Today is a great day for law enforcement and a bad day for careless young people. It is an even worse day for paranoid people, because today Google announced the search feature that will make it nearly impossible to hide online. Today, Google announced what they call “similar image search,” a handy feature for discerning between an image of a jaguar, the animal, and Jaguar, the car, as shown in their example. This is an extension of the previously released “color search.” In reality, the search giant showed the world that the processing power of its servers and its search algorithms are capable of analyzing image content and comparing sets of pixels. This means that eventually users will be able to upload a picture or select a part of a picture and search for “similar images.”

The implications of such a possibility are tremendous. People will be able to do anything with images from identifying blurred or unknown objects in any picture to finding embarrassing pictures of themselves, their friends, or co-workers to discovering people connected to suspects in investigations. This is not sci-fi anymore: Google has already introduced facial recognition and search in Picasa Web Albums, which currently limited only to individual accounts but global search most likely is not far away.

This brings the anti-utopia closer than ever. Bad guys will be looking for good guys and their loved ones. Employers and ill-wishers will be looking for compromising pictures. Spammers will be trying to trick search engines into showing their pictures with unsolicited messages. All of these situations are present in one form or another, and there is no need for a Crusade against Google or for a mass creation of tin-foil hats. Yet, it does not diminish the debate of whether Google is out there to dominate the world with its “anything and anyone can be found” capabilities.

Obviously, not everything is as bas as it seems. Privacy freaks can relax for now. It will be ages of legal debates before image indexing will be allowed into social networks. It will be also a huge business decision as nothing will cause more of an exodus from Facebook than allowing Google to make all pictures searchable by content. Of course, law enforcement agencies will eventually get some sort of courts-granted authorizations to index and search images looking for suspect connections, especially under the “national security” excuse. However, more petty crimes will get solved with such a tool available as small-scale criminals usually lack the sophistication to erase all traces. Nonetheless, the only time “crazy partying” photographs will face any danger of being exposed will be if they are posted in areas of websites that are not password protected (just like the current system of content indexing).

Similar image search is the first step toward probably the biggest government contract a private company will ever receive. I am sure that one of CIA’s investment companies has already provided a lot of capital to Google, but it was covert investing. This time Google stands a chance to receive open contracts to provide image searching services to all levels of law enforcement worldwide as this industry is the one that stands to gain the most out of such capabilities. Google can provide priority access to their servers and integrate law enforcement databases with such servers and across agencies. Such contracts can possibly a greater source of revenue than the advertising business. Thus, it makes a lot of sense to buy Google shares for long-term investment.

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Electronic Explorations

April 12, 2009

Lately, I have been exploring new music for the first time in about 2 years. Last time that I remember I was checking out new performers was the summer of 2007 when I got introduced to the wonderful worlds of ska punk and folk punk through Gogol Bordello, Flogging Molly, and Streetlight Manifesto. The amazing beat and major (happy and exciting for music-terms challenged) tones made these bands and the similar ones my favorite Pandora station. Yet, even though these were new bands and new styles they still fell under the general definition of rock music, of which I had been a fan since early adolescence. This time, however, I am truly exploring a new type of music.

When I was in Belarus the past new year’s, one of the points of interest that I visited was the largest nightclub in Viciebsk called Energy located in a former factory. The night I was there was a so-called “Retro Night” when “resident” singers were doing cover performances of pop hits of ‘80s and ‘90s. Even though the songs brought memories of my childhood it was impossible to enjoy them because the performers were bad. My friends who knew the club invited me to join them in the electronic music hall, which was located in what looked like a former control room (as it turned out later many of the people who visit the club don’t even know about it). The first encounter with the modern club music turned out to be ambiguous: while I enjoyed the music played, it was too loud for the barely 2,000 square feet room.

Then just over a month ago Bi-2, a famous Russian rock band with roots in Belarus, came to DC as a part of their US tour. The tickets included entrance to the afterparty at a nearby club. Since I went to the concert with a group of friends who were planning to go there, I decided to join them (the no-cover entrance was the deal breaker). I was expecting to hear what I considered to be typical American club music consisting of hip-hop, reggae, and variations there of where lyrics came down to “Shake that booty”. To my surprise, the dance floor where the afterparty was taking place was playing electronic music. Not only I could enjoy listening to it, I even tried to dance a bit when my friends went to actually dance in between their drinking. At that point, a thought ran through my mind that the music might depend on the DJ and the crowd and that I had been to the “wrong” clubs before.

The next weekend there was another club party organized by one of the DC’s Russian promoters where Eastern European DJs were supposed to perform. I decided to check it out to confirm my thought that I could attend such events and have fun there (as my previous club experience was obviously far from enjoyable). Well, the theory turned out to be true. I heard music with major tones and barely any lyrics that I could care about. They even played some remixes of Nirvana and Depeche Mode, which surprisingly found positive feedback from the audience. On that day, I got a new obsession — I wanted to know as much about electronic music as I could.

My quest started at the websites of the Russian party organizers in DC. As I was looking through upcoming events, I came across some of the night mixes they made available for listening and downloading. As I listened to those recordings, I started to discern good quality tracks and mixing. However, I was completely deaf to the differences in styles unless it came down to the presence of lyrics (electro-pop is quite distinct after all). That’s where my buddy Arthur, a fan of trance, techno, and all things electronic, came to help by introducing me to Ishkur’s Guide to Electronic Music. The strange thing is that even after listening to some of the samples and reading style descriptions I am still struggling to discern trance from techno and house. It seems to me that the difference lies in beats per minute unlike instruments involved, tonality, and lyrics as it is the case in most other music genres. Yet, it is very easy to understand whether or not you like a performer because each of them has a unique style of composing mixing their tracks.

So far I liked Arnej, a Canadian DJ of Balkan heritage. What is unique to him so far is what sounds to me as canonical composition style with clear sections and the use of many samples to change the mood of the piece throughout its length while keeping a steady beat, a requirement for trance. Unfortunately, electronic DJs have just a handful of pieces so a full collection is very short, which becomes a problem when forming a taste for this music.

Any suggestions of artists and explanations of styles are welcome!

This text has spread over the internets from a Facebook group The ADD and ADHD Law. I did some editing and present only general and funny laws.

  1. Law of Interruption: When a non-ADD/HD person is speaking is interrupted by an ADD/HD person, you cannot be offended. Understand that it is not because what you are saying is boring, but the said ADD person had a whim.
  2. Law of Randomness: Non-ADD/HD people shouldn’t look at an ADD/HD person when they make a comment that’s out of the blue as if they are alien. If said ADD/HD person wants to say a random fact about coffee when you’re talking about the zoo, just smile!
  3. Law of Extreme Moods: For extreme ADD/HD off medication, understand there isn’t any moderation in their mood. They are either hyper or tired.
  4. Law of Silence: If said ADD/HD person is tired, do not bother them. Enjoy the silence because chances are it won’t last long.
  5. Law of Patience/Impatience: If you are the friend of a person with mild-extreme ADD/HD, you understand one quality you have to have is patient.
    On the part of the person with ADD/HD, they maybe impatient at times (especially if they are hungry, but they are not to be rude about it). If the said ADD/HD person goes to extreme tempers in public, their friend (patient) does have the right to leave or give a gentle slap on the back.
  6. Law on Love: Most of the time, ADD/HD people have a lot of love for their friends, family, and significant other. They have different methods of showing it. If you are confused by a certain event that is clearly not a negative one, understand that it’s their way of saying you are wonderful.
  7. Law of Movement: A) When an ADD person twitches or swings their hands around when they speak, know they are not deaf. Do not try their sign language because you will hurt your own mind. B) When the ADD person is speaking with their hands, don’t imitate them because they will be confused even more. This confusion can cause brain damage to said person.
  8. Law of Drugs: When an ADD/HD person is taking their Adderol know that they are not drug dealers. Trying to take their medication will result in your ass being kicked by said person. Now if the ADD/HD person offers to share, that is between the two of you. The ADD/HD law does not take responsibility of those who turn into lunatics with ADD/HD peoples!
  9. Law of Medicated Concentration: When a person with ADD/HD takes their medication and is hard at work, do not poke or prod, or make fun of said person for their intense concentration. If this law is ignored you can expect an angry/panicked reaction from said person.
  10. Law of Boredom: If you as the friend suggest something to do keep in mind if ADD/HD friend isn’t on their medication they will be bored in less than 10 minutes unless it deals with something of extreme interest or pays good money. Examples would be ice cream or anything with sugar.
  11. Law of All Over the Place: A non ADD/HD person may run into their ADD/HD friend more than twice within the time span of an hour at different places on campus. Do not be afraid because they do not know how to teleport. But, it is normal since ADD/HD people just like to be "all over the place" and keep themselves busily entertained to avoid boredom (aka studying or doing homework).
  12. Law of Piles and CleaningNever mess with piles or attempt to clean a ADD/HD persons room because no matter how messy it may be! Those pile are the person’s "filing cabinet" or closet, and it is very clean and organized to them and they know where every thing is. Cleaning there room or even worse organizing it will only cause them confusing and they will more than likely to hurt you physically.
  13. Law of Erratic Eyes: Do not be alarmed if you are in conversation with an ADD/HDer and he or she does not make solid eye contact, but instead glances around constantly as if he only recently survived a zombie attack that he expects to be repeated at any moment. He was not necessarily abused as a child, is not necessarily untrustworthy, and does not necessarily think you are boring and/or unattractive. Nor does it mean you should brace for attack from the rear, turn around to see what the hell he is looking at, or ask if you have something on your face, as this will only distract him. It is just that for an ADD/HDer, looking at one fixed point for any length of time at all is as almost as difficult as chewing gum while laying eggs and levitating. If he or she is standing or sitting in one place to talk to you (or walking around in your general location and picking up random objects to examine while talking to you), accept this as a signal that if he were ADD/HD-free, he would be boring a hole through your eyeballs and into your brain with the weight of his gaze alone, putting you at severe risk for brain hemorrhage.

    • Corollary: If an ADD/HDer stares you in the eye for more than .7 seconds, and you are not incredibly attractive or incredibly unattractive, you should probably run.
    • Second Corollary: If he screams, "Look out!" and points to something behind you, be thankful he has ADD/HD and wasn’t staring you in the eye. But do it after you have gotten your ass to relative safety, because something bad is about to happen to the back of you.
  14. Law of ‘Special School’: If an ADD/HD person is at a ‘special school’, understand that they are not stupid (in fact most ADD/HD people are very smart, they may seem to be stupid.  They are there because of the fact that they/we learn differently!

Danger! Man Cooking!

February 22, 2009

After getting tired of my complaints of not having enough time to cook, my mom recommended getting a rice cooker. Though the model of her choice was everything and a rice cooker. This Panasonic SR-TMB10 can cook white rice, brown rice, soups, slow cook, steam vegetables, and bake cakes (or at least some sort of such). Its older brother with model number 18, which somehow means a larger capacity, is apparently pretty popular among the former USSR housewives for its versatility, the 13-hour delay timer, and the 12-hour keep warm feature. The deal-breaker for me was the ability to put all the ingredients, close the lid, and go away on my business.

After ordering the rice cooker last Friday, I finally received it on Thursday. So, by now I’ve used it just twice. Nonetheless, my impressions so far are great. Of course, there are some issues with it, like there would be when switching between gas and electric stoves. It will be some trial and error time for me to get the water-grain proportions right when cooking porridges. For everything else there are plenty cookbooks, and my mom was kind enough to get me a summary of her Russian housewives’ online forums with select recipes. Now, all I need is to find some time to actually read all of that.

Speaking of cookbooks, Borders had a 40% off any one book coupon for yesterday and today. Unfortunately for me, the coupon was valid in-store only, so I had to browse through the disorganized shelves (because of the construction) in the 19th & L NW store. I originally wanted to buy The Ultimate Rice Cooker Cookbook, which is apparently out of stock all over Metropolitan DC area. Well, the only related cookbook was the Fix-It And Forget-It Big Cookbook: 1400 Best Slow Cooker Recipes, which is not a good one for a single person because most of the recipes there serve at least 4 people and require at least a 3-quart slow cooker (mine is just over 1 quart). Thus, after some browsing and thinking I settled for The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Cooking – For Guys. While it does not have many recipes that can be adapted for a rice cooker, it covers the basics of cooking techniques, and the servings are for three people at most sparing me from doing any adjustments. Though, most likely this will be one of the very few cookbooks I will actually own. With sites like Recipe Matcher, All Recipes, Extratasty, Rouxbe, and Cookstr there is just no need of having a physical cookbook in the kitchen.

Micro-blogging

April 23, 2008

On Monday I decided to create an account with Twitter, a service to notify the whole world about what I am doing at the moment.

I have been with Facebook since its early days in GWU, which happened to be in the beginning of my freshman year, and I enjoyed its “status” service. Facebook status messages, however, are visible only to my contacts there and they cannot be exported anywhere outside of the website. For one reason or another, I got an urge to tell the whole world what exactly occupies me at some point during the day. Besides, my status is never anything potentially damaging or anything I regret later.

I knew about Twitter from somewhere, so I headed over there, watched the video to make sure that I actually needed the thing, and created an account. When I searched for my existing contacts using the service, I realized that Twitter is not alone. As I found out, some of my acquaintances had migrated over to Jaiku, a Finnish “micro-blogging” service.

Once I had two leads, I did some googling and wikipediaing only to start having doubts about my choice of Twitter as a micro-blogging platform. Now, after two full days of reading articles, blogs, and help files I am very much confident that I made the right choice.

Microblogging is a concept that started somewhere between Jaiku and Twitter. Sources say that Jaiku was the first one. It originated as a Finnish community of Nokia fans who posted short messages from their phones. It grew so well that Google purchased it last October.

The whole point of micro-blogging is to write very short messages (T and J limit messages to 140 characters), to which other people can subscribe akin to real blogs. The biggest difference between these two services is that Jaiku has comments and channels and is by invitation only, and Twitter has very simple interface and is open to everyone.

Then there is Pownce, the next offspring of Digg’s father Kevin Rose. It is similar to Jaiku because it has comments, but it takes posting a new level with the possibility of attaching and sharing files. Most users attach hyperlinks, videos, photographs, and ical events. These are features available on nearly any “full-size” blogging platform.

With these feature-rich micro-blogging platforms, the issue of discerning them from regular blogs arises. I came to a conclusion that feature-rich micro-blogs are pointless because the defeat the purpose of miniaturization, which is to have small and short posts. Just imagine a regular YouTube video being added to a post, which contains about 10 words. While the features provided by Jaiku or Pownce may be neat, cool, or even wonderful to some users, the same things can be easily replicated on regular blogs with very little skills involved. Those who have no clue on how to post a video into a blog use the so-called tumblelogs, which were created specifically to allow people posting media content with limited commentary.

That’s where Twitter wins. Its only service is allowing to post a ultra-short message of 140 characters with no gimmicks. The point of blogs was to comment on things, and the point of micro-blogs was to comment on things in short messages. Twitter does just that straight to the point.

I also like the absence of comment threads. Discussing 20 words over pages is pointless. If any Twitter user wants to comment on any message, the person just needs to have “@username” (without the quotes) anywhere in the reply. This again makes the service straight to the point.

There is only one feature missing, which is the ability to import external RSS feeds, such as personal blogs. For example, I would like people to know that I have just written this post. In order to do that, I need to either start a desktop client or go to Twitter.com and type up the message. A feed importer would simply copy the title of the post and its URL and update my status automatically. There is, however, a workaround called Twitterfeed. I might start using it a little later.

Despite what I say, Jaiku, Pownce, and the like advanced micro-blogging systems will not die off. At least they will live as long as the Web 2.0 and social networking evangelists, such as Kevin Rose, Ariel Waldman, or Robert Scoble, support them. Though sometimes they change services, like Leo LaPorte’s move from Twitter to Jaiku (though he now posts on both of them plus on Pownce).

I, in the meantime, will use solely Twitter to broadcast my status, which is now copied to Facebook. I might create accounts with Joiku and Pownce just to secure my name, but if I create a micro-blog it will not be on any of those services. I have other ideas about the use of that technology.

Newseum Opening

April 13, 2008

It has been a while since I wrote anything substantial in this blog. I have been preoccupied with my personal life and to an extent with schoolwork leaving me with no inspiration to create any texts. Besides, I am taking a journalism class this semester, which somewhat quenches my thirst for expression.

Now, as I am entering yet another round of summer employment search and yet another attempt to keep at least a small part of my brain focused on long-term repetitive tasks, it makes sense to resume blogging for the initial purposes of self-expression and establishing “online presence”.

In any case, the main point of this posting is the re-opening of Newseum, which took place on Friday. Apparently, it has relocated from Arlington, Va., where it had existed for about five years, to the prime location in the District. The new building stands on the corner of Pennsylvania Ave NW and 6th Street NW, which is just a couple of blocks away from the Capitol and next door to the embassy of Canada. The view of the surroundings from the top floor balcony is fascinating. Too bad the area is not open to photographers for free. Obviously, on the opening day, when the admission was free, the terrace was packed so I quickly snapped a few shots with my phone’s camera just to give the feeling of the place. Though there was one other factor contributing to the density of people: a significant part of area was closed off due to some unfinished construction, which is visible in the second picture from the left.

Like any other museum, Newseum features a number of permanent exhibitions as well as some traveling ones. However, there is one project that cannot be described by any of these terms because it changes every single day. Every day editors from all over the world send their newspaper’s front pages to Newseum where the staff picks the most interesting ones for the day and changes displays before first visitors come. I got lucky because the Friday’s issue of Slovak Dennik SME featured one of the most amazing front pages I have seen in my life. I cannot give the verbatim translation since my Slovak skills are limited, but the here is the gist of the text:

The editorial board informs the readers about the parliament passing a press law, which they consider to be an attack on the freedom of the press and the editorial independence. The editors also call upon the president of Slovakia, the Constitutional Court, and international organizations for help so that news could be delivered to/serve readers. (I am not sure about the Slovak use of the verb that means “to serve” in the Eastern Slavic languages.)

The permanent exhibitions tell the world history of the press and American journalism. Though a little too much of it. The News History exhibit, which has numerous front pages describing historical events is at least 90% American. The only non-English newspapers there are a couple of Nazi-era German papers and at least one Russian newspaper. Unfortunately, many things are missing because of the target audience or misjudgment on behalf of the creators. I personally would love to see more artifacts about the first newspapers than the slippers of the first editor of Wonkette.

The digital media exhibition also tells an incomplete story. I liked the attention given to blogs and citizen journalism. The Rathergate has its own dedicated display showing how the “common folk” is able to scrutinize journalists. However, the whole point of the digital age section is to describe how journalists have to be quicker than ever to break the news before everyone else missing such important technological developments as RSS. This really simple protocol has given the readers, such as myself, the ability to consumer larger volumes of information in shorter time by eliminating distracting graphics and keeping advertisements in addition to instant delivery.

There are two memorial exhibitions: one for all journalists who “died reporting news” and another dedicated to 9/11. Having lived in New York at the time of the attack, I have seen the tragedy enough times on that day after my high school classes got canceled for almost two days and I came to accept the events. At the same time, being just a few degrees away from several journalists killed or kidnapped never to be found again I felt obligated to visit the memorial.

The wall with the names is well-designed and well-organized by year and then by country where the journalist has been seen last. However, the photograph display is located high above normal human height making it impossible to discern the faces on the top. Hence, I was able to locate only the name of Zmicier Zavadzki (Dmitry Zavadsky), the only Belarusian journalist who is considered a victim of violence even though his body has never been found. At the same time, Anna Politkovskaya, the most recent major journalist killed in Russia, has an easily-noticeable section dedicated to her, but it is primarily due to the recency of the event.

The rest of the museum is the modern history told through snippets from newspapers and journalists. Newseum would be very educational for children who know little about the media beyond MTV and reality shows. However, a person like me who knows more about journalism and media than the average Joe might find the experience somewhat disappointing and limited.

P.S. This is my most favorite front page of all times. Nothing can describe the technological advances of today than this famously erroneous headline.

The biggest issue with my ADHD is that no matter how busy and tied up in things I am, I will always find something more interesting and more exciting than the current task leaving it behind. Now, in the midst of midterms, I am slowly getting myself into a debate over satirical “anti-Muslim” posters, which have been distributed on GWU campus on October 8.

I will not get into the details of the issue since anyone can just search for “anti-Muslim posters GWU” (without the quotes) on one’s favorite search engine. I would rather explain why I am getting involved. The reason is simple: I do not want anyone to come for me, but if they do, I want someone to be left to speak out. I am not pro-Muslim for it has been misinterpreted as many times as Christianity has been; I am not anti-Israeli for I am a moderate Zionist; I am not anti-American for I truly support America in struggle against Russia and Iran; but I am a sane rational person who hates zealotry and bigotry. Hence, I will take on anyone who is willing to challenge my views on the limits of satire, hate speech, or even my biases.

This being said, I am going back to my boring schoolwork, which is now somewhat spiced up.