Ten bogus frights of the past that shocked the world

Bird flu  

Bird flu has overshadowed the year 2005. The abominable virus claimed many bird lives in South East Asia before heading across Europe to Russia and Ukraine. However, the more scientists and officials talk about the deadly threat, the less credible it looks to people. Some people believe there is no such thing as bird flu. They think the whole story stemmed from the fights over the world market between the poultry producers. Others blame the pharmaceutical companies that are keen to spread panic and therefore make us buy more medicines. Which story should we believe in? Does the bird flu really exist? Does it pose a threat to humans? Did other threats of the worldwide proportions materialize?

It did not take long to tackle the problem; doctors found a pathogen and a vector – coronovirus and a palm cat, a viverrine animal normally used for food in China. However, the urgent measures could not stop another myth from spreading far and wide. The myth said that the SARS problem was made up to lower China’s economic growth and disrupt the exceedingly profitable tourist industry in South East Asia.

Academician of the Russian Academy of Sciences Lev Sandakhchiyev:

“Discovering a new more dangerous type of previously unknown coronavirus in the patients was direct evidence of a real threat. The ‘spinning’ of that epidemic stressed the importance of international cooperation. Many people did realize that humankind was destined to face new or recurrent infectious diseases. Therefore, a system of global and domestic monitoring is highly required.”

Spent nuclear fuel

Following a heated debate in 2001, the Russian president signed into law the bill on storage and reutilization of spent nuclear fuel from foreign nuclear power spent nuclear fuelplants. Specialists were unanimous while explaining to their opponents that spent nuclear fuel was not just the waste material from the nuclear industry. According to them, it is a high-tech product that can be used for extracting raw materials and energy. Despite potentially huge profits Russia could make (one ton of spent nuclear fuel costs $1 million; total estimated amount of spent nuclear fuel is 200 thousand tons), environmentalists have been relentless in their opposition to the new law.

Nikolai Shingarev, Director of the Information Center of the Federal Agency on Nuclear Energy:

“No spent nuclear fuel is being brought into Russia despite the law. We will probably sign the first contract under the new legislation for a small consignment of spent nuclear fuel from a research reactor in Uzbekistan. Today Russia is receiving nuclear waste from the nuclear plants built in the Soviet era in Ukraine ($370 thousand per 1 ton) and Bulgaria ($600 thousand per one ton). Reutilization waste materials will be stored in Russia only if the governments OKs the storage and only if fuel had been originally produced in Russia. 75% of revenues will be allocated for environmental programs and the remaining 25% will make part of local budgets.”

10 myths of the past, which never materialized

Steam-driven locomotive: serious scientists were asserting that cows would stop bearing offspring and produce milk at the sight of a locomotive. They also clamed that air would be squeezed out of train carriages at 20 km per hour and passengers will suffocate as a result.

Robot: intelligent machines will shake off dependence and take command of the world; humans would submit to the power of the machines.

Spacecraft: spacecraft were making holes in the atmosphere during the takeoff; the earth’s protective anti-radiation layer of the atmosphere will be eventually destroyed and thus the earth will be exposed to dangerous space particles.

Microwave oven: fried sausages can irradiate in the dark; radiation from food cooked in the oven will pile up in the human body and cause cancer.

Cell phone: radiation emitted by a cell phone receiver can affect the brain by liquefying it. Paradoxically, a cell phone phobia could not stop the massive spread of cellular communications all over the world.

Vaccination: the danger of vaccination is one of the longstanding fears in the world; the first objectors appeared shortly after the first vaccination campaign launched by Dr. Edward Jenner in 1796; many objected to vaccination in Russia at the end of the 1990s.

Environmental pollution: some people feared that the civilization would come to end by 2020 due to sky-high levels of industrial and communal pollution which should result in a lack of oxygen and poisonous evaporation.

Asbestos: Micro particles of asbestos cause lung cancer. Asbestos was produced in Canada and the USSR. Canadian asbestos companies went bankrupt following an anti-asbestos propaganda campaign instigated by the competitors. Russia’s asbestos makers have survived the bad times. The incidence rate of cancer in the town of Asbest does not exceed an average national incidence rate of cancer.

Global warming: industrial emissions of carbon dioxide cause the greenhouse effect that leads to overheating of the earth’s surface. Consequently, polar ice will melt away causing the global ocean level rise by one meter.

Ozone holes: Freon used in refrigerators and deodorants will destroy the ozone layer of the atmosphere, which protects Earth against the harmful effects of ultraviolet radiation. As a result, the number of cancer and other deadly diseases will grow.

via PRAVDA

4

I am not dead : Update

Good news : I earned a GPA of 4.0/4.0 this semester. Just so if you don’t realize the significance of that, its the full score goddammit. Awesome. I have worked very hard this semester and i should say that eventhough my oral qualifier didn’t go that well, it sure did help me to refresh my ideas on engineering to such an extent that i could help even people with over 10 years of experience to understand what’s what !! 

This is absolutely fantastic. I have just now finished writing a 1-D neutron diffusion code with feedback in C# which works and got the news that i got a full score. Can this day get any better ?? It doesn’t matter actually since i still have almost 20 pages of my thesis to write in 3 days. That’s 7 pages/day atleast to write and believe me, writing a thesis is the worst thing you can get your hands on. Hopefully i will finish it off before next tuesday and will go on a vacation with a clear mind !

I actually have a lot to post and have saved them in my draft but right now, there’s just lot of work to be done. Maybe, i will post them all after new year’s. I will, surely, entertain you with lots of good thought provoking posts after the new year and as a bonus, will introduce you to my site. Until then, bye folks.

Perfection beyond sight

I long and ache in agony,
Agony filling my being in full.
Such perfection un-noticed
What doth anyone enjoy still ?

Every action in resonance of absolute perfection,
No remark uttered, music created,
Or video produced has even a slight fault,
This blend of perfection, can none but me see it still ?

Life, action, music and movie,
Nothing is pretense or at fault.
If any had a defect, so would the universe
Please, somebody claim that my premise is right.

Plutonium ?! What do i do with it

I had to quote this recent article at the Onion which a friend of mine forwarded to me.

The topic : “Terrorist Has No Idea What To Do With All This Plutonium”.

Yaquub Akhtar, the leader of an eight-man cell linked to a terrorist organization known as the Army Of Martyrs, admitted Tuesday that he “doesn’t have the slightest clue” what to do with the quarter-kilogram of plutonium he recently acquired.

“We had just given thanks to Allah for this glorious means to destroy the Great Satan once and for all, when [sub-lieutenant] Mahmoud [Ghassan] asked, ‘So, what’s the next step?'” Akhtar said. “I was at a loss.”

The 28-year-old fanatic said he and his associates had initially assumed that at least one member of their group had the physics and engineering background necessary to construct a thermonuclear device.

“Many eyes were upon me,” said Basim Aljawad, whose knowledge of physics did not extend to the principles of nuclear fission. “I make nail bombs. That’s it.”

My 2 cents of opinion on it : It is bloody funny and terribly scary. Funny because i can’t believe that someone had the means to get a raw material for a potential weapon and still do not have a clue on what to do with it. Scary because, obtaining plutonium, for motivated terrorists seems easy.

“I still believe in taking the lives of American civilians as revenge for the atrocities committed on our brothers, our wives, and our daughters,” Akhtar said. “I’m just not entirely sure it’s worth a headache this big.”

It is really sad to see such intense hatred against any nation, whoever it might be. On top of that, when such people also have the means to fulfill their wishes, the world doesn’t seem that safe anymore.

2

The Windows XP PC Boot Process

  Power supply switched on. rarrow The power supply performs a self-test – When all voltages and current levels are acceptable, the supply indicates that the power is stable and sends the Power Good signal to the processor. The time from switch-on to Power Good is usually between .1 and .5 seconds.
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  The microprocessor timer chip receives the Power Good signal. rarrow With the arrival of the Power Good signal the timer chip stops sending reset signals to the processor allowing the CPU to begin operations.
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  The CPU starts executing the ROM BIOS code. rarrow The CPU loads the ROM BIOS starting at ROM memory address FFFF:0000 which is only 16 bytes from the top of ROM memory. As such it contains only a JMP (jump) instruction that points to the actual address of the ROM BIOS code.
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  The ROM BIOS performs a basic test of central hardware to verify basic functionality. rarrow Any errors that occur at this point in the boot process will be reported by means of ‘beep-codes’ because the video subsystem has not yet been initialized.
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  The BIOS searches for adapters that may need to load their own ROM BIOS routines. rarrow Video adapters provide the most common source of adapter ROM BIOS. The start-up BIOS routines scan memory addresses C000:0000 through C780:0000 to find video ROM. An error loading any adapter ROM generates an error such as:

XXXX ROM Error

where XXXX represents the segment address of the failed module.

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  The ROM BIOS checks to see if this is a ‘cold-start’ or a ‘warm-start’ rarrow To determine whether this is a warm-start or a cold start the ROM BIOS startup routines check the value of two bytes located at memory location 0000:0472. Any value other than 1234h indicates that this is a cold-start.
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  If this is a cold-start the ROM BIOS executes a full POST (Power On Self Test). If this is a warm-start the memory test portion of the POST is switched off. rarrow The POST can be broken down into three components:
The Video Test initializes the video adapter, tests the video card and video memory, and displays configuration information or any errors.
The BIOS Identification displays the BIOS version, manufacturer, and date. The Memory Test tests the memory chips and displays a running sum of installed memory.
  darrow   Errors the occur during the POST can be classified as either ‘fatal’ or ‘non-fatal’. A non-fatal error will typically display an error message on screen and allow the system to continue the boot process. A fatal error, on the other hand, stops the process of booting the computer and is generally signaled by a series of beep-codes.
  The BIOS locates and reads the configuration information stored in CMOS. rarrow CMOS (which stands for Complementary Metal-Oxide Semiconductor) is a small area of memory (64 bytes) which is maintained by the current of a small battery attached to the motherboard. Most importantly for the ROM BIOS startup routines CMOS indicates the order in which drives should be examined for an operating systems – floppy first, CD-Rom first, or fixed disk first.
Fixed Disk darrow    
  If the first bootable disk is a fixed disk the BIOS examines the very first sector of the disk for a Master Boot Record (MBR). For a floppy the BIOS looks for a Boot Record in the very first sector. rarrow On a fixed disk the Master Boot Record occupies the very first sector at cylinder 0, head 0, sector 1. It is 512 bytes in size. If this sector is found it is loaded into memory at address 0000:7C00 and tested for a valid signature. A valid signature would be the value 55AAh in the last two bytes. Lacking an MBR or a valid signature the boot process halts with an error message which might read:

NO ROM BASIC – SYSTEM HALTED

A Master Boot Record is made up of two parts – the partition table which describes the layout of the fixed disk and the partition loader code which includes instructions for continuing the boot process.

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MBR With a valid MBR loaded into memory the BIOS transfers control of the boot process to the partition loader code that takes up most of the 512 bytes of the MBR. rarrow The process of installing multiple operating systems on a single PC usually involves replacing the original partition loader code with a Boot Loader program that allows the user to select the specific fixed disk to load in the next step of the process
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Partition Table The partition loader (or Boot Loader) examines the partition table for a partition marked as active. The partition loader then searches the very first sector of that partition for a Boot Record. rarrow The Boot Record is also 512 bytes and contains a table that describes the characteristics of the partition (number of bytes per sectors, number of sectors per cluster, etc.) and also the jump code that locates the first of the operating system files (IO.SYS in DOS).
Operating System darrow    
Boot Record The active partition’s boot record is checked for a valid boot signature and if found the boot sector code is executed as a program. rarrow The loading of Windows XP is controlled by the file NTLDR which is a hidden, system file that resides in the root directory of the system partition. NTLDR will load XP in four stages:

1) Initial Boot Loader Phase
2) Operating System selection
3) Hardware Detection
4) Configuration Selection

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NTLDR
Initial Phase
During the initial phase NTLDR switches the processor from real-mode to protected mode which places the processor in 32-bit memory mode and turns memory paging on. It then loads the appropriate mini-file system drivers to allow NTLDR to load files from a partition formatted with any of the files systems supported by XP. rarrow Windows XP supports partitions formatted with either the FAT-16, FAT-32, or NTFS file system.
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NTLDR
OS Selection
BOOT.INI
If the file BOOT.INI is located in the root directory NTLDR will read it’s contents into
memory. If BOOT.INI contains entries for more than one operating system NTLDR will stop the boot sequence at this point, display a menu of choices, and wait for a specified period of time for the user to make a selection.
rarrow If the file BOOT.INI is not found in the root directory NTLDR will continue the boot
sequence and attempt to load XP from the first partition of the first disk, typically C:.
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F8 Assuming that the operating system being loaded is Windows NT, 2000, or XP pressing F8 at this stage of the boot sequence to display various boot options including “Safe Mode” and “Last Known Good Configuration” rarrow After each successful boot sequence XP makes a copy of the current combination of driver and system settings and stores it as the Last Known Good Configuration. This collection of settings can be used to boot the system subsequently if the installation of some new device has caused a boot failure.
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NTLDR
Hardware Detection
If the selected operating system is XP, NTLDR will continue the boot process by locating and loading the DOS based NTDETECT.COM program to perform hardware detection. rarrow NTDETECT.COM collects a list of currently installed hardware components and returns this list for later inclusion in the registry under the HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINEHARDWARE key.
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NTLDR
Configuration Selection
If this computer has
more than one defined Hardware Profile the NTLDR program will stop at
this point and display the Hardware Profiles/Configuration Recovery
menu.
rarrow Lacking more than one Hardware Profile NTLDR will skip this step and not display this menu.
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Kernel Load After selecting a hardware configuration (if necessary) NTLDR begins loading the XP kernel (NTOSKRNL.EXE). rarrow During the loading of the kernel (but before it is initialized) NTLDR remains in control of the computer. The screen is cleared and a series of white rectangles progress across the bottom of the screen. NTLDR also loads the Hardware Abstraction Layer (HAL.DLL) at this time which will insulate the kernel from hardware. Both files are located in the system32 directory.
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NTLDR
Boot
Device Drivers
NTLDR now loads device drivers that are marked as boot devices. With the loading of these drivers NTLDR relinquishes control of the computer. rarrow Every driver has a registry subkey entry under HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE
SYSTEMServices. Any driver that has a Start value of SERVICE_BOOT_START is considered a device to start at boot up. A period is printed to the screen for each loaded file (unless the /SOS switch is used in which case file names are printed.
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Kernel Initialization NTOSKRNL goes through two phases in its boot process – phase 0 and phase 1. Phase 0 initializes just enough of the microkernel and Executive subsystems so that basic services required for the completion of initialization become available.. At this point, the system display a graphical screen with a status bar indicating load status. rarrow XP disables interrupts during phase 0 and enables them before phase 1. The HAL is called to prepare the interrupt controller; the Memory Manager, Object Manager, Security Reference Monitor, and Process Manager are initialized.

Phase 1 begins when the HAL is called to prepare the system to accept interrupts from devices. If more than one processor is present the additional processors are initialized at this point. All Executive subsystems are reinitialized in the following order:

1) Object Manager
2) Executive
3) Microkernel
4) Security Reference Monitor
5) Memory Manager
6) Cache Manager
7) LPCS
8) I/O Manager
9) Process Manager

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I/O Manager The initialization of I/O Manager begins the process of loading all the systems driver files. Picking up where NTLDR left off, it first finishes the loading of boot
devices. Next it assembles a prioritized list of drivers and attempts to load each in turn.
rarrow The failure of a driver to load may prompt NT to reboot and try to start the system using the values stored in the Last Known Good Configuration.
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SMSS The last task for phase 1 initialization of the kernel is to launch the Session Manager Subsystem (SMSS). SMSS is responsible for creating the user-mode environment that provides the visible interface to NT. rarrow SMSS runs in user-mode but unlike other user-mode applications SMSS is considered a trusted part of the operating system and is also a native application (it uses only core Executive functions). These two features allow SMSS to start the graphics subsystem and login processes.
  darrow    
win32k.sys SMSS loads the win32k.sys device driver which implements the Win32 graphics subsystem. rarrow Shortly after win32k.sys starts it switches the screen into graphics mode. The Services Subsystem now starts all services mark as Auto Start. Once all devices and services are started the boot is deemed successful and this configuration is saved as the Last Known Good Configuration.
  darrow    
Logon The XP boot process is not considered complete until a user has successfully logged onto the system. The process is begun by the WINLOGON.EXE file which is loaded as a service by the kernel and continued by the Local Security Authority (LSASS.EXE) which displays the logon dialog box. rarrow This dialog box appears at approximately the time that the Services Subsystem starts the network service.

Choosing good passwords

A farewell mail from one of Apple’s security professionals. Derrick Donnelly, in his farewell mail, made these very interesting suggestions for choosing a good password.

My final words

Remember security starts at the keyboard in front of you:

A 6 character password has about fifty six billion (56,800,235,584) possibilities and the average computer (the G5 is even faster) can try all combinations (crack them) in 2.5 hours.

A 7 character password has about three and a half trillion (3,521,614,606,208) possibilities and a computer can try all combinations in about 1 week.

An 8 character password has about two hundred trillion (218,340,105,584,896) possibilities and a computer can try all its combinations in about a year.

A 9 character password would take about 70 years for a computer to try all combinations.

They say the chips coming in about a year could half these times! Now if you do not want to wait for next year’s chip, you can always put 2 computers in parallel and half the time. In theory you could put 365 computers in parallel and break 8 character passwords in just over a day (Virginia Tech just put 1100 G5s in parallel). Do you think hackers have friends?

Computers have a lot more time on their hands than we do and most of the bad guys don’t have jobs. The next person asking for your social security number could be just a few clicks away from your stock options.

If you just got a chill down your back or just got a little paranoid; good, my work is done.

Use an 8 character password (9 characters is better)… You would make this security professional very happy if you would change your passwords after you read this e-mail : )

You can learn more about choosing good Passwords. And hey, do follow them !

On a sidenote, I remember learning to code during the under grad years just for the thrill of cracking passwords. I can still feel how beautiful it was when i did manage to do it. Sheer bliss. I understood then, on why people take so much effort to hack into classified sites and just play around with files until they make one stupid mistake and get caught.

It is the sheer satisfaction of the EGO … The Ego Trail that keeps us going.