April 2007

We can’t lose

President Bush on Border Security, 11/28/05:

And one of the best examples of success is the Arizona Border Control Initiative, which the government launched in 2004. In the first year of this initiative — now, listen to this, listen how hard these people are working here — agents in Arizona apprehended nearly 500,000 illegal immigrants, a 42-percent increase over the previous year.

President Bush on Border Security, 4/9/07:

In the months before Operation Jump Start, an average of more than 400 people a day were apprehended trying to cross here. The number has dropped to fewer than 140 a day. In other words, one way that the Border Patrol can tell whether or not we’re making progress is the number of apprehensions. When you’re apprehending fewer people, it means fewer are trying to come across…. We’re seeing similar results all across the southern border. The number of people apprehended for illegally crossing our southern border is down by nearly 30 percent this year. We’re making progress. And thanks for your hard work. It’s hard work, but necessary work.

(Via Media Matters)

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Great visualization tools from GapMinder.org


Here’s a video of an incredible talk Hans Rosling gave at last year’s TED conference. On one level it’s a talk about trends in world health (Rosling is a professor of international health at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden), but at another level it’s about the need for much better visualization tools so people can make sense out of all the data we already have freely available in public databases. The whole talk is an example, using tools developed by the non-profit Rosling founded called Gapminder.

After watching the video, check out Gapminder World, being hosted by Google.

(Thanks to my dad for the link!)

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Wells Fargo pushing the envelope

Wells Fargo is using optical scanning and OCR to improve how their customers deposit checks in ATMs. No more empty envelope drawers and out-of-ink pens; now you just put all your checks and cash in a stack and insert it into the slot. The ATM automatically scans each one in, does optical character recognition to tell how much each is for and puts up a verification screen. After you correct the amounts, the machine will either spit out a receipt with a summary line for each transaction or a printed image of each scanned check. From their press release:

“With the new technology, you don’t need to spend time writing on an envelope or keying in a deposit amount. You just insert your money into a slot and the machine sorts, counts and verifies it,” said Jonathan Velline, head of Wells Fargo’s ATM Banking division. “Our Envelope-Free ATMs also converts paper checks into a digital image which then appears on the ATM screen and receipt, so you know your check was received. You can’t get this in the traditional envelope world.”

I used one of their machines in Alameda recently and it was pretty slick, though I had to insert each of my three checks individually since it couldn’t handle my differently-sized and somewhat wallet-wrinkled stack.

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Wireless power


Powercast (formerly Firefly Power Technologies, and spin-off based on University of Pittsburgh research) made a splash at CES this year with their dime-sized receiver that harvests RF energy from a nearby wall-wart transmitter. Based on their patent and related tech from PITT, the technology looks pretty darned simple (so simple I’m surprised there’s not prior art, but then this isn’t my field). It’s basically just an antenna with a bunch of taps, each tap consisting of an inductor to resonate with the desired RF frequency and a rectifying diode to turn the energy into DC. That DC voltage is integrated across a series of capacitors, and stored in another capacitor.

I’ve not seen any detailed specs on how efficiency drops off with range from the transmitter, though a Businesses 2.0 write-up claims their range is only about 3 feet, with voltages too small for laptops but good enough for small devices. Their tech has also been tested for recharging wireless sensors at the Pittsburgh Zoo, and Philips is apparently coming out with a wirelessly-powered lightstick using the technology later this year.

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