Tech Myths: Surveillance and Electrostatic

Setting The Scene

Question: Are public surveillance cameras good enough to deliver Hollywood-class feats of interpolation while tracking our movements?

I’ll spare you from a full review of "National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets" and simply say that I found the flick so wholly forgettable that I recently ordered it from Netflix after having already seen it a year earlier. I just had to get several scenes into the movie before anything made enough of an impression to trigger a memory.

   Anyway, there’s a scene in NT2 where the bad guys are chasing Nicholas Cage’s character, Ben Gates, and friends through the streets of London, trying to seize the Olmec-carved wooden plank Gates just lifted from the Queen’s desk. Gates knows the bad guys are about to catch them, so he suddenly has a brainwave: speed through an intersection while holding the plank up to the car’s windshield, thus triggering the traffic camera to take a picture, pitch the plank off a bridge to distract the bad guys, then hack into London’s traffic computer system to steal the image, which only takes a few seconds.

I don’t want to say that the movie got me thinking, because that might give you the impression that it was in any way “thought-inspiring,” at least in the usual, intellectual sense. Personally, I thought the best part of the movie was when I put the disc back in the mailbox. But that bit about the traffic cameras and hacking stuck in my head, perhaps because I’d shortly afterward read some news articles about privacy and had occasion to review several home-surveillance cameras. So I got to wondering...

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  • ravenware
    In the first section of this installment of Tech Myths, I’m going to show you how improbable this notion really is

    Yeah...I have never heard of anything about people being worried or angry about cameras tracking their every move in the US. Perhaps I just had better sense not to watch national treasure.

    But I do find it hilarious that the author would view the idea as absurd as if it is something from a far distant future whilst ignoring the fact that it is already happening across the pond in the UK.
  • hellwig
    I found the flick so wholly forgettable that I recently ordered it from Netflix after having already seen it a year earlier. I just had to get several scenes into the movie before anything made enough of an impression to trigger a memory.

    Same thing happened to me and his movie Next. Apparently Nicolas Cage is just that awful of an actor.
  • Kaiser_25
    Ya all this Hollywood science is pretty funny, BUT i think maybe some amount of ignorant fear in the populace isnt a total bad thing, maybe it will stop someone from doing some stupid shit if they the 'big brother' is always watching. Just sit back and laugh at people who dont know any better.
  • hellwig
    To actually touch on the topic of the article this time, ESD is a serious issue. I previously worked at a company that manufactured highly sensitive and expensive pieces of equipement on-site. Every employee, whether they handled the equipment or not, was required to take yearly training, and monthly inspections were carried out by the on-site quality personel. ESD is very serious business.

    Reading over reviews for computer memory or other sensitive components on NewEgg will reveal dozens of "Crappy product, DOA" comments. None of these people followed proper anti-static practices, and probably blew their components brains out. I gaurantee that when those components were tested and working at the factory, they were handled by an ESD-trained individual in a static-safe environment. Sadly it only takes one moron working in front of his 24-inch CRT on a PVC table over a shaggy carpet wearing a wool sweater to damage it.
  • harrkev
    About the ESD discharge problem...

    I used to live in Florida. The humidity is always high. I never had a problem. 2-1/2 years ago, I moved to Colorado. I was in my new house, and had my PC on the floor trying to solve a networking problem. I also had a USB cable plugged into the PC that has just been plugged into a digital camera. Well, my hand got near the naked end of the cable and I felt, heard, and saw a strong "zap." My computer immediately turned off. After turning it on, the USB ports were unrecognized by XP, After two minutes, the computer shut off never to turn back on again. I had to replace the motherboard (MSI mobo with nForce chipset). Now, I touch the case before touching any part of the computer to ground myself.
  • Nogard
    Way to shill, Mr Van Winkle
  • annymmo
    About ESD,
    the reason a lot o electronics works after zapping is because there are also safety circuits in the electronics themselves.
    Zenerdiodes have a high resistance above a certain voltage.
    But above it they get a very low resistance.
    ESD is high voltage so the zenerdiode is has a low resistance for the ESD. The zenerdiode is then getting zapped instead of the precious electronics.

    The zenerdiode is pretty expensive compared to electronics, so it doesn't get used with a lot of cheap electronics.
  • williamvw
    NogardWay to shill, Mr Van Winkle

    Shill: One who poses as a satisfied customer or an enthusiastic gambler to dupe bystanders into participating in a swindle.

    Just so I'm clear on your meaning, you're saying that I'm trying to dupe people into buying MotionDSP's product? The one where I show it couldn't accomplish the task I set for it? The one which they used to process my video clips on their end rather than provide me with my own copy? The one that's priced astronomically far beyond the range of 99% of the people who read this column? The one made by the company that doesn't advertise with this publisher and has no financial ties to either myself or Tom's? We're talking about me trying to dupe people into buying that product, right?
  • azgard
    New York State troopers have camera's mounted on the trunk's that can capture the license plates of passing cars going either direction and process them through a database to check for any warrants. So, NYS is working towards a centralized system of tracking people on the fly.
  • Paperdoc
    I am reminded of stories a while back on the unanticipated impact of TV shows like "CSI" on courtroom proceedings. There were complaints, especially from prosecutors, that juries were beginning to expect them to produce impressive evidence from fast high-tech procedures, like DNA matching and enhanced motion video. In a few cases, it was claimed, juries became disenchanted with the more common evidence, or even somehow concluded that evidence not produced proved that the original circumstances never happened.

    So yes, these depictions of non-existent technology can convince people that they are real. It's a variant of the "Big Lie" technique in propaganda and brainwashing - tell someone the same story repeatedly and in an impressive style, and they will believe it is true. Want proof? Guess what proportion of the US population still believes that Sadam Hussein's Irag had WMD's that were found, confiscated and destroyed by the invading military. By the way, all of that has been denied officially by many sources, but some people still believe the original lies.
  • Tomsguiderachel
    NogardWay to shill, Mr Van Winkle

    Hey, come out and say what you mean, please. Thanks.
  • ravenware
    TomsguiderachelHey, come out and say what you mean, please. Thanks.

    He is referring to a government/corporate agenda, by way of tricking people into thinking the either this kind of surveillance doesn't occur or that it some how couldn't or wouldn't occur.
  • williamvw
    ravenwareHe is referring to a government/corporate agenda, by way of tricking people into thinking the either this kind of surveillance doesn't occur or that it some how couldn't or wouldn't occur.

    Oh, don't get me wrong. I totally think it could occur. And, as I indicate at the article's conclusion, there are organizations that do have the ability to track people through their license plates. (Good to know about the New York police, by the way, azgard.) But as I also said, it's one thing to track license plates and it's another to track faces. My point is that today's state of the art is unable to perform suitable facial recognition at a distance, and even if it could, it seems unlikely that our government's systems are integrated well enough to allow for seamless cross-agency tracking.

    I'm not out to "trick" anybody. I've always had a deep distrust of authority, and I'm no fan of the way our privacy is eroding on a daily basis. But at the same time, I'm not going to assume that Big Brother has powers of omniscience that don't exist (yet) without some credible proof. Fact: The U.S. government buys surveillance technology from the private sector. Fact: MotionDSP makes some of if not the best video enhancement technology in the world. Fact: I proved first-hand that conventional video surveillance clips are not sufficient to enable facial recognition and thus tracking under everyday circumstances, much as Hollywood might indicate the contrary. And I'm pretty sure that MotionDSP would have loved to showcase better results on Tom's had it been able to.

    Could all of this change with a technology shift next year or even tomorrow? You bet. If it does, I sure hope to be able to write about it. Until then, I'm not going to panic, succumb to paranoia, or give authorities reason to want to track me in the first place.
  • mactruck
    ESD is a real killer, but I've never had a problem in the humid Midwest summers. Last winter I had my MP3 player hooked up to my computer through the front USB port. When I pulled the cable out of my player it dropped towards the floor and sparked when it hit the carpet. The computer shut down instantly, and now my mobo will only recognize RAM in 2 out of its 3 slots. Putting a stick into the third slot causes my mobo to freeze during boot with strange error codes. Luckily, that gave me a good excuse to upgrade my main rig and build a PC for my GF with the spare parts. She doesn't miss the third RAM slot as long as she has room to store her music collection.
  • yadz
    @William Van Winkle, is it possible that ESD may have caused my BIOS to stop detecting my SATA drives?. Sometimes they get detected right away, but when not it takes four or five restarts to get it to detect them.
  • williamvw
    yadz@William Van Winkle, is it possible that ESD may have caused my BIOS to stop detecting my SATA drives?. Sometimes they get detected right away, but when not it takes four or five restarts to get it to detect them.

    Possible. I have a notebook with a similar condition, and I suspect a corrupted Windows installation. But if your BIOS doesn't show the drives present (meaning multiple drives with multiple cables on multiple ports), then yeah -- you've probably got a hosed board. Whether ESD was the cause or not is sort of irrelevant at that point. :-\
  • thexder1
    I just wanted to say that I have been working on computers for around 15 years and have never ran into any components that have shown any evidence of failure due to ESD. Sure there have been some failures that were inexplicable at the time but since then I have seen possible causes of the failures. I have never used an ESD strap unless required (which is about two or three times) and never used an ESD mat or anything else that would prevent ESD. I have even worked quite a bit on electronics in rooms with carpeting.

    Most of my electronics and computer components tend to outlast other people's who never even open the cases up to work on it at all. I have heard most of my life about problems caused by ESD and people have shown me failures that they claim were caused by ESD. I have even seen lab tests showing failures caused by ESD but in actual practice I have not personally seen any failure that could be pointed out as definitely caused by ESD or that had no other reasonable explanation.
  • marraco
    [cameras are based on NTSC, meaning they’re only going to deliver 480 lines of resolution, although some will reach up to about 600 lines. There’s simply no way to make out detail on vehicles at such distances and resolutions.]
    I agree, but I need to remark that images in mvement capture more information than you can think.
    There are techniques named "Superresolution", utilised in astronomy and video enhancing techniques that can recover higher resolution from images in movement, using deconvolution and denoising techniques.

    Even Nvidia have a gpgpu tool to recover extra resolution detail.
  • marraco
    (ashamed) well, i had not read the entire article...
  • marraco

    Did you tried to charge you by holding the HD in your hands? (Then there was not differential potential between you and the disk).

    If before touching the HD circuit, you touched other part of the disk, or object touching the disk, then most probably you grounded the disk at the same potential than you.

    You should also had tried to ground the disk as it is grounded when is screwed and connected to the power source.

    Anyway, if air was too conductive, then you would be not allowed to make an enoug strong potential.

    Hardware is not packed on costly antistatic bags because manufacturers like to throw away money.