Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Facebook Murder – Social Media and Teen Assassins

The two Dutch teenagers who pushed a third to kill a girl in January have been given two years in a juvenile detention center. The pair ordered the killing after the victim gossiped about the couple’s sexual escapades on Facebook. The victim had argued for weeks with the instigator, and they had swapped multiple insults on the social networking site. All participants in the tragedy are the members the Chinese community in the Netherlands.

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The case, known in the Netherlands as the "Facebook murder", has caused widespread debate about the role of social media in violent crime.

In a case that shocked Holland and the world, the 16-year-old girl and her 18-year-old former boyfriend have been given two years in youth custody followed by three years of compulsory psychiatric therapy.

The court heard that 16-year-old Polly W was the instigator, and the judge Marcel Snijders described her as “cold and calculating.” Polly and Hau were once best friends, but when Polly and Wesley started dating, Hau posted on Facebook and several other sites that Polly got around with boys. In response, Polly and several of her friends decided to “teach Hau a lesson.”

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A court in Arnhem found that the former couple had pressured another boy, Jinhau K, to murder 15-year-old Winsie. Winsie was stabbed to death in January, at the request of Polly W and Wesley C, who were 17 and 16 respectively at the time. Their surnames have been withheld for legal reasons.

Jinhau K, who was 14 when he carried out the murder, was sentenced in September to one year in juvenile detention. This is the maximum sentence allowed for a 15-year-old. He was described by the court as having “a serious behavioral disorder with psychotic traits.”

Hau’s father, Chun nam, told a Dutch crime program that Jinhua rang his doorbell and asked to see Hau. As soon as he left the two alone, Chun nam said, Jinhua stabbed Hau. Chun nam tried to intervene and was badly slashed. Hau died in a hospital five days later.

Instigators offered Jinhua a small sum of money – reportedly less than €100 – and promised that they would pay for his drinks in future when he went out. According to the Dutch Justice Ministry, they spent weeks planning the murder, communicating with the assassin on Facebook and by phone. They gave him a note with the victim’s address and let him know when she would be home. They allegedly exerted strong pressure on him to commit the murder: if he didn’t do it, they would kill him. Jinhau denied he had been paid to carry out the killing, but said he was put under heavy pressure to do it.

The father of the victim called the punishment “ridiculous.”

The prosecution had asked for a harsher sentence under adult criminal law of five years' imprisonment and forced treatment. But the judges took the decision that both the instigators, who were also found to have personality disorders, should be sent to a special institution for juvenile offenders.

The prosecution is considering an appeal.

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Sources and Information:

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Tracking Hurricane Sandy and other Natural Disasters

The massive storm that started out as Hurricane Sandy slammed into the East Coast and morphed into a huge and problematic system, killing at least 61 people in the United States as of today, October 31, 2012. Power outages now stand at more than 6.3 million homes and businesses, down from a peak of 8.5 million.

You may be worried for your friends and relatives living in the affected area. One of the Google projects is helping to get current status of events on the map, covering:

  • ·       Shelters and Recovery Centers Locations
  • ·         Power outage information
  • ·         Traffic conditions, and much more.

You can check the map specifically related to Hurricane Sandy here:

Looking globally, you can also follow up with the worldwide conditions at the Weather, Hazards, and Emergency preparedness map, also developed by Google. Before going for exotic vacation, check if there are no alerts linked to your destination.

If say you do not trust Google and do not want to use its resources, you can track the weather and disasters’ warnings through Esri’s Public Information Map:

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

How to Check if Hackers Got your Apple Device UDID?

Hackers operating under the Anonymous umbrella have leaked more than 1 million Apple iPhone and iPad IDs, which were allegedly swiped from the FBI. On Monday, the Antisec arm of the hacker collective said it had released 1,000,001 unique device identifier numbers (UDIDs) used by Apple, app developers, and ad networks to label iPhone and iPad users.

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The hackers posted a lengthy message on Pastebin with links to data culled from a larger database of more than 12 million users' personal information. In its message on Pastebin, AntiSec said it had obtained the numbers from the a Dell Vostro laptop allegedly belonging to an FBI special agent named Christopher Stangl from the FBI Regional Cyber Action Team in New York. In 2009, Mr. Stangl appeared in a Facebook promotional video titled “Wanted by the FBI: Cyber Security Experts” that encouraged hackers to get involved with the F.B.I. He was also one of 44 law enforcement agents invited to participate in the F.B.I.-Scotland Yard conference call that hackers intercepted.

Andy Greenberg from Forbes downloaded and decrypted the encrypted files. While there is no simple way to confirm the authenticity or source of the data, he found an enormous list of 40-character strings composed of numbers and letters A through F.

Each line comes with what Anonymous says is an Apple Push Notification badge, as well as a username and a note signifying the accompanying device.

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"We decided we'd help out Internet security by auditing [the] FBI first," the Antisec message said.

The hackers trimmed out personal data like full names, cell numbers, addresses, and ZIP codes, but left one main column that included enough information to help users see if their information was listed or not, the group said. Antisec clarified that there are no plans to use the obtained data  in any way to harm end users.

"We have learnt it seems quite clear nobody pays attention if you just come and say 'hey, FBI is using your device details and info and who the [expletive] know what the hell are they experimenting with that', well sorry, but nobody will care," they said.

The data was breached using a vulnerability in Java, according to Antisec, which also reiterated its support for WikiLeaks and its editor, Julian Assange, who was recently granted political asylum by Ecuadorean officials.

In their statement, the hackers said they would not grant any interviews about the breach until a reporter for Gawker, Adrian Chen, posed for his employer’s site, for a full day, in a ballet tutu with a shoe on his head. On Tuesday evening, Mr. Chen complied. “There’s me in a tutu,” he wrote in a blog post with accompanying photos. “Get used to it because it’s going to be up until around 6:30 p.m. tomorrow.”

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TheNextWeb tech team has put together a tool to help you check if your device has been compromised by Anonymous hackers. To check your device, just input your UDID/UUID into the form and check it against the published database on the following page. If you need help to identify what is your UDID, you can follow the simple steps, proposed by WhatsmyUDID:
  • Open iTunes.
  • Connect your iOS device to your computer.
  • Select it from the Devices column.
  • Click on a device serial number to reveal its UDID.
  • Copy the number anywhere for future use.

If you need assistance on how to find the number, visit WhatsmyUDID and follow the slideshow with related screenshots.

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Sources and Additional Information:

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Mountain Lion – New OS for Mac

The new system, known as OS X 10.8 and nicknamed Mountain Lion, went on sale today as a $19.99 download through Apple's App Store.

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The strategic idea for the new OS introduction is based on positioning of your computer as just one in the line of Apple computing devices, along with iPhone and iPad. Apple wants to make it easier to switch between all these gadgets back and forth.

It is already relatively easy switching between iPhone and iPad. For instance, songs and apps you buy on an iPad will automatically pop up on your iPhone through Apple's iCloud online-storage service. Mountain Lion brings the Mac into the full compatibility and functionality of the iPhone-iPad family.

There are some new outstanding features:
  • A notification center slides out from the right of the screen to offer calendar reminders and the latest mail items. It mimics, down to the background color, layout and font, the way you get Facebook updates, news alerts and other notices on your iPhone.
  • The Mac's iChat app has been scrapped in favor of Messages, which is made phone friendly by incorporating the iMessage service for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch users to exchange texts, photos and video. Now you can send messages from your Mountain Lion computer to your mobile friends, or reach another Mountain Lion user from your phone. The way conversations are presented feels more like texting than instant messaging.
  • Mountain Lion borrows a "Share" button from iPhone and iPad apps. The iPhoto image organizer on Lion had that, but it's now built into other apps such as the Safari Web browser and the Preview document reader. The options change depending on the app. In Safari, for instance, you can send a Web page by email or post a link on Twitter. In Preview, you can share a photo on Flickr or add it to iPhoto.

Facebook integration is coming this fall. You'll be able to limit who sees your post and add your current location through that share button. No longer will you have to cut and paste links. Mountain Lion will also sync contact information on Facebook friends with your Mac's address book. You need to sign on to Facebook only once, and Mountain Lion takes care of the rest.

That "single sign-on" feature is available right away for other services, including Twitter and Flickr. Once you're signed in, you don't need to enter your username and password again when accessing that service from another app.

Mountain Lion brings over another remarkable change from the iPhone. For the longest time, personal computers let you install anything without question. But with Apple's mobile devices, you are limited to pre-approved software from the company's App Store. Apple wants to protect you from bad experiences, but it has also rejected some apparently harmless apps.

Mountain Lion adopts that gatekeeper philosophy, though the restrictions aren't as severe. If software you try to install doesn't come from the App Store, it has to be from a software developer who has registered with Apple for $99. The company doesn't review software unless it goes through the App Store, but the Mac checks to make sure the registration is valid. A registration can be yanked if a developer turns out to be evil.

 iCloud integration makes a big difference for the Mac users. All you need is an Internet connection and an Apple ID, which links your experience across the various devices. The iCloud service comes with five gigabytes of free storage, and you can pay for more, if you need.

Pages, Numbers and Keynote - Apple's versions of Microsoft's popular Office programs for word processing, spreadsheets and presentations – allow storing automatically all documents online through iCloud, unless you change the location to a folder on your computer. That means your documents follow you wherever you go. Type a sentence in a document on your MacBook and see the changes on the iPad a half-minute or so later. You can access your files even if you don't have an Internet connection. Copies are stored on your computer, and changes will be replicated to the iCloud folder once you're back online.

You get the benefits of iCloud when surfing the Web on Safari as well. You see what websites are open on other devices, so if you started researching that dream vacation at home, you can quickly access those same Web pages in the office. Think of it as automated bookmarks. For this to fully work, your mobile devices need the iOS 6 upgrade this fall.

A number of other features you may find useful:
  • The search and address bars are now combined on Safari, just as they are on Google's Chrome browser.
  • Safari's Reading List now works offline. If you are reading a Web page and need to go somewhere, just click the small "glasses" icon for the browser to store a copy. You can continue reading in the car or on a train, even if you don't have an Internet connection.
  • Gamers will appreciate Game Center, which started out as a way for mobile users to find opponents and keep track of high scores.

Some older computers are not supported by the new OS, though there's apparently a workaround for Intel-based Mac Pros that involves upgrading the graphics cards and using an emulated firmware. Do note that this hack is not guaranteed to work perfectly and it cannot be used on Apple laptops, as the graphics cards on these machines cannot be changed. 

Those who have bought a Mac computer on, or after June 11, are eligible for a free upgrade to OS X Mountain Lion via Apple's Up-to-Date program.

Based on the users’ feedback, Mountain Lion upgrades can take as little as 13 minutes and as long as almost an hour. Upgrade is a hands-off affair once the user has downloaded the 4GB installer from the Mac App Store, allowing Mac owners to step away from the machine and come back when the new OS is installed.


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You can find OS X Mountain Lion in the Mac App Store: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/os-x-mountain-lion/id537386512?mt=12.

Sources and Additional Information:

Monday, July 9, 2012

Do you Really Believe that “Obama pays your bills”?

Do you really believe that anyone will pay your bills, no matter how high they are? If it sounds like a scam and if it smells like a scam, it is definitely a scam. And, in this case, it is far from being harmless.

A multistate identity theft scam that claims President Barack Obama will pay your utility bills is not a fresh scheme on the dangerous rumors market, but it has recently found a new group of unsuspecting victims. More than 2,000 customers in Tampa, Florida, fell for the fake offer last week.

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The scheme was first reported in May 2012, when Dallas-based Atmos Energy warned its 3 million customers in 12 states that scammers had been asking for Social Security numbers to enroll in the faux federal program. According to the pitch—distributed via email, Facebook, text message, phone and, in some cases, door-to-door sales—the government would pay a month of energy costs through credits offered by the Obama administration.

PSE&G, the New Jersey gas and electric delivery utility, issued a similar warning the same month. According to MSNBC, there were 10,000 reported victims in New Jersey in recent weeks and thousands more in North Carolina, Indiana and Pennsylvania.

To make the offer look more genuine, it even includes a fake Federal Reserve bank routing number for those who enroll, and solicits "success stories" to pass along to friends online. Note that the payment service initially “accepts” the payment but then declines it within a few days when the bank account number is discovered to be a fake one.

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While there are indeed various government programs to assist low-income households with their utility bills, there is definitely no government program that provides blanket grants to cover everyone's utility bills in full for a whole month. So, be careful, and do not fall for this scheme. You may be counting multiple losses and complications later as a result of your identity been stolen.

The Better Business Bureau urges citizens to investigate any offer that sounds too good to be true, by calling the BBB at 800-646-6222 or visiting www.bbb.org. Never provide your Social Security number, credit or bank information to anyone who calls you, regardless of whom they claim to represent. Always think safety first. Remember, once your personal information is out there, you don't know who will be using it or how it will be used.

Sources and Additional information:

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Renaming Big Ben to Large Liz

Big Ben "has been one of the most recognized landmarks in Britain since it was completed in 1859," "Why mess with tradition?" In an age when "names have become little more than interchangeable brands," it's a shame to change a name that stretches back that far. Besides, "what does a clock tower built in 1859 have to do with a monarch whose reign began nearly 100 years later?"
Vancouver Courier, June 27, 2012

Big Ben is one of the most famous names in the world, up there with the Eiffel Tower and Statue of Liberty. But now London's Big Ben clock tower is to be renamed Elizabeth Tower to mark the queen's 60th year on the British throne.

The announcement this week followed four days of celebrations earlier this month to mark 86-year-old Queen's Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee. The jubilee celebrations underscored a surge in popularity for the Queen in recent years, and included the biggest flotilla on the Thames for more than three centuries, a star-studded concert and a horse-drawn procession through the capital.

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The landmark, part of Britain's Houses of Parliament, is officially called the Clock Tower but is commonly known as Big Ben, the name of the giant bell in the tower that chimes the famous bongs in the capital.

Prime Minister David Cameron welcomed the name change. "The renaming of the Clock Tower to the Elizabeth Tower is a fitting recognition of the Queen's 60 years of service. This is an exceptional tribute to an exceptional monarch," he said.

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The ornate 315-feet-high neo-Gothic tower features four gilded clockfaces and was completed in 1859. There are 393 steps to the top of the tower, sited on the bank of the River Thames in the heart of London's Whitehall government district.

The name change was proposed by Conservative Party lawmaker Tobias Ellwood and accepted by parliamentary authorities.

"The House of Commons (parliament) Commission welcomed the proposal to rename the Clock Tower Elizabeth Tower in recognition of Her Majesty the Queen's Diamond Jubilee and will arrange for this decision to be implemented in an appropriate manner in due course," a House of Commons spokesman said.

However, many Britons were opposed to the tower name change. A YouGov poll last month found that 44 percent of Brits oppose the name change, while only 30 percent support it. The British media has already dubbed the rechristened tower Large Liz, while Twitter has been clogged with tweets bemoaning the change.

Still, there is not the first incident when British politicians renaming towers after monarchs. In 1860, the west tower of Westminster was renamed the Victoria Tower after Queen Victoria, Britain’s longest-reigning monarch.

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Historical Facts

The construction of Big Ben was commissioned during the rebuilding of the Palace of Westminster in the wake of an 1834 fire. Parliament determined that the new buildings should incorporate an impressive clock tower and passed a bill to that end in 1844.

The clock tower was constructed on the northern extremity of the new Houses of Parliament that were built next to Westminster Hall. The commission for the clock itself demanded a high level of accuracy; the specifications drafted by Astronomer Royal George Airy required that "the first stroke of the hour bell should register the time, correct to within one second per day, and furthermore that it should telegraph its performance twice a day to Greenwich Observatory, where a record would be kept."

Many clock makers were skeptical that such accuracy could be achieved in a mechanical clock, but Edmund Beckett Denison, a lawyer and amateur horologist, rose to the challenge. He completed a pendulum clock design in 1851, and its assembly was begun by Edward John Dent, the owner of a prominent clock making company, and finished by his son Frederick Dent. It was completed in 1854, but construction on the tower lasted until 1859, providing Frederick Dent five years to test and perfect the clock.

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Denison also designed the hour bell. The prototype, cast in August 1856 by John Warner and Sons, cracked beyond repair during testing. Under owner George Mears, the Whitechapel Bell Foundry (the oldest foundry in Britain, which coincidentally had cast the original Liberty Bell that cracked and had to be recast upon its arrival in the American colonies), met with more success when it melted down and recast the hour bell. Completed in April 1858, the second and final version of the hour bell was the largest ever cast in the United Kingdom.

In fact, it was so colossal—over seven feet high and weighing more than 13 tons—that a team of 16 horses was needed to pull the wagon upon which it rested from the foundry to the Palace of Westminster. The transportation took on the character of a parade, with enthusiastic crowds lining the streets as the caravan made its way through London. It took several days in October 1858 to hoist the bell to the top of the tower.

Following the installation of the hour bell and four smaller quarter chime bells, Big Ben rang out for the first time on May 31, 1859. Due to the fitting of an oversized hammer stipulated by Denison, the hour bell cracked the following September and did not come into regular service until its repair in 1862. The distinctive imperfect tone of the bell is the result of the crack, which was merely patched by a square piece of metal to bolster the bell's strength. A lighter hammer was also installed to prevent further damage.

Setting of the clock was initially coordinated with the Greenwich Observatory via telegraph, and throughout its existence, Big Ben has garnered a reputation for remaining extremely accurate—as a result, it was not deemed necessary to replace the telegraph line after it was destroyed by German bombs during World War II.

Living up to Airy's specifications, there have been very few instances of the clock's accuracy straying more than one second. The most notable example was in 1962, when a buildup of snow on the clock arms caused Big Ben to ring in the New Year 10 minutes past midnight. Surprisingly, the accuracy of the clock has been maintained by a relatively primitive method; pennies are used to adjust and balance the swing of the clock's pendulum.

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Sunday, May 20, 2012

Lawrence of Arabia – Hero of the Arabic Spring of the 20th Century

“All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible” (T. E. Lawrence).

“Rebellions can be made by 2 percent actively in the striking force and 98 percent passively sympathetic” (T. E. Lawrence).

Chain of recent affairs of the Arab Spring brought public attention to the Middle East. While it is still much questionable if these events changed life of the ordinary people for the better or for the worse, there is no doubt that in many countries, the changes were quite significant.

Today, I would like to bring back memories of the historic figure, who played a noticeable role in the Arab World history at the beginning of the previous century, Lawrence of Arabia. May 19, 1935, 77 years ago, this legendary war hero, author, and archaeological scholar died, succumbed to injuries suffered in a motorcycle accident six days before, at the age of 45.

 Thomas Edward (T.E.) Lawrence was born at Tremadoc in Wales in 1888. He was the son of Sir Thomas Chapman, an Anglo-Irish baronet, who later changed his surname to Lawrence. Lawrence was born out of marriage - relatively rare in Victorian Britain. He was a very able pupil and could read at the age of four. He was also reading Latin at the age of six. Lawrence won a scholarship to Oxford University and developed a passion for reading - especially books on military history.

At Oxford University, Lawrence read History and gained a first class honors pass. While a student at Oxford, he travelled to the Levant where he visited Crusader castles. After gaining his degree, he joined an expedition by D G Hogarth to excavate Carchemish. He found that he had a natural affinity with the Arab people who he met. He learned their language and customs and spent time reading about their history.

When war was declared in August 1914, Lawrence tried to join the army but was turned down because he was too small. The minimum height set by the army was five feet five inches. However, he persevered and after several months he was given a commission. Lawrence joined the intelligence branch of the general staff. His knowledge of Arabic led to a posting to Egypt where he served in the 'Arab Bureau' at GHQ. Lawrence had an unorthodox approach to his commission. Ignoring the protocol in the British Army for smartness of uniform, he was seen as a very able but scruffy junior officer.

The British military campaign in the Middle East had not started well. The British had easily repulsed a Turkish attack on the Suez Canal but their pursuit of the Turks across Sinai ground to a halt near Gaza.  In other areas in the region, the Turks had been more successful, especially in Aden. The Ottoman Empire had swallowed a great deal of the Middle East and the Turkish overlords were not welcome in that region. On June 5th, 1916, the Arab Revolt started in the Hejaz - though some called it the Arab Awakening. Turkey was an ally of Germany, and the Great Britain has had a substantial interest in potential success of the Arab Revolt.

The revolt had some initial successes capturing Mecca, Jidda and Taif. But the Arabs failed to take the main rail line that ran through the region and the Turks were able to quickly send more troops there. Thus the revolt lost its original impetus. In October 1916, the British sent Ronald Storrs to investigate the revolt. He was accompanied by Lawrence. 

Lawrence was sent to meet the Amir Feisal whose tribesmen had been attempting to besiege Medina. Feisal was the son of Sherif Hussein, ruler of the Hejaz. Feisal and Lawrence developed an immediate rapport. Feisal's men were keen fighters but hopelessly ill-disciplined. Lawrence saw the potential of harnessing their commitment to their cause but in a different direction. He quickly realized that Feisal's men had no chance of capturing Medina. Lawrence believed that while the Turks controlled the rail line they would always have the opportunity to supply Medina. He therefore believed that Feisal's best chance lay in guerilla warfare against the rail line but away from Medina. Lawrence wanted to move their campaign north.

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The rail line was a single track affair that linked Medina to Damascus. Lawrence did not want to destroy the line as it would be needed after the Turks had been defeated. Instead, he wanted to harass the Turks along the route of the rail line so that they would have to use more and more troops to guard it along its length. As Lawrence and the Hejaz Arabs moved further and further north, they linked up with Trans-Jordan tribes who joined his campaign. On July 6th, 1917, Lawrence and his Arab followers captured Aqaba from the rear after defeating a whole Turkish battalion. Feisal moved his headquarters to Aqaba and placed himself and his men under the command of General Allenby, British commander in Palestine. Allenby planned to use the growing Arab revolt against the Turks to his advantage. He provided the Arabs with guns, ammunition and gold. Small numbers of British, French and Indian troops were sent to Aqaba to support Feisal's men. The Turkish Army had a number of conscripted Arab units in it and Allenby hoped that the success of Feisal would lead to them leaving the Turkish army en masse in a demonstration of Arab unity.

As the revolt became more successful, more and more Arab tribesmen joined it. This is what Allenby had hoped for. The Turks could barely cope with the revolt. However, in November 1917, the fortune turned its back to Lawrence. He was captured by the Turks while reconnoitering behind enemy lines in Arab dress and was tortured and sexually abused before escaping.

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On December 9th, 1917, Allenby's forces entered Jerusalem. Lawrence was with him. Both men got on with one another despite their different ranks. Allenby was quite happy for Lawrence to wear Arab dress - something other British officers could not tolerate. In January 1918, Lawrence led an attack on the Turks at Tafila in which a whole battalion was destroyed. The British had set a date for a massive attack against the Turks - September 19th, 1918. Lawrence was asked by Allenby to launch a diversionary attack on the Turks at an important rail junction at Deraa on September 17th. The attack was a great success as was Allenby's attack. Feisal entered Damascus in triumph and Lawrence took charge of civil and military order for several weeks. On October 31st, 1918, an armistice was concluded with the Turks.

Lawrence lived among those Arabs who fought the Turks. He lived the life of a Bedouin, always doing more than those he fought with - riding his camel further, pushing his body harder. He ate what they ate which led to a number of debilitating stomach ailments. But by doing this, he earned the respect of those who fought with him.

Arabia was liberated, but Lawrence's hope that the peninsula would be united as a single nation was dashed when Arabian factionalism came to the fore after Damascus. Lawrence, exhausted and disillusioned, left for England. Feeling that Britain had exacerbated the rivalries between the Arabian groups, he appeared before King George V and politely refused the medals offered to him.

In 1921 Lawrence joined the Middle East Department of the Colonial Office. He also served as special adviser on Arab affairs to Winston Churchill, the Colonial Secretary (1921-22). Both men visited the Middle East in an attempt to deal with the growing conflict between Jews and Arabs in Palestine.

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After leaving the Colonial Office he changed his name to John Hume Ross and enlisted into the Royal Air Force. After four months reporters from the Daily Express discovered what he had done and he was discharged. In March 1923 he joined the Tank Corps as Private Thomas Shaw but only served until 1925.

His account of the Arab revolt, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom was published privately in 1926. Later that year he rejoined the RAF and served for two years on the north-west frontier of India. He continued to write and other books by Lawrence include Revolt in the Desert, The Mint and a new translation of Homer's Odyssey.

From 1929 – 1935, Lawrence was engaged in the development of RAF high speed boats (RAF 200 Class), which played an important role in rescuing airmen from the English Channel during the Battle of Britain.

In February 1935, Lawrence was discharged from the RAF and returned to his simple cottage at Clouds Hill, Dorset. Several months after leaving the RAF, Lawrence was engaged in his favorite passion - riding his motor bike at speed. He had a specially tuned motor bike and he crashed it at 90 mph avoiding two boys who suddenly appeared in front of him. He was only 45 years old.

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After his death rumors circulated that Lawrence had been murdered by foreign agents. Another story emerged that the secret service faked his death so as to allow him to undertake, incognito, important work in the Middle East. The supporters of this story believed he died in Tangiers, Morocco, in 1968.

How important was the contribution of Lawrence to the campaign in the Middle East? Historians are likely to argue this question for many years. Before he arrived in the region, the British campaign had got bogged down. After his meeting with Feisal, the campaign picked up. Lawrence went out of his way to befriend the Arabs - something that not all British officers in the Middle East chose to do. At Deraa, he had a force of 3,000 Arabs but they tied down 50,000 Turks who could not help their comrades against Allenby. The Turkish High Command also spread their forces (150,000 men in total) thinly across the region making the British campaign that much easier.

Sources and Additional Information:

Friday, April 13, 2012

Drinking Alcohol is Good for your Brain

"... one thing people who drink socially probably don't need to worry about is sacrificing brain cells in the process. The research indicates that adults who drink in moderation are not in danger of losing brain cells."(The New York Times)

"Even in alcoholics, alcohol use doesn't actually result in the death of brain cells."(Discovery Health)

One very popular myth concerning alcohol that was once spread about, particularly during Prohibition, is that drinking excessive amounts of alcohol can lead to spontaneous combustion due to alcohol being flammable and it coursing through your veins. This is ridiculous on many levels, but nevertheless, was a popular notion during Prohibition and for a while afterwards.

This combustion argument against drinking was dropped long ago but many anti-alcohol writers continue to promote the idea that even moderate drinking causes brain cells to die. This myth also has been widely popularized during Prohibition, but is pretty much alive among the general public.

Scientific medical research however has actually demonstrated an opposite - that the moderate consumption of alcohol is associated with better cognitive (thinking and reasoning) skills and memory than is abstaining from alcohol. Moderate drinking doesn’t kill brain cells but helps the brain function better into old age. Studies around the world involving many thousands of people report this finding.

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Of course, years of alcohol abuse can cause serious neurological damage, including Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. Harm can be done to message-carrying dendrites on neurons in the cerebellum, a part of the brain involved in learning and physical coordination. But even in such extreme cases, there’s a lack of evidence that alcohol kills brain cells.

However, abstinence after chronic alcohol abuse enables brains to repair themselves, according to new research involving rats. During simulated alcohol “binges,” rats’ ability to create new brain cells was reduced. But after the animals no longer consumed alcohol they had a “huge burst” in new brain cell development.

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But when you are drunk, your brain is truly affected. The study, done at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, explained the biology of how the brain deals with alcohol. In particular, the research looks at how the brain reacts when a person is so intoxicated that they cannot recall events during the period commonly referred to as “blackout.”

Large quantities of alcohol interfere with key receptors in the hippocampus, the main center for cognitive functioning in the brain. At the same time, alcohol releases a steroid that that inhibits the way by which the brain strengthens synapses — or the connections between brain cells.

Researchers now believe that large amounts of alcohol won’t kill brain cells, but rather it signals compounds that inhibit the brain’s ability to form memories. This “may explain why individuals who get highly intoxicated don’t remember what they did the night before,” senior investigator Charles F. Zorumski, MD, the Samuel B. Guze Professor and head of the Department of Psychiatry said in a press release from Washington University.

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Another very recent study confirmed once again the fact that drinking alcohol may significantly enhance a person’s problem solving skills.

Scientists found that men who either drank two pints of beer or two glasses of wine before solving brain teasers not only got more questions right, they also were quicker in delivering correct answers, compared to men who answered the questions sober.

Scientists found that participants with a BAC of 0.07 or higher solved 40 percent more problems than their sober counterparts and took 12 seconds to complete the tasks compared to 15.5 seconds by teetotal participants.

While the latest findings go against the traditional beliefs that alcohol impairs analytical thinking and rational thoughts, lead author Professor Jennifer Wiley of the University of Illinois at Chicago discovered that alcohol may enhance creativity problem solving by reducing the mind’s working memory capacity, which is the ability to concentrate on something in particular.

“Working memory capacity is considered the ability to control one’s attention,” Wiley told the Federation of Associations in Behavioral and Brain Sciences (FABBS). “It’s the ability to remember one thing while you’re thinking about something else.”

While the latest study found that alcohol may enhance creative problem solving, previous research found that increased working memory capacity actually led to better analytical problem-solving performance.

Researcher also found that people who drank alcohol and had a blood alcohol level of 0.07 or higher were worse at completing problems that required attentional control but better at creative problem solving tests. 

Wiley said that the key finding was that being too focused can blind a person to novel possibilities and a broader, more flexible state of attention may be helpful for creative solutions to emerge.
“We have this assumption, that being able to focus on one part of a problem or having a lot of expertise is better for problem solving,” Wiley said. “But that’s not necessarily true. Innovation may happen when people are not so focused. Sometimes it’s good to be distracted.”

Wiley noted that the findings only apply to people who had only a few drinks and not when people drink to extremes.

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Furthermore, several researches have proved that moderate alcohol consumption helps protect people from cognitive impairment as they age. According to a study done at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, in Italy, 29% of people 65 years or older who almost never drank alcohol throughout their life had mental impairment issues. On the flip-side of that, only about 19% of people 65 years or older who drank moderate amounts of alcohol regularly had any mental impairment. It was further discovered that, among the various groups where other problems, such as health problems or the like, might impair them mentally, the same trend appeared. In every group, those who drank moderately on a regular basis throughout their lives always had a diminished chance of becoming mentally impaired in their old age compared to those who didn’t drink at all or almost never drank.

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Monday, April 2, 2012

Ready to switch to a Flying Car?

More than three years ago, I posted about American Flying Car - Terrafugia Transition. And today, the interest to this kind of transportation devices has sparkled again, since Terrafugia got company, or more accurate – competition.

Dutch startup aero-automaker PAL-V has conducted the first test flights of a three-wheel ‘flying car’ prototype it has been developing for the past several years. The unique vehicle uses a pair folding rotors, one on top and one in the rear, to fly like a gyrocopter and needs a stretch of runway or road just 540 feet long to take off.

According to its creators, the Personal Air and Land Vehicle (hence the name PAL-V) can reach speeds of 110 mph both on the ground and in the air and has a flying range of 350 miles per tank, which more than doubles when being driven.

On the road, the PAL-V actually works more like an enclosed motorcycle than a car, with a mechanical-hydraulic system that allows it to lean into turns. Fuel economy is pegged at 28 mpg in road mode and 9.5 gallons per hour when airborne.

When airborne, the PAL-V usually flies below 4,000 feet (1,200 m), the airspace available for uncontrolled Visual Flight Rules (VFR) traffic; so there will be no interference from commercial air traffic. Furthermore, the PAL-V is powered by a very robust, flight certified aircraft engine. It runs on gasoline.

The PAL-V ONE has a very short take off and landing capability, making it possible to land practically anywhere. When not using controlled airspace, you can take off without filing a flight plan. Flying a PAL-V is like a standard gyrocopter. It is quieter than helicopters due to the slower rotation of the main rotor. It takes off and lands with low speed, cannot stall, and is very easy to control. The gyroplane technology means that it can be steered and landed safely even if the engine fails, because the rotor keeps auto rotating.

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Measuring 4(L) x 1.6(W) x 1.6(H) m (13.1 x 5.2 x 5.2 ft), the PAL-V weighs 680 kg (1,499 lb) and can carry a maximum load of 230 kg (507 lb) for a maximum gross weight of 910 kg (2,006 lb). The company says the PAL-V complies with existing regulations in all major markets making it legal for both road and air use. Obtaining a license requires only 20 to 30 hours of training.

Although similar in concept, the PAL-V differs greatly from the Transition, which operates like an airplane and features large retractable wings to provide lift and a single propeller in the rear. Terrafugia also avoids describing the Transition as a “flying car,” preferring the term “roadable light sport aircraft,” in deference to its primary function.

Don’t worry about having to do any comparison shopping anytime soon, though. While the production version of the Transition is making its car show debut at the New York Auto Show this week, and may go on sale this year for around $297,000, PAL-V is still seeking investors to take its vehicle to the next level. The next step will be the design of the first commercial production model of the PAL-V, and first deliveries are expected in 2014.

Video Presentation:

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Sunday, March 18, 2012

Marijuana Legalization for Recreational Use in Colorado and Washington

Why Marijuana should be Legalized?

The debate over the legalization of Cannabis sativa, more commonly known as marijuana, has been one of the most controversial issues ever to occur in the United States. Its use as a medicine has existed for thousands of years in many countries worldwide and is documented as far back as 2700 BC in ancient Chinese writings.

Marijuana should be legalized for multiple reasons:

·         Moral. Prohibition must be weighed against the loss of personal freedom. Countries have a responsibility to respect individual free will and the right of self-determination. No drug eliminates free will. It is possible to quit using any drug. Many banned drugs, and marijuana in particular, are significantly less deleterious to free will than legal alcohol or tobacco. Severe physiological addiction has been demonstrated for tobacco (stronger than cocaine), but no strong physiological addiction has been shown for marijuana.

·         Medical. The American Medical Association supports legalization of Marijuana, because it is actually not only much less dangerous than alcohol, cigarettes, but even comparing with most over-the-counter medicines or prescriptions. Marijuana, in its natural form, is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man. By any measure of rational analysis marijuana can be safely used within a supervised routine of medical care. Marijuana has so many medical benefits that just mentioning them will require a separate article. For example, it relieves nausea suffered by cancer patients undergoing powerful chemotherapy. It is successfully used by patients who have multiple sclerosis and AIDS. It proves to be effective in the treatment of glaucoma because its use lowers pressure on the eye. It helps in severe cases of clinical depression, and, finally, it gives hope to Alzheimer’s patients, because is the only known substance which can reverse Alzheimer’s (subject for additional development).

·         Overdose. Smoking extreme amounts of marijuana will do nothing more than put someone to sleep, while drinking excessive amounts of alcohol may kill you.
·         Addiction. Unlike substances, which are legal in the USA, alcohol and tobacco, marijuana has zero addiction and zero tolerance. That means that you have no need to increase the consumed dose to reach the same effect, and that you can stop consuming it any time with no psychological or physiological withdrawal effects.  Gateway effect, used as argument against marijuana legalization (claim that person started on Marijuana, will than inevitable use the heavy drugs), has been confirmed as non-existing, based on multiple researches and statistical data evaluation.
·         Financial. The money the government would make from taxes, which now goes to drug dealers, could be used for more important things, such as serious drugs or the national debt. And the amounts of funds, we are talking about, are quite significant.
·         Quality and Regulations. The regulation of marijuana also allows for many health benefits to those who use it. Today, marijuana is illegal, so there is no regulation of what the drug contains. Unwary buyers of the drug often get more than they bargain for when marijuana is laced with other drugs and other harmful additives. If it were legalized, not only would this harmful practice never occur, but the products themselves could be heavily regulated for health concerns including filtering, and specialized growing and manufacturing. Packages of the legal product would be emblazoned with warnings from the surgeon general describing the health risks involved.
·         Crime Rate. Legal prohibition does not stop consumers from consuming drugs, it does not stop traffickers from producing and selling it. The price of the final product increases to abnormally high values because of the black market status, which together with the powerful effects of drug addiction causes users to commit crimes in order to fund their addiction. Complete decriminalization of marijuana, combined with a system of regulation, as happens with alcohol and prescription drugs will positively affect the amount of related arrests and prosecutions, freeing police and legal systems for dealing with real crimes. By providing legal supplies of currently illegal drugs the price will fall, leading to a collapse in the illegal drug industry, and a reduction in crimes committed by both drug suppliers and users. The reduction in the price should not lead to any substantial growth in drug addiction, due to the inelasticity of demand. Some experts even claim that in a strictly regulated market, drug use may fall overall, by removing the marketing activities of the illegal drug industry. The crime rate in Amsterdam, where marijuana is legal, is lower than many major US cities, including San Francisco, for example.
·         Minors’ Consumption. Illegal Drug dealers will sell to anyone, including children. Merchants who legally sell alcohol and tobacco are not allowed to sell to children. Many high school students report that it is easier to obtain illegal drugs than alcohol and tobacco.

·         Industrial. An entire industry could be created out of hemp based products. The oils extracted from the seeds could be used for fuels and the hemp fiber, a fiber valued for its strength that it is used to judge the quality of other fibers, could be manufactured into ropes, clothing, or paper.

Why Marijuana was Criminalized?

I was surprised to learn that the real reasons for the Marijuana criminalization were far from care for the population health. As always, you should trace the MONEY…

Until 1937, consumption and sale of cannabis was legal in most American states. In some areas it could be openly purchased in bulk from grocers or in cigarette form at newsstands, though an increasing number of states had begun to outlaw it. In that year, federal law made possession or transfer of cannabis (without the purchase of a by-then incriminating tax stamp) illegal throughout the United States. This was contrary to the advice of the American Medical Association at the time. Legal opinions of time held that the federal government could not outlaw it entirely. The tax was $100 per pound of hemp, even for clothes or rope. The expense, extremely high for that time, was such that people stopped buying and making it.

The Marijuana Tax Act, which passed in 1937, coincidentally occurred just as the decoricator machine was invented. With this invention, hemp would have been able to take over competing industries almost instantaneously. William Hearst owned enormous acres of forest so his interest in preventing the growth of hemp can be easily explained. Competition from hemp would have easily driven the Hearst paper-manufacturing company out of business and significantly lowered the value of his land. DuPont's involvement in the anti-hemp campaign can also be explained with great ease. At this time, DuPont was patenting a new sulfuric acid process for producing wood-pulp paper. According to the company's own records, wood-pulp products ultimately accounted for more than 80% of all DuPont's railroad car loadings for the 50 years the Marijuana Tax Act was passed. Two years before the prohibitive hemp tax in 1937, DuPont developed nylon which was a substitute for hemp rope. The year after the tax was passed DuPont came out with rayon, which would have been unable to compete with the strength of hemp fiber. DuPont's point man was Harry Anslinger, who was appointed to the FBN by Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon, who was also chairman of the Mellon Bank. Anslinger's relationship to Mellon wasn't just political; he was also married to Mellon's niece. The reasoning behind DuPont, Anslinger, and Hearst was not for any moral or health related issues. They fought to prevent the growth of this new industry so they wouldn't lose money.

New Legislative Initiatives

To date, marijuana legalization initiatives have made it to the ballot in two states, Colorado and Washington.

The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol collected enough signatures to place Initiative 30 on the November 2012 ballot as Amendment 64: The Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act of 2012. If voters pass the initiative, among other things it will:
  • Legalize the production, distribution, and retail sale of marijuana,
  • Prohibit sales to anyone under age 21,
  • Designate the Colorado State Department of Revenue as the agency responsible for regulating marijuana commerce.
Amendment 64 will be on the November 6, 2012 ballot in Colorado as an initiated constitutional amendment.

New Approach Washington also collected enough signatures to place Measure 502 on that state’s November ballot. If approved, Measure 502 will also:
  • Legalize the production, distribution, and retail sale of marijuana,
  • Prohibit sales to anyone under age 21,
  • Designate the Washington State Liquor Control Board as the regulatory agency.
Initiative 502 will appear on the November 6, 2012 statewide ballot in Washington as an Initiative to the Legislature. 

Driving under Influence of Marijuana

While Marijuana has no long-term negative health effects, it still has serious effect on the short-term state of mind. Marijuana causes dizziness, slowed reaction time and drivers are more likely to drift and swerve while they're high. Studies confirmed, that in closed course and driving simulator studies, marijuana's acute effects on psychomotor performance include minor impairments in tracking (eye movement control) and reaction time (break latency), as well as variation in lateral positioning (weaving), headway (drivers under the influence of cannabis tend to follow less closely to the vehicle in front of them), and speed (drivers tend to decrease speed following cannabis inhalation).

A 2001 study evaluating the impact of marijuana intoxication on driving proficiency on city streets among sixteen subjects reported essentially no differences in subjects' driving performance after cannabis administration, concluding: "Performance as rated on the Driving Proficiency Scale did not differ between treatments. It was concluded that the effects of low doses of THC ... on higher-level driving skills as measured in the present study are minimal." Similarly, a 1993 trial funded by the United States National Highway Traffic Association (NTHSA) evaluated subjects' driving performance after cannabis inhalation in high-density urban traffic. Investigators reported, "Marijuana ... did not significantly change mean driving performance."

But these studies refer to the low amount of the Marijuana consumption by the subjects. If it was moderate to high, the vehicle operation should be out of question. Bottom line is clear – if you are stoned, you should not be permitted to drive.

This statement highlights the challenges law enforcement officers face using old tools to try to fix a new problem. Most convictions for drugged driving now are based on police observations, followed later by a blood test. Authorities envision a legal threshold for pot that would be comparable to the blood-alcohol standard used to determine drunken driving. But unlike alcohol, marijuana stays in the blood long after the high wears off a few hours after use, and there is no quick test to determine someone's level of impairment — not that scientists haven't been working on it. Physicians say that while many tests can show whether someone has recently used pot, it's more difficult to pinpoint impairment at any certain time. Urine and blood tests are better at showing whether someone used the drug in the past — which is why employers and probation officers use them. But determining current impairment is far trickier.

Proposed solutions include setting limits on the amount of the main psychoactive chemical in marijuana, THC, that drivers can have in their blood. But THC limits to determine impairment are not widely agreed upon. Two states (Nevada and Ohio) place the standard at 2 nanograms per milliliter of blood. Others have zero tolerance policies. And Colorado and Washington States are debating a threshold of 5 nanograms.


Major Update 11-06-12:

Colorado and Washington State became the first states to legalize the production, sale and possession of recreational marijuana.

But Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) sounded a cautionary note, warning Colorado voters that federal law still prohibits marijuana use.

“The voters have spoken and we have to respect their will,” Hickenlooper said in a statement. “This will be a complicated process, but we intend to follow through. That said, federal law still says marijuana is an illegal drug, so don’t break out the Cheetos or gold fish too quickly.”

In Oregon, the third state attempting to legalize recreational marijuana, the measure is falling short so far of majority support with less than half of precincts reporting.

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