Jim Downey's picture

R.A.H. would smile even more.

Not quite a year ago I wrote about the Raytheon Sarcos powered exoskeleton, which was a major step towards the Powered Armor of Heinlein's Starship Troopers. Well, now there's some competition:


Dismounted Soldiers often carry heavy combat loads that increase the stress on the body leading to potential injuries. With a HULC exoskeleton, these loads are transferred to the ground through powered titanium legs without loss of mobility.

Paul Fidalgo's picture

Satan and the NSA

Our good friend Jake Jones the Evangelical Examiner, in a piece explaining what he calls the "Angry Atheist Syndrome" with his usual wit and depth of understanding, actually gives us a valuable insight into the bureaucratic workings of the next world:

Greedy prayers always go unanswered. If a greedy prayer is answered, then we must ask the tough question; "did the answered prayer come from God or Satan"? More than likely, Satan had something to do with it.

Holy crap! If Satan is answering a lot of prayers intended for God Himself, you know what that means, don't you?

Satan has wiretapping clearance.

So learn from Avon Barksdale's crew, folks, and use code next time you chat with the Almighty.

Jim Downey's picture

"You're in the desert, you see a tortoise lying on its back, struggling, and you're not helping -- why is that?"*

So, according to FOX News, our friends at the Department of Homeland Security will soon have a new trick up their sleeve: MALINTENT.

Homeland Security Detects Terrorist Threats by Reading Your Mind

Baggage searches are SOOOOOO early-21st century. Homeland Security is now testing the next generation of security screening — a body scanner that can read your mind.

Most preventive screening looks for explosives or metals that pose a threat. But a new system called MALINTENT turns the old school approach on its head. This Orwellian-sounding machine detects the person — not the device — set to wreak havoc and terror.

MALINTENT, the brainchild of the cutting-edge Human Factors division in Homeland Security's directorate for Science and Technology, searches your body for non-verbal cues that predict whether you mean harm to your fellow passengers.

Jim Downey's picture


OK, I spent *way* too much time playing this game last night: Orbitrunner. And because I'm the kind of guy that I am, I wanted to inflict it on you.

It's actually a very interesting bit of gaming, for as simple as seems at first glance. Here's the description from the site:

Control the Sun with your mouse. Use it to manipulate the planets' paths. The Sun's pull gets stronger as planets get closer. If the gravity is at a right angle to the direction of travel, an orbit can form. Make sure planets don't leave the screen or collide!

Jim Downey's picture

For no reason at all.

In May, Bruce Schneier wrote this:

Crossing Borders with Laptops and PDAs

Last month a US court ruled that border agents can search your laptop, or any other electronic device, when you're entering the country. They can take your computer and download its entire contents, or keep it for several days. Customs and Border Patrol has not published any rules regarding this practice, and I and others have written a letter to Congress urging it to investigate and regulate this practice.

Well, we now know the response:

Travelers' Laptops May Be Detained At Border
No Suspicion Required Under DHS Policies

Jim Downey's picture

Oh, *this* is good.

The Washington Times ran an interesting story last week:

Want some torture with your peanuts?

Just when you thought you’ve heard it all...

A senior government official with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has expressed great interest in a so-called safety bracelet that would serve as a stun device, similar to that of a police Taser®. According to this promotional video found at the Lamperd Less Lethal, Inc. website, the bracelet would be worn by all airline passengers (video also shown below).

This bracelet would:

• Take the place of an airline boarding pass

• Contain personal information about the traveler

• Be able to monitor the whereabouts of each passenger and his/her luggage

• Shock the wearer on command, completely immobilizing him/her for several minutes

Jim Downey's picture

Confession Time: Technological Ineptitude Edition.

OK, Kiddies, gather round - it's time to confess your sins and receive absolution once again!

Today's topic: technological ineptitude.

A lot of people expect me to be tech savvy, what with being a SF author and all. But the truth is, I tend to be a late-adopter. For the most part, a computer or cell phone or MP3 player that is one iteration behind the curve is good enough for me.

My stereo system is 15 years old. My computer is 7. Forgive me, for I have sinned against being a good consumer.

Actually, I will probably get a new computer system before the summer is out. It's finally time. There's a good local small business that builds systems to suit at reasonable prices that my wife has worked with for years (she's much more tech savvy than I am). I'll tell them my needs, let them put together a decent system for me.

One thing I have been considering is making the jump to an Open Source OS, since those have now become more user-fondling. Anyone want to offer opinions on this?

Jim Downey

(And there, I just posted blog #1958 - the year I was born!)

Jim Downey's picture

Nails it.

OK, if I was smart enough to post the actual cartoon, I would. But since I seem to be computer illiterate this morning, for now I'll just direct you to today's Cectic strip. He nails perfectly.

Oh, and if Brent wants to put the image in, this blathering can go.

(Nah... We love your blathering, Jim! :) -Brent)

Jim Downey

Jim Downey's picture

The Woo of Tech.

Man, I loves me some Star Trek technobabble as much as the next guy. But get a load of this:

Amazon.com Product Description
Get the purest digital audio you've ever experienced from multi-channel DVD and CD playback through your Denon home theater receiver with the AK-DL1 dedicated cable. Made of high-purity copper wire, it's designed to thoroughly eliminate adverse effects from vibration and helps stabilize the digital transmission from occurrences of jitter and ripple. A tin-bearing copper alloy is used for the cable's shield while the insulation is made of a fluoropolymer material with superior heat resistance, weather resistance, and anti-aging properties. The connector features a rounded plug lever to prevent bending or breaking and direction marks to indicate correct direction for connecting cable.

And it can be yours for the low, low price of $499.99.

Seriously. A $5 ethernet cable.

Jim Downey's picture

Would you?

So, a fascinating interview with Douglas Richard Hofstadter last year, now translated into English. In it, he makes the following comments concerning Ray Kurzweil's notion of achieving effective immortality by 'uploading' a personality into a machine hardware:

I think Ray Kurzweil is terrified by his own mortality and deeply longs to avoid death. I understand this obsession of his and am even somehow touched by its ferocious intensity, but I think it badly distorts his vision. As I see it, Kurzweil's desperate hopes seriously cloud his scientific objectivity.

Jim Downey's picture

R.A.H. would smile.

Yeah, ol' Robert would get a chuckle out of this news item:

Robotic suit could usher in super soldier era

Rex Jameson bikes and swims regularly, and plays tennis and skis when time allows. But the 5-foot-11, 180-pound software engineer is lucky if he presses 200 pounds — that is, until he steps into an "exoskeleton" of aluminum and electronics that multiplies his strength and endurance as many as 20 times.

* * *

Jameson — who works for robotics firm Sarcos Inc. in Salt Lake City, which is under contract with the U.S. Army — is helping assess the 150-pound suit's viability for the soldiers of tomorrow. The suit works by sensing every movement the wearer makes and almost instantly amplifying it.

The Army believes soldiers may someday wear the suits in combat, but it's focusing for now on applications such as loading cargo or repairing heavy equipment. Sarcos is developing the technology under a two-year contract worth up to $10 million, and the Army plans initial field tests next year.

Jim Downey's picture

But think of the convenience!

One of the things that I predict for my novel is that over time we will introduce personal 'experts' - advanced Expert Systems or Artificial Intelligence - which will act as a buffer between the individual and a technological world. We will enter into a trade-off: allow our 'expert' to function as an old-fashioned butler, knowing all of our secrets but guarding them closely, in order to then interact with the rest of the world. So, your expert would know your preferences on entertainment and books, handle your communications and banking, maintain some minimal privacy for you by being a "black box" which negotiates with other people and machines on your behalf.

Why do I think that this will happen? Why will it be necessary?

Because increasingly, in the name of 'convenience', both government and industry are seeking to become more intrusive in our lives, all the way down to the level of what happens inside our homes. People want the convenience, but are starting to become increasingly aware of what the price of the trade-off will be. The latest example:

Jim Downey's picture

"Yesterday, Tomorrow, and You."

I think this will be of interest to some of the folks here, though since I wrote it for my own blog and pertaining to my novel, I feel a little awkward about posting it to the front page.

Jim D.


I've mentioned previously the work of science historian James Burke. This past weekend I finished watching the last couple of episodes of his ground-breaking series Connections. Overall, you would probably enjoy watching the series, and will find a lot of chuckles over what was "high tech" in 1978 versus the reality of what we have today. But the closing bit was just stunning - it was a prediction of the need for and use of the Internet before DARPA had even begun to let the cat out of the bag. Here's the last ten minutes:

Jim Downey's picture

The miracle of lights.

"How's it going?"

"I'm almost done," answered my wife, from the step ladder. She had been out on the front porch, hanging the 'icicle' lights she likes around the perimeter of the roof. "But this one section of lights just won't work!"

"Bulb out?" I offered, looking at the dark 18" section.

"Yeah, maybe. I tried fussing with the bulbs to see if one was loose." She got down from the step ladder, looked back at her handywork. "Oh well, too many to try and figure out which one."

"Well, this string is a couple of years old. These things were what, all of $5.19 or some such? Can't expect them to last."

"Yeah, I suppose. We'll get new ones next year. I am not taking these down and putting up a different set just because that one little bit is dark."

"Fine with me. Let's go in - dinner's almost ready."

We folded up the ladder, grabbed the box for the lights and went inside. It was ten days before Christmas. Because of other things going on here, we've been a bit slow with all our holiday decorations and shopping stuff this year.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Jim Downey's picture

"Is that a tracking device in your pocket, or are you just happy to let the Feds know where you are?"

I'm always surprised when people *don't* know the limitations and liabilities of the technology they take for granted. Take for example this Washington Post story about cellphone tracking:

Cellphone Tracking Powers on Request
Secret Warrants Granted Without Probable Cause

Federal officials are routinely asking courts to order cellphone companies to furnish real-time tracking data so they can pinpoint the whereabouts of drug traffickers, fugitives and other criminal suspects, according to judges and industry lawyers.

In some cases, judges have granted the requests without requiring the government to demonstrate that there is probable cause to believe that a crime is taking place or that the inquiry will yield evidence of a crime. Privacy advocates fear such a practice may expose average Americans to a new level of government scrutiny of their daily lives.

Gee, ya think?

Jim Downey's picture

"Massively unconstitutional."

If you haven't really been following the latest on the Telecom Immunity/Domestic Spying efforts by the Bush Administration, or even if you just were busy yesterday, you might want to check out what former AT&T technician and wiretapping whistle-blower Mark Klein has had to say on the matter. In particular, Senator Dodd has posted a 2 minute YouTube summary from Klein that'll give some idea of the scope of the surveillance. And in a discussion on NPR's All Things Considered yesterday, Klein goes into some detail about why he claims that AT&T was basically spying on each and every one of us who uses the internet to surf, post, or send email...before 9/11. It was, as he says in the YouTube summation, "Massively Unconstitutional".

Jim Downey's picture

Please, someone tell me this is a joke.

Seriously - this is like something out of a comedy sketch:

FBI Hoped to Follow Falafel Trail to Iranian Terrorists Here

Like Hansel and Gretel hoping to follow their bread crumbs out of the forest, the FBI sifted through customer data collected by San Francisco-area grocery stores in 2005 and 2006, hoping that sales records of Middle Eastern food would lead to Iranian terrorists.

The idea was that a spike in, say, falafel sales, combined with other data, would lead to Iranian secret agents in the south San Francisco-San Jose area.

Here's an even better idea for the FBI/NSA/Omega Sector: just plant RFID tags in the falafel mix. Then they can trace exactly who buys it, follow them around after they've consumed it, and even know what bathroom facilities they like to use. Man, you could set up monitoring equipment to record their bowel movements!


Jim Downey

Jim Downey's picture

Hello, Skynet!

You think you get frustrated when your computer acts up? How do you think the guys who were on the receiving end of 500 rounds of 35mm explosive anti-aircraft fire feel? From Wired's Danger Room blog:

We're not used to thinking of them this way. But many advanced military weapons are essentially robotic -- picking targets out automatically, slewing into position, and waiting only for a human to pull the trigger. Most of the time. Once in a while, though, these machines start firing mysteriously on their own. The South African National Defence Force "is probing whether a software glitch led to an antiaircraft cannon malfunction that killed nine soldiers and seriously injured 14 others during a shooting exercise on Friday."

Jim Downey's picture

The ultimate data back-up plan.

Pretty much everyone has had the experience of having your computer crash and take out data you hadn't backed-up properly. Whether it is some kind of hardware failure, or a virus, or a lighting strike, or even a malicious employee/spouse/whomever, at some point we have all lost stuff on a computer we thought was secure. If you're *really* lucky, you don't lose much, and you learn the painful lesson about keeping important information properly backed-up on recoverable media. If you're not really lucky, you learn the hard way that you can lose years of hard work in just an instant, with no recovery possible.

And that's the basic idea behind building a secure storage facility for the bulk of human knowledge, and perhaps even humanity itself, off-planet. The people behind the newly formed Alliance to Rescue Civilization want to do just that:

'Lunar Ark' Proposed in Case of Deadly Impact on Earth

Jim Downey's picture

"Are you with me, Doctor Woo?*"

(*with apologies to Steely Dan)

So, a couple days ago, I was hitting some of my usual haunts, and on MeFi came across a link to something truly amazing: the most advanced personal energy system available today!

Personal energy system? Huh? Some kind of new sports drink? Maybe a reworked diet fad? Or a new way to charge your, uh, personal massagers?

Nope. They're talking Sympathetic Resonance Technology! Wow! Even the name is impressively scientifical! What is Sympathetic Resonance Technology? I'm glad you asked:

The Q-Link’s fundamental technology can be understood by imagining a tuning fork that vibrates at a certain pitch. Similarly, the Q-Link’s Sympathetic Resonant Technology™ (SRT™) is tuned to optimize the human energy system through resonance. As it interacts with your biofield, it leads to a rebalancing and restoration according to your individual needs.

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