Coming Soon! Cybersafety Ebook


At the beginning of 2017 I reorganized my work on the book and got the text written. It took a little over three months. I have a cover, and it’s at this moment in the hands of an editor for the second pass through.  I think it’ll probably be early in 2018 when I get all the work done and get it published.

From 6/6/2016:

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.

Liquid Metal Alloy May Repair 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. 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. Additionally, 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). 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 these are 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. 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), it is a 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 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 consider this–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?



  1. Estes, Adam Clark. “Scientists Have Reconnected Severed Nerves with Liquid Metal.” Gizmodo. 28 Apr. 2014. Web. 12 Feb. 2016. <>.
  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. <>.
  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 Publishing Group, 6 Dec. 2013. Web. 16 Feb. 2016. <>.
  7. Mack, Eric. “Healing, ‘Terminator’-style: Liquid Metal Could Fix Severed Nerves.” CNET. 28 Apr. 2014. Web. 16 Feb. 2016. <!>.
  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.

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)


Note: originally published June 14, 2016; updated 10/17/2017 for optimization, and new content at the end.

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.


While cruising through my RSS feeds I found a Chrome plug-in called Chrome UA Spoofer.  This nifty little thing lets me change the way the Chrome browser presents me to the web. Left “off,” I am seen to the world as a user on a laptop or desktop. However, I can switch it to present me as an iPhone or iPad user, an Android user, a Windows Phone user, an Internet Explorer user, a Firefox user, a Safari user, or an Opera user. When I want to post a photo to Instagram from my laptop, I change my state to iOS, and Instagram lets me post photos from my computer. I need to remember to turn it back to Chrome when I’m finished.  Once when i was trying to delete an account, the site kept telling me I couldn’t do that from a mobile device, only from the full website. It took me a while to figure out what was going on, and I felt less than brilliant when I realized it.

This Geek Finally Upgraded Her Computer


As a rule, I wait a couple of weeks after the release of an upgrade (and sometimes even an update) to apply it to my computer and other devices. I like to let the developers work out the bugs, and I don’t like being a guinea pig for them. I rely too heavily on all my computer to be down for too long. Are you familiar with the law of unintended consequences?

computer operating system feels like this old car

Yosemite for Mac was released in October of 2014, and after a couple of weeks, I downloaded it in anticipation of installing it and running it immediately. The previous two upgrades had been without issue. As the installer kicked off, I got an error message that Mac OS 10.10 could not be installed on this drive.  I tried a couple more times, then hit the web.  I was led to examine the partition scheme, which, as it turns out, was showing FAT (MS-DOS). This version of Apple’s operating system was only going to install on a partition scheme of GUID.

Say What??

How did this happen? There are a couple of possibilities. According to Apple’s website, some Intel MacBooks around the time of the manufacture of mine shipped with the partition scheme of FAT (MS-DOS). But this hard drive isn’t the original hard drive, so that’s not the likely explanation. This hard drive was purchased for use in a Windows 7 machine; in fact, it lived there for a month or so, till the motherboard in that computer went kaput. I moved it into the MacBook and I’ve lived happily ever since. So the more likely explanation for the partition scheme is that it was originally a Windows drive.

Still, it took almost two years for me to pull the trigger and make this happen, and I really don’t know why. What I do know is that when I did set out to get it done, once I got the process mapped out, it still seemed intimidating, because I was nervous about something going wrong and having to do a clean install and get all my programs installed again. Besides, having put it off this long, once I got the process mapped out, I needed to wait till my son’s Eagle Scout application was turned in. I knew I could preserve the paperwork, but I needed to be able to pull it up and work on it as needed, and I can’t do that while the machine is in the process of being wiped clean.

Let’s Do This

So the application is in the hands of the man who will convene the Board of Review, and it was then time to bite the bullet and get it done. Now, I have 90 GB of just pictures. I have over 75 GB of music. Backup was a critical part of this. But here’s where I got nervous. I have a program called Super-Duper which makes a clone of the machine and can be used afterward to back up just the files that have changed since the last backup. But I wasn’t sure if the program would be able to take the clone from the MS-DOS partition scheme and put it back, intact, onto a GUID partition scheme. So I needed to be sure that I could, if that failed, install an operating system, all my programs, and pull my data back in. That meant that not only did I need a Super-Duper backup, I’d also need a manual backup of my documents, my pictures, my music, the stuff I’d downloaded but not moved into proper place, and the stuff sitting on the desktop that I was in the process of using.

Here’s the process, step-by-step:

Divide a 2 TB external hard drive in two partitions. Format one half in Mac OS Extended and the other in FAT 32 (for use with Windows and Linux).

Backup the data from my virtual machines onto the FAT partition.

Backup the data from my MacBook onto the Mac partition.

Clone the hard drive using Super Duper.

Boot from an installation disk and use Disk Utility to create a new partition using the GUID partition scheme.

Boot from the external hard drive containing Super Duper and restore from the clone.

Download and install the upgrade.

Spend the next two weeks running updates.

Let me add a little more details about the steps.

The Computer Backup:

I spent a weekend afternoon making that happen, knowing that any changes I made after that would not be worth keeping. Actually, I made a commitment NOT TO DO ANYTHING THAT I WANTED TO KEEP.

I did the Windows and Linux portions first, because there isn’t a lot of stuff I keep there. I like to keep a Windows machine active because I often need to do screen shots for my blogs and books. It’s also where I keep my Quicken installation. I know Intuit makes Quicken for Mac, but once I make that jump, I’m all in with Apple, and I’m not sure I’m ready to marry the Mac.

On to the Mac backup. I had to disentangle the external drive from the Windows and Linux side before I could use it on the Mac side, which took only a few minutes. But the drive is only available to one machine at a time. I was able to kick off the beefier segments (the pictures and the music) just before supper and they were almost done when we got finished eating.

Next, I connected the other external hard drive. Super Duper is a fabulous program. It does just what it says it does, and it pretty much talks you through the process. But we are talking about cloning a hard drive with 650 GB of operating system, applications, and data files. Oh, and you can’t use a drive that has data you want to keep, because Super Duper will erase that data. This was going to take all night. And it did. I set it going a couple of hours before bed. And because my son was using my iPad to do calculus lessons on Khan Academy (which, by the way, is a fabulous way to learn how to do stuff), I picked up an honest-to-goodness book and read till I fell asleep. By morning, the clone was done.

The Computer Partition Scheme

I actually let a couple of days pass before I did the partition, I didn’t want to be rushed in case there was something else I needed to know or do. So I waited until I knew the whole family would be off doing something else.  As I walked into my study, I looked over at the bookshelf and saw a long, slender, deep chocolate brown envelope/folder. It was the original installation media for this machine. This is strange because I normally keep that media upstairs in the library. But this was wonderful because it meant I didn’t have to go looking for it, and it was kind of a “sign” that I was absolutely out of excuses. Away we go!

Deep breath. Close all programs. My optical drive in the MacBook doesn’t like to relinquish disks, so I don’t use it anymore. I have a usb-connected DVD drive that I use on everything. I connected it, opened the bay, put the install disk in, closed the bay, and rebooted the computer. As soon as the chime sounded, I pressed and held the ALT/OPTION key, and the computer booted from the installation disk. I had to let it get to the point where it asked if I wanted to continue with the installation, so that I could get to the disk utility. From there, I was able to create a brand-new partition on my drive, completely wiping off the contents of the drive.  Done.  Exit Disk Utility, shut down.

The Computer Return

Connect the external hard drive containing the clone of the system. Again boot the computer, holding the ALT/OPTION key when the chime sounded, this time selecting to boot from that drive, and when it is initialized, eject and disconnect the DVD drive. The computer booted from the clone, displaying my contents, even the wallpaper I have selected.  But because the machine is retrieving everything from the hard drive to present it, it’s slow.  VEEEERRRYYY slow.

The Super Duper window came up on the desktop, and when everything was initialized, the option to restore came up. I set it to restore from the clone, and went back to my book.

When I woke early next morning, the restore had completed. Part of the process of restoring is to make the internal hard drive active, so I didn’t have to do anything to make that happen. I shut down, disconnected the hard drive, and booted as normal.

I mean normal!! It was a perfect boot.

The Computer Upgrade

I went into the Mac App Store and there was a system update to Sierra, which is version 10.12. So I skipped two versions, Yosemite, which was 10.10, and El Capitan which was 10.11.  I downloaded and installed, and maybe two hours later the deed is done and I have a current operating system. Two hours is the start-downloading-to-finish-and-boot-and-use time.

I knew that Parallels would need an upgrade, Parallels has been pestering me for two years that the version I had was not going to run on Yosemite. I also was prepared for the updates to the iWork and iLife suites because they too would not upgrade for Mountain Lion anymore.

But a few days later, I think I’ve got them all now. My machine is running like it should be and I don’t have to worry about not getting a necessary update. And, until I make a bunch of changes, I have a reasonably current backup. Two, in fact.

The Takeaway

Don’t let the complexity of a process keep you from doing it. My concern was not that I would break my computer, but that I would run out of time to fix something that went wrong and I’d have to rush and not do a good job. Even looking back, my concerns were not entirely unfounded. Working in tech as I do, I am fully aware of what all can go wrong. Having a good backup is the key to mitigating risk.

So — are you ready to try this?

photo credit: Wolf Schram

Changes Coming for This Geek I Know

There will be some changes coming for soon. I struggled with the name of this website for a while. When I purchased it, I liked this name, I still do, but it doesn’t say much about what we do here. To move forward, I have purchased the domain name Over the next couple of weeks I’m going to be transitioning This Geek I Know over to Deep Into Tech. I feel very much like I’m jumping off a ledge.

changes coming tech site


When I started this journey, I had a different goal in mind. I wanted This Geek I Know to be a site where people could come to get answers to tech questions. I wanted to provide a place to learn about technology new and current. But I also thought that the name is a little hard to say, and it may not resonate with that audience. For that reason, I opened up That site provides advice and information to people who don’t speak “geek.” Grown Up Tech has gotten a nice, steady, loyal audience and I appreciate that.


This site is a deep dive into some cool tech that the mainstream news may gloss over or ignore completely. I also add my opinion on some current events in tech. Because of my interest in going deeper into the story, I think that Deep Into Tech is a better description of what is going on here. It’s also easier to say, isn’t it?


Stay with me, here. I’m not going anywhere. It’s going to take me some time to figure out how to make the transition. I’m only one person, I don’t have a web staff to handle all this for me. I hope that a more descriptive name will draw more people to the site. I’d like to hear from people with a deep interest in obscure tech. I want to open up discussion on the fascinating things I plan to uncover.

I also plan to stay with, my blog on general topics not related to technology, and, where I chronicle my explorations in photography. Drop by and leave a comment.

Tech Training Never Stops (and Rarely Slows Down)

One of my favorite descriptions of technology is that working in it is like standing on shifting sand. It seems like yesterday’s technology can quickly leave us behind. Yes, I meant yesterday’s technology. As a result, tech professionals know they need to constantly engage in training or professional development. Therefore, I’ve embarked on a 21-course journey to deepen my understanding of Active Directory. What is Active Directory? I’m glad you asked! (Deep stuff in that link–only for geeks.)

A fresh tech journey

I entered the technology field after turning 40, and as a result, I have gained my education on the job or on my own. I’ve probably learned all I’ve needed to know to get the job done. Unfortunately, for every new situation I’m having to go learn something new again. Because of that, I’d like to gain a body of tech knowledge from which I can draw as I need it.

It seems the course is rather old (2002) but I believe the basics should still apply. Additionally, I’ll go to fresher material that covers deeper stuff when I’m finished.  The course is called Learn AD in 15 Minutes a Week, and the author is Jason Zandri. And what do I expect to learn in this course?

  • How to plan an implementation of Active Directory
  • How to install and do the initial setup
  • A solid understanding of LDAP
  • Group Policy
  • DNS
  • What all can I do in the Active Directory Users and Computers MMC snap-in

Why would I spend my precious free time on this course if I already have most of the knowledge I need? I can always search for the tech information I need that I don’t know. Mostly, I expect to gain six things from this exercise:


  1. I’m always looking for ways to be better at my job. Some people may not agree with this position, but as a believer in Christ, I try to work as if I’m working for God. If my Heavenly Father was the boss of my department, I would always want to try to do better work for Him.
  2. I can read this material in slack periods at work, because it will benefit my current employer.
  3. The author presents the material in a way that I can consume most of a course during my lunch break.
  4. A deeper understanding may make me eligible for broader opportunities in my current company.
  5. More knowledge in this area may make me more eligible for opportunities in this career field.
  6. I have a deep respect for the process of learning, and I try always to be learning something. This particular thing just happens to benefit my career.


What was the last thing you undertook to learn? Was it for personal use or career-oriented? What is the next learning opportunity on which you plan to embark?  If you’re pulling some irons out of the fire, what do you hope to start learning soon?

photo credit: redd angelo

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
  3. send me a tweet at @thisgeekiknow

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


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 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.



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).


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)



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).



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)



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 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


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.





  1. Campbell, Mikey. “DOJ reportedly spies on mobile phone owners using fake airplane-mounted cell towers.” Apple Insider. 23 November 2014. 9 June 2014.<>
  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. <>
  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. <>
  4. Farivar, Cyrus. “Cities scramble to upgrade “StingRay” tracking as end of 2G network looms.” Ars technica. 1 Sept 2014. 4 June 2014. <>
  5. Gillum, Jack, and Linderman, Juliet. “Baltimore police often surveil cellphones amid US secrecy.” The Washington Times. 8 April 2015. 8 June 2015. <>
  6. Hinkle, A. Barton. “Cellphone Tracking Means They Can Hear You Now.” 18 August 2014. 4 June 2014. <>
  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. <>
  8. Kelly, John. “Cellphone data spying: It’s not just the NSA.” 13 June 2014. 11 May 2015. <>
  9. Kravets, David. “FBI says search warrants not needed to use ‘StingRays’ in public places.” Ars technica. 5 January 2015. 8 June 2015. <>
  10. Kumar, Sunny. “Wi-Fi, Phone Hacking Plane is Terrifying, Inspiring, and Wardriving Evolves Into Warflying.” H4XORIN’ T3H WORLD. 2011. 11 May 2015. <>
  11. Kurth, Joel. “Secret military device lets Oakland deputies track cell phones.” The Detroit News. 4 April 2014. 9 June 2015. <>
  12. Martin, Kate. “Documents: Tacoma Police using surveillance device to sweep up cellphone data.” The News Tribune. 26 Aug 2014. 4 June 2014. <>
  13. “Pen Register.” West’s Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. 2008. The Gale Group. 11 January 2005. 11 June 2015. <>
  14. Rosenblum, Andrew. “Mysterious Phony Cell Towers Could be Intercepting Your Calls.” Popular Science. 27 August 2014. 6 June 2015. <>
  15. Russia Today, youtube channel:
  16. Scola, Nancy. “Senators question FBI’s legal reasoning behind cell-tower spoofing.” The Washington Post. 2 Jan 2015. 8 June 2015. <>
  17. Sledge, Matt. “Judge in StingRay Cell Tower Spoofing Case Puts Government on Notice.” Huffington Post, HuffPost Politics. 19 March 2013. 30 March 2015. <>
  18. “Stingray Tracking Devices: Who’s Got Them?” American Civil Liberties Union. 9 June 2015. <>
  19. Swanner, Nate. “US DOJ accused of stealing cellphone data via “dirtyboxes.” Slash Gear. 13 November 2014. 9 June 2015. <>
  20. “Trap and Trace Device Law and Legal Definition.” US 11 June 2015. <>
  21. Zetter, Kim. “Feds’ Use of Fake Cell Tower – Did It Constitute a Search?” Wired. 30 March 2015. 3 June 2015. <>
  22. Zetter, Kim. “Florida Cops’ Secret Weapon: Warrantless Cellphone Tracking.” Wired. 3 March 2014. 8 June 2015. <>
  23. Zetter, Kim. “Secrets of FBI Smart Phone Surveillance Tool Revealed in Court Fight.” Wired. 9 April 2013. 8 June 2015. <>
  24. Zetter, Kim. “The Feds are Now Using ‘StingRays’ in Planes to Spy on our Phone Calls.” Wired. 11 November 2014. 9 June 2015. <>

CubeSats: The Cutest Thing in Space

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.

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

Update 1/13/2017–See bottom of post for a link to How to dock CubeSats

First off, what is a CubeSat?

Well, essentially, this:

photo of cubesat

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).


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; however, 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

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:


cubesat launch Japanese tweetcubesat launch tweet translated to English


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).


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. 



From the European Space Agency: How to Dock CubeSats



“CubeSat Mission Statement.” CubeSat.Org. 30 Dec 2014. <>.

“Cygnus Orb-2 Cargo Manifest.” Spaceflight101. 30 Dec 2014. <>.

“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. <>.

Hil, Helen. “MicroMAS: small is beautiful.” MIT News. 27 March 2014. 29 Dec 2014. <>.

“JEM Small Satellite Orbital Deployer (J-SSOD)”. Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. 6 Nov 2013. 29 Dec 2014. <>.

Keith, Lori. “CubeSats in Orbit After Historic Space Station Deployment.” International Space Station. 10 Dec 2012. 29 Dec 2014. <>.

“LambdaSat.” Gunter’s Space Page. 9 April 2014. 29 Dec 2014. <>.

Suppliers. CubeSat.Org. 30 Dec 2014. <>.

“SkyCube Satellite Technology.” Southern Stars. 6 Jan 2014. <>.

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.


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. 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.


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).


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)


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).


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)


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).



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.



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Cox, Kate. “Newest Critics of FCC’s Net Neutrality Plan: the FCC Commissioners Who Voted For It.” Consumerist. 25 September 2014. 10 Dec 2014. <>.

“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. <>.

Downes, Larry. “Why the Public Utility Model Is the Wrong Approach for Internet Regulation.” Harvard Business Review. 11 November 2014. 12 December 2014. <>.

Fung, Brian. “Here’s how net neutrality can still survive.” 15 January 2014. 10 December 2014. <>.

Gross, Grant. “Net neutrality: Reclassifying broadband would be a long road.” PC World. 28 May 2014. 10 Dec 2014. <>.

Hayward, John. “Net Neutrality for Dummies.” Human Events. 30 April 2012: 14. ProQuest Web. 10 Dec 2014. <>.

Johnson, Ted. “Netflix Makes Case for Rigorous ‘Title II’ Approach to Net Neutrality.” Variety. 16 July 2014. 10 Dec 2014. <>.

Kaminsky, Ross. “Net ‘Neutrality’ Would Mean Government Theft.” Human Events. 5 October 2009: 16. ProQuest. Web. 10 December 2014. <>.

“Net Neutrality.” Public Knowledge. 10 December 2014. < netneutrality>.

Powell, Michael K. “Guest: The FCC is stuck in the past when regulating the Internet.” Seattle Times. 10 November 2014. 12 December 2014. < 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. <>.

“The Multi-Billion Dollar Impact of FCC Title II Broadband — for Google & entire Internet ecosystem.” Net Competition. 10 December 2014. <>.

“Title II: Net Disaster, Not Net Neutrality.” NCTA. 10 December 2014. <>.