Silicon-level backdoor found in military FPGA

This paper describes a backdoor embedded in the silicon, not firmware, of a family of FPGAs used in military and industrial applications. The authors propose that a worm could be constructed to extract a key which can then be used to reprogram the device. Of course, hilarity then ensues, ranging from device self-destruction to the introduction of stealthy trojans.

Coming on the heels of the Flame malware, this is a great reminder of just how hard it is to field secure systems.


Dark Matter, now we see evidence in local space.

Currently, the most solid evidence of dark matter comes from  analyzing the Cosmic Microwave Background, and from the observed flatness of the galactic rotation curves. It is less known than in our galaxy the support for dark matter comes from studying the rotation curves at distances of 20 kpc or more from the galactic center. In the immediate neighborhood of the Sun (8 kpc from ground zero), the presence of dark matter is more difficult to deduce.

The recent paper by Moni Bidinattempted to measure the local Dark Matter density by observing gravitational effects on stellar motion near the Sun. The basic idea was to look at the orbits of stars above the galactic plane; if there is a Dark Matter halo around our galaxy, the matter inferred from gravitational effects on the orbits of visible stars will continue to grow, even as we look at stars farther above the galactic plane. The Moni Bidin paper found that stellar orbits implied only effects from the visible matter in the galactic plane. However…


A new paper by Bovy and Tremaine examine an assumption of the Moni Bidin paper and find it is in error. Correcting for this error restores consistency between the observed data and the Dark Matter halo hypothesis. The idea behind the Moni Bidin paper is sound, and in fact provides as far as I know the first observational evidence for local Dark Matter. In any case, we should soon have new results by examining other surveys of stellar motion.

A Note About Git Commit Messages

I want to take a moment to elaborate on what makes a well formed commit message. I think the best practices for commit message formatting is one of the little details that makes Git great. Understandably, some of the first commits to rails.git have messages of the really-long-line variety, and I want to expand on why this is a poor practice.

From 2008, but brought up in this Github discussion. I found in well worth reading.

Here’s a model Git commit message:

Capitalized, short (50 chars or less) summary

More detailed explanatory text, if necessary. Wrap it to about 72 characters or so. In some contexts, the first line is treated as the subject of an email and the rest of the text as the body. The blank line separating the summary from the body is critical (unless you omit the body entirely); tools like rebase can get confused if you run the two together.

Write your commit message in the present tense: “Fix bug” and not “Fixed bug.” This convention matches up with commit messages generated by commands like git merge and git revert.

Further paragraphs come after blank lines.

– Bullet points are okay, too./p>

– Typically a hyphen or asterisk is used for the bullet, preceded by a single space, with blank lines in between, but conventions vary here

– Use a hanging indent

Bit Tooth Energy: Flaring and the Siberian temperature profiles


Russia has been flaring up to 50 billion cubic meters of natural gas a year. If a cubic meter of natural gas contains 37 Megajoules of energy and Russia is burning 50,000,000,000/365/24/3600 = 1,585 cu m/sec this is equal to 58,600 MW – six times the size of the nameplate Texas wind farms, recognizing that flaring goes on 24-7 while the wind turbines are much more intermittent. So it seems the topic has more validity than I might have thought, but is there an effect? If one looks at the global temperature maps that are issued by the Goddard Institute for Space Science (GISS) there is a consistent trend in those, which indicates the much higher temperatures that are found in Northern Russia and Siberia. These high temperatures are a significant contributor to the overall analysis that the average global temperature has been rising for the past 40-odd years.

No definitive answers to the climatic effects, but that is a stunning amount of natural gas being flared off. The World Bank and the Russian government are working to see that the gas is either captured and exported, or re-injected. Heading Out goes over the data to see what effect all these flares may be producing.

Oh noes!


Spelke-Pinker debate: The Science of Gender and Science

PINKER: But that makes the wrong prediction: the harder the science, the greater the participation of women! We find exactly the opposite: it’s the most subjective fields within academia — the social sciences, the humanities, the helping professions — that have the greatest representation of women. This follows exactly from the choices that women express in what gives them satisfaction in life. But it goes in the opposite direction to the prediction you made about the role of objective criteria in bringing about gender equity. Surely it’s physics, and not, say, sociology, that has the more objective criteria for success.

There is a nice article on Dr. Elizabeth Spelker in the NYT. In it, I found a link to a debate in 2005 between Dr. Steven Pinker and Dr. Spelke, both at Harvard, which was triggered by the (in)famous remarks of Larry Summers, then president of Harvard, on women in Science.

The debate is very interesting. They do not really differ on the facts, but on the interpretations. There is a video, and copies of the slide presentations, plus the text of the discussion at the end. Watch, listen, read, and make up your own mind.