More Junkmail from Bob!Saturday, November 15, 2003
The CIA has a covert policy called "extraordinary rendition." This is when they abduct someone in the U.S. or elsewhere and turn them over to another government for interrogation and imprisonment. The victim does not have to be guilty of anything, suspicion is good enough. Or, in some cases, just having your name on a list will do the job.
The Washington Post reported about renditions:
"A senior U.S. intelligence official discussed the case in terms of the secret rendition policy. There have been 'a lot of rendition activities' since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States, the official said. 'We are doing a number of them, and they have been very productive.'
"Renditions are a legitimate option for dealing with suspected terrorists, intelligence officials argue. The U.S. government officially rejects the assertion that it knowingly sends suspects abroad to be tortured, but officials admit they sometimes do that. 'The temptation is to have these folks in other hands because they have different standards,' one official said. 'Someone might be able to get information we can't from detainees,' said another.
"Syria, where use of torture during imprisonment has been documented by the State Department, maintains a secret but growing intelligence relationship with the CIA, according to intelligence experts.
"In the early 1990s, renditions were exclusively law enforcement operations in which suspects were snatched by covert CIA or FBI teams and brought to the United States for trial or questioning. But CIA teams, working with foreign intelligence services, now capture suspected terrorists in one country and render them to another, often after U.S. interrogators have tried to gain information from them.
"Renditions are considered a covert action. Congress, which oversees the CIA, knows of only the broad authority to carry out renditions but is not informed about individual cases, according to intelligence officials."
A guy from Canada named Maher has lived there for 15 years. He's a telecommunications engineer with a masters degree in telecommunications. He has a wife, who as a Ph.D. in math, and two young children.
Last year, Maher was vacationing in Tunisia with his family when he got an email from Mathworks saying they might need him for some consulting, so he returned early. He stopped in New York at 2:00 p.m. to change planes on the way home to Montreal.
In New York, he was stopped at immigration. He was interrogated by the FBI and the New York police until midnight, and then again the next day. Then they chained him and took him to jail, where he stayed for a couple of weeks.
Then they few him to Jordan, where he was taken to Syria by van, with some beatings along the way. The Syrians tortured him and kept him in a 3x6 foot cell for a long time. After more than a year, the Canadians managed to get Maher released from his Syrian prison.
Not surprisingly, Maher is not very happy about this. Neither are a lot of Canadians. What is surprising to me is that few in the U.S. seem to care. Why doesn't anybody quiz Bush or Congress over this? How many others are there?
Here's the Washington Post story:
Here are some of the news stories from Canada:
"In an insane world, it is the sane man who appears to be insane."
Mr. Spock, Star Trek
It's the 50th anniversary of Ray Bradbury's book Fahrenheit 451
Abdul works for a London-based Saudi newspaper. He interviewed Colin Powell last week. Powell described his killer schedule. Abdul asked, "So do you use sleeping tablets to organize yourself?"
Powell responded, "Yes. Well, I wouldn't call them that. They're a wonderful medication -- not medication. How would you call it? They're called Ambien, which is very good. You don't use Ambien? Everybody here uses Ambien."
Those pills that aren't sleeping tablets and aren't medicine, that "everybody here uses," are a prescription sleep medicine, according to their maker, Sanofi-Synthelabo.
A couple of interesting notes from Sanofi-Synthelabo:
"If you notice any unusual and/or disturbing thoughts or behavior during treatment with any sleep medicine, contact your doctor."
"Do not take AMBIEN unless you are able to get a full night's sleep before you must be active again. For example, do not take AMBIEN on an overnight airplane flight of less than 7 to 8 hours, since 'traveler's amnesia' may occur."
Disturbing behavior? "Everybody" at the White House is on that stuff? Traveler's amnesia must be why they can't remember who leaked that CIA Agent's name.
Ya think that's why Rumsfeld keeps forgetting what he said a few months ago?
Rand McNally -- the Product Peter Principle
I was in Walmart the other day and noticed a stack of 2004 Rand McNally road atlases. I bought one, like I generally do once a year or so. It was a cruel trick! The new atlas only has 90 pages, compared to 150 in last year's. The maps are smaller, and they are missing a lot of the smaller roads and other information.
This is really irritating because I thought I could rely on decent maps from those people. So I went to the Rand McNally web site and left a gentle message:
I bought my 2004 Rand McNally road atlas at Walmart,
like I do every year. This year I was tricked! You slugs
sold me an "Easy-to-Read" version that has half the
information missing! Don't you make good road atlases
any more? What a scam!!!
The map I bought says it's "Easy to Read." It's not very easy to read the missing parts. I hope I just got an "atlas for dummies" version, and there are still good ones out there somewhere. Or maybe I AM the dummy because they sold it to me.
Much of the time, it looks to me like the news people are trying to get me to believe something that's not quite true. They imply things that aren't true without actually fibbing. Of course there may be some occasional lying going on, but the primary focus is being "intentionally misleading."
I was beginning to thing it was my warped sense of skepticism, but then I read about some polls that were done, and a large percent of Americans now believe things about the Iraq war that are definitely false. Maybe I'm not imagining things.
One you should keep in mind when you read about polls is that you can never get close to 100% agreement on anything. If you asked "Is water made of hydrogen and oxygen?" a lot of people would answer "definitely not." In fact, I might even answer that way if I felt like stirring things up a little.
There are a bunch of Democrats running for president. I figure there's not much point in following the debates and campaigns for a while, because all they're saying now is what they think people want to hear, and they change their tune daily to follow the opinion polls. It's not a political campaign so much as a marketing campaign. Wait a minute... that won't change, will it?
But at least the debates aren't choreographed, right? When people from the audience are asking questions, it can't be scripted, can it?
Last week there was a "Rock the Vote" debate on CNN in Boston. College students and others in the 18-31 age group were the target audience.
At the debate, Alexandra Trustman, from Brown University, asked the penetrating question, "Macs or PC"?
Back on campus, she caught a lot of flack over that. She had a chance to ask the presidential candidates a question, and she asked something as meaningless as Macs or PCs? Here are some letters to the editor in the Brown Daily Herald:
Alexandra got a little hacked off over this. The reason she asked a dumb question is because CNN told her that was the question she had to ask.
Before she left for Boston the morning of the debate, a CNN producer called her and asked her to ask a question in the debate. He said it would be something about Macs and PCs, but she could modify the question when she got to Boston. When she got to Boston, they wouldn't let her modify the question. She explained that in a letter to the editor in the Brown Daily Herald:
Then the Washington Post and a bunch of other news organizations picked up the story.
CNN said they were sorry, but not sorry enough to name the producer staging the questions. CNN said that was the only question that was staged. Somehow I doubt that. I wonder if it could have been an Apple "placement ad."
Here's another letter to the editor that I particularly agree with.
A REAL Laser Printer
Need a new laser printer? Get one with some horsepower. The VersaLaser won't just write on stuff, its laser will cut right through it. I'd like one of these to play with, but I just can't think of anything I can use it for that will justify the $10,000 price tag.
Microsoft Office 2003
The new version of Office is out. I haven't used it, but here's a pretty extensive review:
I think I'll stick with Office 97. It runs a lot faster.
The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said, "When I speak of mobility, I am thinking of both rapid movement and fast reaction... Firepower is not much good unless it can be applied quickly and flexibly."
This sounds like a response from the war in Iraq, but General Nathan F. Twining said it in 1958.
In other news, the Russian army says they need modernization, and Russia is the number one arms exporter in the world.
Compact Flash, etc.
Compact Flash cards are memory cards with non-volatile memory. That means the memory doesn't lose its contents when you turn the power off. I'm not sure whether it retains its memory when you get one wet, but I imagine I'll find out eventually.
A lot of digital cameras use compact flash cards. A camera copies the photos onto the Compact Flash card, usually as .jpg files. Then you copy the photos onto a computer. You can connect a cable from most digital cameras to a USB port on the computer and use the software that came with the camera, but it's usually faster to take the Compact Flash card (or whatever type memory card your camera uses) and attach it to the computer with a PC Card (PCMCIA) or a USB flash adapter. Then your computer treats it like a removable hard drive. PC Card is the new name for PCMCIA.
In addition to Compact Flash, other flash card types are SmartMedia, Memory Stick, Memory Stick Pro, MMC, SD and xD cards.
Even though most Compact Flash cards are used in digital cameras, they are just like removable hard drives. You can store anything on them. You can copy something from your computer onto a Compact Flash card, then copy it from the flash card to another computer.
512 megabyte flash cards cost about $100 now. You can even get a 4 gigabyte compact flash card for the low, low price of $1219. That's more than twice the price of an entire computer!
I just checked the price on parts for a 2.6ghz Pentium 4 system: $576. (some assembly required).
Intel Motherboard, with 1gb lan, video, sound, - $115
512 mb RAM - $90
Pentium 4 Processor, 2.6ghz - $175
60 gb hard drive - $66
DVD ROM drive - $35
Floppy Drive - $15
Case - $47
Keyboard - $16
Optical Mouse - $17
If you need a drive that writes DVD (-r and +r), it's $150 instead of $35.
I put links to zipzoomfly.com in here just as an example. You can get similar prices other places.
The trend in network cards is toward the 1-gigabit per second speed, called "1000 base T," "10/100/1000," or any of several similar terms. I recently replaced a 10/100 network hub with a $163 1gb switch (8-port). Copying files over the network is about 4 times faster now. I just now copied some files, and copying over the 10/100 network copy took a minute 27 seconds and the 10/100/1000 only took 23 seconds.
Compact flash cards come in different speeds, and the computer adapter makes a pretty big difference in speed. The higher speed compact flash cards naturally cost more. Is it worth it? I guess that depends on how much you use it.
I did some tests copying 1812 files making up 147 megabytes.
I used a Lexar 12x Flash Card with a transfer rate of 1.8 mBps, and a Sandisk Ultra II with 9-10 mBps. There's not much of a standard in Compact Flash speed ratings, so you need to go by transfer rate when you compare. 12x from one company may be equal to 4x at another.
A PC card typically has a transfer rate of 1 to 1.5 mBps, and the high speed USB will go to 480 mBps.
|1.8 mBps CF||9-10 mBps CF|
|PC Card, Write||8:07||4:12|
|PC Card, Read||3:49||1:14|
|USB 2.0, Write||7:29||2:11|
|USB 2.0, Read||4:07||1:23|
|USB 1.1, Read||29:14|
I ran these test on a 1.6 Centrino system, XP, and I didn't shut down the background tasks. So these results are not overly precise.
It seems to me like flash memory cards should replace hard drives someday, but so far hard drives are a lot cheaper to make. 3.5" hard drives are common now, and 1.8" hard drives are getting bigger and faster:
Chipping Away at DMCA
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act made it illegal to circumvent any kind of encryption or copy protection, hardware or software. It also makes it illegal to publish how to circumvent any encryption or copy protection. I've done a certain amount of ranting and raving about the DMCA in previous Junkmails, so I won't carry on too much about it today.
The DMCA is a little weaker today than it was a month ago. The Copyright Office and the James, the Librarian of Congress, decided that it is now legal to break into:
1. lists of websites blocked by commercial filtering companies,
2. obsolete dongles to access computer programs,
3. access computer programs and video games in obsolete formats, and
4. access e-books where the text-to-speech function has been disabled.
Judge Rebecca decided that the DMCA no longer applies to garage door openers. This presumably applies to toasters, too.
The DMCA still makes it illegal to analyze and break encryption and copy protection for research purposes. That's not a very good policy, in my opinion.
It seems like Microsoft is not the only one with occasional operating system problems. Apple released a new version of their Mac operating system, OS X 10.3, also called Panther. Some people who upgraded noticed that their external firewire hard drives didn't work. In fact, the hard drives were essentially erased -- any data on the hard drives was gone for good.
Apple said, "Oops. I guess you should disconnect those drives when you upgrade, huh?"
Microsoft Windows has lots of security problems exploited by virus writers. So Microsoft is going to fix it. They've put $5 million into a fund for rewards to people who turn in virus writers. Microsoft offered two $250,000 rewards for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for the Blaster worm and the SoBig.F e-mail virus.
Terrorists are Everywhere!
The FAA, TSA, DHS, FBI, CIA, and possible the BSA are highly concerned that a Cessna or Mooney may crash into something important. Since pilots of light planes are generally terrorists, the government has "temporary flight restrictions" that outlaw flying of light planes near important people and places, such as President Bush and chemical weapons bunkers.
In that past this was really hard to keep up with. At first, when I called the Flight Service Station, the people who were supposed to give this information out, they had a hard time figuring out where the TFRs were if they were very far away. Since then they've gotten better.
Finally, there's a web site that has the up-to-date information on a map. Since I have a general idea where I'm flying tomorrow, I can look on the map and see that there's a TFR at Nellis AFB (Thunderbird Air Show) and one at Pueblo, CO (Chemical Weapons). That should make it much easier for private pilots to avoid these places.
In the Washington Area there is an Air Defense Identification Zone. That's what we have around the outside of the country to keep track of airplanes entering U.S. airspace. It seems pretty dumb to have one around Washington, but they didn't ask for my opinion.
There have been more than 600 incursions since the Washington ADIZ was instituted February 10. None of these has been a terrorist threat or a threat of any kind.
A few days ago a guy from Florida named Mark bought a Mooney in Pennsylvania. He was flying it home to Florida, and happened into the ADIZ and into the Flight Restricted Zone, a circle 15 miles around the Washington Monument.
A couple of F16s intercepted Mark, decided he was not much of a threat to anybody but himself, and let him go. Mark never did talk to them on the radio. When he landed in North Carolina, the Secret Service interviewed him and searched his new plane. They discovered that he had no weapons, no anthrax, and probably no current charts of the area. Mark told them he thought he avoided the Washington airspace, and didn't realize it had changed since the terrorist attacks a couple of years ago. They sent him on his way to Florida, where he'll probably get in trouble with the FAA.
In an amazing surprise, it was learned that most of the companies getting $8 billion in contracts over the past two years for Iraq have ties to politicians.
Digital cameras are getting better and better, with 5 megapixel cameras common now. The University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy upgraded their big infrared telescope from 1 to 16 megapixels. They plan to put something similar up on the replacement to the Hubble Space Telescope.
Here's one of the first pictures from the new camera.
Here's the hi-res version:
Information Request Filtering
The White House doesn't like answering embarrassing questions, so they've come up with a solution. All information requests from Congress have to go through the appropriate committee. The effectively requires all information requests to be approved by the Republican committee chairs, who can through out the embarrassing ones.
Quote of the Day:
"Saddam is much weaker than we think he is. He's weaker militarily. We know he's got about a third of what he had in 1991. But it's a house of cards. He rules by fear because he knows there is no underlying support. Support for Saddam, including within his military organization, will collapse at the first whiff of gunpowder."
Richard Perle resigned as chairman from the Defense Policy Board after accusations of financial improprieties. But I believe he's still on the board, helping out on defense policy.
Richard Perle also said in May 2002 that Iraq could be taken with a light force of 40,000 American troops. "We don't need anyone else," he said. There are currently between 100,000 and 150,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.
Did you ever wonder about Batteries? Fuel cells? This article probably explains it. It's pretty good.
Last year, some people constructed the world's first synthetic virus, a copy of the Polio virus.
This year, another synthetic virus was built, at the Institute of Biological Energy Alternatives in Rockville, Maryland, by Dr. Craig Venter and colleagues. Venter is the guy who led the private effort to decode the human genome.
It only took them two weeks to make this virus, and it appeared to be identical to the one they were copying. This might be a little scary. Private labs creating synthetic viruses is like something out of a James Bond movie.
Here's the most detailed photo of Jupiter ever produced:
Here's the high-res version, suitable for printing.
Here are details on the image:
Pictures of Today!
I wasn't really going that fast. I was testing out a new version of Photo Mud and doctored up the picture. Try it out and let me know what you think:
Moon Pictures, Apollo 17, the last flight to the moon. (I didn't take these.)
(...) 2003, no rights reserved. Copy the heck out of this thing!
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