Google Volunteers to Make Piracy Harder, and These Free Legal Music Sites Can Help

March 22, 2017

The article titled Google Will Make ‘Pirated’ Content Harder to Find From 1 June on The Inquirer proclaims a new approach to preventing piracy. Numerous entertainment organizations have nagged Google to set stricter rules, and even gone so far as to call Google a gateway to pirated content. The article mentions,

Google has already taken some steps to try and curb ‘piracy’ but has long refused to remove entire sites from search results as they may also offer legal content available for download. These days, the firm is flooded with takedown requests, last year revealing that it gets asked to remove 100,000 links to pirated content every hour.

The anti-piracy code will be adopted by Google and other unnamed search firms in cooperation with the British Intellectual Property Office. In the meantime, the article titled 7 Sites to Get Free Music (Legally!) on MakeUseOf suggests some solid options for people who want to kick the illegal pirating habit. BeSonic, Jamendo, and NoiseTrade are included on the list, and for those classical music lovers, MusOpen might have just the free content you are looking for.

Chelsea Kerwin, March 22, 2017

Big Data Requires More Than STEM Skills

March 13, 2017

It will require training Canada’s youth in design and the arts, as well as STEM subjects if that country is to excel in today’s big-data world. That is the advice of trio of academic researchers in that country, Patricio Davila, Sara Diamond, and Steve Szigeti,  who declare, “There’s No Big Data Without Intelligent Interface” at the Globe and Mail. The article begins by describing why data management is now a crucial part of success throughout society, then emphasizes that we need creative types to design intuitive user interfaces and effective analytics representations. The researchers explain:

Here’s the challenge: For humans, data are meaningless without curation, interpretation and representation. All the examples described above require elegant, meaningful and navigable sensory interfaces. Adjacent to the visual are emerging creative, applied and inclusive design practices in data “representation,” whether it’s data sculpture (such as 3-D printing, moulding and representation in all physical media of data), tangible computing (wearables or systems that manage data through tactile interfaces) or data sonification (yes, data can make beautiful music).

Infographics is the practice of displaying data, while data visualization or visual analytics refers to tools or systems that are interactive and allow users to upload their own data sets. In a world increasingly driven by data analysis, designers, digital media artists, and animators provide essential tools for users. These interpretive skills stand side by side with general literacy, numeracy, statistical analytics, computational skills and cognitive science.

We also learn about several specific projects undertaken by faculty members at OCAD University, where our three authors are involved in the school’s Visual Analytics Lab. For example, the iCity project addresses transportation network planning in cities, and the Care and Condition Monitor is a mobile app designed to help patients and their healthcare providers better work together in pursuit of treatment goals. The researchers conclude with an appeal to their nation’s colleges and universities to develop programs that incorporate data management, data numeracy, data analysis, and representational skills early and often. Good suggestion.

Cynthia Murrell, March 13, 2017

Dark Web Explosives Buyer Busted Through FBI Infiltration

March 9, 2017

Here is the story of another successful Dark Web bust. Motherboard reports, “Undercover FBI Agent Busts Alleged Explosives Buyer on the Dark Web.” The 50-year-old suspect was based in Houston, and reporter Joseph Cox examined the related documents from the Southern District of Texas court. We are not surprised to learn that the FBI found this suspect through its infiltration of AlphaBay.; Cox writes:

The arrest was largely due to the work of an undercover agent who posed as an explosives seller on the dark web marketplace AlphaBay, showing that, even in the age of easy-to-use anonymization technology, old-school policing tactics are still highly effective at catching suspects.

According to the complaint, on August 21, an FBI Online Covert Employee (OCE)—essentially an undercover agent—located outside Houston logged into an AlphaBay vendor account they were running and opened an unsolicited private message from a user called boatmanstv. ‘looking for wireless transmitter with detonator,’ the message read. ‘Everything I need to set of a 5 gallon can of gas from a good distance away [sic].’ The pair started a rapport, and boatmanstv went into some detail about what he wanted to do with the explosives.

One thing led to another, and the buyer and “seller” agreed to an exchange after communicating for a couple of weeks. (Dark Web sting operations require patience. Lots of patience.) It became clear that Boatmanstv had some very specific plans in mind for a very specific target, and that he’d made plenty of purchases from AlphaBay before. The FBI was able to connect the suspect’s email account to other accounts, and finally to his place of business. He was arrested shortly after receiving and opening the FBI’s package, so it would appear there is one fewer violent criminal on the streets of Houston.

It is clear that the FBI, and other intelligence organizations, are infiltrating the Dark Web more and more. Let the illicit buyer be wary.

Cynthia Murrell, March 9, 2016

ScyllaDB Version 3.1 Available

March 8, 2017

According to Scylla, their latest release is currently the fastest NoSQL database. We learn about the update from SiliconAngle’s article, “ScyllaDB Revamps NoSQL Database in 1.3 Release.” To support their claim, the company points to a performance benchmark test executed by the Yahoo Cloud Serving Benchmark project. That group compared ScyllaDB to the open source Cassandra database, and found Scylla to be 4.6 times faster than a standard Cassandra cluster.

Writer Mike Wheatley elaborates on the product:

ScyllaDB’s biggest differentiator is that it’s compatible with the Apache Cassandra database APIs. As such, the creators claims that ScyllaDB can be used as a drop-in replacement for Cassandra itself, offering users the benefit of improved performance and scale that comes from the integration with a light key/value store.

The company says the new release is geared towards development teams that have struggled with Big Data projects, and claims a number of performance advantages over more traditional development approach, including:

*10X throughput of baseline Cassandra – more than 1,000,000 CQL operations per second per node

*Sub 1msec 99% latency

*10X per-node storage capacity over Cassandra

*Self-tuning database: zero configuration needed to max out hardware

*Unparalleled high availability, native multi-datacenter awareness

*Drop-in replacement for Cassandra – no additional scripts or code required”

Wheatley cites Scylla’s CTO when he points to better integration with graph databases and improved support for Thrift, Date Tiered Compaction Strategy, Large Partitions, Docker, and CQL tracing. I notice the company is hiring as of this writing. Don’t let the Tel Aviv location of Scylla’s headquarters stop from applying you if you don’t happen to live nearby—they note that their developers can work from anywhere in the world.

Cynthia Murrell, March 8, 2016

Take the Time for Alexa

March 6, 2017

In the new digital assistant line up, Alexa responds better than Cortana and Siri, because it can provide better and more intelligent services that the smartphone based app.  As an Amazon product, as with Amazon Web Services, developers can learn how to build apps and other products for Alexa.  The question is how to get started?  HeroTurko created a learning tutorial for interested Alexa developers and it can be checked out at, “Amazon Alexa Development From Beginner To Intermediate.”

Voice-based apps are a growing sector in the technology industry and will only get bigger as the demand for voice-controlled technology increases.  The tutorial is designed to teach developers how to design voice apps and then launch them on the Amazon Echo.  Building your Alexa skills is a necessary step, so the course says, to get an edge on the voice app market:

The biggest industries in technology are surrounded by AI, Bots, and Voice technology. Voice technology I believe will be the new 21st user interface that will not only understand basic commands, but will be so smart to understand anything you tell it. This is why Amazon is making a big bet with Alexa, which it plans to generate close to $11 billion dollars by 2020. They know something about Amazon Echo, which is why now is the best time to learn these skills before the mainstream starts developing applications. We all know the story about apps for the smartphones, this is the same thing.

This course contains over 50 lectures and 1.5 hrs of content. It’s designed for beginners to play with new platforms in the voice space. You’ll learn the tools needed to build the Alexa Skills, how Alexa Skills work, and publish a skill to Amazon’s Alexa store.

Learning how to use Alexa is the precursor to designing other voice app and will probably segway into NLP.  If you want to learn where the IT market is going beyond machine learning and artificial intelligence, this is one of the places to start.

Whitney Grace, March 6, 2017

Who Knew Hackers Have Their Own Search Engines?

March 3, 2017

Hackers tend to the flock to the Internet’s underbelly, the Dark Web, and it remains inaccessible unless you have a Tor browser.  According to the AIRS Association, hacker search engines are a lot easier to access than you think, read about it in “5 Hacker-Friendly Search Engines You Must Use.”  The best-known hacker-friendly search engine is Shodan, which can search for Internet connected devices.  While Shodan can search computers, smartphones, and tablets the results also include traffic lights, license plate readers, and anything with an Internet connection.  The biggest problem, however, is that most of these devices do not have any security:

The main reason that Shodan is considered hacker-friendly is because of the amount and type of information it reveals (like banner information, connection types, etc.). While it is possible to find similar information on a search engine like Google, you would have to know the right search terms to use, and they aren’t all laid out for you.

Other than Shodan some of the other scary search engines are ZoomEye, I2P, PunkSPIDER, and Censys.  These search engines range in the amount of data they share as well as their intended purpose, but they all reveal Internet connected devices.  Beginners can use these search engines, but it takes a little more than technical know how to get results displayed.  One needs to figure out how to use them before you even enter the first search result, because basic keyword will not get you far.

Hacker search engines are a good tool to use to find security breaches in your personal network or Web site.  What will prevent most people from using them is the lack of experience, but with only a small amount of learning these search engines in the wrong hands are dangerous.

Whitney Grace, March 3, 2017

New Technologies Meet Resistance in Business

March 3, 2017

Trying to sell a state of the art, next-gen search and content processing system can be tough. In the article, “Most Companies Slow to Adopt New Business Tech Even When It Can Help,” Digital Trends demonstrates that a reluctance to invest in something new is not confined to Search. Writer Bruce Brown cites the Trends vs. Technologies 2016 report (PDF) from Capita Technology Solutions and Cisco. The survey polled 125 ICT [Information and Communications Tech] decision-makers working in insurance, manufacturing, finance, and the legal industry. More in-depth interviews were conducted with a dozen of these folks, spread evenly across those fields.

Most higher-ups acknowledge the importance of keeping on top of, and investing in, worthy technological developments. However, that awareness does not inform purchasing and implementation decisions as one might expect. Brown specifies:

The survey broke down tech trends into nine areas, asking the surveyed execs if the trends were relevant to their business, if they were being implemented within their industry, and more specifically if the specific technologies were being implemented within their own businesses. Regarding big data, for example, 90 percent said it was relevant to their business, 64 percent said it was being applied in their industry, but only 39 percent reported it being implemented in their own business. Artificial intelligence was ranked as relevant by 50 percent, applied in their industry by 25 percent, but implemented in their own companies by only 8 percent. The Internet of Things had 70 percent saying it is relevant, with 50 percent citing industry applications, but a mere 30 percent use it in their own business. The study analyzed why businesses were not implementing new technologies that they recognized could improve their bottom line. One of the most common roadblocks was a lack of skill in recognizing opportunities within organizations for the new technology. Other common issues were the perception of security risks, data governance concerns, and the inertia of legacy systems.

The survey also found the stain of mistrust, with 82 percent of respondents sure that much of what they hear about tech trends is pure hype. It is no surprise, then, that they hesitate to invest resources and impose change on their workers until they are convinced benefits will be worth the effort. Perhaps vendors would be wise to dispense with the hype and just lay out the facts as clearly as possible; potential customers are savvier than some seem to think.

Cynthia Murrell, March 3, 2017

 

Software Bias Is Being Addressed

February 27, 2017

Researchers are working to fix the problem of bias in software, we learn from the article, “He’s Brilliant, She’s Lovely: Teaching Computers to Be Less Sexist” at NPR’s blog, All Tech Considered. Writer Byrd Pinkerton begins by noting that this issue of software reflecting human biases is well-documented, citing this article from his colleague. He then informs us that Microsoft, for one, is doing something about it:

Adam Kalai thinks we should start with the bits of code that teach computers how to process language. He’s a researcher for Microsoft and his latest project — a joint effort with Boston University — has focused on something called a word embedding. ‘It’s kind of like a dictionary for a computer,’ he explains. Essentially, word embeddings are algorithms that translate the relationships between words into numbers so that a computer can work with them. You can grab a word embedding ‘dictionary’ that someone else has built and plug it into some bigger program that you are writing. …

Kalai and his colleagues have found a way to weed these biases out of word embedding algorithms. In a recent paper, they’ve shown that if you tell the algorithms to ignore certain relationships, they can extrapolate outwards.

And voila, a careful developer can teach an algorithm to fix its own bias. If only the process were so straightforward for humans. See the article for more about the technique.

Ultimately, though, the problem lies less with the biased algorithms themselves and more with the humans who seek to use them in decision-making. Researcher Kalai points to the marketing of health-related products as a project for which a company might actually want to differentiate between males and females. Pinkerton concludes:

For Kalai, the problem is not that people sometimes use word embedding algorithms that differentiate between gender or race, or even algorithms that reflect human bias. The problem is that people are using the algorithms as a black box piece of code, plugging them in to larger programs without considering the biases they contain, and without making careful decisions about whether or not they should be there.

So, though discoveries about biased software are concerning, it is good to know the issue is being addressed. We shall see how fast the effort progresses.

Cynthia Murrell, February 27, 2017

 

 

U.S. Government Keeping Fewer New Secrets

February 24, 2017

We have good news and bad news for fans of government transparency. In their Secrecy News blog, the Federation of American Scientists’ reports, “Number of New Secrets in 2015 Near Historic Low.” Writer Steven Aftergood explains:

The production of new national security secrets dropped precipitously in the last five years and remained at historically low levels last year, according to a new annual report released today by the Information Security Oversight Office.

There were 53,425 new secrets (‘original classification decisions’) created by executive branch agencies in FY 2015. Though this represents a 14% increase from the all-time low achieved in FY 2014, it is still the second lowest number of original classification actions ever reported. Ten years earlier (2005), by contrast, there were more than 258,000 new secrets.

The new data appear to confirm that the national security classification system is undergoing a slow-motion process of transformation, involving continuing incremental reductions in classification activity and gradually increased disclosure. …

Meanwhile, ‘derivative classification activity,’ or the incorporation of existing secrets into new forms or products, dropped by 32%. The number of pages declassified increased by 30% over the year before.

A marked decrease in government secrecy—that’s the good news. On the other hand, the report reveals some troubling findings. For one thing, costs are not going down alongside classifications; in fact, they rose by eight percent last year. Also, response times to mandatory declassification requests (MDRs) are growing, leaving over 14,000 such requests to languish for over a year each. Finally, fewer newly classified documents carry the “declassify in ten years or less” specification, which means fewer items will become declassified automatically down the line.

Such red-tape tangles notwithstanding, the reduction in secret classifications does look like a sign that the government is moving toward more transparency. Can we trust the trajectory?

Cynthia Murrell, February 24, 2017

Anonymous Transparency Project Boldly Attacks Google for Secrecy Then Dives Back Under Rug

February 23, 2017

The article on Mercury News titled Secretive Foe Attacks Google Over Government Influence reports on the Transparency Project, an ironically super-secret group devoted to exposing Google’s insane level of influence. Of course, most of us are already perfectly aware of how much power Google holds over our politicians, our privacy, and our daily functions. Across Chrome, Google search, YouTube etc., not a day goes by that we don’t engage with the Silicon Valley Monster. The group claims,

Over the past decade, Google has transformed itself from the dominant internet search engine into a global business empire that touches on almost every facet of people’s lives — often without their knowledge or consent,” the group’s first report said. Another report, based on White House guest logs, cites 427 visits by employees of Google and “associated entities” to the White House since January 2009, with 21 “small, intimate” meetings between senior Google executives and Obama.

While such information may be disturbing, it is hardly revelatory.  So just who is behind the Transparency Project? The article provides a list of companies that Google has pissed off and stomped over on its path to glory. The only company that has stepped up to claim some funding is Oracle. But following the money in this case winds a strange twisted path that actually leads the author back to Google— or at least former Google CEO Eric Schmidt. This begs the question: is there anything Google isn’t influencing?

Chelsea Kerwin, February 23, 2017

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