Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Of hacks and Higgs

The more things change, the more they remain the same ...

What hasn't changed? Chinese hacking of American infrastructure. What has changed is substantiation of something long suspected: that the Chinese government is behind the hacks.

From the Washington Times, see "Meet China’s super-secret military hacking unit:Chinese hacking team responsible for more than 141 cybersecurity breaches."
The findings come by way of a new report from the Virginia-based Mandiant Corp., which claims its "research and observations indicate that the Communist Party of China is tasking the Chinese People’s Liberation Army to commit systematic cyber espionage and data theft against organizations around the world."
 Another choice quote from the article:
Fox News says the "secret group" has hacked U.S. information at energy, aerospace and IT and telecommunication firms. Hackers obtained access to the likes of blueprints and contact lists, Fox News reports.
Before you discount these assertions as somehow tied to a conservative viewpoint, see, "Feinstein Statement on Chinese Military Hacking of American Targets." That's Senator Dianne Feinstein, (D-California), and an official statement from her senatorial office.
Beyond untold millions of dollars in economic losses, the latest attacks the report attributes to ‘Unit 61398’ does not focus on obtaining information "but obtaining the ability to manipulate American critical infrastructure: the power grids and other utilities."
Perhaps the US State Department will send China a concerned note.

Now here is something completely different that remains the same ...

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Publishing (black and) blues

As a working author, I'm a (tiny!) part of an interesting marketplace -- adjective as per the supposed Chinese curse.

Loosely related eye candy
Not the least of that curse/interest lies in the continuing battle of titans over the pricing of ebooks.Viewpoints widely differ.
  • The pirate's view: Why shouldn't an ebook's price reflect the marginal cost of production (i.e., be free)? 
  • The producer's view: Because, apart from production, there are other costs. That is: payment (one hopes) for the contributions of authors, editors, cover artists.
  • The retailer's view: Looking at single titles is too narrow a focus. No matter the conflicting wishes of the author (for whom each book is a unique product!) or the publisher (who wants the product category of books to retain intrinsic value), retailers find opportunity in books (or other intellectual content) sold as loss leaders. Etailers use loss leaders to lure a consumer to a particular gadget and ecosystem (Kindle, Nook, iBook, etc).

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

No time to go googly-eyed

As a working author, I'm no fan of copyright piracy. (Big surprise there.) But neither am I a fan of commercial organizations judging me. Such as with the forthcoming Copyright Protection System. As in, "ISPs plan to hijack browsers and limit Internet access to combat copyright piracy."

Illicit enrichment facility at Fordo
Comparatively speaking, that's only a small-scale worry. What's more anxiety-producing? For one example, look no further than this interview with Olli Heinonen, a retired deputy director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency: "How Iran Went Nuclear." The takeaway:
Mr. Heinonen is emphatic that the IAEA is in the prevention business, yet he also explains that Iran might be past the nuclear point of no return—and that years of IAEA missteps are partly to blame.
Seeing (or not) what they wanted to see ...

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Really small (with big implications)

Today's post deals with news of the really tiny.

We'll start at nanoscale -- and that's as big as we'll consider today. (One nanometer, 1 billionth of a meter, is the scale of small molecules. Living cells are no larger than microscale, measured in millionths of meters.)

There's been a fair amount of uncertainty about the health implications of nanoparticles. Why? Much of the allure of nanotech has been that materials often act differently in nanoscale particles than in bulk -- and yet for a long while, safety studies (if any) were performed only using bulk quantities.

A few years ago, at a nanotech conference, an insurance-company rep brought up, off the record, fears of a parallel between nanomaterials and asbestos. Asbestos is a useful material whose health implications (asbestosis and mesothelioma) went unrecognized for decades.  Related health science was behind the curve and insurers were taken entirely by surprise.

Chemotherapy with nanoparticles
So what are nanoscale particles of zinc oxide in some new sunblocks doing to us? Or the nanoscale silver particles sometimes used as antibacterial agents? Or nanoscale ... whatever in cosmetics?

Although this article has languished in my files for several months, it's encouraging to note (from IEEE Spectrum) that "New Study Indicates Nanoparticles Do Not Pass Through Skin."

Sticking for a bit with nanotech, consider (again from IEEE Spectrum) that "Hybrid Nanomaterial Converts Both Light and Heat to Electricity." Many forms of distributed tech require devices to power themselves by local harvesting of energy. (Remember when that meant self-winding watches?) The article's conclusion:
"By increasing the number of the micro-devices on a chip, this technology might offer a new and efficient platform to complement or even replace current solar cell technology."
Now let's consider some really small stuff ...