Saturday, January 31, 2009
Mac Attacks: The Empire Strikes Back?
Now, Macs are being attacked by malware.
"The iServices.A Trojan horse is an attack being distributed via BitTorrent, where it's disguised as a bootleg copy of the new iWork 09. Once installed, the malware takes administrator access and connects to remote servers over the Internet, where it can be given additional instructions as the author commands, from installing additional malware to stealing information off the Mac in question. The malware creator can also take complete remote control of any compromised machine." (Here.)The Microsoft counter terrorism operation begins?
Friday, January 30, 2009
The Lower Left Coast.
(Click image to enlarge.)
Lou Dobbs take note. The IB Pier is in the United States but my cellphone service is hijacked by a Mexican cellphone service whenever I set foot on the pier. A text message appears on my phone welcoming me to Mexico. It's the reconquista! (Here.)
Labels: San Diego
The King Is Gone, Long Live The King.
Even government officials were not immune. Lawrence Wilkerson, an aide to Colin Powell, once accused President Bush and Vice-President Cheney of running a "cabal" that had hijacked America's foreign policy. (Here at my former blog.) Think about that. The only two nationally elected officials in the United States government were accused of hijacking foreign policy. But that's what elections are about. In a democracy, if we don't like what the present government is doing, we elect new leaders to take charge and do things differently.
That's what happened in 2008 and the country chose Barack Obama to take over and do things differently. One change that hasn't come to America, however, is cutting back on the power of the Imperial Presidency. On foreign policy, President Obama is following a similar path to that walked by President Bush. The new President has appointed special envoys, George Mitchell and Richard Holbrooke, answerable directly to him, to handle the Middle East and Afghanistan, respectively. This tactic allows the new President to bypass Congress because neither envoy requires Senate approval. This tactic also allows the new President to bypass the State Department, run by his former rival, Hillary Clinton. This tactic ultimately allows the new President to have direct control over these foreign policy matters.
I have no problem with this. I believe in the oh-so-scary unitary executive theory. All that theory holds is that the entire executive power defined by the Constitution is granted to the President. (Here.) It's not granted in pieces to lesser officials in the Executive Branch. Whatever authority lesser officials in the Executive Branch may have comes to them through the President from the Constitution. So, if the new President wants to retain direct hands-on control over foreign policy by appointing special envoys and bypassing the Cabinet, well, that's his prerogative.
The Politico.com has a very good analysis of President Obama's executive power play. (Here.) He's not just bypassing the Cabinet in foreign policy. Every issue that matters to him has a policy czar in the White House.
But don't hold your breath waiting for the brave dissidents against Bush's presidency to start accusing the new President of executive overreach. Their tasks today are to disparage Congressional Republicans for not supporting the President, and to demonize talk radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh. From 2001 to 2008, dissent was the highest form of patriotism. In the new era of hope and change, it's now the lowest.
The more things change ...
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
The Gatling Gun Loophole
RG-G Inc.'s FAQ webpage has interesting information about the gun and the legality of owning a gatling gun in the United States. (Here.) The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, has determined the guns are legal. (BATF letter here.)
A True Double Planet System.
Not With A Bang, With A Whimper.
"We conclude that ... the growth of black holes to catastrophic size does not seem possible. Nonetheless, it remains true that the expected decay times are much longer (and possibly ≫ 1 sec) than is typically predicted by other models ..." (PDF here, p. 7.)According to the paper,
"After the black holes are created at the LHC they can, depending on the value of Mc [their critical mass], live long enough in the RS scenario to escape into the atmosphere or into the Earth. They can grow in mass and therefore in horizon radius by absorbing anything which comes within their capture radii. There are two basic mechanisms by which the black holes in general might accrete: one due to their collisions with the atomic and sub-atomic particles they encounter as they sweep through matter, and one due to the gravitational force the black holes exert on surrounding matter once they come to rest." (PDF, p. 3.)Makes sense so far. Mini black holes grow in size by eating through matter or pulling matter into themselves. The question is, could a wild mini black hole created at the LHC last long enough and accumulate enough mass to come to rest inside Earth and just keep growing. The authors conclude that wouldn't happen because the black holes would never grow beyond microscopic size before they decay or pass through the Earth. (PDF, pp. 5-6.)
So, the Earth is safe but the paper doesn't say what would happen if one of these wild black holes happened to pass through a human being, or whether it could happen. If it could, and if it did, it would surely suck.
Monday, January 26, 2009
Legal In California
The specifications website for any handgun sold in the United States has a special category that states whether the gun is legal to purchase in California. The Ruger SR9 webpage is a good example. (Here.) The SR9 was not legal to own in California until it was certified by the Department of Justice back in December 2008 and placed on this list. (Here.)
Many handguns sold legally elsewhere in the US are not legal in California because the law here states that
" ... no handgun may be manufactured within California, imported into California for sale, lent, given, kept for sale, or offered/exposed for sale unless that handgun model has passed firing, safety, and drop tests and is certified for sale in California by the Department of Justice. Private party transfers, curio/relic handguns, certain single-action revolvers, and pawn/consignment returns are exempt from this requirement." (Here.)Long guns don't fall under this law but long guns that qualify as assault weapons are illegal in California. (Here.) In general, an assault weapon is a semiautomatic rifle that accepts a detachable magazine and is outfitted with certain scary-looking design features like a pistol grip, a foldable stock, a flash suppressor, or a grenade launcher. (Okay, that last characteristic is probably reasonable to ban no matter how cool it would be to have.)
California's assault weapons ban also outlaws semiautomatic rifles that can hold more than 10 rounds in a fixed magazine, and some handguns and shotguns with certain characteristics. The characteristics are a bit detailed, so if you want to know more, go here and scroll down to section 12276.1.
Oh, and machine guns are forbidden in California, too. (Here.) But, surprisingly, Gatling Guns are not. This sweet-looking baby was for sale at Discount Gun Mart in San Diego, California, when I went there tonight to purchase my new Ruger SR9.
This fierce looking weapon holds 100 low caliber 22LR cartridges in its magazine. Gun owners would call this a plinker.
It's not a machine gun because it's a semiautomatic. It's not an assault weapon because it doesn't have the characteristics of a rifle. It's clearly not a handgun, even for Hellboy. And, best of all, it's perfectly legal to own in California. All you need to do is pass the background check and fork over $20,000. Who could have predicted that the state with some of the strictest anti-gun laws in the United States would have a Gatling Gun loophole? I'm falling in love with my home state all over again.
Republished once for content.
Sunday, January 25, 2009
Taking The iPod To The Battlefield.
Saturday, January 24, 2009
Wild In The Urbs: The Raptor And The Rapt.
This drab little bird, a Cassin's Finch, I believe (here), looks curiously at the photographer in a San Diego backyard.
Happy Weekend, everybody.
Friday, January 23, 2009
Closing Guantanamo: O, The Humanity!
But closing Guantanamo is meaningless because the detainees have to be held somewhere. The significant decisions yet to come are how the detainees will be tried and what kind of access they will have to America's court system. Also, what will be done with those who belong to Al Qaeda but who end up not being tried in court because the evidence against them would not be admissible in court or is too secret to reveal publicly?
There is no need to close the facility. Guantanamo is as good a place as any to hold the detainees. It's better, in fact. Guantanamo has the advantage over any prison on the American mainland as being completely under the control of the United States military and it's in the middle of nowhere. Escape from there is nearly impossible. The facility is not the hell hole that common knowledge would have us believe.
The Boston Globe's Big Picture website did a tremendous service in December 2008, when it published a set of pictures showing the conditions at the prison. (Here.) It's eye opening.
Photo number 8 shows a stencil written on concrete of the word Mecca, in Arabic, and an arrow pointing to Islam's holy city. The better for inmates to pray. O, the humanity!
Photo number 9 shows a literacy instructor preparing for a lesson. The instructor is at the facility as part of a US Government program "to improve educational opportunities for the detainees." O, the humanity!
Photo number 13 shows a beautiful gold-embossed Koran that belongs to a detainee. O, the humanity!
Photo number 14 shows a detainee exercising outside during his 12 hours of outdoor recreation per day. O, the humanity!
Photo number 20 shows a copy of a Harry Potter novel in Arabic, one of 7,500 books in the circulating library available to detainees. Apparently, Harry Potter books are especially popular among the inmates. O, the humanity!
Photo number 26 shows a group of detainees praying, 27 shows a beautiful prayer rug owned by one of the inmates, and 29 shows a sign telling American guards to be quiet during prayer time. O, the humanity!
On the other hand, maybe putting the detainees among the general population of the type of violent criminals who populate maximum security prisons in the United States is just the punishment the detainees deserve. It worked for Jeffrey Dahmer. (Here.) O, the humanity!
Plans are afoot to do a live-action movie based on the series. Keanu Reeves is slated to play the lead bounty hunter, Spike. (Here.) Reeves has found his niche as actor in scifi, fantasy, and horror movies. I have to admit, if I were an actor, I'd want his career. I didn't see who else is in the cast, but I'd have Ron Perlman play Jet Black and Charlize Theron (with her Aeon Flux dark hair) play Faye Valentine. The androgynous kid, Edward, I'm not sure.
There's only one other anime that I'd like to see made into a live action movie: Vampire Hunter D. Its blend of horror and magic in a post-apocalyptic Earth is compelling. It's reminiscent of the best of Jack Vance's fantasy novels in his Dying Earth series. That series of books would be fun to watch as anime.
Two books from Vance's oeuvre that would make good movies include The Dragon Masters and Emphyrio. Of the two, The Dragon Masters is probably the most fun with its story of humans on a distant hardscrabble planet fighting a war against alien invaders. The twist is that humans have genetically modified captive aliens into monstrous warrior-slaves, while the alien invaders use genetically modified humans as slave soldiers. Emphyrio is probably the more thoughtful work. It takes place on a world in which mass manufacturing is outlawed and all production is handmade, which leads, surprisingly, to an oppressive society. The irony is that the artist hero of the story rebels by making duplications.
In other big fanboy news, toys are now becoming available for J. J. Abrams' new Star Trek movie. (Here.) Cool, they are.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Watching The Inauguration.
Barack Obama walking the hallway to the stage is a supremely self-confident man. It's still more than a bit off putting to hear Obama's supporters chanting his last name, but seeing them wave the American flags was a beautiful sight. I didn't vote for the new President, but if electing him is what it takes to get liberals to start waving the flag, well, maybe his election is a good thing.
Dianne Feinstein of California, my Senator, is a great master of ceremonies. Why can't she be majority leader of the Senate instead of that worm from Nevada? Her remarks put today's exciting event into a nice historical context of the civil rights struggle. It would have been even nicer if she had hearkened back to the Civil War when hundreds of thousands of Americans died to remove the blight of slavery from this country and from our constitution.
Pastor Rick Warren's prayer stumbled in the beginning but ended powerfully. His unapologetic Christianity, and the subtle ecumenical references in the speech, were refreshing to hear. A people committed to true diversity doesn't need to steer expression to the least offensive denominator. A people committed to true diversity listens silently and respectfully to a prayer that expresses a faith not shared by all. A people committed to true diversity understands that diversity of thought is the hallmark of freedom.
John Roberts screw up of the oath of office did not look so bad on TV. When I heard it on radio this morning, it sounded catastrophic. Even so, you've got to wonder why he didn't just read the oath from a card like the one John Paul Stevens used for Joe Biden's oath.
The President's speech comes off better on TV than it did on radio. On radio, it sounded pedestrian and banal. On TV his presence infuses the speech with a power beyond its words. President Obama's speech was at its weakest when he argued against straw men, attacked his predecessor, and asserted that his own plans are something new beyond today's partisan divide. But his speech was most powerful when it reached into history to put our task today into the context of America's work over time to make a better world for succeeding generations. Our generations alive today are links in a chain of progress. It also had power when he assertively defended the greatness that is America, told the world that we will not apologize for who we are, that we will fight to defend ourselves against those who would destroy us, and that our enemies will be judged by their people for what they build not what they destroy. Finally, his concluding analysis of the American character and his call to service showed a powerful understanding and appreciation of this country's people.
The new President clearly loves his daughters. That big smile cracking his stern visage when he greeted them after his speech spoke volumes.
Elizabeth Alexander is reciting her poem. Sorry, but here's a thought, how about we have no more inaugural poems, okay?
Reverend Joseph Lowery's benediction is a poem. That old guy at 87 years old still has what it takes. What a beautiful prayer with coy and delightful final lines. Lowery's prayer was a fitting conclusion to the inauguration's speeches.
The final ritual of the inaugural ceremony is the most practical one and the least public. After the speeches, and as everybody is leaving the inaugural site, the President walks the former President to a helicopter waiting to take the former President out of the capital city. There's a powerful symbolism to that. The new President essentially shows the former President the door as if to say, "there's only room in this town for one President. That's me, not you." It's all very polite and friendly but it is firm, final, and humbling. The formerly most powerful man in the world is now a private citizen with no authority and no place in the capital.
And so now our country moves forward with a new leader freely chosen by us, toward a destiny uncertain, but one we still have the power to shape. May we choose our path wisely.
Monday, January 19, 2009
Wild In The Urbs: The Inaugural Weekend Edition.
A gull floats over the Pacific off the coast of Imperial Beach, California.
A hummingbird hovering in a San Diego backyard.
Reflections in a vernal pool at Mission Trails Regional Park.
A mule deer at Mission Trails.
A white-tailed kite at Mission Trails.
Before And After
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Paying For The Illinois Senate Seat
The other day the Illinois Supreme Court helpfully explained to Burris that he could pay to get a copy of his appointment order to the Senate from the Secretary of State. That copy would be affixed with a seal and signed by the Secretary of State, all official-like. It appears that Burris may have taken the court's advice.
"Yesterday, Burris' lawyers carried to the Senate an additional document bearing a state seal, an affirmation of the appointment and a mass-produced signature of Secretary of State Jesse White. Those documents, combined with the governor's original papers, led the secretary of the Senate to deem Burris' credentials satisfactory. Burris would be eligible to serve through 2010." (Here.)How much was that signature? Who knows? The news story doesn't say. Who cares? Getting to watch Reid's embarrassing failure of leadership on this issue was worth any price.
Sunday, January 11, 2009
Legal Pay To Play Politics In Illinois.
The legal analysis on the last page of the opinion is entertaining and ironic, especially since Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich is being impeached over "pay to play" politics. It turns out that if Governor Blago and Burris want a copy of the appointment order signed and sealed by the Secretary of State, they can pay for it. So says the Illinois Supreme Court on page 9 of its decision.
"There is one final point we feel constrained to mention. While the Secretary of State has no duty under Illinois law to sign and affix the state seal to the certificate of appointment issued by the Governor, he does have a duty under section 5(4) of the Secretary of State Act (15 ILCS 305/5(4) (West 2006))-tdr
'to give any person requiring the same paying the lawful fees
therefor, a copy of any law, act, resolution, record or paper in
his office, and attach thereto his certificate, under the seal of
"The registration of the appointment of Mr. Burris made by the Secretary of State is a “record or paper” within the meaning of this statute. A copy of it is available from the Secretary of State to anyone who requests it. For payment of the normal fee charged by the Secretary of State in accordance with this statute, Petitioners could obtain a certified copy bearing the state’s seal. Because such relief is possible, no order by this court is necessary or appropriate. See People ex rel. Devine v. Stralka, 226 Ill. 2d 445, 450 (2007) (for mandamus to issue, the petitioner must be without any other adequate remedy)."
Friday, January 09, 2009
Mars Society Renaissance.
One huge benefit of Mars Society membership has always been the opportunity to volunteer in research projects. The Mars Society runs two research sites in Utah and the Arctic Circle. Each site is home to a mock Mars base where volunteers can do simulated Mars research. That's me at the Utah site outside Hanksville a few years ago.
Wednesday, January 07, 2009
Jack Bauer's Justice.
Others have written about the crisis of conscience among 24's staff over Jack's use of torture against the bad guys. (Here.) Let's stipulate, torture is bad, mm-kay. But let's also stipulate, 24 is not real. The crisis of conscience about 24's representation of torture was symptomatic of the most serious problem with the show. It takes itself too seriously. That seriousness of purpose led producers to think the show needed to have more political relevance. Big mistake. Some of the worst violence on the show recently wasn't done to the bad guys tortured and killed by Jack Bauer. No, the worst violence was done to the dialogue by the writers as they struggled to present political intrigue.
This season looks like it might be more of the same. Jack is back but he's been taken under arrest to Washington, D.C., for hearings into his use of torture. In the real world, Jack would deserve trial and punishment for the things he's done. In the world of 24, Jack should be roaming the badlands doing what a man's gotta do to set things right. Jack Bauer is Shane. He's the gunslinger from the frontier who breaks the rules to protect civilization and then rides off into the frontier once his job is done.
The producers were on to something when they put Jack in Sangala, a fictional lawless African country, to start this season. A place like Sangala could use somebody with Jack's kind of do whatever it takes to set things right morality. Unfortunately, the show's guilt-stricken producers didn't see it that way. They had him in Africa to do penance and make up for all the bad things he'd done fighting evildoers.
"In various incarnations, Jack would begin the season digging ditches, building houses, tending to orphans, providing security for an embassy or escorting around a visiting dignitary. 'One of the themes we discussed was penance, that Africa was a place Jack had gone to seek some kind of penance. Some sanctuary too, but also penance for things he's done in his life,' [head writer Howard] Gordon says." (Here.)Well, that's a mistake. Jack doesn't need to do penance and he doesn't need redemption. Jack needs to be doing what he does best. Killing bad guys so the good guys don't have to.
The mistake the producers have already made this season is pulling Jack out of the lawless frontier that is Sangala and bringing him back to civilization, with all its rules, to face justice and be tamed. Jack doesn't need taming. Tame Jack and 24 will become just another cop show. Who needs that?
Monday, January 05, 2009
A Cold Frosty.
As always, click the images to zoom.
Republished once to correct grammar.
"In the next year, Running hopes to slightly change the scope of his research again. He’s begun to take an interest in how socioeconomic issues such as population and economic growth affect climate change. That’s in part because of invitations he’s received to speak to groups such as Planned Parenthood.Well, at least he said "maybe." Maybe he's waiting to find out whether the evidence from his scientific research supports his no-growth political agenda.
"Running was puzzled by the invitation at first, but soon realized that population growth affects the quantity of emissions released into the atmosphere.
"He’s also gearing up to push the idea of a no-growth economy in terms of consumption. With the current recession the nation is facing, he said, maybe it’ll cause people to return to a lifestyle 'that maybe we never should have left.'"
What is it about scientists today that they believe their role, as scientists, is to shape society rather than simply to describe the world as it is? It's a free society and scientists have as much right as anybody to express their political or moral opinions. Just don't call it science. When scientists use words like "should" or "ought," they're no longer talking science. They're talking politics or morality.
Saturday, January 03, 2009
Obama's Yes We Can In Space.
George W. Bush got lots of grief for militarizing space with his national security emphasis on America's space policy. Undeserved, by the way. But Bush's NASA also moved to expand civilian options for launch vehicle with its competition for a private sector replacement to the shuttle. Also Bush's regulators at the FAA helped to make it possible for Burt Rutan to launch SpaceShipOne into space, and have been very helpful in setting up a favorable regulatory regime for the new private space programs.
Now the incoming Obama administration is considering breaking the barriers between the Pentagon and NASA and having America's two government spacefaring organizations share resources.
"President-elect Barack Obama will probably tear down long-standing barriers between the U.S.’s civilian and military space programs to speed up a mission to the moon amid the prospect of a new space race with China.
"Obama’s transition team is considering a collaboration between the Defense Department and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration because military rockets may be cheaper and ready sooner than the space agency’s planned launch vehicle, which isn’t slated to fly until 2015, according to people who’ve discussed the idea with the Obama team.
"The potential change comes as Pentagon concerns are rising over China’s space ambitions because of what is perceived as an eventual threat to U.S. defense satellites, the lofty battlefield eyes of the military." (Here.)
At first glance this appears positive. Combining the military and the civilian wings of America's space program instantly increases the resources available to each. Also, if I may, it takes two wings to fly, you know. Ultimately, a serious American government space program will look more like a military organization than it does now.
Space enthusiasts spend enormous energy and time trying to figure out how to get the younger generation more interested in space exploration. Recommendations include making space exploration be about the coolness of astronomy, searching for alien life, saving humanity through space colonization, saving the Earth through space industry, or learning about other planets to better understand and save our own. For example, if we can understand why Venus became a greenhouse hothouse, maybe we can prevent it happening here. If we can understand why Mars lost its magnetic field, maybe we can prevent it happening here. If we can beam clean energy from orbit, maybe we can slow down pollution on Earth. If we can strip mine the asteroids, maybe we can preserve our own planet. Call it Greenspace.
But space enthusiasts have another option for increasing the glamorous allure of space. Make space exploration about something that is part of humanity's soul: nationalism. Make the space program about serving the country, throw in uniforms and ranks, and we'll have no shortage or recruits. Call it Spacefleet.
Republished once for editing purposes. No content changed.
Friday, January 02, 2009
Nothing Is More Beautiful Than Rules.
"Nothing is more beautiful than rules."There's a tendency to see only bad coming out of America's 6 year military involvement in Iraq. Six years ago Iraqi and American soldiers were fighting each other to the death. Now Iraq's soldiers are trained by and fight alongside Americans. Relationships that are developing now between the two armies, especially among the officers, is bound to make a difference. And if Mahmoud's comment is any indication, America's soldiers are providing an example of professionalism and respect for law, that is sinking in.
Thursday, January 01, 2009
Goodbye, Northwest Passage, We Hardly Knew You.
"Thanks to a rapid rebound in recent months, global sea ice levels now equal those seen 29 years ago, when the year 1979 also drew to a close. ...
"Earlier this year, predictions were rife that the North Pole could melt entirely in 2008. Instead, the Arctic ice saw a substantial recovery. Bill Chapman, a researcher with the UIUC's Arctic Center, tells DailyTech this was due in part to colder temperatures in the region. Chapman says wind patterns have also been weaker this year. Strong winds can slow ice formation as well as forcing ice into warmer waters where it will melt.
"Why were predictions so wrong? Researchers had expected the newer sea ice, which is thinner, to be less resilient and melt easier. Instead, the thinner ice had less snow cover to insulate it from the bitterly cold air, and therefore grew much faster than expected, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center." (Here.)
Climate scientists don't know everything about how Earth's climate works? Who could have known?
The news might be bad for the Northwest Passage, and embarrassing for climate scientists, but it could be good news for the poor polar bear.