Monday, June 27, 2011

A crime for Dr. Christine Myers

Hey, look--another post about writing!

I have been involved in some Christine Myers-related work lately, including coming up with some interesting crime scenes for her to unravel. She's an ace, so it has to be more than just a dead guy bullet hole.

But the "unsolvable" crime scene doesn't have to be fantastic. For instance, I came across this real-life example of a potential novel: Deaths at Dyatlov Pass.

Here's the scenario: 10 young Russians, experienced outdoorsmen, go hiking in the mountains in 1959. One of them becomes ill and turns back--just like he would if Hollywood were writing his story.

The remaining nine push on through the cold and snowy mountains. They set up camp about 5 p.m. on a mountainside after realizing they had gone slightly off course.

The hikers set up camp.

And sometime that night, they all died.

The search for the hikers began about a week after they missed their target date to return from their trek. Their campsite was quickly found. And that's where the Myers-like skills are needed... because the evidence is bizarre.

The tent at the campsite is empty and has been ripped open from inside. Several of the hikers were found about a kilometer away from the campsite... dressed in their underwear and not wearing shoes. Some had tried to return to camp but died of exposure along the way.

The remaining hikers were found months later and, unlike the others, had died of various trauma, including fractured skulls and internal injuries. One woman was missing her tongue.

There were only enough footprints around the site to account for the hikers; it seemed unlikely that enough attackers to kill nine people could have come and gone without leaving tracks. There was no sign of an avalanche; the tent and the initial batch of dead hikers were found uncovered by snow.

So what caused nine experienced snow-trekkers to flee after dark so quickly that they didn't get completely dressed and ripped the tent fabric rather than using the door? Why were some of them physically unharmed and others badly injured?

These questions haven't been answered in more than 50 years of trying. Do you think Dr. Myers could do it?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Big things in tiny (winged) packages

Unmanned aircraft have been in the news a lot lately, mostly in terms of blowing things up. Air & Space has a fascinating piece in its July issue about the future of combat drones, and this excellent New York Times photo gallery shows some insight into other innovations.

That's where this caught my eye:

Flight of the bumblerobot.

A tiny drone the size--and shape--of a hummingbird. There are several mind-blowing things about this thing. First of all, it flies using the mechanics of an actual hummingbird; this is not a pursuit that has traditionally gone well for humans.


Second of all, it is camouflaged in such a way that if you didn't look too closely (or weren't looking for a robot bird, period), you might not even notice it's there. And finally, they made this drone useful: it doesn't just fly around in a novel way, it sends a live video feed. Sure, it's currently "60 Minutes ambush lapel-cam" quality, but that will only improve.

I, of course, am a huge fan of grand aerospace projects. But this pint-sized project is pretty easy to root for, too.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Thinking inside the box

An interesting article in the New York Times yesterday discussed a theory that has been proven, in different forms, many times over the years: Knowledge is power.

In the 21st Century, "knowledge" almost always seems to translate to "information." Whether you're talking about stealthy reconnaissance drones, soldier-mounted cameras or information warfare, current thinking seems to be that seeing things from more angles than the other guy will help you win.

Now a U.S. project aims to bring that power to areas where authoritarian governments are seeking to cut it off.

The effort includes secretive projects to create independent cellphone networks inside foreign countries, as well as one operation out of a spy novel in a fifth-floor shop on L Street in Washington, where a group of young entrepreneurs who look as if they could be in a garage band are fitting deceptively innocent-looking hardware into a prototype “Internet in a suitcase.”

The Guy Sitting Next to Me suggested that this wouldn't be a good idea because hostile governments could trace the network signal to its source. But from the description in the article, it seems cleverly designed to avoid that kind of trouble. In fact, at first glance, it appears the only way to disrupt the network is to shut down all cell phone signals, as the system works by piggybacking on cell phones and wireless routers.

At any rate, this is an interesting development. For a long time there was talk that the "briefcase nuke" would be the ultimate weapon. Perhaps instead it's the "briefcase network" that intelligence agencies need to really sweat over.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Cyber-SEALs, Part II

Less than 48 hours after the U.S. announced that "cyber attacks" would be considered acts of war... this happens.

Hackers in China have compromised personal e-mail accounts of hundreds of top US officials, military personnel and journalists, Google has said.

The US company said a campaign to obtain passwords originated in Jinan and was aimed at monitoring e-mail.

So if it turns out that this is a state action--and if anyone can get to the bottom of it, it's Google--do we send in the cyber-Marines?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A cyber-chopper filled with cyber-SEALs

It's a brave, new world, folks. The U.S. government, according to a New York Times article, is working to classify "cyber attacks" – online assaults on American assets – acts of war.

"A response to a cyber-incident or attack on the US would not necessarily be a cyber-response. All appropriate options would be on the table," Pentagon spokesman Colonel Dave Lapan told reporters on Tuesday.

All responses are "on the table." So what does that mean? You nuke our server, we'll nuke yours? Specialized teams of Web commandos waiting to deploy against dictators' databases? Bullets and bombs?

Perhaps the next time a despotic country's nuclear program suddenly goes haywire it will be a little more obvious who pulled the e-trigger....