Ethnic Element Of Boston Bombing Complicated By Geography Skills

Killed and captured, Boston marathon suspects Tamerlan Tsarnaev and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev are understandably a trending topic across social media platforms. That’s no surprise. Perhaps now some reasons behind the bombing will surface and we can begin to categorize the event, learn from it, vow to never forget and move along, albeit with a bit less of a secure feeling.

Also no surprise is that most of us have no idea where the Tsarnaev’s are from. Chechnya? Dagestan? The Czech Republic? The fact that nearly a third of U.S. young adults cannot locate the Pacific Ocean on a map comes back to bite us again.

To many Americans, where they came from is of little interest. But to others, where the bombing suspects came from does matter – a whole lot.

“The Czech Republic and Chechnya are two very different entities – the Czech Republic is a Central European country; Chechnya is a part of the Russian Federation,” said Petr Gandalovič, Ambassador of the Czech Republic in a statement.

More importantly, the Czech Republic is committed, just as is the United States and many other nations, to fight terrorism. “We are determined to stand side by side with our allies in this respect; there is no doubt about that,” adds Amb. Gandalovič.Chechnya, on the other hand, has a long and violent history of terrorism-like activities stemming back to the first Chechen war between the Russian Federation and the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria.

The Los Angeles Times writes, “Chechen fighters have traveled to Afghanistan, Pakistan and neighboring Caucasus regions for military and explosives training, joining their cause to a worldwide jihad.”

But the Tsarnaev brothers came to America at a very young age, were not known to associate with militants and looked very much like thousands of other students in the Boston area.

Out of cyberspace and off the airwaves, talk of the Boston bombing is right down on street level too. It’s the kind of topic that can be discussed with a perfect stranger as though continuing a conversation.

On Friday it was:

“…so they got one of them.”
“…they’re closing in on the other one.”
“…what I can’t figure out is why they did not plant the bomb(s) then get on the next plane out of town.”

I was at our local Apple Store in the afternoon. Talking to one of the sales people, the conversation was very much like the above. Safe, current, trending.

Then our chat took a different direction, highlighting just how dangerous our challenged knowledge of geography can be.

“This is going to be just like after 9-11,” said the Lebanese Apple employee. “I was in high school then and got hater looks and stares for years after that.”

She is not alone either. Anyone who looks to be even remotely Muslim will no doubt be on the receiving end of that suspicion, much like anyone who looked even remotely Asian was after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

[Photo credit – Flickr user ToastyKen]

Globe Genie magically transports you around the world

Ever had the feeling while traveling that you’d stumbled across something truly extraordinary? A beautiful unknown view or place that wasn’t in your guidebook and only you discovered? That’s how you’ll probably feel after using Globe Genie, a nifty project that lets you randomly “teleport” around the world using Google’s Street View feature.

What is Globe Genie exactly? It’s a project created by MIT grad student Joe McMichael. McMichael took the same software code that powers Google Street View and randomized it. Instead of letting you search for the street view of a place you already know, Globe Genie shows you a random view based on a list of continents chosen from a menu on the right. Choose where you want to “go,” and hit the “teleport” button, and suddenly you’re standing in a farm field in Hokkaido, Japan. Click teleport again. You’re along the coast in Marseille, France. Once again. A tree-lined highway in Mississippi. In other words, Globe Genie lets you experience the thrill of traveling to a new place without ever leaving your desk.

The problem with looking at photos and video of far-off destinations is they are on some level, predictable. You already have an image in your mind of the Eiffel Tower or a beach in Thailand before you get there. What makes Globe Genie truly addictive is that element of randomness – you literally have no idea where you might end up next. Combined with a truly massive database of places and you have a very interesting idea on your hands. Can looking at a computer replace a truly amazing trip? No way. But projects like Globe Genie are proving incredibly addictive for armchair travelers everywhere.

[Via Metafilter]

Man’s new best friend could be a robot

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is teaming up with Volkswagen to develop the Affective Intelligent Driving Agent, or “AIDA,” an expressive in-car robot which just might bring your driving experience into the new millennium.

We’ve seen major developments in car computer systems over the past few decades (and had quite enough of our GPS systems shouting at us, no?), but never anything on this level. Sweet-faced AIDA will sit on your dashboard and sympathize with you if you’ve had a bad day. Seriously. She can learn your facial expressions.

“Over time, the project envisions a kind of symbiotic relationship developing between the driver and Aida, where both parties learn from each other and establish an affective bond,” reports The Daily Mail. Just watch the guy in the video below scratching AIDA’s head. Could a robot be man’s new best friend?

AIDA may be able to help you conserve time and energy by suggesting the best routes and anticipating your needs, like noticing before you do that your gas is low, and knowing where you typically go shopping and what traffic conditions are like in that area. It’s like something out of a movie — but now, it’s real. There’s no official word yet on how AIDA could help with road trips, but with its (her?) ability to read external cues and internet connection, it (she?) will probably be able to tell you where the best rest stops are, which restaurants are nearby, where there’s going to be traffic and more.

Does your dog do that?

[via DailyMail]

Hack your local subway

Frequent travelers on any metropolitan subway system know that the two major means for fare tracking and billing are via magnetic strip and Radio Frequency Identification (RFID). And every nerd and his RPG character know that those systems can be both readable and exploitable.

To see how secure the Boston subway system was, several MIT students decided to run an analysis on the security of the infrastructure; what they found was a little disturbing. By simply wandering into unlocked doors, opening unlocked cabinets and peering around they were able to find keys to the system, get access to network hardware and find and copy employee identification.

On looking into the security of the magnetic and RFID systems, they were able to reverse engineer the code on the magnetic stripes and reconfigure the data to post $653 to a subway card. Similarly, the group analyzed the RFID contents and were able to disassemble the code.

The students point out that numerous transportation systems around the globe use these systems and technology.

Naturally, all of this quite illegal — the students were just illustrating a point to the MBTA that there are security vulnerabilities in the system that can fairly easily be exploited. Hopefully, they and the company that makes subway infrastructures perks up and makes some serious security changes as a result of this reserach.

Check out the full 87 page presentation on the execution hosted at MIT.