Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Exclusive: In boost to self-driving cars, U.S. tells Google computers can qualify as drivers - Reuters

U.S. vehicle safety regulators have said the artificial intelligence system piloting a self-driving Google car could be considered the driver under federal law, a major step toward ultimately winning approval for autonomous vehicles on the roads.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration told Google, a unit of Alphabet Inc (GOOGL.O), of its decision in a previously unreported Feb. 4 letter to the company posted on the agency's website this week.
Google's self-driving car unit on Nov. 12 submitted a proposed design for a self-driving car that has "no need for a human driver," the letter to Google from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Chief Counsel Paul Hemmersbaugh said.
"NHTSA will interpret 'driver' in the context of Google's described motor vehicle design as referring to the (self-driving system), and not to any of the vehicle occupants," NHTSA's letter said.
"We agree with Google its (self-driving car) will not have a 'driver' in the traditional sense that vehicles have had drivers during the last more than one hundred years."
Major automakers and technology companies such as Google are racing to develop and sell vehicles that can drive themselves at least part of the time. ...

bth: I think this is a very positive step as it begins to lay the foundation for approval of driverless systems that could be released by version.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

US intelligence chief: we might use the internet of things to spy on you - The Guardian

The US intelligence chief has acknowledged for the first time that agencies might use a new generation of smart household devices to increase their surveillance capabilities.
As increasing numbers of devices connect to the internet and to one another, the so-called internet of things promises consumers increased convenience – the remotely operated thermostat from Google-owned Nest is a leading example. But as home computing migrates away from the laptop, the tablet and the smartphone, experts warn that the security features on the coming wave of automobiles, dishwashers and alarm systems lag far behind....

bth: a worthy article about technologies degradation of privacy and the long term implications on national security and personal liberties.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Russia and US airfields in northeast Syria

So if this information is correct, then Russia and the US are building neighboring airbases in northeastern Syria.

"...US officials are saying Russia has dispatched personnel to an airfield in Qamishli and are believed to be trying to figure out if they want that site. Qamishli is extremely close to Turkey, and US officials seem to believe the Turks will object to Russia taking the base.

The reports of Russian interest in having an airfield in Hasakeh comes amid reports that the US has already taken over such a base in nearby Rmeilan, and is busily widening the runway for US military aircraft. The US speculation, then, is likely focused on the prospect of the Russians turning up awfully close to their new base....

Then there is this article about an existing US special forces airfield that is being expanded.

"U.S. special operations troops have reportedly taken over an airfield in northeastern Syria, potentially clearing the way to flow more American military support to friendly militias fighting the Islamic State group.
A small team of U.S. troops is setting up a base camp at Rmeilan Air Base in the Syrian Kurdish region near Syria's Iraqi and Turkish borders, according to local reports.
American helicopters operated at the base over the past couple of weeks as local workers expanded the runway, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The airfield was until recently under control of the Syrian Kurdish forces, known as the YPG, but was turned over to the U.S. to help expand American support for the Syrian Democratic Forces, which is the loose-knit coalition of American-backed militants fighting the Islamic State group.
"Under a deal with the YPG, the U.S. was given control of the airport. The purpose of this deal is to back up the SDF, by providing weapons and an air base for U.S. warplanes," an SDF spokesperson, Taj Kordsh, told Al-Jazeera, the Qatar-based international news network, in a report published Wednesday."

Both bases appear to be near a strategic oil field currently controlled by the Kurds and along a supply line used by ISIS to link Mosul and Raqqa.

There will likely be more information on this as the situation develops.

Security researcher: Ukraine power grid facing new wave of cyberattacks - The Hill

Ukrainian power plants are still facing an onslaught of cyberattacks in the wake of a malware-caused blackout in December, according to a U.S. security firm.
“[On January 19th], we discovered a new wave of these attacks, where a number of electricity distribution companies in Ukraine were targeted again following the power outages in December,” malware researcher Robert Lipovsky wrote in a post on the blog We Live Security...

The U.S.’s Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team is assisting Ukraine in investigating the blackout, but it has neither confirmed that the malware was the principle culprit behind the blackout nor attributed the attack to Russia.
The team “can confirm that a BlackEnergy 3 variant was present in the system,” but “based on the technical artifacts, we cannot confirm a causal link between the power outage with the presence of the malware,” the agency said earlier this month.
Lipovsky warns that the latest wave of attacks, far from confirming Russia as the culprit, “suggests that the possibility of false flag operations should also be considered

One step closer to fusion power

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Syria - Economic Observations January 2016

Syria – Economic Observations January 2016

  • Population: At the beginning of the civil war it was roughly 21 million.  Now the population is 17.5 million. Roughly 11 million people are displaced or refugees both domestically or internationally. Life expectancy in Syria is 55.7 years in 2015 down from 75.9 years in 2010.
  • Gross Domestic Product: The economy in Syria has contracted 50% since 2011. Syrian businesses have displaced to Turkey and Lebanon with 25% of companies with foreign shareholders started in Turkey in 2014 were Syrian.  GDP is estimated to decline 16% in 2016. Unemployment is about 57%
  • Government:  The fiscal deficit is 20% of GDP. The Syrian pound trades around 312 to the USD down about 80% since the beginning of the conflict. Through 2014 the cost of the war was 383% of the 2010 GDP.
  • Energy: Effective electrical generation is down 70% since the conflict began.  Government controlled oil production has fallen from 387K BPD to about 10K BPD.  ISIS has somewhere around 60K BPD and Kurds a similar amount though both are likely down hard in recent months.
  • Food: Fragmentation of the country has increased transportation costs so that it is more economical to import wheat from the Black Sea than to buy it and transport it from Hasakah to Damascus.

Today's Zaman - Iran faces crisis if it fails to attract cash flow

“It is hardly sustainable that Iranian banks restore their lending capabilities in a market where interest rates hover around 22 to 27 percent. … Plus, the government may be forced to hike taxes and that would be a blow to already weak markets,” the report read. It also added that the Iranian government could have difficulties in repaying debts amid “drying cash resources abroad.” “The only way for Iran to exit a possible crisis would be a long-term oil exports deal with such large markets as India, Japan, China as well as Western countries with fixed prices,” the report added....

Baiji's looting and dim economic prospects for Sunni Iraq post ISIS

The linked article discusses the systematic looting of the Baiji refinery complex in Iraq.

I believe the refinery is critical to the economic viability of Sunni areas in Iraq and to the economic integration of Sunni Iraq with Kurdish even Shia areas.  By that I think refined petrochemicals, namely gasoline, is critical to putting Sunni areas into the value added chain.  One might hope that Kurds would pipe or truck oil from its fields around Kirkuk to the refinery for processing.

But if the refinery is being dismantled and looted either deliberately or by mafia like Shia militias, then the consequence is dire for a meaningful Iraqi state that would include former ISIS controlled areas.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Transcript: Interview with Muhammad bin Salman - The Economist

Muhammad bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s deputy crown prince and the country's defence minister, spoke to The Economist on January 4th. As part of a five-hour conversation, he gave his first on-the-record interview, which we have transcribed below. Our briefing includes quotations from both this and the broader discussion. Our cover leader is available here and more analysis on a possible Aramco listing is here....

The link above is to the Economist interview with Defence Minister Salman.  It is well worth reading for someone trying to sort out what is happening in the ME.