The Null Device
The Quiet Zone is a rectangular area the size of Massachusetts and Connecticut combined (however large that is) surrouding a radio-astronomical observatory in West Virginia. In this area, by law, radio transmitters are restricted, providing with enough blessed electromagnetic peace and quiet for an ultra-sensitive receiver to detect faint signals from space. Except when an electric fence malfunctions or the area is invaded by radio-tagged squirrels or tourists with mobile phones:
The subjects of radio astronomy are astronomically large, but the signals they produce are astronomically weak by the time they reach Earth. These emissions are measured in Janskys, named for the father of radio astronomy, Karl Jansky. A Jansky is based on 0.00000000000000000000000001 watts - and that's a big signal at Green Bank. Even a musical greeting card playing at the base of the telescope could produce anomalous spikes in the data of an unlucky astronomer trying to study stellar gases. If the interference is strong enough, the telescope's ultrasensitive first amplifier - cooled by liquid helium to minimize internal noise - shuts down.
Although just about any electronic or electromechanical device can blind Green Bank's telescope, the biggest culprit in the first category is the observatory itself. After all, it's a high tech operation crammed with sophisticated electronics and PCs. Green Bank director Jewell believes that some of the steps taken to mitigate interference at the facility may someday be adopted in the wider world, such as innovative circuit board designs and extensive shielding. The cafeteria's microwave oven is kept in a shielded cage. Large chambers designed to absorb radio waves - including a 5,000-square-foot conference room - have been built to make sure that, as Sizemore tells it, "radiation generated in the building stays in the building." Outside, spark plugs are notorious radio-frequency emitters, so Green Bank maintains a fleet of diesel-powered, electronics-free '69 Checker cabs and '70s Dodge trucks.
Needless to say, keeping the Quiet Zone quiet is getting progressively harder.
A vintage Jack Chick tract that railed against the evils of Dungeons & Dragons remixed into a sardonic critique of the goth subculture. Quite astute.
Someone receives an empty Mac G5 case (no further explanation provided) and builds a PC in it as a prank/conversation piece. Then he writes it up, spinning it as a way of turning an unwanted G5 into a Windows PC. Consequently he gets death threats from Mac zealots across the net.
"I hope your PC blows up and leaves your miserable face disfigured forever," read one. "You will surely burn in hell for an eternity for this one." Another said Andy should be hung by his testicles and set on fire. "Turning a perfectly good dual G5 into a crappy PC was the ticket that got you to hell," wrote another, citing the common eternal damnation theme. "And if you were in front of me I'd pop a corn-born Teflon bullet from my Glock in your fucking face."
Proof that there's a vocal minority of Mac users who are utterly batshit insane.
- Parrot knows 950 words, has grammar, can coin phrases and shows evidence of a sense of humour. Which calls into question the accepted belief that parrots act as sound-recording devices. Mind you, the article also claims that the parrot has telepathic abilities, which makes it sound rather dubious. Perhaps the BBC News has been acquired by Pravda?
- FBI computer expert talks about (in)security:
American companies have tried to respond to the massive fraud being perpetrated online. One common preventive, adopted by most companies that sell products online, has been to refuse shipments outside of North America, or allow international shipping, except for Eastern Europe. Criminals have figured out a way around this, however. They hire folks to act as middlemen for them. Basically, these people get paid to sit at home, sign for packages from Dell, Amazon, and other companies, and then turn around and reship the packages to Russia, Belorussia, and Ukraine. You know those signs you see on telephone poles that read "Make money! Work at home!"? A lot of that "work" is actually laundering products for the Russian mob. Of course, anyone caught acting as a middleman denies knowledge of their employer: "I had no idea why I was shipping 25 Dell computers a day to Minsk! I just assumed they liked computers!"
Dave also had a great quotation for us: "If you're a bad guy and you want to frustrate law enforcement, use a Mac." Basically, police and government agencies know what to do with seized Windows machines. They can recover whatever information they want, with tools that they've used countless times. The same holds true, but to a lesser degree, for Unix-based machines. But Macs evidently stymie most law enforcement personnel. They just don't know how to recover data on them. So what do they do? By and large, law enforcement personnel in American end up sending impounded Macs needing data recovery to the acknowledged North American Mac experts: the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Evidently the Mounties have built up a knowledge and technique for Mac forensics that is second to none.
- The amazing story of three blind brothers who became Israel's most formidable phone phreaks, partly by dint of their acute senses of hearing:
Two hours into an afternoon-long interview with the Hebrew-speaking Badirs, my translator's lips lock. He shrugs and tells me that the Badirs have shifted into a secret code. Ramy later explains that as kids he and Muzher developed their own language - reordering letters in mathematically complex ways - after they discovered that other boys were snooping on their conversations.
Ramy, Muzher, and Shadde were arrested on a variety of charges relating to computer fraud in connection with their hacks of the radio station and Bency Levy's phone sex operation. Police took them from their home in wrist and leg cuffs, but even in custody, they could not help but show off by conversing in their secret language and announcing telephone numbers that were being keyed in by law enforcers.
- Warning: blogging can endanger your career, relationships or general wellbeing: (via FmH)
"The blogging community is terribly incestuous," Lapatine admits. "If the relationship doesn't go well, all your mutual friends will read about it. This," he adds, "is how a friend of mine learned that he had halitosis and was a bad dancer."
Some bloggers run into difficulties from seemingly mundane reports about their daily thoughts and activities. "As an Asian girl, I get weird Asian-fetish e-mails from people who read [my] site," says Lia Bulaong, the twentysomething Manhattan author of Cheesedip (she includes tame photographs of herself in everyday clothes). "Also, stalkers I had in college that I didn't know about have come out of the woodwork."
- The prognosis for the upcoming Hitchhiker's Guide film looks somewhat dubious, what with Karey "Chicken Run" Kirkpatrick rewriting the script (undoubtedly crushing out anything that doesn't fit the standard Hollywood rules of characterisation and plot) and a rapper being cast as Ford Prefect. The thing about Trillian having been rewritten as a "brilliant scientist" also seems dubious. But you knew that already.
- A proposed Trainspotting-themed tour of Edinburgh has run into problems because the city has been cleaned up too much, with many of the locations in the novel and film no longer existing in any recognisable form (via Lev)