Sunday, April 21, 2013

It is written all over your face!

That didn't take long.

For a moment, the manhunt into the Boston Marathon bombings seemed as if it would last a while. But an amazing combination of police work, citizen involvement and technology yielded big breaks in the case and brought the manhunt to a quick conclusion. And now, the investigation begins - who knew what? Did they have help? Where does all of this lead? It is hard to think that such evil could make its way into the mind of a 19 year old kid, without lots of help.

Within hours of the Boston Marathon bombing, investigators were already overwhelmed. Bloody clothing, bags, shoes and other evidence from victims and witnesses were piling up. Videos and still images, thousands of them, were beginning to accumulate.

Quickly, the authorities secured a warehouse in Boston’s Seaport district and filled the sprawling space: On half of the vast floor, hundreds of pieces of bloody clothes were laid out to dry so they could be examined for forensic clues or flown to FBI labs at Quantico in Prince William County for testing. In the other half of the room, more than a dozen investigators sifted through hundreds of hours of video, looking for people doing things that are different from what everybody else is doing.

It’s still unclear exactly how law enforcement officials zeroed in on the two figures in surveillance footage suspected of carrying out the deadly bomb attack at Monday’s Boston Marathon. But it’s likely that investigators used some form of facial-recognition software as part of their effort. These technologies remain in their infancy, but law enforcement is relying on them more and more.

The FBI is rolling out an ambitious, billion-dollar biometric information system that will include iris scans, voice recognition, and facial-recognition software, developed with Lockheed Martin, IBM, Accenture, and BAE Systems, among others. Law enforcement authorities are uploading mugshots into an image database, which can then be searched against images from crime scenes, like the surveillance camera footage of Boston’s Boylston Street.

The Next Generation Identification (NGI) program won’t be fully operational until next year, and although the images it uses will be mugshots, the software - think of a more powerful version of Facebook image search could be used to match any two images. Civil liberties advocates worry it could be used to track people on the street regardless of whether they’re suspected of a crime. The Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) and the NYPD have also expressed interest in more exotic technologies, including one that analyzes people’s gait for clues as to whether they’re carrying a bomb. Programmers are developing machine vision techniques that can link images of the same person across different video cameras or spot behaviors that are out of the ordinary for a certain setting (e.g., leaving a bag unattended in a public place).

Anything that you Tweet, Post, Blog, Video or share via the Internet (in any way) is fair game for analysis. The government scanned “millions” of phone calls, listening for any words that might have been linked to the bombing. If you called home and said “Did you hear about the Boston Bombing” there is a very good chance your phone call was analyzed. But now, simply walking the streets of a major city puts you (your face) into play. This is the world that we now live, and this will continue to get more complex and more intense. I would think that everyone who attends the upcoming Super Bowl in New York will have their face scanned dozens of times, long before even entering the stadium.

Mass surveillance is the pervasive surveillance of an entire population. It has been widely criticized on several grounds such as violations of privacy rights, illegality, and for preventing political and social freedoms, which some fear will ultimately lead to a totalitarian state where political dissent is crushed. Such a state may also be referred to as an Electronic Police State. According to what I see on prime time TV ("the machine") mass surveillance has been going on for some time. 

The technology of “big data” is here, and the Genie will never be put back into the bottle. Google and Facebook’s billions in revenue are all based on big data, algorithms, and super-computing. I love the idea that facial recognition is being used to combat terrorism. But to think that this same ever-improving technology can track people with past due parking tickets, or any other minor civil violation simply by taking a picture of their face makes me pause. 

We have no privacy - none, zip, nada.

Yes, that didn't take long at all.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Slap Shots and Moon Shots

PITTSBURGH, Pa. – The Quinnipiac University men's ice hockey team lost to Yale, 4-0, in the 2013 NCAA Frozen Four Championship Game in Pittsburgh, Pa. The Bobcats finish the year at 30-8-5 overall, good for the most wins in program history.
Man's landing on the moon in 1969 was our greatest technological achievement. The Apollo 11 mission was truly the stuff dreams are made of. For the first time the human species walked on a celestial body other than our own. Even more remarkable was their ability to make it back.

Few people know how close Apollo 11 came to being a disaster. The President had a well-crafted speech all prepared, to inform the world that the men who landed on the moon would not be coming home. Thankfully, that speech was never read as the Apollo 11 mission had a happy ending, and the rest as they say, is history.

The Quinnipiac Bobcats' had 30 wins this season. Their 17-2-3 record in the ECAC Hockey is also a program-best. Their success in conference play garnered Quinnipiac's first Cleary Cup, given annually to the ECAC regular season champion. The Bobcats also made it to the NCAA Tournament for just the second time ever and closed out the season as the National Runner-ups, a first for any Quinnipiac athletic program. This Quinnipiac squad will also say goodbye to 11 seniors who helped bring the program to newfound heights this season. Last night was the end of the “best season ever” for Quinnipiac men’s hockey. 

BEST EVER. The young men on that hockey team have just experienced the biggest event of their lives (to date). Many who were on the ice last night will find themselves playing in the NHL. Some might even win a Stanley Cup one day. 

Someone has to come in second place, to make it a contest. 
In life, in business, and in sports, it’s no fun if you don’t keep score.

The Space Race was a mid-to-late 20th century competition between the Soviet Union (USSR) and the United States (USA) for supremacy in space exploration. Between 1957 and 1975, the Cold War rivalry between the two nations focused on attaining firsts in space exploration, which were seen as necessary for national security and symbolic of technological and ideological superiority.

The Space Race sparked unprecedented increases in spending on education and pure research, which accelerated scientific advancements and led to beneficial spin-off technologies. An unforeseen effect was that the Space Race contributed to the birth of the environmental movement: The first color pictures of Earth taken from deep space were used as icons by the movement to imply that the planet was a fragile blue marble surrounded by the blackness of space.

The USA won the race to the moon. How must they have felt in the Soviet Union on July 20th, 1969? I’ll bet the men of Quinnipiac can relate to how it must feel to be so close to the prize and to come up short (like the USSR). The USA was losing the space race, but then the USA came back from behind and was the first to reach the moon. I remember it all like it was yesterday.

During their regular season, Quinnipiac University men’s hockey team beat Yale three times. Last night, Yale beat Quinnipiac. The big difference was that last night’s hockey game was for the National Championship.

Life is a series of wins and losses. In business and in sports, you win and you lose. You have your moments in the sun, and you have days where you have to settle for the silver and not the gold. There can be no first place winner, without a worthy competitor who takes second place.
There would be no iPhone if Steve Jobs had not been fired from Apple. Blackberry was the market leader in Smartphones for many years; today not so much. When I was growing up, IBM completely dominated the computer world. It is the race itself that makes life (and business) interesting, winning or losing is not as important. Competition is what makes life worth living.
I hope that the parents, the coaches and even the President of Quinnipiac University have already seized the opportunity to properly address the men of Quinnipiac Hockey. To come so close to the prize and to come up short is a life-changing moment and a teaching moment.
It is the competition that makes us stronger, not the victory. It is the challenge of the race, not the race itself that molds us. Last night was a teaching moment for everyone, winners and losers. Yale lost to QU three times this season but they won last night. Quinnipiac beat Yale three times, but not last night. And so it goes in sports and in business.
Every young man that was on the ice last night (both teams) are winners, and they have been winners for many years. Their parents know it, their coaches know it, and hopefully after a few days, the men of Quinnipiac hockey who might be feeling a little sad this morning will know it too. History shows that winners can get lazy, but those who come up "a little short" tend to come back even stronger. Some will be in the NHL, some might go into business. 

I would hire every single one of them.
If the USA needs to get men into space today - guess what - we have to hitch a ride with our good ‘ol friends in the former Soviet Union (USSR). Ah yes, they must smile every time we ask them for a ride. Competition is indeed what makes life worth living.
Congratulations to everyone at for a great season! What’s your next challenge?

My Son Tom Jr. in the Quinnipiac Pep Band

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Prime the pump!

Do you use Amazon Prime? I've been an Amazon Prime customer for a long time now, and I am still wondering how they came up with the amount of $79 per year for the service.

Prime works like this: For $79 annually, you get unlimited movie and TV streaming, one free borrowed eBook per month, and automatic two-day shipping on nearly everything you buy (with no minimum dollar amount). Awesome, right?

Let's start with the streaming. Amazon has vastly expanded its movie and TV show libraries over the past year, to the point where it's much more competitive with Netflix. However, not everything I found on the latter was available on Amazon Prime. But there is plenty of good stuff to watch, and Prime streaming has expanded to more devices -- including, most recently, the iPhone and iPod Touch. If you're already a Netflix subscriber, there's no reason to join up with Amazon Prime - if you're motivated (solely) by the free streaming.

What about the book deal? Although the Prime Lending Library now includes over 280,000 titles, including the Harry Potter series, they're mostly older reads. I think in my Prime membership, I've found exactly one book I wanted to borrow. And Amazon still makes it a pain to browse the catalog, especially on your PC. So as much as I like the e-book loans in principle, for me the book lending is of no value. If you are a student, this might be a great value.

Now, let’s talk free two day shipping.

Two-day delivery, with no minimum purchase, no weight limits is the best thing ever. I buy a lot of stuff online, especially around the holidays, and Prime makes this kind of shopping pure pleasure. Not only does it rescue me when I'm late to buy a gift, it also makes impulse shopping a lot more fun.

Recently we made a list of all of the household items that we buy weekly. All the non-perishable stuff like paper towels, soap, dog food, cereal, canned foods, etc. Guess what - you can get all of it from Amazon, shipped to your door, with free shipping and save the sales tax. Now going to the grocery store is a breeze - more than half the shopping list is taken care of with free delivery and automatic built-in savings. No more “coupon clipping” as Amazon does this for you as well. If you find something cheaper, they give you a free $25 Amazon gift card. Sales tax here in New Jersey is 7%, so we are saving $7 per $100. The government might change that one day, but for now, no sales tax for online purchases is 7% off the weekly grocery bills. That 7% makes up for the $79 annual fee fast!

I see a book or a video that I want to watch, I have it in seconds on my iPad. I need a gift for someone, they have it at their door in 2 days, gift wrapped and via free shipping. I have saved untold hours in shopping for groceries, and we never run out of toilet paper.

Got a kid in college? Elderly parent living alone? Amazon Prime makes it easy to setup automatic delivery of goodies to those that you love (like your dog or cat).

Is Amazon Prime worth $79 per year? I say hell yes.

Why is everyone not doing this?  If you are looking for a great gift to give someone, give them a $79 Amazon Prime membership. Why Amazon is not spelling out the guaranteed savings (like the free shipping and the built-in savings in both time and money) is beyond me. Someone in the Amazon marketing department needs to be fired, in my humble opinion.

Maybe I should write an eBook on this topic and sell it on Amazon.

Fight! Fight! Fight!