Sunday, February 20, 2011

particles that flock

Video - Video made to be used in the explanation of experiments being carried out at the CERN LHC

ScientificAmerican | In its first six months of operation, the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva has yet to find the Higgs boson, solve the mystery of dark matter or discover hidden dimensions of spacetime. It has, however, uncovered a tantalizing puzzle, one that scientists will take up again when the collider restarts in February following a holiday break. Last summer physicists noticed that some of the particles created by their proton collisions appeared to be synchronizing their flight paths, like flocks of birds. The findings were so bizarre that “we’ve spent all the time since [then] convincing ourselves that what we were see ing was real,” says Guido Tonelli, a spokesperson for CMS, one of two general-purpose experiments at the LHC.

The effect is subtle. When proton collisions result in the release of more than 110 new particles, the scientists found, the emerging particles seem to fly in the same direction. The high-energy collisions of protons in the LHC may be uncovering “a new deep internal structure of the initial protons,” says Frank Wilczek of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, winner of a Nobel Prize for his explanation of the action of gluons. Or the particles may have more interconnections than scientists had realized. “At these higher energies [of the LHC], one is taking a snapshot of the proton with higher spatial and time resolution than ever before,” Wilczek says.

When seen with such high resolution, protons, according to a theory developed by Wilczek and his colleagues, consist of a dense medium of gluons—massless particles that act inside the protons and neutrons, controlling the behavior of quarks, the constituents of all protons and neutrons. “It is not implausible,” Wilczek says, “that the gluons in that medium interact and are correlated with one another, and these interactions are passed on to the new particles.”

If confirmed by other LHC physicists, the phenomenon would be a fascinating new finding about one of the most common particles in our universe and one scientists thought they understood well. Full-monty at arXiv.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

more than a feeling...,

Wired | Natural selection has nothing to worry about.

Let’s begin with energy efficiency. One of the most remarkable facts about the human brain is that it requires less energy (12 watts) than a light bulb. In other words, that loom of a trillion synapses, exchanging ions and neurotransmitters, costs less to run than a little incandescence. Or look at Deep Blue: when the machine was operating at full speed, it was a fire hazard, and required specialized heat-dissipating equipment to keep it cool. Meanwhile, Kasparov barely broke a sweat.

The same lesson applies to Watson. I couldn’t find reliable information on its off-site energy consumption, but suffice to say it required many tens of thousands of times as much energy as all the human brains on stage combined. While this might not seem like a big deal, evolution long ago realized that we live in a world of scarce resources. Evolution was right. As computers became omnipresent in our lives — I’ve got one dissipating heat in my pocket right now — we’re going to need to figure out how to make them more efficient. Fortunately, we’ve got an ideal prototype locked inside our skull.

The second thing Watson illustrates is the power of metaknowledge, or the ability to reflect on what we know. As Vaughan Bell pointed out a few months ago, this is Watson’s real innovation:

Answering this question needs pre-existing knowledge and, computationally, two main approaches. One is constraint satisfaction, which finds which answer is the ‘best fit’ to a problem which doesn’t have mathematically exact solution; and the other is a local search algorithm, which indicates when further searching is unlikely to yield a better result – in other words, when to quit computing and give an answer – because you can always crunch more data.

Our brain comes preprogrammed with metaknowledge: We don’t just know things — we know we know them, which leads to feelings of knowing. I’ve written about this before, but one of my favorite examples of such feelings is when a word is on the tip of the tongue. Perhaps it occurs when you run into an old acquaintance whose name you can’t remember, although you know that it begins with the letter J. Or perhaps you struggle to recall the title of a recent movie, even though you can describe the plot in perfect detail.

What’s interesting about this mental hiccup is that, even though the mind can’t remember the information, it’s convinced that it knows it. We have a vague feeling that, if we continue to search for the missing word, we’ll be able to find it. (This is a universal experience: The vast majority of languages, from Afrikaans to Hindi to Arabic, even rely on tongue metaphors to describe the tip-of-the-tongue moment.) But here’s the mystery: If we’ve forgotten a person’s name, then why are we so convinced that we remember it? What does it mean to know something without being able to access it?

This is where feelings of knowing prove essential. The feeling is a signal that we can find the answer, if only we keep on thinking about the question. And these feelings aren’t just relevant when we can’t remember someone’s name.

what is watson?

Video - IBM researcher discusses the technology behind its language-parsing machine.

Friday, February 18, 2011

a tipping point is nearing

American Thinker | We are facing a tipping point. There will soon be a crisis affecting US citizens beyond any experienced since the Great Depression. And it may happen within the year. This past week three awful developments put a dagger into the hope for a growth-led recovery, which held promise of possibly averting a debt and currency implosion crushing the American economy.

The first was a little-noticed, but tragic, series of events in the newly elected House of Representatives. The speaker, Mr. Boehner, had given the task of fashioning the majority's spending cut agenda to Representative Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin), a rising conservative star representing the vocal wing of fiscal conservatives in the House. Promising to cut $100 billion of government spending, Mr. Boehner spoke before the elections of the urgency to produce immediately when Republicans took control.

The second awful development to occur last week was the employment report from the Labor Department, describing employment conditions in the U.S. economy in January, 2011. The report was packed with statistics, all pointing to anemic growth with a modest pickup in manufacturing employment. The little-noticed (not by the bond market) aspect of the report was the "benchmark" revisions, an attempt to get the total picture more accurate each year than simply adding up all the monthly change numbers. This year's benchmark revisions showed two alarming things: a decline from previously reported employment in December 2010 of nearly 500,000 jobs, and a reduction in the workforce of a similar amount.

The third development of the last week which received much less press than the Egyptian crisis is the "new normal" in Social Security. The CBO released a report disclosing that the net cash flow for the Social Security trust fund -- excluding interest received from the book entry bonds it holds in U.S. debt -- will be negative $56 billion in 2011, and for every year hence even more so. This is the train wreck that was supposed to happen in 2020. It is upon us now. Any limp action by conservatives to bring this program into solvency can be expected only to slow the raging river of red ink this behemoth program (along with its twin Godzilla, Medicare) spills on U.S. citizens. With no political will to fix them, these "entitlements" will obligate Americans to borrow more and more money from China--to honor promises we simply refuse to admit we can't keep.

So why do these developments argue for a crisis of Great Depression proportions? Because they speak unequivocally of our pathway to insolvency, and the potential of currency failure via hyperinflation, despite the hopes of conservatives and market participants to see a halt of such direction. Housing prices, the foundation of so much of private citizen debt loads, are destined for stagnation -- not inflation -- as the supply of homes is far greater than the demand -- 11% of the nation's homes stand empty today. When the world begins to recognize that there is no fix for America's borrowings, a fast and brutal exodus from our currency and bonds can send us a shock in mere weeks or months.

Unlike the Great Depression, however, we will enter such a shock in a weakened state, with few producers among us and record mountains of debt. More cataclysmic is the specter of inadequate food, as less than 4% of us farm, and those that do may cease to be as productive or may not accept devalued currency as payment, should the tipping point be crossed. Corn and wheat prices in the U.S. have nearly doubled in less than 12 months, using our rapidly evaporating currency as the medium of exchange.

the youth unemployment bomb

BloombergBW | In Tunisia, the young people who helped bring down a dictator are called hittistes—French-Arabic slang for those who lean against the wall. Their counterparts in Egypt, who on Feb. 1 forced President Hosni Mubarak to say he won't seek reelection, are the shabab atileen, unemployed youths. The hittistes and shabab have brothers and sisters across the globe. In Britain, they are NEETs—"not in education, employment, or training." In Japan, they are freeters: an amalgam of the English word freelance and the German word Arbeiter, or worker. Spaniards call them mileuristas, meaning they earn no more than 1,000 euros a month. In the U.S., they're "boomerang" kids who move back home after college because they can't find work. Even fast-growing China, where labor shortages are more common than surpluses, has its "ant tribe"—recent college graduates who crowd together in cheap flats on the fringes of big cities because they can't find well-paying work.

In each of these nations, an economy that can't generate enough jobs to absorb its young people has created a lost generation of the disaffected, unemployed, or underemployed—including growing numbers of recent college graduates for whom the post-crash economy has little to offer. Tunisia's Jasmine Revolution was not the first time these alienated men and women have made themselves heard. Last year, British students outraged by proposed tuition increases—at a moment when a college education is no guarantee of prosperity—attacked the Conservative Party's headquarters in London and pummeled a limousine carrying Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla Bowles. Scuffles with police have repeatedly broken out at student demonstrations across Continental Europe. And last March in Oakland, Calif., students protesting tuition hikes walked onto Interstate 880, shutting it down for an hour in both directions.

More common is the quiet desperation of a generation in "waithood," suspended short of fully employed adulthood. At 26, Sandy Brown of Brooklyn, N.Y., is a college graduate and a mother of two who hasn't worked in seven months. "I used to be a manager at a Duane Reade [drugstore] in Manhattan, but they laid me off. I've looked for work everywhere and I can't find nothing," she says. "It's like I got my diploma for nothing."

While the details differ from one nation to the next, the common element is failure—not just of young people to find a place in society, but of society itself to harness the energy, intelligence, and enthusiasm of the next generation. Here's what makes it extra-worrisome: The world is aging. In many countries the young are being crushed by a gerontocracy of older workers who appear determined to cling to the better jobs as long as possible and then, when they do retire, demand impossibly rich private and public pensions that the younger generation will be forced to shoulder.

In short, the fissure between young and old is deepening. "The older generations have eaten the future of the younger ones," former Italian Prime Minister Giuliano Amato told Corriere della Sera. In Britain, Employment Minister Chris Grayling has called chronic unemployment a "ticking time bomb." Jeffrey A. Joerres, chief executive officer of Manpower (MAN), a temporary-services firm with offices in 82 countries and territories, adds, "Youth unemployment will clearly be the epidemic of this next decade unless we get on it right away. You can't throw in the towel on this."

The highest rates of youth unemployment are found in the Middle East and North Africa, at roughly 24 percent each, according to the International Labor Organization. Most of the rest of the world is in the high teens—except for South and East Asia, the only regions with single-­digit youth unemployment. Young people are nearly three times as likely as adults to be unemployed. Fist tap Ed.

bahrain's crackdown threatens u.s. interests

Video - Ruling Sunni family cracks down hard on non-violent Shiite protesters

WaPo | FOR A DECADE, the ruling al-Khalifa family of Bahrain has been claiming to be leading the country toward democracy - an assertion frequently endorsed by the United States. On Thursday, the regime demolished that policy and any pretense about its real, autocratic nature. It dispatched its security forces to assault and violently disperse peaceful pro-democracy demonstrators who were camped in Manama's Pearl Square. At least four people were killed and 230 injured in the predawn raid.

The brutality is unlikely to restore stability to the Persian Gulf nation, even in the short term - and it poses a direct threat to vital interests of the United States. The U.S. 5th Fleet is based in Bahrain and plays an important role in providing security to the Gulf and in containing nearby Iran. Not only is the crackdown likely to weaken rather than strengthen an allied government, but the United States cannot afford to side with a regime that violently represses the surging Arab demand for greater political freedom.

Bahrain is the first of the Arab world's monarchies to experience major unrest in what is becoming a region-wide upheaval - and with good reason. The Khalifa family and ruling elite, who are Sunni, preside over a population that is 70 percent Shiite, and the majority is disenfranchised, excluded from leading roles in the government or security forces. Ten years ago, the ruling family launched a cautious reform process, instituting a parliament with limited powers. But in the last year it has moved in reverse. Last summer two dozen Shiite opposition leaders were arrested and charged under terrorism laws. Many other activists were rounded up, and a human rights group was taken over by the government.

The Obama administration failed to react forcefully to those abuses, which set the stage for this week's uprising by thousands of demonstrators from both the Shiite and Sunni communities. In December, visiting Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton heaped praise on the government for "the progress it is making on all fronts" and minimized the political prosecutions, describing "the glass as half full."

web of popularity achieved by bullying

Video - Wonder Woman the intentional antithesis of Superman.

NYTimes | new research suggests that the road to high school popularity can be treacherous, and that students near the top of the social hierarchy are often both perpetrators and victims of aggressive behavior involving their peers.

The latest findings, being published this month in The American Sociological Review, offer a fascinating glimpse into the social stratification of teenagers. The new study, along with related research from the University of California, Davis, also challenges the stereotypes of both high school bully and victim.

Highly publicized cases of bullying typically involve chronic harassment of socially isolated students, but the latest studies suggest that various forms of teenage aggression and victimization occur throughout the social ranks as students jockey to improve their status.

The findings contradict the notion of the school bully as maladjusted or aggressive by nature. Instead, the authors argue that when it comes to mean behavior, the role of individual traits is “overstated,” and much of it comes down to concern about status.

“Most victimization is occurring in the middle to upper ranges of status,” said the study’s author, Robert Faris, an assistant professor of sociology at U.C. Davis. “What we think often is going on is that this is part of the way kids strive for status. Rather than going after the kids on the margins, they might be targeting kids who are rivals.”

Educators and parents are often unaware of the daily stress and aggression with which even socially well-adjusted students must cope.

“It may be somewhat invisible,” Dr. Faris said. “The literature on bullying has so focused on this one dynamic of repeated chronic antagonism of socially isolated kids that it ignores these other forms of aggression.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

what becomes of science when the wells run dry?

The Scientist | The practice and funding of science may change drastically when humanity enters an era of energy crisis, in which cheap oil is but a distant memory. While the most hyperbolic doomsayers posit catastrophic scenarios of oil shortage, global conflict, and severe deprivation, the truth is that long before society downsizes in the face of energy scarcity, climate change, resource depletion, and population growth, the way science is done and the role of research in society will likely change drastically.

One of the main ways that the average scientist will feel the effects of oil shortages will be as everyone does: by an enormous inflation in the cost of doing business. Most scientific research is expensive not just in terms of dollars, but also in terms of energy. On average, for each dollar researchers spend today, the energy equivalent of about a cup of oil is used. A $1 million grant can consume the equivalent of about 1,100 barrels of oil. In the future, the same amount of dollars will buy significantly less research, and scientists will have to become much more efficient and inventive in doing research.

Far flung research projects, particularly common among ecologists and other natural scientists, will also become much less affordable. Trips to distant scientific meetings will also become prohibitively expensive. Electronic conferencing will become the norm.

The nature of interaction within the scientific community may change as well. Like the competitive atmosphere already experienced in developing countries, limited resources may lead groups to be less open and to actively exclude other groups.

In a time of energy scarcity, societal priorities will also shift, and science will be justified and supported based on the perception of how it is helping solve mounting societal problems. While today basic science is often considered intellectually superior and more elegant than applied science, in coming decades, applied science will become dominant, as research becomes required to preserve the functioning of ecosystems and the services they provide.

Natural scientists, especial those in the field of ecology, will have a critical role to play in this bleak future, in which the human economy depends much more on ecological systems. With transport and global trade hobbled, people will have to depend to a greater extent on nearby ecosystems, both natural and agricultural. Highly productive ecosystems have enormous economic value. The natural asset value of the Mississippi delta, for example, has been estimated to be as high as $1.4 trillion. Research on these natural communities will receive more attention, as more food, fuel, and fiber will have to be coaxed from nature in a sustainable way.

is the world producing enough food?

NYTimes | Food inflation has returned for many of the same old reasons: the demand for meat has returned with the recovery of middle-income economies; the price of oil is up, which both raises the cost of food production and transport, and stokes the diversion of food crops into biofuel production. Speculators are taking pounds of flesh in the commodity exchanges. And, of course, freak weather has disrupted production in key export zones.

But what makes the weather matter? This is hardly the first La NiƱa weather cycle, after all. Every human civilization has understood the need to plan for climate’s vicissitudes. Over the centuries, societies developed the tools of grain stores, crop diversification and "moral economies" to guarantee the poor access to food in times of crisis.

Global economic liberalization discarded these buffers in favor of lean lines of trade. Safety nets and storage became inefficient and redundant – if crops failed in one part of the world, the market would always provide from another.

Climate change turns this thinking on its head. A shock in one corner of the world now ripples to every other. The economic architecture that promised efficiency has instead made us all more vulnerable. Little has changed in this crucial respect since the last food crisis. But this isn’t simply a rerun of 2008.
food protest in JordanMuhammad Hamed/Reuters Rising food prices caused protests in Karak, Jordan, in January.

While the global recession has turned a corner for some people in some countries, unemployment remains stubbornly high for many, and hunger has trailed it. There are 75 million people more undernourished now than in 2008. At the same time, governments are cutting back on entitlement programs for the poor as part of austerity drives to fight inflation.

Urban families are unable to afford food and fuel, and governments are unresponsive to their plight. Under such circumstances, as Egyptians know too well, food prices and climate change are revolution’s kindling.

world bank warns of soaring food prices

Guardian | The World Bank has given a stark warning of the impact of the rising cost of food, saying an estimated 44 million people had been pushed into poverty since last summer by soaring commodity prices.

Robert Zoellick, the Bank's president, said food prices had risen by almost 30% in the past year and were within striking distance of the record levels reached during 2008.

"Global food prices are rising to dangerous levels and threaten tens of millions of poor people around the world," Zoellick said. "The price hike is already pushing millions of people into poverty, and putting stress on the most vulnerable, who spend more than half of their income on food."

According to the latest edition of Food Price Watch, the World Bank's food price index was up by 15% between October 2010 and January 2011, is 29% above its level a year earlier, and only 3% below its 2008 peak.

Wheat prices have seen the most pronounced increases, doubling between June last year and January 2011, while maize prices were up 73%.

The bank said that fewer people had fallen into poverty than in 2008 because of two factors – good harvests in many African countries had kept prices stable, and the increases in rice prices – a key part of the diet for many of the world's poor – had been moderate.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

freedom to interdict your freedom to connect

Video - Anonymous response to Twitter subpoena.

Guardian | The US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, praised the role of social networks such as Twitter in promoting freedom – at the same time as the US government was in court seeking to invade the privacy of Twitter users.

Lawyers for civil rights organisations appeared before a judge in Alexandria, Virginia, battling against a US government order to disclose the details of private Twitter accounts in the WikiLeaks row, including that of the Icelandic MP Birgitta Jonsdottir, below.

The move against Twitter has turned into a constitutional clash over the protection of individual rights to privacy in the digital age.

Clinton, in a speech in Washington, cited the positive role that Twitter, Facebook and other social networks played in uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. In a stirring defence of the internet, she spoke of the "freedom to connect".

The irony of the Clinton speech coming on the day of the court case was not lost on the constitutional lawyers battling against the government in Alexandria. The lawyers also cited the Tunisian and Egyptian examples. Aden Fine, who represents the American Civil Liberties Union, one of the leading civil rights groups in the country, said: "It is very alarming that the government is trying to get this information about individuals' communications. But, also, above all, they should not be able to do this in secret."

still m.s.m.

Video - Still D.R.E.

HuffPo | It's not necessarily those who tweet the most, or have the most followers that help determine Twitter's trending topics, but the mainstream media, says new research from HP.

"You might expect the most prolific tweeters or those with most followers would be most responsible for creating such trends," said Bernardo Huberman, HP Senior Fellow and director of HP Labs' Social Computing Research Group, in a statement. "We found that mainstream media play a role in most trending topics and actually act as feeders of these trends. Twitter users then seem to be acting more as filter and amplifier of traditional media in most cases."

The subject of the tweet is the major determinant of whether the tweet's topic trends--largely as a result of retweeting. Thirty-one percent of trending topics are retweets, according to the HP research. Using data from Twitter's search function over 40 days, the researchers used 16.32 million tweets to identify the top 22 users that were generating the most retweets for trending topics. "Of those 22, 72% were Twitter streams run by mainstream media outfits such as CNN, the New York Times, El Pais and the BBC," HP wrote. "Although popular, most of these sites have millions of followers fewer than highly-followed tweeters such as Ashton Kutcher, Barack Obama or Lady Gaga."

While they also found that most trending topics don't survive beyond 40 minutes or so, the most dominant, longer-lasting trends were those that took hold over diverse audience members.

The researchers hinted that it remains to be seen whether social media can alter the public agenda.

how we use social media in an emergency

Mashable | The use of social media during national and international crises, both natural and political, is something that Mashable has followed with great interest over the past few years.

As a culture, we started becoming more aware of the power of social media during times of crisis, like when the Iran election in 2009 caused a furor, both on the ground and on Twitter. More recently, the Internet and social media played an important role in spreading news about the earthquake in Haiti and political revolution in Egypt.

But what about other kinds of natural disasters or crime? Can social media be used to good effect then?

In 2009, two girls trapped in a storm water drain used Facebook to ask for help rather than calling emergency services from their mobile phones. At the time, authorities were concerned about the girls’ seemingly counterintuitive action.

However, according to new research from the American Red Cross, the Congressional Management Foundation and other organizations, social media could stand to play a larger and more formal role in emergency response. In fact, almost half the respondents in a recent survey said they would use social media in the event of a disaster to let relatives and friends know they were safe.

future soldier - world-wide mind

NYTimes | Imagine, Michael Chorost proposes, that four police officers on a drug raid are connected mentally in a way that allows them to sense what their colleagues are seeing and feeling. Tony Vittorio, the captain, is in the center room of the three-room drug den.

He can sense that his partner Wilson, in the room on his left, is not feeling danger or arousal and thus has encountered no one. But suddenly Vittorio feels a distant thump on his chest. Sarsen, in the room on the right, has been hit with something, possibly a bullet fired from a gun with a silencer.

Vittorio glimpses a flickering image of a metallic barrel pointed at Sarsen, who is projecting overwhelming shock and alarm. By deducing how far Sarsen might have gone into the room and where the gunman is likely to be standing, Vittorio fires shots into the wall that will, at the very least, distract the gunman and allow Sarsen to shoot back. Sarsen is saved; the gunman is dead.

That scene, from his new book, “World Wide Mind,” is an example of what Mr. Chorost sees as “the coming integration of humanity, machines, and the Internet.” The prediction is conceptually feasible, he tells us, something that technology does not yet permit but that breaks no known physical laws.

Mr. Chorost also wrote “Rebuilt,” about his experience with deafness and his decision to get a cochlear implant in 2001. In that eloquent and thoughtful book, he refers to himself as a cyborg: He has a computer in his skull, which, along with a second implant three years ago, artificially restores his hearing. In “World Wide Mind,” he writes, “My two implants make me irreversibly computational, a living example of the integration of humans and computers.”

He takes off from his own implanted computer to imagine a world where people are connected by them. The implanted computer would work something like his BlackBerry, he explains, in that it would let people “be effortlessly aware of what their friends and colleagues are doing.” It would let each person know what the others “are seeing and feeling, thus enabling much richer forms of communication.”

Cool. Maybe. But beginning with privacy issues, the hazards are almost countless.

In discussing one of them, he cites the work of Dr. John Ratey, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard who believes people can be physically addicted to e-mail. “Each e-mail you open gives you a little hit of dopamine,” Mr. Chorost writes, “which you associate with satiety. But it’s just a little hit. The effect wears off quickly, leaving you wanting another hit.” Fist tap Nana.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

the man who knew too little...,

Wired | How did Barr, a man with long experience in security and intelligence, come to spend his days as a CEO e-stalking clients and their wives on Facebook? Why did he start performing “reconnaissance” on the largest nuclear power company in the United States? Why did he suggest pressuring corporate critics to shut up, even as he privately insisted that corporations “suck the lifeblood out of humanity”? And why did he launch his ill-fated investigation into Anonymous, one which may well have destroyed his company and damaged his career?

Thanks to his leaked e-mails, the downward spiral is easy enough to retrace. Barr was under tremendous pressure to bring in cash, pressure which began on Nov. 23, 2009.

“A” players attract “A” players
That’s when Barr started the CEO job at HBGary Federal. Its parent company, the security firm HBGary, wanted a separate firm to handle government work and the clearances that went with it, and Barr was brought in from Northrup Grumman to launch the operation.

In an e-mail announcing Barr’s move, HBGary CEO Greg Hoglund told his company that “these two are A+ players in the DoD contracting space and are able to ‘walk the halls’ in customer spaces. Some very big players made offers to Ted and Aaron last week, and instead they chose HBGary. This reflects extremely well on our company. ‘A’ players attract ‘A’ players.”

Barr at first loved the job. In December, he sent an e-mail at 1:30am; it was the “3rd night in a row I have woken up in the middle of the night and can’t sleep because my mind is racing. It’s nice to be excited about work, but I need some sleep.”Barr had a huge list of contacts, but turning those contacts into contracts for government work with a fledgling company proved challenging. Less than a year into the job, HBGary Federal looked like it might go bust.

On Oct. 3, 2010, HBGary CEO Greg Hoglund told Aaron that “we should have a pow-wow about the future of HBGary Federal. [HBGary President] Penny and I both agree that it hasn’t really been a success… You guys are basically out of money and none of the work you had planned has come in.”

Aaron agreed. “This has not worked out as any of us have planned to date and we are nearly out of money,” he said.While he worked on government contracts, Barr drummed up a little business doing social media training for corporations using, in one of his slides, a bit of research into one Steven Paul Jobs.

what a tangled web they weave...,

Independent | The computer hackers' collective Anonymous has uncovered a proposal by a consortium of private contractors to attack and discredit WikiLeaks.

Last week Anonymous volunteers broke into the servers of HB Gary Federal, a security company that sells investigative services to companies, and posted thousands of the firm's emails on to the internet.

The attack was in revenge for claims by the company's chief executive Aaron Barr that he had successfully infiltrated the shadowy cyber protest network and discovered details of its leadership and structure.

Hacktivists, journalists and bloggers have since pored over the emails and discovered what appears to be a proposal that was intended to be pitched to the Bank of America to sabotage WikiLeaks and discredit journalists who are sympathetic to the whistle-blowing website.

The PowerPoint presentation claims that a trio of internet security companies – HB Gary Federal, Palantir Technologies and Berico Technologies – are already prepared to attack WikiLeaks which is rumoured to be getting ready to release a cache of potentially embarrassing information on the Bank of America.

The presentation, which has been seen by The Independent, recommends a multi-pronged assault on WikiLeaks including deliberately submitting false documents to the website to undermine its credibility, pioneering cyber attacks to expose who the leakers to WikiLeaks are and going after sympathetic journalists.

One of those mentioned is Glenn Greenwald, a pro-WikiLeaks reporter in the US. Writing on Greenwald stated that his initial reaction to was "to scoff at its absurdity".

"But after learning a lot more over the last couple of days," he added, "I now take this more seriously – not in terms of my involvement but the broader implications this story highlights. For one thing, it turns out that the firms involved are large, legitimate and serious, and do substantial amounts of work for both the US government and the nation's largest private corporations."

A separate email written by Mr Barr to a Palantir employee suggests that security companies should track and intimidate people who donate to WikiLeaks. Security firms, Mr Barr wrote, "need to get people to understand that if they support the organisation we will come after them. Transaction records are easily identifiable."

The Bank of America does not seem to have directly solicited the services of HB Gary Federal. Instead it pitched the idea to Hunton and Williams, a law firm that represents the bank.

A Bank of America spokesman denied any knowledge of the proposals: "We've never seen the presentation, never evaluated it, and have no interest in it." A spokesman for Hunton and Williams declined to comment. HB Gary Federal has acknowledged in a statement that it was hit by a cyber attack but has suggested the documents online could be falsified.

However, the two other security firms named on the presentation have not denied the authenticity of the documents. Instead, both Berico and Palantir issued angry statements distancing themselves from HB Gary Federal and severing ties with the firm.

But a statement from Anonymous claimed the presentation showed how sections of corporate America were "entangled in highly dubious and most likely illegal activities, including a smear campaign against WikiLeaks, its supportive journalists, and adversaries of the US Chamber of Commerce and Bank of America".


WaPo | A feud between a security contracting firm and a group of guerrilla computer hackers has spilled over onto K Street, as stolen e-mails reveal plans for a dirty-tricks-style campaign against critics of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The tale began this month when a global hackers collective known as Anonymous broke into the computers of HBGary Federal, a California security firm, and dumped tens of thousands of internal company e-mails onto the Internet.

The move was in retaliation for assertions by HBGary Federal chief executive Aaron Barr that he had identified leaders of the hackers' group, which has actively supported the efforts of anti-secrecy Web site WikiLeaks to obtain and disclose classified documents.

The e-mails revealed, among other things, a series of often-dubious counterintelligence proposals aimed at enemies of Bank of America and the chamber. The proposals included distributing fake documents and launching cyber-attacks.

The chamber has adamantly denied any knowledge of the "abhorrent" proposals, including some contained in a sample blueprint outlined for Hunton & Williams, a law and lobbying firm that works for the chamber. The business group said in a statement Monday that the proposal "was not requested by the Chamber, it was not delivered to the Chamber and it was never discussed with anyone at the Chamber."

Two other security firms named in the e-mails, Berico Technologies and Palantir Technologies, also have issued statements distancing themselves from the plans. HBGary Federal and Hunton & Williams declined to comment.

The hacked e-mails suggest that the three security firms worked with Hunton & Williams in hopes of landing a $2 million contract to assist the chamber. Some of the e-mails, which were highlighted by the liberal Web site ThinkProgress on Monday, seem to suggest that the chamber had been apprised of the efforts. The chamber denied any such knowledge.

On Nov. 16, for example, Barr suggests in an e-mail to Berico that his company had spoken "directly" to the chamber despite the lack of a signed contract.

Other e-mails describe Hunton & Williams lawyer Bob Quackenboss as the "key client contact operationally" with the chamber and make references to a demonstration session that had "sold the Chamber in the first place."

On Dec. 1, a Palantir engineer summarized a meeting with Hunton & Williams, saying the law firm "was looking forward to briefing the results to the Chamber to get them to pony up the cash for Phase II." The proposed meeting was set to take place this past Monday, according to the e-mail.

"While many questions remain in the unfolding ChamberLeaks controversy, what's clear is that this multitude of emails clearly contradicts the Chamber's claim that they were 'not aware of these proposals until HBGary's e-mails leaked,' " ThinkProgress reporter Scott Keyes wrote in a blog post.

One Nov. 29 e-mail contains presentations and memos outlining how a potential counterintelligence program against chamber critics might work. The documents are written under the logo of Team Themis, which was the joint project name adopted by the three technology firms.


Switched | Based on e-mails he sent before beginning his mission, it's clear that Barr's motives, from the very beginning, were profit-driven. A social media fanatic, Barr firmly believed that he could use data from sites like Facebook and LinkedIn to identify any hacker in the world, including members of Anonymous. "Hackers may not list the data, but hackers are people too so they associate with friends and family," Barr wrote in an e-mail to a colleague at HBGary Federal. "Those friends and family can provide key indicators on the hacker without them releasing it...." He even wanted to give a talk at this year's Bside security conference, titled "Who Needs NSA when we have Social Media?" But, long-term security implications aside, Barr knew exactly what he would do once he obtained data on Anonymous' members. "I will sell it," he wrote.

Using several aliases, Barr began regularly dropping in on Anonymous' instant relay chat (IRC) forums, and, after setting up fake Facebook and Twitter accounts, attempted to unearth the members' true identities via social media. Putting real names to screennames, however, wasn't easy. Barr's techniques included matching timecodes; when someone shared something in the Anonymous IRC, he would check a suspected Twitter handle for any follow-up activity in the next few seconds. More matches lessened the likelihood of coincidence. By the time he concluded his research, he believed he had successfully identified 80 to 90-percent of Anonymous' leaders -- all thanks to information that was publicly available.

Some of his colleagues at HBGary, however, soon became uneasy with the direction that Barr was taking his investigation. In exchanges with his coder, he insisted that he was not aiming to get anyone arrested, but simply wanted to prove the efficacy of his statistical analysis. In an e-mail to another colleague, though, the coder complained that Barr made many of his claims based not on statistics, but on his "best gut feeling." Others, meanwhile, feared retribution from Anonymous, and with good reason.

Though Barr insisted that he wouldn't reveal the names of Anonymous' leaders at a meeting with the FBI, the group didn't take any chances, and launched a devastating counter-offensive against both Barr and his company. Barr's e-mails were leaked, his Twitter account hijacked, and his iPad, apparently, wiped clean. HBGary, meanwhile, suffered a DDoS attack that crippled its site.

The attack on the company was so bad that at one point, HBGary President Penny Leavy dove into Anonymous' IRC, in an attempt to reason with them. The members asked her why Barr was meeting with the FBI. She insisted he just wanted their business, and had no interest in toppling Anonymous. She, in turn, asked what they demanded. "Simple: fire Aaron, have him admit defeat in a public statement," a member responded. "We won't bother you further after this, but what we've done can't be taken back. Realize that, and for the company's sake, dispose of Aaron." The group later hacked an e-mail account belonging to Leavy's husband, and is threatening to post it online.

Anderson concludes his piece by examining what the saga says about Anonymous, whose members he describes as "young, technically sophisticated, brash, and crassly juvenile." After what happened to HBGary and Barr, he writes, it's become difficult to write off Anonymous' attacks "as the harmless result of a few mask-wearing buffoons."

But perhaps the most intriguing character in this drama is Barr, himself. His e-mails shed some light on the inner workings of a company man who seems philosophically divided. Like Anonymous, he once supported WikiLeaks, until the organization began leaking diplomatic cables, last fall. The document dump led Barr to conclude that "they [WikiLeaks] are a menace," and fueled his antipathy toward Anonymous, which he saw as a group driven not by principle, but by power.

In another message, he declared that corporations "suck the lifeblood out of humanity," but acknowledged that they serve a purpose, and affirmed his belief that some secrets are better left unexposed. "Its [sic] all about power," Barr wrote. "The Wikileaks and Anonymous guys think they are doing the people justice by without much investigation or education exposing information or targeting organizations? BS. Its about trying to take power from others and give it to themeselves [sic]. I follow one law. Mine."

Monday, February 14, 2011

why do we sleep?

Video - Jay Electronica Dimethyltryptamine

Physorg | While we can more or less abstain from some basic biological urges—for food, drink, and sex—we can’t do the same for sleep. At some point, no matter how much espresso we drink, we just crash. And every animal that’s been studied, from the fruit fly to the frog, also exhibits some sort of sleep-like behavior. (Paul Sternberg, Morgan Professor of Biology, was one of the first to show that even a millimeter-long worm called a nematode falls into some sort of somnolent state.) But why do we—and the rest of the animal kingdom—sleep in the first place?

“We spend so much of our time sleeping that it must be doing something important,” says David Prober, assistant professor of biology and an expert on how genes and neurons regulate sleep. Yes, we snooze in order to rest and recuperate, but what that means at the molecular, genetic, or even cellular level remains a mystery. “Saying that we sleep because we’re tired is like saying we eat because we’re hungry,” Prober says. “That doesn’t explain why it’s better to eat some foods rather than others and what those different kinds of foods do for us.”

No one knows exactly why we slumber, Prober says, but there are four main hypotheses. The first is that sleeping allows the body to repair cells damaged by metabolic byproducts called free radicals. The production of these highly reactive substances increases during the day, when metabolism is faster. Indeed, scientists have found that the expression of genes involved in fixing cells gets kicked up a notch during sleep. This hypothesis is consistent with the fact that smaller animals, which tend to have higher metabolic rates (and therefore produce more free radicals), tend to sleep more. For example, some mice sleep for 20 hours a day, while giraffes and elephants only need two- to three-hour power naps.

Another idea is that sleep helps replenish fuel, which is burned while awake. One possible fuel is ATP, the all-purpose energy-carrying molecule, which creates an end product called adenosine when burned. So when ATP is low, adenosine is high, which tells the body that it’s time to sleep. While a postdoc at Harvard, Prober helped lead some experiments in which zebrafish were given drugs that prevented adenosine from latching onto receptor molecules, causing the fish to sleep less. But when given drugs with the opposite effect, they slept more. He has since expanded on these studies at Caltech.

Sleep might also be a time for your brain to do a little housekeeping. As you learn and absorb information throughout the day, you’re constantly generating new synapses, the junctions between neurons through which brain signals travel. But your skull has limited space, so bedtime might be when superfluous synapses are cleaned out.

And finally, during your daily slumber, your brain might be replaying the events of the day, reinforcing memory and learning. Thanos Siapas, associate professor of computation and neural systems, is one of several scientists who have done experiments that suggest this explanation for sleep. He and his colleagues looked at the brain activity of rats while the rodents ran through a maze and then again while they slept. The patterns were similar, suggesting the rats were reliving their day while asleep.

what is reality?

Video - BBC Horizon Documentary What is Reality?

There is a strange and mysterious world that surrounds us, a world largely hidden from our senses. The quest to explain the true nature of reality is one of the great scientific detective stories.

It starts with Jacobo Konisberg talking about the discovery of the Top quark at Fermilab. Frank Wilceck then featured to explain some particle physics theory at his country shack using bits of fruit. Anton Zeilinger showed us the double slit experiment and then Seth Lloyd showed us the worlds most powerful quantum computer, which has some problems. Lloyd has some interesting ideas about the universe being like a quantum computer.

Lenny Susskind then made an appearance to tell us about how he had discovered the holographic principle after passing an interesting hologram in the corridor. The holgraphic principle was illustated by projecting an image of Lenny onto himself. Max Tegmark then draws some of his favourite equations onto a window and tell us that reality is maths before he himself dissolved into equations.

The most interesting part of the program was a feature about an experiment to construct a holometer at Fermilab described by one of the project leaders Craig Hogan. The holometer is a laser inteferometer inspired by the noise produced at the gravitational wave detectors such as LIGO. It is hoped that if the holographic principle is correct this experiment will detect its effects.

Clues have been pieced together from deep within the atom, from the event horizon of black holes, and from the far reaches of the cosmos. It may be that that we are part of a cosmic hologram, projected from the edge of the universe. Or that we exist in an infinity of parallel worlds. Your reality may never look quite the same again.