Cyberwars: Massive Government Surveillance Uncovered!

wire_tappingOn Friday, Washington DC found itself embroiled in controversy as revelations were made about the extent to which US authorities have been spying on Americans in the last six years. This news came on the heels of the announcement that the federal government had been secretly cataloging all of Verizon’s phone records. No sooner had the dust settled on that revelation that it became known that the scope of the Obama administration’s surveillance programs was far greater than anyone had imagined.

According to updated information on the matter, it is now known that The National Security Agency (NSA) and the FBI have been tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies, extracting everything from audio and video chats, photographs, e-mails, documents, and connection logs that would enable their analysts to track foreign targets.

prism3This information was revealed thanks to a secret document that was leaked to the Washington Post, which shows for the first time that under the Obama administration, the communication records of millions of US citizens are being collected indiscriminately and in bulk – regardless of whether they are suspected of any wrongdoing. Equally distressing is the names being named: U.S. Service Providers such as Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, Apple.

The document further indicates that all of this has been taking place since 2007, when news disclosures, lawsuits and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court forced then-president George W. Bush to look for new authority to justify his program warrantless domestic surveillance. It’s continuance and expansion under Obama has created a great deal of understandable intrigue, and not only because of promises made that “illegal wiretapping” would not take place under his watch.

prism1The joint FBI-NSA program responsible for mining all the data is known as PRISM, and it may very well be the first of its kind. While the NSA and FBI have a long history of monitoring suspects via phone records and computer activity, and are both accustomed to corporate partnerships that help it divert data traffic or sidestep barriers, such a vast program has never before been possible. In the current information age, there is an immense wealth of information out there, and where better to access all of this than in Silicon Valley?

Not long after the news broke in Washington, London’s Guardian reported that GCHQ, Britain’s equivalent of the NSA, also has been secretly gathering intelligence from the same internet companies through an operation set up by the NSA. According to the same leaked information, PRISM appears to allow the GCHQ to circumvent the formal legal process required in Britain to seek personal material such as emails, photos and videos from an internet company based outside of the country.

prism2But perhaps worst of all is the fact that this process is entirely above board, at least for the companies involved. Back in 2007, Congress passed the Protect America Act, and then in 2008 followed it up with the FISA Amendments Act, both of which immunized private companies that cooperated voluntarily with U.S. intelligence collection against prosecution. And late last year, when critics in Congress sought changes in the FISA Amendments Act, the only lawmakers who knew about PRISM were bound by oaths of office to hold their tongues.

An anticipated, a bi-partisan amalgam of Senators came out to defend the initial reports of phone record monitoring shortly after it was announced. In a rare display of solidarity that cut across party lines, Democrats and Republicans from both the Senate and House came forward to say that the program was justified, only spied on terrorists, and that law-abiding citizens need not worry.

National Security Agency - aerial view
National Security Agency – aerial view

Once again, the argument “if you’ve done nothing wrong, you’ve got nothing to fear” finds itself employed by people who do not want to voice criticisms about a government spying program. Echoes of the Bush administration and McCarthy era all over again. Needless to say, all of this has many people worried, not the least of which are people opposed to government intrusion and the protection of privacy for the past decade.

Ever since it became possible to “mine data”  from numerous online digital sources, there has been fear that corporations or governments might try to ascertain the habits and comings and goings of regular people in order to effectively monitor them. For some time now, this sort of monitoring has been somewhat benign, in the form of anticipating their spending habits and using targeted advertising. But always, the fear that something more sinister and totalitarian might emerge.

government-surveillanceAnd with the “War on Terror”, the Patriot Act, domestic warrantless wiretapping, the legitimization of torture, and a slew of other crimes the Bush administration was indicted in, people all over the world have become convinced that “Big Brother” government is just around the corner, if indeed it is not already here.

The fact that such processes have continued and even expanded under Obama, a man who originally pledged not to engage in such behavior, has made a bad situation worse. In many ways, it demonstrates that fears that he too would succumb to internal pressure were justified. Much as he was won over by the Pentagon and CIA to continue the war in Afghanistan and UAV programs, it seems that the constellation of FBI and NSA specialists advising him on domestic surveillance has managed to sway him here as well.

Stealth-Wear1One can only hope that this revelation causes the federal government and the Obama administration to reconsider their stances. After all, these are the same people who were convinced to stand down on the use of UAVs in oversees operations and to take measures that would ensure transparency in the future. We can also hope that the NSA and FBI will be required to once again have to rely on the court system and demonstrate “just cause” before initiating any domestic surveillance in the future.

Otherwise, we might all need to consider getting our hands on some stealth wear and personal cameras, to shield ourselves and create an environment of “sousveillance” so we can spy on everything the government does. Might not hurt to start monitoring the comings and goings of every telecommunications and Silicon Valley CEO while were at it! For as the saying goes, “who watches the watchers?” I’ll give you a hint: we do!

Also, be sure to check out the gallery of artist Adam Harvey, the man who pioneered “stealth wear” as a protest against the use of drones and domestic surveillance. To learn more about sousveillance, the concept of a society monitored by common people, check out Steve Mann’s (inventor of the EyeTap) blog.

Sources: washingtonpost.com, guardian.co.uk, policymic.com, ahprojects.com, eyetap.blogspot.ca

 

Drone Wars: Hiding Your Home from a UAV

(U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson)(Released)In a world increasingly permeated by surveillance systems, especially ones that are airborne and remotely operated, it was only a matter of time before some struck back. Much like Steve Mann’s concept of sousveillance – using camera devices and wearable computers to help people spy back against “Big Brother” – it seems that there are individuals out there looking for ways to help the common people avoid UAV detection.

In this case, the individual is Tim Faucett, CEO of APlus Mobile. When his company is not manufacturing mobile computer units that manage robots and UAVs for clients like the U.S. Navy and Lockheed Martin, they are contemplating ways to shield us from the technology they help create. Might seem a bit ironic, but looking to the future, Faucett and his colleagues are concerned about people other than government and military having access to the technology.

drone_target_1Alongside the FAA, which estimates that there could be tens of thousands of unmanned aircrafts circling overhead by the end of this decade, Faucett believes the future will be permeated by privately-owned unmanned aerial vehicles:

There are going to be private drones, there’s going to be commercial drones. Everybody’s going to have access to a drone. And people are going to have good intentions with them, and people are going to have bad intentions with them.

An interesting idea, and not one the public has fully considered yet. Most concerns vis a vis UAVs and their unlawful use are targeted at the governments who use them, mainly with the intention of “combating terrorism” overseas. But to Faucett, the real threat comes from our neighbors and private groups, people who are harder to discern, identify and fight than a monolithic organization.

drone-laser-targeting_620x374In keeping with this mindset, a few weeks ago, his startup Domestic Drone Countermeasures filed its first of what he said would be nine patents for a system that will detect and disable drones before they have the chance to film their targets. Few details have been made available yet as to what these systems involve, mainly because it’s new and Faucett hopes to keep the cat in the bag until its time to unveil.

Still, some details have managed to trickle out, such as Faucett’s own reference to a system that includes software and sensors that will be able to identify nearby UAVs based on their electromagnetic signature, alert the owner of the system, and then “neutralize the drone’s capability to see you with its camera.” But Faucett was also sure to emphasize the non-military nature of all this, responding to rumors that his company is developing some sort of weaponry:

We don’t interfere with the drones navigation in any way. We don’t jam anything. We don’t intercept anything … This is non-combative. That’s really important. We’ve taken great pains to design systems that aren’t going to get shut down or be outlawed or become illegal. … We’ve taken the combat elements out so [the former military technology] can’t be viewed as unlawful.

???????????????????In fact, the new system may actually be capable of doing something creative and comical, should anyone attempt to spy on you. And all without causing harm to the camera that’s attempting to see you :

The camera just won’t be able to look at you. Actually, at some point, we can show the operator at the other end a little movie or something.

So try to misuse a UAV, and you may end with an eye full of porn bombs, or several hours of Desperate Housewives, playing on a loop. Take that, nosy neighbor! You too, Big Brother!

Faucett says his team of three full-time engineers and several part-time staffers should be able to bring the system to market in a matter of months. It’ll be scalable to suit the needs of someone who just wants their home protected, ranging from a home owner who some added security, to larger property owners or institutional clients. You might say, spying will become the new type of Cold War, with government, security and surveillance companies all engaged in a game of one-upmanship.

And as usual, I sense an idea for a novel… Patent Pending!

Source: fastcoexist.com

 

The Future is Here: The Autonomous Robotic Jellyfish!

Matt Russiello submerges the RoboJelly. Remember the Medusoid, that creepy robot jellyfish creature that debuted in July of 2012? Well, it seems that Virginia Tech was working on their own, with help from the military. Yes, whereas the medusoid was a project in organic-synthetic interfacing, a collaborative effort between Harvard University and Caltech researchers, this one is the result of ongoing work by the United States Navy.

After years of working on their own model for a robot jellyfish, they unveiled the fruits of that labor earlier this month. Named Cyro – a contraction of robot and Cyanea capillata (the species name for the lion’s mane jellyfish) – this 170 pound biomimetic machine looks and act like a jellyfish, but is in fact an autonomous robot.

cyro1And much the Medusoid and Robojelly – Cyro’s hand-sized predecessor – this second-generation model utilizes what is called “Bio-Inspired Shape memory Alloy Composites (BISMAC)” in order to mimic the motions of the real thing. This consists of a
layer of smart materials (aka. shape memory alloy) that is soft and shaped in such a way to maximize deformation and propulsion.

Underneath this layer of composite material are a number of actuators (i.e. robotic arms) that control the movements of the Cyro. These in turn are mounted on a central body that contains enough hardware to allow the robot to communicate, gather information, and make decisions. What’s more, the developers envisage a fleet of networked Cyros, conducting surveillance and research and sharing the results with each other.

cyro2And as the video below explains, this robot jellyfish is likely to have numerous applications. These included environmental monitoring, cleaning up oil spills, or conducting military surveillance. Of course, it seems pretty obvious what the primary use of the Cyro is going to be, given that the ONR and the U.S. Naval Undersea Warfare Center are responsible for funding it!

No telling how Human Right Watch will react to this, though. How safe would you feel, knowing that the next time you’re snorkeling, swimming or ocean kayaking that a perfectly innocent looking Man-of-War could be spying on you? Check out the video of the Cyro being tested below:


Sources:
fastcoexist.com, emdl.mse.vt.edu

Of Cybernetic Hate Crimes

Google Glass_CalaLast week, a bar in Seattle banned the use of Google Glass. The pub declared on their Facebook page that if anyone wanted to order a pint, they had better remove their $1500 pair of augmented reality display glasses beforehand. Citing the glasses potential to film or take pictures and post them on the internet, the bar owner unflinchingly declared that “ass-kickings will be encouraged for violators.”

This is the second case of what some are dubbing a new wave of “Cybernetic hate crimes”. The first took place back in July 2012 when Steve Mann, a Canadian university professor known as the “father of wearable computing”, was physically assaulted at a McDonalds in Paris, France. In this case, three employees took exception with his wearable computer and tried to physically remove it, an impossibility since it is permanent screwed into his head, and then three him out of the restaurant.

steve-mann1Taken together, these two incidents highlight a possible trend which could become commonplace as the technology grows in use. In some ways, this is a reflection of the fears critics have raised about the ways in which these new technologies could be abused. However, there are those who worry that these kinds of fears are likely to lead to people banning these devices and becoming intolerant to those who use them.

By targeting people who employ augmented reality, bionic eyes, or wearable computers, we are effectively stigmatizing a practice which may become the norm in the not too distant future. But Google responded to the incident with optimism and released a statement that cited shifting attitudes over time:

It is still very early days for Glass, and we expect that as with other new technologies, such as cell phones, behaviors and social norms will develop over time.

smartphonesYes, one can remember without much effort how similar worries were raised about smartphones and camera phones not that long ago, and their use has become so widespread that virtually all doubts about how they might be abused and what effect they would have on social norms have gone quiet. Still, doubts remain that with the availability of technologies that make it easier to monitor people, society is becoming more and more invasive.

But to this, Mann, responds by raising what he had always hoped portable computing would result in. Back in the 1970’s when he first began working on the concept for his EyeTap, he believed that camera-embedded wearables could be both liberating and empowering. In a world permeated by security cameras and a sensory-sphere dominated by corporate memes, he foresaw these devices a means for individuals to re-take control of their environment and protect themselves.

EyeTapThis was all in keeping with Mann’s vision of a future where wearable cameras and portable computers could allow for what he calls sousveillance — a way for people to watch the watchers and be at the ready to chronicle any physical assaults or threats. How ironic that his own invention allowed him to do just that when he himself was assaulted!

And in the current day and age, this vision may be even more important and relevant, given the rise in surveillance and repressive measures brought on in the wake of the “War on Terror”. As Mann himself has written:

Rather than tolerating terrorism as a feedback means to restore the balance, an alternative framework would be to build a stable system to begin with, e.g. a system that is self-balancing. Such a society may be built with sousveillance (inverse surveillance) as a way to balance the increasing (and increasingly one-sided) surveillance.

Raises a whole bunch of questions, doesn’t it? As the issue of dwindling privacy becomes more and more of an issue, and where most people respond to such concerns by dredging up dystopian scenarios, it might be helpful to remind ourselves that this is a form of technology that rests firmly in our hands, the consumers, not those of an overbearing government.

google_glass_banBut then again, that doesn’t exactly ease the fears of a privacy invasion much, does it? Whether it is a few functionaries and bureaucrats monitoring us for the sake of detecting criminal behavior or acts of “sedition”, or a legion of cyberbullies and gawking masses scrutinizing our every move, being filmed and photographed against our will and having it posted is still pretty creepy.

But does that necessitate banning the use of this technology outright? Are we within our rights, as a society, to deny service to people sporting AR glasses, or to physically threaten them if they are unable or unwilling to remove them? And is this something that will only get better, or worse, with time?

Sources: IO9, (2), news.cnet.com, eecg.toronto.edu

Fears of a Police-Drone State

UAVsIn a decision which has been decried by countless community activists and civil rights leaders, the Alameda  County Sheriff’s Department announced plans last month to deploy up to two small, lightweight drones to assist in police surveillance. Despite resistance from the community, the town seems poised to join many other cities in using UAV’s for domestic security, effectively steam-rolling over concerns over privacy and “Big Brother” government.

As it stands, several police agencies across the US are currently using drones, including the Miami-Dade Police Department and the Texas Department of Public Safety. Until recently, the Seattle Police Department also employed a two-drone fleet, but grounded them amidst growing concerns over privacy and a recent government report, which warned that drone use could become even more commonplace.

california_dronesBefore anyone gets too worried, rest assured that the drones in question are a far cry from the UAV’s currently conducting armed missions overseas. Unlike the Predator and Reaper drones that carry multiple Hellfire missiles and can level entire villages, these drones are relatively benign, weighing only a few pounds and relying on a series of propellers to keep them aloft. But of course, the potential for harm resides in their ability to monitor, not to kill…

UAV_scoutConcerns over domestic drone surveillance reached a sort of climax  last February after federal lawmakers signed the Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 into law. Among other things, the act required the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to accelerate drone flights in U.S. airspace. In response, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) warned that the act would allow drone use to become commonplace in the US.

In accordance with that law, drones, known in the report as “unmanned aerial systems,” are currently limited in the United States to law enforcement activities, search and rescue, forensic photography, monitoring or fighting forest fires, border security, weather research, scientific data collection and even hobbies. However, the law calls for expansion so drones can be used for commercial, utility and public  uses.

UAV_dom1Naturally, the FAA feels that the new law doesn’t take into account several key problems – notably concerns surrounding privacy, security and even GPS jamming and spoofing. In short, they pointed out that despite drone’s on-board navigation and detection system that allow them to avoid crashes, said systems could cause complications if and when drones share airspace with private aircraft.

Among other things, the FAA recommended that drone GPS systems undergo encryption so they would be resistant to jamming and hacking, which is apparently a danger in non-military unencrypted drones. They also advised that the government set up secure operation centers for unmanned drones, and recommended that the government formulate privacy protections to head off potential “abuses”.

UAV_domObviously, the FAA’s report and public concern struck a note. Just last month, federal lawmakers introduced legislation regulating state and federal government use of unmanned drones in the United States. This legislation prohibits drones from being armed, and would demand that agencies register drones and adopt privacy polices. What’s more, the proposal would allow drones to be used only in criminal matters, in which warrants would be required.

Once again, it appears that the Obama administration is willing to step in where public concerns over developing technology are concerned. Recall the instruction signed by Defense Secretary Ashton Carter back in December of last year designed to limit the development of autonomous aerial drones? Well here too, instructions have been given, but the general sense of worry is far from alleviated.

X-47BIt puts me in mind of a prediction Arthur C. Clarke made shortly before he died in 2008. He predicted that despite concerns over “Big Brother”-type monitoring, that digital surveillance would be adopted by every city within the civilized world, until such time that crime was virtually eliminated. Much like many predictions he made, this one proved a little optimistic and futurist for some of his fans (including this one!).

As it stands, the use of remote machines to monitor our world is an ongoing and growing concern, and the debate will hardly be decided so easily. In the end, we all just have to ask if we really want to live in a post-privacy state, what the costs of living in that kind of world will be, and whether or not it will truly mean the emergence of dystopian scenarios, as envisioned by George Orwell and others.

Source: Wired.com, (2)

Revengers Mission Report #1

My thanks to all Revengers who reported in to take part in our first round of missions. My favorite response was the following report, as filed by Atrum Auditor (aka. v1rgilmdm of the 8bitbeerblog). The following is his account of the Harlan/Keithly surveillance. The following transcript has been edited for content, but appears here otherwise unabridged:

After hearing about the meeting between Councilman Jeff Harlan and Syndicate Boss Joe “The Stare” Keithly, Atrum Auditor put together his team to expose the truth. After first recruiting Erotica Girl a kick-ass heroine with enhanced strength and the ability to go invisible, Justyka was also recruited for this sensitive mission. As a fellow telepath that can fly and also render herself invisible, she would prove to be indispensable.

This team is optimized for covert, undetectable operations. The team meets at the docks as the sun sets, to survey the area and set up camera and bugs before the illicit meeting starts. Erotica Girl goes invisible to keep watch as Atrum Auditor teleports from shadow to shadow, planting listening devices and video cameras. Meanwhile Justyka plants cameras with night vision and infrared up high on burnt-out lamp posts, a building corner and a crane.

“Ok, this is eyes and ears only. We stay for the meet, record everything and then waylay Keithly until the police can pick up Councilman Harlan,” Atrum reminded the group.

“I still don’t understand why we don’t just take out Keithly and his scumbags out now,” Erotica Girl complained.

“It’s not our place to act as judge and jury,” Justyka replied.

“A win for the police will look good for all of us,” added Atrum. “Just think of it as community block watch or whatever. We set ‘em up, the police knock ‘em down, we all look good”.

“Fine. Whatever,” Erotica Girl rolled her eyes. “What time did your guy say this meet was happening?”

“Twenty-three hundred hours sharp. Keithly can’t abide people who aren’t punctual,” Atrum supplied.

“Great. Just three more hours to kill. What’s the plan to distract Keithly until Harlan get’s arrested?” asked Justyka.

“Well, I -uh… I was thinking Keithly owns this warehouse by the dock here, we could start a small fire and that should cause a distraction. Keithly will probably send his goons to save anything important, leaving him free to have an intimate talk with us. But I’m open to suggestions,” Atrum said, revealing the limit of his ability to organize.

“I say we knock the mob meatheads out and take Keithly on a cruise out in the bay. Maybe with a free pair of cement shoes,” Erotica said with a wicked grin.

“Why don’t we call that plan B?” Justyka mediated.

After testing the video recorders’ night vision and infrared feeds and the audio recording levels, the heroes settled in for their stake-out. Erotica Girl posted herself at a neighboring warehouse, invisible, so that she could be close at hand in case any surprises popped up. Atrum found a spot underneath the dock amidst some ropes and old lumber where he could watch the feeds on his hand-held, but still be within easy teleportation range. Justyka flew up to the crow’s nest of a nearby boat so she could see any traffic by land or sea for miles.

I see a black town car approaching the docks from the East, Justyka broadcasted over the trio’s telepathic link.

Copy that. I have lights, Erotica Girl confirmed mentally.

Stay sharp, and give me descriptions of any unknown parties, Atrum Auditor responded.

Another vehicle approaching. A yellow taxi looks like, Justyka reported.

Yeah, what’s the Councilman thinking? Bringing a civilian? asked Erotica.

They are exiting the car now. I have 5 thermal signatures on camera. Atrum broadcasted visually.

Looks like Keithly brought a couple of heavies. I recognize them from files that have come across my desk. Ex-military enhancement project: codenames Hammer and Spike. Enhanced strength, with Psychokinetic powers and Black Ops trained, Atrum added, as the information flashed on his hand-held.

I feel… A mind above us… Searching. Crap! Erotica! What’s your position? Justyka asked, panicked.

Uh..guys? We might want to call the Captain for back-up. Erotica Girl suggested.

Indeed. Came an amused unfamiliar thought-voice.

*                     *                     *

Not bad, huh? As you can plainly see, tension is mounting and it seems the mission has taken on a sinister edge. Well, more sinister, since it already involved mob bosses and corrupt councilmen. And it seems some additional forces are being called for. As such, I, Captain Smackdown, am pledging to arrive on scene with backup! Panacea, Dark Angel, are you with me?  Looks like our take down of Billy Bob will have to wait another night! Inferno, rendezvous with us there! And dammit, answer your phone!

The Future is Here: Predator Drones and UAV’s!


There’s been quite a bit of talk and controversy lately with regard to a new piece of military technology. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, or UAV’s, have been taking to the air in the last few years and assisting with military operations in a number of theaters. As a result, people have been both condemning and hailing the new technology, citing the details of its limited service record to make their point. To some, its all part of the larger effort to “unman the front lines” as a way to save lives. To others, its an attempt to impose military force on others without having to risk the lives of our own soldiers.

I thought it was high time I weigh in on this issue since I’ve been doing some research on it lately. In order to write decent fiction about high-tech surveillance, and to understand the paranoia (justified or not) surrounding these vehicles, some not-so-light reading seemed in order.

To break it down succinctly, the Predator UAV (or drone), the one which has been generating all the headlines, is a turboprop aircraft (not a jet) that is unmanned and controlled remotely.This can be done from a military base several kilometers away, or in the field by a controller using a remote box similar to a large laptop. Pretty sci-fi!

A typical MQ-9 is capable of monitoring a 360 area beneath it using its Lynx synthetic aperture radar and mobile Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR) camera. Using these, operators are able to spot enemy troops and vehicles and then deploy the drones’ ordinance, which usually consists of up to 14 Hellfire missiles. These missiles made their big debut in the Gulf War where they popularized for their use in destroy Iraqi tanks, usually by Apache attack choppers.

But of course, there are UAV’s beyond the MQ-9 Predator that are rarely talked about. For instance, there are unarmed military craft that are used strictly for surveillance and aerial reconnaissance.

Within the private sector, there are aerial drones who’s job it is to explore for deposits of oil, gas and minerals over large areas of terrain. Government and private agencies also used them to monitor livestock, keep track of wildfires, conduct scientific research, as well as for road surveillance and anti-piracy coastal patrols.

In these cases, smaller and less intimidating craft are used, most of which are about the size of a full-grown terrier. In other cases, they can be about the size of a remote controlled helicopter, and often involve the exact same technology!

Love it or hate it, UAV technology appears to be the way of the future for the modern armed forces, as intrinsic to the air force as Future Soldier is to the infantry. Designed to tackle missions that fall into the category of the 3D’s – dirty, dull, or dangerous – and provide close air support, the militarized version is really no different than any other piece of military hardware. It’s purpose is to give its side an edge and prevent the loss of friendly lives. Anything else is just window dressing!

Hellfire missile

Some people naturally fear this, because if history has taught us anything it’s that the Pentagon means business when it comes to public support. The experiences of Vietnam and the Gulf War were both instructive experiences which taught them much about the role of the media. By the time of Afghanistan and the Iraq War, they had their strategy worked out with embedded reporters.

However, this did not prevent Iraq – and slowly, Afghanistan – from becoming unpopular when the hoped-for results didn’t come, mistakes piled up and the crisis kept deepening. As a result, the same tactics that were taken in Vietnam – stepped-up recruitment, glossing over civilian deaths, and scare campaigns – were used to try to keep people on side.

Seen in this light, these attempts to “unman” the front lines are merely more of the same from an institution that wants to make war palatable to the masses so they can go on fighting them. On the one hand, this might seem like an obvious goal since no military can do its job without popular support. On the other, it can be seen as an agenda by the US military-industrial complex to ensure it can keep protecting its interests without being hampered by conscientious objections or outrage.

I guess in the end we all have to decide for ourselves what we think of all this. In the meantime, I urge everyone to learn more about UAV technology and its various uses. And while you’re at it, check out this video clip form a few years back. It’s quite good.

Dataminers – Chapter 8

Prad’s steering wheel looked to be a tad bit dented as he pulled into the employee parking lot that morning. It might have had something to do with the fact that he was beating it with his fist for the entire drive. Caught between ecstasy and anxiety, he expressed himself by repetitively thrusting his fist against it. It was a happy beating, but it left his fist sore nonetheless. He checked the time just as he pulled in.

9:13 am. He would be fifteen minutes late by the time he got inside and to his desk. The sweat was already collecting on his brow the second he got to the front door. The weather was nice and warm, the sun shining. The welcoming concrete of the front entrance was already baking and radiating some heat up at him. Not a good combination at the moment. He forgot to apply his Speed Stick and his grimy extremities are also getting warm.

A quick run up the stairs to the second floor, where the air conditioning is running, the colours are muted greys, and the lights are fluorescent. He knows his pits will be cooling in this and will surely begin to reek in just a few minutes. But what can he do? He needs to get to his desk and act like he’s been working this whole time. Lunch will be the first opportunity he gets to take care of the smell problem. Flex hours are a thing of the past, abandoned in favour of the easier-to-monitor and regulate eight hour day. Under that ancient regimen, the hours of nine to twelve and one to five are spoken for. If he’s absent for any amount of time within those two blocks, he’ll be penalized. And he can forget about staying late, that’s overtime.

Prad takes a moment to curse the one group of assholes in management and the other in labour who created this ridiculous system between them. He hopes there’s a particular stinky corner especially reserved for them in hell (the smell that’s wafting through his shirt at that moment is what makes him think of this).

He wonders what the words in his native tongues would be for the condition. He wonders mainly because the English word is just so damned appropriate, and yet so abrupt. Like many such words, missing entirely are the long flowery descriptions that just don’t translate well.

Grime.

One can practically hear the old English usage, the Germanic roots that feel so folksy and earthy. So much meaning wrapped up in a tiny poetic statement consisting of only a few phonemes. He has learned the Thai and Filipino equivalents, but somehow, they just don’t seem to do it justice.

Magdumi… S̄kprk… Just not the same.

The endorphin rush from the mad dash he made getting to his desk seems to have triggered another episode of temporary lucidity. But right now, its swimming upstream against the Purple Haze. He hits the power button on the monitor and calls up his last task. His fingers begin to navigate code, one keystroke at a time.

“Hey,” Rohit says from behind him. “Didn’t hear you sneak in.”

“Are we married now?”

“There’s a list up on the break room wall. You should take a look.”

“What is it?” Prad asks, turning around.

“Schedule for interviews.”

“Interviews? For what?”

Rohit raises his hand from behind the cubicle, revealing a cup of coffee he had stashed there. He sips from it slowly and shakes his head, his lips formed in a tight grimace.

“You got a short memory, don’t you? I told you the other day.”

Prad looks at him cockeyed. Rohit leans in closer and whispers it to him.

“When you were bragging to me about that ‘thing’ you did?” he uses his fingers to make quotation marks. Prad’s memory kicks in. The parts that make it through the haze come back to him. Rohit was muttering something about HR and how they all have to explain why they need to keep their jobs. He remembers Rohit being pretty bitter about it, or maybe that was him. And wasn’t there something about bosses, unions and the industrialization of work time? No, that was definitely him, and that was only a few minutes ago! Damn, Prad thinks. He needs to stop getting messed up on weeknights. In any case, he considers the partial recall sufficient and nods.

“Anyway, it’s on the wall in the break room. People need to sign up and most of the good spots are taken.”

“When’s left?”

“Mainly late night, Tuesday and Friday.”

Prad jumps to his feet and runs to the break room. Sure enough, a sign up sheet is on the bulletin board with a permanent marker hanging by a string next to it. Someone is in the process of signing it. Prad joins them to get a better look, also because he feels like he has to stop them. Sure enough, and Rohit really wasn’t kidding there, just about every time slot and every day of the week have been spoken for. Tuesday, morning and afternoon, are gone, much the same is true about Friday. Some late comers have taken the later afternoon slots, lengthening their stay to after five o’clock. But as of now, Prad has to decide between an interview that will waste a Friday evening or one that will compromise his next meeting with the Society.

He turns around and sees Rohit standing there in the doorway, coffee cup in hand.

“When did this go up? This morning?”

“Yep.” Rohit puts his cup to his mouth with an air of smug self-satisfaction. Prad sees why a second later. Rohit’s John Hancock is in the prime location, Monday morning of next week, second timeslot (which is scheduled for ten o’clock). This ensures that he can get his out of the way early but he doesn’t have to go first. It also means he can take his time getting ready for it in the morning. As time slots go, it’s almost ideal. Prad, on the other hand, is screwed no matter what slot he takes. All the remaining interviews will be held late, but not late enough that he can go home and come back. Either night, he’ll have to stay several extra hours and then have to go through the demeaning interview process. Angrily, Prad takes the marker and sacrifices a few hours out of his Friday night rather than mess with Tuesday meeting of the Society.

Yamal Pradchaphet, he writes, in the 7:00 pm slot.

He recaps the pen and flicks it away in a motion that leaves no doubt as to how little he cares for this arrangement.

“You fucker!”

“Early bird gets the worm. Besides, the time slot isn’t exactly what you should be worrying about. If I were you, I’d be working on what I’m going to tell the panel.”

“Panel? There’s a panel?”

“Yes,” Rohit says, slamming his cup down and fetching another dose of coffee. “As I’m sure I explained already.”

“Nope,” Prad says, searching his memory, which for the first time that day seems pretty clear. “Nothing about a panel. So who’s on it?”

“Your HR rep, your supervisor, some of the execs. Basically, you got five people all looking to nail you and you need to be able to tell them why they shouldn’t.”

“They can suck my ball sack. They need me!”

“Sure they do.”

“If they knew half of what I could do, they’d be begging me to stay.”

“Really?” Rohit says disbelievingly, taking another sip as nonchalantly as he can manage. Prad is now following him back to his cubicle, like a little runt dog barking after the bigger one that doesn’t want to pay attention to him. He knows a brush-off when he sees it, and it’s pissing him off.

“I’m serious man!” he says persistently. “People like me need to stay hired by companies like this, otherwise we’d be shoving viruses up their asses.”

“Right.”

They are almost to Rohit’s cubicle now. Prad is not about to follow him all the way there and bark at him while he gets back to work. It would just look so undignified. He has one final salvo to throw at Rohit, something to turn the tables on him a little, even though it’s a little used.

“You don’t believe me, huh?” he says with a forceful whisper, loud enough to get through but not to so loud the other employees can him over the din of work. “Maybe you should ask Congressman Dangle what he thinks of my skills.”

“Jeez, that again!” Rohit says with obvious annoyance. “You know, you keep bringing up that name, but we both know you’re not about to explain that one, so why not just let it go?”

“Fine,” Prad says angrily. He lowers his voice again to a forced whisper. “Then check in with the FBI. I’m sure they’ve got something on their website.”

Prad turns around before Rohit can answer. He’s sure he can feel his eyes boring into his own back. Maybe he hasn’t heard the news yet, but it’ll hit him in a few. At worst, he’s probably going back to his desk where he can Google it from. Then he’ll see!

Ah, but fuck it all. Now he’s really breached protocol with that little act of self-gratification. Protocol about the Society is, you do not talk about the Society, or what it does. You mention them as friends should they come in conversation, maybe; but never what you do with them. Only the DeePs are such dishonourable scourges as to brag openly. One may have bragging rights, but one does not use them around third parties. It’s just common sense. And in mentioning the FBI, he’s really been way too open. Why didn’t he just write Felon on his head with a big, black permanent marker? It’s a lucky coincidence for him that no one else from the Society works there. Otherwise, he’d have a lot to answer for.

He’s back at his desk for less than ten minutes before the grime becomes intolerable. He needs more coffee too now that he thinks about it. But his bladder needs to be emptied before he fills it up again. Getting to his feet, he makes his way to the floor’s bathroom for a quick pee break and a touch up. Voiding his bladder, he takes his time at the sink to spruce up his facial situation. His eyes are bloodshot and his hair speaks of poor maintenance. Several handfuls of cool water feel good on his unshaven, unwashed cheeks. The quick burst of adrenaline from the sudden shock of cold is also nice, the dribbling water washing the oily, stale feeling away temporarily. He runs a few spare handfuls over his head too, just to get at the main source of discomfort. No matter how many times he washes his whiskers, grime from the top of his head seems to seep down and dirty them again. He knows this from experience. Always need to get the hair too.

Washed up, he grabs a handful of towels and runs them through his hair to partially dry it. The remaining droplets need to air dry, thus dissolving the grime and taking it away with them. It’s a practiced ritual, he’s found, the daily fight against the grime. One imagines if it can ever be truly won, or if it’s like trying to hold back a flood with a broom. How strangely enlightened a thought this seems right about now. How many lucid moments does that make for him today?

His taste of enlightenment is abruptly ended when he spots O’Malley walking into a stall behind him. Pausing to notice Prad standing there, looking into the mirror, he fires off a quick salvo.

“Forget to wash up this morning, Prad? Or did they shut off your water?” he says with a derisive laugh.

“Must have, Brad,” he replies with a fake smile. “Why else would I be washing out of a sink?”

He tries his best to say O’Malley’s name in a way that makes it sound offensive. Brad. Braaaad. Well, it sounds bad to him. Hoping to justify the hate with which Prad views him, O’Malley goes on.

“Must not be used to bathing every day where you’re from, huh?”

“That’s funny O’Malley. You fuck your mother with that mouth?”

“Asshole,” O’Malley scoffs, shoving the door shut.

“Dickhead,” Prad fires at the stall door and O’Malley’s shoes. At least he didn’t make a toilet paper joke. Then Prad would be forced to bring up O’Malley’s questionable hick ancestry. He doesn’t like that, he knows. O’Malley insists he’s from New York, umpteenth generation Irish stock. But he knows he’s a racist prick, so the inbred hillbilly references are all good.

Prad tosses the wet bundle of towels into the wastebasket and makes his way to the break room. Freshly washed cups are hard to come by in the cupboard. The sign on the front urging people to wash their own dishes apparently has not made a dent. Here too, the war on grime is being lost, the kind that invades chinaware and glass. Taking the least shmutzy one, he gives it a quick rinse, ignoring the brown line at the bottom, then fills it with coffee from the dispenser. He’s surprised that Rohit is not at his desk when he returns. He is sure that by now he’s had a looky loo on the web and found the story: the one about one asshole Senator and some photos that surfaced about him from the FBI’s own surveillance database. Lo and behold, he’s still at his desk. His back is busy typing away on his machine and he appears to be working.

Oh well, Prad thinks. Just as well, let him find out about it in time. Alternately, maybe he’ll forget Prad said anything and his little breach of protocol will never be revealed. One can always hope, but damn he wants to see the look on Rohit’s face when he realizes he’s been in the presence of a veritable cybergod for months.

Data Miners – Chapter 1

Hello! In anticipation for Data Miners release, I will posting chapters of the upcoming novel online for free over the next couple of days. As usual, I will be posting sample chapters over at my free ebook sites as well. So if you feel like downloading a larger text file, feel free to  visit them. Otherwise, stay tuned and enjoy the first five chapters, free of charge and hot from my own personal printing press (by which I mean my laptop!) Look for the rest, coming soon, on Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble, or at Kindle and Nook for iPads, tablets and other devices.

http://www.feedbooks.com/
http://www.free-ebooks.net/

Epilogue:

“Yes, I am a criminal.  My crime is that of curiosity.  My crime is that of judging people by what they say and think, not what they look like. My crime is that of outsmarting you, something that you will never forgive me for… I am a hacker, and this is my manifesto.  You may stop this individual, but you can’t stop us all… after all, we’re all alike.”

-The Mentor, “The Conscience of a Hacker”,
January 8, 1986

One
June 23rd, 2009

2:35 pm.

Yamal Pradchaphet eyes the preference line for what feels like the millionth time in the last few minutes.  It’s not an easy question and he needs to think it over for a minute or two.  His right hand poised over the keys, his left scratching at the tuft of greasy hair hanging in his face.  He looks to his right and spies the big pile of blank reports and worksheets next to his monitor.  He’ll be sure to get to those just as soon as he takes care of this little task.

“What kind of women do you want to meet?”

The undressing lady holds her pose after pushing her lace-covered chest outward.  The gentle soprano that is her voice is still ringing in his ears.  He dares not say Asian, or Filipino.  That would limit his options greatly in the latter case, and he doesn’t much trust the former.  If he wants to meet girls his mother approves of, he might as well date the girls they keep suggesting for him.  The old joke he used to tell his parents runs through his mind.

Mom, I bring home nice girls all the time.  You don’t need to.

Still, the woman is looking for an answer.  Damn she’s hot too.  Why can’t he just say he wants her?  Her black lace underwear and shapely curves are something he could wear all day.  Why doesn’t she come with the service?

Because she’s a fucking model you idiot, and those curves are digitally enhanced!

So many years and so many kilometres separating him and his heritage, and he still can’t seem to screw up the courage to be honest, not without looking over his shoulder.  He checks once more, then clicks on the boxes he really wants.

Blonde, Brunette, Redhead.  And Caucasian just in case that’s not clear enough.  He looks at the other possibilities for a second too and selects Latina and Mediterranean.  It’s interesting how specific they can be, but preferences tend to be that way.  Those were the women he truly fantasized about, the ones he thought of whenever… you know.

“What kind of relationship are you looking for?” the woman asks, and starts to undo the hook on her bra.  Pradchaphet’s breath goes shallow and he lowers the volume to one shade above mute.  She’s on the verge of exposing her tits, the straps dropping and exposing the slip of pale flesh above the nipples.  He’s never found the nerve to go this far at his desk in his place of work.  But boredom and horniness are the fertilizers of impetuous acts.  And right now he is really, really bored… and the rest.

He clicks once on discreet relationship and again on erotic chat/email, just for good measure.  Please let this be the last step, he prays to any God that will listen, and hits Enter on his keyboard.

Her breasts are now bare.  Prad is momentarily excited, then slightly disappointed.  The fine, pink globes and the tiny brown nipples just don’t seem so thrilling now that they are out.  Perhaps it was a buildup.  Still, he’s not going to count his chickens until he sees her totally in the buff.

“What’s your name?” she asks, undoing her short skirt.  The panties match the bra, black, thin and lacy, showing just enough skin around the most sensitive areas.  But alas, a name for his account…  He really didn’t give that one any thought until now.  It’s important not to use his Society name, the one his friends see whenever privileged emails are sent. Lucky he has a family name that translates so well when it comes to internet handles.

PradChap.  No one ever uses that name.  The numbers aren’t even really necessary, just a way to meet the minimum field requirement of seven figures.

He hits Enter again and holds his breath.

The woman disappears.  Her almost naked body vanishes into the thin air of cyberspace while somewhere, a computer processes his application.  Damn you vile temptress, he thinks as he waits for the list of possible hook ups to appear.  Sure enough, they do, a new focus for his sexual frustrations.  The title line says it all.

Women In Your Area Looking for Fun and Casual Hook-ups.

He scans through the long list of grainy pics, nothing like the ones used to lure him in while he was cruising the torrent sites, looking for downloads.  Already he’s losing interest in the whole process.  Playmates just isn’t living up to its name just yet.  He looks at the clock in the lower right hand corner of his screen.  The thought of cruising some free sites suddenly seems much more appealing.  At the very least it would kill some time before he finally has to punch out.

He calls up the Candylist directory and starts right clicking on the sites he wants from the long list that Candy, the site’s hot little avatar that dances in the upper right corner, has graciously provided him with.

Busty, Teens, and what the hell, Asians.

***

3:15 pm.

The coffee has turned stale and is just hot enough to melt the three sugar cubes that are needed to mask the awful taste.  Coffee mate is available, but something about the powdered shit makes him uneasy.  He decides to raid the fridge, see if there is any fresh milk or cream in there.  An opened carton of half-and-half is all he can find.

“Don’t let Miriam catch you with that.”

Prad recognizes the voice.  It’s Rohit, his only real companion in this jungle of steel and concrete, at least the only one he truly thinks of as a friend.  He eyes the container and assumes the obvious.

“It hers?”

“Yep, and she’s not one for sharing.”

“How would she know?” Prad says.  “As if there aren’t enough people crammed into this floor as it is.”

“Yeah, I suppose.  What are you working on?”

“Fucking the dog,” Prad says, giving his coffee a stir and sip.  His appraisal of the taste comes through in a big wide grimace.  Too sweet, and kind of burnt, like honey on blackened toast.  Rohit gives him a nervous look.

“Uh-oh, I know what that means.”

“It’s not like you spend every hour at your desk working,” Prad reminds him.

“No, but Tetris and Minesweeper aren’t considered offensive.  You know they’re short-listing people for the downsizing list.  Quickest way to get on that list is to commit a sex offence.”

“Like flash my junk at the software chick with the big tits?”

Rohit takes a sip from his own mug of stale coffee and looks at the break room door.  He shoots Prad a look that says “watch it!”  Even joking about that sort of thing is a no-no in the workplace nowadays.  Prad rolls his eyes and tries to absorb the moral.  He will be sure to lower his voice when making such comments again.

“Alright, I get the point,” he concedes.  “So you have an idea who’s on that list?”

“Oh, you know, same old.  Temps, part-timers, and a few old people who they figure they can kick out with some severance and not have to worry about promoting.  And I hear there’s a couple who are finally getting the boot because of complaints filed against them.”

Please be O’Malley, Prad thinks.  The old prig is a constant fucking pain, disliked by the ladies and the younger gents alike, especially the ones he refers to as the “ethnic ones”.  He isn’t the only one Prad would be happy to say goodbye to, but based on Rohit’s criteria, he seems the most deserving.

“So how much time do you figure we have here?”

“We?” Rohit says incredulously.  The idea that Prad would speak about them in the same sentence is clearly a shock.  “Not sure how much time I got.  Job security isn’t exactly a solid commodity around here right now.”

Prad scoffs.  “Big execs always use that ‘bad economy’ shit to justify firing people.”

“Doesn’t make any difference to us though does it?  Laid off is laid off.”

Prad nods, conceding the point.  “So how much time do you figure?”

“Me, I’m guessing us baseline programmers got about six months before they start streamlining us.”

“Christmas?  You think they’d lay people off before the holidays?”

“Easier than waiting til after to do it.  Plus you get to spend the severance on presents and booze, helps numb the pain.”

“Still cold, man.”

“Anyway, I don’t think I’ll be getting a pink slip during the first round.”

“What about me?”

Rohit takes another sip and looks to be running Prad’s prospects in his mind.  One thing programmers were good at was statistical analysis, which also made them adept gamblers.  Not that Rohit could ever be tempted into doing any.  He was boring like that…

“Well,” he finally says with a shrug.  “I’m sure you could look forward to a big, fat holiday severance.”

“Woohoo…” Prad raises his hand in a mock victory salute.  “At least I can look forward to sleeping in, and not working for people way stupider than me.”

Rohit looks at the break room doorway again.

“Dude, you need to shut up.”

***

6:30pm.

Prad is home from work in the Empire State Towers, apartment fourteen-eleven, which is a one bedroom suite.  In point of fact, it’s floor thirteen, but due to the superstitious nature of most builders, floor thirteen does not exist.  The view provides a lovely view of the skyline.  At present, a beautiful orange hue is settling over the city, due in part to humidity, engine emissions and the fact that a stiff sea breeze hasn’t rolled in in recent days.  Prad loves the colors, but would enjoy another transfusion of ocean air soon.  The smell of smog reminds him too much of visiting family overseas.

A takeout box of fried Singapore noodles sits next to the keyboard.  A few splotches of sauce decorate his shirt, but none had reached the keyboard thanks to his chopstick handling skills.  The television plays in the background.  It’s six o’clock so there’s nothing on except for the news.  Scarcely anything that deserves attention, just more fear and controversy, people dying in the Middle East, murder and mayhem here at home.  Rummaging through Shoutwire is so much more interesting.  There are two stories that occupy his attention at the moment. One is a recent study conducted in France that is making waves, linking crime rates to ethnicity.  Apparently, the researcher contends that people of Muslim backgrounds, specifically Algerians and Moroccans are more likely to commit crimes.  He can bear reading about this study for only a few minutes before losing his cool and starts leaving harsh comments.

Everybody knows the French want to ban Muslim immigration!  This study is propaganda and nothing more.  Quit pretending like this is an issue!

The other is summed up by its title, “Facebook linked to rise in Syphilis”.  He has to admit, the link is tenuous, but makes for much more interesting reading.

Some news hits the screen that catches his attention, both ears tuning in.  A special interest story concerning a person whose name he recognizes.  He hasn’t heard it in awhile, but he’s certainly no stranger to national news.  His fame was one of the reasons Prad was proud to know Professor Germaine of MIT, a big name in the wireless world.  Prad had read about it already on all the webnews sites for days now; the mainstream media is only now getting around to talking about it.  The once proud and eccentric teacher of Data Systems Analysis at MIT is under the weather and not long for this world, the perky Asian reporter, Hillary Qin, is saying.  The investigative report takes the usual circuitous route to tell him this, going back over his life for those who did not have the benefit of knowing him.

“Albert Germaine was a gifted student who excelled in the maths and sciences.  From an early age, he was fascinated with computers and data systems.  In his teen years, when most boys his age were interested in cars and going to drive-in movies, Professor Germaine was at work loading punch cards into his IBM or reading up on Alan Turing.  In 1978, he was accepted into the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he furthered his studies in computer science, with a double minor in linguistics and behavioural psychology.  His doctoral thesis, entitled “The Turing Test from a Behavioural Perspective”, argued that machines, in time, would be capable of imitating basic human thought and behaviour.  His thesis drew on many seminal thinkers of his time, from Wittgenstein and Ryle to B.F. Skinner and John B. Watson.  Arguing that the human brain, in its most basic form, is essentially a series of program instructions which are formed in accordance with conditioning and experience (similar to computer algorithms) he believed that a sufficiently advanced data system would be capable of independent thought and reason.  In addition to behavioural psychologists, he also drew on noted authors, such as Philip K. Dick and Arthur Koestler, to make his point.  The human brain, he argued, had evolved to meet the challenges of life through adaptive hardware and tailored software.  Language, reasoning, routines, even philosophy could be broken down into programming language.  This sort of language, rendered in digital form, could give a machine the same capabilities.

“After a five year stint as a researcher with a private laboratory, Germaine returned to MIT where he divided his time between teaching and advancing his research.  Convinced that Alan Turning’s theories could be proven, he began using CT scans to map the brains of volunteers.  As would later be learned, he performed many scans on himself as well.  Once he had a sufficient idea of what specific human neural patterns looked like, he ventured, he would be able to design a synthetic version.  For years, his work would attract scorn and controversy from theorists and the general public who accused him of practising a sort of technological Fascism. Some went so far as to compare him with Nazi researchers who performed cruel tests on human subjects.  Others claimed that his ideas and research sought to deprive the human mind of its mystery and sacred value…

Prad had to tune out at this point, as he is already intimately familiar with most of the details of the professor’s history.  Any student of data systems analysis at MIT knew about the professor.  Anyone who was anyone in the programming world knew the name by reputation.  They all knew exactly how he viewed all that hubbub as well, so Prad didn’t need to hear it from Qin.  Germaine was as myopic as he was fucking brilliant; he believed those who didn’t understand or agree with him were small-minded or blind to simple realities.  He had little time for what he called “mind-body dualistic nonsense”, just as he had little time for Christians and other religious people.  Many of his students dropped or boycotted his courses because of this.  The campus’ Christian Coalition smeared him with pamphlets and seminars and petitioned the university to fire him.  Eventually, they got their way.  Prad smiled when he heard Qin addressing this next.  It was as if they had a direct line to his brain and he were the one giving the report:

“In 1996, Germaine was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, a condition which had been misdiagnosed in his youth.  Like many of his generation, he grew up with various labels, some saying that he was a genius, others that he was intellectually disabled.  Germaine worked through and around these labels, and succeeded in spite of them, only to find out in his later years that his gifts and flaws were due to a common neurological disorder.  As if this wasn’t enough, MIT chose to end Germaine’s tenure due to the controversy his work attracted.  Professor Germaine retreated into isolation for a time, reappearing only on occasion as a guest lecturer at symposiums or seminars.  In time, however, a movement arose to restore the professor to his former glory.  A number of organizations and some of his former students, many of whom had risen to positions of prominence in the scientific world, agreed to mount a class-action discrimination lawsuit against MIT for their release of professor Germaine.  The suit never made it to court, as the Institute chose instead to reinstate the professor and allow him to continue his work.  Germaine returned in the fall of 2000.”

And in 2000-2001 (or was it 2001-2002? He couldn’t remember which year it was), Prad had met him.  Angie was a student of his as well, though she and Prad had not known each other until after they had finished their degrees.  It was kind of a bragging rights thing, knowing a man like Germaine.  Most people in the Society did not, something that gave Angie and him some additional prestige, but everyone knew enough about him that it didn’t really matter.  Just about all of them had read Turing, the book he wrote on his seminal mentor, or some of his later published articles. There was also the study he wrote on the next great leap, entitled “Our Silicate Future”.  Most agreed that the man talked like he wrote anyway, one was as good as the next.

In any case, now the professor was on death’s door, diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour.  He was sure some assholes in the media would say it was because of all those brain scans, but what the hell did they know?  The Christian students unions would be celebrating for sure as well, even going as far to say that it was God’s punishment for his arrogance.  God liked to punish people who tried to tear the veil of mystery away from his creations, apparently.  He was full of love, but if provoked, would get very nasty, like an abusive dad.  Who knew God was such a good imitator of human behaviour?  He looked up some recent articles on CNN.com and from The Boston Globe that mentioned where he was and how he was doing.  He was still working, they said.  Brave soul, with only a few months left at the outside, but he was carrying on.  The pictures showed him smiling bravely and being helped around by some students in their white coats.  Prad felt a tinge of jealousy.  The honour of helping the man complete his work was something only the truly skilled should be doing.  Someone like him, in other words.

Maybe when I get fired, he ventures.

The television moves onto more boring matters, crime and death in the nation.  Off it goes, and his full attention is back on his computer (or Dorothy, as he knows her).  A little first-person shooter feels right about now, or maybe some time with the blogosphere.  But then there’s the matter of his inbox which has a few new messages he hasn’t checked yet.  He decides to check these before doing anything else.  There’s one for discount boner pills, one for vitamins from the General Health Store, and one for an online dating service.  He shakes his head mournfully before deleting them all.  No matter how many spyware and adware zappers he installs on his machine, his surfing habits still end up in a database somewhere, prompting hordes of unwanted spam.  But at least the dating service offer has reminded him that he needs to check on his account with Playmates.  Despite getting bored with it earlier, he wants to see who might have earmarked him in the Playmates system, see if any of them have more attractive profiles.

Then he notices the email from the Society, the subject line saying “Meeting.”  He quickly opens this one and scans the first few lines of text.  Angela’s signature is at the bottom, her DeeMark as they refer to it.  She’s advising him that their chapter has received a challenge, a test of their mettle from the local DeePs.  Angie’s never one to turn down a challenge; as a matter of honour, she can’t abide trash talk from those bloody pirates!  As a result, she is writing to tell them that their next meeting, scheduled for Tuesday, won’t be the normal online meet and greet.  This time, it will involve a mission, and a rather lucrative one at that.  The nature of it is too sensitive to talk about here, she says.  It will have to be conveyed in person.

The time and the place are written in code one line above her signature.

SCH, D-1, XVIII H-H.

Well that settles things for the evening.  Tomorrow he can look forward to his date with Angela, and whichever other Society guests are in attendance. Tonight, he has a few programs to watch but needs to eat and kill a few hours before that can happen.  He fetches his jacket and keys and decides to head for the pub.

***

8:30pm (or thereabouts).

The killing field stares back at him.  The baked bones and greasy guts are strewn about in a semicircular pile, forced to share space with a defiling mass of crumpled litter.  Prad wonders just how many animals died in this particular holocaust.  Their limbs torn from their bodies, blood gushing and bringing their steroid pumped, cage ridden, grain-fed existence to a slow, agonizing halt.  Born on a death farm, forced to wander around on broken legs, then cut down in their prime to feed the hungry barons of the inner city.  Just like those poor calves in their plastic cages, senseless and isolated until the day when a patron looking to serve up veal parmesan or scaloppini puts the wheels in motion whereby their horrible existence is mercifully ended.  Prad thinks it all over and considers becoming vegetarian until his order of potato skins arrive and he realizes the bacon bits are the best part.

He orders another Sapporo and resolves to give the subject some more thought before making any decision on the matter.  Never hurts to drown a moral decision in endless debate.  The cute underage waitress smiles at him mechanically and takes the plate of bones away.  He knows he’s too messy and bloated to flirt or be of genuine appeal to her, so he resolves to behave himself and not be that asshole who is low enough to flirt with bar staff, or stupid enough to think they are taking him seriously.

Just another Thursday night, and he’s bored, restless, kind of drunk, and aching to go on vacation.  He doesn’t have to drive home and he could find his way back to his flat blindfolded and half-dead.  The potato skins looks good, but he knows they’d be better with a little added cheer.  He makes a beeline for the men’s room and finds a stall where he can sit alone and pop the little something he slipped into his pocket back at his flat.  The tap water has a chemical taste and is way too cold, but he only needs an ounce or two to wash down the jagged pill.  He takes a deep breath and looks at himself in the mirror.  In a few minutes, his night will become a hell of a lot more interesting.