Money can buy privacy… and surveillance

Paul Raven @ 22-09-2009

CCTV camerasThe world may be becoming something of a panopticon, but you can always buy yourself a safe haven… provided you’ve got the necessary cash, of course. Russian billionaire businessman Roman Abramovich isn’t feeling the credit crunch, it seems, as one of the latest additions to his private “yacht” (which looks bigger than most commercial passenger ferries, to be honest) is a laser-screening system for preventing sneaky photography:

The 557-foot boat Eclipse, the price tag of which has almost doubled since original plans were drawn to almost $1.2 billion, set sail this week with a slew of show-off features, from two helipads, two swimming pools and six-foot movie screens in all guest cabins, to a mini-submarine and missile-proof windows to combat piracy.

It might not seem like somebody with such ostentatious tastes would crave privacy, but along with these expensive toys, Ambramovich has installed an anti-paparazzi “shield”. Lasers sweep the surroundings and when they detect a CCD, they fire a bolt of light right at the camera to obliterate any photograph. According to the Times, these don’t run all the time, so friends and guests should still be able to grab snaps. Instead, they will be activated when guards spot the scourge of professional photography, paparazzi, loitering nearby.

Now, you’ll not see me shedding any tears for the poor paparazzi, but that’s some potentially nasty technology right there. For example, the UK government has become obsessively paranoid about photography of late – where might they decide to install something similar? Y’know, to prevent terrorism?

Somewhat further down the financial scale (and hence more accessible to the anxious middle classes), technologies are now available to surveil your own children at all times – like a GPS-enabled wristwatch that will plot your youngster’s location on Google Maps [via SlashDot]:

The watch, which is designed in bright colours to appeal to children, can be tightly fastened to a child’s wrist and sends an alert if forcibly removed.

Parents can see the location of their child on Google maps by clicking ‘where r you’ on a secure website or texting ‘wru’ to a special number. Safe zones can also be programmed with parents being alerted if their child strays outside this zone.

The makers of the num8 watch claim it gives peace of mind to parents and makes children more independent but critics say tagging children like this is a step too far in paranoia about child safety.

File me under the latter bracket, please – although I suppose tracking your kids via GPS is slightly preferable to keeping them shut in the house all the time in response to tabloid-inflated fears about predators. Whichever smart and exploitative bugger manages to mash up this technology with an overlay map of suspected paedophiles will be raking in the money… probably enough to buy a photo-screened yacht. [image by killbox]

Which highlights the real problem, I think – the supposed security of real-time surveillance, and the immunity to it, are both functions of affluence.  Will the gap between rich and poor become increasingly defined by the degree to which one can chose one’s place in the panopticon?


Nanoscale etchings make liquid flow uphill

Paul Raven @ 04-06-2009

OK, I can’t resist it – here’s an OMGZ SCIENCE!!1 story that is too good to pass up: nanoscale laser etchings on metallic surfaces can produce weird effects in their interaction with liquids, including the ability to make them flow against gravity.

Chunlei Guo, associate professor of optics at the University of Rochester in New York State, says: “We’re able to change the surface structure of almost any piece of metal so that we can control how liquid responds to it. We can even control the direction in which the liquid flows, or whether liquid flows at all.

That’s pretty cool in and of itself, but here’s your real sensawunda kick:

Guo and his assistant, Anatoliy Vorobyev, alter the surface of the metal using an ultra-fast burst of light from a laser. Science Daily reports: “The laser, called a femtosecond laser, produces pulses lasting only a few quadrillionths of a second—a femtosecond is to a second what a second is to about 32 million years.” It adds that this one burst unleashes as much power as the whole of North America’s electric grid delivers, but “focused onto a spot the size of a needlepoint”.

Science FTW! It’s days like this I wish I’d actually finished my undergraduate courses…


Micro maglev robot has manipulator

Tom James @ 14-04-2009

microrobot_270x2081Further developments in the field of microtechnology with the development by the University of Waterloo of a magnetically-levitating microbot with laser-controlled manipulators:

The micro-robot has pincers that can be opened by heating them with a laser. When the laser is turned off, the pincers cool and close.

“Since there is no wiring, and the robot freely floats in air, it can operate in an enclosed chamber while the whole setup is outside,” Khamesee said. “It can work in hazardous environments, toxic chambers, and it can be used to conduct bio-hazardous experiments. Also, since there is no mechanical linkage, it has a dust-free operation, suitable for clean room applications.”

This is starting to approach some of the microbot widgetry described in Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash.

[via Technovelgy][image and article from cnet]


Lasers vs. police helicopters

Tom James @ 08-04-2009

lasercockpitFollowing on from the news of blinding-laser “friendly fire” incidents in Iraq is this article on the growing problem of green lasers being used against police helicopters in the UK:

An “attack” can come from any of the darkened streets over which the force’s state of the art helicopter India 99 flies at night.

“You can’t miss it. A sharp green beam of light shoots up from the ground, flashing around the helicopter, dazzling anyone on whom it scores a ‘direct hit’,” said Mr Briggs.

The police have had to learn to deal with the attacks — about half of those reported are aimed at their helicopters. In 2003 just three incidents were recorded. Last year there were 207. So far this year, the tally is 76.

The culprits are usually bored youths, who have got hold of a laser pointer and amuse themselves by playing its beam over passing aircraft.

One of those “we are living in the 21st century” moments – idlers attacking police helicopters with lasers…

[image and article from the BBC]


Blinded by the laser light

Tom James @ 30-03-2009

green_laserIn what won’t be the last instances of laser-related “friendly fire” three US soldiers in Iraq have been hospitalised, and one has been blinded in one eye, by a green dazzling laser:

Since November 2008, a single unit in Iraq “has experienced 12 green-laser incidents involving 14 soldiers and varying degrees of injury. Three soldiers required medical evacuation out of Iraq and one soldier is now blind in one eye,” writes Sgt. Crystal Reidy

[from Wired][image from Wired]


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