Quick Study


Quick Study

By Brian Robinson

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Cell-All smarter phone is DHS' version of the Tricorder

Remember the tricorder, that ubiquitous, do-everything handheld tool featured in the Star Trek TV program? Take a handheld computer, wave it around in front of a person to diagnose illnesses, or hold it up in the air during  field mission to detect chemical elements or energy sources. That device was one of the best examples of the ingenuity of science fiction.

Now, in a case of life imitating art, Star Trek science fiction is rapidly turning into science fact,  and it seems that  government agencies are at the leading edge of the research and development.

We’ve already pointed to the interest that the military has in developing Apple iPhone-like applications for its warfighters. Nothing specific right now other than it wants to investigate how the Army can enhance the iPhone; given the past history of wartime innovations we should expect some eye-popping innovations from  soon.

Now comes the news that the Homeland Security Department (DHS) is developing something it’s calling Cell-All, which will marry a smartphone with sensors capable of sniffing the air around it so it can isolate toxic chemicals. There are obvious uses for emergency responders, but also for military and other personnel looking for things as such hidden explosives.

DHS is looking to the telecommunications side of smartphones to help it develop linked sensors that could cast a broad and sensitive net of sniffers.

What these advances are taking advantage of is the acceleration in development of ever smaller, cheaper and more specialized chips along with faster and denser memory technologies.

Predictions just last year were that it could take 15 years for such things as wireless health sensors to appear, but you have it wonder what the projections will be at the end of 2010. The DHS, for example, is looking to have prototypes of its Cell-All device in a year.

Posted on Apr 19, 2010 at 7:27 PM0 comments


Weighing the worth of Twitter

In the worthiness spectrum of information, how would you rate Twitter? It’s obviously becoming a somewhat popular way of communicating, but is it a medium for mostly inconsequential rabbiting or something more than that?

The Library of Congress (LOC) recently announced that it will be archiving all public tweets, from the beginning of the thing way back in March 2006. At the least, that’s billions and billions of the little buggers, with many trillions to come.

As the repository of the American experience, it makes sense for the LOC to do some of this. There already have been some important tweets that rate preserving and, as Twitter becomes embedded in the social milieu, there’ll be many more.

One of the outcomes of this move will, presumably, be the developments of innovative ways to mine this data. Twitter, in its own announcement, said that Google has already created “a wonderful new way to revisit tweets related to historic events.”

(Of course it has! Come on, world, does no one else out there have any imagination anymore?)

On the other hand, what are we to make of the recent memo out of the Office of Management and Budget that said much social media communication doesn’t rank as anything to worry about under the Paperwork Reduction Act?

I know that doesn’t necessarily imply that communications sent through government Twitter channels aren’t important, but it does come across as a devaluation of sorts of the worthiness of the medium. Do use it as part of your Open Government plans but, hey, it’s really no big deal.

So, which is it? Is Twitter a potential gold mine worthy of existing alongside all of the other important stuff in the LOC? Or, in that spectrum, a relative lightweight?

David Ferriero, the National Archivist, congratulated the LOC on its acquisition and said the only reason his outfit didn’t acquire the Twitter archive is because tweets aren’t considered government records, though some agency tweets could be. Twitter isn’t for everyone, he said, but “I do think that we need to recognize the potential power of the mundane details of our lives and what they might say about our culture.”

Posted on Apr 16, 2010 at 7:27 PM1 comments


Cyber-[fill in the blank] tops list of federal priorities

Am I the only one, or are we at a little bit of odds-and-ends over what we are supposed to be doing in the cyber realm? Are we preparing for cyber war, are we gearing up for cyber diplomacy, or is fighting cybercrime our motivation? Or are we looking at all three -- or something else?

(I swear this will not turn into a blog about cyberthis-n-that, but it’s where a lot of the juicy stuff seems to be, right now.)

Soon to be the new head of the military’s Cyber Command, and current director of the National Security Agency, Lt. Gen Keith Alexander apparently told Congress that we should be prepared to fight cyberwar even when we don’t know who it is we are fighting because, well, that’s just the way it is.

In a series of clear-as-mud answers to written Senate questions obtained by the Associated Press, Alexander said that, although it will be difficult for the military to gain superiority in cyberspace, that goal is nevertheless “realistic.”

Not so fast on the cyber war track, at least according to Christopher Painter, President Obama’s senior director for cybersecurity. Speaking at a conference in Germany, and as reported by Technology Review, Painter believes fighting cybercrime should come first.

The dominant threat right now is the criminal threat, he said, and it’s a far more serious one than that posed by cyberwar.

And then just a few days ago we read that, at least according to a bill put forth by Sen. John Kerry (D.-Mass.), we should all be concerned about cyber diplomacy. The bill would direct the secretary of state to establish a strategy for engaging the world’s players in cyberspace and cybersecurity. The international community should consider “a multilateral framework on cyber warfare that would create shared norms for cyber conduct.”

So, what is it? Is cyber diplomacy the precursor to everything, with the threat of cyber war as the stick we shake to giddy things along? Are we, in fact, already deep into cyber war? Or is that just a cover for the real cyber threat of cybercrime? Or maybe it’s all three? A cybertroika, if you will.

Excuse me. I feel a headache coming on.

Posted on Apr 14, 2010 at 7:27 PM2 comments


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