Please note: the viewport design is copied from Steve Den Beste's excellent blog, USS Clueless. Used with permission.

Friday, January 14, 2005  

Huygens Lands Successfully

APOD: Astronomy Picture of the Day
After a seven year interplanetary voyage on board the the Cassini spacecraft, the European Space Agency's Huygens probe parachuted to a historic landing on Saturn's moon Titan on January 14. Above are two of the first raw images Huygens recorded of the mystery moon's surface - a view from an altitude of 16 kilometers (left), and surface level. The altitude image resolves features as small as about 40 meters across while in the dramatic surface level vista, the sizes of the blocks, potentially ice boulders, will be determined after further image processing. Remarkably, the views of Titan's surface suggest a similarity to eroded surfaces on Earth and Mars.

posted by Gary Williams at 7:46 PM | link |

via The New York Times (registeration required)

Thatcher's Son Pleads Guilty in Coup Plot, Avoiding Prison


Published: January 14, 2005

Sir Mark Thatcher
JOHANNESBURG, Jan. 13 - Sir Mark Thatcher, the son of a British political legend who became mired last year in a bizarre coup plot in Equatorial Guinea, abandoned his claims of innocence on Thursday and pleaded guilty in a Cape Town Court to helping finance mercenaries who were behind the failed putsch.

But as part of a plea agreement that spared him a potential prison sentence, Sir Mark, who is a hereditary baronet, maintained that his role was unwitting and that he believed he was investing $275,000 in a helicopter service for a mining venture until he began to doubt the project's true goals in January 2004.

The coup attempt collapsed spectacularly that March, as the Equatorial Guinea security police broke up a network of 20 people suspected of plotting the overthrow and the Zimbabwe police arrested 70 more at the Harare airport as the mercenaries' jet landed to pick up a weapons shipment.

Most of them are now in prison, including the man accused of being the mastermind of the plot, Simon Mann, a former British Special Forces soldier, longtime mercenary and Sir Mark's Cape Town neighbor and friend.

On Thursday, Sir Mark, 51, admitted violating South Africa's Foreign Military Assistance Act, which bars civilians from involvement in military activities abroad without government permission. He was fined three million rand, about $500,000, and given a four-year suspended prison sentence.

He was expected to leave immediately for the United States, where his American-born wife and their two children have lived since the South African police arrested him in August. George van Niekerk, a member of his legal team, wrote in a statement that Sir Mark 'will continue to cooperate, to the limited extent of his knowledge,' with a South African inquiry into mercenary activity tied to the coup.

posted by Gary Williams at 4:43 PM | link |


Touchdown on Titan: Huygens Probe Hits its Mark

By Tariq Malik
And Peter de Selding
posted: 14 January 2005
2:30 a.m. ET

This story was last updated at 11:40 a.m. EST.

A European probe has landed on Saturn's moon Titan a mysterious satellite that has perplexed astronomers for decades.

Built by the European Space Agency (ESA), the 705-pound (320-kilogram) Huygens probe landed on Titan between 7:45-7:46 a.m. EST (1245-1246 GMT) and apparently began beaming at least some data to NASA's Cassini orbiter for later transmission to Earth.'s preview of today's Huygens landing is available here . Refresh this page for live updates of Huygen's status as they become available.

Live Huygens descent and landing commentary provided by ESA is being webcast on NASA TV.

LIVE Coverage of Huygens' Titan Descent

11:40: Huygens worked 'beautifully' according to ESA Director-General Jean-Jacque Dordain.

'The morning was good, the afternoon is better,' Dordain said. 'We have a scientific success.'

11:35 a.m. EST: It's confirmed! Huygens has successfully returned science data from Titan's surface. The probe's landing is the farthest touchdown for any human-built object to set land on another world.

A news briefing on Huygens' apparent success is underway and its thumbs-up all around for mission scientists and managers.

posted by Gary Williams at 3:54 PM | link |

Thursday, January 13, 2005  

Cassini-Huygens: Multimedia-Images

The most unique, and perhaps most remarkable feature discovered on Iapetus in Cassini images is a topographic ridge that coincides almost exactly with the geographic equator. The ridge is conspicuous in the picture as an approximately 20-kilometer wide (12 miles) band that extends from the western (left) side of the disc almost to the day/night boundary on the right. On the left horizon, the peak of the ridge reaches at least 13 kilometers (8 miles) above the surrounding terrain. Along the roughly 1,300 kilometer (800 mile) length over which it can be traced in this picture, it remains almost exactly parallel to the equator within a couple of degrees. The physical origin of the ridge has yet to be explained. It is not yet clear whether the ridge is a mountain belt that has folded upward, or an extensional crack in the surface through which material from inside Iapetus erupted onto the surface and accumulated locally, forming the ridge. The origin of Cassini Regio is a long-standing debate among scientists. One theory proposes that its dark material may have erupted onto Iapetus's icy surface from the interior. Another theory holds that the dark material represented accumulated debris ejected by impact events on dark, outer satellites of Saturn. Details of this Cassini image mosaic do not definitively rule out either of the theories. However, they do provide important new insights and constraints.

posted by Gary Williams at 10:42 PM | link |

Nifty surveillance trend: Cops GPS track cars without warrants

From Declan McCullagh's Politech

[Politech] Nifty surveillance trend: Cops GPS track cars without warrants [priv]

By Declan McCullagh
January 12, 2005, 11:00 AM PST

When Robert Moran drove back to his law offices in Rome, N.Y., after a
plane trip to Arizona in July 2003, he had no idea that a silent
stowaway was aboard his vehicle: a secret GPS bug implanted without a
court order by state police.

Police suspected the lawyer of ties to a local Hells Angels Motorcycle
Club that was selling methamphetamine, and they feared undercover
officers would not be able to infiltrate the notoriously tight-knit
group, which has hazing rituals that involve criminal activities. So
investigators stuck a GPS, or Global Positioning System, bug on Moran's
car, watched his movements, and arrested him on drug charges a month later.

A federal judge in New York ruled last week that police did not need
court authorization when tracking Moran from afar. "Law enforcement
personnel could have conducted a visual surveillance of the vehicle as
it traveled on the public highways," U.S. District Judge David Hurd
wrote. "Moran had no expectation of privacy in the whereabouts of his
vehicle on a public roadway."

Last week's court decision is the latest to grapple with the slippery
subject of how to reconcile traditional notions of privacy and autonomy
with increasingly powerful surveillance technology. Once relegated,
because of their cost, to the realm of what spy agencies could afford,
GPS tracking devices now are readily available to jealous spouses,
private investigators and local police departments for just a few
hundred dollars...

What's raising eyebrows, though, is the increasingly popular law
enforcement practice of secretly tagging Americans' vehicles without
adhering to the procedural safeguards and judicial oversight that
protect the privacy of homes and telephone conversations from police

[...remainder snipped...]

Politech mailing list
Archived at
Moderated by Declan McCullagh (

posted by Gary Williams at 4:11 PM | link |


The dog that ate the dinosaurs:

[World News]: Edinburgh, Jan 13 : A formidable dog-like mammal is believed to have preyed on dinosaurs that dominated the earth 130 million years ago, excavations in China indicate, turning the established understanding of the times on its head.

About 100 million years ago, mammals were thought to have a distinct size disadvantage compared to the predatory dinosaurs, since they reached only the size of rats and mice, and weighed just a few pounds and spent the majority of their time trying not to be eaten, the daily Scotsman said quoting Nature.

Evidence recently unearthed in China revealed a creature more than three feet long and bearing a strong resemblance to today's Tasmanian devil that lives in the Antipodes.

Named Repenomamus giganticus, the creature is thought to have weighed up to 30 lb (13.6 kg), and appeared big enough to compete with large dinosaurs for both food and territory.

posted by Gary Williams at 3:31 PM | link |

via Benjamin Edelman

Investors Supporting Spyware

Benjamin Edelman - Spyware Research, Legislation, and Suits

Major investment firms help support the operations of large US-based spyware companies. This page gives a summary of such companies and the investment firms supporting them.

posted by Gary Williams at 3:19 PM | link |

via The New York Times (registration required)

Nomination May Revisit Case of Citizen Seized in Afghanistan

Published: January 13, 2005

WASHINGTON, Jan. 12 - Newly disclosed documents in the John Walker Lindh case appear to conflict with assertions made to Congress by Michael Chertoff, nominated this week as homeland security secretary, about the Justice Department's handling of ethics concerns in the high-profile prosecution.

The conviction in 2002 of Mr. Lindh, an American who admitted joining the Taliban in Afghanistan, represented one of Mr. Chertoff's biggest triumphs as head of the criminal division in the department. But the case resurfaced in Senate confirmation hearings after Mr. Chertoff was nominated to be a federal appellate judge in 2003.

At that time, Senate Democrats questioned him extensively about concerns in the department that the F.B.I. might have improperly questioned Mr. Lindh in Afghanistan even though his family had hired a lawyer for him. The questioning yielded potentially damaging admissions from Mr. Lindh that factored into his decision in July 2002 to plead guilty to felony charges, resulting in his 20-year prison sentence.

posted by Gary Williams at 12:15 PM | link |

Wednesday, January 12, 2005  

via NASA - Deep Impact

Deep Impact Launch Sucessful

MISSION OVERVIEW: The Deep Impact spacecraft lifted off on-time aboard a Boeing Delta II rocket from pad 17-B at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., at 1:47:08.574 p.m. EST. Deep Impact has successfully begun its mission to investigate Comet Tempel 1.

Deep Impact is an ambitious mission aiming to accomplish the incredible: Blast a hole in Comet Tempel 1 in an effort to see what it's made of. Comets like Tempel 1 are thought to have existed since the early days of our Solar System. Scientists suspect that frozen within these celestial nomads are the same chemical building blocks that lead to the formation of water -- and life -- here on Earth. Do comets and our own planet have something in common? This clever mission could answer the question once and for all.


NASA's Comet Probe in Safe-Mode, But Healthy, After Launch

By Tariq Malik
Staff Writer
posted: 12 January 2005
3:00 p.m. ET

This story was updated at 6:55 p.m. EST.

A NASA probe carried into space earlier today by a Boeing Delta 2 rocket has deployed its mission-critical solar array, though engineers are working to understand a glitch that pushed the spacecraft into a fault-protection mode just after launch.

The spacecraft, Deep Impact, apparently entered a "safe-mode" - a condition normally used in the event of a problem – after launch, but is healthy, agency spokeswoman Natalie Godwin told

The $330-million Deep Impact mission launched today at 1:47:08 p.m. EST (1847:08 GMT), after favorable weather conditions and a relatively smooth countdown allowed an on-time liftoff from Launch Pad 17B. Nine strap-on solid rocket boosters aided Delta 2's space shot.

"We did have a perfect launch actually," said NASA launch manager Omar Baez just after liftoff.

But it was after the launch, while Deep Impact was on its own, that a glitch - mostly likely caused by a too-low temperature limit in propulsion system heaters - triggered the fault-protection mode, which mission engineers hope to fix in the next 24 hours, according to SpaceFlightNow reports.

Ground controllers initially experienced difficulty confirming solar panel deployment, but later confirmed that Deep Impact unfurled its solar array, used to generate power during spaceflight, then turned them toward the Sun using onboard thrusters as planned, NASA officials said.

posted by Gary Williams at 10:46 PM | link |

via The Register

London menaced by flaming DVD players

By Lester Haines
Published Wednesday 12th January 2005 13:51 GMT

The lizard army has been busy mobilising its forces of technology in London this week with a terrifying attack on the population's domestic appliances, the Evening Standard reports.

posted by Gary Williams at 10:27 PM | link |

via Muslim American Society

Michael Chertoff is Bad for Homeland Security

Date Posted: Wednesday, January 12, 2005

By Junaid M. Afeef

Michael Chertoff is not fit to lead the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. While he has a good record as a prosecutor, he does not have as good a record on respecting and safeguarding civil rights and liberties. He is, by his own admission, an advocate of “streamlining” justice, a euphemism for setting aside troublesome things like due process of law.

One of the guiding principles of the Department of Homeland Security is that its strategies and actions will be consistent with
the individual rights and liberties enshrined in the U.S. Constitution and guided by the Rule of Law. Michael Chertoff’s record in John Ashcroft’s Justice Department clearly illustrates Mr. Chertoff’s cavalier treatment of both.

While serving as the head of the criminal division in the U.S. Department of Justice, Mr. Chertoff was responsible for: (1) misconduct by Justice Department lawyers in a failed prosecution of an alleged sleeper terrorist cell in Detroit, Michigan, (2) an overzealous, and ultimately failed, prosecution alleging the creation of internet terror networks against an innocent college student in
Boise, Idaho, and (3) the stalled prosecution of Zacarias Moussaoui.

Post 9/11, Mr. Chertoff played a key role limiting or eliminating civil rights and liberties protections by promoting actions such as: using “material witness” warrants to incarcerate people of Middle Eastern and South Asian descent, interviewing thousands of Middle Eastern and South Asian men who entered the U.S. lawfully before and after the 9/11 attacks, denying a defendant facing the death penalty the fundamental right to face and question his accusers, and holding suspects indefinitely without counsel as “enemy combatants.” Some have described Mr. Chertoff as “the driving force behind the Justice Department’s most controversial initiatives in the war on terrorism.”

posted by Gary Williams at 5:21 PM | link |


To Strike a Comet: Astronomers Eager for Deep Impact’s Cosmic Collision

By Tariq Malik
Staff Writer
posted: 11 January 2005
7:00 a.m. ET

The two spacecraft of NASA's Deep Impact mission, dubbed Flyby and Impactor by their makers, are set to launch Wednesday atop a Boeing Delta 2 rocket, their mission: To unlock the inner secrets of comets. .

"All I can do now is worry and hope," said Deep impact principal investigator Michael A'Hearn, of the University of Maryland, during a telephone interview. "And then watch it go."

Deep Impact is currently scheduled for a 1:47 p.m. EST (1847 GMT) liftoff from Launch Pad 17B at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. If all goes well, the mission's two spacecraft will tag team Comet Tempel 1 on July 4, with Impactor set to slam into the icy wanderer while Flyby looks on.

Built for NASA by Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp., Deep Impact is designed to give researchers their first glimpse of the inner workings of a comet. By crashing Impactor into Tempel 1, thought to be a rather typical example of comets, researchers hope to glimpse pristine material that have not changed since the formation of the solar system.

posted by Gary Williams at 2:30 PM | link |

via Aftenposten Norway, Norwegian news in English

Angry moose attack dogsled, after another runs wild in clothing store

Two moose charged a dogsled led by 12 huskies over the weekend. The attack came just a day after another moose broke into a children's clothing store in Lillehammer.

The so-called 'king of the forest' is behaving rather strangely these days.

A confused moose rambled about for several hours inside the children's clothing store in Lillehammer.

The two incidents were the latest in a string of unusual moose behaviour in Norway. The country has a large moose population, but the huge animals are generally shy and stay away from people and populated areas.

All the more reason why Reidar Stenmark was stunned when two 'well-grown moose calves' stormed out of a forest in Nordland on Sunday and attacked a dogsled he was guiding.

posted by Gary Williams at 1:16 AM | link |

Tuesday, January 11, 2005  

via Mandarin Design -- Meg's Blog

Captioned Polaroid Frames Via CSS

My friend Meg's blog posting today details how to create a Polaroid-style frame for your pictures, with details about how to create classes for the picture frame and captions. I don't like to change my style sheet every time, so I''ve reproduced Meg's effect with in-line code (it's not very hard, since all I had to do was copy Meg's CSS code into the inline style clause). It looks like this:

Three Bottles

Here's the in-line code:

<DIV align="center">
<DIV style="width:300px; height:225px; padding-left:15px; padding-right:15px; padding-bottom:40px; padding-top:15px; background:white; border:1px solid black; text-align:center;"><img style="border:1px solid black;" src="" width="300" height="225">
<div style="color:black;position:relative;top: -50px;">Three Bottles</div>

As Meg notes in her post, the key to the idea is to set the padding-bottom value in the IMG style (whether you do it in the class statement in the style sheet, or in-line in the style clause of the IMG statement they work the same) and to set the text position as relative with it's top -50px (again, either set in the class in the style sheet or in the in-line style). As you can see, the size of the DIV is set to the same size as Meg's great garden photo (threebottles.jpg), with the padding-top, padding-left, padding-right and padding-bottom values handling the frame spacing. If I had substituted another picture, the height and width of the DIV would change to match the new IMG, but the padding values would stay the same -- of course, if the picture isn't square, the image won't really match Polaroid photos...

Anyways, while I waited for Blogger to get over it's "Internal Server Error's", Stu Savory sent me a note asking me not to quote his whole poem, so I'm going to put it in here, as a new Polaroid:

The Mighty NorVin

Not flat out at Ton-twenty-five
Big old engine really coming alive
She eats Nortons for breakfast and Triumphs for tea;
If you see me coming, move over do
'Cos the throttles wide open, and I'm coming through!

Read the whole poem on Stu's blog

posted by Gary Williams at 2:18 PM | link |

Monday, January 10, 2005  

via India Daily

India, China Conceal Underground UFO Base

Kongka La is the low ridge pass in the Himalayas (the blue oval in the map). It is in the disputed India-China border area in Ladakh. In the map the red zone is the disputed area still under Chinese control in the Aksai Chin area. The Chinese held northeastern part is known as Aksai Chin and Indian South West is known as Ladakh. This is the area where Indian and Chinese armies fought major war in 1962. The area is one of the least accessed area in the world and by agreement the two countries do not patrol this part of the border. According to many tourists, Buddhist monks and the local people of Ladakh, the Indian Army and the Chinese Military maintain the line of control. But there is something much more serious happening in this area.

According to the few local people on the Indian and Chinese sides, this is where the UFOs are seen coming out of the ground, According to many, the UFO underground bases are in this region and both the Indian and Chinese Government know this very well..

Recently, some Hindu pilgrims on their way to Mount Kailash from the Western pass, came across strange lights in the sky. The local guides while in the Chinese territory told them that this was nothing new and is a normal phenomenon from Kongka Pass area - the tensed border region between India and China. This strange lighted triangular silent crafts show up from underground and moves almost vertically up. Some of the adventurous pilgrims wanted to look into the site. They were first turned back by the Chinese guard posts as they were refused entry from the Chinese side. When they tried to approach the site from Indian side, the Indian border patrol also turned them down in spite of their permit to travel between the two countries.

posted by Gary Williams at 10:44 PM | link |

via TechWeb

IE Bugs Now 'Extremely Critical'

By Gregg Keizer, TechWeb News

An unpatched, months-old vulnerability in Microsoft's Internet Explorer is now even more dangerous, security firms reported Monday.

Danish security vendor Secunia warned that new exploits of an earlier series of vulnerabilities in IE now let hackers compromise Windows computers without any more work than enticing users to malicious Web sites.

In August and then again in October 2004, Secunia broadcast warnings of similar threats to IE, but at the latter date posted proof-of-concept code which required the user to actually drag and drop a file within the browser to be at risk. The exploits now in the wild, said Secunia and the SAN Institute's Internet Storm Center, are automated and require no user action except visiting a hacker-constructed site.

Update: via

IE Flaw Exploited

Security firm identifies exploit technique for known browser hole.

Matthew Broersma,
Friday, January 07, 2005

Internet Explorer has become an even bigger security risk--even under Windows XP SP2--with the publication of a new and extensive exploit.

Security researchers have warned that the exploit, which takes advantage of known loopholes in SP2, could allow an attacker to run script code on a user's system via a specially crafted Web page.

Known Hole

The holes involved have been known publicly for more than two months, but previous exploit techniques required the user to take actions such as dragging an image from one part of a Web page to another. The new exploit--a demonstration of which has been published by Danish security firm Secunia--is fully automated, requiring the user only to visit a Web page in Explorer. Other browsers and operating systems aren't affected.

'There now is a 'reliable' working exploit that can compromise an SP2 system by just visiting a Web page,' says Secunia chief technology officer Thomas Kristensen. Secunia has raised its warning level to its highest, 'extremely critical.'

Security group Greyhats warned of the new type of exploit in an advisory in late December. Secunia then upgraded its advisory to 'extremely critical' and published a demonstration based on a proof-of-concept by a researcher known as ShredderSub7. US-CERT, the U.S. computer security alert organization, has also published an advisory on the issue.

Issues Identified

Microsoft has warned users to turn off IE's 'Drag and drop or copy and paste files' option as a partial solution. The danger can also be lessened by setting security levels to high for the 'Internet' zone or, as several security firms pointed out, using another browser.

posted by Gary Williams at 3:04 PM | link |

via World News Article |

Clue found to new AIDS therapy

Mon Jan 10, 2005 05:11 PM GMT
By Patricia Reaney

LONDON (Reuters) - A single change in a human gene may hold the key to preventing people living with HIV from progressing to full-blown AIDS, researchers say.

They found a crucial difference between a gene in humans and one in rhesus monkeys that blocks infection of the virus in the animals -- a finding that offers new insights into the origins of AIDS and gene therapy.

Had the gene been the same in humans, scientists at the National Institute of Medical Research in London believe, there may not have been the AIDS epidemic that now affects 40 million people worldwide.

'If it had recognised HIV, we probably would never have had AIDS. I believe it is a key change,' said Dr Jonathan Stoye, head of virology at the institute.

posted by Gary Williams at 2:45 PM | link |

via Yahoo! News

Earth 'still ringing' after Indian Ocean earthquake: scientists

SYDNEY (AFP) - Much of the Earth was still 'ringing like a bell' two weeks after the December 26 earthquake that unleashed devastating tsunamis around the Indian Ocean, Australian scientists revealed.

Australian National University scientists said Sunday that hyper-sensitive gravity measuring equipment showed minute reverberations may continue for weeks.

Herb McQueen, from the university's Earth Sciences Research School, said the equipment at the Mount Stromlo observatory in Canberra showed the planet was 'ringing like a bell' which had been forcefully struck.

He said the movement was imperceptible to all but the most sensitive equipment.

'(It) corresponds to about a millimetre of vertical motion of the earth,' he said. 'The early signals were much stronger.'

posted by Gary Williams at 1:13 AM | link |

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