|Ken Novak's Weblog
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Ken Novak's Weblog
Wednesday, November 30, 2005
First Inventory of Nanotech Environment & Health Research: "A new inventory of research into nanotechnology’s potential environmental, human health, and safety effects (EH&S) shows the need for more resources, for a coherent risk-related research strategy, and for public-private partnerships and international EH&S research collaborations. These are the key conclusions drawn from the first single inventory of largely government-funded research projects exploring nanotechnology’s possible EH&S impacts.
This unique inventory is publicly available online at www.nanotechproject.org or www.wilsoncenter.org. It was compiled and released by the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. The Project is a partnership of The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Wilson Center. ..
“Specifically, out of a total of 161 federally-funded, risk-related projects, the Project’s scientists found only 15 relevant to occupation-caused physical injury (totaling $1.7 million), and only two highly relevant projects on the long-term environmental and occupational exposures that potentially could cause disease (totaling $0.2 million). These are important gaps that must be filled to ensure that nanotechnology is safely commercialized and accepted by the public as not harmful,” stated Dr. Maynard. ..
“The good news is that the U.S. appears to be spending more on EH&S research than any other government. .. The bad news is that current spending levels are not adequate to begin to answer the difficult environmental and human health impact questions raised by worker exposure to nanomaterials, by rapid consumer product commercialization and eventual disposal, and by concentrated environmental exposures from the possible application of nanoparticles to soil or water for remediation purposes in the future" 10:52:29 PM
Mind-machine communication: "Recognizing that many people who have lost the ability to move their limbs due to spinal cord, nerve or muscle damage have intact brains, Donoghue and his colleagues devised a way to translate thoughts into computer commands. In Cyberkinetics’ BrainGate system, now being tested in two patients, a silicon array the size of a baby aspirin is implanted into the brain’s primary motor cortex, which is responsible for limb movement. The chip--which contains 100 gold electrodes, each thinner than a human hair--is wired to a computer that interprets electrical signals from the neurons, allowing the subject to control a cursor and, by extension, other equipment.
Within two months, the first subject, a 25-year-old who had become paralyzed three years earlier, was able to open e-mail, channel surf on a television and turn lights off and on. By enabling the man to control a computer merely by thinking about it, Donoghue and his team provided him with increased autonomy. .. “Someday, the technology may allow the paralyzed to move their own muscles,” says [fellow Brown professor Roy] Aaron." 10:09:14 PM
Nano powder spray defense:
"Discharged from a pressurized cylinder, a new powder known as FAST-ACT
(First Applied Sorbent Treatment-Against Chemical Threats) neutralizes mustard gas, sarin and other chemical-warfare agents--as well as many industrial chemicals. The powder, developed by Kansas State University chemist Kenneth Klabunde (pictured), consists of nanostructured crystallites of magnesium oxide (MgO) and titanium oxide (TiO2
). Each grain’s jagged edges multiply the powder’s surface area and porosity, making it highly reactive. Common MgO powder has a surface area of 30 square meters per gram; with FAST-ACT’s nanostructuring, that grows to 320 square meters. “Seventeen grams of the powder has the surface area of a football field,” Klabunde says.
Sprayed at a chlorine gas leak, the powder knocks the vapor to earth, leaving a harmless solid to be swept up. When pitted against VX nerve gas in tests at the U.S. Soldier Biological Chemical Command, the nanopowder quickly prevailed, converting 99.9 percent of the killer gas into a less hazardous solid." For sale now, along with other nanopowders. 10:05:24 PM
Nano-sponges for toxic metals
: Show promise for water treatment; I wonder if it might speed catalysts. "Microscopic particles honeycombed with holes only nanometers wide soon could help purify industrial runoff, coal plant smoke, crude oil and drinking water of toxic metals .. The particles, made of glass or natural diatomaceous earth, are 5 millionths to 50 millionths of a meter wide and filled with holes a thousand times smaller. The surfaces of these particles can bear a variety of flavors or coatings that soak up specific toxic metals -- for instance, sulfurous organic coatings attract mercury, while coppery organic coatings bind to arsenic and radioactive metals known as actinides. The particles' spongy nature gives them an incredible 6,400 square feet to nearly 11,000 square feet of surface area per gram of material
with which to draw in toxins.
Physical chemists at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash., developed the particles, known as SAMMS -- or self-assembled monolayers on mesoporous supports -- to remove mercury from oil in nuclear facility pumps last decade. Over the past three years, the scientists have vastly broadened the potential applications of the particles and partnered with companies to bring them into greater use. "We have a technology that can be used to address a large number of emerging water treatment problems, with arsenic and mercury as just a couple of examples," said Richard Skaggs a civil engineer at PNNL. .. The SAMMS particles can not only soak up toxic metals, but once disposed of in landfills, the particles also should prove too large for microbes to consume. Keeping microbes clean of toxins helps ensure the metals do not enter the ecosystem and become concentrated, for instance, in fish.. "We see a cost reduction of a factor of 10 when it comes to saving landfill space because only very, very small amounts of material are needed," Skaggs added. " 9:59:07 PM
South African disposable solar cells: I've been interested for some time in renewable power sources that are less expensive up front, even if more expensive over the long run. The lower up-front commitment cuts risk, allows more experimentation, and more room for incremental technological improvements. It also supports a wider range of business models based on recurring revenues.
"SCIENTISTS at the University of Cape Town are exploiting the nano-scale properties of silicon to develop a super-thin disposable solar panel poster which they hope could offer rural dwellers a cheap, alternative source of power. .. The scientists have developed technology for printing specialised inks containing tiny nanoparticles of silicon and other semiconductors onto paper. The solar panels are printed in much the same way as conventional colour images.. They print the metal contacts, then the semiconductor structure, then more contacts.
The voltage and power output of the solar cell is determined by the size of the poster. An A2-sized poster [15.9 x 22.3 ins or 40.38 x 56.64 cms] will deliver up to 100W of power, enough to charge a cellphone, power a radio or provide five hours of lighting, said Prof David Britton, a physicist specialising in nanotechnology.
“Many families cannot afford R1000 for a solar panel designed to last 30 years, but they can afford R10 (US$1.50) every three to six months for a ‘disposable’ panel,” he said. Shops could stock rolls of solar panel posters, and cut it to meet a customer’s needs. The poster could be mounted behind a window or attached to a cabinet. Britton’s team has built a successful prototype and is seeking to commercialise the project" 11:00:27 AM
Hackers Admit to Wave of Attacks: "An Ohio computer hacker who served as a digital button man for a shady internet hosting company faces prison time after admitting he carried out one of a series of crippling denial-of-service attacks ordered by a wealthy businessman against his competitors. " Quite a story: Hackers used an Ohio ISP to discover vulnerable windows machines. One found 15,000, and used spybot to take them over. A Los Angeles business man hired the ISP manager for $1000 to orchestrate a DoS attack on his competitors. "The FBI described the ensuing attack as a tenacious, 10-day deluge that tracked RapidSatellite through three ISP changes, and briefly blocked Amazon.com and the website of the Department of Homeland Security, which had the poor luck of sharing service providers with Echouafni's rival. "
The businessman liked the results so much he bought the ISP and went after other targets. "Jay Echouafni, the 38-year-old satellite TV mogul who allegedly ordered and funded the cyberhits, went on the lam last year, and remains a fugitive from a federal indictment out of Los Angeles. .. Echouafni skipped out on $750,000 bail secured by his house in Massachusetts last year. Law enforcement officials believe he's now living in his native Morocco. " [Via Scott Lemon] 10:39:40 AM
Thursday, November 24, 2005
Global Renewable Energy Policies and Measures
: New from the IEA with info from 100 countries. Coverage:
"There are 34 countries listed with targets for renewables, ranging from Austria which wants 78.1% of its electricity to come from renewables by 2010, to the target of 3.6% in Hungary for the same period. Mali wants 15% of its total primary energy supply to come from renewables by 2020 and Singapore will install 50,000 m2 of solar thermal systems by 2012." 10:26:18 PM
Monday, November 21, 2005
The Man Who Sold the War
: How the Rendon Group started in political PR and later worked for the CIA and the Pentagon. Since 1991, it promoted Chalabi and the INC, spread false information, and perform "military deception" through news media and the Internet. Judith Miller was one conduit. "Never before in history had such an extensive secret network been established to shape the entire world's perception of a war. "It was not just bad intelligence -- it was an orchestrated effort," says Sam Gardner, a retired Air Force colonel who has taught strategy and military operations at the National War College. "It began before the war, was a major effort during the war and continues as post-conflict distortions." " 11:44:13 PM
The Burden of Proof
: Pat Lang takes on Cheney's latest speech, and makes a point on recent history that's news to me. "The UN had withdrawn its inspectors from [Iraq] in '98 at our instigation because we were going to bomb extensively in an attempt to trigger a revolt. Fair enough, but the point is that the IRAQIS did not run the inspectors out of the country." 8:10:46 PM
People Finder Interchange Format: For Katrinalist.net, an "all volunteer team created a searchable directory of persons displaced or affected by Hurricane Katrina, consolidating over 25 different online resources into one central, searchable repository. PeopleFinder Interchange Format, (called 'PFIF') is a new, standardized data format implemented in XML. ..
The Katrina PeopleFinder Project mobilized hundreds of volunteers over the Labor Day weekend to make an immediate difference. .. The team plans to turn its attention to housing and job solutions next, creating a centralized technology solution that aggregates acomprehensive resource set from sites all across the web, standardizes them, and makes them searchable from anywhere." 1:33:09 PM
Keylogger Threats Rise 65%: " Threats from keyloggers, the stealthily installed programs that record computer keystrokes to help steal personal information, grew 65 percent this year, a study said Tuesday, marking a growing trend in hackers using malware for financial gain. About 6,191 keyloggers were recorded this year, up from 3,753 in 2004, said iDefense, a security intelligence provider that is part of VeriSign. iDefense recorded 3,753 keyloggers in 2004, a huge leap over the 300 released in 2000." 8:22:12 AM
Sunday, November 20, 2005
What I Knew Before the Invasion: Former Senator Bob Graham. "As chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence during the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, and the run-up to the Iraq war, I probably had as much access to the intelligence on which the war was predicated as any other member of Congress. I, too, presumed the president was being truthful -- until a series of events undercut that confidence.
In February 2002, after a briefing on the status of the war in Afghanistan, the commanding officer, Gen. Tommy Franks, told me the war was being compromised as specialized personnel and equipment were being shifted from Afghanistan to prepare for the war in Iraq -- a war more than a year away. ..
In the early fall of 2002, a joint House-Senate intelligence inquiry committee, which I co-chaired, was in the final stages of its investigation of what happened before Sept. 11. As the unclassified final report of the inquiry documented, several failures of intelligence contributed to the tragedy. But as of October 2002, 13 months later, the administration was resisting initiating any substantial action to understand, much less fix, those problems...
We [Senators] insisted, and three weeks later the community produced a classified NIE.
There were troubling aspects to this 90-page document. While slanted toward the conclusion that Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction stored or produced at 550 sites, it contained vigorous dissents on key parts .. Under questioning, Tenet added that the information in the NIE had not been independently verified by an operative responsible to the United States. In fact, no such person was inside Iraq. Most of the alleged intelligence came from Iraqi exiles or third countries, all of which had an interest in the United States' removing Hussein, by force if necessary. ..
From my advantaged position, I had earlier concluded that a war with Iraq would be a distraction from the successful and expeditious completion of our aims in Afghanistan. Now I had come to question whether the White House was telling the truth -- or even had an interest in knowing the truth. On Oct. 11, I voted no on the resolution to give the president authority to go to war against Iraq." 10:48:47 PM
How U.S. Fell Under the Spell of 'Curveball' - Los Angeles Times: Long, astounding summary of deceit, incompetence, and wishful thinking. "Five senior officials from Germany's Federal Intelligence Service, or BND, said in interviews with The Times that they warned U.S. intelligence authorities that the source, an Iraqi defector code-named Curveball, never claimed to produce germ weapons and never saw anyone else do so.
According to the Germans, President Bush mischaracterized Curveball's information when he warned before the war that Iraq had at least seven mobile factories brewing biological poisons. Then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell also misstated Curveball's accounts in his prewar presentation to the United Nations on Feb. 5, 2003, the Germans said...
An investigation by The Times based on interviews since May with about 30 current and former intelligence officials in the U.S., Germany, England, Iraq and the United Nations, as well as other experts, shows that U.S. bungling in the Curveball case was worse than official reports have disclosed. ..
The senior BND officer who supervised Curveball's case said he was aghast when he watched Powell misstate Curveball's claims as a justification for war. "We were shocked," the official said. "Mein Gott! We had always told them it was not proven…. It was not hard intelligence." .. CIA officials now concede that the Iraqi fused fact, research he gleaned on the Internet and what his former co-workers called "water cooler gossip" into a nightmarish fantasy that played on U.S. fears after the Sept. 11 attacks. .. Curveball's motive, CIA officials said, was not to start a war. He simply was seeking a German visa. ..
Curveball's reports were highly valued in Washington because the CIA had no Iraqi spies with access to weapons programs at the time. .. More problematic were the three sources the CIA said had corroborated Curveball's story. Two had ties to Chalabi. All three turned out to be frauds. The most important, a former major in the Iraqi intelligence service, was deemed a liar by the CIA and DIA. In May 2002, a fabricator warning was posted in U.S. intelligence databases.
Powell said he was never warned, during three days of intense briefings at CIA headquarters before his U.N. speech, that he was using material that both the DIA and CIA had determined was false. "As you can imagine, I was not pleased," Powell said. "What really made me not pleased was they had put out a burn notice on this guy, and people who were even present at my briefings knew it." ..
But BND officials said their U.S. colleagues repeatedly assured them Curveball's story had been corroborated. "They kept on telling us there were three or four sources," said the senior German intelligence official. "They said it many times."
On Feb. 8, three days after Powell's speech, the U.N.'s Team Bravo conducted the first search of Curveball's former work site. The raid by the American-led biological weapons experts lasted 3 1/2 hours. It was long enough to prove Curveball had lied. On March 7, 2003, Hans Blix, the chief U.N. inspector, told the Security Council that a series of searches had found "no evidence" of mobile biological production facilities in Iraq. It drew little notice at the time.
The invasion of Iraq began two weeks later. ..
In December 2003, Kay flew back to CIA headquarters. He said he told Tenet that Curveball was a liar and he was convinced Iraq had no mobile labs or other illicit weapons. CIA officials confirm their exchange. Kay said he was assigned to a windowless office without a working telephone.
On Jan. 20, 2004, Bush lauded Kay and the Iraq Survey Group in his State of the Union Speech for finding "weapons of mass destruction-related program activities…. Had we failed to act, the dictator's weapons of mass destruction program would continue to this day." Kay quit three days later and went public with his concerns. ..
The CIA had advised Bush in the fall of 2003 of "problems with the sourcing" on biological weapons, an official familiar with the briefing said. But the president has never withdrawn the statement in his 2003 State of the Union speech that Iraq produced "germ warfare agents" or his postwar assertions that "we found the weapons of mass destruction." " 10:29:34 PM
Saturday, November 19, 2005
Exaggerating The Threats:
It's not the first time that Wolfowitz and other neocons cried wolf. Fareed Zacharia in 2003: "For decades some conservatives, including many who now wield great influence, have had a tendency to vastly exaggerate the threat posed by tyrannical regimes. It all started with the now famous "Team B" exercise. During the early 1970s, hard-line conservatives pilloried the CIA for being soft on the Soviets. As a result, CIA Director George Bush agreed to allow a team of outside experts to look at the intelligence and come to their own conclusions. Team B--which included Paul Wolfowitz--produced a scathing report, claiming that the Soviet threat had been badly underestimated.
In retrospect, Team B's conclusions were wildly off the mark. .. The reality was that even the CIA’s own estimates--savaged as too low by Team B--were, in retrospect, gross exaggerations. .. In the 1990s, some of these same conservatives decided that China was the new enemy. .. What followed was wild speculation about the size of the Chinese military and accusations that it had engaged in massive theft of American nuclear secrets. This came to a crescendo with the publication of the Cox Commission Report in 1999, which claimed that Chinese military spending was twice what the CIA estimated. The Cox report is replete with speculation, loose assumptions and errors of fact. The book it footnotes for its military-spending numbers, for example, does not say what the report claims.
Iraq is part of a pattern. In each of these cases, arguments about the threat posed by a country rest in large part on the character of the regime. .. these regimes are nasty, and that does matter greatly. But threat assessment must be based not simply on the intentions of an adversary, but on his capabilities as well. This is an important lesson as we move forward to deal with repressive regimes like those in North Korea, Iran, Libya and Syria. They are evil and may need to be confronted. But let us do so with a clear and accurate picture of the threat they pose, not some figment of our fevered imaginations.
What we discovered about the Soviet Union after the cold war was that it was every bit as evil as we had thought--indeed more so--but that it was a whole lot less powerful than we had feared. That is what we will probably discover about Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. " 12:19:13 AM
Doing unto others as they did unto us: From M. Gregg Bloche, law professor at Georgetown and a visiting fellow at Brookings, and Jonathan Marks, a barrister in London, is a bioethics fellow at Georgetown and Johns Hopkins. More details in the article.
"How did American interrogation tactics after 9/11 come to include abuse rising to the level of torture? .. Fearful of future terrorist attacks and frustrated by the slow progress of intelligence-gathering from prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Pentagon officials turned to the closest thing on their organizational charts to a school for torture. That was a classified program at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, known as SERE, for Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape. Based on studies of North Korean and Vietnamese efforts to break American prisoners, SERE was intended to train U.S. soldiers to resist the abuse they might face in enemy custody... At a June 2004 briefing, the chief of the U.S. Southern Command, General James T. Hill, said a team from Guantánamo went "up to our SERE school and developed a list of techniques" for "high-profile, high-value" detainees. Hill had sent this list - which included prolonged isolation and sleep deprivation, stress positions, physical assault and the exploitation of detainees' phobias - to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who approved most of the tactics in December 2002.
Some within the Pentagon warned that these tactics constituted torture.. internal FBI e-mail messages critical of these methods .. refer to the methods as "SERE techniques." .. SERE methods are classified, but the program's principles are known. It sought to recreate the brutal conditions U.S. prisoners of war experienced in Korea and Vietnam, where Communist interrogators forced false confessions from some detainees..
the Pentagon cannot point to any intelligence gains resulting from the techniques that have so tarnished America's image. That's because they were designed by Communist interrogators to control a prisoner's will rather than to extract useful intelligence. 12:13:34 AM
A full account of how our leaders reacted to terrorism by re-engineering Red Army methods must await an independent inquiry. But the SERE model's embrace by the Pentagon's civilian leaders is further evidence that abuse tantamount to torture was national policy, not merely the product of rogue freelancers."
Wednesday, November 16, 2005
Why the Democrats Are Happy Warriors: 5 ideas for 2006, from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee:
- Expand support for higher education. "Make college as universal in the 21st century as high school was in the 20th"; three out of four jobs in the new, high-tech economy require two years or more of higher education.
- Create a National Institute of Science and Engineering, like the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Funding for the nih has quadrupled since the 1980s, from $7 billion to $28 billion. "That's why we lead in pharmaceuticals and medical technology." Funding for science has been stagnant—about $5 billion—during that period. "I'd quadruple it and concentrate on nanotechnology, broadband and energy."
- Promote energy independence. Reduce foreign oil by 50% in 10 years. Create a hybrid economy. Use government contracts and tax incentives to boost solar and wind power.
- "You got a job, you got health care." Give the uninsured vouchers for use in the insurance system that covers federal employees.
- Organize a bipartisan summit on the budget. Balance it. Everything on the table—loopholes, pork, Bush tax cuts. [And this requires:] "Clean up the relationship between lobbyists and legislators -- .. the gifts, free trips, the revolving-door lobbying jobs for staff members."
Tuesday, November 15, 2005
A 'fiscal hurricane' on the horizon: Outlines issues, profiles several budget crusaders. "Without major spending cuts, tax increases or both, the national debt will grow more than $3 trillion through 2010, to $11.2 trillion — nearly $38,000 for every man, woman and child. The interest alone would cost $561 billion in 2010, the same as the Pentagon. ..
cutting the deficit [has] backfired at the polls. The elder Bush lost re-election, the Democrats lost Congress, and Republicans' obstinacy helped Clinton win a second term. "The choices you have to make are almost exactly the opposite of what wins political elections," Panetta says." 9:07:38 AM
Sunday, November 13, 2005
Our Faith in Science: The Dalai Lama on of science and spirituality. "If science proves some belief of Buddhism wrong, then Buddhism will have to change. In my view, science and Buddhism share a search for the truth and for understanding reality. By learning from science about aspects of reality where its understanding may be more advanced, I believe that Buddhism enriches its own worldview. ..
By invoking fundamental ethical principles, I am not advocating a fusion of religious ethics and scientific inquiry. Rather, I am speaking of what I call "secular ethics," which embrace the principles we share as human beings: compassion, tolerance, consideration of others, the responsible use of knowledge and power. These principles transcend the barriers between religious believers and non-believers; they belong not to one faith, but to all faiths. ..
A deeper dialogue between neuroscience and society - indeed between all scientific fields and society - could help deepen our understanding of what it means to be human and our responsibilities for the natural world we share with other sentient beings. Just as the world of business has been paying renewed attention to ethics, the world of science would benefit from more deeply considering the implications of its own work. Scientists should be more than merely technically adept; they should be mindful of their own motivation and the larger goal of what they do: the betterment of humanity" 12:04:26 PM
Saturday, November 12, 2005
Pssst ... Nobody Loves a Torturer:
"Ask any soldier in Iraq when the general population really turned against the United States and he will say, "Abu Ghraib." A few months before the scandal broke, Coalition Provisional Authority polls showed Iraqi support for the occupation at 63 percent. A month after Abu Ghraib, the number was 9 percent. Polls showed that 71 percent of Iraqis were surprised by the revelations. Most telling, 61 percent of Iraqis polled believed that no one would be punished for the torture at Abu Ghraib. Of the 29 percent who said they believed someone would be punished, 52 percent said that such punishment would extend only to "the little people." ..
today, what angers friends of America abroad is not that abuses like those at Abu Ghraib happened. Some lapses are probably an inevitable consequence of war, terrorism and insurgencies. What angers them is that no one beyond a few "little people" have been punished, the system has not been overhauled, and even now, after all that has happened, the White House is spending time, effort and precious political capital in a strange, stubborn and surely futile quest to preserve the option to torture." 11:40:39 PM
A Threat Worse Than Terror: "A flu pandemic is the most dangerous threat the United States faces today," says Richard Falkenrath, who until recently served in the Bush administration as deputy Homeland Security adviser. .. One makes a threat assessment on the basis of two factors: the probability of the event, and the loss of life if it happened. On both counts, a pandemic ranks higher than a major terror attack, even one involving weapons of mass destruction. ..
The total funding request for influenza-related research this year is about $119 million. To put this in perspective, we are spending well over $10 billion to research and develop ballistic-missile defenses, which protect us against an unlikely threat (even if they worked). We are spending $4.5 billion a year on R&D—drawings!—for the Pentagon's new joint strike fighter. Do we have our priorities right? ..
The World Health Organization should become the global body that analyzes samples, monitors viruses, evaluates cures and keeps track of the best practices. Yet the WHO leads a hand-to-mouth existence, relying on the whims and grants of governments. A year ago its flu branch had five people. Now it has 12. It needs a much, much larger staff and its own set of laboratories around the world that would allow it to fulfill this clearinghouse function" 11:37:45 PM
Palo Alto group cuts greenhouse gases:
"An odd-bedfellows coalition of Silicon Valley government agencies, businesses and organizations -- from major corporations to the local Sierra Club chapter -- has reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 744 million pounds in the past year, according to a new report to be released Wednesday. The energy saved in the process is enough to heat 233,500 homes, according to an early summary of the "Sustainable Silicon Valley," a 19-partner effort with offices in San Jose at the Silicon Valley Leadership Group headquarters. The effort -- launched in partial response to a perceived vacuum of leadership at the state and federal level in "greenhouse gas" emissions -- is the first-ever combined local effort to respond directly to global-warming concerns. The CO2 reduction initiative aims to cut emissions by 20 percent from 1990 levels within the next five years.
In addition to the City of Palo Alto, organizations based in or near Palo Alto include the environmental group Acterra, ALZA Corporation, Roche Palo Alto, Hewlett-Packard Company, Agilent Technologies and the Loma Prieta Chapter of the Sierra Club. NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View also is part of the coalition, along with several regional and countywide agencies and PG&E, Lockheed Martin and Oracle" 10:20:15 AM
Friday, November 11, 2005
Biodiesel Keeps Home Fire Burning
: Home heating fuel is another market for biodiesel. " the National Biodiesel Board
's website now lists 19 companies that supply biodiesel-blended heating oil, known as BioHeat, to residential customers, and the list is growing. Most companies provide BioHeat blends that contain 5 percent, 10 percent or 20 percent of biodiesel." At today's oil prices, and today's biodiesel volume, it's more expensive than conventional home heating oil. 11:34:43 PM
History's Worst Software Bugs: Cool story of software bugs with bad effects. First, why "bug"? In 1945, "engineers found a moth in Panel F, Relay #70 of the Harvard Mark II system. The computer was running a test of its multiplier and adder when the engineers noticed something was wrong. The moth was trapped, removed and taped into the computer's logbook with the words: "first actual case of a bug being found."
My favorite story was an intentional bug placed by the CIA in 1982. The background refs are worth reading. "Operatives working for the Central Intelligence Agency allegedly (.pdf) plant a bug in a Canadian computer system purchased to control the trans-Siberian gas pipeline. The Soviets had obtained the system as part of a wide-ranging effort to covertly purchase or steal sensitive U.S. technology. The CIA reportedly found out about the program and decided to make it backfire with equipment that would pass Soviet inspection and then fail once in operation. The resulting event is reportedly the largest non-nuclear explosion in the planet's history." 11:19:26 PM
Discover Music - Pandora
: Neat service that generates a radio station by picking music that resemble a single artist or song. Way cool. An outgrowth of the Music Genome Project
: "Over the past 5 years, we've carefully listened to the songs of over 10,000 different artists - ranging from popular to obscure - and analyzed the musical qualities of each song one attribute at a time. This work continues each and every day as we endeavor to include all the great new stuff coming out of studios, clubs and garages around the world." [Thanks, Scott
] 10:57:13 PM
Anapod Explorer vs. iTunes
: 3d party iTunes replacement, supporting alternative file formats, file and playlist management systems, PDA functions, and web and streaming access to iPod contents. $20-30. 10:59:12 AM
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Wednesday, November 09, 2005
Torture and terror: From the comments to Pat Lang's earlier piece. "Torture works! Not as source of information, but as instrument of terror. That's the dirty secret. It's to scare the general populus and to feed the visceral feeling to hurt people we don't like. That is why eradicating torture is so hard. It's an effective instrument of supression. .."
"The Chinese have a colorful proverb for your "torture one to terrorize another" example: "Kill the chicken, scare the monkey." " ..
"There's an iraqi folk tale that almost exactly fits your chinese aphorism. .. A man bought a monkey to weave at his loom. When he got the monkey home he started showing it how the loom worked. But the monkey jumped up into the rafters and laughed at him. So the man brought in a sheep and started teaching the sheep how to weave. The monkey laughed at that too. Sheep have hooves, they can't weave. The man demonstrated it all three times to the sheep but the sheep just went Baa, baa. Then the man got angry. "If you won't weave, why should you live?" and he cut the sheep's throat and cut the head entirely off. And then the monkey stopped laughing and got scared, he jumped down from the rafters and started weaving as fast as he could. And that is where we get the proverb, "Kill the sheep so the monkey will learn."" 4:45:38 PM
Desktop Integration Bounty Hunt: Great idea. Corporations (primarily Novell and Google now) announce bounties for open source code that integrates open source desktop software in the Linux environment. "The goal of this contest is to improve the quality and functionality of the Linux desktop. .. Each task listed below has a bounty associated with it. Your job is simple: choose a task, do the work, fill out the claim form, and collect the bounty. " 4:36:16 PM
Canada, carmakers sign tough emissions pact: Explicit cooperation between blue states and other countries on enviro issues. "Faced with the threat that Canada would adopt tough, California-style rules on auto emissions, major automakers agreed Tuesday [April 2005] to voluntarily reduce the global-warming emissions of cars and light trucks sold north of the border. Auto industry watchdogs said the deal, signed Tuesday in Windsor, Ontario, by officials of the Canadian government and the nation's automobile industry, could force automakers to adopt similar stringent emissions rules for vehicles sold throughout the United States.
The agreement follows the lead of regulations adopted last November in California, which U.S. automakers -- the same multinational giants that dominate Canada's auto industry -- are seeking to overturn in court. Tuesday's pact commits the manufacturers to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions of their vehicles sold in Canada by 5.3 million metric tons -- about 25 percent -- by the end of 2010. In comparison, rules adopted in California oblige automakers to reduce their global-warming emissions by 30 percent, starting in 2009 and culminating in 2016.
Supporters of California's rules praised Tuesday's deal but said it showed the automakers were being two-faced, voluntarily adopting standards in Canada that they oppose south of the border. .. "But it shows that the steps on global warming that car manufacturers say would wreak havoc in California are eminently doable," said [Tom Dresslar, spokesman for the Calif. attorney general]. "If you look at the history of this industry, whenever there are regulations proposed about safety, consumers and the environment, Detroit comes out with the Chicken Little routine, and that has never turned out to be an accurate prediction of the future." ..
the new standards will force an unprecedented increase in gas mileage for more than one-third of the vehicles sold in North America. New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont and Maine have adopted California's strict emissions targets. With this mass of auto buyers now joined by millions of Canadians, the auto industry is under increasing pressure to adopt the new levels for all its fleets, rather than offering different models for the two different markets.
Canada's voluntary deal may have been set in motion by unprecedented cooperation between California officials and their Canadian counterparts, who have met in recent months to discuss the possibility of Canada's adopting California's air quality rules. .. "California's pressure and the cross-border visits were very instrumental in helping the Canadian government to move forward and get the deal," said John Bennett, senior policy adviser for energy for the Sierra Club of Canada. " 3:23:11 PM
Tuesday, November 08, 2005
New Worm Plupii Targets Linux Web Service Holes: "The three vulnerabilities it attacks through are the XML-RPC for PHP Remote Code Injection vulnerability; the AWStats Rawlog Plugin Logfile Parameter Input Validation Vulnerability; and the Darryl Burgdorf Webhints Remote Command Execution Vulnerability.
When Plupii is successful in infecting a server, it then sends a notification message to an attacker at a remote IP address via UDP port 7222 or 7111. .. Next, it opens a back door through one or the other of these ports. This enables an attacker to gain unauthorized access to the compromised system. Once in place, Plupii generates a variety of URLs .. in an attempt to find and infect other vulnerable systems.
The worm itself is easy to destroy. One need only delete the file: /tmp/lupii. The more significant problem is what the attacker may have downloaded to the server while it was active. Indeed, Symantec's Deepsight Alert Services recommends that, "Due to the ability of the remote user to perform so many different actions on the server computer, including installation of applications, it is highly recommended that compromised computers be completely reinstalled." " 8:11:15 PM
Mobile Comms Satellite Launches Into Orbit: Inmarsat bGAN broadband network nearly complete. "The second step in a $1.5 billion program to create a mobile broadband communications network spanning the globe for users at sea, in the air and on land roared into space today. .. When [The Inmarsat 4-F2 satellite] enters service from geostationary orbit 22,300 miles (35,888 kilometers) above Earth next year, the craft will join the Inmarsat 4-F1 satellite that was successfully launched on Lockheed Martin's Atlas 5 rocket in March from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Together, the two craft will deliver broadband communications to 85 percent of the world." Connections are expected at around 400 kbps in each direction.
Also interesting is how it got there. It was launched SeaLaunch, a private company using a floating platform and Ukranian and Russian rockets. 8:07:35 PM
The Federal Government Isn't Ready for Avian Flu. Are you? An trade magazine for CIOs asks if corporations should have their own avian flu plans. Actions to consider:
- "Work remotely. In a flu pandemic, the fewer people who are physically together, the better. Create a virtual private network or add new employees to it.
- Demand a plan. Once public health officials have established a plan, communicate it throughout your company.
- Automate. Online transaction functionality for customers and vendors keeps people isolated.
- Assess demand for raw materials and supplies in advance. If a supplier is hobbled and transportation networks are down, just-in-time inventory arrangements will falter. "
One BellSouth facility is "planning a mock emergency drill based on a flu pandemic scenario. Lathram's 19-person hazardous-materials team completed a mock emergency event for an anthrax outbreak shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C. He says that team would be ideal to respond to a pandemic flu outbreak. "We would have them don their protective gear and enter a contaminated area or a quarantined area to do maintenance on our computers and other critical infrastructure," he says. "In that way it would be similar, but that would also be dependent on a healthy hazmat team." " 10:00:38 AM
Monday, November 07, 2005
Cheney and the "Tormenters"
: Pat Lang, retired Green Beret and colonel in military intelligence, weighs in on torture. "People often ask me at public events if I think it is "all right" to torture prisoners if that is necessary in order to obtain information needed to prosecute the "Global War on Terror." (GWOT) I routinely tell them that it is NOT "all right" to torture people for any reason. The assembly expects that result from the question and they also expect that I will then give them the standard lecture which holds (correctly) that the tortured will tell you anything that they think you want to hear in order to get you to stop what you are doing. Therefore, information obtained through torture is logically suspect and worthless. Intelligence interrogators are supposed to be skilled at their trade. Their trade is about applied psychology, not about beating confessions out of people.
The audience is usually a little more surprised to have me tell them that "torture" is a dishonorable and immoral thing to do and that a decent person, especially a decent soldier, will have nothing to do with such things and will not allow it to happen around him or her. .. [Imagine some] creep has the secret information needed to prevent a terrorist outrage, and won't talk. "Isn't it right to do whatever it takes....." That is the question that is always asked, often with a kind of dreamy, far off look in the eyes. I have gotten tired of this Sado-Masochistic day-dreaming, so, in response I ask them how far they would go in "whatever it takes?" ..
"OK," says I. "Let's say he is really obdurate and the clock is ticking on said 'terrorist outrage,' so we bring him in here and you and you will hold him down while I take his fingers and toes off one at a time with garden shears until he talks? Are you "in" for that?" Shocked silence follows. "Ah, I get it," says I. " You mean that it would be 'all right' for people like me to do these things." At that point it can be seen from the faces that this is the case.
"Ah," says I as a "follow up," "then how far are you willing to go in 'immunizing' the tormentors from prosecution once the GWOT is a memory?" This does not get an answer. So, this is all BS, a fantasy for everyman and everywoman (complete with guilty frisson of titillation).
The danger is that Cheney and all the other political obsessives on this subject in and out of government encourage those among who are quite capable of any bestiality that their furtive imaginations contrive. They hold out to the "dark ones" the possibility of accomplishing their dreams of power and domination. There are such people in any society, among any people, anywhere, and at any time. By creating a climate of permissiveness toward abuse of prisoners "for interrogation" the Cheney/Rumsfeld crowd have enabled a release of the demonic forces that, to some extent, lurk in all of us. " 10:21:23 PM
Topologilinux - [Running Linux inside Windows]: Based on slackware and colinux. Last updated 1Q 2005. Also runs native. "Topologilinux is a free Linuxdistribution to be run on top or inside your existing windows system. The main thing with Topologilinux is that it does not require any partitioning at all. (uses a single file as linux root system)..
Topologilinux needs a PC 486 or higher with about 100MB free diskspace and about 8MB ram. If you want to install everything you need about 2,5GB free space. If you want to have a X system it is recommend to have a Pentium PC with 32MB ram or more. And If you want to use colinux and X in windows you will probably need a pention 300Mhz or above with Win2k and about 96Mb ram. .." 9:15:51 AM
Sunday, November 06, 2005
Energy Innovations raises $16.5m:
Lead investor: Mohr Davidow Ventures, June 2005
. "Energy Innovations is developing a new low-cost rooftop solar system, called the Sunflower. Each Sunflower module is composed of an array of mirrors that track the sun throughout the day and year, concentrating its light onto a small panel of PV cells that generate electricity. By replacing large amounts of very expensive, silicon-based PV cells with inexpensive mirrors, Energy Innovations expects to drive down the cost of solar electricity by half or more.
The company is currently testing the Sunflower on its own roof in Pasadena and will soon be rolling out additional test units to sites in different climate zones. Following Underwriters Laboratory certification later this year, EI Solutions will begin installing Sunflower systems on customer rooftops in the fourth quarter. The system is designed to meet the electrical needs of grid-tied, flat-roofed commercial, government and other institutional buildings, the fastest-growing segment of the solar market. " 11:35:36 PM
The FBI's Secret Scrutiny
: Chilling details on the growth of secret surveillance and data mining. "The FBI now issues more than 30,000 national security letters a year, according to government sources, a hundredfold increase over historic norms. The letters -- one of which can be used to sweep up the records of many people -- are extending the bureau's reach as never before into the telephone calls, correspondence and financial lives of ordinary Americans.
Issued by FBI field supervisors, national security letters do not need the imprimatur of a prosecutor, grand jury or judge. They receive no review after the fact by the Justice Department or Congress. The executive branch maintains only statistics, which are incomplete and confined to classified reports. The Bush administration defeated legislation and a lawsuit to require a public accounting, and has offered no example in which the use of a national security letter helped disrupt a terrorist plot.
The burgeoning use of national security letters coincides with an unannounced decision to deposit all the information they yield into government data banks -- and to share those private records widely, in the federal government and beyond. In late 2003, the Bush administration reversed a long-standing policy requiring agents to destroy their files on innocent American citizens, companies and residents when investigations closed. Late last month, President Bush signed Executive Order 13388, expanding access to those files for "state, local and tribal" governments and for "appropriate private sector entities," which are not defined." 10:04:22 AM
Friday, November 04, 2005
Blue Movie - The "morality gap" is becoming the key variable in American politics: "It is an axiom of American politics that people vote their pocketbooks, and for seventy years the key political divisions in the United States were indeed economic. .. But over the past several elections a new political configuration has begun to emerge.. What is the force behind this transformation? In a word, sex. ..
Early in the 1996 election campaign Dick Morris and Mark Penn, two of Bill Clinton's advisers, discovered a polling technique that proved to be one of the best ways of determining whether a voter was more likely to choose Clinton or Bob Dole for President. Respondents were asked five questions, four of which tested attitudes toward sex: Do you believe homosexuality is morally wrong? Do you ever personally look at pornography? Would you look down on someone who had an affair while married? Do you believe sex before marriage is morally wrong? The fifth question was whether religion was very important in the voter's life.
Respondents who took the "liberal" stand on three of the five questions supported Clinton over Dole by a two-to-one ratio; those who took a liberal stand on four or five questions were, not surprisingly, even more likely to support Clinton. The same was true in reverse for those who took a "conservative" stand on three or more of the questions. ..
The demographic reality is that as currently constituted, liberal Blue America is growing and conservative Red America is in decline. Take church attendance. .. From 1972 to 2000 the proportion of voters who said they attended services every week dropped from 38 to 25 percent. .. The one group that has grown dramatically consists of those who never go to church or synagogue. This group, which has become a mainstay of liberal politics, made up just 11 percent of the population in 1972 but 33 percent in 2000.
Thus if the Republican Party hopes to build on its 2002 gains, it must continue to mute its social conservatism when speaking to the public. .. As long as al Qaeda, Iraq, and North Korea dominate the news, the Republicans will be able to maintain their slight advantage. But should war fade into the background, or as soon as emboldened congressional Republicans begin moving to restrict Americans' sexual autonomy, the currently weakened Democratic Party will be positioned to push back" 11:21:06 PM
CBS Poll Finds Public Takes Plamegate Seriously: "Some 51% said it is already of "great importance," with 35% choosing "some importance" and 12% "little or not importance." " For comparison:
- Plamegate (11/05): Great importance - 51%, Some - 35%, Little/none - 12%
- Clinton-Lewinsky (1/98) : Great importance - 41%, Some - 21%, Little/none - 37%
- Whitewater (3/94): Great importance - 20%, Some - 29%, Little/none - 45%
- Iran-Contra (2/87) : Great importance - 48%, Some - 33%, Little/none - 19%
- Watergate (5/73) : Great importance - 53%, Some - 25%, Little/none - 22%
For Americans, Getting Sick Has Its Price
: Not exactly "best in the world". "The survey of nearly 7,000 sick adults in the United States, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Britain and Germany found Americans were the most likely to pay at least $1,000 in out-of-pocket expenses. More than half went without needed care because of cost and more than one-third endured mistakes and disorganized care when they did get treated.
Although patients in every nation sometimes run into obstacles to getting care and deficiencies when they do get treated, the United States stood out for having the highest error rates, most disorganized care and highest costs, the survey found." 11:05:50 PM
Fabricated Links? Even the Saddam-Zarqawi link has fallen apart, with more faked documents. "An updated CIA re-examination of the issue recently concluded that Saddam's regime may not have given Zarqawi "safe haven" after all. .. [Zarqawi] used an alias and was there under what one U.S. intelligence official calls a "false cover." No evidence has been found showing senior Iraqi officials were even aware of his presence, according to two counterterrorism analysts familiar with the classified CIA study.. An intelligence official told NEWSWEEK that the current draft says that "most evidence suggests Saddam Hussein did not provide Zarqawi safe haven before the war. It also recognizes that there are still unanswered questions and gaps in knowledge about the relationship." ..
the Pentagon and Cheney's office have been reluctant to abandon the case: in the months after U.S. and allied forces deposed Saddam, NEWSWEEK has learned, Iraqi informants approached U.S. intelligence personnel with what purported to be caches of documents proving that Saddam's dealings with Al Qaeda were extensive. .. However, the CIA ultimately established that most key documents about the Saddam-Al Qaeda connection turned over were faked—just like the documents purporting to show Iraqi purchases of uranium." 10:49:11 PM
Thursday, November 03, 2005
Sri Lanka government focus on renewables
: "The National Council for Economic Development (NCED) has put together the top energy experts in the country to find ways of harnessing Sri Lanka' s energy resources by forming a "Renewable Energy Cluster" under the NCED Secretariat. .. Director of NCED Rohantha Athukorala said 'To insulate the country from devastating price surges in international oil markets, Sri Lanka must increase self reliance in energy and improve energy diversity. In 2004, the nation relied on imported diesel based thermal power to meet 56% of its requirements. .. The team's objective is to develop a national strategy to exploit indigenous renewable energy resources - namely hydro, dendro, wind and solar - for both grid-connected and off-grid generation. " While the emphasis is on indigenous renewables, cheap imported coal is also mentioned as an alternative. I recall a recent UNEP study
mapping large wind resources in Sri Lanka. 8:53:01 AM
Geothermal use statistics: "There is 8,932 MW of installed power capacity in 24 countries, generating 56,951 GWh per year of green power.. For direct use geothermal (including earth energy heat pumps), the global total from 72 countries is 28,268 MW, providing 75,943 GWh a year of thermal energy."
The top producers of geothermal electric power include many developing countries. For power, the top 10 include the Philippines (1,931 MW for 9,419 GWh), Mexico (953 / 6,282), Indonesia (797 / 6,085), Costa Rica (163 / 1,145) and Kenya (129 MW / 1,088 GWh/year). For direct heat without heat pumps, they include China, Turkey, Hungary, Brazil and Russia. For direct heat with heat pumps, only China is in the top 10.
"Over the past five years, 1,000 MW of geothermal electric capacity has been commissioned, as well as 13,000 MW of thermal capacity in direct use geothermal, most of which has been in earth energy heat pumps, according to the report. Growth in the power industry has increased 2.9% a year while direct use has increased 13.2% annually in capacity and 7.5% in energy produced." With rising prices for natural gas, the growth rate is expected to increase. 8:46:43 AM
Wednesday, November 02, 2005
Sony, Rootkits and Digital Rights Management Gone Too Far
: Detailed detective work showing how Sony's DRM "solution" resembles the worst of malware, embedding and cloaking itself in Windows. There's potential legal liability for Sony in the process. Makes me want to avoid Sony and other proprietary DRM hacks. 10:33:09 PM
Tuesday, November 01, 2005
China's Little Green Book: "Green China will be much more challenging than Red China.. The China Daily reported that China's 11th five-year plan, which starts soon, includes a program to sharply reduce China's energy usage per unit of G.D.P. by 2010. "To hit the target, a huge business potential will be open to investors," [said] Zhou Dadi, director of China's top energy research institute.. "China is growing three times as fast as we are," Mr. Watson said, "[so] a lot of innovation is going to happen here, and once it is introduced [on the low-cost China platform] it is going to spread a lot faster. ... The Japanese and Europeans are here in a big way, and they are giving their stuff away. ... We deserve to lose. We are clutching our past with these tremulous hands, and everyone else is vigorously grasping the future." 11:45:08 PM