Three newly discovered elements were given names on Friday by the General Assembly of the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics at a meeting in London.
They are Darmstadtium, or Ds, which has 110 protons in its nucleus and was named after the town in which it was discovered; Roentgenium, or Rg, with 111 protons, named after the discoverer of X-rays Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen; and Copernicium, or Cn, which has 112 protons and is named after the Polish astronomer Copernicus, who disrupted the view that the Earth was the center of the universe.
On Tuesday in a ceremony in Rome, the United Nations is officially declaring that for only the second time in history, a disease has been wiped off the face of the earth.
The disease is rinderpest.
Everyone has heard of smallpox. Very few have heard of the runner-up.
That’s because rinderpest is an epizootic, an animal disease. The name means “cattle plague” in German, and it is a relative of the measles virus that infects cloven-hoofed beasts, including cattle, buffaloes, large antelopes and deer, pigs and warthogs, even giraffes and wildebeests. The most virulent strains killed 95 percent of the herds they attacked.
But rinderpest is hardly irrelevant to humans. It has been blamed for speeding the fall of the Roman Empire, aiding the conquests of Genghis Khan and hindering those of Charlemagne, opening the way for the French and Russian Revolutions, and subjugating East Africa to colonization.
(“Rinderpest, Scourge of Cattle, Is Vanquished,” New York Times)
The full article is fascinating, and worth reading.
In “Shaking Down Science,” Matt Blaze takes issue with academic copyright policies. This is something I’ve been meaning to write about since Elsevier, a “reputable scientific publisher,” was caught publishing a full line of fake journals.
So from now on, I’m adopting my own copyright policies. In a perfect world, I’d simply refuse to publish in IEEE or ACM venues, but that stance is complicated by my obligations to my student co-authors, who need a wide range of publishing options if they are to succeed in their budding careers. So instead, I will no longer serve as a program chair, program committee member, editorial board member, referee or reviewer for any conference or journal that does not make its papers freely available on the web or at least allow authors to do so themselves.
Please join me. If enough scholars refuse their services as volunteer organizers and reviewers, the quality and prestige of these closed publications will diminish and with it their coercive copyright power over the authors of new and innovative research. Or, better yet, they will adapt and once again promote, rather than inhibit, progress.
I already consider copyright as a factor when selecting a venue for my (sparse) academic work. However, there’s always other factors involved in that choice, and I don’t expect them to go away. Like Matt, my world is not perfect, and in particular, I’m on the steering committee of the Privacy Enhancing Technologies Symposium, and we publish with Springer-Verlag. I regularly raise the copyright question with the board, which has decided to stay with Springer for now [and Springer does allow authors to post final papers].
There’s obviously a need for a business model for the folks who archive and make available the work, but when many webmail providers give away nearly infinite storage and support it with ads, $30 per 200K PDF is way too high for work that was most likely done on a government grant to improve public knowledge.
I’m not sure what the right balance will be for me, but I’d like to raise one issue which I don’t usually see raised. That is, what to do about citing to these journals? I sometimes do security research on my own, or with friends outside the academic establishment. As a non-academic, I don’t have easy access to ACM or IEEE papers. Sometimes, I’ll pick up copies at work, but that’s perhaps not an appropriate use of corporate resources. Other times, I’ll ask the authors or friends for copies. We need to understand what’s been done to avoid re-inventing the wheel.
If our goal is to ensure that scientific work paid for by the public is not handed over to someone who puts it behind a paywall, perhaps the next step is to apply pressure by only reviewing open access journals and conferences? When I first thought about that, I recoiled from the idea. But the process of looking for previous and related work is a process which must be bounded. There’s simply too many published papers out there for anyone to really be aware of all of it, and so everyone limits what they search. In fact, there are already computer security journals, including Phrack and Uninformed, which are high quality work but rarely cited by academics.
So I’m interested. Does being behind a paywall suffice as a reason to not cite work? If you answer, “no, it’s not sufficient,” how much time or money do you think you or I should reasonably spend investigating possibly related work?
It’s been hard to miss the story on cat tongues (“For Cats, a Big Gulp With a Touch of the Tongue:)”
Writing in the Thursday issue of Science, the four engineers report that the cat’s lapping method depends on its instinctive ability to calculate the balance between opposing gravitational and inertial forces.
…After calculating things like the Froude number and the aspect ratio, they were able to figure out how fast a cat should lap to get the greatest amount of water into its mouth. The cats, it turns out, were way ahead of them — they lap at just that speed…The engineers worked out a formula: the lapping frequency should be the weight of the cat species, raised to the power of minus one-sixth and multiplied by 4.6. They then made friends with a curator at Zoo New England, the nonprofit group that operates the Franklin Park Zoo in Boston and the Stone Zoo in Stoneham, Mass., who let them videotape his big cats. Lions, leopards, jaguars and ocelots turned out to lap at the speeds predicted by the engineers.
I was also listening to the Quirks and Quarks story on “Wet Dogs Rule,” in which the researchers have used high speed photography figured out that dogs (and other animals) shake water out at a precisely optimal rate for energy invested versus surface tension and other factors that keep the water in their fur.
What’s surprising to me is the surprise that … “they lap at just that speed.” As anyone who’s ever read Darwin knows, any animal that expends extra energy on something, be it drying off or drinking water, will be disadvantaged compared to one that spends less energy for the same benefit. And over time, the animal that spends its energy more efficiently will have more energy to reproduce. To the extent that such strategies are influenced by genes, those genes that drive better strategies will spread. So I’m surprised that engineers are surprised that they can’t improve on millions of years of evolution.
Incidentally, congratulations to the CBC for being a news site that clearly links to the real academic work and researchers web sites.
Via Boing Boing, where Maggie Koerth-Baker gave a delightful pointer to this film of Feynman explaining for seven-and-a-half minutes why he can’t really explain why magnets repel each other. Or attract, either.
And trumping him in time and space, Bierce gave us this in 1906:
Something acted upon by magnetism.
Something acting upon a magnet.
The two definitions immediately foregoing are condensed from the works of one thousand eminent scientists, who have illuminated the subject with a great white light, to the inexpressible advancement of human knowledge.
See what happened when Portishead, England turned off their traffic lights in September 2009 in this video. And don’t miss “Portishead traffic lights set to stay out after trial” in the Bristol Evening Post.
Researchers in the United States have found that putting individual geniuses together into a team doesn’t add up to one intelligent whole. Instead, they found, group intelligence is linked to social skills, taking turns, and the proportion of women in the group.
“We didn’t expect that the proportion of women would be a significant influence, but we found that it was,” Prof. Woolley, an organizational psychologist, said in an interview. “The effect was linear, meaning the more women, the better.”
The Globe and Mail, “If you want collective smarts…” In her interview with Quarks and Quirks, Woolley was careful to say that it wasn’t gender per se, but social awareness, but that such awareness correlates strongly with gender.
In 6502 visual simulator, Bunnie Huang writes:
It makes my head spin to think that the CPU from the first real computer I used, the Apple II, is now simulateable at the mask level as a browser plug-in. Nothing to install, and it’s Open-licensed. How far we have come…a little more than a decade ago, completing a project like this would have resulted in a couple PhDs being awarded, or regarded as trade secret by some big EDA vendor. This is just unreal…but very cool!’
Nature reports that Quantum Cryptography has been completely broken in “Hackers blind quantum cryptographers.” Researcher Vadim Makarov of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology
constructed an attack on a quantum cryptography system that “gave 100% knowledge of the key, with zero disturbance to the system,” as Makarov put it.
There have been other attacks on quantum cryptography, but this is the first in which there is no indication that the key has been stolen. In those attacks, the operator of the system would see the transmission error rate go up, but in Makarov’s attack, the operator sees nothing. In short, they are completely, utterly defeated. The attacker gets everything with impunity.
As usual, the quantum crypto crowd doesn’t see that a 100% loss of key with no inkling of the loss is a problem. Makarov himself said to Nature, “If you want state-of-the-art security, quantum cryptography is still the best place to go.”
Perhaps the kicker is this in Nature’s article:
Ribordy [CEO of ID Quantique] and Zavriyev [Director of R&D at MagiQ] stress that the open versions of their systems that are sold to university researchers are not the same as those sold for security purposes, which contain extra layers of protection. For instance, the fully commercial versions of IDQ’s system also use classical cryptographic techniques as a safety net, says Ribordy.
Huh? We can trust commercial versions of quantum crypto because it uses classical crypto as a safety net? That’s saying that the quantum coolness is really just icing over a VPN. Isn’t it? Am I missing something?
Now it’s time for a rant. Quantum cryptography is really, really cool technology, but the whole point of it is, well, security, and if the state of the art is that the system is breakable, then the art is in a sorry state. It’s a state of being a research toy, not a real security system.
The whole point of quantum crypto is that it isn’t even really crypto. It’s communications that can’t be eavesdropped on. It’s a magical tour-de-force of science and technology. But if it can be silently thwarted, it’s no good. If there is no way that it can be tested to be good, it’s no good. Moreover, the latter is more important than anything else.
For quantum crypto to be viable and trusted, we have to have some way that we know that the boxes were designed and manufactured in such a way that we can be confident that there’s no silent quantum backdoor in the box, then it has no value. You might as well just get a VPN router from the usual suspects and be done with it. If you’re really paranoid, just lay down some glass fiber and put it in a conduit.
Quantum information science as a discipline needs to start taking security seriously. It can’t just brush off a break of this magnitude, and remain credible. Come on, at least admit this is serious and has to be reflected in the manufacturing and testing. Come up with countermeasures, something.