Filed under: Brave New World, Civil Rights, Failure, Government, NPR, Predictions, Privacy, Science, Society, Terrorism, Travel | Tags: ars technica, blogging, GAO, government, jim downey, NPR, predictions, science, travel, TSA
WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal probe of a Transportation Security Administration program to screen suspicious behavior of passengers at airports suggests the effort, which has cost almost $1 billion since 2007, has not been proven effective, according to a report released Wednesday.
The Government Accountability Office said its investigation found that the results of the TSA program — called Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques — were “no better than chance.” Under the program, agents identify suspicious looking people and talk to them to determine whether they pose a threat. The investigators looked at the screening program at four airports, chosen on the basis of size and other factors.
“TSA has yet to empirically demonstrate the effectiveness of the program despite spending about $900 million on it since 2007,” said Steve Lord, who directed the investigation for the GAO. He said the GAO, which is the research and investigative arm of Congress, “conducts active oversight of the TSA for the Congress given their multibillion-dollar budget.” He said “the behavior detection program is viewed as a key layer of aviation security.”
Yeah, a “key layer” that doesn’t work. From ars technica:
It sounds pretty science-y, but it turns out that, in practice, BDOs across the country are referring passengers for secondary screenings at very different rates. For a program based on “objective” biometric measurements of deception, this is not the result one would hope to see. (Even the TSA admitted to GAO auditors that some of the observations were “subjective”; it is trying to rein these in.) And Ekman, who helped set up the program, told GAO three years ago that no one knew “how many BDOs are required to observe a given number of passengers moving at a given rate per day in an airport environment, or the length of time that such observation can be conducted before observation fatigue affects the effectiveness of the personnel.”
For the report, GAO auditors looked at the outside scientific literature, speaking to behavioral researchers and examining meta-analyses of 400 separate academic studies on unmasking liars. That literature suggests that “the ability of human observers to accurately identify deceptive behavior based on behavioral cues or indicators is the same as or slightly better than chance (54 percent).” That result holds whether or not the observer is a member of law enforcement.
It turns out that all of those signs you instinctively “know” to indicate deception usually don’t. Lack of eye contact for instance simply does not correlate with deception when examined in empirical studies. Nor do increases in body movements such as tapping fingers or toes; the literature shows that people’s movements actually decrease when lying. A 2008 study for the Department of Defense found that “no compelling evidence exists to support remote observation of physiological signals that may indicate fear or nervousness in an operational scenario by human observers.”
Like I said, surprising.
Or, you know, not at all.
But at least they spent almost a billion dollars of our money. That’s something.
Filed under: Architecture, Humor, Travel, YouTube | Tags: AIA, architecture, blackberry cobbler, Claysville Store, food, Hartsburg, humor, jim downey, Katy Trail, reviews, travel, video, www youtube
Among other things, my Good Lady Wife is the exec of the local chapter of the AIA. And last night they had their annual awards dinner.
Now, you might think that such an event would be formal and fancy. But that would be ‘big city’ thinking. This is where it happened:
No, I’m not kidding. Here’s another pic:
Here’s a nice little video about the place:
Here it is from the Trail:
And here are a couple of images taken from the Trail while I was wandering around:
So, if you find yourself on the Trail, or in mid-Missouri sometime and are looking for something a bit out of the ordinary, give them a look. Excellent, simple fare. Limited menu, and hours.
But man, the blackberry cobbler was delicious.
Filed under: Amazon, Apollo program, Astronomy, BoingBoing, Connections, Feedback, Kindle, Marketing, Mars, movies, NASA, Paleo-Future, Politics, Predictions, Promotion, Publishing, Science, Science Fiction, Society, Space, tech, Travel, Wales | Tags: Amazon, Apollo, ars technica, blogging, BoingBoing, bookbinding, Communion of Dreams, direct publishing, feedback, free, jim downey, Kindle, Mars, movies, NASA, politics, predictions, promotion, reviews, science, Science Fiction, space, technology, The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain, travel, Venus
Imagine three astronauts, 125 million miles from the Earth, talking to Mission Control with a four-minute time lag. They have seen nothing out their windows but stars in the blackness of space for the last 150 days. With a carefully timed burn, they slow into orbit around Venus, and as they loop around the planet, they get their first look at its thick cloud layer just 7,000 miles below.
It might sound like the plot of a science fiction movie, but in the late 1960s, NASA investigated missions that would send humans to Venus and Mars using Apollo-era technology. These missions would fly in the 1970s and 1980s to capitalize on what many expected would be a surge of interest in manned spaceflight after the Apollo lunar landings. They would be daring missions, but they would also be feasible with what was on hand.
Somewhat surprisingly, I don’t remember this at all. Though of course these were just “proof of concept” studies which were put together for NASA. Still, they were fairly well thought-out, as the article on ars technica demonstrates. As is often the case, technological limitations are less of an absolute factor in accomplishing something than economic/political limitations are. To borrow from a favorite old movie: “You wouldn’t believe what we did. It’s possible. It’s just hard work.”
What isn’t hard work? Getting entered into the drawing for a leather-bound copy of Communion of Dreams. Full details here. Yesterday’s Kindle promotion pushed us over 500 copies of the electronic version given away this month, and that puts the total number of copies out there somewhere in the neighborhood of 26,000. There are already 65 reviews posted to Amazon. Yet so far only 9 people have entered the drawing. You have until midnight this coming Saturday.
Filed under: ACLU, Brave New World, Civil Rights, Connections, Constitution, Government, Society, Terrorism, Travel, Writing stuff | Tags: civil liberties, Constitution, government, jim downey, NSA, Science Fiction, St. Cybi's Well, travel, TSA, writing
I’m not sure which is more depressing: that this happened, or that I find it completely unsurprising that it happened. What’s that? This:
…a harrowing story from Aditya Mukerjee about his recent attempt to fly from New York to Los Angeles. After being pulled aside in the security line, he faced hours of interrogation by uncommunicative officials from several different agencies. When he was finally cleared, his airline, Jet Blue, wouldn’t let him on the plane anyway. When he got home, he found evidence that it had been searched.
The entire sickening story, told by the man it happened to, can be found here: Don’t Fly During Ramadan.
To be perfectly honest, I’ve almost given up even mentioning the absurdity of the TSA’s latest actions. Like the revelations about what the NSA has been doing, it seems like there is really little point in it. I just keep filing away the latest news items and go back to adjust what is included in St. Cybi’s Well. Because no matter how egregious the violations of our civil liberties, there’s always someone to come along and say that they’re happy to have the “security” which is being provided.
Filed under: Babylon 5, Connections, Music, Predictions, Science Fiction, Travel, Wales, Writing stuff | Tags: Babylon 5, blogging, jim downey, literature, predictions, Science Fiction, St. Cybi's Well, travel, Wales, writing
Thought I’d share something I hinted at last week, and which explains a bit why my posting to the blog has dropped off so much in recent weeks: I’ve shifted over from primarily working on the structure and individual scenes of St. Cybi’s Well to writing the bulk of the text. To use an analogy, I’ve got the skeleton done and am now putting flesh on the bones.
So while I only have about 23,000 words in the manuscript so far, and very little of that is what most people would recognize as parts of a novel, it’s actually probably a significant fraction (perhaps one-third? half?) of the overall amount of work which will go into the book. That’s because I know not only the overall plot and major characters of the book, I also know the pacing, the locations, and how all the major elements will work together throughout. In fact, you could grab a map of Wales and then find each of the locations tied to the individual chapters to get a sense of how the whole thing will progress. Here’s the working list of chapters:
- Prelude: Cardiff
- Chapter One: Pennant Melangell
- Chapter Two: Holywell/Conwy Castle
- Chapter Three: Portmeirion/Caernarfon
- Chapter Four: Snowdon
- Chapter Five: Ffynnon Gybi/Criccieth
- Chapter Six: Pistyll Rhaedr
- Chapter Seven: Pentre Ifan
- Chapter Eight: St. Non’s/St. David’s
- Chapter Nine: St. Govan’s Chapel/Gumfreston Church
- Chapter Ten: Deheubarth
- Chapter Eleven: St. Cenydd’s Well
- Chapter Twelve: Brecon Beacons
- Chapter Thirteen: Maen-du Well/Ffynnon Gynydd
- Chapter Fourteen: Tintern Abbey/Stonehenge
- Chapter Fifteen: Ynys Môn
- Chapter Sixteen: Ffynnon Gelynin
- Chapter Seventeen: Ffynnon Sarah
- Chapter Eighteen: St. Cybi’s Well
- Chapter Nineteen: Castell y Bere
If you care to dig around my various travelogues, you can actually find descriptive passages about each of these places. Those passages will be used as part of constructing verisimilitude through the novel.
And yes, “Prelude” rather than “Prologue.” Partly it ties in with this. Partly … well, you’ll see.
Filed under: movies, Science Fiction, Travel, YouTube | Tags: movies, Science Fiction, time travel, travel, video, www youtube
A very old trope, with a good interpretation:
Filed under: Connections, Predictions, Preparedness, Science Fiction, Travel, Wales, Writing stuff | Tags: blogging, jim downey, predictions, Science Fiction, St. Cybi's Well, travel, Wales, writing
What I’ve been up to:
Maybe it doesn’t look like much. But basically that right there is the framework for St. Cybi’s Well, laid out in graphic form, showing most of the pertinent locations with each tied to notes as well as personal travelogues from my visits. If you care to spend the time looking at the details, you can glean a number of clues about the book.
But it isn’t worth over-thinking. Not for you. For me, over-thinking all of this is absolutely critical. Because it allows me to work out all the details of the book, to layer meaning over reality, to sort logical relationships and spiritual insights.
Yeah, there’s a hell of a lot of work, right there. And now that it is done, the nuts & bolts of the rest of the writing should go much easier.
Filed under: Connections, Faith healing, Predictions, Religion, Science Fiction, Travel, Wales, Writing stuff | Tags: blogging, Celtic, faith, jim downey, Pennant Melangell, predictions, Science Fiction, St. Cybi's Well, Tanat, travel, Wales, writing, Yew
No, not from St. Cybi’s Well. Not exactly, anyway. Rather, from a travelogue I wrote following my 2006 trip to Wales. This is how I describe the small chapel of Pennant Melangell, which is the site where a lot of the book will be based:
The shrine is to St. Melangell, supposedly one of the earliest such shrines in northern Europe. It’s been nicely restored, using new local materials to recreate missing pieces, but in such a fashion as to be clear what is old and what is new. Yeah, that’s the professional book conservator talking there – I appreciate good craftsmanship when I see it. Evidently the shrine had been pitched (literally) into a local ditch during the Reformation, but was (much) later recovered, then even later properly restored.
The rest of the chapel is stunning, though in an honest and simple way. It has seen multiple alterations and revisions in the last 800 years (big surprise), but still maintains a sense of what it is all about. And what it is all about is grace. No, not in the strictly Christian sense of the term, but in something older, something deeper . . . dare I say in the sense the early Christians wanted to appropriate?
Here we get into what I was talking about when I said that this trip was partly a spiritual quest. The Celts had notions of holiness tied up with location, of ‘thin’ places where the boundaries between this reality and the other side came together. You’ll frequently find a river, stream, or spring at such a location. The whole valley of the Tanat has that feeling to it, but it seems to be particularly strong here, where the young river wraps itself around the church grounds. The rough circle of the churchyard is bounded by a coarse wall, more like an earthwork than anything. More importantly, while the wall is higher than either the interior or the exterior ground, the interior is on a slight rise, a slight dome with the chapel at the apex. It’s almost like it is a lens of earth, focusing spiritual energy. And that Big Damned Yew tree? It isn’t the only one. There are several others of almost the same age at other points on the wall, the anchors of the lens, both to the earth and to the sky.
So, go. If you make it to Wales, and have an afternoon or a morning to spare, go. In the coming travelogues I will have other places you might want to visit, each one special in its own way. But go to Pennant Melangell. Make a donation of a few pounds if you can spare ‘em. Avowed atheist that I am, I now carry a wallet with a religious inscription that I got at Pennant Melangell, from the self-service/honor system selection of items in the office. And yes, I even paid for it.
Just thought I would share that passage. Trust me, you’ll see a lot more about this place over the coming year.
Filed under: Feedback, Health, Predictions, Publishing, Science Fiction, tech, Travel, Writing stuff | Tags: blogging, direct publishing, jim downey, predictions, Science Fiction, Scrivener, St. Cybi's Well, technology, travel, Wales, writing
I haven’t been doing a lot of blogging the last couple of weeks. Partially, that was due to my having actually come down with the actual flu — and getting that shortly after I had finally gotten rid of the last vestiges of the previous illness really sorta sucked my energy level down.
But there was another reason: I’ve been writing St. Cybi’s Well.
Well, kinda. Kinda-sorta.
See, I’m using Scrivener. Which I like a lot, but which is completely different from my previous work habits in writing a book. In an odd way, it’s more comprehensive, more systematic. I’m still learning how to use it, and it is taking some fumbling around and a bit of mental re-organization to get the hang of it. But rather than just having an outline and building one chapter after another, I find I’ve been constructing a framework and then working on individual scenes scattered through different chapters. By the time I finish with St. Cybi’s Well I’ll really understand how to use these tools efficiently, and hopefully that will mean more books, sooner, after this one. We’ll see.
I hope to have some solid things to share in a month or so. But in the meantime, I would invite you to browse my 2003 and 2006 travelogues of trips to Wales. You’ll get a pretty good glimpse into the locations and descriptive language for St. Cybi’s Well, since I am basing a lot of the book on those very real experiences. Consider it something of a sneak preview, just because you read the blog.
And thanks for that, by the way. It’s good to know I’m not just talking to myself here.
Filed under: Civil Rights, Connections, General Musings, Government, Predictions, Privacy, RFID, Science, Science Fiction, Society, tech, Travel, Writing stuff | Tags: blogging, cell phone, Communion of Dreams, direct publishing, jim downey, predictions, privacy, science, Science Fiction, St. Cybi's Well, technology, tracking, travel
So, as I am constantly blathering about, I’m spending a lot of time thinking through various aspects of St. Cybi’s Well. Things like characters, plotting, fitting in the storyline with what is already established in Communion of Dreams (while still making sure that the book can stand on its own, without someone having read Communion). Well, one of those things concerns an instance where someone wants to not be readily located. Which is a little harder in today’s world than most people realize, given two things: general surveillance, and the homing-device you’re probably carrying in your pocket.
Yeah, I’m talking about your cell phone/mobile device/tablet. Anything which can connect to a cell network or GPS is probably also capable of being used to track you. And chances are, it will do so even if it is ostensibly “turned off.” About the only good way to be certain to stop this use is to pull the battery out of the thing.
And that’s a PITA, if you want to be able to actually use it without a delay and hassle of installing the battery then booting the thing up.
So the other day I sent a note to a good buddy of mine who has a lot more physics/technical knowledge than I do:
Second, a thought I had: since privacy is a concern, and your cell phone is a tracking device even when ‘off’ (but it’s a hassle to have to pull out the battery and then reboot the damned thing if you need it), why not go with a simple solution to isolate it? To wit: turn the phone off (or put it into ‘airplane mode’), drop it into a small Faraday cage. Just a simple bag or wallet with the right construction would do it. I know there are such things for use with passports/credit cards (I use a wallet for such when traveling overseas), so why not just extend the design a bit to accommodate a phone/tablet?
I got back a response which indicated that it should work, though you may need to tweak the construction specifics to be sure to block out the proper wavelengths most effectively.
And today, just for grins, I went to look for something like this. Guess what I found, which is just now available (actually, it won’t ship for a couple weeks):
Go Completely Off the Grid
This cleverly designed, superslim pouch for your wallet and phone blocks transmissions, as well as cell-tower and GPS tracking, and protects personal information from RFID readers. Ripstop nylon. Imported.
Bingo. Like an invisibility cloak for your phone.