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Remembering the dead of Manchester

Wednesday, 24 May, 2017 0 Comments

Time upon time since 9/11 we have been forced to confront the face of evil. Like it or not, there are evil people in this world and one of the worst of them, Salman Ramadan Abedi, choose a concert in Manchester to attack three essential facets of modernity — entertainment, independence and enjoyment.

It should not surprise us that this mass murderer adheres to an ideology that hates Western civilization with its traditions of freedom, inquiry and democracy. In his world, cruelty is celebrated, women are enslaved and there is nothing but contempt for the tolerance that tolerates its enemies. After each massacre, we repeat our plea to the leaders of the West that they must impress on the monsters who nurture terrorists like Salman Ramadan Abedi that they will not be negotiated with; rather, they will be destroyed.

To be sure, the UK, the object of so much hatred and envy, is not a perfect society, but for all its faults many of the innocents murdered on Monday night in Manchester were from families who had made their home in Britain because it offered them opportunity and freedom. Let us not forget that when we remember the dead today.

Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine,
Et lux perpetua luceat eis

Grant them eternal rest, O Lord,
And may perpetual light shine upon them.


The Dragon Teeth of Michael Crichton

Tuesday, 23 May, 2017 0 Comments

The brilliant American author Michael Crichton died in 2008, suddenly and much too young, but his work has assumed a life of its own. A new novel, Dragon Teeth, based on an original Crichton manuscript, is being published posthumously today. Set in 1876, Dragon Teeth follows two palaeontologists hunting for dinosaur fossils in the Wild West — and trying to sabotage each other’s work in the process. Excerpt:

Introduction

As he appears in an early photograph, William Johnson is a handsome young man with a crooked smile and a naive grin. A study in slouching indifference, he lounges against a Gothic building. He is a tall fellow, but his height appears irrelevant to his presentation of himself. The photograph is dated “New Haven, 1875,” and was apparently taken after he had left home to begin studies as an undergraduate at Yale College.

A later photograph, marked “Cheyenne, Wyoming, 1876,” shows Johnson quite differently. His mouth is framed by a full moustache; his body is harder and enlarged by use; his jaw is set; he stands confidently with shoulders squared and feet wide — and ankle-deep in mud. Clearly visible is a peculiar scar on his upper lip, which in later years he claimed was the result of an Indian attack.

The following story tells what happened between the two pictures.

For the journals and notebooks of William Johnson, I am indebted to the estate of W. J. T. Johnson, and particularly to Johnson’s great-niece, Emily Silliman, who permitted me to quote extensively from the unpublished material. (Much of the factual contents of Johnson’s accounts found their way into print in 1890, during the fierce battles for priority between Cope and Marsh, which finally involved the U.S. government. But the text itself, or even excerpts, was never published, until now.)

Dragon Teeth

PART I

THE FIELD TRIP WEST

Young Johnson Joins the Field Trip West

William Jason Tertullius Johnson, the elder son of Philadelphia shipbuilder Silas Johnson, entered Yale College in the fall of 1875. According to his headmaster at Exeter, Johnson was “gifted, attractive, athletic and able. But the headmaster added that Johnson was “headstrong, indolent and badly spoilt, with a notable indifference to any motive save his own pleasures. Unless he finds a purpose to his life, he risks unseemly decline into indolence and vice.”

Those words could have served as the description of a thousand young men in late nineteenth-century America, young men with intimidating, dynamic fathers, large quantities of money, and no particular way to pass the time.

William Johnson fulfilled his headmaster’s prediction during his first year at Yale. He was placed on probation in November for gambling, and again in February after an incident involving heavy drinking and the smashing of a New Haven merchant’s window. Silas Johnson paid the bill. Despite such reckless behavior, Johnson remained courtly and even shy with women of his own age, for he had yet to have any luck with them. For their part, they found reason to seek his attention, their formal upbringings notwithstanding. In all other respects, however, he remained unrepentant. Early that spring, on a sunny afternoon, Johnson wrecked his roommate’s yacht, running it aground on Long Island Sound. The boat sank within minutes; Johnson was rescued by a passing trawler; asked what happened, he admitted to the incredulous fishermen that he did not know how to sail because it would be “so utterly tedious to learn. And anyway, it looks simple enough.” Confronted by his roommate, Johnson admitted he had not asked permission to use the yacht because “it was such bother to find you.”

Faced with the bill for the lost yacht, Johnson’s father complained to his friends that “the cost of educating a young gentleman at Yale these days is ruinously expensive.” His father was the serious son of a Scottish immigrant, and took some pains to conceal the excesses of his offspring; in his letters, he repeatedly urged William to find a purpose in life. But William seemed content with his spoiled frivolity, and when he announced his intention to spend the coming summer in Europe, “the prospect,” said his father, “fills me with direst fiscal dread.”

Thus his family was surprised when William Johnson abruptly decided to go west during the summer of 1876. Johnson never publicly explained why he had changed his mind. But those close to him at Yale knew the reason. He had decided to go west because of a bet.

In his own words, from the journal he scrupulously kept:

Every young man probably has an arch-rival at some point in his life, and in my first year at Yale, I had mine. Harold Hannibal Marlin was my own age, eighteen. He was handsome, athletic, well-spoken, soaking rich, and he was from New York, which he considered superior to Philadelphia in every respect. I found him insufferable. The sentiment was returned in kind.

Marlin and I competed in every arena — in the classroom, on the playing-field, in the undergraduate pranks of the night. Nothing would exist but that we would compete over it. We argued incessantly, always taking the opposing view from the other.

One night at dinner he said that the future of America lay in the developing West. I said it didn’t, that the future of our great nation could hardly rest on a vast desert populated by savage aboriginal tribes.

He replied I didn’t know what I was talking about, because I hadn’t been there. This was a sore point — Marlin had actually been to the West, at least as far as Kansas City, where his brother lived, and he never failed to express his superiority in this matter of travel.

I had never succeeded in neutralizing it.

“Going west is no shakes. Any fool can go,” I said.

“But all fools haven’t gone — at least you haven’t.”

“I’ve never had the least desire to go,” I said.

“I’ll tell you what I think,” Hannibal Marlin replied, checking to see that the others were listening. “I think you’re afraid.”

“That’s absurd.”

“Oh yes. A nice trip to Europe’s more your way of things.”

“Europe? Europe is for old people and dusty scholars.”

“Mark my word, you’ll tour Europe this summer, perhaps with a parasol.”

“And if I do go, that doesn’t mean —”

“Ah hah! You see?” Marlin turned to address the assembled table. “Afraid. Afraid.” He smiled in a knowing, patronizing way that made me hate him and left me no choice.

“As a matter of fact,” I said coolly, “I am already determined on a trip in the West this summer.”

That caught him by surprise; the smug smile froze on his face. “Oh?”

“Yes,” I said. “I am going with Professor Marsh. He takes a group of students with him each summer.” There had been an advertisement in the paper the previous week; I vaguely remembered it.

“What? Fat old Marsh? The bone professor?”

“That’s right.”

“You’re going with Marsh? Accommodations for his group are Spartan, and they say he works the boys unmercifully. It doesn’t seem your line of things at all.” His eyes narrowed. “When do you leave?”

“He hasn’t told us the date yet.”

Marlin smiled. “You’ve never laid eyes on Professor Marsh, and you’ll never go with him.”

“I will.”

“You won’t.”

“I tell you, it’s already decided.”

Marlin sighed in his patronizing way. “I have a thousand dollars that says you will not go.”

Marlin had been losing the attention of the table, but he got it back with that one. A thousand dollars was a great deal of money in 1876, even from one rich boy to another.

“A thousand dollars says you won’t go west with Marsh this summer,” Marlin repeated.

“You, sir, have made a wager,” I replied. And in that moment I realized that, through no fault of my own, I would now spend the entire summer in some ghastly hot desert in the company of a known lunatic, digging up old bones.


WannaCry glossary in Plain English

Monday, 22 May, 2017 0 Comments

StrategyPage examines what it calls “An Endless Mystery Called WannaCry” and rounds off the piece with a useful glossary of basic hacker terms “in plain English” that begins with “Backdoor” and ends with “ZDE” (Zero Day Exploit). Three examples:

EternalBlue – A bit of malware developed by the NSA that exploits a ZDE in Microsoft local network software. EternalBlue was stolen and distributed by Wikileaks.

Spear fishing– a fishing operation where targets are carefully chosen and researched before putting together the attack. Despite having software and user rules in place to block spear fishing attacks there are so many email accounts to attack and you only have to get one victim to respond to a bogus email with a ‘vital attachment’ that must be ‘opened immediately’.

Social Engineering– Exploiting human nature to get malware onto a system. This is what fishing and spear fishing attacks depend on.

Update: Keith Collins has a superb article in Quartz titled Inside the digital heist that terrorized the world—and only made $100k. Bottom line:

“All told, the three bitcoin wallets used in the attack have received just under 300 payments totaling 48.86359565 bitcoins as of Saturday evening, the equivalent of about $101,000 USD. That’s a small take for an attack that infected nearly 300,000 systems, made medical care inaccessible, shut down factories, and ultimately may have created billions of dollars in losses.”

There’s something very fishy about the WannaCry fishing.


The Homeric Argus of Alexander Pope

Sunday, 21 May, 2017 0 Comments

In Homer’s Odyssey, Argus is Odysseus’ dog. After ten years fighting in Troy, followed by ten more years struggling to get back to Ithaca, Odysseus finally arrives home only to hear that rivals have taken over his residence in hopes of marrying his wife Penelope. To secretly re-enter the house and spring a surprise attack on them, Odysseus disguises himself as a beggar. As he approaches the entrance, he finds the once-majestic Argus lying neglected and infested with lice. Unlike everyone else, Argus recognizes Odysseus at once and he has just enough strength to wag his tail. Unable to greet his beloved dog, as this would betray who he really is, Odysseus passes by (but not without shedding a tear) and enters the building. Thereupon, Argus dies.

Alexander Pope, who was born in London on this day in 1688, is the second-most frequently quoted writer in The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations after Shakespeare: “A little Learning is a dang’rous Thing.” His tribute to Argus is a classic, in the Homeric sense. The image is of Prince, our very own, always-majestic, Argus.

Argus

When wise Ulysses, from his native coast
Long kept by wars, and long by tempests toss’d,
Arrived at last, poor, old, disguised, alone,
To all his friends, and ev’n his Queen unknown,
Changed as he was, with age, and toils, and cares,
Furrow’d his rev’rend face, and white his hairs,
In his own palace forc’d to ask his bread,
Scorn’d by those slaves his former bounty fed,
Forgot of all his own domestic crew,
The faithful Dog alone his rightful master knew!

Unfed, unhous’d, neglected, on the clay
Like an old servant now cashier’d, he lay;
Touch’d with resentment of ungrateful man,
And longing to behold his ancient lord again.
Him when he saw he rose, and crawl’d to meet,
(‘Twas all he could) and fawn’d and kiss’d his feet,
Seiz’d with dumb joy; then falling by his side,
Own’d his returning lord, look’d up, and died!

Alexander Pope (1688 – 1744)

Prince as Argus


eBike Days

Saturday, 20 May, 2017 0 Comments

Ebike days
ebike days
eBikes


Chris Cornell: You Know My Name

Friday, 19 May, 2017 0 Comments

Chris Cornell, the influential, forceful singer with Soundgarden, which was one of the founding bands of the grunge rock genre, died on Wednesday night in Detroit hours after the band had performed there. He was 52. The death was suicide by hanging, the Wayne County Medical Examiner’s Office said yesterday afternoon. One of Chris Cornell’s finest songs, You Know My Name, accompanied the opening credits of 007’s Casino Royale. Great song, great film. RIP Chris Cornell.

“Arm yourself because no one else here will save you
The odds will betray you
And I will replace you
You can’t deny the prize, it may never fulfill you
It longs to kill you
Are you willing to die?”


It’s not English as we know it, Jim

Thursday, 18 May, 2017 0 Comments

Sample sentence: “Bitcoin.com Pool Cloud Mining offers the highest profit contracts in the cloud mining industry, due to 110% block reward and competitive contract prices. Additionally, our cloud mining contracts provide 100% guaranteed uptime and stable hashrate.”

Eh?

If you’ve ever thought about where Bitcoin comes from, the answer is that it gets “mined”. Bitcoin mining adds transactions to the block chain and releases new Bitcoin into circulation. The mining involves compiling recent transactions into blocks and trying to solve a computationally challenging puzzle. The first person who solves the puzzle gets to place the next block on the block chain and claim the rewards. The rewards include the transaction fees paid to the miner as well as the newly released Bitcoin.

Clear?

“Our mining pool has been growing fast with a hashrate of 141.19 Ph/s and now captures 2.93% of the Bitcoin network.” That’s from the introduction to yesterday’s press release announcing that Bitcoin’s cloud mining industry has been opened to the public. “Now Anyone Can Mine Bitcoin” is how the initiative is being marketed. So, instead of having to invest in our own mining gear, we can simply leap into the pool.

Pool. Mine. Cloud. Odd that the cryptocurrency is located in such real-world places.


The tough choices facing killer Fords

Wednesday, 17 May, 2017 0 Comments

“Lunch with the FT” is a weekend pleasure and last Saturday it was the turn of carmaker Bill Ford, great-grandson of Henry, to dine with Patti Waldmeir. In the print edition the mealtime was titled “Reinventing the wheel”, while the online version is lengthier: “Motor chief Bill Ford on a Rust Belt reboot for the driverless age.” Morsel:

“The autonomous age will also raise new ethical questions, says Ford: what would a self-driving car do when faced with the choice of crashing into 10 pedestrians or killing its occupant? Human drivers react as best they can. But autonomous cars will need to be told what to do. Will autonomous Fords choose to kill the driver to save 10 bystanders? Will Fords kill the driver, and Toyotas kill the crowd? Will Fords in Detroit do one thing and Fords in Shanghai do another?”

Lunch with the FT is always informative and entertaining, and as the paper says: “High quality global journalism requires investment.”


New scam: Scammers offering scam compensation

Tuesday, 16 May, 2017 0 Comments

The e-mail subject line is suspect: “Dear Beneficary.” The misspelling of “Beneficary” there should alert every potential beneficiary that something odd is afoot. The mail is from one “jonawillians@yahoo.com”, who claims to be acting on behalf of the officiously titled “Barrister Dusman Diko, Solicitors & Co, Chambers,” in Benin, a French-speaking West African nation that’s famous for being the birthplace of the vodun (or voodoo) religion and home to the Dahomey Kingdom from 1600 to 1900.

Anyway, Dusman Diko, we are led to believe, represents an entity called the “United Nations Compensation Commission (UNCC) West Africa Regional Office, Fraud Victim Compensation Unit of Fidelity Insurance Plc,” which happens to be located in Benin. There is no such unit and the UN constantly warns people about scams implying association with its offices. And now, the e-mail:

Dear Beneficary

I am writing to inform you that your Scam Victim Compensation Payment is ready, sum of $1,200,000.00 USD is been granted to you by the Scam Victim Regulatory Authorities. The fund is ready to be released to you, I await your urgent confirmation as soon as you read this message. Secondly remember that you will be responsible for the registration fee of $55 only and be assured to receive your compensation payment as soon as you are able to comply fully with the payment release procedures.

Sincerely yours,

Barrister Dusman Diko, Solicitors & Co, Chambers

Office of the Attorney General, Division of Scam Victim Services
For: United Nations Compensation Commission (UNCC) West Africa Regional Office, Fraud Victim Compensation Unit of Fidelity Insurance Plc, Benin Republic, West Africa

Despite the criminality involved here, one has to acknowledge that it takes a certain level of roguish ingenuity to come up with a “Scam Victim Compensation Payment” issued by the “Scam Victim Regulatory Authorities”.

Note: Australians report losses of $300 million to scams in 2016.


Don’t pay the ransom!

Monday, 15 May, 2017 0 Comments

“The general advice is not to pay the ransom. By sending your money to cybercriminals you’ll only confirm that ransomware works, and there’s no guarantee you’ll get the decryption key you need in return.” That’s the guidance offered by the No More Ransom website, and in these days of the WannaCry malware threat, we need to pay attention.

No More Ransom is an initiative by the National High Tech Crime Unit of the Dutch police, Europol’s Cybercrime Centre, Kaspersky Lab and Intel Security. The goal is to help victims of ransomware recover their data without having to pay the criminals. The project also aims to educate users about how ransomware works and what can be done to prevent infection.

Note: “The Wcry ransom note contains a compassionate message towards those who can’t afford to pay up. The malware’s operators claim they would unlock the files for free — after a six-month period!” Security Intelligence.

WannaCry


To My Mother on Mother’s Day

Sunday, 14 May, 2017 0 Comments

In 1842, when she was 11, Christina Rossetti wrote her first poem, To my Mother on her Birthday. Rossetti has often been called the greatest Victorian woman poet, but her poetry is increasingly regarded as among the most beautiful and innovative of the period by either sex. Her poem, To My Mother, is dedicated today to a great and generous, loved and missed mother. May she “long us bless.”

To My Mother

To-day’s your natal day;
Sweet flowers I bring:
Mother, accept, I pray
My offering.

And may you happy live,
And long us bless;
Receiving as you give
Great happiness.

Christina Rossetti (1830 – 1894)

My loved and missed mother