The Null Device
WIRED has a piece on the state of audio forensics today, or how much information can be extracted from an audio recording:
None of the sharp-eared audio professionals at the Javits Convention Center caught another edit on Allen's criminal-investigation tape. Allen digitally hid that edit behind a speaker's cough, and it was only revealed with the help of some sophisticated forensic software.
Catalin Grigoras, a forensic examiner from Bucharest, told the workshop how he uses the frequency signatures of local electrical power sources to pinpoint when and where recordings were made. According to Grigoras, digital recorders that are plugged into electrical sockets capture the frequency signature of the local power supply -- a signature that varies over time.
In one case, Grigoras claims to have identified the date of a recording broadcast in Europe, but made in the Middle East, "probably in the mountains, or in a cave," he says. He didn't mention any names, but it was hard not to think of Al Qaeda.
As the US braces itself for another bitterly contested Presidential election, computer-crime experts are warning that it's only a matter of time before botnets, phishing and DOS attacks are used to nobble campaigns or disenfranchise voters:
Dirty tricks are not new. On US election day in 2002, the lines of a "get-out-the-voters" phone campaign sponsored by the New Hampshire Democratic Party were clogged by prank calls. In the 2006 election, 14000 Latino voters in Orange County, California, received letters telling them it was illegal for immigrants to vote.
Calls could even be made using a botnet. This would make tracing the perpetrator even harder, because calls wouldn't come from a central location. What's more, the number of calls that can be made is practically limitless.
Internet calls might also be made to voters to sow misinformation, says Christopher Soghoian at Indiana University in Bloomington. "Anonymous voter suppression is going to become a reality."
The BBC has an article on the relationship between schizophrenia and artistic inspiration, by a photographer suffering from schizophrenia:
The symptoms feed me the tools to become creative. I seem to be thinking all the time and the psychosis is not necessarily destructive. The experience of a hallucination can often be recalled in the creation of artwork or poetry, for example.
But the problem is expressing what I see or hear because strong cognitive difficulties - such as memory loss, disorganized thoughts, difficulty concentrating and completing tasks - impair my ability to enhance and capture my true creative potential.
Unfortunately psychiatry leans far more towards controlling schizophrenia, rather than showing understanding towards a patient's true needs and potential capabilities.
Speculation has arisen about the US intelligence services deploying insect-sized surveillance drones after anti-war protesters reported seeing unusually large and odd-looking dragonflies at a demonstration:
"I'd never seen anything like it in my life," the Washington lawyer said. "They were large for dragonflies. I thought, 'Is that mechanical, or is that alive?' "
At the same time, he added, some details do not make sense. Three people at the D.C. event independently described a row of spheres, the size of small berries, attached along the tails of the big dragonflies -- an accoutrement that Louton could not explain. And all reported seeing at least three maneuvering in unison. "Dragonflies never fly in a pack," he said.The FBI has denied having such technologies. The CIA, meanwhile, is known to have tested a robotic "insectothopter" in the 1970s, before scrapping the project as it could not handle crosswinds. Scientists now have a better understanding of how insects fly, and it's possible that modern computer technology (not to mention materials science) could enable an insectothopter to respond to changes in its environment sufficiently well to navigate. Whether the spooks would risk prototypes, which officially do not exist, being captured by anti-war protesters is another question.
(If these things do exist, it's a good thing that America is immune to totalitarianism; imagine what, say, the Stasi or the Burmese junta would do with such technologies.)
Actually, the CIA/FBI may be a red herring. Has anybody asked Google about these bugs?
A new book takes to task the accepted belief that men and women think and/or communicate differently, as expounded by popular psychology books like Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus:
The bones of Cameron’s argument, set out in The Myth of Mars and Venus, are that Gray et al have no scientific basis for their claims. Great sheaves of academic papers, says Cameron, show that the language skills of men and women are almost identical. Indeed, the central tenets of the Mars and Venus culture – that women talk more than men, that men are more direct, that women are more verbally skilled – can all be debunked by scientific research. A recent study in the American journal Science, for instance, found men and women speak almost exactly the same number of words a day: 16,000.
Where the book becomes interesting is when she asks why we have become interested in these myths. “The first point to make is that in the past 20 years we have become obsessed by communication,” she says. “And that’s not just in relationships; it’s in customer care, it’s in politics. All problems are seen to be communication problems.
Cameron is not simply irritated that the Mars and Venus books have filled too many Christmas stockings. Her fervour on this issue runs deeper. There is, she thinks, something regressive, deeply conservative, in this outlook because what it seems to be saying is that we can’t change.The author, Deborah Cameron, is a feminist philologist and Rupert Murdoch professor of Language at Oxford (really); other than the Mars-and-Venus brigade, she has in her sights Darwinists (which, I'm guessing, means the likes of Steven Pinker and/or Richard Dawkins), Tories, man-hating "pseudo-feminists" and punctuation/grammar pedants:
“You had people like Prince Charles and Norman Tebbit inferring that if people were making spelling mistakes it was only a short step to them coming in dirty to school and then there’d be no motivation for them to stay out of crime,” says Cameron. “There were these illogical slippery slope arguments: how, if children didn’t know how to use the colon properly, it was only a few steps from drug-taking and criminality. There was a deep moral and social dimension to it all.