September 24th, 2009

The Milkyway

Way cool!!!

Through three giant images, the GIGAGALAXY ZOOM project reveals the full sky as it appears with the unaided eye from one of the darkest deserts on Earth, then zooms in on a rich region of the Milky Way using a hobby telescope, and finally uses the power of a professional telescope to reveal the details of an iconic nebula.

In the framework of the International Year of Astronomy 2009 (IYA2009), ESO has launched a new project aimed at connecting the sky as seen by the unaided eye with that seen by hobby and professional astronomers. The project, called GIGAGALAXY ZOOM, reveals three amazing, ultra-high-resolution images of the night sky that online stargazers can zoom in on and explore in an incredible level of detail. (…)

The first image by Brunier aims to present the sky as people have experienced it the world over, though in the far greater detail offered by top-notch stargazing conditions and with the view from both hemispheres. As such, the image provides a magnificent 800-million pixel panorama of the whole Milky Way.

September 23rd, 2009

The pilot

Argentina, 30 years ago, the Dirty War. The military junta has depending on who you believe between 9.000 and 30.000 people arrested, questioned, tortured and “disappear”. The preferred method of killing is to load these poor bastards, mostly trade-unionists, students and activists  in a plane or helicopter, fly out to sea a few hundreds and simply toss them overboard with some extra cement blocks attached. After a civilian administration took over, these crimes have been brought to trial, with mixed success.

Fast forward to yesterday. A Transavia Boeing 737 is about to leave the airport of Valencia (Spain) back home to Amsterdam. The long time Transavia pilot who has both a Dutch and an Argentinean passport is to carry out his last flight before pension. On request of the Argentinean justice department though he  is arrested. He is suspected of having carried out one or more of these flights of death. Sometimes you can run, but you can’t hide.

Nice detail: The Dutch secret service screens every individual who works at Amsterdam airport, including pilots.

Update: The news is all over the place now. Julio P. was already put on an international arrest order by Argentina on March of this year. The Netherlands did not arrest him as he is a Dutch citizen. The fact he was arrested by the Spanish police on his last flight fuels speculation the Dutch tipped off Spanish authorities, but also raises some eyebrows why this was not done earlier. Julio reportedly always defended the “war against left terrorists”, more or less bragged about him being one of these pilots to his colleagues and told them “the crazy mothers should not worry, these people were all drugged before they were dropped into the sea”.

Update: The pilots detention has been extended.

Update: Above mentioned screening by the secret service normally results in a so called “statement of no objection”. Such statements can and sometimes are withdrawn. Transavia has stated Julio P.’s statement of no objection has not been withdrawn.

Update Oct 31: Julio P will be sent to Argentina according to Argentinan newspaper ‘La Nacion’. Innocent until proven guilty, but this does not look good for him. The Spanish government OK-ed his extradition last Friday, but a judge is still to approve it. To avoid being sent to Argentina, his Dutch lawyer asked the Dutch government to also ask P’s extradition to the Netherlands. Interesting legal move, but I doubt if it’ll work.

September 20th, 2009

The little error

I have blogged about my country being the most wiretapped in the world before. Now often when I discuss privacy issues, the response is: “I don’t care, I have no secrets, and I rather have a government keep an eye on the bad boys”. Erm, right. History will tell a different story, as well as actuality.

There was a fatal stabbing. The police could not crack the case, but was pretty convinced Mrs X was a witness to the crime. Therefor a wiretap was requested and granted. Later on she decides, on her own account, to cough up what she saw and heard to a recently introduced governmental agency called M, that guarantees anonymity. You can call their number, report crime and through a series of rather well publicized measures they ensure it is forwarded anonymously to the crime fighting authorities. And here, oopsie, things went wrong. As she was wiretapped, the conversation was transcribed and put in the file of the prosecutors against the suspect. And that file is now public, including her identity. Nice, really nice.

The prosecutors office is hardly sorry and even stated Mrs X should have been more careful than to call M (WTF?!?!?!?). The director of M is furious, but the damage is done. Nothing to hide eh?

Next in line: other than all other countries in the EU, my country decided to not only put fingerprints in the new passport (required by European legislation), but also store those fingerprints in a centralized database. Court filings by a Dutch privacy organisation were dismissed by the European courts, as that is only an appeal court. Big brother isn’t coming. It’s already here. TBC.

September 20th, 2009

The last flight (edit)

Friday September 4th at 7:55 PM Yesterday Martinair departed for the last time from Miami FL using flight number MP 646 back home to Amsterdam. I never was on this flight, but I did Amsterdam – Orlando. Not a really big deal in this economic climate, but this little tribute shows the passion of the staff in Miami. As many wrote on fora: you’ll be missed.

I never knew the firebrigade hose-down was done on a last flight, it is on a first flight to an airport by an airline. So maybe it’s a bit special.

Added Sep 18th: 2 days ago it was announced / rumored that Martinair will cease all passenger operations in 2010 and Martinair Cargo will become the sole Cargo operator of  Air France-KLM. Some destinations will be axed, the others will be transferred to Transavia (another operator in the AF-KLM group) and KLM. My first flight ever to the US was over 20 years ago using Martinair in a DC-10, Seattle as port of entry and then on to Los Angeles reboarding the same aircraft.

September 19th, 2009

The influence

We use a few different words here in politics so what in the US would be called a “secretary of….” here is a “minister”. Minister of agricultural affairs, given European subsidies one, if not the most important in terms of money, is trying to soften the public opinion about gen technology. The oldest strategy is used here, organizing “conferences” with “independent experts”. A pretty good strategy, but of course when it bounces, it usually bounces back hard.

Last June there was one of these symposia. A professor named Raoul Bino did a speech preaching “choosing for gen technology is choosing for sustainability”. The minister did send a conference report to parliament.

Now it turns out his Bino based everything he said and wrote on a report that was payed for by US gen tech giant Monsanto. Parliament is not amused it is being fed Monsanto-friendly fairy tales presented as scientific facts.  As in most democracies, misinforming parliament is a sin that is not easily forgotten and has cost more than one his or her political head. Now I am sure this little mishap will have no political consequences: The minister already maneuvered herself away from Bino, and the professor himself will probably get away with the proverbial scientifically bleeding nose, but it proves how larger corporations (whether US based or not) try to infiltrate and influence the governments that need to keep them honest and in line. Lets keep our eyes open shall we?

Interesting but almost certainly unrelated coincidence: in April, Bino decided to leave the agricultural University to become dean at the Delft Technical university.

September 17th, 2009

The invisible

I had a good laugh today (with of course the good scientific-philosophical undertone) with this inspiring, and very funny 10 minute talk on TED by John Lloyd.

We can see matter, but we can’t see what’s the matter.

Or, quoting W.H. Auden

We are here on earth to help others. What the others are here for, I’ve no idea.

September 3rd, 2009

The appointment

Making an appointment within the enterprise is not so hard these days. Everybody has their Outlook/Exchange or Notes/Domino system in place, nicely connected to their blackberries. In the more informal space, it is much harder to get this all done. Sure I run google calendar synchronizing with my blackberry using google sync and anyone can invite me, but the process of actually agreeing on the appointments date and time with a group of  people not in one enterprise is a serious PIA. Think of me with my clients, or the meeting of the local neighborhood council, or anything. Here is a little internet gem called (Dutch for date-poker). Enter your proposed dates, enter the contacts you want to have in that meeting, and let the system do its thing. It is simple and effective and does not try to use ones electronic diaries. It does provide an iCal file when everything is said and done. Brilliant through its simplicity.