The President's Message

February 2011

Rick Curry

Happy February, and special thanks to Michael and Toby for running the fundraising clinic at our January meeting. If you have a special interest in computing that you would like to share with the rest of the club, please share your ideas with Craig, other members of the board, or just put your hand up in the general meeting at the beginning of our Saturday monthly meetings. We have had one-day SIGs in the past, and it is a great way to share your knowledge and interests.

Space junk Space junk is the remains of satellites that have outlived their usefulness and are now effectively large rocks floating high in the sky. And this is actually worse than it sounds because of the way we use satellites. We point our satellite TV antennas into the sky and expect there will always be a satellite right there in the sky above our house. The laws of physics will allow a satellite to orbit the Earth only at a specific altitude (about 22,000 miles) directly above the equator in what is called a geosyn-chronous, geostationary, or "Clarke" orbit. All the satellites we are interested in (defense and space agencies will put satellites in strange orbits, but the ones we care about) are in this small strip of sky. And for our broadcast and communications systems to function, these Satellites must cooperate in a great conga line procession above us.

The big concern with space junk is that a satellite will decide it would rather not dance a conga and attempt a samba or tango with the rest of the satellites and that this will result in a giant pachinko game. There was a political incident with the Chinese government a few years back over whether it was reasonable to "shoot down" a misbehaving satellite. The U.S. has never condoned shooting down satellites, and the Chinese maintain it is the responsibility of all space-faring nations to maintain the integrity of the International Communications Satellite system. So what about cyberspace junk?

Who ultimately is responsible for the Windows 98 machines floating in the shared cloud above us, waiting to come crashing to Earth with some cyber Andromeda virus? And what measures would be reasonable in the interest of maintaining the integrity of our computer networks? Is it reasonable for and/or should it be the responsibility of Microsoft to produce online missiles that eradicate operating systems that Microsoft has "decommissioned?"

Will our federal government be expected to disable machines that threaten commerce in the U.S.? The process has already begun in that government agencies have commandeered "bot-nets" in the process of criminal investigations. I expect a bumpy process over the next five years as the line is the Internet will be less like the Wild West as the cyber Jesse James sorts find it more difficult to get on the cybertrains.

Happy Computing