August 4th, 2013


I've Done No Wrong, I Keep To Myself, There's Nothing Wrong With State Of Mental Health

"You leave behind a trail that can be tracked not just by the NSA or a law enforcement agency, but by any kid in a basement with less than $500.”

That is a quote from Brendan O'Connor.  DefCon, the ultimate computer security conference is about to go down, and he's going to demonstrate who you can track people for less than $60 a device and “track everyone in a neighborhood, suburb, or city from the comfort of their sofa.”

O'Connor is someone you should listen to, he knows his shit.  He is the head of computer security company Malice Afterthought.  He's spent 18 months (with money and support from the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) developing a little device called the F-BOMB (Falling or Ballistically-launched Object that Makes Backdoors) that he showed off at Shmoocon in January 2012.  It's a small spy computer designed to be planted in a corporate network or dropped from a drone to wirelessly snoop on a target.  It collects the information from any cell phone or wireless device it can ping, then sends the data back to the administrator by piggybacking on any available wifi network.  This founded the cornerstone of his project, which uses the Unity game engine to build a user-friendly map interface showing the location of targets.  “With these F-BOMBs, I can gain creepy identity information pretty easily and passively.  I can track people over whole areas of a city just by tracking watching their wireless devices as they wander around.”

creepydolO'Connor calls it the Creepy Distributed Object Locator, or CreepyDOL.  It uses Linux and open source mapping software.  They are small enough to be hidden around urban or suburban areas, and each one costs you less than $60 to build.  The foundation is the Raspberry Pi microcontroller, which can be had for $25 each.  The tiny devices can be inconspicuously plugged into a power outlet anywhere with wifi, like the corner of a Starbucks.  When someone's phone or laptop connects with the wifi network, the unit scan the target device's MAC address and sends the data back.  It also uses the sniffing program Kismet to get user names, email addresses, and even what OS you are running if the application sends information unencrypted (like certain iOS programs do).  It will even grab the user's photo if they visit a certain dating site that doesn't implement SSL encryption and adds that to the newly constructed profile.  He says he will reveal which software and sites at DefCon.  “I take all this data, throw it together, and visualize it to show people with real faces and identities and histories moving around a map in 3D.”

Don't think, if you find one, you will know who's doing it.  Each device runs Tor, anonymity software that hides the location of the central server.  All data mined is encrypted -- the key is on a memory card that can be removed once the device is planted.  And because it's all common, standard parts, you're never going to track where they were bought or who bought them.

Don't think O'Connor's the only one.  Crackers have made similar devices that fit in an Altoids tin.  Really slick ones build them inside power strips to make them even more inconspicuous.  But most people are unaware of this.  This is why he's doing it.  “At some level I’m doing this because it’s interesting,” he says. “But I’m also doing it to prove that this level of knowledge and detail isn’t only the province of intelligence agencies anymore. If you think that only the government, with millions and billions to blow on watching someone can create this problem for privacy, then we’re not going to solve it.  If every person on the planet can use this surveillance technology, I think we should start to design things not to leak information at every level.”

It's Not Rocket Science -- Oh, Wait....

As anyone who has seen the Moon Hoax episode of MythBusters will tell you, NASA is like MacGyver -- they repurpose things and recycle their old stuff into new projects.  This is actually necessary, as NASA rarely gets the budget it needs to do whatever it wants to.

NASA is currently developing Skylab 2, a permanent home orbiting the Earth.  Naturally, no one is approving the funds for this.  What do you do?

Well, NASA's plan is to build Skylab 2 from a rocket gas tank.

No shit.

NASA is currently designing and building its next-generation rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), for returning to the moon, investigating asteroids, and (should anyone ever be crazy enough to try this) go to Mars.  It is 384 feet high and can send 130 ton payload into orbit.  It is currently slated for a test flght in 2017.  The upper stage fuel tank is the size of a house -- 17,500 cubic feet.  And rather than letting burn up in re-entry, the plan is to jettison it in space and use that as a module to build Skylab 2.  Check this shit out:


I would like to point out this will be roomier than the International Space Station, whose modules are only 15 wide.  Brand Griffin is an engineer with Gray Research, Inc who works with NASA's Advanced Concepts Office.  He did say the idea "is not challenging technology", although he thankfully didn't use the old, "It's not rocket science" line, probably for obvious reasons.  In fact, this has been done before.  The original Skylab used parts from a Saturn V rocket.  The results could hold four astronauts comfortably and be used for building moon bases and transit hubs.

Jesus, imagine what could happen if NASA actually got money!

Mutual Of Omaha's Wild Coincidences

I'm am Stephan Pastis' #1 fan.  I've followed Pearls Before Swine almost from the beginning.  One of his early strips dealt with the natural world.

Discovery Channel recently had Shark Week, and this is the promo they made --

Other than the ending, it follows almost beat for beat the original strip, returning a rescued seal to the wild (although, in Pearls, it gets eaten by a whale instead).

No, I don't think they ripped off Pastis.  Lots of people with awareness of nature and warped senses of humor would have done this.  And it is a well-crafted gag.

I just wanted to establish that my favorite got there first is all.
Worms Ready For Battle


Comics Alliance was a great web site that unfortunately closed down due to the down advertising market.  Which is a shame.  It was fun, and wasn't just about the big names.  Indies were welcome.  Anything pop culture was welcome, you didn't just have to be a comics fan to hang there, that was just what got you in the door.

CA is gone.  But it's legacy lives on with us fans and with a podcast that originated there called War Rocket Ajax.

And they are going to talk up Hannah Singer, Celestial Advocate.


See, there are good points to not being able to sit still.  And to liking MLP -- one of the hosts is a brony.  ;-)

I'll let you know the detes when the show goes up, but in exchange for me buying a sponsorship, they will give the books a nice little talk up.  The hosts seem intrigued with the book, which helps -- you can tell when someone is just phoning it in to pay the bills and when they are interested.  And since this is for general pop culture, including books, I might hit a richer target area for expanding my readership and awareness.

I'll keep you posted.  It'll be happening soon.  Keep your various appendages crossed!