Recent Blog Entries
Monday
Dec302013

NSA Listening Posts via Crowd Sourcing

There has been lots of press recently about the NSA hacking into everything.

There are cameras in everything now; laptops; Chromebooks; netbooks; tablets; phones ...   I'm surprised the NEST learning thermostat doesn't have a camera (but it does have a motion detector).

Anyway ...  with consumers (that's you and me) buying this stuff and distributing it around our homes, the NSA's job is half done.  The other half is getting to information out.  For phones with GSM/LTE the phone itself will do the job.  For the rest of these devices, WiFi would be a big help.

Comcast is here to help!  All new routers from Comcast come with WiFi you can't turn off.  The idea, from Comcast's point of view, is that they are doing a sort of "crowd sourcing" of WiFi hotspots.  Supposedly (I haven't tried it), you can connect to anyone's Comcast router with your Comcast account and use it as a free hotspot.

Comcast, as you probably know, has a back-channel IP address for every home router.  They use this for maintenance, and generally, the back channel addresses are IP6, which is cool.  But since we know the NSA co-opts consumer gear for their own purposes I think we can be pretty confident that the NSA can take control of one of these routers if they want.

... so ... to summarize ... as consumers, we've bought everything the NSA needs to bug our homes.  Talk about crowd sourcing ...

(Note:  It's possible to do small amounts of configuration to your Comcast WiFi connection - so I renamed mine from HOME_<some hex digits> to NSA_LISTENING.  So if you're driving by and see that, you'll know where you stand.)

 

 

Sunday
Nov242013

Conspiracy Stories

A 911 Truth video recently popped up on Facebook (as these things are wont to do):

http://topinfopost.com/2013/07/03/911-explosive-evidence-experts-speak-out

We live in strange times.  "Conspiracy Theories" abound.  Some turn out to be true (I'm looking at you NSA).

I'm fascinated by the 911 "Truther" stories.  The story told at a site like http://www.911truth.org/ is far more interesting than the official story.  It's also sickening to think our government would have blown up the twin towers so most people will never even look at it.

I like to refer to Conspiracy Theories as Conspiracy Hypotheses.  A hypothesis is the beginning of a theory; a hypothesis becomes theory with proof.

Personally I don't think our government blew up the twin towers.  What would be the purpose?  To get us to attack Iraq?  The government doesn't need excuses like that; it invades for perfectly ordinary trumped-up reasons.

One of the ideas I find most fascinating about the hypothesis of a controlled demolition of the twin towers is that a new kind of nano-tech thermite was used.  Some have speculated it was painted on the interior walls during regular maintenance and then somehow triggered wirelessly.

I love the boldness of that idea.  Since I wrote a novel about nano-tech I keep an eye out for nano-tech stories and the idea of nano-thermite is very compelling from a storytelling point of view.

If I were to write a sequel to Nano-Plasm it would focus on how this amazing nano-thermite could be used and, of course, as a techno-thriller, on how it could be abused.

This has trigged all kinds of imaginative flights for me.  One idea I would tie in is that maybe there is a paint that is non-volatile until it comes into contact with alumninum - the outer skin of airplanes.  Maybe flight 93 spontaneously combusted and that's why there isn't much wreckage.  Likewise for the flight that crashed into the Pentagon.  Poof!  No evidence.  How about taking out huge numbers of electrical substations simply by painting this evil, remotely controllable, explodable paint on them.  How about painting nuclear power plant containment domes with it.  It's pretty easy to imagine lots of ways this evil paint could be used.

My story, which would be the main thread for a Nano-Thermite book, goes beyond what 911 truthers propose.  In my story a foreign government would have brought down the twin towers with a controlled implosion and that is what our government is covering up (you know, because we can't appear weak).

In my story, which has several layers, the airplanes would have been a cover for the controlled implosion.  The foreign government planned the plane attack so ordinary Americans would think the towers collapsed from the planes.

Secretly, this foreign power told our leaders what they had done, and empahsized they could bring down any building at any time, particularly our seats of power and of course football stadiums.  This message would have been communicated just after both towers fell (or maybe between towers 1 and 2).  And the icing on the cake of the threat would have been the collapse of WTC 7.  "See?", the foreign power would have said, "just in case you silly people believe the airplanes caused the collapse, we will tell you in advance that we are going to drop WTC 7," and then they went and did it.

Originally, when I was thinking up my story premise, I figured the reason to bring down WTC 7 would be if the twin towers operation had been run from the emergency center housed in WTC 7 (yes, there really was one).  Then it would make sense to implode WTC 7 to cover up the evidence.  That wasn't compelling enough to me.  It didn't really make sense to me that something as clever as imploding the twin towers would need a command center that was a whole floor in WTC 7.

Aside:  We had basically already won the war with Japan when we dropped nukes on two of their cities.  One hypothesis is that we did it to impress Russia with our power.  Now imagine a foreign power doing the same thing:  telling us they can drop any building at any time and then proving it on TV.  ("And if you don't believe us,", they would say, "check out the video of WTC 7.")

My story is quite a bit scarier than "our government is the enemy".  Because even in that scenario we imagine we might someday find the rotten tomatoes and throw them out.  The idea that we were attacked by a foreign power and instantly brought to our knees is much scarier.

Which foreign power?  In my story I would make Putin the bad guy.  He's got the resources, the craziness, a country full of smart people who could invent this nano-paint, and he hasn't hesitated to poison his enemies (with plutonium, no less).  I'd wind in some kind of genesis of the whole thing going back to the cold war.

I'm not a crazy person - I can tell imagination from reality.  But this happened:

Back in the day I was playing the beta of Neil Young's (the game guy, not the singer) Majestic, which was an augmented reality game (ARG) that intermixed story with the real world via web sites and even phone calls to you, the player.  The story was about an evil corporation making micro-electro-mechanical-systems (mems).  The morning of 9/11 I received an email alert from the New York Times that one of the World Trade Center towers had collapsed.  And I assumed this email was from Neil's game.  It was only when the second email alert arrived that I looked more closely and saw it really was from the New York Times and that's when I finally turned on the TV and was shocked by what I saw.  So it was hard to tell story from fact that morning.

When it comes to compelling narratives about what happened on 9/11/2001 I can't really tell which, if any, story is correct.  I don't believe any of them.  I'll give the 911 Truth people props for more compelling storytelling; and if you like science fiction at all, I recommend you visit http://www.911truth.org/ and explore it.  Think of it as an ARG.  And if you come away after that with lots of doubts, well, that's probably a good thing too.

For me, though, all of the 9/11 stories, includng the official one, are still in the hypothesis stage.  I don't expect us to get beyond that for another 50 years (or unless a Snowden comes along with Power Point slides [written in Russian!]).  To be clear, I think our government is full of misguided nincompoops, but I don't really think any of them are evil enough to pull off the twin tower implosion - if that's what happened.  (Maybe the fires from the airplanes did cause both towers to drop into perfectly symmetrical debris fields.)

I don't know.  In the meantime, my imagination runs wild.

 

[Edit:  this is very clever:  assume the official story is true - are all steel frame buildings at risk of imminent collapse due to a relatively small fire?]

 

Tuesday
Nov122013

Nine Nines

(Reposted from 9/9/1999 today at about 9:10 on 11/12/13)

Wednesday, September 9, 1999 - Nine Nines

By Stephen Clarke-Willson

Today is the famous day 9/9/99 (or as using the international standard, 1999/9/9, but that's another story).

Personally, I wouldn't have used four nines to delimit a list of dates in my own code - that's too wimpy! I would have used NINE NINES!

9:99:99 on 9/9/99 (that's nine nines) could easily be stored as a time and date. Of course, if you 'normalized' it, it would really be 10:40:39 on 9/9/99, because you would have to subtract sixty from the seconds and the minutes to normalize it (carrying the extra 'tens' place). (Don't laugh: I bet you can enter 1:99 into your Microwave oven and it will do the right thing and warm your coffee for 2:39.)

Today is the first somewhat official day of Y2K-ness, so I thought it would be appropriate for programmers all over the world to observe a moment of silence at 10:40:39 a.m. Or, for that matter, since we're talking about lame ways of encoding dates, you can do it at 10:40:39 p.m.! Or, do the normalization wrong, and observe a moment of silence at 9:39:39 a.m. or 9:39:39 p.m.! Whatever!

(In some parts of the world it's already 9/10/99 - oh well! Close enough!)

So, whatever you're doing today, at sometime during the day that might be represented by 9:99:99 on 9/9/99, stop what you're doing and think a deep thought. Think about all the Cobol programmers who have gone before, boldly representing dates as strings that may or may not be parsable in the 21st Century.

Then think about what we are going to do when the Unix date function rolls over in 2039. Then forget about it, because, heck, it's still forty years away!

 

 

 

Sunday
Nov102013

Self Government

Is self-government possible?  (Most people say no and think it would lead to chaos.)  I would say a certain amount of chaos is good.

Watch the following video about bicycling in Amsterdam (which I witnessed first hand a month ago).

 

 

Yes, some central planner laid out the streets, but the day-to-day movement of bicycles is both chaotic and somewhat beautiful ... I would argue such self-organization is suggestive of what self-government might be like: maybe a bit chaotic, but ultimately productive and energetic and efficient.

Sunday
Jul072013

Feedly vs. Digg Reader

tl;dr:  Feedly wins.

Since Google Reader was officially turned off I had to change the way I read my "morning paper" - my RSS feeds.

The top two contenders as a replacement reader were Feedly and Digg Reader.  Digg Reader came up late but looked terrific; Feedly seemed a bit too clever and cumbserome to me.  But since I read my morning paper on an iPad I need to use Feedly and now Feedly's web interface looks terrific ... so ... Feedly won and I've gotten used to the more glossy view of the iPad app.

One thing about the Google Reader shutdown is that Google said only about 500,000 people used it.  (Only?)  But Feedly reports several million new subscribers.  Maybe Google used a very conservative version of "used it" or maybe the publicity was generally enough to get people to try Feedly.  I dunno.  It's confusing.

"Good job!" Feedly!