Thursday, 29 April 2004

Moonbat of the Year Award

In the Left Corner ( and I do mean Left...) Trots In Space
And in the So-far-Right-he's-past-Alpha-Centauri corner, Joe "The Joos Nuked Bali" Vialls

We report, you decide.

Sachost.Exe Removal Instructions

Monitoring the referrals to this site, I'm getting an increasing number of hits per hour from Google, people looking for sachost.exe or sachost.exe removal. I've also had some e-mails thanking me for the help. Anyway, if you're a visitor looking for help on disposing of this trojan, the instructions are here.

I suppose I should put in a disclaimer about "use these instructions at your own risk", but won't. Use common sense. If you're not sure you can follow the instructions ( editting the register is open-heart surgery on your computer, it's really easy to kill the patient by one small slip ), then go find a tame geek. They'll be glad to help, if only to show off their prowess.

I've also received a second e-mail that attempted to infect me with a Trojan - but now my defences are a little better ( there was a Microsoft patch from April 13 I didn't know about), and I don't even know which trojan it was, it didn't penetrate far enough for me to ID it. Be very careful of any e-mail whose header is Question for seller -- Item #nnnnnnnnn where nnnnnnnnn is a 9-digit number.

More details on people's experience with sachost.exe are available on an e-bay forum.

If this has been any help to you at all, please consider hitting the Tip Jar, as it's been 4 months since my last pay cheque. All major credit cards and Pay Pal accepted. But it's purely voluntary.

Wednesday, 28 April 2004

Memo to Telstra

From the ABC comes an article about just one of the world's daily tragedies.
The South Australian Coroner Wayne Chivell has heard a young mother dialled 911 when she discovered her infant son unconscious in the bath.

Coroner Chivell today delivered his findings into the death of seven-month-old Christopher John Smith at Elizabeth East, in Adelaide's north, in November 2002.

He referred to evidence from Amanda Hamlyn who said she dialled 911 when she found her son Christopher in the bath.

This is the emergency number used in the United States.

She had no success with that number.

In Australia the emergency number is 000.
A suggestion : bearing in mind that in real emergencies, people tend to panic - to act instinctively rather than calmly and rationally; and bearing in mind that a lot of people may not actually know the 000 number, nor have a phone book handy to look it up (on the first page in BIG FRIENDLY LETTERS); and bearing in mind that we have a lot of Americans visit the joint; and finally, bearing in mind that due to Coca-Colonisation of the airwaves, most kids are likely to know 911 as an emergency number; then wouldn't it be an idea to route all calls to 911 to the 000 service? And maybe the 999 ones as well, to cater for all our Pom visitors? Even a recorded message telling them to dial 000 in case of emergency would do the job.

Just a thought.

Roo awarded Purple Cross

Updating a previous post about a most remarkable Roo. From the ABC :
A kangaroo that helped save the life of a Gippsland man has been awarded the RSPCA's [Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals] highest honour for bravery, the Purple Cross.

Len Richards was knocked unconscious by a falling tree branch on his Tanjil South farm last year.

His pet kangaroo, Lulu, came to his rescue by barking to attract his family's attention.

Mr Richards says it also seems Lulu applied some first aid.

"My nephew when he got to my side said she'd actually tipped me on my side and vomit was coming out of my mouth so she'd actually saved me from choking," he said.

He says Lulu has shared a strong bond with his family since they rescued it from its dead mother's pouch by a roadside.

"We proceeded to bottle feed it with a proper formula and that's how Lulu the kangeroo came about," he said.
"Pet" Kangaroo seems a bit of a misnomer.
"She's a free ranging kangeroo, she visits around at different farms and then she comes back to our house at 6:00 o'clock on the dot, taps on the door for a teddy bear biscuit.

"If it's cold outside she'll walk in and go and lie right in front of the open fire."

Tuesday, 27 April 2004

Virussed by sachost

Darn, my unbroken record of "never having had a virus on my machine" is now Kaput. None of the standard virus-checkers I've used (including Symantec and Trend Micro) can detect it - yet. It sliced through my first few lines of defence like they weren't there. It got caught by my Firewall before it could do any damage, but that line of defence is well beyond the tolerable boundary.

It appears that all you have to do to get it is to a) Use a Microsoft Operating System ( Yes, I know, that's my first mistake), b) Use Outlook Express as the mail client, and c) Attempt to read the wrong e-mail. You don't have to open an attachment, and I don't think you even have to click on a hyperlink - if you can receive html mail, it could do an immediate re-direct to the malware site.

I'm still trying to track down the exact sequence of events causing infection, and make sure that no damage was caused to the system.

It's not properly a Virus, but a Trojan, and from looking at its internals, it probably originated in Russia. It logs keystrokes, and reports things like your password files to a 3rd party site. Until it gets a proper name, I'll call it "sachost". It's a variant of the Ibiza Trojan, so will probably be called "Ibiza-something" when it finally gets named.

How can you tell if you've been infected?

First, use your task manager ( or on Win98, hit CTRL-ALT-DEL once ). If you see the processes sachost, sachosts, sachostc on the list, you've got troubles. If you haven't got a Firewall installed, then ALL YOUR PASSWORDS MAY HAVE BEEN COMPROMISED. You must change all the ones you care about, be it to eBay, Amazon, PayPal, or whatever (but not just yet!). If you change them now, they'll be logged, and sent to the Mafya sometime in the next five or ten minutes (I haven't tracked down when it sends the data, there's quite a few candidate IP addresses in the code, plus proxies).

Here's how to get rid of the thing (if you're using Win98, anyway):
First, if you're not totally sure what you're doing, disconnect from the Internet and go find a Tame Geek. Otherwise, continue as follows:
a) Terminate the 3 processes sachost, sachosts, sachostc using the Task manager. End them.
b) Use the regedit utility (Start->Run->type in "regedit") to find the line Onlune Sarvice"="%Windir%\sachost.exe or possibly c:\windows\sachost.exe and delete it. (this will stop it from automatically re-starting when you start the computer up again)
c) Restart
d) Now make a note of the timestamp of creation of the files C:\Windows\msrt32.dll and C:\Windows\sachost.exe. Then delete them. msrt32.dll is the beast's black heart, the invisible process that logs keystrokes. If you're curious, open C:\Windows\sysini.ini using Notepad to see what the nasty little trojan was going to report back to base. Then blow it away, delete it too.
e) Finally, delete C:\Windows\System\sachostc.exe and C:\Windows\System\sachosts.exe

After step c), it should be safe to go change your passwords, but I'd wait till step e)'s finished just to be certain. Send e-mails to the appropriate sites, saying that any transactions after the timestamp you noted in step d) should be treated as suspect/fraudulent. If you used your Credit Card on the net since that time, go cancel it now. If you did any on-line banking since that time, get your account frozen immediately, and inform the bank what has happened. Hopefully, you still have some money in them. Of course if you have a Firewall, it should have stopped any data from escaping, and you don't need to change any passwords. etc. Assuming it's a good Firewall, that is. ZoneAlarm is fine.

The first mention of this Trojan "in the wild" that I've found is on the 22nd, and I repeat, none of the standard virus checkers appear to be able to recognise it yet. Perhaps Ad-Aware could have, but by the time I ran that, I'd already cleaned up the infection.

I feel like a homeowner who's come home to find the front door lock jemmied open, the burglar-alarm disconnected, the whole place turned over, and signs where the thieves have attempted (and failed) to open the safe.

UPDATE : The Symantec on-line scanner does detect the presence of the beast. It recognises parts of the sachost.exe file as being a Backdoor Trojan. But the rest of the stuff isn't detected.

UPDATE : From reader Orlando Colamatteo :
Symantec Corporate AV Def 5/5/2004 rev. 8 recognised sachost.exe as trojan and quarantined it.
He also corrected some typoes in the instructions for editing the registry. Thanks, Orlando.

As far as I know, no anti-virus system as at 5/5/2004 recognises the sachosts.exe, sachostc.exe and msrt32.dll files as well. I've seen a report that Ad Aware doesn't recognise them as malwear either, but haven't confirmed that.

If you find this advice useful, well, the Tip Jar takes Paypal and all major credit cards, should you wish to make a donation of a dollar or two. But it's strictly voluntary.

Sunday, 25 April 2004

Today is ANZAC Day

Please read my article in The Command Post.

Weird Wide Web

From the AP, via The Australian :
SOUTH ORANGE, New Jersey: A 12-year-old student has been suspended after school officials accused him of threatening a teacher with a deadly weapon -- peanut butter biscuits.

Jules Gabriel has been banned from class since April 2 after allegedly threatening to use the biscuit on a teacher who is highly allergic to peanuts.

His father, Loubert Gabriel, admitted his son had a packet of Nutter Butter brand biscuits and made a comment about having "something dangerous". But he added: "They mishandled this."

School superintendent Peter Horoschak said several classmates said Jules waved a biscuit over his head and said he would use it against the teacher to prevent being put on detention.
It could have been worse... he could have threatened to use Pork Brains in Milk Gravy.

Saturday, 24 April 2004

A Palestinian Week

From Victor Davis Hanson :
The Palestinians will, in fact, get their de facto state, though one that may be now cut off entirely from Israeli commerce and cultural intercourse. This is an apparently terrifying thought: Palestinian men can no longer blow up Jews on Monday, seek dialysis from them on Tuesday, get an Israeli paycheck on Wednesday, demonstrate to CNN cameras about the injustice of it all on Thursday — and then go back to tunneling under Gaza and three-hour, all-male, conspiracy-mongering sessions in coffee-houses on Friday. Beware of getting what you bomb for.

There are signs of hope though. For example, one editorial from Pakistan... Sometimes it's difficult to remember that the vast majority of people on this planet are decent human beings, regardless of cultural differences. Much of History is Tragedy, rather than Melodrama.
Good against Good is Tragedy; Good against Evil is Melodrama
This should not blind us to the fact that some people are just plain Bad to the Bone. And others... Hitler had great affection for his Dog, until he killed him with a Cyanide capsule just to see if it worked. Goebbels loved his five young daughters, but gave them a cyanide capsule each too. No doubt many suicide bombers are absolutely certain that they are doing the Right Thing. No doubt many American attack helicopter pilots are very uncertain of their complete moral rectitude when firing rockets into a building where fire's coming from (but which may contain innocent civilians), even if it saves many lives.

Friday, 23 April 2004

The London Necropolis Company

The London Necropolis Company BrochureIn keeping with the somewhat macabre mood of the previous post, it's time for me to post an interesting URL : Riding the Death Line :
During the first half of the 19th century, the capital’s population had more than doubled and the number of London corpses requiring disposal was growing almost as fast. Cemetery space in the city had spectacularly failed to keep pace with this growth.
The man who came up with the answer was Sir Richard Broun. In 1849, he proposed buying a huge tract of land at what is now the Surrey village of Brookwood to build a vast new cemetery for London’s dead. The 2,000-acre plot he had in mind – soon dubbed “London’s Necropolis” – was about 25 miles (40km) from the city, far enough away to present no health hazard and cheap enough to allow for affordable burials. The railway line from Waterloo to Southampton, Broun realised, could offer a practical way to transport coffins and mourners alike between London and the new cemetery.

The idea of using the railways to link London to the new rural cemeteries had been in the air for some years when Broun presented his plan, but not everyone was convinced. Many thought the clamour and bustle they associated with train travel would not suit the dignity demanded of a Christian funeral.

There were other fears too. In 1842, questioned by a House of Commons Select Committee, Bishop of London Charles Blomfield said he thought respectable mourners would find it offensive to see their loved ones’ coffins sharing a railway carriage with those of their moral inferiors. “It may sometimes happen that persons of opposite characters might be carried in the same conveyance,” he warned. “For instance, the body of some profligate spendthrift might be placed in a conveyance with the body of some respectable member of the church, which would shock the feelings of his friends.”

It is worth remembering that, in 1842, train travel itself was still a novelty....
Worth a read. And I wonder just how many of today's burning issue re Genetic Engineering, Gay Marriage and so on will seem as, er, quaint, 160 years hence as the well-meaning Bishop's notions?

Unlike the London Mortuary station, which was destroyed by the Luftwaffe in 1941, the Antipodean equivalent (built 1867) survived, and was used until 1948. Fully restored, it's visible from every train that departs Sydney Central if you know where to look.

Some more quotes from the article (which really is worthing reading in toto) :
As people got used to the trains, they gradually came to accept them, even giving them affectionately tasteless nicknames such as “the dead meat train” or “the stiffs’ express”.
The discrepancy in ticket prices had arisen because LNC’s fares were fixed by the 1854 Act which created the company, and not increased again until 1939. By 1902, when LNC’s replacement terminus opened, this had produced a situation where a First Class return ticket from Waterloo to Brookwood cost eight shillings on L&SWR’s normal service, but only six shillings on the Necropolis trains. Golfers travelling from London to West Hill Golf Club, which stood right next to Brookwood’s grounds, sometimes took advantage of this, dressing up as mourners to ride the Necropolis train down, and so pay a lower fare. The remains of a rough footpath from Brookwood Station to West Hill’s clubhouse can still be seen at the cemetery, and Clarke believes it was cheapskate golfers who originally tramped it down.
For anyone who could afford it, First Class travel on the Necropolis trains conferred some very definite privileges. First Class passengers were relentlessly pampered at every stage of the journey, and constantly protected from having to mix with the lower orders.
RTWT (Read The Whole Thing).

This is just... Sick

The Plush Ebola Virus.

Latest product from GiantMicrobes
We make stuffed animals that look like tiny microbes—only a million times actual size! Now available: The Common Cold, The Flu, Sore Throat, Stomach Ache, Bad Breath, Kissing Disease, Athlete's Foot, Ulcer, Martian Life, Beer & Bread, Black Death, Ebola, Dust Mite, Bed Bug, and Bookworm.
They make great learning tools for parents and educators, as well as amusing gifts for anyone with a sense of humor!
A Sick sense of humour, that is. Like the one I've got.

Time Travel for Fun and Profit

Seen via The Eternal Golden Braid : How to Time Travel for beginners. Unfortunately, because it's a seriously scientific site, you have to start out with a torroidal (doughnut-shaped) rotating black hole the mass of a reasonable-sized star. Tricky, that.
Then there are the problems regarding Hawking Radiation and so on. Though if you can collapse a star to order, I imagine they'd be relatively minor.
Sub-pages contain details about Lorentz Transformations and Dirac's Negative Mass Energy that are about as simple and well-explained as it's possible for them to be. A lot of hard work went into making this subject as easy to understand as possible - which may not be much to those without a degree in Physics, I'm afraid.

Oh yes, when anywhere near a Black Hole, don't forget your Life Preserver.

Thursday, 22 April 2004

Zen and the Art of Cascading Style Sheets

Here's a programming post, which hopefully will be both comprehensible and interesting for non-programmers, especially ones who Blog or are thinking of Blogging.

A document, be it an article, a sentence, or a complete blog, can be divided into two parts: the Content, and the Format the content is expressed in.

Here's a simple example: consider the content, Mary had a little lamb.

This could be reified, implemented, published or what you will in a variety of formats, such as:

Mary had a little lamb

Mary had a little lamb
Mary had a little lamb
Mary had
a little lamb

...and so on.

Other content can have the same format, such as

Its fleece was white as snow

So Content and Format are two separate things.

This concept can be extended to much larger documents, such as Blogs. Blogger, for example, provides a number of Templates for anyone blogging to use. These templates provide a number of pre-defined styles. They can be changed at will, but most people don't bother. This is why so many blogs look similar in style. By the way, this blog uses a fairly popular template, but modified a bit so the links go on the left rather than the right. Anyway, all the blogger has to do is specify which template they're going to use when they first create their blog, then just supply content thereafter - the template does all the rest.

The recommended way of doing this in general is with Cascading Style Sheets - css for short. Unfortunately, different browsers - such as Internet Explorer, Opera, and Netscape - interpret CSSs in subtly different ways. But the Gurus of css can make them do miraculous things. Here's some example of exactly the same content, but with different stylesheets applied:

The CSS Zen Garden .....
with the Edo and Tokyo stylesheet applied...
or the 15 Petals stylesheet...
or (my favourite), the Wiggles the Wonder Worm stylesheet.

It's the same content - just expressed in different styles.

Wednesday, 21 April 2004

We have to touch people

9/11 and Bronowski at AuschwitzFrom The Belmont Club :
The most dangerous thing about the Internet from the point of view of those who would create a totalitarian or theocratic state is that it allows people to see others as men -- who may disagree, or who on reflection decide to fight -- but men nonetheless. The average person is never wholly unaware, as some academics are, of the humanity of other people. Nor is the average person wholly indifferent to concrete evil and imminent danger. Both are real and ancient things, ignored by those who live in a bubble of artificial laughter and contrived wit, but alive to those who meet them in the everyday. The Los Angeles Times article on Marine Corps snipers drives home how these marksmen, who live closer to the enemy than the ethereal postmodernist beings who jeer them, can never seek solace in abstractions. They must glimpse the faces of those they are about to shoot, the horror and necessity of the act combining in the single pull of the trigger, doomed to live in a world of specifics: fighting identifiable evils and performing individual acts of kindness. In this strange universe an Italian rips off a hood and with a final shout proclaims himself undefeated. Todd Beamer crashes an aircraft that others might live. Chief Wiggles raises money for children whose names he knows. And somewhere in Riyadh a Saudi makes excuses to his mother.

Only the Grand Inquisitors stand apart, disdainful alike of both kindness and human weakness, full of schemes and plots. And of their false truces and cunning offers we should have no part except to answer it with silence (as in Dostoeveky's parable) and to go get a beer.
When I read this, I recalled the late Jacob Bronowski's words as he crouched in the mud at Auschwitz, and let a handful of it slip through his fingers. We have to touch people.

Tuesday, 20 April 2004

Cross Contamination

Time for a Space Post.

I've long suspected that there are parts of the Hoyle-Wickramasingh Hypothesis that are more likely correct than not.

OK, WTF is the Hoyle-Whatchamacallit Hypothesis? (Which I'll call the HWH for short).

Basically, look at the conditions on Earth when Life-as-we-know-it is believed to have formed. Water available, Carbon available, unfiltered sunlight available, and a clay or other substrate (floor) with regularities that would encourage formation of complex compounds.

The take a look at the conditions in the Oort cloud, in insterstellar gas clouds, and in infalling comets. A few quick mathematical calculations will show that theres heaps, piles, zillions more places where conditions like this exist in Space than on a planet's surface. The difference between a few flecks of paint on the surface of some very small marbles, and great vats of paint the size of Jupiter. Now whether the difference is mere Billions or Trillions or something much greater really doesn't matter, the weak form of the HWH says that Life more probably evolved "out there" than "down here". The strong form states that we're constantly being bombarded with biochemical material from space, and that there's a correlation between Viral outbreaks and patterns of infall.

I'm not convinced of the latter. The "fossil bacteria" found in some meteors may be exactly that, or they may be unusual non-living crystal growths.

On the other hand, we know from Surveyor 3 that some common earthly bacteria are hardy brutes, capable of surving in space for some years. Though there is some evidence that the initial reports may have been the result of cross-contamination.

But there's another form of cross-contamination: Martian meteors have been found in Antarctica. (Why Antarctica? Because that's the best place they'd be preserved intact. Dark objects on White backgrounds are easy to find, too)

And now it appears that we've found the other part of the puzzle : similar material on Mars.
NASA's Opportunity rover has examined an odd volcanic rock on the plains of Mars' Meridiani Planum region with a composition unlike anything seen on Mars before, but scientists have found similarities to meteorites that fell to Earth.

"We think we have a rock similar to something found on Earth," said Dr. Benton Clark of Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, science-team member for the Opportunity and Spirit rovers on Mars.
We haven't found Earth-formed rock on Mars yet, but the evidence indicates there's been an exchange of material between the Earth and Mars - and a pretty hefty one, otherwise the odds of finding such a rock so quickly would be, er, astronomical. (Sorry).

That means there's likely been a lesser exchange with every planetary body in the Solar System- including Europa.

Put all the clues together, and they indicate that Life-as-we-know-it, carbon-based, water-soluble life, could be incredibly prolific throughout the Universe. Absolutely everywhere it can exist, in fact. And Cross-Contamination means that every bit will have startling resemblances to every other bit, say as much as Botulinum Bacteria does to Elephants, or Tobacco Mozaic Virus does to Goldfish. (Which is quite a lot, from a biochemical viewpoint).

Quote of the Week

We don’t make a distinction between civilians and non-civilians, non-civilians, innocents and non-innocents. Only between Muslims and unbelievers. And the life of an unbeliever has no value. It has no sanctity.
-Sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammad, head of the al Muhajiroun group in London. (Reuters)

Saturday, 17 April 2004

Brain Cache Found

From Nature :
The number of things you can hold in your mind at once has been traced to one penny-sized part of the brain.

The finding surprises researchers who assumed this aspect of our intelligence would be distributed over many parts of the brain. Instead, the area appears to form a bottleneck that might limit our cognitive abilities, researchers say.

"This is a striking discovery," says John Duncan, an intelligence researcher at the Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit in Cambridge, UK.

Most people can hold three or four things in their minds at once when given a quick glimpse of an image such as a collection of coloured dots, or lines in different orientations. If shown a similar image a second later, they will be able to recognise whether three or four of these spots and lines are identical to the first set or not.

But some people can only catch one or two things in a glance, while others can capture up to five.

This very short-term memory capacity is thought to be related to intelligence. In the same way that a computer with a larger working memory can crank through problems more quickly, people with a greater capacity for holding images in their heads are expected to have better reasoning and problem-solving skills.
Two research teams operating independently using different techniques have come to the same conclusion: that this "Short Term Working Memory" is implemented by one small section of the brain, in Humans anyway.
Such a "Short Term Working Memory" is essentially the same as a "Cache" in Computer Science terms. For example, your browser has a "Cache" of recently-visited sites and images, so that if you hit the foward and back buttons rapidly, the data doesn't have to be retrieved again over the Internet, it's available quickly.
What does this mean for research on Intelligence? Bugadifino, as they say in the Classics. But it's a significant step in the journey to a better understanding of how our minds work.

Small is Beautiful

Eye of a Needle Today's interesting URL is one for the Culture Vultures : Willard Wigan's wondrous artwork.
Willard can create a masterpiece within the eye of a tiny sewing needle, on the head of a pin, the tip of an eyelash or a grain of sand. Some are many times smaller than the fullstop at the end of this sentence.
Willard, who is completely self-taught has baffled medical science and been the subject of discussions among micro-surgeons, nano-technologists and at universities worldwide. His work is ground-breaking - partly because of the astounding beauty of vision which challenges the belief system of the mind and partly because it demonstrates that if one person can create the impossible, we all have the potential to transcend our own limiting beliefs about what we are capable of.
When working on this scale he slows his heartbeat and his breathing dramatically through meditation and attempts to harmonise his mind, body and soul with the Creator. He then sculpts or paints at the centrepoint between heartbeats for toTal stillness of hand. He likens this process to "trying to pass a pin through a bubble without bursting it." His concentration is intense when working like this and he feels mentally and physically drained at the end of it.

Friday, 16 April 2004

Low Sense of Humour Part 2

I suspect that there is a strong correlation between belonging to the medical profession and having a Low sense of humour. At the second medical blog I've sampled, I came across some descriptions of events that left me in stitches (figuratively anyway). For example, the post about the cat on the laptop...

(First medical bog mentioned here)

Thursday, 15 April 2004

New Search Engine Installed

If you look at the Search box to your left, you'll see that I've installed a new one. The old one was good as long as the site only had a dozen pages, but over the months just couldn't cope.

Still, the price was right ( i.e. free ) so no complaints. Feel free to e-mail me if you strike any problems with the new one (the price on this one was also right). The index should be updated approximately daily, but I might have to set it to weekly instead.

Cyborg Development Report - Braingate

From the New York Times :
The company, Cyberkinetics Inc., plans to implant a tiny chip in the brains of five paralyzed people in an effort to enable them to operate a computer by thought alone.

The Food and Drug Administration has given approval for a clinical trial of the implants, according to the company.

The implants, part of what Cyberkinetics calls its BrainGate system, could eventually help people with spinal cord injuries, strokes, Lou Gehrig's disease or other ailments to communicate better or even to operate lights and other devices through a kind of neural remote control.

"You can substitute brain control for hand control, basically," said Dr. John P. Donoghue, chairman of the neuroscience department at Brown University and a founder of Cyberkinetics, which hopes to begin the trial as early as next month.
"Among many people in the field, there's a feeling now that the time is here for moving the technology to test in humans," said Dr. Richard A. Andersen, professor of neuroscience at the California Institute of Technology, who is working on his own device for the brain. Still, for the trial, there is trepidation mixed with anticipation.

"A disaster at this early stage could set the whole field back," said Dr. Dawn M. Taylor, a research associate at Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Veterans Affairs Medical Center, who is testing similar systems in monkeys.
Though Cyberkinetics is not the first to try neural control in people, it seems the most intent on bringing a product to market, perhaps by 2007 or 2008, said its chief executive, Timothy R. Surgenor.

Started in 2001 and based in Foxborough, Mass., the company has raised $9 million for the project.
Timeframe pretty much as predicted.

For Background reading, see previous posts:
Cyborg Liberation Front
Upgrade Your Brain to Wireless
More on Cyborgs
Cyborgs and Hybrots and Borg, Oh My!
Today's Brain Links (I)
Today's Brain Links (II)
and of course my article from January on this subject:
Today's Brain Article : Braingate.

Wednesday, 14 April 2004

Graduation Day

After a hectic 300km-there and 300km-back daytrip to the Wagga Wagga Campus of Charles Sturt University, I can now style myself Alan E Brain, BSc. MInfoTech(Dist).
Actually it's the first and only time I've been physically present at the University where I was studying. Nice to see some of the faces behind the e-mails.

Tuesday, 13 April 2004

54 Good Reasons

Why we had to go into Iraq.

The first 53 are detailed in this document, courtesy of USAID.
Since the Saddam Hussein regime was overthrown in May, 270 mass graves have been reported. By mid-January, 2004, the number of confirmed sites climbed to fifty-three. Some graves hold a few dozen bodies, their arms lashed together and the bullet holes in the backs of skulls testimony to their execution. Other graves go on for hundreds of meters, densely packed with thousands of bodies.
The 54th is from an e-mail sent by a friend of mine in Israel. It's so that no-one has to hear a radio broadcast like this ever again.

Thanks to TCP reader Ronnie Schreiber, here is a translation:
We all recognize that signal that we have just heard. This is a genuine alert. There is a missile attack on Israel. All Isreali residents should immediately put on their gas masks and should go into their sealed rooms and place their families in the room. The room should be sealed with rags and with adhesive tape. As is known and recognized, stop your normal activities, check on your children and put on their gas masks in the correct manner, and continue to listen to us. This is a genuine alert, a missile attack on Israel and we will have more details as they come in… To review procedures in the sealed room, do not sit near exterior walls or walls adjacent to the exterior walls. Stay near the interior walls. Don’t face the exterior walls. Sit on the floor…If you have a family check on your children, make sure you have the key to the lock so you can lock the door, and proceed to your sealed room. This message will be repeated in Russian.

Monday, 12 April 2004

Beagle Found!

At least, according to one report found via Google News. And it looks like sabotage by the Americans.
The Americans, wishing to avoid the ignominy of the British upstaging their Mars lander missions have been under suspicion for some time by the British Beagle 2 team and a chance discovery of a pile of empty Budweiser beer cans outside the Jodrell Bank fence, was the first clue in their dastardly plot.
Tony Blair is said to be fuming at the Americans, because he was promised that there would be no transatlantic intereference in this mission, unlike the previous 33 British attempts at putting a man on the moon.

From the Universe Next Door...

A Book Review.

Friday, 9 April 2004

A Revolution in International Affairs

A quiet but crucially important revolution is occurring in International Affairs. Long-standing principles are being rapidly eroded. But you can't understand what the situation was in the 20th century, how we got there, where we are going and why, without examining history, and especially European history. This is mainly a story about Wars, thereby illustrating the (partial) truth in Mao's maxim : "Power grows out of the barrel of a gun". It's a long story, not easily condensed. Please bear with me, as I'm doing a bit of a Den Beste here.

It's been a long-standing principle that a respect for National Sovereignty is the best guarantee for keeping the peace. One country's Government should not "Interfere in the Internal Affairs" of another. No matter how odious matters may be in a neighbouring state, as long as borders were not violated, no International Law was broken. No military intervention was legal.

There are some good reasons for the adoptation of this principle: different states often have different and incompatible religious beliefs. Whether in Islam or Christianity, Sunni or Shia, Protestant or Catholic, Hindu or Buddhist, Communist or Capitalist, National Socialism or Socialist Democracy. The European 30 Years War of the 17th century showed what could happen when Religious War broke out. There was a backlash, and it was in the 18th century, that formal Rules of War were codified. The vast majority of a nation's populace was hardly aware that one bunch of soldiers replaced another bunch in some province or other. War was "the Sport of Kings", where a border principality or two might change hands now and then, but with little disruption to daily life, and remarkably few casualties to the professional soldiers. It was in everybody's interest - everybody who counted, ie those with wealth and power, anyway - to keep the system going "as was". The stately pavane of often bloodless manouver and counter-manouver during the 7 years war was the result.

The Napoleonic Wars on the other hand (and in one view, they started in 1776 in the USA) were wars of Ideology. On one hand, a Democratic state (that in France soon devolved into a bloodthirsty Oligarchy, then a radical modern state under a Military Dictatorship), on the other, the same old gang of Monarchs, some totally under Parliament's thumb (the UK) , some completely Autocratic (Russia), and many somewhere in-between. Napoleon swept away the old mini-feudalities and customs-posts every 5 miles, instituted a code of laws throughout Europe, and basically founded a European Union some 200 years before the current one.

He also sent hit-squads to assassinate emigres overseas, expanded and institutionalised the old monarchist Secret Police to liquidate opponents at home, set relatives in positions of power throughout the Empire, and tore up international treaties whenever it suited him. Wherever the Grande Armee went, it had to "live off the land". Any province it passed through two or more times in a year was reduced to a howling desert, occupied only by the corpses of the starved inhabitants. Other, less modern armies, were compelled to have an expensive, slow baggage-train that contained food, not just ammunition, so the cost more and were at a great disadvantage when it came to mobility.

After Napoleon had been finally defeated, the Congress of Vienna not only re-drew the map of Europe, but set in concrete the "old order" of the previous century. War as the "Sport of Kings" could still occur ( and did, notably in the minor wars that unified Germany - along with border provinces of Austria, France, Poland, and Denmark - under a Prussian Emperor ). Growing Alliances between major European powers meant that War became more and more costly, and therefore less and less likely. But any War would be a catastrophe, and the whole brittle edifice crashed in the bloodbath of World War I. (Which was Actually World War III, as the 7 Years War and Napoleonic Wars had action in more continents than did World War I, but I digress. )

Bear with me, I'm getting there.

Where was I... Oh yes, The Great War. The War To End All Wars.

This started as an old-fashioned Monarchic war, but soon evolved into a Religious one. Germans started fighting for King and Emperor, but soon fought for a "Place in the Sun", a slice of the colonial cake that had been unjustly denied them by the powers-that-were. It was only when Germany invaded Belgium (with whom the UK had a treaty) that the UK became involved in the Fracas. Soon a battle for "Plucky Little Belgium" became a battle against the Beastly Hun, no respecter of Neutrals. France fought to regain Alsace-Lorraine (and French pride), Russia fought to justify Russia's suzerainty as representative of all Slavs, the USA joined in because of general German obnoxiousness and I'm digressing again.

What is important is that the Victors in 1918 examined the cause of the war - and decided it was all Germany's fault. Which it was (though Austria was to blame too). Bismark's strategy of unification and consolidation through diplomacy (where he could) or short, victorious wars (where he couldn't) had been abandoned in favour of a "Might Makes Right" philosophy.

Such mass slaughter, such a gehenna must have been the result of some monstrous evil. So it was thought, and so it was. The Evil was determined to be the concept that one Nation-State had attacked another, with no valid reason. This was the new touchstone: the doctrine of National Sovereignty, which had been evolving over the centuries, reached its final form. Within its own borders, a nation was safe from outside intervention. No country could interfere with another's "Internal Affairs". No act was forbidden - provided only that borders were respected. Religous disputes between nations would no longer cause Warfare in all its horror, it was a sort of universal "Freedom of Speech" for all nations. In theory, they could enslave half the population, or set up extermination factories to process minority groups into soot, soap and ashes with no legal problems. Of course, no-one would actually do such things, would they?

The first stirings of Trans-Nationalism - a Religion like any other - can be seen in Woodrow Wilson's "Fourteen Points" speech at the end of the war (though a Marxist could point with some justification to the Comintern as well.).

That emerging Superpower, the USA turned in on itself in an orgy of navel-gazing Isolationism, abandoning Wilson's orphan child, the League of Nations. But the universal ( OK, European - at this point in History, White Folks were the only ones who counted ) revulsion against the Great War was such that a number of nations swore solemnly that they would "Study War No More", at least in squabbles amongst themselves. The Treaty of Locarno established a Permanent Court of International Justice. But the final fruit of World War I was the Kellogg-Briand Pact, where (eventually) no less than 62 nations agreed to Outlaw war as a means of state policy (at least in dealing with squabbles amongst themselves).

It's effectiveness can be judged by the fact that amongst the first signatories were Germany and Poland.

But one thing it did do, was to formally enshrine in International Law the concept of the Crime Against Peace. To quote from the charter of the United Nations,
All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state,
and then also adds
or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.
The first part of that clause was used to hang senior German leaders at Nuremberg. The fact that they'd massacred some 6 million Jews was merely aggravating cuircumstance, it wasn't actually illegal (except insasmuch as the Victors made up the law as they went along). And that says something for the moral bankrupcy of the "Peace at any price" brigade, so strong between the two world wars. Legally, up until Nuremberg, it was all "purely an Internal Affair" and nobody's business but the Germans.

It's said that Queen Victoria refused assent to a Law against Lesbianism, as she considered it impossible that such a thing could exist. Similarly, it can be argued that the fact that there was no actual law against the Holocaust (except Ex Post facto) was purely because the people writing up the Kellogg-Briand pact couldn't conceive of, say, Auschwitz.

If so, I can hardly blame them. I drove around Hohne in Germany, I could never bring myself to visit Belsen. I'm not superstitious, but the whole area gave me a case of the screaming abdabs, something Awful and EVIL had happened nearby. Worse, the feeling overcame me long before I knew exactly where I was, the first time I explored the area.

Regardless of whether the Law existed in an unwritten or written form before 1933, or whether the Nuremberg Tribunal were trying to cloak Justice with the shabby mantle of Law after the fact, Nuremberg did establish that Genocide wasn't just immoral, it was illegal.

To see how well that has worked, just look at the ongoing trial of Slobadan Milosovic. Or the non-trial of Pol Pot.

The Kludge to amend the doctrine of National Sovereignty was supposed to be that second clause of the UN charter. The one about "...or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.", along with Article 43 of Chapter 7 of the UN charter. Some relevant sections: First, the Nod to national Sovereignty in Chapter 1:
7. Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state or shall require the Members to submit such matters to settlement under the present Charter; but this principle shall not prejudice the application of enforcement measures under Chapter Vll.
Now the Teeth in Chapter 7, article 43:
  1. All Members of the United Nations, in order to contribute to the maintenance of international peace and security, undertake to make available to the Security Council, on its call and in accordance with a special agreement or agreements, armed forces, assistance, and facilities, including rights of passage, necessary for the purpose of maintaining international peace and security.
  2. Such agreement or agreements shall govern the numbers and types of forces, their degree of readiness and general location, and the nature of the facilities and assistance to be provided.
  3. The agreement or agreements shall be negotiated as soon as possible on the initiative of the Security Council. They shall be concluded between the Security Council and Members or between the Security Council and groups of Members and shall be subject to ratification by the signatory states in accordance with their respective constitutional processes.
Have you noticed something? The complete absence of Black Helicopters? Where is the Multinational army, big enough to take on any opponent and win, that's supposed to be at the disposal of the UN Security Council? The fact is, that not one single soldier has ever been provided exclusively for the UNSC under this article. All "Blue-Helmet" UN forces are provided on an ad-hoc basis, and responsible to their national authority, not the UNSC.

The UN was supposed to not merely provide the teeth to enforce Justice, it was supposed to decide what Justice was, to avoid Religious Warfare and doctrinal differences (rather than truly moral ones) sparking warfare. The bar was set fairly low -- as I've blogged about before. But the UN has failed in its obligations.

Now we come to one of the defining moments of history : 9/11.

Before that date, it was reasonable to get by with the old 1920's world tarted up. Yes, millions died in various genocides here and there, but they were usually non-Whites, so didn't really count to most (Western) people. As long as no borders were crossed, everything was fine. It was best expressed by Swedish premier Olaf Palme who said (after the not-exactly-terrific Vietnamese had kicked the posterior off the incomparably-more-odious Khmer Rouge):
"the fact that the auto-genocide has ended in Cambodia is probably good for the Cambodian people, but one can never excuse an intervention in a neighbouring country".
Read that again. Such Racist, Eurocentric callousness is beyond comprehension.

That was, in fact, the world we lived in, pre 9/11. I didn't realise it at the time. My moral sense had a blind spot, an area where I just didn't think about things too much, it was all too hard, and the existing system was working adequately, and getting better all the time.

But then, Al Qaeda showed that you didn't need a national army to wage war across borders. 9/11 was no "regrettable incident", it was an act of war. The US, purely out of self-defence, can no longer turn a blind eye to hard problems, nor sit around wishing that Article 43 had meant something (and that the Security Council was trustworthy enough to ensure it wasn't misused).

In the absence of a World Policeman both incorruptible and powerful, the US had to turn Vigilante. It gathered up a Posse of nations that could see the writing on the wall (or more cynically, decided that the US's coat-tails were a great place to be), and took action in Afghanistan.

Iraq was in some ways a far more "legal" war - it was in violation of a number of binding UN resolutions, including ones authorising forced cmpliance, but even if it hadn't of been, it was a clear and present danger as a "safe haven" for extra-territorial covert attack. Acts of war committed by stealth, and implasuibly deniable. Trans-border Terrorism.

I distrust Vigilante Justice. Much as I like a lot of Americans personally, and there's much to admire in their system of Government, it's by no means perfect. Had there been any credible alternative, I would have been against any US-dominated action. But there is no credible alternative: we must either trust the US system (which gives me a queasy feeling), or a gaggle of Kleptocrats and petty-Despots. That's an easy choice to make. If the worst comes to the worst, the US is vulnerable to Gandhi's tactics. But so far, they've done pretty well. "Dubya" has genuinely liberated 50 million people, more than anyone since FDR and Churchill. But, and this is a big But, what aout the next administration? Or the one after that? The whole world is at the mercy of that rag-tag mixture of all creeds and colours, ranging from the rational to the dotty, that is the US voting public. Not perfect, not nerely perfect, but vastly better than any of the alternatives, especially the one labelled "Do Nothing".

The Revolution in International affairs is the abandonment of National Sovereignty as an Impenetrable defence against Righteous Retribution. A line on a map no longer defines where justice must stop and watch helplessly. It was planned back in the 40's that the Enforcer be the UNSC, but that hasn't worked out. Instead we have a loose coalition dominated (so far) by the US, one that may become formalised in the near-future.

OK, it took a long time to get there, sorry about that. But had I not simplified things to the point of distortion (and perhaps a bit beyond) it would have been much longer.

Background Articles :

Representing the Old Order
John Pilger : The Crime Commited in Our Name

And the New (and I'd have to say, Improved)
Dr Robert Horvath : Sovereignty can't protect mass killers

Wednesday, 7 April 2004

Untold Stories of the Cold War #349

From the Sydney Morning Herald :
When Vladimir Petrov, a Russian intelligence officer, walked out of the Soviet embassy and defected to the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation in April 1954, Dick Woolcott and Bill Morrison were very junior diplomats in our embassy in Moscow. Woolcott was 26 and Morrison 25. Moscow was their first posting. They held the rank of third secretaries and in the foreign service you don't get any lower.
Woolcott would later write: "When the first classified cable came in from Canberra [to the Australian embassy in Moscow] foreshadowing the Petrovs' defection, Morrison and I decoded it with the old time-consuming 'one time pad' system. As we laboriously worked our way through and the gist of the message became clear, I said: 'One of us will be out of here in a fortnight. The Russians will reciprocate. They always do.' "

Morrison disagreed. "If we're expelled, I'll drop my daks in Red Square," he said. "You're on," said Woolcott.

Woolcott was right. Within days the Soviet government gave the entire Australian mission of three diplomats, an administrative officer and their wives 48 hours to leave the country, though they were then held virtual hostage for three weeks until all members of the Soviet embassy in Canberra and their dependants had boarded a ship at Fremantle to return home.

However, before the Australian diplomats eventually were allowed to leave Moscow by train, Morrison honoured his boast. He had a taxi take him to Red Square and while, apparently, guards began running towards them, he dropped his trousers and "mooned" the Kremlin before jumping back into the cab and roaring away, his driver having already been given a huge tip.

Morrison ever after was known among colleagues as a man who had trouble with his trousers.
I thought that was a reasonable response to being given the Bum's Rush....

Monday, 5 April 2004

A very special breed

It takes a very special kind of person to become a successful paramedic.

Today's interesting URL is the blog of a paramedic, or in Strine, an Ambo.

Case in point : please read the post about A Paramedic's Worst Nightmare.
Now read this follow-up.

See what I mean about "a very special kind of person"?

He also has a low sense of humour.

What is a Jew?

It's distressing that in this day and age, a definition for Jew should be needed. But please read Normblog to find out why.

Apropos of nothing-at-all, I should be doing some work for UNESCO in the next few days. The pay is pathetic, but I feel more than a trace of guilt for taking any of their money at all. You see, UNESCO - the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, is like a particularly loyal guide dog, infested with worms and other parasites. Few UN organisations are more corrupt. At a guess, my impression is that of every $1.00 pumped in to the organisation, perhaps 3c actually gets spent on something worthwhile, rather than champage-swilling soires for the Nomenklatura. Or worse, anti-Democratic, anti-Western or anti-Semitic agitprop.

But oh, what that 3c buys! Like other UN organisations such as the FAO (Food and Agricultural Organisation), the WHO (World Health Organisation), and the ILO (International Labour Organisation), UNESCO does a lot of good behind the scenes - despite being parasitised almost to the point of mortality. One of the things people highly critical of the UN ( like myself ) often forget is just how much good is done by its various organs, outside the glare of publicity.

The money's already been allocated, and frankly, after 3 months without an income, I could use it. But what I can do is give them value-for-money by doing rather more work than I'm being paid for. I can't make up for all the Kleptocratic tapeworms that infest the entire structure, but I'm egotistical enough to think that maybe I can make up for one of them. "It is better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness", and this particular project is highly worthwhile in its own right, no matter who the sponsor.

In the 60's, one of the presents lavished on me as a kid by my Uncle Ted was a UNESCO book called 700 Science Experiments for Everyone. From a review:
At the end of World War II, the newly formed United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), noting the shortage of textbooks and teaching materials throughout much of the world, commissioned a book that would allow teachers to devise laboratory experiments with the most common of materials--candles, balls of paper, saucers, odd strands of twine. UNESCO's report grew into this fine and highly useful collection of experiments in the biological, geological, and atmospheric sciences. The experiments illustrate relatively simple facts--how static electricity can be concentrated, how liquids change to gases, how water is purified by passing through charcoal--with only minimal interpretation.
I venture to say that this book alone has done far more practical good in making the world a better place than any number of Pundits, Blogs, Commentators or Editorials. It certainly got me interested in Science and matters Scientific, how the Universe is constructed and what it does. UNESCO has since fallen on hard times, but the spirit behind its original ideals is not quite dead. Perhaps in some miniscule way, I may make just a smidgin, a small scintilla of difference, in making that dim, dim spark glow just a little more brightly. And if not, it can't hurt.

In that same spirit of education and enlightenment, I'll mention again the definition of one word : Jew. It may make no difference, but as I said before, it can't hurt.

Sunday, 4 April 2004


Or: Star Wars meets COPS. The full movie is a 26 MB Download, but the various parts are only a few meg each - and the best parts are the first 3.

Drink Warning

I've been told by several e-mails that I should have posted the obligatory "Do not drink near keyboard when reading this" caution before my latest Op Ed piece on The Command Post.

The comments on the article report several instances of laughter-induced posterial separation too. You have Been Warned.

Saturday, 3 April 2004

Educational Games

These two from Totally Boring, a misnamed site if ever there was one.

A game for Maxwell's Demons. Go ahead, break the second law of Thermodynamics and have fun, too!

Or perhaps this is your type of game?

Thursday, 1 April 2004

Wish List

The sets are out of stock, and finances wouldn't permit me buying it anyway.

But have a look at this. (what do you mean, "it's for children"?).

On the other hand, I need another expense like a hole in the head.