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Earlier this week, we learned that there is (most likely) at least one planet orbiting the star Alpha Centauri B. If you want to get really in-depth on this discovery, how it was made, and what it means, you should be reading Paul Gilster's Centauri Dreams blog.
I wanted to highlight this image, specifically, in order to quote some particularly evocative writing that Gilster posted yesterday. Cue the stirring music:
When planet-hunter Greg Laughlin (UC-Santa Cruz) took his turn at the recent press conference announcing the Alpha Centauri B findings, he used the occasion to make a unique visual comparison. One image showed the planet Saturn over the limb of the Moon. Think of this as the Galilean baseline, for when Galileo went to work on the heavens with his first telescope, the Moon was visually close at hand and Saturn a mysterious, blurry object with apparent side-lobes.
Laughlin contrasted that with [this image], showing the Alpha Centauri stars as viewed from Saturn, a spectacular vista including the planet and the tantalizing stellar neighbors beyond. Four hundred years after Galileo, we thus define what we can do — a probe of Saturn — and we have the image of a much more distant destination we’d like to know a lot more about. The findings of the Geneva team take us a giant step in that direction, revealing a small world of roughly Earth mass in a tight three-day orbit around a star a little smaller and a little more orange than the Sun. What comes next is truly interesting, both for what is implied and for what we are capable of doing.
Read the rest of this post, which explains what happens next with the research and why astronomers will be focusing their planet-hunting efforts on Alpha Centauri B.
New York's Grand Central Terminal, as it currently stands today, was built between 1903 and 1913. But it is the third Grand Central. Two earlier buildings — one called Grand Central Depot, and the other known as Grand Central Station (which remains the colloquial name for the Terminal) — existed on pretty much the exact same spot. But neither lasted nearly as long. The Depot opened in 1871, and was drastically reconstructed in 1899. The new building, the Station, only stood for three years before it began to come down in sections, eventually replaced by the current building.
That's a lot of structural shuffling, and at the Anthropology in Practice blog, Krystal D'Costa explains some of the history behind it. Turns out, the rapid reconfiguration of Grand Central had a lot to do with crowd control — figuring out how to use architecture to make the unruly masses a little more ruly. One early account that D'Costa quotes describes regular mad scrambles to board the train — intimidating altercations that could leave less-aggressive passengers stranded on the platform as their train left them behind.
The problem it seemed was that the interior of the depot did nothing to manage the Crowd—which could resume the same patterns of movement as they did on the street—and believe me, it was just as unruly out there. In the depot, where passengers were confronted with the unbridled power of locomotives, it was necessary to impose some sort of structure to the meeting: the Crowd had to be domesticated.
... A deadly collision in 1902 preceded public demand for an even safer, more accessible terminal. Warren and Wetmore won the bid for reconstruction, and the plan they produced included galleries, which added yet another transition area but, more importantly, rendered the Crowd into a spectacle. This design, which is the one visitors experience today, preserves the Crowd in a central area, providing raised balconies from which there are plenty of opportunities to people-watch. Being placed on display is not lost on the subconscious of the Crowd: what appears to be hustle and bustle are manifestations of many synchronizations happening at once. So what appears to be chaos to the casual observer is actually a play directed by design that makes the Crowd a key feature of the space even as it is minimized by the architectural elements that Grand Central Terminal is known for: the grand ceiling, the large windows, and the deep main concourse. These items add perspective to the Crowd and diminish its psychological power as an uncontrollable mass.
If you are going to be in New York this weekend, I'll be giving the keynote talk at 10 am on Saturday at the WFMU Radiovision 2012 Conference. I'm going to be talking about maker culture, Boing Boing, MAKE magazine, and the future of DIY. I'm really looking forward to meeting the other attendees!
WFMU presents a full day of presentations and panel discussions about radio's future as it takes on new forms in the digital age. Featuring Boing Boing's Mark Frauenfelder, Radio ARTE's Silvain Gire, Roman Mars, The Swedish Pirate Party, Pejk Malinovski, Francesca Panetta, Tim Pool, Maria Popova, Glynn Washington and many more.Admission prices: $80 General Admission and a discounted rate of $40 for artists, students. Both include lunch.
In a presentation at the BreakPoint security conference in Melbourne, IOActive researcher Barnaby Jack described an attack on pacemakers that could, he says, deliver lethal shocks to their owners. Jack claims that an unspecified pacemaker vendor's devices have a secret wireless back-door that can be activated by knowledgeable attackers from up to 30 feet away, and that this facility can be used to kill the victim right away, or to reprogram pacemakers to broadcast malicious firmware updates as their owners move around, which cause them to also spread the firmware, until they fail at a later time. Darren Pauli from Secure Business Intelligence quotes Jack as saying,
“The worst case scenario that I can think of, which is 100 percent possible with these devices, would be to load a compromised firmware update onto a programmer and … the compromised programmer would then infect the next pacemaker or ICD and then each would subsequently infect all others in range,” Jack said.
He was developing a graphical adminstration platform dubbed “Electric Feel” which could scan for medical devices in range and with no more than a right-click, could enable shocking of the device, and reading and writing firmware and patient data.
“With a max voltage of 830 volts, it's not hard to see why this is a fairly deadly feature. Not only could you induce cardiac arrest, but you could continually recharge the device and deliver shocks on loop," he said.
Manufacturers of implanted devices have been resistant to calls to publish their sourcecode and to allow device owners to inspect and modify that code, citing security concerns should latent vulnerabilities be exposed, and put implantees at risk. But as Jack's presentation demonstrates, vulnerabilities can be discovered without publication -- and if they are discovered and not disclosed, they may never be patched (or may not be patched until coming to light in some kind of horrific attack). In other words, secrecy helps bad guys, but keeps good guys and innocent bystanders in the dark.
Hacked terminals capable of causing pacemaker deaths (Thanks, Jon!)
Most of the clever tips on this page will eventually come in handy for me. I tried the toilet roll iPhone speaker trick and it works!
"Music and the Psychedelic Mind" is a 20-minute documentary that explores the relationship between music and psychedelic drugs. It includes an interview with Charles Grob, M.D., professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the Harbor UCLA School of Medicine, about his study using psilocybin and music to treat advanced cancer patients who had "overwhelming anxiety."
Ot from Bits of Freedom sez, "On 15 October, the Dutch ministry of Justice and Security proposed powers for the police to break into computers, install spyware, search computers and destroy data. These powers would extend to computers located outside the Netherlands. Dutch digital rights movement Bits of Freedom warns for the unacceptable risks to cybersecurity and calls on other countries to strongly oppose the proposal."
Three new powers: spy, search and destroy
The proposal (Dutch, PDF) would grant powers to the Dutch police to break into computers, including mobile phones, via the internet in order to:
- * install spyware, allowing the police to overtake the computer;
- * search data on the computer, including data on computers located in other countries; and
- * destroy data on the computer, including data on computers located in other countries.
If the location of the computer cannot be determined, for example in the case of Tor-hidden services, the police is not required to submit a request for legal assistance to another country before breaking in. Under the current text, it is uncertain whether a legal assistance request is required, or merely warranted, if the location of the computer is known. The exercise of these powers requires a warrant from a Dutch court.