ANOTHER DEVASTATING Chelyabinsk METEOR STRIKE ’7x as likely’ as thought
I think that we (as a species) have been very lucky over the last few thousand years. Just a few large volcanoes (not ‘huge’, merely ‘large’), no massive tsunamis (the one in Japan a couple of years ago and the one in the Indian Ocean back in ’04 are nowhere close to ‘massive’) and essentially no significant asteroid/comet impacts. The Tunguska event is the largest we have had in known history (which only goes back a few thousand years) and we got really lucky it hit in the middle of nowhere. (Detroit, for instance, is around 300 square kilometers, the Tunguska event devastated 2,150 square kilometers, or 7 Detroits.) One of these days (no way to predict, for the most part) we are going to get a very major ‘normal’ event such as a meteor/comet impact that hits a populous area and the results will make the quarter million dead/missing from the Indian Ocean tsunami look like an average day of highway deaths.
It could be happening as I type this, or it could be 10′s of thousands of years in the future. One thing is totally clear, these sorts of events are totally inevitable and we have been fairly lucky up to this point, 7 times luckier, it seems, than we earlier thought.
I got to say I was very skeptical when I started reading the post and kept checking my calendar to see if it was April 1st. As is usual for Schneier’s blog, the comments are also interesting reading; I suggest interested reader(s) scroll down and check them out. The general consensus I got was it was feasible to get a few kbps and the knee jerk response is that bandwidth at that rate is useless. Well, for surfing the ‘net today, that is certainly the case, but back in the ‘old days’ when you weren’t transmitting gigabyte Flash files it actually could be very useful. Back in the ‘old days’ you would transmit compressed code and then compile it (or run it as a script) on the remote host and actually move quite a bit of functionality around over such a low bandwidth connection. So, for well written malware (yes, I know that is generally an oxymoron) such a tiny soda straw would be very valuable.
The moral to this story: with modern computers with all sorts of wireless communication (intentional or otherwise) devices built-in it can take a great deal of effort to truly isolate them.
Why You’re Likelier to Cheat in the Afternoon
Willpower takes work, and the later it gets, the more your energy runs down
A brief one for those of my reader(s) that like that sort of thing. People are more likely to cheat later in the day as they get tired than they are earlier in the day when they are fresh. On a related note, there is this new idea called “Decision fatigue” where decisions get more conservative as the day wears on (for instance, judges were several times more likely to grant early release if asked before lunch than after lunch).
It really amazes me that we have managed to create a society at all, given how damn dumb we are and how programmed by instinct we are.
Close-In Surveillance Using Your Phone’s Wi-Fi
Schneier’s blog post contains links to other articles, but to me the more interesting was reading the comments. Of course, infosec people will whine, bitch and moan, but for the average user this is great. At work this morning a co-worker mentioned that some phone (I think he said iPhone, but wasn’t paying much attention at that moment) was listening to the conversation in the room and would pop up targeted ads related to the conversation. He was talking about how cool it would be to modify it slightly so it would recognize movies and pop up relevant, scene-specific information. I remarked that just the other day I was complaining that without Google I am a moron since I have stopped retaining information I can trivially look up, what about the next generation that never did learn anything? With the context specific information provided by the tools above, they literally don’t have to think about anything, the cloud does it for them. Since they won’t retain any information either, ‘truth’ will be whatever the app discloses to them at whatever instant they are talking about something.
A truly brave new world!
The Battle for Power on the Internet
A very interesting, if a bit long-ish (for the ‘net) article discussing the shifting power between the early Internet adopters and the johnny-come-lately corporate and government interests that are moving in now (well, have been for a decade). Since big bloated governments/corporations move slowly there exists a large window for small nimble ‘startups’ (be they hackers, actual business startups, Russian mafia, geopolitical agitators, etc.) to quickly adopt new technology. The Internet had a long period where the powers-that-be were too sluggish to react, now that period is over and those powers are now acting in their typical reactionary methods to bulldoze the ‘startups’. How this will turn out is hard to predict, though as a student of history I have to favor the oligarchy and give worse odds for the little guys. It is true that the Internet paradigm shifts power somewhat, diversifying leverage, but ultimately, as long as society at large attaches values to shiny tokens of metal (or their virtual equivalent, say in numbered Swiss bank accounts (do they still have those?)) it will be trivial for the oligarchy to purchase the required expertise (meaning they can always find ‘sellouts’ who will work for the highest bidder). If, on the other hand, we actually change the shiny tokens into pure virtual tokens there exists a window where the befuddled powers-that-be can be sidelined. I doubt that will work, particularly here in the good old USofA, as purt near _everyone_ here buys into the fantasy that they can become rich and thus don’t want to trade in the (infinitesimally small, yet still dramatically shrinking every day) chance to become rich by switching tokens they seek after.
DARPA Announces Cyber Grand Challenge
Great! Lets have a contest to see who can build Skynet faster!
Disclosure: I just started a new job where I am working to help build Skynet:
So far as I know (it is a nice change to be working on a job that allows me to talk about it!) no one has actually put the system in charge of their network yet, but this is the only viable path forward, so at some point a system exactly like this one is going to have to be put in control. That this has been true for at least 25 years (actually, almost exactly 25 years) is irrelevant to most people, but sooner or later (I suspect later, but Hexis is well funded by people that think it will be sooner, I hope they are right) automation is the way we are going to have to go. Attack has been automated for decades, it is time for defense to catch up!
Nobody Should Shed a Tear for JP Morgan Chase
Everyone (well, of those tiny number that actually knows this has been in the works) talks about the magnitude of the ‘fine’, but no one is going to jail and none of the decision makers is even having to pony up any of his (or her) ill gotten gains. One hundred percent of the money is coming from shareholders and interestingly, the price of the stock has remained stable. That should tell any rational person (are there any left?) that this ‘record fine’ is meaningless.
…No more crying, please, about no-jail, no-individual-penalty settlements in which companies use shareholder money to pay fines at huge discounts relative to the actual damage they caused. And again, wake me up when even one of these guys goes to jail. There are only about a million Americans doing time for less.
Opinion: A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing
Nutrition research must overcome pseudoscientific measures and self-interest to make progress in the fight against obesity.
I have a strong interest in nutrition (my degree, after all, is in biochemistry and nutrition) and have written about it from time to time. It is amazing to me how certain areas of research have so little scientific method in them; nutrition research seems to be clearly one of these based on the article. I have read a few papers on this topic over the years and haven’t been terribly impressed with the rigor so my feelings are the author is spot on in his analysis. Researching anything to do with humans is problematic at any time, when you are doing research on something where people have a built-in biases (does anyone expect to get straight answers for this: “hey, you fat ass, how much have you been pigging at the trough?”) getting reliable information is damn near impossible, yet billions of dollars are moved around based on policy decisions built on such dubious foundations. As the author says, once you get a culture of dysfunction it is very difficult to change it; the mentors become the problem.
So, keep this in mind the next time you see some headline trumpeting something or other about nutrition.
Pounding Pavement by Heel or Toe
Some more interesting information on running, though not specific to barefoot this time. It seems you can’t get away from physics, striking with your forefoot or your heel result in the same overall impact, but you can shift around where the main stresses occur and for those of us able to shift from forefoot to heel impacting ‘on the fly’, we can give different portions of our anatomy a bit of a break.
Why Robert Reich Cares so Passionately about Economic Inequality
An interesting interview about our current failure to foster any sort of efforts toward remedying income inequality. According to the interviewee, we have had periods in the past where inequality was high, like today, and then we reversed course, so perhaps we can do so again. Sadly, I can’t get optimistic about the prospects, but then again, I was wrong when I was sure our f-ed up government would fail to keep the lights on last night (though they merely kicked the can down the road a couple of months).
I would love to be wrong about the looming apocalypse (see here for an example), gleefully wrong. I am happy to have my pessimism proven to be unwarranted. I just can’t make my brain believe that the sheeple will suddenly start to vote in society’s best interests (which often (though not always) go against _individual_ best interests). Maybe this govt shutdown will lead more people to vote in primaries and drag politicians back to the middle. I think it will be the opposite, though, but time will tell…