Category Archives: geek stuff

1024

American contractor snared in secret U.S. prison
FBI informant imprisoned and treated like an insurgent for 97 days
June 17, 2007
By Lisa Myers

For Donald Vance, a 29-year-old veteran and an American citizen, the desire to play a small part in a big event would lead to the scariest experience of his life. While in Iraq, he was neither a victim of a roadside bomb nor taken prisoner by insurgents. Instead, he was held captive by the U.S. government — detained in a secret military prison.

“It’s probably the worst thing I’ve ever lived through,” says Vance, who along with another American is now suing his own government, which he says “treated me like a terrorist.”

It all started in the summer of 2005 when Vance went to Baghdad. Born in Chicago, Vance had joined the Navy after high school and later worked in security.

He took a job with an Iraqi company, Shield Group Security, or SGS, which provides protection for businesses and organizations. Vance supervised security and logistics operations. Before long, he says he started noticing troubling things at the company — explosives and huge stockpiles of ammunition and weapons, including anti-aircraft guns. He worried they were going to militias involved in sectarian violence.

There was “more ammunition than we could ever, ever need,” says Vance. “We employed somewhere between 600 and 800 Iraqis. We had thousands of rifles.”

Vance became so alarmed by what he saw that when he returned to Chicago in October 2005 for his father’s funeral, he called the FBI office there and volunteered his services. He says he became an informant because, “It’s just the right thing to do.”

Once back in Baghdad, Vance says he began almost daily secret contact with the FBI in Chicago, often through e-mails and with officials at the U.S. embassy, alleging illegal gun-running and corruption by the Iraqis who owned and ran the company.

“I really couldn’t tell you how many days I thought about, ‘What if I get caught?'” says Vance.

In April 2006, he thought that day had come. His co-worker, Nathan Ertel, also an American, tendered his resignation. And with that, Vance says, the atmosphere turned hostile.

“We were constantly watched,” Vance says, “We were not allowed to go anywhere from outside the compound or with the compound under the supervision of an Iraqi, an armed Iraqi guard.”

Vance says an Iraqi SGS manager then took their identification cards, which allowed them access to American facilities, such as the Green Zone. They felt trapped.

“We began making phone calls,” Vance recalls. “I called the FBI. The experts over at the embassy let it be known that you’re about to be kidnapped. We barricaded ourselves with as many guns as we can get our hands on. We just did an old-fashioned Alamo.”

The U.S. military did come to rescue them. Vance says he then led soldiers to the secret cache of rifles, ammunition, explosives, even land mines.

The two men say they — and other employees who were Westerners — were taken to the U.S. embassy and debriefed. But their ordeal was just beginning.

“[We saw] soldiers with shackles in their hands and goggles and zip-ties. And we just knew something was terribly wrong,” says Vance.

Vance and Ertel were eventually taken to Camp Cropper, a secret U.S. military prison near the Baghdad airport. It once held Saddam Hussein and now houses some of the most dangerous insurgents in all of Iraq.

Here’s what Vance and Ertel say happened in that prison: They were strip-searched and each put in solitary confinement in tiny, cold cells. They were deliberately deprived of sleep with blaring music and bright lights. They were hooded and cuffed whenever moved. And although they were never physically tortured, there was always that threat.

“The guards employ what I would like to call as verbal Kung-Fu,” says Vance. “It’s ‘do as we say or we will use excessive violence on you.'”

Their families back home had no idea what was happening. Until they were detained, Vance had called or e-mailed his fiancée, Diane Schwarz, every day while in Iraq — and now he was not allowed to do either.

“I am thinking, you know, he’s dead, he’s kidnapped,” recalls Schwarz.

After a week of intense interrogations for hours at a time, Vance learned why he was detained. He was given a document stating the military had found large caches of weapons at Vance’s company and suspected he “may be involved in the possible distribution of these weapons to insurgent/terrorist groups.”

He was a security detainee, just like an insurgent. And he says he was treated that way.

“The guards peeking in my cell see a Caucasian male, instantly they think he’s a foreign fighter,” says Vance. He recounts guards yelling at him, “You are Taliban. You are al-Qaida.”

Vance says the charges against him were false and mirror exactly the allegations he had been making against his own company to the FBI.

“I’m basically saying to them: ‘What are you talking about? I’ve been telling you for seven months now that this stuff is going on. You’re detaining me but not the actual people that are doing it!'”

A military panel, which reviews charges against detainees, eventually questioned Vance and Ertel. Both men were given a document that said, “You do not have the right to legal counsel.” The men say they could not see all the evidence used against them and did not have the legal protections typically afforded Americans.

But they were eventually allowed very infrequent phone calls, which were very frustrating for Vance and his fiancée.

“He’s crying, you know, he’s not getting any answers and I’m not able to help him,” says Schwarz. “And he’s not able to help himself.”

The military cleared Ertel and released him after more than a month in prison. But Vance stayed locked up.

At that point, prohibited from keeping notes, he began secretly scribbling diary entries and storing them in his military-issued Bible, whenever he had access to a pen.

The military now acknowledges that it took three weeks just to contact the FBI and confirm Vance was an informant. But even after that, Vance was held for another two months. In all, he was imprisoned for 97 days before being cleared of any wrongdoing and released.

“I looked like hell, completely emaciated, you know — beard, shaggy, dirty,” remembers Vance. “They showered me, shaved me, cleaned me up and dumped me at Baghdad International Airport like it never happened.

Throughout the ordeal, the U.S. military said it thought Vance was helping the insurgents. Wasn’t that a reasonable basis to hold and interrogate him?

“They could have investigated the true facts, found out exactly what was happening,” says Vance. “What doesn’t need to happen is throw people in a cell, we’ll figure out the answers later. That’s not the way to do things.”

Donald Vance and Nathan Ertel have now filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government and Donald Rumsfeld, who was secretary of defense when they were detained. It is generally very difficult to sue the government, but experts say this case may be different because Vance and Ertel are American citizens; they were civilians held by the U.S. military; and they were detained for such a long time.

Military officials would not comment, but a spokeswoman previously has said the men were treated fairly and humanely. The FBI also declined to comment, as did officials at SGS. The company’s name has changed, but it’s still doing business in Iraq. Neither the company, nor its executives, has been charged with any wrongdoing.

Vance says he hopes the lawsuit will reveal why the military held him so long, and why he was denied the legal protections guaranteed American citizens.

“This is just another step of our Constitution slowly being whittled away,” says Vance when asked why with all the tragedies and injustice in Iraq anyone should care about his story. “It’s basic fundamental rights of our founding fathers.”


Bin Laden may have arranged family’s US exit: FBI docs
June 20, 2007

Osama bin Laden may have chartered a plane that carried his family members and Saudi nationals out of the United States after the September 11, 2001 attacks, said FBI documents released Wednesday.

The papers, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, were made public by Judicial Watch, a Washington-based group that investigates government corruption.

One FBI document referred to a Ryan Air 727 airplane that departed Los Angeles International Airport on September 19, 2001, and was said to have carried Saudi nationals out of the United States.

“The plane was chartered either by the Saudi Arabian royal family or Osama bin Laden,” according to the document, which was among 224 pages posted online.

The flight made stops in Orlando, Florida; Washington, DC; and Boston, Massachusetts and eventually left its passengers in Paris the following day.

In all, the documents detail six flights between September 14 and September 24 that evacuated Saudi nationals and bin Laden family members, Judicial Watch said in a statement.

“Incredibly, not a single Saudi national nor any of the bin Laden family members possessed any information of investigative value,” Judicial Watch said.

“These documents contain numerous errors and inconsistencies which call to question the thoroughness of the FBI’s investigation of the Saudi flights.

“For example, on one document, the FBI claims to have interviewed 20 of 23 passengers on the Ryan International Airlines flight … on another document the FBI claims to have interviewed 15 to 22 passengers on the same flight.”

Asked about the documents’ assertion that either bin Laden or the Saudi royals ordered the flight, an FBI spokesman said the information was inaccurate.

“There is no new information here. Osama bin Laden did not charter a flight out of the US,” FBI special agent Richard Kolko said.

“This is just an inflammatory headline by Judicial Watch to catch people’s attention. This was thoroughly investigated by the FBI.”

Kolko pointed to the 9-11 Commission Report, which was the book-length result of an official probe into the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington that killed nearly 3,000 people.

“No political intervention was found. And most important, the FBI conducted a satisfactory screening of Saudi nationals that left on chartered flights. This is all available in the report,” Kolko said.

On the issue of flights of Saudi nationals leaving the United States, the 9-11 report said: “We found no evidence of political intervention” to facilitate the departure of Saudi nationals.

The commission also said: “Our own independent review of the Saudi nationals involved confirms that no one with known links to terrorism departed on these flights.”

Meredith Diliberto, an attorney with Judicial Watch, said that her group had seen a first version of the documents in 2005, although the FBI had heavily redacted the texts to black out names, including all references to bin Laden.

Nevertheless, unedited footnotes in the texts allowed lawyers to determine that bin Laden’s name had been redacted. They pressed the issue in court and in November 2006, the FBI was ordered to re-release the documents.

Diliberto said mention that “either” bin Laden or Saudi royals had chartered the flight “really threw us for a loop.”

“When you combine that with some of the family members not being interviewed, we found it very disturbing.”


How Low Can Bush Go?
President Bush registers the lowest approval rating of his presidency—making him the least popular president since Nixon
June 21, 2007
By Marcus Mabry

In 19 months, George W. Bush will leave the White House for the last time. The latest NEWSWEEK Poll suggests that he faces a steep climb if he hopes to coax the country back to his side before he goes. In the new poll, conducted Monday and Tuesday nights, President Bush’s approval rating has reached a record low. Only 26 percent of Americans, just over one in four, approve of the job the 43rd president is doing; while, a record 65 percent disapprove, including nearly a third of Republicans.

The new numbers—a 2 point drop from the last NEWSWEEK Poll at the beginning of May—are statistically unchanged, given the poll’s 4 point margin of error. But the 26 percent rating puts Bush lower than Jimmy Carter, who sunk to his nadir of 28 percent in a Gallup poll in June 1979. In fact, the only president in the last 35 years to score lower than Bush is Richard Nixon. Nixon’s approval rating tumbled to 23 percent in January 1974, seven months before his resignation over the botched Watergate break-in.

The war in Iraq continues to drag Bush down. A record 73 percent of Americans disapprove of the job Bush has done handling Iraq. Despite “the surge” in U.S. forces into Baghdad and Iraq’s western Anbar province, a record-low 23 percent of Americans approve of the president’s actions in Iraq, down 5 points since the end of March.

But the White House cannot pin his rating on the war alone. Bush scores record or near record lows on every major issue: from the economy (34 percent approve, 60 percent disapprove) to health care (28 percent approve, 61 percent disapprove) to immigration (23 percent approve, 63 percent disapprove). And—in the worst news, perhaps, for the crowded field of Republicans hoping to succeed Bush in 2008—50 percent of Americans disapprove of the president’s handling of terrorism and homeland security. Only 43 percent approve, on an issue that has been the GOP’s trump card in national elections since 9/11.

If there is any good news for Bush and the Republicans in the latest NEWSWEEK Poll, it’s that the Democratic-led Congress fares even worse than the president. Only 25 percent of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing.

In the scariest news for the Democratic candidates seeking their party’s nomination in 2008, even rank-and-file Democrats are unhappy with Congress, which is narrowly controlled by their party. Only 27 percent of Democrats approve of the job Congress is doing, a statistically insignificant difference from the 25 percent of Republicans and 25 percent of independents who approve of Congress.

Overall, 63 percent of Americans disapprove of the job Congress is doing, including 60 percent of Democrats, 67 percent of Republicans and 64 percent of Independents. Apparently, voters aren’t happy with anyone in Washington these days.


"Destroying human life in the hopes of saving human life is not ethical." – “president” George W. Bush, who vetoed Wednesday a bill that would have eased restraints on federally funded embryonic stem cell research, June 20, 2007. i have one word to say in response: IRAQ.

1018

blurdge

Anything is their carbonated soda which comes in six flavors: Cola with Lemon, Apple, Fizz Up, Cloudy Lemon and Root Beer. Whatever is non-carbonated teas that come in Ice Lemon, Peach, Jasmine Green Tea, White Grape, Apple, and Chrysanthemum Tea flavors, but the cans aren’t labeled beyond the names of ‘Anything’ and ‘Whatever’, so you truly don’t have a clue which flavor you are getting beforehand.

whatever… 8/

there are more bizarre drinks from japan including kimchee drink and mother’s milk.


Genuine Windows is Ubuntu

blurdge

Can cyborg moths bring down terrorists?
A moth which has a computer chip implanted in it while in the cocoon will enable soldiers to spy on insurgents, the US military hopes
May 24, 2007
By Jonathan Richards

At some point in the not too distant future, a moth will take flight in the hills of northern Pakistan, and flap towards a suspected terrorist training camp.

But this will be no ordinary moth.

Inside it will be a computer chip that was implanted when the creature was still a pupa, in the cocoon, meaning that the moth’s entire nervous system can be controlled remotely.

The moth will thus be capable of landing in the camp without arousing suspicion, all the while beaming video and other information back to its masters via what its developers refer to as a “reliable tissue-machine interface.”

The creation of insects whose flesh grows around computer parts – known from science fiction as ‘cyborgs’ – has been described as one of the most ambitious robotics projects ever conceived by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa), the research and development arm of the US Department of Defense.

Rod Brooks, director of the computer science and artificial intelligence lab at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which is involved with the research, said that robotics was increasingly at the forefront of US military research, and that the remote-controlled moths, described by DARPA as Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems, or MEMS, were one of a number of technologies soon to be deployed in combat zones.

“This is going to happen,” said Mr Brooks. “It’s not science like developing the nuclear bomb, which costs billions of dollars. It can be done relatively cheaply.”

“Moths are creatures that need little food and can fly all kinds of places,” he continued. “A bunch of experiments have been done over the past couple of years where simple animals, such as rats and cockroaches, have been operated on and driven by joysticks, but this is the first time where the chip has been injected in the pupa stage and ‘grown’ inside it.

“Once the moth hatches, machine learning is used to control it.”

Mr Brooks, who has worked on robotic technology for more than 30 years and whose company iRobot already supplies the US military with robots that defuse explosive devices laid by insurgents, said that the military would be increasingly reliant on ‘semi-autonomous’ devices, including ones which could fire.

“The DoD has said it wants one third of all missions to be unmanned by 2015, and there’s no doubt their things will become weaponised, so the question comes: should they given targeting authority?

“The prevailing view in the army at the moment seems to be that they shouldn’t, but perhaps it’s time to consider updating treaties like the Geneva Convention to include clauses which regulate their use.”

Debates such as those over stem cell research would “pale in comparison” to the increasingly blurred distinction between creatures – including humans – and machines, Mr Brooks, told an audience at the University of Southampton’s School of Electronics and Computer Science.

“Biological engineering is coming. There are already more than 100,000 people with cochlear implants, which have a direct neural connection, and chips are being inserted in people’s retinas to combat macular degeneration. By the 2012 Olympics, we’re going to be dealing with systems which can aid the oxygen uptake of athletes.

“There’s going to be more and more technology in our bodies, and to stomp on all this technology and try to prevent it happening is just? well, there’s going to be a lot of moral debates,” he said.

Another robot developed as part of the US military’s ‘Future Combat Systems’ program was a small, unmanned vehicle known as a SUGV (pronounced ‘sug-vee’) which could be dispatched in front of troops to gauge the threat in an urban environment, Mr Brooks said.

The 13.6kg device, which measures less than a metre squared and can survive a drop of 10m onto concrete, has a small ‘head’ with infra-red and regular cameras which send information back to a command unit, as well as an audio-sensing feature called ‘Red Owl’ which can determine the direction from which enemy fire originates.

“It’s designed to be the troop’s eyes and ears and, unlike one of its predecessors, this one can swim, too,” Mr Brooks said.


1016

You Are So F–ing Obscene
The president says it, you say it, your kids say it all the time. So what’s the f–ing problem?
June 13, 2007
By Mark Morford

My grandmother’s face used to scrunch up like she just stepped in dog droppings whenever she heard it.

My own cherubic and supercute mother rarely used to say it but has become much more friendly with it over the years because, you know, what the hell, and now whenever she launches an f-bomb or even an s-bomb she almost can’t help but smile a little sheepishly afterward, like her own mother is looking down from the heavens and making that face, or if my mother’s really angry and the cuss is meant to be a serious exclamation, well, it’s almost impossible not to smile yourself, like you just heard this really adorable squirrel pass gas.

Me, I remember my first time. Somewhere around 7 or 8 years old, just chillin’ on my bike in my Spokane ‘hood on a warm summer’s eve, a gaggle of other boys scampering around (there might have been girls too, but at that point girls were still incredibly toxic and hence my brain would not have registered their existence) and everyone just doing boy stuff.

Suddenly, it happened. From outta nowhere, one kid launched a never-before-heard “screw you” at some other kid and all chattering stopped as we all sort of looked at each other as if to say “huh?” and “what was that?” while this weird electrical charge shot through the air like creamy peanut butter on fire.

Everyone felt it. Everyone present sort of knew, even then, even without the slightest clue as to what the words actually meant, that something interesting had just occurred, something powerful and strange and, well, just a little bit wonderful.

As a quick test, I dashed home with those two words hot in my mouth and promptly unleashed them on the head of my older sister. To, if I recall, absolutely fantastic effect.

Clearly, Bush’s Federal Communications Commission is terrified of boys like me. Oh yes they are.

Let us now recap: Since 2003, BushCo’s own nipple-terrified regulatory agency has been working like a prudish little ferret to destroy perceived indecency, particularly those “fleeting expletives” that love to pop up in major media, threatening to fine any network roughly $5 bazillion for any appearance of the dreaded “f–” or “s–” or anything else that causes unusual tingling sensations anywhere in the pallid body of FCC Chairman Kevin Martin.

Dismissed as eye-rollingly idiotic by every cunning linguist in existence, this absurdly strict rule nevertheless caused enormous panic and trepidation among generally spineless network honchos who immediately shifted programming and yanked uncut versions of “Saving Private Ryan” from broadcast and fired on-air talent for the slightest indiscretion and desperately called their lawyers in prayer. It was, to put it simply, f–ing ugly.

Fast-forward to now. A New York appeals court just told Bush’s hard-line FCC that they are, in essence, a bunch of simpleminded out-of-touch dweebmonkeys and that the TV networks, while morally vacant in nearly every way imaginable, still cannot be held to such impossible standards when such juicy curse words are a common element of everyday speech, including that of President “Stop This S–” Bush and Dick “Go F– Yourself” Cheney and just about every other being anywhere, with the possible exception of the ghost of my late grandmother.

“We are sympathetic to the networks’ contention that the FCC’s indecency test is undefined, indiscernible, inconsistent and consequently unconstitutionally vague,” Judge Rosemary Pooler wrote in a delicious smackdown, a decision that also called the FCC’s obscenity rules “divorced from reality,” a perfect kicker that promptly induced Kevin Martin to whine uncontrollably.

“It is the New York court, not the commission, that is divorced from reality,” he puled. “Boogerbooger wabba, jerkface thhhbbbppptt!” he did not spittle, his face turning bright red as he hopped on his Big Wheel and pedaled away furiously.

Ahh, obscenity. Here is where you may want to jump in and play devil’s advocate and argue that, while swearing may be delightful amounts of everyday fun, mature discourse doesn’t actually require such language. And sure enough, you can go through your entire life and never utter a single curse word or, for that matter, never let alcohol pass your lips or enjoy a butt plug or inhale from a joint or be just like Frank Sinatra and never once wear a pair of jeans, and you can still make it to your grave a reasonably happy person. It’s true.

But maybe that’s beside the point. Because as far as Bush’s God-spanked FCC is concerned, it is, always and forever, all about protecting the children. Or rather, it is all about protecting some imaginary Christian Everychild, some sort of perfect hypersheltered dovelike organism made of spun glass and delicate bunny hearts and little golden crucifixes, a fragile, blessed thing whose happy, unblemished life had been completely free of blood or spit or pain right up until he overheard Bono say “f–” at the Golden Globes and his precious virgin heart shattered forever.

No matter. It’s all fast becoming rather moot anyway. Broadcast television as we know it is dying a clumsy, confused death, curse-happy cable/satellite TV is in 87 percent (combined) of American homes, satellite radio remains free to blaspheme up a storm, the Internet is a giant linguistic smut-for-all and even the more serious blogs and indie media outlets are happily loosening crusty journalistic binds and slanging their way into the hearts and minds of readers everywhere.

See, most people seem to get it: As is always the case in things prurient and dirty and fun, it all comes down to balance. Too many gratuitous f-bombs and you sound juvenile and uneducated and mean. Too few (or too awkwardly placed, or unearned) and you sound prudish and awkward and far too much like, say, Jerry Seinfeld.

This, then, is the real linguistic lesson kids need to learn. When it comes to a good curse, it’s all about the placement, the timing, the precise usage. After all, “f–” is a delightful power word, one I wish I could actually employ in this very column every so often without those damnable dashes that protect, well, no one.

The truth is, there are always perfect cuss-ready moments. There are always those times when it’s not only entirely appropriate to launch a well-placed swear word, but not to do so would feel, well, downright irresponsible. Let me see if I can think of a good example …

Ah yes. How about this: “The FCC finally got some comeuppance from the courts? The Christian right’s death grip on the culture is weakening even further, and the nation as a whole appears to be slowly but surely coming to its senses? Well. Thank goodness. Praise Jesus. Pass the wine.”

“And oh yes, it’s about f–ing time.”

See? Perfectly reasonable.


FBI tries to fight zombie hordes
The FBI is contacting more than one million PC owners who have had their computers hijacked by cyber criminals.
2007/06/14

The initiative is part of an ongoing project to thwart the use of hijacked home computers, or zombies, as launch platforms for hi-tech crimes.

The FBI has found networks of zombie computers being used to spread spam, steal IDs and attack websites.

The agency said the zombies or bots were “a growing threat to national security”.

Signs of trouble
The FBI has been trying to tackle networks of zombies for some time as part of an initiative it has dubbed Operation Bot Roast.

This operation recently passed a significant milestone as it racked up more than one million individually identifiable computers known to be part of one bot net or another.

The law enforcement organisation said that part of the operation involved notifying people who owned PCs it knew were part of zombie or bot networks. In this way it said it expected to find more evidence of how they are being used by criminals.

“The majority of victims are not even aware that their computer has been compromised or their personal information exploited,” said James Finch, assistant director of the FBI’s Cyber Division.

Many people fall victim by opening an attachment on an e-mail message containing a virus or by visiting a booby-trapped webpage.

Many hi-tech criminals are now trying to subvert innocent webpages to act as proxies for their malicious programs.

Once hijacked, PCs can be used to send out spam, spread spyware or as repositories for illegal content such as pirated movies or pornography.

Those in charge of botnets, called botherders, can have tens of thousands of machines under their control.

Operation Bot Roast has resulted in the arrest of three people known to have used bot nets for criminal ends.

One of those arrested, Robert Alan Soloway, could face 65 years in jail if found guilty of all the crimes with which he has been charged.

In a statement about Operation Bot Roast the FBI urged PC users to practice good computer security which includes using regularly updated anti-virus software and installing a firewall.

For those without basic protections anti-virus companies such as F Secure, Trend Micro, Kaspersky Labs and many others offer online scanning services that can help spot infections.

The organisation said it was difficult for people to know if their machine was part of a botnet.

However it said telltale signs could be if the machine ran slowly, had an e-mail outbox full of mail a user did not send or they get e-mail saying they are sending spam.


Perfect silicon sphere to redefine the kilogram
June 15, 2007
By Chee Chee Leung

SECURELY tucked away inside a French vault is a lump of metal known as the International Prototype. A mixture of platinum and iridium, it was made in the 1880s to define the mass of a kilogram.

But work by a team of Australians could help pave the way for the retirement of this century- old prototype, as weight and measurement experts across the globe work towards a more scientific definition of the kilogram.

The project requires the development of perfect silicon spheres, and optical engineers at CSIRO’s Australian Centre for Precision Optics — considered world leaders in the craft — are doing their part.

Scientists will use the spheres to determine how many silicon atoms make up a kilogram, and this will be used as the new definition — bringing the kilogram into line with other base units such as the metre and the second, which are all defined by physical constants.

“It’s really an atom-counting exercise … and we’ll come up with a new definition of the kilogram based on atoms, rather than based on the thing in Paris,” explained Walter Giardini, of Australia’s National Measurement Institute.

CSIRO’s optical engineers will form two perfect spheres from a 20-centimetre cylinder of exceptionally pure silicon that arrived in Australia last night. The silicon, which has taken three years to produce, was made in Russia and grown into a near-perfect crystal in Germany.

The precision optics centre, located in the Sydney suburb of Lindfield, has already made about a dozen spheres for what is known as the Avogadro Project — with the most perfect sphere so far just 35 nanometres away from being perfectly round.

This means the diameter of the sphere varied by an average of only 35 millionths of a millimetre, making it a top contender for the title of the roundest object in the world.

A spherical shape was chosen for the project because it has no edges that might be damaged, and the volume can be calculated by using its diameter.

Optical engineer Katie Green, who will be involved in the precise cutting, grinding and polishing of the spheres, said it was exciting to be a part of a high-profile international project.

“It’s probably going to take around three months’ work, start to finish,” she said. “It’s been a number of years waiting for this material to be completed, so we’re definitely looking forward to seeing it in the flesh, so to speak.”

After the completion of the spheres, the silicon objects will be sent around the world to be measured and analysed by scientists.

http://www.csiro.au

http://www.bipm.fr


1015

Spitzer is open to New York legalizing medicinal marijuana
Governor changes position after earlier opposition
06/13/07
By Tom Precious

ALBANY — Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer, in a reversal of a campaign position, said Tuesday he could support legislation legalizing the use of marijuana for certain medicinal purposes.

The governor’s position comes as lawmakers stepped up a push in the final two weeks of the 2007 session for New York to join 12 other states and allow marijuana for those suffering from cancer, multiple sclerosis and other painful conditions.

In a debate last summer, Spitzer said he opposed medical marijuana. Now he said he is “open” to the idea after being swayed by advocates in the past couple of months.

“On many issues, hopefully you learn, you study, you evolve. This is one where I had, as a prosecutor, a presumption against the use of any narcotic which wasn’t designed purely for medicinal and medical effect. And now there are ways that persuaded me that it can be done properly,” the governor told reporters.

In 2005, lawmakers were close to a measure legalizing medical marijuana but dropped the effort after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that said the federal government could prosecute cases against those using marijuana in states that had legalized its use.

But after federal officials signaled no desire to prosecute individual patients using marijuana, a slowly growing number of states has begun moving ahead again to permit the drug to be used in tightly controlled circumstances. Advocates, who include groups representing physicians, nurses and hospices, liken medicinal marijuana to morphine and other drugs that are used to treat pain but are otherwise illegal on the streets.

A measure pending in the Assembly would permit the drug’s use for life-threatening illnesses and diseases, which could include everything from cancer and AIDS to hepatitis-C, and any other conditions designated by the state health commissioner, a provision the Spitzer administration insisted on, legislative sources said.

The Assembly bill, written by Health Committee Chairman Richard Gottfried, DManhattan, is supported by a bipartisan assortment of upstate and downstate lawmakers, including Buffalo Democratic Assembly members Sam Hoyt and Crystal Peoples.

In the State Senate, the author of the 2005 measure, Sen. Vincent Leibell, a Putnam County Republican, is preparing to quickly introduce legislation again with hopes of passage next week. “I think that’s very significant,” Leibell said of Spitzer’s support. The issue has been backed in the past in the Senate by Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, a Republican and a prostate cancer survivor.

Federal court rulings have greatly altered how people medically eligible for marijuana in New York could obtain the drug.

A measure two years ago permitted hospitals, pharmacies and nonprofit groups to apply to grow and sell marijuana for medical use. But the courts ruled the federal government could prosecute, and it has done so in California by raiding state-sanctioned marijuana dispensers. So, New York officials have taken a different route: Marijuana users would be on their own.

Legislation in Albany would permit an eligible patient to grow up to 12 marijuana plants or be in possession of up to 2.5 ounces of harvested marijuana. To get the marijuana, though, patients would need to find their own suppliers, whether on the streets or by other means.

The law would still make it illegal for dealers to sell them marijuana — though not illegal if they give it away. And it would not be illegal for the patient to purchase or possess the drug.

Gottfried, who said the measure now has a greater chance of passage than it has in a decade, believes it could help thousands of New Yorkers suffering from the effects of chemotherapy or severe pain or loss of appetite for HIV-positive individuals. “The current prohibition is political correctness run amok,” Gottfried said.

The State Association of District Attorneys has taken no formal position on the issue, said Rockland District Attorney Michael Bongiorno, president of the group.

“Essentially, personal marijuana use for all intents and purposes has been decriminalized anyway in New York,” said Erie County District Attorney Frank J. Clark, pointing to state law that makes a first marijuana possession subject to only a violation with a $100 fine.

Clark said that he could see some “general benefit” to a medical marijuana law if it “were crafted in the right way and very strictly limited.”

But, he added, “You mean to tell me the only drug that can treat this particular condition or relieve this discomfort or pain is marijuana? I’m a little skeptical from a medical standpoint.”

The Assembly measure requires certification from a physician that no other treatment alternatives are available before marijuana can be recommended for a patient. The individual also must be a regular patient of the physician.

The state’s small but influential Conservative Party opposes the legislation. “We think it’s the wrong way for society to go,” said Michael Long, the party’s chairman. He said the measure could encourage fraud among unethical physicians trying to cash in on writing prescriptions, and he noted the federal courts have already spoken on the issue. “We are looking for trouble,” Long said.

Spitzer gave backers encouraging signals Tuesday but cautioned that his support depends on the final bill that emerges. “It depends upon access control, how you regulate it, how you ensure you’re not just dispensing a narcotic. There are obviously issues there that have to be dealt with,” he said.

Gottfried said he has been quietly working with Spitzer’s office on the matter for the past several weeks and already amended his bill to resolve concerns raised by the governor’s aides, such as pushing off the effective date until January 2009.

How patients would get access to marijuana is a sticking point. Leibell, the Senate backer, said he wants it done in a “controlled setting,” but Assembly Democrats said that could run afoul of the federal court rulings. Leibell said he also would be open to permitting its use for more conditions, such as glaucoma.

“It just doesn’t seem that big a lift in this day and age to try to help people,” Leibell said of medical marijuana.


Drug raid nabs wrong woman
Officers try to arrest 77-year-old; intended target was next door
June 15, 2007
By Shane Benjamin

Law-enforcement officers raided the wrong house and forced a 77-year-old La Plata County woman on oxygen to the ground last week in search of methamphetamine.

The raid occurred about 11 a.m. June 8, as Virginia Herrick was settling in to watch “The Price is Right.” She heard a rustling outside her mobile home in Durango West I and looked out to see several men with gas masks and bulletproof vests, she said.

Herrick went to the back door to have a look.

“I thought there was a gas leak or something,” she said.

But before reaching the door, La Plata County Sheriff’s deputies shouted “search warrant, search warrant” and barged in with guns drawn, she said. They ordered Herrick to the ground and began searching the home.

“They didn’t give me a chance to ask for a search warrant or see a search warrant or anything,” she said in a phone interview Thursday. “I’m not about to argue with those big old guys, especially when they’ve got guns and those big old sledgehammers.”

La Plata County Sheriff Duke Schirard and Southwest Drug Task Force Director Lt. Rick Brown confirmed Herrick’s story.

Some deputies stayed with Herrick as others searched the house. They entered every bedroom and overturned a mattress in her son’s room.

Deputies asked Herrick if she knew a certain man, and she said no. Then they asked what address they were at, and she told them 74 Hidden Lane.

Deputies intended to raid 82 Hidden Lane – the house next door.

While Herrick was on the ground, deputies began placing handcuffs on her. They cuffed one wrist and were preparing to cuff the other.

“I had gotten really angry, and I was shaking from the whole incident,” she said.

Once deputies realized their mistake, they tried to help Herrick stand up and help her clean up the mess they created.

“I’m kind of a little stiff getting up,” she said.

But Herrick wanted the deputies out.

“Not too much later, the sheriff came up and apologized, and apologized and apologized,” she said.

Schirard and Brown provided context for how the mistake occurred, and said that they ultimately busted the correct house and captured $51,520 worth of meth.

For one month, the Southwest Drug Task Force had been investigating drug activity at 82 Hidden Lane, and investigators made several undercover meth purchases from a man who lived at the house. Brown declined to release the man’s name, citing an ongoing investigation.

On June 8, the task force decided to end the undercover operation and arrest the man. Rather than arrest him inside his home, investigators set up a drug deal to lure him outside.

As the suspect drove toward the meeting location at the entrance of Durango West I, a deputy attempted to pull him over as if it were a routine traffic stop.

But the suspect hit the gas and led deputies on a 57-second chase through the Durango West neighborhood. The chase covered four-tenths of a mile with speeds reaching 45 mph. While driving, the suspect threw bags of meth out of the car and erased phone numbers from his cell phone, Brown said.

The suspect eventually crashed into a power box and was arrested without incident.

While task-force members were detaining him, other law-enforcement-officials were ordered to execute a search warrant at 82 Hidden Lane.

After raiding the wrong house, deputies regrouped and decided to enter the correct house. That raid was successful: Two people were arrested and 7.2 ounces of meth was seized, Brown said.

In all, the task force seized a total of 2.3 pounds of meth during the investigation, he said. That includes the meth investigators bought while undercover and the meth the suspect threw from his car during the chase, Brown said. The street value for 1 ounce of meth is $1,400.

“They were slinging a lot of dope in this community,” Brown said. “We took a lot of meth off the streets.”

Raiding the wrong house was a mistake, but it’s one the task force has been learning from, Brown said. The mistake could have compromised the investigation and deputy safety. Had the true suspects learned of the raid, they could have disposed of the narcotics and armed themselves in anticipation of a raid.

Agencies involved in the raid included the task force and the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office SWAT team.

Herrick’s home and the one next door had similar qualities, Brown said, and it didn’t help that deputies were entering through the back.

In the future, Brown said agents familiar with a particular raid will physically point deputies to the home, and pictures of the home will be distributed to those involved.

Herrick’s son, David Herrick, said investigators surveilled the neighbor’s house before the raid, and it was extremely unprofessional to enter the wrong house.

“There is a big difference between 74 and 82,” he said, referring to the house numbers.

What’s more, Herrick doesn’t understand why his 77-year-old mother was handcuffed.

“Why they thought it was necessary to handcuff her and put her on the floor I don’t know,” he said. “And then they had to ask her what the address was.”

Brown said it is common practice to make all occupants lie on the ground handcuffed in case gunfire erupts.

“It’s just safe for everybody if they’re controlled on the ground,” he said.

David Herrick said he has contacted lawyers about a possible lawsuit.

“It’s pretty upsetting that they do that to a 77-year-old,” he said. “A little common sense, I think, would have helped out on the problem a lot.”

Virginia Herrick said she is glad her meth-dealing neighbors are gone, but also said: “I’m still angry at the whole situation. For them to raid the wrong trailer was not very smart.”