Tag Archive: Breakfast Club Science

Apr 09 2015

The Breakfast Club (Rebellion)

Learn from me, if not by my precepts, at least by my example, how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge, and how much happier that man is who believes his native town to be his world, than he who aspires to become greater than his nature will allow.

breakfast beers photo breakfastbeers.jpgWelcome back to Science Thursday.  This particular film was shot by CERN interns during some downtime, of which they have quite a lot actually since it’s broken more often than it’s working.


What a lot of people don’t know about the Large Hadron Collider is that it’s basically been operating at half capacity since an accident during the test phase blew out a large section.  Now, after two years of re-building, it is poised again to create that Black Hole Apocalypse that swallows the Earth into it’s singularity (not to worry, as it turns out micro Black Holes are unstable and loose mass (energy) through Hawking Radiation at a rate too great to sustain themselves indefinitely, so you can rest assured that we’re far more likely to die of Global Climate Change).

Anyway it’s been down for two years (much like Shell’s Arctic drilling scheme) and started it’s run up to full capacity next week.  Beyond nailing down the Higgs Boson, a lot of what they expect to find is nothing.


Scientific method.  A Theory is not a Theory unless it makes predictions that are experimentally disprovable-

How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?

Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?

To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”

The dog did nothing in the night-time.

That was the curious incident.

A lot of the work for CERN from here on out is testing some of the predictions of various Theories and seeing if the experimental results match.  The fuzzyness of the Higgs Boson for instance could indicate Supersymmetry which predicts up to 5 types of Higgs Bosons.

If the Standard Model is in fact correct, it covers only 4% of the observed Universe.  27% is “Dark Matter” that is currently undetectable but exerts a huge Gravitational influence (umm… Black Holes are detectable so it ain’t that).  “Dark Energy” even less so, but this is the force that observationally inflates the Universe beyond a size where Gravity can ever collapse it.

The Large Hadron Collider might, might produce energy levels sufficient to detect Dark Matter.  Nobody is talking about Dark Energy yet.

Oh, and ‘Dark’ in this context means undetectable by current means, might as well call it Rebellion.

So how to do you detect the undetectable?  Why, by it’s absence.  The hope for Dark Matter is that certain types of collisions will, instead of producing results that conform with the Standard Model, lose detectable energy (mass) in a replicatible way that advances the math describing it’s nature.

Or not.

Cern restarts Large Hadron Collider with mission to make scientific history

by Ian Sample, The Guardian

Sunday 5 April 2015 15.48 EDT

The pat on the back and call to arms marked the restart on Sunday morning of the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator. More than two years after it handed researchers the Higgs boson, and was closed down for crucial upgrade work, the machine is ready to make scientific history for a second time.

How that history will be written is unknown. High on the wishlist for discoveries are dark matter, the invisible material that appears to hang around galaxies and makes up more than 25% of the universe; hidden extra dimensions that would explain why gravity is so puny compared to other forces of nature; and an explanation for why the world around us is not made from antimatter.

But there is another history that keeps scientists awake at night: the possibility that the LHC’s discoveries begin and end with the Higgs boson, that it finds nothing else over the next 20 years it is due to run. As Steven Weinberg, a Nobel laureate and professor at the University of Texas in Austin, told the Guardian: “My thoughts on the possibility of the LHC telling us nothing new don’t go beyond hopeless fear.”

Until now, the Large Hadron Collider has run at only half its design energy. The machine was restricted to 7TeV collisions after a weak connection led to a short circuit that caused an explosion less than two weeks after it was first switched on in September 2008. The blast covered half a kilometre of the machine with a thin layer of soot and closed the collider for more than a year. The repairs cost the lab £24m.

The machine was switched back on in 2009, but Cern took the precaution of running at half energy to slash the risk of another accident. The gamble paid off. On 4 July 2012, the lab’s Atlas and CMS detector teams declared they had discovered the Higgs boson months before the machine was shut down. A year later, Peter Higgs, the Edinburgh-based physicist, and François Englert from Brussels, won the Nobel prize for their work on the particle, which is thought to give mass to others.

The Higgs boson was the last piece of what physicists call the Standard Model, a series of equations that describe how all the known particles interact with one another. Though successful, the model is woefully incomplete, accounting for only 4% of the known universe. With the LHC, scientists hope to find physics beyond the Standard Model, a first step to explaining the majority of the cosmos that lies beyond our comprehension.

“The LHC will be running day and night. When we will get results we don’t know. What is important is that we will have collisions at energies we’ve never had before,” said Arnaud Marsollier, a Cern spokesman.

The law that entropy always increases holds, I think, the supreme position among the laws of Nature. If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the universe is in disagreement with Maxwell’s equations – then so much the worse for Maxwell’s equations. If it is found to be contradicted by observation – well, these experimentalists do bungle things sometimes. But if your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation.

Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington, The Nature of the Physical World (1927)

Science News and Blogs

Mar 12 2015

The Breakfast Club (Captain, it’s rad… iation!)

The Guardian

So it’s 4 years on now from the Fukushima disaster.  What do we know?

breakfast beers photo breakfastbeers.jpgWell we know a little bit more about the extent of the damage.  There are 6 reactors at Fukushima Daichi only 3 of which were in operation at the time, but all of which are involved.  You don’t hear much about reactors 5 and 6 which were off line, but the reason they were off line is they were experiencing cooling problems.  They sit today fueled, hot, closely monitored but unapproachable due to the high levels of radiation, slated for decommissioning.

Unit 4 was in a similar stand down.  What makes it unique is that it still experienced massive damage from a hydrogen explosion and the bulk of its nuclear fuel was stored in a pool on it’s roof.

The good news is that all 1533 fuel rods have been removed as of just this last December, the bad news is that the ground is subsiding underneath it and the building is in danger of collapse.  Even without the fuel the structure is still highly radioactive in operating areas and thoroughly contaminated by fallout.

All of the active reactors, 1, 2, and 3 experienced both hydrogen explosions and core meltdowns which almost certainly in the case of Unit 1 and probably in all of them has breached every level of containment and is sitting partially buried in plain old soil.

The salt water used as an emergency measure during the early stages of the disaster has corroded and ruined almost every installed control system and massive amounts of water continue to be pumped to this day to contain the reaction.  This highly radioactive water is stored in big steel tanks (think Power Plant size) that are starting to rust and leak.  There is no plan for how to dispose of it.

Speaking of radioactive water, it leaks out of the big holes in the bottom of the reactor containment units into the ground and natural ground water continues to flow through the site to the sea in a large and permanent plume.  All efforts, including the much vaunted ‘ice dam’ created by freezing the dirt around the site have been an utter failure.

There doesn’t seem to be a Plan B.

Speaking of radiation, in most critical areas it remains high enough that even specially hardened electronics fail within hours, humans would die in days from exposure.  Even in outlying areas of the 30 km exclusion zone workers can receive a lifetime dose in weeks or months.  Thyroid cancer (an early indicator) has risen from 2 – 7 cases in a population of 100,000 to over 100 reported in a population of 300,000 so far.

Does that seem gloomy enough?

TEPCO (a zombie company, effectively bankrupt) and the Japanese Government continue to delay, obsfuscate, and minimize the impact of this event.  Independent science is actively discouraged in favor of happy fun time propoganda.  The Japanese Government, which is paying Billions for fossil fuels to maintain energy capacity, is actively pushing for the resumption of nuclear power production and the re-activation of the remaining 40+ plants despite the fact that they are no safer than they ever were.

In the mean time Solar is getting cheaper and better than ever to the point where it is price competitive with Oil even at $50 a Barrel.

Remember, it’s safe, clean, AND makes you glow in the dark so it’s easy to find your way to the bathroom at night!

The law that entropy always increases holds, I think, the supreme position among the laws of Nature. If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the universe is in disagreement with Maxwell’s equations – then so much the worse for Maxwell’s equations. If it is found to be contradicted by observation – well, these experimentalists do bungle things sometimes. But if your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation.

Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington, The Nature of the Physical World (1927)

Science News and Blogs

Science Oriented Video

Obligatories, News and Blogs below.

Mar 05 2015

The Breakfast Club (FREAK Out)

breakfast beers photo breakfastbeers.jpgWell, I had hoped for a nice quiet discussion of wave/particle duality again because there are new developments that are worthy of note or perhaps a good chuckle at Homer Simpson predicting the GeV of the Higgs Boson to within experimental error because I’m just a sucker for the intricacies of Quantum Physics, BUT…

The big news of the day is on the technology front and particularly NSA v. Encryption.

Now I’ll take it as a given that you know thanks to Ed Snowden and Thomas Drake and subsequent public testimony that the NSA is obsessed as an organization by collecting every communication you have.  What you may not know is how far back that goal goes and why it compromises all of our security.

Way back in the days of the Big Dog when all we had to worry our pretty little heads about was blowjobs and blue dresses the Internet started gaining steam as a place to buy things.  People were rightly concerned about personal information and credit card numbers falling into the hands of thieves (though I’ll tell you quite frankly that you’re in much more danger from your food server if you’re a bad tipper because they have plenty of time alone with your card to write down all your imprint numbers as well as the ones that are just printed which is sufficient for ruining your credit by telephone, let alone computer).

Anyhow the major Internet Retailers and the companies that served them started demanding an encryption scheme to bolster public confidence that it was safe to buy things.  Thus Secure Sockets Layer (SSL).

Even this paltry (and believe me it is, though I recommend the study of The Reichenbach Fall because not everything is complicated and mysterious) level of security was deemed by the NSA “too dangerous for export” so they made an even weaker one with 40 bits of encryption instead of 128 (too hard, my brain hurts) for use overseas.

Well, Moore’s Law and all, and today even 128 bit encryption is somewhat passe and 40 bit can be cracked in 7 hours using Amazon Cloud computers.

The reason this is important is because websites, in order to be compatable globally, are designed to accept ‘export’ keys as valid along with ‘domestic’ keys.  A switch in the site software allows them to be forced into ‘export’ key mode via a third party who is not a valid client and once that is done it’s easy to conduct man-in-the-middle attacks that compromise the connection by appearing as the host site to the client and a valid client to the host.

Now I’ve been very careful to try and make it clear that this is not a bug or a flaw.  The NSA deliberately influenced the design of the standard to make this possible.

Since then there have been new standards adopted that are not subject to this type of spoofing, but adoption inertia being what it is over a third of websites worldwide are vulnerable including the NSA’s.

So what is the solution?  For a user nothing much, browsers are rightly designed to be compatible with as many sites as possible.  If you are paranoid enough you can get software plugins that ‘protect’ you from vulnerable sites, but ‘protect’ in this case means you can’t use them.  Secure browsers like Tor already do this and as I’ve said before what’s notable about them in action is how many things you used to do that you can’t anymore.

For sites there is a minor code fix that won’t allow a third party to force ‘export’ mode and we will see a rush of them implementing it.

What makes it interesting politically is context.  In recent months tech companies have been forced by public demand to implement more secure encryption schemes.  The NSA in turn has been petulantly stamping its feet and holding its breath in a tantrum insisting that these be designed with backdoors that can be accessed by State Spy Services.  They claim that this can be done so that only ‘responsible’ parties acting under the rule of law will have these abilities.

There are at least 2 problems with this.  First, a backdoor is a backdoor and anyone can use it.  It doesn’t care if you’re a White or a Black Hat, it’s just a door.  Second, other governments are demanding the same thing.  Governments like China.  If you’re the NSA it’s pretty hard to make the case that our computer communications should be less secure so that China can spy on them.

In the long run either our Representatives will put a stop to this or Engineers will make it technically impossible.  Mr. Market will be served.  In a positive sign this will happen the NSA was forced to give up crypto restrictions in 2000 because it was ruining the export business of the tech titans.  Given what we are aware of today I don’t think it will be nearly that long before the blowback begins.

FREAK: Another day, another serious SSL security hole

by Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols, ZDNet

March 3, 2015 — 22:19 GMT

It seemed like such a good idea in the early 90s. Secure-Socket Layer (SSL) encryption was brand new and the National Security Agency (NSA) wanted to make sure that they could read “secured” web traffic by foreign nationals. So, the NSA got Netscape to agree to deploy 40-bit cryptography in its International Edition while saving the more secure 128-bit version for the US version. By 2000, the rules changed and any browser could use higher security SSL. But that old insecure code was still being used and, fifteen years later, it’s come back to bite us.

The Washington Post reported today that cryptographers from IMDEA, a European Union research group; INRIA, a French research company; and Microsoft Research have found out that “They could force browsers to use the old export-grade encryption then crack it over the course of just a few hours. Once cracked, hackers could steal passwords and other personal information and potentially launch a broader attack on the Websites themselves by taking over elements on a page, such as a Facebook ‘Like’ button.”

Nadia Heninger, a University of Pennsylvania cryptographer, told the Post, “This is basically a zombie from the ’90s… I don’t think anybody really realized anybody was still supporting these export suites.”

Heninger, who has been working on cracking the obsolete 40 to 512-bit RSA encryption keys, found that “she could crack the export-grade encryption key in about seven hours, using computers on Amazon Web services.” Once done, this enables hackers to easily make “man-in-the-middle” attacks on the cracked websites.

Guess what? Over a third of “encrypted” websites, according to tests made by University of Michigan researchers J. Alex Halderman and Zakir Durumeric, are open to FREAK attacks. Specifically, OpenSSL and Apple TLS/SSL clients such as the Safari Web browser are vulnerable to FREAK. When using these programs, it’s relatively simple to downgrade their “secure” connections from “strong” RSA to the easy-to-break “export-grade” RSA.

All of this has happened because as Matthew Green, a cryptographer and research professor at Johns Hopkins University, succinctly put it, the NSA made sure that the early “SSL protocol itself was deliberately designed to be broken.”

And, now, it has been. It’s just that it’s now open to being broken by anyone with basic code-breaking smarts and easily available computer resources. The key problem is that OpenSSL and Safari both contain bugs that cause them to accept “RSA export-grade keys even when the client didn’t ask for export-grade RSA.”

Websites, generally speaking only create a single export-grade RSA key per session. They, like Apache with mod_ssl, will then re-use that key until the web server is rebooted. Thus, if you break a site once, chances are you’ve broken into it for days, weeks, even months.

Many of the websites that are “FREAKable” seem to be on Content Delivery Networks (CDN)s such as Akamai. That’s the reason why, for example, the NSA site is vulnerable. Akamai is working on fixing its web servers.

Encryption Backdoors Will Always Turn Around And Bite You In The Ass

by Mike Masnick, Tech Dirt

Wed, Mar 4th 2015 10:50am

As you may have heard, the law enforcement and intelligence communities have been pushing strongly for backdoors in encryption. They talk about ridiculous things like “golden keys,” pretending that it’s somehow possible to create something that only the good guys can use. Many in the security community have been pointing out that this is flat-out impossible. The second you introduce a backdoor, there is no way to say that only “the good guys” can use it.

As if to prove that, an old “golden key” from the 90s came back to bite a whole bunch of the internet this week… including the NSA. Some researchers discovered a problem which is being called FREAK for “Factoring RSA Export Keys.” The background story is fairly involved and complex, but here’s a short version (that leaves out a lot of details): back during the first “cryptowars” when Netscape was creating SSL (mainly to protect the early e-commerce market), the US still considered exporting strong crypto to be a crime. To deal with this, RSA offered “export grade encryption” that was deliberately weak (very, very weak) that could be used abroad. As security researcher Matthew Green explains, in order to deal with the fact that SSL-enabled websites had to deal with both strong crypto and weak “export grade” crypto, — the “golden key” — there was a system that would try to determine which type of encryption to use on each connection. If you were in the US, it should go to strong encryption. Outside the US? Downgrade to “export grade.”

(T)he lesson of the story: backdoors, golden keys, magic surveillance leprechauns, whatever you want to call it create vulnerabilities that will be exploited and not just by the good guys.

Whether it’s creating vulnerabilities that come back to undermine security on the internet decades later, or merely giving cover to foreign nations to undermine strong encryption, backdoors are a terrible idea which should be relegated to the dustbin of history.

The law that entropy always increases holds, I think, the supreme position among the laws of Nature. If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the universe is in disagreement with Maxwell’s equations – then so much the worse for Maxwell’s equations. If it is found to be contradicted by observation – well, these experimentalists do bungle things sometimes. But if your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation.

Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington, The Nature of the Physical World (1927)

Science News and Blogs

Science Oriented Video

Obligatories, News and Blogs below.