Wednesday, October 31, 2007

My Special Day Has Ended

I made 46 orbits around the Sun. I picked up Max Hastings' Warriors and John Keegan's Intelligence in War. This is in addition to Supercapitalism, How Life Imitates Chess, Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors, and Iron Coffins that I picked up last week. My Father sent me even more books. Think my eyes were bigger than my brain. Definitely made some publishers happy.


Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The United States of America - Keeping the Taxpayer in the Dark!

The Washington Post's Walter Pincus was one of the two media entities to get the Iraq prewar intelligence right. A list of his recent articles provides a great deal of insight into how little analysis and forethought go into some projects, while our government finally releases the overall cost of the Intelligence Budget after six years of secrecy. This is ironic because the same article points out that the figure was leaked in testimony to Congress two years ago. This recent article suggests that American forces are still understrength in Iraq.

This is what News used to be like until about 20 years ago when news became entertainment. Go and look at any American broadcaster's web site, such as CNN. Now go and compare it with the BBC News. It's a pretty big difference in quality and amounts of information. The news media in the U.S. is no longer the Fourth Estate. Likely this is due to hypercapitalism or supercapitalism. There's little profit in news reporting. It used to be a public service, a partial payment to the U.S. citizens for the broadcast spectra they auctioned to the broadcaster.

Some aspects of society are useful, but will never earn a profit. They have to run as non-profits or at a loss. I would rank highway systems, national defense (with reservations), water works, public health, news organizations, colleges and universities in that category. This doesn't mean they should be treated as political earmarks, but they often are. National Defense is almost a waste of money. Why? Because you are throwing away lives and property for some political goal that you failed to achieve by other more peaceful means. On the other hand, one can't afford not to have some form of national defense. It's a necessary evil.


Hancock - A C Style Computer Programming Language for Datamining Datastreams

Wired has a blog article about AT&T Research Labs' Hancock Project. Hancock is a C style programming language for data mining on the fly. It parses and filters data streams on their way into a database which is different from how data mining is usually done which is via searching the database itself. This means that Hancock coded programs are damn fast and very efficient which is what one would expect from a C style programming language. Such speed also implies that any carefully coded Hancock program can pull data off the wire in almost real time! More documentation can be found on the project web page. The postscript paper and a pdf version describe the language.

It appears that AT&T gave the government more than they asked for. Verizon must do it the old fashioned way, by hand, because according to Wired the FBI wasn't as pleased. Marketing will release those records to Corporate Security only when Security pries them from their cold dead fingers. The Hancock distribution can be downloaded and used for non-commercial uses. It runs on SGI, x86-linux, and Solaris.


Monday, October 29, 2007

Darwin Award Honorable Mention

This incident is why guns have safeties. He's lucky the gun wasn't resting on something a little higher and didn't take his head or his behind off when he was collecting the bird. Then again, why was the gun pointed in the direction of the downed bird instead of 90 or 180 degrees away as an added precaution? Was he using the gun as a pointing device? Wasn't that the dog's job, be a pointer?


Imperial Presidency, Imperiled Nation

There is an interview with David Gergen. These quotes are taken from his interview.

Bush's Character Flaw and How It has Affected His Administration and Its Policies

I did not realize the group would never gel into a true working team. I thought the president would be, to a significant degree, guided by them and counseled by them. I didn't realize how headstrong he was, and I didn't realize how stubborn he was. It's very clear to me that he is much more than most of us anticipated. He's the one who set the course. And this is not simply a product of the advisers around him being divided.

I think it's too facile, and I see it too often, that a lot of the interpretation of what happens in administrations is that "Well, it must be this person as attorney general, or it must be that person as chief of staff. If a president just had a different person in there, the policies would be totally different." Sorry -- it's almost uniformly the chief. The president has the chief of staff he wants, and he has an attorney general doing things he wants him to do. It's the president who makes the calls on this, and the people around him reflect the president, what the president wants.

The Uncertainty of Where Bush is Leading the Nation

You ought to take a close look at a painting which George W. Bush bought when he was governor and had installed in his office as governor. He asked his staff to come and look at it because, he said, "That's us." What it is, is of a lone rider on a horse going up what looks like a mountaintop or crag or something like it, and his men are desperate to try to keep up with him, and they're behind. But he's running through the brush, and he's pell-mell ahead. And what you're a little uncertain of is, is this a leader who's going to lead us to the mountaintop, or is this a fellow who's going to take us over a cliff? You can't tell, because the painting is a little ambiguous in that regard.

The Changing Role of Lawyers in Government

Look, the place of lawyers in our society has changed since the time that Dick Cheney was chief of staff. I went to law school in the late '60s, and still in the '70s, there was a view that lawyers were your sages, your counselors. People had a more heroic view of lawyers. Alexander Hamilton in the early days sort of exemplified this. He thought that to be a lawgiver was one of the most heroic roles anybody could play in society.

By the '90s, lawyers increasingly, at least in business, and I think this is taking place elsewhere, are regarded more as technical people. "Okay, here's what we're going to do, now you draw up the papers." I think lawyers today in this government are treated more like staff. There's been a tendency, except in rare instances, that the lawyers have become a little more marginalized in the conversations about power and use of power and policy.

Let me give an example. We remember Ted Sorensen as John Kennedy's speechwriter. Ted Sorensen was John Kennedy's general counsel. He was a crucial player in the making of decisions in the White House, someone the president frequently turned to and was right there in every one of these major decisions on the Cuban missile process and crisis and all these other things. You don't find general counsels today, you don't find the attorney general being brought in the same way, in my judgment. And especially in this Bush White House. I have felt that they have treated the lawyers as, "You're here to do our bidding, not here to figure it out."


A Job Where the Blind Excel

The Belgians are using blind detectives to analyze their wiretap cases. It's a very good idea.


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

When to Follow Procedures

Examples of why we follow procedures with rockets, planes, and nuclear reactions.


No Debate About a Topic Only a Select Few Know

There seems to be little debate or consensus about the NSA eavesdropping programs, the legality of them, or whether we wish to even continue them. Partly this is due to the secrecy surrounding the programs, and likely partly due to people having more important things on their minds like just making it through the day. However, this is a democracy and this blog for better or worse is equivalent to a church door at the time of Martin Luther. There is likely no legal or technical reason for the Bush Administration to have ignored the FISC and the FISA law it oversees. The administration did not fully brief all members of the FISC or of the oversight committees responsible for overseeing The American Intelligence Community and its activities. Bruce Schneier has excellent blog posts about the Bush Administration's actions and about the NSA's data mining problems. The New York Times has an opinion piece entitled The NSA's Math Problem that Dr. Schneier references.

The NSA is likely drowning in data. It's like trying to count individual water droplets as they spill over Niagara Falls, and finding the droplets containing trace toxins from illegal dumping the week before. Secrecy is abhorrent to a democracy. There should be a way for the government to tell us what it is doing and how effective it is without compromising the specifics of the programs. If the programs aren't effective in intercepting terrorist communications, they should be terminated. We need an impartial group of observers to review the programs and report to Congress what they find. The Bush Administration and the NSA won't necessarily be impartial. The former has much to lose politically if it is discovered that people's rights were abused for little gain and the latter will lose money budgeted for those programs, and no agency wants to see its budget shrink.


Monday, October 22, 2007

Nothing to Hide or Much to Lose

When people question police authority to search them without probable cause, eavesdrop on their phone conversations, or data mine their lives via private databases filled with government and private data, the law enforcement and politically conservative argument is, "If you have done nothing wrong, then you have nothing to hide". By their own argument then, why is the government trying to make eavesdropping on international phone calls and Internet traffic permanent and secret? Why is the government asking that the telecoms be granted immunity from prosecution for helping the government eavesdrop on their own customers? Sounds like the telecoms and the government have something to hide. None of this sounds like responsible government or business to me, yet few people seem outraged.


Robert Reich

Does any one remember Robert Reich? he was a Harvard University professor who helped get Bill Clinton elected in 1992. He gave the Clinton Administration political currency among the labor unions and middle class workers for his progressive labor policy views. But Clinton abandoned Reich and his cause for political reasons if Wikipedia is to be believed. All I know is that Reich left after Clinton's first term and he was the major reason I voted for Bill Clinton the first and only time.

Well, I found out that he's since written a book called Supercapitalism. Here's a NPR blurb about him and his book. He also does Marketplace commentaries on National Public Radio. His commentaries seem to be echoed in his blog as well.

Perhaps Dr. Reich appeals to me because I am a former academic. He's intelligent and he makes a lot of sense. He knows and understands economics and he's an educator. He wants to solve problems in a logical way within the political and economic frameworks we have. He doesn't try to push an agenda by using fear-mongering tactics. He tries to persuade through intelligent discourse which seems to be in short supply these days. To understand how bad things have gotten, watch Jon Stewart skewer Fox News commentators on their coverage of the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize. Read or listen to Dr. Reich yourself and come to your own conclusions. I think he's more right than wrong. But logic and good sense seem to be in short supply these days. People are so busy trying to make it day to day, they likely miss what's going on around them. They desire relief, but all they get is lip service and platitudes or worse, fear.


Thursday, October 18, 2007

Supercomputing Child's Play

What would you say if I told you that supercomputing is an everyday experience for most children? You'd scoff wouldn't you? Well, any child who plays with a Sony PlayStation 3 game console is actually playing with a very high end workstation or supercomputing node all for the cheap sum of $600. The astrophysicist in question claims that one PS3 is equivalent to 25 supercomputing nodes due to the Cell processor. He is using a port of Yellow Dog Linux developed by Terra Soft.The link I provided should enable at least a knowledgeable user to install the Terra Soft YDL onto a PS3. You'll also need a USB keyboard, mouse and thumb drive for the installation. The PS3 could be a decent computing platform for science and engineering students who need a decent high performance workstation for a fraction of the $1200-4000 price tag you'd normally expect and it would still play games as well.

NOTE: Sony just dropped the price $100.00, so now the PS3 is $500 for the high end model.


What is Evil? Part II

Pete's comment in the last post jarred me into remembering about Unit 731. Unit 731 was a biological warfare unit, part of Imperial Japan's Military Medical Establishment. Unit 731 goes beyond immoral towards depths of psychopathic human depravity. It illustrates the corruption of human curiosity and the scientific method, a noble human trait and one of our greatest tools, into mechanisms of human torture and death dealing. The sad part is that they got away with their research for the most part.

As an aside I can say that there is a Russian scientist named Serguei Popov who developed a novel biological weapon. The experiment was elegant and chilling. I can't help but admire his ingenuity and cleverness as a biomedical scientist, but I am glad, and at least hope, that his experiment hasn't been converted into a weapon. Popov used a variation of a technique used in creating bacterial vaccines. He inserted a synthetic bacterial gene coding for either a part or all of the human myelin protein into Legionella pneumophila, the bacterium that causes a form of pneumonia and is a known human pathogen, and got the gene to be expressed. He injected the modified Legionella strain into rabbits. These rabbits got pneumonia and their immune systems subsequently cleared the infection within about a week and they appeared fine. About six weeks later, the rabbits all had seizures and died of acute rapid multiple sclerosis. What is particularly elegant is that the cause or agent of mortality (the modified bacterial pathogen) is nowhere to be found when symptoms and death occur, so treating physicians wouldn't have a clue that a bioweapon was to blame. The rabbits had already cured themselves of the bacteria, but their immune systems had already been programmed to kill them. What saved the rabbits ultimately killed them due to the administration of a modified pathogen, the opposite of a beneficial vaccine using an attenuated bacterial pathogen. This is an example of the amorality of technology and science. Fortunately, Popov only does biodefense work these days.

Biodefense is also a catch phrase for a broad range of biomedical research from microbiology to immunology that likely will never have any applicability to defending us from biological weapons. The term is a funding vehicle for many scientists to continue their normal biomedical research that might have public health benefits in the long run. This is because the grant institutions like NIH were given money by Congress after the 2001 anthrax scare and told to spend it on biodefense rather than normal public health research. Scientists go where the funding goes, especially when funding is so hard to come by these days. We are not stupid people and the cleverest among us know how to write successful grant applications. The money will be well spent in any event because it will eventually go to public health which would strengthen our biodefense capabilities, but any normal taxpayer would feel that fraud has been committed on some level. A lot of what passes for basic cancer research or AIDS research has little to do with treating human cancers or HIV and is just basic mouse or human immunology research in disguise.


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

What is Evil?

A prisoner of war is a man who tries to kill you and fails, and then asks you not to kill him.
Winston Churchill

I've been pondering about this post for several days after reading about Japanese men starving to death and the Japanese seemingly indifferent to their plight. There is no cultural or religious tradition of charity in Japan. This seems an odd dichotomy from a Buddhist society that refined Zen Buddhism with its compassion for all living things. The Japanese believe that families take care of their own. It is not for the State to provide welfare assistance. A collective belief that leads to collective indifference or lack of compassion that leads to a collective evil? Is it evil, or is it another perspective?

One could say that all evil has its roots in a lack of compassion for others, both individual and collective evil. This definition seems suitable, and yet, it seems lacking. One could say that evil stems from a lack of mindfulness or attention in the moment, but this too, seems lacking. Then, you have exceptions. For instance, the fire bombing of Dresden and Japanese cities were immoral and evil, but they were seen as necessary at the time to break "the will of the enemy". What is a war crime is defined by the winner, not the loser of the war. Then there is the taking of prisoners and their treatment. The Japanese did not have high opinions of POWs. They thought surrender was shameful and disgraceful. Yet, there were those Japanese guards who took care of POWs and treated them like men, but they had to be careful with their charity or they would be killed as well. There are instances of Allied troops shooting surrendering Germans. The movies usually show this as a callous and indifferent action, practically impersonal, yet unambiguously evil. Yet context is not always provided. There were instances of SS men killing prisoners and surrendering SS men setting traps for Allied soldiers. One man would throw his weapon down and appear to surrender while a comrade would jump up from behind cover and kill as many Allied troops as he could with submachine gun fire while their guard was down. There were other variations of this theme, but woe to the German or Japanese who surrenders to troops who have suffered losses from these kinds of traps.

But you say, that is war. War is all about survival. Nothing else matters. Evil doesn't enter into it. On the level of the individual, that is mostly true. But wars would not exist if societies or populations didn't support them. Wars generally happen for three reasons:

1. A society or group of people wants to steal land and resources from another group of people rather than pursue a peaceful solution to their problem.
2. A society is fragmenting and the rule of law breaks down resulting in a civil war due to some longstanding conflict or tension within the society itself. The society itself could not solve the problem and people decided that might makes right.
3. A society feels threatened by a neighboring society and decides that they have nothing to lose by attacking the other since their way of living is being threatened and is disappearing before their eyes. We saw this with Japan and now we are seeing it with certain Muslim sects.

No matter the cause, we see endless cycles of bloodshed occur as people and societies grow and collide in an ever smaller world. The Greeks lamented about it in their tragedies about families thousands of years ago. We see it now manifesting between Sunni and Shia, Shia and Shia in Iraq as groups and communities vie for power. We see China stamping out Tibetan Buddhism, one of the most peaceful religions. The Chinese pollute their water and air, and need more resources for further growth. We Americans supposedly fight in the Middle East for our way of life, but everyone knows that if there was no oil under those ancient sands, we would not care to be there at all. We are paying for our oil with American, Iraqi, and Afghani blood, but fighting for what?

Have I answered my own question? Doubtful. It will likely be answered sometime in the future - by the individual in the moment and by societies after the rubble and bodies have been cleared and the rebuilding has started.


Saturday, October 13, 2007


A cartoon about dating, or this earlier one about commitment.


Monday, October 08, 2007


Microsoft Research labs demoed some neat software called Photsynth on Wired Science (Is this a commercial masquerading as news?). It's similar to producing a gigapixel image, but instead of stitching together 2D photos into a 2D montage, you are stitching together 2D images to create a 3D montage. Whether we'll ever see the final product is in question since Adobe might have a Photoshop plugin or a similar application already and they usually write superior graphics software than either Apple or Microsoft. This is why Bill Gates and Steve Jobs have both failed to kill Adobe. There's an alpha version available for download. Unfortunately, you can't upload your own photos and manipulate them. You're stuck with Microsoft's photo collections. It's not a standalone application.


Saturday, October 06, 2007

A Texas Sunrise (8/22/2007)

These were two perspectives of a Texas sunrise on August 22, 2007 around 0630 CDT. I particularly like the lower photo since the water in the parking lot reflected the sky above quite nicely. A lovely burnt orange glow to the light reflected off the clouds!


Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Pangea Ultima - a Projection of the 250 Million Year Future

This is approximately what the Earth will look like in 250 million years. The supercontinent is called Pangea Ultima The Atlantic Ocean will be a memory and Australia will be having a land rush.


The Greatest Virtue

I believe that the greatest virtue is to leave a legacy of love and goodwill. For some, that love will be in the form of valued memories of those they have touched. For others, it will be in the things they have created or made for others. For yet others, it will be in the care or love they put into ideas, thoughts, concepts or methods which further humanity's knowledge of the natural world or of ourselves. It is only a belief. I don't know if I am correct or not, but that is unimportant.


Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Selling Dreams

Am reading the latest Terry Pratchett book Making Money when I saw the following. It's a revelation by the main character, Moist von Lipwig.

It was a dream, but Moist was good at selling dreams. And if you could sell the dream to enough people, no one dared wake up.

Is human culture just the accumulated dreams of leaders, tricksters, and confidence men, whose dreams we have bought into and made our own and we dare not wake up for fear of losing the comforting illusions we've been taught to accept as reality? Illusions of justice, finance, economics, religion - most human culture, are just that, fantasies? They sell you dreams in public school, don't they? Work hard, study hard, tell the truth, obey your "wise" leaders and Life will work out. The whole point of Making Money is that money is a dream, a convenient fiction, but Douglas Adams has said the same thing.


Monday, October 01, 2007

Latest Worm on

The latest virus running around locally in Dalls was wmsoftnnnnn.exe where nnnnn was a random number between 00000-99999. It was likely this IRCbot characterized by

File 2e4d67cf6684e55e74a4569c0908009d received on 10.01.2007 10:21:40 (CET)
Result: 23/32 (71.88%)

Antivirus Version Last Update Result
AhnLab-V3 2007.10.1.0 2007.10.01 Win32/IRCBot.worm.23102
AntiVir 2007.10.01 TR/PCK.CPEX-based.F.34
Authentium 4.93.8 2007.10.01 -
Avast 4.7.1043.0 2007.09.30 Win32:Rizo-E
AVG 2007.10.01 IRC/BackDoor.SdBot3.RHE
BitDefender 7.2 2007.10.01 Backdoor.Rizo.A
CAT-QuickHeal 9.00 2007.09.29 Trojan.CPEX.f
ClamAV 0.91.2 2007.10.01 -
DrWeb 4.33 2007.09.30 Trojan.Inject.251
eSafe 2007.09.30 Win32.CPEX-based.f
eTrust-Vet 31.2.5174 2007.09.30 Win32/Rbot.HQX
Ewido 4.0 2007.09.30 -
FileAdvisor 1 2007.10.01 -
Fortinet 2007.10.01 W32/Qhost.B!tr
F-Prot 2007.10.01 -
F-Secure 6.70.13030.0 2007.10.01 Packed.Win32.CPEX-based.f
Ikarus T3.1.1.12 2007.10.01 Backdoor.Rizo.A
Kaspersky 2007.10.01 Packed.Win32.CPEX-based.f
McAfee 5130 2007.09.28 -
Microsoft 1.2803 2007.10.01 -
NOD32v2 2561 2007.10.01 a variant of Win32/Rbot
Norman 5.80.02 2007.09.28 W32/Malware.AJLM
Panda 2007.10.01 W32/Sdbot.LBY.worm
Prevx1 V2 2007.10.01 -
Rising 2007.10.01 Trojan.Win32.Crypt.exf
Sophos 4.22.0 2007.10.01 Troj/QHost-B
Sunbelt 2.2.907.0 2007.10.01 Backdoor.Rizo.A
Symantec 10 2007.10.01 W32.Spybot.Worm
TheHacker 2007.10.01 Trojan/CPEX-based.f
VBA32 2007.10.01
VirusBuster 4.3.26:9 2007.09.30 -
Webwasher-Gateway 6.0.1 2007.10.01 Trojan.PCK.CPEX-based.F.34

Additional information
File size: 132096 bytes
MD5: 2e4d67cf6684e55e74a4569c0908009d
SHA1: 5c1d44753d79a0a73704fb7ac009e13d51c2d4ad
packers: PECompact
packers: PECOMPACT
packers: PecBundle, PECompact
packers: PE_Patch.PECompact, PecBundle, PECompact

This is the worm's activity over September,2007:

Date/Time Host

Hits per host:

Hits/IP Address

It is being replaced by direct.exe:

Date/Time Host

Hits per host:

Hits/IP Address
41 results:

File 0b85ba2753444a912e7a04b7fa326d06 received on 10.01.2007 09:24:33 (CET)
Result: 22/32 (68.75%)

Antivirus Version Last Update Result
AhnLab-V3 2007.10.1.0 2007.10.01 -
AntiVir 2007.10.01 TR/PCK.CPEX-based.F.46
Authentium 4.93.8 2007.10.01 -
Avast 4.7.1043.0 2007.09.30 Win32:Rizo-E
AVG 2007.10.01 IRC/BackDoor.SdBot3.SIS
BitDefender 7.2 2007.10.01 Backdoor.Rizo.A
CAT-QuickHeal 9.00 2007.09.29 Trojan.CPEX-based.f
ClamAV 0.91.2 2007.10.01 -
DrWeb 4.33 2007.09.30 Trojan.Inject.251
eSafe 2007.09.30 Win32.CPEX-based.f
eTrust-Vet 31.2.5174 2007.09.30 -
Ewido 4.0 2007.09.30 -
FileAdvisor 1 2007.10.01 -
Fortinet 2007.10.01 W32/CPEX_based.F!worm
F-Prot 2007.10.01 -
F-Secure 6.70.13030.0 2007.10.01 Packed.Win32.CPEX-based.f
Ikarus T3.1.1.12 2007.10.01 Trojan-PWS.Win32.LdPinch.bjx
Kaspersky 2007.10.01 Packed.Win32.CPEX-based.f
McAfee 5130 2007.09.28 W32/
Microsoft 1.2803 2007.10.01 Trojan:Win32/Ircbrute!850B
NOD32v2 2561 2007.10.01 a variant of Win32/Rbot
Norman 5.80.02 2007.09.28 W32/Malware.AUNP
Panda 2007.10.01 W32/Sdbot.LEP.worm
Prevx1 V2 2007.10.01 Heuristic:Suspicious Backdoor
Rising 2007.10.01 Trojan.Win32.Crypt.exf
Sophos 4.22.0 2007.10.01 -
Sunbelt 2.2.907.0 2007.10.01 Backdoor.Rizo.A
Symantec 10 2007.10.01 -
TheHacker 2007.10.01 Trojan/CPEX-based.f
VBA32 2007.10.01
VirusBuster 4.3.26:9 2007.09.30 -
Webwasher-Gateway 6.0.1 2007.10.01 Trojan.PCK.CPEX-based.F.46

Additional information
File size: 132096 bytes
MD5: 0b85ba2753444a912e7a04b7fa326d06
SHA1: ab7e58e737cdff4413b5c77d1e3dbd47669681c6
packers: PECompact
packers: PecBundle, PECompact
packers: PE_Patch.PECompact, PecBundle, PECompact

As you can see, they are essentially the same worm/virus from the virustotal results. The virus's code has been subtly altered to change the name of the Windows file the worm executes and propagates as and evades the Symantec Antivirus program (can spread via Symantec AV as well). Passive AV scanners are having more and more difficulty keeping up with the worm writers because they have to keep hitting a moving target. This IRCbot is old technology as well. IRCbots are being phased out and replaced with bots like the Storm worm which are much, much harder to neutralize. Unfortunately, old Internet malware is good enough for running on


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