Archive for May 2007

Cyber Attack

May 26, 2007

This is a report circulated in the BBC.

Estonia, one of the most internet-savvy states in the European Union, has been under sustained attack from hackers since the ethnic Russian riots sparked in late April by its removal of a Soviet war memorial from Tallinn city centre.

There are other reports:
The Daily Mail (UK).
Zone-H (quoting the Sydney Morning Herald).
E.U. Politics Today (free headlines and synopsis only).
The Telegraph (U.K.)

The N.Y. Times? The Washington Post? Bueller? Anyone?

Ah, there it is, posted in that widely noted daily, the Seattle Post Intellegencer. You don’t think this is a big story?

Estonia’s defense minister said Thursday the massive cyber attacks that have crippled the high-tech country’s Web sites are a threat to national security, and that it’s possible the Russian government was behind them.

Defense Minister Jaak Aaviksoo said about 1 million computers worldwide were used over more than two weeks to attack government and corporate Web sites in the Baltic country, which is engaged in a bitter dispute with Moscow over Estonia’s removal of a Soviet-era war memorial from downtown Tallinn.


May 21, 2007

To a young boy, barely awake at 6:30 AM, the sounds of the Gregorian Chants, Latin and bells becomes part of you. From NCR:

The top Vatican official in charge of use of the Tridentine Mass has confirmed that Pope Benedict XVI “intends to extend to the entire church the possibility of celebrating the Mass and the sacraments according to the liturgical books promulgated by Pope John XXIII in 1962.” Those books contain the last approved version of the older “Latin Mass” celebrated prior to the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), as well as rites for sacraments such as baptism and holy orders.

I don’t think the Tridentine Mass can be fully understood by children, but it can sure be appreciated. It was for over 400 years. Many Catholic adults failed to fully, or perhaps, adequately, understand it too. But after 40 years of Mass in the vernacular I would hope that many do now understand, and could actually follow as adults, with their head, what the Tridentine is capable of saying to the heart. I would love to see it celebrated, if only occasionally.

By the way, there is a common confusion between the New Rite, which is normally done in the vernacular but may be done in Latin, and the Tridentine Rite, which is only done in Latin. To say “the Latin Mass” when one means “the old rite” is incorrect, because the Mass as it is done today was always permitted to be celebrated in Latin.

H/T to Amy Welborn.

How To Teach Astronomy

May 20, 2007

I taught undergraduate astronomy in the late ’70s. ‘Twas fun. Thought it was great, and thought the students learned something.
But over the years, I’ve decided that there were a couple of things that I’d do differently, if I had the chance to do it again.

For instance, I don’t think that I would try to get them to understand cosmology before giving them some sort of historical sense of how we’ve come to understand our place in the universe. I’d tell them that we’re circling a fairly standard star somewhere in the suburbs of a fairly ordinary galaxy, and any other arrangement would probably be bad for our health. Our home, the planet we live on, is pretty small compared to the space between planets, and the star that heats us, the sun, is very small compared to the distance between stars. But the galaxy is very large compared with the distance between the Milky Way and Andromeda (our nearest substantial neighbor-galaxy), and we’re going to collide. We’re part of a cluster of galaxies that’s middling size, compared to the distance between clusters.

What I would start with now (“Boys, this is a football…”) is the question “Which way is east?”

Name Dropping (Sort-of)

May 19, 2007

New Horizons has put out a new podcast (#4), with some fantastic footage of early Jupiter fly-by results.

I’m grinning at the moment, because I’m intimately familiar with most of the people and rooms in this video, and spent a lot of late-night hours running simulations and tests of the autonomous-control software using those work-stations running STOL. Adrian Hill was my tech. lead, Nick Pinkine my friend/co-worker, Tim Miralles (who’s name is not given) very much a co-sufferer and friend, Valerie Mallder, former task-lead and friend, is shown briefly, and of course, the big-wigs like Hal Weaver and Alan Stern himself. Alice Bowman (the first female face shown) sends me weekly updates to this day.

BTW, expect Ganymede pictures to come soon.

What’s an Educated Man?

May 19, 2007

Now boys, this is a football…
Vince Lombardy

It may be an urban myth, but it did not surprise me the first time I heard that university English Majors are no longer taught Shakespeare. It’s getting a lot of press now (or, um… blog-time, at least), but noted astrophysicist Frank Tipler is making the analogous statement about the state of education in physics:

I am aware of no American university that requires, for an undergraduate degree in physics, a course in general relativity, which is Albert Einstein’s theory of gravity. At the overwhelming majority of American universities, including Harvard, M.I.T. and Cal Tech, one is not even required to take a course in general relativity to get a Ph.D. in physics!

There’s a lot of high-powered discussion going on about the rational behind the choice to teach (or not to teach) a particular sub-discipline, and it’s easy to see that when you’re near the tip of an educational mountain, it’s not wise to be studying something that looks unable to take you further. And right now, General Relativity looks oddly sterile. As does most of physics.
Which is just the way it looked at the end of the 19th century.

At all levels of education we’re caught up in the problem of choosing what to teach. We don’t know, and we can’t decide. Should we teach “the three r’s” to children, algebra to adolescents, Shakespeare to English majors and Relativity to future physicists? Why? Will any of them benefit from that, in comparison to teaching them about diversity, deconstruction and String Theory? How will they get jobs in either case? Should universities teach anything except what’s hottest in the job market?

We’ve forgotten that cleaver is not the same as smart, smart is not the same as educated, educated is not the same as intelligent, and intelligent is certainly not the same as wise.

Same World, Different Planet

May 18, 2007

I’ve written (and won’t recapitulate) about my immigrant grandparents, and couldn’t help but think about them throughout yesterday’s hub-bub about the immigration compromise that has come out of Washington. I’m sure they’d be amused.

I’m struck by a number of things, especially the way immigration simply hasn’t registered on the left half of the blogosphere. I see very little (and mostly tepid comments by Black) at Eschaton about it. Apparently, Paul Wolfwitz is a much bigger story to him. And I saw nothing except some mentions of the compromise in the comment sections of Moulitis’ front page, in an open thread, where Attorney General Gonzales is a much more important topic.

But Michelle Malkin, Hugh Hewitt, John at Powerline and the folks at NROL have all but declared a national state of emergency.

Not that conservatives are in complete agreement against the compromise. Ed Morrissey at the Captain’s Quarters and The Anchoress caution patience and, well caution. But at least, to them it’s something worth reporting. On the left, not so much.

But more than anything else, I’m struck by the complete cluelessness of the the politicians. Yesterday I listened for an hour to a radio show (archived shows are downloadable. I did this at home) where the host asked each called to personally address their senator or senators and tell them exactly what they felt about the idea. He told the listeners up front (and often) that this was going to be turned into a CD and sent to the four senators in the listening area. There was no rancor, and there was a surprising amount of intelligence (much more than I hear routinely on C-Span, btw). I suspect strongly that the politicians got an earful. I heard later today that many were taken by surprise.

How is that? Could they really be so out of touch with their constituency?

You betchya.

This compromise, made behind closed doors with more representatives of La Raca present than representatives of the public has no chance of becoming law. It took them, the pols, less than 24 hours to figure that out. The only question is, what next?

I believe the politicians heard that the public at large does not want this to be a law. But they did not hear that the public does not want illegal immigrants in the country’s factories, and worry about the effects of the children of illegal immigrants in their schools. When their own children are sick they don’t want to wait hours in emergency room lines and they don’t want to hit 2 for options in Spanish. I’m pretty sure they’re sanguine Illegal immigrants voting in elections. I believe they think the War in Iraq is the only issue of importance to the 2008 elections.

They’re wrong about that. The War in Iraq may be a political problem this year, but the War On Terror is going quite well, and won’t be so much of an issue. Gas prices are high, but the economy is doing quite well. The chart above is a ten year graph of the Dow Jones 30-Industrials. See the 1998-2000 bubble? It’s followed by the shallow recession at the beginning of the George Bush’s first term. What follows that is a little scary, but only because it’s hard to believe it’s so good. IOW, the economy is not an issue, and won’t be next year. Global warming is now being recognized as over-hyped. It’s not an issue either.

Pet food, now that’s an issue people worry about. But which candidate is talking about that?

No, the politicians are fumbling around like amateurs, except perhaps those not yet in the race.

Update: I should know better than to underestimate these people. While I and other amateur political junkies were fixated on the immigration issue, Congress was hard at work raising our taxes. Coincidence? I think not.

26 Myths

May 16, 2007

Interesting read by Michael Le Page.
But not exactly correct either.

Is it true that Ice cores show CO2 increases lag behind temperature rises, disproving the link to global warming is a myth? Well others disagree.

Over the last 150,000 years, CO2 levels have closely paralleled temperatures. However, detailed analysis indicates that CO2 levels often rose and peaked several hundred years after temperature did. That means climate change drives major changes in CO2, not the reverse.

It’s a myth that cosmic rays affect the climate (“There is no convincing evidence that cosmic rays are a major factor determining cloud cover”)? Really? Scientists have observed strong correlations between the fluctuation of cosmic rays and changes in local environments.

You say It’s a myth that the hockey stick diagram has been proven wrong?
Well let’s see what others say about that!

Oh, and one I’m personally familiar with, the alleged myth that the warming of Mars and Pluto disprove anthropomorphic global warming is odd on so many levels it isn’t even wrong (to coin a phrase – NOT!).
Well, it would be merely wrong if Mars wasn’t undergoing a sudden global warming (it is.) Or if anyone (but anyone!) had associated the lack of observations of Plutonian atmospheric freeze-out with solar flux – nobody ever claimed anything except that we didn’t understand Pluto’s atmosphere enough to know exactly when it would freeze out. And so far, it looks like it hasn’t). Except that he might have meant Neptune… Sigh.

I haven’t gone through the other “myths” in Le Page’s article, but if this is how he’s fairing in the ones I’m more than casually acquainted with, he won’t do well under a close examination.