Saturday, December 4, 2010

Olivia goes home on a spine-tingling 'Fringe'

Olivia goes home on a spine-tingling 'Fringe'
December 3rd, 2010
04:55 PM ET
We've seen some pretty amazing episodes of "Fringe" - usually involving a twist ending of some kind. But Thursday night's episode stood head and shoulders above them all.
Picking up where we left of last week, Peter got a mysterious message on his phone from the real Olivia while he was in bed with "Bolivia" from the other world. After failing to recall  a phrase Olivia said to Peter last season, "Bolivia" pulled a gun on him: "I failed the test, didn't I?"
We've been witnessing the evolution of Peter's character, and this week, we heard vengeful Peter tell "Bolivia," "I'm going to get answers. And if I find out you did anything to Olivia, then I'm going to kill you."
Then, when "Bolivia" was tracked down holding a woman hostage, Peter asked the woman what her daughter's name was. He shot her without flinching when she didn't answer, knowing she was a shape-shifter.
At the same time, we saw "alt-Boyles" pulling off an act of great heroism, rescuing the real Olivia, and helping her escape.
Lance Reddick, portraying both versions of Boyles, turned in an Emmy-worthy performance here - especially as "alt-Boyles" struggled over whether to do the right thing for Olivia after she saved his son the previous episode.
Despite the fact that Olivia is now safe and sound where she belongs, "Bolivia" and "Walter-nate" are still out there, and it seems like the war between worlds has only just begun.
I can't wait to see where the show goes from here. I hope its pending move to Fridays doesn't place it in danger of cancellation.
What did you think of "Fringe" last night? Do you agree the show is at the top of its game now? And how great was Riddick? Where would you like to see it go? Share your iReport recap, or comments below.

Where God And Science Meet

Where God And Science Meet | Author: Patrick McNamara | Release: 2006 | Publisher: Praeger | ISBN: 0275987884 (0-275-98788-4) | ISBN 13: 9780275987886 (978-0-275-98788-6) | List Price: $275.00 | Edition: 1 |


Spiritual practices, or awakenings, have an impact on brain, mind and personality. These changes are being scientifically predicted and proven. For example, studies show Buddhist priests and Franciscan nuns at the peak of religious feelings show a functional change in the lobes of their brain. Similar processes have been found in people with epilepsy, which Hippocrates called "the sacred disease." New research is showing that not only does a person's brain activity change in particular areas while that person is experiencing religious epiphany, but such events can be created for some people, even self-professed atheists, by stimulating various parts of the brain. In this far-reaching and novel set, experts from across the nation and around the world present evolutionary, neuroscientific, and psychological approaches to explaining and exploring religion, including the newest findings and evidence that have spurred the fledgling field of neurotheology. It is not the goal of neurotheology to prove or disprove the existence of God, but to understand the biology of spiritual experiences. Such experiences seem to exist outside time and space - caused by the brain for some reason losing its perception of a boundary between physical body and outside world - and could help explain other intangible events, such as altered states of consciousness, possessions, alien visitations, near-death experiences and out-of-body events. Understanding them - as well as how and why these abilities evolved in the brain - could also help us understand how religion contributes to survival of the human race.
Eminent contributors to this set help us answer questions including:
How does religion better our brain function?
What is the difference between a religious person and a terrorist who kills in the name of religion? Is there one site or function in the brain necessary for religious experience?

Engineering Thermodynamics

Engineering Thermodynamics

Posted Image

Engineering Thermodynamics by Tarik Al-Shemmeri
Ventus Publishing ApS | 2010 | ISBN: 8776816704 | 107 pages | 

This book is designed for the virtual reader in mind, it is concise and easy to read, yet it presents all the basic laws of thermodynamics in a simplistic and straightforward manner. The book deals with all four laws, the zeroth law and its application to temperature measurements

Nanotechnology: Science and Computation

Nanotechnology Science and Computation
New postPosted: Yesterday 

Nanotechnology: Science and Computation
Springer; 1 edition | April 27, 2006 | ISBN-10: 3540302956 | 393 pages | PDF |

Nanoscale science and computing is becoming a major research area as today's scientists try to understand the processes of natural and biomolecular computing. The field is concerned with the architectures and design of molecular self-assembly, nanostructures and molecular devices, and with understanding and exploiting the computational processes of biomolecules in nature.

Block Copolymers in Nanoscience

Block Copolymers in Nanoscience

This first book to take a detailed look at one of the key focal points where nanotechnology and polymers meet provides both an introductory view for beginners as well as in-depth knowledge for specialists in the various research areas involved. It investigates all types of application for block copolymers: as tools for fabricating other nanomaterials, as structural components in hybrid materials and nanocomposites, and as functional materials.

The Great Book of Questions and Answers

The Great Book of Questions and Answers

Ever wondered whether ostriches really bury their heads in the sand, or what gas giants are? This lively reference book for children, and the whole family, asks and answers these questions, and hundreds more besides. It provides the information that children love in an accessible and entertaining way. Topics include: the Universe, Planet Earth, the Human Body, World History, and Science and Technology.

Space Debris? Russia's Got It Covered

Space Debris? Russia's Got It Covered

BY Kit EatonWed Nov 24, 2010

space junk
Russia has announced it will be investing $2 billion in a program to capture some of the thousands of pieces of dangerous debris that threaten the future of space technology. How might it work?
Energia, Russia's space corporation, has revealed plans to build a special space "pod" which will grab around 600 defunct satellites and then safely deorbit them so that they either burn up in the atmosphere or splash down into the ocean. The pod will rely on a nuclear power core, and cost around $2 billion to develop and deploy. Energia plans to complete design and testing by 2020 and have it in service no later than 2023, with an operational lifespan of around 15 years. The company also said it has been working on a space interceptor capable of tackling any dangerous objects from the outer solar system that may be on a collision course with Earth.
If it seems odd to think of Russia as Earth's space junk and comet defender, it's also welcome news. Space debris in the form of defunct or malfunctioning satellites is an increasingly severe problem. Numerous orbits are becoming inaccessible, or at least hopelessly dangerous, because of wandering hulls or showers of shredded metal debris--like the one caused by a collision between a working U.S. Iridium satellite and a dead Russian Cosmos satellite in 2009.
How might the system operate? Energia hasn't offered much in the way of details, but its long mission life span and nuclear power source point to its drive tech. Radio thermal space waves can generate electricity over a long time, making it an ideal power source for ion drives (which use electric fields to accelerate ionized gas, rather than the typical chemical rockets). The pod's stated targets, dead satellites, also suggests it won't use an exotic form of debris capture, like a space net. Instead it's more likely to power its way up to a dead satellite in or near its main orbit, and then use the ion drive to gently push the spent vehicle into a decaying orbit that'll end with a burn-up.
Similar technology could be used in the "interceptor" spacecraft, only on a bigger scale. If you can identify and encounter an incoming threatening comet in time, you may only need to deviate its trajectory by a tiny amount so that it misses Earth rather than hits it.
The most popular and talked about stories of the week.
Of course, the technology for both a debris pod and comet interceptor would also make those particular spacecraft very potent anti-satellite weapons in a hypothetical space war. But we're probably better off not thinking too much about that.
To read more news on this, and similar stuff, keep up with my updates by following me, Kit Eaton, on Twitter.

Secret Mini-Shuttle Lands in California

Secret Mini-Shuttle Lands in California

Irene Klotz
Analysis by Irene Klotz Fri Dec 3, 2010 12:35 PM ET 3 Comments | Leave a Comment
Shrouded by darkness, the military’s miniature space shuttle -- a unmanned robotic craft -- returned early Friday from a trial run in orbit that spanned 224 days.
The Orbital Test Vehicle, also known as the X-37B, touched down at 1:16 a.m. PST at California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base, becoming the first U.S. vehicle to make an autonomous runway landing from space. The former Soviet Union’s Buran space shuttle accomplished the feat in 1988, following the sole spaceflight of the Soviet shuttle program.
ANALYSIS: Secret Military Mini-Shuttle Cleared For Landing
The military won't say what the X-37B was doing during its seven-plus months in space, but officials were satisfied enough to reiterate their intention to launch a second X-37B vehicle in the spring of 2011.
Before the X-37B's launch on April 22, the program manager at the time said the primary purpose of the flight was to test the vehicle as a platform for experiments. It is not known if the space plane carried anything in its small cargo hold.
"We are very pleased that the program completed all the on-orbit objectives for the first mission," program manager Lt. Col. Troy Giese said in a statement.
ANALYSIS: Amateur Astronomers Track Military's Secret Mini-Shuttle
Although the X-37B has landed, its mission is not yet over.
"Probably the most important demonstration is on the ground," Gary Payton, who served as undersecretary of the Air Force for Space Programs, told reporters before the launch. "Once we get the bird back, see what it really takes to turn this bird around and get it ready to go fly again."
The vehicle expected to fly in the spring is a second spacecraft, but the idea is to cut down the time needed for servicing the space planes from months to days -- and at a fraction of the cost NASA pays to get its shuttles ready for flight.
SLIDE SHOW: For Space Shuttle Atlantis, The End Is Here
The X-37B looks like a space shuttle orbiter, with a similar shape and payload bay for cargo and experiments. But it measures 29 feet, 3 inches in length and has a 15-foot (4.5-meter) wing span, compared to the 122-foot (37-meter) orbiters with wing spans of 78 feet.
Rather than hydrogen-oxygen fuel cells like the space shuttle orbiters, the X-37B is powered by gallium arsenide solar cells with lithium-ion batteries. It is designed to stay in orbit for up to 270 days, deorbit itself and land autonomously on a runway. NASA’s space shuttles can stay in space for up to about three weeks.
Image: The X-37B shortly after landing at Vandenberg AFB early Friday morning. Credit: U.S. Air Force.

How DARPA Is Making a Machine Mind out of Memristors

How DARPA Is Making a Machine Mind out of Memristors

MoNETA, software that runs a memristor brain, could make artificial intelligence a reality

Memristors An atomic force microscope shows a simple circuit containing 17 memristors. J. J. Yang, HP Labs via Wikimedia
Artificial intelligence has long been the overarching vision of computing, always the goal but never within reach. But using memristors from HP and steady funding from DARPA, computer scientists at Boston University are on a quest to build the electronic analog to a human brain. The software they are developing – called MoNETA for Modular Neural Exploring Traveling Agent – should be able to function more like a mammalian brain than a conventional computer. At least, that’s what they’re claiming in a new feature in IEEE Spectrum.
There’s reason to be optimistic that this attempt might be different from all the previous AI let-downs that have come before it. Why? The memristor, a concept that HP first realized in 2008. The memristor, put simply, is an electronic component in which the resistance is dependent on the amount of charge that passed through it at a previous time. In other words, it remembers the state it was in the last time charge was applied, unlike a conventional RAM cell (which requires constant power to maintain the same state).
Their ability to both store and process information as it transfers charge (and to do so with far less power consumption) makes memristors more analogous to the neurons in the brain than any other previously developed electronic component, and they are small enough, cheap enough and efficient enough to someday be used to build computing platforms that function more like the brain: learning, making decisions, and even using a machine version of intuition to execute their roles. The Boston U. team, by its own admission, doesn’t yet know exactly what these platforms will look like, but they seem very confident that they will soon be a reality. They also admit that, due to their benefactor (the DoD) they will likely first find a home in military tech; think autonomous vehicles that don’t just prowl the skies, but that actively engage in learning behaviors and problem solving to, say, search for IEDs or patrol territory for hostile intent. But the researchers envision a much broader role for MoNETA – and brain mimicking machines on the whole – in the near future.
Decide for yourself if MoNETA is the real deal by clicking through the source link below. It’s a somewhat lengthy but entirely interesting read.
[IEEE Spectrum]

Spain threatens state of emergency over strike

Spain threatens state of emergency over strike

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MADRID | Sat Dec 4, 2010 5:06am EST
MADRID (Reuters) - Spain said it would declare a state of emergency if air traffic controllers did not end a wildcat strike which paralyzed air traffic for a second day on Saturday, threatening to deepen the country's economic problems.
"If the situation doesn't normalize, the government will declare a state of emergency," Deputy Prime Minister Alfredo Rubalcaba said ahead of a hastily assembled cabinet meeting in Madrid.
"The controllers will be mobilized and if they don't get back to work, their cases will be passed immediately to the judiciary and they will be accused of a crime which could mean a prison sentence."
The Spanish army took over air control towers on Friday afternoon after unofficial strike action by controllers grounded planes and disrupted travel for around 250,000 people on one of Spain's busiest holiday weekends.
The walkout by the air traffic controllers, who are locked in a long-running dispute over pay and conditions with the state-run airport authority AENA, quickly stopped flights in and out of Spain's main airports.
The unofficial action followed cabinet approval of changes to rules on the number of hours air traffic controllers can work per year and of a law allowing the army to take over air space in times of emergency. The government has also approved plans to sell off 49 percent of AENA, a move unions have condemned.
The controllers gave no warning before starting their walkout by claiming sick leave and leaving their posts, effectively closing the whole of Spanish airspace except the southern region of Andalucia.
The air traffic controllers' union, USCA, said its workers were not on strike but had had enough. "This is a popular revolt," USCA head Camilo Cela told Reuters.
Flag carrier Iberia canceled all its flights from Spain until 1000 GMT on Saturday. Vueling also said it was cancelling flights. Some international flights landed at Madrid's Barajas airport overnight, local media reported.
AENA said on its website that Spanish airspace would remain closed until 1200 GMT on Saturday. The airport authority recommended travelers avoid its airports and contact their operators for information.
"I was inside the plane with my kid and they told us the plane was not flying as controllers had decided to strike..." Ramon, a Madrid resident who was flying to Mallorca for his mother's funeral, told Reuters.
Spain is carrying out tough reforms and spending cuts to rein in its deficit, kickstart its sluggish economy and ward off market fears it may need a bailout similar to that of Ireland.
Public Works Minister Jose Blanco condemned the wildcat strike as "blackmail," and there was widespread condemnation of the controllers' action in Spanish newspapers.
Tourism accounts for around 11 percent of Spain's gross domestic product and the Spanish Hotel Confederation said the disruption would lead to millions of euros in losses and damage Spain's image as a holiday destination.
Air traffic controllers' relatively high salaries and short working hours have raised hackles in the Spanish media at a time when the country is enforcing painful public sector pay cuts as part of its austerity measures.
(Writing by Alexander Smith; editing by Tim Pearce)

Friday, December 3, 2010

George Bernard Shaw

"There are scores of thousands of human insects who are ready at a moment's notice to reveal the will of God on every possible subject."

 George Bernard Shaw

Pagan visions for a sustainable future

In Test of Relativity Theory, Superaccurate Atomic Clocks Prove Your Head Ages Nanoseconds Faster than Your Feet

In Test of Relativity Theory, Superaccurate Atomic Clocks Prove Your Head Ages Nanoseconds Faster than Your Feet

Relativity experiment is the most accurate yet

Different Times at Different Heights The higher you go, the slower time moves. via Flickr/ ZeroOne (CC licensed)
Einstein first figured out that time moves at a different rate depending on how fast you’re moving, and depending on how close you are to a gravitational field. And scientists have already shown that time moves faster at higher elevations — clocks on a rocket move slower than clocks on Earth, for instance. By this logic, astronauts are actually time travelers.
Now, scientists have shown this time difference in action on the smallest scales yet — clocks move at different speeds on a staircase.
In a study published today in the journal Science, researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology explain that a one-foot difference in altitude between two clocks caused them to tick at slightly different rates. The optical clocks can even measure changes in the passage of time caused by a 20-mile-per-hour speed difference.
The clocks are based on the oscillations of a single aluminum ion that vibrates between two energy levels a million billion times per second. One clock is accurate to within one second in about 3.7 billion years, and the other is almost as accurate, NIST says.
In one experiment, James Chin-Wen Chou and his colleagues placed one clock about 13 inches higher than its counterpart. The higher clock felt less gravity, because it was a teeny bit farther from Earth’s gravitational field. It ticked more slowly — albeit a tiny, tiny bit more slowly. The time difference adds up to about 90 billionths of a second over a 79-year lifetime, according to NIST. Still, this means that the people who conducted this study, in Boulder, Colo., are apparently aging faster than those of you reading this at sea level.
In another experiment, the NIST scientists also observed that time passes more slowly when you move more quickly — a key tenet of relativity — even at very small speed variations. Clocks ticked more slowly at a difference of just 20 miles per hour, they say.
Before these experiments, the most accurate relativity tests involved rockets and jet aircraft. Though the differences are imperceptible to humans, they might be useful for geophysics and other fields, such as measuring the Earth’s gravitational field, NIST says. To improve those measurements, NIST’s next step is to make clocks that can differentiate time at a distance of just one centimeter.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Amerika Sans

Accents Euro Amerika Sans by Apostrophic Labs  [4 comments]
in Basic > Sans serif
First seen on DaFont: before 2005
399,382 downloads (223 yesterday)

Illustration © Apostrophic Labs

'Special' Christmas gift for U.S. Dr. Who fans

'Special' Christmas gift for U.S. Dr. Who fans

"Dr. Who" fans rejoice!
For the first time ever, the "Dr. Who Christmas Special" will be broadcast in the United States on the same day it's shown in the United Kingdom - Dec. 25.
For those unfamiliar with Dr. Who, he's a "time lord" from the planet Gallifrey who travels in a spaceship that looks like a blue British police box from the 1960s.
He's been delighting British sci-fi fans with his exploits since 1963 - and Americans have been able to follow him, sporadically, on public television and, more recently, the Syfy Channel and BBC America.
Until this year, American fans have had to wait until the spring to see the show's Christmas Special. But this year, BBC America will air the special at 9 p.m. Eastern Time on Christmas Day. The showing will be preceded by a marathon of previous Dr. Who "Christmas Specials" beginning at midnight Dec. 24. A live concert, the "Doctor Who Prom," will air just prior to the new Christmas Special.
This year's special is titled "A Christmas Carol," an obvious allusion to the Charles Dickens classic, and guest stars Michael Gambon (the second actor to play Dumbledore in the Harry Potter film series) and Welsh soprano Katherine Jenkins.
The show almost certainly will feature Dr. Who saving Earth from destruction - a running theme through most of the "Christmas Specials."
The Doctor has died at least 10 times and been regenerated into a new form - a handy plot device that allows a new actor to take over the role.
The current Who - the 11th of the series - is Matt Smith, who is relatively unknown in the United States. For the first time, parts of the coming season, which will begin airing in the spring on BBC America, has been filmed in the United States.
The show itself is in its third incarnation. First broadcast in 1963, it was a BBC staple until cancellation in 1989. It had a one-shot film in 1996 before being reborn in 2005, making the 2011 season the revived series' sixth.
Posted on Wed, Nov. 24, 2010 07:10 AM

Winds of the dead air

Cape Fear  

"Winds of the dead air "

Format : LP

Catalogue number : SOP 015  

Release date : January 2010

Composed by Laurent Perrier

Cover by Véronique Weil

Vinyl limited to 300 copies.



Side A

1-Ghosts  : 10’22    

2-Crack of dawn :  9’00

Side B

1-Haunted : 8’03

2-wild palms : 3’17

3-Hope : 8’38

In 1997, Laurent Perrier puts an end to the Nox experience, one of the major bands of the French industrial rock scene, to launch a new solo project, CapeFear, with which he delivers a first album (Drift towards the heat) combining breakbeat, sampling and metal guitars .
        Twelve years later, CapeFear is back with a second album, Winds of the dead air. Five long titles, dark and strangely hypnotic, where guitars and metal riffs literally crash on a groovy bass/drum rythmic line. The sequencers and the unique sound of the Moog synthesizer give to this record some kind of a ambient 70's flavor while the quality and intensity of the compositions will remind the listener of Chrome, King Crimson, Neurosis and This Heat.
En 1997, Laurent Perrier met un point final à l'expérience Nox - groupe phare du rock industriel français – pour livrer avec son nouveau projet solo, Cape Fear, un premier album mariant rythmique breakbeat, sampling et guitares métal (Drift towards the heat, Odd Size Records).
Douze ans plus tard, Winds of the dead air, deuxième opus de Cape Fear, réunit cinq long titres, sombres, lancinants, hypnotiques, où guitares et riffs métal  s’entrechoquent sur une rythmique bass/batterie au groove implacable. Les sequencers et nappes de synthétiseur Moog apportent à l’album une touche 70’s ambient tandis que le soin apporté aux compositions et la puissance des morceaux font de ce Winds of the dead air une oeuvre au croisement de Chrome et King Crimson, Neurosis et This Heat.

[csl spider the download here - ghosts is the recommended track] fear/  [/csl]

CAPE FEAR - Winds Of The Dead Air

CAPE FEAR - Winds Of The Dead Air PDF Print E-mail
Reviews - Reviews
Monday, 18 January 2010 16:59
Title: Winds Of The Dead Air
Format: 12"
Label: Sound On Probation contact {at} soundonprobation {dot} com ]
Active from the mid eighties until 1997, Nox have been one of the major French industrial rock bands and Laurent Perrier was one of their members. After that experience he released an album under the Cape Fear moniker. Now, thirteen years later Cape Fear is back with a 300 copies vinyl album titled WINDS OF THE DEAD AIR. The five tracks of the album are in balance from digital metal and dub where guitar layers are filtered and multiplied just to build a looping wave of changing melodies which duet with sub bass frequencies and rhythms (this is mainly true on side A because "Haunted" and "Wild palms" have no rhythm section while "Hope" has the alternation of synth arpeggios/guitar riffs on dub rhythms). For sure WINDS OF THE DEAD AIR is the child of the old guitar sound Laurent was producing a decade ago but the way of dealing with sound production (the choice of picking guitar sounds that seem sampled and filtered as well as the synth melodies used here and there), in my opinion, is influenced by his releases under his own name or under the Heal, Zonk't and Pylone monikers and this is good because in this way new stimulus will enhance your listening session.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

UK protests against tuition fees strain coalition

UK protests against tuition fees strain coalition

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LONDON | Tue Nov 30, 2010 12:12pm EST
LONDON (Reuters) - Thousands of students and school pupils protested across Britain on Tuesday against planned rises in university tuition fees, bringing disruption to central London and putting strains on the coalition government.
In fiery exchanges in parliament, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, the leader of the coalition's junior partner the Liberal Democrats, defended the fee hike which his party had promised to vote against during campaigning for May's election.
Outside parliament, there were bizarre scenes of cat and mouse as protesters dispersed from the route of a designated demonstration fanning out across central London with police in hot pursuit.
There were similar protests in other major cities, as anger about the Conservative-led coalition government's plans to almost triple tuition fees to up to 9,000 pounds ($14,500) a year showed no sign of abating.
Students have been occupying university buildings to campaign against the hike, part of austerity measures which will see 81 billion pounds of spending cuts over four years.
"It's starting to go back to how it was when only the upper classes can go to university," said Daisy Tolmie, 18, taking part in the third protest this month in the capital.
Saoirise Cox, 17, said: "I want to make them realize that we are political as a group, and that we're not going to let them get away with this."
Protesters say they feel betrayed by the coalition government, in particular the Liberal Democrats because of their pre-election pledge to oppose higher tuition fees.
The issue is becomingly increasingly embarrassing for the party and Business Secretary Vince Cable, a Lib Dem minister whose department is responsible for the proposals, said he might join other Lib Dem lawmakers in abstaining in any vote.
Even Clegg, who has written to student leaders to try to explain the government's case that the new system would be fairer, declined to say during a debate in parliament what he would do in a vote, expected before Christmas.
"If he votes against, that's the only principled position," said Harriet Harman, opposition Labor's deputy leader. "If he abstains, it's a cop-out; if he votes for, it's a sell-out."
While it would be unlikely to block the bill, a rebellion by a significant number of Lib Dems would strain relations between the two coalition parties.
But there is no immediate danger to the coalition as Lib Dem popularity ratings have collapsed since they joined forces with the Conservatives and they would face disaster at the ballot box if they walked out now and forced an election.
Tuesday's protests in London were initially more peaceful than two previous demonstrations in the capital this month. Senior officers had warned no violence would be tolerated and officers in riot gear guarded government buildings.

But protesters who feared being "kettled," a containment tactic used by police, broke up into groups which spread across the streets of the capital. There were minor scuffles and police said they had made three arrests.
The student demonstrations are the first major protests directly linked to the government's spending cuts. Labor unions are warning of strikes and more action as anger rises over job cuts and the loss of some public services.
Riot police were called to break up a demonstration against cuts planned by the Lewisham local authority in south London on Monday, with 16 officers suffering minor injuries in clashes.
(Writing by Michael Holden; editing by Maria Golovnina)

Mystery Surrounds Cyber Missile That Crippled Iran's Nuclear Weapons Ambitions

Mystery Surrounds Cyber Missile That Crippled Iran's Nuclear Weapons Ambitions

By Ed Barnes
Published November 26, 2010
In the 20th century, this would have been a job for James Bond.

The mission: Infiltrate the highly advanced, securely guarded enemy headquarters where scientists in the clutches of an evil master are secretly building a weapon that can destroy the world. Then render that weapon harmless and escape undetected.

But in the 21st century, Bond doesn't get the call. Instead, the job is handled by a suave and very sophisticated secret computer worm, a jumble of code called Stuxnet, which in the last year has not only crippled Iran's nuclear program but has caused a major rethinking of computer security around the globe.

Intelligence agencies, computer security companies and the nuclear industry have been trying to analyze the worm since it was discovered in June by a Belarus-based company that was doing business in Iran. And what they've all found, says Sean McGurk, the Homeland Security Department's acting director of national cyber security and communications integration, is a “game changer.”

The construction of the worm was so advanced, it was “like the arrival of an F-35 into a World War I battlefield,” says Ralph Langner, the computer expert who was the first to sound the alarm about Stuxnet. Others have called it the first “weaponized” computer virus.

Simply put, Stuxnet is an incredibly advanced, undetectable computer worm that took years to construct and was designed to jump from computer to computer until it found the specific, protected control system that it aimed to destroy: Iran’s nuclear enrichment program.

The target was seemingly impenetrable; for security reasons, it lay several stories underground and was not connected to the World Wide Web. And that meant Stuxnet had to act as sort of a computer cruise missile: As it made its passage through a set of unconnected computers, it had to grow and adapt to security measures and other changes until it reached one that could bring it into the nuclear facility.

When it ultimately found its target, it would have to secretly manipulate it until it was so compromised it ceased normal functions.

And finally, after the job was done, the worm would have to destroy itself without leaving a trace.

That is what we are learning happened at Iran's nuclear facilities -- both at Natanz, which houses the centrifuge arrays used for processing uranium into nuclear fuel, and, to a lesser extent, at Bushehr, Iran's nuclear power plant.

At Natanz, for almost 17 months, Stuxnet quietly worked its way into the system and targeted a specific component -- the frequency converters made by the German equipment manufacturer Siemens that regulated the speed of the spinning centrifuges used to create nuclear fuel. The worm then took control of the speed at which the centrifuges spun, making them turn so fast in a quick burst that they would be damaged but not destroyed. And at the same time, the worm masked that change in speed from being discovered at the centrifuges' control panel.

At Bushehr, meanwhile, a second secret set of codes, which Langner called “digital warheads,” targeted the Russian-built power plant's massive steam turbine.

Here's how it worked, according to experts who have examined the worm:
--The nuclear facility in Iran runs an “air gap” security system, meaning it has no connections to the Web, making it secure from outside penetration. Stuxnet was designed and sent into the area around Iran's Natanz nuclear power plant -- just how may never be known -- to infect a number of computers on the assumption that someone working in the plant would take work home on a flash drive, acquire the worm and then bring it back to the plant.

--Once the worm was inside the plant, the next step was to get the computer system there to trust it and allow it into the system. That was accomplished because the worm contained a “digital certificate” stolen from JMicron, a large company in an industrial park in Taiwan. (When the worm was later discovered it quickly replaced the original digital certificate with another certificate, also stolen from another company, Realtek, a few doors down in the same industrial park in Taiwan.)

--Once allowed entry, the worm contained four “Zero Day” elements in its first target, the Windows 7 operating system that controlled the overall operation of the plant. Zero Day elements are rare and extremely valuable vulnerabilities in a computer system that can be exploited only once. Two of the vulnerabilities were known, but the other two had never been discovered. Experts say no hacker would waste Zero Days in that manner.

--After penetrating the Windows 7 operating system, the code then targeted the “frequency converters” that ran the centrifuges. To do that it used specifications from the manufacturers of the converters. One was Vacon, a Finnish Company, and the other Fararo Paya, an Iranian company. What surprises experts at this step is that the Iranian company was so secret that not even the IAEA knew about it.

--The worm also knew that the complex control system that ran the centrifuges was built by Siemens, the German manufacturer, and -- remarkably -- how that system worked as well and how to mask its activities from it.

--Masking itself from the plant's security and other systems, the worm then ordered the centrifuges to rotate extremely fast, and then to slow down precipitously. This damaged the converter, the centrifuges and the bearings, and it corrupted the uranium in the tubes. It also left Iranian nuclear engineers wondering what was wrong, as computer checks showed no malfunctions in the operating system.

Estimates are that this went on for more than a year, leaving the Iranian program in chaos. And as it did, the worm grew and adapted throughout the system. As new worms entered the system, they would meet and adapt and become increasingly sophisticated.

During this time the worms reported back to two servers that had to be run by intelligence agencies, one in Denmark and one in Malaysia. The servers monitored the worms and were shut down once the worm had infiltrated Natanz. Efforts to find those servers since then have yielded no results.
This went on until June of last year, when a Belarusan company working on the Iranian power plant in Beshehr discovered it in one of its machines. It quickly put out a notice on a Web network monitored by computer security experts around the world. Ordinarily these experts would immediately begin tracing the worm and dissecting it, looking for clues about its origin and other details.

But that didn’t happen, because within minutes all the alert sites came under attack and were inoperative for 24 hours.

“I had to use e-mail to send notices but I couldn’t reach everyone. Whoever made the worm had a full day to eliminate all traces of the worm that might lead us them,” Eric Byres, a computer security expert who has examined the Stuxnet. “No hacker could have done that.”

Experts, including inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, say that, despite Iran's claims to the contrary, the worm was successful in its goal: causing confusion among Iran’s nuclear engineers and disabling their nuclear program.

Because of the secrecy surrounding the Iranian program, no one can be certain of the full extent of the damage. But sources inside Iran and elsewhere say that the Iranian centrifuge program has been operating far below its capacity and that the uranium enrichment program had “stagnated” during the time the worm penetrated the underground facility. Only 4,000 of the 9,000 centrifuges Iran was known to have were put into use. Some suspect that is because of the critical need to replace ones that were damaged.

And the limited number of those in use dwindled to an estimated 3,700 as problems engulfed their operation. IAEA inspectors say the sabotage better explains the slowness of the program, which they had earlier attributed to poor equipment manufacturing and management problems. As Iranians struggled with the setbacks, they began searching for signs of sabotage. From inside Iran there have been unconfirmed reports that the head of the plant was fired shortly after the worm wended its way into the system and began creating technical problems, and that some scientists who were suspected of espionage disappeared or were executed. And counter intelligence agents began monitoring all communications between scientists at the site, creating a climate of fear and paranoia.

Iran has adamantly stated that its nuclear program has not been hit by the bug. But in doing so it has backhandedly confirmed that its nuclear facilities were compromised. When Hamid Alipour, head of the nation’s Information Technology Company, announced in September that 30,000 Iranian computers had been hit by the worm but the nuclear facilities were safe, he added that among those hit were the personal computers of the scientists at the nuclear facilities. Experts say that Natanz and Bushehr could not have escaped the worm if it was in their engineers’ computers.

“We brought it into our lab to study it and even with precautions it spread everywhere at incredible speed,” Byres said.
“The worm was designed not to destroy the plants but to make them ineffective. By changing the rotation speeds, the bearings quickly wear out and the equipment has to be replaced and repaired. The speed changes also impact the quality of the uranium processed in the centrifuges creating technical problems that make the plant ineffective,” he explained.

In other words the worm was designed to allow the Iranian program to continue but never succeed, and never to know why.

One additional impact that can be attributed to the worm, according to David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Studies, is that “the lives of the scientists working in the facility have become a living hell because of counter-intelligence agents brought into the plant” to battle the breach. Ironically, even after its discovery, the worm has succeeded in slowing down Iran's reputed effort to build an atomic weapon. And Langer says that the efforts by the Iranians to cleanse Stuxnet from their system “will probably take another year to complete,” and during that time the plant will not be able to function anywhere normally.

While Italy Watches, Ancient Pompeii Continues Crumbling

While Italy Watches, Ancient Pompeii Continues Crumbling

Published November 30, 2010
| Associated Press
A stretch of garden wall ringing an ancient house in Pompeii gave way Tuesday after days of torrential rain, the latest structure to collapse at the popular archaeological site.
Pompeii officials said an inspection found that a 40-foot (12-meter)-long section of wall forming part of the perimeter of a garden area near the House of the Moralist gave way in several points. They said the extreme sogginess of the soil brought down the wall in an area that hasn't been excavated near the house.
Italy's is struggling to preserve its immense archaeological wealth for future generations.
A few weeks ago, Italy was embarrassed when a frescoed house, the Schola Armaturarum, where gladiators prepared for combat, was reduced to a pile of stones and dust in seconds. Less than a year ago, another building, the House of the Chaste Lovers, collapsed in Pompeii.
The House of the Moralist wasn't affected by the wall's demise "and isn't at risk for collapse," Pompeii excavations director Antonio Varone said.
The Schola and the House of the Moralist are only a few steps away from each other along one of Pompeii's main streets, which are usually thronged with some of the 3 million tourists who traipse the paths each year.
The House of the Moralist includes the remains of the homes of two families in the ancient city that was buried by the catastrophic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. It is one of many structures in Pompeii that are off-limits to tourists, and no one was injured in the wall's collapse, which was discovered early in the morning before opening hours.
Made of tufa rock, the garden wall was heavily damaged during the U.S. bombing of the Naples area in World War II. It was rebuilt after the war using a mix of the ancient stones and modern material, said Daniela Leone, an official of the state Naples and Pompeii Archaeological Superintendency.
Earlier this year the wall was reinforced, but the reinforcement work was "swept away by the violence" of the storms, the Pompeii archaeology office said in a statement.
Coincidentally, Carabinieri police were in the ruins when the garden wall came down. The officers were inspecting the gladiators house as part of efforts to pinpoint the cause of that collapse and decide if that structure can be reconstructed.
Culture Minister Sandro Bondi instructed ministry officials to keep monitoring Pompeii but warned against "useless alarmism."
A no-confidence motion against Bondi, proposed by opposition parties after the gladiator house collapsed, had been scheduled to be voted on in Parliament on Monday, but work on legislation caused the vote to be put off until a date to be determined.


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