Archive for May 2006

Scientists ponder invisibility cloak

USATODAY.com – Scientists ponder invisibility cloak

AP— Imagine an invisibility cloak that works just like the one Harry Potter inherited from his father.

Researchers in England and the United States think they know how to do that. They are laying out the blueprint and calling for help in developing the exotic materials needed to build a cloak.

The keys are special manmade materials, unlike any in nature or the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. These materials are intended to steer light and other forms of electromagnetic radiation around an object, rendering it as invisible as something tucked into a hole in space.

“Is it science fiction? Well, it’s theory and that already is not science fiction. It’s theoretically possible to do all these Harry Potter things, but what’s standing in the way is our engineering capabilities,” said John Pendry, a physicist at the Imperial College London.

Details of the study, which Pendry co-wrote, appear in Thursday’s online edition of the journal Science.

Scientists not involved in the work said it presents a solid case for making invisibility an attainable goal.

“This is very interesting science and a very interesting idea and it is supported on a great mathematical and physical basis,” said Nader Engheta, a professor of electrical and systems engineering at the University of Pennsylvania. Engheta has done his own work on invisibility using novel materials called metamaterials.

Pendry and his co-authors also propose using metamaterials because they can be tuned to bend electromagnetic radiation — radio waves and visible light, for example — in any direction.

A cloak made of those materials, with a structure designed down to the submicroscopic scale, would neither reflect light nor cast a shadow.

Instead, like a river streaming around a smooth boulder, light and all other forms of electromagnetic radiation would strike the cloak and simply flow around it, continuing on as if it never bumped up against an obstacle. That would give an onlooker the apparent ability to peer right through the cloak, with everything tucked inside concealed from view.

“Yes, you could actually make someone invisible as long as someone wears a cloak made of this material,” said Patanjali Parimi, a Northeastern University physicist and design engineer at Chelton Microwave Corp. in Bolton, Mass. Parimi was not involved in the research.

Such a cloak does not exist, but early versions that could mask microwaves and other forms of electromagnetic radiation could be as close as 18 months away, Pendry said. He said the study was “an invitation to come and play with these new ideas.”

“We will have a cloak after not too long,” he said.

The Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency supported the research, given the obvious military applications of such stealthy technology.

While Harry Potter could wear his cloak to skulk around Hogwarts, a real-world version probably would not be something just to be thrown on, Pendry said.

“To be realistic, it’s going to be fairly thick. Cloak is a misnomer. ‘Shield’ might be more appropriate,” he said.

Linux makes gains, sees challenges, in retail IT

By Phil Hochmuth, Network World

“You have a bright future in retail,” isn’t always the best compliment to give someone. But this is a positive statement regarding the Linux operating system.

And we’re not talking about Linux software retail sales (although that has been on the rise recently). Linux as an IT platform inside retail organizations is growing quickly, analyst say. Many retailers such as Boscovs supermarkets, Burlington Coat Factory and Hannaford supermarkets have gone ahead with Linux implementations both in the data center and in the crucial point of sale (POS) area over the last few years.

Retailers who use Linux tout its flexibility and stability: the code can be stripped down and molded to run the specific tasks of a POS system; and it doesn’t crash often, which keeps customers happy and lines moving. Linux has gained enough momentum in retail systems that it even garnered its own special track at the Retail Systems 2006 Conference & Exposition, going on in Chicago this week. The Linux in Retail Symposium segment of the show will feature experts who have overseen Linux retail rollouts – such as former Longs Drug Stores CIO Brian Kilcourse – and technical seminars on how to deploy Linux as POS platform in retail.

Linux still isn’t storming the retail POS market the way it has moved into the enterprise server market. In retail POS, Linux’s position is still only a little bit better than where it stands in desktop PCs. According to IHL Consulting Group, Linux systems accounted for around 9% of POS operating systems installed in 2005, while Windows-based systems had over 70% of the market. Still, Linux saw growth in POS last year, as its market share was almost double what it was in 2004.

The best thing Linux has going for it in retail is IBM; Big Blue’s dominant presence as a POS vendor, and its zealous commitment to Linux, could lead to broader adoption of the open source operating system in cash register, self-service checkout and other retail systems in the near future.

Motion Picture Association Accused of Hacking

eWeek: Motion Picture Association Accused of Hacking

In a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, Valence and its owners have filed their own suit claiming that the MPAA, which represents the interests of the U.S. film industry, paid a known hacker to infiltrate the company’s IT systems looking for potential evidence.

If brought to court, the suit will represent one of the most high-profile accusations of industrial espionage carried out via the use of paid hackers ever heard in the U.S. legal system.

According to the suit, filed specifically in the names of Valence executives Justin Bunnell, Forrest Parker and Wes Parker, contends that the MPAA “willfully and intentionally” purchased, procured, used and disclosed private information that it unlawfully obtained via a break into the company’s computing systems.

The filing further claims that the MPAA paid its hacker $15,000 to steal e-mails and screen prints from Valence’s servers, including client bills and the documents related to the firm’s technology infrastructure. [full.article]

FCC Won’t Investigate NSA Phone Logs

eWeek: FCC Won’t Investigate NSA Phone Logs

The FCC has declined to investigate whether telecommunications companies have broken consumer privacy laws by sharing phone call data with the NSA, saying the classified nature of the program prevents the agency from doing so.

Chairman Kevin Martin, a Republican, said that the FCC would be unable to investigate at this time due to the fact it would require the examination of highly classified information. According to Martin, the agency has no power in ordering the release of those documents.

Martin also mentioned that the government had already used the state secrets privilege in a court case against AT&T, which meant the FCC would have little chance of prevailing in any legal action.

The decision is likely to anger many, as politicians from both sides of the aisle have called for an investigation into whether laws had been broken.

Early Testers Hit Snags in Vista Beta 2

eWeek: Early Testers Hit Snags in Vista Beta 2

SEATTLE—A day after Microsoft announced availability of Windows Vista Beta 2, the first testers are overcoming download bottlenecks and obtaining bits. While many are finding the latest build to be more stable and better-performing, they also are still hitting driver and application compatibility issues, among other system problems.

Microsoft announced on May 23 that it was making Vista Beta 2, Longhorn Server Beta 2 and Office 2007 Beta 2 available to testers immediately. [read on..]

Also see WinHEC: This annual Microsoft developer conference focuses on Windows hardware platforms and their support for standards, device drivers and interfaces.

Hubble Captures a ‘Five-Star’ Gravitational Lens

HubbleSite – Hubble Captures a “Five-Star” Rated Gravitational Lens – Image – 5/23/2006

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has captured the first-ever picture of a group of five star-like images of a single distant quasar.

The multiple-image effect seen in the Hubble picture is produced by a process called gravitational lensing, in which the gravitational field of a massive object — in this case, a cluster of galaxies — bends and amplifies light from an object — in this case, a quasar — farther behind it.

Although many examples of gravitational lensing have been observed, this “quintuple quasar” is the only case so far in which multiple quasar images are produced by an entire galaxy cluster acting as a gravitational lens.

The background quasar is the brilliant core of a galaxy. It is powered by a black hole, which is devouring gas and dust and creating a gusher of light in the process. When the quasar’s light passes through the gravity field of the galaxy cluster that lies between us and the quasar, the light is bent by the space-warping gravity field in such a way that five separate images of the object are produced surrounding the cluster’s center. The fifth quasar image is embedded to the right of the core of the central galaxy in the cluster. The cluster also creates a cobweb of images of other distant galaxies gravitationally lensed into arcs.

The galaxy cluster creating the lens is known as SDSS J1004 4112 and was discovered in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. It is one of the more distant clusters known (seven billion light-years away), and is seen as it appeared when the universe was half its present age.

Spectral data taken with the Keck I 10-meter telescope show that these are images of the same galaxy. The spectral results match those inferred by a lens model based only on the image positions and measurements of the light emitted from the quasar.

A gravitational lens will always produce an odd number of lensed images, but one image is usually very weak and embedded deep within the light of the lensing object itself. Though previous observations of SDSS J1004 4112 have revealed four of the images of this system, Hubble’s sharp vision and the high magnification of this gravitational lens combine to place a fifth image far enough from the core of the central imaging galaxy to make it visible as well.

The galaxy hosting the background quasar is at a distance of 10 billion light-years. The quasar host galaxy can be seen in the image as multiple faint red arcs. This is the most highly magnified quasar host galaxy ever seen.

The Hubble picture also shows a large number of stretched arcs that are more distant galaxies lying behind the cluster, each of which is split into multiple distorted images. The most distant galaxy identified and confirmed so far is 12 billion light-years away (corresponding to only 1.8 billion years after the Big Bang).

By comparing this image to a picture of the cluster obtained with Hubble a year earlier, the researchers discovered a rare event — a supernova exploding in one of the cluster galaxies. The supernova exploded seven billion years ago, and the data, together with other supernova observations, are being used to try to reconstruct how the universe was enriched by heavy elements through these explosions.

See article link for original source and images.

Transiting Planet XO-1b

HubbleSite – Artist’s Concept of Transiting Planet XO-1b – Image – 5/18/2006

xo-1bThis artist’s impression shows a dramatic close-up of the extrasolar planet XO-1b passing in front of a Sun-like star 600 light-years from Earth. The Jupiter-sized planet is in a tight four-day orbit around the star.

Largest cosmic map confirms how little we know

USATODAY.com – Largest cosmic map confirms how little we know

By Sara Goudarzi, SPACE.com

For centuries, humans have looked to the heavens for their gods and goddesses and clues for finding the nature of the universe.

Now, the largest ever-produced map of the universe gives those lost in the dark some direction, but is also confirms that the universe is full of dark energy, a strange force pushing galaxies apart at ever faster speeds.

This utterly inexplicable force is one of nature’s great unsolved mysteries. Map or no map, scientists admit they’re pretty clueless about what’s going on.

“We now have a precise view of what makes up our universe, but little idea as to why,” said Ofer Lahav, the head of the Astrophysics Group at University College London. “It is intriguing that the ordinary matter our bodies are made of and that we experience in everyday life only accounts for a few percent of the total cosmic budget.”

Scientists have known since the 1920s that the universe is expanding. But it was only in the late 1990’s that they realized it is doing so at an ever-increasing pace. Not sure how to explain this phenomenon, they concluded that some mysterious force, dark energy, is what’s causing this acceleration.

This mysterious force is said to make up about 75% of the mass-energy budget of the cosmos.

The new cosmic map is a three-dimensional atlas of more than one million galaxies reaching a distance greater than 5 billion light-years. The most distant galaxies in the universe are more than 13 billion light-years away, and not all of them have been catalogued or even discovered. [image]

The map was created using a new artificial intelligence technique that helps overcome challenges to figuring out how far galaxies are in a photograph that renders them all essentially in two dimensions.

“By using very accurate distances of just 10,000 galaxies to train the computer algorithm, we have been able to estimate reasonably good distances for over a million galaxies,” said Adrian Collister of the University of Cambridge. “This novel technique is the way of the future.”

To make such a map, astronomers have to find the distance between galaxies. Conventionally, this is done by taking a full spectrum of every galaxy and measuring how the light emitted by each one stretches as the universe expands. But this method is tedious and time consuming because it involves observing each galaxy and splitting the observed light into individual components to measure the light stretch.

However, with the new technique, researchers measured the amount of color distortion of a small sample of galaxies whose colors are well known and therefore avoided the need to obtain a full spectrum of every galaxy.

They then approximated the distance of a galaxy by looking at digital images of the sky and created a map of more than a million galaxies.

Soon, with a few simple clicks, any web surfer will be able to look at the new view of heavens. The map is to be made available free on the Internet.

Copyright 2006, SPACE.com Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Privacy Groups Decry NSA Data Collection

eWeek: Privacy Groups Decry NSA Data Collection

Privacy groups responded with outrage to a May 11 news report that the National Security Agency is collecting records of billions of phone calls made in the United States.

USA Today reported that the NSA secretly collected phone call records supplied by AT&T, BellSouth and Verizon.

“A lot of us are starting to think the NSA has started to violate the law,” Marc Rotenberg, president and executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, in Washington, told eWEEK May 11.

Rotenberg said collecting such data is something the NSA isn’t supposed to be doing.

“It appears to flatly contradict the statement by General Hayden when he said that the domestic surveillance program was highly targeted towards Al-Qaeda,” Rotenberg said. General Michael Hayden was head of the NSA at the time the collection of phone records was said to have begun, and is now the nominee to head the CIA.

Gen. Hayden is being questioned by Congress the week of May 15 about domestic surveillance.

According to the USA Today story, BellSouth, AT&T, Verizon and SBC agreed to cooperate with the NSA, while Qwest declined. AT&T and SBC have since merged and now operate under the AT&T name.

Mammoth extinction: blame plants

USATODAY.com – Mammoth extinction: blame plants

What closed the book on mammoths, Pleistocene horses, and other large animals that roamed North America at the end of the last ice age?

Some scientists blame the migration of humans across the Bering Strait land bridge and their blitzkrieg form of hunting. But the picture may be far more complex, suggests University of Alaska biologist R. Dale Guthrie — at least in his part of the world. An examination of plant and pollen remains show that the region’s plant population changed dramatically between 13,500 and 11,500 years ago, affecting the kinds of food available for grazers.

Dr. Guthrie says that a “unique tide of resource abundance” was created by a shift in climate from the icy Pleistocene to the warmer Holocene. This shift in plant life, which preceded human settlement, favored some large mammals at the expense of others.

Using new radiocarbon dates for signature species such as mammoths, horses, elk, moose, and bison, as well as for human settlement in Alaska and the Yukon, Guthrie found that mammoths and horses already had declined sharply by the time humans put down roots. Meanwhile, bison, elk, and moose were thriving before humans settled in the region. The results appear in Thursday’s issue of the journal Nature.

Copyright 2006, The Christian Science Monitor

Big meteorite creates big mysteries

USATODAY.com – Big meteorite creates big mysteries < -source By Bjorn Carey, SPACE.com
Scientists have discovered a beach ball-sized meteorite a half-mile below a giant crater in South Africa.
The 145-million-year-old meteorite, found in the Morokweng crater, has a chemical composition unlike any known meteorite.

It is also an unusual find because it was largely unaltered by the extreme heat from the impact.

The study is detailed in the May 11 issue of the journal Nature.

Oddball meteorite

Scientists have collected thousands of various meteorites over the years and tell them all apart by their various structural, chemical, and mineralogical compositions. The specific concentrations of platinum group elements in the newfound 10-inch (25 centimeter) meteorite place it in the “LL-ordinary chondrite” group of meteorites.

But other characteristics set it apart from the group, such as having silicate and sulfide minerals rich in iron, but no metallic iron-nickel phase.

[…] see ‘source link

May showers bring May patches

Microsoft preps critical Windows, Exchange patches

Microsoft Tuesday plans to release three patches for several of its software products, including at least two critical updates for known vulnerabilities, according to the company’s monthly security update. IDG News Service, 05/04/06.


MySQL releases security patch

MySQL this week issued a security patch for multiple vulnerabilities in its MySQL open source database. IDG News Service, 05/04/06.



Trustix releases ‘multi’ update

A new update from Trustix fixes flaws in ClamAV, cyrus-sasl, kernel, libtiff, rsync and xorg-x11. The most serious of the vulnerabilities could be exploited to run malicious code on the affected machine.


Mandriva, SuSE, Ubuntu patch xorg-x11

According to the SuSE advisory, “Miscalculation of a buffer size in the X Render extension of the X.Org X11 server could potentially be exploited by users to cause a buffer overflow and run code with elevated privileges.” For more, go to:

Ubuntu releases updates kernel

A number of vulnerabilities have been found in the Ubuntu Linux kernel. Many of the flaws could be exploited to crash the kernel.


Gentoo releases Firefox update

A buffer overflow in the JavaScript extension for Firefox could be exploited to run arbitrary code on the affected machine. A fix is available.

Gentoo issues patch for rsync

According to an alert from Gentoo, “An attacker having write access to an rsync module might be able to execute arbitrary code on an rsync server.”

Korea Unveils World’s Second Android

Digital Chosunilbo (English Edition) : Daily News in English About Korea

Korea has developed its own android capable of facial expressions on its humanoid face, the second such machine to be developed after one from Japan. The Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy invited some 60 children to the Kyoyuk Munhwa Hoekwan in Seoul to introduce Ever-1 to the public. The name combines the first human name found in the Bible, Eve, with the “r” in robot.

The Korean Institute for Industrial Technology (KITECH) said the android, which has the face and body of a woman in her 20s, is 160 cm tall and weighs 50 kg. Ever-1 can move its upper body and “express” happiness, anger, sadness and pleasure. But the robot is still incapable of moving its lower half. Ever-1’s skin is made from a silicon jelly that feels similar to human skin. The face is a composite of two stars, and its torso on a singer.

The 15 monitors in the robotic face allow it to interpret the face of an interlocutor and look back at whoever stands near it. Ever-1 also recognizes 400 words and can hold a basic verbal exchange.

“The robot can serve to provide information in department stores and museums or read stories to children; it’s capable of both education and entertainment functions,” said KITECH scientist Baeg Moon-hong, part of the team that created the robot. “The Ever-2, which will have improved vision and ability to express emotions and can sit or stand, will be debuted towards the end of the year.” —see article link for images.