Filed under: 2nd Amendment, Augmented Reality, Ballistics, Brave New World, Civil Rights, Connections, Fireworks, General Musings, Government, Guns, movies, Nuclear weapons, Predictions, Preparedness, Privacy, Science Fiction, Society, Space, tech, UFO, Violence, Wired, YouTube | Tags: ammunition, augmented reality, ballistics, blogging, Boeing, Cold War, drone, drones, guns, Guns.com, jim downey, laser, movies, North Dakota, predictions, Science Fiction, space, technology, The Thing, USSR, video, Watch the skies, www youtube
That’s from the 1951 classic The Thing from Another World, one of the first (and defining) science fiction movies which set the stage for much of what was to come even to the present day.
It was also very much a product of the early Cold War era, reflecting the fear* of the USSR and atomic weaponry. This is typical — science fiction usually is a reflection of (or commentary on) the technology and social conditions of the era when it was created.
So, what to make of two news items which showed up this week?
Here’s the first:
It is now legal for law enforcement in North Dakota to fly drones armed with everything from Tasers to tear gas thanks to a last-minute push by a pro-police lobbyist.
With all the concern over the militarization of police in the past year, no one noticed that the state became the first in the union to allow police to equip drones with “less than lethal” weapons. House Bill 1328 wasn’t drafted that way, but then a lobbyist representing law enforcement—tight with a booming drone industry—got his hands on it.
And here’s the second:
Hang on to your drone. Boeing’s developed a laser cannon specifically designed to turn unmanned aircraft into flaming wreckage.
The aerospace company’s new weapon system, which it publicly tested this week in a New Mexico industrial park, isn’t quite as cool as what you see in Star Wars—there’s no flying beams of light, no “pew! pew!” sound effects. But it is nonetheless a working laser cannon, and it will take your drone down.
* * *
Instead of a massive laser mounted on a dedicated truck, the compact system is small enough to fit in four suitcase-sized boxes and can be set up by a pair of soldiers or technicians in just a few minutes. At the moment, it’s aimed primarily at driving drones away from sensitive areas.
I’m already seeing posts by friends on social media complaining about drones being operated by annoying neighbors, with discussion about what possible solutions there might be to deal with them (both by legal recourse and um, more informal approaches). There have been a number of news items already about people who have shot down drones, and there’s even a company advertising a specific kind of shotgun ammunition for just that.
“Watch the skies!”, indeed.
Filed under: Astronomy, Fermi's Paradox, Humor, NYT, Privacy, Science, Science Fiction, Seth Shostak, SETI, Space, Survival, tech, Website .. end .. Universe, Writing stuff | Tags: astronomy, blogging, Communion of Dreams, Drake Equation, Fermi's Paradox, humor, jim downey, New York Times, science, Science Fiction, Seth Shostak, SETI, space, Stephen Hawking, technology, writing
A better approach is to note that the nearest intelligent extraterrestrials are likely to be at least dozens of light-years away. Even assuming that active SETI provokes a reply, it won’t be breezy conversation. Simple back-and-forth exchanges would take decades. This suggests that we should abandon the “greeting card” format of previous signaling schemes, and offer the aliens Big Data.
For example, we could transmit the contents of the Internet. Such a large corpus — with its text, pictures, videos and sounds — would allow clever extraterrestrials to decipher much about our society, and even formulate questions that could be answered with the material in hand.
While I still agree with Stephen Hawking on the idea of ‘active SETI’, I think that there’s merit in the idea of exposing other nearby civilizations to what we’re really like, warts and all. Because as soon as they decoded our transmissions well enough to understand the comments section of pretty much any major site on the web, they’d either completely wall off our solar system* and post warnings around it or just trigger our sun to go supernova. Either way, we’d never know what happened, and the rest of the galaxy would be safe …
*gee, that’d make an interesting premise for a SF novel, doncha think?
Filed under: Brave New World, Civil Rights, Connections, Constitution, Government, NPR, Predictions, Privacy, Society, tech | Tags: blogging, civil liberties, DHS, drones, jim downey, Martin Niemöller, NPR, predictions, privacy, Secret Service, technology, Washington Post, Wikipedia
First they flew to watch for illegal immigrants, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not an illegal immigrant.
Then they flew to look for marijuana farms, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a marijuana farmer.
Then they flew to watch the White House, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not the President.
Then … and then … and then …
Filed under: Alzheimer's, Amazon, Connections, Feedback, Humor, Kindle, Marketing, movies, Privacy, Promotion, Publishing, Science Fiction, Violence, Writing stuff | Tags: Alzheimer's, Amazon, blogging, Communion of Dreams, direct publishing, feedback, free, Her Final Year, humor, introvert, jim downey, John Bourke, Kindle, literature, Monty Python, movies, privacy, promotion, reviews, Science Fiction, This I Believe, violence, writing
Today’s the official Third Anniversary for the publication of Communion of Dreams, and in celebration, you can download the Kindle edition today for free! Who doesn’t like free? I mean, yeah, sure, if someone walks up to you and offers you a free punch in the nose, you might not like it, but other than that …
Sorry I haven’t posted much lately. I was honestly surprised when I looked and saw that the last blog entry was ten days ago. I haven’t been ill, or traveling, or anything. But after I recorded the essay for “This I Believe” I was feeling very … quiet. As I explained to a friend:
It may be hard to understand, and I didn’t make a big deal out of it, but it (recording the essay) was actually a very hard thing for me to do. It wasn’t just any essay or promotional piece I’d written, not like doing interviews or anything. The essay was powerful because of the emotions behind it — I’m certain that’s why it has resonated for people. But that same source of power cuts very deep for me. Particularly after the stuff last month, it took a hell of a lot for me to come to terms with it all again, and to do so in such a public fashion.
You probably wouldn’t think so from reading this blog (or the book which came out of it), but I am actually a very private and introverted person by nature. My writing has always been a way for me to push myself out of my comfort zone, to force myself to be somewhat more public, more sharing. And it’s worked. Mostly. But there are still times when I just need to withdraw, to recover my energy and self-confidence. This last week+ has been one of those times.
Thanks for understanding. Now, go download that book if you haven’t already.
Filed under: Augmented Reality, BoingBoing, Brave New World, Connections, Cory Doctorow, George Orwell, Philip K. Dick, Predictions, Preparedness, Privacy, RFID, Science Fiction, Society, tech | Tags: A Scanner Darkly, augmented reality, blogging, Boing Boing, BoingBoing, Cory Doctorow, Dave Lewis, Forbes, George Orwell, jim downey, John Dodge, Philip K. Dick, predictions, privacy, RFID, Science Fiction, security, smartphone, St. Cybi's Well, technology, writing
When you see news like this in the mainstream press…
It seems rather far fetched at first glance. There is news that came out last week that rogue cell phone towers around the US are forcing mobile devices to disable their encryption making it possible that someone might be able to listen in to your call. “That could never happen to me,” you think out loud. But, apparently it could.
In 2010 at the DEF CON in Las Vegas, security researcher Chris Paget did the unthinkable. He built a cell tower of his own so that he could spoof legitimate towers and intercept calls.The device would mimic the type used by law enforcement agencies to intercept phone calls. In this case, he was able to build it for roughly $1500 US. Paget’s device would only capture 2G GSM phone calls. Carriers such as AT&TT -0.06% and T-Mobile would be vulnerable as they use GSM, unlike Verizon which relies on CDMA technology.
… it’s easy to feel a little paranoid. But is this a real threat? Has anyone actually seen things like this ‘in the wild’?
So-called rogue cell phone towers, the type that can intercept your mobile calls and data, are cropping up all over the United States, including here in Chicago, according to a company that specializes in developing highly secure mobile phones.
* * *
CBS 2 security analyst Ross Rice, a former FBI agent, said it’s likely being used illegally.
“I doubt that they are installed by law enforcement as they require a warrant to intercept conversations or data and since the cell providers are ordered by the court to cooperate with the intercept, there really would be no need for this,” Rice said.
“Most likely, they are installed and operated by hackers, trying to steal personal identification and passwords.”
Great. Just great.
Well, what can you do? There are some smart phones out there which are designed to thwart this kind of security threat. And I’ve mentioned another option previously. And now there’s a company with a whole line of clothing based on similar RF-blocking technology:
“The 1984 Collection” is a line of clothing for men and women with removable, snap-in pockets that act as radio-shields for slipping your devices and tokens (cards, phones, etc) into to stop them from being read when you’re not using them.
Hmm … let’s see, there’s a passage from Chapter One of St Cybi’s Well that comes to mind:
Darnell stepped close to her, said in a low voice, “Give me your hand-held.”
She looked at him, raised an eyebrow. “Why?”
“I don’t want to make it too easy for anyone to listen in.”
“Really, Dar, or is this some kind of joke?”
She looked him in the eye, pulled her phone out of her small purse, held it out to him. “Here.”
“Either turn it off or put it into offline mode.”
She fiddled with it a moment then handed it over. He took it and dropped it into the RF-blocking pocket in his satchel. “Thanks.”
“Couldn’t I just have turned it off?”
“Nope. They can still turn it on remotely and activate the mic. This pocket,” he patted the satchel where he had put the phone, “blocks the signal. It isn’t perfect, but it’s pretty good protection.”
I guess I need to get back into the habit of using my RF-shielding pocket.
Filed under: Brave New World, Civil Rights, Connections, Government, Humor, Predictions, Privacy, Science Fiction, Society, tech | Tags: blogging, civil liberties, Constitution, Focus Life Gear, government, humor, jim downey, Kunihiko Morinaga, predictions, privacy, Science Fiction, St. Cybi's Well, technology, tracking, writing
He turned the hand-held on, did a quick check to make sure it had the software and apps he’d asked for. Everything was there. He’d pick up a burner phone later, and swap the SIMM card into the hand-held. He turned off the hand-held, dropped it into a special pocket inside his vest – one which was RF-blocked. He had another such compartment in his satchel. These, like the wallet/holster, were prohibited items and grounds for arrest in the States, but while they would raise an eyebrow in the UK they weren’t technically illegal.
And even earlier did a blog post about a commercial product to isolate a phone that way when I first thought of it: Off the Grid Bag. (Which actually works quite well, as a matter of fact; I got one of those and have tested/used it exactly as intended.)
Well, now someone has come up with the idea of making actual articles of clothing using the same idea:
Sure, you could just turn off your phone. But that would be too easy. Now, thanks to Trident (yes, the chewing gum) and fashion designer Kunihiko Morinaga, you can repel all cellphone transmissions simply by wearing these hip threads called Focus Life Gear—made of radio frequency shielding fabric.
I suppose that since I haven’t actually published St Cybi’s Well yet I can’t claim to have predicted this tech, but no matter — it’s an obvious application of existing technology and desire for privacy. But still, kinda fun.
Tip of the radio-wave-blocking hat to Tim for the news item! Thanks!
Filed under: Artificial Intelligence, Augmented Reality, Brave New World, Civil Rights, Connections, Constitution, Expert systems, General Musings, Government, movies, Music, Philip K. Dick, Predictions, Privacy, Science Fiction, tech, Violence, YouTube | Tags: augmented reality, Buffalo Springfield, civil liberties, Constitution, jim downey, movies, music, Philip K. Dick, predictions, Science Fiction, technology, The Minority Report, The Verge, video, www youtube
There’s something happening here
But what it is ain’t exactly clear
There’s a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware*
When the Chicago Police Department sent one of its commanders to Robert McDaniel’s home last summer, the 22-year-old high school dropout was surprised. Though he lived in a neighborhood well-known for bloodshed on its streets, he hadn’t committed a crime or interacted with a police officer recently. And he didn’t have a violent criminal record, nor any gun violations. In August, he incredulously told the Chicago Tribune, “I haven’t done nothing that the next kid growing up hadn’t done.” Yet, there stood the female police commander at his front door with a stern message: if you commit any crimes, there will be major consequences. We’re watching you.
What McDaniel didn’t know was that he had been placed on the city’s “heat list” — an index of the roughly 400 people in the city of Chicago supposedly most likely to be involved in violent crime. Inspired by a Yale sociologist’s studies and compiled using an algorithm created by an engineer at the Illinois Institute of Technology, the heat list is just one example of the experiments the CPD is conducting as it attempts to push policing into the 21st century.