The Principality of Sealand and data haven?
Seven miles off the English coast and just 24 feet above the roiling waves of the North Sea is the Principality of Sealand. The nation’s total area amounts to just 120 x 50 feet, but its occupier and “ruler” since 1966, Major Paddy Royal Bates, has had outsized dreams for his former military platform out in the sea. Once, it was the home of HavenCo, that company that billed itself as a “data haven,” the Switzerland of data centers.
HavenCo was supposedly to be the home of businesses who didn’t want governments minding their business: porn, anonymous currencies, governments in exile. When Fox News reported that WikiLeaks was moving its servers to Sealand, it certainly seemed fitting but, alas, turned out to be just speculation. That led us to Ars Technica, where law professor James Grimmelmann has written what is probably the definitive history of Sealand and HavenCo, and it is a thrilling read. A few snippets from nation’s short history include a pirate radio broadcaster hurling Molotov cocktails, press wars over “marooned children,” and coup led by a former diamond dealer (possibly staged).
Perusing Google Earth’s quilt of aerial images is good for hours of stalkerish fun (Find your house! Find your ex’s house!). But every now and then, Google’s geo toy can also bend the fabric of reality—literally:
Something’s wrong with this picture…
“Phishing” is the word used for the now-ubiquitous scams that try to pry money and personal information out of anybody being careless online. “Spear-phishing” is the term used for the more artful and dangerous practice of directed scams—the kind that can steal $8 million with a single email. Which is exactly what happened recently to magazine publisher Condé Nast.
It all started with an email last November from a man allegedly named Andy Surface to the accounts payable department of Condé Nast, which publishes Wired, Vogue, and many other popular magazines. The email provided a bank account number and asked Condé Nast to send its printing payments to the new account from now on. Because this new account was for Quad Graph, and Condé Nast’s printer is a company called Quad/Graphics, everything looked legitimate, which is why a company employee signed the request and began funneling payments.
When it comes to redemption stories, gaming consoles aren’t usually the first items to come to mind (or even on the list). But the Xbox 360 has made a surprising comeback in Japan after last month’s tsunami swept over 5,000 consoles out to sea: One company has deployed Xbox’s hand-held controllers to help maneuver robots at the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.
Meet the Talon robots, which were sent to Japan by a Virginia-based tech company called QinetiQ North America. With Xbox pad in hand, Fukushima workers can now remotely drive these robust bots around the plant, where it would be far too dangerous for human workers to go. Without putting themselves in danger, operators can peer into the darkest parts of the plant using Talon’s night-vision cameras. They can also gauge the temperature and air quality around the plant, as well as identify over 7,500 hazardous substances using the robots’ chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive (CBRNE) detection kits (as long as they’re within the robot’s over-3,000-foot operating range).
Some song-lovers may say that music’s in their genes. One young British boffin goes a step further by putting music in his jeans: he wears the world’s first pants-borne, playable electronic drum kit, complete with eight different drum sounds. And just so those pants aren’t lonely, another group of engineers has figured out a way to print sensors onto plastic, possibly making way for commercialized yoga mat drums (did somebody order that?) and more drums made out of things that aren’t drums.
The bloke inside the drummable jeans is Aseem Mishra, a 17-year-old British student who nabbed this year’s Young Engineer Of Great Britain award. His invention allows people to perform drum solos on their legs (video) by tapping eight paper-thin sensors sewn into the back of the fabric. The prototype must be plugged into a loudspeaker-toting backpack to make noise; Mishra says future models won’t be tied down like that.
It sounds like the deranged words of a conspiracy theorist: The U.S. military is (not so) secretly creating software that’ll generate phony online personae in order to subtly influence social media conversations and spread propaganda. But what may sound like wacky theory is actually wacky reality, or at least will soon be, depending on whether it’s already in the works.
Dubbed the “online persona management service,” this technology would enable a single soldier to assume upwards of 10 different identities. As United States Central Command Commander Bill Speaks told The Guardian, “The technology supports classified blogging activities on foreign-language websites to enable Centcom to counter violent extremist and enemy propaganda outside the US.”
Once developed, the software could allow US service personnel, working around the clock in one location, to respond to emerging online conversations with any number of co-ordinated messages, blogposts, chatroom posts and other interventions. Details of the contract suggest this location would be MacDill air force base near Tampa, Florida, home of US Special Operations Command. [The Guardian]
Said to be part of the Operation Earnest Voice (OEV) program, a psychological warfare weapon first used in Iraq to counter al-Qaida’s online followers, the goal of this latest project is twofold: To argue against extremist propaganda and to make sure “the world according to the U.S.” is heard. As General James Mattis told a Senate committee: “OEV seeks to disrupt recruitment and training of suicide bombers; deny safe havens for our adversaries; and counter extremist ideology and propaganda.” He added that Centcom was working with “our coalition partners” to develop new techniques and tactics the US could use “to counter the adversary in the cyber domain”. Read More
Back in the 1960s when mainframe computers filled entire rooms, the idea of sticking a computer in someone’s eye would likely have sounded ridiculous–but that’s just what scientists are planning to do. Researchers have unveiled an implantable computer system that’s meant to monitor glaucoma patients’ eye pressure.
The University of Michigan researchers say it’s officially the world’s smallest computer. Measuring less than 0.04 inches long (or a little over one cubic millimeter), the entire computer packs a lot into a little space: It has a pressure sensor, a low-power microprocessor, a wireless radio and antenna that sends information to an external device, a battery, and a solar cell to charge the battery. It can store information for up to a week, and the system can link with other devices to form networks of wireless sensors.
According to Live Science, millimeter-scale computers are a new technological frontier:
The robotic ears of the U.S. Army just got an upgrade: now robots don’t have to be right next to a wall to detect humans breathing on the other side.
The … Cougar20-H “can … be remotely programmed at multiple way points to scan the desired premise in a multi-story building and provide its layout,” TiaLinx boasted.
The remote-controlled robot could save lives as troops battle insurgents in Afghanistan and other regions because it allows them to ‘see’ who’s inside a building before they physically enter. And there’s the possibility that it could be used to fight human trafficking or to help with rescue missions.
Have you ever wondered why woodpeckers don’t pass out after scrounging a meal from a tree? Their little brains, after all, undergo decelerations of 1200g as they bang their beaks against the wood–over ten times the force needed to give a human a concussion. Now scientists are learning how to harness the woodpecker’s special abilities not to prevent headaches, but to safeguard our gadgets.
Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, analyzed CT scans and video footage of the golden-fronted woodpecker (Melanerpes aurifons) to design better shock absorbers. They found that woodpeckers have four traits that ease their noggins: fluid between the skull and brain, a beak that is slightly elastic, a section of soft skull bone, and a bone called the hyoid, or lingual bone, which is also somewhat elastic.
The scientists then constructed a woodpecker-inspired shock-absorbing system around a circuit using materials that approximated the bird’s four absorbers. For example, rubber represented the supportive and slightly-elastic nature of the hyoid bone, while aluminum mimicked the brain-skull fluid. With the circuit securely surrounded, they stuffed it inside a bullet and fired the bullet at an aluminum wall using an air gun.
Can you tell the difference between Jonagold, Braeburn, and Cortland apples? Your grocery store’s self-checkout machine can–or at least it’ll be able to in the next few years as Toshiba perfects the software for the self-checkouts of the future.
This futuristic machine uses a webcam to perceive the shape and color of fruits, vegetables, and other non-barcoded items, and then it uses an algorithm to pick the best candidate within its database. Shoppers have the ability to OK the machine’s decision if it’s right, or to correct it if it’s wrong. And the scary thing? The machine learns from its mistakes. From New Scientist:
“This system gets smarter as you use it more,” says Kubota. He says recent tests showed it was able to recognise produce even when it was placed in a clear plastic bag. Still, it is not perfect yet. Naoki Mukawa at Tokyo Denki University warns that users could take advantage of the re-educating mechanism to allow the wrong identification to go through because the mistaken product might be cheaper.
That’s not the only hurdle. New Scientist found a skeptic in Keiji Yanai, a researcher at Tokyo’s University of Electro-Communications:
He says this type of object recognition system is more difficult to perfect than facial recognition technology, as it is harder to distinguish between generic objects. Similar ideas designed to identify products without barcodes have never made it to market in the past, he adds.
And though it’s a work in progress, there is nevertheless a time line: Toshiba has plans to introduce these smart self-checkout counters by 2014. Until then, you still have to scroll through oodles of images to find your match, or else visit that contraption of carbon and water otherwise known as a human being.
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Image: flickr / jaygooby