Archive for July, 2008

Seventeen nines of excellence.

July 31, 2008

via The Space Fellowship

N-Prize is a £9,999.99 (sterling) cash prize which can be claimed by any individual, or group, who are able to prove that they have put into orbit a small satellite. The satellite must weigh between 9.99 and 19.99 grams, and must orbit the Earth at least 9 times. This project must be done within a budget of £999.99
No. It’s true that the prize money is ridiculously small for a space competition. Nobody in their right mind is going to enter for the prize money – and people who aren’t in their right mind are my kind of people! If the prize becomes bigger, then we’ll start to see entrants who treat this as a business proposition, and who are willing to invest huge resources to win the prize. I’d rather keep it small, so that we attract enthusiastic nuts who are doing it for the challenge.


not even a good cyberpunk novel

July 31, 2008

There will always be a closely-watched england

Plods say it’s OK for them give out your DNA | The Register

The Liberal Democrats said a series of Freedom of Information requests have revealed that the NPIA has approved 25 applications for research projects using DNA profiles from the DNA database.

It said that five came from private companies, with three from LGC and two from Orchid Cellmark, and that no one whose DNA is being used in these projects had given their consent. “Innocent people are on the database, and their DNA will have been included in the research,” the party said in a statement.

It also said that the police, many of whose officers have added themselves to the database voluntarily, rejected a request for their DNA samples to be used in a research project.

Heck, even being guilty of some particular crime shouldn’t automatically make your DNA subject to whatever commercial exploitation some government agency thinks would be fun.

These documents showing that we did what we say we didn’t do are classified, and must be suppressed

In a complaint filed with Sweden’s chancellor of Justice, the FRA calls the post a “crime against freedom of speech.” The agency also vehemently denies it monitored cables.

It seems that at least a few people inside Sweden’s government aren’t happy with the the FRA’s new powers either, and lately, they’ve taken to turning over classified documents to Alexandersson purporting to show abuses.

Alexandersson has posted other confidential documents that cast the FRA in an unfavorable light. One contained a list of 103 Swedish citizens registered and monitored by the FRA, purportedly for the sole reason that they happened to be in Russia.

The ongoing malware shakeout

Neosploit faced stiff competition from the proliferation of competing kits, many of which sold for a fraction of the price, according to Thomas Holt, a professor of criminal justice at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte who researches the malware black market.

What’s more, the RSA researchers note that Neosploit may be a victim of its own success.

“It is likely that Neosploit was finding it difficult to sustain its new customer acquisition rate, and that its existing customers were not generating enough revenue to sustain the prior rate of development,” they wrote. “These problems appear to have been too much of a burden, and we now believe that the Neosploit development team has been forced to abandon its product.”

Had to happen eventually; even black hats can’t make an honest living these days.

Blank robbers swipe 3,000 ‘fraud-proof’ UK passports | The Register

Nobody has so far shown that data on the chip in a biometric passport can be successfully altered, but it has several times been shown that it can be copied fairly easily, and there are a number of ways in which this could be exploited. A copied chip that didn’t match the passport data, for example, could be palmed and used to pass automated border controls of the sort that are currently being planned by IPS.

And it’s still early in the relationship between forgers and biometric passports. One could perhaps envisage a future where businesses that regularly had to check passports (say, tourist hotels) could be ‘farmed’ by forgers for passport data, producing data banks of passports that hadn’t been stolen, but that could be cloned on demand – just pick somebody the right age and appearance. Put that together with a stock of blank biometric passports and you’ve got a nice little business there.

So is this actually useful?

July 30, 2008

Video of ReWalk Exoskeleton System – Medgadget –

ReWalk comprises a light wearable brace support suit which integrates DC motors at the joint, rechargeable batteries, an array of sensors and a computer-based control system. It fits the body snugly to detect upper body movements, which are used to initiate and maintain the walking process. Wearers also use crutches for stability and safety.

Watching the video, I have to wonder if it’s actually superior to a wheelchair. It seems pretty tiring to use, and pretty slow and cumbersome, but that could just be me watching from outside.

What to do about right-wing moles?

July 30, 2008

The Reality-Based Community

I suppose that the best remedy would be shame: publicize the effort well, make sure that IGs of very strong integrity are appointed, and make the reports public and very clear. The principle is not to hide anything. I’m pretty sure Henry Waxman would cooperate with well-publicized hearings.

Yeah, because shame has been so effective in bringing right-wing radicals to heel thus far.

I like the idea of a frontal assault better. The reporting from DOJ makes it clear that many, if not all candidates were asked clearly-unlawful questions about their political and other beliefs. Still other candidates clearly had GOP recommendations for office in ways that violated the law. For the lawyers who passed the bar, it’s to be presumed that they know the law, hence are either accessories or co-conspirators in a pattern of unlawful behavior. They’ve been improperly taking public money, so I don’t have much trouble with the idea that they might find themselves caught up in either criminal or civil actions.

For the non-lawyers, the presumption that they know they were hired unlawfully may be a little harder to meet, but the actions of many of them since they took their jobs confirm their hostility to the rule of law. Start by offering them the option to resign. Then publish the lists.

Where’s macbook?

July 27, 2008

Adeona: A Free, Open Source System for Helping Track and Recover Lost and Stolen Laptops

Adeona is designed to use the Open Source OpenDHT distributed storage service to store location updates sent by a small software client installed on an owner’s laptop. The client continually monitors the current location of the laptop, gathering information (such as IP addresses and local network topology) that can be used to identify its current location. The client then uses strong cryptographic mechanisms to not only encrypt the location data, but also ensure that the ciphertexts stored within OpenDHT are anonymous and unlinkable. At the same time, it is easy for an owner to retrieve location information.


July 27, 2008

BBC NEWS | Entertainment | Lost tapes of the Dr Who composer

I’ve got a shedload of synthesizers and equipment, whereas Delia Derbyshire got out of the Radiophonic Workshop when synthesizers came along.

“I think she got a bit disheartened and a bit bored with it all when the synthesizer came along and it all became a little too easy.”

Ms Derbyshire was well-known for favouring the use of a green metal lampshade as a musical instrument and said she took some of her inspiration from the sound of air raid sirens, which she heard growing up in Coventry in the Second World War.

So sad that she should have died relatively young. NHS?

Love the idea, hate the artist’s statement

July 27, 2008


The installation ‘bios [bible]’ consists of an industrial robot, which writes down the bible on rolls of paper. The machine draws the calligraphic lines with high precision. Like a monk in the scriptorium it creates step by step the text.

all those asians are so infertile

July 27, 2008

BBC NEWS | Health | Soy foods ‘reduce sperm numbers’

The Harvard School of Public Health study looked at the diets of 99 men who had attended a fertility clinic with their partners and provided a semen sample.

The men were divided into four groups depending on how much soy they ate, and when the sperm concentration of men eating the most soy was compared with those eating the least, there was a significant difference.

The “normal” sperm concentration for a man is between 80 and 120 million per millilitre, and the average of men who ate on average a portion of soy-based food every other day was 41 million fewer.
Dr Chavarro noticed that overweight or obese men seemed even more prone to this effect, which may reflect the fact that higher levels of body fat can also lead to increased oestrogen production in men.

So what questions immediately come to mind about this study?

  • These are all people attending a high-end fertility clinic. It’s a nice convenient sample, but it’s not normal, and male factor infertility is badly studied but not unknown.
  • 99 is not a terribly large sample, especially in the US, where eating soy products isn’t particularly popular. So if it was only the highest and lowest groups that gave significantly different results (and the average consumption for the high group was one portion every two days, i.e., not a lot at all) then this does not bolster confidence in the results.
  • If the “effect” is more common in overweight and obese men, which way does any possible causation go, since these guys have a bunch of other medical problems that affect sperm count, and are also kinda likely to be trying to cut back on red meat?
  • There’s a bunch of data missing here, even though it is typically, um, collected by any fertility clinic worth its salt. Might be the fault of the reporting, might not. Fer example: sperm morphology and motility (tends to be more important than count), total volume of ejaculate (duh), fallow period before collection (duh). Especially with such a small sample of patients, a few outliers would clobber the results pretty seriously.
  • And, of course, what does this actually mean for fertility? Sure a sperm count of 100 million would be nice, but 60 million isn’t exactly peanuts. Also, Asia.

“More than they can handle”

July 27, 2008

BBC NEWS | Americas | Adopted Guatemala baby ‘stolen’

Ms Escobar searched hospitals and orphanages and while at the National Adoption Council’s offices in May saw a toddler she was convinced was Esther.

Jaime Tecu, director of a team of experts reviewing all pending Guatemalan adoptions, said: “She was so sure that the child was hers that we agreed to search the house where the baby was kept.”

A Guatemalan judge allowed Ms Escobar to care for Esther while the new DNA tests were performed.

I guess this is how you adopt a baby who isn’t from one of those poor women who might not have taken good care of it. And there are still, of course, people who treat baby-stealing as an urban legend. (Next, coerced transplants…)

Print your own transistors?

July 25, 2008

First paper-based transistors | Emerging Technology Trends |

The research team said that there is currently “an increased interest in the use of biopolymers for low-cost electronic applications. Since cellulose is the Earth’s major biopolymer, some international teams have reported using paper as the physical support (substrate) of electronic devices. But, until now, no one had ever used paper as an interstrate component of a FET.”

Wll, not really. As far as the illustration seems to show, they’re still doing much of the fab the old-fashioned way, and just using the paper for sort-of insulator/separator and for structure. Which is still way cheaper than using silicon, unless you do cost per transistor or something…