Monday, September 27, 2010

Masdar is a planned, sustainable city near Abu Dhabi

Nicolai Ourousoff has a front page story in the New York Times, Sunday Sept. 26, “In Arabian Desert, a Sustainable City Rises, Walled and Lofty,” about Masdar, a one mile square planned city 17 Km SE of Abu Dhabi. The city has extremely high density, passive solar heating and wind, very narrow streets and a subway populated by driverless electric cars (rather like some of the Philadelphia subway with its single street cars), as well as a conventional modern subway and elevated Metro. It would make a good setting for sci-fi film.

Occupancy was to begin in late 2010. It's not clear what qualifies someone to live there (other than money). The spirit of the project, modern Arabia, recalls Dubai.

Here is a short film sponsored by the City.



The link is here.  For the “Critics’ Notebook” story. The New York Times also has a reading comprehension quiz on its learning page (teachers, note!) There is another visual tour of Masdar in the article. Many of the pictures seem to be animated.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Bizarre firmware worm affecting nuclear power plants in Iran, elsewhere

MSNBC and the AP carry a story by asser Karimi on a computer worm, Stuxnet, that can affect the operations of a nuclear power plant. The work has also been found in Iran, Indonesia, and the U.S. It does not seem to affect ordinary home computers.

But the question comes up about protecting critical infrastructure such as power grids, that are not supposed to be easily connected to the public Internet, but sometimes somehow are. It may be more likely that infected firmware is sent to the power plants. The worm may come from Russia. It’s not clear how much research work conventional anti-virus companies have done on the worm since it seems to be directed at process control.

The MSNBC link is here.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

George Will: Over geological time spans. The Earth is all right (but maybe the people aren't)

Conservative (and baseball-loving) George Will has a perspective on climate change, “The Earth Doesn’t Care, about what is done to it or for it,” in Newsweek, link here.

Geologic time is so great compared to man’s activity that eventually the oceans would dissolve all the carbon man had emitted. But in the timeframes that matter to man, climate change and the “inconvenient truth” really can matter to people’s lives, most of all in low-lying and storm or drought prone areas of the planet. In geopolitical terms, it really could matter.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Russian government uses trumped up copyright charges to goad Microsoft into helping it shut down dissidents

Clifford J. Levy has a shocking story on the front page of the Sunday September 12 New York Times, “Above the Law: Using Microsoft, Russia Suppresses Dissent”, link here.

Russia, in the Putin area of authoritarian capitalism, is using copyright law as a proxy for going after dissident groups. Particularly, it has goaded Microsoft into assisting it with raids for supposedly using pirated software, against organizations that challenge government policy. One such group was the Baikal Environmental Wave, link.

Reportedly, Russia does not harass organizations which support its government.

The story is hitting the news at a time when mass litigation against bloggers and computer users for copyright infringement is going on in the United States, as reported in the “BillBoushka” blog on Sept. 8 and 10. Although there may be more legal justification for the cases in the US, the parallel is disturbing. For people whose speech is threatening to the agenda of those in control, it’s temping to use “legal terrorism” and make up charges in order to force them to spend money to defend themselves, in order to silence them.

In the Russian cases, computers were sometimes returned after being cleaned of “subversive” data that the government did not want disseminated, and sometimes the computers were deliberately infected with viruses.

Update: Sept. 21:  Media have reported that Microsoft has agreed to stop cooperating with these sorts of witchhunts in Russia.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

CNN's Zakaria: we underestimate intentions, overestimate capacity, of Al Qaeda and others

CNN has an op-ed interview with Fareed Zakaria today, “Did the U.S. overreact to 9/11?” with the text link here.

Zakaria makes the point that the US tends to underestimate the evil intentions of some enemies, but overestimate their ability to carry out their intentions. This was true with the Soviet Union during the Cold War, he says. We start out with an initial failure of imagination and then run away with fantasy.

Al Qaeda is definitely weaker in its ability to coordinate or carry out any major initiative. On the other hand, radicalism and indignation has spread to the young in certain communities, leading to individual bad acts.

Another discussion on CNN Saturday noted that the United States is still dependent on immigration for brain power in basic research and technology engineering, and always has been. In fact, Microsoft opened a development center in Vancouver rather than Seattle because it was easier to import talent into Canada. Yet the work visa issue for technology in the US has been controversial ever since technology employment became unsteady in the Dot-com bust.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

CNN presents opposing views on NYC mosque; but the Florida pastor comes across as a millstone

CNN's Soledad O'Brien will interview Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, behind the proposed Islamic Center in New York, on "Larry King Live" Wednesday Sept. 8, 2010.



The story indicates that Rauf stands behind temperance and moderation in the pursuit of religious faith.

Personally, I’ve remained pretty neutral about all this, but it seems that the First Amendment certain protects the building of a facility for any faith in any community, as far as any zoning or government regulation is concerned.

The positive spin on Rauf’s proposal is diametrically opposed to the attention given to Florida pastor Terry Jones with his planned “burning” of the Koran. On Tuesday night, Anderson Cooper, on his 360 program, did a “Keeping ‘em honest” interview which became contentious.

One is reminded of Francois Truffaut’s 1966 film of Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451” for Universal and J. Arthur Rank, about book burning. And the Nazis did it in the 1930s. Jones is starting to sound like another kind of Fred Phelps.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Zakaria interviews Browder on Magnitskiy case, about Russian mafia controlling government, even Putin; also, London's radical imam

Today, Sept. 5, Fareed Zakaria interviewed investor William Browder, who was first detained at the Moscow airport and then expelled, but after he had gotten his money out. But through a bizarre chain of events, an ordinary Russian tax lawyer, Sergey Magnitskiy, would be put in prison on charges trumped up by police and prosecutors controlled by the Russian Mafia, just as in the Dragon Girl movies. Magnitskiy died on 16 November 2009 in a Russian prison after horrible deterioration. Visit the site dedicated to him, here.



Fareed also got into a “polyphonic” debate with one of the UK’s most notorious radical imams, Anjem Choudary, who claims that democracy and separation and church and state are contradictory to Islam and Shariah.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Videos, blogs and social media all have a big impact on international human rights

Google’s own corporate blog had two major postings in August on the Internet and advancement of human rights (and political dissidence) overseas. The most important posting appears Aug. 24, “What do you think about human rights (and your rights) online?", here. The posting discusses the role of user-generated video in human rights, and has a label of “video”.

There is an earlier posting “How do you advance online free expressions” Aug. 12, also posted on YouTube’s official blog (“Broadcasting ourselves”) here with labels of “free expression” (like mine, “international free speech”) and “policy and issues” (which most of my blogs are about by default).