Think Greece can escape debts, responsibility, a national crash?

Greece would be in much better shape now if it had never joined the euro zone, or if it had been kicked out in 2004 when it admitted that it had lied about its finances to join the club. So would the rest of Europe.

So why not get out now?

One answer is the same one that was given when Greece’s cheating was revealed: Legally, there is no way out. The euro was designed to be the Roach Motel of currencies. Once you enter, you can never leave. There is no provision for departure.

The sophistry in this article is that the lies, the cheating, was “revealed”. Hogwash. Everyone knew what was going on. Including the Greek politicians who stood in line to gobble up the Euro dole.

But, of course, there is a way out. It would be messy, and perhaps disastrous. But no one is going to send an army to Athens to force it to keep the euro.

If Greece were to follow the example set by Argentina nearly a decade ago, it would simply convert its debts from euros into its old currency, the drachma, at the old exchange rate of 340.75 drachmas to one euro. It could also convert euro currency in the country at the same rate. So if you owned one million euros in Greek bonds, they would be converted to bonds with a face value of 340.75 million drachmas.

With a printing press available, Greece could meet those obligations. Of course the drachma would soon be worth a lot less — perhaps 1,000 to the euro. So bondholders would have lost two-thirds of face value…Greece would suddenly be forced to run a balanced budget, or to borrow from its own citizens, whose savings would have lost much, if not most, of their value.

For Greece to pull that off, it would probably have to do it over a weekend, without leaks of what it was planning. If people got wind of what might be coming, there would be an immediate run on Greek banks…

Think there are any Euro politicians who could keep that kind of secret?

…Greece remains woefully uncompetitive in export markets, and there is no credible plan to get its economy growing. The rest of Europe uses the threat of cutting off funds to force more and more austerity on the Greek government.

The message from Greece now may be summarized as, “I’m small. I’ve suffered. You can afford to rescue me. If you don’t, I can create chaos for all of you.”

Part of the earlier spring agreement Greece agreed to included – eventually – a replacement rate of 1 for 10 as civil servants retired. Some of the hacks on board before the government began the hiring tsunami that followed EU membership. Well, 18-20,000 retired who should have been replaced by 2,000 tops. The government hired 24,000.

Neutron star at heart of the Crab Nebula pumping out gamma rays

In 1054, a supernova went off in our galactic neighborhood and was recorded in a number of historical accounts. Today, the remnants of that blast form the spectacular Crab Nebula shown above. Buried within it is a rapidly rotating neutron star, which we can detect by its pulsed emissions. Now, researchers have used a rather unusual telescope — one that incorporates our own planet into the optics—to catch a glimpse of the pulsar using very high energy gamma rays…

The Crab Nebula, being only about 1,000 years old, contains a pulsar that’s both spinning rapidly and is relatively close to us, which makes for an excellent test of various theories about neutron star behavior. Based on measurements from other pulsars, it has looked like pulsar emissions tended to remain fairly even until they hit energies of 100MeV to a few GeV, at which point they underwent an exponential decay (above those energies, emissions rapidly tail off and there are few photons of higher energies). Observations of the Crab Nebula had picked up a few high energy photons, but these were erratic and not clearly packaged into pulses, so they simply set an upper limit on possible emissions at high energies.

To get a better view of this pulsar, a research team turned to telescope called VERITAS, located in the Arizona desert. VERITAS consists of four 12m telescopes, but these are never focused on the stars. Instead, they are used to detect light in the Earth’s atmosphere that is caused by incoming gamma rays.

When a highly energetic gamma ray strikes the atmosphere, it sets off a shower of energetic particles, some of which end up moving faster than the speed of light in that medium. The particles (at least, the ones that aren’t neutrinos) slow down rapidly by emitting light called Cherenkov radiation. Telescopes like VERITAS use this light to reconstruct the path of the particles back to the source, providing information about its direction and energy. In short, the entire atmosphere gets used as something roughly analogous to a CCD…

…When the data was analyzed, a clear pattern of pulses became apparent at energies above 120GeV, and the timing of the pulses lined up nicely with observations at lower energies made using the Fermi space telescope. The object there is pulsing at much higher energies than any previously detected…

In any case, the authors make a compelling case that we should be looking at the Crab Nebula at higher energies than we generally do, since a careful study of gamma rays may help us constrain or eliminate various models of neutron stars. And, if possible, looking at other pulsars might give us a greater sense as to whether the one in the Crab Nebula is an anomaly.

And it rocks!

Dark valley, distant mountains

Click photo to enlarge
We were out for a walk just before sunrise, this morning, and turned along the bosque while the sunrise was catching the Ortiz mountains on the left – and Sandia Crest to the right about 50 miles away – while La Cieneguilla was still in late dawnlight.

My new pocket camera has a pretty solid 16X optical zoom – which would have been much sharper if I had my monopod along to shoot the Sandia photo at a slow speed.

In all, still a lovely autumn morning. Overnight rain here in the valley, snow on the mountains.

The age of the iPad arrives for India’s schools

The long-awaited $35 laptop is here, the Indian government said on Wednesday. And it’s not a laptop!

Kapil Sibal, India’s minister for human resources development unveiled “Aakash,” a tablet computer that will cost the ministry 2276 Indian rupees, or $50, at a press conference in New Delhi.

Free tablets were distributed to 500 students invited from across India to the event. The government will be providing subsidies to students to bring the cost down to about $35.

The tablet, which has a seven-inch touch screen and 256 megabytes of RAM, will use the Android 2.2 operating system from Google and has two USB ports…

DataWind, a company founded in 2001 by two brothers who live in Canada, Suneet and Raja Tuli, won the tender for the tablet, beating out several other bidders. The company’s research and development is based in Montreal, but its products were, until now, mainly sold in the Britain…

Unlike DataWind’s other products, which are made in China, the new device will be manufactured in India, Ms. Khan said, by a company called Quad. DataWind won the tender from the government to provide 100,000 devices, beating out several other bidders, Ms. Khan said. If the trial run is successful, “the next order is for one million units,” she said.

There are three significant aspects to this announcement, the culmination of an Indian project to bring cyber-education to their schools.

First, is recognition of a new paradigm created worldwide by Apple’s introduction of the iPad. That took a partially-realized form factor to something truly useful. Lightness, thinness, miniaturization possible with the latest components. Apple proved the concept. The world is adopting it.

Second, the Indian government and DataWind have cut costs to the bone enabling mass production – and therefore access – for students as the target market of the hardware. Using a version of the free Android/Linux OS, the device can function as an eReader and provide internet access anywhere with a wifi hotspot. Subsidizing the cost for local school districts helps the rollout which starts with college students – then, down through high schools to elementary students. A process which even India’s ingrained corruption may not interfere with.

Third, the task which lies before the Indian government, education ministries and, hopefully, innovation in local schools. The Android/Linux OS means that individuals can participate in growing uses for the device. Folks can develop educational apps which prove to be successful and productive.

“Aakash” means “sky” in Hindi. And the sky may be the only limit to this project.

Thanks, Ursarodina

NYPD rolls out biggest identity theft bust in U.S. history

Police said on Friday they eavesdropped on thieves speaking Russian, Mandarin and Arabic to make the biggest identity theft bust of its kind in U.S. history against a $13 million crime ring specializing mainly in selling Apple electronics overseas.

Authorities said “Operation Swiper” indicted 111 people from five criminal enterprises in Queens, New York, the nation’s most ethnically diverse county, where 138 languages are spoken and more than half the population is foreign born…

A two-year investigation revealed the enterprises had ties to larger syndicates in Africa, Europe, the Middle East and eastern Asia, Kelly said. The crime rings ran nationwide shopping sprees in which “crew leaders” oversaw “shoppers” and thieves conducted their business from five-star hotels, renting luxury cars and private jets…

Police said they seized $650,000 in cash, Apple computer products worth tens of thousands of dollars, $850,000 worth of computer equipment stolen from the Citigroup Building in Queens, seven handguns and a truck full of electronics, computers, designer shoes, watches and identity theft equipment…

Bosses of each crime ring received blank credit cards from suppliers in Russia, Libya, Lebanon and China.

The bosses then hired “skimmers” who posed for jobs such as waiters and retail shop workers so they could use electronic devices to steal information from customer credit cards. That information was then sent to a “manufacturer” who programed the information into the magnetic strips of blank credit cards.

The crime rings also used card printing machines to forge credit cards and state drivers licenses to match them…

Police then said “shoppers” in the crime rings would use the forged credit cards and IDs to go on weekly shopping sprees around the U.S. at retailers such as Nordstrom’s, Macy’s, Gucci and Best Buy and sell those items mostly to people overseas.

But by far, Gregory Antonsen said, thieves spent the most time buying computer products from Apple. “This is primarily an Apple case,” Antonsen said. “Apple is a big ticket item and a very easy sell.”

Antonsen added forged credit cards were easy for criminals to make here because U.S. credit cards are less sophisticated than those in Europe, where fraud of this magnitude would have been much more difficult…

The indicted individuals are charged with crimes ranging from identity theft and forging credit cards to robbery. Police said 86 of the 111 people indicted for the crimes are currently in police custody and the remaining 25 were being sought.

It starts with the simplest thing in the world. Always read the details of your credit card statement. Doesn’t matter if it belongs to the company you work for or if it’s your own. You’re the best person to catch the skimmer.

Cripes, the first time I caught someone doing it was in the late 1970’s at my [then] favorite Indian/Muslim restaurant in NYC. I saw dinner at the restaurant come through twice in a month – weeks apart – but, I’d only been there for a long weekend at a trade show. The style of theft ain’t any different – just the tech that makes it easier.

Terror checks at Heathrow were racist – phonied up to look busy

Heathrow counter-terrorism officers regularly put passengers with Arabic names on a security database to make it appear as though they had been busy, a tribunal was told.

Former Det Con Kevin Maxwell said Metropolitan Police detectives would routinely sift through landing cards of foreign nationals and randomly type their details into a police database, without ever seeing the passengers.

The former officer, who is black and homosexual, was giving evidence at an employment tribunal, where he is suing the force for homophobic attitudes and racial discrimination. The case is expected to last six weeks.

He said colleagues working with him in the counter-terrorism unit at Heathrow’s Terminal 5 would take the landing cards, filled in by visitors, from an unmanned Border Agency desk. They copied the details into the police’s database. It was claimed that the practice was widespread throughout the counter terrorism unit at Heathrow, to keep up the Metropolitan Police stop figures…

He said counter-terrorism officers would target black and Asian people for random stops in a queue at the airport.

To avoid being seen as racist another officer would also talk to a white person directly in front of them. However, the white person’s details would not be entered into the police database, Det Con Maxwell said.

Cripes, I hope this tale hasn’t made it to TSA here in the States. All they need is a suggestion for yet another way to game the system.