three Microsoft U-turns

Gregg Keizer

June 25, 2013 (Computerworld)


Microsoft’s had a tough year, and it’s not even half over.

The software giant has retreated from flubs in licensing, the design of its flagship Windows operating system and most recently, innovations it wanted to bake into its new game console, the Xbox One.

On Wednesday, in fact, the highlight of the BUILD developers conference opening keynote will certainly be Windows 8.1, an upgrade that Microsoft casts as a customer feedback-driven refresh, but that some outsiders see as a reversal, even a repudiation, of its first-pass design.

What’s going on? Is the company’s decision-making suddenly fundamentally flawed? As the PC industry goes through its largest-ever slump, is it so desperate that it’s trying to milk revenue wherever it can by forcing change — even when it knows customers will rebel? Has it taken to hauling up the white flag at the first sign of resistance rather than toughing it out, as the old Microsoft might have?

Companies make mistakes all the time, sometimes crippling ones that drag them under. But if the organization is large enough, robust enough, it survives, learns. Ford weathered the Edsel, Coca-Cola New Coke, Netflix its Quikster, Apple the 1985 ousting of Steve Jobs, 2010’s Antennagate and last year’s Maps fiasco. But the pace of Microsoft’s missteps and the resulting turnarounds — three in the span of four months — is unusual.


In March, Microsoft retreated from a sweeping change in its licensing for retail copies of Office 2013, giving way after customers complained that they’d be labeled lawbreakers for trying to move the software from one machine to another. In late May, Microsoft revealed some of the changes slated in Windows 8.1, including the restoration of something very close to the iconic Start button. And last week, Microsoft quickly backed off Xbox One plans that would have nixed sales of used games and required the console to “phone home” daily to Redmond’s servers.


Too focused on money?

Industry analysts and other experts had all kinds of answers for the questions raised by Microsoft’s miscalculations. Some saw a company blinded by a desire to squeeze the last dollar out of customers, or one that thought aping Apple would be a winning strategy. Others faulted it for not anticipating what, in hindsight at least, was guaranteed blowback.

“People don’t like revocations of the physical rights they assign to property, even when we’re talking about software licenses, not software ownership,” said Wes Miller, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, of the Office 2013 and Xbox One used-game errors. “We have an essence of tangibility, a feeling of ownership, when we buy a floppy disk or buy a CD, or even download a file.”

But by restricting that ownership, and doing that suddenly, Microsoft stepped into a morass when it told customers they couldn’t move Office to a different PC or said that Xbox games could not be resold. It violated that feeling of ownership, which customers interpreted as stealing something rightfully theirs.

“People don’t adjust well to change when that change means less rights and freedom than before,” Miller said, using words that could have been spoken by Boston radicals like Samuel Adams in 1774.

Others echoed Miller on the difficulty of changing behavior and Microsoft’s apparent belief that customers would willingly accept change, as evidenced in statements by Microsoft executives that Windows 8 users would quickly grow comfortable with its far-reaching alterations.


Users don’t like change

“It’s very hard to make monumental business changes in this day and age,” said Peter LaMotte, an analyst with Levick, a Washington, D.C.-based strategic communications consultancy. “People are used to certain functionality, certain interfaces, and it’s very difficult to take those things away from them.”

In other words, Microsoft either didn’t view those rights, implied or not, in the same way as did customers — a failure of one kind — or ignored evidence to the contrary, an error of quite another dimension.

Philip Morton, a senior practitioner in gaming at Foolproof, a U.K. user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) design consultancy, wasn’t sure which it was — though he leaned toward the latter — but he was certain Microsoft screwed up on the Xbox One.


People will accept change, Morton said, if it’s clear there are benefits to doing so that outweigh the burden of the change itself. While that may read as obvious, Microsoft either forgot it or knowing it, plunged ahead anyway.

“Microsoft had a carrot and a stick, but it was all stick and no carrot,” Morton said of the Xbox One plans, which were pitched as a way to simplify sharing games within a family or group of friends, and to make a customer’s game library available from any Xbox console. “Xbox has been successful despite Microsoft, not because of it,” he said. “[With the Xbox One] there was too much Microsoft in the Xbox. Too much of the traditional Microsoft had a say in that decision. They thought more of their business requirements and what the business wants than what the customers want. They didn’t communicate any benefit to the changes, and treated customers like criminals.”

Forcing changes onto customers — not, for instance, giving them an option, as Microsoft has by maintaining traditional “perpetual” licenses even as it pushes Office 365 subscriptions — was the final straw, said Morton.


Blindsided by backlashes

Nor did Microsoft seem to anticipate the backlashes to any of the three changes — another failure, said experts.

“Consumers are more vocal now,” said Miller, citing social media’s amplification of complaints. “In each case, Microsoft made a bold statement, but then had to rescind it after a Twitter outcry.”

LaMotte of Levick concurred. “If you release something with new functionality, consumers are prone to give feedback fast and furious. That’s the benefit and the downside of social media.”

That was especially true in the Xbox One affair because of the unique nature of the gaming community. Gamers are passionate about what they want, identify personally with the software, much more so than, say, users of Windows or Office. And they’re already organized, so to speak, because of the way many network to play online.

They’re also a different demographic group, LaMotte argued, one that likes to complain.

“Gamers love to share their opinion and share their disgust,” LaMotte said. “But Millennials are especially vocal about what they don’t like. It’s almost as if the movement picked up steam just to make Microsoft reverse the decision, no matter what an individual thought. People who grew up in the 60s or 70s, 80s and 90s, they had things to rebel against. Millennials don’t. So they find things to rebel against.”

Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy, saw Microsoft’s moves differently. “Sometimes companies believe that they’re smarter than everyone else,” he said. “Apple made that strategy feasible by being successful without soliciting consumer reaction. I think Microsoft saw that and said, ‘That’s how we can be successful, too.'”


Microsoft isn’t Apple

Moorhead found hints of Microsoft’s mimicry in its relatively-recent penchant for secrecy, a change itself from decades of being far more transparent. “Microsoft could have done a better job [in these cases] by asking people beforehand,” Moorhead asserted. “But they’ve become more isolated, more … insular … as it relates to people who they used to get feedback from, like analysts and the press.”


What works for one company, Apple for example, doesn’t necessarily work for another, like Microsoft. “Their initial reaction [to critics] of Windows 8 was that ‘We know better,'” said Moorhead. “There was no admission that they’d made a mistake or flexibility whatsoever.”


That didn’t go down well.

On the Xbox One, at least, Morton thought that Microsoft’s miscue may have stemmed from incorrect assumptions of the market. In its initial presentation of the Xbox One, Microsoft focused on the device’s non-gaming traits, particularly its television viewing features. “They build up a house of cards with an incorrect assumption of who would be the purchaser,” Morton said.

Sony, which portrayed its new console, the PlayStation 4, as the anti-Xbox One, pitched its hardware to gamers, as a game machine, with the hope that others in the family would use it, too. Microsoft’s mistake was taking the opposite tack.


Lessons learned?

Even with the missteps, several of the experts said, there’s evidence that Microsoft has learned lessons. Some encouraged Microsoft not to give up on its long-term strategy, even in the face of the three failures.

“They were shooting for the future,” said Miller, of the original Xbox One and Windows 8 decisions. “And I agree with them. They had to do the changes.” It’s inevitable, he said, that games will go all digital, all served via downloads, and that Microsoft’s Windows 8 shift to emphasize mobile was necessary to stay relevant.

Moorhead believed Microsoft has improved its responses to faux pas, even in the last few months. “I do get a sense recently that Microsoft’s taken a softer tone, and admitted that they didn’t get it right,” said Moorhead, referring to the Xbox One and Windows 8 retreats. “The addition of the Start button [to Windows 8.1] was at least some admission that they’re not perfect.”

But Miller wondered what the reaction to Microsoft’s moves meant in the long term, and not just for the Redmond, Wash. developer. “The world may not be as ready for cloud services as some might want them to be,” Miller said, pointing to Xbox One. “If [Xbox One and Office] are indicative of Microsoft’s longer-term goals, are they achievable? And will consumers follow?”

None of the experts dared predict the exact nature of the future, but pointing to the pain of change, some cautioned other companies to learn from Microsoft’s experiences. “It’s the times in which we live,” said LaMotte. “If you’re going to allow the world to beta test your products, you’d better be ready for the feedback.”

This article, What’s the matter with Microsoft?, was originally published at



Highlights of Obama’s plan to cut carbon

Washington Post

June 25, 2013

President Obama unveils a broad plan aimed at curbing climate change and its impacts in a speech Tuesday at Georgetown University.

President Obama’s full climate action plan (PDF)


Curbing carbon pollution

• Directs the EPA to establish carbon pollution standards for both new and existing power plants.

• Promises $8 billion in loan guarantees for fossil fuel projects.

• Directs the Interior Department to permit 10 gigawatts of wind and solar projects on public lands by 2020.

• Expands the president’s Better Building Challenge, helping buildings cut waste to become at least 20 percent more energy efficient by 2020.

• Sets a goal to reduce carbon pollution by at least 3 billion metric tons cumulatively by 2030 through efficiency standards set for appliances and federal buildings.

• Commits to developing fuel economy standards for heavy-duty vehicles.

• Aims to reduce hydrofluorocarbons, highly potent greenhouse gases.

• Directs agencies to develop a comprehensive methane strategy.

• Commits to forests and other landscape protection.


Preparing for climate change

• Directs agencies to support local investment to help vulnerable communities become more resilient to the effects of global warming.

• Establishment of flood-risk reduction standards in the Hurricane Sandy-affected region.

• Will work with the health-care industry to create sustainable, resilient hospitals.

• Distribution of science-based information for farmers, ranchers and landowners.

• Establishment of the National Drought Resilience Partnership to make rangelands less vulnerable to catastrophic fires.

• Climate Data Initiative will provide information for state, local and private-sector leaders.


Leading global efforts to address climate change

• Commits to expanding new and existing initiatives, including those with China, India and other major emitting countries.

• Calls for the end of U.S. government support for public financing of new coal-fired power plants overseas.*

• Expands government capacity for planning and response.

*Except for efficient coal plants in the poorest countries, or for plants using carbon capture.



Will Congress Let USAF Abandon the Global Hawk?

Defense News


Jun. 24, 2013 – 06:00AM |

By ARAM ROSTON         


The Global Hawk has provided high-altitude, long-endurance ISR for the Air Force since the late 1990s, but the service says it no longer needs the unmanned aircraft.

June is the start of the rainy season in the South Pacific, six months of storms that come in fast and unpredictable. And when the wind starts blowing, that takes its toll on U.S. intelligence-gathering far off in North Korea.

A substantial amount of the intel on the Hermit Kingdom comes from the three massive Global Hawk unmanned surveillance planes based at Andersen Air Force Base in Guam. Because of special flight restrictions, the Global Hawks can’t fly over thunderstorms, nor, without a way to see the clouds ahead, can they go around them. So whenever a hint of bad weather arose on the route Global Hawk was assigned last year from Guam, the missions were canceled. Last year, the UAVs were grounded for an entire month, says a source with knowledge of the operation.

This susceptibility to South Pacific cyclones is adding new energy to the political hurricane raging in Washington over the future of the expensive UAVs.

It’s been a year and a half since the Air Force said it no longer needs the Global Hawk. The service argued that the UAVs, each built for more than $200 million, don’t do their jobs as well as the time-tested U-2 manned spy plane. So the Air Force wants to take the entire fleet of 18 Global Hawks and park them in the “boneyard” — the aircraft storage facility at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz. That’s the functional equivalent of throwing 135 tons of the world’s most advanced robotic flying machines into the trash heap.

Now the battle lines are forming in what may be an epic contracting war. On the one side, swinging hard, is Global Hawk-maker Northrop Grumman. It has some powerful arguments, and it has members of Congress who say the Air Force needs to fall in line. On the other side is the Air Force, fighting to keep the U-2, which was built by Lockheed Martin.



At 70,000 feet, a U-2 pilot flying northwest along the boundary of North Korean airspace can turn his head to the right, and through the visor of his spacesuit he will see the silhouette of Earth’s curvature. Then he will see a silent green phosphorescent flash before the sky suddenly goes dark.

They call that flash “the terminator.” No U-2 pilot ever forgets it. Until just two years ago, the U-2 program itself — the workhorse of high-altitude intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance for 60 years — was due to be terminated, too.

For a time, the Global Hawk versus U-2 debate revolved around age. The U-2, its critics said, was of a different era, before UAVs. After all, any pilot flying the U-2 now wasn’t even born when the program started back in 1955.

But now, as one Air Force pilot points out, “This is not your grandfather’s U-2.” For example, today’s U-2S jets have pressurized cockpits, although the pilots still wear spacesuits in case anything goes wrong.

Lockheed Martin’s Robert Dunn said the U-2S has a long way to go before it needs to be decommissioned. “The airplanes we are flying today are certified to 75,000 flight hours. The average airframe is 14,000,” he said.


If the U-2 is the aging champion, then in the other corner of the ring is the upstart Global Hawk. A feat of modern engineering, the autonomous plane can fly for 32 hours straight when conditions are right. That’s far longer than the U-2, though not as high and with a smaller payload.

Ironically, the now-costly Global Hawk program was birthed during the cutbacks of the Clinton years. The Air Force was enthusiastic about its huge, high-flying UAV, and it pushed for more and more capacity for the planes. The first operational lot, the Block 10s, couldn’t carry enough weight, so the next generation was bigger and more ambitious. It was about more sensors, more power, more payload.

Initially pitched as a $35 million aircraft, costs ballooned over the years by 284 percent, according to the Congressional Research Service. Much of that was due to the Air Force’s shifting requirements. (It’s now estimated at about $220 million per plane including development costs.)

The Air Force, for a time, was the Global Hawk’s biggest cheerleader, although the history has been complex and sometimes contradictory.

In early 2011 for example, the Defense Department’s director of operational test and evaluation said “the system was not operationally effective for conducting near-continuous, persistent ISR operations.”

Then, in June 2011, shortly before the Global Hawk was fielded, Air Force officials certified the project as “essential to national security.” It was meant to ensure that Congress continued to fund the program, but the proclamation would begin to haunt the service just months later.



In January 2012, the Air Force announced a drastic turnaround: It would terminate the Global Hawk program.

It provoked a firestorm — and a heavy public advocacy campaign on Capitol Hill by those who support the plane. Like many major modern weapons, its subcontractors are widely distributed across the United States, ensuring a broad base of political support. Northrop Grumman’s website notes that all but 15 states manufacture some part of the Global Hawk.

Experts were confounded that the Air Force had changed its mind so quickly.


And Congress put its foot down.

In the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act signed earlier this year, Congress told the Air Force it would have to fly the Global Hawks it had already (16 plus two being built) through the year 2014. The service “shall maintain the operational capability of each RQ-4 Block 30 Global Hawk unmanned aircraft system belonging to the Air Force or delivered to the Air Force.”

And to make sure no Global Hawk went on to the boneyard, the act was specific: No money “may be obligated or expended to retire, prepare to retire, or place in storage an RQ-4 Block 30 Global Hawk unmanned aircraft system.”

All of which sets the stage for the current conflict on the Hill.

Meanwhile, the 2013 Defense Appropriations Act went further. The service had resisted ordering new planes, on the assumption that by the time they were delivered, they’d be going right to the boneyard. Now the Air Force was told to go order three of the planes that had previously been budgeted for in 2012. “The Secretary of the Air Force shall obligate and expend funds previously appropriated,” for the plane.


But the Air Force has resisted. As another officer said, “Why are they making us spend money on something we don’t want or need?”

That attitude has irked some Northrop Grumman supporters on Capitol Hill.

In May, Rep. James Moran, D-Va., and Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., wrote a stinging letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel demanding that the Air Force do what it was told.

“The Air Force has continued to ignore clear Congressional intent,” they said.

And the House Armed Services Committee in June voted for a new defense authorization bill that would force the Air Force to use the Global Hawks until 2016



Here’s a side-by-side comparison of the two platforms:


■ Power. The U-2’s engine, with 17,000 pounds of thrust, can push the plane beyond 65,000 feet within a half hour. “It climbs like a homesick angel,” said a U-2 pilot. The Global Hawk, powered by an engine with just 7,500 pounds of thrust, can take four hours to reach its ceiling of 60,000 feet, critics say.


■ Endurance. Global Hawk is the hands-down winner. It can fly up to 32 hours before returning to base. Some say that’s what matters. “This is no time to be getting rid of your long-range, long-endurance assets,” said Rebecca Grant, an analyst who has done work for Northrop Grumman. The U-2 is stretching it to fly 14 hours; more typical flights last 10. But its defenders note that the manned plane can be based closer to the action, say, in South Korea, where flight restrictions bar unmanned aircraft.


■ Altitude. Here, U-2 is the king, with a publicly disclosed ceiling of 70,000 and a true ceiling somewhere about 75,000 feet. Global Hawk tops out at 60,000 feet. For the Air Force, this has become the central issue. First, the U-2 gets above the weather. The worst storm in the world is “just fireworks below,” said a pilot. But the other issue is visibility. Simple geometry allows the U-2 to see farther into enemy territory than the Global Hawk. That really makes a difference. A ceiling of 60,000 feet versus 70,000 doesn’t sound like much but look at it this way: The main job of the plane in the near future will be flying over the borders of countries like China and North Korea from international airspace. The Air Force likes to see 80 or 100 miles into adversaries’ territory, and the U-2’s added height lets it do that.


■ Sensors. That’s what it’s all about. At first glance, the Global Hawk has the edge. It carries three sensors for its intelligence missions, and the U-2 carries only two. On top of that, the Global Hawk can switch in midflight between electro-optical and synthentic aperture radar. “To have the ability for a single weapons system to carry a SAR radar, electro-optical package, and SIGINT package,” said Tom Vice, Northrop Grumman’s president of Aerospace Systems, “it allows to you to fuse all three different types of intelligence products together at the same time.”


But the Air Force says the U-2 has a far better electro-optical sensor that gives it a hands-down win in the category. In a report to Congress this spring, the Air Force flatly said that “the current U-2 sensors are superior to those of the GH.” Key to that is a camera called SYERS II (Senior Year Electro-optic Reconnaissance System) manufactured by UTC Aerospace. It’s multispectral, unlike the Global Hawk’s camera, and it sees farther.


■ Price. The U-2s were all built years ago. It’s a bit like owning a 2000 Honda Accord — it’s already paid for, it will keep on going and it drives great. The Global Hawks, on the other hand, are still coming off the production line. But Northrop Grumman argues that most of the development costs have already been spent anyway, and the kinks of building a new system have only recently been ironed out. The Air Force says at this point that it is just spending good money on a system that doesn’t have what it takes.


As for operating costs, they are equivalent — $33,500 per hour. But as Northrop Grumman points out, the Global Hawk doesn’t need training flights and requires fewer takeoffs and landings. Even the Air Force, in a recent report, acknowledged that “the persistence advantage of [Global Hawk] manifests itself in lower execution costs.”

Among its various proposals, Northrop Grumman has made one that stands out. It is offering to provide a 10-year contractor logistics contract for the Global Hawk Block 30 for $250 million, as a fixed price. It made the offer, though, months after the Air Force decided to terminate the program.



There is much disagreement on how much it would cost to upgrade the Global Hawk Block 30s, where there are shortfalls that need addressing. Take the sensors. The Air Force reported to Congress that “Upgrades to the GH Block 30 to achieve parity with the U-2 program require an expenditure of approximately $855 million.”

It might not be able to fly as high, but at least it could photograph as clearly.

Northrop Grumman’s defenders, eager to get the Air Force to change its mind, say the service is way off the mark. The company has offered to put better cameras on the Global Hawk for just $48 million.

“We’ve looked at that and we’ve addressed it,” Vice said. “We looked at how to open up our architecture. We’ve offered a firm fixed-price offer to the U.S. Air Force to integrate the SYERS sensors onto Global Hawk. And that would cost the Air Force only 6 percent of what the Air Force believed it would cost to upgrade the current Block 30 cameras. Guaranteed price; no risk to the government.”

Northrop Grumman’s $48 million versus the Air Force $855 million is an unresolved discrepancy, for the moment. One reason it can work: The company wants to simply remove the cameras from the competition — essentially cannibalizing the U-2.

As for the Global Hawk’s getting grounded in places like Guam, where it can’t be relied on during the rainy season, the plane’s supporters say that’s the Air Force’s fault in the first place because of onerous restrictions. Supporters argue that requiring the plane to fly 10,000 feet over clouds, and limiting it to one route was the problem that caused it to be grounded excessively.

Now it’s been given alternative routes, which supporters say will cut back on canceled missions.

The difficulty has been that Global Hawk is unmanned, without “sense and avoid” technology to meet air traffic requirements. Normally, a pilot could see the clouds and steer around them, but without a pilot, the Global Hawk can’t do that.

Northrop Grumman has told the Air Force it can put “weather diversion” cameras in the Guam-based Global Hawks. That way, the operators back at base will be able to see the clouds and reroute, just as they could if the pilot was flying.

The company pitched the idea to the Air Force, offering to install the cameras for $7 million.



There are some analysts who believe that in spite of the Global Hawk’s shortfalls, the Air Force is making a mistake. .

“However you cut it, I think there is a good case for Global Hawk Block 30,” says Mark Gunzinger of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. “The reasons cited for retiring the Block 30s don’t stand up under scrutiny. It’s worth questioning.”

But if the Air Force is really being disingenuous in terminating the Global Hawk, as its critics say, what would be the motive? That’s where the Northrop Grumman defenders are having a difficult time.

Is it, perhaps, a lingering bias against drones, a preference for the swaggering days of the piloted plane? At a House hearing in May where he castigated the Air Force for its decision on Global Hawk, Moran said as much: “The U-2, as you know, has a pilot. And I suspect that’s the real issue — the pilotless versus the piloted craft, even though the U-2 has been around longer than even some of the members of this subcommittee have been alive.”

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh protested: “Pilot being in the airplane had absolutely nothing to do with it. I couldn’t care less. We want the platform that will do the best job of accomplishing the mission assigned — manned or unmanned — and we’ve said that all along.”

And after all, the Air Force has hundreds of UAVs and continues to develop new ones. It’s a hard to argue that the service simply doesn’t like unmanned aviation any more.

If not a bias against planes, others say that it is just stubbornness: The Air Force has dug itself into an untenable position and because of bureaucracy, is unwilling to back down, they say.

Still, that does seem like a stretch, given what’s at stake. If the Air Force still says it doesn’t need to spend the hundreds of millions of dollars on a program it finds inadequate, it will be hard to argue with that in an era when sequestration is cutting everyone’s budget.


The Atlantic

What Your Email Metadata Told the NSA About You

Rebecca Greenfield Jun 27, 2013

President Obama said “nobody is listening to your telephone calls,” even though the National Security Agency could actually track you from cellphone metadata. Well, the latest from the Edward Snowden leaks shows that Obama eventually told the NSA to stop collecting your email communications in 2011, apparently because the so-called StellarWind program “was not yielding much value,” even when collected in bulk. But how much could the NSA learn from all that email metadata, really? And was it more invasive than phone data collection? The agency is well beyond its one trillionth metadata record, after all, so they must have gotten pretty good at this.

To offer a basic sense of how StellarWind collection worked — and how much user names and IP addresses can tell a spy about a person, even if he’s not reading the contents of your email — we took a look at the raw source code of an everyday email header. It’s not the exact kind of information the NSA was pulling, of course, but it shows the type of information attached to every single one of your emails.

Below is what the metadata looks like as it travels around with an email — we’ve annotated the relevant parts, based on what The Guardian reported today as the legally allowed (and apparently expanded) powers of the NSA to read without your permission. After all, it’s right there behind your words:

As you can see, at the bare minimum, your average email metadata offers location (through the IPs), plus names (or at least email addresses), and dates (down to the second). The Guardian‘s Glenn Greenwald and Spencer Ackerman report that Attorney General Michael Mukasey and Defense Secretary Bob Gates signed a document that OK’d the collection and mining of “the information appearing on the ‘to,’ ‘from’ or ‘bcc’ lines of a standard email or other electronic communication” from, well, you and your friends and maybe some terrorists.

But email metadata is more revealing than that — even more revealing than what the NSA could do with just the time of your last phone call and the nearest cell tower. For operation StellarWind, it must have been all about that IP, or Internet protocol, address. Hell, it’d be easy enough for your grandma to geolocate both parties from a couple of IPs: there are countless free services on Google that turn those numbers you give to the IT guy into your exact location. For example, using the two IP addresses in the email sent to me above, we can easily determine that it was sent from Victoria, Australia:

The IP address is like a homing pigeon, and that’s why the revelations of email metadata being authorized under the Bush and Obama administrations amounts to a seriously revealing breach of personal security in the name of terror-hunting. “Seeing your IP logs — and especially feeding them through sophisticated analytic tools — is a way of getting inside your head that’s in many ways on par with reading your diary,” Julian Sanchez of the Cato Institute told The Guardian. Of course, the administration has another party line, telling the Los Angeles Times that operation StellarWind was discontinued because it wasn’t adding up to enough good intelligence of “value.” But with one of the many “sophisticated analytic tool” sets developed by the NSA over the last decade or so and leaked during the last month — like, say, EvilOlive, “a near-real-time metadata analyzer” described in yet another Guardian scoop today — America’s intelligence operation certainly can zero in on exactly where Americans are. Even if you’re just emailing your hip grandma.


Too much collaboration is hurting worker productivity



By Vickie Elmer    June 26, 2013    

Companies love collaboration—it’s become the go-to approach to solve corporate problems and spur innovation. Yet by emphasizing it at the expense of solitary work, employers choke worker productivity and satisfaction.

A new report by Gensler, the global workplace design and architecture firm, found that workers are spending more time in focus work but feel less effective at it than before.

“Collaboration can be taken too far. It actually has diminishing returns,” said Diane Hoskins, co-CEO of Gensler, in an interview with Quartz. “When everybody’s collaborating around you, you can’t focus.”

In the last few years, increased collaboration is both intentional, encouraged by managers intent on fostering innovation and shared resources, and unintentional, partly the result of corporate cutbacks in office space during the recession. Much of the reduced space affected collaboration areas, which pushed conversations and collaboration into the general work spaces, said Hoskins. “Everything was squeezed” and so workers felt less able to focus, the Gensler survey of 2,035 knowledge workers shows.

Now they feel even more crowded and unable to focus as corporate payrolls have inched up. Some feel that with more workers on “kitchen tables” or desks in close proximity they can never get anything done.

“If you diminish focus, it’s like the house of cards starts to fall apart. It’s almost foundational,” she said.

Certainly other research has found open floor plans can make workers less productive and more likely to get sick.

So what are companies doing to create places where workers can concentrate on their tasks? Intel’s Software and Services Group gives workers four hours of “think time” tracked on a group calendar so they can block out distractions and tune in on important problems or work. Office furniture maker Steelcase has created a gathering space equipped with teleconferencing devices, information projections and a round table.

Gensler is encouraging balanced arrangements so workers can have a few different environments to use depending on the mode they’re in. One company put up a C-shaped pod in the middle of the desks with room for four or five people to sit and share. Others have created small meeting rooms “where you can take conversations to” so workers at their desks can focus, Hoskins said. Some even set up outdoor gathering places for informal meetings or break times together.

Or some just may go home to get quiet focused time, and then come into the office for meetings and social connections. Those who can choose where to work still spend about 70% of their time in the office, Gensler reported. Workers who can choose their environment are more satisfied with their job, and rate themselves as more effective, especially in their focus work.

DirecTV has the edge right now among bids to buy Hulu


By Gina Chon and Kevin J. Delaney

June 28, 2012

Satellite television provider DirecTV appears to have the leading bid for video streaming service Hulu, according to sources familiar with the sale process.

Other contenders include Guggenheim Digital Media and a joint bid from the Chernin Group and AT&T, the sources said. Final, binding offers for Hulu had been due today, but the deadline has been extended to Tuesday, in part to give DirecTV more time to assemble its acquisition package.

The competition for Hulu, which wasn’t able to fetch significant offers when it first went up for sale in 2011, demonstrates how various segments of the media industry suddenly see value in owning their own platforms. Hulu has about 4 million subscribers paying about $8 a month for a mix of movies, TV shows, and original content. It also offers some video for free.

Sources say DirecTV has an advantage because, as one of the largest multi-system operators (MSOs) in the United Sates, it’s already a major customer of Hulu’s owners—Disney, Comcast, and News Corp. DirecTV could use Hulu to diversify its offerings or even to create a cable service delivered entirely over the internet. It currently operates over satellite as well as the web.

But the Chernin Group, led by former News Corp. president Peter Chernin, and Guggenheim, headed up by former Yahoo interim CEO Ross Levinsohn, are seen as more entrepreneurial. That could help ease concerns about Hulu losing its innovative spirit and strong engineering team if it were sold to a corporate buyer like DirecTV.

Hulu owners are hoping to fetch a price in the $1 billion range and if they don’t get such offers, they may rethink a sale, sources said. But at least some of the bids are expected to hit that price range, sources said. Yahoo, Amazon, and private equity firm Silver Lake also considered separate bids for Hulu, but their interest has waned, sources say.

There’s also still a possibility that Hulu’s owners avoid an outright sale by bringing in another media company such as Time Warner Cable or Time Warner, through an investment. Some analysts have advised against selling. Part of the reason Hulu is on the block, though, is that its owners have disagreed over what strategy to pursue.

Hulu declined to comment.


What They Told Us: Reviewing Last Week’s Key Polls

Rasmussen Reports

Saturday, June 29, 2013

With the nation’s 237th  birthday just days away, it’s good to remind ourselves that for most Americans, there’s still no place like home.

Eighty-six percent (86%) are proud to be an American. Seventy-four percent (74%) believe, generally speaking, Americans should be proud of the history of the United States.

Seventy percent (70%) believe that Americans have more freedom than people in other countries. Sixty-nine percent (69%) feel Americans have more economic opportunity than people in other countries.

Not that we wear rose-colored glasses. Just 40% now agree with Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan that the United States is “the last best hope of mankind.” Thirty-six percent (36%) disagree.

Only 45% of voters believe the U.S. justice system is fair to most Americans, and just 34% think the system is fair to the poor.

In his latest weekly newspaper column, Scott notes that in our country, “public opinion leads, and politicians lag a decade or two behind. It’s always been that way.” He adds that “it’s easy to get discouraged about politics in the 21st century. Most voters view our government as a threat to individual rights. But we can take hope from the fact that Americans still embrace the ‘Spirit of ’76.’ “

Seventy-two percent (72%) of voters, however, suspect that the National Security Agency may have violated one of the country’s most cherished constitutional standards – the checks and balances between the three branches of government – by spying on the private communications of Congress and judges.

Recognizing that there is a tension between national security and individual rights, just 12% believe the recently disclosed NSA surveillance program is too concerned about individual rights. Forty-three percent (43%) believe the program is tilted too far in favor of national security.

The government may be understandably confused, however, over which domestic terrorists it’s supposed to be tracking. Among voters who approve of the president’s job performance, just 29% see radical Muslims as the bigger terrorist threat to the United States. Twenty-six percent (26%) say it’s the Tea Party that concerns them most. Among those who Strongly Approve of the president, more fear the Tea Party than radical Muslims. As for voters who disapprove of Obama’s performance, 75% consider radical Muslims to be the bigger terrorist threat.

If the government is listening, it doesn’t appear to be hearing to what most Americans are saying.

Take illegal immigration, for example. Sixty percent (60%) of voters favor an immigration plan that gives those here illegally legal status to stay, provided the border is really secured. But just 28% are now even somewhat confident that the government would actually secure the border and prevent illegal immigration if the reform plan is passed. That’s down from 45% in January.

In large part because of this voter distrust, just 37% expect the immigration plan passed by the Senate Thursday to make it through the full Congress and become law.

Voters are evenly divided as to whether the determination that the border is secure should be made by border states or by the federal government.

The immigration plan passed by the Senate also includes quite a few “pork barrel” spending projects, even though 65% of voters continue to believe the government should cut spending rather than increase it to help the economy.

Most voters also still view nuclear weapons as critical to the country’s safety which is why just 27% agree with President Obama’s call on Monday for a reduction in the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

Voters disagree, too, with the president’s decision to involve the United States more deeply in the civil war in Syria. U.S. troops haven’t been sent in there yet, but most voters continue to believe American political leaders put U.S. troops in harm’s way too often.

The president this past week proposed tighter carbon dioxide emissions controls on existing power plants. Nearly half of voters like that idea, but just as many think the proposed regulations will hurt the economy. Most expect those regulations to drive up energy costs. 

The economy and health care again this month top the list of 15 voting issues regularly tracked by Rasmussen Reports, while the environment and the war in Afghanistan are among the issues voters regard as least important.  Interestingly, though, for the first time in nearly two years, over half (51%) of voters say the immigration issue is Very Important in terms of how they will vote in the next congressional election.

Republican Senator Marco Rubio has been the most visible advocate of the Senate immigration proposal. Over the past several months, Rubio’s favorability ratings among Republican voters have fallen dramatically.

Despite continuing high consumer and investor confidence in the economy, the president’s job approval ratings also remain down from the highs he hit just after Election Day.

Confidence in the short-term housing market remains higher than it has been in several years, although just 50% now say their home is worth more than they still owe on their mortgage. That’s down 10 points from 60% in May. 

Most homeowners (56%) still say their home is worth more than when they bought it, but one-in-four now say it’s worth less.

In other news this week:

— Thirty percent (30%) of Likely U.S. Voters now say the country is heading in the right direction.

— Support remains high for allowing Americans to choose the level of health insurance they want based on how it impacts their pocketbooks.

— Americans still don’t have much confidence in the Federal Reserve Board to keep inflation under control.

— Americans have surprisingly similar overall views of their relationship with their spouse and relations with their co-workers.


From → Uncategorized

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: