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Comment: Re:Misuse of FOIA (Score 5, Interesting) 231

by James McGuigan (#47443961) Attached to: NSA Says Snowden Emails Exempt From Public Disclosure

Edward Snowdon understood what would happen if he where to seriously try and push the issue internally.

The global surveillance network was a core NSA policy authorized at the highest levels. This was not simply some rouge agent or rouge department. Previous individuals have attempted to raise concerns internally and failed to achieve any change underlying policy. The NSA has even deliberately lied to congress on the matter.

As a contractor, he has no employment rights. Making noise would likely get his security clearance revoked and his employer finding someone else who doesn't have a moral problem with surveillance. It would also likely get himself added to the NSA watchlist.

As a pragmatist, his decision to publicly release records has successfully created enough political pressure for congress to at least review the NSA's policies. A cowardly little shit who was willing to risk everything on a high risk venture, with a very strong possibility of getting caught, that takes some major balls from someone who knows exactly what the NSA is capable of.

Comment: Re:Come now. (Score 1) 104

by James McGuigan (#47418591) Attached to: How Japan Lost Track of 640kg of Plutonium

Though in this case, it also highlights a degree of redundancy. No material was actually lost, but there where multiple spreadsheets and a data discrepancy discovered during a audit. This triggered an alarm and an investigation, the system failed safe. Maybe that was a high degree of wasted effort over a false alarm, but it would appear to add an extra layer of security against data manipulation to hide deliberate theft.

Comment: Re:Why don't they just convert them? (Score 1) 232

by James McGuigan (#47234249) Attached to: US To Auction 29,656 Bitcoins Seized From Silk Road

US Regulations prohibit selling assets through a foreign owned exchange (are there any major US bitcoin exchanges?). There may also be bureaucratic rules for seized assets to be offered at public auction. There may also be the worry that dumping a large quantities of bitcoin onto the open market may crash the price, and someone would have to be responsible for agreeing a selling strategy (which will be criticized with the benefit of hindsight).

The US government also wishes to keep these coins out of the underground economy (ie the digital pirates). They can't verify the identities or force a conditions of resale agreement on joe public at a bitcoin exchange.

Comment: Re:Can we blacklist these coins? (Score 1) 232

by James McGuigan (#47234201) Attached to: US To Auction 29,656 Bitcoins Seized From Silk Road

Now assuming such a system where to be widely implemented in software, a more likely scenario would be for the government to impose this address history blacklisted on government registered financial institutions. The government would no longer need to seize the Silk Road bitcoins, but simply discover their anonymous bitcoin address and freeze the the entire forward chain of the proceeds of "illicit crime" (this would be done mostly likely before a trial). Should the bitcoins themselves be recovered, the government can simply remove the address from the blacklist and then auction them back to the market.

There would still be an underground economy that didn't care for the blacklist designation, but if there was a significant amount of blacklisted coins and sufficent market demand for whitelisted coins (ie I can't pay my taxes or my mortgage with blacklisted coins, maybe the major exchanges would become legally obligated to implement the blacklists), then there would effectively become a market rate at bitcoin laundries selling blacklisted coins for whitelisted ones.

Comment: Re:Initial Offer (Score 1) 232

by James McGuigan (#47233969) Attached to: US To Auction 29,656 Bitcoins Seized From Silk Road

There are several reasons I imagine for keeping the bidding to institutional investors:

1. They can't sell the coins directly on a non US based bitcoin exchange
2. They have a stated aim of keeping these coins from going back into the underground economy (ie individuals)
3. A high barrier to entry limits the number of bidders to an amount manageable via a bureaucratic paper/in-person auction
4. Less to go wrong technically, institutional investors are less likely to claim they didn't receive their coins.
5. They get to enforce a set of unoffical financial regulations on institutional investors, which they hope to become a defacto trading standard
6. A low number of auctions/bidders makes for a more strategic bidding process, rather than "market rate" approach over hundreds/thousands of small auctions
7. Lots of small bids would likely see these coins almost immediately dumped on the exchanges, possibly causing a price crash before the auction ended
8. The fear that if the process was opened up to the public, then "digital pirates" may attempt to interfere with the process as a form of activism
9. An unofficial kickback to the financial elite, to keep them friendly to the FBIs requests

Comment: Re:Trust but verify (Score 2) 211

by James McGuigan (#47228301) Attached to: Tesla Releases Electric Car Patents To the Public

I think we can safely divide the potentual innovators in electric car design into two categories:

1. Start-ups and lone individuals who lack any significant patent portfolio of their own
2. The small number of big auto-giants (General Motors, Ford, Chrysler)

The promise was simply not to "initiate" any patent lawsuits as long as people where acting in "good faith". This is effectively the offer of a patent non-aggression pact, if you don't sue us, we won't sue you.

Startups can tweak and reinvent the technology, but they then can't sue Tesla if they borrow their ideas back. The promise avoids the barrier to entry of hiring a patent laywer before you can even start tinkering.

The big auto-giants would probably seek a more formally written agreement, but as Tesla Motors was first to properly research high end electric cars, so they probably hold many core and fundamental patents. Big auto will probably be infringing on something in their own electric cars. And big auto could probably find some technicality of their own mountain of patients to stick on Tesla Motors.

A long patent lawsuit might be costly for big auto, but could push Tesla Motors out of business completely.

Comment: Re:Mistake to go in with the Ruskies (Score 1) 155

by James McGuigan (#47208941) Attached to: Getting the Most Out of the Space Station (Before It's Too Late)

During the cold war, the stakes where high. Now the stakes are low, so both sides are starting to get petty.

Neither side will allow the diplomatic spat over Ukraine to escalate to all out nuclear war. Conventional military conflict must also be avoided as that contains the implicit threat of an out of control escalation into nuclear war. Thus the game of tit for tat escalation of hostilities progresses in baby steps, we have now escalated from "nasty letters" to economic sanctions. In Soviet Russia economic sanctions is raising gas prices or threatening to throw away a $150 billion dollar toy.

This is a very clever political gambit to give the US/EU a deadline to drop its economic sanctions after the diplomatic fuss has died down. I'm pretty sure the Russian policy regarding the space station will return to the original agreement once diplomatic tensions have resolved themselves.

Comment: Re:Battery life (Score 2) 376

by James McGuigan (#47208761) Attached to: Theater Chain Bans Google Glass

Society at large sees a futuristic and experimental Star Trek head visor. You can't buy them in the shops, nor online, and their rarity means the majority of people have not personally used one or even had a personal friend demonstrate how it works.

I have not personally seen any tech specs on the device, as a technologists my previous assumption was that it would be of comparable spec to a high end mobile phone, with some additional constraints imposed by miniaturization.

A non-techie sees a futuristic device that they don't fully understand through lack of direct experience and probably conceptualize something from a sci fi film. Many people are afraid of new technology they don't understand.

A bureaucrat simply sees the camera lens and says "no cameras allowed"
 

Comment: Re:Perhaps some consideration of the employment... (Score 1) 325

by James McGuigan (#47181843) Attached to: Fixing the Humanities Ph.D.

Actually we do have a very small number of life tenure positions outside Academia. The most noticeable examples would be Supreme Court Judges and Members of the UK House of Lords.

The purpose of tenure is actually the holder the freedom to explore unpopular ideas and the freedom to make unpopular choices without having to worry about political consequences from the bureaucracy. Tenure in the judiciary and politics, along with separation of powers, was a practical solution to the previous abused of power under monarchy.

In academia, tenure would give the holder the same intellectual freedom as the landed gentry who where independently wealthy and not in need of an income. The Nobel Prize ($1.2 million USD) and other major academic prizes serve a similar function as tenure, but without attaching the individual to an organization.

Comment: Massive Increase In Higher Education (Score 1) 1

by James McGuigan (#47180181) Attached to: Fixing the Humanities Ph.D.

A hundred years ago, only a small percentage of the population went to university. Academia while not exclusive to the rich, did have a much higher share of gentlemen scholars who where not in need of an income, or at least had friends in high places willing to serve as patron. The subjects themselves where also much newer, thus a PHD was not always forced to investigate an ultra specialized niche.

Then a correlation was discovered, those with university degrees tended to be set for life. A degree itself soon became almost a basic requirement for any mid-level job, so the lower classes started flooding the universities and the expectation that everybody will earn a degree. So qualification inflation started to happen, a degree is no longer enough, you need a masters or a PHD now to secure your place in the job market.

The government sets a budget for science research, and we still have a number of rich patrons and alumni donating into the system, but the ratio of research funding to university students has gone down considerably (because the student population has rapidly increased) and the ratio of PHD students to available professorships has gone up.

There are too many people chasing too few places, but it takes a generation for the lesson to be learnt, and the promise of our parents generation was that degrees where rare and near gaurentee of a successful job. The truth has always been that success often requires standing outside of the crowd, and its impossible to create a standardized formula to achieve this.

+ - Psychedelic Chemist and "Godfather of Ecstasy" Alexander Shulgin Dies at 88->

Submitted by James McGuigan
James McGuigan (852772) writes "Alexander “Sasha” Shulgin, has passed away at the age of 88. He was also the author of half autobiography and half chemical cookbooks PIHKAL (Phenethylamines I Have Known And Loved) and TIHKAL (Tryptamines i Have Known And Loved). In these tomes, he documented the discovery, synthesis, and her personal bioassay of over 230 psychoactive compounds, whilst evaluating them for their psychedelic and/or entactogenic potential, whilst operating under a official US Schedule I license. His goal in publishing was to ensure this research would never be censored. In 1998 the UK government even passed the Misuse of Phenethylamines Act in his honor, outlawing his entire body of work. RIP Alexander “Sasha” Shulgin."
Link to Original Source

Comment: Re:Not today though - America has no honour left (Score 1) 519

The unwritten understanding of the intelligence community is that everybody is spying on everybody else, yet nobody will actually admit to doing it.

The revelations about Angela Merkel's phone resulted in a bit of diplomatic banter and point scoring, plus a few blushed faces, but the Germans too would have been naive to believe the US wasn't trying to spy on them. Though the Germans may have been a little surprised at how good the US was at spying. However this hasn't changed the underlying alliance and trade relations between the US and the EU. A major PR flap, but no harm done.

Even if we consider enemies such as Osama Bin Laden, before the Snowdon revelations. Al-Qaeda seemed to have an understanding that the US had secret backdoor access to much of the modern digital infrastructure, even if they didn't understand the technical details. Their counter strategy was to organize themselves using pre-digitial methods, using secret face-to-face meetings and hand couriered letters.

No amount of careful planning will ever replace dumb luck.

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