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NSA Can Access Non-Net-Connected PCs

Using RF devices implanted in the computers.  Perhaps this is what that previous report of them intercepting shipments is all about.  Color me very favorably impressed.

Color me less impressed with the human timber leading the government.  The Times says that it withheld this information at administration request when it was spilling the beans about our attacks on Iran’s computers during 2012′s presidential campaign.

And then, there’s this:

President Obama is scheduled to announce on Friday what recommendations he is accepting from an advisory panel on changing N.S.A. practices. The panel agreed with Silicon Valley executives that some of the techniques developed by the agency to find flaws in computer systems undermine global confidence in a range of American-made information products like laptop computers and cloud services.

Embracing Silicon Valley’s critique of the N.S.A., the panel has recommended banning, except in extreme cases, the N.S.A. practice of exploiting flaws in common software to aid in American surveillance and cyberattacks. It also called for an end to government efforts to weaken publicly available encryption systems, and said the government should never develop secret ways into computer systems to exploit them, which sometimes include software implants.

Richard A. Clarke, an official in the Clinton and Bush administrations who served as one of the five members of the advisory panel, explained the group’s reasoning in an email last week, saying that “it is more important that we defend ourselves than that we attack others.”

Good grief.  If we end up in an all-out cyber conflict with China, we’ll want to defend ourselves so that we can safely attack others.  Given the porous nature of networks, going all digital Maginot Line is basically the equivalent of going into a fetal position.

I can understand saying that we’re not going to exploit software holes, I can’t understand not doing it.

Posted in Foreign Policy, Military.

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Goodbye to the BCS

Grantland writers take varying looks back at the BCS:

Holly Anderson: I don’t have a special set of BCS feelings I keep burnished and tucked away in a corner of the black pit where my heart should be. I watched all the BCS games, dumbly matched or not, because they were football and they were there and after they ended there was no more football for many moons. I’m interested to see what a playoff format brings, and how quickly it expands, but I know that, like the BCS, it’ll be beholden in some way to the wealthier conferences. The most honest approach might be to scrap any pretext of fairness entirely and simply let the bowls invite whichever teams they want, let the conference championship games take center stage, and let the commissioners and bowl-hawkers decide among themselves who wants to play whom after that.

As anyone who reads View or even Glimpse knows, I think the BCS usually got it right, that the new system won’t get it right any more often, that college football doesn’t have to do things like every other league in every other sport in the world in order to be entertaining and rewarding, and that the we-must-have-a-playoff mentality was driven largely by small-minded, unimaginative sports reporters who can’t tolerate uncertainty.

Posted in Sports.


Secret Side-Deals With Iran?

The LA Times reports:

In his interview, [Iran Chief Negotiator Abbas] Araqchi touched on the sensitive issue of how much latitude Iran will have to continue its nuclear research and development.

U.S. officials said Sunday that Iran would be allowed to continue existing research and development projects and with pencil-and-paper design work, but not to advance research with new projects. Araqchi, however, implied that the program would have wide latitude.

Secret side-deals, secret annexes, secret agreements, are bad diplomacy and terrible governance.  So if true, it would be par for the course for the administration.  If not true, Iran’s laying down the markers for its next round of wriggle-room, given the weakness in the allies’ and Obama’s real willingness to reimpose sanctions.

Posted in Foreign Policy.


Did Someone Say Inequality, Mr. President?

Last year, before inequality became the buzzword for the proposed Democrat rebound, Joel Kotkin explained to us what a society run by the Dems’ biggest donors looks like:

Rather than a beacon for upward mobility, [Silicon] Valley increasingly represents a high-tech version of a feudal society, where the vast majority of the economic gains go to a very select few. The mostly white and Asian tech types in Palo Alto or San Francisco may celebrate their IPO windfalls, but wages for the region’s African American and large Latino populations, roughly on third of the total, have actually dropped, notes a recent Joint Venture Silicon Valley report, down 18 percent for blacks and 5 percent for Latinos, from 2009-11.

But hey, they’re leftists, so the rules are different for them.

Posted in Business, Culture, Demographics.


The Redemption of E.D. Hirsch, Jr.

Sol Stern, at the City Journal site.  His experience with the much-lauded P.S. 87 and its progressive curriculum was, shall we say, unsatisfactory:

I soon received a crash course in educational progressivism. Many of the school’s teachers were trained at such citadels of progressive education as Columbia University’s Teachers College and the Bank Street College of Education, where they learned to repeat pleasant-sounding slogans like “teach the child, not the text” and were told that all children are “natural learners.” PS 87 had no coherent, grade-by-grade curriculum. Thus, my son’s third-grade teacher decided on his own to devote months of classroom time to a project on Japanese culture, which included building a Japanese garden. Each day, when my son came home from school, I asked him what he had learned in math. Each day, he happily said the same thing: “We are building the Japanese garden.” My wife and I expressed our concern to the teacher about the lack of direct instruction of mathematical procedures, but he reassured us that constructing the Japanese garden required “real-life” math skills and that there was nothing to worry about. But I worried a lot, and even more so when my son moved up to fourth grade. His new teacher assigned even more “real-life” math problems, including one that asked students to calculate how many Arawaks were killed by Christopher Columbus in 1492 during his conquest of Hispaniola.

It seems as though Hirsch’s whole life’s work after Cultural Literacy was to bring about a change in how we teach.  I’m not thrilled with the plug for Common Core at the end of Stern’s piece, but it’s important to understand it as an attempt to rescue our kids from the eduocracy that’s pretty much destroyed public education in this country.

Posted in Culture.

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Nice Little Insurance Company Ya Got There

Shame if anything happened to it.

“We are considering factoring into the [qualified health plan] renewal process, as part of the determination regarding whether making a health plan available…how [insurers] ensure continuity of care during transitions,” they write. Which is kind of like the Mafia saying that it will “consider” the amount of protection money you’ve paid in its decision as to whether or not it vandalizes your storefront.

Posted in Health Care.


Balance of Power in the East China Sea

Via Lawfare, a post by Oriana Skylar Mastro, on China’s ADIZ over the Senkakus:

Before creating the Air Defense Identification Zone, China’s leadership would have weighed the possibility that Japan and the U.S. might defy it. China most likely expected exactly the response Washington and Tokyo are giving it. This is the problem. China has the strategic advantage, letting the U.S. fly through the zone, but giving itself the flexibility to respond – and escalate – tensions with Japan on a case-by-case-basis.

….According to Dan Lamothe and Yochi Dreazen, U.S. officials seem to have accepted that China will keep the zone in place, and have shifted their focus to preventing a potential military clash between Japan and China.

This is a mistake. Crisis management is critical to avoid inadvertent escalation, but does little when one side is escalating tensions on purpose to gain advantage and provoke conflict.

This administration seems to have a hard time learning that lesson, assuming they’re interested.

Posted in Foreign Policy, Military.


Solar Convection Cells Confirmed

By a team using data from NASA:

Besides proving theory correct, identifying giant cells on the  might help to better predict solar events that have a direct impact on us—solar flares, , etc.—all can wreak havoc on man-made electronics. Figuring out how to predict such events and to determine their size in advance could go a long way towards helping to build a system to automatically shut down sensitive equipment before such an event occurs.

Saving us from EMP events would be good, assuming we’re not hell-bent on letting Iran get us that way first.  I’m more interested in finding out if these cells can tell us if we’re headed for another Little Ice Age.

Posted in SciTech, Space.


A New Challenge for Deer Creek

A quadricopter drone survives a hit, and the loss of a propeller:

As demonstrated in this video created by researchers at ETH Zurich, normally when a quadcopter loses one of its propellers it’s game over. The software on board that keeps the craft stable doesn’t have a clue how to compensate, and down it goes. But thanks to advanced flight algorithms the researchers have developed, this drone not only stays aloft after one of its propellers flies off, it also returns to the last spot where it was hovering.

With cool video.

Posted in SciTech.


Google’s API Victory over Oracle In Danger

A federal appeals court looks as though it may overturn last year’s ruling allowing Google to copy the structure of Oracle’s API, while writing different underlying code to solve the problems.

Circuit Judge Kathleen O’Malley said the fact that Java is freely available and widely used by programmers doesn’t mean the code can’t get copyright protection. She asked Google’s lawyer, Robert Van Nest, if the company could go ahead and use APIs from Apple or Microsoft. “This would apply to every possible computer program out there,” she said.

“Yes, but only the command structure,” Van Nest responded. “They would have to rewrite millions of lines of code. That’s what Android did. Fifteen million lines of Android code are all original.”

I honestly don’t know which outcome is better for innovation, although it’s clear that developers seems to support Google.  There really has to be a middle ground on this stuff that doesn’t cripple innovation, but also doesn’t let latecomers rob the original developers of the fruits of their labor.

Posted in SciTech.


Exploding Exotic Cars

With a cool, how-he-does-it video:

Posted in Art, Culture, Design.


Nanotechnology – Time To Productize

That’s the claim of a new paper, which also argues that the hold-up is manufacturing processes.  Producing nanostructures is hard; you can either whittle away larger blocks of material, or build them up atom-by-atom, or molecule-by-molecule.  Productizing the technology is going to require manufacturing processes that scale.

Posted in Nanotech, SciTech.


Federal Agency Still Uses Floppy Disks

Yes, you read that right:

Floppy disks, whose use peaked when MTV still played music videos, are no longer featured in any of today’s (or yesterday’s, or last week’s) computer hardware. But still, the Government Printing Office, which runs the Federal Register, accepts documents on CD-ROMs and floppy disks, but not flash drives, SD cards, or email.

Which still puts them ahead of Healthcare.gov.

Posted in Culture.


Someone’s Been Siphoning Data Through a Huge Security Hole in the Internet

A hole that had been explained five years ago, no less:

The traffic hijack, they showed, could be done in such a way that no one would notice because the attackers could simply re-route the traffic to a router they controlled, then forward it to its intended destination once they were done with it, leaving no one the wiser about what had occurred.

Now, five years later, this is exactly what has happened. Earlier this year, researchers say, someone mysteriously hijacked internet traffic headed to government agencies, corporate offices and other recipients in the U.S. and elsewhere and redirected it to Belarus and Iceland, before sending it on its way to its legitimate destinations. They did so repeatedly over several months. But luckily someone did notice.

They noticed this time, that is.

Posted in SciTech.


Patent Trolls Under Siege

Patent reform is getting a boost in Congress and, possibly, in the Supreme Court.  The House voted 325-91 last week for serious reform, beating back a number of Democrat amendments that would have gutted reform.

Passage of the bill is a big step for patent reformers, which would have been hard to imagine even one year ago. However, patent trolls going after “Main Street” businesses like grocery stores and coffee shops have made headlines and enraged politicians from Vermont to California.

Majorities of representatives in both parties supported the bill. On the Republican side, 195 representatives voted in favor of the bill and 27 voted against, while 130 Democrats supported the bill and 64 opposed it. The White House has said it supports the bill, which must first pass the US Senate.

And the Supreme Court is getting ready to hear a case that could clarify the legitimacy or not of certain types of patent claims.  As with most things, I’d rather see the legislature handle this, especially as it seems to be one issue on which Democrats and Republicans tend to agree.

Posted in Law, SciTech.

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Han Solo’s Blaster For Sale

Via Design Taxi:

Those familiar with the Star Wars franchise will remember the scene where Darth Vader uses the Force to get a hold of Han Solo’s DL-44 Blaster. Now, this iconic pistol will be up for sale on 21 December 2013 via Invaluable.com.

“I know you’ve got a certificate and a great story, but I need to be able to connect this blaster with the movie.  Do you might if I call a buddy of mine down to take a look at it?”

Posted in Culture, Movies.


Raul Candy Store

 

Posted in Architecture, Architecture, Culture, Design.


Ah, Reform, Peking Style

Not exactly encouraging:

When the screening in Jiangsu ended, state media reported, local party chief Luo Zhijun exhorted the assembled officials to “correctly understand the lessons of history.” The film’s message: The Soviet Union didn’t fall apart because of the communist system itself, but because of individuals who betrayed it, especially Mikhail Gorbachev.

The film is part of an ideological campaign launched by China’s new leader, Xi Jinping, to re-energize the party and enforce discipline among its members. It has been shown at dozens of political meetings since September.

For those of you who thought Mao was a soft, cuddly swimmer.

Posted in Foreign Policy.


Science of Snowflakes

A profile of Kenneth Libbrecht, the man who wrote the book on snowflakes (literally, as BoingBoing points out).

Over the course of his research, Libbrecht’s work has grown to encompass art and science. He’s produced both scientificpapers and hundreds of beautiful photos of natural snowflakes (which he’s published in severaldifferentbooks and had featured on U.S. postage stamps), and also devised ingenious ways to artificially grow snowflakes in a lab to study their formation in microscopic detail.

 

Posted in SciTech.


Sean Trende Offers Hope for Colorado Republicans

Even with a contentious Senate primary getting underway for the Republican nomination, some are writing off the seat and conceding it to Udall.  Sean Trende, not so much:

If Republicans had a stronger field, this race would probably move up a tier. But there’s no doubt that Udall is benefiting from a field of relatively unknown candidates, plus Ken Buck (who famously lost a 2010 Senate race that was thought to be unlose-able against Michael Bennet). Still, PPP shows Udall up by only four points, which is similar to what an earlier Quinnipiac poll showed. Buck could be leading among likely voters. It seems improbable that this race will stay competitive through November, but for now, Udall seems to have a race on his hands.

Trende is a smart guy.  You have to be, to hang with Michael Barone.

Posted in Politics.


50 Years, 50 Toys

What people who can’t afford authentic Star Wars memorabilia have been buying for the last half-century:

Posted in Culture, Design.


Saving = Happiness?

Yes, you’d expect a bank to say that.  But isn’t savings actually earned success for most people?  I know it makes me feel happier.

Posted in Business, Design.


Climate Deniers

That would be James Hansen, last seen “adjusting” historical climate data to show the “correct” increases.  He’s still at it, plugging away, claiming that while we’ll have to suffer through 1-degree changes, we have a moral obligation to cripple our economies to prevent 2-degree warming.

The new study is a departure from the typical climate science paper, both for the wide variety of fields represented in the list of co-authors, which includes economist Jeffrey Sachs, as well as for the policy implications it raises, something climate scientists tend to shy away from. The authors also plainly state that humanity has a moral obligation to future generations, the type of statement scientists also tend to avoid.

They’d do better with less Jeffrey Sachs and more Bjorn Lomborg, and better still if they started admitting that their models don’t work.

Posted in Climate, SciTech.


Detroit, Illinois, Colorado

Yes, pensions.  No, we are not Detroit or Illinois, and won’t be for some time, even if we left things as they are.  Still, our problems are far from solved, and rather than writing foolish columns about what Detroit could have learned from PERA, we’d do better to learn from Detroit and Illinois.

Eileen Norcross from Mercatus noted that, per Detroit:

Detroit’s unfunded pension liabilities are immense, at over $9 billion on a risk-free (guaranteed-to-be-paid) basis. Unfortunately, they were valued and funded incorrectly. For years, the city assumed it would earn 8 percent annually on plan assets, an uncertain expectation that did not match the certainty of pension payments.

This “asset-liability mismatch” means the plan took a gamble that didn’t pay off. Accounting tricks during boom years made the fund look flush giving the city the impression it could dole out “13th checks” for some employees.

The way to avoid self-delusion on this point is to use a proper discount rate for your liabilities.  We’re not doing that now, and GASB has, in trying to close the loophole, only increased the incentive to chase return and end up with risk.

Then, there’s Illinois’s plan, which just became law.

The plan is receiving “sniper fire from all sides,” as one lawmaker put it. Labor unions don’t like it and are certain to take the state to court, arguing that Illinois’ constitution prevents the impairment of benefits. Some legislators also don’t like it. They would prefer to see more significant structural reforms and are worried about the very large annual payments that will affect spending in other areas of the budget.

It’s very likely that Illinois isn’t even doing much to delay the inevitable.

Posted in Economics.

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Libertarians For (and Against) Safety Nets

In particular, some form of the Basic Income.  Matt Zwolinski of Bleeding Heart Libertarians makes the case for, including a couple of different forms it might take, and quotes from both Friedman and Hayek in support of the idea:

Both Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek advocated for something like a Basic Income Guarantee as a proper function of government, though on somewhat different grounds. Friedman’s argument comes in chapter 9 of his Capitalism and Freedomand is based on the idea that private attempts at relieving poverty involve what he called “neighborhood effects” or positive externalities. Such externalities, Friedman argues, mean that private charity will be undersupplied by voluntary action.

[W]e might all of us be willing to contribute to the relief of poverty, provided everyone else did. We might not be willing to contribute the same amount without such assurance.

And so, Friedman concludes, some “governmental action to alleviate poverty” is justified. Specifically, government is justified in setting “a floor under the standard of life of every person in the community,” a floor that takes the form of his famous “Negative Income Tax” proposal.

David Henderson of EconLog disagrees, targeting, in particular, Zwolinski’s argument that this helps redress past injustices.  Henderson argues that it’s both poorly-targeted and overkill for that purpose.

And James Pethokoukis weighs in with a reminder of the human benefits – and potential costs – of how it’s currently constructed.

 

Posted in Economics.