December 2005

Paul Ford, Harper’s writes:

The number of people killed by the Indian Ocean tsunami rose to 230,000. A study showed that 310,000 Europeans die from air pollution each year, and the U.N. predicted that 90 million Africans will have HIV by 2025. An international task force of scientists, politicians, and business leaders warned that the world has about 10 years before global warming becomes irreversible. The U.S. Congress officially ratified President George W. Bush’s election victory after a two-hour debate over voting irregularities in Ohio. Terri Schiavo, Johnnie Cochran, Frank Perdue, Mitch Hedberg, Arthur Miller, Saul Bellow, and the pope died, as did the man who wrote the theme song to “Gidget.” An Australian tortoise named Harriet turned 175. General Motors was spending more for health care than for steel, and an increasing number of Americans were heating their homes with corn. El Salvadoran police arrested 21 people for operating a smuggling operation and seized 24 tons of contraband cheese. NASA announced that it wanted to return to the moon.

A study found that the worldwide percentage of land stricken by drought has doubled within the last 30 years. The Jordan River was filled with sewage, and the last of Gaza’s Jewish settlers left their homes on armored buses. Terrorists in London set off bombs on four trains and a bus, killing 52 people; President Bush condemned attacks on innocent folks by those with evil in their hearts. A 13-year-old boy in Kalamazoo accidentally burned down the family meth lab. New Orleans flooded after levees broke in the wake of Hurricane Katrina; many evacuees were not allowed to take their pets with them. “Snowball!” cried a little boy after police took away his dog. “Snowball!” At least 42,000 people died in an earthquake in Pakistan. It was announced that Cookie Monster would cut back on cookies. Authorities in Malaysia arrested 58 people who worship a giant teapot. Poor people rioted in France.

In North Carolina Kenneth Boyd became the 1,000th prisoner executed since the United States reintroduced the death penalty in 1976. A 1,600-inmate faith-based prison opened in Crawfordville, Florida. Police began random bag checks of subway passengers in New York City. It was revealed that the CIA had set up a secret system of prisons, called “black sites,” around the world; it was also revealed that the National Security Agency was spying on Americans without first obtaining warrants. Journalist Judith Miller was released from jail and said she wanted to hug her dog. U.S. Congressman Tom DeLay was arrested; U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney’s Chief of Staff I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby was indicted. The Pentagon admitted to using white phosphorus during the 2004 attack on Fallujah, Iraq, and allocated $127 billion to build a robot army. The total number of American soldiers killed in the Iraq war rose to 2,174, while the total number of Iraqi civilians killed rose to 27,636. “We are all waiting for death,” said an Iraqi soldier, “like the moon waiting for sunset.” The U.S. Defense Department, in violation of the federal Privacy Act, was building a database of 30 million 16- to 25-year-olds. The Department of Homeland Security announced that it had wasted a great deal of money and needed much more. Starbucks came to Guantanamo Bay. Scientists began work on a complete, molecule-level computer simulation of the human brain. The project will take at least ten years.

KAZINFORM reports:

LONDON. December 30. KAZINFORM - The world’s top timekeepers will insert an extra second—or leap second—just before midnight in coordinated universal time (UTC) on New Year’s Eve. (That’s the same as 6:59:59 p.m. eastern time on December 31.) UTC is determined by atomic clocks and is five hours ahead of eastern time.

A video grab released by the European Space Agency (ESA) shows a Soyuz rocket carrying a Galileo satellite launching from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan December 28, 2005. (REUTERS/ESA/Handout)

Richard Balmforth, Reuters, reports:

MOSCOW (Reuters) - The European Union launched its first Galileo navigation satellite on Wednesday, moving to challenge the United States’ Global Positioning System (GPS).

Russian space agency Roskosmos said the 600 kg (1,300 lb) satellite named Giove-A (Galileo In-Orbit Validation Element) went into its orbit 23,000 km (15,000 miles) from the earth after its launch on a Soyuz rocket from the Baikonur cosmodrome in the middle of Kazakhstan’s steppe.

Google, via Slashdot, :

It turns out that looking at the aggregation of billions of search queries people type into Google reveals something about our curiosity, our thirst for news, and perhaps even our desires. Considering all that has occurred in 2005, we thought it would be interesting to study just a few of the significant events, and names that make this a memorable year. (We’ll leave it to the historians to determine which ones are lasting and which ephemeral.) We hope you enjoy this selective view of our collective year.

A look back at 2005 wouldn’t be complete without some lists. Here are three from us to you, representing some of the most popular searches this year on Google.

David Eimer in Beijing fro the (UK) Independent, reports:

Bhutan has accused China of allowing gangs of mushroom thieves to cross the disputed border between the two countries illegally in search of rare and exotic fungi.

Lawmakers from the tiny mountain kingdom between India and Tibet claim that Tibetans are crossing into Bhutan to harvest Cordyceps mushrooms, which are prized for their qualities as an aphrodisiac and which can sell for up to £4,000 a kilogram.

Jonny Evans,, reports:

Microsoft has killed Internet Explorer on the Mac.

The software giant will end support for it at the end of the year ( 13 days) and will make no additional security or performance updates available from that point.

ERIC LICHTBLAU and JAMES RISEN, The New York Times, reports:

WASHINGTON - The National Security Agency first began to conduct warrantless eavesdropping on telephone calls and e-mail messages between the United States and Afghanistan months before President Bush officially authorized a broader version of the agency’s special domestic collection program, according to current and former government officials.

BoingBoing reports:

Suspicions confirmed: The U. Mass student who said he was visited by DHS agents after requesting a copy of Mao’s “Little Red Book” made the whole thing up.

[Y]esterday, the student confessed that he had made it up after being confronted by the professor who had repeated the story to a Standard-Times reporter.

The professor, Brian Glyn Williams, said he went to his former student’s house and asked about inconsistencies in his story. The 22-year-old student admitted it was a hoax, Williams said.

‘’I made it up,” the professor recalled him saying. ‘’I'm sorry. . . . I’m so relieved that it’s over.”


Photo:A Power Generating Ramp
The ramps generate up to 50kW of power

BBC News reports:

Dorset inventor Peter Hughes’ Electro-Kinetic Road Ramp generates around 10kW of power each time a car drives over its metal plates.

More than 200 local authorities had expressed an interest in ordering the £25,000 ramps to power their traffic lights and road signs, Mr Hughes said.

JAMES RISEN and ERIC LICHTBLAU, The New York Times, reports:

WASHINGTON, Dec. 15 - Months after the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush secretly authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the United States to search for evidence of terrorist activity without the court-approved warrants ordinarily required for domestic spying, according to government officials.

Under a presidential order signed in 2002, the intelligence agency has monitored the international telephone calls and international e-mail messages of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people inside the United States without warrants over the past three years in an effort to track possible “dirty numbers” linked to Al Qaeda, the officials said. The agency, they said, still seeks warrants to monitor entirely domestic communications.

The previously undisclosed decision to permit some eavesdropping inside the country without court approval was a major shift in American intelligence-gathering practices, particularly for the National Security Agency, whose mission is to spy on communications abroad. As a result, some officials familiar with the continuing operation have questioned whether the surveillance has stretched, if not crossed, constitutional limits on legal searches.

AFP reports:

A systematic effort by hackers to penetrate US government and industry computer networks stems most likely from the Chinese military, the head of a leading security institute said.

The attacks have been traced to the Chinese province of Guangdong, and the techniques used make it appear unlikely to come from any other source than the military, said Alan Paller, the director of the SANS Institute, an education and research organization focusing on cybersecurity.

Tensor, a dazzling 8-by-10-foot wall of 64,800 multicolored LEDs, was created by Kevin McCormick. Some of McCormick’s works were shown in local galleries.

Sally Jacobs, Boston Globe Staff, reports:

The party at Warehouse 23 was a high-tech marvel, even by geek standards.

But what struck one young attendee most vividly was not the astonishing sea of guests churning through the vast industrial space in the Fort Point district. Or the towering sculptures of thousands of tiny lights blinking in rhythm to the music. Or even the lasers overhead and the fog machines pumping dense clouds around video screens.

No, for Emily Chew, then an 18-year-old freshman at Simmons College, it was the solemn way in which the drugs were distributed. The tiny tabs of acid were passed about, she recalls, in a silver cigarette case. And for each guest who took one, another person stepped forward to be a sober companion, a sort of designated driver for the trip ahead.

Stunned by what she calls ‘’the gravity of the process,” Chew took nothing and fled to another room. A few minutes later, the party’s host, Kevin D. McCormick, known to his friends as ‘’Frostbyte,” appeared at her side and said, ‘’You don’t look like you’re having a very good time.”

McCormick, an MIT-trained engineer and highly regarded artist, led her to a far wall. He flipped a switch and thousands of lights erupted into a shimmering band of color shaped like a rainbow.

‘’The whole crowd just stopped and looked,” recalled Chew. ‘’The entire room went quiet.”

It was a vintage Frostbyte happening. McCormick, who was found dead in Warehouse 23 last month, was a young man drawn to the edge, always pushing beyond the conventional limits of knowledge and sensation.


Photo: Richard Pryor

Jeremiah Marquez, Associated Press, reports:

LOS ANGELES — Richard Pryor, the caustic yet perceptive actor-comedian who lived dangerously close to the edge both on stage and off, died Saturday. He was 65.

Pryor died shortly before 8 a.m. of a heart attack after being taken to a hospital from his home in the San Fernando Valley, said his business manager, Karen Finch. He had been ill for years with multiple sclerosis, a degenerative disease of the nervous system.
“We loved him,” his ex-wife, Flynn Pryor, said from her Florida home.

KATHARINE Q. SEELYE, The New York Times, reports:

It started as a joke and ended up as a shot heard round the Internet, with the joker losing his job and Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, suffering a blow to its credibility.

A man in Nashville has admitted that, in trying to shock a colleague with a joke, he put false information into a Wikipedia entry about John Seigenthaler Sr., a former editor of The Tennessean in Nashville.

Brian Chase, 38, who until Friday was an operations manager at a small delivery company, told Mr. Seigenthaler on Friday that he had written the material suggesting that Mr. Seigenthaler had been involved in the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy. Wikipedia, a nonprofit venture that is the world’s biggest encyclopedia, is written and edited by thousands of volunteers.

Mr. Seigenthaler discovered the false entry only recently and wrote about it in an op-ed article in USA Today, saying he was especially annoyed that he could not track down the perpetrator because of Internet privacy laws. His plight touched off a debate about the reliability of information on Wikipedia - and by extension the entire Internet - and the difficulty in holding Web sites and their users accountable, even when someone is defamed.

This image from Television shows smoke rising above the Buncefield oil terminal in Leverstock Green near Hemel Hempstead early Sunday morning Dec. 11, 2005. A series of explosions at one of Britain’s largest oil depots shook an area north of London early Sunday, shattering windows of nearby houses and sending billowing clouds of smoke and flames high into the sky. Police said the blasts appeared to be accidental. The British Broadcasting Corp. reported an unspecified number of casualties, which police and local fire brigade could not confirm. (AP Photo/Sky TV via APTN) MAGS OUT (AP)

THOMAS WAGNER, The Associated Press, reports:

HEMEL HEMPSTEAD, England — Explosions at one of Britain’s largest oil depots jolted an area north of London early Sunday, hurling multiple balls of fire into the sky, shattering windows and blanketing the area with smoke. Police said the blasts, which injured 43 people, appeared to be accidental.

Reuters reports:

TOKYO, Japan (Reuters) — Japanese brokerage Mizuho Securities scrambled on Friday to clean up the mess left by a trader who mistakenly offered tens of thousands of shares for 1 yen apiece, costing the firm at least $224 million.

joris Evers, Staff Writer, CNET, reports:

A new worm that targets users of America Online’s AOL Instant Messenger is believed to be the first that actually chats with the intended victim to dupe the target into activating a malicious payload, IM security vendor IMlogic warned Tuesday.

According to IMlogic, the worm, dubbed IM.Myspace04.AIM, has arrived in instant messages that state: “lol thats cool” and included a URL to a malicious file “clarissa17.pif.” When unsuspecting users have responded, perhaps asking if the attachment contained a virus, the worm has replied: “lol no its not its a virus”, IMlogic said.

AMALIE NASH, Ann Arbor News Staff Reporter, reports:

Four years ago, her story was one of a survivor who persevered and had hope for the future.

Today, it is a story of tragedy, of succumbing to the depression she battled for years.

In January 2001, Julie Harrison jumped from the upper levels of a parking structure in downtown Ann Arbor and lived. She was left partially paralyzed and hospitalized for two months, but a year later told a reporter she had turned her life around and wanted to live.

On Wednesday, Harrison made her way in her wheelchair to the top of a different parking structure, and she again jumped. This time she died.

She would have been 30 on Dec. 16.