Future engineers name the new Mars Rover

Sometime in July this year NASA will launch the 2020 Mission to Mars.

While the countdown has begun, the naming of the rover has been in the hands of students from K-12 in the US. Hundreds of names were submitted, and among them the finalists are “Endurance,” “Promise.” “Tenacity,” “Perseverance,” “Clarity,” “Endurance,” “Courage,” “Vision” and “Fortitude.” Many reflect the previous Rovers, Opportunity, Spirit, and “Curiosity.” Students were asked to support their  name with an essay. I loved some of the rationale  presented. For instance,  this:

Fortitude: “Defined as: courage in difficulties or misfortune, this reflects how space travel is challenging for our planet. “

Nunnehi: This rover needs a name I see! Well here is my proposal: Nunnehi ; this word is in the Cherokee language it means traveler. The Cherokee were some of the first settlers in North America. The Cherokee were travelers. They would be amazed at the fact that we are going to mars!  

(Unfortunately, Nunnehi is not one of the semi-finalists.)

My vote goes for this one:

Perseverance. Curiosity. Insight. Spirit. Opportunity. If you think about it, all of these names of past mars rovers are qualities we possess as humans. We are always curious, and seek opportunity. We have the spirit and insight to explore the moon, mars, and beyond. But, if rovers are to be the qualities of us as a race, we missed the most important thing. Perseverance. We as humans evolved as creatures who could learn to adapt to any situation, no matter how harsh. 

The 2020 rover will collect rock samples and send it back to Earth via a robotics system and an ascent rocket. Quite an ambitious mission! Perfect back-story for anyone teaching or following robotics, space science or rocketry, or STEAM.

Biometrics is here. Deal with it!

Surveillance is practiced by private entities, supposedly keep a watchful eye on people every day. In malls, city centers, casinos and airports companies are tracking citizens’ biometrics. The businesses side of biometrics is clear: data harvested from everywhere, –our phones, our eyes, our doorbell ringers, our heartbeat trackers, our online purchases –is traded like commodities. The new word to describe this is ‘surveillance capitalism‘ – something brought up by author, Shoshana Zuboff

This is a story I worked on for awhile, and it’s published this month. (PDF below)

Hide your face. Shield your eyes – Angelo Fernando

 

 

 

 

Facebook scrutiny. Why everyone, not just the governments should do it

When it comes to foreign election interference, data theft, and broken promises about safeguarding privacy it’s Facebook and not just some secret government surveillance program we have to guard against. Mark Zuckerberg has become the face of a privatized Big Brother. Ironically it’s the government that’s now trying to peel back the curtain.

As Zuck faces questions on Capitol Hill this week this week, the questions about Libra, it’s cryptocurrency product have been asked. This blockchain product “could create a whole new threat to Americans and national security,” said Carolyn Maloney, Democrat of New York. Libra’s mission, according to the Facebook White Paper, is a simple global currency and financial infrastructure that empowers billions of people.”

The blockchain on which it is based is Libra, and the unit of its currency is also a ‘libra.’ It’s backed by Lyft, Spotify, Uber, and Farfetch among its tech partners.  But others are not well known, such as Bison Trails and Xapo which is a very large crypto storage service.

Much of this –and the lack of trusted names that are part of this group –should give us reason to read behind the lines of what comes out this week. Worth reading the article on The Verge, that called it an attempt to build the ‘Bank of Facebook.’ Or more to the point, that this blockchain move is its secret weapon that will help Facebook “to create a quasi-nation state ruled by mostly corporate interests.” Reuters reports that France and Germany have pledged to block Libra in Europe. Do they know something we don’t?

 

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.

Facial recognition, a weapon?

File this under “Sigh! We knew this was coming.”

The story is breaking that protesters are being tracked down by facial recognition software in several cities. But more alarming is how in Hong Kong, which is erupting right now, police are seeking out protesters, then grabbing their phones, and attempting to use the facial recognition software on the phones to unlock their phones.

Hong Kong was a colony of Britain until 1997, but is now a ‘special administrative region’ of China.

“Oh, how neat!” some people thought, when Hong Kong announced that it has facial recognition software in the airport so that passengers could pass through immigration and security smoothly. Likewise so many now use door bell cameras (such as Nest and Hello) that have facial recognition, not realizing the vulnerabilities they could bring.

Facial recognition is a short stop from racial and social profiling. Why is it that few people seem to care?

Eavesdropping is a nice way of saying ‘spying’.

It comes as no surprise that the Amazon Echo speaker is listening more closely than people think. Let’s be clear: It’s not listening in, it’s eavesdropping. The word has been around for more than 300 years! It describes the act of someone secretly “listening under the eaves” to another.

Alexa is supposed to be in ‘listening mode’ only when the speaker is addressed. Last week, however, Amazon confirmed that some of its employees did listen to recorded conversations. Employees! Not Amazon’s software. Are you comfortable with that? Some folks secretly listening in under the Artificial Intelligence eaves? Oh sure, for ‘quality and training purposes’?only. All in the interest of Big Data. The Atlantic reports that millions of people are using a smart speaker, and many have more than one close by. (Read it: Alexa, should we trust you?”)

In May last year, the speaker recorded a conversation of a husband and wife and sent it to a friend. I wrote about a related matter a few weeks back. I’ll never be comfortable with a piece of hardware sitting in a room just there to listen to me. The Bloomberg article reports that some employees at Amazon listen to 1,000 clips of recordings per shift. Like some privatized surveillance company, laughing at all the conversations going on behind closed doors. Beyond eavesdropping, it is audio voyeurism! Aren’t you troubled by that?

We were once alarmed by having too many cameras aimed at us. Now it’s listening devices. Does the convenience factor blunt people to the privacy they give up?

Things I get to hear about Alexa and Google Home!

Sure, you often hear of fancy ‘life hacks’ about people who program their smart speaker to turn on a coffee maker or help with math homework. But the stories I get to hear from young people on the experimental edge of the home-based Internet-of-Things (IOT) phenomenon range from the hilarious to the unsettling.

I’ve been writing about IOT for some time now. What gets me is how quickly people appear to want to hand off simple tasks like opening one’s window blinds, or turning on an appliance

“Alexa, turn on the bedroom fan!”

And then there’s the not-so-funny side to having an app for everything. Just take a look at the recent lawsuits and missteps by tech companies.

The baby monitor story is scary. A mother discovered to her horror that the baby monitor “was slowly panning over across the room to where our bed was and stopped.” That’s just one of the ‘things” we want our smart homes connected to.

How about door locks? You can’t make this stuff up: A man wearing a Batman T-shirt was  locked out of his home in September last year when his Yale lock, combined with his Nest security system thought he was an intruder. The man was in a Batman T-shirt. The ‘smart’ doorbell identified the cartoon character and tried to be too smart for the man’s liking. Sound a lot like the command, “Open the pod bay doors, HAL” in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Poor Dave was locked out with, “I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that!”

A side note on Facebook sneaky habit. As explained at Endgadget, “Privacy International study has determined that ‘at least’ 20 out of 34 popular Android apps are transmitting sensitive information to Facebook without asking permission, including Kayak, MyFitnessPal, Skyscanner and TripAdvisor. I don’t trust Mark Zuckerberg anymore. Neither his recent statement, nor his other numerous apologies. (Check last year’s apology!)  Which is another reason why I quit FB earlier this month.