Laputan Logic
Wednesday, January 29, 2003
As the nation comes ever closer to war with Iraq, Americans should take a closer look at our prospective foe ...

The cradle of civilization

While President Bush describes Iraq as the "axis of evil" and the lair of a defiant Saddam Hussein, young American military cadets are learning that it is also the cradle of Western civilization.

A drawing from the Standard (flag) of Ur (circa 2685 B.C.), an ancient Mesopotamian city, depicting Ur at war. The other side of the flag showed Ur at peace.
At the same time, worried scholars are compiling a list of major Iraqi archaeological sites - with their map coordinates - and urging the Pentagon to avoid them.

"It is an ironic twist of fate to stand on the remains of a city in southern Iraq where the civilized world began and realize it could all end right there as well," cautions historian Bradley Parker.

"Iraq is the cradle of Western civilization. It is how we came to be what we are. Mesopotamia was the center of the universe" 5,000 years ago, adds Parker, who teaches ancient Near Eastern history and archaeology at the University of Utah.

"Mesopotamia was the oldest civilization anywhere on this planet. It is older than China or the Americas," adds history professor Michael Cook of Princeton University.

The area produced the first form of writing in the Western world; wheeled vehicles; cultivated and irrigated crops; domesticated livestock; the calendar; mathematics; and astronomers and philosophers who laid the groundwork for future Greek thinkers.

Some biblical scholars even suggest it is the site of Adam and Eve's Garden of Eden and the birthplace of Abraham.

As combat troops once again leave nearby Fort Carson for the Persian Gulf, freshman cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs are receiving a thought-provoking lecture from their history teacher: "President Bush speaks of the need to 'defend civilization,"' Lt. Col. Dave Kirkham tells his students.

"Then I point out the irony of defending civilization against the cradle of civilization," adds Kirkham, deputy director for international history at the academy. Kirkham says ancient Mesopotamia, which covered modern-day Iraq, "is deemed to be where it all started." [More...]

And here is a partial list of archaeological and cultural sites within Iraq compiled by some of those "worried scholars". I emphasise partial because a comprehensive list would likely have somewhere between 10,000 and 100,000 sites on it.

1. Ninevah and Khorsabad Assyrian capitals

2. Mosul Important museum containing Assyrian and Islamic items, Ommayad mosque, Mujahidi mosque, mosque to Prophet Jonas, mosque to Prophet Jerjis, Palace of Qara Sarai. bombed Nearby army base, air base, Saad-16 missile site, chemical weapons and nuclear centre bombed 1991.

3. Ashur Assyrian capital 10 miles south of Nimrud

4. Nimrud Assyrian capital near Makhmur.

5. Arbil Ancient Roman town of Arbela, continuously inhabited for 5000 years or more.

6. Dukan

7. Makhmur

8. Kirkuk Supposedly site of the fiery furnace in the Book of Daniel. Important Ottoman castle. Nearby command centre, army base, air base, large oil refinery bombed 1991.

9. Baija Important unexcavated archaeological remains l40 miles north of Baghdad. Nearby centre for production of feedstocks for chemical weapons (phosphoric acid) bombed 1991.

10. Tikrit Saddam Hussein’s home town with important old citadel. Nearby air base, army base missile site bombed 1991.

11. Samarra 70 miles north of Baghdad. Northern capital of Caliph Al-Mutasim, built 836. Ancient town extends along Tigris for 20 miles. Great Mosque, Ma’shouq Palace, Caliph’s residence, Abu Duluf mosque, Askari Tomb. Nearby main Iraqi chemical research complex and production plant (mustard, Sarin and Tabun gasses); major bridge, and main north/south artery road bombed 1991.

12. Haditha Near Anah with Babylonian inscriptions and Assyrian minaret. Nearby missile site, air base, chemical weapons complex and major new dam bombed 1991.

13. Al Ramadi Ancient town of Heet on Euphrates.

14. Al Fallujah Ancient site with cuneiform tablets drawn by Pellugto. Ruins of pre-Islamic Anbar, most important city in Iraq after Ctesiphon in 363. Capital of Abbasid dynasty in 752. Nearby chemical research complex producing feedstocks (including phosphorous) bombed 1991.

15. Baghdad World famous National Museum of Antiquities, Abbasid Palace, Mustansiriyah college (possibly oldest university in world), Martyr’s Mosque, Archaeological sites of Jemdat Nasr and Abu Salabikh. bombed 1991 because of operation, command and communication centre, presidential palace, major airbases and laboratory specialising in biological warfare.

16. Al-Iskandriyah l00 miles south of Baghdad.

17. Musayyib l30 miles south of Baghdad.

18. Kerbala Shi’a shrine to Imam Al-Hussein, most renowned of Iraq’s Islamic sacred attractions. 60 miles south of Baghdad, 45 miles from Najaf and 30 miles from Al Hillah. Nearby chemical weapons plant and rocket, missile programme and test range for missiles bombed 1991.

19. Babylon Nebuchadnezzor and Alexander the Great’s capital 60 miles south of Baghdad. Borsippa Ruined city eight miles from Babylon. Kish Biblical site. Capital of King Sargon, founder of first Mesopotamian Empire.

20. Al Hillah

21. Nippur Major religious centre of third and second millennia about 40 miles from Al Hillah and Najaf.

22. Najaf Most important Shi’a shrine to Ali Ibn Abi Talib. One of Islamic world’s principal centres of instruction. Chemical weapons facilities bombed 1991.

23. Uruk Sumerian city, 4000 BC.

24. Ur Iraq’s most famous site, perhaps earliest city in the world. Sumerian city at height 3500-4000 BC. Major airbase of Tallil and radar centre, bombed 1991.

25. Basra Al Qurna said to be site of Garden of Eden with Adam’s tree. Shrines dating back to early days of Islam suffered extensive damage during war with Iran. Nearby naval and air bases, oil refinery, chemical weapons research complex and plant bombed 1991.
While highlighting this issue, I am also hoping that military planners will give due attention to respecting and preserving the civilisation and culture of the living people of Iraq. 
Tuesday, January 28, 2003
  Another stereo image

Well, seeing that I've already broken your eyes in, so to speak, how about another stereograph? This one is from 98 years ago...

Photographing New York, U. S. A. -- on a slender support 18 stories above the pavement of Fifth Avenue (1905).
This image remains one of my all time favourite 3D images. It comes from my grandmother's collection of stereographs which I used to spend countless hours as a kid gawking at with her stereoscope. I have manipulated this one to work with the cross-eye method (basically swapping the left image for the right). This one seems to be a little trickier to pull together, possibly its because the foreground shape less simple. Nevertheless it does work so please persevere if you can.

When it works you will suddenly you get a sense of how damned high this guy really is. It's enough to make the hairs on your arsehole curl
  Stereo image of the Sun

These images are taken one day apart and are arranged to similate a three-dimentional Sun. The sun's rotation provides the simulated 3D effect. Center the images and cross your eyes to view. Overlap the two images to form three. The center image will be in stereo. "The SOHO/LASCO data used here are produced by a consortium of the Naval Research Laboratory (USA), Max-Planck-Institut fuer Aeronomie (Germany)), Laboratoire d'Astronomie (France), and the University of Birmingham (UK). SOHO is a project of international cooperation between ESA and NASA."
This takes a little practice1 but the result is pretty cool. It's easier if you sit back at least a metre from the screen. After you master that, you might like to try this stereo aurora borealis.
1 - Try this at your own risk. If you end up breaking something, you own both halves. 
Sunday, January 26, 2003
  Speed of Gravity Results 'Incorrect,' Physicist Says
Physicists leveled heavy criticism Thursday on a report from last week that claimed the speed of gravity had been determined by observation and was equal to the speed of light.

One physicist called the interpretation of the finding "nonsense". Others were more diplomatic, suggesting that the experiment, involving observations of the bending of light from a distant galaxy as the light sped by the planet Jupiter, had instead measured other phenomena.

The brewing controversy, which illustrates the fits and spurts with which science sometimes grudgingly moves forward, appears to have ground to a stalemate for now as the two scientists who conducted the experiment categorically defended their work.

"The claim that they've measured the speed of gravity is simply incorrect," said Clifford Will, a physicist at Washington University in St Louis, Missouri, and an expert in the field.

Interestingly, Will is friends with one of the researchers whose work he knocks.

In a telephone interview this morning, Will hailed the intricate observations as possibly "a great achievement" but said the interpretation of the data "clouded what would otherwise have been a really cool result."
  Jehoash tablet said found near Muslim cemetery
Three different people and institutions involved in examining the stone told Ha'aretz that representatives of the collector who owns the stone told them it was found near the Muslim cemetery. One added that he was told it had been found following a landslide or flood.

Prof. Yosef Naveh of Hebrew University of Jerusalem, a well-known expert on the development of the alphabet, said agents of the collector brought it to him for inspection in 2001. He said he was asked to meet the agents in a Jerusalem hotel room, where he found two people: a man who introduced himself as Tzur and "an Arab youth who never opened his mouth the entire time, so I don't know his name. [Tzur] told me where the stone was found [near the Muslim cemetery] and even speculated that the stone had actually come from the inner sections of the Temple Mount, but that its finders - Palestinian Muslims - were afraid to say so, due to the religious-political sensibilities of the compound."

Tzur, Naveh continued, "made me promise not to mention [the stone] or talk about it with anyone, because the life of the Palestinian who found and sold it would be endangered," and he indeed refrained from mentioning the inscription until it was made public by the Geological Survey and reported in Ha'aretz, which he considered sufficient to release him from his promise. He said he soon plans to publish his conclusions about the inscription - which he believes is a forgery.
  Monkey King (2)

The stone monkey joined a band of monkeys on the Mountain of Flowers and Fruit. One day as they were playing they came upon a curtain of water covering the entrance to a cave.The monkeys agreed that whoever was brave enough to pass through the water into the cave would be their king. Only the stone monkey dared to enter the cave.

  Master Key Copying Revealed

So the next time you feel the need to break into an office building - whether for the purpose of burglary or maybe just plain curiosity - all you need to do is ask to borrow the key to the toilet1. Make a copy of it and then with a just little trial and error, you can derive yourself a master key to the entire building. Enjoy!

P.S. Don't tell anyone.
A security researcher has revealed a little-known vulnerability in many locks that lets a person create a copy of the master key for an entire building by starting with any key from that building.

The researcher, Matt Blaze of AT&T Labs-Research, found the vulnerability by applying his area of expertise — the security flaws that allow hackers to break into computer networks — to the real-world locks and keys that have been used for more than a century in office buildings, college campuses and some residential complexes.

The attack described by Mr. Blaze, which is known by some locksmiths, leaves no evidence of tampering. It can be used without resorting to removing the lock and taking it apart or other suspicious behavior that can give away ordinary lock pickers.

All that is needed, Mr. Blaze wrote, is access to a key and to the lock that it opens, as well as a small number of uncut key blanks and a tool to cut them to the proper shape. No special skills or tools are required; key-cutting machines costing hundreds of dollars apiece make the task easier, but the same results can be achieved with a simple metal file.

After testing the technique repeatedly against the hardware from major lock companies, Mr. Blaze wrote, "it required only a few minutes to carry out, even when using a file to cut the keys."

AT&T decided that the risk of abuse of the information was great, so it has taken the unusual step of posting an alert to law enforcement agencies nationwide. The alert describes the technique and the possible defenses against it, though the company warns that no simple solution exists.

The paper, which Mr. Blaze has submitted for publication in a computer security journal, has troubled security experts who have seen it. Marc Weber Tobias, a locks expert who works as a security consultant to law enforcement agencies, said he was rewriting his police guide to locks and lock-picking because of the paper. He said the technique could open doors worldwide for criminals and terrorists. "I view the problem as pretty serious," he said, adding that the technique was so simple, "an idiot could do it."
The original New York Times article can be found here, annoying tedious pain-in-the-arse registration process required. If you don't want to register, you could try this Slashdot version helpfully ripped off for your benefit by some public minded intellectual property thief. Alternatively, you could try reading this shorter Times of India piece.

Thanks once again to Peter for the link.

1 - that's "bathroom" for our American readers, "dunny" for our Australian readers.  
Fanciful. Preposterous. Absurd.

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