Archive for January 2011

Internet ‘Kill Switch’ Legislation Back in Play   Leave a comment

Legislation granting the president internet-killing powers is to be re-introduced soon to a Senate committee, the proposal’s chief sponsor told on Friday.

The resurgence of the so-called “kill switch” legislation came the same day Egyptians faced an internet blackout designed to counter massive demonstrations in that country.

The bill, which has bipartisan support, is being floated by Sen. Susan Collins, the Republican ranking member on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. The proposed legislation, which Collins said would not give the president the same power Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak is exercising to quell dissent, sailed through the Homeland Security Committee in December but expired with the new Congress weeks later.

The bill is designed to protect against “significant” cyber threats before they cause damage, Collins said.

“My legislation would provide a mechanism for the government to work with the private sector in the event of a true cyber emergency,” Collins said in an e-mail Friday. “It would give our nation the best tools available to swiftly respond to a significant threat.”

The timing of when the legislation would be re-introduced was not immediately clear, as kinks to it are being worked out.

 An aide to the Homeland Security committee described the bill as one that does not mandate the shuttering of the entire internet. Instead, it would authorize the president to demand turning off access to so-called “critical infrastructure” where necessary.

An example, the aide said, would require infrastructure connected to “the system that controls the floodgates to the Hoover dam” to cut its connection to the net if the government detected an imminent cyber attack.

What’s unclear, however, is how the government would have any idea when a cyber attack was imminent or why the operator wouldn’t shutter itself if it detected a looming attack.

About two dozen groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Library Association, Electronic Frontier Foundation and Center for Democracy & Technology, were skeptical enough to file an open letter opposing the idea. They are concerned that the measure, if it became law, might be used to censor the internet.

“It is imperative that cyber-security legislation not erode our rights,” the groups wrote last year to Congress.

A congressional white paper on the measure said the proposal prohibits the government from targeting websites for censorship “based solely on activities protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.”

Oddly, that’s exactly the same language in the Patriot Act used to test whether the government can wiretap or investigate a person based on their political beliefs or statements.

Posted January 31, 2011 by markosun in Uncategorized

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The southern cities of Eastern Canada   Leave a comment

Toronto and other eastern cities always have warmer temperatures than good old Winnipeg.  There are many reasons for this.  The moderating weather created by the Great Lakes and the ocean are one reason.  But another reason is eastern Canadian cities are much farther south than western cities.  On the map below follow the 49th parallel latitude line that goes through Winnipeg.  Notice how much above the eastern cities the line runs.

One degree of latitude is 69 miles or 111 kilometres.  Winnipeg sits at 49:54 latitude north.  Toronto is located at 43:40 North.  That is a difference of 6 degrees. 6 X 69 = 414 miles or 666 kms, and for people that can’t comprehend distance in terms of kms or miles 7.4 hours driving the speed limit.  So Toronto is 666 kms further south than Winnipeg.  A whole 414 miles closer to the equator.  No wonder they have warmer climes.

Montreal is at 45:30 degrees N. This makes it 276 miles, 444 kms further south.

Halifax is at 44:40 degrees N. This makes it 345 miles, 555 kms further south.  6.1 hours further south than The Peg.

Just for the record Vancouver is at 49:15 latitude N.  Almost the exact same position as Winnipeg.  But they have the moderating ocean to warm them up.  Same with the Alberta cities, they get dry pacific air that blows in over the mountains.

Winnipeg is stuck dab smack in the middle of the continent.  Always out of reach of the moderating ocean air.  Therefore we get nailed by the infamous Polar Vortex.  Cold air rushing down from Hudson Bay and beyond.  Add to that the fact that Winnipeg is just too darn far north compared to those southern eastern cities.

Posted January 30, 2011 by markosun in Uncategorized

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Arnold’s Canadian tour full of blunders   1 comment

The Canadian Press

It was a great trifecta of gaffes.

First there was the geography slip-up by the defence minister; then the action-hero-turned-governor gets befuddled by which war Canada was waging; and finally the opposition leader’s blunder that had a famous Microsoft billionaire running the U.S. military.

The events were, surprisingly, all somewhat intertwined.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay kicked off the series of verbal faux pas this week when he surprised an audience Tuesday by saying California and British Columbia shared a border.

Arnold and Peter in Winnipeg, love Arnold’s boots.

MacKay’s geography goof came in the presence of former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who didn’t immediately react but later politely noted that Oregon and Washington sit between B.C. and California.

But in case MacKay felt any anguish about the error, the “Governator” later provided comfort that nobody’s perfect.

In a speech in Montreal on Thursday, Schwarzenegger pointed out the men and women of the American military who serve in Iraq have real guts. Then he tossed a bouquet Canada’s way that surprised his audience.

“The Canadians that went over there to Iraq,” he told the audience. “Those are heroes!”

Some of the 600 people who attended the luncheon exchanged glances with raised eyebrows, since Canada did not take part in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. But it wasn’t the first time the former action movie star had surprised them during his address.

Schwarzenegger included “Montreal” on a list of world capitals, while making a point that politicians in cities such as Washington, Beijing and Paris can’t be trusted to implement good environmental policy.

Shortly after, just across town, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff made it a trio of blunders when he unwittingly replaced U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates with the head honcho of Microsoft.

“We think that Bill Gates, the secretary of defence, knows full well the problems with the F-35s,” Ignatieff replied when asked a question about the fighter jet.

Ignatieff later used the same event to chide MacKay for his geography mistake.

“Well, I just think our minister of defence should get a map,” the Liberal leader said.

“I think that would be helpful. We want to make sure that he knows about the great state of Washington, the great state of Oregon. Just take a look at the map next time. That would be helpful. It’s a little embarrassing for Canada.”

The joke was also on Iggy.

Posted January 28, 2011 by markosun in Uncategorized

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Tremors in the Middle East   1 comment

The recent uprisings in Tunisia have sparked similar fires in Egypt and Yemen.  What this could lead to is anybody’s guess.  But I am sure that there are officials in Washington and Israel that are shaking in their boots.  These officials are likely thinking back to the revolutionary explosion that happened in Iran in 1979. 

The Iranian revolution brought to power a theocracy lead by vehement anti-American and anti-Israel mullahs and ayatollahs.  To this day that regime has acted with an iron fisted resolve in controlling all aspects of Iranian life.  The population is suppressed and any western style freedoms are quashed.

Internationally the regime has belched out anti-western vitriol with every breath.  It acts erratically towards its neighbours in the region and contends it is the only bastion of pure Islam surrounded by infidels and saboteurs.  It is very paranoid.  This paranoid Islamic theocracy may be striving to acquire nuclear weapons. 

The current situation in Tunisia, and more importantly Egypt, are not all that similar to Iran.  Iran has a very different history, culture and religious tradition than these other countries.  But religious fanaticism is not unknown in Egypt.

The Muslim Brotherhood is one of the first militant groups to oppose the militaristic dictatorships in the Middle East.  m

The Society of the Muslim Brothers, often simply الإخوان Al-Ikhwān, The Brotherhood or MB) is an Islamist transnational movement and the largest political opposition organization in many Arab states.  The group is the world’s oldest and largest Islamic political group, and the “world’s most influential Islamist movement.”  It was founded in 1928 in Egypt by the schoolteacher Hassan al-Banna.

Many current members of Al-Qaeda were and are members of the movement.  Including Al-Qaeda second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri.  Therefore there are many Islamist radicals in the movement.  If this group could gain major support in the uprisings in Egypt the consequences could be mind-bending.  Imagine having four Iran’s added to the volatile mixture of the Middle East.

But lets not panic just yet.  The movements that are in the streets in Egypt and Tunisia are not radical Islamists.  But just regular people that want a better life.  These countries are basically basket cases.  Most people live in squalor and live day-to-day.  With a small minority of elites living like princes and princesses. 

But the Middle East can pull off astounding and rapid surprises.  The next few weeks should tell if the status quo in Egypt and other important Middle Eastern Arab countries gets shaken to its core, or if things simmer down and the analysts in Washington and Tel Aviv breathe a giant sigh of relief.  m

Posted January 28, 2011 by markosun in Uncategorized

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Driving on drugs can be problematic   1 comment

Alle zusammen in German means something to the effect that this is what happens if you do a lot of drugs.  m

Posted January 27, 2011 by markosun in Uncategorized

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Recipe Corner, second installment.   1 comment

In the second edition of Markosun’s Recipe Corner an exquisite delicacy from the Scottish highlands will be featured.  Haggis.

Haggis is a dish containing sheep’s ‘pluck’ (heart, liver and lungs), minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and traditionally simmered in the animal’s stomach for approximately three hours. Most modern commercial haggis is prepared in a casing rather than an actual stomach.

The recipe:

1 large sausage casing
5 cups dry coarse or steelcut oatmeal
1 lb. (.5 kg) chopped mutton suet
1 lb. (.5 kg) lamb or venison liver, boiled and minced
2 cups stock
sheep heart, liver and kidney, boiled and minced
1 large chopped onion
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp. allspice
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper

Posted January 26, 2011 by markosun in Uncategorized

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San Francisco’s stepped sidewalks   Leave a comment

Many years ago I made it to San Francisco on a trip.  It is an amazing city in terms of stunning architecture, giant bridges, interesting cultural areas and very original scenes.  The geography and topography are unlike any other major city in North America.

San Francisco has very big hills throughout its whole area.  This creates very steep streets.  Driving down these streets is nerve-wracking when one is not used to them.  You come to a cross street and you cannot see the street below.  It is like you are approaching a cliff.

One of the effects of these steep streets is that the sidewalks get very hard to walk up.  So certain streets consist not of sidewalks, but steps.  It was absolutely amazing to see these steps that only the physically fit could, or should tackle.  And that an intoxicated person should avoid at all costs.  m














Posted January 26, 2011 by markosun in Uncategorized

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Polar Bear goes for a big swim, a very big swim!   1 comment


A polar bear swam continuously for over nine days, covering 687km (426 miles), a new study has revealed.

Scientists studying bears around the Beaufort sea, north of Alaska, claim this endurance feat could be a result of climate change.

Polar bears are known to swim between land and sea ice floes to hunt seals.

But the researchers say that increased sea ice melts push polar bears to swim greater distances, risking their own health and future generations.

In their findings, published in Polar Biology, researchers from the US Geological Survey reveal the first evidence of long distance swimming by polar bears (Ursus maritimus).

“This bear swam continuously for 232 hours and 687 km and through waters that were 2-6 degrees C,” says research zoologist George M. Durner.

“We are in awe that an animal that spends most of its time on the surface of sea ice could swim constantly for so long in water so cold. It is truly an amazing feat.”

Although bears have been observed in open water in the past, this is the first time one’s entire journey has been followed.

By fitting a GPS collar to a female bear, researchers were able to accurately plot its movements for two months as it sought out hunting grounds.

The polar bear is the largest terrestrial carnivore, being more than twice as big as the Siberian Tiger.  It shares the title of largest land predator (and largest bear species) with the Kodiak bear.  Adult males weigh 350–680 kg (770–1500 lbs) and measure 2.4–3 m (7.9–9.8 ft) in length.   Adult females are roughly half the size of males and normally weigh 150–249 kg (330–550 lb), measuring 1.8–2.4 metres (5.9–7.9 ft) in length. When pregnant, however, they can weigh as much as 499 kg (1,100 lb).

Polar Bear swimming underwater at San Diego Zoo.

As of 2008, the World Conservation Union (IUCN) reports that the global population of polar bears is 20,000 to 25,000, and is declining.  In 2006, the IUCN upgraded the polar bear from a species of least concern to a vulnerable species.  It cited a “suspected population reduction of >30% within three generations (45 years)”, due primarily to global warming. Other risks to the polar bear include pollution in the form of toxic contaminants, conflicts with shipping, stresses from recreational polar-bear watching, and oil and gas exploration and development.  The IUCN also cited a “potential risk of over-harvest” through legal and illegal hunting.

Posted January 26, 2011 by markosun in Uncategorized

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The Mother of all computer worms.   Leave a comment

Computerworld – The Stuxnet worm is a “groundbreaking” piece of malware so devious in its use of unpatched vulnerabilities, so sophisticated in its multipronged approach, that the security researchers who tore it apart believe it may be the work of state-backed professionals.

“It’s amazing, really, the resources that went into this worm,” said Liam O Murchu, manager of operations with Symantec’s security response team.

“I’d call it groundbreaking,” said Roel Schouwenberg, a senior antivirus researcher at Kaspersky Lab. In comparison, other notable attacks, like the one dubbed Aurora that hacked Google’s network and those of dozens of other major companies, were child’s play.

O Murchu and Schouwenberg should know: They work for the two security companies that discovered that Stuxnet exploited not just one zero-day Windows bug but four — an unprecedented number for a single piece of malware.

Stuxnet, which was first reported in mid-June by VirusBlokAda, a little-known security firm based in Belarus, gained notoriety a month later when Microsoft confirmed that the worm was actively targeting Windows PCs that managed large-scale industrial-control systems in manufacturing and utility firms.

Those control systems are often referred to using the acronym SCADA, for “supervisory control and data acquisition.” They run everything from power plants and factory machinery to oil pipelines and military installations.

Iran was hardest hit by Stuxnet, according to Symantec researchers, who said in July that nearly 60% of all infected PCs were located in that country.  However, India and Indonesia were also hit hard.


On Aug. 2, Microsoft issued an emergency update to patch the bug that Stuxnet was then known to exploit in Windows shortcuts.

But unbeknownst to Microsoft, Stuxnet could actually use four zero-day vulnerabilities to gain access to corporate networks. Once it had access to a network, it would seek out and infect the specific machines that managed SCADA systems controlled by software from German electronics giant Siemens.

So scary, so thorough was the reconnaissance, so complex the job, so sneaky the attack, that both O Murchu or Schouwenberg believe it couldn’t be the work of even an advanced cybercrime gang.

“I don’t think it was a private group,” said O Murchu. “They weren’t just after information, so a competitor is out. They wanted to reprogram the PLCs and operate the machinery in a way unintended by the real operators. That points to something more than industrial espionage.”

The necessary resources, and the money to finance the attack, puts it out the realm of a private hacking team, O Murchu said.

“This threat was specifically targeting Iran,” he continued. “It’s unique in that it was able to control machinery in the real world.”

It has been reported that the United States, under one of its most secret programs, initiated by the Bush administration and accelerated by the Obama administration, has sought to destroy Iran’s nuclear program by novel methods such as undermining Iranian computer systems. A diplomatic cable obtained by WikiLeaks showed how the United States was advised to target Iran’s nuclear capabilities through ‘covert sabotage’.

Posted January 25, 2011 by markosun in Uncategorized

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Texting and walking   Leave a comment

 Woman walks right into a fountain while texting.

Watch on Youtube.

Posted January 24, 2011 by markosun in Uncategorized

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