Thursday, September 4, 2008

Mysterious Text Messages, Neural Bracelets, and Direct Brain Communications

So I receive a text message on my phone at work and I don’t know who is it from because the number is ten zeros. I open the message and it says,

“Call 555-4237 as soon as you receive this message, JS."

Now I know who is it from – Jake Stone, the mysterious, covert operative, who has claimed that a secret group of powerful and well-funded individuals have hacked into the cell phone network and taken control. See my earlier post Operative Reveals Cyber Terrorist Plot for the details. Naturally, I call the number thinking it’s not going to work. Numbers with 555 prefixes are not assigned. My phone connects instantly no rings. A computer-generated female voice with a French accent says:

“Go to the fax machine, code 4237.”

Now, I’m thinking how does Jake Stone know my office has a fax machine? I guess you can assume most do even though most business communications are done with email.

I walk over and peer down at the gray display. The machine is sleeping. I linger there for a short time and then the machine awakes. The display says, “Internet fax – enter password.” I enter 4237 and wait. Seconds later, the machine rolls out a fax. It’s blank except for my name on the top in faint gray type. I wait some more thinking another sheet might come out. Nothing. Ok, another Mission Impossible message with appearing and disappearing type. I go back to my desk and drop the fax next to my phone and I notice there is blue fuzzy type where my fingers held the paper. I gently rub my hand over the paper and more type appears. Ok, its heat-activated text. I quickly start typing the information into my computer.

“Our government has developed a wireless device, a wrist band that connects directly to your neural system and communicates directly with your brain sending communications over your neural network. When connected, transmissions sound like voices in your head and you cannot know who’s speaking until they identify themselves. You just have to whisper to communicate back. The wireless frequency it uses is undetectable and comes across the radio spectrum as white noise. You must get one to stop ICER.”

I barely finished typing and the text begins to fade. I rub my hand over the paper again, but it doesn't work anymore. Within seconds the paper is blank and I’m thinking I don’t want any part of this. And I discover that that 4237 spells ICER on a telephone keypad.

Maybe, I shouldn't have written Dark End of the Spectrum.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

What is the secret society called ICER?

In the last piece of information I received from Jake Stone, the covert operative, he wrote that a secret group of powerful and well-funded individuals calling themselves, ICER, have hacked into and taken over the cell phone networks. He wrote that they took control of a special device installed by Homeland Security after 911 that can reprogram any computer wirelessly from aircraft to PDAs. Well, I was curious about ICER and did Google and Ixquick searches.

Curiously, ICER stands for the International Computing and Educational Research Workshop held every year at a major university in different countries since 2005. The first workshop was held at the University of Washington in Seattle and this year’s conference will be held this weekend (Sept 6-7) at the University of Newcastle in Sydney, Australia.

Here’s the mission statement of the workshop from the 2005 ICER workshop web site:

“Computing education, as a research discipline, is the study of how people come to understand computational processes and devices, and how to improve that understanding. As computation becomes ubiquitous in our world, understanding of computing in order to design, structure, maintain, and utilize these technologies becomes increasingly important both for the technology professional, but also for the technologically literate citizen. The research study of how the understanding of computation develops, and how to improve that understanding, is critically important for the technology-dependent societies in which we live.”

I don’t think Jake Stone was referring to this ICER. First, they are not a secret society; they are an open educational organization of computer professionals, educators and developers. Besides, I don’t have any proof what Jake Stone says is true. For all I know, he could be making this stuff up from my novel, Dark End of the Spectrum.

Interestingly, Wikipedia also has a listing for ICER. It is image compression software used by NASA on the Mars rovers, “Spirit” (MER-A) and “Opportunity” (MER-B).

From Wikipedia:

“ICER is a wavelet-based image compressor that allows for a graceful trade-off between the amount of compression (expressed in terms of compressed data volume in bits/pixel) and the resulting degradation in image quality (distortion). ICER has some similarities to JPEG2000, with respect to select wavelet operations.

The development of ICER was driven by the desire to achieve high compression performance while meeting the specialized needs of deep space applications.”

I also could not find the meaning of the photo-enhancing ICER acronym, if it is an acronym.