Monsters in the Machine

terminator_5There’s a fascinating article about the NSA just out in the New York Times.  The bottom line is: Yeah, they really can do everything and anything you suspected they could…to your computer (or your car!) whether it’s tuned-in to the internet or not.  So, for all my friends who might view this as paranoia, I say, It’s only paranoia if they aren’t watching you.

Unfortunately, the NSA article served to coalesce a number of odd recent occurrences.  Judge for yourself:   

Siri:  I’ve discussed a couple before but here’s the update:  Siri has taken it upon herself to listen in on our conversations, beckoned…or not.  Our son, Cameron, who’s turning 40 and should know about such things has witnessed it several times now.  Over lunch, we’ll all be chatting about some sensitive topic, and like a precocious teenager who rarely speaks, Siri will chime in with a correction or explanation regarding the topic.  We’ve rebooted, reloaded, deleted several times now but Siri is hanging tough.  It’s a little like having a long-lost relative from lower Slobobia come to visit.  They don’t say much…just take notes and listen mostly.  It’s disconcerting.

P2VThe Phantom 2 Vision Quadcopter:   I’ve been keeping a small cadre of interested people apprised of my experience with this wild device.  NBC uses this very unit.  It’s truly amazing.  

But…there’s a real and recently experienced caveat you should keep in mind as well.  There truly are monsters in the machine:  Having just flown ten perfect textbook sorties with the P2V, I invited my son out to witness what all my raving was about.  

We took it out to a big open field, did the somewhat lengthy flight-check and aligned the GPS compass. It indicated that exactly eleven satellites were somewhere above, guaranteeing that my little drone would wander no more than six feet in any direction, even in a stiff breeze.  We launched and I went into my limited repertoire of cool moves.  The good thing about the P2V is if you get into any kind of trouble, just let go and the GPS will stop it in its tracks, and go into a hover.

(Short gorgeous video .  Sports and nature videos will never be the same.

Cam took out his cellphone to take a selfie or two and in the next second we were running for cover.  The second that things started going south, I did my practiced Let-go-of- the-stick maneuver, but the P2V didn’t want any part of it.  Fortunately, we were able to get out of the way before it impacted and flew into a number of pieces.  This thing isn’t cheap and my disposition went instantly southward.  It seems, however, that DJI, the company that manufactures these babies, accounts for this sort of thing.  Everything snapped back in place.  But…what about the quick and vicious attack? 

nestThe Nest:  The Nest is…(was) a cool high-tech thermostat sold by Apple.  I bought one last year and, with the exception of a few strange occurrences, it’s been great.  So far…so good, only…

Google just bought the invention today.  In keeping with the theme of this article, that means that Google now has another  autonomous device in your house.  It knows when you’re at home (trust me on that one) in fact it knows how many times you enter your bedroom as well as when you leave, plus all the parameters you’d expect, temps and times, and days off…days on vacation.  It knows a lot and if Google were anything other than stellar in its reputation, it would know a whole lot more.  If you own one, you know that it also knows exactly how many times you get up at night as well as where you go.  Are you comfortable broadcasting all that to the world???  I’m mulling it over.

idiotsEZ-Pass:  My son drove down to D.C. about a week ago and commented that when he drove through the EZ-Pass, a screen came on for the car ahead of him, telling him his registration was not in order and to pull over.  The driver did.  The question is:  How much information are you broadcasting just going through a toll?  More than you’d care to?  Take a look to the right and see what monsters can do…

This Just In:   Talk about timing…  We were just preparing to publish this article when this came in over the internet:

Don’t say we didn’t warn you. Bad guys have already hijacked up to 100,000 devices in the Internet of Things and used them to launch malware attacks, Internet security firm Proofpoint said on Thursday:

two carsMonsters in das Auto:  Most of my friends know that I have always been a car buff.  Way before I got my driver’s license I had subscriptions to both Road and Track and Car and Driver.  I’ve owned some pretty exotic stuff and can do minor repairs all by my lonesome.  After intensive research and comparison shopping I bought the 2014  flagship: Cadenza.  This is KIA’s serious shot at nudging Lexus and BMW over a notch.  She’s a beaut and the only thing is, it looks very much like the new Tesla.  On the highway they beep and flash and I’m embarrassed to admit that my baby cost $75,000.00 less than theirs… and can actually travel cross country.  Anyway… what was and is daunting is how many things in these new cars are being taken over by computer chips.  Things like steering, braking, stopping, accelerating.

The new flagship Mercedes, Audis and BMWs will drive for miles…in traffic, all by their lonesome.  But…what about the NSA, the terrorists running about, or just my neighbor fiddling with his new WIFI router?  Am I safe?  I have my doubts.  I can guarantee you within a handful of years you’ll be reading about the first person to possibly be assassinated by their “smart car.”  It’s really, really easy to do and Audi, Toyota, Nissan and Honda already have a bad track record from the monsters in their machinery.

Another Monster?  Though I have waxed ecstatically about my  new swoopy über car, I have to divulge a little secret.  Being old-school, I haven’t just taken good care of this car, I’ve taken amazing care of it.  Changed the oil after the first 500 miles (Yeah, it really is best to do this) and then at the 3000-mile mark.  It has been as perfect and pristine as an auto that’s actually used for driving can be.

And then, a week ago the oil light flashed on a couple of times.  Checked the dipstick: AOK.  Checked the temp: AOK.  Called the dealership.  They were puzzled.  Apparently I’m the first one in America to have this happen to this car.  I suggested that it was probably just a sensor…BUT…if it wasn’t, it was majorly serious.  The service manager agreed, towed the car over to the shop.  I was expecting a, “Yeah, Henry it was a sensor. C’mon over and pick her up.”  That didn’t happen.  Bottom line on this one?  KIA headquarters requested the entire engine be sent cross country and…I’m getting a new engine to boot…because of one tiny monster that took out my whole car.  It’s funny…until it isn’t.  Look around you.  I mean really look around you and think about what your car, computer, or any of your appliances could do to you if it suddenly acted as if it were malevolent.  Tighten your seat belts, you’re about to see a whole bunch of monsters.  Maybe the NSA is just one of the mommy monsters.


P.S.  They gave me a loaner car while they were putting in the new engine.  It’s a Prius hybrid, which may be politically correct though high-speed commuting into NYC or Philly is scary.  What rhymes with pig?  I’m calling it my Pigasus.  It’s really slow.  But what’s worse?  I was just getting ready to pull out onto the I-95 on ramp when the whole thing went dead quiet.  Yeah, now the car was being propelled by a very small battery.  It wasn’t a good feeling, but in light of recent events, what if that sensor chip between the gas and the electric hiccupped?  I’d be sans engine with a football field’s worth of fast traffic bearing down on me.  Somebody has to start asking some heavy-duty questions before we read about the monsters in the paper.

P.P.S.   Six months ago Pamela bought a newer computer.  We installed it and silly Pamela immediately stuck a Post-It-Note on top of the little camera.  At the time, I thought it was taking paranoia too far.  Two weeks ago, she got a message, asking if her camera needed a reboot or repair.  Think about it.  Be concerned.

5 Responses to "Monsters in the Machine"

  1. Greg Meurs says:

    Just what I needed, more paranoia. I have a Nest at both my houses. Suddenly, I am not sure I like them as much as I thought. My wife has a new car with Drive by Wire Steering, it already scares me.

    Thank goodness, we don’t have a Smart Refrigerator, I just know the food police would destroy my Haagen Dazs White Chocolate Raspberry Truffle ice cream stash. And, fortunately, we only have one Smart TV, but what about my Google Chromecast and Apple TV making me watch NPR and National Geographic only. And, thank goodness I don’t have a computer with a camera, or do I?

    My wife thinks it is fine for the NSA to spy on everything because she has nothing to hide, nor do I, but I still don’t want them knowing what I don’t know. Afraid to leave my house, why; the spies come right in and you can’t see them, hear them or know when they are there — there everywhere, there everywhere!
    Greg M.

  2. Henry Harvey says:

    Haagen Dazs White Chocolate Raspberry Truffle ice cream? Now, it’s getting serious. And yeah, if your computer doesn’t have stagmites growing out of it, it probably has an itty bitty camera staring at you. I just put a Post-It Note over mine. It started reminding me of that scene in 2001 Space Odyssey. “HAL: Open the pod bay doors. Open the pod bay doors, HAL, it’s getting cold out here.”


  3. One thing you didn’t address… We are the monsters in the machines. Look at every single military drone we send out in Afghanistan and think of what it would be like looking up in the sky and seeing one peering at you. The monsters are here and now…and they are us.
    Sandy K.

  4. Chris M. says:

    Wow, so you had your first crash landing? Is it still flying ok?

    Funny, I read that article about Google buying Nest. Alot of people aren’t fans of it, but I can see why the Big G would pay such a pretty penny for it. Hopefully they use it properly. And the Kia…that’s crazy that they wanted to pull and autopsy your engine.

    Interesting thing about Pamela’s web cam: You know what I do for a living. One of the things we do best is build equipment that circles the Earth at over 18,000 mph and has the ability to read that love note you were putting on the windshield of the car that parked to close to you. But, when we had new conferencing equipment installed in all of our meeting rooms, the first thing that happened: All webcams were turned backwards, towards the wall. Might want to mute your mics, too =)

    Cheers C.M.

    • Henry Harvey says:

      Hey Chris!
      Yeah the Phantom is flying just fine. As you know, I used to fly jets in the USAF, also drive sports cars and put in a lot of hours flying everything on a flight simulator. But ounce for ounce that little quadcopter has “two speeds”: “Everything’s cool” and “WTF???” When it’s out of your vision and you’re flying in woods via a monitor…and the monitor goes blank, it grabs ya. Having to modify the design slightly. the prop guards don’t actually extend past the tips of the props. ?????? They do now, but that’s a dipstick design error.

      Hadn’t thought about the “mike” on my computer…. Thanks.

      A number of people commented on the article: “I’m not concerned. I have nothing to hide.” That’s a simplistic and ego-centric attitude, I think. In Nazi Germany, millions of Germans whispered the same thing, “They won’t come after us….we’ve done nothing.” That’s not a guarantee of very much.

      Send pix of your Jeep renovation!

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