Friday, February 25, 2011

Christian Science Monitor: "Walking cactus discovered in China"

"Walking cactus: Scientists have discovered what researchers are calling the missing link in China. The strange-looking walking cactus is thought to be the link between worm-like creatures and arthropods like spiders."

"Fossils of a 10-legged wormy creature that lived 520 million years ago may fill an important gap in the history of the evolution of insects, spiders and crustaceans.

The so-called walking cactus belongs to a group of extinct worm-like creatures called lobopodians that are thought to have given rise to arthropods. Spiders and other arthropods have segmented bodies and jointed limbs covered in a hardened shell.

Before the discovery of the walking cactus, Diania cactiformis, all lobopodian remains had soft bodies and soft limbs, said Jianni Liu, the lead researcher who is affiliated with Northwest University in China and Freie University in Germany."
Christian Science Monitor: "Walking cactus discovered in China"

Monday, February 21, 2011

TPMMuckraker: "Patriot Act Extension Passes On Simple Majority Vote"

"An extension of several provisions of the PATRIOT Act, which failed to pass the House last week under a procedural motion which required a two-thirds super-majority, passed on Monday [Feb 14, 20011] night under a simple majority vote.

The vote to extend several key provisions of the Act which had been set to expire was 275 -144. There were 27 Republicans who voted against the bill and 65 Democrats who voted in favor. President Barack Obama supports the renewal of the provisions."

TPMMuckraker: "Patriot Act Extension Passes On Simple Majority Vote"

Sunday, February 20, 2011

TPM: "Apple developing smaller, cheaper iPhones: report"

"Apple is developing a new lines of smaller and cheaper iPhones and overhauling its software to facilitate users' access to entertainment, photos and video, The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday.

The new device -- code-named "N97" -- will be about half the size of the iPhone 4 and cost about half as much as Apple's main line of iPhones, the Journal said, citing a person who saw a prototype of the new gadget several months ago."
TPM: "Apple developing smaller, cheaper iPhones: report"

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Talking Points Memo: "Japan eclipsed by China as world's second economy"

"Japan lost its 42-year ranking as the world's second-biggest economy to China in 2010, with data out Monday showing a contraction in the last quarter due to weak consumer spending and a strong yen.

While Japan was expected to fall behind a surging China in the year, the data underlined the weak state of a Japanese economy burdened by deflation, soft domestic demand and pressured by the industrialised world's biggest debt.

"It is difficult for the deflation-plagued Japanese economy to achieve self-sustained growth," said Naoki Murakami, chief economist at Monex Securities.

While China's leap forward reflects a shift in economic power as the country transforms itself from poverty-hit communist state to global heavyweight, it highlights the need for shrinking Japan to energise its economy, analysts said.

Japan's post-war "economic miracle" put it at number two behind the United States for more than four decades, but stagnation after the Japanese property bubble burst in the 1990s helped put booming China on course to supplant its neighbour.

However, Japan remains around 10 times richer on a per-capita basis, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Predictions vary as to when China may overtake the United States as number one economy, but it should happen by 2025, according to estimates by the World Bank, Goldman Sachs and others."

Talking Points Memo: "Japan eclipsed by China as world's second economy"

Friday, February 18, 2011

Ars Technica, Wired: "The Real Internet Censors: Unaccountable ISPs?"

"...a new report suggests that nations are slowly turning ISPs into the off-duty information cops of the world. Eager to placate politicians in order to achieve their own goals (like the selective throttling of data), networks are cooperating with governments looking for easy, informal solutions to difficult problems like copyright infringement, dangerous speech, online vice, and child pornography.

Network and content providers are ostensibly engaging in “self-regulation,” but that’s a deceptive phrase, warns the European Digital Rights group. “It is not regulation — it is policing — and it is not ’self-’ because it is their consumers and not themselves that are being policed,” EDR says."

"...Bottom line: 70 percent of the providers in the experiment took down the content without scrutinizing either it or the complainant.

All this is central to the censorship ecosystem that European Digital Rights fears, and it worries that this sort of extrajudicial censorship could get much larger in the near future. The group wants more debate “to assess the scale of the policing measures being entrusted to Internet intermediaries, the cost for the rule of law and for fundamental rights, as well as the cost for effective investigation and prosecution of serious crimes in the digital environment.”"

Ars Technica, Wired - "The Real Internet Censors: Unaccountable ISPs?"


Image credit: - Internet censorship: Kyrgyzstan blocks independent web-sites

Monday, February 14, 2011

New Giant Planet Hidden In Our Solar System? We Might Need A New Kind Of Planet Classification To Describe It

"There's a giant planet right here, hiding in our solar system. One that nobody has ever seen, even while it is four times larger than Jupiter and has rings and moons orbiting it. At least, that's what two astrophysicists say.

The name of the planet is Tyche. The scientists are John Matese and Daniel Whitmire, from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. According to them, the giant planet is hiding in the Oort Cloud—the asteroid beehive that forms the outer shell of our solar system."

Gizmodo - The Mystery of the Giant Planet Hidden In Our Solar System


"The fate of Tyche (and even if it will end up getting called Tyche) will be decided by the all powerful International Astronomical Union (IAU). They are the dudes who demoted our beloved Pluto.

The IAU will decide ‘officially’ if Tyche exists and what it will be called. There is even some conjecture that they may even make it a whole new classification of planet." - New planet Tyche four times bigger than Jupiter


"The first tranche of data is to be released in April, and astrophysicists John Matese and Daniel Whitmire from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette think it will reveal Tyche within two years. "If it does, John and I will be doing cartwheels," Professor Whitmire said. "And that's not easy at our age."

Once Tyche has been located, other telescopes could be pointed at it to confirm the discovery.

Whether it would become the new ninth planet would be decided by the International Astronomical Union (IAU). The main argument against is that Tyche probably formed around another star and was later captured by the Sun's gravitational field. The IAU may choose to create a whole new category for Tyche, Professor Matese said.

The IAU would also have the final say about the gas giant's name. To the Greeks, Tyche was the goddess responsible for the destiny of cities. Her name was provisionally chosen in reference to an earlier hypothesis, now largely abandoned, that the Sun might be part of a binary star system with a dim companion, tentatively called Nemesis, that was thought responsible for mass extinctions on Earth. In myth, Tyche was the good sister of Nemesis. "

The Independent - Up telescope! Search begins for giant new planet

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

U.S. "House rejects measure that would extend key Patriot Act provisions through December" (for now...)

"A measure to extend key provisions of the Patriot Act counterterrorism surveillance law through December failed the House Tuesday night, with more than two-dozen Republicans bucking their party to oppose the measure."

"The measure would have extended three key provisions of the Patriot Act that are set to expire on Monday, Feb. 28, unless Congress moves to reauthorize them. One of the provisions authorizes the FBI to continue using roving wiretaps on surveillance targets; the second allows the government to access "any tangible items," such as library records, in the course of surveillance; and the third is a "lone wolf" provision of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorist Prevention Act that allows for the surveillance of targets who are not connected to an identified terrorist group"

"The House measure, which was sponsored by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) and required a two-thirds majority for passage, failed on a 277-to-148 vote. Twenty-six Republicans voted with 122 Democrats to oppose the measure, while 67 Democrats voted with 210 Republicans to back it. Ten members did not vote."

and yay Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich!

""The 112th Congress began with a historic reading of the U.S. Constitution," Kucinich said. "Will anyone subscribe to the First and Fourth Amendments tomorrow when the PATRIOT Act is up for a vote? I am hopeful that members of the Tea Party who came to Congress to defend the Constitution will join me in challenging the reauthorization.""

Washington Post - House rejects measure that would extend key Patriot Act provisions through December


"Only 26 Republicans voted against the bill, and there are 52 members of the Republican Tea Party Caucus, whose chairperson, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn) voted for reauthorization along with most of the rest of her caucus. As Slate's Dave Weigel points out, only eight of the 26 were Republican freshmen elected last November. One hundred and twenty-two Democrats voted against reauthorization, I suspect most of them just because they could.

So how did the bill fail? Basically Republicans were trying to pass the bill under "suspension of the rules," which is considered the process for passing "noncontroversial" legislation. You need a two thirds majority of those present to pass bills that way. For one brief night, Republicans in the House learned what it was like to be a Democrat in the Senate.

Sadly, the revolt probably won't last, as there are more than the 218 votes needed to pass reauthorization under normal procedures. What's uncertain is whether the reauthorization will contain mild oversight provisions, and when the provisions will actually sunset."

Washington Poat - Newsflash: Tea Party didn't kill Patriot Act


"Neither party could muster the votes needed to pass an extension of the Patriot Act, the country’s counterterrorism law. In a 277-148 vote, the House of Representatives fell a few votes short of the two-thirds majority necessary to extend several key provisions of the law.

The provisions of the act, which has been something of a legislative hot potato since it was first passed in the wake of Sept. 11, deal with roving wiretaps, granting authorities wider access to records and property during terrorism investigations, and so-called “lone wolf” provision, which approvesurveillance of suspected terrorists not linked to a specific terrorist organization.

Republican leaders said they plan to hold another vote on the measure before the end of the month."

ABC News - The Note: Patriot Games: Congressional Leaders Blindsided By Failed Vote

My personal objections to the so-called "Patriot Act" is that it allows government agents to do almost anything they want without oversight.

For example, the U.S. authorities have been given power under the act to subpoena business records that are "relevant" to a terrorism investigation, without seeking a court warrant. I would far rather have to have them persuade a judge than to just act on their own.

No oversight, no reports, no transparency, no accountability.

Remember what happened to Stacy Bonds in that Ottawa jail cell when she theoretically had rights? When the officers knew there were cameras?

How about those school officials remotely activating webcams on kids computers while they were at home?

Or the " database of so-called “suspicious activity reports” that describe possible evidence of terrorist attack planning. Reports will be submitted not just by state and local police and agencies within the Department of Homeland Security, but also private corporations that control economic and infrastructure assets considered high-profile targets for terrorists."

Remember Sean Bruyea? "Sean Bruyea told CTV’s Question Period that two months after he first testified against a controversial change to veterans’ disability payments, Veterans Affairs Canada attempted to discredit him by hospitalizing him and making his advocacy a psychological issue."

And in Bruyea's case that was bureacrats trying to have him bundled off to a metal hospital - think about what national security types do - the about "extraordinary rendition" - that's what they call kidnapping someone...

We all know what humans are capable of when acting without restraints.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Ars Technica: "Sorry about that! Canada reverses metered Internet decision"

"Oops! Terrified by a critical mass of enraged broadband consumers, Canada's government is telling its telecom regulator to rescind its approval of metered or "usage based" billing, or else. Industry Minister Tony Clement is now insisting that Canada's Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has to undo the ruling.

Most Canadian newspapers are getting the same message from the top. The CRTC "should be under no illusion—the Prime Minister and Minister of Industry will reverse this decision unless the CRTC does it itself," a member of Canada's conservative government told the Toronto Star on Wednesday.

"Frankly, a decision like this is clearly not in the best interest of consumers," the unnamed senior official added. "This is a bread-and-butter issue.""

Ars Technica - Sorry about that! Canada reverses metered Internet decision


"OTTAWA—A controversial CRTC decision that effectively imposed usage-based Internet billing on small service providers will be reversed, the Toronto Star has learned.

“The CRTC should be under no illusion — the Prime Minister and minister of Industry will reverse this decision unless the CRTC does it itself,” a senior Conservative government official said Wednesday.

“If they don’t reconsider we will reverse their decision.”

The promise to reverse the ruling comes as CRTC Chair Konrad von Finckenstein is scheduled to explain the decision Thursday before the House of Commons industry committee.

While the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission is an independent agency, its decision can be overturned by cabinet. The Star was told that could happen as early as next week. "

the Star - Ottawa to reverse CRTC Internet billing decision

Egypt Internet Back Online

"“All major Egyptian ISPs appear to have readvertised routes to their domestic customer networks in the global routing table…The rebooted Egyptian table is smaller than it was a week ago, but that’s mostly because of a normal process called “reaggregation” (the deletion of very small, specific customer routes that are partially or totally redundant with existing announcements, generally for purposes of traffic engineering). That’s to be expected: the Egyptian table had gotten pretty dense with redundancy in the week leading up to the takedown, and it’s been cleaned up in the process of being brought back.

“It wasn’t totally smooth; a few larger network blocks belonging to the Egyptian Universities Network (AS2561) were still missing. Unfortunately, these included the address space that hosts the .eg top level domain servers. The routes have since recovered.”"

Egypt Internet Restored; Cairo Protests Turn Violent


"To restore the country's connections, Egyptian Internet service providers (ISPs) re-configured their core routers so that they once again announced their presence, letting upstream providers and other networks reestablish data pathways.

"It was pretty much similar, except reversed, to what happened last week," said Andree Toonk, the founder and lead developer of BGPmon, an open-source tool for monitoring BGP, or "border gateway protocol."

BGP is the protocol at the heart of the Internet's routing mechanism, and is used by routers to share information about the paths data traffic uses to "hop" from one network to another as it moves from a source to its destination.

The speed with which the networks reconnected was evidence that rather than physically plugging in cables, Egypt's ISPs simply began advertising their availability to other networks' routers using BGP, said Toonk.

"That, and the fact that it all happened at the same time shows the disconnect was probably not physical," said Toonk. Nor was the restoration today. "Everything was restored in about half an hour," he said.

According to Toonk's monitoring, the first BGP announcements for Egypt began at 9:30 a.m. UTC, or 11:30 a.m. local time. The start time Toonk cited was 4:30 a.m. ET and 1:30 a.m. PT in the U.S.

Internet monitoring company Renesys also pegged the reconnect time for the bulk of Egypt's networks at around 30 minutes."

ComputerWorld - Egypt reverses 'kill switch' to restore Internet access


A good rundown with links to a number of stories around the internet restoration:

ComputerWorld - Egypt Internet returns; violent protests continue


"It appears Internet service is making a comeback in the embattled nation of Egypt, according to posts which lit up social networks such as Twitter today.

Early this morning, Google tweeted, "Good news: Internet access being restored in Egypt." The search giant also linked to its Transparency Report, a web tool which allows anyone to view Google's traffic on platforms such as Google Search, Blogger, and YouTube.

Egypt Google traffic has risen dramatically today, after days of little Egyptian web activity registering on Google platforms.

Top and rising search terms in Egypt during the past 7 days - including days the Internet was blocked and today, when Internet access was re-established - include "demonstrations", "constitution", "Al Jazeera", "news", "photos", and "Facebook"."

New York Times - Egypt Internet back; info-hungry Egyptians Google Al Jazeera and Facebook, report chaos on Twitter

", the Internet crackled to life in Egypt for the first time in more than four days. "No traffic blocks are in place, DNS answers are clean, IP addresses match, no funny business," reported Renesys, the Internet tracking firm that had first reported last week that Egypt had largely been disconnected from the Internet.

What gives? That concurrent tightening of the political scene and rediscovered Internet openness in Egypt is indeed a little puzzling. Does the Mubarak regime have some sort of savvy master plan to harness the Internet to their benefit, giving them a way to sell their version of events to the world? Or perhaps use it to track protesters? Or is the Mubarak administration that might be in its last throes just flailing about wildly here? What's going on here?"

techPresident - Why'd a Battle-Ready Mubarak Turn Egypt's Internet Back On?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

China Censoring Egypt News; Visuals Might Be Too Close To Tiananmen ?

Global Voices Advocacy - China: Bridging news on Egypt (Author - Oiwan Lam)
"The filtering of search result and the blocking of search term “Egypt” in social media websites is to prevent certain interpretation of the political situation in Egypt. The scenes of Tanks moving into the city center, the confrontation between the people and the soldiers are very likely to recall Chinese people's memory of the June 4 incident back in 1989 and the criticism of the authoritarian government in Egypt can easily turn into a political allegory in China. The propaganda department certainly has to issue censorship alert to web-portal and social media websites, where opinions can spread rapidly and become mainstream public discourses in a few hour time."

"BEIJING (Dow Jones)--Chinese authorities have blocked the word "Egypt" from searches on Twitter-like microblogging sites in an indication of concern among Communist Party leaders that the unrest there could encourage similar calls for political reform in China.

Internet censors also appeared Sunday to have deleted almost all of the comments posted beneath the few limited reports on the unrest - mostly from the state-run Xinhua news agency - that have been published on Chinese news sites in the past few days.

The strict online controls illustrate the party's concern that the Internet is providing China's citizens with a new means of information and organization that could challenge its monopoly on power, as has happened with other authoritarian governments in recent years.

Chinese authorities also stepped up their efforts to control the Internet after the "color revolutions" in the former Soviet Union in 2003-05, and the pro-democracy protests in Iran in 2009. They completely shut down Internet access in the northwestern Chinese region of Xinjiang for several months after riots there in 2009.

China now appears to be tightening media and Internet restrictions in the run-up to once-a-decade leadership succession next year, when President Hu Jintao and six other top leaders are expected to retire from their party posts." - China Blocks Egypt Protest Reports

"The widespread use of the Internet is a relatively new development in China, but Goldkorn says the government has moved to limit access to information about other recent global events.

"There was a similar type of censorship when there were the so-called color revolutions going on in Eastern Europe, and I think that the reasons are fairly obvious - that the government would prefer that the people don’t draw parallels to what is going on in Egypt with anything that could go on in China," Goldkorn added.

Renmin University international relations professor Shi Yinhong echoes that thinking.

"Above all, their (the Chinese government’s) first priority is to maintain social and political stability," Shi said.

Shi says the government has been concerned with public unrest since it cracked down on pro-democracy demonstrations around the country in 1989. He describes this kind of nervousness as China’s current political culture.

"This kind of political culture will shape China for a long time. So, within China, everyone knows that our government is extremely concerned about weiwang," Shi added.

"Weiwang" means maintaining social stability.

Peking University International relations professor Zhu Feng describes efforts to control Web access to information about Egypt as a "preventative countermeasure.""

VOA - China Blocks Some Internet Reports on Egypt Protests

Interesting Discussion Of Gendered Criticism Of The Selfie

There’s a lot more to a selfie than meets the eye (Salon) by Alicia Eler The moral panic around teen selfies is old fear dre...