War on Inventors

On September 14, Ahmed Mohamed was arrested for having a fake bomb. He never claimed he had a bomb, fake or otherwise. Under stressful interrogation by police, he repeatedly claimed, as he had all along, that the clock was, in fact, a clock. Though the police agreed that the homemade device was indeed a clock, they arrested Ahmed anyway.

Ahmed was handcuffed and suspended from school. His story has a happy ending in that charges were dropped, and many powerful people reached out to him.  By invitation, he’ll be touring FaceBook, Google, and the White House.

While many people have focused on the bigotry angle of Ahmed’s story (would he have been arrested if had not been a Moslem?), there is another aspect that is also troubling. To put it bluntly, many of the people involved in his arrest acted stupidly.  It should have been quite evident very early on that no crime had been committed, and that this 14-year old was no threat at all. Yet, both the school and law enforcement have stubbornly insisted that their actions were appropriate.

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Nobody expects police, the judiciary, and teachers to be experts about explosives and dangerous devices. However, it seems obvious that when confronted by a technology of which you are suspicious, one should consult a professional to make an informed assessment. It is also obvious that when one makes a blatant mistake, one should admit it and move on.

Shockingly, Ahmed’s story is not unique. A quick internet searched revealed a surprisingly high number of incidents in which innocent people’s lives were disrupted under similar circumstances.

  • Sixteen-year old Kiera Wilmot did what kids have done since time immemorial: created a volcano experiment at a science fair. After an uneventful, successful demonstration, she was promptly arrested, suspended from school, and charged with 2 felonies, which were later dropped. She is now a sophomore at Florida Polytechnic University.
  • Steve Kurtz, a professor of art, sometimes uses biological materials in his installations. FBI raided his home and charged him with bioterrorism. Despite Commissioner of Public Health for New York State ruling that nothing in his home posed a threat, federal authorities still brought charges. After a grand jury refused to indict him on bioterrorism, he was charged with other felonies. A genetics professor who assisted him with his art projects was also indicted. Four years after the initial charges, a judge ruled that no crime had been committed.
  • Lewis Casey, an 18-year-old university student, built a chemistry lab in his home for his studies. Police arrested him for running a meth lab.  After it became abundantly clear to even the most clueless observer, that Casey’s lab had nothing to do with meth, he was charged with terrorism and bomb making. More than a year after his arrest he worked out a plea deal, paid a fine, will not have a criminal record, and will be able to return to his studies at university.
  • Xi Xiaoxing, the chairman of Temple University’s physics department was arrested for passing secrets to the Chinese. The evidence was a diagram he had sent overseas. The federal authorities claimed it was for a sensitive piece of technology called a pocket heater. Months after he was led away in handcuffs, suspended from his job, stripped of his title of chairman, and had his long-term research disrupted, expert testimony convinced the feds that the suspicious diagram was nothing like the pocket heater. Charges were dropped.

I have other examples. A hydrologist for the National Weather Service was cleared of all spying charges, but still risks losing her job. Even rapper/actor Ice-T was arrested for having a fake bomb, a clock that he had bought at the mall.

Although the spying episodes may seem different than the fake bomb incidents, they share a similar pattern:

  • Authorities see a technology that arouses fear.
  • Without really understanding what they see, they arrest the suspect.
  • They fail to consult experts about what the technology really is.
  • Even when the suspect is cleared of the original charges, authorities will refuse to admit they made a mistake and even sometimes bring further unrelated charges.

If you are alarmed by this, you are not alone. More and more people are becoming concerned about the “Freedom to Tinker.”  Hackers, makers, and other technophiles are frightened that their creativity will be stifled by an authoritarian, permission-based culture. This is not a simple matter in that it impacts copyright law, counterterrorism, patents, and a host of other issues.

The outreach by technological giants to the Texas teenager was motivated by more than simple outrage against an injustice. Some important innovators in the hi-tech world are frightened that the playfulness – the joy – of experimentation by young folks is under attack. This could be significant detriment to technological development. As someone once remarked to me, “The construction of every bridge began with a child playing with blocks.”

I was raised on stories about the great inventors like the Wright brothers, Thomas Edison, and Alexander Graham Bell. I grew up thinking that inventiveness was a core American virtue. I fear that when our current generation listens to the inspiring story of bicycle repairmen from Ohio inventing the first heavier-than-air flying machine, they will inevitably ask, “When were the Wright brothers arrested for building Weapons of Mass Destruction?”

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Civilian IED Deaths

While researching an article on the Defense budget, I came across these two charts.

troop levels


Source: Council of Foreign Relations

Intellectually, I knew that we had dramatically scaled down our involvement with Iraq and Afghanistan, but I didn’t fully appreciate how much until I saw these two charts. Sure, we’re still very much involved in the Middle East, and we may still get drawn back even further, but as of right now, major American combat operations in that part of the world are a shadow of what they were.

While it is great news that our soldiers are not in harm’s way as much as they were, those involved in maintaining counter-IED capabilities may be wondering about their fate. Are counter-IED personnel, programs, and equipment to be put on the shelf until the next land war? Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) has expressed concerned about its ability to preserve the valuable skills developed during recent conflicts.

This is a problem that affects other capabilities besides counter-IED. During peace time we can’t maintain a factory producing a wartime-level of helicopters. However, if war breaks out, we don’t want to waste time training workers, developing supply lines, and building the factory. NDIA has a nice summary of the challenges of Maintaining a Viable Defense Industrial Base.

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Those involved in counter-IED efforts may not face this dilemma. IEDs are a civilian, not just a military problem. Public safety and security agencies will need assistance from those who have counter-IED skills and equipment. The article below, which is excerpted from Fierce Homeland Security, discusses this phenomenon.

Improvised explosive devices aren’t just a significant threat to soldiers on the battlefield, but they’re also a leading killer of civilians worldwide, Interpol’s secretary general said this week in a news interview in Australia where the first-ever international forum to counter such threats was held.

“For instance, we have had more than 10,000 civilian casualties just this year around the world,” said Jürgen Stock, during a Sept. 3 radio interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

He said IEDs are the “weapon of choice” for terrorists and other criminals and a leading killer of civilians. “So it’s really a global threat and what we need is a better information sharing between the military and law enforcement,” he added.

Almost three weeks ago, an improvised explosive device, or IED, killed 20 people at a popular Hindu shrine in central Bangkok, Thailand. More than two years ago, two brothers detonated an IED during the Boston Marathon that killed three people and injured hundreds more.

Stock said that the Internet has made it easier for terrorists and others such as so-called lone wolves – individuals acting alone in attempting to or committing terrorist acts – to put together such bombs.

Interpol, the international criminal police organization that’s based in France, co-hosted the Sept. 2-4 international conference along with Australian law enforcement and defense agencies to develop or enhance information sharing about IEDs and training capabilities among police and military personnel.

In the radio interview, Stock also talked about the role his organization is playing against foreign terrorist fighters. Many governments worldwide are concerned about their nationals traveling to conflict zones in Syria and Iraq to join the terrorist fight there as well as learn bomb-making skills that they can use to commit terrorist acts when they return to their home countries.

Stock said there are currently 25,000 such fighters from more than 100 countries that have joined the conflict zones and terrorist groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

He said Interpol is building global platforms and databases to share information about these individuals with its 190 member states. One database contains 5,000 profiles of these fighters while there are other databases that include fingerprints, DNA material, and lost, stolen and forged identity or travel documents such passports.

He said it’s important that these databases and tools are available and accessible to border security agents and police agencies.

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First Licensed Autonomous Truck [VIDEO]

The first officially licensed autonomous-capable semi-truck is here. Licensed in Nevada (only on highways during daylight hours and good weather), it is not a driverless vehicle; humans are still required. However, the human is not an operator, at least all the time. In theory, he could be playing Candy Crush or watching a ball game.

The truck is named “Inspiration.” Freightliner, its manufacturer, is by far not the only one looking to make a splash in the autonomous car game. Apple, Tesla, Uber, and of course ,Google all have plans for autonomous cars.

Toyota, working with MIT and Stanford, will invest at least $50 million over the next five years in “assisted autonomy.”  Unlike the famous Google car, this will not be a fully autonomous vehicle. Toyota’s goal is to have AI that prevents crashes of human-operated cars. This neatly avoids many (but not all) legal liability issues that plague autonomous systems.

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In spite of all the interest of big players, Freightliner, is the first licensed autonomous vehicle. This is the first vehicle that is legally allowed to operate autonomously. This means on your next visit to Las Vegas, you might see a big semi barreling down the highway, while the person at the steering wheel is reading a newspaper.

Learn more about the Inspiration at IEEE Spectrum or check out Freightliners cheery video below.

This video explains how radar, cameras, and “platooning” work.

Space Robot’s Unique Locomotion [VIDEO]

Scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) faced an unusual problem. NASA wanted a rover that could navigate the uneven surfaces of asteroids and comets. However, rovers, such as the ones used on Mars, have treads and wheels. In the low gravity environment of small extra-planetary objects, the rovers with wheels would lose their grip on the ground and literally drift off into space. None of the conventional means of unmanned propulsion – propellers, wings, or wheels –would work. How would you move an unmanned system when it can’t swim, walk, fly, or roll?  Their solution, as demonstrated in the video below is ingenious.

You can also learn more at Space.com

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Illegal immigration debate, a family story

The topic of illegal immigration usually inspires technical talk at AMREL. Is the handheld biometric XP7-ID a preferred solution for border patrol agents, or do they favor the wider display of the Flexpedient® AT-80B tablet? Which components of the compact 19”/2® Network Servers are appropriate for a mobile communication solution that would service the remote areas of the American Southwest? Can the positive experiences that the military had with our Operator Control Unit (OCU) solutions for unmanned systems be repeated with the recently ramped up border security forces?

However, one afternoon we shelved talks of networks and laptops for a more personal approach. In a typical “water cooler” conversation, we discussed our attitudes toward this hot topic. What I noticed was that even though everyone had been born in this country, our opinions had been shaped by our families’ experiences with immigration. Americans like to think of themselves as independent of history, and that our views are purely rational, but it seems to me in this instance, what you believe reflects who you are and where you come from.

I asked my fellow co-workers to write down how their family histories affected their views on immigration. You may be surprised at who expressed what views.

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William Finn
AMREL Senior Editor & Copywriter

Most of my family tree dates back in this country to the late 1800s. They fled pogroms, 25-year draft sentences, and whatever delightful things Eastern Europeans had reserved for the Jews.

We were legal immigrants, but more significantly America was the first country where we were legal residents. Despite having lived in some European communities for over a thousand years, we never had the privileges and rights afforded our Christian neighbors. United States was the first country to ever recognize us with actual citizenship. As a result, I don’t think anyone was more pro-American that my grandparents and great grandparents.

Our current generations are deeply involved with the law (family dinners often include probation officers, and a judge). We take the rule of law very seriously, but that doesn’t mean we take a hard line on immigration.

Despite generations of American privilege, the ghosts of rampaging Cossacks, bone crushing poverty, and tyrannical bureaucrats still haunt us. Our family history is full of ancestors who had no documented status in the towns where they were born. We understand better than most what a desperate person will do to protect their loved ones. We look at illegal immigrants and see ourselves.

Illegal immigration is unquestionably a problem for some. Economists tell us that for the country as a whole, the financial pluses and minuses of illegal immigration average out. The problem is that no one lives in the “country as a whole.” Whenever a politician talks about illegal immigration, I never hear them offering solutions for the people and communities negatively affected by illegal immigration. Sometimes, I think they care more about hurting illegals than they do about helping our country.

Frankly, I just don’t see illegal immigration as that big of a deal. Maybe if I was a construction worker who lost his job to an illegal immigrant I might feel differently. Maybe if I hadn’t grown up in the Arizona, where I spent afternoons with my father watching bullfights on a local TV station, and my family argued over guacamole recipes, I might view Latino culture as foreign rather than intrinsically American.

I do see other problems in this country:

  • In 2007, the world economy lost 8 trillion dollars due to irresponsible deregulation and shenanigans by the financial sector. Like millions of others, I lost my job and my house. No one responsible went to jail. I don’t think any of the main players even lost their job. The country still hasn’t fully recovered.
  • The infrastructure of this country is decaying and needs a massive build up, but Congress has done diddlysquat about this problem.
  • Our doctors may be great, but our healthcare system is the most expensive in the world. It is a drag on the economy, with every business paying an invisible tax to this terribly inefficient system.

I could go on, but what do all these problems have in common? They have nothing to do with illegal immigration.  Remind me again, why are we talking about this?

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Richard Barrios
Web Marketing Specialist

I am proud of my heritage and the roots of my family.  As my Dad would say, “I am an American not a Mexican.”

Immigration is a very personal issue for me.  My mother’s side of the family came here from South America on visas and worked their way to citizenship.  My father was born in the United States from immigrant parents that came to the US in the 1930’s.  My wife and her family are also naturalized citizens, but from the Philippines.

I am Hispanic and grew up in a Hispanic home and in a Hispanic neighborhood. I know that many will call me a self hating Hispanic and racist. However, illegal immigration and the activism to legitimize it is a slap in the face to my family.  Plain and simple.  Both my family and my wife’s do not understand the fight to legalize those who broke the law and want preferential treatment.

My wife’s cousin, who lives in the Philippines, has applied to come to the United States and has to wait 10 years.  He is a registered nurse and runs his own business.  Meanwhile, illegal immigrants sit in the United States and wait for the next amnesty law to take effect.  The illegal works here, establishes himself with references, and has children.  The children are citizens and now this illegal alien has additional arguments to stay in the country (Dream Act).

Federal Government is asked to protect the border and won’t do it.  Instead they spend millions on amnesty programs and trying to convince Americans that Mexico and Mexicans are not the problem.  I have heard many people say that it is impossible to deport or send 11 Million illegal aliens out of the United States. Then how did 11 Million people come to the United States if it’s impossible to move that many people in the first place?  How about they leave the same way they came and all others on a case by case basis.

Something that many haven’t taken into account are the resources that are available.  From money, to housing, to jobs, legal immigration, roads and natural resources. The child of an illegal is eligible for welfare and thus qualifies the family for all the other benefits.  Another way to qualify is using false papers.   Stealing Social Security numbers and paper work of legal immigrants is very common.  How do you think 11 Million illegal aliens live and work in this country? Without closing the border and creating a legal way in, the money that needs to be allocated to support less fortunate can never be assessed correctly from year to year. This unchecked immigration issue also hinders people that want to come here legitimately.  My wife’s cousin for example.

Natural resources, like water, also becomes an issue.  In order to support a population one needs to have control over how many people come into the environment.  Governor Brown of California said recently, said “If they did so, the state would not only support its current population of 39 million, but probably could accept at least 10 million more residents.” If illegal immigration is left unchecked we will quickly exceed the numbers we can support.  At current rates California should reach 50 million residents by 2050, then what?

Growing up, I found an overwhelming majority of Mexican Americans, even US born, consider themselves Mexicans first and Americans second.  Stark contrast to the vast majority of Asians, Europeans and Africans who immigrate to this country and are proud to be called Americans.

Today, the distinction of rights afforded to an American citizen and an illegal alien is nearly gone.  What is left?  There are over 200 sanctuary cities across the country who have explicitly committed themselves to ignore federal law and will not cooperate with ICE.  Public policy has given illegal aliens more rights than an American citizen under the law.  If I break a state or federal law is there a sanctuary city for me?  If I break the law (non violent) and get sent to jail for a number of years, is the state not separating me from my family and taking away the bread winner?

Tens of thousands of American service men have bled and died for the rights and freedoms we have in the United States, not for Mexicans to have rights to the United States.


Albaro Ibarra
Senior Marketing Manager

Both of my parents came to the USA from Mexico legally. My mother went through the process at a young age and secured her Green Card. Her older brother that came here first then helped the other siblings. My father received his Green Card with help from his boss when he was working in the fields of Coachella picking vegetables.

When both were in their 40’s, they finally became US citizens.   Both initially had thoughts of returning back to Mexico, but when they had kids they realized that a better life could be had here. The USA is their home. Their roots are now here. They would not return to Mexico, but they call themselves Mexicans.

My brother and I are First Generation Americans. My primary language is English, but I can read and talk in Spanish (not as fluent in writing). My mind thinks in English first and when I am around Spanish dominant speakers my mind thinks in Spanish until I come across a subject or word or phrase that I don’t know. I tell you this, so you can understand how a First Generation American thinks, compared to someone that grew up in Mexico or a 2+ generation American.

The latest census says that the amount of Latinos in the USA that were born outside of the USA is smaller than those born here. This is a recent change; before the ratios were reversed.

This generation will be bilingual or English dominant. They consider themselves Americans but have Latino cultural ties. The concern I have is that those cultural ties are weakened with each generation. It is a conscious effort on the behalf of my wife and I to have our kids speak Spanish and understand their grandparents’ rich culture.  They want to learn, but they can’t relate. When I took them to Mexico on a visit, they were seen as America, not Latinos. The more generations that go by I fear those connections to the Latin cultural will be weakened to the point where one of my great grandchildren would not know they are Latino until they do a school project to check their family tree.

I believe a balance is the best thing. If you are born here, you are American but you should not be punished because of your cultural ties. What makes America so great is its diversity. It is that diversity that makes us stronger and more exciting as a people. We are that great melting pot that has food and spices from all over….what a delicious dish. Who want to eat the same thing every day?

I do believe in enforcing immigration laws, but not building a huge wall. I believe we should have a form of identification for everyone who lives in the USA, because I believe it would help identify potential threats to our country, and help improve the situation about undocumented people receiving medical aid or other State or Federal Services. I am not a cruel beast and don’t believe that if you are here illegally you should not receive basic human rights. What I am against is the people that want to take advantage of the system and the lack of tracking or documentation costs us millions.

My parents believe the same way, even though I do have family members that are very well off, but work the system to get FREE State of Federal aid. I don’t think that is a Latino thing, more a moral thing.

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There you have it. Three different people with three different family histories on immigration, and three different attitudes toward illegal immigration. Even though we disagree, we respect each other’s opinions. I think a large part of that is that we understand how our past and our family histories have shaped our experiences. Hopefully, others will have the same tolerance in this contentious debate.

The opinion expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not reflect the positions of AMREL, its partners, or its other employees.

Do you have an opinion? Send it to editor@amrel.comBe advised we may use the content of your email in a future blog post.


5 mobile mistakes made by businesses

More and more enterprises are adopting mobile solutions. Mobile devices boost employee satisfaction, enhance productivity, increase efficiency, and improve communication.

They also cause headaches. BIG headaches.  In order to have a smile on your face, instead of pain in your head, take a quick look at some common business mobile mistakes that you want to avoid.


Bring Your Own Problem

Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) is very popular. Employees like doing work on their own devices, and not having to learn a new operating system. Employers like the fact that employees are paying for their own business equipment.

In fact, BYOD is a big success, except when it isn’t.  Some common problems enterprises run into are:

  • Support for cross-platform applications. Listen carefully, and you will hear the sound of IT support personnel all around the world pulling out their hair as they try to ensure that the latest program upgrade is compatible on Windows, Windows CE, Android, and Apple platforms. One of the big drawbacks of BYOD is that IT guys must become overnight experts on everything.
  • Information “walking away.” So you fired that one problem employee who made life miserable for everyone. Good for you! Did you notice that he walked off with a ton of proprietary information in his personal mobile phone? Didn’t you install a remote wipe function? Oops.
  • Industry specific problems. If you work in the medical field, you have to ensure all devices meet rigorous HIPPA standards. If you are working in the Defense industry, everything has to be encrypted. Making sure all your employees’ personal devices meet your specific industry requirements and work together with each other is not impossible. But it’s no fun either.

This is by far not a conclusive list. For a more details on the joys and tribulations of BYOD, see BYOD Pros & Cons [INFOGRAPHIC].

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Cheap is expensive

You decide BYOD is not for you. The next step is to buy the right mobile device for your staff. Of course, you want to save money, so you buy the cheapest decent mobile device you can find.

Turns out that the initial cost of a purchase is a minor part of the Total Cost of Ownership.  A study by VDC Research raised some eyebrows when they reported that for mobile computers, the expenses of repair, replacement, missing data, and lost productivity were far larger than the initial cost.

They recommended investing in “rugged” computers, which often have a higher purchase price than their commercial counterparts. These durable devices have been hardened to withstand shock, temperature extremes, dust, water, and other severe environmental factors. Popular with military and police, these tough computers are also being adopted by businesses in order to save money in the long term.


Don’t forget the connectors

Considering the myriad of details that one must evaluate during a mobile device purchase, it’s easy to overlook something a prosaic as connectors. However, humble connectors can have a surprising impact, especially when you are dealing with legacy or heterogeneous equipment. Field technicians may need to download information from remote sensors. Repairmen might require a mobile device that can interact with a testing machine. Warehouse workers may need a mobile platform that can directly connect to the company’s mainframe. All these tasks may necessitate specific kinds of connectors, or even customized ones. Be sure to check out the connectors before you purchase.


Ask for the moon

“What I really need is a mobile device that has an RFID reader, a Point of Sale device, and a fingerprint sensor. Of course, such a thing does not exist, and I can’t afford to build one from scratch.”

No matter how ridiculous you think your request is, ask. If you are reading this article, there is a good chance that you are not an expert in this field. You do not know what is possible, and there is a chance that a professional will know of a solution that would have never have occurred to you.


Think big. Buy small.

When you are dealing with a challenging purchase, there is a temptation to rely on the big well-known brands. The problem is that the larger a company, the less agile it is.

For example, you want the value of a Commercial Off the Shelf (COTS) product, but you have specific needs that cannot be met by the standard offerings. Customization is expensive, and often requires unreasonably large orders.  Wouldn’t be great if you got the best of both COTS and customization?

There is such a thing and it is called “Customized COTS,” which has been embraced by some of the smaller mobile device manufacturers. Due to their smaller size, they are able to deliver products that have the value of COTS and the advantages of customization even for low value orders, often with minimal Non Recurring Engineering (NRE) fees.  Seek and you will find them.

Of course, there are many other considerations one must weigh before buying mobile devices for your enterprise.  If you have any questions please consult the experts at AMREL.  Call (800) 882–673, email cdinfo@amrel.com, or visit computers.amrel.com.

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