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Chandler data center’s super annoying hum. It’s the sound of us!

Chandler, Arizona with a population of just over 25,000 is growing so fast we see apartment complexes and retirement homes sprouting like weeds in the desert. Many of us in the once sleepy bedroom community bordering Gilbert wonder why. Is it the still rural quality –including the wafts of cow farms in winter– and the low crime rate? I drive past horses and goats on my way to work each morning, which is quite a refreshing alternative to being stuck on a freeway.

I just received my copy of The Atlantic, and just after the Jeff Bezos cover story is a piece titled, “The End of Silence” by Bianca Bosker. It’s about the annoying hum of a data center that has been bothering people in the vicinity of south Chandler. As the writer puts it, “Arizona attracts data centers the way Florida attracts plastic surgeons.”

The kicker is in the conclusion, where Bosker astutely observes that the groaning of the chillers that keep the data centers running is the sound of us, constantly Googling the odd recipes and trivia, and paying our bills online. In other words, we’ve done this to ourselves. And it’s moving in next door in a very real way.

I just hope the horse ranches and the grain elevators along Germann Road won’t be lost to our darn data.

 
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Posted by on October 16, 2019 in Technology

 

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Hide Your face, shield your eyes! The dark side of biometrics

The use of facial recognition is not something that only comes from totalitarian regimes. It’s being used for domestic spying, in malls and casinos. Combined with AI, biometrics can turn PI (Personal information) and PII (personally identifiable information) into a weapon. I bring this up every semester to make sure my students are aware of what they are opening themselves to, should they share information even on benign sites, or “trusted” browsers.

Biometrics involve “biological measurements” such as fingerprints, facial features, and retina scans. The Department of Homeland Security, explains that “biometrics are used to detect and prevent illegal entry into the U.S., grant and administer proper immigration benefits, vetting and credentialing, facilitating legitimate travel and trade, enforcing federal laws, and enabling verification for visa applications to the U.S.” You would think biometrics is something average citizens only need to worry about if they own a passport (the new ones have an embedded chip with biometric markers), or a smart phone with facial recognition.

But biometric detection is coming closer to us than we realize. Kaspersky, the software cybersecurity company explain how “Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill downloaded photos of 20 volunteers from social media and used them to construct 3-D models of their faces. The researchers successfully breached four of the five security systems they tested.” Rental cars may soon come with biometric analyzers. Cities may use facial recognition without our knowledge as a pre-emptive way to assist law enforcement.

More alarming is the use of ‘public domain’ images to fuel the facial recognition business. The New York Times reports that family photos scrubbed off Flicker have been used to power surveillance technology. Hiding our faces, or making sure our children’s faces don’t show up in unscrupulous social media sites such as Instagram and Facebook may become a necessity. Or is it too late for those who have uploaded hundreds of photos to these leaky sites? As I warned manhttps://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/10/11/technology/flickr-facial-recognition.htmly times here and elsewhere these sites are “free” for a reason – they trade the data and meta-data of these posts and pictures without your knowledge. Digital human trafficking, in which many of us have become unwilling accomplices.

Interesting controversy. Tiffany and Co had to withdraw an ad that had a model covering her right eye. Why? It was accused of imitating the symbol of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, where protestors routinely cover their face, or eyes with a mask or helmet so as to avoid facial recognition cameras.  In fact, the mock eye patch has itself become a symbol of the protest.

 

 
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Posted by on October 14, 2019 in Communications, Social Media

 

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Ugh! “Face Forensics” and “synthetic speech” creep into our vocabulary

I have been looking at the swirling issues around Deepfake technology. Much of this is still under the radar, but possibly under investigation by players that range from tech forensic companies, to governments, and those developing AI.

I’m glad Google has stepped into the breach. Google declared yesterday that it has partnered with an organization involved in ‘Face Forensics’ and another group that was formerly one of its experimental subsidiaries. How quickly the language of the Web changes. We just got comfortable with cyber-security, botnets and ransomware! This story is worth keeping tabs on.

 

 
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Posted by on September 25, 2019 in Communications

 

Cutting out “empty words”: Presentations this week in class

This week, my students are preparing their 12-slide presentation for a project titled, “The Future is Now.”

This is the culmination of a research project and a 3-page report based on Google’s Moonshot program. But it’s not just about creating the content and formatting the slides. I tell my students that they happen to be in “a communications class that pretends to be a computer class”. This week they are watching a TED talk by a 12-year old. But there is another student worth watching this week, Greta Thunberg,  the 16-year old activist from Sweden.

She railed against the grown-ups in the room, for stealing this generation’s childhood with their “empty words.” Speaking of Feedback loops, risks, and tipping points, her emotionally-charged speech warned that “change is coming, whether you like it or not.”

UN Envoy, Sri Lankan, Jayathma Wickramanayake, called climate change “the defining issue of our time. Millions of young people all over the world are already being affected by it.”

 
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Posted by on September 23, 2019 in Activism, Communications, Education

 

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Photo-Ops that didn’t change history

When a US president shakes hands with another leader it’s pure theatre. These photo ops then become legacy shots –timestamps of a presidency. Just like when Richard Nixon met Zhou Enlai in 1972, now a milestone of a major diplomatic overture.

But these photo ops have a mixed meaning around the time they’re taken. Some seem to do it just for the symbolism – somewhat like teenagers taking selfies in front of a coffee shop to seek validation among their followers.

Donald Trump,Kim Jong Un

In my September column, I feature 5 Photo-Ops that have taken on new meaning by now, but have not been treated kindly by history.

  • 1456876549762Adolph Hitler and Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, 1938
  • George W. Bush on the USS Abraham Lincoln, 1 May, 2003
  • Richard Branson, October 2011
  • Dennis Rodman, 2013
  • Donald Trump and Kim Kim Jong-Un, 30 June 2019

Read the article here.

 

 
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Posted by on September 16, 2019 in Communications

 

My Mum, Catherine Fernando

A mother seldom reveals parts of her resume. So, there were many sides of my Mum I got to know of by accident.

She was entrepreneurial, a dressmaker in the family otherwise known for Salonpas and pharmaceuticals; a winemaker who ran an underground milk-wine business around Christmas. I once was a part accomplice, printing labels for her limited edition brand, Cathy’s Vineyard. In between these two moonlighting jobs – three, if you considered the cake orders she took – she was a formidable tennis player with a wicked forehand. I’ve seen photographs of her posing with trophies, and heard stories of her in action at the Bandarawela Tennis Club.

My short answer to the question people always asked about how she was so active for so long, was this: The Legion of Mary work she did in the evenings was like her gym membership. If you’ve been up and down a flight of stairs at the Bambalapitiya flats you’d know what I mean. Until a few weeks ago I would be amused at how she would describe her friends at St. Martin’s Home for the Elders as “these old ladies!” many of whom were much younger than her.

Speaking fitness, last year we took her on a train trip to Bandarawela, and in Ella faced with a very steep flight of 90 steps, took it in her stride. If I asked her do Adam’s Peak next year she might have agreed.

Mummy loved my long-winded letters and until a few years ago would write back. Then in June she made it a point to mention that she liked an article I’d written in LMD. “You did?” I asked, perplexed. It was a feature about Facebook. (I tell the publisher that his readership is skewed. Besides CEOs and tech people, nuns at her home, and someone born 65 years before the Web was invented read the publication.) Sometimes an audience of one is all you need, isn’t it?

I’ve met many people who had stories of my Mum’s quiet power and influence. She had a sense of humor, and was an incurable optimist. She ended many phone conversations saying how blessed she was to have so many friends and relatives around her, and more than anything else, thanked God for her good health. “I’m getting more forgetful,” she would tell me, but in the same sentence recall details about Nadia and Aaron, or Tanu’s fruit trees. If she forgot anything it was forgetting to keep grudges, and forgetting to complain. 

So, it’s hard to sum up someone who’s been a dressmaker, cake maker, winemaker, homemaker, devout Catholic, tennis player, a wonderful mother, aunt, grandparent and friend to many. Oh she was also a member of what we called the BBC, that three-part team of sisters Bridget, Beta and Catherine. They dominated the Bharatha channel so many of you tuned into. On Saturday August 24th, the last small powerful voice on the BBC went off the air. 

My brother Tilak and I, and her dear brother Ben will miss her very much. We thank all those who connected with her, and supported her over the years.

 
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Posted by on September 3, 2019 in Sri Lanka

 

Raising Arizona Raisins!

When life gave us triple digits temperatures, at least we have a bumper crop of raisins.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This morning, we harvested two large bowls raisins. That is in addition to the loads of sweet champagne grapes we were blessed with in June.

 

 

 
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Posted by on August 3, 2019 in Home