Hey Alexa, Send My Regards To Everyone


, , , ,

MyWOT (Web of Trust) is a Helsinki-based Internet technology company. It is primarily known for its browser safety add-on. I have WOT enabled for Google Chrome browser on my computer at home.

I noticed a new entry on the MyWOT blog a few days ago, Hey Alexa, Send My Regards To The CIA – Connected Devices in The Age of Snowden. It is a good post. I left a comment, of course.

Small-time info merchant to big league data mogul

The Internet of Things (Internet-connected devices collectively known as the IoT) seems like a solution in search of a problem to me. I’m not worried about the CIA listening to me. I am worried about insights gleaned from unethical or illegal re-sale of user data. Revenue from data harvesting is built into the business model for much of the consumer-targeted IoT. For example, some insurance companies offer discounts to auto policy holders in exchange for attaching telemetry devices—referred to as telematics—to their vehicles. IBM describes how such data could be re-used throughout the transportation industry as the next phase of monetizing IoT data in an “age of sensorization”. IBM also acknowledges the questionable value proposition of paying a lower premium in exchange for having one’s driving activity recorded in real-time, uploaded, analyzed, and saved for future purposes that can’t be anticipated. Continue reading


LaTeX for WordPress dot com


, ,

After four years of blogging with WordPress, I just learned that LaTeX is supported by WordPress dot com too! LaTeX (and MathJax, a similar service) are both excellent. They allow elegant and correct digital representation of mathematical formula, like this

partial differential equation using LaTeX

WordPress dot com blogs are weblogs hosted by WordPress, like mine.  Self-hosted blogs running open source WordPress blogging software are WordPress dot org. They don’t have the domain name, WordPress.org but rather, whatever domain name that the blogger has registered. At that point, it a matter of personal preference to:

  • run one’s own server, or
  • pay a web hosting company, and thus use the hosting company’s servers for one’s website, and WordPress installation.

WordPress dot org blogs are the ones that you often read about. They get version updates, have a history of security vulnerabilities, and support an entire ecosystem of WordPress theme and plugin developers. None of that is relevant to those of us who have WordPress hosted blogs.

Do I have WordPress dot com or WordPress dot org?

If you have WordPress dot com, your blog URL will look probably look like this:


It will be a sub-domain of WordPress dot com. You can pay a small yearly fee to WordPress, and WordPress will act as web host provider for your own, already registered domain.

LaTeX versus MathJax

LaTeX was developed by Donald Knuth in and is now a Mathematica product.

MathJax is an open source JavaScript display engine for mathematics. It is supported by IBM and the Mathematics Association of America, among others.

Domestic Foreign-Trade Zones


, , ,

This is a very nicely designed map and associated list of foreign trade zones (FTZ’s) located within the 48 contiguous United States, Alaska, Hawaii and outlying territories, List of Foreign-Trade Zones by State. There are multiple FTZ’s in each state.


FTZ map via enforcement.trade.gov formerly Import Administration

What are FTZs?

We have a FTZ right here in Phoenix, Arizona, Foreign-Trade Zone No. 75. This is in addition to other international trade and business development programs. Continue reading

WordPress, Google and Pew democratize voting


, , , , ,

We vote by secret ballot in the USA. This is constitutionally protected for many reasons.

“We’ve teamed up with the good folks from Google”

I am confused about this new WordPress project for the 2014 midterm elections, emphasis mine:
We’ve teamed up with the good folks from The Pew Charitable Trusts along with Google…. Together, we’re offering cutting-edge tools that give voters access to the customized information they need to cast a ballot on or before Election Day. We also want to provide a toolkit so that they can get more information on where to vote, which issues are at stake…”


The Voting Information Project

I am worried about the release of voter information to WordPress. I am also worried about information transit in the other direction.

Will WordPress and Pew use or maybe even sell the information entered by me and my blog readers to local or national political campaigns, now or in anticipation of the 2016 election?

One of the prior comments said,

“I was concerned that certain states (in particular those that have a bad track record in terms of encouraging citizens to participate in the democratic process) might be withholding this information.”

I’m concerned about what information IS being released! WordPress’s Peter Slutsky replied, Continue reading

Spy versus spy in space


, , , , ,

Update 28 September 2014
The unmanned U.S. X-37B spacecraft is back in the spotlight again! Today’s article in the New York Post describes the X-37B as the Pentagon’s secret space drone: “Theories about its mission have ranged from an orbiting space bomber to an anti-satellite weapon… According to intelligence experts and satellite watchers who have closely monitored its orbit, the X-37B is being used to carry secret satellites and classified sensors into space — a little-known role once played by NASA’s new retired space shuttle.” That is almost as provocative as the (mistaken) allegations of covert surveillance of Chinese satellites by the X-37B back in January 2012.

In January 2012, the British Interplanetary Society miscalculated the orbital trajectory of an unmanned, ultra high-altitude U.S. space plane. Next, they inferred that the United States was spying on a recently launched Chinese satellite. Unfortunately, the BBC quickly ran with the story, publishing a glossy illustrated news report about the spying, and its plausibly dire consequences. Fortunately, the British Interplanetary Society was wrong; there was no space-to-space surveillance! The orbital planes of the X-37B and the Chinese station were completely different. Even if they came close to each other, which was unlikely, they would pass at thousands of miles an hour in different directions.

I first noticed the erroneous trajectory estimate while reading an orbital satellite bulletin board. Others were ahead of me in following the early reports, and did the bulk of the analysis, calculating the true path of the unmanned U.S. X-37B space craft, which was not even close to the Chinese satellite. I was a bit strident. Apparently, CNN heard me:

The blogosphere erupted with outrage. The spacecrafts’ orbits were too different, experts said. “INCORRECT!” tweeted @EllieAsksWhy. Ex-NASA mission controller James Oberg blogged that a well-respected British spaceflight society had committed a horrendous error.

US X-37B aircraft

X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, the USAF’s first unmanned re-entry spacecraft, at Vandenberg Air Force Base on 3 Dec 2010

I didn’t see this post from CNN until today. Thank you, CNN. I am honored. I truly am.

Light Years

The online space community was surprised to say the least. A respected British space magazine editor said last week that the Pentagon’s secret unmanned X-37B spaceplane was likely spying on a Chinese satellite.

The blogosphere erupted with outrage. The spacecrafts’ orbits were too different, experts said.

“INCORRECT!” tweeted @EllieAsksWhy.

Ex-NASA mission controller James Oberg blogged that a “well-respected British spaceflight society” had committed a “horrendous error.”

View original post 1,263 more words

Illegal laser strikes on U.S. aircraft by U.S. civilians


, , , ,

In 2012, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was visiting Berlin in an official capacity as head of state. After his airplane landed at whatever airport has replaced Berlin Tempelhof (closed in 2008), Prime Minister Netanyahu was transported by helicopter to downtown Berlin. The flight was brief, maybe 30 minutes from takeoff to landing. Along the route, an unidentified person shined a green laser pointer at the helicopter, temporarily blinding the German pilots. Both recovered quickly, and landed the aircraft without incident.

Charlie Chaplin image in der Spiegel

der Speigel online screen shot (7 December 2012)

When I read this news story several years ago, I thought it was genuine and a concern, but an extreme outlier risk. There were several attention-worthy aspects, not to mention the hilariously inappropriate Google personalized advertising served on the page. The latter was sufficiently silly, i.e. Charlie Chaplin was a pop-up, triggered by cursor motion, that I took a screen shot for posterity.

Laser pointer attack in Fresno

On 20 December 2013, a jury found two California residents guilty of aiming a laser pointer at a Fresno Police helicopter, Air One, and attempting to interfere with its operation. The couple, aged 25 and 23 years old, used a laser pointer that was 13 times more powerful than the usual (and legally allowed) power emission level for hand-held laser devices. Continue reading

Nine secrets of statistics and a poke at web scale


, ,

My comment on Nine secrets you should have been taught as part of your undergraduate statistics degree  via StatsLife follows.

Since you asked, I have a few additional suggestions.

For statistics students

Even if your interest is in mathematical statistics, do take at least one course in observational methods. Statistics for sociologists might seem tedious; it did to me! It is sufficiently different, e.g. Chi-squared, SPSS, that you’ll be happily surprised you had some exposure to it, even years later.

Secret 6 of 9 is excellent advice. Statistics and probability theory give you a cabinet of analytic tools. In the workplace, you’ll have the freedom
and the responsibility to decide which inference test or model is best, given the problem and available data. It is fun and exciting!

While reading that entry from the Opinion section of StatsLife, a pleasingly casual publication of The Royal Statistical Society, I noticed that it referenced another helpful list, 10 Secrets You Should Have Learned with Your Software Engineering Degree – But Probably Didn’t. Given the spirited and seemingly interminable debate about NoSQL versus traditional relational database management systems, I found Secret 5 of Software Engineering amusing and ironic. Continue reading

Ignore data, focus on power


, , , ,

Speaking truth to power is not what is going on with Open Data, although that was my understanding when I first learned about open data, about four years ago. I am more cynical now.

What IS open data?

Here’s a definition, straight from the source, which is ultimately the Open Knowledge Foundation (OKF), whose major funding sources include Pierre Omidyar (e-Bay, First Intercept and Glenn Greenwald). As specified by the Open Definition, open data is data that can be freely used, reused and redistributed by anyone – subject only, at most, to the requirement to attribute and share alike. (What is Open Definition? Open Definition is another OKF project.) Key tenets are the following:
Availability and Access: the data must be available in its entirety, in a “convenient” format and at minimal cost, e.g. internet download.
Reuse and Redistribution: users of the data must be permitted to reuse and redistribute it
Universal Participation: everyone must be able to use, reuse and redistribute it, e.g. ‘non-commercial’ restrictions preventing ‘commercial’ use, or for educational purposes only, are not allowed.
The higher level goal is interoperability. For now, that mostly means being able to intermix data sets from multiple providers.
Open Knowledge Foundation Open Data stickers
Nota Bene! There are no restrictions on commercial use, nor should any assumptions about upholding privacy be made. Open data is/are about portability, so data generated by wearable tech and smart cities as well as Internet of Things devices is/are fair game.

The scope of the Open Knowledge Foundation’s openness initiative is quite broad. It includes, but is not limited to, open access, open data, open education, open science, open government, open licenses and open software. One may be granted Open Data Certification credentials, issued under the auspices of the Open Data Institute, known as ODI but NOT affiliated in any way whatsoever with the now-familiar ODNI! (Parenthetical aside: I urge you to view the immediately prior inline link. It is an ODI blog post titled, “The Data Reformation”. The post itself is visually lovely and well-written, though overly ambitious. Read the single, excellent comment, which astutely assesses the inherent challenge facing widespread open data usage.) There is even an Open Data Census by nation. Everyone from the Wikimedia Foundation to the World Bank is involved.

BookSprint School of Data

Ed and Laura at the School of (open) Data? No, just kidding.

In fact, the World Bank is working closely with the Omidyar Network to engage for-profit entities in a nascent Open Government Partnership Private Sector Council, which was set up to provide recommendations to the OGP Steering Committee.  

Of course, The World Bank will facilitate this initiative through (its? Omidyar’s? Jimmy Wales’s?) Open Private Sector platform.

Open private sector

The World Bank lauds JP Morgan Chase and Wal-Mart as exemplar corporations who have already adopted open and collaborative practices! World Bank Program Manager Benjamin Herzberg says that big businesses are enthusiastic about openness,

not for altruism or philanthropy, but because it can actually improve their bottom line. JP Morgan Chase provides information to the banking authorities on its thousands of subsidiaries. Wal-Mart works to offer visibility into its supply chain through real-time, anonymized worker feedback from 279 factories in Bangladesh.

This isn’t entirely correct though. The linked example report from JP Morgan is NOT optional. It is not prepared for the sake of “improving bottom line” profitability. Instead, it is a mandated regulatory requirement by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission under the Securities Act of 1934. The annual Form 10-K filing must include, by definition, a list of JP Morgan Chase & Company’s U.S. and offshore subsidiaries. Although Mr. Herzberg chooses to link to the unstyled flat file, the same JP Morgan data, and much more, is already available, with interactive visuals, via the SEC’s next generation EDGAR system.

What about Wal-Mart? The worker feedback system is part of a larger and sadly, more typical Wal-Mart story involving failed safety inspections at those 279 factories in Bangladesh due to inadequate compliance with both local legislation and global standards.

Government? Licenses? Software? What’s up with that?

BookSprint School of Data

Using Open Data for government accountability, science education and…?

What about FOSS, GNU, FSF, GPL and Creative Commons? What about open data licensing in the EUMaybe this OKF post about the Open Software Service Definition will be helpful, insofar as it pertains to online software.

Globalism, Big Business and Profitability

How will the open movement and transparency improve business competitiveness? The World Bank and OKF via the Open Government Partnership are excited because:

Open data and transparency [will enable] multinational companies like JP Morgan Chase and Wal-Mart to improve their bottom lines.

WHAT?! JP Morgan and Wal-Mart don’t need any help with their bottom lines! They are huge, highly profitable corporate organizations already. This isn’t supposed to be the goal of openness, open cities and open government!

There’s a little more. Given the fact that there are long-extant governments, otherwise known as sovereign nations, with well-established infrastructure and domestic economies, I do not understand the need for the following Open Knowledge Foundation activities as effected by OGP (emphasis mine):

Sedex Global, a responsible sourcing organization working with 36,000 firms, announced a partnership with the World Bank Institute, to pilot the Open Supply Chain Platform, as part of the Open Private Sector Platform. This new initiative will complement the Open Company Data Index which seeks to incentivize governments to increase transparency around business registries…and possibly new legislation that would challenge the traditional way of doing business.

We are on a boat

Highly positive: Outdoors, reading a newspaper, talking and nary a computer in sight OKF 2013

We are on a boat

Also positive for Open Data: Good female-to-male ratio, smiles and lots of grilled meat OKF 2013

The limits of transparency

While open data isn’t a direct cure for injustice, I am not convinced that open data is increasing transparency. It does not appear to offer beneficial insight into the workings of power.


I get asked pretty often whether I “believe” in open data. I tend to murmur a response along the lines of “it depends,” which doesn’t seem too satisfying to me or to the person I’m talking about. But this morning, I’m happy to say, I’ve finally come up with a kind of rule, which isn’t universal. It focuses on power.

Namely, I like data that shines light on powerful people. Like the Sunlight Foundation tracks money and politicians, and that’s good. But I tend to want to protect powerless people, like people who are being surveilled with sensors and their phones. And the thing is, most of the open data focuses on the latter. How people ride the subway or how they use the public park or where they shop.

Something in the middle is crime data, where you have compilation of people being stopped by the police (powerless) and…

View original post 218 more words