Exclusively from Cambridge: Royal guests and 800 years of the University of Cambridge

23 November 2009 by Anna Mieczakowski  
Filed under News and views

On the 19th of November 2009, I was invited by the Vice Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, Professor Alison Richard, to attend the opening of the Alan Reece Building at the developing science and technology campus in West Cambridge. This particular opening was special not only because it provided a £15m home to exceptional academics from the Department of Engineering’s Institute for Manufacturing (IfM) and it happened at the time when the whole of Cambridge is celebrating the 800th anniversary (1209-2009) of its famous University, but more importantly because the opening duties were performed by a man with a very long name – His Royal Highness Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh KG KT and Chancellor of the University of Cambridge (whom some of us warmly call ‘the King’). The leading British industrialist, Dr Alan Reece, the institute’s main benefactor was attending the event as a guest of honour.

Prince Philip was attending the IfM opening gala for about 45 minutes and during that time he spoke to a few Cambridge-bred engineers (among whom was James Moultrie – a winner of Scientific and Technical Oscar and an Emmy Award for work on a range of lenses for professional 35mm cinematography) and some undergraduate students. While waiting with 400 other guests (most of whom were incognito bodyguards) for Prince Philip to unveil the plague, I wondered whether he would say something controversial or inappropriate as he often did in the past. If he did make a comment that was not in line with the royal protocol, then it wouldn’t had been the first time that he got in trouble with the Cambridge folk. BBC reports that in 1999 Cambridge students accused the Duke of Edinburgh of racism and bigotry and campaigned to remove him from his position as university chancellor. But I was nicely surprised as Prince Philip was very charming and sweet and he made a little joke about how he officially opened the main side of the Department of Engineering in 1952 and has been given the task of opening things ever since. He smiled often and did not mind at all when myself and others endlessly blinded him with the camera flash.

Although Queen Elizabeth II was also in Cambridge at the time, she did not attend the opening gala at the IfM because she was busy with her formal visit to King’s College and the Senate House. Even if many people did not have the opportunity to see, speak to or take photos of the Queen and the Duke, the presence of these two members of the royal family was felt in the city because, in true royal fashion, one of the main roads in the city centre was closed for the day.

Don’t be fooled by Bots

20 November 2009 by Anna Mieczakowski  
Filed under News and views

Recently I received a few emails with comments about my blog articles. At first glance all emails looked like they contained genuine content, but shortly after I decided that they sounded a bit too generic for my liking so I googled the email address from which the comments were ‘apparently’ sent and came across the BotScout website, which confirmed my suspicion that the blog comments were sent by Internet bots. Interested in what bots are and how they operate, I decided to investigate this matter a bit further and in the process I found out the following…

Basically, bots (also known as web robots, www robots or simply bots) are automated web scripts which perform structurally repetitive tasks on the Internet at a much higher rate than a human would do. For example, bots are often used to register on forums, pollute databases, spread spam, and abuse forms on websites. More malicious bots are used to coordinate and operate an automated attack on networked computers, such as a denial-of-service attack by a botnet. Jeremy Linden, a researcher at Arbor Networks, believes that almost every major crime problem on the Internet can be traced to bots, for example bots are often used to monitor keystrokes to collect passwords and other sensitive data for identity theft and credit card fraud. While David Dagon, a PhD student from Georgia Tech, says that networks of bots distribute as much as 90% of all junk emails (see “Wired” for more details).

A standard procedure for protecting yourself from unauthorised intrusion is to firewall your network and use antivirus programs. Unfortunately, bots have the capacity to infiltrate even protected computers and they can even pose a bigger threat than virulent malware such as the famously destructive ‘Melissa’, ‘I Love You’, and ‘Slammer’ viruses.

But bots are not always bad. In fact, they are commonly used to play games, report weather, provide zip-code information and sports scores, convert currency or other units and manage Internet Relay Chat (IRC) channels such as AOL Instant Messenger and MSN Messenger. However, as one of “Wired” articles says “little by little the term is losing its neutrality, and the phrase malicious bot is becoming redundant”.