Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Most popular fonts

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The most popular fonts used by designers

There are usually two camps among designers when it comes to typeface choices.

One group has a handful of favorite typefaces they adapt to every design they create, believing that these handful of typefaces can be suitable for every situation.

The other camp believes in using a huge variety of typefaces, picking and choosing each one based specifically on the project at hand. Regardless of which camp you fit into, the typefaces below should interest you.

They have proven popular among designers the world over, and are used in designs for everything from multi-national corporations to individual books or journals.

Have we missed one of your old time favorites? Go ahead and add it in the comments area.

Akzidenz Grotesk

Akzidenz Grotesk was the first widely-adopted sans serif typeface, and an influencer of many later neo-grotesque typefaces, including Helvetica and Univers. There are a number of variations available, including Akzidenz-Grotesk Book, Book Rounded, Schoolbook, Old Fact, and Next. Akzidenz-Grotesk is one of the official fonts of the American Red Cross (along with Georgia).

Akzidenz Grotesk was created in 1898 by H. Berthold AG type foundry, and was originally called “Accidenz-Grotesk”. It’s been speculated that the typeface was derived from either Didot or Walbaum, which have similar looks if their serifs are removed. The official report, though, is that it was based on Royal Grotesk light, designed by Ferdinand Theinhardt (which was later merged into Berthold). Modern iterations of the typeface are descendants of a late-1950s project at Berthold to enlarge the type family, though these new typefaces retain the idiosyncrasies of the original.

Akzidenz-Grotesk is a versatile typeface, suitable for both headlines and body copy. The slight idiosyncrasies present in the typeface give it a bit more visual interest than other, similar neo-grotesques.

Best Uses
It’s suitable for use in virtually any project.


Avenir is a geometric sans-serif typeface designed in 1988 by Adrian Frutiger. The name, Avenir, means “future” in French. It was designed to be a more humanistic version of traditional geometric typefaces like Futura. Upon release, it was available in three weights, using Frutiger’s two-digit weight and width naming convention: 45 (book) /46 (oblique), 55 (text) /56 (oblique), and 75 (bold) /76 (oblique). Three more weights were later added.

Avenir is a relatively new typeface, but it’s become widely used. LG uses it for the buttons on most of their cell phones. BBC Two uses Avenir in its logo and identity. Dwell magazine started using it in 2007, and the upcoming J.J. Abrams film Super 8 also uses it for titles.

Avenir’s greatest strengths are its simplicity and balance. It bridges the gap between geometric and humanist sans-serifs, making it a versatile, modern choice.

Best Uses
Avenir is suitable for both headline and body copy. Improvements in hinting have made it better for on-screen viewing at smaller sizes.


Baskerville is a transition serif typeface that falls somewhere between classical typefaces like Caslon and modern serifs like Didot. It was created by John Baskerville as an attempt to improve upon the typefaces created by William Caslon. To that end, it has more contrast between the thick and thin strokes of the letterforms, as well as sharper serifs and a more vertical axis to rounded letters. The characters are also more regular, and the rounded strokes are more circular.

Baskerville was created in 1757, and then revived by Bruce Rogers for the Harvard University Press in 1917. The original typeface was used by John Baskerville to print a folio Bible. His rivals of the time were intimidated by the perfection of his work, and some claimed that the stark contrasts of his typefaces would damage the eyes. Others admired him, including Fournier, Bodoni, and even Benjamin Franklin.

Baskerville was also revived in England in 1923 by Stanley Morison for the British Monotype Company. In 1996, it was used by Zuzana Licko as the basis for the Mrs Eaves typeface. A free version of Baskerville, called Open Baskerville, has also been created.

The clarity and consistency of the letterforms are what make Baskerville such a readable typeface. It’s widely used in documents, and has a traditional, professional look. The University of Birmingham uses it for many of its documents, and a modified version can be seen in some of the Canadian government’s corporate identity materials (including in the “Canada” wordmark).

Best Uses
Baskerville is excellent for body copy, and is suitable for use in books, newsletters, newspapers, and other printed materials. It’s also a fairly common typeface, making it suitable for use on the web, though backup typefaces also need to be specified.


Bembo is an old style serif, based on a humanist typeface created by Francesco Griffo in the late 15th century. It has a number of characteristics of humanist typefaces, including minimal variation between the weights of thin and thick strokes; a small x-height; short, bracketed serifs; angled top serifs on lower-case letters; and ascenders that are taller than capital letters.

Bembo was revived by the Monotype Corporation in 1929, under the direction of Stanley Morison. The original typeface was first used in February of 1496, though, in a 60-page book about a journey to Mount Aetna, called Petri Bembi de Aetna Angelum Chalabrilem liber, written by Pietro Bembo. Francesco Griffo later cut the first italic types, for Aldus Manutius.

Since the original typeface had no italic cut with it, it’s rumored that renowned calligrapher Alfred Fairbank was commissioned by Stanley Fairbank to create an italic for Bembo. Fairbank maintains that he created the type independently and then sold it to Monotype, but in either case, the metal type for an italic version of Bembo was released in 1929.

Bembo is considered a good classical typeface, with a strong humanist, Old Style look. It’s perfect for use in designs where classic beauty or formal tradition are important.

Best Uses
Bembo is considered a good choice for book typography.

Bickham Script Pro

Bickham Script Pro is a script typeface based on English round hand writing common in the 18th century, and specifically on the engravings of George Bickham. It’s an ornate, romantic typeface, available in regular, bold, and semibold weights. Bickham Script Pro was created by Richard Lipton in 1997, and is available as part of the Adobe Type Library.

Bickham Script Pro is excellent for formal, elegant designs, especially those reminiscent of its origin in the 18th century. It also includes a number of OpenType features, including discretionary ligatures, swashes, superscripts, stylistic alternates, and cast-sensitive glyph connectors. The contextual changes that occur to the characters as one types make it an especially versatile typeface, and improves your designs effortlessly.

Best Uses
Bickham Script is purely a display typeface, perfect for headings and subheads. It’s commonly seen in logos, menus, invitations, annual reports, and packaging, in primarily formal, elegant designs.


Bodoni is a modern serif typeface, with high contrast between thin and thick stroke weights, and a slightly condensed shape. It was based on the work of John Baskerville, but has taken his ideas to a more extreme conclusion. There are a few variations on Bodoni, some with more transitional shapes (including ITC Bodoni and Bodoni Old Face), and some more modern.

Bodoni was first designed by Giambattista Bodoni in 1798. In addition to the influence from Baskerville, Bodoni was also influenced heavily by the work of Pierre Simon Fournier and Firmin Didot.

Bodoni, for the most part, is best suited to larger font sizes. Because of the extreme variation between thin and thick strokes, it can degrade at small sizes and become illegible (specifically, it creates an effect known as “dazzle”). There are some typeface variations though, that are optimized for use at smaller sizes (including Bodoni Old Face at 9 points, ITC Bodoni 12 at 12 points, and ITC Bodoni 7 at 7 points).

Best Uses
Bodoni is well-suited for use in modern designs where a serif typeface is desired. It’s a great serif for use in headlines and subheads, though some variations can be used for body copy, too. Some of its more recognizable uses can be found in the logo for grunge band Nirvana, and on the Mamma Mia! posters.


Caslon is a set of serif typefaces with the irregularity common of Dutch Baroque types. It has short ascenders and descenders, bracketed serifs, and is moderately-high contrast. The italics have a rhythmic calligraphic stroke, and some of the lowercase italics have the suggestion of a swash.

The first Caslon typeface was designed in 1722. It was similar to Dutch Fell types by Voskens, and also by the typefaces cut by Van Dyck, another Dutchman. The Caslon types were used throughout the British Empire, including British North America. The decayed appearance common in a lot of early American printing is often thought to be caused by the oxidation that resulted from long exposure to seawater during the transport of metal type from England to America. Caslon was used extensively, and perhaps most famously in the printing of the U.S. Declaration of Independence.

Caslon is sometimes considered a great universal typeface. There was even a common rule of thumb among printers and typesetters, “When in doubt, use Caslon.” It’s a versatile typeface that can be used equally well in headings or in body copy. The wide variety of weights and styles available make it even more versatile.

Best Uses
Caslon can be used for virtually any kind of typesetting, from body copy to headlines, and is quite legible at small sizes.


Clarendon is a slab-serif typeface, and is considered to be the first registered typeface. There’s only moderate contrast between thick and thin strokes, common of slab-serifs. It was originally designed by Robert Besley for the Fann Street Foundry in 1845. It was later copied heavily by other foundries.

Clarendon was used heavily during World War I by the German Empire, and was commonly used in wanted posters in the American Old West. More recently, it was used by the US National Parks Service on traffic signs, and became the typeface of choice by the Ruby Tuesday restaurant chain when they relaunched their corporate identity in 2008.

Clarendon has strong letterforms common to slab serifs. It’s also a very readable typeface, which makes it appropriate for use at somewhat smaller sizes.

Best Uses
Strong letterforms make Clarendon a great choice for things like signs, logos, and headlines. It’s already used by companies like Sony and Wells Fargo in their logos.

Franklin Gothic

Franklin Gothic is a relatively high profile grotesque sans serif typeface. In addition to Franklin Gothic, the News Gothic, Alternate Gothic, Monotone Gothic and Lightline Gothic typefaces are essentially just different weights of the original. Franklin Gothic itself is an extra-bold typeface, with a traditional double-story “a” and “g”.

Franklin Gothic was first created in 1902. “Gothic” at that time just meant sans serif. It briefly fell out of popularity in the 1930s with the rise of Futura and Kabel, but was then rediscovered by American designers in the 1940s, and has remained popular since.

Franklin Gothic is quite a strong typeface, stylistically, though the addition of related typefaces makes it much more versatile.

Best Uses
Franklin Gothic is well-suited to display use due to its weight. Other variations of the typeface, though, can be used for body copy, especially in onscreen situations.


Frutiger is a sans serif typeface designed by Adrian Frutiger. There are also serif and ornamental varieties of Frutiger, including Frutiger Serif, Frutiger Stones, and Frutiger Symbols. Frutiger was originally commissioned in 1968 by the Charles De Gaulle International Airport for their directional sign system. Frutiger was originally called Roissy (the airport is located in Roissy, France), and was completed in 1975.

Frutiger was designed to have the rationality and cleanliness of Univers (also designed by Adrian Frutiger), but with the proportional and organic aspects of Gill Sans. Because of this, Frutiger is both distinctive and legible, with a modern appearance. Apertures of the typeface are wide and ascenders and descenders are prominent, making it easy to distinguish letters from each other.

Best Uses
Because of its excellent legibility, Frutiger is suitable for a variety of uses. It’s especially well-suited for signs though, as its readable from a distance, and from varying angles.


Futura is a geometric sans-serif typeface that was commissioned by the Bauer type foundry in 1927. Originally, it included Light, Medium, Bold, and Bold Oblique fonts, and then later Light Oblique, Medium Oblique, Demibold, Demibold Oblique, Book, Extra Bold, and Extra Bold Italic fonts were released.

Futura was designed by Paul Renner. While he wasn’t associated with the Bauhaus, he shared the idea that a modern typeface should express modern models, rather than simply reviving an older design.

Futura has an efficient, forward appearance, and is derived from simple geometric forms. This is evident in the obvious influence of near-perfect circles, squares, and triangles. All non-essential elements were removed from the typeface, and the uppercase characters have proportions similar to classical Roman capitals.

Best Uses
Futura is an excellent choice for advertising copy. It was used by IKEA until 2010, Volkswagen, Shell Petrol, and HP in their advertising and branding. West Anderson uses Futura for all of his films, and it was also Stanley Kubrick’s favorite font. It’s well suited to any modern design, for both headings and short copy.


Garamond is an old-style serif typeface, named after punch-cutter Claude Garamond. Adobe Garamond and Stempel Garamond were both based on this original typeface from the 16th century, and Granjon and Sabon were heavily influenced by it. There are a few unique characteristics of Garamond, including the small bowl of the lowercase “a” and the small eye of the “e”.

Garamond is one of the most legible serif typefaces, especially for use in print applications. It’s also one of the most eco-friendly typefaces in terms of ink usage. The original punches and matrices were sold to Christopher Plantin upon the death of Claude Garamond, and were in turn used in many printers, adding to its rise in popularity. Garamond revivals were created as early as 1900.

Garamond’s greatest strength is its legibility and readability.

Best Uses
Garamond is an excellent choice for printed materials, including books and reports, due to its high legibility in print.

Gill Sans

Gill Sans is a humanist sans-serif typeface created in 1926 by Eric Gill. It was developed further, into a complete type family, after being commissioned by Stanley Morison to compete with the families of Erbar, Futura, and Kabel. In 1928, Gill Sans was released by Monotype Corporation.

The uppercase characters of Gill Sans are based on Roman capitals like those found in Caslon and Baskerville. There are fourteen styles in the family. Gill Sans is distributed as a system font with Mac OS X and is bundled with some Microsoft products as Gill Sans MT.

Gill Sans has a less mechanical feel to it than typefaces like Futura, because of its basis in Roman tradition. The lowercase letters are modeled on the lowercase Carolignian script, which is especially noticeable in the two-story lowercase “a” and “g”. This basis in traditional, classical typefaces gives Gill Sans a more refined look than many other sans serif typefaces.

Best Uses
Gill Sans is ideal for display uses, and can be used successfully as a text font at larger sizes. It’s best suited for modern designs, though it can be combined successfully with more traditional typefaces for classic designs.


Helvetica is probably the most commonly used typeface in all of graphic design, and almost certainly the most widely used sans serif. It was developed by Max Miedinger in 1957 with Eduard Hoffman, for the Haas Typefoundry. There are dozens of variations and numerous typefaces have been based on it.

Helvetica is often considered a “neutral” typeface, in that it takes on the mood and attitude of its surroundings. Used in a modern setting, it appears modern. And yet it can blend into a classic setting effortlessly, too. It’s largely because of this chameleon-like ability that Helvetica has become so widely used.

As mentioned, Helvetica’s ability to be used in virtually any circumstance is probably its greatest strength. It also has excellent letterforms and kerning.

Best Uses
Helvetica could be argued to be the most versatile typeface out there. It’s literally suitable for virtually any kind of design application, and looks good at both large and small sizes. It’s used in numerous logotypes (including those for American Airlines, American Apparel, 3M, Verizon Wireless, Motorola, Panasonic, Target, Toyota, Microsoft, and many, many others). It’s commonly seen online for both body copy and headlines, and can be seen in use on signs around the world.

Lucida Sans/Lucida Grande

Lucida Sans is a humanist, sans-serif typeface that is part of the larger Lucida type family (which includes serif, blackletter, console, and other variations). It was designed by Chalres Bigelow and Kris Holmes in 1985 as a complement to the Lucida Serif typeface. Technically, Lucida Grande is part of the Lucida Sans type family (which also includes Lucida Sans Typewriter, a monospaced typeface, and Lucida Sans Unicode, which is based on Lucida Sans regular but with additional characters).

Lucida Grande and Lucida Sans are both highly legible, even at small sizes. Because of this, they’re heavily used for body copy and large blocks of small text.

Best Uses
Lucida Grande and Lucida Sans are both commonly seen as the primary typeface for body text on various websites and blogs, Facebook being just one example. It’s most recognizable, though, for its use throughout the user interface of Mac OS X.


Minion is an old style serif typeface, inspired by late Renaissance-era typefaces. It was designed in 1990 by Robert Slimbach for Adobe Systems. One unique feature of Minion is the support of Regular and Display optical sizes, meant to optimize the legibility by using different stroke contrasts and details, in the Regular and Italic versions of the typeface.

The Minion Expert font package includes small caps, ligatures, old style ligatures, and swash glyphs that aren’t included in the regular Minion package. There’s also a Cyrillic version of Minion available.

The different optical sizes available with Minion are one of its greatest strengths, making it considerably more versatile.

Best Uses
Minion is an excellent choice for printed copy, and is used for typesetting books and journals. It has also been used in various logotypes, including MathWorks’ Matlab and Brown University.


Myriad is a humanist sans-serif typeface created specifically for Adobe Systems by Robert Slimbach and Carol Twombly. It’s easily distinguishable from other sans-serif fonts because of its special “y” descender and slanting “e”cut.

Originally, Myriad was offered in two weights, with complementary italics for each. Later, a condensed version was released, and then a “Headline” version. Additional variations have since ben released, including Myriad Web and Myriad Pro.

Myriad’s greatest strength is the letterforms it includes that set it apart from other sans-serif typefaces, which are often too similar to be easily recognizable.

Best Uses
Myriad is recognizable as the typeface of choice for Apple’s branding efforts. It’s well-suited to modern designs, especially if you want to evoke Apple’s corporate branding.


Optima is a unique sans-serif typeface, in that it uses varying stroke weights more commonly found in serif typefaces. In addition to the varying stroke weights, it also has subtle swelling at its terminals, reminiscent of a glyphic serif. The italic version of Optima is really just an oblique, without any specialized italic letterforms (like a single-story “a”), which is more typical of realist sans-serif typefaces like Helvetica.

Optima was designed by Hermann Zapf in the mid-50s, for the D. Stempel AG Foundry. Linotype owns the trademark to Optima, though the typeface is widely imitated (Bitstream’s Zapf Humanist is one such example, as well as the free MgOpen Cosmetica).

Optima’s similarity to serif typefaces gives it a more classic appearance than most sans serifs. It also improves legibility at some sizes.

Best Uses
Optima is an elegant if conservative type choice, and is well-suited to understated designs. Most famously, it’s been used for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and by the 2008 John McCain presidential campaign. It’s also the official branding typeface of Estée Lauder Companies and Aston Martin.


Palatino started out as an old style serif typeface designed by Hermann Zapf. It was released in 1948 by Linotype. A revised version was released in 1999, also designed by Zapf, called Palatino Linotype. This new family included extended Latin, Greek, and Cyrillic characters.

The original Palatino was based on humanist typefaces from the Italian Renaissance, and was named after 16th century Italian calligraphy master Giambattista Palatino. Palatino has larger proportions than most Renaissance-inspired type, and because of that is much easier to read.

Palatino’s greatest strength is its readability.

Best Uses
Palatino is widely used for body copy, especially in books and similar printed materials.


Rockwell is a slab serif, with no real variation in stroke weight. It was designed in-house at Monotype in 1934, supervised by Frank Hinman Pierpont. It’s a geometric typeface, with upper- and lowercase “O” more of a circle than an ellipse. The serif at the apex of the uppercase “A” is a distinctive feature of Rockwell that sets it apart from many other serif type faces.

The geometric forms of Rockwell make it more similar to sans-serif typefaces, making it a good choice for combining with geometric sans serifs.

Best Uses
Rockwell is best-suited for use as a display typeface due to its thick, monoweighted strokes.


Sabon is an old style serif typeface designed by Jan Tschichold between 1964 and 1967. It was released jointly by Linotype, Monotype, and Stempel foundries in 1967. It’s based on typefaces designed by Claude Garamond, particularly the one printed by Konrad Berner of Frankfurt, as well as the italics by Robert Grandjon.

One of the distinguishing features of Sabon is that the roman, italic, and bold weights all take up the same width when typeset. It’s an unusual feature, but meant that only one set of copyfitting data is needed for all three styles.

Sabon is a highly legible typeface, with moderate contrast between thick and thin strokes. That makes it suitable for use in a variety of sizes.

Best Uses
Sabon is a favorite for typesetting book copy, and is well-suited to any traditional or formal design.

Times New Roman

Times New Roman was commissioned by the British newspaper The Times in 1931 after the paper was criticized by Stanley Morison for being typographically antiquated and poorly printed. It was created by Cameron S. Latham of Monotype, under the supervision of Morison.

The name “Times New Roman” was used because the former font of The Times was called “Times Old Roman”. It was based on another typeface by Morison, called Plantin, but revisions were made to make it more economical in terms of space and to increase legibility. Times New Roman is still widely used in book typography, and it has served as the basis for a number of other typeface, including Georgia.

The ubiquitous nature of Times New Roman has made it an ideal choice for situations where fonts can’t be embedded. It’s also highly readable, even at smaller sizes.

Best Uses
Times New Roman is best suited for body copy, both online and off.


Univers is a neo-grotesque sans serif typeface that was designed by Adrian Frutiger in 1954, and released by Deberny & Piegnot in 1957. It was then acquired by Haas in 1972, and later by D. Stempel AG and then Linotype.

Univers is based on the 1898 typeface Akzidenz-Grotesk, which was also the basis for Helvetica (the two typefaces are sometimes confused). The entire Univers type family consists of 44 faces, with 16 uniquely numbered weight, width, and position combinations. Twenty of these fonts offer oblique characters, while eight support Central European character sets and another eight support Cyrillic characters.

The largest strength of Univers is its diversity, which is further enhanced by the number of weights available. It also has some of the same neutral character of Helvetica.

Best Uses
Univers is well-suited to a variety of designs, especially modern designs. It works well as both body copy and display.

Close calls

There are a lot more typefaces that are commonly used by designers the world over. Below is just a partial list of some additional popular choices (feel free to add more in the comments!):

Antique Olive

Avant Garde

Century Gothic






Mrs Eaves

Trade Gothic


VAG Rounded


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

President Obama’s uncle had Social Security ID

By Dave Wedge and Laurel J. Sweet
Tuesday, August 30, 2011 - Updated 7 minutes ago

President Obama’s accused drunken-driving uncle — who was busted after a near collision with a Framingham cop — has had a valid Social Security number for at least 19 years, despite being an illegal immigrant ordered to be deported back to Kenya, the Herald has learned.

The president’s 67-year-old uncle, Obama Onyango, has had a valid Massachusetts driver’s license and Social Security number since at least 1992, said Registry of Motor Vehicles spokesman Michael Verseckes.

Onyango, whose sister, Zeituni Onyango, made headlines when it was revealed she was an illegal immigrant living in public housing in South Boston, was wobbly legged, “slurring” and had “red and glassy eyes” when he was pulled over at 7 p.m. Wednesday on Waverly Street in Framingham.

A marked cruiser pulled him over just past the Chicken Bone saloon, about a mile from Onyango’s single-family home. Onyango, the half-brother of the president’s father identified in some press accounts as “Uncle Omar,” initially denied drinking but admitted having “two beers” after police said they smelled booze on his breath, according to a police report.

“It was clear that he was moderately unsteady on his feet,” Framingham Officer Val Krishtal wrote.

Onyango’s white Mitsubishi SUV was pulled over after the vehicle made a sudden right turn in front of a cruiser at a stop sign, causing Krishtal to slam on the brakes to avoid a collision. Onyango blew a .14 on the Breathalyzer and continually interrupted the officer, the report states.

“(Onyango) spoke English well, albeit with a moderate accent. I detected what I believed to be some slurring as he spoke,” Krishtal wrote.

Onyango was ordered held without bail on a federal immigration warrant after his arraignment Thursday in Framingham District Court. Court papers show he was the subject of a previous deportation order. He was being held in the Plymouth House of Correction last night.

Mike Rogers, a spokesman for Cleveland immigration attorney Margaret Wong, who is representing Onyango, said he “wouldn’t know how” Onyango obtained a Social Security number. Wong is the same lawyer who represented the president’s aunt, Zeituni Onyango, in her fight to win asylum last year. Reached at her apartment in a South Boston public housing complex yesterday, Zeituni Onyango said of her brother’s arrest: “Why don’t you go to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. in Washington, D.C., and ask your president? Not me.” She then hung up on a reporter.

The bust came just days after another illegal immigrant was charged with running down and killing a 23-year-old man in Milford.

Asked about the issue yesterday, Gov. Deval Patrick said: “You know my stance: Illegal is illegal. We need comprehensive immigration reform.”

Friday, August 26, 2011

Syrian security forces attacked renowned anti-regime cartoonist Ali Farzat

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Syrian security forces attacked renowned anti-regime cartoonist Ali Farzat

Syrian cartoonist Ali Ferzat lies injured at a hospital in Damascus, Syria, Thursday, Aug. 25, 2011. Masked gunmen dragged Syria's best-known political cartoonist Ali Ferzat from his car before dawn Thursday, beat him severely and left him bleeding along the side of a road days after he compared Syria's president to Moammar Gadhafi, human rights activists said.

Aug 25 07:14 PM US/Eastern
Associated Press

BEIRUT (AP) - A renowned political cartoonist whose drawings expressed Syrians' frustrated hopes for change was grabbed after he left his studio early Thursday and beaten by masked gunmen who broke his hands and dumped him on a road outside Damascus.

One of Syria's most famous artists, Ali Ferzat, 60, earned international recognition and the respect of many Arabs with stinging caricatures that infuriated dictators including Iraq's Saddam Hussein, Libya's Moammar Gadhafi and, particularly in recent months, Syria's autocratic Assad family.

He lay badly bruised in a hospital bed Thursday evening with his hands swathed in bandages, a stark reminder that no Syrian remains immune to a brutal crackdown on a five-month anti-government uprising.

Ferzat remembers the gunmen telling him that "this is just a warning," as they beat him, a relative told The Associated Press.

"We will break your hands so that you'll stop drawing," the masked men said, according to the relative, who spoke anonymously for fear of retaliation.

Before inheriting Syria's presidency from his father in 2000, Bashar Assad, a British-trained eye doctor, used to visit Ferzat's exhibitions and offer encouraging words, the artist has said.

When the new president opened Syria to reforms, Ferzat was allowed to publish the country's first private newspaper in decades, a satirical weekly called The Lamplighter.

The paper was an instant hit, with copies of each issue selling out a few hours after hitting the stands. It was soon shut down, however, as Assad began cracking down on dissent and jailing critics after the brief, heady period known as the Damascus Spring quickly lost steam.

Ferzat became a vehement critic of the regime, particularly after the military launched a brutal crackdown on the country's protest movement.

Human rights groups said Assad's forces have killed more than 2,000 people since the uprising against his autocratic rule erupted in mid-March, touched off by the wave of revolutions sweeping the Arab world.

An endearing figure with a bushy gray beard, Ferzat drew cartoons about the uprising and posted the illustrations on his private website, providing comic relief to many Syrians who were unable to follow his work in local newspapers because of a ban on his drawings.

His illustrations grew bolder in recent months, with some of his cartoons directly criticizing Assad, even through caricatures of the president are forbidden in Syria.

This week, he published a cartoon showing Assad with a packed suitcase, frantically hitching a ride with a fleeing Gadhafi. Another drawing showed dictators walking a long red carpet that leads them, in the end, to a dustbin.

The response was swift.

Ferzat, who usually works late into the night, left his studio at 4 a.m. Thursday, but a jeep with tinted windows quickly cut him off, according to the relative. Four masked gunmen then dragged him out of his car, bundled him into the jeep and drove him to the airport road just outside Damascus, beating him and making threats all the while.

The men then singed the artist's beard, put a bag over his head and dumped him on the side of the road.

The Facebook page of the U.S. Embassy in Damascus described it as a "government-sponsored, targeted, brutal attack."

The Obama administration, which has called for Assad to step down, said the cartoonist's beating was deplorable.

"They broke his hands in the most disgusting and deplorable way to send a message," said U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland. "It's not only Ali Ferzat that we're worried about. The regime has also locked up a number of other prominent dissidents to send a message."

The United States and European nations are seeking U.N. sanctions against Assad and his regime. The Security Council scheduled closed consultations Thursday on their draft resolution that would impose an arms embargo on Syria, an asset freeze on Assad and key members and companies associated with his regime, and a travel ban on 21 individuals.

Diplomats said Russia and China, both with close ties to Damascus, boycotted the meeting. Russian U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin hinted Wednesday that he would veto the resolution, saying the council should use dialogue to persuade Syria to end its violent crackdown on protesters. Calls to Russian and Chinese U.N. Missions seeking comment were not immediately returned.

Assad's crackdown has not spared other Syrian intellectuals and artists who dared to voice criticism. A group of intellectuals and artists, including Syrian actress May Skaff, were rounded up and jailed for a week last month after holding a protest in Damascus.

Damascus-based activist and film producer Shadi Abu Fakher went missing on July 23 and has not been heard of since.

Ferzat, however, is the most famous victim of the repression to date. He had been encouraging other Syrian artists to side with the protesters, even publishing on his website a "List of Shame" that included names of those who were on the side of the regime.

"We were a group of reformers in the country, and suddenly, the doors of hell opened on us. It was a huge disappointment," Ferzat told the AP earlier this month in a phone interview.

The timing of the attack strongly suggests Ferzat's attackers knew his unusual working hours and had been tracking him. Ferzat said his day starts at 5 p.m.

In the telephone interview, he said he was full of hope that the Syrian revolution would bring about the change fervently desired by so many Syrians.

"There are two things in this life that cannot be crushed—the will of God and the will of the people," he said.

Asked if he fears arrest because of his drawings, he said: "I have killed the policeman in my head."

After news of Ferzat's attack broke Thursday, online social networking sites exploded with angry postings.

"Assad's Syria is the burial ground of talent," read a posting on Twitter.

"Ali Ferzat, your innovation will stand in the face of their cowardice and hate," wrote Suheir Atassi, a prominent Syrian pro-democracy activist.

Soon after the attack, his website where he published his cartoons and satirical commentary was taken down. "This account has been suspended," reads a message on the website,


Associated Press writers Matthew Lee in Washington and Edith M. Lederer at the U.N. contributed to this report


Zeina Karam can be reached on

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Bitcoin - Digital Currency - Global Exchange

...coinciding with the issuing of Google Wallet, this is P2P, not B2B - Google has P2B partners lining up.

An interesting potential, my concern is that this kind of artificial currency could devalue the dollar by putting all currencies on an even playing field - is this just an exchange tool or would it become a proper currency - that is if it gained momentum.

I also wonder what kind of security risks Google Wallet and Bitcoin represent.

"Bitcoin transactions can represent many kinds of operations such as pure peer-to-peer escrow and deposits but user interface software for this advanced functionality is currently underdeveloped."

The U.S. has the dollar. Japan has the yen. Now some people are trying to invent a new currency that's not tied to any country or government. It's called bitcoin.

Bitcoin is a lot like cash — for the online universe. It doesn't actually exist in the physical world. You can't hold bitcoins in your hand because they just live on computers and the Internet.

We talked with Gavin Andresen, a programmer whose done a lot of work on bitcoin. He says there is no center to the whole bitcoin system. It's not like there's one computer somewhere storing all the information. It's run by the people who use it. For Gavin, that's a big part of the appeal.

For me that's more comforting than thinking that politicians or central bankers won't screw it up. I actually trust the wisdom of the crowds more.

To truly understand bitcoin, you need to use it. Gavin told us to get bitcoins we would have to visit an online exchange where you can trade actual dollars for the virtual currency.

When we started working on this story, $7 got you one bitcoin. But when we went to the exchange, something crazy had happened. The price had more than tripled — to $23.80.

Bitcoin had had a wild couple of weeks. After the website Gawker ran a story about an online market where you could use bitcoins to buy heroin, LSD and other illegal drugs, the exchange rate for bitcoins started rocketing up.

Then someone posted online that they'd had a half million dollars worth of bitcoins stolen.

A few days later, the main bitcoin exchange web site got hacked and had to shut down for a while. So we couldn't buy bitcoins there.

We were running out of time and needed some way to buy bitcoins. We called up Gavin again, and he told us, the best way to buy bitcoins quickly, would be very low tech. We would have to meet someone who has them and exchange our cash for their bitcoins. Gavin gave us the name of a guy, Bruce Wagner, who hosts an online 'TV' show about bitcoin.

We meet Bruce at his office. He has us go to a website, MyBitcoin, to set up a digital wallet. We choose a username and password, and we give Bruce $40 in cash. He looks up the exchange rate, $17 per bitcoin, and gives us 2.352941176 bitcoins.

We finally have bitcoins, but before we use them, we had one last question — are they legal?

Ronald Mann, teaches at Columbia law school. He says bitcoins are legal, for now. But if it turns out they're used mostly for illegal stuff, the government could shut the currency down.

The bigger challenge, Mann told us, is getting enough people to use the currency. "I see its future as a real currency as very limited." In five or ten years, Mann said, "I think it won't exist."

For now, they do exist. So we decide to use our bitcoins to buy lunch at one of the few places that will accept bitcoins, a restaurant in Manhattan, Meze Grill. We order some smoothies, a falafel platter, and a chicken platter.

At the cash register, it takes a few minutes to log in from an iPhone and send the bitcoins to the restaurant, but eventually it works, we get our food and sit down for lunch.

Note: After we bought lunch, MyBitcoin — the online bank we used — was robbed and had to shut down. Here's Bruce Wagner's reaction.

.'Anything’ Domain Names

June 20, 2011, 11:03 AM EDT
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By Pavel Alpeyev and Ketaki Gokhale

(Updates with foreign suffixes in seventh paragraph.)

June 20 (Bloomberg) -- The Internet is moving way beyond dot-com.

Websites will soon be able to end with anything from “.shop” to “.canon” after the group that manages Internet addresses approved what it called a historic change in a statement on its website today. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, which until now allowed 22 suffixes including “.com” and “.org,” will accept requests for almost any word in any language from Jan. 12 to April 12.

The move may help prevent cybersquatting, the practice of registering domain names and selling them to trademark owners at a profit. Large businesses may have to buy addresses to keep their brands from being hijacked, which costs $500,000 per company, estimated the Coalition Against Domain Name Abuse, whose members include Morgan Stanley and Hewlett-Packard Co.

“Today’s decision will usher in a new Internet age,” Peter Dengate Thrush, chairman of Icann’s Board of Directors, said in the statement. “We have provided a platform for the next generation of creativity and inspiration.”

Applications will cost $185,000, and the first of these “top level domain names” won’t go live until the end of 2012, Adrian Kinderis, a member of Icann’s advisory council, said in an interview today.

Canon, Deloitte and Hitachi Ltd. are among companies that have expressed interest in company domain names, while generic names will be auctioned to the highest bidders, Kinderis said.

Dot-Com Dominance

Icann, based in Marina del Rey, California, has authorized small numbers of new domain names in the past, such as the approval for the .xxx domain for adult content websites in March. In 2009, the group also allowed domain names in languages other than English, such as “.ru” for Russian sites.

None has approached the dominance of dot-com, which accounts for 71 percent of all Web registrations since 2001.

Last year, dot-com had 89.2 million address registrations, dot-net had 13.5 million, and dot-org had 8.3 million. All three are so-called “legacy domains” that were created in 1985 before the formation of Icann. The next most popular domains were dot-info with 6 million registrations in 2010 and dot-biz with 2 million.

The hijacking of Web addresses cost large companies a total of $746 million, according to estimates this year by the Coalition Against Domain Name Abuse, an industry group in Washington whose members also include Wells Fargo & Co.

“So far we’ve seen relatively little corporate interest” in getting additional domain names based on brands, said Alan Drewsen, executive director of the International Trademark Association, whose board of directors includes Microsoft Corp. and PepsiCo Inc.’s Frito-Lay. “There’s a significant marketing challenge. These companies have spent so much time and money directing their customers to their sites.”

--With assistance by Eric Engleman in Washington and Katie Hoffman in New York. Editors: Cecile Daurat, Lisa Rapaport

To contact the reporters on this story: Pavel Alpeyev in Tokyo at; Ketaki Gokhale in Mumbai at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Young-Sam Cho at

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Chinese Military TV Show Reveals U.S. Cyber Attacks

Piece shows cyber warfare against US entities
By Matthew Robertson & Helena Zhu
Epoch Times Staff

A standard, even boring, piece of Chinese military propaganda screened in mid-July included what must have been an unintended but nevertheless damaging revelation: shots from a computer screen showing a Chinese military university is engaged in cyberwarfare against entities in the United States.

The documentary itself was otherwise meant as praise to the wisdom and judgment of Chinese military strategists, and a typical condemnation of the United States as an implacable aggressor in the cyber-realm. But the fleeting shots of an apparent China-based cyber-attack somehow made their way into the final cut.

The screenshots appear as B-roll footage in the documentary for six seconds—between 11:04 and 11:10 minutes—showing custom-built Chinese software apparently launching a cyber-attack against the main website of the Falun Gong spiritual practice, by using a compromised IP address belonging to a United States university. As of Aug. 22 at 1:30pm EDT, in addition to Youtube, the whole documentary is available on the CCTV website.

The screenshots show the name of the software and the Chinese university that built it, the Electrical Engineering University of China's People's Liberation Army—direct evidence that the PLA is involved in coding cyber-attack software directed against a Chinese dissident group.

The software window says "Choose Attack Target." The computer operator selects an IP address from a list—it happens to be—and then selects a target. Encoded in the software are the words "Falun Gong website list," showing that attacking Falun Gong websites was built into the software.

A drop-down list of dozens of Falun Gong websites appears. The computer operator chooses, the main website of the Falun Gong spiritual practice.

The IP address belongs to the University of Alabama in Birmingham (UAB), according to an online trace.

The shots then show a big "Attack" button on the bottom left being pushed, before the camera cuts away.

"The CCP has leaked its top secret here," says Jason Ma, a commentator for New Tang Dynasty Television. "This is the first time we see clearly that one of the top Chinese military universities is doing this research and developing software for cyber-attacks. There's solid proof of it in this video," he said.

The Chinese Communist Party has consistently denied that it is involved in cyber-attacks, but experts have long suspected that the Chinese military engages in them.

"Now we've got proof," Ma says. "They're also extending their persecution of Falun Gong overseas, attacking a civil website in the U.S. These are the clear messages revealed in these six seconds of video."
The hacking software, as the user decides on which website to target. (CCTV)

Network administrators at UAB contacted on Friday took a look at the IP address on their network and said it had not been used since 2010.

One of the technicians also recalled that there had been a Falun Gong practitioner at the university some years ago who held informal Falun Gong meetings on campus. They could not confirm whether that individual used that IP address.

A UAB network administrator assured The Epoch Times that they have safeguards against both network intrusions, and that their network is not compromised.

After the short interlude, the documentary continued with the themes it had started with for another nine minutes.

Last month McAfee, a network security company, said that an unprecedented campaign of cyber-espionage—affecting over 70 organizations or governments around the world and implicating billions of dollars in intellectual property—was being carried out by a "state actor."

Later evidence traced IP addresses involved in the attack to China, and a growing mountain of other circumstantial evidence also suggests that the attacks originated from China.

Related Articles

The Threat of China’s Patriotic Hacker Army

The military documentary on July 17, on the other hand, was meant to show that the United States is the real aggressor in cyberspace, and that China is highly vulnerable to cyber-attacks. “America is the first country to propose the concept of a cyberwar, and the first country to implement it in a real war,” the narrator said at one point.

It might have worked, except for those screenshots.

Follow Matthew on Twitter @mprobertson.

Follow Helena on Twitter @HelenaZhu.

Follow The Epoch Times' China feeds on Twitter @EpochTimesChina.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Beijing Genomics Institute

"The Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI) is looking for smart volunteers to donate their genes for analysis. They are seeking subjects with high intelligence; you can only qualify if you got a high score in SAT/ACT/GRE or got awards in competitions like Math/Physics Olympiads or TopCoder. They're also launching a drive to recruit US participants. Their first stop (PDF) appears to have been Google, which has run into trouble with the Chinese government. Also worth noting: BGI is registered in China as an 'Institutional Organization,' which by law requires it to report to a supervising governmental office or agency."

Friday, August 19, 2011

IBM Cognitive Semiconductors

IBM's New Chips Compute More Like We Do

Researchers hope a microchip that mimics the basic functioning of the brain could perform complex calculations while using little power.

Thursday, August 18, 2011
By Katherine Bourzac

A microchip with about as much brain power as a garden worm might not seem very impressive, compared with the blindingly fast chips in modern personal computers. But a new microchip made by researchers at IBM represents a landmark. Unlike an ordinary chip, it mimics the functioning of a biological brain—a feat that could open new possibilities in computation.

Inside the brain, information is processed in parallel, and computation and memory are entwined. Each neuron is connected to many others, and the strength of these connections changes constantly as the brain learns. These dynamics are thought to be crucial to learning and memory, and they are what the researchers sought to mimic in silicon. Conventional chips, by contrast, process one bit after another and shunt information between a discrete processor and memory components. The bigger a problem is, the larger the number of bits that must be shuffled around.

The IBM researchers have built and tested two demonstration chips that store and process information in a way that mimics a natural nervous system. The company says these early chips could be the building blocks for something much more ambitious: a computer the size of a shoebox that has about half the complexity of a human brain and consumes just one kilowatt of power. This is being developed with $21 million in funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, in collaboration with several universities.

The company's researchers and their academic collaborators will present two papers next month at the Custom Integrated Circuits conference in San Jose, California, showing that the chip designs have very low power requirements and work with neural-circuit-mimicking software. In one experiment, a "neural core," as the new chips are called, learns to play Pong; in another, it learns to navigate a car on a simple race track; and in another it learns to recognize images.

onventional computers have become very powerful, but they require huge amounts of capacity and power to mimic tasks that humans take for granted. IBM's Watson computing system, for example, famously beat two of the best human Jeopardy! players in a match this February. But it needed 16 terabytes of memory and a cluster of tremendously powerful servers to do so.

"The brain has solved these problems brilliantly, with just 10 watts of power," says Kwabena Boahen, a professor of bioengineering at Stanford University who is not currently involved with the IBM project. "A machine with the intelligence we have could read and make connections, pull in information and make sense of it, rather than just make matches."

How such a "cognitive computer" should be designed and how it should operate is controversial, however. After all, biologists still don't understand how the brain works.

IBM has released only limited details about the workings and performance of its new chips. But project leader Dharmendra Modha says the chips go beyond previous work in this area by mimicking two aspects of the brain: the proximity of parts responsible for memory and computation (mimicked by the hardware) and the fact that connections between these parts can be made and unmade, and become stronger or weaker over time (accomplished by the software).

The new chips contain 45-nanometer digital transistors built directly on top of a memory array. "It's like having data storage next to each logic gate within the processor," says Cornell University computer scientist Rajit Manohar, who's collaborating with IBM on hardware designs. Critically, this means the chips consume 45 picojoules per "event," mimicking the transmission of a pulse in a neural network. That's about 1,000 times less power than a conventional computer consumes, says Gert Cauwenberghs, director of the Institute for Neural Computation at the University of California, San Diego.

So far the IBM team has demonstrated only very basic software on these chips, but they have laid the foundation for running more complex software on simpler computers than has been possible in the past. In 2009, Modha's group ran simulations of a neural network as complex as a cat's brain on a supercomputer. "They cut their teeth on massive simulations," says Michael Arbib, director of the USC Brain Project. "Now they've come up with chips that may make it easier to [run cognitive computing software]—but they haven't proven this yet," he says.

Modha's group started by modeling a system of mouse-like complexity, then worked up to a rat, a cat, and finally a monkey. Each time they had to switch to a more powerful supercomputer. And they were unable to run the simulations in real time, because of the separation between memory and processor that the new chip designs are intended to overcome. The new hardware should run this software faster, using less energy, and in a smaller space. "Our eventual goal is a human-scale cognitive-computing system," Modha says.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Chavez Emptying Bank of England Vault as Venezuela Brings Back Gold Hoard

By Daniel Cancel and Nathan Crooks - Aug 17, 2011 11:38 PM ET

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez ordered the central bank to repatriate $11 billion of gold reserves held in developed nations’ institutions such as the Bank of England as the metal rises to record levels behind a weakening U.S. dollar.

Venezuela, which holds 211 tons of its 365 tons of gold reserves in U.S., European, Canadian and Swiss institutions, will progressively return the bars to the central bank’s vault, Chavez said yesterday. JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM), Barclays Plc (BARC), Standard Chartered Plc (STAN) and the Bank of Nova Scotia (BNS) also hold Venezuelan gold, the president said.

“We’ve held 99 tons of gold at the Bank of England since 1980. I agree with bringing that home,” Chavez said yesterday on state television. “It’s a healthy decision.”

Chavez, whose government depends on oil for 95 percent of export revenue, is looking to diversify Venezuela’s cash reserves from U.S. and European banks to include investments in emerging-markets including Brazil, China, India, Russia and South Africa, central bank President Nelson Merentes said yesterday. Chavez, whose nation is the world’s 15th-largest holder of gold, is bringing back the reserves after a 26 percent rally in price this year.

Venezuela’s reserves stood at $28.6 billion on Aug. 16. Venezuelan Finance Minister Jorge Giordani said that the weakening U.S. dollar, a near-default by the U.S. government and the European sovereign debt crisis threaten the country’s savings and they will be more secure at home and in “allied” countries.
‘Green Light’

Chavez, speaking by phone on state television last night, said he signed the document yesterday authorizing the transfer of the gold reserves. “I said, ‘I give my absolute approval to this idea,’ I gave it the green light,” Chavez said.

The central bank already has about $7 billion of gold in its vaults. Of the country’s liquid reserves, which amount to about $6.3 billion, 59 percent are held in Switzerland, 18 percent in the U.K and 11.3 percent in the U.S., according to a government report.

The government may be moving to repatriate reserves ahead of arbitration case rulings to avoid an “attachment risk” that could freeze international assets, Boris Segura, a New York- based strategist at Nomura Securities said in a research note.
Government Holdings

The repatriation and diversification of reserves may also cloud transparency of government holdings, which would be a negative for the country’s credit, he said.

“We sense that Venezuelan debt prices already incorporate a sizeable ‘lack of transparency’ premium,” Segura said. “However, looking at the possible geopolitical signals that these proposed policies communicate, we fear that Venezuelan bond prices may suffer.”

In all, Venezuela has 365.8 metric tons of gold reserves, according to the World Gold Council.

Venezuela has the highest borrowing costs among major emerging-market countries. The extra yield investors demand to own Venezuelan government bonds instead of U.S. Treasuries was 1,186 basis points, or 11.86 percent yesterday, according to JPMorgan & Chase Co.’s EMBI+.

Chavez also said yesterday that he’s preparing a decree to nationalize the gold industry to halt illegal mining and dedicate local production to building up reserves.

Of 17 arbitration cases pending against Venezuela in the World Bank’s International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes, at least three of them are over mining ventures, including Crystallex International Corp. (KRY), a Canadian gold producer whose Las Cristinas mine was taken over by the government in February.
‘Not Surprising’

Gold Reserve Inc. (GRZ), a Spokane, Washington-based mining company, is seeking $2.1 billion in damages after its Las Brisas gold and copper project was seized in May 2008.

“Today’s announcement is not surprising,” said Doug Belander, Gold Reserve president in an interview. “We believe that their objective all along was to take over the entire industry.”

The South American country, in an effort to boost stalled production and take advantage of rising prices, last year relaxed restrictions on gold exports to allow some companies and joint ventures with the government to send as much as 50 percent of their output abroad.

Rusoro Mining Ltd. (RML), a Vancouver-based mining company, is the last publicly traded company operating in Venezuela. The company’s stock fell 17 percent in trading yesterday to 12.5 Canadian cents, the lowest in almost a decade.
Gold Production

Venezuela produces 11 metric tons of gold a year, and illegal miners extract an additional 10 to 11 tons a year, Chavez said in May.

Venezuela’s National Guard first seized control of the Las Cristinas mine, which has reserves of about 27 million ounces, in November 2001 from Canada’s Vanessa Ventures.

Gold futures for December delivery rose $8.80, or 0.5 percent, to $1,793.80 an ounce on the Comex in New York yesterday. Prices touched a record $1,817.60 on Aug. 11.

“If there isn’t enough room to store the gold in the central bank vaults I can lend you the basement of the Miraflores presidential palace,” Chavez said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Daniel Cancel in Caracas at; Nathan Crooks in Caracas at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Dale Crofts at

Friday, August 12, 2011

8 grams of thorium could replace gasoline in cars

The price of oil is on an upward spiral due to increasing demand and diminishing supplies. Short of finding vast new untapped reserves buried somewhere under out feet, we need to find an alternative sooner rather than later.

Unless you have a lot of money to spend on an electric vehicle, everyone who drives a car today relies on oil for the gasoline that keeps it running. Although replacing the petrol engine with a battery and electric motor seems to be where we are heading, it only really shifts the problem to the power stations rather than the fuel pumps.

There may be another way to power our cars, however, and it would mean never having to refuel you car–be it with gasoline or an electric charge.

Charles Stevens is an inventor and CEO of Laser Power Systems. His idea is to replace the gasoline engine with an electricity generator that doesn’t require a battery. He is proposing the use of the rare earth mineral thorium in conjunction with a laser and mini turbines that easily produce enough electricity to power a vehicle.

Thorium is abundant and radioactive, but much safer to use than an element such as uranium. When thorium is heated it becomes extremely hot and causes heat surges allowing it to be coupled with mini turbines producing steam that can then be used to generate electricity. It also helps that it has a very large liquid range between melting and boiling point.

Combining a laser, radioactive material, and mini-turbines might sound like a complicated alternative solution to filling your gas tank, but there’s one feature that sells it as a great alternative solution.

Stevens has worked out you’d require a 227kg, 250MW thorium engine in order to power a typical road car. Within that system 1 gram of thorium produces the equivalent of 7,500 gallons of gasoline. So if you fit the Thorium engine with 8 grams of Thorium, it will run the vehicle for its entire lifetime without needing to be refueled while all the time not producing any emissions. The engine lasts so long in fact, that it could be taken from one vehicle and used in another as and when they wear out.

The issues to overcome are the radioactivity and the mining of thorium to make this engine possible. Stevens says the radioactivity can easily be contained with aluminium foil. As for the mining, the reserves are there, with 440,000 tons alone in the U.S., we just need the mining facilities to extract it in large enough quantities. With the potential benefits that is sure to happen.

Stevens admits that his biggest hurdle isn’t the thorium and laser aspects of the system, but the mini turbines which have to be made small enough to fit inside a vehicle while generating enough electricity. Even so, Stevens believes he’ll have a working prototype by 2014 and the potential to not only replace, but improve upon the gasoline-powered engines we rely on today.


Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Human Brain is Sensitive to Light, Breakthrough Findings From Valkee and the University of Oulu

Cost: £185.00

HELSINKI and BERGEN, Norway, August 11, 2011 /PRNewswire/ --

Valkee (, inventor of the world's first bright-light headset, and scientists from the University of Oulu will present new findings on human brain's photosensitivity at the Scandinavian Physiology Society Annual Meeting 2011, August 12-14.

Their research localized the OPN3 protein - known as the light-sensitive photoreceptor protein - in all of the 18 evaluated areas of the brain. These brain areas include the core areas of serotonin and melatonin production and storage, which play key roles in mood, sleep and depression. The study shows that the human brain is sensitive to light also outside of the visual system.

"The human brain is broadly photosensitive. The photoreceptor proteins we found are known to take light stimulus and transfer it into neural signals. Channeling light directly to these brain areas via ear canal will generate a response in the photosensitive cells", commented Juuso Nissilä, Valkee co-founder and chief scientific officer.

"The study shows that we have brain cells that react to light when exposed directly. These results are encouraging, especially for bright-light therapy channeled via ear canal direct to brain tissue", summarized professor Seppo Saarela, PhD, head of the biology department and leading the research at the University of Oulu.

Valkee launched its bright-light headset in August 2010. Being based on cross-functional science in neurology, biology and psychiatry, Valkee is a CE-certified Class II(a) medical device under the EU regulations.

The research paper will be available for download at on Friday, August 12, 2011, after its scientific presentation at noon CET.

About Valkee

The Valkee bright-light headset channels bright light direct to the human brain via ear canals to prevent and cure mood swings and circadian-rhythm disorders such as jetlag. In clinical trials, 9 of 10 patients suffering from severe seasonal affective disorder - also known as winter blues - experienced total symptom relief in 4 weeks with a daily 8-12 minute dose. Valkee is based on scientific studies carried out since 2007 and is a CE-marked Class II(a) medical device. More information and for online shop

About the University of Oulu

The University of Oulu, one of the largest universities in Finland, is an international research and innovation university engaged in multidisciplinary basic research and academic education. The University cooperates closely with industry and commerce, and has broad connections with hundreds of international research and educational institutions. The study fields include Humanities, Education, Economics and Business, Science, Medicine, Dentistry, Health Sciences, and Technology. For more information visit

About the presented research

Method: The distribution and localization of OPN3 protein in human brain and peripheral tissues was assessed by immunohistochemical staining, using polyclonal antibody against OPN3. The OPN3 protein content was measured using western blotting and SDS-PAGE. The samples from nine cadavers were assessed during forensic examination. Samples were cut into sections and fluerescent dye labeled antibody was used to stain before confocal laser scanning microscopy. Primary antibody omitting and immunizing peptide blocking experiments secured the specificity of labeling and immununoreaction.

Results: The OPN3 protein is abundant in the human brain and, as expected, not in periphery or in negative controls. Neuronal OPN3 was present in granular pattern intracellularly in all of the eighteen examined sites, including numerous cerebral cortical areas, cerebellar cortex and several nuclei in phylogenetically old regions. Immunoreaction took place mostly in neuronal soma, but not in nuclei.

Conclusion: Previously in mRNA-level assessments, OPN3 encoding has actually resulted in the abundant presence of OPN3 protein in neurons of human brain, but not in non-neuronal peripheral tissues. OPN3 (aka. panopsin or enkephalopsin) belongs to the families of extraretinal opsins which have putative role in CNS tissue photosensitivity. OPN3 mRNA has previously been localized in rodent brains and in mRNA expression level in the human brain, but the actual protein and it's location has not been clarified. In this study, we aimed to define OPN3 protein localization, its abundance in the human brain and the site of cellular locality.


Computer scientist predicts your next Facebook friends

A Stanford University researcher wins a Microsoft fellowship for analysis of social networking activity

By Nicolas Zeitler, IDG News Service | Security, analytics, Facebook 1 comment

August 10, 2011, 6:09 PM — Half of the friends you will add on Facebook in the future can be predicted, said Stanford University's Jure Leskovec. He has been elected as one of this year's recipients of the Microsoft Research Faculty Fellowships.

Leskovec is an assistant professor of computer science at Stanford University. The focus of his research is on the traces human activity leaves on the Internet. Someone reads an article on a news website, writes a blog post or forwards someone else's tweet on Twitter: It is data like this that Leskovec collects to analyze human behavior on the Web -- and even predict it. He does the same with data from social networks.

"Data shows that who will be our next friend on Facebook is not so random as we think," he said. He has just finished a project with the company that runs the social networking site. Based on information about the personal networks of users and their communication he was able to tell in advance half of the new contacts they would add shortly after.

How Web algorithms change our behavior

In the future the rate of correctly predicted new friends could be even higher, he said. "We are able to train the analyzing methods," Leskovec said.

Findings like this could be used to develop models of how online groups grow over time. "It will soon tell us how healthy a community is," said Leskovec. So far his analysis shows that a social network should neither be too sparsely populated nor too dense. "Our research suggests it may not be good to saturate a network," he said. This means too many contacts and too much communication could someday thwart vitality and growth in a network.

Another project Leskovec just finished was an analysis of the user community of Microsoft Instant Messenger. The research project in cooperation with Microsoft proved the hypothesis of the "6 degrees of separation." Leskovec found that people using Messenger were in general 6.6 steps apart from each other. While this was fundamental research, dealing with questions like this could also enable practical applications, Leskovec said.

"The interesting question is how to find the right connections, for example, when you want to know who to ask to get introduced to the queen of England," said Leskovec. A solution to this question could help in finding efficient ways for routing through the Web, he adds. This could, for instance, be useful for finding the shortest path between two computers on the Internet.

Apart from social networks, Leskovec analyzes the use of online media as well, and he lets his computers dig through 30 million articles every day. One of his goals is to design algorithms to find patterns that show what happens to these news items. This could show, for example, how information changes gradually. "It could reveal that your political attitude affects how you treat certain information. Maybe you forward a very long Obama statement while you shorten the quotes of other people in a text," Leskovec said.

Recently he found out in a study that news spreads quite differently depending on the platform where it is first published. One finding was that material published by newswires gained the highest attention shortly after being published. Blog posts in contrast very often got a number of attention peaks over time.

Leskovec has already made some plans on how to spend the money coming with the fellowship (he will receive $100,000 this year and the same amount in 2012). Leskovec said part of the money will go into "risky projects or startups" that without the grant would not have been possible to do. He said he particularly appreciates the fact that he can use the money at his own discretion. "It is a gift without strings attached and we did not promise anything in return," he said.

Leskovec also plans to buy new equipment and use part of the grant to organize seminars. He wants to send his students to work with Microsoft, too. "That is a good opportunity for them to get introduced into new fields of research," he said.

Leskovec received his Ph.D. in machine learning from Carnegie Mellon University in September 2008 and spent a year as a postdoctoral researcher at Cornell University. He did his undergraduate studies in computer science at the University of Ljubljana, Slovenia.

Lawmaker Introduces Online Do-not-track Bill

How Web algorithms change our behavior,0

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

New Drug Could Cure Nearly Any Viral Infection

"A team of researchers at MIT's Lincoln Laboratory have designed a drug that can identify cells that have been infected by any type of virus, then kill those cells to terminate the infection. The researchers tested their drug against 15 viruses, and found it was effective against all of them — including rhinoviruses that cause the common cold, H1N1 influenza, a stomach virus, a polio virus, dengue fever and several other types of hemorrhagic fever."

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Snake on the Stoop

Last night when I arrived home, there was a garder snake down on the ground to the left of my door in the bark, at the corner of the brick wall and concrete stoop, maybe a foot long.

What might it represent?

1. the heat - it was sunning itself

2. it came around because we have chipmunks in the garden now - likely because I removed all the cats in the neighborhood which have not returned and I don't miss them

3. I would rather have snakes than cats because snakes don't keep me up at night fighting and howling (unlike renters) and they don't piss everywhere (...), or if they do it isn't enough to notice - I have previous notes on this topic - so long as they don't over-reproduce or nest in my crawlspace (...), this snake is non-poisonous and also seasonal (...), being cold-blooded (...), so I should probably see it as a good omen or at least as an organizational change. Unlike cats and like snakes, renters are a necessary evil. Afterall, I've only owned my place since 2007.

4. but, I do hope they don't find their way to the crawlspace because I suppose they could eventually get in through the dryer vent or air ducts which might detract from the curb appeal. I mean snakes here, not renters.

5. it represents the circle of life and suggests that everything amounts to a mouth and an anus, so I should get into grad school soon before life has another bowel movement

6. I would estimate myself to be somewhere around the esophagus of the circle of life, just not sure how long the snake is

7. If I'm lucky the snake of life within which I've most recently been ingested could be an ouroboros (snake devouring it's tail) so there's a chance I could get recycled

8. too bad I lost my camera

9. I thought about picking up the snake but there's really no point in a personal welcome. I hope it eats the chipmunks. and a few of the renters and possibly a couple of the maintenance crew.

10. I'm getting into a habit of kicking the tree outside at night to shut up that one cicada when I'm ready to sleep. Either the neighbors think I'm nuts or they are relieved when it mysteriously shuts up. Again, much like a few of the renters.

11. I also like to run off the crows in front on Saturday mornings because they upset the mockingbirds who raise holy hell and I like to imagine they think I'm helping which probably means I have low self esteem. But, actually those mockingbirds are collectively more annoying more frequently, although the crows are louder when they show up. They probably come around more often because I leave early and I'm not working from home as much now and wouldn't know about them until the weekend. See renters.

Start-up to release 'stone-like' optical disc that lasts forever

New optical disc aims for consumer market first, then corporate archives
By Lucas Mearian
August 8, 2011 06:05 AM ET

Computerworld - Start-up Millenniata and LG plan to soon release a new optical disc and read/write player that will store movies, photos or any other data forever. The data can be accessed using any current DVD or Blu-ray player.

Millenniata calls the product the M-Disc, and the company claims you can dip it in liquid nitrogen and then boiling water without harming it. It also has a U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) study backing up the resiliency of its product compared to other leading optical disc competitors.

Millenniata CEO Scott Shumway would not disclose what material is used to produce the optical discs, referring to it only as a "natural" substance that is "stone-like."

The M-Disc
Millenniata's M-Disc is made of a stone-like substance that the company claims does not degrade over time.

Like DVDs and Blu-ray discs, the M-Disc platters are made up of multiple layers of material. But unlike the former, there is no reflective or die layer. Instead, during the recording process a laser "etches" pits onto the substrate material.

"Once the mark is made, it's permanent," Shumway said. "It can be read on any machine that can read a DVD. And it's backward compatible, so it doesn't require a special machine to read it - just a special machine to write it."

While Millenniata has partnered with LG for the initial launch of an M-Disc read-write player in early October, Shumway said any DVD player maker will be able to produce M-Disc machines by simply upgrading their product's firmware.

Millenniata said it has also proven it can produce Blu-ray format discs with its technology - a product it plans to release in future iterations. For now, the platters store the same amount of data as a DVD: 4.7GB. However, the discs write at only 4x or 5.28MB/sec, half the speed of today's DVD players.

"We feel if we can move to the 8X, that'd be great, but we can live with the four for now," Shumway said, adding that his engineers are working on upping the speed of recording.

Millenniata is also targeting the long-term data archive market, saying archivists will no longer have to worry about controlling the temperature or humidity of a storage room. "Data rot happens with any type of disc you have. Right now, the most permanent technology out there for storing information is a paper and pencil -- until now," Shumway said.

In 2009, the Defense Department's Naval Air Warfare Weapon's Division facility at China Lake, Calif. was interested in digitizing and permanently storing information. So it tested Millenniata's M-Disc against five other optical disc vendors: Delkin Devices, Mitsubishi, JVC, Verbatim and MAM-A.

"None of the Millenniata media suffered any data degradation at all. Every other brand tested showed large increases in data errors after the stress period. Many of the discs were so damaged that they could not be recognized as DVDs by the disc analyzer," the department's report states.

Recordable optical media such as CDs, DVDs and Blu-ray discs are made of layers of polycarbonate glued together. One layer of the disk contains a reflective material and a layer just above it incorporates an organic transparent dye. During recording, a laser hits the die layer and burns it, changing the dye from transparent to opaque creating bits of data. A low power laser then can read those bits by either passing through the transparent dye layer to the reflective layer or being absorbed by the pits.

Over long periods of time, DVDs are subject to de-lamination problems where the layers of polycarbonate separate, leading to oxidation and read problems. The dye layer, because its organic, can also break down over time, a process hastened by high temperatures and humidity.

While the DVD industry claims DVDs should last from 50 to 100 years, according to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), DVDs can break down in "several years" in normal environments. Additionally, NIST suggests DVDs should be stored in spaces where relative humidity is between 20% and 50%, and where temperatures do not drop below 68 degrees Fahrenheit.

Gene Ruth, a research director at Gartner, said generally he's not heard of a problem with DVD longevity. And, while he admits that a DVD on a car dashboard could be in trouble, the medium has generally had a good track record.

But Ruth said he can see a market in long-term archiving for a product such as the M-Disc because some industries, such as aircraft engineering, healthcare and financial services, store data for a lifetime and beyond.

Millenniata partnered with LG to provide M-Ready technology in most of its DVD and Blu-ray drives. Shumway said the products will begin shipping next month and should be in stores in the beginning of October.

"We felt it was important that we first produce this with a major drive manufacturer, someone that already had models and firmware out there," Shumway said.

Unlike DVDs, which come in 10-, 25-, 50- or 100-disc packs, M-Discs will be available one at a time, or in groups of two or three for just under $3 per disc. Millenniata is also courting system manufacturers in the corporate archive world.

"We're working with some very large channels as we train their distribution networks to launch this," he said. "At the same time, we're launching this at Fry's [Electronics] so consumers can see it and be introduced to this technology."

Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at Twitter @lucasmearian or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed Mearian RSS. His e-mail address is

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Steely Dan drummer, Keith Carlock - '03-'11

Green Earrings

Posted on Steely Dan's site, info on the phenomenal drummer:

Unique, tasteful, musical, and muscular; in our opinion Keith Carlock is destined to be one of the greats.

Born in Greenville, Mississippi, Keith has been playing professionally since his early teens. He attended The University of North Texas where he studied with Ed Soph and George Lawrence.

Keith has drummed SD and Fagen gigs since 2003, and tracked each cut on SD's Everything Must Go, Fagen's Morph The Cat, and Becker's Circus Money. Recent tours with Sting and James Taylor bespeak his growing collection of prestigious drum chairs.

Keith has also gigged and recorded with Grover Washington Jr., David Johansen, The Blues Brothers, Heads Up Superband, Rhett Tyler, Harry Belafonte, Diana Ross, Joe Beck, Leni Stern, Tal Wilkenfeld, and Oz Noy, among others. He's a member of the Wayne Krantz trio — the legendary regulars for the last several years at New York City's premiere "jazz dive", The 55 Bar. In 2007, Keith and friends launched the Nu-Jam band Rudder with a CD and US tour.

Starting in 2006, Keith joined legends like Steve Gadd and Vinnie Colaiuta on the medals podium of Modern Drummer's Readers Poll. In 2009, he ascended to #1 in the best pop, fusion, and all-around categories.

Also In 2009, Keith released his long-awaited Instructional DVD, The Big Picture: Phrasing, Improvisation, Style & Technique.

Visit Keith's website and mailing list at

Friday, August 5, 2011

Why is the West silent on 5-year cyberwar launched by China?

No threat, no outrage, no reprisals after revelation of attacks on 70 organizations in 14 countries

By Kevin Fogarty

August 04, 2011, 12:16 PM —

There were no big surprises in the reaction of the countries or organizations named as targets of a series of persistent, aggressive, often successful online attacks during the past five years – a campaign described in detail by a report from security vendor McAfee, which became public yesterday.

Most of the victims – 49 U.S.-based corporations and a series of U.S. government agencies as well as companies and government sites in 13 other countries – were well aware of the attack, and more aware of their source than the unnamed "state actor" McAfee admitted to in the report.

“All the signs point to China,” Vanity Fair quotes James A. Lewis, director and senior fellow of the Technology and Public Policy Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies as saying.

A U.S. Air Force spokesperson said only that the Department of Defense "reported to Congress in 2010 that China is actively pursuing cyber capabilities with a focus on the exfiltration of information, some of which could be of strategic or military utility," according to a story in Reuters.

Which is pretty much what everyone else has been saying for about the same five years or so, during which large-scale data breaches, successful spear-phishing campaigns and long-term, large-scale penetration attempts have been reported against many U.S. military and government facilities.

Other countries are in even worse shape:

"I'm not surprised because that's what China does, they are gradually dominating the cyberworld," according to India-based IT analyst Vijay Mukhi, who talked to Reuters about the vulnerability of South Asian governments. "I would call it child's play (for a hacker to get access to Indian government data) ... I would say we're in the stone age."

No one is really doing much about either defense or prevention, though.

The White House is encouraging federal agencies to tighten their security, according to a White house spokesman quoted in Reuters today.

The chief executive of the International Cyber Security Protection Alliance (ICSPA) – sort of a law-enforcement version of NATO charged with helping member countries track and fight online attacks – said the McAfee report makes the threat of cyberwarfare irrefutable, apparently to those few people computer-savvy enough to spell "Internet" correctly without knowing that connecting "Internet" and "security" makes a cliched oxymoron more popular and more accurate even than pairing "military" and "intelligence."

Despite its mission to reinforce cybercrime units internationally, ICSPA boss John Lyons put the onus of self-protection on potential victims themselves:

"Businesses that have mainstream exposure to the Internet and that are dependent upon technology for their survival must now surely take the threat seriously," Lyons told Reuters.

Companies that have been breached need to get over their reluctance to admit the attacks and cooperate with each other and with law enforcement to help close gaps that could affect other companies as well, Lyons said.

Absolutely right; everyone involved in IT security has been saying exactly the same thing for 20 years. So far the only change in that reluctance is that companies hacked by non-state groups like Anonymous or LulzSec are now willing to admit it after the hactivists post irrefutable evidence of the attacks.

If someone else doesn't publicize an attack, most companies still avoid mentioning them for fear of copycat attacks and damage to their reputations or stock prices.

Which is largely irrelevant to the main point that a superpower is waging active, open cyberwar against much of the rest of the world to further its own political ends and the commercial fortunes of companies based there.

Individual corporations – however large – are not equipped to respond to those kinds of attacks. They can ramp up technical defenses but, as we saw with the censorship fight between Google and China this spring, corporations are vulnerable to other sorts of pressure – both commercial and temporal.

What would a mid-sized U.S. company do if, for example, a couple of its locally based executives and their families were arrested in Tehran after the home office complained (or simply admitted publicly) that it had been hacked by a group that appeared to be the newly-invigorated cyber-defense force of the Iranian paramilitary?

State-sponsored digital attack and espionage efforts are not the kind of thing for which any company is equipped to respond.

Despite theories that giant global corporations could punish unfriendly governments by closing facilities, shedding jobs and refusing to do business impoverished countries need to survive – a corporation-as-puppetmaster trope common in cyberpunk novels such as those by Bruce Sterling, William Gibson that popularized the concept of "cyberspace" – national governments have far more power to punish corporations than vice versa.

Earlier this year, when conflict over censorship prompted Google to threaten to pull out of China, the Chinese government was clearly worried it would lose a major player in the global economy. It wasn't worried enough to change its policies or plan to replace Google by heavily promoting a homegrown search service it could control more effectively, but they were clearly a little concerned.

Google gave in.

It was a more serious threat when Egypt arrested a mid-level Google executive for participating in the online arguments and discussions that eventually led to the overthrow of the government there in February.

Egypt is not Somalia, whose whole piratical expeditionary force could be overwhelmed by a couple of coast guard cutters or Navy missile cruisers.

Egypt is far too powerful militarily and in its ability to enforce laws within its own borders than most (if any) corporations could manage.

And China – identified by enough DoD and third-party investigations as the source of a long series of dramatic penetrations of U.S. facilities during the past few years – is a much larger step in the international hierarchy above Egypt than Egypt is above Somalia.

Which is probably why neither U.S. nor British government spokespeople said anything of substance about reprisals, defense, additional security measures or any of the other kinds of responses we've come to expect following either major or minor outrages from foreign countries.

Even more important than China's powerful military and arsenal of ICBMs is the huge chunk of the Western economy China owns as our second-largest trading partner and largest creditor.

The U.S. could protest cyberattacks by sending a couple of aircraft-carrier groups to the China Sea for a little gunboat diplomacy, but it would be pretty embarrassing if China were to just repossess the whole fleet as partial repayment of the $1.2 trillion the U.S. owes it.

We'd end up having to pay off the whole debt just to get the boats back—plus whatever huge fee there would be for the towing and daily storage fee at the aircraft-carrier impound lot, and that's a lot of money to spend for bit of saber-rattling that would be futile in the real world and irrelevant in the virtual one.

It would be much more diplomatic, much more effective and much less expensive to respond digitally by building digital defenses able to keep cyberspies out, or at least identify the information they shouldn't be allowed to take and keep that in.

There have certainly been enough attempts to build a force able to do that. In 2009 the newly sworn-in Obama Administration swore to build a swank new facility and powerful new cybersecurity military force.

Unfortunately, the U.S. military – the federal agent most prepared for large-scale, sophisticated cyber defense and counterattack – isn't remotely prepared for any serious effort at cyberwar, according to a Government Accountability Administration report released last week.

Its efforts in cybersecurity have been so uncoordinated between services, inconsistent in its execution and uncertain in its goals, that the DoD admitted earlier this week it essentially has no coherent or effective plan to defend the U.S. against cyberattack.

And, despite threats spoken in harsh voices from under large hats at the Pentagon that attacks made entirely in cyberspace could be made kinetic if foreign hackers ticked them off badly enough, the DoD has done little but agree with the GAO report that it needs to get its staff together on the whole cyberwar thing, and will do so any day now.

So it's not surprising there hasn't been much response to the shameful record revealed in McAfee's report this week.

Part of the reason is that the revalations didn't surprise anyone.

Most of the reason is that, despite knowing in detail about the continued risk as well as the nature, source and method of the attacks, none of the Western "state actors" on the receiving end of five years worth of sustained and consistent attacks has done a damn thing to stop them.

Governments, IOC and UN hit by massive cyber attack

By Daniel Emery Technology reporter, BBC News
Anon hacker The report says the cyber attacks had been going on since 2006

IT security firm McAfee claims to have uncovered one of the largest ever series of cyber attacks.

It lists 72 different organisations that were targeted over five years, including the International Olympic Committee, the UN and security firms.

McAfee will not say who it thinks is responsible, but there is speculation that China may be behind the attacks.

Beijing has always denied any state involvement in cyber-attacks, calling such accusations "groundless".

Speaking to BBC News, McAfee's chief European technology officer, Raj Samani, said the attacks were still going on.

"This is a whole different level to the Night Dragon attacks that occurred earlier this year. Those were attacks on a specific sector. This one is very, very broad."

Dubbed Operation Shady RAT - after the remote access tool that security experts and hackers use to remotely access computer networks - the five-year investigation examined information from a number of different organisations which thought they may have been hit.

"From the logs we were able to see where the traffic flow was coming from," said Mr Samani.

"In some cases, we were permitted to delve a bit deeper and see what, if anything, had been taken, and in many cases we found evidence that intellectual property (IP) had been stolen.

"The United Nations, the Indian government, the International Olympic Committee, the steel industry, defence firms, even computer security companies were hit," he added.

China speculation

McAfee said it did not know what was happening to the stolen data, but it could be used to improve existing products or help beat a competitor, representing a major economic threat.

"This was what we call a spear-phish attack, as opposed to a trawl, where they were targeting specific individuals within an organisation," said Mr Samani.

"An email would be sent to an individual with the right level of access within the system; attached to the message was a piece of malware which would then execute and open a channel to a remote website giving them access.

"Once they had access to an organisation, they either did what we would call a 'smash-and-grab' operation, where they would try and grab as much information before they got caught, or they sometimes embedded themselves in the network and [tried to] spread across different systems within an organisation."

Mr Samani said his firm would "not make any guesses on where this has come from", but China is seen by many in the industry as a prime suspect.

Jim Lewis, a cyber expert with the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, was quoted by the Reuters news agency as saying it was "very likely China was behind the campaign because some of the targets had information that would be of particular interest to Beijing".
Lulzsec Logo Experts warned that commercial espionage was a bigger threat to business than Lulzsec and Anonymous.

"Everything points to China. It could be the Russians, but there is more that points to China than Russia," Lewis said.

However, Graham Cluley - a computer-security expert with Sophos, is not so sure. He said: "Every time one of these reports come out, people always point the finger at China."

He told BBC News: "We cannot prove it's China. That doesn't mean we should be naive. Every country in the world is probably using the internet to spy.

"After all, it's easy and cost-effective - but there's many different countries and organisations it could be."

Mr Cluley said firms were often distracted by the very public actions of LulzSec and Anonymous, groups of online activists who have hacked a number of high-profile websites in recent months.

"Sometimes it's not about stealing your money or publicly leaking your data. It's about quietly stealing your information, which can have a very high political, military or financial value.

"In short, don't let your defences down," he added.