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Eye in the Sky Busts Fraudulent Farmers 211

Peter Kuhns writes: "Awesome article about Big Brother using USGS satellite photos to ferret out a fraudulent farming company that scammed insurance companies over lost crops. The USGS apparantly takes lots of infrared (re:remote sensing) photos of the entire nation and stores this data going back a number of years. This is a big wake up call to farmers, the government, and potentially the USGS, who could suddenly be in the business of big business." Another very cool use of USGS data is drawmap, which I discovered a few months ago.
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Eye in the Sky Busts Fraudulent Farmers

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 20, 2001 @02:22PM (#136830)
    judge: What evidence would the plaintifs like to present at this time?

    lawyer: Your honor, recent X-Ray signals picked up by the SOHO solar observatory suggest that Earth's natural infrared emmissions reflect off the sun's surface and can be reassembled into images as you can see here in exhibit A. While we'd like to thank the scientists for their incredible work, however damaging these images are to the defendants case, I'd like to draw the courts attention to the eye witness' account of the Adjuster who claims no crops were planted.

  • It hasn't been in the news much lately, plus I left Boston, never to return (but brought a degree with me).

    I miss Boston. It was... very weird.

    (-1 offtopic)

    Forget Napster. Why not really break the law?

  • by Wakko Warner ( 324 ) on Wednesday June 20, 2001 @02:02PM (#136832) Homepage Journal
    there are cameras in space watching us! crap! gotta hide my pot^H^H^Hherb crops under netting.

    - A.P.

    Forget Napster. Why not really break the law?

  • WTF, they've taken everywhere outside of the USA out of the Terraserver! Its a plot by the rest of the world to spy on them while everyone else is free to do what they want without American scrutiny! ;]
  • Well, Most ofthe farmers I know are independant "I can make it on my own" type of people. They hate the thought of taking substidies. However there are bad apples in every bunch. It only takes one farmer to take the goverment aid, and because of what that does to situation (which isn't what you would think without knowing advanced ecconomics and accounting for not all these farmers having done so) they are forced to take those same themselves.

    Getting rid of goverment aid would change the situation again, and how isn't exactly clear. Some things have changed since grandpa ran the farm without goverment intervention.

  • I'm glad this was used in this way.

    1. Farm insurance is pretty expensive, some of that expense no doubt is because of fraud.

    2. It's not like farmers don't know that TR-1s (U-2s) and satellites are doing this, they get copies all the time in the mail. In fact there is a *huge* depository of them in plain sight at Sioux Falls South Dakota - the EROS data center.

    3. I noticed some people comparing this to the recent court case about IR and pot growing. It's not the same technology, this is a near infrared that lets them see through cloud cover, not walls. In all the pictures I've seen of the family farm, you couldn't see through the roof.

    All in all it's a good thing.
  • I think I need more proof than that.

    Not in Canada. In Canada, police have the right to pull you over, and search your vehicle for any reason they may choose. They can tear it completely apart, and leave it like that for you to put back together, if they so desire.

    I was pulled over for 15km/h and asked if they could look in the trunk. I asked them for a warrant and, although he was pissed off, I wasn't forced into anything. The fine sure wasn't reduced though. :-)

  • It's used Africa to determine where to spray for insects.

  • You are joking, but similar stuff has been done. IIRC, USGS scientists knew that Chernobyl was having problems before the Soviets admitted publicly that they had an accident.

  • If you are going to be archiving remotely sensed of the entire world's land surfaces, you're going to need gigantic amounts of archival media and servers to process it. I loved working there.

  • Test case? The USGS has been providing this sort of data since the 60s & 70s. Depending on what was actually used, the cost to the USDA was much smaller than what it would have cost to pay the insurance claim. Here [] is the product list and prices. [] A person can search for what is currently available with GLIS [] or EarthExplorer [].

  • That depends. The place where this data came from is probably in Daschle's state, so he may use some of his new clout to keep that facility fully funded. It would be better for the budget cutters to go after the social services branches of the Federal Govt than it would small agencies. Easily more waste and fraud in those areas than these agencies budgets. Unfortunately, if they did the bleeding heart media would have a field day about the mean ole Govt going after the poor.

  • Come now... it's not quite that barren. It's actually pretty nice. And it even rains occasionally. In fact, the high today was only 104. And yesterday the humidity was only 8%. So it's got its advantages. And who doesn't like cactus?

    --Elrond, Duke of URL
    "This is the most fun I've had without being drenched in the blood of my enemies!"
  • by slew ( 2918 ) on Wednesday June 20, 2001 @04:55PM (#136843)
    Since probably many people on /. probably don't know how this works, I'll post a brief summary.

    The aperature equation determines the resolution of a satellite (or any other imaging instrument).

    X = h*lambda/(L*cos(A))

    where h is the height, lambda is the wavelength of the electromagnetic signal (light, radio, etc),
    L*cos(A) is the projected length of the receiver (antenna, lens aperature)...

    Plugging in some numbers say...

    h=1000km, (too high for a survellance satellite, but easier math)
    lambda=1um (near infra-red)
    L=1m (a small satellite)

    With this you get 1 meter resolution (yikes), although it doesn't account for distortion, etc...

    Of course one way to increase the resolution is to get closer (reduce h), use higher frequencies
    (reduce wavelengths), or increase the receiving aperature (big satellites are hard to fly).

    Then there's this trick to increase the resolution of satellites that combine multiple "looks" of
    the same object from different positions to simulate a large aperature. This technique is
    called synthetic aperature imaging.

    Non-geo-stationary satellites can combine multiple "looks" at a point while they fly by to
    improve the resoltion. Of course there are problems like dopper shift, atmospheric distortion,
    range shifts, etc that have to get accounted for, but this is the basic idea.

    The problem with a geo-stationary satellite looking at you is that they fly very high
    (very large h) and the don't move relative to the point target.

    Of course a more realistic account would be in Tom Clancy's Patriot games where the real-time
    image could only be obtained for a short time until the low-flying fast-moving spy satellite
    couldn't see the target any more over the horizon...

    But I digress... ;^)
  • You can download the drawmap source code right HERE [].
  • Anyone can build advanced inferetrometry optics, nuclear reactors, and satcom ground stations and launch them into space.... When there are less than a dozen organizations in the world capable of doing something, it's hard to call it "plain".
  • by crisco ( 4669 ) on Wednesday June 20, 2001 @04:21PM (#136847) Homepage
    Actually, a great many of the X's you see on pavement are there as 'control points' for photogrammetry done from airplanes, not satellites. These are used for surveying and land use purposes, often stereo sets of photos are taken to determine elevations within about 1/2' ( 15cm ) and horizontal location to a few inches ( 10cm ). Those X's are surveyed with conventional equipment or high accuracy GPS (1cm) so that the relationship to the rest of the world can be established and so that errors due to the airplane's tilt, deviation from flightpath, etc. can be determined. Then maps are made from the stereo pairs that allow subdivisions and shopping malls to be built. Of course I'm simplifying the entire process but that will get you started.

    Google Category []

    Chris Cothrun
    Curator of Chaos

  • by dwdyer ( 5238 )
    Not only is it 404, the ~ directory is 404. Hopefully /. didn't cost the user his web space.

    It can be found at under pub/Linux/science/cartography/drawmap-2.4.tar.gz

  • Being a government agency, I don't think you can donate your money (well, you could...), but you can donate your time/effort to the USGS Earth Science Corps. According to the information I got with several maps I ordered a few weeks ago, you can email [mailto], call (800) 254-8040, or write to:

    Earth Science Corps
    MS 513
    U.S. Geological Survey
    Reston, Virginia 20192

    for more information on doing so. I have to agree with you: after using the aforementioned maps to find my way to a very remote part of NM last week, I have a new favorite organization as well!

  • It's in plain view.
  • I've seen recon photo's, they were not from orbit but, VERY, VERY HIGH UP, and we could read the brand of cigarette the guy in a cab was smoking...VERY EERY.
  • that NOW they can look at things that were able to access what was protected before, they do not need a search warrant to scan your property down to the sq. inch from orbiut but need a writ to climb my back fence ? There is some legal discrepencies here that need to be resolved. The remote recon at that level is THE SAME as climbing MY FENCE and walking my yard in person and should require a writ in the first place. Now of course IANAL but does anyone with any actual experience have a comment ?
  • grammar skills. This will teach me to reply and sit in on a con call at the same time.... :(
  • so be careful on Indian reservations or govt. property. Your rights are MUCH more limited under federal jurisdiction. Your vehicle IS subject to search under FED law, and the MP's and reservation police are NOT shy about exercising that CLUB.
  • how does that square with the fact that a police officer cannot climb my back fence to get a lookk into my yard ? I fully understand the plain view doctrine and even fresh/hot pursuit or entering based on a possible medical emergency etc, but this camera is DUPLICATING exactly what the officer is denied the right to view first hand ? seems odd to me...
  • A K-9's perception has been by precedent accepted as probable cause to generate a valid search warrant. You present a very good question..a robo sniffer thing (near future) would blur that dotted line beyond comprehension...
  • we ALL know that VICTIMS have NO RIGHTS, ONLY CRIMINALS HAVE RIGHTS. This country has gone so far to ensure the rights of the criminal are observed that the VICTIM is often left out to dry.
  • The regular police are unarmed and jolly fellows, then comes the 'wish I could remember the name' of the National police who monitor the borders and airports, who sport fully automatic weapons and a very business like attitude.
  • Because insurance fraud is a federal crime [].
  • toxins... like tomatoes? Oh, that's right, the only people growing any plants indoors must be growing that toxic, noxious weed that kills so many thousands of people every day... hahaha....

  • I just read part of the judgement here: 11 100/ pdf

    And it looks like the key is this:
    "The warrantless arrest of anyone violating these provisions is expressly authorized by statute, but the police may issue citations in lieu of arrest."

    The decision points out that governments have enacted laws which enable arrest for misdemeanor offenses since before the revolution (and later in American history), so it can't be argued that the framers of the constitution intended the 4th amendment to be protection against such laws.

    So, if you're worried about this, you should lobby your local/county/state lawmakers to not pass laws which allow arrest for misdemeanor offenses.
  • key word commercial... there are many satellites that are not commercial... I'm not even going to ask their capabilities...

  • No, the highway patrol generally uses lines perpendicular to the direction of travel; these are frequently drawn to the side of the pavement and occur in pairs. They are usually found on well-traveled roads in relatively rural areas, and are on straight sections of road. Aerial survey markers have lines at right angles to each other and often as not are in the middle of the pavement and aren't necessarily aligned in any way with the direction of travel. They are generally not found in pairs, and can appear on curves.

  • But can they catch seriously disturbed farmers???

    How do you know that flash animation wasn't directly imported from color-enhanced spy-satellite photos? :-)

  • Gore got the majority of votes, yet bush was "voted" into power.

    The fundamental problem here is the electoral college, I think. Last I heard, the ongoing (though obviously unofficial since the election was "finalized") counts in Florida showed Bush had indeed "won".

    While I do personally think Bush was the "lesser of two evils", I can't say that I'm much more pleased with him than I would have been with the other "mainstream" candidate. Maybe if we could manage to dump the electoral college some of the other choices might at least start showing up on the "official" records often enough to start influencing policy towards a bit more rationality...

    At least with the current close distribution of the mainstream parties in congress maybe they'll keep each other busy bickering and not have time to screw up much of anything for the next few years...

  • by Dr.Dubious DDQ ( 11968 ) on Wednesday June 20, 2001 @04:00PM (#136866) Homepage
    It's in plain view.

    EXACTLY. While a lot of the things Government-authorized people are allowed to do these days does bother me, I've never had a problem with the "plain view doctrine". A police officer pulling someone over at random and demanding to search the car just in case they're carrying drugs bothers me, but a police officer pulling over a car with smoke pouring out of the windows and arresting the driver on the basis that there's a planter full of marijuana plants plainly visible in the front seat next to an open, half-empty bottle of Jack Daniels doesn't really bother me at all...

    100's of acres of land out in the open sounds like "plain view" to me, too.

  • Microsoft has done this, sure. But so has every other company in the mapping business from Rand McNally on down to the guy selling "Maps to the Stars". Much like the Berkeley TCP/IP stack, that's what it's there for.
  • A few days ago the Supreme Court banned remote
    sensing searchs of one's home, specifically
    heat sensors for marijuana gardens lamps.
    I don't believe this extends to businesses (farmland),
    but probably to one's cars.
  • In this particular case, the satellite probably cost more. If you use that satellite to bust enough fraud complaints, then it may pay for itself. This was more of a test case/new technology prototype than anything.

    Caution: contents may be quarrelsome and meticulous!

  • by Bowie J. Poag ( 16898 ) on Wednesday June 20, 2001 @02:21PM (#136872) Homepage

    Not to promote Mickeysoft or anything, but they have an awfully nice timekiller on the web called Terraserver []. It holds a crapload of fairly-recent USGS satellite maps (1994/1996 or so) that you can zoom in on, and pick out your home town, your home street, even your house and the car in your driveway from orbit...Your entire neighborhood photographed at 1m resolution. For example, I work here [http]...Zoom in, and you can see me waving to the satellite's camera. :)

  • Would you happen to have saved the source tarball as well as the page content? Seems it's 404 on your site, and, well, the other site is completely gone...

    Last time I played with mapping software was using GIS stuff at U of A. Oy, if that doesn't split your head nothing will. Drawmap looks very cool indeed.


  • Gives you the creeps? Relax. You need to smoke more weed, man.

    Besides, everyone knows hydroponics is the way to go...

  • Very true, considering the higher "altitude" required by geosynchonous systems. My posting should have been more precise as the numbers I quoted were for lower non-geosynchronous orbits. However given two or more geosynchonous systems, one could mathematically obtain higher resolution images at geosynchronous altitudes. Of course this would entail quite a bit of post processing and could not occur in real time given present technology eh?

    As for "Enemy of the State", I did not see the movie, but given what I did see in "Patriot Games"? I would not be suprised if it were portrayed in much the same manner.
  • by BWJones ( 18351 ) on Wednesday June 20, 2001 @05:00PM (#136878) Homepage Journal
    Actually, there is the possibility of tasking a satellite (starting with the KH-11 series) so that it crosses over the path of what you are interested in. (Retasking satellites is only done in cases of national interest as it is expensive) From there a rotating mirror can keep the target in constant field of view as the satellite passes overhead. Additionally it is more than likely (attn: NSA, public domain info) that electro-optical based satellites can be tasked to fly in geosynchronous orbits to maintain constant observation without all of the the issues associated with image processing of data obtained at various angles of incidence. Of course if you are talking of pure video relay, there is little processing to perform other than cleaning up images looking through lots of atmosphere etc... Also it should be noted that while optimal resolution of imagery can achieve 10cm or slightly better, video resolution is much worse. (20-30 cm at best) (Attn: NSA, public domain info). If you are looking at IR video, it will be lower resolution than standard video. (50cm at best)
  • by aardvaark ( 19793 ) on Wednesday June 20, 2001 @03:26PM (#136879) Homepage
    I hope this isn't off topic, but a segment of the government that doesn't get much spotlight is the work the USGS does. Here's a great example. The USGS does a great job for the country (whether or not you like the big brother mentality of this article). They monitor stream flow, mineral resources, earthquake activiey, etc.

    I use to work for the USGS and they have had their budget cut year after year. I don't think they'll do too well under the Bush administration either. One of the things they were really working on when I left them was public relations. The USGS does alot for you all, whether you know it or not. Everyone in the /. community will get in an uproar when NASA gets its huge budget cut, but I would make the case you should all be aware of the great work the USGS does, and maybe support their great silent works.
  • You work in the middle of the desert?
  • While some might argue that this sets a dangerous precedent, I think using this sort of satellite imagery to investigate an insurance claim is probably much less intrusive than the conventional invetigations insurance companies pursue.

    Having the insurance company confirm that there is no fraud occuring by using satellite images (hopefully with the authorization of the farmer making the claim), involves really no-one else other than the farmer and the company.

    On the other hand, if they investigate by asking around the community, obtaining possibly irrelevant financial records, etc., very quickly everyone in the farmer's community will know about it. News (especially juicy gossip like an accusation of insurance fraud) travels fast in a small town. Unless the farmer *wants* other people to know that he's making an insurance claim, nobody really has the right to know this.

    I feel using this sort of technology does a better job of *protecting* the farmer's privacy than it does of invading it.

    "Intelligence is the ability to avoid doing work, yet getting the work done".
  • Hmmm.... The Canton, NY office of the USDA still uses the system you described. Or at least they did until 1997, which is the last time I was over there.
  • This type of thing has been going on for a long, long time. Out here in SD, farmers and land owners (of the many-acre variety) have to get permits do things like burn piles of yard waste, tear down trees, and the like, have to get a permit from Ye Ol' Gov't Office at the local/nearest county seat. I've heard of cases where people have, say, cleaned out a section of a tree strip (placed on property to block wind out here, gov't and private) on their property of the dead trees. Several months later, there is a gov't official on the phone, letting them know that they will be fined for not purchasing a permit.


  • Thanks for the update B-B!

    I used USDA pictures circa 1962 which were flown using former WWII photo recon cameras (and still in B-something or other aircraft no doubt). The negatives (negative print film) were roughly 10x10 because the film was 12" wide. All in IR. The last sets I used were taken around 1982.

    Much as your strips were taken, 20-30% overlap, great stereo, flown around 5k' above the surface. We, alas, had to manually fix the roll and yaw... a major pain in the rear. Doing it with 35mm would be even harder manually, but by computer, a major win.

    Sad they've switched totally to satelites. It would be a cake job to overfly with GPS stamps on every frame now. When some fool knocks down the satelites, there will be a mad scramble to re-build the older infrastructure.

    Thanks again for the update!

    former photo analyst,
    -- Multics

  • by Multics ( 45254 ) on Wednesday June 20, 2001 @02:59PM (#136900) Journal
    The responses to this article just are freaking me out. HOW MANY SLASHDOTTERS DOES IT TAKE TO KNOW SOMETHING? ABOUT 50 POSTS BEFORE THERE IS A QUALITY ONE.

    Now that I have that said...

    At one point or another your property (the few of you that actually own property in the USA) was probably imaged this week. Your land is probably imaged 30 or 40 times a year (especially right now where there is maximum sun and sun angles are very high). That 30-40 doesn't count being spied on the NRO or the Russians (or whomever else). Most of the pictures are so low-res that they get what they need for time-sensitive maps (crops, diseases, erosion, land types, etc) that short of you doing something outrageously odd, you'll not be bothered.

    How do you think that your precious GPS navigator got its maps? It wasn't from a State Road Inventories since they are not accurate enough. It was from being overflown.

    Ever see big Xs, +s or Ls painted on the pavement? Well those are there so the overflight photos can be tied to known geographic locations and the photos can be tied together to build a mosaic.

    What makes this story vaguely more intresting is that it is about satelite photos, not traditional air photos. Further the USGS took the photos but the USDA got to use them.

    USDA has been overflying on crop validations since at least the 1960s (perhaps as far back as the mid-1940s). How do you think the estimates of crop production get produced? Overflights by Billy-Bob in his Piper with a classic B/W Kodak IR film (roughly 10"x10" negatives, BTW) do most of the heavy lifting then some poor photogramitrist measures whatever was of interest and poof, yet another thematic map.

    You folks need some sense of how the world works. Most of this has been happening since long before you were born.

    -- Multics

    See also:
    GEOG 415-001: Air Photo Interpretation []
    Air Photo Interpretation []
    And for you EUers, Air Photo Services [].

    P.S. About crop insurance... go read the USDA web site before you spout about it -- no bailouts there, oh clueless ones.

  • I'm no fan of pot being illegal, but don't be pissed because the cops use technology to observe what's going on.

    The cops were using technology to circumvent the 4th Amendment's protection from unlawful search - so yes, you should be pissed when this happens. And you should be delighted that the SCOTUS shot it down as unconstitutional.
  • You seem to prefer to flame rather than think.

    First, read Cpt. Nitpick's response, he beat me to answering. Then consider this: all this does is up the ante. The fraudulent farmers will simply find new ways to cheat. The problem has not been solved.

  • by devphil ( 51341 ) on Wednesday June 20, 2001 @02:02PM (#136903) Homepage
    potentially the USGS, who could suddenly be in the business of big business.

    Between this publicity and cool people like Orlando Jones' character in _Evolution_ working for the USGS, I think I've found my new favorite organization.

    Okay, seriously: Busting fraud is way cool in my book.

  • Depends on who you are and what you have access to. Your average internet user? No. If you're the NRO [], its a different story...
  • Ever see big Xs, +s or Ls painted on the pavement? Well those are there so the overflight photos can be tied to known geographic locations and the photos can be tied together to build a mosaic.

    I see a fun anarchist legend in the works...

    Get black paint, and cover up the white crosses.

    Get white paint, and paint random Xs, +s or Ls all over your town in random locations.

    Before they know it, the USGS will be mapping Los Angeles right next to San Jose! Wish I could see those Geologists faces right now...
    "Holy shit! Now THAT is some big Continental Drift!"

  • by outlier ( 64928 ) on Wednesday June 20, 2001 @02:30PM (#136906)
    The Supreme Court decided [] that law enforcement agencies need a warrant to use technologies like thermal imaging to "look" into your home. In theory, the cops can't (without probable cause or permission, etc...) walk in and start searching your house without a judge's approval, the Supremes said that the police can't rely on technology to look inside your house unless they get the same type of approval. In that case the cops brought an infrared camera to his house and looked at the thermal activity.

    This is interesting because now we have a systematically assembled and stored database.

    The question is, if the spatial resolution on these scans were good enough to detect growing lamps in your house (who knows?), would the authorities need a search warrant to look at their own data?

    This raises a more general question about the use of data mining for law enforcement. With increased collection of data about where we go and what we do (credit card records, electronic toll paying devices, face recognition software, satellite images, etc.) Can (and should) the government search datasets that it owns (or others) looking for suspicious patterns? Yes, they can use these data once they suspect you, but can they use it to find new suspects?

  • by karb ( 66692 )
    Lots of people are saying things ignorant of the fact that the res on these is probably no better than about one meter or half a meter (not good enough to see people). At least that's the best pictures anybody is taking right now.

    Besides, if you have ever thought that anything that can be viewed from the sky is private you have been in a cave on the moon since the cuban missle crisis. There are commercial companies as well as *publicy* available pictures of lots of stuff like this.

    Your rights of privacy are overridden by the rights of everybody else to fly more than 400 feet over your property and take pictures. Suck it up.

  • by karb ( 66692 ) on Wednesday June 20, 2001 @03:53PM (#136908)

    I'm so tired and light-headed I've turned into The President Of The United States.

  • Not true - though wouldn't it be nice if life was this simple?

    Visit one crop insurer I've dealt with - American Agrisurance [] - and learn how it's not so simple.

    After a massive battle to keep you from getting a lousy $300 back per individual, you should know that the government likes to keep its money.

  • by scoove ( 71173 ) on Wednesday June 20, 2001 @08:10PM (#136912)
    I just showed this article to a soybean farmer friend of mine (5500+ acres in southwest Iowa).

    Besides not being surprised that the government would spend its billion dollar defense network on spying on the little guy, he pointed out how amusing it was that all this energy is going into protecting the government's crop insurance stake while the farmer is slowly slipping into oblivion.

    (And before some city fool posts an obnoxious, ignorant post about crop subsidies and all the government waste, let me point out that these guys can't stand it either - but faced with government protection of wholesale monopolies that name their price for crops in ebay fashion, that subsidy means the difference between them eeking out a pathetic survival and you having nothing on your dinner plate).

    Record low crop prices, record high fuel and fertilizer prices and the whole mess about GMOs (resulting in international boycotts of US produced foods, using GMO as an excuse for nationalistic crop protection) are encouraging the die hards to get out of the business. Heck, in the state of Washington, they're considering paying apple producers to simply destroy orchards. They can't affect the wholesalers, so they'll affect you at home (while the wholesalers rake in even more dollars).

    It'll backlash, certainly. Consumers are engineering the beginnings of a California energy crisis in the agriculture markets by choosing to destroy their producers. Just like the greens in CA successfully killed off electricity production, protection of ag distribution monopolies combined with other factors will ensure prohibitively expensive foods in 10-15 years.

    So yes, the big guy is doing well. He's smart - greasing both parties at the same time (Microsoft's recently corrected error). He's also getting a great return on his investment, especially if the world's greatest military is now working for him by spying on the serfs in the fields.

    You're going to get just what the big guy wants you to buy, at the price he names. Groceries at 40%+ of your income just around the corner...


    p.s. If you want to do something about it, support the open source of agriculture. Go down to your local farmer's market this weekend and buy food there. Slashdotters claim to hate Microsoft, yet support the Microsoft of agriculture every time they go to the big grocery store. BUY DIRECT - better, fresher, honest food!
  • by scoove ( 71173 ) on Wednesday June 20, 2001 @08:54PM (#136913)
    Bravo - wish I could mod++ and post at the same time. Insightful, at a minimum. Then again, I'm biased.

    It's mystifying to listen to slashdotters rant and rave about their hatred of Microsoft corporate conspiracies, and then turn on their principles and kiss up to the same forces in other industries. They whine about PHB corporate behavior, then act just as ignorant when they run to the supermarket and make horribly foolish assumptions and embarrassing simplifications.

    Our city folk slashdotters need to step back and consider for a moment what would happen if their city didn't have its daily food shipments from the the distributors who control their survival. (Yes, you are 0wned, but not by who you think).

    Do a mental inventory of what's in the fridge and where it came from - and try to survive on what came from within your city limits.

    Hungry yet?

    We hear Katz rant about how the McDonalds culture poisons America, but where did he get his groceries at? (Care to reply for once on a post, Katz, or still hiding from any sort of discussion?)

    Yea, I'm ranting alright. Hopefully I can stir up enough slashdotters so they won't go hungry. The other side of the force doesn't need to worry about its food supply.

  • My guess is they just called up the USGS and asked them for a picture the USGS took anyway.. Hell, they prolly even paid the $40-50 the USGS usually wants..

    So no.. Unless they paid that expert witness a half mil.
  • by selectspec ( 74651 ) on Wednesday June 20, 2001 @02:24PM (#136915)
    While you can't buy equity you can invest in USGS. The US government issues 2yr, 5yr, 10yr Treasurey notes.
  • by selectspec ( 74651 ) on Wednesday June 20, 2001 @02:01PM (#136916)
    Why didn't the insurance company send somebody out to inspect the crops? Why wouldn't the insurance company require the farmers to at least photograph the crops and the damage?
  • Not yet. If you look at commercial satellite imagery companies, most satellites have a 1 meter or larger resolution. We're talking about maybe being able to distinguish between cars and trucks, not look at the 1/4 inch you are extending over your property line.
  • by staplin ( 78853 ) on Wednesday June 20, 2001 @02:23PM (#136919) Homepage Journal
    Nope. If you look around at commercial satellite imagery companies, they seem to be struggling to get a 24 hour turn around time on still images, let alone video.
  • by pcmills ( 83944 ) on Wednesday June 20, 2001 @02:31PM (#136921)
    And also the GPS unit on your tractor said you were doing 40MPH in a 35MPH farm zone. Here is your ticket.

  • by Trekologer ( 86619 ) <> on Wednesday June 20, 2001 @02:22PM (#136923) Homepage
    What about the recent SCOTUS decision about using heat sensors to discover pot grows? theoretically, this could even be used for the exact same thing. This stuff gives me the creeps.

    Heat sensors were being used to look inside houses while these satalites photograph what is out in the open. Legally, its called "plain sight". Anything that can been seen out in the open can be used against you. For example, the police pull over a car for running a red light. The police can not open and search the trunk to find the money the people in the car just robbed from a nearby bank (unbeknownst to the police). Now, if the loot was in the back seat and the police officer could see it though the window (in "plain sight") he could use it as evidence and arrest the people in the car for the robbery. He still can't open the trunk to find the 20 killos of coke in it (unless he received a warrant, received consent from the driver, or had evidence suggesting there were drugs in it).

    It would be another story if the satalites could "see" inside building (ie: infared heat sensor).
  • When the U.S. government says that they won't tolerate no bullshit, they literally mean it.
  • by _Mustang ( 96904 ) on Wednesday June 20, 2001 @03:58PM (#136928)
    You are so right on this. That most people find this newsworthy is a simple testament to "how far from the land" people have become; ie: city folk.

    In fact at this very moment I have a large photo of the entirety of my family farm hanging on my wall. The scale of the picture is roughly 2KM by 5 KM and believe me when I say that it's not too difficult to distinguish every feature including my Dad's car. Actually we have one from every five year period between 1965 until 1985, which makes it kinda neat to see how the area developed over the last x-years as the farm expanded..

    This is actually very typical and has been done with fly-overs since at least the late 60's. That they have begun to use satellite to do this is hardly surprising since you get more area with a higher detail for less money...

    Sounds to me like those weren't family farmers in involved since they would know about this kind of stuff.
  • by tedtimmons ( 97599 ) on Wednesday June 20, 2001 @02:40PM (#136930) Homepage
    I'm working on a mirror. The page is up, the images are on their way, hopefully. t/%257Efme/drawmap.html []

  • by JPMH ( 100614 ) on Wednesday June 20, 2001 @03:09PM (#136932)
    The EU has been systematically using satellite data to monitor farmers for almost ten years now, to prevent farmers falsely claiming government subsidies for crops they then never plant.

    Every farm in Europe now has to submit an annual IACS [] form (Integrated Administration and Control System), listing what they are going to grow that year field-by-field; and submit new maps with it showing any changes in field boundaries (new fences etc), with the new areas measured to the nearest 100 square metres (0.01 of a hectare).

    These plans are then automatically compared against the IR satellite photos of what actually gets grown. If you have planted less than you have claimed for, your entire subsidy claim is void. If it looks like you've done it intentionally, they'll nail you for fraud. (The inspectors are on results bonuses, so they don't take prisoners).

    Crazy system, the C.A.P., in lots of ways; but without farm support, many of the more marginal Scottish rural areas would turn into depopulated deserts.

  • Hi!

    All kidding aside, Microsoft does have a mapping product: Microsoft MapPoint 2002 []. And as somebody in the business, I can tell you three things:

    1. It absolutely rocks
    2. It drops the price of high-end map servers by orders (plural) of magnitude
    3. Oh yeah--contrary to other posts, it is not based on public domain data.

    The first version of MapPoint (2001) was nice--but this version is substantially better, at least from a programmer's perspective. The object model exposed by the product is substantially richer--doing something like reverse geo-coding (which is very complicated using MapQuest's server engine) is a breeze.

    Pricing: With regard and respect to enthusiasts for the GPL, Microsoft is by no means the bad guy when it comes to software pricing. Go price any kind of small-market toolset--the prices can be hideous. For example, GIS mapping systems: the big guns come from ESRI, MapInfo, and MapQuest (now part of AOL). You license the server software--and then you license data (typically on a quarterly subscription). (Data usually comes from GDT or NavTech.) How much? We're paying an annual subscription fee (for the server license and the data) of roughly $40,000. And that doesn't include any Canadian data.

    Yeah, you read it right. Forty thousand bucks per year.

    And here comes Microsoft with MapPoint 2002. Better data, substantially easier programming model, more reliable tool--for $295. Not $295/year--just $295.

    That's not all we're going to end up paying. Microsoft themselves doesn't seem to have figured out that you can use MapPoint in a server setting--we're inquiring about what a server license will cost. But we're confident that it will be substantially less than we're paying presently. (The client, who actually has to foot this bill, is late for a meeting here. That's why I'm cruising /. at midday.)

    Public domain data: Most GIS systems focusing on the United States use street data based on the public-domain TIGR data files. You can download the TIGR data from a number of sources--but don't get your hopes up. The data isn't very good. Any commercial GIS system will use data that has been "enhanced" by GDT, NavTech, or another data provider--to make sure, for instance, that Main Street in your town actually runs from 41.44323N/-75.3323W to 41.87332N/-75.40012W. The original TIGR files were created by the Census Bureau--to be sure that every house was enumerated. They didn't plan on people using GPS units to compare with the maps, and basing life-or-death decisions on their data. When municipalities began developing 911 emergency response systems (and literally making life-or-death decisions based on the map data) the flaws in the TIGR data became all-too-apparent. So third-party providers like GDT exist to compare the map data with satellite imagery and aerial photographs to make sure that map objects are correctly placed. MapPoint, like any other commercial GIS tool, is based on third-party-enhanced data from GDT and NavTech.

    If you're doing GIS work, this is a tool that's definitely worth looking into.

  • Uh, I think you rushed to quickly to jump on big brother and not bother to notice that these satellites are infared, not photo.

    These things wouldn't be able to notice the lot locations, only the houses (since your house is climate controlled, and would show up only as a yellow dot in a red background if it was a hot day outside). It would have no idea how well your home or roof are built. It would not happen to notice whether or not you were standing outside naked waving your full monty (now a legit word... thank you, Oxford) to your neighbor.

    ...of course, you'd probably still go to jail, if your neighbor got too offended.

    Personally, although there are big brother issues, I hope everyone realizes that there are already satellites orbiting in space that take pictures of the Earth already (you know, the ones that can pick off your license plates, and the ones that can tell that you're speeding even though they're 31 miles away). We were too busy crying for better satelite TV and cell phone availability to figure out what was going on in abusing this technology.

    Although, I'm glad that these things were put to good use in this case. Being from a farming state and knowing the current farm economy (or lack thereof), I'm glad to see them stopping farm insurance claim fraud, because it's incredably easy to file for...all you gotta do is spend an hour filling out the right papers, plus an hour calling your state representative demanding justice if the claim was rejected the first time. Rarely will you get a visit from any big insurance guys unless you claim some proposterous amount of land that was damaged.
  • Maybe the insurance companies can use these satellites to catch those pesky aliens mutilating farmers' cattle. Those aliens must cost the insurance companies a fortune in payouts.
  • What about the recent SCOTUS decision about using heat sensors to discover pot grows? theoretically, this could even be used for the exact same thing. This stuff gives me the creeps.

    What, you're pissed that the gov't enforces laws by observing what you do? Do you expect the bad guys to turn themselves in?

    I'm no fan of pot being illegal, but don't be pissed because the cops use technology to observe what's going on.

  • The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

    So how is it that simply being observed is a violation of the 4th Amendment? The cops are LOOKING. It's surveillance. You gonna say the cops can't look at your house, or your backyard? Absurd.

  • This raises a more general question about the use of data mining for law enforcement. With increased collection of data about where we go and what we do (credit card records, electronic toll paying devices, face recognition software, satellite images, etc.) Can (and should) the government search datasets that it owns (or others) looking for suspicious patterns? Yes, they can use these data once they suspect you, but can they use it to find new suspects?

    Well, I will (as usual) be called a fascist, but my opinion would be that if each individual peice of data is legal for them to have, there is no reason it would not be legal for them to cross check all that data. What they do with the patterns is another question.

    I don't know enough about law enforcement or (for example) drug production and dealing to know to what extent a corelation of banking habits, energy consumption, travel and or video rentals could be considered "probable cause" to start a formal or informal investigation. Where does it become harrassment based on "profile"? Its a legitamate question, but no more debilitating of one than the profiling issues that have recently plauged highway patrolmen etc. It is in other words an issue to be dealt with, not one to make us ban the practice altogether. All IMFO of course.

    Kahuna Burger

  • Strange. Hemp is grown all over Europe, legally. I`d imagine if that were true there`d be very many phone calls!

  • I like the idea that such things can be used to justify what is right and justly punish what is wrong. I don't like the idea that this world can never be completely just, and so naturally all of this "Big Brother" power crap just frightens me.

    It's good to know that I'm being watched. It's not good to know that being watched will always work to someone else's advantage. Ah...

  • Fraudulent companies only get fined? Big whoop. Fines are not a deterrent. Throw white collar criminals in jail. Give them real reason to fear getting caught.
  • I remember back during the OJ Simpson trial thinking there had to be one decent shot of Brentwood in the US/China/USSR satellite archives.
    What would this show? It would show the location of the "White Bronco" and the time it was(n't) there and since we are talking IR we could even see if the engine was warm.
    Kidnappings and lots of other crimes could be traced with this tech beyond just farm fraud.

    But with all things there is a dark side.
    The next thing you know this information is commercially, don't even think about publicly, available and you find your email and mail box stuffed with spam saying they noticed that YOU where stuck in traffic at 17:45, of course no spamer would ever assume their customer was smart enough to read military time, and they want to sell you something to easy your time to and from work.

    In short: rejoice for the good this can bring. In long: Big Brother is watching.

  • Richard Horne's 3DEM here [].

    It's for Windows and it isn't freeware any more, but it only costs US$35, which is an order or two of magnitude cheaper than a lot of the tools that geo folks use.

    It accepts DEMs and a number of other 3D geo input formats and produces 3D output in VRML and Terragen, all sorts of 2D image formats, and even MPEG and AVI movies of flythroughs.

    I don't get a commission or anything. I just think it's a cool tool, and converts geodata to some potentially very useful formats.

    On the off chance you're in geoscience and don't know about GeoVRML, click here [].

    3D geodata flythroughs on the web may be an answer to Jim Blinn's famous comment about finding a use for real time 3d [].

  • Not in Canada. In Canada, police have the right to pull you over, and search your vehicle for any reason they may choose. They can tear it completely apart, and leave it like that for you to put back together, if they so desire. It happened to a friend of mine, the police were looking for a black guy who had just robbed a convenience store, and they pulled my (white) friend over and searched his car top to bottom. They WERE nice enough to help him put it back together, but they weren't obligated to.
  • The reasoning is this: The heat sensors were used to gain thermal readings from inside a house on the pot growers, where the SCOTUS has ruled that one has a reasonable expectation of privacy, inside ones' own home. In this case, the land was not located inside the house. Thus, no reasonable expectation of privacy.
  • I used to do the aerial photography for the USDA in about half of New York State. Not a Piper, a Cessna. And plain old 35mm, not some bizarre large format thing. 10" negs? How would you handle that kind of monstrosity inside a small plane? Furthermore, we didn't use any Xs or Ls or otherwise. Didn't need em, actually. We drew a series of straight lines on a map and flew straight from one end to the other, at a fixed groundspeed and altitude. Using a standard 35mm camera with autowinder and databack, we shot one image every 30 seconds or so (it varied, depending on the altitude). The frames would overlap by about 20% on each side. It's dead simple to compute which frame of which roll belongs to any point on the ground. We did this exactly once a year, for the payment-in-kind program. In other words, the program which pays farmers to leave fields fallow. The USDA had a neat computer system that would take a couple of points on the frame, compensate for plane roll and yaw, and compute the area of the fields in question.
    Since this was in the Northeast, the fields aren't as large and regularly shaped as in the Midwest, and they're pretty tough to measure accurately on the ground without trained surveyors. This scheme was more accurate than the manual methods the USDA had previously used.

    In addition to the area of the fields photographed, the USDA also needed to know what type of crops are being produced. They claimed that they could distinguish crop types from the films, so I imagine they could also identify pot.

    The relevance here is that in about 1988 or 1989, that office of the USDA stopped hiring aerial photographers, and began getting all their data from satellite photos.
  • Make your own. It's pretty easy, and in Potsdam, I think it would be a neccessity. I would experiment with making the dough, shaping the rings, letting them raise/ferment, and then pop them all (but two) in the freezer. Then you could pull out a couple of frozen proto-bagels, boil and bake them, and have a fresh bagel in about a half-hour...
  • by SnapShot ( 171582 ) on Thursday June 21, 2001 @05:43AM (#136978)

    Just playing devil's advocate, but I recently read a report by some economist who's thesis was that the U.S. shouldn't even be in the farming business anymore.

    He was under the impression that since so much of farming is mind-numbing, dangerous, and labour-intensive work, in a perfect (capitolist ;) society farming would naturally move to 3rd World countries if there weren't tariffs, subsidies, and other assistance (daming rivers for irrigation etc..) that made it possible to continue farming here. In other words, the average American is too well-educated (okay, don't laugh too hard...), too "fragile" (e.g. worth too much in a lawsuit if he loses an arm in a bailer or something), and too expensive (dollars per hour) to be a farmer. In addition, U.S. land is too valuable in it's alternative uses (roads, parking lots, strip malls, McMansions, etc..) to be tied up in farming.

    In the report's anlysis, the future of farming in the U.S. is limited to a few huge corps who can automate much of the grunt work, a few niche, specialty, and seasonal crops (where time to market is the determining factor), and hobbiests (like me... I can't wait for my home-grown tomatoes!).

    It's a harsh stream of ideas. I personally prefer to live near a 100 acres of corn than 75 acres of developments and 25 acres of Walmarts.

  • I'm sure Microsoft will throw a fit over not being able to repackage it as MS Mapper and charge $200...
  • Too late... M$ already has mapping products based on the Public Domain USGS data (and other PD governement sources as well). And by re-formatting the data, they get copyright on their version of the database, and can sell it at their usual over-inflated price...

    That's why Bill loves PD and is trying so hard to stop the govenment using GPL...
  • Perhaps someone else watches 60 minutes and saw the episode about the absurd practices of crop insurance. In a nutshell, insurance companies could sell higher risk policies to the US Dept of Ag and dodge having to pay claims, hence encouraged to sell lots of very high risk policies to farmers. Fraud is putting it mildly, how the insurance agencies and famers took advantage of it. That USGS is capturing a farmer who says he planted crops and didn't is insignificant in contrast. The whole Dept of Ag needs a serious shake up, but with all the clowns in the House of Reps, don't expect it very soon, even after the airing of dirty laundry on national TV.

    All your .sig are belong to us!

  • by grovertime ( 237798 ) on Wednesday June 20, 2001 @02:26PM (#136999) Homepage
    The agriculture industry really should have seen this one coming. With the "eye in the sky" busts that have been made from farmer's growing hidden crops of marijuana, they had to know that massive frauding of their crops could be determined by the same process. Do farmers have a union? If they do, the first discussion at the next meeting should be about the difficulties in hiding from the omnipresent.

    1. is this for REAL? []
  • by dhovis ( 303725 ) on Wednesday June 20, 2001 @02:36PM (#137014)
    It says in the article that the farmers planted about 200 acres of cotton and claimed damage on nearly 1000 acres. They may well have shown an adjuster some of the 200 acres that were distroyed, but I doubt that the adjuster (who probably had to confirm a bunch of damages in the area) took the time to confirm that 1000 acres had been planted in the first place.
  • For example, the police pull over a car for running a red light. The police can not open and search the trunk to find the money the people in the car just robbed from a nearby bank

    I wish that were true. It was once, but no longer. The supreme court just ruled ('Atwater vs. City of Lago Vista' April 24, 2001) that an officer can arrest you even if the violation which got you pulled over is a misdemeanor with no jail time. As Sandra Day O'Conner said in that decision: "After today, the arsenal available to any officer extends to full arrest and the searches concomitant to that arrest." In other words, if they want to search your trunk all they have to do is pull you over for failure to signal a lane change or some other lame excuse then arrest you. Now they have you in handcuffs in the back of the cruser and they can legally do any damn thing they want to your car without a warrent, and anything they find can and will be used against you.

    The only thing the Supremes have left to do is find a way to empower the cops to just shoot you on the spot and avoid the cost of a trial.

  • The article does not say explicitly, although it does imply (by use of the word "judgement" instead of "fines") that this may have been a _civil_ case, not a criminal one (yes, the federal government can be a party to civil cases too.)

    If this were the case, the Supreme court decision about heat sensors is probably irrelevant, as the rules of evidence are greatly relaxed for civil cases.

  • So when Microsoft gets into this biz, will their motto change to, "We know where you went today"?

    No, seriously, why did it take the USGS to do this? I mean, if I reported a loss to my insurance company, I'd get someone coming out to verify it. The insurance company doesn't just take my word for it. Of course, I'm not a big business, but still...
  • by return 42 ( 459012 ) on Wednesday June 20, 2001 @03:09PM (#137036)

    OK, fine, they're catching fraudulent farmers. But can they catch seriously disturbed farmers []???
  • The possibilities are very frightening, but I don't have too much sympathy for farmers trying to perpetuate insurance fraud. It's people like them who drive up the cost of almost every service and product we buy, especially doctors.

    Using satellites for this is just one more step up. The county I'm about to move into uses planes to search out land owners who build new buildings without a permit. Planes could have also been used for this purpose. It just happens that satellites already catch picture and IR photos all over the world.

    The prospect of what could be done with satellites is not very comforting, but when used properly to catch criminals I'm all for it.

10.0 times 0.1 is hardly ever 1.0.