Coming Soon! Cybersafety Ebook

I haven’t been putting a lot of material up lately because I’ve been working on getting a book ready for publishing. Coming to an e-reader or computer or smartphone near you, Digital Safety for the Digitally Naive: Every User’s Guide to Staying CyberSafe. This book is a comprehensive advisory and tutorial to help you avoid losing your data, your identity, and perhaps even your dignity.

I’ve finished up the content, I think (unless something else thumps me on the head while I’m in the next steps), and I’m preparing to start the formatting preparatory to the actual publishing process.

Look for an announcement on this site, my twitter account @thisgeekiknow, and the Facebook page for This Geek I Know.

Instagram Disappoints Me

English: A collage showing a photograph, along...

English: A collage showing a photograph, along with the same photograph processed through all 15 filters in the iOS app Instagram (as of the date of creation in April 2011) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Instagram is fun. I like sharing some of my phone photos. And, let’s face facts–fancy filters notwithstanding, a good portion of the photos on Instagram are really simple phone photos. Yes, the latest iPhones and Android phones have some nice cameras. But they’re still phone cameras and lack the depth and creativity I can get with my DLSR. And I can’t share my best photos on Instagram.

Well, no, that’s not entirely true. I can share my best stuff, but it’s difficult.

Instagram is committed to being a mobile-device-only platform, and it’s doing a great job of that. I don’t know what would be so bad about having a web interface, but maybe the focus of the company is to force us to think about our phone cameras as “real” cameras. They’re not.

Well, no, that’s not entirely true, either. They are real cameras, just not real good cameras.

Now the images I see from National Geographic on Instagram–I’d be really surprised if some of those were taken with a phone camera.

So I will try to find a simpler way to post my better shots to Instagram. If I can’t find something that doesn’t take six steps, Instagram will only ever get my crappy phone camera shots.

Calling Gulf Coast Techies

I am exploring options for a creating Gulf Coast Technology Collaborative.

There are a few technology-based groups in the area, but they’re topic-specific. What I would like to create with some help is a very broad-based tech group that will serve several purposes:

  1. to foster innovation among individuals outside of a work environment
  2. to keep abreast of emerging technologies
  3. to provide professional development opportunities
  4. to provide “networking opportunities”, and to pave the way for incoming tech professionals
  5. to provide corporate and educational outreach
  6. to serve our respective communities

Ultimately I would like to see working groups for Hardware, Software, Operating Systems, Security, Professional Presence, Mobile Technologies, Network Technologies, Certification Study, New Media, and Graphics/Imaging.

Working in one group would not preclude working in another group, and members of groups, or whole groups themselves, could collaborate on projects.

My vision for this is not a tightly structured, mandated “meeting every week” organization. In fact, most collaboration can now be done online, and groups and sub-groups can meet as necessary, with a quarterly all-groups meeting, and an annual expo with all projects presented.

I don’t want to put a lot of effort into this if I can’t find enough interest to make it worth it. But employers don’t want to pay for training, and technology is always moving. Imagine if your boss is considering a new technology and you knew someone in the Collaborative who is a subject matter expert on that technology–you could become the subject matter expert for your company.

If you’re interested, get in touch with me in one of the following ways:

  1. Leave a comment below
  2. send an email to thisgeekiknowemail@gmail.com
  3. send me a tweet at @thisgeekiknow

If you’re not interested, but know someone who might be, please pass this on to them.

 

Research with Liquid Metal Alloy Holds Promise for Patients with Nerve Damage

photo credit Penn State News

There’s pain you can live with—or learn to live with—and then there’s nerve pain, and pain caused by nerve damage. Patients with pain caused by damage to the sciatic nerve often live with not being able to find a comfortable position to sit, stand, or lie down. Research into finding relief from this pain took a step forward a couple of years ago, and the news hit the tech headlines for a few days, and then nothing was heard afterward. I did some digging into the story and some related information for background, and I contacted the lead researcher on that project. He provided me with some papers written on related research, and the story unfolds below. I’ll explain:

Brief Overview of Nerve Damage

The sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in the human—and most other mammal species—body. There are five roots that combine to form this nerve. “Sciatic nerve damage” refers to damage to any of the roots or to the sciatic nerve itself (8). Because it is the largest nerve, damage to it can carry far-reaching consequences.

Damage to the nerve itself is often caused by a traumatic injury—car accidents, gunshot wounds, and other puncturing traumas. Additionally, and more commonly, damage occurs to one of the roots. This damage can be a result of a back injury, but most commonly it is an unintended side effect of back surgery. In fact, The Sciatica Authority states that “(s)urgical interventions are responsible for more spinal nerve damage than any other single cause.” (8)

Sciatic nerve damage results in pain to various locales, loss of sensitivity to extremities, and loss of muscle function and muscle atrophy. (4)

Current Treatments for Nerve Damage

There are a few current treatments for nerve damage. For a gap of 20mm or less, the severed ends of the nerve can be directly reconnected with sutures. Longer gaps in the damaged nerve require grafts, nerve transfers, or tubulization (using a cylinder of paraffin to protect the sever from surrounding tissue (2)). All of these techniques have issues that can create more problems (5). Also, the regeneration process of the nerve tissue takes time, as nerve tissue grows very slowly. During that time, the patient can suffer muscular degradation (10).

Prior Research

Recent research in regenerating nerve tissue has used stem cells to regenerate nerves or create new ones. Researchers have also experimented with growth factors, support cells, and insoluble extracellular matrices to facilitate healing of nerves. These methods have been shown to work, but not very well (5).

A team of researchers in China experimented with injecting a liquid metal material and allied packaging material into a mouse to repair a sever (6) and another team injected electrodes to stimulate muscle contractions in a frog by stimulating its sciatic nerve (6).

Angiography has also contributed to the liquid metal research. Angiography helps physicians diagnose and evaluate conditions that are related to blood vessels, using contrast agents, typically solutions whose density closely resembles water—iodine or iodinated agents. However, problems can come up when higher energy imaging is used, because the efficiency of the contrast agent is significantly reduced (9).

Introduction to Liquid Metal

Liquid metal—a long way from the Termintor’s application—is an alloy of gallium, indium, and selenium, and it may be truly one of the three coolest materials of all time (the others are graphene and carbon fiber). This combination is benign, and, with a melting point of 29.78 degrees celcius (close to room temperature), liquid at body temperature. It is also highly conductive. Return to solid state does not occur immediately below 29.78, giving it a nice range of liquidity. The metal is stable, and it does not react with water in its liquid state. It is safe for use in humans, and its density is higher than human tissue and blood (9). It has a proven good biocompatibility to hippocampal neurons (6). It clearly shows up in x-rays and it can be easily removed with a micro-syringe when its use is completed (10). This liquid metal has no stiffness and almost infinite stretchability. The conductivity is much higher than non-metallic materials, and higher than many other metals used in electric transmission. Signals in our bioelectrical processes are very weak, so conductivity is critical to this material (5).

Here’s where it gets really awesome: Because of this liquid metal’s chemical compatibility with a whole lot of other materials, it can be directly printed on polymers, glass, and other metals (5), and the researchers are trying it on skin—more on that below.

The Research

Gallium by itself is liquid at room temperature. Researchers infused it into the heart and kidney of a pig and found that imaging was much more effective using an ordinary imaging instrument (9).

The nerve research with this liquid metal involved a frog. The research team applied an electric pulse so that the calf muscle contracted. They then severed the sciatic nerve, then reconnected the ends of the nerve with either the liquid metal or a Ringers solution. (Ringers is a solution of electrolytes that mimics body fluids.) The Ringers carried the charge only so far. The nerve connected by the liquid metal worked pretty much like it did before it was severed (1). The metal’s electrical properties were able to preserve nerve function during the healing process (10).

What else do we need to know? Further research looks to find how much muscle function can be preserved using this liquid metal to facilitate regeneration. Also unknown at this time is whether the metal may somehow interfere with or prevent regeneration altogether. The metal is known to be safe in the applications previously using it, but if it leaks from the intended location, what happens? (10)

The body doesn’t always like intrusions into it, and often fights against newcomers; some researchers have raised concerns about using metal in the body; however, we’ve been putting using metal plates for skull protection for quite some time (7).

Possible Future Application

As an alternative to the usual methods of nerve repair, this material shows a lot of promise, as well as a tool for even more complex nerve transplants (4). Researchers are considering the possibility of using the liquid metal along with growth factors to encourage regeneration (4).

Now here’s where it gets really cool—if it isn’t fascinating enough to be using a little sliver of liquid metal to help repair a severed nerve—a research team has experimented with spraying it onto pig skin in electrical circuitry. This material can potentially be used for spray-on bioelectronics—sensors, actuators, and complex electrical circuits. It can flex, bend, and stretch with the skin without losing structural integrity, and still maintain skin contact (3).

Far from a terminator, this liquid metal has life-saving—and life changing—potential. I’ll be watching for further developments on this.

What are some other applications you would like to see for liquid metal?

 

Sources:

  1. Estes, Adam Clark. “Scientists Have Reconnected Severed Nerves with Liquid Metal.” Gizmodo. 28 Apr. 2014. Web. 12 Feb. 2016. <http://gizmodo.com/scientists-have-reconnected-severed-nerves-with-liquid-1568766259>.
  2. “Tubulization.” Farlex Partner Medical Dictionary. 2012. Print.
  3. Guo, Cangran, Jing Liu, and Yang Yu. “Rapidly Patterning Conductive Components on Skin Substrates as Physiological Testing Devices via Liquid Metal Spraying and Pre-designed Mask.” Journal of Materials Chemistry B 2014: 5739. Print
  4. Hsu, Jeremy. “Liquid Metal Reconnects Severed Nerves in Frogs.” IEEE Spectrum. 29 Apr. 2014. Web. 16 Feb. 2016. <http://spectrum.ieee.org/tech-talk/biomedical/bionics/liquid-metal-reconnects-severed-nerves-in-frogs>.
  5. Jin, Chao, Jing Liu, Lei Sheng, and Jie Zhang. Liquid Metal as Connecting or Functional Recovery Channel for the Transected Sciatic Nerve. Rep. Print.
  6. Jin, Chao, Jingjing Li, Xiaokang Li, and Jing Liu. “Injectable 3-D Fabrication of Medical Electronics at the Target Biological Tissues.” Nature.com. Nature Publishing Group, 6 Dec. 2013. Web. 16 Feb. 2016. <http://www.nature.com/srep/2013/131206/srep03442/full/srep03442.html>.
  7. Mack, Eric. “Healing, ‘Terminator’-style: Liquid Metal Could Fix Severed Nerves.” CNET. 28 Apr. 2014. Web. 16 Feb. 2016. <http://www.cnet.com/news/healing-terminator-style-liquid-metal-fixes-severed-nerves/#!>.
  8. “Sciatic Nerve Damage.” Sciatica-Pain.Org. Web. 19 Feb. 2016.
  9. Wang, Qian, Yang Yu, Keqin Pan, and Jing Liu. “Liquid Metal Angiography for Mega Contrast X-Ray Visualization of Vascular Network in Reconstructing In-Vitro Organ Anatomy.” IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Engineering IEEE Trans. Biomed. Eng. 61.7 (2014): 2161-166. Web.
  10. Owano, Nancy. “Beijing Researchers Explore Liquid Metal to Reconnect Nerves.” Beijing Researchers Explore Liquid Metal to Reconnect Nerves. 29 Apr. 2014. Web. 16 Feb. 2016.

Something’s Fishy With Your Cellphone

image courtesy of Seattle Municipal Archives

 

In the United States, there are somewhere in the neighborhood of 325 million cellular devices in use (15), comprising phones, tablets, notebooks, hotspots, and, most recently, vehicles. We are generating a lot of data on these devices, and these devices are generating a lot of data—about us. At any given point in time and geography, there is a chance that that data generated by your devices is being captured and analyzed. How much of a chance? We don’t know.

 

THE BASICS

The process is made possible using a device most commonly called a StingRay, sold by Harris Corporation headquarted in Melbourne, Florida. (Some names of the company’s similar devices are AmberJack, KingFish, Harpoon, and RayFish; for simplicity, I’ll refer to all of them as StingRay, because the purpose of each device is the same: to capture data about mobile device and their users.) The StingRay is a mobile device that presents itself to cellular devices as a cell tower. Today most of these devices are used in a police surveillance vehicle, but that’s starting to change, as you’ll see later. The device inside the vehicle communicates with antennas on the police vehicle, which determine the distance and direction of the targeted device in relation to the StingRay and in relation to other cell towers. (1)

Cell Tower

image courtesy of Pug50

You would expect that when a call is active on your phone, it would be constantly seeking out the nearest tower. However, in anticipation of activity, mobile devices are doing that constantly. Because the StingRay presents itself as a cell tower, your phone will connect to it when it is nearby, and certain data will be routed through the StingRay just as it would a cell tower. The device and its associated software collect data from all the cellular devices that connect to it. The data is then relayed to a connected computer, which displays the collected data and translates it for the operators of the device. At that point, the traffic is passed on to the cell tower, and the user of the phone never knows. (1)

disguised cell tower

image courtesy of miheco

When I spoke of the data collected, what exactly would that be? Specifically, your phone has an identifier, but I was not able to find out if that would be the phone’s serial number or its MAC address; both of those are unique identifiers. Whichever it is, it is collected, along with the telephone number for all connecting devices, and all telephone numbers dialed out to other devices, including those for text messages. The approximate location of the phone as determined using the antennas on the vehicle is also captured. At this time, law enforcement sources have said that the StingRay device as sold to law enforcement (police departments) is not configured to intercept the contents of calls and text messages.

 

THE TECHNOLOGY

At the Black Hat conference in 2011, Mike Tassey and Richard Perkins demonstrated their Wireless Areal Surveillance Platform (WASP). As far as we know, it was a proof-of-concept exercise that has not been mass-replicated. It was a prototype of a device that is capable of quite a bit of data mining. It is very significant that a device that cost no more to build than $6,200 was proven capable of wireless network sniffing and cracking, cell tower spoofing, cell phone tracking and call interception, data exfiltration (taking data out of its intended environment), and video surveillance. (10)

Harris’s StingRay costs considerably more than that, so it is reasonable to assume that the device build by Tassey and Perkins lacked some important capability or durability that exists in the StingRay. Some of Harris’s other devices can be used to conduct Denial-of-Service attacks on cell phones, monitor voice traffic, and amplify the range and power of the activity of the StingRays (7).

StingRay

image courtesy of olympiacopwatch

Your cell phone will communicate with the tower using the latest and best protocol of which it is capable. Most current phones sold in the United States use at least 3G signals, and of course the newest ones use 4G. 3G and 4G communications are much more secure than the older 2G (EDGE network and networks that emerged around the same timeframe). When you are traveling and your phone can’t find a 3G or 4G network, if there is a 2G signal available, it will drop to the 2G network signal. On that signal, your handset or device will readily accept communication from some other device that is calling itself a cell tower (4). Carrier cell towers have certain names that your phone or other mobile devices recognize; rogue towers don’t have names in the range of recognizeability (14). The StingRay jams 3G and 4G signals, forcing nearby phones to use the less-secure 2G signal. Law enforcement agencies are beginning to get a little nervous because mobile carriers are planning shutdowns of the 2G network; AT&T is planning to shut its 2G network down in 2017 (4). I was unable to find out how exactly this will affect StingRay devices. Unless the phone receives some firmware update, it may still accept the 2G drop if the 3G and 4G signals are jammed, but as the agencies are scrambling to acquire updated hardware to replace the existing StingRay devices, there must be something that will stop working as these networks get shut down. Newer networks are still susceptible to location tracking, but not to the other forms of interception and data collection (4).

Harris isn’t the only company in this space. Other firms producing devices of this type include Verint, View Systems, Altron, Neo Soft, MMI, Ability, and Meganet (23). Meganet’s VME Dominator—available for sale only to government agencies—can capture calls and texts, can send text messages, and can even control the phone (14).

However, these companies’ offerings can only trace GSM/UMTS-based communications. The Harris devices can track CDMA2000, GSM, iDEN, and UMTS-based signals. Harris’s StingRay and KingFish can support up to three different signal types without requiring reconfiguration. (23)

If land-based collection isn’t getting the job done, Boeing’s Digital Receiver Technology (DRT for short) division is putting similar capability in the air. They’re called DiRTboxes, and they are very similar to the StingRay devices, mounted in Cessna planes. However, because planes move faster, the signal strength is greater and more data from untargeted phones as well as targeted phones can be collected. (24) A single flight might provide data and general location information on tens of thousands of phones. Unlike StingRays, DiRTboxes can interrupt calls, and the newer versions of the devices can even also jam signals and even scrape rich data like text messages and photos. (1)

All of these boxes work by exploiting the fundamental structure shared by all cell networks, and, most disturbing of all, no level of encryption is able to prevent collection at the 2G level. (1)

 

WHO USES THESE DEVICES?

There is no shortage of agencies interested in gaining this type of information. We know the FBI is using it, and sources suspect all of the three-letter federal-level investigative agencies are as well. Documentation confirms that at least 25 different local and state police departments from Florida to Alaska are using it. Many of these purchases have been made with federal grants from the Department of Homeland Security aimed at protecting cities from terror attacks, but we are finding that they are being used for far broader police work. (1)

The ACLU has produced a map showing which states have agencies using StingRay devices. Right-click on this link and select “Open in a new tab.” (18)

The city of Tacoma, Washington is seeking to upgrade its StingRay device to Harris’s newer and more capable HailStorm, which will be combined with data analysis software from various vendors. The HailStorm enables 4G LTE phone tracking (12). It also reportedly has the capability to capture cellphone conversations, but Harris says it does not include that functionality in the units it sells to local law enforcement agencies. Tacoma’s purchase and use seems to have had both positives and negatives. City Council members were not really aware of the technology they were approving. However, it does appear that the city is taking care to follow the rules of engagement when deploying the device. The police department was asked to produce documentation showing how the device has been used. Since 2009, they showed 168 cases where police sought judicial permission for surveillance using StingRays. In that same period of time, it was used 10 times under Emergency Orders, which do not require a court order or a search warrant. In those cases, StingRays were used to find people involved in the killing of four police officers, kidnappings, and people suspected of child prostitution (12).

Chesterfield, Virginia, has units that were purchased through grants to law enforcement agencies that were made possible by a multi-million-dollar settlement with Abbot Labs for Medicaid fraud. City officials say that their devices are only ever used with judicial oversight—that is, search warrants or court orders. They also state that they never record, keep, or share the information regarding non-targeted devices. The city was warned previously about possible repercussions for using license plate readers carelessly, so it appears they are following the letter of the law on this technology (6).

Baltimore, Maryland has used HailStorm devices 4,300 times since 2007. 4,300 times!! However, unlike Tacoma and Chesterfield, the Baltimore PD has been encouraged to dismiss charges rather than divulge details about the program. (5)

In Harris’s home state, the American Civil Liberties Union has suspected for a long while that Harris has been loaning its products to police departments for promotion and testing. Court documents in a 2008 case show that “the Tallahassee Police Department is not the owner of the equipment.”

Pontiac, Oakland County, Michigan has the only device in Michigan, and it was purchased with Homeland Security money (11).

The DRT planes are operated by the US Marshals Service, which often loans them out to local law enforcement and other agencies (19).

 

WHY IS IT BEING USED/HOW IS IT JUSTIFIED?

It’s not difficult to understand why law enforcement and other agencies would want these devices, and how they could be very useful in solving crimes, tracking fugitives or abducted children, and possibly foil terror attacks (the most common reason for DHS grants to local police agencies). (1) As reporter Joel Hruska described it, “Say a murder occurs on a particular street with an estimated time of death between 2 and 4 am. Local law enforcement would have an obvious interest in compelling cell phone companies to turn over the records of every cell phone that moved in and out of the area between those two time periods. [Author’s note: this is called a “cell tower dump, and it’s quite common, but requires a court order or a search warrant.] At rush hour, this kind of information would be useless – but if the cell phone network data shows a device in the same approximate area as the murder suddenly leaving the area at a high rate of speed, that cell phone owner is a potential suspect.” (7) I can see, certainly how that would be true; but in order for the device to be useful in this case, the StingRay would already need to be in place.

When Miami-Dade Police bought their StingRay, they told the City Council they needed it to monitor protestors at an upcoming World Trade conference (6), and that purpose is in itself problematic.

When Tacoma made its purchase, it was mostly funded with a Homeland Security grant. The police department indicated that the technology would be useful to its Explosive Ordinance detail. But the department’s records offer no indication as to how many explosive devices were disarmed, or even detected, using it. (3)

 

THE THORNS

If you’ve never heard of StingRays or HailStorms or KingFish, that’s by design. These devices were originally developed for use by the military and by spy agencies. Harris Corp. itself does not answer any questions about the devices, but refers reporters to police agencies. That is not very useful, as Harris requires its customers to sign a non-disclosure agreement. (1) Agreements of that type are not uncommon, but they are usually required when a product is placed for testing or during the development process.

You can read one example of this agreement by clicking on this link and selecting “Open link in new tab.”

Law enforcement agencies have fought hard to keep from talking about the devices, and it was almost by accident that word is starting to get out. In a case of sexual battery and petit theft, the victim’s purse was stolen. Her purse contained her cell phone. Using a StingRay, and without a warrant, investigators were able to track the phone to a particular apartment. They forced their way inside, searched, and found the purse—and the phone. The device was not mentioned during discovery, and when pressed by the defendant’s attorney during the trial, the investigators refused to disclose the method used to track the defendant to the apartment. The judge finally forced the disclosure of the surveillance technique, but only after the law enforcement agency insisted that the court be closed, and that the proceedings of the case be closed as well. The defendant appealed his conviction based on the legality of the surveillance and the search. The appellate case and the resulting opinion were not sealed, and that’s how we finally found out about StingRays. (22)

Freedom of Information Act requests on these devices and activities surrounding them has proved mostly fruitless. Much of the useful information gets redacted prior to release. The ACLU has been digging into a particular set of uses in Sarasota, Florida and found itself brickwalled by the US Marshalls Service. The ACLU had set up a meeting with the Sarasota Police Department to view its StingRay files, as is required by Florida law. An assistant city attorney sent an email to the ACLU cancelling the meeting. He stated that the USMS had deputized the local officer; therefore, the records generated by that officer were the property of the federal government, and the Sarasota PD had not the authority to release them (2).

At issue is not whether the devices should exist, or even whether they should be used, but under what conditions, and how they should be used. The largest question that needs addressed is one of Due Process. In a case in Arizona, the legality of a search was questioned because civil liberties advocates say that the government was not honest in its explanation to the judge regarding the StingRay’s true capabilities.(17) The Justice Department contends that the tracking warrant was nothing out of the ordinary (17), and that argument gets a lot of mileage. But that argument is based on a comparison of StingRay and similar devices to pen-register and trap-and-trace devices (23), and to see the differences, I’m going to quote directly from legal dictionaries for the definitions of those two technologies:

Pen register – a device that decodes or records electronic impulses, allowing outgoing numbers from a telephone to be identified.

Trap device – used to identify originating number from which the wire or electronic communications were transmitted.

Neither device enables recording or listening of actual communication. (13)

You’ve seen these technologies used in the movies, where they’re trying to find out who the mobster is calling, or when they’re tracing a kidnapper’s incoming call. Case law – Smith v. Maryland – holds that it is not unconstitutional to install a pen register without a warrant. However, federal law now requires a court order for it, based on an investigating offer’s declaration that the information is relevant to an ongoing investigation (13).

The FBI says a warrant is not required for the use of StingRay and similar devices, because they don’t collect the content of phone calls and text messages and operate like pen-registers and trap-and traces, collecting the equivalent of header information. Additionally, the US government and other law enforcement agency spokesmen have asserted that the use of StingRay devices does not violate Fourth Amendment rights, and Americans don’t have a legitimate expectation of privacy for data sent from their mobile phones and other wireless devices to a cell tower. (21) “We’re not infringing on their rights, “[Richland, SC Sheriff Leon] Lott said, “When they use that phone, they understand that information is going to a tower.” (1) What we understand, though, is that the information is going to a tower owned and operated by a carrier with whom we have a contract for service. That information is not going out onto public airwaves to be picked up by the general population. An appropriate comparison is an agency setting up a blue box with the Postal Service logo on it, and a lot of people drop their mail into it. By monitoring the box and its contents over time they can determine if their target is in the immediate area during a given point in time. The agency looks at all the senders and recipients on each piece of mail, hoping to find one sent by their target. The agency’s fake box is also collecting pieces of mail being sent by people other than their target, and the agency has the capability to record or note non-targets sending mail to other recipients. Senders are not tossing their mail up into the air or leaving it out in the open for anyone to look at, they are depositing it into a receptacle that is trusted and chartered to deliver mail, and we all understand that tampering with the mail is a punishable offense.

It seems, also, that the city officers in Tacoma do not see the need for oversight of the police department’s actions. City Manger TC Broadnax told reporters, “I’m not in law enforcement, but it’s my impression that it assists them in doing their job more effectively, and that’s to protect the public.” Mayor Marilyn Strickland said, “If our law enforcement needs access to information to prevent crime or keep us safe, that’s a legitimate use of the technology. We are more focused on preventing crime and keeping our community safe than getting in people’s business.” The problem with that position is that these devices do not have the capacity to prevent crime or keep the community safe. They can catch the bad guys after the fact, but only well-known, widespread, real-time surveillance would have the effect the Mayor is hoping for. It also appears full disclosure of the equipment purchase was not part of Tacoma’s purchasing process. As Councilman David Boe put it, “I’ve got to find out what I voted on before I comment.” (3)

In the wake of the Snowden/Prism revelations, those whom we trust to protect us from overzealous intrusion appear to be taking this pretty seriously. In 2012 a magistrate judge in Texas refused to grant the federal Drug Enforcement Agency permission to use a StingRay, partly because the agency did not explain what the government would do with the cell phone numbers of innocent people and other information recorded on the equipment (12). In an affidavit submitted to court, the FBI disclosed that its policy requires agents to purge all data stored in the surveillance tool at the conclusion of an operation, so that the FBI is not collecting information about individuals who are not the subject of criminal or national security investigations. Government is telling a court for the first time that spoofing a legitimate wireless tower in order to conduct surveillance could be considered a search under the Fourth Amendment in the Arizona case, and that its use was legal, thanks to a court order and warrant that investigators used to get similar location data from Verizon’s own towers. (21) The unsettling part of the FBI policy covering StingRay use is that in addition to regular carve outs—immediate danger or tracking a fugitive—agency policy does not require judicial oversight in cases in which the technology is used in public places or other locations at which the FBI deems that there is no reasonable expectation of privacy (16).

The State Supreme Courts of Florida and Massachusetts have ruled that warrants are necessary for real-time cell phone tracking, and laws for the same have been passed in Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin (9). It’s a start.

 

HOW CAN I KNOW IF IT’S BEING USED AROUND ME?

How would you know if this is occurring in your vicinity? ESD America develops and produces a phone called CryptoPhone500. It’s a pricey device (the developer wouldn’t divulge the price, but a third party site indicated around $3,500) and it detects and alerts when the phone’s encryption has been turned off by someone other than the user. According to ESD’s Les Goldsmith, “If you’ve been intercepted, in some cases it might show at the top that you’ve been forced from 4G down to 2G.” As an alternative to his CryptoPhone, he suggests “burner phones” if you absolutely must not be tracked. (14)

Uncle Sam Wants Your Data

 

image courtesy of Jeff Schuler

MY TAKEAWAY

Several times I have looked down at my phone and noticed that where the 4G LTE should have been, it indicated EDGE. This tells me that I can probably, if I’m diligent, know when my data is being passed to a phony tower. I’m not in the market for a very expensive phone. It is important to pay attention to judicial decisions regarding surveillance. The next generation of these devices is capable of not only capturing the phone’s identifying data, but the contents of those devices. The due process concept so carefully articulated in the Constitution of the United States is to protect us against fishing expeditions of the type made possible by these fish-named technologies. It’s up to us to make sure the people in decision-making capacities know what they’re deciding.

 

 

WORKS CITED

 

  1. Campbell, Mikey. “DOJ reportedly spies on mobile phone owners using fake airplane-mounted cell towers.” Apple Insider. 23 November 2014. 9 June 2014.<http://appleinsider.com/articles/14/11/13/doj-reportedly-spies-on-mobile-phone-owners-using-fake-airplane-mounted-cell-towers>
  2. Cushing, Tim. “US Marshals Step In to Keep Florida Police Department’s StingRay Documents Out of the Hands of the ACLU.” TechDirt. 4 June 2014. 4 June 2015. <https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20140604/08245927455/us-marshals-step-to-keep-florida-police-departments-stingray-documents-out-hands-aclu.shtml>
  3. Cushing, Tim. “Washington Law Enforcement Hides StingRay Purchase and Use From Everyone, But It’s Okay Because They’re Fighting Crime.” Tech Dirt. 28 August 2014. 9 June 2014. <https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20140828/09564828349/washington-law-enforcement-hides-stingray-purchase-use-everyone-its-ok-because-theyre-fighting-crime.shtml>
  4. Farivar, Cyrus. “Cities scramble to upgrade “StingRay” tracking as end of 2G network looms.” Ars technica. 1 Sept 2014. 4 June 2014. <http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2014/09/cities-scramble-to-upgrade-stingray-tracking-as-end-of-2g-network-looms/>
  5. Gillum, Jack, and Linderman, Juliet. “Baltimore police often surveil cellphones amid US secrecy.” The Washington Times. 8 April 2015. 8 June 2015. <http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/apr/8/baltimore-police-often-surveil-cellphones-amid-us-/?page=all#pagebreak>
  6. Hinkle, A. Barton. “Cellphone Tracking Means They Can Hear You Now.” Reason.com. 18 August 2014. 4 June 2014. <http://reason.com/archives/2014/08/18/cellphone-tracking-means-they-can-hear-y>
  7. Hruska, Josh. “Stingray, the fake cell phone tower cops and carriers use to track your every move.” Extreme Tech. 17 June 2014. 6 June 2015. <http://www.extremetech.com/mobile/184597-stingray-the-fake-cell-phone-tower-cops-and-providers-use-to-track-your-every-move>
  8. Kelly, John. “Cellphone data spying: It’s not just the NSA.” USAToday.com 13 June 2014. 11 May 2015. <http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/12/08/cellphone-data-spying-nsa-police/3902809/>
  9. Kravets, David. “FBI says search warrants not needed to use ‘StingRays’ in public places.” Ars technica. 5 January 2015. 8 June 2015. <http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2015/01/fbi-says-search-warrants-not-needed-to-use-stringrays-in-public-places/>
  10. Kumar, Sunny. “Wi-Fi, Phone Hacking Plane is Terrifying, Inspiring, and Wardriving Evolves Into Warflying.” H4XORIN’ T3H WORLD. 2011. 11 May 2015. <http://kingofdkingz99.blogspot.com/2011/08/wi-fi-phone-hacking-plane-is-terrifying.html>
  11. Kurth, Joel. “Secret military device lets Oakland deputies track cell phones.” The Detroit News. 4 April 2014. 9 June 2015. <http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20140404/SPECIAL/304040043>
  12. Martin, Kate. “Documents: Tacoma Police using surveillance device to sweep up cellphone data.” The News Tribune. 26 Aug 2014. 4 June 2014. <http://www.thenewstribune.com/2014/08/26/3347665_documents-tacoma-police-using.html?rh=1>
  13. “Pen Register.” West’s Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. 2008. The Gale Group. 11 January 2005. 11 June 2015. <http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/Pen+Register>
  14. Rosenblum, Andrew. “Mysterious Phony Cell Towers Could be Intercepting Your Calls.” Popular Science. 27 August 2014. 6 June 2015. <http://www.popsci.com/article/technology/mysterious-phony-cell-towers-could-be-intercepting-your-calls>
  15. Russia Today, youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=47&v=X84gRGgFBxk
  16. Scola, Nancy. “Senators question FBI’s legal reasoning behind cell-tower spoofing.” The Washington Post. 2 Jan 2015. 8 June 2015. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-switch/wp/2015/01/02/senators-question-fbis-legal-reasoning-behind-cell-tower-spoofing/>
  17. Sledge, Matt. “Judge in StingRay Cell Tower Spoofing Case Puts Government on Notice.” Huffington Post, HuffPost Politics. 19 March 2013. 30 March 2015. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/matt-sledge/judge-in-stingray-cell-to_b_2910635.html>
  18. “Stingray Tracking Devices: Who’s Got Them?” American Civil Liberties Union. 9 June 2015. <https://www.aclu.org/map/stingray-tracking-devices-whos-got-them?redirect=maps/stingray-tracking-devices-whos-got-them>
  19. Swanner, Nate. “US DOJ accused of stealing cellphone data via “dirtyboxes.” Slash Gear. 13 November 2014. 9 June 2015. <http://www.slashgear.com/us-doj-accused-of-stealing-cellphone-data-via-dirtyboxes-13355476/>
  20. “Trap and Trace Device Law and Legal Definition.” US Legal.com. 11 June 2015. <http://definitions.uslegal.com/t/trap-and-trace-device/>
  21. Zetter, Kim. “Feds’ Use of Fake Cell Tower – Did It Constitute a Search?” Wired. 30 March 2015. 3 June 2015. <http://www.wired.com/2011/11/feds-fake-cell-phone-tower/>
  22. Zetter, Kim. “Florida Cops’ Secret Weapon: Warrantless Cellphone Tracking.” Wired. 3 March 2014. 8 June 2015. <http://www.wired.com/2014/03/stingray/>
  23. Zetter, Kim. “Secrets of FBI Smart Phone Surveillance Tool Revealed in Court Fight.” Wired. 9 April 2013. 8 June 2015. <http://www.wired.com/2013/04/verizon-rigmaiden-aircard/all/>
  24. Zetter, Kim. “The Feds are Now Using ‘StingRays’ in Planes to Spy on our Phone Calls.” Wired. 11 November 2014. 9 June 2015. <http://www.wired.com/2014/11/feds-motherfng-stingrays-motherfng-planes/>

The Cutest Thing in Space

Update 8/27/2015–See bottom of post for a link to a video of cubesat implementation

I was reading one of my techie newsletters recently and the writer mentioned something of which I had never before heard: CubeSats. I know that there are a lot of things in space of which I have never before heard, but I thought I had heard of the big, important things. As it turns out, CubeSats are not big, but I believe they will play out to be very important.

First off, what is a CubeSat?

Well, essentially, this:

It really is cube-shaped, and it really is a satellite. Specifically, it is 10 cm x 10 cm x 10 cm (approximately 4 x 4 x 4 in inches), which constitutes 1 Unit (1U); some deployments are 2 units or 3 units (JEM Small). It produces its own power, is designed with solar panels, and is capable of transmitting signals (Keith).

CubeSats were first introduced in 1999 (Keith). (For someone my age that doesn’t sound all that long ago, but it was a decade and a half. The computer I used at that time ran at 333 mHz and had an 8 GB hard drive.) They were designed by California PolyTechnic State University (Keith). CubeSats cost far less than full-scale satellite deployments (and even so aren’t cheap themselves), and so provide launch opportunities for universities and other organizations who have previously been unable to access space (CubeSat). Preparing and deploying a CubeSat, and developing and managing the research conducted with it, helps students in universities, and even in some high schools, begin developing the skills and experience necessary for aerospace work (CubeSat). These projects also help to provide young engineers and aerospace engineering students with education, and with opportunities to perform scientific and technological experiments in space (F-1).

CUBESAT PROJECTS

More than 150 CubeSat projects are either ongoing or completed worldwide, each having an orbital lifetime after release of about 250 days (F-1). As fascinating as this technology is, I won’t tell about each of them; I’ve picked out a few that I found singularly worthy of mention.

SkyCube was a Kickstarter project, the brainchild of Southern Stars Group. The deployment lasted 90 days, and funders got an app they could use to follow the satellite, take photos, and tweet from space. At the end of the 90 days, the satellite received a command to inflate a polyethylene balloon using a carbon-dioxide cartridge. The balloon inflated to a diameter of seven feet, making the satellite one of the few visible CubeSats, and it also introduced aerodynamic drag to slow down the orbit and allow the satellite to enter Earth’s atmosphere, burning up harmlessly. To give you an idea of costs, this one ran up about $250,000 (“SkyCube”).

OSSI-1 is a South Korean project launched aboard the Russian Soyuz 2-1b. The satellite did enter orbit, but the developer is not able at this time to communicate with it (Zorich).

In the Under-100k price range, we have KickSat, which released 104 postage-stamp-sized satellites, called Sprites. They contain a microcontroller, solar cells, and a radio transmitter. This deployment carries a tag of about $75,000 for materials (Zorich).

Now you’re going to start seeing a sort of web of interconnected launches.

Flock 1 is a sort of a constellation of CubeSats whose mission is to generate high-resolution images of Earth. It was designed, developed, manufactured, and operated by Planet Labs in San Francisco, California, which markets Earth Observation Data products to a range of customers for a variety of applications. Flock 1 launched with LambdaSat and MicroMAS, mentioned below (Cygnus).

LambdaSat is a 1-unit CubeSat built by Lambda Team, an international group of Greek scientists and students based in Silicon Valley (yeah, I know, I got confused by that description, too). The project’s objective is to measure radiation effects on graphene (one of the coolest substances known to mankind–just my opinion) in Low Earth Orbit. It also uses an experimental AIS (Automatic Identification System) for tracking all the vessels inside its footprint around the globe (LambdaSat).

MicroMAS stands for Micro-sized Microwave Atmospheric Satellite. It’s a 3U deployment from MIT’s Space Systems Laboratory, and it was tasked with making observations of the dynamics of hurricanes and other large storm systems. The scientists on this project also hope to demonstrate the advantage of a distributed set of data collectors. (Hil) MicroMAS, Flock 1, and LambdaSat were delivered to NanoRacks for launch, and I’ll tell you a little about them later.

November 19-20, 2013, 3 Sats were deployed from the International Space Station: a 1-unit JAXA deployment called PicoDragon, for Earth imaging; a 1-unit NASA deployment called ArduSat; and a 3-unit deployment called TechEdSat3. ArduSat is a technical validation of an open platform that has a reprogramming function with activation of applications uplinked by regular folks like us. TechEdSat3 is validating an aero braking mechanism called Exo-brake for de-orbiting. (JEM Small)

Koichi Wakata posted a tweet and photo immediately following one of the launches:

 

GETTING THE CUBES INTO SPACE:

The CubeSats are powered off until just before actual deployment, rather than having them “on” when they’re loaded onto the launch vehicles. This allows for any minor repairs and adjustments that may be needed, and it also helps to conserve battery life for the times when the units can’t produce solar power (Keith).

On the ISS, Satellite Install Cases (SICs) are delivered to the International Space Station with pre-installed CubeSats as part of spaceship cargo.SICs are installed on the MPEP, which is then installed on the airlock side. A crew member powers down the MultiPurpose Experiment Platform (MPEP) and plugs in the modules. The platform is powered up, and a data cable from the platform is plugged into a computer to download data.   The JEM Small Satellite Orbital Deployer (J-SSOD) attached with the MPEP is transferred to the outboard side. A robotic arm grapples the MPEP and moves it to the release point. The MPEP is oriented to face opposite the ISS direction of travel, as well as a direction that will prevent the orbit of the satellites from interfering with the orbit of the ISS. A spring on the SIC deploys the CubeSats. (JEM Small).



 INTERESTED IN PARTICIPATING IN CUBESAT RESEARCH?

The CubeSat Program currently has 60  high schools and universities participating. The program provides a standard physical layout and basic design guidelines; a standard, flight-proven deployment system; coordination of required documents and export licenses; integration and acceptance testing facilities with formalized schedules; shipment of flight hardware to the launch site and integration to the launch vehicle; confirmation of successful deployment and telemetry information (CubeSat). You can get a list of hardware suppliers here. 

UPDATE VIDEO REFERENCED AT TOP:

 

 

WORKS CITED

“CubeSat Mission Statement.” CubeSat.Org. 30 Dec 2014. <www.cubesat.org/index.php/about-us/mission-statement>.

“Cygnus Orb-2 Cargo Manifest.” Spaceflight101. 30 Dec 2014. <www.spaceflight101.com/cygnus-orb-2-cargo-manifest.html>.

“F-1 and companion CubeSats to be deployed to space from Kibo module on September 27.” International Space Station. 21 Sept 2012. 29 Dec 2014. <iss.jaxa.jp/en/kuoa/news/kuoa_120921.html>.

Hil, Helen. “MicroMAS: small is beautiful.” MIT News. 27 March 2014. 29 Dec 2014. <newsoffice.mit.edu/2014/micromas-small-is-beautiful>.

“JEM Small Satellite Orbital Deployer (J-SSOD)”. Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. 6 Nov 2013. 29 Dec 2014. <iss.jaxa.jp/en/kiboesp/jssod>.

Keith, Lori. “CubeSats in Orbit After Historic Space Station Deployment.” International Space Station. 10 Dec 2012. 29 Dec 2014. <www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/news/j_ssod.html>.

“LambdaSat.” Gunter’s Space Page. 9 April 2014. 29 Dec 2014. <space.skyrocket.de/doc_sdat/lambdasat.htm>.

Suppliers. CubeSat.Org. 30 Dec 2014. <www.cubesat.org/index.php/collaborate/suppliers>.

“SkyCube Satellite Technology.” Southern Stars. 6 Jan 2014. <www.southernstars.com/skycube/satellite.html>.

Zorich, Zach. “Say Hello to the Little Space Race that Could.” Popular Science. May 2014:70

Yet Another Net Neutrality Opinion

net neutrality world logo

net neutrality world logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The term “net neutrality” refers to two different aspects, and the debate revolves around both of them. One part refers to priority treatment of some types of traffic over other types. Pure net neutrality would state and require that all traffic be treated equally. The other part involves access to all of the Internet regardless of which Internet Service Provider is used. In other words, net neutrality as an ideal requires that an Internet Service Provider cannot block access to its competitors’ sites. I have heard and read so much on this topic that I needed to find a way to synthesize my research, and this post is the result.

WHAT IS WHAT

First, four terms need to be defined in how they are affected by anything that does or does not get done on this issue. The first is pretty obvious, End User. An End User is you or me, anyone who consumes content using Internet services, regardless of how the content is delivered (it doesn’t matter if you use cable, DSL, your smartphone, or satellite internet services). An Edge Provider could also be you or me, IF we produce content that is consumed by other people. YouTube.com is certainly an Edge Provider. Facebook, Netflix, and Google are all Edge Providers. They PROVIDE content that End Users consume. A Broadband Provider is your Internet Service Provider, unless you are using dial-up services.  Dial-up service is not the same as Broadband. Cable, DSL, Satellite, and your smartphone’s carrier data service all fall under this description of Broadband Provider. Finally, the Backbone Network is that behind-the-scenes network that is interconnected across the world that picks up the data passed from your ISP and transmits it over fiber-optic lines to the ISP of the person or server receiving that piece of communication you initiated or requested.

VOICES HEARD

In no particular order, the most vocal of the players at this table include House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, The Internet Association, which represents major Internet companies like Netflix, Google, Facebook, and eBay, Verizon, AT&T, Comcast, Public Knowledge, Fight for the Future, Senetor Ed Markey from Massachusetts, Representative Henry Waxman from California, and somewhere around 105,000 petitioners (Johnson).

LET’S TALK ABOUT TITLE II

One of the phrases that is tossed around with abandon is “Title II.” It refers to Title II of the Communications act of 1934. Broadband providers are currently regulated under Title I, which covers “information services.” Title II covers “communication services.” A January 2014 decision by the District of Columbia circuit court (download a pdf of the decision here or read it online here) determined that  the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) doesn’t have the authority to regulate behavior of the providers; in fact, the FCC doesn’t have the authority to do much of anything under the current Title I standing of ISP’s. We saw that under Title I, any strong rules that the FCC may make will likely be struck down in court. Any that survive will have very little impact on protecting an open internet (Net Neutrality).  For that reason, some groups and a significant contingent of individuals are calling for a reclassification of broadband providers to Title II entities, (Berkman) which covers phone companies and cellular companies; basically, Title II covers telecom services (Fung). Under Title II, common carriers cannot make any unjust or unreasonable discrimination in charges, practices, classifications, regulations, facilities, or services (Berkman); Title I is lacking that language. Two of the FCC Commissioners, Ajit Pai and Michael O’Reilly, believe the Commission does not have the authority or scope to regulate Internet connections in any of the ways that a net neutrality proposal would intend to do (Cox).

In May of 2014, the FCC proposed a “lanes” system–specifically, a fast lane for traffic that required it or that the Edge Providers were willing to pony up money to the ISPs to treat with priority access. The proposal passed by a 2-3 vote in the Commission, but in congressional hearings, it met with significant disfavor, and users also voiced displeasure. Since that time, two of the three Commissioners who voted in favor of it have changed their positions. (Cox)

English: Availability of 4 Mbps-Capable Broadb...

English: Availability of 4 Mbps-Capable Broadband Networks in the United States by County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

TITLE II–PRO

The concerns of the pro-Title II faction are several, one being that if no action is taken, the FCC could become marginalized in its authority over communcations (Fung). Some legislators, End Users, and Edge Providers have also expressed concern that without taking proactive measures, an ISP could prevent its customers from visiting some websites, provide slower speeds for services like streaming video or audio, or possibly redirect users from one website to a competing website favored by the ISP. Without action, the players say, companies could purchase priority access and then pass the costs of that access along to consumers (Net Neutrality). The proposed rules would prevent these issues by requiring providers to connect users to all lawful content on the Internet equally, without giving preferred treatment to some sites or services (Net Neutrality).

BUMPY ROAD

This game includes no slam-dunks. Neither the FCC nor the Broadband Providers have any reason to anticipate an easy road. We should expect ISPs to argue that the FCC hasn’t provided a reasoned basis for reclassification, a challenge they would likely lose. The FCC would need to be able to explain why they only want to reclassify only Broadband, and why to do the reclassification at all (Gross).

Moving forward with a Title II reclassification is said to prevent ISPs from giving “fastlane” treatment to certain sites while slowing down competitors’ traffic (Roberts). (It is worth noting that two attempts to use other laws to accomplish this have failed. (Roberts) However, it would turn telecoms into public utilities, which introduces objections and obstacles that have not gotten the attention they deserve.

Logo of the United States Federal Communicatio...

Logo of the United States Federal Communications Commission, used on their website and some publications since the early 2000s. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

TITLE II–CON

The Telecommunications Act was written in the 1930’s, and suffered some revisions along the way (Title II). The FCC does have power to suspend certain rules; this power is called Forbearance (Title II). Just since 1996, there have been 141 petitions for forbearance; the average time for disposition of a petition is 372 days (Title II). Of those 141 petitions, 68 were either dismissed, denied, or withdrawn, 23 were denied in part, and 44 were granted in full (Title II). A decision on forbearance can be reversed. The section labeled Title II contains 16 rule parts, 111 subparts, 682 pages, 987 rule sections, and more than a thousand subsections, any of which could raise a forbearance petition. The current Title II provisions on the law and forbearance do not allow for a ruling that would regulate the SERVICE and the CARRIER but not the TRAFFIC (The Multi-Billion), so under the Act as it stands, it wouldn’t really do what the proponents want it to do. The proposal also includes wording like “reasonable” and “case-by-case,” giving no clear guidance as to how the providers, producers, and consumers, could expect the rules to be enforced (Kaminsky).

Turning telecoms into public utilities would grant to the federal government the power to regulate rates, rather than letting the market set them (Powell). Lack of market input tends to reduce incentive for improvements, as we’ve seen with other public utilities like water and sewer systems (Roberts). Europe has strict Internet regulations, and is serviced largely by a DSL-type model. Despite the speed advantages Europeans enjoy, they have produced almost no significant Internet companies (Downes).

State governments would gain the power to impose new taxes on Internet access (Powell), a cost not exposed to much discussion. Under current rules, there are no fees and taxes imposed on the Internet (Powell). Tom Schatz, President of Citizens Against Governm Waste, said that “…net neutrality rules will not be neutral with it comes to taxpayers. Any new federal regulatory role will necessitate a giant and expensive bureaucracy, whose employees will serve as the Internet police (CAGW).” Google-YouTube estimates that this shift to Title II would cost them between $5.7 billion and $16.4 billion each year (The Multi-Billion)–costs that would, of necessity, end up being passed on to the consumer. And instead of the heavy-users paying the cost that their use incurs, rates will be regulated by the government, thereby raising rates on ALL users (Kaminsky).

Regulations can be costly, and they can discourage new players. The advantage is always to the incumbents, who know how to play the system and navigate the rules. Fresh faces spend a lot of time and precious startup dollars figuring out what rules apply to them and what those rules say they aren’t allowed to do (Powell). The process is already fraught with politics. Says CAGW’s Tom Schatz, “Before the FCC has even gaveled the meeting to order, special, politically-driven carve-outs are reportedly being negotiated behind closed doors (CAGW).” Players would be applying for waivers along the lines of the Affordable Care Act (Hayward).

The Internet is currently un-regulated and un-metered. A reclassification to Title II will change internet traffic into regulated, metered traffic (The Multi-Billion). Approximately 10% of users consume 80% of bandwidth (Kaminsky), and many Internet content and apps providers originate (produce and push OUT ONTO the Internet) much more traffic than they terminate (consume and PULL IN FROM the Internet) (The Multi-Billion).

Moore’s Law, first articulated in 1965, posited that computing power doubles every 12-18 months, with prices falling proportionately. Internet companies have seen low entry costs and rapid scaling. Core components continue to grow faster, cheaper and smaller, and in the history of industrial economies, this is the first time a core commodity has behaved that way. In 1996, if you can remember using Internet services back then, 56kbps was top speed, and compared to the prices and speeds today, purchasing access at that speed was no bargain. It wasn’t long after that time that the advocates of the public-utility model began expressing concern that the dominant players (like AOL and GeoCities) would have power to prevent then-beta Google Search from achieving relevance (Downes). Capital markets tend to reward less-regulated industries with their investment funding as well (Powell).

The proponents of Title II reclassification–and of net neutrality rules in general–express concern over what they identify as a lack of competition among providers. Choices for Internet access do exist, though. In most markets consumers have at least two wired options (even if that’s just one cable provider and one DSL provider, that’s still two choices, and FIOS is expanding those choices further), and four or more wireless providers (Downes). The danger of turning to Title II is that we as users will be exchanging the choices we have now for a government rule as to how traffic should be managed (Kaminsky). Cato Institute adjunct scholar Timothy Lee advises, “The real risk is that you end up with bureaucrats rather than entrepreneurs making technical and business decisions about how networks will work (Kaminsky).”

Additionally they fear that providers have the ability to block some sites and redirect traffic to their preferred sites, but no evidence has been produced to indicate that as a genuine possibility (Hayward).

Net neutrality rules would force providers to treat simple, one-page blogs the same way they handle streaming media–or worse, treat streaming media the way they handle simple, one-page blogs. Voice-Over-IP phone traffic would suffer as well, because under the same rules, voice traffic is data traffic, and has no more preferred status over those simple, one-page blogs (Hayward).

 

MY TAKEAWAY:

I don’t see any real evidence of a problem that needs fixing. President Obama has stated that the Internet has become essential to our way of life. While I don’t disagree with that sentiment, I do agree with this one from Larry Downes in Harvard Business Review: “Surely it has, but it is a very strange kind of regulatory logic that concludes that when a technology is wildly successful due to a carefully considered decision not to overregulate it, it suddenly requires intensive government oversight (Downes).”

Title II is bad for the Internet, bad for innovation, bad for producers, bad for carriers, bad for providers, and bad for you and me.

 

WORKS CITED:

Berkman, Fran. “Title II is the key to net neutrality–so what is it?” The Daily Dot. 20 May 2014. 10 December 2014. <www.dailydot.com/politics/what-is-title-ii-net-neutrality-fcc/>.

Cox, Kate. “Newest Critics of FCC’s Net Neutrality Plan: the FCC Commissioners Who Voted For It.” Consumerist. 25 September 2014. 10 Dec 2014. <consumerist.com/2014/09/25/newest-critics-of-fccs-net-neutrality-plan-the-fcc-commissioners-who-voted-for-it>.

“CAGW to FCC: Net Neutrality Rules are a Bad Solution in Search of a Non-Existent Problem.” Electronics Business Journal. (2009): 419. ProQuest. Web. 10 Dec 2014. <http://proquest.umi.com/pqdweb>.

Downes, Larry. “Why the Public Utility Model Is the Wrong Approach for Internet Regulation.” Harvard Business Review. 11 November 2014. 12 December 2014. <https://hbr.org/2014/11/why-the-public-utility-model-is-the-wrong-approach-for-internet-regulation>.

Fung, Brian. “Here’s how net neutrality can still survive.” WashingtonPost.com. 15 January 2014. 10 December 2014. <www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-switch/wp/2014/01/15/heres-how-net-neutrality-can-still-survive/>.

Gross, Grant. “Net neutrality: Reclassifying broadband would be a long road.” PC World. 28 May 2014. 10 Dec 2014. <www.pcworld.com/article/2236980/net-neutrality-reclassifying-broadband-would-be-a-long-road.html>.

Hayward, John. “Net Neutrality for Dummies.” Human Events. 30 April 2012: 14. ProQuest Web. 10 Dec 2014. <http://search.proquest.com/docview/1325588513?accountid=34664>.

Johnson, Ted. “Netflix Makes Case for Rigorous ‘Title II’ Approach to Net Neutrality.” Variety. 16 July 2014. 10 Dec 2014. <variety.com/2014/biz/news/netflix-makes-case-for-rigorous-title-ii-approach-to-net-neutrality-1201263425/>.

Kaminsky, Ross. “Net ‘Neutrality’ Would Mean Government Theft.” Human Events. 5 October 2009: 16. ProQuest. Web. 10 December 2014. <http://search.proquest.com/docview/235935192?accountid=34664>.

“Net Neutrality.” Public Knowledge. 10 December 2014. <https://www.publicknowledge.org/issues/ netneutrality>.

Powell, Michael K. “Guest: The FCC is stuck in the past when regulating the Internet.” Seattle Times. 10 November 2014. 12 December 2014. <seattletimes.com/html/opinion/2024989416_ powellopedfccinternet08xml.html>.

Roberts, Jeff John. “Title II is the only path to net neutrality, Here’s why almost nobody thinks the FCC will take it”. GigaOm. 24 July 2014. 10 December 2014. <https://gigaom.com/2014/07/24/title-ii-is-the-only-path-to-net-neutrality-heres-why-almost-nobody-thinks-the-fcc-will-take-it>.

“The Multi-Billion Dollar Impact of FCC Title II Broadband — for Google & entire Internet ecosystem.” Net Competition. 10 December 2014. <www.netcompetition.org/congress/the-multi-billion-dollar-impact-of-fcc-title-ii-broadband-for-google-entire-internet-ecosystem>.

“Title II: Net Disaster, Not Net Neutrality.” NCTA. 10 December 2014. <https://ww.ncta.com/titleII>.

 

 

Aviator Doesn’t Fly for Me

I listen to a lot of podcasts on various subjects, and recently I heard the hosts of the Digital Underground Podcast from Kaspersky Labs talking about a new web browser called Aviator. Built on Chromium, but designed for privacy, I figured I’d give it a try. I like Chrome, and I like privacy, what’s not to like about a browser that behaves like Chrome but protects my privacy?

Well, it depends…

Let’s start by looking at how it protects privacy.  You know how you can go back to a website you’ve visited before and it kind of acts like it “remembers” you? It does! It placed a tiny file of text onto your machine called a “cookie.” That cookie contains information about your visit to that site, it may contain login information (which is why you never want to have banks and places like that “remember” you), it may contain information from a form that you filled out while you were there that indicate certain preferences. Aviator deletes all those cookies when you close out of the browser. Poof–gone. You have to log in all over again. If you’re serious about privacy and protection, that’s a good thing.

Aviator also uses an ad blocker called Disconnect. More later about this, but an ad blocker does just what it says: blocks ads.

Java is not available to run in Aviator, because the current version of Java, and therefore the only version considered remotely “secure”, is only available as a 64-bit program. Chromium, the foundation for Aviator, is only available as a 32-bit program, so the current Java won’t run in Chromium. Most security gurus will tell you that you shouldn’t run Java anyway.

Aviator will ask you, as you go to shut it down, if you’re sure you want to quit. This is an important question, because unlike most other browsers, if you accidentally shut down, there is no recovery of open web pages. Aviator doesn’t keep a file or a log or any sort of memory of what was open when you closed it. So it asks.  Every time.

As of this time, Aviator only runs on Windows and Mac. There isn’t a mobile version at all yet, though they are working on it, and, interestingly enough, there is no Linux version; Chromium is based on Linux.

So–my take on it:

Overall, the browser has a great look and feel. It’s clean–I LOVE clean!–and as responsive on click as any other browser I’ve used.  (Every time Safari gets an update, the Macazoids say, “It’s snappy.” Okay, Aviator is “snappy.”) It has plenty of visual appeal, the color scheme is attractive. I don’t use a lot of customization on my Chrome browser, so I didn’t go looking for anything to customize as far as colors, etc.

For me, a huge part of what makes a browser work or not is whether it facilitates or hinders productivity. Because Aviator is built on Chrome, all of the plug-ins/extensions I use with Chrome are available for Aviator. Every. Single. One. Yes, color me impressed. Built on Chrome notwithstanding, I did expect something to be missing.

After I got all the plug-ins and extensions loaded and configured, the one I use probably more than all the others compbined, XMarks, synced flawlessly and presented my Bookmarks Bar exactly as I’m accustomed to seeing it in Chrome. Again, nothing missing.

For casual surfing, Aviator was fine. As long as nothing needed saved or passed or searched, Aviator did what I expected it to do. Beyond that, however, Aviator and I seemed to disagree on what constitutes a reasonable user experience.

The links for a survey I wanted to take wouldn’t pass through the preference on cookies, which meant that I kept having to tell Aviator that it was okay for this website to remember who I am. Since I didn’t know how long the survey was going to be, this had a potential to get real annoying real quick. As a result, I have a concern with online courses; I think it’s safe to assume that online courses may behave in the same way. I just couldn’t seem to get anything done without having to tell the browser to let me do it. If I only spent a few minutes a day using a browser, that might be tolerable, but I spend quite a bit of time using Chrome, and I have a very low tolerance for answering the same question more than once. In that respect, Aviator was like a curious toddler, constantly asking the same question. Gave me a somewhat new respect for a child’s “Why?”.

The crushing blow for Aviator on my laptop came when I found a problem with Google not liking it. In less than an hour of use, it raked up enough venom from Google that when anyone in our home tried to use the Google search engine, they had to type in a captcha response. Google hadn’t anything specific to offer by way of explanation, just a vague reference to a violation of terms of service. I made sure none of the computers in the house were sending out spam, but the only devices connected all day were iPhones and my MacBook pro. We never have network problems, I keep all our machines patched and I pay pretty close attention to network issues. It really wasn’t difficult to determine that the difference was Aviator.

 

A bit more digging and I found it–the ad blocker, Disconnect. Google is a business, but you are not the customer. You are the product. Don’t vilify Google, Bing is exactly the same; all the browsers are. The revenue model is that they serve up ads and if you click on them, someone makes money. If there is no ad being served, there will be no money made. So Google makes it clear–somewhere deep in the bowels of its terms of service–that something like the aggressive Disconnect is unwelcome in the Googlesphere. Note here, our family didn’t have any troubles going to any other websites; just doing a Google search. That was what helped me zoom in on the issue.

Amazing Partnership Between God and Man

Under normal conditions, the human body has an astonishing capacity to self-regulate and heal itself. Unless weakened through misuse, environmental damage, or anomalies at the cellular level, to name just a few exceptions, we are largely capable of overcoming most illness and damage. Sometimes we have to help, like splinting or casting a limb, providing stability and immobility while a bone heals, and sometimes we have to give the immune system a little help with an antibiotic, jumpstarting the process of overcoming the germ attack. Minor incidents like colds and flus, scrapes, bumps, bruises, for the most part, can be handled by our physiology without much intervention from outside the body.

But not always.

War, disease, birth defects, vehicle and industrial accidents, sports injuries, can all produce conditions that the body just can’t overcome. Medical science has made tremendous strides in assisting patients in living more normal lives through transplants and prosthetics, microsurgery and superdrugs, and the advances have been exponential as we look through the history books. We’ve been anxiously anticipating the day when cancer is cured, when childhood diseases don’t rob children of the joys of youth. We’re not there yet, but a recent giant leap in that direction may permit these miracles in our lifetime.

Part biology, part sculpture, the scientific medical art of growing body parts has me in complete awe. Using the patient’s own tissue as a base, researchers provide a place and ideal conditions to allow the tissue to form a scaffold (think armature or mold for a paper mache sculpture). They use stem cells identical or structurally similar to the ones from the damaged, diseased, or missing organ, from the patient himself. (I know you can see where this is going and why it’s so exciting). When the scaffold is mature enough, the cells are applied to it, appropriate to the organ, along with any other necessary substances, cells, or tissue to begin the growing process.

The research results in the lab were successful enough to lead to implementation in human cases. Bladders, ears, kidneys, tracheas, and female genitalia malformed through birth defects have been fully functional in application.  Researchers are experimenting with growth of other parts as opportunity and need arises, and they have expressed confidence and cautious optimism in the future of this science and medicine.

The prospect of the success of this effort  has me on the edge of my seat for several reasons. One of the most disappointing events for a transplant patient is when, after a months-long or years-long wait for an appropriate organ, the body rejects the new organ; sees it as an intruder and attacks it. Because these new organs are made with the patient’s own organ tissue, the research hasn’t evidenced any rejection of the “new” organs.

Another huge plus for this research is that, although it uses stem cells, these are not the controversial embryonic stem cells recovered from aborted fetuses; these stem cells are from the patients themselves. If this research has continued success, it could open the door to further non-fetal stem cell research.

Diseases and conditions where stem cell treatm...

Diseases and conditions where stem cell treatment is promising or emerging. (See Wikipedia:Stem cell#Treatments). Bone marrow transplantation is, as of 2009, the only established use of stem cells. Model: Mikael Häggström. To discuss image, please see Template talk:Häggström diagrams (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Finally, and this almost brings me to tears to think of it, it’s still the patient’s body, mending itself, with, admittedly, a great deal of assistance, but the truth here is that this is the body acting in partnership with itself and the researchers, and by extension, Science acting in partnership with God to use what God created to work in its own behalf to do what it can no longer, or could never, do in its own behalf.

I’m an organ donor, a blood donor, and a bone marrow donor, and I don’t think the needs for those products is going away anytime soon; this research still has years to go before it’s common practice. But it’s coming.

Want to read more?  Here’s an article from the Smithsonian magazine, one from the Guardian, and one from Forbes. What excites you or concerns you about this research?

Hubble: An Icon for Space Junkies (like me)

In April of 2015, the Hubble Space Telescope will turn 25 years old, and in that quarter century, it has given scope to the imaginations of space geeks everywhere. Recently I saw a really neat photo that got me curious about the device, so I figured it’d make a great first space post here. I’ll tell you a little about the telescope itself, and some of its accomplishments.

It’s been known since the early days of telescopes that the atmosphere plays heck with focus and clarity beyond earth’s realms. It’s also what makes the stars “twinkle twinkle.” The idea for a space-based telescope first surfaced in the 1920’s; an official proposal was floated in the 1940’s, and the project was birthed in the 1970’s. Edwin Powell Hubble never worked on this telescope itself, but his name is applied to it for his contribution to the understanding of the expansion of the universe. The launch date was scheduled for 1986, but a few months prior to its launch, the space shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after liftoff and delayed deployment for almost a year.

Early in its deployment, NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) discovered that Hubble had trouble focusing. The edge of the mirror was too flat, by less than 1/50th the width of a human hair. In the first Service Mission assigned, five mirrors were installed in carefully calculated positions, and Hubble’s myopia was cured.

Four Servicing Missions were conducted, the most recent one in 2009. Since the discontinuation of Space Shuttle missions in 2011, no further Servicing Missions have been scheduled. I guess it’ll be up to SpaceX or Virgin Galactic to do any further maintenance, but at this time, Hubble is running smoothly enough that no work is needed or anticipated.

Hubble is about as long as a school bus, not quite as wide (right around 7 feet) and weighs about as much as two full-grown elephants. Well, not in space, of course….

It takes a little over an hour and a half for Hubble to make it around the earth. That’s about 17,500 mph. It has made more than a million observations of more than 38,000 celestial bodies, producing more than 100 terabytes of data. (I’m actually surprised it’s not more!)

Amazing Discoveries–by no means a complete and comprehensive list:

  • Photographs of a supernova
  • Estimating the age of the universe (13 to 14 billion years)
  • Deep space” snapshots
  • Identifying elements in and around extrasolar planets
  • An honest-to-goodness black hole
  • Gamma ray bursts caught on camera
  • Where quasars live
  • protoplanetary disks–possibly the birthplaces of new planets
  • Jupiter’s injuries from potshots fired by Shoemaker-Levy
  • The unique qualities of planetary nebulas
  • Dark matter
  • Two moons of Pluto
  • dark energy–the force that accelerates the expansion of the universe
  • Galaxies in all stages of evolution

WHO CAN USE THE TELESCOPE?

From HubbleSite.org:  “any astronomer in the world can submit a proposal and request time on the telescope. Teams of experts then select the observations to be performed. Once observations are completed, the astronomers have a year to pursue their work before the data is released to the entire scientific community. ” About 4,000 astronomers have used it so far. (Did you even know there were 4,000 astronomers?)

 

You can read more about the Hubble Space Telescope at these sites:  NASA: The Hubble Story ; The Hubble Site; Space.com