Woman as a Cn’C

What Will It Take to Get a Woman in the White House?

 by Marianne Schnall | Women in the World

Marianne Schnall’s new book poses a simple question: Why does America lag behind so many other countries when it comes to electing a female leader?

This book started with a question. When Barack Obama was first elected, my family and I were talking about how wonderful it was to have our first African American president. My then-eight-year-old daughter, Lotus, looked at me through starry eyes and deadpanned this seemingly simple, obvious question: “Why haven’t we ever had a woman president?” It was a really good question, one that, despite having spent two decades running the women’s nonprofit website Feminist.com and writing about women’s issues, I found difficult to answer. But it is these types of questions, often out of the mouths of babes, that can wake us up out of a trance. Many inequities have become such a seamless part of our history and culture that we may subliminally begin to accept them as “just how it is” and not question the “why” or explore the possibility that circumstances could be different.

It does seem a bit crazy when you think of it: When so many other nations have women presidents, why doesn’t the United States? Margaret Thatcher was elected prime minister of Great Britain three times. Argentina, Iceland, the Philippines, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Finland, Ireland, Liberia, Chile, and South Korea have elected female heads of state. Yet the United States, presumably one of the most progressive countries in the world, lags dismally behind. We have finally elected an African American president; when will we celebrate that same milestone for women?

The closest we have come to having a woman president was Hillary Clinton’s nearly successful primary campaign against Barack Obama in 2008. In Obama, she had a formidable opponent, one who also broke through important barriers. Though it was a tight, fascinating, and at times contentious race, Obama prevailed. As Hillary observed in her powerful concession speech, “Although we weren’t able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time, thanks to you, it’s got about eighteen million cracks in it.” She added, speaking to the emotional crowd gathered at Washington’s National Building Museum, “And the light is shining through like never before, filling us all with the hope and the sure knowledge that the path will be a little easier next time. That has always been the path of progress in America.”

Fast-forward a few years later to the 2011 primary season, when I was talking to an editor at CNN’s In America division about writing a piece for them. I was about to cover the Women’s Media Center awards, where I would be interviewing people like Gloria Steinem, Jane Fonda, Sheryl Sandberg, Arianna Huffington, and others, so I asked CNN if there were any questions in particular they wanted me to ask. They said they were interested in the attendees’ impressions of why women have gained such little momentum in Washington just four years after having a near presidential contender, and what we can do to get more women into the pipeline of political leadership. Taking that one step further, I decided to add a question related to my daughter’s query by asking, “What will it take to make a woman president?” That article wound up on the CNN home page and received hundreds of comments, both positive and negative. The popularity of the article made me realize how important and timely this topic really was, and that it was worth exploring even further.

So here it is: my journey to get answers to some of these questions through speaking to some of the most influential journalists, activists, politicians, and thought leaders of today. Why haven’t we had a woman president? What will it take? And why is it important? While I use a woman president as a symbol, this book is also about the broader goal of encouraging women and girls as leaders and change agents in their lives, their communities, and the larger world. It also explores the many changing paradigms occurring in politics and in our culture, which the recent election seems to confirm. I hope to spotlight these positive shifts, as well as identify where the remaining obstacles and challenges are, in hopes that by looking at these themes from so many sides and perspectives, we can move closer to meaningful and effective solutions.

Certainly, we need to imagine not only a world where a woman can be president, but one in which women are equally represented in Congress and many other positions of leadership and influence in our society. While it was history-making to have elected 20 women to the Senate in 2012, 20 percent is still far from parity. Women are 50 percent of the population, yet they occupy just a fraction of that in elected office. The United States currently ranks seventy-seventh on an international list of women’s participation in national government. And the numbers are not much better in the corporate world: a meager 21 of the Fortune 500 CEOs are women, and women hold about 14 percent of executive-officer positions and 16 percent of board seats. Women are in only about five percent of executive positions in the media. Across the board, women are rarely adequately represented at the tables where important decisions are being made.

Yet everywhere I look today, very promising campaigns and projects are emerging to help women attain positions of influence and leadership. A few years ago, I wrote an article about then–Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s Women in Public Service Project, whose ambitious goal is global, political, and civic leadership of at least 50 percent women by 2050. I also interviewed Senator Kirsten Gillibrand about her Off the Sidelines Project, which is “a nationwide call to action to get more women engaged . . . to enter political life and be heard on political issues.” And Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, has certainly helped to spark a nationwide conversation and movement and an important debate over the factors impacting women’s leadership and advancement in the workplace.

When I first set out to create this book, I estimated that I might do 20 interviews. As it turns out, I more than doubled that number. And since these important topics of women, leadership, and power have come up frequently in so many of my past interviews with high profile figures, I decided to also include some of their insightful quotes on spreads interspersed throughout the book. Writing this book has indeed been a fascinating journey and adventure in and of itself, and has almost had a life of its own. I was so heartened and felt so supported by the many incredible people who not only granted me an interview for this book but also suggested others I should talk to, often giving me contact information or making introductions for me. From this response, I realized that this is a topic that is on everyone’s mind right now, and, as many of the people I interviewed—from Donna Brazile to Pat Mitchell—seemed to indicate, “now is the time.”

These are issues that I think benefit from a hashing-out of multiple perspectives: men’s, women’s, Republicans’, Democrats’, racial, and generational. I tried as best I could within the limited time, capacity, and access I had to include and reach out for that diversity, but, of course, I do recognize that this is but a small sampling of outlooks. My hope is that this book will be enlightening, educational, thought-provoking, and entertaining, as well as a call to action.

While it does not necessarily offer any easy, quick, or complete solutions to the complex, multifaceted questions of how we can help women move into more positions of influence and leadership, my hope is that it will help to identify some of the obstacles so that we can at least be aware of them—and be woken up, as my daughter’s question did for me, to being proactive, rather than simply accepting the current state of affairs as “just how it is.” It will take long, engaged, thoughtful conversation and effort, from both men and women, to move our systems and culture along.

I thank all of the remarkable people in this book for being a part of this literary roundtable and for the meaningful work they do on the many prongs of these issues. And, since I would still like to include so many viewpoints and ongoing resources, a portion of the proceeds of this book will go toward continuing the conversation and community around women’s leadership at the 18-year-old women’s website and nonprofit I run, Feminist.com. I hope you will join me in supporting this movement, and I hope by the time my daughter has her own children (if that is her choice!), we will live in a world where having a woman president seems not like an unachievable and daunting milestone, but instead like one that girls everywhere can aspire to and reach, if that is their destiny and calling.

Excerpt from What Will It Take to Make a Woman President? Conversations About Women, Leadership and Power, by Marianne Schnall. With permission from Seal Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group. Copyright 2013.


Brain-Machine Interface – Avatars Of The Future, A Reality

Brain-machine interface lets monkeys move two virtual arms with minds: study

Xinhua | 2013-11-7 | Global Times


US researchers said Wednesday that monkeys in a lab have learned to control the movement of both arms on an avatar using just their brain activity.

The findings, published in the US journal Science Translational Medicine, advanced efforts to develop bilateral movement in brain-controlled prosthetic devices for severely paralyzed patients, said researchers at Duke University, based in Durham, the state of North Carolina.

To enable the monkeys to control two virtual arms, the researchers recorded nearly 500 neurons from multiple areas in both cerebral hemispheres of the animals’ brains, the largest number of neurons recorded and reported to date.

Millions of people worldwide suffer from sensory and motor deficits caused by spinal cord injuries. Researchers are working to develop tools to help restore their mobility and sense of touch by connecting their brains with assistive devices.

The brain-machine interface approach holds promise for reaching this goal. However, until now brain-machine interfaces could only control a single prosthetic limb.

“Bimanual movements in our daily activities — from typing on a keyboard to opening a can — are critically important,” senior author Miguel Nicolelis, professor of neurobiology at Duke University School of Medicine said in a statement. “Future brain- machine interfaces aimed at restoring mobility in humans will have to incorporate multiple limbs to greatly benefit severely paralyzed patients.”

Nicolelis and his colleagues studied large-scale cortical recordings to see if they could provide sufficient signals to brain-machine interfaces to accurately control bimanual movements.

The monkeys were trained in a virtual environment within which they viewed realistic avatar arms on a screen and were encouraged to place their virtual hands on specific targets in a bimanual motor task. The monkeys first learned to control the avatar arms using a pair of joysticks, but were able to learn to use just their brain activity to move both avatar arms without moving their own arms.

As the animals’ performance in controlling both virtual arms improved over time, the researchers observed widespread plasticity in cortical areas of their brains. These results suggested that the monkeys’ brains may incorporate the avatar arms into their internal image of their bodies, a finding recently reported by the same researchers in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The researchers also found that cortical regions showed specific patterns of neuronal electrical activity during bimanual movements that differed from the neuronal activity produced for moving each arm separately.

The study suggested that very large neuronal ensembles — not single neurons — define the underlying physiological unit of normal motor functions, the researchers said, adding that small neuronal samples of the cortex may be insufficient to control complex motor behaviors using a brain-machine interface.

“When we looked at the properties of individual neurons, or of whole populations of cortical cells, we noticed that simply summing up the neuronal activity correlated to movements of the right and left arms did not allow us to predict what the same individual neurons or neuronal populations would do when both arms were engaged together in a bimanual task,” Nicolelis said. “This finding points to an emergent brain property — a non-linear summation — for when both hands are engaged at once.”

Private Security Firms & China’s Growing Population of Super-Rich

2013-10-10 11:21 | The Economic Observer
By Li Rong (李容) and Zhang Hua (张华) | October 7, 2013  
As a Shaolin Temple disciple since childhood, Shi Xingfeng, president of Bojing Security Agency, often has to remind himself to hide the heroic spirit that often glows from the eyes of martial arts masters.

“It’s professional discipline,” Shi says. “You’ve got to learn to be an invisible bodyguard.”

As a matter of fact, the Chinese super-rich are still not accustomed to the idea of having tall, strongly built men in suits and a solemn face hanging around. It’s considered too indiscreet. “In China, bodyguards are disguised as chauffeurs or secretaries to protect the clients’ safety better,” Shi explains.

But he also says there are cultural differences in the approach to paid protection. In the West, if a VIP’s hat has been blown off by the wind, his bodyguards are not to pick it up for him.  A Chinese magnate though expects such services. “The Chinese super-rich have yet to nurture such a concept — a bodyguard is there to protect his safety, not to be his babysitter,” Shi laments.

It was not until 2010 that privately run security services were even legalized in China, which is when Shi founded his security agency. He aspires to imitate Academi, formerly known as Blackwater USA, a security contractor that has worked for the U.S. State Department and usually retrains retired military or police personnel to become premium armed security guards.

Shi says Chinese often have a very poor awareness of their safety. “In China, many rich people are reluctant to hire bodyguards because they believe that it is showing off,” he explains. “They also worry about privacy.”

Moreover, since their homes and the venues they frequent are thought to be well-secured, VIPs in China don’t feel they are at particular risk. “The truth is that as public figures, rich people often attract hatred of the rich,” and are “in much greater danger than an ordinary person” of calculated attacks, Shi says.

After the Fact

Some 80 percent of Shi’s clients are entrepreneurs, but the majority of them came to him only after running into trouble. “Usually they have already encountered a real security problem in general verbal abuse, but sometimes even physical confrontations, before thinking about hiring bodyguards.”

The latest example is Zong Qinghou, China’s beverage tycoon and the 86th richest man in the world, according to Forbes’ Global Rich List. He was attacked walking out of his own house and injured by someone who had asked him for a job.

In most cases, whether they are robberies or retaliation, the perpetrators aren’t even “professional.” Had these entrepreneurs had a bit more awareness of safety issues, the tragedies wouldn’t have occurred.

A Whole Engineering System

As the number of China’s super-rich grows, so do concerns for personal safety. “The demand is related to economic development, especially in the coastal cities such as Beijing and Shanghai,” says Xin Yang, the general manager of Beijing Yunhai Elite Security.

Industry statistics show that China currently has some 4,000 licensed security firms with as many as 4.3 million security agents and an annual turnover of about 40 billion RMB ($653 million). And there is sure to be plenty of room for growth in the sector.

For the rich and famous, it isn’t just their own personal safety, but that of their families and properties. This is a whole “engineering system,” as Shi puts it.

Shi says the typical procedure when taking on a client is first to assess all the potential risks, then identify the level of danger and finally develop a specific strategy for protection. Teams of five to eight security personnel are typically dispatched. They include those specialized in anti-kidnapping, anti-tracking or target control, as well as those disguised as chauffeurs or secretaries to offer close minute-by-minute protection of the client.

Uneven Quality

Having studied martial arts since the age of 15, and having later worked for years as one of the “Zhongnanhai Guards Group” protecting China’s top leaders, as well as foreign visitors such as Bill Gates, Zhe Meijie is considered one of the top Chinese security specialists.

Zhe says that while more and more security companies are springing up, the industry lacks supervision and public regulations. “It’s a mixed bag,” he says. “We hope that the government will introduce appropriate policies to guide the industry’s development and that practitioners and managers in the sector get better training, as well as learn to cooperate to avoid vicious competition among themselves.”

As such a new industry, China’s bodyguard services are still groping in the dark. To improve standards and find quality recruits, security firms increasingly tap into the ranks of newly retiring police and soldiers. “Decommissioned special forces soldiers possess high military qualities and can adapt themselves fast to bodyguard work,” Shi says. “They are our first choice.”

Before being put into service, candidates must go through a sort of boot camp, including physical training, kickboxing, martial arts and anti-kidnapping training, as well as business protocol.

“If you can’t fight, you definitely can’t be a bodyguard,” Shi says. “But only knowing how to fight doesn’t make you a bodyguard either. What a bodyguard requires most is intelligence.”

Half the training is related to skills and theories such as driving special vehicles, information collection, legal knowledge, public relations, emergency care and social etiquette. Physical techniques represent 20 percent and fighting 30 percent, Shi estimates.

But above all, integrity is still the most important aspect of a profession that involves both danger and privacy. “We are still far from the standards of the profession in advanced countries like America since this is a business that is just starting in China,” says Shi. “We want to become China’s Blackwater, but it’s a tough road. We are learning how to do our job, and we realize that also includes educating the clients.”

Gender Imbalance Troubles China

2010-07-08 18:42 | The Economic Observer
With a severe gender imbalance among young Chinese, China is about to face a lot of problems.According to a Blue Paper on Society released by the China Academy of Social Science, because of the serious gender imbalance among Chinese under the age of 19, ten years later, tens of thousands of male Chinese of marriageable age will have difficulty finding a wife.It is not just the marriage market that will be influenced.In agricultural areas, unmarried young men over 25 years old are everywhere; in rural kindergartens and primary schools, the number of male students is obviously higher than that of females. In the Yangtze River Delta, Pearl River Delta and southeast Fujian Province where the local economies are dominated by the manufacturing and service industry, because of the severe shortage of women aged between 18 and 25, clothing factories have no choice but to hire young men.

China has entered a society where the number of men far exceeds that of women.

“China’s high sex ratio has lasted for over 20 years, its accumulated effects are becoming obvious,” Yuan Xin, a professor with Nankai University’s population and development research institute, said.

The sex ratio at birth under normal circumstances, should be 103 to 107 male infants for every 100 female babies. Because the death ratio of baby boys is higher than that of girls, the number of boys and girls will be close to equal when they are reach the age of marriage.

But in China, the sex ratio has been increasing since the 1980s. In 1982 when China conducted its third national population census, the number of male births for every 100 females was 108.47; in 1990, it rose to 111; in 2000, it was 119 and in 2005, it jumped to 120.49, 13. The male population at that point was 13 percent higher than that of females.

“In a short period of over 20 years, the gender imbalance has expanded quickly from eastern provinces to western, from rural areas to urban cities. Now it has almost covered the whole country,” Yuan Xin said. In 1982, only 18 provinces had a relatively high sex ratio while in 2005, all provinces, except Tibet, had a high sex ratio and three provinces had a ratio exceeding 130.

The gender imbalance will not only produce a large number of single young men, but also will give rise to a series of social problems.

Based on statistics provided by the National Bureau of Statistics, with the size of the male population aged zero to 19 being 23 million more than that of the female population, in the next ten years, every year there will be 1.2 million more men reaching marriageable age than women, forcing the former to seek wives in less-developed regions or search for younger females. The final result will be that young men in poor areas will be edged out of the marriage market, which, according to Tian Xueyuan who is the deputy director of the China Population Association, will give rise to a black market of “wife selling” and thus threaten social stability.

In recent years, 36,000 women have been sold and sent to Zhejiang Province to marry local men, statistics from the local public security bureau show. Most of these women are from underdeveloped regions like Yunnan, Guizhou, Sichuan and Hubei.

In the mountainous area connecting Guangxi Province and Vietnam where the economy is poor, men are forced to marry brides who have illegally entered China from Vietnam.

“The narrowing of the marriage market has produced a large number of single men. What is worse, it is the impoverished who are bearing the consequences,” Tian Xueyuan said.

The gender imbalance will also give a heavy blow to the job market. A textile factory owner, Yuan Xin, who is doing business in Guangzhou, Hangzhou and Shanghai said, said the sex ratio in many textile factories has reached up to four to six males per one female; some factories have even closed due to a lack of female laborers. Yaun Xin said that excess of male laborers would intensify the competition in the job market and make it even more difficult for women to find jobs. Additionally, because of the shortage of females, in some sectors, men would have to take positions which formerly belonged to women, while in some other sectors, men would face more severe competition.

What has caused such an unbalanced sex ratio? The answer is multi-faceted.

One answer is the advanced technology which allows people to know the sex of fetuses when a woman is only four-months pregnant or even less. Male fetuses will kept alive while female fetuses will be aborted.

The technology, called type-B ultrasonic, though prohibited by Chinese laws to be used on pregnant women, is still available in some clinics in Chinese cities, towns and villages, especially in some villages surrounded by cities.

Those clinics, always disguised to be lawful outpatient hospitals or pharmaceutical stores, will inspect the sex of the fetus through a B-type ultrasonic ultrasound and if it is a female, they will ask a doctor, who works for a local hospital and wants to earn extra money, to perform an abortion.

But that is not the complete answer.

“The core of the problem lies in the traditional view which holds that men more important than women,” Tian Xueyuan said.

Though the Chinese government has made it clear that women are equal to men under law, many Chinese parents and families still consider men more important than women and boys better than girls because men are more capable of supporting families and will continue the family line.

According to Yang Juhua, a professor with Renmin University, the unequal social status between male and females is still obvious in Chinese society. Aside from education levels, women are still suffering from disadvantages in many fields. Their wages are still lower than that of men in same-level positions and they are more likely to be refused when competing for university acceptance or job vacancies with male peers with the same qualifications. Additionally, Chinese women play a much weaker role in state affairs than their foreign counterparts. Females only account for one fifth of the total officials in government, party organizations and public agencies,

Edited by Rose Scobie | Original Source People\’s Daily


Next Generation Jammer

By Graham Warwick  graham.warwick@aviationweek.com
Source: AWIN First
July 08, 2013                       Credit: Boeing

Raytheon has been selected to develop the Next Generation Jammer (NGJ) pod to replace the ALQ-99 tactical jamming system now carried by U.S Navy Boeing EA-18G Growler electronic-attack aircraft.

The company has been awarded a $279.4 million contract for the 22-month technology development phase of the program. NGJ is planned to become operational in 2020, providing increased jamming agility and precision and expanded broadband capability for greater threat coverage.

Raytheon was one of four contractors involved in the 33-month technology maturation phase of the NGJ program. The others were BAE Systems, ITT Exelis and Northrop Grumman, but the Defense Department contract announcement says only three bids were received.

Under the TD phase, Raytheon will “design and build critical technologies that will be the foundational blocks of NGJ,” says Naval Air Systems Command. The complete system will be flight tested on the EA-18G in the follow-on, 54-month engineering and manufacturing development phase.

Raytheon confirms receipt of the award and says it offered “an innovative, next-generation solution that meets current customer requirements and potential future needs.” All the competitors based their designs for the NGJ pod on active, electronically scanned array jammer antennas.

Why the Cloud is Winning

Here are another 51 million reasons why the cloud is winning

Summary: Commodity cloud services are delivering savings that put prices charged by large systems integrators to shame, according to the UK’s tech chief.

By | July  4, 2013 — 08:36 GMT (01:36 PDT)

Faced with a £52m bill from a large IT vendor for hosting “a major programme” the UK government decided to turn to commodity cloud services.

The result? It picked up a comparable service from a smaller player for £942,000.

“In the world of the cloud the services I get from a major systems integrator and from a minor systems integrator are relatively comparable, given the security and ability to host is often specced out anyway,” UK government CTO Liam Maxwell told The Economist’s CIO Forum in London yesterday.

The UK government plans to use commodity cloud services to help free itself from the stranglehold of a small number of systems integrators that traditionally carried out about 80 percent of government IT work, and charged huge sums of money for doing so.

Departments are being encouraged to buy cloud services from the government-run CloudStore — an online catalogue of thousands of SaaS, PaaS and IaaS and specialist cloud services available to public sector bodies — which are sourced by Whitehall through its G-Cloud procurement framework.

The idea of the CloudStore is to provide a platform where it is as easy for small and medium sized businesses to sell to government as the large vendors. The government has simplified the accreditation process to become a supplier to government and the vendors selling through the store range from multi-national corporates to start-ups.

While more than 60 percent of the spend through the CloudStore has been with SMEs since it launched last year, larger deals through the store are still going to big companies, with IBM picking up a £1.2m deal with the Home Office in May.

Spend on G-Cloud services is growing rapidly, passing £25m in May, but is still tiny compared to an estimated annual public sector IT spend of £16bn. However this could pick up even more sharply as long-term contracts with large systems integrators expire.

“The majority of the large contracts finish by 2014-15, so there’s an enormous amount of change underway at the moment,” said Maxwell.

“We’re not going to replace, we’re going to base our services around user need, and in many cases that means not doing the same thing again.”

The UK’s Office of Fair Trading today called for suppliers and purchasers in the UK public sector to contact them with their experiences on how easy it is for smaller vendors to supply to government and barriers put in place by larger players to prevent government switching to competitors.

Earlier this year the government’s director of the G-Cloud programme Denise McDonagh said systems integrators are slashing what they charge Whitehall departments in an effort to stop them from switching to cloud services.

Maxwell has plenty of government IT horror stories of his own, telling the conference it historically cost government £723 to process each payment claim made by farmers to the Rural Payments Agency.

“It would be cheaper to rent a taxi put the cash in the taxi, drive the taxi to the farm and keep a manual record than it would have been the way the outsource contract worked,” he said.


Remotely Controlling Robots

Astronaut aboard the ISS successfully controls a robot on earth for the first time

By Nathan Ingraham  on July   3, 2013 04:35 pm  |  Email@NateIngraham

international space station

NASA has completed the first successful test in which an astronaut aboard the International Space Station was able to control a robot more than 400 miles away back on the surface of the Earth. According to Space.com, the June 17th test marks the first time astronauts were able to control a robot on Earth, an advancement that will hopefully pave the way for similar control over robots deployed on Mars or the moon. The simulated test consisted of astronaut Chris Cassidy controlling a K10 rover at the Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, CA; Cassidy successfully deployed a polymide-film antenna while dealing with simulated terrain via a real-time video feed.

“It was a great success… and the team was thrilled with how smoothly everything went,” said Jack Burns, director of the NASA Lunar Science Institute’s Lunar University Network for Astrophysics Research. The trial was a test for a potential deployment of radio antennas on the far side of the moon, a mission that would utilize the same sort of technology used in last month’s trial. But more test are needed before such a deployment — NASA says it’ll conduct follow-up test communications between the rover and the ISS in late July and early August.

Flash Drive

June 17, 2013

Object of Interest: The Flash Drive

Posted by


When Daniel Ellsberg decided to copy the Pentagon Papers, in 1969, he secretly reproduced them, page by page, with a photocopier. The process of duplication was slow; every complete copy of the material spanned seven thousand pages. When Edward Snowden decided to leak details of surveillance programs conducted by the National Security Agency, he was able to simply slip hundreds of documents into his pocket; the government believes that Snowden secreted them away on a small device no bigger than a pinkie finger: a flash drive.

The flash drive’s compact size, ever-increasing storage capacity, and ability to interface with any computer that has a universal-serial-bus port—which is, essentially, every computer—makes it an ideal device for covertly copying data or uploading malicious software onto computer systems. They are, consequently, an ongoing security concern. The devices are reportedly banned from the N.S.A.’s facilities; a former N.S.A. official told the Los Angeles Times that “special permission” is required to use them. Even then, the official said, “people always look at you funny.” In the magazine, Seymour Hersh reported that an incident involving a USB drive resulted in some N.S.A. unit commanders ordering “all ports on the computers on their bases to be sealed with liquid cement.”

USB flash drives are perhaps the purest form of two distinct pieces of technology: flash memory and the universal serial bus. Flash memory was invented at Toshiba in the nineteen-eighties. According to Toshiba’s timeline, the NAND variant of flash memory, which is the kind now used for storage in myriad devices, like smartphones and flash drives, was invented in 1987. The technology, which stores data in memory cells, remained incredibly expensive for well over a decade, costing hundreds of dollars per megabyte in the early to mid-nineteen-nineties. The universal serial bus was developed in the mid-nineties by a coalition of technology companies to simplify connecting devices to computers through a single, standardized port. By the end of the decade, flash memory had become inexpensive enough to begin to make its way into consumer devices, while USB succeeded in becoming a truly universal computer interface.

The first patent for a “USB-based PC flash disk” was filed in April, 1999, by the Israeli company M-Systems (which no longer exists—it was acquired by SanDisk in 2006). Later that same year, I.B.M. filed an invention disclosure by one of its employees, Shimon Shmueli, who continues to claim that he invented the USB flash drive. Trek 2000 International, a Singaporean company, was the first to actually sell a USB flash drive, which it called the ThumbDrive, in early 2000. (It won the trademark for ThumbDrive, which has come to be a generic term for the devices, only a few years ago.) Later that year, I.B.M. was the first to sell the devices in the U.S. The drive, produced by M-Systems, was called the DiskOnKey. The first model held just eight megabytes. The timing was nonetheless fortuitous: 1.44-megabyte floppy disks had long been unable to cope with expanding file sizes, and even the most popular souped-up replacement, the Zip drive, failed to truly succeed it. Optical media, despite storing large amounts of data, remained relatively inconvenient; recording data was time consuming, re-recording it even more so.

Improved manufacturing technologies have simultaneously increased flash drives’ capacity while decreasing their cost. The most popular flash drive on Amazon stores thirty-two gigabytes and costs just twenty-five dollars, while a flash drive recently announced by Kingston can hold one terabyte of data—enough for thousands of hours of audio, or well over a hundred million pages of documents—and transfer that data at speeds of a hundred and sixty to two hundred and forty megabytes per second. Few things come to mind that store more information in less space—a black hole, for instance.

More critically, as convenience drives people to share more and more information across networks, rather than through meatspace—why back up data on a spare hard drive when you can store it in the cloud for cents on the gigabyte, or burn a movie to a disc for a friend when you can share it via Dropbox?—flash drives are a convenient means of transporting large quantities of information off the grid. (Getting that data onto the flash drive in the first place may be another matter, though.) Carrying a flash drive in your pocket on the subway does not produce network traffic or metadata that can later be analyzed.

Flash drives have even been used to create a new form of a dead drop in cities around the country: the drives are embedded into walls or other public spaces, and users simply plug their device into the exposed USB port to download or upload data. Though these dead drops are largely a kind of performance art, the intent is to allow people to anonymously share data without passing it over a network—a proposition that is only growing more rarefied.

It seems certain that there will be more Daniel Ellsbergs and Edward Snowdens, and almost as certain that flash drives will be a tool they use to secretly copy and abscond with the information they need—at least until something that is even more discreet, secure, and convenient arrives.

Analyzing Drone Footage

Military turns to ESPN to help analyze drone footage

By Jim Michaels, USA TODAY | 11:54p.m. EST December 19, 2012

JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. – Can SportsCenter teach the military something about combating terrorists?

After rapidly expanding the number of drones around the world, the Air Force is now reaching out to ESPN and other experts in video analysis to keep up with the flood of footage the unmanned aircraft are transmitting.

“They’re looking at anything and everything they can right now,” said Air Force Col. Mike Shortsleeve, commander of a unit here that monitors drone videos.

The remote-controlled aircraft are mounted with cameras that transmit real-time video of terrorism suspects to military analysts in the USA.

The amount of video streaming into this base, one of a number of sites that monitors and analyzes the images, is immense. Drone video transmissions rose to 327,384 hours last year, up from 4,806 in 2001.

Given the huge amount of feeds, the Air Force has launched an aggressive effort to seek out technology or techniques that will help them process video without adding more people to stare at monitors.

“We need to be careful we don’t drown in the data,” said David Deptula, a retired Air Force lieutenant general and a senior military scholar at the Air Force Academy.

Air Force officials have met with the sports cable network ESPN to discuss how it handles large amounts of video that stream in. The visit resulted in no technological breakthroughs, but helped in developing training and expertise, the Air Force said.

Here at Langley, Air Force analysts sit for hours at a stretch in a vast room that is illuminated only by bank after bank of monitors. The drones are piloted elsewhere, often at a base in Nevada, but the video arrives here. The video is analyzed and fused with other types of intelligence, such as still photos or communications intercepts.

Much of what drones do now are called “pattern of life” missions which involve staring down at a compound for days. That information can help avoid civilian casualties, for example, by determining when children leave for school every day before a raid is launched.

It can also tell military analysts when something seems amiss, perhaps signaling the arrival of a terrorist leader. It’s time consuming work that could be made more efficient if there were technology that could automate the monitoring of videos, looking for signs that seem out of the ordinary.

“The real value added would be if I could have that tool go back and say, ‘How many times has this vehicle appeared in this geographic area over the last 30 days?’ and it automatically searches volumes of full-motion video,” said Col. Jeffrey Kruse, commander of the 480th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing.

The importance of video analysis is apparent in the hunt for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

It took 6,000 hours of surveillance video to pinpoint the location of the al-Qaeda leader who oversaw a bloody insurrection in Iraq as drones followed the movements of his known associates. On June 7, 2006, two U.S. Air Force jets dropped two 500-pound bombs on the building in which he was located in Iraq.

“You can’t catch bad guys unless you know where they are and what they’re doing,” Deptula said.

Nothing can replace human analysis but due to high operational traffic tons of data is available and neither analysts neither time is enough to review. An obvious solution is automating the gathering and analysis of data which can further isolate the areas for human perusal.

Text, object and facial recognition tolls are already available and DARPA’s programs like Video and Image Retrieval and Analysis Tool (VIRAT) and Persistent Stare Exploitation and Analysis System (PerSEAS) wil enable the analysis of the data gathered from multiple sources.


Code Red| 19 December 2012 | IN ASSOCIATION WITH

X-47B stealth drone targets new frontiers

Sharon Weinberger (Sharon is a 2012/13 fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington DC, where she is working on a history of the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.)

The US Navy’s cutting-edge robot fighter plane aims to be the first unmanned aerial vehicle to take-off and land at sea.

As a fighter plane prepares to take off from a naval carrier at sea, the pilot and deck crew go through a tightly choreographed series of hand signals to tell each other they are ready to launch. It ends with a final “salute” from the pilot to indicate that the aircraft is ready to be catapulted off the deck.

But when the X-47B, the US Navy’s newest prototype combat aircraft, prepares for its first carrier launch early next year, there will be no salute.  That’s because there will also be no pilot. Instead, the X-47B will blink its wingtip navigation lights, a robotic nod to the human salute (and mimicking what the Navy does for night launches), before the catapult officer presses the launch button, and the robotic aircraft is flung off the front of the ship

After years of development, and recent land-based tests, the highly anticipated carrier flight for this stealthy, tailless, unmanned drone is imminent. “It should be in early in 2013,” says Carl Johnson, vice president and program manager at defence firm Northrop Grumman, which builds the X-47B. “We have to coordinate ship schedules as well as all the other airspace issues.”

The X-47B is a strike fighter-sized prototype drone developed as part of the United States Navy’s UCAS-D (Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstration) programme, which aims to develop technologies necessary to field a combat drone on carriers. As a result, it has folding wings and is built for the rigors of sea life, including salt water, deck handling and of course take-off and landing from an aircraft carrier.

Although the X-47B is a prototype, the Navy hopes to actually field operational unmanned combat aircraft on carriers by the end of the decade.

The unmanned “flying wing” aircraft, which takes some of its design cues from Northrop Grumman’s B-2 stealth bomber, is supposed to demonstrate reconnaissance and strike capabilities—it has a full-sized weapons bay, although the prototype will not fly with weapons.  And, unlike existing drones, which are usually remotely “flown” by pilots once in the air, the X-47B is designed to fly autonomously, with just the occasional click of a mouse from an operator to send it instructions.

“It’s a big deal, but it’s an extension of something that was already happening,” says Peter Singer, a senior fellow at the Brooking Institution in Washington, DC, and the author of Wired for War, a book on the military’s robotics revolution.

Forward fire

The craft was revealed in 2008 but is only now undergoing sea tests aboard the USS Harry S. Truman, including moving around on the carrier. Whilst this kind of trial may not sound remarkable, in some ways it’s one of the more challenging steps toward proving that the X-47B, which weighs in at 20,000 kg (44,000 lb) and has a 20m (62 ft) wing span, is ready for flight.

Getting around on a crowded flight deck is difficult, says Johnson, because the aircraft must maneuver very close the edge of the carrier, sometimes pivoting so that it appears that half the airplane is hanging off the ship. “The precision involved in doing that is very difficult with a pilot following directions from a person on the deck,” says Johnson. “It’s very difficult to do that as well with an unmanned system.”

As a result, the engineers have built a wireless remote control device that can be used to move the aircraft around the deck.

The X-47B has already been tested on land in conditions meant to mimic operations on a carrier deck, including a catapult launch, but operating on a real carrier crowded with people and equipment presents fresh challenges.  For example, the X-47B must be tested for electromagnetic interference, in other words, making sure that the aircraft’s electronic systems don’t clash with the myriad radar and emitters that are on a ship.

“While we go through a rigorous test program, you really learn a lot when you’re at sea and you’re validating your system against the true environment of the carrier,” says Johnson.

If all goes well with these tests, the Navy will then be ready for its first at-sea flight. This will likely be a short affair, according to Johnson, and will start with a catapult launch and end with the aircraft landing not on the carrier, but on firm ground. Later that year, the X-47B will also perform an “arrested landing,” meaning it will land back on the aircraft carrier.

Another key flight test will take place in 2014, when the X-47 demonstrates that it can perform autonomous aerial refueling. Currently, the craft has a range of around 3,200km (2,000 miles) and can stay aloft for six hours. But for effective operations, the Navy would like it to stay aloft for longer.


Even if all those tests go smoothly, that doesn’t mean the X-47B will actually be deployed. The stealthy, aircraft is still merely a prototype. The Navy soon plans to launch a new program to develop an operational unmanned combat aircraft, which will involve fielding up to half a dozen armed drones on carriers by the end of the decade as part of what’s called the Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike program.

Early next year, the Navy will hold a competition to build the new drone. That means Northrop, the incumbent, will have to compete against other companies, including Lockheed Martin, which built the stealthy RQ-170 (famously captured by Iran), and General Atomics, which makes the familiar Reaper and Predator drones, and Boeing, which developed the X-45, a one-time competitor to Northrop’s drone.

Even as a prototype, however, the X-47B’s upcoming launch from an aircraft carrier, the “heart of US naval aviation”, marks a significant watershed for drones, says Singer.

“It’s one of the places where we haven’t seen them yet.”

Ultimately, the X-47B’s upcoming flight is not about proving that drones can work—that’s already been done—but expanding how and where they are used. “The Wright Brothers moment already happened,” says Singer. “Now we’re in the equivalent of 1920s and 1930s.”