I took a few hours today to spend with Currahee Mountain.

Here is a short movie of the view from the top.



The more I read about the Stuxnet worm the more interesting it gets. This clever weapon was designed to lurk in personal computers until someone, somewhere, incautiously took his work home and returned to the secure, net-isolated Iranian nuclear facility and plugged an infected USB back in. Then it attacked a Siemens Simatic WinCC supervisory control and data acquisition ("SCADA") system designed to manage pipelines, various utility and manufacturing equipment -- and nuclear plants. Specifically, it targeted frequency-converter drives that are used to control the speed of a device, such as a motor or centrifuge. But not just any centrifuge, says Liam O'Murchu, researcher with Symantec Security Response, which published the new information in an updated paper on Friday:

"You would need a process running continuously for more than a month for this code to be able to get the desired effect. Using nuclear enrichment as an example, the centrifuges need to spin at a precise speed for long periods of time in order to extract the pure uranium. If those centrifuges stop to spin at that high speed, then it can disrupt the process of isolating the heavier isotopes in those centrifuges … and the final grade of uranium you would get out would be a lower quality.”

“This is what nation-states build, if their only other option would be to go to war,” Joseph Wouk, an Israeli security expert wrote. The construction of the worm was so advanced, it was “like the arrival of an F-35 into a World War I battlefield,” says Ralph Langner, the computer expert who was among the first to publicize the Stuxnet phenomenon. At Iran's Natanz nuclear facility, the worm operated stealthily for nearly a year and a half, altering the spin speed of the plant's centrifuges in brief erratic bursts, just enough to damage the converter and bearings and to corrupt the uranium fuel in the tubes. Throughout this time, however, Stuxnet hid the changes from the engineers' control panels so that computer checks continued to show all systems operational. This promoted a climate of fear and paranoia that subjected Iranian scientists to suspicion and possible sanctions by their own government.

The worm's designers took skillful measures to hide its tracks even after it was eventually discovered. While it operated, it continually reported back to two servers in Denmark and Malaysia. The moment it was discovered by VirusBlokAda, a Belarusian security company, both of the monitoring servers abruptly disappeared, and the alert sites carrying an emergency notice to global computer security experts were shut down for a full day, during which time all traces of the worm were eliminated.

A commenter at asserts that the resulting damage may be even greater than Symantec's report indicates:

Symantic doesn’t understand centrifuges. This intermittent glitch will destroy the rotors. Like shifting into 1st at 80. With resonance. Finding the glitch in a rootkitted PLC will cost rotors for each debug.
More good news: Stuxnet may have been designed to infiltrate the North Korea nuclear program as well.


Vikings and the Indian Maiden:

So you're a viking, and you go out to take a look to see what's out west. Naturally, you're going to want to bring back a souvenir.

This actually makes very good sense, as many point to the end of the slave trade as bringing about the end of the Viking Age.

One of the primary sources of profit for the Vikings had been slave-taking. The medieval Church took the position that Christians should not own fellow Christians as slaves, so chattel slavery diminished as a practice throughout northern Europe. This took much of the economic incentive out of raiding, though sporadic slaving activity continued in the 11th century. Eventually, outright slavery was outlawed[.]
Of course, we don't have any evidence that she wasn't strong-willed and eager to explore the wild east. Perhaps she was a famous traveler among the skrælingi, and hopped the boat of her own accord.
As documented William H. Babcock in "Certain Pre-Columbian Notices of American Aborigines", the word skræling may have been the name of one of the North American tribes encountered by Norse during initial contact. The story was that Norseman Bjorn the Bonde saved two Skræling siblings from the sea. As was their custom, in gratitude the Skrælings decided to become the Norseman's life-long servants. During this service, the Skrælings indicated that the word skræling was how their peoples' name was pronounced in Norse. Eventually, "The brother and sister killed themselves and threw themselves down the cliffs into the sea when they were prohibited from following along with Bjorn Bonde..." on his return to Iceland.
I'm afraid I'm not familiar with Babcock's sources, so I can't comment on the likelihood of that.

For those interested in the history, Sir Magnús Magnússon's introduction remains valuable.
The Onion on the President:

The Onion had two pieces skewering the president this week, one in print and one on video.

Obama Outlines Moral, Philosophical Justifications For Turkey Pardon

What interests me is that the two portrayals are almost opposites. Amusingly, the same quality that let nearly everyone see the Obama he wanted to see in 2008 is letting everyone see the one he doesn't like in 2010.

Which one do you think better captures the truth? Truth is the core of humor, after all.

The Prodigal Teen Sailors

The Prodigal Teen Sailors

Perhaps most of you already have caught this wonderful Thanksgiving story on the news or in the local paper, but just in case: three teenaged boys from Tokelau, a collection of atolls north of Samoa that is part of New Zealand's territory, were picked up alive near Fiji after fifty days adrift in a 12-foot aluminum boat. That's 800 miles. They ate coconuts, raw flying fish, and one seabird, and drank rainwater that they managed to collect. Their village of 500 people had already held memorial services for them after the New Zealand Air Force could find no trace.

I hope they'll be set for life once they sell their story. It's not quite Men Against the Sea, which was a 3,600-mile drift commanded by Captain Bligh and 19 men in a 23-foot boat, which ultimately reached safety in Batavia in the Dutch East Indies. Another riveting tale of survival in a small open boat is supposed to have inspired Moby Dick. In 1820-21, several Nantucket whalers in the South Pacific survived a sperm whale's destruction of their ship the Essex, then made it to Chile in an open boat after four months at sea and some cannibalism.

Still, 800 miles in a small open boat in the Pacific is quite a feat for anyone, especially such young men.
"For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found."



Happy Thanksgiving.

(Image from DVIDs, photo by Brian Ferguson. Pvt. Carlos Ortiz walks from the serving line at Forward Operating Base Smart, Zabul province, Afghanistan, with his Thanksgiving meal Nov. 25. More than 200 soldiers, airmen and civilians are stationed here. Ortiz is assigned to Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul here.)

Oh, Yes

Oh, Yes:

It's obvious to me now, and I don't see how I never thought of it before: the turkey needs to be bacon-wrapped this year.

I've already got enough meat for this feast, but next year? The duck/turkey/bacon concept sounds good.

You might as well call it the heartbeat of God and be done with it.
The current widely-held theory of life, the universe, and everything holds that at some point roughly 13.7 billion years ago everything that now is was packed into a tight little package from which sprung the Big Bang, which violently hurled everything into existence. But 13.7 billion years to get to where we are isn’t enough for renowned physicist Sir Roger Penrose, and now he thinks he can prove that things aren’t/weren’t quite so simple. Drawing on evidence he found in the cosmic microwave background, Penrose says the Big Bang wasn’t the beginning, but one in a series of cyclical Big Bangs, each of which spawned its own universe.

The Seven-Day Week

The Seven-Day Week

Over at Brandywine Books [link corrected -- thanks, Lars!] they linked to an article about "the book you've always wanted to find," on a subject you're curious about. Someone in the comments section mentioned the seven-day week, about which I've always been curious myself. It's not obvious why it should be so common worldwide to think of days in sets of sevens. It's roughly a fourth of the lunar cycle, but not quite. It's not based on base 10, 12, or 60, the most usual numerical bunches.

How old is the Genesis story of the six days of creation, followed by the seventh day of rest? Wikipedia cites authorities that date it to the Babylonian Captivity in the 6th century B.C. The Babylonians celebrated holidays on every seventh day counting from the new moon, with an odd-lengthed week at the end of each month to straighten things out. The word "Sabbath" may stem from a Sumerian word referring to the second of these monthly seventh-day observances.

Although the seven-day week is widely observed all over the world today, that may be largely an effect of Judeo-Christian cultural dominance. The Romans had been accustomed to an Etruscan eight-day week, but began to switch to the seven-day week under Augustus in the first century A.D., a process that was completed by Constantine in 321 A.D. Non-Judeo-Christian cultures employed a wide variety of weeks. The ancient Basque language, not obviously related to any of the major Indo-European tongues, contains traces of a traditional three-day week. The Igbo of Nigeria use a four-day week, the Javanese a five-day week, the Chinese and Egyptians a ten-day week, and the Aztecs and Mayans both 13-day and 20-day weeks, though the latter is getting so big you might as well call it a month except for its failure to line up with any lunar cycle. My favorite is the ancient Balinese (possibly Hindu) system of a 210-day cycle divided into a wild variety of concurrent cycles of all lengths between one and ten days. The chart that attempts to describe all this has to be seen to be believed.

More recently, both France and the Soviet Union, after their revolutions, tried briefly to institute alternative weeks before relaxing back to the worldwide Western-derived standard.

The names of the days of the week in most Romance and many other European languages are associated with the Sun, the Moon, and the five easily visible planets: Mars, Mercury, Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn, although most Romance languages have substituted variations on "the Lord's Day" for Sunday. So Moon-day in Spanish or French is lunes or lundi, Mars-day is martes or mardi, Mercury-day is miércoles or mercredi, Jove-day is jueves or jeudi, Venus-day is viernes or vendredi, and Saturn-day is sábado or samedi. In German and English, some of the days correspond to Teutonic versions of dieties with similar associations: Tyr (Tuesday), Wodan (Wednesday), Thor (Thursday), and Freya (Friday).

I have just finished re-reading, with great pleasure, the third book in C.S. Lewis's planetary trilogy, "That Hideous Strength." Towards the end, the planetary angels associated with Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn descend to Earth and exert their various influences on a group of Englishmen:

Suddenly a greater spirit came—one whose influence tempered and almost transformed to his own quality the skill of leaping Mercury, the clearness of Mars, the subtler vibration of Venus, and even the numbing weight of Saturn.... Kingship and power and festal pomp and courtesy shot from him as sparks fly from an anvil. The pealing of bells, the blowing of trumpets, the spreading out of banners, are means used on earth to make a faint symbol of his quality. For this was great Glund-Oyarsa, King of Kings, through whom the joy of creation principally blows across these fields of Arbol, known to men in old times as Jove and under that name, by fatal but not inexplicable misprision, confused with his Maker -- so little did they dream by how many degrees the stair even of created being rises above him.



Happy Birthday to the NPH. Part of his birthday present was the encyclopedic River Cottage Meat Book, which we've both been enjoying this morning. The improbably named author, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, raises livestock on a 60-acre farm in Dorset, England. Reviewers variously describe the book's tone as "droll," "a bit rainy," "earthy," and "fervent."

We don't raise our own meat here, but we're getting better acquainted with a local farmer who supplies us with chicken and pork. It's time I became a more informed and hands-on carnivore. Chickens don't disturb me, as I can barely tell one from another and discern little personality in them. Cows, nearly the same. Pigs are a different matter: they threaten to assume almost as personal a relationship as dogs. I try to remember that I'd prefer to ensure that chickens, cows, and pigs all live a tolerable life before they're slaughtered, rather than the kind of sustained nightmare that constitutes the last 2/3 or so of the life of cattle at a concentrated animal feedlot organization (CAFO). If that means dealing with my discomfort at getting to know them before I kill them, or have them killed on my behalf, it seems no more than should be expected of me.


What a Great Idea:

A new amendment to increase Federalism is coming before the new Congress. It's one of the better ideas I've heard lately.



Unlike some of the Woodstock veterans, some people never rethink their college-day assumptions.

For help understanding the foreign policy headlines of the past week, let's return, briefly, to the spring of 1983, when Barack Obama was a student at Columbia University. What were the burning international issues of that time?
Turns out, everything has changed since 1983... except the mind of one man. That fact seems to explain this strange new unity in the Middle East.

UPDATE: Jimbo is talking about this today, too.
Barry O is stuck in grad school dude, not just the 80’s. You see he and his buddies used to wear cool-ass hats and stay up all night smoking weed, drinking white wine and solving all of the world’s problems. Their actual problem was they would wake up the next day, hung over like dogs and nobody could remember how their plan to use the hunger pangs of swollen-bellied African kids to create electrical power was supposed to work.

Obama has spent his entire adult life safe in the embrace of an ideology and collection of fellow travelers that is too weak to even bear the name of Socialism. They don’t have the stones to implement anything as harsh and fierce as Socialism, they could call theirs Stonerism. You gather a bunch of know-it-all smarty-pantses, put them in a situation where they are not responsible to actually do anything. And then let them self-reinforce their ridiculously, experience-free musings and treat them as serious. We shouldn’t, and yet Obama runs the country as if it were a meeting of the Big Thinkers on Campus Club to eliminate all forms of harshness on Earth.
It's not very often that Jim and I are in the same place, but when it happens, it's always worth the price of admission.

Fire in the hole:

In 2006, The Dartmouth, the student newspaper of Dartmouth College, a liberal arts college in New Hampshire, published a cartoon showing Nietzsche conversing with a male student. The student was with a very drunk girl after a night of boozing and schmoozing and was wondering whether or not he should have sex with her. ‘Will to power’, Nietzsche tells him. The cartoonist said it was intended as a pisstake of Nietzsche, and more broadly of his rehabilitation in liberal academic circles, but some Dartmouth students saw things differently – in their eyes the cartoon was effectively okaying date rape. So they did what any well-educated, privileged students at a liberal arts college would do – gathered outside the offices of The Dartmouth and publicly burned copies of the offending newspaper. Like fascists.
On the upside, a Dartmouth education provides you with a sterling appreciation of the musical contributions of The Who:

And, after all, The Who were at Woodstock.

So, you know, the true culture of Western Civilization is preserved. We all know that Western Civilization started in 1969.


"The problems of the world can't be solved in meters. They can only be solved the way we made them: inch by inch."

Another artist who was there present at Woodstock.

Could be there's hope even for the hippies. And their children. Aye, their children, most of all.


Since we're on the subject of folk singers who changed their minds about some things, this one is from 1971. Western Civilization had existed for two whole years.

...and here's the version from 1988, long about the second Reagan administration.

Natural law at work.

Will Quote

Will Quote:


The average American has regular contact with the federal government at three points - the IRS, the post office and the TSA. Start with that fact if you are formulating a unified field theory to explain the public's current political mood.
I have had reasonably good results out of the post office.