Emails Can be Sent Without Unnecessary Typing

Update:

George Townsend walks CBC reporter Marina von Stackelberg through the process of composing emails using the P3000. The device allows users to write, and send emails, using only their brain.
George Townsend walks CBC reporter Marina von Stackelberg through the process of composing emails using the P3000. The device allows users to write, and send emails, using only their brain. George Townsend walks CBC reporter Marina von Stackelberg through the process of composing emails using the P3000. The device allows users to write, and send emails, using only their brain. (Markus Schwabe/CBC)

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The P300 speller works by flashing a matrix, or random series of letters in front of a user

An Algoma University professor has made strides in developing technology that lets ALS patients compose emails without typing.

Computer science professor George Townsend has developed the P300 Speller, a device that measures and reacts to the brain’s “surprise element” to recognize of letters of the alphabet.

The interface consists of an EEG (electroencephalogram) amplifier, an electro-cap made of spandex, and small metal electrodes that are placed over the scalp.

When worn, the device measures minute electrical activity in the brain.

How it works

The speller works by flashing a matrix, or random series of letters in front of a user.

When the user sees, or recognizes, the letter they need to spell a word, the brain sends out a particular kind of brain activity — called the P300 response — and the attached computer responds by selecting the letter, then placing it into the word.

It’s a slow process, but for a patient that has lost other forms of communication, it could be essential.

Technology has been around for a few decades

Surprisingly, the technology isn’t new.

“This interface is thirty years old,” Townsend said, “but the evolution has been relatively slow over decades.”

His lab has managed to put that development into high gear, with Townsend claiming “vast improvements in the [interface’s] performance.”

So much improvement that his lab broke the world record for speed and accuracy for that type of interface.

Townsend’s lab shattered the record for speed and accuracy

Although the interface itself would be considered slow by computer users — the record holder spelled a 66-character sentence three times in a row, error free in as little as three minutes — Townsend hopes to make the device cost-effective enough to allow patients with ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease to restore their ability to communicate..

“[ALS patients] cannot even have simple forms of communication, they can’t even breathe on their own,” Townsend said, “they lose all willful muscle control.”

“In that state, their brains are functioning completely normal. The can see and hear you, just can’t communicate. We call that the ‘locked-in syndrome.'”

For patients that have lost the ability to communicate, Townsend is pleased to refer to his device as “their last resort.”

Privacy watchdog drops case against Toronto police over attempted-suicide data

Update:

After it was revealed that Toronto Police were providing American authorities with private and confidential information about Canadian citizens, Ontario Privacy Commissioner launched legal action against Toronto Police. Toronto Police have since developed a new CPIC function that blocked U.S border police from seeing certain information. photo by fightyourtickets.ca
After it was revealed that Toronto Police were providing American authorities at the border with private and confidential information about Canadian citizens, the Ontario Privacy Commissioner launched legal action against Toronto Police. Toronto Police have since developed a new CPIC function that blocked U.S border police from seeing certain information. photo by fightyourtickets.ca

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Ontario’s privacy commissioner has ended legal action against the force for letting U.S. border cops access sensitive non-criminal information.

Ontario’s Information and Privacy Commissioner has dropped the case against Toronto police over their practice of letting U.S. border cops access sensitive information about suicide attempts.

Toronto police used to automatically share information about interactions with individuals in an RCMP-run national database called the Canadian Police Information Centre. U.S border police have access to CPIC, and through it, could see information on attempted suicides.

This led to Ontarians being refused entry into the United States because of attempted suicides on their record, a practice Ontario’s previous privacy commissioner, Ann Cavoukian, called “perplexing” and “indiscriminant.”

It also led to an unprecedented decision by Cavoukian to seek a court order against Toronto police to stop the sharing.

Current commissioner Brian Beamish announced Tuesday that his office has come to an agreement after working on changes to protocol with the Toronto Police Service and the Toronto Police Services Board.

The development comes almost a year after Toronto Police announced changes to the way U.S. border police access Canadians’ records, in response to a high-profile report and Star investigation into the issue.

Toronto Police Headquarters. Toronto Police Constable Fievel Kan turned off the in-cruiser video camera and issued 19 fake tickets to 12 individuals who were either homeless or suffered from mental illness over a two month period in 2014. He was charged with discreditable conduct and insubordination as a result and found guilty of both charges. He was fined fifteen days pay.
Toronto Police spokesperson Mark Pugash said the force recognizes the problems inherent in sharing all the information with U.S border police. photo by fightyourtickets.ca

In one high-profile case, Ellen Richardson, a woman who was travelling to New York City for a cruise in 2013, was denied entry into the country after being hospitalized the previous year.

In August 2015, following the commissioner’s announcement of legal action, Toronto police developed a new CPIC function that blocked U.S border police from seeing certain information.

Toronto Police spokesperson Mark Pugash said the force recognizes the problems inherent in sharing all the information with U.S border police.

“There were people who raised genuine and important privacy concerns and civil liberty concerns, and we acted on those concerns,” he said.

Abby Deshman, a lawyer and the public safety and policing director for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, said the group was happy with today’s announcement, but wants Toronto police to go further.

“Today’s settlement is really limited in some important ways. It only addresses suicide-related mental health contacts with the police,” she said, adding other mental-health interactions with police are still shared with the border patrol. For example, someone who attempts suicide while in police custody will still have that information shared.

“The very marginal, slim possibility that this is useful information, for us is vastly outweighed by the very real discrimination and prejudice that people are facing,” she said.

Pugash said that if members of the CCLA have issues with the policy, they can have those conversations with the Toronto Police Service.

“If they have concerns, then by all means they should raise them with us. I think our work in this area shows we’re receptive and willing,” he said.

The CCLA has voiced those concerns, Deshman said, but had hoped the court case would address them. Now that the case is dropped, the association will be trying to change the policy in other ways, she said.

“We really feel there is very little justification to share this kind of information,” she said. For individuals who faced discrimination, “it’s extremely traumatizing to those people to be put through that process.”

New Toronto streetcar route touted as solution to King car’s congestion

Update:

TTC King Street streetcars.
A number TTC King Street streetcars bunched up. photo by fightyourtickets.ca

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514 Cherry car will run every 8 minutes during rush hour, every 15 minutes when it’s less busy

A new streetcar is starting to roll down streets today, part of the city’s efforts to battle one of the most congested routes in the downtown core.

The 514 Cherry Street route is meant to alleviate the strain on the King streetcar — about 65,000 people ride the route on any given weekday, according to the Toronto Transit Commission’s Brad Ross.

He said it’s the city’s busiest surface route.

“It’s going to be both a relief to people who ride during rush hour who often have to wait for a couple of streetcars before they can get on — it’s going to give just that many more options to people,” said Ross.

A number of TTC streetcars.
A number of TTC streetcars. photo by fightyourtickets.ca

The route starts at the new Distillery District Loop on Cherry Street, and heads North to King Street where it overlaps with the current King route. It stretches west until the Dufferin Street loop near Liberty Village.

Mayor John Tory said the city is attempting to catch up to the pace of development, saying the city has challenges when it comes to helping people move around along King Street.

“We made a bit of a mistake I think as a city in doing a lot of development before we built the transit. But now we’re making up for that,” he said.

Ross said the cars will run every eight minutes during the morning and afternoon rush hours, and then every 15 minutes when it’s not as busy.

The TTC's Brad Ross said the new route will help to move some of the people who use the King route, which sees 65,000 people on it during a typical weekday.
The TTC’s Brad Ross said the new route will help to move some of the people who use the King route, which sees 65,000 people on it during a typical weekday. (CBC)

Harper Will Go to the Supreme Court to Ban Niqabs At Citizenship Ceremonies

Update: see previous post September 15, 2015 Harper’s Conservatives Lose Attempt to Ban Niqabs At Citizenship Ceremonies

Harper's conservatives have announced they will request that the Supreme Court of Canada (above) hear their appeal of the Federal Court's ruling. They are also vowing to reintroduce the niqab ban within 100 days of re-election.
Harper’s conservatives have announced they will request that the Supreme Court of Canada (above) hear their appeal of the Federal Court’s ruling. They are also vowing to re-introduce the niqab ban within 100 days of re-election.

Harper Vows to Ban Niqabs at Future Oath-Taking Ceremonies through the Courts (Supreme Court) or through Legislation.

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Conservatives doubled down on their position that women should not wear face coverings during citizenship ceremonies, saying the government would take the matter to the Supreme Court, while vowing to reintroduce the niqab ban within 100 days of re-election.

On Tuesday, the Federal Court  of Appeal dismissed the government’s appeal of an earlier Federal Court ruling that declared the ban on face coverings at such ceremonies was unlawful.

The decision stemmed from the case of Zunera Ishaq, a 29-year-old woman with devout Muslim beliefs who came to Ontario from Pakistan in 2008. She refused to take part in a citizenship ceremony because she would have to show her face under a ban introduced in 2011. Ishaq agreed to remove her niqab for an official before writing and passing her citizenship test two years ago, but she objects to unveiling in public at the oath-taking ceremony. In response to this, Harper In June, with days to go before Parliament adjourned for the summer, the Conservatives proposed legislation requiring all would-be Canadians to show their face while taking the oath of citizenship. The Oath of Citizenship Act died on the order paper.
The decision stemmed from the case of Zunera Ishaq, a 29-year-old woman with devout Muslim beliefs who came to Ontario from Pakistan in 2008. She refused to take part in a citizenship ceremony because she would have to show her face under a ban introduced in 2011. Ishaq agreed to remove her niqab for an official before writing and passing her citizenship test two years ago, but she objects to unveiling in public at the oath-taking ceremony. In response to this, Harper In June, with days to go before Parliament adjourned for the summer, the Conservatives proposed legislation requiring all would-be Canadians to show their face while taking the oath of citizenship. The Oath of Citizenship Act died on the order paper.

The decision stemmed from the case of Zunera Ishaq, a 29-year-old woman with devout Muslim beliefs who came to Ontario from Pakistan in 2008. She refused to take part in a citizenship ceremony because she would have to show her face under a ban introduced in 2011.

In June, 2010 Marlys A. Edwardh, C.M. of Toronto, Ontario was appointed as a Member of the Order of Canada for her contributions as a lawyer and volunteer, notably as a champion of civil liberties and human rights. Edwardh, one of Ishaq's lawyers, said that the Immigration Department would be contacted this week so that she could attend a citizenship ceremony - accompanied by her lawyers "just in case."
In June, 2010 Marlys A. Edwardh, C.M. of
Toronto, Ontario was appointed as a Member of the Order of Canada for her contributions as a lawyer and volunteer, notably as a champion of civil liberties and human rights. Edwardh, one of Ishaq’s lawyers, said that the Immigration Department would be contacted this week so that she could attend a citizenship ceremony – accompanied by her lawyers “just in case.”

The three-judge panel ruled from the bench, saying they wanted to proceed quickly so that Ishaq could obtain her citizenship in time to vote in the Oct. 19 federal election.

One of Ishaq’s lawyers, Marlys Edwardh, said the Immigration Department would be contacted this week so she could attend a citizenship ceremony — accompanied by her lawyers “just in case.”​

New legislation promised

The Conservative campaign moved swiftly on Wednesday, lining up key Tory heavyweights to reassert their position on the niqab, less than 24 hours after suffering the latest in a series of losses before the courts.

Chris Alexander issued a one-line statement saying the government will seek leave to appeal the case to the Supreme Court of Canada.

In June, with days to go before Parliament adjourned for the summer, the Conservatives proposed legislation requiring all would-be Canadians to show their face while taking the oath of citizenship. The Oath of Citizenship Act died on the order paper.

While the niqab ban was popular in some parts of Quebec, both the federal New Democrats and Liberals have come out against it. Despite this, Harper will be appealing the Federal Court of Appeal's decision to the Supreme Court of Canada above.
While the niqab ban was popular in some parts of Quebec, both the federal New Democrats and Liberals have come out against it. Despite this, Harper will be appealing the Federal Court of Appeal’s decision to the Supreme Court of Canada above.

Denis Lebel, Stephen Harper’s lieutenant in Quebec, said during a morning news conference in Trois-Rivières, Que., that a re-elected Conservative government would reintroduce legislation within the first 100 days to ban the niqab during citizenship ceremonies.

Lebel said that citizenship isn’t just a privilege, but also brings with it the responsibility to clearly identify oneself when taking the oath.

“When a government tables legislation, it’s more than just desire,” Lebel said. “We have the political belief that this is the way it has to be.”

Jason Kenney, who first issued the policy directive in 2011 when he was immigration minister, defended the niqab ban and the government’s decision to take the matter to the Supreme Court, saying it was consistent with the view held by the majority of Canadians.

“I’m proud to have made the decision to underscore the public nature of the citizenship oath,” Kenney said during a news conference in Calgary Wednesday morning.

“Like the vast majority of Canadians — including I think the vast majority of Muslim Canadians — I do not believe that the public declaration of your loyalty to your fellow citizens should be obscured or hidden.

Zunera Ishaq talks to reporters outside the Federal Court of Appeal after her case was heard on whether she can wear a niqab while taking her citizenship oath. Ishaq says she's looking forward to voting in the Oct. 19/15 federal election. Wonder who she "won't" vote for?
Zunera Ishaq talks to reporters outside the Federal Court of Appeal after her case was heard on whether she can wear a niqab while taking her citizenship oath. Ishaq says she’s looking forward to voting in the Oct. 19/15 federal election. Wonder who she “won’t” vote for?

“I think it’s entirely reasonable to ask, for those 30 seconds, that someone proudly demonstrate their loyalty to Canada.” Kenney said.

While the niqab ban was popular in some parts of Quebec, both the federal New Democrats and Liberals have come out against it.

On Wednesday, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau criticized the Conservatives for using this as a wedge issue in the middle of a federal campaign.

“In any situation where a government chooses to limit or restrict individual rights or freedoms, it has to clearly explain why. This government has not done that,” Trudeau said during a campaign stop in Calgary.

“It is continuing with the politics of division and even fear and that’s not worthy of a country as diverse and extraordinary as Canada.”

Trudeau said the heart of the debate was the issue of protecting minority rights.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, who is also in Calgary preparing for Thursday’s upcoming leaders’ debate, did not have any campaign events scheduled for the day.

Pocket-dial to Siri Helps Saves Man’s Life

Update:

Apple's SIRI managed to phone 911, after the man found himself trapped under thousands of pounds.
Apple’s SIRI managed to phone 911, after the man found himself trapped under thousands of pounds.

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An 18-year-old man from Murfreesboro, Tennessee had his life saved by accidentally ‘butt-dialing’ Siri on his iPhone after being pinned under his truck. Hayley Mason reports.

Eighteen-year-old Sam Ray says the voice recognition service on his iPhone, named Siri, called emergency dispatchers after his truck fell on him while he tried to make repairs.

Ray tells media outlets that a jack collapsed, pinning him under nearly 5,000 pounds (2,270 kilograms) of metal in a location where he couldn’t be easily seen or heard. He says he was trying to get free when he heard Siri activate.

He says: “I said ‘Call 911,’ and that was all it said.”

Rutherford County dispatcher Christina Lee says she first thought it was a mistaken pocket-dial, but then she heard his screams for help and sent crews, who rescued him.

Ray and Lee met Friday for the first time after the July 2 incident.