Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Arrested Pirate Party Member Becomes Tunisian State Secretary

Well, now here's a bit of wild, wooly, and awesome news.

After the Tunisian revolt of two weeks ago, a member of the Pirate Party has been appointed as a Minister of Sports and Youth. (Minister, Deputy Minister, apparently the details remain a bit cloudy.)  The Pirate Party is a political party that exists in many countries, which supports free speech and net neutrality, and resists intellectual property rights (hence the name; they are associated with online piracy).  Members of the Pirate Party are often outspoken online, and activists online and sometimes in real life as well. This particular fellow, Slim Amamou, is a well-known blogger for the cause from the region.

That's a pretty gutsy move to make even for a stable government that's used to free expression.  For Tunisia, it's remarkable.

Another point on this is Slim Amamou's youth, which comes into play in two ways.  First, much of the unrest throughout the Middle East arises among young men and women, who can't find decent jobs, find their opinions repressed, and are often prohibited by government policies from fully partaking in the global society that is the birthright of their age.  Second, many young people in their 20s and 30s feel, around the world, a great divide between themselves and the older generations, who they feel are disconnected and do not understand the new world as it is shaping up nor the concerns that are relevant to these times.  Slim Amamou is a rare example of an active representative of that age group in an official position.

Pretty interesting stuff!

U.S. seeks veto powers over new domain names

Read more: http://news.cnet.com/8301-31921_3-20030809-281.html#ixzz1DPmunIs4

What is this about?  It's about internet domain names--you know, those URL addresses that most people use to find name their pages and find things on the internet.  The "top-level domain name" is the final extension:  .com, .net, .org, .gov.

To put it briefly, we're running low on domain names.  At this point, there are approximately 15 kajillion websites out there (that's a rough estimate), and most of the good names are now taken.  You could, of course, name your new site about social injustice in Darfur "unfairpear.com," but it doesn't take much imagination to see the drawbacks.  The easiest way to fix this is to increase the number of top-level domain names.  But on the internet, which spans nations all over the world, who has the power to make such a sweeping change?  

That'd be the ICANN organization.  http://www.icann.org/

Created in 1998, ICANN is an officially neutral organization that listens to the voices of governments and non-governmental entities (corporations and non-profits) in making those sweeping decisions that affect the entirety of the internet (mainly address-related stuff).  Unofficially, it will probably surprise no one to hear that governments get a lot more say than non-governments, and some governments get a lot more say than others.

This particular argument is over who will have authority over the next wave of suffixes to supplement the venerable .com, .org, and .net. To make a long story short, the US wants to be able to make the call.

Okay, now what am I going on about here?  Well, the way this new top-level domain naming system is supposed to work is, groups propose top-level domains they would like to see created, ICANN reviews the proposal and decides whether to implement it or not.  Simple enough, right?

But have a working example.  Considering the nature of the internet, it may surprise no one to hear that one of the first new domains proposed was .xxx.

That's the classic code for pornography.  Har har har, very funny.  But hey, the adult entertainment industry saw value in having a root domain to put all its stuff under for people to find easily.  And you know, there's something to that.  It'd be easy for people to find, and just as easy for people who don't want to find it to avoid it.

Only ICANN decided it didn't like the thought of that, so it proceeded to permanently ignore this proposal.

Now, there are a few issues here.
1.  In most countries, your standard run-of-the-mill pornography is not illegal.
2.  No one is saying that all the sites under that extension have to be porn, or that porn can only go under that extension.
3.  Who gave ICANN the moral authority to decide whether something is too tacky to go on the internet?

So basically, hello censorship.  

Now, that's annoying and (depending on whether you hate pornography more than violations of free expression) distasteful.  But now let's extend that and say it's not just this non-governmental organization that's making this calls, it's the US government.  Or the French governmnent.  Or the Chinese government.  Or the Egyptian government.  

NOW how do you feel about it?  How do you feel about it if it's not a porn domain, but a domain for activists supporting the free press in fundamentalist countries? 

Because mistake me not, they very much do intend to do this sort of thing.  To quote:

"The Obama administration is proposing (PDF) that domain approval procedures be changed to include a mandatory 'review' by an ICANN advisory panel comprised of representatives of roughly 100 nations. The process is open-ended, saying that any government 'may raise an objection to a proposed (suffix) for any reason.' Unless at least one other nation disagrees, the proposed new domain name 'shall' be rejected."

Translation:  the proposal gets sent to a committee of 100 representatives of different governments.  Every one of them has to agree that the new suffix is okay with them.  If anyone complains, then another nation has to actively resist that complaint, or the proposal gets tossed out.  Does that sound bureaucratic, byzantine, oppressive, and/or ridiculous to you?  Well, they've got a rebuttal for you!

"A statement sent to CNET over the weekend from the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration, or NTIA, said its proposed veto procedure 'has merit as it diminishes the potential for blocking of top level domain strings considered objectionable by governments. This type of blocking harms the architecture of the DNS and undermines the goal of universal resolvability (i.e., a single global Internet that facilitates the free flow of goods and services and freedom of expression).'

Another way of phrasing this argument, perhaps, is: If less liberal governments adopt technical measures to prevent their citizens from connecting to .gay and .xxx Web sites, and dozens of nations surely will, that will lead to a more fragmented Internet."

Read that argument again.  They're saying that censoring the creation of these domains will benefit the internet by preventing these domains from being censored by individual governments if they're created.  And this is helpful because it leads to a 'less fragmented internet.'  Or, to translate it even further, "it's better if we censor it before those other guys have to."

If my tone in this post sounds huffy or opinionated, this is why.  I'm actually insulted that they thought they could slip that argument past anyone with a mind.  And it all hinges on the premise that a fragmented internet is something to avoid.  You know what?  This isn't going to prevent that.  It's not going to get any less fragmented.  If the .xxx domain doesn't exist, the porn producers will just put their sites under .biz or something.  If .free doesn't pass, the activists will post their blogs in a different domain, and China and Iran will block them just the same.  Furthermore, a fragmented internet is comparatively a good thing.  Sure, if the Chinese are blocked from accessing blogs hosted on .free, then that's a communications hole for the planet's population.  But at least it exists.  And those internet users in China who are savvy enough to slip around the firewalls can still find it and spread that information.

And that's 100% better than not ever letting it be created at all.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Google attack highlights 'zero-day' black market - Sacramento Business, Housing Market News | Sacramento Bee

Another glimpse into the online underground. It really is like a cyber-Cold War out there.

Google attack highlights 'zero-day' black market - Sacramento Business, Housing Market News | Sacramento Bee

Twitter throws down with censorship regimes

I said in my last post that we're moving into something new. Well, here's another move. Looks like there's a showdown brewing in cyberspace.

Twitter working to thwart censorship - International Business Times -

The central bits of this article are
Micro-blogging site Twitter is developing technology that will prevent government censorship after Iran and China moved to censor its users.

"We are partially blocked in China and other places and we were in Iran as well," he said. "The most productive way to fight that is not by trying to engage China and other governments whose very being is against what we are about."

Wow. The implications here are huge. So far, the big tech and comm companies have been targets and defenders in cybersecurity. But if they actually start to come out and engage...how do governments deal with private enterprise entering the war zone?

Thoughts on the Google Hacking

I didn't blog about it at the time because everybody was covering it, but I've thought about it a bit since. To be brief, about two weeks ago Google was hacked in an attack originating from China. The attackers were after information on human rights activists. Related to this, Google also announced the agreement with China it struck a couple of years back, that China would let Google operate in the country if Google agreed to filter certain search terms (read: censorship). (In related news, it seems Sergey Brin, one of Google's co-founders, was the main force behind this.)

Now, China's denying any involvement in this, of course, and making a show of hurt feelings while they offer to step up their cooperation with other governments on facing down cybercrime.

While I doubt it, given the noises China's making about how the US is a big finger-pointing bully, it may even be true that China was uninvolved. Who knows? That's the difficulty of cyberwarfare and cyberterrorism: anybody with the know-how and some decent equipment can get in on this action. As I mentioned before, nations can even hire freelance cybercriminals to do this stuff, allowing governments plausible deniability with effectively no ability to prove their involvement.

But as David Vellante says over on Internet Evolution, there's another element to all this. Namely: Google was hacked. There are a couple of alarming things about this.

1: Google is the bannerman of cloud computing. Now, I love my cloud. Oh boy, do I. But my stance is that cloud computing is going to enjoy its day in the sun before it crashes and burns over the issue of security (I expect it'll have a slow and ultimately successful climb back to the top after that minus the initial starry-eyed wonder). It's one thing to be able to access your grocery list from any computer you want, but as the cloud integrates more deeply in daily life, we start to see increasingly sensitive information being put out there. And here's the thing about cloud computing: if you can access your information from any computer in the world, then so can other people.

2: The most significant force standing between cyber-threats and the bloodflow of the world's information maintained by companies like Google, Microsoft, Yahoo!, Facebook, and Twitter is...the companies themselves.

The magical thing about the internet is that nobody tells it what to do. It's a giant morass of largely unregulated private endeavor, but in some ways that's also a weakness. While they have access to the technological and law enforcement resources of multiple nations, the gatekeepers of the internet are not official authorities.

I'm fundamentally okay with that. These corporations are right in there on the cybersecurity issue and possess an agility in response and evolution that surpasses almost any government. But. They don't own the internet either (even if it feels like Google does, sometimes), and there's nothing stopping anybody--a government, another company, a private individual--who has the knowhow and equipment (not too hard to come by these days) from chopping their way in and availing themselves of that dataflow. Sure, there are laws and international groups that'll try to do something about it after the fact, but as usual society evolves faster than the rules can change to keep up with it.

I'm not attempting to fear-monger here. There are things that can be done. George Kurtz points out in McAfee's Security Insights blog that the attack penetrated through a vulnerability in Internet Explorer (incidentally, you can see here an example of the kind of communal interaction I alluded to above, with multiple tech companies involved as well as government). And once again, it comes down to the people involved.
As with most targeted attacks, the intruders gained access to an organization by sending a tailored attack to one or a few targeted individuals.

As usual, the best thing that can be done is make sure the people on the "front lines"--the users--are as educated and aware as possible. But it can be difficult. a high-level operation like Aurora may involve some extremely well-planned methods of infiltration.

All told, I think this is maybe the third salvo in a new war, after the infrastructure attack on Georgia during Russia's invasion and the success of Twitter as a coordinating technology during Iran's student uprising. Mr. Kurtz sums up my thoughts pretty well in his post, so I'll leave you with his final words.
All I can say is wow. The world has changed. Everyone’s threat model now needs to be adapted to the new reality of these advanced persistent threats. In addition to worrying about Eastern European cybercriminals trying to siphon off credit card databases, you have to focus on protecting all of your core intellectual property, private nonfinancial customer information and anything else of intangible value.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

FBI fighting cybercriminals all over the world


Lolita C. Baldor

December 10, 2009

"The tip came from another country's law enforcement officials: Eight major banks in the U.S. were being targeted by cybercriminals operating there.

FBI agents fanned out that night to warn the branches that hackers were aiming to break into their computer systems. The banks were able to spot the attempted breaches, and block them, FBI officials said.

Concerned about the rise in this type of sophisticated computer attack from abroad, the FBI and the U.S. Secret Service are beefing up their international cybercrime enforcement, sending agents who specialize in the threats overseas to specifically deal with digital perils."

This article sits at the nexus of a number of subjects that've been on my mind recently; the expansion of cybercrime, and the roadblocks of international law in pursuing it; the difficulties experienced by nations possessing different levels of technology and possessing different views of crime.   While everyone pays attention to the international community's arguments over the World Bank and climate, for some reason the effects of the internet on the global community (or maybe I should say the reinvention of the global community) isn't getting much press...which is funny, because due to both practicality and social currents, it's having the most impact of all.

You can't get away from international contacts online, and you don't really want to.  If you blog, belong to Facebook or visit forums, you've probably got friends in Britain, Romania, and Japan whom you talk to on a daily basis.  Likewise, governments now have to collaborate to deal with these connections that flow past national borders like air.  The old obstacles that protected regional interests are no longer feasible.  Every barrier to collaboration can geometrically increase the danger of theft, privacy invasion, and even terrorism.  Thanks to these pressures, the world is going to look very different in 10 to 20 years on levels many of us aren't even considering.

This is an area in which we, as responsible computer users, can actively help.  I'm not saying we should go out and become net-vigilantes, but savvy web denizens can make a real impact by spreading knowledge about basic computer security and by reporting our reasonable concerns to the authorities.  Keep in mind that the "authorities" here often aren't the police.  If you see something suspicious on Facebook, send a message to the Facebook staff.  The companies that form the backbone of the internet also form a very active part of the web of internet security.  They are in a position to investigate and usually to clean up problems they find, and they have ready contacts (often in many countries, because of the nature of social networking sites) to pass on information that law enforcement needs to deal with.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

More on botnets

Reading further on botnets, it seems that there's a whole secret botnet culture out there, where 'net wars versus 'net and they enact elaborate measures against one another while trying to build their own power bases. It's...almost kind of cool, in a cyberpunk sort of way.


Botnets Battle Over Turf

Some botnets even patch their infected machines to prevent other botnets from hijacking them

Apr 18, 2007 | 08:55 AM
By Kelly Jackson Higgins
Dark Reading

More botnet-on-botnet turf wars have erupted -- and intensified -- over the past few months. (See Black Hat: Botnets Go One-on-One and Botnets Don Invisibility Cloaks.)

Aside from the distributed denial-of-service (DDOS) attacks they launch against one another to disrupt their operations (like the recent DDOS battles between the Storm and Stration botnets), they also are constantly trying to hijack bots from one another. "Stealing is easier than building [out] one," says Danny McPherson, chief research officer for Arbor Networks, who tracks botnet activity.

But the savvier botnets go the extra mile to protect their captor capital: Some actually "secure" the bot machines they have infected so no other botnets can steal them or utilize them, too. They install patches on their bots, for instance, to close the security holes and shut down open ports that are vulnerable to attack. "They are installing defenses to make sure no one else doubly infects the machine," says Paul Mockapetris, chairman and chief scientist of Nominum. "There are instances where a machine is infected, and part of that is defense against another infection."

Patching their bots and shutting out other botnets is no harder than initially recruiting a machine as a bot, security experts say. "It would be trivial for a bot to compromise a machine and apply Microsoft's recommended workarounds to prevent re-infection," says David Maynor, CTO of Errata Security.

The bottom line is the bottom line, of course: The more bots you have, the better chance you have of making money off your spam runs, identity theft efforts, etc. And bots are often used to advertise botnet services, too, touting features such as IP addresses that change every 10 minutes.

"They market their own botnet services through the bots. It's an entire economy," Arbor's McPherson says.

McPherson says bots are more of a commodity now. Part of the problem, he says, is that antivirus and IDS tools only detect about 75 percent of malware, which makes it fairly simple to zombify a consumer's machine.

Meanwhile, as botnets are also ditching their old-school Internet Relay Chat (IRC) channels for HTTP and peer-to-peer communications to be less conspicuous to investigators, it raises the bar for their infighting as well.

"Now they have more sophisticated P2P systems -- and hijacking [one another] may be more difficult," notes Adam O'Donnell, senior research scientist for Cloudmark. Still, "botnet hijacking is a common occurrence."

O'Donnell says when new attack vectors are publicized for popular operating systems, it's easy to build up a botnet using them if the botnet operator gets there first. "If those systems become botted quickly by other parties, then it may become easier for a party just to hijack someone else's network."

It's one incestuous ecosystem. Says Errata Security's Maynor: "Think of bot masters like stock brokers: They are always going to go back and cannibalize their base first."

— Kelly Jackson Higgins, Senior Editor, Dark Reading

The danger of botnets

Botnets are bad news, and recently governments have been learning just how bad.  A botnet is a term for a network of computers that have been hijacked through malware infections--aka viruses, worms, trojans--so that a hacker can remotely control them.  These infected and remote-controlled (robot or "zombie") computers can then be used for all sorts of purposes.  These computers are your computers--everyday desktops that have been infected by a virus and can now be controlled by someone else at any time.  Spam production is the most common use...but these hidden networks can, in the wrong hands, be used for far more dangerous purposes.  A botnet attack on the nation of Estonia last year nearly drove the country's entire digital infrastructure offline, and there is now a movement to declare botnets "eWMDs"--electronic weapons of mass destruction.

The following xxcerpt from the Hoover Institution's Policy Review journal (No. 152, December 2008 & January 2009; http://www.hoover.org/publications/policyreview/35543534.html) offers a simple explanation of botnets.


The internet has enabled the bountiful benefits of eCommerce, and the incorporation of eCommerce into our economies has, in turn, created a dependence on the Internet, similar to our dependence on water, electric, and telephone utilities. Unlike other utilities, however, communication utilities can be crippled without even necessarily being physically attacked — they can be attacked in cyberspace. Such a cyber attack can result in loss of life, loss of wealth, and serious impediments to the flow of goods and services. In a modern just-in-time economy, these disruptions have the potential to cause catastrophic damage. Cyber attacks present a grave new security vulnerability for all nations and must be urgently addressed.

Cyber warfare is asymmetric warfare; more is at risk for us than for most of our potential adversaries. Another asymmetric aspect is that the victims of cyber warfare may never be able to determine the identity of their actual attacker. Thus, America cannot meet this threat by relying solely upon a strategy of retaliation, or even offensive operations in general.

Cyber attacks are best accomplished through exploiting intelligence on the enemy's networks and servers, and on those servers' software, the current vulnerabilities of the software's applications, and standard security practices and typical lapses. Cyber attackers can exploit their targets' networks and servers such that those systems not only stop supporting their intended purposes, but actually work against those purposes. As evidenced by recent attacks on the Pentagon computer system, the United States must assume that our potential adversaries in the world are preparing for such attacks.

Cyber warriors may choose to be discreet about high-value targets, the security of which is compromised, and wait for the optimal moment to launch their attacks. But they can also put low-value, low-security targets to coldly efficient use. A low-value target computer can be unwillingly, unknowingly conscripted (by being infected by a virus, worm, or Trojan software) in future attacks as a zombie in a botnet. Botnet is a term for a collection of software robots (bots) which run autonomously on compromised computers (zombie computers). These computers run malicious programs under the command of a so-called bot herder, who can control the group remotely. Any computer can be infected and available for use as part of a botnet without the computer's owner knowing it. In the spring of 2007, Estonia was the victim of a month-long cyber attack, which, according to the New York Times, "came close to shutting down the country's digital infrastructure." Your personal computer may have been used in that attack without your knowledge. Cyber attacks involve not just one malicious computer but thousands of computers at a time, with new ones constantly joining the fray. Because so many computers are engaged, cyber sallies are all the more difficult to deflect.

When one computer floods a target's server, router, or Internet connection with traffic (i.e., saturating the target with external communication requests, thereby overloading its capacity and effectively making it unavailable for others), it is called a dos (denial-of-service) attack. A dos attack is defeated by reconfiguring routers to reject all traffic from the originating ip address — that is, from the address of the aggressor computer. If a large number of computers are used in the battle, though, it is called a ddos (distributed denial-of-service) attack. In these cases, the routers of the target must be reconfigured to reject the ip address of each offensive, zombie computer as it is discovered. ddos attacks can be overwhelming — it was a ddos fusillade that crippled Estonia — so all computer owners have a civic duty to secure their machines against becoming part of a botnet.

The U.S. government has a similar duty, but on a larger scale. Because botnets represent such a real threat to our domestic cyberspace and all the assets that those Internet-accessible computers control, it is a vital national interest to secure the domestic Internet.

The rest of the article can be found at http://www.hoover.org/publications/policyreview/35543534.html.  It goes on to describe the exact nature of the attack on Estonia, the continuing national security threat from botnets, and what governments and organizations can do to prevent it. 

Elaborate and destructive as it was, the attack on Estonia appears to have been engineered by a single hacker (the Russian government denies involvement, but the article also discusses how their hackers utilized cyber-attacks against Georgia concurrent with their recent invasion of that country).  It's terrifying to think of the destructive potential of such things in the face of widespread lack of owners' education about computers and internet security.  Aside from international threats, botnets can be used for spam, bandwidth theft (where someone else puts stuff on your computer for others to access or download), identity theft, and fraud.  However, there are things that we as private computer-owning individuals can do to prevent our property from being appropriated in such a manner.  Even better:  most of them are very simple.


You are less likely to get sucked into a botnet if you do these things:

  • Keep your computer updated with security fixes.  Those irritating patches Microsoft keeps sending you are *not* worthless.
  • Use a good spam filter.  
  • Use anti-spyware, anti-virus and firewall protection.  On my own computer, I use Avast! anti-virus, a free anti-virus program available on the net (Norton and McAfee are two other popular ones, but I find they tend to conflict with my other software).  And a program I'd recommend to anyone, LavaSoft's free AdAware anti-spyware program.  Run anti-virus and anti-spyware checks frequently.  I run them both once a week.
  • DON'T CLICK on dubious links in spam emails or shady websites.

Most of us know by now to also avoid suspicious emails, particularly random messages with subject tags about holidays, celebrities or current events. Watch out for phishing scams, never click on (and absolutely don't buy!) anything advertised in a spam email, don't open attachments when you don't know what they are or who they're from, and when in doubt, just don't click. In cases where I find an email questionable but worth checking up on (I got a really good fake email about my PayPal account, once--this is called phishing and is a form of fraud), I will close my email and open a new browser page where I type in the URL myself to double-check.  Most sites such as Paypal or eBay or...whatever your bank is will offer links so you can report internet fraud to them.  USE IT, especially if the email (or whatever) is cunning enough to actually take you in.  They need to know when there's a danger to their users.

Detection and Removal

It's difficult to detect if your computer has been caught up in a botnet. If you notice that your computer is sluggish, that's a potential warning sign (or it might mean you need to defrag your computer--long story short is, your hard drive is like a piece of paper with a lot of writing on it.  When your computer puts in something new, it'll add it wherever there's space.  Defragmenting your hard drive essentially sorts the lists out for easier reading, which makes it run faster). If friends start complaining they're getting spam or random messages with suspicious attachments from you, that's also a good indicator.  (For related reading, see Make Windows XP Run Faster.) There are also logging features on your computer that can help you trace unauthorized usage, if you know what to look for (checking your email outbox for mysterious sent messages is an easy one, as is checking your browser history).  But in general, if you have been affected by a botnet, you've got some sort of malware infection. Running good anti-virus and anti-spyware software (refer to the links above), will usually detect, take care of, and/or prevent the problem.

Finally, the easiest way to make sure a hacker can't access your computer, whether infected or not:  turn it off or disconnect from the internet when you're not using it.

Monday, December 08, 2008

bluesrat@gmail.com has shared: Mobile Eye-Track: Olympus develops awesome head-mounted display

Oh, cool! If you've ever read scifi, you might be familiar with the concept of people being directly 'jacked into the web. Imagine that: a whole new level of information access--like having a GPS in your head, or psychic access to an encyclopedia on whatever you're encountering. The ability to download new languages, to overlay maps on a street scene in front of you. You could virtually walk with a friend, who to you is standing next to you while they're visiting your location on their own connection. You could even be functioning in whole other "dimensions" of reality at once, almost like a technological spirit-walk!

Well, we're not that far along yet, and I don't know whether it would be an entirely good thing if we could do that. But this could provide some of that experience if they get it going. Crazy, huh?

Now it's looking like a *really* good thing that they're working on a 40 GB data rate!
Mobile Eye-Track: Olympus develops awesome head-mounted display

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bluesrat@gmail.com has shared: Konica Minolta Shows Off New Holographic HUD

Hey, speaking of holograms!
Konica Minolta Shows Off New Holographic HUD

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bluesrat@gmail.com has shared: Star Wars-style holograms coming our way

Holograms remain one of those things that exist in the nebulous realm of scifi despite our best efforts. Well, maybe not anymore.

What you see in that video is not *exactly* 3D. Holograms have the interesting property of changing depending on where you're standing in relation to them, even though they're being projected onto a 2D surface. Weird, eh?

Funny thing about holograms: traditional data transmission works by taking a discrete chunk of data--a file--and breaking it down into tiny bits, each of which is flagged by the computer. It then ships those chunks across a communication network to another computer, which puts the bits back together according to how they were flagged. If you lose some of those chunks, you don't end up with a functioning file at the other end.

Makes you wonder how the internet works so reliably, doesn't it?

Holograms are different. In every bit of data, the code for the *entire* hologram exists. It's like DNA. I don't pretend to understand exactly why or how, or how it produces the effects it does--I'll have to go read up now--but there it is. Among other things, this makes holography a far more reliable form of data in the case of rocky, unstable communications--such as interplanetary, if we ever get around to that. So it's been highly desirable for quite some time.

Looks like that 40GB transmission rate is coming along at just about the right time, eh?
Star Wars-style holograms coming our way

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bluesrat@gmail.com has shared: Intel uses silicon photonics for faster data transfer over long distances

Dare to compare: right now, our best wifi standard is 3gbps. We've barely got *that* online, though it's available in many metropolitan areas.

Is this wifi? I don't know. Probably fiberoptics. Light transmission isn't practical outside fairly confined spaces (that's what your remote control is, people, and bluetooth as well--light, infrared, radio, they're all on the same electromagnetic spectrum, just at different frequencies).
Intel uses silicon photonics for faster data transfer over long distances

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bluesrat@gmail.com has shared: 1.6 terabyte solid state drive drops my jaws

We skipped right from about 80Gigs to 1.6 *terabytes.* Insane.
1.6 terabyte solid state drive drops my jaws

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Monday, June 09, 2008

Everything You Know About Water Conservation Is Wrong

You are receiving this mail because bluesrat@gmail.com read a page at
Discover Magazine and thought it might interest you.

The sender added this comment:
"From Discover magazine, http://discovermagazine.com.

Their archives are currently free for public access, so have fun while you can!"

Everything You Know About Water Conservation Is Wrong

Forget short showers. Worry about the 6,340 gallons of "virtual water" in your leather bag.


DISCOVER webmaster

Monday, April 28, 2008

Thursday, December 20, 2007

More RIAA stuff


The battle between the RIAA and radio has been going around all year, but it remains a terrible problem.  A lot of radio broadcasters are fairly small outfits: they can't afford to pay to play music, and they certainly can't afford to pay the sort of royalties the RIAA is demanding.  If these bills go through, it will devastate radio.  The only groups that'll be able to afford to stay online will be the ones subsidized by big business or the government--maybe, if the government is willing to give them the money.  Oh, and the ones that decide to eschew anybody big enough to demand royalties and go straight for the indie groups.

Do you want all your music and news to be controlled by Turner or Sony?

What they don't seem to understand is how stupid this idea is.  The companies making up the RIAA are panicking, because they're having increasing trouble pulling in enough money to make the kind of profits they want.  I'll grant, it's not necessarily a matter of greed.  Some of these companies--some of them old and respected names in American media--are in danger of going bankrupt.  This is because the music industry has changed enormously due to the internet.  Music doesn't follow the marketing trails it used to, but the music companies would rather fight to avoid changing than reinvent themselves to get with the times, and it's hurting them.  But among the things they refuse to realize is that if they want to sell things, they have to get their product out there.  How many of us buy music without ever having heard anything about the band or their work?  Radio remains one of the best--and at this point, one of the few legal--ways to go about it.  The RIAA is already savagely attacking internet radio, to the point where if they get their way, internet radio will essentially cease to exist.  If these bills go through, too, and terrestrial radio starts feeling the burn, the music industry is going to quite suddenly find itself holding product that may as well cease to be, because none of us are ever going to hear about it.

And if that happens, the RIAA will find themselves stuck in the outrageously ironic position of depending on music piracy to save their lives.

The RIAA has blinded itself from seeing is what a great marketing scheme music piracy is.  No, I'm not advocating stealing mp3s.  I'm just saying that music piracy has its roots in the very foundation and holy grail of marketing: it's word of mouth advertising.  "Here," says the music pirate.  "I heard this, and it rocked.  I think you'll like it too."  Customers can download and test the product without risking an investment to see whether it's right for them.  Piracy is such an effective advertising tool, in fact, that certain TV networks have begun clandestinely releasing bootlegs of their own material in order to get people to check it out.  The concept is simple:  hook them on a poor man's copy, and they'll decide it's worth paying to get the good stuff.  If the record companies want to get anywhere, they need to start studying this beast and harnessing its potential somehow.  All they're doing now is destroying every existing incarnation of the concept and wrecking their own reputations in the process.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Freaking RIAA

The Recording Industry Association of America is a rotten group that has descended to increasingly dirty tactics and politicking in order to get its way regarding copyright and how it's wielded.  Recently, a woman they were suing for alleged copyright infringement (the definition of which they're very liberal with) filed a counterclaim against them because they'd used illegal means to dig up information on her--investigative groups who weren't licensed to operate in the state of Texas, where she lives.  She claims the RIAA knew very well that this group wasn't licensed, and considering how they dropped the case against her like a hot potato, she may very well have been right.

The RIAA gets an alarmingly free hand with doing things that probably aren't legal, because frankly they have a great deal of pull in Congress and they've been freely manipulating the legal system in order to get their way.  They've been pressing a number of alarming bills through Congress, some of which have passed and others of which have been defeated--there's a lot of technological lobbying going on on Capitol Hill lately.  Their sibling associations in other countries are trying to throw similar fits, but most other nations aren't interested in listening...and Norway threw out a case after warning them that trying to pursue such an avenue again would not only be unwelcome, but might very well be deemed unconstitutional.

See, here's how the RIAA operates.  There's a legal term known as 'ex parte.'  What it translates to is a plaintiff filing a case against someone without the defendant having any representation in court.  Traditionally, it is an extremely rare method--of course, since our legal system generally depends on both parties having their say.  But in certain cases--most often, when they're not sure of the defendant's actual identity--it's not really feasible for the defendant to have representation at the time the case is brought, so the plaintiff is allowed to go ahead and file, and the defendant can get in on the action later.

The RIAA brings an ex parte case against 'unidentified persons' using a given service provider: say, AOL out in Denver.  Then, having a legally recognized case, they proceed to use that as leverage to gain access to confidential data, such as forcing AOL in Denver to turn over its records on its customers.  The RIAA then uses that data to identify persons they wish to bring charges against, drops the ex parte case, and files individually against any of those people they think they can nail for copyright infringement.  The problem is, the RIAA is an organization, and they might be carrying this out in, say, Atlanta, while the defendants out in Denver don't even have a clue what's going on till they get the notice of legal action, at which point they're stuck trying to find away to dig up legal defense in a city halfway across the country...and for charges the RIAA in some cases more or less makes up on the spot, because they keep trying to push the limits of what they can get declared as a copyright infringement.  For example, while last year, their lawyers stated in court that ripping mp3s for personal use (though not for trade) was legal, now they're saying that ripping mp3s in some cases may not be.

You might say, "Well, but those people are probably doing something illegal," but this is playing the system.  It's taking advantage of people--parents of 14 year old kids have found themselves suddenly besieged with $500,000 lawsuits--and worse, it's violating the privacy of private citizens, many of whom aren't doing anything wrong.

And now the RIAA is very unhappy indeed, because the state Attorney General of Oregon has apparently had enough, and has declared that he wants immediate discovery of the RIAA's investigative tactics since the RIAA tried to push its luck with the University of Oregon.  This particular Attorney General doesn't seem to be best pleased with the methods the RIAA uses, and feels that if there's no one in court to represent the ex parte defendants, then it's the legal system's job.  The RIAA, in turn, is requesting that the resulting document be thrown out of the case against the university students and not even read by the judge.  Makes you wonder what they're up to, doesn't it?

Reuters.com - U.S. lacks plan for digital TV switch: study

Julia (bluesrat@gmail.com) has sent you this article.
Personal Message:
Well, here's something I didn't know. Apparently the US government is requiring the switch to digital TV signals by February 2009. They say it'll free up airwaves for things like police, and I'm betting they like the cleanliness and ease of dealing with digital signals in general.
 U.S. lacks plan for digital TV switch: study
Tue Dec 11 22:09:05 UTC 2007

By Peter Kaplan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. regulators have "no comprehensive plan" for preparing TV viewers for the approaching switch-over to digital television, a congressional study released on Tuesday said.

The study by the Government Accountability Office took issue with the Federal Communications Commission for lacking an overall strategy for the February 17, 2009 switch, which will require broadcasters to change to digital signals from their traditional analog ones.

"Despite efforts by the public and private sectors and ongoing coordination, we found that no comprehensive plan for the transition exists," the GAO said.

The digital TV transition is being closely watched because owners of analog televisions will not be able to watch television unless they subscribe to satellite or digital cable, replace their TV with a digital television by that date or get a converter box.

Congress ordered the switch to digital television because it will free up valuable airwaves for other uses, such as for police and fire departments and because it will lead to improved picture and sound for TV viewers.

The federal government plans to subsidize the cost of buying a digital-analog converter box by offering $40 discount coupons to anyone who owns an analog television. That program is being overseen by an arm of the Commerce Department called the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

The agency's chairman, Kevin Martin, responded in a letter to the GAO, saying he had "significant reservations and concerns with the report's approach and conclusions."

Martin also issued 99 pages of "comprehensive plans, goals and achievements" that the FCC had drawn up to address the digital TV transition.

In their report, the authors of the GAO study said Martin also told them that the FCC "does not have a formal plan in place that is publicly available, but that the various orders contained in FCC dockets amount to a plan."

The GAO's report credited the FCC, NTIA and private industry with making progress in educating consumers about the switch-over. It also said the NTIA had made progress on the converter box program.

The report said private players, including cable operators, broadcasters and the consumer electronics industry, had taken the lead in informing consumers about the digital TV transition.

In a related development, the NTIA issued a press release on Tuesday announcing that it had certified more than 100 retailers to participate in the converter box program, including Best Buy Co Inc, Circuit City Stores Inc, RadioShack Corp, Sears Holdings Corp, Target Corp and Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

The retailers represent more than 14,000 stores throughout the United States, the NTIA said.

But according to the GAO, the lack of a "comprehensive" plan makes the switch-over a riskier proposition, raising

potential problems, such as misinformation, inadequate funding and failure to reach some analog TV set owners.

"This raises uncertainty, including whether consumers, particularly underserved and otherwise vulnerable populations, will have the information necessary to respond to the transition and to maintain their access to television programming," the GAO report said.

The GAO report rekindled concerns among some Democratic lawmakers in Congress, who fear the agency is relying too heavily on voluntary industry efforts to notify consumers.

"Without a comprehensive plan that also addresses managing risks and mitigating against potential problems, tens of millions of consumers could be adversely affected and this important transition put needlessly in jeopardy," Democratic Rep. Edward Markey, of Massachusetts, said in a statement.

(Reporting by Peter Kaplan; editing by Carol Bishopric)

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Thursday, December 06, 2007

Related to those gizmos I just mentioned...

EVDO: this, my friends, is the real deal. It stands for 'Evolution Data Optimized.' True wireless internet access, wherever you want, at DSL-type speeds. As far as I can tell, it hooks into the cellular satellite network, and is currently supported by Sprint and Verizon. I believe that you subscribe to one of them for the service. EVDO access doesn't exist everywhere yet, but in areas that don't have it, the connection automatically flips over to a slower but still faster-than-dialup connection (which is based on WWII military technology. Check it out. Nifty, huh?)

Now that is super-cool. It's also still new, so we're looking at prices around $200 for the hardware (usually a USB plugin card).

And I just went looking for the service subscription prices (which are laughably difficult to pin down; the latest word I can find is from last year and puts it at about $60/month), and I found that while they allow web browsing and email, Verizon strongly discourages any kind of uploading or downloading using their EVDO service. Last word--and this was the beginning of 2007, mind you--was that they were considering a tiered subscription package to charge high-bandwidth users more in order to discourage them from doing so. So, no amusing little web browser games about shooting penguins out of cannons, or downloading your cousin's photos so you can see how big the baby has gotten. No webcams or Pandora or YouTube, either. Ohh, Verizon! Sprint seems to be a lot more casual about it, being only concerned with the usual legal use issues.

Ah, and one more thing: Verizon promises to open their access to this medium late next year.

Technology update

So, I bet you want to know what's the newest word in the world of the internet, don't you? Sure you do. You want to know about the latest evolution of blogs and hardware goodies.

Well, it's me, so we're starting with books. E-books. The holy grail of book technology for the last several years has been the development of a convenient, easy to read and use e-book reader. And now we've got two: the Sony Reader and the Amazon Kindle.

The basics are that these gadgets are the size and approximate weight of a paperback book. They're specially designed for easy-on-the-eyes reading and the ability to navigate through files books in a way that's more like flipping through the pages of a book, rather than scrolling through a PDF or Word document. They each have wireless internet connectivity and a library--or more accurately, store--of e-books that you can download, and they have some storage built in with the option for extra storage space on plug-in cards. And you can transfer files from your computer onto the gizmos. Also, they both play music, except that the Reader doesn't accept audio book format (the Kindle does).

But the Reader doesn't have a great library and charges a lot for material, while the Kindle has Amazon's spectacular library but charges a small fee for almost everything. The Reader accepts a range of common text formats, while the Kindle only accepts a proprietary e-book format and PDF (which has display problems on this device). But it's fairly easy to convert other e-book formats into the proprietary format. The Kindle has much better internet access, and an extremely minimalist browser that lets you look at webpages...in a highly crappy way. On the other hand, you can subscribe (yes, for a fee) to various websites, magazines, and newspapers...but this means you're paying not only to read the New York Times, but also C/Net's website. But it does have automatic access to Wikipedia.

And the Kindle does one other supremely cool thing: self-publishing. You can upload your own work into the store and sell it for your own price! How cool is that?

Of course, neither of these trinkets are cheap: the Reader is, I believe, around $300, while the Kindle is $400. Technophiles and book lovers are hoping that either the price on the devices and e-books will either come down, or that they might switch over to some kind of subscription service ala Netflix, because at the moment, we're looking at about $10 per e-book, which means it's still cheaper to buy them at Borders.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Pet fish and the holidays

Sometimes you come across things that you just have to blog about. We were celebrating our boss's 50th birthday the other morning, when her assistant dives into our break room kitchen and hauls out a small lunch-pail-sized box. "Shall we go out and bury Bert?" she asks. Well, half of us had no idea what she was talking about, till my supervisor explained to the room in a desert-dry tone, "Bert is our department fish who died years ago and has been sitting in the freezer ever since." Apparently Bosslady has been having trouble letting go.

Man... I've eaten food out of that freezer!

She also insisted on hugging each and every one of us, shortly before announcing that she had acquired a flu while visiting Gettysburg over the weekend. Wow, thanks. Nothing says "I care" like germs.

Anyway, Thanksgiving was super-fine. My hermit-like father actually came out of his burrow to visit us at our humble abode, and the three of us--Dad, Sarah, and I--had a lovely Thanksgiving all to ourselves. Making a holiday dinner for a family can be grueling and tedious. Making it with a family is fun.

I made my first-ever completely solo turkey, which was beyond awesome. We brined it, which essentially means we soaked it in a bucket of salt water overnight. Holy cow. It took two hours to cook, and we didn't have to baste it once, and when I carved that sucker, it nearly exploded with juiciness. So freaking easy. I will never cook a turkey a different way again. Here. Do it. I swear it will convert you. You don't actually need any of the herbs, spices, or aromatics on that list if you don't want them. They're a matter of preference, though I do recommend using the vegetable stock and the sugar in the brine. And when you brine the turkey, there's enough salt in that water that you don't have to be concerned about bacteria in the food. I've talked to people who've brined their turkey for up to three days, though doing it even for a couple of hours makes a definite difference. It doesn't come out super-salty at all; just perfectly juicy and seasoned with every bite.

I think Dad'll come back to visit just for the shopping. He's a huge bargain hound (the thrill of the hunt!), and we nearly had to drag him from the stock surplus store we have here because every time he turned a corner, he said he kept finding more things that he suddenly found he needed desperately. :D I admit, it was pretty tempting. I bought a full-length cashmere/wool blend coat there for $20 (Albert Nipon, holy cow! Probably why it was so cheap; do they do anything besides perfume these days?). Almost got a leather duster for $30, but the wool coat was too perfect a fit to pass up.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Email post successful!

Huzzah!  The email post was wildly successful.  Now, if I can only figure out how to get Blogger to accept my aggregate feed...but perhaps that's reaching for the stars.  I've got my aggregate feed for Facebook, and I can publish to Blogger via email, which is an awesome start.

Anyway.  HI!  I do have news, for those of you who follow Dust Allergies of the Spirit.  I'm thinking of going back to grad school.  Well, no.  I AM going back to grad school, I'm just working out exactly how to go about it.  Given dates and deadlines, looks like it's not likely to happen before the summer, at least, but by mid-spring I should be able to have my applications all wrapped up.  If only I can dig up the nerve to request letters of recommendation from people.  I'm aiming for Information Systems, which is the degree of systems analysis and database design and "Tell me what information you need and I will create for you a computer-thing."  So far, I'm looking at Drexel and NYU, and I need to review Penn State's program.  Gee, if ONLY I lived close enough that I could make an appointment with some people in the program and ask them about it...  Ideally, I'd like to find a couple more places to apply to, to spread out the eggs you know, but we shall see.  The kicker is that either the place needs to be close by or else they need to offer their graduate program online, which happily isn't quite so tricky as it would've been a couple of years ago.

Man, the GREs are expensive to register for.  I'm holding off on that till after January, when we will finally have a GRE test center here on campus, but in the meantime, I've got to dig into the study.  Thirlling and scary stuff, this.  Definitely an adventure!

By the way, if any of you lot happen to have advice on pursuing a graduate degree, I would love love LOVE to hear it.

With ineffable will, the cosmic invertebrate managed six flights of stairs, but its plans for conquest were thwarted by the doorknob.

Trying out the email post

Let's see how this works.

With ineffable will, the cosmic invertebrate managed six flights of stairs, but its plans for conquest were thwarted by the doorknob.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


Hang on, peeps. I'm trying to sort something out with my layout here, and then I'll make an--OMG!--actual post about how things are going lately. I haves news!

Friday, December 08, 2006


This is one of those posts you make to let people know you're still among the living.

Yee, it's snowing! I loves me some snow! I'm a very happy me!

Also, posted some pencil artwork. And some colored artwork. And I can't remember if I linked to this, but I'm kind of proud of it.

Also, found a very amusing thing (if you're a literature geek, at least):

The Harley Lyrics
by Anonymous

Oon of anonymouses bettir workes, thes poemes are ycopyed fresshe from a
manuscript contaynyge many othir thinges. Thei are songes of loue both
goostly and bodili, and oft speke of a knightes loue for his horse, the
which he calleth hys motourbyk, the which he liveth to riden, and rideth
to liven, or othertimes thei speke of a knightes affecioun for his chopper
(his axe?) or his hogge (why raiseth a knight pigges?) or his mama (gentil
remembraunce of oones mothir ys fayre and chivalrous). Heere ys oon
ensaumple of this straunge but plesaunte verse:

"Maketh motor for to runne
Shoopen vs to to heigh-waye
No aventure shal we shunne
In what-evir cometh ower waye

Yn the smok and lightening
Blastes of hevy metal
Wyth the wind goon racing-
The felinge is so goode

An hendy happe ichabbe hent,
From nature pure we aren sent
Vndyinge we kan make ascent
For borne we are to wexen woode

BOOOOOORNE TO WAXEN WOODE (refrain repeateth)"

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Two months later...

Yes, I voted.

And today, my best friend had her baby. YEE!

And someone showed me this:

"You may or may not be acquainted with the moments when one thinks to oneself, "Go back to your day job- you're 'art' is shithouse." It's amazing how cruel we are to ourselves. Something we'd never say to our loved ones and yet, self tapes spew out comments that would tear strips off. Well, that's what I've been doing. Of course, my suggestion is don't listen to critics but I need to take my own advice. I'm reminded of Nelson Mandela's speech:"

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.

Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.

We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?

Actually,who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Voting. It's not complicated.

Brought to you by an Austrian girl who told me how she just voted. From China. Where she had to spend money to do it because she has to send her ballot through international mail. Also brought to you by a moron who...I'll get to that in a minute.

American apathy about voting is driving me increasingly insane. Oh, we sure care who gets elected after the election, but less than 50% could give a damn until then. I wish we had a law that people who don't vote, aren't allowed to bitch. That might actually get some kind of response. Or perhaps I could institute a new solicitation method: "Go to the polls or I punch you in the face. No, I don't care who you vote for. That's your business." Anybody for that? We could start a whole new political party: Face-punchers. Our entire platform would be "Vote, bitch! Or else!"

This is what really set me off, though: a fellow American actually said to me the other day, "Elections are coming up. I'm glad Bush'll be out of office after this fall."

Well. At least he was aware there are elections this year, which is more than I can say for some people. But.

o.O. Dude. No. Presidential election is every four years. This year is Congressional midterms and gubernatorial elections. We vote for state governors and Senators and Representatives.

But you know what? Those are IMPORTANT. I know everyone likes to focus on the Big Man, but it's true that we actually have other branches of government than Executive. And some of that crap people like to blame on Bush? Is actually the doing of Congress. Currently Republican-controlled, yes, I know, but that's not the point. The point is that they do stuff over there in the Capitol Building. Yes, it's true. Voting for Congressmen actually makes a difference. Voting for your state's Governor? Probably makes more of a difference in your individual and community quality of life than voting for federal officials does. Besides, lately the Governors have actually been getting off their asses and setting collaborative national policies. Hark back to the ancient days of our republic, 100 years ago, when Governors mostly ran things.

November 7, people. Mark it on your calendar.

Not that anyone who actually needs to read this probably will. I have intelligent friends. You guys aren't the problem. I just want to print this out and go staple it to peoples' faces as they pass by me on the street. That's the frustration talking, I won't do that because I'd get arrested (though I will bet you the cops'd be sympathetic), but I would really like to! I'd sanitize the staples first. They'd barely even wound anyone!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006


The Prestige

Oh my GOD, it looks so cool. Michael Caine, Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale (I think he's playing Nicola Tesla), and there's magic, and, and STUFF!


Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Oh god, where'd this come from?! (Art)

Sword fight! - my attempt draw a couple of characters from a book I like.

One more Jedi - this one's an alien Jedi. Same species as Darth Maul.

Angsty goth-punk vampire - I drew this for a contest...and won! Beware, it's kind of bloody (but not really graphic or violent).

Cannibal fairy princess - the colored version.

Bianca Carver, lady fighter - illustration for a character of mine.

Julian Calladoria, naval officer - illustration for a character of Dave's.

Julian colored - I'm such a sucker for swashbuckling.

Funny Day

ContentDM (our software for managing digital objects, which is a codeword for "computer file of any sort that contains human-readable information") is acting up. This, oddly enough, is a source of massive amusement. The office resounds with the screams and lamentations of the women. And, of course, the strange and colorful cursings of computing professionals and librarians. You'd be amazed at the strange and colorful cursings librarians can come up with.

Co-worker: "I did it! I fixed the thing that's been bugging us for two days!"
Me: "Awesome. You are a goddess!"
Co-worker: "It wasn't me. It was Boss."
Me: "Okay, then he's a goddess!"
Boss: "I don't think I have the right parts to be a goddess."
Me: "Well, that sounds like a personal problem."

Me: "Ugh."
Co-worker: "You can say that again."
Me: "Ugh."

Co-worker: "I did it! I got the files to upload to the database!"
Me: "Woohoo!"
*both of us dance in celebration*
Other co-worker: "This whole procedure is hilarious to watch from the outside. You jump around and cheer when it works, you surse and gesture when it doesn't..."
Me: "This database is an emotional rollercoaster!"

Different co-worker, encountered in hallway: "Hey! How are you?"
Me: "Surviving. How're you?"
Him: "Eh. It's Friday. You know." *makes the "coasting downhill" gesture*
Me: "Just like that, eh?" *makes the "coasting downhill" gesture*
Him: "Yep." *makes the "coasting downhill" gesture* "Just like that. Building momentum to slide out the door."
Me: "Just so long as you don't run into something along the way."
Him: "I don't care. I'll go right through it!"
Me: "Yeah, hospital isn't in this building."

What's up in the US science community

NASA has lost the tapes of the Moon landing. All of the Moon landings.

And in better news:

Cure For Diabetes: Researchers permanently reverse diabetes in mice.
By Dave Mosher
April 24, 2006 | Medicine

Since the first insulin injection in 1922, a long-term cure for type 1 (insulin-dependent) diabetes has been a number-one priority among researchers. It may soon be reality, thanks to a collaboration of investigators at the La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology in San Diego, according to a study published April 20 in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

Dr. Matthias von Herrath says his team combined short-term therapies for type 1 diabetes and cured around half of the mice used in the study.

In a type 1 diabetic, symptoms begin to appear when the body loses roughly 80 percent of its beta cells - the pancreatic tissue responsible for producing insulin and enabling the body to use glucose for energy. The culprit of the disease is a diabetic's own immune system, specifically T cells known as CD4+ and CD8+. Like a tag-team, the CD4+ T cells detect a threat and then instruct CD8+ T cells to launch an attack. For reasons still not fully understood, these cells can become aggressive toward beta cells.

Curing type 1 diabetes, von Herrath says, requires blocking the activity of aggressive T cells with their counterparts: Regulatory T cells, or Tregs. "As long as they're around, they're endogenous peacekeeping machines," von Herrath says.

Previous researchers, von Herrath says, used human proinsulin to stimulate pancreatic Treg production. In a specific way, these Tregs protect beta cells by suppressing aggressive T cells that attack pancreatic tissue.

"Tregs can somehow talk to the aggressive cells and say 'you have to stop destroying beta cells because they're good for the body,'" says Damien Bresson, another member of the research team. But simply boosting their numbers does not reverse type 1 diabetes in the long run.

Two clinical studies published in 2005 show vaccination with anti-CD3 antibodies, which suppresses the immune system, is the most effective way to combat the disease. "The cool thing is that (anti-CD3) treatment … halts beta cell destruction not only in mice, but also in humans," von Herrath says.

According to the studies, 10 days of anti-CD3 treatment slowed beta cell destruction in humans for 18 months, but not without side effects such as "fever, nausea, and muscle aches, much like you have the flu," von Herrath says. And reversal is not permanent.

Experimenting with a more long-term treatment, von Herrath's team combined anti-CD3 with the vaccination and observed something exciting: Beta cells began to regenerate and permanently reverse type 1 diabetes in half of the mice - almost twice as much as using anti-CD3 alone. "Once we applied the therapy to diabetic mice, those that reversed stayed non-diabetic for the rest of their lives," von Herrath said.

One possible explanation for the effectiveness of the combined therapy, von Herrath says, is that an auto-destructive immune system tips in favor of saving beta cells instead of destroying them. Anti-CD3 suppresses aggressive T cells, creating a "window of opportunity" for the vaccine to boost pancreatic protection and permit beta cell regeneration. Because some beta cells are still destroyed in the process, antigens are continuously released, Treg production is maintained, and protection continues for the remainder of a mouse's two-year life.

and, while that might take a while to become a reality, this is far closer to fruition:

No More Nerve Damage: A new drug could reverse nerve damage in diabetics.
By Eva Gladek
May 26, 2006 | Medicine

Mark Kipnes, MD, from the Diabetes & Glandular Disease Research Clinic, is leading the first human testing of the diabetes nerve drug. Photo: ScienCentral
It could be the first treatment for a terrifying problem faced by people with diabetes – the nerve damage that's a leading cause of amputations. A new drug being tested in people with diabetic nerve damage uses a patient's own genes to treat them.

Diabetic neuropathy nerve damage, which causes a loss of sensation in the hands and feet, can allow small injuries to go unnoticed and become severely infected, to the point where amputation is the only option. Tight control of blood sugar can keep neuropathy at bay, but there is no cure.

"There are a variety of medications that are available now that can help with the pain but unfortunately, there's nothing available to help with numbness or prevention of nerve damage," says diabetes specialist Mark Kipnes, MD, director of the Diabetes and Glandular Disease Research Clinic in San Antonio, Texas.

But now Kipnes is leading the first human testing of a new drug that might prevent or even reverse such damage. Designed by researchers at Sangamo Biosciences, the drug uses a natural protein that turns on the patient's own gene for helping nerve growth. As the researchers wrote in the journal, "Diabetes," tests on diabetic rats showed that repeated treatments with the drug led to increasingly improved nerve function.

Sangamo biochemist Philip Gregory notes that this Phase 1 clinical trial is the first human test of an entirely new class of drug that could turn any gene on or off, depending on the disease. "These proteins are natural proteins that exist in essentially every human cell, there are thousands of them, they naturally regulate genes in cells," Gregory explains.

These gene-regulating proteins have an important feature called a zinc finger domain. The zinc finger region, whose structure was discovered by Nobel laureate Aaron Klug, is a finger-shaped structure containing a zinc atom. Unlike most proteins, those with these special domains can actually bind to DNA and act as transcription factors – telling specific genes to turn on or off.

"So what we're able to do is to engineer these proteins so that they can bind to different genes of our choice," says Gregory. In this case, the gene targeted by the Sangamo team was one encoding a protein called VEGF-A, a natural growth factor.

"In diabetes, patients have significant blood sugar changes that give rise to the production of toxic byproducts in tissues that drive, essentially, a poisoning of the nerves," says Gregory. He explains that because VEGF-A naturally stimulates regeneration of nerves and the blood vessels that nourish them, it can reverse the damage caused by the glucose-driven degeneration.

"It's not that diabetic patients lack the gene for VEGF-A," explains Gregory. "They continue to have the gene and they produce VEGF-A, but it's like the patient's cells don't realize they could be more protected or suffer from the disease much less if the cells produce more of this particular protective factor."

While patients in the Phase 1 trial tolerated the drug well it needs to be tested for longer time periods to prove its safety – particularly since this treatment would need repeated administration. As Gregory explains, "Obviously this is a chronic disease and we need to have a chronic treatment, if you like, for such a disease." More than half of the 185,000 amputations in the U.S. each year are a result of diabetes, a disease that plagues an estimated 20.8 million Americans -- seven percent of the population -- and is on the rise.

Kipnes is excited about the prospect of having a treatment to offer people with diabetic neuropathy, but he points out that there may be some risks. As he points out, injecting a growth factor into the body could theoretically encourage other, unwanted things to grow. "So these patients are very carefully screened for any kinds of cancers and tumors," he says.

The researchers report there's been no evidence of carcinogenesis in their extensive animal studies. They also say that some patients in the safety trial showed some anecdotal improvement in their nerve function.

Kipnes is currently recruiting patients for a second safety trial as well as a larger Phase 2 trial of the drug's effectiveness. Both are scheduled to begin later this year.

Both from Discover magazine.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

In other news, "Eureka" rocks.

Bed, Bath and Beyond is my new nemesis.

Sunday morning, I had a dream that Penn State had decided to raise funds by instituting a sort of gourmet bake sale. They redesigned one floor of the library to be all plush carpet, rich wooden panelling and expensive armchairs upholestered in red jaquard, and they installed several cases of the sort you'd expect to display your finest china in. These, they filled with baked goods. Now, most of the baked goods came from some poncy gourmet baker, and cost accordingly, but they were also soliciting pastry donations from staff. Having a yen to do some baking, I agreed to submit my apple cake and biscotti. Even in the dream, I didn't think this made much sense. I mean...how were they expecting to keep all this refrigerator-needy food on the floor of a library? Wouldn't it have been more appropriate to host such a cafe in, I don't know, a building where wealthy donors actually go?

I woke up wanting to bake.

Why're you looking at me like that?

Biscotti came quickly to mind, due to some recent conversations. But to do that, I needed some things. So far, I've been unable to find a way to bake biscotti without creating the mother of all messes, so I figured I'd buy a pastry cloth or silicone table cover or something. On top of that, I was tired of putting up with our old crappy cookie sheets that've been abused and ruined. So, off I went to Bed, Bath, and Beyond.

Now, when I walked in I saw that they were having a feature sale on floor lamps. Indeed, I thought, we've needed one of those for the corner of the living room ever since my old one died. Oh, and look at the very reasonable prices on quality bedding! I've really only got one decent set of summer bedsheets left, and these are...ohhh, so soft (seriously, check out the Beechwood jersey bedsheets. My god). And...well, I did want a new set of headphones, and these aren't expensive, oh, and a flour sifter would be really useful, since I do bake a lot of bread, and...

I put back the very pretty-smelling candle and the hand-juicer, resisted the impulse to pick up the futon cover (which we do sorely need, as our only current one is dry-clean only, and that's not a safe arrangement in a house where I live), and merely made note of the underbed storage boxes, fluffy mattress cover, mixing bowls, towel sets, and oh-lord-it's-so-comfy chair, which we have nowhere to put even though it's incredibly affordable.

I stayed the heck away from the pots, pans, and utensils. Those're way too expensive for impulse-purchasing, but it would merely have been painful to look at the beautiful cookware that couldn't come home with me.

The biscotti turned out nicely, but while the pastry cloth did help me avoid a mess on top of the table, it didn't really make the biscotti-making process any cleaner. Just moved it to a different surface (granted, one that's machine-washable). I can't figure out how to get the biscotti dough to be anything but a viscous, runny, superglue-like mass without dumping in two cups more flour than the recipe calls for.

Hmmm. Co-worker suggests a breadhook...

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

AH hahahahahahaha!

This is the stuff: Motivational Posters. For geeks. By geeks.

Here's one of my favorites: Cthulhu on a plane!

Monday, July 10, 2006

I like ghost stories

Somebody on a forum I frequent posted these European ghost stories. They're spooky and kind of neat, so I thought I'd share.

Venice - Poveglia - An island not open to tourists. Was originally a self-governing island hundreds of years ago before being taken over by Italy. When the black plague swept over the country, Poveglia was where the dead bodies and even those who were still alive were dumped. They were put into "plague pits" where hundreds or even thousands of bodies and still-living victims of the disease were thrown in and either buried, burned or just left in the open to rot. Centuries later, a hospital was built by a doctor who tortured patients and who tried experimental therapies of his own invention on mental patients. The hospital, his office and the crematorium, still stands. The island is used for farming only and no tourists are permitted on the island at any time. Psychics have received special permission to visit and even they were scared out of their minds.

Northern Italy - Lucedio Monestary - This place is haunted by monks and people who were sacrificed. There were footsteps heard, apparitions were seen, sounds were heard.

Northern Ireland - Larne - Ballyboley Forest - Local legend tells that this was an ancient Druid site. There are distinctive marks (circular trenches and stone formations) embedded into the ground towards the north east part of the forest, long grown over, but still quite obvious. During the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries there were supposed disappearances of a number of people living in the area. Even today the place sends a shiver down the spine, people are wary to venture off the tracks (you need to find the marking sites). Reports of shadowy figures walking among the trees or strange animal like noises have been had on many occasions. The place was opened as a national park by the council, with paths been laid down for walking routes, but very few people, in fact nearly no one ever goes there now. There has been a fair few modern events in the forest that have given the place a creepy reputation. Back in 1994 there was an incident were a young couple witnessed a massing of black smoke and the sounds of a screaming voices in the near distance from their position, they quickly left the forest. On another date (1997, this is actually in a news paper report!) two men say that they were in the forest when they heard a loud flapping sound. They thought nothing of it at first but as they got continued walking they started to hear other strange sounds like a lady moaning in pain. They thought someone was in trouble and left the track to enter the forest to find the distressed lady. Their horror began when they came to a place where the trees were smeared thickly with blood. They found no lady but the strange sounds started again very close to their position. As they fled in terror one man looked behind him and seen four human shaped figures in the forest behind him (standing motionless, not pursuing), where previously there had been no one there. They were clad in brown rags and had their head covered as well. In addition to the ground markings there are also rumored to be natural footpaths in parts of the forest (I cannot confirm this). It is said the forest contains a gateway to what the Celtic called "The Otherworld". It is also said by some people that they get a feeling that "something in the forest is watching me". There are many stories and superstitions about the place, how many are true you can only guess at, but something has definitely happened up there to scare local people and give the place such a reputation.

Roscre - Black Death Hospital - The black death hospital lies in a padok in Roscre Ireland it is known by locals so ask for the right location. The hospital was the children’s hospital dealing with all the suffered of the black death. About 10 years ago they were digging some sewer pipes and suddenly without warning the skulls and bones of 50 plus children fell into the ditch! Noone not even the locals will stay here at night as the children’s ghosts "or as legend goes" will lure you to your death so you can join them.

Southern Ireland - Dublin - The Dublin Hellfire Club - Built in the 1700s as a hunting lodge, it was taken over almost immediately by aristocratic upper class members of society in Northern Ireland. They started the "Hellfire Club" where they performed satanic rituals, animal and human sacrifices and many other horrific things. Locals stay away from it ant night and only a few known tourists have ever ventured inside at night. They all report seeing dark figures and shadows walking and running through rooms and behind stones outside. Once, two girls went there for a visit, put their sleeping bags inside and went for a walk around the building outside. From outside, they saw a dark shadow cross the room where they had left their things. One of the girls wanted desperately to return to the Inn where they were registered as guests, but they would have had to cross the huge forests surrounding the building, which they said they could not do. They went back inside the club and went up to the top floor where they got to the top landing. They reported feeling safe and relieved on that landing and could not bring themselves to wander back anywhere else including outside until dawn. It is rumored that when the club was active hundreds of years ago, people would sometimes get lost at night and accidentally wanders inside the club and be forced to participate in rituals. Some would not survive the night, and others spent the rest of their lives wandering in a sort of horrified blindness. The landing where the girls found refuge had reportedly been blessed by a priest in the area in the early 1800s and an exorcist was brought in the late 1800s. Nobody has ever visited the site at night and not reported being scared out of their minds.

Southern Ireland - Leap Castle - There is a devilish creature that walking the castle. It is believed that the creature was created from the spirits of all of the men and women who were killed there.

Friday, June 16, 2006


Someone I know once told me a story: One day, he and his best friend got terribly bored, and decided that it'd be cool to spend a week being each other's archnemesis. Apparently, it was good times. They did things like sabotage each others' cars, set traps in their bedrooms, tell all their friends horrible stories about each other (the stock response was, "Are you two still doing that?"), and attack each other in the hallways in epic battles. The mindfuckery was, I hear, superbly done.

In a similar vein, it occurs to me to wonder what it might be like to go through a day as an overdramatic, angst-wielding emo-machine.

I wonder if it'd be good for my spiritual development. I mean, it does have its attractions. I'm sure I could develop the ability to flail around in a properly gothic manner. And I'd get to say things like, "Now if you'll excuse me for a moment, I must make my way to the highest building on campus and scream Allen Ginsberg quotes to the heavens."* Really, who doesn't want to do that, once in their life? (Side note: Here, go read "Howl."**)

On the other hand, I'd fear for my life. And I suspect that if I enter into the venture with the sense of light-hearted mockery that inspires me, I could just possibly be missing the entire point. Still, the idea is tempting. I'm not sure I have enough black clothes... Oh, but angst-death emo-monkeys often wear the same clothes for days in a row, don't they? Or is that just angst-death emo-gamers?

* Not that anyone around here would probably find that particularly odd.

** Allen Ginsberg wrote "Howl" after spending months shut up in his apartment doing nothing but read William Blake. It all suddenly makes sense, doesn't it?***

*** Footnotes are contagious. I read Terry Pratchett or ursulav's LJ, and suddenly they're infiltrating everything.