Monthly Archives: November 2011

Puppies Used to Lure Tigers Into Traps

This morning, I read something disturbing in December’s issue of National Geographic. One-hundred years ago, 100,000 tigers could be found in Asia. Today, there are approximately 4,000 tigers left. Asiatic tigers (tigers that separated from African packs) are poached for their skin, bones, teeth, eyes, and other parts. Who buys tiger parts? Most poachers kill tigers in order to take part in the Asian medicinal trade — a trade that generates up to five million dollars each year.

Some conservationists have attempted to keep tigers safe by placing these animals in zoos (mostly in India). Yet, even the metal fences and security guards that surround zoo property cannot prevent poachers from sneaking into a zoo in the middle of the night. Tigers that are kept in cages are easy targets for poachers who have the right metal cutting tools. Often, park officials wake up to find tigers slaughtered inside of their cages.

Have you ever wondered how a poacher is able to trap a tiger in the wild? If you’re thinking that a tranquilizer gun has something to do with it, you’re only partially correct. Poachers use small puppies — that’s right, puppies — to lure tigers into traps. By placing a petrified puppy in a trap, a tiger will wander into that trap. Often, puppies are killed in the process.

Government officials attempting to capture poachers use GPS tracking devices to note poaching locations. Those puppies that are placed in harm’s way are often left alone to trap a tiger for days on end. Government officials can mark poaching spots by listening to the wails of a terrified, cold, and hungry pup.

Even though conservationists and government officials are trying to save the Asiatic tiger population, this is much easier said than done. A very poor population is often lured by promises of large pay-outs for a tiger skin or other valuable part. Combined with government and park official corruption, it’s not unrealistic to assume that Asiatic tigers will soon be a thing of the past.

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Your Privacy: What Does It Really Mean to You?

An article on a Dallas, Texas, news site (KDAF-TV) puts an interesting spin on GPS tracking technology. Right now, the Supreme Court is trying to decide whether or not warrantless GPS tracking is illegal. Yet (as the article points out), Americans allow themselves to be tracked regularly without much concern at all. You may even allow the world to track you regularly. How? Social networking sites are the main culprits here.

Think about sites like Foursquare and Facebook. These sites allow users to log into a tracking feature via cell phone. When you “check in” to one of these sites, you are allowing governments, friends, and family members to know where you are at all times. Even though this is a form of warrantless tracking, many people are willing to give up privacy rights in order to use this new technology.

Based upon this fact, why is the Supreme Court trying to decide if warrantless tracking is illegal or not? Could it be because Americans want the right to log in and out of a tracking program freely? The term “free” here may be something of a joke though. Even if you haven’t logged onto Foursquare of Facebook, your smartphone is always tracking you — especially if you allow an app to find your current location.

The truth of the matter is that we’re so wrapped up in technology as a society, most of us would have a hard time living without those social networks and smartphone apps. Sure, these sits and apps cross the privacy line every day, but does anyone really care?

Cell Phone Saves Abducted Ohio College Student

A 29 year old student of Brown County’s Southern State Community College was abducted from the campus parking lot by 29 year old Nathan Parsons, an acquaintance of the victim.  She was saved 21 minutes later by the GPS tracking device built into her cell phone.

She showed up to her first class of the day on the 16th of November at 10:19, not knowing that Parsons had been waiting for the past half hour for her to arrive.  He got out of his pickup truck, “forcibly placed her into his vehicle, and then drove off the campus property,” said Lt. Randy McElfresh of the Ohio State Police.  Parking lot surveillance footage captured each moment on camera, which aided in proving it was premeditated.

While Parsons attempted to escape, the victim used her cell phone equipped with GPS tracking capabilities to dial 911.  Dispatchers were able to follow the truck’s movements.  Panicked moments ensued when the phone signal was lost, but the victim quickly dialed 911 a second time.  Dispatchers determined who she was, and told her it would be wise to hide her phone for the duration of the ordeal.

They tracked Parsons’ location and a chase ensued, which at one point involved spike strips.  When the strips were tossed into the roadway, Parsons thought he had outsmarted them by off-roading through farm land but soon became stuck, allowing police to close in and make an arrest.  Parsons was taken to the Brown County Jail in Georgetown.

The police are using this case as an example to urge all citizens to utilize the GPS feature of their cell phones, as many cell phone users don’t want to be tracked and end up turning this feature off.  Lt. Heitkemper of the OSP says that if this feature of the phone had been turned off in this case, finding the victim “would have just been luck.  Because of GPS, we knew exactly where they were at all times.”

He says that every one of us should use this technology if it is available.  “If you can just dial 911 and let [the phone] lay beside you, they can hear your conversation.  You don’t have to say a thing and the 911 system will be able to pinpoint your exact location.”

Texas District Court Judge: Warrantless Tracking Unconstitutional

Judge Lynne Hughes of the Southern District Court of Texas has deemed law enforcements’ use of cell phone records without first obtaining a warrant unconstitutional.  She says that the information the authorities can obtain from a simple cell phone record is “constitutionally protected from this intrusion” as the records show not only who you are calling, but also where you were when you made that call.

The Electronic Communications Privacy Act, a law dating back to 1986, allows law enforcement to use cell phone records and emails during an investigation without first obtaining a warrant.  However, some tech companies are teaming up and asking Congress to change the law with the times, companies like AT&T, Google, and Microsoft.

This decision against warrantless tracking couldn’t have been timed more perfectly, coinciding with the  case of Antoine Jones in the Supreme Court.  Opening arguments in the case were heard last week.  Chief Justice Roberts stated during these arguments that if the Justice Department wins the case, “there is nothing to prevent the police or the government from monitoring 24 hours a day the public movement of every citizen of the United States.”

The Justice Department disagrees, arguing if a citizen is driving around on the public roadways, he or she does not be expect privacy in the first place.

This issue isn’t a new one, as more than 12 magistrate judges have denied court orders to initiate cell phone tracking without a warrant since 2005.  However, some of the close to 500 magistrate judges who handle these requests and orders allow the practice of warrantless tracking, such as US District Court Judge Liam O’Grady, who allowed the use of data obtained from the Twitter account of three people being investigated for WikiLeaks without first obtaining a warrant.

Magistrate Judge Stephen Smith of the District Court in the Southern District of Texas is the other side of the coin, withholding cellphone use information from the government due to the lack of a warrant.  Smith states that the technology has come so far, that “for a cell phone user born in 1984, it is now conceivable that every movement of his adult life can be imperceptibly captured, compiled, and retrieved from a digital dossier somewhere in a computer cloud.  Now as then, the Fourth Amendment remains our polestar.”

Of course the government appealed this decision, ludicrously stating that “a customer has no privacy interest in business records held by a cell phone provider, as they are not the customer’s private papers,” making the Fourth Amendment inapplicable.  The case was brought to Judge Hughes, who upheld the ruling, stating that “when the government requests records from cellular services, data disclosing the location of the telephone at the time of particular call may be acquired only by a warrant issued on probable cause.”  Judge Hughes ends her statement by pointing out “the standard under the [existing law] is below that required by the Constitution.”

GPS Foils $86,000 Bank Robbery

GPS tracking technology has done wonders for transportation industries, emergency response teams, and many other aspects of our modern society. One of the most significant impacts the technology has had, is in the recovery of stolen property. Many stolen vehicles, smart phones and mobile PCs have been recovered in the hands of the thief, because police were able to track the location of the property by activating the GPS device, which is typically built-in. On November 5, 2011, GPS tracking allowed police to recovery money stolen during a bank robbery to the tune of more than $86,000.

Vernon James Hill, 26, and Stanley Eugene Hill, 24, allegedly walked into the Arvest Bank at 218 S. Memorial Drive in Tulsa, OK at about 8:30am on November 5th. One of the men was armed with a small black handgun, telling everyone in the bank to get on the ground, while the other hopped over the teller counter and demanded cash. The bank employees were ordered to open the vault and insert its contents into a tan bag. In addition to the reported $86,918.52 stolen from the bank, one of the tellers discretely added a small GPS tracking device to the cash-filled bag.

Police were able to track the bag to a nearby residence on the 1100 block of East Pine Street, as early as 11am, just over three hours from when the robbery began. The bag was found stashed under an oven and the two suspects were arrested on the scene. Vernon Hill was out on bail, awaiting trial for another alleged bank robbery. His trail was scheduled for November 7th, but this latest arrest prevented him from attending. As of Tuesday evening, the two men were still being held in the Tulsa jail.

Parent Develops App to Monitor Teen Texting

The teenage years are notoriously difficult for families. Children are becoming adults and the power dynamics of the household begin to change. It is an impressionable time, as teens begin to explore the adult world they are about to enter. There isn’t much parents can do to protect their growing children from potentially dangerous topics, like sex, alcohol and drugs. A father in Maryland’s solution was to develop an app, that allows him to monitor keywords within text messages sent to his teenagers’ phones, called Code9.

Code9 was developed by Chet Thaker, and named after texting slang teens use to let their friends know when a parent is watching. “Parents have a way of being notified when a specific word or text is used,” explained Chet Thaker. It is up to the parent to insert keywords, like sex, alcohol and other similar phrases that they want to be notified if they’re teen is using. “I found them using inappropriate language in response to specific events that may have happened,” Thaker said. The application also implements GPS tracking, to allow parents to see where their teen’s phones, and likely the teens themselves, have been throughout the day.

GPS tracking and keyword monitoring may very well protect teens from their foul-language-using peers, but without solid communication between parent and child, it is entirely too easy for teens to work around the app. If teens want to go somewhere without their parents monitoring them with GPS tracking, they could easily leave the phone somewhere acceptable to their parents. It would also be easy for teens to create a new code for the selected keywords, and remain under their nosy parent’s radar.

“The way we parent is we trust our children. We talk to them about what’s right, what’s appropriate, what’s inappropriate to send,” explained Ann Arundel County resident and mother of four, Elaine Harrison. The best way to protect teens from the dangers they’re not prepared for, is by creating a safe environment at home, where they can ask questions and express concerns. “The bigger picture is you have to continue dialogue with your children about what’s appropriate and what’s not appropriate,” offers Harrison.

Coast Guard Prepares for Crab Season

Due to the popularity of the Discovery Channel’s “The Deadliest Catch”, it has become household knowledge that crab fishing is one of the most dangerous professions on the planet. Due to the horrible sea conditions during crab season, the fatality rate of crab fishermen is seven times more than the average of the entire fishing industry. As the fearless fishermen and women prepare their boats for the season, the U.S. Coast Guard Auxillary proactively performs inspections of all the boats. “We’re trying to prevent loss of life,” explained George Long from the U.S. Coast Guard Auxillary.

“What makes it dangerous is the time of year they’re doing it. November/December on the Oregon/Washington coast is the worst weather we have,” said Dan Cary, also from the U.S. Coast Guard Auxillary.

The weather conditions were already producing winds up to 50 miles per hour, which is just a hint at what these crews can expect on their days-long expeditions. Careful inspection of the boats before taking off can mean the difference of whether or not the boat returns.

“It starts here. This is kind of the frontline of it. We go out and check the equipment before they even leave the dock.” explained Long. The coast guard looks out for the general integrity of the boat and makes sure its life raft works properly. They check for flares, safety suits and all other emergency equipment, to ensure it’s all there and intact in case the boat capsizes. Perhaps the most vital of the emergency equipment, includes the epirb, which is a GPS tracking device.

In the event that a fishing boat capsizes, the GPS tracking device sends a signal to the coast guard, who can hopefully reach the crew in time for rescue. “The idea is if it gets in the water with the people and they stay with it, then search and rescue assets are going to head that way and give them a good starting point for a search area,” said Long. GPS tracking devices have been a huge help to search and rescue teams, whether it be out to sea or in the mountains. The pre-crab season boat inspections have also significantly reduced the number of fatalities since the policy began in 2000.

Track “The People’s Tree” Across U.S. with SkyBitz

This year’s U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree is coming all the way from California. The state is known for its giant trees, but this year is surprisingly only the fourth time the Capitol’s Christmas Tree has been supplied from California. A large part of that reason could be due to the 4,500 mile journey it must endure before reaching the U.S. Capitol in Newport News, Va. The 63-foot Sierra white fir giant was cut on November 5, 2011 from the Stanislaus National Forest, and is being called “The People’s Tree.” This year, people are invited to virtually watch their tree’s cross-country journey online, using SkyBitz’s GPS tracking systems.

“The People’s Tree” displayed at the U.S. Capitol is a tradition that began in 1964, by then Speaker of the House, John W. McCormack. This is the first year that citizens can follow the famous Christmas tree as it makes its way to the Capitol, with GPS tracking technology. It is scheduled to stop in several cities before passing through Burlington on Thanksgiving evening. Its final stop will be in Newport News, Va.

Interested parties are welcome to go to trackthetree.com, and see the exact location of The People’s Tree in real-time. According to the GPS tracking data, the tree has travelled more than 1,646 miles and is near Los Lunas, NM as of Friday afternoon, November 18, 2011. The website displays a map, which shows the tree’s route so far, and indicates the future stops along the way with candy canes.

The tree is contained in a custom-built plywood box on a large truck. The back-end of the box is made of plexiglass, so that people can see the giant tree on its way to the capitol. During scheduled stops, people are encouraged to sign a large banner wrapped around the tree, serving as a sort of Christmas card to the citizens of the U.S.. The tree will remain on display through January 2012.

How to Geocache

With geocaching, GPS technology is used to identify and locate scavenger hunt prizes. Players use GPS location devices to search for and find objects that have been hidden by previous geocachers.

This practice was started by a man named Dave Ulmer. He hid a bucket full of movies, books and computer software in the woods in Oregon and posted its GPS coordinates online. This practice evolved into dozens of users posting prize locations online and using their own GPS devices to find the prized that had been hidden by others. Targets can be anything from a box in a tree or something hanging under a bridge with string.

To start playing, users find a website like geocaching.com and look for targets in their area. Then they enter the coordinates into their GPS finder and look for it. Many people use a GPS app for their iPhone or iPad as they search for their geocache targets. After finding the target, users can go back to the website that they got coordinates from and post their names and comment in a log attached to that geocache location.

Finders can take the prize from their geocache and replace it with something of similar value. Some people have found small toys or pieces of bling in their geocache locations. Many families are enjoying finding geocaches as a fun activity with their kids.

You can also start a new geocache if you want. Simply get a small “prize” and place it in a hidden container in a public location. Then find the correct coordinates and upload them to a website like geocaching.com. Many families are finding this to be a great way of passing time during vacation months or free weekends. It’s also a great way of passing on some tradition or communication with others. Geocaching is a great way to incorporate modern technology into old-fashioned family fun!

Wildlife Researchers Use Spy Drones to Track Remote Bird Colonies

Spy drones are not a new concept. The military have used unmanned drone planes to spy on enemy territory for years. These drones are now also being used to launch attacks on enemy bases remotely. Unmanned planes with camera equipment attached are also popular with hobbyists. Amateurs build these drones in order to see the world from a different perspective and push themselves to build more technically advanced models or to increase the distance from which they take photos from the drones. Wildlife researchers are some of the latest people using this technology in order to monitor remote bird populations.

The first attempt to use camera-equipped, flying drones to research wildlife came about in 2006. Unfortunately, the technology wasn’t quite developed enough for research-quality data gathering. It wasn’t until 2009, that the first successful spy drone was developed to count marine mammals, such as Dall’s porpoises and beaked whales. A year later, in 2010, a frustrated team of ecologists turned to drone and GPS tracking technology to assist in counting a remote colony of rare black-headed gulls.

There are a couple major problems that researchers come across when trying to study wildlife. The primary obstacle that most researchers face is getting close enough to the animals to collect data. As the head researcher, Francesc Sarda-Palomera explains, “You have to go with a boat, and when you’re just 100 meters from the colony, all of the birds start to fly away.” In order to work around this problem, the team custom-built their very own spy drone to fly over the colony located on a lagoon island in northeast Spain.

“If you want to use a real plane, you need to rent a pilot, rent the plane, pay for the fuel, everything. It adds up,” explained Sarda-Palomera. “[The drone] is a great method and it’s very cheap,” he added. The gull-counting drone was based off of the marine-mammal-tracking drone’s design and is made from a 4.6-foot-wide airplane, which is controlled through a radio device. It was equipped with two cameras and a GPS tracking unit, costing the team less than $2,000. When the plane flies over the island, the cameras take continuous photos and the GPS tracking unit records the GPS coordinates to inventory the birds.