THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 145

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 145

.. I am sure the President of the United States will be comforted to know that the property of the Korean Peninsula was not shot “down”, because there is no up & down in space…

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“We have gone over the mission updates and it turns out that we were crossing paths with Sang-Ashi 10 hours ago. I was under the assumption that AL was going to sound an alarm,” Cmdr. Stanley relates his version of the discussion between man and machine.

But AL did not do so?” Roy Crippen assumes.

“No, definitely not and he executed the defense protocols you instructed us to install.”

WE WERE THREATENED BY AN INTERPLANETARY PROBE WITH A FOREIGN SIGNATURE THAT WAS ARMED AND READY TO FIRE A WEAPON.” The computer interjects itself into the conversation.

AL, you were instructed to bring us out of hyper-sleep when or if Sang-Ashi came into range.”

There is no response. Roy presses the subject.

“We shot Sang-Ashi out of the sky, didn’t we?”

“THERE IS NO SKY IN SPACE MISSION DIRECTOR CRIPPEN.”

“Thank you for that clarification AL, I am sure the President of the United States will be comforted to know that the property of the Korean Peninsula was not shot “down”, because there is no up & down in space.”

“CORRECT.”

“This message is for Cmdr. Rick Stanley: Continue on to Mars Rick Stanley and crew; we still have a mission to complete.” While the poor mission director is left to explain this crisis to a nation with no sense of humor whatsoever and a world that is already in shock over the possible fate of the McKinneys.

WE BELIEVE THAT SANG-ASHI DESTROYED CHRONICLE AND SPACE COLONY 1. WE HAD TO DEFEND OURSELVES.”

“Your testimony is duly noted AL and under the authority of Code A-AB-C-CD1357, I am disabling your independent-action protocol…

“…And to you boys out there – you will have to sleep in shifts until WE get to Mars.”


THE RETURN TRIP

Episode 145


page 179

 

Contents TRT

i Robot – Disturbing Automation

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Creepy

Real Life

Robots

Robot “Doctor Who”

Even leaving aside the pop culture jokes about Skynet from the Terminator series and similarly-themed science fiction that provides a violent robot revolution, the future of automation has some unsettling possibilities. On the most practical level, there’s the potential impact many more jobs becoming automated will have on the economy for the working class. There are the military applications, even if the extra step is never taken of installing artificial intelligence in them.

 And likeliest of all, what if, in attempts to make them highly efficient but still useful, their designers end up making them look really creepy? Or even worse, what if designers try to make them look really relatable and end up just barely off enough that the result is more unsettling than robots intended to kill?

10. Osaka University’s Female Simulants

You wouldn’t think that “receptionist” or “news reader” are positions that it would be expedient to automate. They don’t come with any particular health risks or more immediate danger, and projecting an air of warmth and welcoming seems the thing an inanimate object is least qualified to do. A team at the Department of Systems Innovation at Osaka University, headed by Professor Hiroshi Ishiguro, nevertheless decided to devote years working on robots that look as much like conventionally attractive women as possible. Among the models that were previewed at an exhibit in 2014 were the kodomoroid, which was designed to serve as a new anchor, and the Otonaroid, which was supposed to be a science communicator. In 2016 Ishiguro’s team displayed “Erica,” a robot that’s meant to serve as a receptionist, to Bloomberg magazine.

The facial features and skin for these robots are impeccable; at least as good as anything that was ever shown at Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum. However, the way they move their jaws and the lack of articulation in their eyes makes them seem unnervingly mindless. Also, what’s it say about the personnel at your business that the only way you can keep a receptionist is to purchase a robot?

9. Sophia

Osaka University is by no means alone in the field of making robotic versions of conventionally attractive women. David Hanson, founder of Hanson Robotics, has created an android modeled on Audrey Hepburn and his wife that he dubbed “Sophia.” The android has a large amount of articulation in “her” face and excellently textured skin, although why Hanson left the robot with a transparent back cranium reminiscent of the film Ex Machina is unclear. At present the thing that makes Sophia discomforting is that while she has an array of convincing facial expressions, the way she transitions between them is overly precise and unnatural and her artificial voice is emotionless and, again, overly precise.

Hanson’s got another project, which he released in 2005, will seem only too appropriate to fans of science fiction. He has created an android in tribute to author Philip K. Dick, called PKD. If you’re unfamiliar, Dick was the author of stories such as Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (better known by the film adaptation’s moniker, Blade Runner), which deal in a sometimes surreal manner with the uncertain subjects of identity, memory, and living beings being replaced with automatons. No doubt the author would be horrified to see this robot or have an identity crisis.  Gotta say, good one Hanson!

8. Underwater Snakes

These Norwegian aquatic robots, which were announced in April 2016, bring to mind the Sentinel robots from the Matrix film series, especially with its ominous red glowing eyes. They were developed by the Norwegian organization Kongsberg Maritime and a natural gas and oil company called Statoil to perform underwater observation and inspection. With it’s lack of fins, propellers, and related forms of locomotion (“thrusters” is the term they use in their videos), it’s ideally suited to enter tight, enclosed spaces and allow flexible analysis, even under severe water pressure.

Presumably, considering the nature of the parent company, the intent was to be able to quickly analyze damaged offshore platforms for faster repairs, though it’s also likely going to be useful for inspecting sunken ships and other wrecks. It goes to show that a robot being a bit creepy does not mean that it is useless.

7. Victorian-Era Crawling Baby Robot

It may be surprising to learn that handheld dolls were designed that could move on their own six years before there were dolls with audio recordings installed in them. In 1871, an engineer named Robert J. Clay patented this device, a slight improvement over his original design. Even this was not the model that eventually went to market, as his employer George Clark redesigned it.

Not that even his version was a success, since it was too heavy for a little girl to play with, to say nothing of how easy it was to break in an era when replacement parts weren’t easily ordered. Still, this early robot is honored by the Smithsonian Museum of American History’scollection instead of being buried deep underground where it can never enter a nightmare again. You’d think they’d at least put some clothes on the display model.

6. Pregnancy Simulator

In 2015, the company Gaumard Scientific released a birth training robot for medical students, beginning with Boston University. Even though they cost $62,500, they seem like a bargain for how thoroughly designed they are for the many factors involved in birth. The blood pressure of mother and baby are monitored. So are the oxygen levels. They are settings for vaginal birth, emergency breech birth, and cesarean sections, and forty-six other contingency conditions. They are not 100% autonomous, as the instructors are needed at controls as well, but they’re still vastly more effective than regular old mannequins, and even seasoned students have said they’re “intimidating.” Probably because they didn’t want to admit how creepy the uncanny robots they’re using are.

Since a doctor can hardly expect a birth to be a clean, pleasant process, the robots have been designed to reflect that. The robots aren’t just capable of making noise in response to stimulus that would be painful for a human. They also have blood packs installed in them for bleeding, and the ability to vomit. It’s a bit off-putting that all of them are designed to have permanent expressions of frozen horror, but then again, the doctor probably shouldn’t be looking up there too much anyway.

5. Affeto the Robot Baby

The uncanny valley is mentioned a lot when a robot is so close to a human being, but not quite there. But this particular robot, another one from Osaka University, doesn’t look that close to a human being, yet it’s much more unsettling than the robot receptionists and everything else from our previous entries. If nothing else, Hisashi Ishihara and Minoru Asada’s 2012 creation really goes to show just how far the development of artificial skin has come in the past few years.

It must be said that the demo video for this robot is needlessly creepy. It begins by showing the mechanical inner workings of Affeto, and considering it has twenty pneumatic actuators, it has very mobile arms and a pretty flexible spine. Then they take a moment to show that an artifical ribcage was made for it, as if the skinless face didn’t already closely resemble a skull with eyeballs. Finally, they show what it looks like with skin, and the flesh color could only be described as corpse white. All told, it’s an impressive feat of engineering for a year and a half of work, and very far from cute.

4. Spermazoidal Medical Microbots

As far as robots that operate in aquatic environments go, 2016 also witnessed the announcement of robots so small and useful that they make the somewhat similarly designed underwater snakes from the eighth entry on our list look quaint. They’re robots small enough that they can be injected into the bloodstream that, through the use of harmless electromagnetic fields outside the body, can be made to move tails like bacterial flagellum so that they can “swim” through the body.

Indeed, the design for these microbots was directly inspired by studying bacteria. The idea is that they can operate around or even clear up blood clots, or be used to apply medicine directly where it’s needed in the host’s body. It should be noted that while there are many working prototypes available, inventors Selman Sakar, Hen-Wei Wuang, and Bradley Nelson stressed in their announcement that these robots are still very much in the research and development phase. So it will still be a while before you have to worry about the mental image of countless microscopic tadpole-like robots being remote-controlled through your body.

3. Cassie

This robot, which is mostly just a pair of legs, was unveiled by Agility Robotics, a company comprised of Oregon State University students, in 2017. The company has very high aspirations for this chicken-legged robot that was developed with a million dollar grant. Beyond being used for commercial deliveries and search and rescue missions, Agility Robotics claims that it will function in highly radioactive areas, making it ideal for dealing with nuclear waste.

Cassie’s backward legs are useful in allowing it access to areas that cannot be reached by most wheeled robots. On the other hand, its central component looks like the head of the ED-209 robot from the film Robocop and the thigh areas on its legs look like odd growths.CNBC’s news story on the release of the robot bluntly (but accurately) called it “creepy.”

2. Bomb Robot

Not every robot needs to look creepy to be disturbing. This particular robot is benign in appearance and usually its purpose is almost heroic. However, on July 8, 2016, police in Dallas, Texas were engaged with active shooter Micah Xavier Johnson, who’d barricaded himself in a parking garage. Johnson had been suspected of fatally shooting four officers and wounding seven others during his pursuit and claimed that he’d placed bombs inside the parking garage. Rather than risk any more lives, the police turned to a historically unprecedented solution: they attached an explosive to a bomb removal unit, and used it to take down Johnson.

Now just to be clear, this is in no way a condemnation of the Dallas Police Department. Considering the number of people that had been killed, it is perfectly understandable to neutralize the suspect in such a way. But imagine the precedent this may establish for using robots to deliver bombs to neutralize other suspects or enemy combatants. Or imagine if someone with less morally justifiable motivation than the Dallas Police decides to employ robots in this manner.

1. Robot with the Face of Your Friend

It’s uncomfortable enough to see a face on a robot that’s not quite human. So imagine how disquieting it would be to see the distorted face of a family member, friend, or coworker projected from the inside onto a mannequin head for the duration of an online chat. That’s the promise of the Socibot-Mini, made by the British company Engineered Arts.

First appearing on the market in 2014, it’s built with a connection to a camera that does a 3D scan of the face of the caller speaking through the device, and it also scans the face of the person responding to the face to adjust the facial expression it projects. A reporter for New Scientist claimed it’s accurate enough for the computer to guess the person’s age. Additionally it has a neck that can be remotely adjusted so that the distorted face can maintain a sight line with the other caller. Even Will Jackson, one of the product’s developers, described it as “spooky as all hell.”

Not that it stopped Jackson and the rest of Engineered Arts from charging $9,500 for it. There were plans for a Kickstarter campaign, but no evidence of one ever being attempted surfaced online.


i Robot

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– Disturbing Automation

THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 140

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 140

CHAPTER SEVEN

Pick a Pew

AL, the computer generated intelligence  continues to develop a personality, like that crazy uncle who gets passed on from one generation of system to the next

Personality by Portus Ojomo

The changes to New Mayflower have been craftily made by the three-man crew, as prescribed by Aldona Afridi, the newly branded NASA SOL Engineer. With that task complete, implementation is being robotically transmitted back to Earth by AL. The computer generated intelligence not only does his programmed functions, but continues to develop a personality, like that crazy uncle who gets passed on from one generation of system to the next. In this case it is from deep-space Chronicle and Space Colony 1 to deep-space New Mayflower, with this continuing incarnation furthering the tradition of doing things that were not programmed.

“Thank you for sending that circuit update to Mission Control, AL, although I was going to call it in myself,” Rick Stanley speaks into thin air and magically communicates with the computer.

“YOU WERE BUSY PREPARING FOR HYPER-SLEEP COMMANDER RICK. I AM PROGRAMMED TO ASSIST YOU TO THE BEST OF MY ABILITY.”

The 2nd in command calls to question, When did AL start calling you by your first name?

“He did call me Commander and maybe he calls his programmer papa.”

“WE CAN HEAR YOU TALKING ABOUT US.”

“And now it’s “we” instead of I.”

“We air breathers will be seeing the inside of our eyelids in 15 minutes, forget about AL for now.”

“GOODNIGHT GUYS.”

— Ten million miles go by, accompanied by the “curse” that sleep brings, the garbage can of the human mind called dreams. Some people don’t remember them, while others not only remember them, but in living color to boot. Advanced dreamers can wake up, remember their colorful dream, fall back asleep and pick the storyline where they left off. Still others have recurring nightmares and purposely stay awake, as to wipe their semiconscious slate clean.

Hyper-sleep has been likened to suspended animation, born out of necessity, the need to pass the time on these “short” interplanetary trips, unlike those intra-galactical excursions of the NEWFOUNDLIANS, as long as Earth-space- travelers are bound to the nagging-ly slow sub-light speeds.

Hyperactive is the best way to describe AL, no need for the male-slanted voice of the shuttle fleet main computer system to slumber. AL was intended to be totally interactive, mildly intuitive, and always at the ready. “His” recent First Person reference of “we” is a leap ahead from “I”, implying that his singular function is morphing into one of feeling like he is part of the team.

“Feeling” is the operative term here. Somewhere along the way, perhaps an evolutionary step brought on by the demise of his “brother” aboard the Chronicle, AL must have decided that independent action is necessary for self-preservation.

10 million miles is the equivalent of 2 weeks of space real estate covered and “they” must be ever vigilant.


 THE RETURN TRIP

Episode 140


page 172 + 173

Contents TRT

THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 132

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 132

…“Russia is like a bastard cousin; you have to invite them to family gatherings, but you serve them cheap beer instead of fine wine…

 

“I have fashioned a schematic for you to forward to the crew of the New Mayflower, if it’s not too late. They must construct a circuit in that vehicle with an anti-laser deflection field. I can be fairly positive that Sang-Ashi’s path may be on an intersecting course.”

“They have had a small shadow following them ever since they got a million miles past the moon. Do you have any idea what that could be? Does Sang-Ashi have a twin?” asks Roy Crippen.

“I know that the Russians were ready to launch their own probe, Uralsk I think it’s called, but I only know this because of a launch conflict with an astronaut exchange to the old International Space Station.” ISS is still in orbit, though its usefulness has long since been relegated to space lab experiments. “They claim that it is headed for Uranus, but if that was the case, they’ve missed their mark by 10 million miles, like they were aiming for the elliptical, but used parabolic calculations.

“Can they be that bad? They are truly like the Gang Who Couldn’t Shoot Straight.”

“They will claim to have had Mars in mind the whole time, who would know the difference. And I don’t think any harm can come from a country whose Soyuz continues to be the workhorse of the ISS, ever since the United States stopped the shuttle program. Regardless, my system must be implemented.”

Russia is like a bastard cousin; you have to invite them to family gatherings, but you serve them cheap beer instead of fine wine.” United States’ relations with the Great Sleeping Bear has been as chilly as the original Cold War, but has warmed since they put Putin in the ground in 2028.

“Okay Aldona, I will forward this plan to Rick Stanley, before they go into hyper-sleep.” Roy Crippen trusts this man’s insider instincts, even though the verdict is still officially out on the fate of SC1. “As for you, my friend, I am getting you an office at Lovell and your family will be set up here at Elgin—you are officially onSOL-logo the payroll, with an eye on placing you in the SOL Project.”

“Do you mean speed of light?”

“Can you dig it Mr. Afridi?” Roy is retro-hip.

“Working for NASA seemed like a foolish dream to me and now it has come true!”

“We can use your expertise and any tidbits about the Korean factor.” —


THE RETURN TRIP

Robert McCall, NASA Artist (1919-2010)

Episode 132


page 162

 

Contents TRT

Computer Virus Most Wanted (Not) – WIF Spotlight

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Infamous

Computer Viruses

WIF Spotlight-001

Much like humans, computers can contract nasty viruses that completely wreak havoc on their systems. It’s believed that there are over 100,000 computer viruses, though some experts contend that there are over a million. The good news is that many of the viruses are not in circulation and are merely a part of collections. However, there are some that have been released, and in some cases, they caused massive devastation. These are 10 of the most notorious.

 10. The Morris Worm

Robert Morris, Jr. is the son of a famous American cryptographer and pioneering computer scientist, Robert Morris, Sr. In 1988, he was a graduate student in Computer Science at Cornell, when he wrote an experimental program called a worm. The worm was 99 lines of code and it had the ability to self-replicate and self-propagate.

On November 2, 1988, Morris loaded his program onto the internet using a computer at MIT. However, Morris made a mistake in his coding and the worm spread quickly. Since the internet wasn’t as widespread then as it is now, the Morris Worm managed to infect 10 percent of all computers on the internet (which was about 6,000).

The program ran a bunch of invisible tasks and this caused computers around the United States to crash or become catatonic. When Morris realized what was happening, he contacted a friend at Harvard and they came up with a solution. They tried to send out an anonymous message on how to fix it, but it was too late and the message got lost in the traffic caused by the worm.

Computer programmers around the country worked for days to figure out how to debug the computers. In total, it cost anywhere from $200 to more than $53,000 to fix an infected computer. After investigating, all evidence in the coding of the worm pointed to Morris. He was convicted of violating the Fraud and Abuse Act and handed a sentence of three years of probation, 400 hours of community service, and fined $10,050.

9. The Omega Time Bomb

Omega Engineering is a Stamford, Connecticut based company that designs and manufactures high tech instrumentation. On the morning of July 31, 1996, an employee in the Computer Numeric Control department started up the file server that controlled all the manufacturing machines. However, the server didn’t boot up and instead a message popped up that said that the file server was being fixed.

However, quite the opposite happened. Instead of fixing the files, it deleted them. Even worse, the virus destroyed any way of finding the programs again. Computer Security Journal said that the lines of code were scattered like a handful of sand thrown onto a beach. Omega was sure they had backups on tape and on local computers, but when they went to retrieve them, they could not be found.

When the employees realized what had happened, the first person they called was Tim Lloyd, a former employee who oversaw the computer network. He had been with the company for 10 years, but lost his job three weeks before the server crash because of problems with his attitude. Over the course of a year, Lloyd’s personality had changed and he became an angry man who lashed out at co-workers. His attitude also led to him purposely bottlenecking projects, which slowed production. He was given several warnings before he was fired on June 10, 1996.

When Omega realized how much information they had lost, they called the police who, in turn, called in the Secret Service. When they investigated, they found that the virus was just six lines of code that worked like a time bomb. When someone logged on July 31, 1996, it would delete all of Omega’s computer files. The most obvious suspect was Lloyd and the Secret Service looked at his home computer and found the same six lines of code. They determined that Lloyd was planning on quitting and he made the time bomb virus at home. He then installed it at work after everyone had left for the night. However, before he got a chance to quit, he was fired.

Lloyd was arrested and sentenced to three and a half years in prison, and ordered to pay $2 million in restitution. At the time, it was the worst act of work-related computer sabotage. It cost Omega over $10 million in lost business and $2 million in reprogramming cost. They also had to lay off 80 people. It took years for Omega to overcome the virus attack, but they are still in business today.

8. Melissa

The Melissa virus started to spread on March 26, 1999, via email. The subject line of the email was “Important message from [Sender’s Name]” and the body of the email was, “Here is that document you asked for…don’t show anyone else ;-).” Finally, there was a Microsoft Word document labeled “list.doc.” When people would open the document, it would send out the same “Important Message” email to the first 50 addresses in the person’s Outlook address book.

The virus spread to hundreds of thousands of computers in the first several days. In some cases, it caused servers to shut down. Even Microsoft and Intel were infected. Microsoft chose to shut down their outgoing internet email service to stop the spread. In total, it’s estimated that the Melissa virus caused around $400 million in damage.

The virus was traced back to David L. Smith, a network programmer who lived in Trenton, New Jersey. Smith had hacked an America Online account and launched the virus from his apartment. He was arrested less than a week after the virus was released. He said that he named the virus Melissa after a topless dancer in Florida. He was sentenced to 20 months in federal prison.

When he was asked why he did it, Smith basically said that he did it to see if he could do it. Fair enough, we guess.

7. LoveBug aka ILOVEYOU

On May 4, 2000, people in the Philippines started getting emails with the subject line “ILOVEYOU.” The body of the email read, “Kindly check the attached LOVELETTER coming from me.” Finally, there was an attachment with a file name like “LOVE-LETTER-FOR-YOU.TXT.” Many people who got the email couldn’t resist the thought of someone sending them a love letter out of the blue, so millions tried to open what they thought was a text file. And as you probably have guessed, it was, of course,a virus.

By today’s standards, the virus was pretty tame. It would make duplicate copies of media files and documents. It would also email the virus’ creator the user names and passwords of infected computers, which would allow him to log onto the internet for free. However, the real problem was that it could email a copy of itself to every email address in the infected computers’ Microsoft Outlook address book. At the time, not many people saw the importance of having things like an up-to-date antivirus program. As a result, according to the BBC, the LoveBug (as it was sometimes called) spread to 45 million computers in the first couple of days.

When programmers looked at the code, they found an email address embedded in it and the worm was traced back to 24-year-old Onel de Guzman, who was a student at the AMA Computer College in the Philippines. De Guzman had recently dropped out because his undergraduate thesis, which was to commercialize a Trojan horse that stole passwords, was rejected.

After the virus was released, De Guzman went into hiding. When he reemerged several days later, he was arrested along with one of his friends, Reomel Ramones. However, there were no laws regarding malware in the Philippines so neither man was ever charged or prosecuted. De Guzman says that the virus was “probably” his creation and admitted that he may have “accidentally” let it out of captivity.

The LoveBug became the first virus to successfully spread using social engineering, but it certainly wouldn’t be the last.

6. Agent.btz

In the fall of 2008, the U.S. Military’s computer network was hit by a variation of a SillyFDC worm. At the time, the SillyFDC worm was a fairly benign worm; before the attack, a SillyFDC worm was listed as “Risk Level 1: Very Low.” One reason the worm wasn’t super effective is that it wasn’t transferred through something like email. Instead, it was transferred via storage devices, like thumb drives.

However, a new variation of the worm, called Agent.btz, infected a military laptop at a base in the Middle East when someone inserted an infected flash drive. The laptop was connected to the U.S. Central Command and the virus was uploaded to the network. From there, the virus spread undetected through both classified and unclassified systems. Once the virus was in place, data could be secretly transferred to different foreign servers.

In a process called “Operation Buckshot Yankee,” it took the military 14 months to finally clear out the virus and it led to the formation of a new unit called the United States Cyber Command.

The leading theory is that the virus was an espionage attack by a foreign country, most likely Russia.

5. Flashback

Apple has long promoted that Macs are much safer than PCs because, Apple says, they are less likely to get viruses or malware. There are two big reasons for this. The first is that Microsoft Windows is used by a vast majority of computers. Even in 2016, Macs only account for 7.4 percent of home computer sales. This makes Windows a much bigger target. Secondly, it is much harder to make changes to Mac’s operating system, macOS (formerly OS X). There are areas of macOS that are walled off and you need administrative privilege to change it, meaning its operating system has a limited amount of points of intrusion.

However, that doesn’t mean Macs are invincible from viruses. The most notorious of them was discovered in September 2011. How it worked was that it was disguised as an Adobe Flash installerand it got around Mac’s security because there was an unpatched vulnerability in Java. The result was that 650,000 Macs, which was about 1.5 percent of all Macs at the time, were infected.

The Trojan horse virus did two things. The first is that it created a backdoor in the system so data, like passwords, could be stolen. It also took control of the computers, making them a botnet, which is when one central computer controls a collection of zombie computers.

By February 2012, Mac released a security tool to remove the virus and Oracle, who makes Java, fixed the vulnerability.

4. Sasser and Netsky-AC

The Sasser virus was first detected on April 30, 2004. It was different from other viruses at the time because with other viruses, users needed to do a task to infect their computer, like open a file. Instead, the Sasser virus passed through the Local Security Authority Subsystem Service (LSASS). It would scan random computers until it found a vulnerable system and then it would copy itself as an executable file to the computer. When the computer was booted, the virus would install itself.

Microsoft knew about the vulnerability and issued a patch for it on April 13, 17 days before the virus was first detected. However, not every computer had updated the patch and this left them exposed. In the two days after the virus was detected, a cleanup tool was downloaded 1.5 million times.

One thing that really set Sasser apart from other viruses is that in the days after the virus was released, an email started circulating with a file that was supposed to fix it. Instead, it was another virus called Netsky-AC.

The viruses didn’t cause any permanent damage. However, it did cause computers to crash and reboot more often. In total, hundreds of thousands of computers were infected.

After the viruses were released, Microsoft offered a $250,000 reward for information on the author or authors. Two people turned in 18-year-old computer student Sven Jaschan, who was responsible for writing both Sasser and Netsky-AC. He was arrested and faced up to five years in jail; instead, he got a 21-month suspended sentence.

3. SQL Slammer

The fastest spreading computer worm in history, the SQL Slammer virus is also known as w2.SQLSlammer.worm, Sapphire, w32.SQLexp.worm, and Helkern. The worm started to spread at 12:30 EST on January 25, 2003. The virus would scan the entire internet for random IP addresses looking for vulnerable Microsoft SQL 2000 servers. The number of computers infected doubled every 8.5 seconds and within 10 minutes, 75,000 hosts, which was about 90 percent of vulnerable hosts, were infected.

The virus didn’t really effect home computers. Instead, it caused network outages, slowed down internet service, and denied some hosts access to the internet. This effected airline flights, interfered with electronics, and caused ATM failures. It is estimated that the virus cost $1 billion in lost revenue.

A major investigation was launched, but the author has never been identified.

2. Storm Worm

On January 19, 2007, computers in the United States and Europe started getting emails with the subject line “230 dead as storm batters Europe,” and then there was an attachment called video.exe. Of course, the attachment wasn’t a video; it was a Trojan horse virus. After infecting the computer, it created a backdoor which the author could use later to get data, and it added the computer to the botnet. The botnet was then used to post spam.

One of the reasons that the virus was initially successful was because, at the time when it was sent,bad storms were raging in Europe. Later, the subject was changed to over two dozen different headlines including “A killer at 11, he’s free at 21 and…”, “Chinese missile shot down USA aircraft”, and “President of Russia Putin dead”, just to name a few.

According to IBM, by February 2008 the worm had taken control of enough computers to perform spam attacks that were making the creators $2 million per day. As for who the creators were, it’s believed that the virus originated in Russia, but beyond that not much is known.

1. Code Red

The first version of the Code Red worm was discovered on July 12, 2001, by several employees at eEye Digital Security. They spent all night analyzing the worm and while working on it, they drank Mountain Dew Code Red. So, they called the virus Code Red, and the name stuck.

The first variation of Code Red didn’t spread fast and didn’t do much damage. Some websites were defaced and they said “Welcome to China http://www.worm.com ! Hacked by Chinese!” However, on the 20th of July, the virus stopped trying to infect other servers and a launched denial-of-service attack on the White House’s web page. Fortunately, the White House was able to stop the attack by changing IP addresses.

Code Red version 2, on the other hand, was much more problematic. At the time, it was the fastest moving computer virus. It was discovered at 5:00 p.m. EST on July 19, 2001, and within 14 hours, over 359,000 computers were infected. In total, it’s believed that the worm infected 1 million of 5.9 million web servers. This caused internet traffic to slow but didn’t do any damage to the servers themselves.

Code Red version 2 was also one of the most costly viruses. In July and August, the virus led to $2.6 billion in damages. The virus is believed to have originated at a university in China. However, it has never been confirmed.


Computer Virus Most Wanted (Not)

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– WIF Spotlight

Video Games and You – WIF Pop Culture

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Video Games That Are

Part of Enormous

Pop Culture Franchises

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Though not all agree, video games can be considered as being a new art form. Moreover, video games are seen by many as a form of art with which one can actively interact. From the breathtaking landscapes, to the incredible soundtracks and general atmosphere, as well as the enticing plot, some video games can bring together much of what other mediums already have.

In fact, some video games out there were inspired by various bestselling novels, or in turn generated a whole book series with thousands of fans of their own. Some video games have even inspired movies. Be it a strategy game, a shooter, or a role-playing game, it doesn’t really matter as long as it has a good back story, a whole universe, and an extensive lore surrounding it. Here are 10 such video games, even though many others also deserve a spot in this list.

10. Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth

Developed by Headfirst Productions and published by Bethesda Softworks, Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth was released in 2005. First came the Xbox version, and then a PC version one year later. The game is an action-adventure/survival/horror genre that perfectly combines a first-person perspective with many stealth elements. The story is set mostly in 1922 and follows a mentally unstable private detective hired to investigate the fictional town of Innsmouth, Massachusetts. Unlike many other FPS games, Call of Cthulhu features no heads-up display, and everything from the player’s condition to his ammunition and other stats are represented as realistically as possible. A broken leg, for example, would be shown as the character limping, while a broken arm by a loss in accuracy. Each injury needs its own type of remedy and the player even needs to count the ammunition he’s got left.

All in all, the game received only positive reviews from critics and was considered by some to be among the best horror video games of all-time. However, the game itself was an economic failure, with the planned sequels being cancelled when Headfirst Productions went under. In recent years there has been a revival of the series, and in 2017 a new video game is expected to be released. Dark Corners of the Earth is inspired on H.P. Lovecraft‘s 1936 novella, The Shadow over Innsmouth. Lovecraft was also author of The Call of Cthulhu and several other related stories all within the Cthulhu Mythos.

 A recurring theme in Lovecraft’s works is the complete irrelevance of mankind in the face of the cosmic horrors that exist in the universe. Cthulhu himself and other cosmic deities exist, but have fallen into a deathlike sleep. After Lovecraft’s death in 1937, August Derleth took on the challenge to synthetize and expand the Cthulhu Mythos.

9. Mass Effect

Mass Effect is a sci-fi/action/role-playing/third person shooter first released in 2007. Two later installments came out in 2010 and 2012. A fourth game is expected to be released sometime in 2017. If you’re a fan of this style of video games, it’s almost an impossibility to have not already heard about or played Mass Effect. Developed by BioWare, the trilogy starts off in the year 2183 and revolves around Commander Shepard, who’s entrusted to save the entire Milky Way galaxy and all its inhabitants from a mysterious and overwhelmingly powerful race of machine beings known as the Reapers. And while the plot and story itself are quite complex and enticing, there is an extensive lore surrounding the game series.

To date there are four novels centered on various protagonists other than the ones in the video game. But the plots take place around the time of the games themselves. These not only better explain ambiguous facts from the game, but also expand the history of the Mass Effect universe. A fifth novel, Mass Effect: Andromeda Initiation is set to be published sometime in 2016. Two more books are scheduled for 2017 and 2018. There is also a fan written, interactive novel circulating out there called Mass Effect: Pick Your Path, from 2012, as well as numerous other comics. Also in 2012, an anime film version was released, and there are even talks of a Hollywood production in the works.

8. Mortal Kombat

 This fighting game has been around for a very long time. Originally developed by Midway Games, Mortal Kombat hit the arcades back in 1991. Its idea was thought up even earlier, in 1989, along with its storyline and game content. Mortal Kombat is a fantasy/horror themed fighting game, renowned for its high levels of gore and bloody violence. One of its most notorious parts, the finishing moves, also known as Fatalities, are in part responsible for the founding of the ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board). Modeled after movies like Bloodsport and Enter the Dragon,Mortal Kombat aimed to be a bit more realistic and serious than its cartoon fantasy-style counterpart, Street Fighter.

After Midway’s bankruptcy, Mortal Kombat was bought by Warner Bros. and rebooted in 2011. The game became highly popular among young people and is now one of the few successful fighting franchises in the history of video games. Since its inception it has spun off into a series of comic books, card games, a theatrical live tour, countless game sequels, two TV series, and two movies. These two major motion pictures, Mortal Kombat (1995), and Mortal Kombat: Annihilation(1997) grossed in $122 and $51 million, respectively. While not particularly good, the movies gathered a cult following; especially the first one. The second installment, however, was poorly received by both critics and fans alike, resulting in it bombing at the box-office. Though entirely unofficial, an 8-minute short film was released back in 2010, revealing that a new Mortal Kombat movie is being planned in Hollywood.

7. Warhammer 40K

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Without a doubt, the Warhammer 40K franchise has among the richest lore and backstory in video game history. That’s because the whole idea of this fictional universe first came into being way back in 1983. Back then, the game was known simply as Warhammer, and was created by Games Workshop as a tabletop war game. That game still exists, and continues to expand even to this day. Then in 1987, a futuristic version was developed, sharing many of the game mechanics. This is the 40K, which stands for the year in which the fictional action now takes place. We won’t bother going into detail with the original Warhammer games, since they deserve a top 10 list of their own, and instead try to focus on what’s at hand; namely their video game versions of the 40K universe.

The story takes place during the 41st millennium in a fictional, gothic-looking dystopian universe. The Imperium of Man, as it is called, is a galaxy-spanning human interstellar empire, dominating most of the Milky Way, though it’s not the only power out there. The most iconic and finest warriors of the Imperium are theSpace Marines, a combination between sci-fi super-soldiers and fantasy knights, who are sworn to defend their empire from all the other alien races in the galaxy. The Warhammer 40K universe has a total of 31 different style video games. The most notable of these are eight real-time strategy games and expansions, part of the Dawn of War series.

Four novels have been published alongside this series, somewhat following and better explaining the actions taking place in the games. But the entire list of novels, novellas and other short stories surrounding the 40K universe is humongous, enough to completely fill up a big personal library. And that’s without mentioning itscomic book series. In 2010 the CGI Ultramarines: A Warhammer 40,000 Movie was released to DVD. Terence Stamp, John Hurt, and Donald Sumpter, among others, voice some of the Space Marines.

6. Resident Evil

Making its debut in 1996, the Resident Evil series first appeared for the PlayStation. Initially called Biohazard in Japan, its country of origin, Capcom’s director decided to change its name since it was impossible to trademark it in the US. An internal contest was held within the company regarding the game’s name, finally settling on Resident Evil. Even though the director believed it to be “super-cheesy,” it makes reference to the original game, which took place in a mansion filled with evil monsters.

In its 20 years of existence the franchise has expanded into 11 main games and 22 other spin-offs. As of 2015, Resident Evil has sold over 61 million units worldwide. Originally, the game series was more of a survival horror genre, based mostly on horror film plotlines, exploration and puzzle solving. Since Resident Evil 4, however, the series took on a more third-person shooter approach, focusing on gunplay and weapon upgrades.

The plot revolves around the sinister Umbrella Corporation, a worldwide company with ties to every major industry, and which secretly makes extensive research into bio-engineering. More exactly, they are aiming to create an extremely potent virus that can transform any individual into a super-powerful, yet perfectly obedient being. However, most of these experiments were wildly unsuccessful and have backfired with some truly gruesome results. In their several attempts to create the perfect weapon, the Umbrella Corporation initiated a series of viral outbreaks and mass infection of the civilian population, transforming humans and animals into mindlessly aggressive zombies. Players take on the role of various characters trying to survive and unravel the Corporation’s many secrets.

 The Resident Evil movie series loosely follows the same plot, even though much of the original content is missing or has been changed. The main protagonist, Alice, played by Milla Jovovich, was a security operative working for Umbrella. But with the start of the first movie, she becomes an enemy of the Corporation. Though the movie received poor reviews from critics and fans alike, mostly because of the inconsistencies between it and the game series, the Resident Evil film tripled its budget, and got four more sequels over a span of 10 years. A last installment,Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, is set to premiere in 2017. A more faithful CGI animated movie series also exists, and another film, Resident Evil: Vendetta, will also be released next year. Moreover, the franchise also has its own seven book series.

5. Halo

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Halo is a sci-fi/first person shooter franchise set in the 26th century, in which humanity has achieved faster-than-light travel speed and colonized numerous other planets across the Milky Way. The series centers itself on an interstellar war between humans and an alliance of aliens known as the Covenant, also inhabiting the galaxy. The player takes on the role of Master Chief John-117, a member of a group of super-soldiers known as the Spartans.

Since its first release in 2001 with Halo: Combat Evolved, the franchise has been praised by many and is considered to be among the best FPS video games played on a console. Managed and developed by Microsoft Studios under one of its subsidiaries, 343 Industries, Halo benefited from a tremendous marketing campaign and four more original sequels and their respective DLCs. In total the franchise sold over 65 million copies and earned a record breaking $3.4 billion from the games alone.

These incredible sales and its increasing fandom have allowed Halo to expand into other media as well. Besides the various spin-offs of the game, including a real-time strategy installment entitled Halo Wars, the franchise boasts its own five-part TV mini-series, called Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn, released in 2012. Another miniseries was released in 2014, called Halo: Nightfall. A full length movie adaptation was set in motion back in 2005 by 20th Century Fox and Universal Studios, but due to financial reasons, the project was dropped two years later. However, a future TV show on Showtime is said to be in development, though the exact details of the production are still largely unknown. In any case, up until that moment arises, fans of the video game series can also expand their knowledge of the Halo universe by taking a look at its 13 novel canon.

4. The Witcher

The Witcher started off as a series of fantasy short stories written by Andrzej Sapkowski, which are now collected into two books. The first of these stories, entitled simply The Witcher, was written in 1986 as part of a contest held by a magazine, winning third place. The subsequent five novels, which became known asthe Witcher Saga were written and published throughout the 1990s in Poland, and later translated into English and other languages. Before gaining international notoriety with the release of the first video game in 2007, the saga was adapted into a movie and television series in 2001 and 2002, respectively, with both being called The Hexer. In fact, this was the preferred translation of the first story’s title by the author. But with the release of the first video game, however, the publishing company CD Projekt RED decided on the name Witcher instead.

With two more video games in the series, the story follows the Witcher, Geralt of Rivia, (a sort of travelling monster-hunter for hire) as he struggles to regain his memories and prevent the destruction of the world. Set in a medieval fantasy universe, The Witcher is an action/role-playing hack and slash video game. The use of Geralt’s amnesia in the game allows the player to make decisions that the character from the books would not have necessarily made. It also permitted the developers to introduce those who weren’t familiar with the backstory with certain aspects of the Witcher canon.

Sapkowski uses a tone that is slightly ironic and with subtle links to modern culture in the books, which are also apparent in the games. Unlike most other similar fantasy stories, The Witcher also emphasizes the duality of human nature, with nobody being 100% good or bad. These aspects have helped both the novels and the video games to be widely claimed by fans as the best of Polish fantasy. Back in 2011, President Obama received a copy of The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings video game from the Polish prime minister in one of his visits to the country. Obama later confessed that he didn’t actually play it.

3. Assassin’s Creed

 Another video game series that’s made frequent headlines in recent years is theAssassin’s Creed franchise. With a movie set to be released in December, the series made its debut in 2007, and has since released another eight sequels, 17 spin-offs, several short films, as well as a number of other supporting materials. Developed predominantly by Ubisoft, the various games can be played on almost every platform conceivable, and its gameplay, varying only slightly from game to game, is set in the historic action-adventure genre, with a particular emphasis on combat, acrobatics, free-running, and stealth. The protagonist of each sequel changes, as the action takes place in different moments and locations throughout history: from the time of the Third Crusade, to the Renaissance period, the Colonial Era, the French Revolution, and the Victorian Era among others.

The overall plot of the series revolves around the centuries-old, fictional struggle between the historically-accurate Order of Assassins and the Knights Templar, who each desire world peace but through different means and ideologies. On the one hand, the Assassins believe in peace through free will, while the Templars consider it achievable only through world domination. Inspiration for the games came from a Slovenian novel, Alamut, written by Vladimir Bartol, as well as from concepts borrowed from the Prince of Persia series. In all, the Assassin’s Creed series has been very well received by critics and fans alike, and as of April 2014 over 73 million copies have been sold, making it Ubisoft’s bestselling franchise. Aside from the comics, Assassin’s Creed also has a book series. Each of the eight novels are tie-ins to their respective video games, following the various assassins throughout the centuries, in their ongoing war with the Templars.

2. Warcraft

No list like this is complete without mentioning the Warcraft universe. Developed byBlizzard Entertainment, the franchise is made up of five core games, the most notable of which are Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos, a real-time strategy game, and its expansion pack The Frozen Throne, as well as the infamous World of Warcraft (WOW), a massive multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) and bestselling title here. At its peak in 2010, WOW had 12 million simultaneous subscribers worldwide, becoming the world’s largest subscription-based MMORPG.

The latest title in the series, Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft, is a digital collectible card game. Another notable game in the franchise, though only a mod for Warcraft III, is Defense of the Ancients (DotA), a multiplayer online battle arena. In this game, two teams of players are pitted against each other in an attempt to destroy the enemy’s heavily guarded structures at opposing corners of the map.

All of the games in the series are set in or around the high fantasy world of Azeroth. The story begins by focusing on the human nations that make up the Eastern Kingdoms and the Orcish Horde that arrived to Azeroth through a dark portal, igniting the great wars between the two. Over the years, and with the subsequent game releases, the developers have expanded the planet by creating new continents. With them, there’s been the emergence of other new playable races.

 Unsurprisingly, the series has since spawned its own sizable collection of novels, covering a broad range of characters in various timelines, vastly expanding the lore and backstory of the Warcraft universe. Many comics have also been published alongside these books, delving even further into the canon. In June 2016, its first Hollywood movie was released by Universal Pictures. With only 5.5 million subscribers to WOW as of 2015, the film arrived a little too late, and bombed in the US. However, it did manage to gross over $422 million worldwide, making it the highest grossing game adaptation of all time.

1. Neverwinter Nights

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Neverwinter Nights is a third-person role-playing video game developed by BioWare, and was released in 2002. In the following years the game got several expansions and premium packs, and due to its growing popularity, a sequel was released in 2006. It, too, had its own series of expansions. The story follows the player’s character as he tries to stop a plague from sweeping over the city of Neverwinter. The city is located along the Sword Coast of Faerûn, in the Forgotten Realms campaign setting of Dungeons & Dragons. As it is in the original tabletop D&D games, players of Neverwinter Nights are able to create their own character from scratch at the very beginning of the game. Everything from gender, race, character class, alignment, abilities, and name can be customized to suit the preferences of each individual player. Overall, the video game was met with positive reviews and universal acclaim.

GameSpot referred to it as “one of those exceedingly rare games that has a lot to offer virtually everyone, even if they aren’t already into RPGs,” while PC Gamer called it “a total package—a PC gaming classic for the ages,” and said that its “storyline [is] as persuasive as any I’ve encountered in a fantasy roleplaying game.”  It has its own collection of books entitled the Neverwinter Saga, written by R.A. Salvatore, which is made up of four novels. However, these are only the tip of the iceberg in terms of literature surrounding the Forgotten Realms universe, since the saga itself is just part of an even larger, Legend of Drizzt series. And for those who really want to immerse themselves into the canon of “The Realms” and probably never emerge out again, the entire book series is a whopping 302 novels.

 


Video Games and You

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– WIF Pop Culture

THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 84

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 84

…“Are you saying that that is a real universe in a container?”

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Abstract Universe by Wabi Sabi Kate

Celeste stalks the finite inverse cones, believing not that it contains a universe of matter, but a quantity of matter that makes up the universe, which continues to grow while pushing the bounds of the room.

Finally able to speak Celeste asks, “Why isn’t it pouring out of this room?”

“I’m not sure but I am guessing that this fog has something to do with it.” He sweeps his hand through it, capturing then releasing it like the tangible material it is.

“Are we looking through a window or is this an open door,” Celeste wonders aloud.

“If it were a real door, we’d be waist deep in asteroids not gas.”bottle-001

“Are you saying that that is a real universe in a container?”

“Since I’ve been watching this stew, I’ve seen the birth of a star, monstrous passing comets, and strange inhabited worlds,” he stands on the brink transfixed. “Just don’t ask me how this is possible.”

“If not how, then where, when, and why?”

Where? – I don’t think this has anything to do with Mars directly, or anywhere close; pick a star any star.

When? – Judging by accelerated pace of this microcosm, we may be looking back as far as the birth of Jesus Christ, or whenever these people died, thousands of years.

“”Why? – Why that may be the easiest of all, that we meet here on Mars sharing on common goal; for us it is reaching out toward the stars, for them Mars was a steppingstone on their way to encounter other intelligent life.”to-from-001

“They were on their way to Earth, weren’t they?”

“Or they ran smack-dab into a virus here and died because of it, like a reverse epidemic that spelled the end of the Inca’s, Mayan’s or any of many  other civilizations, big or small.”“Or how about on their way back from Earth??”

“And we both have failed, each in our way,” Celeste reflects.

Ironically put, intriguingly postulated.


THE RETURN TRIP

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Episode 84


page 103

 

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