Digital Ticket of Leave

Apparently everyone in Australia with an internet connection should be arrested. Like our first fleet ancestors we are all criminals. In truth the wonderful book “Fatal Shore” by Robert Hughes informs us that only the first 50 years of our convict colony was really tough. After that life in England if you were not one of the uber rich one percenter’ s born into riches and royalty, life in that rain drenched, sun starved island was truly miserable. People started to commit crimes in order to get sent here.

You had to make sure it was a petty crime. That got you a seven year stretch with a ticket of leave at the end. The ticket of leave meant you were free to live anywhere in Australia but couldn’t ever return to England. No great loss there.

It was a bit more of a problem if you got a 14 year stretch. Then you could become a victim of undercover, creeping incremental white slavery. You did your first 7 years on the government road gangs then you were indentured to a squatter for the next 7 years as an unpaid labourer. If you were a good worker your dishonest boss could cook up another crime against you before the 7 years was up and you got another 7 on top from an accommodating magistrate, another conspiring blueblood to help keep you in perpetual servitude.

If you were not a good worker the squatter could kill two birds with one stone. Incite the war of conquest against Australia’s first people who the Royal Society of London adamantly insisted didn’t exist anyway. You did this by sending your indentured convict with 100 sheep into an area you knew was going to get him a spear in the guts. Fitting end to your bad worker, plenty more where he came from and in the meantime good cause for riding on in there with guns, dogs and some squatter mates to take care of those murderous black barstard’s who didn’t officially exist anyway. Thus one of the ways the war was waged.

When you finished your 7 years and were nicely set up growing wheat and sheep on some river flats up the Parramatta river valley you wrote home to cousins in England and told them to throw a brick through a window, steal a loaf of bread, get a 7 stretch and do your time as we have land waiting for you. I guess that’s why the conservative sections of our body politic still have an irrational fear of boat people. Never the less why should we all be arrested in our own illegally gotten country once again?

Our copyright laws apparently. Sharing a video clip on YouTube is technically a 5 year stretch with a $93,000 fine. Our laws in this area probably date back to near the convict era, certainly reflect blue blood thinking in their battle to keep us in our place. You are always reminded of a Monty Python skit that has become reality when there are too many laws to remember but ignorance of any one of them is no excuse for breaking it.  A good way of making sure we are always criminals just waiting to be caught.

Section 132A part 2 of the Australian Copyright Act states: “distributing an infringing article that prejudicially affects the copyright owner” is against the law. There you go. Everything you do online is technically illegal in Australia. Everything you do on Facebook, Reddit, Twitter and YouTube is completely illegal. Your one edition claim to fame, your photo in a newspaper is not yours so if you post it on Instagram you have just committed a crime.

Thankfully on our behalf the Australian Digital Alliance is campaigning to highlight the flaws in our ancient anachronistic copyright laws that belong in our historical dustbin. It’s a simple solution. Something like a fair use clause would allow people to share, copy or recreate works so long as they don’t do copyright owners harm or take revenue away from them. With our on line lives this is like outlawing culture. Recently “Juice Media” did a rap parody on their YouTube channel of Julian Assange, using John Farnham’s “You’re the Voice”.  It was issued with a takedown order. John would not have had a problem but even though it is his song he doesn’t own it some bully boy recording label, dead but yet to lay down does. They issued the takedown.

Even the establishment is starting to say that the “antiquated” attitude to copyright “breeds contempt for the law.” Well that horse bolted years ago. Australians are born with an inbuilt contempt for the law. It’s part of our convict heritage. We had an old saying out in the country. The law only exists where there is a blue uniform to enforce it.

The Australian Digital Alliance will present its arguments to the Australian Law Reform Commission inquiry into Copyright and the Digital Economy in late November.
“In six month’s time, in February we will take that body of work to the Attorney General’s office and teach the old people who live in Canberra who make the laws how young people are making things,” – Dan Ilic

Well Dan if they give you 100 sheep and point you up some alley in Redfern don’t go mate.

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Storing or Hoarding?

In Australia the more research we do the longer back in history our first people go. The original Australians are now believed to have been in continuous occupation of the continent for around 70,000 years. Ancient women are believed to have been the first recorders of enduring information. The data was the result of a mouthful of ochre and spit, spat against a hand. The rock on which the hand rested at the time was humanities first long term storage medium. Our first Hard Drive. In all the methods other than memory humans have used to record their multi-various activities, writing on rock has probably been the best. The first recorded written language on rock is believed to be Sumerian about 5000 years ago.

Since then it’s been all downhill. Late last week I received this comment; “My 64 GB USB like just up and died on me!” The number of times I have heard that mythical lament as an excuse for not handing in an assignment is beyond the counting. Just one dollar for every time and I would be as we speak endlessly cruising the Caribbean.
Paper was first developed in the 2nd century BC in China. The first paper was made from hemp. However the actual Silk Road was the way it was introduced to us whities from the west. Paper has been the main storage medium since. The great fire in the ancient library of Alexandria is a permanent reminder of the vulnerability of committing humanities body of knowledge to paper. We have been madly digitalising it all into a less reliable medium on our computers since there introduction.

The supposed advantage of our computer age has been somewhat lost in a multitude of mediums and formats resulting in redundant confusion. Some of my friends consider me a border line technology hoarder. In fact all of my friends consider me a hoarder full-stop. I just say in my defiant defence that it’s my own Smithsonian Institute and I am merely a dedicated gatekeeper. They will eat their words one day, you just wait and see.

I have an 8 inch disk. I have no idea what’s on it because I haven’t seen an 8 inch disk drive for 40 years. I still worry there might be something that’s important on it. I have numerous 5 1/4 floppy disks, a drive but no drivers. I have boxes of 3.5 inch disks but can’t buy a drive for the life of me. I could construct a Lego like sculpture from the number of old, dead or I have no idea hard drives stored in a cardboard box with the label “old hard drives”. Have I considered paid storage? I am in paid storage. The answer to the argument VHS or Betamax is moulding away in my storage. I am missing a lot of leads as well. I have zip disks but no zip drives. I have Backup tapes and no recorder still in manufacture.  I know the history of mankind is on one of them but I have no idea which one.

It seems the older civilization gets the more fragile is its means of permanently recording our sum total. Current magnetic Hard Drives have only a 10 year reliability. In 1956 it took 50, 24 inch disks to store 5 Megabytes of information until now when it seems we can store every phone call made by everybody on the planet as well as Facebook’s sum total of daily chatter for the foreseeable future at some far distant server farm in a galaxy far, far away. But it is still not as solid as rock.  Terrible bush fires ravage huge areas around Sydney as I write this post, many houses lost in seconds. So fast and vicious residents had to grab what they could and run. When idiot reporters asked that mindless “How are you feeling right now?” question, straight after cringing you heard universal answers: “Mate we got out with our lives, the pets and the photos.” Those staring at the scorched remains of their homes found the loss of photographs, diaries and written mementos to be the saddest. We need a long term storage medium as long lasting and reliable as rock.

It’s not that we are not trying the Rosetta Project is a proposal by the Long Now Foundation to create archival materials capable of storing information for periods in excess of 10,000 years. But we need to preserve information about our civilisation on a timescale that outlasts it which means at least a million years. A new effort however has had some impressive results. Nanotechnologists led by Jeroen de Vries at the University of Twente in the Netherlands have designed and built a disk capable of storing data over this timescale. They have also designed an accelerated aging algorithm to test the reliability of their tungsten disks with a protective coat of silicon nitride. To corrupt data, that is to change all our ones to zeros and zeros to ones an energy barrier governed by a probability law called the Arrhenius law must be jumped. To last a million years, the required energy barrier is 63 KBT or 70 KBT to last a billion years.
“These values are well within the range of today’s technology.” – Jeroen de Vries.

The disk created by the team is capable of surviving a million years. To last that long it has to survive 1 hour at 445 Kelvin. The new disks did so with ease. This doesn’t of course mean that it will survive natural disasters, meteor strikes, drone strikes, human stupidity or the average house fire. I wonder if they are available at Dick Smiths yet? I might wander on down. All I need now is a floppy drive, zip drive, jump drive and a hard disk reader. EBay here I come.

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Virtual Violence

When one man eyeballs another, whether they are 5 or 50 and it results in a combative invite to the car park after school, sooner or later you are going to run into someone who is better than you are. The course of events will guarantee that someday you are going to have the crap beaten out of you. When you do, for ever after you will never have a problem distinguishing real violence from simulated violence. If you have ever observed in the average Saturday night Australian pub an act of unfair violence, what we call a “King Hit” from a coward from behind or someone putting the “boot in” when someone else is down on the ground, you have no problem thereafter of distinguishing real violence from simulated violence. If you have ever seen mistaken violence caused by an unthinking act of senseless stupidity or learnt to your cost that before you are 25 years of age you were going to lose three of your friends to a drunken high speed car accident. Particularly if you have had the misfortune of seeing one of these instantaneous mishaps in the real world, distinguishing that from a car crash in a game is most definitely discernible. So does a kid playing nonstop, a first person shooter, a PvP (Player versus Player) game in a fantasy world, eventually become more violent and less caring in the real world?  I for one, suspect he doesn’t. Why? Well I for one, was surprised to discover that after 10 years training from a disciplined and dedicated Kung Fu master I became less violent rather than more. No matter what level of graphic card realism we can achieve in computer games I suspect the real smell of blood and fear will forever remain unmistakable.

The obese young man found dead of a heart attack over the keyboard of his gaming computer was so huge the wall had to be removed and a crane used to lift out his body for burial. His small single bedroom unit was stacked with empty home delivered pizza boxes and none of his neighbours had ever seen him. I venture to suggest this guy probably had an obsessive problem with gaming. Had he been the average active young gamer with a multitude of extracurricular pursuits, good social skills and reasonable behaviour no one would have had any reason for concern. This young man’s addictive gaming behaviour was most likely linked to distress originating from a combination of family problems, psychiatric conditions and social issues. Such underlying problems could have made him vulnerable to the negative effects of virtual violence in video games. Young men like this, sharing a similar fate place the media focus on the exception rather than the rule and are a result of lazy journalism during a slow day in a never ending sensationalist news cycle.

A number of studies recently have suggested that violent gaming does not increase violent behaviour. In one study after a 20-minute gaming session, a researcher pretended to drop some pens in front of players and noted how many helped pick them up. The experiment showed that regardless of whether the game played was violent or not, only about 40-60 per cent of participants helped pick up the pens. There was no correlation between violent game play and unhelpful behaviour.
“We fail to substantiate conjecture that playing contemporary violent video games will lead to diminished pro-social behaviour,” – Morgan Tear.

I know what you are thinking; I thought the same, not exactly scientific rigor was it? Forget the pens if the researcher had bothered to observe a group of players of World of Warcraft on a raid against a really tough “Boss” they would have reached the same conclusion. It is all about high speed observation, help and cooperation at the limit of your reaction time in a team effort to achieve that “epic win.” In fact WOW players will tell you the best “Raid” leaders are often the girls. They are measured, patient and non-judgmental even when the same dickhead makes the same mistake that gets everybody killed over and over again.

Just as many other studies contend otherwise. One concluded that although gaming boosts visual attention it may reduce the ability to inhibit impulsive behaviour. This is called “proactive executive control” and they believe its lack increases aggressive behaviour. Consider this however. I’m not fast, I’m old therefore playing a first person shooter is a real challenge for me. I die a lot. In “Battlefield 1942” I couldn’t even outrun the NPC (Non Playing Character) soldiers to get control of a tank or helicopter. When playing with my young nephew he just gunned them down to get control of the tank. I was shocked. “You just gunned down our own men” I said. He looked at me as though I was a total idiot and replied, “They are NPC’s it doesn’t matter.” I never thought of that. I do now. I have no trouble getting control of a tank or helicopter. Did my nephew turn into an aggressive young man? He did not. He is full of love and has a zest for life that fills every room he walks into.

Some researchers link attention problems and aggression to total screen time and violent games. “An individual overrides aggressive impulses with good executive control capability. Violent video gaming with high levels of total screen time reduce proactive cognitive control that can lead to aggression and attention issues.”
I read this and then think Wait a minute! This researcher has obviously never been a junior coach of a contact sport. In real life many a strident parent can be observed marching down the sideline screaming violent encouragement to a pre-pubescent child to inflict violence on an opposing child. Still the Australian Council on Children and the Media conference in Sydney concluded screen violence ”represents a significant risk to the health of children and adolescents. Exposure to screen violence in adolescence changed the development of young people’s brains, leading to increased aggression, reckless behaviour and decreased empathy.”
However in contrast the chief executive of the Interactive Games and Entertainment Association of Australia, Ron Curry, said there was no ”strong evidence that violent video games can cause long-term effects on aggressive behaviour”.

Gamers counter claim that as gaming has increased, violent crime rates in the US have dropped. One study tracked retail game sales and reported crime found that a 1% increase in sales of violent games was linked with a .03% drop in violent crime.
“The real question is whether video games have a uniquely negative effect on those individuals compared to the many other activities and scenarios that they would routinely encounter in their daily lives. I suspect that video games would be one of many possible things that could affect those particularly vulnerable people but we would need good evidence to conclude that video games are any more harmful than other activities, such as playing basketball or chess.”– Morgan Tear.

It reminds me of the climate change debate. What side of the debate you are on depends on if you are a gamer or non-gamer. A definitive argument won’t be found anytime soon. Find out for yourself. Drop a pen and find out if your friend is an aggressive don’t care person or a caring, touchy feely pen lover. In the meantime ….. File……. Load saved game.

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Only one on-line slip up

Back in the last share boom before the GFC (Great Financial Crisis) everyone thought they were a red hot trader. Mums were spending their day in a trading pod checking the websites spruiking todays penny dreadfuls. I recall one scam. Young Australian guy spam mailed all these hot trade tip web sites with a fake report on a penny dreadful, taking a big position before hand of course. The sheep got on board in the first hour of the day and he sold into it making about $21,000 for the mornings work. Only problem was he did it from home and got done. Caught and charged. I remember thinking at the time why didn’t he get one of those dodgy promotional CD’s with 10 hours free internet time from one the undercutting ISP companies who never answered the phone, had non-existent support and an address that turned out to be a car park. Take the CD into an internet cafe and our “perp” would have been away clean.

Those days are gone. The arrest on the 1st October of “Silk Roads” Ross William Ulbricht illustrates the point. The online drug and dodgy deeds site had apparently turned over more than $1 billion from hundreds of thousands of customers. From fake ID’s to top grade heroin the site had cleverly covered itself using complex server configurations, anonymity software and Bitcoin money, Silk Road had become a major player in the “Dark Net.” Until Ross made one stupid, rookie blunder that bought it all undone.

Strutting his stuff on a forum Ross used a user profile called “altoid” and said he was looking for an expert in Bitcoin and stupidly gave the address to send applications to as rossulbricht @gmail.com. In itself innocent enough but the FBI tracing the user name “altoid” found two earlier posts  about Tor being a kind of “anonymous amazon.com” Both posts referenced  “silkroad420.wordpress.com.” Duh!!
Did this make Ulbricht a person of interest to the FBI? It sure did. Further footprints followed.  A Google+ profile of rossubicht@gmail.com included video links that enabled the FBI to cross link Ross with his Silk Road handle “Dread Pirate Roberts.” Both Ross and the Dread Pirate seemed to both be believers in the Austrian Economic Theory on which Silk Roads market model was based.
The final bread crumb was a post by Ross on a forum on “How can I connect to a Tor hidden service using curl in php?” Later forensic analysis on a Silk Road hard drive found exactly the same code.

Even if the “Dread Pirate Roberts” initial slip up didn’t require the powerful surveillance capability of the NSA it is suspected that while chasing child pornographers the FBI agents exploited a vulnerability in the Firefox browser to unmask Tor users and may have used this to expose the Silk Roads kingpin.

Many people concerned over Snowden’s NSA revelations have started to use software like Tor recommended by the Cryptoparty to stay anonymous. If it’s just to keep pesky profile marketing away and otherwise having nothing to hide, all well and good. However with something to hide it becomes a bigger challenge everyday as any investigator need only to wait and stay vigilant and they will get lucky with that one slip up.

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A Slave Ratting on a RATer.

“Cutefuzzypuppy” he called himself. This was the not so cute online handle of 19 year old Jared James Abrahams who captured Miss Teen USA Cassidy Wolf’s laptop webcam using RAT technology and revelled in getting unbeknown naked pictures of her.

I mean even in the privacy of your own room how much time do you spend naked? It’s probably inversely proportional to your age. The older you are the less time you spend naked. From a baby when you are always naked to a 90 year old that’s never naked even in the shower. Jared had over 150 “slaves” at the height of his career as a RAT. That’s controlling the webcams of the 150 girls Jared monitored, many he snapped “nuddy” images of to boast about, post and share with his forum friends. Now this is a serious investment of time. To catch these girls in the buff would require near constant monitoring. It probably took all of Jared’s time to watch and wait. It makes him not so much a cute puppy but a very sick puppy. The American term “Jerk off” probably literally applied to Jared.

Jared is no good with people, no surprise there, so he distributed software like DarkComet to victims because that was the only way he could connect with them, secretly as a virus. He admitted “He sucked at social engineering.”  This of course means he had no face to face social skills. His first major success was to use a girl he went to school with. Cassidy Wolf the new Miss Teen USA innocently communicated with an old school acquaintance to have him infect her laptop with a RAT tool.
In May 2012 he announced on hackforums.net:
Recently I infected a person at my school with Darkcomet. It was total luck that I got her infected because I suck at social engineering. Anyway, this girl happens to be a model and a really good looking one at that: D. I was hoping I could use her and her Facebook account to further spread my darkcomet rat. I want to mass message all her friends on Facebook but I have no idea what to message them to get them to download the rat. Any ideas or suggestions would be greatly appreciated :).” 
Reported by Nate Anderson (ars Technica Sep 28th)

Cassidy became suspicious when someone attempted to change her passwords to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Yahoo. The first semi-nude of her turned up on Twitter. Only 30 minutes later she received an email from our Jared demanding  that she either send him “good quality” nude pictures, a video of herself, or that she “go on Skype with him and do what I tell you to do for 5 minutes.” Any refusal to his demands would result in the release of compromising images of her, some of which he sent her to show he meant business.
The idiot tried to blackmail her. What is it with men and our obsession with the pursuit of status and influence? Of any kind. Even if it’s only to be the biggest fish in the tiniest ocean we will go for it. From the dickhead Dad with his Hitler control trip over the under 10 basketball team from a town you can spend a year in, in a single day to Jared wanting to be the “Man” on a forum full of sickos by showing them a video of his “slave” obeying his every command. What’s more she is Miss Teen USA so beat that!

To her credit Cassidy called the cops.
The FBI looked at her laptop and found evidence of both DarkComet and another RAT known as Blackshades, which confirmed how Jared had taken his photos.
Jared thinking he was smart used a VPN (Virtual Private Network) to conceal his identity but his own RAT buddies betrayed his location because of his bragging. These RATs had connected back to Jared by accessing no-ip.org. This is a service which allows users to dynamically map their IP address to a domain name. This allows the “slaves” to phone home while Jared remains safe using a dynamic IP address from a home Internet account or so he thought. The resulting No-ip.org records however allowed the FBI to establish the existance of a no-ip.org account in the name of Jared’s father and the username on the account was “cutefuzzypuppy.” A Google search and there is our Jared alias “cutefuzzypuppy” writing about RATs online.
Facebook gave the FBI, Jared’s personals including his college.  He was staked out and secretly observed in the computer room accessing the “no logging” VPN from the college network. The FBI had a case, Jared James caught red handed, done and dusted.

Yet to realise and making matters much worse for himself Jared continued to threaten Cassidy Wolf. Unless she complied with his demands, he threatened to post her picture to hacked accounts of her friends on Facebook, and said that nothing she could do would stop him.
“Block all the people, delete your account, whatever, just know that I finally decided I have enough Facebook’s and will upload your picture on all of them,” Jared wrote.
Jared turns out to be a multinational RAT, making similar threats to girls from Canada, Ireland and the list went on. He forced some to strip for him on Skype while he recorded it.
An Irish girl had pleaded “Please remember I’m only 17. Have a heart,”
Jared replied: “I’ll tell you this right now! I do NOT have a heart!!!”

Later after his arrest, Jared was to tell FBI officers that he was “not normally aggressive.”

Of those who did not comply with his demands some had their photos released. While the FBI was interviewing one of the victims she discovered nude photos of her had been posted on Instagram.

Closing the case was the discovery on June 4th in a raid on Jared’s family home of numerous videos of his victims along with RAT software tools. He admitted to everything. This master RAT knew every major webcam type and driver and had got “no lights” RATting down to a fine art. That is monitoring a captured webcam ensuring the light on the camera is remotely turned off during operation.

Jared can perhaps consider himself lucky he will not be convicted and sentenced to a custodial term in an Australian prison. In the informal prisoner ranking system a RAT would probably rank just above a “rock spider.” This is an Australian prison term for a paedophile. They are considered the very bottom of the bottom feeders. Australian inmates in our prisons go out of their way to ensure a “rock spider” does really hard time. Jared would be the object of some very tough love.

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Voyagers Last Voyage

I remember seeing an amazing documentary called painting with numbers. It covered the beginnings of computer graphics. It was around the time when the “Space Race” was in its final days. Modern warfare stimulates technological development tenfold. During the time of the cold war, hindered by MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) the “Space Race” provided the modern equivalent of the technological advantages usually confined to the hot wars that preceded it. It did this with only 13 lives lost. Despite the fact the lunar module had only 2 “486” computers on board the technological spin offs lasted for decades afterward. It also left us with the much feared millennium bug awaiting us at the centuries turn. Didn’t that turn out to be a “whimper” rather than a “bang”?  Nevertheless the Space Race was the political sharp end of the Cold war.

Who would get there first? Dogs and monkeys died for the cause. Did the walk on the moon advance our scientific knowledge of the solar system? Not really. Behind all this the NASA project with the potential to advance our knowledge of space, was the Voyager project.

It was not sexy. It was having trouble attracting corporate funds. Even the tax payers were tired. The moon shot had drained the purses of NASA’s big business contributors. Those pesky Russians had got into space first but the US of A got to the moon first and declared themselves winners of the space race and no humans have ever been back since. The Voyager project languished in its aftermath.

In an endeavour to advertise the NASA project some of the first computer graphic artists at Utah University were commissioned to produce a fly by animation showing Voyagers projected journey through our solar system. At the heart of this computer graphic animation was a man considered the father of computer graphics, Jim Blinn. The amazing thing was that the graphic artists were updating their artist’s impressions of the planets with the real details as the images started to come back from Voyager’s cameras. I think it was Jim Blinn in an interview in the documentary who said that in one of the areas on Mars they had put dramatic mountains and valleys only to find the real images showed only long flat, dead and boring plains. They left their impressionist mountains in. They projected the dismay of some future Martian explorer in a “wtf” moment with his Martian map.

This month on September the 12th, Voyager left our solar system. This wonderful little (722 kilogram) space probe on its 36 year long journey is the first manmade object to have left our solar system for the dark depths of interstellar space.

Voyager 1’s departure is an incredible achievement in the context of space exploration. It has covered about 19 billion kilometres since its launch, due largely to the sling-shot action of other planets.” – Warrick Couch (Director of the Australian Astronomical Observatory.)
“Not even NASA expected the craft to withstand the harsh environment of space for 36 years, much less bring fascinating results back of the kind of environment that exists beyond our solar system.” –  Astrophysicist Alan Duffy (Melbourne University)

Launched on the 5th September 1977 Voyager I had on-board software with less than 40 KB of memory. A 16 GB iPhone 5 has about 240,000 times the memory of the Voyager spacecraft. Designed by pencil and paper in a pre-computer age this amazing little space probe still transmits data back to Earth using a 22.4 Watt transmitter, the equivalent of a refrigerator light bulb. Those signals take 17 hours at the speed of light to reach Earth.

“It’s amazing it’s lasted as long as it has. I don’t know how we could have done things much better than they were done. I mean things do wear out, and we’ve had to switch to some of our backup systems, but fortunately we have backup systems. That was part of the wonderful design of Voyager.” – Edward Stone

The probes plutonium power supply will not run out until somewhere between 2020 and 2025. The darkness of interstellar space renders the on-board cameras useless so they have been turned off.

Si-Fi writers have made much of the gold plated disc placed on the probe. The predictable not very imaginative scenario goes: Aliens find the disc, follow the probes pathway back to earth and wipe us all out. The audio visual disc contains photographs of our life forms, spoken greetings from already forgotten world leaders and a medley of the sounds of earth. This includes a version of Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B Goode” which is ridiculous in itself but may well keep any self-respecting alien well and truly away. Even when its power supply shuts down it will continue on and in 40,000 years from now approach our nearest neighbouring stars.

Voyagers solitary one way journey was followed by other Voyager and Pioneer probes the last being the New Horizons spacecraft, launched in 2006. Not only have all these probes given us amazing science and photographs of the planets within our solar system they will eventually help answer the disputed question of where in fact does the solar system end and the unknown begin?

For someone like me who bought their first computer in the 70’s and eagerly awaited each weeks “Star Trek” episode, Voyagers journey mirrors our own journey of discovery with technology into a world now we could never have imagined in 1977. I don’t care if Voyager I turns out to be a modern message in a bottle on an endless sea never to be found or if it brings back a ravaging alien race bent on our destruction, I have nothing but admiration and respect for the designers and operators and commend them on the success of their brainchild as it now leaves us behind for the great unknown.

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Big Bad Drive by Drones

So far it is estimated that the big bad drones in the US targeted killing program have conducted over 300 strikes and killed over 3000 people. Figures on civilian casualties are somewhat hazy.
“Well, the truth is that no one really knows exactly what’s going on with their effectiveness or not, because this is a program that has been wrapped in secrecy. Every aspect of this program is secret, so secret, in fact, that even members of the Senate Intelligence Committee that are supposed to be overseeing this program are not able to see even the legal justification for the program.”  – Chris Anders

By declaring the never ending war against terror it is easier to argue its legitimacy under the 2001 AUMF (Authorization of the use of military force) where both republicans and democrats have argued that drone strikes into other sovereign nations without a declared war is legal in terms of self-defence, in targeting individuals actively threatening the United States.
“Yes. Well, that’s part of the issue here is we have an ongoing conflict with a terrorist organization that has declared jihad or war against the United States.” Seth Jones

This policy is soon to be tested by the appointment of a special investigator into civilian deaths by drones within the United Nations. Already the Human Rights Council of the United Nations has begun to debate if robots should be allowed to take human life without direct supervision or command.
“The possible introduction of LARs (lethal autonomous robots) raises far-reaching concerns about the protection of life during war and peace. If this is done, machines and not humans will take the decision on who is alive or dies.”  – Christof Heyns (UN special rapporteur)
He went on to say:
“War without reflection is mechanical slaughter. In the same way that the taking of any human life deserves – as a minimum – some deliberation, a decision to allow machines to be deployed to kill human beings deserves a collective pause worldwide.”

I suspect all this deliberation is already too late. During the debate Pakistan’s council delegate Mariam Aftab said “The experience with drones shows that once such weapons are in use, it is impossible to stop them,” Pakistan being on the receiving end of a majority of the anti- terrorism drone strikes has some credibility in this argument.
The other side of the debate is characterised by: robots don’t rape. Future robots may well be designed to be more precise, employ less lethal force thereby causing fewer unnecessary deaths and have a greater ability to disarm or immobilise a target.
“LARs will not be susceptible to some of the human shortcomings that may undermine the protection of life. Typically they would not act out of revenge, panic, anger, spite, prejudice or fear.” – Christof Heyns
No autonomous “Killer robots” are yet known to exist as unmanned drones require humans to control them, however many countries have precursor technology in place.

Australia does not stand outside of this debate. Currently we are complicit in the drone strikes as the Pine Gap base in central Australia plays a key role. It tracks and locates al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders by precise “geolocation” of radio signals including from hand held radios and mobile phones. The base is capable of preforming this task right across the Middle East, China, North Korea and the Russian Far East.
“We track them, we combine the signals intelligence with imagery, and once we’ve passed the geolocation intelligence on, our job is done. When drones do their job we don’t need to track that target anymore. The US will never fight another war in the eastern hemisphere without the direct involvement of Pine Gap,” one official said.

Meanwhile drone technology continues to improve. The Northrop Grumman’s X-47B carrier-launched drone has successfully been launched from an aircraft carrier. The Navy’s Unmanned Carrier Launched Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) aircraft program aims to produce an autonomous robotic attack plane capable of spying on and attacking enemies.
“With a stealthy bat-wing air frame, a 3200 kilometre range and the ability to carry the equivalent of two precision-guided bombs, the X-47B will provide a long-range, radar-evading, unmanned reconnaissance and strike aircraft.” – Sean Gallagher

America’s dominance in drone technology may well be a thing of the past. The continual cyber-attacks on American defence contractors suspected to be coming from out of Shanghai may have already stolen and reverse engineered much of the technology.
“I believe this is the largest campaign we’ve seen that has been focused on drone technology. It seems to align pretty well with the focus of the Chinese government to build up their own drone technology capabilities.” – Darien Kindlund, manager of threat intelligence at the company, FireEye, based in California.

 
The Shanghai hacker group believed to be called the “Comment Crew” has been tracked by an American cyber security company to a building outside Shanghai owned by the People’s Liberation Army. Although vigorously denied by the Chinese government, it is certainly no secret that the Chinese government and military are strenuously pursuing drone technology. Every major arms manufacturer in China has a research centre devoted to drones. China is already dispatching drones over the disputed Japanese Islands and apparently killed a criminal suspect in Myanmar last year. It is thought that China is already selling cheap versions of reversed engineered models resembling the Predator. Photographs of runway trials of a stealth combat drone the “Stealth Sword” have surfaced recently on the internet.
A Taiwan Defence Ministry report in 2011 reported Chinas drone fleet of 280 units. Although it does not match the 7000 drones deployed by the US its fleet does rank second in the world.
“The military significance of China’s move into unmanned systems is alarming,” said a 2012 report by the Defence Science Board, a Pentagon advisory committee.

The main character in George Orwell’s “1984” states:  “No matter how hard he digs at his memory, Winston is uncertain whether a time existed when Oceania was not at war with someone.” The ongoing borderless war against terror is becoming disturbing reminiscent of the world described in George Orwell’s book. The chances the United Nations will be able to curb the technological race for remote and automated killing machines is becoming less likely by the day.

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