The week that was: Drones, Dog Brain, Dodgy Clouds, and Dirty Spying

batmanI bought a drone. It was somewhat accidental. “Sweetheart! I just accidentally bought a drone!” is not something that you hear every week and prompted the typical Tui response “Yeah right.” Let’s just say the commit to buy button on Ebay was confused with the review your final order button. Regardless I am now the proud owner of a DJI Phantom 1.

Now, in New Zealand they are unregulated and the media has got a bit shrieky (nothing new there) about their use. We’ll fly them into planes, they’ll be peeking in your bedroom window, they will come flying out of the sky and drop a case of beer on your head, and so on. I’m not so sure that any of that is true, my observations so far have been that:

  • They are hard to fly. I have thousands of hours of flight experience (with Microsoft Flight Simulator) and reckon I could be the guy who lands a plane in an emergency to a hero’s welcome. I’ve flown the drone into the bushes several times and landing is rather more like a belly flop than elegant touchdown. I had a flatmate who was a helicopter pilot (a real one), he said flying a chopper was like riding a bike upside down and backwards. I can confirm this.
  • The dogs hate it. It is an enemy. The pack leader will kill it if he can catch it.
  • Seagulls hate it. Anytime the drone appears above fifty feet in the neighbourhood, seagulls rouse themselves and prepare to attack.
  • They are quite noisy. Spying on your neighbours is going to be hard unless they are actually deaf. Given the flashing lights and the size of the drone, stealth is not at the top of the list of applications.
  • There are regulations in New Zealand that cover the use of drones, see here and read under model aircraft. But that wouldn’t make a good news story. This says that you can’t operate above 400′ when 4 km’s from an airport, that in certain circumstances you have to file a flight plan, that it can’t be operated when visibility shrinks to a certain level, is not allowed at night, and has certain weight rules.
  • It’s smart. If it starts to run down (15 – 20mins flight time) or the controller is turned off, it remembers where it took off from and returns there automatically to land.

As for having cases of beer dropped on us from on high (chance would be a fine thing) the U.S. has banned this already.

“Ice fishers in Minnesota are reeling from a recent FAA decision prohibiting beer delivery by drone. Local brewery Lakemaid was testing a new drone delivery system to airlift frosty cases of beer to fishermen holed up in ice shacks on Mille Lacs Lake. After spotting a Lakemaid YouTube video that went up last week of one of the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) on a test run, the Federal Aviation Administration contacted Lakemaid and told the company to stop.” – Source

Changing tack to Dog Brain, I did some research on the psychology of online comments after watching the Charlotte Dawson debate and experiencing personal attacks under anonymity on almost every article I ever write for the National Business Review. A colleague of mine calls this “Dog Brain”. “When people are on the Internet they have Dog Brain!” he declares. I have to say, I get it, but it’s kind of unfair to the humble and loyal dog, who is only likely to bite if provoked, whereas these anonymous posters are more like hyenas with rabies.

I’ve written and been published (it still surprises me) for nearly twenty five years and I’ve always used my real name. These are my opinions and personally, morally, I think you should put your name to it. It takes courage, and you need thick skin, but its, in my opinion, “the right thing to do.” So it’s interesting that:

  • It’s an age thing. In general, the more mature of us are less likely to post anonymous comments. Twenty-five percent of Internet users have posted online anonymous comments across the age range while forty percent of users between the age of nineteen and twenty-nine have posted online anonymous comments.
  • It allows something called the “online disinhibition effect” or “Dog Brain”. When anonymous, you throw away your normal constraints on behaviour and say things you would never say to the actual person’s face. Ever.
  • Online content providers are starting to stop its practice. Popular Science being a high profile example, saying that “a fractious minority wields enough power to skew a reader’s perception of a story, recent research suggests” citing the online disinhibition effect.
  • It shows our underlying character, well, some of us, “New communication technologies do not fundamentally alter the theoretical bounds of human interaction; such interaction continues to be governed by basic human tendencies” so the study tells us.

Under attack this week, and not from an anon, is the U.K.’s G-Cloud Framework. The framework provides a path for ICT companies to be accredited in order to be able to sell services to agencies, of which said services are then published on an online portal to be ordered.

Well, “wash your mouth out with soap!”, say a group of G-Cloud supporters:

“[I]t is doubtful that all or even many of the … services available meet the NIST definition for Cloud Services — or that they demonstrate the essential characteristics required by the G-Cloud 4 procurement, namely truly on demand, measured service. We believe this oversight not only confuses the market making the challenge of education even harder but also conflicts with the goals of the framework.” – Source

It is an accusation that Cloud Services are being incorrectly defined as such by the G-Cloud framework when the reality is that those services being sold are Cloud Washed. Dodgy Clouds. G-Cloud are not the only ones falling foul of this, there is a general perception that Government “Cloud Services” are the real deal when often they don’t meet the actual standards. This is true in New Zealand, Australia, and the U.S. The problem being that it confuses the hell out of government agencies and at its worst, gets agencies no closer to Cloud, which is a problem, because movement to the Cloud will become inevitable and so compulsory.

“So far, GDS has steadfastly refused to openly state what specific criteria within the NIST definition it uses to declare services beyond the pale. In addition to the most blatant examples that don’t even pretend to be cloud, I suspect many who are putting a tick in the NIST-compliant box are still guilty of offering client-server architectures that really don’t conform at all.” – Source

Forget drones and dodgy Clouds, dirty spying went up the wire this week with two revelations, both of which, at some point, are going to have an impact on New Zealand and further adding fuel to the fire that ICT companies in the U.S. are going to take a financial hit in the billions.

“The National Security Agency, and revelations about its extensive surveillance operations — sometimes with the cooperation of tech firms — have undermined the ability of many U.S. companies to sell products in key foreign countries, creating a fissure with the U.S. government and prompting some to scramble to create “NSA-resistant” products. The fallout could cost the tech industry billions of dollars in potential contracts, which has executives seething at the White House.” – Source

The latest revelations have seen the release of a document titled “The ART of DECEPTION – Training for a new generation of online covert operations.” A document that is peculiar to the Five Eyes and describes, amongst other things, how to discredit activists using a range of techniques, no doubt including Dog Brain.

Among those tactics that seek to “discredit a target” include “false flag operations” (posting material online that is falsely attributed to a target), fake victim blog posts (writing as a victim of a target to disseminate false information), and posting “negative information” wherever pertinent online.

Other discrediting tactics used against individuals include setting a “honey-trap” (using sex to lure targets into compromising situations), changing a target’s photo on a social media site, and emailing or texting “colleagues, neighbours, friends etc.”

To “discredit a company,” GCHQ may “leak confidential information to companies/the press via blog…post negative information on appropriate forums [or] stop deals/ruin business relationships.”” – Source

Ouch. Now, Dr Paul Buchanan pointed out this week that “everyone is doing it” and basically no one holds the moral high ground, which is true. Problem is, we, the Five Eyes, have got caught doing it.

But it gets worse with revelations that the NSA has a programme called “Optic Nerve” that has been hoovering up Yahoo webcam chat data for years including sexually explicit material and with no targeting of individuals, everyone got spied on.

“Optic Nerve, the documents provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden show, began as a prototype in 2008 and was still active in 2012, according to an internal GCHQ wiki page accessed that year.

The system, eerily reminiscent of the telescreens evoked in George Orwell’s 1984, was used for experiments in automated facial recognition, to monitor GCHQ’s existing targets, and to discover new targets of interest. Such searches could be used to try to find terror suspects or criminals making use of multiple, anonymous user IDs.” – Source

This further heaps fuel on the public relations disaster that is the NSA. In addition, it can only be a matter of time before New Zealand gets dumped into the public pyre given its Five Eyes commitment as Australia has been recently.

That is the week that was, I’m off to exercise the dogs with the drone.




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