U.S. Has Secret Tools to Force Internet on Dictators

via Danger Room on 2/7/11

When Hosni Mubarak shut down Egypt’s internet and cellphone communications, it seemed that all U.S. officials could do was ask him politely to change his mind. But the American military does have a second set of options, if it ever wants to force connectivity on a country against its ruler’s wishes.

There’s just one wrinkle. “It could be considered an act of war,” says John Arquilla, a leading military futurist.

The U.S. military has no shortage of devices — many of them classified — that could restore connectivity to a restive populace cut off from the outside world by its rulers. It’s an attractive option for policymakers who want an option for future Egypts, between doing nothing and sending in the Marines. And it might give teeth to the Obama administration’s demand that foreign governments consider internet access an inviolable human right.

Arquilla, a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School, spent years urging the military to logic-bomb adversary websites, disrupt hostile online presences, and even cause communications blackouts to separate warring factions before they go nuclear. What the military can turn off, he says, it can also turn on — or at least fill dead airspace.

Consider the Commando Solo, the Air Force’s airborne broadcasting center. A revamped cargo plane, the Commando Solo beams out psychological operations in AM and FM for radio, and UHF and VHF for TV. Arquilla doesn’t want to go into detail how the classified plane could get a denied internet up and running again, but if it flies over a bandwidth-denied area, suddenly your Wi-Fi bars will go back up to full strength.

“We have both satellite- and nonsatellite-based assets that can come in and provide access points to get people back online,” Arquilla says. “Some of it is done from ships. You could have a cyber version of pirate radio.”

Then there are cell towers in the sky. The military already uses its aircraft as communications relays in places like Afghanistan. Some companies are figuring out upgrades: FastCom, an effort led by the defense firm Textron, is a project that hooks up cellular pods to the belly of a drone, the better to keep cellular and data connections in the air without pilot fatigue. Underneath the drones, a radius of a few kilometers on the ground would have 3G coverage.

Sharon Corona, a spokeswoman for the project, says that there’s an obstacle to using a technology like FastCom for an Egypt-like situation: The recipient devices need to be able to talk with the cell and data signal. But compliant phones or netbooks — small and lightweight — could conceivably be smuggled into a denied area.

Alternatively, operatives could smuggle small satellite dishes into a country. Small dishes were crucial to getting the internet back running in Haiti after last year’s earthquake. It’s how cameramen in war zones rapidly transmit high quality video from the middle of nowhere.

Of course, slow-flying drones or a broadcasting center in the sky have an inherent weakness: They’re sitting ducks for any half-decent air defense system. (And did we mention that Hosni Mubarak became a national hero for his air defense prowess in the 1973 war against Israel?)

That leads to another possibility: “Just give people Thuraya satellite phones,” says John Pike of Globalsecurity.org. The cheapish phones hunt down signals from space hardware.

Even expanding access to the military’s own satellite communications networks is theoretically possible, Arquilla says. But he won’t say more than that: “Let’s just say that’s an area decided at the level of the commander-in-chief.”

In the absence of those options, there’s always the old-school methods of jamming a government’s communication frequencies and broadcasting favorable messages. That’s the Commando Solo’s specialty. “Jamming is something we think about in the context of shooting wars,” says Arquilla, but “it may have its place in social revolutions as well.”

The trouble is, if a government follows Egypt’s lead and turns off the internet, it’s not going to be keen to see a meddling foreign power turn it back on.

That act might not be as provocative as sending in ground troops or dropping bombs. But it’s still an act of what you might call forced online entry — by definition, a hostile one.

In situations like Egypt, siding with an uprising against a longtime ally is a difficult choice, whether analog or digital.

That might be why the military hasn’t done it. Asked about whether the Pentagon would consider deploying mobile connectivity to restore internet access for a social uprising, all a senior official would say is that such a situation was “hypothetical.”

And all that underscores how Egypt’s internet shutoff pushed the poorly defined limits of cyber hostilities. Foreign actors don’t really have a blueprint for responding. The U.S. military “has a great deal of expertise on rebuilding communications network, but that’s … very different when the government is interested in resisting,” Arquilla says. “This is far less an engineering problem and far more a political one.”

Image: Wikimedia

Google London

All Google offices around the world can be characterized by originality and out-of-the-box staff interaction ideas. This particular project was developed by architecture firm Scott Brownrigg and is located in London. As seen on Dezeen, the total space of the office is 40,000 sq ft and the theme behind the design is Brighton beach. Here are further details from Google: “Brightly coloured timber beach huts are meeting rooms and giant colourful dice accommodate individual video conference booths, original dodgem cars and traditional red telephone booths are all work spaces available to staff and visitors. Open plan workstations for all staff are mixed with a few offices, meeting rooms and open break out seating areas and support spaces for printing and IT technical support. Scott Brownrigg Interior Design has designed a fully fitted out gym/shower facility, massage and spa treatment centre, and an Asian Fusion/Sushi restaurant that is free for all staff. What a fantastic way to gain the loyalty of your employees!

Google Office Freshome01 Googles New Vivid Office in London Featuring Telephone Booths, Giant Dice and Beach Huts

Google Office Freshome02 Googles New Vivid Office in London Featuring Telephone Booths, Giant Dice and Beach Huts

Google Office Freshome03 Googles New Vivid Office in London Featuring Telephone Booths, Giant Dice and Beach Huts

Google Office Freshome09 Googles New Vivid Office in London Featuring Telephone Booths, Giant Dice and Beach Huts

Google Office Freshome08 Googles New Vivid Office in London Featuring Telephone Booths, Giant Dice and Beach Huts

Google Office Freshome07 Googles New Vivid Office in London Featuring Telephone Booths, Giant Dice and Beach Huts

Google Office Freshome06 Googles New Vivid Office in London Featuring Telephone Booths, Giant Dice and Beach Huts

Google Office Freshome05 Googles New Vivid Office in London Featuring Telephone Booths, Giant Dice and Beach Huts

Google Office Freshome04 Googles New Vivid Office in London Featuring Telephone Booths, Giant Dice and Beach Huts

Google Office Freshome10 Googles New Vivid Office in London Featuring Telephone Booths, Giant Dice and Beach Huts

Daredevil Space Diver To Leap Toward World’s First Supersonic Free-Fall From…

Here’s Felix Baumgartner’s plan: Float a balloon to 120,000 feet. Jump out. Break the sound barrier. Don’t die. Simple, right?

If Baumgartner, a world famous base jumper and skydiver, pulls off the feat, he’ll set the record for the world’s highest jump and become the first person to break the sound barrier with his body alone. During the jump, he’ll also collect data on how the human body reacts to a fall from such heights, which could be useful for planning orbital escape plans for future space tourists and astronauts.

Dubbed the Red Bull Stratos and sponsored by the energy drink company, the jump will send Baumgartner to the stratosphere in a small space capsule, lifted by a helium-filled balloon. Once he reaches 120,000 feet after three hours of ascension, ground control will give him the “all clear” sign and he’ll pop open the door and jump, as video cameras on the capsule and his suit record his descent. Within 35 seconds or so, Baumgartner will hit supersonic speeds and break the sound barrier. No one really knows what will happen at that point, but the scientists seem confident that he’ll maintain consciousness. He will free fall for roughly six more minutes, pulling his chute at about 5,000 feet and coasting for 15 minutes back to solid ground.

Just what happens to his body as it goes from subsonic to supersonic and back to subsonic speed is of great interest to scientists, and so he’ll be hooked up to an electrocardiogram monitor during the jump. He’ll also be outfitted with accelerometers and GPS units to confirm his acceleration and speed, and from that the stress on his body. But that’s pretty much it for gear-because he’s wearing a pressurized suit filled with 100 percent oxygen, his crew is rightly wary of putting too many electronics and power sources in his suit that could accidentally set him on fire. Any data they collect will then be made public and turned over to the military and NASA.

The plan is to make the jump sometime in 2010. After they complete test jumps at 25,000, 60,000, and 90,000 feet, they’ll watch the Doppler radar and wait for calm weather and then pick the launch location, which for now they can only say will be somewhere in North America. The goal is to drop Baumgartner near the launch site, but even with low wind conditions he could drift some 150 miles away.

But first they have to test all the gear to make sure that it will work as it transitions from the freezing, no-pressure environment at 120,000 feet to the extreme heat of the dive. It’s the same as with any other flight test program, says Jonathan Clark, the team’s medical director (whose work in high-altitude space jumps we profiled in 2007). “Only in this case, Felix Baumgartner is the aircraft.”

Red Bull as put together this video, putting everything into perspective:

Lockheed’s HULC Super-Soldier Exoskeleton Gets More Juice

HULC want longer-lasting batteries!Even the finest super-soldier suit can end up as expensive deadweight if the batteries run out of juice. Lockheed Martin wants to avoid that fate for its robotic exoskeleton by turning to fuel cells that can power the suit for days, The Register reports.

Lockheed’s Human Universal Load Carrier (HULC) is a mechanized frame that allows soldiers to march or even run easily with loads of 200 pounds, as well as squat or kneel without trouble. But the current li-ion batteries supporting the suit typically run down after just a few hours of walking, not to mention running.

That could all change with fuel cells that could sustain 72-hour missions on a single charge, and provide power sockets to spare for military accessories that require their own batteries. Lockheed announced its choice of the Protonex Technology Corporation to develop such fuel cells on Wednesday.

We here at PopSci love our Iron Man suits, and so we’re happy to see longer-lasting versions in the works. After all, it’d be a shame for our robotic warfighters to run down when the Energizer Bunny keeps going on its dinky batteries.

[via The Register]

RCA Airnergy Charger Harvests Electricity From WiFi Signals

via OhGizmo! by Evan Ackerman on 1/9/10


By Evan Ackerman

This thing is, seriously, the highlight of CES for me (so far) this year. 3D TVs and eBook readers are fine, but there’s nothing amazing about them.

The Airnergy Charger is amazing.

This little box has, inside it, some kind of circuitry that harvests WiFi energy out of the air and converts it into electricity. This has been done before, but the Airnergy is able to harvest electricity with a high enough efficiency to make it practically useful: on the CES floor, they were able to charge a BlackBerry from 30% to full in about 90 minutes, using nothing but ambient WiFi signals as a power source.

The Airnergy has a battery inside it, so you can just carry it around and as long as you’re near some WiFi, it charges itself. Unlike a solar charger, it works at night and you can keep it in your pocket. Of course, proximity to the WiFi source and the number of WiFi sources is important, but at the rate it charges, if you have a home wireless network you could probably just leave anywhere in your house overnight and it would be pretty close to full in the morning.


Here is the really, really unbelievable part: RCA says that the USB charger will be available this summer for $40, and a battery with the WiFi harvesting technology will be available soon after. I mean, all kinds of people are pushing wireless charging, but this would hands down take the cake… It doesn’t need a pad and it’s charging all the time, for free, in just about any urban environment.

We didn’t think you’d believe all this, so we made RCA explain it all on video:

Yeah, we’ll definitely be keeping you updated on this one.

Why the US and much of Europe are shivering in the cold

via Ars Technica by jtimmer@arstechnica.com (John Timmer) on 1/11/10

Those of us shivering through extended stretches of subfreezing temperatures might be forgiven for getting a bit impatient for the onset of more significant global warming. And, if you’re reading Ars, chances are good that this describes you, as the US and Europe have been blanketed in an unusual chill. Ironically, as these inhabited parts shiver, the atmospheric system that’s causing it, the Arctic Oscillation, has covered Greenland and the Arctic Ocean with air that’s equally as extreme, but in the warm direction.

The folks who run the National Center for Atmospheric Research have a great rundown of the details of the AO Oscillation. In short, high pressure in the Arctic forces the jet stream south, and it drags cold air with it, chilling North American and northern Eurasia. In its opposite mode, those same regions tend to be much warmer. Right now, we’re in such an extreme high-pressure event that the readings have run off the scale of NOAA’s AO index. Fortunately for those hoping to warm up a bit, the AO is a weather event—it often changes states multiple times within a single season, and there’s no clear evidence linking its behavior to climate trends.

The NCAR site also points out one of the reasons why people are making a big deal out of this one: we tend to think short-term when it comes to our surroundings. We haven’t had an AO event this severe since 2003, and the high pressure mode has been relatively rare since 1990, so many places have simply gotten used to not having an Arctic blast during the winter. The fact that November was unusually warm in the US, Canada, and Europe probably doesn’t help matters, either.

When it comes to longer-term impacts, this strong phase of the AO may significantly alter the dynamics of the Arctic Ocean’s ice pack, which responds both to weather events and climactic trends. Most of the Arctic Ocean freezes up during the winter, but the warm air present may limit the extent and thickness of solid ice sheets, meaning a lot of this year’s freeze is likely to simply remelt next summer. At the same time, however, the wind patterns that are prevailing will drive less of the ice out of the Arctic Ocean, which may preserve some of the older, more robust multiyear ice.

The National Snow and Ice Data Center runs a site devoted to tracking Arctic ice dynamics that provides great explanations of trends.

Cellophane City? Plastic Arts Change Urban Landscape

via WebUrbanist by Delana on 1/8/10

When negative comments are made about public art, they usually revolve around the art being unattractive, too permanent, or a waste of city funds (either for commissioning a sanctioned piece or cleaning up an unsanctioned one). But two different public art projects in France are capturing attention and imaginations with their simplicity and impermanence – and they use a material that’s highly unexpected.

Street Interventions

(images via: Cedric Bernadotte)

French artist Cedric Bernadotte wanted to figure out a new way for humans to interact with the urban environment. He believes that stopping to rest and enjoy a few quiet moments is essential for one’s enjoyment of the city. He accomplishes his goals with the creative use of cellophane, industrial tapes and inflatables.

(images via: Cedric Bernadotte)

Using the type of sealing plastic that’s used to secure pallets, Bernadotte invents new spaces using existing city objects. Stretching from one signpost to another, bridging the empty spaces of a public art sculpture or simply closing the gap between two large rocks, his created objects are an experiment in public versus private space.

(images via: Cedric Bernadotte)

They are often chairs or benches, made of nothing more than strong plastic, maybe some tape, and a great deal of curiosity. It’s amazing to watch the faces of passers-by light up when they see an unexpected place to perch momentarily. A swing in the middle of the city adds a touch of whimsy to anyone’s day, and a hammock in the sun provides the perfect spot for a mid-day nap. But most impressive of all is the fact that every piece of Bernadotte’s Street Interventions project is ephemeral; existing only temporarily and leaving no trace when it’s gone.


(images via: CelloGraff)

In 2006, three art students joined forces in France and formed Poetically Correct. The group eventually changed its name to CelloGraff and lost a member, but gained a compelling idea: why not decorate the city with graffiti, but in a way that would hardly be objectionable? Their plan: transient graffiti that would be as elaborate and artistic as they want, but which disappears within minutes when needed.

(images via: CelloGraff)

To achieve their vision, the artists turned to cellophane. Much like Bernadotte, they wanted a material that was cheap, readily available, and would leave no sign after it was removed. They stretch temporary canvases between trees, signs or whatever is nearby. They partition off small pieces of the urban landscape for themselves. And then, they paint. They create huge pieces that would rival most graffiti artists, but they aren’t out to tag up the entire city. They are interested only in the transience of their interactions with the urban environment.

(images via: CelloGraff)

In this way, the artists, known as Astro and Kanos, call into question many ideas about graffiti. Other artists have shown that it’s more socially acceptable to paint on canvas than on city walls, but graffiti artists who only paint commissioned pieces tend to lose the respect of some peers as well as the visibility that comes from painting in public places. Astro and Kanos bridge that gap, leaving their graffiti (and their CelloGraff logo) to the public eye but doing it in a way that (mostly) respects the laws and statutes of the area.