Saturday, August 14, 2010

Shark Fin Soup

(** This story just ran in a national weekly.  But the editing was so heavy that I did not recognize my own writing.  They dumbed it down and ugly'ed it up.  And withheld my photography.  The editor inserted technical data that was incorrect and that I never wrote.  Because of their blatant attack on my pen-hand and creepy dis-info,  here is what I really wrote.  Larded with pictures of what I wrote about.)
Shark Fin Soup


On the roof of our 2010 vehicle was mounted a small plastic shark fin.  It was black and rose two and one half inches from its base.  I liked everything about the truck except this curious gadget that looked like a prop from the Jetsons cartoon.  It stuck out like a sore thumb and ruined the looks of our truck for certain.  But that was only the tip of the iceberg.
After a couple of days I pried the gadget off with an oyster knife.  It was easy to pop off with no damage to the roof -- save what was already done by the hole they drilled at the factory.  The device was attached to three thick wires of different color:  brown, black and blue.  
I pulled the wires from the hole and cut them with pruning clippers.  Easy as pie.  Now I had a hole in the roof.  Nothing a little duct tape didn’t fix until the epoxy.
Under good lighting I set about dismantling the sturdy gadget.  For something so small and apparently plastic, it sure weighed a lot.  So I was doubly curious to see what was inside this thing.  Upon turning it over, I saw how nondescript it was.  More breeze to my flame. 
The underside was heavy metal with a small white sticker.  It had a bar code, a long number and “Made In China” written on it.  The cryptic trade name, “RecepTec” was listed below the bar code number.  The base was riveted into the shark fin with one-way screws.  They were machined-in deep with the kind of heads that few would have in a tool box.  It struck me that whatever was inside had to be something they did not want us to know.  The breeze on my flame kicked up a notch.
I was holding an oyster knife, my father-in-law’s all purpose miracle tool.  My lip began to quiver like Peter O’Toole’s a few seconds before he yelled, “No prisoners!”  I was cracking this nut and if it took a sledge hammer.
Because the fin was encased in battle armor and secured like CIA’s inner sanctum, it had to contain at least the glint of King Tut’s Tomb.  So with my sturdy waterman tool I went to work.  Leaning into each screw I turned the knife slowly and sure enough, out they came, one-by-one.  And there came the glint of gold bearing the name of Laird Technologies.
Inside the shark fin was concealed what looks like a computer circuit board with two chips.  Apparently somebody invested big money and computer programming in this little gadget.  There was a silver satellite antenna jutting into the hollow fin compartment that works with the GPS (global positioning system) tracker in the vehicle.  
In the case of our truck, we got the low-end options package.  We just wanted horse power and a four-wheel drive.  So it did not come with a GPS-navigator which is why most people would want a satellite antenna.
Despite the low-end options package, I noticed how our truck was equipped with an OnStar Network interface and satellite radio.  The OnStar registration was rabidly pushed at the car dealer’s.  So much so that a man got into the truck with my husband, reached over his head and began the registration process without asking if it was even desired. 
Based on their website, Laird Technologies   is the world leader in automotive smart antennas.  They combine multiple radio frequency functions along with satellite tracking systems, telemetrics, available biometrics and audio interface by a discreetly-placed microphone somewhere in your car.  (http://www.lairdtech.com/) 
Once OnStar has your name and vehicle in their database, they can track your every move via satellite and cell phone tower.  With a tiny microphone in your car, they can also eavesdrop at the click of a computer mouse.  They can measure your body weight from the airbag device in the seats.  This and the timbre of your voice can be used as biometrics.
The convenient pretexts for all this privacy invasion are OnStar roadside assistance (they dial 911 for you , but you can dial it just as easily), BlueTooth (you can get a headset for your cell phone and talk hands-free without BlueTooth, however), GPS that may not even come with your car,  and Satellite radio.  
Telemetrics is a more scary thing.  It puts a computer in the driver’s seat and the driver at the mercy of a computer.  Your car doors can now be locked and unlocked remotely.  Via wireless interface, your car can speed up, slow down or be turned off.  This can be done in override mode per OnStar’s theft-protection plan. 
With Laird’s gadget on your roof, a car is wired for remote control.   


Addendum:  Neither http://www.acdelco.com/index.jsp nor the GM owner's manual address this gadget.  AC Delco lists it simply as an antenna.  No details about the part are given.   A  hush-hush device as an understatement.  I think the question "why" is answered squarely by my photography.