.................with apologies to Alistair Cook

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Palin Brushing Up On Foreign Policy At Epcot

From The Onion:

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ORLANDO, FL—Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin sought to silence those who have criticized her lack of foreign affairs experience Tuesday by announcing plans for a weeklong, 10-nation tour of Walt Disney World's Epcot. According to Palin, the trip—her first past Frontierland—will include speaking engagements at Norway's famous Viking ride, sausages at Germany's Kaufhaus, and, time permitting, a fact-finding mission to Future World. "This ambitious trip should finally demonstrate that I am ready to assume the vice presidency, whether by standing in long lines at Morocco's Tangierine CafĂ© or by sitting down face-to-face with Mexico's Three Caballeros," Palin announced during a campaign stop outside a Chinese restaurant in Tulsa, OK. "All of our neighbors deserve good diplomacy, from the Universe of Energy down to the French pavilion." Palin also promised a visit to the American Adventure exhibit before returning home, adding that she hoped to learn more about her own nation and the diverse peoples within.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Bernstein on McCain and Palin

From Carl Bernstein The Palin Pick -- The Devolution of McCain

In one of our many conversations as we crisscrossed the country during his campaign for the 2000 Republican presidential nomination, John McCain said to me, "I've always tried to act on what I thought was the best for the country. And that has guided me.... The only thing I can do is assure people that I would act on principle."

I traveled with McCain for weeks that political season, stayed in Arkansas with him, Cindy, and their children, and - for a Vanity Fair cover profile -- filled dozens of notebooks and tapes with observations from and about a potentially heroic politician who seems far removed from the man running for president today.

Three weeks after the 2008 Republican convention, on the cusp (maybe) of the first presidential debate, it is time to confront an awkward but profound question: whether in picking Sarah Palin as his running mate, John McCain has committed -- by his own professed standards of duty and honor -- a singularly unpatriotic act.

"I would rather lose a political campaign than lose a war," he has said throughout this campaign. Yet, in choosing Palin, he has demonstrated -- whatever his words -- it may be permissible to imperil the country, conceivably even to "lose" it, in order to win the presidency. That would seem the deeper meaning of his choice of Palin.

Indeed, no presidential nominee of either party in the last century has seemed so willing to endanger the country's security as McCain in his reckless choice of a running mate. He is 72 years old; has had four melanomas, a particularly voracious form of cancer; refuses to release his complete medical records. Three of our last eleven presidents (and nine of all 43) have come to office unexpectedly in mid-term from the vice presidency: Truman, who within days of FDR's death was confronted with the decision of whether to drop the atom bomb on Japan; Lyndon Johnson, who took the oath in Dallas after JFK's assassination; Gerald Ford, sworn in following the resignation of Richard Nixon. A fourth vice president, George H.W. Bush, briefly exercised the powers of the presidency after the near-assassination of Ronald Reagan.

Given that history, what does John McCain's choice of Sarah Palin -- the cavalier, last-minute process of her selection and careless vetting; and her over-briefed, fact-lite performance since -- reveal about this military man who has attested to us for years that he is guided by his personal code of honor? "Two things I will never do," McCain told me, "are [to] lie to the American people, or put my electoral interests before the national interest" -- an obvious precursor of "I would rather lose a political campaign than lose a war."

McCain, I wrote for Vanity Fair, "often speaks of the duty to follow his conscience in politics, rather than polls or party discipline. This, he says, comes from having escaped death and becoming 'more aware of the transience of everything we do.'"

"I've always had a pretty good idea about how to define something as to whether it's right or wrong," he told me. "I don't mean that I'm better or worse than anybody else. I just mean that when I see an issue and think about it and talk to people, I do generally have the ability to know what's the right course of action, even if it may not be what the majority wants. So I have a certain amount of confidence that I don't have to have a majority opinion on my side."

It does not take a near-death experience to know that Sarah Palin is not qualified to be commander in chief, or that -- in choosing her -- McCain has ignored his own oft-avowed code of conduct. "McCain made the most important command decision of his life when he chose Sarah Palin as his vice presidential nominee," noted David Ignatius in the Washington Post. "....No promotion board in history would have made such a decision."

--------

Above all, the John McCain I covered in 1999-2000 was -- he said -- convinced that two factors were undermining the interests of the United States: its cultural wars, causing political gridlock in Washington and civic discontent across the land; and the unbending agenda of the right-wing of the Republican party that, in his view, had been captured by the Christian conservative movement and bore disproportionate responsibility for the poisonous state of American politics. Exhibit One: the scorched-earth campaign that George W. Bush was then waging against McCain's insurgent run for the Republican presidential nomination.

Yet, McCain, is, in fact, running the kind of campaign against Barack Obama that George Bush ran against him in 2000, which he regarded rightly as dishonest, dishonorable and diversionary in terms of the truth about him and about the nation's problems.

The conservative commentator George Will has been especially incisive of late about the "dismaying," "un-presidential temperament" of McCain and the sleazy tenor of his campaign. Karl Rove (!) has responded to the incessant lying of McCain's ads (one claims falsely that Obama has promoted "comprehensive" sex education for five-year-olds -- he had, in fact, endorsed legislation to insure that kindergartners were warned about sexual predators), by saying, yes, the McCain camp's mendacity has "gone one step too far."

Meanwhile, McCain's frequent invocations of the need for bi-partisan statesmanship are interspersed with the angry themes of cultural warfare and of the Republican convention orchestrated by his handlers, the most dominant of them practitioners from the campaigns of George W. Bush: attacks on "tax-and-spend Democrats," on the dependable liberal bogeyman, on "the angry Left," on Constitution-rewriting federal judges (including, incongruously, three of the Supreme Court justices who voted to uphold McCain's singular legislative achievement: the campaign-finance act he authored with Democrat Russ Feingold).

"If hypocrisy were gold, the Capitol would be Fort Knox," McCain once famously said. "Some of those guys," he said, referring to his fellow senators, "have they even had lives? What have they done?" He added, "Aw, jeez, this is exactly the kind of thing that gets me into trouble." Indeed.

McCain's first choices to be his running mate were former Gov. Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania and Senator Joe Lieberman, the Democrat-turned-Independent from Connecticut, and former vice presidential nominee of his former party. Neither passed the ideological litmus test of the Republican-Right -- "The Base" -- because each holds pro-choice views. Certainly both are qualified to step into the presidency in terms of national security credentials -- regardless of whether one agrees with their particular politics -- in the event of the death of the president. McCain's "Hail Mary" pick -- Palin -- was hastily decided on the next-to-last day of the Democratic convention, by which time it was evident that Obama's convention was winning over independent voters; all that remained was the final night and the opportunity for Obama to deliver a speech that would further work to his advantage, and debilitate the McCain campaign. Only by exciting "The Base" could McCain remain competitive and win, it was calculated.

The distance from McCain's ads and assertions about his presidential opponent and Democrats generally, and his decision to run a "persona-based" campaign, as opposed to being specific on the issues, is of a piece with his choice of Palin to be his running mate. As another conservative commentator sometimes critical of McCain -- Peggy Noonan -- has noted, the "narrative" of a life [McCain's, Palin's], takes over from existential political fact in the type of campaign run by McCain and his handlers. We have heard an awful lot in the past few weeks, especially from Sarah Palin, about John McCain "The Maverick," just as we did in the convention narrative. But what McCain has actually been doing in this campaign, rather than actually being The Maverick, is conveying the appearance of iconoclasm, and playing to the crowd. (Hence, perhaps, "suspending" his campaign -- and trying to postpone the first presidential debate while his poll numbers are sinking -- to deal with the financial crisis?) At this point, the maverick claim seems no more genuine than Sarah Palin's charade foreign-policy tour of Manhattan with no witnesses -- reporters -- permitted to observe the proceedings.

The issue of Palin's relative ignorance about international affairs and the larger world beyond America's shores (compared to previous vice presidential nominees), her attendant arrogance in seeming to revel in it, and McCain's decision to subject the country to it in choosing a possible president -- is the biggest question in this election, or perhaps ought to be. It goes to the core of who the John McCain of this campaign is.

Another conservative commentator, David Brooks, wrote last week: "Sarah Palin has many virtues. If you wanted someone to destroy a corrupt establishment, she'd be your woman. But the constructive act of governance is another matter. She has not been engaged in national issues, does not have a repertoire of historic patterns and, like President Bush, she seems to compensate for her lack of experience with brashness and excessive decisiveness."

The more we learn, the more we realize the vetting process was -- given the rush of the circumstances -- hopelessly inadequate: McCain didn't know many aspects of Palin's record or her reputation (none of which is to say she wouldn't be a congenial fit as, say, Secretary of Interior in a McCain administration). McCain's first choices for a running mate -- Ridge and Lieberman -- were light years ahead of Palin in the vice presidential-qualification department. But they didn't meet the ideological test, exactly the ideological litmus test that McCain has attacked his whole political career and told us he would never succumb to.

John McCain is a serious man, as anyone who has spent time with him knows. But he has not run the kind of serious campaign he once promised.

Not for the first time, as many of his fellow Republicans (as opposed to friendly reporters and sympathetic Democrats) had long maintained, McCain's more reckless inclinations and lesser impulses prevailed. A great political movement that would transcend rabid partisanship and hard ideology does not seem in the cards.

And if he wins the election, Sarah Palin -- who in her first post-convention discussion of foreign policy indicated a willingness to go to war with Russia over Georgia -- stands a heartbeat away from the presidency.

Ultimately it is the choice of Palin, made in the moment when action speaks loudest, that may undermine a quarter-century of assertions by John McCain about the preeminence of duty, honor and country in his political schema.

Saturday, 27 September 2008

This is soooooooooo unfair....

Japan To Get 1Gbps Home Fiber Connections: "ashitaka writes 'KDDI has announced that they will be launching a 1Gbps Internet service to single-family home and condo users in October. The service is supposedly synchronous, with 1Gbps in both directions, although the article implies that speeds will vary with location. Cost will be 5,985 yen/month (about US$56.50) for the basic Internet and IP phone service. This is intended to compete with NTT, who currently control over 70% of the Japanese FTTH market.

(Via Slashdot.)

Sarah Palin...

...the love child of Sylvester Stallone and Anne Widdecombe.

Well, what do you think?

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Friday, 26 September 2008

More Route 66...

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Route 66 and boxing..

How do the two go together?

"Route 66" - the classic Chuck Berry song that fuelled a generation of musicians' (and non-musicians in my case) fantasies about the great wide open spaces and roads of America. Without Mr. Berry, would both Brian Jones and Keith have got together? Would most of the 60s UK musicians have started playing? God forbid, The Clash may not have stormed the portals and blown away this particular Brit...

Chuck Berry - convicted under the Mann Act for transporting a woman across states lines for "immoral purposes" i.e "rape" but a statute only generally applied to black men who got "uppity" - and make no mistake, Mr Berry for all his success, was seen as a clear and present danger to the morals of American youth and, by extension, (excuse the blatant play on that old 'black male = Crawling King Snake' cliche) the virginity of said pure, innocent, fair maidens.

Hell, even Bill Haley was seen as a threat - and he was merely white, balding, fat and (in my view) not a threat to even my grandmother, but, he played that (to "white" ears), devils' music...

And finally, Jack Johnson (pause for the requisite tunes by Dylan and Miles), boxer, star, also convicted under the Mann Act, some 50 years earlier, and the subject of a headline today from the BBC:

Pardon sought for first black heavyweight boxing champion, Jack Johnson: "The US Congress recommends that a pardon be granted to the first black heavyweight boxing champion, Jack Johnson."

And all that as a lead in to a description of our Route 66 trip...

Pleistocene Park: Where the Auroxen Roam

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"Crouching outside a hay-strewn paddock, veterinarian Olivier Bertrand opens a worn black briefcase and digs through a jumble of huge syringes and glass vials labeled Dopram-V, Immobilon, and Large-Animal Revivon. He chooses a 5-inch dart, fills it with Immobilon, and loads it into what looks like a high-end paintball rifle. Bertrand lodges the butt against his shoulder, takes aim over the slats of the fence, and pulls the trigger. With a pfft, the dart lodges into the hindquarters of a 1,500-pound, 9-foot-long European bison. Bertrand repeats the process, sending darts into two bulls just as intimidating as the first, their sharp horns and brown-black fur glistening in the cold rain. 'That should do it,' he mutters. Within seven minutes, the tranquilized trio — 3-year-olds named Jozef, Bert, and Jan — have dropped into the soupy mud of this wildlife park outside Han-sur-Lesse, Belgium. Snoring deeply, they hardly twitch as Bertrand, park workers, and a Dutch conservationist named Joep van de Vlasakker tie their legs and horns.
The men drag one of the bulls onto a rough wooden shipping pallet, and Van de Vlasakker, his rain gear and hat spattered with mud and bison dung, climbs aboard. A John Deere 3800 Articulated Telehandler — basically a cross between a forklift and a crane — hoists the pair 6 feet off the ground and rumbles toward the metal loading ramp of a semi designed for hauling cattle.
But the animal is too long for the opening. As the lift lurches forward, the bison's head hangs off the end of the pallet, inches from the side of the truck. 'Stop! Stop!' Van de Vlasakker screams, hauling up the bull's horns just in time to avoid a decapitation. The driver jogs the lift to the left and slides Van de Vlasakker and the bull into the trailer. Bertrand scrambles in and jabs the beast with a hypo of Large-Animal Revivon to stave off a fatal buildup of the tranquilizer in its liver. The bison lumbers to its feet, groggy and filthy.
After hours of shouting and heaving, the team manages to load seven of these endangered animals into the truck. Van de Vlasakker, the organizer of this expedition, folds the gate and loading ramp like sheet-aluminum origami, strips off his gear, and climbs into the cab. 'Time to go,' he says.

Percentage of a continent's large mammals that died off at the end of the last ice age.
Our itinerary is ambitious: After a quick stop near Amsterdam to pick up two additional calves, we'll truck more than 10,000 pounds of bison across Holland and Germany to the port of Rostock, a journey of almost 600 miles. From there we'll catch a ferry for a 28-hour ride across the Baltic Sea to Latvia. If all goes well, in four days our little herd will join eight bison already ensconced in a 500-acre paddock at Lake Pape, a former Soviet military installation. During the Cold War, it was a bombing range, and the Soviets anchored decommissioned warships off the coast for target practice. But they left the land — peat bogs, open meadows, thick stands of pine and birch trees, and a 5-mile-long lagoon — mostly untouched. Today it's the site of an audacious experiment, an attempt to transform the terrain into an ecological paradise straight out of the Pleistocene epoch.
Ten thousand years ago, Europe belonged to megafauna: mammoths, bison, tarpans (a stocky horse), and ancestors of modern cattle called aurochs. They grazed in a landscape of meadows and forest that looked a lot like parts of Lake Pape today. The end of the Ice Age and a growing human population wiped out nearly all of them.
Today, the idea that you can use those same animals, or modern analogs like elephants and Przewalski's horses, to restore an ancient ecosystem is called rewilding, and it goes far beyond conservation. In theory, we could re-create conditions that last existed when mammoths walked the earth and the environment was healthier and more diverse.
For more than a million years, bison like the nine in our truck grazed from southern England to eastern Siberia. At full size, they can reach 10 feet long and weigh 2,000 pounds. They were a favorite motif of Ice Age artists, who daubed aurochs, tarpans, and bison on cave walls in Lascaux in France and Altamira in Spain. When the last ice age ended — in roughly 8,000 BC — human hunting and the changing climate pushed the mammoth, the giant deer, and the woolly rhino to extinction. The bison is now the largest mammal on the continent and one of a handful of megafauna to remain from the Pleistocene.
They barely made it. In 1927, poachers in Russia shot the last wild European bison. Seven cows and five bulls survived in zoos. In the past half century, careful breeding has rebuilt the population to 3,500 — inbred and vulnerable to disease, but alive. Using even a few for Van de Vlasakker's project risks disrupting the careful breeding and conservation efforts that brought them back — which, of course, made this experiment in rewilding possible in the first place."



(Via Wired News.)

Palin kills a national icon! Shock, horror.

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How an Italian judge made the internet illegal


Italian bloggers are up in arms at a court ruling early this year that suggests almost all Italian blogs are illegal. This month, a senior Italian politician went one step further, warning that most web activity is likely to be against the law.

The story begins back in May, when a judge in Modica (in Sicily) found local historian and author Carlo Ruta guilty of the crime of 'stampa clandestina' – or publishing a 'clandestine' newspaper – in respect of his blog. The judge ruled that since the blog had a headline, that made it an online newspaper, and brought it within the law’s remit.

The penalties for this crime are not onerous: A fine of 250 Euros or a prison sentence of up to two years. Carlo Ruta was fined and ordered to take down his site, which has now been replaced by a blank page, headed 'Site under construction', and a link directing surfers to his new site. Hardly serious stuff – except that he now has a criminal record, and his original site has disappeared.

The offence has its origins in 1948, when in apparent contradiction of Article 21 of the Italian Constitution guaranteeing the right to free expression, a law was passed requiring publishers to register officially before setting up a new publication. The intention, in the immediate aftermath of Fascism, may have been to regulate partisan and extremist publications. The effect was to introduce into Italian society a highly centrist and bureaucratic approach to freedom of the Press.

A further twist to this tale took place in 2001, with the realisation that existing laws were inadequate to deal with the internet. Instead of liberalising, the Italian Government sought to bring the internet into the same framework as traditional print media. Law 62, passed in March 2001, introduces the concept of 'stampa clandestina' to the internet.

The suspicion expressed by a number of commentators is that this extension of the law suited government and publishers alike. The state was able to maintain its benevolent stranglehold on the media, whilst publishers could use the system of authorisation and regulation as a means to extend state subsidies to their ventures on the internet.

What few noticed at the time was that this law had the capacity to place blogs on a par with full-blown journalism. It would only take a judge to decide that something as simple as a headline was what defined a 'newspaper'.

One of the supporters of this law in 2001 was Giuseppe Giulietti, now a Deputy with the Italia di Valori Parliamentary Grouping.

Back then, he brushed aside criticism of the proposed law with the reassurance that 'The Press Law has never had as its objective the regulation of the online community'.

What a difference a few years make. Earlier this month, the same Giuseppe Giulietti could be found writing to the Minister for Justice that 'current logic means that almost the entire Italian internet, by its very nature, could be considered illegal – 'stampa clandestina' – which is a complete contravention of the democratic rulebook'.

So is this just a storm in a teacup? After all, if this law potentially affects some 5 million Italian websites, there are at least 4,999,999 that have not yet been taken down. Why was Carlo Ruta singled out?

One clue lies in the location of the court that found him guilty (Sicily). Another, in the fact that his blog contained much detailed research of links between politics and the mafia – always a sensitive subject in Italy.

Since May, a Calabrian journalist and blogger, Antonino Monteleone, has also fallen foul of local magistrates, suggesting that the genie is now well and truly out of the bottle. Failing a reversal of the Ruta ruling in a higher court, it is going to need action at the parliamentary level to guarantee an Italian freedom to blog and to return the law to what most Italians believed it to be. ®"



(Via The Register.)

Friday, 19 September 2008

Time...

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Thursday, 18 September 2008

The Mac Tablet...

...nobody is sure whether (a) one is even on the drawing board at Infinite Loop or (b) what it will look like, although there are some nice mockups by fans here. But this one is just plain funny!

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A fight in the playground?

Whilst this is a good and noble cause, to be honest, I can't see the Supremes, packed as they are with Republican/Bush appointees, stopping this bill anytime soon:

EFF Sues NSA, President Bush, and VP Cheney: "VisualE writes 'The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) will file a lawsuit against the National Security Agency (NSA) and other government agencies today on behalf of AT&T customers to stop the illegal, unconstitutional, and ongoing dragnet surveillance of their communications and communications records. The five individual plaintiffs are also suing President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Cheney's chief of staff David Addington, former Attorney General and White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales and other individuals who ordered or participated in the warrantless domestic surveillance.'(Via Slashdot.)

T-Mobile 3G expanding to 21 markets inc. Orlando, by mid-October

Now we're gaining some momentum! After waiting and waiting for T-Mobile to get their high-speed wireless broadband market going, the ball is rolling. In fairness, T-Mo was delayed when they had to wait for the Feds to give up usage of that valuable spectrum. Are the squatters all gone then? They will be in these cities within the next four weeks: Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, Orlando, Philadelphia, Sacramento, San Francisco and Seattle all get lit up soon. Six markets follow by year-end: Birmingham, Denver, Detroit, Kansas City, Memphis and Tampa join the 3G goodness. Now if we can just get some handsets to leverage the 3G speeds, we'd all be happy. Of course, we figure that Google Android phone that's officially getting unveiled next week ought to tide folks over for bit, right?"(Via jkOnTheRun.)

Shiver me timbers

Shiver me timbers: "Life in Somalia's pirate town

By Mary Harper
BBC Africa analyst

Whenever word comes out that pirates have taken yet another ship in the Somali region of Puntland, extraordinary things start to happen.

Pirate attacks off the coast of Somalia have been surging
There is a great rush to the port of Eyl, where most of the hijacked vessels are kept by the well-armed pirate gangs.
People put on ties and smart clothes. They arrive in land cruisers with their laptops, one saying he is the pirates' accountant, another that he is their chief negotiator.
With yet more foreign vessels seized off the coast of Somalia this week, it could be said that hijackings in the region have become epidemic.
Insurance premiums for ships sailing through the busy Gulf of Aden have increased tenfold over the past year because of the pirates, most of whom come from the semi-autonomous region of Puntland.
In Eyl, there is a lot of money to be made, and everybody is anxious for a cut.
Entire industry
The going rate for ransom payments is between $300,000 and $1.5m (£168,000-£838,000).
A recent visitor to the town explained how, even though the number of pirates who actually take part in a hijacking is relatively small, the whole modern industry of piracy involves many more people.

'The number of people who make the first attack is small, normally from seven to 10,' he said.
'They go out in powerful speedboats armed with heavy weapons. But once they seize the ship, about 50 pirates stay on board the vessel. And about 50 more wait on shore in case anything goes wrong.'
Given all the other people involved in the piracy industry, including those who feed the hostages, it has become a mainstay of the Puntland economy.
Eyl has become a town tailor-made for pirates - and their hostages.
Special restaurants have even been set up to prepare food for the crews of the hijacked ships.
As the pirates want ransom payments, they try to look after their hostages.
When commandos from France freed two French sailors seized by pirates off the Somali coast this week, President Nicolas Sarkozy said he had given the go-ahead for the operation when it was clear the pirates were headed for Eyl - it would have been too dangerous to try to free them from there.
The town is a safe-haven where very little is done to stop the pirates - leading to the suggestion that some, at least, in the Puntland administration and beyond have links with them.
Many of them come from the same clan - the Majarteen clan of the president of Somalia's transitional federal government, Abdullahi Yusuf.
Money to spend
The coastal region of Puntland is booming.
Fancy houses are being built, expensive cars are being bought - all of this in a country that has not had a functioning central government for nearly 20 years.
Observers say pirates made about $30m from ransom payments last year - far more than the annual budget of Puntland, which is about $20m.

A Canadian navy ship escorted a recent delivery of food aid to Somalia
When the president of Puntland, Adde Musa, was asked about the reported wealth of pirates and their associates, he said: 'It's more than true'.
Now that they are making so much money, these 21st Century pirates can afford increasingly sophisticated weapons and speedboats.
This means that unless more is done to stop them, they will continue to plunder the busy shipping lanes through the Gulf of Aden.
They even target ships carrying aid to feed their compatriots - up to a third of the population.
Warships from France, Canada and Malaysia, among others, now patrol the Somali coast to try and fend off pirate attacks.
An official at the International Maritime Organisation explained how the well-armed pirates are becoming increasingly bold.
More than 30% of the world's oil is transported through the Gulf of Aden, and even though the pirates lack the means to hijack huge tankers, there are reports that they have fired at them.
'It is only a matter of time before something horrible happens,' said the official.
'If the pirates strike a hole in the tanker, and there's an oil spill, there could be a huge environmental disaster'.
It is likely that piracy will continue to be a problem off the coast of Somalia as long as the violence and chaos continues on land.
Conflict can be very good for certain types of business, and piracy is certainly one of them.
Weapons are easy to obtain and there is no functioning authority to stop them, either on land or at sea.
"



(Via BBC News.)

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Hotels - put free WiFi in the rooms

Couldn't agree more! After paying $12.99 per 24 hours at The Hilton in Las vegas, I felt aggrieved when I had the self-same issues as JK experienced. Why expensive hotels feel the need to charge for something that cheaper ones give for free, is beyond me. Apart from the fact that a lot of the former are hosts to business travellers who can claim this on expenses!

Hotels - put free WiFi in the rooms: "

I am in downtown San Francisco and one of the first things I tried to do when I got here was get connected to the web in the hotel.' That's the life of a tech blogger, Internet first, everything else second.' I was immediately confronted with a scenario all too common for frequent travelers, the lack of free hotel connectivity.' In this day and age I can't understand why hotels, especially big chains, don't realize that good solid connectivity is an important feature for business travelers.' There are still many hotels believe it or not that don't have connectivity available at all and many that do provide it don't get it.



The hotel where I am now is a big hotel full of business folk and it's common to see laptops all over the lobby and in the various venues onsite.' That's because they still charge $14.95 per day for in-room Internet and as I quickly discovered that may not get you very much.' Since it's a legitimate business expense I tapped into the wired ethernet in the room, approving the daily charge and jumping online to get some work done.' What I experienced is very spotty bandwidth ranging from reasonable to downright poky all too often.' I checked the bandwidth at one point and was pretty annoyed by what I saw- 346 kbps down and 150 kbps up.' This is barely better than the days of dialup and certainly not acceptable for $15 a day.' This is not that unusual a case, I have seen this many times in different hotels who contract out the connectivity and then forget about it.



This hotel is not unusual in that while the room connectivity is spotty and expensive, they have free WiFi in many of the common areas like the lobby and restaurants.' So there's just no reason why they can't go ahead and blanket the rooms with the same coverage.' Sure it will cost them some money but in the long run they'll have happy business travelers returning every chance they get.' I've heard many road warrriors state that connectivity is the primary criteria they use for choosing a hotel.' It's just good business.' Solid connectivity is now a requirement for many business travelers and should be treated as such by the big hotels.



On a plus note I've determined that Union Square is blanketed with free WiFi which is very cool.' It's a strong signal that shows full strength even outside the park and that's nice indeed.


Thursday, 4 September 2008

Watch out US taxpayers: IRS networks riddled with vulns, rogue servers

"The US Internal Revenue Service is putting tax payers at risk by operating thousands of web servers that contain security vulnerabilities or have not received proper authorization, a new report has concluded.
According to the Treasury Inspector for the Tax Administration - a Treasury Department watchdog - the IRS operates 2,093 web servers with at least one vulnerability. It said 540 of those servers contained one or more vulnerabilities rated high risk. The report identified 1,811 internal servers that had not been approved to connect to the network. Some 1,150 of those were being used for non-business purposes.

Under IRS rules, all internal websites and servers must be registered with the agency's Modernization and Information Technology Services organization.
'Unauthorized servers pose a greater risk because the IRS has no way to ensure that they will be continually configured in accordance with security standards and patched when new vulnerabilities are identified,' the report's authors wrote. 'Malicious hackers or employees could exploit the vulnerabilities on these web servers to manipulate data on the servers or to use the servers as launch points to attack other computers connected to the network.'
Examples of high-risk vulnerabilities included buffer overflow weaknesses and servers that used blank passwords. The authors blamed the vulnerabilities on employees who failed to carry out duties as required.
The report offered five recommendations that included assigning responsibility for registration of specific servers, the blocking of unauthorized servers from the IRS network and an annual scan of the network to identify all machines that are connected.
The full report is available here. ®
"



(Via The Register.)

Vacation time....

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In the meantime, please do not adjust your receivers...

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Tobacco Could Hold the Key to Revolutionary Gene Therapy

Tobacco Could Hold the Key to Revolutionary Gene Therapy: "After centuries of giving humanity little more than nicotine and death, the tobacco plant may be the wellspring of a revolution in gene therapy.
Scientists are using a modified tobacco virus to deliver delicate gene therapies into the heart of diseased cells, with the potential to treat most cancers, viruses and genetic disorders.
The tobacco mosaic virus, which plagues the plant but is harmless to humans, is hollowed out and filled with 'small interfering RNA' molecules, or siRNA, which some scientists consider to be the most significant development in medicine since the discovery of vaccines.
The virus' tubular shell provides a safe way to slip the delicate siRNA drugs into cells, serving as both a protective coating and a Trojan horse.

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'This tobacco mosaic virus is literally a nano-sized syringe,' says William Bentley, a professor of bioengineering at the University of Maryland, who is leading the study of the virus.
Bentley's team has successfully hollowed out the virus and filled it with siRNA, and then used it to slip the frail substance into all sorts of cells, from kidney tissue to cancer. The researchers have proven that the tiny capsules provide adequate protection, and that they release their payloads once inside -- hitting their target genes right on the mark.
The short, double-stranded RNA molecules known as siRNA can program cells to destroy disease-causing proteins. Their molecules turn on a cell's own built-in disease-fighting mechanisms. They can be programmed for a wide range of ailments -- from cancers to viruses -- and because they use the cell's own defense mechanisms, they produce minimal side effects.
In addition to treating cancers and genetic disorders, siRNA could prove useful against a variety of rare diseases that have, and always will be, overlooked by big pharmaceutical companies -- the long tail of disease.
People suffering from similar, exotic maladies could band together and recruit a small team of scientists, as if they were the Seven Samurai, to champion their cause and quickly design a cure.
‘The speed with which you develop siRNA drugs is truly amazing,’ said Stephen Hyde. ‘In the past, a traditional small molecule drug might take several years of intensive research effort by a large team of scientists to develop. Today, with siRNA technology, it is possible for a single researcher to develop a drug candidate in a few weeks.’
Says Stuart Pollard, the vice president of Alnylam, a New England biotech firm that specializes in gene-blocking drugs: 'RNA interference is a revolution in biology.'
The problem is in the delivery: siRNA molecules are very fragile, and can’t get where they need to go without some assistance. 
‘Unfortunately, siRNA drug molecules are easily damaged and thus the biggest challenge to their use is developing methods to deliver enough of the siRNA to the place in the body where they can be used to combat disease,’ says Hyde.
Scientists have been looking for a better way to deliver the delicate molecules inside the body. Researchers have tried packaging the ephemeral drug in adenoviruses -- tiny spheres that cause respiratory infections -- or nanoparticles. But adenoviruses can play havoc with the immune system and nanoparticles can cause all sorts of collateral damage.
Some scientists avoid the problem entirely by developing drugs that operate in the eyes and lungs – areas where RNA can survive without much support. Meanwhile, siRNA therapies are being tested as a cure for respiratory syncitial virus, blindness and pachyonychia congenita (an exotic genetic disorder).
In a recent clinical trial, Alnylam packed siRNA into a nasal inhaler and found the spray cut in half the number of patients who were infected with respiratory syncitial virus. Even better, the drug had no side effects. It was comparable to a saltwater placebo.
A lucky coincidence led Bentley and his team at the University of Maryland to use the tobacco mosaic virus as a delivery mechanism. 
His lab is across the hall from the office of James Culver, a biotechnology expert who had been using the virus to produce nano wires and batteries.
Bentley's team can produce boatloads of the plant pathogen, empty it out and cram siRNA into the hollow core. 
Bentley hopes that a drug company will take interest in his discovery, but he has a long way to go before it is ready for human trials. First, the team must gather more evidence that the system is an effective way to deliver medicine. It has worked with cells in a dish, but not yet been proven effective in living organisms.
Unfortunately, some scientists foresee a problem that could make the viral carrier unsuitable for long term use: Humans will eventually develop an immune response to the plant virus that would limit their effectiveness.
Bentley is optimistic that the virus will not cause health problems because most people already have traces of it in their blood -- from second-hand smoke -- and it does not seem to cause irritation or obvious immune-system problems.
Protecting the payload is not the only challenge, said Ben Berkhout, a biotechnology expert at the University of Amsterdam. Even if the delicate molecules are packaged in the perfect substance, they still need some sort of a guidance system.
'You want to efficiently get the siRNA drug into the cells where the therapeutic action should be,’ said Berkhout.
By coating each tube with special proteins that can recognize and penetrate cancer cells, Bentley's team hopes to make smart drugs that will only go where they are needed.
If that trick works, tobacco may finally be able to turn over a new leaf.
Image: The protein sheath of a tobacco mosaic virus is essentially a 18-nanometer wide straw, which can be packed with disease-fighting RNA. Credit: Faye Levine"



(Via Wired News.)

Beautiful steam-punk image

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Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Google Chrome - first benchmarks. Summary: wow!

"We've got the first comparative benchmarks of Google Chrome, which we downloaded around half an hour ago as the official launch podcast came to an end.

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We'll be looking at Chrome very closely over the next few days: modern browsers are complex beasts,..."



(Via ZDNet UK Blogs - Rupert's Diary.)

Monday, 1 September 2008

The US area code and some trivia...

407 is the area code for around here. But, just as in the UK, the powers that be, failed to foresee growth and were forced to use 321 as a newer one. People hated it - just as they did in the UK when the snobbery over 0171 and 0181 was at its height. But, 321 came from the East coast and you can still dial 321-LIFTOFF and get through to Cape Canaveral...

More details on the process here and some shots:

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