Sunday, April 6, 2008

Coming soon: superfast internet

April 6, 2008

THE internet could soon be made obsolete. The scientists who pioneered it have now built a lightning-fast replacement capable of downloading entire feature films within seconds.

At speeds about 10,000 times faster than a typical broadband connection, “the grid” will be able to send the entire Rolling Stones back catalogue from Britain to Japan in less than two seconds.

The latest spin-off from Cern, the particle physics centre that created the web, the grid could also provide the kind of power needed to transmit holographic images; allow instant online gaming with hundreds of thousands of players; and offer high-definition video telephony for the price of a local call.

David Britton, professor of physics at Glasgow University and a leading figure in the grid project, believes grid technologies could “revolutionise” society. “With this kind of computing power, future generations will have the ability to collaborate and communicate in ways older people like me cannot even imagine,” he said.

The power of the grid will become apparent this summer after what scientists at Cern have termed their “red button” day - the switching-on of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the new particle accelerator built to probe the origin of the universe. The grid will be activated at the same time to capture the data it generates.

Cern, based near Geneva, started the grid computing project seven years ago when researchers realised the LHC would generate annual data equivalent to 56m CDs - enough to make a stack 40 miles high.

This meant that scientists at Cern - where Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the web in 1989 - would no longer be able to use his creation for fear of causing a global collapse.

This is because the internet has evolved by linking together a hotchpotch of cables and routing equipment, much of which was originally designed for telephone calls and therefore lacks the capacity for high-speed data transmission.

By contrast, the grid has been built with dedicated fibre optic cables and modern routing centres, meaning there are no outdated components to slow the deluge of data. The 55,000 servers already installed are expected to rise to 200,000 within the next two years.

Professor Tony Doyle, technical director of the grid project, said: “We need so much processing power, there would even be an issue about getting enough electricity to run the computers if they were all at Cern. The only answer was a new network powerful enough to send the data instantly to research centres in other countries.”

That network, in effect a parallel internet, is now built, using fibre optic cables that run from Cern to 11 centres in the United States, Canada, the Far East, Europe and around the world.

One terminates at the Rutherford Appleton laboratory at Harwell in Oxfordshire.

From each centre, further connections radiate out to a host of other research institutions using existing high-speed academic networks.

It means Britain alone has 8,000 servers on the grid system – so that any student or academic will theoretically be able to hook up to the grid rather than the internet from this autumn.

Ian Bird, project leader for Cern’s high-speed computing project, said grid technology could make the internet so fast that people would stop using desktop computers to store information and entrust it all to the internet.

“It will lead to what’s known as cloud computing, where people keep all their information online and access it from anywhere,” he said.

Computers on the grid can also transmit data at lightning speed. This will allow researchers facing heavy processing tasks to call on the assistance of thousands of other computers around the world. The aim is to eliminate the dreaded “frozen screen” experienced by internet users who ask their machine to handle too much information.

The real goal of the grid is, however, to work with the LHC in tracking down nature’s most elusive particle, the Higgs boson. Predicted in theory but never yet found, the Higgs is supposed to be what gives matter mass.

The LHC has been designed to hunt out this particle - but even at optimum performance it will generate only a few thousand of the particles a year. Analysing the mountain of data will be such a large task that it will keep even the grid’s huge capacity busy for years to come.

Although the grid itself is unlikely to be directly available to domestic internet users, many telecoms providers and businesses are already introducing its pioneering technologies. One of the most potent is so-called dynamic switching, which creates a dedicated channel for internet users trying to download large volumes of data such as films. In theory this would give a standard desktop computer the ability to download a movie in five seconds rather than the current three hours or so.

Additionally, the grid is being made available to dozens of other academic researchers including astronomers and molecular biologists.

It has already been used to help design new drugs against malaria, the mosquito-borne disease that kills 1m people worldwide each year. Researchers used the grid to analyse 140m compounds - a task that would have taken a standard internet-linked PC 420 years.

“Projects like the grid will bring huge changes in business and society as well as science,” Doyle said.

“Holographic video conferencing is not that far away. Online gaming could evolve to include many thousands of people, and social networking could become the main way we communicate.

“The history of the internet shows you cannot predict its real impacts but we know they will be huge.”

Friday, April 4, 2008

More than 80 percent of Americans surveyed say the country is headed in the wrong direction

Americans: Nation on wrong track

More than 80 percent of Americans surveyed say the country is headed in the wrong direction, according to a new CBS News/New York Times poll -- recording the highest measure of discontent since this poll started asking the question in the early 1990s.

The survey finds 81 percent saying "things have pretty seriously gotten off on the wrong track." That is up from 69 percent a year ago, and 35 percent in early 2002, the Times reports.

It's widespread, too: With a majority of Democrats and Republicans, men and women, residents of cities and rural areas, college graduates and those who finished only high school saying the United States is headed in the wrong direction, the Times reports of the findings.

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The newspaper reports that Americans are more dissatisfied with the country's direction than at any time since the poll's inception in the early 1990s. Only 21 percent say the economy is in good condition, the lowest measure since late 1992.

Two in three say the economy already is in recession.

The survey of 1,368 adults was conducted from March 28 to April 2, with a possible margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

"a defining moment in the history of Iraq"

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But the Iraqi operation was not what the United States expected. Instead of methodically building up their combat power and gradually stepping up operations against renegade militias, Mr. Maliki’s forces lunged into the city, attacking before all of the Iraqi reinforcements had even arrived. By the following Tuesday, a major fight was on.

Mr. Maliki overestimated his military’s abilities and underestimated the scale of the resistance. The Iraqi prime minister also displayed an impulsive leadership style that did not give his forces or that of his most powerful allies, the American and British military, time to prepare.

“He went in with a stick and he poked a hornet’s nest, and the resistance he got was a little bit more than he bargained for,” said one official in the multinational force in Baghdad who requested anonymity. “They went in with 70 percent of a plan.

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Wednesday, April 2, 2008

"Torture is abhorrent both to American law and values and to international norms."

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Torture Memo Gave White House Broad Powers

Declassified Memo Outlined Justification for Interrogation Tactics, Presidential Authority

The Justice Department's newly declassified torture memo outlined the broad legal authority its lawyers gave to the Bush White House on matters of torture and presidential authority during times of war.

The March 14, 2003 memorandum, which has been replaced by later memos, provided legal guidance for military interrogations of alien unlawful combatants, and concluded that the president's authority during wartime took precedence over the individual rights of enemies captured in the field.

The memo, released Tuesday, determined that amendments to the U.S. Constitution, which in part protect rights of individuals charged with crimes, do not apply equally to enemy combatants.

"The Fifth Amendment due process clause does not apply to the president's conduct of a war," the memo noted. It also asserted, "The detention of enemy combatants can in no sense be deemed 'punishment' for purposes of the Eighth Amendment," which prohibits "cruel and unusual" forms of punishment.

"Unlike imprisonment pursuant to a criminal sanction, the detention of enemy combatants involves no sentence judicially imposed or legislatively required," the memo said. "Accordingly the Eighth Amendment has no application here."

The memo was drafted by John Yoo,
who was at the time the deputy assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel. It was sent to William J. Haynes, then the general counsel at the Pentagon.

Former aides to John Ashcroft say the then-attorney general privately dubbed Yoo "Dr. Yes" for being so closely aligned with lawyers at the White House.

The memo also provided an argument in defense of government interrogators who used harsh tactics in their line of work. Towards its conclusion, the document noted, "Finally, even if the criminal prohibitions outlined above applied, and an interrogation method might violate those prohibitions, necessity or self-defense could provide justifications for any criminal liability."

Citing related opinions, the memo said the United States had a right to defend itself after the Sept. 11 attacks.

"If a government defendant were to harm an enemy combatant during an interrogation in a manner that might arguably violate a criminal prohibition, he would be doing so in order to prevent further attacks on the United States by the al Qaeda terrorist network. In that case, we believe that he could argue that the executive branch's constitutional authority to protect the nation from attack justified his actions."

"This national and international version of the right to self-defense could supplement and bolster the government defendant's individual right."

The memo also laid out a defense against the authority of the U.N. Convention Against Torture, or CAT. The 81-page memorandum noted, "Even if any nation had properly objected, that would mean only that there would be no provision prohibiting torture in effect between the United States and the objecting nation -- effectively mooting the question whether an interrogation method violates the Torture Convention."

"We conclude that the Bush administration's understanding created a valid and effective reservation to CAT."

The Justice Department still has not disclosed an additional February 2005 legal opinion, which was drafted after Attorney General Alberto Gonzales took office. But previous interrogation memos, which have been released, include an Aug. 1, 2002 memorandum, which laid out standards and legal guidance for interrogation, including possible justification for torture.

The memo is known as the Bybee memo after Jay Bybee, wh
o was at the time the head of the Office of Legal Counsel, though Yoo drafted much of the document.

Jack Goldsmith who headed OLC from October 2003 to July 2004, and worked at the Pentagon before coming to the department, has described many of the legal opinions, including the Bybee memo, as "flawed."

In a 2007 interview with the PBS program "Frontline," Goldsmith described the problems he had reviewing and standing by Yoo's work.

"After I read these opinions I had a whole flurry of emotions," he said. "My first one was disbelief that programs of this importance could be supported by legal opinions that were this flawed. My second was the realization that I would have a very, very hard time standing by these opinions if pressed. My third was the sinking feeling, what was I going to do if I was pressed about reaffirming these opinions or something required my decision related to these programs?"

"At that point I wasn't sure," Goldsmith said.

A Dec. 30, 2004 memorandum by former head of the Office of Legal Counsel Dan Levin replaced both memos.

Levin's memo noted, "Torture is abhorrent both to American law and values and to international norms."

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., weighed in on the memo Tuesday. He said in a statement that the memo's release is a "small step forward" in his quest for documents from the Bush administration, though he said there are still many documents the White House "continues to shield& even from members of Congress."

"The memo they have declassified today reflects the expansive view of executive power that has been the hallmark of this administration," Leahy said. "It is no wonder that this memo, like the now-infamous 'Bybee memo,' could not withstand scrutiny and had to be withdrawn. Like the 'Bybee memo,' this memo seeks to find ways to avoid legal restrictions and accountability on torture and threatens our country's status as a beacon of human rights around the world."

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Bush administration's decision to violate the Geneva Conventions and the U.N. Convention Against Torture and to break with decades of past practice by the U.S. military. These decisions at the top have led to hundreds of documented cases of abuse, torture and homicide in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mr. Cheney's counsel, David S. Addington, was reportedly one of the principal authors of a legal memo justifying the torture of suspects. This summer Mr. Cheney told several Republican senators that President Bush would veto the annual defense spending bill if it contained language prohibiting the use of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by any U.S. personnel.