Thursday, July 30, 2009

World's first computer may be even older than thought

antik1.jpgJo Marchant, consultant

From Swiss Army knives to iPhones, it seems we just love fancy gadgets with as many different functions as possible. And judging from the ancient Greek
Antikythera mechanism, the desire to impress with the latest multipurpose must-have item goes back at least 2000 years.

mysterious box of tricks was a portable clockwork computer, dating from the first or second century BC. Operated by turning a handle on the side, it modelled the movements of the Sun, Moon and planets through the sky, sported a local calendar, star calendar and Moon-phase display, and could even predict eclipses and track the timing of the Olympic games.

I gave a talk on the device at London's
Royal Institution last night. One new clue I mentioned to the origin of the mechanism comes from the Olympiad dial - there are six sets of games named on the dial, five of which have been deciphered so far. Four of them, including the Olympics, were major games known across the Greek world. But the fifth, Naa, was much smaller, and would only have been of local interest.

The Naa games were held in Dodona in northwestern Greece, so Alexander Jones of the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World in New York has suggested that the mechanism must have been made by or for someone from that area.

Intriguingly, this could mean the device is even older than thought. The inscriptions have been dated to around 100 BC, but according to Jones the device may have been made at latest in the early second century BC, because after that the Romans devastated or took over the Greek colonies in the region, so it's unlikely that people would still have been using the Greek calendar there.

But the highlight for most of the audience - judging from the spontaneous round of applause it received - was this breathtaking new animation (below) of the gearing inside the mechanism. It has been made by
Mogi Vicentini, an Italian astronomer and computer scientist, and it brings the device to life brilliantly.
Judge for yourself, but I think it shows that the mechanism would hold its own against the best of today's luxury gadgets.

Jo Marchant is author of Decoding the Heavens, a book about the Antikythera mechanism. It has been shortlisted for the 2009 Royal Society Prize for Science Books, and is out now in paperback.
Also check they have online a paper published last year, will a lot of details about the games and the dates.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Files Vanished, Young Chinese Lose the Future

Gilles Sabrie for The New York Times

Xue Longlong, on the street where he lives in Xian, China. When his academic records vanished in Wubu, he lost out on a high-paying job, and the woman he hoped to marry abandoned him.

Published: July 26, 2009

WUBU, China — For much of his education, Xue Longlong was silently accompanied from grade to grade, school to school, by a sealed Manila envelope stamped top secret. Stuffed inside were grades, test results, evaluations by fellow students and teachers, his Communist Party application and — most important for his job prospects — proof of his 2006 college degree.


Times Topics: China

The New York Times

Wubu is a struggling town of 80,000 banked by steep hills and coal mines.

Gilles Sabrie for The New York Times

Wang Jindong, who had a shot at a job at a state chemical firm, is a construction day laborer, earning less than $10 a day.

Gilles Sabrie for The New York Times

Wang Yong, who aspired to be a teacher or bank officer, is unemployed.

Everyone in China who has been to high school has such a file. The files are irreplaceable histories of achievement and failure, the starting point for potential employers, government officials and others judging an individual’s worth. Often keys to the future, they are locked tight in government, school or workplace cabinets to eliminate any chance they might vanish.

But two years ago, Xue Longlong’s file did vanish. So did the files of at least 10 others, all 2006 college graduates with exemplary records, all from poor families living near this gritty north-central town on the wide banks of the Yellow River.

With the Manila folders went their futures, they say.

Local officials said the files were lost when state workers moved them from the first to the second floor of a government building. But the graduates say they believe officials stole the files and sold them to underachievers seeking new identities and better job prospects — a claim bolstered by a string of similar cases across China.

Today, Mr. Xue, who had hoped to work at a state-owned oil company, sells real estate door to door, a step up from past jobs passing out leaflets and serving drinks at an Internet cafe. Wang Yong, who aspired to be a teacher or a bank officer, is unemployed. Wang Jindong, who had a shot at a job at a state chemical firm, is a construction day laborer, earning less than $10 a day.

“If you don’t have it, just forget it!” Wang Jindong, now 27, said of his file. “No matter how capable you are, they will not hire you. Their first reaction is that you are a crook.”

Perhaps no group here is more vilified and mistrusted than China’s local officials, who shoulder much of the blame for corruption within the Communist Party. The party constantly vows to rein them in; in October, President Hu Jintao said a clean party was “a matter of life and death.”

Critics contend that China’s one-party system breeds graft that only democratic reforms can check. But China’s leaders say the solution is not grass-roots checks on power, but smarter oversight and crime-fighting.

Public policy specialists say China is shifting its emphasis from headline-grabbing corruption cases to more systematic ways to hold officials accountable. The government opened an anticorruption hot line last month to encourage whistle-blowers. A few localities require that officials disclose their family assets to the party.

But in Wubu, a struggling town of 80,000 banked by steep hills and coal mines, citizens say that local officials answer to no one, and that anyone who dares challenge them is punished.

“When the central government talks about the economy and development, it sounds so great,” said Mr. Wang, the day laborer. “But at the local level, corrupt officials make all their money off of local people.”

Student files are a proven moneymaker for corrupt state workers. Four years ago, teachers in Jilin Province were caught selling two students’ files for $2,500 and $3,600; the police suspected that they intended to sell a dozen more. In May, the former head of a township government in Hunan Province admitted that he had paid more than $7,000 to steal the identity of a classmate of his daughter, so his daughter could attend college using the classmate’s records.

While not quite as important as in Communist China’s early days, when it was a powerful tool of social control, the file, called a dangan, is an absolute requirement for state employment and a means to bolster a candidate’s chances for some private-sector jobs, labor experts say. Because documents are collected over several years and signed by many people, they are virtually impossible to replicate.

So in September 2007, when one Wubu graduate sought work at a local bank and discovered that his file was gone, word spread fast. For the next two years, his parents and a group of other parents in similar straits said, they sought help at every level of the bureaucracy.

The government’s answer, they said, was to reject any inquiry, place the graduates’ parents under police surveillance and repeatedly detain them. Last February, they said, five parents trying to petition the national government were locked in an unofficial jail in Beijing for nine days.

“We are so exhausted,” said one tearful mother, Song Heping. “Our nerves are about to snap from this torture. The officials who were responsible not only have not been punished, they have been promoted.”

Wubu officials did not respond to repeated inquiries. One Chinese television journalist said they told him they had resolved the matter simply by creating new folders. But families say the folders held nothing but brief, error-riddled résumés that employers reflexively reject as fake.

The parents are uniformly poor: one father drives a three-wheel taxi, earning just 15 cents per passenger.

Xue Longlong’s parents sacrificed even more than most, in the belief that education would lead their children out of poverty. They earn just $450 a year growing dates, and live near a dirt mountain path, drinking well water and cooking over a wood fire.

Longlong, the oldest child, wore secondhand clothes and skipped meals throughout high school. When he won admission to a university in Xian, 400 miles away, his parents borrowed to cover the $1,500 in annual expenses. Initially, it seemed the bet would pay off: Longlong said he had had a chance to work at an oil company with a monthly salary of $735.

But the job evaporated with his dangan. “It was a catastrophe,” he said. Now he earns a base salary of $90 a month as a door-to-door salesman and lives in a tiny, dingy room in a Xian slum.

The woman he hoped to marry left him because her parents said he would never have a stable job. His mother suffered a nervous breakdown, and the family debt ballooned. Longlong’s father, Xue Ruzhan, said he owed more than $10,000 — more than twice what his property is worth.

“What is the point of continuing to live?” the father said. “Sometimes I want to commit suicide. These corrupt officials destroyed all our hopes.”

Including, it seems, the hopes of Longlong’s younger sister, Xiaomei, an 11th grader who once thought she would follow him to a university degree.

No more. “I want to quit,” she said during a school lunch break. “My brother graduated from college. What good did it do him?”

Zhang Jing contributed research from Wubu, China, and Yang Xiyun from Beijing.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Goldman Sachs to start printing its own currency

New York--Today U.S. Treasury officials announced that Goldman Sachs will start printing its own currency to be called Goldman's Own Denomination or GOD for short.

"GOD notes will be used in place of the worthless dollar bills and Americans will be required to turn in all of their cash to exchange them for the new GOD," said Secretary of the Treasury Tim Geithner.

He continued "We who are in charge of the nation's money supply know best and we know that the dollar bills Americans are holding onto are worth less than soiled toilet paper, so we are coming to your rescue with GOD. After all, if you can't trust Wall Street and the Federal Reserve, who can you trust?"

The new GOD notes will feature the image of the best liked man in America, Fed Reserve head Ben Bernanke

To further help this transfer, said Geithner, when Americans come to turn in their money for the new GOD, they should also bring all of their gold and valuable jewelry, including wedding rings.

"Without turning in all of your gold to your loyal and trusted bankers of the Federal Reserve and Wall Street, we won't be able to turn the tide against this economic malaise."

Treasury Department officials said that US Marshals would be used to 'help' Americans find that gold they had stashed in case of a rainy day and 'persuade' them to turn it over to the Treasury Department.

US Mayors and Five Rabbis Arrested for Money Laudering Sent to Israel

Mayors of Hoboken, Secaucus, Five Rabbis Arrested (Update10)

By David Voreacos

July 23 (Bloomberg) -- The mayors of Hoboken, Ridgefield and Secaucus, New Jersey, and five rabbis were among 44 people charged by the U.S. with public corruption and money laundering.

Hoboken Mayor Peter Cammarano, 32, Secaucus Mayor Dennis Elwell, 64, and Ridgefield Mayor Anthony Suarez, 42, all Democrats; Jersey City Council PresidentMariano Vega Jr., 59; State Assemblyman Daniel Van Pelt, 44, a Republican from Ocean Township; and Assemblyman L. Harvey Smith, a Jersey City Democrat, were charged today in an FBI complaint. All except Smith appeared in U.S. court in Newark, New Jersey.

The corruption probe, based in Hudson County, netted many public officials accused of pledging assistance for bribes. A cooperating witness in that probe also infiltrated a “pre- existing money laundering network” that moved “at least tens of millions of dollars through charitable, non-profit entities controlled by rabbis in New York and New Jersey,” according to a release by acting U.S. Attorney Ralph Marra.

“The fact that we arrested a number of rabbis this morning does not make this a religiously motivated investigation,” Weysan Dun, special agent in charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s office in Newark, said at a news conference. “It is not a politically motivated investigation. It is about crime, corruption, arrogance and a shocking betrayal of public trust.”

Cooperating Witness

The roundup of suspects is one of the largest ever in New Jersey, where more than 100 public officials have been convicted of corruption in the past few years. The cooperating witness laundered $3 million through the rabbis and also made bribe payments to public officials, prosecutors said. Investigators made hundreds of hours of audio and video recordings of illicit transactions, according to prosecutors.

The cooperating witness is Solomon Dwek, a real estate developer in Monmouth County, New Jersey, who was charged on May 11, 2006, with scheming to defraud PNC Bank out of $50 million, according to three people familiar with the matter. Dwek is a rabbi’s son who was vice president of the Deal Yeshiva School in West Long Branch, New Jersey.

Cammarano, Hoboken’s youngest mayor, was sworn in July 1. Former state Assemblyman Louis Manzo, 54, a Democrat from Jersey City, and Leona Beldini, a deputy mayor of Jersey City, also were charged. Cammarano attorney Joseph Hayden didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment. Suarez lawyer Henry Klingeman said his client was innocent and would not resign.

Five Rabbis

The rabbis were Saul Kassin, 87, chief rabbi of Sharee Zion, a synagogue in Brooklyn, New York; Eliahu Ben Haim, 58, the principal rabbi of Congregation Ohel Yaacob in Deal, New Jersey; Edmond Nahum, 56, of Deal Synagogue in Deal; Mordchai Fish, 56, of Congregation Sheves Achim in Brooklyn; and Lavel Schwartz, 57, Fish’s brother.

The rabbis were charged with laundering money that often was sent to Israel. They are members of the Syrian Jewish or Hasidic Jewish communities, Marra said at the news conference. Authorities issued a warrant for Schwartz’s arrest. The other four rabbis were arrested today and appeared in court.

“This case uncovered a web of corruption that spanned the state,” Dun said. “All of the individuals were connected through their illicit activities with the undercover witness.”

Kassin is accused of laundering more than $200,000 through Dwek from June 2007 through December 2008 by accepting “dirty checks” from him and exchanging them for “clean” checks, according to prosecutors.

‘Asserts His Innocence’

“The rabbi asserts his innocence,” said Kassin attorney Robert Stahl after U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Falk imposed a $200,000 bail bond. “It’s a shame that he’s caught up in some misunderstanding. Despite his difficult circumstances, he remains confident that the system of justice will prevail.”

Falk imposed a $1.5 million bail bond and electronic monitoring on Ben Haim. His attorney, Michael O’Donnell, declined comment. Falk set a $700,000 bail bond on Nahum.

“He had no involvement in any scheme as alleged and certainly looks forward to the opportunity to clear his name,” Nahum attorney Justin Walder said. “There’s no profit, no involvement in any international scheme.”

Nahum was implicated by “a person who obviously has his own problems and tried to limit his exposure” to criminal charges, Walder said.

Fish, Schwartz and two other defendants used a charitable, tax-exempt organization called BCG, which was associated with Fish’s synagogue, to launder money by using money transfers, according to the FBI.


“We are confident that the transfers referred to in the complaint will be explained to a jury in a manner that will result in Mr. Fish’s vindication,” saidMichael Bachner, his attorney. He said Dwek “used his closeness and the sterling reputation of his family to manipulate individuals who believed that he would never be involved in illegal conduct.”

Levy-Izhak Rosenbaum, 58, of Brooklyn, was accused of conspiring with others to acquire and trade human organs for use in transplantation. Rosenbaum, who was “purportedly” involved in real estate, was approached by a cooperating witness and an undercover FBI agent about buying a human kidney from a human organ broker, according to the complaint.

Rosenbaum said it would cost $150,000, with half payable up front, according to the complaint. Rosenbaum said some of the money would go to the donor and some to doctors in Israel, according to the complaint.

‘Illegal to Sell’

“One of the reasons it’s so expensive is because you have to shmear (meaning pay various individuals for their assistance) all the time,” according to the complaint. “It’s illegal to buy. It’s illegal to sell.”

Rosenbaum attorney Alan Vinegrad didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment. Attorneys for the other suspects either couldn’t be identified or couldn’t be reached for comment.

Prosecutors charged the men in a series of criminal complaints detailing the allegations. Ben Haim was accused of laundering $1.5 million through the undercover witness, who said he “was engaged in illegal businesses and schemes including bank fraud, trafficking in counterfeit goods and concealing assets and monies in connection with bankruptcy proceedings,” according to an FBI criminal complaint.

PNC Bank

Before his 2006 arrest, Dwek deposited two $25 million checks from another account of his, which had a zero balance, prosecutors alleged. Dwek then wired $22.8 million out of PNC, falsely assuring bank officials that he would forward funds to cover the overdraft, according to prosecutors.

Dwek posted a $10 million bond, secured by $3 million in equity in the homes of his mother-in-law and sister-in-law. Dwek was never indicted, instead receiving 17 extensions from a judge to continue the period in which his case had to be presented to a federal grand jury.

Michael Himmel and Christopher Porrino, lawyers for Dwek, didn’t return calls or e-mails requesting comment.

More than 300 agents of the FBI and the Internal Revenue Service arrested the suspects and executed search warrants this morning, according to Dun.

Agents arrested 37 suspects today, two surrendered, and three, including Smith, are expected to surrender tomorrow. Authorities issued arrest warrants for two other suspects.

Agents also searched the house of Joseph Doria, a former Democratic assemblyman and the commissioner of the state Department of Community Affairs. He hasn’t been charged. They also searched the offices of the president of St. Peter’s College, a school in Jersey City, as well as a synagogue in Deal, Dun said.

“Any corruption is unacceptable -- anywhere, anytime, by anybody,” New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine, a Democrat seeking re-election against Republican Christopher Christie, the former U.S. attorney in New Jersey, said in a statement.

‘Cannot Be Tolerated’

“The scale of corruption we’re seeing as this unfolds is simply outrageous and cannot be tolerated,” Corzine said.

Doria resigned today at Corzine’s request, the governor’s spokesman said.

The arrests today emerged from an investigation that spans a decade and has led to two earlier roundups.

“New Jersey’s corruption problem is one of the worst, if not the worst, in the country,” FBI supervising agent Ed Kahrer said. “Corruption is a cancer that is destroying the core values of this state and this great nation.”

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Developing world summit calls for 'new world order'


Published: 15/07/2009 at 02:59 PM

More than 50 heads of state from the developing world met Wednesday in Egypt to tackle the fallout from the global economic meltdown, with calls for a "new world order" to prevent a repeat of the crisis.

Cuban President Raul Castro said in a speech at the opening session of the Non-Aligned Movement summit that the financial crisis had hit developing nations the hardest.

"Every country in the world must seek just solutions to the global economic crisis," Castro told the 118-member body at the gathering in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

"We call for a new monetary and economic world order... we must restructure the world financial system to take into consideration the needs of developing countries."

Global power dynamics also need to be addressed, Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi said, demanding a restructuring of the UN Security Council which he branded a form of terrorism "monopolised by a few countries that are permanent members."

"This represents a danger toward international peace. We have suffered all sorts of harm from the Security Council, it has become a sword over our necks," he said. "The Security Council is terrorism."

Kadhafi said he wanted to correct the imbalance at the Security Council, demanding a permanent seat for the 53-member African Union, which he chairs.

But the developing world's military ambitions looked set to steal the summit limelight, with nuclear-armed South Asian foes India and Pakistan to hold talks on Thursday aimed at relaunching stalled peace talks.

New Delhi and Islamabad's fraught relations deteriorated after terror attacks in the Indian commercial capital Mumbai in November last year which killed 166 people.

The attacks were blamed by India on the banned Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, and Pakistan has acknowledged they were partially planned on its soil.

Indian foreign secretary Shiv Shankar Menon met his Pakistani counterpart Salim Bashir on Tuesday ahead of the meeting between Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani.

Singh has voiced hope that Pakistan will promise action against those behind the attacks when he meets Gilani for only the second high-level contact between the two sides since the Mumbai bombings.

Pakistan said on Saturday that it would "probably" put the five accused of involvement in the attacks on trial next week.

The attacks left in tatters a fragile peace process launched in 2004 to resolve all outstanding issues of conflict, including a territorial dispute over the divided Himalayan territory of Kashmir.

India, along with host Egypt, is one of the founding members of the NAM, the largest grouping of countries outside of the United Nations, aimed at giving a voice to the developing world.

The summit will "provide a chance for discussions over the international economic crisis, which first started in the industrialised countries, and greatly impacted the developing countries, especially Africa," Zimbabwe Foreign Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi said on Tuesday.

He said industrialised states "should not be given free rein to manage such a crisis."

Founded in 1955, NAM's 118 member states represent around 56 percent of the global population. NAM states consider themselves not formally aligned with or against any major power bloc.

Set up during the Cold War, the movement sought to distance itself from both the Western and Soviet blocs, but today its raison d'etre is questioned after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the ensuing shift in power politics.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Medvedev Shows Off Sample Coin of New ‘World Currency’ at G-8

By Lyubov Pronina

July 10 (Bloomberg) -- Russian President Dmitry Medvedev illustrated his call for a supranational currency to replace the dollar by pulling from his pocket a sample coin of a “united future world currency.”

“Here it is,” Medvedev told reporters today in L’Aquila, Italy, after a summit of the Group of Eight nations. “You can see it and touch it.”

The coin, which bears the words “unity in diversity,” was minted in Belgium and presented to the heads of G-8 delegations, Medvedev said.

The question of a supranational currency “concerns everyone now, even the mints,” Medvedev said. The test coin “means they’re getting ready. I think it’s a good sign that we understand how interdependent we are.”

Medvedev has repeatedly called for creating a mix of regional reserve currencies as part of the drive to address the global financial crisis, while questioning the U.S. dollar’s future as a global reserve currency. Russia’s proposals for the G-20 meeting in London in April included the creation of a supranational currency.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Crop circle accurately predicts solar storms

July 8, 7:26 AM

LASCO image on July 6
SOHO LASCO3 image showing solar flare and CME being emitted

The Solar Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) confirms that on July 6, 2009, a very large Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) was emitted by the sun. This was followed by what appears to be a smaller CME being emitted by a solar flare on the morning of July 7, and another large CME emitted on July 8. The CMEs are partial confirmation for a coded prediction found in a crop circle discovered in Milk Hill England that evolved inthree stages from June 21 to 30.

The CMEs were captured by the SOHO satellite which is one million miles away from the Earth in the direction of the sun. Located in a stationary equilibrium point between the gravity of the sun and the Earth called a Lagrangian point, SOHO has a number of scientific instruments to monitor the sun’s behavior. The CMEs do not appear to be part of a series headed towards the Earth as initial interpretations of the coded crop circle message suggested. The emergence of the CMEs is, however, a remarkable development since it came right on the July 6/7 lunar eclipse prediction date.

The two SOHO instruments that captured the large CME were LASCO 2 and 3. LASCO stands for Large Angle and Spectrometric Coronagraph. LASCO 2 captures images of the sun’s corona (the area above the sun’s surface) to a distance of 1.5 to 6 solar radii. The radius of the sun is approximately 420,000 miles. LASCO 3 captures images to 3.5 to 30 solar radii. The first image (above) is from LASCO3 and shows the large CME clearly being emitted in the upper right portion of the sun at 17:18 UTC on July 6. The plasma discharge is clearly visible as a circular ball within the protruding solar flare. A LASCO3 movie below shows clearly the size of the solar flare and CME emitted on July 6. Interestingly, a large object (the planet Mercury?) comes into the images which appears to trigger the CME.

The second image (below) is from LASCO 2 and also shows the huge CME being emitted around the same time through a solar flare. For more images of the CME, go to slide show. To see mpeg movies of the first CME on either LASCO 2 or 3 click here and enter July 6 as the date .

Curiously, the online SOHO movie database is missing the LASCO movie for July 6. Is this just an oversight or deliberate effort to playdown the significance of the July 6 CME by preventing easy internet access? Here's the screenshot of the SOHO database showing the missing data for July 6 taken on July 8.

Screen shot of archived SOHO movies on 07/08/09

A second solar flare emitting a smaller CME emerged on the morning of July 7 and was captured by LASCO 2 (see below at 2 O'Clock position). While smaller compared to July 6 solar flare, the July 7 flare shows solar plasma again being ejected in a possible CME. On the left side of the sun, another large solar flare can be seen building up which on July 8 also appeared to discharge a CME. The MPEG movie of July 7 appears below (or click here ) . To see the current mpeg movie of the July 8 CME click here. It will later be archived here - enter July 8 as the date

The emergence of the July 6 & 7 CMEs raises confidence that the Milk Hill crop circle was indeed a coded message of solar storm behavior. The CMEs also partly confirm earlier crop circles in April 2009 that also were coded messages predicting a series of up to five CMEs occurring in relation to the July 6/7 lunar eclipse. The CMEs do not appear to be headed towards the Earth as initially interpreted by crop circle researchers. The CMEs nevertheless are remarkable confirmation that crop circles do have predictive accuracy when it comes to solar behavior. There is no human science or technology presently known to exist which can accurately predict when the sun emits CMEs. This does strengthen the hypothesis that crop circles are designed by an advanced non-human intelligence. More scientific study is needed to understand crop circles and whether extraterrestrial or other forms of advanced intelligence are involved in their creation.