Friday, January 28, 2011

Surfing naked can give you worms

When the Conficker worm was first detected by malware experts, they painted a dire picture of the implications.

Once the true scale of Conficker infections was realised, that picture became even darker and more threatening.

However, none of their sobering predictions of mayhem and major meltdowns have come to pass so the general public seem to have largely forgotten about this cleverest of all worms.

Yet, the worm still lurks, remaining undetected on millions of personal computers across the face of the globe. Fortunately for all those whose machines remain infected, experts are now convinced that a concerted effort by key players in the industry has effectively ex-communicated the virus itself from the computers that may have commanded the worm to turn nasty.

Unfortunately, this does not mean that the threat is entirely mitigated.

It has been speculated that another virus or worm could be released that may be capable of grafting itself to Conficker and, in doing so, re-establish the now severed lines of communication with its command-centre.

So, for the time being it may be that we've suppressed this malware but not eradicated it. Should we be doing more?

How many PCs out there remain ticking time-bombs in cyberspace, just waiting to become part of a huge spam relay network or launching distributed denial of service (DDOS) attacks against key targets?

Partly to blame for this is the fact that anti-competition laws have effectively prohibited Microsoft from bundling critical anti-malware systems with its Windows OS. If they were to do this, companies such as Symantec, McAfee and others would almost certainly take legal action against the software giant -- claiming that such a move would represent an infringement of anti-trust laws.

Of course Microsoft does make its Security Essentials software available for free download and it does distribute regular software updates but it seems that far too many people still "surf naked" from a malware security perspective. They either can't be bothered protecting their systems or simply remain unaware of the threats.

So we sit and wait -- for the inevitable.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Cold fusion rises from the ashes

Quite some time ago now, a couple of scientists called Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons told the world that they had discovered a method of achieving room temperature (ie: "cold") fusion in a test-tube.

Thanks to the power of the media to disseminate information without verification, the news spread like wildfire and the "cult" of cold-fusion was born.

Suffice to say that since those heady days back in March 1989, nobody has been able to successfully reproduce the experiments conducted by P&F in a way that has delivered concrete proof of their claims.

Over time, those claims were gradually dismissed by most in the scientific community, the results observed by the pair being put down to "bad science" and inadequate procedure associated with their experiments.

However, a small and eager band of researchers and experimenters have continued in their desire to turn cold fusion into reality.

There was a claim by North Korea a few years back that they had also discovered a way to reliably create cold fusion -- but, as with P&F's claims, this was never substantiated by solid, reproducible science.

Now, yet another group of researchers claim that they have accomplished this holy grail of energy generation.

Italians Andrea Rossi and Sergio Focardi have held a press conference and displayed their cold fusion device in action. Although there were other scientists in attendance who confirmed that the device was producing power, they were unable to quantify the degree of over-unity power generation, if it exists.

The pair are claiming that their invention can turn 400 watts of input energy into an output of 12KW, through the effects of cold fusion.

Naturally the scientific community remain skeptical, having had their hopes raised and dashed on too many previous occasions. Further reducing the credibility of the claims is news that Rossi has a bit of a criminal record -- raising suspicions that this could simply be an attempt to round up money from gullible investors.

They pair also admit they have no explanation for what triggers the alleged cold fusion reaction responsible for the huge energy output.

So is this a case of some misguided scientists making mistakes similar to that of P&F?

Is it a calculated attempt to separate the gullible from their wallets?

Or could it be that there really is something to cold fusion and that finally someone has come up with a practical way of producing it?

One more interesting claim is that the technology has been in use, heating an Italian factory for almost two years. More untruths -- or perhaps proof that this time we may have a solution to the planet's renewable energy needs?

Regardless of the facts, the internet is now abuzz with speculation and discussion.

Proponents and critics are weighing in from all sides and lunatics are coming out of the woodwork left, right and center with their own theories and claims to have confirmed P&F's work.

For those with little else to do and a penchant for this kind of thing will find plenty of interesting reading over the coming days and weeks as the online community goes into overdrive.

Personally, I don't think it's time to sell those oil shares just yet.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Spooky science or snake oil?

When a Nobel Prize winning medical scientist and researcher comes up with a new finding, people generally stop and listen.

However, when that finding appears too incredible to be true, many are left scratching their heads, unable to decide whether the person in question has "lost the plot".

And so it is with the most recent work of Luc Montagnier, the guy who won his Nobel award in 2008 for work he'd previously done that uncovered the link between the HIV virus and AIDs.

This of course, was all good, sound science. His reputation and credibility within scientific and medical circles was greatly enhanced by the Nobel Prize he was awarded so perhaps the claimed results of his latest work can't be dismissed too easily, despite the seeming improbability of it all.

Montagnier says he has demonstrated that DNA can effectively teleport itself over distance, using electromagnetic radiation as the medium.

Yeah, sounds unlikely but here's what he did.

In a magnetically shielded chamber, he placed two small vials of water.

In one vial, the water contained short strands of DNA, in the other was nothing but pure water.

Inside the chamber was also a coil which created a weak magnetic field, fluctuating at a frequency of around 7Hz.

The field was activated and the chamber left undisturbed for several hours.

When the two vials were then examined, to everyone's surprise, the previously "clean" vial of water was found to contain DNA material identical to that in the other.

Montagnier claims that the magnetic field induced the DNA to "imprint" its own structure onto some of the molecules of water contained in the other vial which was also subjected to the same changing magnetic flux.

Sounds crazy eh?

I dare say that, like me, you're thinking that this must surely be nothing more than cross-contamination between the vials which may have occurred at any stage during the experiment. However, Montagnier's team claim that this is not the case and that the experiment was performed under rigorous conditions to avoid such corruption of the results.

At this stage the precise details of the experiment are yet to be disclosed by way of a published paper but it is expected that this will happen sometime in the next few months.

Skeptics still doubt the veracity of the results or methodology of the experiment but there are some who are jumping on Montagnier's work and suggesting that it provides proof that there is scientific substance to the practice of homeopathy.

What ever the truth turns out to be, the internet will likely explode into a hotbed of debate over this report and discussions will rage for a long time -- or at least until someone is able to reproduce Montagnier's results or disprove them.

Science or snake oil?

We don't know (yet).

Friday, January 7, 2011

Magnetic flux to blame?

Magnets are an interesting piece of technology.

I bet the first time you were given a pair of magnets to play with, you spent hours, marveling at the invisible force that could create both attraction and repulsion between them.

Technology based on magnetism has been around for centuries, probably ever since man first discovered that a lodestone, or piece of iron magnetized by such a stone, would constantly attempt to orient itself in a north/south direction.

Since then we've seen a huge amount of technology which relies on magnetism developed and refined until today, it's a crucial part of almost every electronic system, device and gizmo we own.

All electric motors and generators rely on magnetism for their function.

Even the very radios, TVs, WiFi, cellphones and other "wireless" devices we use transfer their faint signals by creating invisible lines of magnetic flux.

However, let's look back at those early compasses again...

They work by the interaction of the earth's own magnetic field and the magnetic field of a suitably magnetized rod or wire. When suspended on a low-friction bearing, that rod will constantly try to turn until its south pole faces the earth's magnetic north pole -- that's because, when it comes to magnetic poles, opposites attract.

By using compasses, travelers have been able to cross huge distances and reach distant places without getting lost. However, the accuracy of such devices relies on the location of the earth's own magnetic poles -- and they're on the move.

In fact, according to this report, they've moved so much that at least airport runway has had to be re-designated -- since they are named by their compass bearing.

Could this be the precursor of the long-predicted magnetic-flip of the earth's magnetic poles?

It has been documented that throughout the earth's history, the north and south poles have changed places a number of times and there is a belief that we are now long-overdue such a reversal. Sometimes this change can be very rapid, something that has been unimportant due to the fact that the last reversal was over 700,000 years ago, long before it would be an issue to the creatures on the planet.

Doomsayers are now also attempting to link this rapid and unexpected change in the earth's magnetic field to the world-wide phenomenon of birds dying in large numbers, sometimes simply falling from the sky for no apparent reason. It is well known that some birds rely on an internal compass to help them with flight and migration -- could the magnetic field now be changing so rapidly as to confuse and bewilder these creatures?

Scientists say "no". Apparently there is no scientific evidence to suggest that there is any change significant enough to cause this kind of mass death amongst our feathered friends.

However, it is worth considering the effects that a rapid pole-reversal may have on the delicate and highly sensitive electronic devices we rely on so heavily today.

If the reversal were extremely rapid, it's possible that large currents could be induced in any conductor through which the lines of flux passed. The effect of this could be to cause major power outages across the face of the globe -- such as those experienced during severe solar storms.

Any instrumentation which involves the measurement of minute magnetic fields would also be at risk of overload and corruption. Even the satellites that orbit far above the earth could be affected by the rapid changes in magnetic flux such a reversal could create.

Do we have any contingencies in place to deal with this kind of natural disaster?

I suspect not.

The Y2K bug has nothing on pole-reversal. Let's hope the scaremongers don't get too enthusiastic about all this -- after all, the end of the Mayan calendar is less than two years away.

Spooky stuff -- or not.