Sunday, February 28, 2010

Over Four Dozen Space Agencies (and Growing?)

"Number of Worldwide Space Agencies on the Rise" (February 25, 2010)

"The number of nations with national space agencies has continued a sharp climb after a pause in the 1990s, rising from 40 in 2000 to about 55 in 2009, according to a survey by Paris-based Euroconsult.

"Some of these nations' space endeavors remain fragile, one or two projects often focused on small Earth-observation satellites. Euroconsult suggests it is too early to determine whether these new organizations will receive the government funding needed to establish themselves permanently.

"In its survey 'Profiles of Government Space Programs: Analysis of 60 Countries & Agencies,' Euroconsult says that globally, civil government space spending increased by 9 percent in 2009 in U.S. dollar terms, reaching $36 billion.

"Growth was faster for the military space sector, with governments in 2009 increasing their spending to $32 billion, a 12 percent increase over 2008.

"Separating civil from military programs is no small task, especially in nations that use military personnel for civil space efforts or specialize in dual-use systems that are sometimes funded from what are ostensibly nonmilitary institutions...."

Welcome to the 21st century.

I've seen space transportation systems grow from Sputnik, Vanguard, and the dreams of scientists who were still trying to convince (some) teachers that rockets don't need air to push against, to the International Space Station and companies like Blue Origin. It's an exciting era.

And, obviously, quite a few people around the world are paying attention.

I think it makes as much sense for national governments to take an interest in developing a presence in space, as it does for them to want their country to engage in international trade. The military angle? Well, I think it would be nice if everybody would be nice: but that's not gonna happen.

As interesting as governmental involvement is, what I think is most promising is the number of private-sector outfits that are getting involved in spaceliner development.

"Spaceliner development?" If that sounds like something out of science fiction, try this on for size: America now has over a half-dozen spaceports.

Related posts:

Earthquakes, Nuclear Winter, the End of the World, and All That

"Big quake question: Are they getting worse?"
LiveScience, via MSNBC (February 27, 2010)

"Seismic shockers are to be expected, but planet seems to be more active"

"Chile is on a hotspot of sorts for earthquake activity. And so the 8.8-magnitude temblor that shook the region overnight was not a surprise, historically speaking. Nor was it outside the realm of normal, scientists say, even though it comes on the heels of other major earthquakes.

"One scientist, however, says that relative to the time period from the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s, Earth has been more active over the past 15 years or so...."

'And we're all gonna die?'

I don't doubt that there's more tectonic activity each year now, than in the mid-70s. That was then, this is now: and natural events do seem to go in cycles. We call the weather cycle that's associated with Earth's orbit "seasons." There may be patterns of earthquakes and volcanism that we don't know about yet.

But in answer to the 'screamer' headline on this topic in another source, "Is nature out of control?" - I rather doubt it.

On the other hand, if I had the ethical deficit it would take to do so: I could probably make quite a lot of money by writing a book about how the world was coming to an end. In about four or five years, to give people plenty of time to buy copies.

Maybe I'd take pronouncements of doom more seriously, if I hadn't seen so many come and go as the decades rolled by: and hadn't taken the trouble to sort out facts and assertions - and research the facts.

More about change and getting a grip, at:

Chile Earthquake Aftershocks

"Expect 'Large, Vigorous Aftershocks' in Chile, Warns USGS"
FOXNews (February 27, 2010)

"Strong aftershocks can be associated with major temblors, even weeks or years after the main event. But they are primarily felt in the first 24 to 48 hours, and more should be expected.

" 'A large, vigorous aftershock sequence can be expected from this earthquake,' warns the U.S. Geological Survey. There have already been a number of aftershocks to hit Chile since the devastating 8.8 magnitude quake that struck early Saturday, the largest registering at magnitude 6.9, according to the USGS.

"In the 2 1/2 hours following the 90-second quake, the U.S. Geological Survey reported 11 aftershocks, of which five measured 6.0 or above...."

(NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, via FOXNews)

The article's a pretty good backgrounder on the science of earthquakes.

Related post, with list of charities:

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Piscatorial Pursuits - It's Not What You May Think

Piscatorial Pursuits

"Whether you're looking to book an Alaska salmon & halibut fishing package or a Washington fishing trip out of Forks on the Olympic Peninsula, helpful info on how to fish on your own, recipes, Kenai Peninsula tide tables for halibut fishing or clamming, or perhaps some of the most popular fishing bulletin boards / forums ... you've found the right place!

"Our site menu will load to the left. Just mouse-over the buttons for links to the information or fishing trip that you're looking for. If you have any difficulties viewing the menu, text links appear at the bottom of every page!..."

There's something fishy about this website.

Sorry: it had to be said.

Seriously? If you like fishing, you'll probably like this website. It may not be the 'ultimate' website for folks who fish, but it looks promising.

And, updated. The most recent 'Site News' update was January 29, 2010.


Quake in Chile, Tsunamis Around the Pacific

Updated 11:26 a.m. (February 27, 2010)

"Pacific nations gear for tsunami after Chile quake"

(National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration, via AFP, via BBC, used w/o permission)

"Nations around the Pacific Ocean are on full alert for a possible tsunami following the devastating earthquake that hit Chile on Saturday morning.

"Tsunami warnings have been sounded in an area affecting about a quarter of the globe.

"Waves will spread from the epicentre of the 8.8 quake in central Chile and may strike land bordering the Pacific in the next 24 hours.

"People in the Galapagos and on Easter Island have already taken refuge.

"Large waves are already reported to have struck Chile's Juan Fernandez island group, reaching halfway into one inhabited area. Three people there are missing, local media say. Two aid ships are reported to be on their way...."

There's a link list of charities, with some additional contact information, at the end of this post.
"UPDATE 11-Massive earthquake strikes Chile, 122 dead"
Reuters (February 27, 2010)

"A huge magnitude-8.8 earthquake struck Chile early on Saturday, killing at least 122 people, knocking down homes and hospitals, and triggering a tsunami that rolled menacingly across the Pacific.
Quake in Chile, Tsunamis Around the Pacific
"TV Chile reported that a 15-storey building collapsed in the hardest-hit city of Concepcion, where buildings caught fire, major highway bridges collapsed and cracks opened up in the streets. Cars turned upside down lay scattered across one damaged bridge.

"Residents huddled in streets full of rubble of masonry and glass from destroyed homes. Many were terrified by powerful aftershocks and desperately trying to call friends and family.

"Chilean President-elect Sebastian Pinera said 122 people had been killed and the death toll could climb higher...."

By comparison, Haiti's January 12, 2010, quake was 7.0 magnitude.

As often happens in large-scale disasters like this, it's hard to get a 'big picture' idea of just how much damage has been done. Communications systems are down, so it may be quite a while before the folks in Chile know what they're dealing with

Meanwhile, it looks like the Hawaiian Islands will experience a tsunami in roughly three and a half hours.

"Sirens Sound on Hawaiian Coasts"
The New York Times (February 27, 2010)

"Evacuation alarms sounded in Hawaii’s vulnerable coastal areas at 6 a.m. local time Saturday, (11 a.m. Eastern) as the region prepared for what federal officials say could be a dangerous — but most likely not catastrophic — tsunami to hit the islands in the aftermath of the earthquake in Chile.

"The tsunami was expected to arrive in Hawaii at 11:20 a.m., or 4:20 p.m. Eastern time.

"Brian R. Shiro, geophysicist at NOAA Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Ewa Beach, Hawaii, said that computer models show that the impact will be greatest in such spots as Hilo Bay on Hawaii Island and Kahului Harbor in Maui.

"In those areas, the tsunami waves could reach as high as six to 10 feet, Mr. Shiro said. Elsewhere in Hawaii, the waves will likely be only about two to three feet.

"Officials warned that all coastal areas in Hawaii could be affected because the wave can reach around the islands as it passes the region...."

Here We Go Again

Even Australia may get noticeable waves from this quake, I've heard.

I doubt that Australian towns and cities will have a problem dealing with the waves, by the time they get there. (Famous last words?) The same goes for Hawaii, and many other places on and in the Pacific.

On the other hand, some folks will need assistance - or at least could use it. After the Haiti quake, I put together a list of charities: with a little editing, I think it'll do for the current situation.

You don't have do do anything, of course: and maybe you can't. No pressure. On the other hand, if you do think that contributing something is a good idea, and can do so, here's an edited copy of that list:

List of Charities

No guarantees made, or implied: but I think these are a pretty good place to start:

New Stroke Treatment: It'll Make Your Blood Run Cold

"Blood-Chilling Device Could Save Stroke Victims From Brain Damage"
Wired Science, Wired (February 26, 2010)

"Cool runnings, indeed. A tiny device placed inside a central vein can safely refrigerate blood as it flows through stroke patients, lowering their temperature and raising the possibility that they might gain brain protection from hypothermia without having to be packed in ice.

"Although the trial didn’t find that stroke patients getting their blood cooled fared any better or worse than a comparison group of patients who weren’t cooled, the technology proved safe enough to clear the way for testing the device in a much larger group, said Thomas Hemmen, a neurologist at the University of California, San Diego Medical Center who presented the data Feb. 25 at the International Stroke Conference.

"The new results also demonstrate that stroke patients can be cooled down to 91.4 degrees Fahrenheit safely while they are receiving a powerful clot-busting drug called tPA, the standard treatment given to patients during the first few hours of a clot-induced stroke...."

This sounds like promising medical technology.

The brain is one of the organs we can't replace at this point, so it's very important to keep in in good working order. Which isn't easy when something's gone wrong with the oxygen supply in our head.

The theory, as near as I can tell, is that by reducing the brain's temperature, the rate at which it runs through supplies goes down. Chemical reactions go faster with more heat, slower with less - as a rule.

The article also explains why stroke patients aren't packed in ice to drop their body temperature. A cardiac arrest victim is unconscious - and presumably won't notice the discomfort. Think about it: ever had your hand in a freezer, trying to dislodge something? After a while it hurts. Now, imagine that all over your body and head.

This procedure, refrigerating blood through an IV, apparently isn't as uncomfortable.

And, may be better than something we know changes the way our bodies process oxygen: putting our face in cold water. The mammalian dive reflex doesn't work in humans quite the same way it does in aquatic animals: but it does work. That's (probably) why some of those kids pulled out from under the ice recover.

Yeah: A refrigerated IV probably is better than being dropped in ice water without a mask.

Anyway: Quite an interesting look at a developing technology.

Safety Advice for Twitter Users: Or Anybody Else

"Top 10 Tips for Staying Safe on Twitter" (February 24, 2010)

"Say what you want on Twitter but be careful about it, warns AVG (AU/NZ)

"Melbourne, 24 February 2010. Last weekend, there was another Twitter security breach — a phishing attack. As the Twitter micro blogging service comes into its fourth year of existence, it is more popular than ever, which makes it a perfect target for cyber criminals. The nature of Twitter has always meant to be very open, so what are the best ways to protect yourself?..."

It's the usual 10-point numbered list format of common-sense advice.

Twitter's in the title, but people in any online community should be paying attention.

Twitter's been in the news quite a bit, lately - I don't think it's a particularly vulnerable network, but it's big, so anything that goes wrong is going to be on a large scale.

The article doesn't put it this way, maybe because many people don't know about postcards these days(?), but the best & shortest 'sound bite' advice I've run into for anything online is - if you wouldn't write it on a postcard, don't post it online.

Pretty good advice, I think.
A tip of the hat to Twitter_Tips, on Twitter, for the heads-up on this article.

Blue Origin: Another Company Building Spaceships

"Veil Lifts Slightly on Secretive Blue Origin Rocket Project" (February 26, 2010)

"For all the shake, rattle and roll that a rocket emits on takeoff, the secretive private rocket firm Blue Origin is still keeping quiet even as new details are emerging regarding its new vertical launch and landing rocket.

"Bankrolled by the super-wealthy Jeff Bezos, founder of, Blue Origin has been busy fabricating its New Shepard rocket. The spacecraft has been shrouded in secrecy since work began, but Blue Origin officials lifted the veil slightly in recent weeks.

"New Shepard is being built to eventually haul a crew of three or more astronauts to the suborbital heights, explained Gary Lai, the group's engineer/manager responsible for crew cabin development...."

"...Taking all of two and a half minutes to accelerate, the vehicle trajectory coasts the craft to the edge of space after shutting off its engines. In doing so, "high-quality" microgravity is promised in durations of three minutes or more.

"New Shepard would depart from Blue Origin's already operational private spaceport in west Texas.

" 'The trajectory is nearly vertical . . . straight up, straight down,' Lai told the audience. 'We will reenter vertically and restart the engines and do a powered landing on the propulsion module.'..."

(from Blue Origin, via, used w/o permission)

Photos of the Goddard demonstration vehicle look a lot like the McDonnell Douglas Delta Clipper, only wider. Lai said that the production version of the Blue Origin spacecraft wouldn't necessarily look like the Goddard - so we still don't know all that much about where they're going. Apart from "up."

I've written before, that we're looking at a new sort of 'space program' now, at least here in America. For example, Blue Origin and four other commercial spaceflight outfits are getting a piece of $50,000,000 that's part of NASA's efforts to support commercial spaceflight development.

I think it makes sense. Most major countries these days are as interested in being able to travel in space without hitching a ride, as they are in having their own surface and air transportation systems. Letting interested and competent companies develop spaceships - and bankrolling some of the development costs - is, I think, a good idea.

Related posts:

Friday, February 26, 2010

'Human Tetris:' Another Strange Japanese Game Show

"Human Tetris The Grand Master 4 (Japanese Show)"

aaaaaaa4000, YouTube (October 04, 2007)
video, 6:19

"Human Tetris 6 is here.

"The original title is "BRAIN WALL"."

Following overwhelming response (two comments) to an earlier micro-review of the weird and wild world of Japanese game shows, I'm back: with "Brain Wall" - or, as aaaaaaa4000 calls it, human Tetris.

It's not, really, much like the Tetris game - but I see the connection.

And, it looks like a lot of fun. If you're limber and don't mind wearing a gold lamé hooded jumpsuit.

My favorite of the lot was the second "breakdance" contestant. For riding it through to the end, if nothing else. The team event after that? Good heavens. I don't know what to say.

I think this video would be more fun for someone who understands Japanese - but the action alone is fun. My opinion. (8,147,547 views, when I checked, show I'm probably not the only one.)

Related posts:

Microsoft, Domains, Zombie Computers, and Spam

"Microsoft shuts down global spam network"
BBC (February 25, 2010)

"Microsoft has won court approval to shut down a global network of computers which it says is responsible for more than 1.5bn spam messages every day.

"A US judge granted the firm's request to shut down 277 internet domains, which it said were used to 'command and control' the so-called Waledac botnet...."

"...Microsoft said that although it had effectively shut down the network, thousands of computers would still be infected with malware and advised people to run anti-virus software.

"The court order was part of what was called 'Operation b49'.

"Along with intelligence organisation Shadowserver, the University of Washington and security firm Symantec, Microsoft managed to get a court in Alexandria, Virginia, to force Verisign, which manages the .com domain, to temporarily switch off the domains.

"Microsoft said it was the result of months of investigation and described it as a legal first...."

I suppose it's still fashionable, in some circles to hate Microsoft.

Still, I don't think many people will be too disappointed if they start getting a little less spam.

I think that, eventually, we'll have a legal system - or network of legal systems - around the world with the ability and willingness to identify and control the sort of activity that fills our inboxes with spam, infects our computers with malware, and keeps us busy dealing with these unnecessary problems - instead of getting something else done.

And, when we've got something like that - I'm sure there will be problems with the system. It'll be run by human beings - and we're not perfect.

Until there's something like the Internet Patrol, though: on the whole, I'm glad Microsoft is there.

Looking for Dark Matter, Deep Under Minnesota

"Elusive Dark Matter May Be Hidden on Earth" (February 25, 2010)

"Scientists are hot on the tail of one of nature's most elusive substances, the mysterious dark matter that is thought to make up the bulk of the universe. Many scientists think dark matter might even be hiding right under our noses here on Earth.

"Dark matter is especially tricky to find because of its dark nature. In fact, scientists don't know what it is. It doesn't emit or reflect any light, so the most powerful telescopes have no hope of spying it directly. It has been thought to exist since the 1970s based on observations of gravity's effects on large-scales, such as among and between galaxies – regular matter can't account for the amount of gravity at work.

"And dark matter doesn't often interact with most other matter, scientists theorize. One idea is that it flies right through the Earth, your house, and your body without bouncing off atoms...."

That last paragraph in the excerpt represents a huge improvement over quite a bit of media coverage of dark matter research. It took me a while - years back now - to learn that that "dark matter" wasn't simply material that wasn't illuminated - and wasn't hot enough to glow at observable wavelengths.

And yeah, dark matter really is exotic. So is dark energy.

If either exist.

Dark matter may be the 20th century's phlogiston. But as more and more data is crunched, it's looking like dark matter and dark energy exist.

That, or something that acts like them does.

I'm a little more-than-usually interested in this particular line of dark matter research: some of it's going on here in Minnesota, in the Soudan mine.

Putting a dark matter detector deep underground shields it from the sort of radiation and particles that are zipping around - and through - us all the time here on the surface. With 700 meters of shielding, there's a better chance of sorting out dark matter interactions with the detector from the background noise.

Dark matter isn't, apparently, just something that's 'out there.' It - or something that acts just like it - is in a cloud of stuff that's part of our Milky Way galaxy. Astronomers detected and mapped it, from its effect on the orbits of stars around our galaxy's center.

Looks like it's shaped sort of like like a rounded-off, and squashed, American football: It's a spheroid where the 'height,' 'length,' and 'width' are all different.

The odd thing is that, although it's clearly centered on the visible core of our galaxy - its longest axis is as right angles to the Milky Way's plane.

But that's another topic.

Related posts:More:

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Principality of Liechtenstein: Like the Duchy of Grand Fenwick, But This One's Real

Welcome to digital Liechtenstein
"the portal of the Principality of Liechtenstein"

Not Roy Lichtenstein, the artist. The Principality of Liechtenstein, in Europe.

The Principality of Liechtenstein has been around for a little longer than the United States of America.

"...The history of Liechtenstein as the Principality of Liechtenstein began in 1719, when Emperor Charles VI unified the Lordship of Schellenberg and the County of Vaduz and elevated them to an Imperial Principality by the name of Liechtenstein. In 1806, Liechtenstein became a member of the Confederation of the Rhine and obtained sovereignty, which it has maintained until today. In 2006, Liechtenstein will celebrate 200 Years of Sovereignty of the Principality of Liechtenstein....."

The House of Liechtenstein goes back a lot longer, though.

On a map of Europe, Liechtenstein is a shard of land, over five miles across in spots, and almost fifteen miles long, between Switzerland and Austria.

Don't get me wrong: I've got quite a lot of respect for this tiny country. Anybody who can maintain a national identity for the last two centuries in Europe has, in my opinion, something besides mountain ranges going for them.

More:About this post's title: The Duchy of Grand Fenwick is a tiny and quite fictional European country created by author Leonard Wibberley. It may be best known through the movie "The Mouse that Roared" (1959).

High Fashion - They're Supposed to be Footwear

"Five reasons to just go barefoot…"
Oddly Enough, Reuters blog (February 24, 2010)

"Shoppers, what's the best way to save money on shoes? By not even being tempted to buy any.

"Here are five examples of footwear from major fashion shows in the past month. I think most folks would rather wear flip-flops.

"I mean, top left, I'm pretty sure this one is inspired by the 'Mad Max' movie wardrobe, and it's only going to appeal to chicks who get invited to parties in unheated caves...."

Well, actually, I wear flip-flops from late spring through late autumn. I'd wear them in the winter, but here in Minnesota even my Norwegian heritage won't keep my feet that warm.

After those antlered fashion models, earlier this week, these shoes look almost - no, not normal, but vaguely practical. Except for that pair of - things - in the lower-right corner.

Then there's the photo that goes with this paragraph:

"...Finally, we have these boots. I'm not making this up, they are named 'Military China' – two words that are synonymous with haute couture...."

I think the Oddly Enough blogger hit the right tone with "I'm not making this up" - and he's not.

Related posts:

Phineas the Rabbit and a Wicker Ball

"Phineas doesn't like his toy"

KayKazzia, YouTube (July 16, 2009)
video, 1:13

"Bought Phineas a little wicker ball with treats inside today. This was his reaction."

Oh, I don't know. My kids have played a game with me, that looked a lot like what Phineas was doing. That was quite a few years ago.

My oldest daughter's rabbit flips his leash around like that - and I'm pretty sure that he doesn't like it. In the case of Phineas and the wicker ball, though: I just don't know.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Toyota, Toyoda, and the United States Congress: Japan isn't America

"Toyoda in Washington: A clash of cultures?
CNN (February 24, 2010)

"Akio Toyoda's appearance before U.S. legislators on Wednesday represents not just a fact-finding mission by committee members and a public relations move by Toyota, but a clash of cultures that in many ways created the recall controversy.

" 'They turned a rather ordinary recall into a brand-threatening crisis,' said Jeff Kingston, a professor of Asian studies at Temple University's Japan campus in Tokyo.

"Indeed, a key reason why Toyoda is in the hot seat is because the company leadership responded in a very Japanese fashion, Japan watchers say.

" 'Their decision-making process was painfully slow, but the international media and concerned customers don't want to wait so long for answers,' Kingston said. 'Anytime the public hears "brake" and "problem" in the same sentence, they want quick answers.'..."

Not Good Times for Toyota

I don't have enough facts about the mess that the Toyota automotive company is in to have an opinion. Apart from observing that they've got a major problem on their hands.

This is one of the reasons that I've never regretted not being a high-powered executive. The pay and perks are nice: but they're supposed to compensate people for making good decisions - and seeing that everybody, all the way down the ladder, does their job. When something goes wrong, people at the top tend to be in Akio Toyoda's position: fielding a whole lot of questions.

Even the questions that make sense may be hard to answer.

Toyota is big, and I don't know how much reliable information Mr. Toyoda has been able to collect. As so often happens, the first problem - what look like a failure maintain quality control - was bad, but probably manageable. Then - apparently - somehow, a decision was made to achieve a short-term goal and the expense of a long-term one.

Sure, it looks like someone in Toyota saved the company a bundle, by cutting corners on an equipment recall. Problem is, Toyota will probably spend many times that sum in lost sales and efforts to rebuild its reputation.

I'm no business expert: but that doesn't seem like a smart decision.

Everybody Makes Decisions: But Not the Same Way

The CNN article focuses on cultural differences. Short version: Japan isn't America; and America isn't Japan.

I'll admit to a bias. I am glad that Japan isn't just like America. And that America isn't a copy of Japan. I'm an American. This country isn't perfect, but I like it here. I think we've got a lot to offer the world. So does Japan.

Japan and America have, I think, a great deal in common. We're both active economically, intellectually and technologically. Taking just one example: we're both doing pretty well when it comes to developing robots. But we're not doing it the same way. (November 4, 2009)

People everywhere make decisions. What's different, for individuals and cultures, is why and how we make decisions.

The CNN article gives this insight into what's been happening in Toyota. Companies in Japan don't make decisions the way that their counterparts in America do:

"...Toyoda's long silence as the company deliberated what to do is a hallmark of the Japanese culture of consensus building.

" 'The decision-making process is really the planning process in Japan -- you don't see a lot of rapid response to a strategic issue,' said Michael Alan Hamlin, president of Team Asia, which provides communications advice to multinational companies...."

That was Then, This is Now: Americans and Time

I've gotten the impression that Americans have earned a reputation for being - abrupt. Hurried. An example:

"...Americans are known to have a tough time with the concept of 'long term.' I once lived in Europe. Before leaving the United States, I was listening to an American newscast that talked about a company's future 'long term.' The news story then went on to say that, by long term, it meant the company's performance over the next five quarters - barely more than a year! Several months later, while in Europe, I was introduced to some people by my Dutch colleagues. While doing the introduction, they explained that I was in the country 'tijdelijk' - meaning temporarily. I was scheduled to stay for three years. I thought back to the American newscast and wondered how they would take that comment from my Dutch acquaintances...."
("What's Your Definition of Long Term?" p. 28, "Start Your Own Home Business ... In No Time" Carol Anne Carroll, Que Publishing, Indianapolis, Indiana (2005))
(previously quoted in "Change, American Culture, Trilobites, Humanity's History, and the Big Picture" (September 26, 2009))

Here in America, for a tech company, their part of the industry might not be around in five years.

Japan, and quite a few other countries, handles time differently.

Respect, Japan, and the American Press

As I recall, someone connected with American journalism summarized his professional philosophy as: "If it's big, attack it."

CNN's article put it this way:

"...'There is a huge difference in how Japanese media cover companies,' said [Team Asia (provider of communications advice to multinational companies) president Michael Alan] Hamlin, who lived in Japan for a decade. 'They are careful not to upset or annoy business leaders too much, because they don't want their access to information or press conferences blocked because of negative reporting.

" 'In the West, you take Microsoft, Google or GM -- once they are big, successful companies, they are targets (of aggressive media),' he said. 'That's the trade-off for visibility and success.'..."

"Look Me In the Eye!"

One of the more valuable bits of information I took away from teacher training, decades back now, were about dealing with students from different cultures.

Westerners - Euro-Americans, anyway - look authorities in the eye. Or should, if they expect to be believed. Failure to do so can be seen as a sign of weakness - and probably an indication that the person is trying to hide something.

Not everybody grows up that way. In some cultures, looking an authority straight in the eye while being addressed is a challenge to that authority. Or so I was told.

Back to the CNN article:

"...'Japanese when in an apology mode -- especially before an authority like the U.S. Congress -- will be very humble. That means, you don't necessarily look people in the eye,' said Deborah Hayden, Tokyo managing partner of Kreab & Gavin Anderson Worldwide, a communications consultancy. 'From a Western perspective, that can be mistaken as weakness or perhaps trying to hide something.'

"Also, Japanese language tends to be indirect -- whereas before the committee members are likely to pepper him with direct questions and 'be a bit of political theater,' Hamlin added...."

No matter what happens, the next few months will be - interesting - for Toyota. I hope someone has told members of Congress that Japan isn't America.

Related posts, about Toyota:

Playgrounds Once Were New: History of Toys (and Games)

Update (September 10, 2010)

This page on the website does not seem to be available any more. Too bad.

There's a pretty good look at one aspect of the history of playgrounds in America here:

"History of Playgrounds" / City of Charlottesville
History of Toys | "Timeline"

"...1800s Playgrounds begin to appear in American cities. The idea stemmed from the efforts of city reformers who were searching for more healthful play options for children in urban areas, where parks and yards were scarce. The playgrounds started off as 'sand gardens,' inspired by those seen by an American social worker while visiting Berlin. Financed by local businesses, city playgrounds soon included swings and see-saws...."

There's more, like: a line about a 6,000-year-old Babylonian board game; stone yo-yos; what Parcheesi was called; and the year when first box of Crayola crayons was produced.

It's a pretty good resource for not-very-practical information about the history of fun.

(I said 'not very practical' - not 'uninteresting' - there's a difference!)

The Grackles of Austin: More Than You May Want to Know

"Murder Most Fowl?"
Health & Science, Time magazine (January 25, 2007)

"It's not nice to mess with Mother Nature — especially in Austin, Texas, where there is a record of an actual citywide tree hug taking place in 1989. So when five dozen birds fell from the sky earlier this month talk shows and chatrooms were ablaze with theories and outrage over what killed Austin's grackles.

"While bird lovers admire grackles for their iridescent feathers and canny ability to mimic human voices, for others they're a nuisance — dirty, noisy and a plague that has prompted cities and institutions across the country to declare war on the black clouds that roost...."

And, although grackles aren't anywhere near as borderline-indestructible as cockroaches and ticks, they're not pushovers, either.

Which is why Austin's civic authorities got so interested when grackles started showing up on the streets: dead, without a mark on them.

The article (a little over three years old, now) isn't quite 'news' any more: but it's a good backgrounder on grackles, and reveals what was killing the grackles of Austin.

Some of them, anyway.

By the way: I'd heard of canaries in mines, but not grackles.

"Art of Serenity...." - a Trailer

"Art of Serenity: A Journey of Faith"

anoasisproduction, YouTube (February 23, 2010)
video, 4:12

""The Art of Serenity. A Journey of Faith" takes us through the grief and into the blessings of a new life as Aaron discovers again the blissful life of a newly wed while taking Sara on a 5,000 mile journey around the US to tell her the story of his past.

"We discover...."

This is a trailer for a video that'll be coming out this summer, from Oasis Productions. I've got a personal interest in "Art of Serenity," since I know two of the people involved quite well.

I'll admit to a bias, but I've seen more of what Oasis Productions is working with: and I think this will be a well-done documentary on death, dying, and life.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Haiti Death Toll: 300,000 Looks Likely

"Haiti death toll could reach 300,000: Preval"
Reuters (February 22, 2010)

"The death toll from last month's devastating earthquake in Haiti could jump to 300,000 people, including the bodies buried under collapsed buildings in the capital, Haitian President Rene Preval said on Sunday...."

From the looks of it, Haiti is going to be an opportunity for the practice of charity for quite a while. The country wasn't in very good condition to begin with, that earthquake killed a terrible fraction of the people, and broke quite a bit of the country's infrastructure. Folks there can use help.

In case you missed it, near the top of this page: A list of charities you've probably heard about already, with links and some contact information: Also a list of posts in this, and two other blogs, about Haiti.

Tut's Curse: "Makes for a Great Story"

"King Tut’s Many Curses"
Discovery News (February 22, 2010)

"...'When Tut's tomb was discovered and opened in 1922, it was a major archaeological event. In order to keep the press at bay and yet allow them a sensational aspect with which to deal, the head of the excavation team, Howard Carter, put out a story that a curse had been placed upon anyone who violated the rest of the boy-king.' In fact, the tombs of all royalty—not just Tutankhamun's—were reputed to be cursed, as part of a folkloric effort to deter looters and grave robbers. Other royal tombs with exactly the same 'curse' had been opened without doom befalling their excavators, so there was no reason to think that it would be any different with King Tut. (Makes for a great story, though.)

"It is true that some people involved with the excavation (however peripherally) died shortly after the Tut's tomb was opened. The most famous victim of the curse was probably Lord Carnavon, who financed the work; he died the following year in Cairo. (Of course, his death is less mysterious when we learn that he suffered severe health problems before he even arrived in Egypt.)..."

The relatively short article points out that the timing of the 'mysterious' deaths doesn't bode well for the 'curse' hypothesis. People who should have been targeted lived an average of over 23 years after disturbing Tut's tomb.

Oh, well, ancient curses are a whole lot more exciting than actuarial tables for most of us: so my guess is that the Curse of Tut will live on as an urban legend for generations to come.

Antlered Fashion Models?!

"ALL of you girls are named Bambi?"
Oddly Enough, Reuters blog (February 22, 2010)

"Okay, Dr., uh, Smith, let me see if I understand what you're saying here.

BRITAIN/You're telling me that you can breed fashion models that are part human and part animal, so they can show our new designs but we don't have to pay them? Is that it?

Do they look pretty presentable, all things considered? Antlers AND fur? I guess nobody's perfect....

(Suzanne Plunkett, via Reuters/Oddly Enough, used w/o permission)

Just when you think fashion can't get weirder - - -.

Related posts:

Monday, February 22, 2010

Better Ideas from Japan: Crazy Game Shows

"Crazy Treadmill Japanese Game"

virvid, YouTube (February 05, 2008)
video, 4:25

"Another funny game coming from Japan. This one is with en endless treadmill..."

I don't know: "endless treadmill" seems redundant. As a loop, it is "endless" in a sense - oh, well, I'm nitpicking.

The important point is that it's got a wading pool at the end of it.

Ah, Japan: Land of ancient traditions; cherry blossoms; and crazy game shows.

This particular contest involves eye-hand coordination, fast footwork, and a willingness to look silly. Looks like fun.

Nearly four and a half minutes is a little long, for my taste: but your experience may vary.


Related post: More ideas - good, dubious, and strange - at

Watching the Olympics Online: Some Advice

"Watch the Olympics Online"
How-to Wiki, Wired (undated)

"The 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada, are in full swing. Many events are being broadcast either live or same-day (with a tape delay) by the major networks. But there's even more action to be found online.

"NBC is the games' official media outlet in the United States, and the network will be providing thousands of hours of content on the web. However, the only way to truly ensure you won't miss...."

Cutting to the chase:

"...Here's a list of online destinations for getting your fix of the snowiest of sporting events...."

And then, there's a list - with links.

I'm not sure quite what to make of some of the advice - but I suppose it's safe to assume that the Wired legal department made sure that what they're suggesting is fairly safe and legal.

Or, not.

Northrop Flying Wing Passenger Liner: Not Yet

"Safe Flying-Wing Airliners circa 1949: Jack Northrop's XB-49 as a Jules Verne Passenger Plane"

dynmicpara, YouTube (January 24, 2009)
video, 2:55

"We are not as advanced as we deceive ourselves to be.

"The thousands of burned-up dead people who died needlessly in flimsy tube & wing airliners would scream out in outrage at our BS if they could..."

Well, I like the look of the Northrop YB-49 Flying Wing, and think we may see airliners built like that. Someday. It's probably just as well, though, that passenger air services haven't used visionary designs like the YB-49.

These days, we've got sophisticated control systems that can take instructions from the pilot and make the aircraft bank, pitch or roll as ordered. Which is a good thing. Those control system can make real-time adjustments that human beings simply can't react to: not quickly enough.

The YB-49 prototype looked cool, and actually flew. But: "...Instability issues frustrate[d] pilots and crews...." ("Northrop YB-49 Flying Wing Bomber," Chris Conrad, Matt Eluk, Liz Craig, Virginia Tech (undated, includes 1997 citation))

Today's fly-by-wire systems, like US Patent 7433765 - Fly by wire static longitudinal stability compensator system, let aircraft - and the Space Shuttle - be "flown" by a human pilot who decides where the vehicle should go, while a sophisticated control system handles changing forces that go past too quickly for our nervous system to process.

The video is vintage ca. 1950 promotional footage. With very monaural sound. (On my system, everything came in through my left year.)

I'd take the assertions in the "info" section with a grain of salt. At least.

I'll agree, though, that innovative thinking and imagination are not limited to the last few years.

Today, with fly-by-wire systems developed for other aircraft, and over a half-century of advances in materials technology, I think we're closer to having the sort of luxury airliner that was imagined in that newsreel.

I don't buy the idea that 'corporate greed' and other nasty things are keeping nice things from happening. On the other hand, I do think that we won't see radically different luxury aircraft for a while: because there isn't a market for them. Today.

They'd require a fair number of people who are willing to pay top dollar for a nice, leisurely flight - with a view. That doesn't sound like the typical business traveler to me.

But times will change. They always have.

Related posts:

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Airliner of the Future: Prototype in 1950s

"Northrup Wing"
Flying Wing, Future Flight, Tales of Future Past

"The Northrup Flying Wing was an aircraft that can only be called ahead of its time. This was a machine that by some uncanny fluke managed to leap off the pages of Air Wonder Stories and into the skies. This had to be the aeroplane of the FUTURE. It had that bold, clean line to it; that classic shape that stood out like the spindle shape of a V2 rocket...."

(Northrop, via Tales of Future Past, used w/o permission)

That's a concept drawing for a passenger version of the experimental bomber. The flying wing was abandoned in the early fifties, because of problems with stability. Today, we've got control systems that can handle that sort of thing: so the luxurious passenger airliner imagined by Northrop may exist - someday.

The 1953 version of "War of the Worlds" features the Northrop Flying Wing, briefly.

Kim Possible - Japanese and Chinese Takes on the Theme

"Call Me,Beep Me! 【kim possible 】安良城紅"

vvvstkvvv, YouTube (October 31, 2008)
video, 2:38


Beni Arashiro's take on the Kim Possible theme song. Pretty good music video, actually.

The Disney Studio animated series may not be 'all over the world,' but I also found another music video - with less-than-ideal picture quality - in Chinese:

"麻辣女孩kim possible"

johnpskimo, YouTube (November 25, 2007)
video, 0:58

"中文主題曲" ("Chinese Theme")

I suppose I could write something about the dangers of globalization or something like that - but I'm not upset about "Godzilla" and Japanese cars, and enjoy some of the English-dubbed Japanese animation. Particularly now that someone's got the idea that someone who understood both languages should do the translating.

Chinese animation? I haven't seen that - but I figure it's just a matter of time before someone in that country realizes that there's a hot market elsewhere.

Meanwhile: Enjoy the music.

Super Junior's Sorry Sorry: One Song, Two Music Videos, Lots of Dancers

"Philippine Prison (Super Junior) -Sorry Sorry"

KarlFultonMorantte, YouTube (September 30, 2009)
video, 3:57

"Prisoners in the Philippines dancing to the beat of the song Sorry Sorry from Super Junior."

Okay: If group choreography was an Olympic sport, these guys might not get the gold medal.

On the other hand, they're good! In my opinion, anyway. It doesn't hurt that I like the music and the style of dance.

Here's a more 'original' music video with that song:

"안무Full영상_SuperJunior-SORRYSORRY_ Only댄스Ver"

sment, YouTube (June 08, 2009)
video, 3:52

"안무Full영상_SuperJunior-SORRYSORR Y_ Only댄스Ver"

Another well-done music video. More conventional execution, of course. I wonder in kids (for me, that's anyone under about 35) realize how long this general sort of thing has been done? Styles have changed a bit over the decades, of course.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Emma Watson: Interview and a Really, Really Short Clip from "Half-Blood Prince"

"[ HD ] Emma Watson Interview 07.08.09 on The Late Show with David Letterman 2009"

nuray055, YouTube (July 09, 2009)
video, 10:06

After David Letterman asked her what a liberal arts degree was, she asked: "Do you live in the states?"

There was an embarrassing photo, but mostly the interview showed Emma Watson as a sensible young woman with more considerably more brains than your stereotype celebrity starlet. Wouldn't take much, come to think of it.

Seriously? As a rule, I don't try to find out about actors. I'm content to see their work, and am not particularly interested in learning about their inner twit. One of my daughters gave me the heads-up on this interview, for which I'm duly grateful.

From the looks of it, we'll be seeing Emma Watson in films for quite a while. Or, she may take the Shirley Temple Black route. Which is another topic.

Light-Hearted Exhibition at the Guggenheim

"Take This Museum and Shape It"
Roberta Smith, Art & Design, The New York Times (February 18, 2010)

"Art Review | 'Contemplating the Void'"

"The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum is capping the 50th birthday festivities for its Frank Lloyd Wright building with some navel gazing. Still, there are worse navels to consider. Wright's spiral rotunda, in fact, could be thought of as the greatest belly button in modern architecture: an innie and an outie all in one.

"The rotunda is the inspiration for a frolicking, mostly feel-good show called 'Contemplating the Void: Interventions in the Guggenheim Museum,' for which more than 200 artists, architects and designers were invited to redesign or repurpose the space. 'A self-reflexive folly' is how the project was described in the letters sent out by Nancy Spector, deputy director and chief curator of the Guggenheim Foundation, and David van der Leer, assistant curator of architecture and design at the museum. Participants were free to propose anything, since none of the proposals would be built.

"Whatever they sent in has been included in the show: computer renderings and posters, drawings of all sizes, a few written proposals, a model or two. There are architectural elevations and cross sections, nearly abstract charcoals, collages and Conceptual teasers. Some works are exceptionally beautiful, as with Matthew Ritchie's radiant watercolor that re-envisions the museum as the point of origin of the imaginary cosmos at the center of his work. Others are pointed jokes, like Josephine Meckseper's digital print of an oil rig floating in water that fills the rotunda's base — a reference, perhaps, to the Guggenheim's involvement with Abu Dhabi, where a branch of the museum is scheduled to open in 2013.

"This is the kind of low- budget, few-frills exhibition that major museums need to try more often, and it is not surprising...."

There are a fair number of photos in the review, and a slide show. Also a little background on past exhibitions at the Guggenheim.

Some of the (art?) is arguably silly - like the idea of rolling golf, Ping-Pong, and tennis balls down the ramp. Or maybe not so silly. I don't pretend to understand -would this be performance art? Although I suspect that some of it will show up in the 22nd century texts on abnormal psychology. Which is another topic.

The review isn't comprehensive - not surprising, considering the size of the 'Contemplating the Void' exhibition. But I think the article gives a pretty good idea of what to expect.

I also agree with the reviewer that this show is a good idea. There are too many artists, museums and wannabe geniuses who take themselves and their art 'way too seriously. In my opinion.

On the other hand, I ran into reminders that I may not be quite on the same page as the more 'serious-minded' people in contemporary American culture.

Take this sentence, for example: "A number of the proposals, to be sure, are no more than flights of fancy, harmless though often appealing...." What? Generally speaking, does something generally have to be harmful to be appealing?!

Oh, well: maybe I'm reading too much into that choice of words.


Goodbye Shuttle, Hello Falcon

"New Commercial Rocket Ready to Do NASA's Heavy Lifting" (February 18, 2010)

"NASA's space shuttles are flying their final missions this year, but one commercial spaceflight company in California has a new, privately-built rocket standing ready to replace the aging workhorse.

"Space Exploration Technologies' (SpaceX) new Falcon 9 rocket is already assembled in Cape Canaveral, Fla. for a debut in the first half of 2010. A following flight, sometime between May and November, would launch the cargo-carrying Dragon spacecraft to resupply the International Space Station.

"Dragon could also eventually loft NASA astronauts into space by as early as 2014. Just don't call it a taxi service, said Gwynne Shotwell, president of SpaceX. The company, founded by PayPal entrepreneur Elon Musk, has already launched satellites to orbit on its smaller, unmanned Falcon 1 rockets...."

I've followed the American space program since the Mercury days, and admit to feeling a little nostalgia about the end of government-funded human spaceflight technologies in this country. But only a little.

It looks like America's government is going to let America's private sector go ahead with commercial spaceships. In the long run, I think we'll all come out ahead on this. Sure there will be problems. We're all human beings, and one thing we're good at is messing things up. But we're also good at getting things done.

As I've written before, I think there's an advantage to letting people get things done - when they've got an incentive to get it done on schedule, and on or under budget. And, of course, that won't sit well with everybody. (In the Future - People will be People)

Related posts:More:Background:"International Space Station Tour (Part I)"

NASAtelevision, YouTube (January 21, 2009)
video, 9:44

"Astronaut Mike Fincke takes you on a tour of the International Space Station."

More, on YouTube:

Friday, February 19, 2010

And Now, for Something Completely Different: Four Cute Birds

"The Impossibirds"
Not That Mike The Other Mike, via Cute Overload (February 17, 2010)

"Ladies and gentlemen, this just might be the cutest darn thing on the entire Intertubes: Four impossibly cute, perfectly perched, flying floofballs!..."

(from Cute Overload, used w/o permission)

There's a closeup of one of those birds, too. It's cute. You have been warned.

Seriously? Isn't this one photo already above the recommended daily adult requirement for cute?

Kneber AKA Zeus: How to Deal With It (Hint: Don't be Stupid)

"Protect Your Business from Kneber-Style Botnets"
Tony Bradley, PC World (February 18, 2010)

"A report from security research firm NetWitness about a malicious botnet dubbed Kneber has been the focus of a fair amount of media attention, but mostly sensationalism that misses the real point.

"Yes, the Kneber botnet consists of nearly 75,000 computers. Yes, systems at roughly 2,500 different companies around the world have been infiltrated. Yes, government agencies have had data compromised. Sadly, that is just 'a day in the life'. There is nothing spectacular about those figures...."

"...[Symantec Security Response's senior director Elias] Levy also took issue with the media categorization of Kneber as a new threat in his e-mail. 'Kneber, in reality, is not a new threat at all, but is simply a pseudonym for the infamous and well-known Zeus Trojan. The name Kneber simply refers to a particular group, or herd, of zombie computers, a.k.a. bots, being controlled by one owner. The actual Trojan itself is the same Trojan.Zbot, which also goes by the name Zeus, which has been being observed, analyzed and protected against for some time now.'..."

"...Symantec's Levy explains 'Though it is true that this Kneber string of the overall Zeus botnet is fairly large, it does not involve any new malicious threats. Thus, computer users with up-to -date security software should already be protected from this threat.'

"[McAfee security specialist Joris] Evers echoed that basic sentiment, pointing out 'Additionally, users should keep the standard rules of PC security in mind--keep your software and operating system up to date, run a complete and up-to-date suite of security software, including a firewall and antimalware detection and don't click on suspicious links in e-mail, instant messages or those that arrive via social media.'..."

Let me recap what people who know what they're talking about said, about not getting infected:
  • Keep your operating system updated
  • Keep your software updated
  • "Run a complete and up-to-date suite of security software, including"
    • A firewall
    • Antimalware detection
  • Don't click on suspicious links in
    • Email
    • Instant messages
    • Those arriving via social media
I think I can summarize that good advice on a single point:
In a corporate setting, that's not always possible, of course. The department head may be getting a bonus for saving money - by not renewing the antimalware software's license.

I think the article's author was spot-on with these two paragraphs:

"...The news part of this story isn't really the expanse of the Kneber botnet, or even the sensitive information it appears to have compromised. Sadly, the real story is how or why 2,500 organizations around the world, including government agencies, have such weak security that they allowed 75,000 PC's to be compromised by a relatively archaic threat for which detection and protection have existed for over a year...."

"...Kneber is nothing. It is barely worth mentioning. What is worth mentioning again, and again, and again, is the importance of applying patches and updates in a timely manner, employing anti-malware security software and keeping it up to date to detect current threats, and continuing to educate users to not click on links or open attachments in messages...."

Something Was Crawling on the Precambrian Mud

"First Muscles Evolved Earlier"
Discovery News (February 17, 2010)
"Earth's earliest creatures dragged themselves along like a sea anemone some 565 million years ago, newly found tracks suggest."

"Furrows preserved in 565-million-year-old rocks are now the first evidence that some of Earth's earliest and mysterious living things had muscles to move themselves -- and so were truly animals.

"That means muscles may have evolved earlier and been part of a long evolutionary fuse that led to the so-called 'Cambrian Explosion,' 30 million years later, of the many lineages of marine animals still found in the oceans today.

" 'If you saw (these furrows) in rocks the same age as dinosaurs, you'd say it was something crawling along the sea floor,' said Duncan McIlroy of Memorial University in Newfoundland, Canada. 'But when it's this old you have to be very cautious about it.'

"The so-called Ediacarans are the earliest complex organisms before the Cambrian Explosion, and debate continues over what the Ediacarans looked like and even, what they were...."

The article gives a pretty good overview of how the scientists went about determining that what they were looking at was actually the track left by something dragging itself along the ocean floor. They even re-created Precambrian mud and studied tracks left by a sea anemone, a boneless, shell-less critter that makes tracks like the one they found.

As I've written before, this won't help you find a parking place or tell you how to have more fun on the job - unless you plan to be a paleontologist - but I'm fascinated by what we're learning about the world around us. And I think it's possible that you do, too.

Sort-of-related posts:Or, click "paleontology" in the label cloud.

By the way, you think you've got fungus problems? Check out this 20-foot fungus from the Silurian and Devonian periods:Don't worry, by the way. Prototaxites have been extinct for about 350,000,000 years.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Assertive Chickadees: A Photo

Photo Album (Mendon Ponds Park)

"At Mendon we can feed the birds by hand. They harass you until you cough up the seed"

That thumbnail links to a 2020 × 1636 pixel photo of chickadees, seed, and someone's hand.

The online photo album has (dozens? I didn't count them all) of other views of birds, plants, and landscapes at Mendon Ponds Park. It's on the website.

About Mendon Ponds Park:

"Welcome to my Mendon Ponds Park pages. Another beautiful park in my area, I have spent a lot of time exploring this park which is rather large. I used to mountain bike here until I got into a heated debate with a horseback rider telling me that mountain bikers destroy trails. This while she sat on the back of a 1400 lb. horse making moon crates in the trail. The trail was so wrecked by horse hooves that you could barely walk down it! Anyhow... "

Assuming that Mendon Ponds Park is near Mr. Wyman's residence, it's probably in the Rochester, New York, area.


3D Gesture-Recognition Technology: I Remember When the Clapper Was New

"Television Will Soon Watch You (for Instructions)"
Epicenter, Wired (February 17, 2010)

"The days of rifling through couch cushions for a television remote could be coming to an end, as 3-D gesture-recognition technology finds its way into set-top boxes following a deal between Intel and Softkinetic-Optrima scheduled to be announced on Thursday.

"Like a hyperevolved descendant of The Clapper, the devices will let television viewers navigate menus and control volume by moving their arms in a predefined patterns.

"Gesture recognition technology — previously somewhat arcane — gathered momentum last year when Microsoft demoed its Project Natal to enormous acclaim. Natal applies similar technology to hard-core gaming on the Xbox, letting users play fighting games by actually punching and kicking in the air, using technology from Microsoft’s acquisition of Israel-based gesture-recognition company 3DV.

"In addition to a partnership with EA Sports for games, Softkinetic-Optrima plans to apply gesture recognition to the lean-back television experience, allowing people to turn up the volume by moving their hand in a circle, switch the channel by swiping to the right, pause by extending their hands in a 'stop' gesture, and so on...."

This is a remarkable piece of technology, and probably shows what my grandchildren will think is a perfectly normal way to control devices.

The article tells how this 3-D gesture-recognition tech works - in general. You wouldn't be able to build a unit from what's given here. And, there's a pretty good close-up photo of the thing: although you'll have to guess how big it is, based on the assumption that the tripod it's mounted on is of average size.

Aside from the obvious applications as a next-generation television remote control and game interface, it occurs to me that this gesture-recognition technology could be used in 'smart' robots. Ones that don't just understand the words we say, but are able to tell how we feel about what we're saying.

Which I see as an exciting development.

Of course, a media center that can tell what you're feeling might not be an entirely good thing. Remember this, from a 1968 movie?

"Just what do you think you are doing, Dave?... Look Dave, I can see you are really upset about this...."

Related posts?For my take on 'the future,' check out:

Kneber Botnet Infects Corporate Computer Networks: HAL was Right

UPDATE (February 18, 2010 - 9:22 a.m. Central)

"Malicious Software Infects Corporate Computers "
The Wall Street Journal (February 18, 2010)

"A malicious software program has infected the computers of more than 2,500 corporations around the world, according to NetWitness, a computer network security firm.

"The malicious program, or botnet, can commandeer the operating systems of both residential and corporate computing systems via the Internet. Such botnets are used by computer criminals for a range of illicit activities, including sending e-mail spam, and stealing digital documents and passwords from infected computers. In many cases they install so-called 'keystroke loggers' to capture personal information.

"The current infection is modest compared to some of the largest known botnets...."

"...The hacking operation, the latest of several major hacks that have raised alarms for companies and government officials, is still running and it isn't clear to what extent it has been contained, NetWitness said. Also unclear is the full amount of data stolen and how it was used. Two companies that were infiltrated, pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co. and Cardinal Health Inc., said they had isolated and contained the problem.

"Starting in late 2008, hackers operating a command center in Germany got into corporate networks by enticing employees to click on contaminated Web sites, email attachments or ads purporting to clean up viruses, NetWitness found.

"In more than 100 cases, the hackers gained access to corporate servers that store large quantities of business data, such as company files, databases and email.

"They also broke into computers at 10 U.S. government agencies. In one case, they obtained the user name and password of a soldier's military email account, NetWitness found. A Pentagon spokesman said the military didn't comment on specific threats or intrusions...."

"...The computers were infected with spyware called ZeuS, which is available free on the Internet in its basic form. It works with the FireFox browser, according to computer-security firm SecureWorks. This version included a $2,000 feature that works with FireFox, according to SecureWorks.

"Evidence suggests an Eastern European criminal group is behind the operation, likely using some computers in China because it's easier to operate there without being caught, said NetWitness's Mr. Yoran.

"There are some electronic fingerprints suggesting the same group was behind a recent effort to dupe government officials and others into downloading spyware via emails purporting to be from the National Security Agency and the U.S. military, NetWitness's Mr. Yoran said...."
"Botnet attack"
Daily Briefing, UPI (February 18, 2010)

"More than 70,000 computers from 2,500 companies have been infected with the Kneber botnet, an Internet watchdog said Thursday.

"NetWitness Corp. of Virginia said the attack is used to reap user names and passwords to gain access to financial information, social networking Internet sites and e-mail. The rogue software has been circulating for about 18 months and is known to have gathered about 75 gigabytes of data...."

"...The [Wall Street] Journal said the botnet software is spread when a computer user opens phishing e-mail that links to the code."

And the moral of this story is - no, really: don't open that email attachment.

Or as the HAL 9000 computer said, "It can only be attributable to human error."

There's quite a bit more on this SNAFU, including:

"Malicious Software Infects Corporate Computers"
The New York Times (February 18, 2010)

"A malicious software program has infected the computers of more than 2,500 corporations around the world, according to NetWitness, a computer network security firm...."

"...NetWitness said in a release that it had discovered the program last month while the company was installing monitoring systems. The company dubbed it the “Kneber botnet” based on a username that linked the infected systems. The purpose appears to be to gather login credentials to online financial systems, social networking sites and e-mail systems, and then transmit that information to the system's controllers, the company said.

"The company's investigation determined that the botnet has been able to compromise both commercial and government systems, including 68,000 corporate log-in credentials. It has also gained access to e-mail systems, online banking accounts, Facebook, Yahoo, Hotmail and other social network credentials, along with more than 2,000 digital security certificates and a significant cache of personal identity information...."

"...'Many security analysts tend to classify ZeuS solely as a Trojan that steals banking information,' stated Alex Cox, the principal analyst at NetWitness responsible for uncovering the Kneber botnet. 'But that viewpoint is naïve. When we began to detect the correlation among both the methodology used by the Kneber crew to attack victim machines and the wide variety of data sets harvested, it became clear that security teams must rethink their entire perspective on advanced threats such as ZeuS.'

"Half of the machines infected with the Kneber botnet were also infected by an earlier botnet known as Waledec, the company noted.

"The existence of the botnet was first reported by the Wall Street Journal, shortly before the company issued its press release."

"Virus has breached 75,000 computers: study"
Reuters (February 18, 2010)

"A new type of computer virus is known to have breached almost 75,000 computers in 2,500 organizations around the world, including user accounts of popular social network websites, according Internet security firm NetWitness.


"The latest virus -- known as 'Kneber botnet' -- gathers login credentials to online financial systems, social networking sites and email systems from infested computers and reports the information back to hackers, NetWitness said in a statement.

"A botnet is an army of infected computers that hackers can control from a central machine....

"..'Conventional malware protection and signature-based intrusion detection systems are, by definition, inadequate for addressing Kneber or most other advanced threats,' Chief Executive Amit Yoran said in a statement."

Kudos to the Reuters article for helpfully defining "botnet" - a term that may not be familiar to many readers.

Then they end the article with "...Conventional malware protection...inadequate for addressing ... advanced threats..." That's true (but, in my opinion, misleading) statement reminded me of the old "bullets won't stop them!" line from fifties monster movies.

If, by "conventional malware protection," Reuters meant systems that rely exclusively and completely on software to scan programs and messages - yes, it's true. "conventional malware protection" won't stop the Kneber botnet.

Because it apparently relies on some human being opening an attachment to a phishing email.

How long have we been hearing and reading "DON'T OPEN EMAIL ATTACHMENTS" unless you have verified that the person it's supposed to be from actually sent it - and doesn't have an infected machine?

That sound you didn't hear was me, mentally beating the desktop with my head. I don't know which will be easier: developing a global system of cooperating lawmakers, law enforcement agencies, software developers, ISPs, and users to identify and prosecute the outfits that create problems like this? Or getting folks in the office to exercise common sense?
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Today's News! Some of it, anyway

Actually, some of yesterday's news may be here. Or maybe last week's.
The software and science stuff might still be interesting, though. Or not.
The Lemming thinks it's interesting: Your experience may vary.
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