Jan 292011

Earlier this week Egypt, a country of 80 million, collectively left the Internet.

I think this, more than anything, demonstrates that the days (if not the hours) of Mubarak’s regime are numbered. The damage this step causes to the Egyptian economy are likely quite considerable. And a number of other countries are worried: it appears that a significant share of the data traffic between Europe and Gulf oil states, as well as Asia, passes through Egypt. This connections aren’t yet affected, but who knows what happens next?

We live in interesting times.

 Posted by at 9:12 pm
Jan 252011

The other day, I saw a report on the CBC about increasingly sophisticated methods thieves use to steal credit and bank card numbers. They showed, for instance, how a thief can easily grab a store card reader when the clerk is not looking, replacing it with a modified reader that steals card numbers and PIN codes.

That such thefts can happen in the first place, however, I attribute to the criminal negligence of the financial institutions involved. There is no question about it, when it’s important to a corporation, they certainly find ways to implement cryptographically secure methods to deny access by unauthorized equipment. Such technology has been in use by cable companies for many years already, making it very difficult to use unauthorized equipment to view cable TV. So how hard can it be to incorporate strong cryptographic authentication into bank card reader terminals, and why do banks not do it?

The other topic of the report was the use of insecure (they didn’t call it insecure but that’s what it is) RFID technology on some newer credit cards, the information from which can be stolen in a split second by a thief that just stands or sits next to you in a crowded mall. The use of such technology on supposedly “secure” new electronic credit cards is both incomprehensible and inexcusable. But, I am sure the technical consultant who recommended this technology to the banks in some bloated report full of flowery prose and multisyllable jargon received a nice paycheck.

 Posted by at 1:39 pm
Jan 252011

I just ran this on my main server:

$ uptime
 08:13:32 up 365 days, 19:56,  4 users,  load average: 0.07, 0.05, 0.06

Yes, this means I last rebooted this server one year and 20 hours ago. (What was I doing, rebooting at 4 in the morning?)

Mind you, it won’t run uninterrupted much longer. An updated server is waiting to take its place, so that I can then take this guy down, thoroughly clean it (removing one year’s worth of accumulated dust and cat hair) and upgrade it as well.

 Posted by at 1:17 pm
Jan 192011

There is a very icky treatment out there for a very difficult infection: it’s called fecal transplant, and apparently, it can be used to defeat an otherwise deadly, difficult infection.

Not good enough for the health bureaucrats in British Columbia, who, according to news reports, are barring physicians from applying this treatment, because according to them, the treatment is experimental and its safety cannot yet be ascertained.

Commendably cautious, you might say… but wait a cotton-picking minute, aren’t these the same health bureaucrats who spend public money to fund acupuncture and other forms of “alternative medicine”?

Tricky trumps icky, it seems.

 Posted by at 1:38 pm
Jan 152011

This morning, I took this little guy to the Humane Society:

This young, unneutered tomcat showed up at our doorstep during the holidays, obviously homeless and hungry, but otherwise in good shape and friendly. We took care of him but the weather is getting colder, and spending much of his day in our tiny entry hall isn’t exactly a solution. We already have five cats, so adopting him was not a good idea.

On the way to the Humane Society, as the sun shone into the car, I noticed that he had blue-ish eyes. He was obviously part Siamese, but the blue eyes were news to me.

I hope he finds a good owner soon and lives a long and happy life.

 Posted by at 1:07 am
Jan 062011

I am reading the articles from the British Medical Journal about the Andrew Wakefield case. Wakefield was the British physician who published a fraudulent study in 1998 linking vaccines to autism, causing a worldwide scare which may have resulted in the deaths of many unvaccinated children over the years.

What I didn’t know was that Wakefield wasn’t merely incompetent: he was a fraudster. According to the BMJ, he deliberately and fraudulently falsified data while being paid by a legal firm that was planning to sue the vaccine manufacturer.

I also do scientific research. My research (thankfully) has nothing to do with people, vaccines, or diseases; it’s about things like historical spacecraft or obscure aspects of gravity theory. Even so, I find the idea of altering or “massaging” my data, be it for fame or for profit, totally unthinkable and abhorrent. To do so when people’s lives are at stake… The likes of Wakefield not only undermine the credibility of the entire scientific community, they also put people’s lives at risk for monetary gain.

I wonder if Wakefield will ever face criminal charges. Perhaps he should.

 Posted by at 5:11 am
Jan 052011

One party-rule, proclaims The Guardian in its latest article about Hungary, and they’re not that terribly far from the truth: It seems to me that Mr. Orban is trying to build precisely that, demonstrating that of all Hungarian politicians, he is the one who bears the true legacy of the Kadar era. Indeed I think that this is the best way to describe Orban: he is Kadar’s posthumous revenge.

 Posted by at 3:47 pm