Random Samples

Science  16 Feb 2007:
Vol. 315, Issue 5814, pp. 917

    The Musée de l'Homme in Paris has recruited a superstar. A new exhibition on the history of humankind opening this week will feature a cast of the skull of world-famous soccer player Lilian Thuram. His cranium—reproduced using a magnetic resonance imaging scanner in January—will be in the company of two other Frenchmen: 17th century philosopher René Descartes and a well-preserved 30,000-year-old male Cro-Magnon fossil on display for the first time.


    The museum wanted a living person's skull in the exhibit. It picked Thuram, a campaigner against racism and social injustice, as a symbol of the unity of humankind. Thuram, in an interview in the February issue of Sciences et Avenir, says the exhibit “shows we're all from the same family.”

    The choice is also a comment on the museum's own history, says archaeologist Nathan Schlanger of the National Institute for Research in Preventive Archaeology in Paris. The Musée de l'Homme long harbored the remains of Saartjie Baartman, an early 19th century Khoisan woman from South Africa known as the “the Hottentot Venus” who was taken around Europe as a curiosity and whose skeleton, genitals, and brain were on display in the museum after she died. She was returned to South Africa in 2002. “Saartjie came in through a racist, colonial context, as a passive object on display,” says Schlanger. “Thuram is a modern Frenchman who happens to be black and who affirms himself as an equal.”


    What shouldn't you use as a computer password? Engineer Michel Cukier and colleagues at the University of Maryland, College Park, sought to “build a profile of attacker behavior” by monitoring four Linux computers connected to the Internet. Over 24 days, there were 269,262 hacker attempts.

    “Root” was by far the most common attempted username, tried in more than 12% of the attempts. Next came “admin,” “test,” “guest,” “info,” “adm,” “mysql,” “user,” “administrator,” and “oracle.” Attempted passwords were even more banal. In addition to trying the username, most went with serial digits such as “1234” or with “password,” “passwd,” or “test.”

    Cukier says the work should help security administrators combat mass automated assaults, the most common type of hacking.

  3. NETWATCH: Way Back Weather

    Three funnels dangle from a roiling storm cloud in the earliest known tornado photograph. Snapped in 1884 near Howard, South Dakota, the scene is one of several hundred vintage images on display at this gallery from the U.S. National Weather Service.

    The illustrations and photos date from the early 1800s to the 1990s, recording the effects of floods, hurricanes, blizzards, and other types of extreme weather. Visitors can relive the dust storms that swept the Great Plains in the 1930s and view some of the damage from Hurricane Camille, which swamped the Gulf Coast 36 years before Katrina. The gallery also records advances in weather-observing technology and holds what might be the oldest existing radar images of a weather event, which show a cold front blowing toward Boston in 1943.




    A “Doomsday” seed vault, designed to preserve the world's agricultural diversity, will be built to survive the worst scenarios of global warming for at least 2 centuries, according to architectural plans released last week. The $4.8 million Svalbard Global Seed Vault will be located on a Norwegian island just 1000 kilometers from the North Pole (Science, 23 June 2006, p. 1730). The plans call for two chambers dug deep into a mountainside 130 meters above sea level—more than high enough to stay dry even if all the ice in Greenland and Antarctica melts. The chambers will be connected to the outside via a 120-meter-long tunnel.

    “This design takes us one step closer to guaranteeing the safety of the world's most important natural resource,” says Cary Fowler of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, which will help fund the operation and coordinate the acquisition of seeds. Construction should begin next month and be finished by September. The architects designed an entrance with lighting so that it will “gleam like a gem in the midnight sun.”