Doomsday via Malware

Sometimes the most fascinating posts are found in blog comments rather than the main article. I found this bit of wisdom by the post’s author (Tor developer Mike Perry) but buried in the comments to his post PRISM vs. Tor (emphasis in original):

I truly believe that the use of weaponized exploits risks crashing the world economy. Software engineering is simply not prepared to deal with this threat.

With the number of dependencies present in large software projects, there is no way any amount of global surveillance, isolation, or firewalling could sufficiently isolate and protect the software development process of widely deployed software projects in order to prevent scenarios where malware sneaks in through a dependency into software that is critical to the function of the world economy.

Such malware could be quite simple: One day, a timer goes off, and any computer running the infected software turns into a brick.

This shit is a doomsday scenario on the order of nuclear conflagration, and anything short of global disarmament risks humanity or at least large sectors of the world economy losing access to computing for months or even years.

There is no M.A.D. scenario as a deterrent here either. Stockpiling more exploits does not make us safer. In fact, the more exploits exist, the higher the risk of the wrong one leaking — and it really only takes a chain of just a few of the right exploits for this to happen. There will also be no clear vector for retaliation. Moreover, how do you retaliate if you have no functioning computer systems or networks left?

If there’s anything we should be spending the NSA’s $10B+/yr budget on, it’s making sure key software development processes are secure against tampering, exploitation, and backdoors, not reading people’s fucking email.

End the madness before it’s too late.

For those that aren’t familiar with Tor, it is a volunteer project that protects user’s privacy online by encrypting traffic and randomly routing it through a series of relays. Originally developed for the US Navy, it is now used by a wide variety of people and is recommended by the EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation). The post’s author, Mike Perry, is one of Tor’s developers.

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600 Years of Kitty Mayhem

Some things never change, and one of those seems to be the utter disregard that cats have for that which is important to us, but not them. From The Atlantic:

13th Century Manuscript

Now, via medievalist Emir O. Filipovic, evidence that cats have been up to this same mischief for six centuries: inky pawprints, gracing a page of the 13th volume of “Lettere e commissioni di Levante,” which collated copies of letters and instructions that the Dubrovnik/Ragusan government sent to its merchants and envoys throughout southeastern Europe (Bosnia, Serbia, Croatia etc.), according to Filipovic — sort of a 15th-century Federal Register. The particular document that the cat got its paws on dates to March 11th, 1445.

Consider the hours it took for the poor scribe to copy and bind the book. The modern day equivalent of kitty carelessly strolling across your keyboard and deleting your term paper.

Good thing kitties are so damn cute or we would of killed them out a long time ago.

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Autoimmune Diseases in Modern Times

I give you a fascinating pair of articles from Wired on the topic of the dramatic rise of autoimmune diseases in modern times.

The first extracts some verbiage from a book on the topic, but specifically addresses the island of Sardinia in the Mediterranean:

Book Excerpt: An Epidemic of Absence

That is a great set-up for the 2nd article:

Q&A: Parasites, Modern Life and Immune Systems Gone Haywire

In part:

A fast-growing body of research suggests that immune systems, produced by millions of years of evolution in a microbe-rich world, rely on certain exposures to calibrate themselves. Disrupt those exposures, as we have through modern medicine, food and lifestyle, and things go haywire.

Interesting theory.

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Cool Space History

Wired Science has a pretty awesome list of Botched Spacewalks, Crash Landings, and Smuggled Sandwiches: Spaceflight’s Most Badass Maneuvers. Here’s just one:

Cooper’s Landing

Astronaut Gordon Cooper, one of the original seven Mercury astronauts, probably wins as the most clear-headed and fast-thinking space pilot of all time. On the final manned Mercury mission in 1963, Cooper flew the Faith 7 spacecraft into orbit.

After nearly 20 successful trips around Earth, Faith 7 experienced a life-threatening malfunction. Carbon dioxide levels in the vehicle began to climb and the temperature jumped to over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Cool as a cucumber, Cooper took manual control of the spaceship and estimated the angle he needed to approach for re-entry. By using star patterns, drawing lines on his window, and checking his wristwatch to keep time, Cooper calculated his orientation and fired his rockets at just the right time to land almost exactly by the ship waiting to pick him up.

Now that’s the stuff heroes are made of.

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Bradbury, Genius of my Childhood

Celebrated author Ray Bradbury passed away today at the age of 91. I have several of Bradbury’s books, well worn from the hours I spent reading and re-reading them.

With his death comes a renewed interest in his work. Younger folk who have never read his stories are asking where they should start. To them, I say this:

Bradbury is very different than most authors, and when you first read his unusual style you will either love him or hate him. That said, this is the order that I recommend you ease into reading his work:

  1. Fahrenheit 451 (this was poorly made into a movie but it is a must-read classic, along the lines of 1984)
  2. Something Wicked This Way Comes (probably my favorite of all)
  3. The Martian Chronicles (probably his most notable, after Fahrenheit 451, deservedly so)
  4. Illustrated Man (short stories, very strange, very different, very riveting)
  5. Dandelion Wine (if you liked Something Wicked, you’ll like this one)
  6. I Sing the Body Electric (especially if you want more short stories – he was a master of short stories)

I am jealous of anyone discovering Bradbury for the first time and loving him as much as I do. It is a rare and wonderful experience.

Rest in peace, Mr. Bradbury. And thank you for the many, many hours of entertainment.

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Safely Viewing Venus Transit Today

Many sources are telling people that welder’s filters are safe for viewing today’s transit of Venus across the sun, an event that won’t occur again until the year 2017. This advice is both true and dangerously incomplete!
If you buy a welder’s filter it must be shade number 14 and either:
  1. Green Glass (which is fragile and increasing difficult to obtain, now becoming a special order item at welding stores)
  2. Polycarbonate with gold coating (polycarbonate alone provides glare protection for the visible light spectrum but is nearly transparent to infared)
Many #14 welder’s filters lack the gold coating and so many people are suffering eye damage that experts are considering dropping the welder’s filter recommendation altogether.
See Doctor (of astronomy) Ralph Chou’s presentation of ways to view the Venus transit on YouTube at
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Exercise Makes You Smarter

I knew that puzzles and other brain exercises were being debunked, but this is encouraging:

According to Gretchen Reynolds, author of the soon to be released The First 20 Minutes, a book about the science of exercise, recent research shows that exercise can help your brain resist physical shrinkage and improve cognitive flexibility.

“Exercise,” she writes in this New York Times article, “…does more to bolster thinking than thinking does.”

Here’s why. Your brain is a tissue and so like any other tissue, abuse, lack of use, and especially age causes its performance to decline. Sometime in our late twenties the hippocampus, the portion of our brains devoted to learning and memory, loses about a percent per year in total volume. So it’s no surprise that as we get older we naturally lose some of our memory and learning capacity.

But what is surprising is that, just like with your muscles, exercise can slow or even reverse the physical decay of your brain.

Read it all: Boost Your Brain Power: A Simple Exercise |

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How Big is the Universe?

Impressive animation showing relative sizes of some of our most impressive neighbors:

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TheNextWeb published the picture below [click through for full size pic] showing the size of a 5 MB drive in 1956, noting that it weighed over a ton (hence the forklift):

Wikipedia informs us that this was the first commercially available hard disk derive, the IBM Model 350 disk storage to be used with an IBM 305 RAMAC system.

This drive had fifty 24 inches (0.61 m) platters, with a total capacity of five million characters. A single head assembly having two heads was used for access to all the platters, yielding an average access time of just under 1 second.

And now I carry faster, larger, better storage on my keychain. Ain’t technology wonderful?

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Sun Diving Comet

Who would’a thunk it? A big chunk of ice surviving a trip through the sun’s corona:

Lovejoy is newly-discovered and among a class of comets called Kreutz sungrazers whose immense orbits take them through or near the Sun’s surface. The comet, an icy rock with a core only about 660 feet in diameter, was first spotted just a few weeks ago.

When its course was plotted, scientists realized it was headed for a certain fiery demise.

So, NASA trained a couple of its satellites on the scene and waited to capture The End.

Except they got a celestial surprise.

Here’s a brief — and we do mean brief — video of the comet emerging from its close encounter of the solar kind.

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