June 22, 2013

How the U.S. PRISM and Blarney Programs Mine Your Data for Intelligence  

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted in e-WEEK, 2013-06-08

I very rarely publish a “re –blog” because I feel my readers  like and want information that is original.  This is actually the very first time in 150 postings I have opted to publish (again) an article written by another individual.  I THINK  THE ARTICLE WRITEN BY WAYNE RASH IS EXTREMENLY IMPORTANT IN LIGHT OF RECENT EVENTS.  That’s the reason it’s re-published here.  I might state also, I have lost all faith in our government relative to privacy . Privacy in the digital world does NOT exist—does not exists.  The government can do just about anything they wish and get away with it in the name of “security”.  This is garbage on the highest order.  We can never go back!   OK, with that said, I leave my soapbox and re-print the piece.

WASHINGTON, DC—The revelations by The Washington Post about two big data analysis operations named PRISM and Blarney dropped like a bombshell on the Washington intelligence and security communities.

But I’d already heard about PRISM a day earlier and was trying to put it into context when the story broke. What’s surprising was that a few details emerged at a conference I was covering for eWEEK about cyber-security and big data.

There, people near me were discussing something called “PRISM” as the topic of how cyber-security experts look for patterns in event data.   At the time, the discussion, while intriguing, wasn’t in context and I wasn’t having much luck in the few intervening hours learning more. Now I know why.

But if PRISM was such a huge secret, why was it being discussed openly in a public meeting room at the Willard Inter-Continental Hotel? Was it because it wasn’t as secret as the government says it was?

Leaving aside the wheels-within-wheels that characterize discussions in Washington, it’s clear that both PRISM and Blarney were important projects. PRISM, according to the story in The Washington Post, is responsible for a huge harvest of intelligence, and is reportedly responsible for disrupting at least one terrorist plot in the U.S

Here’s what’s going on. Intelligence services in the U.S. have entered into agreements, backed up with court orders from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), with a variety of Internet companies to get access to their data. This court is so secret it never publishes its findings and only the U.S. government is authorized to appear before it.

While the companies deny they are cooperating, which is required by the court orders, the fact is that Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, AOL, Skype, YouTube, Apple, PalTalk and probably many others are all accessible to National Security Agency (NSA) scrutiny. In cases where the companies know about the surveillance, they’re required by the court orders not to reveal that information. But many of the companies may not be aware that their servers are being penetrated by the NSA through the use of equipment installed in their data centers to which the NSA can send commands.

On all of these services, email is sampled as are other message types. Cloud storage is searched. So if you have documents on Google Drive, SkyDrive,  iCloud or other items on the other services, you can assume that they’ve been searched for keywords. The NSA doesn’t exactly read your documents or email, but rather mines those for keywords in a vast big data dragnet. Depending on the keywords and the origin or destination of the email, or the context of the document or video, the information may be recorded.

In addition to this keyword search, the NSA is also sampling email traffic for metadata. This is similar to the telephone number search that’s being conducted with the sweep of call records.

As in the case of the call records, the agency isn’t recording the content, but rather using the metadata to look for patterns. It’s the patterns in the data that raise the flag that a terrorist action is being discussed.

How, you wonder, is this even possible? In one sense, it’s not. Despite its significant capabilities, even the NSA can’t read all the email that travels through the Internet every day. Besides, trying to monitor such a huge percentage of spam isn’t likely to yield much beyond a clogged network gateway. But what the NSA does is take samples and flag those keywords. When the agency starts to detect specific combinations of keywords, paired with metadata from Blarney, then the specific sender or recipient is flagged for further analysis.

Blarney works in concert with PRISM by tracking email and other traffic as it passes through what the NSA calls “Internet choke points,” which probably refers to major ISPs and major routing centers, especially those in the San Francisco and Washington regions. Blarney then mines this traffic for metadata from email and other communications such as file transfers and multimedia files.

Depending on the nature of the information, the NSA may share the email details with another agency such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) or the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The job is so vast that the NSA is sharing this job with British intelligence, which is doing its own searching and analysis.

You may also wonder how this is legal. Again, this is the subject of a court order by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), which acts on secret warrant requests from intelligence agencies. This court is sufficiently secret that initially its very existence was a secret. However that was revealed a few years ago. This court is also known for never having turned down a surveillance request by a U.S. intelligence agency.

Now that the existence of these programs is known, there’s been some discussion in Washington that the director of national intelligence may shut them down. That’s a fantasy. These programs are so successful at yielding actionable information that they are a primary source for critical intelligence. In addition, because a large majority of all global Internet traffic passes through the U.S. at some point in its journey, there’s little that terrorists or anyone else can do to prevent it.

What might happen, at least before someone files a Fourth Amendment lawsuit, is that terrorists overseas may stop communicating using email. This alone would curb their operations and while that’s not a bad thing, there are other worries.

Those other worries include whether the existence of this capability and its companion court orders may give other agencies, such as the Department of Justice, a way to circumvent the requirement for search warrants in its witch hunt for leaks to the news media. That would be a very bad thing indeed.


June 19, 2013

The slides for this posting were furnished by Anne-Françoise PELE, EE Times Designlines

When I think of all-electric or hybrid automobiles I think of square, chunky, box-like vehicles—never stylish.  Cramped interior with absolutely no “bells and whistles”.  In other words, Spartan at best.  Well, that long-held belief was greatly dispelled when I saw photographs resulting from the Paris Auto show held in Porte de Versailles, France. Let’s take a look.  Maybe you will agree, things are really looking up for the “green” movement.



The BMW i8 Concept can run on electric power alone. The energy supplied by the application-designed battery (installed between the front and rear axles) to the electric motor at the front axle gives the BMW i8 Concept an all-electric driving range of about 20 miles. The battery can be fully recharged in two hours in a standard power socket.

BMW i3


The electric motor of the BMW i3 Concept is designed primarily for city driving, developing 125 kW/170 hp, with peak torque of 184 lb-ft. The Concept goes from 0-60 km/h (37 mph) in under four seconds and 0-100 km/h (62 mph) in under eight seconds.

Citroen Citroen DSS


Citroen’s DS5 HYbrid4 combines a 163b-hp diesel engine plus a 37-bhp electric motor, developing a total power output of 200 bhp; along with an EGS 6-speed gearbox with optimized shifts, power train management unit helps reduce fuel consumption.



With a constant 516-m of torque from 0 to 5,000 rpm, the Furtive-eGT goes from 0 to 100 km/h in just 3.5 seconds. The maximum speed is limited to 250 km/h.



A Honda Integrated Motor Assist system powers the Insight. It also uses a 1.3-liter i VTEC gasoline 4-cylinder engine and a 10-kilowatt electric motor to develop 98 horsepower at 5,800 rpm and 123 lb-ft. of torque at 1,000-1,700 rpm. To maximize fuel efficiency, friction-reducing measures are used throughout the engine and transmission.



The Infiniti EMERG-E is a pure EV powered by a 402-bhp (300kW) mid-engine, twin electric motor.



The Nissan Pivo concept car is a 360-degree rotating three-seater cabin on a 4-wheel chassis. The Pivo is powered by a lithium-ion battery and includes a self-parking feature and the ability to maneuver the vehicle via Smartphone.



Mitsubishi Motor’s i-MieV utilizes a large-capacity lithium-ion battery system and a compact, high-output electric motor in place of a traditional gasoline power train. A permanent magnet synchronous AC motor produces 47 kW of power and 180 Nm of instant torque. Able to reach a top speed of 130 km/h with a range of around 155 kms from a single charge, the rear-wheel drive vehicle has three drive modes.



The Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Electric Drive goes from 0-60 mph in less than 3.9 seconds and is capable of speeds of 155 mph. The battery back weighs just over 1,200 pounds, and is rated at 60 kWh. It has a range of about 150 miles with mixed driving. Charge time takes more than 20 hours using a household outlet, though Mercedes-Benz plans to offer a quick-charge option.

P eugeot


All the body panels on the Peugeot Onyx Concept are made from carbon fiber and the car weighs just 1,100 kilograms (2,425 pounds) using a hybrid powertrain. At the heart of the propulsion is a 3.7-liter, V8 engine that generates 600 horsepower. The conventional engine is augmented with lithium-ion battery-powered electric system that adds another 80 horsepower.



Renault’s ZOE is a pure-electric car capable of being charged at any power level up to 43kW in 30 minutes to nine hours. Its battery can be charged in about one hour at 22 kW fast-charge stations. This intermediate power level ensures longer battery life and has less impact on the grid than a 43kW charging station. Renault said ZOE will be launched at the end of 2012.



VW’s “eco Up” is one of six concept versions of its new subcompact model, the Up. The eco Up has a dual-fuel EcoFuel System engine that uses both compressed natural gas and gasoline.

I think you would have to agree, hybrid styling is really looking up.  COMMENTS??????


June 15, 2013

I just completed reading a great book entitled “THE POWER OF HABIT”, written by Charles Duhigg ; published by Random House; copyright  2012.  The book is a fascinating look into how habits are formed and what activities can and must occur to eliminate a habit considered bad, worrisome or even terrible.   I’m sure we all wonder why we do certain things.  Jesters, activities, mannerisms, “ticks” etc, that for some reason, become habits.  We all would agree that certain habits such as smoking, drug use, over use of alcohol, etc can be extremely destructive but there are “little” habits that drive other people crazy in which we don’t even know we have.  It is said that Tesla, the engineering genius, had several really interesting habits, as follows:

1.       Things Come in 3s:

Tesla had his obsession with the number 3.   It is said that he often walked around a block 3 times before entering a building and that he required 18 (a number divisible by 3) napkins to polish his silverware and drinking glass each night.   When he died, he did so 3 days before his 87th birthday and alone in Room 3327 (a number divisible by 3) of the 33rd floor of the New Yorker Hotel, in which he lived out his last years.

2.       No Sleep for the Brilliant

As did Da Vinci, Tesla claimed to sleep in short bursts, but never over a period of more than two hours at a time.   He did so on a work schedule that often kept him at his desk until after 3 am, then he started again just hours later. It is said that he once worked 84 hours straight.
While he never got what could be considered a good night’s rest, he did admit to “dozing” from time to time.

3.  Fondness for pigeons

Tesla may have chosen to stay away from women and marriage but, according to some reports, he grew overly fond of a pigeon.   Near the end of his life, Tesla walked to the park every day to feed the pigeons. He began to bring injured ones into his hotel room to nurse back to health.  He claimed that he had been visited by a specific injured white pigeon each day at the park. Tesla spent more than $2,000 to fix the bird’s broken wing and leg, including building a device that comfortably supported the bird so her bones could heal.   Tesla is reported as saying, “I have been feeding pigeons, thousands of them, for years. But there was one, a beautiful bird, pure white with light grey tips on its wings that was different. It was a female. I had only to wish and call her, and she would come flying to me. I loved that pigeon as a man loves a woman, and she loved me. As long as I had her, there was a purpose to my life.”

4.  Oddity odds and ends

Tesla reportedly always despised jewelry and did not own a single piece, seeing it as wasteful and cumbersome. In his very last years, however, he seemed to focus in on pearls specifically, as, in addition to hating jewelry; he began to hate round objects.   In his later years, Tesla also could not bear to touch hair and did not like to shake hands.

Now, the habits are not really that cumbersome and certainly hurt no one, including Tesla.  (I will admit this penchant for taking things in 3’s is a bit odd but only interesting.  )

In Mr. Duhigg’s book, he highlights the following areas:

  • The Habit Loop—How Habits Work
  • The Craving Brain—How to Create  New Habits
  • The Golden Rule of Habit Change—Why Transformation Occurs
  • Keystone Habits, Or the Ballad of Paul O’Neill—Which Habits Matter Most
  •  Starbucks and the Habit of Success—When Willpower Become Automatic
  •  The Power of Crisis—How Leaders Create Habits Through  Accident and Design
  •  How Target Knows What You Want Before You Do—When Companies Predict (and manipulate) Habits.
  •  Saddleback Church and the Montgomery Bus Boycott—How Movements Happen
  •  The Neurology of Free Will—Are We Responsible for Our Habits?

The chapter on how Target knows what you want is truly fascinating and really points out how a company, with minimal buying information, can connect the dots to profile a buyer.  Really fascinating in light of NSA “snooping” in the news at this time.  For anyone who has a habit—or anyone who is living with someone who has a habit—this is a “must read”.  Excellent book and one I can definitely recommend to you.   Hope you enjoy it.


The following post was taken from a great book entitled Adversity Quotient by Dr. Paul G. Stoltz, published by John Wiley & Sons, copyright 1997.

Do you ever wonder why some organizations thrive on competition and others are crushed?   Why one entrepreneur beats unfathomable odds, while others completely give up?  Why do some parents raise children who are good citizens in neighborhoods riddled with violence and drugs?  Why does an individual beat the odds, overcoming an abusive childhood when others, maybe most, do not?    Why does an inner-city teacher positively impact student lives, while the rest of the faculty barely gets by?  Why do so many gifted or high IQ individuals fall far short of their potential?    It appears those who really excel and accomplish their goals do so because they have a great work ethic, they persevere—never give up, and  they apply their talents and FOCUS relative to the work at hand.  In short, they know how to overcome adversity when adversity occurs.

There are several, (twenty-two to be exact,) areas that can completely stifle creativity on an individual or company basis.  Things that really throw a monkey-wrench in the works and derail efforts; sometimes so much that eventual failure occurs.  If you own a company, if you are a CEO or manage a department within a company, you can really inhibit the productivity of your workforce by doing the following:  Let’s take a look.

  • Always promise more than you can deliver
  • Be consistently inconsistent
  • Remember—there is always a downside to everything
  • Model victimhood
  • Give lip service to accountability and responsibility
  • Ignore any potential contribution to the teams’ success
  •   Help your team see setbacks for what they are—major failures
  • Frame success as a freak accident
  •  Torpedo humor at all costs
  • Sap their strength
  • Crush creativity
  • Punish all attempts at independence, swiftly and severely
  • Dismantle any hope or optimism
  • Surround yourself with quitters instead of doers
  • Set your team up for failure
  • Reward them for playing by the rules
  • Construct a rigid, stark, colorless environment
  • Uproot enthusiasm before it can grow
  • Press everyone to create a mission and vision, then forget about it
  • Provide responsibility without authority
  • Use “empowerment” as a weapon  to get them to do more with less

Let’s be honest, on an individual basis, we all at times, talk ourselves into some of the road blocks given above. It’s really human nature to bring about doubts when jobs and problems seem insurmountable.   One of my favorite sayings was uttered by George Bernard Shaw in his play “Back to Methuselah.  “You see things; and you say, ‘Why?‘    But I dream things that never were; and I say, “Why not?”  I think the bottom line is:



June 1, 2013

The following information was taken from FORBES MAGAZINE.

The past few months various corporations have been greatly criticized for paying few if any Federal corporate taxes.  Keep in mind, they follow existing tax codes but they simply find “loopholes” that allow them to minimize tax liabilities. Don’t we do the very same?  I know I do. FORBES MAGAZINE just published a list of twenty-five (25) companies and the taxes they did pay in 2012.  It’s quite a list and very telling.  Let’s take a look.  (PLEASE NOTE: These are not in any order.  You may do that on your own. )

  •   Wells Fargo
  • JP Morgan-Chase
    • $8.1 Billion in Taxes
    • $22.9 Billion in Net Income
    •  26% Effective Tax Rate
  • Apple
    • $ 14.2 Billion in Taxes
    • $41.7 Billion in Net Income
    •  25% Effective Tax Rate
  • Chevron
    • $20 Billion in Taxes
    • $26 Billion in Net Income
    •  43% Effective Tax Rate
  • Exxon Mobile
    • $31 Billion in Taxes
    • $45 Billion in Net Income
    • 39% Effective Tax Rate
  • Wal-Mart
    • $8 Billion in Taxes
    •  $17 Billion in Net Income
    • 31% Effective Tax Rate
  • Conoco
    • $7.9 Billion in Taxes
    • $8.4 Billion in Net Income
    • 51.4% Effective Tax Rate
  • Berkshire Hathaway
    • $6.9 Billion in Taxes
    • $14.8 Billion in Net Income
    •  28% Effective Tax Rate
  • IBM
    • $5.3 Billion in Taxes
    • $ 16.6 Billion in Net Income
    • 24% Effective Tax Rate
  • Microsoft
    • $4.6 Billion in Taxes
    • $ 15.5 Billion in Net Income
    •  22.8% Effective Tax Rate
  • Phillip Morris
    • $3.8 Billion in Taxes
    •  $8.8 Billion in Net Income
    •  29.5% Effective Tax Rate
  • Goldman Sachs
    • $3.7 Billion in Taxes
    • $7.6 Billion in Net Income
    • 33% Effective Tax Rate
  • Comcast
    • $3.7 Billion in Taxes
    • $6.2 Billion in Net Income
    • 32% Effective Tax Rate
  • Procter & Gamble
    • $3.6 Billion in Taxes
    • $12.9 Billion in Net Income
    • 23.5% Effective Tax Rate
  • Johnson & Johnson
    • $3.3 Billion in Taxes
    • $10.9 Billion in Net Income
    • 23.7% Effective Tax Rate
  • Intel
    • $3.2 Billion in Taxes
    • $ 10.3 Billion in Net Income
    • 23.6% Effective Tax Rate
  • Occidental Petroleum
    • $3.1 Billion in Taxes
    • $4.6 Billion in Net Income
    • 42% Effective Tax Rate
  • United Health Care
    • $ 3.1 Billion in Taxes
    • $5.3 Billion in Net Income
    • 33.9% Effective Tax Rate
  • Walt Disney
    • $3.0 Billion in Taxes
    • $  5.6 Billion in Net Income
    • 32.7% Effective Tax Rate
  • At&T
    • $2.9 Billion in Taxes
    • $7.3 Billion in Net Income
    • 27.8% Effective Tax Rate
  • Oracle
    • $2.9 Billion in Taxes
    •  $10.6 Billion in Net Income
    • 21.4% Effective Tax Rate
  • Coca-Cola
    • $2.7 Billion in Taxes
    • $9.0 Billion in Net Income
    • 23.1% Effective Tax Rate
  • Home Depot
    • $2.7 Billion in Taxes
    • $4.5 Billion in Net Income
    • 37.2% Effective Tax Rate
  • McDonalds
    • $2.6 Billion in Taxes
    • $ 5.5 Billion in Net Income
    • 32.4% Effective Tax Rate
  • Google
    • $2.6 Billion in Taxes
    • $ 10.7 Billion in Net Income
    • 19.4% Effective Tax Rate

In looking at a summary:

TOTAL TAXES: $ 157.70 Billion

                TOTAL NET INCOME:  $382.9 Billion


I run a small three-man engineering consulting firm.  My taxes run approximately 41%; i.e. Federal, city, country, etc etc.  I definitely feel our tax rates are much too high.  We are taxing those companies providing valuable services AND providing valuable employment.  Does anyone really think the codes will change for the better?  Congress and the IRS will never relinquish control and they do that by taking from those who work for a living.  The value-added is not really balanced.  I welcome your viewpoint.

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