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Comment the social graph colours all nodes (Score 3, Informative) 191

Traffic analysis is the process of intercepting and examining messages in order to deduce information from patterns in communication. It can be performed even when the messages are encrypted and cannot be decrypted. In general, the greater the number of messages observed, or even intercepted and stored, the more can be inferred from the traffic.

The primary filter has always been traffic analysis. It constructs the social graph. I've heard that's worth something. An otherwise valueless company seems to trade on it.

Traffic analysis is what one can do effectively on a perversive scale. It puts the "focus" into focused intelligence, which would otherwise amount to extracting needles from haystacks concerning the detection of novel threats. Indeed, often the forest is worth more than the trees. The bits of business of an individual life are often less easy to read than a person's extended social footprint.

Fu..hrermore, in an electronic society where six degrees of separation is an overestimate by half, is there anyone in the population less secluded than a junior wife in a Mormon splinter town who couldn't be painted as a threat for having crossed digital paths with at least three shady characters over three decades of normal living?

The social graph colours all nodes. Does anyone think that members of the judicial oversight committee are required to bone up on Turing's use of log probability to establish meaningful discrimination thresholds?

Consider the four principal categories of metadata:
* who
* what
* when
* where

Looks harmless to me. What goes under "why"? Anything their little minds decide to write down.

Who: public school teacher
What: google search for "pressure cooker"
When: yesterday
What: google search for "backpack"
When: day before yesterday
Where: domestic residence, Springfield

Yet again, the metadata paints a compelling picture: moral turpitude. What could be more obvious among a law enforcement community prone to the syllogism that "I don't like the look on your face" equates to "disturbing the peace".

Checks and balances? Guess what? Metadata signs all cheques.

Comment Citizen GTA (Score 1) 396

It was delayed a year and performed like shit on PC when it was released. GTA was originally a PC game and they have been treating PC as a second class revenue stream lately.


The gaming industry has sensation seekers over a barrel. You're only satisfied with the latest and greatest, and you probably value being there and part of the crowd when it happens.

The primacy of first class revenue streams is not going to change until movies earn more revenue not on the opening weekend, but the weekend after—supposing it doesn't suck.

The new shiny! Ready, set, go ...

That group experience is what they are really selling here.

GTA was originally a PC game

I imagine you originally fed yourself by sucking on your mother's tit. What changed your mind?

Comment Re:Well, obviously (Score 2) 285

This would be no guarantee of security at all, since it would mean that the email service has everyone's keys and can decrypt everyone's email.

FTFY. The game theory matrices are completely different for capabilities routinely exploited or just held in reserve.

Such an approach would shift the risk profile from ad hoc to systemic. The major surveillance powers actually do manage not to blab everything they intercept onto public networks, which is is not guaranteed with ad hoc interception. There's that word again.

I really wish we took more of a belt and suspenders approach and encouraged encryption at multiple levels. That will never happen if we continue this business of casually equating insufficiency with irrelevance. Wouldn't it be nice if clear text didn't flood onto public wires at the first transient misconfiguration of the The One Armoured Pipe To Rule Them All?

Comment Re:OpenZFS related to ZFS on FreeBSD (Score 1) 297

What you seem to mean is that it will change hardly anything from the perspective of the people already supporting or enhancing ZFS.

One would hope that this nice umbrella will evolve into a single point of access to learn about the major initiatives planned or in progress. Sometimes these things turn into just another layer of non-information.

Especially if existing developers perceive the addition as not amounting to change.

Comment comedy of the hyper-competent (Score 2) 491

but I doubt there will be a perfect automatic speech translation in place that can immediately translate

No, not immediately, unless you count five minutes later and semi-automated as close enough. Man, do you ever underestimate the scope and resources of the surveillance-industrial society.

Not only do they have human ears for every language of the world on tap, but probably also strange fish who speak seven different conlangs, some of whom can place your Klingon dialect to America, central Europe, or Japan. These are the kinds of seriously strange people who inhabit comic book shops.

How quickly your call percolates through this system depends on precisely what shit list you're on. It's nothing more than a routing problem. At the highest level of alert, I would guess an unintelligible fragment is dispatched within fifteen minutes to enough desks to cover 99% of the world's spoken languages. And if that verdict isn't clear, another 30 minutes later they've covered Basque, Sindarin, Klingon, proto-Semitic, Esperanto, and Hungarian pig Latin. Obviously they can't route more than a tiny fraction of what they capture through the cauliflower-ears switchboard. Nevertheless, what gets expedited doesn't stand a chance unless so peculiar that it's permanently archived in the bootstrap corpus of automatic speech decoding. You better hope your off-the-cuff adaptations are incalculably different from your unknown soul-mate of cute obscurity who vanished from the planet five years prior.

At this stage in the process, they don't actually care if you're a terrorist. They care if you cast a large enough footprint of capabilities, connections, and motives to engage in terrorist activities, should you choose to take that path at the next spur-of-the-moment major life setback.

PhD in mathematics or synthetic chemistry? Strike one. Fluent in Farsi? Strike two? Too much money, or too little money? Strike three. Scuba license? Strike four. Longtime Tor user? Strike five. Loss of child custody? Strike six. Attend a Unitarian church? Strike seven. Caught exchanging short messages with another code orange individual, couched in a street slang that not even Henry Higgins crossed with a wind-talking Kimball O'Hara can decipher? Strike fifty-five. Congratulations, you've just a scored yourself a priority routing code on the cauliflower nexus for everything they ever capture that comes out of your mouth, which will be plenty, because you've earned a gold star for that, too.

The exact bumps and gradations within this filter-feeding behemoth have been refined with methodical vigour since about 1940, incorporating in their regression database everything that ever slipped through their fingers, where in retrospect the clue dawned either a little bit or a lot too late. There are small pockets of competence ensconced in these hidebound, dysfunctional organizations that would render Danny Hillis or Craig Venter the dumbest man in the room—or at least put enough fright on them to seriously consider the matter for the first time in their lives (perhaps excluding Danny's private lunches with Richard Feynman, or Craig's lunches near a reflective surface).

For the people who built this system, the Manhattan project was a one-shot dry run. Of course, any program on this scale that runs for sixty years with have more than the normal share of dysfunction, especially at the intake maw concerning the enormous flow of public funds, where the proud bow to the vain. My oh my, that can't be a fun place.

I bet the NSA has some seriously interesting psychological criteria concerning the men who ultimately take on these roles (the highest level of career functionary reporting to anointed bozos). That's one file the bozos will rarely see. The NSA probably has some internal Masonic order to guard over exactly this.

Make no mistake, though, it's a comedy of the hyper-competent.

Comment Re:this has me wondering (Score -1, Troll) 151

Nobody goes on a modern cruiseship these days expecting to be "shipwrecked" or "Titanic'd" within the first hours of the cruise..

Certainly none of the people living in the Disney World bubble of credit card reward points.

The autonomous and self-defined individual goes through life expecting the unexpected, but then I suppose this type of person is less attractive to lying about in floating cocoons of immaculate white paint. We might choose a less passive adventure.

Comment architecture drawn and quartered (Score 1) 226

There's no such thing as a universal all-efficient work flow. If the OS begins to dictate work flow (or encourage so strongly as to make departure a non-starter) then the creative world will balkanize into work flow camps. Within each camp the efficiency is great. But now you're not actually hiring the best freelancer for your project: you're merely hiring the best guy who has bought into your particular dictatorial OS. This is a loss of efficiency you can't directly measure.

A large pool of talented people offering services to an industry with many different work flow needs is necessarily going to have some friction where work styles clash. This is not an avoidable friction, without sacrificing as much or more than you gain in the larger efficiency of the skill marketplace.

Second, the very same system the creatives want to protect their own work (intellectual property law) has wreaked havoc on happy integration to no-one's great surprise. For portions of property law, we've figured out that the cure is far worse than the disease. But this is legal reform, not software design.

And even without that, the GPU vendors work hard to keep their secret sauce close to the vest, resulting in many of these GPU performance challenges because now the available drivers are determined by the ROI of the market served, and that almost always leads to favouring bland ubiquity.

So yeah, sell up the river everyone's compensation models but your own, and the world becomes a peachy place.

Comment the uncanny valley of 1.5 sigma weak-sauce science (Score 4, Interesting) 400

Exactly. This means that the data is bad and you can't change that. Period.

By the prudent norms of science, this is an excellent first approximation. For the first hundred years, the satellite data will support at most modest convictions. Our accumulated climate record will really hit its stride two centuries from now. And actually, from nearly every perspective of human progress, this represents a tremendous leap over what was known previously. Why should the earth's climate prove easier to decode than Mendel's peas? We finally found the actual genes and we're still pretty sketchy about how they really work. Complicated little buggers they are.

That said, the satellite data isn't actually bad, it just falls way short of historical norms of scientific prudence. We're stuck wandering around in the uncanny valley between one sigma and five sigma.

This doesn't mean society can't choose to draw a tentative, intermediate conclusion and act on that basis. However, the consequences of human political resolve are even murkier than the climate science itself, and the scientists can't help up sort this out, unless they have a giant boner for N=1. We have no control planet. Any choice we made can only be compared to counterfactual outcomes grounded in a proto-science itself still slowly gaining clearance from the null hypothesis on its major claim and with error bars a mile wide on the magnitude and immediacy and severity of the presumed effect.

I think we should be paying plenty of attention to the impacts of climate variability whether or not the cause is anthropogenic. Let's just not put the knee-jerk "all change is bad" types in charge who once decided that forests should never burn. Blockading change is change, too. One of the consequences of embarking upon a global economy is that you soon reach the situation where there's no such thing as somebody else's problem, whether the root cause is anthropogenic or not.

I have severe reservations about whether it's a good idea to instigate novel political initiatives on a global scale (e.g. abandonment of the hydrocarbon economy) against a back-drop of alarmist proto-facts. Much of the time our best, well-cured, time-proven facts barely suffice to move the political dial in any coordinated way. That's going to radically change over the twenty years? I highly doubt it. Of course, change has to begin somewhere, however bleak the early returns.

I was reading about some dude yesterday knowingly infected with HIV who had sex with 300 partners, none of whom he informed, and many he lied to. The ultimate self-gratifying scumbag. But what if he only worried he had HIV and never got himself tested? Would he still be a scumbag? Yes, I think so. Even if his worry is only 1.5 sigma? Yes, I think so.

But if Exxon has only 1.5 sigma belief that carbon emissions could prove disastrous, it's business as usual. "We didn't know!" Not with scientific certainty, anyway, which is unfortunately true. Any certainty worth having is late to the party. This is, however, entirely the wrong standard of prudence and concern. While 1.5 sigma is merely a proto-fact, not yet conclusively proven, it nevertheless demands proper consideration. Facthood in the moment is way too high a standard (and harlot to corporate convenience).

In retrospect, we will know the difference. Just as we do now about the impact of CFCs on the ozone layer. Whatever doubt remained about this in 1970 is now totally busted. We could confiscate their profits in retrospect. That would make them think twice about not knowing in the first place. I understand that it's bad form to suddenly shout "New rule!" so we could instead begin by suggesting that existing companies take out insurance against future confiscation of profit derived from embarking upon unproven, potentially destructive lines of business—as soberly judged by a future generation with a vastly superior knowledge base (subject to the same horrific political winds deflated by one percent, but as I said, however bleak the early returns, change must begin somewhere).

The corporations will complain about the difficulty of tying the incentives of their existing management to these adverse consequences far into the future (and so will the corporations refusing to insure them at sane rates while this problem remains).

That is a big problem. It's the big unsolved problem of the recent banking fiasco: the smart people who drove the economy over a cliff mostly walked away with hundreds of millions of dollars. I think that the people responsible for taking these risks should have their skin at stake until we know with high confidence, perhaps years later, they didn't actually sink the ship they were so well compensated to navigate safely.

I have a vaguely formed idea in my head that the amount of leverage a financial firm is permitted to take on should be tied to the length of time executive bonuses are held in public escrow against future financial calamities. If the firm subsequently mutters "too big to fail" while pointing at itself within that term, cancel all escrowed bonus payments for each and every bonehead recently in charge. The devil is in the details and there are myriads of problems with this, but it certainly rights the worst term in the equation as things presently stand, and that term proved to be on the order of a trillion dollars, so I fail to see how a serious implementation of this could lead us to being worse off (though no doubt we'll be told we ended up worse off with counterfactual vigour of owning the most expensive suit).

The governance of self-serving corporations in the public interest does seem to need a viable level of fact halfway between wild-ass-guess and scientifically proven against which to impeach their greed. The other solution, which seems to hold sway among climate scientists, is that we deflate historical norms of scientific certainty to serve this purpose in the delicate meanwhile. Proto-facts are the new king. Everyone line up to call the other side dunderheads for not bowing to your side's self-evident truths. Then complain when the public dials out with their hands over their ears.

I personally think that deflating historical norms of scientific certainty in exchange for a political outcome that won't transpire is badly judged. Do you need to discover the Higgs boson to believe in the standard model? Not really. Is turning every last stone decade after decade what makes science great? Absolutely. Science is like gravity: the weakest of all possible forces, until substance accumulates in due course.

Due course has no concern whatsoever about whether we need or wish to act promptly. Passing off proto-facts as real facts is weak-sauce science.

My preference is that we get busy strengthening our social institutions (rather than deflated them) so that we're better prepared to cope if/when climate change actually rocks the blue marble. This is the real work of the human species. Nearly every indicator of the best places to live are tied to the strength of a country's social institutions (e.g. adherence to and respect for the rule of law).

It's that old problem about awareness. The more you improve, the greater your perception of the problems as yet unsolved. For this reason, every generation runs around petrified that the whole process is about to switch gears and run backwards. But today's fear is bigger than ever before!

True enough. It's always possible that a black swan has photographed your generation's license plate. Just like the many Christians who believe in the second coming who expect it will happen in their own lifetime. It rather puts the long view out of mind.

Comment progress depends on the unreasonable man (Score 5, Interesting) 362

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.

            — George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman (1903)

What would the NSA do confronted with an individual so high-minded and abrasive as to be relatively immune to the bullying tactics of the second-largest bullhead in the room? They would plant and nurture the meme that Theo sucks as a human being and that one's choice of OS and security software deployed rests on social morality rather than logic.

Who's looking like the reasonable man in the room now?

It's almost tautological than anyone abrasive enough to successfully push back against covert and well-funded NSA assholerly is not going to be a poster child for harmonious cooperation.

I've followed this little soap opera avidly (but with a relatively small corner of my mind) since Bamford's Puzzle Palace in 1982. I was then enrolled in an undergraduate mathematics program at a university famous for its cryptographers and I heard a few stories directly. I suspect I've read twenty books on the origins of these agencies before, during, and after WWII, ranging from espionage to black budgets to the ITAR fiasco.

I'm surprised by exactly none of this. I just didn't know the specifics of how it was done. The peculiar part was that the NSA seemed to have a very low appetite for taking this fight to the courts in the Clipper chip era. Now we know that they had a giant Plan B, much more to their taste than entering into a public process where things get written down.

Comment Re:Uh... okay (Score 3, Insightful) 607

It's kind of like the "eye of sauron" thing. They may not be omnipotent and able to target everyone at once, but once their eye turns your way there's little you can do about it short of jumping into a volcano.

Did you sleep through the end of the movie? You can't watch everybody all of the time. It ends up becoming a resources issue, and the NSA has finite resources after all (despite spending their secret funds at 100x typical levels of government efficiency).

A central prong in this campaign is to discourage the vast majority of people from even trying to make their communications secure so that they do have enough resources to watch everyone who poses any threat at any level pretty much all the time.

Comment Re:Oh noes! (Score 1) 736

Nevermind the increases in safety. Nevermind the new jobs that this will enable. Nevermind the greater standard of living this will bring to all people. We've got to be concerned about potentially lost jobs above all else.

Nevermind the strawman. Nevermind engaging the non-debate, when the real debate is difficult, even for serious minds. Nevermind that throughout the animal kingdom, the unemployed are soon tagged on the ankle or wrist to become unwilling organ donors. It's not like employment has any bearing on survival or mating opportunities. I suspect one testicle well employed outperforms two testicles unemployed. But don't scream too loud when your first nut is clipped.

The point here is not that the swelling ranks of the unemployed and the under-employed moan loudly, it's that they moan badly, as ignorant gits tend to do. Still, even a bad moan is appropriate when your left one is severed by a rusty plutocracy (stored in damp basement wrapped in seven layers of oil cloth for about three hundred years after everyone in arrived in America fleeing this very same thing). Johnny Appleseed didn't fall far from the tree.

Greenspan held this quaint notion that the superpower quants would self-regulate due to interlocking competition of interests. What actually happened is that the superpower quants looked around the poker table and spotted a trillion dollars in Uncle Sam's pocket while he as stupidly wearing an "aw shucks, too big to fail" quasi-libertarian grin on his face. If there's any business that Government should not be in, first and foremost, that business is libertarianism. Of course, once government takes the first fatal step toward libertarianism, they begin to resemble exactly the straw man that libertarians wish to portray it as being. Call it the straw man death trap, and a fine business this is if your agenda is to lead government into the noose swaying above the trap door.

If the hollowing out of the middle class isn't giving plutocrats everywhere a raging boner, I don't know what would. This observation alone ought to give people pause for thought about committing Greenspan's error with regard to Schumpeter's gale of naively presuming that if it ends well once (or any finite number of times), it ends well in all cases.

After the fiscal crisis, did any of the elites go "my bad" and volunteer to repay the public rescue purse for emergency rescue rendered? Have they clucked about government intervention in their affairs so loudly as to set up a private rescue fund with a twelve digit cushion to tide them over their next salivary mishap? Oh, nooooo. That would never happen.

I can't see far into the future on this one. The one thing I'm fairly certain about is that filthy rich old bastards will require small standing armies of man and woman servants to cater to their every whim. So there will be jobs after all, no matter how this tempest in a teacup finally shakes out.

Comment Re:the wisdom of youthful folly (Score 2) 329

That came off slightly more cynical than I intended. In truth, I have nothing but gratitude for much of what hippie Google chose to do. My point at this juncture, however, is that that was then, this is now.

In much the same way that the terrorists succeeded in reshaping America in their own image (two crushed fingers was all it took), Facebook has succeeded in reinventing Google in their own image. Zuck, like Bill, was way ahead of his time right from the get go.

As far as I'm concerned Google+ is hardly any different than America+. Any symbol that leaves you asking "plus what?" is not to be trusted. What of this unary additive? Those who know are not entitled to say. Happily, that's as much as we need to know to guess what shape that mark will take once it reaches adult height, wreathed in flames.

Comment the wisdom of youthful folly (Score 1) 329

Corporations grow up, just like children.

If you're not a liberal when you're 20, you have no heart. If you're not a conservative by the time you're 40, you have no brain.

This much-laundered sentiment originated with Francois Guisot (and not as widely believed the sock-prophet Winston Churchill). The genius of Bill Gates was being twenty years ahead of his time. Unfortunately, the life expectancy of a brainy conservative is twenty to thirty years (tops), before the grizzled Ebenezer-in-Chief is forcibly defenestrated.

Roughly twenty years from now, the legacy of Brin and Page will be facing its own mop reduce. Brilliant strategy on their part to postpone the day of reckoning with a youthful sojourn into saccharine Dr Evil.

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