Syria and Iraq are clubhouses for DIY remote-controlled guns


Click on the photos for an alternative American TV version

The Syrian civil war is producing a multitude of remotely-operated, custom-made killing machines — sniper rifles and machine guns which a shooter can trigger remotely with the push of a button.

Remotely-operated guns are common in militaries around the world. The United States has thousands of them mounted on tanks and other armored vehicles. The U.S. Marine Corps is testing a smaller machine-gun robot called MAARS, and other gun-bots have appeared in South Korea, Israel and Russia.

But their adoption by rebel groups is an innovation arising from an intermingling of war, cheap personal computers and cameras. The devices typically use cables to hook up the guns to control stations. Aside from the gun, a complete setup only costs a few hundred bucks worth of off-the-shelf components and some technical skills.

After that, it’s just a matter of swiveling the now-teleoperated gun with a joystick, gamepad or a keyboard and triggering the firing mechanism…

While the weapons are hardly new to the Syrian battlefield, an August report published by the U.S. Army’s Foreign Military Studies Office listed 20 distinct teleoperated weapons spotted in Iraq and Syria which can be traced to specific armed factions.

The consequences extend beyond the battlefield, as it’s usually only a matter of time before weapons of war filter back to the civilian world.

…It’s hard to see insurgents matching the scale by which states can deploy teleoperated guns. The weapons in Syria and Iraq are custom made, not mass produced. And armies have a lot more money to spend on research and development.

Still, that insurgents are nonetheless crafting their own versions is something the U.S. military should worry about as an emerging matter of fact in modern warfare.

I imagine there are stores retailing drones which can be adapted for geek death squads in just about every country in the world. Add that to the mix.

Indoors or outdoors – but especially indoors – the Pentagon’s newest scout is an autonomous drone

❝ There is little detail in the $1 million contract..The award, from the Army, but through the Pentagon’s brand-new tech-focused “Defense Innovation Unit Experimental” DIUx, is for a nine-month “prototype project in the area of Autonomous Tactical Airborne Drones.” Two other salient features stand out in the little, obligatory blurb attached to the notice. The contract comes from the Naval Special Warfare Command, which mostly oversees Navy SEALs, and the contract was awarded to Shield AI.

❝ What, exactly, will the “Autonomous Tactical Airborne Drones” do? Judging by video from Shield AI, it looks like they’ll fly into unknown airspace, inside of buildings…

❝ The quadcopters, which appear to be modified commercial models with extra sensors attached, are exploring buildings, mapping the insides of spaces, and then transmitting that information back to humans who may soon need to go into that building. That’s useful for fighting in a building, which is a staple task of special warfare units.

And no one in the building, presumably, will notice this critter flying around, eh?

Your bank was offline for 10 hours and it was caused by what? WTF?

hard_disk_head_top
Click to enlarge

❝ ING Bank’s main data center in Bucharest, Romania, was severely damaged over the weekend during a fire extinguishing test. In what is a very rare but known phenomenon, it was the loud sound of inert gas being released that destroyed dozens of hard drives. The site is currently offline and the bank relies solely on its backup data center, located within a couple of miles’ proximity.

“The drill went as designed, but we had collateral damage”, ING’s spokeswoman said…

❝ The purpose of the drill was to see how the data center’s fire suppression system worked. Data centers typically rely on inert gas to protect the equipment in the event of a fire, as the substance does not chemically damage electronics…The gas is stored in cylinders, and is released at high velocity out of nozzles uniformly spread across the data center.

According to people familiar with the system, the pressure at ING Bank’s data center was higher than expected, and produced a loud sound – think about the noise a steam engine releases – The bank monitored the sound and it was very loud, a source familiar with the system told us. It was as high as their equipment could monitor, over 130dB”.

❝ Sound means vibration, and this is what damaged the hard drives. The HDD cases started to vibrate, and the vibration was transmitted to the read/write heads, causing them to go off the data tracks.

In ING Bank’s case, it was “like putting a storage system next to a [running] jet engine,”

❝ The Bank said it required 10 hours to restart its operation due to the magnitude and the complexity of the damage…Over the next few weeks, every single piece of equipment will need to be assessed. ING Bank’s main data center is compromised “for the most part”

A catastrophic failover to the backup data center. Phew! That’s a helluva noise.

Boeing gets $2 Billion in bonuses for failed missile defense system

❝ From 2002 through early last year, the Pentagon conducted 11 flight tests of the nation’s homeland missile defense system. The interceptors failed to destroy their targets in six of the 11 tests — a record that has prompted independent experts to conclude the system cannot be relied on to foil a nuclear strike by North Korea or Iran. Yet, as The LA Times reports, over that same time span, Boeing, the Pentagon’s prime contractor, collected nearly $2 billion in performance bonuses for a job well done…

❝ An LA Times investigation by David Willman also found that the criteria for the yearly bonuses were changed at some point to de-emphasize the importance of test results that demonstrate the system’s ability to intercept and destroy incoming warheads.

Early on, Boeing’s contract specified that bonuses would be based primarily on “hit to kill success” in flight tests. In later years, the words “hit to kill” were removed in favor of more generally phrased benchmarks, contract documents show.

❝ L.David Montague, co-chair of a National Academy of Sciences panel that documented shortcomings with GMD, called the $2 billion in bonuses “mind-boggling,” given the system’s performance…

The cumulative total of bonuses paid to Boeing has not been made public before. The Times obtained details about the payments through a lawsuit it filed against the Defense Department under the Freedom of Information Act…

❝ By relying on bonuses, Montague said, the missile agency has effectively told Boeing: “We don’t know what we’re doing, but we’ll decide it together and then you’ve got to work toward maximizing your fee by concentrating on those areas.”

Um, where can I get a job like that?

Xcel rooftop solar settlement a step forward — we hope


Denver Post file photo

❝ Battles over electricity rates and rooftop solar have raged across the country, with at least 28 utilities in 18 states attempting to boost customer charges and change the rules of the game. But in Colorado a settlement reached last month could offer a model for the nation…

How Xcel’s new approach will play out is still not clear. Some pilot programs will need to test the new model, but it appears the settlement is good news for Colorado’s investment in renewable energy, particularly for solar. However, while the settlement deals with rates and renewable energy, it will also be dependent on another Xcel initiative to upgrade its grid and to install 21st century meters in homes at a cost to customers of $500 million.

These moves are part of Xcel’s efforts to chart a path through an environment in which the utility industry faces greater technological change and financial uncertainty than it has in more than a century. Given the popular appetite for renewable sources, such infrastructure upgrades appear well-suited to that mission, so we look forward to seeing what the pilot programs tell us, and obviously hope the findings suggest a way to keep rates low for hard-working families.

❝ The settlement lays to rest the battle over rooftop solar and net metering, the credit that owners of solar arrays get for putting kilowatt-hours on the grid. Xcel had sought to pare the credit, but under this agreement, net metering stands and Xcel has made a commitment to expand rooftop installations and shared community solar gardens. Both the solar industry and advocates understandably see this as a victory.

Xcel also agreed to abandon an attempt to add an extra fixed charge to every bill and focused instead on pilot programs that charge users according to when or how they use energy throughout the day. Critics of the plan noted that a fixed charge provided little incentive for conservation, and tying price to use tends to make sense — at least for those who work the day shift.

❝ Xcel says that the average household will see about a $1.70 drop in their monthly bill for now. But down the road, time-of-use rates that are anticipated to supplant the current rates could lead to big changes.

Time-of-use rates in theory allow for better management of the electricity system and the ability to avoid building excess generating capacity. There is, however, little experience nationally with residential time-of-use charges. Before the PUC approves a wholesale rate change, a careful assessment of the impacts and unintended consequences must be made.

Time-of-use rates fit nicely into the concept of smart homes. And doesn’t require pain-in-the-butt rewiring in the age of wifi. Secure systems? Yes.

Xcel has a reputation for being more forward-thinking and modern than their peers in the Rockies and the Southwest. Compared to our so-called public utility here in New Mexico, they are a combination of Buck Rogers and Bernie Sanders. Do they deserve the credit? Damned if I know. PNM is my only choice at the moment.

What can I look forward to from the new standards set? Dunno. In New Mexico we still rely on a state commission to negotiate with public utilities. Generally from a kneeling position. Oversight provided by the Roundhouse – our state legislature which has at least a half-dozen principled, knowledgeable members out of a much larger number of drones divided into the usual two factions of the same old uninspiring anthill.

Poisonally, I’m counting on continued technological advancement in both solar panels and batteries to allow us to switch affordably into solar and off the grid entirely. Sooner or later.

Moored at sea, generating electricity off the island of Texel


Click to enlargeDamen

Taking just six months from the drawing board to realisation, the BlueTEC Texel tidal energy platform was installed in the summer of 2015 and is operating off the island of Texel in the Netherlands. The prototype is producing electricity from the tides into the local grid.

BlueTEC Modular was designed by Damen to be transported and installed all over in the world to provide clean energy in remote areas and small islands, replacing diesel generators.

Just before the end of 2015, the platform was fitted with a more powerful Tocardo T2 turbine and, in early 2016, the platform was commissioned with a larger T2 tidal turbine. Currently the platform generates clean electricity from the tides in the Wadden Sea of The Netherlands.

Six months start-to-finish. Replacing a diesel-powered generator. How long do you think this would take to design, approve through local, state and federal government, construct and put in place — here in the GOUSA?

Uh-huh.

China’s quantum satellite is designed to teleport data and create an unbreakable code


China’s quantum satellite launched from Jiuquan, August 16thReuters/China Daily

A few days ago, China launched the world’s first quantum satellite. So what exactly does this mean?

“The satellite is designed to establish ultra-secure quantum communications by transmitting uncrackable keys from space to the ground,” Xinhua, China’s state news agency, wrote after the equipment was launched on a rocket from the Gobi desert. “It could also conduct experiments on the bizarre features of quantum theories, such as entanglement.”…

Most human technology is built around the classical physics that Isaac Newton and his inheritors came up with…When engineers hit on electricity…they perceived it in aggregate as a kind of a force; it’s either on, or it’s off. This understanding led to electric switches, which became transistors, and when you put all those transistors in a box and start turning them off and on with instructions encoded “11010001101”… it’s a computer.

But as scientists were developing electric computers in the 20th century, theorists beginning with Max Planck were ripping up the rule books. Their experiments with light suggested that something about classical physics didn’t quite add up. Soon they developed mathematical proofs to explain that the tiny particles that make up matter — protons, neutrons, and electrons — don’t necessarily behave like you would expect particles to behave. They can act as if they are in two plac es at once, for instance…This is quantum theory. The first and most famous application of these ideas came in nuclear weaponry and energy.

Physicists are still trying to agree on how classical and quantum physics come together coherently. But quantum theory already underlies a lot of modern technology; the transistors on a silicon chip, in fact, wouldn’t work without it. Now engineers are trying to apply it to more futuristic things…

Scientists have done experiments with quantum teleportation already. They have instantaneously exchanged information about the quantum states of photons, which are particles of light, transmitted 143 km between two of the Canary Islands.

But testing quantum teleportation at extremely long distances requires going to space. It’s the easiest way to set up laser communication between two distant points on the earth’s surface. That’s what the Chinese satellite, developed in cooperation with the Austrian Academy of Science, intends to do.

Besides demonstrating a super-long entanglement, the scientists working with the satellite want to test new communications technology…This is where the unbreakable code comes in…

It may be easy to see in this shades of the Cold War race for technological dominance, but Spiros Michalakis at CalTech is confident that research will be shared within the scientific community. His hope is that this experiment is the first step toward a global network of research facilities sharing access to entangled particles beamed down from space—a kind of global, cloud-based quantum computer.

At the moment, though, it’s China that looks like the pacesetter.

I expect China’s scientists will share the main body of their research. It’s only human to expect the leading edge bits and pieces may be held aside as processes and experiments are worked out. Completed experiments will be published for peer review. That’s where science is moved forward – along with specialized conferences and convocations. Conservative steps tread the stairways of real science.

OTOH, do I think White House and Pentagon eggheads and Congressional know-nothings will start to panic over a “Quantum Gap”? You betcha!

“Big Brother is finally here” — starting in Baltimore


Bloomberg Businessweek

cSince January, police have been testing an aerial surveillance system adapted from the surge in Iraq. And they neglected to tell the public.

The sky over the Circuit Court for Baltimore City on June 23 was the color of a dull nickel, and a broad deck of lowering clouds threatened rain. A couple dozen people with signs—“Justice 4 Freddie Gray”…lingered by the corner of the courthouse, watching the network TV crews rehearse their standups. Sheriff’s officers in bulletproof vests clustered around the building’s doors, gripping clubs with both hands.

Inside, a judge was delivering the verdict in the case of Caesar Goodson, the only Baltimore police officer facing a murder charge for the death of Freddie Gray…

The verdict trickled out of the courthouse in text messages: not guilty, all counts. Ralph Pritchett Sr…stood on the sidewalk among the protesters…In a city with more than 700 street-level police cameras, he wondered, shouldn’t the authorities have had video of Gray’s ride?

“This whole city is under a siege of cameras,” said Pritchett…

Pritchett had no idea that as he spoke, a small Cessna airplane equipped with a sophisticated array of cameras was circling Baltimore at roughly the same altitude as the massing clouds. The plane’s wide-angle cameras captured an area of roughly 30 square miles and continuously transmitted real-time images to analysts on the ground. The footage from the plane was instantly archived and stored on massive hard drives, allowing analysts to review it weeks later if necessary.

Since the beginning of the year, the Baltimore Police Department had been using the plane to investigate all sorts of crimes, from property thefts to shootings. The Cessna sometimes flew above the city for as many as 10 hours a day, and the public had no idea it was there.

A company called Persistent Surveillance Systems, based in Dayton, Ohio, provided the service to the police, and the funding came from a private donor. No public disclosure of the program had ever been made…

A half block from the city’s central police station, in a spare office suite above a parking garage, Ross McNutt, the founder of Persistent Surveillance Systems, monitored the city’s reaction to the Goodson verdict by staring at a bank of computer monitors…

McNutt is an Air Force Academy graduate, physicist, and MIT-trained astronautical engineer who in 2004 founded the Air Force’s Center for Rapid Product Development. The Pentagon asked him if he could develop something to figure out who was planting the roadside bombs that were killing and maiming American soldiers in Iraq. In 2006 he gave the military Angel Fire, a wide-area, live-feed surveillance system that could cast an unblinking eye on an entire city…

McNutt retired from the military in 2007 and modified the technology for commercial development…

Almost everything about the surveillance program feels hush-hush; the city hasn’t yet acknowledged its existence, and the police department declined requests for interviews about the program…

McNutt says he’s sure his system can withstand a public unveiling and that the more people know about what his cameras can—and can’t—do, the fewer worries they’ll have. But the police ultimately decide who and what should be tracked. In a city that’s struggled to convince residents that its police can be trusted, the arguments are now Baltimore’s to make.

RTFA. It’s long and detailed. It makes the case for tracking down and arresting lawbreakers. The police love it. Every law-abiding citizen should love it.

How far do you trust police and politicians to go with the technology?

I have no more problem with this than I do with public CCTV. Identified as such. However, the regulation and oversight of this tech – like any other means of spying on the bad guys – must include protection for ordinary citizens within constitutional boundaries. Of course.