Palantir Wins Pentagon Contract with U.S. Army



Bloomberg reported that the U.S. Army will spend $111 million next year in a new contract with Palantir Technologies Inc. The company was selected by the Defense Department over Microsoft, Ernst & Young, Accenture and Deloitte. Peter Thiel is the co-founder and chairman of Palantir Technologies Inc.

The Defense deal solidifies a relationship between the U.S. government and the Palo Alto, California-based company, which was co-founded and partly bankrolled by Thiel. The billionaire venture capitalist and adviser to President Donald Trump has chastised other technology companies, in particular Alphabet Inc.’s Google, for their reluctance to work with the Defense Department. After Google abandoned a Pentagon effort known as Project Maven, Palantir stepped in to help develop video recognition software as part of the project, a move reported earlier by Business Insider.

The Department of Defense website noted that Palantir was awarded an $100,814,893 “other transaction agreement contract” for numerous databases across the Army enterprise integrated on one platform. Work will be performed in Washington, D.C., and has an estimated completion date of December 15, 2023.

It is interesting that Microsoft was not selected for this project. In October of 2019, Microsoft beat out Amazon for a Department of Defense contract that could be worth as much as $10 billion over a decade. That project is called the JEDI Cloud. According to the Department of Defense website, one bid was solicited via the internet with one bid received. It appears that Palantir may have been that bid.

Bloomberg reported that Palantir will provide software to connect human resources, supply chains, and other Army operation systems into a single dashboard.


New Orleans City Hall Hit by Ransomware



It is always worrying when a city government is hit by a ransomware attack. That appears to be what happened to the New Orleans City Hall on December 13, 2019. According to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, workers were told a cyberattack had struck the city government.

The workers were told to turn off and unplug their computers. City websites were down. In addition, the New Orleans Police Department was also told to shut down their computer equipment and remove everything from the network. This is not the first time Louisiana has had this problem.

State government was hit by a ransomware attack last month, though it was able to restore its system without giving in to demands. Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency, and the state Office of Motor Vehicles was hit especially hard, with many of its offices forced to close for several days.

In a press conference, Chief Information Officer Kim LaGrue said there was evidence of both phishing attempts and ransomware. No city employees reported providing login information in response to the emails, thanks to cybersecurity training that started in the fall of this year. It was unclear if ransomware had been installed or had begun to encrypt any city systems.

The odd thing about this situation is that, according to Mayor LaToya Cantrell, no requests for money had been made as a result of the ransomware attack.

Typically, thieves who use ransomware demand a specific amount of money, in a certain currency, to be delivered to them before a deadline. If the attacker wasn’t after money – what were they looking for?


Thief Stole Payroll Data of Facebook Employees



Facebook has a history of not being very good at protecting user’s data. This time, things are a bit different. Bloomberg reported that a thief stole payroll data for thousands of Facebook employees. The unexpected thing is that the thief did not obtain it by hacking.

According to Bloomberg, the personal information for tens of thousands of Facebook workers was compromised last month when a thief stole several corporate hard drives from an employee’s car. Why did the employee have hard drives in his car? That is a question that hasn’t been answered yet.

What is known is that the employee was a member of Facebook’s payroll department. The employee was not supposed to take the hard drives outside the office. Apparently, Facebook has taken some disciplinary action against the employee.

A Facebook spokeswoman told Bloomberg: “We worked with law enforcement as they investigated a recent car break-in and theft of an employee’s bag containing company equipment with employee payroll information stored on it.” The Facebook spokeswoman described the situation as “a smash and grab crime”.

It is a really strange situation. The car break-in happened on November 17, 2019. That puts it a little bit before the Thanksgiving holiday when many people shop for holiday presents (and leave them in their cars). I suspect that the thief had no idea what was in the bag when they stole it.

Bloomberg reported that Facebook started alerting employees affected by the situation on December 13, 2019. The employees were encouraged to notify their banks, and were offered a subscription to an identity theft monitoring service.


Microsoft’s Project Scarlett is now Xbox Series X



In June of 2019, Microsoft introduced Project Scarlett. It was designed for players who want a console designed, built, and optimized for gaming. Project Scarlett is now called Xbox Series X. It will be available “holiday 2020”.

Xbox Series X will be our fastest, most powerful console ever and set a new bar for performance, speed, and compatibility, allowing you to bring your gaming legacy, thousands of games from three generations and move forward with you. Its industrial design enables us to deliver four times the processing power of Xbox One X in the most quiet and efficient way, something that is critically important in delivering truly immersive gameplay.

The Xbox Series X looks very different from previous versions. It was designed to support both vertical and horizontal orientation. To me, it looks like a PC when it is placed vertically.

In addition, Microsoft unveiled the new Xbox Wireless Controller. According to Microsoft, the controller’s size and shape have been refined to accommodate an even wider range of people. I’m not sure exactly what that means, but from the look of it, I assume the controller might be comfortable for people no matter how large or small their hands are.

The controller has a Share button to make capturing screenshots and game clips simple. The new Xbox Series X Wireless controller will be compatible with Xbox One and Windows 10 PCs, and will be included in every Xbox Series X.


Back from the Dead #1410



Was down for the count mostly Monday and Tuesday and still dragging so I am putting the show on from the Loft much easier than going back into the studio and getting all the cold iron fired up. Monday show of course in the studio.

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YouTube Takes Stronger Stance Against Personal Attacks



YouTube announced a series of policy and product changes that update how they will tackle harassment on the platform. It includes a stronger stance against threats and personal attacks, and consequences for those who engage in harassing behavior.

YouTube will now prohibit explicit threats and veiled or implied threats. This includes content that simulates violence towards an individual or language suggesting physical violence may occur. In addition, YouTube will no longer show content that maliciously insults someone based on protected attributes such as race, gender expression, or sexual orientation.

Something we heard from our creators is that harassment sometimes takes the shape of a pattern of repeated behavior across multiple videos or comments, even if any individual video doesn’t cross our policy line. To address this, we’re tightening our policies for the YouTube Partner Program (YPP) to get even tougher on those who engage in harassing behavior and to ensure we only reward trusted creators. Channels that repeatedly brush up against our harassment policy will be suspended from YPP, eliminating their ability to make money on You Tube. We may also remove content from channels if they repeatedly harass someone. If this behavior continues, we’ll take more severe action including issuing strikes or terminating a channel altogether.

In addition, YouTube will remove comments that clearly violate their policies. They will also give creators the option to review a comment before it is posted on their channel. Last week, YouTube began turning on this feature by default for YouTube’s largest channels with the site’s most active comment sections. It will roll out to most channels by the end of the year.

BuzzFeed News reported about a situation that happened on YouTube earlier this year between Stephen Crowder and Carlos Maza. According to BuzzFeed News, YouTube decided, after a review, that some of Crowder’s content crossed a line and will be removed from the platform.

Personally, I think that cracking down on harassment can only be a good thing. Nobody enjoys being the target of harassment, and I can see where that experience could cause a person to stop posting videos on YouTube. I really like that YouTube will kick repeat harassers out of the YPP program. Taking away the ability for a bully to make money on YouTube could be an effective deterrent.


Put Your Face in a Video with Snapchat Cameo



Snapchat is slowly rolling out a new feature called Snapchat Cameo. It goes further than the Lenses that people can use on a selfie to make themselves look like an animal or to wear a flower crown. Cameo lets people put their selfie into a video that they can share with others.

TechCrunch reported that Snapchat Cameo is currently being tested by Snapchat users in France. Snap confirmed to TechCrunch that Cameo exists, and that they are currently testing it in limited availability in some international markets. It appears that Snap will make its global debut “soon”.

According to TechCrunch, a Snapchat users starts by selecting a vaguely male or female body shape. There is no androgynous option. The user can then select from a bunch of short, looping, videos from the ones Snapchat chose. The user adds their selfie to Cameo. TechCrunch wrote: Snapchat will then stretch and move your selfie to create different facial reactions that Cameo can apply to actors’ heads in the videos.

To me, it sounds like an amusing little feature that could be used to share an emotion that a person is feeling (or to make a friend laugh). Cameo can be personalized more than a Bitmoji or a GIF can.

On the other hand, it also feels a bit creepy. While I don’t think of Cameo as a deepfake, it kind of makes me uncomfortable because it alters reality in a way that might not be immediately recognizable to some. I also have concerns that because Cameo appears to be cute and fun, it could desensitize people to the dangers of malicious deepfakes.