Category Archives: Current Events - Page 2

A plan to network enable your car

For years I’ve been thinking about a peer to peer wireless mesh technology for automobiles. In the past two weeks I’ve seen two tradepaper articles about wireless technologies for cars and I have yet to see this hit the mainstream “geek press” eg. Slashdot which has been somewhat surprising.

On November 14 Network World published an article entitled “U.S. pitches wireless highway safety plan” which discussed the US DoT plan called the VII project. The Vehicle Infrastructure Integration (VII) prject aims to reduce highway fatilities and improve congestion problems by transmitting warnings and road condition data to drivers and automobile computer systems via a 5.9 GHz short range (984 foot) wireless connection as you pass “Roadside Units” (RSUs). Data is gathered from your onboard computer and combined with GPS data, the data collection and transmittal is to be anonymous. You can read more about the proposed system on the concept of operations page.

One week later Network World published a second article entitled “GM to roll out intelligent car alternative” discussing the GM V2V plan based on the existing GM OnStar technology in combination with 802.11a/802.11p networking technology. GM already has a demonstration fleet with this technology. One advantage of this technology over the DoT VII project is that these devices are designed to talk directly to one another in addition to talking to roadside units (RSUs) so you can get more data in a more timely manner. One example of this advantage is that the V2V device will let you know if someone is in your blind spot by blinking a small LED on your mirror. This would be unsupported by the VII program which only periodically exchanges data. Some data would also be availible even when you are not on a road equipped with RSUs which is a stong benefit during initial deployment.

Overall I’m impressed with the decision by GM to do direct vehicle to vehicle communications along with communications to RSU. I think there is the potential to get much more valuable data much more quickly using a direct vehicle to vehicle mesh network than solely with RSUs. The RSUs are still an important piece of this though because they can track aggregate data for the roadway and provide statistics about the road itself (eg. temperature, etc) to the vehicles. I applaud the DoT for recognizing that getting widespread adoption will be much easier by committing to keeping data anonymous, this is one of the reasons I’m much happier about these proposals than Mark Gibb’s RFID tracking proposal. The one thing I would hope for is that GM would encourage and assist other automakers in creating a standard for vehicle to vehicle communications to encure interoperability of these systems between brands.

Unsecured Wi-Fi would be outlawed in N.Y. county

A proposal made earlier this month in Westchester County, NY would require all commercial wireless internet access points to have a firewall to “secure and prevent unauthorized access to all private information that such entity may store” and post a sign stating: “You are accessing a network which has been secured with firewall protection. Since such protection does not guarantee the security of your personal information, use discretion.” Responding to criticism, Westchester County Executive Andy Spano has written a rebuttal encouraging readers to read the legislation and attempting to clear up some misconceptions about the law. I don’t know how far the FCC would let this go, they usually don’t take kindly to local government interference. The legislation seems to be aimed at getting businesses to secure their networks but is legislation really an effective tool for getting this done correctly?

Internet Downtime and Uptime

A few weeks ago Cogent and Level3 (two tier one ISPs) had a business dispute and “depeered” causing a problem preventing many people from getting to certain websites for about a week. Last week Level3 had some more issues with a bad router upgrade that essentially removed them (and all their customers) from the internet for about 4 hours (although it was during the middle of the night in the United States).

Two sites I like to visit to check on internet-wide problems are the Internet Traffic Report and the Internet Health Report. ITR gives you a good geographic overview of packet loss on the internet and IHR gives you delay and availibility statistics between each of the tier one carriers.

Another great resource is the North American Network Operator’s Group which has a mailing list where major internet service providers discuss things like outages. You can see an example of the discussion that took place last week on this page and the first mention of a problem in this message.

2002 National Public Radio Documentary on New Orleans Hurricane Threat

I found something the other day which I found very interesting to hear so I’ll share it with you. In 2002 American RadioWorks (NPR) recorded a documentary called Nature’s Revenge: Lousiana’s Vanishing Wetlands. The fourth and final part of that series was about the possibility of a hurricane hitting New Orleans. Even at that time there were some very serious concerns by scientists stating what would happen with a near hit by a powerful storm. Of course we can now see that much of what they predicted can and is coming true. I think we’re going to see some serious questions raised in the coming weeks and months about why we were as unprepared as we were with this clearly documented risk and what we should do now with the problem that is New Orleans.

The audio from this story is still availible. If you have Real Player installed you can hear it by clicking this link. It’s only about twenty minutes long and I found it quite interesting to listen to earlier this week so I encourage you to listen if you get the chance. When listening remember that this was done three years ago!

New Yorkers Give In To Terrorists

There’s an AP story floating about how commuters are taking subway bag searches in stride. I would like to take this opportunity to point out that terrorists are systematically destroying our country and constitutions through the use of fear and the political system of the United States.

Once upon a time we had our own group of terrorists running amuck (though we now call them the founding fathers) and when they finished their war they wrote a fantastic document we call the Constitution. When they finished they added a Bill of Rights. These are the freedoms we claim to hold high and protect, but one of these very freedoms has been threatened by our own government!

The fourth ammendment to the Constitution was a protection against unreasonable search and seizure.

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

I think it’s pretty clear that probable cause and a specific warrant must be issued before a search is conducted. I question the validity of these so called bag inspections in this light.

Mostly, I am alarmed by responses such as “They should have done this long time ago, ever since 9/11”, “I don’t mind if they’re doing it for the right cause” and “I don’t know how effective it will be, but if it makes people feel more secure, it’s OK.” Have these people grown up in the same country I have? Do they value freedom? Perhaps they should have listened to Benjamin Franklin: “Those who give up essential liberty, to preserve a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

For all the talk about preserving our way of life and our freedoms people sure are willing to give up most of them. When it’s over and we’ve “beaten” the terrorists what will be left?

RFID Tracking for Automobiles?

I submitted this to Slashdot, don’t know if they’ll pick it up though. I just finished reading this week’s NetworkWorld and saw Mark Gibbs’ column on RFID tracking. Looks like he’s really opening a can of worms here. I generally like what he writes, but either he’s either totally off with this one or he’s just looking to get a rise out of people.

–Slashdot Story as submitted–
A few weeks ago NetworkWorld columnist Mark Gibbs wrote about the California school district tracking children with RFID tags, this was also covered on Slashdot here and here. In his latest column Mr. Gibbs has suggested tracking cars with RFID, apparently Mr. Gibbs feels that “Roads, freeways and junctions [should] have RFID scanners and log all vehicles that passed.” He suggests using the data to ticket speeders and make it easier to track criminals. He openly admits such a system could easily be defeated by removing the tag and swapping plates but that only “serious criminals” would resort to that. Aside from the massive amounts of data a project like this would create does it really serve the public interest to have an easily defeatable and easily abused tracking system such as this in place? A plan has already been suggested in Texas that would put RFID on cars. While that plan doesn’t go as far as Mr. Gibbs has proposed it could set the stage for such tracking in the future.

OTAS the Tsunami Warning System

In his December 30, 2004 column Bob Cringely proposed a Tsunami warning system based on existing data and collection systems. In the January 7 column he reported that, prompted by his column, a software developer and an earth scientist had begun work on the Open Tsunami Alerting System (OTAS) using public seismic and geophysical data. Most recently his January 14 column reports further progress on this early warning and detection system. This column contains a few more interesting tidbits of data including information from one UK reader who reported that:

“The infrastructure for a global tsunami warning system already exists. The system set up to monitor nuclear testing is capable of, detected, and pinpointed the South Asian tsunami as it happened. The monitoring headquarters is in Berkshire, England, and the head of the station had made suggestions in the past that its role be expanded to include earthquake and tsunami monitoring. Better still, the necessary treaties are in place to allow immediate two-way communication between the centre and affected countries. Indeed, they carry an up to date list of contact numbers for key people. What’s missing is political will. With that in place organisations, public information, and training can be put in place to make sure any warning is responded to on the ground.”

It has been stated before that one reason politicians are apprehensive about early warning systems is that if they should fail the politicians could be held responsible for the failure which would likely end their careers. I ask if preventable deaths are the legacy they wish to leave instead? While Cringely argues that the government often spends far too much to develop systems that do not meet user requirements I suggest that the Emergency Alert System (EAS) which grew out of NOAA’s tornado warning system is clearly an example of a workable government system for warning people about an imminent danger. Surely something similar could be designed using OTAS as the input system. In any event check otu the following links regarding OTAS:

The OTAS Wiki
The OTAS Software Development Page

Helping Tsunami Victims

A friend passed along this link to a Microsoft site with a good list of organizations accepting donations for Tsunami victim relief efforts.

Listen to the 2004 Presidential Debates

If you missed any of this year’s presidential debates, fear not! Thanks to the Internet Archive you can listen to the debates for free. Links to the debate audio files can be found below.

Audio from Presidential Debate #1

My recording of the debate last night is availible at the fantastic Internet Archive. Get it, listen to it, VOTE!