Friday, June 29, 2012

Ancient Coins, Buried Treasure, Archaeology, and All That

"Ancient coins worth $15 million found by amateur treasure hunters after 30 year search" (June 27, 2012)

"After a search that spanned three decades, two amateur treasure hunters have uncovered the biggest ever hoard of Iron Age silver and gold coins in the UK -- weighing a full ton and valued at $15 million.

"Reg Mead and Richard Miles found the stash using a high powered metal detector called a deepseeker. What they discovered was a large block of clay containing 30,000 to 50,000 gold and silver coins dating from the 1st Century BC.

"The coins - which could have been buried to prevent Roman troops from getting them during Julius Caesar's invasion of the British Islands - come from Armorica, modern day Brittany and Normandy. They have been buried for more than 2,000 years...."

Coins, Value, and Points of View

What gets the headlines is "ancient coins:" the idea of buried treasure. How much contemporary money this lot of obsolete coinage would bring on various markets is important. But so is what the coins can tell about who buried them and when.

Let's take a hypothetical example. Say someone digging up an old barn in Pennsylvania, one that hadn't been used since about 1800, came across a coin about the size of an American quarter. The coin looks really old, and one side shows a somewhat under-dressed woman with a shield.

Evidence of a pre-Columbian civilization? Relic of Atlantis? Nope. It's an American quarter. It's old, but not that old. Those numbers at the bottom, "1917," indicate the year the coin was minted: which makes it about 95 years old. That's old, but nowhere near as old as the barn.

Depending on where the coin lay in the ruins of the barn, its presence might be evidence of what's happened at the site since the barn was abandoned.

That's the sort of value archeologists see in old coins. Pottery is even better, since it's a lot more common than coins, and nearly indestructible. Sure, fired clay breaks easily: but the shards will last longer than any civilization has so far.

Never Mind the Gold Nugget: Show Me That Broken Pot!

And, since the way folks make pottery changes over time, and different places have different styles of manufacture, a bit of broken tableware found in a long-buried trash pile can tell a great deal about the folks who threw it there.

Here's another hypothetical case. Let's say archeologists were digging through a trash heap left by the folks who built the Watson Brake mounds. That's in what folks recently took to calling Quachita Parish. They found most of a pot like the one in that photo. Those bits of broken pottery would be, in their own way, incredibly valuable.

Also very hard to explain: and that's another topic.

Secret Location: For Good Reason

"...Further excavation is taking place at the secret location by archeologists keen to get to the bottom of the ancient discovery, while it is kept secluded from the threat of looters.

"Ownership and value of the findings could take months to determine and are subject to the island's Treasure Act. It is estimated the coins could be worth £10 million (US$15.6 million).

"The coins are understood to date back to the Late Iron Age, a time when the armies of Rome's Julius Caesar were advancing north-westwards through France, driving the tribal communities towards the coast."

Folks have been known to do odd things to get money. Keeping the location of that archaeological site secret sounds like a good idea. One hyperventilating treasure hunter with a pick and shovel could irretrievably destroy evidence left in the ground in Jersey.

Archeologists know what to look for: and how to pick apart archaic detritus. That's another reason that the Lemming doesn't miss 'the good old days.' A famous, or infamous, enthusiast may have shoveled his way through the real walls of Troy, trying to find the fabled city. Whether or not he did may never be known. About Troy: what you see in the movies is Hollywood spectacle. Troy itself is quite real: all nine cities.

And that's yet another topic.

Not-totally-unrelated posts:

Friday the Lemming Slept Late

Oops. It's Friday, and the Lemming hasn't posted anything yet.

It's been one of those weeks: maybe later, after the Lemming has his coffee.

Allegedly-related posts:

Friday, June 22, 2012

Friday the Lemming Unwound

It's Friday, it's been a busy week, so the Lemming has decided to take the day off and breathe easy, calm down, ease off, hang loose, settle back, simmer down, sit back, take a break, and unwind.

In other words, the Lemming will relax. At least for the morning.

Not-quite-completely-unrelated posts:

Friday, June 15, 2012

New Domain Suffixes: "Dot-Whatever" Coming (Fairly) Soon

"Web 2.0: New Internet domains may include '.lol,' '.bank"
Associated Press, via (June 13, 2012)

"If Google has its way, you won't need '' to do your searches. You can simply go to '.Google.'"

"New York City wants Internet addresses ending in '.nyc,' while several companies and groups are looking to create '.doctor,' '.music' and '.bank.' Google Inc. is also seeking '.YouTube' and '.lol' -- the digital shorthand for 'laugh out loud.' Others are looking to attract non-English speakers with suffixes in a variety of languages....

So far, this looks pretty good. With so many 'dot com' addresses, the Internet - well, the Web, anyway - is probably due for some new ways to say 'this is where I am' in cyberspace. Look at the names we've got for "street," besides "street," of course. Like:
  • Avenue
  • Boulevard
  • Court
  • Drive
  • Lane
  • Place
  • Road
  • Terrace
  • Trail
Of course, there's the problem that some cities have, where newcomers get lost trying to find 123 Mockingbird Lane; or was that Mockingbird Drive; Mockingbird Place? - all of which are in about the same part of town.

What, No .BYOB?!

"...Some 2,000 proposals have been submitted as part of the largest expansion of the Internet address system since its creation in the 1980s. These suffixes would rival '.com' and about 300 others now in use. Companies would be able to create separate websites and separate addresses for each of their products and brands, for instance, even as they keep their existing '.com' name. One day, you might go to 'comedy.YouTube' rather than ''

"The organization behind the expansion, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, will announce a full list and other details in London on Wednesday....

For all the Lemming knows, .byob actually is in the list of new "...It'll take at least a year or two, however, for the first of these new suffixes to win approval and appear in use.

"Some of them never will if they are found to violate trademarks or are deemed offensive. Others will be delayed as competing bidders..."

For all that the Lemming knows, .byob (Bring Your Own Bottle) may be one of the new domain name suffixes. If it is, the Lemming suspects that some of America's more tightly-wound citizens will raise a fuss. You'd think we'd have learned from Prohibition, and that's another topic.

'Offensive' is in the Eye of the Beholder

The Lemming hopes that the folks at ICAN use common sense when handling complaints about 'offensive' suffixes. With so many of the world's 7,000,000,000 or so citizens having Internet access, the odds are pretty good that someone's already offended by ".com" and ".org."

Since those are still with us, the Lemming figures the folks at ICAN have at least a little sense.

Serenity and a Dreaming Lemming

Surely by now some frightfully earnest fellow has complained about the crass commercialism of ".com," or the oppressive overtones of ".gov" - and yet, ICAN retained those suffixes. Perhaps that sort of restraint and inner serenity will flow into other channels.

The Lemming has a dream that one day online communities will shine with friendship, compassion, and rational exchange of ideas.

The Lemming has a dream that one day reporters and columnists will no longer write angst-laden articles about the dreadful consequences of something new.

The Lemming has a dream that - oh, never mind. The Lemming's just dreaming.

Related(?) posts:

Friday, June 8, 2012

Lemming Tracks: Google, Facebook Affected by DNSChanger Malware! WHEN WILL IT END?!!!!

First, relax: Google and Facebook were "affected" by DNSChanger malware, only in the sense that both outfits took action to help their users deal with the nasty code.

Second, this is another post where the Lemming may get a little testy.

Third, don't relax too much: DNSChanger isn't the only security issue around:
Here's what set the Lemming off:

Malware, Facebook, and Counting Down to July 9

"Facebook Alerts Users About DNSChanger Malware"
Fahmida Y. Rashid, PC Magazine (June 6, 2012)

"Facebook will notify users who have DNSChanger malware on their computers of the infection and remind them that if left infected, they will lose Internet access come July 9.

"When a user browses to Facebook from a DNSChanger-infected computer, the social networking giant will display an alert with a link to the DNSChanger Working Group's website, the Facebook security team wrote on the Facebook Security blog on June 4. The DCWG website contains information about the malware and instructions on cleaning up the infection....

The odds are pretty good that you already know about the situation, even if the name "DNSChanger" isn't familiar. This blog tends to get geeky: with the implications about visitors that implies.

Note, by the way, a geek is not necessarily a nerd:

DNSChanger: Background and Help

The Lemming has more: including a rant. On the other hand, here's something useful:

Look, Up In the Sky! It's a Cloud! It's an App! No, It's CloudFlare!!

"...Google announced a similar plan back on May 22. The search giant displays alerts to victims through its search pages. CloudFlare,a company that provides hosted security and content accelerations services for websites, also offers customers a DNSChanger notification tool. Once a CloudFlare customer turned on the tool within its administrative panel, all visitors to its Website would be immediately notified if they are infected with DNSChanger.

"What is DNSChanger?

"DNSChanger targets the computer's Domain Name System settings to hijack Web search queries, redirect users to fake websites, and display malicious advertisements. The malware changes the DNS server settings on the computer to use rogue servers instead of legitimate servers operated by the Internet Service Provider or other public servers from companies such as Google and OpenDNS.

"DNS is analogous to a phone directory for the Internet. Computers...."
(Fahmida Y. Rashid)

There's a pretty good explanation of the DNS system and how it works in the PC World article. Also how many computers are still infected with DNSChanger. It's a pretty small fraction of all Internet-connected compuers: but it's still a big number.

July 10 Will be Too Late

"Facebook warns hundreds of thousands may lose Internet in July" (June 6, 2012)

"Facebook announced Tuesday that it had joined a consortium of other companies and security experts to help alert hundreds of thousands of websurfers of a computer infection called DNSChanger that may knock their computers off the Internet this summer.

"Unknown to most of them, their problem began when international hackers ran an online advertising scam to take control of infected computers around the world. In a highly unusual response, the FBI set up a safety net months ago using government computers to prevent Internet disruptions for those infected users. But that system will be shut down July 9 -- killing connections for those people.

"The FBI has run an impressive campaign for months, encouraging people to visit a website that will inform them whether they're infected and explain how to fix the problem. After July 9, infected users won't be able to connect to the Internet...."

If you're a science fiction/speculative fiction buff, you may have noticed the Lemming's rephrase of "October First is Too Late," One of Fred Hoyle's contributions to English literature.

The good news, from the Lemming's point of view, is that America's government has done something sensible about a serious malware issue.

Malware, the Internet, Lizard Men, and a Ranting Lemming

The bad news, again from the Lemming's point of view, is that we may be in for a few new conspiracy theories. After July 9, when the 'safety net' goes down, someone with an infected computer won't be able to use the Internet, learn that 'the government won't let me online,' and conclude that it's some kinda plot.

Which, in a way, it is. Sort of. Except that folks who pay attention know about malware, DNSChanger, and probably aren't infected.

Or is the Lemming in league with the space-alien, shape-shifting, lizard men who took over the world? Think about it: "Lemming" and "lizard" start with the same letter; the lizard men control Blogger, and the Lemming uses Blogger. You see?! It all fits together!!!

The lizard men are so complacent about their control of Earth, that they've started getting careless about their disguises:

Unique 2010 Autumn/Winter collection during London Fashion Week, February 20, 2010. REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett
(from Oddly Enough, Reuters, used w/o permission)

DNS Changer: Yes, It's Important

Back to that article:

"...The challenge, and the reason for the awareness campaigns: Most victims don't even know their computers have been infected, although the malicious software probably has slowed their web surfing and disabled their antivirus software, making their machines more vulnerable to other problems.

"Last November, when the FBI and other authorities were preparing to take down a hacker ring that had been running an Internet ad scam on a massive network of infected computers, the agency realized this may become an issue.

" 'We started to realize that we might have a little bit of a problem on our hands because ... if we just pulled the plug on their criminal infrastructure and threw everybody in jail, the victims of this were going to be without Internet service,' said Tom Grasso, an FBI supervisory special agent. 'The average user would open up Internet Explorer and get "page not found" and think the Internet is broken.'..."

There's more than a little oversimplification and generalization going on in that statement: but the Lemming thinks the FBI had the right idea in this case. Quite a few folks using computers and the Internet aren't tech-savvy.

DNS Changer: The Clock's Ticking

"..On the night of the arrests, the agency brought in Paul Vixie, chairman and founder of Internet Systems Consortium, to install two Internet servers to take the place of the truckload of impounded rogue servers that infected computers were using. Federal officials planned to keep their servers online until March, giving everyone opportunity to clean their computers.

"But it wasn't enough time.

"A federal judge in New York extended the deadline until July.

"Now, said Grasso, 'the full court press is on to get people to address this problem.' And it's up to computer users to check their PCs...."

That phrase, "it's up to computer users to check their PCs," is - in the Lemming's opinion - very important. Stopgap measures like tracking down criminals and swapping out rogue servers are important. But individual users need to take care of what's under their control.

The Internet isn't all that different from the 'real' world: having an effective police department in your area is important. But so is remembering to lock the front door.

DNS Changer: What Happened

"...Hackers infected a network of probably more than 570,000 computers worldwide. They took advantage of vulnerabilities in the Microsoft Windows operating system to install malicious software on the victim computers. This turned off antivirus updates and changed the way the computers reconcile website addresses behind the scenes on the Internet's domain name system.

"The DNS system is a network of servers that translates a web address -- such as -- into the numerical addresses that computers use. Victim computers were reprogrammed to use rogue DNS servers owned by the attackers. This allowed the attackers to redirect computers to fraudulent versions of any website.

"The hackers earned profits from advertisements that appeared on websites that victims were tricked into visiting. The scam netted the hackers at least $14 million, according to the FBI. It also made thousands of computers reliant on the rogue servers for their Internet browsing...."

The Lemming has nothing against online advertising: just look at the sidebar for proof. The ethical problem here is that some folks decided to set up a fraudulent advertising network. Hey - that's an acronym: Fraudulent Advertising Network: 'We FAN your profits.' And, no: advertising is not, by definition, fraudulent. In the Lemming's opinion. And that's yet another topic.

Beware Estonians Bearing Servers?

"...When the FBI and others arrested six Estonians last November, the agency replaced the rogue servers with Vixie's clean ones. Installing and running the two substitute servers for eight months is costing the federal government about $87,000.

"The number of victims is hard to pinpoint, but the FBI believes that on the day of the arrests, at least 568,000 unique Internet addresses were using the rogue servers. Five months later, FBI estimates that the number is down to at least 360,000. The U.S. has the most, about 85,000, federal authorities said. Other countries with more than 20,000 each include Italy, India, England and Germany. Smaller numbers are online in Spain, France, Canada, China and Mexico.

"Vixie said most of the victims are probably individual home users, rather than corporations that have technology staffs who routinely check the computers...."

There's bad news here: the cost in dollars, time, and attention involved; loss of trust and other emotional fallout that's hard to measure.

But there's good news too: American and international law enforcement seem to be taking 'cybercrime' seriously, and are developing practical ways for dealing with the criminals and their actions; quite a few folks may learn more about how to use the Internet safely.

Free Advice From the Lemming: Worth Every Cent

The Lemming's household network and computers aren't infected by DNSChanger: or, as far as the Lemming knows, anything else.

That's partly because the Lemming spent 10 years being 'the computer guy' for a small company, and many more decades accumulating 'life experience.' It's like the sign said:

Making mistakes comes from a lack of wisdom.
Experience comes from making mistakes.
Wisdom comes from experience.

If you don't mind taking advice from an oversize virtual Lemming, here are some helpful(?) tips:
  • No foreign ruler wants you to transfer his wealth through your bank account
  • The inheritance from a rich relative you don't know about
    • Doesn't exist
      • Neither does the rich relative
  • "Free" usually isn't
  • You won't make millions by stuffing envelopes
  • If you wouldn't do it in your neighborhood, don't do it online
    • Cyberspace is real, too
By the way: the Lemming's not an online security 'expert,' so do your own research: and use your brain.

Not-entirely-unrelated posts:

Friday, June 1, 2012

SpaceX's Dragon Cargo Ship Returns

"SpaceX Dragon Capsule Splashes Down in Pacific, Ending Historic Test Flight"
Clara Moskowitz, (May 31, 2012)

(SpaceX/Michael Altenhofen, via, used w/o permission)

"The world's first commercial space cargo ship dove through Earth's atmosphere and splashed down in the Pacific Ocean early Thursday (May 31), ending an historic test flight to the International Space Station.

"The SpaceX Dragon capsule made a water landing off the coast of Baja California, Mexico at 11:42 a.m. EDT (1542 GMT). Recovery ships have spotted the capsule and are en route to collect the vehicle to tow to Los Angeles...."

This may have been a "test flight," but the Dragon was also hauling cargo on this run.

"...While the cargo-delivery spacecraft built by Russia, Japan and Europe are designed to burn up during re-entry, Dragon is equipped with a heat shield and parachutes to survive the fiery plunge.

"Dragon is packed with 1,367 pounds (620 kg) of crew items, used hardware and completed science experiments for its return trip. On the way up, the spacecraft delivered student-designed experiments and food, clothing and other supplies for the station's astronauts...."

I can see why some folks decided to concentrate on building one-way cargo carriers. The Dragon's heat shield and other re-entry equipment adds weight - and complexity - to the SpaceX vehicle. It's arguably faster and easier to make a one-way disposable ship.

On the other hand, how long would a commercial carrier like FedEx Express stay in business, if they flew each of their Airbuses once, and then threw it away? I think we'll be seeing more reusable spaceships, as space transport moves away from government programs, and into the hands of folks who know how to run a business.

Coming - Fairly Soon

"Splashdown for SpaceX Dragon spacecraft"
Jonathan Amos, BBC News (May 31, 2012)

"...The agency hopes the contracting out of freight duties will save it money that can then be re-invested in more daring activities beyond the station, at destinations such as asteroids and Mars.

"The commercial cargo approach will be followed later this decade by crew transport services.

"SpaceX wants this business as well, and is developing the safety and life-support equipment that would allow Dragon to double up as an astronaut taxi...."

SpaceX's Dragon will probably make a pretty good 'taxi' to Earth orbit: but the Lemming suspects that its 'parachute drop' landing technology will make it one of the less attractive alternatives.

There aren't any 'fly back' spaceships available today, now that the Space Shuttle has been retired. Not too many years from now, that could change.

Reaction Engines Limited's Skylon spaceplane is designed to use commercial airports for landing - and takeoff. It may not be long before a single vehicle will be a 'hypersonic transport' carrying taking cargo and passengers across the Pacific on one run, and fly to an orbital facility on the next.

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

Other companies, like Blue Origin, are developing spaceships that take off and make powered vertical landings. The Lemming thinks that research and development may pay off in a few decades - or a few generations - when commercial service to the Moon and other places without a thick atmosphere comes into demand.

The Lemming is pretty sure that it's when commercial service to the Moon and beyond: not if.

The question is when, and who will be taking part. Like the Lemming said, "when it's time to build spaceships, people will build spaceships." (October 4, 2009)

People are building spaceships.

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